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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 …..

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J for Jungle Stories

What is it with me and my adventurous trips to jungles or the National Reserve Forests…..I never get to see the lions and tigers….just their paw prints and local stories from safari guides!! I always get to see the peacocks, the deer and elephants!

As a kid my parents had travelled to Nainital and dragged us sleepy-heads to the Jim Corbett Tiger reserve but I remember seeing only the stuffed tigers, the man-eaters which were once upon a time killed by Jim Corbett himself! The whole day we drove from one water hole to other but no real tiger, not one, not even the glimpse of its tail!

After marriage, my husband’s enthusiasm for jungle adventure took us first to Madumalai National Park near Ooty. We had stopped for the previous evening at Goa and had some good quality cashew nuts, local produce of Goa, with us to munch. When we reached the forest reserve, we left our cashew packets in the car. We also( very intelligently !!) left one of the car windows rolled down in the forest! We had booked a tree house for the night stay in the jungle.

tree house

Our tree house

In the evening, to our shock (and we couldn’t stop laughing at our own stupidity!), the car was full of monkeys eating and strewing the cashews in the jungle….our precious, precious Cashew nuts!! Having absorbed this funny/ridiculous/shocking incident, we looked forward to the safari next morning.

The safari guide was insisting to reach the heart of forest at the break of dawn so we could catch a glimpse of tiger or leopard at the water holes.

So we woke up early (when what I really wanted to do was sleep) and this time I dragged my little one to the safari in her night pajamas. I told her we would see a tiger and the poor girl was very excited. We boarded the jeep and reached the denser jungle….and of course first we saw many peacocks then the deer and deer and more deer. The guide told us we were near the waterhole and we should make no noise! As the jeep rumbled slowly on the path, the driver suddenly stopped and began to drive the jeep in reverse gear because there in our path stood a very annoyed elephant who thrashed the plants, trumpeted, stomped his big feet and took few angry steps towards our jeep! It seems we had disturbed not only our sleep but also His Highness’s morning routine by driving up in his territory. The panicky driver and guide gave us the news that the same elephant had upturned a jeep the previous day in his anger.

The angry elephant

The angry elephant

As the jeep was being driven in reverse gear we lost much time in reaching a safe distance away from the elephant and then took a detour to reach the waterhole. But alas, as is my luck with jungle adventures…..we saw the paw prints of a big cat but no big cat anywhere. I missed the leopard or tiger again! It had had its share of water and moved on!!

Lots of Deer

Lots of Deer

We did spot some Indian giant squirrels though…if it counts as compensation of not seeing a wildcat!

Giant squirrel

Few years later we planned for Kaziranga Reserve for Rhinos in Assam. This was the only forest where I saw what it is famous for…the Rhinos!! The deeper denser jungle near the mighty Brahmaputra river where the more ferocious cats roamed was out-of-bounds for the casual visitors like us. Here too however, I saw lots of deer, elephants with their kids and rhinos with their kids too.

Mommy and baby Rhino

Mommy and baby Rhino

vultures

Vultures

Babu and Rani...the baby elephants

Babu and Rani…the baby elephants

Deer

Deer and Deer and Deer

Another jungle we visited two years back was the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan. Here there are no wild cats…so I can not complain really! We did see some migratory birds besides turtles, monitor lizards, blue bull.

migratory birdsmigratory birds

blue bull

Now we plan to visit the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. The tiger population has increased there in last few years and hopefully this jungle would be the one to end the jinx by letting me see the tigers in their majestic beauty.

This post is also for A to Z challenge.

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.