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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Back To India!

On the 8th of March, the alarm on my cellphone rang and I woke up to see the clock show 3 AM. I wondered what was wrong? I had set up the alarm to 4 AM so as to get ready for my 6:30 AM flight. I checked the other clock on the microwave and it showed 3AM as well. But my cellphone would show 4 AM. I switched on the television and it showed 4 AM. I was confused for a while. In my not completely awake state, I even thought of the ghost film I had watched the previous day. It took me a while that we are off the day light saving time. And the time was now 4 AM. I got ready and Rohit dropped me at the airport. My flight to Atlanta was on time. At Atlanta, I did some shopping in a Brookstone store which had some cool innovative electronic gadgets. I spoke to Jonah and KK. With both, I enjoy long conversations. KK and I discussed about our favourite author Bhyrappa and our thoughts on the movie Interstellar. After a long lay over time, I finally boarded my flight to Paris in the evening.

A long uneventful flight ended at Paris airport. It was 8:30 AM on the 9th of March in Paris. I stopped by a shop that sold macrons and bought a pack of them. Some other attractive cookies and chocolates made its way into my bag. At the gate it was announced that my flight was delayed due to some technical reasons. That was when, I got into a conversation with my co-passenger; an old lady who was returning from Houston. She has a daughter living there and her Son lives in UK. We had a good chat about life in the US, UK and India. Like all Bangaloreans we spoke about poor road conditions and traffic in the city. Meanwhile a few other passengers joined in. One was a man in his early 40’s. He was from Mangalore. Another boy from Udupi and another was a North Indian. It was a good discussion we had as we waited for all the technical problems to be solved. After an hours delay, our flight finally took off. 

I was home by 4 AM on March 10th. Like my usual practice, I quickly unpacked and realised that I have returned with loads and loads of gifts. But the most impressive collection I had was that of the food items that I had bought in the US and in Paris. A very good trip had come to an end. Even though I was lost in those moments, I was also excited about the future. I had so many plans and initiatives in mind that were at halt due to this trip. I would slowly start those and these chocolates, cookies and macrons will keep the memories of the trip alive for some more time.


Manitou Incline - Round 2

I was so fascinated with the Incline hike that I wanted to do it one more time before leaving. While casually mentioning this to the manager I work with in the US, he told that he would join us. He does the hike several times a year and can complete it within 45 minutes. On the 7th March, Dilip and I drove to Dave’s house in Manitou Springs. Dave’s house is of Santa Fe style architecture and is located at a picturesque location overlooking the mountains. He tells me that they often see deers and bears. Their  dog Webster, a Gordon Setter is adorable. Webster has a chip implant to track his identity and the house has a invisible dog fence that gives a light shock if he crosses the line. But, Dave says that within a week webster had memorised the boundary and never stepped out of it. « Otherwise, Webster would chase deers visiting our backyard and now we don't have to worry of him getting lost. », he adds. 

We drove near to Dave’s mother in law’s house and parked our car there. It is located at a walkable distance from the incline. The steps were covered with a lot of ice. But climbing up was not that bad after all. 




Dave obviously was much faster than us. He was waiting for me at the top when I finished in an hour and fifteen minutes. It was a great climb. Going down was tough. The Barr trail was bad and so we decided to take the steps. Dilip was still behind, so considering the time, we requested him to wait midway for us. 




The melting ice made the climbing down difficult. One of my colleagues at office Mike, had lent me the chains that go on shoes, which would dig into the ice and make the climb easier. Without those, it would have been difficult to get down. 





It was a great hike and the view was spectacular from the top. While dropping Dave back at his place we spotted a few deers grazing near his house.


A good hike such as this makes you feel fresh, happy and of course hungry. Dilip and I did not want to try any other cuisine but Indian when we were this hungry. So we stopped at « Little Nepal » restaurant and had their Okay tasting but filling buffet lunch. My last day in Colorado Springs had thus come to an exciting and exhilarating end. We met Chung Hee for dinner where she handed me over more banana cake to be carried back home. 

Moonrise From The Garden Of The Gods

One thing I have always done, living in Colorado Springs, is to take a night drive to the Garden of the Gods and park my car near the Balanced rock and climb uphill to view the entire city lit up. It’s my favourite place in the town and I never miss a chance to drive up there when I visit. Every time that I have been there, the moment had been special; an interesting conversation with a Native Indian once and a thoughtful discussion on life with a good friend next time. 

This time while I was there, I met a couple who were waiting for the moon rise. Their moon rise app told us that the time was 7:10 PM and they had already used the GPS to locate the place where we would see it rise. We stood there talking about my visit and my adventures hiking the Pikes peak and in Colorado Springs while waiting for the moon rise. It was a magical moment when finally at the time per the app, the moon rose. I could not capture great pictures without a tripod but here are some snapshots. 







Talented and considerate Colleagues

On the 28th of Feb, Bill Massey, one of my colleagues, had a music performance at a club house. He invited me over. The club house was booked by his mother and she had invited some of her friends and there were a few residents of the township. It was a very informal gathering of friends and relatives and thus it was a perfect setup for some good music. Bill started off with an electric guitar and sang some songs from the 60’s. He sang a few John Denver country music as well. Audience were handed out a list of songs to make requests. The evening was beautiful thanks to the lovely music and an enthusiastic crowd. Bill next switched to acoustics guitar and played some old songs. 






During the event, I met another colleague of mine, Ray. Ray had apparently taken French in college and hence we conversed a little in the language. We discussed about travel and how he did not think Smart phone was his need yet. It was great talking to him. 

I also met another old lady who was attending the show and she mentioned to me about her Facebook friend from India whom she has never met. « But I see his pictures and all; they all seem so happy and lively there in your country. » She said. 

I thanked Bill for a lovely evening. I also had a good chat with his wife. Both Bill and she own a farm. They raise several animals, do some organic gardening and are just retiring as dog trainers. Bill has just finished building a green house out of used window panels that he bought online on something called craig’s list were people sell things that they no longer need for real cheap or sometimes free. We also discussed about the straw bale gardening which seems to be popular these days in the US. I enjoy talking to Bill and his wife as we share the common interest of farming and gardening. 

At office, I had befriended a very sweet lady from South Korea called Chung Hee. She was kind enough to make a big tray of brownies and banana cakes on my last day at office. She also made a loaf of banana cake for me to take home for Preethi. I am touched by her generosity. and impressed by her talent to create such tasty food. Cooking to me is no less than an art. These small moments made my stay int he US special. 




More Snow!

Well my happiness to quit a city that was about to face a snow storm did not last much longer. My flight from Indy to Chicago was uneventful but the next one was. I boarded the flight to Colorado Springs and within few minuets it was informed that due to a bad weather in Colorado Springs the airport was closed. A snow storm was heading there too. Soon there was a lot of dissatisfaction amongst the passengers. We ran to the Customer service and I was asked if Denver was an option. A minute earlier I did not want to take a risk of driving from Denver to Colorado Springs in a snow storm but somehow at that instance I thought it would be better than waiting at the airport until next day evening. So I took that and reached Denver at around midnight. It was snowing badly and that made me a little nervous. But I had to do what I had to and I still stood by my decision. 

The National car rental at Denver is pathetic. For some reason their computers did not work and they had confusion changing my reservation from that of Colorado Springs to Denver. They even told me that I had to return the car back in Denver. But I had to get a car anyways. So I took off in the storm. The GPS deviated from the usual route due to closed roads and brought me on Colorado 83 till Castleton. The road was deserted and pitch dark and till I saw the familiar rock formations of Castleton, I had no clue where I was heading. After a long drive that took double the time  and half the speed than usual, I reached the hotel at around 2 AM. 

My baggage had not arrived and I was told it would arrive COS in the next flight. But next day, I get a message that my baggage would be sent to Denver following my last flight change. So I went to the Colorado Springs airport and reported missing baggage. They told that they would get it delivered to my hotel. I verified at the National Car rental and they told me that I could return the car anywhere within 100 miles of the pickup point. Realising that I was charged extra for the car, I made another reservation and planned to return the current car next day. I knew that things were this easy here but for some reason the service at National car rental in Denver was pathetic and gave wrong information. 


The entire week was cold and snow fall did not stop. However, I had lots of shopping to be done in preparation of return. Now it was four of us in Colorado Springs - Abdul, Rohit, Dilip and me. We hung out in one of our places; cooked and watched movies to kill time during the snowfall. We also went to the one dollar movie theatre to watch some recently released films like Interstellar and Mockingjay - Part 1. 




We also tried some good restaurants but my favourite was Pueblo Veijo where I tried a tasty fajita. The vegetables were stir fried with a very tasty sauce. I would rank this as the best Mexican restaurant that I have been to in the US.


The last hotel that I stayed in was not that great. They had canned food for breakfast and thus I had to settle with Corn Flakes or had to make myself some fresh waffles. 


I took a drive down the memory lane during my shoppings to the old apartment I had lived in, ten years ago. The apartment still looked the same except that they had changed the number of our apartment from 103 to 104. As advanced as we may think a country is, It also has its own share of superstition. 


One weekend, we went to Denver. It was bright and warm that day. We went to a big fashion mall near Aurora and watched Badhlapur, a Hindi film at a theatre that had a long an - Untied Artist greenwood 18 something something. 

Rest of the week was spent shopping. Colorado Springs looked beautiful as ever in the thin blanket of snow. 


Indianapolis

I had one more week to go in Indianapolis before I would fly again; this time back to Colorado Springs. In this week, I had a couple of things, I had to do. I met a friend of my cousin who happens to be from my hometown. We met at the only temple in Indianapolis one evening, where the indians were busy celebrating Shivaratri. Kedlaya told me that the temple is under renovation. It was nice to meet other Tulu speaking residents of Indianapolis. 

I made sure to revisit all my favourite Mexican restaurants in town during this last week. I enjoyed Quesadillas, Enchiladas and Burritos. It is interesting to notice that I cannot let go of a Mexican dish until the last bite. 



I enjoyed watching movies at the United Artist theatre near my hotel. I was so impressed by their retractable seats that I went back to watch movies there. I watched American Sniper and Imitation game. I also watched some good films like « Gone girl » and « Boyhood » at my hotel room. 



A half price book store on 82nd E street was a must visit and I was lucky to find some French books there. My best friend during all these drives was the GPS that I never forgot to order while renting a car. I remembered my previous visits where I had to take print outs of directions to every destination and now thanks to the GPS, I would be redirected every time I missed a turn. 


I was also planning on watching a play. When I had watched the movie "August Osage County", not only was I impressed by Meryl Streep's acting but also by the storyline. This movie is based on a play and to have this play playing in the city was something I did not want to miss. 

On Feb 20th, I went to Carmel community theatre to watch the play. It is a small theatre which could only accommodate about 50 people. I was there early and I got into a conversation with a very sweet old lady who along with her husband work for an event management company. Their task here was to verify the tickets and get the audience seated. She was very friendly and we talked for almost about 45 minutes until the play started. « Not everyone is friendly here, there are all kinds of people in this world. » she said. 

The play was brilliant with some powerful performances specially by the actors who played the characters Violet (Jean Adams) and Barbara (Holly Hathaway); they form the soul of the entire plot. The play was 3 hours long and had a short break in between. Even with a very serious subject, the play is filled with humour. This interesting play by Tracy Letts is directed by Doug Peet.


Next day; the day of my leaving, the entire place was covered with a thick blanket of snow. That meant extra work to clean the car and a careful driving to the airport. 




I checked out and headed to the airport around 10 AM driving in the incoming snow storm. I was glad to be leaving this city at a right time. 


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Swamy Narayan Temple & Sugar Land, Houston

My third day in Houston, was totally unplanned. Karthik mentioned that one of his friend s was visiting Houston and she was staying with her sister-in-law at Sugar land. They had invited us over for lunch. I thought that would be great and we decided to explore sugar land on our way. Our first stop was Swamy Narayana temple. I was shocked to see such a rich temple midst a beautiful scenic locale. The temple is entirely built in marble with some fine art work. 






The devotees there requested us to stay for the pooja that was to start shortly. There were only a handful of people and that made this experience more peaceful and divine.  After the pooja we were asked to go and do abhisheka (Consecrate) on the idol. A small store outside, sold pooja material and grocery together. That seemed a little odd in a temple premises. 

We then headed to sugar land to meet Karhtik's friends. Surprisingly, our hostess Vidya, (Karthik's friend's sister) was from the same batch as that of mine and she had studied in Mangalore too. We apparently went to the same pre-university tuition classes and had the same professors. When we got to explore more, we realised that we had several common friends. It was a lot of fun recollecting the good old days. We were served some really tasty food for lunch. 

We hurried back to our apartment by 4. I bid farewell to Karthik, Ganesh and Arun and left to the airport. I had truly enjoyed these three days. Though I had not planned anything for here, these three days surprised me with something exciting and interesting always. My cynical perspective on this crowded city had slowly begun to change and I was beginning to like it. The weather was beautiful, just like a cold winter morning in Bangalore. This place for several reasons felt like home. However, I was still annoyed with the airport. I had to take this confusing bus to the terminal from the car rentals. They are so far away from one another. My flight back to Indianapolis was uneventful.