Friday, August 30, 2019

A stroll in downtown Denver, USA

On the fourth day of my 10 day visit to USA I decided to visit downtown Denver with my sister. After that great rafting trip in the Colorado river, I had spent the next two days doing my University assignments. There were two papers to submit and it was a lot of work. My sister got a bit annoyed by this. I had come all the way to visit her to do assignments at her place. Though I understood her annoyance I was helpless. On the third day, I put in some extra effort to complete my work and planned a visit to downtown the next day.

Denver is the capital of the state of Colorado. It is known as the Mile High city of because of its elevation which is around 1600 Mtrs. One of the fastest growing cities in the United Stated it has also the added benefit of being close to the Rockies which are just a couple of hours away.

The next morning after a good breakfast, me and my sister sheereen took the local train to Downtown. I am a huge fan of public transport as mentioned in my numerous previous posts. So adding the experience of riding in the public transport of another city excited me. As Sheereen's home was in the outskirts of the city, it was a 40 min ride to downtown. The train sped past different neighborhoods and past the University of Colorado. Some sections of the tracks were elevated giving us a good view of the surrounding rocky mountains far away. We got down at the Auraria Station and after a brief stroll took another bus to the Capitol building.

We got down a stop ahead of our actual stop and started walking. We spotted the Capitol building a bit ahead. We could see its Golden Dome shining in the bright sunlight as we approached it. As we neared the building we could see that a lot of restoration work was going on. We took went around it in a circle having a closer look. Built in the Neo classical style this building houses the home of the Colorado General Assembly. Built in the 1890s, the dome of the building houses real gold leaf which was added during the Gold Rush period in the year 1908. The front of the building had more construction going on and we couldn't get on the steps to the famous Mile high marker.

The day was getting more hot now and I was looking for somewhere to sit. Directly on the opposite side of the Capitol Hill far away I could spot another building with similar architectural style. Google maps told me that this was Denver City Council Building. I spotted a swathe of low trees in the park in front of it. We crossed the road and walked towards and inside the park. There were a number of food trucks parked selling a variety of food stuff. We looked around to see if we could find anything interesting but we did not so we walked away towards one of the trees at the edge of the park. We selected one offering a nice view of the council building and sat there in the shade. It was relief to get away from the scorching sun. This heat reminded me of the summers of India. I wasn't expecting this in US honestly.

After that rejuvenating rest we resumed our walk and sheereen suggested we check out the nearby Denver Public Library. Established in 1889, the Denver public library system houses around 2 million items including books, reference materials etc. We went inside and took a leisurely stroll. As my sister and me are both avid readers we spent a lot of time checking out the different books. There were multiple levels with conference rooms, computer rooms etc. One thing that stuck me was the presence of a large number of homeless people. There were too many of them.

From the library we walked past the building of Museum of Art with its quirky design. Then we decided to head home as the heat was becoming unbearable now. Before doing so we headed off to a local Indian restaurant called Zaika and had some biryani there which was easily one of the worst Biryanis I ever had in North America. After this we then started for home taking the same train line and were back home by 4 pm.

Monday, August 26, 2019

River Rafting in Colorado, USA

''Manifest Destiny. Westward Expansion. Come April it will start again'' So starts one of my favorite monologues in a Horror movie. The movie is called ''Ravenous'' and it is so diverse it is difficult to pinpoint its genre but I will go with Horror. This movie is partly inspired from the story of Alferd Parker also called the Colorado Cannibal,who confessed to resorting to cannibalism while travelling with a group of men through the mountains of Colorado. The monologue was playing in my mind as I sat in the flight from Vancouver to Denver, Colorado. The movie was part of my preparation for my trip to Denver.

This was a couple of months back when I was in the United States of America to visit my sister Sheereen and her husband. This was my first visit to USA and I was hugely excited. Here was the land of the movies I grew up watching and the novels I used to read.

Luckily my sisters husband, Azaan is an active outdoor person himself. He loves going on hikes and doing adventure activities. The weekend I was going there, he had planned, a river rafting trip near the town of Glenwood Springs which was around 150 miles away. Other members of this rafting trip were his friends, Ujjwala, her husband, Manish,, Rohini and Daivik.

We started off from Denver around 8 am.We passed through some beautiful scenery and I was glued to the windows as this was my first road journey in USA. We reached the rafting spot at around 11 pm and since the starting time was 1 pm we still had a couple of hours to kill. So we decided to have lunch in the small but quiet cafe there.Soon it was time and after the registration process we headed over to the gathering point where we were to be given some instructions. After a brief talk which included heavy doses of humor we grabbed our gear. This included a safety vest, some smelly shoes and for those of us who were wearing specs, a strap to hold the specs onto our faces. From here we were shepherded into a school bus which was waiting for us. It was a bright sunny day and inside the bus it felt like an oven. Some windows were stuck and wouldn't open and everybody was drenched in sweat within  minutes. The bus started and this bought some respite with the air blowing on our faces.

We reached the starting point at around 12 30 pm. There was only one last thing to do now and that was each team had to carry their raft with them towards the river. We did this and were in position. Soon, the rafts were dragged into the river, people jumped on them and on they went on their way. Our turn came and we did the same. We were off in the Colorado River now. I already had done river rafting once before. That was in Rishikesh in India some 5 years back. Similar to that one, this was also a grade 2&3 rapids rafting. I was looking forward to how different/similar rafting here would be.

At first, we drifted into the current in a gradual pace. As for the seating, Ujjwala and Manish sat at the front, in the second row sat Daivik and Rohini and behind them was me. Bringing up the rear was my sister and her husband Azaan. Our guide, the good natured Mike sat the back steering the raft.  He gave us some simple instructions. When he shouts 'row' we were to row and with shouts of 'stop' we were to stop rowing. Also if he said 'Right' then the those of us who were on the right side were to row and the left would sit still. And when he shouted 'left' only those on the left side were to row. We practiced this for a few times till we got the drift.

After some time we could see the change in the state of the water. It became more turbulent and we were getting excited now. Soon enough our guide instructed us to strengthen our grip with our feet and start rowing with our hands. In a minute our raft collided with a huge wave. The front of the raft went up a huge angle, stayed there for a split second and then fell into the retreating water. There was a spray of water on our faces and bodies as we tried to hold ourselves in place. This first encounter was mighty thrilling and bought out shouts of joy and excitement. We ran into many more rapids like these now and then.

At one point the guide stopped the raft at a section of the river where the water was calm and told us to jump in the water if we wanted to. I was waiting for this part the whole time and without further prodding I jumped along with Daivik. As I hit the water, the momentum carried my whole body a meter inside the waters and then I popped up, breaking the surface. Initially I struggled to catch my breath but I soon recovered. I floated around in the water and took videos with my action cam. But I did not let go of the grab rope holding it with one hand and taking videos with the other. Soon others joined too. Rohini and Ujjwala also jumped into the water on the other side of the raft. All got in the water except Azaan. He helped everyone with getting back on the boat.

To make matters more interesting our guide suggested we take turns in sitting on the tube itself on the front. They had tied a rope with a knot from the D Ring at the front. We were to hold on to this rope and enjoy the heaving of the raft from the prime seat available on the raft. First to go was me. I perched atop the tube there and as instructed grabbed hold of the rope and sat there. The first collision with the waves bought a huge scream of joy from me as it felt exhilarating. You feel as if you are flying in the air. Truly, the feeling of the raft striking the waves and shivering with the impact is something that has be experienced. Pumps up your adrenaline!

We all took turns sitting at the front. Sheereen also had her turn and she enjoyed it a lot. It felt good seeing my sister with me on this trip. We used to go on trips with our dad when we were kids and as so happens in life as we grew up the frequency of trips slowed down until it stopped completely. And now back together on a trip made me happy.

We passed a number of sections of rapids of different intensities. Some were mild some wild. The only thing I found a bit annoying was that the whole rafting trip was a bit too long with long periods of calm water in between the rapids. This was getting a bit boring but our guide tried his best to fill in these phases by telling stories of local legends and also his own experiences. The only story that stuck in my mind was that of a woman of 19th century who used to climb one of the cliffs overlooking the river. In that day and age a woman doing something like that was super inspiring.

Soon we reached the end, where again we had to get off the raft and carry it upwards towards a waiting vehicle. We all then got inside the bus mighty happy with the rafting experience. We were taken back to the original starting point where we returned all the equipment and changed into dry clothing. By 5pm we were soon on our way back. That ended my first adventure trip in the United States of America all thanks to Azaan and my sister!

In Brief :
Activity - River Rafting
River - Colorado
Location - Glenwood Springs
Distance from Denver - Around 150 Miles.
Rafting Agency - Defiance River Rafting
Class of Rapids - Class 2&3
Duration - 3 hours. From 1 pm to 4 pm.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Prince George and Jasper Road Trip, Canada. Day 3

The Agenda for today was to start for Jasper as soon as we got up and from there move on to Vancouver.
As we drove out of Prince George, our Google Maps was showing that there was a road block ahead and directed us to take a diversion. We pondered over this bit and in that moment decided to take the diversion. This was near the Grizzly Den Provincial Park. I would be lying if I said that the name of the park did not make me feel a bit nervous. The alternate road was to take us right through the park on an unpaved road. This was further worrisome. Nevertheless we had no option and we entered the back road. We coasted along the gravel road taking care not to go too fast. Somewhere in the middle we spotted a bear strolling beside the road. This sent a wave of excitement in the car. This was the first bear sighting for us. Sadly we didn't have much time to take a proper look. It was just a blink and you miss appearance. It took us close to an hour to cross the whole park and finally emerge out and join the main highway. Within minutes of rejoining, Namendra sensed something wrong with the car so he stopped someplace ahead. Here we got down and checked the tires. Sure enough the front right tire was punctured. We could hear the hissing of the air as it escaped. I was thinking what should we do next when Namendra calmly bought a tire repair kit. We inserted that long slug into the hole and tightened it. 

I was skeptical if it would work having no experience with these kind of things but Namendra insisted that it would hold till we reached Vancouver. We had a small discussion now about our next step. Shall we stick to our original plan or in view of the new conditions now should we change our plan and head directly to Vancouver.  Namendra was pretty confident that the tire wont prove to be a further problem so we decided to stick to the original plan. Though I didn't say it out loud at that time but we were actually quite fortunate that we had to stop the car only after we exited the Grizzly park. Imagine our plight if we had to stop inside the park in that service road. The whole time we were on that road we didn't spot even one car. The only thing we spotted there was that bear. I didn't want to go into the would haves/should haves now so pushing away these thoughts I tried to bring back my focus to the present.

The country side now was throwing up some spectacular views. We saw yellow fields set against some imposing mountains. With each passing minute the views were getting even better. Finally some where around a place called Goat River we stopped to look around. Now this place was simply breathtaking. The road ran straight ahead where far away huge mountains rose into the sky. To the left of the road the ground was lined with yellow flowers. They shone brightly under the sunlight. On the right there was a carpet of grass for some area and then beyond that the forest cover started. The overall view was spectacular. We spent some time here taking pics and just strolling around. 

We then moved on and the next stop we took was in the town of McBride. It had a straight road leading to the railway station at the center. To our left and right we could see buildings that looked like sets of a Western cowboy movie. Right in front of the station there was a Bar and Hotel. I imagined myself walking up to its doors with my head turned down and entering it. Lifting up my cowboy hat with the tip of my finger I nod towards the bartender and throw a 'howdy!'. Thivya woke me up from my reverie and asked me to get down. I realized we had parked our car near the Railway station. We got down and casually looked around. A little bit of googling told me that this was indeed cowboy country.

We entered the railway station which has a little information desk there. We chatted with the friendly ladies manning the desk for a while asking them about the history of the place and surroundings. There was a small gift shop too from where I bought a couple of souvenirs. From here we walked around the town, looked at the buildings and climbed atop a Train engine displayed there. The whole town was set against the back drop of the Rocky mountains, which looked like layers laid on top of one another. With those mountains serving a spectacular background, the neatly laid out grass lawns and the quaint buildings between them all made McBride a charming little town.

Soon we left McBride behind and resumed our journey. As we continued on to Jasper, at some point, like a spirit materializing itself out of nowhere, the famous Mt Robson appeared. This view was instantly recognizable as I had seen this view a number of times on Instagram and in travel magazines. As I looked at the imposing face of Mt Robson through the windshield of the car, it almost looked magical. I was sitting at the back of the car and had to crane my neck to actually get a good view of the famed mountain. My view offered this scene. The left and right of the road was lined with trees. Just beyond them, a good distance away in a diagonal direction the sides of mountains rose as if creating a frame for the superstar in between them. Out of this frame rose the majestic Mt Robson standing there like some giant.
The upper half of it was covered by snow and the tip was not visible as it was totally enveloped by clouds. It was a stunning view. We had to stop somewhere. A bit ahead there was a viewing stop. Here we got out of our vehicles and looked around. It was a beautiful sight. We took a lot of pictures here and then moved on.

We had one final stop before we reached Jasper and that was at Moose lake. At this point we were inside the Jasper National Park. Moose Lake is huge. As we stood at the side of the lake I could see the lake disappearing into the layers of mountains far way to the left and to the right. Directly opposite was the same mountain range running across the horizon. Again, we did nothing much but enjoy the views and take some pics. Divya bravely ventured into the water but had to come out quickly as the water was freezing cold. Its here I think I saw the most picturesque restroom ever in my life. It was just at the edge of the lake right overlooking the excellent views.

Thivya taking some selfies!
Namendra playing with his kids

A pumped up Divya!
The brilliantly placed restroom!

We finally reached Jasper around 3 pm in the afternoon. Jasper is a beautiful tourist town set in the middle of the Jasper National Park. Its often called the less crowded sibling of nearby Banff. As we entered the main street, we could see a railway track running parallel to the road. A bit ahead was the Railway station around which is spread out the main busy area of Jasper. The Rockies provide a stunning backdrop for the whole town. We parked our car on the main street and wandered out in random directions. Jasper reminded me of the Hill stations of India. It had that touristy air about it.  We checked out a few souvenir shops, then headed over to the Railway Station which had a big train engine exhibit displayed out in the front. This was a 1923 built Steam Locomotive 6015  We had some snacks in one of the restaurants here and finally started out on our return journey.

Arhaan enjoying the mighty train engines

We had an event to attend the next day in Vancouver so it was imperative that we reach by at least morning. The return journey was uneventful except for one phase. It was night time around 1230am when Namendra handed over the wheels to Divya. Since Namendra had been driving since morning he was mighty tired. I moved to the front to give Divya company while Namendra sat in one of the rear seats to take a nap. Now we had been on the road since morning and we were all pretty tired. On top of that we were now on the Coquihalla Highway. It has a history of accidents. I was just scared that whoever is driving shouldn't fall asleep on the wheels. So me and Divya kept up tidbits of conversation going but Divya never looked like he was loosing attention. He was focused the whole time and kept on going at a good pace. I drifted off to sleep a couple of times but not him. Had to admire his focus. We reached Vancouver the next day morning at around 7 am. So finally ended our first road trip in Canada.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Prince George and Jasper Road Trip, Canada. Day 2

''Why would anyone come to Prince George for a road trip?'' This was our Hotel Receptionist the day before, when we checked into the Hotel. Not the ones to be fazed by such dispiriting welcome we laughed it off. After a refreshing nights sleep we woke up excited to spend the day exploring Prince George. After a quick breakfast we were on our way. The first item on our list was the Central BC Railway and Forestry Museum.

This quaint looking Museum houses a number of Train engines and other related stuff. I am a fan of trains and engines so I made it a point to mention to the group to give it a shot. We arrived at the Museum at around 11 am.

We started off our little tour inside the museum in real earnest. There were not many people around which is something I always pray for when visiting a museum so that I have lots of time to view the exhibits at my own leisure. Since the exhibits are kept in the open, the weather plays a major part in the experience. It was a nice warm sunny day and our stroll through the museum was a pleasant one. I do not remember the sequence in which we covered the whole area but some of the highlights are the following. Deviating from my usual way Ill let the pictures do the talking this time.

A Kitchen inside one of the Carriages
A number of bogies and engines parked in a circle with a rotating track in the middle
A small 18 hp train where people can sit and take a ride. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance at the time of our visit.

 A complete room inside one of the bogies

The 1520 Steam Locomotive. Built by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1906 and served with Canadian Northern Railway

A luxury carriage called the Nechako Coach. Built by the legendary Pullman company in 1913, it served with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.
Divya inspecting one of the sleeper carriages

Thivya checking out the controls
Namendra and Sonali on their thrones

I was having a wonderful time at the Museum but had to leave as the kids were getting bored. I made a mental note to visit this place again someday soon.

From here we planned to visit the science center but before we did so we did a short drive around the surrounding industries. One of the reasons for us to choose Prince George for a road trip was this. We wanted to have a look at the industries and assess the conditions of the town itself in case we ever got a job here.

After this we made our way to a Science center called The Exploration Place. This place had many interesting exhibits on display. For kids too there were a number of interesting games, interactive models and play areas to keep them occupied for hours. Heck, I would have spent hours there if I had the time.

After the end of the tour of the science center, Divya wanted to check out a bowling alley he spotted nearby. But Namendra had different plans. So we split into two groups. Namendra, Sonali and the Kids went to a nearby cafe while Divya, Thivya and myself went to the bowling alley. Here we played a round each. This was the first time I was trying out bowling and I loved it. In our little competition I had the edge initially but Divya soon overtook me and emerged the winner. Thivya meanwhile was trailing us with a long margin. After the game we joined Namendra and Sonali in the Cafe. The Cafe had outdoor seating area which is where we had seated ourselves. The ambiance was brilliant and the weather was pleasant so conversation flowed along nicely. We had some delicious food too. As dusk approached it grew chilly but we were reluctant to leave. Finally we had to leave as the temperature dropped. We made our way back to our hotel and tucked in for the night. The next day was going to be a long one as we planned to go to Jasper and then turn back to Vancouver. This was quite ambitious and a bit risky but we were up for it.