Pa-hay-okee: The River of Grass a.k.a Everglades

The natives who inhabited South Florida for many centuries, the Calusa Indians, certainly understood and grasped the beauty of the blessing we now call Everglades. They called it “Pa-hay-okee” which means “grassy waters” / “river of grass”, a most apt description for this complex wetland and forest ecosystem dominated by expanses of sawgrass through the slow moving Shark River. So slow is the movement of water that it appears still and could be mistaken as stagnant water to the uninitiated.

Sawgrass stretches dotted by Cypress trees
Sawgrass stretches dotted by Cypress trees

The original inhabitants had a lifestyle based on estuarine fisheries rather than agriculture, which was in tune with the natural ecosystem, thus conserving it for centuries before the 20th century pressures of agriculture and urbanization hit. Only ~20% remains of the original expanse remains conserved in the Everglades National Park, now declared as an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to be covered under all three conservation lists. We learnt from the rangers of the park how the damming & channeling of water of the Okeechobee lake following hurricanes and flooding in the late 1920s, resulted in cutting-off of the life blood of the Everglades (the slow moving fresh water from Central Florida), and the $8+ billion dollar plan now in place to reverse engineer and restore the natural flow of water to the extent possible.

We explored this beautiful area that hosts a myriad of habitats – mangrove forests, prairies, hardwood forests and pine forests – starting from its western fringes on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

IMG_1416A boat tour of the mangroves was a visual treat with both large expanses of water and narrow canals with the rich mangrove forests all around.



We looked at shell mounds built by the Calusas and learnt about their unique fishing technique using the tidal highs & lows to trap fish in the shallows created by the mounds! A brown pelican flew by as we watched.

Shell Mound

Brown Pelican

We got to see some more birds though it was midday – an egret, a double-crested cormorant and a beautiful pair of Osprey in their nest.


Double Crested Cormorant


The real treats were sightings of two endangered species – a sawfish (critically endangered) and a manatee (vulnerable). In the below pics we were able to capture the fins of the sawfish (you should be able to see 3) and the nostrils of the manatee as it surfaced for air.

Saw Fish


Satisfied, we headed onto explore of the Big Cypress National Preserve on the scenic Loop Road with fingers crossed to find some American alligators in the wild. Pretty soon Manish spotted the first one, right beside the gravel track! See the beautiful eye through the leaves?


Mika was thrilled, her wish was to see 10 alligators and her counter had started! Hovering around this fascinating creature, we soon realised there was a another alligator in the water with only its eyes visible. Over the next hour we found a dozen alligators (Manish has mastered the art of identifying spots to find them!), most of them snoozing in the shallow fresh water streams and some basking in the sun on rocks.


IMG_20160423_153928They appeared blissful in their beautiful environs. The water was so clear, we could see many different shades of red, yellow, brown and green. With cypress trees on both sides of the streams and their reflection in the water, it was a mesmerising scene!




We also spotted this majestic heron, later identified as a Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron

As we drove on, the scenery changed with different colours on the two sides of the road – almost like fall & spring at the same time!


On our way out from the Loop Road to join the Tamiami Trail, we came across many houses of the Miccosukkee, a surviving tribe of natives, who came to inhabit the area when they were driven south by the European invaders.


As we headed towards Homestead, our base to explore the area, we were amidst the large farms and nurseries on land which may have once been part of the Everglades. Coming from Orlando, we found the place had a very different look and feel to it, almost as if we had left the US and entered Mexico or Cuba!

The next part of the Everglades we explored was the eastern side that begins with the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, named after the gentleman who worked had to have a national park setup to preserve the Everglades. There were four trails that we covered here, starting with the Anhinga Trail which derives its name from the American darter birds that are commonly found here.

IMG_1488There was more water than usual for this time of year we were told due to the higher than normal rainfall in Nov-Dec 2015 due to the El Nino effect. So the expected congregation of wildlife around waterholes wasn’t really there. We did not see any Anhingas unfortunately but got to see beautiful views, a lot of fish, IMG_1496quite a few turtles, an alligator, a cormorant, dragonflies, butterflies, a very bright coloured insect, a swamp-hen and a bird with bright red on its wings. This we learnt is the Red-winged Blackbird, also called locally as the “warrior of the Everglades” due its fearless nature in chasing away larger birds.

Redwinged Blackbird - Warrior of Everglades
Warrior of the Everglades – the Red-winged Blackbird







Purple Gallinule
Swamp Hen – the American Purple Gallinule

Next was the Gumbo Limbo trail, a hardwood hammock (a shady, closed canopy forest), that derives its name from the Gumbo Limbo tree, a native of the region. The tree which is extremely useful for its medicinal properties is comically referred to as the “tourist tree” because it’s bark is red and peeling, like the skin of sunburnt tourists!

Gumbo Limbo Tree
Gumbo Limbo Tree

This is a different habitat – no water here, it is at a slightly higher elevation than the adjacent Anhinga trail area though this is imperceptible. We learnt how very small changes in ground elevation result in different habitats each with its own types of flora and fauna in the Everglades. After the trails, we attended a ranger-led session on alligators and crocodiles and learnt how to differentiate between these two often confused reptiles. We learnt that the alligator is the only reptile in the animal kingdom that cares for its young starting with aiding the hatch and going on for 2-3 years! We also learnt that the Everglades is the only region in the world where the ranges of the American alligator (which lives in fresh water) and the American crocodile (which prefers brackish / salty water) overlap.

On our third trail we explored another hardwood hammock, the Mahogany Hammock and then headed to the Pa-hay-okee Outlook which provided us with a vantage viewing point for the defining expanse of sawgrass that gives the region its name.

All of the activities for the day got Mika interested in becoming a Junior Ranger of the Everglades and started her preparation to receive a badge and certificate by the time we completed our Everglades exploration!

The last part we covered on another day was the Shark Valley, in some senses the heart of the park, named so as it is a valley (again imperceptible) situated in the Shark river between the slightly elevated areas of the Big Cypress on the west and the hammocks on the east.



We took the tram tour on which we learnt interesting facts such as the origin of the river Shark’s name, the lone incident of a human injury by an alligator in an “accident” in the park’s entire history, as well as some disturbing facts of how humans are endangering the Everglades in more than one way. A very real danger for the flora and fauna of the region comes from “exotic” and invasive species that have been released / introduced into the national park by people. The biggest of these threats is the Burmese Python, which some people kept as an exotic pet and when any became unwanted, the easiest way to dispose them was to release them into the wild. While the Burmese Python is itself classified as a vulnerable species in its native habitat of South & South-eastern Asia, in the Everglades they have overrun the endemic species of the region. It is reported that over 90% of the mammals in the park – white-tailed deer, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, Florida panther – have disappeared over the past decade or two. A number of captured pythons have had these in their stomachs. Attempts to capture the pythons have met with very little success and it is estimated that over a 1000 remain in the park, continue to multiply and pose a threat to the native species.

Back to the interesting sightings we had on this two-and-a-half hour tour. Baby alligators to begin with – they have yellow stripes for camouflage to help with their survival to adulthood.

Congregation of baby alligators
Congregation of baby alligators – how many can you spot?

We came upon a Green Heron, a Great Egret, a Great Blue Heron, a Red-shouldered Hawk, Black Vultures and finally an Anhinga!!





Anhinga – American Darter

A soft-shelled turtle bearing the marks of a recent alligator encounter was spotted right next to the track.


But the best was saved for the last – an alligator (a mother as we figured later) with a kill of a smaller alligator and getting defensive of her food. We learnt that adult alligators are cannibals. While watching this rare sight, we observed 4 to 5 baby alligators that kept swimming and surfacing near the adult and that was how we figured the adult was a mother.




Thus ended our rendezvous with American alligators, creatures that we learnt are fairly shy and unlike the often believed notion of being human attackers, only ever consider humans as food when humans start feeding them! The park has warning signs all over that feeding animals in the park is illegal and carries a fine!

With all this learning and park activities done, Mika qualified as a Junior Park Ranger!

IMG_20160426_122524In between our Everglades exploration, we took a day to drive down to the Florida Keys to see the picturesque view of the Atlantic ocean all around on the Seven-Mile Bridge and stopped at Key Largo to visit the John Pennakemp Coral Reef State Park. Manish and Mika went snorkelling but I chickened out as the water was choppy & called for strong swimmers. I caught up with some of the local inhabitants meanwhile 🙂


IMG_20160425_124808Next destination was Miami and its famed South Beach.

Thanks for reading. We look forward to your feedback.

We are privileged to be posting this article on a rich ecosystem from the mega-diverse Ecuador, the most biologically-diverse country on the planet – the subject of another post!

Please do read Mika’s blogpost on Everglades –

To the Moon & Beyond: The Kennedy Space Center

On the bright sunny Florida morning of Earth Day 2016 (22nd April) we set out on our maiden drive on the “other side” to the Kennedy Space Center. A few navigational hiccups and acclimatisation with the “other side” later, we were comfortably cruising down FL-528 E (state road/highway 528 heading East) towards our destination.

As we entered the NASA Causeway, it was a breathtaking view of shimmering water of the lagoon Indian River on both sides of the road. We crossed over to the NASA Parkway and were delighted by our first sighting of an American alligator in the adjoining stream! We later were told by our guides that the Space Center prides itself for being a haven for the resident fauna comprising alligators, bald eagles and many others, including some endangered species.



We started with the bus tour that took us around the massive facility to see some of the massive equipment used to move the rockets and shuttles for launch and the rocket assembly building, before taking us to one of the major highlights – the Apollo/Saturn V Center.



Here we were invited into the actual Command Center that was used for the launch of the Apollo 8 to view a film on the history of the NASA space program from its start until Neil Armstrong’s small step that was a giant leap for mankind.

The Apollo 8 Command Center
The Apollo 8 Command Center

It was so overwhelming to sit there and watch history unfold, we were close to tears. The insecurity of the US at Russia’s launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 (which triggered the establishment of NASA) followed by the successful space mission of Yuri Gagarin in 1961 at the height of the cold war, the challenge of “We choose to go the moon” set by President John F Kennedy, the tragedy of Apollo 1 and the perseverance of so many people in the years that followed leading to the success of multiple Apollo missions until Apollo 11 landed on the moon on 20th July 1969.

As we stepped out of the command center, we came face to face with the massive 363-foot Saturn V rocket, the largest ever made, used to launch the Apollo vehicles and others over a 20-year period. Simply awesome!


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We then walked around admiring all the memorabilia from the Apollo missions that are exhibited here – lunar rock samples (one of which can be touched), a moon buggy, space suits of various astronauts including Alan Shepard (the second human & first American in space), Kitty Hawk (the shuttle/command module) of the Apollo 14 mission




We learnt that the shuttles were named by the commanders of the mission, so Kitty Hawk was Alan Shepard’s choice for the Apollo 14 command module and Neil Armstrong had christened the Apollo 11 command module as Columbia. The lunar modules which detached from the command module and actually landed on the moon had their own names too – “Eagle” was the first one. We watched a simulation of the tense moments preceding the landing of the Eagle on the moon when communication was lost with the Houston Mission Control (which takes over from the Kennedy Center after launch and manages NASA missions until reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere when Kennedy takes over again) and Eagle had to change course and choose a different landing spot from the originally planned one. Eagle ran into a low-fuel situation and all mission controllers could do was hold their breath and cross their fingers until they heard Neil Armstrong say “the Eagle has landed“! Heart-stopping!

After all this excitement, we headed back to the bus to get back to the main visitor’s complex to see the next highlight for the day – the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. On the way our lady guide (& driver) pointed out the huge nest of a bald eagle that has been an inhabitant of many years. A huge fuel tank (a real one) with solid rocket booster replicas make for a dramatic entrance to the exhibit that covers 30 years of space shuttle missions from 1981 – 2011.


We were introduced to how the concept of a space shuttle orbiter that can take-off and land back like a plane evolved with many iterations on feasible design and years of hard work of multiple teams of engineers. Reuse was also a major consideration and so came the reusable solid rocket boosters that were separate from the fuel tank and retrieved after each launch for reuse. We learnt that the space shuttle does not take off vertically, rather it launches into a trajectory and reaches a velocity that lets it escape being pulled down by gravity but then orbit the Earth, much like the moon. After the introduction, its curtains-up and we gasped at the real space shuttle Atlantis that was suspended right in front of us!


All around it are the facts and figures as well as some simulators to help us get a feel for what the controls of a shuttle look like and what it could be like for astronauts to work in space.



But the best of all was the chance to actually experience the Space Shuttle Launch Simulator to get a feel for what it would be like to be inside a space shuttle during its launch! We got to experience being vertical in the shuttle for launch position and then “zero G” in just a few moments as the shuttle accelerates from 0 to 17,500 mph (28,175 kmph) in 8 minutes!! Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, could be more than once for my daughter though!

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from and meet an astronaut, Bob Cenker, about his actual experience of being in space. He spoke about the physical challenges and his own experience of “space adaptation” and “re-adaptation” which is often termed as “space sickness” by the media.  His most beautiful memories he said are of “going through a rainbow” every sunrise and sunset, which happen once every 90 minutes while they orbit the earth!

Mihika with Astronaut Bob Cenker, Mission Specialist 1986

Mihika had been asking us if astronauts got paid a lot and soon enough she had her answer when the question was posed to Bob who answered in the negative and explained how there were a huge number of applicants for the position of astronauts making it very competitive. Manish asked what disciplines should aspiring youngsters pursue if they wished to one day make it to space and happily for us his answer reinforced the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering & medicine).

In very interesting 3D features, we learnt of the Hubble telescope repairs, the beautiful and intriguing images it has been sending, the discovery of galaxies, the setup of the International Space Station and the latest mission of NASA called “Orion” to send humans to Mars. That will be one lonesome mission for those who go – three years away from Earth, family, friends …..

Wondering if space travel will indeed become a reality in our lifetime, we wandered into the Rocket Garden to see the impressive display there before calling it a day. And what a day!!

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Thanks for reading!

Next up will be a most wonderful experience of nature’s wonders at the Everglades National Park in South Florida.

A Bite of The Big Apple: Midtown Manhattan

The forecast was for rain on the afternoon we arrived in New York, guess we managed to borrow some sunshine from Egypt for we arrived to a pleasant sunny afternoon. Warmer still the reception from an old buddy of Manish, Sanjay who was meeting him after 28 long years!! We had a great evening and dinner together with him and his lovely girl-friend Rodica.

Greenwich Dinner

We took a day to recuperate before attempting a bite of the Big Apple, in which we explored the pleasant locales of Greenwich, a town in neighbouring Connecticut. The first to catch our attention were some pretty robins with a brownish-orange breast (later id’d as the American

American Robin - the state bird of Connecticut
American Robin – the state bird of Connecticut
An energetic squirrel!
An energetic squirrel!

Robin, the official state bird of Connecticut), squirrels darting up and down trees and the mynah-like but smaller Eurasian starlings.

Acclimatised with the cooler weather and temperatures in Farenheit, we set out to explore the core of the Big Apple – midtown Manhattan. The name Manhattan has its origins in the word Manna-hata which in the Lenape language (of the natives who originally inhabited the area) means “island of many hills”. The famed Grand Central was our gateway and seemed only too familiar thanks to SRK and Rani Mukherjee in the movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna.

The Grand Central Station
The Grand Central Station

Grand Central Exterior2

Grand Central Exterior1

Inspired by the bicycles outside the Grand Central and the lovely sunshine, we decided to explore as much on foot as possible.

Grand Central exterior3


We made our way to the New York Public Library’s main building established in 1895 in Bryant Park. The walkway leading upto the building has many quotes on knowledge and books by eminent writers, thinkers, poets and artists; one could spend an hour or more reading them.

Inside are large reading rooms and halls that present an oasis of calm for those who wish to escape the hustle of the big city to read, think and work.

Peace & quiet in the heart of the city
The New York Public Library: Peace & quiet in the heart of the city

Just beside the library is the Bryant Park, which seemed to be eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring. There were no leaves yet on the trees but the flowers had just started blooming. We enjoyed the sunshine and watched people go by while resting our feet.

Bryant Park, Manhattan
Bryant Park, Manhattan

Next stop was “the MET“, the Museum of Metropolitan Art, the largest art museum in the US. Planned to be the main destination for the day, it lost out in time & mind-share owing to the bright sunshine which kept us outdoors for longer. For a family that likes to pace itself, we surprised ourselves by the ground we covered before we hit the Met – Times Square, the Radio City Music Hall and the Rockfeller Center.



Radio City Music Hall 2

Radio City Music Hall 1

The Rockfeller Center
The Rockfeller Center
The MET - the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The MET – the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The MET is a real treasure trove with galleries dedicated to art from across the world and spanning ancient to modern. One needs multiple visits over days to do justice to the collections here. We browsed through some of the key exhibits in the little over two hours we had before closing time. It was then time to rest our feet again, this time in the beautiful Central Park just adjacent to the MET.

The Central Park: a lovely lung space
The Central Park: a lovely lung space

To wrap up the day, what better place than a second visit to the glitzy Times Square, which in the not too distant past, would not have figured on the list of places for a family to visit. Fortunately for us, Times Square has witnessed a transformation from “dazzling to dirty and back again” and the efforts of some of the NYC mayors in the 1990s have changed the face of the Times Square.

The Dazzling Times Square by evening

With the rest of Manhattan planned to be visited in our second visit a couple of months from now, the next day was spent in the company of another long-time buddy of Manish, Rajneesh and his wife Priti & son Ashwin at their home in Hartford, Connecticut. Priti’s sumptuous food had us licking our fingers for the next few meals!


Thanks to our wonderful hosts, we got the opportunity to enjoy slices of nature at the nearby Manchester. We spotted a pair of Cackling Geese and a Heron on a nature trail by a little stream.

Cackling GooseHeron

Next pit stop was with family in New Jersey with my cousin Arun, sis-in-law Shweta and kids Atharv & Mira. It was a marvelous evening that was extra special for Mika for we dined at The Cheesecake Factory! The following day was a real treat with fresh home-made breakfast and lunch with filter coffee too!


Well fed & satisfied, we were all set to head south to sunny Florida for some tweeny attractions for Mika at the Universal Studios and the much-awaited Kennedy Space Center for all of us.

Thanks for reading this, hope you enjoyed it. The next write-up will be on our visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

From the Old to the New Kingdom: The Temples & Tombs of Luxor

The dawn of 10th Apr saw us taking a peaceful morning walk on the beautiful Nile Corniche with the chirping of sparrows (so glad to see hundreds of them wherever we went in Egypt) to keep us company as we headed to the Karnak Temple 3 km away from our hotel.


We made an early start to beat the heat of the day and the hordes of visitors who would descend post their breakfast. Though it was not the peak tourist season and hence in general not too much of a crowd at any time, we preferred the luxury of having these amazing historical sights almost entirely to ourselves by getting there as close to opening times (6 am in Luxor) as possible. It certainly helped that we lived across the road literally both at Giza and Luxor, choosing clean & modest accommodations over the more comfortable downtown places we are otherwise used to.

Luxor, like Cairo, in the ancient times, had the two banks of the Nile used for distinct purposes – the East with its sunrise was the land of the Living while the West where the sun sets was the destination for those making their way into the After-Life. So the temples are of worship are located on the East bank while the West bank houses the tombs and memorial / mortuary “temples” built for the departed.

We had read about the magnificence of the Karnak Temple, but seeing it in person left us awestruck and wondering at the splendour & grandeur that had been achieved over 3000 years ago! Entering through an avenue of ram-headed Sphinxes, we found ourselves in a large courtyard with tall pillars and statues and leading into altars on the two sides.


The Karnak Temple was dedicated to the reigningIMG_0486 deity of Thebes (the
region) Amun, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu, referred to as The Thebian Triad. The highlight of this massive temple complex (for us) was the huge Hypostyle Hall, large enough to house London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral & Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica together. It has an array of massive 25+ meter high pillars each of which is engraved with various symbols of ancient Egypt. There are 2 distinct patterns of engravings on the 2 sides, attributed to the 2 Pharaohs responsible for their construction, with pillars on each side being exactly identical!



The walls of the hall are engraved with detailed scenes of rituals of offerings and processions. Looking up, one can still see the remnants of the bright blue and red colours that once adorned the pillars and ceiling. What would this place have looked like in its heyday ?!!



Beyond the grand hall we see two obelisks, Egypt’s tallest at 30 meters. It was erected by Queen Hatshepsut, one of the rare women rulers of ancient Egypt, to the glory of her “father” Amun (the deity of Thebes). We wandered through the rest of this massive temple complex, to see more halls, altars and the inner core, the original sanctum of Amun which is perfectly aligned in the East-West direction.

The tourist buses have now begun to arrive and we exit, in an antique taxi, to head back to the cool environs of our hotel for breakfast and escape the heat wave that continues to grip Egypt.


In the evening it was hop, skip & jump across the road to the Luxor temple and the Avenue of Sphinxes. This is not a temple of worship and was probably used for coronation ceremonies, besides an annual procession of the deities from the Karnak temple.


In what may have been akin to the chariot festivals a.k.a “Rath Yatra” / “Ther Thiruvizha” still held in some temples in India, the deities of Karnak temple were brought to the Luxor temple in an annual procession through the Avenue of Sphinxes that connected the two temples.


What remains now is a very small portion of the 3 km stretch lined with Sphinxes, with the city getting built over various parts. A lone Sphinx can still be seen here & there as one traverses the town.

IMG_0553 The Luxor Temple, though smaller in scale than Karnak, is characterised by similar large courts, hypostyle hall, larger than life statues and grandeur that were characteristic of this great civilisation.

The temple IMG_0563was built and extended over years by various kings and completed by Tutankhamun. A statue of him with his wife Ankhesenamun can be seen in the temple.

The Temple was converted into a fortress by the Romans when they occupied the area much later around 250 AD. In a bid for their own claim to fame, the Romans painted over some of the walls and used the altars as chapels. The Roman painting is visible in a corner of the wall – note the top left corner in the picture below.


A lot accomplished in the day on the East bank and IMG_0580having braved the hot dusty breeze that persisted even at sunset, we wound down with a horse cart ride and a dinner on the rooftop. Manish braved the gusts of wind that started up as we finished dinner to revisit the temple to see the night lighting. Mihika & I chose to admire it from a distance!

Next up on our list for the West bank are the Valley of Kings, the Hatshepsut memorial temple, Medinet Habu and Colossi of Memnon.

A historical perspective – As we move in time from the Old Kingdom of Lower Egypt (Dahshur, Saqqara, Cairo) through the Middle Kingdom and to the New Kingdom of Upper Egypt (Luxor to Aswan), the Pharaohs moved from building pyramids to carving out & decorating their would-be tombs in the pyramid shaped Thebes mountain on the West bank of the Nile in Luxor. The kings are buried in the Valley of Kings, the queens in the Valley of Queens and the aristocrats in the Tombs of the Nobles. The workers who built the tombs also had a place designated for their own tombs, the Deir al-Medina.

It was an early start and we were pleasantly surprised by the cool morning, cloudy and with a drizzle! What a relief after the heat wave, we IMG_0618couldn’t have asked for better weather for this day of intense sight-seeing. Crossing over the Nile, we drove up the Thebes passing a few sharp bends (!!) to get to the Valley of the Kings.


There are 8 tombs that are open to the visitors on any given day (and these can be different) and one can choose any 3 to explore from the inside. The first one we chose was Merenptah’s, the 13th son of the great Ramesses II, who finally got a chance to rule after 67 years of his father’s reign while his 12 older siblings had no such luck! We chose this as it is reputed to be among the most beautiful of all in the Valley of Kings.

Tomb-building had become more elaborate with time and unlike the older pyramids where we had to bend and walk single-file through a tunnel to get to the sarcophagus, here we have wide passages with high ceilings to walk down comfortably. Just as well, as the tombs are built quite deep inside with at least a 100 steps to climb down. The walls and ceilings of the passage and the rooms inside are all elaborately decorated with the Egyptian Book of the Dead to guide the soul on its journey to the afterlife. No photos are allowed in any of the tombs here, so sorry can’t share the beauty we witnessed inside.

The next 2 choices were Horemheb and Tuthmosis III, the former being a General who went on to become the only Pharaoh of non-royal origin and the latter famed as the Napoleon of Egypt. Tuthmosis III’s tomb is unique in the way he built it – high up between 2 hills and across a ravine, with many tunnels and false doors – all to keep it safe from the tomb raiders who the Pharaohs dreaded. A visit to his tomb is breath-taking, literally that is, with having to first climb up about 4-5 floors worth of steps and then down about 5-6 floors. Needless to say, you need to climb up & down to get back out!

Our morning exercise more than taken care of, we headed to the Hatshepsut Temple, a beautiful piece of architecture that looks like its been carved out of the mountain. Hatshepsut was the most important of all female Pharaohs (there being less than a handful of them throughout the dynastic rule) who ruled for nearly 15 years when she became a widow.


Climbing up past the vast open court, 1460374273758we came face-to-face with the huge statues of Osiriform Hatshepsut, only a few of the original 24 remain now. The walls in the halls a level below have painted depictions of the divine birth of Hatshepsut and her expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast to get plants needed for incense-making and other trade.

The tIMG_0635emple houses a sanctuary of Anubis, the jackal headed God of mummification and afterlife. Here is a relief depicting Anubis that has survived on the temple walls. The ceilings 1460374274794here have the familiar “shower of stars” – see the golden stars set against the night sky backdrop here.

The next monument we visited and nearly the last for the day was Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III. Built in the style of a Syrian fort, it has well preserved reliefs and pillars.

IMG_20160411_114723  IMG_20160411_114448

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We found the depiction of Ramesses II riding his chariot quite striking. A pigeon was perched in the centre, on horseback when we clicked!


On our way back we stopped by the landmark Colossi of Memnon, the giant twin statues of Amenhotep III.


We crIMG_0672ossed back over the Nile to come home to a lunch with Egyptian Sakara beer and local veggie and chicken to fill our starving selves before a nice afternoon nap, all the time thanking our lucky stars for the pleasant cool morning that made it possible for us to cover so much ground. In the evening, we were finally rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the Nile (not having had any before due to the storm dust hanging in the air). We took a felucca (wooden sailboat) ride for a quiet evening to mark the end of our Egyptian sojourn.

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Much to Mihika’s delight, she found an antique PBX with a dial-pad at the hotel reception that evening and it was fun to tell her hIMG_0690ow we dialled numbers on telephones in the days when we were growing up.

Thanks for reading this rather long post! We had the envious task of giving you a glimpse of human feats achieved over a 2000 year period!!

Keep following and encouraging us … as we move to the next continent(North America) on our itinerary ! Also keep reading Mihika’s blogs at


(Don’t) Ride Like An Egyptian!!

While we were having a tête-à-tête with the Royal Mummies, Cairo was gripped by a heat wave and a desert storm brewed overnight threatening to jeopardize our travel to Luxor the next morning (9th Apr). Fortunately it blew over with dust on our luggage (indoors with all windows closed!!) being the only damage and we set out for the Giza train station. We reached well in time but despite all the preparation of master planner Manish, there were a few significant obstacles to cross before we could get ourselves & our bags and baggage onto the platform of what seemed like a small Indian town from the 1970s/80s – no signs outside the station, a sandy non-paved entrance, no displays of what train on what platform. Fortunately the platform itself was nicely paved and quite clean!



We were booked on the equivalent of the AC Chair Car of Express trains in India, so it was a bit of a culture shock to find ourselves in what we would have classified as a semi / non-reserved compartment with people barging in to occupy seats without reservation and non-stop cacophony of vendors.


In what we later came to understand is a customary practice, vendors would drop a sample of their wares onto our seat / lap despite our protesting. After doing a full round of one or two compartments, they would be back to collect their things / money if you decided to buy! It was quite humorous for the local citizens watching and they tried telling us it was ok; some even volunteered to collect the stuff dropped onto us and hand it back to the vendors.

A 10-hour journey that turned out to be 11 hours with a mixed bag of roadside Romeo like characters and honest village folk clambering in and out, had me reminisce of my mother recalling the constant “chain pulling” that reduced Express trains to “Passenger” trains in the 1970s as soon as they entered certain parts of the country! And to top it all no views of the majestic Nile until we were nearing our destination as had been promised by our tour leader!! I certainly didn’t mince words to tell Manish what a mistake he had made 🙂

Luxor station, apparently under renovation, beat the smallest of village stations back home with only sand for a platform surface! It reinforced our appreciation (and gratitude) for Indian Railways for the way trains and stations across a huge network are managed with a good enforcement of ticketed travel.

The (mis)adventure of the day was all but forgotten the moment we laid eyes on the beautifully lit-up Luxor Temple and it’s Avenue of Sphinxes from the rooftop of our hotel. With the Nile shimmering in the backdrop and faint lights across from the pyramid shaped Thebes mountain, it   was a blissful setting for a warm dinner.



The sharing of this experience has been a few days late coming … too much activity to keep up with! Keep reading and encouraging us!

Mihika has started capturing her experiences to share with the world, please read them at Thanks!!

Pyramids Galore : The Necropolis at Giza, Saqqara & Dahshur

As I was led to a corner interrogation room at Cairo airport surrounded by a bunch of hefty police officers, my first thought was that since Papa, Ma and Meha are devotees of Lord Ganesha, I would be saved. I also cursed myself for not going to temples frequently enough. The under-waist belt, which had been chosen after extensive research of best solutions to keep credit cards and money secure, was the culprit. Sweating profusely I tried to convince the police that there was no hidden bomb. My cute looks got me off the hook and out we were – what an adventurous start to the world trip – a fully avoidable type.

Before that, we had bidden farewell to folks in Chennai, enjoyed some interesting signage at Mumbai airport, endured a crazily-long immigration queue at Mumbai and wasted one hour in searching for the pre-departure lounge to relax.IMG_0218


While INR 20,000 looks like a hefty fee for a credit card, Citibank Prestige card is a beast for this kind of world-trip application, with privilege of 2 priority passes (free lounge access around the world!), Taj vouchers, a multitude of airmiles and what not. Anyway, at 1 am Mika and I fought in the lounge about whether the orange juice should be drunk straight off the 1-litre carton or a glass. As we boarded Egypt Air 969 to Cairo and I looked at the tiny 737-80o, my first thought was how will it fly 6 hours and prayed it should not run out of fuel mid-air !

A smooth flight later, we landed in Cairo safely and the reality that we were ACTUALLY on the road for a year, sank in.IMG_0249After the airport police adventure, as the taxi approached the pyramids, we felt in familiar territory in the midst of squalor of Giza village.IMG_0260

Even after reading Lonely Planet Egypt countless times, nothing prepared us for the breathtaking view that awaited us at breakfast from the rooftop of the lovely Pyramids View Inn (ranked #1 on TripAdvisor). We had complete “paisa vasool” for 2 nights, shamelessly staring at the Pyramids all the time. Arre bhai, we are Indians !IMG_0292


Quickly refreshed, we crossed the road and encountered the Sphinx first. He is supposed to be guarding the great pyramids. The Greeks named it thus as it resembled their mythical monster (man with haunches of a lion) who set riddles and killed the ones unable to answer. Bad at riddles, I tried to run away but Mika forced me to take the customary tourist poses.IMG_0267


A little primer: Egyptian kingdoms are divided into 3 phases. Old, Middle & New. The Giza pyramids fall into first lot – the enthu of the Pharaohs too was at its highest to allow such megalomania. The two main Pyramids are of Khufu and Khafre. While Khufu built the bigger one at 146m (in 2570 BC),


I personally liked his son Khafre’s pyramid (136 m) better. First, it is perfectly aligned with the Sphinx. Second, the white limestone sandstone covering at the top gives it a really cooler look. Third, Meha likes it too!



The tombs of Khafre and Khufu had been raided long back and their mummies never found. “India”. “Amitabh Bacchan is inside the tomb”. “Hey Maharaja”. The unbelievably never-ending persistence of the horse/camel/souveneir vendors is mind-boggling. We were also offered their wares in Indian Rupees! All this is harmless but can get on your nerved after 2 hours in scorching heat. Before they turned Mika into a mummy, we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.IMG_20160407_120701

At 7 pm, we are ready for the free light and sound show that you can watch from the hotel’s roof top. Paisa vassol (value for money) of the highest order! A lovely Kushari meal later, we snored with the eerie feeling that Khufu and Khafre’s spirits are just outside our hotel window.IMG_0386


Over our morning walk through the Giza village the next morning, we learnt where to head to if the Pyramids vendor assault makes you mad.IMG_20160408_060214

We saw some more authentic Giza morning scenes (some pretty and some not) that you won’t get to see if staying in downtown Cairo. It taught us that Taj Mahal or Pyramids – apathetic politicians are the same world over with regards to (non)maintenance of surroundings of their country’s prized monuments!IMG_20160408_060405





After a  lovely breakfast, and 1000 pictures later, we took one more snap and bid the Pharaohs a “bhaav-bheeni vidai” (heartfelt good bye) – notice the purple flowers in the foreground against the pale and weathered ancient monuments. Also notice sadness in Meha’s and Mika’s eyes.



At 7:30 am (8th April 2016), we headed off to Saqqara, Dahshur & Memphis – containing pyramids older than those at Giza. There are a total of 118 pyramids in and around Cairo! Our affable drive Abdullah tells us that Saqqara has 2 million date palm trees and a multitude of carpet schools

IMG_0443While the Giza pyramids get all the tourist glory, the other ones are mind-boggling nevertheless, and can be covered as a day trip. First up was Saqqara. It contains 11 major pyramids of the Old Kingdom Pharaohs.

As we entered Imhotep museum, we were greeted by these lovely Blue-cheeked Beeeaters.IMG_0412

The rock star of Saqqara is the Step Pyramid – commissioned by Pharaoh Zoser and architected by Imhotep (also considered world’s first physician). You enter through a hypostyle hall which has 40 pillars resembling a bundle of palm or papyrus stems.IMG_0417

This is followed by Great South Court featuring a bunch of cobras representing goddess Wadjet, who spat fire and represented destruction.IMG_0420

Then comes the step pyramid itself.


Saqqara also has Mastaba of Ti. Mastaba = Bench in Arabic. It was the benched stone structure directly above the actual tomb. Mika was thrilled to enter the tomb everywhere. Meha and I were scared and claustrophobic – kids now a days are fearless.IMG_0437


The last stop at Saqqara was Pyramid of Teti. Teti was a 6th dynasty pharaoh (2340 BC) and his tomb is one of the best preserved from inside. Again Mika enjoyed entering the tombs and posing for pictures ! The paranoid me kept thinking what if we get stuck underground here and escape strategies ….IMG_0433


Abdullah then whisked us to Dahshur, 10 Kms south of Saqqara. Khufu’s dad Pharaoh Sneferu built Egypt’s first TRUE pyramid here called the Red Pyramid and also the Bent pyramid. After Giza, these 2 are the biggest pyramids. Entering the Red pyramid was an adventure in itself – 125 steep stone steps followed by god knows how many more ups and downs, after which you reach three different 15 meter high burial chambers, each being an independent structure itself. Don’t forget to take your torch inside !IMG_0445

Bent pyramid is cooler looking than Red – because of its strange shape. They started ambitiously giving it a 54 degree angle but decided, “boss, ye to nahi hoga” (gosh, this is going no where) , and turned the incline to 43 degrees to finish it off. Phew ! Ho gaya khatam!!IMG_0448

Ok, take a deep breath and revise with me. The first pyramids EVER built were Step pyramids (2650 BC). THEN came the Bent Pyramid (2600 BC – a trial to build the real ones). THEN the Red Pyramid (same time frame as Bent – around 2600 BC – they figured out how to build a TRUE pyramid by now) . Then the REAL DEAL – the Great Pyramids at Giza (2560 BC) . Chalo ab paise nikaalo !

It is 1230 pm under scorching sun. We bid good bye to the best-mannered Abdullah who epitomized the best of Egypt tourism – carefree, humorous and understated grace.


Time to head off to Egyptian Museum where Tutankhamun’s Gold mask awaits us. The museum is off Tahrir Square, which in 40 degree summer heat, shows no signs of revolution. IMG_0452


We meander through this amazing treasure cove of over 10,000 objects, including the special Tutankhamun galleries (alas no pictures allowed of his famed mask but boy it was ultra-special!).






Unable to take a pictures of Tutankhamun’s mask, I got increasingly desperate and looked around to find his underwear which resembled the Indian “langoti” and looked sufficiently interesting to deserve a click.IMG_20160408_160309

The piece de resistance of the museum was the special mummy gallery which has an additional ticket. This gallery was worth the price – going back in time 3000 years and looking at those embalmed bodies, some with the curly hair befitting rock stars like Alice Cooper, was surreal. This time desperation truly got the better of me and when the attendant looked the other way, I clicked a REAL MUMMY ! Yahoo !!


It is 4:30 pm. Dark clouds are gathering perhaps symbolizing the state of our sore feet. Meha insists on a coffee in the museum’s cafe after which we head back to Giza again. Bye Bye Cairo. See you Luxor , starting with Egyptian Railways train adventure tomorrow.

Thanks for reading our blog and we will be back soon with our Luxor adventures.

Meha, Manish & Mika





The World Trip begins at home : Bengaluru-Chennai Roadtrip!

So, the pre D-day finally arrived with Mika dressing up for the school carnival and then announcing that she was grown up and that we the old farts were not to attend her school function.


A few good samaritans helped finish last minute chores – Mahesh gave a quick photography lesson, Sangeeta agreed to store our mail, Suresh agreed to be the custodian of our 20 year old kinetic honda, Nitya lent a lovely pillow for Mika, Mike agreed to transport some last minute luggage and so on. The planet was conspiring to avoid last minute panic. The house handover to the landlord happened smoothly without a hitch. I started gulping my last bottle of Glenlivet and dozed off, waking up to a lovely day (3rd April 2016) realizing the D-day had actually arrived !

To avoid last minute panic, we had already rehearsed in advance to ensure that our luggage would fit into the hatchback for our drive to Chennai from where we would take off for Egypt. The loading went off smoothly.


An emotional good bye to our longtime household help Rajesh,  customary selfie taken, and we are off at 7:30 am.


It is amazing how a different mind set can evoke different emotions, even in the same context. Bangalore-Chennai highway that we have driven dozens of times, suddenly started looking different with our tourist hats on. The outskirts of Kolar brought some lovely and interesting images.





Our first attempt at breakfast ended in failure as the restaurant was closed, in frustration I resorted to an unnecessary selfie.


Just as well. Fate had in store a kick-ass Paper Roast Masala dosa, Khara bath and piping hot south Indian filter coffee at Saravana Bhavan, 25 KMs ahead. SB, arguably is to Chennai what MTR is to Bangalore.


masala dosa

I started dozing off after breakfast, as it was a nice substitute to my usually punishing morning gym schedule. Inspired by “Darling Electronics” in a small town immediately followed by a “sharp curves” signage,  I made amorous advances towards Meha which she quickly rejected, so I handed over the wheels to her and dozed off !




We decided to focus on how enterprising our 2 wheelers can be.




But this is my favorite.


I rudely woke up when Meha pointed to this “prohibition” signage.


Since I was carrying my unfinished scotch and vodka bottles in the car, (hoping to convince my father in law to join in Chennai festivities) my mind started racing to calculate the amount of bribe in case I was arrested. No such mishap happened but wait a minute … isn’t the use of “Madras” now banned ? We backed a few hundred meters to take this shot.


In Bihar, I grew up reading Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poetry but Meha points out that Thiruvalluvar was the rock-star poet & philosopher in this part of the world and this university at Vellore duly remembers him.


Next up was Kanchipuram- the silk saree mecca – this is where we will head to for Mika’s wedding shopping a decade or so later.


At this point of time (1:30 pm) , I am desparate for my Chettinad-style Parotta and Chicken Curry and lo and behold, the lord obliges.



21st May, 1991. It’s been 25 years but I have photographic images of that night. I have gone to sleep. Papa is shaking and waking me up with the horrible news – Rajiv Gandhi, the ex-prime minister who is expected to win the current election, has been assassinated at Sriperumbudur in Tamilnadu in the middle of an election rally.  I am shocked beyond belief. Even though his first term was marred by mistakes and corruption charges, Rajiv was young and brought a breath of fresh air in the cesspool of Indian politics. As we approach Sriperumbudur, the mercury shows a scorching 38 degrees and today I am determined to see his memorial. Set in an expansive and poignant setting of where he was killed, it is definitely worth a look.




We arrived in Chennai in one piece at 330 pm and headed to Diff 42 Lounge bar for the world cup final with Thara, Meha’s vivacious sister. 6 beers quickly arrived. Thara and I played a game of who would finish their quota faster. We were rooting for England (Thara is a British citizen) and it was nice that we were sufficiently inebriated by the last over to forget the last minute West Indian assault !



The next morning arrived with the maid not turning up, setting us up nicely to take our in-laws to Taj Coromandel for lunch. It is amazing what a change in scene from the drudgery of life can do, to the spirits of even seemingly incapacitated senior citizens. What joy to see them enjoy and laugh like children. This world trip has gotten to a rocking start. Keep reading our blog at !

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A year-full of adventures : Our upcoming Family World Trip !

There are multitude of ways of managing one’s mid-life crisis. I did not understand the enormity of this stage of life till I hit my 40’s. Instead of rushing and buying a yellow Ferrari, Meha and I decided to take a year off and do a family world trip. You read it right – you jealous DSC_3638 (2)sloggers- Meha, Mihika (our darling 12 year-old daughter) and I are embarking on a mother-of-all-“Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”-style adventures !! We wanted to remember a special year while on our death beds (far away still, hopefully) away from the traffic woes and mundane chores- admiring the 5000-year old Pyramids, experiencing the majestic sunrise and sunset at Grand Canyon, gasping at the waterfalls in Yosemite, gazing at the stars in Sedona, shaking hands with Marine Iguanas in Galapagos, getting awe-stuck in Machu Pichhu, encountering the grizzly bears in Yellowstone, gawking at world’s largest musical instrument museum in Phoenix, marveling at the Byzantian-turned-Ottoman Istanbul, and lots more ! How I managed to fool/convince (depending on one’s point of view) Meha to sign up to this absolutely crazy idea, will be detailed in another blog ! We wanted to take a path less trodden,to make our life more interesting. It’s an experiment at this stage of life we thought was worth every penny. Mihika will be parent-tutored for a year – what a fabulous principal who has given a year’s leave without losing a year – and she gets to learn the best lessons of life on the road immersed in various civilizations, peoples, cultures, museums and yes – studies too! Don’t be too jealous, wish us luck :). We have been overwhelmed (frankly I did not know we had so many friends!) by the encouragement and enthusiasm shown by friends and family. Casual acquaintances have accosted me and wished luck – leaving us totally overwhelmed. Now we feel, it’s “OUR” journey. ManySharpBends.Com is our blog where we capture our unforgettable adventures. Do follow us on the blog and facebook posts.