Thursday, August 21, 2008

hearing familiar tongues...

So, its Toronto airport and we eagerly await the Jet Airways boarding announcement. Suddenly, the english and french static from the speaker changes into pure Hindi, announcing the departure. A spontaneous smile bursts on everyone's face... what a pleasure it is to hear one's tongue in a distant land after a long time...

(just recording the moment)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

It's a blue jay in Toronto

Toronto has quite a Chicago-esque feel to it - with tall skyscrapers and stone paved roads, it even has a nice waterfront without as much wind-chill.

In all, the place feels so much like the US, yet seems much more multi-cultural in practice. For one, I've never found so much and varied vegetarian food anywhere in the US and seen so many people of Asian origin milling around (but then, I haven't been to NY).

Downtown Toronto is quite pretty, with its Victorian style buildings blending into skyscraper-covered modernity. The Royal Ontario Museum is certainly huge and its coverage of Europe and Africa (and I must mention, the dinosaurs) is certainly the most comprehensive I've ever seen in a museum. Yet, it has so much to cover, that it would do well to learn some didactic skills from the Fields Museum. The Bata shoe museum, is yet another interesting place to visit and showcases the origin of shoes and shoe types from all over the world - quite a learning experience.

The Niagara falls is quite close, a 2 hour drive away. It's certainly the most awesome falls I've ever seen - when you're down its base in the ferry and you look up at the millions of gallons of water pouring down from such heights, its just awesome.

The CN Tower is yet another interesting place - one of the world's tallest structures and has a revolving restaurant atop. Now, the lift in Express Towers in Mumbai used to block my ears as it went up 20 odd floors; in the CN lift I could hardly feel anything and would not have known I'd gone up a few thousand feet had I not had glass around. The view atop, if course, magnificient.

And the weather, for now, is pretty much great in summer. The winter though, I hear is only for the locals.

(Blue Jays is the local baseball team)

Collecting mana in manali

Manali is a 14-16 hour drive from Delhi. The route is picturesque; in particular, the segment between Kullu and Manali that runs parallel to a meandering river covered on either side by lush green tall mountains - just heavenly.

Manali is a small town and could probably be covered in a day's walkaround. Old Manali has some interesting spots - Manu's temple being one - and was packed with foreign tourists (for some reason a majority being Israelis) when I landed up. There were even some signboards in Hebrew!

The ride up from Manali to Rohtang freaked me out initially, I caught a 4 am bus that wound its way in the darkness and fog along a precipitous narrow road up the mountains; but the sun came out as we crossed the pass and the snow covered peaks presented an awesome sight. The road was in quite a pathetic state with a gazillion bumps and much credit must be given to the driver of the HPSRTC bus (and the bus itself) that navigated such roads. Rohtang was all melted - I've seen photos of the pass covered in snow - but when I landed in mid July, it was just wet foggy land.

The bus crossed the pass to enter the Lahaul and Spiti valley. The ride downwards from the pass into the valley zigzags, covered with lush green meadows - at the background were the snow covered tall peaks, dotted with small houses and monasteries at the base. This is, by far, the most beautiful mountainous landscape I've ever seen - and is quite a sight to behold.

After reaching the valley, the road followed the Chenab river, bordered by dry barren mountains, passing the location of formation of the Chenab by the merger of the Chandra and the Bhaga rivers.

Keylong is a small town on the route, often considered a night rest spot for people who continue on to Leh and for trekkers to the nearby mountains. Per se, the town has little to offer; yet its location amidst tall mountains with snow peaks in sight makes it a beautiful resting spot. What surprised me was that so remote is town had impeccable broadband connectivity and TV access showing every channel out there. And, the town even has a non-stop bus service into Delhi.

I had to turn back from my explorations at Keylong, given insufficient time at hand. Keylong is considered as a sort of a base camp for trekkers to the glaciers nearby and into the Leh/Ladakh region. June-September, when the passes melt, is the season to get here. A good trekking trip is estimated to last a week or two at least, and I am resolved to come back to the region some day to try it out.

I started back at 4 am (what's it with me and these 4 am bus rides, I wonder), got chased by a couple of dogs along deserted roads (its interesting how these make memorable experiences), and finally repeated the 6 odd hour bus ride back into Manali. This time, I could experience travel back from the pass into Manali in daylight and it was a beautiful experience - coniferous trees and green meadows at the end (with the pot-holes of course).

In sum, to Manali one must go to see tourist tumult; beyond Rohtang, one must go to experience solitude.