A hat-trick of sorts: 3 years Blogging | 2 on Instagram

It has been one long journey, and I am not tired yet 🙂

I had never imagined I would ever write, let alone publishing posts consistently for 3 years! I started off with documenting my Travels and, a year later, posting a huge database of pictures I have on Instagram. Fortunately, I got tremendous feedback from my readers and I was also approached by a few firms to write for them. Early this year, I started doing promotions on my Instagram Account, too. All this added to my enthusiasm along the way, and I’ve never looked back. alok singhal instagramI owe Thanks to You, and also to those who are not around anymore for whatever reason. It is because of your comments that I have been able to deliver. I also want to mention about numerous strangers who took time to add their experiences on the places I’ve visited or just motivate me otherwise…some inputs were quite touching. There is nothing more satisfying that getting a thoughtful comment appreciating the hard work you’ve put in.

Last Anniversary I had mentioned I would cut down on my blogging activities. Yes, I did – quite a lot actually, as is evident from the number of comments I now get on a post! In spite of that, today I have 198 published posts, averaging over one every week in the last 3 years – and that too in spite of blogging not being one of my favorite hobbies (which includes Travel & Photography, Stock Trading and related Research). And it is not just the Travel & Photography category that I have written on – the posts are also spread across Personal Experiences, Lessons in Life, Humor, Health, and my speeches from Toastmasters. This all apart from the full-time demanding job that I have.

As I continue to spend more time on my Portfolio Management, I think this is the pace I could keep up with at the most. Moreover, each and every post I publish takes a lot of my time as it goes through multiple iterations of quality checks. A-post-a-week also gives enough time to my readers to enjoy visiting other sites and keeps them motivated to look forward to the next one from me.

With that, let me wish you a very happy year-end and a fabulous 2018. If you are heading on a vacation soon, here’s a high five 🙂

Reasons to Love Donald Trump

*This is my next speech in Toastmasters, from the Advanced Manual “The Entertaining Speaker”Donald-Trump-Quotes alok singhalI am not a fan of Donald Trump, so I really hated myself when I chose to talk about why we should love him! But it is good to take a contrarian view sometimes. So, here are my thoughts on why he needs a bit of sympathy:

  1. Teaches us how to raise kids – I am not sure how many of you pamper your kids every time. But he doesn’t! He makes it a point to not have his kids being given things on a silver platter. This essentially means you are teaching your kids how difficult it is to earn money and have them respect the same.
  2. Shares his feelings openly: By now we know he was not completed fit for the position of the President of Untied States. This is because he doesn’t know what, when, and how to speak. In fact, he mentioned this about his daughter Ivanka Trump, “She has a great figure. Had she not been my daughter, I would have been dating her.” Huh! But I like people who come out clean rather than keeping such thoughts to them.
  3. History with women – It is no secret that Trump was a womanizer. When he ran for the President, a lot of women came out in the open accusing him of sexual misconduct in the past. However, do you know there are contradictory images of him, too? He hired one Barbara Res as his head of construction in the 1980s, when not many women held such positions. She later mentioned him saying, “While men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men.”
  4. An inspiration – My wife always says – if he can become the President of a super-power than America is, any Tom, Dick, and Harry can do anything in life. You just have to think Big! In fact, if you didn’t know, he picked up politics as a hobby a couple of years back and ended up defeating Clinton, who spent her entire career in politics!
  5. A real entertainer – This is my personal favorite. Believe it or not, you won’t ever find a character like him at such a position of authority. I mean who else can fit in his philosophy within just 140 characters on Twitter? And can defend it too! With the twitter text limit now raised, I am sure we are bound to have more laughs 😀
  6. He is a winner, after all – No matter his comments on Hillary during the Presidential debates or numerous women accusing him of wrong doings, a lot of people did go out and vote for him, including many women. So, I would assume he has a bit of charisma that drives people towards him.

And who knows, he might actually make America great again! After all, the US economy has shown considerable progress in the last one year!

**Picture sourced from here

The High Roller at The Linq Promenade

The Linq promenade is an open-air retail, dining, and entertainment district on the Las Vegas Strip. A prominent attraction of district is the 550-tall High Roller that was opened by Caesars Entertainment in 2014. It is the world’s highest observation wheel and gives a fantastic 360-degree view of Vegas.las vegas the linq promenadethe linq at las vegasbest of las vegasLocated adjacent to the Flamingo hotel and casino, The Linq is hard to pass by. We spent a few hours window shopping there. It is also close to Bally’s hotel where we were put up. In fact, our hotel room gave us a good view of the Ferris wheel. We could see the 2,000 LEDs glow late into the night on the wheel! Spellbound by its beauty and statistics, we booked a ride one night to experience its beauty from inside and also of Vegas from high above.las vegas strip the linq ferris wheelNow imagine being in one of the 28 sturdy cabins that adorn the high roller and being taken on a slow ride of 30 minutes – you have enough time to enjoy the interiors (equipped with eight flat-screen televisions and an iPod dock) or just enjoy the nightlife of Vegas through the glass. You could even get lucky with seeing the show of Bellagio Fountains from above (just a couple of blocks from there) if timing is right. I had enough time to even click some pictures. Though there were quite a few reflections from lighting all around (even of the LEDs on the wheel) and even the outer glass was thick, I was able to get a few decent shots.las vegas at nightthe strip las vegasIf you are looking to buy tickets for the high roller, check various options on the Internet as you might get lucky with a deal, else you can directly buy on Caesars official site here.

*Statistics sourced from here

Las Vegas Strip: You won’t get tired of exploring it!

The last leg of our 2016 year-end tour to the West Coast was 3 days in the gorgeous Las Vegas.

We were staying in Bally’s (right in the middle of the world-famous Strip), so most of the hotels and casinos were within walking distance. I was so attracted to the fountains of Bellagio, which were just across the street, that I visited them quite a few times during our stay – don’t miss them!best of las vegasbelloagio fountainsfuntains in the nightLV has many theme-based resort hotels and casinos, and you can cover almost all of them just by walking. Based on where you are put up on the strip (and I strongly suggest staying where most of the action is), some might feel a bit further away (the length of the strip is 6.8 kilometers or 4.2 miles), so you can take a bus to reach them. There are a few free trams also, but they cover only certain hotels on the west side. Our rental car allowed us to explore with ease…we just had to take our car out once and park at the New York Hotel and Casino, that allowed us access to the furthest end of the strip on the south (Mandalay Bay casino). The North end leads to the Fremont Street, which is a spectacle in itself (we visited it one evening – we parked at the roadside paid slots)!

The entire strip looks quite scenic in the night when the multitude of lights show-off their elegance. However, each hotel has its own charm and should be visited both during the day and night. Some are worth multiple visits too depending on your interests. We spent a lot of time in The Venetian (has Gondola rides in the hotel, much like in Venice), Bellagio’s (stunning year-end celebrations and fountains outside are a sheer delight), and Caesars Palace (based on Roman architecture, and even has life-sized Gods in there). There is no fees to explore any of these hotels from inside, you might have to pay for individual attractions though (e.g. Gondola ride).

The Venetian: Visit to enjoy shopping arcade, gondola rides, food, and stunning venice-themed architecture.what to see in las vegasgondola venetian las vegasbest of lvbest hotel in las vegasCaesars Palace: Visit to enjoy tryst with the roman architecture, fall of atlantis show, and luxury shopping.caesars las vegas.jpgnew year in las vegascaesars palaceroman architecture las vegasThough we were in LV for 3 days, I would suggest keeping a week if you want to explore each resort thoroughly and indulge in some serious shopping too – you can spend as much as you want to as all the luxury brands are present there! Even if you just like long walks, your eyes won’t get tired of admiring the hotels from the outside – day or night!new york hotel las vegasbest hotel in las vegas nevadaluxor hotel and casinomgm grand las vegasthe mirage hoteldisney las vegasOne last thing we did in Las Vegas was to take the High Roller ride, currently the world’s tallest ferris wheel. More on that in the next post…

How to clear United States H1, L1, and B2 Visa Interviews

If you have ever applied for a Visa to the United States, you would have surely wondered how to (desperately) clear the same. But because of the ever changing scrutiny requirements that the Officers put us through, the job is hardly a cakewalk! Having been through multiple H1B and one L1B Visa Interviews in New Delhi, and recently issued B2 (Tourist) visa in Toronto, I can say it is not as dreadful as it is made out to be. It does entail a thorough preparation though, unlike Tourist Visa to many other countries (say Canada), which can be obtained without much of an effort.alok singhal us visaI left the United States after completing 6 years in May this year, having entered on L1B in April 2011 and going through multiple H1Bs during my stay there (because of either a job change or stamping required in India when I went on vacation). It sounded a pretty daunting and nerve-racking task during my first 2 interviews, but now I have gotten used to it.

While there is no sure-shot way to clear the US Visa Interviews, here’s how you can do your best:

1. Proper paperwork: Since H1 and L1 Visas are sponsored through your employer, make sure they file all the documents required. Most of it would be either filled-in or provided by you, so do your best. If you work for a renowned firm with a global presence, it makes life all the more easier.

I turned down a high paying job offer through a third party for Bank of America just because it was through that ‘third party.’ I was promised it would be a direct position with the client before interviews, but after clearing 5 rounds, BoA decided to bring me as a Vendor Consultant for a year (they did the same for all other such positions also). Well, I turned down the offer and continued with my current firm for about 50k USD less annually, because I work for a big brand name!

2. Prepare well in advance: Nothing beats preparing well for any interview…that would help you feel easy with any questions thrown at you. Do check experiences of people who have gone to the same embassy where you are appearing, but take insights with a pinch of salt since every case is different. People might say rubbish since they want to let our their frustration if they are declined, just move on to the next case.

If you have never faked any point in your resume (I never did so), you wouldn’t have to make up excuses, and that goes a long way in feeling comfortable. Ascertain that the original documents that you need for the interview are all there in a transparent file and you wouldn’t have to scamper around if asked for a specific paper in the interview.

3. Just before the interview: Dress professionally if you are appearing for a Work Permit based Visa. I have seen people working for top Investment Banks in the US and coming to office in bathroom sandals. How cheap! Nobody is asking you to wear a suit and a tie during peak of summer, but don’t go there in Jeans and a Tee…make sure the shirt and trouser is ironed properly and shoes are polished (search internet for what is a proper attire).

Remember, some interviews are high-profile – they could make or break your career. Don’t take any chances just because you are not well prepared!

4. During the interview: Even if you are standing in the queue, appear confident – don’t slouch. And always wear a smile! I have cleared 80% of my interviews in life just because I was confident, smiled, and relaxed. Many interviewers might reject you just because you look highly nervous (indicating you are hiding something). Again, if you are genuine, you wouldn’t have to worry there.

If you can, make the discussion with the officer a bit humorous. Many of us live stressful lives, so making the moment lively comes in handy. Don’t take it to the extreme though, or appear over-smart. This point is only for people who have mastered the art of balancing the situation.

If you’ve done your bit, most likely you will come out happy. In the event you are rejected for whatever reason, take solace in the fact that you did your best – you might crack it next time!

*Picture sourced from here

4 years with Toastmasters – a journey worth every meeting!

I joined Toastmasters in New York by signing up with Bryant Park club on Oct 1 2013 – I can’t imagine it’s been 4 years already! Though I moved on from there to Warren in New Jersey in Feb 2014, and to Mississauga in Canada in May 2017, I have continued my membership with Citigroup corporate club at each place (luckily, there is/was one). I have written about what Toastmasters is here and here. In fact, I have a news from early last month also – I came in 2nd in the Area 43 contest for Impromptu Speaking (called Table Topics). alok singhalIf you’ve followed me for long, you might know that I won the Area 34 International Speech contest in April this year (in the US), but couldn’t do well at the Division level. Anyway, life is not just about winning, it is more about learning at every step of the way.

It has been my absolute pleasure to be a part of such a fabulous program, which is non-profit by the way! In the 200 or so weekly meetings that have happened in the past 4 years, I must have attended at least 185 of them – such has been my enthusiasm, mostly because of the learnings and fun they provide. I just go to every meeting not thinking about my professional or person life and willing to take in whatever comes. I strong advice you too to find a club nearby by going to https://www.toastmasters.org/ and maybe just walk by to see what happens there for a start. Most likely, you will come back happy and will sign-up!

I can personally lay down the benefits I have seen in myself. I have more confidence in speaking with strangers now, my humor quotient has gone up, and there is that feeling of doing something different than what most of us do on a regular basis. Btw, Toastmasters is not just about Public Speaking as many wrongly understand it to be – the learnings you get while speaking to a group in a friendly environment can be used in everyday life – imagine not slouching while speaking, using proper hand gestures or body language, making eye contact, or just motivating or inspiring people around you. And the price to pay – well, just $45 every 6 months! In fact, many professional speakers around the world rehearse their speech in the club(s) they are associated with before they enthrall their audience at the big stage.

So, what are you waiting for?

#CelebratingSuper with Initiatives by Vodafone

We lived in NCR for a long time, till we moved to the US in April 2011. A major reason to move out of India was to enjoy the quality of life in the West. Having lived in the states for 6 years and now in Canada for half-a-year, I can safely say that NCR was the most polluted region we’ve ever stayed in. Blame it either on the Government or people not doing their bit to at least keep their surroundings clean, the experience was nightmarish! I’ve never stayed in the region since I left it about 7 years back, but as I write this post from my hometown Ambala, I can assure you that my city is much better compared to what we endured back then in the NCR.

Having traveled extensively across countries, I feel there is a basic level of environmental cleanliness that we all expect. Who has to provide for it is dependent on both public and the private sector. The government has to initiate it and people have to follow on it, or it could be totally led by individuals too! To bring about a change, we are equally responsible as is the Government that we depend (and blame) on.

Let’s take the example of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The other day when I was traveling from Ambala towards Delhi, I saw workers cleaning NH1, which left me awestruck! I had never seen anybody cleaning highways before. Or take the example of folks taking away Trash from our home every morning. These are highly commendable steps taken by the Government. Think about people working at the grassroots towards the benefit of our country – it is so difficult to achieve in a country like ours! I believe the change is coming! In fact, when I landed in Delhi a fortnight back, I was so happy to see the new airport that I started clicking pictures of the same. Here is one such shot of an artwork against a waterfall:alok singhal delhiTalk about our National Capital:

I have read a lot about Supreme Court banning the use of Firecrackers on Diwali – a step which saved 1000s, to say the least! Yes, it discomforted many, but then didn’t I say we have to do our bit too? After all, it is us who are going to lead better lives!

The other step is introducing Metro far and wide in the region. If we all commit to using it rather than taking our own vehicle wherever possible, we would help reduce congestion on roads, which has numerous benefits. I remember taking the bus to and from New York for 2 years for work (I didn’t even buy a car). And I am not alone…If you ever go to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, you would see long queues for buses in the evenings. This has helped New York authorities to maintain the smooth flow of traffic in the already congested city.

Vodafone has taken a few initiatives too! The created the first air-purifying bus shelter in the city to help people breather clean it. They have committed to the digital revolution in the capital, so we can enjoy the benefits of technology while on the move. When I was in the New York area, I didn’t have a data plan on my phone. I used to make use of hotspots provided by my home internet provider there. Same is being done in the NCR by Vodafone. They have provided 120 hotspots at popular locations in NCR. Maybe in a few years, we will be close to where New York is in terms of quality of life and bringing the power of technology to the common man!

There is a lot yet to be done but the steps taken by the Government and Vodafone will lay the foundation for us follow it. It is only through a consistent and dedicated effort that we can bring about a real change in our lives!

https://www.vodafone.in/home-delhi

Sell second-hand devices at first-hand prices on Cashify

This post Won 3rd runners-up Prize in #CleanUpCashOut contest on IndiBlogger

I’m obsessed with the latest technology. I change my iPhone every year! However, with every new launch comes the liability of getting rid of the old model. I’m unlike my father and father-in-law who passionately accumulate the old junk. They are alien to the concept of throwing away old or unused things. My father still owns the Beltek TV which was a luxury in the 80s. It’s antique now, though. I’m not like them. I trade-off or sell my gadgets as I’m not rich enough to donate iPhones.

My obsession perfectly captured by Sarualok saru singhal

Here’s the Beltek TV we have – Someday, I hope to sell it for a fortune 🙂alok beltek television

Last year when I upgraded to iPhone 7 plus, I thought of selling my older model 6 plus. The market value of that phone was about Rs 25,000. My device was in a perfect condition – no scratch, no software issue; even the USB charger, and headphones were in brand new condition.

With high hopes, I went to the store that specializes in selling second-hand gadgets. He, being the leader in the market, offered Rs 21,000. I was not-so-happy with the price, so I went on to explore the market in an attempt to get a better deal. And from there started a journey of hilarious excuses. Read the top-rated replies for justifying measly sum offered for an almost-new iPhone:

  • Sir, iPhone yahan koi nahi use karta, yahan to Lava, Nokia ya Samsung chalte hain. Aapko jaldi hai to hum le lenge.

And that day, Apple valuation dropped from a multi-billion dollar company to an unwanted brand!

  • Bhaiya iPhone ho ya Mercedes, ek baar showroom se nikal gayi to bas value khatam. Aap Singhal Sahab ke bete ho is liye Rs 15,200 le lo.

What! Singhal brand name is bigger than Apple in Ambala 😛

  • Phone hai – yes! Charger hai – yes (examines it in between). Headphones hain – yes! Box hai, bill hai – Haan bhai!

         Fir aap internet pe bech do!

Seems some are not confident Apple will sell in a city where every other person is aspiring to buy it!

  • Bhaiya hum sare phone le lete hain bus iPhone nahin – Kyun?

Repair nahi hoti yahan iss ki. Agar koi problem ho gayi baad mein to kya aap repair karwa denge?

From an iPhone user to a mechanic, he demoted me in a fraction of a second. After that, I felt like selling myself just to check my market value. Or, maybe, boost my morale!

A little frustrated but thoroughly entertained, I finally met a sensible shopper who lifted my spirits for a good 5-minutes.

  • ‘Yes sir, we will take your iPhone and give you the best deal.’ I was impressed with his English! After examining my phone and its various components, he offered a deal which can put an apple user in doubt. ‘I will take this phone and you can buy any phone from our shop at 50% off.’ And that was the end of my patience. Needless to say hopes, too. I gave up! It made more sense to give my iPhone to a family member than to sell it at a measly price. Later on, the first shopkeeper who offered me 21k refused as the price was valid for that moment. ‘Yahan to price daily change hote hain!’ was his reply.

Now that iPhone X is available, I’m not bothered about disposing of my old one. Why you ask? I’ve discovered a cool app that makes selling old gadgets easy. Cashify – a place where we can sell old devices in just 60-seconds. Submit all the relevant information, get the quote instantly, a representative would come to pick it at your place and will give you the quoted price in cash. Easy, right?

Not only selling phones, tabs, and laptops, we can also order a repair, get anti-theft protection, and refer a friend to earn 150 rupees. For readers of this blog, use code CLEANCASH to get 250 rupees extra next time you sell your device on Cashify. Don’t go through the troubles I faced or the guy in this video endured. Instead, use Cashify to #CleanUpCashOut your old devices.

To know more about the services offered by Cashify, head to https://www.cashify.com

Memorable Vacation in Goa with Hard Rock Hotel

After my impromptu escapade to the Sunset Beach in Cape May, I developed a strong connection with the Beaches. I witnessed a spectacular sunset on the first day of the year in 2015. I marveled at the color, paintbrush-like strokes in the sky, and the serenity it brings. For me, beaches are mesmerizing. The sheer beauty of it can never be explained in words. You have to travel to such fabulous places to experience it! As a beach lover, I have a long wishlist of places I intend to cover…it has the best beaches from all over the world. I’ve covered a few already – Bondi beach in Sydney, South beach in Miami, and the recently visited Sauble beach in Ontario, Canada.

Goa is one such destination that is on the top of my mind for over a decade. And why not? It’s the best beach destination in our country! I’ve talked to many foreigners who itch to travel to this beauty. In fact, in 2007, I made all the arrangements for a vacation to Goa for my entire family. Planes tickets were booked, hotel arrangements were made, but as luck would have it we had to cancel it at the last minute. Since, my resolve to travel to the top beach destination in India has gone up. 

Speaking of beaches, it takes a lot to find one and then do an extensive research on the same. I plan all the details to the T. Here is how it goes for me:

  • Scout for the best beach in a country. My idea of the best beach is one that is less crowded, has clear water, and an exquisite quality of sand.
  • Search online for the best places to capture sunrise and sunset. Wherever I travel, I always find the company of professional photographers…essentially telling me I am at the right spot! They bring their tripods and expensive lenses to shoot gorgeous dawn and dusk. There are hundreds of online communities where one can find all the relevant information related to sunset/sunrise photography. Just do your research.
  • Stay close to attractions and not far away from the beach. It comes at a price, but when you account for the time savings and travel cost to-and-fro from far-off hotels, on-beach properties make for a better deal. You get to experience the exuberance of the crowd, activities that are centered around the beach, and can head to your hotel when you want to. Other reasons on one side, the experience of living close to the center of all the action is amazing.
  • A trip to the beach is incomplete without an adventure sport. To make sure I don’t spend an outrageous amount that can dwindle my budget, I rely on two sources – online deals and coupons available at the hotel. Every hotel at a tourist destination has a corner in the lobby where one can find pamphlets of all the attractions and activities nearby. I make use of these and suggest you do too. I saved nearly $50 with such a pamphlet on Q1 tickets in Gold Coast, Australia…and I have many such examples!
  • Last but not the least, I stay at a hotel that provides meals. If not a full-fledged restaurant than at least breakfast buffet. I don’t like to spend an hour looking out for breakfast options. I like to get ready early morning, have breakfast, and head out to the attraction. By going early, one can easily avoid traffic and long queues at the attraction.

With these specifics in mind, I found that staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Goa would guarantee an unforgettable trip. Situated on Calangute beach, all the major Goa attractions are at a convenient distance to it. The hotel has all the necessities I want and all the luxuries my wife craves for – restaurant, coffee shop, gym, pool, lounge, and tastefully decorated rooms. It’s a 4-star hotel and is surprisingly well-priced. After reading stellar reviews of this property, I’ve already chosen it for my Goa trip. Here are a few pictures of the hotel.Hard Rock Goa 1Hard Rock Goa 2Hard Rock Goa 3Hard Rock Goa 4Hard Rock Goa 5If you are planning to head to Goa for holidays, Hard Rock Hotel is an option that you should definitely explore. In case you visit there before I do, don’t forget to share your experience.

Of Diwali and India Visits…

It is that time of the year when you should be in India – to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights! This year the D-day is October 19.

Well, I long for celebrating Diwali in India every year, but my work doesn’t allow me to take off between September through November. Every year, the deadlines get pushed back and everything piles-up to be completed in October or November…nobody tinkers with the Christmas time in the West though! So, early this year, I closed it with my manager to allow me to be in India to indulge in the festivities with the family back home. And, gladly, we are taking off for New Delhi tonight 🙂

alok singhal diwali
This was shot last year on Diwali in the US
Actually, had it not been for a medical emergency in September, we would have spent a few weeks in Europe (my dream destination) and then a couple in India. We had to cancel our bookings at the last moment. We are sort of fine now, but the situation threw us off physically and monetarily. Whoever said “Man proposes, but God disposes” did say it loud and clear! Anyway, seems my dream will have to wait a bit long.

We were supposed to take off on September 21 and, coincidentally (on the positive side), I achieved all of my Stock Market-related targets for the Indian fiscal year April 2017-March 2018 the same day. What a day for such extremes to happen! The profits came at the expense of many sleepless nights though, because of the time difference between India and US/Canada. I have often questioned myself if I should be doing what I do, but then money does matter. Consequently, I got a bit too ambitious and created another plan to be achieved by the end of 2020. Maybe I should be leading some global firm managing billions of dollars 😛

Just a bit on the markets – I am a huge proponent of the incumbent Modi-led government in India. Things have been looking up ever since he came to power a few years back, courtesy some bold reforms. I expect Indian Stock Markets to remain hot for another few years. Btw, US Markets are not doing bad too…if you had invested money in any of the two a couple of years back, you would know what I mean. Let me not delve deeper into the topic, as I have written on it quite a few times earlier – here and for the Money View blog.

With that, let me wish my Indian readers a very happy and safe Diwali. I’ll be off for a month as our trip will culminate with my sister’s marriage in November.

*I have a few posts in draft and would publish them on the go. Your comments are always welcome 🙂

Looking to relocate to Canada from the US? Think again!

Canada is a hot destination for many these days, courtesy easier (and quick) way to Permanent Residency (PR), free medical benefits and education, and charm of the West! With ever increasing immigration issues in the US and the dream of getting a Green Card (GC) a distant reality, many are thinking about relocating from the neighboring country too. If you are a qualified professional like me, it is even easier!usa vs canadaI moved to Canada from the US in May this year after exhausting my H1B there. I worked for the Financial clients in Boston, New York, and New Jersey during the 6 years that I was there. The move to Canada was not a preferred choice for me – I declined GC request from my firm 2 years back in the hope of moving close to India, with Europe being my preferred destination. In the end, it didn’t work out, and I was left with only one choice – continue with the same project in Toronto area. I had never imagined Canada would be so costly, else I wouldn’t have taken it up in the first place! You can’t blame me for not doing my homework either since the prices have shot up here very recently. Consider this – Canada Immigration is extending PR offer to more than 5,000 people every month, and most of them end up settling down in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Let’s get to the comparison of monthly prices which make up most of my budget (prices are rounded-off, and many vary daily):

Just so you know, the salary one gets when you move from the US to Canada is exactly the same, not with the exchange rate adjustment! So, if you were making 100K there, it would be 100K here, in spite of the current exchange rate of 1USD=1.22CADalok singhalDon’t be fooled by the free medical in Canada, which many speak of first. Unless you have to be in the hospital every other day, you won’t really be making good use of it! As for the education, you don’t pay for public schools in the US.

Just so you know, my in-hand salary in Canada is less even after not paying any monthly medical insurance…I would have loved to pay it and not pay extra on everything else! A part of the problem is also that Canada is far less developed compared to the US, which leads to far less competition among vendors, thus leading to higher prices on almost everything (and they won’t come down anytime soon)!

All in all, I am taking a hit of USD1,000 per month! What I am saving here, I could probably save in India also. Yes, the lifestyle is much better and the education is free here, but between the 2 countries, why not settle down in the US, which is better on most parameters?

As for me, I don’t want to settle down in either country…I still have a thing or a two for India. Let’s see.

*The apartment I have now is better than the one in the US, so that price is a bit more for the same standard of living.

**Image sourced from Google, stats are my own

The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto in Tobermory is the best attraction I have been to yet! The natural cove formed over thousands of years is a 4-hour drive north of Toronto and lies within the famous Bruce Peninsula National Park.

As we had already taken the permit for the 12-4 slot (mentioned in the last post), we drove into the park around 11.45am and parked in P1 lot about 5 kilometers further up from the entrance (it is beyond the Cyprus Lake – see map in the last post). The grotto is about a half-hour easy walk from there. There are a couple of trails you can take to reach it – the longer one is along the Horse Lake and shorter one along the Marr Lake, which is what we took.

Once you hit the water, the views are unbelievable! There were hordes of people there, but I took them off the shot to avoid the clutter. It was quite windy that day, so you can’t see anybody swimming out there, but this would make for a perfect spot for anybody wanted to either plunge in the water or just have some nice time alongside. I stood at the edge for a couple of shots and got fully drenched 🙂best beaches in the worldgrotto bruce peninsulaWe followed the Bruce Trail (which goes along the edge) and there is a Grotto Cave just a few meters away. I would imagine had it been a swimmable day, I wouldn’t even have found a suitable platform to snap it!the grottoJust a few meters further up is the Grotto, one which takes a lot of effort to reach as there is no defined pathway leading to it. The folks in the shot below had to find their way down through the rocks that you see in the view (same was on my side too).grotto near torontoThe park is too vast to enjoy fully in a 4-hour window but we did go further to explore a couple of more vistas. If you have time, do go to the Boulder Beach and the Overhanging Point. I wouldn’t say they are as magnificent as the Grotto but would give you some unique views nonetheless.

The boulder beach, as the name suggests, is quite rocky. It is a good spot for some sun-bathing though. You can bring your umbrella and maybe just read a book in the shade!boulder beach bpnpboulder beach bruce peninsulaThe next was to hike up to the Overhanging Point (all the way up in the thick blanket of green in the above shot), but it takes some strenuous hiking for about a kilometer to reach that point. Being the last attraction for us (before we were to head back to the parking), we didn’t want to leave it.views of nature bruce peninsulaoverhanging point bruce peninsulaAs is apparent, the rock has gone through erosion over centuries and now is a spectacular semic circle hanging off the edge.

We leisurely covered what one could do in the allotted time, but if you plan to swim or even go down in the Grotto, you might have to sacrifice on a few spots. Remember, you have to head back to the parking also, which would take at least 30 minutes…and you can’t risk the authorities towing away your vehicle! Btw, you don’t have to follow the same path in reverse to head back, there is a shortcut from the boulder beach which further merges into the Marr Lake trail.

P.S. As mentioned earlier, entry to any National Park in Canada is free this year owing to the country’s 150th anniversary.

The colors of fall at the Acadia National Park

After witnessing a spectacular Sunrise at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine, USA, it was time to experience the fall colors that Acadia is famous for. The best way to do so is by driving on the 27 mile Park Loop Road, which connects the park’s lakes, mountains, forests, and rocky shores, and provides easy access to many stunning views. The road is open from mid-April through November, but a small section is open year-round.

Since we had the yearly pass for all the National Parks in the US, we didn’t have to pay any entry fees (otherwise, a pass can be obtained for $25 per vehicle and is valid for a week). As soon as you enter the park, you can imagine why Acadia is a must-visit during autumn. The fall colors there were not at their peak yet, but were still fabulous to have anybody exclaiming ‘what more!’

There are many pull-off observation points and one should stop at them to see why they are famous for…a leisure trip definitely is a huge plus if you really want to enjoy the bliss of nature! If you are short of time, I would definitely recommend enjoying the following:

Sand Beach: Just walk along the spectacular azure water, or take a swim! The beach is flanked by mountains on 3 sides and we walked from end-to-end against this lovely backdrop. The clouds that were hovering around in the morning provided for a mystical experience!sand beach acadiasand beach acadia np mainephotography in acadiaThunder Hole: A small crack in the cave along the shoreline where waves crash into the hole. The ideal time to witness the road of air and water is when the tide is midway between high and low. Since you can’t time it perfectly, just enjoy whenever you are there!thunder hole mainethunder hole acadiaOtter Cliff: There are many cliffs in there…Otter cliff is a famous one! I went further up on a few ledges to enjoy the sound of waves and inhale in the pristine surroundings.viewpoints in acadia national parkEven if you keep driving along, there are many viewpoints where you could just park the car along the road and enjoy the beauty of nature. I especially liked the views of the Frenchman Bay in the distance!islands in acadia maineroad trip in acadia

P.S. During our trip, I found a fascination for smelling the colored leaves but, unfortunately, they don’t smell any different when they are undergoing the color change.

The hidden gems of Tobermory, Ontario

Further to my previous post on the Sauble Beach that we visited on a Friday evening a few weeks back, we had a lot of attractions lined up until Monday evening. They form a part of the Bruce Peninsula and the adjoining Fathom Five National Marine Park. On Saturday morning, we had to first get the permit for the famous Grotto (natural intricate cove) since the parking for it is through timed slots and is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis. The slots are from 7-11am, 12-4pm, 5-9pm. It is suggested to reach as early as possible if you even want to be safe for a slot (you can only get a permit for that day, not for future). On weekends (especially long ones), all the slots could get filled up in the morning itself…you can follow their twitter handle @BrucePNP or even use #grottoparking to see the current availability.

We reached the entrance (on the Cyprus Lake Rd) to the Bruce Peninsula National Park about 8.30am and were given the option to choose from any of the 2nd or 3rd slots. We went with the 12-4 one since photography is better during the day time and one could enjoy the reflections in crystal-clear waters too! In the meantime, we backed-up our car and headed further up about 10 kilometers to the Tobermory Visitor Center (map here: BP-FF_Map_en). As I’ve mentioned earlier also, the benefit of starting with the Visitor Center can’t be undermined…the folks there give you valuable information even though you might think you know it all!

We were advised to head to the tower right next to it and then go to the Dunks Bay just a short walk away. We did exactly that and were treated to spectacular views of the entire Georgian Bay from the summit of the tower. It was quite windy and cloudy that morning, but the views from up there are still fresh in my memory.tobermory tower near visitor centerbruce peninsula national parkviews from top tobermorygeorgian bayAfter that, we headed to the Dunks Bay and were in awe looking at the clarity of the water. I could even count stones deep into the turquoise waters…I felt the clarity to be even better than that of Lake Tahoe in California that we saw in April last year!nature traildunks bay tobermorywhat to see in tobermoryWe got so excited about the prospect of what is coming up next that the 3 hours at those 2 small sites seemed to pass by in a jiffy!

There are other attractions in Tobermory too, especially a cruise to explore the Flowerpot Island of Fathom Five NP (we covered that on Monday). Our priority was The Grotto for most of Saturday and The Blue Mountains on Sunday. More on these coming up next…

Another Day, Another Beach!

We have been to so many beaches in the last few years that it seems like just yesterday I was at (yet) another beach. It was a few weeks back when we started our long weekend by spending the Friday evening at the gorgeous Sauble Beach in Ontario. It’s a 2-hour drive from our place and we stayed close to the location to get a head-start for the activities we had planned for on Saturday.

At a length of 11 kilometers, Sauble Beach is the second longest freshwater beach in the world (after Wasaga beach, that I wrote about earlier). As the community of Sauble beach is located on the West, the pristine shores of Lake Huron provide for some spectacular Sunsets. Our experience was no less!

Being a working day for me on Friday, we reached the beach around 7.30pm. Since the Sunset was supposed to be around 9, we were there at the perfect time to witness the change of colors.sauble beach ontarioThe best part about this beach is that you can drive right up to the water (see the car on right in above shot). Moreover, that parking is free! If the parking is full, you can park on the road as well (that is paid, but reasonable). I must also add that the beach is quite clean and, luckily, there were very few people around when we visited.day trips from torontoI don’t swim, but that never deters me from just being in the water and listening to the sound of waves. There were a few kids and a surfer further into the lake, enjoying their heart out 😀best beaches in canadaWe spent a couple of hours (even had our dinner in the car while looking at the lake from a few feet). It must have been around 9pm when the waves increased, so we had to back-up the vehicle a bit.sunset phorography ontariosunset at a beachAfter a long time, I witnessed a perfect Sunset. Also, this is one place Saru didn’t want to leave…so she didn’t have to drag me off either 🙂

Why patience is a virtue in the Stock Markets?

Many of us are tempted to make quick bucks…how of it doesn’t matter! What if I told you there is a great way to make money (sometimes quickly) that too all legally? Well, Stock Market is your answer! I am not suggesting that is an easy way though! You have to have a decent knowledge of how the markets work.

My post for Money View here talks about the phenomenal run we are into and how the markets have made many rich in just a few years. It also talks about my personal wins, and some challenges, too. However, the main point is that I learned from my experiences and have been doing better every passing day! If you are into trading and have maintained discipline and had some patience, you would know what I am saying.

The times are still great and there is much more to be made in the Great Indian Story, as I would term it. Do let me know your thoughts after reading my insights shared on the MV Blog.

*Here’s a picture of me working for Morgan Stanley in New York…looks like a highly-paid wall street guy, no? Don’t ask my salary now 😦alok singhal

A ‘snowy’ journey to Zion National Park

Our next destination after covering Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons and Monument Valley in Arizona/Utah was Zion National Park (NP). We had an overnight stay in Kanab (just an hour drive to Zion) with the Hampton Inn…we always try to reach close to our next destination the evening before so we are fully relaxed for the ‘sometimes’ hectic day ahead.

It was expected to snow overnight and even the next day for the most part. However, Zion was on the tight part of our schedule, so there was no leeway for us to work around the weather fury!

As expected, it snowed a bit late into the night. In the morning, as soon as we hit the road, we were met with heavy snow. I had to drive with caution but, luckily, had the road to myself. It essentially meant we stopped as we pleased…the views were stunning, to say the least!zion national parkWe had always considered the states of Arizona and Utah deserts but both had enough snow to pleasantly surprise us. We wouldn’t want a bit of magic while on vacation?antelope canyon to zionThe weather was supposed to clear-up once we reached Zion, so the excitement was building up too!mountains in utahJust before we were about to enter another unique wonder of nature that Zion is, a picture-perfect setting caught my attention, and I was sure to catch it 🙂attractions in utahZion has a terrific scenery to keep you in awe, and we sure witnessed it! As if snow was not enough, it also rained a bit in Zion while we were there, adding another aspect to our experience – you have to wait for another post for that 😀

The first place to view Sunrise in the United States: Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine, is the place to see first rays of Sun in the whole of United States. We had reached there after covering fall in Vermont and New Hampshire, and Acadia is even better known for its colors over the many small islands.

At an elevation of 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. We were staying just a bit from the road to the Summit of the mountain, so it was easy to drive to its peak early morning, which was on the top of my list of things to do there.first sunrise in united statesThe road to the top meanders through the North and Eastern side of the mountain. If your want to see the Sunrise, it is better to rush to the top first, though you might be tempted to stop at the various vintage points along the 5.6-kilometer stretch. Sometimes, even the parking might be hard to find up there though they have ample spots!cadillac mountainAt the summit, I stood in the bitter cold of early-October and my fingers froze many times to capture these shots. I was in the company of many ‘wise’ men and women though 😛acadia national park.jpgThe scenery changed dramatically as I admired the views from about 5am till 7.30 or so. The clouds and islands in the distance added beauty to the extravanagza. There were fall colors too, but not at their peak yet.sunrise at cadillacThe sun made its first appearance in style, and many around clapped to welcome another day!best of acadia npThe following moments kept me hooked to the mesmerizing sights, as it was a perfect morning one can ask for!best sunrise shotsphotography at cadillacThe entire experience only made me strengthen my resolve to never miss a Sunrise while on vacation…it is a wonderful gift of nature that needs to be appreciated and be thankful for!

Day trip from Toronto: Lake Simcoe and Wasaga Beach

Last Saturday, we ventured out on yet another day-long trip (after Niagara falls). This time it was Lake Simcoe and the world-famous Wasaga Beach (the longest freshwater beach in the World!).

Saru had decided on the outing last week itself and I am always up for Travel anyway. So, it was about 10 on Saturday when we started towards the fourth-largest lake in the province of Ontario. The famous attractions of the lake are mostly in the city of Barrie, just an hour or so from our place. Due to lack of proper information available on the internet on what to do around the lake, we first stopped at the office of Tourism Barrie, which is just at the edge of the lake. The young chaps at the office advised us to spend a few hours strolling around the lake and enjoying its beauty amidst the mountains in the far distance, and then driving to Wasaga Beach (which we had planned for anyway). They suggested to go further to the Bluewater Beach for witnessing the Sunset at a quaint place as Wasaga beach is normally crowded (and it literally was too crowded).

There are many activities around the lake. We started by driving to the Minet’s Point Beach (just a kilometer or so before the Tourism’s Office). Though the beach is small but it is an absolutely wonderful place for the kids. We were quick to experience it and then drove towards and past the office and parked at the Centennial Park (not even a kilometer from the office).lake simcoe ontariocentennial park lake simcoeIf one has time, a stroll around the lake (starting from the office) is definitely recommended…but you can’t walk fully around the lake (it is too long).alok singhal lake simcoe wasaga beachWe saw a bunch of people Kayaking and Canoeing in the lake, and we couldn’t hold the excitement. So, we rented it too (for $45 per hour) 🙂 It was a first-time experience for us and we enjoyed it thoroughly. The HappyPaddling folks took our pictures too, but they were not of acceptable quality. I took some of my own shots while we were in the lake.kayaking and canoeing in lakeThe guide had suggested to explore Downtown Barrie too, but we are more of nature-oriented. So, we picked our car and drove further around the lake and parked at the Heritage Park.heritage park ontarioheritage park lake simcoeThere is a bay alongside, which provided for some unique shots of the place!lake simcoe phorographyWe must have spent about 3 hours before heading to the Wasaga Beach. Having been to numerous beaches across countries, I can say too much crowd is the last thing you want to see at a place where you want to just take off your clothes! Anyway, I went by the guide’s recommendation (to head further to the Bluewater Beach) but not before capturing this shot at Wasaga.sunset at wasaga beachBluewater Beach would have been difficult to find had it not been for the precise directions given by the guide (no wonder, it was his favorite beach). For those reading here, it is in the town of Tiny. A gem of a beach it is, I would say! Since it was cloudy that day, we couldn’t witness the sunset there, but I can imagine how magnificent it could have been. I strolled around on the secluded beach, while Saru did some playing-around with the Camera.bluewater beach tiny ontario.jpgFor those looking for a weekend outing from Toronto, it could easily have been so considering we returned back around midnight.

P.S. We didn’t have to buy magnet souvenir on this trip as the kayak vendor gave us a couple of them 🙂

Who is Crazy…They or Me?

You might know we drive on the right side of the road here in the West, but even that has at least 2 lanes. The right-most lane is for the slow moving traffic, and you wouldn’t want to be there unless you have all the time in the world to reach your destination! The left-most is for those who can’t wait to get to their destination (like me)!

Now, I am not a slow driver, so I hardly visit the right lane. But then I don’t over-speed in the left, so people keep overtaking me from the right. Even if I am over the posted speed limit, people still keep zipping past me from the right. Some even give me horrible looks as if I shouldn’t be driving at all! That drives me crazy! Would you give me that title if I am already above the posted speed limit? Crazy! Not me…they!

Because of those looks, I do visit the right lane at times…when I get frustrated enough! But then I can’t see people leaving me behind from the left either. And some still give me looks as if I am too old to drive fast! Do you think I am crazy to let them reach early at their destination while I slog in the right lane. No way! …And here goes my car from the right to left 🙂

So, as you can imagine, it’s a constant struggle for me on the road – I can neither let people give me horrible looks when I am on the left-side; nor can I let them feel sorry for me when I am on the right.

When we have 3 lanes, it is easy for me to decide – just be in the middle one 🙂 That’s where I am at peace as I get the least of the weird looks, compared to the other 2 lanes. Some still show me the middle finger occasionally, but I consider it the price I have to pay to be on the road.driving-on-the-rightThings get complicated when there are too many lanes, as in the picture above. What do I do then? That requires a bit of analysis: Leave the left and the right altogether for the reasons mentioned earlier. Leave the 2nd from the right also, as those are the ’un-deciders,’ who can’t be on the extreme right but are afraid of picking up speed too, which is required in the left. That leaves us with 2nd from the left and the middle lane – and I use them both, with 80% of my time spent in the 2nd from left and only 20 in the middle one. The 2nd gives me the speed I need and the middle gives me relief, when I want to relax. The combination works well for me, and since there are too many options for people, I get the least of the crazy looks 🙂

*Picture sourced from here

Looking to move your car from the US to Canada? Here’s what is involved…

Let me state at the outset – it is very easy to move your car from the US to Canada, if you have proper documentation. I was told otherwise by a few, but after going through the experience myself, I would say it is only time consuming but well worth the pain and money you would save (by not selling in the US and buying again in Canada)!

toyota camry
I drive this Camry, which I absolutely love 🙂

Here’s what you need to do to make the process a cake-walk for you:

Assumptions/Notes:

  1. Your car should be in the acceptable list of vehicles permitted to be imported to Canada. Check the list here
  2. The car is in your name and you’ve driven it for some time in the US. I am not sure what the process is for bringing a brand new car from the US to Canada.
  3. I still had my US DL active for a month when I moved to Canada.
  4. I also continued with Geico US Auto insurance till I got my Canadian insurance. When I got the local insurance in Canada, I discontinued Geico and got the refund of the remaining amount I had already paid for in my US account.
  5. I didn’t drive the car through the border – Since I wanted to avoid the hassle of putting proper documentation in place, I sent my car through the moving company my firm has a tie-up with.
  6. If you had renewal(s) of DL in the US, you should have even the earlier DL(s) to surrender to the Canadian authorities to be considered for full driving history.
  7. Carry all the documents that would collect from various agencies over time before you head to the next one. You don’t want to go to an agency and be in the queue only to find out you are missing something that you should have carried along.
  8. I spent around CAD1,000 overall and most of it was reimbursed by my firm. Your charges could vary a bit here and there depending on your personal situation.
  9. If the moving company paid any charges to any of the 2 governments, I am not aware of that. What I do know is they billed my firm for about USD2,000 for the move.

What to do in the US:

  1. You would have to go to DMV a month or so in advance and get the ‘Abstract’ of your driving record. In New Jersey, they charge USD15 and you can get it in minutes if you go yourself. You would need this (along with any previous DLs, as mentioned above) to have your entire US driving history taken into account in Canada. Without the abstract, Canadian authorities would only allow you to exchange the US licence for G1 licence (as if you have under 1 year of experience).
    I had 3 years of history in the US and got the extract before moving to Canada. So, I got the full G licence by paying CAD90 in exchange for my valid US licence (had to give them my expired US DL also from a year back and the abstract).

What to do in Canada:

  1. The first thing you need to do is to get the DL as explained above. You can visit the nearest Drive Test Center for this step.
  2. Next is to get the car when it arrives in Canada by getting it cleared through customs. I was called by the moving company on the day it was ready for pick-up at customs. I just had to go there with the documents I was handed over in the US by the moving company, along with the Canada Work Permit and Passport. Overall, it took about 5-10 minutes to clear my car and the payment was a customs fees of CAD220.
  3. You would need to get the vehicle inspected so it meets Canadian standards. I went to Canadian Tires and it took about 4 hours to get that done. I was asked to replace the rear break pads and a couple of other minor things. The total was CAD600, out of which parts were for about CAD222 (except for the cost of parts, the labor and inspection cost was borne by my firm).
  4. Then comes the process of buying Auto insurance. I spoke to a few vendors and finally went with TD Insurance, they gave me a good deal by combining both Renter’s insurance for my Apartment and the Auto insurance. Always lookout for such deals!
  5. Finally, the registration of car is required, which is to be done at Service Ontario. It is a 5-10 minute job (I paid CAD240, which includes a sticker too) and you should be able to happily walk away with a new number place. Remember to mail the US number plate to the DMV back there.

Don’t be frightened by the number of steps. As I mentioned upfront, it is only time consuming, but would save you thousands of Dollars!

The Valley of Rocks: Monument Valley

Just a couple of hours’ drive from Page, Arizona (the location of HorseShoe Bend and Antelope Canyons) lies the valley of rocks – the Monument Valley! It has a cluster of large Sandstone buttes (an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top).

Though the tour of the valley was not in our original plan for Arizona/Utah, we decided on a quick trip from Page as we had one afternoon open. The drive itself is through the vast barren landscapes, but as one approaches the Valley at the border of the 2 states, the tourists begin to be seen.road to the monument valley utahThere is a general admission fees of $20 per vehicle and then you can just drive on the 14-mile graded dirt road that takes you through the major monuments – The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Totem Pole, Yel-Bichel, Ear of the Wind.

Here’s the John Ford’s Point, followed by the Three Sisters:john ford's point utahthree sisters monument valleyThere are many monuments there, difficult to capture in just a few hours. One can stop at the designated points though and enjoy the stunning views.snow in desertwhat to see in arizona utahIt had snowed a bit there earlier (who can imagine that in the so-called desert!), but it made our outing all the more exciting. This one is my personal favorite from the day (the colors are all natural):beautiful photography monument valleyThe below shot has Yel-Bicehl on the left and Totem Pole on the right, which has gone through extensive erosion over time!best of usa travelIt was about time for dusk, and that’s when I get super-active. The reason – most of my best shots have come either at dawn or when the sun was about to bid good-bye for the day!snow in arizona utahThe last shot of the day was that of the Mittens (left and middle one) and of the Merrick Butte (right foreground) – looks magical, isn’t it?night shots at monument valleyAfter about 4 hours, we left another of nature’s wonder, but not before collecting a souvenir from a large shop at the entrance.

Why MBA is Your Best Bet to a Lucrative Career?

Blog-images-MBA-min-1At some point in our lives, there is this big question that stares at us – what career to pursue? While some of us give it a due consideration much in advance, some are left wondering when the time to take a call dawns upon them. The result is falling prey to the family pressure, or even as flimsy as just going with what is hot in the market. Would you want to take that gamble in your life? Hopefully, not!

An MBA (Masters in Business Administration) can propel your career prospects and can even help you get into boardrooms at the higher stages of your career.

The questions that I dealt with when I was deciding on my future included:

  1. Why should you do MBA?
  2. Which B-schools to target and why?
  3. How to prepare for the Entrance Exams?

Being a critical aspect of our lives, we need to give it a due thought before finalizing on what would keep us happy all through.

The details around each of the above points have been shared on the Money View Blog here.

Please do share your thoughts.

The thunderous experience 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 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.

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!