Nestled in the lap of Nature: Byodo-In Temple

Set against the backdrop of towering cliffs of Ko’olau mountains, Byodo-In temple is a Buddhist temple located on the Oahu island of Hawaii – in the Valley of the Temples memorial park. It was dedicated in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

The temple doesn’t figure in the top 10 attractions of Oahu, but I would say it should have been one of the top 3! What makes it all the more worth visiting is it is a replica of the over 950-year old Buddhist temple at Uji in Japan.

As soon as we parked our car next to the temple, I was astounded by the scenery that greeted us. There is a fee of $5 per adult (to be paid in cash).byodo-in temple oahubuddhish temple in oahujapanese temple in hawaiiThe grounds are (properly landscaped) lush green, with a large reflecting pond, which has hundreds of Japanese koi carp.

Just outside (on the left of the temple) is a seven-ton six-feet high brass peace bell. It was cast in Osaka, Japan, and is separated into four sections depicting the Buddhist concept of heaven. It is advisable to ring this sacred bell using the soft wooden log before entering the temple. The unique tones of this impressive bell is believed to clear the mind of negativity, impart deep peace, and bring happiness, blessings and a long life. Through its resonating sound, the bell reminds us that everything is transitory.buddhist peace bellbell at buddhist temple.jpgYou can walk around the temple and see small waterfalls, sparrows, and wild peacocks. One thing we especially loved in Hawaii was that we were woken up by the sounds of birds every single day!best of oahubuddha statueThe main temple has a two-ton nine-foot seated Amida statue (the Buddha of the Western Paradise). It is covered in gold and lacquer.

The Amida Buddha represents the infinite life and light surrounding all beings.

From my own experience I can say that you would not feel like leaving the temple – it was so blissful. There are a couple of benches in the temple and niche on the grounds where you can meditate for however long you want to – it is no wonder the visitors describe the place as beautiful, peaceful, and restful.

The temple grounds are often used for wedding ceremonies for Hawaiians or visitors from Japan.

Travel Planning for Summer Vacation on a Budget

Summer is when the attractions get the most crowd. No wonder, planning for a vacation becomes a tedious task. But if you do your homework well, it can turn out to be the most enjoyable outing you’ve ever had.Blog-Summer-ItineraryBased on my extensive travel in the last few years, here’s what needs the most attention before you hit the road:

– Destination and Itinerary

– Attractions

– Accommodation

– Pack light

– Be flexible with the plan

– Funding

You can read the entire post with details on each point on Money View blog.

First morning in Hawaii : Sunrise in Honolulu

You might know from my Introductory post in March that we took a 13-day vacation to Hawaii from March 21-April 2. We visited the four islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Kona (in that order), with about 2.5 days spent in each. There are two more islands visited by a few in Hawaii, but Lanai is largely privately owned and Molokai is prohibitively expensive.

We were living next to the world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (capital of Oahu), and not far from other major attractions. I wouldn’t say Manoa Valley Inn, where we were put up, was one of our best experiences in spite of the good reviews it has. The reasons are – they don’t clean the room every day and breakfast starts at 7.30. We had the worst experience with BnB at Maui – Haiku Plantation Inn – there you have to pay $75/per day for getting the room cleaned and breakfast starts at 8am. This was the 2nd time we went with BnBs in our travel history, so we are really skeptical to go with them ever again. Anyway, the spectacular attractions more than made up for these issues.

Since Honolulu is six hours behind EST (Canada time, and with daylight savings), we were wide awake around 4am for an initial couple of days. Guess what we did, which Saru never did earlier? She accompanied me on my morning ritual, watching Sunrise at the Beach 🙂

We had done a lot of research even before landing in Hawaii, and Sandy Beach (Park) around half-hour away from our accommodation was mentioned as one of the best to view Sunrises. Sure enough, we were there the first morning itself. Being right next to the Kalanianaole Hwy, it was easier to reach there with just the GPS location. It is a long park along the ocean with enough parking. There were a few folks around admiring its stunning beauty, and also what was about to add up.

Hawaii is known for beaches with pristine-sands, crystal-clear waters, stunning landscapes, active and dormant volcanoes, gorgeous coastlines, natural waterfalls, and we saw all of that, and much more.

Sandy beach was close to perfect (I will talk about and show a perfect beach in a later post), and we sure did marvel at its spectacular beauty. Here’s the same for you…sandy beach honolulu.jpgsunrise in hawaiibest of oahu hawaiiAround 7.30 or so we made our way back to the inn for breakfast. We had an interesting attraction coming up after that…something that is quite unique by any parameter.

The best from my travels so far – Lower Antelope Canyon

The best natural attraction I have been to yet is the Lower Antelope Canyon, situated on the Navajo land east of Page, Arizona in the United States. There is a separate Upper Antelope Canyon as well just a few miles from the Lower one, and it is touted to be more photogenic (thus is expensive), but I found the Lower to be more adventurous.

The Slot Canyons were formed by erosion of Sandstone, mainly due to flash flooding, but also due to sub-aerial processes. As the water picked up speed and sand in the narrow passageways, it made the canyon deeper and smoother along the edges, thus forming the ‘flowing’ shapes in the rocks. Even today, during the monsoon season, this phenomena occurs, and the tour companies close-down the visits.

We had decided to cover Lower and Upper on separate days and bought our tickets with separate tour companies (you can’t go on your own).

This post is just about the Lower Antelope Canyon. It is reachable with five flights of steps of varying width. It is also longer (1.1 miles), shallower, narrower at places (but wide at top), and sometimes even proper footing can be a challenge (compared to its Upper counterpart). The canyon itself is V-shaped.lower antelope canyon.jpgwhat to see in arizonaAs you make your way through the canyon, you can only marvel at all kinds of patterns formed by the natural processes. Add too it the numerous colors you are entertained to, and you are transported to another world! Just imagine how the force of water sculpted each section of the canyon.photography antelope canyonbest best wonderf of natureAs you walk through, you will have to climb stairs to make your way out of the canyon.

Notes (for the Lower Canyon):

  1. The sightseeing tour ticket fees for both Lower and Upper includes the Navajo National Permit and their Tax. The current total price for Lower is USD40 per person and USD78 for Upper (for 10.30 and 1:00 tours, $10 less for 8:30 and 3:00 tours). We went with Dixie Ellis tours for the Lower Canyon (there are just 2 companies for the Lower, the other one being Ken).
  2. Book your tours at least a couple of days in advance since the preferred slots fill up quickly and a group has limited number of reservations (approximately 15) allowed with a touring company. There is a tour every 30 minutes with either company.
  3. The time it takes to cover the canyon is 1.5-2 hours. It takes about 10 minutes from the company booth to the entrance of the canyon and the wait to enter the canyon could be up to 3 hours during the peak season.
  4. The lighting is better in the early hours or late morning. Being narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, the Lower Canyon feels brighter and warmer than the Upper one.
  5. There are no photography-only tours for the Lower canyon (but is available for the Upper one).
  6. You can take your own camera and tripod without any charges. Your guide most probably will help you shoot the famous spots.
  7. The canyon being deep, most likely you would feel cold inside. It’s advisable to take a jacket or sweater along.
  8. The Upper and Lower being the most visited, some people think the adventure part has just about vanished from them. Worry not, there are hundreds of other slot canyons near-by. They are free, except for the standard Navajo hiking permit.

We also have one of our favorite shots from the Lower canyon 🙂natural wonders in the world

13 days sightseeing and island-hopping in Hawaii

I’ve always wanted to visit the islands of Hawaii and Seychelles (technically, both of them are archipelagos). Ever since we got the US Tourist Visa last year, I was thinking of making a trip to Hawaii. The only problem – Hawaii is super-expensive!

Since we are still living close to the US and I saved-up enough by not taking too many vacations last year, we finally picked-up Hawaii as our next Travel destination, and started planning for it in January this year. We did some homework on which all islands to visit, and eventually zeroed-in on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island – in that order. In terms of timing, we didn’t want to visit during the peak summer months of Jun-Aug, and with my job restrictions, March-end sounded just about right (btw, any month is a good month to visit Hawaii – as experts say). I also got a fair deal with the Toronto to Honolulu and return flight (CAD545 per person), with a short halt in Los Angeles (both ways).

The hotel bookings have cost me a fortune, though – averaging a tad below USD200 per night (we are not budget travelers; not luxury, either)! Add to it the inter-island flights (the most effective way for island-hopping) and renting a car on each island (you would know I love road-trips?), we probably could have covered 2 countries in this budget. But then Hawaii is a different world altogether or so I have heard! We are about to find out as we have just landed in Honolulu.

In terms of the number of days we would spend across those islands, after the vacation to India in September and then to the US on New Year, I just had a few vacation days left. So, we could only cough-up 13 days in total (includes 2 weekends and a holiday on Good Friday). Based on what Saru and I wanted to see, we decided to split our time equally across the islands – 2.5 days, with half-a-day reserved for island hopping. I am fully aware those will not be sufficient, especially for the biggest of them all, the Big Island.

Details on what exactly we covered on each island would come after we are back. For now, let me soak in the Hawaiian bliss 🙂Napali Coast HawaiiFor my record, it was my 59th flight today.

Image sourced from Hawaii Tourism Authority website

Why is it important to change jobs?

I have been employed for 11 years across 6 firms in the IT space. During this long stint, I have worked with some of the marquee clients in the Financial Services domain. I must say I’ve had a good time, primarily because the salary funds my travels and I have really enjoyed some extracurricular activities I got introduced to during my journey, including Toastmasters. I wouldn’t say I always enjoyed the work I was doing, that’s why I changed jobs!New Job creative sign with clouds as the backgroundDuring my social interactions, I found many people to be unhappy with their jobs, mostly their managers or the work they were doing. In spite of the grin, I never understood why they stayed at their jobs for that long…if you are unhappy with something for long, shouldn’t you be parting with it? Even otherwise, I feel it is good to change jobs every few years. Let me explain the reasons:

  1. Gives you a fresh start: A new job gives you something fresh to look forward to. You don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over, every day! Having said that, I wouldn’t advise changing jobs every year! I’ve been with my current employer for 4 years already, and I spent 4 years with my former employer too.
  2. Interviews keep you sharp: I prefer giving at least one interview every year (might not be active job hunting). That way I get to stay current with the latest expectations of the market. I also get to keep myself sharp, rather than letting the passiveness set in.
  3. For the next career move: If you’ve been unhappy in your current job, most likely you’ve not risen as fast as you expected to be. Or maybe because people around you have moved onto their dream jobs! This is where a new job can do wonders for you…look out for the career move that you have been waiting for.
  4. Make use of the hot job market: With the economies of many countries on an uptrend (after the recession of 2008-09), tons of jobs are being created every day. This is the time to make use of your skills and negotiate a deal that you could only dream of earlier.
  5. It does get you additional money: There is no denying that fact that a new job can give you a monetary bump-up (if you’ve negotiated well). With plenty of jobs around, you wouldn’t have to travel far as well from your current workplace.

I do understand some people don’t want to change for fear of learning something new from the start or location or family constraints. But if there are companies willing to go the extra mile to hire the best, you will most probably get one that fits the bill. It’s just that you have to get your resume ready!

Picture sourced from here

I spent a Thousand Dollars primarily for this!

My entire vacation across Canada and United States in December last year was centered around this one spot – Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. I was not as excited about the other places we visited as this one!

Capturing Sunset over the summit of Mount Washington covered in snow had been my dream ever since we had a fabulous time at the very same spot in the fall of 2016. The entire stretch of mountains on the right side of the resort was lit-up in various hues.best sunset shotSo, this time, we made sure to spend the afternoon there after we took the aerial tramway up the Cannon Mountain earlier in the day. The resort is just about a half-hour drive from the Hillwinds Lodge where we were put up in Franconia.

There is no defined parking at the entrance to the resort (no gate to cross), but one can park along the road – that’s what I have seen others doing, too. You might get enough space in the summers, but during winters, you have to make one yourself. With not many people around in the chilly temperatures, it is not that difficult! We must have spent about 2 hours, and only a couple of tourists came by, stopped, clicked shots, and went away – most of the traffic on the road to the resort was of people going or coming from there. I was the only one walking around with my camera (Saru was in the car) trying to make the best of changing views.best snow covered mountain shotbest nature picturesBeing the peak of winters this time, the sun was setting down just behind the resort. The white and red colors of the resort added another layer of beauty to the colors in the sky. Since the mountains are quite far away from the spot and there is no point in showing a large blanket of snow, you would have to use the zoom.best natural beautybest landscape photos.jpgThough the sunset was not as dramatic as we witnessed earlier, I was still feeling quite ecstatic all the time – not many get to go (back) to their dream location in spite of all the money they might have.

If you ask me now, I wouldn’t leave a chance to visit the place again!

The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

A must-visit attraction in New Hampshire is the summit of Cannon Mountain at 4,180 feet, the highest ski area summit in the state! The views on a clear day can stretch as far as Canada.

Though this tramway came into existence in 1980, its earlier version which was discontinued because of high running costs (due to non-availability of replacement parts) was the first tramway in America, opening in 1938! Today, the red and yellow cabins (referred to as ketchup and mustard, respectively – because of their color) can carry 80 passengers (70 during winters). Covering a distance of just over 2 miles one way, the journey takes about 10 minutes.

We had taken the ride a few years back also (in the fall), but this time it was to witness the snow from up above. The tickets cost us $19 per person for a round-trip ride. If you are skiing, you can buy a half or full day pass.

If you have been following my trip since last few posts, you would know the temperatures were touching – 27-degree Celsius the time we were there. That had actually inspired me in the first place to take a trip to the peak. I picked up Saru from the hotel (after my morning ritual covered in the last post), and we were on our way to the top around 11 AM. The views during the ride can’t be put down in words! As we were the only spectators going up that time of the hour (rest were all skiers), the tram operator asked me to stand at the back in the cabin as the window was half-open and I could get some great shots. And I sure did exactly that 🙂cannon mountain tramwayThough the views all around were covered in snow, the sun appeared to lit-up some sections of the frames. I must say I did enjoy the 180-degree views, including the fun of some skiers going down the slope underneath the tramway path. I don’t just go crazy with clicking shots, I have formed a habit of enjoying myself first.sightseeing in usabest pictures of natureWhen we reached the top, Saru had to immediately rush into the covered area (houses a warm and cozy ski lodge offering a variety of food, and has restrooms), just because it was too much of a cold to bear. I, on the other hand, warmed myself up and ventured out to explore a bit. Though there are a plenty of trails one could take at the top, it was not the day to even look out for them! I just had to be content with seeing some adults and kids enjoying what they were there for.best pictures of mountains

All the shots are from my erstwhile iPhone 7 Plus

Sunrise over the snow-capped Mountains

I wanted to make the most of the only full day we had in Franconia, New Hampshire. Add to it the craze of watching at least one of Sunrise or Sunset, though I had planned for both.

We were staying quite close to the ski area of famous Cannon Mountain and its Aerial Tramway. The only concern was the chilly temperatures owing to the cyclone blasting most of the states we were covering (stretching from Canada to the United States). However, I consider it an opportunity to witness some gorgeous views that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise!

I got up early (no surprise for guessing), got ready, and made my way to our car parked right behind the Hillwinds Lodge we were put up in. The temperature on the dashboard showed -27 degree Celsius, which only meant for me that I had to keep the car running for about 15 minutes. It was still dark when I drove to the base of the aerial tramway. They open up at 8.30AM, so I was early even by their standards. Also, I couldn’t see anybody skiing either, which is what I love – just the place to myself! When we left the place next day morning, we could see many people skiing the same slopes just around 8.30.

Since the parking lot was empty (maintenance was cleaning up snow, though), I took my time to admire the beauty of snow-capped mountains. Being surrounded by mountains with they showing me the best they have to offer is quite overwhelming for me. I take it with both hands!ealry morning franconiaI couldn’t spend a lot of time there – the temperatures are hard to imagine even for me now. I had read about a couple of small lakes around, one of them being Echo Lake just a couple of kilometers away (another one being Profile Lake), and I quickly made my way to it. If you’ve read me for long, you would know I don’t miss lakes, for they provide stunning reflections of subjects around – here they were the mountains. By that time, the activity of people arriving for their work had started. I asked for the Echo Lake and was told it just a walkable distance but that it is all frozen, so no point of going there. I have heard such arguments earlier also, they don’t matter for me now – I like to take my own call!sunrise echo lake new hampshireWell, I was standing by the Echo Lake (the entire frozen section in above shot) in no time. And guess what, I have no regrets! It might not look to be a setting that would keep in you awe, but you can’t ask for the best every time. I am still thankful to have been there and done that because I was the only one around fighting the tough conditions. On my walk back from the Echo Lake, I did see a few skiers just starting off their day.skiing franconia new hampshireI love going the extra mile to find views that make for killer shots. On my drive back to the hotel, I saw a long patch of icicles along the road, and I was quick enough to take turn and park in a safe spot. As you can make out, some seemed to have brought down quite a lot of dirt!icicles heavy snowbest snow picturesBeing early morning, the traffic was calm, and I went to a bridge close by that provided for an unobstructed view of the skiing runways. I now consider the below frame to be one of the best that I would ever see!photography new hampshireLater that day, we took the tramway up the Cannon mountain and then watched the sunset at Omni resort, where we had a gem of a time in the fall of 2016 (you should not miss both those posts).

Benefits of Laughing

*This was my speech in the Toastmasters club contest held yesterday.  I won, and will now be competing in another Area Contest (did so twice last year) next week.

If you have listened to me in the past, you would know I have tried to make you laugh every time. Unfortunately, many of you didn’t find me funny 😦 I feel for you! But, I don’t give up easily. So here I am to make another attempt…I hope you will open up your lips, jaws, and everything in between…if not for my sake, at least for yours! The reason being, there are numerous benefits of laughing, so even if you don’t like me being here, you should still give it a try.

Let me lay down what you will gain from laughing:

  1. Helps you live a healthy lifestyle – A good laugh decreases stress hormones while increasing the build-up of infection fighting antibodies, thus improving your body’s resistance to diseases. It also relaxes your muscles for up to 45 minutes once you’ve had a good hearty laugh.
  2. Triggers the release of endorphins – Endorphins are body’s natural painkillers and improves your overall well-being. Once you’ve got accustomed to laughing, rest assured, you will start feeling good all over, and it can even help you fight any chronic pain you might have.
  3. Boosts T-cells: There are various types of cells in our body, one of them being a specialized type of immune system cell called T-cell. They are just waiting in your body to be activated, and laughing can do exactly that. Once they are active, they start fighting common symptoms like cold.
  4. Reduces the risk of a heart attack: Laughter helps your fight risk of a stroke or heart attack by lowering your blood pressure. Btw, how many of you have a high BP issue? It’s about time for you to give yourself a nice giggle! Great, you might have just had your daily dose of medicine.
  5. Helps in burning calories – It gets your heart pumping and burns calories. Just a word of caution – don’t compare laughing to hitting the gym or running your heart out. It does burn calories but comparable only to that achieved with walking at a slow to moderate pace. To that extent, it is even classified as a great cardio workout.
  6. Promotes harmony among people – There is nothing compared to sharing a good laugh with others, especially with those who you have a conflict with. Looking at the funny side of a situation helps you calm down the nerves. And if you have chosen to take a situation lightly, there is no way the other person won’t relax.
  7. Laughing is infectious: It is a social phenomena, and the positive vibes spread like a virus. Think about how many times a person next to you has laughed and you have gone into depression because of that. Never, right? So why not spread the infection of laughing around!

laughter alok singhalThese are just a handful of reasons why you should never give up on laughing.

I was a Yoga Instructor close to my earlier workplace, and I used to make it a point to have the members laugh at the end of the session. Believe me, that was the best I could have done for them. And I am glad to have done the same for you today 🙂

*Image sourced from here