Archive for the ‘Traveler’s tales’ Category

If you have 5-30 million dollars in spare cash I know of several incredibly beautiful beach properties that you can buy. Even better if you fancy playing golf by the ocean. What more you can also charge people for driving past your home oohing and aahing at the views that you would see daily from every window.


It was a cool, crisp and sunny day yesterday and Mayank & I decided to bike the 17 Mile Drive along the Pacific Coast from the town of Monterey to the village of Carmel by the Sea. The road hugged the Monterey Peninsula, a place of astonishing beauty, screeching sea gulls, rich marine life and spectacular houses. Thanks to the efforts of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary & Aquarium, people are careful not to pollute the water. As a result, the ocean is a beautiful clear azure meeting an impossibly blue sky.

Our trip started at the centre of Monterey only a few hundred metres from the ocean’s edge. A shared pedestrian path/bike lane runs all along the water’s edge past the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf where otters and sea lions lounge around, Cannery Row and finally joins the Ocean View Boulevard which as the name suggests was right beside the Pacific. Much of the foreshore is covered by a kind of vine with triangular leaves that looks like grass but isn’t. The tip of the leaves were red, giving the impression of a carpet of red flowers.

I started to get my camera out. Mayank was alarmed. We had not covered even half mile of the 17 miles and I was changing the settings in my camera. At that rate it would take an entire day to cover the distance. As we left the bay and rode onto Sunset Drive, the waves got bigger and the ocean more restless.

The road then passed the white sands Asilomar State Beach where surfers waited for the perfect wave, people walked or simply lazed on the beach. It was the absolute holiday picture- peaceful and uncrowded.


We then entered the 17 mile drive proper through the Pacific Grove Gate. It’s free for cyclists and we overtook the cars with a smirk as they waited to pay an entrance fee of $10. The road twisted and turned through the tall woodlands, and swept by the white sand beach of Spanish Bay. It was fun to race down to the ocean with the wind on face and the sun on our backs. The only grouse I had was that we could not ride side by side. Since it was a shared road, we had to ride in a one file and thus did not do much talking while .

Point Joe & Bird Rock came next. Due to my numerous photo ops and the fact that I huffed and puffed while going uphill on my bicycle we were doing rather poor on time and hence did not stop at these overlooks. I am quite certain there was something wrong with the silly gear settings on my cycle. There were two sets of those and I had no idea what they were for. I just randomly kept changing them till it felt right, for the moment that is. I am sure I would have a much better job with my Atlas bicycle.

We stopped for lunch at Seal Rock, a point with picnic tables on the shore and glistening water a feet away. I had packed us a picnic. That saved us time and $$. I was warned of the atrociously expensive restaurant that charged something like $20 for a pile of lettuce.

We passed several golf courses including the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links. Right on the shore, I suppose the joys of indulging in golf is at a different level all together. The road then turned away from the coast and climbed  into a thick grove of Cypresses, windswept by the ocean winds. Hidden among those trees are mansions with manicured lawns and windows with the views we had come to see. Through the twists and turns we could see the ocean below. The trail still buried in the trees,  led us to the Lone Cypress. Standing on a cliff, the tree has withstood the Pacific storms and winds for over 250 years.

We crossed the Pescadaro Point, the resort of Pebble Beach. Our 17 mile bike ride was coming to an end. We headed down to the Carmel gate to the small but definitely upscale village of Carmel by the sea.

The place was full of pretty boutique shops made prettier by the natural beauty that surrounded it. This is where we returned our bikes and took the bus back to Monterey.

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It was the longest 3 hours and 25 mins flight of our lives. Both Mayank & I have had our share of terrible flying experience but were never as stressed out as we were last Saturday. Our cats, Noodle & Dopey were flying with us from Austin to Santa Clara. Southwest Airlines was kind enough to have a pet policy that allowed certain pets inside the cabin.

Knowing what a spoilt brat Dopey is, we had begun training the cats to stay inside their carrier and get used to the sense of motion. We took them out every evening for a drive in preparation for last Saturday’s journey. As the days went by they acclimatized or so we thought.Our biggest worry was them playing the escape artist during security check when we would have to take them out of the carrier and through the security check. Mayank would handle Noodle while I would wrestle with feisty Dopey.

Dopey does not suffer in silence. Period! He will ensure everyone around him knows he’s unhappy. From the time we put him in the carrier early morning to the time we got into our new home, he complained. He pleaded, cajoled, cried, threatened, fought, pushed, wailed and bit. He sunk his claws and teeth into the carrier mesh every now and then, trying his level best to tear it off. He rubbed his nose against the mesh which made it turn red as a beet. If this was his “calm” self after the stress relief medicine we had given the cats, I shudder to think what he would have done otherwise.

Noodle on the other hand was a Buddha. Not a word from her. Perhaps she was contemplating digging a tunnel and escaping. Or plotting our murder while we slept.

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A long journey on road often brings out people’s story telling capabilities. And no story is more interesting than a “true” ghost story. Narration of someone’s experience with the other world is met with rapt attention and intense discussion afterwards. Often one “true” experience opens the door for other “true” experiences from others leading to a cascade of ghost stories. In no time hours and miles have passed.

This a different kind of ghost story narrated to me by a friend. Something that happened to her friend 🙂

This girl lives in Bombay and on a regular day she took an auto to go to a friend’s place. This friend lived in a regular Bombay apartment complex. So just as this girl saw her destination arriving she asked the autowallah to drop her off. He could not hear her over the traffic noise and continued driving. The traffic however slowed him down to a point where the girl, in great hurry, jumped out of the auto assuming the auto wallah would stop shortly. But the auto driver continued driving for a while, looked back at the passenger seat, saw no one and drove away like a bat out of hell shouting “Bhoot …….Bhoot”.

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It was around 3 am and pitch dark outside. Ten of us with twenty pieces of luggage crammed the van we had rented. We had been driving from Salt Lake City to this cabin in the town of West Yellowstone. A few had fallen asleep while the others looked out wearily for signs of Blue Spruce Cabin, our home for 3 days. I for one was drifting in and out of both the states.

Soon enough the van took a turn to a dirt road. All survivors of the sleep onslaught looked at each other uneasily. Were we not supposed to turn into a great looking log cabin within civilization? Here we were driving down a dirt road with nothing or nobody in sight except for the giant aspen trees on the side. The sound of crickets provided just the right setting. Something spooky was bound to happen.

And then she screamed, ” Look over there. There’s a man there with his arms outstretched.”

All of us turned to look. On our left, a little further, was a small cabin nestled amongst the tall aspen trees. The porch light was on and it seemed there was a man out on the porch, his arms outstretched forming a cross. A shadow flickered weakly on the ground. We sped on. Some of us were decidedly shaken.

Sleepy boy who had been sleeping until then wanted to provide the sound effect. “Boooooooo”, he went in the scariest intone possible.

“Shut up”, she snarled. Sleepy boy giggled.

“What was that man doing out there like that?, scared girl 2 asked. “God knows”

We passed another spooky looking cabin. The driver decided to find out if it was ours and took a turn towards it. The eerie sensor motion lights came on. The boys were not feeling particularly brave going out to the cabin door to investigate. However, three brave men volunteered. It wasn’t our cabin. A sigh of relief.

“Maybe we should turn around and head to the Super 8 motel we crossed on the main road. This doesn’t seem like a very nice place”, the scared girl said. The image of the shadowy man on the porch was on everyone’s mind.

We approached another cabin which looked scarier than the previous ones. It even had a head(artificial I hope) of a huge antler right above the front door welcoming us. The three brave men went out to check again.

That was our cabin. Desperate to escape the hostile outdoors but equally uneasy about the cabin we hurriedly unloaded the van and went inside.

And then everything was forgotten. The decidedly scary exterior has the most incredible interiors. It was the loveliest cabin any of us had ever been to.

PS: The man on the porch remained a mystery.

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Winter heat

Mayank and I are from opposite ends on earth. He’s an Arctic Man and I am a Saharan Woman. For him, anything above 75 F is hot weather. For me anything below 76F is freezing cold. The Battle for the Control of Thermostat wages on with no end in sight.

While on our honeymoon in Kerala, we stayed at a homestay instead of the usual hotel. How nice it would be to have an authentic Kerala experience, we thought. Not to mention romantic. The homestay we chose was over 150 years old, had 80 acres of land including a lake, shrimp farm and situated right by national waterway number 3 (fancy name for a section of backwaters)

Our hosts were a delightful couple who loved to talk. I suppose that normal for people entertaining guests from all over the world. Rated favorite by Lonely Planet, Olavipe Homestay did not come cheap. But then most people go for honeymoons just once in their lives.

So we were all set to look up to the moon and drink honey. What I did not anticipate was the heat in Kerala during the “winter” month of January. During the day it was around 90-95 F. At night it hovered in the late seventies. It was the ideal weather for me. But not for Mayank. To make matters worse, the homestay provided no air conditioning in it’s attempt to continue living the “natural” way.

Though he did not say it or show it, I suspect Mayank was secretly glad when it was time to leave. At Vasco, we again stayed at a Portugese homestay. It had air conditioning. At over 110F it would have been difficult to bear even for me.

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