Yellowstone-A Photo journey-2013

 

I exchanged excited glances with my sister, we would be visiting Yellowstone national park!

Yellowstone national park was synonymous for us with yogi bear cartoons on one end and national geographic documentaries on the other.

Even though we had seen lots of pictures,documentaries on this park,none of them had prepared us for the grandeur of this place.

The beauty of Yellowstone cannot be described in words and has to be experienced.The geysers,springs and the beautiful wildlife that abounds Yellowstone is indeed diverse.

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The boardwalk around Yellowstone
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He has the right of way here

The bison herd in Yellowstone is said to be one of the oldest as well as largest bison herds in America. They are also some of the few herds which have not been subjected to interbreeding with cattle.SAM_1532100_2496100_2490

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As our eyes took in one geyser after another,running around to catch a geyser erupting in time, we were a little tired.  Each of them have a specific interval between eruptions!

Mud geyser was the perfect spot for us to take a breather, as the belching noises emanated from the geyser  followed by fumes ,which is also called dragon’s mouth.

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Mud Geyser

Yellowstone is also filled with beautiful ,prismatic springs and cisterns, each having a unique name and a story behind it.The colors of the springs are due to the presence of cyanobacteria which thrive in the springs, tolerating temperatures up to 67 celsius.100_2523

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Blue star spring
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Heart spring-shaped like a real heart with auricles and ventricles!
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Belgian pool
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Abyss pool
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Porcelain springs

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Easily one of my favorite springs at the park,my first impression when i saw it was, is that snow?

No! its limestone and  its a hot  spring! The water rises through the limestone dissolves it and carries it to the surface. once in contact with the air,it releases the CO2 and deposits the calcium carbonate leading to these terrace formations.

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Too close for comfort!

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Lower falls from artists point in the grand canyon of Yellowstone.

After spending time in Yellowstone ,we went on to the Teton range located in Wyoming.  The Tetons are  a subrange of the Rocky mountains and offer ,bird watching,animal sighting,trekking ,cycling,boating ,camping and mountain biking.

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The Grand Tetons- at dusk
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The Teton range- early morning

 

 

Throwback-Amritsar

Amritsar, the name had such a far away feel to it.  I had only read about it in my text books.
I could not contain my excitement as we made our way to the Railway Station since my cousin was traveling with us as well.

My cousin, my sister and I were of the same age group and the day long journey to delhi and from there to amritsar held a lot of scope for fun.

We kept ourselves busy playing Uno,charades, making frequent trips to the pantry and talking about everything under the sun. We reached Delhi and took another train to Amritsar from there.

Amritsar was a lovely city ,so new but something felt familiar about it. We made our way to the famous golden temple. It appeared truly mystical to our young eyes, situated right in the middle of a water tank,covered in gold with a marble  walkway to enter it. All the men, women and children had to cover their heads with a cloth as a mark of respect as was the custom in sikhism. And for those who didnt have a head cover, they were provided free of cost at the entrance by the volunteers.

We stood in line to enter the gurudwara and as we neared it ,we could hear the sounds of harmonium and low chanting coming from within. We made our way to the sanctum and saw that musicians and ‘Granthis’ were reciting from the ‘guru granth sahib’ . We were allowed to stay for a few minutes and then ushered to make way for the other devotees.

We spent some time walking around the  tank which was filled with beautiful koi carp.

There is an ancient ber/jujube tree within the temple complex that is believed to be holy. According to the legend the leper husband of bibi rajani was cured after bathing in the pond under the tree.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to visit the guru ka langar, where volunteers prepare and serve free meals to devotees the entire day.

We were on our way to Wagah border,the only link between India and Pakistan prior to the opening of the Aman setu in Kashmir.

We were filled with a sense of excitement, as well as fear when we knew we would be going to the border. All sorts of movie scenes played in my head imagining what would lie ahead for us.

We were greeted by a massive iron gate with seats on either side of the gate.  We hurried to get the best seats possible. It was almost sundown, the ceremony began. It involved elaborate gestures, thumping of the boots and was fascinating to watch. 45 minutes later the ceremony ended with cries of ‘Jai Hind’ on the Indian side and a similar call on their side with both the flags being lowered simultaneously and the soldiers shaking hands.

This ceremony was started in 1959 and has been carried out every single day  at 5 pm as a sign of good will between the two countries.

The following day we visited Jallianwallah Bagh. There stood a tall memorial in remembrance of all the victims of one of the most heinous massacres to have taken place.

People had gathered to celebrate the sikh festival of baisakhi in Jallianwallah Bagh which was a public garden. General Dyer of the British army ordered his troops to gun down these unarmed men, women and children. Since there was only one entrance, escape was impossible and those who weren’t gunned down, jumped to their death into the solitary well within the garden. The visit had a really sobering effect on all of us and reminded us of all the atrocities that humans inflict upon one another when they forget their true selves in the name of false pride and ego.
As the Dalai Lama rightly said love and compassion are necessities not luxuries; without them humanity cannot survive.

Why i chose to travel

​”Why do you travel so much ?”    My colleague asked incredulously as i signed yet another leave application and hurried to human resources.

Huh!? I had never really thought about it.
It felt natural to me to be traveling to a new place or to visit my folks whenever I  had enough vacation time.
So i was caught off guard when she posed me that question.
I looked around and realized that travelling was not the obvious choice for most others at my workplace or anywhere else.
I remembered my childhood when my parents would walk in and announce that we would be leaving for Goa, Delhi or Badrinath ,yet again during our vacations . We would try and reason with them that we would rather stay back  with grandma and play with our friends. ( friends and cousins were the only thing that mattered to us when we were 10).
“Sorry guys the tickets are already booked, come and pack your bags”,my mom would reply cheerily.
Ultimately my sister and I would end up having the best time ever during those biannual trips to different places around the country. They were enriching and we learnt a great deal about our history and culture when we traveled,than through our text books.We also ended up seeing the happier,relaxed and younger versions of our parents during those trips.

Fast forward to today and I feel a familiar thrill when I sit with K and coordinate our leaves, book hotel rooms, pore over train timetables and pack for the upcoming trip.
Its so thrilling to be traveling,never really sure of what is coming up next, to never be rushed to meet deadlines,  to try new food, to spend the entire day soaking up the culture of the place and the people, to listen to their tales and ambitions,to be able to stand still and look at the rising sun from amidst dew kissed fields, to spend an entire day just bathing in the waterfalls, to spend an entire night gazing at the stars, to spend the day discovering a new place, to lounge around your tent doodling and drinking hot tea,to be able to saunter through a new town; the kind of freedom travelling offers  to one’s spirit is second to none.IMG_2607

Travelling subtly takes you out of your comfort zone,prior to travelling so much ,i was a shy person not really the most adventurous,but being in a new place surprisingly made me feel and act more brave i tried out a lot of adventure sports i normally would have steered clear of.  IMG_3599

Travelling made me a more relaxed ,easy going person. It made me realize that the stuff we usually fret and worry about isn’t all that important.I found out much to my surprise that it is OK if things don’t go exactly as per my plan,in fact sometimes the unplanned stuff is way more fun and memorable.

As  Miriam Beard once said“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” 

 

Offbeat things to do when in Pondicherry

I woke up shivering as the wind blew in, through the open door.

I looked around groggily and noticed a faint orange glow in the distance.

K called out excitedly, “Hey its almost sunrise, lets head to the beach”.
It was December and one of the best times to visit Pondicherry. The weather was cold as compared to the usual hot and humid climate as was the norm. We had visited  many times before and wanted to spend this weekend doing something more offbeat.IMG_0863

We were lucky to be living a few feet away from the beach, at a hatchery in Markanam. The wind was howling and we pulled our jackets closer as we walked towards the beach.
The sun rose steadily as the ocean shimmered,in beautiful shades of orange and pink. We were the only people on the beach,except for some young boys practicing somersaults a few feet away; we watched some fishing boats in the distance laying out their nets. We walked for a while and chanced upon some driftwood which still had some sea anemones growing on it, we came upon some voodoo dolls, beautiful shells, turtles and the most interesting varieties of crabs that kept getting washed ashore by the gentle waves. Soon the fishermen hauled in their catch and started sorting them out. K spoke to one of them and they offered to take us out to sea and show us a nearby fort.

Since it was low tide ,the ocean was calm and we climbed into the small fishing boat and as we went a little deeper the waves crashed on the side of the boat ,spraying us with water. The fisherman killed the motor and we just floated in the water for a while to see the direction of the flow. To be right there surrounded by the sea on all sides ,makes you so still and also fills you with great peace.The boatman showed us some mangrove forests in the distance and told us that  although he had a MCA degree, he earned more through fishing and decided to live here as opposed to the city since it was  also his hometown.IMG_0732

We were nearing the shore and the ruins of a small fort appeared in the distance. This fort looked picturesque even though it was in ruins, built during the Mughal era between 1736-1740 AD it was under the control of the Nawab of Arcot. It was given to the French and then lost to the British who demolished the fort in 1760. It used to be the main port of trade for the Arcot nawabs . There was a mint here, which was later shifted to Pondicherry. Soon other tourists started trickling into the fort by the time we had reached the shore. It was called Alamparai fort and at the centre of the ruins was a mausoleum. The fort proved to be a photographers paradise and soon there were cameras everywhere, people bringing out their picnic baskets and some venturing to climb to the top of the fort.IMG_2169

We went back to Markanam checked out the salt flats and went to the olive ridley turtle hatchery nearby. It was humbling to see the efforts put in by the locals to save the turtles and protect them from predators and some inconsiderate fellow humans.

The next day,we decided to spend some time in Paradise beach.
True to its name this beach was more like an island and was accessible by boat from the Chunnambar boat house located about 8 km from Pondicherry on the Cuddalore road. The white sands and the blue waters gave the beach an exotic look. Since there is an entry fee, it is not as crowded as the other beaches around Pondicherry . We enjoyed playing in the gentle waves and enjoyed a yummy though somewhat expensive meal at the shacks that are present on the beach.  There were some very crude shower and change areas. The last boat back to the boathouse was at 6pm. We headed back to Chennai vowing to come back and try our hand at surfing and SUP soon.DSC_1639 (2)

 

Focus-Weekly Photo Challenge-Driftwood  

 

IMG20170108065644I am posting this picture in response to the Daily post’s weekly photo challenge. This shot was taken during our trip to Markanam,  a village near Pondicherry . As we strolled in the beach watching the sunrise,  this piece of driftwood was washed ashore and we were humbled when we saw the life that it sustained and how perfect  they are just by ‘being themselves’.  Nature never fails to amaze me.

Read more about this trip here;Offbeat things to do when in Pondicherry

 

 Top 10 Things to do in and around Ocala Florida

Ocala is a small town in Central Florida full of beautiful weeping willows and oak trees. Known as the horse capital of the world, most of the horses racing in the Kentucky Derby are grown here. At first glance it may seem that there’s not much to do.. Au contraire!  There is plenty to do here for the patient traveler

1. Ride the glass bottom boat – Silver springs

This park was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions. The primary attraction here is the glass bottom boat ride, around the Silver river.  One can spot the wildlife that thrives around the river above water as well as underwater. The feeling when you peer down the boat and see the origin of the spring is indescribable.The presence of the native american artifacts resting below the water take you back to a time when they traveled the waters in a canoe. Apart from this there are options for renting kayaks and paddle boards. Don’t miss the horseshoe shaped palm tree which brings you 5 years of good luck when  you take  a picture with it. The deck is a nice place to relax,  with old fashioned ice cream shops and hot dog stands.

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2. Go fishing in Crystal river

Located 40 miles from ocala it takes about an hour to reach there. Pete’s pier  stands tall in the distance  as you take your boat out.  We were lucky enough to spend tine there with our friends and got to drive a motor boat in the gulf of Mexico.  For those who want to kick back and relax  they can just drift around taking a nap or read a book or throw in a fishing  line and spend the day in leisure. The best part is to be able to explore the by lanes of the river on the banks of which there are many  quaint houses.
3. Kayak in the 3 sisters spring :

If you’re like me and you can’t swim but still seem to be attracted to watersports,  this definitely is for you.  The calm waters of the spring are perfect for  kayaking beginners. Kayaks are available for rent and the price varies according to the number of hours as well as if it is a single or double kayak . Apart from kayaks people can also rent paddleboards and in some areas we are allowed to swim. This spring is one of the favorite haunts of the beautiful manatees, especially in the winter time.
4. Homosassa state park:

Right next to the 3 sisters spring is the Homosassa state park.  Home to 3 resident manatees,  bobcats, alligators, Lu the hippopotamus, nurse sharks, rescued birds of prey,migratory birds, white tailed deer, jackals, etc it is an interesting place to visit. There is a floating observatory to get close to the manatees and the visitors can observe then during their feeding time.
5. Appleton museum :

The Appleton museum of art is located in Ocala and is governed by the college of central Florida. It houses art from all over the world and includes modern art as well and some very interesting sculptures made of metal and other recyclable products. The display  on the ground floor keeps changing and I was lucky enough to see a lot of contemporary art when I visited the second time. They have a lovely store near the exit which sells a lot of souvenirs, my favorite being a bird whistle.

6. Art walk

Starting September every year,  the first Friday of the month is observed as the art walk in downtown ocala. This series of events continues till the month of May  and is an opportunity for the local artists to showcase their talents and also for the people of the town to enjoy interacting with them. The art walk is held in the history district in downtown ocala. It is a great way to start the weekend with great food and musicIMG_20160107_112127

7. Giving a hoot-Owl  sanctuary:

This sanctuary is owned by a native American and his partner who to me are real life heroes. Their sanctuary started with one owl ‘ Hobo’who had lost his mate and was nearly dead when they found him.  They nurtured him back to health and slowly they had wounded and rescued animals being dropped off at their doorstep to be taken care of. They have truly opened their doors to these helpless creatures and continue their good work.  Its definitely worth visiting. They also undertake educational talks at schools and other events.

8. EARS-endangered animal rescue sanctuary

Located in citra-florida this sanctuary was started in 2001 and is home to many rescued and previously abused animals. At EARS you can catch a glimpse of the rare liger,  many tigers, a black bear couple and super naughty capuchin monkeys. This organization is completely non profit and is run primarily on donations. You should drop by if you’re in or around ocala.

9. Shalom park-

Another non profit botanical garden that is a must visit in Ocala.  The park is beautiful with so many winding paved paths to walk on, water bodies, meadows and woodlands,  its hard to believe you’re not walking through a wood from long ago. This place is perfect to meditate, sketch/paint or just lie on your back and enjoy a book.

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10. Gainesville :

The university town of Gainesville is ‘the’place to be if you are in party mode.  Home to the prestigious University of Florida, there is always something fun happening here. Apart from that devil’s millhopper geological state park which has  a charming  native american legend associated with it and the butterfly museum are definitely worth checking out.

I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about other places to visit in and near Ocala.

Things to do in Valparai

Valparai is a hill station in the Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu.

Nestled in the Western Ghats this lesser known hill station is a nature lover’s paradise and is perfect for sighting many endemic species of flora and fauna.

I have listed below some of the places i personally liked during my visit there a month ago.IMG20170516062700

1.Nallamudi viewpoint /Om adhi muruga  poonjoloi:

Nallamudi is located 15 km  from valparai town and can be reached by a private vehicle or by a local bus. After a certain point vehicles aren’t allowed to enter and one would have to walk 10 minutes uphill through a beautiful tea estate to reach the viewpoint. The view is indeed breathtaking and it left us speechless. However, this place became well known only after Velu( a worker in the estate) claimed to have seen god at this very spot,40 years ago. The people from the surrounding villages flocked to this place out of curiosity and it has been famous ever since. Velu is quite revered by most of the locals and they genuinely believe he had a glimpse of the almighty here.He speaks fluent English and is more than willing to share his experience with anyone who is interested.

2. Nirar Dam:

This dam is located about 20 km from valparai .The dam is part of a hydroelectric power project in this region and also supplies water to the surrounding areas and Kerala.The route from Valparai to Nirar dam was extremely scenic since it was located amidst forests. The most intriguing part however, is that there was a tunnel built underneath the dam which siphoned excess water to Sholayar dam. The fun part is that people are allowed to walk in the dam and through the tunnel until a certain point,of course ,beyond which it becomes too dark to see . Its definitely worth visiting.

3. Meditate in the Karamalai Balaji temple:

This beautiful temple flanked by the hills on one side and tea estates on the other side is located 10 km from Valparai. It was established by the periakaramalai tea estate owners and is still functional. It can be reached up to a certain point by vehicle ,followed by a short uphill walk. It’s a serene place where you can sit by yourself and meditate or simply take in the beauty of the hills.

4.Vellamalai tunnel exit:

During the monsoon this place has a lovely waterfall, by the side. Unfortunately we visited during the summer, so there was just a dismal trickle of water. However,the tunnel exit was beautifully clothed in creepers and morning glory flowers lending it an old world charm.

5. Koolangal river:

Translated in Tamil this means pebble river,  its located on the sirukundra estate  road,  and is  easily approachable.  The water is clear and as the name indicates, the bed of the river is filled with huge beautiful pebbles.

6. Chittivinayakar temple:

This temple is located 5km from valparai town and was established by jayashree tea estate owners. It is made of marble and is said to resemble the idol in Mumbai.

7. Explore Valparai town :

Since we were staying away from the town, we took a ride till there and explored the town on foot.Every eatery there serves different varieties of tea; green tea, pudina/mint tea, lemon tea,masala chai you name it! There are outlets to but tea from the various estates surrounding the town and they also sell products like wild honey,chillies, eucalyptus oil,different spices and homemade chocolates.Since its built on a hill the houses are also built on terraces and as you explore the interior of the town it feels like your walking downwards.

7. Other activities

Most of the resorts offer packages where they take you around the forests for trekking ,cycling and bird watching.  It would be advisable to carry a pair of binoculars with you and also wear full pants and full shirts since there are leeches in the forests.Some such places are:

Monica tea bungalow-special thanks to the staff here for arranging a candlelight dinner for our anniversary.

Sirukundra tea bungalow

Puthuthotam bungalow