Travelogues

Interesting Trivia

CAT Preparation




Wish all the readers of this blog a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2016 .

Hope you take the best of this new beginning with full fun and masti!!


Travel : Europe

Travel : United States

Series : Perks of PM

Experiences

Blabbers

Recent Posts

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alleppey - House Floating on Backwaters : South India VI


After experiencing the woods and forests in Thekkady, we had backwaters on our itinerary. For next 2 days, we were going to be either floating over or saying besides the great backwater lakes in Kerala. While we all had been to a number of lakes and stayed at beaches, floating over water for a day was going to be a different experience. With this excitement within, we set forth towards our first destination for this part of the trip – Alleppey. We started immediately after breakfast and were on roads by 10:30. Soon we were leaving the jungle roads behind us and racing ahead towards our destination. It took about 3.5 hours to reach the outskirts of the town.

As we entered Alleppey, the first thought to cross my mind was that the town was bigger than what I had expected. Mirror still lagoons, picture book lakesides, palm fringed canals, shores bustling with glimpses from day to day life in this countryside town of Kerala. Though the destination changed its name to Alappuzha, it still is known by its old name across the country. This town is the center of backwater tourism in the state. The town was traditional a center for coir and coconut oil business however the markets diminished over time. Artisans and labors involved in these business lost jobs and shackles of poverty took its tool. One fine day, a group of unemployed peasants had an idea of developing a tourism industry based on the single asset they had – a beautiful lake surrounded by Kerala beauty.

We boarded the mighty house on the boat at about 2 and the vessel sailed away from shores to take us on its journey. It was a very different experience on the houseboat which is a self-sufficient house unit floating on the waters. We were really excited to be part of this journey over next 20 hours and hence the first logical step was to explore each and every corner of the boat. The end where we boarded had a small protruded platform with set-up for the driver to navigate the boat. Behind this was the generous living area which had a sofa set placed for the frontal view as the boat sailed. This area had a narrow alley running through the remaining length of the boat and ended in the kitchen located on the far end. The kitchen was a fully equipped unit with all necessary provisions to cater to the needs of the guests. Through its length, the alley opened up for two bedrooms – each a double bedded room with attached bathrooms. The rooms were spacious for the platform they were on and had a huge glass window to provide the view of the scenic landscapes. To our surprise, they had provided air conditioners in both the bedrooms which were operational during the night when the boat docks. The alley also had a wash basin and a counter running alongside. The counter was set with fruits and snacks.

Upper Deck Lounge of our Water Abode
Sideways View from Lounge
We were amazed at architecture and how efficiently each inch of the space was utilized. Equally impressive was the attention to detail to provide every comfort to the guests. However, this was not all. This was just the ground floor. A narrow flight of staircase had an opening at the start of the alley and climbed us to a spacious balcony. This was a decently big space with fixed bench running along the periphery of the boat. There was a set of chairs and a center table to complete the look as a secondary living area. There was an arrangement to bring down curtains if one preferred privacy but we were certain that the breeze and views had an upper hand at the time to any privacy requirements. The long uninterrupted views and the cool winds made sure that this would be the place where most of our time on this boat. However for the time we came down to the living area

They served us a welcome drink as the boat embarked on its day-long visit. The drink was similar to a lemon soda’s coconut version. We, then, went to the bedroom and dressed for relaxation. Then we came down to the lounge area and observed excitedly how the driver maneuvered the boat through the river. There was a television in the lounge which failed to gain any interest. The lounge was being cooled by large floor fans. Our interest in the skills of the driver caught his attention. He invited us to try a hand at the steering wheel. This was a very different experience as compared to controlling a car. The steering was hard and playground is tight in some areas. There are narrow canals and wide spreads both equally likely. Moreover, there are houses on two sides of the waterways at many instances and hence a careful concentration is a baseline requirement.

It was already late for lunch and it was the first thing that crossed our mind as we let go of the wheel. As if the staff heard our hearts or had the common sense of the time, the usher asked us if we were ready for the meal. As we settled on the dining table, yes, there was one dining table set too, the staff served the food. It was a very decent meal considering the mobile platform. They had chapatis, dal, a paneer dish and some rice. Papad, pickles, and curd accompanied as sides. And, then came a South Indian sweet to wrap the courses. While the food was good yet simple, the ambiance and the experience simply made it one of the most exotic meals we have had for some time. After the lunch, we decided to try out the upper deck lounge. So owe picked a water bottle, escalated the stairs and set ourselves up on the benches. No, we did not forget to set the camera on the tripod too! The open view of the water, the slowly sailing vessel, the scenery around and a hotel experience on water – it was all too much to grasp at a time. Leaning on the boat’s peripheral parapet was eclectic in its own sense.

As if this was not enough to please their guest, the cook scrambled yummiest of assorted pakoras I have ever tasted. And the bonus was them being served right on the top deck of the boat. While we munched on our snacks, it was difficult to take eyes off the view. There were narrow canals through with the boat steered its way. There were houses on either or both sides and farms beyond that. Almost each house had a boat tied in the waters in front. Apparently, that was the only efficient means to reach the city for them. At the height, we almost brushed aside a couple of coconut trees. It was about 6 PM when we felt that the boat moved towards the shores and finally anchored in front of a house. A look around told that there were many boats anchored similarly. Actually, the houseboats are only allowed to ply during the daytime and need to be anchored from sunset to sunrise. The reason is to provide open playing grounds for the fishermen and reduce noise levels in the night. Logical enough so no complaints. But what does one do when the boat is not moving? The staff offered us some DVDs – English and Hindi movies. We chose otherwise and decided to take a walk. The usher was kind enough to accompany us and show us around. In fact, the house we had docked at was his own. He said that the electricity from his house is used to charge the batteries and power AC. Most operators either have homes or pay a fixed amount to residents for anchoring. We had about an hour’s walk into farms, village streets and through temples. The usher explained to us the significance of the temples and many rituals followed in the area. He also excitedly took pictures of us at places he felt were picturesque.

Our Boat in Deep Lakes - Courtesy an Unknown
Long Canal Waterways with Lush Green Views
Birds Flocking Away - Did We Disturb Them?
Once we were back, it was time for dinner and we had another hearty meal and then went to the upper deck for some good moments under the openness of the environment. However soon the mosquitos proved to be a menace and staff advised us to hit indoors. They brought the curtains down and we moved to the bedroom. The boat kept swaying with waves and the effect was almost of a child’s cradle. We didn’t realize when we went to sleep and were woken up by all the noises of morning activities – the temple bells, the bikes, the motor boats and what not. We freshened up and opened the large window to let fresh air enter the air conditioned room. As we looked outside, the view of children dressed in school uniforms being rowed to the shores by their parents was really beautiful. Fishermen were returning with their catch and looking ahead to sell them at local markets. On the land, ladies were returning after their morning worship and temples had a festive look. And with the view, we were served our morning tea – right in bed.

We readied up hurriedly and moved out to the living area just in time when the driver was firing up the engine. The boat left shores at about 10 AM and proceeded to the remaining part of the journey. Idlis, dosa, and sambhar waited for us at the table. Another wonderful meal cooked on board! The morning waters were bit rushy as most boats left their anchor at the same time. Especially since we were a bit late on the previous day, we had the waters to ourselves. The driver, however, was gracious enough to take a longer route which was away from the regular way the boats moved and hence we finally had our views. After about an hour of sailing, we could see the city of Alleppey and realized that this experience was about to come to an end. As the boat docked at the yard and the staff bid us goodbye, we had our hearts heavy to leave the boat. It was definitely one of the most exotic sites we had visited and hence departure was sad.

Boats Competing to Shores in Morning
Alleppey Beach
We went for a quick stop at the Alleppey beach. This beach is not famous with visitors and we could totally relate to it. Though the beach was clean and silent, it was difficult to give it its due appreciation after the experience on the houseboat. We dangled our feet in the waters and walked a bit on the sand – while enjoying tender coconut water. After about half an hour at the beach, we boarded our car and moved towards our next destination – Kumarakom.

I hope you enjoyed an amazing day onboard the water vessel with us and are tempted to plan a visit soon. It indeed is a wonderful experience and there are few holiday destinations, as exotic as this one. Do let us know what you think about the article. Feedback, appreciation, criticism - everything helps in some way or the other. If you would like some suggestions with planning a trip, reach out to me on kt@expressions-kt.in and I would try to help you out based on our experience. Till then, Happy Travelling !!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Periyar National Park - A Jungle Sojourn : South India V


It was time to experience some jungle life and hence we were headed for a stay in middle of a national park for an entire day and a night. We had planned a stopover at the Periyar National Park in Thekkady, Kerala. As planned we bid good bye to the family and proceeded on our journey to Thekkady by 1:30 PM on 28th of December 2015.

Periyar is the most popular wildlife sanctuary in south India. Though billed as a tiger reserve, Periyar is really famous for its wild elephants, 100-year-old artificial lake and its setting in the beautiful thickly forested Western ghats. This is not your best shot at spotting the Bengal Tiger considering there are less than 40 of them that inhabit an area of 777sq.km but there's plenty of other animals like the Nilgiri langoor, Nilgiri tahr, bison, deer, antelope and about 700 elephants to make the trip worthwhile. The Periyar Tiger Reserve consists of tropical evergreen, semi- evergreen and moist deciduous forests. It was declared a Project Tiger Reserve in 1978 and the first research started in 1991. The results indicate 49 species of mammals, 246 species of birds, 28 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, 22 species of fishes and 112 species of butterflies. The core area is 350 sq.kms. Some of the deeper valleys contain tropical evergreen forest with extremely thick tree cover that even bright sunlight finds hard to penetrate. The few level areas in the park contain marshy grasslands near the edges of the lake and other water bodies. Apart from Elephants, the other animals to be seen in the Periyar sanctuary Kerala are Gaur, Wild Pigs, Sambar, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Dole or Indian Wild Dog and very rarely, a Tiger. There are, now, an estimated 40 tigers in the Periyar national Park. Periyar also happens to be the habitat of the elusive Nilgiri Tahr, which is rarely to be seen.

On Way to Thekkady from Munnar
A Stop at Spice Gardens
On our way to Thekkady, we stopped at a spice gardens at about 3 in the afternoon to have a closer look at the plantation of spices which are famous from this region. The <Name of Plantation>, which we chose for the excursion was a nicely organized facility. The place charged a modest ticket to cover for the cost of tourist visits. We were taken through a narrow lane until the center of the plantation where there was a reception center. We were allotted a group along with a few other tourists who were present there already. Once the required quorum was achieved, the reception assigned a guide to our team who took us around the gardens and explained various spices being grown, their health benefits, peculiarities and a general explanation of their production and manufacturing techniques. There were at least 100 varieties of plants that were being maintained there. The range was as diverse as it could get. It was here that we were made aware of the reasons why some specific spices are expensive in particular. While 5 kg of fruit yields 1 kg of cardamom, the number goes to 8kg for a kg of cloves. There were specific plants which helped in insulin deficiency, skin diseases, or kidney stone. There was a bright pink flower which was named as “love flower” which was sold as showpiece.

After spending about an hour there we proceeded to our destination. It took another hour of drive when we saw a queue of cars. The boards across the shops did inform us that we were in Thekkady. We could notice a predominance of hotels in this area and probably a camp town for most of the tourists at Periyar. The driver informed us that this was a forest check post for entering into the national park and we were required to take a ticket at the reception. I got the tickets, both for us and vehicle, and proceeded towards the Hotel <Name of the Hotel – KTDC Aranya Niwas. The car travelled through the forests and ultimately climbed the slopes of the approach road to the hotel. We disembarked and checked into our room. The room was premium yet simple. It had all the modern facilities and yet an outlook to showcase that we were in middle of a jungle. The usher advised us to keep the windows closed to prevent monkeys to visit us and grab stuff. A view outside the windows was full of the thick forest till far. Towards one corner, we could see waters of the Periyar Lake which reminded us that we needed to make arrangements for our boat safari. 

Periyar Lake Shores
Posing by the Lake
After freshening up, we went out for a stroll across the area. While on our way out we stopped at the reception to enquire about the boat safari. We were informed the all guests at the KTDC facility was automatically enrolled for next morning’s safari. The boat safari has two options – one on KTDC boats while other is the forest department boats. We by default were assigned the first one. What needed some persuasion was assurance for obtaining a seat on the upper deck of the boat. Reviews on internet had advised us of the significant difference in experience. Finally the lady at the reception gave in and assured us that she would try her best to get us a seat on the upper deck. Post this extended discussion, we proceeded to explore the jungles on foot. We took a round across the green spread and had wonderful moments in lap of nature. We returned by about 6 post which we were allowed to be out of hotel campus. We later enjoyed a decent spread of dinner at the hotel restaurant. Post dinner, it was time for an early sleep as we had an early start for the boat ride next morning.

Next morning, the honking alarms and blaring intercom woke us up to get ready in time to reach the boat point in time to board our KTDC ride - Jalatharangini. The boat started at the scheduled time - 6 AM - at its slow but firm pace. Actually we started as a group of 5-6 boats which later separated to take tourists through the lake using different paths. The driver kept the boat slow and removed from the shores to avoid alarming the animals. Throughout the ride we were delighted with exotic birds – of all colors and shapes. The forest officer on the boat was alert with his prying eyes looking for any clue of animals for which we were waiting with bated breath. Soon we noticed that driver killed the engines and officer sought our attention – he had noticed a wild bull. The driver slowly steered the boat to the coast and we all enjoyed a close view of the mighty animal. The forest officer gracefully borrowed my camera to take a picture of the view and animal. After every tourist on board had a chance to have a glimpse, the boat proceeded further. The journey took us through the entire coast of the lake and we got to see deer, reindeer, wild pigs and elephants roaming in their free habitat. After an hour and half’s ride, the boat dropped us back at the boat point and we enjoyed the breakfast at the restaurant. Post breakfast we packed our luggage and checked out. We were in hurry to reach out next destination – Alleppy, where we were to float on water for an entire day in specially designed houses on boat.
Boarding the Boat - Excited for Safari
Sailing into the Lake for Safari
Leaving you with a wonderful capture of the human ancestors carrying on with their daily activities. Did you like the pictures or was there too much text? Little on knowledge or lacks the personal touch? Tempts you to visit the place or took it off your dream list? Whatever it is that you are feeling right now, do not forget to give put down in comments as your feedback and views – for or against :-)

Do visit the link towards the end of the article for more travel experiences.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tacoma - The Glass Hub of United States

 

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Someone so aptly said that and I am the first to put such pearls of wisdom to practice. It was the beginning of summers in late April of 2016 when I found myself in the middle of countless client workshops and maze of corridors at the client headquarters in Tacoma, Washington. I was visiting the United States as part of a client engagement and had ended up being in Tacoma, a suburb about an hour away from Seattle, for most of the two weeks, I was in the country. Now, the touristy worm within me could not avoid me being in Seattle for the weekends (about which you can read more at – Link to Seattle Blog). However, living by the saying above, I decided that weekdays cannot be about work alone too. Hence, I had a list of places to be covered in the town during one of the sunny days through the working weeks.

Convention Center
Incorporated in 1874, Tacoma, Washington is the third largest city in Washington State with a population of about 200,000. Tacoma is located in western Washington on Commencement Bay, off the southern tip of Puget Sound. On my first evening in the city, which was on 25th of April 2016, I ventured out of the hotel to get a look at the city from close quarters. The hotel for the first week of our stay in Tacoma was, Hotel Murano. It was a nice hotel which was developed into a glass museum. Every floor had one of the glass artifacts along with a description of its history and picture gallery of how it was made. Other than these, there were numerous wonders of glass that donned the corridors and ceilings of the building. This itself was a point of attraction in itself. On my walk, that evening, I walked in the area around the University of Washington. This was the center for all the activities that we once were part of as college students and nostalgia was bound to set in. I passed through the big colorful building of the Convention Center and walked through the Washington Art Museum and the State Museum. To end the day, I had a filling Mexican dinner at a local joint – Mexican Magic - right beside the hotel. People here in the US have early meals and most dinner places close out by 9 PM. A few like this one open until 10, after which it is difficult to get food – even the hotel restaurant closes and so do most of the eat24 options in this small town. Coffee is huge and the room coffee is of good quality itself.

Next few days were devoted purely to work and we had lots of meetings and loads of tasks. On Wednesday, we went for a team outing to the Forum and had a light dinner. Thursday brought with it – good news in more ways than one. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the day promised brightness and light. It was such a good weather to roam and explore the city and we did not want to spend it in the confluence of meeting rooms. Pondering on fitting everything on our mind within the hours of the day, we got a pop up on our screen which lightened all of us – due to a client conflict, our afternoon meeting was canceled. We were on our toes in no time and talked to our manager about the plans. He was all up for it. In fact, to better it up he took us to all the good places in town and showed us around and then dropped us at the waterfront to have the evening to ourselves.

Piers on the Water Front

Chinese Reconcilliation Park
We took a long walk by the waterfront. There were multiple piers beautifully situated to provide the best of views of the skyline across the lake. There were numerous parks, carefully manicured and well maintained to relax on the way. We also visited the Tacoma Chinese Garden and Reconciliation Park which is a site for beautiful park developed to showcase the city’s commitment to fighting racism, hatred, and violence. Then we Uber’ed into the city and visited Fireman’s Park which also had a memorial for firemen who lost lives in the line of duty. Then we had a great dinner at Matador – a premium Mexican restaurant. This place had a wonderful setting and was more a romantic place but the food was perfect and I decided to come back to it for another meal sometime later during the visit.

On Friday, we had meetings in a new town – Gig Harbor which is a small countryside town. Gig Harbor is one of several cities and towns that claim to be "the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula". The Pierce Country town is popularly called the Maritime City and is house to the calmness and serenity of the countryside. Next week, between works I made time to touch upon a few other tourist attractions of the city. This is the city of glass works and hence, one important establishment to cover is the Museum of Glass. This museum showcases beautiful exhibits of art and culture and is dedicated to celebrating studio glass movement through nurturing artists, implementing education, and encouraging creativity. The next point of interest was the Bridge of Glass. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is Tacoma's stunning link to the Thea Foss Waterway and the Museum of Glass. The 500-feet pedestrian bridge holds three amazing Chihuly glass installations, open to the public 24 hours a day. A look of the bridge and its artifacts in the setting sun could humble the most romantic places in the world. We also found time to squeeze in a quick visit to Point Defiance Park which covers a large area and has a number of gardens, zoo, and an aquarium.

Waterfront Shores
We spent the last day of our stay in the town to enjoy dinner at a waterfront restaurant - Duke's Chowder House. Though the place is known for its seafood, they had a great staff which managed to serve a couple of vegetarian recipes for me. Later that day, we spent time souvenir shopping to carry some memorabilia from the city. We moved out of Tacoma on Friday, May 6th, for good and left for Seattle. It was a wonderful stay in this town for two weeks and I carried with me beautiful memories to cherish for a long time to come.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

First Five Steps Towards CAT – Basics in Place


They say, “well planned is half done” and rightly so. If you take any exam as a project and plan well ahead in time on your goals and strategy, the chances of success dramatically increase. Until you have the right aim and focused approach, all the efforts in random directions lead to an eternal state of chaos and confusion.

Common Admission Test is one of the coveted exams of the country and every year lakhs of candidates appear to secure admission to best business schools in the country – Indian Institutes of Management. Preparing for this exam is a long journey and candidates prepare for months or years before even appearing for the first time. While one may be tempted to join coaching classes, attempt mock papers or practice puzzles, it is imperative to take a moment to lay the ground work. So here are, what I recommend, the first five steps that one should take before embarking on this journey of preparing for the CAT, a journey you would cherish for life, no matter how long or cumbersome it is for you.

Get your Priorities Straightened
Everyone has their own reason to pursue an MBA and specifically from an IIM. Some have dreamt of being managers from childhood, some want to experience the number crunching on excel sheets, and some are looking to change their job profile while others are just following the herd. The first thing to consider before beginning preparations is your reason for aiming for CAT. Now, why would one want to waste time at this stage thing about abstracts like this? The reason is that it would help you decide what is important to you and how would you like to tackle your exam preparations.

Everyone has their set of conflicting priorities. If you are a student, you would have to manage studies with you preparation while if you working, you would have to keep you bosses appeased while taking time out for studies. Then there would be some who would have responsibilities of families, social events and other things of life which would try to take away time from the limited hours until the exam. Having your priorities defined in advance would help you a lot while managing these conflicts and ensuring that you invest enough in what is important to you.

Know CAT - What Are You Getting Into
Before you begin a journey, knowing your destination and understating the route is a key pre-requisite. This is applicable for your CAT preparations too. Candidates should sit down and understand what exactly they are getting into. This is an important career decision that you have taken and you should be aware of its implications. I would recommend that everyone understands what this examination is about, and what it needs to crack it. Further, it is equally important to know about the IIMs and life post MBA. I am sure you made your mind to appear for CAT after all of the research but just wanted to point out its importance before actual preparations.

It is best if you talk to seniors who have been through the path and have either chosen to stay on course or changed their path mid-ways. Both would have a very different perspective to share and would either help you strengthen your resolve to appear for the exam or force you to think twice. None of this would be wrong at this stage. You are making an important decision for your life which would be there with you for next decade at the least and hence this is a good point to make course corrections if any.

Syllabus Check and Current State Assessment
Once the mind is made up and resolve strengthened, it is time to dig deeper into your preparation strategy. I have heard many students ask – how to begin preparations from scratch? My first query to them is – Define scratch or ground zero or zilch or start. No one is born yesterday when they start their CAT preparations and hence there is no absolute zero level for candidates. Every candidate has picked some skills, some strengths, and some specialization by the time they are at a stage thinking about this exam. If you are an engineer, stereotyping tells me you would be good at Quants. If you are an English language student, engineers envy you for your lead in verbal. Or if you are a lawyer or chartered accountant, your logics are fear for others. So first of all set what you starting point is.

The best way to do this is to pick up a latest available copy of CAT syllabus. This is what you need to cover up in next few months or year of your preparation. Read it thoroughly and identify which topics feel easy to you, which you have heard about and which sound gibberish fiction. This is how you define your strengths and areas of opportunities for the CAT examination’s perspective. While you may need only practice in some areas, you may need to go for a high school level book for others areas. Identifying which of the CAT syllabus component goes in which bucket is the foundation of your preparations. Don’t worry, you would have your chance to calibrate this decision throughout the preparations but no harm in being careful with the first attempt itself.

Strategize - Prepare your Plan of Attack
You have your priorities identified and have prioritized conflicting commitments by now. Assess all your commitments and identify the time you would be able to take out for your CAT preparation. Yeah you read it right – take out time for preparation. Now, how come the preparations for this important exam take a second place to anything? It could and in most cases it does. You may have to spend time for your under graduation studies – you need to pass college at the least, or you are an employee and manage an average grade to secure your next pay check. So estimate the time you can devote to your preparation. Next use your buckets of strengths and improvement areas to ascertain where to devote more time. Based on this estimate and time available until the exam prepare a roadmap for your preparations.

Develop a week wise schedule of progress towards the goal and define broad phases and milestones. Phases could look like the revision of theory, topic wise practice, mock paper intensive preparation, revision of topics identified by mocks, final stages of revision etc. Everyone would have their own set of phases and milestones and pace of achieving those milestones. Also based on time available to you, evaluate the potential modes of preparation – coaching classes, self-study, group-study, test series etc. Each of these modes demands a varied level of time commitment and provide different level of support. Choose one which best suits your requirements.

Join the Dots – Arrange all Logistics
Next step to your preparation is bringing everything you need in place. That would include identifying the right books, coaching classes, test series and reference material. Again I would suggest to get in touch with seniors who have gone through the path and are most closely aligned to your situation. If you can, for college students, check with your alumni. For those employed, socialize with those who cleared CAT and have similar backgrounds. This helps by getting to you advice most customized to your needs. While choosing books, try and obtain the latest versions of the most popular books. There is a reason they are popular. Also, make best possible attempt to choose a coaching class nearer to you as time you travel is the time you waste. Coaching does not provide a ticket to success but only helps you keep track of the course. Most national chains of coaching provide more or less similar experience and hence I recommend not running for a particular brand. Also, make attempts to ensure that you would have constant supply of questions and mock test papers throughout your preparation. When you get to solving 2-3 mocks per week, supply is all you need.

I know one may wonder what value is derived of delving into seemingly black-holes and why waste crucial time in thinking the unthinkable. I agree that the thought is logical and it is difficult to drive concrete value out of it. Also, probably one would have anyway done this process subconsciously. However, these are critical for effective preparation and would definitely help you take informed decisions during each stage of your preparations. There would be challenges during the entire process and having basics done in advance would help tackle those challenges effectively. Further, most of these are not as time consuming as they seem and most of the five steps can be completed in over a couple of days. And consider this as an investment into your future rather than time wasted in futility. Again, it may work or not, as there is no one key to success and all these are to enhance the chances of seeing you behind the walls of the hallowed halls of learning.

Wish you have a solid start to your preparations. It is a long journey so stay committed and stay focused. Have enough social time as that would help you keep going towards your goal. In the meantime, if you have any questions, queries, and doubts use the comments section below and I promise to respond within a day. Or if you prefer, drop in a mail at kt@expressions-kt.in to reach out to me privately.

There are a lot more resources to support your CAT preparations on the link below. Happy Studying!!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Facing the Pacific, Seattle – The Emerald City of United States


“Sure, Sir! I would be there in 5 minutes.” The Uber driver said in the most courteous manner when I called him to confirm my cab booking for the airport. I was already waiting at Hyatt Regency’s forecourt when the shining magenta Honda Accord drove into the driveway. As the bell boy put the luggage in the trunk of the car, the driver opened the gate and I jumped into my seat – not before tipping the bell boy, though. I was to catch a flight off to Seattle – the Emerald City – and the excitement was proving difficult to contain. Within an hour, on the afternoon of 23rd of April, I was at the San Antonio International Airport waiting at the check-in counter for my turn. After passing through the usual airport formalities, I boarded the Alaskan Airlines flight to Seattle. This was a direct flight as Seattle is the base airport for the airline and the four and half hour experience was similar to that of the United Airlines I had taken earlier – a complimentary drink, access to the inflight system by hooking on to wifi based intranet, courteous staff and comfortable seating. We landed in Seattle right on scheduled time and the clock churned 8 as we taxied to the gate.

A look at Seattle's Shores
Seattle is an exciting urban city surrounded by unmatched natural beauty. Little more than a century ago, Seattle—nicknamed "The Emerald City"—was a pioneer outpost and a quiet lumbering town. Transformed by the Yukon gold rush into a thriving metropolis, Seattle has become the transportation, manufacturing, commercial, and services hub for the Pacific Northwest as well as the largest urban area north of San Francisco, California. Nestled between two magnificent mountain ranges, with a breathtaking view of a lake and bay, Seattle enjoys a climate one observer has likened to "an airborne ocean bath." If you distilled Seattle’s history into five points, it would read something like this: a great fire (1889), a frenzied gold rush (1897), a World’s Fair (1962), the formation of an airplane company called Boeing (1917), and the emergence of a game-changing computer company named Microsoft (1975).

I was familiar with the airport as I had passed through it that week itself and hence found it easier to navigate to the baggage claim and then to the taxi garage. I took a cab to the hotel and was at the reception of Four Points by Sheraton by about 10 in the night. Since the hotel was full, I was upgraded to an executive suite which according to the lady at reception was bigger with better sofa. The room was nicely put together and had all the necessities but the facility itself was limited service facility with no room service. This was a boutique hotel with limited rooms but maintained beautifully. Located in the northern part of the city, this was close to an important tourist attraction – Seattle Center which housed numerous points of interest. Further, it was a good place to cover the northern half of the city if one wanted to save on time and transportation. The north is where you get the most spectacular views of nature and the city. It was already late by the time I settled in the room and hence decided to call it a night after a good Indian meal ordered via “eat24.com” a local version of Indian Zomato.

Seattle from the Space Needle


Another Look from Space Needle - The High Risen City

Next morning brought with it a beautiful day with light drizzle across the pristine city. Though locals were used to the ever happening rains, we found a unique charm in this. The drizzle gradually gained force and we decided to enjoy the lazy morning over good complimentary breakfast and scenic weather. Well doing nothing is sometimes fun too. At about noon, once the drops slowed, I and one of my friends left the hotel to explore the city and gain maximum out of the day we had in town before we go ahead for a week of work to return again next weekend. The first look of the city made it look like a beautiful city - well organized, laid back and inviting.

Our first stop was of the day was the Seattle Center which was a busy location in the city. It is the center for a number of tourist attractions and hence is a major spot of any itinerary in Seattle. We headed to the Space Needle - our first spot. This is the most popular tower in the region for providing a view of the city from 520 feet height. The bubble elevator ride was fun in itself as the look of the city traveling vertically gaining height was nothing short of a charm. Though this was smaller than the tower of Americas in San Antonio, still the view of the skyline and world below were spectacular. The look of Seattle is unique from this altitude and one gets to grasp the entire city in a view. We spent a good time at the height. Next, we visited the Pacific Science Center. The center is an epitome of scientific mind and has a number of interactive displays on science and technology. There are a butterfly house and IMAX theaters besides the exhibits to keep visitors engaged and the center periodically conducts laser shows. Chihuly Garden and Glass which are located next to the science center features a lot of popular works of the artist and architectural installations.

The Great Wheel on Waterfront


Zooming to Downtown - Seattle Monorail

Once we had explored enough of the Seattle Center we proceeded to the Downtown area to have a flavor of the main part of the city. It was not a regular journey as we had opted for the iconic monorail ride – the short metro connection that takes you from northern part of the city to downtown in minutes. The trip provides mesmerizing views of the city on the route and the ride is a pleasurable experience. The monorail drops passengers at the West Lake Side Mall and hence we spent some time exploring this mall – pretty big mall with major brands located right in the center of everything that Seattle is. We walked from the mall to the waterfront. The shores are the perfect place for enjoying views of distant land across the water. Waterfront is full of activities as it provides enough to attract visitors. We took a ride on the Seattle’s great wheel which is a relatively latest addition to the waterfront and provides a great ride and good views. Seattle Aquarium is located right beside the wheel. There are a lot of souvenir shops around the waterfront and we did spend some time picking gifts for family and friends. By now, the wind had that chilling feel in it and we decided to head back to the hotel. We undertook the return ride on Downtown Transit buses, involving a transfer. I have to say that if you have active Google Maps on your palm, a lot of potential hurdles in the city are avoided. We later had a good dinner – ordered through eat24 – a local version of Zomato, which provided good options and ordering choices.

We were back in the city on the next weekend for another round of touristic explorations and were standing at the hotel reception for check in on evening of 29th April. This time, I had chosen to put up in Arctic Club – a heritage property in Downtown - located a couple of blocks from the waterfront. Rooms were nice and functional. Each room had a touch of its ancient relationship and the furniture and decor showcased history. Service wasn’t top notch but was still fine to deal with. It was already late for most of the places which a tourist may want to. However, I wasn’t going to waste it and hence reached the concierge to identify ways of making best of the available time. I got two suggestions and I decided to cover both of them. I went straight to the Pioneer Square and booked the ticket for Bill Speidel's Underground Tour. That was one hell of a journey. While the initial 15 minutes of guidelines and context setting was an interesting peek into the history and origins of this wonderful city, the next hour and a half through the basement tunnels, structures and remains of once buildings was definitely an enlightening experience. The picture of the town before the big fire engulfed it and how the city planners raised the entire city by a floor is a worth knowing fact. Next, I walked a couple of blocks uphill to the Copernicus Building. This is the highest building in Washington and, at about 943 feet across 76 floors, and the second largest building on the west coast. The largest being US Bank tower in Los Angeles, this has the tallest public viewing area on the West Coast and west of the Mississippi. The observatory on top of the building provides a 360-degree view of the entire region and covers the city and suburbs. I spent half an hour there capturing the picturesque scenes through the lens of my Nikon. This was enough coverage for a work day evening and hence, I returned to the hotel to rest a bit before the whirlwind excursions over the weekend.

Standing Tall - Touching the Clouds : Columbia Tower
Next day we woke up to a beautiful morning and usual drizzles that the city is famous for took a break for good. It was weekend and our touristy-self was up to the task already. I woke up early and after a good breakfast, headed straight to the Pike Market Place. This is a fresh grocery market for fruit, vegetable, poultry, meat, and souvenirs. This is one of those traditional markets that one usually finds in the countryside. The visit to the market was refreshing and gave the morning a great start. I also had a chance to enjoy a steaming cup of coffee at the first Starbucks outlet ever. Next stop was the Bain Bridge Island – a land piece away from the mainland Seattle. It took us about half an hour on the Washington State Ferry to cross the water body in between. Ferry was definitely a misnomer for this big ship capable of ferrying men and cars across the Lake Seattle. The fresh and chilled breeze brushing aside us were a welcome gift and we enjoyed the breathtaking views from the front of this sailing body. Views of Seattle skyline and water across were simply awesome on this ride and we were more than happy to have chosen this trip. We explored the island to some extent and then took the return ferry. A roundtrip 8$ fare was more than worth the price. By the time we were out of the ship on the mainland, it was time for lunch and we caught up on some food before proceeding with the day further.

Farmers' Market - Pike Place
View from Gas Works Park

After the lunch, we had a few parks on our itinerary. While the name parks may suggest places for those who look for places to rest or for those who want to take kids to keep them engaged for some time and find time out, but here the case was very different. These were actually points to catch best of views of the city and provide such marvelous look of the city from a very different perspective. Out first stop on this round of tour was the Kerry Park. It’s a fairly small park that sits right on the hill. The most popular part of the park is the north end, which is where you can see the incredible view of Seattle. We were told that on a clear Seattle day, you can see the beautiful city, Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountain range, and the magnificent Mount Rainier. We were lucky enough to enjoy that view on our visit to this park .After a round of intense posing and photography we headed to the next stop, Gas Works Park. We crossed the big Seattle Lake over the Metropolitan Transit Bus and were dropped at a relatively secluded place. It was courtesy, again, the Google Maps that we figured out the right lanes to reach the park. Apparently this is not too high on a tourist maps and is a bit farther from the city and hence limited tourists make it here. The remains of an age old utility plant were carefully developed into a recreational zone with a number of activities including rafting and sailing. The large lawns attracted locals in large numbers. This was last stop for the day and we took a bus back to the hotel retired for the day – tired and exhausted.

Mount Rainier
View from Paradise - Mount Rainier

Next day we had a whole day excursion to Mount Rainier and had booked a day tour as public transportation was not an option. The van picked us up at around 7:30 AM from our hotel and after picking up other co-tourists, we proceeded towards the blue-eyed mountain. Our first stop was a grocery store to stock some eatables and snacks for the way. The tour operator included complimentary water and hence that was available in plenty. Once adequately stocked, we moved ahead towards our destination. After about 3 hours of our initial start we stopped at our first point. This was a short trail into the national park for a wonderful view of the snowcapped peak of Mount Rainier. Our next stop of the day was a set of waterfalls – Narada Falls - coming down smoothly through the cracks in those mighty hills and providing a picturesque scene to relish. As we wrapped up this point, we headed to the destination of the day. This “mountain” is an active volcano encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice. Surrounded by old-growth forest and stunning wildflower meadows, there is a reason the valley at the base of the mountain is called Paradise, which was where we were destined. At about 2 PM the driver pulled up the van in the parking lot and gave us an hour and a half for ourselves. It was time for lunch and so we were all walking down to the Paradise Visitor Center for a quick bite. After silencing the hunger worms, we went for a short hike on the snowy slopes of the mountain and climbed onto the slippery terrain for some great view of the surrounding. We met back the tour guide at the scheduled time and then he took us for an extended hike to secluded viewpoints, known to few. We ended our excursion only by 5, hesitantly but aware of timing restrictions. As we departed, we were sure to carry memories of this day in our minds for time to come. The guide dropped us at the hotel at about 8 and we bid goodbye to our co-passengers and guide. Next day we went back to Tacoma for another week of work and meetings and I returned to the city the next weekend on my way back to India.

The next weekend we were back at the same hotel at about 4 in the evening of May 6th, Friday. I checked in my room 501 and rested for a while. Later the entire project team had a sumptuous dinner at Elliott’s Oyster House. The place right on the waterfront has an awesome ambiance and provides both indoor and outdoor seating. We got a seat in the indoor quarters and the d├ęcor was a beach-side cottage look. The food was awesome and the cook snuggled up some good vegetarian options for me. The next day it was me alone and had planned to cover up a couple of points yet to be explored. I went across to the Bremerton Islands for a quick tour. The island is famous for its navy settlements and has a rich naval history. On return, I went across the water taxi to the West Seattle region to enjoy picture perfect looks across the beaches and of the city. I returned and then went for a quick lunch post which I spent my early evening souvenir shopping. Once done with this, I checked out of the hotel and left hotel just in time for a quick stop at the Museum of Flights where one can come across carefully curated artifacts related to air travel. This marked an end of this trip to the United States and I boarded my flight back to India. Onboard the Etihad Airways’ Boeing 777, I was sad to depart after a great business cum leisure tour but was looking forward to being with family after a month. The trip to Thailand comes next and I fully intend to make full use of it to unwind and explore territories further – so what if I only get a day in India, before my flight to Bangkok.

Pioneer Square - Night View
These travelogues are purely my personal experiences and aim to provide a glimpse into destinations in India and abroad to future travelers. I hope you would have enjoyed the trip to Seattle with me and if you did, please do put down your feedback in comments section. Also, do try to explore other great locations covered on my Travels Page – Nomadic Me.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

San Antonio, Texas - The Alamo City - 2, United States


If the first day was any indication of the stay in this city, I would say we were convinced that we would have a great week visiting all the places of interest in San Antonio. While the starting couple of days were more work, later part of the week was fully dedicated to the explorer within us. Here is continuing the journey into this city – the center of American History for more reasons than one. The previous article describing the first day in this city is available at - San Antonio, Texas - The Alamo City - 1, United States

Next morning, we had to start early as it was the first day of the training and we had a line of engagements to attend to. The day started with a breakfast at Ocho’s in Hotel Havana. This is a heritage hotel from 1976 and maintains its aura on sidelines of the city. On returning, we registered for the training and got the name tags and material needed for next three days. Next, all I remember is a chain of sessions – theory, lectures, activities, interaction and loads of food – a 5 course sit down dinner at Grand, a buffet dinner hosted by a partner, buffet lunches, and snacks. All in all, it was food and learning that were heavy for next two and half days. We got a chance to stroll out a bit during this time but were mostly confined to the hotel because of the tough schedule. On 21st, when the academy ended, we wrapped up the stay with a hosted lunch and checked out of the hotel. As everything was being taken up by the organization committee we had a smooth sail out of the hotel.



View of City from Room
Same View of City at Night
I had planned my stay in San Antonio itself for next two day but had chosen a different hotel with an aim to be nearer, than I already was, to all the action. So I headed straight to the princely charming building right by the river – it was the Hyatt Regency. As I entered my room on the 11th floor, the view of the river was simply mesmerizing and the backdrop of the city promised a good view. It was a nice and cozy room with a good setup and all required amenities. The lower base of the hotel building was the river walk itself and the door opened to the river. It was a perfect place to spend mornings and evenings. After settling in for some time and wrapping up office work we set on our endeavor to explore the city.

First stop was Alamo – the place that no tourist in the city can avoid. We spent some time outside the monument as the entry was closed for the day. We made it a mental note to return the next day. Next, we went to San Fernando Cathedral – the most open and flexible church of the region. The beautiful old San Fernando Cathedral traces its origins to 1731 when 55 settlers arrived in San Antonio to expand the community as a bulwark against French incursion. This is said to be the oldest standing church building in the Lone Star State - Texas; the cornerstone was first laid years before the Alamo church was built. This church towers with history and lore at the heart of the city's center. The cornerstone of the existing structure was laid in 1738 and it has played a key role in the history of San Antonio, Texas and the nation ever since. In fact, the dome of the original church was the point from which all mileage in Texas was originally measured.

The River Walk

Later we spent time exploring various parts of the city. As tourists, we would pose at each building which would stand apart from the rest in tiniest of manners and have a picture clicked. Two interesting buildings we covered as part of this ritual were the City/County Courthouse and City Hall. The former was huge building painted in red which stood steadily beaming a view across the city. City hall was a contemporary design, with a lot of activities happening around it. Post this, we headed to the River Walk for a nice long stroll by the water across the narrow curving pathways running through the town. After the stroll, we hopped onto the River Cruise Tour which took us through the entire river and the guide explained various points of interest along with a brief history and their significance.

Next day, I started early in the morning and went to the river walk for absorbing cool fresh breeze along with the excellent views. The silence, the hustle of morning activities, the freshness in everything was simply made beautiful by squawking ducks and flowing water. The entire scene was simply mesmerizing and had the intensity to create a long impression. I spent over an hour in nature and enjoyed every bit of it. And I did ensure to capture as many pictures as I could during this time. Next, I worked for some time as it was still a working week.

Later we went to Alamo for a second visit as the monument was closed for entry the first time we tried. This is an important site and is considered the symbol of Texan independence history, a memorabilia of sorts for rebellion against Mexico. A crumbling Spanish mission, the Alamo complex was seized by Texas troops in 1835 as the province rose up in rebellion against the government of Mexico. The siege was one of the defining moments of American history. However, Mexican troops stormed the Alamo from all sides, breaking through the battered walls and cornering the surviving defenders in the buildings of the mission. The fall of the Alamo was bloody and brutal. In 1845, the United States annexed Texas. For many years afterward, the U.S. Army quartered troops and stored supplies at the Alamo. Later, the state of Texas purchased the Alamo and turned this into a museum showcasing weaponry, equipment, dresses and other memorabilia. Across three halls the museum brings to life, the entire history of Texas. The Alamo is now a shrine to Texas Liberty standing strong in the center of Downtown San Antonio. As a tradition, military units perform various rituals in the forecourt of the monument. After coming out of this historic marvel, we witnessed the Battle of Flowers parade and spent some time on the streets cheering to and with partying Texans. The entire crowd was eclectic and immersed in mood of enjoying this special time of the year. Once we returned to the hotel, I continued enjoying the view from the room which incidentally provided a clear view of the parade route. After due rest, we began the second round of tourism for the day around 4:30 PM.

The first step, this time, was the Fiesta Celebratory Grounds where we enjoyed a performance of bands over the rhymes of drums and drinks. We did a bit of jig immersing into the party mood of the city. It was some real fun that we had there. It was already almost a week away from home and we were all craving for some Indian food. A quick query at the hotel reception had earned me a recommendation for Sims Indian Cuisine. It took us about half an hour of a bus ride on city public transportation which was another experience into the city life. We returned late from the place and retired to bed which wasn’t unusual after a good filling meal.

San Antonio from 750 Feet
Market Square
Next morning I woke up to the fact that this was my last day in the city. I went for another morning walk by the riverfront, shorter than the previous day but still the same fun. After the walk, I went across to the River Center Mall for some souvenir shopping which later continued at Market Square – went there to experience local market and pick some stuff as memorabilia. Market Square or El Mercado, is largest Mexican market in the United States. Spread over three block area lined with restaurants, shops and activity stops, the various plazas at this historic market centers abound in rich heritage and culture of San Antonio. After a bit of shopping, I dropped my bags at the hotel reception, checked out of the hotel and joined Manas for a visit to Tower of Americas – the top of the hill country. A look at San Antonio from the top of 750 feet high observation deck provides you breathtaking views of the entire region. You could have a view of a helicopter flying at an altitude lower than yours and have the thrill of whooshing cool winds across your face. We spent over an hour at the top of the tower and then returned back to the hotel. At this time, I bid goodbye to Manas and left for the airport. I had a flight to catch so that I am in Seattle for another leg of touristic pursuits and new experiences.


Featured Posts

Don't miss new posts

Subscribe here to get our newsletter in your inbox, it is safe and EASY!

Expressions by KT : Tarun's Blog © 2014 - Designed by Templateism.com, Plugins By MyBloggerLab.com