Opaekaa and Wailua Waterfalls in Kauai

If waterfalls are your thing, you would have a great time in Hawaii! In Kailua itself, we saw a couple of them – Opaekaa and the more popular Wailua falls, both easily accessible (just off the road with no hiking required).

Opaekaa being close to our hotel, we first went to see it in the morning. You just have to turn up Kuamoo Road (580) from highway 56, and the falls are a few steps from the parking lot (on the right-hand side).opaekaa fallsIf you go across the road, you are treated to the majestic views of the Wailua River Valley. We saw a few people Kayaking out there.wailua river valley.jpgbest views in hawaii.jpgYou wouldn’t need more than 15 minutes to cover these falls from the parking area. So, we headed to the more popular Wailua Falls (double-tiered falls), which were about 20-minute drive from this location. Just head north from Lihue on Highway 56 and take a left on Maalo Road in Hanamaulu. The falls are at the dead-end.
wailua falls.jpgwaterfalls in hawaiiI especially loved the mist created off of the falls. We’ve had times when the mist hit us in the face at a couple of places on our earlier trips – and the feeling was just enthralling.mist from waterfallIf you are running short of time, try to cover the Wailua Falls at least…they are one of the best attractions in Kauai.

America’s Best Beach – Poipu Beach, Kauai

The most popular beach on the South Shore of Kauai island of Hawaii is also the America’s Best Beach (rated by the Travel Channel) – Poipu Beach. It is fronted by a park by the same name and a few resorts.

After we were done seeing the Na Pali Coast from high above earlier in the day, we made our way back to the hotel about an hour away (we were living close to the airport with Kauai Shores Hotel). This beach was on the way, so we quickly took the exit for the beach and thought of spending half-hour or so we had. The very next day we spent half-a-day there (after our boat trip for Na Pali Coast). I am combining our experience from both days here.kauai beach resortbest beach americapoipu beach park.jpgThe beach is made up of golden sand and is a hot-spot for snorkelling, swimming, and surfing. If you have enough time, you should picnic there. We could see some people arriving during Sunset. Even so, it felt so relaxing out there with hardly any crowd.

Since it rains in Hawaii quite often early or late in the year, the clouds make for dramatic views most of the time. In my opinion, the twilight time should not be missed on any beach in Hawaii!sunset in hawaiiThe second day I and Saru had plenty of time to enjoy walking and playing in the water. At one time, I even spotted a seal…it actually made its way onto the sand and was greeted by a lot of kids. It spent some time there before venturing back into the water with a few turns on its back. best sunset view.jpgkauai top attractions.jpgIf you are looking to stay in Kauai and do not mind staying a bit away from the airport, the resorts around this beach would make for a great choice!

If I have to choose my best Sunset experience so far, this would be it. Our entire Hawaii trip was full of awe-inspiring views…we hope we get to make another trip to this heavenly state of the US.

Our best stay yet: Kauai Shores Hotel

I am quite fond of beaches, but most of our stays to date have been anything but on the beach.

When we looked up for hotels in Kauai, we came across the highly-rated Kauai Shores hotel – situated in a small town called Kappa and just about 6 miles from Lihue Airport. Its restaurant and bar is right on the beach (they call it Lava Lava Beach Club), so was expensive even with booking about 3 months in advance – at USD200 per night. But we are not budget travellers as such!kauai shores hotelOur check-in was smooth and we were given a room not far from the beach (in the opposite building to the reception). They have a valet parking facility right outside their reception area; they also bring over the car in a matter of minutes in the morning. The room, I must say, was one of the best we have stayed in so far – quite vibrant with shades of green, white, and others hues that go on beach towels. They also had a couple of chairs outside in a small balcony.beach hotel kauaibeach access hotel hawaii.jpglava lava beach clubI went to their beach each of the 3 nights and mornings we were there. It felt as if nothing else in the world should matter – I just wanted to stay there forever!best kauai hotelmorning in hawaiiEvery morning is different, and there isn’t a better way than to experience it at a beach. Being their private beach, there was not much crowd either – the evenings can be noisy though, as the club might have some event going on.sunrise in hawaiisunrise at the beach.jpgIf I were to rate the hotel, I would go with 4.5 stars. If you look over the Internet, they average 4.2 from thousands of ratings.

*This is not a sponsored post.

The first look of Nā Pali Coast, Kauai

As we made our way further up from the Waimea Canyon lookout, we were soon greeted by the best attraction I have seen till date – Na Pali Coast! We had entered the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, known for its unparalleled beauty – rugged, deep, and narrow valleys, numerous waterfalls cutting across the steep slopes, clouds making their way through these landscapes often, and views of the stunningly blue water. The towering cliffs rise as high as 4,000 ft above the Pacific Ocean.

We were at the most famous and photographed lookout of the valley – Pu’u O Kila Lookout. The views were just jaw-dropping!napali coast kauaiThe lookout gives a glimpse into the heart of the Kalalau Valley. The valley and the coast as such served as the backdrop of numerous films, including the Jurassic Park. You can even get to the beach and into the valley by following an 11-mile grueling trail (mind you, it is not for everybody).

You will more-often-than-not see clouds floating around…we waited an hour or so for them to pass by for a clear view the second time.best view of napali coast.jpgSome people could even see whales from the lookout – the width of the valley at the lookout is at its maximum at two miles. Looking at the whole setting, one can easily make out why it is one of the greatest sights in all of Hawaii!best attraction in hawaiiWe had a boat tour reserved for the coast the very next day, so just being able to see what we could look forward to created so much excitement in us.


  1. How to reach the lookout – Since the only way to reach there is by car, the GPS should pick up the name of the lookout.
  2. You can also turn right on Waimea Canyon Road after Mile Marker 23. The lookout is near the end of the road at Marker 19.
  3. Just a mile before this lookout, you will see another lookout at marker 18 – Kalalau. You should stop there as well.
  4. There is enough (free) parking at the lookouts, and restrooms too.


The Grand Canyon of Hawaii – Waimea Canyon

Have you ever heard of Grand Canyon in Hawaii? Well, we hadn’t too. The only one we knew of was the one in Arizona that we had visited a few years back.

While doing research for the Kauai leg of our Hawaii trip, we encountered a place loosely called the Grand Canyon of Hawaii (formally referred to as the Waimea Canyon). Unfortunately, it was not even mentioned as an attraction, let alone as a must-visit. However, we have a knack for spotting lesser-known but spellbinding places. Such was Waimea Canyon!

After landing at Lihue Airport on the second island Kauai of our trip, we picked up our rental car from Alamo. It was about noon and we were so hungry for pizza that we hadn’t had (yet) as we would have liked in Hawaii. As our favorite Pizza Hut was on our way to the first attraction, we couldn’t have been happier.

The scenery along the way so attractive…the cloudy weather surely added to the experience.nature in hawaiikauai attractionAs we were about the reach Waimea Canyon, an hour away from the airport, I could see the landscapes that resembled the famous Grand Canyon. I thought this was actually a part of that, maybe just separated by miles. I started stopping our car quite often, wondering if this was what the canon was all about.best natural photographThe road was zig-zag with sharp turns and a steep slope at times – exactly what I love on long drives! There was hardly any traffic after we had taken an exit for the canyon off the main road (around half-way through). No wonder, people don’t even know about this place!

As soon as we reached the main spot overlooking the canon, our happiness knew no bounds. Just imagine looking at the Grand Canyon all over again, with much more greenery and natural waterfalls in the view! best of hawaiiwaimean canyonThere were many clouds in the view when we reached there, but cleared up while we spent about an hour just at this stop. The crowd must not have been more than 20 folks at any time we were there, and one onlooker pointed at a wild sheep deep down in the canyon. We saw that breed quite close later on during our Hawaii trip.grand canyon in kauaiOur main attraction (that Kauai is famous for) was NaPali Coast, and its Pu’u O Kila lookout was just about 5 miles from the Waimea lookout. So, we were actually covering one main attraction and having a glimpse of an even major one on that day. But that day was primarily for Waimea, so we took our time and saw Waimea from every possible stop that we could make in that 5-mile stretch also.

Some stops are indeed worthy of a taking a pause and admiring for as long as you can. My suggestion has always been to hit the brakes even if you see just a couple of people at what seems like a stop!natural waterfalls in hawaii

*There is an ample parking space (and washrooms) at the Waimea lookout and it is free.

**If you are stopping on the road at non-designated stops, make sure you take precaution as the road is narrow and it is often rainy or cloudy there.

My love-affair with Airports and Flights

As I wrap-up posting on the attractions we primarily visited in Oahu, I want to mention about my love for Airports and Flights. The reason being – we had booked short-haul flights to hop across the four islands we visited in Hawaii.

I love reaching early at the airports. In fact, there was a time long back when I used to take early morning flights from Bangalore to Delhi to visit my family, and I used to reach Bangalore airport the previous evening itself. I don’t remember sleeping on any of those nights…I would just watch the departure statuses of flights to some of my favorite destinations and imagine flying there. I know I might not be able to see all those places in this life (there are just too many!), but I so wish to.

There is a different feeling when it comes to being at the airports – just look at all those happy places going to the places I love! Sometimes, I enjoy the shops and have even bought some souvenirs. Some airports have vantage points where you can get a close-up view of the aircraft – that adds to my excitement.Coming back to Hawaii – After spending a couple of days in Oahu, we took a morning flight from its airport to our next Island, Kauai. It was just about a 40-minute-run, but the views were so amazing. Btw, Hawaiian gives you a delicious juice to enjoy – so it’s not exactly a no-frills airline 🙂 hawaiian airlinesin-flight hospitality.jpgThe other airline we took once (from third to the fourth island) was Mokulele. While they don’t serve anything, they run Piston planes, which was so exciting to be on. The co-pilot himself greeted us. Moreover, I was sitting right besides the pilot/co-pilot…with just a small wooden partition between us. See for yourself…mokulele airlinesflight panelWe even got to see the entire Diamond Head rim (remember my post on it?) as our aircraft passed over Honolulu. You can’t even imagine how amazing the Hawaiian landscapes look from above.honolulu airporthawaii from planehawaii from aboveThere are too many breathtaking pictures to put up all here, so I normally post them on my Instagram account over the course of time.

The highly-rated Hanauma Bay State Park

Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular attractions of Honolulu. “Hana” is the Hawaiian word for “Bay” and “Uma” refers to the curves of the indigenous canoes. If you love marine life and coral reef, it is the best place to snorkel on the island of Oahu. Moreover, its beach was voted as the best in the United States in 2016!hanauma bay honoluluWe’ve been to countless beaches across countries and seeing Hanauma Bay from above didn’t really excite us that much to spend on the entry fees for it (read notes), so we just loitered around and gave it a miss. I made sure to capture it from the top, though.natural attractions hawaiibest of hawaiisnorkeling in oahu hawaii.jpgNotes:

  1. Park is open every day except Tuesday from 6am to 6pm. The charge for parking is flat at $1.
  2. There is a fee to enter the bay – $7.50 and free for those under 12 yrs.
  3. The entry fee does not include the snorkel fee, which is $20 for standard snorkel set.
  4. If you are staying at one of the hotels at the Waikiki, you can reserve the shuttle to Hanauma Bay at $2.5 per way and it takes about 45 minutes.
  5. For more info, visit their site here.

Nightlife at the Waikiki – the best one can ask for!

I become a fan of visiting the core attraction of any place at night after we had a great time in Miami a few years back. That’s when such places get the most footprints and seem to come alive!

Being close to the Waikiki Beach allowed us the luxury of visiting it any time of the day. Apart from covering it during the day-time (previous post), we visited it a couple of times during the night as well. It was raining on one of the evenings, so the place didn’t look like what it is known for; but the other night, it surely was!waikiki beachshopping in honoluluThe center of attraction is the Royal Hawaiian Center, a 310,000 square feet shopping area, making it one of the largest shopping malls in entire Hawaii. One can go crazy buying luxury items there and still not get tired of it.

There are many activities one can enjoy there – we got to hear a singer entertaining a decent audience. I must add the Hawaiian dance is a sheer delight to watch, just so unique.royal hawaiian center.jpgpalm trees in hawaiiNot to forget, there is a long stretch of the famous beach you can head to. It is just so amazing the sit by the ocean, or walk on the beach itself. We saw kids dabbling in the water even late in the night. There are a few artworks to enjoy too if you are fond of them.art in honolulu

The world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu

If beaches are your thing (as are mine), you would love being at the Waikiki Beach. Also called just Waikiki, it lies on the south shore of the island of Oahu in Hawaii and is a world-famous attraction. We had seen a glimpse of the beach from a long distance when we hiked up the Diamond Head crater. However, our accommodation was just about 4 kilometers from the beach!beachfront honolulubest beach in hawaiiWe decided to give the beach a visit when we had some time left in the day. I spent a long time walking across it in the night as well (and will cover separately, for its beauty was just unparalleled then). What gives this 2-mile-long beach high rating is that its white sand and calm turquoise blue ocean water is fringed by towering high-rises and boutique resorts. You name a luxury brand, and it would be there! No wonder, the area was a playground for the Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s.shops at waikiki beachwaikiki beach market.jpgMy only regret is that the day we visited the beach was pretty dull, so the pictures can’t do justice to the stunning beauty of the area. You never know when it would rain in Hawaii!nature photography.jpgParking is definitely an issue there. But if you are staying in one of the numerous hotels/resorts around, you can just walk over. I chose to go further up the Kalakaua Avenue and park in the large parking area just opposite Starbucks. The benefit was that is it free and the beach is also pretty close, but the most happening area is about a kilometer away.

Canadian Tulip Festival – Commissioner’s Park

Having seen a bunch of Tulips at Lansdowne Park, our excitement had already started to build-up. The main location, however, was Commissioner’s Park (next to Down’s Lake Pavilion). Had we know about it beforehand, we would have started our experience from here. Nevertheless, we still had a bit of time left on our first day, so we headed to the Commissioner’s Park (just 2.5 kilometers away from Lansdowne Park).

You can go with the official parking there (the charge is $15 per day). However, there are numerous streets around where you can park for an hour for free (the weekends are free anyway). Do you really think people come back within an hour? There were many who parked for even half-a-day. With a world-famous festival going on around, guess nobody really bothers!dow's lake pavilionvarieties of tulips.jpgThis was the location that caught our fancy, and we visited it thrice over the 3 days we spent on the trip. There were long batches of tulips of almost every color and variety.too many tulipstulipsbest tulip festivalbest nature photographnature photograhyThe tulips were marked with their names, some were fancy too – like The Princess. The kids and adults alike were having the time of their lives. We were no different!tulip festival ottawa.jpgThere was information too on the history of the festival and how Britain still contributes every year with a generous gift of Tulips.canada tulip festival.jpg

Canadian Tulip Festival – Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

We are just back from one of the best Tulip Festivals in the World – in Ottawa, Canada. It took place from May 11-21 and showcased 1,000,000+ tulips in bloom across 4 locations. To add to the extravaganza, there were arts and cultural performances as well, along with activities to do and attractions to explore!

After doing research online and via the official website for the festival, we thought of spending the couple of hours we had the day we reached there in Lansdowne Park. It is a market area, so was bustling with activity at that time of the hour. We parked on the road (paid parking of $3/hour) and made our way to the grounds where the tulips were.

The first sight of tulips was quite exciting for me as we had not seen so many of them since long. There was a garden of yellows in the view!where to see tulips in canadatulip festival ottawaThe park is right alongside the Rideau Canal (202 kilometers long), another major attraction there. We started heading further up in the park with just a road separating us and the canal. There were people jogging and running by the canal, and we spotted kayakers too the next day.lansdowne park ottawanature walkOur presumption was we would see hordes of tulips as far as we could see them, but that was not the case here. There were tulips, but only at certain places in patches. Anyway, the walk was quite a good one to keep was occupied. In fact, there was spring beauty all around, which just made our day!the beauty of springbest nature photographWe had paid for the parking for only an hour, as there have been instances in the past when we paid for more than an hour just to come back within the hour. So, in about 40 minutes, we started walking back after seeing a bunch of other-colored tulips.ottawa parkThe market area is quite a good one to spend some time socializing. If you have to admire the canal or kayak through it, there is a much better place, one that also had the kind of display of tulips we were expecting to see. I will cover that in a dedicated post.

An early morning hike to the summit of Diamond Head

Imagine waking up at 4 am, getting ready and then driving half-hour only to be in the queue of vehicles for gates to open at 6 am, and then hiking to the edge of a 300,000-year old crater – all before Sunrise! Yeah, we did that on the second day of our stay in Oahu.

We wanted to have a different experience of Sunrise than the one from the previous day (Sandy Beach Park), and Diamond Head State Monument is a perfect place for that – it is famous for its breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu.

As soon as the gates opened up, we made our way to the parking lot. There is a fee of $5/car or $1/pedestrian. After that, you take the trail, which is not so long, but is steep at quite a few places (especially the 99 steps towards the end) – it takes about 20-25 minutes to cover the distance. hiking diamond headdoamond head crater oahubest views of honoluluBut the thrill of all you’ve gone through reaches another high once you reach the summit. You are looking at the entire rim of a volcanic crater (of extinct volcano Diamond Head)…actually, you are standing on it!diamond head volcano craterpacific ocean hawaiiDepending on which way you look, the summit provides you with majestic views. The city of Honolulu looks quite a spectacle. If you look closely, you can see a section of the world-famous Waikiki beach.honolulu photographyIt was so amazing being out there that I couldn’t control myself from taking a selfie 🙂best selphieThe views looking from the other sides were no less. I especially loved this one…best picture of hawaiiLooking at the Pacific ocean was mesmerizing in its own right. A bonus was this Diamond Head Lighthouse built in 1899 (not open to the public). It spreads light nearly 18 miles out into the ocean and its Fresnel lens burns at 60,000 candlepower.diamond head lighthouse oahulighthouse hawaiiI would rate it as one of the best attractions in entire Hawaii, one you should not miss if you are in Oahu. No wonder, I was not intent on leaving it even after spending more than a couple of hours up there!ocean views honolulu

The Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I had written about the Lower Antelope Canyon a few weeks back. I absolutely loved it!

The other one – called the Upper Antelope Canyon – is just a few kilometers away from it. It is the most visited of the two because of two reasons – first, its entrance and the entire length are at the ground level, thus requiring no climbing; second, the beams of sunlight filtering through the top are more common there.upper antelope canyonI suggest reading my earlier post first as I had given a lot of details there comparing it to its upper counterpart.

Even though the upper is preferred by tourists, I would give a better rating to the lower one, owing to its thrill quotient. Regardless, prefer the summer months to visit as the sunlight creates the effect that would keep you spellbound!antelope canyon page azphotograhpy in antelope canyonIf you love photography, these slot canyons will be a delight to capture at every step of the way. Many people go for dedicated photography tours, as those will give you inputs on prominent locations/settings.

We went with the general tours, as written earlier (you can only go with the tour companies, not on your own).

The Volcanic Landscapes of Oahu, Hawaii

We were mesmerized by the beauty in Hawaii – no wonder it is called the Tropical Paradise!

During our road trips across the four islands we visited, we witnessed numerous stunning landscapes. I must say the often changing weather conditions there plays a major role in keeping one asking for more.hawaii road tripJust imagine that all these views were created off of volcanic eruptions over millions of years. Even today, the Big Island (the one we covered last) is still adding more space to it because of active volcanic eruptions.
best weather in oahuThe land all through Hawaii is also amazingly fertile – the famous plantations of Coconuts, Pineapples, Lychee, Bananas, and many others are a testimony to that. We loved having smoothies, shave ice, and fresh juices almost every day!
volcanic landscapes of hawaiiI am a fan of stopping every few minutes, and I have never regretted spending time at the places I’ve admired. Why else would one take a road trip otherwise?
islands in hawaiiThe last one is my favorite, and it was not even an attraction we were chasing – we were on an afternoon drive further up along the highway from Sandy Beach park we covered the very first morning in Hawaii.
what to see in hawaiiMy two cents based on my experiences – don’t just go to famous places. You would be amazed to explore the beauty at offbeat sites. Most of my fabulous clicks are from places you would’ve never heard of, and they are not even mentioned anywhere on the Internet.

One of the Best Beaches in the World – Lanikai

Lanikai beach in Oahu is consistently rated as one of the best in the world owing to its pristine sands, turquoise water, calm waves, and lush tropical plants. It has extremely soft powdery clean white sand and that makes it a must-see there. Btw, the name Lanikai means ‘heavenly sea,’ and the place is aptly called.

We went there right on day 1 because of my love for beaches. I should emphasize that it was so bright with sun pounding down that it was becoming difficult to even keep the eyes open for long (the beach and water are super-clean).lanikai beach oahubest beaches in the worldThe water temperatures there are normally between 24-26 degree Celsius, perfect for any time of the year. What especially makes the beach popular among photographers is the two islands in the background, called Na Mokulua or “mokes.”
parasailing at lanikaiThe only issue there is the parking, as there is limited public parking space. If you are headed there on a weekend, be ready to wait for the parking slot (the violation is strictly enforced). Since we went there on a weekday, we were lucky to spend a relaxing couple of hours.

Nestled in the lap of Nature: Byodo-In Temple

Set against the backdrop of towering cliffs of Ko’olau mountains, Byodo-In temple is a Buddhist temple located on the Oahu island of Hawaii – in the Valley of the Temples memorial park. It was dedicated in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

The temple doesn’t figure in the top 10 attractions of Oahu, but I would say it should have been one of the top 3! What makes it all the more worth visiting is it is a replica of the over 950-year old Buddhist temple at Uji in Japan.

As soon as we parked our car next to the temple, I was astounded by the scenery that greeted us. There is a fee of $5 per adult (to be paid in cash).byodo-in temple oahubuddhish temple in oahujapanese temple in hawaiiThe grounds are (properly landscaped) lush green, with a large reflecting pond, which has hundreds of Japanese koi carp.

Just outside (on the left of the temple) is a seven-ton six-feet high brass peace bell. It was cast in Osaka, Japan, and is separated into four sections depicting the Buddhist concept of heaven. It is advisable to ring this sacred bell using the soft wooden log before entering the temple. The unique tones of this impressive bell is believed to clear the mind of negativity, impart deep peace, and bring happiness, blessings and a long life. Through its resonating sound, the bell reminds us that everything is transitory.buddhist peace bellbell at buddhist temple.jpgYou can walk around the temple and see small waterfalls, sparrows, and wild peacocks. One thing we especially loved in Hawaii was that we were woken up by the sounds of birds every single day!best of oahubuddha statueThe main temple has a two-ton nine-foot seated Amida statue (the Buddha of the Western Paradise). It is covered in gold and lacquer.

The Amida Buddha represents the infinite life and light surrounding all beings.

From my own experience I can say that you would not feel like leaving the temple – it was so blissful. There are a couple of benches in the temple and niche on the grounds where you can meditate for however long you want to – it is no wonder the visitors describe the place as beautiful, peaceful, and restful.

The temple grounds are often used for wedding ceremonies for Hawaiians or visitors from Japan.

Travel Planning for Summer Vacation on a Budget

Summer is when the attractions get the most crowd. No wonder, planning for a vacation becomes a tedious task. But if you do your homework well, it can turn out to be the most enjoyable outing you’ve ever had.Blog-Summer-ItineraryBased on my extensive travel in the last few years, here’s what needs the most attention before you hit the road:

– Destination and Itinerary

– Attractions

– Accommodation

– Pack light

– Be flexible with the plan

– Funding

You can read the entire post with details on each point on Money View blog.

First morning in Hawaii : Sunrise in Honolulu

You might know from my Introductory post in March that we took a 13-day vacation to Hawaii from March 21-April 2. We visited the four islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Kona (in that order), with about 2.5 days spent in each. There are two more islands visited by a few in Hawaii, but Lanai is largely privately owned and Molokai is prohibitively expensive.

We were living next to the world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (capital of Oahu), and not far from other major attractions. I wouldn’t say Manoa Valley Inn, where we were put up, was one of our best experiences in spite of the good reviews it has. The reasons are – they don’t clean the room every day and breakfast starts at 7.30. We had the worst experience with BnB at Maui – Haiku Plantation Inn – there you have to pay $75/per day for getting the room cleaned and breakfast starts at 8am. This was the 2nd time we went with BnBs in our travel history, so we are really skeptical to go with them ever again. Anyway, the spectacular attractions more than made up for these issues.

Since Honolulu is six hours behind EST (Canada time, and with daylight savings), we were wide awake around 4am for an initial couple of days. Guess what we did, which Saru never did earlier? She accompanied me on my morning ritual, watching Sunrise at the Beach 🙂

We had done a lot of research even before landing in Hawaii, and Sandy Beach (Park) around half-hour away from our accommodation was mentioned as one of the best to view Sunrises. Sure enough, we were there the first morning itself. Being right next to the Kalanianaole Hwy, it was easier to reach there with just the GPS location. It is a long park along the ocean with enough parking. There were a few folks around admiring its stunning beauty, and also what was about to add up.

Hawaii is known for beaches with pristine-sands, crystal-clear waters, stunning landscapes, active and dormant volcanoes, gorgeous coastlines, natural waterfalls, and we saw all of that, and much more.

Sandy beach was close to perfect (I will talk about and show a perfect beach in a later post), and we sure did marvel at its spectacular beauty. Here’s the same for you…sandy beach honolulu.jpgsunrise in hawaiibest of oahu hawaiiAround 7.30 or so we made our way back to the inn for breakfast. We had an interesting attraction coming up after that…something that is quite unique by any parameter.

The best from my travels so far – Lower Antelope Canyon

The best natural attraction I have been to yet is the Lower Antelope Canyon, situated on the Navajo land east of Page, Arizona in the United States. There is a separate Upper Antelope Canyon as well just a few miles from the Lower one, and it is touted to be more photogenic (thus is expensive), but I found the Lower to be more adventurous.

The Slot Canyons were formed by erosion of Sandstone, mainly due to flash flooding, but also due to sub-aerial processes. As the water picked up speed and sand in the narrow passageways, it made the canyon deeper and smoother along the edges, thus forming the ‘flowing’ shapes in the rocks. Even today, during the monsoon season, this phenomena occurs, and the tour companies close-down the visits.

We had decided to cover Lower and Upper on separate days and bought our tickets with separate tour companies (you can’t go on your own).

This post is just about the Lower Antelope Canyon. It is reachable with five flights of steps of varying width. It is also longer (1.1 miles), shallower, narrower at places (but wide at top), and sometimes even proper footing can be a challenge (compared to its Upper counterpart). The canyon itself is V-shaped.lower antelope canyon.jpgwhat to see in arizonaAs you make your way through the canyon, you can only marvel at all kinds of patterns formed by the natural processes. Add too it the numerous colors you are entertained to, and you are transported to another world! Just imagine how the force of water sculpted each section of the canyon.photography antelope canyonbest best wonderf of natureAs you walk through, you will have to climb stairs to make your way out of the canyon.

Notes (for the Lower Canyon):

  1. The sightseeing tour ticket fees for both Lower and Upper includes the Navajo National Permit and their Tax. The current total price for Lower is USD40 per person and USD78 for Upper (for 10.30 and 1:00 tours, $10 less for 8:30 and 3:00 tours). We went with Dixie Ellis tours for the Lower Canyon (there are just 2 companies for the Lower, the other one being Ken).
  2. Book your tours at least a couple of days in advance since the preferred slots fill up quickly and a group has limited number of reservations (approximately 15) allowed with a touring company. There is a tour every 30 minutes with either company.
  3. The time it takes to cover the canyon is 1.5-2 hours. It takes about 10 minutes from the company booth to the entrance of the canyon and the wait to enter the canyon could be up to 3 hours during the peak season.
  4. The lighting is better in the early hours or late morning. Being narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, the Lower Canyon feels brighter and warmer than the Upper one.
  5. There are no photography-only tours for the Lower canyon (but is available for the Upper one).
  6. You can take your own camera and tripod without any charges. Your guide most probably will help you shoot the famous spots.
  7. The canyon being deep, most likely you would feel cold inside. It’s advisable to take a jacket or sweater along.
  8. The Upper and Lower being the most visited, some people think the adventure part has just about vanished from them. Worry not, there are hundreds of other slot canyons near-by. They are free, except for the standard Navajo hiking permit.

We also have one of our favorite shots from the Lower canyon 🙂natural wonders in the world

13 days sightseeing and island-hopping in Hawaii

I’ve always wanted to visit the islands of Hawaii and Seychelles (technically, both of them are archipelagos). Ever since we got the US Tourist Visa last year, I was thinking of making a trip to Hawaii. The only problem – Hawaii is super-expensive!

Since we are still living close to the US and I saved-up enough by not taking too many vacations last year, we finally picked-up Hawaii as our next Travel destination, and started planning for it in January this year. We did some homework on which all islands to visit, and eventually zeroed-in on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island – in that order. In terms of timing, we didn’t want to visit during the peak summer months of Jun-Aug, and with my job restrictions, March-end sounded just about right (btw, any month is a good month to visit Hawaii – as experts say). I also got a fair deal with the Toronto to Honolulu and return flight (CAD545 per person), with a short halt in Los Angeles (both ways).

The hotel bookings have cost me a fortune, though – averaging a tad below USD200 per night (we are not budget travelers; not luxury, either)! Add to it the inter-island flights (the most effective way for island-hopping) and renting a car on each island (you would know I love road-trips?), we probably could have covered 2 countries in this budget. But then Hawaii is a different world altogether or so I have heard! We are about to find out as we have just landed in Honolulu.

In terms of the number of days we would spend across those islands, after the vacation to India in September and then to the US on New Year, I just had a few vacation days left. So, we could only cough-up 13 days in total (includes 2 weekends and a holiday on Good Friday). Based on what Saru and I wanted to see, we decided to split our time equally across the islands – 2.5 days, with half-a-day reserved for island hopping. I am fully aware those will not be sufficient, especially for the biggest of them all, the Big Island.

Details on what exactly we covered on each island would come after we are back. For now, let me soak in the Hawaiian bliss 🙂Napali Coast HawaiiFor my record, it was my 59th flight today.

Image sourced from Hawaii Tourism Authority website

Why is it important to change jobs?

I have been employed for 11 years across 6 firms in the IT space. During this long stint, I have worked with some of the marquee clients in the Financial Services domain. I must say I’ve had a good time, primarily because the salary funds my travels and I have really enjoyed some extracurricular activities I got introduced to during my journey, including Toastmasters. I wouldn’t say I always enjoyed the work I was doing, that’s why I changed jobs!New Job creative sign with clouds as the backgroundDuring my social interactions, I found many people to be unhappy with their jobs, mostly their managers or the work they were doing. In spite of the grin, I never understood why they stayed at their jobs for that long…if you are unhappy with something for long, shouldn’t you be parting with it? Even otherwise, I feel it is good to change jobs every few years. Let me explain the reasons:

  1. Gives you a fresh start: A new job gives you something fresh to look forward to. You don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over, every day! Having said that, I wouldn’t advise changing jobs every year! I’ve been with my current employer for 4 years already, and I spent 4 years with my former employer too.
  2. Interviews keep you sharp: I prefer giving at least one interview every year (might not be active job hunting). That way I get to stay current with the latest expectations of the market. I also get to keep myself sharp, rather than letting the passiveness set in.
  3. For the next career move: If you’ve been unhappy in your current job, most likely you’ve not risen as fast as you expected to be. Or maybe because people around you have moved onto their dream jobs! This is where a new job can do wonders for you…look out for the career move that you have been waiting for.
  4. Make use of the hot job market: With the economies of many countries on an uptrend (after the recession of 2008-09), tons of jobs are being created every day. This is the time to make use of your skills and negotiate a deal that you could only dream of earlier.
  5. It does get you additional money: There is no denying that fact that a new job can give you a monetary bump-up (if you’ve negotiated well). With plenty of jobs around, you wouldn’t have to travel far as well from your current workplace.

I do understand some people don’t want to change for fear of learning something new from the start or location or family constraints. But if there are companies willing to go the extra mile to hire the best, you will most probably get one that fits the bill. It’s just that you have to get your resume ready!

Picture sourced from here

I spent a Thousand Dollars primarily for this!

My entire vacation across Canada and United States in December last year was centered around this one spot – Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. I was not as excited about the other places we visited as this one!

Capturing Sunset over the summit of Mount Washington covered in snow had been my dream ever since we had a fabulous time at the very same spot in the fall of 2016. The entire stretch of mountains on the right side of the resort was lit-up in various hues.best sunset shotSo, this time, we made sure to spend the afternoon there after we took the aerial tramway up the Cannon Mountain earlier in the day. The resort is just about a half-hour drive from the Hillwinds Lodge where we were put up in Franconia.

There is no defined parking at the entrance to the resort (no gate to cross), but one can park along the road – that’s what I have seen others doing, too. You might get enough space in the summers, but during winters, you have to make one yourself. With not many people around in the chilly temperatures, it is not that difficult! We must have spent about 2 hours, and only a couple of tourists came by, stopped, clicked shots, and went away – most of the traffic on the road to the resort was of people going or coming from there. I was the only one walking around with my camera (Saru was in the car) trying to make the best of changing views.best snow covered mountain shotbest nature picturesBeing the peak of winters this time, the sun was setting down just behind the resort. The white and red colors of the resort added another layer of beauty to the colors in the sky. Since the mountains are quite far away from the spot and there is no point in showing a large blanket of snow, you would have to use the zoom.best natural beautybest landscape photos.jpgThough the sunset was not as dramatic as we witnessed earlier, I was still feeling quite ecstatic all the time – not many get to go (back) to their dream location in spite of all the money they might have.

If you ask me now, I wouldn’t leave a chance to visit the place again!

The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

A must-visit attraction in New Hampshire is the summit of Cannon Mountain at 4,180 feet, the highest ski area summit in the state! The views on a clear day can stretch as far as Canada.

Though this tramway came into existence in 1980, its earlier version which was discontinued because of high running costs (due to non-availability of replacement parts) was the first tramway in America, opening in 1938! Today, the red and yellow cabins (referred to as ketchup and mustard, respectively – because of their color) can carry 80 passengers (70 during winters). Covering a distance of just over 2 miles one way, the journey takes about 10 minutes.

We had taken the ride a few years back also (in the fall), but this time it was to witness the snow from up above. The tickets cost us $19 per person for a round-trip ride. If you are skiing, you can buy a half or full day pass.

If you have been following my trip since last few posts, you would know the temperatures were touching – 27-degree Celsius the time we were there. That had actually inspired me in the first place to take a trip to the peak. I picked up Saru from the hotel (after my morning ritual covered in the last post), and we were on our way to the top around 11 AM. The views during the ride can’t be put down in words! As we were the only spectators going up that time of the hour (rest were all skiers), the tram operator asked me to stand at the back in the cabin as the window was half-open and I could get some great shots. And I sure did exactly that 🙂cannon mountain tramwayThough the views all around were covered in snow, the sun appeared to lit-up some sections of the frames. I must say I did enjoy the 180-degree views, including the fun of some skiers going down the slope underneath the tramway path. I don’t just go crazy with clicking shots, I have formed a habit of enjoying myself first.sightseeing in usabest pictures of natureWhen we reached the top, Saru had to immediately rush into the covered area (houses a warm and cozy ski lodge offering a variety of food, and has restrooms), just because it was too much of a cold to bear. I, on the other hand, warmed myself up and ventured out to explore a bit. Though there are a plenty of trails one could take at the top, it was not the day to even look out for them! I just had to be content with seeing some adults and kids enjoying what they were there for.best pictures of mountains

All the shots are from my erstwhile iPhone 7 Plus

Sunrise over the snow-capped Mountains

I wanted to make the most of the only full day we had in Franconia, New Hampshire. Add to it the craze of watching at least one of Sunrise or Sunset, though I had planned for both.

We were staying quite close to the ski area of famous Cannon Mountain and its Aerial Tramway. The only concern was the chilly temperatures owing to the cyclone blasting most of the states we were covering (stretching from Canada to the United States). However, I consider it an opportunity to witness some gorgeous views that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise!

I got up early (no surprise for guessing), got ready, and made my way to our car parked right behind the Hillwinds Lodge we were put up in. The temperature on the dashboard showed -27 degree Celsius, which only meant for me that I had to keep the car running for about 15 minutes. It was still dark when I drove to the base of the aerial tramway. They open up at 8.30AM, so I was early even by their standards. Also, I couldn’t see anybody skiing either, which is what I love – just the place to myself! When we left the place next day morning, we could see many people skiing the same slopes just around 8.30.

Since the parking lot was empty (maintenance was cleaning up snow, though), I took my time to admire the beauty of snow-capped mountains. Being surrounded by mountains with they showing me the best they have to offer is quite overwhelming for me. I take it with both hands!ealry morning franconiaI couldn’t spend a lot of time there – the temperatures are hard to imagine even for me now. I had read about a couple of small lakes around, one of them being Echo Lake just a couple of kilometers away (another one being Profile Lake), and I quickly made my way to it. If you’ve read me for long, you would know I don’t miss lakes, for they provide stunning reflections of subjects around – here they were the mountains. By that time, the activity of people arriving for their work had started. I asked for the Echo Lake and was told it just a walkable distance but that it is all frozen, so no point of going there. I have heard such arguments earlier also, they don’t matter for me now – I like to take my own call!sunrise echo lake new hampshireWell, I was standing by the Echo Lake (the entire frozen section in above shot) in no time. And guess what, I have no regrets! It might not look to be a setting that would keep in you awe, but you can’t ask for the best every time. I am still thankful to have been there and done that because I was the only one around fighting the tough conditions. On my walk back from the Echo Lake, I did see a few skiers just starting off their day.skiing franconia new hampshireI love going the extra mile to find views that make for killer shots. On my drive back to the hotel, I saw a long patch of icicles along the road, and I was quick enough to take turn and park in a safe spot. As you can make out, some seemed to have brought down quite a lot of dirt!icicles heavy snowbest snow picturesBeing early morning, the traffic was calm, and I went to a bridge close by that provided for an unobstructed view of the skiing runways. I now consider the below frame to be one of the best that I would ever see!photography new hampshireLater that day, we took the tramway up the Cannon mountain and then watched the sunset at Omni resort, where we had a gem of a time in the fall of 2016 (you should not miss both those posts).

Benefits of Laughing

*This was my speech in the Toastmasters club contest held yesterday.  I won, and will now be competing in another Area Contest (did so twice last year) next week.

If you have listened to me in the past, you would know I have tried to make you laugh every time. Unfortunately, many of you didn’t find me funny 😦 I feel for you! But, I don’t give up easily. So here I am to make another attempt…I hope you will open up your lips, jaws, and everything in between…if not for my sake, at least for yours! The reason being, there are numerous benefits of laughing, so even if you don’t like me being here, you should still give it a try.

Let me lay down what you will gain from laughing:

  1. Helps you live a healthy lifestyle – A good laugh decreases stress hormones while increasing the build-up of infection fighting antibodies, thus improving your body’s resistance to diseases. It also relaxes your muscles for up to 45 minutes once you’ve had a good hearty laugh.
  2. Triggers the release of endorphins – Endorphins are body’s natural painkillers and improves your overall well-being. Once you’ve got accustomed to laughing, rest assured, you will start feeling good all over, and it can even help you fight any chronic pain you might have.
  3. Boosts T-cells: There are various types of cells in our body, one of them being a specialized type of immune system cell called T-cell. They are just waiting in your body to be activated, and laughing can do exactly that. Once they are active, they start fighting common symptoms like cold.
  4. Reduces the risk of a heart attack: Laughter helps your fight risk of a stroke or heart attack by lowering your blood pressure. Btw, how many of you have a high BP issue? It’s about time for you to give yourself a nice giggle! Great, you might have just had your daily dose of medicine.
  5. Helps in burning calories – It gets your heart pumping and burns calories. Just a word of caution – don’t compare laughing to hitting the gym or running your heart out. It does burn calories but comparable only to that achieved with walking at a slow to moderate pace. To that extent, it is even classified as a great cardio workout.
  6. Promotes harmony among people – There is nothing compared to sharing a good laugh with others, especially with those who you have a conflict with. Looking at the funny side of a situation helps you calm down the nerves. And if you have chosen to take a situation lightly, there is no way the other person won’t relax.
  7. Laughing is infectious: It is a social phenomena, and the positive vibes spread like a virus. Think about how many times a person next to you has laughed and you have gone into depression because of that. Never, right? So why not spread the infection of laughing around!

laughter alok singhalThese are just a handful of reasons why you should never give up on laughing.

I was a Yoga Instructor close to my earlier workplace, and I used to make it a point to have the members laugh at the end of the session. Believe me, that was the best I could have done for them. And I am glad to have done the same for you today 🙂

*Image sourced from here

Are you Ready for the Future, Alok 0.0?

Hey 0.0,

I know you are tech-savvy, but have you heard of Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless II headphones, which has an integrated Google Assistant? No? You are really living in the past, man! Let me take you through your future that you are soon going to step into, and how it will change the way you interact with the world:Bose QuietComfort 35 II Headphone

  • Technological (r)evolution: The most important feature of QuietComfort 35 II is the newly-introduced Google VPA (Virtual Private Assistant) – works through ‘Action’ button on the back of left ear-cup. Once set-up, it lets you do what you ask of Google, without even reaching out for your phone. Say you want to listen to the news headlines, search for restaurants close by, check-out weather before heading out, add reminders, or any other question that comes to your mind, just speak to Google Assistant by pressing and holding the button.

I tried Google Assistant on my iPhone and it worked so well. Imagine you will have such a fabulous feature available at just the click of a button!

  • Noise cancellation: The new version (compared to QuietComfort 35) retains the powerful noise cancellation features of the earlier one. The exceptionally comfortable and cozy circumaural ear-cups used block-out a lot of ambient noise, allowing you to preserve battery by switching off the noise cancellation mode. The same action button as mentioned earlier can be remapped to set noise cancellation levels using Bose’s Android or iOS App.
  • Dedicated app: Speaking of the Bose Connect app, you would be asked to download it the first time you power on the headphone. Once that is done with, the app can be used for many features, and it works well in conjunction with the headphones. Powered by Bluetooth and NFC (near field communication) technology, the pairing of your devices with headphones is as easy, fast, power-efficient, and automatic as it could be in close proximity (without needing an internet connection). With continuous refinements in the app software, you can hope for a smooth experience as you unlock various features.
  • Sound quality: As with noise cancellation, the superior sound clarity is the hallmark of QC 35 II headphones, something that it carries from the earlier version. Volume Optimized EQ provides for a balanced audio performance at any volume. On the other hand, the noise-rejecting built-in dual-microphone system provides clearer calls, even in noisy environments.
  • Going wireless: With everything going wireless, this feature is assumed to be a must-have. And who better than a world leader in headphones to bank on! Since you listen to songs in the wired mode right now, I am sure this upgrade will surely make you go in awe of the gadget. If you ever feel the need to back to your earlier self, you always have an option to go wired (that almost doubles the battery life also)! The buttons for power on/off, sound/volume control, and USB charging port are on the right ear-cup, and they work with both Android and iOS devices.
  • Travel needs: The plastic build makes it lightweight while still keeping it incredibly comfortable to use for extended periods. The battery life is excellent at 20 hours even with noise cancellation turned on and moderate sound volume. Whether you are taking long-haul flights or just doing your daily office commute, rest assured, you can relax and indulge in the luxuries of life. As if all this was not enough, the headphones come with a hard case, which would make an impression compared to the pouches that many other makes opt for.

With all these power-packed features, QuietComfort 35 II is a significant upgrade to the era you are living in…that’s why I called you 0.0 🙂 Just so you know, by integrating Google’s VPA into the headphones, Bose has become the first ever audio headphone manufacturer to do so.

So what are you waiting for? I am ready to be taken over right away!

Alok 1.0

*Image sourced from Bose India Website

What’s a journey without some fun?

Life shouldn’t be just about getting to the destination! Rather, it should be more about enjoying the journey…which would make reaching the destination all the more exciting.

After spending 3 days in Montreal, Canada, we made our way to the United States. The closest border crossing was about 2.5 hours away. We had never crossed any border by road before that, so we were quite excited to see the entry gates. Apparently, it was a small crossing, so had only 3 lanes!
The immigration was smooth and easy. Since I spent quite a lot of time working in the US, the questions were primarily on what I did back then and why I left the US. We were asked to collect our I94 cards from the building next to the gates (there is a small parking area there). It must have taken about 15 minutes overall before we were again on the road…our hotel in Franconia, New Hampshire was still about 1.5 hours away.Just after we hit the road, a bit of snow had started falling…but that’s why we were in New Hampshire (NH) in the first place! We’ve always liked NH, so much so that this was our third time there. We had kept aside 1.5 days in Franconia to visit the famous Omni Resort in Bretton Woods where we had a fantastic time in the fall of 2016.
The weather was so much to my liking that I stopped and got off the car at multiple places (we just had to make sure to switch on the parking lights). The traffic was quite calm and we had enough time to enjoy the views alongside. The entire way was flanked by Mountains and the climate added its own charm to the mesmerizing beauty.One thing I especially loved was the icicles, they were at quite many places and I had never seen them earlier. In fact, I spent a long time admiring them next morning during my quest for Sunrise captures.We had chosen to stay with the Hillwinds Lodge in Franconia because of their good ratings. Another reason was their close proximity to the resort where we had planned to go the next day afternoon, and you must see that post of mine in a few weeks 🙂We reached hotel quite late in the evening, but the journey was every bit enjoyable. I would still classify it as a day when we did a lot of sightseeing!

*I would have loved to add more about our stay in Montreal but tough weather conditions didn’t allow us to explore much there apart from what I have covered already.

Take charge of your Health with Vitamin E

I moved out of my home at the age of 19. I went to an Engineering college, and from there started the downward spiral of my health. I ate at dhabas, hostel canteens, small eateries – whatever I could afford in my pocket money and was easily available. During my engineering days, the options were limited and unhealthy. This unhealthy lifestyle continued till I got married. Over those years, I caught-on many problems – mild psoriasis, black spots on the face, and weak liver – quite evident to anybody who spent some time with me.

After marriage, my wife took charge of the kitchen. And as I was new to the concept of being treated lavishly with food, I indulged. My wife loves to cook! She cooked and I ate more than I should have. Within 6 months, it backfired. I got sick. I had to go to a hospital in Bengaluru where I was told to streamline my eating habits. I was told to cut-down on spices, fried and processed food. It was a wake-up call. In October 2009, we decided to make an eating routine and stick to it. Our plan was simple – exclude spices, limit the number of times we ate outside, and eating a fruit and salad with meals. With time we learned the intricacies of our body. A year later, our doctor did a few more tests and we came to know we had vitamin deficiencies. Again, we made necessary alterations to our diet. Being pure-vegetarians, we had limited options. So, after years of continuous refinement, we follow this routine now:

Breakfast – Soaked almonds; fruit, preferably orange; stuffed paratha/roti with sabzi/butter toast with tea

LunchSabzi, raita, roti/rice with salad

Evening Tea – With cookies and dry fruits

DinnerDal, roti, salad, papad. If we are full that day, we drink a fruit-vegetable-yogurt smoothie.

We make sure to have the much-needed minerals and vitamins our body needs.alok singhal blog

Why is Vitamin E important for us?

I suffered from mild psoriasis. My wife has dry skin and hair. Our immunity system is not one of the best. With age, stress-levels, and pollution, the body takes a beating. For us, it became imperative to give our body the required amount of Vitamin E. We were told by our doctor to take 15 mg of vitamin E per day. At one stage, we took Vitamin E supplements just to beat the deficiency. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant (protects from free radicals), so it became a part of our daily routine. My wife and I take care of Vitamin E intake for different reasons. She takes it to repair damaged and dry skin, thicken her hair, balancing hormones, and for PMS symptoms. She even uses face creams and lotions that contain Vitamin E. I take it to balance my cholesterol level, improve vision, and to build immunity and muscle strength.

How we made it a part of our daily routine?

To make sure we eat a balanced diet, we try to incorporate all the minerals, carbs, proteins, fiber, and vitamins in the right proportion. This is how we ascertain we have enough supply of Vitamin E in our diet (it goes with the routine mentioned earlier):alok singhal blogger

  • Almonds, which are one of the richest sources of Vitamin E, forms an essential part of our routine.
  • We prepare our meals in extra virgin olive oil. In salads, we use olive oil dressing and olives as a garnish.
  • Avocado is one of our favorite ingredients in salad and sandwiches. My wife loves Avocado parathas. I love guacamole.
  • To bring flavor to our dishes, my wife adds peanuts in upma, poha, vermicelli upma, lemon rice, and pulao. In winter, we munch peanuts as a snack.
  • To have enough quantity, we opt for vegetables and fruits that are rich in Vitamin E – spinach and kiwi. My favorite dishes made from vegetables rich in Vitamin E are palak paneer, sauteed asparagus, pasta with all kinds of peppers – red, green, yellow, and orange. Yes, I have a colorful taste.

alok singhal ambala

What sources of Vitamin E do I recommend?

I recommend including almonds, avocado, spinach, olives, olive oil, peanuts, sunflower seeds and oil, dried apricots, pine seeds (it is a perfect pasta garnishing), asparagus, and broccoli in your diet.

If your Vitamin E levels are low, take supplements to bring them to the desired level. Try #Evion. Evion Supplements are healthy and safe and are reliable to bring back our Vitamin E levels back to normal. In the market since 1978, Evion is the No. 1 Vitamin E brand in India. Check out http://www.evion.co.in/ to know more about Evion Supplements and a wide range of products enriched in Vitamin E.evion vitamin eHow do you incorporate Vitamin E in your daily routine? If you have some mouth-watering recipes, please share with me. I promise I will try them. My wife will cook, though 🙂

Sunrise over downtown Montreal

Keeping up with the tradition, I woke up early the second morning we were in Montreal. My plan was to head out to the location we had visited the first day – Mount Royal. It had been snowing on and off since the day we had arrived there – such issues never bother me, though! I got ready (which is what I always do), said my prayers, and about 6am was on my way out to get my car into action – it needed quite a bit of cleaning! I was able to hit the road about 6.20 and had to drive half-hour to reach the parking lot of the destination (the lookout requires a walk of about 10 minutes from there, as mentioned in the earlier post).

Even though I was quite early at the spot, I could see a streak of light in the distance. Being a clear sky, it must have 100’s of kilometers out! sunrise over downtown montrealI am always excited to see the first rays of sun from an elevation, and that day was no different. This in spite of the temperature being much below normal and the wind hitting my face because of the open area all around. No wonder, I was all alone thinking who else could be crazy to join me in such frigid conditions! But, as the sun was about to make its majestic appearance, few more folks joined me. The area is know for hiking, and I also saw a lady doing what looked like her morning run.capture sunrise sunset in montrealplaces to see sunrise in montrealI have been to locations where some people clapped in the anticipation of another blissful day. Here, a couple of couples got cozy…I would never have such a luxury (Saru is not a morning person). Anyway, I was glad I added one more place to my list of places I have explored that time of the day. Somehow, I have started to enjoy extreme temperatures – it makes me feel I am really vacationing 🙂

I was in the hotel by around 8.15 and we looked forward to exploring downtown on the only clear day we got lucky with during our time in Montreal.

*Mount Royal is one of the best (and highly rated) places I could find to view Sunrise over Montreal….don’t miss it even otherwise!

A day of unexpected Adventure

We had plans to see Sunset over Montreal the day we drove to the city from home. However, it being a working day and due to excessive snowfall all along, we reached quite late in the night. Since we had 3 full days to spend in the city, we didn’t worry about it at all.

We checked into our favorite Hampton Inn & Suites in Laval (just a 20-25 minute drive from downtown) and enjoyed the night. The next morning, our first stop was Mount Royal – a large-volcanic related hill and a place known for its fantastic views of downtown Montreal. We parked in the designated parking area, and as soon as we got out the car, we were blasted with strong winds (and it was still snowing). It made no sense to walk for 8-10 minutes to reach the Chalet for views. However, I saw some skiers making their way over to the vast open area. No way I was about to return back when I had company, so Saru stayed in the car while I geared up to join them 🙂snow in montrealbest views of montreal winterI asked a guy around as to where the lookout (just opposite to the chalet) is. He advised me to head further up and that it is just about 500 meters. However, I kept going ahead without realizing there is a small road to the right, which takes you to the lookout in just about 5 minutes. I realized this only after I completed my adventure and was heading back to the car. However, I did enjoy the long trail I had inadvertently taken!skiiing in montrealI breathed a sigh of relief when I finally saw the chalet (structure below) after walking for about half-an-hour. I quickly went inside to explore it – it has restrooms, souvenir shop, food outlet, and a set of chairs to enjoy the outside view. Not many people were inside, but I can imagine it being a hot-spot in summers.mount royal chaletchalet in montrealI didn’t spend much time exploring the inside (remember, Saru was still in the car). The outside was all covered in snow, even the views of downtown!mount royal lookoutbest views of montrealshots of montreal quebecIt was not quite the sights I had expected, but quite unique nonetheless. Since I had to return there for Sunrise/Sunset, I soon returned to the car and saw Saru enjoying reading one of the books she had downloaded onto her iPad with the car heating on. Owing to frigid conditions, we soon decided to call it a day in the morning itself. Well, we still had 2 more days 🙂

Our first cross-border road-trip!

We are just back from a 12-day trip across multiple states in Canada and United States. Though I would cover each place (with some jaw-dropping sights) we visited in detail, this post contains a brief of what we did!

Last year, we spent the Christmas in Las Vegas. This year, we spent the same in French-dominated Montreal, which has some amazing architectural marvels. The city is just about a 5-hour drive from our home, but it was snowing heavily the day we started (22nd Dec) and considering the upcoming long weekend that Canada had, the drive was anything but easy. But, as I mentioned earlier also, I love long drives, in any form 😛

It also snowed for a couple of days while we were there, but that couldn’t deter me from venturing out (it did frighten Saru, though – it was about -25 degree Celsius on all of those days!). I have already written a post on the magnificent 200-year-old Notre Dame Basilica that I visited on Christmas day. I drafted, edited, and published the post same night (as last year). Yay!

On 26th, we left Montreal and entered the US as a tourist in the state of New Hampshire (NH). The immigration was smooth and we felt quite nostalgic as we spent quite a long time in the US until mid last year. This was our 3rd time in NH and we absolutely love the place! We specifically wanted to visit the area of Bretton Woods where I captured this shot last year during fall.sunset-at-bretton-woodsEven though our stay in Franconia city was for only a day, I did make the most of my outing even though it was colder there as compared to Montreal. While Saru was fast asleep, I captured a pretty sunrise in the mountains covered with snow – NH is mostly about mountains, lakes, and picturesque landscapes! Later that day, we were lucky to witness another aspect of White Mountains and capture Sunset next to the Omni Mount Washington Resort (seen in the above shot).

On 28th, we started towards New Jersey, but not before buying my crazy love – iPhone X – from the tax-free state of NH. I am loving it! It took us about 7 hours to reach Jersey City (JC) and meet us my brother-in-law and his wife. We have some fond memories of that place as we used to visit them quite often when we lived close by.

Next few days were reserved for eating at our favorite joints – primarily, California Pizza Kitchen and Dosa Hut. We spent New Year’s Eve checking-out decorations in New York (NY). I was impressed with lighting at the Macy’s flagship store and the light-show at Saks Fifth Avenue. We also had dinner at the highly-rated Korean restaurant named Hangawi. Even though I do not like much of non-Indian stuff, I was thoroughly impressed with the restaurant ambiance and food.

You might know I worked next to Times Square (TS) for a couple of years when I was there, but I never saw the ball-drop on 31st midnight. Keeping up with the tradition, we couldn’t see it this time also (though the intent was there) 😀 There were long queues to get to TS and NY was super chilly! In fact, the entire stretch we covered is under a cyclone, and hence the snow, wind, and the resulting frigid temperatures!

We came back home in Canada on 2nd Jan after driving for about 11.5 hours from JC – we enjoy the journey also, with some quick stops and clicks. With over 2700 kilometers on the odometer (I just drove long on 3 days out of 12), it is the longest road-trip we’ve had. But it was all worth it!alok singhal canada united states

Merry Christmas from Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

You might remember that I wrote and published a post on Christmas decorations in Bellagio in Las Vegas exactly a year back. It was as if I was covering the event live, much like a reporter. Today, I happened to be at the Notre-Dane Basilica in Montreal, and I was so excited to attend the Mass while admiring the intricate Gothic Revival style architecture that is about 200 years old!The official language of Montréal is French and it was but obvious that even the hour-long prayer was in the language that half of its population speaks (largest-speaking for any city after Paris). Even though I couldn’t get much of it, I paid my respects the best I could. Just so you know, I have deep admiration for the Christian community as my schooling was from the St Paul’s and St Joseph’s.The church is highly decorated in multi-colored settings. The wooden carvings are intricate and there are many religious statues. In spite of being amply spacious and harsh weather outside, the church was jam-packed today. As the melodious voices did their job with finesse, the sounds from Casavant Frères pipe organ dating back to 1891 only added further to the thrilling experience (you can see the instrument in below shot).There is no fee for offering prayer or attending the mass. However, visitors have to pay an entry fees of $6 for adults ($4 for 7-17 years of age; free for below 7) for touring the sanctuary (with or without guide). The access was free today from 1-4pm on account of Christmas Eve.You can also light candles through token donations starting at $1. The collection goes in maintaining the structure.I must say I had a great time enjoying the blessings of God, and I am closing off my 2017 on a high 🙂

*All pictures are from my iPhone 7Plus

Year-End Special: Niagara Falls and Winter Festival of Lights

As we were planning to relocate to Canada in May this year, my only wish was to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, from where the Horseshoe Bend and the American falls are clearly visible in all their glory! And we did take a trip on the very first weekend.

I had read about how the falls can look like frozen during the winter time (they don’t freeze completely, just that the flow-rate gets reduced), so I had that on my mind as well. Also, with the year-end Festival of Lights (FOL) going on these days, there couldn’t have been a better time than to visit now. So, last Saturday, we made an excitement-filled trip to the attraction known to spellbound anybody. After reaching around 2.30pm, we parked at the paid parking (charge is flat at $20 for a day) right across the street opposite to the Horseshoe falls. Having seen the falls at the peak of Summer, I couldn’t help admire the contrast now. Though it is not yet the peak of winter here, snow has fallen a few times already. And the effect was clearly visible around – apart from the falls, pretty much everything else was frozen.frozen niagara fallswinter in canadahorseshoe falls usaamerican falls canadaIt was so cold even with the layers of clothes we were wearing that Saru had to head indoors (just adjacent to the falls – there are a few shops to grab souvenirs and eat as well). However, if you are adventurous and more inclined towards spending your time outside (like me), you can take a walk along the falls from Horseshoe to American and even further till the Rainbow Bridge (connecting Canada and United States). The route map is here.niagara in winterOnce it was dark (around 5pm), we picked up our car and started driving towards the Dufferin islands, home to Festival’s Canadian Wildlife Displays, including some three-dimensional ones also. Considering that a lot of people are visiting just to see the lights, be ready to encounter traffic, but it is also an opportunity to admire the displays along the road. Since there are 2 lanes each way most of the time, you can stop at non-crowded places (be sure to switch on the parking lights) and click a few shots. Once in dufferin islands, there are designated parking slots for you to get down and go close to the illuminations. wildlife in canadacanada wildlife photographyfestival of lightsdufferin islandsWe spent a couple of hours in the islands before heading back towards the falls. I stopped at a few places on the other side of the road now to take some shots (my favorite is that of the flag – it alternated between Canadian and American one).niagara falls folcanadian american flagNotes:

  1.  The illuminations are on a stretch of 8 kilometers as in map above – it is up to you to make the most of them. One can easily spend a few hours just marveling at the beauty of the falls themselves!
  2. If you are looking to park your car for just a couple of hours to view the falls, check short-term parking slots around – there are many along the main road (they would be cheap). We should have gone with them this time!
  3. This year the FOL is from Nov 18 to Jan 31. There is no fees to view the lights. However, donations are welcome at the exit of the Dufferin Islands.
  4. We didn’t see the fireworks over falls this time, but here is the schedule if you are interested.
  5. Do check the weather conditions if you want to head over. Canada is known for its extreme weather! Consequently, it would be wise to carry all of your winter essentials, even an extra pair of clothes, and an umbrella (the mist off the falls creates showers sometimes).

A hat-trick of sorts: 3 years Blogging | 2 on Instagram

It has been one long journey, and I am not tired yet 🙂

I had never imagined I would ever write, let alone publishing posts consistently for 3 years! I started off with documenting my Travels and, a year later, posting a huge database of pictures I have on Instagram. Fortunately, I got tremendous feedback from my readers and I was also approached by a few firms to write for them. Early this year, I started doing promotions on my Instagram Account, too. All this added to my enthusiasm along the way, and I’ve never looked back. alok singhal instagramI owe Thanks to You, and also to those who are not around anymore for whatever reason. It is because of your comments that I have been able to deliver. I also want to mention about numerous strangers who took time to add their experiences on the places I’ve visited or just motivate me otherwise…some inputs were quite touching. There is nothing more satisfying that getting a thoughtful comment appreciating the hard work you’ve put in.

Last Anniversary I had mentioned I would cut down on my blogging activities. Yes, I did – quite a lot actually, as is evident from the number of comments I now get on a post! In spite of that, today I have 198 published posts, averaging over one every week in the last 3 years – and that too in spite of blogging not being one of my favorite hobbies (which includes Travel & Photography, Stock Trading and related Research). And it is not just the Travel & Photography category that I have written on – the posts are also spread across Personal Experiences, Lessons in Life, Humor, Health, and my speeches from Toastmasters. This all apart from the full-time demanding job that I have.

As I continue to spend more time on my Portfolio Management, I think this is the pace I could keep up with at the most. Moreover, each and every post I publish takes a lot of my time as it goes through multiple iterations of quality checks. A-post-a-week also gives enough time to my readers to enjoy visiting other sites and keeps them motivated to look forward to the next one from me.

With that, let me wish you a very happy year-end and a fabulous 2018. If you are heading on a vacation soon, here’s a high five 🙂

Reasons to Love Donald Trump

*This is my next speech in Toastmasters, from the Advanced Manual “The Entertaining Speaker”Donald-Trump-Quotes alok singhalI am not a fan of Donald Trump, so I really hated myself when I chose to talk about why we should love him! But it is good to take a contrarian view sometimes. So, here are my thoughts on why he needs a bit of sympathy:

  1. Teaches us how to raise kids – I am not sure how many of you pamper your kids every time. But he doesn’t! He makes it a point to not have his kids being given things on a silver platter. This essentially means you are teaching your kids how difficult it is to earn money and have them respect the same.
  2. Shares his feelings openly: By now we know he was not completed fit for the position of the President of Untied States. This is because he doesn’t know what, when, and how to speak. In fact, he mentioned this about his daughter Ivanka Trump, “She has a great figure. Had she not been my daughter, I would have been dating her.” Huh! But I like people who come out clean rather than keeping such thoughts to them.
  3. History with women – It is no secret that Trump was a womanizer. When he ran for the President, a lot of women came out in the open accusing him of sexual misconduct in the past. However, do you know there are contradictory images of him, too? He hired one Barbara Res as his head of construction in the 1980s, when not many women held such positions. She later mentioned him saying, “While men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men.”
  4. An inspiration – My wife always says – if he can become the President of a super-power than America is, any Tom, Dick, and Harry can do anything in life. You just have to think Big! In fact, if you didn’t know, he picked up politics as a hobby a couple of years back and ended up defeating Clinton, who spent her entire career in politics!
  5. A real entertainer – This is my personal favorite. Believe it or not, you won’t ever find a character like him at such a position of authority. I mean who else can fit in his philosophy within just 140 characters on Twitter? And can defend it too! With the twitter text limit now raised, I am sure we are bound to have more laughs 😀
  6. He is a winner, after all – No matter his comments on Hillary during the Presidential debates or numerous women accusing him of wrong doings, a lot of people did go out and vote for him, including many women. So, I would assume he has a bit of charisma that drives people towards him.

And who knows, he might actually make America great again! After all, the US economy has shown considerable progress in the last one year!

**Picture sourced from here

The High Roller at The Linq Promenade

The Linq promenade is an open-air retail, dining, and entertainment district on the Las Vegas Strip. A prominent attraction of district is the 550-tall High Roller that was opened by Caesars Entertainment in 2014. It is the world’s highest observation wheel and gives a fantastic 360-degree view of Vegas.las vegas the linq promenadethe linq at las vegasbest of las vegasLocated adjacent to the Flamingo hotel and casino, The Linq is hard to pass by. We spent a few hours window shopping there. It is also close to Bally’s hotel where we were put up. In fact, our hotel room gave us a good view of the Ferris wheel. We could see the 2,000 LEDs glow late into the night on the wheel! Spellbound by its beauty and statistics, we booked a ride one night to experience its beauty from inside and also of Vegas from high above.las vegas strip the linq ferris wheelNow imagine being in one of the 28 sturdy cabins that adorn the high roller and being taken on a slow ride of 30 minutes – you have enough time to enjoy the interiors (equipped with eight flat-screen televisions and an iPod dock) or just enjoy the nightlife of Vegas through the glass. You could even get lucky with seeing the show of Bellagio Fountains from above (just a couple of blocks from there) if timing is right. I had enough time to even click some pictures. Though there were quite a few reflections from lighting all around (even of the LEDs on the wheel) and even the outer glass was thick, I was able to get a few decent shots.las vegas at nightthe strip las vegasIf you are looking to buy tickets for the high roller, check various options on the Internet as you might get lucky with a deal, else you can directly buy on Caesars official site here.

*Statistics sourced from here

Las Vegas Strip: You won’t get tired of exploring it!

The last leg of our 2016 year-end tour to the West Coast was 3 days in the gorgeous Las Vegas.

We were staying in Bally’s (right in the middle of the world-famous Strip), so most of the hotels and casinos were within walking distance. I was so attracted to the fountains of Bellagio, which were just across the street, that I visited them quite a few times during our stay – don’t miss them!best of las vegasbelloagio fountainsfuntains in the nightLV has many theme-based resort hotels and casinos, and you can cover almost all of them just by walking. Based on where you are put up on the strip (and I strongly suggest staying where most of the action is), some might feel a bit further away (the length of the strip is 6.8 kilometers or 4.2 miles), so you can take a bus to reach them. There are a few free trams also, but they cover only certain hotels on the west side. Our rental car allowed us to explore with ease…we just had to take our car out once and park at the New York Hotel and Casino, that allowed us access to the furthest end of the strip on the south (Mandalay Bay casino). The North end leads to the Fremont Street, which is a spectacle in itself (we visited it one evening – we parked at the roadside paid slots)!

The entire strip looks quite scenic in the night when the multitude of lights show-off their elegance. However, each hotel has its own charm and should be visited both during the day and night. Some are worth multiple visits too depending on your interests. We spent a lot of time in The Venetian (has Gondola rides in the hotel, much like in Venice), Bellagio’s (stunning year-end celebrations and fountains outside are a sheer delight), and Caesars Palace (based on Roman architecture, and even has life-sized Gods in there). There is no fees to explore any of these hotels from inside, you might have to pay for individual attractions though (e.g. Gondola ride).

The Venetian: Visit to enjoy shopping arcade, gondola rides, food, and stunning venice-themed architecture.what to see in las vegasgondola venetian las vegasbest of lvbest hotel in las vegasCaesars Palace: Visit to enjoy tryst with the roman architecture, fall of atlantis show, and luxury shopping.caesars las vegas.jpgnew year in las vegascaesars palaceroman architecture las vegasThough we were in LV for 3 days, I would suggest keeping a week if you want to explore each resort thoroughly and indulge in some serious shopping too – you can spend as much as you want to as all the luxury brands are present there! Even if you just like long walks, your eyes won’t get tired of admiring the hotels from the outside – day or night!new york hotel las vegasbest hotel in las vegas nevadaluxor hotel and casinomgm grand las vegasthe mirage hoteldisney las vegasOne last thing we did in Las Vegas was to take the High Roller ride, currently the world’s tallest ferris wheel. More on that in the next post…

How to clear United States H1, L1, and B2 Visa Interviews

If you have ever applied for a Visa to the United States, you would have surely wondered how to (desperately) clear the same. But because of the ever changing scrutiny requirements that the Officers put us through, the job is hardly a cakewalk! Having been through multiple H1B and one L1B Visa Interviews in New Delhi, and recently issued B2 (Tourist) visa in Toronto, I can say it is not as dreadful as it is made out to be. It does entail a thorough preparation though, unlike Tourist Visa to many other countries (say Canada), which can be obtained without much of an effort.alok singhal us visaI left the United States after completing 6 years in May this year, having entered on L1B in April 2011 and going through multiple H1Bs during my stay there (because of either a job change or stamping required in India when I went on vacation). It sounded a pretty daunting and nerve-racking task during my first 2 interviews, but now I have gotten used to it.

While there is no sure-shot way to clear the US Visa Interviews, here’s how you can do your best:

1. Proper paperwork: Since H1 and L1 Visas are sponsored through your employer, make sure they file all the documents required. Most of it would be either filled-in or provided by you, so do your best. If you work for a renowned firm with a global presence, it makes life all the more easier.

I turned down a high paying job offer through a third party for Bank of America just because it was through that ‘third party.’ I was promised it would be a direct position with the client before interviews, but after clearing 5 rounds, BoA decided to bring me as a Vendor Consultant for a year (they did the same for all other such positions also). Well, I turned down the offer and continued with my current firm for about 50k USD less annually, because I work for a big brand name!

2. Prepare well in advance: Nothing beats preparing well for any interview…that would help you feel easy with any questions thrown at you. Do check experiences of people who have gone to the same embassy where you are appearing, but take insights with a pinch of salt since every case is different. People might say rubbish since they want to let our their frustration if they are declined, just move on to the next case.

If you have never faked any point in your resume (I never did so), you wouldn’t have to make up excuses, and that goes a long way in feeling comfortable. Ascertain that the original documents that you need for the interview are all there in a transparent file and you wouldn’t have to scamper around if asked for a specific paper in the interview.

3. Just before the interview: Dress professionally if you are appearing for a Work Permit based Visa. I have seen people working for top Investment Banks in the US and coming to office in bathroom sandals. How cheap! Nobody is asking you to wear a suit and a tie during peak of summer, but don’t go there in Jeans and a Tee…make sure the shirt and trouser is ironed properly and shoes are polished (search internet for what is a proper attire).

Remember, some interviews are high-profile – they could make or break your career. Don’t take any chances just because you are not well prepared!

4. During the interview: Even if you are standing in the queue, appear confident – don’t slouch. And always wear a smile! I have cleared 80% of my interviews in life just because I was confident, smiled, and relaxed. Many interviewers might reject you just because you look highly nervous (indicating you are hiding something). Again, if you are genuine, you wouldn’t have to worry there.

If you can, make the discussion with the officer a bit humorous. Many of us live stressful lives, so making the moment lively comes in handy. Don’t take it to the extreme though, or appear over-smart. This point is only for people who have mastered the art of balancing the situation.

If you’ve done your bit, most likely you will come out happy. In the event you are rejected for whatever reason, take solace in the fact that you did your best – you might crack it next time!

*Picture sourced from here

4 years with Toastmasters – a journey worth every meeting!

I joined Toastmasters in New York by signing up with Bryant Park club on Oct 1 2013 – I can’t imagine it’s been 4 years already! Though I moved on from there to Warren in New Jersey in Feb 2014, and to Mississauga in Canada in May 2017, I have continued my membership with Citigroup corporate club at each place (luckily, there is/was one). I have written about what Toastmasters is here and here. In fact, I have a news from early last month also – I came in 2nd in the Area 43 contest for Impromptu Speaking (called Table Topics). alok singhalIf you’ve followed me for long, you might know that I won the Area 34 International Speech contest in April this year (in the US), but couldn’t do well at the Division level. Anyway, life is not just about winning, it is more about learning at every step of the way.

It has been my absolute pleasure to be a part of such a fabulous program, which is non-profit by the way! In the 200 or so weekly meetings that have happened in the past 4 years, I must have attended at least 185 of them – such has been my enthusiasm, mostly because of the learnings and fun they provide. I just go to every meeting not thinking about my professional or person life and willing to take in whatever comes. I strong advice you too to find a club nearby by going to https://www.toastmasters.org/ and maybe just walk by to see what happens there for a start. Most likely, you will come back happy and will sign-up!

I can personally lay down the benefits I have seen in myself. I have more confidence in speaking with strangers now, my humor quotient has gone up, and there is that feeling of doing something different than what most of us do on a regular basis. Btw, Toastmasters is not just about Public Speaking as many wrongly understand it to be – the learnings you get while speaking to a group in a friendly environment can be used in everyday life – imagine not slouching while speaking, using proper hand gestures or body language, making eye contact, or just motivating or inspiring people around you. And the price to pay – well, just $45 every 6 months! In fact, many professional speakers around the world rehearse their speech in the club(s) they are associated with before they enthrall their audience at the big stage.

So, what are you waiting for?

#CelebratingSuper with Initiatives by Vodafone

We lived in NCR for a long time, till we moved to the US in April 2011. A major reason to move out of India was to enjoy the quality of life in the West. Having lived in the states for 6 years and now in Canada for half-a-year, I can safely say that NCR was the most polluted region we’ve ever stayed in. Blame it either on the Government or people not doing their bit to at least keep their surroundings clean, the experience was nightmarish! I’ve never stayed in the region since I left it about 7 years back, but as I write this post from my hometown Ambala, I can assure you that my city is much better compared to what we endured back then in the NCR.

Having traveled extensively across countries, I feel there is a basic level of environmental cleanliness that we all expect. Who has to provide for it is dependent on both public and the private sector. The government has to initiate it and people have to follow on it, or it could be totally led by individuals too! To bring about a change, we are equally responsible as is the Government that we depend (and blame) on.

Let’s take the example of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The other day when I was traveling from Ambala towards Delhi, I saw workers cleaning NH1, which left me awestruck! I had never seen anybody cleaning highways before. Or take the example of folks taking away Trash from our home every morning. These are highly commendable steps taken by the Government. Think about people working at the grassroots towards the benefit of our country – it is so difficult to achieve in a country like ours! I believe the change is coming! In fact, when I landed in Delhi a fortnight back, I was so happy to see the new airport that I started clicking pictures of the same. Here is one such shot of an artwork against a waterfall:alok singhal delhiTalk about our National Capital:

I have read a lot about Supreme Court banning the use of Firecrackers on Diwali – a step which saved 1000s, to say the least! Yes, it discomforted many, but then didn’t I say we have to do our bit too? After all, it is us who are going to lead better lives!

The other step is introducing Metro far and wide in the region. If we all commit to using it rather than taking our own vehicle wherever possible, we would help reduce congestion on roads, which has numerous benefits. I remember taking the bus to and from New York for 2 years for work (I didn’t even buy a car). And I am not alone…If you ever go to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, you would see long queues for buses in the evenings. This has helped New York authorities to maintain the smooth flow of traffic in the already congested city.

Vodafone has taken a few initiatives too! The created the first air-purifying bus shelter in the city to help people breather clean it. They have committed to the digital revolution in the capital, so we can enjoy the benefits of technology while on the move. When I was in the New York area, I didn’t have a data plan on my phone. I used to make use of hotspots provided by my home internet provider there. Same is being done in the NCR by Vodafone. They have provided 120 hotspots at popular locations in NCR. Maybe in a few years, we will be close to where New York is in terms of quality of life and bringing the power of technology to the common man!

There is a lot yet to be done but the steps taken by the Government and Vodafone will lay the foundation for us follow it. It is only through a consistent and dedicated effort that we can bring about a real change in our lives!


Sell second-hand devices at first-hand prices on Cashify

This post Won 3rd runners-up Prize in #CleanUpCashOut contest on IndiBlogger

I’m obsessed with the latest technology. I change my iPhone every year! However, with every new launch comes the liability of getting rid of the old model. I’m unlike my father and father-in-law who passionately accumulate the old junk. They are alien to the concept of throwing away old or unused things. My father still owns the Beltek TV which was a luxury in the 80s. It’s antique now, though. I’m not like them. I trade-off or sell my gadgets as I’m not rich enough to donate iPhones.

My obsession perfectly captured by Sarualok saru singhal

Here’s the Beltek TV we have – Someday, I hope to sell it for a fortune 🙂alok beltek television

Last year when I upgraded to iPhone 7 plus, I thought of selling my older model 6 plus. The market value of that phone was about Rs 25,000. My device was in a perfect condition – no scratch, no software issue; even the USB charger, and headphones were in brand new condition.

With high hopes, I went to the store that specializes in selling second-hand gadgets. He, being the leader in the market, offered Rs 21,000. I was not-so-happy with the price, so I went on to explore the market in an attempt to get a better deal. And from there started a journey of hilarious excuses. Read the top-rated replies for justifying measly sum offered for an almost-new iPhone:

  • Sir, iPhone yahan koi nahi use karta, yahan to Lava, Nokia ya Samsung chalte hain. Aapko jaldi hai to hum le lenge.

And that day, Apple valuation dropped from a multi-billion dollar company to an unwanted brand!

  • Bhaiya iPhone ho ya Mercedes, ek baar showroom se nikal gayi to bas value khatam. Aap Singhal Sahab ke bete ho is liye Rs 15,200 le lo.

What! Singhal brand name is bigger than Apple in Ambala 😛

  • Phone hai – yes! Charger hai – yes (examines it in between). Headphones hain – yes! Box hai, bill hai – Haan bhai!

         Fir aap internet pe bech do!

Seems some are not confident Apple will sell in a city where every other person is aspiring to buy it!

  • Bhaiya hum sare phone le lete hain bus iPhone nahin – Kyun?

Repair nahi hoti yahan iss ki. Agar koi problem ho gayi baad mein to kya aap repair karwa denge?

From an iPhone user to a mechanic, he demoted me in a fraction of a second. After that, I felt like selling myself just to check my market value. Or, maybe, boost my morale!

A little frustrated but thoroughly entertained, I finally met a sensible shopper who lifted my spirits for a good 5-minutes.

  • ‘Yes sir, we will take your iPhone and give you the best deal.’ I was impressed with his English! After examining my phone and its various components, he offered a deal which can put an apple user in doubt. ‘I will take this phone and you can buy any phone from our shop at 50% off.’ And that was the end of my patience. Needless to say hopes, too. I gave up! It made more sense to give my iPhone to a family member than to sell it at a measly price. Later on, the first shopkeeper who offered me 21k refused as the price was valid for that moment. ‘Yahan to price daily change hote hain!’ was his reply.

Now that iPhone X is available, I’m not bothered about disposing of my old one. Why you ask? I’ve discovered a cool app that makes selling old gadgets easy. Cashify – a place where we can sell old devices in just 60-seconds. Submit all the relevant information, get the quote instantly, a representative would come to pick it at your place and will give you the quoted price in cash. Easy, right?

Not only selling phones, tabs, and laptops, we can also order a repair, get anti-theft protection, and refer a friend to earn 150 rupees. For readers of this blog, use code CLEANCASH to get 250 rupees extra next time you sell your device on Cashify. Don’t go through the troubles I faced or the guy in this video endured. Instead, use Cashify to #CleanUpCashOut your old devices.

To know more about the services offered by Cashify, head to https://www.cashify.com

Memorable Vacation in Goa with Hard Rock Hotel

After my impromptu escapade to the Sunset Beach in Cape May, I developed a strong connection with the Beaches. I witnessed a spectacular sunset on the first day of the year in 2015. I marveled at the color, paintbrush-like strokes in the sky, and the serenity it brings. For me, beaches are mesmerizing. The sheer beauty of it can never be explained in words. You have to travel to such fabulous places to experience it! As a beach lover, I have a long wishlist of places I intend to cover…it has the best beaches from all over the world. I’ve covered a few already – Bondi beach in Sydney, South beach in Miami, and the recently visited Sauble beach in Ontario, Canada.

Goa is one such destination that is on the top of my mind for over a decade. And why not? It’s the best beach destination in our country! I’ve talked to many foreigners who itch to travel to this beauty. In fact, in 2007, I made all the arrangements for a vacation to Goa for my entire family. Planes tickets were booked, hotel arrangements were made, but as luck would have it we had to cancel it at the last minute. Since, my resolve to travel to the top beach destination in India has gone up. 

Speaking of beaches, it takes a lot to find one and then do an extensive research on the same. I plan all the details to the T. Here is how it goes for me:

  • Scout for the best beach in a country. My idea of the best beach is one that is less crowded, has clear water, and an exquisite quality of sand.
  • Search online for the best places to capture sunrise and sunset. Wherever I travel, I always find the company of professional photographers…essentially telling me I am at the right spot! They bring their tripods and expensive lenses to shoot gorgeous dawn and dusk. There are hundreds of online communities where one can find all the relevant information related to sunset/sunrise photography. Just do your research.
  • Stay close to attractions and not far away from the beach. It comes at a price, but when you account for the time savings and travel cost to-and-fro from far-off hotels, on-beach properties make for a better deal. You get to experience the exuberance of the crowd, activities that are centered around the beach, and can head to your hotel when you want to. Other reasons on one side, the experience of living close to the center of all the action is amazing.
  • A trip to the beach is incomplete without an adventure sport. To make sure I don’t spend an outrageous amount that can dwindle my budget, I rely on two sources – online deals and coupons available at the hotel. Every hotel at a tourist destination has a corner in the lobby where one can find pamphlets of all the attractions and activities nearby. I make use of these and suggest you do too. I saved nearly $50 with such a pamphlet on Q1 tickets in Gold Coast, Australia…and I have many such examples!
  • Last but not the least, I stay at a hotel that provides meals. If not a full-fledged restaurant than at least breakfast buffet. I don’t like to spend an hour looking out for breakfast options. I like to get ready early morning, have breakfast, and head out to the attraction. By going early, one can easily avoid traffic and long queues at the attraction.

With these specifics in mind, I found that staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Goa would guarantee an unforgettable trip. Situated on Calangute beach, all the major Goa attractions are at a convenient distance to it. The hotel has all the necessities I want and all the luxuries my wife craves for – restaurant, coffee shop, gym, pool, lounge, and tastefully decorated rooms. It’s a 4-star hotel and is surprisingly well-priced. After reading stellar reviews of this property, I’ve already chosen it for my Goa trip. Here are a few pictures of the hotel.Hard Rock Goa 1Hard Rock Goa 2Hard Rock Goa 3Hard Rock Goa 4Hard Rock Goa 5If you are planning to head to Goa for holidays, Hard Rock Hotel is an option that you should definitely explore. In case you visit there before I do, don’t forget to share your experience.

Of Diwali and India Visits…

It is that time of the year when you should be in India – to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights! This year the D-day is October 19.

Well, I long for celebrating Diwali in India every year, but my work doesn’t allow me to take off between September through November. Every year, the deadlines get pushed back and everything piles-up to be completed in October or November…nobody tinkers with the Christmas time in the West though! So, early this year, I closed it with my manager to allow me to be in India to indulge in the festivities with the family back home. And, gladly, we are taking off for New Delhi tonight 🙂

alok singhal diwali
This was shot last year on Diwali in the US
Actually, had it not been for a medical emergency in September, we would have spent a few weeks in Europe (my dream destination) and then a couple in India. We had to cancel our bookings at the last moment. We are sort of fine now, but the situation threw us off physically and monetarily. Whoever said “Man proposes, but God disposes” did say it loud and clear! Anyway, seems my dream will have to wait a bit long.

We were supposed to take off on September 21 and, coincidentally (on the positive side), I achieved all of my Stock Market-related targets for the Indian fiscal year April 2017-March 2018 the same day. What a day for such extremes to happen! The profits came at the expense of many sleepless nights though, because of the time difference between India and US/Canada. I have often questioned myself if I should be doing what I do, but then money does matter. Consequently, I got a bit too ambitious and created another plan to be achieved by the end of 2020. Maybe I should be leading some global firm managing billions of dollars 😛

Just a bit on the markets – I am a huge proponent of the incumbent Modi-led government in India. Things have been looking up ever since he came to power a few years back, courtesy some bold reforms. I expect Indian Stock Markets to remain hot for another few years. Btw, US Markets are not doing bad too…if you had invested money in any of the two a couple of years back, you would know what I mean. Let me not delve deeper into the topic, as I have written on it quite a few times earlier – here and for the Money View blog.

With that, let me wish my Indian readers a very happy and safe Diwali. I’ll be off for a month as our trip will culminate with my sister’s marriage in November.

*I have a few posts in draft and would publish them on the go. Your comments are always welcome 🙂

Looking to relocate to Canada from the US? Think again!

Canada is a hot destination for many these days, courtesy easier (and quick) way to Permanent Residency (PR), free medical benefits and education, and charm of the West! With ever increasing immigration issues in the US and the dream of getting a Green Card (GC) a distant reality, many are thinking about relocating from the neighboring country too. If you are a qualified professional like me, it is even easier!usa vs canadaI moved to Canada from the US in May this year after exhausting my H1B there. I worked for the Financial clients in Boston, New York, and New Jersey during the 6 years that I was there. The move to Canada was not a preferred choice for me – I declined GC request from my firm 2 years back in the hope of moving close to India, with Europe being my preferred destination. In the end, it didn’t work out, and I was left with only one choice – continue with the same project in Toronto area. I had never imagined Canada would be so costly, else I wouldn’t have taken it up in the first place! You can’t blame me for not doing my homework either since the prices have shot up here very recently. Consider this – Canada Immigration is extending PR offer to more than 5,000 people every month, and most of them end up settling down in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Let’s get to the comparison of monthly prices which make up most of my budget (prices are rounded-off, and many vary daily):

Just so you know, the salary one gets when you move from the US to Canada is exactly the same, not with the exchange rate adjustment! So, if you were making 100K there, it would be 100K here, in spite of the current exchange rate of 1USD=1.22CADalok singhalDon’t be fooled by the free medical in Canada, which many speak of first. Unless you have to be in the hospital every other day, you won’t really be making good use of it! As for the education, you don’t pay for public schools in the US.

Just so you know, my in-hand salary in Canada is less even after not paying any monthly medical insurance…I would have loved to pay it and not pay extra on everything else! A part of the problem is also that Canada is far less developed compared to the US, which leads to far less competition among vendors, thus leading to higher prices on almost everything (and they won’t come down anytime soon)!

All in all, I am taking a hit of USD1,000 per month! What I am saving here, I could probably save in India also. Yes, the lifestyle is much better and the education is free here, but between the 2 countries, why not settle down in the US, which is better on most parameters?

As for me, I don’t want to settle down in either country…I still have a thing or a two for India. Let’s see.

*The apartment I have now is better than the one in the US, so that price is a bit more for the same standard of living.

**Image sourced from Google, stats are my own

The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto in Tobermory is the best attraction I have been to yet! The natural cove formed over thousands of years is a 4-hour drive north of Toronto and lies within the famous Bruce Peninsula National Park.

As we had already taken the permit for the 12-4 slot (mentioned in the last post), we drove into the park around 11.45am and parked in P1 lot about 5 kilometers further up from the entrance (it is beyond the Cyprus Lake – see map in the last post). The grotto is about a half-hour easy walk from there. There are a couple of trails you can take to reach it – the longer one is along the Horse Lake and shorter one along the Marr Lake, which is what we took.

Once you hit the water, the views are unbelievable! There were hordes of people there, but I took them off the shot to avoid the clutter. It was quite windy that day, so you can’t see anybody swimming out there, but this would make for a perfect spot for anybody wanted to either plunge in the water or just have some nice time alongside. I stood at the edge for a couple of shots and got fully drenched 🙂best beaches in the worldgrotto bruce peninsulaWe followed the Bruce Trail (which goes along the edge) and there is a Grotto Cave just a few meters away. I would imagine had it been a swimmable day, I wouldn’t even have found a suitable platform to snap it!the grottoJust a few meters further up is the Grotto, one which takes a lot of effort to reach as there is no defined pathway leading to it. The folks in the shot below had to find their way down through the rocks that you see in the view (same was on my side too).grotto near torontoThe park is too vast to enjoy fully in a 4-hour window but we did go further to explore a couple of more vistas. If you have time, do go to the Boulder Beach and the Overhanging Point. I wouldn’t say they are as magnificent as the Grotto but would give you some unique views nonetheless.

The boulder beach, as the name suggests, is quite rocky. It is a good spot for some sun-bathing though. You can bring your umbrella and maybe just read a book in the shade!boulder beach bpnpboulder beach bruce peninsulaThe next was to hike up to the Overhanging Point (all the way up in the thick blanket of green in the above shot), but it takes some strenuous hiking for about a kilometer to reach that point. Being the last attraction for us (before we were to head back to the parking), we didn’t want to leave it.views of nature bruce peninsulaoverhanging point bruce peninsulaAs is apparent, the rock has gone through erosion over centuries and now is a spectacular semic circle hanging off the edge.

We leisurely covered what one could do in the allotted time, but if you plan to swim or even go down in the Grotto, you might have to sacrifice on a few spots. Remember, you have to head back to the parking also, which would take at least 30 minutes…and you can’t risk the authorities towing away your vehicle! Btw, you don’t have to follow the same path in reverse to head back, there is a shortcut from the boulder beach which further merges into the Marr Lake trail.

P.S. As mentioned earlier, entry to any National Park in Canada is free this year owing to the country’s 150th anniversary.

The colors of fall at the Acadia National Park

After witnessing a spectacular Sunrise at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine, USA, it was time to experience the fall colors that Acadia is famous for. The best way to do so is by driving on the 27 mile Park Loop Road, which connects the park’s lakes, mountains, forests, and rocky shores, and provides easy access to many stunning views. The road is open from mid-April through November, but a small section is open year-round.

Since we had the yearly pass for all the National Parks in the US, we didn’t have to pay any entry fees (otherwise, a pass can be obtained for $25 per vehicle and is valid for a week). As soon as you enter the park, you can imagine why Acadia is a must-visit during autumn. The fall colors there were not at their peak yet, but were still fabulous to have anybody exclaiming ‘what more!’

There are many pull-off observation points and one should stop at them to see why they are famous for…a leisure trip definitely is a huge plus if you really want to enjoy the bliss of nature! If you are short of time, I would definitely recommend enjoying the following:

Sand Beach: Just walk along the spectacular azure water, or take a swim! The beach is flanked by mountains on 3 sides and we walked from end-to-end against this lovely backdrop. The clouds that were hovering around in the morning provided for a mystical experience!sand beach acadiasand beach acadia np mainephotography in acadiaThunder Hole: A small crack in the cave along the shoreline where waves crash into the hole. The ideal time to witness the road of air and water is when the tide is midway between high and low. Since you can’t time it perfectly, just enjoy whenever you are there!thunder hole mainethunder hole acadiaOtter Cliff: There are many cliffs in there…Otter cliff is a famous one! I went further up on a few ledges to enjoy the sound of waves and inhale in the pristine surroundings.viewpoints in acadia national parkEven if you keep driving along, there are many viewpoints where you could just park the car along the road and enjoy the beauty of nature. I especially liked the views of the Frenchman Bay in the distance!islands in acadia maineroad trip in acadia

P.S. During our trip, I found a fascination for smelling the colored leaves but, unfortunately, they don’t smell any different when they are undergoing the color change.

The hidden gems of Tobermory, Ontario

Further to my previous post on the Sauble Beach that we visited on a Friday evening a few weeks back, we had a lot of attractions lined up until Monday evening. They form a part of the Bruce Peninsula and the adjoining Fathom Five National Marine Park. On Saturday morning, we had to first get the permit for the famous Grotto (natural intricate cove) since the parking for it is through timed slots and is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis. The slots are from 7-11am, 12-4pm, 5-9pm. It is suggested to reach as early as possible if you even want to be safe for a slot (you can only get a permit for that day, not for future). On weekends (especially long ones), all the slots could get filled up in the morning itself…you can follow their twitter handle @BrucePNP or even use #grottoparking to see the current availability.

We reached the entrance (on the Cyprus Lake Rd) to the Bruce Peninsula National Park about 8.30am and were given the option to choose from any of the 2nd or 3rd slots. We went with the 12-4 one since photography is better during the day time and one could enjoy the reflections in crystal-clear waters too! In the meantime, we backed-up our car and headed further up about 10 kilometers to the Tobermory Visitor Center (map here: BP-FF_Map_en). As I’ve mentioned earlier also, the benefit of starting with the Visitor Center can’t be undermined…the folks there give you valuable information even though you might think you know it all!

We were advised to head to the tower right next to it and then go to the Dunks Bay just a short walk away. We did exactly that and were treated to spectacular views of the entire Georgian Bay from the summit of the tower. It was quite windy and cloudy that morning, but the views from up there are still fresh in my memory.tobermory tower near visitor centerbruce peninsula national parkviews from top tobermorygeorgian bayAfter that, we headed to the Dunks Bay and were in awe looking at the clarity of the water. I could even count stones deep into the turquoise waters…I felt the clarity to be even better than that of Lake Tahoe in California that we saw in April last year!nature traildunks bay tobermorywhat to see in tobermoryWe got so excited about the prospect of what is coming up next that the 3 hours at those 2 small sites seemed to pass by in a jiffy!

There are other attractions in Tobermory too, especially a cruise to explore the Flowerpot Island of Fathom Five NP (we covered that on Monday). Our priority was The Grotto for most of Saturday and The Blue Mountains on Sunday. More on these coming up next…

Another Day, Another Beach!

We have been to so many beaches in the last few years that it seems like just yesterday I was at (yet) another beach. It was a few weeks back when we started our long weekend by spending the Friday evening at the gorgeous Sauble Beach in Ontario. It’s a 2-hour drive from our place and we stayed close to the location to get a head-start for the activities we had planned for on Saturday.

At a length of 11 kilometers, Sauble Beach is the second longest freshwater beach in the world (after Wasaga beach, that I wrote about earlier). As the community of Sauble beach is located on the West, the pristine shores of Lake Huron provide for some spectacular Sunsets. Our experience was no less!

Being a working day for me on Friday, we reached the beach around 7.30pm. Since the Sunset was supposed to be around 9, we were there at the perfect time to witness the change of colors.sauble beach ontarioThe best part about this beach is that you can drive right up to the water (see the car on right in above shot). Moreover, that parking is free! If the parking is full, you can park on the road as well (that is paid, but reasonable). I must also add that the beach is quite clean and, luckily, there were very few people around when we visited.day trips from torontoI don’t swim, but that never deters me from just being in the water and listening to the sound of waves. There were a few kids and a surfer further into the lake, enjoying their heart out 😀best beaches in canadaWe spent a couple of hours (even had our dinner in the car while looking at the lake from a few feet). It must have been around 9pm when the waves increased, so we had to back-up the vehicle a bit.sunset phorography ontariosunset at a beachAfter a long time, I witnessed a perfect Sunset. Also, this is one place Saru didn’t want to leave…so she didn’t have to drag me off either 🙂

Why patience is a virtue in the Stock Markets?

Many of us are tempted to make quick bucks…how of it doesn’t matter! What if I told you there is a great way to make money (sometimes quickly) that too all legally? Well, Stock Market is your answer! I am not suggesting that is an easy way though! You have to have a decent knowledge of how the markets work.

My post for Money View here talks about the phenomenal run we are into and how the markets have made many rich in just a few years. It also talks about my personal wins, and some challenges, too. However, the main point is that I learned from my experiences and have been doing better every passing day! If you are into trading and have maintained discipline and had some patience, you would know what I am saying.

The times are still great and there is much more to be made in the Great Indian Story, as I would term it. Do let me know your thoughts after reading my insights shared on the MV Blog.

*Here’s a picture of me working for Morgan Stanley in New York…looks like a highly-paid wall street guy, no? Don’t ask my salary now 😦alok singhal