Our trip started quite late, so we decided to first take a detour to Frankfurt with the intention to arrive at Eltz the next day. In hindsight, it was the right decision as its a rare treat to witness a city as big as Frankfurt be entirely calm and devoid of any traffic – vehicular or pedestrian. It reminded me of a trip I made to Hamburg during Christmas a few years ago
After a leisurely all-you-can-eat breakfast the next morning, we started driving. And within the hour, this sight was bearing down us.
Few hours of later, we began our return journey through the spectacular countryside of Germany. The rolling hills and sprawling greens had the classic WindowsXP look.
Soon we were passing through several towns. The decision to stick to secondary and tertiary roads as much as possible, did not disapoint us.
And just like that we were out on the highway and on our way home.
Desert plains and scorching sun; Endless hills and reddish glum; Dried up shrubs and flowing sand; Hundreds of miles and no waters in sight. Death Valley almost lives up to its name, and it ultimately misses on expressing the incredible beauty that’s hidden behind the veils of prejudice set by itself.
For almost half a decade, I have been yearning to visit Death Valley, ever since somebody that I used to know planted that idea. It now feels like life has come a full circle. The visit through the valley was part of a much larger road trip beginning in San Francisco, through Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, Las Vegas and ultimately culminating at the Grand Canyon.
Following a visit to Sequoia National Park, I made a stopover at in a little town called Inyokern in California. The motel owner suggested two routes towards Death Valley, one through the well maintained Hw-395 and another more dangerous route via Hw-178. Of course, I ended up taking the later. It was desolated, deserted and deathly and I loved it.
At the first sign of gas station, I made a pitstop for refuelling. There was not going to be any more of such stops for the next several hundreds of miles.
Some ice cream to beat the heat.
I stared at the road, and the road stared back at me. How the distance passed and the time flew was lost on me. I think my mind was numb and lost in the beauty that was racing against me.
Apocalyptically appearing dead trees marked the approach towards the great Mesquite Sand Dunes.
No sonner than I reached, I took off hiking into the sand dunes, with camera gear under the blazing sun. After a never ending trek through the valleys of the dunes and over the sand tops, I waited to take some pictures
A few unsettling moments of Deja Vu later, I concluded that perhaps this is what Arrakis looks like.
On the road again
Gazing at the sprawling lands with sparsely spaced shrubs and lit under blue-yellow sky, from hill-top view points was amazing.
Artist’s Palette, a natural and colourful hill formation, resulting due to the occurrence of various mineral deposits in the valley. I was quite amused to hear fellow tourists tout amongst themselves that it was due to elements such as mercury.
Watching two travellers camp up with portable chairs was envied by many including me.
As the sun began setting, I began making my way out
Not before stopping near Badwater Basin to make long exposures and some classic desert shots
The notion of Scotland, only ever consisted of spectacular moss-covered mountains filled with stimulating smells of raw nature, scintillating sights of sunrises & sunsets, the sounds of silence and the sights from Lord of the rings in my mind. Here are some pictures from a 4 day, 800 mile road trip, through the highlands and mountains which reaffirmed that notion.
I landed in Edinburgh and went straight out to the car rental place and drove off into the highlands. The final destination I had in mind was Neist Point on the west of Isle of Skye.
From Edinburgh, I drove until I found the castle Eilean Donan.
An american colleague mentioned about a small town of Applecross, which was only reachable via a high mountain pass. He described his ascent up the steep roads as ‘shitting my pants all the way while driving on the wrong side of the road’.
Sold, I was now on my way to see it for myself. But the weather turned sour, and the way up was devoid of any views to match up with expletives I had heard.
I had the good fortune of running into a Scottish gentleman, who happenstance was on vacation away from the Netherlands, preparing to light up a joint – who reassured me that I could indeed camp for free if owners were nowhere to be found to accept my payment. I obliged.
The next day at dawn, I began circling the peninsula to take the longer route around the mountain towards Skye.
Fair wind compelled me to get the drone out to attempt some aerial shots.
Somewhere along the way, I felt that I wanted to try taking that mountain pass again; No sooner that thought entered my brain, I found myself turning around for round two.
And after a frustrating drive uphill I experienced a replay of the expletives my colleague shared a few weeks earlier. I was not disappointed.
The view warranted the long-drive ritual of making some noodles to slurp on while sighing to the sights.
At the end of the thrilling descent was the road towards Skye, teeming with some wildlife a.k.a sheep.
A detour plan that formed in my head while I casually gazed at the grazing sheep, brought me to to the fishing village of Elgol.
That evening I met some local fishermen who agreed to take me on their day-long trip to the sea on their boats to catch some sea delicacies. Unfortunately the next day, the weather turned sour to the extent that the entire village called off fishing for next few days. I settled for a tourist boat ride to the nearby loch.
Dawn greeted me with sights of lazy yet curious farm animals, making me wonder, have they ever seen a brown person?.
Car camping in the cold left me feeling stiff. Leisurely making of fried eggs and tea for breakfast to these views, fixed me.
The last leg of the trip began, which brought me to the place I had been dreaming for a long time – Neist Point.
Tea is another word for it, commonly used in the western world. To most, it is a hot beverage. I amongst many would describe it as a feeling. It never ceases to make everything – the look, the feel and the passage of time – ethereal. It shifts the state of life from the monotony of cell-phone and the instant messaging riddled world to that of just being – still and present.
On a rainy Sunday morning, my friend made some chai for us. We were all sitting by the window, sipping chai, watching the world go by. It was a surreal feeling.
When the prospect of exploring the Himalayas popped up, I was above and beyond ecstatic. Most I have been around mountains was outside India. There were only a handful of occasions I saw them in India in over two decades. Part of the tradition to explore India every time I visit, following a trip to Agra, a friend and I made impromptu flight reservation to fly from the capital of the country to the capital of the Himalayan kingdom – Leh.
As soon as we landed in Leh, we were left breathless both metaphorically and literally. At 3500m, not only did the lack of oxygen had caught us unawares with altitude sickness but also the cold. Excitement turned into grumpiness. Breathlessness, grumpiness and of course drama enveloped us.
One hotel customer was kind enough to chide us for being unprepared and gave us medicines for altitude sickness. That breathed life into our miserable souls and lifted our spirits up. With that, we hired a taxi and proceeded to explore.
Pretty much everything around Leh is built by the Indian Army. The amount of engineering that had to be done to make life possible there was beyond imagination. Living in the Himalayas is hard. There is no internet, water supply, fresh foods, for weeks or maybe even months during winter (which spans almost the entire year). And yet, somehow human spirit found ways to survive and thrive.
The morning dose of chai at an altitude that exceeds most peaks in the Alps certainly gave me goosebumps.
Pretty much all infrastructure is built and maintained by the Indian BSF (Border security forces). Civilians are allowed to use most of it with an exception to certain roads which restricted to foreigners.
There were several temples that we visited. The peace and tranquillity I observed, momentarily left me wanting to give up life in the urban rat race and live there.
Sitting atop a small peak, Leh Palace was a stunning sight and it had incredible views.
Next stop was the Lamayuru Monastery in Kargil.
The most ubiquitous piece of gadgetry in the Himalayan range turned out to be Satellite TV. The satellite dish antennas were everywhere! In hindsight, it seems obvious now, but I was amused to see them. They were perhaps the only means of connection to the outside world.
Cricket – not surprisingly, was the most popular pastime. I loved seeing kids dressed in monk’s red-orange robes playing the game everywhere, brought a smile to my soul.