Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Come Christmas eve, we printed up a few trail maps, donned our hiking shoes, gassed up Arun's car and set off to Tennessee. We sped down the freeways for 10 straight hours, heeding nothing but hunger and the urge to pee. Swetha and I productively used the time to catch up on old friends and swapped important life stories. I suspect I heard Arun snore a couple of times even when he was at the wheel. Yappity Yappity girls!
Cut to Pigeon Forge, a town at the foothills of the Smokies. We were instantly surrounded by festive green and red lights. The roads were lined with blue lights made to look like falling snowflakes. Sale banners and dinner specials and party announcements hung from every lamp post and building front. Christmas it was indeed! But of course, the lights were all that were on. Pretty much everything was closed and we had to eat breakfast food at iHOP for dinner. So what's new, eh?
The next morning we drove to a place called Cades Cove at the West end of the Smokies to hike the Abrams Falls Trail. The temperature was a balmy 45 deg F and the sun was out too. It was an easy 2.5 miles each way with the trail constantly going up and down with no steep climbs. We reached the falls in an hour and were surprised to find we had it all to ourselves. So we used a rock as a makeshift picnic table and ate sandwiches and candy bars. Arun jumped around from rock to rock taking pictures. But even his wizardry with the camera could not make Abrams Falls look any more interesting than the muddy cascade it was.
On our way back we met hordes of hikers on their way to the falls. Boy! Were we glad to escape all those kids. Pepped up by our snack, we did the hike back in 40 minutes. We even caught some deer and turkey along the road in Cades Cove.
An hour and a half later we got into Gatlinburg, another Tennessee town bordering the Smokies. By then the world had woken up and descended upon the streets with a vengeance. It was like a carnival, people walking around with food and soda in their hands, music playing from every store and dazzling signs inviting us to partake in the festivities.
We dumped the car and walked on the packed streets to find a quaint old fashioned restaurant, replete with stone walls and fire places. After lunch we inched our way out of Gatlinburg and drove up the mountains hoping that the road to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokies will be open. It was snowed down and closed. So much for our optimism. Instead we discovered Newfound Gap, which offered brilliant views and resolved to come back for sunrise the next morning. We did. And here are some of the pictures. All the shivering and looking like shriveled up Turkeys at 5000 ft paid off I guess.
We thawed with an indulgent breakfast and coffee at Gatlinburg before we drove to the trail head to hike the Rainbow Falls Trail. We'd read that this hike was more challenging with a 2.8 mile steep uphill climb of 1500 feet to reach the falls. The trail was beautiful, the creek flowing along the trail almost the entire distance, with numerous creek crossings on narrow wooden footbridges with handrails. An hour or so into the hike, we were looking down proudly at all the elevation we had gained and guessing that we should reach in 30 more minutes. This is when we met a middle aged couple on their way back. They popped our bubble saying we were only half way there and it was going to get slower because the rest of the trail had a lot of ice. The real adventure started when we hit the ice. It was slippery as hell and my being extra paranoid about such surfaces, didn't help one bit. We labored on gingerly, slipping and sliding over the ice until we reached these falls.
We felt rather shortchanged when we saw this trickle of water. "Did we hike all the distance for this measly thing?", we contemplated silently to ourselves. We saw that the trail which continued for 4 more miles to reach the peak of Mt. LeConte was completely covered in ice and wondered if the Rainbow Falls actually lay further ahead. Our suspicion was indeed confirmed by a couple of hikers returning from the actual falls. One of them even slipped and fell on his butt to give us a preview of the rest of the trail. So we moved on, holding hands this time to keep each other from falling, for as the elevation increased there were even longer stretches of ice. 20 more minutes of skating freestyle brought us to these waterfalls which made even the idea of the hike back seem worth it.
The creek narrows suddenly below the falls, causing a heavy spray which yields a rainbow effect. We could not see it however, because the day was very cloudy. Instead we got squirrels that were not scared of humans and pranced around a foot away from us, demanding food.
It was 2.45pm by the time we hiked back to our car. We had promised to meet a bunch of Arun's friends from college at a place called Cherokee in North Carolina at 3pm. There was no way we could make the time, for we had more than an hour's drive away and we still had to grab lunch. When we managed to catch them on the phone, thanks to hopeless AT&T service in the mountains, it turned out that they were late too. We should have known considering whose friends they are. So we stopped for a delicious Mexican lunch at a local restaurant before heading to Cherokee.
Much of that evening went away in banter and catching up with Arun's friends Reshmi,Vishu and their spouses. They had a 3 hour drive ahead of them, so they left at around 8pm. Too tired to venture out for dinner, we ordered pizza and ate it while watching Shrek 2.
We began our drive back home pretty early on Sunday. But our feet were itching for some action to break the monotony of the drive. So we decided to take a detour through a scenic highway called Blue Ridge Parkway which promised wonderful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After taking a 30 mile detour and navigating through remote rural roads, we were extremely excited to find Blue Ridge Parkway. There it was right in front of us, like a shiny temptress in white. Yes! It was completely covered with snow. But there was no sign saying it was closed and there was a single car track leading into it. That spark of hope was enough for us. We took the plunge and drove the reluctant car into the snow, careful not to veer away from what seemed like the road. Only to find a sign saying the road was closed, hidden a quarter of a mile away from the entrance. Here's what the place looked like. Don't blame us for trying.
That wraps up the trip! Here were are, back in Philly. And here's 2009, coming to an end. Looking back, it's been a wonderful year of travel. Arun and I have etched our myriad memories in this blog which has become as much a part of our journeys as maps, hotels and cars. We want to thank all you lovely readers for egging us on with our crazy plans and for enduring and encouraging our uber-long posts. Here's to 2010! We hope it holds even more travel, photography and writing. Happy New Year everyone!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Read about 26 & 27 November here.
It's 4am in the morning. Arun and I are fast asleep, warm and cozy within our sleeping bags, numerous layers of clothes and 2 pairs of socks each. I suddenly heard something creeping by the side of our tent. I listened closer thinking it might just be leaves rustling in the wind. The rustle turned to footsteps slowly beginning to circle the tent. By now even the last trace of grogginess had gone from my head. I woke Arun up, quietly, lest the thing outside gets scared of movement within the tent. It turned out that Arun was awake and listening too. We quickly signaled to each other not to talk and grabbed the flashlight we had handily placed by our heads. At that precise moment the creature outside struck my side of the tent with its paw. Our hearts jumped and both of us felt a crazy adrenaline rush and we spoke in whispers as to what to do. We quickly waved the flashlight across the tent a couple of times. The animal outside must have gotten scared of the light. It silently slunk away. Arun and I burst out laughing in relief and excitement. We were more intent on discussing what animal it could have been rather than worrying about what it could have done. It could have been a hedgehog or a small boar. Nothing larger than a fox, we decided.
We were so excited that an animal actually struck our tent that we could not go back to sleep for over an hour. Finally we decided that we had to put the episode behind us and go to sleep, for we had to hike back out 10 miles come morning. Just when we drifting back to sleep, Thud!!! Something fell on top of our tent. We realized that it had to be the bag of food we'd tied on a tree branch above us. We thought the animal had come back for revenge after all and waited for it to approach the tent, regretting not tying the food higher and further away from our tent. But there was nothing except silence. We opened the inner wall of the tent and stealthily peered out through the mesh the served as a window. Much to our relief, we found that the bag had ripped and fallen down due to the wind and weight of the food. No animal this time. Much laughter and banter followed ensuring we didn't sleep again that night.
We had decided not to hike back with our 30 pound backpacks, one of our wiser decisions really. So we handed them over to a native of Supai village who would take it back to the trail head on a pack horse. We improvised a knapsack out of the bag holding one of our sleeping bags, tossed our remaining food and water in it and set off on a mile-long hike to Mooney Falls. The hike was mostly flat except for the last bit where we had to scramble along the cliff face a little to get to the place from which we could face the falls from the front. We got a brilliant top view of the falls, more pristine blue waters, more breathtaking panoramic views. We had read that people could die trying to get to the bottom of the 200ft high Mooney Falls where one needs to climb down an iron ladder and go through a cave. We decided we'd like to live and ate candy bars instead before we hiked back to the campsite. Here's one of the great shots Arun got.
At this point Arun was feeling rather desolate about not capturing the front view of Havasu Falls. So we stopped at Havasu on our way back. Arun, being Arun, jumped on rocks and tread some water and performed varied acrobatics for about an hour until he got this picture.
We then stopped at Supai Village 2 miles down the way to get some lunch. The Indians surprised us with one of the best veggie burgers we've had in this country. After stuffing our faces in the name of getting the essential carbs we continued the hike, not heeding our sore muscles and trying hard not to think about the 8 long miles that lay ahead. We made a quick detour to the 100-footer falls which we missed during our hike down because it was kind of hidden away from the main trial.
By the time we left the 100-footer we had about 7 miles to go and only 3 hours of daylight left. The canyon can be whole different place in the night and it is easy to lose one's way. We did not savor the idea of hiking in the night. So we hurried, stopping only when our legs threatened to go on strike if we didn't. When we were taking one of our reluctant breaks and guessing that we had 4 more miles left to go, the Indian returning after dropping off our bags greeted us on the way and shouted "2 more miles!". We could not believe our ears. Were we really that fast? Was it the absent backpacks? Nevertheless, this news gave us renewed energy and we practically hopped and skipped the next mile till the last mile of switchbacks were in sight.
We squinted in disbelief when we caught sight of a couple approaching us. It was almost 4pm and they were barely beginning their hike. Apparently they had lost their way and driven around all day to get to the trail head. We told them a little bit about the trail, warned them about hiking in the night, sincerely wished them luck and moved on. We hope they made it to the camp safely. The switchbacks that took us 20 minutes on our way down took more than an hour to climb. We ran to our car at the trail head, psyched that we had hiked 20 miles in 2 days. This was our first time doing such a long hike and camping in the US. It is one of best trips we've done so far. And it only left us wanting more.
29 & 30 November
Oh yes, our trip didn't end with the hike. Normal people would be too tired to do anything more. But we don't claim to be normal at all. We explored a little more of the Flagstaff and Phoenix areas over the next 2 days. In the interest of not boring our dwindling reader base with details, here are the most interesting pictures. Wikipedia to the rescue if you insist on knowing more.
Do watch out for our post on the Smokies trip which will round off 2009 for this blog. Merry Christmas everyone!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Arun and I hiked the Havasu Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend this year. It was 10 miles one way. We camped the night there. So we carried a tent, sleeping bags, food, water and everything else we needed. Because it was our first time backpacking, we (micro)planned, bought gear and packed for almost a month leading up to the trip. Here's a day by day account of the trip.
Upto 25 November
Countless visits to numerous stores and hours spent online before we bought backpacks, a tent, sleeping bags, hiking shoes, water bladders, a Swiss knife and a zillion other things. Lists made, blogs read, hours of obsessing over details and you know the drill...
26 November - Thanksgiving
We flew into Phoenix. Alternately one could fly into Vegas or Flagstaff. We kind of knew that Arizona goes to sleep at sundown, but nothing had prepared us for the deserted streets and the miles of shut stores and restaurants we encountered. The locals we spoke to told us it was worse because it was Thanksgiving day. And we had planned to buy food for the hike in Phoenix because we couldn't fly with it. So after a hopeless search for open stores, we bought chocolates, energy bars, bread, cheese and anything else we could find at a gas station's convenience store. We were almost reconciled to the idea of bananas and ice cream for dinner when we spotted a TGIF with the "Open till 2am" sign on. It was a sight for sore eyes and more so for growling stomachs. After fueling up on pasta and fajitas and delicious red velvet cake, we hit the road for Flagstaff where we stayed the night before the hike.
27 November - Hike down
The trail head at Hualapai Hilltop was a 4 hour drive from Flagstaff. So we left after breakfast at around 8am. Thanks to the liberal speed limits, we began our hike at 11.30am. As we were about to begin we met a group of four guys (and their dog Sammy) with whom we would cross paths numerous times during our hike down. The hike started with a mile of switchbacks or hairpin bends rapidly descending 1000 ft into the canyon. 200ft into the hike we had to take off our jackets despite the cool sub-40 deg temperature, for we were literally melting under our 30 pound backpacks. The descent was done in 25mins and we had 9 miles of a fairly flat hike ahead of us.
Although both of us have been to the Grand Canyon before, the constant change in terrain within the canyon was something we did not suspect based on our view from the top. The switchbacks were carved out on the rock face had a white sandy surface. Deeper into the canyon we walked along miles of what must have once been a riverbed, now just gravel, lined with large hard rock at times and with dry bushes and cacti at others. The constant presence of the towering canyon walls on either side had a humbling effect on us. Every now and then we would see lush green plants, some even had traces of fall colors. We walked past small caves and partially enclosed hollows in which our voices suddenly echoed.
The silence was hard to miss and probably one of our favorite aspects of the hike. Apart from a couple of trains of pack horses and the occasional group of hikers making their way back to civilization, the whoosh of the wind and a bird's rare twitter were all that punctuated the silence that reigned the canyon. We hiked for 4 hours, talking about this and that, lapsing into our respective brooding worlds and stopping only to eat (we discovered that after 3 miles with a 30 pound backpack, even a cold Subway sandwich will taste like heaven!) or drink water before we reached Supai village, a tribal Indian settlement, where we stopped for coffee, a bite to eat and to pay the camping fee.
By then our feet were nearly dead and refused to walk the last 2 miles to the campground. We trudged along, cranky and complaining, when we came to the first of the 4 waterfalls. Our misery began to fade. Arun grabbed his camera and ran down 50ft to get a better view. I spent the time listening to a couple of women who did the hike every year tell me that these falls had not existed before the flash flood of August 2008. I was amazed at the terrifying force of water, the same fluid we have managed to domesticate, even abuse, in every way we can.
We then walked on, the roar of water getting louder all the while. We were suddenly looking at Havasu Falls. This is when we realized this hike was worth every sore muscle, our screaming joints and whining shoulders. We stood in the spray, astonished by the sheer blue of the water, drinking in the idyllic setting. It was like nothing we'd ever seen before.
By the time we set up camp and cleaned up it was dark although it was just 6.30pm. So we set up the picnic table and had a candlelight dinner of cheese and peanut butter jelly sandwiches, Oreo cookies and chocolates for dessert. By then the temperature had dropped well below 30 deg. So we layered up, got into our tent and talked a little about how great the hike had been before we fell asleep to the lullaby of the creek running by the side of our tent.
What's camping without a little adventure?! Our tryst with the beast - coming soon in Part II...
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
This has been on my radar for quite some time now. And finally, thanks to the perfect company (who else?!), we have decided to do this hike during the thanksgiving holidays. Havasu Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, in a remote canyon offshoot of the Grand Canyon. Havasu falls does not belong to the US National park service, it is managed by the Havasupai tribe. The hike to Havasu falls is about 10 miles one way in the Grand canyon region.
Though there are Helicopters and Mules to aid people to reach the falls, we have decided to hike down the trail. After all the hike seems like the main highlight of the trip and we did not want to miss it. There are a total of three waterfalls (Havasu, Mooney and Beaver) in the village, all of them being completely turquoise (google for images till I bring back some pictures! ha!). Being a huge admirer of waterfalls, I decided 'Havasu trail' against the more famous 'Bright Angel trail' at Grand Canyon national park and had to almost force Kavitha into this. But I have promised her that we'll do the 'Bright Angel' hike soon in the future.
We have booked flights to Phoenix and a hotel for that night at Flagstaff. The next day, our plan is to drive to Hualapai hilltop and then hike down to the village. Since we want to experience the nature in a way that we haven't done before, we've decided to camp for the night at the tribal village. We'll try to visit Havasu Falls (about 1.5 miles from the campground) that evening and come back to the camp for the night. Plan for the next morning is to visit Mooney and Beaver Falls (about a 3 mile hike) and spend a few hours there. By afternoon, we should be on our return hike to Hualapai hilltop (we have the option of taking the Helicopter on our way back in case we become tired).
Itinerary for the next 2 days is open at this stage, though I have two books on Arizona sight-seeing from the local library lying on my bed-side table and a google window almost always open. Red rock jeep tours, Apache trail, Grand canyon (north rim), other National parks or a rodeo show look like potential candidates, but we are yet to finalize our plans.
And this is gonna be my first 5-day backpacking trip! Packing clothes, tents, sleeping bag and my camera equipment into one hiking backpack seems like a challenge to begin with. But I'm sure the whole trip will be a fun-filled experience in itself. I'm so looking forward to it!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I'm back on the East Coast! Naturally, Arun and I wasted no time before beginning to travel together again. Even as we drove out of the airport, we got busy discussing must-visit places to catch Fall colors. After 4 long months of living on different coasts, we were both extremely excited as we decided to hike the 4 mile Falls Trail in Ricketts Glen State Park, 2 hours North of Philadelphia. The drive up there was a riot of colors in itself. Every bend in the road held a new hue, surprises galore for the eye! Burning red, sunset orange, yellow turning to brown and splotches of green, even pink at times. We loved it as we sped through mile after variegated mile.
We got there a little after noon and we set off on the hike. Within minutes we came to the first of the 22 water falls that dotted the trail. And the photographer took over. I stood there watching Arun go crazy with his camera and tripod, trying his damnedest to fit everything- the cascading falls, the shiny rocks and the bursting color, into his camera's display. We spent 15-30 minutes at each Waterfall. I must admit it was well worth it, going by some of the pictures he managed to click.
The flip side is that we took over 4 hours to do the 4 mile hike. The overcast sky did not prevent people from arriving at the trail in large numbers. It was the first time we've ever hiked in a line, behind unknown people. Maybe everyone trusts weather.com when it predicts no rain, even more than they fear the hanging gray clouds. Maybe everyone wanted to get their share of Fall colors before the trees go bald. Whatever be the case, in hindsight, it was a great idea to pack cheese sandwiches and fruits, which we ate sitting at the foot of Ganoga Falls, the tallest one on the trail. Carrying the food gave us the luxury of lingering around at every stop, waiting for the throngs of people and their dogs to clear away after taking their gazillion group photographs. Many of them with the camera flash on, in broad daylight.
We walked the last mile back to the car totally satisfied, playfully trying to trip each other while it sank in that this was only the first of many such trips to come. This blog will see a lot more action from now on.
Watch out for the travelogue from our Vermont and New Hampshire trip this upcoming weekend.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Having just a week left for the parents to leave the country, I wanted them to experience the 'fall foliage' that Autumn season offers in this part of the country. We drove to Delaware water gap area in Pennsylvania last weekend. The day was gloomy from the get-go, after some initial contemplations, I decided to go on the trip anyways. It was drizzling all through-out with sporadic spells of rain, but the rain Gods showed mercy a few times in the day and we made full use of it.
I had planned to visit a few of the allegedly 'most beautiful, yet less frequented' waterfalls in Pennsylvania. Our first destination was a town called Dingmans Ferry in Delaware water gap recreational area). Google suggested that there are quite a few waterfalls in the area and I thought I'll start by visiting the Visitor center and then chart my plans there-after. But my hunt for the visitor center wasn't hugely successful. In the address google maps suggested, was an old house with a huge garage. That can't be the visitor center, I said to myself.
I saw a local guy trying to take his car out and I enquired him about the waterfalls in the area. With his expert guidance, I started with George w. Child state park which boasted multiple miles of hikes with some pretty decent waterfalls. There was a nice boardwalk in most places too.
We did about a mile hike and saw Factory falls and Fulmer falls. Factory falls, in my opinion is one of the most beautiful falls I have ever seen. With its multiple branches, the falls was certainly a beauty to watch. Fulmer falls was huge and hosted a very natural unperturbed setting to itself. We viewed Fulmer falls, once from the top and then from the bottom as well.
After lunch, we went to Raymondskill falls, which was about 10 miles drive from the Child's park. Raymondskill falls is also a mile hike off the highway. The information board mentioned about the upper, middle and a lower falls. In a few minutes, we were on our hike. The upper falls seemed small, wide and very normal-looking, until I took a long exposure photograph. In my first shot, I saw a nice looking circle formed by the foam off the falls. I quickly increased my exposure, made some quick settings changes and took the below picture, where the circle is clearly seen:
It made me wonder how many such beautiful scenes Nature offers that we miss to see.
We then continued to the Middle falls, which is the tallest waterfall in the state, and only 4 feet shorter than Niagara falls. The rain got a little stronger and the falls itself, continuously sprayed so much of water in the area, making it very difficult to take one good picture. I had to soft-wipe my camera lens almost once every shot, let alone attempting to change lenses.
Raymondskill Falls (Middle falls)
Though the original intent of the trip was to see the Autumn color changes, I ended up concentrating on waterfalls more than than the fall colors. But my parents showed some real spirit, hiking enthusiastically and exhibiting utmost patience (every time I setup my tripod and take my own sweet time to click pictures). It was a day well spent. They enjoyed the trip and so did I!
Ciao, till the next travelogue!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Explore is a Flickr feature with the intent of showing people "some of the so-called most awesome photos on Flickr." Photos seem to be automatically selected by computer according to a secret algorithm called Interestingness! Explore includes a small sampling of all of the photos on Flickr (currently at 500 per day or about 0.005% of the daily upload volume).
Guess I got lucky! :)
View the above photo on Black and my other Explore photos here.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
With still no job in the offing, no mom, dad or grandfather to humor my dysfunctional rants and no stash of green to support my customary decadence, I am constantly at a loss for things to do. I must tell you, twenty four hours is a long time! I have renewed respect for homemakers. So I've been going on at least one hike every week (well, almost). I also run everyday. I bought dumbbells yesterday to put to test an ambitious weight training regime I've planned. All in anticipation of that dashing young man who is bound to walk into my life. He has to sooner or later, don't you think? I just hope he's not flabby.
These days I read for nearly 4-6 hours a day- news, blogs, economics, books... It feels like my college days when I used to skip classes to finish a book. Since I didn't want to taint this lovely travel blog with my hackneyed world view, I've been putting my pen to work at http://thembasaga.blogspot.com. Grace me with a visit or even a comment when you are in the mood for some banality.
In between all these delightful activities that do not put food on the table, I manage to squeeze in a couple of hours to apply for jobs which hopefully will put food on the table and give me back my decadence. I also spend an hour or two offering a shoulder and an ear to my unemployed brethren. And of course I talk to Arun 14 times a day.
So that's how life unfolds on the West Coast. More soon...
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The scene re-created here takes place in the Kidong Valley, about fifty miles west of Nairobi, Kenya. The male ostrich, protective of its family, reacts with alarm, its neck outstretched, its mouth open because the family is threatened by warthogs.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
This is the hallway of African Mammals exhibit at American Museum of Natural history, New york. During my previous visits, I always have found this place a little dark, with many moving people, lack of space or in general non-conducive for photography.
This time, as I was walking down the Mezzanine floor, an idea struck and I used my 10-20mm lens and the wall (as a tripod substitute) to take this photograph.
I didn't bother to do any post-processing to remove the moving people (creating ghost images), as I thought of course humans are part of Natural history and they deserve to be part of the museum. lol :)
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
We boarded the train (that has been running from 1920) as a bear mascot greeted and waved at us. For the next 1 hour, we treated our eyes with the spectacular moutains and the gorges of Lehigh Gorge state park. For some strange reason, I felt a) the trip could have been longer and b) the trains could have been slower. Nevertheless we definitely had a good time.
Our next stop was Hawk falls, which was a 1-mile hike down the hills, just off the highway. It was once again worth the hike, as the falls was fantastic and the weather was perfectly conducive for photography. I tried my new 0.9D filter and am extremely pleased with it! There were some monkeys in human forms trying to dive into the water to impress their bikini-clad girl friends. Other than that, the place was awesome. Some pictures here.