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.

Friday, May 04, 2007

An Unexpected Visitor

We had an unexpected visitor the other day.

I was at work and my husband was at home. We were discussing something on the phone when my husband exclaimed - "Oh My God! There's a deer under our balcony. I will have to call you back". And he hung up on me.

I would have rather had him on the phone, narrating each little bit. I heard back from him,though, an hour later when he sent in these pictures to me. They still made my day.

Some background might be useful. We live in an apartment that overlooks the Los Penaquitos Canyon on the back side. There is a walkway at the rear and a fence that separates the canyon from the apartment community. You can see the latter in the last picture.

Now my husband at one time refused to believe that there are any deer near our home. I had seen them multiple times before - once in our apartment parking lot and once around a sharp bend on the road at night. When I told him about them, he had replied back, saying - "It was dark, it was probably a dog". Till one day we were walking back from a neighbor's place and he saw a family/group of deer (isn't there a name for that? ) behind the fence in the canyon. He has been a believer ever since.

And the other's day incident served as a double confirmation.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Soarin' at Epcot

My writings on Epcot are not complete without this - my favorite ride at Epcot was "Soaring". It was a simulator ride which made you feel as if you were gliding or soaring over California. An exhillarating feeling and more so for us since we have been living in California for six and a half years. The ride provided a different view of the all too familiar sights of California to us.

While I don't have any picture of the ride itself (we were all buckled up and everything), here is one of a nice exhibit outside the same ride.

And a link from Disney's website with more insight into the ride.

As a side note, there is a "test track" ride also in Epcot. Its famed as one of the fastest and longest rides in Disney history. And that was enough to scare me out of taking a ride on it. I am yet to hear the end of it from my husband because I wouldn't let him ride it either.