My 2 cents

Monday, September 01, 2008

Everything was "Inti" for a week !

"Sorry, can't make it" was what I heard from everyone last year for the trip to Peru. And so when a friend at work mentioned about it this year, I said 'Yes' immediately. So it was set - 5 of us from the Bay area and 16 more from the East Coast were all set to enter into Inca territory.

The last few days were spent purchasing/borrowing the essentials - sub zero sleeping bags, flash lights etc. The Peru visa consulate reminded me of government offices with each one taking their own sweet time. LAN Peru had their own way of rubbing it in - "You don't have a reservation, but you have tickets. So we will honor that and give you seats" - whatever that meant. LAN was very comfortable and their world traveler game made sure I learnt some Spanish.

It was the B&B at Cuzco - the Peruvians don't like using the 'z' but thats the official name in English - where we were served hot cocoa tea to get used to the altitude. Cocoa is the leaf used to make cocaine. The folks from New York joined us soon and after brief introductions we were off exploring. We went to the famous fortress of Saqsahuaman (pronounced as Sexy Woman), the amphitheatre of Qenqo, the fortress of Pukapukara and the spring shrine of Tambomachay (Temple of water). Each of these pieces of Inca architecture was amazing in itself and we learnt a lot of the Inca way of life. The "Temple of Water" was the location where the original Inca trail started - its closed now - and it takes nearly 10 days to cover. We were told that that Incas used to cover it in 24 hrs straight. Photos of all these places coming up soon and people know where to get more information about these places.

Cuzco is at 3400+ m above sea level and that made every hike strenous and breathing difficult. Headaches and difficulty in breathing were common symptoms and couple of people in the group fell sick soon. Cocoa tea helps get you acclmatised to these conditions soon.

The next day, it was a tour of the Sacred Valley and the town of Pisaq. Got a chance to see the Alpaca, llama and other animals found in Peru. Got to check out more of the Inca civilization and the sites were just breathtaking. Spent some hours at the markets and it would have been a paradise for shoppers. The Incas believed in the "Sun God" - Inti refers to the Sun and most of the sites had the word "Inti". They also liked to construct temples and other buildings on top of hills to be closer to the "Sun" and that meant you had to hike up ! Met some Quecha tribes and saw them at work making clothes out of Alpaca wool. The finish is something today's machines can never get close to.

The High Inca Trail Hike:
We started the hike next day at a place called Molepata, an hour on a open truck and we were on our way. A beautiful scenic journey through Limatambo, stopping for panoramic views of the Apurimac Valley we walked throuh traditional Andean communities like Cruzpata, Challacancha, and finally Soraypampa (3750 meters). The last part of the hike was difficult and uphill and it was 6:30 pm that the tents were set up. Two people Gary and Manuella who were ahead got lost and went much more ahead than the tent sites. They finally made it back to the tent site but it was an adventure in itself. The winds and the sub zero temperatues made camping fun that night.

On the second day, we started the hike to the highest point of our trek, Salkantay Pass (4600 meters). From this point we saw spectacular views of Salkantay Mountain, a stunning snow-capped peak (6271 meters). My knee ligaments started giving way and I was limping for some time. With the thought of giving up due to the excruciating pain I almost had tears in my eyes. A friend lent me a knee brace and with sheer will power I motored along and it was pleasing to be the third in the group to reach the peak. We all carried stones from the base and at the pass, placed them on top of one another after making a wish - a Peruvian tradition. The thin air coupled with the winds, meant another round of Tylenol for the headaches. Spectacular views of the mountains Humantay and Huayanay, small lakes and moraines led us Huayraqmachay (3700 meters) our lunch site. We then started the downhill climb and camped at Colpabamba. On both days the night sky was just brilliant. Milky way was seen in all its glory and with my binoculars I spotted a few constellations - but yup I was lost :)

The third day started with a bath in a natural hot spring - it was refreshing and wonderful. We started hiking in the Peruvian jungles and bugs had a field day leaving scars on everyone's bodies. We saw the change in vegetation, the coffee plantations. Seven, who knew Spanish was the official translator for me. We were leading the pack that day and the tour guide was discussing the vegetation and the animals.

The first part of the fourth day was an optional hike or a bus ride. Gary at the dinner table mentioned that he would do it if anyone joined him. After some hesitation Rama and myself were up for it. And next day as we got down from the bus, 4 others jumped it and it was a rewarding experience. We went past the hydro electric plant, some great views of the river, forests, towns destroyed by land slides. After having lunch, we set out on the last part - a walk along the railway tracks to the base of Machu Pichu. This part of the hike was the most frustrating and painful, but after spending 3 nights in the wild, the bed and a hot shower beckoned.

Machu Pichu: Up early next day at 4:30 am, we caught the first bus to catch a glimpse of sunrise at the "new wonder of the world". Clouds didn't seem to like the idea. We then explored Machu Pichu. It was an exhilarating and a rewarding experience. Some folks decided to climb Wanapichu and others the Sun Gate. We spent nearly 7-8 hrs at the top. The houses, the temples, the astronomy observatories, the watch towers, the farming terraces were marvels of Inca architecture and kuddos to UNESCO for maintaining it. Back to Aguas Calientes, where we camped the previous night and we were on the train to Cuzco.

Next day at Cuzco was spent relaxing, exploring the city, going to the Inca museum, some souvenior shopping and a group dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. I fell in love with Peruvian music with different kinds of flutes on display. We then decided to check out the night life and went to a club and my-oh-my did the girls from New York rock the floor or what !

After more than a week at Peru, it was time to say good bye. The guides were awesome and I need to say a special thanks to the cooks and porters without whom the the hike wouldn't have been possible. It was a great to make some new friends, alas most of them are on the east coast. LAN Peru wanted to have their second round of fun with us and they did, and we were seeing the lighter side of it.

This has been a great year, personally, with 3 international trips so far. I hope the trend continues.

PS: Photos coming soon, but neither the photos nor the blog do any justice to the trip. If you are physically fit, this is one trip you will not regret !

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pretty good, Pretty Pretty Pretty Pretty Good. !!

Well the title* is an understatement. The two events that I attended in the last 2 weeks have been brilliant.

Encouring people of the DIY (Do It Yourself) mould, the make magazine does a wonderful job. Attended the Makers Faire in San Mateo last weekend and it was darn good. Lots of handicraft stuff, robot games, electronics, Irish music - had a great time. Make sure to catch if it happens in your area!

Pangea Day 2008 was a gem. You can find more details at with all the movies played and the underlying messages.
It was a resounding success. Let me just recount the theme:
"In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it's easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that — to help people see themselves in others — through the power of film. It will be a chance for people around the globe to see the world through someone else's eyes. We're calling it the world's first global campfire: A day when we share stories made by the world for the world. Movies alone can't change the world. But the people who watch them can."

*The title is taken from the sitcom "Curb your Enthusiasm"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Its heavenly out there !

Its just keeps getting better ! I have a Newtonian f/8 reflector telescope and the folks at the astronomy session make it all worthwhile. Every weekend I get the time to take it out and spend a night looking up at the skies and sometimes camping the entire night on top of a hill in search of the elusive galaxy or nebuale or the messier object.

For the starters it were the craters on the Moon, the rings of Saturn or the moons that just left me speechless. I have seen Saturn several times but every weekend I start with it and it just keeps getting better ! It was wonderful to see the International Space Station streak across the sky disappearing into the earth's shadows , Sirius, the red planet, M42 the nebulae in Orion - never ever did I think there was one right there, the crab nebula, M81 M82 galaxy, the ghost of jupiter, the double-double, Pleiades star cluster (the logo of Subaru), the beehive cluster, M13 (saw it with a 20' newtonian and oh my - is all I can say), meteors just falling by, man made satellites zooming past .. the list is endless and I am just getting started !! Soon, I will get a telescope with a camera to share pictures. Its fun showing it to kids using the telescope and see the expression on their face.

A KQED video that I saw recently:

Went for the Messier marathon where the aim is to catch all the 110 Messier objects (Google it for details) at the Henry Coe hill down south.. and what a rewarding experience it was. Camped all night and had lots of fun. Its important to arrive early at such events else you will end up driving with your headlights off in pitch darkness. Navigating in the sky is like navigating on the roads without a GPS ! You star hop i.e move from one star to another looking for the elusive galaxy or cluster.

Having grown up in a rural place in India, I guess it were the star filled skies that attracted me to astronomy ! Sadly, there were hardly any options I was aware of to pursue it as a career. A big thanks to a bunch of people at the astronomy association who are so helpful to share their knowledge and wisdom !

I would encourage everyone to spend atleast one night looking at the sky, either at you local astronomy association or with a simple binocular or telescope. I am sure you won't be dissapointed.

Clear Skies !!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Pissing Philosopher's Problem

Note: Some people might feel this gross and this might mostly apply to the men folk! Whatever..

For all the engineers out there, you must have heard of the Dinning Philosopher's problem. So we were watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and saw the classic Larry David entering a restroom without locks and trying to relieve himself. He was facing the classic dilemma of whether he should hold the door or go for the pot or one leg should be dedicated for a job - The Pissing Philosopher's problem !!

I am sure lots of folks out there have been in the Pissing Philosopher's shoes :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Travelogue: Danke Deutschland, Merci LePari, Hey Brussels, Oh hell yeah!!

Part 1:

It was a usual day at work, and I found my co-workers chatting with each other about their trip to Germany. Both were not inclined to go as they recently had a kid. I volunteered as we were in the same sub team and for some time, I had no clue if I would be going. I was in two minds as the work was not terribly exciting but then this was my first trip to Europe. As usual, sat on my ass and did nothing about it; till it was time to book my visa and get moving. So after going through the messy regulations to get the visa done, I had my visa and flight tickets booked. I decided to take a few days off to wander around Europe. Not sure where to go I just booked my onward and return journey to Bonn and decided to take it from there, which I thought was a bad idea but it didn’t turn out that way. I had my opportunity to go to Germany before and even I had the visa but that didn’t work out. So I was guarded in my optimism about this trip, especially after all the efforts I put in to my Peru trip last year, which went down the drain.

And so I boarded the flight from San Francisco on 14th March, still not sure where I was going to hang out in Europe after work and not learning a word of German. I didn’t even have a clue of what are the places to visit in Bonn – you can get a sense of how lazy I am but trips without an iota of planning are a fascinating experience. A close friend helped me out and sent me some interesting things to check out.

On board the flight to London a Norwegian and another girl from Stanford kept me going till we reached London. A bit disappointed to see the messy Heathrow, also called Deathrow by the locals and a short stop over and I was on the flight to Köln (pronounced as Cologne by Englishmen and Kern by the Germans).

I was so tired that I had no clue when the flight took off and landed. And there I was in Deutschland. The immigration was a breeze, all they asked me was my passport and they were very courteous - To the Border Patrol Guys at US immigration center- I guess its time for you folks to learn something. A taxi took me to Bonn on the famous Autobahn in 30 minutes. I was hoping I would get a chance to drive on it soon ☺. Did I mention the awesome Lufthansa staff with the golden scarves? The smiling faces of the Hilton folks greeted me. Met my teammate and we walked around the Bonn city center. Had dinner at a typical German restaurant called Bonnsch – as we were in Bonn. They brew their own German beer and it was out of this world. They have classic glasses where they have dents for the digits on the glass so that you don’t need a handle. We hung around the city center for a little while longer, mingled with the local crowd and learnt a bit of German. Bonn is a small town on the banks of Rhine and is a university town and yeah, lots of good looking girls. I was under the impression that German women are not that feminine in nature, but boy of boy was I wrong. So we returned to the hotel at about 10 pm and my teammate retired to his room. As it was Saturday night, I decided its time to check out the night scene in Bonn. Asked the courteous hotel staff and went to a club nearby. I was there at 11 pm and it hadn’t opened yet. The clubs in Germany start kicking in at midnight and are buzz with activity till 5 am. So this was a trance club and oh hell yeah! I guess I won’t write much about the wild things that were going on here else I will get into trouble ☺.

I found it a bit different from the US clubs in the sense that single guys don’t swoon over the single girls like they do in US clubs, its more about dancing and drinking with known people. I had an awesome time and I was back in my room at 3 am. A brilliant evening to start my day in Germany and did someone say jetlag?
Next day, I took a walk by the Rhine, and walked around the town a bit more. Sunday is a lazy day in Europe with most of the shops closed. People are either at their home or at the church. After working for a couple of hours in the afternoon, yeah did I forget to mention that I was on a work trip, we took a stroll to visit the great Beethoven’s house.

Took a tour, had coffee in one the cafes. Did I mention that German girls just blew me away – the poise, the composure and of course they are hot. If I only I knew some more German, even though by now I had picked up a few words to start a conversation. We decided to drive down on the famous Autobahn to have dinner at a fancy restaurant at Köln. So the two of us drove the Mercedes that we rented and were speeding away. It was raining but we still touched close to 200 kmph with the intention of touching 250 the next day when the weather was better. Little did we realize, until the next day, that only a 7 km stretch had no speed limits and the rest was restricted at 120 kmph. Would have been another experience to have the car impounded. Had dinner at the Maritime hotel, which was a 5 star hotel at Köln with awesome views of the city and the Rhine.

The next 3 days were spent at work, which tuned out to be more interesting that I thought since I got to meet many interesting people, including Sarah, and had some fascinating lunch conversations. The people we were visiting treated us but it also made me realize how great it is at my work place with the lack of hierarchy and bureaucracy. Went to Bonnsch again with the entire team.

It was Wednesday and I was still not sure which city I would be visiting on the Easter weekend. Wanted to go to the lala land but the prediction of snow cancelled that plan. The toss was between Berlin and Paris and an experienced guy told me – it has to be Paris. So I booked my hotel and train one day before going. It being a 4-day weekend in Europe I had to shell out a lot of money, and was obviously a bit upset about it for not having planned it before and saved some mullah. A close friend happily bore the brunt of my frustration. Its great having people like her around.

On Wednesday, I asked Sarah out and she graciously agreed to show my around Köln. Got some German chocolates at Hesley, a famous shop in Bonn and an Easter gift. Thursday was Autobahn day –drove a lot on the Autobahn the entire day marked by trips to small cities like Kongsberg, and nearby areas to see the countryside and get some work done. In the evening, went out with Sarah to Köln. She took me to a place from where you could see the entire city and must I say wow!

We then crossed the Rhine and went to the famous dome, Mondrian museum and hung out in the city. Spent some time walking around the city and talking in the café over a cup of coffee. Learnt a lot about how the Germans think and feel about the Second World War. I expected a few more monuments in Bonn, being the capital of West Germany and was surprised to see none.

It was time to say Danke Deutschland and viva Parisle

Travelogue: Danke Deutschland, Merci LePari, Hey Brussels, Oh hell yeah!!

Part 2:

The train ride to Paris was great. My co-passenger was an middle aged women from Brussels. Got a sight of the countryside and the wonderful farmlands in Brussels; and so on Friday afternoon I was in Le Paris. I had no clue where my hotel was, and what I wanted to see in the city. Got all the maps form the train station visitor center, marked out my hotel map and studied the metro map. And off I was to the hotel in the metro. For me, this was the perfect example of exploring the city. Checked into the hotel and whoa was it small or what? I paid close to 200 $ for 2 nights and the space in the room was enough for just a single bed and a case – I guess that’s what you get in a city. Went on a cruise on the Seine river and ‘lalala’ with the full moon in the background, the river and the monuments it was a sight. The river cuts across the city and you get to see the Eiffel tower, Notre Dam and all the other famous sights from the boat. Had an enthusiastic crowd with me on the boat and there was lot of screaming going around as we went under the 37 bridges that span the river.

Paris is a beautiful city especially for a couple but in my case, who cared? French girls are beautiful but too extravagant in dressing and life style for my taste and so I would definitely prefer German women. I then decided to go to the trendy part of the city – Paris is divided into various sectors and the map told me exactly where I had to go. I had dinner – French wine and bread in a traditional French restaurant and wandered into a French bar. Met a Tunisian bartender, Muhammad, and he was friendly bar tender. A couple of drinks and chatting around with him, I saw a guitar being passed to me and something said to me in French. I just stared back and stared at the guitar for few minutes. The people around had a laugh and a guy came up to me and took the guitar. A small crowd had gathered around the table and a lady started singing beautiful French songs with the guy on the guitar. The songs and the atmosphere cannot be expressed in words. And of course, she sang the lovely song from Jules et Jim movie that I recently saw. I am so glad that I decided to explore Paris on my own rather than take one of those tours. After spending a couple of hours at the bar, it was midnight; I decided to checkout the nightlife. Searched for ‘something’ that my roommate asked me to get and it took me to interesting places, but I was unsuccessful in my attempts. ☺. I then ventured into a nightclub and this one beat the one I had visited in Germany – what more can I say! It was 3 am when I got out and with the metro shut down I had to take a taxi to the hotel. Was surprised to see Paris still alive and couples having fun, compared with the cities in the US. Was back at my room at 4 am. Getting to venture out in the city and staying till 4am on the very first night, gave me a lot of confidence about the city.

Next day got up at 9 am, spent a good deal of time at the Eiffel towers, Champs De Elysess. Took lot of ‘Patel’ snaps as I was threatened that I had to fill up at least 1 GB of memory card else face dire consequences. Met some folks from Holland and we had an interesting conversation about Holland, France, the differences in the culture etc. They had just bought the movie “Tare Zamein Par” and I was taken by surprise. The guy then asked me a lot of questions about my work and later said that he works for an’ innovation in media ‘ company and was doing his PhD and that my thoughts were informative. I took a bus tour of the city visiting the tourist places like the Assembly, the various palaces, the museums, opera houses etc. Spent only a few minutes at some of the places and then headed over to the Louvre.

Spent the rest of the day at Louvre, a Polish couple gracefully gave me their unused tickets for free to save a few bucks from my already costly trip. For the uninitiated, Louvre is massive, the biggest museum in the world, and if you are into art or history you can spend weeks here. Saw the famed Mona Lisa painting and lots of other pieces of history. Napoleons mansion exhibits were placed and boy oh boy it was stunning. The only sour point of the museum and Paris in general, is the lack of use of other languages. Even the metro ticket vending machines are in French, and you can figure them out soon but the subtitles for all the exhibits, even those not from France, were only in French and that drove me nuts. Wandered around at night to see some place where the guidebook told me that I would find street artistes exhibiting their craft unfortunately, never found them probably because it was raining. After walking for an hour, hopped into a French brassiere, spent some time mingling and talking to strangers and off I was on the metro back to the hotel. And was I dog tired? I had no Internet connection and no phone connection, spent some time with the brilliant power hungry phone that I have to check my email that I had no clue when I dozed off.

Next day, up bright and early I went to the Invalides to get a glimpse of French history, revolution and the world wars. The armory used, attack of the Bastille, and life of the kings, the French part during the world wars – it was easy to note the bias towards France in the descriptions and audio-visuals. I then headed towards the Dome Church to see the tomb of Napoleon. Thankfully, they had an English audio version describing the church and the relics. I was then off to the famous Cathedral Notre Dame. And I was spell bound by the architecture, the spirals, and the large bell. If you are interested you can read about it on the net and it’s worth a read. Decided to climb the 422 steps to the towers and get a view of the city. Had to wait in line for 1 hour but it was worth every second. A couple of folks were gracious enough to hold my place for me, while I headed out to have some French crepes for lunch. I have had crepes before but having it on the roadside in Paris, is a different feeling all-together. I then spent sometime to visit the booksellers by the Seine, bought some gifts from my friends and family. Didn’t get a reasonably priced item that my roommate asked for, but got something interesting and lets see if he puts the effort to put it together. It was late afternoon and with my train back to Bonn in the night, I had a couple of choices – visit the State de France or Bastille that’s been converted into an Opera house. Given the sports fan that I am and the fact that it was not the original Bastille, it was the State de France. Took the RER – a fast train service to the State de France. The tour was scheduled for half past the hour and I didn’t have enough time to wait for it. The people at the State de France were gracious enough to let me in early. After seeing the stadium, I was just spellbound. I could feel the Mexican wave and Zidane and Henry playing – no I am not exaggerating, the people who know my love for sports will attest to this. The stadium was empty and grass being re-worked but just being there was something else – hope to see a Rugby world cup final or a word cup football match (yes I call it football since this is the real football, American football is more like Bangalore playing Mysore or Chennai playing Madurai).

State-de –France – where dreams really come true. Having exhausted my buffer time and the Metro taking much much longer for some reason that I had expected, I knew I was in trouble to catch my train. Told my taxi driver to get me there in time to get a good tip and thanks to the stupid drivers who parked their cars in the wrong places saw me miss by train by 2 minutes, yeah 2 minutes!

With the prospect of spending another night in Paris and getting my whole flight schedule messed up as I had to fly back, it was suggested that I take a series of local trains- from Paris to Brussels, Brussels to Liege-Guillemins, from Liege-Guillemins to Aachen (pronounced as Aaahen) and from there to Köln (Kern) and then to Bonn. With no tickets to any of these trains I decided to do it and I must say it was a blessing in disguise. Got to spend some time in Belgium as I had sometime between trains, ventured out in the streets of Brussels. Traveling in these local trains were not at all stressful, I was buying the tickets either on the train for the same price or at the local station. At a couple of places the time difference between the trains was just 10 minutes for me to alight, book the tickets and go to another platform to board the next train. I was so sure I am going to miss one of them but was pleasantly surprised as to how easy it was. The local trains were surprisingly fast and good. Met some German folks who got a drink and were having fun. I reached Bonn at 1 am and was greeted at the Hilton by folks who knew my name – yeah that feels great. After the brilliant trip I was back to getting some royal treatment courtesy my company. Got up early the next day and was pleasantly surprised to see snow falling in Bonn. I have been to places covered with snow, but never experienced walking in falling snow. Guess, the city had to be cleansed after my visit. I was off to Munich and frustrated again to see the extra security checks for US flights. I wondered as to why I end up getting bad seats at the back of the plane time and again, probably because I don’t check in before online. I went to the gate to get my boarding pass to Chicago and they fiddled around with their systems. “Today is your lucky day. We are going to fly you business class”, said the lady behind the counter. Looking at my beaming face she remarked, “Its these moments that make our job wonderful”. Having never traveled in business class before, I was excited. Hearing that its good and experiencing it are two totally different worlds. A funny incident to wrap up my trip. Sat at a coffee shop in the airport to have tea and my ignorance of the German script got me confused between salt and sugar. And I made the wrong choice. The people sitting in the next table were chukling away to glory.

A work trip combined with an unplanned pleasure trip that turned out to be an excellent backpacking trip – it was a memorable experience. Waiting for my next opportunity to explore other parts of Europe.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The God 'Don'

Its been ages since I blogged and few people asked as to why I had stopped blogging. "No specific reason" I guess. Its been an exciting year with lots of things happening and I am back blogging after a long time.

Some free time these days has got me back to pursuing my hobby - astronomy. Chasing comets has always gives a big kick to observational astronomers. It takes months and sometimes years of painful observation to detect a comet. And lots of times it just a stray object in the sky or an already discovered comet.

Comet hunter Don Machholz is considered a God in the field of comet hunting with many discoveries to his credit. An interesting article that I found on says it all:
How I found a Comet

Clear Skies !!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dor .. Par excellence

Well after a long time watched the much acclaimed movie Dor. And what do I say ! "Nice movie" is what a friend put it as, but I think its an understatement - "Brilliant is better".
Nagesh has done a wonderful job and the acting is awesome ! Gul Panag has put a stellar performance and so have Ayesha and Shreyas Talpade. Shreyas has handled his role so well, that some people especially in Dhoom2 should take notice.
Nagesh is well renowned for some great low budget films. Sadly, the mainstream don't give him the credit that Chopras and other people get sometimes for dishing out rubbish with some famous actors.
Keep the good stuff coming !

And yeah, Shreya Ghosal has once again done a tremendous job in "Barso Re" ! For once, Indian TV unearthed some talent !