Thursday, July 31, 2008

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

Time flies by very fast and before I knew it, the fabulous week came to its end. We boarded the bus at Zion Park and after ride of about 2 1/2 hours, we arrived in Las Vegas. The tour was just supposed to take us through Vegas, en route to the McCarran International airport; no halts in between. Within minutes after entering Vegas, we were soon on 'The Strip' and passing by various hotels that adorn their main street, Flamingo, The Stratosphere and the crazy roller coaster rides right on top of it, MGM Grand, Ballagio, etc. After bidding adieu to fellow Caravaners at the airport, I soon took an airport shuttle and headed off to my hotel.

In the evening, I checked out a Cirque De Soliel show 'Ka'. Magnificent show and a great experience. Later in the night, I took a walk on the Strip - their main street where all the action happens. The best way to tour Las Vegas is to take a walk on the Strip and go inside as many hotels as possible. All their hotels have casinos that seem to spread over acres and acres of land; you could easily get lost in the casinos. Fortunately, there are signages everywhere, even inside the hotels, that guide you to various spots inside the hotel as well as all of their several entrances that lead you out in several directions. Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay was educating and I even touched a Sting Ray!

But the best part in Vegas - apart from Ka - was the musical fountain outside the Ballagio Hotel. It was quite unlike anything I've ever seen. This is a must-see attraction in Vegas and looks all the more beautiful only after sunset. The Pirates show outside Treasure Island hotel got cancelled that day, so that was a slight disappointment. In Las Vegas, most things would cost, but there are certain free attractions too. You must catch the free attractions. The musical fountain, the lion exhibit inside MGM Grand (a pair of lions in a transparent glass enclosure through which you can walk and it seems that the lions are walking on top of you, much like the aquarium in Singapore), the Pirates show outside Treasure Island hotel, the lights at downtown, are some of the free attractions I attempted and took.

Next day I took a tour to the Hoover dam. This is one of the largest dams on the border of the US states of Nevada and Arizona. Nice sight and an educational experience. I had just about time to take the Monorail in Vegas after I returned, go to my hotel, pick up my bags and head to the airport to catch the Red-eye, back to Detroit. End of a fantastic one week of travelling.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Canyons - Day 6 - 20 June 2008

This morning, we drove to our final park on this tour, the Zion Park. All parks in the states of Utah, Arizona and Colorado that we visited were unique and different from one another. Both, in terms of scenery and what they had to offer and also in the form of rock formations. For instance, if Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon is to viewed from up, above the mountains, Zion Park is viewed from the foothills of its tall, monolith rock formations. There are also several walking trails at the Zion National park and also a horse ride alongside the river trail. I missed the horse trail as they were out of horses by the time I reached there, but I took two walking trails.

If you are lucky (or unlucky, depending on which way you look at things), you could also spot a rattle snake or two in this area. I missed mine by just a few minutes on one of the two trails I took to explore the mountains. The Zion lodge where we stayed was fabulous and resembled a wooden cabin of sorts. It's lawn is so magnificent and large that you can easily spend hours there chatting with your friends, family and loved ones. At night, you also get deers, antelopes, fox, turkey and all sorts of wildlife, grazing on the leaves on the hotel lawn! You must respect these animals and not try to touch them or wander too near to them. Be at a distance and you can enjoy very pleasant sights and sounds.

The food was exquisite and so was lodging. I've said this before and I'll say this again. The best place to stay whilst visiting these parks is to camp inside the parks; its costly, but you're always right there in the thick of the action.

The Canyons - Day 5 - 19 June 2008

After camping at Lake Powell for two nights, we said bye bye and left for Bryce Canyon. If Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon were sandstone rocks. Bryce Canyon is full of limestone rock formations. All canyons are unique in their formations, but Bryce Canyon's rock formations are the best. The 'Hoodoos' (as its rock formations are famously called) offer a bright variety of red, orange and pink limestone spirals. Unfortunately, unlike Grand Canyon, here we stayed outside the canyon park, so we first visited Bryce canyon and then proceeded towards our resort outside the park and at the foothills of the canyon range. The amphitheatre (this particular area's rick formations form a semi-circle mountain structure that resembles the shape of an amphitheatre) at the Bryce Canyon was absolutely splendid and quite unlike I've ever seen.

The Canyons - Day 4 - 18 June 2008

Today we took a tour of the Navajo Indian nation and the Monument Valley. This is a restricted area and also extremely rugged. So buses are not allowed in here; we had to get off the bus at the Gouldings Lodge and hop onto a jeep. The drivers of these jeeps are locals who also double up as guides. Bruce, our Caravan guide, took a backseat for a change!

Monument Valley is the site of many a famous John Wayne western movies like 'The Searchers', 'Stagecoach', etc. I am not a John Wayne fan and i can't even recognise him. So I just ignored this part of the history - the movies - and instead feasted my eyes on the magnificent rock formations of the area. Monument Valley turned out out to be a very very unique area with its superb rock formations donning the landscape. It is amazing how these rock formations can take place naturally. Later, we had a traditional lunch at the Goudings Lodge and took a short tour of Hollywood museum dedicated to the films made in Monument Valley.

Later that evening, I took a tour of the Antelope Canyon, alongwith my very friends from the tour - the Yangs and Huangs. Lee Yang recommended we take this tour. Antelope Canyon is one of those hidden and under-explored canyons, yet quite spectacular and breathtaking. You reach the Canyon in a special jeep as the road is so rugged - infact you can't even call a road, its more a path - that regular vehicles would get stuck in the sand. From a distance, you can't even make out that you're approaching the antelope canyon. The entrance is from the base of a tall mountain, through a crevice-like entrance. You walk through the canyon, the sunlight falling from above creating waves-like scenery on the canyon walls. It's one of the most beautiful and amazing canyons to visit and a treat for photographers. The trick to clicking great pictures inside the Antelope canyon is to switch off your Flash and take a tripod with you.

The Canyons - Day 3 - 17 June 2008

After enjoying a very sumptuous breakfast at El Tovar lodge - a European looking up-scale hotel on the Grand Canyon rim - we set off along a scenic east Rim drive to the famous Desert View Lookout. Here we made a brief stop at the Tower View Cedar Point. One more look at the magnificent Grand Canyon river.

Our next stop was the Navajo and Hopi trading post. This was the largest shopping & gift centre I visited on this tour that had artifacts, gifts and collection items manufactured and painted by local Indians. My favourite amongst them was the exquisitely painted clay-pottery. Soon we were passing by the painted desert. This was one of the three deserts on this tour and by far the most beautiful desert I have ever seen. Nature was at its best here as the mountains and rocks along this desert road were in varying colours like blue, black, pink, orange, green, etc. You'd be amazed to see mountains and their rock formations in all these colours, but then they are and no wonder this place is called the painted desert. I tried taking a few pictures, but the best part of this desert went pass by when I was having my sandwich, so i couldn't take good pictures here!!! Pity!

Late afternoon, we checked into Lake Powell resort at Lake Powell and rounded off the day at the beautiful Lake Powell resort, followed by a boat ride on Lake Powell. Later in the evening, dinner was served (part of the package, tonight) at the famous rainbow room at the resort where I shared the table with Katrina & Steve Hawes and Krista & Dan Gerhart. It was celebration time as the The Hawes were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary; the next day was Dan's birthday too. Throughout this tour, the Hawes and Gerharts were my best friends and I ended up having many a breakfast, lunch, dinner with them. At one time, Katrina even remarked that she felt she is adopting me! But really, they were amongst the friendliest of people around - for instance, Katrina could never run into strangers; she makes friends with everyone and anyone - who also had family values. Although at this dinner and at many other tables, the main topic of discussion wasn't their 30th anniversary, but it was about India and Indian culture. There's so much curiosity about India and our culture that one just needs to spend some time with foreigners and you'll be submerged in a barrage of questions! It's a good thing, though, and I like it. The more myths about India get squashed, the better it is for my country.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Canyons - Day 2 - 16 June 2008

Breakfast at Kokopelli suites, Sadona, was a dissappointment. They were quickly out of bananas, milk was over too and we had to do the refill ourselves, the hotel staff couldn't care less, no tea bags in my room, Rusimama tried calling from Detroit at 7.00 am but couldn't get through - a luxury hotel where phones don't work is nothing short of a disaster in my books - the breakfast area wasn't well - maintained either.

Anyways, we were soon in our bus and driving through the Oak Creek Canyon where rock formations were different from what we saw earlier. Americans take their tourism very seriously and go to great lengths to make us feel comfortable. They can also be very creative when it comes to promoting tourism. For instance, they give names to rock formations in the Canyon area that resemble - albeit coincidentally. So rock formations in Oak Creek Canyon, for instance, resemble tea pot, coffee pot, submarine, snoopy dog (in Sedona), and many more! We were now passing through the magnificent Tundra region and the drive through the Alpine country side is magnificent.

We soon reached the Grand Canyon and the first stop there was a helicopter ride. This was my life's most amazing moment. It was my first time ever in a helicopter. At first it looked like a really tall roller-coaster ride, but I soon settled down. It took us around 15 minutes to reach the Canyon valley, but once there, it looked like heaven. It's whole different experience to view the Canyons from up above and looking straight down at the Canyon's base, as compared to watching it from the Rim. The ride lasted about 45 mins, but i felt it got over fast - mainly because I loved it so much - but also because we 'wasted' around 15 minutes reaching the valley and also on our way back spent some time over the forest area. We were asked to wear headphones where we can hear the pilot speak and we can also ask questions. Headphones are necessary to blank out the propeller's noise. AWESOME experience.

Then, along with my new friends Barbara Lyons and Mary O'brian, I watched an Imax movie on the Grand Canyon and its early explorers. The IMAX screen was much smaller than I had expected and unlike the Bombay's Wadala Imax, it didn't give me the feeling that I am 'out there'. Yet, it was a fitting close to a fantastic helicopter experience. There are few village bus shuttle services that takes us to the various parts of the Canyon village, so we boarded one such shuttle that took us inside the Grand Canyon Village. Fortunately, our hotel Maswik Lodge, was inside the village. If you want to enjoy any of these canyons, always opt for hotels that are inside the canyon village area - that's always where the crux of the action lie. I rounded my day taking a 2-mile walk to the sunset point and spent quality time watching and enjoying the sun-kissed canyon range. The grand canyon at sunset looks at least 10 times more beautiful during sunset than during the day-time. And the best way to explore the Canyons is by foot. Nothing compares to what you see when you go on a hiking trail.

The Canyons - Day 1 - 15 June 2008

Today was the first day of my guided tour of the Grand Canyons and surrounding areas. Yesterday I had checked into Phoenix, Arizona where I met my tour guide Bruce and fellow Caranavers. We had a meeting late in the evening as we chalked out briefly the dos and the donts of the tour and some other discussions.

So after an early morning breakfast at Double-Tree suites, we set off in a large, air-conditioned coach. Very soon we passed by Camelback mountain - a mountain that resembles a camel that is lying down - and a beautiful town called Scottsdale. We didn't stop at Scottsdale, but we were given a bus tour through its various streets, its river-front - its actually a canal - and its various Art shops. If you are an Art aficionado, there are plenty of shops in Scottsdale that sells art. This region of Arizona is the only place where you also get a lot of Saguaro Cacti plant. Although the place is a dessert, much of it has a lot of greenery, even if the greenery means cacti plants and trees.

We had our first stop at Montezuma Castle. This is a fascinating cliff dwelling where a very ancient Indian tribe used to live. This dwelling is etched in tall mountains and is actually a settlement that spans over six floors! There is no settlement obviously there now as the tribe had fled centuries ago, but the site is now protected and preserved and is a major tourist spot.

Then, we made a brief stop at the Oak Creek village admiring the marvellous rock formations - something that I was to see in abondon over the next one week. Our final stop of the day was in the town of Sedona and we reached here at around 1.00 pm. Lunch was on our own, so I quickly devoured some good lasagna and a sumptuous portion of ice-cream and took a Trolley tour of this quaint little town. Sedona is one of the most beautiful towns I have seen. You'd say its a dessert town, but Sadona has a lot to offer. It's very peaceful here and the main street here gives it a very cultural and festive look, just like Old Town Alexandria in Virgina, but in a very different way. It's a very neat place to lead a retired life, especially if you like playing Golf. People are friendly, good sub-divisions, clean air, hot temperatures but doesn't get too cold in winters....

The Trolley tour took us to a beautiful Church that is etched in large rocks - as if it grew in rocks. There's a Vortex in the vicinity and several in Sedona. Vortexes are places where it is believed there's positive energy to be had and which if you inhale gives you peace and revitalises you. You need to be a believer to derive the so-called benefits of Vortexes. Later that day, we checked in our hotel, Kokopelli Suites in West Sedona.

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...