When we started our walk at Valley Garden Park, Delaware, we hoped to catch sight of some stunning daffodils. What we came across along the way, was so much more. At every crossroad, we took a cue from Robert Frost, and chose the one less traveled. And weren’t we glad we did. For, through a mesh of white pine, oak and beech trees, we saw a herd of deer galloping by at a distance. Our trail rose and fell, with the ground alternating between a bed of dried leaves and a blanket of fresh green grass. When the sun shone brighter, we peeled off our jackets and beanies, and let our skin soak in the warmth. A pair of glossy frogs leapt into a thin stream of water, as we slowed down to see a splash of color — new born lavender crocuses, white snowdrops, and a thin line of graceful yellow daffodils at a far distance. For all the beauty that surrounded us, we said thank you in the best way we could — by giving a tight hug to a faintly greening tree.
We walked close to four miles, for two hours, at Carousel Park, Wilmington. Tall trees, still leafless, rose above us, guarding a trail that changed from paved roads, to graveled paths, and wet and muddy stretches, with every turn. On our way, we saw a tree with a mysterious dark cavernous opening; a little distance away was a giant trunk etched with names of those who had been there before us. As we inched closer to the Enchanted Lake, a brace of ducks shooed us away. So we made our way to Huckleberry Hill, where a pair of donkeys looked at us with a sense of disinterest. We also made a quick trip to the stable to meet our horse friends Lil Red, Diesel and Cutie. And just as we were about to leave, we stumbled upon an interesting arrangement of pebbles on the grass; it read ‘Joy’ — quite aptly summarizing what we felt at the end of the walk.
It was a pleasant day. The sun shone bright. The sky hung cloudless above us. But as we walked along the Brandywine Creek State Park, Delaware, the black tarred roads disappeared under a layer of cracked ice. With walking sticks, we found our balance, moved thorny shrubs, and poked on frozen mire that lay like lumps of dark chocolate. The creek followed us, often changing its appearance from a crease-less sheet of glass to a colony of ice blocks. Shoes muddy, foreheads sweaty and jackets unzipped, we wrapped up our little three-mile adventure and called it a (pleasant) day!
Outside, the roads have turned white. Like someone sat and scrubbed them with a chalk piece all night. No sign of human beings, just cars covered with layers of thin ice.
A friend of mine sends me a video of her cousin throwing a mug of water into air, and watching it turn into powdery ice. The cousin is in Chicago.
I scroll through my news feed, and see two dogs trying to shake a frozen tennis ball off the ground, in Ohio.
Niagara Falls looks like it was cursed by the White Witch.
And just then, it hits. Out of nowhere. A deep yearning for some soft warm muffin. A couple of hours pass, the sun shines bright — a weak consolation. The temperature increases from 6 to 8 degree Fahrenheit; the yearning remains constant.
So I put on my snow jacket, beanie, gloves and boots; decide to get my heart’s desire from the nearby supermarket.
As the door opens, the sudden dip in temperature feels like a tight slap on my cheeks. In response, my nose starts running. My fingers grow numb. My ear lobes turn beetroot red. And my vision blurs every time I exhale. I hold the image of a golden brown banana nut muffin tight in my mind and walk on.
From narrow slits that are now my eyes, I see a person walking towards me; before I can smile, he says, “Where are you going in this cold weather, young lady? God bless you.” I pause: Maybe I should go back home, I think.
So I walk past brick walls covered with soft ice like molds on stale food, past stiff blades of grass that would crunch under your feet, past people rushing into their cars, holding hot cups of coffee in their gloved hands…
Inside the supermarket, I shake my hands like a puppy out of water. And once I feel the blood flow again, I walk with a sense of calm to the bakery aisle and drop a box of banana nut muffins into my basket.
I cradle the one pound of sweetness back home.
Once inside, I pull a chair to face the window. I see lamp posts swinging as if in a trance, the crisscross of tyre tracks on ice, and then, a little far away, a lone man walking towards the supermarket.
Maybe to get a little muffin, I wonder, and take a large bite out of mine.
I traveled over 8,000 miles to stand here and look at the waves of Indian ocean try to catch my feet. I looked at the wild frothy water getting tamed by the shore. Pondicherry (officially Puducherry) was surreal. The wind almost swept away my bow tie, as we zoomed past thick woods on a two-wheeler. I sat, my bill shivering, as we veered past a mind-boggling number of vehicles that were too close for comfort. I saw plates of steaming rice, garlic naan, and paneer tikkas come and go. I saw people wash it down with chilled mugs of beer. Left with a deep longing for my juicy squid and krill, I called it a night. We went to a forest full of thatched huts, and a lake full of lotuses. At some point, I saw a flock of storks take off from a small island, and at another, almost brushed my plumage with the furs of stray kittens and puppies. This has been by far my best vacay. So much color in my otherwise black and white life.
My obsession with sketching has taken a new high. I have signed up for a course on graphic illustration. It is being taught by this wonderful instructor called Junichi Tsuneoka (look him up!). He is a serious guy who dissects what seems like a complicated subject into small chunks and places it in small platters for us to consume. Each video is just five to six minutes long, and packed with a ton of info. But most important of all, the course inspires me to think out of the box, and expand from just sketching realistic images to more wacky ones. But also the kind that conveys a story. Anyway, I have only just begun it. There is a long way to go. A journey that I will be sharing with you all (translates to: expect a lot more sketch posts).
Meanwhile, as promised, here are some more sketches that I worked on in the past week.
#1 A beautiful apartment in Jersey City. Pull up those blinds and what you see is the Hudson river cradling the New York skyline. I have been here so many times, but still haven’t been able to make up my mind if the scene is best at dawn or dusk.
#2 On the path train. Four of us were travelling in the train, tired after the day’s adventure. And all of a sudden, the lady right opposite to us zips open her back pack, and a pair of eyes stares back at us. An adorable homeward bound Shih Tzu.
#3 My sister sent me a picture of my niece. She had made a welcome gift for her dad who was visiting them over the weekend. There was a heart and fish shaped paper card that melted my heart like a slice of butter on a hot pan.
#4 An afternoon walk to the library. This is just outside our apartment. I was waiting for a car to pass, and cross the road. I stopped and soaked in the simple beautiful picture in front of me. A line of apartments, a field of green, a few trees shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, and a very strawberry colored STOP sign.
#5 Me. Listening to Tom Odell’s Another Love.
The boat started to sail. Over 300 people in blue ponchos stood inside the boat eagerly looking at the waters below and the waterfall ahead. We were on the opposite end of the Maid of the Mist. Less crowded. Facing the Rainbow bridge which connected US and Canada. Many rushed to the upper deck of the Maid of the Mist VII (yes, there have been six others since 1846), many clung to the railing. Every one wanted to be sprayed at by the mist. And then we inched closer to the Niagara Falls. We were in, what looked from above, a cloud of white. As we stood watching water drop from 120 feet, we wondered if Pam and Jim were standing where we were, when they took their vows. Our faces drenched, we looked at a clout of buildings rise on the Canadian side. It was exciting to know that we would touch and pass a whole new country. Then the height rose. The water dropped now from a height of 188 feet. The majestic Horseshoe falls. Can you imagine falling from that height? Apparently many daredevils try it. And a 63-year-old lady was the first to survive. But in a barrel, that she designed herself. The journey ended as soon as it began, we climbed off the boat, and watched as the sun dipped, and a window of spotlight shone on the falls. As if before an audience, the water gushed, fell, and splashed. A move that it has mastered over the last 12000 years.
June 16, 2018
It’s been close to two hours. Our shirts are drenched in sweat, and eyelids heavy with exhaustion. The queue extends to as far as the eyes can see. And beyond that, we catch a glimpse of a white boat full of people clothed in blue ponchos. We want to be on that boat. We want to be the people in blue plastic ponchos. So we wait. And use up all the resilience, patience and the last ounce of energy. Around us, families break the line, and walk out. We refuse to be demotivated. And after what feels like eternity, the queue leads us to two elevators. We descend, our eyes now wide open with a gush of excitement. We become the people in blue plastic ponchos, and walk up to the boat that’s called the Maid of the Mist. Slowly, now un-anchored, it sails. Like it has, faithfully, since 1846. It passes the American Falls, where sheets of water crack on top of a cluster of giant rocks, get reduced to a spray of cool mist and land on our hair and face. Just a little ahead, a little intimidated by the wide and overpowering American Falls is the Bridal Veil falls. Alongside which, rows of people in yellow ponchos, submit to it, and get willingly drenched. The boat then makes a turn, along a curve marked by tall curtains of water. The Horseshoe, as it’s called, unveils itself in quite a dramatic way. A cloud of smoke rises at its feet, and beams of light run along its body. As we distance from it, it’s overbearing appearance reduces into a postcard-perfect beauty that we capture, preserve, and re-live.
This is an attempt to chronicle our Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 in the cheerful State of California. As you read this, imagine a place where the sun is always bright, the roads are filled with passersby dressed for summer, and where the pavements are lined with shocking pink, blood red, and yolk yellow flowers in full hearty bloom.
The day begins with the notes of Ben- I’Oncle’s version of Frank Sinatra’s I’ve got you under my skin filling the room with a sense of beautiful melancholy. The sun crawls its way through the blinds, on to our feet, nudging us to wake up. We do, our heads heavy after a late night session of conversation, taboo and beer. After a full-blown South Indian meal at a restaurant nearby, we make our way to Winchester House.
From outside, it looks like a fancy bungalow. But as history goes, it is the strangest house people around the area have ever seen. With around 160 rooms, 47 fire places, doors leading to nowhere, stairs leading to a dead end, it almost seems like a lego project left unfinished by a bored kid.
The house is a roofed maze, dark, dingy and uncomfortably narrow. The guide tells us that he has had a supernatural experience. He once saw the ghost of a man who was Mrs Winchester’s employee, walking along the stairs one evening. We refuse to believe, but walk closer to each other from that point.
Mrs Sarah Winchester was the wife of firearm magnate William Wirt Winchester. She attributed her husband’s death (due to pneumonia) and their child’s death (due to marasmus), as revenge by the ghosts of those who were killed by the Winchester rifles, and was convinced that the ghosts would follow her wherever she went.
There is also a movie loosely based on the myths surrounding the house. Click here to watch the trailer.
We discuss the story over hookah at Tangerine in San Jose, and then split to meet a friend at The Mint restaurant. A reunion after 15 years. Stories are shared, laughs are had.
It’s 9 pm, but the night is still young. Next stop: The Sandwich spot. Cool evening breeze and chill beer keep us company, as we pull out episodes from the past, and make plans for the future.
Day 3 starts early. We catch the morning train from Sunnyvale to San Francisco, and head straight to Rooh. We are served a delightful drink called Kerala – a cocktail of rum, pineapple, lime and aloe.
With that, we are SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) ready. We walk by photographs, paintings, installations and a cluster of spiders.
Back in the house, we let the conversation dribble from one topic to another, as we gulp down spoons full of home-made mushroom soup. Before calling it a night, we head to Nirvanaa! for a scoop of ice cream each.
Day 4 is spent at San Jose Museum of Art, a tiny haven of art compared to the massive SFMOMA. Here, I walk alone from floor to floor, gallery to gallery, soaking in the many block prints and video installations, and making plans to buy a house made of bottles.
Andrea Bocelli’s Time to say goodbye runs in my head.
In no time, we are mid air, on our way back home. The State reduces to a pattern of bright dots. Like a 1000 stars shining for us. A reminder of the bright days and warm moments we had during the brief stay in the West Coast.
A six-hour long flight from Philadelphia to San Jose, with a one-hour stop over at Phoenix. We finally reach Santa Clara after a 15-minute drive from the airport. There is a little exhaustion, but more excitement. It’s my first time to the Golden State of California. In the glow of street lights, I spot the difference in architecture between the East that’s home, and here. There are no sloping roofs above the buildings, for one! We are being hosted by my husband’s brother and his wife, who work in the Bay Area. At their place, we dig into a hot bowl of rice and Indian curry, put our feet up and watch random episodes of Takeshi’s castle. What follows is a good night’s sleep.
Next day, we have a heavy brunch at an Indian restaurant called Kamakshi Kitchen in San Jose, and then drive to San Francisco for two hours. As we approach the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean unveils its blue self. Massive and intimidating, it shimmers like a sheet studded with a thousand diamonds. And on it, rests the sturdy, rustic, orange vermilion Bridge. The mother of all bridges. A man-made structure that is 81 years old, and as scenic as the nature it is surrounded by.
The wind is cold and violent. And any attempts of taking selfies seem futile.
But then, what’s a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge, without getting a postcard-fit picture?
We are back in the car to observe the ocean-mountain-bridge trio from a higher view point. There are multiple view points along the curves of the mountains. Families stop strangers for a group shot, bicyclists ambitiously peddle along the steep climb. We quietly observe the mix of blue and green in front of us. Giant ships slowly sail like snails on sheets of blue, and the wind creates turbulence making the ocean crease like folds on a fabric.
Back in the car. The road, like a wave, climbs and dives. At many points, the path, even just a few meters ahead, remains a mystery, until we reach it. Such is the steepness. We step on the gas pedal and continue the climb. Next stop: Crooked lane.
Instead of driving along the crooked lane, we decide to walk it. We walk along the pavement of the road that is almost like a zig-zag maze. Cars and segways carefully meander along the narrow road that curves sharply after every few feet.
Meanwhile, we take our time to smell some flowers…
…and explore some vertical gardens.
At the end of the crooked lane, we turn back and see a swarm of lush green bushes guarding, and almost hiding, the grey tar roads between them.
Next stop: Pier 39. We are welcomed by a live piano concert by artiste Caroline Dahl. She is a composer of boogie-woogie and American roots music. If you are wondering what that sounds like, click here.
We halt for a few minutes and then float away along with the rest of the crowd into a sea of people hopping in and out of a hundred stalls.
On one side, rows and rows of boats rock gently on still water.
On the other, a lone boat violently bobs up and down to make it to the dock.
We walk past merry-go-rounds.
A giant leafy sea horse.
A neatly-laid piano staircase.
A railing full of locks.
And finally walk to the edge of the pier, where hundreds of seals laze around on the docks. Some barking, some pushing fellow seals into the water, and some sun-bathing without a care in the word.
We shop for a few pair of socks, and a couple of posters, before stopping for tomato soup in a bowl of sourdough bread.
By the time we are out of the Pier, the sun has begun to set. The Oakland Bay Bridge comes alive with a string of lights suddenly lit, marking a perfect end to our Day 1.
I’ll be back with notes from Day 2, soon.
Until then, happy travels y’all.
It’s summertime wanderlust. We have been travelling every weekend ever since the sun got brighter and days got longer. This also explains the brief dry spells before every new post. We just got back from Poconos last evening after spending a couple of days pampering ourselves in a house nestled in the deep lush woods of the scenic town. In the mornings, we let our bodies float in the hot bath tub for hours, and in the evenings, we sat by the fireplace having good old campfire s’mores. Sometime during the day we walked by the different shades of green outside, and caught sight of adorable bunnies, squirrels and deer. Ludovico Einaudi’s tune complimented the sound of the crackling of wood, as we warmed our feet, and drained our wine glasses, by the fire. In the patio, under the warm sunshine, we delved into the question of existence, the purpose of life, and dreams. The conversation was washed down with swigs of cold grapefruit shandy. A little over a two-hour drive back home later, we unpacked, and continued to savor the beauty of Poconos that lingered in our head. It still does.
After a four-day trip to Yellowstone National Park, we are back with a stack of pictures, a tonne of memories and some exhaustion. Part of a 10-member group, we stayed at a mansion that overlooked misty mountains and rows of pine trees. We began our days driving for hours from Big Sky Resort in Montana to Yellowstone National Park; and ended them sitting submerged neck down in a hot tub under a full-moon sky. At the Park, we drove by a herd of bisons, and a sleuth of mama bear and her two cubs. The geysers enveloped us with steam, and the clouds cracked open to let powdery rain coat our jackets and hair. On one side, the Yellowstone Lake spread like a polished sheet of glass, on the other, the Old Faithful rose like a fountain on steroids. We walked by a field of fallen trees, and reached the Bunsen Peak, only to feel insignificantly small among the massive mountains. So one day, we drove to the top of one of them. Capped with snow and riddled with naked trees, with every mile up, the colors drained to finally present a black and white view. It was time to say goodbye. And we did, soaking in the red, yellow and white strokes of the canyons. A beautiful canvas created by years of erosion; a canvas that is, and would always be, a work in progress. Except for in our minds, where it would gain permanence. Until the next visit.