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[Travel] Hiking around Lake Chabot

Last Sunday, we hiked the 10-mile (15-16 km) Lake Chabot Loop with friends. It was amazing fun because of some new people we met, a beautiful lake and trail and it had been a long time since I had walked so much! (My legs informed me about that the next day ;-)

Start of the hike

Start of the hike

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[Travel] Monterey Bay

Last Saturday, we were hanging out with A R Karthick who was gracious to take us exploring the Monterey Bay – the three highlights for the day were:

Mystery Spot was interesting and the strange phenomenon there could only be explained by some kind of magnetic force, we would literally stand at an angle in the centre of the mystery spot, and the host was very comic and entertaining, so the visit felt worth it.

Ocean View Boulevard is one of the most beautiful places to drive around and we actually saw a couple of weddings in the open lawns on that road which gives an idea of how scenic that place was.

17-Mile Drive was a nice drive along the coastline. The fun part for me was when Karthick decided to teach me how to drive in the USA and I was so nervous of all the rules (solid line vs. dotted line, whoa!), but he taught well and I got the hang of it, although, maintaining an average of 60 miles per hour on the highway is daunting as I’m not used to those speeds.

A R Karthick

A R Karthick

Leaning in Mystery Spot

Leaning in Mystery Spot

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San Francisco

My wife and I are visiting San Francisco (I am here for the launch of Automatic) and in this past month, I have been experiencing San Francisco and the culture here. Obviously, this is all anecdotal but, hey, that’s what experiences are about.

The first thing that I’ve noticed is that people generally smile here and are cordial which is quite striking and I would probably attribute that to something about parenting here, because I’ve never seen American kids cry, and I mean never. In India, if you smile at a stranger, it’s because you know them, not because you’re walking by.

The second thing is that even if they are cordial, they have some kind of “force field” around them, it’s a “Don’t enter my personal space” thing. No wonder Americans thought of force fields in cartoons and movies. And I’m not the first person to talk about this, a good friend of mine Anu who has moved from USA to India to run a for-profit social enterprise (which I had earlier freelanced for) talks about What being Indian means to her:

It’s about love.  In all senses of the word.  It’s about having this big love for your family, your friends, the world, everything.  It’s exemplified in Bollywood- the enormity of emotion.  In the West, we have a very limited view on love, mainly referring to the romantic kind.  Maybe that’s because we are a much younger civilization and haven’t quite figured out how to express the nuances of this amazing force. But in India, that sort of love is directed towards everything and everyone.  I was hanging out with some new friends I made in Mumbai yesterday, and it was amazing- they treated me as if they’ve known me forever and brought me into their friend circle, making me feel so welcome. And it was genuine- absolutely and completely genuine.  This isn’t new, as the same thing happened when I first came to India in college, where new friends took me in and treated me as their own, again, no questions asked, no strings attached, just..because.  I haven’t been able to be in touch as much as I want, but it’s one of those feelings that you know they’re not judging you, and that bond you have is still strong.  Family in India is the same way.  They take you in with open arms (friends of yours included) and treat you like their own son or daughter.  It’s incredible… So I think to me, being Indian means being capable of exuding that love, and reflecting it back on the world unconditionally.

Interestingly, we met some friends of friends (including a typical white American male) who intend to eventually move from America to Asia because of the individualistic culture in America.

On the other hand, the city of San Francisco is a wonderful place to visit:

Silicon Valley

View from Potrero Hill, San Francisco

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Delhi By Cycle

I had an interesting morning today cycling around Old Delhi guided by Arkash of Delhi by Cycle tour.

Seeing a city by cycle was a great incentive by itself and was fun. But I ended up with a case of the Paris Shock Syndrome because of the state of filth of the city, even the grand Red Fort is nestled in a pile of garbage and we saw the city’s poo and pee being dumped into the “holy Yamuna river.”

The fun part for me was cycling through parantheywali gully which is impossible to imagine in the evenings.

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No matter how many times I have heard about Taj Mahal, it’s startling how big it really is.

It’s amazing that it is built on top of water wells and special wood because the wet wood makes it resistant to vibrations and hence earthquake-resistant. Of course, Shah Jahan didn’t anticipate that subsequent generations will destroy the river and hence endanger the Taj Mahal.

Thanks to a great guide Raju ( +919917371773 ), we had a fact-filled tour of Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, and his stories made us imagine and visualize the Mughal days vividly, right from the underground 6-floor well structure for the women to bathr children and be cool during summers to the treasure holes where the princesses can store their jewels to the optical illusions to the design of the diwan-i-aam where the emperor sits to interact with the public and one can see everyone from only that spot and nowhere else because of the pillars to why a Mughal emperor’s daughters were never married (so that they never have to bow down before the son-in-law and in-laws) to why only 16 of the 500 palaces within Agra Fort is open to public to how fountains work without electricity and motors to why there are gardens in 4s / squares to why there are only flowers and no animals in the carvings to how much Shah Jahan really loved Mumtaz (he spent 22 years spending a significant portion of the empire’s money on it because he made a promise to her that he will build a memorial for her, but he eventually lost his zest for life and could not focus on the empire’s strength an health, and hence Aurangzeb wanted to take over to keep the empire intact but he was not considered a good man himself) to why there are 14 verses of Quran inscribed on the walls of the Taj Mahal (Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth their 14th child).

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After our previous flying fox / zipline experience, we were looking forward to the
6-zipline Flying Fox experience in the Mehrangarh Fort at Jodhpur and we were not disappointed, it was a picturesque location and the exciting ziplines went over water, fort walls and across the blue city scenery, ranging from 80m to 310m in length each!
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P.S. Mehrangarh Fort is the same fort you may have seen in The Dark Knight Rises (Batman) movie.

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We had an interesting camel ride and fantastic night in the Thar Desert, thanks to Trotters, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

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Doing the Flying-Fox at Vihi-Kasara

I came to know there was a water rappelling event organized by VRangers this weekend via the Mumbai Hikers blog. We booked it and only realized later that it was 220+ km away and we’ll have to be there by 10am. Ouch. We inquired for stays in Igatpuri so that we can reach there on Saturday afternoon and head back on Sunday afternoon. No luck – every single hotel we could reach out to was fully booked. Yikes, what is so special about this place Igatpuri that the whole area is full? We were going to find out later since we decided to head out anyway, and started driving at 5:30am on a Sunday morning.

We headed out on the Maharashtra State Highway 50 which is a 2-lane no-divider highway which made it difficult and slow to drive because of the slow heavy trucks. An hour later, we stopped at this beautiful spot to have packed healthy sandwiches for breakfast:

View from our breakfast spot

View from our breakfast spot

 

View of breakfast point

View of breakfast point

 

View from our breakfast spot

View from our breakfast spot

 

Breakfast spot

Breakfast spot

 

Less than an hour later, Google Maps showed a possible route other than going through Nashik and we wanted to avoid going to Nashik. So even though the locals also discouraged us, we decided to take the shorter SH51 route that Google Maps showed us, and boy are we glad that we did!

SH21 to Igatpuri

SH21 to Igatpuri

 

The Road

 

The Road

 

Flower field

Flower field

 

Waterfalls by the road

Waterfalls by the road

 

The road

 

Lush green hillocks

Lush green hillocks

 

The road

 

Field, where we stopped to eat apples

Field, where we stopped to eat apples

 

Raining while driving in the beautiful scenic road

Raining while driving in the beautiful scenic road

 

Clouds into the hills

Clouds into the hills

 

The road

 

Big waterfalls seen at a distance

Big waterfalls seen at a distance

 

Waterfalls, by the road

Waterfalls, by the road

 

The road

After feasting our eyes on lush green hills, beautiful waterfalls far and near (by the road side) and green fields with grazing animals, we reached our final destination – Vihi gaon, near Manas Resort, Igatpuri, after 5.5 hours of driving through countless bends and turns.

We were both excited to do waterfall rappelling but when we reached, they said that due to heavy rainfall and strong water flowing, the number of safe spots that rappelling can be done from is only one and another group had already taken it up, so we were going to do another activity. We were disappointed at first but safety concerns are important, so we were happy there was another activity – the flying fox  (also called a zip-line).

Although there were too many people in queue (nearly a hundred!), the organizers VRangers handled things very well and ensured everyone’s safety as well as fun.

Crossing the water to the flying fox start point

Crossing the water to the flying fox start point

 

Small waterfall level above and before the big waterfall

Small waterfall level above and before the big waterfall

 

Queue waiting for their turn

Queue waiting for their turn

 

Flying Fox start point

Flying Fox start point

 

Flying Fox start point, my wife

Flying Fox start point, my wife

 

A video of the view from the start of the flying fox rope : this is my wife who is going down the rope, it hard to get a good shot because, due to safety reasons, the waiting folks were at a distance from the crew and the cliff:

A view from the other side, the end of the flying fox rope : this is a random person coming down the rope:

Experiencing the water splashes:

View of the pouring waterfall, from the end point

View of the pouring waterfall, from the end point

 

Waterfall full view

Waterfall full view

 

Waterfall rapelling by another group

Waterfall rapelling by another group

 

Waterfall rappelling by another group

Waterfall rappelling by another group

 

We enjoyed being at the waterfalls for quite some time, then went to a nearby Greelands hotel, changed to dry clothes in the surprisingly clean bathrooms, had lunch and finally headed back to Pune around 4:30pm in the same route.

Waterfalls view, from the road

Waterfalls view, from the road

 

River, by the road

River, by the road

 

Small waterfalls, by the road

Small waterfalls, by the road

 

The road, all rained out

The road, all rained out

 

The highlight on the way back was a beautiful rainbow:

A rainbow

A rainbow!

 

We had dinner around 8 at Chaitrali restaurant – their Veg. Kasuri is a must-try. Then headed out again doing the sometimes-scary highway overtaking and the even-more-scary overtaking from left because of slow-moving moron drivers who insists on being on the right side of the lane. We finally reached home at 10:30pm, I washed up and crashed for the night with a smile on my face and aches everywhere.

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Holiday at The Machan

My wife and myself recently had a great time at The Machan in Lonavala, Maharashtra, India. It’s perfect for nature lovers who want a weekend (or in our case, weekday) getaway and be amidst greenery and silence. It is certainly not the place if you’re looking for “activities to do in a resort”.

The word “machan” means “a platform erected in a tree, used originally for hunting large animals and now for watching animals in wildlife reserves.”

To reach the place, you need to first book online. Couples and small families go into the Canopy Machan, big families or groups can go into the Heritage Machan. Then, you follow their directions or use their location in Google Maps, because you won’t find any signage anywhere. In fact, even after reaching the place, their name is not mentioned anywhere. They really want to be as natural as possible, I guess.

 The Machan is a little less than 90 km from Pune, so we had a pleasant drive and reached in under two hours. As soon as we entered, we were greeted by this beautiful wooden reception area. It reminded me of the woodhouse in Gharshana movie.
The Machan claim they are completely  “off grid” because they depend on solar and wind power for their electricity. I found that claim a little disingenuous because they have LPG cylinders for heating the water in each machan. But in the larger picture, they are as eco friendly as possible.
We were eager to see our machan for the day and were enthralled by it.

Climbing the stairs to our “canopy” machan

View from the deck of our machan for the day

View down from the deck of the “canopy” machan, you’re literally looking down on a big tree

You could say that the bathroom was luxurious. You could.

We were equally fascinated by the furniture and the british era style interiors.

Old-style switches

Deck chair

Collapsible hanger

After we were done admiring the place and the view, we had a scrumptious simple lunch served by the courteous and helpful staff in the open dining area.

A negative at first is that there is no phone connectivity but it quickly turns into a positive because you end up reading a book or enjoying the calmness.

We met another nice family and had a great time chatting with them. It is one of those chance encounters that leaves a lasting positive impression in your mind.

Immediately after lunch, we set out to explore the estate.
One of the first things we saw near the machans is that there is an upcoming “conference hall” which devastated my image of the place and I was glad that we came to see the estate now before it becomes fully commercial, say, next year.
We had picked up a “trail map” on the desk in the machan room and religiously followed it and were well rewarded.

Crossing the stream with carefully laid stones

Bench in the jungle

Out of the trees, into the field

The trail is visible for any experienced trekker. I realized it’s not so visible for others.

View of our canopy machan, from the bench by the water – observe the top of the photo closely

Bench by the water

Once we played around in the water and relaxed a bit at the “bench by the water”, we set out on the rest of the trail, and suddenly found ourselves back at the bench by the water. We had ended up in a loop which happened to be a different trail than the one we were pursuing. The wrong turn we took was because there was a brook on the left side and we went right. We checked it out again and realized there is a trail after we jump across the water. And we kept walking until we came at this beautiful “sunset point”. The lovely breeze, silence, privacy, and sprinkles of drizzle made us linger here for a long time.
The sunset point is close the entrance of the Machan estate, so we walked outside for nearly a kilometre towards the main road so that we get phone connectivity. Every girl wants to talk to her mom once a day.
We walked back to the room, ordered for masala tea which was perfect after a trek and perfect for the weather.
We started reading a book and a magazine respectively, listening to the birds in the trees below us and around us.
Once it got dark, we fell into a deep conversation about life, dreams, and everything.
After dinner in the lit-up dining area, we slept warmly in the cold weather and woke up to see the mist in the hills.
After omelettes and poha for breakfast, we relaxed by the pond. We didn’t get to see rain on the day we were there even though they told us it has been pouring for a while.
Then, we jumped into the car and headed back towards the concrete jungle.

P.S. Special thanks to BG for telling me about this place.

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Paragliding in Kamshet

The Sunday before last, we went paragliding in a beautiful place called Pawananagar Dam, near Kamshet in Maharashtra:

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The idea was to go on “tandem flights” where a qualified instructor will take you as a passenger in one of these parachute gliders:

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When I experienced my turn, I realized that taking off was way more difficult than landing because the winds were strong and getting the takeoff right was difficult keeping safety in mind. Also, *evil grin*, finally a sport where being heavier is an advantage – you get to go first!

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There were solo flights by student pilots going on as well. Interestingly, I bumped into an old friend whom I had met in a trek in Himachal pradesh several years ago. Amazing what a small world it is.

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We went through Temple Pilots, but I would NOT recommend them because (1) they took on too many people for a Sunday even though they knew that they couldn’t possibly take all of them for the ride, (2) they put up a farce that they will be taking passengers in order of decreasing weight, but that’s just an excuse for them to pick people from groups because they make more money that way. I would recommend trying other groups such as Nirvana and Indus who were more efficient and had invited lesser number of people so that they could manage everyone in a single day.

I definitely want to visit this place in the rainy season again to admire the beauty of Pavana Dam in a different setting.