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

Are you Ready for the Future, Alok 0.0?

Hey 0.0,

I know you are tech-savvy, but have you heard of Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless II headphones, which has an integrated Google Assistant? No? You are really living in the past, man! Let me take you through your future that you are soon going to step into, and how it will change the way you interact with the world:Bose QuietComfort 35 II Headphone

  • Technological (r)evolution: The most important feature of QuietComfort 35 II is the newly-introduced Google VPA (Virtual Private Assistant) – works through ‘Action’ button on the back of left ear-cup. Once set-up, it lets you do what you ask of Google, without even reaching out for your phone. Say you want to listen to the news headlines, search for restaurants close by, check-out weather before heading out, add reminders, or any other question that comes to your mind, just speak to Google Assistant by pressing and holding the button.

I tried Google Assistant on my iPhone and it worked so well. Imagine you will have such a fabulous feature available at just the click of a button!

  • Noise cancellation: The new version (compared to QuietComfort 35) retains the powerful noise cancellation features of the earlier one. The exceptionally comfortable and cozy circumaural ear-cups used block-out a lot of ambient noise, allowing you to preserve battery by switching off the noise cancellation mode. The same action button as mentioned earlier can be remapped to set noise cancellation levels using Bose’s Android or iOS App.
  • Dedicated app: Speaking of the Bose Connect app, you would be asked to download it the first time you power on the headphone. Once that is done with, the app can be used for many features, and it works well in conjunction with the headphones. Powered by Bluetooth and NFC (near field communication) technology, the pairing of your devices with headphones is as easy, fast, power-efficient, and automatic as it could be in close proximity (without needing an internet connection). With continuous refinements in the app software, you can hope for a smooth experience as you unlock various features.
  • Sound quality: As with noise cancellation, the superior sound clarity is the hallmark of QC 35 II headphones, something that it carries from the earlier version. Volume Optimized EQ provides for a balanced audio performance at any volume. On the other hand, the noise-rejecting built-in dual-microphone system provides clearer calls, even in noisy environments.
  • Going wireless: With everything going wireless, this feature is assumed to be a must-have. And who better than a world leader in headphones to bank on! Since you listen to songs in the wired mode right now, I am sure this upgrade will surely make you go in awe of the gadget. If you ever feel the need to back to your earlier self, you always have an option to go wired (that almost doubles the battery life also)! The buttons for power on/off, sound/volume control, and USB charging port are on the right ear-cup, and they work with both Android and iOS devices.
  • Travel needs: The plastic build makes it lightweight while still keeping it incredibly comfortable to use for extended periods. The battery life is excellent at 20 hours even with noise cancellation turned on and moderate sound volume. Whether you are taking long-haul flights or just doing your daily office commute, rest assured, you can relax and indulge in the luxuries of life. As if all this was not enough, the headphones come with a hard case, which would make an impression compared to the pouches that many other makes opt for.

With all these power-packed features, QuietComfort 35 II is a significant upgrade to the era you are living in…that’s why I called you 0.0 🙂 Just so you know, by integrating Google’s VPA into the headphones, Bose has become the first ever audio headphone manufacturer to do so.

So what are you waiting for? I am ready to be taken over right away!

Alok 1.0

*Image sourced from Bose India Website

What’s a journey without some fun?

Life shouldn’t be just about getting to the destination! Rather, it should be more about enjoying the journey…which would make reaching the destination all the more exciting.

After spending 3 days in Montreal, Canada, we made our way to the United States. The closest border crossing was about 2.5 hours away. We had never crossed any border by road before that, so we were quite excited to see the entry gates. Apparently, it was a small crossing, so had only 3 lanes!
The immigration was smooth and easy. Since I spent quite a lot of time working in the US, the questions were primarily on what I did back then and why I left the US. We were asked to collect our I94 cards from the building next to the gates (there is a small parking area there). It must have taken about 15 minutes overall before we were again on the road…our hotel in Franconia, New Hampshire was still about 1.5 hours away.Just after we hit the road, a bit of snow had started falling…but that’s why we were in New Hampshire (NH) in the first place! We’ve always liked NH, so much so that this was our third time there. We had kept aside 1.5 days in Franconia to visit the famous Omni Resort in Bretton Woods where we had a fantastic time in the fall of 2016.
The weather was so much to my liking that I stopped and got off the car at multiple places (we just had to make sure to switch on the parking lights). The traffic was quite calm and we had enough time to enjoy the views alongside. The entire way was flanked by Mountains and the climate added its own charm to the mesmerizing beauty.One thing I especially loved was the icicles, they were at quite many places and I had never seen them earlier. In fact, I spent a long time admiring them next morning during my quest for Sunrise captures.We had chosen to stay with the Hillwinds Lodge in Franconia because of their good ratings. Another reason was their close proximity to the resort where we had planned to go the next day afternoon, and you must see that post of mine in a few weeks 🙂We reached hotel quite late in the evening, but the journey was every bit enjoyable. I would still classify it as a day when we did a lot of sightseeing!

*I would have loved to add more about our stay in Montreal but tough weather conditions didn’t allow us to explore much there apart from what I have covered already.

Take charge of your Health with Vitamin E

I moved out of my home at the age of 19. I went to an Engineering college, and from there started the downward spiral of my health. I ate at dhabas, hostel canteens, small eateries – whatever I could afford in my pocket money and was easily available. During my engineering days, the options were limited and unhealthy. This unhealthy lifestyle continued till I got married. Over those years, I caught-on many problems – mild psoriasis, black spots on the face, and weak liver – quite evident to anybody who spent some time with me.

After marriage, my wife took charge of the kitchen. And as I was new to the concept of being treated lavishly with food, I indulged. My wife loves to cook! She cooked and I ate more than I should have. Within 6 months, it backfired. I got sick. I had to go to a hospital in Bengaluru where I was told to streamline my eating habits. I was told to cut-down on spices, fried and processed food. It was a wake-up call. In October 2009, we decided to make an eating routine and stick to it. Our plan was simple – exclude spices, limit the number of times we ate outside, and eating a fruit and salad with meals. With time we learned the intricacies of our body. A year later, our doctor did a few more tests and we came to know we had vitamin deficiencies. Again, we made necessary alterations to our diet. Being pure-vegetarians, we had limited options. So, after years of continuous refinement, we follow this routine now:

Breakfast – Soaked almonds; fruit, preferably orange; stuffed paratha/roti with sabzi/butter toast with tea

LunchSabzi, raita, roti/rice with salad

Evening Tea – With cookies and dry fruits

DinnerDal, roti, salad, papad. If we are full that day, we drink a fruit-vegetable-yogurt smoothie.

We make sure to have the much-needed minerals and vitamins our body needs.alok singhal blog

Why is Vitamin E important for us?

I suffered from mild psoriasis. My wife has dry skin and hair. Our immunity system is not one of the best. With age, stress-levels, and pollution, the body takes a beating. For us, it became imperative to give our body the required amount of Vitamin E. We were told by our doctor to take 15 mg of vitamin E per day. At one stage, we took Vitamin E supplements just to beat the deficiency. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant (protects from free radicals), so it became a part of our daily routine. My wife and I take care of Vitamin E intake for different reasons. She takes it to repair damaged and dry skin, thicken her hair, balancing hormones, and for PMS symptoms. She even uses face creams and lotions that contain Vitamin E. I take it to balance my cholesterol level, improve vision, and to build immunity and muscle strength.

How we made it a part of our daily routine?

To make sure we eat a balanced diet, we try to incorporate all the minerals, carbs, proteins, fiber, and vitamins in the right proportion. This is how we ascertain we have enough supply of Vitamin E in our diet (it goes with the routine mentioned earlier):alok singhal blogger

  • Almonds, which are one of the richest sources of Vitamin E, forms an essential part of our routine.
  • We prepare our meals in extra virgin olive oil. In salads, we use olive oil dressing and olives as a garnish.
  • Avocado is one of our favorite ingredients in salad and sandwiches. My wife loves Avocado parathas. I love guacamole.
  • To bring flavor to our dishes, my wife adds peanuts in upma, poha, vermicelli upma, lemon rice, and pulao. In winter, we munch peanuts as a snack.
  • To have enough quantity, we opt for vegetables and fruits that are rich in Vitamin E – spinach and kiwi. My favorite dishes made from vegetables rich in Vitamin E are palak paneer, sauteed asparagus, pasta with all kinds of peppers – red, green, yellow, and orange. Yes, I have a colorful taste.

alok singhal ambala

What sources of Vitamin E do I recommend?

I recommend including almonds, avocado, spinach, olives, olive oil, peanuts, sunflower seeds and oil, dried apricots, pine seeds (it is a perfect pasta garnishing), asparagus, and broccoli in your diet.

If your Vitamin E levels are low, take supplements to bring them to the desired level. Try #Evion. Evion Supplements are healthy and safe and are reliable to bring back our Vitamin E levels back to normal. In the market since 1978, Evion is the No. 1 Vitamin E brand in India. Check out http://www.evion.co.in/ to know more about Evion Supplements and a wide range of products enriched in Vitamin E.evion vitamin eHow do you incorporate Vitamin E in your daily routine? If you have some mouth-watering recipes, please share with me. I promise I will try them. My wife will cook, though 🙂

Sunrise over downtown Montreal

Keeping up with the tradition, I woke up early the second morning we were in Montreal. My plan was to head out to the location we had visited the first day – Mount Royal. It had been snowing on and off since the day we had arrived there – such issues never bother me, though! I got ready (which is what I always do), said my prayers, and about 6am was on my way out to get my car into action – it needed quite a bit of cleaning! I was able to hit the road about 6.20 and had to drive half-hour to reach the parking lot of the destination (the lookout requires a walk of about 10 minutes from there, as mentioned in the earlier post).

Even though I was quite early at the spot, I could see a streak of light in the distance. Being a clear sky, it must have 100’s of kilometers out! sunrise over downtown montrealI am always excited to see the first rays of sun from an elevation, and that day was no different. This in spite of the temperature being much below normal and the wind hitting my face because of the open area all around. No wonder, I was all alone thinking who else could be crazy to join me in such frigid conditions! But, as the sun was about to make its majestic appearance, few more folks joined me. The area is know for hiking, and I also saw a lady doing what looked like her morning run.capture sunrise sunset in montrealplaces to see sunrise in montrealI have been to locations where some people clapped in the anticipation of another blissful day. Here, a couple of couples got cozy…I would never have such a luxury (Saru is not a morning person). Anyway, I was glad I added one more place to my list of places I have explored that time of the day. Somehow, I have started to enjoy extreme temperatures – it makes me feel I am really vacationing 🙂

I was in the hotel by around 8.15 and we looked forward to exploring downtown on the only clear day we got lucky with during our time in Montreal.

*Mount Royal is one of the best (and highly rated) places I could find to view Sunrise over Montreal….don’t miss it even otherwise!

A day of unexpected Adventure

We had plans to see Sunset over Montreal the day we drove to the city from home. However, it being a working day and due to excessive snowfall all along, we reached quite late in the night. Since we had 3 full days to spend in the city, we didn’t worry about it at all.

We checked into our favorite Hampton Inn & Suites in Laval (just a 20-25 minute drive from downtown) and enjoyed the night. The next morning, our first stop was Mount Royal – a large-volcanic related hill and a place known for its fantastic views of downtown Montreal. We parked in the designated parking area, and as soon as we got out the car, we were blasted with strong winds (and it was still snowing). It made no sense to walk for 8-10 minutes to reach the Chalet for views. However, I saw some skiers making their way over to the vast open area. No way I was about to return back when I had company, so Saru stayed in the car while I geared up to join them 🙂snow in montrealbest views of montreal winterI asked a guy around as to where the lookout (just opposite to the chalet) is. He advised me to head further up and that it is just about 500 meters. However, I kept going ahead without realizing there is a small road to the right, which takes you to the lookout in just about 5 minutes. I realized this only after I completed my adventure and was heading back to the car. However, I did enjoy the long trail I had inadvertently taken!skiiing in montrealI breathed a sigh of relief when I finally saw the chalet (structure below) after walking for about half-an-hour. I quickly went inside to explore it – it has restrooms, souvenir shop, food outlet, and a set of chairs to enjoy the outside view. Not many people were inside, but I can imagine it being a hot-spot in summers.mount royal chaletchalet in montrealI didn’t spend much time exploring the inside (remember, Saru was still in the car). The outside was all covered in snow, even the views of downtown!mount royal lookoutbest views of montrealshots of montreal quebecIt was not quite the sights I had expected, but quite unique nonetheless. Since I had to return there for Sunrise/Sunset, I soon returned to the car and saw Saru enjoying reading one of the books she had downloaded onto her iPad with the car heating on. Owing to frigid conditions, we soon decided to call it a day in the morning itself. Well, we still had 2 more days 🙂

Our first cross-border road-trip!

We are just back from a 12-day trip across multiple states in Canada and United States. Though I would cover each place (with some jaw-dropping sights) we visited in detail, this post contains a brief of what we did!

Last year, we spent the Christmas in Las Vegas. This year, we spent the same in French-dominated Montreal, which has some amazing architectural marvels. The city is just about a 5-hour drive from our home, but it was snowing heavily the day we started (22nd Dec) and considering the upcoming long weekend that Canada had, the drive was anything but easy. But, as I mentioned earlier also, I love long drives, in any form 😛

It also snowed for a couple of days while we were there, but that couldn’t deter me from venturing out (it did frighten Saru, though – it was about -25 degree Celsius on all of those days!). I have already written a post on the magnificent 200-year-old Notre Dame Basilica that I visited on Christmas day. I drafted, edited, and published the post same night (as last year). Yay!

On 26th, we left Montreal and entered the US as a tourist in the state of New Hampshire (NH). The immigration was smooth and we felt quite nostalgic as we spent quite a long time in the US until mid last year. This was our 3rd time in NH and we absolutely love the place! We specifically wanted to visit the area of Bretton Woods where I captured this shot last year during fall.sunset-at-bretton-woodsEven though our stay in Franconia city was for only a day, I did make the most of my outing even though it was colder there as compared to Montreal. While Saru was fast asleep, I captured a pretty sunrise in the mountains covered with snow – NH is mostly about mountains, lakes, and picturesque landscapes! Later that day, we were lucky to witness another aspect of White Mountains and capture Sunset next to the Omni Mount Washington Resort (seen in the above shot).

On 28th, we started towards New Jersey, but not before buying my crazy love – iPhone X – from the tax-free state of NH. I am loving it! It took us about 7 hours to reach Jersey City (JC) and meet us my brother-in-law and his wife. We have some fond memories of that place as we used to visit them quite often when we lived close by.

Next few days were reserved for eating at our favorite joints – primarily, California Pizza Kitchen and Dosa Hut. We spent New Year’s Eve checking-out decorations in New York (NY). I was impressed with lighting at the Macy’s flagship store and the light-show at Saks Fifth Avenue. We also had dinner at the highly-rated Korean restaurant named Hangawi. Even though I do not like much of non-Indian stuff, I was thoroughly impressed with the restaurant ambiance and food.

You might know I worked next to Times Square (TS) for a couple of years when I was there, but I never saw the ball-drop on 31st midnight. Keeping up with the tradition, we couldn’t see it this time also (though the intent was there) 😀 There were long queues to get to TS and NY was super chilly! In fact, the entire stretch we covered is under a cyclone, and hence the snow, wind, and the resulting frigid temperatures!

We came back home in Canada on 2nd Jan after driving for about 11.5 hours from JC – we enjoy the journey also, with some quick stops and clicks. With over 2700 kilometers on the odometer (I just drove long on 3 days out of 12), it is the longest road-trip we’ve had. But it was all worth it!alok singhal canada united states