Encounters On Nandi Hills

Nandi Hills is a hill station located about sixty miles north of Bangalore. Although it is a well-known place for people to visit, I had not been there in spite of my many trips to the city.

We were hoping to do a hike up the hill, an endeavor that would attempt to mimic the training experience of our recent Camino walkers. Instead, we inadvertently ended up driving on a road that took us to the top of the hill. We decided to try to start the walk from the top of the hill instead.

We had left Bangalore very early, hoping to avoid crowds. We were surprised to find the parking lot full – and on a weekday.What we had not realized was that people come here to try to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately for these folks, this particular morning turned out to be quite foggy.We explored the spaces at the top of the hill for a little while.There were many lookouts from which we could not see much because of the mist.

There was a temple closer to the top of the hill.

This particular place that is considered the source of the Arkavathi river.

Tipu Sultan used the hills as his summer retreat. You can still see some of the remains of his summer palace, including the structure seen in the picture below.There is a spot called Tipu Drop from which prisoners used to be thrown off the cliff.

The presence of the many monkeys on the hill was notable.There were families of monkeys wandering around, including many mothers with babies hanging on to them, underneath their bellies.Some of the monkeys were aggressive, and we were subject to attacks on two occasions. The first time, one of them made a grab for a smartphone that was being pulled out of a pocket. (We were told that the monkeys may barter these items back for food!) The second time, a monkey jumped on to a backpack on a person’s back, its attention having been drawn by some colorful objects sitting in a netted pouch on the side of the backpack. It might have thought it was food. Thankfully, we were able to shoo them away and nobody was hurt. Some of them do make angry faces and growl at you when you are engaged with them.

We eventually found our way to the beginning of the trail that went all the way down to the bottom of the hill. We started our descent.

The upper section of the trail was decently maintained. Along the way we could see buildings like the one in the picture below were people could stay overnight in order to experience the views from the hills directly from their rooms.We were led by our fearless leader, John. His long and quick strides could have left us behind in the dust, but he adjusted his pace to match us, the laggards. (The picture below was taken much later in the hike when we were returning.)

We eventually ended up at a temple on the side of the hill.

As we approached, John asked the priest of the temple who was hanging around about the chaiwalla he had encountered at that location the previous time he had done the trail. The priest told him that the chaiwalla was not there that particular day of the week, but he offered to make us tea himself. He disappeared into a room and came back after a few minutes with piping hot cups of fresh tea that we thoroughly enjoyed. When we were done and asked him how much the cups of tea cost, he said that it was free. He did not want to take money from us! John offered some money as a donation to the temple, and the priest finally accepted. This encounter was a reminder to us that there a good people everywhere. We only have to keep our eyes open. The priest saw us on our way with a namaskar and a smile. He even tried to return the money back on our way back to the top of the hill.

The quality of the trail fell apart soon after we left the temple. There was an area just beyond the temple where the path was barely visible.

We plunged into the foliage after a moment’s hesitation. We had been warned beforehand about the possible presence of various different kinds of snakes on the hill.

Thankfully, this section of the trail went on for only a short distance, and the path opened up beyond that section.

There were hardly any people on the trail from the point where we left the area of the temple. We might have encountered one or two folks, one of whom was a worker headed for a pump house located next to the trail.

At this point, we were walking on steps cut into the stone, or steps built of stone. The overall slope was quite steep. It was not easy on the muscles. We had to pay attention to each step because of the uneven nature of the stones. Unfortunately, this section of the trail also did appear to be poorly maintained.

It was a pity, since the path of the trail itself was absolutely stunning and a very nice challenge for hikers! The trail itself could have been a great attraction for people from all over the world.

At this point our views were still obscured by mist and fog, but things were also getting better in this regard.

We had to make a few stops along the way to catch our breath and also hydrate. We eventually reached a point before reaching the bottom of the hill where we decided to turn back. It was beginning to warm up, and we were feeling the heat. We were also feeling the impact of the downhill descent on our muscles.

Going back up the stairs involved use of muscles that had not been put into use on our way down. It was also tougher on the lungs. Within a short distance of climbing, every step that we took up each of the stairs began to take an extra effort. We took it slow and steady.

The views were beginning to open up some more by now.

The walk back to the top of the hill seemed to go quicker than the time it took to go down the mountainside. I am not sure if this was real or my imagination.

We made sure to stay clear of the monkeys on the way back to the parking lot. When we got back, we found that the parking lot itself was not as full as it had been when we got there in the morning.But there were still a significant number of visitors who were hanging around.

I thought we we had done some good exercise for the day, but we negated some of the good effort by indulging in substantial food consumption the rest of the afternoon – parathas on the way home, and Thai food after that when we got home. I am OK with that. We are on holiday after all.

The Resident Geckos

I was seated in the verandah, enjoying my view of the garden, when I first sighted one of the resident geckos. It sat perfectly still on the side of the trunk of the tree beside the small gate in front of the house. It would have been very easy to miss. It was perfectly camouflaged against the brown background, and the only reason I had noticed it was because it had made a movement that had caught my attention. The gecko stayed perfectly still most of the time. Unfortunately, I was caught unprepared, without my camera in hand.

I made sure that I kept the camera with me when on the verandah from that time onward. And I waited patiently for a few days. Sure enough, a gecko made made its appearance close to the location of my original sighting. It was clear that the lizard considered the place to be familiar territory. Perhaps it had its home somewhere in that space. I managed to get a few pictures over a period of time, once even following the gecko as it made its way across the garden, hiding from me within the branches of a shrub, and then rapidly withdrawing further away from me. If you have not seen one of the Indian geckos before, this is your opportunity to do so!

From the length of the tails, I think we are looking at two different geckos in these pictures.

Of Returns and Beginnings And Endings

I am in the middle of a familiar trip once again. I am back in my hometown, the place where I grew up, the place that I departed many years ago when I was still a young laddie. It is a place I departed without a second thought, without hesitation. I am back to visit the folks I left behind, my parents.

Last time I came to India, I fell quite sick on my way back home. One might ask: why is one silly enough to take a risk once again, so soon after the previous experience. Perhaps only the heart knows,

But this is also a different kind of trip – a meeting once again of the generations. It is the determination of the young people – my children who are traveling with me – to visit the grandparents who are in their fading years, to show them that there are people in distant lands who remember them fondly and care for them. One does not forget. These young people – from the distant lands – are old enough to have memories of their own, memories of their visits with their grandparents when they were younger still. They are determined to demonstrate their love by their mere presence. Remember that there are people who care, do not despair. Love is in the air. I am asked – is it too much to come out and explicitly state that we are here because we love you. But it is not in the nature of this family to go there.

Yeah, it is certainly turning into a different kind of trip. And my role this time may only to be a guide and chauffeur. And I would be glad of it.

Charging Through The July 4th Weekend

Out on the trail very early in the morn,
Tearing through the cobwebs that the biking paths adorn,
We are the first riders of the day in these parts it would seem,
Pedaling through the quiet of the cool woods as if in a dream.

We have been biking regularly the last few weeks, including a ride yesterday that will in all likelihood be the last one in a long while. I even took my bike back to the store for some adjustments during this regular spell of exercise, and we also did a complete tuneup of the old bike. A few parts ended up needing replacement on the old bike. It turns out that I had worn out the inside of the back tire of the old bike and did not even know it!

It has been a eventful few weeks recently, about to culminate in a trip to India next week. There have perhaps been plenty of things to write about, but the opportunities for introspection and access to a creative space have been few and fleeting. There are the distractions that do not allow me to stay in a quiet space for too long. The attentive motivation for writing has been lacking, and that is still the case today. So, I am going to keep this sweet and short.

Here is a picture taken during a hike with visiting family to Maryland Heights during the July 4th weekend. The view is of Harpers Ferry, a favorite place for us to visit.The Shenandoah river (on the left side of the picture) meets up with the Potomac at this river junction. It was a good day for recreation on the rivers. Perhaps you can even sight some rafts and tubes in the expanded picture.

Blind Camera Shots In Manhattan

I started taking pictures on 8th Avenue without really looking at the viewfinder or the display of the camera to see what image was being captured. I was not making the effort to bring the camera up to my face. Many of the pictures were taken while I was walking. I was surprised by the results. Here are some samples.

The last two pictures were taken in Times Square.

One of the above pictures has been extremely cropped. I took the picture with the camera pointed to my side (and slightly to the back) as I walked. You can see the original version of the picture below. (Can you guess the nature of the unexpected object that got caught the picture?!)

Perhaps some may prefer the original to the cropped version of the above picture. It is all a matter of perspective!

The Birdland Jazz Club

I was treated to my first ever visit to a jazz club in New York City for Fathers Day. The Birdland is known for its historical association with jazz, with many famous musicians having performed there over the years. The club is named after Charlie “Bird” Parker. It has been at its current location near Times Square since 1985. The club has operated in a few different locations in Manhattan over the years.

Our entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of local musicians who have an regular and ongoing gig at the club. Eric Comstock, a pianist and singer, was accompanied by Sean Smith on Bass. They were joined by Barbara Fasano, a singer who also happens to be Eric Comstock’s wife, for a portion of the show.

I enjoyed all aspects of the evening – the music, atmosphere, food, and drinks. It was a perfect blend in spite of a small miscalculation on my part regarding one of the items in the above list.

A Different Midtown Manhattan

My lasting memories of Manhattan are from a time long long ago when I was a graduate student at what was then The State University of New York at Stony Brook. It was nice to be back last weekend in Manhattan to experience the space once again.

Some aspects of the Midtown Manhattan experience have not changed with time. There is the palpable energy of the city which remains the same as before. The hustle and bustle of the city hits all your senses and makes you feel alive! There are crowds everywhere. The tourist is everywhere. The sidewalks and crosswalks are filled with pedestrians dodging incoming foot traffic. Traffic on the streets and avenues looks chaotic. The place is noisy as heck. People are impatient as heck!

But, there have also been some changes to the place. During the early 1980s New York City was still in the process of recovering from the near bankruptcy of 1975. Things feels somewhat different these days. There is more of a sense of prosperity. The place is not as grungy, gritty and grimy as it used to be. The subway looked cleaner than in the past. I did not get as much smell of urine in the stairways and walkways as I used to. The subway cars looked clean. The graffiti also seems to have gone. The places where we walked felt safer than in the past. The storefronts and shops looked well maintained. There seems to be enough capital available to keep things moving. Places like Times Square and the area around Madison Square Garden appear to have been cleaned up, etc..

There were other infrastructure changes in the area that caught my eye. Our first stop in Manhattan was at Hudson Yards. There is a new underground subway station here that opened up for business in 2015. It is the new terminal for the Number 7 train, which used to operate only up to Times Square in the past. The station and its surroundings are really nice. One emerges to the street level to an area of Manhattan that will be under development for the next few years. There are already a few skyscrapers that have come up in the neighborhood.

At Hudson Yards we saw what was supposed to be the centerpiece of the future development of this area – a piece of architecture called Vessel. Vessel has had an troubled and controversial opening. One wonders how long this structure will survive. Next to Vessel is The Shed, a place for the arts (as I understand it).

After coming home, I did some research to discover that the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) has a new storage yard for its trains in the Hudson Yards area. The yard is currently in the open, not covered over, but the full development of Hudson Yards will result in the railroad yard going underground – under all the new buildings that are supposed to come up over the tracks.

I also learnt that since my time in the New York area, Amtrak has restored the once defunct West Side Line in Manhattan in order to support train service from the north directly into Penn station. The connection from the new West Side Line into Penn Station goes under LIRR’s Hudson Yards, and allows Amtrak’s trains running on The Empire Corridor (into New York State and beyond) to avoid having to use Grand Central Station. This change has allowed Amtrak to consolidate all of its services in Manhattan into a single location. Previously, they had to lease space in Grand Central Station and provide shuttle service between the two stations.

We had come to the Hudson Yards area in order to get on to the High Line near its northern end. This elevated park did not exist during my time at Stony Brook. The High Line park runs on the viaduct that originally used to carry the overhead tracks of the West Side Line down to the southern part of Manhattan.

We only stayed on the High Line for a few blocks. It would be worth further exploration in the future, from end to end, if the opportunity arises. The High Line has already become an extremely popular tourist destination.

The next discovery was the new Moynihan Train Hall serving trains running into Penn Station. The hall has been built within the confines of the existing James A. Farley Building, just west of the existing concourse for Penn Station beneath Madison Square Garden.
This is an amazing change from the old station concourse.

I was already familiar with the changes that have occurred around Times Square, the next place we visited, because of a few more recent trips to the place. It has become a family friendly destination, quite different from the sketchy area that it used to be in the early 1980s. The place has become more pedestrian friendly. It always used to attract big crowds.

Midtown Manhattan today looks like a happening place. This part of town had a very different vibe to it in the early 1980s, one that was perhaps better appreciated by a young, penniless, and somewhat carefree graduate student.

Witness To A Molting

We had just stopped at the Turtle Run campsite near Whites Ferry towards the end of our bike ride in order to take a break. I happened to stop next to a tree. She had stopped further along on the trail. She turned towards me and had a reaction that I know well from past outings. I looked back to see a Black Rat snake shedding its skin while descending down the trunk of the tree next to me. I moved my bike a little bit out of the way and grabbed the camera from the backpack. This was the sight!

The snake knew what it had to do after leaving its old layer of skin behind. It slid down to the bottom of the tree, and then moved purposefully through the grass towards the edge of the trail.After making sure that its path was clear, its crossed the trail in its brand new skin!