Posted in adventure, alaska, animal photography, arctic circle, cruise, landscapes, mountains, nature, personal, photography, snow, travel

The Prince William Sound cruise

“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”

Indeed a spectacular marine ride it was on board Major Marine Prince Williams Sound cruise. The adventure began from Seaward through a one lane narrow and dim combined rail/road tunnel (the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel) to Whittier which opens every hour. The tunnel is opened for traffic in each direction alternatively and the Alaskan Railroad also uses same tunnel to go to Whittier.


We reached the tunnel at around 9:30 am and so could avoid the rush and was at the harbor much earlier than we thought. As we had ample time, we decided to explore the area but found nothing much of interest except for the ships and boats. We had packed some breakfast which we ate sitting at the staircase of a gift shop (closed). We felt we were out on a picnic. Though sunny, the weather seemed to be pretty cold with the wind blowing and so I got some heavy socks and scarfs and two jackets on. Surprisingly, once we boarded the ship, I had to remove all of them and was just in my tanks.


The Captain of the ship was a young lady and full of jest and energy. Her hearty welcome pulled up the spirits for the adventure. We had also had a lady forest ranger on board as our narrator, who pinpointed to us all points of interest of the journey.
Once Major Marine started, the scenes surrounding us began to change.We were lucky to have a sunny day as the water sparkled in the bright sunlight. Amidst the smooth sailing in the calm water, we came upon a number of stunningly beautiful glaciers in the mountains around us and through the beautiful Esther Passage.

We also saw some wild animals like the bald eagle, sea otters, sea lions, and salmon fish but no whales though. Dozens of sea lions were resting on small rocky islands in the middle of the sea. We saw plenty of sea otters, floating around in their flotillas. It was interesting to watch them laying on their backs basking in the sunlight, cleaning their fur or eating off their bellies. The forest ranger had brought an adult male sea otter pelt to show us. It was incredible, the fur was so densely packed (highest hair concentration of any animal) and it was large and heavy.


The main attraction of the trip was of course was The Surprise Glacier, a massive piece of evolving ice, 300 feet above and below. The captain stopped for about 30 minutes at this location so we could take photos and enjoy the breaking ice.

While returning through Port Wells, we also halted at a bird rookery – home to thousands of Kittiwakes, a member of the gull family. Over 10,000 Kittiwakes nest on these cliffs each summer to lay eggs, raise their young, and bulk up for their long trip south for the winter. The place was pretty noisy as one can imagine.
The innumerable tall waterfalls streaming down the slopes of the mountains gave an incredible view to the whole scene.

As we were ready to return, the captain announced that we could buy Glacier Margarita made from a chunk of Glacier ice from the sea and combined with other ingredients.We also had lunch overboard as well. Since there wasn’t much of vegetarian options, the cook made us a special soup made of tomato and beans which he called as chilly soup.

It was indeed an incredible experience to witness nature in its most pristine setting and realize that our world is so temporary. This natural phenomena has been around since thousands and thousands of years before us and hopefully will continue undisturbed for a million more.In the words of John Muir,”after witnessing the unveiling of the majestic peaks and glaciers and their baptism in the down-pouring sunbeams, it seemed inconceivable that nature could have anything finer to show us.”

Posted in adventure, alaska, arctic circle, barrow, entertainment, landscapes, map, national parks, nature, personal, photography, random thoughts, reading, travel, USA

Trip to Barrow, Alaska- The top of the world

Life is God’s gift to you.The way you live your life is your gift to God.

It wasn’t just another trip this time. I would rather call it a very unique adventure of a lifetime. For our July 4th long weekend we had planned our trip to Alaska long long ago in November 2012 but was uncertain if we ever would be able to make it.. me being 6 months pregnant. But having got the green signal from my Ob/Gyn we decided to go ahead as planned but Barrow was a long shot. I had no knowledge about the place but hubby dear had done some research and was very enthusiastic about it. However he had left it entirely upon me to decide whether to go ahead or not.After a hectic bus ride at Denali National park, we headed to our Mckinley creek cabin to rest for the next day’s flight. I was all wobbly and dizzy the next morning and was distressed that we wouldn’t be able to make it. However, after a little rest I managed to convince myself that all was well and am glad we could make it.

 

Our flight from Fairbanks took a break at Prudhoe Bay airport.It was an extraordinary sight to view the 800 mile pipeline from the air,a true testimony to engineering feats, that  allows contraction and expansion of the 48″ pipe on the tundra. We also got a glimpse of the famous Dalton Highway, one of the most isolated roads in the United States. My hubby has the greatest desire to drive through this road someday specially during winter when the road is frozen.The view of the permafrost terrain (permanently frozen ground) from the air was exhilarating.

As soon as we landed in Barrow, the whole scenario changed. It was a totally different world from the rest of Alaska or US. The airport was pretty small with just one room used both for departure and arrival as well as check-ins etc. Once we stepped out of it everything seemed to be isolated and rustic. I felt at a loss at first as the streets seemed to be desolate and not many people or vehicles were around. Following hubby out of the airport, we at first thought of picking up our rented car but didn’t know which direction to go. The google map too wasn’t working and it was pretty cold outside after having come from 70/80 degrees F at Fairbanks. Fortunately we sighted our hotel(Airport Inn) and decided to check in first. The hotel wasn’t that fanciful but had a warm welcome atmosphere with all the modern amenities except for the outdated TV set and two small twin beds.


After resting for awhile we walked through the town in search of our car rental agency. I was desperate and irritated as the place was all empty and desolate and the cold wind added to my vexed feelings. I was wondering if the trip was worth it. To make matters worse, when we reached the agency, (a worn out unpolished house rather just a room in some small building) not far from the airport, no one responded to our calls and the door was locked too. I was in no mood to keep walking and was literally angry with hubby. Just then as if god saw our desperation, a car stopped by and inquired if we were looking for rental cars. He was the owner of the car rental agency. I was so relieved that I immediately jumped into his car and we headed to his office.

Barrow isn’t a big place and one can see around mostly on foot too if you are good at it. It is located 300 miles (480 km) north of the Arctic Circle on the Arctic Ocean. The tiny village holds the distinction of being the northernmost settlement in the United States, and the northernmost settlement on the North American mainland. The residents are primarily of Inupiat (“Eskimo”) descent.(courtesy wiki travel).

Because of its extreme location Barrow receives 24-hours daylight from May 10 to August 2 as well as 24 hours darkness from November 18 to August 22.

Barrow wasn’t a very welcome sight at first with the unpaved roads and the desolate looks of dark and gray with no greenery around except for the small grasses. after picking up our rented car, we headed towards the Tundra Top of the world hotel where we were to join the tour group. We boarded a small bus with 15 other tourists. The driver took us along the beach road to as far north towards Point Barrow as you can go without a permit. We were about 4 miles away from point Barrow, the northern most point of the American continent.We learnt that the hunters dump all their whale bones at Point Barrow in order to keep the Polar Bears out of downtown Barrow but they still come into town during the winter months. One need to pay extra to go to point Barrow as well as hire a private ATV or car to get there along the rugged unpaved road.

To be able to make to the top of the world is a thrill unexplainable in words.It was pretty exciting to be so close to the arctic ocean.It was a sunny afternoon and the water was gentle. There were several icebergs floating around though most of it had melted away by now. We also saw some pretty big colorful jelly fish. Amidst the excitement, one tourist suddenly stripped naked and dived into the icy cold ocean water while we all stood on shore not daring to even dip a finger.Everyone started laughing and clapping. Definitely, he made to the polar bear club membership, a tradition of some people to swim in the icy waters. We were a little disappointed to have missed seeing a polar bear though.

We continued our journey as the driver narrated stories and showed us almost every part of  the town of Barrow,including the one and only gas station and grocery store, the lagoons and fresh water lakes,the hospital, the two local cemeteries, the elementary school, middle school, and high school, the Barrow High School football field on the road towards Point Barrow, the local government buildings, the Will Rodgers/Wiley Post Memorial and the airport named after them and the Inupiat Heritage Center, which provides information on the history of the Inupiat people as well as displays of artifacts and cultural events. We also got to see “Satellite City”, an area outside the town where all of the satellite dishes are located. Interestingly the dishes point at the horizon, instead of up in the sky.  In order for them to work properly, there can’t be anything in front of them.  Luckily finding empty space  isn’t much of an issue.

Because of the permafrost, no vegetation could thrive in the region. The houses too were built raised from the ground to prevent from melting the permafrost.There were junk piles and old boats and broken down snow mobiles everywhere. We also saw a water truck that constantly splashed water on the road to keep away the dust during the dry season.

After the tour, we picked up lunch from Pepe’s Restaurant, took our car and headed back to our hotel. We rested for a few hours and then decided to tour around on our own. It was quite astonishing to see the sun quite above us even after 9 pm.We went back to the Bowhead Whale jaw bone Arc point and Welcome to Alaska, top of the world sign and took several more pictures. The ride was even more bumpier in the car than was in the bus. The weather was cool and sunny but thanks to the chilly wind from the Arctic ocean,that made it impossible to stay out of the car for long.

We also went to the grocery store mostly to check the prices and also get some water and snack bars. I can understand why the prices were so high there as definitely it wasn’t that easy to get all items to such a remote area. The price of things up here in Barrow were way higher than anywhere in the world, since everything had to be flown in or brought in by boat.

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Arctic Pizza restaurant

We ordered a medium size pizza for dinner from Arctic Pizza restaurant, which we found bigger than our normal large size pizza. It was quite tasty and sumptuous for dinner. Exhausted from the day’s rides, we soon fell asleep even when the sun outside was high above us. We woke up next morning and got ready to catch the flight back to Fairbanks. We left the place with a sense of achievement of seeing a unique and historic destination and being above the Arctic Circle.

” I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” ― Jack Dawson

Posted in adventure, entertainment, landscapes, map, personal, travel, USA

Places I have been to in the USA

Re-posting my earlier post after adding a few more places….Alaska and Florida.usmap

The blue color shows the states I have visited.

SR# Place State
1 Grand Canyon National Park Arizona
2 Antelope Canyon Navajo Park Arizona
3 San Francisco California
4 Rocky Mountains National Park Colorado
5 Mount Evans Colorado
6 Colorado Springs Colorado
7 Royal George Bridge Colorado
8 Great Sand dunes National Park Colorado
9 Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
10 Starved rock state park Illinois
11 Indiana Dunes State Park Illinois
12 Chicago Illinois
13 Dubuque IOWA
14 Maquoketa caves State Park IOWA
15 Pictured Rock National Lakeshore Michigan
16 Silver Lake State Park Michigan
17 Bay Harbor Michigan
18 Mackinaw City Michigan
19 Tahquamenon falls state Park Michigan
20 Marquette Michigan
21 Porcupine State Park Michigan
22 Blue Mounds State Park Minnesota
23 William O Brian State Park Minnesota
24 Minnesota Nothshore Minnesota
25 McCarthy State Park Minnesota
26 Frontenac State Park Minnesota
27 Minneopa State Park Minnesota
28 Mille Lacs State Park Minnesota
29 Niagara Cave Minnesota
30 Scottsbluff national monument Nebraska
31 Chimney Rock Nebraska
32 Lake Tahoe Nevada
33 Las Vegas Nevada
34 Atlantic City New Jersey
35 Niagara Falls New York
36 New York City New York
37 Badlands National Park South Dakota
38 Mt. Rushmore South Dakota
39 Custer State Park South Dakota
40 Crazy Horse South Dakota
41 Cosmos South Dakota
42 Jewel Cave South Dakota
43 Needles Scenic Byway South Dakota
44 Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee
45 Zion National Park Utah
46 Bryce National Park Utah
47 Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah
48 Monument Valley Navajo Park Utah
49 Arches National Park Utah
50 Canyon lands National park Utah
51 Washington DC Virginia
52 Peninsula State Park Wisconsin
53 Wisconsin Dells Wisconsin
54 Yellowstone National Park Wyoming
55 Grand Teton National Park Wyoming
56 Everglades National Park Florida
57 Disney World Florida
58 Miami Florida
59 Key-West Florida
60 Kennedy Space Center Florida
61 Denali National Park Alaska
62 Barrow Alaska
63 Kenai Fjords National Park(Exit Glacier) Alaska
64 Seward Alaska
65 Whittier Alaska
66 Chugach National Forest Alaska
67 Anchorage Alaska
Posted in mystery spots, national parks, nature, photography, travel, USA, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone National Park-1

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

I am sure anyone who has visited Yellowstone national park will agree to the magical beauty of this place. I feel extremely lucky to have got the chance to visit this natural wonderland.There are more geysers and hot springs here than anywhere else on Earth.

The park was established in 1872 as America’s first national park. A mountain wildland, home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, the park is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone.

Yellowstone National Park  extends through Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  The park’s name is derived from the Yellowstone River, which runs through the park.The Firehole River winds through the Upper Geyser Basin.

Nomadic grazers, bison roam Yellowstone National Park’s grassy plateaus in summer and spend winter near warm thermal pools or in the northern section of the park. The huge animals use their heads like a plow to push snow aside in search of food.

The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, at 308 feet high, is one of the most photographed features in all of Yellowstone. There are numerous vantage points on both the North and South sides of the Canyon. The 3/8 mile (one way) hike down to the edge of the Lower Falls is breathtaking. The Yellowstone begins south of the park, traveling more than 600 miles (965 kilometers) before it empties into the Missouri River in North Dakota. It is the longest undammed river in the continental U.S.

Tower Fall is 17 miles north of Canyon or two miles south of Roosevelt. The 132-foot waterfall plunges as a near-perfect water column until it crashes onto the rocks at its base.

During the winter months, the frozen falls are accessible via cross country skies.

Yellowstone National Park’s mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) Upper Geyser Basin contains the world’s greatest concentration of hot springs and geysers. In the entire park, which spreads out over parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, there are more than 10,000 hydrothermal features—half of all such features in the world.Of this remarkable number, only five major geysers are predicted regularly by the naturalist staff. They are Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful. There are many frequent, smaller geysers to be seen and marveled at in this basin as well as numerous hot springs and one recently developed mudpot (if it lasts).

Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the park and is located in the Upper Geyser Basin. This geyser erupts more frequently than the other big geysers, erupting every 40 to 126 minutes. Old Faithful’s eruption lasts from 1 ½ minutes to 5 minutes on average, and reaches heights of about 105 – 184 feet, expelling 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water.

Lower Geyser Basin is located north of the Upper and Midway Geyser Basins, between Madison Junction and Old Faithful Village on the Grand Loop Road. The primary access point is either the Fountain Paint Pot area or the Firehole Lake Drive.

Midway geyser basin, though small in size compared to its companions along the Firehole River, holds large wonders for the visitor. Excelsior Geyser reveals a gaping crater 200 x 300 feet with a constant discharge of more than 4,000 gallons of water per minute into the Firehole River. Also in this surprising basin is Yellowstone’s largest hot springs, Grand Prismatic Spring. This feature is 370 feet in diameter and more than 121 feet in depth.

There are a huge number of day hikes available in the park, and since many visitors travel only to the most popular geyser basins these trails provide an opportunity to see the park in a more natural setting.

Yellowstone offers a number of recreation opportunities with specific rules and guidelines that visitors should be familiar with prior to arriving at the park. These include fishing, backcountry camping, hiking, horseback riding and boating.

….to be continued.

Posted in entertainment, mountains, national parks, nature, photography, travel

Grand Teton national park

This is one of the most magnificent place I have ever visited.On our way to Yellowstone national park we stopped at this spectacular place The Grand Teton national park. It is located in northwestern Wyoming just south of Yellowstone national park and just north of the town of Jackson.

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the ethereal mountain landscape

Rising more than 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, the Teton Range dominates the park’s skyline. Natural processes continue to shape the ecosystem against this impressive and iconic backdrop.

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The Tetons are a prime example of fault-block mountain formation. When the earth’s crust cracked along a fault millions of years ago, the Tetons rose into the sky. The exposed crystalline rocks give these mountains their dramatic appearance in any season. The Grand Teton rises to 13,770 feet above sea level and 12 other peaks reach above 12,000 feet elevation.

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the snake river

Running north to south, the Snake River winds its way down the valley and across this amazing scene.

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Grand Teton National Park has abundant wildlife, but it is most famous for its populations of elk, bison (buffalo), moose and bald eagles. We were fortunate enough to see a herd of bisons.

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This stunningly jaw dropping mountain peak is a wondrous playground for climbers, hikers, skiers, and nearly all other outdoor enthusiasts.

ready for a wild ride????
ready for a wild ride???

If you visit Yellowstone, this place is a must see. The park is definitely overshadowed by its big brother – Yellowstone NP. However, its magnificent panoramic views of the Grand Teton, Eagle Rest, and other peaks, beats even the Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Snow and glaciers on the steep slopes add to the range’s breathtaking beauty.

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Crystalline alpine lakes fill glacial cirques, and noisy streams cascade down rocky canyons to larger lakes at the foot of the range. These lakes, impounded by glacial debris, mirror the mountains on calm days.

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view from the visitor center

The weather was a bit cloudy that morning as we started and we also met with some heavy rains on the way but finally the sun did show up.

The weather can change rapidly in this mountainous region. Temperatures can plummet with little advance warning. Lightning is a real danger. Watch the skies, and if you hear thunder, take shelter within a structure or lower your profile to the sky.

After being stunned by this majestic natural beauty, we headed towards Yellowstone national park.

Posted in adventure, Jewel cave, landscapes, national parks, nature, personal, photography, south dakota, travel, USA

South Dakota – Part 2

The next morning we went to see the Jewel caves which was about an hour’s drive from Custer State park. It is the second-longest cave system in the world with 160 miles of explored passageways. The cave got its name from the dazzling calcite crystals that illuminate the underground and lighted walkways of the cave. We took the scenic tour which was of 1 ½ hrs duration. The tour guide took us down to the cave in an elevator and down several steps along a ½ mile loop.
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We saw many chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems including stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, frostwork, flowstone, boxwork and hydromagnesite balloons.
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The cave is an important hibernaculum for several species of bats. At one point, the guide asked us to stand together and then he put out all the lights inside of the cavern. It was quite exhilarating to be in total darkness.
This was one of the most fascinating cave tour I have ever had.
From here we headed towards the mystery spot Cosmos about which I have already written…
https://paharidotme.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/cosmos-mystery-area-rapid-city/
After the magical experience of Cosmos we drove towards Badlands national Park.

Posted in adventure, mt rushmore, nature, photography, south dakota, travel, USA

South Dakota- Part 1

(Custer state park, Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse)
One of our longest road trips was the one we made on the Memorial Day long weekend of 2010 to South Dakota from Chicago. We covered a total 2,500 miles approx. round trip. There are many things to cover up in this trip and so I will have to make different posts for them.
South Dakota Trip Map

We started our journey at around 4 pm from Chicago on 4th of July 2010. Our first stop was Galena. After a little sightseeing and filling our bellies, we headed towards Albert Lea where we put up for the night. Next morning we headed towards Sioux falls which is located at the intersection of two major interstates, I-90 and I-29, . The cool water of the falls helped to beat the summer heat and we had some great time there. We rested in the park for awhile and enjoyed some snacks too.

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From there we moved on to see the Corn Palace, an amazing work of corn art. The themes keep changing every year since 1892.Every spring, the exterior of the palace is completely covered with thousands of bushels of native South Dakota corn, grain and grasses that are arranged into large murals.

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I got myself a cup, shaped like a corn from the souvenir shop :). There wasn’t much to see and do around and so after having a quick local made ice cream we headed towards our next destination… Custar state Park, where we put a tent for the night.

I say that’s the best part of making a road trip.. carry your home along with you.

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Having “bhutta” and tea in the cup bought from the corn palace the next morning. After breakfast, we headed towards Mt Rushmore which was just about an hours drive from the park.

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On the way we saw a bison by the roadside and stopped at a safe distance for a quick shot. The drive along the scenic Iron Mountain road itself was awesome.The road is famous for the “Pigtail Bridges” that allows travelers to drop or gain altitude quickly. The scenery along the highway is bewitching. The three rock tunnels are simply stunning.

IMG_3891We could see Mt Rushmore at certain points along the drive and the heads of the Presidents through one of the tunnels. I tried to capture a shot of it but as the sun was ahead of us, the dirt in the window screen was more prominent than the view ahead.

We reached Mt Rushmore by noontime. There was a huge rush as it was a long weekend but we managed to get a parking place. I was awestruck by the huge sculptures of the four famous US Presidents. The entrance was lined up with flags that gave an awesome view.

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It took 14 years to build the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln in these mountains. There is a pathway that leads to a close view of the presidents and also a sculpture museum showing of all the tools used in the construction and also videos and pictures. We wandered along for awhile clicking pictures and admiring the sculptures.

Suddenly dark heavy clouds flooded the sky and we decided to leave. As we left the parking lot we were caught by a drizzle of passing showers. I took a last glimpse at the sculptures which seemed to be weeping in the rain.

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We took the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway while returning. With the sharp turns, low tunnels, and impressive granite spires, this was one of the most amazing road I had ever seen.

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The drive was a little nerve racking too because of the height but had an amazing view. We stopped by the pine and spruce forests to get a few more clicks. We saw a couple of adventurers climbing up the pointed rocks.

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Soon the clouds gave away and the weather seemed to be better. So we headed towards our next destination i.e. The Crazy Horse. I have written about it already and so I am putting up its link here https://paharidotme.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/crazy-horse/

After leaving Crazy Horse we headed back to our campsite at Custer State park.

I will put the next part of this trip in another blog.

Posted in adventure, landscapes, nature, personal, photography, travel

Niagara falls

In the next couple of posts, I intend to write about a few of my earlier trips in the USA which I had been planning to but had been postponing for one reason or the other.  Going down memory lane as I recollect the innumerable road trips that we made, it makes me ecstatic and satiated.

I will begin with our trip to the spectacular Niagara Falls. I had read about the Niagara Falls in our school GK books, about it being the largest waterfall in the world, but never imagined how huge it would really be. When I first came to the US after my marriage, I had no idea what was in store. I never thought I would be travelling so much though we did talk about it often.

My husband was in Chicago at the time and Chicago itself is a place of wonder and beauty. This was the beginning of our road trips  and also my husband’s first long drive(self) experience in the US. We were joined by a couple friends with their sweet 3 year old who was very excited and enjoyed throughout the trip.

It was the month of  May, 2010. We drove from Chicago for about 8 hrs and stopped at Amherst for the night. Next morning, after another 4 1/2 hrs drive we reached the Falls. Since it was a long weekend, the place was over crowded and with great difficulty found our self a spot to park our car. Tired from the long drive we stopped at one of the restaurants and had a hearty meal as it was already lunchtime. Having rested for awhile we then went up the observation deck, which has a spectacular view of both American and Canadian Falls and The Peace Bridge.

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After that, we headed towards the Maid of the Mist,  a boat tour that took us to the base of both the American and Horseshoe Falls.  At the start of the tour, we were given blue colored ponchos to keep us dry. The mists from the Falls intensified as we approached and the water began to swirl and roar. As we reached the edge, the boat stopped for a couple of minutes so that the people could enjoy the majestic view.The magnitude and power of the Niagara Falls can be fully and adequately appreciated only when one visits the place and feels the noise and the mists himself.

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We returned in the evening to watch the display of colorful lights in the Falls. There was a huge crowd on both sides of the river.

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The next day, early in the morning we walked towards The Cave of the Winds. In this trip we got to wear yellow ponchos and flip flops. The trip was literally breathtaking. After a long wait in the queue and a short elevator ride down about 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge, we reached a platform from where we climbed a few stairs that led to the Horseshoe Falls. To the right were the platform to the American Falls and Bridal Veil.

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The roar of the water gushing down from above was just awesome.The final climb led to the Hurricane Deck, which literally gave us the feeling of a hurricane with the wind, gushing water and the crashing roar all around. I enjoyed getting drenched in the cool water of the mighty Niagara Falls, an experience of a lifetime.

After that we went to the Niagara park and walked along the bank of the mighty river. We took a couple of pictures there too. We explored the three sisters island and walked the trail down to the area just above the Fall. It was simply mesmerizing.

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Anyone visiting the US must visit the Niagara Falls as its a place worth visiting. There are also many activities for the adventure lovers. I have heard that the Canadian view is even more beautiful but as we didn’t carry our passports we left it for some other time.

Posted in national parks, nature, photography, snow, travel, USA

Minnehaha Falls in winter Dec 2012

Yesterday we went to see the Minnehaha waterfalls located at the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway. It was completely frozen though its just the beginning of winter. Though a danger sign warns people to stay away from the fall, there were people quite close up to the fall and so we too followed them and got some pretty good shots. The staircase leading down to the fall was full of snow and ice and pretty much slippery.

Tip:Click on a photo to view the slide show.

Posted in adventure, india, lakes, landscapes, mountains, nature, photography, quotes, travel

Sikkim…the land of pristine and mystic beauty

Today I would like to share my experience of travelling to another dream destination of all travel enthusiasts…Sikkim, the land of pristine and mystic beauty. It was during the summer of 2009 I suddenly felt the urge to make a trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling. It was an impulsive decision and so didn’t have much preparation done for the trip. I called up a friend in the wee hours of the morning and asked if she would like to join and then got the train tickets booked immediately from Dibrugarh, Assam( for that’s where I lived then) to Silliguri. And within hours we were sitting on the train. In about 12 ½  hrs we reached Silliguri station. There we found a number of taxis and small mini buses that take passengers to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. We decided to join a few other passengers in a taxi and started for our first destination…Gangtok.

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After a long 4 hrs drive along the river Teesta, we reached our hotel which we had pre-booked online. We managed to get a fairly decent dinner in the hotel itself though the room wasn’t up to our expectations as per the price we had paid for it. Our hotel was just a few distance away from MG marg the upscale market of the area. With its cobbled streets ,flowers, Victorian street lamps and ornate benches ,the MG Marg can easily pass off as a European street .

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Cars are not allowed in this area and smoking is prohibited making it a very friendly zone for everyone. I loved the cleanliness of the area unlike other parts of India and wanted to know how they maintained it. A shopkeeper told me that they follow strict rules and are fined severely if anyone disobeys. I was surprised to know polythene bags are banned in the area. They believe polly bags clogs the rivers which results in flood and landslides thus causing harm to environment. I think this is a lesson we all should learn and follow.

As it was an unplanned trip we didn’t have any guide till now. The next morning we walked through the market for information about what we ought to see in the area. We came across many travel agents who were more than willing to help us out to show us all the major spots in the area. We were a little apprehensive of being cheated but decided to take the risk and have fun.

We got ourselves an itinerary and were ready for the adventure. A few worth visiting spots were closed due to landslides few years back but not yet restored. Though disappointed we thought we had enough things to do in just 2 days’ time. The weather was slightly chilly which reminded us that we were in the mountains unlike the burning heat of summer back home.

The travel agent provided us with a taxi for the day and we started off early in the morning on our exploration of the city of Gangtok. The first stop was Hanuman-tok, a temple devoted to Lord Hanuman. Located on top of a hill the temple is very simple and not at all extravagant from the outside, but inside the confines of the temple, Hindu Gods and Goddesses are depicted very elaborately. From here we could get a good view of Mt. Khangchendzonga of the Himalayas, the third highest mountain in the world.

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Next was Ganesh-tok, another temple located at the top of a hill, dedicated to the Hindu God Ganesha. There were innumerable prayer flags fluttering in the wind giving it a splendid view. Devotees write their prayers on those flags and they tag them everywhere so that when the wind blows, the prayers are spread all across the mountains.

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We also explored the mini stalls at the base of the temple and bought some pretty crafted gifts for friends and family. Outside the temple we saw some tourists wearing traditional dresses and taking pictures. On enquiry we learnt the shops rent the costumes at a decent price for memorable photographs. We decided to give it a try. I didn’t look that bad though huh!!!

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We also came across innumerable waterfalls on the way, some even crossing the roads making them wet all over and across. The most notable one was the 7 sisters fall, a must see picturesque waterfall.

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We enjoyed the panoramic view of the peaks and the valleys while on the way to Tashi and Shanti, two other points. There are numerous monasteries in the state but we could visit only the Peace Pagoda due to time constrain. The sonorous chantings of Buddhist mantras gave me a sense of peace.

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We did not forget to take the cable car ride at Deorali market. It provided a spectacular view of Gangtok market, valley and assembly hall of state of Sikkim in its 15 to 20 minutes journey.

In the evening, we went on a shopping spree around the town at MG marg and Lal bazar . Later at night we sat down at the market place benches to relax to some music played on speakers in the MG Marg, which is the Mall Road of Gangtok, that also hosts most hotels, shops and some of the hippest pubs of the place.

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The next morning we were headed to the famous Nathula pass, the border that India shares with China. It is also a trade link between the two countries. It is located at a height of 14450 ft and is the highest motorable road in the country. On the way, we stopped by the holy Tsomgo (Changu) lake at about 40 kms from Gangtok, at an altitude of 1200kms. During the winter season, the lake remains in frozen condition. We also visited a temple of lord Shiva near the lake.

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The air was becoming colder and having come unprepared I felt the need to buy something warm. There were a few shops near the lake that sold warm clothes for travelers like me. (I was happy to know I wasn’t the first to come unprepared). I bought myself a shawl and a cap. There were yaks for visitors to ride and take photos but I was repulsed by their nasty smell and so didn’t bother to climb one.

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After the brief stop we continued our journey to the border line through the zigzag road. The road was slightly muddy due to the rain in the early morning and perhaps the night before. My heart skipped a beat whenever we came across a curve and mostly when there was another car coming from the opposite side. I avoided looking down the mountains which was becoming steeper and steeper. Once we neared the Nathula pass we could see a few dotted army settlements and a huge MERA BHARAT MAHAN written on the mountain. I could feel a sudden pang of patriotism arise within me. No cars are allowed after a certain distance and so we had to leave our vehicle and walk a few steps. I was excited to reach the top as fast as possible but soon was out of breath and had to sit down to catch it.

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It was slightly windy at the time and I was glad I bought the shawl and the cap. Slowly we climbed the stairs clicking photos and enjoying the view. We clicked few pictures with the Indian soldiers and also with the Chinese at the background. There is an uneasy peace – the memorial of the martyred soldiers is a grim reminder of past war and suffering.

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with an Indian army personnel

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Chinese army behind me..

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We then visited the pilgrim destination dedicated to Baba Harbhajan Singh, an Indian soldier, who lost his life in an accident. They believe that Baba helps to keep vigil and guard the posts especially on unusually cold nights. He forewarns soldiers of his regiment against any danger three days in advance by appearing in their dreams. He is revered by both Indian and Chinese. In fact, during every flag meeting, the Chinese keep a chair aside for him as they believe his spirit still patrols these valleys. From Nathula Pass we could see into the Chinese territory which was demarcated by a barbed wire. We were not allowed to take pictures of that part of the border for security reasons.

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Leaving Nathula we started for Darjeeling via the magical Mirik lake near Siliguri. The place is only 49km from Darjeeling and 52km from Siliguri and can be reached from either place easily.

Posted in photography, travel, USA

Crazy Horse

I suppose one of the craziest things we ever did was to visit Crazy horse memorial located along U.S. Highway 16/385, between Hill City and Custer, South Dakota just 20 miles from the world-famous Mount Rushmore and just outside Custer State Park. This was in 2010, when we visited the Badlands and Mt Rushmore.

I call it crazy because we had a lot of expectations to see the world’s largest mountain carving dedicated to the American Indian Nation. However, on finding that it was not even 10% complete (only the face) our hopes were shattered. Definitely was expecting more than that.

It is dedicated to Crazy Horse, a warrior of the Oglala Lakota tribe, and shows him riding a horse and pointing into the distance.  I read a lot about it in the internet before the trip and thought it would be fascinating to see the giant sculpture which when finished would stand 641 feet wide and 563 feet tall. The scale of the project is however pretty awesome.  By comparison, each head on Mount Rushmore is approximately 60 feet tall.  Crazy Horse’s head will be 87 feet tall. But unfortunately the work still remains incomplete even after 70+ years since it first started in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski. He died in 1982, but his wife and seven of his ten children are continuing his dream. They accept no state or federal funds and depend on the fees and donations from visitors, the reason for its incomplete state.

I was even more disappointed when we were told we need to pay $125 tour to go to the top of the monument(to see just the head) as we had already paid $10 at the entrance and another $4 per person for the 25 mins bus tour to take a closer look. So we dropped the idea of going to the top. There are various lookout points where you can see a side view of the crazy horse monument.

The incredible story behind this major project is that Crazy Horse was a legendary warrior and leader of the Lakota Sioux, celebrated for his battle skills as well as his efforts to preserve Native American traditions and way of life. Resisting efforts to force the Sioux on to reservations, he fought alongside Sitting Bull and others in the American-Indian Wars, and was instrumental in the defeat of George Armstrong Custer’s forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. After surrendering to federal troops in 1877, he was killed amid rumors of a planned escape.

The museum had a collection of different stories of Crazy Horse as well as other Native American memorabilia. The expansive gesture of Crazy Horse is interpreted as something Crazy Horse once supposedly said: “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

There are a lot of plans for this monument, but as this is a privately funded project, I doubt it will be finished in the near future. The informational video is interesting, the information center is full of Native American artifacts, and of course lots of items “for sale”.

If you are in the area, there is no reason not to stop by and see this amazing engineering feat.

Posted in adventure, arizona, landscapes, monument valley, mountains, national parks, nature, photography, travel

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

“Every adventure is worthwhile.”

During our road trips, we often try to check those attractions that lie along the way to our main destinations. One such attraction was the Sunset crater volcano. The long drive from Monument valley to Phoenix seemed to be tiring and boring and so hubby googled to check if there were any places worth stopping by on the way. He found the name Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a nature preserve just 15 miles (24 km) north of Flagstaff, and along U.S. Highway 89. We had never seen a crater and so decided to give it a try.

We headed towards the monument  along highway 89.First we stopped at the visitor center which was just at the entrance, for information of the area. With our national park pass, our entrance to the park was free or else there was a minimal fee of $5 per person. The monument is managed by the National Park Service in close conjunction with nearby Wupatki National Monument. The site had an interesting historical background.

In 1928, local citizens learned that a film company planned to dynamite the slopes of the cinder cone to create a landslide for a movie. Their protests prompted President Herbert Hoover to protect Sunset Crater and the surrounding 3,100 acres as a National Monument in 1930. It occupies an area of 5 square miles (13 square km) within Coconino National Forest. Hiking on the volcano cinder cone itself has been prohibited since 1973 because of excessive erosion caused by hikers.

The monument is centered on a truncated cinder cone, the remnant of an extinct volcano that rises 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the surrounding area. The cone was dated by means of tree rings found in remains of nearby buried Native American pit houses; it apparently began forming after an eruption that occurred in the winter of 1064–65 (eruptions probably continued intermittently for roughly 150 more years).

It was winter time and the snow and the pine trees alongside the road made a spectacular view.

The monument contains numerous lava flows and lava beds with ice caves. Powerful explosions profoundly affected the lives of local people and forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area. Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed. But among dramatic geologic features, you’ll find trees, wildflowers, and signs of wildlife.

We had never seen lava before and so were very excited to get such a close up view. There are two trails in the area. One, the Lava Flow Trail, takes you on a mile-long loop at the base of Sunset Crater and the other, Lenox Crater Trail, is a half-mile walk up an old volcano along a wide path of loose cinders.

We stopped the car and walked around the one mile trail. We did not go to the crater as it was a very long uphill hike.  The volcanic lava all around the area was quite unusual, like dug up tar roads!

We spent some time around the area but the temperature was pretty cold and so we couldn’t stay outside for long. Taking some quick photos we headed back for Phoenix. All in all the view was just amazing and we had a wonderful time there.

Posted in adventure, lakes, landscapes, national parks, nature, photography, sun, sunrise, sunset, travel

Enchanting pictured rocks lakeshore trip

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru.

In my 3yrs stay in the US, we have travelled widely and thoroughly throughout the country and as such very few places are left for us now to go to on any long holidays. After a lot of speculations and contemplations about our Memorial Day weekend (an American federal holiday observed annually on the last Monday of May to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US Armed Forces), we decided to revisit the magical Pictured Rocks Lakeshore (immortalized in Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha) located on a northern tip of land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, bordering Lake Superior. This park has unique and spectacular scenery that haunted me and wanted me to go back once again. We had first visited it 2 years ago but I couldn’t let go my second opportunity to revisit it again. So mesmerizing is the beauty of the place that whoever has been there once would want to come back again and again.

We enjoy long drives rather than travel by air. The only adversity we often faced in the early days of our travels, when we were less experienced, was the food. Being vegetarian and Indians!!!, it was difficult to get something to satisfy our palates while on the roads. But now we have discovered that we can customize certain dishes and ask to prepare it according to our choices. Thankfully this has made our road trips more pleasant and less distressful. Obviously one cannot enjoy in an empty stomach. Earlier we had to stay content with vegie pizzas, burgers and sandwiches alone but now there is a wider and larger plate to be tasted on every go.

That was an off-track rendition of my earlier road trips. We started our journey for the upper peninsula of Michigan at about 4.01pm on Friday. I had packed snacks and also dinner for the evening. So there was no tension of searching for a suitable restaurant for the night or reaching late at our hotel. One thing I need to mention is that people here take early dinners (6-8pm) and all restaurants are shut by 8pm… though the sun is up almost up till 9.30 pm. in summer and we Indians are late diners.

Day 1

The total distance from Eden Prairie to the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore was 496 miles which would take around 9 hrs to cover. On the first day we drove for 5hrs and halted at a place called Ironwood for the night. We reached our hotel Bugethost Inn, at around 9.30pm. After checking in we had a delicious dinner of my aloo paranthas, mixed veg curry and vegie patties that I made at home.

Day 2

Next morning, after breakfast, which was free at the hotel, (bagels, bread, jam butter, fruits, juices, coffee etc.) we started our journey again. After another 3 hrs drive, we reached Munising. A stop at the visitor center located at the H-58 and M-28 junction is worthwhile for the first timers as it has a wide range of valuable information for the Pictured Rocks Area: Maps, Brochures, Permits, Weather Forecasts, Trail Conditions, Information on Waterfalls, etc. But since this was our second trip we knew exactly what things we wanted to see and so we only stopped at the center to get a map of the area.

Then we headed to our first point, the miners castle a spectacular vistas overlooking Lake Superior and Grand Island. Stairs and a steeper trail lead to the lower overlook adjacent to Miners Castle.

We had an interesting misadventure on our first trip due to our lack of proper knowledge of the area. There is a time difference of one hour between Michigan (Eastern Time Zone) and Minnesota (Central Time Zone). We had booked the 5 pm cruise and we reached there at 6pm Eastern time followed in Michigan. But our central time zone showed 5pm. Though we arrived half hour early for the trip, in reality we were half hour late and our boat had already left. So we had to take the next day’s cruise as the weather was becoming pretty dull for the 5pm cruise.

Day 3

The true natural and untouched beauty of the region was captivating. The cliffs and underwater ledges formed over years of sand deposits created a unique shoreline in the region. Mineral stains give color to the miles of cliffs and reefs in the region. Red and orange colors are iron, black is manganese, white is limonite, and green is a trace of copper. There are a range of hues in the caves, arches, and cliffs that you would not expect in a rock! Light aqua, sea foam green, beige, dark brown to black, and they change again to orange, red and yellow. The color of the water changes as well, with the sun it is turquoise, under the clouds it becomes grey, when it is calm it looks light blue or when rough it looks navy.

People come from all over the world to see this sight unique to the Michigan landscape. Though the region is very picturesque (as the name goes), boaters often meet with treacherous conditions. The biggest and the deepest great lake is not to be tampered with. It has a tendency to swallow ships and spit them back to shore. But don’t worry, that’s only on a bad day.

People who enjoy hiking can explore the beaches and trails in the region that run many miles.

The real beauty of the mosaic of colors, textures, and sights of the place cannot be captured in the lenses of any camera. You need to see it to believe it.

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After the spell bounding cruise trip, we headed for the waterfalls in the region. There are around 17 waterfalls in the area some of which are temporary and are visible only during spring time. Short hikes along trails from the parking areas lead to the falls. We hiked to Miners falls, Sable Falls, and Wagner Falls only.

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There are innumerable activities in the region for everyone throughout the year. This is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Waterfalls, beaches, hiking trails, boat rides, kayaks etc. are to name a few. Wintertime too has plenty of outdoor activities of different levels and preferences. The long winters provide opportunities for ice climbing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and ice fishing. There are many museums too that showcases the history of the region. Proper planning is required while visiting the area so that you don’t miss out the most exciting and also important places.

At about 3 pm Sunday we started our return journey. We chose a different route through the Porcupine Mountains

wilderness state park which has scenic views. The Presque isle in this region is worth the visit, specially the evening sunset. We stopped there to capture the charm of the evening sun. It was an experience that words cannot define nor pictures do any justice.

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The scenic drive through the park was another magical part of the trip. The park too has many things to see and do but it was not part of our plan and so we drove through it enjoying the views alongside the road. We halted for the night at hotel Ramada in Marquette city.

Day 4

Next morning we continued our return journey, which is always tiring and boring.

We reached home at around 8.pm by daylight fortunately.

There are so many things to say about the place and so many pictures to be shown that this brief write-up cannot cover. Moreover, the real magnanimity of the beauty of the place cannot be interpreted in just a few words or pictures.

“Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does Nature, because in her inventions, nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”…Leonardo DaVinci

Posted in adventure, Jungfraujoch, landscapes, photography, switzerland, top of europe, travel

Two days in Switzerland

After having finished our trip in Paris, we headed to the train station as our train was scheduled at 7pm for Geneva. We left our hotel and reached the station at around 5pm. We had to wait for 2 hrs for the TGV bullet train to arrive. In 3 hrs we reached Geneva. From the station, our hotel was just 5 mins walking distance but being there for the first time, we were almost lost. We called up the hotel for assistance and they guided us to the hotel.

Due to time constrains, we had time only to take the cogwheel train journey to the Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe, at 3454 metres Europe’s highest altitude railway station. So, early the next morning, we left for Interlaken station at around 7 am. At the station, we enquired about the tickets. After a lot of confusing information we realized the Swiss pass (CHF226)would be more useful than any other and bought them. It had free access to all the trains including the Golden pass and a 50% discount for the mountain trains.

From the Interlaken Ost station we took the train up to Lauterbrunnen. Here we had to take another train that took us up to the junction at Kleine Scheidegg. We were lucky that the weather was good that day as often I had heard people telling to avoid bad weather days. It was truly an experience to be remembered, passing through lush green meadows and over the mountains and valleys, wooden Alpine houses, snow capped peaks, and cows grazing in the fields. on the way we also passed by the beautiful Lake Thun.

You can also drive through Interlaken all the way to Lauterbrunnen and park in the big parking garage. From there the train station is across the street. It will take you from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen to Kleine Schedegg to Jungfrau.

It is advisable even in the summer to take along warm clothing, hiking shoes and sun glasses. One may experience shortness of breath, headaches and tiredness due to the high altitude and drop in air pressure.

On the way we also saw the signboards of the famous World cup downhill ski race.From Kleine Scheidegg we took the last leg of our journey on the Jungfraubahn train through the great tunnel to the top.

There was a brief stop in the middle of the Eiger tunnel for five minutes. Passengers were allowed to enjoy the spectacular view through observation windows hewn from solid Alpine rock. That also allowed the passengers to take it easy to avoid dizziness caused by drastic change of pressure due to the altitude.

Once at the top, we came across the reception hall which also had a view gallery and cafeteria. Through one of the passages we were led to Eispalst(the Ice palace),a cavernous area carved out of a glacier and featuring permanent ice sculptures on display.

From the Sphinx Terrace (3,573 m), we enjoyed the views of the Jungfrau and Mönch and the icy expanse of the Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s longest.Europe’s highest radio relay station, the Richtfunkstation Jungfraujoch, is installed atop the ridge to the west of the railway station.

There is an elevator to its summit, where a small viewing platform and a scientific observatory, the Sphinx Observatory, are located.

The weather was quite pleasant and we could click a few photos without our jackets. We also saw a helicopter land on the icy top of the mountains not very far from us. It was an forgettable experience watching the breathtaking panoramic view from the Sphinx Observation Terrace overlooking the Aletsch Glacier (Europe’s longest glacier) and the snow-capped peaks of the neighboring countries.

We then headed to the restaurant inside and surprisingly found a vegetarian Indian dish. We also got ourselves some veg noodles. The food was really tasty and the view from the inside was also astonishing.  After a hearty meal we headed back. On the way we decided to make a trip to Mürren. We stopped at Lauterbrunnen and took the tram to Grütschalp and then a train to Mürren.  We walked to the town and enjoyed the terrific views of the mountains.

As it was getting dark, we decided to make our return trip. Then from Lauterbrunnen we took the train to Interlaken. Just near the hotel we had seen a Kashmiri restaurant and hoping for some good Indian food, we ordered for a carry out. But I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant to any one as my husband said that the food tasted as if made by an inexperienced man whose wife is away and guests suddenly pop up.

The next morning my husband decided to go for paragliding but me having height phobia decided to stay below and watch. The van coming to pick my husband refused to take me along with him but guided me to the park area where the paragliders would land. At first I was shocked that I would be left all alone in an unknown place but decided to stay brave and left hubby to go for his adventure while I make my own. I walked through the streets window shopping and following the directions as given and soon came upon an open field. As I stepped into the open field, I was awestruck by the breathtaking view. The park also had some wonderful flowers and trees which added to the beauty. Hubby had taken the camera with him hoping to click some photos from the top. So I had to use my galaxy SIII. I wasn’t very familiar with its use but found ample time to familiarize myself with its features.

I had mixed feelings at that moment…angry for being left alone but also enjoying the solitariness. For a while I sulked but soon started enjoying, clicking photos and walking along the streets.

By the time I saw the first signs of the para gliders in the sky, I was in a happy mood and also glad I let hubby enjoy his dream. Excitedly I rushed to get some close pictures of him landing but couldn’t make out who was who as all looked same with their costumes and helmet. Finally I saw someone waving at me and I headed towards him. They landed very smoothly and hubby was excited to share his experience. Though it costs $221, the experience is worth the value.

We walked through the town and bought some souvenirs and then headed for Geneva. We reached Geneva at about 4pm. After a hearty late lunch at an Indian restaurant which we found just near the station we strolled around the area. As we had some time for our next train, we walked alongside Lake Geneva enjoying the view and the famous Jet d’Eau.

We sat in the park awhile and enjoyed a sumptuous icecream. We enjoyed the scene of the lake which also had many birds and swans that added to the beauty.

Finally it was time to head home and that was the end to our hectic journey as we sat on the train back to Paris.

“There is no happiness for him who does not travel… Living in the society of men, the best man becomes a sinner… Therefore wander! The fortune of him who is sitting sits; it rises when he rises; it sleeps when he sleeps; it moves when he moves. Therefore wander!”- Aitareya Brahmana (600 BC?)

Posted in adventure, art, eiffel tower, Paris, photography, travel

An evening in Paris

On our way back from India, on 4th October, we decided to make a brief stop at Paris and Switzerland. It was a sudden decision, so not much planning was possible. We made some quick research work on possible places to visit but all went in vain. We had a pretty hectic 2 weeks schedule in India running around places and visiting families. Finally when we were leaving the country, the mood for Paris or Switzerland was almost a distant dream. At first we thought we wouldn’t make it and on setting foot in Paris the morning of 4th Oct, the rainy weather added to our gloom. However, we made the most of what we could and saw at least some parts of Paris…the city of lights.

We reached our hotel Ibis at around 10 am and asked for an early check-in but the room was not available and so had to leave our luggage in the locker. We did not have any warm clothes and the weather being pretty cold we decided to go shopping. The helpful man at the front desk suggested us to take bus no. 14 and go into the city but also warned us of pick pockets. However, once we were near the Notre dame the driver asked us to get down as it was the last stop. We decided to stroll around and see what we could but couldn’t detect a single clothes’ shop. We stopped at a restaurant and ordered two pizzas (small sizes). The Indian taste buds wanted more spice in it but the hungry stomach gobbled it.

It was past noon and so we decided to return to the hotel to check in and clean ourselves before venturing out again. After resting for some time, we decided not to waste the day and got out of the hotel. We wanted to take the same bus which stopped behind our hotel and then discovered a shopping mall right behind the hotel. It made us wonder why the helpful man at the desk never suggested to us and sent us way out into the city half an hour away. We bought ourselves two jackets (mine I got at the men’s section as the female section didn’t have any to fit my size…lol!!)

The weather was pretty gloomy and was pouring slightly. We headed straight to the Louvre museum and decided to spend the evening there. We strolled around clicking pictures but knew they wouldn’t come out good because of the bad daylight.

We bought ourselves two days pass for the hop on hop off bus (the blue one with 50 stops) but due to lack of time couldn’t fully utilize it. We got onto one to go to the Eiffel tower to enjoy the evening there. The first sight of the Eiffel tower wasn’t as awestricken as I was expecting. I felt it wasn’t as tall as I had imagined it would be. But the lighting had its own charm and I enjoyed the ride to the top. It was pretty cold and windy at the top and I needed to pee. I was surprised they had a toilet even at the top and decided to utilize it. My husband teased me that I peed from the top of the Eiffel tower. Sorry, I forgot to click a picture of the toilet too…:)

We enjoyed the night view of Paris from atop the Eiffel tower. After that we went straight to our hotel as it was pretty late and quickly fell asleep. Next morning we took another ride on bus 14 and stopped near the Notre dame. We took a walk around this gothic cathedral and joined in the long queue of people to view its interior. The architecture and the stained glass work inside this exotic cathedral were quite impressive.

We picked up a quick subway sandwich from right across the street and hopped onto a hop on hop off. We decided to tour the city in a relaxed way and clicked pictures all along enjoying the magnificent architectures of the city. We then returned to the Eiffel tower to view it in daylight and truly this time I was overwhelmed by its magnificence and beauty. I felt I could gaze at it forever.

We then hopped onto another hop on hop off and took another tour of the city stopping by at a few places to get closer clicks.

Tired and hungry we decided to look for some good restaurant.  Strolling around for a while we suddenly came upon an Indian restaurant. We decided to order a carry out. We got some onion rings which we enjoyed while on the bus top. For dinner we packed parantha and biryani which we had later in our hotel.

I was hoping to visit atleast one of the gardens but unfortunately couldn’t make it mostly due to the bad weather. I had read in a blog earlier that one must be prepared for rain when in Paris but as we were traveling extensively and by air too, we couldn’t keep an umbrella.

Paris…The city of light has inspired poets and artists for centuries, with its iconic art and architecture, cafe culture and air of romance. My 2 days hopping around allowed only a glimpse of this historical ancient city.

There are plenty of things to see and do. If luck favors again, hope to make another trip to this city in the future.

Posted in adventure, art, autumn, fall colors, landscapes, mountains, national parks, photography, quotes, sunset, travel

North Shore fall colors ( MN)

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
– Albert Camus

Yes, autumn is here and am already in the mood for it. I can see the leaves changing into bright yellow and gold just outside my window. Living in autumn’s paradise ‘Minnesota’ as people say, I had the opportunity to see the best fall colors ever when we visited the north shore region which is absolutely gorgeous during this time of the year.

Depending on the weather and varieties of trees, the fall foliage colors tend to peak around the last week of September. The early season starts with the maple trees in September to early October. The fall colors wrap up with the poplar trees through late October.

We took to the roads on the evening of 1st Oct.2011 along highway 35 to Duluth. We spent the night there and started the next morning along Scenic route 61 enjoying the colorful scenes on the way.

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As usual we had another adventure in this trip too. Our car suddenly showed maintenance required and we had to rush it off to a nearby repair center in two harbor area where it took almost an hr. After that we moved on towards forest road 166.

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Everyone was busy clicking photos and I clicked them…

Temperature, moisture and elevation play significant role in this change of color in the leaves. Hence along this trail we could see the variation in colors of the leaves. It’s a great experience to be travelling through scenic roads especially during the autumn season.  We were overwhelmed by the stunning colors of the leaves. The spectacular visions of yellow, orange and red colors almost blinded us.

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Enjoying the view along the road we moved on towards country road 4 towards Lutsen Mountains. As we approached the area the hue of red, yellow and orange increased at a larger scale.

Brilliant maple reds, golden aspen yellows, and the rust shades of tamarack provide a fall color palette unique to the Lutsen area.

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We took the two-mile Gondola ride up the Moose Mountain and enjoyed some phenomenal views of Lake Superior and the inland forest from the top. At the top was a deli and viewing platform.

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It was near to dusk when we returned and enjoyed the spectacular sunset from atop the ride. The journey was memorable. From there we headed to Grand Marais for the night.

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Next day was even more exciting. We drove towards the famous Gunflint trail. It is one of the most beautiful areas to see fall colors. Here the views were breathtaking.

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Words and photos cannot do justice to the real beauty of this area. I couldn’t stop myself from clicking pictures continuously.

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From here we drove to Cascade river state park. We took the two mile hike to the top of the lookout point from where we could see miles and miles down below. The mountain seemed to be burning with the leaves of the trees mostly red and orange.

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We witnessed a fantastic sunset from the lookout point.
The trees in this area consist of mainly sugar maple, aspen [aka poplars], paper birch, ash, silver maple, tamarack (a deciduous coniferous tree) and some black cherry and oaks. There are also balsam firs, white spruce, white pine, red pine, jack pine, and white cedar. The crisp, cool air and warm weather added a bonus to the trip. Seeing such splendor in the air I can surely say that autumn is the crowning glory of the year.

Posted in autumn, fall colors, gutlinburg, landscapes, mountains, national parks, photography, quotes, Smoky mountains, tennesse, travel

The fiery Smoky Mountains: Fall Foliage.

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace

As I have seen in one autumnal face.            ~John Donne

I very much agree with the above lines by John Donne. Summer is almost over and autumn is approaching which is evident from the color changes in the foliage around us. I love Fall not just for it being cooler than summer but also for the vibrant changes of color which perpetuates all around. It seems all the green of the earth purges in the great furnace of nature and burst into a vivid radiance.
At this point I recall my first Fall experience in the US. Never before was I exposed to such explosion of red and orange and gold and yellow. It was an aesthetic experience for me to see this spectacular display of color in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

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The Smokey Mountains, an International Biosphere Reserve that straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, is heaven for the nature lover and for people who just appreciate scenic drives, history and great views.

On 28th Oct 2010 we started for the Smoky Mountains national park from Chicago…a long 10 hrs drive. Though late for the season (fall starts from mid Sep), we started at around 5pm and drove for about 4 hrs. We halted in Indianapolis for the night at hotel Holiday inn. Next morning we started early and after a 7 1/2 hrs drive reached the famous Foothills parkway at almost 5 pm.

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We drove through the breathtakingly beautiful Foothills Parkway scenic road located in the mountainous foothills of the Tennessee Valley, below and parallel to the Great Smoky Mountains. The experience through this mountain drive is one that I’ll cherish forever. The setting sun was playing along the rugged slopes displaying light and shadow all around. There are more than 100 types of trees in the park, mostly deciduous, that contribute to the splendor of tones and shades.

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We were so lost in the scenic view that we went off our trail and got lost in the wilderness. The park is pretty large to say and to make matters worse, our gps too lost satellite connection. We wandered amidst the colorful trees feasting our eyes though a little tensed as it was getting dark. Fortunately a gentleman came along in his van and guided us out of the wilderness.

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From there we drove to Gatlinburg, a mountain resort city in Sevier County, Tennessee, where we spent the night at Fairfield hotel. Nestled in the foothill of the Appalachian Mountains it provides the perfect setting for fall vacations. It boasts countless lodging, dining and entertainment options. Next day we went around this antic town and visited the various unique antic shops. We enjoyed the fabulous brush strokes of color by Mother Nature as we drove through the trails.

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From here we drove through the Cades cove, a breathtakingly beautiful 11-mile loop road. It has a lot of history, old churches and old homestead’s and grist mill. We drove through the big circle and stopped at the pull offs to enjoy the glorious views of the mountains that surround the valley. This is the busiest part of the park and we had to follow the long trail of cars moving at snail’s pace.

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Our next stop was at Clingmans Dome located on the border between Tennessee & North Carolina (near Newfound Gap . At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Parking the car, we had to hike through a paved path for about a mile.The hike was slightly strenuous and I had to stop in between to catch my breath. There were benches for people like me to rest in between. I utilized my time to enjoy the view and taking some pictures.

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From there we moved on to Pigeon forge and spent the night there. We passed through Dollywood but couldn’t view fall there due to lack of time.
My pictures do not do justice for I could not capture the awe inspiring beauty of the mountains. driving through the trails or hiking or biking are some of the ways to enjoy the fall foliage in the Smokies. Besides, there are innumerable activities for people of all ages to enjoy in this area. I wouldn’t miss another chance to visit the mounatins, specially during Fall.

Posted in entertainment, photography, poem, poetry, quotes, random thoughts, sun, sunrise, sunset, travel, writing

My Rendezvous with Sunrise

Morning glory

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My heart was touched by your glorious greetings

As I stood numb admiring your first strokes on the earth.

I feasted on your magnetic beauty

As you rose from beneath the sky.

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An unspoken communication took place between us

As I tried to capture you through my lenses.

With a mystical smile thou beamed through the turf

Glazing out hues of orange and red.

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A precious privilege for the early risers

A blessing from the angels above

A celestial song buzzed around

Even in the stillness of the dawn.

Posted in adventure, art, canyons, landscapes, national parks, navajo, photography, quotes, travel, Utah

Amazing Antelope Canyon

The magnanimity and magnificence of god’s creation cannot be expressed in mere words but only felt with the senses. That’s exactly what we felt when we visited the antelope canyons. It was a memorable adventure discovering the mysterious and haunting beauty of one of the most spectacular attractions of the Lake Powell area–Antelope Canyon.  Located about 3 miles Southeast of Page in Arizona, the canyon was formed by centuries of erosion due to rainfall and flash flooding. The gushing water through sandstone openings washed out tunnels that expanded with time. The openings at the top of the tunnels let in enough light to create fantastic images.

Antelope Canyon includes two separate, photogenic slot canyon sections, referred to individually as Upper Antelope Canyon or The Crack; and Lower Antelope Canyon or The Corkscrew. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” Lower Antelope Canyon is Hazdistazí, or “spiral rock arches.” Both are located within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo nation gates the road to the canyon and only authorized tour guides are permitted to enter.  Guided tours are recommended because rains during monsoon season can quickly flood the canyon. Rain does not have to fall on or near the Antelope Canyon slots for flash floods to whip through, as rain falling dozens of miles away ‘upstream’ of the canyons can funnel into them with little prior notice.

The lower canyon was closed that day and so we had to go for the upper canyon. We decided to go with Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours. They are located off of Hwy 98 on the Navajo Reservation. We reached there at 7 am but learnt that they open at 8 am. We booked the 9 am tour which cost us 25$ per person. (Prices vary depending on demand and season.)The rush was incredible even in this wilderness.

The ride though rough through the sandy path on the mini truck jammed with people from different corners of the world was also incredible. You need to hold to something or someone during the ride in order not to fall off and also cover your mouth from the flying sand. If you wear contact lenses, take precautions to keep the sand out of your eyes. The ride is bumpy and speedy but fun. The view around is also fantastic with the barren curves of sandy rocks. The short ride through deep sand ends before a red-brown rock wall. On closer inspection you can see the narrow crack which gives entrance to a unique world in every respect.

Once inside the canyon we got lost in the stunning curves of the canyon. Everywhere we turned, there was color, texture, and light that begged for a photo. The colors are rich and deep in the morning and afternoon creating a mystical glow inside and the colorful sandstone starts to talk.

Our guide was awesome! He was knowledgeable about cameras and very patiently helped each tourist get the right pictures at the right spot. He helped us adjust our camera settings for optimum results inside the tunnel. Our guide even played a flute inside the canyon to demonstrate how the acoustics here are unlike anything you will hear anywhere else. He also described in details of how the canyon was formed, and instructed us on how to take some great photos even though the place was overcrowded.

A spiritual sanctuary indeed, here ethereal light rains upon mystical shapes and patterns in natural shades that only Mother earth could create to such splendid perfection. The sunlight filtering down the curved sandstone walls makes magical, constantly changing patterns and shadows in many subtle shades of color. Some sections of the canyon are wide and bright, while others are narrower and more cave-like, with no light reaching the sandy floor.

Antelope Canyon is a heaven for photographers and sightseers, and a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation. Photographers with proper exposure can bring out the best in their creativity. Even for amateurs there’s a lot to explore in this magical world.

The breathtaking beauty and splendor of the place definitely cannot be captured in lenses or words. You need to experience it in first hand. If you are planning a trip to the Arizona, especially Page, this is too good a trip to miss.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Posted in adventure, landscapes, mountains, national parks, navajo, photography, quotes, sky, sun, sunrise, sunset, travel, Utah

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah

I think this is the trip that made me feel like a professional photographer. Till date I was clicking pictures only to keep them as memories but after visiting this place, I started liking photography in the real sense. I wanted to make my pictures look as stunning as the landscape looked in reality.

Last Dec, we took a morning flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix and from there rented a car to drive through Utah. It was a long 5 ½ hrs. drive to reach the magnificent Monument Valley. At first the drive through the long stretch of barren land was boring but as we neared the valley the landscape became more attractive. It is here that I got the real experience of being in the wild Wild West in the true sense.

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The backdrop of many a Hollywood movie, Monument valley is located in the northern border of Arizona, close to the Four Corners region, along highway 163. The valley is marked by a group of iconic and huge sandstone buttes, spires, and monoliths that creates a mesmerizing spectacle.

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The drive itself became astounding as we approached our hotel ‘View’ true to its name. The long road stretching towards the red cliffs was awesome in its own way. It was nearly dark when we reached the hotel and we got some stunning sunset pictures.

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The view from our room was fantastic.

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Early next morning we woke up for some early morning shots. It was pretty cold outside with slight snow fall but we were too excited to feel the cold. There were very few people waiting for sunrise pictures. A tour guide approached us to know if we would like to book one for the valley drive but we preferred to drive on our own. After taking a couple of sunrise pictures we headed down the valley.

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The 17 miles drive through the rocky, bumpy and muddy road cannot be described in words. We stopped in between along the overlooks and viewpoints to take our pictures and also to enjoy the beautiful colorful sandstone rock formations.

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The little snow scattered here and there added to the beauty to the whole scene. There are 11 main stops in the loop and the drive takes almost 2 hrs as the speed limit is 15mph. the road is so bumpy that at times the speed is even less than that.

There are also some ancient cave and cliff dwellings, natural arches and petroglyphs at isolated locations and can be viewed only as part of guided tours. Luckily that day there was less traffic in the area and we could drive at our own pace.

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The experience through the valley cannot be expressed in words. It was as if we were travelling in some outer planet.

The main points are:

1. The Mittens and Merrick Butte

2. Elephant Butte

3. Three Sisters

4. John Ford’s Point

5. Camel Butte

6. The Hub

7. Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei

8. Totem Pole and Sand Spring

9. Artist’s Point

10. North Window

11. The Thumb

There’s no doubt about it, no tour of the American West is complete without a visit to Monument Valley.

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Clicking through the area non stop, I felt like I could go on for ever.

Posted in adventure, art, entertainment, flowers, photography, quotes, travel

A tryst with nature…

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“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
Nature alone has the power to embrace all creatures equally without any discrimination. She cares not for any race or gender. Her blessings or fury are equally dispensed upon all Gods’ creatures. In this tumultuous world of hatred and crime what better place to find solace than a solitary walk amidst nature?
One’s tryst with nature need not be in the hills or mountains or the woods. Nature’s beauty exists everywhere. It only seeks an eye to behold and appreciate. While walking down the bustling streets a tiny sprout emerging from below the concrete road startles a nature lover. He quickly pulls out his mobile to capture the moment and acknowledge its beauty. Releasing a sigh for the happiness he got unexpectedly, he walks off with a smile oblivious of things or people around.
Sipping through the evening coffee, he looks out of his window and sees a flight of birds heading homewards. That reminisce him about his family far away. The hustle and bustle of the city life had disassociated him from his near and dear ones. He had become a sophisticated ‘troglodyte’ of the modern world. He recollects a poem by W H Davies
Leisure

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

He walks down the lane to the street where he had seen that tiny little sprout early that morning. Gently he pulls it out and puts it in his pocket. He then turns and hurries back home, unmindful of the people staring at his strange act. He pulls out the dried stems of his dead plant from the pot he had placed some years ago. He cautiously places the sprout into the pot and pours in some water. Another sigh leaves his heart as he sees the sprout stand upright.
All through the evening he kept staring at it as a lover would. As he bit through his meal he felt a kind of connection with the tiny sprout as he had never felt before. This sudden tryst made him relive the life he had lost in the mundane city. Flashes of memories rolled through his mind of him as a kid running through the meadows catching butterflies, listening to the chirping of birds and rolling his hands over the blooming flowers. The fresh cheese that he chewed from his grandmother’s hands, the long hikes he made with his grandfather to the mountains seemed to be lost in some dreams.
Tonight he felt relaxed as he lay to rest unlike his other stressful nights. He felt he was reunited with his true love. A tryst that brought bliss into his life; which is the nature of NATURE.

“Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral.” John Burroughs