Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 24 - Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Continued from this vacation.

I'd seen the Californian coastal redwoods (Big Basin, Portola Valley) but I hadn't seen the giant sequoias (Which is another type of redwood). And Calaveras Big Trees State Park had two groves of giant sequoia. So off we went.

While the coastal redwoods are slim and tall, the giant sequoia are much wider, and shorter. Though this visit was full of some breathtaking sights, it was also filled with despair at the stupidity of human beings.

Take the Discovery Stump, for instance. In the 1850s, a hunter came across this huge, 1300-year-old-tree and because nobody in the cities believed him when he told them about it, he came back with workmen and cut the tree off in order to take a slice of it to display to them. And then they used the stump as a dance floor.

The Discovery Stump

Soaring into the skies - so mighty!

Just look at that rich, red, colour!
"The screaming mother" or some such  name. This is another tree that suffered from human greed. Humans removed its bark, in order to go and reassemble it at some exhibition, to show how tall and thick these trees are. This tree died.

A grove of young sequoia. Redwoods usually grow in groves and clusters.

The Pioneer Cabin Tree. I've been obsessed with this tree ever since I'd seen a picture in a book. Finally saw it. 4-5 months after this, this tree toppled over in a storm. I was just in time.

The top of the Pioneer Cabin Tree. This giant tree was surviving (until it fell down recently) thanks to that single photosynthesizing branch.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 23 - Columbia Historic State Park

The next vacation we went was with another family (Puttachi's BFF and her parents). We stayed in a vacation rental at Arnold, and visited Columbia Historic State Park and Calaveras Big Trees State Park. We booked late and landed up with a vacation rental that didn't look too inviting, but it turned out to be excellent. It was comfortable, had a well-stocked kitchen, and had multiple decks in the back, with hot tubs, and lounge chairs, and evening coffee tables, and a swing, and it was open to the woods. We made good use of everything. It was here that we saw the milky way (I'd never seen it before and it was exquisite.
A school established in 1860

So, first, about Columbia Historic State Park - it is a town from the time of the Californian Gold Rush. It is a quaint town, with old shops, houses, and even horse-driven carriages on the roads.

The classroom

Chores for children!

A school privy was cause for great excitement

This was in a museum, I think. The museum had some good displays, and lots of  information. IT was too dark inside for decent pictures, though

Walked into a bookstore and even this gentleman seemed to be from another era. Loved the whole feeling!

You could pan for gold here, if you bought a gold-panning kit. The kids found some gold flakes and some colourful minerals which they brought back safely.

The marks of desperation. After all the gold ran out, people scratched and dug into rocks in a final, desperate attempt to find gold.

Continued here

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 22 - The empty page

I've been sitting here with this draft open for the past 15 minutes wondering what to write about and I still haven't zeroed in on a topic. So I decided, Carpe Diem! Let me write about the empty page that I am staring at.

The empty page is both a promise, and a threat. Promise, because it holds so much potential. It could be a fine article, or a bestseller, a modern classic, or your magnum opus. A threat, because it is almost definite that what comes onto the page in black and white is in no way near the multi-coloured explosion of fabulousness that you are seeing in your mind.

I recently read an article that the reason writers procrastinate so much is this. As long as that article, that story, that poem, that novel is not written, there is still hope for it. But the moment you sit down to write, your limitations come into effect, and you are faced with the knowledge that you have a long, long way to go.

That is the reason deadlines are such wonderful things. They force you to just do it. That is why I hold deadlines in such high esteem. And that is why I give myself a deadline even if nobody else does. Because deadlines are sacrosanct, and I stick by them, come what may. Deadlines are the only cure for a writer's procrastination. Deadlines are the only way that the threat of an empty page can be turned into the possibility of a fulfilled promise.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 21 - The joys of vacation rentals

Before I go on to the next vacation, I wanted to wax eloquent about the joys of vacation rentals. Previously, I'd been to hotels, resorts, plantation stays, bed-and-breakfasts and the like. But only after coming here did I experience vacation rentals, booked through airbnb, vrbo and such sites.

As opposed to a hotel where you rent a room/rooms, when you book a vacation rental through for instance airbnb, you're booking an entire house, along with everything that comes with a regular house (furniture, linen, kitchen utensils and essentials, electronics, etc). (Of course, airbnb also has options of renting a room in someone's house, etc., but I am not going into that now.)

It doesn't necessarily work too well for a couple, or a single family, but when you go in a group, with a bunch of families, then there's nothing like it.

I'll do a quick, informal comparison of a vacation rental with a regular hotel room.

1) The cost - Generally speaking, a vacation rental turns out to be less expensive. Even if you include the cleaning cost that is a part of the total cost of a vacation rental, it is less expensive (all other considerations remaining constant) for three families to book one vacation rental for three days than for three families to book three hotel rooms for three days.

2) The location - One of the biggest advantages of a vacation rental, especially in places of natural beauty is that you can get to live in the heart of nature, or in the natural surrounding of the place.

3) Hanging out together - In hotels, all the families have to book separate rooms, and then meet in each others' rooms if need be. You have to go out for meals, or at least to the dining room of the hotel/resort. But in a vacation rental, you are renting the whole house, and so each family has a room of their own, and you meet and hang out in the common living spaces, the kitchen, etc.

And it is really fun to hang out late into the night, or wake up in the morning and sit in the balcony having communal cups of tea.

4) Food - The obvious disadvantage of a vacation rental is that you have to make arrangements for your own meals. It is not such a big problem if the rental is close to stores/restaurants, but it is a problem if you're away in a secluded spot (Refer to point 2) away from civilization. But there are a lot of ways you can arrange for food if you plan ahead. In our vacations, we've carried store-bought frozen food that we've heated and eaten, we've taken home-made frozen food that we've supplemented with fruits/salads, we've ordered take-out, and we've even carried rice/lentils/spices and prepared food there at the rental. The arrangements we made depended on the kind of vacation, the location, the people we went with, and a host of other things.

I was very sure that whatever I do, I wouldn't cook on a holiday and I was strictly against carrying essentials and cooking at the rental. But in the previous vacation that I just finished documenting, we had to do that, and I realized it wasn't a bad thing at all, especially if you are not tired out after a full day of sight seeing. It is really comforting to come back to some home-made food, especially if it is a longish vacation.

5) Housekeeping activities - another disadvantage is that depending on the rules of the rental, you might need to load the dishwasher/take out the garbage/start the washer before you leave. But once again, it is not such a big deal. Also, you cannot be a slob and leave the kitchen/bathroom/living spaces messy just because you're paying for cleaning, so some time does go in just setting things right. But once again, if everybody joins in, it is not a big deal at all.

6) Risk - Of course it is a risk that your vacation rental will not be as good as you hoped it was. In hotels, you know what you'll get, or at least, it will be close to your expectations, but you can't be so sure about a vacation rental. But then on the other hand, it might surprise you.

I'm sure there are some other points I'm forgetting, and I'll add them later. But if you are reading this trying to decide whether to go for a vacation rental, and if you  need any inputs, or if you have any questions, feel free to email me on the address on this page.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 20 - Twenty years ago

Do you also get all those gleeful Facebook posts that almost seem to be chuckling evilly when they say "These songs turn 20 this year"? I see them all the time on my timeline and I listen to/watch the video and all I can think of is "But that movie came out, like, just 4-5 years ago! How can it be 20 years? I remember this song and I wasn't even born 20 years ago!"

Well, the truth is that I was already an adult 20 years ago.

Besides, what makes these 20-year-old-songs more unbearable is that 20 years back is when I joined engineering college. So most of these songs are inextricably linked to memories of my college life (which, as you can by now guess, happened just 4-5 years ago ;))

For example, the songs from the movie Gupt remind me that I wasn't able to watch Gupt due to the king-size ego of a new computer science teacher.

It was a Saturday and our classmates had made plans to take the college bus right up to Cauvery theatre in Sadashivanagar to watch the afternoon show of Gupt. As we finished class, and were packing up, someone told me that this lecturer (whose name I can't recall) wanted to see me immediately. I couldn't think why, but rushed to his room. He was one of those new recruits, fresh out of college, in a lecturer's job before he had the confidence for it.

As soon as I went in, he started lambasting me about my arrogance in computer science lab. I had no idea what he was talking about, and kept asking him repeatedly what it was. He said something garbled, and what I could understand from his words was that during lab, I had asked the lab assistant a query, and had not asked him, the lecturer. How could I ask the assistant for help when a lecturer was present? Did I think he didn't know anything? I tried to tell him that not only did I not have a query, and hadn't asked anybody anything, but that he wasn't even the assigned teacher for my lab class (he just took regular theory classes for us). But he went on and on, and I could feel the seconds ticking away.

He demanded that I apologize, and I refused on the grounds that I hadn't done anything. "I won't let you go until you apologize!" he said. But I didn't, though I knew that the college buses would be leaving any moment now. He cursed me for my arrogance again, but he didn't dare follow up on his threat to not let me go, because his own staff bus would leave 5 minutes after the students' buses left. So he left, still saying, "You're going to regret this."

I ran to the bus stop, but the buses had already left. And taking a city bus would mean changing three buses and no way would I get to the movie on time. So I just took another bus (the staff bus) and went home.

That afternoon, I got a call from a girl called Shruthi from another class. I don't know how she had found out what happened, and I don't know how she got my number, but she called to tell me that it was her this man was after, and he had got the wrong Shruthi to go to the staff room. She apologized profusely, but well, it wasn't her fault!

The next Monday, it seemed like everybody had gotten to know about it (by the way, I still don't know why it was such a big deal for it to buzz around the classroom at such speed.) And when this man came into our classroom to take his regular class, he looked around, spotted me, came close to me, not meeting my stare, and mumbled an apology.

I said, "Sir, I won't let you go until you apologize loud enough for the whole class to hear."

And guess what, he did! :D

I've heard that Gupt is not worth watching, and I haven't watched it since, but I'll never forget it as the movie I couldn't go out to watch with my friends, because of a silly man's ego.

And see? I remember such tiny details of this incident. It can't have happened 20 years ago.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 19 - Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yes, we're still on that vacation, and if you've noticed, a lot of these places have something to do with volcanic activity. Coincidence. Lassen is another such place, and once again, I'd never seen anything like it before.

Manzanita Lake

A very climb-friendly tree. Puttachi went up quite high.

Had a hearty lunch of packed sandwiches and Trader Joe's salad near this place.

Happened upon patches of snow that hadn't melted since winter. So much fun playing with snow on a summer day. There was enough snow to slide down, in some places. Great delight!

This is Bumpass' Hell. Bumpass is a name, and hell - because of the sulphuric ponds. The place was full of sulphur vapours, and it was not very comfortable to hang around there for too long. 

Another view of Bumpass' Hell. Taken from the walkway you can see in the previous pic. Look at that blue pond, and those hissing vapours.

This is on the hike to Bumpass' Hell - which was great - just the right challenge level, adventurous, dangerous, picturesque. Those two peaks in the mountain was actually one mountain. It blew (volcano) and half of the mountain was ripped off. So if you join the dots (so to say) between the two peaks, that was the original mountain.

There are several mudpots in the area. Basically a pool of bubbling mud, due to gases from underground that escape through these pools of mud. It is like watching a liquid bubble and boil in a huge pot.

More about this vacation

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 18 - Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Considering that I hadn't even heard of a place called Redding before we planned this trip, I was not expecting to see this fabulous park and even more spectacular bridge in this place.

The Sundial Bridge - a cable-stayed bridge (pulls the bridge up to keep it in place.)

Seen from the bottom - quite spectacular.
The bridge is across the Sacramento River

The park itself is beautiful, lots of botanical specimens, and a good place to walk, talk, sit, spend an evening.

A little library, you're free to read books from here and return it. If you want to take a book for yourself, you must replace it with a book of your own.

And of course the kids wanted to read (even though the books were far below her reading level - books are books, and should be read, you see)

We came back to the park two times, once at night, after a leisurely dinner at the vacation rental. We walked under the Sundial bridge this time, and it so happened that the latest Pokémon had just been released that day. We didn't know it, but we saw these massive groups of teenagers gathered there, 10 pm at night, intently looking at their phones. We only understood later on what was happening and we tried to catch some Pokémon too (I hope I've said that right, I'm hopelessly behind the times.)

Anyway, the bridge looked quite beautiful lit at night, viewed from underneath it.

More about this vacation

Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 17 - Shasta Caverns, Lake and Dam

Shasta Caverns are massive caves made entirely of limestone, and there are stalactites, stalagmites and a host of other formations. It is like a fantasy land, and the limestone formations look like all kinds of creatures, both real and fanciful and mythological. It is like Alladin's cave of wonders, and walking through it feels unreal.

To reach the caverns, we had to take a ferry across the scenic lake Shasta.

Across the lake, buses drove us uphill to the mouth of the caverns. My photographs don't do justice, because my camera is not good enough for photos in the dark, but here are a few just for you to get a feel.

The Cathedral Cave. It is at least 4 floors high, I think

We stepped out back into sunlight, and had this panoramic view of the lake from above.

Lake Shasta

And from the point where I took the above photo, I looked back, and just behind me, were these rocks. And can you see that? That is a fossil of a fish! Yup. At this height. The guide told us that all this was under the ocean millions of years ago. There were other fossils too, in the rock - and I'd never seen real fossils before, in their natural setting. And this wasn't even cordoned off, these were just any other rocks on the wayside. Somehow, it set my head spinning. 

I do wish I had better pictures of the caverns, but you can always look them up if you're interested.

We also went on a tour of Shasta Dam. It is quite remarkable in its history and engineering.

The high point of the tour for Puttachi (ok, even  us) was something totally unconnected to the dam. There was this long corridor, and the guide made us shout/clap and you could actually hear the sound waves going whooooosh and then hear the echo at the other end of the corridor after a sizeable gap of several seconds. I think none of us in the tour (all nationalities, all races, all ages) wanted to leave that corridor, we were having too much fun.

More about this vacation

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 16 - 2 - Crater Lake

The astonishing Crater Lake at Oregon. The only words you can think of is Big, Blue.

It was originally a mountain. It blew its top. After all the lava had gushed forth, a caldera or crater is formed. That crater fills up with ice and pure water - and voila! Crater Lake is formed.

Try and get your head around this fact - Crater Lake holds holds 5 trillion gallons of water! That's 700 gallons of water for every person in the world! (1 gallon is nearly 4 litres.)

Just look at that blue!

So blue that it looks artificial and hurts your eyes.

More about this vacation

Day 16 - 1 - Lava Beds National Park

I bet none of you missed me yesterday, but yes, I missed a day. Not on purpose. S just came back from a 3-week vacation to India with a suitcase full of books and food, and I was distracted. Really, that's my excuse.

So I'll do two posts today to make up for it. So, to get on with it - Lava Beds National Park. 
which I wrote about for National Geographic Traveller India

So Lava Beds is a volcanic landscape, frozen in time. The most impressive part of this place is the underground Lava tubes, which are formed by the cooling down of flowing lava (explained in my article above.) Walking through these tubes is absolutely surreal and fascinating.

I recommend a visit to this place - highly.

Skull Cave. This has a year-round ice floor in the lower level. Outside, it was nearly a 100 deg F (39 deg C) Inside the cave, we needed jackets.

Absolutely pitch dark inside the caves. It is frightening to think of what will happen if you are lost in there without torches.

The landscape is desolate, with buttes like this scattered all around (these are little hills formed by volcanic eruptions)

Lava flowing down the walls of the cave, frozen in action

An example of pahoehoe - hardening lava dragging itself forward

Lava dripping down from the ceiling, again frozen.
Can you see the rivers of lava (right in the middle of the picture) - the dark grey strips of rock?

The entrance to many of the caves was like this. Even inside, there were these metal staircases to reach the lower levels

The Modocs lived here for hundreds of years, and a few miles from the Lava tube area is the Petroglyph Point, where we can see their rock art.

A lake on the way to Petroglyph point

This rock was an island once. The art is found on the walls of this rock.

More about this vacation

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day 14 - Vacation - North California + Oregon

Last summer, we went on a 5-day trip to a few places in Northern California and South Oregon. (I told you I was behind on my travel stories.) This was a good vacation, in terms of the places we chose to go, the rental car we got, the rental vacation, the company we had, the weather conditions -- basically, everything went our way. I'll write about it in detail in the next couple of days, but here's the itinerary we followed.

Day 1 - Start at 7 30 am from Fremont, reach Lava Beds National Monument, North California, at about 3 30 pm.
See Lava Beds and the nearby Petroglyph Point, a Native American rock art site.
Stay overnight at a hotel in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Day 2 - Drive from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, Oregon.
In the afternoon, drive from Crater Lake to vacation rental at Redding, California.

Day 3 - Drive to Shasta Lake, boat across the lake to Shasta Caverns, take a tour, back to vacation rental by afternoon.
Evening - Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding.
Back to vacation rental at night.

Day 4 - Drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park - visit the Devasted Area, hike to Bumpass' Hell, and see the Mudpots.
Back to vacation rental at Redding.

Day 5 - Leave the vacation rental, go on a Shasta Dam tour, drive back to Fremont.

Photos and details coming up in the next few days, but today, I'll leave you with some photos that we took during the drive, of Mount Shasta.

Mount Shasta

I've always wanted to take a picture like this - an empty road with a mountain backdrop. I wasn't brave (or crazy) enough to stand in the middle of the road for the perfect snap, though.

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