Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A day in Sin City of the world ...

Some things in life are just unbelievable!!

My first attempt to go see Las Vegas was a major nightmare. I met with an accident on my way to vegas and spent next 2 months in the hospital. I went through a skin grafting surgeory on my left hand and the mark will remain on my hand probably forever.

and today, after only about 7 months since my accident, I have just returned from an incredible visit to las vegas. Things could not have been better for me in this successful visit. Before the accident, Las Vegas, was just another sightseeing attraction to me. But, past the accident, it had become a special place. Luckily, I got the opprtunity way before I expected. I jumped on it.

The long weekend of Thanksgiving, 2005, me and 2 of my very good friends decided to go hike in the Grand Canyon and spend some time in the Las vegas on our way back to Bay Area. We had a successful hike in the canyon and reached Las Vegas on nice n sunny saturday afternoon. We had about 20 hours to spend in the city and had a room booked in one of the hotels on the strip itself.

Since we came from Arizona, the very famous Hoover dam was right on the way and we had a nice break there. My earlier impression about Colorado river, from what I saw in the canyon was not very good. I thought the river is too small and is overhyped. But, after seeing this Dam, I realized that the river is actually pretty huge on the other side of the dam. The location and the architecture of the dam is really some smart piece of engineering work. This dam is serving most of the cities in Nevada and Arizona including las Vegas.

As we were getting closer to the city, the sight of high rise Hotels on the strip was really attractive. Most of the big/famous cities in the world are located near a river/sea; The place where Las Vegas is located is in the midst of desert and you could just wonder how much efforts are put in to get the basic infrastructure needed for this city. Although the City is not too big, If you drive about 30 miles in any direction from Vegas strip you can only see the endless desert around you. But in the city, its really happening.

Vegas really Rocks! You will see casinos, hotels everywhere. The entire city lives on gambling/entertainment/partying business. People come there from all over the world to blow out some cash. They want to get married in Vegas, we saw a couple walking on the strip who just got married in one of the hotels. We also saw few high rise condominium apartment complexs which I learnt is a new concept there now. To make this place attractive and to maintain that, I think a lot depends on the construction business there, I wont be surprised if some really bright civil engineers have a dream to build something in Vegas.

All the action is around a street named Las Vegas Boulevard and more popularly known as The Strip. About 1.5 miles of the strip has big hotels lined up on it. All these hotels depict a theme. Some of the themes include Paris, Alladin, MGM, New York among many others. very creative designs to depict such themes makes it a big attraction and its really a treat to watch. Most of the saturday evening we spent walking on the strip and watching these hotels. We went inside a few of them, the things to do insight are pretty much the same. There is gambling, sports bars, pubs in all these hotels. All of them also host entertainment shows to attract more people to their hotels. These hotels also host some free shows outside and around the hotels to attract people. This time not all the hotels were running these shows. But, we got to see the volcano show which was really exotic.

Its a crime not to gamble in Vegas, at least the first time you go. Its a damn good experience. I went around the gambling hall in MGM for a loong time and finally decided to try my luck with roulette. I was watching others play, win a lot and loose a lot. I decided to change the table and put my $10 bill on the table. The lady said, "denominations of 10 sir??" "yes! I would like to start small " ;)! I decided to play on the colors, than the numbers, the probability of winning was still 50%, but the multiplying factor was only 2.

As they say, you will probably win the first time, and thats what happened. I placed my $10 on the red and red it was. I now got 2 coins. Unfortunately, the next few rounds didnt go well for me and I lost both the coins in next 2 rounds. I walked away with loss of $10. I found it very tempting though and now can imagine how gambling can make a life or completely ruin it.

Apart from these big names there are lot of others things that one can do on the strip. We checked out Harley Davidson cafe and Margaritta bar where there were special celebration going on for Thanksgiving. I could not have left vegas without buying a souvenier. Walking down the strip itself was a lot of fun. We were on the strip till about 9 pm. After that, we did a lot of stuff which I am not going to talk about here.

Las Vegas has everything for everyone. I am not sure how many people will go there again n again if they are not interested in gambling. But, I thought its a place for me and I am surely going to go back there and get even on the money I lost, hopefully!

I was really happy to have worked this trip very well in terms of everything. I had just imagined this same good time in las vegas the first time I started. Things went wrong that time and they went all the way I wanted this time. Its just unbelievable !!

Oh wait! please dont ask me about what I did on that saturday night in Vegas, Its a sin city, you know, and ....


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rural California...

On my trip to Grand Canyon I had a chance to stay in a town called Williams, AZ.

This place is about 50 miles from Grand Canyon South Rim and its really on the way to canyon. After our 13 hour drive from Bay Area to state Arizona, we had planned to stay at this town before we go hiking in the Grand Canyon the next day.

Even though this place is commercialized with lots of lodges, restaurents (for the people visiting Grand Canyon), it still has that rural feel to it, which is why I liked this place a lot. It was the first time I was going to stay in a small town like that in the US and I really enjoyed the time we spent there.

The town was very small with probably just 100 occupied blocks including residential and commercial buildings. Very few, wide but empty streets and a church. The church was being decorated for christmas and thanksgiving. That was the first christmas decoration I saw in the US, and realized that it is not much different from our diwali decorations!

I remembered all those movies which featured such towns, the stories related to loong road trips, people staying in motels and all that stuff. I felt like am a part of one such movie. Well, naturally, After seeing that town, the only thing that I could relate to was those movies... I am sure, now I have something real to relate to when I watch those movies again :)

Hiking in Grand Canyon

This is really special... Grand Canyon !

People go there, take pictures and come back! Not only we did that, but also hiked all the way down to a place from where you can see the Colorado river. I think it is kewl !!

We had this hike planned way early and pretty well. I have done hikes/trekking before in india in western ghaats of Maharashtra and Karnataka, so have some good experience. As you can imagine there is whole lot of information available about Grand Canyon trails and hikes on the internet and so it was much easier to plan ahead. Going to Grand Canyon for a hike from Bay Area is about 13 hours journey by road and a good night sleep was much needed before we could start hiking the next day morning. We stayed over at a small town, Williams, about 50 miles from Grand Canyon and the plan was to start hiking early next morning.

We reached the starting point of our trail, bright angel trailhead, around 7:30 am. On our way (1 hour drive) to Grand Canyon we saw the SunRise on the horizon of the desert around and by now it was getting a little warmer. But that was not enough for me. It was freezing cold. I had never even been in that freezing temparature. My finger tips, inspite under the gloves, were paining. I realized that my snicker shoes arent good enough to keep my feet warm. and I thought may be we should just take a walk here, get some patel snaps and go home :)

But, I was'nt that unlucky! We got some more information from the visitor center. When we reahced the trailhead, the sight of Grand Canyon was amazingly beautiful. The fresh sun light hitting the huge canyon was a treat to eyes. We could see the Indian Garden from the top and I was now thinking of going there. The days are short in winter so we had to reach back before 5 pm. We knew it was going to be tough climbing back up coz it was too steep. But, all 3 of us really wanted to get to that Indian Garden, about 6 miles. We decided that we will reconsider the decision of going back every hour depending on where we are... engineers, you know !!

We started at around 8:15. It was still very cold. The worst thing was that I was carrying water, food items and some more thing in a GAP carry bag. I know its a crime not to have a good backpack for such hikes, but I just could not manage it. Going down was easy and fun even in cold. I had never done a trek which starts with going down first. I would recommend everyone who is planning to go see Grand Canyon to do this hike there (if they are capable), and thats because when you go down, you can see the Geology of Grand Canyon. The difference in the layers is very distinct and thats not possible to see from the top.

We made a real good progress in a short time and seeing lot of people around us was really encouraging. We had a good company around us. There was also a tour group to the Indian Garden with us. All these people were taken down and back up on mules. We started almost together and we knew if we stay closer to them, we have better chances of completing this hike. There were 2 intermediate points where you can take water/restroom break. Being winter, water wasnt available. As we were getting down, we could see all the plants, bushes in that desert. This kind of plants, I had never seen before. They grow from the top and die by their bottom, so there height is short and almost constant always!

As we were getting closer to Indian Garden, we realized that we can complete this trek. We reached Indian Gardens at abount 11 am and decided go to the Platteu Point which was another 1.5 miles walk. This is the point, from where you can see the Colorado river, the lowest point of the grand canyon. There was also a trail going straight to the river and it was about 3 miles from there. That was too much considering that we have to climb back up.

The walk to the Platteu Point was more fun. We had come down almost 90% of the slope and this walk was much straighter. we were going to the center of the Canyon and the sight of Huge rocks around us was stunning. Platteu Point is almost at the middle of the Canyon. You can see the North Rim valley also from there. Looking at the Colorado river from there, was also amazing. The valley of another 1000 feet and then the small river flowing between that was worth this hike. We were making plans of going down to the river the next time we come here. There are also colorado river rafting tours that can done. These are 6 days tour, because the valley is soo huge that the only way to do river rafting on this river is you start from one end and get to the other end after 6 days of rafting. There is a loong list of people waiting already for this and if you enroll for that now, you will get your chance in 2007 summer, may be !!

We had food there, took some snaps... I managed to get a nice small video of the entire valley from platteu point on my Canon A610. We then headed back to the Indian gardens. We took another break at the indian gardens and started to climb up. It was about 1:30 pm when we started from there!

With lots of food and water already finished, we decided to put the rest of the stuff in 2 backpacks and carry them in turns on the way up. It wasnt about being engineer, it was about survival... :)

I was having a real tough time climbing up. I never imagined it would be soo steep. It was endless... at every turn I thought the distance to reach back up was increasing and not decreasing. I realized, this is my first trek after the accident and am still not fit to do this kind of a venture, but it was too late. It was all getting on to me. I tried so many things... breathing techniques, baby steps, strategy of setting small targets... but the task was huuuuuge. Among the 3, I was really having a tough time there. I was doing it at my own speed... rather I was crawling. The amount of time spent climbing up was decreasing exponentially and the time taken for the breaks was increasing exponentially, as I was making progress. After about 3.5 hours of crawling, I made it.... and made it before sunset.

Hushhh !! I thought my legs are broken, but the pain due to the cramps was ensuring that they are still there. But, it was very very satisfying... It was alllll worth it!

We didnt bother to watch the sunset now and headed home. On our way back, we realized that we were blessed with such a great bright, sunny day today and everything went to the plan.

Nov 25th, the day after thanksgiving day, 2005, I conquered Grand Canyon!

Friday, December 9, 2005

Just another working day in the Bay Area...

Sometimes, its just good to write about something common !!

Another day of early morning meetings... that was easy with the jet lag I was going through for last few days, but today was different. I got up just in time and had to rush for the meeting. This made me feel that I am getting back to normal, you know. It was a busy day in office, touching lot of topics and too many things to handle. But, Sergey and I managed to have a couple of pool boards. The games turned out to be good because both of us were at the same skill level.

We decided to go to the Great Mall in the evening. It had rained a lot at around 5 pm and was still drizzling when we started at 5:40 pm. The sun sets quite early in this season here. It wasnt my first time at great mall and I have been there on weekdays also but there was no crowd at all today.

I saw couple of interesting things at the mall. There is now an instrument which you can connect to your cell phone when you are in the car and put it on the steering wheel. With That instrument, you can listen to the voice of the person on the phone from the car stereo speakers and the unit also has a good microphone. The device connects to the car stereo with a redio frequency, 88.7fm. Savvy ??

It was getting colder and colder and for some reason I was feeling tired and sleepy. We decided to head home.

That night on TV, the loreal ad on one of the channels featured Aishwarya Rai. That was a pleasent surprise.