Trip to Death Valley National Park

Birthdays are a completely different deal as one turns thirty. While I am still a few months shy of hitting the golden number, the husband is taking it quite hard as he is already on the other side. He says the luster of birthdays wore off ever since adulting has taken over. To uplift his wilting spirit I suggested a trip to Death Valley national park to celebrate his birthday. He took a shine to it instantly and kept turning the idea of “celebrating birth in Death Valley” in his head.

A drive from Phoenix to Furnace Creek, where the visitor center for Death Valley is located, is a good 7.5 hour away. This meant we had to abandon our initial plan for making a daylong trip. Not even a travel enthusiast like the husband can pull off a 13 hour drive. Hence we decided to drive straight to Death Valley to catch the sunset and stay overnight at Las Vegas.

At an area of about 3.2 million acres, Death Valley National Park is the largest national park outside Alaska. In fact its vast land spreads across the two states of California and Nevada. The landscape comprises of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, canyons, valleys and mountains. One of the popular spots in the park, Badwater is famous for being the lowest point in North America.

Artist’s Palette

Zabriskie Point

Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America

Zabriskie Point

Convoluted rocks at Zabriskie Point

Our drive left us very little time for exploring the other points of interest. The park ranger at the visitor center was kind enough to suggest a plan based on the time we had left before heading off to Zabriskie Point for viewing the sunset.

Though we didn’t bring along a cake to cut or a candle to blow out, the fantastic views made for their absence. Though it will be a significant drive a second trip is not completely ruled out considering the trails which were left unexplored.

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Perks of Being a Last Bench Student

For three years of college I was a committed backbench student. I will admit there was a certain amount of notoriety associated with it but it was a perfect place to hide. Teachers seldom looked this far to throw chalk sticks or questions based on their mood. Also it gave me ample opportunity to finish reading the books nearing due date at the library.

Now I never said I was not a reader or a good student. Just someone who preferred to stay out of limelight(read teacher’s gaze). Being massively introverted I was happy existing at the fringes. It also kept me safe from the awkwardness resulting from striking a conversation or making eye contact.

The shrill loud bell announced the end of the lecture. While the teacher gave out last minute instructions about the upcoming tests, students couldn’t have looked any more disinterested. Few were tucking in their books, bringing out their mobile phones –  checking for missed calls and replying to messages. While the class representative and her faithful posse did an amazing job at appearing attentive while hurriedly taking notes. They were definitely scoring brownie points for “attentiveness in class” in the teacher’s report card.

Nobody noticed the girl on the last bench smiling down at a copy of Rebecca. Her eyes savored the words of Daphne du Maurier as she painted the eerie Gothic scene of Mandalay. If she were the one giving out points, my report card would certainly have some colorful remarks.

This post was written as part of the Daily Prompts challenge by WordPress. 
Lecture

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Trip to Arches and Canyonlands National Park

Travel wears out the body, but the soul is always replenished with the new sights and sound. Before the temperatures dropped further down, a quick decision was made for a trip to Utah – Arches National Park and its neighboring Canyonlands National Park.

I was looking forward to the meal as the place is famed for Navajo fry bread and Native Indian cuisine. While planning the route we completely forgot to take into account that time zone difference between Arizona and Utah. As a result the place in Kayenta for closed by the time we arrived for dinner.

Point to remember on future trips is to take into account the time zone differences.

The husband had done a bit of homework and zeroed on an Airbnb in La Sal. The farm served as a animal sanctuary for horses, cats and dogs. Growing up in a city has its perks but nothing prepares you for the sight of open roads, golden hued grass, pale blue skies and a silhouette of mountain in the horizon. The first sight left us absolutely bewildered. I lost count how many times I shook my head and expressed incredulity at how magnificent the whole scene looked.

La Sal

La Sal

La Sal to Moab

Arches National Park is renowned for the arches carved on sandstone structures over million of years by air and water. After a cursory stop at the visitor center we quickly made our way to its most famous spot, the Delicate Arch. Although the trail was marked as a moderate hike, it was fairly easy for amateur hikers like us.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

But we did take about 1.5 hours to reach the end of the trail. We got blown away. Literally.

The powerful wind had all of us crouching down on our hands and knees as standing up without a proper footing was just dangerous. I took off my cap as it kept threatening to fly off. Turns out I wasn’t the only one petrified by the force, there were a few toddlers and a couple of babies who were bawling their hearts out terrorized by strong cold air. It was heartwarming to see that the parents smiling and patiently dealing with the meltdown.

The hike down was relatively easy but the sights of this hike would stay with us for a long time.

Arches National Park

As per the plan, we made our way to the Canyonlands National Park for the second half of the day. This national park is divided into four districts and has two entry points – the Needles and the Isle of the Sky. The former entry point is closer the Arches National Park and is located about 20-40 minutes away.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The following day we set out for home driving on UT-46 via US-191. On the way after crossing the Colorado river, the iconic view of Monument Valley greeted us. The sight of mammoth rocks standing upright making a silhouette against the afternoon sun was something out of an old Hollywood western.

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Farewell Oppa

While watching a popular K-drama over this past week, I sensed a different feeling. The heart beat was normal, butterflies in the stomach conspicuously absent, absolutely not one weak-in-the-knee moment in that one hour long episode – even when the K-drama heart throb Min Ho walked in looking like the oppa of my teenage dreams.

Allow me to reminisce about the intense passion I share for K-drama. When people rave about Friends or Breaking Bad, I could go on hours talking about Boys Over Flowers and Faith. They offered me a glimpse into a universe vastly different from the one I lived in, people I knew, food I ate. On a dark day at work, a one hour episode gave me hope and happiness. Back in college I was introduced to a few K-drama enthusiasts and that only led to discovering and discussing new dramas. There were countless times when we didn’t realize when hands of the clock turned and night became morning. The only regret at this point was the agonizing wait until evening when we could resume our K-drama binge.

It slowly dawned upon me, I was finally over oppas and kimchi.

For an ardent K-drama fan the realization brought on pain and tears. It was bidding farewell to my decade long love as I had outgrown my teenage passion.

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Thursday Tiny Tales – 5

The light of the lamp flickers.

A gust of cold wind blows in, rattling the dusty window panes only to escape into hidden realms of the dust laden curtains. Twice every year, before the Bengali Nabobarsha and Durga Pujo, they would be soaked in a tub full of hot water and Surf, scrubbed until the water turned a dirty brown, rinsed separately in clean water and hung out in the sun to dry.

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The Suitcase

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The grey VIP suitcase had been a prized possession of the Sarkar household.

Mohan Sarkar for the first time in his twenty two years he left the place where he grew up, studied. The company was a private consulting firm of engineers. Mohan’s first project was in the mining town of Khetri in Rajasthan. His father had just turned sixty and had retired after serving as an officer in the Eastern Railways for twenty five years.

When Mohan was selected as a member of the team being sent to Germany for a workshop on iron welding, his old man received the news with a toothless smile and had proudly presented him with a grey VIP suitcase.

He was going to be the first member in the Sarkar family who would fly in an airplane to a foreign land. A land where no one spoke Bengali. The entire para had come to see him off. As he sat in the rickshaw, holding onto the suitcase, he turned back and looked at the stream of anxious faces. Pain surged through his heart as he fought the tears clouding his eyes. A new future awaited him.

As the bright eyed lad scaled the heights of corporate world, he attended seminars, conferences and workshops around the world accompanied by his trusty VIP suitcase.

Marriage was always on the cards. A foreign returned boy earning a thousand rupees a month – Mohan’s parents were beset with wedding proposals. After careful analysis of horoscopes and consultations with the purohit moshai, they settled on Maya, the younger daughter of Ghoshal Babu. Being the youngest in a household of ten, came with its own perks. Her father was the chief officer at the post office in Katni and she was the apple of her father’s eye. Every week she received one ruppee as allowance. A generous amount for girl whose only business at that age was to attend classes and buy books. But Maya was a born rebel. With the money she bought eclair chocolates, colorful French ribbons and at times the occasional movie ticket. When presented with the news of her wedding to Mohan, she had expressed disbelief and then unhappiness. She shed tears infront of her father pleading to cancel the wedding but in those times a man’s word meant honor. Maya’s charms and pleas had no takers. She felt abandoned.

The first time Mohan looked at his bride was during the jaimala. She had dark, limpid eyes. They darted a quick look at him but before he could smile back, they looked away. Nervous but happy inwardly, he liked her there and then.

Maya turned out to be quite an expert at managing household affairs. She maintained expense sheets and drew budget records. She drove the grey Fiat to the weekly haat and shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables. Before her marriage to Mohan, her life was micromanaged and plabned to the end detail and she used to take pleasure in the small acts of defiance now and then. But life had somsthing else in store. With Mohan at the helm of important meetings and client affairs, he spent more time at the airports and hotels than at home. Everytime Mohan came back from a trio abroad, there was a pearl or diamond in a neat box wrapped for Maya.

On a rare November sunday afternoon Mohan was home. After enjoying a homecooked meal, he sat down to pack his suitcase for the oncoming trip to Chennai. It was then he saw the thin line of crack on the grey surface. His heart thudded against his chest and sank. His mind became numb and all was quiet. He could not hear Maya asking him to help change the bulb. It felt urgent but her voice sounded faint, weak, coming from a very far distance.

Gradually the voice grew loud and there was more talk. Mohan was having trouble processing the words. She looked angry; she was crying.

“What happened?”

Maya shot an angry look at the suitcase. She shut the suitcase dragging it out to the front door. Hot tears streaming down the face she lifted it up and threw it down the white marble stairs.

The loud thud announced the first crack in their relationship.

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Happy 378th Birthday!

My favorite city turns 378! The city I had the privilege to call Home for eight years introduced me to a new language, culture and gave me a lifetime of memories – happy birthday to you Madras!

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Often I find myself vacillating between Madras and Chennai. But the sweet spot is right in the middle where the perfect balance of old and new world exists. Somehow it this balanced outlook towards life and culture, that helped me fall in love with the city even more. The city transformed a timid small town girl into the confident, independent woman who is writing this blog today.

The year was 2006 when I first arrived in Chennai. I was awestruck by the simplest things – the tall multi-storied buildings, winding flyovers, wide four lane roads – an entire new world for someone from a small town in Jharkhand.

Though its been close to three years now that I have moved out of the city, it remains very close to my being. Here’s my ode to the city by listing down some of my favorite experiences.

Budget sandwich

Bread-omelette slathered with the spicy green chutney was my lifeline during college days. Over the years I remember the price rising up from Rs 5 to Rs 15 but it has always remained a favorite with everyone.


Connemara Public Library and Museum Theater

Being a literature student meant frequent trip to libraries across the city. Connemara Public Library is one of the oldest libraries in our country and has a wide collection of book, journals and magazines. I have spent countless afternoons in the library looking for reference books, making notes and sometimes just sitting down and savoring the moment. There is a section of the library which still retains the old structure of library and has ladders to access books.


Ten Rupee Tickets at Sathyam Cinemas

AC hall tickets to the latest movie all for Rs 10 – a dream for a college student as one can always enjoy Sathyam’s special butter flavored popcorn and a movie without putting a dent in the weekly budget.


Besantnagar Beach

This was my getaway place. A tough week at work or tiff with my BFF, I took the MTC bus to the beach. Sand scrunched between toes, sea breeze in hair, one can almost taste the salt in the air during evenings. It offered me solitude and reassurance in troubled times, almost like a true friend.


Kailash Kitchen and Naga Reju

I would not have discovered Tibetan and Naga cuisine if not for these restaurants. Both are hole in the wall eateries with a dedicated patrons who keep coming back for their lip smacking thukpas and momos.


That unspoken street food scene

It is disheartening how the street food scene does not get the focus it deserves. Kothu parottajigarthandaonion samosa, kuzhi paniyaram – these are few delightful snacks which I never knew existed. Also there is a very active Arabian and Burmese food scene in various pockets of the city.


Temple getaways 

I identify myself as a spiritual person who enjoys visiting temples. The charm of the city lay in the many temples located in the city who can trace back their origin back to hundred of years. Kapaleeswara Temple and Parthasarathy Temple were some of the few famous temples that I have visited while staying here. The elaborate rituals, offerings to the various deities, intricate designs on the temple walls and architecture are fine work and speak volumes about the beliefs of the people who have resided here and worshiped in these temples since long. Also the evening aarthi sessions at Ramakrishna Mission in Mylapore are nothing short of magical.


Ease of commute

With the existence of MTC buses, local train, MRTC and now, metro rail – the city is very well connected to its sub-urban and central areas. This is not taking into account the presence of  autos and various app based cab services like Uber and Ola. MTC has a neat website which lists the bus numbers, their location of origin, destination and bus stops in between. Also the origin and terminating bus stops and bus numbers are written out in English which enabled a novice like me to move around the city without any issues.

After I moved out of the city, I grieved for a good part in the following months. I had never felt like an outsider in those eight years. The city had accepted and embraced me as one of her own and it was difficult to let go. But then as I boarded the train, I realized I didn’t have to let go for it would always remain a part of me. I owe it to her and likewise no other city would be able to replace Namma Chennai for me.

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