The Vegetable Shop

This vegetable shop is also a new sight on the street in front of our house in Chennai.  They seem to be doing a tremendous amount of business.  I have noticed crowds at all times of the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile their bright lighting serves them well when it comes to advertising their presence and their goods, it can be a nuisance just across the road  in the nighttime because they are open till somewhat late in the evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the fact that some of their customers park their vehicles in front of the gate to our house is also a major annoyance.

All of that having been said, this storefront seems to be a step up from the kind of establishments that have tended to come up in front of our house in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThings are constantly changing here in Madipakkam, a suburb on the outskirts of Chennai.

Crossing the Street

It depends on the time of day, but crossing the street in front of our house in Chennai can be an adventure in itself.  It goes without saying that traffic in these parts is completely disorganized. The flow is a random process, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes trying to find a way through the confusion. Four-wheelers in all sizes – buses, trucks, construction vehicles, smaller vans, cars, etc.., compete for space with three-wheelers and two wheelers, both motorized and foot powered.  (I am a little surprised I have not yet seen a bullock cart on this road.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The concept of staying on your side of the road will get you nowhere when you are trying to get someplace.   And if you are on a two-wheeler, you may even try to maneuver sideways between two vehicles if there is enough space to find your way around stopped traffic.

The pedestrian is a forgotten entity in the midst of  all of this, but, because of the nature of the place, people have to cross the road all the time to take care of daily business.  These folks are looking for the break in the traffic to start walking across the street, hoping that no other vehicle appears on the road while they are in the process.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf one such vehicle were to appear, it is more than likely not going to stop for you.  Rather, the driver, in all likelihood, is going to try to find a way around you, trying to avoid slowing down.  This will happen even while you are keep moving.  It is not clear what one is supposed to do.  Do you keep walking, do you halt in your tracks, or do you make a dash for it not knowing how the speeding vehicle will respond.  You take your life in your own hands.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I have seen people put out their hands while stepping in front of a slowly moving vehicle like a bus, instructing it to stop.  That seems to work.  After all, bus drivers probably do not wish to be lynched by an angry mob if something untoward happens.  I once had to wait about 15 minutes to try to cross a busy road. My friend, who was waiting patiently in a car on the other side, finally stepped out on to the road, put his hand out, and proceeded to cross over to my side.  It was the work of a master of the craft.

My initial experience with trying to cross the road in front of our house during this trip nearly led to disaster.  I had lost all the skills I thought I had acquired from previous visits.  I was probably fortunate to not get injured.  But I am getting better.  What is required is a ton of patience.  And sudden moves to make a dash for it across the road are ill-advised.   Also, never try your luck crossing the street when your vision is partially blocked, especially by a bus or some similar sized vehicle.

Folks who live in these parts have been crossing busy Chennai roads like this for years. They are taking a calculated risk when they do this, and probably feel that the chances of not being hit under the circumstances are somewhat reasonable from a statistical perspective. People have no other choice, and you have to have a certain sense of fatalism ingrained in you if you are to survive under these circumstances.

I could not resist posting the picture below. The family is on a two-wheeler, probably waiting for mom to reappear from her shopping at the local store.  She will get on the back of the motor-bike, behind dad, and off they will go!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Seeing The Himalayas

This was my first time taking a direct flight from USA to India without an intermediate transit stop somewhere in-between.  The flight path was close to the great circle route. Screenshot_2019-02-02 Great Circle MapperIt took us north over Greenland, the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Russia, and then south through Uzbekstan, perhaps Tajikstan, and then Afghanistan and Pakistan. The map above is a polar projection.  This is how the route looks on the more common map that uses the Mercator projectionScreenshot_2019-02-02 Great Circle MapBecause of the nature of the flight path, and because of the time of departure of the flight, we went through a sunset and sunrise over a short period of time.  The flight took off in the early part of the morning and within three to four hours the sun had begun to set somewhere over Greenland.  (The generally easterly direction of the flight shortens the duration of both daytime and nighttime, but the bigger impact on the daytime was because we were closer to the North Pole at that point, where days already are shorter in wintertime. (Time to open up a geography book!))  At sunset, as we were heading north, my seat on the right side of the aircraft was facing east, away from the direction for optimal viewing of sunsets. This is the kind of view I got.P1250029.jpgAs the aircraft headed south during the second half of the flight, I ended up facing west, away from the direction of sunrise. Nevertheless I got a few pictures that seemed interesting. Here is one engine of our Boeing 777 aircraft. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANotice that the nacelle of the engine is lit up by the rising sun from below and not above.  Because of the angle of the rays of light at sunrise, because of the aircraft’s altitude, and because of the size of the engine, the rays of light are able to reach out under the aircraft to the engine on its other side first before they are able to reach over the top.  Even though it may not be obvious from the picture, the engines on this aircraft are massive, and would even touch the ground once landed if it was not for the height of the landing gear.

Although I could not see the sun rise directly, I was able to see its impact on the ground indirectly as we flew over the far western end of the Himalayas.  Here are some pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is indeed an awesome sight. This may be the only time one gets to experience the thrill of the Himalayas.

The timing for this flight was the best I have experienced in all my travels from USA to India over the many years.  The return trip also promises to be advantageous in this regard.

Colorado, Utah, and Arizona by Car – The Epilogue

(You might notice that the subject line for this sequence of blogs has finally gotten corrected in the last posting of the series!  It’s the least I could do.)

It happened when we were in Kanab, UT.  It had been a while since we had gone to a Chinese Restaurant.  Luo’s Cafe was close enough to the hotel for us to walk to.  The food, and especially the hot soup, was welcome on a cold evening after the active day in Zion National Park. We got fortune cookies at the end of dinner.  The one I opened up said “In the near future, you will discover how fortunate you are.”  I have thought of myself as very fortunate for many years of my life.  So this message about making a “discovery” was incorrect in a way, but considering the nature of the trip that we were making, it was still interesting, and perhaps timely, anyway.  The other fortune cookie had the message “It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”  Please contact me if you can figure that one one out!

Here are some stats from the trip.
According to the odometer in the car, we covered 2579 miles during this trip.  This might be equivalent to driving across the country.

The places we stayed in were Denver, Estes Park, and Parachute, in Colorado; Moab and Monticello in Utah; then Monument Valley and Page in Arizona; back to Kanab, Cannonville and Torrey in Utah; and finally Red Cliff and Denver in Colorado.

The National Parks we visited were Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonland (two different sections), Mesa Verde, Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef.  Places visited also included Monument Valley, Pike’s Peak, Four Corners, and a few state parks.  We passed through numerous interesting little towns, including places like Escalante in Utah, and Parachute, Red Cliff, and Leadville in Colorado.  We did drive through a town called “No Name”, and drove past a restaurant called the “Bla, Bla, Blah Cafe” towards the end of the trip.

Most of the travel was on the Colorado Plateau.   We started off at an elevation of slightly over 5400 feet, in Denver, and probably stayed at an altitude above that most of the time, finally hitting over 14,100 feet at Pikes Peak.

The weather cooperated for the most part.  Even when it rained in the night or in the morning, it would clear out in time so that we could do something outside.  We had some really cold mornings, even around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but it usually warmed up enough for us to get going.  We always dressed in layers, and the outerwear would go into the backpack as we warmed up during a walk.  The snow that we experienced was not significant enough to cause problems, but it did bring an additional element of beauty to our travels.

One of the surprises for me was the fact there are still cowboys in the west, and that cattle still roam the open range in Utah.  There is definitely still a western culture.  Another delightful surprise was the discovery of the town of Red Cliff in Colorado.  I could have spent more time in that area, including a drive through Shrine Pass.  I could probably have also spent some more time at places like Cortez, Escalante and Leadville.  But we had other places to get to.

People we encountered were generally nice and helpful.  Conversations were not very deep. Politics never came up and that helped us stay out of trouble.  The servers at the restaurants were mostly  genuine and hardworking, and we ended up talking to some of them, and even tipping more than usual.

There were many tourists from Europe.  I  noticed very few black families in the parks.   This is unfortunate. On the other hand, the number of oriental tourists we encountered was staggering. For a reason I cannot fathom, tourists from India are found in large numbers in Page, AZ.

It took me a significant amount of organizing effort to make sure that we had a place to stay every night of the trip, and that these places would be suitably located relative to things that I thought were good to experience.   There was no issue with any of the hotel reservations, and some of the facilities had their own character and were interesting in themselves.  There might be one or two changes that I would make if I had to do this again, mainly related to location, but things worked out nicely for the most part.  I had also created a list of things that sounded interesting to see and do for every place that we stayed at.

I did all the driving, but Teresa worked out all the details of packing and unpacking and managing the stuff that we carried during our hikes.  My outerwear to handle cold weather stayed in the back seat of the car for the most part when I was not wearing it.  I spent significant amount of time every evening, and the next morning, working on the blog for the day.   I used to wake up very early in the morning and slept less than usual overall.  It must have been the difference in time zones that I never adjusted to.  But I have also noticed that something like this happens to me every time I make a trip like this.

We jointly decided what we would try to see and do on a particular day, and it mostly worked out.  We were flexible in planning and adjusting when things did not go exactly as planned, especially when it rained.  Sometimes the advance planning was minimal.  We did not see everything we would have liked to.  There was not enough time.  We did most things together – there were a couple of occasions when I did a little extra on the trails.  We managed to not get on each other’s nerves too much.  It was good teamwork.  Teresa actually started proof-reading my blogs after the first few days.  I know it helped, but I suspect that a bunch of editorial stuff still needs to be addressed.  I will try to fix errors as I find them.

The return to Gaithersburg and reality was smooth but I would not call it pleasant.  The election season is upon us, and it is the season of lying and spreading fear.   But a day at the Manna food bank revived my spirit somewhat.

I did manage to rescue the jacket that I had left at the security checkpoint on our way out of Dulles Airport on the 6th.  Some people may not be happy about that, hoping that this rather tattered piece of clothing would disappear.  But I think there is something to be said about being sentimental about old things.

Here is the link to a page that lets you access all the blogs for the trip in the correct order.

By the way, this is an amazingly beautiful country!

 

 

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 15, The Return Home

The last day was somewhat relaxed since our flight out of Denver was only in the afternoon.  I had time to work on the blog for the 14th day, the one that I could not start work on the night before.  We headed out to the airport early just in case there were delays in processing, especially at the car rental place.  The day after we had arrived and rented the car, as we were driving to Boulder, we had noticed a crack in the windshield on the top left side.  It was in a location that you would normally not look at.  Most likely it had not been noticed and the car had been rented anyway.  We had continued driving the car anyway, not wanting to turn back and return to the rental place and lose time.  The windshield had held up, but we were not sure what to expect from the rental company.  Perhaps they would blame us.  Things went smoothly, but I do not know if they get back to us later to try to add additional charges.  I should note that the vehicle that we were driving, a Dodge Journey SUV, performed admirably.

One of the handles on the big bag that we were traveling with came apart as I was lifting it into the car at the hotel.  Of the three original handles on this suitcase that had been bought in Australia many years ago, only one working handle remained.  Fortunately, the folks at the United Airlines counter were helpful and did not create a fuss. They taped up the broken handle so that nobody would try to use it, and the bag has made it home.  The suitcase will be promptly discarded.  It has served its purpose over the years.  It has even been to Africa!

Getting through security at the airport was a smooth process, and I had time to put the finishing touches to the blog for the 14th day, and to send it out.  I bought a sandwich for us to share on the plane.  The flight was not as long as we expected, probably because of the speed of the prevailing winds.  We sat next to a young girl, originally from Colorado Springs, but now living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Her flight to Sao Paulo was from Dulles airport.)  She was quite talkative, and has lived an interesting life even though she is very young.  Her family background is diverse, both in the nature of where people in the family come from, and also in the nature of where they have settled  down all over the world.  She is really into the outdoors, and has traveled a lot around the world, including to India.  But what impressed us most was the fact that she spent 8 months in Kabul in a girls school.  She was supposed to be there for 3 months, training teachers in teaching math, but liked the experience so much that she extended her stay.  She was getting her Masters Degree from Tufts University at that time, and took a leave of absence to do this.  Hope things go well for her.

It took us a long time to get home from the airport because we were using an airport shuttle service.  I have to find an alternative strategy the next time.

But now we are home and trying to get back to our regular routine.  It is a somewhat cool and windy Fall day here in Maryland.

I will finish up this series of blogs with an Epilogue some time.  Sorry, no pictures to share today!

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 14 (To Pikes Peak and back to Denver)

This was the day the adventure finally came to a end and we returned to reality.  No, we are not home yet, but we started the morning in an unknown little mining town in the middle of Colorado, and ended in the bustling city of Denver.  We spent the night in a Hampton Inn hotel in the busy city, and we fly back home today.  The mood has already shifted.

This was the scene outside our hotel room at Red Cliff in the morning.  A light snow had fallen overnight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff in the distance, the sun was trying to break through.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff to the east, the sun lit up the snow-covered evergreens.  This was the direction of Shrine Pass and the road that was not taken.  That may remain a dream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed up the hill and out of town to get back on to US 24.  This road did not seem as narrow as it did to us the previous evening, except at the point where it hit the highway, where they seemed to have had to cut down a little bit of the side of the mountain to create the entrance to the road.  There was an overhang that seemed like it would be nasty for tall vehicles.

Then it was back on US 24 East.  There was more snow around, but the road had been cleared pretty well by that time, and it had stopped snowing. Nevertheless, one had to be extra careful when driving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the town of Leadville and stopped to fill gas.  Next to the town were the Sawatch Range of the Rocky mountains.  Mt. Massive is the closest high peak, over 14,000 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had selected a route that went through Leadville because I had read about this somewhat less known, and perhaps unremarkable to some, town in a book on running.  This is the location of the annual Leadville Trail 100, “The Race Across the Sky”, an ultra-marathon where runners covered 100 miles in the Rocky Mountains.  I do not think I am going to do that any time soon!

The town itself had a western feel to it, a feeling that we have gotten very used to during these travels.  Outside this little cafe you could hear the kind of music that one might have heard in an old western movie, typically in a saloon.  (If I remember correctly this sometimes happened before a gunfight broke out.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture from the middle of the road.  I was ready for a shootout!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are more pictures of the town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were out of town, driving further south in the shadow of the Rockies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the snow behind after we left town.  As we drove further south, we saw signs for Mt Harvard, Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton, all mountains higher than 14,000 feet.  What an elitist bunch of folks, the people who named these mountains!  These are also called the Collegiate mountains.

The road headed south for a long time, and then turned east just beyond Buena Vista, a somewhat sizable town.

Then we were headed east, on a big plain, on a road that ran straight and true for miles and miles.  There were fields beside us with cows and horses, and then we saw some animals that we did not recognize.  I think they were some kind of deer.

We climbed out of plains into parkland area.  The scenery was still beautiful, but not as compelling as what we had experienced in the last few days.  But to somebody who was seeing this after having spent all their lives driving in suburbia, this could also seem remarkable.

We passed a little outpost where I finally stopped to take some pictures of buildings that had a western feel to it.  This was not the best we had seen during our travels, but this was perhaps the last time we would see such buildings during the travels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was when we entered the town of Ute Pass that we knew that we were back in civilization as we have known it all our lives.  It was a bigger place with a lot of people, a lot of commercial buildings typical of suburbia around us, and names of stores familiar to us.

Shortly out of town, we arrived at the start of Pikes Peak highway.  There were already lines forming to pay the fees and enter.  You have to drive about 20 miles to get to the top.  This picture was taken at mile 10 where we decided to stop for some lunch.  We might have sat at the picnic benches had it not been for the description they had at the place for black bears.  We ate in the car.  You can see the top of Pikes Peak towards the left side of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the forest of evergreens as we climbed.  The trees thinned out and eventually disappeared.

The last phase of the climb involved a lot of short and sharp switchbacks up the bare face of the mountain.  You had to be really careful.  We ended up behind a very slow driver who allowed a convoy of about 20 cars to form behind him.  The directions for driving this road clearly state that one should pull over and let others pass if there are three cars behind them. (I am told that it is not good to called people names in a blog. So I will avoid doing that.) We reached the top of the mountain in this fashion, in a convoy of slow cars.

We were actually a little disappointed when we got there.  There is a wide flat area on top, and the area that we were entering through was blocked off with a lot of construction equipment.  Additionally, there were a lot of cars and people around.  There was a guy who was helping people get parking.

Here is a view of a vista at the top of the mountain (click on the picture, as usual!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were at a height where breathing could be difficult if you were not prepared.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stopping in the cafeteria for their world-famous donuts and a cup of hot chocolate, we stepped out behind the gift shop to take in the view.

The pictures below show the place where the cog railroad used to end.  This railroad actually operated until recent times, but is out of commission because there is extensive maintenance work needed, and it is going to be tough to get spare parts and fix something that is not a mainstream product these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a guy who has taken off his shirt.  The temperature was below freezing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lake blow is called Crystal Reservoir.  It serves the city of Colorado Springs close by.  We will stop by this lake on the way down the mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can walk the trail down the mountain.  In fact, there are supported bike rides you can do down the mountain on the road.  Can you imagine how hot the brakes are going to be as you proceed downhill!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a few stops on the way down.  Here is a picture of the road at one of these spots, of the direction we had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis car looks like it is too close to the edge!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the road going down the mountain in one of the steeper sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken from Crystal reservoir, where we stopped for an extended break.  You can see the building at the top of Pikes peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe blue color of the clear water was remarkable.  Pikes Peak is to the left of the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ripples in the water stopped at some point, and I could take the following picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe realized that we had taken much less time to explore Pikes Peak than what we had been led to believe would be needed.  The evening was still early, and we had to figure out what to do next.  We opened up the AAA tour guide book to the pages for Colorado Springs.  It seems like The Garden of the Gods was the topmost on the list of things to see.  That was where we headed.

The GPS device told us to go in one direction to get to the park, whereas the instructions on the city streets gave us a different direction.  We followed street signs.  It was the wrong decision.  Instead of the Visitor Center, we ended up at the Trading Post.  We parked there anyway, thinking that there might be a visitor center hidden somewhere.  It was at this point that an overwhelming sense of tiredness overcame me.  I was running out of energy.  It was time for a Clif bar. We went in to get directions for hiking and were given a map and some somewhat vague directions.  We decided that we wanted to head for the Siamese Twins.

We headed down a trail that seemed to be the right direction.  A park ranger who had been driving on the road next to the trail stopped and gave us us an official trail map of the park (which was different from what we got at the Trading Post).  We had been going in the wrong direction.

We did make it to the Siamese Twins.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the Trading Post as we walked back to the parking lot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had initially wanted to also walk in another section of the park, but I realized that I was too tired.  It must have been all the driving.  We decided to head out to our hotel in Denver right away.

On the way out, we passed the place where we had initially wanted to also walk after seeing the Siamese Twins.  It was actually the more interesting part of the places in the park, with its huge rock formations.  It was the place we would have ended up in if we had stopped at the actual Visitor Center. That is the way it goes.

We joined the traffic heading north on Interstate 25 towards Denver.  It was rush-hour time on a Friday evening, and there was construction on the road.  Welcome back to the trappings of civilization.

We went out for dinner soon after we checked into the hotel.  There was a Thai restaurant within walking distance.  The food was good, except that the chef had probably mixed up the dishes that were supposed to be very spicy, and I got more than I had bargained for.  Some Chang beer from Thailand helped cool things down.

Back at the hotel, I downloaded pictures from the phone to the computer, but that was as far as I got before an overwhelming urge to sleep overtook me.  I conked out the minute my head hit the pillow.