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The wild wild west – Part 3 – Antelope Canyon

When you arrive at a place at night, exhausted and hungry, you get a very different impression of the place that you would otherwise. But when you see the same place in broad daylight, when you are rested and fed, you see it in a completely different light!! That is exactly what happened with us at Cameron. The place that looked so drab last night looked resplendent in the early morning daylight. There were acres and acres of flat land around us, with a strip of road cutting straight through it for as long as we could see. The only vegetation around was small dry shrubs scattered throughout. It was beautiful.

These straight, empty roads gave V a chance to enact Schumacher to his heart’s content. While I was clinging to the car window for dear life, he delighted in zipping the car at 100 MPH.

As we neared Page in AZ, we could see a thin yellow line in the blue sky. We wondered what it was, it looked like a streak of dirt in the clouds. Going closer, we found out that it was in fact dirt, pollutants rising from a couple of factories in town.

The biggest attraction at Page was the Antelope Canyon. These are canyons carved by sediments flowing in water through the red Navajo sandstone, causing classic ‘flowing effects’ in the rock. There are two main canyons here, Upper Canyon and Lower Canyon. In the summers, when the sun is high, one can see sun beams stream in to the canyons from above, creating extremely photogenic light and color effect. In winter, the beam effect does not occur, but a myriad of colors can be still seen. We decided to see the lower slot canyons, as they are supposed to be more beautiful in winter. Visits to the canyons are only through guided tours, but if you have an SLR and a tripod, they give you a photographers permit, allowing you to stay unsupervised in the canyons for two and half hours, giving ample opportunity to capture some good clicks.

The guide led us about 50 yards into the open land towards the opening of the canyons. We were puzzled, there was no canyon to be seen anywhere, just flat land. Then we saw it, there was about a foot and half wide crack in the ground. That was the entrance to the canyons, located underground (Lower Canyons, duh!). Here is a pic of the entrance.

We squeezed in through the crack, and the canyons took our breath away. They are about 5 ft at their widest, a foot at the narrowest, and about 30 ft deep. With the colors, textures and the light play, it was a photographer’s paradise. Water flowing through these cracks has polished the rocks over ages, giving it a unique texture, and rounding it off to depict the flow of water. The canyon is very narrow, and not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia. And though we did not see any, I can totally imagine that rattlesnakes could be seen in summer.

We made full use of our photographers permit, and took numerous pictures. We had taken the morning tour, and were among the first tourists of the day to start the tour. That worked out well, as we got the canyons almost entirely to ourselves for those two hours. At the end of the canyon, there is a ladder to climb out, and a half mile trail that leads back to the parking lot. Instead of climbing out, we turned back and returned through the canyon itself. That gave us different views that what we had seen while going the other direction.

It was an experience of a lifetime. I cannot say enough to convey the beauty of the place.

The famous horseshoe bend on the Colorado river is close-by from the canyons, about half a mile hike from the parking lot. This is a point where the Colorado river turns at 270 degrees around a huge rock, resulting in a horseshoe like structure of the rock. I wanted to take a picture with V appearing to sit on the center rock, with the river encircled around. It seemed to be a wonderful idea, till I realized it meant him having to sit at the precarious edge of the rock, with a direct drop of about a 1000 ft below. Alas. I made do with some pics of him standing at a safe distance from the bend.

We also made a quick visit to the Glen Canyon Dam, which turned out to be quite huge, and started on our way to experience the old west in the Monument Valley.

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The wild wild west – Part 2 – Grand Canyon

The flight from Philly to Vegas was uneventful. Accepting the possibility of you labeling me as a wuss, I maintain that I am a big fan of uneventful flights. V and I spent the time on the airport and on the flight solving Sudoku and for the first time in our life, crossword puzzles. About five hours later, we landed in Vegas. The view of the city from the top was pretty awesome. I thought it looked like a land ‘aglow with the light of a thousand fairies’ (I don’t remember where I have heard that phrase, it kind of just popped up in my head that time). It was around 12 AM already, and we had to make an early start the next day to drive to Grand Canyon, so we decided not to go out to the Strip that night. I had a tremendous craving for Chinese/Thai food, and we found this restaurant called Satay, a Chinese/Thai/Malaysian place. While happily slurping on Tom Yum soup, I remarked to V that I could have South Asian food for each meal, every day, for the rest of my life. Little did I know that this innocent remark would soon turn out to be almost true!

Early morning next day saw us up, ready and fed at 7.30 AM, starting our drive to the Grand Canyon. This was the first time we were seeing city in daylight, and were amazed to see the desert around. Just miles and miles of flat, rocky land, with no tree cover what-so-ever. We were surprised to see some coconut like trees in the city, but those probably were like most of the people in Vegas – outsiders. They shot up through the landscape as very ill-fitting additions to the surroundings. It looked something like a patch of Florida in the middle of a desert.

Vegas is a desert surrounded by mountains all around. Having lived on the east coast, this landscape was very new for us. The city surrounded by mountains reminded me of the quaint town of ‘Satara’ in India, which is also surrounded by mountains all over, although Satara is far from being a desert. V was driving, and I started clicking photos of everything around (Most of these pics turned out useless, since I took them on high exposure, making the entire picture white 😦 ). We stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks on the way. One overlook had a sign “No selling of any goods”, under which a couple of native Indians had promptly set up their shop for selling Indian jewellery. Some things are the same, anywhere in the world 🙂

There were ‘rock-dunes’ all along the road. According to V – ‘Looks like god made these when he was at play’.

The Grand Canyon is a rift in the Colorado plateau. The North Rim is about a 1000 ft higher than the South Rim, and is not accessible in the winter. The Colorado river snakes through the canyon, and glimpses of it can be seen from the South Rim. The size of the Canyon is overwhelming! It is 277 miles long, about 18 miles wide and 6000 ft deep!! The North Rim is said to have better views than the South Rim. There is also a glass bottom viewing deck on the west side of the canyon, which extends into the canyon at a height of about 5000 ft. Since we were going to visit only the South Rim, we marked this as a to-do for our next trip.

Standing at the rim, one cannot feel anything but humbled. One realizes their insignificance in the grand scheme of nature. The color-play along the rim and the structures created by erosion are truly magnificent. There are a number of hikes from the top of the canyon to the bottom, but they require time, and in winter, proper gear. Since we had none at hand, we had to be satisfied with just watching the canyon. There are many overlooks on the road, each providing a different view of the canyon. Free shuttle buses run along these routes, and make stops at each viewpoint. We walked along the rim for some time, and then took the shuttle to the farther points. Sunset at the South rim is best seen from the Hopi point. The setting rays cast shades of red, orange and gold throughout the valley.

Before we knew it, it was sundown, and time to leave. We were going to stay at Cameron, about an hour and half east from the canyon. Throughout this hour-and-half drive, we did not see a single car on the road. It was pitch dark, we were zipping along the lonely roads with only the canyon and the soulful voice of Kishor Kumar for company. Blessed peace!

Cameron turned out to be a settlement (I wouldn’t even call it a village), which was closed up for Christmas. Absolutely nothing was open by the time we reached our hotel. Not even a gas station food shop. Both of us were extremely tired and hungry, and the possibility of dinner started to seem bleak. We dropped our luggage at the hotel, and drove off to find food. About 25 miles away, we found another small city called Tuba City. All the restaurants here were also closed. The only place we found open was a Chinese joint 🙂 Yay! I was more than happy to have another Chinese dinner. My prophecy was coming out to be true 😀

Since the next day was Christmas day, there were strong chances that we would not find any food place open anywhere. So we armed ourselves with cereal bowls, milk, granola bars and fruits…our Christmas food…from a nearby 7-Eleven store. Back to the hotel, we were asleep in no-time, waiting to head off to the wonderful Antelope Canyons the next day!

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The Seven Samurai

From my drafts – written sometime in October…
This movie was in my to-watch list for quite some time. Not because it is supposed to be a classic (which it oh-so-magnificently is), but because a friend, whose movie taste matches mine, had suggested it. We finally watched it this weekend, and loved every minute of it.

The movie is four hours long. That’s quite long. But this was probably the only movie during which I did not check my laptop, look the movie up on Wikipedia or make a million rounds to the kitchen to scavenge between-movie snacks. I was glued to the screen the whole time.

The plot is something that has now been beaten to death in movies. Poor villagers need protection from bandits, so they hire a team of seven warriors, who protect the village and empower the villagers to fight against injustice. Same as The Magnificent Seven (which I haven’t seen), Sholay and China Gate. Nothing new there.

What struck me was the simplicity of the movie and the amazing characters in the plot. The oppression of the villagers is portrayed forthrightly, without tear jerking emotional drama. I think that a subtle portrayal of sorrow and pain affects the audience more intensely than loud screaming or emotion-filled dialog. E.g. in Sholay, the grief and sorrow that was so powerfully expressed by Jaya Bhaduri’s silence, was lost with the blind old man lamenting his son’s death. In this movie you understand the oppression of the villagers when the bandits say “We just took their rice, they don’t have anything to give. Let’s come back when the barley is ripe”. You see their poverty when the villager picks up few grains of rice spilled on the floor, hoping it will make him a meal. You see their anger and their fear in their eyes, not in their dialog. They do not make big speeches about how they want to fight the bandits. They just pick up spears, too heavy for their scrawny and malnourished bodies, and get ready to fight. Simple and powerful.

Overall, a complete must-watch. Thanks R for recommending it!

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The wild wild west – Part 1 – The Plan

The husband (V) and I had wanted to do a trip to Nevada, Arizona, Utah for a long time. After seeing some amazing pictures posted by friends, and reading up about the wonders of nature these three states have, we were very excited to make this trip. We had 10 days, from the 23rd Dec to the 1st Jan, which would make a nice and long trip. We wanted to make this our annual trip with friends, but it was difficult to match everyone’s planners for a 10 day long trip, so it ended up being just the two of us. V was keen on a road trip complete with camping and cooking, but since it was winter, I was skeptical about it. Most of these places would be at a subzero temperature, and I did not fancy the idea of sleeping out in the cold for 10 days. After a lot of deliberation and discussion (and some deliberate discussions) we decided against the camping part of the road trip.

We were most eager to see the Utah parks, namely Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Monument Valley. I also wanted to include Las Vegas, as we were flying so close to Nevada anyway. Since all these destinations are a little over couple of hours driving distance away, we decided to fly to Vegas from Philly, rent a car from there, and then drive for the next 10 days to all these state parks, expecting to cover about 1200 miles on road, and drive back to Vegas for the new year’s eve. That decided, we started to make a list of all the places we could visit on our way.

The Utah tourism website is very good ( It helped a lot in planning the places to visit and the activities to do. By the time we were through with it, we had a list of about 15 destinations to cover!! With only 10 days in hand, this was an impossibility, so we had to cut down many places from these list (those places will make the itinerary for a second trip to these states, hopefully!). Five versions of the list later, we had finalized on the following destinations –

1. Grand Canyon
2. Antelope Canyon
3. Monument Valley
4. Arches National Park
5. Capitol Reef National Park
6. Bryce Canyon
7. Las Vegas

Due to winter, the days were short, with sunsets around 4.30 – 5 PM. So, we decided to drive in the evenings, and do the sight-seeing in the mornings. We were unsure of the activities that we could do at these places, as most of the sought-after activities here are non-winter activities, and we are not good at winter activities like skiing/snow-boarding etc. So we decided to just leave it to serendipity.

The next task was the hotel bookings. I do not lie, this was the least enjoyable task of the entire trip (including the 5 hour flight to Vegas). Many lodges were closed due to winter, and many of those open did not fit our budget. We must have looked at so many options, I was even tempted to say yes for the camping just to avoid this hotel booking part. Thankfully V handled almost all of it (and turned out later had made some pretty awesome choices).

None of our plans are made without MS Excel (even grocery lists at times), so we immediately made a detailed plan in excel, with fancy groupings, sorts and all the frills and fancy. Versions after versions of this plan were exchanged, with details like date, destination, expected travel time, hotel to stay, hotel address/phone etc. We also found some really good deals for activities through Groupon. While in Vegas I wanted to see one of the Cirque Du Soleil performances, so we also booked tickets for the Ka show.

All that needed to be done now was wait for the 23rd of December!

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Some changes I have noticed in myself, while comparing the late-twenties me to the early-twenties me…

1. Plugging the charger into the socket, but not plugging in the charger to the laptop, and wondering why the laptop battery doesn’t charge.

2. Taking a look at the increasing grey in my hair, every time I see a mirror.

3. Wanting to wear a helmet when on the bike. Wanting to skip the bike and take the car instead.

4. Preferring sleep over a night-out of dancing.

5. Realizing more and more how much one takes their parents for granted.

What changes have you seen?

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Your best friend – Google

All you IT folks out there, please….please remember this. Whenever you have any technical question, do not pick up that phone and call your colleague. Do not walk over to your neighbors desk and interrupt what they might be doing. Instead, try your best friend – Google. Google has more than a trillion articles and pages that it can look up to answer any, I repeat, ANY question you might have. And it does a darned awesome job at searching those trillion pages too. Chances are, that most likely, you will get your answer in less than a minute of searching. Sadly, I see very few people around me using this amazing resource at work to their benefit.

It is not stupid to have questions, but it is undoubtedly stupid to not use the vast information at your fingertips, and lose a chance to become a little more self reliant in the pursuit of knowledge.

If I had a penny for the number of times I have answered questions about some tool or framework setting, all that could be found on the first 3 googled result links, if only the person had bothered to look it up….well, I wouldn’t be doing this job, but that’s another story.

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