A gondola ride straight to Heaven!

To contrast with my last post on driving up Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont, I am going to add our gondola experience first (will come back to visiting Lake Champlain the previous day in next post).

Even though we had driven up Mt Mansfield, Gondola sky ride up the same mountain is a different experience altogether. Even if the ticket appears expensive at $28 per person (round-tip), it is still all worth it! Partly because you would get to experience the magnificence of fall colors while zipping over them, and you might get lucky with seeing some bears too!

While still at the bottom, at the Stowe Mountain Resort from where the gondola starts, I couldn’t help admire the beauty of mountain with contrasting aspects – of colors and snow at the summit – all this while the sun was gleaming over just a stretch of trees!dsc08229dsc08211The majestic gondola cars are newly renovated and they are picturesque in their own right. Now, you might be tempted to think the gondola just takes you the distance you see below; however, the ride is actually thrice this distance…and it takes about 15 minutes to reach the top. The slow up-move makes you feel as if you are going all the way to heaven!dsc08189On reaching the top, we were welcomed by a thick blanket of clouds and freezing temperature. It was even difficult for us to be out in the cold, let alone follow the trails up there. However, there is a souvenir shop and a restaurant right where you get off the gondola, enough to spend some cozy time.

Mt Mansfield is one of the three spots in Vermont where true alpine tundra survives from the Ice Ages.dsc08197However crazy it might sound, we saw some people doing zip-lining all the way back to the base. Guess, adventures have no bound! You can even chose to trek down…at your own risk 🙂dsc08205

Up-Close-And-Personal with Nature!

The very next morning after we had an amazing time at the Kent Pond while driving North US 100, we were staring at the highest mountain in Vermont – Mount Mansfield. Though the public forums didn’t mention much about driving up 4,393 feet to the summit (they normally talk about taking the Gondola ride up through the Stowe Mountain Resort, which we also took next day), I found it to be a pleasant drive. Maybe because we were the first ones to be there, thus having the road to ourselves!

As soon as the gate to the toll road opened up at 9am, we paid the price – $22 for the vehicle and driver and an additional $7 for Saru – and started the drive uphill, which was steep at times. Being fall season, every few minutes I had to stop to capture the amazing scenery. It was cloudy, and with the foliage colors all around, it was quite a sight to behold! One also gets stunning views of Lake Champlain (we went there later that day) and Adirondack Mountains on the way up the zig zag road to the summit ridge.fall-foliage-in-usaOnce at the top, it was freezing up there (we were warned about it at the gate itself). There are many trails one can take up there, and we did walk about quarter-a-mile. However, poor visibility called for an early return. Instead, we thought of enjoying more spots on the way back down the mountain while the traffic was still less. By then the sun also had started peeking through the clouds and some panoramic views looked much better because of the glaring contrast in falls colors.where-to-see-fall-colorsbest-fall-trips-in-usaautumn-colors-in-usIf you ask me was the drive worth it, I would emphatically say Yes…especially because of the colors all around! It might not have been that great a drive if there was just greenery out there. Though you would get similar views by taking the gondola to the summit (will write about it in another post), the experiences differ as you are more up-close-and-personal with nature while driving!vermont-fall-trip

A new collaboration…with Money View!

I recently collaborated with Money View (MV) in India – a Financial Management app for Android that helps one keep a check on their savings and expenses. It is one of the highly rated apps and already has 5 million users, and their blog is one of the best in Business and Finance in India!

Though I would be paid to write for them, the association is going to add immensely to my qualifications (Engineer-Gold Medalist, MBA from IIFT-ranked 6th in India by the Wall Street Journal, and FRM certified) and also to my experiences with global Investment Banks over the last 10 years.

My first post for them went live few days back and helps us understand which all Investments can be done to save on the Tax outgo. There are many instruments under Sections 80C and otherwise to help us save for the future, some provide an insurance cover too…all this while also cutting down on our tax bill. Making a wise decision doesn’t come easy, but then it does earn us a peace-of-mind!

tax_saving_investment_cheat_sheet_money_view-alok-singhalYou can read the complete write-up on MV Blog here: What Investments Can Help You Save Income Tax legally?

Merry Christmas from Las Vegas!

As you might know from the last post, we are on a 10-day trip to Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Though I will write in detail on the attractions we have covered and would be covering till Sunday night before flying back home, here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from Las Vegas 😊

The most amazing decorations we have seen in LV are in Bellagio’s. Their conservatory garden is a must-see and is fully decked-up in festive spirit.

An eye-catcher is this section of adorable bears and penguins…they look super-cute ❤The flowers you see on the bears and around are all freshly cut…there are a total of 27,000 white carnations used in this display (and are maintained daily). And, don’t miss the luminous moon, enhancing the atmosphere with its soft glow.The newest addition to the conservatory is the train station, and the whole colossus has been custom designed for the Bellagio conservatory.Look at the two character toy soldiers in the shot below…there are a total of four of them on either side of this ‘central station’ and they turn around in sync with each other.Next is the section on snow globes, with the skaters enjoying in their forest wonderland. An italian village is depicted in this display with a fountain of carolers singing and dancing around the holiday tree. The toy train running below is a sheer delight to see!Christmas tree – this holiday tree originated high and deep in the forest of Mt. Sasha and is adorned with 2,500 ornaments. The predominant jewel to this masterpiece is an exquisite silver sparking star.And they’ve created North Poles around the tree…There is just too much to show on how they are entertaining visitors.

I loved a couple of other decorations also just alongside the conservatory.
If you are around, don’t miss the celebrations in Vegas.

Since this is also my last post for the year, I wish you a very Happy Holidays and a rocking New Year.

P.S. I wrote this entire post while i was in the conservatory…took me about an hour. All pics are from my iPhone 7Plus…a first for me!

1 Year, 2 Years, and a Recap of the Year

Well, I completed 1 year on Instagram on Dec 12 and it’s been 2 years blogging today. Here’s how my profile on the popular social networking site looked on 12th…sincere thanks to the many known and unknown who visit often there, I’ve been encouraged every single day!alok-singhal-instagramThanks to you too for making yet another year successful, defined in terms of the learnings I have gone through and the happiness I have found. However, I made some major changes to my routine this year, including:

1. Minimal blogging on weekends: Rather than reading too many blogs on weekends (something I did last year), I now spend most of my time with the family and doing other favorite activities – one of them is watching movies and series, many on travel and photography. I also started going to gym around mid of this year and have continued to do better at my routine. One of my targets has been to complete 10k steps every day, and i’ve accomplished it on most of the days.

         Essentially, I found few other sources of happiness!

2. More time on portfolio management: I love investing in Stock Markets, and it has been a successful year for me. You might have read about it earlier in my post here. Btw, if you had followed my advice then, you could have made good money in the last 2 months, even though there were hiccups after Trump’s unexpected win. Ballpark, any decent stock would have given you at least 20% returns year-to-date, with many going much beyond it!

I have set myself a benchmark where I would like to see my portfolio at in 2017. Without taking about the number, it will be a huge deal if I can accomplish it.

Money matters at the end of the day!

Aside, it has been a travel-heavy year for us. We started with 9 days in California and Nevada in April; then 9 days in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in October; and would be ending the year with 10 days in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, starting with Las Vegas tomorrow.

However, in retrospect, we could have squeezed-in 2 international vacations with the money we spent on the 3 outings combined…a thought to implement in the future. See, the learning never ends 🙂

Speaking of travel, one thing I have absolutely loved this year is the night photography…one of my recent favorite shots is from the Bar Harbor in Maine.dsc09682Looking forward, there are many significant changes lined up in the next year as well. Hope they pass off smoothly!

Though I will publish one more post this year, in case you are wrapping up for yourself, let me wish you a very Happy 2017 and hope next year be better for you in every aspect of life. Happy Holidays.

*To read the post I wrote on 1st Anniversary, click here.
**You can find me on Twitter as well @TheLearningStep. I’ve completed about 1.5 yrs there.

 

How to find an ATM with Cash around you…

On Nov 8, Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi took the extreme step of taking out 86% of Cash in circulation in India. This is to be accomplished by banning the 500- and 1,000-rupee notes – a process called demonetization – which have formed the bread and butter of most of the cash transactions in India since decades. No wonder, there have been chaos since, as the deadline to exchange these old notes with the new 500- and 2,000-rupee notes is this year-end.

Though the move was aimed at tackling corruption (read black-money or unaccounted-for cash) and terrorism, it is the common man who has been hit the hardest so far! There are long queues outside Banks and ATM machines, but there is insufficient cash to serve everybody. Many other factors are adding too to their misery – importantly, limits to exchanging notes on any given day, some don’t even have a bank account, and many fear losing their hard-earned money because of their mistrust of the financial institutions and concerns about being harassed about where the money came from.

My sister is an Officer in Bank of Baroda in Panipat, and her bank has been working 14 hours every day to make sure they can serve as many customers as they can, but they can hardly do anything if bank doesn’t have enough cash! The issue is so serious that many people took to streets in India opposing the decision and some assaulted bank employees too; one of the Officers known to my sister died of a heart attack when he couldn’t handle the pressure! After all, general public in India can’t live without cash, though many are now trying to go cashless.

Having highlighted the brunt many are facing, do you know we have a way around to lessen the stress on ourselves? What if we knew which ATM around us has money? That would at least save us the time and ordeal of going through the torture. Correct? Fortunately, Find ATM with Cash feature on Money View app does exactly that. It gives you the location of nearest ATM available with Cash. They do this by crowd-sourcing data from more than 5 million users spread across 200 cities in India. It is one of the most comprehensive ATM tracking solutions available to us.

You just have to download the Money View app from Google Play store and use their Find ATM with Cash feature.alok-singhalEven if you are on a desktop, you can use their Find ATM with Cash page. This will help you save on a lot of time and effort by visiting the right ATM near you. Once you withdraw the money, do upload your feedback on the queue, so your experience can help other too!

My parents in Ambala are now using the desktop version, and enjoying this convenience:alok-singhal-money-viewLastly, it is not just the ATMs that Money View has mapped. We can also find active banks, petrol pumps, Big Bazaar stores, and Inox multiplexes, which are dispensing cash through their app. My sister has been recommending this app to whosoever she can, making their lives easier. You can too by spreading the word around!
https://moneyview.in/find-atm-with-cash-iframe

Once again, an offbeat place scores high!

On the Day 1 of our trip covering fall across states up North in the United States, we drove on US 100 – a drive rated highly by many travel magazines and websites!

We started from Rutland (after staying there overnight) and went north-east towards Killington. Just before reaching Killington, we turned northwards on US 100 and immediately encountered a sign that read Kent Pond on the right. Saru was not at all interested in seeing it, so I kept driving further; but then suddenly I thought of my experience with offbeat places in Lake Tahoe in California. Well, I immediately took turn and came back to the pond. The water was not visible from the parking (there is no fee for parking or visit), so we were not sure of what lies ahead. We walked a few meters, and my reaction was – Oh my God!dsc07688dsc07589There were very few tourists there, so we had plenty of time to spend at our own ease. I was so glad to have come back. I was reluctant to leave the place, but I was pulled, again 🙂

Soon enough, we reached the small town of Rochester and couldn’t stop passing by a park, which provided for a perfect picture. It is such places that I find hard to resist as the beauty is mostly untouched.dsc07778We kept driving further up US 100 and our admiration had no bounds! It was hard for me to think where all to stop as every other place looked better than the earlier…but then we had 9 days to witness the extravaganza.dsc07745Travel Tips:

  1. Drive on US 100 is a must to watch the splendid fall colors. Our research says start from Woodstock (lies south-west of Killington, about 20 miles), then head west towards Bridgewater on US 4, and finally merge into US 100 near Killington.
  2. If you are going to spent a couple of days in the town of Stowe (68 miles north of Killington, and highly rated for colors), don’t worry about stopping at each spot on US 100…there is much more to come.
  3. Keep at least half-a-day for the drive, even that might seem insufficient if you’ve never been amazed with nature!

9 days chasing fall colors across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine

Though I am yet to complete writing about my California trip (for that matter even Florida vacation, which we took last New Year’s eve), I am starting off with my very recent fall outing.

After Spending 3 days in New Hampshire 2 years back, I always had the urge to go back. There is so much to see there during autumn season. But then I read about the splendor of fall in Vermont and Acadia National Park in Maine over the years – both are not to be missed for many reasons, the best being the natural beauty they offer. So, with everything in mind, it was only befitting to cover all of them together between Sep-end to Oct-end. And that’s what we did this year!

Stowe in Vermont is rated as one of the best places to see nature’s charisma in the United States and normally gets peak fall colors early Oct. Not far, but equally pretty is North Conway in New Hampshire. Acadia National Park in Maine is another top attraction, but usually peaks around Oct-end. So, with all the predictions and calculations almost 3 months in advance, we decided to spend 2nd week of Oct chasing colors from Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine. It was extremely important to plan and book early, as the hotels were almost gone 2 months before, one reason being 2nd week of Oct was a long weekend and then Stowe had its Annual Fall Arts festival that weekend.

We normally start towards our first destination on Friday evening, so we have entire Saturday at our disposal…this time our overnight halt was in Rutland in Vermont. Here’s how the final map looked for us (these are just major spots, we primarily covered attractions within and around these cities/places):screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-18-13-amOn the way to the hotel, we spent some time at the picturesque Lake George…we were there 2 years back as well. A couple of our favorite shots from back then.dsc00773dsc00769This time, I was just able to capture the calmness of the lake in the night from my phone.
img_9629I eagerly looked forward to the next morning as we had to drive up US 100 highway – one of the best drives for fall colors. And rightly so, as our experience would show in the next post.

P.S. To read the chemistry behind change in colors, refer here

The city of dreams – Los Angeles

LA was the last major stop for us during our California trip and we had 2 days to spend there. The following 2 days were reserved for driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco and stopping at Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-sea, and Monterey on the way.

We had booked our stay in Hollywood considering that most of the attractions are located there. As we entered the city, we headed straight to the Griffith Observatory to see some great views of the city from an elevation (it is situated at a height of over 1,100ft).dsc06369The observatory is a popular tourist attraction with clear views of the Hollywood sign, and a huge collection of space and science-related displays. The best part is that there is no entry fees, so it is a must-see!dsc06353You can go around the observatory to see downtown LA, and even the Pacific Ocean!
dsc06385dsc06377Since Saru was still recuperating from the back strain she got from the hike we did in Lake Tahoe, she didn’t go out much.

The 2nd day I first headed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, comprising more than 25,00 five pointed terrazzo and brass starts embedded in the sidewalks.fullsizeoutput_158And to better appreciate the beauty from the top where observatory is located, I went back to the same spots in the evening. I am glad I did so since the city gave a different look then. For me, the bonus was this spectacular Sunset!dsc06416dsc06442Later in the night, I went atop the observatory where they have a telescope – that day they they were positioned towards Jupiter and I loved seeing the planet. There are many other telescopes too in the lawn which are free for public viewing.

Think about LA and one would like to visit the super-famous Universal Studios, which is not far from the Observatory. We were not convinced with spending so much ($105 per person) to see something we were not so inclined to see. But if you are, don’t miss that!

Why I love Apple Products…and you should too!

I am crazy about Apple products, but not for no reason! Having tried my hands on many brands in the past, I have come to the realization that nothing beats Apple. Be it performance, class, style statement, service, and even resale value, Apple provides you all of it – yes, for a premium!

Here’s my experience trying other brands and why Apple wins over them:

  1. Notebook and Resale Value: I gifted Saru Macbook Pro in 2012 and bought myself Lenovo Ideapad Yoga in 2013. They both cost me about $1,100 each. Even after all these years, Macbook performed much better than my device, which lacked in performance and even started giving me display issues off late. I got rid of both of them recently (using trade-in option through Best Buy) with Macbook going for more than double the value (they paid me meager $100 for Yoga – Huh! I am not buying any other brand, ever!). I picked Macbook Pro for myself and Saru settled for Macbook Air.
  2. iPhone and Service: I bought iPhone 5S in 2013 and it worked very well for me until I sold it for Rs 18,000 in India last year. I had sent iPhone 6S to my sister in India in 2014, but in a year it started overheating, so I brought the phone to US to get it fixed with Apple and didn’t buy the latest version for myself last year (survived with using her phone here). After I took it to Apple Store, after a bit of convincing that it seems to have a hardware issue, the Manager replaced the device for free even though it had been more than a year since I had bought it (and I didn’t even have Apple Care plan). Speaks so much about their pleasing service!
  3. iPad Mini (first Apple win through blogging) – Saru loved her iPad mini that she won in a contest few years back. But I don’t like living with more than 3-4 year old devices, so we upgraded that too! The reason we thought of taking a major hit on our savings (didn’t upgrade her iPod Touch though, which she uses just to listen to songs) is because we were in New Hampshire on our fall trip last month, and people in the US would know there are no taxes to pay there (that’s a cool 8% savings compared to New Jersey where we live).
  4. Difficult time and Relief: I sent the replaced iPhone 6S to my sister in India a month back and have been surviving with Google Nexus that I won in a blogging contest last year. I must say my efficiency has gone down considerably in the last month – Nexus and iPhone are not even comparable by any standards! I am happy to mention that after a 1.5 month wait, my iPhone 7S Jet Black arrived early this week. It looks so amazing :)fullsizeoutput_90
  5. Don’t buy from Apple though: I bought my Macbook Pro from Apple, but iPad and Air from Best Buy. However, I wish I could have bought Pro from Best Buy too. The reason being, Best Buy brought down the prices of all 3 items within a few days by up to $150. I just had to call them up to credit back the difference (in US, you can return most of the items within a month if you don’t like them; or just get the price difference back). Apple never provides discounts on anything (be it Thanksgiving or Christmas). I did call Apple though….their price-match policy says they can only pay back 10% of the difference in price (so I got $10 back 😦 , taking a hit of $90 that Best Buy would have happily given back).

Having said all this, I just want to clarify that I am not rich by any means, but I would rather save over the years and just buy Apple!

P.S. As you can imagine, Apple was not interested in paying me to write this review!

What makes a good photographer?

I often get the question – Which camera do you use? Seems people think it is only the camera that matters, not the ‘eye’ that one has in finding beauty around!

I am not a professional photographer, but based on the positive feedback I normally get, I can say it is more of how you look at the scene that matters; device comes later. Even if you talk about the device, some pics from my iPhone (I am a huge Apple fan) are equally good as compared to the ones from Sony Alpha 7 that acts as my travel companion.

Now the ‘eye’ I am talking about is looking at the scene holistically and then the details. Are objects complementing each other?, is there something which is not required in the frame?, is it too bright or dull in the background?, is it all symmetric? etc. I like to give my audience more than just one object to please them…even if it just a selfie.

Consider this shot from the base of Mount Washington in New Hampshire when I was chasing fall colors last month. Look at the overall picture – do you see any aspect which should not have been there? Then see the details – how the tree in the front enraptures you; the mountain emerging slightly from behind; the intermingling of clouds and blue sky; the stream of water adding further to the beauty; and, of course, the lovely fall colors! Finally, the picture is symmetric in the sense that the imaginary line where the grass meets the trees in the background is horizontal across the frame.

One could have just focused on any one or two of these aspects, but then would it have been this pleasing? The idea is to also learn to shoot better than buying an expensive product and just relying on it.

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P.S. I never do post-processing of any sort on my pictures, they are just a snapshot of raw nature!

The scenery to die for!

In my earlier post, I had covered the snow-capped mountains from our California road-trip. On the same trip, we experienced another aspect of similar landscapes – the ones that were lush-green.

We didn’t mind stopping at each such worthy stop as we had plenty of time…that’s the biggest benefit of driving on your own. I was so overawed by the postcard-perfect views that Saru had to drag me at times to get back to the car 🙂

Below shot is of the New Melones Bridge on the lake with the same name, though it is more of a reservoir.

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Having driven more than 1,700 miles across the state, I would say that California has every aspect of natural beauty, thus making it perfect for a long vacation break.

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The inviting snow-capped mountains!

I have been enjoying the road-trips off late. Being an absolute lover of driving, such trips have added a great deal to my adventures. In addition to the popular attractions that we cover, we also discover many hidden gems along the way. These places are untouched, less populated, and give a peek into the local culture. As the journey is less strenuous, the overall experience gets enhanced.

Of all the road trips we have taken till date, our journey to the West Coast gave us the maximum variety. Snow covered mountains, crystal-clear lakes, lush green landscapes, bountiful orchards, cities buzzing with life – you name it and California has it!

In my previous post on travel, I talked about the mesmerizing and jaw-dropping beauty of fall foliage. Today, I am transitioning to snow-capped mountains. I love mountains on any given day and long to visit them often. On our California trip, while moving across locations, we were treated by spectacular scenic routes…some of them were picture-perfect! I couldn’t have imagined seeing such landscapes in April. But, there they were, and surprisingly in places which are not talked about much in travel magazines.

One such place is Kirkwood, which has a famous Ski resort. If you love skiing, it would feel a heaven being there.dsc05941dsc05933dsc05965

We made multiple stops on the way to inhale in the beauty and sometimes to just wonder at it. In the next write-up, I would show you a completely different view of such landscapes!

Make hay while the sun shines

There is a lot of money to be made by indulging in the Indian Equity Markets in the next year or so.

I love investing and have been active for about a decade, barring the years I was doing my full-time MBA. It is my firm belief that you would never lose money in the Equity/Stock Market if you do your homework before investing and have patience if things don’t work out well.

What kind of homework does it entail and how things look going forward?

1. Economic Outlook: If you follow financial markets, you would know that we have been experiencing good growth since the Modi-led government took charge of the office. The decision by the Fed to keep low interest rates in the US have only added to the growth. There are some global risks, like Brexit vote in the past and the threat of a sustained slowdown in China, but our domestic factors have insulated us from these risks so far.

A win for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming US presidential elections would further add to this growth, and it is indeed looking a possibility going by the poll numbers.

2. Earnings Growth: Companies have been reporting decent bottom-line growth (profits), more so in the case of small and mid-cap firms. Though the top-line still has to show some improvement, without any major setbacks, the markets would only add to the returns.

Having said that, not every sector will do well (and understandably so), so one has to see where money can be made. Off late, Financial (especially NBFCs) and Auto Sectors have done remarkably well.

3. Domestic Factors: Be it good monsoons, stable economic and inflation outlook, and the recent decision by the RBI to cut the Repo rate, the news has been good all along. There is abundant liquidity in the system, which seems to be only going up.

The economy-friendly policies by the Modi-led government have been adding fuel to the growth engines, the recent being the passage of Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill.

4. Foreign Investments: Foreign Investors have poured in billions of dollars this year, and this is evident in the sharp rise in the markets over the last few months. Since the beginning of the year, BSE Sensex has given over 8% returns. And if you had invested in a handful of strong small or mid-cap companies, you would have easily made more than 20% returns!

If you have never played in the market, this might all seem daunting to you. The best way is to open a Demat account and start investing using the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) route, where big fund houses would invest on your behalf. Since they have to earn their own livelihood, they won’t disappoint you as well!

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Disclosure: These views are of my own. Investments are subject to market risks, so do a bit of homework before you jump in with your hard-earned money! And never invest all of your savings, and that too in just one fund/stock!

Image sourced from here

When Your Life Partner Is Your Best Friend

It’s a blessing when you find a friend in your life partner. Fortunately, I am one of the few who has been bestowed with it.

My wife and I were school mates. We were in different sections of the same grade and thus hardly spoke to each other back then. After school, we took our own paths and 11 years went by. Then one day we somehow bumped into each other on Orkut, the social media platform that is no more. It was an instant connection that made us good friends, and later, life partners. Our friendship was put to test many times, and so was our marriage! To be honest, our friendship is the main reason our marriage has survived the tough times. I even joke with my wife, ‘kabhi husband wala treatment bhi diya karo!’ She treats me like a buddy. Like all other friendships, humor is one thing that has helped us sail through. We have clean-bowled our problems with a mighty dose of laughter!

The picture has not always been rosy, though. We have seen our share of ups and downs, both before and after marriage. Before marriage, when due to the recession of 2008 I couldn’t get a job, she was there for me. Our marriage date was fixed and I was still waiting for the placements. Though there was tremendous pressure on me, she understood my agony and frustration without me saying a word. During that hard time, I never felt the burden of being in a committed relationship. She was there for me, not as a fiancee but as a friend. When I take stock of things, I feel we never think from husband-wife perspective. We say what we want. There are no insecurities, which I sometimes see in other couples. People measure their words, hide things, or are diplomatic in their relationships. We are not! Friendship brings that stress-free feeling between us. It also makes this bond stronger.

As a friend, my wife has helped me in all aspects of life. I was a serious lad. In her company, I learned to enjoy life. We now do things like buddies. And she is equally competitive. The ‘cool quotient’ in our friendship is the way we talk. We call each other names. Some are so absurd that I don’t feel like sharing it on my blog. Sometimes, living with her is like living with boys in the hostel. However, there are days when she plays the wife card to her advantage. For instance, I got the following response from her when I disagreed with one of her claims a few days back:screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-8-57-04-pm

But before you think my wife is a saint of sorts, sometimes she irritates me to the core! She suffers from mild OCD, and occasionally, I get the heat of it. On one hand, she argues like a lawyer with all the facts, details, and time stamps; on the other, she pouts like a child and throws random tantrums to buy a thrift store item. These nonsensical things make her super adorable. At least to me! The best moments of our lives are often shared in the form of random statuses on social media. Humor is the savior in our relationship.

Sharing a few anecdotes to show how we fight as friends. And, if not as friends, she plays the wife card with the right amount of buddy humor.

When my wife teased me on my all-time favorite song…it reminds of my Engineering days:

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My OCD comment was used like this:screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-7-51-22-pm

She even makes fun of my love for my iPhone:screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-7-49-07-pm

And the best of all – when she declares publicly that she is my best buddy!screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-8-11-31-pm

Don’t you think such attitude can bring any two people closer? It absolutely can!

Here are a couple of selfies of us, having fun from honeymoon to current status:

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Talking about the fun and entertainment, ZEE TV is bringing a new fun-filled chat show Vivo Smartphone presents Yaaron Ki Baraat co-powered by Amazon.in and Brooke Bond Red Label. It airs at 8 PM on 8th October on Zee TV with the two living legends of Indian Cinema – Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha – taking the center stage and sharing anecdotes on their friendship. There are many secrets from their lives which audience would be amazed to know.

I am so looking forward to this extravaganza, which already looks a hit with its star cast!

For more on the show, check this link – http://www.ozee.com/shows/yaaron-ki-baraat.

The Wonder of Nature – Fall Colors

A couple of years back we spent 3 days in New Hampshire (NH) to see the best colors of nature during fall.

NH is famous for its picturesque beauty, along with the states of Vermont and Maine – primarily because they lie up North and get cold weather early on (starting late September or early October). Nature lovers also visit Virginia (especially Shenandoah valley), but then most of the mountains lie in the North and the beauty there is just unparalleled! In fact, Stowe in Vermont, North Conway in NH, and Acadia National Park in Maine have found their place among one of the top places to visit during fall in many prominent ratings.

During our trip earlier, we were lucky enough to hit some spots when the colors were at their peak, showing the fantastic hues of bright gold, brown, crimson, red, orange, yellow, and others in between. One such place is Kancamagus Highway. You can just drive around and stop at places you feel give you the best of sights. Here are a few shots from our outing:

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We didn’t cover a whole lot of places back then but did visit Franconia Notch State Park, Flume Gorge, Lost River Reservation and a couple of other places I wrote about earlier – Lakes Region and Mount Washington.

I always had a strong urge to go back, and now I look forward to covering Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in the 9-day trip starting this Friday. I especially made sure I spend a couple of days each in Stowe, North Conway, and Acadia National Park 🙂

The Giant Trees at Sequoia National Park

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the Western region of the United States, Sequoia National Park is famous for the giant sequoia trees, including the largest tree on earth – General Sherman.

The majority of the park is not accessible via motor vehicles because of its sheer wilderness. However, you can still enjoy the beauty of this rare redwood forest area and cover the trails it offers.

There are multiple entry points to the park. But the one we took was the most difficult drive uphill – Highway 198 from the southwest through three rivers. It had hairpin bends which were covered with fog throughout. The winding roads with steep incline were difficult to drive as there was traffic from both the sides. Many were making frequent stops to beat the motion sickness. In spite of all this, this was my second most favorite driving experience because of the views; first being Mount Washington Auto Road.

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There were three attractions we wanted to cover.

First was Moro Rock. We went there twice, climbed once – nearly 200 out of 400 steps, but couldn’t see the view of the valley as it was super foggy. The visibility in the parking lot itself was less than 1 feet! See for yourself…

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However, driving through the woods to reach there, with cold breeze caressing our face made it memorable.

After our first failed attempt to climb Moro Rock, we headed to the Sherman Tree. The Sherman Tree is shown in the 1st pic below. It is the largest tree on earth by volume of its trunk. It can be reached through a 0.8-mile round trip paved path from the parking lot and also gives a close-up view of the grove of giant sequoia trees. The ash in the next pic is necessary for the survival of these trees and most of them can be seen having some form of it.

Our next stop was a mile-long walk – Grant Grove. It’s a loop around tall sequoia trees and is an easy one with information written alongside the trees. I recommend it to everyone as this gives a peek into the history and geography of the area. There are benches and picnic areas in the park, too.

After the leisure walk, we headed back to the Moro Rock to try our luck one more time. The Fog was thinning and we were very hopeful of making it to the top this time. We starting driving down the road but as we were nearing the parking, a thick blanket of fog appeared suddenly. It was quite amazing to see fog appearing and disappearing with each turn on the road. Unluckily, we had to leave from there again!

Our last stop was Tunnel Log. It’s a car tunnel carved out of the trunk of a sequoia that fell over the road in 1937. Drive and click a picture…it’s a fun thing to do. Tunnel Log is on the Crescent Meadow Loop.

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Experiencing Yosemite Wilderness

There is so much for everybody to do and see at Yosemite. Once you are tired of seeing the hotspots, you can just stroll around at the marked vista points and experience the beauty of vast landscapes. Most of these spots have benches, offering you an opportunity to grab a meal.

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We had to visit the Mirror Lake in the end before signing-off on Yosemite. But that too required walking a couple of miles to and fro on a paved path from shuttle stop #17. However, there is a beautiful stream to accompany you. After an exhaustive day, I found sitting there so therapeutic.dsc06172

As regards the lake itself, it is a worthy attraction, offering stunning reflections of surrounding cliffs. The best time for views is spring and early summer because of snowmelt from Tenaya creek.

If you wish, you can loop around the lake too, which is about 5 miles round-trip and needs 2-3 hours at the minimum.dsc06181

Yosemite is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you get to be nearby, do visit this amazing gift of nature!

For more pictures, visit my Instagram account @the_learning_step

You got to keep your wife Happy, and girl friend Happier!

…And there are no Ifs and Buts about it!

After the blockbuster success of how can you be happy that I wrote few months back, I thought for a while. How can you be happy without making sure your wife or girl friend is happy – in every respect! I know this is the most difficult task in the world, but then you are supposed to be that much wise. No?

I have failed on many accounts, but still my experience could be of some help to you.

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The way to tackle the issue is to list down all that she needs (most of that is indeed materialistic), and take them up one by one. For me, they have been Perfumes, Watches, Bags, and the list is just short of endless. And then go on to satisfy her desires, whatever that means 😛

You might argue how can materialistic things satisfy her the most? Well, that’s why people have failed to understand women! Better is not to think – if you apply your thought, you will surely not end up on the winning side. You might still be tempted to give it a thought, but believe me – the end result with be the same. Yes, you have my sympathies!

I see this unmarried young lady in office and I have hardly seen her repeat any of her ‘expensive’ dresses. God knows how will her husband keep up with her! Nevertheless, I know many ladies out there did the ‘100 saree pact,’ so I guess it can indeed be worked out. Even otherwise, if you think through, it is not that difficult…you just have to compromise on your ‘personal’ list of items to buy.

If you are unmarried, this becomes all the more important; else, you might not get whatever you are looking for. So, take your call – enjoy the company while being a mute puppy or raise your voice and be in your own company!

*Picture sourced from here

The falls at Yosemite National Park

There are numerous falls at Yosemite – some would just take your breath away!

Most of the tourists just visit the must-see Bridalveil and the Upper and Lower Falls (shown respectively in the 2 pics below). You are allowed to go close to the falls (still at a safe distance) but be ready to get drenched…to me, that is where the fun is!

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As you cover the park, you would see many others too – some don’t require much of an effort to reach.

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However, one that would require a mile-long steep hike would be Vernal Falls (shown in the very last pic above). With my stamina too, I was all huffing and puffing once I reached the top; but it was all worth it.

Notes:

  1. Yosemite is the perfect place for anybody who loves Nature. You can hike, see the stunning falls, picturesque landscapes, or just get lost in the wilderness.
  2. Keep at least 2 days for this national park, even with that you will just get the feel of it. I won’t be surprised if you spend a week there.
  3. Best time to visit is late-March to end-April. The reason being the falls are in full flow then.
  4. Go to their visitor center first and check out what works best for you. You will be able to park there and take the free shuttle for getting around (or you can drive on your own).
  5. As mentioned in the earlier post, the entry is $30 (per vehicle) which is valid for a week.
P.S. For more pictures, please visit my Instagram account @the_learning_step

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.

United States Botanic Garden, Washington DC

Since we were next to the Garden on our first day in Washington and also had half-a-day left, we thought of visiting the Botanic Garden. Also, the entry is free, so there was no reason to not visit!

The garden is divided into 3 sections – Conservatory, National Garden, and Bartholdi Park. It is a great indoor facility if you want to beat the heat and explore the nature. There are many breathtaking exhibits, which makes for a perfect photo-op. I particularly liked the Orchids.DSC04487DSC04475

I suggest spending at least an hour inside the conservatory – read the names of plants and flowers, take a few stops to inhale the whiff around; if you have kids, it is a great opportunity to teach them about the varieties of plants from across the globe.DSC04494DSC04461

Once you are done indoors, there is much to see outdoors too. We avoided it being a hot day.

Here are a few sections I recommend covering overall:

  • Take a walk around the tropical rainforest, and also have a view of the jungle canopy.
  • Have a look at the huge collection of ever blooming orchids.
  • The desert section gives an arid feel; but at the same time, you are spellbound by the beauty of plants.
  • There is a fountain and multiple gardens outside, which should not be missed.

The plants and seeds available at their store are reasonably priced – do buy them!

A pretty unique attraction: Butterfly World

I never imagined there are attractions where you can have butterflies flying all over you…even sitting on you or just giving you a nice pose. Well, while doing research for our Florida trip, we found just that: Butterfly World in Coconut Creek (around 17 miles North of Fort Lauderdale in Florida). It is the largest butterfly park in the world (housing around 5,000 live butterflies) and is highly rated on TripAdvisor.

Though the ticket might look pricey (at $27 for an Adult), but it is all worth it!

As we entered the complex, we were greeted by these beautiful Canaries 🙂

DSC02450On progressing further, the other sections only added to our excitement. They are arranged below per the sections we followed:

  • Paradise Adventure Aviary: includes fountains with ponds, and butterflies.

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  • Hanging Garden & Butterfly Emerging Area: displays cases with hanging pupa and emerging butterflies.

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  • Tropical Rain Forest Aviary: includes a waterfall, tropical plants, free-flying birds, and butterflies.

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  • Jewels of the Sky Aviary: where hummingbirds and other birds can be seen.

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  • Grace Gardens: an outdoor botanical garden with flowering tropical plants.
  • Vine maze to Tropical Bird Aviary: has one of the largest collection of passion flower vines in the world, and the tropical birds.

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  • Macau Landing: we saw these cuties there, they seemed to be occupied within themselves 🙂

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  • Butterfly World Lake: just an open area with a bridge seperating sections.

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  • English Rose Garden: There was not much to see, as it was not the blooming season.
  • Lorikeet encounter: one can see parrots there and can feed them too…my wife had a great time with them.

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  • Bug Zoo: displays live insects including water bugs, spiders, wasps, walking sticks, and mantis.

If you feel tired, you can relax at the couple of café outlets they have. One can also view the laboratory where the butterflies are raised and can see their different stages (live) including eggs, caterpillars, and pupae.

A must visit attraction, especially if you are around with kids. You would need at least 2-3 hours for a good stroll through all the sections – some spend the whole day too!

10 days in ‘heavenly’ California!

I so love traveling to new places – there is something about them that calls me often!

We always wanted to cover the West Cost, a trip that materialized for us early last month (after being in the U.S. for 5 years). We chose to fly with United this time and for rental car I always trust Enterprise.

We had 10 days to see the best of California, and though we wanted to see Grand Canyon and Las Vegas too, that would have made it too hectic for us. So, we took them off the plan and here’s how the layout looked for us – starting with San Francisco and driving clockwise all the way back to it. Essentially, that meant spending at the most 2 days at each major location highlighted in the map…had to adjust for travel time too.alok singhal travel blog

I and Saru are Nature lovers, so our outings are heavy on that aspect…a reason why we left Alcatraz in San Francisco and Universal Studios in Los Angeles. You can plan accordingly based on what you like.

Our first morning in San Francisco was quite misty and we spent a bit of time at the Ocean Beach, while on our way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Then we went to Fort Point, Lands End, Crissy Field, and even to the other side of the bridge to capture these views of the Golden Gate.

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Weather had gotten better by afternoon, but we had few more things to cover that day.

Though it might take many months for me to write entirely about California vacation (and I am yet to complete many past trips too), let me mention this right away: No matter how much of an expert you are in traveling, there are always some takeaways from each escape. Here are the learnings from this long journey:

  1. Alternate between hectic and leisure days…that would give you enough rest.
  2. After every 2-3 days, keep a relaxing day. One can travel to the new location, but don’t keep any exciting adventure lined up.
  3. Listen to your body – Saru got a back-pain while hiking (exerted a lot) in Lake Tahoe…so had to compromise with sightseeing for 2 days.
  4. There are always ways to save money. We could have done better on food this time!

I call Califonia heavenly since the natural beauty is in abundance there.

When I met his Girl Friend!

The other day I was standing at the bus stop when a young lady stealthily glanced at me.

She must have been in her late 20s and seemed unmarried…I have a knack for spotting such women.

I too gave her a quick look and smiled as if I expected a conversation to start.

 

Just then she came to me and asked, “Do I know you.”

“I don’t think so,” was my hesitant reply.

But then she seemed desperate to talk to me, so she started.

 

Is your name Alok?

Oh yes, how do you know (though I knew she read the label on my bag)?

Wow…so we do know each other, she almost jumped with excitement!

I was excited too…who doesn’t want to talk to a pretty lady 😛

 

“You waiting for somebody,” I asked.

No, Nah, just…

I am sure she was waiting for her boy friend. Well, I just know!

“Anyway, can we grab a cup of coffee?” I interrupted.

 

Sure, she immediately chose a perfect place for the evening.

As we took a taxi to go on a good half-hour drive, she was all smiling.

You are so cute, I said with confidence!

Thank you…you too are no less, she claimed! And the physical distance between us was no more!

 

I knew where we were heading eventually. However, I didn’t want it to end bad for her.

So, after a while I asked her to let her bf know. No surprise, she didn’t wait a moment for an excuse and phoned him.

I was listening intently as she skillfully handled the matter. However, the other guy was no other than my close friend.

It didn’t bother me a bit as I was not in for the long-run.

 

Just as we were done with the coffee, she asked me if I could accompany her to the apartment.

That was the moment I was waiting for! And we left in a hurry.

As soon as we entered, she was all upon me…without any protection.

Before I could make myself comfortable with the situation, I was all nude. She already was!

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P.S. As expected, this is a work of fiction!

Are you Happy today?

I am a strong believer in being content with what we already have in life. Essentially, we all have enough to be happy about our lives, yet we keep searching for what we don’t have…a futile effort, and we know ‘why’ already!

Well, this post is to give a couple of happy updates from my side:

  1. Travel updates: I am just back from a 10-day road-trip in California…pretty much covered all major attractions there. Being a travel enthusiast, this is a big reason to be happy about.

Now, I have been getting the question – How can I travel so much (though I don’t travel full-time)? I guess the question relates to money and time aspects.

For me, it is very simple – I ‘chose’ to spend most of my salary on travel. I am not the one who is more concerned about overloading my bank account. I feel decent savings are sufficient to live a happy life; but to be happier, travel 🙂

With finding time, we all get holidays no matter which field we are in. I don’t see any reason to not be able to take a week off every few months (say twice every year). Clubbed with successive weekends, it essentially becomes a long time-off!

Btw, if you haven’t noticed, I am refining this site to make things better and easier for you. I have added a Travel Journal link at the top and classified posts under it based on Geographies I have been to yet. Here’s a quick preview:

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2. Instagram run: I have been on Insta since Dec 12 last year and crossed a 1,000 followers few weeks back. Yay! Feels my pictures are loved by many 🙂 (and up goes my happiness index)

This is especially important since I am only following my wife since beginning, so the expectations of no follow back are clear. I do, however, visit friends’ profiles from time to time.

A humble Thanks to some of you who are already following me there. If not, and you wish to, my handle is The_Learning_Step. I am confident my pics will keep you entertained!*

We all have something to worry about in our lives (including me). But then we can all look at the bright side and sleep peacefully. Maybe tomorrow those worries will get sorted out, as have the worries in the past. Should it matter then? No!

P.S. All pics I share here or on Social Media are mine (unless source is mentioned)…please do not copy. I am not a fan of copying every shot from Flickr, especially if you claim to be a Travel Blogger.

The Great Indian Comedy!

I feel these aspects are applicable primarily to Indians, so the title! If you feel it has takers in other parts of the world too, please feel free to add so we don’t feel alone (no offense to anybody).

The comedy goes as – show us a picture of God or something that touches our emotional being and ask us to Like or Comment or Share within a few seconds or else something wrong will happen, and we would jump at it! Do you really think the world is going to come crashing down if nobody likes that pic? On the other hand, most of you won’t even share my posts on your social media accounts (because you feel they are not worth it, though I really spend a lot of time and money in bringing you the best of places from my travels).

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Another of my favorite is – somebody showing somebody’s grim situation on social media and asking us to contribute in whatever way we can (bank account details are mentioned alongside; how else will you contribute from miles away?). I have seen many such pictures going viral too. The issue is most of us don’t even feel like verifying the authenticity of it and the result is many getting duped of their money.

I am not saying the world is all rosy and such content is always fake, but if we are so practical enough to not pay a very old lady begging on the roadside OR bargaining with a person who has no legs and is still trying to earn his livelihood decently by selling vegetables, why just pay thousands blindly online?

Wouldn’t you want your contribution to actually go to the needy? I am sure you would; so put in some effort to check who is really in need of your help and go ahead with them. I understand it is easy to just transfer the money if somebody can do the ground work for you, but make sure that person is reliable. Otherwise, there are many other ways to help the ones in need…just open up your heart for a start!

Picture sourced from here

Getting ready for Travel!

As you can imagine from my travel posts, we have been traveling a lot these days. So, I thought of putting down essentials to travel smart and making the best use of your outing. Here they are based on my year’s of experience:

  1. Prepare well in advance: Nothing can replace good research and that is where many websites and blogs come in handy. When we have to travel, we plan well ahead in advance to see what we have to see at any location; how much time each spot will take; hotels close by and their rates based on desired options; parking aspects (if driving on your own) at busy locations; distance and travel time between two attractions; entry fees for each spot; and, where can we take the best shots.

When I also write on travel, I like to put down certain nitty-gritties that would help the readers with certain unique aspects, which they might not find on the net otherwise. It is only after visiting the site that one gets to know about them (or by being smart and doing research).

  1. Budget travel: There are ways to save money – Buying packages for multiple attractions at a place; using bonus points of credit card for booking; traveling during off-season; traveling to a nearby airport rather than a popular one; booking early to avail special ‘advance-purchase’ rates; and, even sleeping at the airport to save some bucks if you have flight early morning.

We do all this, that is why our planning for a 10-day trip starts more than 2 months in advance. We have to absolutely make sure we have done our homework well, so we don’t regret later.

  1. Working out the emergencies: What if it rains at a place where you were supposed to spend the time outdoors? Well, if you were looking to see museums in that city the next day, you can just swap the itinerary for those days. But for that also, your layout for both days should have been planned that way, since you wouldn’t want to spend time thinking when you are on the road already!

Weather can indeed play a havoc with your travel plans, so do plan a workaround. Sometimes, some activities can only be done in certain weather conditions, so keep an eye on that too.

  1. Keep backup options: No matter how much planning you do, there could be last minute changes for various reasons (say, the flight got delayed). If you thought you wanted to spend half-a-day at a Botanic Garden but didn’t like it so much, what do you do? You could have kept some back-ups for that day, just in case you had some extra time. One can prioritize the spots for any day and proceed with them in that order.

Since we spend too much money on our trips, we would want to make the best of it. And, create some good memories too!

  1. Travel blueprint: Now that you have done your homework and are ready to fly, the best you can do is to print or carry a soft copy of the entire research you’ve done. It is difficult to just memorize everything that you have concluded on. We normally carry a hard-copy too, apart from keeping an electronic version.

Sharing with you one such blueprint for our longest trip (yet) starting today in California – we have created templates over the years and the new details just go in there:Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 5.40.13 AM

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

As much as I would love to write about one complete trip and then start with the next one, I feel I would miss (and forget about) many locations that we visit in between long vacations. An example being the Australia trip in Sep-Oct last year for which I wrote for nearly 3 months and in the meantime took another vacation to Florida on New Year! Now, if I write about Florida completely, I would miss on the last weekend outing to Washington, D.C.

So, I am going to bring in randomness in my Travel posts (as and when required) and hope that would give you some different flavor to enjoy too!

Saru made sure we see the Cherry Blossoms at Washington DC’s Tidal Basin this year (yes, I missed the all important India vs Australia match on Sunday)! We did go to Washington through a tour package few years back, but you can’t really enjoy much with a whole bunch of people and with the time limit placed on attractions by the tour guide.

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We were lucky to be at the Tidal Basin on Friday afternoon when the blooms were at their best (they officially peaked that day). We spent a few hours strolling around, amazed with the beautiful display of floral fireworks.

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On opposite sides of the basin are the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument – I enjoyed photographing them too! One can also take Paddle Boats to add to the excitement.

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As we were walking around, we luckily spotted a small Tulip garden too.

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The best to end the day was the Sunset clicked from the steps of the Memorial 🙂

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P.S. Most of the attractions in Washington do not have any entry fee. You can just go whenever and whatever time you want, provided they are open.

Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Beach

To celebrate the onset of 2016, we took a 5-day vacation to Florida. So, on the night of 31st Dec, we landed in Fort Lauderdale and checked into our hotel. I had rented a car through Enterprise beforehand – I feel if you want to save your energy and time, car comes in pretty handy. Having traveled extensively over the years through different modes, my view has only strengthened further!

As we got up to the New Year, I was pretty excited to head to the iconic Hollywood Beach (a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Winner)*

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Hollywood Beach is famous for its 2.5-mile beachside Boardwalk – rated as one of America’s finest oceanfront promenade by Travel + Leisure Magazine. It has also been adjudged among the nation’s cleanest, safest, and most user-friendly beaches. Its one-of-a-kind boardwalk is paved with bricks and is a sheer delight for cyclists and joggers. There are many eateries and cafes along the way, thus providing for a wholesome experience.

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The pristine beauty of the place indeed speaks volumes about its popularity! We spent a couple of hours enjoying the blissful morning in the company of many people. Guess, a perfect start to the year 🙂

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*For the record, I had started 2015 on a beach too – the one of gorgeous Cape May to be precise!

Taronga Zoo in Sydney

Our last stop in Sydney was the Tarongo Zoo. It is highly rated, and rightly so.

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We reached there through the ferry we took a couple of times (over 2 days) from the Circular Quay. Our tickets were part of a package that included the ferry fare, so always watch out for such economic ways to see attractions. I would suggest checking with the Visitor Center first; normally they also have fliers there. We also keep an eye out at the promotional material kept at the receptions of hotels.

On reaching the zoo, we took the gandola ride to the other side of the zoo (included in the ticket price), which is the main entrance.DSC02015DSC02042DSC02064

Since it was the only attraction we wanted to cover the entire day, we took our own time and spent more than half-a-day just strolling around and covering all the sections.DSC02018DSC02024DSC02036DSC02002DSC01980

My favorite moment was that of seeing this cute Koala. It seemed too shy and was just lazying around!DSC01977DSC01974DSC01989DSC01996

Though we have been to many zoo’s across countries, I found this one to  be quite relaxing as it is properly laid-out. The last one for us was the seal show.
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Later in the afternoon, we took the ferry back to the Quay and reached our hotel. Since Saru had won the trip to and from Melbourne, we flew to Melbourne that night and spent the night at the airport for our flight back to New Delhi in the morning (you see, we saved some bucks by spending a few hours at the airport itself).

That completes our trip to Australia. Hope you enjoyed the various popular attractions (from Melbourne to Gold Coast to Sydney) that I wrote about, though these are not the only ones we covered.

It’s time to move on from Australia back to the U.S. for other journeys we have covered since then.

Bondi Beach: A must visit in Sydney!

One of the best beaches I have been to yet! And I have covered more than one could reasonably imagine.

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The reason people flock to Bondi is because it has stunning views, is a paradise for surfers, and has one of the best walks alongside (referred to as Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk). We were lucky to visit it on a sultry afternoon and I was quick to take off my clothes (not that one 😛 ). Actually, I was quite amazed at the tropical colored (crystal clear) water there and couldn’t resist!

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The pictures might still not do justice to the attraction, a perfect escape for anybody looking to spend a great time amongst pristine beauty. I wanted to cover the entire walk, which is 6km long and takes about 2 hours nonstop, but we could only cover a bit for lack of time. There are boardwalks for most of the trail, but can get quite hilly in parts and have stairs too!

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Bondi Beach is a must visit, if you are in Sydney!

Why ICC is not supporting World Peace!

I am crazy about Cricket and would love to see the likes of Afghanistan, Ireland, Hong Kong, Scotland, and other such smaller nations play Cricket more often at the world stage. Collectively, such teams who have not yet qualified for Full Membership are known as the Associate Teams (as opposed to the full member nations like India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and others – totaling 10) by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

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In the World T20 tournament that started a couple of days back, the six associate members (who qualified through the 2015 ICC World T20 Qualifier) are playing amongst themselves and Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to quality for the 2 slots available at the Super 10 stage (8 full members have already qualified per their ranking as of 30 April 2014, while Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are battling at the Group Stage with the associates).

Here’s the layout of the tournament:

First Round

Group A – Bangladesh, Ireland, Netherlands, Oman

Group B – Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Scotland, Zimbabwe

Super 10 (Group 1) – England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Group B Winner

Super 10 (Group 2) – Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Group A Winner

Considering Bangladesh defeated India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe in the ODI series last year and finished runners-up in the Asia Cup that concluded few days back, it would be so unfair to see them go out, if they do! Ireland and Netherlands too are not far behind in terms of competitiveness. So, it is really difficult to pick one clear winner between them…with a heavy heart I would pick Bangladesh. Same situation applies to Group B with Zimbabwe and Afghanistan doing quite well. Since only one team will qualify from each group in the First Round to Super 10, I think either of Bangladesh or Ireland will make it from Group A and Afghanistan or Zimbabwe from Group B, though they all have been proving their worth since long!

Let’s talk about Afghanistan. They have been playing splendid Cricket and yet have to fight so hard to quality for the only slot from their group. In the last year’s World Cup (WC), I saw a kid in Afghanistan glued to the television and cheering for his team. It was so heart-warming, a sight to die for in a war-ravaged country. Two days back, in Canada, the Afghan soldiers (they are there as part of exchange programme) requested their boss for a day off to support their team.

Shouldn’t ICC make it easier for Afghanistan to go through, by having at least 12 teams play in the Super 10 stage? Yes…most of us would agree! To me, that would be a step towards supporting world peace. But with Zimbabwe in the group, it might be difficult for them. And, how on earth are Pakistan and West Indies playing better than some of these associates…they have been so terrible in the last many years!

I would have liked to have 2 teams qualify from each Group to next stage, but ICC seems to have been cutting down on associates getting more chances to play with the full member nations. Such heart wrenching! In the next ODI WC to be held in England and Wales in 2019, only 10 teams would participate as opposed to 14 that did in 2015 WC. So, many associates would not even get to play (they’ll would go through a qualifier amongst themselves in 2018).

Such a disaster for the so-called ‘world’ cups! Blame it on the ICC and its management!

Pic sourced from here

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

One of the best times we’ve had in Australia was at the Circular Quay in Sydney, that has Harbour Bridge and Opera House on either side.

As mentioned in the last post on Darling Harbour, we took ferries a couple of times to cover the main attractions in Sydney. That allowed us to capture the day and night views of the area, which I now feel is a must. The relative calmness of the morning, hustle-bustle of late afternoon, picturesque views of the twilight leading up to the nightlife all provide for pretty unique experiences.

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We didn’t go inside the Opera House, a UNESCO world heritage site. However, that won’t be bad provided you are ready to pay a hefty AUD 37 for a one-hour guided tour!

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Here are views of the Circular Quay and Harbour Bridge from the Opera House. We spent a couple of hours just admiring these sights!

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In my experience, one of the best ways to feel the city is to walk around. And we do precisely that! Just for numbers, we walked an average of 16,000 steps per day over one week we spent in Australia – normally I target 5,000 per day!

Making best use of Social Media

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I am no pundit to guide anybody on how to interact on Social Media. However, there are some basics that I have learned over time, which have worked in my favor.

You may choose to disagree with them, which is perfectly fine; but I would love to hear your views. I have also explained what I do in each situation, which further clarifies the point:

  1. Do not share excessively: You are not a celebrity; else you would not be reading this post!

I had this lady I was connected to via her Blog, FB, Twitter and also IndiBlogger (blogging platform in India). She posts excessively – good morning updates, posting pictures multiple times in a day, sharing her posts every day, retweeting and sharing others work blindly and excessively – and all this on all relevant platforms. On top of that she started multiple blogs on various themes in due course of time. I was so tired of seeing her updates often in my feed that I had to unfollow her from everywhere…and no regrets for that!

I wouldn’t want to overwhelm my audience. You are on social media for ‘social’ purpose, not just for me! If I don’t care about you, then I don’t deserve you. Think about it!

  1. Make numbers matter – I used to follow a few who have thousands of followers on Twitter. But when they post something, they don’t even get a single ‘favorite’ in the entire day. The reasons could be many – the tweets are automated (and excessive), they don’t interact with others, the followers are not really readers (ever heard of follow for follow), the shares are not really worthy of sharing with others, or the timing is terrible.

I fail to understand what is the point in sharing if nobody is acknowledging it. Do they just want to post blindly? Wouldn’t it be better to post wisely and only what is worthwhile?

Most of my shares are only after I have read somebody’s post and really liked it. That way the quality aspect is guaranteed, and i am glad many of them get read and shared by others too.

  1. No point in pleasing everybody – As much as you would like to visit everybody that comes on your profile, practically, you won’t be able to do it. Even if you are, the fact is some were just looking for a comment or follow back. Rather, do what you can manage in the long term and what you really love to read. I see many just retweeting or sharing multiple posts of a person in succession…seems more of a liability based on give-and-take relationship they have!

Also, one related aspect is you can’t possibly have thousands of friend’s! Check the list of people you follow or are friends with, many won’t even have interacted with you ever. Do you really want to keep them forever?

I never connect with anybody who has poor interaction. Even if I do initially, and there is no interaction from the person for a few months, I am happy to break the virtual bond. I do not want to follow them just because they are following me back!

Image sourced from https://us.fotolia.com/

Planning for Life’s Downs and Combating them Fearlessly

With life comes ups and downs. I bet, there isn’t a single person who has not faced a hardship at some time in their life. However, there would be many who overcome these difficult times happily – for some it is in their upbringing, for others it is a learned aspect. But what I have found is those armed with a plan always go further in life.

I wrote MBA entrance exams (for a full-time program) for the top B-Schools in India in 2006-07. I had prepared for more than 3 years to crack at least one of them. Such was my commitment that I took preparatory books even to the US when I went on a short-term assignment through Wipro in 2005. When I came back to India, I used to study day-in-day-out; even during my commute to the office, I would solve mathematical equations (you see, I didn’t want to leave it to chance).

After relocating to Gurgaon from Bangalore, I left Wipro to join TCS around mid-2006. A major reason was I wanted to join coaching with Career Launcher there, they were the best in India back then. I must have practiced countless Mock tests and Group discussions. I would read The Economic Times daily (I did major in Finance) to learn the financial jargon and improve upon my GK. Just before November, when the exams were about to start, the entire vocabulary from Barrons (3500 words) was on my fingertips.

With more than enough preparation as some would say, I wrote my first exam, the Common Admission Test (CAT). I made a strategic mistake there and knew right away I wouldn’t clear it – with that, making it to the MDI or SP Jain was gone. I learned from the mistake. IIFT entrance was lined-up next and I was prepared even more than before. The remaining followed – NMIMS, JBIMS, FMS, XLRI – until the end of Jan 2007.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I only cleared IIFT. I was within 1,100 selected from more than 45,000 who sat for the exam, for their Interview, Essay Writing and GD process. Well, with no option, I prepared even harder. After going through the second stage, I came to know in March that I am 29th on their waiting list (they had 160 seats). Huh! But I still had hope!

From March to June 2007, as people kept on dropping because of their selection(s) elsewhere, the list kept moving up. I had countless sleepless nights that I can remember. But I never gave up – my Mom and I would just think and pray. She would always say i will make it, she is a very firm believer in God.

My project at work wanted me to fly off to Manchester for a long-term assignment early July. I reluctantly accepted that, on the condition that MBA would take precedence in case I was to be selected. However, I always kept an eye on the waiting list as they could take me in before 2nd July when the classes were to start. On 29th June, I came to know that I have finally made it to IIFT and have to join in 3 days. I was on cloud nine with smiles (and tears). The wait from the last 8 months had come to an end!

Looking back, it was a life-changing event, and I knew it back then as well! You don’t get a call from IIFT easily – they were ranked 6th in India by the Wall Street Journal in 2014, 21st in Asia-Pacific by the QS Global 200 Business Schools report, and were placed in the highest B-school rating category (Super league) by Business Standard last year – these are just a handful of the laurels for this eminent institution.

What I learned is to never give up and to always have a plan or, as the video aptly says, #KhudKoKarBuland…I have fought many tough battles since, but with much less stress and positive outlook, because being prepared has always helped me move forward.

The beauty of Darling Harbour

Let me state it at the outset – It is a sheer delight to spend time at the Darling Harbour in Sydney. It is such a beautiful and happening place and being right in the middle of the city makes it only more convenient…much like Times Square in New York!

We went a couple of times to the Harbour since one can cover many famous attractions in Sydney (including Circular Quay, Fort Denison, Manly Beach, Opera House and Taronga Zoo) by taking a ferry from the Darling Harbour – that’s what we did.

After covering QVB and Town Hall on our 1st day, we spent our evening at the Harbour – just strolling, taking in the views, enjoying the shopping centre alongside, and even talking walks on the Pyrmont Bridge.

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Before heading back to the hotel, we took a 2-day pass of the ferry so we could cover other attractions starting next day morning. The ferries are normally hop-on hop-off, so you can do sightseeing leisurely. Look out for the packages from various agencies, some club tickets to the zoo along with the ferry fare.

Day after Engagement

We have happy memories, we all have. What makes them special are the funny, naughty, or just peculiar moments we shared with our loved ones back then.

I was towards the end of my full-time MBA programme (from Kolkata) when I met Saru online and things worked out in favor of our relationship. Being from the same city – Ambala, in North India – it was easy for me to meet her whenever I visited my hometown…she was running her online business from home, and even her CS practice for which she used to go to Delhi sometimes.

The day after we got engaged, the weather was just perfect for a romantic escape in the hills of Himachal. I called up Saru in the morning, did some nice talking, and asked her to come out of the house and have a look at the weather. As soon as she came out, I was there with a big smile on my face…she was utterly surprised to see me 🙂

We both have always been adventurous and love the mountains. Within minutes, we decided to escape to the mesmerizing beauty of Kasauli, and further up to Barog, a small hill station in Solan district in Himachal. We packed a few items to eat, and started on our romantic day-long journey (I always have my Dad’s car at my disposal when I am home). Before leaving, I called up my Mom, and told her we are leaving for Chandigarh on a day trip, as she would have never approved of me driving so up in the hills.

Almost a couple of hours into our drive, seems the Gods wanted to join us in our naughtiness, and it started raining heavily when we crossed Panchkula towards Kalka (that’s where the hilly area starts). As soon as the rain lightened up on our way up, we stopped at many places to enjoy the scenic beauty and clicked many pictures too!

Kasauli (9)Kasauli (15)We spent a few hours in the lap of nature, just enjoying our togetherness. The traffic was not much, and it felt the roads were empty for us. Once we were close to Barog, we parked aside and ate in the car, with the downpour giving music to the ears.

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In the evening as we were coming back, my Dad called up as he wanted the car for his work, so I had to really rush to reach back home on time.

After coming back, I posted some pictures from our trip on Orkut. It was when my mom’s friend called her in the night and told that Saru and I are looking awesome together, that our entire escape came open. Everybody laughed as I was daring enough to take her to Barog and drive like Schumacher to reach home in time, but not wise enough to post it on social media. We still laugh at the naivety of this entire incidence.

P.S. I took all precautions to not be crazy at the expense of our or others’ safety.

This post is a part of #LoveAndLaughter activity at BlogAdda in association with Caratlane.

Queen Victoria Building, Sydney

After covering Melbourne and Gold Coast, our final destination in Australia was Sydney! We had booked Castlereagh Boutique Hotel there and were very impressed with our choice – I would give it 4 out of 5.

Since we had half-a-day with us after landing, we ventured out to see the historic Queen Victoria Building (QVB), which was right behind the hotel. It was designed by George McRao in Romanesque Revival style and was opened to the public in late 19th century.

QVB is famous for its mighty centre dome, consisting of an inner glass dome and an exterior copper – sheathed dome.

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Many expensive brands occupy a place in there, and the structure provides for a visual treat, especially on the inside.

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The impressive Architecture and Glorious stained glass windows run throughout the building and an original 19th century staircase sits alongside the dome.

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It is also famous for its huge clocks, which are a marvel in themselves. Here are The Great Australian and Royal Clocks!

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It might come as a surprise, but Australia is very expensive – even US looks much cheaper. Just for comparison, a Revlon nail polish which one can get for 7USD was worth 21AUD there and the Exchange Rate is 1.4AUD/USD. Do the math!

Anyway, we love window shopping and had plenty of time for that at the QVB 🙂

After a couple of hours there, we ventured out to see the Town Hall, which is just across the street. It is renowned for its high Victorian interiors and rich decroation and is the largest and most ornate late 19th century building in Australia.

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