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Archive for the ‘Road Trip’ Category

Eating my way through Jordan – A Day in Amman

In Road Trip, Road Trip, Travel on May 26, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Up until last month my travels through the Middle East had been restricted to the airports of some of the bigger cities there – Dubai, Doha, and Abu Dhabi – when flying back and forth between the US and Delhi during my 3 years of grad school. But earlier this month I got an opportunity to visit Jordan and it became my window to the Arabic world.

For neighbours it has Syria, Iraq, and Israel, countries associated with war and disturbance. The region that was once the Cradle of Civilization might as well be called the cradle of instability today. Murmurs within the family doubting the wisdom of my choice for travel were only natural with even the son voicing concern (wow, he’s all grown up!).

And here I am, after spending a week in the gorgeous desert country of Jordan to tell you that it is as safe as traveling to those places for which there are no advisories. The people there are friendly, most speak English, there is lots of fresh vegetarian food to chose from (yes, I do prefer to eat mostly vegetarian), and the US Dollar is as legit as the Jordanian Dinar. Mental conversion is also quick and easy for us Indians; 1JD=₹100!

We took off on an early morning AirArabia* flight and arrived at the Queen Alia International Airport (Amman) via Sharjah absolutely sleep deprived. There was no time to waste. A quick shower fixed us up for the moment and we reported promptly for lunch. We were spoiled for choice at the lavish buffet lunch at the Crown Plaza Amman. The centerpiece of the spread was a pilaf – lamb shoulder with rice. But before that I piled my plate with all the mezze fixings – got to eat your salads first! There was an entire counter devoted to pickles – imagine my delight. Pickled olives, chillies, cucumbers, gerkins, and even eggplant stuffed with chillies! The black olives on offer here were surely the best on the trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Driving through Southwestern United States

In Eating Out, Road Trip on December 1, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Our bellies filled with a comfort-meal of dal-chaval and our hearts with some trepidation, we set off from Manisha’s house in our rented, practically brand-new, Toyota Avalon on the afternoon of June 16 on a two-week road trip through the Southwest US. With two camping trips behind us, a cooler in the boot, even if tiny by American standards, was now considered indispensable. I mapped our destination for the day – Grand Junction, CO – on GoogleMaps and we breezed along on I-70 (US Highway 6), getting honked at just once when we hesitated to make a left turn to allow the person behind us to pass. Old habits die hard.

It was an easy 4-hour drive with the Colorado River flowing gently alongside. We could see the railway track on the other bank, a travel mode we had considered briefly. In these barely 260 miles the landscape was changing dramatically already. We were leaving The Rockies behind and the tilted red rocks by the highway were preparing us for the grand mesas and buttes we were about to encounter all across the state of Utah.

To Arches National Park (12)By tea-time we were at the hotel in Grand Junction and met up with my parents, sister, and her family who had driven down from CT after a brief halt to visit family in Ann Arbor, MI. Rounds of tea followed though it was too early to whip out the kettle Manisha had insisted I carry. She was right; the hotel-room coffee/tea-makers do not get the water hot enough for a decent cup. We picked a Mexican place for our first dinner with the family and caught a glorious sunset afterwards.

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Winter Park in Summer and Eating Boulder

In Road Trip, Travel on September 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

Time was flying. Mornings would roll easy in endless cups of tea. We cooked together a little bit: the flan, and some mutsch, and drank more tea in between, including a tisane made with wild roses and linden blossoms and bracts foraged and generously shared by her friend. Linden blossoms can also be used in much the same way as calamondins to make a liqueur.

On our second, and last weekend in Colorado, we headed to Winter Park. Medha had picked a test-center near Winter Park and she and D had left a day earlier so that she could take her test and still be able to spend the weekend with us.

All of Boulder was out on their cycles that day for a race and we kept at a safe distance from them all.  The scenic Trail Ridge Road took us into the Rocky Mountain National Parks at Estes Park. The entry sign here, also known as Patel Point to some, was our first photo opp. We checked off the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, a National Landmark site, designed by Frank Llyod Wright’s office Taliesin Associated Architects, following his death. The visitor center also plays tribute to conservationist Stephen Mather who led a public campaign that was instrumental in the setting up of the US National Park Service in 1916.

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Toasting a Half Century

In Drinks, From the Garden, Fruit, Preserves, Road Trip, Travel, Under 30 min! on August 5, 2015 at 4:49 pm
Road Tripping!

Road Tripping!

I’ve been away a while. Well, we were planning this vacation-of-a-lifetime, a six-week holiday in another part of the world! How many people can manage that today! The preceding month was crazy at work; the blog had to take the backseat again. Vijay was at his desk till an hour before we were to leave for the airport. We didn’t even get the time to dig out winter woollies from the big trunk in the storeroom. I was going to arrive in the US with no fashionable warm clothes. The taxi arrived and V was still to shower and eat. Eventually, we did manage to zip-up the cases and leave for the airport in time. As long as we had money and passports, we didn’t need to worry.

The following six weeks turned out to be a vacation to remember. Friends and family shared generously their time and their homes and we got another peek at the amazing country that is the USA. How much of it I will be able to recount here I don’t know – it took me over a month and five posts to cover our 10 days in Ladakh last year! But I love to go back and re-read all the travel posts here. It is surprising how much we forget as time passes. The brain stores but foggy memories and none of the detail. I do want to remember this trip. I turned 50 last month and this vacation turned out to be quite the celebration! It wasn’t planned with that in mind though.

raising a toast

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Five Mountain Passes

In Road Trip, Travel on December 31, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Day 10, September 8, 2014
Thikse to Jispa, 800km

It was still dark when I walked over to the dining tent at the camp and grabbed a cup of tea.  Two camp-helps were busy preparing sandwiches for our breakfast-to-go.  The sun rose and lit up the camp and its surroundings – what an idyllic setting to watch the light and shadow patterns the clouds cast on the mountains as you sit by the gently flowing stream.  But, we had a lot of road ahead of us today, and four mountain passes to cross. Soon everyone was up and about.

By 6:30 am everyone was at the parking.  We had the usual morning briefing by Abhey and then we were off.   The water crossing was worse with all the back and forth of our SUVs and it was the turn of the Ertiga to get stuck.  We followed.  For all our early start the water-crossing cost us a good half hour. Some of us needed to refuel; them SUVs are such diesel-guzzlers!  Our petrol car was giving us unbelievable mileage even in the hills (13-14 km/lt of petrol)!  The rains had played spoil sport and we had missed out on some of the highs on this trip.  We were going to see how the roads were and if all seemed well, add a short detour to Tso Kar. Tso Kar, while no competition to the exquisite Pangong Tso, is an alpine salt lake with its own charm.  It is home to a variety of birds as well as Kiangs, the Himalayan wild ass. Read the rest of this entry »

Ladakh Himalayas: Through Warila to Thikse

In Road Trip, Travel on December 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Day 9, September 7, 2014
Hundar to Thikse

At last, we woke up to the Ladakh-blue skies!

Nubra Sand Dunes
The cloudy skies of the previous day gave way to…
Nubra Valley
the famed Ladakhi blue skies!

The tent-bathrooms at Eco-Resort had piped hot water and a bucket-bath was in order.  The 150 km drive to the next campsite, just a little beyond Thiksey, was a short one so there really was no need for a rushed morning though Vikas and I were ready, as directed, by 6 a.m.  There didn’t seem to be anyone about as we ambled over to the dining area and prepared to sit down to rounds of tea as we waited for the rest to awaken.  Preparations were on to get our breakfast-to-go orders ready but as Vijay joined us, we decided there was much wisdom in eating our paranthas hot. The 7 a.m. departure? Not bloody likely.  Quite a few of us managed a hot breakfast before the whole gang was up and ready to roll.

Abhey decided we take an alternate route instead of retracing our way to Leh and thence to Thikse.  This would take us through Warila.  The sun shone bright and the sunshine-starved travelers took every opportunity to pause and enjoy the scenic drive.  The convoy was less disciplined today with some of us taking out time to capture the scenes on our cameras, but the walkie-talkies kept us in touch.  Pictures can hardly do justice to the majesty of the Ladakh Himalayas.

From Hundar to Warila, along the river Shyok

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Ladakh Himalayas: The Nubra Valley

In Road Trip, Travel on December 4, 2014 at 8:50 am
hundar 01

Waking up in an apricot orchard!

Day 8, September 6, 2014
Hundar (10km and back!)

Pangong Tso became a popular destination after it was featured in the hit 2009 movie 3 Idiots.  Its unparalleled beauty is set amid a landscape very harsh and weather unpredictable.  Given the incessant rains and the gloomy forecast, the lake would have to wait…for the next visit.  This trip, we were getting an extra day in Hundar to spend at leisure – visiting the Nubra Sand Dunes and exploring the Diskit Monastery.  Luckily, we were able to transfer our bookings to Nature’s Nest camp here without losing the deposit.

After breakfast we set out for the Monastery.  It was not raining and it was not windy though the clouds were still hanging low.  We spent a couple of hours walking through the monastery that, like so many others, is like a small village on a hill.  We had landed in the middle of special week-long prayers.  A brightly-coloured fresh mandala made with powdered precious stones was on display in the main prayer hall.  It commemorated the special prayers underway and had taken the monks a week to prepare.  After the conclusion of the prayers, it would be consigned to the waters of the river flowing in the valley below.  Only saints could be this detached from something so beautiful created with so much effort. Read the rest of this entry »

Ladakh Himalayas, Part IV: Leh to Hundar, over Khardungla

In Road Trip, Travel on November 15, 2014 at 12:18 am

Alchi-Leh (2)

Day 6, September 4, 2014
Alchi to Leh (90km, 4 hrs)

Alchi-Leh (1)

Another rainy morning.  The clouds and the incessant rain were getting a bit depressing.  I stepped out thinking maybe I could walk around the village and the monastery before breakfast only to find Anand, the enthusiast photographer, sitting in the veranda looking a bit disappointed.  His mood affected mine and I turned right back in.  I did regret this later when I found out that Alchi is bidding for a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list!  But, honestly, there really was not much we could have done in that rain.

We showered, dressed, and packed up, and walked over to the dining room.  The morning light revealed many laden apricot trees on the plot.  Inside, a nice breakfast awaited us.  The fruits at the table, papaya and watermelon (!), brought joy to many, and we all had many helpings.  There were eggs-to-order, toast, and paranthas. The tea was good and I had many rounds as the rest joined us, one by one, at the table.

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Ladakh Himalayas Part III: to remote Rangdum and Alchi

In Road Trip, Travel on November 1, 2014 at 10:50 pm
On way to Rangdum

On way to Rangdum

Day 4, September 2, 2014
Kargil to Rangdum (130 km, 7 hours)

Kargil-Rangdum

Kargil-Rangdum

I woke up around 6:15 to the gentle sounds of the Suru flowing outside the window.  Another unhurried morning. There was wifi (at a price) at the Zojila Residency, our hotel, and some of us were longing to get connected on a wider bandwidth. The previous night’s instructions to be ready at 8:00am had been interpreted variously as “be ready to move,” “be ready to eat breakfast,” or “generally be around.” At breakfast eggs and toast were the most popular choices. Bhavna took out a stash of artisanal jams she had brought along. [Yes, the ones I make are sooooo much better.] Many rounds of tea later – we were the first ones there and I got to drown a good many cups of tea as people ambled in – we stepped out to line up the cars. Those who hadn’t tanked up the night before, despite Abhey’s requests, drove off to first do that. Read the rest of this entry »

Ladakh Himalayas: through Zozi La to Kargil

In Road Trip, Travel on October 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm

route

Sonamarg-kargil

Day 3, September 1, 2014
Sonamarg-Kargil (195km, 6 hours)

I woke up around 6 am to a quietness through which I could hear the Sindh river flowing not far away. The rain had stopped and so had that racket from the downpour onto a metal sheet below. I stepped out to check the view on the other side and found the tops of the mountains still hidden behind thick clouds. Little by little the clouds started to lift to reveal fresh snow on the mountain tops around.

The plan for today was to drive up to Kargil through our first real mountain pass (Banihal Pass was through the Jawahar Tunnel) and we were in no hurry.  There was time to take in the surroundings.  Anand decided to take Vikas’ bicycle for a spin. Bharat went out to find a replacement for the petrol tank-cap for his Gypsy which he seemed to have lost while refilling the previous night. The rest just ambled around doing nothing in particular.

Sonamarg is at an altitude of 2800 m (9,200 ft) and is primarily a tourist town with no permanent settlements.  The hotels shut with the onset of winter.  At the moment, the meadows looked mossy-green and soft.

Sonamarg 01

Fresh snow!

Sonamarg 02

Stop with the construction already!

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