Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wildlife Animal Park

23 Nov'06 :
Viswanath & Geetha joined us for the visit to San Diego Wild Animal Park - Rohit,Bhavana & Mira had gone ahead in their Camry followed by Viswanath in his red Corolla. Shobha & I were in the Corolla. We munched sandwiches as we travelled. Directions to the park from the NORTH (southbound) : From Interstate 5 (Orange County, Los Angeles), take the State Route 78 East exit at Oceanside, proceed east to Interstate 15 South, exit at Via Rancho Parkway and follow the signs to the Park. Viswanath took a wrong exit at Oceanside and lost his bearings.We meandered around for a while before returning to the highway & taking the correct exit at 78. In the US you must have your mapping & navigation perfect - otherwise you lose valuable time.
We reached the Park to some bright & sunny weather. We successfully managed to smuggle our lunch into the park smartly hidden in Mira's stroller.
We soon got hold of an interactive park map to plan our activity for the day. We started with the Wgasa Bush Line Railway a 3 mile tour lasting 45 minutes. A ride aboard the electric monorail Railway, included with Park admission, takes you on an incredible guided tour of the Wild Animal Park's major Field Exhibits of Asia and Africa -lions,rhinos,elephants, zebras, antelopes.
We took a break to enjoy some nice home cooked food. We then took a walking tour to see flamingoes, mirkats, several species of water birds, bonobos, gorillas, till we reached the lion camp. This was close to the balloon safari which is one of the star attractions -this quiet, tethered helium-filled balloon can carry up to 30 people and rises up to 400 feet (121 meters), giving riders a panoramic view of lions, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeest, and gazelle, as well as the beautiful San Pasqual Valley.
We ended the day witnessing a magnificent bird show. You get to see spectular flying birds from around the world. Other shows include animal encounters & the elephant show. In the former you get to meet a variety of critters & their trainers up close.

We bid good bye to Vish & Geetha who returned to Orange County while we motored on to San Diego & checked into a nice spacious Holiday Inn room. Rohit & Bhavana went out to pick up some dinner from a sardarji joint-we had some delicious Punjabi food : Nan, pulao, paneer,dal,raita.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

LA : 22 Nov'06

22 Nov'06 :
It was thanksgiving week and Rohit & Bhavana had planned a visit to LA & San Diego. We left for LA by road around 10 am after depositing Pepper(the dog) with Susan a dog sitter at Pacifica. We took LA highway and had a brief stopover at Gilroy for feeding Mira. Gilroy is considered the garlic capital of America ! Shobha & I took the opportunity to visit a huge one dollar store. You get an amazing variety of stuff there & we bought a few things. Then around 12 noon we hit the highway again. We had carried some tasty bites which we kept munching during the drive - ribbon pakoda,cheese biscuits,cookies,chocolatesetc etc. There was a long stretch with no towns of significance in between. We had a lunch stop roughly mid way to LA. It was a nice big place with a picnic atmosphere. A huge parking bay, clean,hygienic & well equipped rest rooms, good lawns & trees, cement tables & benches for dining, separate area for walking your dogs & pets.(If the dogs pooped you had to pick it up & arrange disposal.People with dogs normally carried gloves & plastic bags) Garbage bins were installed at convenient points & female staff employed for frequent garbage clearance. We had our lunch comprising biryani,boiled eggs,butter milk. There were plenty of local birds which would descend and scavenge the left over food. Such a fabulous facility provided by the state and absolutely free.
Our next destination was Solvang also known as the Danish Capital of the America. Solvang is a city in Santa Barbara County,USA. The population was 5,332 at the 2000 census. Quaint Old World architectural styles blend with flower-lined streets to create a walkable village. You see the welcome sight of a windmill as you drive through the small town.You see buildings with thatch, copper or tile roofs; while delightful shops offer imported European wares: porcelain, collectibles, wrought iron and every form of handicraft. The aroma of chocolate, bakeries, coffee and beer garden fare flavor the quaint streets. Comfortable Country Inns, B&B, family motels or full service hotel accommodations are all within walking distance of sights, shopping, restaurants and activities. Solvang was voted one of Sunset Magazine's 10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the Western United States!
We spent around 90 minutes walking around. We had a taste of delicious & authentic cheese Danish & coffee. It was dark when we left Solvang around 7.00 pm & hit the highway to LA again. We drove along the Pacific Ocean for a considerable distance. We crossed several beach resorts enroute and could see several brightly illuminated ships/yatchts anchored off the beach . Thanksgiving parties aboard ? We reached the suburbs of LA by 8.30 pm but took us more than an hour to reach Orange County. We finally reached the apartment complex where we camped for the night. We were received with great warmth by the the hosts : an Indian Telugu couple(old friends) hailing from Chennai -Viswanath & Geetha. We exchanged pleasantries for a while and this was followed by dinner before we retired for the night. We had had a long and weary journey and fell asleep instantaneously.
The significant feature of the night was the snore-a-thon between Viswanath,Rohit & I. Of varying decibels,wavelengths & frequencies. Rohit and I were completely oblivious of this fact. I think poor Vishwanath did not sleep much that night but was too gracious to admit this. And Geetha too was not spared the earth shaking rumblings in the adjoining room !

Stinton Beach

After Muir Woods we went on a steep climb up the hills & from the top had an breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. We then drove down hill through narrow winding under repair road until we reached Stinton Beach. It was a bright & sunny day.We picknicked there and helped ourselves to abundant quantities of pulihora,curd rice,vadam,thair molaka. We had a voracious appetite and the devoured the stuff in no time. Bhavana & Rohit subsequently helped themselves to huge ice creams.
On our return we stopped over at the Golden Gate Bridge and had an awesome view of the bridge & the bay from atop a hill. Mira was on her best behaviour through out and this trip was possible only because of her wonderful cooperation.

Muir Woods-19 Nov'06

Muir Woods National Park 12 miles north of Golden Gate Bridge is reached by US 101 & Calif.1. Coast Redwoods dominate this cool moist forest and includes several trees more than 600 yrs old. This forest protects a variety of plant & animal life. The redwood canopy supports redwood sorrel, sword ferns, mosses, bay laurels & big leaf maples. Large Douglas firs challenge the redwoods in height. Delicate wildflowers like trillium, clintonia, redwood violet grace the forest floor.The forest supports many birds & animals like owls, bats,deer & raccoons apart from birds like warblers,kinglets,thrushes & wrens.Reptiles and amphibians like western garter snakes, rubber boas & California giant salamanders are a rare sight but slimy bright banana slugs are abundant. Commonly seen are stellars jay, sonoma chipmunks & grey squirrels.

Redwood Creek originates from the slopes of Mt.Tamalpais and bisects the park. It provides the trees and animals with water and supports diverse aquatic creatures. The 560 acre park includes 6 miles of trails both paved & unpaved. Picknicking, camping & pets are not permitted.
The tallest redwood tree is more than 252 ft. and the widest more than 14 ft. Some redwoods are at least 1000 yrs old. Most mature trees are between 500-800 yrs old.
Seen is a cross section of a tree that lived for over a 1000yrs - born 990, saw Columbus set sail in 1492, lived through the declaration of Independence in 1776, witnessed the California Gold Rush in 1849 before finally dying in 1930.
Log on to for more photographs

Los Gatos-18 Nov'06

After enjoying some mouth watering chaat at Chaat Paradise in Sunnyvale, Shobha& I (duly chauffered by Rohit & navigated by Bhavana & Baby Mira in tow) drove into Meranis sprawling Ranch at Las Gatos on 18th at 2.58 pm.(Los Gatos is an hours 90 minutes drive from Daly City) Merani was waiting eagerly at the door to receive his Mech'71 buddy after 35 years perhaps a little apprehensive as to whether he would be able to recognise me or not.

But recognition was instantaneous and the joy unbounded. He rushed out to greet us & shepherded us all graciously into his drawing room. Susan soon made her appearance and after the initial round of introductions we settled down comfortably for a long chat.As Merani & I were deeply engrossed in our own conversation about life at IIT & thereafter,blissfully oblivious of all else present, Shobha & Sudha took the opportunity to know each other better. It turned out that Susan had her schooling at Church Park,Chennai(same school that Madam Jayamma also attended). Susan also narrated some interesting experiences with some of the Mech'71ers whom she had an opportunity to meet during their visit to Dilli in Dec' 2000 -the confidential & classified details are being with held.

Merani & Susan turned out to be fantasic hosts. After a session of digital photography Susan led us into the dining room for High Tea - mountains of sandwiches, varieties of cakes & cookies, samoosas & what not.What a veritable feast ! Had we known about the generous spread in advance we might have decided to give a skip to the chaat paradise.
The Meranis have two children - son works in San Fransisco & daughter is doing her undergrad.

Merani it turned out has a passion for gardening.He took us on a tour of his lawn & garden - showed us his special oak tree which he reported as the tallest on his street,the tulip tree which flowered in winter and his fish pond which had some exotic & very colourful varieties of fish.
Soon it was time to bid adieu-all good things have to come to an end ! And we departed carrying pleasant memories with us.
From Las Gatos to Saratego a 20 minute drive where Lakshmi & Ranjit live with their two daughters - Nalini & Mallika. Ranjit runs his own company in silicon valley while Lakshmi teaches in a nearby school.(Lakshmi is moorthy mama's daughter) We had yet another High Tea with several delicious eats followed by invigorating South American coffee.They have a swimming pool & a nice lawn where they hold their outdoor parties. Mallika in High school while Nalini goes to undergrad school at Berekeley.
We returned to Daly City via the Indian Store (Coconut Hill) in Sunnyvale where we picked up the weeks provisions -ranging from vegetables to masalas to appalam/vadam rice, dal,oil & a variety of powders. The store is frequented only by Indians ! And Sunnyvale has a large resident Indian population and there are several Indian restaurants to provide variety to the taste buds - South Indian,North Indian,Punjabi etc.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Smithsonian Natural History

15 Nov'06 :
We took the blue line & transferred to the yellow line & alighted at L'Enfant Plaza which is the closest point to the Natural History Museum - a museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The museum's collections total over 125 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts. The museum is the second most popular of all of the Smithsonian museums. The museum is also home to about 185 professional natural history scientists — the largest group of scientists dedicated to the study of the natural and cultural history in the world.
The museum was established in 1910. Notable exhibits on the first floor (mall entrance) include the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals , which displays preserved pelts of mammals throughout the world, some of which were collected by former president Theodore Roosevelt. Also located on the first floor is the Hall of Dinosaurs. Adjacent to the dinosaur collection are exhibits which detail the evolution of life on Earth, going as far back as the Pre-Cambrian. The first floor also has many artifacts from non-western cultures.

The second floor contains the National Gem Collection, in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals which includes the Hope Diamond. An IMAX movie theater, featuring films about wildlife, geography, natural history, and related topics, occupies space on both the first and second floors.

The ground floor contains a gift store, cafeteria, and an auditorium. The only notable exhibit on the ground floor is a collection of over 100 bird species which inhabit the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Exhibits also include the O. Orkin Insect Zoo, an insectarium offering direct interaction with insects. Its Butterfly Garden will open in 2007.
We watched two I-Max movies : Sharks 3D and Wild Safari 3D. Sharks are featured as not cruel man eating creatures but wild,fascinating and endangered animals. Duration 42 mts. Wild Safari takes us through a 3000 mile journey on a quest to see Africa's most exciting animals-the elephant,the cape buffalo,the rhino,the leopard and the lion. Duration 45 mts.

Today was a special day - Shobha's 50th birthday. Vijay & Prats had arranged a surprise cake for the occasion and there were gulab jamuns to follow. Every one sang Happy Birthday.

Washington D.C - Day 2

14 Nov'06 :

Once again boarded Red Line from Shady Grove alighted at Metro Centre & switched over to the Blue Line towards Largo Center. Got down at Smithsonian station. Armed with a road map of D.C we decided to walk around.Walked past the Holocaust Memorial Museum into Jefferson Drive towards Washington Monument. At 555 ft height this monument towers over everything else in D.C. Tickets are free & the entrance timed. A 70 sec elevator ride takes visitors to the 500 ft level for spectacular views of D.C. We then walked to the WW 2 Memorial & thereon to Lincoln Memorial. Korean War Veterans Memorial,Franklin Roosevelt Memorial & Thomas Jefferson Memorial followed - all magnificent structures to remember the giants of American Revolution.
It was a bright & sunny day and ideal for photography. Also took time off to walk across the banks of the Potomac river & the Tidal Basin.

Our next destination was the Air & Space museum on Jefferson drive.The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. The museum features 22 exhibition galleries, displaying hundreds of artifacts including the original Wright 1903 Flyer, the "Spirit of St. Louis," and the Apollo 11 command module.

The National Air and Space Museum is a must-see for visitors to Washington, DC. It is the most visited museum in the world and appeals to all ages. Many of the exhibits are interactive and great for kids.The Einstein Planetorium offers 3-D iMAX shows : Cosmic Collisions & Stars Tonight both shows are a must see for young aspiring scientists.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Washington D.C- Day 1

13 Nov'06 :
Vijay & the kids left early morning.Pratibha,who works from home, dropped us off at Shady Grove station(20 mts drive from N.Potomac). There we boarded red line metro to Union Station.The Glenmont bound train took 45 mts to reach Union stn.The Metro rail system consists of Red, Orange,Blue,Green & Yellow Lines travelling to different destinations. After alighting at Union we went to Tourist Information counter & decided to take the one day Old Town Trolley tour of D.C @ $.32/- per person. Named "Washington's Best Tour" by the Washingtonian Magazine, the Old Town Trolley offers the most comprehensive tour of the Nation's Capitol. Sit back while the expert tour guides help you discover the beauty and majesty of Washington D.C. The Old Town Trolley two hour and fifteen minute adventure covers Washington's major attractions such as the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial,Roosevelt Memorial,Washington Monument,Arlington Cemetry, Georgetown, Washington National Cathedral, the White House,Capitol, the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, and Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Expert guides share colorful anecdotes, humorous stories and well researched historical information
Old Town Trolley Tour allows you to get off at any of our 17 conveniently located stops. When you're ready, just re-board and it's on with the tour. Explore Washington DC at your leisure and enjoy attractions, shopping and dining as you make one complete loop.
We got off at two points - one at the White House(George Bush was unfortunately away holidaying in his ranch !) & another at the transfer point which took us to the National Cathedral.This also took us through downtown D.C & through the embassy street where nearly 180 embassies are located.

Washington D.C is really one of the most beautiful cities that I have visited. There are no skyscrapers, the city has large open spaces, the air is fresh, people are relaxed, the city abounds in memorials, monuments & museums , even the government buildings have monumental in architecture & size,there are no traffic jams,people can walk around comfortably,the city is impeccably neat & clean.

A visit to D.C is a must for any tourist visiting the US.

Arrival at Washington D.C

12 Nov'06 :
My nephew Shriram & his wife Vandana came to NJ to pick us up & we drove to New York in their Volkswagon Beetle.Both of them work in New York but live in Hobokken - shriram is a financial consultant in Standard & Poor and Vandana is a legal expert .The ride took hour & the sky was overcast.We reached New York around 1.00 pm & decided to go for lunch straightaway to an Indian Chinese(Indo Wok) restaurant run by Sri Lankans. The menu - hot & sour soup (2 by 4) rice,noodles,chop suey,some side dishes - a delicious meal overall ! Srongly recommended.Thank you Shriram & Vandana.

By the time we were through with lunch it was nearly 2.45 pm & as we came out a light rain had started.We rapidly walked to the parking lot,got into the car & drove to China Town from where we were taking the 4.00 pm bus to Washington. Meanwhile the rain had intensified. By the time we located our bus,loaded the baggage & got into our seats we were reasonably drenched.Tickets were reasonably priced @ $.20/- per person.
Here is a snap of the four of us outside the restaurant.The ride to Washington took approx.4.5 hours. It rained incessantly right through the journey.Finally reached China Town, Washington D.C at 9.45 pm. Pratibha(a friend from our Hyderabad days)& her husband Vijay received us and took us home to their home in North Potomac in Virginia. Pratibha drives a Honda Odyssey & Vijay a Honda Accord. They have two children - Sheetala(papu) & Priya(Min Min)

Tour of New York

10 November'06 :
Sujatha,Shobha & I left early around 6.00 am for New Brunswick station to catch the 7.00 am NJ Transit to New York. Got into the 7.10 am instead and reached New York @ 8.10. From Penn station we took a cab to the Grayline tours office & boarded the coach at 9.oo am. The tour leader was of East European origin - either a Czech, Slovak or Serbian. A short,stocky guy with coarse,weathered but handsome features. He was well informed about New York sights and regaled the tourists with several interesting trivia. The morning drive took us through mid Manhattan and lower Manhattan covering Madison Square Garden, China Town, Greenwich Village,Times Square, Wall Street & finally landing at the harbour from where we took a cruise around Liberty Island. Near the harbour we saw a damaged bronze sculpture which we are given to understand is the only surviving structure from the mindless twin towers attack of 9/11. During the cruise we had breathtaking views of Manhattan skyscrapers, Brooklyn & of course The Statue of Liberty. This lovely tall lady is indeed the most fascinating sight in New York. We took some very memorable shots(the camera simply kept clicking) to be stored away for posterity. The cruise lasted around 45 minutes and took us under the Manhattan,Brooklyn as well as the Williams bridges. The Statue of Liberty National Monument officially celebrated her 100th birthday on October 28, 1986. The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the Statue of Liberty has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as international friendship. There are 25 windows in the crown which symbolize gemstones found on the earth and the heaven's rays shining over the world. The seven rays of the Statue's crown represent the seven seas and continents of the world. The tablet which the Statue holds in her left hand reads (in Roman numerals) "July 4th, 1776." The total weight of copper in the Statue is 62,000 pounds (31 tons) and the total weight of steel in the Statue is 250,000 pounds (125 tons). Total weight of the Statue's concrete foundation is 54 million pounds (27,000 tons).
After the cruise we had delicious Mexican lunch consisiting of Quesedilla, french fries, salad & pepsi. Next we went to Ground Zero where the twin Towers had once proudly stood. Our next destination -United Nations Headquarters (enroute we saw the Empire State Bldg, the Rockefeller Centre,the Donald Trump Centre). A pretty young lady of Noth African origin speaking impeccable English led the group on a well informed & enlightening tour of the General Assembly, Security Council,Economic & Social Council, Trusteeship Council.
Next we drove through Broadway the crowded business district. It was late evening and almost dark.Unlike the rest of the US new York cabbies and pedestrians are quite indisciplined. Cabbies indiscriminately overtaking, pedestrians jay walking, traffic signals being flouted at will - one could have been on a Mumbai or Dilli road. Skyscrapers all round & neon signs flashing an enchanting experience. And a traffic jam to add spice. Broadway was indeed an exciting experience! Broadway is known for its countless theatres & concert halls which run classical, opera, ballet,standup comedies,and seasonal shows-Mary Poppins, The Lion King, Les Miserables, Christmas Spectacular, The Apple Tree to name some of the shows on offer. We inched along Broadway for nearly 45 minutes crossed Central Park and Colombia University campus and reached Harlem which is predominantly African American.Harlem has produced many great black jazz musicians over the decades. From Harlem to Bronx & thereon to Times square where we alighted from the coach.
We walked around Times Square a bit before taking the NY subway to Wall Street-our destination ? Of course the Bull in front of the NYSE ! Some memorable shots of taking the bull by its horns & the day was over. We returned to New Jersey with Ravi picking us up again at New Brunswick station.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Jersey

9 Nov'06 :

Shobha & I left on the next leg of our tour in the US - a visit to the East Coast ! We left San Francisco for Newark around 9 am by United airways. The flight took approx. 5 hrs & we touched down at Newark Airport @ 4.45 pm local time,the time difference between West & East coast being @3hrs.(difference between PacificTimeZone & EasternTime Zone). Were served the customary coffee/tea/cookies/nuts aboard flight. Breakfast was on offer for $.5/-which we politely declined. Shobha had carried idlis smeared generously with molaka podi/ennai mix(chilli powder/sesame oil) & we deliciously devoured them. We were received at Newark by Ravi Subramaniam. Ravi works for Colgate in their R & D. We drove to Montgomery Dist. of New Jersey where Ravi & Sujatha live.(Su is Shobha's cousin) The drive took almost an hour & 45 mts. There was heavy traffic due a big Rutgers football match that was scheduled that night. We reached their house @ 8.00 pm. Only Lalitha Amma (Su's mother) & Ambika were at home. Ravi & Su have 2 daughters - Anusha & Ambika. Anusha is in her undergrad at Colombia while Ambika is in High School. Lalitha Amma was delighted to see us after almost 10 years. She had aged considerably during this period(she was now 80 plus). But her enthusiasm & affection has remained undiminished.She asked endless questions, reminisced about old times,kept on her endless chatter. Su trooped in after her hospital duty around 10 pm. The two cousins who were meeting after nearly 16 yrs. - whooped delightfully & hugged. Su is a general practitioner in emergency medicine. Ravi & I retired to bed early.The other 3 continued chattering till late into the night.
Su,Shobha & I were booked to take the Grayline tour of New York next day.

11 Novemebr'06 :

Visited an ex-colleague of mine Sanjoy Purohit who recently landed a job in New Jersey. Was treated to a nice Bengali-Punjabi lunch prepared by his wife Shikha.

In the evening Nirmal Singh & Jas Kiran,who live in Hobokken, landed up in Su's place. He had some diificulty in locating the place but ultimately made it successfully with some tele navigation provided by Su. Shobha & I joined them and we drove to Red Oak Diner, a Greek restaurant in Princeton for dinner. We had a very lively evening -subjects varied from how Nirmal manages to remain in the US for so long on a student visa to his son marrying an Italian girl. Wine was served for Nirmal & I, soft drinks for the ladies. The Greek steward taught us to say "thank you" in Greek.

Jas Kiran was in great distress due to her arthritis - but nevetheless endured the long drive from Hoboken -50 miles either way. (Incidentally Nirmal & I were together for 5 yrs at IIT,Delhi). Nirmal then dropped us back at Su's before returning home.

Hoover Dam & Grand Canyon

6 November'06 :Left Vegas around 8.30 am for Hoover Dam enroute to Grand Canyon. For breakfast we picked up cheese danish & croissants which we consumed on the way. Reached Hoover Dam in about one hour. Hoover is the largest concrete gravity arch dam in the US - a colossal dam with a magnificent view. Constructed 1931-36 between the US States of Nevada & Arizona in the Black canyon of the Colorado River. Also known as the boulder dam it was named after the former President of the US Herbert Hoover. It is a National Historic Landmark. Lake Mead is the reservoir created behind the dam. It produces 2080 Mega watts of power.
The Dam crosses the time lines between the two time zones ie.The Pacific Time Zone & The Mountain Time Zone. Due to excellent weather conditions & bright sunshine we could take some wonderful pictures.

With Bhavana at the wheel,we then continued our journey on the Highway towards the Grand Canyon-a distance of around 280 miles south east of Vegas. The vegetation was sparse & the traffic thin. Against speed limits of 65-75 mph we were averaging between 75-90 mph. Progress was quick.We soon reached Williams where we stopped for gas. We used the short break to stretch our limbs & to feed the baby. This was my first experience on long distance with Bhavana at the wheel. I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive & nervous to begin with. But soon I started relaxing when I realised she was such a good driver with complete control & command of the vehicle.
We reached Grand Canyon National Park around 2.00 pm & straightaway proceeded for lunch to the Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins. A log cabin construction with looks of the wild west it offers rooms with nice views of the GC. Lunch consisted of a colossal Veggie burger - the biggest I have eaten.
After lunch we proceeded to to see the Grand canyon.The Grand Canyon is a great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau. It is more than an awe-inspiring view. It is more than a pleasuring ground for those who explore the roads, hike the trails, or float the currents of the turbulent Colorado River. Although first afforded Federal protection in 1893 as a Forest Reserve and later as a National Monument, Grand Canyon did not achieve National Park status until 1919, three years after the creation of the National Park Service. Today Grand Canyon National Park receives close to five million visitors each year - a far cry from the annual visitation of 44,173 which the park received in 1919. Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States.We spent a mere 3 hours at the Grand Canyon but enough to see glimpses of the awesome & breathtaking views of the Canyon in the late after noon & at sunset. This was followed by a visit to the multiplex in the park which runs continuous I-Max shows of the Grand Canyon - its history of ancient inabitants & how they were exterminated by waves of settlers who rafted down the treachorous Colorado river in search of gold. An extraordinary experience & a must see for all visitors. We returned to Vegas & the comfort of the Stratosphere for the night.
7th November'2006 :
Slept till late morning in an effort to overcome the fatigue from the previous days marathon drive of 600miles ! Checked out @10.00 am.Wandered around in the jeep for a while. Did a spot of window shopping. Around noon brunced at IHOP - International House of Pancakes. I was served pancakes with generous amount of whipped cream & dripping with abundance of strawberry syrup. It was an unforgettable culinary experience - recommended only for the brave and adventurous.Rohit & Bhavana then navigated their way back to Vegas airport. It was time to bid adieu to Las Vegas-a memorable experience.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Las Vegas

4-5 November'2006 :

Left Daly city for San Jose international airport around 7.30 am. After an hours drive drove into the long term parking bay @ the airport. After parking the car suitably we boarded the shuttle which ferried us to the South West Airlines checkin point.The parking bay is huge with a capacity to park over a 1000 cars(my guess !) airport shuttles operate frequently at intervals of a few minutes. The bay is divided into several small lots with a shuttle stop at each lot.
Within minutes we were at South West & joined the check in queue which was quite long extending out well into the short term parking lot. The queue moved rapidly & very soon we found ourselves in front of the check in counter. We had check-in options : elctronic self check or counter check-in by SW staff. After checkin we proceeded towards security. Liquids are strictly prohibited in hand baggage & all containers of moisturiser,after shave,milk,bottled drinks,alcohol,water have to be discarded before entering security. In the security zone coats,shoes,wallets, belts,cameras,mobile phones etc had to be removed & emptied into a basket for scanning. Shobha was wearing her gold jewellery ( bangles,necklace ) which caused electronic alarm to beep as she entered the security area. Immediately she was beckoned for an extensive body search by a female security staff. This could have been avoided had she removed the jewellery & transferred the same to her hand bag.

We had carried packed sandwiches for breakfast which we hungrily wolfed down with coffee/mocha before boarding. During boarding priority is accorded to senior citizens(65 yrs or more), the disabled & persons with babies. Wheel chairs/strollers are allowed in as cabin baggage & separately stored by the crew. This was a hopping flight via Orange County to Las Vegas. We touched down at Las Vegas Airport around 2.00 pm . After collecting our baggage & we exited, boarded a rent a car shuttle which took us to the rent a car parking bay. Rohit & Bhavana selected a Chrysler Jeep 4-wheel drive automatic,loaded our baggage,hopped into the vehicle & drove of into las Vegas . Gave a call to Julka to pick me up at 4.00 pm from te Stratosphere.

We reached The Stratosphere around 3.00 pm.The stratosphere had the tallest tower in Vegas distinctly visible from the air. There was a long queue,the computer system was down & check in was proceeding manually & very slowly. By the time computers kicked in & we checked into our rooms it was close to 6 pm.

Meanwhile Julka reached at 4.00 sharp to pick me up & we retreated to the Wynn's bar for a brief tet-a tete(separate report already filed in Mech-71 blog). It was a trip down memory lane as we both recalled IIT days & reflected on our lives & careers. Julkas second daughter is soon to be engaged to an American guy & they are planning to get married in the backwaters of Kerala.

Around 7.30 pm we went to an Indian restaurant for a dinner of naan,parathas,veg & chicken curries & biryani. Then we drove into the famous(or notorious) & dazzling Las Vegas Strip-a few hours on the strip & you know why its called the gambling & entertainment capital of the world -

The Strip - Las Vegas Boulevard - shines most brilliantly at night.Magnificent hotels glow green and gold. Pink, red, yellow, blue and white neon pulsates all around. Electric lights flash. Music plays. Volcanoes erupt. Fountains soar. Cars create two moving streams of light, red and white. People in the thousands walk up, down and over the Strip. Roller coasters corkscrew high above the ground. A laser beam, visible from space, penetrates the night sky, inviting the whole universe to come and play.
And that's only outside - step into any of the iconic casino resorts along the Strip, and you'll enter a world of pure imagination.

Gaming :Any time is the right time to pull up to a blackjack table, roulette wheel or craps table. Casinos are open 24 hours a day. If there's a game to be played, you can play it in Las Vegas.
If table games aren't your style, many casinos offer sports betting, which can be just as fun. Sit back and relax in huge sports books and watch the sports action live on big screens.
Slot machines, once a diversion for the companions of "serious" table-players, are bigger than ever, and the playing never stops.
Many casinos offer gaming lessons for those who would like to learn a little more before hitting the floor. It never hurts to know the rules.

Weddings : And nothing quite says "Vegas" like being married in a drive-through chapel at four o'clock in the morning with the taxi driver as your witness - even if the minister isn't an Elvis impersonator.Vegas marriages have become the institution they are because there's no legal waiting period or residency requirement - all you need is ID and a little cash. And love.
For those who want to marry in style, most resorts offer a range of wedding services for any taste or budget - from a perfect little white country church to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Dining & Shows : Vegas also offers you amazing shows(with showgirls & crooners),a wide range of dining opportunities-all you can eat buffets,huge coffee shop breakfasts,classic red-velvet-and-leather-boot steaks -Vegas offers you a world class culinary renaissance.

And a host of other attractions like shopping,art galleries,circus performers,water fountains, volcanoes,aquariums, x-scream thrill rides,cocktail bars,dance till dawn night clubs & the works.

Hotels are built in most opulent style but rooms are offerred at very competitive rates. A visit the following hotels is absolutely a must : "Stratospher,MGM Grand,Ceasers Palace, Venetian, Bellagio,Paris,Treasure Island" - each with its own amazing style of architecture, rich interiors, decor & shopping malls (depicting the history & cultural heritage of the respective countries) apart from casinos,bars,diners,shows & various attractions.For example you can take a Gondola ride at the Venetian or ride up the Eiffel Tower in Paris or witness a moving statues show at Caesers Palace.

Village in the Park

This is the neighbourhood where Rohit, Bhavana & Mira live.Its on a hill,up Crocker Avenue towards the San Bruno National Park. From the top you can get a superb view of San Francisco as well as the Pacific Ocean. The colony comprises a few hundred adorable independent town houses having well furnished interiors- ranging from 2 - 5 bedrooms,drawing & bathrooms. Each apartment is provided with a fridge, dishwasher,carpeting,gas connection,equipped bathrooms,heating system,closed garage,natural lighting,and a good view from from windows. The streets are neatly paved and well lit at nights & good landscaping provided all around. Garbage disposal dumpsters are provided at convenient locations. Paper & plastics are segregated & kept separately for pickup as these are recycled. Landscaping includes a abundant lawns,trees,shrubbery,a waterfall & a pond. The Village also has a heated swimming pool & jacuzzi.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Shiva Vishnu Temple

Visited the Shiva Vishnu temple situated in Livermore(Alameda County) the easternmost city in the San Francisco Bay. It is one hours drive fromm Daly City or around 50 miles.The temple construction was completed over 9 yrs. and its Kumbabhishekam(consecration) was celebrated in 1986. This was followed by a Mahakumbhabhishekam in 1998. The main deities are Shiva & Vishnu. Other deities include Ganesha & Parvati,Subramania & Kanakadurga, Lakshmi,Rama,Krishna,Hanuman & the Navagrahas. The temple is fully airconditioned. The temple is maintained in sparkling condition through continuous scrubbimg & cleaning & facilities include a Kalyana Mantapam, a well equipped modern kitchen,dining area, library & rest rooms. It also provides a spacious parking area for cars.There is also a large central area for devotees to sit & meditate & a separate area for conducting homams.The priests employed are well educated & well versed in religious rituals having rich experience in various temples in India.The temple celebrates all festivals be it North, South,East or West and accordingly priests are drawn from all regions.
Being a Saturday we found a large gathering of Indian devotees mostly employed in the US.The temple offers free lunch to all devotees- we had dal chawal,pulihora,sakkarai pongal,curd rice & vermicelli kheer.

For more information refer to :

Napa Valley Winery

29 Oct'2006(Sun) :

Visited Robert Mondavi winery at Napa Valley situated about 80 miles from Daly City.Its special feature is its mission style architecture with expansive archway & bell tower which has become a landmark.This is one of the best known wineries in California producing some of the most exquisite wines in the United States.Founded in 1966,the first major winery built in the Napa Valley in post prohibition era,helped establish the foundation of modern day Californias wine business.

Reached the winery around just in time to take the first tour of the morning.The winery is situated on its historic 550 acre To Kalon vineyard. Daily tours are arranged from 10 am - 4.00 pm. Total duration is 75 minutes. Children under 13 are not permitted. Our tour leader was estimated around 65 years-but very agile,talkative & witty(at least she considered herself witty as she frequently laughed at her own wise cracks !). Apart from Shobha & I, there were 8 others in the tour of various nationalities.The tour started with a visit to the vineyards. Unfortunately harvesting season for grapes was over & we could find only residual unplucked grapes unsuitable for wine making. We were however allowed to taste the residual fruit-very sweet indeed.We then went into the winery to understand the wine making process-fermentation, barrel aging & bottling. Finally we were taken for a seated wine tasting session -the wine educator explained the art of wine tasting. How to read the wine labels,why you swirl your wine in your glass,and how to smell,taste & describe wine. We got to taste 3 of Robert Mondavi's top wines.We were also given a discount coupon which allowed us 10% off on all wine purchases from their retail outlet. We picked up a 2004 Chardonay for $16/-

Fee per person : $ 25/-

Experience : Thoroughly enjoyable

Rating : *****

Strongly recommended.

For more information refer to :

Daly City

Daly City is a city in eastern San Mateo County, in the Bay Area of Northern California. Daly City is approximately ten minutes south of San Francisco, twenty-five minutes southwest of Oakland, and fifty minutes northwest of San Jose. The city is bounded by the the Pacific Ocean on the west and nearly to San Francisco Bay on the east. Daly City is one of the few majority Asian-American cities in the continental United States .
The first non-native American settlement of the area now occupied by Daly City started in the 1850s. The city was incorporated in 1911, and was named after John Daly, a prominent area businessman.Asians contribute to more than 50% of the city's population approx. over 1 million.
The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is located approximately nine miles to the south of Daly City. The city is also bisected by two major highways, U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280. Daly City is also served by two Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) system stations as well as the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) and the San Mateo County Transit District (samTrans).

Daly City Attractions :

Sme of the more notable items in and near Daly City include:
*Daly City's seven-mile coast which is accessible to the public
*The Fort Funston beach.
*The Golden Gate bridge
*The Golden Gate National Recreation Area which includes Daly City's Thornton Beach
*San Bruno Mountain, with 2,063 acres of park land

Large shopping malls & big depatmental stores exist in Daly City & neighbouroods like Serramonte, Westlake, Colma, South SFO etc. Big names include Costco, Trader Joes, Target,Kohls,Burlington, J.C.Penny, Macy's,Bed Bath & Beyond, Bath & Body Works,Old Navy, Walgreens, Albertsons, PetSmart. Good deals & bargains are on offer almost throughout te year.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Arrival in the USA

25 October'06 : Coimbatore Junction :
My parents were going to Chennai for a long stay of several months & I was leaving for San Francisco for a six weeks trip. We reached Cbte Station earlier than usual around 7.30 pm.The Nilgiri express chugged in from Mettupalayam amazingly on time at 8.30 pm. We were booked to travel by First Class.
Nilgiris was one of the very few trains in the country which still ran a first class compartment. I chose first class travel because the berths are wider,there is greater safety as each 4-berth bay had a sliding door which could be bolted from the inside,there is more leg and luggage room & the toilets were cleaner. Bed rolls are provided against payment. First class coaches are not air conditioned though but this was not a major disadvantage considering the weather was quite cool & comfortable at this time of the year.

The first class coach could not be found. Some one mentioned that coach cancellation was a frequent occurence in this train. I was aghast & shocked at this possibility ! The guy also stated that passengers having confirmed berths are normally reallocated in 2nd or 3rd A/C coach. After that I rushed to the A/C coaches & scanned the passenger lists pasted outside. Our names did not figure. Meanwhile I approached a TTE who informed me that another TTE would arrive shortly with the updated charts.
With only 15 minutes left for the train to depart I considered alternative contingency plans. My parents would have to return to the Den(name of the bungalow where I live in Coimbatore) & I would have to travel overnight to Chennai by road-an unattractive proposition considering the run down condition of large stretches of the Cbte-Chennai highway.
Suddenly the chap in black coat appeared triumphantly waving the updated charts. I thrust our tickets towards him - he scoured the charts again but failed to find our names. I snatched the charts from his hand & in less than 30 seconds succeeded in locating our names & berth numbers.
I then quickly boarded my parents in the 3rd A/C coach & guided them through the packed aisle amidst the chattering,pandemonium & chaos that prevailed. It took us what seemed like eternity to find our berths & arrange our suitcases & bags in available spaces.We finally heaved a big sigh of relief. We were making the journey after all.
Caution : If you hold a reservation in First Class in Nilgiri Express make sure to check up well in advance whether the coach is running or not & if cancelled if you have been reallocated berths in 2nd/3rd A/C coach. A lot of unnecessary panic can be thus avoided. It is reported that First Class compartments may be abolished under the Lalloo regime and therefore may soon become a thing of the past. So if you wish to have a First Class travel experience rush & make reservations today ! And pray that the coach is not cancelled on the scheduled date.

26-27 October'2006 : Anna International Airport,Chennai & San Francisco :
Reached the airport around 9.30 pm well ahead of the scheduled departure time of 0130 hrs. Check in at the Lufthansa counter was smooth,no excess baggage was paid.Each suitcase was within the prescribed dimensions(158 cms) and weight 23Kgs. Hand baggage specifications as per norms.No problems with immigration & customs either.Reached the departure lounge @ 11.00 hrs. Chatted with other passengers,had some coffee,napped a while. Flight was delayed by an hour due to heavy downpour at Chennai Airport & finally took off at 0230 hrs.
I was allocated the 28th row - convenient as it had greater leg space & one could comfortably stretch out.(Row no.24 is also similarly comfortable) The flight took approx. 9 hours to reach Frankfurt. Slept through most of the flight. Fortunately the crew did not wake me up for the late dinner service. Got up refreshed around 0730 am & helped myself to some Indian B.Fast-idli/vada sambhar & coffee before deplaning at F.Furt. Security check was very strict at Frankfurt probably a consequence of 9/11. Even transit passengers had to go through the rigorous drill - I had to take off my wallet, shoes/socks,belt,coat,mobile,anything else I carried on my body, place them in a basket to be put through the scanner.Followed by a thorough & skilful hand frisking - cold & dispassionate but quick & efficient.
The flight to San Francisco departed @ 11.30 am roughly an hour behind schedule. This was a long haul flight of 13 hours over the Atlantic . This time I was not so lucky with the seating. Row no.34 was cramped & uncomfortable.The journey was largely uneventful-except for the frequent visits to the toilets & for walks on the aisle to keep out cramps. Indian vegetarian lunch was served as per request-naan/chole/sweet etc.(Tasteless stuff ! Should be more appropriately renamed German Indian vegetarian) Soft drinks,wine & other forms of alcohol were available on request. The TV monitor frequently displayed a flight route map showing location of the flight,altitude, temperature,hours remaining,time of arrival etc. The crew served with with immaculate efficiency- but were expressionless & displayed neither warmth or friendliness. Finally arrived at SF International Airport. After a smooth & hassle free immigration & customs & bagagge collection(some delay here) finally emerged from the airport @ 2.30 pm to a warm reception from Shobha, Rohit, Bhavana & Baby Mira.

We had a smooth ride home in Rohit's Toyota Camry automatic - a comfortable, spacious, feature rich sedan with huge elbow, leg & boot space. After a 30 minute ride we reached their residence at Daly City (San Mateo County) a suburb of San Francisco where Rohit,Bhavana & Mira live.The neighbourhood is called Village in the Park, is situated atop a hill from where an excellent view of San Francisco can be had. On arrival I was warmly greeted by Pepper, a recently adopted 8 yr. old jet black labrador-shepherd mix.


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