The thunderous experince of Niagara Falls

We went to Niagara Falls on the US side about 5 years. Though the views are spectacular (and I posted a few pics on my Instagram account earlier), but the beauty on the Canadian side is overwhelming. So, after moving to Canada, the first trip we took was spending a Sunday afternoon there…it is just about an hour-and-a-half drive from our place!

Niagara Falls is a common name of 3 falls – Horseshoe Falls (the largest), Ameircan Falls, and Bridalveil Falls (the smallest).

We arrived there around 3.30pm and parked our car at the Falls Parking Lot (there are many other options around too, you can check on the internet beforehand). At $22 for the day, it is a great option as it is just opposite the Horseshoe Falls.best view of niagara fallshorseshoe falls canadaniagara canada.jpgthe mesmerizing waterfallsThe beauty of the place is eye-catching as there are many hotels close by and the landscapes provide for an added charm. There is enough to spend even a day there as one can just stroll around along the falls for a couple of kilometers!hotels near niagara falls.jpgstrolling along the niagaraJust a few steps aways from the Horseshoe are the American Falls (the long ones on the left below) and Bridalveil Falls (the small one on the right) – both lie entirely on the US side.american and bridalveil fallsThe boats you see in the shots run from both the US and Canadian side – they are referred to as Maid of the Mist experience. We took the one from the US side when we visited earlier – it is an amazing experince as you would hear the craching waves by being as close to them as possibe, and soak up drops of powerful spray (be ready to get wet though you would be given a protective sheet for the body). We hope to take it again from this side someday. I also have to shot the night views of the falls since they illumite in different colors through high-intensity beams!

Being a major attraction in both countries, there are other ways to indule too…take the carriage ride for instance!carriage ride at niagaraIf you feel tired or hungry, there is no dearth of outlets to enjoy the meal you prefer, or just shop for some souvenirs.

Btw, Canada is celerating its 150th year and all national parks across the nation have free entry this year…something we hope to leverage soon!canada 150th day celebrationWe started back around 10 in the night, after witnessing the amazing fireworks over the falls. For more details for your trip, I suggest checking their site.

When is the best time to invest in Stock Markets?

Each of us have our own perspective when it comes to timing the Markets! If you look at where the India Stock Markets are right now, some would say the conditions are ripe for a much further move up; while some others would say the valuations are over-stretched and it is better to book profits. Well, to be frank, nobody knows what would happen tomorrow. Our guesses are as good as the toss of a coin!stock-market-investmentSo, where does that leave us?

My experience investing in over a decade says invest regularly. That way you won’t feel left out if the stocks move up; if they go down, your further investments would average out the ones you’ve already made. However, basic common sense would say a developing market like India should pay off in the long term, and that’s what it has done! Nifty50 – a widely tracked index of the Indian Markets – has a CAGR of 11.7% in last 20 years (since 1996) and 7.5% in last 10 years (since 2006). But one has to keep in mind that these are long-term averages, meaning there were ups-and-downs over these years. To put things into perspective, if you had invested a lump-sum amount just before the crash of 2008, your money would have taken a serious beating; but, if you had invested at the peak of the crash, you would have made a killing in the next few years. That’s why the wisdom says invest over time.

One basic mistake is to blindly go by the commentary of Analysts. Many have been advising since long that we are in the over-bough territory. If I had followed their advice, I would have not made record profits in each of the last few months! Though it might sound concerning, most of those profits have come from stocks that already rose a bit and my gut feeling asked me to still go with them. Having said that, I do maintain a balance between investing directly in stocks and also in mutual funds via sip route…the individual stocks might get hammered during tough times, but a basket of them would be relatively better off. It is essentially risk vs reward playoff.

This leaves us with using our best judgment when it comes to investing. If you have a long enough experience in the markets, the call will be relatively easy to make; but if you are a novice, you might burn your fingers initially. Again, that’s where investing regularly over a period of time helps and you learn in the process too!

*Picture sourced from here

Following the multi-cultural dream!

We have moved to Canada!

I would have hit H1B limit in the US end of this month and I declined Green Card request from my company 2 years back…and I have no regrets whatsoever!

More often than not, my decision to move on was met with shock to extreme disbelief with whoever I’ve shared the news. I was asked why on earth I don’t want to settle down in the US. Even otherwise, I could have applied for and taken the Green Card (GC) and then left. Well, I was never intent on doing so…and I don’t do anything unless I am comfortable with it!

I can imagine why people behaved the way they did. Let’s take the Indians in the US as an example – most of them dislike India after they’ve spent some time in the US, so much so that some even start ‘hating’ the place they come from! An India-born lady I recently met in the US said, ‘I am happy Trump is adding restrictions on immigrants. Indians are trash and should be sent back!’ As much as I was sorry to hear that and had to bow down my head in shame, I couldn’t believe she can hardly speak a sentence in proper English, in spite of being in the US for over 15 years. If you ask me, she should be the first one to be sent packing!

For me, my love for my motherland never changed. It is natural to ask then, why did I spend 6 years in the US? A simple answer – to fulfill my financial obligations.

As much as I would like to head back to India, I still want to make myself financially stable and gain multi-cultural experiences. I tried very hard to find my next assignment in Europe for multiple reasons. And, for many months last year, Belfast in Ireland was looking like a good possibility. But things didn’t work out eventually and my current client never wanted me to leave either. All in all, Mississauga (close to Toronto) in Canada is where the discussions finally settled down on – not exactly the outcome I had hoped for, but such is life! So, here I am, publishing this post from Canada. The dream of going back to India someday is still there, though.

Btw, I had promised myself to visit Niagara Falls on the Canadian side the first weekend I am here – and I fulfilled that ambition. Here’a video of the world-famous HorseShoe Falls visible only from this side of the border.

More on my Niagara outing would come up across platforms in due course, but there is a lot to look forward to as we start exploring Canada now 🙂

Before I end, a request to my readers  – We all understand the craze to move to the West to pursue our ambitions is something hard to pass over. There is nothing wrong in settling down here too. But, don’t badmouth your own country. If for some reason you are ‘kicked-out’ of the US, it will only be your home country that will still be willing to welcome you with open arms!

Drive to the top of Mount Washington

Even though I’ve been to the highest peak of North-Eastern United States a couple of times, I can’t put down my feelings in words. Just the thrill of driving through the curvy and (mostly) narrow roads is enough, and imagine adding nature’s beauty alongside it! Well, such was our experience this time, primarily because we were there during the peak of color change.

After buying the tickets at the base, we were on our way to drive about 8 miles to the summit through the Mt Washington Auto Road. There are designated stops every once in a while where one can park the car (stopping is recommended though as it lets the engine cool off) and just get lost in the beauty!

I hardly miss the changes in scenery; else, I wouldn’t have enjoyed these stunning landscapes!alpine beauty in mountainsbest nature colorsThe place is famous for skiing during the winter time, and one can see those paths in the distance from the top. Well, October is actually the time when snowfall starts for the season, so make sure the road is open before you even head to the area. It is better to check their website for daily updates during or around the winter time.best views in new hampshireThe summit is nothing short of being at the top of the world literally – the entire White Mountains area of New Hampshire is visible right below us. There are trails too at the peak…actually, one can hike also all the way to the top from the base – yes, some are that crazy!

There are a couple of structures at the top proving history of the place, and also on early visitors. There is a shop too where you can buy souvenirs. We always purchase at least one at the places we visit. If we were to put all the magnets we have on the fridge, I guess we would run out of space already 🙂

Enjoy yourself to the fresh air of ever gorgeous landscapes. If you feel tired, there is a cafe shop too, with enough to fill the stomach (paid, of course – not pricey though!).mount washingtonAs mentioned in the previous post, you can plan to take cog railway also to the top (instead of your car). It can be taken one or both ways, though we never experienced it. Here’s how it looks though – a toy train from the far off!cog railway nhnew hampshire trainYou would need a couple of hours at least to spend a decent time there and explore the summit. We must have spent about 3 hours before starting the downward journey. Needless to say, I stopped at many places, again! There was not much traffic on the roads, giving me enough time for my clicks and experiments.beautiful fall drivesfall color photographyThere is nothing compared to the beauty of the fall, it is as if the entire world around us has been painted in different shades of magnificent colors!

Photo shoot at the base of Mount Washington

Mount Washington (highest peak in the Northeastern United States) enthralled me the first time we were there a couple of years back. So, I always wanted to go back and enjoy its unparalleled beauty once again…and autumn provides for a perfect time to witness the stunning landscapes the region offers.

But before I write about our 2nd excursion to its summit, let me give a glimpse of how gorgeous the base looked. We were on our way from the hotel in North Conway to the base of the peak.new hampshire fall colorsI must specifically mention I have never seen such a picture-perfect scenery anywhere else (yet). The multi-colored trees, white and blue skies, mist atop the mountains playing hide-and-seek, the river stream below – all take our breath away!

We just parked our car (free parking) in a large open lot and enjoyed for about an hour before buying our tickets to head up to the summit.base of mount washingtonmount washington nhfall in new england regionHere’s the entrance to the summit just a few feet away. The road to the summit is formally called Mount Washington Auto Road.best of new hampshireYou might feel like you have seen the best nature has to offer by just being there, but imagine seeing all this from the elevation – I will cover that in my next post on New Hampshire.

Notes:

  • We had to pay $29 for the car and myself and $9 for the wife as fees ($7 for kids of 5-12 yrs of age) to drive to the summit.
  • If you are traveling in winters, chances are the road might be closed because of weather. I suggest visiting their site for current information.
  • One can also take the Cog Train to have a different experience. Though we didn’t take it, I will show how the train looks in my next post. Details on the same can be found here.

Basics to keep in mind while Investing in Stock Markets

stock marketI am a fan of Stock Markets! But when I bring it into my discussions, some people avoid talking about it. The reason – they might have either lost or fear losing their hard-earned money. However, if you ask me, you will never lose sleep if you follow some basic rules.

Here are the ones that I have learned over the years:

  1.       Indulge with your surplus money.
  2.       Do your own research, not go by recommendations.
  3.       Go for quality stocks.
  4.       There can be dips too, maintain calm.
  5.       Don’t get greedy if a stock performs well.
  6.       Never put your eggs in one basket.

Each of them is explained in detail in my post for Money View here.

If you are not invested in the India markets (I like US markets too, but don’t have any exposure here though), you have missed out on some serious money in the last few years. And if you still don’t invest, you will surely miss on much more!

*Money View is India’s No.1 Money Manager app and has one of the top blogs in Business and Finance. Though I am paid to write for them, the thoughts are genuine.
**Image sourced from here

Wahweap Overlook and the Horseshoe Bend

One of the iconic attractions in Arizona is the Horseshoe Bend. It is a natural horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. A part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, it is a few miles downstream to the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

We had chosen to stay in Page after covering the Grand Canyon since Antelope Canyons (Lower and Upper) and Horseshoe bend lie within the city limits.

Being an early riser, I chose to start my morning by driving to the Wahweap Overlook, a vantage point to see the sunrise over Lake Powell. I must mention some mornings provide for a gorgeous view there…and smoke billowing from the factory far off added to the beauty that day!wahweap overlooksunrise at waheap pageI must have spent a quiet hour or so before heading to the Horseshoe, which was just about a 10-minute drive (on the other side of the hotel).

The bend itself is about 1.5 miles round trip from the car parking. There is no other way than to walk, though it is not strenuous!sunrise at horseshoe bendI went to the bend a couple of times and once with Saru during our 2-day stay in Page. The first time I saw the bend, I could only wonder how the force of nature created the bend over millions of years…the same force of the Colorado river that created the majestic Grand Canyon too!

Here’s the best what I could capture across days. The 2nd day provided for much better shots, even the Sunrise-view was spectacular – see the golden stream in the distance in 2nd image below.horse shoebend arizonawhat to see in usaLuckily, a lady gave me a nice click early morning…she had her arms up and looked as if thanking God! Btw, I used this shot for a paid promotion by an International Client on my Instagram account 🙂beauty of horseshow page az

*There is no fees for either the Overlook or the Horseshoe bend!

How to Spend Your Bonus in 2017

Many of us get our annual bonus payouts this time of the year. Though the in-hand component depends on many factors, but the prospect of a significant sum hitting our bank account makes us go crazy with the planning to spend to it. However, how we make the best use of this sudden splurge in money is what differentiates the wise from others.bonus payout.jpgFor me, a major part of it went into Equities this year since they have been witnessing a phenomenal run. Even otherwise, Stock Market would give you (more often than not) better returns than any other investment option. The remaining has been allocated across Travel and ‘Keep-the-wife-happy’ budgets 🙂

Over the years though, I would suggest allocating the Bonus to following categories:

  1. Pay off your Debt
  2. Save for Emergencies
  3. Invest in Future
  4. Upgrade your Skills
  5. Have fun with the Leftover

You can read more on each in my post for Money View (MV) blog here.

*MV is India’s No 1 money manager app with over 5 million users. Their Blog is one of the best in Business and Finance. Though every post I write for them is sponsored, my thoughts are genuine.
**Image sourced from here.

A different sort of AtoZ Challenge – with Stocks!

April is when many of us take the rigorous AtoZ Challenge. For the record, I have never taken part in any challenge because my full-time job and other of my hobbies don’t allow me to do so.a-to-z HEADER [2017] - aprilThose who follow me here or on Facebook would know I have been pretty active in the Indian Stock Market in the last couple of years. I have written a few posts here and also on Money View Blog as to why the times have been (and are still) exciting and that there is a bounty to be made in the markets!

In fact, my active churning of portfolio is the main reason I have cut down drastically on the blogs I visit (not that I want to). The other reason is spending more time on the work-outs and Instagram, where i’ve had a good line-up of sponsored posts by international clients. Hope God continues to keep showering his blessings!

Coming back to the challenge – Just yesterday, a passing thought on the Stocks I have either bought or sold in the month of April made me realize they could easily fit into the prompt. So, I put them down alphabetically. And, voila…I didn’t do terribly 🙂

The ones in Sea Green in the table are my buys or sells in April; the ones in Gray make me guilty of not completing the challenge 😛

A Adani Transmission Ltd
B Bombay Dyeing and Manufacturing Co
C Cineline India Ltd
D Delta Corp Limited
E Emami Infrastructure Limited
F Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd
G Geojit Financial Services Ltd
H HOV Services Limited
I IDFC Ltd
J JM Financial Limited
K Kopran Limited
L LT Finance Holdings Limited
M MEP Infrastructure Development Ltd
N NCC Ltd
O Onward Technologies Limited
P PTC India Financial Services Ltd
Q No favorite stock
R Royal Orchid Hotels Limited
S Sanghi Industries Ltd
T Triveni Engineering and Industries Ltd
U Uttam Sugar Works Limited (sold in March)
V Vijaya Bank
W Welspun Corp Ltd (favorite)
X No favorite stock
Y No favorite stock
Z Zee Media Corporation Ltd (favorite)

Nevertheless, I guess I still qualify to be awarded for taking part in the challenge (though unintentionally). Had the thought struck me in March, I would have certainly completed the task.

P.S. Please do your own research before investing. Profitable investments are a result of extensive analysis on multiple factors.

*Image sourced from here

The Lakes Region of New Hampshire, once again!

We have been to the Lakes Region in New Hampshire a couple of years back. I was so amazed at the natural beauty there that I always wanted to go back in the fall. So, right after I came back from the Echo Lake in North Conway (see the last post on travel), I and Saru headed to the largest lake in the state – Lake Winnipesaukee!

Our first stop was Meredith Marina, about one-and-a-half hours away from the hotel. We have fond memories of the Marina, as it is one of the cutest places we’ve been to. In fact, I am feeling nostalgic as I am writing about it. Look closely at the sight below and see why it could be anybody’s favorite place!

The Bay Point hotel in the view provides unparalleled lake views, and one can witness sunrises and sunsets from most rooms. I captured the reflection of the structure in the lake both times (check the link above for similar shot from the previous trip) and it provided for a postcard-type setting.meredith marinaThere are many towns around the lake and we explored quite a few of them that day. However, we were not speechless this time around…maybe we had high expectations because last time we had a bit of mist in some of the views.

In the afternoon, we came across this spot a bit off the road. Though there were some trails there which few of tourists were enjoying, I just got satisfied with the reflections 🙂lake winnipesaukeeAnother highlight of the day was this shot from Ellacoya State Park. If you compare it to the similar shot from the earlier post, you would realize both were taken from exactly the same spot…just that the mist over the mountains was missing this time.rv park in new hampshireIt was a relaxing day for us (and intentionally so) as we sat beside the lake in many small towns…each had its own beauty though.new hampshire vacationWe were back at the hotel well before dusk and looked forward to an adventurous day up ahead.

*There was no fees at any of the places…one might have to pay negligible parking fees though.

5 Reasons Why You Should Invest in Stock Markets in 2017

Exactly 6 months back I had mentioned on this platform that this is an excellent time to take the plunge in Indian Equity Markets (read that post here). Looking back, the markets have had a phenomenal run, and things are still looking bright for the remainder of this year at least.

I was bullish all through 2016, and my Investments did perform quite well! Here is how my Portfolio has stacked up compared to Market returns. I invest both in Equities and Mutual Funds (lump sum and via SIPs). On all these aspects, my investments have beaten the market comprehensively!*Indian Equity ReturnsIndian Mutual Fund ReturnsJust to put things into perspective – If you had invested Rs 1 Lac when I had recommended in October, you could have easily made at least Rs 20,000 on any decent stock…that too just by buy-and-hold strategy (no active trading). Many stocks have more than doubled in this time frame! Compare it to the current instrument where you have parked your money, and you would be at loss of words!

Nevertheless, there is still time to pour cash into the market as there are many positive factors that would push it further. Read my detailed post on what lies ahead on Money View blog.

*Tail Stocks comprise less than 2% of my Total Portfolio value.

**Money View is India’s No 1 Money Manager app and has a user base of over 5 million.

The early morning Nature’s Charisma…

Our first day in New Hampshire (NH) last fall started with me visiting Echo Lake in the wee hours. A small water body in the Echo Lake State Park in North Conway, the lake is situated at the foot of the Cathedral Ledge, which is known for rock climbing in the White Mountains area.

As I drove up the elevation to reach one of the rock ledges (the other being While Horse Ledge) with scenic views, I was feeling lonely as it was too dark. But, soon, there was a car to accompany me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Once at the top, I realized I was in the company of young lady photographer. It hadn’t been too long and a few more people joined us to witness sunrise over the mountains in the distance. I could also see the Echo Lake on my right.

cathedral ledge new hampshire

As the Sun started showing up, the scenery was enchanting. And the falls colors added to the magnificent beauty!

echo lake state parkcathedral heights new hampshire

Just after Sunrise, I drove down to the lake, which is flanked by hills. I have been lucky in the past with some lakes giving me the time of a lifetime, so I don’t miss any opportunity now!

 

Guess what? This time I had another unique experience. I saw mist taking off of water and creating a spectacular view – it was a first for me! I was in the company of another photographer, this time a male who said he spent the entire night there stargazing. Being a small lake, I could cover it from one end to another in just about 5 minutes. I simply can’t express my feelings in words, so would let a couple of shots do the talking…

morning at echo lakeecho lake new hampshire

I spent a couple of hours in total and about 8 am I was on my way back to the hotel 15 minutes away, and another journey awaited us – to the Lakes Regions of NH, where we had been 2 years back also!

The Power of Believing in Yourself!

Some of you know I am a member of Toastmasters, working on my Communication and Leadership skills. I recently won the Area-level contest, having won in the club last month. I would now deliver the speech at the Division-level in April.

Here’s the Speech text. Since delivery matters as much as the content, if not more, think of all the hand gestures, facial expressions, body movements, vocal variety etc that go along as you read through.


Always believe in yourself! I have always believed in myself!

Toastmasters and Guests…

Are you ready to get inspired? Yes, Yes? Let me take you through my Toastmaster’s journey and how just a small belief turned around the fortunes of my current club in Warren!

I was working for Morgan Stanley in New York when I first heard about Toastmasters. Soon enough, I joined a very active club near Times Square in New York. They had about 50 members back then, each ready to grab any role they could get in any meeting.

Much to my delight, I got the opportunity to do my Ice Breaker pretty soon…in about a month. I can’t be proud of my speech though…I was all over the place. I spoke more about myself than even my parents know about me 😦 Anyhow, the feedback was overwhelming with a good number of suggestions to improve, and I did take them positively. But, before I could settle down in the club, I changed my job and joined Citigroup in Warren. The new location meant I couldn’t go to New York anymore. However, by then that club had motivated me so much that I couldn’t think of my life without Toastmasters!

I looked up on the Toastmasters website to find a club near warren and saw a club in Citigroup itself. A big relief, I was ecstatic! However, my happiness didn’t last long as there was no contact from the club mentioned on the website. Huh! I called up Toastmasters help desk and got the name of the founder of the club. After speaking to him, I came to know the club was practically dormant with only a couple of members around, including himself!

I felt dejected! I questioned myself if this was the right club to join. After all, why would you want to join a club with only 2 members around?

But didn’t I say ‘I believe in myself.’ I joined the club (yay) and vowed to give more than 100% to have the club up and running again. The club had had a pretty good run up until the recession of 2008/09, so there was nothing wrong fundamentally with the club.

I was soon assigned the Membership and Public Relations officer roles for the club. We started with an Open House and got a few members. In another few months late 2014, we did another one and got a few more people. In the next 1.5 years we grew up to 28 member-strong! A fantastic growth! And we have never looked back ever since! It’s a journey that the senior members of our club are proud of and we learned many leadership skills on the way – including patience, communication, motivation, and others.

However, one aspect that stands above all is that we came back from a very critical and crucial situation to being a very active club. Many of our members have started the Youth Leadership Programs (YPL). I’ve also conducted the sessions. We have competed at the Area and Division levels and won a few awards too! Moreover, we went on to achieve 2 Distinguished and one Select Distinguished awards in the last 3 years. Yes, we did it all! And we did nothing different than just believing in ourselves, facing the troubles head-on, and overcoming them.

You can do it too! You can do whatever you want to! You don’t have to go to Harvard or read expensive Books for that. It’s all with you already – Just Believe In Yourself!

Can you all repeat after me? I can do it; I can do it, We all can do it!


Wish me luck. If I win, I would then go to the District contest and then to the International Speech Contest (wishful thinking, eh!) 🙂IMG_1254-2

Another day at the majestic Grand Canyon…

I must have dreamt about it innumerable times. But the dream of witnessing a Sunrise at the Grand Canyon became real the very next day I saw a spectacular Sunset there.

Since we were staying very close to the entrance of the South rim, it just took me about 15 minutes to drive through the curvy roads of the Grand Canyon (GC) and park at the Maricopa point in the week hours. The point is on a projection just off the main road of the GC.maricopa point grand canyonsunrise at grand canyonAs the Sun started peeking through the canyon mountains, I could hear a few voices in the distance. The tourists at the other viewpoints were in joy as we all welcomed another beautiful day!best views of grand canyonphotography at grand canyon.jpgI must have spent not more than an hour as it was quite chilly that time of the day, but I was amazed to see another wonder of nature. It is not often that I get to be at the best of attractions!

After going back to the hotel, I picked up Saru, checked-out, and we were again at the Visitor center to cover the Desert View scenic drive of GC – about a 25-mile (40-kilometer) stretch towards the east of GC that culminates in the Desert View Watchtower (see below map taken from official site of GC).desert-view-map-grand canyon

I would highly recommend the drive as there are many amazing spots that give you unique views of the GC – Moran point, Lipan, and Navajo being the prominent ones.desert view watchtower

However, the most important structure on the east end of the drive is the Desert View Watchtower. It is a 4-story and 70-foot-high stone structure that was designed by American architect Mary Colter and was completed in 1932. It is now a historic landmark.

There is an enclosed observation level at the upper level, which provides majestic views of the canyon on all the sides through large glass windows. The highlight of the tower though is the bold murals by Fed Kabotie, and other petroglyph-style decorations by Fred Greer – which may be the only surviving representations of the now-destroyed rock art paintings in Abe, New Mexico.watchtower murals grand canyonbest of grand canyonIt was about 4 pm by the time we were done seeing everything and I was keen on seeing another Sunset the GC, but we finally decided to call it a day and head to Page in Arizona, which was about 2 hours from the watchtower and the place of out next attraction – The Antelope Canyons!

Off-beat Wedding Destinations Near Delhi

When someone says destination weddings, the first few names that pop-up in our minds in India are Goa, Jaipur, and Udaipur. But, off late, many couples are going beyond the popular spots and opting for places that are less known and tucked far away from the hustle and bustle of routine city life.

Whatever destination you choose for your wedding, you can make your wedding planning easier with online wedding planning sites like Wedmegood.com. Here, you can find wedding venues in Delhi and destinations near Delhi. Not just Venues, you can also find best wedding photographers, makeup artists, and other wedding vendors online.

Here, I round up four such destinations for you to consider if you’re planning a wedding.

CorbettCorbettThe Riverview Retreat – Corbett Resort, Picture Courtesy Going Bananas Photography

Yes, the place is known exclusively for Jim Corbett National Park ! If you’re thinking of having a quaint woodland, sundowner wedding, then there’s no better place than Corbett. Imagine a mandap overlooking the mountains with the River Kosi running alongside the venue. Could there be anything more romantic? Or maybe a Christian wedding in a forest with an arched altar made of twigs, branches, and ferns in this beautiful lap of nature. The place is so enchanting that decoration isn’t really necessary, it can be kept low-key to let the natural beauty shine through.

NaukuchiatalThe Lake ResortThe Lake Resort in Naukuchiatal, Picture courtesy Arjuns Tryst with the Camera

The surest way to have a Pinterest-worthy wedding where all your guests wouldn’t get tired of re-pinning all the wedding photographs? Get married in the picturesque Naukuchiatal. It is six hours away from New Delhi and is flanked by hills, the woods, and a serene lake. A unique, under-the-radar venue with lush greens in every direction you set your eyes–it has all the right components for an intimate, magical Indian wedding. Like Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Westin SohnaWestinThe Westin Sohna Resort & Spa, Picture courtesy Sharik Verma

Located just a stone’s throw (40 minutes to be exact) from Gurgaon, The Westin is such a breathtaking location that your wedding photographer won’t have to put in much of an effort to capture an album full of wonderful pictures. The pool is an excellent backdrop to an outdoor Mehendi function, the suites are luxurious, and guests can also get themselves pampered at the spa. One look at the property and you’d want to pack your bags, gather your nearest and dearest loved ones and have the wedding of your dream here.

NeemranaNeemrana fortNeemrana Fort-Palace, Picture courtesy Art Capture Production

Feel like a princess on your wedding day and say I do in a palace – sounds like the stuff of dreams. Isn’t it? The Neemrana Fort-Palace (Alwar), which is two hours away from Delhi and is situated on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, offers the perfect setting for your fairytale ceremony. The heritage hotel houses a Roman-style amphitheater, hanging gardens and royal indoor venues – a one stop shop for all your destination wedding needs. If you are looking for a historical yet royal feel, Neemrana has it in spades. You and your guests can spend an amazing unforgettable weekend celebrating your nuptials.

Which one would you consider for your wedding, or for your dear ones?

The Grandeur of The Grand Canyon

This post was chosen as a Tangy Tuesday pick by BlogAdda

The only wonder of the world that I have covered (yet) – the majestic Grand Canyon! I was completely in awe of the force of nature that carved out the canyon millions of years ago. It still sends shivers down my body when I think about standing there and wondering how on earth these would have formed!the majestic grand canyonJust a day after landing in Las Vegas, we were on our way to the South rim of the Grand Canyon (we were to come back to LV and stay there for 3 days ending on Christmas eve, to enjoy the celebrations in the city).

Though many tourists specifically go to the West rim to do the Skywalk, we left it out intentionally since it is too expensive at $80.94 per person for the Legacy Gold Package. Moreover, if you are not so sacrosanct about doing the ‘walk on the glass bridge,’ you get pretty much similar views of the canyon from the south rim too.

We stayed right outside the entrance to the South rim, at ‘The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon.’ The stay was amazing (it is the only 3-diamond hotel around the canyon) though the internet connectivity was terrible – reception told me it’s the same with any hotel there. I must mention, we normally book our stays very close to the main attraction since it becomes easy for me to cover the Sunrise and/or Sunset there. Even otherwise, I would rather spend a bit more to experience the place than drive an hour!

After refreshing ourselves up in the hotel, we headed straight to the Visitor Center. There are numerous benefits of asking the experts at the visitor center, even though we do enough research beforehand – at the very least, we stay current with the (mis)information we found online. Since we have the Annual Pass to all the National Parks in the United States (bought for $80 last year, applicable per vehicle), we didn’t have to pay additionally to enter the Canyon area.

For the curious, check out the short video that plays every few minutes at the visitor center that tells you how the canyons were formed. Once you are ready to experience the grandness of the canyon, start from the Mather Point, which is right behind the visitor center and is a must-see. You can walk right along the canyon using the ‘rim trail;’ but if you have limited time, either drive around or use their shuttles (for free).grand-canyon-south-rim-detail-mapThe other one not to be missed is the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum. The museum tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the canyon – how they formed, the rock-layers, visual artifacts, samples of rocks, and a long glass providing a magnificent view of the canyon right in front of you. You can even see the Colorado river (that formed the canyon) about a mile away.

We drove around and stopped at many viewpoints that are shown in the map above (taken from Grand Canyon official website). You never know which one can give you a great view depending on the time of the day. mather pointyavapai pointWe were lucky to see some Elks and Deers too!wildlife-at-grand-canyonwildlife at grand canyonIf you go by the public opinion, other spots to definitely cover are Maricopa point, Powell point, and Hopi point. In fact, Hopi point is rated as the best for Sunset views, and I absolutely agree with it. I stood there in the chill of late-December to experience this sight!sunset-at-grand-canyonWe spent around 4 hours before heading to the hotel and enjoying the luxuries of that too. For me, another Sunrise awaited in the majestic lap of nature!

Social Media Do’s and Dont’s

Social Media Logotype BackgroundI have been active on my social accounts (Twitter and Instagram) for more than a year now and have been asked to share my learnings a few times. So, here are the most important ones that I think one must absolutely follow:

  1. Avoid Tagging: Kitna tag karoge yaar? Haath nahin thakte kya tumhare?

Take it, people hate to see them tagged often*! They might still like or share (re-tweet) it but that is more of an obligation than a genuine interaction. To me, it looks like a desperate attempt to get some views.

If your content has quality, genuine followers will anyway come and appreciate your hard work. Moreover, why do you want to restrict yourself to only a few people? Let the world see your work!

  1. Limited Shares: If you come from hibernation, don’t go sharing every new post of everybody you follow!

You might be following thousands of people and want to share their content frequently, but excessive sharing doesn’t do any good. In fact, it irritates your serious followers.

Most of my shares are only when I have read the post, commented on it, and really liked it! That way my audience can be sure that they are looking at a good work that they can read too. I also take a break between shares, so you get a breather too.

  1. Be Genuine: Read the content before you share it!

Many people resort to blind re-tweets, meaning just share it without even clicking on the link. Many also buy followers or resort to cheap practice of follow-unfollow. What a waste of time!

Why not read few posts/blogs and be genuine to yourself first? After all, you would want to be better tomorrow than you are right now. And think about your audience too while sharing…you have an obligation to them (to provide quality content).

  1. Be Elaborate: Don’t just write ‘Great post,’ ‘Wonderful pictures,’ ‘Beautiful’ etc on a 500-word post!

I would suggest reading the content and adding your inputs to it. It is better to read less than run across all blogs, adding 2 words to each.

I am glad to have some readers who really add their unique experiences on my travels (especially). It adds to my knowledge too and makes me better every single day!

At the end of the day it is your wish how you want to lead your life. For me, it is not just about numbers…and will never be!

*One should tag the official handles of places though
**Image sourced from here

Best views of WTC and Statue of Liberty

In my last post, I mentioned about the best places to see Empire State Building and WTC.

For WTC, there is an even better spot – Exchange Place in Jersey City! Though the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway crosses Exchange Place, but rather than walking from the Pier C/A Parks in Hoboken (mentioned in the last post), I would suggest you drive to the exchange place…it would take you about 20 minutes though it is only about 3 miles (approx. 5 kilometers). Exchange Place is a congested area because it is a major hub for many financial companies, so be sure to give yourself enough time if you are on a schedule. If you are coming by public transport, there are many NJ Transit buses and trains that stop there.

I have been there a few times, and there is this small parking just alongside the waterfront which I have been lucky to get. Else, you can also park at the private (paid) parking lots close by.

The place has one of the best boardwalks I’ve ever seen, and you can even spend a whole day in the area. I was recently there in the night and got lucky to capture the Moon and WTC in one frame.world-trade-center-viewexchange-place-new-jerseyWhen you think of New York, another prominent structure that one can enjoy from the distance is Statue of Liberty. Situated on the Liberty Island, there are many places from where you can see the iconic structure. The best is to be next to the statue itself – you can take a ferry from Ellis Island or even Battery Park in New York. I’ve taken both of them at different times in over a decade.

However, if you wish to see it from a short distance whilst also treating yourself to the beautiful skyline of NY, head to the Liberty State Park in New Jersey. It is about a 15-minute drive from the Exchange Place (just over 4 miles).

The park is quite scenic and brings you close to the Statue (on the back side of it, though). statue-of-libertybest-view-of-statue-of-libertyIf you continue on the walkway alongside the Hudson, there is this small stretch where it is actually over the river also. As you walk a bit, you get close to the Ellis Island, with WTC visible right in the background – the walkway, the Island, and WTC are all visible in the shot below.skyline-of-new-yorkwtc-new-yorkThe park is so huge that you can drive around and halt at different stops to enjoy the scenic views.liberty-state-parkJust about a 5-minute drive within the park itself, there is the Empty Sky, the official New Jersey September 11 Memorial. The twin walls of the memorial are directed towards Ground Zero (with the new structure visible right in between them) and the passage is made of Granite. The names of the victims of attacks are etched in Stainless Steel.september-11-memorialThere is no entry fee to any of the locations I’ve mentioned in this or the earlier post. You might just have to pay the nominal parking fee depending upon where you park!

Best views of Empire State Building and WTC

I have been long enough in and around New York to guide one to the locations for best views of prominent structures in New York. Two of them that immediately come to mind are the Empire State Building and World Trade Center (WTC). Statue of Liberty is another one that has a different vantage point and will be covered separately.

Of course, you can be close to any of them and even go atop the two covered here to experience the views far and wide, extending into New Jersey too! But what about seeing them from a distance and enjoying their beauty amidst the skyline of New York? For that, the best (and free) option is to adore them from the Hudson river walkway, an 18.5 mile paved pathway just alongside the Hudson river in New Jersey. The path is open 24*7 and extends from George Washington to the Bayonne Bridge…each of the three structures can be seen clearly from the walkway, but from different locations!

Also, the spots covered here are the best locations to see the fireworks over the Hudson, the famous ones being on the New Year and 4th July!

For the Empire State Building, my favorite has been the Pier C Park in Hoboken (a small park the gate of which is visible below). There is a metered parking just on the left side in the shot, which might be full unless you go in the morning or evening, which is what I do. However, there are many public parking spots close by, so parking is not an issue at all.pier-c-park-hobokenhoboken-waterfronthudson-riverLook at the projected walkway in the above image, it takes you closer to the NY skyline. Btw, who says padlocks are only to be found in Europe? You can see many of them in Pier C too!empire-state-buildingYou might have to zoom-in the lens quite a lot to get a good shot of the Empire State. A better option is to come out of Pier C Park and walk further towards the George Washington Bridge on the main path (visible outside the gate in the first shot). In less than a kilometer, the Empire State comes right across and the view is impeccable. I’ve been in the area on many occasions – every season, both day and night!where-to-get-best-views-of-new-yorkIf you walk towards the right side on the main path, you are heading towards the WTC. Though the structure is clearly visible from the Pier C Park also, but Pier A Park just a few feet away provides much better views of it (the Pier A Park is visible below, shot from the entrance of the Pier C Park). world trade centre.jpgAs compared to the Pier C, Pier A is quite big and one can enjoy the vast open area it has.best-views-of-new-yorkYou can head all the way to the edge and get a nice shot of the World Trade Center!world-trade-centre-new-yorkThough the WTC looks quite close above, an even better location for it is the Exchange Place. Since that spot is a few minutes drive from the parks mentioned here, I will cover the same in my next post along with the best location for Statue of Liberty.

P.S. For each of these structures, you will have to still zoom-in a bit for the close-up views shown here, not matter where you go on the entire Hudson river pathway! But these are still the best locations for the purpose!

A silver lining in the long flight to Las Vegas

In December we took a 10-day vacation to Las Vegas and the Canyons of the West, as I would call them. Our early morning United Airlines flight to LV would have made sure we are in the hotel by early afternoon, thus giving us half-a-day to do sightseeing.

I am always excited to reach early at the airports and look their international departures…it makes me happy looking at the takeoffs to some of my favorite destinations 🙂

In the process of lingering around at the Newark airport, I snapped a beautiful sunrise.newark-airport-sunrise We took off on time at 7.55am and after about 4 hours in the flight, as we were about to reach LV in an hour or so, an announcement came in that it is too windy to land there and that pilots have decided to divert to Salk Lake City in Utah till the weather gets better in LV. Huh! Anyway, I was delighted to experience another landing and takeoff and explore another airport.newark-to-las-vegasAs it turned out, it had just snowed in Salt Lake and the picturesque surroundings gave me a few views to enjoy too.salt-lake-city-airportAfter about 1.5 hours, we finally took off and I was amazed by the mountains covered in snow and the mist hovering over them.best-views-from-airplanebest-of-salt-lake-cityFinally, we touched down in LV late in the evening. After quickly renting the car from Enterprise at their airport office, we checked into the Holiday Inn & Suites close by.

That was the end of a hectic day, but I would rather choose to look at the silver lining in the form of splendid views we got to experience!

P.S. All pics are from my iPhone

A glorious Sunset in the best of Settings

As we were making our way to New Hampshire from Vermont, we passed by the famous Omni Mount Washington Resort, located at the foot of the Presidential Range in Bretton Woods area. The sheer grandness of the golf courses, beautiful landscapes, snow-covered mountains, and an imposing structure made me stop without thinking twice!bretton-woods-resortI had never seen as pretty a sight as this one! There were only a few people around, as I parked my car just alongside the road to the resort. One of the lady photographers present mentioned it is her favorite site and that she had been there for hours.

The tallest peak in the view is Mount Washington, the one we drove on the next day. It is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288ft, and I even drove up to its Summit a couple of years back.

Within an hour or so the sun went down, providing for a dramatic change in the scenery. I was holding my breath for the last beam of rays as the colors changed from yellow, to orange, to pink, and everything in between!best-sunset-in-new-hampshireI couldn’t help admire the reflections in a small pond there. Even the fall colors on the other side of the highway added to the mesmerizing views.fall-colors-in-new-hampshireAnd then the time of the hour which I had been waiting for…with a perfect postcard-type setting!sunset-at-bretton-woodsI had never heard of the resort earlier but it’s a highly rated 4-star hotel. The Ski area close by was ranked #1 in the East for snow, grooming, service, and weather in 2013/14 by SKI Magazine Reader’s Poll.

If you just want to admire the beauty, my recommendation would be going there early-mid October just when the fall colors are at their peak, but after the snow has fallen.

Ben and Jerry’s and the tranquility of Lake Champlain!

Ever since I went to Lake Tahoe early last year, I have been sort of obsessed with lakes! Lake Tahoe was so mesmerizing that I wish I encounter such sights every time I am at a lake. Just to put things into context, here’s one such view of lake tahoe captured at the incline village in Nevada.alok-singhal-lake-tahoeSo, during our trip to Vermont, I made sure we go to its soothing Lake Champlain. Though most of the natural freshwater lake likes in the United States, a part of it extends across the border into Canada too.

After we were done with soaking-in the beauty of Mt Mansfield (by driving to its summit) in Stowe, we still had half a day left, just perfect to explore Lake Champlain in the town of Burlington and experience the Sunset there. However, before reaching Burlington, we made sure to stop at the famous Ben and Jerry’s and enjoy its premium ice-cream. Actually, we are guilty of driving a cool half-an-hour from Stowe for 3 days to have their mouthwatering favors!
best-ice-cream-usaWe even took their factory tour which is priced at a reasonable $4 per person and lasts about half-an-hour, followed by tasting one of their flavors for free. You would easily need 2-3 hours if you plan to tour and buy ice-cream…there are long queues for each. Or you can buy from the above van parked just outside, which carries limited flavors but is not open always!

They have a gift shop too, where one can chose from a plethora of souvenirs.ben-and-jerrysThe place provides for some fun too…Saru makes sure she doesn’t skip through such sights, and I make sure to capture her 🙂ben-and-jerrys-vermontHaving spent a couple of hours at the ice-cream factory, we drove half-an-hour further to the west to reach the waterfront of Burlington. The boardwalk there is pretty nice and long, something I have not seen much in my travels so far. Though it was cloudy that day, the lake had spectacular beauty!lake-champlain-alokAnother aspect of this boardwalk is that it has swings, (again) something i’ve never seen so far! One can also take a ferry for the Sunset, though we chose to indulge in our own merry-making.best-lakes-in-the-usEven though the Sunset was not that spectacular, it still was a memorable visit. Moreover, both Ben and Jerry’s and the Lake provided a variety to the fall colors that we had been seeing for the last 2 days.best-sunset-in-vermontWith this, I finish off the trip to Stowe in Vermont…the next day we headed east to North Conway in New Hampshire (about 1.5 hours drive) after experiencing the gondola ride up Mt Mansfield, which i’ve already covered.

Having experienced it all, Stowe is undoubtedly one of the best destinations for fall colors! We stayed at the Mountaineer Inn there and had a pleasant experience. Here’s an early morning shot from the balcony of our room.mountaineer-inn-stowe

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!

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

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!

stock-market-alok-singhal

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!

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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Best money transfer options

This post was chosen as a Tangy Tuesday pick by BlogAdda

I have to send a part of my salary to India every month. The reason being, I have an apartment for which i have to pay EMIs and then there are other obligations as well in terms of premiums of policies i took when i worked there.

So, i have tried various money transfer options from U.S. to India over the years – to be precise, Western Union, Xoom, MoneyGram, IndusInd Remit, and Oxigen Wallet. I am no expert, but my experience can help you with choosing the best option, in case you are in my situation or be in one ever.

I never tried TransFast, as their reviews are pathetic, to say the least. Though they have often come out with promotions to pay sign-up bonus, and right now they are even paying more than the market exchange rate to new customers, people (including me) have normally neglected them. I would strong suggest avoiding TransFast!

My priority has been to use a Service which is Secure, provides Locked-in competitive Rates, No Transfer Fees, Transfers money within a Day, and with no Hassle!

Here’s what my experience has been and why i would recommend Western Union or MoneyGram! The best way is to use your Debit card for transaction while transferring to a bank account in India.

  1. Xoom – Though their rates are locked-in and normally transfer money within minutes or hours, their rates are often lower than those of Money Gram or Western Union, which you can use with the similar timelines, using your Debit card. There is no Transfer Fees in any of these options.
  2. Oxigen Wallet – I have found them to be highly inefficient. They would take all sorts of information from you…i had to provide US Driving Licence Details, and Phone bill as address proof. They took more than a week to check my details, and i was so frustrated that i cancelled my transaction. It took me more than 2 additional weeks to get my money back in the U.S., that too after taking the issue public on social media and getting it escalated.
  3. IndusInd Fast Remit – Their rates are not locked in (called indicative) and they also take about 4-5 days to credit money in your account in the destination country. I often found them to provide less rate when they actually transferred than the indicated rate that i transferred at. Seems cheating to me just to have you initiate the transfer using high indicative rate!
  4. MoneyGram – I moved to them seeing their advertisements during the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Their rates are locked-in and if you use your Debit card to transfer, you will normally see the money in your account very next day. I enjoyed with them, till one day they suddenly wiped-off my details from their system and asked me to re-enter. And, a couple of times their application did not work. So, i looked for alternatives and that’s when i moved over to Western Union.
  5. Western Union – I have found their locked-in rates to be pretty competitive and much better than many other agencies. I already have my Debit card details saved in their system and just have to click ‘send again’ option (it by default takes details from last transfer) and do a couple of clicks to finalize the transfer. I have not run into any issues so far (since last 1.5 yrs) and would strongly recommend them!

*This is not a sponsored post, and all views are of my own!