When we were on the verge of zeroing in on East Coast for our US trip, I was still in two minds because for some weird reason I always thought East Coast was made up of only skyscrapers and concretes! So a prospect of going to a land with no greenery to lift our spirits up, therefore, used to pull my excitement level down.
Then I had a long chat with Anonymously Disguised, who while hilariously pointing out that I was probably watching way too many serials on NBC to be harbouring such an illusion, busted my myth with a link to some of the most breathtaking and abundantly green nooks in that region. Now if I had all the time ( and money too!) in the world I would have covered each and every place she recommended. But since we didn’t, we chose a place that we could easily cover in a day.
And what a beautiful experience it turned out to be!
We hired a car for a day and headed out in the morning from Boston to The Cannon Mountain, a 4100 foot peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire..
Driving on US roads per se was great but it wasn’t an out of the world experience, because truth be told, Dubai and Oman roads are far more delightful an experience to drive on with their wide lanes and neatly done up roads. But the sheer thrill of driving into Mother Nature’s green and mountainous fold was an experience of a kind.
We covered the distance of about 140mi in about 2.5 hours. We parked at the base of the mountain and took an aerial tramway ride right upto the top.
These were the views that rode along with us…
Once we reached the summit, we headed off on a short walking trail..
And by the end of the trail, though we were huffing and puffing, famished and hungry, we were immensely satiated by what the beautiful place had greeted us with. Our camera was filled with images and our hearts were filled with far more than what our camera could fit in..
Sometimes I wish I could give real time updates while travelling. So many thoughts stream through my mind while I am on the go, but which never see the light of day when I get down to jotting them down in here days later. I’m in awe of those travel bloggers who can share their experiences so engagingly through their pictures and words with their frequent updates while they travel. I must learn from them how to balance enjoying a moment and sharing the experience as well all at the same time 🙂
Anyway,now that I am back from my holiday and it’s too late for real time updates, let me do the next best thing. Something that I enjoy doing just as much…
open my picture-folder, browse through the album that has moments of our holiday captured, take my mind back to those 13 days and relive and recount them here. For keepsake.
This is one trip which I have spent a lot of time planning and organizing for ever since it started to take shape. And those who know me well know how much I love doing that. The kick it gives me! It’s not because I have too much time on hand or I’m “jobless”. It’s simply because I find spending my time on it every bit worthwhile.
On that note let me take you to the first city that welcomed us on the American land. The capital city, Washington, D.C.
Oops! Let me correct myself. Washington, as I learned only recently is neither a city nor a state. Its a federal district, bordered by two states Maryland and Virginia. It’s commonly known as Washington, the District or simply D.C which stands for District of Columbia. It was founded in 1791 as the national capital of United States.
Now even though our flight was 13 hour long, we didn’t feel the strain of a jet lag as we got out of the airport. Maybe it was because we had a good few hours of sleep in the flight or maybe it was pure excitement of a holiday!
A bit of a setback, however, was that when we reached our hotel we were told that our room wouldn’t be ready for another 3 hours! We could have at least left our luggage and freshened up before kick-starting our vacation. But that was not to be. The usual check-in time in hotels there was 4 pm! Too late isnt it? So we decided to keep our luggage in the storage room and venture out to grab something to eat and get wandering.
Probably the American weather thought that since we were coming from an extremely hot region, we would feel more at home if were welcomed with the same kind of weather. Else why it would greet us with the hottest temperature on the very day we land is beyond me 😯 ! Anyway, consoling ourselves that it was still not as bad as the Gulf weather, we surged forward.
After a light lunch, we made a quick hop over to this place which had been on top of my must-see list ever since I started planning for this trip! The Smithsonian Institution Building. This beauty had me just stand there and gape at it speechless for sometime right at the gate.
As we strolled around the Castle wondering where to go next, we got a call from the hotel informing us of our room being ready. We headed back to unwind ourselves and postpone the exploring for a bit later in the evening.
And how did we unwind? We had two interesting options- either Keep up with the Kardashians or *Hillary*-iously catch up with *Trump*ing elections. We chose to amuse ourselves with both alternatively! 😉
Once we were fairly amused, we set out to take a stroll on the ellipse and see the most popular address in the world… and take some pictures in front of it!
Then we proceeded to the National Mall, a national park that protects all the iconic monuments and memorials that tell heartbreaking yet inspiring stories of toil and grit that went in making this nation. It was at this point as we were strolling towards it that I fell in love with D.C. for the sheer way it took pride in safeguarding the nation’s enriching history.
When the mounting Washington Monument emerged in view as we walked on, to say that we were overwhelmed would be an understatement…
And while we were there our girl saw a huge spread of grass and wished to take a break from walking to stretch a bit….backwards!
After that little break, it was time to visit another memorial. Here though, I have to mention that at the time of planning for this holiday I had asked Namnam to do a little research of her own and make a list of places that she wished to see. And she made a note of this particular memorial that we walked to next and the one after that…
We took a brief tour of the monument which started off with an enriching orientation about how the nation came together despite the strife and struggle of many states to form one government. We were then taken to the Rotunda, the tallest section of the Capitol, that housed an impressive collection of historical paintings, some even bearing considerable significance to the American Revolution. We were one of the lucky few to have been allowed access to the hall that day as it was the last day of public access to this part of the Capitol before the Rotunda was to be closed for restoration till next year.
However, there were some of us who got utterly bored by the lecture of the tour-guide and endless walking at times. So this is how we kept ourselves engaged..
Moving on, we headed to The Statuary National Hall, a chamber dedicated to sculptures of prominent Americans. This gallery took shape when each state of this country was invited to contribute two statues of prominent citizens. One could find sculptures of people from different walks of life, not necessarily politicians or leaders.
After that immensely enlightening tour it was time to head to our next halt, The Library of Congress.
Namnam, who couldn’t stop jumping around at the prospect of going inside the reading room because of some 160 million books believed to be residing there, was literally in tears when she got to know that she had to be 16years or above to be allowed access to the room!
From here we went on to check out the National Air and Space Museum, which boasts of the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It looked so unassuming from the outside but turned out to be a revelation when we stepped inside. We came out of the museum with R’s jaws dropped and Namnam’s eyes bulging out of wonderment. The NASM is one of the most popular of the 19 museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution.
And guess what’s more awesome. There’s no entrance fee to get inside these museums. You can stroll in and around absolutely free!! How incredible is that!
The only place where we paid to get entry to was inside the Air & Space Museum to get a flight simulator experience which as per Namnam was amazing!
Our next halt was the International Spy Museum, not a part of Smithsonian Institution. The entry tickets were a bit too steep to my liking though. It was fun nonetheless to get around it like a spy with fake names and missions to carry out!
We closed in on our second day with a visit to Madame Tussaud’s where we got to say hello to a lot of celebrities some of whom looked much frailer than their real self and some, much healthier and some, like our stammer k..k..k..king of Bollywood and our desi “Bradley Cooper” looked just meh! Namnam was mighty pleased with the place when she got to pose with Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift among a few others, even though she went looking for Justin Beiber!
While my day was wax-made when I got to meet my eternal crush over a tiny cup of tea and…and…and..hold hands too!!
Oh and yes, since it was the election season, this place too had a poll running inside the museum for their visitors and it was neither Hillary or Trump who was tipped to run the country…but Beyonce Knowles!!
And just like that our stay in Washington was about to end.
The first half of the day was spent in a very forgettable neighborhood town of Georgetown. I say forgettable because there wasn’t much to do there. We could have taken a cruise along the Potomac River which flows right alongside this town, but opted against it since we had covered most of the monuments we had intended to and the cruise wouldn’t have offered anything new anyway.
I included a visit to this part of the town in our itinerary because of all the good reviews it had garnered on Tripadvisor and other travel websites. So I thought it would give us an idea about how locals live there. While it did give us a little peek into how the locals laze around on a weekend there, when we had breakfast in one of the much recommended restaurants Baked&Wired, it didn’t quite enthrall us the way we had hoped to. On top of that, a fuming 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature didn’t help us one bit!
But we still found a way to cool ourselves down, rather Namnam did…
While the first half was nondescript, the second half more than made up for it. We visited the massive National Museum of Natural History where we were greeted by Henry the elephant…
This museum, where again the admission is free, is the most visited natural history museum and we could get a fair idea as to why it was so with an amazing amount of exhibits of all kinds of natural creatures and specimens that were on display here. I was astonished to see the Gems Hall filled with diamonds and stones owned and worn by many Indian royals from bygone eras.
There was a Butterfly Pavilion that one could access at an entry price of $6. It was a beautiful little enclosure with variety of butterflies dancing around us, even latching on to us at times! Namnam got a chance to hold a butterfly and bring home some beautiful memories too..
As we exited the building, I realized even more so that we could have easily given a miss to Georgetown and utilized the time to explore this museum to our heart’s content. Better luck next time I guess. Oh yes, there IS going to be a next time. Don’t ask when though!
The day and eventually our stay in D.C was almost coming to a close. But not before I had a chance to meet a dear dear friend from school. Nims and her husband were super sweet to have come all the way from Virginia to meet us. It was a wonderful evening spent over drinks, yummy food and loads and loads of yapping that my friend and I both couldn’t/wouldn’t put a stop to ;).
Jebel Hafeet or Mountain Hafeet which literally means Empty Mountain.
This rocky mountain which stands high and mighty at 1250m borders the city of Al Ain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. A small part of the mountain also borders Oman.
We didn’t really know much about this mountain except for the fact that it boasted of one of the greatest driving roads on the planet! So needless to say, when I stumbled upon an attractive Groupon deal online, about a week ago, that offered a stay in one of the hotels there, I lapped it up. I shared the idea with R, Namnam & my father-in-law and together we braced ourselves for the road trip. With the limited time that we had, to prepare for the drive, I had done some fair bit of reading up on the routes that would lead us up to the mountain top. And as the day inched closer I learned that R had done some research on the routes as well, which boosted me into realizing that he was just as anxious and excited at the same time as I was. Even though most of what was said and written online was promising and extremely encouraging, we still couldn’t be sure what to expect from the mountain. We had never really driven along such a long stretch at a stretch!
We took off on Thursday late afternoon with a bit of trepidation and a lot of enthusiasm. The only worry I had was about losing our way. If you have driven on roads in this region, you would know what I mean. The roads here are beautiful, wide, a pleasure to drive on no doubt..but try getting lost in the magic of driving only to realize that you’ve missed an exit! But fortunately our GPS was in a good mood. So we entered the city of Al Ain without missing any turns or exits in a little less than 2 hours as we had hoped ..
Soon enough the mountain emerged in sight to embrace us into its winding fold up ahead..
As we began our ascent to the top, we were completely taken in by not just the stunning views unfolding in front of us, but also by the amazingly well tarred strip taking us up.
Let me share a video which my father-in-law took, just to give an idea about the delightful ride we experienced. I must thank Namnam here who edited this video by inserting some music and saved you all from the original background score of my non stop nonsense chattering !
Interestingly along the entire track, there were designated spots every few meters where one could park their vehicles and take a break. One of the bends even had a play area with a slide and a swing to engage the young adventure tots! So after a few miles ahead, we decided to take a break too. We parked our car in one of the parking spots and paused to take in the views…
Once the views had sunk in, we set out on the last stretch of our drive to the summit.
At about 915m height stood Hotel Mercure Grand which was to be our point of stay till the next day. This hotel further gave out a smooth and friendly vibe as we geared up to take care of the check in formalities. We were in our room in a jiffy, and soon after Namnam and R ran out for a dip in the pool to refresh themselves while my FIL and I stayed back to take in the beautiful views and give our cameras some worthy opportunities to freeze them.
Even though we could have ventured out and explored a bit of the city, we chose to stay put in the comfortable confines of the hotel because firstly the weather wasn’t too favourable. It was still scorching hot during the day. And secondly we were already in a very laid back state of mind, with the focus solely on lazing around and relaxing. And relax we did to the hilt. The height of relaxation was when all of us sat glued to the tv watching a movie like Tashan and laughed at the dumbest of scenes!
There were no phone calls from office, no constant pull to run to your phones to check mails, no worry whatsoever over what to prepare for lunch.
It’s funny that sometimes even 24 hours in a day don’t seem enough to organize your life and think straight, and sometimes all you need is that one day where you can keep your mind from fluttering restlessly and just relax.
We got back home after a wonderfully refreshing stay only to find out that our AC wasn’t cooling, the water filter had broken. But I couldn’t care any less. I was zen. Anything could be tackled now.
Weekend is almost on its way out. Yet another week with its grinding routine is about to begin.
Bring it on I say, let me see what you’ve got, dear Sunday!
The second day kicked off with a sumptuous breakfast from the cosy restaurant of 8 Auspicious Him View Hotel, served hot and fresh! I won’t say they had wide choices, but whatever they had in the menu turned out fingerlicking yummy!
I had read on one of the review sites that the hotel was known for its homemade cakes. And true to its reputation, they served us the most deliciously moist cakes each day.
This was the carrot cake we were treated to on the second day of our stay…
Also, if you are a lover of hot and spicy food, don’t miss the homemade Tibetan chilli chutney/paste that they have on offer, if you do choose to stay here. It’s one of the spiciest and yummiest I have had!
Anyway, to get on with the vacation recount, after the breakfast, we decided to visit The Dalai Lama temple, which was about 10 minutes drive from the hotel. Once we reached the gate of the temple, we realized that we had yet another steep climb up waiting for us to get to the main monastery.
I was worried for my father and father-in-law who had difficulty climbing stairs. But what amazed me was their spirit and will to get on with the climb. *Touchwood*. According to them, such opportunities came once in a lifetime. And they didn’t want to get pulled down by a mere leg pain and miss a single spot that was worth exploring 🙂
We reached atop huffing and puffing to witness the most spell binding view of the mountains surrounding the shrine. There were monks chanting prayers, quite a few visitors like us taking rounds of the peaceful and serene compound, some rotating the prayer wheels while chanting the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum‘which it is said purifies your mind and body and cleanses your thoughts.
As per Wikipedia Another suggested translation is thus: Om purifies bliss and pride (realm of the gods); Ma purifies jealousy and need for entertainment (realm of the jealous gods); Ni purifies passion and desire (human realm); Pad purifies ignorance and prejudice (animal realm); Me purifies greed and possessiveness (realm of the hungry ghosts); Hum purifies aggression and hatred (hell realm).
Unfortunately no electronic equipments were allowed inside. I wish they had allowed cameras though so I could share the views from up!
But then some images that are captured with your eyes may not do justice when captured into the lens, right? They are best kept tucked safe in your memory.
Suffice would it be to say that even though the climb was exhausting, yet the experience of visiting the monastery of His Holiness was every bit fulfilling.
The third day was spent visiting The Norbulinka Institute of Tibetan Culture, which was again a wonderful experience.
Norbulinka, which was established in 1988, aims at teaching and preserving centuries old Tibetan culture and traditional art forms including wood carving, statue making, thangka painting, weaving and embroidery.The core idea of the center has been to restore Tibetan traditions, provide training education and employment for Tibetans and make traditional Tibetan experience accessible for contemporary lifestyle.
As we entered the gatehouse, we were completely taken in by the beautiful gardens, mesmerized by the serene tranquil environment.
Namnam and my Ma, the two water-babies’ happiness knew no bounds when they saw the center adorned by these delightful water bodies making the whole place look even more beautiful.
The littler water-baby couldn’t stop running and galloping across the little streams and rocks built all around the gardens, in utter excitement!
There were separate workshops in progress for thangka painting, wood-carving, weaving, metal sculpture. Namnam & I could even take a peek into one of the weaving classes ongoing there.
We were all quite fascinated by these prayer wheels too..
The center also housed a nice Doll Museum where we saw these cute little dolls displayed in different costumes representing different regions of Tibet.
Here’s a peek into one of the groups enjoying a picnic!
We, then, checked out an in-house shop which showcased and sold locally-produced souvenirs, embroidered clothing, cushions and wall hangings that were exquisite no doubt but expensive too.
Also in the premises was a temple that looked spectacular with walls adorned by frescoes and 14ft gilded Buddha created by the artists of Norbulinka.
In the end we stopped by The Hummingbird Cafe, to grab a bite before heading back to our hotel. The food was just about ok, nothing great, but it did succeed in tending to our growling tummies.
Oh and yes, I am being constantly poked and reminded by my 7 year old that I mention about her getting drenched in the pouring rain while there! That was the most highlighting and thrilling part of the trip for her apparently 😀
After getting back to the hotel, Ma and I set out to indulge in another detoxifying activity…shopping! Thanks to Sonam, the lady who ran the hotel we were staying in, we got to know of the main streets we could go to to shop around. We picked up beads, which the town was known for, a few masks, some bags, and curios.
In all the positives that the place had to offer though, the one negative that made us cringe was its brash and rude people. While the hotel staff, each and everyone of them, was extremely warm and pleasant, the locals outside including the vendors were very unfriendly.
Like I have mentioned before in one of my travelogues on Sri Lanka, it can make a world of difference to your journey if the place that you’re trying to explore and its people are warm, courteous, and willing to make you feel welcome.
Anyway, that’s not to say that the day wasn’t well spent. It was. And like any day this fruitful one came to an end too.
And our vacation slowly inched towards a finish as well. And I realize that this short break had so many take-aways..
Most of important of it being Namnam getting a wonderful chance to bond even stronger with her grandparents!
My Ma, relaxing with a book in hand, her feet put up with no worry of everyday chores..
The excitement and thrill that I could sense on both my fathers’ faces whenever they experienced a bumpy car ride, or discovered an interesting trivia on the place, or while watching the clouds moving or the mountains getting hidden in the clouds! It was priceless! Wish I could express the endearment I felt every time I observed each of them, in words.
Last but never the least, the undivided time that I got with my parents! 😀
On the last day, all we did was stand in the balcony every now and then, just soak in the magnificent mountain views as much as we could in whatever time left of the day and hold on to the moment.