Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mexican food and Royal Gorge

Datta had to press hard on the brakes while driving down from Pikes Peak and he did so with confidence as he had got the brakes serviced the previous night. Half way down there is a check post where one of the traffic wardens checks the brakes placing a thermometer over the wheels to see if the brake drums/discs are heated. He placed the thermometer and said “well, the temperature is Ok, but I can smell something. Stop for fifteen minutes and allow the brakes to cool”. We got an unscheduled halt and I got some time to move around the enchanting place.

By the time we reached the out skirts of Colorado Springs it was half past two and we were near a Mexican restaurant where we decided to halt for lunch. It was the first time I was trying ‘authentic’ Mexican food.

We went in, were shown a table, and menu cards, rather books were supplied. I looked at the menu and found words like Tacos, Burittos, Enchiladas, Chalupa, Bocados etc etc. I had no idea what they were and the explanations against the names showed that all of them contained tortillos with some kind of beef or chicken. After searching for fifteen minutes I found one which said “chicken, steak OR vegetables stuffed in Tortillos and served with rice and baked beans.” We asked the waitress if that can be prepared only with vegetables and she went in to enquire with the kitchen. She came back after five minutes and said “yes” but added that the rice is cooked in chicken broth. So, we ordered the dish minus chicken, beef and rice. There wasn’t much left other than the tortilla. It took some time for the dishes to arrive and since I was hungry, I started eating tortilla chips with ‘salsa sauce’ which tasted quite good, and had half filled my stomach.

The dish did look attractive but the tortillo was somewhat tough and the vegetables had been cut in large size and the whole thing was covered with sour cream or some such thing which made it very slippery. I had to maintain etiquette and so, could not hold the thing in both the hands and bite into it. It was customary to use forks and it required considerable effort to tear the tortillas and cut the half cooked vegetables to proper size without spreading them all over the table. I fought with the stuff and consumed most of it.

We left the restaurant around four in the evening and drove to Royal Gorge, a deep gorge about thousand feet deep and ten miles long, created by the Arkansas river. Located near the Canon City, Colorado, its main attractions are the cable car ride one thousand feet above the river, and the walk/ drive over the cable supported bridge made of wooden planks. We rode across the gorge in the cable car, walked over the bridge, enjoyed the view from the bridge and returned home after a dinner of Pizza at the California Pizza kitchen.

looking at the river from the bridge

Rama, Latha, Datta, Madhur on the bridge.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Common Wealth Games

The mismanagement and corruption, for which the common wealth games has become famous for, evoked as sickening a feeling as did the IPL. Mr Chetan Bhagat’s well written article in the TOI dt 29th Aug, ‘Please don’t cheer the 2010 loot fest’ reflects my own feelings. I hope we can do that.

Pikes Peak

Pikes peak, at 14,115 feet is one of the 54 such ‘fourteeners’ present in the state of Colorado. It is about thirty seven miles from the Colorado Springs city, half of which is the climb on to the peak, quite steep. The trip should take about an hour by car but invariably it takes longer as the nature forces you to get down every now and then, look around and wish that you could remain there. The combination of blue sky and clear blue water, the green lower ranges and the snow capped higher ranges is irresistible.

I believe that the temperature at the top hovers around four degrees Celsius even during summer and the snow continues to cap the top of the range. White streaks of snow amongst the green algae covered ‘pink’ granite, called ‘pikes peak granite’ is another wonderful sight.

Melted snow flows down as streams and forms pleasant lakes in the depressions. A breath taking sight from the heights. The winding and climbing road provides different views as you climb, each one better than the other.

We reached the peak, got out of the van and moved around for a while, shivering in the cold.

once the mandatory round of the gift shop was done with, it was time to leave.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Manitou Springs, Village

On the way back from ‘Garden of Gods’ we stopped for a while at the Manitou springs village which happens to be a small, neat, city of about five thousand population located on the out skirts of Colorado Springs at the foot of the mountain range.

Picturesque surroundings, one main road minus much traffic, small shops, cosy restaurants and small houses with the hills looming behind them make the city inviting and force you to stay for a while.

We had a very pleasant time enjoying the ‘Voted best’ ice cream sitting on the benches conveniently placed on the side path

and reluctantly got into the van. Datta was a bit uneasy about some noise in the braking system of the van and had decided to get it checked before we left for ‘Pikes Peak’ more than 14000 feet high, next morning.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manitou dwellings and Garden of Gods

The web site of Manitou cliff dwellings, Colorado, says that you have enough over there to keep yourself busy for a whole day. May be. If you are doing some research on American Indians. They are said to be the authentic dwellings in which the American Indians lived and are supposed to be 700 years old. They are built within a sort of dugout in the sandstone mountain side under an overhang which protects them from extremes of weather. They have been maintained well, there is enough information about them and they are worth a visit if you are anywhere close by.

We walked through them, went around the small museum and after an hour were on our way to ‘garden of gods’.

Garden of gods is a public park maintained by the Colorado springs administration and contains a number of sandstone and lime stone rock formations. Most of the formations are named according to what they can be imagined to look like. For example, the ‘kissing camels’. Look for them at top left.

The park contains plenty of tracks for walking, hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Some of the rock formations are steep and invite rock climbers. Suitable for an evening if you have good company as we did.

After walking for a while and climbing the rocks which were within our reach and posing there,

We turned back.
Large family, happy family. As long as they manage to keep away from the wheels of our scooters and car.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Datta and Colorado

“Good morning ladies and gentleman. On behalf of the captain and crew of the Frontier flight to Denver, I welcome you on board. We are now ready to take off and if Denver was NOT on your travel plans, it IS now!” the announcement from the jovial flight purser brought a wave of laughter inside the plane and set the mood for our trip to Colorado.

He continued with announcements like “just in case your flight turns out to be a cruise, the life jackets are under your seat” and “Our crew will be coming with the garbage bags one last time. In case you need to discard anything please do. I express our inability to accept ex spouses.”

There is a time difference of two hours between Detroit - Michigan and Denver - Colorado and so, having left Detroit at 6.30 AM and flying three hours, we landed at Denver at half past seven local time on the morning of 17th June.

About to land at Denver

My friend Dattatreya and his son Madhur were at the airport and Datta took charge of us. The trip to Colorado was one I was very much looking forward to, not so much because of the well known natural beauty of the state, but because of the presence of Datta. I have nothing against Colorado’s natural beauty. I only want to convey that had Datta not been there, we would not have visited Colorado even if it was twice as beautiful.

When I first met Datta, I was in second standard and he was in fifth. Both of us were residing in Shantinagar, Bangalore and attended the same school in Wilson Gardens, about four kilometers away. We walked to school together everyday. If I remember right, from the day we first met, there is not a single day that we have not seen each other till the time Datta joined DRDO in New Delhi after his Phd, and I left Bangalore to join the health services in Goa. Excepting of course the time he was in the IIT and IISc hostels. He was equally friendly with my brother and we spent hours and hours cycling, walking and chatting. I cherish every moment of his company. After a year with the DRDO, he went to the US on a research fellowship and subsequently settled in the University of Texas as a faculty member and recently he had shifted to Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was the first of my acquaintances to have settled in the US and I was looking forward to meeting him there all these years.

We had our breakfast in Datta’s van and went around the city of Denver. We visited the Capitol building

and after driving around the city for a while, Datta headed towards the mountains. He wanted us to have a glimpse of the beautiful slopes of the Rocky mountain range

and was also eager to show us some wild buffalos which inhabit the mountains. He is a meticulous planner, but this time he had forgotten to convey his eagerness to the buffalos and they did not show up. Datta was disappointed but the mountain ranges minus buffalos were still very beautiful and after driving along the slopes for about an hour we headed home.

Colorado springs is about seventy miles from Denver. Datta’s wife Rama was awaiting us with the lunch ready and we were ready for lunch. A visit to the nearby Manitou cliff dwellings, and Garden of gods had been planned for the evening but we had time for a small nap (for which I have got addicted after getting the ‘retired’ tag) before we started on our sight seeing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Civic Sense

One of the many things that had impressed me during my visit to the US was the facility of ‘restrooms’ or toilets. Any establishment, big or small has an attached toilet which is clean and well maintained. The urinals are usually self flushing and if not, people who use them invariably flush them after use. Those located in large offices or malls are actually ‘posh’. I found one such 'public restroom’ in the Renaissance Center building in Detroit downtown, which houses the head office of General Motors and since it was empty at the time, even took a picture of it. When I said that I took photographs of anything and everything I was not exaggerating.

Toilets in our country, when compared to what they were twenty or thirty years back, have improved a lot. Those who have used them in our bus stands and railway stations over the years know what I mean. While the administration or the managements seems to be putting efforts to better things, I feel, we, the users, are yet to develop the civic sense which would further improve the situation.

I was in the passport office at Panaji last week. I needed to use the urinal and was happy to find a toilet on the premises. I was happier to see that it had been washed, did not smell and that the taps had running water. I was about to come out of the toilet after use, when I remembered that I always used to flush them during my visit to the US. I felt ashamed that I forgot about it as soon as I landed in my country. Our ex president Sri Abdul Kalam, in one of his articles has highlighted this tendency of ours and has requested everyone to be as good a citizen in our country as we usually are while we are in a foreign country.

I went back and noticed that it was a manual flush pan and seemed to have a working apparatus and running water. My civic sense woke up. I thought of Mr. Kalam and decided that I would do whatever little I can, to improve things in my country and pressed the flush knob.

Water sprayed out of the knob splashing my face, clothes, ceiling and everything else except the pan.

I walked out of the toilet wiping my face and shaking out water droplets from my shirt, admonishing my civic sense to remain shut up in future.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Between Niagara and Colorado

One of the first things that I pocketed after entering Bhanu’s house in Canton MI was the digital camera. We had a somewhat bulky and battered camera with a broken battery compartment back home and I had not carried it with me. I had no intention of taking chances with the security in unknown airports carrying something from which batteries and wires were sticking out even though my name was not Khan. I had heard enough from my wife for not carrying a camera on our ‘once in a life time trip’ and was very glad to find this one lying unclaimed.

Vishwa had just then bought a new Canon which had many more megapixels, two additional lenses and whatnot, and hence did not notice that his old camera had a new owner. Since everything that I saw was new and different, and since the camera had the capacity to store thousands of images I went on clicking pictures of anything and everything – streets, houses, shops, post boxes, cars, garbage, garbage trucks, sign boards - in short, everything that did not object to my clicking, and in fifteen days, had more than six hundred images.

The camera had plenty of space and it did not have any objection to store the pictures. But even if I wanted to see or use one or two of them I had to connect the camera to the computer, wait till all the pictures were loaded and select what I wanted. The computer took its own time and it was a pain to sit waiting for the pictures to appear. Then I remembered the ‘Picasa’ software on which I could store all the pictures and use them as and when I wanted but I did not know how to shift the pictures from the camera to ‘Picasa’. After trying many times and failing, I caught my nephew Sheshera in Pune on the phone one day and with his guidance, managed to load all the pictures to ‘Picasa’. This 'Picasa' gave rise to other troubles but it is another story.

We had three free days between our return from Niagara and our trip to Colorado. One day was spent with ‘Picasa’.

The next day I learnt to use the battery operated plant trimmer. I do not know what it is called. It has a long shaft on which there are many blade like things and one end of the shaft has a motor and a handle. When switched on, the blades vibrate and cut anything that they come in contact with. Looks like a sword with an unusually heavy and bulky handle. I managed to trim some plants around the house without trimming my fingers and limbs.

The third day was spent in following up with the cleaning of the pool. the pool, which had been closed for winter had been opened and was being made fit for use. The fellow who had come to replace the filter pump and check the water quality had suggested manual vacuuming of the pool floor and I had volunteered to do it. I had thought that it would be easy. It would have been. If both the ends of the hose were well secured and I knew where and how the floor was. The water was not clear, and I could not see the floor. I was expecting it to be flat but it felt like a bowl. I had to stand by the side of the pool and push the vacuuming brush back and forth using the long handle, keeping it in close contact with the floor. I wanted it to go in a certain direction assuming that the floor was flat and it kept going in all other directions because the floor was curved. it confused me. With this confusion and with the pipe getting detached every now and then, it took a whole day to clean about ten percent of the pool. I left the remaining of the cleaning to the small ‘Polaris’ cleaner which moved on its own around the pool floor and went in to pack. We were to leave by the early morning flight next day, 17th of June, to Denver, Colorado.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Niagara Continued and finished.

The Embassy suites hotel provided complimentary breakfast to its guests and it was an impressive display. The entrance to the dining hall was lined by uniformed hosts who were there to welcome every guest, and more importantly to confirm that the guests possessed a breakfast voucher and to ensure that they paid a decent tip while leaving.

The wall facing the falls was glass, giving a very good view and the tables were set on different levels so that every table had a view of the falls. One of the hosts or waiters or stewards or whoever they were (all of them wore suits and looked like owners) led us to a table, offered to get beverages and directed us to help ourselves from the breakfast counters. The breakfast buffet included boiled eggs, scrambled eggs and omelette, chicken, bacon and steak, waffles and maple syrup, bagels, muffins, tarts, scones, cake, three varieties of bread, three varieties of cereals, milk, fruits, butter, jelly, cheese, tea, coffee and juice. I went around the counters looking keenly into the trays (there were many things I was seeing for the first time) as if going through the exhibits in a museum and ended up with toast, jelly, fruits and a cup cake. There were many who had huge piles on their trays and had huge bodies to accommodate all that.

By the time all of us had had our breakfast and were ready to check out of the hotel it was ten in the morning and in another ten minutes we were in front of the falls. The weather was still cloudy but it wasn’t raining and the mist had cleared. We had only seen the illuminated water fall the previous night and now we had a panoramic view of the Niagara in full splendor and it was wonderful. The walk way was full of excited tourists walking to and fro looking at the falls from various positions and trying to accommodate the falls as well as their companions in the tiny auto focus cameras.

I would have loved to just stand there looking at the falls and move up and down the walk way as long as my legs permitted but we had to take part in the obligatory activities connected with the falls viz a ride on the ‘Maid of the mist’, visiting the theater for ‘Fury of the falls’ show and undertake ‘Journey behind the falls’. Out of these I knew what a ride on the ‘maid of the mist’ involved. You get on to the ferry boat which takes you right in front of the falls and go for a very close look of the falls, covering yourself with disposable rain coats. But I had no idea what the other things were.

Maid of the mist goes close to the falls.

“Fury of the falls” was a sort of simulated film show where you were supposed to feel how it would be if you were thrown down the falls in a barrel. I found it somewhat childish and could not enjoy it. The floor heaved and shuddered now and then and water was sprayed on us by sprinklers to give a realistic effect which I could not appreciate. Not worth the cost or wait.

“Journey behind the falls” was better. You go through a man made tunnel about hundred and fifty meters long which opens right behind the falls but all you can see is a cloud of mist through a door like opening behind the falls in the rocks.

As it turned out, to me, even the ‘Maid of the mist’ which otherwise was enjoyable could not provide the visual feast that was expected. The mist collected on my glasses even as I kept wiping it, barring vision and if I took the glasses out, my vision was blurred anyway. All said and done the best thing to do at Niagara is to spend as much time as possible walking along the walk way, enjoying the view of the falls.

By late afternoon it started raining again and we were tired. We took the shuttle to the public parking lot which was in fact like a garden. It had a very nice spread of green and flowering plants all around the parking bays. We got into the frame around this beautiful tree to provide a contrast. If I get to visit Niagara once again in my lifetime, I would stand /walk in front of the falls as long as my legs allow me and spend the rest of the time in the parking lot.

Right now, it was time for us to leave. The thickening clouds and the mist were blocking the falls and the intensity of rain was increasing. I looked out as we passed by the side of the falls and could see only a cloud of mist and a wet and empty walk way.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Priority In Urgency

I was to continue with the Niagara when this “urgent matter” came up.

Sri Shanbhag entered the clinic around 8 PM as usual, the closing time. “I am extremely sorry I am late doctor. But you see this job is like that. And without this job, I can’t pay your fees.” A logic which I just could not reject.

“I want you to do something about this lower grinder. The cavity has been there for a long time but a part of the tooth broke yesterday and has left a sharp margin. It hurts my tongue. I can’t talk or eat. It is urgent”
I agreed.

“Equally important is this upper tooth. It gives me pain every now and then. I have lot of engagements in the office for the next fifteen days. I can’t afford to remain absent. If it gets worse I will be in big trouble. You have to do something for it.”
I had to say that I will see that too.

“And these front teeth, you see I am wearing a denture. It has developed a crack. We have a delegation coming from South Africa next week. I have to make a presentation. I cannot think what would happen if this breaks. Please do something about it.”

Everything was urgent but it was impossible to attend to all of them on the spot. So I said,
“See Mr. Shanbhag, I understand the situation. But I can’t do everything at once. Tell me what is most urgent”

“To tell you the truth doctor, what is most urgent right now is that I have to use your toilet.”

He ran.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Short Break

I continued writing about my trip to USA and was to finish the Niagara part when I got a feeling that it is getting monotonous. It takes a lot of time and my pace is very slow. But I plan to proceed and bring it to its logical end.
I missed most of the rainy season in Goa this year, the spread of green and other associated sights which I like a lot. We had not gone out of Ponda after our return and we decided to drive down to Colva beach this evening. We took a slight detour via the village of Raia and were rewarded with this view of the paddy fields.

This being the ‘off season’ I had expected Colva to be free of crowds but the tourists seem to enjoy Goa, rain or shine. There was a considerable crowd on the beach even as dark clouds hovered above.

By the time we finished our short walk on the beach, the setting sun came out of clouds for a short while and posed.

Now that I have had my ‘chotasa’ break I can continue with the Niagara.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I am one of the unfortunate souls who cannot stay in bed for long be it a working day or a holiday. I got up around half past five and managed to finish my morning ablutions as silently as possible without disturbing the fortunate lot. I parted the window curtains hoping for the ‘falls view’ which Bhanu had managed to get by arm twisting the reception clerk. The weather was cloudy and most of the falls hid behind a curtain of morning mist. If there was somebody who was in charge of the weather, she would have managed to arm twist them and get the mist cleared instantly but nobody seemed to be in control and we had to take it as it was. The mist cleared now and then to provide a glimpse of the falls and whatever was visible was enough to make me rush out for a closer view.

The Niagara village was sleeping after the hectic activities of the night. There was no traffic on the streets but I was pleased to find that I was not the only unfortunate soul who was awake. I could spot about half a dozen figures moving around aimlessly in the vicinity of the hotel. It was not too early to get out and go for a walk. It had taken less than ten minutes for us to reach the hotel from the falls by car the previous night and I estimated that I should be able to walk the distance in about half an hour’s time. I intended taking a walk along the river valley while the walkway allowed free movement.

I looked from the window trying to find the direction in which I will have to go. I could very well make out the road that we had come through the previous night and the place from which we had seen the illuminated Niagara. If I walked straight from the hotel for about half a kilometre, turned right and went down, I would end up on the road running along the river valley, which you can see in this picture.

At the end of the road to the left you see the upper part of the falls. You see the walk way by the side of the road where most of the activity is, the narrow stretch of lawn, side walk and the wooded area to the right and the hotels on the ridge. I had to walk along the parallel road on the ridge passing in front of the hotels, turn right and come down to the river. From the hotel, to the spot seen here, it should be about two kilometres.

Then I noticed that there was a terrace covered with some green tiles down below almost next to the window I was looking out from. A foot bridge connected the teraace to a small building from which there appeared to be some stairs going down and ending in another small towered structure very close to the falls. Can you see that small tower at the end to the right of the road? That is what I mean. It was much easier to reach the falls if I could just walk across the terrace and foot bridge and climb down the stairs.

I took the elevator down, came out of the hotel and looked around for the terraced structure. There was no sign of the terrace, or the foot bridge which were so clearly visible from the 11th floor window. I thought that probably our room was situated on the other side of the hotel but I could very well see the Sheraton hotel and the Best western hotel which were also visible from the same window. There were about five roads going in different directions from the hotel and I walked a few hundred meters in all directions. One ended up in the parking lot behind the hotel, one was the road we had taken the previous night to reach the hotel, one went up to what looked like a residential area, one ended up in the garden of the Sheraton hotel and the last went winding down somewhere.

I was puzzled but I had to solve it if I intended taking a short cut to the falls. I enquired with one or two people who were around but they were also visitors like me and had no idea where they were or what they intended doing. I went up to the room again to confirm my whereabouts, looked out of the window and saw the terrace and the foot bridge very much being there. I noted down all the land marks around them, the parking lot, the motel, the breakfast joint (all you can eat for $6)and the traffic signal posts. I came down looked around and found all the land marks except the terrace and the foot bridge. I walked up to the motel which was at a slightly elevated position and looked around. I saw the traffic signal post and the terraced structure right next to it! It was the roof of the large portico of ‘Embassy suites’ and I was standing under it all the time searching for it! Felt like one of the twelve stupid ‘Gaampa’ disciples who forgot to count themselves when taking a head count and always ended up with eleven and wondering where the missing one was!

Matters were very easy afterwards. I found the foot bridge, crossed it to find that the small building was actually the landing point of the cable car running up and down between the hotels and the falls on rails and what looked like railings of the stairs from our 11th floor were actually the rails for the car. The operations were to start at ten in the morning and there was no way to walk or climb down to the valley. The only option to reach the falls was to walk along the road which we had used the previous night. I had spent more than an hour and a half by then and since I was already famous for getting lost and did not intend keeping others on tenterhooks, I returned to the room and joined Vishwa and Dhruva who were heading to the ‘By the Falls’ dining hall for breakfast.