Monday, November 05, 2007

Fall Foliage at Yosemite

Here are some random close-up shots of the fall colors at Yosemite. It was only last weekend that we went but it already seems like it was ages ago :-(

The first one is my favorite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fall in Yosemite

Last weekend we travelled to Yosemite to see the fall colors. My online research showed that the peak fall color in the valley was likely to be for that particular weekend. And so I was all excited about the trip. To add to the fun, a couple of friends decided to join in too - the more the merrier.

Before we go into the actual description of the trip, some background is essential. When I came to the US it was to the east coast which is home to some of the best fall colors. While I do not miss all the cold and snow from the east coast, the 2 things I do miss here in California are the spring flowers and the fall colors. So when my husband went back to school on the east coast, I would travel every fall to meet him in the hope of seeing some color. But of course he was always busy and so we never made the trip. To cut a long story short, it was after a span of 7 years that I was hoping to see fall again.

We set off early morning (5 am - I absolutely insisted we leave early) and were inside the park by 9 am. It took us another 30 minutes or more to drive to the valley floor where the color was at its peak. It was stop and go after that even without the traffic - we wanted to stop at each and every bend :-)

The color was in plenty - the oaks, dogwoods etc. all were showing color. It was a pleasant day too. The colors were being clearly reflected in whichever rivers and ponds still had water (since by fall most of the water bodies are already drying up). We spent a good amount of time in the valley walking around, clicking pictures.

We later went to the mariposa grove and hiked a bit there. On our way back through the valley we noticed that the color was even brighter - it was changing fast, within a span of half a day.

The following day we travelled back - reaching the bay area by mid-afternoon, in time to get ready for the work-week ahead. It had been a little hectic but a very fulfilling weekend.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

My latest favorite place in the world is Lauterbrunnen. It is a beautiful valley near Interlaken.

For most Indians, Interlaken is synonymous with Yash Chopra movies and classic Swiss scenery. But about 20 miles from Interlaken, is this quaint little town and valley called Lauterbrunnen and this place formed the base of our Swiss travel in the Berner Oberland area.

While Interlaken boasts of all the touristy stuff, if you want to live close to the mountains and numerous waterfalls (close to nature as my mom would say), Lauterbrunnen is where you need to be. A small town, that leads to a beautiful valley, with waterfalls falling on either side. When we went out for our first walk on the valley floor, I stood at one point and counted the total number of waterfalls visible - the count was 11. Streams trickle down from anywhere and everywhere. My husband remarked - "This is much like Yosemite, but multiplied by 10'.

Days in this place just seemed to vanish - there was so much to do. There were beautiful walks on the valley floor next to the river, and numerous hikes, some to the top of waterfalls, others took you high onto the ridge surrounding the valley. One day was spent taking the cogwheel train to Jungfrau - the top of Europe. Another day was spent taking the lift to Murren and walking the flower trail over there (More on the flower trail in a later post).

On a rainy day (to my disappointment, I would have been happier closer to the valley), we also did the Golden Pass Scenic route in a train and explored the lakes near Interlaken. BTW that is where Interlaken gets its name - "Between the lakes" - it is between two lakes, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.

Valley view from our hotel

I guess we were also very satisfied with our stay at this place - at the Staubach Hotel, a very comfortable and fairly reasonable hotel. The staff was very helpful and gave us numerous tips on things to do and places to eat in the area.

If I look back at our trip, I think we were happiest at Lauterbrunnen. Another time around, I would just plan to go to this area and spend a week there.

View of the valley from one of the mountains

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yellowstone National Park

The first week of September we visited Yellowstone National Park, the oldest and first national park of the United States. It was one of those trips that we had always wanted to do but just hadn't gotten around to. To say that Yellowstone is huge would be an understatement. The Grand Loop which is about 150 miles of road covers only 1/5th of the park. The region is diverse - meandering rivers, waterfalls, canyons etc.

What it is most famous for, though, is that it is one of the most thermally active regions in US and probably the world. The place has a huge history of volcanic eruptions. And there are numerous hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, mud pots all across the park.

Its not just the fuming earth that one sees. There is mud throwing up with fumes, looking like paint pots going plop, plop. There are rainbow colored hot water springs because of the silica deposits and thermophiles at the bottom of the springs. There are also the numerous geysers throwing up water hundreds of feet up in the air at different times of day. Some are regular like the famous Old Faithful while others are irregular, they blow up whenever they feel like it, once in a few days, months or sometimes even years.

There is plenty of wildlife too. Elk, deer, bison, beaver, bear and numerous birds are all in plenty. We saw "Bears" allright, loads of them at close quarters, at the IMAX in West Yellowstone. So much for it being called bear country. But we saw numerous elk and bison. They were everywhere. There is no way one can visit Yellowstone and not see these. "Wildlife jams" are common early morning and in the evening. Either its a bison on the road slowing traffic down or its a bull elk bugling about near a river, attracting so much attention that people stop their cars right on the road to see whats happening.

This one particular bull elk that we saw near Madison River was notorious for causing jams. We saw it cause a jam each of the 5 days we were in the Park. The first couple of days we actually stopped, but later our main aim was to sneak our car through the jam as quickly as possible.

More (selected) pictures from the trip to Yellowstone can be viewed at this link

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lake Yellowstone

I have been absent for a while but thats because we were moving and travelling more and there was just so much to do. Well I am back... and hopefully will be regular, because there is so much to catch up on.

And for those who have been bugging me about pictures from my Yellowstone trip, here's a teaser...with more to follow soon.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

St. Gotthard Pass, Switzerland

On a scenic drive from Luzern, we drove to the St. Gotthard pass. Here are some pictures from once we reached the pass.

This is definitely a must-do drive if you have a car in the Luzern area and is an easy, day trip. It is dangerously scenic - we had to make sure that whosoever was driving was concentrating on the road and not on the mountains around.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I am not lazy....

...if thats what you people have been thinking. Infact things have been pretty hectic ever since we got back from our Europe trip.

I am moving....moving from San Diego to the bay area. I am leaving the place I have called home for the last 6.5 years, a place that I have grown to love, a place that still amazes me.

Sunit keeps reminding me we are moving to newer and fresher beginnings(and that we will make frequent visits to Yosemite, one of my favorite national parks).Too many things around me are changing too fast. Oh yes, I always knew I was to move someday. But somethings just hit you when they happen. So here I am just going with the flow, sometimes its best to let go.

Though I have to confess, a part of me occasionally does peek out excitedly to see whats in store - new friends, new places and a new home... :-)

This blog will be a little lazy for some time. But I will be back by the end of the month and will definitely write in detail about my Europe trip.

Till then...I guess its "happy" packing for me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Beautiful cowbell land - Appenzell

I had first seen the swiss cowbells in one of Yash Chopra's movies - DDLJ. And the area that comes closest to the Switzerland as how I imagined it to be, the land of cowbells, was - Appenzell. There were sloping hills, churches with spike towers, cows with cowbells...

When we drove towards Appenzell, it was raining. I was a little disappointed. But even with the clouds and rains, it was wonderful. And so disappointment gave way to smiles as we drove towards this place. I was looking forward to walking around in these hills.

The clouds cleared up the following day. And so we woke up early eager to step out and do some walks into the country side. To say that Appenzell is beautiful would be an understatement. It was almost magical after the rains from the previous day.

When we landed in Switzerland, one of the fellow travellers had quipped - "So are they landing our plane onto a farm or something". That is exactly how it felt - there were green sloping hills all around. And the color that hits you with a bang is "green".

Monday, June 25, 2007

Switzerland was great...onto Italy now

Had my first good access to internet today - in Venice right now. The Switzerland part of the trip just ended and it could not have been better.

Till I get back to San Diego, here is something to feast your eyes on.

Chapel Bridge in Luzern

Lake Geneva at Montreux

And here is a quick one of Venice too...

Grand Canal at Venice

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Its time for a break!!

I am finally going on a vacation we have been planning for almost 5 months now. After a lot of roadblocks, buts and ifs, we have everything worked out.

The plan is to spend 11 days in Switzerland - Luzern, Appenzell, Lausanne, Lauterbrunnen. My parents will be joining us there while we wander about in the "Yash Chopra country". And then Sunit and I head off for 10 days to Italy - Venice, Florence and Rome. I can't wait to see the Sistine Chapel and walk around the Coloseum. And sit on the Spanish Steps.

We get back on 4th of July. We are not likely to have any internet access, if I do I will post some pictures. Else I will see you all after the trip. Happy blogging till then !!

Walk down the hill

Spring was wonderful last year around our apartment. There had been plenty of rain, and flowers were in plenty all around. The hill opposite our apartment driveway was covered with big purple flowers. There were bright pink flowers along the sidewalk too.

But the flowers that most caught my fancy were a little way down the hill. Everyday as I would drive to work, I would pass this beautiful patch of orange california poppies and reddish-pink flowers. And I would think I have to walk down there someday. So one of the weekends, we decided to take a walk down the hill and look at them closely. Here are the pictures from that walk - as you can see we were wonderfully rewarded.

The rains weren't all that good this year. I waited for the patch to bloom this year, but there were very few flowers :-(

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Torrey Pines State Park and Beach

Everytime I think about San Diego, I feel lucky that I have spent the last 6.5 years in such a beautiful place. And when I tend to be forgetting, this place reinforces the same time and again.

Like the fact, that I can go for my morning walks to the Torrey Pines State Park and Beach, which is just 2-3 miles from our apartment. Every so often, when the realization dawns, I drag Sunit or some friend to the place.

The state park and beach are next to each other. The beach is infact visible from the hill where we rent our apartment. Its a long stretch of brown sand and while the section right next to the road is crowded, if one walks towards the state park there are fewer people and quieter moments to enjoy.

The park is more rugged, with extensive cliffs and canyon formations. And it is also the home to the Torrey Pine, a rare tree in US (and from where the park gets its name).

There are a number of short and long trails in the park that take to different scenic overlooks. Last time we dragged some visiting friends there, we packed a small picnic of sandwiches and after the hike, rewarded ourselves by sitting near a cliff and munching at our sandwiches while looking out to the sea and beach in the distance. What else can one ask for!

I would say the state park is a must see for anyone visiting San Diego over an extended period of time.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Whats in a name!

I have been meaning to change the name of my blog for a long time now. No special reason - "Travel Memoirs" was always meant to be a temporary name till I came up with something I could associate more with.

So here it is - the new avatar for my blog - "BEYOND HERE".

For places which were represented in old world maps as "Beyond here there be dragons..."
For that feeling within, to reach beyond whats around.
And for places beyond here which beckon me...

P.S. The link remains the same. The basic theme remains the same. Just the name changes. After all, whats in a name!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Everglades National Park - II

There is another thing Everglades is famous for and quite possibly why it is called everglades or sometimes the "river of grass".

The sawgrass found in the park is not stuck to the ground but is floating and making its way to the ocean continuously. The water flows slowly from a lake in the north to the Florida bay in the south, covering a distance of close to a 100 miles. Since the water is shallow and flows over limestone, the sawgrass found here is also flowing at a very slow rate (or so they say, because the rate at which it is flowing is so slow, that it was unnoticeable to the human eye).

The Skeleton Forest amidst the sawgrass

Endless views of this can be seen at the Pahayokee Overlook which is a boardwalk to a bridge that overlooks this "river of grass"

A bridge across nowhere - to the Pahayokee Overlook

Also interesting is the Mahagony Hammock trail. Its a boardwalk to a small hammock (small groups of trees) which is home to the oldest mahogany tree in US. Such hammocks are a common sight - while driving through the park you can see a lot of them floating among the everglades or the sawgrass.

The hammock islands in the floating sawgrass

When the hammocks run into the ocean they become part of the Ten Thousand Islands. The islands or rather islets (they are small groups of mangroves, that have detached from the main land and are so small that they are mostly uninhabitable) are not 10,000 in number, but they are numerous enough and are just called so.

Remember a picture I posted earlier - those islands in the distance are some of the Ten Thousand Islands.

We could afford only a day in the Everglades National Park and went from the Royal Palms Visitor Center to the Flamingo Vistor Center, taking short walks/trails along the way. We ended our day at the Park at the Flamingo center where we took a boat ride through the mangroves in the park.

Mangroves - interesting roots

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Everglades National Park - I (Anhinga Trail)

When we decided to go to Everglades National Park for a day trip from Orlando, there was just one thing I knew about the place - I would see loads of alligators.

The first one we spotted

The guidebooks or websites warned, though, that while there is a good chance of seeing wildlife in the Park, nothing is guaranteed. So when we started on the Anhinga Trail and saw the first alligator, I remarked to my husband - "Look at this closely, this might be the only one we see today". I could not have been more wrong.

For by the time we were done with Anhinga Trail alone, we had seen close to 30-40 alligators, in different sizes, most with their mouths shut but some with their mouths open. They were everywhere. And we saw them throughout the park. Even when we stopped my a small lake just for a quiet, peaceful moment, one of these swam up to the shore to bless us with his sight.

The trail also provided lots of opportunities for bird watching - herons, egrets, anhingas were in abundance here. This particular bird (in the first picture below) was a dare devil of sorts - she would try to peck at the camera if you brought it too close, but refused to budge an inch from where it stood.

The Anhinga trail is a short, easy walk (.5 miles I think, you can hardly call it a "trail") and close to the main entrance of the park. Its definitely a must see for any visitor to the park.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fatehpur Sikri

I was looking through my pictures and came across some of Fatehpur Sikri. And I wondered - how come I never wrote about it ? Was it simply because the touts made it impossible for me to enjoy the place ? Or was it because the weather was so hot ?

Don't get me wrong, the place itself is beautiful. And the architecture great and awe inspiring, especially the red sandstone made it look out of the world. Infact I was reminded of quite a few scenes of the movie Pardes. But still....

So I decided to pen down what were the precise reasons that put me off.

Reason 1: First impression - We approached the fort through a small bazaar outside the fort. There were touts in the bazaar who insisted that we stop our car and pay them some amount for parking near the fort. They were using a thick rope as a makeshift barrier to stop passerbys like us.

Reason 2: As soon as we got out of the car, there were guides pursuing us like crazy. There seemed to be no official place to get any ticket/information on the place. Apparently the fort itself is managed by the local board or something (I forget) and so there is no one to enforce propriety.

Reason 3: This is a trivial reason, but I distinctly remember that we were not allowed to wear shoes in some portions and the ground was burning hot.

Reason 4: Even when we went inside the dargah of Salim Chishti, a priest/qazi put a hand behind my head and before I knew what was happening, with a hard push bent it in front of the dargah. Then with a long bunch of feathers he blessed me and asked me to pay some money as "donation". Of course I paid up the damages (I am sorry, I can't call it an offering since it was not of my own free will). But even after that they would not let me stand for a couple of minutes in the dargah. "Move ahead", he said.

In all fairness, here are some high-points of the place.

1. The red sandstone architecture and the expansive courtyard.

2. The intricately carved windows inside the dargah, made of a single marble piece.

3. The magnificence of the huge Buland Darwaza, even though it was infested with bee nests (honeycombs) at the very top.

4. The hawker outside that was selling cool and refreshing fruit salad and kakri (type of cucumber).

But I really wish the government would pay more attention to the upkeep and maintenance of these monuments. And do something about these touts.