Saturday, July 1, 2017

10th Wedding Anniversary - Part 2 - Washington D.C.

As part of our 10th wedding anniversary celebrations, we planned a trip to Washington D.C. and New York. I covered the experience of New York in part 1 of the blog. This is Part 2 - where I will briefly summarize the Washington D.C. trip.

After a busy tour of New York. we took the Amtrak to Baltimore (that's where our cousins live). We rested at night at our cousin's place in Ellicott City. The next morning, we drove to Washington DC

Route map

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lake Tahoe Trip - June 17, 2017

For the weekend of June 17 & 18, we decided to go to Lake Tahoe. On our way, we stayed at a friend's place in Folsom. 

More to come... watch this space! 

Hot Air Balloon Fest - Sonoma County - June 11

In Windsor, CA, 91 miles from Dublin, CA, there is a tradition of showcasing hot air balloons each year. As hot air balloons need the ambient temperature to be cooler than the air inside the balloon, the event is scheduled for early in the morning (before sunrise). The event was from 4 am to 10.30 am. We wanted to go there in 2016, but somehow it did not materialize. This year, we wanted to beat inertia and sleep, and wanted to make it. We thought we probably were few of those crazy people, only to be surprised by how many people actually showed up! 

The drive: On Sunday, June 11, 2017, we started from home around 2 am (kids slept early on Saturday, and woke up at 2 am, but Girija and I did not sleep) on Sunday, in order to be there at the park before the gates opened. Both Agastya and Raaga were active and chirpy all the way and did not sleep till 2am. After a nice drive of over 90 mins, we reached around 3.50 am. After waiting for 10 mins, we parked our car inside the Keiser Park. 

The place: Keiser Park, in Windsor is where the event was planned. The fields in the park were nicely set up for the event. The moon was still shining bright (as you can see in one of the pictures below) when we arrived, and the air was chilly. Temperatures were in the higher 40s (around 5-10 C). There were various food stalls, and 3 showpiece balloons were being setup. 

Dawn Patrol: The three showpiece balloons (Kiphaven, Sonoma Star and Dream catcher) were the first to be on display for Dawn Patrol. The pilots turned on the heat (through propane gas burners) and the balloons glowed in the dark and made for some nice coordinated displays. Once the event started, people could go near each of the balloons, and talk to the pilots, get some information. Kids could even go inside the balloon! 

Tethered Rides: Hot After the dawn patrol was over, the hot air balloon rides began. While we were looking forward to the hot air balloon ride, it turned out to be a damp squib, due to inclement weather. The high winds swayed the balloons and soon the rides were cancelled. Only a few balloons were stood up. 

The end: As we had stayed up all night, we began to feel sleepy and tired as the sun rose above us. Raaga fell asleep in her stroller around 7 am, but we battled on. After waiting for a little while to  see if tethered rides would be restarted, we decided to head back. We finally left the place around 8.30 am and came back home by 10 am. Once home, we hit the bed, and were off to sleep in a flash. Later in the day, when we checked back on FB, we saw that not too many tethered rides took place, and people were left disappointed. 

Tethered rides aside, the event was worth visiting at least once in a lifetime. The grandeur of the balloons, and the skills required to fly an object like this make you appreciate an event like this, and leaves us all with our own perspective to take back home.  

To learn more about the event, please visit the event website: 
Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic 2017

Dream Catcher
Sonoma Star

From Left:  Kiphaven, Sonoma Star and Dream catcher on display at 5 am at Dawn Patrol (Moon is visible in the background)

Raaga also woke up at 2am & stayed up till 7am

It was well worth it in the end! Sleepy, but smiling

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Yosemite Valley Trip: June 03-04 2017

Yosemite Valley Trip - Weekend of June 03 and 04, 2017

Two days, 500 miles of driving - One weekend full of great memories!  

Story & Pictures - coming up soon... 

We saw ...

  • Yosemite Falls (Upper & Lower)
  • Tunnel View
  • Half Dome
  • Glacier Point
  • Bridalveil Falls
  • Sentinel Point
  • El Capitan
  • Nevada Falls
  • Yosemite Valley Chapel

We went on the:

  • Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
  • Bridalveil Falls Trail
  • Glacier Point Trail
We stayed at Sugar Pine Ranch, a beautiful ranch with lots of history. The ranch is 22 miles away from the Yosemite National Park. Its owners - Elaine & Craig Maxwell - are a very nice hospitable hosts, and take personal care of guests. There is an old world charm to the entire experience. 

Our cottage (Unit 8) room was nice and cozy, but the restroom was small. The cottage had a small deck with a picnic table and bench where a small healthy inter-continental breakfast was served. The breakfast typically comprised of a bakery item (muffin or scone) sourced from a local bakery, fruit (apple or banana), yogurt, and a drink (tea/ coffee for adults, apple juice for kids) served in a cute little basket and left on the picnic table outside in the morning. The ranch also had a swimming pool on top of the hill (a small hike from in between Cottage # 2 & 3). The views are gorgeous, and snow clad mountains were visible even now. At night, one could walk outside and see innumerous stars and their formations on a clear night. 

While the ranch changed hands multiple times since it was built in 1800s, one of its owners Mr. Osbourne famously said about this ranch - “where the traveler is a stranger but once.” . 

While traveling to Yosemite, everyone told us that we should pack as much food and water as possible as restaurants are far and few. We did the same as well, but at night, we ate pizzas mostly (as my son loves them). There are a few good places in Groveland, and we explored Pizza Factory, and Two guys Pizza - one on each of the nights we stayed. On our way back, we stopped at Dhaba - the Indian Cuisine in Tracy, CA and helped ourselves to sumptuous, spicy Indian fare.

Resources that we used to plan our trip:

  1. Lonely Planet
  2. Yosemite Hikes - 10 Best Easy Hikes
  3. How to plan a trip to Yosemite - WikiHow
  4. How to spend 3 days in Yosemite
  5. Yosemite Map
  6. Yosemite Valley Map - More maps are available at 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

10th Wedding Anniversary - Part 1 - New York

It was our 10th wedding anniversary last week. To celebrate it, we headed to New York and Washington D.C. on a week long trip. It was a busy trip (hardly a vacation), but worth it, as we had taken time off, after a long long time. Much needed break from work and all the humdrum of the routine that we have gotten used to. 

Girija - You're the best thing that happened to me. Thanks for being by my side all these years, and I look forward to this journey for several decades to come. Happy 10th anniversary! 

Professional photos courtesy: Logan Roquemore Photography

Places & experiences in NYC during this trip: 

  1. Science and Natural History Museum - Great for kids in school - they can learn so much here! 
  2. Central Park - Huuuge park - Could not cover all of it. 
  3. Statue of Liberty - Ferry ride was good. Take the elevator to go to the pedestal. 
  4. Manhattan - Lower, Middle and Upper - there are umpteen places to see
  5. Rockefeller Center Plaza - Beautiful plaza to sit, relax, eat, and shop!
  6. Top of the Rock - views from the top are breathtaking (and the glass installations at the top are a saviour on a cold, windy night!)
  7. MoMA
  8. Times Square - wow! amazing place to be 
  9. Brooklyn Bridge & Manhattan Bridge (DUMBO) - that's where we did our photoshoot
  10. Long Island City 
  11. West 4th Street - Food joints & nightlife - lots of them! 
  12. "Hop On Hop Off" open bus tour of downtown - This was the fastest way to cover the city! When you get on one of these, you realize how much there is to see and appreciate in NYC!!! 
  13. Food Trucks - Love the food trucks in NYC! Great food, and these trucks are all over the city. 

And talking of people, it was great to meet some old friends on the trip, and to make some new ones.
It was great to meet Rajan & Ranajit - my old buddies from 2003 when I was at Infosys.
Del - Girija's old friend and ex-colleague from Bangalore
Sruthi, Keshav and their little kids - Shourya and Chikki (Nandini) - who were brilliant hosts during our stay.

All in all, a very memorable trip.

New York City - Check!

Walking on NY streets near Manhattan Bridge

Old rail tracks near Brooklyn Bridge Park

Our lovely family

The Manhattan Skyline in the bacground

In Central Park (PC: Kelly Kopp)

Food Trucks everywhere

NYC Bagels!!!

Magnolia Bakery - NYC Cheesecakes

Rockefeller Building

M&M World - A treat for kids in Times Square! 

NYC Skyline from across Brooklyn Bridge

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Raghu's wedding and a Mangalore Weekend Trip

Over the weekend, we went to Mangalore, Udupi with family. Here are the pictures: Weekend Mangalore Trip

The trip started as a plan to attend Raghu's Wedding. While he got hitched toShridevi, we also had the chance to see some breathtaking places and temples.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Happy belated Women's Day!!

“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity... 
If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior... 
If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with women...”
                                                                                                                   - Mahatma Gandhi

A very strong and sensitive message by a great thought leader, thinking ahead of his time. While I am no Mahatma Gandhi, I do believe in what he said and have been blessed to witness several such women who have been an inspiration to me, and to many others around me. And these are just a few drops in the ocean. There are several others out there whom I have not even met. So of all the great women I have met and have had the privilege to learn from, I will talk about three who really stand out in my memory.

I will begin with my mother, Ivaturi Madhuri Rao. A house maker and a dedicated school teacher, whose “can do” attitude has helped her achieve many a milestone and has inspired me as I grew up. Born in a lower middle class family and brought up in Bihar, she was the fourth among her seven siblings. As was (or rather, is) customary in most traditional conservative Indian families, she was married off just as she began her undergraduate education. She had to give up her education and move across states to live with my father and his parents in Karnataka. However, the urge to learn and progress did not deter her. While extended family did not encourage her, my father encouraged her, and she went back to pursuing her Bachelor’s degree and completed it duly. It helped her self-confidence and she took up teaching as a profession. While she took a break from teaching soon after I was born, but the urge to learn more did not die. A few years later she completed Bachelor in Education (B.Ed) and then a Masters in Arts (M.A.) – all this, by traveling to a different city every week, and still taking care of the household. A small side note, her courage led her to even contest the local body elections to do good for the city that she lived in. While she did not win, what I truly appreciate is her thought and unyielding spirit. Three decades ago, when income levels were low and people around her were not supportive, to have the courage and the persistence to go after one’s dreams was highly inspirational. My mother has not looked back since then, and has been in the teaching profession even today continuing to shape the future of kids wherever she has worked. Her courage, perseverance and commitment are qualities that ignite the fire in me.

In India, the dropout rates for women from higher education are very high. Considering that “career vs. family” is a big topic for debate in many households, I was impressed by all the women who crossed several hurdles to get in to a tier 1 business school. The next is therefore a story of two classmates of mine at B-school who amazed me. One of them, during the admissions process, was pregnant. She was being wheeled in to the labor room, and she clung on to her laptop and typed her application away furiously. While it may sound dramatic, she asked the nurses to hold on a little longer in order to complete her application process and only then did she deliver the child. What really amazed me was her resilience and unwavering focus and determination, despite the situation. How she managed her time in school with an infant daughter with her in school is a chapter for another time. The second classmate, was pregnant when she joined the school. A lot of our classmates wondered how she would cope with the pressures of a highly demanding program despite her personal situation. Some students were unwilling to take her in their study groups fearing she may not contribute. However, she proved all critics wrong. She delivered a baby midway through the course and was back on campus shortly afterwards. Hats off to her determination and will power, she not only contributed to her study groups, she put a lot of others to shame by featuring among the top 1% of the academically excellent students on the campus.

The third, is a story of a person, who inspires me every single day. Meera Girija, my wife, is an amazing woman who has stood like a rock through many situations in life. Girija, was born into a lower middle class family in a small town in Andhra Pradesh. With limited means, her parents were able to provide her a decent education and were intent on getting her married while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in Architecture. She, however, had (and still has) big dreams for herself, and therefore reasoned with her parents. She wanted to pursue a Masters degree in Architecture from Chicago, and start her career journey. When she was presented with that opportunity, with support from immediate and extended family, she was able to buy a one way ticket to Chicago, and had $250 in her pocket. Those who have lived in the US, know that $250 is not enough to cover one’s expenses beyond the first week, or two. However, Girija being herself, took a huge gamble and got on the plane to Chicago. Without any financial aid from the school, Girija had to work odd jobs across coffee shops, gas stations and newspaper stores round the clock to make ends meet and to pay her school fee. She would sometimes be delayed in paying her fee as her odd jobs were not sufficient to keep her afloat. But that did not deter her. If at all, she only came back stronger and harder. Amidst such a demanding schedule, she also had time for her friends. In the end, her hard work and persistence paid back. She not only completed her Masters, but went on to work for some reputed firms thereafter and put those troubled days behind her. I was privileged to witness her resilience, unwavering self-confidence, and an indomitable courage in the face of adversity from close quarters as I was on an assignment those days in Chicago. My admiration for her grew day by day, and these traits of her bowled me over. What began as an acquaintance, turned into love, and finally into a lifelong knot called “marriage”.  We have been married close to seven years now, and till date, I see the same qualities in her and feel blessed. I seek inspiration from her when the chips are down and she complements me in a way, only a wife can.

Through each of these stories, I only see resilience, courage, and a lot of determination. It is sufficient to keep me inspired for a lifetime. And the Mahatma’s words will echo in my ears forever …

Happy Women's Day!

10th Wedding Anniversary - Part 2 - Washington D.C.

As part of our 10th wedding anniversary celebrations, we planned a trip to Washington D.C. and New York. I covered the experience of New Yor...