It’s relatively warm for a late November day and I am sitting under a high ceiling in a Florentine hotel with a quaint charm to it. The curtains on my left run about 15 feet high, hiding the narrow street lanes of the town behind it. The dark wooden furniture, pastel green walls and a decidedly antique chandelier in the hallway take me back by about a century. In my mind, a suspicion flickers that a big part of this may not be original and the antiquity has been installed artificially; but I enjoy it regardless. The room comes with a WiFi connection and a TV screen in one corner. The place might be a 100 years old, but the huge wooden doors to the entrance operate automatically, thus bringing me back from my daydream of a rustic fantasy. The hotel, in many ways, seems to represent my image of Italy, as I experience it from a tourist’s lens in a span of about 6 days.
I would never have thought of climbing a Himalayan peak, however small, in the coldest month of the Indian winter. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought it possible that I would be hiking around with some of my closest friends, all of together in a nice and small group. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought that I would stay away from these mountains for more than a year, and yet here I was, trying to climb Chandrashila peak(13,000 ft) with 4 other friends, in the middle of January, after a gap of about two and a half years!
A gust of wind, followed by few minutes of quietude, another gust of wind. Feet making crisp steps in the snow. Pine cones spread over the trail, may be because they were about to fall anyway or may be because the rain and the snowfall over the previous night brought them down. Tracks of a small animal starting out randomly in the middle of the snow covered trail and leading in to the bushes. Wind blows again – signalling that weather is far from being stable. Gain in elevation, as we go up and away from the crowded vista point half a mile below us. Just me and my buddy, making steps in the snowy cushion beneath our feet, on a trail that winds up and above the Emerald Bay. We pass a couple of humans, who are on their way down and are very happy to see us (it happens to people when they camp out in the mountains, get caught in the snow and rain unawares, can’t find another soul around whom they can call on for help, finally pack up their tent and trace their way back, sometimes even sharing just one pair of hand gloves, and finally chance upon us). Their happiness reaches another level when we tell them how close they are from the parking area at the trail head. From then on, we have a fresh set of step to follow, like a guide book.
Finally, about 45 mins into the snow hike, we are at the lookout – watching over the beautiful bay. A rainbow is stretched across the bay – it’s arc is bigger than any that I have ever seen. I had hoped that the deep blue shade of the bay would be rivaled by the azure blue of the sky but it is not to be so. The sky is grey for the most part – ready to pour on us at a moment’s notice. The panorama ahead of us beyond the cliffs is captivating; but we walk on, for the destination is still a little distance ahead. The steep hike is behind us and now it’s a flat walk towards a lake that is tucked away in the mountains, just below the twin Maggies Peaks. We have walked for only about 0.9 miles from the trailhead to the Granite lake, and the elevation gain has been of about 850 feet – An easy hike with great views from the lookout point that we passed 0.5 miles after leaving the trailhead. Once at the lake, views are limited and closed, but the feeling of isolation among the mountains gives the place a mysterious flair.
These are the bits of information that I was trying to save in my head while hiking to Granite Lake, a place that’s on the way to Maggie’s peaks if one starts hiking from the Bayview Trailhead in Emerald Bay area near South Lake Tahoe city in California – okay, I know I have tried to give you too many geographical data points but basically, I was hiking in the southern side of Lake Tahoe area in the state of California when the snowflakes started raining down upon us and we raced back to our cars parked at the trailhead just in time. This was the second of our 4 days at South Lake Tahoe city (town). We had promised ourselves that since we are on a relaxed gate-away, we will not engage in any physically exerting outdoor activity as is the wont of most of our trips. Despite that promise, we had somehow pulled up the laces of our big, ugly trekking shoes once again.
As if the fabulous view of Emerald Bay from the Inspiration point, half an hour away from our hotel in downtown South Lake Tahoe was not enough, we had wandered away towards a better vantage point and a better vantage point it was! There’s nothing like looking up on a large body of water from a height – especially when the water is so beautifully colored and the land around you is glowing with snow. After the hike to Granite lake was over and we were on the way back to the hotel, we entered Alpina Coffee Cafe in search of some creamy, warm caffeine. With its rustic wooden decor and a peppy female handling the coffee counter, it turned to be a perfect coffee stop over on a wet, rainy day. While we sipped on our caffe mochas, snowflakes powdered the outside of the cafe.
Day 3 was spent in some touristy sightseeing at Zephyr Cove – a beach on the south eastern side of Lake Tahoe. All the water activities were off, the season being winter. Chill in the air was not very pleasant but the sight of the sandy semicircle of the cove, of a jetty going out in the water from the middle of the beach and the general air of calmness were surely very soothing. This beach was way more beautiful than El Dorado beach, along which we had taken a long walk a couple days earlier. El Dorado beach, being in the center of South Lake Tahoe, had a lot more people but the beauty of that beach was not on shore. It was rather in looking out on the shapes of the hills that surrounded the lake and shone in various colors in the morning sunlight.
Day 4, the last day of that long weekend holiday began with feelings similar to the ones that one has on a Sunday morning. I wished for that day to never get over. For some reason, we again went back to the Bayview Trailhead in Emerald Bay area.
According to me, Emerald Bay is the most beautiful part of South Lake Tahoe region. It has, as its name suggests, a bay, mountains overlooking the bay and serene alpine lakes in the lap of these mountains. Where there are mountain cliffs and water bodies, there are water falls as well. As a proper farewell, we chose to visit Cascade falls, an easy mile and half long hike from Bayview trailhead. While the trail to Granite Lake/Maggies Peaks pointed in one direction from the trailhead, the one for Cascade falls pointed in the other. 10 minutes of walking on flat ground was soon followed by a loss in elevation as we started going towards Cascade lake and falls. The hike was easy and nice, with mountain on one side of the trail and the lake some distance below on the other side. Halfway through the hike, weather began to deteriorate. but it wasn’t so bad as to want to stop and head back. So we kept walking.
A father-daughter duo passed us – father apparently aggrieved at being dragged through bad weather and the daughter concurring with us as to how beautiful it all was. I definitely believed it was beautiful – the lake was kind of lost in the mist and the grey color of the weather. Fog had started to build up. Snow was upon us, but in a gentle way. We were thankful that it wasn’t rain – that would surely have forced us to go back to the car. We kept walking toward the direction of the falls but the trail got a little confusing in the end. We were almost at the falls but couldn’t really locate them. We could know that we were on the top of the cliffs where the falls were but the weather was getting worse every minute and we had to abandon our search for the exact destination. We were only a mile away from the trailhead, but the lack of visibility due to fog made us feel more isolated than we were. The lake had disappeared in the fog!
We lost the trail a couple of times before finally taking a direction that led us to the trail after a few minutes. Another 20 minutes of treading on the trail brought us back to the trailhead. We were cold and ready for a journey that was bound homeward.
It had been two and a half days since landing in Colorado and we hadn’t really climbed up any hills or hillocks. But Ajinkya made sure that Chinu and I don’t go back home without stepping foot on the summit of a small mountain by deciding to take us on a hike to Mount Sanitas, a place where all Boulderites love to jog, hike or just walk their dog in the morning.
A group of us took the bus (public transport) from Ajinkya’s home to the point closest to the trailhead. Bus dropped us about 8 blocks away from the trailhead for Mount Sanitas. It was a bright sunny day and the weather was pleasant. Mount Sanitas got its name from Boulder Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital, built in the late 1800’s. According to the government website, “The sanitorium was one of a series of John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan, Sanatoriums. Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was one of the leaders of a growing movement in ‘health building and training’ called the Western Health Reform Institute. The institute promoted ‘hydro-therapy, exercise and a vegetarian diet’ as the way to good health.”
If you have read my previous post, you would know that the first couple of days in Boulder were just normal touristy sigh-seeing and I did not really step in to the hills. What’s the whole point of going to Colorado if one doesn’t get to do that? Luckily, Ajinkya had planned a visit to Chautauqua Park. As the name suggests, this park is at the location of Colorado Chautauqua (Chautauqua was a popular adult education movement in USA in late 19th and early 20th century) – one of the few continuously operating Chautauquas operating in USA and has been made a National Historic Landmark. The beautiful park is among the hills and is close to Chautauqua Dining Hall and Auditorium. Although the park is very close to Boulder and public bus rides are available, we did not have enough time to hike on the trails in the park; So we just wandered about the grassy terrain, soaking in the Sun and clicking pictures. Post afternoon, we wanted to be at a place called Netherland.
If you are in the Unites States of America and happen to be a nature and adventure sports lover, then a trip to Colorado will always be in your bucket list. A good friend of mine happened to be studying at University of Colorado, Boulder in the December of last year and although winter is not the season to be in Colorado except for skiing, I decided to go there towards the end of December as that was my only vacation time. Sure, the cold was biting with a lot of snow and skiing was sadly not in my itinerary, the trip let me see a small part of the land of my dreams for the first time and the first experience filled me with joy! Part I of this series of posts narrates the first two days of touristy wanderings in Boulder and Denver.
Ajinkya, at whose place Chinu and I were crashing, took us on a cold, windy bike ride the evening we landed in Denver and then reached Boulder ( about 1.5 hours of bus journey away). Biking in this small university town nestled among hills was fun but it made my ear lobes and hands pretty numb! The campus of the university is rustic and beautiful and from the terrace of one of the buildings, I got my first panoramic glimpse of hills surrounding the town. It was a cloudy day but on my last day of the trip, Boulder was blessed with sunshine and town looked prettier. From the streets, one could see Flatirons – the five large rock slabs near Boulder. These rock formations came in to existence as long ago as about 296 million years ago and true to the name, they look like an upended flatiron(Wikipedia). After a walk along Boulder Creek, the primary water flow in the town, we took a stroll along Pearl Street, home to a number of colorful shops and restaurants.
I was amusing myself by listening to the peculiar way the park ranger was explaining tour rules and guidelines to the group gathered around him. In the last 7 days, I had found out that Americans like to talk with a lot of animated expressions and gesturing. They modulate their voice quite often too. I was quietly enjoying his way of talking and the tongue in cheek statements when he announced that it was time the tour begins and we lined up with tickets in our hands.
Random trips are an integral part of my life. In the past, random trips is where I have met friends I would later become close to. Random trips is where I got opportunities to write my own adventure stories and those trips are where I got to see a lot of interesting stuff, that I would not have seen otherwise. So you know, random trips mean a lot to me. When I landed in USA about 9 days back to join a master’s course and found that I have a lot of free time before school starts in which I could tag along with new found friends on a drive to Nashville, it was natural that I would not miss the chance.
It was as if we had ascended above the clouds and had entered the holy territory. Below us, we could see the white carpet engulf the entire valley to our left. I was not sure, if I jump onto the carpet, whether I will land on the cloudy wisps or fall to my death to the bottom of the valley.
This was the Sun god’s territory. Our car had taken an offshoot of the road between Kathgodam and Kausani so as to be able to visit the Sun temple in Almora district of Uttarakhand ( altitude 2116m). After boarding the taxi car at Kathgodam at 5 a.m., we had travelled on the beautiful stretch of the road that would take us to Kausani. After a bit of effort spent in convincing the driver to take us to this 800 years old temple and wasting a little more time in finding the correct bifurcation, we found ourselves on the kacchha road that was climbing up the mountain towards Katarmal Sun Temple.
I have only about a month and a half’s time before I leave Delhi. My 17 months long stay here has been full of traveling, new friends, new activities and new experiences. From language to dressing sense to food habits to bargaining skills, this city has changed me.
I have been meaning to write this post since quite some time. But sometimes, stories about one’s best experiences are left for the end, as the dessert. After multiple posts covering my trips to the historic places associated with Delhi and around, I would like to bring you folks’ attention to my favorite spot in Delhi.
Located in South Delhi, just beside the South Campus of Delhi University ( DU ), Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) is the place I have spent most of my weekend at, starting last February. IMF is the premier mountaineering body of India and it’s the go to place if one wants to plan an expedition to a peak in the Indian territory. It’s a government organization and for all it’s red tape and bureaucracy, it seems like an efficiently run institution. The campus is lush green with trees and well maintained lawn. The main complex of the building houses the administrative office, lodging facilities for sponsored mountaineers and a library. Outside the building but within the premises, the institute has built Artificial Climbing Walls, adhering to international standards. Climbing wall is what attracted me to IMF and very soon, it had become my adda on weekends.