Friday, July 08, 2011

2011 California to Tennessee road trip

19 May 2011:
Left San Jose at 8:30pm after bidding farewell to Jaya family, Vels, Haripriya and Vidya who came to send us off. Stayed at Biju's home after a nice dinner at Denny's. My choice tonight- Apple Cranberry salad. I guess we'll be eating more at Denny's over the next 2 weeks.

20 May:
Divya prepared a delicious Semiya upma for breakfast. We left Concord at 11am, shopped for some fruits and vegetables at a nearby Mexican stall and continued our road trip. We took an exit near Reno for lunch at Taco bell. Weather was warm and pleasant.
As we entered Nevada and crossed Reno, it was quite nostalgic. This is one of the places that we visited in our first US trip. We drove through snow-clad mountains and then the desert. Nevada has casinos everywhere, especially near the state boundaries. We stayed at Days Inn (Rent $63) at Elko, NV - The heart of Northeast Nevada. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We went at closing time, so got a "To go" of fried rice, spring rolls and wanton chips. We also had Avocado that we bought at Concord, CA.

21 May:
We woke up at 8:20 and after yoga practices, had oatmeal for breakfast. We had lunch at a Thai restaurant at Twin falls, ID. The waitress was very friendly with the small town attitude.
We had Panang and red curries with rice. We then spent some time at Twin falls that had a beautiful canyon with a wonderful falls view. Back in the car for the scenic drive towards Yellowstone national park. Instead of the south entrance as planned earlier, we decided to drive to the West entrance. Entered Montana and stayed at Evergreen motel at West Yellostone(rent $59).

So many flies are killed as we drive fast on highways. The front glass is smashed with blood and body fluids of these flies that crashed on our car. Is this why the ancient Hindus(as per Vedas) refused to create airplanes though they had the technology to do it. We don't see these insects as we drive past them, but hundreds of these flies are killed for our need to drive fast. In most ways, our current way of life is not doing any good to Mother Earth. However, even as we walk, we kill, so what is the difference. I don't know :-(

22 May:
Checked out of the hotel at 11am. The receptionist suggested the 'Running Bear Pancake house' for brunch. I had two pancakes(peach, walnut, blueberry topping) and Narayan had omlette. My pancakes were so big, Narayan had to pitch in to finish it off. It's the best pancake I've ever had. IHOP is nothing compared to this. It was fresh, soft and delicious.
We then drove into Yellowstone through the west entrance and finished the south loop today.

Just as we were walking towards 'Old Faithful Geyser', it started erupting. It was a sight to behold forever. We would have had to wait another 90 minutes if we had missed this. The whole day, we saw geysers, hot springs and fumaroles in different sizes and shapes. The smell of sulphuric acid(rotten egg smell) was too strong in some places.

We saw colonies of extremophiles - organisms that live in extreme conditions, generally considered unsuitable for most living beings on Earth.
Thermophiles are organisms that live in extreme heat. There were too many of them in these geysers and springs. They were in different colors and they live in large groups that give a multi-coloured mat appearance.
Thermoacidophiles - Organisms that love both heat and acidic environment. Hydrogen sulphide emanates from the Earth's crust and on contacting water in the Springs, turns to sulphuric acid and this is what becomes home to these millions of thermoacidophiles.

We saw bisons, elk and an wolf on the road as we were driving through the park. It was exciting to see them in wild. We stayed at Yellowstone River motel (rent -$69) at Gardiner - a small city at the North entrance.

23 May:
After a fresh Subway sandwich for breakfast, we headed towards the Mammoth Hot springs. We went for a 1.5 mile walk around the spring. The spring was so massive and beautiful. It was quite hot throughout the walk and we were tired after this short walk. This is where we saw fumaroles in the parking lot too.

We then went to the Norris Geyser basin. This was unimaginably amazing. Too many thermal areas - looked like a graveyard with smoke everywhere. We walked over the boardwalk through these thermal areas. This is a very unstable area and a geyser could erupt any moment. Any thermal activity is possible in unexpected places. This unexpected nature brought silence into me. The Earth and my Life - so Fragile!!!

We then drove to the Canyon village - we went to both the North and south rims. The view at south rim was great. It's called that Artist's point - a challenge for artists to capture the too many colours and hues on the canyon. The different colors are a result of the different minerals on these canyons.
One of the most amazing places I loved here is the frozen lake. The lake that vanished in the movie 2012, was frozen at this time of the year. There were fumaroles in this lake and those were the only places where we could see water, it was frozen otherwise. We exited the park thorugh the east entrance which was closed during the day for maintenance work. They were supposed to open at 8pm, but they opened at 8:40pm only. There was a long line of cars. The drive towards Cody, the nearest city was very scenic. We were driving along the lake for a long time and then it was snow all over. We even crossed areas where there was an Avalanche warning(at about 8700 feet above sea level). We reached Cody by 10:20pm and stayed at the Big bear Motel(rent $52).

24 May
Had pizza at a nearby Pizza hut and started our drive towards Mt.Rushmore, South Dakota. Earlier, we were debating whether to go to Kansas or South Dakota. If Babu had been around, we would have gone to Kansas. The drive was very scenic - canyons, trees, snow, drove through a pass that was at 9600 ft. There was lots of snow. Saw many ski resorts along the way. It was fun and interesting to drive without any planning. Everyday, all we wanted to do was start the day with yoga practices and and then drive towards Kentucky - seeing some places along the way.

25 May

Mount Rushmore - it was amazing to see the sculpture on the big mountain. Walked through the President trail, rather rushed through since Narayanan wanted to go to the Missile museum. Since we couldn't make it on time to the museum, we went to a missile launch site where a 'Minuteman II missile' was on exhibit. During the cold war, this was the launch site for this missile. Hundreds of such missiles were setup all over South Dakota. The missile has a hydrogen bomb that is 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima. These missiles were not used, but their presence stopped USSR from attacking US. The missile was capable of hitting Moscow within 30 minutes of launching. It would fly over the North Pole. I shivered realizing the amount of destruction humanity is capable of bringing onto itself.
We then continued driving to Mitchell, SD. We drove through the Prairie grasslands - grasslands as far as the eye can see. We stayed at Thunderbird lodge at Mitchell, SD.

As we were driving on the highway, just before Mitchell, we saw a cop's car and both of us looked at him. All along this drive, we saw very few cars on the highway. So when we saw the cop, we thought he might follow us. First we did not see him, but after a minute or so, he was just behind us. He then came to our blind-spot. After a while, he came to our side and looked at us and then went back again. It was interesting to see how he checked us out without even stopping our car. He must have checked our car registration number on the move itself.

26 May:
We met an elderly couple at breakfast at the hotel. They told us about the corn palace and few other places that we can see in Iowa. We kept bumping into each other at the Corn palace. Just like in rural India, these people also spoke very slowly and patiently.
At first sight, we were disappointed at the Corn palace because there was very little corn and some parts of the wall was painted. Also only the front and south side of the building had corn murals. Later we learnt that due to the Fire code, they couldn't put corn all over. All the corn murals were atleast 6 feet above the ground level. We took a short tour of the palace. We saw beautiful corn murals inside. The corn is replaced every 10 years in these murals. The design of these murals are not changed like the ones outside the palace, which are changed every year. The mural design usually begins in June when the first corn is harvested. By August, all types of corn are harvested and the mural is completed then. The idea of corn palace begun just to show to the rest of the country that corn grows in abundance in this state. It was a tactic used by the locals to invite more people to move to their state which was considered uninhabitable by most others.

We then continued our drive and wondered where to have our lunch. That day, I longed to eat Indian food to celebrate our one week on the road. Luckily found one on our way. We had buffet lunch at "Shahi Palace - India Grill" at Sioux Falls, SD. Decent taste, but very limited items.

Narayanan wanted to see the corn fields in Iowa and was excited as we entered the state. But the crop was just a few inches tall. We did drive through miles and miles of corn fields which was beautiful.

The couple we met earlier at breakfast also suggested a place called 'Grotto of the Redemption' - a marvelous building decorated completely with gems and precious stones. This is in a small village called 'West Bend' in Iowa. As we entered West Bend, we saw huge corn elevators where corn is cleaned and stored after harvest. As we reached the Grotto, we were dumbstruck. This village looked too small to have one of the best sight-seeing spots in Iowa. The Grotto is famous, but due to the remoteness off the village, it does not get a lot of visitors.
The Grotto was designed by a Catholic Priest who came from Germany to this little village's church. When he was young, he fell sick once and he promised Mother Mary that he will build a temple for her if he recovered. This place is to keep up that promise.
Many Jesus stories were depicted using beautiful stones - stones from all over US and a few from India, China, Mexico and other countries. There was a 2000lb stalactite from a Mexican cave(which is now a protected national park in Mexico). I was amazed at the kind of stones that were used there.
After this, we drove to Cedar Rapids, Iowa where we stayed at Days Inn(rent $55) for the night. This would be our last hotel stay in this road trip.

27 May
Narayan was excited to make his own waffle at the complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel. Fresh made waffles are way better than the frozen ones that I'm used to. We then hit the pedals again on our 8 hour drive to Vandhana's home in Louisville, KY. On the way, we first stopped at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. It was interesting to read about Hoover - especially a lot of positive aspects. We also saw childhood pictures, letters of other presidents. I'm glad we visited atleast one President's museum before leaving USA.
We then stopped at the 'largest truck stop' in the world - 'IOWA 80' on highway 80. There was a trucking museum there and we saw many old trucks and old gas pumps. We then crossed Illinois, Indianapolis and reached Vandhana's home by 12midnight.

28 May
Relaxed and had a wonderful time at Vandhana's home. We bought an outdoor inflatable water pool for Rohan and we could see Satish getting worried about the extra work. Nevertheless, we were quite sure that Rohan will love this pool. Had home made food after a very long time :-)

29 May
We were supposed to leave for Tennessee today, but decided to spend one more day with Vandhana and help her with dress shopping. Narayan cleaned our car and got it ready for it's new owners.
Rohan had a wonderful time in the inflated pool. Luckily the sun was out today, so he had fun.

30 May
We left Vandhana's home at 9:30am and drove towards Mammoth Caves national park in Kentucky - the last national park in this trip. We had to wait for 2 hours to get on a tour since it was a long weekend. Meanwhile, we had a veggie wrap and brownie with ice cream :)
The 2 hour 'Historic tour' at the park took us through the mammoth caves - it was magnificent, huge and long.At one point the ranger switched off the lights and we were in complete darkness. COMPLETE DARK!!! I loved those few moments when I couldn't see anything, I felt so merged with the darkness. There was no way our eyes could get adjusted to that darkness because there was absolutely no light.
We then continued our drive to Isha Institute of Inner Science, Tennessee.

After 3300 miles cross country road trip :-)

We used iPhone heavily in this trip - to find routes, hotels, restaurants. We would also yelp and get reviews before going to any place. It felt like a perfectly planned trip, while the truth is we only planned to go to Yellowstone park, Vandhana's home and iii.
Every evening, as we drive, we would wait to get to a place where there is good phone signal. Then we would call a few selected hotels (based on reviews) and check out the rates and availability. We used google maps to find the cities on the way.

One more decision we took at the beginning of the trip was to not attend calls from anyone. We called our parents twice during the trip to let them know we were safe. I stayed away from emails too :-)

1 Jun
All the residents and visitors at the ashram had a surprise meeting with Sadhguru - What a wonderful way to spend our last evening in USA. I'm so glad we decided to leave from iii.

2 Jun
Morning, we were told that the shrine is now open to all and we were going to be the first visitors. There were 4 or 5 other meditators who joined us for the shrine visit. We spent 30 minutes inside the shrine. As always, I have no words to explain how I felt in there. I remember all the precious moments I have spent in this room and I was so happy to spend this time there before leaving USA.
Jagga drove us to Manchester from where we took the airport shuttle to Nashville.

Bye Bye America !!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More people, more money, more consumption, but the same planet

A growing, more affluent population competing for ever scarcer resources could make for an "unrecognizable" world by 2050, researchers warned at a major US science conference Sunday.
The United Nations has predicted the global population will reach seven billion this year, and climb to nine billion by 2050, "with almost all of the growth occurring in poor countries, particularly Africa and South Asia," said John Bongaarts of the non-profit Population Council.
To feed all those mouths, "we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000," said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
"By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable" if current trends continue, Clay said.
The swelling population will exacerbate problems, such as resource depletion, said John Casterline, director of the Initiative in Population Research at Ohio State University.
But incomes are also expected to rise over the next 40 years -- tripling globally and quintupling in developing nations -- and add more strain to global food supplies.
People tend to move up the food chain as their incomes rise, consuming more meat than they might have when they made less money, the experts said.
It takes around seven pounds (3.4 kilograms) of grain to produce a pound of meat, and around three to four pounds of grain to produce a pound of cheese or eggs, experts told AFP.
"More people, more money, more consumption, but the same planet," Clay told AFP, urging scientists and governments to start making changes now to how food is produced.
Population experts, meanwhile, called for more funding for family planning programs to help control the growth in the number of humans, especially in developing nations.
"For 20 years, there's been very little investment in family planning, but there's a return of interest now, partly because of the environmental factors like global warming and food prices," said Bongaarts.
"We want to minimize population growth, and the only viable way to do that is through more effective family planning," said Casterline.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ananda Alai in Tamilnadu

Seeing the tears and joy in thousands of people all over Tamilnadu, I cannot stop the tears in my eyes. Anandam...Anandam...Anandam

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lights vs human ratio

As I was flying from Seattle to San Jose yesterday, I was looking at the night lights in the cities and highways. Could it be possible that there are more lights than humans in this country?
Even at home, we keep the lights switched on, in most of the rooms after it gets dark. I'm now sitting in my living room, there are 2 lights here and one in our aquarium. 3 lights for one person:-(
We are taught from childhood not to keep the house dark. I've seen homes where all the rooms are lighted until everyone hits the bed. There are homes where they leave one or two lights switched on even if they go on vacation for 2 months (hoping that thieves wouldn't eye their home).
So much for the fear of Darkness and for security.
Reminds me of a news article i read recently about a cruise near San Diego where the ship went without power for 3 days. On the first day, there was this couple who slept for 24 hours because they didn't know what to do without power. And..they were just married.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What have they done to milk?

I have been seeing this "half & half" in the dairy section. After all these years, I decided to figure out what exactly it is. It's supposed to be half milk and half cream. It's not palatable as it is, but used as a creamer in coffee and in ice creams. Here's an interesting article from CBS News. The last line gives a nice punch :)

The milk we get from cows has always had a special standing among the foods we eat. Mothers are always saying to kids, "Drink your milk."

So what in the world have they done to this simple and basic food? I'll bet a calf wouldn't drink most of the stuff called milk now sold in cartons. You can’t tell some of it from Diet Coke.

The companies that sell milk are upset because people are drinking less milk then they used to and they don't know why. Has it ever occurred to them that people aren't drinking it because milk isn't as good as it used to be?

Rooney picked up some cartons at the milk section of a grocery store: Lowfat Milk, Fat Free Milk, 2 Percent Reduced Fat Milk, Skim Milk.

Before milk was homogenized - that's mixing the cream in with the milk - cream came to the top of your milk bottle. If they took the cream off the top, they skimmed it off. What this ought to be called is not "Skim Milk" but "Skimmed Milk."

Saturated fats are bad for our arteries. We all know that, but do you know how much fat milk has in it as it comes from a cow? About 3.2 percent. So 2 percent is no big reduction.

I like half and half on my shredded wheat but when I say "half and half," I mean half milk and half cream. I bought some half and half the other day and I didn't like the taste so I looked at the label to see what it was half of and what the other half was. Listen to these ingredients: "Nonfat milk, milk, corn syrup solids, artificial color, sugar, dipotassium phosphate, sodium citrate mono, and diglycerides, carrageenan, natural and artificial flavors, vitamin A palmitate". This is half and half? It's not half anything I want and it has nothing to do with something as good as milk.

Three and a half percent is what they call Whole Milk. Why don't they just call it milk? Some of this other stuff tastes more like whole water.

They all like to use the words "farm" or "dairy" on their cartons.

One came from Farmland Dairies in Wallington, N.J. We went to Wallington looking for a dairy farm. The address was 520 Main Avenue. At the "farm," there was no cow in sight.

My suggestion, if they want to sell more milk, is that they go back to selling what comes out of a cow.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Rajesh Durbal - Live Free, Live Amazingly

ST: Tell us about your mantra and what other people might take away from it.

Rajesh: “LIVE FREE” “Live Amazingly” That came about, crying in pain while running in the rain, on my walking legs training up for my first Olympic triathlon last year. I was faced with many obstacles that tried to hold me down, and no one around to help me and all I had was my faith and prayer. I kept on praying wanting to be free from the chains that hold me down – small and large. I wanted to be free, and then Live Free was born.

Live Free, doesn’t mean you have to be physically challenge. It’s for everyone. Everyone can relate to a struggle they are dealing with in their life.

Live Amazingly, came from living life with purpose - Striving to live an Amazing life everyday. Amazing is not the mountain tops we look for. Amazing is seeing beauty and peace with simple things in life, knowing your purpose here is larger than a mountain top.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What's time for a pig?

There was once a man from the city who was visiting a small farm, and during this visit he saw a farmer feeding pigs in a most extraordinary manner. The farmer would lift a pig up to a nearby apple tree, and the pig would eat the apples off the tree directly.
The farmer would move the pig from one apple to another until the pig was satisfied, then he would start again with another pig.
The city man watched this activity for some time with great astonishment. Finally, he could not resist saying to the farmer, "This is the most inefficient method of feeding pigs that I can imagine. Just think of the time that would be saved if you simply shook the apples off the tree and let the pigs eat them from the ground!"
The farmer looked puzzled and replied, "What's time to a pig?"

Monday, November 01, 2010

Skydiving at Monterey Bay

Finally....after a 9 year loooooong wait, Oct 31, 2010 was the day. I was so thrilled from the previous day, as soon as I registered, though I was a little upset that my husband didn't want to join me.
We(3 friends came along) reached the skydiving center by 8am, though our appointment was at 9:30 only. We finished all the paper procedures - signed almost 20 papers, maybe around 40 signatures. I should have had a good breakfast, instead of 2 hawaiian bread rolls, because by the time we got onto the flight it was almost 12noon.

There was not a single moment where I had a second thought about diving from the sky. I think I've waited too long, now only desperation remains. For a moment, I considered going for the 15000 feet jump, instead of 18000 feet - to save $60. I'm glad I decided to go for the 18K(4 miles), that gives an extra 30 seconds freefall. The freefall would now last 90 seconds and then we would parachute down to the land.

We went to the landing ground and waited for the 1st 2 groups to finish the jumps. As we were watching the 2nd group's flight take off, we saw the flight slowly vanishing into the sky - giving us a glimpse of how far we would go. We couldn't see the jumpers until they opened the parachutes and I loved to see how beautifully they flew around before landing gracefully on the land. My excitement started to grow.

My instructor(a man in his 50s or 60s) jumped twice before he took the flight with me. I wore the harness that would connect me to the instructor and got onto the flight. The cameraman beautifully captured all the moments, even as I was walking to the flight. I was eager to get all the instructions correct, that I didn't have time to be afraid or excited. I wore my goggles and went to the door in a crouching position. I think staying in this position would give the instructor a better control while jumping out of the flight. Just as I jumped out of the flight, I was filled with joy and amazement. I was in complete awe. I was falling towards the earth at a speed of 120 mph(or maybe more). After a few seconds, the instructor deployed the drogue parachute(a very tiny parachute to slow the freefall speed), and asked me to open my hands.

The cameraman then floated around us and took many photos. I held his hand and all 3 of us floated together for a few seconds. It reminded me of the human chain formations in the sky that I used to watch in television when I was young. All of us were falling towards the earth, but it only felt like floating. I could feel the wind on my face, but it still felt like floating.

The instructor then made us spin around for 3-4 times, though I really couldn't feel it when I was there. I realized this only when I saw the video later. Those 90 seconds of freefall was really amazing. The cameraman was always near us(I wonder how he managed to maneuver himself) and I kept smiling at his camera(you can see the result in the photos). Suddenly I realized that I'm really flying and then I looked at the land below. It was such an incredible feeling.
How many times I've looked at birds and wondered how it would be to fly like them. Here I was, flying(actually falling.....LOL) high up in the sky, I just can't find words to describe how ecstatic I was.

The instructor kept a watch on the altimeter(measures the altitude) and deployed the parachute. The moment he opened it, we were pulled upward (or maybe I felt so because of the sudden drop in speed, not sure) and then once the parachute opened completely, we started descending slowly. He then taught me how to operate the parachute. To move left, I had to pull the left side strap(attached to the parachute strings) towards my shoulder. To move fast, I had to pull it to my hip. When I pulled it to my hip, the parachute actually tilted and it gave us a beautiful spin on the left side. The instructor then took control of the parachute.
After the freefall, this slow descending seemed dull and boring. This was the time for me to enjoy the "bird's eye view" of Monterey Bay area.

As we came down, the instructor taught me how to make a smooth landing. I landed correctly in a sitting position. When he asked me to get up, I couldn't because I was laughing like crazy. I was laughing for another 3-4 minutes. It's an incredible feeling to fall from a flight and fly like a bird.

I'm glad I was not afraid even for a single moment, that would have ruined this whole experience. I am grateful to the instructor who takes such a huge risk with beginners like me. The cameraman also did wonderful in capturing these moments - worth the extra money for video and photo shoot($89).

When I was young, I never dreamed of flying in an airplane, forget about diving from it. Life always has its surprises and I love it.

Life is Beautiful!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

3 months after Anaadhi

It has taken 3 months for me to even grasp a little of what's happening after Anaadhi.

After Anaadhi, I traveled to India and Singapore - 2 months of pure family time. In the last one month, I had a lot of time to myself.

Everything seems unimportant. Except for one instance of extreme anger, my emotions are not intense. Even when I was angry and expressing it,I could see the whole thing as a movie - happening outside of me. There were a few days when I was bursting with Devotion. Mostly I feel blissful and untouched by external situations.

I used to be a determined, hard-working person. Both these qualities don't seem to define me anymore. I used to feel guilty very easily. Even that doesn't happen nowadays. Before Anaadhi, if I skipped my practices, I would beat myself up and feel so guilty. Not anymore. I know very clearly that I need to do my practice, but I don't feel bad for missing. I know that I'm not the doing the correct thing, but no determination or guilt helps me to do my practice. The realization of what has been offered to me is what makes me do the practices. The more aware I am, the more connected I'm with nature (especially the Sun), the better it is, for my practices.

I'm not a nice person now. I've always tried to be nice with people regardless of how I feel deep inside, but not anymore. The truth is just blurting out of my mouth in a confident tone (might look aggressive to some people).

So everything that's defined who I am is not "me" anymore. So I get confused. However, even this confusion does not worry me.

Yesterday I realized what this could mean. Have I become a clean slate? Of course, there are many more qualities that still define who I am, but the moment I am aware of that, I lose that quality. As I write this, I don't know even if this is true. I feel like I can now be defined using certain terms(subtle qualities) that were never 'me'.

All of my qualities that were deep rooted are not strong anymore.

What does all this mean? What should I do in this life? How should I be? Confusion suddenly led to a realization that this is how I can create my life the way I want it. Rather I should now be able to face Life "as it is".

Just go with the flow of the river that is LIFE. Be like water that takes the shape of the vessel in which it is contained.
I have not done anything to be like this. Sadhguru has led me to this point, holding my finger and gently guiding me. There were times when he had to drag me along as I struggled with all that is "me".

Oh Shiva! I'm so blissed out with your GRACE. This insignificant person that I am, I have no way to express my gratitude, because nothing is close enough to how I feel.