Stay at home, folks!

Recently, I happened to travel from Pune, Maharashtra to Vadodara/Baroda, Gujarat by bus to look at some urgent family affairs. Though I was afraid to travel out during this corona times, but the urgency of the situation urged me to go out and visit my family. Based on the experience I had during travel to and fro, I decided to write a post to request people to #StayAtHome. Please!

During lockdown, we all were compelled to stay at home. The fear and uncertainity along with enormous escalation of infections and deaths in some of the most advanced countries like USA, Italy and Spain had convinced us to stay safe indoors. But as soon as the lockdown was lifted, and in India, where the unlocking phase began, we started moving out of our homes. Ofcourse, people eventually got bored staying inside home, and for a developing economy like India, where the WFH culture is not yet accepted, and not even feasible, it was inevitable for us to move out for work or daily necessities. Also, looking at the rising number of new Covid infections inspite of the lockdown, it looks like the lockdown did not work, and on the other side, severely hampered the developing economy. Hence, nowadays, when the media or medical experts advise us to stay at home, we somehow ignore them.

So, I decided to travel inspite of the new zenith gained everyday looking at the number of Covid infections and deaths. I booked the bus – Gujarat travels from Pune to Vadodara, with return ticket as well. My journey from Pune to Vadodara was overnight travel, in a sleeper coach. With a naive intention to save some money ( as we all are in that saving mode nowadays due to the possible fear of upcoming recession), I booked the Non-AC bus. This turned out to be a colossal mistake as I would realize later. Luckily, I booked the return from Vadodara to Pune an Air Conditioned one, but it was a day travel, and it had its own version of problems as I would experience soon.

Thus, I packed my bags, and boarded the bus. The booking was done through RedBus, and it was told that the bus operator will allow only the passengers who had worn mask. The thermal checks will be done before boarding, and everyone will be given hand sanitizer. Besides, social distancing (6 ft) will be maintained inside the bus. But when I boarded the bus, neither was I checked for mask, nor was the thermal check conducted. Even hand sanitizer was not provided. But I had worn mask, and carried enough hand sanitizer with me. This was just the beginning of the violation of Covid rules by the bus operators.

Then, I saw that the compartments were just separated by a thin curtain, and the distance between each compartment was surely less than 6 ft. They should have made alternate seating, but they did not. I was still safe because I had booked the single compartment with one bed on the left isle. But on the right isle of the bus, there were a large compartment with two beds near to each other. I assumed this must be reserved only for the family. But it was not. They had allowed anyone to sit near each other. This was really a gross violation of the social distancing rules.

Then, the bus conductor took the Aadhar details from everyone, and worst, was that he had worn mask beneath the nose. Afterall, the mask is meant to be put on the nose and mouth to cover. Why would anyone on the earth wear mask below the nose and mouth? I had no answer for this. He had not worn any hand gloves, and the pen and paper used to write the details, were common. In India, when the government boasts of the “Digital revolution” brought about, but the bus operators were still using the traditional way of pen and paper. Rather, they should have taken the pics of Aadhar card for verification, or the RedBus should have allowed the passengers to provide these details in the app itself. How would the pen and paper which was shared with all the passengers be more safe and better during a pandemic than the app? This showed the lack of seriousness in the bus authorities.

As I mentioned about my mistake to book a non-AC bus, so I suffered from lack of ventilation, and due to small compartments, closed by curtains, I had to open the window during the night to allow some fresh air. But being an overnight journey, coupled with monsoon rains and traffic jam in the Mumbai area, I must have inhaled more pollutants than fresh air. Also, I feared for the sneezing and coughing from any passengers, which would make the closed, non-ventilated environment inside the bus an ideal breeding ground for Covid infection. Due to all this, I could not sleep much and thus, the night journey turned out to be quite a disaster.

Finally, after the hustle and bustle, I reached Vadodara. After visiting my relatives, and spending a good weekend with them, I started my journey back to Pune. I was comforted with the thought that this journey might be a lot better than the previous one due to the availability of AC as well as an upper deck. But barely did I knew at that time what experiences would soon lay before me!

First of all, the bus got excruciatingly delayed by more than 2 hours. I was assuming I will board the bus around 7:45 AM, and reach my home by 8 PM. But with this delay, I boarded the bus at 10:20 AM. I did the math again, and now, I would reach home by atleast 10:30 PM. But I had no option but to bite the bullet. The waiting at the bus stop was an awful experience. It was early morning time, and so I happened to be the only passenger at the stop. Also, the Gujarat travels authorities seemed to lack the most basic sense of civility in every possible way. They not only displayed the behavior potraying of the complete lack of responsibility, but also did not seemed to convey any information about this delay. I remembered my days in U.S, when any delay in flight or bus, would be conveyed immediately with sincere apologies by the responsible authorities. I compared both, and could not deny the fact that however India might have progressed as an IT giant, and risen under the strong leadership of PM Modi, but its gonna take a long way to go as the basic mannerism and civility are yet to be imbibed in the common Indian masses. Ofcourse, it would be ridiculous to extrapolate one experience or incidence to all the Indians, but as we know, every small thing matters, and after all, nations are made by people!

Soon, my bus came, and I immediately boarded the bus with a desperation to leave that bus stop ASAP. Again, I saw the same environment inside the bus as I had seen while traveling from my home. No thermal checks were conducted, and no social distancing. But the bus was more comfortable due to AC, and having secured an upper deck, I felt to be on the top of the world!

After few hours, I witnessed an amazing experience. It was afternoon, and the bus had reached the Gujarat-Maharashtra border. The bus stopped at a local restaurant. We all stepped down for restroom, and to sip some tea. But after sometime, the bus operator told the passengers on the right isle ( which had two seats adjacent to each other) to step down, and get into the car. I was on the left isle with a single seat, so I did not step down. Around 10-12 people from the right isle stepped down. It didn’t take me long to realize what the real matter was. The bus operators had clandestinely allowed 34-36 passengers to board the bus, when only 24 were allowed ( 12 on the left isle and 12 on the right isle). Hence, now at the border to enter Maharashtra, police officials were going to check, and so to hide this, they let go the extra passengers into another car.

Then, we crossed the border, and the police checked that the total number of passengers in the bus. After looking at the excellent observation of social distancing rules (??) inside the bus, they let us go. Ofcourse the police were not naive, and they did know things were staged. But then the bus operators also knew how to handle them, and so, things went smoothly.

Then after entering Maharashtra, the bus stopped after some time, and those 10-12 passengers boarded back again. I was stunned and no wonder why Covid cases are rising in India. When on one side, the govt is unlocking everything, and on the other side, the Covid virus is also getting unlocked. Adding fuel to the fire are incidences like this, when the utter disgusting actions by the bus authorities to earn more money has made things go out of hand. For them it is always business as usual, even amidst the pandemic. The pressure to stay in business, and make money becomes more important than the fear of getting infected, and even death. For them, the losses incurred during lockdown need to be recovered, and hence, no matter how many rules are broken, or how many human lives are put in danger, everything is secondary in front of surviving in the job or business. Period.

So, after reaching home late at night ( I reached at midnight), I contemplated over these thoughts, and decided to write a post about this. And so I urge everyone to Stay at Home, unless something is absolutely necessary to be done. Things are real bad out there, and many people do not care for life anymore. All they care is business or getting the job done. We cannot blame them entirely, as the fear to die from hunger is more than Covid. The fear of losing job or getting bankrupt in business is more than getting ill by infection. Hence, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. These are not normal times, and hence, the luxury of travel for leisure are a thing of the past ( atleast for few years!). Today, we need to stay safe and healthy, and then only we will be able to travel for leisure in future when things become more safer.

Next day, I tweeted about this experience to RedBus, and they reached out to me immediately. Then, I was told that they had taken this very seriously, and reprimanded the bus operators with a strong feedback. I do not say that this will stop immediately as old habits seldom die. But I also hope that things will ameliorate as more people share their experiences on social media, and act as aware citizens. We cannot depend on any organization to tackle this pandemic, but its a collective responsibility now. This pandemic is a test of human patience, and unity as well. The more we collaborate and support together, the weaker the virus will become.

As Steve Jobs famously used to say – Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. Now I think the time has changed, and the more relevant message for us will be – Stay Home, Stay Safe.

Travel during corona times!

Finally, the day came for which I had been contemplating. I started my journey from US to India on Aug 18th, and landed in Mumbai on Aug 19th. Traveling during corona times is indeed dreaded by most of us. And so did I. But I had taken the decision to return back and so I kept my decision firm. It wasn’t an easy move, but some changes are never easy and also, I believe that sometimes, it becomes necessary to bite the bullet.

The travel by Vande Bharat mission was not the best one, but still considering the pandemic situation, I would say the airline authorities did a very good job. I had been quite used to air travels for business in the last 2 years, but this air travel during pandemic was unprecedented in itself. Earlier, the only three things we need to do at the airport were check in, baggage dropoff and security inspection ( with immigration as another for international travels), that’s it. But now the list has few more add-ons such as temperature checking, 6 ft social distancing, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and thermal screening. This is like the new normal for air travels now.

Even inside the flight, the job of cabin attendant has been reduced to just escorting the travelers to their respective seats, and keep the food/water on the seat beforehand. The always cherished hospitality by the cabin attendants and air hostess ( in particular) has become a part of history now. No longer are any drinks served, not even hot tea/coffee. Known for their elegant uniform, hospitality and courtesy, today, the stewardess have to wear the nurse uniform with dress, apron and cap. Ofcourse, this is the need of the hour, and in no way, does this demote the role of flight attendants. But the charm and sophistication which used to associated with air travel has been replaced by seriousness and fear of safeguarding ourselves. I hate to write this but nowadays flight journey feels like a flying ambulance!

The Vande Bharat mission has been doing an incredible job of bringing back Indians who are stranded abroad, or want to return back to their country. After my registration and booking on the website, I was told to sign an undertaking which stated that the decision to fly is my responsibility. When I reached the New York airport ( which was quite empty), I underwent temperature check, and they noted down my temperature on the undertaking document. After the usual formalities, I was again thermal screened at the gate before boarding the flight. Inside the flight, as I mentioned before, we were already provided food, water, masks, hand sanitizer and face shield. Everyone was seated with alternating seating inside the flight. The flight was non-stop due to the restriction to not land in any other country. Hence, the journey was long – 14 hours and hence everyone knew that it was not going to be very comfortable. Moreever, no in-flight entertainment was provided which made the journey somewhat monotonous.

Thus, after 14 hours of arduous journey, I landed in Mumbai. Again, we were thermal screened and then began a long and slow process to reach home. It took me 8 days to reach home after I landed at the airport. Meanwhile, a lot of things had to be taken care of, which included successful exiting of airport after immigration, travel arrangements and quarantine accommodation details to be given to the officials. Even at the airport, all the airport authorities and govt officials were inspecting and watching us so that we do not leave the airport before competing all the required formalities. I had to book a taxi/cab to go to Pune ( my hometown, which is 3 hours drive from Mumbai) after I got an e-pass with the police verification completed. Luckily, my father had already acquired the permit for this travel, and so this saved me some time of hassle at the airport. But at the exit gate of the airport, I was again asked about the taxi details, and the officer requested me not to exit the airport until the taxi driver arrives. Then, he took the taxi driver details from me, and contacted him over the phone. When the taxi arrived, he personally escorted me till the taxi, to ensure I did not meet anyone apart from the designated driver.

It was raining, and the monsoon season had ushered in. While traveling to Pune, I saw some of the most beautiful scenic beauty in the Ghats, especially in the Lonavala-Khandala region. Then after reaching Pune, I had to meet the Govt officials again to check the availability of hotels for my 7 day quarantine stay, which were designated as isolation centers. I selected one of the good hotels in Pune, and stayed there for the next 7 days. I had to carry all the bags with me to the hotel as I was not even allowed to drop my bags at home, which was not faraway from the hotel. The most important thing is that I was not tested for Covid during or after my 7 days stay. When I inquired about the Covid test, I was told that it was optional and I had to pay out of my own pocket. Even the isolation centers were quite expensive, and the bill was charged to my name. I wish they allowed Covid testing at the isolation centers ( as they were supposed to be meant for). No wonder why India is seeing the highest Covid infection rates in the world, and the nexus between govt officials and hotel/isolation center authorities cannot be hidden!

Finally, after this once in a lifetime pandemic overseas evacuation travel experience, I came back home. I was nervous about a lot of things as I had witnessed during and after the travel, but on the other side, I was delighted to be at home, in my country, with my family. Fortunately, I was not showing any symptoms related to Covid and after completing another 7 days home quarantine restriction, I was free. I did learn a lot during this travel. After seeing two countries which are equally affected by this virus, and seeing the troubles people are taking to reach and stay close to their family, or loved ones, I started realizing with mixed emotions, that however this pandemic might have changed our life, but the virus is a lot weaker in front of human strength, determination and courage. Kudos to the brave, hardworking pilots who are working so hard to fly tirelessly day and night to reach us safely to our destinations. Hats off to the flight attendants, airport authorities, taxi/lyft/ola drivers who inspite of the risk of virus infection, are working hard to keep the daily operations running smoothly.

The virus might have locked us down in our homes, but it hasn’t locked down the humanity within us. We will surely overcome this pandemic, and we can hope again, that the travel in future won’t be driven by fear or for evacuation purposes, but with happiness, joy and leisure. Good times are not faraway!

American Diaries: Trip to Denver and Colorado Springs

In Jan 2020, I got the opportunity to travel to Denver and Colorado Springs for business work. But along with business, we decided to roam around and as I had never been to Colorado, so I was quite excited for this new trip. Also, one of my colleague from my company was going to accompany in this trip.

January is one of the peak winter seasons in USA and Colorado lies at the foothills of Rocky mountains. So, I was quite concerned about the cold and the possibility to fall ill due to flu. ( on a sidenote, at that time, Coronavirus was not still known in USA, though it had been in China. )

So, this was going to be a week trip. We were going to travel on Monday morning to Denver and then fly back to Atlanta on Friday morning, and besides our work from 8 to 4 during the day, we planned to visit few places after work. So, I packed my bags and headed to the airport by Uber. Then, I boarded the Delta flight to Denver and after two and half hours journey, I landed in Denver. Denver airport is not big like Atlanta, but its roof is designed like the rocky mountains ( I realized after a while). Then, I met my colleague ( she had taken a different flight), we rented a car and started to roam around Denver. First stop was at the Colorado State Capitol building.

Top view from the Colorado State Capitol building. Also, seen are the snow capped Rocky mountains.

The Capitol is a large government building, and showcased an image of a typical bureaucratic environment. But, we wanted to see the mountains from a height, and so we joined one group which was touring the capitol building. The lady who was the lead of that group was gracious enough to let both of us enter the terrace of the building and so we captured the above pic from the top.

Then, after seeing the state capitol building, we decided to go to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre which is famous for hoisting many rock concerts and also had seen The Beetles perform in 1964. The place is huge surrounded by red mountains as the name says. It was very surprising to have a amphitheatre built at such a high altitude location. The place indeed was very beautiful. But unfortunately,we had been in winter evening and it was chilling cold. Somehow, the beauty of the location made us bear the cold and we took tons of pics as well as selfies.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre from the top
In the giant amphitheatre surrounded by tall rocks.

Then, we decided to head towards Colorado Springs which is an hour away drive from Denver. Ignoring the traffic due to ongoing road widening, we reached Colorado Springs safely and ended our day. We had booked Double Tree by Hilton near Cheyenne mountain blvd, and we were very happy with the selection of this hotel.

The next day, started with starbucks coffee and breakfast at the restaurant near hotel lobby. We could see many US Air Force officers in the hotel due to the Air Force Academy presence in Colorado Springs. We decided that after work we will go to Garden of the Gods, which is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. It comprises of about 1300 acres of vast sandstone formations and is designated as National Natural Landmark. Also, it is one of the most visited spots in Colorado. So, with excitement, we started our journey to the Garden of the Gods, and within 20 mins, we reached our destination. The valley is simply beautiful. It’s no surprise why this is called as God’s Garden!

Garden of the Gods

We started walking in the park ( the name is garden, but it is called as park!) We saw many, huge sandstone rock formations and some of them were indeed favorites for rock climbers and boulders. We saw many signs showing to preserve the natural beauty of the park by not stepping outside the walking fence, and were also warned by the possible hiding spot of rattle snake, whoa! Besides fearing to see rattle snake ( which we did not see), we saw other animals like deers, rabbits and squirrels in large numbers, roaming freely in the park. The park has neat pavements for walking and provides directions every now and then.

Soon, we saw a distant tall snow capped peak. We wondered what was that and then after reading the information board, we found that to be Pikes Peak, which is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, with an elevation of about 14000 ft.

The info board overlooking the distant Pikes Peak

Finally, it started getting dark and cold, and so we decided to return to our hotel in Colorado Springs.

Later during the week, we roamed around the city in downtown, visiting new restaurants. Some of the good restaurants we visited were Rabbit Hole, Red Gravy, Colorado Craft ( the veg burgers were really good), Denver Biscuit Co and Odyssey Gastropub. I would recommend to try them if you happen to visit Colorado Springs/Denver area.

Finally, we completed our business work and headed back to Denver. Though there were many places to visit such as Air Force Academy, Cave of the Winds mountain park etc, but we ran out of time and the latter was closed due to snow. Hence, we both were happy to have visited Colorado Springs and Denver, we both had a good time and it was indeed a very memorable trip!

Now, looking at the covid-19 impact, I feel that we were fortunate to have traveled to Colorado just before the Coronavirus started mass lockdowns. I wish this virus subsides down soon and everyone gets to travel again to their favorite places. Till then, stay at home and take care!

American Diaries: Trip to San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

We had always longed to travel to the west. As Joe Flower said: Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco.

When we finally visited San Francisco on Thanksgiving weekend, it seemed that this city harboured the freedom and sense of achievement even in confined spaces. The city is full of vibrant colors, with an open culture and welcoming atmosphere. The city has a unique architecture not found in any of the other cities I visited before. The houses are small in size, but the people have big hearts. The language spoken is English, but we could see more Chinese and Hispanic people. We could see the companies dominating the globe by their impact on technology such as YouTube, Uber and Tesla, but all in small buildings. Though the work campuses of Facebook, Google and Apple were huge as their contribution to the world, they still carried a sense of freedom and true entrepreneurship which makes them truly innovative. This article highlights how we came to the west to see the golden state, how we saw San Francisco( we can call it simply SF now), the places we visited such as golden gate bridge and fisherman’s wharf, then traveled to Yosemite, what to carry and what not, our then stay in Monterey, seeing the historic 17 mile drive, then back to SF.

Below is the quick itinerary we followed during our visit.

Day 1 — Flight to SF in early morning from Atlanta. Reached SF around 9:30 am. Checked in the hotel, had lunch and visited Golden Gate Bridge & Lombard street in the afternoon. Visit to Fisherman’s Wharf at night. Overnight stay in SF.

Day 2 — Travel to San Jose(SJ), visit to Palo Alto, mountain view and Cupertino. Lunch in SJ and then travel to Mariposa for overnight stay.

Day 3 — Visit Yosemite the whole day and travel back to Monterey for overnight stay.

Day 4 — Toured the 17-mile drive scenic drive, beaches in Monterey and travel back to SF via the Pacific coast highway.

Day 5 — We had to work remotely and hence, we visited Alcatraz in the evening. Back to Atlanta by overnight flight.

Day 1: Nov 28th, 2019

Visit to Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard street atop and Fisherman’s wharf

We started our journey from Alpharetta, GA to the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. We had booked an early United Airlines flight which departed around 7:30 AM and which would land in SF around 9:30 AM PST. As we both were just traveling, we decided to take my car to the airport as it will be better for us to commute back while returning to Alpharetta on Dec 3rd.

We got up early and got ready to head to the airport. It was good that we had packed our bags last night. Soon, we reached the airport. Then, I checked my bag, took our boarding passes and headed to the gates. Wow, all set to go to SF, our very first visit to the golden state of California. We were very excited and waiting for this trip for weeks. As it’s said, “Old habits die hard”,so we had done everything needed for the trip at the last We booked the hotels for all the 4 nights including the car rental on 26th, and struggled hard to get the car rental. So, we soon realized we had run out of all the options of the car rental on the first day of thanksgiving ( which was 28th ), and so we finally booked the Budget car rental from 29th morning to be returned on 2nd Dec evening.

Word of Advice: please never book car rental late on a trip to SF during thanksgiving weekend. I will say book it at least one-two weeks before.

Having gone through all these fluctuations in the trip booking, we both were quite anxious for how this trip would go. With all this going in our minds, we reached the gate. We did not have to wait longer and soon, we found ourselves in the flight. Yes….and our trip began.

The United flight experience as many others must have had, was not at the best. But it was still relaxing with some TV shows running on the screen, ( no movies though). I slept for sometime, and then after some coffee and cookies, our flight landed in SF. that’s where we were now. We wanted to shout to the world..hey, hey, hey…there we are, in SF finally!

We collected our bags and then booked an Uber to go to the hotel. As we did not have any car rental for the day, we decided to keep our bags at the hotel, and then head to the Golden Gate bridge. As soon as our Uber came, we moved in the car and both started to look outside to the SF city. It was a 30 min journey from SF airport to the Hilton, financial district. We were surprised to see small houses surrounded by barren hills ( felt like desert), crowded streets and some companies which we knew located in a small confined space. Soon, we reached the financial district and saw our hotel surrounded by Chinatown. This was my first experience of seeing and staying in a Chinatown. I later found that this part of Chinatown is primarily the Cantonese part of china.

Chinatown, where we stayed in Hilton hotel

We then checked in the hotel and went into the rooms. The room with two queen beds was nice, with an amazing view of SF city as seen below.

After watching some Netflix, we headed out to tour the windy city of the west, and our first stop was to have lunch at “Raavi”, an Indian restaurant located at a conveniently walkable distance from the hotel. Just like other Indian restaurants in the US, the food was similar in taste, but just more expensive. Then, we took another Uber, now to see the golden gate bridge. It was very nice of the Uber driver( who originally was from Brazil) that she soon realized that we were new to the city, so she stopped at the Lombard street. Then we immediately went out to see the most crooked street in the world from the top and took some nice pictures. Then she dropped us at the golden gate and we just glanced at the gigantic architecture designed and built by engineers. We took some really nice snapshots and started walking on the golden gate. As usual it was very busy, with lots of people walking on the bridge. Though it was afternoon, the bridge faced cold winds coming across the pacific and as we had read, the waters beneath us were very cold too. There have been many incidents of people committed suicides by jumping off the bridge, and so we could see many signs of counseling assistance, depression assistance contact etc with quotes on life. This made me sad of how tragic that fate would be for anyone who jumped off this bridge into the bay from such a height, with icy waters beneath and cold winds on the top. This bridge was very much surrounded by some of the harshest weather conditions, yet, it stood upright witnessing not only the weather conditions, but also the historic events this city has witnessed for over the past few decades such as world war 2 front against the Japanese, the hippie counter cultural revolution and then the silicon valley boom. At one location, I saw one name “ Gauri Govil” being carved in one of the pillars. Later, I found out that a 2 year old Gauri had suffered the worst fate of falling from this bridge in 1997. It was an accident due to some hidden gap in the bridge structure and that was not realized by anyone before, as this was the first incident after the construction of the bridge. I could not imagine how her parents must have endured this horrific and deeply sad accident, and I pray to God, that no other parent should suffer this fate while visiting this bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

Then, we walked back across the bridge and went back to the hotel. It was tea time and so we went to “Raavi” and had a nice tea and samosas along with the usual philosophical and spiritual talks we often have at such times. Then, we decided to walk to the Fisherman’s wharf. It was not far away from our hotel and it took us like 20 mins to reach there. While walking across the streets, we could see some of the homeless people, the dirty streets and the old architecture of the city. The walk around the city reminds us of the old hippy days this city witnessed and how unchanged still it is in spite of the world having changed since that time. Anyways, we reached the fisherman’s wharf. It was a nice spot with many restaurants ( mostly seafood ) and a walkway along the bay. But we both being vegetarians, we could not eat anything there. So, we stopped by one of the Indian restaurants — “curry leaf” and had a nice dinner together. After all, it was a long day and we were tired and soon went to the hotel, with the thoughts about how the next day will be. With excitement, we went to sleep.

Day 2: Nov 29th, 2019

Visit to Silicon valley, San Jose and travel to Mariposa for overnight stay

After a long tiring yesterday, as expected we woke up late. Then, we got ready after the morning daily routine and had a healthy breakfast in the hotel. Then, we went to the airport budget car rental and picked up our car. And that’s when our real journey started as we had our car and with our freedom to visit any place, anytime. Hurray!

With excitement, we decided to go to San Jose. But on the way, we had planned to stop by some famous companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Tesla, HP etc. so, we started across south San Francisco, then Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Cupertino and San Jose. We really liked the small and beautiful town of Menlo Park. It was neat, organized and displayed exuberance and wealth. I remembered from Steve Jobs Stanford commencement address, that this was the town where Stuart Brand had published “The Whole Earth Catalog” and how it inspired Steve Jobs and his generation. I wished I could meet him as I was in his town. Maybe someday later..then, we saw Facebook campus located on hacker way, just as the name says the company had hacked into our personal life and showcased it on the wall with an alias “social networking” (only with our consent…).

The campus was huge and while riding through the campus, we were stopped by the security personnel, and he kindly reminded us that this was a private property. So, we immediately rushed out of the campus and started our journey again through the Menlo park city. We saw Stanford university and I can say only one line for it….”beauty with a treasure of knowledge”. For me, this year has been quite different, having seen Harvard-MIT-BU when I had visited Boston in October and now, I was seeing Stanford, though from outside. I had always wished to see these universities as they have been the beacon of knowledge and innovation for the past few decades. Most of today’s technological innovation can be traced back to the research done in Harvard-MIT-Stanford. This trio has produced the world’s biggest and most innovative companies such as Microsoft ( Bill gates, Harvard), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard), Apple ( Steve Jobs, as he stayed his whole life near Stanford campus), Tesla (Elon Musk, though not from any of these universities but had enrolled in Stanford for PhD but dropped out after 2 days), Google ( Sergey Brin, Larry page, Stanford), Bose (Amar Bose, MIT), Nike ( Phil Knight, Stanford) and many more. It did not take me much time to sense an air of curiosity and rationality on this campus. I wished to stay more in this place, but we had plans ahead for the day.

Then, we saw some more companies in Palo Alto such as HP, Xerox ( where the first GUI was invented, though they were not pragmatic enough to commercialize it, which then Apple and Microsoft took it from xerox) and Tesla, though they did not have big campus like Facebook. Soon, we started towards Mountain View and saw the gigantic Google campus. Wow, this was quite huge just like the search engine has engulfed the globe. Then, we saw the apple campus in Cupertino. By this time, we had become used to seeing companies on our way and simply admired how much this small place on the west coast of the United States has impacted the world. We daily use the products and services made by these companies. We all have Ihone, we use Fitbit, we do everything on Internet, we connect and share with our friends on Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp, we use laptops, we dream of buying a Tesla someday, we use Bose headphones, wear Nike shoes, and do our transactions through PayPal ( which was co-founded by Elon Musk). So much of our life is been occupied and even assisted by these products and services.

Finally, we reached San Jose and ate a nice lunch in one of the Indian restaurants. Then, we headed towards Mariposa for our overnight stay.

Day 3: Dec 30th, 2019

Visit Yosemite National Park and then travel to Monterey for overnight stay.

We started early after breakfast to see the Yosemite National Park. We were told by the hotel assistant that due to the snow, we were supposed to put chains on the car. So, we decided to rent wheel chains at a local store in Mariposa.

Word of Advice: bring car wheel chains with you during winter visit to Yosemite.

As we started to travel through the valley, it started getting cold. The roads became narrower, turning in a zig-zag way and the mountains became taller and covered with ice. Soon, we were surrounded by this beautiful valley wearing a thick sheet of snow and sheltering a vast canopy of pine trees. It was mesmerizing! Our car seemed to be such a tiny thing in front of the majestic beauty of nature. Later, as I came to know about John Muir who had been enchanted by this nature’s display at best and had decided to make this place his home. I could agree with John on why this place is so serene, spiritual and a rarity of nature’s creation.

Yosemite valley with the famous El Capitan

It was November, and it had just started getting cold in Atlanta. But here in Yosemite, it had already snowed a lot. It was snowing everywhere. We soon parked our car and started walking through the valley taking photos on the way. We took photos of the famous El Capitan and wondered how Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson must have climbed the dawn wall on the El Cap, that to in the middle of winter. We then visited a local store and bought some souvenirs. Then we had lunch and visited a local museum depicting the history of Yosemite. I got to know about John Muir and how he had convinced the then president of the United States, Theodore “Teddy’ Roosevelt, to make this place a national park. We saw two films on the history and conservation movement of this park.

Yosemite valley museum

Then, while sipping coffee/tea, we kept walking through the valley until we got lost near one of the lakes. Though we were surrounded by few people, as it was getting dark and late, we initially decided to use our memory skills to find a way out. But soon, we could see no one around us and after having realized we had lost our path, we finally came to our savior “Prof.Google” to guide us. We were fortunate enough to have a network on our phones, and so following the path suggested by the omnipresent google, we arrived near our car parked location. Alas! A sigh of relief.

Soon, it got darker and we could just imagine how it would be getting stuck in the middle of wilderness, surrounded by darkness and cold icy weather. Then a thought came about how brave and courageous John Muir must have been to stay alone here for two years. Respect!

After clicking and saving several photos on the phone as well as in our memories, we departed from Yosemite towards Monterey. I wished I would come back here again ,someday, in summer to see this beauty during summer time. The journey to Monterey took almost 4 hours and we landed up in the hotel besides the wonderful pacific coast beach. After an exhausting day, we soon went to sleep.

Day 4: Dec 1st. 2019

Visit to Monterey and travel back to SF

We started our sightseeing of Monterey by having our breakfast at the famous “Googie Grill” at Del Monte beach. The breakfast was simple with waffles and coffee. Then, we visited the nearby Del Monte beach. It was a pleasant experience to wet my feet in the Pacific Ocean. This was the second ocean I was visiting after the Atlantic ocean this year in Miami, FL. Then, we decided it’s time to traverse the famous 17 mile drive. We bought tickets to enter the drive, they gave us maps about each point and we started driving through this Hollywood experience.

Entering the 17 mile drive

The driveway showcased an exhibition of wealth and grandeur. It was beautifully decorated with flowers, trees, big bungalows and palatial houses on our eastside, while the pacific ocean dominated our west side of the drive. We stopped at almost all the 17 points, some were exceptionally worth watching and worth picturing, which we did. Everything was great except the weather. It was raining, though not heavily, but still it rained enough to obscure our camera phones getting drenched somewhat. In addition to rain, there was a strong wind blowing from the ocean and this led to the pacific ocean kind of angry with huge waves and tides hitting the coastal walls. So, this made our drive tour a bit difficult to enjoy, like sitting near the beach for hours, or watching the sunset etc. But we were more than delighted to have got this opportunity to see the scenic drive.

Pebble beach

After touring the driveway, we decided to move out to see some other places nearby. Having read the forecast of rain on that day, I had taken a raincoat and umbrella with me. So, it was a good decision to be prepared for all weather as we understood California has all the seasons with rains in Monterey, cold winds but not snow in SF, and snowy and chilling in Yosemite. ( we had also planned to visit Lake Tahoe, but had to cancel it due to the winter storm happening there.)

So, then we went to the Carmel by the Sea which is a very pretty town near the ocean. We were driving on the pacific coast highway which is one of the best highways in the United States. I wish we were in summer here as it would be sunny and glowing as it’s known to be. Our last stop was at the Bixby Creek bridge which marked our end of journey for the day and we realized it was time to drive back to SF. It was evening time, the sun had already set though due to rains we could not see it and then, so we began our trip back to SF, it was a 2 and half hour journey which we took with a short break at one of the Indian restaurants in San Jose. We reached SF at night and immediately went to sleep.

Day 5: Dec 2nd, 2019

Visit to Alcatraz and fly back to Atlanta

We had to work remotely on that day, so we worked in the hotel until 12:30 pm PST. Then, we parked the car near Pier 33 which is the Alcatraz landing location. We almost reached at 1:30 pm and we were among the last people to board the ferry. The ferry departed and I remembered my last ferry trip to the Andaman islands. How beautiful that time was! I was missing my parents, especially my Mom so much.

Ferry to Alcatraz, view of SF city from the bay

Within 10 min, the ferry reached Alcatraz island. The island displayed the sign of Indian land, and I wondered what this meant. After watching a film on the history of Alcatraz islands, I learnt how the native Indians had occupied this island during the counter-cultural revolution and fought for more freedom just like the African-Americans had been doing at that time. Then, a pretty lady welcomed us and gave us directions on what to see and where. The island is quite small and only the prison for which the island is known for, is open to the public. We watched one film on the history of this notorious Alcatraz prison.

Alcatraz prison

Then we toured some rooms and buildings in the main prison cell. We were provided a portable audio device with headphones to listen to the description of main parts of the prison, which notorious men had stayed here, how the escape attempt was planned etc. We then took some photos around the prison with the glittering SF city which could be seen across the bay. I could just imagine how helpless these prisoners must have been to live near the city yet could not escape this prison due to the extreme cold waters, strong winds and high security. After touring for about a hour and two, we returned back to SF city. This was the last destination of our SF visit.

Finally, it was time to return back home. I could see how much time is important, and how short we have it. We get old fast, time runs away, people change, things change, situations change, and we don’t have time for brooding over the past or fighting with people over petty mistakes, or even just sweating the small stuff. The world is big, and a lot can be learnt when we travel. It is not wrong to say that travel does widen our horizon. It not only gives us experience, but also makes us feel connected to this world. We become aware of our life and stop restricting ourselves in our self-created limits. Though I am not saying that a lot changed for me on this trip, I could see how much changed I was and at the same time, how much things have remained the same in my life. I had seen a part of the west coast yet I knew I have to go back to my home for the same work. But then, I was refreshed to do the same work as if new energy and enthusiasm had been rendered by this joyful city. Though I was staying on the east coast ( not exactly..), I could understand that life on the west coast was not much different than my life. And this can be extended all over the world too. Yes, we are after all humans, connected to each other and yet we fight and discriminate and despise each other. I did not understand why! I know this is somewhat a philosophical talk, but these thoughts kept coming to my mind. I do not know if i would get another opportunity to come to this city again, but i thought that life had brought to me and my friend here, and we had a really good time, traveling the city together. May we travel to more places in the world, and may others also come to this wonderful city and witness the aspects of life which I had seen during those 5 days.

Finally, concluding, when I had visited New Orleans ( Nola.) with my friends last December, I had seen a poster with the following line: “If you want to see America, go to New York, New Orleans and San Francisco”

By this tour, we both had seen all three cities. I compared them and found that if New York has the money, New Orleans has the food & music ( especially jazz), then San Francisco has the philosophy of life, mixed with the beauty of nature and technological innovation. In short, this was a memorable trip, for times to come….