What have I done for India?

With our country celebrating 70th Independence day today, it is a perfect occasion to ask ourselves ‘What have I done for my Country’?

No matter the issues we have – corruption, politics, social, economic, and the list is long – we all have an obligation to serve our motherland. If not for anything else, just for the fact that we have been aggressively using its resources, which are not infinite!

And it is not just by being at the border and fighting the enemy that we can make a difference. Think about how you can touch the lives of others! Even if you are just cleaning up the surroundings of your house, throwing the trash at the designated places, being kind to the tourists, using public transport to travel to your workplace, you are doing your bit, though you might not even realize it.

I worked in India for long and contributed to its economy. Even when I am out of the country*, I am adding to its Forex reserves.  And I am not alone. Today, there is hardly any country with Indians not being there, isn’t it something we should be proud of? Absolutely yes! Many NRIs help their families back home in whatever way possible. Even if they just send the money home, it makes the lives of their near and dear ones better, thus adding to our GDP indirectly.DSC07468

We have come a long way from being called the nation of snake charmers to having our flag illuminated at the Empire State Building in New York. It is not for nothing that Mr Modi is a close friend of Mr Obama…something our freedom fighters would not even have dreamt of back then. The entire world it taking note of our capabilities, every single day!

I traveled 2 hours today just to get this shot…it made me Proud!

Happy Independence Day, INDIA.

*My long term wish is to retire in my Dad’s house in Ambala, India, doing the activities I love

The Story Of A Suicide by Sriram Ayer

I am not much of a book reader. With my routine, I find it inconvenient to carry a book around with me. But when I got to read ‘The Story Of A Suicide’ online, it suited me. What kept me hooked was the narrative and characters that led to an instant connect. Four friends who studied in the same college and each one of them going through some problem of their own. The narrative is built around three boys – Hari, Mani, Sam; and one girl – Charu.

  • The story starts with Sam‘s break-up. He is a handsome young man, who even with his good looks and intelligence can’t win love for himself and tries hard to take revenge from Charu. With his detailed plans and an aggressive push from his friend Aditya, he feels lost, as the ‘power of love’ is greater than that of revenge.
  • The story moves ahead with Mani, the son of a laborer. He tries to commit suicide as he is not able to cope up with studies – he succumbs to the pressure of dealing with the English language. At this moment, his friends who in spite of their own problems, come to Mani’s rescue and stand by him.
  • Hari, who was raped by his Uncle and his friends, has problems building relationships. He can’t even confide his secrets with the closest person in his life – his sister. In college, he finds a friend and soulmate in Mani, who unintentionally betrays him. In addition to a traumatic childhood, he has a problem disclosing his sexual orientation.
  • Charu, the quintessential modern girl, free in spirit and manners, is somewhat confused. She is a feminist and lives on the edge. Nevertheless, she is a good person by nature.

Each of the characters in the book has a confused mindset, which many of us experience while growing up. We feel trapped and lost in our problems and use revolt to get out of it. In Mani, Sam, and Hari’s case, these revolts are converted into extreme forms – suicide and cyber stalking.

There are many lines in the book with which I connected:

The way Charu’s character portrays the deep understanding of women. Her depiction is that of a modern woman who is looking for a meaning in her life. These are few of my favorite lines of her from the book-
quotes - the story of a suicidereview of the story of a suicidehow to review bookEven the teacher Alex shows the understanding of women by men. These lines by him show his respect and care for his wife-
review of a bookThere are many youngsters who face problems and few accumulate the courage to come out in the open. Though Hari fails eventually, but before taking an extreme step, he talks to his father and his words are emotional and powerful-
book reviewMy favorite, however, are the lines which Mani says while having a heated argument with Charu and Hari. It shows positivity and the fact that if we can’t win over a problem, we have to make peace with it and find meaning in other things that can take the negative vibes away. Mani says this-
the story of a suicidethe best review of a bookI suggest the following to deal with these issues –

  1. Think positive in life – There are hard times for everybody, but they always pass sooner or later. Remember the nice times you’ve had and cherish them, especially when the present is not looking good. Go out and enjoy the bliss of nature, if there is nothing else working out.
  2. Take your own time to respond – Don’t succumb to pressure and rush into things. More often than not, we commit more (and serious) mistakes in the heat of things. If you just keep quiet, most likely you will realize later that the situation has improved by then.
  3. Talk about your problems – Never keep anything weighing you down within yourself. Let it out. Confide in somebody who will listen to you and give you peace of mind – it could be someone from the family, friend, teacher, or whosoever is close to you.
  4. Don’t overthink and play it cool – Too much thinking on any aspect of life is bad, especially when it comes to expectations from others. When you let it loose, you won’t feel bad if it doesn’t go your way. This mantra, so to say, has kept me sane over the years.
  5. Indulge in various ‘happy’ activities – I keep myself so busy that there is no time for me to even think of what is going on around. Toastmasters, Work-outs , Writing, Traveling, and Stock Market are my ‘happy’ activities – the ones that never disappoint me!

This book gives an in-depth perspective on the subject from various angles – a must read for anybody and everybody who has gone through an emotional turbulence and is looking for ways to overcome them. The book is available online, you can read it here at your convenience. There are links available in each chapter that answer questions that could help to overcome problems like break-up, depression, cyber bullying, rape, and suicide.

There is a lot to gain from this book, read it to have a better perspective on life!

The Grandeur of Yosemite!

As soon as we entered the gates of Yosemite National Park, I was in awe of the magnificence of it! The huge granite rocks, stunning landscapes, numerous falls, lakes, mountains, biological diversity, and much more attracts over 3.8 million people every year.

We were looking forward to visiting this acclaimed World Heritage Site even before our trip, and I must say a couple of days there are highly recommended! If you like going to National Parks, you can buy the Annual Pass applicable to all National Parks in the US for $80. Else, the seven-day pass to Yosemite is for $30 Apr-Oct or $25 Nov-Mar (the fee is per vehicle, not per person).

Most of the tourists spend their time in the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley, giving a picturesque view of the famous El Capitan (on the extreme left in the below shot), Half Dome (right in the middle), and Bridalveil Falls (on the right).tunnel viewWe wanted to see each of them more closely, so we parked the car near the visitor center and took their shuttle (runs frequently across the eastern Yosemite Valley all year round) to see each of them more closely.el capitanhalf domebridalveil fallsAgain, be ready to walk a lot as these and other spots in Yosemite are just not by the road (as you can imagine). I will have more to say on this wonderful gift of nature in future posts.

P.S. If you haven’t noticed, I added the watermark to my pictures for the first time, as few have asked me if the shots here are all mine. Yes, they absolutely are! You can find more selection on Instagram @the_learning_step

Trust Cements a Relationship!

We build relationships throughout our lives. While some come and go, others stay with us for our lifetime. These steadfast relationships are nurtured with respect and care. However, with every passing year, there is one element that grows by leaps and bounds – trust. Trust is something that holds a relationship together irrespective of the label.

Do you place your trust on someone outside of your family?

I do. There are many people in my life who have raised the bar of the relationship to a point where they have our unwavering trust. One such person is my father’s friend – Bindra Uncle. Bindra Uncle has been in our lives for more than 10 years now. Initially, his association was only with my father. They became acquaintances through a charitable organization, and later on became fast friends. But over the years, their relationship has extended to our families. Bindra aunty is now friends with my mother. And, we children, replicate the same bond amongst ourselves. I can safely say we have merged into each other’s life seamlessly. Of course, there is a reason behind it. Like any other relationship, ours is also based on respect, care, and understanding.

What makes a relationship strong enough to last long?

There were many testing times when we needed Bindra Uncle’s help. Once – when dad was bedridden, and I was not there to take care of him. And, there are many small anecdotes where he or his family lent their support – in words as well as in actions. They were always there for us! Be it doing a simple task of fetching groceries when dad was unwell, or giving their emotional support, they never wavered from their duties as family friends. In fact, their entire family has been with us through thick and thin. That’s not all – the selflessness behind their acts is very humbling. They held our backs and provided unflinching support and care. The longevity of our relationship is the testimony of its success. Only those who pass the test of time stay. And, if I try to list it out besides support, there is one thing that stands out – trust. We know we can trust them under all circumstances, this is a trust that has built up over the years and one which I know will remain in the years to come. And, I hope, they think the same about us.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships – Stephen Covey”

Should we honor those who support us unconditionally?

There are countless ways to repay our debts to all those who stood by us. We can be there for them. Extend a helpful hand and make their lives easier.

Watch the video above, one more testament to long-standing relationships, and trust that comes with it. Dhoni expresses his gratitude towards people who stood by him. Exide Life Insurance has partnered with M S Dhoni to showcase the value of long-term associations #DhoniKaSaath. And, with Exide Life Insurances’ long-standing reputation, we can secure our future and achieve our personal goals stress-free.

The beauty of offbeat places!

Most of us often travel to famous places, failing to realize that small places can be equally charming…sometimes, more so! My experience traveling extensively over the last couple of years says you have to watch out for such hidden gems since they often would be more beautiful than what we might think of.

While doing our research on Lake Tahoe, we found a couple of such stops which are easy to pass by – Sand Harbour for its calming beauty and Logan Shoals for the sunset views.

Looking back, I am pleased to have applied the brakes and stopped at the Sand Harbour beach.

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I had to rush to my next stop Logan Shoals since that is where the sunset was awaiting us ☺️

The vista point is about 12 miles south of Sand Harbour. Many of the tourists just watch sunset from the level of the parking. However, I took the pain to go down through the bushes (there is a visible narrow path) and reach just alongside the lake (but at a height to it).

And a gorgeous sunset it indeed was…

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That completes my journey of the heaven-on-earth, as I would call it – Lake Tahoe!

P.S. Please do not copy these pictures, rather buy them from me! If you see anybody copying, request you to inform me at aloksinghal2003@gmail.com

An Onion Savior, you Betcha!

Eavesdropping is not such a bad thing. I realized it during my engineering days. I was a studious boy. For the noise-free environment, I used to go to our under-construction first floor where I studied for hours. It served as a perfect place to study. Only on some occasions there used to be a distraction. The neighborhood kids gathered on the adjacent house’s roof and played, and replicated a ‘fish market,’ so to say. Often I requested them to keep it low, but it fell on deaf ears. Finally, I made peace with it. But there was a day when I heard continuous low-pitched voices. I was intrigued and walked towards the source. To my surprise, two girls were playing with cars and dolls and were enacting a story. I stood there for some time and amused myself with what seemed to be a story of two super girls trying to catch robbers on cars. To say the least, it was very fascinating. More so, as one of the girls had the reputation of being mute in the presence of public. I never expected her to be a storyteller. It was the last time I heard a story from a child.

As far as I am concerned, rumor has that I was quite a storyteller myself. If I broke something, I would weave a story around somebody else. If I was late fetching bread from the market, I gave dramatic accounts of how I was stuck in traffic! Though, I went on foot. The most endearing tales from my mouth were told when I sneaked onions in our luggage while returning from a relative’s place. I was named Onion Thief by my family. Not only I stole onions, I had a gripping narrative of rescuing the onions from rotting at their place. In my defense, I was ‘An Onion Savior,’ not ‘Onion Thief.’ Jokes apart, I feel storytelling is an art. You build characters, plot, and give wings to your imagination. It fuels your brain and breaks the shell that cages your personality. And, props add to the art of storytelling. I am sure, props were the reason the story of ‘Two Super Girls’ on the roof gave me a kick. In fact, my very own onion saga was more appealing because of the presence of rotten onions – the prop.

Two weeks back, I received Colgate toothpaste packs with free magical sea world inside. Don’t get me wrong, there were not actual sea lions and mermaids inside the pack. Instead of a plain box, there are pictures of various sea animals and cartoons which one can cut out and play with. As I am a little old to do that, we passed it on to the neighborhood kids. To educate children, there are facts written alongwith the pictures of sea creatures and characters. There is also a backdrop image which, when combined with images, can make a good puppet show. Children can narrate a story and enact it too. I really loved this idea. I don’t like the idea of children spending time on video games and phones. This, on the other hand, is creative and fun. There are four such packs, each having different characters and backdrops. In case this seems like something your child would enjoy, buy Colgate Toothpaste and encourage the storyteller in him.

ColgateCollectibleshttp://www.colgate.co.in/en/in/oc

A place I can never forget – Incline Village

Incline Village, Nevada, lies on the north shore of Lake Tahoe (about 200 miles north-east of San Francisco).

The various stops we made while driving around Lake Tahoe are marked in the snapshot below. It is a drive worth undertaking, and one feels like stopping frequently just because of the awesome scenery one experiences all along.

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We had 1.5 days to spend in Lake Tahoe though the drive can be easily covered in a day. However, I bet, you won’t feel like leaving even if you spend a week there. It looks like nature has custom-made the set-up for us!

It was late in the afternoon when we reached Incline Village Beach and I immediately fell in love with the place.

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The views changed drastically as sun rays peeked through the clouds intermittently and the picturesque snow-covered mountain showed off their beauty in the distance. The crystal-clear water could only add to the mesmerizing views. Each moment had its own charm!

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Just as the sun was about to go down, I saw a man rowing his boat towards us…I couldn’t have asked for a better shot!

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P.S. For more pictures, you can follow me on Instagram @the_learning_step. You can buy these high-resolution pictures too, I have a much wider selection on Instagram!

The charm of DL Bliss State Park

While driving around Lake Tahoe, our next stop after Emerald Bay was DL Bliss State Park. Though the park was closed because of Spring season (early April), it was open for hiking and enjoying the crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe.

After much deliberation, we thought of hiking the Rubicon and Lighthouse trails there, and also going down to the Calawee Cove. We misunderstood the signs there and read 1-mile hike each way, so that was a no-brainer for us. So, with much excitement, we started walking from the parking lot to the trailhead stop. Much to our dismay, the walk to the stop itself was 2 miles (through the winding roads in the park), but then we thought it won’t be long till we hit the water.

Well, we walked and walked, with hardly anybody visible around. The views were no doubt stunning, but soon we realized it won’t be a mile further to the cave. By then we had walked a long distance and had also come down around 4,000 feet. The water was visible and so were the mountains overlooking the lake. Rather than thinking much, we thought of enjoying what we couldn’t believe.

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It took us around 1.5 hours to reach the level of the water. We were stunned to see the ‘untouched’ beauty!

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We spent a lot of time there, and I, for one, never wanted to leave…but then it was around 4pm and we were afraid of facing off the bears too! We had not seen the (old) Rubicon lighthouse till now and even the new lighthouse, though we took the respective trails alternately while going down.

The tough task now was to climb above 6,000 feet uphill to reach our car. That would take some time and muscles, we knew! In order to read before dark, we didn’t take long stops and soon Saru realized she developed a cramp in the back. But then there was no other option than to keep walking. This time, we were lucky enough to spot the old lighthouse, that looked like a small hut (it was the highest elevation lighthouse on a navigational body of water in the entire world).

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Somehow, after much huffing and puffing we reached our car and breathed a sigh of relief!

P.S. For more pictures, you can follow me on Instagram @the_learning_step

How to catch-up on the Lost Growth?

As parents, we do a lot for our children, taking care of their physical and psychological well-being.  When I was in school, I had all sorts of friends – some were short and some were underweight compared to our peers. Anxiety would often engulf them as each of them wanted to be attractive and would often fear being at the receiving end of taunts at some point in their lives. After talking to some of them, I came to know their parents are probably more worried, and understandably so! Who would want their kids to not be able to concentrate on studies and spend a lot of time constantly fighting other issues in their lives, especially that of looking good? I am sure those of us who have kids can relate to this very well.

I had a close friend who was often the butt of jokes because of his height. He would often shy away from talking to girls and resorted to being a backbencher as a result of his undergrowth – not that he was bad in studies! The reason was many friends took him for granted and would refrain from socializing with him. He was not even invited much to the birthday parties we had. The agony had just taken over him and over the years, he assumed his physical aspects would not help his post-marriage too. When I think about it, I can’t even imagine what he must have gone through. When many of us were dreaming of a bright future and getting married to beautiful ladies, he was just trying to survive day-after-day! I wish there was a way to help him out then.

Though some of the issues when it comes to growth are genetic, some can indeed be worked upon by following a healthy lifestyle. We all would have heard of the benefits of drinking lot of water, eating green vegetables, exercising daily, and in general, being happy. However, there are some other ways too that ensure we can lead a healthy life – prominent among them are nutritional supplements. After carefully examining the option available in the market, I found that experts have often recommended Horlicks Growth +, which is a specialized nutrition product designed by international pediatric experts for children in the age group of 3-9 years who are lagging in height and weight. The ingredients in the product are known to enable children to #catchupongrowth. In fact, it has been clinically proven to add growth in children in 6 months…and this all without any side effects!Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 8.20.36 AM

Another advantage of going with Horlicks is that it is a globally trusted brand, and can be relied upon without any second thoughts. I remember taking it during growing-up years, and it probably would have added to my health too. Growth is a sensitive aspect for each of us, and there should be no compromise when it comes to our kids.Moreover, kids love such products, and there is no need for us to have them take it under compulsion.

I would advise everybody to check out this supplement…that is the bare minimum we can and should do for our kids’ healthy future.

Just a few days in the US? Visit Lake Tahoe first!

Many of us have limited time when it comes to vacations. However, if you are touring the US and have just a few days to spend at famous attractions, my top spot would go to Lake Tahoe!

On our recent California trip, after spending a couple of days in San Francisco, our next major destination was Lake Tahoe – the largest freshwater lake in Sierra Nevada, largest alpine lake in North America, and second deepest in the US. It is known for the clarity of water (as some spots you can even see 62 feet deep) and the picturesque mountains surrounding it.

A major tourist attraction in California and Nevada, I strongly suggest driving around the lake and spending some time at the must-see spots. You can do all of that in 2 days, but one can even spend a week in the area, depending on how close to nature you are. If you ask me, I could have stayed there forever!

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We started from South Lake Tahoe and drove clockwise, first stopping at Emerald Bay – one of the lake’s most photographed and popular locations. Emerald Bay State Park is home to Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm mansion. We thought of covering the mansion next day, but Saru developed a cramp later in the day and the castle requires a steep walk for a mile each way – at an elevation of over 6,300 feet…so we had to miss the mansion.

There is also this island visible from the Bay – Fannette Island. I photographed it from various spots.DSC05467DSC05482DSC05453

As far as taking these breathtaking shots are concerned, I would suggest trekking those trails that are less popular and hence less crowded…but not completely deserted, so as to avoid wildlife there. We did a bit of hike towards the Eagle Point to see the lake from the top and the views were hard to believe!

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To do justice to the beauty of the place, I am going to divide the spots across multiple posts.