The San Diego Life!

A long-awaited respite from the mundane. The much-awaited need to be insane.

And here we are, at San Diego, California’s Beach City and vacationer’s paradise with near-perfect temperatures and a laid back vibe that leaves us wanting for more.

When most people visit San Diego for the first time, they tend to stick to the downtown area, but you haven’t seen the real San Diego until you get out and explore the coast!

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Torrey Pines Beach

The 70 miles of splendid coastline is the highlight of San Diego. The gorgeous white beaches, warm waters and stunning cliffs with breathtaking views – ah, it is every beach bum’s paradise.

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La Jolla Cove

Our beach walks is my favorite part and the people watching is nothing short of fantastic.

Every stretch of the coast has a view that will leave you speechless, be it Del Mar, La Jolla, Pacific or Coronado, just pick one!

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Torrey Pines Beach

There is so much to do and yet nothing to do. It is a rare place indeed where I can totally decompress and not feel any pressure to sight-see or check off activities.

The sheer cliffs, mysterious caves and tide pools come together for the perfect setting for a perfect sunset at the sunset cliffs.

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Sunset at the Embarcadero

 

Some of my favourite things in San Diego: Mez cal drink are a must try and so is Mexican Food, the colorful and lively Fiesta de Reyes at the historical downtown, gaze at “Unconditional Surrender” – the backdrop of the setting sun makes it like a shot out of a retro romantic movie, The picture perfect setting of the light house at Point Loma, Pizza and happy hour drinks in little Italy.

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Lighthouse at Point Loma

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‘Unconditional Surrender’ at the Embarcadero

 

The Highs and Lows at Death Valley

Death Valley – Just the name conjures images of a harsh, hot and hellish land, a desolate and barren, lifeless place of merciless severity.

If you dare to take a closer look, you will see that in Death Valley, nature is putting up a truly spectacular show: singing sand dunes, sculpted canyons, boulders moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, endless expanse of salt pans, dreamy drive through multi-hued mountains, highest highs and lowest lows – This is a land of superlative beauty.

Adventure and drama starts to unfold on its remote, long and winding, seemingly endless roads.

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Our first stop, after a 7 hour drive, was the Darwin Falls, just on the western hedges of Death Valley, near Panamint Springs.

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Lower Darwin Falls

There is no formal trail and the one-mile walk to the lower falls involve rock scrambling, and several stream crossings. The trail is riddles with a choice of path at every corner and all of them lead to the same breathtaking destination – The Lower Darwin Falls. Though not majestic, there is something very solitary and serene about this place that calls out to the recluse in me.

After waiting in the cold and dark morning, its truly magnificent to watch the sun break the curtain of darkness over the Zabriski Point.

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Sunrise Over Zabriski Point

Watching the mountains change color, from black to dirty brown to golden is the perfect start to the day! The Zabriski Point is a very short and very steep hike from the parking area.

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Zabriski Point At Sunrise

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Zabriski Point

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Zabriski Point

The Mosaic Canyon hike is quite strenuous and equally rewarding. Walk through the narrow wash and let the cool and vivid hued canyon surround you.

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Lower Mosaic Canyon

We walked beyond the lower canyons, where the canyons open up and you are greeted with spectacular views of the golden ridges.

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Mosaic Canyon

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Panoramic of Mosaic Canyon

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Golden Ridges At Mosaic Canyon

The 4 mile round trip will take 2 – 2.5 hours. The Mosaic Canyon offers some spectacular photo ops, so load up on batteries before you start.

The Mesquite Sand dune is another enigma of the Death Valley. A walk on these silky, rippled dunes will convince you that you’re someplace far from the familiar.

Badwater Basin, the salt flats of the Death Valley, is another favorite place of mine. Walking on the salt flats that stretches up to the horizon, feels almost surreal. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America (282 ft below sea level). It is a foreboding but jaw dropping landscape of crinkly salt flats that is otherworldly in its beauty.

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Badwater Basin

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Badwater Basin

Across the valley rises the 11,049-foot tall Telescope Peak, the tallest in Death Valley, as white as the salt flats, but snow covered.

The place to be nearing sunset is the Dante’s Peak. Perched atop the Black Mountains at 5,475 feet, Dante’s view offers panoramic views of Death Valley. Both of Death Valley’s elevation extremes, 282 feet below sea level and 11,049 feet above, can be seen in a single glance.

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Dante’s View

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Dante’s View

My favorite activity at the Death Valley was Star Gazing. After sunset the world’s largest International Dark Sky Park begins to shine with a Million, no, a Gazillion stars. There are some ‘best place’ to watch the night sky spots, but I simple parked on the side of the highway, and gazed in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way and reflect on my place in the universe.

A couple of days is not enough to explore the beauty and mysteries of this formidable, spectacular and one-of-its-kind National Park.

Tips:

Pack a lot of food and munchies. There are a few places you can grab a bite, but choices are limited and almost no options for travelers with diet restrictions.

There is something about the place, you can get dry and dehydrated even if you are stationary, so drink and carry a lot of water.

I visited in January and still it got quite warm in the afternoons. If you plan t visit Telescope or Dante’s peak, carry layers.

Most of the park has paved roads with short stretches of dirt roads, but a high clearance vehicle with 4WD is recommended. We did not drive a 4WD and we were fine.

Fuel up whenever you see a Gas Station.

Yosemite, The Winter Wonderland

I have been to the Yosemite Valley in Spring and I have been there in Fall, but nothing has left me more in awe of the Valley than its transformation in Winter.

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Half Dome

 

Yosemite in winter is like stepping into the magical land of Narnia. The valley is wrapped in a snowy blanket with the gray towering granite peaks and the gushing waterfall in the background and the snow capped white trees scattered in the landscape.

There are lot of things to do for people who don’t like to do anything. Taking a stroll in the ‘No man has yet set foot on’ meadows right after a snowfall, braving the slippery trail to be covered in the mists of the bridal veil falls (falling a few times), starting a snow fight, catching fresh snow on tongue or simply clicking away on the camera capturing some exotic winterscapes.

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Cook’s Meadow

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Winterfell – At Half Dome Village

Just when you think you have seen everything stunning the valley has to offer, a turn around the corner and you will be greeted by another spectacular sight that will take your breath away.

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Tunnel View

There are few places like the Winter Yosemite that offer greater fantasy landscapes and more profound solitude.

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Bridge Of Serenity

If you have not yet visited the valley in winter, tis the season to pack up your bags and head into the winter wonderland

Visited on: 24 – 25 December 2016

Weather: COLD. 25 – 30 Degree Fahrenheit with snow showers.

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Tips: You will need layers of warm clothes, gloves, warm socks and cap. I wore my Columbia hiking shoes and they were fine for treading on the snow, but it would be great to have snow boots. Snow Chains are a must. (It was our first time driving on snow, and it was not half as difficult as we thought it would be).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountains Of Darjeeling

I do not claim to be well traveled, but I have been around a bit. This is the story of April 2013, when I visited Darjeeling and Ghum with my chosen family.

Now this one was one of those trips you talk about all your life. One of those trip, where you did not really do anything but remember doing a lot! I am not really sure what makes this one of my favorite trips with fondest memories, but here is my chronicle about the trip.

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With an over zealous family and the camera around my neck, I was ready to embark on a brand new adventure. The 4 hour drive from New Jalpaiguri to Ghum is simply breathtaking. There is rarely a dull moment. The route is dotted with little eateries and we had a quick brunch at a little nondescript family run eatery where the lady served fresh, made to order, chow mien, fried rice and momos.

We stayed at the Sterling resorts in Ghum which shares its boundary with The Ghum Monastery – one of the oldest monasteries in Darjeeling.  Ghum is a great place to stay if you are looking for some peace and quiet away from the noise of the market.

An afternoon walk to the  picturesque Ghum Railway Station and Museum with a cup of steaming tea in hand and conversation with loved ones, is like chicken soup for the soul – only better.

The English influence is predominant all over Darjeeling and resonates in its gastronomic culture. One of my favorite stops was the Glenary Bakery. The nice cozy bakery/cafe in the heart of the Darjeeling market serves a variety of pastries, snacks and breads, all freshly baked and displayed enticingly, that a foodie like me just cannot walk out of there without a couple of boxes of goodies. sipping a cup of their decadent hot chocolate milk in the Darjeeling cold is pure bliss.This red fake telephone booth at the center of the cafe attracts a lot of attention and every member of our 6 people group wanted a picture in it!

There are some fancy and iconic must visit cafes in Darjeeling but one of the best momo I had was on the streets of Ghum. A little street leads from the sterling resort in Ghum to the Ghum main road and it is dotted with small households selling homemade momos from their tiny kitchens. I had a plate of 8 momos (veg) for Rs.25 and it was the best I have eaten. The lady was stuffing and steaming momos in front of us, and we got a freshly steamed batch! They were served with a spicy red chilli sauce and a small bowl of mild beetroot and vegetable broth. It is truly an amazing experience to sit with these very friendly locals, swapping stories and enjoying their local and authentic food.

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There are a lot of things to do in Darjeeling,  Himalayan Mountaineering Museum, Sri Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, Trying out rock climbing at Tenzing rock, Great photo ops at Batasia Eco Garden and the Tibetan Refugee Camp.

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My favorite tourist spot was the Japanese temple and the Peace Pagoda. Tourists are invited to join in the ritualistic chanting in the prayer hall. The beating of the  ceremonial drums by the priest, fills the little prayer hall and reverberates within the soul. Within moments you are in a trans-like state. The experience of praying along side the monks and being a part of their rituals was a unique and amazing experience. Make sure to inquire about the prayer timings ( 4:30 AM to 6 AM and 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM) before you go so that you don’t miss out on the experience.

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The peace pagoda is a 100 yards away from the temple. Peace pagoda is a Buddhist Stupa, built to unite all the races in the world in search for world peace. It is one of the most beautiful structures in Darjeeling and one to not be missed. One can have a panoramic view of Darjeeling from atop. It is a beautiful place for some amazing photography and some intense soul searching. I would recommend visiting here in the evening to avoid the tourist rush.

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I love the temples in Darjeeling with their endless rows of  vibrant and colorful prayer flags.

d8Prayer Flags at Mahakal Temple

No trip to Darjeeling can be complete without the mention Kanchenjunga or the Tiger Hill. We were fortunate enough  to get clear glimpses of the mighty peak from our resort’s backyard though we missed the iconic sunrise tour coz of bad weather.

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There is something magical about the air in the mountains and with a very heavy heart I bid Darjeeling farewell, making a silent promise to return and explore everything I couldn’t.

For the Foodies: You simply must try the Momos, Thupka, baked goodies and Laal chai.