Friday, August 19, 2016

GRAND CANYON

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A Journey to one of the fearsomely grandest ravines on earth --- The Grand Canyon


As our flight started its descent over Las Vegas I was dazzled by the lights below. Lights glittered all over like a huge, sprawling net. Appeared to be laid for the aircraft to land on it like a trapeze artiste. I frankly admit that I have never seen such myriads of lights before. Not even when our plane hovered over glittering Manhattan while on its descent at New York JFK. Our son Arjun had already fixed up a car with rent a car centre. We were transported there in shuttle service available from terminal 1 of McCarran International Airport. Arjun completed the formalities with the car company and then we drove towards the city centre with Arjun at the wheel. After a short drive we were at the famous Las Vegas Strip. I must admit that the Strip looks vibrant and fascinating in the night, more than any other place I have seen on our planet. Like a fairy tale world. Mandalay Bay, Luxor, MGM, Excalibur, New York New York, David Copperfield. The illuminated Statue of Liberty in front of New York New York and the medieval English castle type architecture of Excalibur exteriors stand out in a maze of glittering hotels and casinos on Las Vegas Strip. We stayed two nights at Excalibur, named after the legendary sword of King Arthur, and tried our hands at the casino. Started our journey for Grand Canyon in the morning. Via Boulder City in Nevada, our first halt was at the famous Hoover Dam. Built in the early twentieth century during the Great Depression to tame the river Colorado in the Black Canyon bordering Nevada and Arizona, it is a showpiece of engineering marvel. The reservoir which came up during construction of the dam and hydro electric project is known as Lake Mead, considered to be the largest reservoir of America. After going around Hoover Dam and almost gobbling down a hearty American breakfast, we embarked on the final lap of our journey. Soon we found ourselves whizzing through the great Arizona Desert. Dotted with cactus trees, some as large as fully grown banyan trees , replicated images I tried hard remembering in cowboy movies of yesteryear I had seen as an youngster. These cactus trees took up various sizes and complex shapes when we turned left from the highway and took a shorter route through the desert to reach Kingman for fuelling and refreshment. The route happens to be the historic route 66, the mother road of America which came up in the early twentieth century and has remained unspoilt over the years. A very fascinating route as it retains the character of America during early 1900. It leads straight to the Black Mountain. On our way we saw a very interesting small town, with horses, cars, bikes and a pub looking like a ranch. To me it was a captivating sight as it appeared to emerge out of a classic cowboy story. For Kingman we had to turn right after about an hour’s drive. If we had driven straight we would have reached the nearest point of Grand Canyon i.e. the West rim. A brief stopover at Kingman for fuelling and delectable bites on American Ice Cream at the gas station was delightfully refreshing. We then drove down to Williams where we had booked our hotel. A quaint little town, cuteness radiated from every nook and cranny. Right from Highlander Motel where we stayed, attractive cafes, warm restaurants with live music, gas stations, departmental stores, the pleasant chill of a hill station all seem to gel so wondrously.


After settling down at Williams we decided to catch the much hyped sunset at Sedona. As our car climbed up and down the hilly terrain to get to Sedona, it brought us unique vistas of Oak Creek Canyon in the beginning and Red Rock Canyon / Secret Mountain while nearing Sedona. The ride and the views were spectacular and at parts formidable! Particularly while negotiating close to the steep canyon walls. Sedona is again a lovely little town beautifully decorated with artistic statues, and watching the sun go down the mountainous silhouette from sunset point was an exhilarating experience. Next morning we were overtly excited while gearing up for visit to the Grand Canyon about 55 miles from Williams. Las Vegas is about 2000 ft above sea level; Williams is about 6000 ft above sea level and Grand Canyon is about 7000 ft above sea level. Road distance from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon is about 290 miles. So when we reached the Grand Canyon National Park after traversing 290 miles we never had inkling that we have climbed over 5000 ft on our journey from Las Vegas. It was as if driving on plains throughout. The mystery deepened when we took the park and ride shuttle bus from the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. I was still desperately trying to figure out how our bus would be negotiating such giant gorges I have seen only in movies and photographs till then, when our driver announced that the first view point has arrived. And there it was. As if from nowhere a spectacular sight opened up and greeted our eyes. It was only then that I realized that we were at an elevation of about 7000 ft above sea level. The immense buttes, some steep jagged rocky walls running down straight and deep down at the bottom the Colorado River winding its way – a real treat for the senses. The formidable vastness of the ravine is breathtaking. Created by Colorado River this earth’s wonder evolved a billion years ago and the current Grand Canyon is said to be six million years old. The South Rim is regarded as the heart of the Grand Canyon. The viewpoints covered by the shuttle are Trail View Overlook Point, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, the Abyss, Monument Creek Point, and Pima Point and terminates at Hermit Rest. On return path it stops at Mohave Point and Powell Point. Adventure lovers can take the trail paths to Hermit Rest. A new vista opens up as one moves from one pint to another. Views those are vertiginously stunning and beautiful. Shades of red, copper and yellow, deep chasms at places, rocks jutting out in the form of table tops, nature’s architectural wonders like formation of temples aptly named Vishnu Temple, Isis Temple and edifices looking like the walls of fortress all cut out and carved from the rocks by the hand of nature millions of years ago. Major John Wesley Powell, a soldier and a naturalist, was the first man who set out with a team of nine men and four boats to explore the hitherto unknown Colorado River and Grand Canyon in 1869. Six of them dropped off within three months of the expedition after travelling 1500 miles and losing boats and essentials in dangerous rapids they encountered on the river. At the fag end of the journey the three remaining men deserted Powell to get back to the mainland. They are believed to have lost their way in the fearsome labyrinthine ravine and never to be found again. Previously Grand Canyon was known as Big Canyon. After the expedition Powell was so impressed by its grandeur that in 1871 he termed it as Grand Canyon.   

Hotel Excalibur,in the night, Las Vegas Strip


Casino and eatery inside a hotel at Las Vegas Strip
New York New York,Las Vegas Strip

Night Club, Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip

Hoover Dam

The Dog who owned a Dam

Arizona Desert
Sedona is decorated with such statues

Sedona town

Sedona

Another view of Sedona
The first car to reach Grand Canyon South Rim by Historic Route 66

Cute little Williams
Road to Sedona
Grand Canyon Visitor Centre

Early Explorer of Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon with view of Colorado River

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon - Effects in black and white

Grand Canyon. Far below River Colorado can be seen

Grand Canyon
Williams and Route 66
Train to Grand Canyon. Runs from Williams
A view of snow capped California Peak on way to Grand Canyon
(Photographs - Courtesy Arundhati Sengupta)

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dirty Dancing and Jazz

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Broadway & Vocal Jazz in America

Two live events in America enthralled us: 1) Broadway show and 2) A Capella Vocal Jazz. Our son Dr. Arjun Sengupta of Ohio State University gave us the first surprise by getting tickets to a Broadway show. We consider ourselves lucky that our first outing to a Broadway musical was on a Hollywood blockbuster ‘Dirty Dancing’. It was held at the Ohio State Theater, Downtown, Off High Street, Columbus. The grandeur of the theater hall and a packed gathering were the first things that impressed us. And after that it was just like getting carried away by the performance. At the end it crescendoed with the lilting song of Dirty Dancing ‘I have had the time of my life…’.A thousand splendid lights synced with the song pulsated and danced, grazing the audience and sweeping up and down the enormous cavernous space in the hall showed a novel way of involving audience participation with the artistes on stage. My wife’s friend Anita Chowdhury, our host at New Jersey, was keen on showing a live event. Since we saw a Broadway musical, we opted for a Jazz show. Anita and her husband Sidhu received us at Greyhound Bus Station in China Town, Philadelphia. From there they took us to ‘Victory Bell’ and then for a brief ride through Philadelphia streets, before heading for their house at East Brunswick. We were hungry by the time we reached Anita’s sprawling bungalow. Some culinary delights prepared by Anita awaited us. And we literally gorged on our welcome lunch. Especially the salmon preparation was delectable. At 8 pm we reached Taplin Auditorium, Princeton University to watch yet another grand American event ‘A Capella Vocal Jazz’.Enroute we were fortunate to see the house where Albert Einstein lived. The vocal jazz was something new and unique to us as the jazz numbers were rendered by vocalists without support of any accompanying music. It was all male a Capella. There were two groups , the Fonic – a five man vocal band based in New York City blending pop, rock and soul; and Break from Blue Collar, a quartet from Lancaster, PA with fresh interpretations of barbershop classics and the exciting sounds of rock & roll. It was a part of Princeton Festival and some of the popular jazz numbers rendered were ‘When I’m 64’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Zombie Jamboree’, ‘Drip Drop’, ‘Fools Paradise’. The unique baritonal quality of their voices fulfilled the essence of a jazz program. After the show the audience had a wonderful interactive session with the artistes over wine and preparations of cheese, bacon, sausage etc. We came back fully satisfied with feelings that we have been able to see yet another great American event. 


At Ohio State Theater, Columbus

Inside view of the Hall
Show about to begin

The crowd at the Broadway show in Columbus
Philadelphia Street
Victory Bell at Philadelphia


Albert Einstein's house in Princeton
Princeton University
Inside Taplin Auditorium, Princeton University

With performer of vocal jazz

Gathering after the show
(Photographs by Arundhati Sengupta)


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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Leaves & Aroma

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Cafe Leaves n Aroma --- Adda with Great Tastes



Not very far from the din,bustle and squabbles of Calcutta lies another Calcutta. A new Calcutta-Kolkata comprising Rajarhat and New Town. A newly developed Park known as Eco Park is located here. We bumped into it recently on our way back from the airport. Built on the concept of providing eco-friendly atmosphere it houses amongst other attractions an exclusive and unique Butterfly Park. Nature lovers can catch a glimpse and observe the behavior of a wide variety of butterflies and moths. Way to the Park saw us at a culinary stopover ‘Leaves n Aroma’, a cute little café seated a few meters from the Eco-Park entrance gate. Run by Ms Mitali Mitra and Ms Sunetra Chaudhury, the inside décor is simple and warm. We were greeted by Mitali, a former journalist. Bubbling with ideas she has effectively all the ingredients in place to create the nostalgic café culture of seventies. A book rack with some very interesting collection is an added attraction for avid readers, like my wife, who would enjoy leafing through pages over a cup of piping hot Darjeeling tea. Being a connoisseur of tea, I always enjoy indulging on prolonged sips if I find it to my satisfaction. And then there is something decadent and sumptuous for everyone’s individual taste and personality – that is what Mitali strives to achieve. However, on the Menu you will find from a savory Aloo Paratha with Tomato Chutney or with curd and pickle, Methi Paratha, Chicken Nuggets, Finger Chips, a wide variety of cakes. And for those who prefer health food in the eco- surrounding there is a tempting choice of oil free finger chips, nuggets and peanut pakodas. One day we have to try out Luchi Sabji / Dal, which they normally serve during breakfast hours. But what satisfied me most is the discovery of yet another new ‘Adda’ joint in Calcutta. Being an ‘AddaBaaz’ and ‘Adda’ lover I always prefer ‘Adda’ in tranquil surroundings, and that’s where ‘Leaves & Aroma’ scores over others.


(Photographs by Arundhati Sengupta)
Leaves n Aroma Cafe

Ms Mitali Mitra runs the show
My wife engrossed over a book

Mama Mia - Mitali's Assistant

Mitali serving tea
Assortment of cakes

A small library inside the cafe

The cafe is a great place for 'Adda' as well

The counter



The tempting Darjeeling Tea

Aloo Paratha





Health food - Oil free finger chips

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