Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Syracuse, NY - Ice Ice Baby!!

Syracuse is a town in Italy (the name tells right!!), whose name has been adapted for this city in upstate New York, which has become famous for more than one reason. It's extremely cold in winters, its very very hot in summers, it has Syracuse University, its sports team performs very well (now please do not ask me if its basket ball.. base ball or something else, I only know the sports team is good here... no clue of which one!). Its most famous residents are - hold your breath - Richard Gere and Tom Cruise (It doesn't make any difference to me, but still it is exciting  fun fact!!)
The first ever picture of Syracuse which I took was that of a bird's eye, from the flight. I was expecting a lot of cold (who doesn't in January) since it was my first time, but it was just the same like Delhi in winters that day, when I landed. A mere cold jacket did it!!
The Bird's eye view of Cuse from flight
I could not leave my camera behind although we were just going to Walmart (again my first time ever), so I went inside to take some pics of American shopping center, but was disappointed, because Delhi also has them now a days, nothing new (I was actually disappointed, huh!!). I would never take pics of Big Bazaar, hence, Walmart was discarded. But the months of Jan, Feb, March and then Nov, Dec of the same year provided me with what I can never forget - the most picturesque snow (and why it wouldn't be, after all it was my first time ever with snow and ice and there after, I never liked snow again, hahaha..). It snows heaven and hell... cats and dogs there....
If you are new there, snow would look gorgeous.. beautiful, but after somedays, it gets absolutely tiresome (believe me, been there, felt that!!).
Snow fall in Syracuse - the first that I witnessed
329 Roosevelt Ave, Syracuse - my first ever home in USA
The most beautiful scene that anyone can see in the snow time is a snow covered tree. The snow acts as a lining on the linear leaves and branches and the whole image  is absolutely marvelous. See it to believe it. 

Snow covered trees - My most favorite subjects when snow falls!!

Hailing from India, I never saw colorful houses like I found in Syracuse. Umpteen number of colors like Blue, Red, Green, Orange or anything else. They did make an instant impression, once covered with snow. 
Contrasting white and other colors

14th February is celebrated all over the world, no one forgets that date, and neither would I ever forget 14th Feb, 2007. Syracuse received a snow storm like not many times before. I was told (unsure of whether it is right or wrong) that the university never closes itself in spite of any amount of snow, but it closed that day!! The offices were closed, university was closed, only a few places like food courts were functional (I was working in one of them that day and I so hated my life but the instant I came out to see the snow and started taking pictures while walking to work, I could not have been more happier!!). It was one of those days which I can never forget. I have never seen so much of snowfall ever again in my stay till date. 
Images of 14th Feb 2007 - one of the heaviest snowfalls I ever saw. 
My memories of snowfall include excitement, unbelievable expressions of wilderness, snowmen, shoveling around snow, trying to not slip on the icy roads, layers and layers of clothing, heavy shoes, wet university hallways, hot Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, glazing sunlight over snow, cold wind, frost coming out of mouth at anytime of the day and so many more things. 
Our first Snow man - courtesy Raji and Pradnya in March 07.. believe me your hand freezes badly in the process of making it, but do try it. Its fun!!
The first snow fall of the winter season of 07-08, in November. I love the way snow settled in forming clear sheets on roadways. 
Looking back to those days, I try to remember whether the first experiences with snow were good or bad. I cannot judge. But I can only say I neither have happy nor sad memories of life in snow, they were just different and I am only thankful that I saw those days!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, New York, USA - My first international destination and the only tourist place that I have been to twice, but the beauty never ceased to amaze me. Luckily, I have been to Niagara in both summer and fall seasons. The same falls, the same location - but the colors were so different making the trip special the second time also. 
Being in Syracuse NY, it was an easy destination to drive and come back in the same day. But the trip to falls is definitely a day long trip because there are different things to see at different times. Depending on one's interests, sometime an entire day might as well be short duration to cover up. 
Niagara Falls - American Falls,  Bridal Falls and Horse Shoe falls
Where ever you drive from, Buffalo is a connecting place to the Niagara falls and the Niagara river is seen flowing besides quietly.  It is not very difficult to figure out when you are nearing the Niagara falls. The river gushing speedily to fall is very evident and the noises also get very prominent. 
Niagara River before it "Falls"
The first and the most obvious location once you reach the falls is the Prospect Point Park Observation tower from which the American falls are visible and the immediate roads and skyline of Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada can also be seen (which look much better in the night time)

American falls as seen from the Prospect Point

The Rainbow bridge connecting USA and Canada passing over Niagara Falls
There are two most popular tourist attractions in Niagara falls - The Maid of the Mist and The Cave of the Winds. Both awesome and stunning in their own sense. The Maid of the Mist is a boat ride which takes you in the interiors of the falls - esp in to the Horseshoe falls which are more inclined towards Canada. The American falls and Bridal falls are also covered but the immense density of the Horseshoe falls makes the heart skip a beat for sure.
Prospect Point Observation Tower, right from the ground level of Maid of the Mist

The American Falls as seen from the Maid of the Mist

The Maid of the Mist takes about 40 minutes and unfortunately, most of the time is lost in taking perfect pictures than just admiring the beauty (at least for crazy people like me!!), but the experience is nevertheless splendid. The force and the power with which the falls fall is certainly intimidating (considering the fact that some people do rope walking and film shooting over Niagara). After the 40 minute ride people usually tend to go the second tourist destination, called the Cave of the Winds, which is about a mile or so, by walk.
You can once again capture the flow of Niagara river (right before becoming the falls) while walking around the river for Cave of the Winds. There are places in between where you just sit around the river and touch the water and play with it (but carefully please, do not let children go unattended!!). The whole river flow is very dramatic, with the background of colorful trees (in fall season) and crystal blue waters of the river. 
Niagara river cruising towards the Bridal falls

The tip of the Bridal Veil falls

Bridal Veil falls are the smallest of the three falls that make up the Niagara Falls.There is an elevator that takes the people down to the deck and people can then walk to the base of the falls and experience how it feels standing right at the receiving end of the falls. The speed of the water and wind can make it quite of a sensational electrifying experience.
At the base of the Cave of the Winds
Rainbow formation is a common (near permanent) occurrence in Niagara falls, observed both at the Maid of the Mist and the Cave of the Winds, adding more excitement to the children and adults alike. 
Rainbow formation at Niagara Falls
The summer trip of mine started late in the afternoon, so we could not go to the Cave because they close pretty early in the evening, around 4 30 - 5 00 PM. So, instead we went to have some snacks and see what we found - 
There are a lot of Indian restaurants in Niagara falls and of course many more cuisines, but the overwhelming part was that, since Niagara was my first destination outside Syracuse, NY, I was surprised to see the number of Indian restaurants around (the excitement did not last long, because then I went to New Jersey in a couple of months)
Post Evening meals, during my first trip, we had no time left to visit the Cave, so we went forward to the other attractions of the city like casinos and other gaming arcades. There is also a Hard Rock Cafe, for those who absolutely love it. A walk in the Niagara city itself is pretty nice, since it is a tourist city, there is a lot of glitz in the place, some (rather expensive) shopping destinations with the sovereigns of Niagara all over.  What you (absolutely) do not want to do is - feel content with the Niagara Falls you just saw because the spectacular part is yet to come. People wander off in the evening time and return to the falls at around 8 30 PM - 9 00 PM because at night, Niagara falls is all decked up with colors. Sometimes there is a single color or sometimes, a whole range of complementing colors, but whatever it is, color covered Niagara is definitely a breathtaking view. 
The only hitch to view the falls on the American side is that you cannot see it fully, as it can be seen from the Canadian side. We did not understand the logic behind the fact that Canadian side of Niagara is more beautiful than American side till the night lights happened, but nevertheless, what we saw here was also an exceptional experience. 

No prizes for guessing why Niagara falls is a favorite tourist spot for visitors. A visit to the Niagara is definitely a memory no one would want to forget. The Maid of the mist and the Cave of the winds are generally closed in the winters and they get opened again in summer and stay till fall, so make sure (if you have not seen it yet) to mark one vacation spot next time for Niagara Falls. 

Have a good day,
Raji (the traveller)!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


It took me about 6 months to write about Hyderabad, and what I wrote was just an iota of what I could have done. I blame it all on the digital age, had I had a digital camera in those days, I would have taken countless pics and stored them somewhere in a better medium (Help me Khuda - I sound oldddddddddddddd :(((((!!!). While I was searching for some good pics of Hyderabad, I came across the blog of a photographer - Madhu Gopalan (thank you Google :)). Her address is - Please do visit that to get a better glimpse of what the city looks like.

Also, here after, I would restrict myself to write about the places whose memories I have in my camera. In that way, I would not be wasting any time in searching pics and getting demotivated (which unfortunately means, less of India, more of USA and some other countries :((, but its okay!!).

I have not listed any references to the pics, but they can be reached by clicking on them, so their actual source is still intact (severely bitten by anti-plagiarism bug, thanks to my current residence, but thats good in way!!)

Looking forward to write more and more...
Take Care,
Raji (the traveller)!!

Hyderabad - V

Wow... I am writing my fifth post on Hyderabad with just about 10-12 destinations to talk about. Who's complaining?? It's after all Hyderabad... It deserves every bit of adulation. Before reading this post, if you have not  yet seen the movie - "The Angrez", please do that first. For, that movie captures the very local flavors of Hyderabad to their true essence. This movie came out much later than when I visited Hyderabad but when I watched it, I was instantly reminded of my own memories of the old city.

We started out to the old city post lunch since we wanted to be there till evening and see the lights and reflections from the bangles. Today was my last destination stop and we had also some shopping planned. Some exquisite pearls from the pearl city for the ladies and some road side clay and glass bangles for me and my sister which we were going to wear for all the upcoming occasions (especially the Navratris - in Oct, after 6 months). 
The old city is a crowded place, which show casts the original Hyderabad. We have Charminar at the center and the entire sections of bazaars on each side. Despite the crowd, one cannot help fall in love with this place. In my eyes, this place is so feminine, so chick, all decorated in colorful shops, full of exotic scents and the noises never stop (in other words, just imagine Kareena in Jab We Met - a well dressed chatter box..)
We stepped in the old city area close to the Lad bazaar, which specializes in selling pearls and bangles.
Shopping Area at NightAlthough the bazaar is right in the heart of the old city area with a direct view of Charminar, we chose to ignore it for some time and would check it out, when we do not have any distractions. The Hyderabadi pearls are the legacy of the Nizams who had them ordered from the best merchants of the world. It was awesome to see that some stores in the Charminar area were more than a century old and in the same business of selling pearls. We were told that Lad Bazaar was the busiest road in the entire city, I am not sure whats the truth, but it did look very busy (no wonder that one tiny shop of negligible area has 5 shop keepers, they need more sometimes!!). This bazaar is a win win place for everyone alike, whether international shoppers or locals. You have a huge variety of the jewelery and accessories made of pearls and bangles at your beck and call. The lad bazaar or bangle bazaar is simply one of the most colorful places I have ever seen. The colors on the bangles can put rainbows and the Switzerland's tulip gardens to shame.
File:Banglesinindia.jpgBargain hunters can call this place one of their pilgrimages. You not only have bangles there but also a lot of clothing, accessories and other related items.  Another thing that really amazed me was the perfection of the shopkeepers in packing things for your travel. We told the shop keepers that we have a long way to go and after reaching Baroda, not even a single bangle was moved, awesome..After a lot of shopping, we were tired, and may be subconsciously because we were now in the place where we could have the best irani chai, namkeen and pakode. To add to the hunger, it was evening now and temperature was just setting down. I was not an avid tea drinker till I had visited Hyderabad. I still believe that "tea" in itself is not what is so special, but the whole picturesque had made the evening very memorable. We went to one small snack center, whose name I distinctly remember - "Ram Rahim chai center" (dedicated to Michel Raymond, a British army guy, who was very famous with public for his goodness, and was called as Musa Ram and Musa Rahim by fellow Hindu and Muslim people respectively.) I wonder if that old man and his servers - chotey and gaffu are still there. But his irani chai was awesome served with vegetable pakoras. I never (till date) had Irani chai again, there are some people who say that irani chai is pretty much like masala chai, but I never got to see any recipe though I would love to recreate that magic in my kitchen someday!!!!
We set out to shop again, this time not for any jewellery but for clothing, which means only sarees. My only impression about the saree shops near charminar is that the sarees they sell are as bold as the tastes, the pinks, oranges, yellows, greens, blues or reds, you name it, you'll find it there, albeit in their saturated forms. Subtlety is far from sights, but really, thats okay. One would love it like that only because that is the true facet of old city. I am a color lover and thus, would not mind bold colors. The clothing shops were a lot bigger in size than the bangle shops, but that did not mean spaciousness, it only meant more crowd. Once we were out of the shops, having done with the budget for shopping, our final destination was the charminar.
Charminar looks good at any time of the day, but the night times are always a better time for skyline view. Charminar literally means four towers. So, it actually, is a construction supported by four towers standing tall at the corners. There are some similarities between the Charminar and Taj Mahal, in their basic look and aesthetic designs, mostly because they are designed by the middle eastern influenced architects, but they are very different in all the other senses, the most primary ones being their purpose of construction, their material of construction and the fact that the four towers are embedded in the main structure in case of Charminar. Until some time before we visited Charminar, there was a provision to go to the top of the building, at the roof. But it was stopped because of some rather tragic stories of suicides. Nevertheless, we went through the hall way twice and thrice and started shouting, to hear the echoes. One of the floors on the roof were supposed to be a mosque long long ago, till the British Raj, but then it was converted to storage houses. Today, I am not aware of what Charminar hosts other than being a heritage site, but it does look over the Makkah masjid, one of the very old and biggest mosques in India. One cannot avoid being lost in the grandeur of the old city. References to the rich Nawabi style can be found imprinted in the streets, people and constructions. It is indeed great that the city has preserved the culture to the best they can while merging with the modernity. Pretty soon, the sounds of evening namaz prayer started filling in the air and we knew it was right about sunset, when we had to leave. The crowds were now slowly returning and the bazaar was almost getting vacated. I looked at the Charminar one last time, filling in whatever my eyes could, and returning with memories that permanently etched in my heart.
In about 7-10 days, we got so used to the city that it was difficult to end the vacation. The brighter side of it was that I would get to show my friends my new bangles, pictures of my native (although Hyderabad is not my native, but people in India do not even know beyond Hyderabad, so any part of Andhra is unheard of other than Hyderabad, thus, inevitably, it becomes my native.) and tell then loads and loads of stories.  I never got a chance to visit Hyderabad again, but hope to do so soon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hyderabad - IV

I was sad that we had only 4 more days left in the trip and the last day was left to meet relatives, leaving us 3 days for 3 destinations. Hyderabad had been a great destination. There were so many things to see but we had narrowed down things to fit our list and now the most exciting destinations were awaiting us!!

Golkonda Fort
After Nehru Park, we wanted to go to HITEC City, but since it started raining in the morning, we decided to skip it and proceed to Golconda Fort, which our friend told, had some spectacular light show in evening. So we went to Golconda Fort. Golconda, long time ago (and I mean very long time ago, say 13th or 14th century) was ruled by Kakatiya Kings (very famous kingdom in AP) and followed by Qutub Kings who went ahead and built the fort to fight with others. It is one of the most famous archeological and historical sites in India. The Kakatiya kings first made it with mud and Qutub Kings later structured it with stone. It is a huge massive landscape offering amazing scenes to capture. What we see today is a conglomeration of walls (some of them broken too) in a closed curve format (I cannot define what shape it is actually..)

Golconda Fort, HyderabadWe entered through a gate called "Fatheh Darwaza". It turned out to be a pleasant evening after rain and I was expecting to smell a lot of rain soaked mud on hill top but to my dismay, I could not even stand near some of the walls, they stinked of bats, and that too so many of them.. (huh!!!). I remember distinctly, I held my breath for at least 2 minutes but still there was some sense left in receptors and that killed me (not literally!! it's just an expression to say it was terrible, but I was so damn angry - yesterday it was raw meat in the zoo and today bats..uhuh!!). Rain and the elevated terrain made the place really cool. 
Our guide was a young man who was seemingly uninterested in what he was doing. I gathered more information about the history in various inscriptions on the walls than what he told us.  I am not an architect and cannot describe the technicalities of the walls, but they were beautiful. 

Golcunda FortThe whole construction has science of sound in it because it was like, from the far corner, if someone claps, you can hear the claps in all the directions and notify the people of the dangers or warnings or anything else (you see there were no cell phones in those times and people had to rely on manual ideas of communications). The ammunition used in those times were put on display at short distances. I never liked the concept of using a cannon, they have these huge balls which, if hits someone, can break that person to 1000 pieces (talk about human rights violations!!).
Other than them, there were arrows, spears, swords, darts etc. all displayed with each one having a history of its own. Although it was a rainy day, there were many people who turned up to see the fort. There were a lot of gateways and bridges to connect various entrances of the fort. The fort also held religious places like mosques and temples. 
Taramati Mosque / Мечеть Taramati (01/11/2009)
And now we were entering a small museum sort of room which told the untold stories of diamond mining in Indian history. World's three most famous diamonds came from Golconda mines - the Koh-i-noor, Darya-e-noor and the Hope diamond. I could not believe it was already 90 minutes from the time we entered here. The whole place is actually just a historical site where you can walk and wander in to the walls, losing yourself to the older historical times, absorbing in their culture (at least for as long as you are there..). Then there are some selected corners of the fort, from where you can hear the echo of your voice (which enthralls everyone alike) and some corners which present you an excellent bird's eye view of Hyderabad. 

light and sound show GOLCONDA FORT by sabu mampallil kottayamThe final part was that of a light and sound show, waiting for dusk to scoop in and people were seated in red plastic chairs. The show was about the history of fort, the places where kings and queens lived. The narration was well synchronized with shades of  red, yellow, green and blue spot lights focusing on relevant sections of fort in all the directions.  
It was a good show and I am sure there would have been a lot of changes now and making the show more exciting. And finally, we exited the history and went home.
Cyber TowersOur next destination was the HITEC city and the adjoining Shilparamam. Sun was on and so were we. This is one of a very rare tourist spots of Hyderabad (or anywhere in India I suppose) where two such contrasting spots are next to each other. HITEC City is the IT center of Hyderabad and highly advanced part of city, with all glitz and glamor of IT world. The world class facilities of Microsoft, IBM, Infosys, Satyam, CTS, Motorola and many many more such companies have made Hyderabad, one of the biggest IT Hubs of India (as well as that of world).  Lying next to such a center is the village which preserves the ancient culture of the state, storing oldest artifacts, mannequins which show what the workers looked like in older times, preserving the very ethnicity of Hyderabad. While in early 2000s HITEC City was still in infancy, we did not have much to see around, other than brick colored buildings which were separated by the glass structure in between. The reflections of moving clouds on buildings were absolutely new to my eyes and was a delight to see. Moreover, this part of the city received special attention in the past few weeks, because president Bill Clinton was going to see this. The roads were immaculate, traffic was very well controlled and there were no street people (I mean vendors, beggars etc.) in the farthest sight. It did not take long there and we went ahead to Shilparamam.

This place is a nice little village, which is rich in culture and diversity. Arts, Crafts and related festivals make the place a feast to the art and culture lovers. One of the very unique gardens of city is the rock garden, where they have a collection of rocks that are shaped naturally like various structures of birds, boxes, clouds etc. It is indeed unique and one must go there, you might take a little while to decipher the subjects, but you do have descriptions engraved underneath. 
There is also a lake in the middle of the place (an artificial one I suppose) which has some boating and stuff.. I am never excited with the beauty of artificial lakes and so I did not care about that.. my sister definitely wanted to go for boating, but in the end we did not go (ha ha ha ha!!). Moving along we reached to another venue called as Rural village. This is a definite must place for the international people who carve to see the "villages of India", but cannot stand the dirt and pollution of actual villages. The life size models and their near-real expressions are a worth dekko.

 A good part about all these locations is that the administrators also provide you opportunities to host any events in these mutually exclusive places (for a fee of course). The near by-es of rural village was getting decorated for some event for that night and the whole of the "rural village" section was getting dressed in lights and other accessories. Shilparamam has something or the other to offer to everyone of varied ages and interests. Whether recreation, shopping, exclusive Andhra cuisine or simply an opportunity to sit peacefully sans the loudness of the exterior world - this place just hits the right notes. A must every time I will go to Hyderabad. 

Today wasn't too tiresome and we ended the tour with some great moments and an even more heavier heart than yesterday, the trip was coming to an end with just the old city left to see.