An Indian pilgrimage to Niagara Falls USA

As our United flight landed in Buffalo at 1400 hours and the Best Western Van rolled in to pick us up, I glanced at my watch and reminded the family that this was the tightest project we had undertaken on this world trip. “No worries master planner, we are in safe hands”, quipped Meha; inflating my ego a thousand times. We had one hour to drop our bags at the hotel, grab a bite, pick up the rental car, drive to Niagara Falls an hour away, do multiple day time activities, see the falls during the lights too, and return. Then get up next morning for a day trip to Rock N Roll Museum at Cleveland. PHEW !

Hertz rental was kind enough to pick us up at the hotel. Paper work quickly done and we were upgraded to the next car category – I immediately wished we had been upgraded for our longer trips – this was only 1 day ! Never mind, we were on our way and reached Niagara by 6 pm, with plenty of day light still left. Prior planning had revealed that a nearby Casino would be a good FREE parking spot (ssshh!). All went to plan and a short walk later the first gorgeous views of the falls emerged.

Pilgrimage is coming true – the first view of the Niagara Falls !

If you ask an Indian tourist about their USA bucket list, Niagara falls would emerge on the top. Huge number of Indians at the falls was a testimonial to this fact, and we gleefully joined them in the pilgrimage !

We started taking countless pictures as if there is no tomorrow

Maid of the Mist is a popular boat tour which takes you near the falls in style. The last departure was approaching and we quickly got our tickets along with the blue rain ponchos.

Yes I am going near the falls, care to join me ?

We were on the way and lady luck emerged presenting a beautiful rainbow over the American Falls and were already drenched !

The first views of the American falls from the boat
Unforgettable !
Meha and I quickly joined the party !

Past the American and Bridal Veil falls, we are now approaching the biggest of the 3 falls – the Horseshoe falls on the Canadian side. It was a breathtaking sight.

Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side – spectacular !
By this time, all tourists are running for cover !!
Before you know, the boat has turned back and it’s all over ! Last views of the mighty Horseshoe falls
As we leave the boat, we take more pictures as if there is no tomorrow !

Pumped up by our first successful Niagara adventure, we made our way to our second and last adventure called Cave of the Winds, which is more exciting than Maid of the Mist.

As we walk towards Cave of the Winds, the top view of the beautiful Bridal Veil falls (the second falls on the American side) emerge.

Cave Of The Winds, a walk close to the Bridal Veil falls, is the ONLY (official) way to get VERY VERY close to the falls and stay as long as you want. We quickly signed up and donned our yellow ponchos and water shoes (included in the price).

Parted with our dollars, we are ready to go !
Last dry picture before the water hits you !

Here is how you feel during the walk. You are soaked to the bone but boy it is fun !

Errr… shall I go ahead and get soaked ? That looks torrential !
So we go near the fall and this is the result. You can not stand beneath the fall beyond a few seconds- it is SO ferocious !
Daddy is asking me to leave but I am having a ball !
Bye Bye Niagara Falls
Ok, one more before we leave
What just hit me?
Well Papa & Mama read it. I am happy posing !

I am deeply satisfied the project is going to schedule. We are done with day time activities and it’s already 9 pm. Niagara Falls under lights is a sight to behold – arguably more beautiful than day time.

Amazing view at 9:30 pm
Can you spot two lovely moons in this ?
Lovely Canadian side as seen from the American side
I was spellbound – this is my favorite night picture
It’s 10 pm. The party is over. Where is my pasta ?

So good old McDonald’s came to our rescue at 11 pm. Hundreds of unnecessary calories later, we are satisfied and hit the sack. Tomorrow is a big Cleveland day – Republican convention coinciding with Rock N Roll Hall of fame ! See you soon in the next Rock N Roll blog.




National Mall: The Amazing Museums & Monuments of Washington D.C

The San Jose – Washington journey involved two long South West flights -reminding us how HUGE this country is! As we left behind serenity of national parks and comforting company of Californian friends, we looked forward to Washington D.C’s contrasting offerings – museums and monuments capturing the history of USA. With Hillary and Trump battling it out in the presidential races, we cannot but feel that we are visiting the capital city at a special time.

The tourist circus is not visible, we saw a guy being removed by secret service
This is what the battle is all about !

It was interesting to note that the seeds of Washington D.C as a new city were sown due to a compromise between Northern and Southern politicians after the revolutionary war – they wanted a federal city situated BETWEEN the two power bases. Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore were rejected by southern plantation owners as being too urban – leading to the formation of Washington D.C as a compromise formula.

The National Mall (no it’s not a shopping mall!) refers to a 2 mile long beautiful stretch anchored by Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Hill at the opposite ends, with reflecting pool, WWII memorial and Washington monument in between. It is reminiscent of the Raj Path and India Gate in Delhi.

Capitol hill – this is where National mall starts
Lincoln Memorial – this is where the National mall ends
Amazing view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall stretch, from the Lincoln Memorial. These are the steps from which Martin Luther King Jr gave his 1963 “I have a dream” speech !

The icing on the cake is world-class and free Smithsonian museums – each heavyweight in its own right! Visit the museums before they start charging for them!!

We started with the Museum of the American Indian which gave us a perspective on how land was systematically taken away from the natives and how young and circumstantial the existence of modern USA is, compared to organic, thousands years old civilizations of, say , India and Egypt.

One of the many treaties through with the Modern USA systematically marginalized the Native Indians
This message resonates so much with our soul
The museum is beautifully divided into different tribes
The lovely Quechua people – we saw their live dance near Machu Picchu, Peru !
Lovely dresses of the natives

Next up was Air and Space Museum with popular exhibits such as Wright Brothers’ flyer & Apollo Lunar module. Mika loved the flight simulator.

Wright brothers section is most popular
These early beauties must have been fun to fly in
The space section nostalgically reminded us of the NASA
We paid tribute to Kalpana Chawla – who perished in the Columbia tragedy
That would make Mama and Papa mighty proud !

Too tired, we called it a day. The next day started with the Natural History Museum which is the most popular Smithsonian museum. To be honest, it was too MASSIVE for our feet. But we did enjoy the 3 hours that we spent here. Some snippets follow:

That is one hell of a jaw !
Jurassic Park memories coming alive !
In Cairo Museum, we paid top dollars to see mummies; here it is free !
Entrance to the fantastic Natural History Museum

Next up was the National Museum of American History which gives a perspective on how this young nation was formed. However, since there are limited stories to tell, it pales in comparison to national museums of other countries.

The entrance
4 black students had dared to sit on “Whites-only” seats – reminded us of Mahatma Gandhi. Very cool.
The African American section has a fantastic Music sub-section
It is hard to believe USA was behind in Women’s rights . Now I understand why Hillary is finding it so difficult !
Having taught this on guitar a thousand times , I am attached to the USA national anthem
This was a fascinating, “ahead of the times” car displayed in the invention section. Pity it failed.
Teaching gender equality to our darling daughter !

My favorite museum, however, was the morbid Holocaust memorial museum. We got an identity card each – of an actual holocaust victim – and the museum takes us through the harrowing story past ghettos and death camps. It does make you wonder how millions got fooled by one lunatic (Are we seeing a similar story in America today ? Crazy stuff !) and how the world leaders were passive bystanders while millions were being massacred.

The day after
What can humans do against a degenerated monster ??
Perhaps this came too late ?
Unbelievable !
Jewish people look so stylish !
Lesson: The warning bells for the supporters should start ringing when leaders self anoint themselves as prophets
This is one of the horrible ways it happened
If you are fit, you live and work before perishing. If unfit, you go to gas chambers instantaneously. Either way you are doomed .
Entrance to the dreaded concentration camp
This should put the whole humanity to shame. What were other countries doing while this was on ?
This is how it actually happened 🙁 Shed a tear.
Very poignant – couldn’t agree more
That’s the only place they could go

Every person on this planet should visit this museum or concentration camps in Germany – it has huge lessons in the modern context – unfortunately we are not learning from the past.

We kept the last day for all the memorials – FDR was my favorite but Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Jefferson & Vietnam war memorials did not fail to impress either.

Jefferson memorial remembers USA’s 3rd president, also the drafter of the declaration of independence.
Reminding us of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr fought for justice and equality. The first black memorial on the National mall, this memorial opened only in 2011 .
Democrat Franklin D Roosevelt, is my favorite of all US presidents. A towering personality stricken by Polio, he was the longest serving US president for 4 terms. He played a key role as a statesman during the depression and war days. He has a befitting memorial spanning 7 acres.
The longest serving first lady of USA, Eleanor Roosevelt was a politician, diplomat and activist in her own right. She also served as USA delegate to the UN General assembly. It would be difficult to find a power couple like the Roosevelts.

Thanks to college buddy Rajesh Nair, we also had a chance to travel south to Richmond (Virginia), where we had a mini college reunion with him, Sridhar & Siddhu. What fun !

A college reunion of sorts at Richmond, Virginia.

We also get to taste the legendary southern barbecue at the local authentic joint.

Awesome ribs

As we drink our beers in Rajesh’s sprawling house, the situation in Istanbul (our destination in a couple of weeks) gets from bad to worse. We decide to cancel. Turkish Airlines does not pick up the phone. Nightmare. We head to their Washington office where the job is not done. Anyway, we head to the airport for our flight to Niagara falls where thankfully the Istanbul tickets get cancelled with full refund ! Thanks for reading and see you at the falls and the Cleveland convention!

A Californian Summer – with awesome friends !

After successfully concluding our 21 day marathon American road trip, it was time for a much deserved 10 day break, at buddy Jagdeep and Vipin’s lovely abode in Saratoga, California. While jogging in lovely Californian weather, we gawked at the million-dollar villas in the neighborhood and thanked Adarsh Developers in Bangalore for giving us an equivalent Palm Meadows with its amazing clubhouse – a consolation prize for those of us who got left behind 🙂

Humble to the core – Jagdeep and Vipin are epitome of Indian values in the west

I generally slept and did nothing most of the time while Meha bonded with Jagdeep,

They met 28 years back and the bond continues to grow

And Mika did the same with Jagdeep and Vipin’s lovely children Riya and Sachi.

This is called instant chemistry – the kids hit on like fire !

Kaddu’s (as I fondly call Jagdeep) gorgeous food and the existence of a lovely pool in their villa meant we felt entirely at home and for a moment forgot that we were on the road. Never become too comfortable with life!

We are training for Olympics!
The tan speaks for itself – gorgeous backyard pool of Jagdeep & Vipin
Happy faces but we have to leave soon 🙁

A visit to an amazingly vast San Jose Gurudwara, followed by prayers and langar was a great testimonial to the Indians in California balancing their traditional values with their adopted country.

Very cool Gurudwara – a city in itself
After the lovely langar – Jagdeep was happy she did not have to cook !

Looking at our sloth-like behavior and complete lack of interest in going to San Francisco, Jagdeep announced after a week that we were the worst visitors ever – staring at the dubious distinction of going back to India without a pilgrimage to Golden Gate bridge !

Arun & Sunita, another set of cool friends from Palm Meadows, saved our skin by taking us to SFO.

It was REALLLLY windy !
What a view !

The blustery winds at the golden gate bridge were compensated by the awesome Bhel Puri and beer that Arun had come prepared with.

Arun ROCKS !

Before we left the bridge, it was time for the last snap.

It’s time to leave the bridge

Next up was the Pier 39 with its lovely sea lions, the classic Alcatraz view and a lovely carnival atmosphere.

I love Pier 39 Sea lions !
Unfortunately Alcatraz was sold out – the views were the consolation 🙁

A very cool Arun uncle took Mika to the coolest chocolate store.

I love Arun uncle !

Lombard street, with its winding roads and views, is dubbed as one of the most crooked streets in the world.

Hey I am not crooked, the Lombard street is !

Arun uncle also helped Mika tick off one of her major bucket list items – having ice cream at one of SFO’s coolest joints !

I wish this day never ends ! Uncle where were you all my life !!

My simple bucket list included paying homage to this rock music joint !

Whatever you do in life, don’t forget to ROCK

We then went off to see Arun-Sunita’s new mansion with jaw-dropping views. Smitten by jealously, I forgot to take pictures but stuck a deal for the next holiday. We finished off the day with a lovely chinese dinner at their about-to-leave-house and bid good bye. SFO done !!

With Arun, Sunita and their lovely kids

The festivities with (other) friends continued the next day with a reunion with close college buddies Jeetu and Puneet. I now believe in destiny otherwise why would God ordain a Singaporean-Puneet to be in California!

Jahan teen yaar mil jaaye !

And before that we had visited Tamilian-turned-Punjabi-radically transformed (biwi ka asar hai!) – college buddy Mouli and his lovely family for barbecue.

Mouli is a completely changed man from college !

Shamed by our sloth behavior, we reluctantly agreed to come for a Silicon-Valley trip with Jagdeep and Vipin a couple of days before departure. Boy am I thankful!

During this trip, you are the main connect with friends/family: we love you Facebook!
Being horrible at electronics, I envied all my classmates who did silicon, wafers and all that…
That’s right, that’s why I am foolish to leave IT, do music and waiting to succeed for 7 years now !

But Facebook is our Silicon valley favorite!

Very cool and thoughtful Facebook, you rock !

People over places. Relationships. As we leave California for Washington D.C with heavy hearts, we will cherish being with friends more than anything else. Thanks Radhika, Vipin, Jagdeep, Mouli, Jeetu, Chandra, Arun, Sunita & the rest for your crazy hospitality.

Thanks for reading. See you in D.C.