A Visit To The Temple

I'd to just help my neighbour to find her run-away cat. Now a last blogbit... before I really really go to bed! This Labor Day weekend I was thinking about spending 3 days in programming few stuff I'd planned but such things just can't happen. Suddenly a plan came around out of nowhere for 12+ hours of road trip to West Virginia and a visit to an ISKCON temple. Submitting to spontaneous weird idea seems to be my weakness. This one was weird because, well, who can think of visiting an ISKCON temple out of nowhere? While I'm not affiliated to ISKCON (or for that matter any religious organization whatsoever), I was curious about them anyway (watching Hare Krishna group dancing on Leicester Square in London is very cool) and so I joined my gang. This indeed turned out to be great road trip. We almost started at sun rise, passed through valleys and mountains covered with mist and made few stops. The temple located on the mountain top in hilly state of West Virginia has some good views. We also realized that day was little special being the last day of a festival called Paryushan from Jain religion and first day of another festival Ganesh Chaturthi and the last day when the temple remains open until 8 PM and a day when free feast is served and of course, it was the last day of summer. As if all these coincidences weren't enough, I ran in to one of my classmates in the temple who had left his job to be a full time ISKCON person serving as deputy director of a charity hospital (it's amazing how I keep meeting my classmates by coincidences. Last time I met one in a strip club, this time it was in a temple! And we always say this first to each other: "what the hack you doing here?"). We also took the tour of Palace Of Gold which is the memorial built for the founder of ISKCON. It's funny though to build a memorial buried under gold for a person who probably spent his entire life fighting against materialistic world and achieving nirvana. You can view some photos of this trip, some are really cool including one with beetles procreating right inside the rose!

High Point State Park

This place is becoming my luxury hike place on lazy drizzly spring days. It's the highest point in state of New Jersey. You can see all neighbouring states Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York on clear day and you don't even have to hike to get on the top - just take 5 min easy drive and you are there! It has even little beach on the lake. You can view Mohonk, Catskills, Camelback, Pocono's, Bear mountains - all from same place! It's even better on drizzly days because there's no one there and clouds are kissing the land :). Also, by far it's the only perfect sunset view spot I've found in NJ. To get there, all you have to do is to be on Rt 23N. Just after few miles Rt 23 suddenly becomes all green and gorgeous. The country roads after the town of Franklin are cool enough to get lost for a while. I have a took some pics - check it out! I'll be adding few more soon.

Best Of New York

I just keep finding excuses to run away to New York and yet have never ran out of places to go. On the contraray, many have. Here's the coolest link to help you out. These guys have came up with a list of best of everything - from Best Haircut to Best Romantic Hotel. So if you are tired of stumbling on to same old places, here's the gene for you :). http://newyork.citysearch.com/best/categories/2002

Picks: Movies, Concerts And Art

Three movies that you shouldn't miss this season: 1. Chicago - A total classic. Very different. Nice screen play. Cool lightings and photography. These guys got nominated for 13 acadami awards and I wasn't surprised. 2. About Schmidt - A movie that gonna move you. Shatter you. Only for hard core reality fans. 3. The Guru - A cool hilarious flick on an Indina emigrant. Neat. Concerts: 1. Matchbox Twenty is on roll. Click here their schedules for NY/NJ area. 2. The unity of light - A concert by my favorite Indian artist A.R. Raheman. This will feature several other BIG artists from Bollywood music scene. Looks very cool to me. Art: The 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix is now being celebrated visually, with six different exhibitions in Manhattan.

Exploring The Undergrounds

Well, it's amazing how some of the most beautiful passions are shared by so few. Thanks to a re-routed email that dropped in to my Inbox telling me there was a presentation on "All about caves and caving" and I got a chance to meet people who are exploring these underground marvels since more then a decade. I'm pretty much beginner and just had some idea how these caves would have looked like when I read Adventures of Tom Sawyer a decade ago (and this still remains the best book I've ever read!) and when I went out on one of the caving trips last summer with AMC. It is simply breathtaking what this planet's underground holds for you with miles and miles long caves nerves system frequently including super huge tall domes formations and sometime hundreds of spiky icy straws, deep pits and even lakes. These caves can be explored almost all year round because temperatures there stays stable between 50-60 F. However it's complete darkness there and you got to have helmet with light and some other essential gear. It's recommended that if you are beginner you go with someone experienced and never go in group of less then four. If you are a good hiker and have some rock climbing experience, it helps but all you really need is a will to crawl, scramble and be there! The National Speleological Society is your starting point to get in touch with gurus and go out in their group outings across United States and Maxico. If you are in New Jersey, visit Northern New Jersey Grotto to meet some of the cool experts in this field and start out in their trips designed for beginners!

Moving Around Mumbai

Well, I never liked the City's new name "Mumbai" (from old Bombay) but it looks like that's gonna stay. My favorite season to be in the City always had been Monsoon (June - Sep) when it rains a lot. However the weather in December is also pleasant 70s (F) and sky is still clear enough for me to spot some shooting stars. Here I'm going to outline few observations as a personal note. If you been to or away from this wonderful, dirty, soulful and one of the greatest cities in the world, here's the treat for you :). The vegetarian and the non-vegetarian sects seem to have risen in equality in their strength and aggressiveness. Vegetarian burgers were already common place but now you can see vegetarian hot dogs on menus! I even saw the ad for vegetarian tooth paste! But on the other hand much of the college going crowed doesn't feel any guilt in eating animals. However, vegetarian burgers are just "vada paw" with burger's bun. The restaurant staff also informed me that hot dog has same material as burger but with different buns. Looks like the City is reinventing American food just as it did decade ago for Chinese food. Much of the "Chinese" food available on Bombay's street is something that's most Chinese people are not aware of! Bombay girls, on average, are more free from traditions, modern and sophisticated. However this might be more true for upper middle class and riches. It's not unusual to find girls smoking in college campuses and no one even gives a second look. While I hate smoking, doing it just as free as a man could and without guilt is a good change. In the New Year's party that I been to, the clothing style of the crowd there was undistinguishable from a posh nightclub in US. But then again, that party was sponsored by F TV, a new channel in Bombay on fashion stuff. Now there are many more cable channels available then before. However most western TV channel's have "indianized" themselves to stay in the fierce competition. The MTV India is far far better in quality and presentation then its native US version. The cable internet is now easily available for nearly same cost as dialup, however numbers of hours are limited and you have to pay hefty sum for a modem. Mobile phones are extremely common place and that looks like a booming business. Most phones use European style SIM cards and have pay-and-go billing. The mobile text messaging (SMS) is very common and can be used across the glob (In US, the text messaging standards are different which makes it neither popular nor globally usable). One of the other visible improvements is the numbers of FM channels that has been mushroomed in the City. I found most of them had real good quality programming. That may not be surprising when you realize that most DJs on these radio stations are young and even possibly still college going crawd instead of government employees. So, you know it's gonna be cool and vibrant stuff. Radio Mirch is one of the nicer ones. There are many more shopping malls then before but still they are quite small (not even 1/4th) compared to giant ones that you can find everywhere in US and UK. Much of the things sold in these malls are direct imports and targeted for relatively rich mass rather then usual middle class. You can get almost anything that's available in western countries: popular colognes, brand sun glasses, Boss home theater system, DVD + MP3 players, big screen TVs, Play Station 2 and so on. But one of the hard to find thing was Calvin Klein Eternity cologne which I'd forgot to pack with my luggage at last minute! These new malls are starting the change in retain business but most purchasing still happens in street-side small retail stores. However apart from more shopping malls, what city needs right now is more high rises. I saw old and small buildings being replaced by bigger and better looking ones (usually referred as "towers" in the City terminology). However these are usually still limited to 7 floors high. I guess much of the city's problems like slum areas, unhygienic places and unorganized shops would be instantly solved by putting up real sky scrappers (50+ floors giants) everywhere like in New York and thus creating sufficient room to accommodate everyone nicely. Unfortunately lately I'd heard that some old residents had filed law suits against new high rises and so government is actively thinking about putting a ban on them. The sky scrapers is the reality that have to be accepted at one point or another. Later is not better. There's no escape. Most people in Bombay feels that the City was improved in last few years by several new flyovers and highways. But it seemed minor changes to me and may even go unnoticed if someone doesn't tell you. Local trains now all have 12 coaches. I felt that the pollution in the City had reached to suffocating level. But you hear and see different things. One information board near Thane station said last measured air quality was rated "excellent" and that board itself I could see standing in smoke. I was guessing UV radiation would be much higher because of this but no one I knew was wearing sun block lotion. All "ricks" (3-wheelers) and taxies are now required to run on LPG gas rather then gasoline ("patrol" in City's terminology rather than "gas" as in US). The drivers hate this law because of long queues to fill up with LPG gas. However from cost, pollution and maintenance point of view everything is better with LPG. I was wondering why LPG driven vehicles are completely absent from UK or US. Anyways, there's fine of Rs. 200 for not wearing seat belts. Though few people cares and infect, taxies has no seatbelts at all even if you want to wear them! I'd later realized taxies even don't have side mirrors!! The "usual" driving style in Bombay might make you loose couple of heartbeats. If you wish, you can even switch to totally opposite side lane so you can pass vehicle in front of you! No traffic fines. Even if you are on extreme right lane at the traffic light, you can still attempt to make a left turn. It's ok. No one cares about divider lines between lanes. Infect for many, its fun to drive exactly on the center of a divider line! Most two lane roads would be used as 3 or 4 or even 5 lane roads. The only widely accepted "traffic law" seems to that more massive vehicle has a right of way. That means pedestrians, being the least massive things, has no right of way whatsoever. Peds just have to wait. If they happen to break this rule, you are allowed to honk at them. Honking is not an irritation but a normally accepted way of communicating between drivers (no pun). Even some trucks had signs "please honk" (to let me know you are behind me)! My friend told me that numbers of vehicles are now doubled in the City. But the surprise for me was that I didn't saw a single car accident in entire period of month - something that I'm so used to see on Garden State Parkway in New Jersey once a week. That's probably because of low speed limits of 40 KM/hr or less in the Bombay city. I do like to indulge in the conversation with cab and ricks drivers because they often have honest views and good info to share on lower middle class - though you have to take a risk of looking stupid at times if you haven't been around for a while. Your visit is incomplete anywhere you go if you don't sample local food, music, nightclubs and jokes. As far as food is concerned, Bombay is a heaven. I had hard time keeping off myself within limits. The sophisticated restaurants with cool innovative menus and interior decoration have mushroomed everywhere you would care. However, real food in Bombay is the street food. You shouldn't miss that because I haven't found the taste equals even in acclaimed authentic restaurants outside India. The best street food heaven would certainly be the Chaupaty. However, it's advisable that you don't try everything in a single day (like me) because it might easily cause bad stomach problems or even typhoid. You do need some confidence and strong built-in anti-bacterial protection. However bonus is that while eating that stuff you can see a perfect sunset in the ocean, something that's not usual on the East coast in US. Other places to see sunsets in Bombay are Band Stand in Bandra, Marin drive, Jogger's Park and Worli sea face. All of these are cool places to walk around when it's not crowdy. With perfect temperatures of 70s, mild winds coming over your face and beautiful sunset in front of your eyes nothing gets better. The notable one is the Jogger's Park, a clean well maintained sea side place where I saw the last and probably the most beautiful sunset of the year. There was a funny sign in there "No Mis-behaving"! One of the City's other places to have fun is Waterpark which is a heaven because of hot temperatures all year. This waterpark has put forward a claim for world's biggest water coaster. Also one of the other visible changes in the City is so many brand new coffee houses. The one chain Italian coffee shop called Baristas is all over the City and they happens to have 10x better coffee then Starbucks and 100x better then Dunkin Doughnuts. Yeah, definitely. One of the changes that has struck me the most, painfully, is much more sharper division between lower and upper middle classes. It seems that the former's family income has remained virtually unchanged over the last five years while the average prices of all none-essential goods seems to have been almost doubled. But it's still amazing that most people seemed quite satisfied with their way of living. They didn't seem to miss buying a portable CD player and or going out for playing 10-pin bawling. They think they have fun, they satiesfy their needs and they are rising. I think what constitutes this City is its people then it's geography. Even under rising financial pressures, crushing work hours and increasing inflation, people are still good at heart as they ever have been. You can meet complete strangers, get along with them and have fun without caring each other's last names or financial backgrounds. Only problem is that you might have to tell them that you gonna go away soon. Its might be as well less painful just to disappear...

Outdoor Clubs On East Coast

If you are single or have hard time to make you friends get of bed to climb some mountains or paddle some rivers - well, here's something that might interest you. I've found few huge and really cool organizations that engage themselves in doing some interesting adventure outings in groups. The biggest and the best of these is the Sierra Club. It's purpose of existence is nature conservancy and awareness. Every week they have multiple outings - hikes, kayaks, group dinners, meetings and even outdoor movie shows! The places I'd visited with some of the hike leaders this summer were mind blowing, kind of secret gems... They also have special singles outings which I guess is better place to find that special someone then anywhere else because people who you meet in these clubs are the ones who you can identify with yourself, the spirit of adventure and sense of exploration. The Sierra club is non-profit, has chapter in almost every state in US (I usually go out with NY and NJ chapters) and they excert high influence on US nature policies.

Another huge organization is AMC or Appalachian Mountain Club. They stand out by the diversity and huge quantity of outings they offer - including everything from hiking, sailing, kayaking, tour of Brooklyn bridge, night time Central Park, ice caves, all summer softball at Central Park, camping at their own facilities, windjammer cruises, tree identification walks, a day at Coney Island and so on. In spite of these, I like them less compared to Sierra due to couple of reasons. They don't publish their schedules fully on web and force you to get their printed book. That tiny book takes time to arrive and can easily get misplaced. Many of the hike leaders doesn't have or disclose their email addresses and at many instances, you will find it hard to contact them by any means even if they disclose anything at all. While most the people you will meet are very respectable and pleasant in person, the Sierra's flavor of openness and friendly feel is not as strong.

The last organization on the list is ADK or Adirondack Mountain Club. Actually this is the first one I came to know about before any other. While it's small and locally focused on NY/North NJ, I believe it's the most intimate and friendliest club around. But the coolest things they do which sets them apart from everybody else is their international and national adventure travel. The list includes week-long outings like staying with real Inuit people at Greenland in the way they live, hikes at Swiss Alps, England Coast-to-Coast, trekking with donkeys in France, Grand Canyon backpacking, Alaska rafting and so on.
A last point: I've often observed that that age proportion at many of these vibrant exciting clubs is not well balanced: numbers of young people (in 20s) is strikingly and surprisingly less. I guess it's responsibility of people like us to spread the word and keep these clubs and spirit alive in the coming time. So get out of the bed and go somewhere!

Autumn Fall Foliage Long Drives 2002

I've some more time and it's my first day doing blogs so I'll put down few more tid bits... This one is about fall foliage travelling I did this year. Last year I went out to 3 day trip to New Hampshire and drove through much of the state. This year I decided to went down North-east Pennsylvania. The driving route at Bucktail State Park was listed as 'one of the most beautiful spot to be' in foliage by Yahoo Travel newsletter. There is some 75 miles of Route 120 which passes through scenic mountainous areas and small towns. So I rented Mustang convertible and started the trip on 20th Oct. Passing through Rough 80 west from NJ to PA was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately you can't stop on highway to take photographs and there are not many view points on Rt 80. So just look around and drive slow. While entering on Rt 120 at Lock Haven, PA I realized the peak was already passed and there was around 40% or less leafs on trees. A big sigh! But this was anyway as predicted in Foliage report at FallInPA.com. But whatever was left was still absolutely gorgeous. You can tell how beautiful the peak must have been looked like. So after passing Ronovo I decided to drive down south were peak was still expected. I took Rt 144 and I glad I did. This some 70 miles long road was continuously covered with fall colors, passing through deep forest, valleys in curvy snaky ups and down fashion. What a treat! Next year I'll be back here with proper timing :-). Anyway this was not my first trip and not the last also for this year. The first trip I did was to Windham, NY at Catskills. It was annual ADK (www.adk.org) fall weekend with lots of hikes in around the area. I did the 3 summit hike at Thomas Kole (6 mil) and one another 4 miles hike next day. Fall colors were just starting to appear. You can look at photographs on my web site http://www.ShitalShah.com or their real host at www.dotphoto.com (the name of the album is First Of Autumn). The next fall color trip WILL be at NYC this weekend at Central Park. I'm missing Autumn at NYC since last two years and it's hardly 40 mins away from my home! Sure NYC is jungle of building but Central Park is just a magical place. I saw some Central Park foliage shots in movie Autumn in New York (it appears just when movie starts, good because you don't need to see rest of the crap). This weekend I guess is peak weekend in Central Park.