Touch base in Pune

I am back now in Pune. The journey was a 40hr torture from the time I left the hotel to when I reached back in Pune. The saving grace was that I was travelling by Singapore Airlines. I saw the following pics there :
* Shark Tale
* Rrrrrr -> This was a french movie which is about a couple of tribes from the prehistoric era . Total timepass.
* Kal Ho Na Ho -> was shortened to 120mins. No kantaben scenes :(
* Catwoman
* Autin Powers - the Spy who Shagged me -> Yeah Baby !

Reached Seol after 17hrs 25 mins of journey, where there was a 1 hr stopover.

Reached Singapore after 6rs flight from Seol. Called up shashvat as the local calls from the airport was free and chatted for an hour atleast. Roamed around the airport and bought a few chocolates and MAD magazine.

38hrs of travel and I was in Mumbai. There was someone from KK travels supposed to come and pick me up , but he did not turn up. In frustration I took a cab to Pune - who got me into pune in 1.5 hrs !!! That chappie was driving quite fast on the expressway.

NeverWinter nights

I had this game - but lost the CD. so, this time , I bought it again - with its 2 expansion packs. Last time I played it safe and played as a Paladin. This time I am a sroceror ... killing vermin and demented zombies throughout the fantasy land. My avtar on the group website is ... what else , the penguin with the eye of neverwinter :-D

Back from the USA - yeah!

Well, time flies and I am almost on the way back to India - aah! Home sweet Home.

Spent close to 3 months in this country - and it is a nice place, but somehow... it leaves me yearning for india. Yeah, India has all its problems, but somehow - it has a warmth that is missing in the US.

I have been to Yosemite National Park, Los Angles, Las Vegas, Santa Cruz, San Francisco ... more of pilgrimages than real visits.

A day each at these places does not justify a visit. Yosemite was a big let down. That place is not a jungle - its only a big park . Really nice roads - winding through the country side. Camping grounds - with around 100 camps stuffed into a small area - and a BIG tourist center where you get everything. Come on folks - where is the wilderness ? Oh! its been landscaped for the publics convenience. Helloo !! Whats the point of wilderness if there is tamed ? Give me the untamed, unkempt jungles of India anytime.

And did i tell you everything is BIG ? Food you get in BIG helping ... And that makes people really BIG in size. BIG cars which guzzle BIG amounts of fuel. BIG roads to take these cars from point A to B. Man, these people think BIG. Take the case of Las Vegas. Its a desert city - but they decided to make it a hub for gambling. So, they create big casinos - nothing small for them . And instead of just making big buildings, the create HUGE worlds there. Luxor - a replica of the Great Pyramid of Ghiza. Venice - the water city inside a building in the middle of the desert.

And the Malls - they are so Bloody huge. You get tired walking from one end to another. If you are an electronics freak - don't even think of going to FRY's. This shop (is something so big still called a shop ? ) is so BIG, that you can buy any electronics from battery to huge plasma displays. There is no way you can come out of this place without buying something. I always end up pikcing up some computer game or other :(

If there is one thing I have learnt from this country is to think BIG ! I feel , most indians are so worried about losing, that they don't even try.

But there is someting missing here. There is no warmth. Yes, people are really polite - but that is all make believe. Yes people here have the great concept of Girl friend/ boy friend , and do you know why ? Well, what I have seen here - thats the only warmth people get . If you dont have a gf/bf, you are all alone. And even with gf/bf, you only have one more person.

If there are 2 guys together - they are thought to be gay. There is no friendly putting your arm on anothers shoulder ... don't you know - Bay Area : Gay Area !

India should learn a lot of things from the US. The road system is great - we need great roadways in India. We need to think BIG. But, we should not lose our touch with the past. People are so enamoured by the west that they forget how great India is.

USA does not have a history of its own. Whatever it had - it has killed off. I don't want India to follow that path. There is no cultural heritage that USA has - while India is rich in it. The family ties are nothing here - old parents are put into old age homes , and youngsters are let out of the house early on in life. I hope this does not happen in India.

Its good to learn from the west - India has to. Its an upcoming country. But I hope we dont end up aping the west. Just to copy blindly - which a lot of people seem to be doing - would be our own undoing.

Coming back to india for now. I know its going to be a dirty over poppulated place - but I hope, in the coming years, I will be able to make some difference to better my country of birth.

Motorcycle jackets

Bought a couple of motorcycle jackets.

This one is a mesh jacket to let the air flow through.





This one is a touring jacket with enough pockets to keep my happy while on my long tours (my trip logs are on my website - check it out!)

Viva Las Vegas

Well, you must have guessed by now from the title that I have been to LV (Las VegaS). But that was not the only place I had been to over the weekend. The weekend was a long weekend thanks to Thanksgiving. 4 days off from work , and so me and Harshit (he's my college classmate) decided to go on a road trip with one more friend Vipul, who stays in LA ( Los Angles).

We reached LA after a nights ride amid the heavy thanksgiving traffic - which had brought the expressways to a virtual standstill. Reached around 1AM after starting around 4PM from San Jose.

I have been to LA before - and that time we could not do much as it was raining. We had coasted through Beverly Hills and been to the Walk of Stars and othe attractions of LA. Just did not get the time to go to any of the rides of either Disney or Universal Studio. This time we did something better. We went to Six Flags Magic Mountain.

What is 6FMM you say ? Well, its a roller coaster park. With more rides that you can do in 1 day. We were there from 10:30 AM (park opens at 10) till 8:30 ( we were kicked out at 8 when the park closes). And man - we had pure adrenaline rush ! The top 3 rides we did were :

X - What can I say . This was the best - and not one for weak hearted people. You cant stop screaming on this one !
DejaVu - First you go one way - facing forward. then you retrace the same going backwards. And all this with a few loops and upside downs thrown in at some crazy angles.
Superman - First you rush upwards vertically at 100mph. Then there is a free fall for 6.5 secs. We were holding nickels up there which we let go and they seemed to float away from us, untill we realized we were having a free fall !

Not many pics we could take there - as it would be bad for the cameras to take them inside. Got this pic though after we finished the rides :)





Next day we set out to LV after roaming around in the Boulevard in LA and having lunch at a Greek joint ( Veg Falafels were great !). This chap was balancing cups on his head after throwing them from his feet !





The traffic was again really bad - and by the time we searched for a hotel it was already 9PM. We could only see one show - at the Freemont Boulevard. It was a light show on the ceiling which covered the entire boulevard. It would be too much to upload the video i took so here is a still from there.







Next we headed to the LA strip - where all the casinos are.





We started with Stratosphere - but the wait line to go up to the top floor was 1 hr - so we quit that and moved to Treasure Island. That's when I got to know that TI does not stand for Texas Instruments ;) . I wont go into detail of everything but the ones that I liked were :

PARIS .



The replica of the Eiffel tower is here. And ... when you enter the casino - you see the rafters for the support of the tower inside of the casino ! Great concept.




VENICE.



What else can you call a casino which has a waterway with Gondolas and the ceiling painted like the sky !


LUXOR



It is housed in a Pyramid ! The top of the pyramid emits a beam into space - which we saw miles before we were near LV. Its that powerful.

We also went to Treasure Island and Bellagio... but did not hve time for others.

Next morning we went to Bellagio to see the synchronised musical fountains - but they were shut down and some maintainence work was being done there. I could not see most of the shows this time - but I am thinking that next time if I get to go to LV, I should stay at one of the hotels/casino - that would be great :-D

Disappointed at the show being cancelled - we set off for Hoover Dam - at a crawl. Long weekends should be avoided I think ... all the people are all over the country ! We got parking quite a long way away from the dam, so after a few pics we just set out on our journey.






Our journey today was to be on Route66 - a historic route as it was the first route to be across the US running from Chicago to LA. The fun part of this route was that there was hardly any traffic through it. We stopped at Kingman for tea and there was this old locomotive engine on display there.





We were there in the Route till late at night - when we finally hit the highways to LA and reached Vipul's home - where we watched "The Magnificent Seven" :-D

Next day was back to San Jose via Route1 - which runs parallel to the pacific ocean.



We stopped for lunch at a quaint Danish village called SolVang for lunch - it was just awesome ! The village gives you the feeling that you are in Holland and not in the Us. Also - on the way to the village there is an Ostritch farm with ostritches and emus. Africa and Holland in 1 day :-D








Sunset was beautiful. By the time we stopped the car though - the sun was already setting :(



Reached back San Jose late at night. Enjoyed every day of the vacation !

Yosemite

We went to yosemite this weekend.

Got up at 5AM, and left the hotel around 6:30AM. USA is criscrossed by highways - and makes it quite fast to travel by road. There is almost no public transport apparant, and everyone travels by their car. So, whatever road you take, there is always a lot of vehicular traffic no matter what the hour.

After an hour of driving, we entered a zone of ... fog ! We could not see much ahaead - and yet the cars were moving at insane speeds.





Its quite boring driving in a fog. Just like driving at night - not much to see around. Well, that really does not make much of a difference. You see, most places you cannot even stop the car and get out to stretch your legs. You need to turn off from the highway and stop. Frankly - gives me a captive feeling. Feels like a captive !

That's when I saw this biker ... and man, was I homesick for my bikes.





On a bike, you always are in touch with the elements. You feel the fog - not just see it as in a car. You can smell the smells. As you pass from sunshine to fog, you feel the chill. But in a car - its like TV. The only difference being that you can feel the viberations in the car. But, apart from that - there is no adventure in a car.

Around 10AM we were out of the fog and moving up mountain terrains. We stopped for a photo shoot at a 'vista point'. These are places where you are 'allowed' to stop and see the scenery. No doubt these places are well chosen - but what about the scenery I saw a couple of miles back which I wanted to capture ? Nope - you cannot stop there... cause thats the way it is !





We reached yosemite park at 11:30am. The entry fee there is $20 for a weeks pass. There is no such thing as a day pass. I thought that now we were in a forest, it would be different from the places we had just left. How wrong I was. The so called 'forest' is picturesqe no doubt - but there is no wildness left in it. It could be a well maintained park - nice smooth roads - freshly painted lane markers. clean roads - with no leaves on them also. Deer crossing signs - man the deers here are smart - they know exactly where to cross the roas ! Sheesh !!

There was some snow around the road edges as we entered Yosemite. Shrirang got quite excited (he is the big guy in the pic below), and wanted to touch the snow ! Just like a small kid ! So, we naturally had to stop for a pic !




Our first view of 'Half Dome' a cliff shaped like a half dome came soon after. But we could only stop a few turns later at another of these vista points. There was a chinese couple there who obliged us by taking a group photo .





Nice perfect winding roads brought us down from the mountains into the Yosemite valley. We stopped at a point where we could go to the banks of a stream. A group of cyclists came there. I guess that would be best way to go around the park - on a cycle. This park is quite tame !




Finally reached Yosemite Falls.




Went to the Yosemite Village - a supermarket by another name - where you can also get trinkets. Picked up a few for remembrance. We also hiked to the base of the yosemite falls - it was overrun by visitors there. We started back quite soon. I wanted to go go to see the giant redwood trees, but the one grove on our path was a hike of 1.6 miles - which was more than what the other guys with me wanted to do. So, i guess I will see someother time.

Dont get me wrong. The place is magnificent. The beauty is gorgeous. But, its too civilized and over run by people. Its like Lonavla but with better roads, no public transport and cleaner air.

Not a jungle if you are used to the Indian jungles. Places like the Corbett National Park would blow you away. You get the 'feel' of being in a jungle which Yosemite just never did. Kind of Disappointing.

Shiver me Timber !

Its tough being a pirate king. That's what I have been for the last 2 days now. And its quite a chore having your island all shipshape for the pirates to share their booty with you !

DISCLAIMER : If you are the politically correct types , or dont like pirates - dont read after this point.

What am I talking about ? I bought a new computer game last weekend - which has become very addictive very fast. The game is called TROPICO 2 : Pirate Cove





I had heard about this games precursor - TROPICO, where you were a dictator who had to set up his island economy for people to spend their hard earned money . But T2 changes the premise entirely. What really caught my attention about this game was the text on the back of the box - " As a Pirate King, rule a secret pirate island fill of despicable 17th centrury Sea Dogs. Fuel your ecomomy by plundering wealthy merchant ships and taking prisoners back to the island as captive workers. ... Argh, there ain't nuttin like bein' a Pirate King!

So, I ended up being a Pirate King of an island. There are 2 types of people on my island - the captives - who do the work i tell them. And the Pirates, who get plunder for me. To keep the pirates happy, I need to have good food and grog for the pirates ... and some entertainment in the form of Gambling dens and .. uhum... a few wenches ;)!

To keep the pirates happy, and keep the captives resigned to their fate ( make them quake in fear !) is the toughest part of the game, but as a good Pirate King - its something that I do with aplomb.

So all in all, its a great game. The stuff I like about the game are :
* A lilting carribean music background. You feel like getting up and dancing.
* A pirate sidekick who helps you in figuring out what to do next with witty comments like "Can't shiver me timber - without any timber" - which tells ya that your wood supplies are quite low. You need wood for most of the building your build on the island as well as the pirate ships you would need to build.
* Chimps and cats on the island. You move your cursor over them , and you are rewarded with their thoughts . Thoughts like 'Server me human' from the cats, and 'Bananas . I need bananas' from the chimps !
* You stash your booty in - what else - a Skull cave.
* Your piratey captains become better if you gift them with stuff like peglegs or a parrot !
* and ummm.. the wenches ;)

righto now. I better get back to bettering my island economy now !

May the Force be with you

You know, sometimes thing stare you into the face and you dont e ven see them - until some event triggers it. I recently bought the box set of the StarWars DVD selection. ..

And while rewatching the series, I discovered that the Force is with me. And I am a Jedi. Jedi Vibhu.

For the uninitiated , the website http://www.jedism.com , gives an overview of Jedism. Now, the information is quite accurate except for the fact that they mistakenly identify Jedism as a religion. It is not. Jedism is a way of life .

Just driving through !

Yesterday we went on a drive. The destination was a town called 'Big Sur' - which was nothing in itself - the drive was through some very scenic locations.




We stopped by the shoreside and there was this old chapel just off the road.




The seashore was nothing great. Small beaches set admist rocks.




View from the car. Mostly you just can't stop the car where you would want to. That luxury is not there . Only places where the roads have a big enough shoulder can you stop the car. So, you miss out on most of the picture opportunities that are there as they just whizz past going at 50mph (80kmph). The car which we have has automatic transmission. Now, this is great for most people - but for me and my friend Nikhil (who did most of the driving), it has serious disadvantages - especially on twisting roads. If you really want to know how to drive , get a non-automatic car - or a 'stick shift' car as it is called here.







The route we followed was highway 1. Quite scenic. Blue seas ... ooops ! That is the Pacific ocean :D .





The route goes over quite a few bridges. This is the Bixby bridge ... The wind was quite a lot here, and felt quite nice ruffling through my hair.








We went as far as the Big Sur Tourist information center. There are quite a few trails from here if you are interested in hiking around. The fall colours ( or autumn as we know it) are quite nice.

Leonardo Da Vinci - robotocist ?

Ever since reading the 'Da Vinci Code', I have become facinated by this genius. Here is another link I got today about the person.


Napa Valley and SFO

This Saturday we had gone to Napa Valley (famous for vineyards - hic ! ) and San Francisco (SFO).

It being a holiday, there were a lot bikers on the roads. These 2 harley chaps were chugging along merrily making a huge rukuss on their bikes...


We took the longer route to Napa - which went through SFO and the Golden Gate bridge. We lost some time in SFO due to traffic and because we took a wrong turn. The city map of SFO came in handy there - and we reached the Golden Gate bridge - which was shrouded by fog ! The interesting part was that the fog was only around the bridge - while elsewhere the sky was clear and sunny !


We reached Napa Downtown around 2 and had lunch there.



Then we went to the different vineyards ... for wine tasting. What a missed opportunity for me - since i was the designated driver , and being a non drinker ! For $5 you get to sip 4 differnt types of vines ! The following pics are of Napa...



We only got to visit 2 wineries - Rutherford and Beringer.

Return was also via SFO - though this time we took another route (880 south, 80) into SFO. We reached well after dark and went to union square , before going to Stinking Rose ( its a place where all the food has tons of garlic in it - to keep the vampires away ;) ).



The following pics are of the ceiling of Stinking Rose !


Returned back around 12:30 am. But that was fun !