Like Duck to Water, thats how I have taken to life :). This blog is the saga of love and adventures of a small duck in a large water body called LIFE....

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Monday, January 31, 2011

The ignorant..

Wanted to post one incident from the Vegas trip, but forgot. Anyways this deserves a tweet of its own :).

We were walking through one of Vegas's casinos when we were approached by a man from a beauty shop.

He: "Hey! Are you guys from India?"
We: "Yes."
He: "Cool. Let me ask you one thing. What is the best thing you have for skin problems in India?"

Just as I am about to answer "Sandalwood", Sri replies "Turmeric".

He: "Did you know that it contains artificial components and chemicals?"

We both burst out laughing and didn't even stop to listen to what he had to say further :-D.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What happens in Vegas..

Will end up in this post :-p. I have been wanting to write this post for months now. But these days with my photography experiments going in full josh, the editing of photos takes a lot of time (its a digital era and since we take 100s of photos, editing and deleting repeats and blurred photos is always a good idea). Plus as I have mentioned before, I don't like to upload the same photos multiple times, so had to wait for the single complete upload I do :). The intro over and done with, lets get on with the post, shall we?

Las Vegas and Grand Canyon were one of the final must-see items for me in the US (yeah I'm almost done :-D) and I have been pestering Sri for quite a while regarding this. But Sri, having lived for a while in Phoenix, Arizona before we got married and having seen all of it, wasn't too keen. We finally made a decision to head there in the Thanksgiving weekend of November 2010, since we didn't really have plans of much shopping anyways ;-) :-D. We thought that since it'd be winter, we didn't really have to face the harsh desert summer there. But well, the story turned out to be quite the opposite.

On Thursday, November 25th 2010, we left Lexington at around 6 AM in the morning and caught a flight to Houston, Texas and from there onwards to Las Vegas, Nevada. The trip map was something like this from there onwards:

We reached Vegas (Point A/E) at about noon local time. Our plan was to have lunch there, see Hoover dam and start driving to Grand Canyon that day staying at Williams, Arizona (Point B) for the night. If you enlarge the map, you can see the Colorado river at Boulder city and thats where the Hoover dam is.

The Hoover dam is supposedly the 6th largest dam in the US and one of the most famous ones ;-). It is built across the Colorado river and has the Arizona-Nevada state border inbetween.

Thats the Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Here are Sri and Snugli in front of the dam :).

And here's the state border between Arizona and Nevada :).

Laughing at borders :-D.

I knew there was a sky view of the Hoover dam from somewhere (later found out that it was from the Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge) but we missed the entry point for that thinking that it was only a memorial. Since Hoover dam is only about an hour away from Vegas, we decided to get back to it later and were off on our way to Canyon. Stopped at Williams, AZ for the night - the room there wasn't really very comfy in the beginning with only a slow oil heater for what was a very cold environment (thankfully we did carry coats since we found out what the weather was likely to be before we left Lexington - it was in single digits to freezing temperatures). We knew that the town didn't have many restaurants and so carried some microwavable ready-to-eat food with us.

Next morning we left for Grand Canyon. We had to drive about 1.5 hours from Williams to get there, so when we saw the precipice, we could hardly wait to get down and see it :). This was our first view ;-).

And here's us :).

The Grand Canyon is a very steep canyon basically carved by the Colorado river. The Wikipedia entry says that its 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and over 1 mile deep. The depth was what was fascinating to me. Imagine people travelling around in the olden days - if its dark and you cannot see whats in front you, they certainly didn't have a chance if they were around the canyon. The Canyon can be seen from any side but its south rim is the most visited part - since it has most of the sight-seeing points.

Since I first came to know of the canyon, I have always wanted to hike down the canyon and go to the Native American settlements thats somewhere below (summers are really hot down there and people have died due to the heat, so winter time is better for the trek). But when you have a toddler, any kind of trek/hike is out of the picture :-D. So maybe some other time :).

Another part we did think of visiting was the West rim Grand Canyon sky walk. It is a glass bottom observation deck directly over the edge of the Grand Canyon from which you can actually feel the depth of the canyon. But we decided not to go there mainly mainly due to 3 reasons - the first being there is no proper road to reach there - there's a stretch of 12 mile mud road which wasn't a good idea on a rented car. Second, the tickets are really expensive and thirdly, cameras aren't allowed on the skywalk (actually no objects are allowed, the reason being that if you drop anything on the glass, the glass may get damaged). The third reason was a major no-no for me :-D. Later I didn't even have any regrets about not going since after seeing the canyon from a few view points, it all started to look the same :-p.

One major addition to my photography equipment is the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM lens with Canon hood which is basically a wide angle lens and considered very good for landscape photography. I wanted to fully utilize the same for the trip. Plus another idea I wanted to experiment on is called HDR imaging (High Dynamic Range) which basically translates to taking the same image in different exposures (basically on a tripod to keep it constant) and merging them all together to get the perfect luminance. My plan was to take several images this way and try to achieve a HDR panorama. It was a lot of work - taking about 7 exposures manually of each image, merging them to get the HDR image and then lining up several (about 3-4) HDR images to get the panorama, but I was able to do it :). Learnt a lot about photoshop toning of the pictures and the experience has been very positive overall :).

Here's a HDR image from another viewpoint called the Yavapai point :).

And here's a HDR panorama I created (its literally is made up of 21 images from the camera :-D).

Click on both the above pics to see a slightly enlarged version :).

Here's us at the Yavapai point:

From there, we decided to catch a bus (the Hermits rest route) which would take us to several other view points. We had to wait a bit at a place near to one of the lodges in the Grand Canyon village called the Bright Angel Lodge. The view was great as expected :).

The route from the Bright Angel lodge to Hermits rest is about 7 miles, but takes some time because of the forests and wildlife around. Plus it has snowed a couple of days ago and the roads were slippery, so the buses were being extra careful. Since it was going to take a long time to see everything on the way, we decided to stop at a couple of points where we knew for sure that we could see glimpses of the Colorado river. The first point we stopped at was the Hopi point where I took another HDR panorama (this one consists of 28 images in total). Again click to see a slightly bigger version.

The Colorado river is in the left above the orange coloured platform..

The next point was the Mohave point where you can see the Colorado river 2 places..

As I said earlier, by this time, it all had started to look the same. I mean, maybe I was overlooking the nuances between the view points, but after sometime it wasn't as fascinating as it initially was. I still admire the grand canyon, but the different view points don't really offer different points of view ;-). So we decided to turn back and have lunch. We went into the Bright Angel Lodge's restaurant to have lunch. We had packed a couple of ready-to-eats in the morning because we didn't really hear of good vegetarian food in the Grand Canyon village as such when researched on the internet. And usually such famous places hardly have good food - all vegetarians get is a slice of cheese pizza. But this place actually had a lot of choices for vegetarians (they had different cuisines in the food court, so there were a couple of options to chose from), albeit expensive. They did have a microwave, so we were able to heat up what we took and eat it without too much of a hassle, but all that worry about packing food could have been avoided ;-).

After lunch, I still wanted to visit one more view point called the Desert View which is famous for its historic watchtower built more than 75 years ago which has Native American art and crafts. The view from the tower is pretty good, but again feels a bit same-old :-D. But the view of the tower and the canyon together was good :).

By that time it was already 5 PM and almost time for sunset and I had heard about another view point called Lipan point where the sunset views are pretty good. Since it was our supposedly last view of the canyon, we thought we'd see that too. But when we got there, the sun had already set, but the canyon was certainly looking a bit misty and mysterious :). So here's a last one of the canyon..

And so we said bye to the Grand Canyon. Our plan that day was to drive to Page, Arizona and halt for the night. On the way, after it was dark, I told Sri that I wanted to stop and get some shots of the Milky way if possible, so we did stop at a deserted side-road. I spent about an hour getting most of what I wanted but poor Sri and Snugli had to sit tight in the car (it was brrrrrrrrrrrrrr cold) listening to music for all that time :). I am just putting up one photo here (I have taken about 25 exposures to be stacked, but haven't really edited any of them as an astrophotograph is supposed to be, but am planning to get into learning all about it and implementing techniques soon). Its a larger photo than usual and if you hover your mouse over the photo, you can see where the Andromeda galaxy, the various constellations and clusters are :). So hope you like it..

My back broke drawing all the details on the photo :-p. You can click the photo to see the enlarged version, but no drawn details on that photo, I'm afraid :). I also tried to do some star trails, but the once-in-a-while cars on the road nearby made long exposures impossible. Some other time..

The next day our plan was to visit the Antelope Canyons, which is what Page is famous for. There are 2 canyons - the Lower Antelope Canyon and the Upper Antelope canyon. Both the canyons are managed by the Navajo tribe - the local native American tribe and you need to take a guided tour to see them. Before we talked to the tour company, my idea was that we'll see the lower antelope canyon and then I alone would take up the Upper Antelope canyon photographers' tour (I read on the internet that its about at 11:30 AM) - since Snugli would probably be a hindrance as such. But well, the winter timings were completely different from those on the internet and the photographer's tour at 9:30 AM was already full by the time we asked (at around 8:30 AM).

And so things changed. We found out that the tour for the lower canyon was offered at the entrance of the canyon and there was a normal tour to the Upper Canyon after 1 PM in the noon. We decided that all of us would go on both the tours. We were at the entrance of the Lower canyon by 9 AM, heard that it'll be opened by 9:30 AM and so we waited. The Lower Antelope canyon is literally a hugggggggggge crack in the earth. You have to step into the crack, wiggle down and then climb down to the floor of the canyon. Plus the passages are very narrow and usually steep down. So yeah, this is not a good idea when you have a toddler :-D. Here's how it looks from above the earth, this is not the actual entrance to the canyon though..

Here's the entrance and you can see people getting into it..

And this one shows exactly how deep it is at the entrance itself..

One of the reasons we went to the Antelope canyons was for me to try some photography there. Since we went in winter, the light is a bit less, as you can see from the above picture. So the photography becomes trickier and basically requires longer exposures. Low light photography requires a tripod and having a remote control is a plus (the remote will usually have a click button that'll not vibrate the camera like the one on the camera does - so you can use the remote trigger or use a 2-sec timer so that the camera stops vibrating before the photo is captured). So yeah, while Sri was lugging around Snugli (who naturally had a difficult time climbing down narrow stairs etc), I was lugging around the camera with the remote shutter control and the tripod around the very same stairs. But yeah got a couple of beautiful HDRs which made it all worth. Here are a couple of HDRs:

The sandstone layers were amazing! It was really fun to see the play of light everywhere and even some shapes in the stones (which are considered sacred by the Native tribes). Here's an eagle:

And here's us in the canyon:

The climb up was really really steep. Sri went ahead with Snugli and I still don't know how she managed it. Sri later told me that she was fully enthusiastic and that it wasn't a problem at all. We were totally tired by the time we got back to the car. I repeat, this is not really a good place to visit if you have younger kids (well, unless you are adventurous :-D).

We had time only for lunch and then had to get back to the Upper Canyon tour. The tour in this case, started in the town where we had to climb some all-terrain vehicles - the Upper canyon is off-road and personal vehicles aren't allowed at all. The upper canyon, luckily, is like a cave in a hill with open ceilings, broader passages and flat floor surface. But since the surface has sand, we couldn't really take a stroller for Snugli with us and she, it being afternoon, fell promptly asleep and wouldn't get up no matter how hard we tried. So well, that turned out to be the major difficulty. As Sri had to carry her around (we couldn't obviously leave her in the car), I had to carry the camera, tripod, accessories and a backpack in plus. Poor Sri had a really bad time since I had to stop to get the photos I wanted, but well, we realized that the canyons were simply a mistake with a kid once again.

But oh well, there we were and we did manage to see the entire thing. Here's the entrance to the Upper Antelope Canyon.

There was an elephant shaped rock right inside and I was joking that had this been in India, we'd have a Ganesha temple around it by now :-D.

Again the light play and the colours were amazing - here's a HDR to prove it ;-).

The Upper canyon is most famous for its light beams - in summer since the sun is directly overhead, you have light beams that light up the canyon in a very beautiful way. But again, we went in winter and missed it. Well, good reason for a trip in summer ;-). The canyon opens up at another place since the hill ends and here's us at the "exit".

We had to walk all the way back to the entrance and that was that. Page is also the home for another famous photography place - the Horseshoe bend, where the Colorado river takes a U-turn :). It was pretty near from where we were, but there was about a 3/4 mile to and 3/4mile fro hike involved and we were just too tired for that. Plus we had to get back to Vegas that night, so we simply gave up. Another good reason for another trip ;-).

We reached Vegas by about 8 PM, I think and to watch the city lights as we approached the city was fabulous :). We headed straight to our hotel room at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino. We didn't really do anything that day, simply had dinner at the hotel buffet (the desserts were wonderful, but as for the rest, it was so-so) and retired for the day. This was the view from our room window at night:

Thats the New York New York casino and there is a roller coaster around it which Snugli just loved watching :). The antelope canyon tour took a real bad toll on us, so we hardly did anything the next day till evening - just went to an Indian restaurant for lunch. Evening we went back to the Hoover dam to see the view from the Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Sri and Snugli sat in the car while I climbed up about 3 floors to see the view. Sadly it had already crossed 4:30 PM and the sun had set, but the Hoover dam night lights view was pretty impressive :).

After returning, we went on the Casino rounds at the Vegas strip. The strip is about a 4 mile stretch of land where the major casinos of Las Vegas are all located. The Excalibur is at the south end of the strip, so we started the tour there and caught a tram to see the Mandalay Bay and later the Luxor. The sight of enormous rooms full of slot machines is something else ;-). It all feels so surreal. Plus different casinos have different themes and its all wonderful to see.

From there we went to the MGM Grand which has a white lion exhibit, but sadly that was closed. So we took a bus to the Bellagio in front of which is a fountain show every hour in the evening and every half an hour after about 6 PM in the evening. But it was very windy and extremely cold outside. As long as we were inside the casinos it was fine, but otherwise, man, it was terrible. But we were there to see around right? So literally wrapped ourselves up and saw what needed to be seen. Here's the Bellagio fountain show:

The fountain show was good, but I personally think that the Mysore KRS one is better :-D. From there on, we walked into the Bellagio and here's the view of the street from there..

We went into the Bellagio hoping for a good buffet, but it was really expensive and mainly non-vegetarian. So we moved into the cold again and headed to the Planet Hollywood casino hoping again for foooooooooood :-D. The buffet there was a bit on the expensive side, but Snugli was already sleepy and so we didn't want to run around in the cold looking for something else. Again there were a lot of cuisines and lot of options, but most cuisines, I am sad to say, are pretty bland for people like us who are used to spices and heat in our food. I did manage to devour the desserts though :-D. And then we caught a bus back to our hotel and ended the day :).

The next morning our plan was to head to Death Valley. When we actually planned the trip, we didn't really have a plan to go there. But once we went to Vegas and Sri mentioned hearing about it, I thought that it'd be a good idea. I mean, there's not much to do in Vegas unless you have millions to throw away ;-) :-D. And it'd be good to cover something Sri hadn't seen :). So well, we decided to go and finish it in about an afternoon. Death valley is a desert situated actually in California, but only about 2 hours drive from Vegas. It has sand dunes and its especially famous for Badwater, which is the lowest elevation in North America - which is 282 feet below sea level.

It was a beautiful drive to the valley, but as you get to the valley, you start to see the bare hills and barely there vegetation. Death valley is also famous for the highest temperature in the western hemisphere - so summers are an absolute torture (the temperatures are so high that its literally hot as hell and hence the name). The winters are the best time to visit - it was actually lot warmer than Vegas and pleasant :). We got to the Badwater basin by about 10 AM.

The Badwater basin is so named because its home to a small pool of water which is completely salty and undrinkable :-D. Supposedly the whole valley had the ocean here and due to the continental movement, the seas got drained to where they are today. But the salt remained. And when the basin fills up some of the salt dissolves and when the heat evaporates all the water, the salt is deposited as crystals and pushed into hexagonal honeycomb shapes. Here's the walk to the salt deposits..

The basin has what seems like miles and miles of the hexagonal deposits..

Here's us at the deposits :).

I like Snugli the Ninja :-D. Well, now that we have a compact Canon point and shoot camera, whenever Snugli sees it, she insists of taking a photo and here it is..

God, I never knew a 3 year old can take a photo like this. One part of me is again upset that she's growing up so fast and another part of me is really happy to have this photo with Sri (its been a long time since we have been able to take a photo of just the two of us ;-) :-D). Oh well, the good part is better :-D.

I really wanted to see the dunes because I have never seen sand dunes till now. But we found out at Badwater that the dunes would be another 3 hours to and fro drive which didn't make sense since we had to get back. So much to my disappointment, we canceled that part and headed back. But something else happened to make us really really late getting there. Sri has been wanting to make some changes to his bank account and sadly, the bank has no branches near Lexington and "near" means in all of the neighbouring states :-p. We found a branch in a small town on the way back to Vegas and stopped to the get the work done. Lets just say the small work took a long long long long time :-p. There were more of long unwanted conversations about everything including Snugli rather than the work that was needed to be done :-p. Well, small towns, what can you do about them?

We finally got back to Vegas hoping that we wouldn't miss the MGM Grand lion exhibit and thankfully we didn't. They have the white lions in a glass enclosure and Snugli really enjoyed seeing them. We next went to the Flamingos casino which has a free Flamingo and fish exhibit for kids. It was a bit dark and the Flamingos were all hiding their faces, but Snugli really loved them, the ducks and the fishes around. Next we went to the Mirage where they have a volcano fountain show in front and that was a ton of fun too..

It was a mixture of water and fire show and a good one at that :).

From there, we went to the Stratosphere casino which is actually a tall tower and has a view of the entire Las Vegas strip at the top. But once we went up, the view wasn't that good and it just wasn't as impressive as I had imagined it to be :-p.

You can see the strip between Snugli and the wall and as I said, its not a very good sight :-\. We got down and went to the Riviera casino which had an Indian fast food place :). Loved the food there - simple and tasty, I felt that was the best of the lot we had tried. Sometimes simple Indian food beats the most expensive buffet and ain't that the truth :-\. And to add there weren't any desserts, none at all ;-).

The next day we had to catch our flight back and just before we left the hotel we took this snap at our hotel room with the window view :).

And that was it, caught a flight back to Houston and then to Lexington and reached home thanks to a delayed flight only at 12 midnight :-p.

What about gambling you ask? We weren't really goody-two-shoes when it came to that. One night, we sat at the slots with a sleeping Snugli on the stroller and were told that children weren't allowed at the gambling floor at all unless simply passing through. So well, we took turns, I blew some money one night and the next night Sri did. We did go a bit beyond our budget for the same and never won anything (I guess sensible people like us rarely do :-D). But I can understand why people are so addicted to gambling - its like you keep hoping to win the next one and play and play and guess what, nothing comes back ;-). It was a lot of fun anyways - though a bit of a guilty fun :-D.

So another trip done and 40 photos on this post :-D, don't even know where we would want to go next. I do want to go to Alaska sometime, maybe Hawaii and want to take on a cruise sometime to the Caribbean, but none of them are I-have-to-see-this kind of a trip. I would prefer to go to Europe instead :-D.

Anyways, just wanted to add that for more HDR images and panoramas of Grand Canyon, and various images of Antelope Canyon, the Las Vegas Casinos and the Death Valley, visit my facebook page - Through Deepthi's eyes photography :).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The people..

I am sometimes extremely surprised about some people's naiveté. I am not talking about children here, but about people who are generally older than me lacking in what according to me is basic knowledge or awareness, blindly following one thing or another without thought. Or maybe I'm the one thats cynical.

And then there are others who are so full of hypocrisy that it makes me dumb (something that can actually shut me up :-D). When each of your actions is miles and miles further from the words that come out of your mouth, then how can I be sure of what you are all about? Or maybe I'm the one thats naive ;-).

And I think to myself..
It takes all sorts to make this world..
It takes all sorts to make this world..
Repeat 10 times :-D.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I did not know that about actors..

The next post in my "I did not know that" series.

With internet so easily accessible these days, I have a habit (don't know whether its bad or good) of surfing IMDB whenever I watch a movie. I am a self-confessed over-thinking, over-analyzing person, so whenever I see a movie I like to find out what other people think of it, whether their views match mine etc. But this advantage I have of finding out more information about the movies/actors I have really liked has brought out quite a few surprises for me :).

For example, when I watched "The Matrix" for the first time, I recognized the actor who played "Agent Smith" immediately - I had seen him as the character "Douglas Jardine" in a cricket-based mini series called "Bodyline" and really admired his work in it. But I didn't know his name, at all. Even after 2 other sequels of matrix (which I watched in India before coming here) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I never even found out his name, the poor guy. Some months ago, Darsh and I were discussing the voices we love in English cinema (For eg, Morgan Freeman). I said I loved Alan Rickman's voice (the man who plays Snape in the Harry Potter series) and Darsh was talking about Hugo Weaving (who played a voice character in "V for Vendetta", I haven't watched that one btw). I literally asked him "Who the heck is Hugo Weaving?" and he was baffled to say the least. He was like "You say you love Douglas Jardine and Agent Smith and you don't know who Hugo Weaving is??". I was stunned to learn the name behind some of my most beloved characters, hehehee :).

This was not the first time that such a thing happened to me. The 2nd example is when I watched "The Sound of Music", I knew the actress was Julie Andrews, but didn't know the name of the actor who played Captain Von Trapp. I didn't really bother finding out then or remember it whenever I watched the movie on TV. About 2 years back, when I watched "Inside man" (a brilliant movie btw, if you haven't watched it yet) and was "researching" it on the internet, I ran across the character - Arthur case who was played by Christopher Plummer and didn't even recognize the actor who actually played Captain Von Trapp all those years ago! Imagine my surprise when I learned that he has been in many of my other favourite movies :).

The 3rd instance happened just a couple of days ago. I watched a crappy movie called "Dracula 2000" a long time ago on cable when I was still in India. Seeing how attractive the actor who played Dracula was, I was telling my friends that if this is how the real Dracula looks like, then I wouldn't really mind being bitten by him :-D. My friends can vouch for that, hehehee :))). As usual, never found out his name. A couple of days ago, I had just seen a movie of Gerard Butler, who, I have to confess, I really find quite attractive and was looking at his profile in IMDB. I was shocked to find out that he played the Dracula in the movie I watched, but it did bring a huggggggggge grin on my face :). Looks like my tastes haven't changed one bit :-D. Further, in that movie, Christopher Plummer also played one of the main characters!

To be honest, I don't mind such discoveries. Its nice to get these kind of surprises once in a while and think about, how come I never bothered finding out this before :). Which is the reason I started the series anyways ;-).

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The new year..

2010, for us, as you very well know, has had its ups and downs, happy times and not-so-happy ones, but until we know what bitter is, how will we learn to appreciate the other "good" flavours of life, right?

Its 1/1/11!! Looking forward to what 2011 has hidden under its wings :).

Wish you all a very happy and a prosperous new year from all of us..