Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Louvre

No talk about Paris is ever complete without a mention of the most prestigious palace of Paris - the Louvre. More recently it was also featured as the location for the plot of the very famous Da Vinci Code. Divided into 3 wings - Denon, Sully and Richelieu, Louvre is indeed one of the best museums of the world.

Following is a picture of the famous pyramid entry designed by I M Pei and the Richelieu wing to its side. It does seem too modern an entry for something that is so steeped in history but it added to its beauty nonetheless.

The Pyramid and the Richelieu Wing

Sunit and I had a day allocated for our trip to this one. But were we underestimating the treasures that reside here! The long halls, the beautiful paintings, sculptures - all were intimidating and at the same time awe inspiring. To think that one place could hold so much of history was just mind boggling. We could have easily spent 2-3 days more here and that is actually the time one needs to do justice to this place. But though we love art and architecture, we knew we must do our rounds in a day. So we decided to concentrate on the famed Italian works of art and see whatever of the museum we could while tracing those.

The Marly's Courtyard

The Marly's Courtyard was this huge expansive courtyard with a glass roof, loads of sunlight, magnificent sculptures and very less crowd :-) I really liked this place.

A Painting Exhibition Hall at Louvre

As I said the halls at the museum are really huge. Look at this picture - and it shows only one half of the huge hall housing some of the big Renaissance pieces. And there were many of such halls to be walked. I remember walking through the museum for straight 2.5 hours before sitting down to catch a breath - We wanted to see as much as we could of this place.

We did start though with visiting the most famed resident at the museum - the Mona Lisa. So much has been said about it and so much has been written about it, yet when we actually got to see the painting and noticed how small it was compared to some of the other huge wall covering and more elaborate pieces, we had to just guess - Maybe it was that enigmatic mystery smile, that must be it :-). There was a long line to see this beauty but we got only 10 minutes to see her once we did reach her. Sunit managed to click this picture without a flash - that was one of the restrictions - no pictures could be taken with a flash on throughout the museum.

The Mona Lisa

Talking about the Mona Lisa, I think its also worth mentioning that the Louvre hosts one of the biggest collections of Leonardo Da Vinci and when I say so, I mean not just his paintings but also his pencil sketches, his drawings for various gadgets and instruments, some of his writings, etc.
This last picture is of the "Mona Lisa" of the sculpture world - Venus De Milo. She stood tall and gracious in all white marble.

Venus De Milo

While Sunit and I spent a lot of time marvelling at the Italian and Renaissance treasures since those interested us the most, the museum also holds huge Egyptian, Asian and African collections. And since the museum was actually a palace before, also on display are the actual residential quarters of Napolean, Dauphine etc. We came back feeling we had been touched by history.

If you are an art fanatic or even if you have a tiny-miny interest in art, then a visit to this grand museum is a must while you are in Paris. Plan on spending atleast a day and more if you have the time. Louvre is easily accessible by Metro and Batobus. Oh and there are some food shops and some museum shops in the basement that sell pretty good and reasonable prints of some of the paintings. We found the food shops a bit pricy though.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

An Ode to Notre Dame, Paris

View of the cathedral from the south-east end, across the Sienne

When Sunit and I were planning our trip to Paris in the summer of 2003, he asked me what I wanted to particularly see in the city. Much to his astonishment, I replied - Notre Dame. He had half expected me to vote for Eiffel Tower, I guess. So it is befitting I think that my first of the many memoirs of our trip to Paris start off with an ode to this ancient Gothic Cathedral.

The West side, or the front

My interest in this monument was sparked by one of Victor Hugo's famous novels - The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Who can forget the disfigured Quasimodo and his love for Esmeralda. Much to my delight, Sunit actually booked our place to stay in the Latin Quarter of Paris - we were just 5-10 minutes of walking distance from this Cathedral and I had my fill of it because we saw it every single day we were in Paris.

Notre Dame at twilight

Notre Dame is built on an island on top of Sienne, the river around which most of Paris is located. Its construction started in 1163 and continued for about a 100 years. One of the most ancient churches in Paris, it has seen the city through its ups and downs for a good 800 years now. The gargoyles, the stained glass Rose windows and the ornately carved exterior with loads of depictions of biblical figures and scenes - all add to its splendor. Here are pictures of the cathedral ( I have many more :-) ) that I think capture some of the beauty of this place.

The Centre door at the West side

This and the next picture are close-ups of the front of the cathedral. While the three doors depict three scenes from the bible, flanked by the apostles and other biblical figures, right above the doors is the "Gallery of Kings" - I think 32 figures in all.

Gallery of Kings

The next couple of pictures are of the stained glass windows from inside the cathedral. One of the best part of the Parisian churches is their stained glass art.

Stained glass window

The Rose Window

Getting to Notre Dame is not all that difficult since it is located at the heart of the Latin Quarter. It is easily accessible by the local metro that runs throughout Paris (RER) and is also one of the stops for Batobus (the boat service that runs on Sienne). We travelled in early July and it was a little bit drizzly on the first couple of days, but in general thats a good time to travel to the city.

Our stay in the Latin Quarter gave us a feel of staying in Old Paris as opposed to staying in the more modern part of the city. Many of the other attractions in Paris are also located at a convenient walking distance. There are numerous hangouts for local artists and many inexpensive hole-in-the-wall restaurants that offer delicious food and wine. A small walk around the place and one is sure to see some doorway with a sculpture on the front door - all this just added to the charm of the place.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Its been a while since I last posted. A couple of out-of-town travels, Diwali and then some things back home kept me occupied. But I am back and hope to catch up from where I left off.

First weekend of October I travelled to Ann Arbor again to spend some time with Sunit. I also hoped to catch some fall colors which are supposed to be wonderful in Ann Arbor. But as luck would have it, it was still pretty warm in Ann Arbor and Sunit was too busy so we could not travel to the upper peninsula to catch some colors. Hence we compromised for some local gardens itself. We decided to visit the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. We researched on the internet and from what we saw it seemed interesting. It also seemed to have a waterfall and I was very eager to see it.

The gardens were beautiful and well kept in their natural splendor. There was a waterfall all right - the problem was it fell just 1-2 feet. Photography can do wonders indeed and the picture we had seen on the internet seemed to be of a good size waterfall. But the creek we saw was still nice all the same. Here is a picture of what we saw.

The creek we mistook for a waterfall

And then there were all these natural sidewalks one could take and explore the gardens. I particularly liked this wooden bridge that led us to another area of wilderness. Did I mention that the grounds were open to public free of charge. There was a token entry fee for the Conservatory. In a later post I will post some pictures of some strange plants I saw there.

The wooden bridge

While passing over the wooden bridge we looked upon the stream and chanced upon this tortoise resting on the stone. Zoom in on to the rock, it is the little black thing there.

Slow and Steady - The Tortoise

There were also some nice widlflowers, a herb garden, a rock garden ( I almost missed this one since it was just a small rock bed and I guess I was expecting something similar to what we have in Chandigarh), a rose garden, an urban garden and I think the folllowing was called Alexander's garden.

Alexander's Garden ?

A trip to MBG makes a good half day trip and I would definitely recommend it for some nice quiet time, a small picnic and a chance to view some exotic and fascinating plants. I was sad about not being able to see the fall colors but these gardens were not disappointing at all.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Twilight and Evening Bell....

The most interesting thing happened last night. I was at Vons doing groceries, when a friend (who had just walked out of Vons too) called up and asked me to step outside and look towards the sky. I rushed out and an amazing twilight show met my eyes. At first it seemed to be a falling missile but on closer look it seemed the trail had been created by a plane or rocket of some kind. I stood there baffled.

Things became clearer today morning when my office mate told me ( he is interested in astronomy ) that a satellite was launched from some base in California. What caused this beautiful phenomenon probably was unburnt fuel particles and water drops in the rocket's contrail that sometimes feeze in the less dense upper atmosphere and get reflected by sunlight at high altitudes, easy to observe because the launch took place shortly after sunset.

Here is a picture of what I saw as captured by a colleague at work in his camera.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Flowers of Kauai

While in Kauai, we chanced upon a number of beautiful flowers. A small trek and one was sure to chance upon some orchid or hibiscus of some kind. The local people as well as the tourists could be commonly seen wearing plumerias in their hair. I remember our monk guide at the monastery telling us that in Kauai it rains so much that all they needed to do to maintain the grounds was pot the plant and then just pray that it grow. And the technique never failed :-)

I thought I will share some of the pictures in this post. Some of them are not in good focus, I guess I couldn't get quite right the technique of focussing on something up close. But there I was trying to capture some of them in my camera as soon as it rained (BTW there was no dearth of rain, you just had to wish it and it would come down)

Hydrangea on the Pihea Trail
It had just rained and we were on the Pihea Trail when we spotted bunches of Hydrangea. They looked really fresh with the raindrops on them.

Red Ginger on way to the Fern Grotto

This picture and the next one too were taken on way to the Fern Grotto, a natural cave with ferns growing from the walls. Apparently Red Ginger is used to make shampoo... Interesting

And I don't know the name of this one :-(

Plumerias - they were in plenty everywhere

This particular flower, Plumeria, almost seemed to be the state flower. It was omnipresent, on trees, in people's hair, printed on T-Shirts and on Sarongs. This particular picture was taken in our hotel.

Hibiscus - Found growing wild on the Island

I am pretty sure I have seen Hibiscus in India too, but I think there I generally saw red ones. This yellow one caught my eye

Water Lily at a pond in the Kauai Hindu Monastery

And this last one is of a water lily growing in the Kauai Monastery. The monks have done a really good job of maintaining the grounds and the lawns were home to many rare plants. Damn ! I didn't get the focus right on this one.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ann Arbor Campus and Architecture

On my third day of stay at Ann Arbor, I decided to visit the University and its campus.

A striking thing about the Campus was the architecture itself. Some of the buildings were old and Gothic in style while others were more modern.

The Law School Legal Research Building (
East Triforium)

I especially liked the Law School or the Law Quadrangle as it is more popularly known. This beautiful Quadrangle was a gift to the university from William W. Cook who was an alumnus of the same school. Rumor has it ( Tip 1: Courtesy Sunit) that Cook wanted the building design to be inspired by the Law School at Oxford. But although he was involved with many aspects of its construction, he never came to Ann Arbor to see the magnificent facility either during construction or upon completion for the fear of it not living upto his dream.They say construction of the Quadrangle took more than a decade and rightly so, for I think it has resulted in one of the most beautiful student campuses I have ever seen. The Quadrangle houses the teaching facilities as well as the student dormitories. The Law School itself is one of the best in the world. ( Tip 2: Courtesy Sunit again) Around Michigan, people refer to Harvard as the "Michigan of the East". Just walking through those prestigious and beautiful grounds was a pleasure.

The Law Quadrangle

Our next trip was to the Diag or the main area where students gather. We could spot students walking around, some sitting under a tree and relaxing and others just merrily chatting with their friends. The Diag was a huge enclosure of buildings surrounding a central open area. On one side was the Michigan Library, another magnificent building. In the centre of the Diag was a concrete area with the letter "M" inlaid in bronze, "M" being the insignia of University of Michigan. The popular myth among the students is (Tip 3: Courtesy Sunit... My, My ! He was all excited while showing off his new school) that if a student steps onto this "M" in his first year, he/she will fail the first exam he/she sits for in the first semester. I caught many people trying to avoid stepping onto this area. I think Sunit even told me how to avoid failing if one accidentally steps onto it. But lets not go there.

The Diag with the Library is the background

On the South State Street, was this other huge building. It had some wonderful words engraved on the top. And they read as: "Religion, Morality and Knowledge, Being Necessary to Good Government and the Happiness of Mankind, Schools and the Means of Education Shall Forever Be Encouraged". Apparently Angell Hall houses the Department of Literature, Arts and Sciences.The tall pillars reminded me of a Greek or Roman temple.

Angell Hall

The trip to Ann Arbor was a pleasant one, to say the least. And very relaxing. Home away from home is GREAT. There was neither the bother of laundry, cleaning or grocery shopping that one has when at home, nor the bother of "Oh! we have to go see that place and this place" when one is on vacation. I realized for the first time that I could actually sleep for 12 hours a day. I would go to sleep according to EST and get up as per PST.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Walk In The Park And A Chance Encounter

Last weekend I travelled to Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was my first visit since Sunit had joined MBA school. After a lot of lazing about, we decided to take a walk in the Fuller and Gallop Park. I name both because I am not sure which one we ended up in - Both were next to each other on River Huron and we couldn't figure out when one ended and the other started :-)

The Parks had a river flowing right through the center and serene wilderness stretches around. There were some people canoeing in the river, some cycling about on some of the paved paths and some like us were just walking around enjoying the surroundings.

There was this one particular stretch of boardwalk that ended in a rugged path along the river. We decided to walk it. We had just taken a turn back and I was just catching a breath when Sunit whispered - "Pooja !!! Look !". I turned around and lo behold, about 30 feet away was a family of deer. This was the first time I had seen one at such close quarters. I stood still, hoping to watch them more while Sunit went click-click with the camera. We watched them, dazed in their presence till they ran away in the opposite direction leaving good humored smiles on our faces - It had been a most fortunate chance encounter.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wild Animal Park

Sunit and I are big fans of the Wild Animal Park at San Diego - we've been there numerous times and everytime we come back filled with wonder at something new. Spread over 1800 acres, the park provides a lot of space for animals to move and they are not enclosed in small cages as in a Zoo. It also allows the animals to mingle and follow the same natural habits as they would in the wild. The train safari provides a quick tour of the place, but if you have the energy to walk around and view some of the interaction areas, the Park can be a lot of fun.

On my second trip to the Park, with Vijay ( a friend who is crazy about wild cats), we caught the Cheetahs during their feeding time. A huge moat separates the viewers from the feeding area, some meat is left on the logs and then far-from-sight the Cheetahs are let loose. One can actually see their long strides as they run to the meat and then feed on it. Vijay gets the credit for this picture.

We also went upto the tiger observatory during its lunch time. Saw him drag his lunch to a shady tree, finish it up and then drink at the nearby pool. It then went for a small stroll around the enclosure when Vijay took this picture from the viewing deck.

On a more recent trip with a couple of our friends (Martin and Sabine), we went into the Lorikeet landing. Beautiful birds, sharp colors and if you buy the food outside to feed them, they will actually very easily come and sit on your arms. While we were there, however, a couple of people had the fortune of being blessed (bird droppings) from the sky. I guess they are fed so much by the visitors, they need to let it out too. Notice the bright and sharp colors of the bird while it was on Martin's wrist.

And then there are the Giraffes you can feed. These animals really fancy the biscuits that are fed to them by visitors - they walk slowly from far away if they see some visitor offering one. We were told not to bend though while feeding it because the animal might accidentally hurt the onlooker while lifting back its neck. Here's one of Sabine feeding the animal.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Lake Tahoe

We travelled to Lake Tahoe on July 29th. It was a weekend camping trip with Sunit's uncle (Ravi Mama) and his family. The trip proved to be some nice relaxing time with family just before Sunit resigned from Cisco. The slow paced hikes, Mamiji's cool sandwiches in mid-afternoon, the campfire stories and jokes, the game of 20 questions by the campfire (at which Ashwin proved to be genius) - All made the trip a memorable one.

We stayed at the DL Bliss State Park. Spread across about 1800 acres along with the Emarald Bay Park, the DL Bliss park offers a comfortable camping ground, a couple of beaches and some very interesting hikes with beautiful vistas.

We decided to do some light weight hiking - we went on the lighthouse trail. About 2.0 miles long, the trail ends in some very awesome views of the Lake. While the lighthouse trail is a bit rugged, curvy and steep, we took the easy(and very short) way back along the Rubicon trail. Ravi Mama managed to take this picture of the lake after climbing on a precarious rock and log. We did feel a little dehydrated and thirsty by the time we got back as we had run out of water midway. But this breathtaking view was well worth the effort.

After some refreshing sandwiches and a dip at the beach, we next checked out the Balancing Rock. A .5 mile walk took us to this site. Its actually a 130 ton rock precariously balanced on another granite rock. Steady erosion at the joint has caused this natural formation. It almost looked like the "face of a whale" to me. While Ashwin and Aditya decided to check it out at close quarters (You can spot them at the waist) we decided to keep our distance. Talking about both of them, they both must have climbed n number of rocks that day - we had to just spot one and they would rush over to climb it. Kids never fail to amaze me.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast

Half way into our stay at Kauai, we decided to explore the west side of the island (Waimea Canyon) and the inaccessible north-west side (Na Pali Coast).
Taking highway 50 and then 550 into the National Park, we drove about 1.5 hours from the east side to catch the first glimpses of the Canyon. The Canyon itself was created by an earthquake that almost split the island into two. The Waimea river still flows through the Canyon, eroding the basaltic rocks at a fast pace and depositing the red mud into the ocean.

Erosion of the rocks is quite evident in this picture taken on our drive along Waimea Canyon Drive.

This is the main view of the Canyon from the Waimea Canyon lookout. Look at the left side of the picture, you can spot the Wiamea River flowing. It has its origins in Mt. Waialeale, the wettest spot on Earth with an annual rainfall of about 450 inches.

At the end of the drive, we came upon this amazing lookout (Kalalau lookout) to catch the first glimpse of the Na Pali cliffs. The quiet surroundings, the neon blue waters and the majestic cliffs....We breathed in the place and craved for more. We continued on foot on the Pihea Trail.

A 1.5 mile hike took us to this other astounding view of the cliffs and the water. The clouds were right there...

Our snorkelling guide had insisted that our Kauai experience would be incomplete without the hike along the Kalalau trail from Kee' Beach. And after our first views of the Na Pali Coast from the Waimea Canyon, we definitely wanted to see more. So on the Tuesday, the day we were flying out, we decided to hike some more to view the cliffs.

We hiked almost 2 miles into the wilderness, it is a steep hike into the very rocky and rain-foresty terrain and we had to negotiate our way around rocks and small streams or waterfalls.

View of the Na Pali Coast about 1 mile into the hike....

View of the Kee' Beach from where we had started. As you can see, it is a very steep hike and quickly takes you to heights that provide wonderful vistas.

We came back tired, yet satisfied that we had ultimately done justice to our trip to Kauai.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Kauai Hindu Monastery

July 4th, 2005

Right before we left for Kauai, I happened to run into Shaker who told me to check out the Kauai Hindu Monastery.

We went, more out of curiosity than interest - A Hindu monastery in the middle of nowhere. Our trip, though, was fully worth the effort. Set in some very lush greens, about 3 miles from the wettest spot on Earth, the tour of the monastery and its grounds was one of the highlights of our trip and here are some pictures from the same.

For more information on the monastery itself and "Hinduism Today" - the magazine published by the monks at this monastery you can visit:

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Kauai - The Garden Island June 29th to July 5th

June 30th

We travelled to Kauai, before Sunit finally leaves for his 2 year stint as an MBA student at Ann Arbor. Here are some pictures from the first day of our trip with more to follow later.

A white sand beach, Kealia Beach was just a few miles north of our hotel and the first one we visited when in Kauai.

Located on Kauai's northern end, Kilauea Lighthouse has the world's largest clamshell lens.

Anini beach is one of the most protected along the North Shore of the island. A fringed reef runs the entire length of beach. And it is here, that Sunit took his first dip into the ocean

Travelling back from our drive to the North end of the island, we came upon the Taro fields of Hanalei. These flooded taro fields, called kalo lo'i, are an ancient way of life in Hawaii.

Located off the north branch of the Wailua River, are the Opaekaa falls. An overlook provides an excellent viewing area from where we viewed the falls before finally heading back to our hotel for the evening.