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4/15/2011

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.

 4/16/2011

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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Last Dasara vacation, we took a short trip to the Jog falls area. We went with PK’s brother’s family.

Unchalli falls

We took the overnight train to Shimoga and from there we hired a taxi to take us to Talaguppe. It is about 90 kms from Shimoga and takes 2 hrs by car. We stayed at a wonderful homestay http://matthuga.in. Considering that the area has absolutely no quality accomodation, any clean accomodation would have been welcome. But this homestay was truly awesome. Good accessibilty, green, peaceful surroundings, wonderful caretakers, homely food, clean, spacious rooms. We had a truly enjoyable stay there and would like to go back sometime. The first day, we didn’t do much. Saw some temples in the area. After lunched we just lazed around in the front porch and played badminton and frizbee. Evenings (after dark) can get to be a bit boring for the kids since they can’t play outside and there’s no TV. But they did have a carrom board. May be good to carry some books and board games.

Next morning, we drove to Unchalli falls. It was slightly over an hour’s drive. It is a hidden gem – nothing can describe the beauty of this falls. The sheer volume of water and the drop is breathtaking. You can see the mist rising even a km away from the falls. We had to walk about 20 min or so to reach the view points. Apparently it has water through out the year. We had the whole place to ourselves. While we were taking some pictures, we had our first mishap. AK started howling pojting to something on his foot. PK’s sister-in-law just tried to brush it off with her hands and ot wouldn’t budge. No amount of pulling, shoving with a twig could loosen its grip. PK had already climbed up and gone, carrying Shreya. I was using al my energy to calm AK down and finally she managed to pull it off. After that, AK and his cousin literally ran for their lives. The climbed up the several steps and then up the slope for a good 15 minutes, to reach the place where the car was parked. He was totally shaken. That was our first exposure to leeches.

Jog falls

Then from here we drove to Jog. We first went to the spot over the top of Raja. Apparently this is also called “Mungaru Male” point since this is where some songs from that movie are shot (I haven’t see either the movie or the songs).  Great views of Raja, Roarer and Rocket from here, Raja being the closest. Further up, people were playing in the water. So, the kids and the guys spent some time in the water but it got too crowded and we turned around. The place has a lot of monkeys. Next we went to the point where we see the more familar view of Jog. All four are seen, but from a distance. The stairs leading to the bottom of the falls area was closed. So, this was just a photo stop. After this, we called it a day. 

We had one more whole day before we caught the night train back to Bangalore. On our host’s suggestion, we decided to go to Bheemeshwar. It was quite an adventure. It was a long drive and the kids were getting restless. The weather also seemed fickly. It was cloudy and drizzling and we began to think it was a bad idea. But since we were almost there, decided to go for it anyway. The driver just stopped on the highway, pointed to a foot path and said this is the trail to reach the falls and temple. As to how far you need to walk, his estimate was all over the map. He initially said 4-5 kms. We asked him whether that was the one way distance and he said yes. We totally freaked  out since we were not sure the kids were up for it. Our kids are used to it but PK’s nephew is not. And then the driver corrected himself saying it was 2-3 kms one way. Too late to do anything now except to just go. So we started walking. The path was beautiful with good views of paddy fields. And then we had to cross a stream. And thats when it started again – leeches! AK was the first to get bitten again. And we struggled to take it out. After that we were trying to walk cautiously but soon one by one everyone found one or two on their legs. By now we were at a fork in the path and we were not even sure of which way to go. Not a soul was around. We turned left and walked a bit more. The kids started crying and SK wanted to be carried after we discovered a few in her crocs. PK’s nephew was adamant that we turn back. Everyone was hyper and we were trying to calm them down but PK was pretty firm about not turning back. I was kicking myself that we didn’t get salt with us after the previous day’s experience. Soon we came upon a small house with a big fence. I first called out to make sure there were no dogs and then walked in. The house was locked and any hopes of getting salt and information quickly faded. SK started singing prayers and remembered all her friends. She kept saying she wished we had left her back at grand-mom’s instead of taking her to the jungle. At this point I said we were turning back since nobody was having fun. PK didn’t want to but I overruled him. Just because the two of us are a bit crazy, there was no need to subject everyone to that sort of anxiety and distress.

Bheemeshwar falls

We had walked down may be 10 minutes when we saw a man walking up. Boy, were we glad to see another human being! We told him our plight. He was dismissive of our “problems” and insisted that the waterfall and the temple were very near and we shouldn’t give up now. Aparently what we had seen was the priest’s house and he was out of town. This man was the substitute from the neighboring village and was coming to do the daily pooja since the daily ritual was not to be broken. So he would take a bus from the next village, walk up approximately 2km, do his pooja rituals and then go back. I confirmed with him that there was salt at the priest’s house. And then we started walking back up. He was a nice man and could just yank the leeches out. For PK’s nephew, he was God incarnate! You could see the reverent look in his eyes. At the priest’s house we thoroughly checked the kids’ legs and shoes and then checked ourselves. One had gone up my leg to my hips and had made a huge bite. When I flapped my pajama, a fat one fell. After we all washed off our bleeding wounds, it was less than 5 minutes to the waterfall. And we were so glad we came back! It is one of the most serene and secluded water falls I have seen. And a beautiful stone temple right next to it. While the priest conducted his rituals in privacy, we all played in the water. Then we went in for the Mangalarathi and enjoyed the temple. I don’t like the big, commercial temples in the cities that much. But the setting of this one, the simplicity, I really didn’t feel like leaving the place. But we had to consdering we had a train to catch. We stopped, picked up some salt and all of us started walking back together. He was much faster than any of us and was racing ahead. PK’s nephew wouldn’t let him out of sight and was running to keep pace. We encountered many more leeches and the salt really helped. The kids were also much calmer and would treat any leeches on their body in a very matter-of-fact manner. In the end, it all ended well and even the naysayers were very happy that we didn’t quit and turn around.

It was a good trip. We were told that the trains would soon start going all the way to Sagar, so that’s even better. The overnight trains are convenient, but the route is supposed to be very scenic, so you miss that.

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The town of Devarayanadurga seen from the top

On Sunday morning, the agenda was to hike Devarayanadurga. We left around 6.20 am. Traffic wasn’t too bad. We reached Devarayanadurga at about 9 am (this included a 45 minute break ) at Kamat Upachar, just before the Dobbaspet flyover, so it is less than a 2 hour drive from Bangalore. The directions are pretty accurate on the internet and once past Uradigere, there are frequent signs, so you won’t get lost easily.

The weather was pleasant. At the base of the hill, we saw the auto road going up to the Yoganarasimha temple, but we didn’t want to drive up. After looking around, we found the stone steps leading up. After about half hour of climbing up, we saw some cactus plants amidst all the surrounding greenery. The views from here were beautiful. At this point the path was covered with overgrown shrubs and we spent a few minutes exploring alternate paths. When nothing was feasible, we just cleared the overgrown stuff and crouched through, emerging a few meters away into clearer path. Few minutes later we got slightly lost again and didn’t know how to proceed. One person from the group, climbed up on a tall boulder and could see the trail had again been blocked by overgrown plants. After this the trail joins the auto road. At this junction we saw the guest house, it’s a great location and would be nice for an overnight stay. If you continue beyond this point on the auto road itself, you will reach the parking lot for the cars. From here, its less than a 10 minute climb to the temple. The place is full of monkeys, so it was a bit unnerving, but this is a common problem in most places here. The place was crowded. We were very hesitant to visit the temple since no one had showered, but didn’t want to not go in either, since we had come this far. We just went in briefly and came out quickly, not waiting for all the rituals to be done. The path continues up from here to the summit. We climbed up another 10 minutes or so, but by now the kids were tired and hungry and didn’t want to go up all the way (except AK).

Another panoramic view from the top

So we stopped, had sandwiches, took pictures and headed back. Once we reached the parking lot, it was clear that the smallest ones in the group couldn’t climb all the way down. So PK and the other dad in the group took an autorickshaw down to the base and drove our cars up. While driving down we noticed a newer set of stone steps along the auto road. This is probably the newer way to climb up and was all clear, unlike the path we took which was partly covered with overgrown shrubs. But that was more scenic anyway. We were down by 12.45 pm. There are a lot of other places nearby to visit (Namada chilume etc) but since the kids were tired, we just headed back home.

 

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Tue, June 16, 2009

Today’s plan was to go to Jenny lake, hike one of the trails and an activity on the lake. Weather was never great through out the trip, but it was particularly bad in South Dakota and Wyoming. Just cloudy, drizzly, foggy …

I had read and heard a whole bunch about Jenny lake and was eager to get there. We drove there quite early in the morning. There were no crowds. I had done some research on some hiking possibilities and we had decided on Inspiration point as the destination. There are two ways to do this hike. The longer way is that you walk along the shore of the lake from the visitor center for about 2 miles and then climb up to Inspiration point (1 mile). Or you can take a boat ride to the trail head and cut out the walk along the shore. Since SK was only 3.5 yrs, a 6 mile hike would have been too much for her, so we had decided to take the boat ride to the trail head. It’s a short 10 minute ride on calm waters with awesome views of the mountains.

Inspiration point - Jenny lake in the background

There were a good number of hikers and we started climbing up. After passing by a creek, at around ½ mile, is the hidden falls. But I could just catch a glimpse through dense trees and didn’t find any good viewing platform for the falls. We continued on to Inspiration point. The hike continues on into a Canyon, but we stopped here and enjoyed the views.

On our way back, I was curious if we could catch a better view of the Hidden falls. We had to look around quite a bit and we finally spotted some hikers coming from another path. And they asked us to go a few meters further up to catch a better view. Here we could see the full height of the falls and it was quite pretty. But hanging around there was difficult since the ground was very slushy and it was crowded too. So after a few pictures, we walked down to the boat dock and rode back. A better description of this hike (done by someone else) is here, complete with pictures.

Hidden falls

After lunch, we looked at something to do on the lake. There were no speed boats or kayaks here, so it had to be canoeing. PK is ok with kayaking, but in the past, when ever the conversation turned to canoeing, he would become resistant. But today the kids were eager to do something anything on the water, he agreed. Overall, all of us enjoyed the experience. When the boats across the lake came, the wake used to rock us a lot and that was a bit scary, but other than that, it was a lot of fun. At one point, it looked like PK was more worried about all the expensive stuff we had (HD camcorder, camera, 2 blackberries etc) than us! I think the best views of the mountains were from inside this lake.

After this we wanted to go up Signal mountain on the auto road. On the way from the Jenny lake center to Signal mountain, there were a line of cars pulled over by the roadside, so we joined the party. Turned out, there was a black bear cub limping about. Seems to have hurt one of his legs and he was hovering in that vicinity. Signal mountain road was a scenic drive and very nice views at the top – the lakes, the mountains, the park, Snake river …. But the mosquitoes and other insects there were very bothersome. So we didn’t stay for very long.

On our drive back, another car flagged us down about half way through the mountain. A cyclist who was going down had fallen and injured himself and there was problem with the bicycle too. The car which flagged us down was a sedan with an elderly couple inside. They wanted to help the cyclist but couldn’t fit both him and the bicycle in their car. So they wanted us to go along. Our SUV was stuffed to the brim (from stuff for the road trip and our India luggage) and there was barely room for a cat inside. We cleared out a few things and the kids squished themselves and he somehow squeezed in the backseat. He had to be dropped back to Jackson, WY (almost 50 miles away), in the opposite direction of where we were headed. I wasn’t too happy initially, but you gotta do the right thing, so we did. We had to exit the park, pass by the Jackson airport and reached Jackson in about an hour. Jackson is a charming city and I regretted that we didn’t get to spend any time there at all.

The cyclist turned out to be an interesting kid, in his teens. He was from Netherlands and on a 2 month trip to the U.S and was doing a cross-country trip. He was mainly taking public transportation between cities/points of interest, staying in hostels and doing local touring by bicycle. He had started in the east coast and gone to similar places we had (by bus or train). Everyone enjoyed the conversation and AK seemed in awe of that kid’s adventures. After dropping him off, it was a quiet ride back to the cabin.

Miles driven today:126

States: WY

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It was a beautiful weekend here in the Northeast. Sunny and low 60s. Here in Central Massachusetts, the colors have turned in pockets, and I think the coming weekend will be more colorful than last. We hiked up Mt Wachusett after many months, on the usual Pine Hill trail. This is the shortest but it is pretty rocky and steep. It is about 2 miles round trip. The trail was pretty busy but still quite enjoyable. The highlight though was that SK climbed the entire mile up all by herself. She just turned three last week, so I’m pretty thrilled that she did it easily without any whining. AK did it at that age too, but he needed a lot more goading, encouragement and treats along the way. On the way back, she came on the hiking chair.

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For the long weekend, we went camping in Burlington, Vermont. We camped at the North Beach Campground, which is right by Lake Champlain. We have been camping before, but always in State Parks, so this was a new experience for me. I think this is run by the city of Burlington. The sites were smaller and closer to each other than the ones we have seen in state parks. Plus the crowd and atmosphere on the 4th night was a total party scene, so it felt really weird. AK also mentioned that he saw a pizza delivery car going by! I later learnt that many private campgrounds allow that. But the location is prime. The campground is right off the Island Line Rail Trail bike path and also the wonderful North beach, with awesome facilities – snack bar, restrooms, picnic benches, kids playground etc. Also alcohol was allowed both on the beach and in the campground, which is always a huge plus in PK’s book :).
Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

The Island Line Rail Trail is a 12.5 mile trail from Oakledge park in Burlington connecting to the Colchester Causeway which ends 2.5 miles into the middle of Lake Champlain! The campsite was about 4 miles into the trail. So, we did this section first thing in the morning. This part is quite scenic with great views of the lake and the Adirondack mountains in NY on the other side. Towards the end, there are a few street crossings you need to watch out for. At the end of the trail in Oakledge park, there is a tree house, which we almost missed. A kind lady saw the kids and suggested we may want to see it. It was really cool and I enjoyed it as much as the kids. After that we were back at the tent for some breakfast and we were also waiting for some friends to join us. They were there by noon and we set off or the rest of the trail. The next 3 miles or so, is along the backyard of big, beautiful houses by the lake. Then comes the Winooski river bridge, which was built few years ago. Otherwise, earlier bikers had to take a ferry to cross the river and continue biking on the other side. After the bridge crossing, you have to ride about a mile or so on the streets until the Colchester Airport Park around the 8th mile mark. There are good lawns and a kids’ playground, snack bar and restrooms, so we took a break here. Also, from here on the trail is all gravel which is harder to ride on than the asphalt surfaces. So, we took turns doing the rest of the trail to see the grand finale part which juts 2.5 into the  lake, so that one couple could be with the kids at the park. The  1.5 miles to reach the Colchester causeway wasn’t so terrible, but the causeway itself was much harder to ride on. It is a crushed stone path which offers a lot of resistance and the trail is fully exposed to the sun, with no shade. But the views of the lake and the mountains are really worth it. There is a “cut” in the path and some weekends a ferry runs to take bikers to the other end of the cut, from where you can ride on to Grand Isle.  The cut is mainly there for the boats to pass by, and there were lots of them. By the time we reached back the camp site, it was around 5.30 pm. After a quick round of water melon, the kids wanted to play in the water. At the end of it, we were all so tired and the kids were in bed by 9 pm. Then we all sat around by the fire with some wine and Mike’s lemonade and chatted. All I remember though is that my thighs were burning from the ride.

Next morning, packing up took almost 2 hours! I know, camping is supposed to be simple living and all that, but … There were bikes to load (after removing front wheels), tents to take down, sleeping bags to be rolled up etc. Then we headed to Stowe, to hike up the Stowe Pinnacle. My hiking book had said it was a short and easy hike, but it was neither. It was one mile longer than what the book said. And I think we found it much harder than usual because we were doing it after a day of biking 25 miles. I must have asked at least three different groups who were coming down how much further we had to go. The first time I asked, I was estimating that we were almost there but he said that we were probably half way. My heart sunk. We had plenty of water but not enough food. I took a quick vote and everyone wanted to keep going. I was especially proud of how well AK did. I think he enjoys that sense of accomplishment and pushes himself really hard. He named it the mountain which never ends and insisted that this must be the tallest mountain in VT. Anyway, the views from the top were really spectacular. We couldn’t hang around for too long, since we had the long climb down and also the drive back home. Also it is scary to hang around steep cliffs and ledges with young ones. The way down was only marginally easier, but we made it back uneventfully. Then we stopped at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream factory and had huge Sundaes. The kids didn’t eat more than a few bites, but we gobbled up ours. And then it was back home after about 3.5 hours of driving. I wish we had stayed another day. Downtown Burlington looked like a really nice place to walk around. Church Street is cobble stoned and pedestrian-only with good coffee shops. We didn’t get to enjoy it.

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For Labor day, we took an extra day off and went to the DC area. Shenandoah National Park is about 1.5 hrs away from Reagan International Airport in DC. It was a hot day. We took an unearthly 7.30 am flight and reached DC around 10.30 am. We were in Front Royal at noon, had a pizza lunch and entered the park around 1 pm. Skyline drive is the main route (a scenic drive) in the park. It has plenty of scenic overlooks and several trail heads start from this main road. We stopped at a few, but the views were disappointing. It was completely covered in haze/smog and visibility was very poor. There were supposed to be mountains and valleys and we could barely see a thing. We made our way down, after stopping at one of the waysides to buy essentials for the kids (milk mainly and ice to store it). We had a small cooler, so we were all set.

We reached our lodge around 3 pm. There are 3 main lodges in the park. Another option is camping. We stayed at the Skyland resort. Later, we found out, that the Big Meadows lodge is much nicer. The rooms are in a rustic log cabin setting. The kids are used to much nicer hotel rooms or vacation rental homes, so as soon as we walked into the room, A was like “This is it? A bed room and a bath room? Where’s the kitchen?”. PK added unbelievingly, “No TV? C’mon”. A was also very disappointed that there was no swimming pool. Having woken up at 4 am for the early am flight, we were all exhausted and sleep deprived, so we just lazed around in the room. The kids wouldn’t sleep (they had, on the flight and the drive) and so we couldn’t either. In the evening, we went for a walk and saw deer. A, as usual, was scared. It was chilly and we didn’t really have warm clothes, so we didn’t go very far.

Next morning, first stop was at the trail head for Hawksbill mountain, which is the tallest in the park at 4050 ft. It is about a mile’s climb, but a relentless, moderately steep climb. But the weather was perfect. Pleasantly warm and clear blue skies – none of the haze. We got some great views of the Shenandoah valley and the Alleghany mountains. We were back down at the parking lot by 12.30 pm. We drove further south on Skyline drive. Views were very similar from the various view points. We stopped at the Lewis Mountain Picnic area for a quick PBJ lunch and drove some more. We finally turned around at milepost 80, since it looked like it would be more of the same.

Shenandoah Valley from Hawksbill summit

On the way back we stopped at the Big Meadows Visitor Center and Lodge. Both are worth a visit. The Visitor Center has some history information and other exhibits. We saw a lot more deer here. The lobby of the lodge is grand – a huge fireplace, antique furniture and lots of other stuff from the 50s. Then we hiked down to Dark Hollow falls (short 0.7 mile one way). Didn’t look anything like in the pictures since the water volume was very low. Overall, we liked the park. Not very crowded, unlike the other national parks. And small enough that you leave with the satisfaction of having seen and done what you wanted in a short visit.

Dark Hollow Falls Deer

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