Archive for the ‘fun’ Category


We had planned an overnight trip to Northern Sikkim. My friend’s family dropped out because of fatigue and concerns about kids tolerance for the journey and the altitude. The first day’s agenda was to just drive to LaChung and stay there overnight. The second day we were to visit Yumthang Valley.

We had a leisurely morning. We went for a refreshing morning walk for about 40 minutes or so. We left after breakfast around 9.30 am. LaChung is about 120 km from Gangtok but it takes over 5 hours to cover that distance. It is a mountainous terrain with narrow roads and quite a bit of road construction work going on. 30 km from Gangtok, we stopped at the Seven sisters waterfalls (took us about 90 minutes to get here!). This is a serene waterfall and we could see three distinct tiers. There was a footbridge which we walked over. There was also a view-point which could be reached after climbing about 50 steps or so. Here we could see a 4th drop at the top. So, my guess there is probably three more drops hidden somewhere behind the rocks, and hence the name.

 The drive continues alongside the mountain with the Teesta river constantly in sight. Each passing minute the scenery was getting more and more beautiful. I couldn’t take any good pictures though because of the constant bounce of the jeep. There was a Naga falls along the way and we crossed a couple of beautiful bridges. We stopped in the town of ChungTang at about 3 pm. We had a few sweets and tea for lunch. The kids starved as expected. From here it was another hour to Lachung. But before that we saw more water falls and I don’t quite believe the names our driver had for them (Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan!). It also got quite cold in that last hour.

 We checked into Modern Residency at around 4 pm. It’s a cute, quaint hotel with about fifteen rooms or so and common areas in every floor. The TV is only in the common areas. They served yummy hot pakodas and awesome masala tea. There was a nice fireplace too in the TV area. We headed out for a short walk after that. A winding path led upto a viewpoint from where we could see the whole town of LaChung nestled in the valley and surrounded by beautiful mountains, some snow-capped. We couldn’t quite go up all the way to the viewpoint since there were some dogs (not sure if they were stray or belonged to someone) barking hard, which sounded even more vicious because of the silence in the valley. By now, we were freezing cold. We headed back to the hotel and warmed ourselves at the fireplace, watching an IPL match. Simple vegetarian dinner was served in the dining hall in the basement. After that, the host at the hotel was generally conversing with the guests and he described this exotic home-brew called Tongba, which is a beer made out of millet. PK ordered one of those and while it did look exotic, I couldn’t quite stand the smell, so I didn’t even taste it.


We left the hotel at 6.30 am for Yumthang Valley. Saw lots of wild Rhododendrons along the way. It was still early in the season and they were not all in full bloom yet. When we reached Yumthang, at first sight I was extremely disappointed by the rows of tea shacks on either side of the road. They had the usual maggi, bread/butter sandwiches and other snacks. I couldn’t believe we came all the way to see this. But once we got past that ½ km stretch, it was awesome! We first drove on to zero point. The views of Yumthang Valley from here are just breathtaking. We played in the snow, took lots of pictures and watched the Indian army choppers flying overhead. Then we came back again to the valley. Here we saw the helicopters take off and land few times. Not sure if some new pilots were practicing! In April, this whole valley was supposed to be carpeted with wild flowers, but apparently the pattern is shifting and now its towards early May. So, there were some sparse flowers here and there. We walked along the Teesta river. There were thick pine forests on either side, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  Really amazing sight …

We started back around 10.30 am and were back in the hotel before noon. Had to wait for a bit before lunch was ready. This was simply one of the most delicious meals we had in a very long time. Every item on the menu was so good. Had a hearty lunch and left this beautiful place around 1 pm. Drive back was fun. We played word building games, some geography variants, anthaakshari (first time with the kids but they don’t really know a whole lot of film songs). We were also treated to a brief hail storm. We were back in Gangtok at the same hotel by 6.30 pm. There was some confusion about dinner plans and we ended up having to eat puliyogare and curd rice in the room. Thanks to my friend for lugging the rice cooker and some rice for his little one!

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Nathu La Pass is around 56 km from Gangtok and takes about 3 hours to reach. We had an early breakfast and left just after 8 am. After picking up the required permits, we were on our way. The roads are mostly bad and there is a lot of construction going on all through the way. Add to this the complications of fallen boulders, landslides etc and it was a slow journey. Also since the roads are narrow, if jeeps/trucks come in the opposite direction, it is a class act, how they maneuver past each other. The trucks are mostly army vehicles. If I was in the army I would probably be really annoyed with the hordes of tourist jeeps visiting there everyday, which probably makes their daily job difficult. We saw lots of beautiful lakes on the way, some of which were frozen.

When we reached the pass, weather was very good. It is at 14,500 ft altitude. Some of us had slight headache and the kids were feeling a bit nauseous, due to altitude sickness. Gangtok is about 4500 ft, so just in 50 kms we end up climbing almost 10,000 ft and some people cannot handle that. To reach the top, you have to climb steps which are completely covered in snow and the climb is slightly exhausting because of the low oxygen. Some people were slipping and falling in the snow. It was a thrilling and humbling experience for me to see the border posts and the flag flying. Also felt deep appreciation for the army and the soldiers who not only face the enemy but also have to brave the weather and the terrain every single day to keep us all safe. We walked around, took a few pictures and made a quick stop at the café. By now, clouds were everywhere. It was very windy and the wind was kicking up the snow all around, making visibility very poor. Apparently this is what happens around noon everyday and the rest of the day is downhill weather wise. That’s why the guides insist on early departures from the hotel so that we can visit at a good time.

We then drove to Baba Mandir which is apparently famous (I don’t know the whole story or the significance of the temple but read somewhere that it was built in memory of an Indian soldier). There was a humongous line to get in. We took one look and just turned around. The kids were too tired for this. We then drove to Tsomgo Lake, which is at 10,500 ft. Yaks were available for riding here. The lake is quite scenic. I was hoping to walk along the shore a bit but it was drizzling. So, after some more photos, we went down to the very tiny town of Tsomgo to see what the lunch options were. More maggi! We also tried Chowmein but it was too salty.  Ride back was uneventful and we were back in the hotel by 4.30 pm.

In the evening, we took a taxi to M.G.Marg which is the most famous street in Gangtok. It is lined with shops and restaurants. A portion of the road is pedestrian-only and this portion is cobblestoned with lots of fountains and benches in the middle. Nice place to spend the evening. We bought some souvenirs (prayer wheel) here.

The place we stayed in Gangtok, the Hidden Forest, was just awesome. We found it through the Lonely Planet and we greatly enjoyed our stay there. The rooms are clean and spacious, food is delicious and they offer service with a smile. We had 4 kids (a 3 yearr old too) and they gladly accommodated our every request. They organically grow their own vegetables, a cow on-site meets the dairy needs and they have beautiful orchids all over the property. They are very reasonably priced too.

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We arrived in Bagdogra airport at about 1.30 pm. We were kinda hungry, but we were eager to get going on the long drive to Pelling (~4.5 hrs, the driver said) and we anyway didn’t find any proper restaurants around. It took about 20 minutes to load our luggage on the roof rack and we hit the road. My friend wanted to stop to buy yogurt and juices, and the only place we could find it was in Shopper’s stop mall. That turned out to be more than ½ hr stop. While he was shopping, PK went and bought some snacks and tea. The tea was really good. The driver was getting impatient (rightfully, so) and we started again. The first 2 hrs of the drive was pretty ordinary. We took one more tea break. At this point it was drizzling and we were enjoying the cool mountain air. Tea was very good here too. And we drove on. The drive got more mountainous and scenic, but it was also getting dark and rainy. The temperature was also dropping by the minute. The last one hr was really breathtaking. We passed through the town of Legship and then climbed a whole lot, before we reached Upper Pelling. We checked into De Regency around 7.30 pm.

 Everyone was cold. We changed into our warmest clothes and then ordered dinner. While at the dining table, I asked the server when and where we should go to watch sunrise over Kanchenjunga. He showed us right outside the windows, we could see the white peaks in the dark night!! It was truly a gorgeous sight. One said 6 am would be good, the other was telling us even 7 am is fine. I kept my alarm for 5.45 and we went to bed. At about 5 am the next day, bright light was streaming in through a small crack in the window curtains. I saw the watch and it was 5 am. I ran to the window and could already see the tip of Kanchenjunga awash in golden color. It was an awesome sight. My movements woke PK up and he witnessed the whole thing too. So much for local wisdom! May be since it is a daily show for them, they don’t pay attention. But how can they be off by a whole hour? Even in Bangalore it is daylight by 5.50 am, Sikkim being further east, it had to be earlier.


After breakfast, we loaded the luggage back on the jeep and set out on a tour of Pelling. The first stop was the Helipad. Great 360 degree views – Kanchenjunga

Khecheopalri lake is a short walk from the jeep parking lot. The lake itself is very serene. The boardwalk to the lake is lined by prayer wheels on both sides. There were plenty of huge fish in the lake. The Sikkimese consider this a very holy lake and there are requests to maintain silence and not throwing anything in the lake. But there were loud tourists who were throwing kurkure, chips etc into the water in an attempt to feed the fish. Some of these guys were also wearing shoes standing at the lake shore, while there were explicit signs to take off footwear right at the beginning of the boardwalk. I don’t see much hope for cultural sensitivity or eco sensitivity in tourism in India. This is one thing that really brings my spirit down during vacations. There was a short hike up to a viewpoint from where we a got an aerial view of the lake. It is sort of in the shape of a footprint and locals believe it is the foot of Buddha. The trail up was very scenic and seemed to pass through private property. Many people were playing or doing there daily chores in their cliff-top homes. The views were beautiful – greenery everywhere. Some construction was going on to make the trail and the viewpoint more official and prominent. 

 After this we had a couple of plates of momos and few bowls of Maggi noodles for lunch. Maggi noodles are ubiquitous all over Sikkim. My friend declared it the state food. It was probably about 2 pm when we set out from here. Next stop was at Kanchenjunga falls. It was a quick one though. The two little girls in the group (SK was one) were fast asleep. The falls were not visible from the roadside and we had to climb a few steps and cross over a few rocks in order to see it. But there was lot more water here, again it was pretty cold. The locals seemed pretty keen on helping us navigate the rocks but I was getting irritated and just wanted some privacy. Looking back, they were just being very friendly and probably couldn’t communicate due to language issues. But the city-bred people are always cautious of strangers, especially in tourist places.

Then we drove towards Gangtok. It was probably a five or six hour drive with one tea break in between. We finally reached Gangtok around 8.30 pm and everyone was very hungry. The lady at the property where we were supposed to stay had been trying to reach me all afternoon but my phone was not reachable and she was not sure whether we were arriving at all. I should have called her. Luckily they had delicious, hot dinner ready for us, for which we were all very grateful. The tour operator had called and left a message that he would be picking us up at 7.30 am the next day. I called him back to negotiate a later time but he explained that 9 would be too late and we settled for 8 am pick up.

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Cruise to the coast

For a while now, I had wanted to do a weekend cycling trip. Although we haven’t done any regular cycling in five months now, even before that, riding through the back roads of Sarjapur/Hosur road every Sunday was getting a bit tedious. So I had been following a couple of companies who do organized weekend trips in various parts of Karnataka and Kerala, through forests, hills and such other soothing scenery. These usually start on Friday night and end late on Sunday night, so we would have to leave the kids with extended family. And since there would be school next day, it would have to be on a long weekend where the Monday was a holiday. Luckily one such opportunity came up last weekend. Monday was a holiday for Onam, so we chose to cruise to the coast with Cycling and More. PK, me and a friend signed up.

But before that wonderful trip, there was a harrowing misadventure. The pick-up location for these rides is a common point near the heart of the city. We had opted to take our own bikes instead of renting (it is hard to find good rental bikes, especially for women, height is an issue). This meant that we had to find a way to transport our bikes from home to the pick-up point. We called around for luggage autos/tempos, but without luck. It was Varamahalakshmi festival and no one would come. So, around 7 pm, the three of us started pedaling in the dark. None of us had experience riding in the night or riding in the city. It was all a terrible combination of conditions – peak Friday evening traffic, semi-lit to completely dark roads and inexperienced riders for those conditions. For a minute I wondered what I had been thinking to even attempt this. After a nerve-wracking 1.5 hrs, we reached the pick-up point. I was already wondering how we would get back home after the ride.

The overnight bus journey to Bhagamandala was uneventful. As with most Indian roads, it was a very bumpy road, so we couldn’t really sleep. We reached around 5 am and checked into the KSTDC hotel at the base of Talakaveri. It was simple and clean accommodation. After a nice hot shower, felt refreshed. There was an optional “expert riders” ride to the top of Talakaveri (8 km uphill). I obviously sat that one out. PK went and turned around after 4 km. Breakfast was ready around 7.45 – Idli, vada, coffee. We started on the trail around 8.30 am. Initially, it felt good to be back on the bicycle after a long break. The scenery was mostly lush green mountains with low hanging clouds. The terrain was mostly rolling hills and so it wasn’t easy or anything. After about 10 km or so, it turned to be mostly downhill for the next 15 kms. But the road was a bit wet and slippery, so at least I was afraid to completely let go. I constantly had my hands on the brakes. Also, the road was extremely bumpy, so despite having shock absorbers my whole body was shaking the entire time I was on the cycle during this stretch. We did take a few breaks since there were almost 10 or so waterfalls right by the road side, each more beautiful than the other. Towards the end of this downhill stretch, on one of the several hairpin bends, our friend took a nasty fall. He hurt both his palms, a cheek and chin. He was bleeding profusely and it took a while to stop. Luckily PK had cotton, dettol and lots of band-aids and was very useful for the several people who fell in that stretch. When we were done with this long down hill stretch, my biceps, shoulders and neck were hurting from the vibrations of the bumpy road. Once we were down all the way and crossed into Kerala, it got pretty warm and humid. Legs were tired, and it was drizzling off and on. Quite a few were getting off and walking their bikes on the uphills. I was determined not to and kept pedaling. But at some point, walking is as fast as pedaling on those slopes, but with less effort, so may be those heroics weren’t worth it after all. The support vehicle passed us and everyone who was behind us had got on to it, so effectively, we were the last ones among the ones still riding. They said another 3 km more to the lunch point and we pedaled on. Was so glad to reach the lunch point, it must have been around 1.30 pm or so. Most people had finished eating and we also finished up hurriedly.

At that point, we were told that about 10 or so (I guess the slowest and least energetic) were planning to ride the support vehicle. The others who intended to cycle all the way had already left before we even started lunch. And we were under pressure to reach Bekal fort before 4.30 pm since that would be the last allowed entry. It didn’t look like we could make that 35 km in less than 2.5 hrs. So we decided to get on the vehicle also, although neither of us were proud of it, I was secretly glad that I could rest my weary body. PK called it the “ride of shame”. It turned out it was the right choice. The drizzle turned into steady rain and the last 10 km or so before Bekal fort was on a highway with heavy traffic, so it didn’t look like an enjoyable ride.

Bekal Fort is a beautiful and relatively unknown place. Apparently main Bollywood songs are shot here. The sea, the beaches and everything was enchanting. But we had to see all this in the rain, so I couldn’t really take any pictures. Would be nice to take the kids there one day. Initially, we had thought that we would cycle the last stretch from Bekal to Kasargod, but the rain was so bad by now that another 10 more got into the vehicle. So the support vehicle made multiple trips on that last 15 km. First the cyclists were dropped off and then they came back for the bicycles. Only about 10 or so very experienced riders rode this last stretch. The hotel in Kasargod was decent (actually, above my expectations but I have very low expectations, especially in small towns). I had to plead hard for hot water because they apparently use solar and considering the weather, there was no hope. After much convincing, he provided about 6 of us or so, a bucket of hot water each. The hot shower was good after the very long 24 hrs!

Day 2

The trip director woke everyone at 5 am, knocking on each of our doors. We were ready and down by 6 am. We started our ride with about three other guys, at around 6.30 am, since we wanted a head start compared to those expert riders, who were not even down yet. The early morning ride was good. The terrain was gentle ups and downs with a few sustained uphills. Around 7.15 or so, we stopped at a roadside tea stall but the coffee and tea were pathetic. We poured those down a gutter and settled for 3 to 4 bananas each. By 8 or so, we reached the designated breakfast point and few others had also come by now. There was no sign of the support vehicle, and we could see an uphill stretch, so everyone felt that it was better to keep going instead of waiting there, since this stretch would be difficult to do after breakfast. Breakfast or not, this stretch was very difficult anyway. Today I didn’t have any qualms about walking my bike a little if I had to, so that’s exactly what I did here. After 3 km or so, the slopes become bearable again and we stopped here. By the time breakfast came to us (8.30 am or so), people had eaten up all the vadas and only idlis were left. There were gentle curses being thrown around by some of the more vocal ones, for those who had devoured more than one vada. I don’t know if it was because we were very hungry, breakfast tasted really yummy, especially the sambar – this coming from me, someone who is not at all a fan of idlis. The ride from here was again rolling hills. Today we were determined to do the entire stretch. PK was riding ahead of me most of the way. I guess he had some new-found resolve and energy. There was a beautiful 6 km downhill full of hairpin bends, which was a lot more enjoyable than the previous day because these roads were smooth, dry and wider. There was one viewpoint where 15 of us had congregated and took some group pictures there. This road reminded us of some roads in White Mountains in New Hampshire – the sound of river flowing near by, birds singing and thick green forest on both sides. The milestone markers kept showing us the remaining distance to Jalsoor. Soon we were in the single digits. About 6 kms or so before Jalsoor, there was a beautiful stream where we spent a lot of time. It was only around 11.15 or so and we were not due back at the end point before 12.30. We took off our shoes and rested our feet, chatted, took pictures and hung out. Some good friendships had formed. The last 6 kms was an uneventful ride. We were the last 5 or 6 to reach. We took off our helmets, gloves and put our luggage on the bus and just joined the rest of the crowd who was chatting.

We were figuring we were ready to leave when the trip director V, noticed one person was missing. No one remembered seeing him and I didn’t even know that name. V called his cell and apparently the guy had a flat and was walking his bicycle. He already had walked 6 kms and was 6 away from the destination! They went in an autorickshaw and brought him back. That was a sort of lesson to me to at least ride with a one or two others who are aware whether you are ahead or behind. There were few stretches where many of us were alone, but not for more than 3 to 4 kms I think. Either we would end up catching up with someone or someone would catch up with us. (I was also wondering if the gentle curses thrown around at breakfast time had come true and asked him how many vadas he had eaten at breakfast. This was a recurring theme as a joke throughout the bus ride back).

Anyway, around 1 pm or a bit later we left Jalsoor and reached Sulya (~10 km) and stopped in a restaurant for lunch. It was the slowest service I have seen. The guy seemed overwhelmed that ~35 people descended suddenly at lunch time. I don’t know if they see that much business even in a week in some of these parts. Lunch was a totally forgettable affair, but the socializing with the rest of the riders was good. We left after lunch at around 3 pm. There was one stop at 6.45 pm in a CCD on the way. We had good coffee and picked up some sandwiches to eat later since there wasn’t going to be a dinner stop (which was a wise decision if we had to reach Bangalore before mid-night). We were back at the Hockey stadium around 11.15 pm and it was pouring. We were running from pillar to post to figure out how to reach home and what to do with the bikes. Luckily another couple from Whitefield had arranged for a tempo and they transported our bikes till our doorstep and we took a cab home. They were really our saviors that night.

Overall, we really enjoyed the trip even though we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t do the ride completely (even though that was not a fair expectation of ourselves since we are out of shape and have had no cycling practice in 6 months now, but who says expectations have to be fair or logical). It was organized very well – clean and simple accommodations, decent food and the bike transportation logistics were covered very well. And it was great value for money, the trips are priced very economically. Would love to do another one sometime.

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Summer 2010

I don’t know where the kids’ summer vacation went. PK may say otherwise, after all he was the official caretaker, but it did go by fast. Here is a summary of what I remember of it:

  • At the beginning in April, we went to Chikmagalur, Belur and Halebid, and that was a good break.
  • The following weekend, we went to Andhiyur (near Erode) in Tamil Nadu. We had been wanting to tonsure AK’s head since we had never done it since his birth and so we chose to do it at PK’s family deity temple. I was worried that his hair is sparse. Whether this was helpful remains to be seen.
  • The weekend after that, I had to travel to the U.S on very short notice on a business trip. I wanted to work on everything that was necessary, before a planned vacation in May. The onward journey was a bit chaotic (because of the volcanic ash problem in Europe). It felt good to be back in the U.S again. The first week I was nervous about driving, so I mainly depended on cabs. But that wasn’t a great experience and there was also shopping I needed to do. The second week I rented a car and enjoyed driving around. Also had better choices for dinner since I was mobile. Got a ton of shopping done (clothes, toys, snacks, junk food, some cereals which are not available here). Flew to the bay area and met some friends. Overall, it was a good trip.
  • After I was back, we went on a camping trip to Conoor/Ooty with my parents and my brother’s family. It was good trip which everyone enjoyed. 
  • After that, the next few weekends have all been about parties/get-togethers. On 28th, we had been to Wonder La with friends and family. Even though it was a Friday, it was crowded. Even then, we had a good time. I was impressed with the cleanliness and the facilities in the park. Much like the U.S parks, only smaller.
  • PK turned 40 in the last week of May. Had a surprise birthday party for him. Most of our good friends were there – altogether including about 50 people including kids.

Had so much planned, but feels like I got very little done … And now the kids are back in school :(.

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Day 13: Arrived, at last

Thu, June 18, 2009

Today was another day of constant driving. Our initial plan was to go to Lake Tahoe and spend a night there. That would break the monotony of two full days of driving, but after so many days on the road, we just wanted to reach CA. So we drove endlessly again. The kids did great. There were just two breaks again – one for lunch (at an Indian restaurant in Reno) and another for coffee/snacks around 4.30 pm. While in Reno, I did some desperate shopping in a strip mall, trying to use up some of the gift cards I had accumulated (Barnes and Noble, TJ Maxx etc). Wasn’t a pleasant experience – it was too hot, the kids were tired and cranky and I was forced to shop in a hurry.

Driving through NV was a breeze since the roads were empty. As soon as we entered CA, it got nasty. First there was some road work on the interstate, so only one lane was open. We crawled for what seemed like eternity. By the time we hit Sacramento, it was full blown rush hour traffic. Since we could use the car pool lane, it was manageable.

I was so glad to be in my friend’s home in San Jose. After so many days on the road, it was really nice to be in a house, eat home made food etc.

Miles driven today: 541

States: NV, CA

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Day 12: Almost there

Wed, June 17, 2009

Today’s agenda was to just start driving towards our final destination, the bay area. But that is more than 1000 miles, so no way we can do that without a night’s break. So we had booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Elko, NV for the night.

We drove pretty much non-stop, except for a couple of short breaks. Passed through some mountains in Western Idaho and many small towns. Rural America has its own charm. We were very impressed by Twin Falls, ID. We reached Elko by evening. We are tired but also relieved that we are almost there. Another day to go. After a long time, had burritos for dinner.

Miles driven today: 420

States: WY, ID, NV

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