Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lower Antelope Canyon - A Marvel

First Look
Narrow shafts, no visible way to enter, a sea of red soil making you wonder where you are to go next, and there you see it – A narrow opening in the side of the seemingly flat land. The opening shaft more like a slit in the mountain - like someone cracked the mountain open is the first sight that makes you wonder about the force of nature but the real deal is yet to come. At least for me the “wonder” phase for Antelope Canyon began with that glance at the entry crack.
The entrance
Long ride, a day’s delay, extremely crowded area and the only horrible “loo” experience in US so far had kind of made me question if Lower Antelope Canyon was actually going to be the bucket list place I always imagined it to be and twenty minutes later I was standing gaping at a marvel that erased all the doubts in my head.

The Magic Begins
Crowd, cold, rushed entry to exit tour nothing can actually stop you from praising Antelope Canyons which are actually Nature’s might and art sketched on ancient rock, etched and leveled by winds and water over centuries.

See the shapes?
Antelope Canyons are slot canyons located in the Navajo Nation of Arizona that are a part of the Grand Canyon. So you can imagine how old this place must be and ever curve and cut of Antelope Canyon tells you about the time gone by. My friends – the ones with whom I did the recent Grand Canyon road trip and I – joked at the entrance level that maybe people chiseled the slot to make it more appealing, but as we moved ahead in Lower Antelope, the area kept getting narrower and the formations more elaborate and stunning.  That tiny slot that started out with towering colourful rocks on two sides of a path barely enough for 15 people to stand – had arches and hollow ringed rock formations.

A friend of mine posed for me near an arch!
By the time you are done with your tour you would be speechless, cold but forgotten all about that long tiring drive, the crowded narrow path and well the loo too. I usually am very verbose when it comes to describing what I felt in a place but Lower Antelope Canyon actually rendered me speechless. That’s why I will let the photos do all the talking but will surely leave you with what to do for Antelope Canyon tips!

The changes

The Must Dos!

1.   Tours and Tickets - Buy your guided tour ticket in advance and preferably keep the tour timing between 10 AM to 1 PM. Antelope Canyons are a part of Navajo Nation and thus are private properties of the natives. Due to this there is no way you can enter the canyons without a guide. The ticket prices are quite high considering it will be at most a thirty minutes walking tour so consider that and also keep tab on if your tour is getting cancelled due to rain or heavy snowfall. I didn’t feel a photography tour was required to see Lower Antelope Canyon, but Upper Antelope is a whole different case. You get enough time to click but be aware of time and people always because the place is extremely crowded and your guides will rush you throughout the tour.

Let it shine
2.  Keep Buffer – Antelope tours during monsoons and winters have high probability of getting cancelled due to flash flood alerts. If you are travelling during this time, keep a day’s buffer for Antelope, i.e. plan your trip in a way that you are close to Antelope (South Rim Grand Canyon or Page itself) for at least a day.

Patterns

3.  Necessities – Do not! I can’t stress enough on this but do not rely on the tour area cafes and loos for anything! Page Downtown is just 20 mins away from Antelope – that is the place you would want to go for all your food, coffee, water, washroom necessities.
That was it. That gap is what we crossed
4.  The right clothes – During summers it is extremely hot in the Canyons and winters are freezing. Be sure to dress right else the thirty minutes long walk would seem like eternity.

I got my pic!!!
5.  And most important one – Enjoy! This touristy place will not disappoint you, at least not for the most part.

How to get there from Las Vegas


How to get there?
Closest Airport - Page. 
Next closest and the most convenient one would be Las Vegas.
You could take guided bus tours from Page or Vegas but we did a Road Trip from Vegas and I would say it is the best way to cover the place.

Where to Eat?
Page Downtown. Many options in the area like MacD, TacoBell, Subway, Starbucks and some local restaurants. My saviour was Subway!

Where to Stay?
Hotels in Page would be a good options but most of them are 2 star places and expensive for the services they provide. I stayed in Red Feather Lodge at Grand Canyon Village South Rim, but there are plenty of options close by.  Courtyard Page or Best Western plus in Page would be the most convenient options to stay in close proximity of Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, Glenn Canyon Dam and Antelope Canyon.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Photo Diary 2016



Since 2017 began, I have been reading a lot of “2016 in Review” and “Top Instagram posts of 2016” posts but never got around to writing any similar post myself. But 2016 for me was too eventful to not reminisce and not trace my footprints. 2016 was the year when I traveled back in time, not only to India’s glorious past but also my childhood. 2016 was that year when I finally decided to give up my stable job, wait – Not to Travel – but to study. I left my country and my home for the first time ever and started living in an alien land with people I had never met! Big change, yes; but travel still remained a constant. 2016 also taught me how to be a tourist in your own city and explore it as much as you can! So here it is – My 2016 in pictures (more like Instagram Diary), a bit late but well, it is still January 2017.



January and February
While I spent January 2016 studying, interviewing and working, my travel diaries kicked off in February when I got a chance to explore the Nawabi town of Hyderabad. I had visited Hyderabad for just a weekend for an official sports tournament but I sure managed some hours off court to soak in the glory of Golconda and Hyderabadi Cuisine.


March
March took me to another historical state of India – Madhya Pradesh. To see the dying grandeur of Holkars and the silent ruins of Malwa was a magical experience even under the scorching 40 deg. Celsius sun.




April and May
April was the most sluggish month of the year I think, mostly because my skirmishes with sun got worse with advent of summer. Oh yes I hate the sun! But the sun couldn’t hold me back for long and in May I decided to explore Mumbai despite the heat.


June
Exploring Mumbai made me think of all the places I had ever lived in and how I had not explored much of my ‘hometowns’ and so I set off on a journey to discover my homeland – Odisha! June was all about going back to roots for me and it was a bitter sweet month because the fact that I was going to leave my country soon was finally dawning on me.



July
Mumbai is the prettiest and most inviting during monsoons and I knew it, but never got the reason why. So July was all about exploring Mumbai like never before – and that is exactly what I did. I was finally a tourist in the city where I had spent half of my life and still the place managed to amaze me in so many ways!



August
August came and I fell in love with Mumbai even more. Does it surprise you how much we underestimate the places we actually live in and how much we miss out because of that? I spent three months last year exploring so many corners of Mumbai – Historical structures, cultural places, local gems, restaurants, beaches and what not and I still feel like I haven’t seen half the city. Anyhow, guess Mumbai has its own plan to make me come back to it soon enough.



September
September was about visiting the past, reminiscing a phase and setting out on a new journey for me. I spent ten years of my life in Gujarat and before leaving India I decided to go on a family trip to Ahmedabad. A state, a city, a historical place that never ceased to amaze me gave some quality time to finally accept what was to come next.



October
New place, new city in a new country in a new continent and a future so different waited for me here in Seattle – my new home for at least two years now. I was back in school, but grad life felt so different and exciting at the same time!
I did miss home terribly during my first ever Durga Puja away from home (October was tough) but soon I started exploring this beautiful city and Nature made sure I fell in love with the place.



November
November was more about Seattle, more about being a tourist in my new home, more about exploring the famous touristy places of the city. But I was determined to end the year with a bang and so I did!



December
Epic road trip, Canyons, Snow and Sun and of course ticking off some states of the US. Some of my amazing friend made sure I got some green ticks on my wish list and gave a fitting end to a crazy but amazing 2016! Read about it HERE.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

On the Road to Grand Canyon

Those seemingly never ending roads!
Fast paced cars fade away and so do the busy roads of the city of Angels and the sun. Rains lash the view pane of the car while the sparsely green land turns barren and dusty yet stunning. Vast plains fringed with barren hills keep you company for what seems like eternity even at a car going at crazy speeds. Sun and rain keep up their play, while winds race with the few but very fast cars on the road. On and off the route 66 and then you see that shiny little city that is famous for, well so many reasons – you are in Vegas Baby!

Awaiting rains
That was a part of an epic road trip I had a couple of weeks back! Oh, yes a part – Vegas was just a pit stop the journey went on to Antelope Canyon, Glenn Canyon and South Rim Grand Canyon! 

Some sunrises can't really be described
I had a huge list of to dos in my Bucket list when I came to the US, but grad life let me explore only Seattle until late December, and then this fateful work group reunion with six amazing wanderlust souls happened in Los Angeles. With approximately 1500 miles to cover, I was on my way to get some green ticks on my list –

Somewhere in the mountains
Road Trip on Route 66 – Well we didn’t really do the whole east coast to west coast trip but we were on Route 66 for most of our trip and also explored the Calico Ghost Town Road on our way to Vegas.

Vegas Strip – Luxury maybe overrated, but sometimes it leaves you happy and stunned!


Antelope Canyon - that narrow ridge of earthly colours and dancing sunbeams, yes I was finally there!


Horseshoe Bend – That iconic Colorado river meander that has been feeding on the old Rockies since Paleolithic age. Still can’t get over that view and that place!

And of course Grand Canyon – There is a reason why it is called Grand, and what I saw was merely 5% of its natural grandeur.


I was excited about these places for obvious reasons, but I was elated like a kid when we touched four states of the US in four days, (it was a big thing for all of us!)


To add to all that, this was actually my first experience of a drive in the US and I literally saw every kind of weather there is – I think! From warm winter sun in Los Angeles to unusual lashing desert rain, sun on snow early morning, foggy days, clear starlit nights and heavy snowfall preceding a snow storm! I was not the one behind the wheel, but I could feel the thrill and fear of driving through a foggy dark night with occasional sleet rainfall through Canyon Roads – you get the point right?

When rain and snow attack alternatively and make way for fog
I don’t usually write about the whole journey without writing about the place, but for me this was one such trip, after my Mumbai Goa road trip in India, that just turned out to be about the journey as much as that about the destination, if not more! Hence this was like a mandatory prelude to the chain of posts coming up about the places! More about the trip coming up soon.

Yeah, well.
P.S. The Route (Just for reference)


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Beachy Road Trip to Goa

Somewhere on our way
Early morning, loudspeakers playing songs like ‘Rang Barse’, in an attempt to wake up a languid world for the festival of colours, and atmosphere waiting to be painted in hues of gulaal – and amidst all that I set out for my epic road trip to Goa with my family and some friends! Epic because it was the first road trip to Goa and we were doing a coastal Maharashtra to Goa and back route aka old Goa route and the plan was totally out of the blue and I planned out the itinerary in just 2 days. I often talk about this trip of mine but yesterday when I was writing about my recent trip to Grand Canyon, I realized I had never written about my first ever road trip on my blog. So here it is! (I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.)

Kashid Beach
Crossing Alibaug, Nagaon, Janjira, Kashid, Ganpatipule, and Ratnagiri we did manage to reach Panjim somehow in 4 days, of course halting at all those places, but the best part of the trip was being on the road and exploring, and not Goa as the destination. 

Murud Janjira Fort
Howling coastal winds, constant company for sapphire blue waters, forests, starlit nights – all of it simple yet so impactful. We chose the old Konkan way over the Bombay Goa Highway and didn't regret the decision a bit. This journey made me realize how beautiful the Konkan coastline is.

A random click from the road!
Often Indian highways are termed not cool for long, smooth road trips, and driving on old highway might seem like a crazy decision – but I beg to differ! Maybe the roads in India are not as maintained, monitored and regulated as highways in most developed countries, but they are good for any fun road trip and this trip made me believe in that thought even more.

The beautiful untouched Malgund Beach
While on the road we witnessed nature, history and culture equally, baffled by the thought – why do people not select the meandering roads accompanied by pristine blue waters fenced by dense coconut grooves and rolling paddy fields. 

Nagaon Beach!
While Alibaug, Murud and Jaigad on the way have marvelous forts from the Maratha Period, missing out on hidden gems like Ganpatipule beach and Malgund Beach with their seemingly infinite stretch of light golden sand shimmering against the crystal blue waters seemed like a crime to me!

Somewhere in Ratnagiri
Yes, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and the hundreds of other beaches of Goa have their own charm, but none of them are as clean, quiet and untouched like the ones near Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri. But forget the beaches that were some ‘spots’! During the drive there were probably uncountable beach stretches or cliffs where the Arabian Ocean proclaimed its beauty and why it makes Konkan Coast so amazing! We drove in the early morning warmth on meandering hilly roads and late night on Ghats and under a very starry night and I enjoyed every bit of it!

When the path is so beautiful, you drive with a smile :P
Some experiences are beyond words, and this sure was one of them. Guess spending days on the road does that to you. Guess that is why people love road trips more than travelling by trains and planes and now so do I!

Finally the destination
The Road



Some things to remember

1.   Remember to keep your mobile fully charged and carry power bank for maps of course! And before you start your drive for following destinations keep your fuel tanks filled, check your spare tyre(s) and toolbox – not just as a part of basic highway safety measure but also important since you would be travelling on a path less taken and cross some rural or non-populated areas.
2.  For the Ghats, make sure your car tyres are meant for such trips and also do not try to overtake or cross speed limits – it is for the good of everyone on road! Hint - think of CEAT Tyres or its equivalents.
3.  Beware of tankers and heavy vehicles! Keep at least at a space for 2 cars between you and the vehicle ahead of you while at high speeds. This road is highly curvy so the distance will give you better control and help avoid mishaps.
4.  No drink and drive! I get why Goa is so famous among youngsters but hey, drinking and driving is a fatal crime and a total no no.

And of course enjoy the drive!

P.S. Just the recap of the places I went to




Friday, December 16, 2016

Winter Wish Well – Kashmir



White washed, painted with numerous shades of cold blue and white, beauty of bareness and dead grooves that would bloom again in spring and still a land alive in every sense. Some days back it snowed in Seattle and I was transported back to a beautiful state of India. If you thought Spring or Autumns are the only time to visit the cold Himalayan beauty of India again, think again for now I would give you five reasons to make you believe why you have to visit Kashmir during winters at least once in your life!


1.   The white wonderland
Kashmir is better than Switzerland during winters. To experience snow that has fallen months ago and to experience snowfall – the feel is really different. Imagine making snowman in fresh snow, fall and create deep snow angels in soft, yet to settle, fluffy snow, to gaze outside your window and see the snow pile on vast fields, pined trees and your window sills while sitting with a hot cup of Kehwa and hot burning Kangri – the only time to get all this is during winters! Even the other areas that do not have snow, have a backdrop of white washed Himalayas and a shade of winter that is stunning in every sense.


2.  No crowd, No fuss
Since due to common belief, winters is termed off season for Kashmir Tourism and hence all the places you venture to would have very less crowd aka welcome to a non-touristy Kashmir. This means you get heavy discounts on almost everything there and at the same time get to interact with locals as much as you want because people are not in any hurry to attend to hordes of tourists that they usually do during the other times of the year.

Source - https://sakibbazaz.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/kashmiri-street-food/

3.  Enjoy food the Kashmiri way
Local food around Srinagar get a lot more Kashmiri during winters than in any other season. It is not like you can’t get local delicacies during the other seasons but during winters the street food gets more local flavoured and lets go of the Punjabi, Lucknowi touch and well imagine hot kebabs on chilled winter nights. You get the fun right?


4.  Ski and Sledge
Let’s go the eskimo way. Okay, no, but just the touristy way. Sure in other seasons you get the orchards of apricots, you may see arrays of Tulips and Saffron, you may also see sprawling fields of paddy and grass but winter is the only time you would see endless rows of snow laden slopes that are fit for skiing and sledge rides. Why travel all the way to Switzerland, Alaska and Austria when you can get it all in your own country!


5.  Kehwa and Kangri
I love to do local stuff!!!  I know you guys must have figured that out already but still I love doing local stuff and one of the best moments I had in Kashmir during my trip was – roaming around near Sindh Nallah in Sonmarg with a kangri in hands and sipping Kehwa all the while. You can get Kehwa in Kashmir all-round the year but it is primarily a winter drink. Long story short, I was doing what the local villagers of Sonmarg were doing at the Sonmarg bus stop and I totally got the point of it.


Winter is when Kashmir gets the most real and the warmest in terms of hospitality! I loved Kashmir in winters and feel lucky to have experienced the place in that season! What about you guys?

Also for those of you who are anxious about the conditions in Kashmir right now – life has kind of come back to normalcy but locals need a lot of support and positivity to forget the last five months. From personal experience, I can tell you people over there are really nice and kind and a few friends who traveled there recently have confirmed that it is pretty safe to travel to Kashmir now.