Aug 30, 2015

We all have our talents and Mr. S.S’s talent is finding new places. It’s almost end of summer and we are still looking for new places to bathe and grill. When he suggests Hopatkong, we all readily agree. Why would anyone not want to go to Hopatkong. It’s called Hopatkong, isn’t that reason enough?

hopotcong state park2Hopatkong turns out to be an almost perfect summer spot. It has a grassy slope for a picnic area, a play area and a shallow portion of a lake cordoned off for swimming. We instantly regret not have come here earlier in the season. Today’s menu is uber fun too. We are going to be grilling pineapples and watermelon slices. We also have poached peaches and strawberries. The poached peaches have their own story. Last week, I stepped into a pizza parlour in Brooklyn and noticed the peach tree in the backyard. The boughs of the tree were heavy with low hanging fruit, but scarcely anyone even gave it a look. Few days ago I went back and poached myself a few of those delicious peaches.

hopotcong state parkIn (parts of north) India around this same time, they celebrate a festival called Haryali Teej. This is the time of year when a brief monsoon brings the land respite from the blistering heat of summer. Fields and forests turn blessed green. It’s not surprising therefore that the festival, celebrated on the third day of the first fortnight of the month of Shravan, is called “haryali” “teej”, literally translated as “green” “third”.

hopotcong state park1Legend has it that the Goddess Parvati, as a young girl once lost her heart Lord Shiva. Shiva, being an austere ascetic barely registered her presence, much less her love.  She vowed she would have him and performed such rigorous penance that heaven and earth were shaken. Each time she died she would take birth again and resume her penance with renewed fervour.  She took birth on earth 108 times before he took her as his wife on this very day. Hariyali Teej is therefore an occasion which mixes giddy Mills & Boons romance with burning Wuthering Heights passion and defines an eternal bond of love and togetherness.

In an imitation of the goddess, it is common for women to observe a demanding fast, which involves going with food or water till moonrise.

Collages12Teej is also the festival of swings. Dark rain clouds, cool breeze and the smell of wet earth put romance right in the air. Beautifully decorated swings are hung from trees for the womenfolk to enjoy. Swings are swung and songs are sung. A specially delectable sweet called ghewar is prepared for the celebrations. *Zuckerschnautzchen!

*Zuckerschnautzchen – go figure! hint hint – it’s German


The Great Smoky Mountains – Day 2

September 14, 2015



We have a long list of things to do, and only so much time. We start the day with a late breakfast at Pigeonforge. To make the most of the day, we have decided to stay the night at Pigeonforge and drive back to Charlotte tomorrow morning. Even though I had read that Pigeonforge and Gatlinburg are unbelievably commercialized, I am not at all prepared for this. The husband is even more amazed. Gatlinburg is like a ski village on steroids, while Pigeonforge is a jamboree of roadside attractions and rides. As luck would have it, there is a car show in town too.


at the Laurel Falls; Photo Courtesy: Ganesh Sankaran

At the Smokies, we drop Mount Cammerer in favour of the easy Laurel Falls followed by a visit to the Cherokee Museum, the Cherokee village, Elk spotting and a view from the Clingman’s Dome. Laurel Falls hike is a very easy 4 mile round trip. This trail has markers all along that give you some sense of how much of the trail you have crossed and how much is left. When you cross marker eleven, you know you are close to the end. The day is the complete opposite of yesterday. It’s bright and sunny. Our path is dotted with wildflowers, beautiful blue tailed lizards and bees.

Ostenaco, Cunneshote, and Woyi ready to sail to London

Ostenaco, Cunneshote, and Woyi ready to sail to London

On our way to the Cherokee Museum, we stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center to ask for directions. Here we find out that the best place to spot elks is the grassy field next to the Visitor’s Center itself. We reach the museum an hour or so before it closes.  The Cherokee village closes at the same time, so we know we cannot cover both. The museum provides  very interesting insights into American and world history, as well as the culture of the Cherokees. I definitely recommend this place, as these pieces of history are seldom told. My only issue with the museum is that there are many voiceover exhibits and the sounds are not isolated. It is very confusing and distracting. If you try to read the plaques at the same time, it gives you a dull headache. The shopping district that surrounds the museum is just as colourful and exciting.

Elk SpottingWhen we get back to the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center, the elks are waiting for us. There is not enough time to drive all the way back to Cades Cove, but we might still be able to do Clingman’s Dome. On the way, we spot a great big elk by the side of the road. We stop to take pictures. “Guys, guys! Look there” , the girl in the car behind called out. We turned to see another elk, walking towards us on the road.

DSC_0824We are seriously short on time now. As we race the sun, we reach a spectacular vista point halfway up the slope to the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome and stop here to savour the sunset. The splendor of the sun resting its head on the strong shoulders of the mountains is simply sublime. When the last of the red sun disappears beyond the mountains, we continue our drive to  the parking lot. It is much too late to do even the half mile hike to the top. The light is receding rapidly and we don’t even have a torch to make our way down. Plus there are bears everywhere. The parking lot commands a wonderful view of the park and we enjoy what remains of the day from here.

The Roadtrip from Phoenix to San Diego- Day 3, Part 1

Day 3 – The Redemption – Antelope Canyons (and Sedona)

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

-Extract from a Navajo Prayer

Water Painting (Lower Antelope Canyon)

Water Painting (Lower Antelope Canyon)

Our new plan was to queue up outside the Lower Antelope Canyon tour office at 7:00 am to get on the first tour at 8:15 AM or so and then do the upper canyon tour as booked at 10:30 AM. Before we went to bed, the husband changed his mind and said if we did it that way we would reach San Diego really late as the drive was too long. We agreed that we would drop the lower and do just the upper canyon.  Early next morning we went to the tour booking office to see if we could move our Upper Antelope Canyon Tour from 10:15 AM the 8:30 AM slot. Turns out that was not possible as that tour was booked out and we could not cancel the 10:15 tour since it was no longer  refundable.  The plan then went back to run and catch the first tour to the lower canyon and make it back in time for the upper canyon tour.

The Mountain Lion

The Mountain Lion (Lower Antelope Canyon)

The lower canyon  area can be reached only by a short dirt road. The tour offices are visible from the paved road, but it is easy to miss the turn. The coal power plant is an excellent landmark. The track goes off the road opposite the power plant. The power plant itself is easily identifiable with its three smoking chimneys. The marina is straight down the power plant road. Before you reach the marina, you will pass a statue of a bucking bull on the side of the road that the power plant is. If you are going to the marina, keep going straight. If you were headed to the canyon, turn around. Occasionally one can see a coyote crossing this road.

Interestingly, the Lower Antelope Canyon was brought to public notice by the construction workers building the power plant. This area used to be  their labour camp site.

By the time we got the booking office, the first tour had already left, a few moments of discussion cost us a place on the second tour as well, but it is hard to refuse the girl with a big band-aid on her head so with some  minimal pleading  we got on to the tour. This canyon is below ground and is accessed through a series of ladders. Some ladders can be steep and few are missing handrails,  also in some places the canyon gets really narrow but it is not at all hard to go through.

The Howling Wind (Lower Antelope Canyon)

The Howling Wind (Lower Antelope Canyon)

The beauty of the canyons is such that it now haunts me wherever I go.A little bit of imagination will reveal a whole new world to you.

As light moves in the canyon, the walls change from red to orange to gold to every imaginable shade of pink. Run your hands along the walls and read the stories that water has carved into them. At every turn, wondrous shapes leap out, like pictures in a book. Read if you can the story the mountain lion or the thief or the eagle.  The grumpy troll, the howling wind, the river goddess.. the stories weave seamlessly into each other and  possibilities are endless. The fabulous shapes and spectacular colors turn the canyon from a mass of rock to a book of worship filled with extraordinary tales of sins and retributions. We walk around slack jawed and wonderstruck.

We made it back to the tour office well in time for our upper canyon tour. The tour guide drives you down to the canyon with the rest of your group. If you are in one of the open vehicles, make sure to hold onto your hats. Our guide told us this was an excellent spot to pick up hats, because they keep flying off from the heads of tourists. A good part of the route is on bumpy sand,  and on very dry hot days it is not unusual to see vehicles stuck in the it. It was not that hot when we went, but it was a hot day and for once in my life I was weather appropriately dressed in a pair of shorts, a tank top, a hat and sunglasses.

Light Beam

The Messenger (Upper Antelope Canyon)

The rich hues that we saw in the Lower Canyon were not as prominent in the Upper Canyon.The draw of this canyon are the shafts of light that pierce through like messengers from another world. The imposing walls give it the appearance of  a magnificent cathedral. An exalted place where spirits convene. No man-made structure can match it in grace. The little flecks of dust dancing in the beams add just the touch of reality to this surreal scene.

Heart of the Canyon (Upper Antelope Canyon)

Heart of the Canyon (Upper Antelope Canyon)

Even so, if  you have to choose between visiting the two, and are reasonably fit, make sure you do the Lower one. There are other less known and therefore hopefully less crowded canyons to explore like the Owl Canyon, Canyon X and the Rattlesnake Canyon . There are 6 canyons open to public here. Our Navajo guide assured us that the gorgeous colours and dancing light beams could be seen in other canyons as well, they are just not as popular because they are harder to access.



Antelope Canyons

Antelope Canyons

The Antelope Canyons were named for the antelope that used to roam freely in this area before human settlement and activity pushed them out. Great horned owls and rattlesnakes still populate these canyons. That is how those canyons got their names. It is not uncommon to see owls in the Upper Antelope Canyon. We were not so lucky, but we did see their nests.

We went with the Dixie Ellis  company for the Lower Antelope Canyon tour and with Overland tours for the Upper Antelope Canyon tour. Both companies were very  accommodating and both tour guides were wonderful. The guides also help you with setting up your camera and composing  your pictures.

We were informed by our tour operator that we could not have chosen a worse time to visit. Summer is not just hot, it is also thunderstorm season. Since the canyons are prone to flash flooding, whenever a flood warning is issued, the canyons are shut down for the day. This happens when it rains not just in this area but also if it rains heavily upstream. Summer is also peak tourist season. The best season to visit, in all respects would be spring. Another thing, if you are visiting during daylight savings period, please note Arizona does not participate in daylight savings but the Navajo Reservation is on Daylight Savings Time. Sometimes your phone or car clock may not grasp this automatically, so every time you cross the reservation border reset your watch, or keep it in mind. It gets more complicated because the Hopi Reservation, which is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, stays on Arizona (Non-Daylight Savings) time.


Size does matter

I am not sure if you can do a guided tour of the Navajo reservation, but you can do one of the Hopi reservation.  These tours are not very expensive and would give you an insight to the lives and customs of Native American/American Indian tribes. I didn’t known about this, or we would have definitely tried to squeeze it into our trip. You do however get to interact with the Navajo people as entry into the Canyons is not permitted without a Navajo guide, not even to Navajos. The Canyons are on reservation land.

Another thing we didn’t do was go to Bearizona. Our waiter at Dennys told us about it. It sure looks like fun. If you are wondering where Dennys came in, we stopped at a Dennys for dinner, on the way from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.

Page is probably the best place to be if you want to disconnect from the world. The whole time we were there, our phones had very patchy reception. Mine worse than the husband’s. I have an iphone5 and we are both on AT&T, so this could also be a phone and service provider issue. I had a similar problem at the Grand Canyon as well, only there I had some internet connectivity and zero phone signal. The husband had both phone and internet connectivity there. He has a Samsung Galaxy S3.

More photographs here and here