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This was my 7th visit to San Francisco area and almost every time, I thought of visiting Muir Woods but couldn’t plan. Thanks Jacek, who planned weekend visit to Muir Woods along with a small hike to Mount Tamalpais. After beautiful drive around Mt Tamalpais and quick hike, we headed towards Muir Woods National Monument. This post shares about our experience, some extremely important tips and what do avoid if you want to make best of your visit.
The most important part is that you have too book parking slot before you come to Muir Woods. Go online, make payment and get a time-slot. You would only be allowed to enter during that time slot. If you don't find parking slot, park your vehicle in surrounding areas and book shuttle. Above photograph shows the shuttle bus which moves between the parking areas and bring you to the Muir Woods National Monument. So don't forget about advanced reservations when you plan for Muir Woods.
Apart from the reservation fees, you need to buy entry ticket worth $10. There are no extra charges for carrying camera inside this beautiful forest with some of the oldest redwood trees in this part of California state in USA. Above photograph shows root of one of the trees and it's age. If I remember it right, the tree was 1000+ years old tree and now sure if it belonged to Muir Woods or somewhere else.
To start with a downer, Phnom Penh night market is bit of a disappointment, especially if you have seen the Siem Reap night market. I saw it once before our visit to Siem Reap, and once after. But except for one aspect of the Phnom Penh Night Market, which I will talk about later, everything else was pretty usual. If you are on a tight schedule, you can choose to give this market a miss.
The market is situated near the Mekong Quay, close to Wat Phnom. Shops here start opening up at aroud 4pm and are open till about 10pm. Inside the market, you will find kiosks and shops selling counterfeit clothes, belts, and bags.
While in San Francisco Bay Area, if you want to witness some of the brilliant views of the bay, San Francisco city and enjoy some of the beautiful hikes, Mount Tamaplais is a brilliant place to plan. This post would take you through our hiking experience to Mount Tamalpais and how we optimized our day in such a way that we could visit the famous Muir Woods National Park as well.
There are plenty of hiking trails on Mount Tamapais and many of them expose you to brilliant views of San Francisco City, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge and various other neighborhoods. Diversity of California state in USA offers lot of such amazing aerial views.
We started our drive from Redwood City at 9am and it took significant time to reach Mount Tamalpais. It's in Marin county of California state in USA. We reached the first parking slot around Mount Tamalpais, we got our parking ticket, which costs $8 and applicable for all the parking slots on the hill till the extreme point on the top where road ends.
1. About you: Tell us about the place, where you were born; your education, and what you do?
Being born in the lap of Nature - Kullu, the Valley of Gods, whatever I am today comes more from learning life lessons from my favourite teachers - the rising mountains, the towering trees, the sprightly rivers than than from the lessons learnt through the traditional education system . I am an undergraduate in Arts from Chandigarh, but my love for Nature led me to participate in 32 NCC Camps. Since 15 years I am a part of Sunshine Adventures - An Ecotourism Company started by my brother Ankit Sood. I feel fortunate to be in a career that gives me ample opportunities to put the learning I value the most into action.
2. How did you get into tourism related activities and what was your vision when you started ?
As mentioned earlier, being with Nature has always been my passion and after joining Sunshine Adventures I realized how we could realize our vision to make a difference to lives of locals through ecotourism opportunities. We have worked in locations as remote as Leh or Spiti way back in 1996 to Tholung in Sikkim and Tirthan Valley, Kullu. Each of these places aren't the run of the mill tourist destinations. Each one is an unexplored paradise in itself.The fact that Sunshine Adventures is able to help the locals earn a sustainable livelihood without losing focus on environment conservation supported by active community participation and responsible tourism, makes this career all the more fulfilling.
3. What is your mantra to ecotourism & what would you like others to follow?
Ecotourism is perhaps the most over used word in the travel industry. A trek in the Himalayas is not ecotourism unless it supports conservation of the environment or welfare of the locals of that region.
I personally believe that tourism that helps in strengthening the fragile ecosystem rather than weakening it, adds value to the people of that region and helps in preserving the rich culture therein, can be termed as ecotourism in its true sense.
During my recent trip to San Francisco, one of my friends planned weekend hike in Sunol Regional Wilderness which is close to Fremont city of Bay area. I had not heard about Sunol hike earlier although I visited Fremont and surrounding areas many times. This time when I actually visited it, I found it a brilliant place nature lovers, hikers and people who would like to do something interesting over the weekends. This post shares more about the Sunol hiking experience, what to expect when you plan for this hike.
Phone signals are not great around these hikes in San Francisco Bay area. That may sound unexpected because you expect everything everywhere in USA, but that's not the case. So if you plan to reach such places by Uber or Lyft, it would be hard to plan. Because while coming back you may not even have signal and certainly these places are away from any public transportation. Jacek had hired a car and he drove us to Sunol.
We were 3 and started from Redwood City / San Carlos at around 9am and reached Sunol base in 1 hour approximately. It was approximately 26 miles distance.
Sunol regional wilderness is a park in Alameda county in eastern San Francisco Bay area, North California. This is pretty close to Fremont. It’s approximately 28 square kilometers and 6800+ acres. The park is closed during June through October, so be informed if you are planning any hike in bay area. In fact, it’s always recommended to check online about the opening time on the day you are planning the hike and the situation of Parking.
Like the Pub Street and the Night Market are the most happening places in Siem Reap, the Mekong Quay is the most happening place in Phnom Penh. Mekong is a huge river and I guess it is because of this that it is almost always very windy in the evening.
Also, some of the most impressive buildings of Phnom Penh, the Royal Palace, Independence Memorial, Wat Phnom, and Wat Ounalom, are very close to the Quayside. You can walk everywhere.
All of these buildings have interesting contours and make the skyline of Phnom Penh really interesting. The colours add to the vibrance of the entire city.
The road next to the quay is extremely busy. The photograph above showcases only a fraction of the traffic. However, absence of honking is remarkable and that is why one is still able to sit on the quay and enjoy the view.
You see all kinds of interesting people on the quay. Here you see two monks, of different age groups, in deep discussion. The strange thing about Monks is that you see them with the unlikeliest of accessories. Sometimes you see them with a stoup, sometimes with an iPhone. The older monk here seems to be carrying a leather bag.
You also find people playing games, such as sey (known as Jianzi in China) and football on the pavement at the quayside. Sey is particularly interesting to watch. The agility with which most people manage to keep the shuttlecock up using their feet is incredible. Upon doing some research, I cam across an indication that the game was once also prevalent in India, before badminton became the rage. At that time it was known as Poona.
Now here's a monk enjoying solitude, probably listening to music, with a book by his side. I love the colors of the monks' clothes. Various shades of orange, red, deep pinks, yellows, and browns.
Though the Mekong is huge in this part of the country, it is a comparatively serene river. You find several cruise boats floating around, as well as some tiny fishing boats. In fact there were some people fishing on the bank too. Most of them are excellent swimmers. One would dive and stay beneath the water for what seemed like ages. I was almost worried.
Lined along the quay are the flags of all the countries that have embassies in Cambodia. India is one of them, and here we are being silly beneath the Indian Tricolor. To be honest, when I was alone in Phnom Penh, I did get a bit emotional about this flag. I used to sit beneath it and enjoy the cool evening breeze.
Here are some more monks. I love the serene smiles in this photograph. They light up the entire canvas. I am very curious about what monks do when they are not praying. What do they talk about? What is their lifestyle like? And so on.
Now this is not a common scene on the quayside. In fact during our stay in Cambodia, this was the only time we came across PDA. No one stopped and stared at them. There was no ogling. Cambodians are a decent bunch of people, but there seem to be unwritten rules about this kind of expression of love. You will not witness Cambodians indulge in it, but they mostly let other people be.
In the meanwhile, sky turned up the drama by a few notches and turned various shades of red, yellow, orange. Just like the monks' clothes. This was the case every day. Different pictures were painted, different canvases created with nothing but the skyline, clouds, and a little sunshine.
You will find monks of various ethnicity in Cambodia. However, I have included this picture for more reasons than the monks. The fairy lights you can see wrapped around the trees in the background are a standard fixture in Cambodia. The markets, the shops, the buildings, the quayside, are all done up with fairy lights of different colors.
To spice up the scene a little more, there are the jovial cycle-rickshaw and tuk-tuk drivers. They are some of the liveliest people on the streets. They are friendly and helpful, despite being inclined to overcharge you for every ride. Bargain hard with them.
At night the cruise ships come out and you can hear their music from a distance. You can see people dining, dancing, or just sitting an chatting. Some cruises seem quieter. If you happen to take one, make sure all the boxes of your choice are checked in the deal.
We did not choose to go on the cruise. We decided to sit on the quay and enjoy the lovely lights these ships cast on the dark water. Along with the lights from the buildings across the river, these lights create magic.
The Mekong Quayside in Phnom Penh is where you can get to know the city, its customs and its people. If your itinerary allows, don't set any time limits for your trip to the quay. This is a great place to sit and observe life as it goes by.
This has been a continuous debate in my mind and recently when I was interacting with some of the photographers in Vizag, one of the comments was also studying rules of photography and try to apply them. There are lot such standard theories which have been given by masters and then carried forward by others. And as this information if given in a chain, these messages/tips start loosing the real context. Even if it doesn't happen, everybody would be clicking similar set of photographs and then from where the innovation in the space of photography would happen. In recent times, innovation is mainly happening in presentation of photography work in comparison to how to click better photograph by every passing day. Even when I say all this, these are my opinions and as an artist, it's your choice to build your own style and attach your own rules or definitions to the way you want to carry photography in your life.
While visiting Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh state of India, I visited this place called Borra caves. During this visit I tried a local dish called bamboo chicken. This was first time when I heard of any such dish. There were plenty of small shop setups where local people were cooking chicken in bamboo pieces.
As we went closer to the caves we saw, Lot of folks were putting blocks of bamboo on fire. As we observed closely, all those bamboo blocks were filled with marinated chicken pieces and then both the sides of bamboo were a specific leaf which is easily available in the forest.
This is such a brilliant way to cook Chicken and that too without oil. Just put the marinated chicken in bamboo shoots and put these shoots on fire. Thereon experts know when to take these shoots out from the fireplace and how many times one needs to rotate the shoot, so that chicken is properly cooked.
Few days back I wrote a blog-post about Air India direct flights to US and why I didn't like this flight. But all these things are subjective and we can't categorize these flights in 2 buckets of 'Good' or 'Bad'. It may depend upon the priorities. This post is more about who should chose which flight and why. We would also love to hear back your experiences with Air India, Emirates and other flights to US.
Let's talk about factors which would make you chose Air India -
1. No stopover, which means no hassles of de-boarding & boarding again.
2. Save Time - You can save 5-6 hrs.
3. Indian Food - I don't think I need to explain it :).
With this, you need to be aware that don't have high expectations in terms of service quality and your entertainment system may not work for 16 hrs of flight.
Emirates can be preferred for following reasons -
1. In flight experience is superb. Brilliant service and variety of snacks, food & drinks. Simpler things like wet towels after reasonable interval makes the experience much better, while Air India ignore even the main service elements like showing up when a passenger presses the button to call crew member.
2. Brilliant food options and quality of meals served.
3. Unlimited drinks (if that matters to you)
4. Extremely good services in comparison to Air India.
I have also used All Nippon Airways and found it pretty good, although food can be an issue for vegetarians. You get added advantage that it breaks the journey in almost 2 equal flights in terms of time. Hopefully I will be able to share about Etihad Airways soon and I personally don't prefer Lufthansa because of the attitude of airlines towards Asians. I have heard a lot of horror stories about racism issues with Lufthansa.
Emirates is much safer option if you are planning to fly and not sure which flight to chose.
This post shares about how quickly I got Trasit visa in Kuala Lumpur for free. While I was flying to Phnom Penh from Delhi via Kuala Lumpur, I missed my connecting flight (Malindo Airways). At that point, Airlines people told me to spend a day in a hotel on the airport and then take next morning flight. That was utter stupidity & the support from the airline staff was extremely bad. I am wondering if I should use the word ’support’ in same sentence where I am talking about Malindo Airways. Anyways, that’s not the thing I want to share in this post but a very interesting experience which can be very helpful for folks who have USA visa.
After wasting some time on Malindo Airlines desk, I moved to immigration desk to figure out what’s the process to get Visa for going out to explore Kuala Lumpur City and how much it would cost to me.
As I reached the counter the gentleman manning the immigration counter asked for my Visa and when he noticed US visa in my passport, he said you can get transit visa for free. I asked again, would be free and what’s the process? Do I need to fill some sort of form or share documents etc. He said - ’No’. Just give me your boarding pass & the passport. He scanned both & stamped my passport.
This was super happy moment for me after some useless discussions with Malindo Airlines staff. That was the moment when I started thinking about how do I go to the city and what all I want to explore in Kuala Lumpur. More details can be found here.
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