Tulip Festival

The closest I have been to the spirit of Amsterdam. Tulip festival in Tulip Town 1 hour from Seattle

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Rainier national park

If you live in Seattle, views of mount rainier are breath taking yet elusive. The mountain often plays hide and seek with the clouds but on a good day, it’s hard to miss. The national park which houses this beauty is a 2 hour drive from Seattle and provides even closer look at the enormous landscape. We decided to do a weekend getaway to the park and get lost in its wilderness.

Tip: April is not the best season for higher trails as most are closed due to snow. When we visited section of park beyond visitors centre was closed with at least 3-4 feet snow.

Rampart Ridge trail

While all trails might not be accessible the winter wonderland this park becomes if worth the trip. Our initial plan was to hike the Gobbles Knob  but soon realized the road to trail is closed and adds a 6 mile detour to the trail. Given the trail itself is 10 miles loop, we decided to forego the idea and look for something. At the wilderness center we enquired about the state of trails around and soon figured most of the trails are “snow shoe” only due to recent snowfall. Rampart ridge(starts close to the wilderness center) was out best bet and green lake trail near the Carbon river as another option(we decided to leave that for Sunday). Its a 5 mile loop and soon the trail was covered with fresh snow(thanks REI for the ankle high boots) and its easy to be lost. The trail climbs moderately through a beautiful old-growth forest.  What Rampart ridge lacked in extravagant views, made up for in the calm and pleasant hike. Rampart Ridge, also known as “The Ramparts,” is the remnant of an ancient lava flow that originated from the summit of Mt. Rainier. The trail passes through some ancient trees, many of which appear to be several hundred years old.

Couple of hours later we were back to the wilderness center and decided to grab lunch at the next stop, Paradise Inn. The drive to Paradise Inn kept getting snowier and beautiful. It being a clear day (yay), rainier could be seen in all its glory and we even got an opportunity to step on the glaciers next to it near the Visitors Center. En-route we also crossed a rive bed which offered amazing view of rainier and is a must see for clicking some pictures.

Green Lakes Trail

Next morning after a quick breakfast, we made our way to the Carbon river entrance of the park, to get to the trailhead for Green lake(10 miles round trip). The trailhead has limited parking, so plan to possibly park on the side of the road leading to it. The surrounding forest is stunning—an emerald cathedral of towering ancient conifers.

3.1 miles into your hike, the trail marches up steep lush slopes undulating between short switchbacks and short traverses to the misty ranger falls. Eight hundred year-old Douglas fir trees can be found along the route to Ranger Falls. The falls are triple-tiered and fan into twin falls before converging back into one.

We had to turn around from here but beyond the falls the trail ascends another .8 mile to Green Lake.

The charm of Indonesia

Sep 9-18 2016

Locations covered: Bira(South Sulawesi), Lombok, Mt Rinjhani, Bali
For starters, Indonesia needs a lot more love and time than we gave it this trip. It was our first trip to the country and it feels like we barely scraped the surface of all that it has to offer.

Indonesia is the 4th most populous country(I didn’t know that until this trip) and has over 17,000 islands. It houses some of the most amazing beaches, surfing spots, scuba diving, and volcanoes and mountains along with being a cultural gold mine. If thats not motivation enough I don’t know what is.

Part 1: Exploring underwater

We started our trip by scuba diving in the remoteness of Sulawesi islands. We flew to Jakarta from Bangalore and from there to Makassar in Sulawesi and a 6 hour drive later reached our dive camp, Bira Dive Camp. It was along day but the views next day made up for the travel.

Bria Dive Camp is located on one of the most pristine beaches with pearly white sand. The location also boasts of some amazing dive spots off the beaten track

The dive sites boast of spectacular coral walls, with often mild and sometimes strong currents. The visibility is amazing and sharks are a common sighting. This being our first dive vacation post certification, to say that we were overwhelmed with all the colors and the marine life we saw would be an understatement. We saw some oceanic white tips and black tips shark(even a baby one), puffer fishes, banded snake, lion fish, sea turtles, nudy branch, lion fish, stone fish, tons of shrimps – up close and personal. The dive masters are super friendly girls from all over the globe who make you feel right at home.


Part 2: Conquering Rinjani

Post Sulawesi we hopped on to the second leg of our trip. We took a fight from makassar to Lombok followed by a 3 hour drive to Senaru village from where we were to start the trek. We had booked with a local company Adi Trekkers who made the hike up pleasant.

We started early in the morning at 8am and drove to another village Sembalun from where the trail started. When people say the trek is hard, its not an understatement. Rinjani, being the second highest volcano(3726m) in Indonesia, is notoriously challenging to climb.

The initial stretch of the trek was nice and easy from Senaru through the park entrance. The first few hours of the trip were pretty easygoing, slowly gaining altitude as we wandered up the gentler lower slopes of the mountain.  There are some very basic shelter facilities at a few rest stops along the way, but the volume of people on the track limits access to them somewhat, so when we stopped we would often find a sheltered spot a little distance away from the shelter itself and hang out there for a bit.
As the day progressed, the tropical climate asserted itself fully.  We were walking out in the open so baked in the full sun for the majority of the day.  By about 1pm, the gradient started to get a bit more serious as we started to climb a spur up to a ridge leading to the Sembalun Rim.
Its post position 3 where the trek become a steep and rocky uphill climb. There are spots where you are literally climbing on all your fours. What is really insane is that your
Rinjani porters are climbing twice faster than you.
I can’t believe those guys are just wearing flip flops and carrying 40 kilograms of kitchenware on their shoulders without taking account all the equipment related to the tent, mattress, etc they need to bring over to the top. But the key is to do it at your own comfortable pace. After what seemed like a never ending rocks after rocks, we reached a flat area and the camp sites started peeking through the mountains.
We’ve finally arrived at Crater Rim!
While booking the trek we had read about the trash in the mountain. While we didn’t see much along the way, the littered camp sites tell a different story. Our crew found us a good spot on the edge of the hill with magnificent views and we were soon served fried banana as snack.
Snacks done, we settled in to wait for sunset as the mist dramatically swirled around inside the crater.
After the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky darkened, tiredness set in with the realisation that time was short before our early rise for the summit climb tomorrow.  With that in mind, we took some dinner, then clambered into our tents, perched mere feet away from a somewhat frightening drop, and snatched some much-needed sleep.

At 2 AM, we awoke and left our tents to have some coffee before we began our 1,100-metre night ascent to Rinjani’s summit.

Now this was what was hardest for me. It was the most grueling but also the most rewarding day of the trek. When we set off at 2:30, we could already see a string of headlamps meandering up the ridge, to what looked like an almost impossible height.  We ambled over the rim for a while before we hit our first challenge.
The ist hour is climbing an almost 45 degree slope of slippery ash and loose gravel . This doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but once you hit it, with nothing beyond your headlamp to gain bearings, and volcanic sand for purchase, thwarting every step you take, you begin to regard it in a new light.

The climb gets relatively easier in the second half but the cold winds make up for the relief. Over a distance of about a kilometre, you make a gradual ascent over a nice gentle ridge, with the cone of Rinjani to your left and a massive drop down to Barujari to your right.  It was a good opportunity for me to get my bearings and get a feel for how far I had to go.
I could see the black profile of the summit against the slightly brighter backdrop of the sky, and while the remaining ascent still looked intimidating, I knew then that I would, in fact, be able to make the summit.  I had given up all hope of achieving the summit before dawn, but that was a minor loss at that stage of the game.

The final leg is where it gets the most challenging, mentally. As the sky began to lighten in earnest, and we hit an altitude of about 3,000 metres, we hit the third segment.  I like to call this part of the climb ‘Struggle Street’. Struggle Street is another very steep 700-metre ascent up volcanic scree.

Its an almost 50 degree incline with loose rocks. For 2 steps you climb you are pushed back one and if you have jelly feet like I do, maintaining balance is equally challenging. The climb can get frustrating and a lot of people turn back half way. I took longer than what I anticipated but the 360 view ofLombok and the crater made up for the pain. The birds eye view of the rim allows one to fully appreciate how massive and beautiful Rinjani is.

The climb down is relatively easier albeit more slippery and takes around 2 hours. Slide through the gravel and it will feel like skiing :D. It was actually fun even though I fell like 5 times on the way down and completely covered with mud. We made it to the camp around 10 am and it was clear we will be giving the lake part of the trek a miss. We decided to leave the rim around 3 pm and head back to Sembalun the same way we came and camp near position 3 for the night. After a quick nap and lunch we headed back the same way.

The decent down was equally treacherous with loose gravel making each step shaky. By the time we reached camp, I was exhausted but still content with what the last two days have been. We feasted on some Nasee Goreng that our guide/porter prepared, chatted with the crew while sipping on Bintang and called it a night.

Next day was a breeze. We left camp around 7 and were back at Sembalun by 9:30. Our guide had invited us for lunch at his place. After feasting on some sambhal tofu and rice, we headed back towards Lombok for the last leg of our trip – Bali.

Part 3: Bali
Bali was total opposite to what our rest of our trip was. We had booked an airbnb resort in South Kuta and indulged ourselves in hot showers, much needed sleep, good food and massages. Too tired to be touristy, we did not step outside our resort while we indulged ourselves in the much needed rest.

2 days later, we were on a plane back home, leaving this gem of a country behind. But we plan to surely come back to explore more. Indonesia truly won our hearts.

Rattle snake ridge

An hour drive away from downtown Seattle lies this haven of a trail. Easy to Moderate difficulty. We did this in Feb and the top part of trail was icy and treacherous but other than that a fabulous climb amidst the trees with a spectacular view of the lake. Atop Rattlesnake Ridge great views of the surrounding mountains can be seen including Mount Si and Mount Washington.

Smaller loop ~ 4 miles – 2-3 hours

Bigger loop ~ 7 miles – 3-4 hours

Gandikota and Belum Caves

Trip dates: July 11-12
Cities covered : Lepakshi, Gandikota, Belum – Andhra Pradesh
Gandikota and Belum caves are a beautiful gem of natured nestled in the remoteness of AP just hours away from Bangalore. It makes a great weekend escape with winding roads, stunning gorges and bar filled caves. I discovered this place while talking to a friend and decided to spend a weekend exploring the place.
Day 1
Saturday morning we left for Lepakshi, our first stop along the way. Lepakshi is 120kms from Bangalore and is known for mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings. It houses beautiful architecture from the 13th century and has nothing but a temple and a village around. We roamed around the main temple before heading towards our next destination, Gandikota.
Our drive to Gandikota soon transformed to 4 lane freeway to a single lane state highway. The drive was peaceful with very few vehicles. On the way, we called Haritha Resort (when you google it – the webiste says “Haritha Resort Gandikota | Highway – the only way” which is literally the truth as there is no other accommodation nearby other than this) to make reservations. We were politely told that they were booked and the only available option is the dormitory which sounded decent(rs 1500 for 8 bunk beds). The resort is recently built and made to look like a fort. Post arrival, we quickly had lunch and made way to the fort.
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Built in 11th century, the fort is a classic example of bygone eras. Ruins of temples, granaries, public baths and minarets make for a great architectural study. Still looking for the gorge(which some refer to as the Indian Grand Canyon), we made our way towards the outside. The first glimpse of it did not disappoint. Surrounded by a deep valley and impassable hills AND with massive boulders of red granite and the river Pennar that flows about 300 ft. below on the west and northern sides, the ambience of place was nothing less than meditative. Parched but content, we sat there for hours admiring the work of nature and its confluence with history and mankind. The area is sprinkled with hundreds of windmills which add more character and aura to the whole sight. We soon headed back to the resort and a lazy evening later retired to sleep. Next day also held beautiful promise.
Day2
 We woke up early and left for Belum caves(some 70 kms away) through the windy road. We made it there before 10 only to realize it doesn’t open until 10am. There were hoards of villagers waiting there which our guide explained was because of the religious nature of the caves. Belum Caves is the second largest cave in Indian subcontinent.Belum Caves have long passages, spacious chambers, fresh water galleries and siphons. It is a natural underground cave formed by the constant flow of underground water. Discovered in 1884, the caves were open to tourists in 2002. Sections of caves are still under exploration while 3.5 km of it is open to public.
We got a guide who walked us around the cave and even took us through a serpent shaped unexplored section that he called the adventure route. The entrance to the cave looks like a pit. The caves have multiple section named after meditative terms or gods. Lighted at some parts, the caves give a feel of Arizonas Antelope Canyon in parts. It took us a couple of hours to explore the caves post which we headed back to Bangalore. NH7 directly connects and we covered the distance in 5 hours.
Finding these hidden gems reinforces the beauty and the culture India has to offer while also making the co-existence and confluence of humans and nature stark. Will definitely recommend this to anyone planning a weekend getaway from Bangalore.

Peruvian Dream – Hiking Machu Pichu

Travel Date: June 27 – July 7
Cities Travelled: Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, Machu Pichu

Machu Pichu is on the travel list of anyone who indulges in culture, history and mysteries of the world as we know them. Amidst myriad speculations, the “Lost City of Inca’s” is also a favorite for the road that takes you to it. The setting for the ancient city is absolutely stunning, and the feeling of reaching it by foot over 4 days of such intense physical exertion and the swath of rugged terrain makes the entire moment of standing atop Macchu Picchu much more rewarding. It gets especially satisfying and carries even more meaning after a four day hike to get there. The feeling that you’ve earned the view – that you can imagine and even remotely empathize with the challenges the Incas must have faced building this city with their bare hands in this remote mountaintop location – cannot be understated.

Now came the part of choosing one’s path to the Incan City. We debated between the more known Inca Trail and some lesser known ones in which Salkantey Trek stood out. Numerous blogs and google searches later(also the fact that Inca was sold out the days we were planning our travel), we locked in on Salkantey Trek. The factors that led to that decision – less crowd, more trekking and promise or picturesque vistas. It was also highly recommended by the people who had experienced both. We zeroed in on Enigma Travels as our guides. Small batch size and comprehensive itinerary added to the confidence needed for the decision.

The famous Salkantay Trek (or Salcantay Trek), named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine, is a trek open to everybody, with no limitation on spaces or permits (at least for now). Connecting the city of Mollepata, Cusco with Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek is an ancient and remote footpath located in the same region as the Inca Trail where massive snowcapped mountains collide with lush tropical rain forests.” – www.salkantay.org

We agreed to land in Lima, leave for Cusco the next day and spend 2 days there before starting the trek and visiting Machu Pichu. We were then gonna come back and spend a day in Cusco, head back to Lima for a day before flying out. Our itinerary was simple and focussed on Machu Pichu however we met people on the trek who had a couple of more days in Peru and covered neighboring locations like Lake Titika, Puno region and more. If you have more time, head over the Amazons.

Day 1 –  Lima: Lima reminded me of India when I landed, only more clean and right next to the ocean. I was meeting my friend Pablo today who was also gonna show us the real Lima:). After reaching out hotel pretty early(7am), we rested before heading out for our first tryst with Peru and we were not disappointed. We headed for brunch in a cute cafeteria in Barranco region, and I was just overwhelmed with my fruit options. The peruvian fruits are delicious and my favorite is Lucuma on which I gorged on for the rest of the trip as ice cream and shakes. We later went and explored the city center and indulged in some local sight seeing. Post which I had the best dinner buffet, at Amaz, located in Miraflores, my first taste of Jungle food. We later went to this bar next to the water and got us some delicious pisco sours.

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Day 2 and 3 – Cusco: The next day, we flew to Cusco, and the place just felt so homely the moment we landed. Its a small town nestled amongst the mountains. We checked in our hotel and started to explore the city. Our first encounter on leaving the hotel was with a baby alpaca which are the cuddliest thing one could hold. We walked around the city, getting used to altitude, indulging in Lucuma ice creams and quinoa soups. The place was bustling with tourists and I was surprised to see the number of pizzerias and coffee shops in the city. We shopped around the local markets while breathing in the architecture and the history it had to offer. The next day we did a 4 hour tour(you can see red buses filled with tourist and can hop on any for 40soles) which took us to nearby attractions, which included a visit to the White Christ and a rendezvous with a Llama. Later in the evening, we went to our tour company’s office, where we met our co-travellers, met our guides and were walked through the itinerary. We were an interesting bunch from all over the world(Colorado, Norway, San Diego, Australia and us from the bay area). Some had trekked from Yosemite to Mt Whitney, few were marathon runners, a national level rugby player and then there were us, the misfits:). Excited and pumped up we went back to our hotel and were to be picked up 3 am next day.

 

Day4 – Cusco – Soraypampa – Salkantaypampa – Andenes: We were picked up in the morning around 3 am, and a 3 hour car drive later we reached Soraypampa(3800m), the start of our trek.Soraypampa is an utterly surreal location: windswept, barren, freezing, and utterly enchanting, housing 4 or 5 ranch families. A quick breakfast later, we start the trek towards the base of Mt. Salkantay (6271m/20569ft), crossing Salkantaypampa, and then starting a 2 hrs steep ascent to Soyroccocha, just next to the impressive glacier of Salkantay (4200m/13776ft). The first day was the longest and hardest day of the trek.  It was a fairly steep grind of narrow switchbacks and steady uphills until the rock structures of the pass finally come into view. We indulged in some coca leaves to help with the altitude. Our guide, a chatty local, enthralled us with local stories about the landscape and the history of the place. Continuing uphill, we reach the Abra Huayracmachay (4600m/15088ft), the highest mountain pass in the trek with little air left in my lungs but the stunning views of the surrounding glaciers and the snow-capped peaks of the Vilcabamba Range and Salkantay towering above us, I am quickly lost in the surroundings. From here we started descending towards a more tropical climate. The scent of eucalyptus invades us as we head down and it feels incredible to breathe the thin, mountain air and slowly slip further back into the middle of nowhere. The trail weaves its way down the flank of the mountain and parallels a river that grows exponentially as you make your way down the valley. Along the route, we start encountering remains of an ancient Inca path. Towards the evening, much to my relief, we reached our  first campsite at Andenes (3,500m/11480ft). Tired, a quick dinner later, I find myself nestled in the camp and falling asleep momentarily.

Day 5 and 6 Andenes – Lucmabamba – Aguas Calientes: Day 2 of the hike felt like a stroll. With an easy downhill walk along the Salkantay River, the surroundings increasingly became lush vegetation, passing waterfalls, passion fruit and coffee plantations. We soon reach Collpapampa and after a rest, we continued our descent to the banks of the Totora River, then passing the waterfalls at Coripacchi, the settlement at Wiñaypoko, the bustling small town of La Playa and finally our second camp at Lucmabamba (2,100m/6888ft).

The next day after breakfast, we started our climb to El Mirador or Abra Q’elloqasa (2860m/9381ft). We got the first glimpse of the Lost City, the legendary Machupicchu. Our lunch spot(at the lookout point of Llaqtapata (2650m/8692ft)) couldn’t get more scenic from where we could see both Machupicchu and the Salkantay Mountain. After a few hours of descent towards the Aobamba River crossing lush bamboo forests and more orchards and coffee plantations we reach the hydroelectric plant of Machupicchu from where we boarded a train that took us to Aguas Calientes (short, scenic 40-minutes train ride). A town that was literally invented for tourists, Aguas Calientes was a bit of a bittersweet affair. Still, the hotel at Aguas Calientes felt like a luxury after the nights at the camp and we pampered ourselves with body massages and a good night sleep.

Day7 : The Mighty Machu Pichu: We woke up early and boarded the bus to Machupicchu where our guide started with the history of the city. The facts are fascinating and the views breathtaking. We then have a few hours to explore the ruins on our own. We decide to head towards the sun gate, while some decide to climb up the Huaynapicchu Mountain. Along the way to Sun Gate, we got spectacular views of all of Machupicchu, the valleys and mountains that surround it.
While Macchu Picchu is an incredible spectacle of architecture, culture, and history, the commercialization of the place is a turn off. Macchu Picchu is still incredible, and watching the sun break the mountains and illuminate the city of stone is a once in a lifetime opportunity but the moment gets diluted when you are surrounded by 1500-2000 strangers swarming the gates and racing up the stairs to get the best picture and beat out the rest of the competition.

Day8,9- Back to Cusco:  We spend the next two days lazing around Cusco and Lima before heading back to San Francisco. We explored around Cusco and found ourselves at the salt mines, Salinas de Maras, and “Inca agricultural greenhouse or laboratory” in Moray.
Salt Mines in Moras

Salt Mines in Moras

 

Until we meet again Sexy Llamas… here’s to more adventures ahead!

Wanderlust

Pic Credit: Pallav Vyas

Gingerly I step ahead
Facing the sun and my fears
Immersed in the calls of wild and free
Sowing wanderlust since times immemorial

The chasm between the real and the dream
Entwines and writhes with each fall
For in that stillness shines the light
With new visions and the familiar unknown

It shields, it heals, dispels the fears
A cautious vibe, a place beyond the skies
Open meadows and starlit nights
This wanderlust takes on me

To leave my home, to take my flight
To sail the seas with blinding tides
Taste the world from cream to crust
I ponder, yearning yonder, Wander-Lust

I wonder if there is at all
A purpose for my wandering
The sky where I wander
I wander, lost in Wanderlust