Monday, March 12, 2018

Hubli for BIL Wedding

Time: Mar 8-11, 2018
Place: Hubli
Company: Wife and daughter
Occasion: Wife's second brother's wedding 
Highlights

8th: Took the Ajmer express at 9:50 pm from KSR-SBC station. Train on time.

9th: Arrived Hubli at 6:45 am. The new Hubli railway station always amazes me. It is as good as SFO international airport! Took an auto to destination. Quick refresh & meditation in front of the rising sun - the terrace is beautiful at my in-laws! At 9:30 am, Brother-in-law and his family arrived from Dubai via Goa. Chatting, breakfast and got ready for the other brother-in-law's knot tying ceremony at a nearby temple. After all  dress-up, there was a photo session and then we were off to the temple.

At the temple, the ceremony was brief and succinct. Quick exchange of vows and in the presence of the Almighty, the knot was tied. More photos. Then feast back home. Some heavy stuff, hence took a light nap! Simple chatting in the evening - spending more time at the terrace. More ceremonies began at night. In fact, it was an all night event - including fable-telling with drums and songs and what-not especially about how to lead a married life. Eyes were getting closed shut but nevertheless the event - and the energy involved - was fascinating. Finally it got done by about 6 am in the morning.

10th: With little or no sleep at night, thought it is just as well to get ready for the next ceremony by taking an early bath. So that done, I was all set for the next ceremony - Satyanarayana pooja which was scheduled to start at 9 am but alas, it didn't start until 11:30 am. So slight naps in between light breakfast! The Pooja last for about 45 minutes followed by another feast! 

After the feast at about 3 pm, BIL #1 went off to Mantralayam with family. Another heavy nap. Then at about 6 pm, BIL #2 went off to Tirupati with newly wed wife. We did packing, had dinner and we left at 9:30 pm to station. Took the Rani Chennamma at 10:45 pm back to Bangalore. 

11th: Reached right on time at 7 am. Back home on our parked two-wheeler.

Overview: This was a pure family get-together with wedding ceremonies one after the other albeit on a low-key level. We could have stayed for one more day until Sunday evening - as we had originally planned and booked the tickets. But there was last minute change in plans because Tontu had to attend State-level spelling bee exam on Sunday. So had to re-book the tickets by cutting short the trip by one day. Hence it seemed like a tightly packed trip with no long sleep at Hubli at all. It was all only naps! Well, something to remember, huh?!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Udupi & Mangalore

Time: Feb 16th - 18th 2017
Place: Udupi & Mangalore (Panambur Beach)
Company: Family
Highlights

Prelude: With Sri Raghavendra Swamy Saptaaha celebrations scheduled in Udupi for 2018 & considering Tontu had not visited Udupi - nor any beach in India after we relocated back - we thought it is a good time to visit the coastal city. So, booked the train tickets about a month in advance. Parents decided to stay for the entire weekend while wife, daughter and I decided to stay for just one day.

Day 0: Bangalore-Karwar train at 7:15 pm. [I guess the last time I went in this train was in 2007 but I am not sure!] It was a long time since we (family) went in a night train and it was fun, what with packed dinner and climbing ladders aboard a moving automotive!

Day 1: Reached Udupi at 8:30 am. Longish, compared to an overnight bus journey. Took an auto to the booked hotel. In the hotel room for the briefest of time - quick wash, dress up and we were off to the darshan. Unfortunately, just as we were about to enter, they stopped the queue and we had to wait for a long time. It was too hot and sunny. Finally the line moved and darshan was quick. In fact too quick that I didn't get any satisfaction because of the cop asking us to move constantly and didn't even allow for a 5 second view of the idol. Anyways. sat for about 30 minutes in the premises and did (or tried to do) some meditation. Then, it was lunch time.

Mother-in-law wanted to lunch directly from the floor (not from the banana leaf) - something unique thats done in Udupi - which I had experienced in 2007 during my solo trip. Then my wife decided on an impulse to do the same. So I decided too, and my daughter too! While it was a shocker in 2007 for me, today it was Business As Usual!

After lunch, I went for another darshan along with mother in law and daughter since the queue wasn't as big as earlier. This time I was very satisfied. The burly cop wasn't around and the new guy was endearing. He let me have my eyes' worth! Now thats my Udupi! 

Unfortunately, we could not attend Saptaaha festivities because there were no events lined up in the afternoon - which was strange because it is usually an all day - seven days function. Anyways, it was time for us to leave Udupi - considering we had to catch the train back to Bangalore from Mangalore at night. Bid adieu to Mother-in-law and Brother-in-law as they caught their bus back to Hubli and we took a bus to Mangalore. I remembered the Udupi-Mangalore road and the private bus drivers of the 2000s and how each of them were trying to overtake one another. In the internet there were jokes about Udupi-Mangalore drivers but now the roads are all international standard and it isn't scary anymore. So had a nice quick nap. 

Got down at Mangalore suburbs and took an auto to Panambur Beach. Initially had planned to go to Thannir Bhaavi beach but someone suggested P over TB. This beach was awesome - much better than we expected. The sand was too fine and silky - and very clean and neat. So neat that we wondered if eating snacks on the beach (which is the most common thing to do in Indian beaches) was prohibited! The waves were just perfect - not too scary. The weekend crowd too was just ideal. We went on long walks where the waves lapped at our feet. What a blessing the sea water here in India is warm compared to the chill ocean water in the US! 

The beach also had just the required amount of eatery stalls which satisfied our sunset chai time! And speaking of sunset - wow, that was superb too. Unimaginable that Nature gives us this splendid show every single day and we are so engrossed in our day to day life. After sunset, it was time to depart. We took an auto directly to Mangalore Railway Central. Reached about 8 pm. Had lightish dinner at the station restaurant and caught our train back to Bangalore at 8:55 pm. 

Day 2: Train was on time. Route was via Mysore, so saw the usual stations of Mandya, Chennapatna, Ramnagar, etc. Reached station at 8:30 am. Retrieved the parked two-wheeler and got back home an hour later.

Overview: Tontu knew the story of Udupi Krishna idol since about age 2, and it was nice for her to see the idol in person. The only negative points were the afternoon heat and non-availability of any Saptaaha programs. The best part of the visit was the beach. It was Tontu's first beach in India after we relocated. She loved it very much and so did the wifey. Much glad that we did this trip. It was short and sweet. Very memorable.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Cauvery

Time: Mid-2007
PlaceTiramkundlu Narasipura, Bannur, Shivanasamudram, Barachukki
Company: Relatives
Highlightshttp://harshasrao.blogspot.in/2007/08/cauvery.html


Time: July 3rd 2017
Place: Srirangapatna (Pashchima Vahini)
Company: Dad & other relatives
Highlights: Dad's dad passed away on 1st July night (2nd early morning) and hence had to immerse the ashes in Cauvery river. Took upon myself to be the designated driver. Since I went, took bath in the river too. Had lunch at the Srirangapatna Mutt post-bath and returned home by evening.


PS: Added newly to Locus since I saw that it was missing...

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sonda and Hubli

Time: August 12th to 16th, 2017
Place: Sonda and Hubli
Company: Wife, daughter, parents
Highlights:

It was parents' wish for a long time to go to Sonda, and for some reason or the other, it was getting delayed. Finally, thanks to the long weekend (12th to 15th), we decided to merge Sonda trip with Hubli. There were many permutations and combinations on how to achieve all that we wanted to do but after many thoughts and considerations, we finalized on the days and drive in own car (instead of train/bus). Decision was done on 11th!

Day 1: We left at 10:30 am after breakfast. Took the NICE road from Kanakapura road (easier from our new home as compared to our old home in Jayanagar), touched the Tumkur Road in 45 mins, braved some traffic until Nelamangala, and traffic eased out. By 12:30 we were in Tumkur. Drove for some more time and maybe by 1:30 pm, stopped road-side for home-made lunch. It was fun showing Paavani a farm and walking amidst crops. There were some big black ants crawling on the road and she was jumping up and down trying to avoid them! Lunch done, we continued on. Next stop was for home-made coffee, again road-side. But this time, Tontu was sleeping, so it was a short stop. After an hour more - at about 4:30 pm, we were at our first destination - Haveri. On the way to the hotel, we picked up my mom-in-law from the bus stand. We stayed at Shivashakti Palace. It was pretty neat and clean. Just yapped, ate and slept.

Day 2: Left hotel at 7ish and took the country road to Sirsi. It was a nice drive except for the innumerous road humps. After about an hour, we entered the jungle-side in which Sirsi is encompassed, so the road was winding for a while. But it was lush greenery everywhere. Very nice. About 9:30, we reached Sonda. Took bath at the Mutt premises, did darshan of Vadiraja Swamy and generally soaked in the religious atmosphere. Had lunch at noon and headed towards Hubli.

Road to Hubli was far better compared to Haveri-Sonda. But after the lunch, was too sleepy to drive! Anyways, reached Hubli in 2-3 hours by about 4 pm. Went for a stroll nearby to a park. Did some walking and general time-pass. Dinner and retired for the night.

Day 3: Planned many things for today but it was too hot. So just went to Raghavendra Swamy mutt (to order for tomorrow) and returned back. Did nothing significant other than walk to nearby temples to hear religious discourses on Krishna (since it was Krishna's birthday anniversary eve).

Day 4: Funeral (anniversary) ceremonies conducted (my paternal grandfather's by my father and my father-in-law's by my brother-in-law) at the same Raghavendra Swamy mutt where I got engaged in 2008. Lunch. Today being Krishna Janmashtami, went to ISKCON. It was raining heavily. Nevertheless, ISKCON was crowded. Hare Krishna chanting was full-on. Spent time until evening and headed back home. Roads were flooded and had to take alternate routes. Finally, we reached home at 8 pm. Saw Sachin movie on TV and slept.

Day 5: Nuggikeri Hanuman temple was our first stop for the day. We were attending Gouri's cousin's son's head-shaving ceremony. It was a great location, and apparently very devout temple. Due to time constraints, we only had breakfast there, saw the head-shaving ceremony but didn't have time for lunch. We left at 1 pm. Our destination was home sweet home in Bangalore. We did couple of stops - once to get Dharwad Peda sweets, next for road-side home-made lunch and finally tea at road-side stall. I was doing great on time, and very comfortably we reached our home before 9 pm. Could have done it even earlier but it was raining at places and I had to slow down. I don't think I had ever done a 400+ km drive in one stretch before (in India), and that too in under 8 hours. The Indian highways are amazing now. Anyways, reached home safe and sound.

Overview: It was a nice longish weekend break. Nice long rides. I drove 1040 kms in last 5 days. Reached 140 kmph - perhaps for the first time in my life in India. Learnt one thing - never to use credit card at fuel stations, was charged exorbitantly! Tolls were expensive too. Paid almost 800 bucks to and fro. Parents' wish of Sonda finally got fulfilled. Mother-in-law's wishes of my parents staying at her place in Hubli also got fulfilled. Gouri's wish of attending her cousin's function also got fulfilled. So, all in all, lots of fulfillments! 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chennai RBI

Time: March 14th-15th, 2017
Place: Chennai
Company: Alone
Highlights:

Overview: One of the reasons for me choosing to head back to India for good was that I didn't've to go to Chennai for US Visa stamping purposes whenever I visited India on vacation! I was tired of preparing for the consulate visit, the countless documents - originals and copies, checklists, the booking process in the company, the approvals in the company, the list goes on and on. 

Now thanks to demonetization, I was left with few old notes that I had to deposit with RBI. Thinking happily that there was an RBI in Bangalore where I could just go and deposit, I was told that I had to go to Chennai RBI - and again with full documentation, checklists, etc. to prove how I legally owned the old notes and why I could not deposit in 2016 itself! And so Fate made me go to Chennai again!

Reached railway station on my TVS at about 6 and took the 6:30 am Lalbagh express hoping that it would be on time. If it exceeded beyond 2:30 pm, then I had to come back to RBI the next day. Thankfully, it was right on time. I reached RBI gates by about 1 pm (via prepaid auto) and although there was a queue, I was able to get inside the campus before the 2:30 pm cut-off.

Once inside, I had to go through the security and then await my turn. My token number was over 150 from the current counter and I had a huge wait time - almost 2.5 hours. So I refreshed myself with some snacks and water and read the book I had with me. My turn finally came at 4:45 pm and it was just a matter of filling up some forms and submitting my old notes just like in any other bank. Except that this was RBI and it was colossal! There were huge portraits of currencies traded in India right from about 10-15 decades ago which was awesome. I wanted to take pics but it was against RBI law to use phones inside the premises. So refrained. Anyways, once I deposited the old notes, I was free to get back to Bangalore. 

I took two buses (and walked a long way in-between) to get back to Railway Station. It was stifling hot and I was profusely sweating. By 5:30 pm, I was sitting in one of the chairs under a full-blast fan on the main platform waiting for my 9 pm Kaveri Express train back to Bangalore. Passed time by chatting with few folks (one Russian included), getting up to date with Whatsapp videos (!), reading some more of my book, munching, etc. and finally it was time to board up.

Train journey back home was uneventful. Slept all the way. Arrived Bangalore at 3:30 am. Against parents advice of not to ride a two-wheeler at such an odd time, still drove home and reached by 4ish. 

After a really long, long time - went on an outstation tour all alone. Tontu and wifey really missed me. Tontu kept asking if I will be back by night and I said I will be sleeping beside her when she wakes up. And so it happened! :-)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hosur and Tirukkoilur

Time: Feb 28th - Mar 1st, 2017
Place: Hosur and Tirukkoilur
Company: Parents, wife and daughter
Highlights:

Preview: Parents had this idea of visiting Tirukkoilur since it was a long time. Since I was now back in Bangalore, they decided to pull us along! Coincidentally, this year's Saptaaha was held at Hosur between 27th Feb and 5th March. Hosur happens to be on the way to Tirukkoilur. So we decided to club the two in one trip. 

Day 1: Left on 28th at about 10ish and reached Saptaaha event place at about 11:30 am. Couple of religious discourses here, a little bit of homa there, some pooja happening somewhere else - all good stuff. Then, lunch. Bit of a water scarcity problem. And it was time to move on. Left at about 3ish and road didn't seem all that great to Tirukkoilur but it was not too bad either. Reached destination (Mutt) at 7ish, relaxed and retired for the night.

Day 2: Up at 7, freshened up for darshan of Raghuttama Theertharu. That done, lazed about here and there under the sun, with some cows, tender coconut, etc. waiting for lunch. Then decided we might as well visit the famous Trivikrama temple (as we usually do whenever we come here!).

Left in car, reached in few minutes. Good darshan. Although I have been here many times, I realized for the first time that this is Vishnu's Vaman avatar where he puts the 3 footsteps on Earth, Sky and Bali's head. Also found out to my surprise that the temple has idols of all of Vishnu's 10 avatars - but one has to go searching for them all! Headed back to Mutt for another round of darshan and pooja. Considering the Brindavan is all outdoors [Raghuttama Theertharu didn't prefer shelter; if the branch of a neighboring tree starts to give shelter on the Brindavan, it automatically withers away - and so it is believed], it was now scorching. But it was soon over, and delicious lunch ensued.

Soon after, we checked out and left Tirukoilur at 1:30 pm. Journey back was uneventful. By 6:30 pm we were back in Bangalore traffic. Reached home finally at about 7:30 pm.

Overview: It was a short trip but ample enough time spent at Tirukkoilur. Maybe if we had left early on Day 1, we could have spent more time at the Saptaaha too. The drive was mostly good except for a few patches of bad roads. Maybe the roads will get better in a few years' time. The fourth trip in fourth successive week comes to an end!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Isha Yoga Center at Coimbatore for Mahashivaratri

Time: February 24th - 25th, 2017
PlaceIsha Ashram at Coimbatore
Company: Wife & daughter
Highlights:

Right about the time we decided to head back to India, we got the news of Adiyogi consecration on the Mahashivaratri day at Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore. We thought it is the right time to visit Isha. Only concern was our daughter was just 6 yet and we were not sure if her age children were allowed - since it was an all-night gathering. There were no concrete Yes or No from Isha volunteers when we enquired. So we decided to take a chance and take her with us. 

Train tickets were easy to get. Registration to attend was easy. And on the day of departure, we left at 5 am on our TVS two-wheeler from Jayanagar home to Majestic. It was cold. Caught the 6:15 train to CBE. Journey was uneventful. It started getting hot at around 11. We reached at 1:15 pm as per schedule and took public transportation to Isha Yoga Center. The bus was crowded. Unfortunately, we had to walk about a km back for the entry since our entry gate was far away from the Isha Yoga Center entrance.


Now, that walk was tough. It was blistering hot. Tontu refused to walk, so we had to carry her. The place was like a desert. There was food service but it wasn't all great since it was all open-air with no place to sit and eat, and the food was very spicy. Tontu was getting tired of it all. After lunch, we headed towards our bay and thankfully we got 3 seats to sit together, at about 5 pm. At the backdrop, was this huge Adiyogi sculpture that dominated us all!

Soon after, it got cooled down. Quite literally! PM Modi came, accompanied with Sadhguru. The big screens were super clear and there never was a moment of boredom. Isha Sounds churned out some superb music. Tontu started enjoying the event too.

Kailash Kher (KK) came on stage to sing the Adiyogi song and that was awesome. And just like that - songs and music and Sadhguru's speeches came one after the other to keep us all occupied. When there was music or songs, Sadhguru walked amongst the masses on a special dais that snaked throught he crowd and danced. This allowed the crowd to be closer to him.


Sadhguru asked us to perform some chants at 11:40 pm and it was awesome - especially because of the huge crowd reverberating the same Yogic words 'Shambho'. It affected some people and they were acting weird, due to the enormous amount of energy-flow. I myself felt rejuvenated at midnight. Despite such massively loud chants, Tontu slept peacefully. 

After that, Sadhguru started a discourse. Now, that made me sleepy after some time. I was almost dozing off when music and dance started again. And so it went on and on. At 2 am, it was really cold. Tontu woke up at about 3 am. We took a walk amongst the various stalls, just to kill the time. In the background, KK had come back on stage and was singing beautifully. The arrangement for the loo was just perfect too.


From 4 to 5, we all struggled hard to be awake. Yet, as Sadhguru had said, we were vertical, so as to benefit from the maximum positive energy. Around 5:30 am, Sadhguru reappeared and gave a final speech, thanking volunteers and all of us for being part of this great event. The crowd then started thronging towards the Adiyogi sculpture. It was huge. Some pictures. Also witnessed a great sunrise.

Then we walked to Isha Yoga Center. It was our first time. We saw the sacred pool of water where many were taking bath. We skipped it, since we were running out of time. We had to catch the noon train back.

The queue to Dhyanalinga and Linga Bhairavi did not really lead to D and LB. Because of the huge crowd, they were not letting the crowd to the sanctum-sanctorum. So we had to view from outside. This was a big disappointment. Because I really wanted to sit in front of Dhyanalingam and feel the positive energy that I had read so much about. Anyways, not meant to be this time. Sometime in future, perhaps. We saw the remaining sacred spots of Isha, sat outside and meditated for quite some time and it was almost time to leave.

Had breakfast right opposite the center and took the bus back to station. Everything was crowded - The Isha Yoga Center, the restaurant, the bus, etc. We reached the station at about noon. Relaxed for a while, and then caught the 1 pm train back to BLR. Slept most of the journey. Reached BLR on time and reached home back on our TVS safely by about 10 pm. 

Overall, it was invigorating experience no doubt. The feelings ranged from - 'What am I doing here?!' to 'There is no other place I would have wanted to be right now!' Tontu was extremely cooperative for her age - from the comforts of an American life just two months prior to the scorching sun of a Coimbatore day and the biting cold of the Isha Yoga Center during the Mahashivaratri night. 

The only real sad thing was having missed the Dhyanalinga. Next time...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mantralayam

Time: February 15th - 17th, 2017
Place: Mantralayam
Company: Wife, daughter, parents, uncle and aunt
Highlights:


This trip was not really planned but a family function made us not to refuse. The current seer's son was getting into Brahmachari and we also were feeling like visiting Guru Raghavendra Swamy. So off we went.

Day 0: Took the Udyan Express. Home made dinner on moving train. Nostalgic of several trips like this several years ago.

Day 1: Reached at about 7 am. Took an auto to Mantralayam. Our room was booked by a relative very close to the function hall. Bath in the room itself since Tunga is running dry :-(

Visited the Mutt and took blessings from Guru Raghavendra Swamy. Spent about an hour chanting slokas and doing Pradakshinas. Then at about 10:30, went to the function for breakfast. Spent some time at the function, blessing the child. Went back to room, for a nap. Back to function for lunch. Back room for another nap! Didnt have pretty much anything else to do! In the evening, went to Mutt again. Lots of people in the evening. Couple more darshans. Tontu slept peacefully in the courtyard itself amidst the bustle. At night time, had a light snack and left to the station although knowing that the train was 5 hours late. 

Waited in the station from 10 pm till 3 am, sleeping on the waiting room floor amidst mosquitos! Finally the train came. 

Day 2: While we all waited for Bangalore, Tontu had a great time playing in the train, going up and down the berths! General chit-chat until 1 pm at which time we reached. Took the parked car back home. 

Overview: A nice trip other than the late train. Had nice and easy darshan of Raghavendra Swamy. Too hot weather in M. But, all in all, good memories!


Tirumala

Time: February 9th - 10th, 2017
Place: Tirumala
Company: Wife, daughter and parents
Highlights:

Usually a trip to Tirumala is a family tradition yearly once. But the last time I visited was in 2013. In addition, parents tend to visit the shrine every Feb to celebrate their wedding anniversary. So this time, since we were here in India, we all left together in our parents' new car Honda Brio. It was a smooth ride.

Day 1: Left at about 8:45 am and reached Mulbagal Mutt at noon. Went inside for a short visit and bow but the priest there asked us to join for lunch since it was right time. So we enjoyed a delicious Mutt lunch although we had our own lunch packed which ultimately made its way into some needy folks. 

Three more hours and we reached Tirupati. But we continued on to Mangapuram temple to visit Padmavathi Goddess. Short queue there but very hot. The queue system is streamlined now and very fast. Mainly because it doesnt enter the main sanctum sanctorum. That done, we went to our Hotel Bhanu Residency near Kapilatheertha. Relaxed for a short while, then walked to Kapila Theertha temple. It was many many years since I had visited this temple. It is iconic, since it hugs the mountain range up close. Headed back, and on the way, saw a Hare Krishna Hare Rama chant on a nearby Krishna Temple. It was a mesmerizing form of Bhakti Yoga. Basked in the glory for some time and headed back to the room for dinner and rest.

Day 2: Up at 5 am, and headed to Tirumala without bath. Uneventful journey. No car-sickness for Tontu, thankfully. Parked the car near Uttaradi Mutt and walked to Pushkarni for a wonderful bath experience, as always. Then visited Varaha Swamy temple. For the first time, realized the significance of the idol. After watching Vishnupuran (for the second time), understood that this temple is for Vishnu's third avatar, and hence the idol really symbolizes a Boar protecting Mother Earth. All these years, I simply visited the temple without knowing the significance (I was loosely told that Varaha Swamy gave permission to Lord Venkateshwara to be situated in this holy place). 

After Varaha Swamy temple, joined the Rs 300 queue for Lord Venkateshwara Darshan. (The tickets were booked in Bangalore prior to the trip itself). It was a new line and much faster. The new rule is to have a traditional dhoti and no pants allowed. Although I had a dhoti with me, I had left it in the car. So had to purchase one on the spot and enter the premises. The line moved very fast, and we were near the sanctum sanctorum within 2 hours. Just like in Mangapuram, they have now stopped the line from entering the core of the sanctum. Still, the darshan was quite satisfying. Once darshan was over, we quickly ran to Uttaradi Mutt for lunch. Another Mutt lunch unplanned but worked just because of the timing.

Lunch done, we left Tirumala at 1 pm. It was an uneventful journey back. Reliance Restaurant mid-way is gratifying for a nice loo break and quick bites. Got stuck at Bangalore traffic at evening time and by the time we reached home it was almost 9 pm. 

Overview: A much-awaited trip finally concluded. It was a blissful experience - especially the bath in the Pushkarni which Tontu once again enjoyed so much, just as much as she enjoyed in 2013. The back-to-back Mutt lunches were also a surprise and very purifying. The Darshan of Lord Venkateshwara itself was the highlight of the trip and it was satisfying. 

Hubli

Time: Jan 24th, 2017 - Feb 5th, 2017
Place: Hubli
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights

Our first vacation in India after returning back from US for good. More of a visit to mother-in-law’s house for me than a vacation. My initial plan was to return back to Bangalore after couple of days but decided to stay back for the entire length since I was not getting bored anyways. Also, there was a 5-month old baby downstairs, wife’s cousin’s son, which was a great entertainment as long as we were there. It was fun to play with an infant once again, keep him occupied, make him smile, watch him turn over, etc. 

So, most days started off with a 30-minute yoga on the terrace facing the rising sun. Then, breakfast and some wi-fi tasks. Some random discussion topics, few relatives visits, lunch, siesta, evening walk to a nearby park or some delicious local snacks on the terrace like girmit. Even celebrated a birthday party (wife’s cousin’s) on terrace. All fun stuff.

Went out to Unkal Lake on 26th. Nice short boat ride and big enough park for kids to run around and have fun. Tontu enjoyed the swing and slide - although it was much dirtier than the parks she was used to in US for last 6 years! Once the mosquitos started attacking at 7 pm (!), we left and went to Raghavendra Swamy temple in CBT since it was a Thursday.

Went out to Nrupathunga Betta (Hill) on 28th. A beautiful setting atop a hill. Watched the sunset. It was wonderful. The hill had a park and play area for kids too. Also, it has a big trail for a nice long walk amidst the greenery. The views are awesome too. We could see the Unkal Lake from atop. Spent a long time there.

Couple of days, brother-in-law visited for some property task in Hubli and got busy with him. The days just passed with one thing or the other. Watched couple of cricket matches. Watched Australian Open Finals - Federer Vs Nadal - full match, after a really long time. Much of the time was perfect for unwinding and total relaxation!

Decided to get back to the grind, and booked tickets back to Bangalore for Feb 5th via Janshatabdi. Another long journey but this was faster. Train was delayed by 30 minutes, so left at 2:30 pm and reached at 10:15 pm. Home at 11 pm.


What was supposed to be a 2-day trip became a 11-day trip for me. What was supposed to be a month-long trip from wife became a 11-day trip for her. Either ways, we were satisfied with the amount of time spent in Hubli. Anyways one more trip to Hubli coming soon…

And its Bangalore!

Time: January 9th, 2017 -
Place: Bangalore, India
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

After 6 years and 6 months stay in various cities of US (from May 2011 to Jan 2017), finally moved back to home city Bangalore for good. The thoughts and discussions were going on for a very long time - almost 2-3 years - about whether to return back or not. Even read through many R2I websites and forums, but the question & answer that mattered most was - 'If you want to spend the rest of your life in one city, which would that be?' Bangalore won unanimously - by all three of us.

Once the decision was made, the implementation was next step. With almost 3-4 pages of points listed in the checklist on to-dos both in US before leaving and in India after arriving. In addition, had to dispose off innumerous things that we had purchased over the last 6 years. Some of them even had sentimental value attached - like daughter's birthday gifts like bicycle, scooter, etc. Heavyweights such as sofa, mattress were a worry but got rid of it at last minute. Donated several things for free. Much gratitude to several of our neighbours for providing the helping hand when it mattered the most. I guess we can never repay it back.

The trip itself was uneventful except for daughter's air-sickness(?). She had pretty much lost all her energy and very dehydrated by the time we landed but still in great spirits to see her grands. But a few hours in Namma Bengaluru and she was back to normal.

It was a wonderful time spent in the US with family. Unlike in 2007 when I had left US and come to Bangalore as a bachelor with still a valid US visa, 10 years on, the trip back home was almost like a final lid on the coffin with me shutting the doors to US pretty much in all aspects - work visa, GC, etc. But this decision had to be made and there was no time like now - especially with Tontu entering 1st grade in 2017. Any delays in the decision would have tilted the balance towards a lifetime in US.

Much thanks to the planets for giving me an opportunity to live, experience and enjoy the American lifestyle...

Bay Area

Time: August 6, 2013 - January 7, 2017
Place: Bay Area
Company: Mainly wife & daughter; at times with friends and relatives
Lesser-known places/events seen:


  • Livermore Temple
  • Sunnyvale Temple
  • Concord Temple
  • Milpitas Saibaba temple
  • San Jose Children's Discovery Museum
  • San Jose Christmas in the park
  • San Jose Rose garden
  • SFO Chinese New Year Parade
  • Cherry picking at Brentwood
  • Kid Fest at Concord
  • July 4th Fireworks at Milpitas
  • Milpitas Holi
  • Diwali at Pleasanton Fairgrounds
  • Byron Skydiving

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pleasant Hill

Time: September 1st, 2015 to January 7th, 2017
Place: Pleasant Hill, CA, USA
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights: Our 8th city of stay in US and the last one although this was just a block away from the previous apartment. So essentially it was the same neighborhood where we spent 3+ years. Reason for shifting was to ensure there was no entanglements with lease-breakage issues in our previous apt Park Regency Apartments. Shifted to Diablo Oaks apartments - rather an old one, with no laundry in the unit. For the first time in US, had to drag the laundry across the apartment complex for washing/drying. But didn't feel it as a major concern although it felt like one before the move. In fact enjoyed the lazy walks on Sundays with so many bugs and butterflies and snails on the pathway. The apt itself was super, with a lush lawn overlook from our balcony as well as the main road yonder. We almost felt like staying in an independent house, because just a short flight of stairs led us to the main road unlike in Park Regency where it used to take 15 mins just to get to the road. Also, the family could see me walk almost all the way to the BART station. The living room had a good length with a high-sloping roof which helped Tontu and I play cricket and many other games. Also, right beside the apt was the Iron Horse Trail, which inspired us to go on many hour-long walks during almost Summer evenings. All in all, an excellent house that gave us lot of joys and memories.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Big Sur & SFO for Thanksgiving 2016

Time: Nov 24th, 25th and 27th, 2016
Places: Big Sur area [Seaside, Pfeiffer Beach, Andrew Molera State Park, Garrapatta Beach] and SFO area [Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, Fisherman's Wharf]
Company: Brother, Sister-in-law, Wife, Daughter
Highlights:

24th: Brother and his wife visited for Thanksgiving. What was initially planned for a day trip to Big Sur, we changed to a night and day. Booked hotel at Seaside city for the night at evening and left Pleasant Hill at about 8 pm. Reached Seaside [Gateway Lodge Motel] at 10:30 pm and retired for the night.

25th: First stop in the morning was supposed to be Pfeiffer Beach but we got mesmerized by the waves on a nearby beach and we headed there. It was sandy but the waves were huge walls of water. We had seen a surf advisory but it was more of a boon than bane since Nature was all at it. It was like looking at huge waterfall! After taking some snaps, we continued onwards to Pfeiffer Beach.

On the way is the Bixby Creek bridge. More poses and more pictures. By the time we reached Pfeiffer Beach, the parking lot was just getting full and it was about 11:30 am. Thankfully we made it in. If the lot gets full, then we would have had to walk the last 2 miles from the main highway! Unlike last time when we came here, it was not so windy. It was very pleasant and warm. We lazily spent some time looking at the natural arch and built few sand castles, and then destroyed them all! Even at noon time we were able to notice the change in the sand color from brown to purple, which is the specialty of this beach.

At about 1 pm, we left Pfeiffer beach and headed to Andrew Molera State Park. Main highlight of this is the trek to the beach. At the very start of the trek is a short stream that needs to be waded through. It is about knee deep but water was very cold. Fun and thrilling. The beach is nice, but for me, it was kinda weird. There were some natural yet weird looking stuff all around the beach. But the waves were great here too. We spent some time looking and then headed back. 

Next stop was the Garrapatta Beach. This happened to be our last beach in the US, and it was one of the very best. The time was late noon and the waves were full-length cascading non-stop from huge heights. It was a stupendous sight. Even the short trail to the beach climbs down from the main highway and hence offers excellent views. We just kept standing on the trail for many minutes with our jaws dropped open at the magnificent scenery.

Finally we left the Big Sur area and headed back north. On the way back home, we went to the Christmas-in-the-Park at San Jose. Our third time in as many years. Bro and SIL had a nice time too. It was just as good with rides, Santa, the trees lighted up, etc. The Ferris Wheel is really scary with no belt and doors unlocked and dangling! Fun stuff!

All done, we headed back home and reached by about midnight after a longish dinner at Milpitas Tirupati Bhimas. It was a nice short trip, planned just a day in advance. We were lucky to get the Seaside hotel on a Thanksgiving weekend, and it was good that we planned for a sleep-over at the hotel. We could not have covered everything in a single day. Our third time at the Big Sur and second time at the Pfeiffer Beach - and it was just as great as the first. Kudos to Nature for all its beauty!!


27th: Brother's visit to my place always entails a visit to SFO. This time, we went to Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and Fisherman's Wharf. Also contemplated the tram ride but it could not be accommodated since we had to park the car at one place. Didn't want to do round trip on the tram. I showed my family the building where I worked and drove along the Embarcadero. Wanted to show the Gandhi statue but couldn't stop there. Had reserved a car parking spot close to Ghirardelli. Walked there and spent some time lazing around. Not much to see other than to just roam around. Visited one chocolate shop, had some ice creams. Then walked to Fisherman's wharf. Posed in front of a WWII sub for quick clicks on the way. At the wharf, saw sea lions lazing around, went to a carousel and more pics. Finally it was time to head back. It was a nice easy relaxing time spent with family.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Yosemite & Eastern Sierra

Time: Oct 8-9, 2016
Place: Eastern Sierra (via Yosemite)
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Day 1: We left the house early at about 8:15 am and headed east towards Yosemite. Tontu was little scared of car-sickness and was not keen on this vacation but somehow we coaxed her that she will be fine, and miraculously nothing happened to her despite some steep winding curves. There were no traffic issues and around noon we entered the Yosemite National Park. Our last time here was in May 2012 and scenery was lush green all around. Now, since summer was ending, the scenery was different. We went via the same tunnels, the breath-taking view of the valley and down all the way to the Bridal Veil Falls. It was more of a mist now than a falls. After a quick lunch, we headed to the loop road at the very end of the valley. On the way, we passed couple of deers, munching grass very close to us! We then took a small hike to a small stream (Merced River actually) and then took the shuttle bus around the loop.

Then took the car again and parked somewhere on the curb to take some pics in front of the huge rock structures especially the half dome. After that, we drove around and parked near the El Capitan for some more pics. This place is really cool with two huge granite cliffs and a vista in between. We had missed this last time we were here. It is like being surrounded 360 degrees by towering mountains. Apparently the Merced river flows through this vista but since it is trickling these days, we couldn’t even see it. We spent some time soaking in the magnificent views and scenery until almost 4 pm. Then we left the valley and headed to the exit. There was one more place where we wanted to go – the Glacier Point – but we were hard pressed for time and hence we ditched it. Our main destination was the Eastern Sierra Fall colors and anything in Yosemite was a bonus, especially since it was second time!

Finally, we reached the Tioga Pass road and filled up our fuel to start on this famed scenic road. For much of the road, it seemed just a nice old drive, with trees lining up on both sides. The only inkling on where we were going was the frequent elevation gain signposts. At one point we reached almost 10,000 feet! I never knew the road would reach such an elevation! In fact, when we started in the morning, we were at sea level and within 10 hours, we had reached 10,000 ft! I was scared of Tontu’s body reacting to this altitude, especially after what happened in the Rockies. Thankfully, she was fine – joyous and playful, not even bothered by the long day of driving. [We had intact done this sea-level to 10,000 ft even in Maui (Haleakala crater) and it was done in just less than 2 hours]

Thankfully, we reached a vista point called "Olmsted Point" where we could get down and stretch and take some pics. Olmsted was the landscape artist who designed Central Park in New York. I first read about him in an Erik Larson novel. This vista point was a beautiful place where we could see the half dome cliff, some strange looking glacial rocks and even hike up on them. It was chilly, yet sunny and all around were great views. After some time there, continued on the Tioga Road and soon reached the Tioga Pass. This Pass is another awesome place, with mountains all around and the road carving through the mountain pass. Superb scenery and great driving route. It reminded us of the Eastern entrance of the Yellow Stone – which is akin to this Eastern entrance of the Yosemite! The road here really climbs down at an extremely rapid rate and very soon we were on the Mono Lake.

Mono Lake is a strange lake in the sense that it does not contain fresh water lake. It contains salt water with no outlet and hence it is extremely pungent to smell. Kind of stinky too! There are some strange looking standing structures called Tufas, and those are due to the salt contents that got deposited when the lake had a higher depth. We took some nice pictures and with the setting sun, the pictures came out really well. However, it was again very chilly.

Our final stop for the day was at our motel – Willow Springsmotel near Bridgeport. The road to Bridgeport from Mono Lake is also super awesome. The road has a steep ascent and once again climbs up to over 8500 ft in elevation and then descends quickly too. But by this time, it was pitch dark and we could not see anything. We could only feel the climb and the descent. Thankfully, we reached the motel soon enough, had a quick bite of homemade dinner and retired for the night. It was a long day of driving – almost 300 miles – and we were all exhausted.

Day 2: The goal of this vacation was Fall colors, and we hoped to see fall colors in Eastern Sierra, based on the information given in this website. There were too many places to see here and hence we shortlisted on a few of them – The Lundy lake, The June Lake loop and the Mammoth Lake. Our expectation though was in the opposite order – with Mammoth Lake having the max colors and Lundy being the least. However, when we went to Lundy lake, we were surprised with beautiful yellow colors. We spent some time taking some pictures and then headed to June lake loop.

Our first stop on the June Lake loop was the Silver lake. The superb yellow on this lake was reflecting on the lake and it was an excellent photo-opportunity. The lake too looked very serene. We had high hopes on June lake but that lake had absolutely nothing! We were wondering if we should proceed to Mammoth Lake or not because so far, we had not seen any orange/red colors yet. After some assessment of where we were and how much time we had, we thought we might as well continue on for some more time until we reached Mammoth Lake and then head back home.

We went to ML via the ML scenic loop road hoping there were some colors. However, there were no colors. It was scenic, yes, with superb trees but no colors. We then started climbing up the Mammoth mountain but still could not see any colors in the horizon. We realized these trees had not peaked yet and so headed to the visitor center to check if there were any nearby places to see some more good colors. We had to stop at a couple of places to know where the VC was located but finally found it.

At the VC, we were told that the Lundy lake and the Silver lake were at the peak and Mammoth was still at 10%-25%. That meant we had already been to the peak colors of this region and there was nothing much to see. There were more but they were far and apart or had to be hiked. Considering it was already noon and we were a long way off from home, we decided that it is better to head back home, and we were done with the colors for this season!

After a quick stop at dominos where we had nice pizza, we started on our way back. It was almost 1 pm. Just as we entered the Tioga Road, there were more colors and we stopped at a couple of places to take more pictures. Satisfied, we re-entered Yosemite National Park and headed to the Tuolumne visitor center to collect a souvenir. None available, we were told to get them at the Western entrance visitor center. So we continued on the Tioga road for about an hour or two more. Once at the Western entrance visitor center, we got our souvenir and headed back home out of the National Park boundary.

Rest of the journey was uneventful. Tontu never slept the entire journey (lasting over 600 miles) nor did she seem bored (albeit occasional Are we there yet?s). She didn’t even see iPad nor read any books, just kept playing with her "Teddy Rao"!! And despite winding roads, she didn’t get car sick. It was miraculous! We got stuck in the traffic a little as we neared the east bay area, and we all were tired sitting for such a long time. At Dublin, we stopped for dinner and that was refreshing. Finally, we reached home at about 10 pm.

Overview: We always felt that we had missed some key points in Yosemite when we went the first time – like the Tioga Pass, the El Capitan views and the Glacier Point. We could do two out of the three this time. And clubbing this with the Eastern Sierra Fall colors was good because that would allow us to go via the Tioga Road. We were lucky to get the motel near Bridgeport for less than $100 at such short notice (booked only one day in advance).

All in all, a well-packed two-day trip. Would have been nice if there were more colors though. It was mostly yellow and not much orange-red. There was one thing we didn’t do right – not going to the visitor center first instead of last. If we had done that, then we could have planned the road trip on day two better. But anyways, we visited two out of three peak areas which is good. This was our fourth vacation in four consecutive months. Will there be a fifth?!


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Napa Valley

Time: Sept 17, 2016
Place: Napa Valley (drive)
Company: Wife and daughter

Highlights: Our previous time at Napa was a disaster with absolutely none of the green views that Napa is really famous for. It was because we had been there in November and that's post-harvest season. So, we always wanted to see Napa for what it was worth. We were not that into wine-tasting, all we wanted was the views. So we planned for a half-day drive through Napa. 

We left home at about noon, and directly went to Aroma, an Indian restaurant. It was pretty good in both service and ambience. Then we continued north on 29. This road is pretty good actually. Last time we went up to Yountville but the actual winery starts after Yountville when the road becomes bi-directional. We stopped curb side at couple of wineries, took some nice snaps beside bunches of grapes and lanes of grape vines. We continued on until Saint Helena, took right to Silverado Trail and headed south back home. This road zig zags on top of the same wineries that we passed north and it has some nice eye-catching spots, although the road has a faster speed limit and it is not that easy to stop. Soon, we were back on 29 and on our way home. 

This trip to Napa was worthwhile and fulfilling. We felt like having completed unfinished business!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Niagara & Ferndale

Time: Sept 1st – 5th 2016

Place: Niagara Falls, NY & Ferndale, MI

Company: Wife, Daughter, Brother, Sister-in-law

Highlights:

Prologue: This trip was originally meant for a visit to brother’s at Michigan. However, considering Niagara was a short drive away from Michigan, and also since Tontu hadn’t seen it, we planned the itinerary in such a way that we will spend a day at the Falls and rest at brother’s house. There were not too many variables to factor – the dates were pretty much finalized (Labor day weekend), there was no car to book and I wanted to use my points for the flight and stay (at Falls). So, the booking was not that big a deal.

Day 0: The flight was at 11:59 pm. So, packed the usual stuff, crossed out the check-list, left home at 8:30 pm, reached Travelodge at South SFO at 9:25 pm, parked the car, took the shuttle at 9:38 pm, and we were at the airport in 10 minutes. Had to request for seats to be together with a bunch of people but finally we were lucky to get it. Our first leg was to Chicago.

Day 1: One hour lay-over at Chicago, then a small jet to Buffalo. Reached at about 10 am, but had to wait till almost 12:30 for brother to pick us up. It was kept as a surprise to Tontu and she shrieked in joy seeing her aunt and uncle! We directly went to Howard Johnson (Closest to the Falls – that’s the name!), checked-in, relaxed and walked towards the Falls. On the way, we had a nice lunch at a Punjabi restaurant.

First stop was Maid of the Mist. Thankfully the long weekend crowd was yet to arrive, so we were spared with the long lines. And it was nice weather too. Tontu enjoyed the spraying of the Falls as the boat went close to the Falls. We also hiked close to the American Falls. Then we walked all the way to the Goat Island. Took in the lush scenery, sat on the lawn, had a light picnic and generally passed time.

Next adventure was Cave of the Winds. We adults enjoyed a lot but Tontu had enough of the water falling on her head! She barely could open her eyes! Surprisingly the water from the Falls was pretty warm. I hadn’t expected that. The ponchos are not really that useful. Our dress got wet anyways – and sun was setting too. So there was a chill in the air. By the time we came out, had some hot chocolate (not so great, by the way), it was already 7 pm. We wanted to watch the light show which starts at 8:30 pm. In order to kill time till then, my wife and I walked back to hotel, got the car and drove to the parking lot. Just as we walked back to the edge, the light show (if it can be called that) started.

It wasn’t all that impressive. It could have been made so, but all we saw was just constant lights glaring at the Falls. It wasn’t changing too quickly either. It didn’t seem like a show. It was just lights upon the Falls. After a while, we thought it better to call it quits. For less than 20 minutes of parking the car, we ended up paying $10 as parking fee! It would make sense to make the fee as time-based. Anyways, we stopped at the same Punjabi restaurant for dinner. It was delicious and we were ravenous! Totally worth the money. And then, that was it for the day.

Day 2: Took it easy. Nice fulfilling breakfast at HoJo. Left Niagara Falls at about 11 am, drove on I-90 for about 2-3 hrs and we planned to spend some time at Edgewater Park at Cleveland, just as a nice stopover for the kiddo. We were lucky that it happened to be an air-show day at Cleveland. So, many folks had come to this very park since it was free! Just as well for us! We parked the car and just then we were greeted to a spectacular air show by the US Navy. The sound boomed as the crafts dived and rose and made patterns and what-not. After munching ice cream, we went on our way. Stopped at a McD for fries and continued. Reached Ferndale at 8 pm. After a light dinner, retired for the night.

Day 3: Initially had planned for an outing like a zoo or temple (considering it was Ganesh Chaturthi). But then changed mind and made it as a chill-pill day. All day long stayed at home. Tontu enjoyed the company of her aunt and uncle. It was a perfect weather day to sit on the lawn, bask in the sunlight, play with sprinkler, etc. In the noon, saw a 1990 Kannada movie (Ananth Nag comedy) – maybe for the nth time! In the evening, went for a nice stroll on the downtown. One more round of sundae ice creams! And that’s it!

Day 4: Had Ganesh festival yummy feast. Packed, left home at noon, reached airport at 1:30 pm and passed time for about an hour. An emotional farewell. Especially Tontu since she didn’t want to go back home. An uneventful flight back home via Dallas. I guess this was the first time I was having a lay-over in Texas – a state that I was somehow always wanted to see or even stay. Anyways. No issues with baggage. Got the shuttle at the right time to car-park, drove back home, and reached safely at 10 pm. It was a ‘perfect-timing’ day all in all.

Epilogue:

1. This trip was important since it could possibly be our last trip to brother’s home in 
Ferndale, MI. If not, at least will surely be so for a long time. The last time we were here was in Jan 2012, right before I had an idea that I might leave East Coast permanently. And this time, it is right before I have an idea that I might leave West Coast permanently!

2. This trip was also very important since it was the recipient of award points redemption for both flights and hotels. The trip to Rio with American Airlines had given all three of us enough points to almost fly free one-way to BUF. And the many stays with Wyndham during past vacations provided us this stay at HoJo at an extremely reasonable price. But for this trip, I might have lost all these points considering the aforementioned idea.

3. In terms of counts – it was my fifth time at Niagara (Apr 2005, Sept 2005, Sept 2006, July 2009, Sept 2016) and fifth at Ferndale too (2005, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2016).

4. We created a record of sorts, with this trip (similar to the Rio trip). We were in three different states on the same day of three consecutive months (not including resident state):
  • July 5th 2016 – Alaska
  • August 5th 2016 – Colorado
  • September 5th 2016 – Michigan
5. Another interesting thing about this trip was that exactly 10 years ago, this very same Labor day, I took my parents to Buffalo airport in the act of showing them the great Falls. And bro had come to the airport to pick us all up. And now, 10 years later – exactly the same setting except that this time it was for my daughter. And she had the best time of all – got enough gifts and love from her uncle and aunt.

Footnote - This trip was for my daughter as well as for my brother and his wife, who have visited us almost every year since we arrived in US in 2011. An extremely pleasant and memorable trip of what could possibly be our last flight-based vacation in US….