Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Drive to Corpus Christi

July 4th long weekend gave us a chance to visit the coastal city of Corpus Christi, eight largest city in Texas, located 200 miles from Houston. This time around me and my travel companion decided to drive ourselves and hence we rented a car. Being a long weekend there were lot of rental car booking and by the time we went to pickup our car, we were left with only a Pickup truck!. With no other option left we decided to go with the only available option, a blue Mitsubishi Raider a 3.7 litre V6 engine pickup truck.

We started our journey at around 10 in the morning. Google Maps was our route guide for this trip. This was the first road trip for both of us in America and it was just two days after we got our Texas driving license. We were looking forward for this trip. Soon we were on the out skirts of Houston and the US country side started to emerge on the horizon. Texas is much more greener than what we normally think of. The drive was a great experience for us, but rain played spoil sport. Due to rains the visibility was drastically reduced at many places and everyone on the roads drove at around 20 Mph(30-35 kmph). But when it was not raining it was a pleasant drive. We stopped once to refresh ourselves and change drivers. After a pleasant 3 hour drive we were at Corpus Christi welcomed by heavy rains. By the time we reached our hotel raining had stopped. Since were 3 hours ahead of our check-in time we were not allotted a room. Instead we decided to go to the Texas State Aquarium.

A huge crowd had already formed to gain entry into the aquarium. Apart from marine animals they also had Flamingos as well. Next we visited the Dolphin Bay to watch the Dolphins do stunning acrobatic maneuvers. Later we descended in a underwater viewing room to watch the dolphins play around in the pool.

Next we went to meet the North American River Otter. There were two of them and both were....

Next we watched a Bird show in the Wild Fight Theatre. And we met him

Corpus Christi is known for Jelly Fishes lying on the beaches. They are not as yummy as they sound, when they sting they sting pretty bad! We had our fair share of Jelly fish sightings in the aquarium as exhibits and as well as long the shore. Sea turtles swam in pool of their own with a word of caution!

I tried touching a Stingray but it swam away, but couple of others standing around the pool managed to touch it.

After all this roaming we decided to have lunch as we had covered most of things to see. We just stood near the sea shore admiring USS Lexington and the water traffic passing under the Corpus Christi harbour bridge.

It was around 3 in the afternoon so we checked into our hotel and rested for sometime before going to the beach. We stayed in a hotel right on the beach. We took a stroll along the beach enjoying the gentle breeze. The waves were not very high and the water was quite shallow.

As we were walking my thoughts took me for a trip down the memory lane, bringing back the memories of digging along the shore of Marina beach during my summer holidays. Kulfi ice cream, cold drinks and beach were the things that my mom used to promise only after which I would agree to come to Madras during summer vacation. Soon we reached the other end of the beach. We sat down on the rocks watching others fishing and enjoying the fading daylight. On our way back we saw quite a jelly fishes washed ashore.

From the beach we went to a restaurant to have our dinner before the fireworks display began. Soon after finishing our dinner we found a nice place on the beach. Fireworks were arrange from the deck of USS Lexington. Soon after the choppers cleared the air and the coast guards took care of the sea to keep people from harms way the spectacular fireworks display started. It was a 30 minutes spectacle consisting of various mesmerizing fireworks display.

A huge round of applause from the crowd marked the end of the spectacle. Slowly the crowd started to make its way back. We sat for awhile enjoying the cool breeze blowing across the beach and the massive war ship before we went back to our hotel room to call it a day. It was quite an eventful day!

Day two of our trip had an hectic plan ahead of us. Our first stop after breakfast at the hotel was visiting USS Lexington. Its a World War II aircraft carrier converted to a Naval museum after it was decommissioned in 1991. The photo was blurred due the humidity and fog!

Here is a small video about USS Lexington. The tour of ship is divided into 5 different sections. Tour 1 - the Flight Deck and Bridge. One of the aircraft on the flight deck.

Next is the Foc'sle(forecastle). This section is mainly dedicated to the Pearl Harbour attack. Next is the Gallery Deck. This section houses the Combat Information Centre amongst the others. We went down to the lower deck to see the Engine Room. This ship was powered by two massive engines.

As we walked into the lower deck of the ship the smell of the sea and the ship was quite evident. Its a nice experience in itself. The major attraction of the museum is the overnight camping, wherein you will be a peacetime sailor for a day. Inside the museum we have theatre in the Hanger Deck. We watched a movie called "Fighter Pilot", a 45 minute presentation about the pilot combat training programme. After all these tours we had lunch on the deck of the warship itself.

The final destination of our trip was North Padre Island National Seashore. Around 30 miles from Corpus Christi. There are two main beaches on this island North and South Beach. We went to the North beach. This place is quite beach and nothing other than that. Families come here on camping. The biggest thing that I liked about this place is the peace and tranquility, the only sounds that you hear is of the seagulls and the waves. This beach is also quite shallow and we can walk quite a distance and the water wont go beyond our hip. This is also nesting place for sea turtles. We spent quite sometime just walking across the beach and standing in the water enjoying the scenic beauty of this place. We came back to our car and dried our legs before starting our return journey. We started around 5 in the evening and hit the highway to Houston. And we were greeted by quite a heavy downpour almost all the way. At some places we had to drive at very slow speed as the visibility was quite bad. But as we neared Houston rain started to subside and we had clear weather till we reached home at around 8. It was quite a driving experience for both of us. We missed our route twice once while going and once while returning. The best part of losing your way in US is that you wont find people to ask directions for, you have to go by your instincts and common sense. But even that was fun :). All in all it was a memorable drive marked by the majesty of USS Lexington and tranquility of North beach.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

San Antonio Part II

A bright sunny morning greeted us as we prepared to continue on our San Antonio trip. Today's destination was SeaWorld, its a famous water amusement park. We had booked our entry tickets the previous day itself. We expected a huge crowd since it was a long weekend, so we started early to beat the crowd and it was around 30 miles from where we stayed. It took a 30 minute cab ride to reach the water park. Almost a quarter mile long queue of cars had already formed around 10.30. We rented a locker to keep our personal things and headed towards our first section, "The Lost Lagoon", a wave pool and cluster of other smaller rides. Our timing to enter the pool was perfect as the waves were about to start and before crowd could fill up we found ourselves a nice spot (although it doesn't really matter :-P). After floating around in the waves we moved on to water slide. First we went to the tube slide later the same run without tubes called "Body slide". And trust me the Body slide was better than the tube slide.

Dolphins show called the "Viva!" was our next stop. Its a 30 minutes artistic performance by Pacific White-sided Dolphins. The main attraction of this show was a dolphin jumping out of the water and hitting a ball suspended above 10-15 feet from the water surface. After meeting the Dolphins, it was time for some high octane adrenaline rush filled ride the "Steel Eel" the famous roller coaster ride. Its 3700 feet long and the ride last for about 2 minutes from start to finish and has a 15 story drop!. And you don't have to describe roller coaster rides they are always awesome no matter what!

Photographs taken during the ride are sold outside, we got one each for ourselves before we continued on to "The Great White". This is Texas' first steel roller coaster ride. In this ride your foot will be dangling in the air as you flip around in loops, like in one of the soft drink commercials (although we didn't carry any such thing on the ride). This ride is again around 2500 feet long and takes close to two minutes from start to end. By the end of this ride we were quite hungry, so we made a quick dash to the nearest food court and had our lunch. After lunch to went to "Pirate - 4D", its a 3D movie with water sprinklers, under the seat vibrations and other special effects. It was a nice time pass and kids really enjoyed this. We went on to meet "Shamu", a giant killer whale. Highlight of this show was water splashing by the whale, which can reach up to 16 rows! A half-an-hour presentation featuring various acrobatic maneuvers. Then we took a plunge in the "Atlantis". Half roller coaster half water ride, in this ride we climb 100 feet in a small boat and then we splash into the water!

Our last stop for the day was "Castaway crusin'" a long stream of water where you can swim, walk or float along and rest your body from the day long activities. After couple of round of this stream we went straight to the wave pool to catch the last wave of the day. Nice 20 minutes in the water and we headed back to our locker and made our way out as it was closing time. We were in no mood to wait for a cab and to our luck an empty cab was waiting and we approached the cab driver and asked if it was free. That cab driver said, "No, the cab is engaged, but people who called the cab don't seem to be insight. You guys wait for a couple of minutes and then if they don't come I will take you." We were more than happy to wait. We waited for few minutes and when we were about to leave the group that has actually called the cab turned up. But the cab driver was not amused by there delay so he agreed to drive us instead of them! Cab driver guessed from our looks that we were Indians and was telling about his close family friend being a Indian, the local Indian restaurants anything and everything related to India in San Antonio. He also felt that India is taking over the world from all the "Science" education that we have in India. At this point to re-assure him I had to quote Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's words that, "For 2,500 years India has never invaded anybody" and added my own words, that it has no plans to invade in the future too. We continued on with our discussion, then the cab driver said he had to refuel and we pulled into a gas station a.k.a petrol pump, this station happens to have an Burger King outlet too, so we packed our dinner and took off heading towards our hotel. After munching down our burgers and cola we decided to call it a day.

Next day was our last day at San Antonio and we had a hectic plan ahead of us. First stop Natural Bridge Caverns. These are naturally occurring caves formed due to underground rivers which have spectacular limestone structures. This place is a 30 minutes drive from our hotel. Since we had lot to cover we started a bit early. There are two kinds of tours, one is a guided tour and another one is a self guided tour. We chose the self guided tour called the "Discovery Tour". Along the route you will have guides giving you details about the important locations inside the cave. The cave formations are just mesmerizing.

The tallest formation is 32 feet tall.

And if you let your imagination run wild, you will "Discover" many interesting formations like this one, the King's throne

The white spot on the photo is just a tiny droplet on the camera lens and not a moon! The deepest point of the tour is 180 feet below ground level. The ground can get quite slippery. We had spent more than 2 hours exploring and taking pictures and we didn't realize the time pass by. After a quarter mile trip down the cavern we emerged at the other side of the natural bridge. Next pit stop for the day was the famous and historical, The Alamo. A mission converted to a fortress in which approximately 187 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis tried resisting 6000 strong Mexican army led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. This fortress has been converted to an museum to stand testimony for the brave men who laid their lives defending Texas on 6th March 1836.

The main entrance leads us to a big hall which houses the memorial, a scale model of the original structure of Alamo with the positions taken by the soldiers. As we exit the hall there is a park and a library. Near library is this pool. Go ahead toss a coin into the pool and make a wish!

At the back of the complex we have the medical center used during the war. It was time for lunch and head to the bus station. We had some more time before bus departed so we decided to take a stroll along the River Walk. And finally the long weekend was drawing to an end and our San Antonio trip. We covered all the places that we thought of covering and a bit more too.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

San Antonio Part - I

Last Monday of May every year is observed as Memorial Day in USA, to commemorate US men and women who died while in Military service. That gave us a long weekend to explore the state of Texas a bit more. So my friends and me decided to visit San Antonio. It is the second largest city in Texas and is place to one of the most important historical moments in the history of Texas.

Cut to chase... Saturday, May 24th morning we boarded a Greyhound bus to San Antonio from Houston. Greyhound is a popular inter-city bus service in USA servicing to people who cant drive or who don't want to drive. Special things to note about the Greyhound buses are, firstly it is fully air conditioned(that was obvious), it has multiple TV screens hanging(although nothing was played on it) and lastly has a built-in restroom at the back of the bus. And By the way Greyhound claims that the running dog is one of the most recognized brands in the world! The bus stations here are quite different from what we were used to, here we have to go through a baggage check and the baggage is weighed and hence there is a limit on how much you can carry. Since we already had our tickets we went through the checking and collected our "boarding passes". Return tickets were not booked so we got that booked too. Then we found a place to spend the rest of the 30 minutes waiting. While we were waiting a lot of thoughts were running through my mind, though all these niceties are not present back home the US public transport system has a lot of catching up to do. The other side of the argument would be America being the inventor of the Car Culture. But with Global Warming and souring crude oil prices its time the public transport system gets its much needed adoption and recognition. I was brought back to reality by the "boarding call" announcement on the Public Announcement System and people rushing to the departure gate and in no time there was a long queue. Since all of us were well versed with this we managed to garb a place almost at the beginning of the queue. Once on-board and ready to depart the driver/conductor welcomed us and announced the departure of the bus and the estimated arrival time.

A three and half hour bus journey later we were at San Antonio bus station. The first impression I got on seeing San Antonio is that it has a lot of European touch to it. Right outside there were a lot of cabs waiting, so we took a cab to our hotel. Since we didn't book the hotels early enough we couldn't get a hotel reservation in the downtown area. Our hotel was around 10 miles from the bus station. By the time we checked in it was lunch time so we decided to try out the Mexican restaurant within the hotel compound. We were in for a surprise as the waitress came to our table and started speaking in Spanish! and all three of us were looking at each other to figure out who amongst us looks like a Mexican!?! To keep things simple we spoke in English and asked "Do you speak English?". Realizing the confusion the waitress went and asked one of her colleague to take our orders, who thankfully spoke in English. The next surprise although I had expected this to happen sooner or later, was to land up in a restaurant with no vegetarian dishes. I was kind-of prepared to handle the surprise but all that goes for a toss when your hungry. So we asked the waitress to suggest something for poor souls like me and she suggested something and we had to take that only as we didn't have much of an option. That dish was just Tortilla (cousin brother of Chapathi) and tons of cheese poured over it! Short rest in the room after lunch we headed to Alamo mission, a fortress which stands testimony for the Battle of Alamo. Since it was almost closing time we decided we decided to visit Guinness World Records Museum right across the road. This place has photographs and videos of all the Guinness records. The place is not that interesting as it sounds nonetheless a nice time pass. Next door to the museum is the Tomb Raider arcade

This is a small ride with 3-D goggles and laser guns. We sit in a cart which looks more like a big cup and this cart moves along a guided path. Once inside you have 3-D images and sound effects to simulate a scary cave on your way to raid a tomb. We have to shoot the daemons with our laser guns and earn points. The experience was like being in a video game yourself. At the end of the ride regardless of the points scored you are give 4 coins to use it on the video games parlor at the exit. And at one of the broken shooting console I happen to find four more coins, which I used it to play a round of car racing :-P . After exhausting our coins we headed to Louis Tussaud’s Plaza Wax Museum. First I met Mr. Forrest Gump

Laurel and Hardy told me a joke.

Later Oprah invited me to her show...

then I had to rescue Little Red Riding Hood, at least in the school drama I was the hunter who rescued her!

Next stop was the Ripley's Odditorium (yes its not auditorium but Odditorium for the oddities it houses inside). Here we get to see the 1:1 scale model of the world's tallest man.

Piece of the Berlin Wall

Largest production tyre and much more...

Famous San Antonio River Walk was our next stop. As we walked along the stream it felt like as if we were transported to some place in Europe, but was brought back to Texas with a restaurant proudly displaying the Cowboy shoe and skull of a bull. On both side of the stream you have a lot of restaurants. As the prices were a bit high and "choice" for the veggie guys being bleak we decided not to eat on the river walk. Since it was also getting late we decided to have dinner and head back to our hotel. Since my friend had vowed not to return to the Mexican restaurant in the hotel premises we went on a restaurant hunt to find something that suited us. And uncle Sam's Mc Donald's came to our rescue. We finished our dinner and decided to call it a day, an eventful day. We took a cab to return our hotel.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Splash at Splashtown

At around 9.30 on a lazy Sunday morning I was admiring the closeness of the shave in the mirror, my phone started playing Final Countdown and I started to hum along with it. Then a second later I
realized that was an incoming call! So ran to pickup the call before it gets re-directed to my voice mail. I picked up the call...

Me: Hello.?. (Wondering why this person is calling on a Sunday morning)

Friend: Arent you coming to Splash town?

Me: Yeah, but when is everyone leaving?

Friend: Now... We are leaving in half an hour!

Me: Oh!... I thought it was sometime later not so early

Friend: Start now, meet you at the entrance in 20 mins!

Me: But wait, am not ready yet, I need some more time

Friend: Better get ready soon... I got to go... see you at the entrance bye!

And the line went dead...

Splash town is a water amusement park situated around 30 miles from my house. Our client had arranged for an all expenses paid one day outing at Splashtown. Being a contractor I too got a chance to avail that pass! So me and and bunch of my colleagues were planing to go Splashtown and have a splash. In a hurry I emptied the small rucksack that I carry to office everyday and dumped a set of dress and headed to the entrance where my friends were waiting to leave. After the initial Hi, hellos we started towards splashtown.

45 minutes and 30 miles later we were at Splashtown. Since we were not the earlier once to arrive we had to navigate around the parking lot to find a spot, we found one soon and we were on our way into the park. First thing we did was to rent a locker to keep our belongings. And the first place that we went was to the Wave pool. By the time were out of the pool it was already around 12.30, so we headed to grab a bite. The queue was quite long. By the time we finished lunch it was around 2.

Next stop after lunch was Shotgun falls, this ride is very much like a slide in the park, the only difference is that you land in 10 feet deep water pool instead of the conventional slide. Next stop was the high point of the whole outing, the Tornado. In this ride we fall into a huge cone and see-saw inside the cone before splashing into water. The adrenaline rush just cannot be explained in words. After this dose of fun we headed to other rides and chit-chatted for a while. it was almost 5 in the evening so we went to get some evening snacks and some rest in the shade. Then came the time for some beach-volleyball. After
two matches we headed towards the River walk. Here you can walk, swim or just float around and rest yourself. After floating around the stream couple of times we headed to the wave pool again for the last wave of the day. By the time the wave in to pool came to normal it was closing time, almost all of us were tired by the day long activities.

Did some car searching to spot the car and hopped onto it and headed home after a eventful day at the water park. I was looking forward for a nice hot shower and sleep like a baby :-). Forty five minutes later we were back in home....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Match Point

After winning the grueling second set 7-5, I was wiping my and plotting my next move to defeat my opponent in straight sets, a burst of cool breeze swept across the Tennis court providing much needed relief from burning Sun. After having a definitive plan I stepped into the court and turned to the ball boys to collect couple of balls to serve. I thought of starting this set with a Ace, after a brief analysis of the line of serve I got ready and suddenly I heard a cat meow. Surprised I turned around and saw a white cat walking at the sidelines approaching towards me. I tried to scare it away but it kept its path unhindered, and couple of seconds later the cat jumped on me. With a sudden shock I woke up and sat on my bed sweating under the effect of AC! I looked around to calm myself and found myself staring at the same cat standing outside the balcony door. Probably this time the cat got scared seeing my petrified state and ran away. It was my neighbour's cat that had sneaked onto my balcony. I quietly tip-toed to the balcony door made sure that the door was properly locked, drank some water and returned to bed. Then something shiny caught my eyes, it was my new Tennis racquet which I bought earlier in the day, shining under the influence of the Moon light pouring in from the glass door. I laid on bed thinking about my first attempt at playing Tennis.

The new apartment that I moved in recently has Tennis courts, so me and my friend decided to get a Tennis racquet for me, so that we both can play tennis during the weekends. We planned a visit to Wal Mart to buy one. After searching through the all the available options we narrowed down to Prince Rage Racquet. It was designed for beginners like me. So we decided to go with this. We also bought Willson tennis balls, well this is not the "Willson" that accompanied Tom Hanks
in Cast Away, but from the same manufacturer. The first thing after returning from Wal Mart was to run and catch a free tennis court! Both of us rushed to our room, changed and
ran to the Tennis court. Now armed with a newly purchased racquet and tennis ball I was ready to serve. Like the pros shown on TV, I swirled the racquet, bounced the ball twice on the ground, adjusted the my T-Shirt... and threw the ball in the
air and Bang! I smashed the ball to complete my first ever Serve in Tennis. Well till I threw the ball in the air everything looked like a total pro, but the only difference came after I hit the ball, instead of serving it to my friend I
served it to the guy in the adjacent court! That guy was confused about which ball to hit and all he could manage was a shocked look on his face and to dodge both the balls.

New Tennis Raquet - $15.88

New set of Tennis balls - $2.47

Shocking the guy in the adjacent court with your serve - Priceless!

I quickly apologized to that guy, probably he understood that am a total novice with Tennis and said nothing and just nodded his head. Now that I had discovered that I have a very good serve we decided not to mimic the pros and get on with the play like non pros. We played for about an hour before both of us were totally exhausted.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Visit to Houston Downtown

On the way home from airport, "That area is called the 'Downtown'", my friend said pointing to the distant high rise buildings. Not knowing what the word Downtown actually meant I just nodded my head and kept quite. My exposure to the word "Downtown" is limited to the Hollywood movies. The first instance that I can think of is from the the movie Speed, where at the beginning of the movie a hostage situation in "Downtown" high rise is being dealt with. Next instance that I can recall is Spider-Man spinning his web in "Downtown Manhattan". So I turned to the information super highway to help me out, and this is what Wikipedia had to offer. Downtown - is a term primarily used in North America to refer to a city's core, usually in a geographical, commercial, and community sense. So after gaining this information, I decided to go and visit Houston Downtown. After riding on the Information super highway a little more I came to know that Houston Museum of Natural Sciences is just a couple of miles from Downtown.

After gathering all the required route information from Google maps and the local public transport website, me and my friend set out to explore the Museum and Houston downtown. First stop of course the bus stop near our home! We took a bus to Downtown and as per my calculations buses marked Downtown would make a stop at Downtown Transit Centre, it is a big Terminus and also the head office of the local public transport. But all my calculations went haywire as the bus that we took goes to Downtown but doesn’t go to the Transit Centre. We got suspicious when almost all passengers got down and the drivers changed duty. When we enquired about this with the driver, he suggested that we get down and go back a couple of stops and take a train to "Hermann Park", from where we can go to the museum. So we got down and walked back to the train station. The Metro Rail is a local Train service that runs within Houston Downtown. We brought tickets from the automated ticket vending system located at either ends of the platform and were waiting anxiously for the train arrive. To tell the truth I was jumping in joy like a kid gifted with a store full of candies. Since childhood I had a huge fascination for trains, and when I spotted the train at a distant had a big grin on my face!

Six stops later we got down at "Hermann Park/Rice University" station. Two minutes walk from the station and we were at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

We managed to reach the museum exactly an hour before the closing time. We booked the tickets for the last show at the Planetarium. When we asked about the entry tickets for the Museum, person at the counter suggested that we wait for 15 more minutes as after 4.30 the entry is free. So we headed to the gift shop to murder those 15 minutes. Here were greeted by a giant skeleton structure of a Dinosaur.

We gazed at the things for sale and came out as soon as the clock struck 4.30. At entrance we had 4 mega skeleton structures of our Dinosaur friends greeting us.

With less than 10 minutes left before the show started, we hurried onto the Energy section, there came face to face with the various Oil Exploration and Production tools and methodologies.

As we ran out of time we headed towards the Planetarium. Planetarium was a mid sized one not too small nor big hall. The show on offer was the "Night of the Titanic". I went to the show with an expectation of seeing something outer space; nevertheless it was a nice show. We came out of the Planetarium and decided that we are going come again soon to cover the rest of the museum, catch another show at the Planetarium and above all watch a show at the IMAX theatre situated inside the museum.

Right at the entrance of the Museum we have a 5000 pounds granite globe suspended on water. Water is pumped from the bottom to keep the massive rock afloat. We can play around with the globe like an balloon and proclaim that you too "Moved the Earth!" and its not just Galileo who did it.

Opposite to the museum is the Hermann Park which has the statue of Sam Houston, A Reflecting pool, Pioneer Memorial and Miniature train. The Pioneer memorial was installed to mark the 100th Anniversary of formation of Houston City on 30th, August 1936.

Heading out of Hermann Park, our next stop was checking out Downtown Houston. We got down at the Downtown transit center station and started our march towards the city streets. Being a Sunday evening we got deserted roads.

We walked around a bit taking photographs of the sky scrapers. Later we decided it’s time to head back home as it was close to 8 in the night and we might have problems getting a bus on our return journey. It was an eventful day, with lot more left to cover so we planned to make a second visit to the Museum shortly.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ice skating

    Ok don’t faint just after reading the title. Trust me I didn’t do any ice skating. The closest that I went to ice skating was going near the arena and watch kids skate like professionals and couple of dads trying to teach their kids a trick or two.

    Morning my friend and I decided to visit the shopping mall close to our home. This was my second attempt at this mall as the last time I reached the mall at closing time. This is one of the largest shopping centers in Houston and it’s called “The Galleria”. It has been built in three stages, Galleria I, II and III. All three have basement parking and 3 floors of unadulterated shopping space. The size of these shopping malls are so enormous that me and my friend kept roaming all day and could manage to cover only the ground floor of all three sections! It will take another couple of trips before we can declare it as “Complete” in our list of places to visit. For window shoppers this is heaven. Here one can find all possible brands for any item you take. For example for men’s clothing I found all the brands that I ever knew plus a lot more I knew ever existed, call it whatever you want it to. Same is the case with perfumes, watches so on and so forth.

    Photography inside the mall is prohibited and the only section where it is allowed is at the Ice Skating arena. Initially we thought of watching it from the top. But the shutterbug won’t let me stand. So I asked a security officer if I am allowed to take pictures. I got a go ahead from him. So I went downstairs to the food court cum Ice skating arena. Entry fee $3, and hiring skating gears $7, proudly announced the display board at the entrance of the arena. I went and double checked with the Ice skating guys if I can cure the shutter bugs bite. The guy at the counter gave a go ahead so I happily entered the arena for free because it was not stepping onto the Ice.

    I was stunned by the ease with which kids were performing on the ice. The energy in the atmosphere is very infectious, it lures you into trying out, and Oh yes forgot to tell coaching classes are also conducted for new comers like me. One visit to the ice skating arena is good enough to refresh you after a long tiring shopping spree.

    With no more energy left in us to explore more we decided to return home and take some rest after our long (window) shopping spree which had lasted for about 3-4 hours.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The American Dream

Leaving the shores of your mother land for the every first time is always a bundle of mixed feelings. Firstly you are happy that you are going to a whole new place and followed by this happiness is the lingering memory of leaving your near and dear ones back. After landing in US the first week went in settling into the new environment, getting used to new culture, new terminology, etc.

My first ever weekend was a very quite one. Went out to see the Wal-Mart! It was bigger than I had ever imagined. My exposure to Wal-Mart was limited to books and documentaries. The only analogy that came to my mind was its big as a stadium. I had read and heard about America being the inventor of the “Car Culture”. I understood what it exactly meant. The parking space was bigger than actual store itself. Since we didn’t have a car, so my friend and I took the help of the Public Transport, yes you read it right, Public Transport! It’s not dependable but we had no other choice. My first brush with the American public transport was not that bad as I was warned about. It was a pleasant one there was no waiting time both ways! We didn’t have a four wheeler so what, Wal-Mart was kind enough to give us the second most used four wheeler in the whole wide world, The Shopping Cart! Armed with the dollar power and the shopping cart both of us entered the arena like brave warriors entering the ancient Roman Colosseum. Our mission was to exit the Wal-Mart without getting lost in the countless number of aisles and the product range at display. You think of anything and you had it. If you are tired shopping, visit the Starbucks coffee outlet right inside Wal-Mart, serving coffee of your desired flavor. After one and half an hour of roaming round the never ending store finally we were at the billing counter waiting for our term. The happiness of roaming around with a four wheeler also to comes to an end as we exited the store.

My next stop after returning from the Wal-Mart was another shopping mall close by at walking distance. The joy was short lived as it was closing time when I entered the mall. I thought I must have been really late, so I checkout my watch and was surprised, it was just 7pm. Having used to seeing Malls open till 11 this came as a shock to me. But I did manage to sneak into an electronics store and have a look at the gadgets on display. Since all the other shops were shutting down I didn’t want waste their time in window shopping so I gracefully made an exit before being kicked out.

Second week went by in no time and second weekend was staring right at us. This weekend friends had planned to rent a car and roam around. So we planned to go for a movie. The movie watching experience was totally different from what I known and expected. The multiplex was a 45 minutes drive. When we started, one thought struck me, “I am finally living the American dream the American way”! Though it was not the actual American way still remotely American. Reaching the movie multiplex, we were greeted by an almost empty parking lot and the whole premises looked deserted. An occasional gust of wind swept across while we walked towards the multiplex. The scene looked similar to that of “Once upon a time in little Mexico” where Antonio Banderas and his buddies carrying weapons assemble for the final assault. Lady at the ticket counter greeted us asking for the number of tickets, I heaved a sigh of relief assured that this place was not deserted after all. It was about the starting time of the movie, so we entered the hall. And another surprise, we were the only once to go inside the hall. Just before the movie started another batch of 3 people entered the hall. The show started with just 8 people sitting. The movie ended at around seven in the evening and we were greeted by a bright sunshine as if it was 4-5 in the evening. After some chitchatting we decided to call it a day and head home, so did the small stint at the American dream come to an end. I look forward for the week ahead…

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Bike Ride To Mahabalipuram

On a cloudy winter morning in Chennai, Sun was playing hide and seek as I embarked on my first ever Bike Ride to Mahabalipuram. I chose to start a bit early for two prime reasons, firstly to reach before the crowd starts pouring onto this small shore town, and secondly to avoid being caught by the Chennai Traffic police! Nobody wants to get caught by traffic cops, especially if your coming from the rival state Karnataka and rival metro Bangalore! Keeping all these in mind I kick started my ride at around 8.30 in the morning. I had the Bay of Bengal to accompany me all through the 56 kilometres of the journey. After 45 minutes along the Beach Road into the journey I reached East Coast Road or ECR as it is popularly known as.

Take my word its not just Scenic as the hoarding proudly announces, but it is Breathtaking and Picturesque. People with the Shutter Bug syndrome, beware of this road, because you will find yourself bitten by the Shutter Bug every other 5 to 10 minutes! ECR is Pay and Use road, but Bikes are exempted. ECR is a bikers paradise, Most part of the road is usually straight and flat. The roads are very well laid out. One can find vehicles zip past you at speeds over 100 Kph, but the legal speed limit is 80 kph.

Bay of Bengal accompanies us all along the journey, but it's not in sight because of the urban jungle. After you cross the ECR Toll Plaza, you can get a glimpse of the sea for the first time, you get an uninhibited view of the Sea for the rest of the journey from this point onwards.

Further along the journey we cross the back waters of the sea. Here Boating enthusiasts can have a boat ride. Since I was travelling alone, I decided to continue with my journey.

All along the journey Mother Nature keeps treating us with many more picturesque sites, as I warned earlier Shutter Bug keeps biting, take my word its hard to resist such a bite! Finally after one and a half hour ride with ample stopovers I made it to Mamallapuram town! Mahabalipuram famous for its temples is also famous for its Sculptures. Every 5 - 10 metres we can find artisans busy working with their trademark rhythmic sound of chiselling.

I found this beautiful sculpture of Lord Ganapathi on my way to the first visiting point “The Shore Temple”.

All the tourist spots in Mahabalipuram are part of United Nations' World Heritage Monuments. Archaeological Survey of India (or ASI) has taken up the maintenance of all the sites here, hence we get to see well maintained monuments. We have a one time entry fee of Rs. 10, for the Shore temple and the “Five Rathas” monuments.

The main deity here and other places in Mahabalipuram is Lord Shiva, as the rulers of Pallava dynasty, founders of this town worshipped Lord Shiva.

As the name suggests the Shore Temple is located very close to the sea shore. A 5 foot tall boundary wall separates the temple from the deep sea.

The Shore Temple and most of the other monuments here are made of Sand Stone, which is easily disintegrated by the rough sea and salt laden winds. Most of the carvings on the temple are spoilt as a result of this. ASI has taken special measures to arrest the erosion of the sculptures.

Adding to the ambient atmosphere is the pleasant sound of the waves hitting the shore right next to the temple along with a cool breeze. Just the sight of this place makes the whole journey worthwhile. I was lucky enough to get drenched in a fine drizzle of rain. Though the rain did not last more than a few minutes, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Next stop in my journey was Cave temples. This group of caves is just a 5 minutes walk from the Shore Temple. The cave temples are a collection of 13 cave carvings.

Along with the cave carvings, we also find the Old Lighthouse built by the Pallava kings. No one is allowed to climb to the top of the Lighthouse, but we can get a fair view of this town from the foot of this ancient sea marker.

After visiting all the cave temples, I headed to the last stop of my journey the “Five Rathas”. This is another 5 minutes walk from the Cave temples. As the name hints this is a collection of five monuments each named after Draupadi and Pancha Pandavas. Each of these Rathas or Chariots are sculpted using different forms of Indian Architecture.

From left to right the chariots are named after Draupadi, Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja and Nakula Sahadeva. Apart from the five major structures, we also find a Bull, a Lion and an Elephant. Due to the Salt laden winds even these sculptures have eroded over a period of time.

By the time I was done with visiting these monuments it was afternoon and I was hungry. Guided by the localities I found a nice eatery. After finishing my lunch, I started my return journey to Chennai with all my batteries charged! 32 kilometres on the ECR and finally a hoarding announced the end of ECR.

At this point I was engulfed by multiple feelings, joy of a memorable journey and sorrow of the end of ECR and its beauty. At the end, no words and pictures can explain it completely, one has to experience it to feel it!