This blog is to maintain an account of my travel experiences, whether it is business or pleasure.. there are things I wish to remember.. when I'm old and am not sure whether I will travel as much!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Like a Rock Fort


A visit to Tiruchi is often one of the easiest to think of, when it comes to a short and sweet trip for a weekend getaway from Madras. A Short trip was the order of the day, when my dad used to visit us once in a year for a month, while he was still working in Kuwait. Every visit of his, would be eventually guaged by the number of short trips we manage to take and the number of new things we do.

There was always great excitement when a trip was on the cards, since unlike the US, travelling in India is not a very common phenomenon. There was college, NIIT classes, and a choice of other extra curricular activities that we as kids got into, like singing, instrumental music, or just vetti talk on the Beach. Packing would begin almost a week or sometimes two weeks before the day of departure. My mom would look into the train tickets atleast once a day to make sure everything was booked right, and as the day got closer, this frequency would increase manifold. The ticket would have almost gotten as worn out as the pages of my borrowed DSP textbook.

Striking Contrast
The hotel reservations and local transportation was not even a factor. It would all be decided on the fly. There was plenty of time within the train journey to think about where we would go in Tiruchi. Contrast this to travel within the US, where we need to plan very well in advance on where we are flying to, where we will be staying, where precisely we will be going to within the decided location, how we will get to the places of interest, what other tickets or arrangements need to be made at home in our absence, the notice to be given to the office... blah blah blah.

Despite the long laundry list of things that need to be taken care of, before travelling, there seems to be a greater urge to travel within the US than within India. Hell, I have been to more than half the states within the US, but in India, I have barely been to 5! I don't think of these things on the way to Tiruchi, because I have not even heard of the US from anyone at that time. So, I answer nonchalantly to what I would like to do in Tiruchi. In fact, I can't even think of the options since all of them like temples, movies, riverfronts, relative's home, etc were already exhausted before I got my turn!

Pack Up
I carefully ensure that my video game has been packed for the train journey and my sister gets her books in place for "berth-time" reading. While my mom takes care of the food, my dad takes care of the cash. There are no ATMs or Credit Cards to bank on then. We all set off, after my mom approves that we are all set, having gone down her mental notes of what is required. We usher an auto-rickshaw guy downstairs to take us to Egmore Railway station. Immediately he asks "Enna Maa... orukkaa??" and my mom does not hesitate to give him an elaborate description of what we are embarking on. This served as a good reminder for the rest of us on the modus operandi. After a bumpy ride, with my not too light sister on my lap, I'm exhausted when I get to the railway station. Luckily, we will be on board the "Rockfort Express" very soon.

Platform Number??
Soon, we get to our platform (there are not too many in Egmore). I start telling my sister, as if I were Manirathnam's assistant.."You know?this is where they shot Raaja... Raajathi Raajan indha Raaaja.. kooja in the film Agninakshatram". She nods furiously in agreement and adds a few of her own lines, "this is where they jumped out of the train". We both feel good that we have some great general knowledge on Kollywood! Dad and Mom are busy chatting away and the subject is not necessarily interesting. So, we craft things of our own to discuss. We fight a lot of people to check the reservation list at the door of the A1 compartment to make sure that all our names are there at the right places before we board. Once on board, after all luggage has been stacked away, we begin to relax and let the journey begin! The engine roars and my mom is pleased: "Rockfort naa correct time daan". My sister and I add in chorus: " Besh Besh... romba nanna irukku" (a line from Usalai Mani in Narasu's Coffee). Dad adds: "Gun time.. looks like I can adjust my watch to this time to get in sync with the rest of the world rather than being 10 minutes late!".

Rayil Snegam
The trains speeds through the local metro stations like Purasai, Chetpet, Mambalam, etc. and we can't help but laugh at the slow and unsteady, local trains, which we can barely see. Slowly people begin to start snoring. We curse them saying: "Yerina odaney thoonga poyachu!" Cha! Our style was to stay awake longer, until the whole train has slept and get up after every one of them is up! Tambaram comes and goes and then comes Chengelpet. On the way, some people that are awake, pay their respects from the train to Godmother Adhiparasakthi in Melmaruvathur, even the engine seems to have slowed down in respect. My dad is very fond of getting down at almost every major station, does not want to an opportunity of getting off and getting us something to drink or eat. It does not matter what time of the night it is. He complains that the vendor did not have change and my mom gets all over him for not getting enough change. She proudly exclaims "That is Girijaaaaa".. which means... if she does not get involved, nothing gets done.

Snore Galore
Eventually, we all get to sleep as we get our blankets and towels; my sister still has her book clutched in her hands, I am well buried inside the train provided blanket (a/c coach). My father gets up every now and then, looks out and records the time, so that he can tell us tomorrow, on which all stations he has seen and at what times ;-) Soon, the relatively short journey comes to an end and so does our sleep as we are awoken by the attendant and several coffee/tea vendors that we have touched "Main Guard Gate" and that the junction is just minutes away! We are all excited but somewhat irritated that the sleep ended so quickly! Anyways, we then queue up to brush, mom packs up everything we took out, dad gets us beverages, and discusses the his station chronology. We arrive at Tiruchi junction and my dad is surprised to see that his watch is now about 5 minutes slower. Oh! The train has arrived before time! Wonderful start, he thinks and is pleased. There is a hoard of porters, that get in before we get off at the terminus. We have no need for those guys... its just a short trip!

Announcing the Arrival
Anyways, first stop, Hotel Vasantha Bhavan. Better to arm ourselves for the long day. My dad reminds us, "Breakfast like a king, Lunch like an Emperor and Dinner like a peasant", it is his own version of the phrase, of course. My sister and I go for our traditional favorite, "Onion Rava Dosa", while Dad eats "Idli" and mom settles for "Rava Pongal". We are all offered a 2nd item, which we promptly decline. It is still too early in the morning. Then we stop over at Hotel Tamilnadu, which seems to have been the final choice emerging out of the discussions that my parents must have had while we were busy imaging where Karthik must have tapped his boots on, while shooting for the song in the Manirathnam movie. As we get into our great room at Tiruchi junction, my sister and I vie for the best spots and promptly lay ourselves on the plush
beds. While my dad and mom are left thinking who is going to get ready first.

Day One: Cautious Start
Soon we are all off... and catch a bus to Srirangam. We get very exhausted going from Sannadhi to Sanndhi in this massive temple and we can no longer prostrate to do namasskarams, so we pick and choose our favorite gods to pay respects to. From there it is Tiruvanaikkovil and back to Main Guard Gate, where the famous Ucchi Pillayar temple is located. We decide that this is not the day to climb since we were all exhausted from a long day and a long bumpy ride. In the evening, we watched Kalaingar, a new Kamalhassan movie in a night show at Kalai Arangam, a nearby theater.

Day Two: All Out!
The next day, we were recharged to see more gods, some less famous temples at Vayaloor and Gunaseelam. The latter was said to be the "anna" of Lord Venkateswara, our "kula deivam". It was a long drive to these places and they were not easily accessible by public transportation, so we took an auto-rickshaw. It was a memorable experience, which we could not remember, since our brains were bounced every now and then. Hey! the "only one bouncer per over" rule in cricket, should have been modified for the roads as "Only one bump per kilometer" and that would have made our lives much easier. But no... there were worse bouncers in store than Sachin would receive from McGrath. Worse of all, we could not even duck to avoid it. The driver tried to sverve, but to no avail, it was even worse than meeting the bump head on! After a tiring but enriching visit to each of these temples, we go to Mukkamboo park near the banks of the Cauvery. It was a lot of fun chilling off near the river, that is so talked about in Tamilnadu. It was not the best time in the year, with all the heat, but then the occassional sherbaths and pazharasams kept us excited. It was time to get back and this time it got very late and hence we did not stop by to watch another movie.

Day 3: Declaration

Day three, we were looking forward to, since this was the day we would visit Tanjore and the great temples there. Yes, we had not had enough of temples yet or did not dare to say that we had enough ;-) We got to Tanjai within a couple of hours from Tiruchi junction by luxury bus. The journey was way more comfortable than the bouncy auto ride on the previous day. Despite the heat, we managed to marvel at the Brihadeeswara temple in Tanjore. It was simply amazing and beyond any simple blog description. The Nandhi alone kept us so captivated with its splendour and grace looking directly at the massive Shiva linga, which was adorned with a 16 feet veshti. The temple albeit old, was amazing! The sculptures and inscriptions were all worth looking at several times and we lacked the age or knowledge to appreciate these completely. This was easily the best part of the trip so far! After praying and marvelling, we headed back to the Rockfort city, having decided that we had already seen the best temple in Tanjore. Maybe next time we can see some more. We managed to catch another movie at the famed "Maaris" theaterplex, which boasted of 6 theaters under one roof, a big thing for Tiruchi. The fans here were thronging the theater like crazy. We managed to get tickets in black for Karthik's Ponnumani. But it turns out that the guy selling tickets at an illegal price, cheated us and we landed up in "Little Maaris", where "Ejamaan" was running. Being Superstar fans, we did not mind getting ripped off, and although it was a "pain in the neck", watching the movie from Row S, it was still fun. My mother grumbled every now and then, but was happier after the tea and samosa in the interval!

Day Four: Follow On
Day four was a relatively easy day. We first went to Lalgudi and Tirumangalam village to visit our relatives. There were a lot of enquiries and kids on the streets were wondering whether a minister had come, since not too many cars visit the village. Then they recogonized familiar faces and began describing us to others that did not know us. They would begin reciting tales from the past, on how they had taken care of my dad in his childhood days where he used to roam around naked. Then there will be a familiar note of "enna daa evalavu elachuttey?" or the opposite phrase. The servants will have a field day, cutting coconuts from trees to serve us "Elaneer" a.ka. Tender Kakanuttu, in their parlance. We would then be treated to a sumptous meal before we decide that it is time to leave. There will always be complains that we did not stay longer. There would then be a few tears and a good farewell, with a promise that we'll stay longer next time. My father would always make sure that he gave adequate money to everyone who needed help, but would never ask.

We then went to the Ucchi Pillayaar temple in the heart of the city. It was a good climb up the stairs to visit the great remover of all obstacles. The great sannadhi of Lord Shiva came first and indicated that we had climbed a substantial portion. This inspired us to climb the rest after a brief breather. The climb was truly worth just one glimpse of the Great God Vinayaka above the rest of Tiruchi. We had a tough time debating, which experience was better, was it Tanjore, Srirangam, Ucchi Pillayaar or Gunaseelam. Each one of us had our own favorites. The overview of the city showed us the small but beautiful city of Tiruchi, the Deccan delight. After spending a considerable amount of time there, we headed back to the hotel for some rest before catching the train back to Chennai.

Day 5: Victory - a Home run Trip!
So many things to remember and write about from a trip that has a span of a 4 days!!!! Wonder whether the experience in the US on an equi-length trip, could ever really this diversified. But then anything that is frequent is prone to be a little dilute, so I can understand it, perhaps. Until, next time in 'Past Ponder', have a nice time and keep reading the other articles!

Note: This post was first published in my main memory: "Dynamic RAM", but has been cached here for categorization and completeness.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Monsoon Waiting

Enna Nadandhudhunaaa..... Part 4: 858 Wet Ramp
adhukku munnadi enna nadandhunnaaa.... Part 3: A Monumental Experience, Part 2: Night Riders, Part 1: 1000 Days and Still Tripping

We had a prolonged tea break and made a huge feast out of the Jalapeno chips, Tenkuzhal, Rava Laddu, etc. before we got ready and set off for dinner. The original plan was to go to a Thai place, but then we decided to check out one of the most hep Desi places in downtown San Diego on 7th ave. It was one of the best car following experiences for me, as I successfully followed Sowmiya onto the parking garage on the 7th Ave Mall. Their car entered a lane, which refused to issue a parking ticket and since there were a lot of cars backed up behind me, I decided to choose the other lane and we got through to our spot faster than they did. But we had a problem, we could not locate them anywhere in the garage.

(suspense.... ad break!)

We managed to get through to Sowmiya on her cell phone and she said we needed to get our parking tickets validated to avoid exhorbitant parking prices. So, we met her at Longs Drugs and got the validation, but realized very soon that we had another problem, both aunty and Sai were MISSING!!! We looked all over the mall, but in vain!

(suspense... time for another break!)

We decided to launch a search party. I asked Sowmiya and Rathish to stay together at the parking lot, while Subha and I went looking for these two. Just as I was descending the stairs, I caught sight of auntie and called to her. The shock was that Sai was not with her!

No... not another break!

Now we had another piece in the puzzle to solve, but atleast the person who did not know directions was safe. But since Sai did not carry his cell phone, we had no way to reaching him, so Subha and I decided to get to the restaurant to see if he was there. Just as we were making our way out there, Subha caught sight of him on the opposite side of 4th ave. So I asked Subha to wait with Sai, while I got the others to the point of reunion. When I reached the parking garage, Rathish was missing and he went out looking for Sai too! I got frustrated but he got back soon and the reunion "brought tears to our eyes" ;-)

Sai had wisely put in our name in the waiting list so that we could get to the table quickly. It turned out that the wait was going to be approximately an hour long! The hour seemed to go on forever but we were having fun talking outside, our legs were paining off the water park experience, and hunger had subsided long ago!

We were getting really frustrated with the people inside, since some of them had long finished their dinner, but refused to leave! They were taking their own sweet time talking about the weather or the Phoenix Suns. Finally we got our chance and marched in. The decor of the restaurant was praiseworthy. We just hoped that the food would live up to the hype.

The appetizer came and went, not even the leaves were spared! The food followed suit and met with the same result, all cleaned up, nothing was spared, not even a chilli, perhaps a piece of paneer wearing the hood of an unhealthy food escaped our menacing hands! The food was top class and the ordering was perfect! We really enjoyed it! What was supposed to be my treat, changed to mine and Sowmiya-Sai's eventually turned out to be a dutch affair, except for Rathish, who was really the only one who paid for besides himself!

We got back home pretty late and went off to sleep. The next day was pretty relaxed and we hang out watching Sun TV, KTV, eating at regular intervals, playing cards (Ace & Rammi). Rathish and I finally had success with the FM transmitter and he even started singing: "We are the champions" and we were ready to leave, but not before Subha got aunty's and Sowmiya's Gujju receipes jeraxed at Intel Jerax!

The drive back home was smooth and really quick, with Rathish topping a 100 miles an hour only for the 2nd time in his life. There were two stops, one for food at Burbank and the other for fuel and switching drivers, around Bakersfield. It was different getting back to work this time after memorial day, I was all pumped up instead of reluctant, the reason was this blog.

Hope you have enjoyed this 5 part series as much as I have in bringing it to you. I would be grateful for any of your comments.

858 Wet Ramp!

Idhu varaikkum, enna nadandhudhunnaaaa....... Part 3: A Monumental Experience
Part 2: Night Riders, Part 1: 1000 Days and Still Tripping

This day began slowly as we continued Mumbai Express from previous night, with some overlap, since I dozed off while watching some of it and others might have dozed off at other times (a la Thavasi). My impression of the movie and perhaps that of some of the others, changed drastically in the morning from overnight! It was a 360 degree turn! I really enjoyed the comedy and think that Kamal is really the best in terms of comic timing! His previous hits like Panchatantiram, MMKR, Avvai Shanmugi are all a testament to this! Certainly not his best movie, but was a very good entertainer. More in my review, coming soon.

It was a long deliberation on what to do for the rest of the day. Sowmiya's mom and Subha got frustrated at the delay in making the decision, the onus of which, fell on me, since I rejected the apple plantations in Julian. In the end, after going through Tripadvisor and several other Google searches, and voting, we shortlisted it to three places: Wild Animal Park, Soak City or Home Sweet Home. Although there were a couple of votes for the home option and one strongly against the Soak City (yours truly), we decided to go to Soak City, since Wild Animal Park was due to close in one hour!

We headed down I-805 to Chula Vista, being slightly slowed down by traffic around I-8, but we got there at around 3:30pm and availed of the discounted entry tickets. It was a sight since this must have been the first time where two women entered the park in Salwars, with an intent to go on all rides! Two was reduced to one, as Subha decided to change!

I was slowly feeling the nerves ( I am scared of water, which I usually pretend as if I am allergic or irritated by water being poured over my head when I am all clothed). Even in previous trips, I have voiced my opposition to Water activities! But this time, I was caught; my wife on one side daring me and my friends on the other, totally amused. I decided to face it like a Ram, which I precisely did! I can ride the scariest coasters, but being drenched in a pool which is 3ft deep, can freak me out. I think the thrill factor took away some of my fear.

Subha was perhaps the one who enjoyed the experience the most. But all of us, including me, had a great time going through all the rides. It was especially enjoyable to ride together. We did have some starting trouble one some rides due to improper posture, but we figured it out and had a wonderful time! The funnel ride was especially thrilling and so also the Coronado Express. With the luxury of the water tube, despite falling off into the water at Sunset River, I daringly explored the depths of the wave pool.

To this day, I cannot believe that it was really me, who went into this park and the water rides, but I am happy I did! This does not mean that I am going to hunt down all the water parks or activities in the near future ;-) I have to commend aunty for her spirit, I think this is far more commendable than anything else I may have mentioned. She tried out almost all the rides including some of the scary ones and enjoyed with all of us. We felt a touch disappointed that Sowmiya could not ride with the rest of us, but I am sure she has a lot of fun in store with baby!

After this, we headed back home for a quick refresh tea break before heading out to dinner and Coronado.

Thodarum..... Part 5: Monsoon Waiting

A Monumental Experience

The story so far.... Continued from Part 2: Night Riders Part 1: 1000 Days and Still Tripping
The Travel Scrabble caught our attention from the moment we entered the living room. So, as the others were getting ready, Sowmiya, Rathish and I got down to business and picked up our pieces and the game began. Even as we were all setting our pieces on the holder, I began cribbing about the rules! They never sent it to me by email in advance! The 'official' rules of Scrabble never appealed to me from a vocabulary sense, it was more of a selfish game and all to do with strategy. The rules we used to play with, during Columbus Reunion, was the one I am used to, so there was some fine tuning to be done, going into this game.

Within the first few moves, the brains of her baby, a.k.a my nephew (or niece), became evident, as she raced away to a HUUUGE lead, much larger than the scores of Rathish and me put together. She played the game with the same Mastery as Vishy Anand in Chess, but her opponents here were no less than Karpov or Kasparov ;-) She took control with her dominance over the closed board and with some help from the pieces. But, from then on, it was always going to be a fight for the second spot. It was a fight to the finish between the two of us and the game kept swinging between "advantage Ram" and "advantage Rat" and finally in the last move, Rathish took the 162-160 lead, just like Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I am not even going into Sowmiya's score. But you guys realize... its all because of the rules! ;-)

We had a heavy lunch which was preceeded by a heavy breakfast, so we were understandably a trifle reluctant before we set off. The destination was The Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma. It was a pretty late start, and we were within 2 hours of closing before we got to the gate. So, we were beginning to think whether the time was going to be enough. Our thoughts were cut short by what we saw through the windows. The breath-taking sight of the ocean on one side directly down below and the hill on the other side, was simply something I am used to seeing only in BMW or Lexus ads. I used to wonder whether such places ever exist, but now, I am convinced! We were all at loss of vocabulary to describe what we saw. I would have failed in the Scrabble game miserably, if I were to play at that moment (as if I did not screw up, even under normal circumstances!). Subha ended the silence with a summary: "This is the most beautiful place I've ever seen!". I think it was a fairly accurate summary for me too. We were really hesitant to accelerate and were barely going at 5 miles an hour and even that seemed too fast! Awesome!

We drove all the way down to sea level and Subha was uncontrollable at the sight of waves hitting against the rocks! She ran all the way down to the farthest rock to get her legs washed by the waves of the Pacific! Sai, aunty, Sowmiya and baby had no hesitation in doing the same! Rathish and I had a wonderful time with the camera and the camcorder. I was so thankful to Mother Nature to have given me this instant in time, where I could relish the air, the water, the sky, the rocks, the technology and this life at the same instant!!

After having spent quite some time and realizing that we can never have enough of this experience, reality set in and we had to leave very reluctantly. We were looking back all the time. Atleast we have Rathish's camcorder footage that captures the essence of this beauty to relive it. The sound of the waves hitting against the rocks and the carvings alongside the coast line rocks made this really memorable. We drove all the way up to the Old Point Loma lighthouse. There was a neat little exhibit, that described the workings of the lighthouse, some history about this specific lighthouse, etc. It was good education and some fascination.

Then, there was an exhibit inside the lighthouse. We were excited and were led to believe that we could grab an "operator's eye view of the Pacific, but looking at Rathish and Sai's expressions, as they descended the narrow stairs leading out of the lighthouse, I was convinced that it was not quite the same as what we had fathomed. Aunty summarized it in a few words: "cha... onnumey illai". It was probably the operator's humble quarters within the lighthouse.

We went closer to the Cabrillo monument, but instantly our eyes went towards the inland San Diego, as it was seen over the Coronado Island. It was a wonderful sight of Downtown San Diego, the airport and the rest of the land over the Pacific backwaters. A few sailboats racing across the waters provided topic of discussion as we sat down admiring the beauty from the high hills on this national monument. I can best describe this experience as "monumental".

We then headed to the Seaport village, which is a small ensemble of antique/gift shops, restaurants and activity by the ocean. It was a pretty good place to hang out and we filled our growling tummies with Fries, Rings and coffee. It was nice to get something warm by the ocean besides getting our parking tickets validated for Free parking ;-) Fatigue was slowly creeping into the Bay Area delegation as we headed back home. We took a small nap as aunty ushered Sowmiya and Sai to her hilltop friend's place for a "tea party" ;-) As we woke up, we realized that they had missed us out there, so I assured aunty, that I'd go there with her the following day, if necessary.

We began watching Mumbai Express, the latest Kamal Hassan flick, after dinner, but since we had to watch it on the laptop, thanks to an infidel DVD player, it was not inspiring enough for a tired audience. So, after having a brief chat, we all consigned to our dreams. End of a long but super day, it will be "etched in my heart forever"!

Continued: Part 4: 858 Wet Ramp

Night Riders

Continued from 1000 Days and still tripping

The Ajanta wall clock in my apartment struck 7:00, then 8:00 and then 8:15?? No, this time it was my cell phone! It was Rathish, who reminded me that it was time to go pick up the rental car! Then I rushed through my Friday evening chores before hitting Central Expressway en route to Rathish's. We got to the airport fairly quickly and were absolutely delighted with an empty Dollar Rental counter. We gave the huge line of people on the Enterprise queue a meaningfully wicked smile.

The happiness as it turned out, was fairly shortlived! We asked for a car that had a cassette adapter and the lady at the counter was so advanced that she asked us to get out of cassettes and switch to "i-pad", perhaps Apple's next generation upgrade for its white singer! Bummer! That set back our music plans for the trip since we were out of CDs into Mp3s, which the Dollar rental folks must have forgotten about! If that was not enough, as soon as we hit the rental car exit lanes, we were greeted by several cars, all trying to get out through the exit doors. The feeling must have been the same as what the 3rd class passengers in the Titanic must have felt, when their door was opened.

It took us more than an hour to wade through the gridlock before we could hit 101. Rathish told me over the fone, that there was an FM transmitter which could transmit the MP3 player output onto an FM station for a limited range and that could perhaps get us back on track. I was pretty enthused by the technology that I took a detour onto Fry's at Lawrence and walked in through the exit doors under the pretext of "looking for my wife" (the shop was closed!). I was lucky to stumble across the aisle which housed this neat little product! I bought it in a hurry and walked out through the same exit door, without having to give much of an explanation (the security guy was probably looking for his wife this time round!)

The clock struck 1:00, waking me up from my mild nap and we got ready. Rathish and Vidya were on time and we set off in the depth of the night with a half moon to keep us company through our drive. It was a pretty quiet drive, with not much of music to keep us company, since we couldn't quite figure out an empty FM station! So much for that Fry's adventure! But we resolved not to give in very easily! Rathish and I split the drive in half and switched during the only fuel stop near Bakersfield. We dropped Vidya off at SDSU before heading to the Eastview pt residence of the Tirumalai's. Just as we were pulling into their driveway, Sowmiya called to enquire where we were, and Rathish decided to give her a surprise and announced that we had just crossed LA. Sowmiya was a touch disappointed and was preparing for another small nap, before she heard the doorbell!

We were greeted warmly by Anu aunty, Sowmiya and Sai. Since we had spaced the drive well, none of us were really sleepy upon arrival. So, we hang out, chalked out what we wanted to do, watched SunTV, had breakfast and got ready to roll out!

Continued in Part 3: A Monumental Experience

Friday, May 27, 2005

1000 Days and still tripping!

The Memorial Day weekend is one of the most eagerly awaited for holidays. It is the first major holiday during the year when you can travel freely without having much to worry about the weather.

3 years ago, a visionary, a.k.a Ramkumar set up the stage to host Columbus Reunion. It turned out to be a grand success! Other trips among our friends circle followed in a mad rush in 2001 with varying destinations and compositions. It even inspired the director of April Maadhathil to adopt the concept without paying Ramkumar the royalty for the same!

3 weddings, an engagement, a pregnancy, 2 home purchases later, you expect things will be kind of different. But the fact is that we are still able to celebrate our togetherness on every major occasion such as those mentioned above.

3 years after the first trip and the enthusiasm is not down. We are off to San Diego for the Nth time to visit Sowmiya before she leaves California. Each time we've been out there, it has been a lot of fun and I expect this to be no different. This is the 6th time perhaps, after SANtana, VivekEnd, SANdhippu (to meet her mom, when she came down here first), her reception, The Big Independence Drive and now! This city will perhaps be the most visited, now that Sunnyvale has become my home!

I hope you will enjoy the coverage for this trip, brought to you as a 5-part series for ease of reading. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

continued... Part 2: Night Riders

Friday, April 29, 2005

Commercial: Its My Life

Have you had a chance to take a look at my frequently updated blog: "Its My Life" (yes, inspired by the Bon Jovi song and Sowmiya's famous saying, "Its my life, let me live it" abbreviated :-)

This blog is being updated several times a week, so please visit and do leave feedback via comments to make it more interesting!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


continued from Denver DejaVu and reLAX....

Rathish and I landed at Denver airport and rushed to the exit to find Chinmaya waiting with a smiling face and a dusty Pathfinder ;-) We heard something which over the years has become a quite common phenomenon, Ramku's flight got "cancelled" and he was set to arrive a few hours later, instead of already being there!

So, we decided to get to Chinmaya's new home and check it out! Some mutterings, some sharp lane changes, some twists and turns before we got to his place in less than 20 minutes! It was a lovely home, albeit bachelor messy. It was a two storey loft, which was ample for a single guy. The place was really well lit, in the absence of curtains, due to its large and numerous windows. Lots of the non-critical designer furniture were still in their boxes and stuff was not yet organized. You could smell the fresh paint and the polish from the new furniture. What attracted me at that time was the bed of course, given that the night cap at LAX was not exactly the best. I crashed to a sound sleep and when I woke up, I was all alone in the house.

No, I did not do what you might have expected me to, but instead, decided to take a nice shower and get ready before these guys showed up. I did not realize that this was a new community and that realtors were still showing people to prospective buyers. More than that, I failed to realize that there were no CURTAINS!!! So the moment I stepped out of the bathroom, I had to duck quickly, like Sachin does when sees a short rising ball! Phew, the (eye)ball flew over my head!

Ramku arrived as his usual enthusiastic self. We set off to eat since everyone was hungry. We ate at "Saffron" Indian restaurant at Boulder. It was a pretty good buffet, considering that it was one of these contemporary Indian restaurants. Soon we decided to go to a "scenic" spot atop the rockies. But the snow-gods would not want that and we had to take a U-turn since the weather got dicey and we continually saw the temperature on the PathFinder panel drop.

We stopped at the Westminster mall to do a bit of shopping and then had coffee at Starbucks before heading back home to crash once again. We were woken up by Chinmaya, who was very eager to set up a conference call. We could not quite fathom what the intent was. Possible reasons I began thinking about were to inform those who could not make it to the trip, on what a good time we were having or just for senti purposes, etc.

It took him some time to get everyone on the line and within seconds of everyone being on the line, we came to know that it was not just our phone lines that were engaged, but Chinmaya was getting ENGAGED to Vijeta, a final year BE student in Chennai!!! We were all expecting the news sometime or the other in the past, but certainly not at this time and in this fashion! There was more in store.. Vijeta was actually on the line! She was a sweet young girl and mingled quite well with all of us, considering that we are not necessarily the best when it comes to speaking over the wire. It was a pleasant surprise and really stole the thunder from his home! ;-)

We decided to party on the occassion and went out to dinner. I can't remember which Italian restaurant it was.. it surely was a chain and not P.F.Chang's as the tradition would have it. Was it Cheesecake factory? Oh what the hell, it was a great occassion anyways! After filling our stomachs as much as our hearts, we got out of there. After thinking a little bit about going into a disco, we decided against it and headed back home via a grocery store. I could not help but remember our visit to a grocery store in Denver, back in 2001, which was intended at gathering ingredients for a "home cooked" meal!

When we woke up the next day, there was a great surprise awaiting us, yes, another one! The whole place had grown older by 100 years! I mean it had whitened, not by age, but by snow! There was a blizzard which paralyzed the entire city. A goods train was seen slowly trying to chug along, but was not very successful. Winds exceeding 70 miles an hour were blowing the snow furiously. It was the most snow, I've seen in my life, which kept blowing throughout the day, making it impossible for us to step out! But this time, we got to taste the "home cooked" meal and it was worth the wait! The rasam, sabji and oorgai were nectar to some hungry bellies under the conditions!

Pretty much the whole day was whited out and we kept seeing one movie after another to close out the day. All flights out of Denver were cancelled and this got us nervous since the tons of passengers who were stranded would now try to run helter-skelter to get a seat on the next day. We were very anxious that our flights should be able to take off the next morning. We slept a little and then drove to the airport early in the morning. The good news was that the flight was not cancelled and they were checking in passengers. We got into the plane, but were seated there for more than 4 hours as one technical problem after another, kept delaying the flight. Finally, we got to see the de-icing process after which the flight took off and landed at LA. It was wonderful to see "Sunny" California! We got to SFO without much hassle. It was a frustrating half of the trip, but the good news that came during the other half, more than made up for the storm!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


This is the first "trip" for which I am taking off from the Bay Area. So, I've got Rathish to keep me company through the loooooong overnight stay in LA International airport. We had to camp there for 8 hours in the night in exchange for a ticket that cost us 150 dollars lesser! Considering that it was two of us, 300 was worth saving.... or maybe not....

Rathish came promptly to pick me up at Hickorynut Ct, where we were bid farewell saying: "Enjoy the party and do eat lot of payaasam". I think she meant some wine ;-) We parked the car at Park SFO and reached the terminal some 45 minutes before the departure time. Rathish was then held by TSA personnel, who demanded an explanation on what was inside his Tripod stand. After reassuring themselves by scanning the tripod alone, we were free to board the airplane.

We decided to grab a quick dinner "to fly". But since the co-passengers were taking their own time, both of us finished our dinner before departure even as the flight attendents were making their announcements. We joked about asking them kostins with food in our mouth and we crunching the pizza.

We reached Los Angeles promptly at 10:20pm. Another 8 hours to go! We were quite depressed by the crowd in the terminal, which meant we could not sleep peacefully for a while atleast. We were just sitting there dazed and wondering when people would get out! Since it did not seem like anytime soon, we started wandering around the terminal, looking for some "interesting" spots. Soon we found some escalators and got reminded of how we spent time going against the tide on the escalators in Hong Kong, where we both had to wait a long time, enroute to Chennai. So, this time, Rathish suggested a different game, we both had a race to see who would reach the end first.

We took up our positions, one on each escalator. The rules, no running... just go with the tide. Simple enough? Guess what??? It was a neck to neck finish and the game ended in a TIE!!!!! Our hopes of continuing this game were dashed because there were no more escalators; only an EXIT from the terminal. So we lazily found our way back to where we first landed.

After tracking a few more departures and arrivals, we finally felt that the terminal was empty enough to catch some sleep. But we were WRONG!!! There was a demanding "Your Attention please.... WELCOME to LOS ANGELES" ringing through our ears every 10 minutes. What a way to capture attention of 10s of people in the terminal! We found a corner in the gate area and settled down, much like people waiting in the Mumbai Sahar International airport would. Soon we were struck by a latti and asked to leave the gate area for "security purposes" and re-enter only at 4:30am. What a dream shattering experience! Then we sleep-walked through the doorway, trying to find our next bed. The nominees were: 1) C/O Platform 2) Conveyer Carousel 3) LA floor 4) AA Baggage service

We kind of found a middle ground between options 1 & 2. I'll post a picture of that experience soon! It was pretty memorable and "down to earth" ;-) What followed was a intermittent sleep and soon it was time to get back to the gate. We caught the flight to Denver without much more incident and caught some quality sleep on the way. Soon, it was time to land and let the fun begin!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Denver DejaVu

The occassion was Chinmaya's buying a new home in Denver. We were invited to visit and stay in his new home over a weekend. He added on a new (old) car to this package which created an additional incentive on top of his 100% guarantee to take us to a ski resort :-)

Several days (5 dozen days, to be precise) after the inital conversation with Chinmaya over a conference call among the super six, we finally decided that it was time to put the foot down and get this trip started.

It is going to be an all R visiting contingent. After looking at some frightening air fares from San Jose, Rathish and I finally got a break and sprung into quick clicking on to book our flight. For Ramu, it was somewhat easier, or atleast he made it look thus!

There was not much fanfare before the trip, not too many emails or phone calls exchanged. The plan is to visit his home and spend time with him. Time, luck and weather permitting, we may go to ski a little bit. My reduced fitness does create some problems for me, going into this, but like always, I'll probably take a shot anyways!

I will take you through the experience as I see it....

P.S: I did not mention one of the factors that you were all expecting. Sowmiya is gonna become a Mommy and this is why she's not coming! ;-)