Thursday, September 3, 2015

Roadtrips in US - New Mexico

First long (and free) weekend of 2015. A weekend when I wasn't required to carry my laptop or my phone. So, New Mexico happened. It was one of those really short conversations, which ended up in us booking flight tickets, with no plan in hand. The intent was to stay away from the crowd, which on a long weekend is a pretty tough thing to do. Needless to say, we were extremely successful. New Mexico is solitude exemplified. With killer landscape. Our route was -

Albuquerque - Santa Fe - Abiquiu - Taos - Roswell - Carlsbad - Truth or Consequences - Albuquerque

Empty roads on a long weekend!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Roadtrips in US - Solvang and Santa Ynez

This happened back in February I think. Had just got my license. So picked up a rental on a random weekend. Solvang is a three hour drive from LA (130 miles). As you will notice in this post, I don't have a high opinion about this place. It is a fake Danish town built to cater to tourists. And I don't do pretentious. S says that I should write about the bad ones as well. Too much of good ain't a good thing. :)

The drive was quite exciting. My first time on a long run. Deliberately took a hilly route through one of the canyons of LA. With every turn I took, folks in the car prayed a little more. The drive hits the 101 after the canyon. Fairly straight and easy. For ignoramus, 101 is the west coast lifeline and LA's road nightmare. A freeway where no one sticks to the speed limit. I have been honked at for driving at 65! Anyway, now I know that thumb rule is to go with the collective speed, which usually is 20 above the limit. And you know there is a cop car hiding in the bushes, when the collective speed drops drastically. If your work commute involves driving through the 101, sympathy is quite the norm from well wishers. But that's just the LA version of 101. It gets drastically better as you start going north on it.

We spent half a day in Solvang and that too was a bit much. Way too many people and the Danish aspect was just so fake! Absolutely not recommended.
Glimpses of Solvang

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Year 2015 in Mexico: Baja California

Ok, so the names in this side of the world are all mixed up. There is Mexico which shares a border with California. But a part of Mexico is called Baja California. Which is not a part of California. If this wasn't enough, there is New Mexico, which is not a part of Mexico. It is a state in US which shares a border with Mexico. They really could have thought of simplifying this entire thing! Anyhow, this post is about New Year 2015 that we spent in Baja California. Yes, I am trying to get all the long due posts out of the way while my vacation is breathing its last.

The initial plan was a road trip from Tijuana to Cabo. But the cost of renting a car for that route was prohibitive. Not that we paid any less for our trip. Our final plan was to fly from San Diego to Cabo, pick a car and do the route - Cabo - Todos Santos - Loreto - Cabo (for the New Year). This was a week long trip. The group was a mixed bunch. All of us knew only a few people in the group. Sometimes stepping away from the comfort of known people is a good thing. The week was a blast and the new year was a memorable one.
The Group

Monday, August 10, 2015

Roadtrips in US - Los Angeles to San Francisco

Driving in US has been great! Except for a few minor 'incidents', I have largely been accident and injury free (to self and others). After spending about six months without a car, the ability to drive has been absolutely liberating. In a country where public transport is frowned upon, it is alarming how a small task like getting groceries becomes a challenge. Well, all that is sorted now. But the lack of public transport will always be a big negative for this country.

Anyway, moving to nicer conversations, the new ride is an eye candy. S said that in the city of sun and sand, a convertible is a must. Quoting her - What is the point otherwise! Honda was immediately out of the reckoning. So was BMW, Audi and above. Soft top convertibles got ruled out as well (heat, maintenance blah). After weeks of breaking our collective heads over it, zeroed down on Volkswagen Eos. A dark grey hard top convertible. Pretty much love at first sight. Has quite a bit of what kids call these days - swag. Or maybe am not using the word right. Anyhow, you get the picture. :)
The new ride :)
Few weeks after getting the car, a relatively free weekend came up. And without much thought, a friend and I left for San Francisco through the Pacific Highway (aka 1, PCH). The route - LA - San Luis Obispo - Morro Bay - Big Sur - Monterey Bay - San Francisco. Total distance one way was approx. 450 miles. The rule was to stop wherever the view catches our fancy. And the PCH is replete with such views. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Los Angeles - Sun, Cafes and Music

The shift to LA happened about a year back. I keep saying that change is a good thing, but this was no joke. Even I struggled significantly in the first few months. There is something extremely alien about unknown roads, foreign sights and sounds without the reassurance of a return ticket to home. To top it, I had left behind close ones and the charm of running back to the known and familiar was extremely high.

A year down, and I have found footing in the city. To a certain extent at least. It is true that LA can be pretentious. But that would be true for Delhi as well. Or a hundred other cities. You just need to find your space and figure out the stuff that works for you. For me, coffee, books, music and travel work. Ofcourse, there is always the friends aspect which I sorely miss. Making new friends in your thirties is a tricky one. Low on patience and high on sarcasm - a surefire recipe for a non-existent social life.

Anyway, this post isn't about my social life or my move to LA. Penning down a few places which you should visit whenever you are here. I will write about the road trips separately since that requires much more space. This is just about where you should sip on coffee or beer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Great Lakes of Kashmir Trek

Trekking has not been too high on my wish list. All said and done, no shower and loo for 7 days is not very fun. But I have two very dear friends who become starry eyed at the thought of walking through mountains and I do adore them. So, the seven days long, 65 kms hike to the seven alpine lakes of Kashmir happened in July 2014. We went with India Hikes. There is a sense of security going with a group (about 25 people). There were porters to carry the tents, food and other necessities. We carried our backpacks, but you do have the option of offloading them to the porters (at a cost). Even for a first timer like me, offloading did not make sense. It was a trek after all and carrying our own bag was the bare minimum we could do. Before I actually write about the trek, a quick note on all the preparation and shopping required for such a trek. This was a moderate weather trek. Minimum temperature was about 3-5 degrees Celsius if I remember correctly. Days were mostly sunny and pleasant. All these treks give Decathlon (and Quechua) a ton of business. Must-haves for the trek -
  • Good waterproof trekking shoes. Though I didn't have the high ankle ones, those make sense in a lot of snow and slush. You might just be better off buying those. We were blessed with good weather during the trek.
  • Waterproof backpack. Again we had our old ragged ones. So, we bought rain protection for the bags. 
  • Quick-dry, well-fitting slacks and tees
  • One light jacket
  • One down jacket (if you are a Bong). Or you could be like S, and just loan the Bong's jacket on cold nights!
  • Sunglasses
  • A monkey cap (if you are a Bong). It gets cold in the tent! Any which way, get ear protection.
  • Cap to avoid face tan. If you saw my nose post trek, you would know why this is so important
  • Energy bars, chocolate, glucose, dry fruits - These keep you going during hours and hours of hiking
  • A bottle, plate, spoon, toilet paper and tissues (wet and otherwise) 
  • Trekking pole (got mine for INR 250 from ebay)
  • Small torch or head lamp. Very handy this one.
  • Vaseline, sunscreen
  • Poncho
  • Risk appetite and some physical stamina
  • Camera (A necessity for me. Might not be the case for everyone.)
The starting point for the trek was Sonmarg (7,800 ft). We reached Srinagar, just to figure that there was a bit of chaos in the city and the route to Sonmarg was closed out. Spent the night at a seedy hotel and left at an ungodly hour for Sonmarg base camp. So, the first day started really really early. Took about two hours to reach base camp. Taarak, the trek guide and Noorani Bhai rounded us up and gave the initial load of warnings and instructions. Air gets thinner as you walk up. Take deep breaths. You will get tired easily. First two days are the toughest. Drink a lot of water. Small sips at regular intervals. Might get mild headaches. Don't panic. By the end of it all, my Bong self had put all the warnings together and stitched out a near death situation. S said one step at a time. One day at a time. With that in my head, we started off. 

The first day was extremely strenuous and long. To top it, S was not feeling too well. We hiked for about 12-13 kilometers that day. Walking that distance is okay, but climbing from 7000 something ft to about 12,000 ft is quite a stretch. First two days of the trek are make or break. Either you acclimatize or you don't. The trek route is unbelievably beautiful, and it keeps getting prettier by the hour. I was carrying the D90, and the weight of it along with the backpack and the thinning air was not very fun. But the pics that came out of it were totally worth the effort. :) So, the first day, we walked right up till 7 pm. En route, saw a bunch of Kashmiri kids playing on a rope swing. Those swings looked easy enough, bur city butts are not used to such things. Needless to say, we provided free entertainment to those kids, who were in splits seeing our pathetic attempts. There is minimal to no civilization on the way. Stopped at a small tea/maggi shop in the middle of nowhere. They knew they were the only ones around, and made the most of it. Charged a premium for everything. Our bill for omelette, maggi and tea for three people was over 500 bucks! The camp site was one of the most welcome sites we had seen in a while. :) First day was done and we had come out of it without any injuries or AMS. Being that tired is actually a good feeling. Every muscle hurt. Hot food tasted divine and the Bournvita served right after, seemed like a cure for all maladies. The Milky Way had lit up the sky beautifully. Barely 9.30 pm, and I was out like a light in the tent.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan - Tokyo

Realized that this blog has not been updated ever since I moved to US. Last eight months have been a blur. Moving to a new place has its own learning curve. Learning to live without a big network of friends, learning to drive, learning to see your family through Skype. The list is long. As usual, time and distance have been the greatest teachers. More on that on the other blog.  Finishing up the long pending Tokyo post. This one is a guest post from S. :) S has a fairly severe case of ADD. So, she zones out at an alarming rate. Took her a lot of willpower (and time) to write this one. So, here goes.

April 2014 - We took the last train out from Fuji and reached Tokyo late in the night. Having spent two days in the sleepy town of Kawaguchiko, we were looking forward to the nightlife in Tokyo. And Tokyo did blow us away. This city seems right out of those futuristic movies. Skyscrapers, bullet trains, people hurrying around like it's the end of the world. It was a stark change from the laid back towns we had been visiting. It was almost like Bombay but again set in the future. Khaosan, the hostel we stayed in, was a hop skip away from the station. The hostel itself was located very conveniently and the rooms were very comfy.

Khaosan Hostel