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A Drive Along the Picturesque Pacific Coast Highway 1

“Visiting USA? The drive along the coastal highway is a must-do.” So advised our cousins who had made the country their second home.

Aware that Indian driving licence is valid on US roads for about a year, we did not need much coaxing! We rented a car and were soon cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The satiny black ribbon like road lives up to its claim of being the most picturesque route. It was scenic all along with blue water splashing on rocks, frothing, misting, roaring….every rock and wave was camera worthy. The wide smooth road with hardly any traffic, was flanked by hills on one side and ocean on the other. The ocean changed colours as the sun rose up higher in the sky.

Along the Pacific Coast

Crashing waves make a beautiful picture

Sea and rocks

Scenic… all along the highway

As we reached Monterey Bay, we saw some other tourists walking downhill to a small not much frequented beach. Huge waves crashed on the hills pulling kelp from the ocean and spitting it out on beach.

When the wave subsided, we quickly clicked some pictures because we had not catered for wet clothes and shoes…what with rented car and all.

beach somewhere at Monterey beach

Huge waves crashing on the rocks

Some 190 km south of San Francisco we reached the Bixby Creek bridge which is tallest single-span concrete bridge in world. Till 1932, the residents of Big Sur were almost cut-off in winters as the old coast road used to be impassable.

We couldn’t resist stopping for a quick picture, though leaving the car unattended at Highway was not advisable.

Monterey bay

Bixby Creek Bridge…the tallest single-span concrete bridge in world

Further on, a detour led to Pebble Beach, but we drove to Big Sur instead and stopped at a river-side-inn for a quick bite only to find the food a little too expensive. Moreover, the view of the gurgling stream and birds chirping in the woods from the wooden chairs kept in the stream seemed much inviting than the glass windows and carpeted interiors of the restaurant.

It feels refreshing being closer to nature

It feels refreshing being closer to nature

Big Sur derives its name from Spanish ‘el pais grande del sur‘ and refers to the 90 mile beautiful, rugged coastline between Carmel and Hearst Castle. Highway 1 through Big Sur is called American National Scenic Byway.

It was no doubt beautiful. Many fitness enthusiasts were busy cycling, biking  and running in the bright sun with the breeze bringing in the sea smell.

Big Sur

Scenic views all along the Big Sur

wild plants

Even the wild grass looked beautiful

By the time we reached ‘Whale Watchers Cafe’ we were hungry and the place was very attractive. The sandwiches and salads here were not as costly and we were past the stage of bothering about expenditure!

Whale Watcher's cafe where we had sandwiches...

Whale Watcher’s café where we had sandwiches…

We were told that there were tours to watch Humpback Whales, Orca and White-sided dolphins which were a regular sight in October. We stared past the road side railing in the deep blue ocean but it was just not our lucky day.

over the railing

Beyond the railing, in the deep blue frolic the whales and dolphins

Energised, we sped on as we wanted to make it to Los Angeles before dark. We were advised to avoid the chaotic traffic at LA. Had we, however, gone even a bit more faster, we would have missed the wild seals sun-bathing on a rock.

As we drove past, the corner of my eye caught a sudden movement. I insisted we stop….. And there they were lazing on the rocks! One  seal raised its head to look at us equally surprised as we were!

wild seals

Surprised seals looking right back at us

Later, further ahead we came across a seal spotting deck and to our surprise the beach was full of large elephant-seals playing in sea, snoring, lazing around. it was a rookery where every year the seals come to breed, the alpha males show-off their strength to females and the best man….er…seal wins!!

Huge Elephant Seals lazing on the beach

Huge Elephant Seals lazing on the beach

Sun had set by the time, we left coast highway and drove inland. Even after driving for so long with many stops and the hot sun, we were not the least bit tired instead the breathtaking views that our eyes had literally feasted upon along the PCH 1 had  left us wanting for more …..

A Brush with American Highway Police: A day to remember!!

Alng the Pacific Ocean

Along the coastal Highway

Having driven all day along the black ribbon of a road, the Pacific coastal Highway, I was relaxed and absolutely satiated with the breathtaking views throughout. We had stopped almost after every fifteen minutes to take in the view and capture as many shots and memories in our camera….I was very happy….

We were nearing Los Angeles, when suddenly I realised that the rental car we were driving had stopped….

Why are you stopping the car?”

There is a police car with blinking lights behind us….I think he has tailgated us for few minutes now!”

I thought my husband was joking. But I could see the highway patrol police officer striding towards the rented car that we were driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

All weird thoughts….. corrupt cops, being handcuffed by the walkie-talkie toting police officer à la Hollywood style, images of prisons with brutal convicts dressed in orange overalls…. flashed in my mind in those few seconds that the officer took to reach the car.

I wondered where we had goofed up and was ready to kneel on road with “hands where I can see them” if ordered. My heart was in my mouth and I instantly developed a headache!

All day we had driven along the Pacific Coastal Highway (read about the picturesque drive here)skirting the immense blue ocean enjoying the spell-binding scenery.

Eye-catching sight all along the Pacific Coastal Highway

Eye-catching sight all along the Pacific Coastal Highway

Beyond Morro Bay we turned inland driving along Cabrillo Highway. It was already evening and we were two hundred miles short of Los Angeles. We did not want to risk night travel in a new city. We were revelling in the leisure journey with no maddening traffic to bother us.

Lost in Rod Stewart’s version of ‘The way you look tonight’ playing on the radio, I missed the worried frown creasing my husband’s face and realized that something was amiss only when he pulled over.

The officer leaned in to inspect, from my side of the car and noted our daughter sleeping at rear seat without the seat belt. He started rattling off our offences. Apparently we were over-speeding and did not heed his signal to stop plus one of us was without seat-belt….three charges!!

At that point of time I was totally nervous, dreading the worst and faltering when answering the officer’s questions. The fun-filled day seemed history….

But he was nowhere like the rude policemen of the television shows. He patiently heard us out when we apologized for all the mistakes. The only excuse we had was the mesmerizing scenery and joy of holidaying in America. He checked our credentials, the car rental documents, hotel reservations and holiday itinerary.

At some moment he decided we were some over-enthusiastic harmless first-time tourists and then…. Just like that, with a warning, he let us off the hook wishing us an enjoyable stay and a happy vacation!!

Having learnt our lesson, we thanked our lady-luck for the issue not blowing into some major problem and diligently stuck to the permissible speed limits for rest of our vacation.

In retrospect, I am glad I spend so much of my time watching Hollywood movies and American sitcoms… Ha! At least we knew what a tailgating police vehicle meant! Had we kept on driving, we would have irked the officer more, landing ourselves in big trouble.

A first-time month-long vacation abroad, in itself, is a memorable experience but getting nearly arrested is definitely nothing to forget about.

 

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Washington DC to Detroit by Amtrak

Having spent ten days in America eating all those refined flour breads, muffins, cakes, pizzas, pretzels, cinnamon roll, burgers…. we desperately wanted to eat home-made Indian food of Dal(lentil soup), whole wheat flour chapatis(soft Indian flat bread) and vegetables so we took a break and headed straight to my cousins home at Troy, Michigan.

We made sure to travel by most modes of transport when in America. ‘Union Station‘ being Amtrak’s headquarter was our obvious choice to travel to Detroit though my cousin was not very enthusiastic about our choice of transport.

Union Station is a major train station, transportation hub, leisure destination and the railroad’s second-busiest station. It also serves the Washington Metro, and buses. It also functions as huge shopping mall and is visited by as many as 40 million people every year!

Union Station, Washington DC

The station has huge vaulted ceiling which is almost 96 feet above the floor. Expensive material like gold leaf, marble and white granite have been used in the interiors.

There are many high-end shops, cafe, restaurants, salons and large waiting spaces in the station.

inside the union station

When all the checking of boarding tickets, luggage etc was over and we reached the platform from where we were to board the train, we noticed most people had left the platform and hurried to another platform across the railway tracks. Soon we realised that last-minute changes had been done and boarding was from the other side. We were totally lost Boarding the Amtrakbeing new to the huge station. We located the elevator and ran all the way to new platform because the it was already the departure time.

Two Amtrak trains were parked on the station and we had to confirm from the ticket checking officer about the one which was scheduled for Detroit. We were out of breath by the time we reached our seats.

Only after putting away our luggage and settling down in our seats, did we realise that we were not carrying any beverage with us. All the panic and running across the station had made us all very thirsty. But we were pleasantly surprised to find a small cafeteria on the train with coffee, juices, quick meals and a bar counter. We helped ourselves with the coffee and sandwiches while the seats filled up.

I sat playing ‘solitaire’ on my laptop when an old woman on the seat across the aisle, interrupted me and started advising on the game. Out of formality, I sat near her and let her explain me the game.

After a while, I realised that the woman had already consumed considerable amount of Vodka before boarding the train and was repeating her instructions and sentences to me. She asked for my email, misspelt my name and offered me some alcohol. She had half eaten sandwiches stuffed in her purse which was spilling over with scarves, reading glasses, water and what not. I felt the need to distance myself from her as in her drunk state, she started abusing other passengers, the speed of train etc. I did not want to be on her list of her offenders!

sight-seeing deckWe were there to enjoy our journey and the interaction with the old woman was eating into our fun time. I politely excused myself and went to the sight-seeing deck which had large glass windows for an unobstructed view.

The train chugged past beautiful country houses, small quaint stations, bridges, river, forest and hills….all making the journey worth remembering.

bridge

hill and river pass by

small station

Soon it was dark and we returned with packed pizza to our seats. As we slept off, we were rudely awakened by a commotion. Another passenger drunk to bones was arguing with the train staff disturbing everybody else. He had no clue where his seat was!

“I am JC man! People call me Jesus Christ…. Where is my seat? Why are you not taking me to my seat? You see, I am Jesus Christ …. JC”

He soon started shouting on another woman with a kid. His behaviour irked yet another passenger who threatened to bash him up. The staff interrupted and took the drunk man away.

With great difficulty, could I sleep again. Later in the morning, train reached Detroit. The old woman was already gone and forgot her spectacles, blanket and granola bars on her seat. Her seat looked more like a dustbin with empty liquor bottles lying all over. The man calling himself Jesus Christ and the man who threatened him , both were not to be seen either.

My cousin waited to pick us up at Detroit station. Our adventurous train journey ended with lots of memories stored in pictures and events that happened on board.

This is also for A to Z Challenge.

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Ripley’s Believe it or not!! Museum at New York

After going crazy shooting picture after picture in Madam Tussaud’s museum at New York, I was TIRED!! But the Ripley’s Museum  was right next door and I could not dissuade my daughter and husband from dragging me there. Well….I am gflad they did!

I, before entering the museum, thought that there would be pictures and plaques describing various unbelievable weird things that happened at some place in world at some point of time. I wasn’t prepared to see so many things in the museum that my jaw dropped literally! BELIEVE IT OR NOT!!

Museum of Ripley's believe it or notBesides the two-headed goat, calf, tallest man, the large cockroaches, moose etc etc… my interest was piqued due to a painting made of butterflies!

painting of dead butterflies

Another very interesting display was that of the ‘Death Mask’ of Emperor Napolean Bonaparte. Earlier, the death masks were made to preserve the likeness of important people. This authentic mask is derived from the mold casted from wax and plaster in 1821 soon after the emperor’s death by his physician at a remote island off Africa.

The emperor’s army always marched on the right side of the road forcing others to do the same and hence most motorists still follow the right side of the road!!

Death mask of Napolean

One disturbing fact that I was stunned to read in the museum was about the Great Pacific garbage patch also known as Pacific Trash Vortex. The trash dumped in the ocean has large amount of plastic, chemical sludge and other debris trapped by the North Pacific Gyre. This patch extends over an indeterminate area.

When I read this fact in the museum , all I could visualise was a big horrible whirlpool of waste dumped by humans in the huge ocean….I could imagine only the sea life getting destroyed because of our insensitive and careless attitudes towards nature and how we have been abusing the natural resources….

The museum’s large selection of display with many such facts was an eyeopener and I would recommend my friends to definitely go and see the museum…May be we all can come out wiser and preserve what is good on our planet.

This is also for A to Z Challenge.

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Muir Woods, San Francisco

Managing travel, accommodation, food and sight-seeing in a different country where one is new to most do’s and don’ts, tires no end.  After 15 days in USA, we obviously were! And we needed a break from all planning, thinking and managing. So when we landed at my cousin’s home at San José, we precisely did that…….left all the decisions, planning, what to see, what to eat etc on his young shoulders.

And there he was taking us to the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s wharf, the crooked street, Gherardeli Chocolate factory, Muir woods etc…..

Muir Woods National Monument, a part of  Golden Gate National Recreation Area is 12 miles north of San Francisco and has old growth Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests, one of a few such remaining in the San Francisco Bay Area. The park is named after the naturalist John Muir who campaigned for establishing national parks.

pathway

Pathway through the park

As we entered the park, there was a big slice of tree trunk mounted as a plaque showing the various years of growth of the forests. The park was quiet, cool and damp….. the silence at occasions broken by the chirping of birds.

Since the park is a popular tourist attraction, there are walkways made throughout the forest to prevent the young sprouts of the trees from being crushed and destroyed under the feet of many visitors to the park.

 The Sequoia, for which the park is known for, are giant trees with their heights reaching 380 feet. The bark is thick and very porous and the foliage creates a huge canopy which obstructs the sun rays from filtering down on the pathways. Most of the trees are 500 to 800 years old and the oldest one being 1200 years old.

tall trees with thick canopy DSC_0050 DSC_0053 DSC_0073

Some trails were closed due to fallen trees when we visited the monument and we could not go to the Redwood Creek. The park has many hiking trails too though picnicking and camping are not allowed.

The Aramark  Cafe was a welcome place because after walking through the park we were famished. Huge bears carved out of tree trunks were placed outside the café and our daughter made us click her photographs as she posed with each one of them. Some huge mouth-watering sandwiches and  salads, and many pictures later we shopped for souvenirs in the gift shop of the cafe’ and headed for other must-dos of our list.

This post is also for A to Z challenge.

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Las Vegas minus the sins

I have been a goooood girl for as long as I can remember except for maybe answering back or screaming at my mom as a teenage. No drugs, no casual affairs, no pre-marital sex, hell….not even short short revealing clothes!! So when we planned to travel to Las Vegas, my friends teased and tried encouraging me to for once cross the self-imposed moral line.

“It is the sin city girl! Go gamble….what if you win a jackpot! Or go for those male striptease bars….ooh!!”

“Nobody knows you there, wear some reallllly shoooort dress…..soak the sun, sweety! Get that niiice chocolate tan!!”

Welcome to vegasSin City“, “The Gambling Capital of World“, “Capital of Second Chances“, “The Entertainment Capital of World” are some of the names by which people world over identify Las Vegas. With over 25 largest hotels having 62,000 rooms in all on the famous Vegas Strip alone, the epithets are obviously apt.

People flock to Vegas primarily for gambling, striptease bars, paid sex and usually remark “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas“.

We reached Vegas on a hot sunny afternoon along with other tourists of the package tour. Our tour guide Angela made all arrangements for the room and keys. We were to be back on the tour bus, two days later in the morning for return journey to San Francisco.

We spent our time mostly out of casinos, one, because kids are not allowed in casinos and we had our 11-year-old tagging along, two, because we really did not want to gamble and set a bad example for our daughter and three, we did not want to get addicted and lose the precious dollars, after all they  say…’ The house always wins!’

We did not go to slot machines, poker tables etc (I don’t even know all the varieties of gambling) but honestly we did not miss doing what most people do in Vegas. In fact we had other things  and only two days to do as family.

Each of the big hotels besides having casinos have some or the other entertainment shows scheduled throughout the day, there are huge shopping areas, variety of food joints and restaurants. The Blue Man Group, Variety show were family friendly shows where we could take our girl.

The free shows of the Bellagio fountains gyrating on 30 different songs are very popular tourist attraction. I definitely loved the fountains and spent much time watching those.

Hotel MirageThen there was this fire volcano show at Hotel Mirage, where the fire and music and water were choreographed to enthrall visitors. At short intervals the fire would blow up like a volcano from under the water. Though by the end of show, our faces were red due to intense heat and my nose felt like a tank full of the gasoline.

The Venetian‘s gondola ride was another entertaining experience.

Gondola ride at Venetian

Golden Gate CasinoAt the old city, near the original Golden Gate Casino, there were zip-lines for the thrill rides.

There was so much to see that of the 25 biggest hotels on the Vegas Strip, we could visit hardly three or four. There were street artists making paintings with spray cans, charcoal, playing musical instruments, people dressed up as Elvis Presley, levitating street-artist……

Levitating man on street bagpiper Elvis Presley lookalike

We could not cover all  of must-eat food joints because there was a huge variety and the three of us wanted to eat three different things at three different places!!

Vegas 16 Oct (36)

The City of Lights, Silver City……Las Vegas minus its sins was as entertaining as it must be for those who want a taste of this sin city’s lusts and joys. And I certainly did bring back memories which I can share with everybody.

For me…. “What happens in Vegas, can come out of Vegas….it need not stay in Vegas

This post is also for A to Z Challenge.

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In the air over Grand Canyon

to the helicopter ride over grand canyon

To the Chopper Ride registration

 Fifteen days into our vacation, we were scheduled for a visit to the Grand Canyon. Having finished the ground tour of  the canyon, we waited for our turn at the chopper ride which would fly us over the canyon and ultimately drop us near the great Colorado River later for boat ride down the river.

After a long queue and a long wait finally it was our turn for the chopper ride. Me and my daughter were mighty excited since it was our first helicopter ride! My husband, being a airforce fighter pilot himself, was elated to fly over the canyon but not because he was in a chopper. However if he had the opportunity to fly a fighter over the canyon himself, then he would have been much excited!!

our chopper rideOur chopper pilot was a 75-year-old retired ex-army  pilot…still fit and strong. Once seated in the chopper with two more chinese passengers, he instructed us with dos and don’ts and then blades whirred into action lifting us up in the air.

Up in airSoon he was taking us deeper in the canyon, sometimes low and then higher allowing us to capture and marvel at the grandness of the wide canyon. He banked and maneuvered the chopper deftly and it simply was a thrilling experience.

The muddy waters of the River Colorado, looked like a stream from the air till he slowly dove the bird like chopper lower and lower…

Aerial view of Colorado

Aerial view of Colorado

over the boat ride landing area

The boat ride terminal from air

The helicopter deposited us with the boat ride crew and returned for next group of tourists. It would come back for us after an hour and till then we enjoyed the boat ride in the huge and mighty but muddy Colorado.

The Chopper ride was the highlight of our tour to the Grand Canyon and though quite expensive, was worth every dollar spent.

This post is also for A to Z Challenge.

 

Falls at Niagara, Finger Lakes and Fall colors

One of the places we planned to visit was Niagara Falls on our vacation to USA. Niagara Niagara FallsFalls, forming the southern end of Niagara Gorge, is a group of three water falls, Horseshoe Fall, American Fall and the Bridal Veil Fall, on the international borders of Canada and USA. These falls were formed when glaciers at Wisconsin glaciation receded. These falls are not very high but are definitely very wide.

While driving from Newark to Niagara we were caught in a heavy downpour, our phone was completely discharged and as a result our GPS stopped. We turned at a wrong road which brought us in a residential area. We had nobody to turn for help and we were totally stranded. After wasting about an hour fretting, we took a risk of driving further down the road… and voilà! we were right there staring at the road sign pointing the direction of our hotel. It was such a relief ….all our worries subsided as we put our luggage in the hotel room.

It was already late for us to board the boat ride at the falls and since it was still raining in Niagara by nightthe evening we spent the few hours watching the lit up falls when the Canadians focussed colorful lights on the falls. We took the ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat ride the next morning, got wet from the mist at falls, felt chilled to the bones and enjoyed each and every minute.

We drove back to Newark the next day along the ‘Finger Lakes’ so called because of the long and narrow shape resembling the fingers. The skies were clear in the morning and it was a pleasant ride with huge and beautiful vacation homes all along the road, the gleaming boats bobbing in the lakes and cool breeze accompanying us….

beautiful vacation homes

boats

We hoped to see the fall colors during our vacation, but it seemed the fall had not kicked in completely. The foliage was still green though some trees showed up in reds and yellows…

Fall colors

This post is also written for A to Z challenge.

Why I did not fall in love with New York; the city that never sleeps…..

Of course! I was a wide-eyed  first time visitor to New York and pretty excited to see all the regular touristy spots the city had to offer. I had three days at my disposal for all the sight-seeing.

New York skyline

New York consists of five boroughs….. Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and the Staten Island. Of all boroughs, Manhattan is not only the most densely populated but also mostly the area which people are referring  to when they talk about being in  New York !

Every day after having a filling breakfast at our hotel in Newark, New Jersey, we would board the subway from Pennsylvania Station to midtown Manhattan. It took all of 30 to 35 minutes from buying the ticket, boarding the train to getting down at Manhattan station.

On our third day in the city, at the Museum of City of New York we chatted with this smart old woman at the help desk:

Old woman : Visiting for the first time? You stay here in New York?

Me: No, we are at vacation here.

Old woman: Oh okay where are you coming from?

Me: India….

Old woman: Oh wow, all the way from India? So, Did you like New York?”

Me(little carefully…lest I upset her): Umm…its er…fast.

Old woman: Oh! you are telling me?…This place is changing. It is deteriorating…too much crowd, too much of everything …earlier it was nice ….I have seen it change having grown up here…

So despite the Empire state, Chrysler Tower, Guggenheim Museum, MOMA, Rockefeller Centre, WTC  Freedom tower, the Statue of Liberty, United nations headquarters, Wall Street, Times Square, Central park, the huge glamorous stores of Macy’s, Rado, Gucci, Tag Heuer, Nike, Rolex, Armani (phew….you name it and it is there!!)…….Why did I not fall in love with New York?

Reason 1: They don’t talk much!!

Though I found the Americans very helpful always but what surprised me was that everyday during the 20-25 minutes ride in subway nobody spoke!! Every person on the train either had a newspaper or earphones stuck in their ears. The commuters always looked tired and sleepy. Some spoke softly on their phones but not to the person nearby.

The three of us…. my husband, my 11 yrs old daughter and me…..were overly conscious and spoke too softly to discuss the day’s itinerary. We were nervous that people would stare at us if we talked …..coz nobody else was talking, not smiling, not acknowledging the presence of others!! It was as good as nobody was on train because the sound which interrupted the silence was only of the recorded announcements….

Now, I have travelled in the local trains of Mumbai too. Agreed, that compared to New York metros, there is overcrowding and cacophony of voices in local trains of Mumbai but then….a strange camaraderie is also forged between the regular commuters of the route…….they offer the seat to the known face before alighting on their stops, they smile, they show concern by asking “Kya bhai, dikhai nahi diye kuch dino se? Sab thik-thak? (How are you? Didn’t see you since few days? All okay?)”…they discuss cricket and politics, they advice, they share newspapers , eatables and sometimes a coin or two too…..and nobody seems to object! A ride in Mumbai local train is not  always relaxing but it sure is entertaining and yet people don’t look as much tired as the New Yorkers.

Though I am not a very talkative person and neither  do I find myself befriending every passer-by but I definitely don’t enjoy travelling with no one to talk to. Afterall ….

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey”

 Reason 2: Miles to walk before I sleep!!

Robert Frost must have visited Manhattan at some point before penning the poem!

Manhattan is planned on an extensive grid pattern with streets intersecting the major avenues at right angles. All those streets and avenues crossing each other make up a vast area to cover on foot. People walk, walk and just walk all the time…

Traffic was maddening and flagging a taxi was not only expensive but seemed unnecessary since there was a lot to see. Also the best way to discover a place, they say, is on foot and so there we were observing every billboard, every neon sign, every store and walking from one intersection to other, dodging vehicles, stopping for a bite, evading the tip-expecting street-performers,, visiting museums, theatres…. At some areas as the Freedom Tower of WTC,  due to construction work, vehicles were not allowed… everybody had to walk all the way.

By end of the day we had to walk down to the subway station which again was a long walk. By the time we reached our hotel, we were exhausted and the legs felt like lead.

 Reason 3:It is NOISY!!

Oh yes….. You think of a sound and there it was…. There was a continuous hum in the air… Yellow buses rumbled by carrying school students, the green, red and blue  buses transported thousands of tourists from one stop to other…the yellow taxis and thousands of cars scurried past, ambulances hurried about with a loud hoots, announcements could be heard , sounds from the construction works, the delivery vans, garbage trucks….The tremble and low growl of the subway could be felt and heard through the vibrations as we stood on footpath…

Recently I met a New Yorker who was visiting India. He was enjoying the calm and peaceful  desert camp at Khuri, Rajasthan. As we got talking, he told us of his plans to leave his job in New York and move to quieter parts of the country!

At Times Square , I felt like being trapped in a giant gaming arcade with loud blips and electronic sounds shooting me down…..People rushed past talking on their phones… It was a never ebbing sea of Homo Sapiens….So many soundscapes that it was difficult to  differentiate one sound from other….

By end of the day, the hotel room seemed unnaturally quiet… I could feel the silence! So accustomed are the New Yorkers of these multiple sounds bombarding their eardrums day in and day out that if some day the city sounds stop even for ten minutes, I am sure, they wouldn’t know what to do!!

Reason 4: Electricity

So much electricity!! Even during the day….Times Square was lit up as if Diwali (our festival of lights) or Christmas!! Day time Times Square

Billboards flashing advertisements of all kind of products….cars, lingerie, toys, movies, clothes, electronic goods….I can not even list so many things….I counted about 70 and then lost the count of flashing boards…

lit up...

The night-time New York must be visible from space with so many lights on! The offices in the tall buildings were all lit up even after the working hours….

I like a good night sleep with lights turned off….and had I left the curtains open, I would have never been able to sleep at night because of the lights from the buildings across the street. There are still many villages here in India which do not have electric supply…many cities still suffer long hours of power cuts. If even for a day New York switches off its lights and send it to us somehow… I am guessing, at least hundred of our villages could be lit up.

Reason 5: Too many tall buildings

me craning to see the buildings

Yep! that is me craning my neck to see the sky scrapers piercing the sky…..

Sure, I too love all that steel and glass facades, the sheer verticality, the challenge of designing a building that kisses the clouds but…only when there are a few of them, only when I can still see the skies above, only when the sun can spread its warmth on the ground below, only when I do not feel like sandwiched between two too huge rectangular blocks!

I do appreciate the architecture and engineering behind tall buildings but the street was full of too many tall buildings trying to surpass each other and yet all looked the same with their glass cladding….they were huge rectangular glass boxes with artificial light and ventillation…where was the beauty? Where was the fresh air to breathe? It was more claustrophobic and over intimidating, and not pleasing!

Reason 6: Expensive

You bet it is! New York is world’s fifth most expensive city. Taxis were expensive, we walked to avoid shelling out dollars… restaurants were expensive, we avoided stepping into one and ate pizza slices most of the time for our stay and chose to eat the complimentary breakfast at our hotel before venturing in the city.

May be I found it expensive because of being a tourist but what I could sum up after chatting up with a few friends who moved from New York was that rents for smallest of rooms even without window was a lot and everyday living in the city was expensive.

While writing these reasons of my not liking New York , I came across some thoughts on New York by Ryan Holiday.  Though I was pretty surprised after reading his version of New York but I am sure that if ever given a choice and opportunity to choose between my small city in India and New York , I would prefer my much smaller and quieter city….

10 Things we should learn from the Americans!!

We ape western countries!! There is no doubt about that… even if many do not agree with me.

They say ‘Yoga’ is best and suddenly many of us start exercising yoga and many yoga instructors suddenly surface like mushrooms after rains ……

They say vegetarian diet is best and suddenly we start eating those same grains but now with english names….

NASA says Sanskrit is the best language for computer commands and we start giving importance to the ancient language like never before…

Why have we forgotten the good things which have been in our country since centuries?

We watch Hollywood movies and roll our tongues to twirl our R’s or skip our G and T’s to sound like Americans. Fake accents …really? Is that only the way to ape?

It is not wrong to cultivate new habits and new mannerism. And I can think of some ten habits(there is a possibility there are more which I might have failed to count) which we should actually ape from the Americans to become better people and better country….

1. Respect. I was quite impressed by the way Americans show respect to the social helpers like garbage collectors, bus drivers, shopkeepers etc. They do not have caste system and hence all are equal…..no one is looked down upon because of the work they do. Instead human labor is highly valued in the country.

Since all are equal hence everybody does their own work and the concept of ‘kaamwali- bai’, ‘dhobi’ or ‘kachrewala’ is not common among average Americans (the house-cleaners are quite expensive if their services are used)

Can we imagine anybody appreciating or greeting a road sweeper in our country? Honestly…I never did it either(but now I have decided to gradually incorporate a habit of appreciating the rickshaw wallahs, sweepers and garbage collectors, at the least say a little thank you every time). Most of the time we shoo them away, we  are arrogant with them and never ever pay them what they actually deserve instead we haggle for the last rupee till the poor thing agrees to our terms and conditions.

Half of our effort goes in saying “Tu janata nahi hai main kaun hoon?” (you don’t know who you are talking to….implying that the person can do whatever he feels like and nobody can object). Instead if we could be polite and respectful and ignore the rave and rants of a misbehaving person there would less of squabbles. We show respect to people who either have power to hurt….the politicians, the bhais(hoodlum) or have a lot of money (basically brains are ignored).

Women,  in many homes in our country, are not given enough credit for their opinions or freedom to exercise their choices. Honor killings are still prevalent in our society….can we call that civilized? Are the people indulging in such acts human? What about the rapes? Women can not exercise their  choice of clothes, can not step out of home without the fear of being molested? Strict laws against dowry harassment, female infanticide are still not being implemented? Is that how women are should be shown respect in any society? Do we even have the right to judge the morals of western people when our own moral and ethics vis-à-vis women are so twisted and perverted? Are women’s denials even considered as an option by their husbands who see the wives as an object of  sexual gratification and a personal servant?

Many will say this doesn’t happen in our homes….its the problem of uneducated people…..No Sir! It is very much prevalent in so-called educated families too!!

We are not enough polite and we do not show enough respect to fellow human beings….that is the reality!!

How difficult is it to adopt a more accepting attitude and being respectful towards everybody. Why not ape this?

2.Small Courtesies. Way back in 1990 a film “Maine Pyar Kiya” was released and a dialogue from the movie has since become the mantra …” Friendship me no sorry no thank you”.

Hello, why not? What is wrong in acknowledging someone’s help? Who wants to be taken granted? And mind you(those who feel that I am advocating foreign manners), hindi language has always had words like “Dhanyavad” and it is still considered a good manner to say it, only nobody does it these days! What is the harm in saying please, sorry and thank you. It doesn’t make anyone less of a friend if they say or expect these small courtesies.

Americans greeted us though none of them knew us. An eye contact was enough to elicit a smile, a “How are you doing today?” or a “Good Morning” or a “Have a good day”. We however do not even greet the grocer, news paper man etc whom we meet everyday, let alone a stranger.

It is not that greeting everybody wasn’t ever in practice, but while we busied ourselves in aping western slang, clothes or food…we forgot our own culture of politeness and brotherhood.

3. Stand in a queue. Oh yes we do stand in a line…on bus stands, railway stations or basically wherever compulsory but the moment nobody is watching we crowd over everywhere pushing, elbowing, trampling other’s foot without a care….. If there is a woman in a bus the men stand so close till their front is literally rubbing the woman’s behind! And if there is no sign indicating the need for a queue…..Oh! yes!! we rush around like a toddler who is still learning the motor skills. On the escalators we occupy the entire step instead of standing on one side leaving one side free for people who might prefer to walk. While in queue if a gap develops between two people, we will urge the person to move even if the queue ahead is yet standing still. We stand so close to each other in queues that we might as well identify the brand of deodorant and perfumes or the lack of it from the person ahead of us! And do we ever even consider that the person standing slightly away from the queue might actually be in the same queue?

The whole month that I visited various cities in America, I did not see a sign which would point out to stand in a queue ….yet the people stood patiently in a queue! Whether you want to take a picture of some display, use a washroom, order food from a street food kiosks, on an escalator or stairs, boarding a bus, boat or even a train.

Is it so difficult for us to not push while in a line and not snigger at the discomfort of the other people?

4. Wait for your turn!Do we ever bother to not cross in front of the camera when somebody is taking a picture? Aren’t most of our pictures wasted due to somebody else lurking in the same frame? While at an exhibition, do we take care before stopping at an exhibit, to see whether we are obstructing somebody else’s line of sight?

There they do!!  Every time that we wanted to take a picture the pedestrians would pause to allow us finish our photography and some even offered to shoot our family photograph. They  wait for the other person to move away from the exhibits in a museum or an art gallery, from the vending machine or the ATM.

I always thought we were well-mannered but I was forced to do a reality-check of myself…..and I failed too. Are we impatient by choice or we just don’t have the civility gene in us?

5. Schools first! How much importance do we give to our schools and the quality of Happy School kidseducation? Does the proximity to a school govern our decision to buy property? Do we aim to find the teacher’s ability in school or we  just  go for a good looking school? Does the school’s reputation in our country, dictates the development of the neighborhood? Do the school children get a dedicated pathway to reach safely at school? Are the government schools in our country, first choice among the upper middle class strata of society?

The prices of real estate in our country depends on the proximity of airport or railway station or if the property belongs to some politician. However in America the quality of education in a particular school decides the rise in price of real estate….the better the school higher the price. The government schools are compulsorily at a walking distance and hence each residential area has a school.

If only we could give similar importance to educating our kids and demand a better quality in schools may be our kids will be spared from travelling long distances in search of  a good school.

6. Follow road rules. I spent a month vacationing in different cities of the USA and I did Manhattan Trafficnot see a single traffic jam, a single road fight or any accident. I did not see any traffic police officer trying hard to make people stick to their lanes or to follow the traffic light signals. In fact I did not come across a single traffic police officer! The cars stopped when lights went red and even if there was no vehicle coming from opposite direction, they kept waiting for the signal to turn green. I did not see cars honking away to make way. I did not see people stopping their vehicles on middle of the road. I did not see any car bump into the car ahead though they have more cars than we have in our country.

Friends and family in America, warned us about traffic in Los Angeles but one day, the three of us, me my husband and our daughter were crossing a street when the signal for pedestrians turned red. I was the only one still on the footpath while my husband and daughter had already crossed half the street. Although it was the signal for traffic, yet all the cars stopped for me and as I debated to cross or not, a gentleman in one of the cars waved at me to go join my family.

Can we even imagine people in our country stopping for so long? We are always in a hurry to reach somewhere(and God knows where or may be the rash driver knows that too), so we start driving when the traffic signal just about turns yellow. Can we imagine pedestrians being given the right of way? Can we imagine drivers of two cars not being at loggerheads blaming each other after  jumping their respective traffic signals?

I did not see traffic crowding entire width of the road…. at the signals the cars waited in a single line leaving the rest of the road for the oncoming traffic. They did not honk horns thus avoiding unnecessary chaos and noise on the roads. When my husband stops at red light and doesn’t budge from his place till  the signal actually turns green…..people give us dirty looks. I noticed that the Americans gestured a thank you if the car ahead gave way for the car at back to overtake. But in our country we are greeted with a fist gesture and a barrage of expletives if we do not heed the incessant honking of the car behind us !!

Can we imagine people acknowledging other drivers, even in metropolitan cities in our country?Is it so difficult for us to follow traffic rules? Wouldn’t it save us a hell lot of time if we stuck to road rules and not honk so much?

7. No littering. The common excuse most of us lament is that the government authorities have not provided enough dustbins throughout any city and so the garbage lies everywhere. Agreed, that there is some truth to this but lets please cross our hearts and honestly answer the question; How many times have we bothered to make sure that the garbage is actually thrown in the bins? Even the educated people who can afford to zip around in cars roll down the car windows and callously dispose off the paper napkins, banana peels or plastic packets just like that…on the road or in the countryside. In fact many a times when we drive and I have insisted on collecting all fruit peels, disposable coffee cups, paper napkins etc in a plastic bag to dispose later in a bin, I have met resistance from my own extended family !! Some of them think I am taking cleanliness drive a bit too far.

Americans pick up after themselves…..even their dog’s poop. I did not see any pile of garbage rotting away on roadside, no plastic bag marring the street view, nobody spitting out the orange residue of ‘gutkha’. The everyday garbage picking staff in America if compared to the poor ‘jhaduwalas’ in our Garbage pick- up staffcountry are dressed so neatly that if they do not have a broom in hand, they don’t look different from rest of the people in the street and there was hardly anything to sweep on the roads!

All my growing up years my mother made sure that me and my sister put the garbage in proper dustbins, at home and outside. She used to tell us that if each person put their share of garbage in the bins, our country would become  clean eventually. I am almost forty years old now but even after so many years I can not find clean streets. Was my mother the only one teaching us to care about our country? Was she the only one who taught cleanliness. I believe in my mother’s optimism and have made sure my daughter follows the same rule. But when my daughter questions me about unclean schools and streets….I have no answer!

Do we have a neatness gene in us or not? Can we not be as clean? Why even compare to the US….our own village Mawlynong  near Shillong, Meghalaya is known as the cleanest village in Asia. The villagers do not litter on the village streets and the use of plastic bags is banned. After having visited Mawlynong a few years back I realised that if there is will, our cities can be as clean too.

Is it really so difficult for us to be clean and tidy?

8. Respect  Armed Forces. We were visiting “Sea World” San Diego, California. Among other attractions, there was a show featuring the killer whales Orca. Before the show could begin, the whale trainers encouraged all the viewers to spare a moment and show gratitude to all the military personnel whether living or departed. The crowd applauded the bravery of the men and women in uniform.

Arlington Cemetery, Washinton D.CAnother instance where the respect for the military was very clear was a tour of “Arlington Cemetery”, Washington D.C. Irrespective of whether the cemetery had a tombstone of a loved one, the Americans observed silence in the cemetery in honor of the soldiers who gave away their lives for the country. Again the cemetery which occupies a huge area was well maintained without any littered area. The cemetery also had a memorial for the soldiers whose next of kin could not be traced or who died as unknown people. And yet they respected these  unknown soldiers by keeping the area clean and offering their prayers for them.

Our soldiers have died not only in the wars in 1965, 1971 or the Kargil war but also during rescue missions during floods and landslides. However it is the politician who gets the high pay and a pat on shoulder. Also the people have the nerve to retort that nobody forced the men to join military, it is the job they have chosen of free will!! Well of course  nobody asked them to join military but yet they chose to die for the ungrateful nation. What if nobody joins the military? Who will protect the politicians, the rich and everybody?

Only thing a defense personnel asks for is a little respect…can’t we give them that?

9. Preserve heritage. We have centuries old structures, the temples and forts which are great examples of construction techniques, sculpting and the way society functioned…..Americans have relatively lesser history. However, they preserve whatever heritage they have….they are proud of it and present it to the world with a sense of belonging.

Where is our sense of belonging? I have seen scribblings on the white marble walls of Taj Mahal even! It is as if people deliberately plan to take a sharp object with them to scratch the walls of monuments…they spit on the walls, they get in destroying different religion’s prayer houses and do not bat an eyelid before retorting “tumhara hai kya jo beech me bol rahe ho?”( Is it yours that you are objecting?) Is that a sense of belonging? Of course each and every part of the country belongs to each and every citizen and not only one’s house….so each one of us needs to have this sense of belonging and preserve our heritage.

It doesn’t help to cling to the names of leaders of yesteryears…..if they worked for the country’s independence…then may be we should emulate their thought process and work towards what they left for us.

10For God’s your own sake…..work!! Since we have this retirement and pension thing….people start looking forward to put up their feet and retire and basically not WORK!! Why retire till the body functions? Why can people find other ways to earn and be busy and not waste away time in front of television, expecting rest of the family members to rally around them?

I saw 75 year olds involving themselves in marathon at Washington D.C and retired 75-year-old army pilot flying tourists at Grand Canyon….

Many women in our society are homemakers. How come they are never allowed to retire?   One such person, I have come across, feels that post retirement he has the right to just relax…watch tv, play cards with his friends, go for a walk, sleep and eat!! His wife for last fifty years has been a homemaker and she has had no chance to retire….this person doesn’t make his own tea let alone do it for his wife. He retorts that I can not do kitchen work because I don’t know how to….plain and simple!! But if his wife retires and sits in front of television all day…would be acceptable? And hell, if the wives can continue working why not these ‘retired men’? It is not as if they are the only ones working!!

Why can we not do away with this pension system so that everybody is self-reliant? Nobody will need to make a will in children’s name so no danger of  the property being snatched by scrupulous offsprings and no need to lament about being sent to some old age home!

Other benefits of working, post-retirement, would be a longer duration of active brain and body, lesser excuses of tiredness, best use of time and hence lesser laments that nobody has time for old people!

Retirement should only be an option for physically weak or people having disability or  long sickness.

If somebody is active enough for driving, meeting friends, watching movies, going to restaurants…..then please WORK and stop cribbing  about younger people or emotionally blackmailing them about their duties!!

Phew!! That is one long rant from me…..but seriously we need to re-look at why the country ….the largest democracy, the home of so many beautiful cultures has still not reached where it should have been globally.