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FALLING IN LOVE WITH ARENAL, COSTA RICA

Almost eight years ago, I stood at the airport nervous about my first international flight ride to Costa Rica. The last time I took an international flight, I was immigrating to America from India. The trip was special because it was our official honeymoon. After making a list of destinations that included Bora Bora, Seychelles and the likes, we narrowed in on Costa Rica for financial reasons. I did not know then that it would be the beginning of a love affair with international destinations. After a long flight, we reached San Jose, Costa Rica. We spent the night there and were whisked off in a car to Arenal, our first destination in Costa Rica.

As our car cruised through the lush greenery of Costa Rica’s windy roads, I was reminded of Kerala, India. After few hours of traveling, we approached our hotel in Arenal area, about 6km from downtown La Fortuna. Tourism is one of the major industries in Costa Rica, especially the Arenal area which is known for the Arenal Volcano. The Arenal Volcano was one of the most active volcanoes in the area for 43 years. As we checked into our hotel, we could see the Arenal volcano from our backyard. The hotels in Costa Rica had us bowled over. The theme for our first hotel was rain forest which was evident all through our villa. Besides the volcano, Arenal attracts thousands of visitors each year because of the many adventure sports available. All around the area one sees signs for zip lining, ATVing, bungee jumping besides several other adrenaline activities.

We stayed in Arenal for ten days during which we took a night Safari to the Arenal Volcano. The stillness of the night against the erupting volcano made it one of the most memorable activities. We also hiked to the magnificent La Fortuna Waterfall. With several steep steps, the waterfall challenged us physically but the waterfall at the end made the trip worthwhile. I had never zip lined before in my life, and neither had I been on an aerial tram before. We took a sky tram to the ziplining area. I could feel adrenaline pumping through my body as I was petrified and excited at the same time. I have major fear of heights and ziplining meant putting all my height demons to rest. I quivered with fear as I did my first zipline and then the second. By the third one, I was enjoying the feeling although I have to admit I did not look around to enjoy the landscape or picturesque views.  At the end of the eight long ziplines, I felt accomplished.

Arenal in Costa Rica converted a coy Indian girl into an adrenaline junkie. Since that trip, I have traveled to many places and done several crazy adventures. Costa Rica will always be special for several reasons besides it being our honeymoon- I fell in love with international travel in Costa Rica and for that I will forever be grateful.

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The red sandstone marvel- Agra Fort or Red Fort of India.

While Taj Mahal looms large across Agra, another amazingly magnificent but less known monument is the Agra Fort or Red Fort. While it doesn’t have a romantic story like the Taj, the Red Fort or Agra Fort plays a prominent role in Indian history. Made out of red sandstone, the Red fort of Agra includes several palaces such as Jahangir’s Palace, Khas Mahal, two mosques and Diwan-i- Khas, an audience hall. On a humid Agra evening, we visited the fort amidst thousands of people.

 

The magnificence of the fort lies in its history. Contrary to what I believed that the fort was built by the Mughals when they were in India, the Red Fort existed since the 11th century. It was initially made of brick. The red sandstone for that currently exists was built by the Mughals, particularly Akbar. Akbar the great Mughal ruler realized the advantages of the central location of the fort and made it his capital. The height of the fort allows to monitor any invasions and the walkway entrance of the fort is designed such that it is at a slope. In the event of an invasion, big rock boulders were rolled down the walkway to hurt the enemy army. Shah Jahan, the grandson of Akbar is credited for making the Agra Fort what it is today. History says Shah Jahan was imprisoned at the fort during the end of his life and he died watching the Taj Mahal from the Fort. As we stood in the room where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son with a direct view of the Taj, I was taken back to the days I spent studying about this at school. I was no longer a tourist visiting a monument but one among the many children in India who is introduced to the abundance of history that India as a country represents.

 

As we walked through the exit gates of the Fort, I remembered the scenes from the movie Jodha Akbar that were shot at the Fort. With every foot step, I was in my own way reliving those images and the images I formed in my head as I memorized my history as a teenager. The distance and miles I had traveled to America, having lived here for fifteen years could not erase those lessons I learned as a child of the Akbar and Shah Jahan. In my own little way, visiting Agra Fort and Taj Mahal was my version of disneyland. I was living my fantasy world from my childhood.

 

 

Scintillating and Mesmerizing Taj Mahal

There are few things that are synonymous with India than the scintillating Taj Mahal.  Growing up in India as a child, Taj Mahal was in all my history books and we were often fed an overdose of the Taj. Yet, I never thought I would see the Taj Mahal in person. Having grown up on a staple of Indian movies where several romantic numbers in the 90’s were shot at the Taj Mahal, I always felt I had seen the monument in person. On a cloudy and humid July day, my husband, new daughter and I made our way to Taj Mahal. We were in New Delhi to finish the adoption formalities, and had the weekend when we decided to visit the magnificient Taj Mahal.

I will always remember seeing the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River banks and our cab driver telling us there is the Taj. The distance did not diminish the beauty or the magnificence of the Taj. As we walked through security, I felt a sense of overwhelming uneasiness at the presence of such magnificence. While it looked just like in the movies, the enormousness of the monument was undeniable. As we walked through the pathway amidst thousands of people, some tourists and many locals, we were briefed about the history of the Taj Mahal by our tour guide. Every word echoed the years I spent in school in India reading and marveling at the romance behind the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor for his most beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal to profess his love for her. He wanted to build a monument that was as beautiful as her. It was built to house her tomb which along with Shah Jahan’s is still seen in the Taj. It took twenty one years and several thousands of people to build the monument. Upon building the monument, it is told he cut off their arms so they would not replicate the Taj. The art inside the Taj is made of real gem stones from different parts of the world and the white marble is unique to Agra where the Taj resides. The marble glows on a full moon night which was demonstrated when we took a tour of how the art is created.
As I walked through Taj in my booties, I marveled at the architecture of the monument. Amidst thousands of people thronging through the doors of Taj, I felt a strange serenity. The monument echoed the love between a man and a woman, and as a girl who grew up on Bollywood romances of the 90’s I could only wonder how someone could love another person so much that they built the iconic Taj Mahal in her honor. The Taj Mahal is beyond a monument. It is the symbol of love that is often seen hidden in the pages of a romance novel. I am proud that I belong to the land of the Taj Mahal, a symbol of love even more than I ever was.

Praline Island, Seychelles & Coco De Mer

Seychelles, an island between Africa and India has always been on my top two travel destination barring Switzerland. When my husband and I decided to get married, Seychelles was one of the first destinations we looked at for our honeymoon. As new college grads, Seychelles was way more than we could afford. So in June 2016 when we decided to travel to India to pick up our new daughter, Seychelles was our vacation destination before we go from a family of three to four. On a warm June afternoon, we began our long journey to India. We would then take two more flights from India to Seychelles. We chose this route because it seemed more economical since it was cheaper to travel to Seychelles from India than from California.

 

Upon reaching Bangalore in India at 4:00AM, we realized someone mistook our baggage for theirs. In all the chaos and commotion, we missed our flight to Seychelles and spent 10 hours in Bangalore airport waiting for our next flight. The guy who took our luggage returned it at some point in the 10 hours making it totally worthwhile. We were on our way to Seychelles finally. Upon reaching Mahe in Seychelles, we had to take a ferry to Praslin, our island. I was thankful to my husband for insisting I take my motion sickness pill because that ferry ride was no joke. I sat there watching victim after victim fall to motion sickness, all the while praying I survive the ride. We finally arrived in Praslin amidst deep blue water and green lushness. I am not sure what Paradise looks like, but this was the closest I had ever been to one. The only other place I can think of that looked so beautiful was the Dominica islands.

 

We made our way to the Coco de Mer Black Parrot Suites hotel and were welcomed by a much needed drink. Thus began our expedition of Seychelles. We began our adventure by walking almost 2 hours to the city to buy some water and withdraw some Seychelles money. In spite of getting baked in the hot sun during our walk, the beauty around us made every step worthwhile. We returned back to our hotel, battled some major heat exhaustion for another day but it was the perfect beginning to our adventure.

 

Praslin Islands are home to the famous Coco de Mer which call the Valle De Mai Natural reserve home. Coco De Mer, sea coconut or double coconut is  funky looking coconut that was found at the bottom of the sea. Inherit to Seychelles and islands around there, Valle De Mai is the only reserve in the world that still has Coco de Mer trees. One can find tour guides in the reserve, and it is a good idea to take a tour as they explain how the coco de mer is fertilized and how pollination happens between the male and the female.  
The Praslin Island is a beautiful and pristine island with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. In the coming weeks, I will write a blog posting about the several beaches we visited in Praslin, Seychelles.

 

 

A New Journey Begins…!

Every relationship is the beginning of a new journey. At fourteen years of age, I wanted to begin a journey to adopt a baby. I knew then that it would be the greatest journeys I would embark on. I never did then, but the desire continued to grow with me until three years back when my husband and I signed on the dotted lines to begin our adoption journey. This past month I traveled to Seychelles and India with my husband for a month. This adventure signaled my life coming full circle. While adoption held my heart strings at fourteen, Seychelles tickled my imagination just as much. I remember watching Miss World/Universe on TV in India and seeing the amazing beauty of Seychelles. I knew then if there was one place on earth I could visit, I would choose Seychelles. It was a week in paradise and the perfect end to being just the two of us.

 

After a week in paradise, my husband and I traveled to India. India is and will always be home. There is a serenity and peace that India fills me with. No matter where I go or where my address might reside, India is home. But this trip was even more special. After years of wondering who she is, or what she might look like, we found our new travel buddy in our 11 month old daughter, M. She is feisty, adventurous and crazy just like us. And thus began a new journey. We are now a crazy travel foursome, my husband, Zed our puppy, M and I. Stay tuned for our adventures in Seychelles and India in the coming weeks.

MESMERIZING MACHU PICCHU

I remember the moment I first saw Machu Picchu in Peru  in person. I had seen several pictures of it and had researched since the time we booked our tickets. I thought I knew it all but standing there watching the magnificent Machu Picchu in person felt unreal. It blew my mind and senses, and I felt every emotion from being awe struck to absolute serenity. I have relived that moment every time I talk about it to someone, and I still stand spellbound and humbled to have visited Machu Picchu.

 

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca site in the Cusco area of Peru. While there are several Inca sites around Peru, Machu Picchu is the center of Peruvian tourism. It is located in the Sacred Valley about 80 kilometers from Cusco. Visiting the magnificent Machu Picchu was a dream and we were determined to spend as many days as possible enjoying Cusco and Machu Picchu. After a long flight from San Francisco to Cusco Peru, we were welcomed by the city of Cusco. Like many, I assumed Cusco would be bustling with activity and tourism. The city was quaint and serene. We had ten days in Cusco and we had not decided when we were planning on conquering Machu Picchu. My husband came down with altitude sickness which neither of us were aware of. After three days of constant headaches, mood swings and fatigue, he was diagnosed with altitude sickness. Few days of oxygen and we were ready to visit Machu Picchu. We took a train and then a bus to the foothills of the Inca site. We hired one of the guides on site and began our hike. We walked through the ruins and came face to face with Machu Picchu. As we scaled the mountains, we were briefed on how Machu Picchu was created manually by the Inca people. Every rock, every stone was carried and placed strategically. As an engineer, I couldn’t help but marvel at the masterpiece ahead of me.

 

With every step that I took scaling Machu Picchu I felt serenity engulf me. Post cards and pictures could not do justice to the magnificence of the place. We were told they limit the number of people hiking Machu Picchu to 80 a day. We were fortunate to have hiked Machu Picchu and will always remain spellbound and humbled by the experience.

Helicoptering through California

On a bright and sunny April day, my husband and I stood at the Bay Aerial tours gates waiting to be let in. We had come here few weeks before hoping to helicopter our way through the Bay Area sights. The ride was at 4:00pm. The pilot checked the weather prior to taking us to the helicopter, and as we sat there watching the live doppler of the area, we could see fog slowly cover the horizon. We were bummed but needless to say we decided to postpone it. Mr D(my husband) was upset that his surprise was out of the bag. So here we were on our second try to go on our helicopter ride.

 

The gates opened and we were carted to our personal helicopter. That’s right, we owned a helicopter for one hour and it was amazing! I guess I know what it feels to be rich. The helicopter ride was my birthday gift from Mr. D. He had me in the loops for weeks until the weather cleared up, often throwing hints at me. Sometimes he asked me the one question you ask no woman, “What is your weight?”. He hates flights, and helicopter was a no-no in our marriage contract. I am not good with surprises. It’s not that I hate surprises as much as I cannot stand the suspense around it. This was one of the best surprises ever next to the time he got me books as a Valentine’s day gift. Books are my diamonds, and I was on cloud nine. For the adrenalin junkie in me, the helicopter ride was a close second. Knowing how much he absolutely hated flying, I definitely appreciated the gift much more.

 

We were summarized on some of the do’s and don’ts of the aerial tour. It was take off time, and as the helicopter fans started roaring I could feel my heartbeat increase from the adrenalin in my system. Most people who read my blog know I suffer from motion sickness. I was prepared with  my dramamine, although the cocky me thought I would not need it. As the helicopter made its first turn, I felt my stomach in my throat. That was 10 min into the 1 hr of our time slot. The ride took us through Oakland, San Francisco, Angel Island, Half Moon Bay, Alcatraz and finally back to redwood city airport. My absolute favorite was when the helicopter flew below the Golden Gate Bridge. My other favorite was seeing some parts of the San Andreas fault near Half Moon Bay.

 

I have seen San Francisco several times before, but flying over San Francisco skyline was amazing. While the winds were still a little unsettled considering we were flying at 11am which made the ride bumpy, the beautiful scenery around made it an amazing adventure. I have always felt a certain serendipity with nature, and flying over God’s wonderful artistry had me spellbound. In spite of how horrible I felt with every turn of the helicopter, I would do the helicopter ride a million times again. I cannot guarantee Mr D would be along for the ride.

 

Here are some pictures from our amazing helicopter ride!