Monday, May 28, 2018

Enchantments - there and back again!

One of the most sought after and beautiful destination in Pacific Northwest needs no introduction, at least among backpackers. This was my third time to the region, but first time in Spring and with core permit (yes!).

We started from Snow Lakes trailhead as it is still early in the season to cross Asgard pass without ice axe. We carried micro-spikes (no snow shoes) and didn't even take them out during entire trip. After 21 switchbacks (we counted, lol) you hear snow creek flowing down. After a brief exposed stretch of trail, you come under shaded patch. From there, it's 2+ mile to first rest stop at Nada lake. Overall it makes 5 miles to here with elevation gain of 2000+ feet.

From here, you go past Nada lake looking over and back on boulders. Here on, we encountered first patches of snow. Hiking poles came in handy as the snow is fast melting and postholing is common right now. Once you get to the bridge crossing at lower snow lake, it takes about 45 minutes to go to snow creek bridge and end of upper snow lake. Snow patches are lot more and be careful while crossing creeks and bridges. Till this point it is 4500+ feet elevation gain and 8+ miles from Snow lakes trailhead. If you are backpacking (or otherwise), this is a good lunch spot. Enjoy the serene lake.

After snow creek bridge crossing, is the final stretch to get to lower enchantments. Map shows around 1.5 miles with 1500 ft; but route finding, weariness, postholing and creek crossing makes it longer. Going up, keep an eye on cairns. We found it harder to find route going up.

When we reached lake Viviane, it was partially frozen, windy, but magnificent. We decided to camp here as we had no energy left after 10 hour hiking with backpacks (including breaks). It was quite windy at night, but wasn't below freezing. When the wind died for a brief period, we enjoyed mountain-top dinner with chipmunks, under bright moon lit sky. Toilets are hard to find up there this time of the year (something to be aware of).

We woke up to a beautiful reflection Prusik pass over lake Viviane. A mountain goat was following us around the campsite and around in the morning. We thought this was common until we decided to do a leisurely day hike and bumped into fellow backpackers who didn't see a single goat during their entire trip. We hiked till inspiration lake on a clear day. Almost all the lakes are partially to mostly frozen. Follow the cairns and footsteps. Poles, gators, and insulated boots are recommended. Microspikes and snowshoes are not required unless you wish to go off-trail. There is a toilet in decent shape here next to Leprechaun lake. Along the way, you will see iconic view of the Prusik pass.

After having lunch at the campsite, we headed down and reached a desired campsite (it could be tricky as more people stay at Snow Lakes) within couple hours. It is astounding to see the difference between the two places (Enchantments and Snow Lakes), both beautiful in their own way.

After admiring the sunrise, we packed up and headed back to Snow lakes trailhead. Hike back can be tiring especially after Nada lake, as there are bunch of exposed patches and boulder crossings. It always feels longer than it is. You will start seeing parking lot 45 minutes to hour before reaching there. It is best to start this day sooner, as it took us 5+ hours to reach the trailhead from upper snow lake. It was hot when we reached the trailhead. After this, a break in Leavenworth for beer and sausages was well worth it afterwards.

Lake Viviane at night

Classic reflection shot over Nada lake

Entering Lower Snow Lakes

On the way to Lower Enchantments

Views from Lake Viviane at night

Little Annapurna in sight.

Prusik peak overlooking frozen Perfection lake

Sunrise at Snow lakes

Gorgeous reflections at Snow lakes

Nada lake on the way back

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

India unplugged - Delhi

A couple years ago I was in Beijing and just like every other tourist there, I went to see the great wall. To me, it felt like yet another overpopulated tourist attraction. Don't get me wrong. I love the history of the wall and very much fancy visualizing how it would had been during the times of ancient Chinese dynasties. What I realized is that I cannot connect to it well. Maybe it was the commercialization that took away the authenticity of the place.

There was something else as well, I realized. A deep seeded regret that was hiding for quite a few years. It was the fact that despite growing up and spending major part of my life in India, I had not seen much of it. I mean not even Taj Mahal!!

I decided then and there. The next time I go to India, I am going to take some time out to see at least a part of the huge subcontinent that houses billion plus people, thousands of languages, hundreds of cultures and countless traditions!

Fast forward. January 2016. I was in India for a typical back home trip - attending few weddings, eating a lot of good food, having crazy fun with friends and family and then visiting pristine beaches along the west coast of India that my ancestors called home.

After all the familiar parts were done; I decided to board a plane to Delhi and landed there on a beautiful sunny winter day. To be honest coming from Seattle winter, all days seemed beautiful and sunny except for the obvious and ever-growing pollution. To be more honest, I had some reservations about traveling to Delhi from safety viewpoint (funny how news media plays on your mind); but the moment I landed in Delhi all my fears were washed aways.

Ride from the airport to Connaught place was a (relative) breeze. Clean and majestic roads with sprawling trees on both sides and occasional pedestrians leisurely getting on with their day; seemed idyllic. I was quite lucky to be in town on the days Delhi government was taking drastic steps to curb down the pollution levels (it was ranked the most polluted city in the world, recently) by having only even or odd numbered cars on road on respectively. I made it relatively quickly to the self-proclaimed center of the city of New Delhi. At the center flew the biggest Tiranga - Indian national flag. Twas enough to make me nostalgic about the good old days.

I also started realizing the advantages of having local friend as a tour guide! A dairy I would have normally stayed away with the fear of it not being hygienic, or a chaat stall I would not even have known about which was deep inside an underground market (forgot the name) under the flag - I ended up having a really tasty milkshake and bhelpuri.

After the regular tour stops - Red fort, Chandi chawk; we stumbled upon an eatery that apparently served the kings in Mughal era - Kareems. I think I had forgotten what a good kebab taste like - soft, juicy, delicate to the point of melting in mouth, and fragrantly spiced. After attaining Nirvana we decided to venture into Jama masjid. There's something about the places of worship that catches my attention. Walking from one end of the long corridors to the other, as sun hit the beautifully carved and geometrically symmetrical walls, and the huge pillars at about every ten feet, leaving out the noises; it all made a beautiful harmony of quiet and sound, light and shadow.

Moving on, we decided to spend the evening in Hauz Khas village - a chic urban neighborhood filled with narrow alleys, art galleries, great food and live music.We took refuge in a restaurant that was hymning classic Bollywood gems alongside a keyboard. The whole setup had a feel of a Mehfil. After being in India for about one and half week, I finally felt at peace. Before heading back, we devoured on Momos - delicious Nepalese or Tibetan dumplings that have become integral part of Indian street food now!

The next day started bit early. I decided to visit Akshardham temple - apparently the biggest Hindu temple in the world. I decided to get there on a metro rail and was quite amazed by how well maintained a public transportation system could be. There's hope in India for infrastructure improvement, I thought.

One thing that I started was that my backpack was giving away my not-from-around-here identity. Every place I went, I was bombarded with people trying to sell stuff, until I opened my mouth that is. I suppose growing up in middle class family in Bombay teaches you to be street-smart everywhere in the world!

Akshardham temple is one of the dreams of magnificent architecture, spirituality, storytelling and affluence. It could help you visualize how the ancient temples were in their glory days. Having spent plenty of time in its corridors, I circled  around the temple to complete a pradakshnia; and admired the anecdotes told in the form of elephant sculptures. After this, I made my way back to Delhi haat to meet up with another friend.

The funny thing about why India is called a subcontinent is because every state maintains its unique identity, culture, food, and art. It all makes it feel like a UN of south Asia. After picking up a few novel stone carved Manipuri artifacts; I made my way to Qutub Minar.

Besides the the obvious Minaret; the surrounding architecture makes you realize the influence of multi-ethnic architecture carving a story of time and place on rock. Walls donning aayate from Quran next to ornate lotuses and idols that are quintessential of ancient Hindu architecture; give you a glimpse of what India has always been - the land that everybody (First humans dating back to 55000 years ago) from outside came in to make their own and in the process absorbing its own identity to the point they became indistinguishable from their origins. We all still occasionally squabble to hold on to our own identities and sometimes these squabbles leave scars that last for generations. In the end though, the enormity of the land and hands of time make us all realize what we have become - Indians!

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Gods must be crazy. How do you create crystal clear lakes that reflect perpetually snow caped rocky peaks midst gorgeous hues of green pines, yellow larches, orange devil's clubs? Add to it a light choreography of elusive sunshine beaming through sneaky and fickle stratus clouds and make it really hard to get to this heavenly amphitheater, which makes you wanna go there even more!

When we won the lottery to enchantments around six months ago, we did something that every naive and newbie backpacker does. Look at the distance - 18 miles, compare it with your day hiking experience and call it a little harder than day hiking and then decide to do the whole trail in two days including six hours of driving to and fro.

As we got closer to the date of permit - Oct 11 weekend; we started realizing the flaws in our thinking and we started looking for alternatives. Don't get me wrong - it is still doable in 2 days and a night; as long as you are ready for a long hard day, have enchantment region permit and the weather is absolutely in your favor. Unfortunately we had snow lake permit and forecast showed rain/snow showers (Early in October?!). After thousand phone calls and scouring through web for alternatives; we decided to make a tight plan, brace ourselves and just give it a go.

Leaving really early in the morning (more like middle of the night) from Seattle,  we reached snow creek trailhead (entry to snow lake) around 6 AM. We were met with clear dark skies with million stars! Looking at this, we laughed at the stupidity of mountain weather forecasts and started from Stuart/Colchuck lake trailhead to knock out the hard part of the trail on day one.

However the moment we started heading up to Colchuck lake, we realized this is going to be tough. As we were admiring the beauty of the surroundings - clear and white water streams, fall colors, bunch of boulders and beautifully carved wooden foot bridges; we realized that we don't have a choice but to move fast, if not faster.

As we reached Colchuck lake, we got a preview of what is up there beyond the intimidating Aasgard pass guarding the entrance to enchantment lakes. Unfortunately we also realized, that despite our best efforts it would be well past the sundown if and when we reach snow lake region to camp overnight.

Around the same time, weather gods decided to play a cruel joke and decided to stick to the scripted forecast. It all started with occasional droplets midst sun shining through the clouds just before the noon. At this point, half the group decided to turn back and rest decided to give the best try possible.

The moment we left for Aasgard pass, sun started beaming again and we put back rain jackets. As a sweet revenge for not taking them seriously; clouds decided to pour a minute after we smeared our faces with sunscreen. As we stumbled through the hardest boulder field so far (between Colchuck lake and base of Aasgard pass); wind brought sideways rain too.

Despite all this, we were all quite dry inside and seemed quite ready for the wet weather. However, as we braved through the first quarter of Aasgard pass; rain turned into slush and foggy top of the pass began accumulating fresh snow!

We realized that nobody around us is going upwards anymore. At this point almost all of us were somewhat wet and some were starting to get cold. Even if we had gotten past Aasgard pass, we were not well equipped to spend a night under cold weather through snow, wind and hails. Deciding to abandon our efforts, we turned back slowly and steadily.

Heading back, we profusely cursed the sideways rain and stubborn boulders that stood in our way. However as we came back to our lunch spot around three hours later; we realized the mesmerizing part of the trip wasn't the yellow and glowing larches, clear glacial lakes and grand granite rocks; but the fact that we saw three different seasons in six hours. First we saw early morning fall hues highlighting the trail and mountains. Then we saw sun and clouds playing light-and-shadow game over shimmering Colchuck and rugged Aasgard pass. It all crescendoed into fresh winter snow that covered the top one third of the pass!

We were just happy that we gave our best try and kept going until it wasn't stupid yet and turned back only when weather made it impractical to keep going.

The way back through Colchuck pass seemed really long with heavy backpacks. Our hands were occasionally cold, shoes were dipping in newly formed potholes. The beautiful lakeside campsites that we saw before were now floating on foliage over freshly accumulated water.

We made it back to the trailhead just after the sunset and headed to Leavenworth to catch glimpses of Oktoberfest over hot latte, seasonal brews and tasty bratwursts!

All in all, it was quite an eventful day! Even though our backpacking trip had to end abruptly, we got first-hand taste of beauty, elusiveness, exclusivity and brutality of the enchantments. As we were laughing hard recounting the stupid moments when we smudged our faces with warpaint sunscreen and it started pouring, hailing and snowing minutes after; we already knew we were going to come back to this wonderland next year!

Early morning fall hues! (Copyright: Sankalp Shere)

light-and-shadow play over shimmering Colchuck and rugged Aasgard (Copyright: Michelle Li)

The aftermath - Winter is coming!!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

An encounter with Simba

A crisp morning. We all wake up early with an anticipation of catching the last African sunrise and possibly spotting some Savannah natives at their breakfast..

Eastern sky is beaming gold and hot air balloons start floating above the horizon. Their golden hue silhouettes against lone standing acacia trees make a good picture, I thought.

Van sets in motion. After spotting some usual suspects, we see a bunch safari vans gathered on east side. It's quite apparent there is something big there. "What's it?" I ask hesitantly; because I think I knew the answer.

As we approach the party, through the crowd emerges the self proclaimed king of the jungle, walking with a royal poise, paying least amount of attention to the visitors around and focusing more on savouring his morning breakfast. He's got his brother for the company.

Few minutes pass. Jakals, Hynes and vultures compete for the last morsel in his plate. At a distance, a herd of thousand wildebeest has just crossed the stream and is quite bewildered to see the dark maned duo waiting for them. The brothers seem like they need a second serving. As they try to sneakily move towards the herd, the safari vans move too, almost like their entourage. Wildebeest get the cue, and run for their life as far as possible. The vans give away their position like fumbling soldiers misfiring without warning in an ambush.

Lions give up on wildebeest, if not just temporarily. They head to the water streams. Take a sip, look up, look around and relax in the sun.

Suddenly one of them decides to walk towards us. Driver realizes the intentions and gas paddle pushes the car few feet forward. Acknowledging the respect, lion walks casually past our Van. We are busy taking pictures and for a second, I wonder - what would happen if he decides to change his tracks and jump onto the van. I am holding my breath, I realize.

I sigh as he moves away about fifteen-twenty feet. I look at my friends and find them slowly relaxing back to casual stance as before.

I look back at the horizon. The balloons are still floating in the air. The sun is up, away from horizon and acacia trees still stand in their silhouettes. 

It all looks the same outside, but something has changed inside..

Savannah sunrise

King Vs robot

Band of brothers

Staring contest

You talking to me?! 
Sun salute

Water break

Get out of my way!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Mount Kili

After six months of planning, changes and then some more changes, I finally made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro yesterday, September 7, 2014 at 8:20 AM local time. More importantly I made it back alive and in one piece few hours back.

Six days without shower, cold, scratchy throat, literally dizzying heights, smelly clothes and stinky socks, crowded sleeping bags and tents, unbearable toilets, not to mention the physical and mental toll it took! It is easy to ask whether this was all worth it. But then again it is hard to put price on something so beautiful, so gorgeous, so pristine, so ethereal, and so magnificent! Six days trying to summit Mount Kilimanjaro made me realize, rather realize again what it means to go through lot of pain to get those fifteen minutes closer to heavens, and be blessed to be able to do it and be able to come back to tell the tale!

In strict mountaineering terms, this wasn't a technical climb. Nevertheless this was undoubtedly one of the physically hardest and mentally challenging things I have ever done. I still remember the day we first came to Weru Weru River lodge last week, all happy and giddy, not quite knowing what we have gotten ourselves into. Speaking with Abel (Ahsante Tour operator with whom we were communicating over last six months) and the head guide Bruno Akira (A jolly fella and a marathon runner who wants to beat the Kenyans and has quite the mettle to do it!); made us realize that this ain't no monkey business.. When they took us to see the mountain for the first time from the top of Moshi tower; we all looked at each other in disbelief and utter shock. And, Shit! That thing is huge!! Are we seriously going to climb that? were some of our first thoughts…

That night after packing our gear, clothes and snacks for the next six days and having a nice table dinner (where everyone was somber like ‘the last supper’); we tucked in our beds with an element of nervous anxiety and a bit of excitement for the unknown.

Day 1: (Machame gate – 1800m to Machame camp 3000m)

We reached the Machame gate early in the morning. Foggy weather and lush rainforest welcomed us. Entry to the mountain was guarded by a soldier with AK-47, which made us realize that they take their mountain seriously! Promising not to mess around with anything, we headed through well-trodden trail surrounded by gorgeous flowers, trees that looked exotic and familiar (perks of staying in the Northwest) at the same time. We reached the first campsite – Machame huts sometime late afternoon. Musa, our assistant guide was wearing Seattle pride – Pike Place Market on his t-shirt; which was quite a pleasant coincidence :) 

That night, I woke up way at the middle of the night, looked up in the sky and suddenly realized that I might not have seen these many stars in the sky at the same time. I told myself - If I stare at this for a minute, I'd see a shooting star.. I had to wait for thirty seconds or so. Whoa! Couple shooting stars flew over my head! How many times in your life you look up the sky, wish for a shooting star and find one flying over?!

Day 2: (Shira Huts: 3840m)

We made headway to Shira huts starting early morning.

Rocky terrains, gorgeous views, sheer cliffs and ever-changing weather from tropical sunshine to Monsoon rains in a flash of seconds. We finally saw the African brother of commonly seen crow. It’s like they say – Everything is big in Africa! The African raven came close to looking like a majestic American bald Eagle with white neck-band!

As we reached Shira huts, we were surrounded by clouds. The weather suddenly changed into bright shining sunlight. Once again we began to realize how fickle weather gods are here. An evening acclimatization jaunt to the Shira caves and beyond offered a breathtaking sunset and view of magnificent Shira plateau!

Day 3: (Lava Tower – 4600m, down to Barranco camp – 3900m)

We left early (which was something we'd gotten begrudgingly used to) to Barranco camp site. Before that though, we planned to go to Lava tower to get acclimatized.

For the first time we really started ‘feeling’ the altitude. The mild thumping headache, extra breaths to pull more oxygen in the lungs in addition to sometime gradual and sometimes rocky terrain, snowy cold weather; almost makes you think that you are heading to Mordor. The Lava tower itself was quite an unattractive red rock standing in the middle of nowhere, which made the whole process of acclimatization a bit dry and mechanical. For the first time here, I felt like pumping all the engines and seeing how I fare against the altitude. With a moderate success, I was left high and dry and was welcomed by snowy rain at the top. Our guide (I made a mistake of telling him that I ran a couple marathons) started expecting ‘runner’s pace’ from some of us. It was a fun challenge and although somewhat against the conventional wisdom of ‘pole pole’ (go slowly slowly); made a boring hike little more fun under his watchful and experienced supervision.

Anyways, as we started heading down to Barranco camp, giant groundsels came blooming all around us. A weird mix of coconut tree trunk, cactus leaves, and cotton plants – giant groundsels stood like the sole king of the fauna world on Kilimanjaro at that altitude.

After reaching the Barranco camp, we were greeted with the cleanest toilets among all the campsites! What took our breath away (smelly toilets can do that too, lolz!) was the 800 ft tall wall behind us protecting the roaring giant and views of Mount Meru through the clouds! It was almost like getting caught in the middle of the tussle between two warriors!

Day 4: (Barafu Camp: 4600m)

After breakfast, we started climbing an astoundingly difficult looking wall which required ‘kissing the rock’ at times! (You are on all fours facing the rock, praying that you don’t fall into groundsel jungle below). After making to the top, we met with bunch of folks from US. Probably in the state of slight delirium, I found myself convincing somebody to move to Seattle and trashing bunch of other US cities. I bit my tongue and made headway to Karanga camp for lunch. For people who chose seven day trek, this was the campsite before heading any further. It looked like a refugee camp and we were only glad that we were staying there for lunch.
After a heavy lunch, we headed to Barafu camp through cold and snowy desert. Rocky campsite where reaching a toilet itself was a hike, was definitely the worst of all the campsites. Looking at the Uhuru peak though was enough to hold the ground despite the worst physical state due to altitude and inhospitable weather!

Day 5: ( Stella – 5700m, Uhuru – 5895 m)

After a brief dinner of fries (!) and a three hour nap; I started on one of the hardest days of my life (which is something I didn't quite know then!). First the Cosovo rock scramble on icy treacherous terrain, followed by a nice walk looking at the night skies and shimmering Uhuru; we hit the steep, icy and excruciatingly long trek to the Stella point. Our water pipes froze and the snacks became like rock, which left us with energy gels and water from porters and guides!

The altitude and cold weather was making every step an effort to remember. The first sigh of relief came when the sun showed up over the horizon with thousand shades of golden right behind Mawenzi peak and above clouds that we were now looking over!

There are times when you doubt yourself, you think you might give up at some point, and the only way to get through it is to get through it. The way up started feeling like that. When we reached Stella point I was dizzy headed, heavily breathing and my legs were running out of juice; which was a common sight all around me. After resting at Stella point for a moment, getting up itself felt like an ordeal. But looking through the snowy valleys and huge glaciers, I saw the tallest point in the entire Africa; and that was enough motivation even at that time.

It was one of those out of body experiences, where your mind is dead tired, and somehow something is instructing your body to keep going. I don't know how I went through those forty-five minutes. As I reached closer, I felt almost an invisible pull towards the summit signpost! 

When I did finally reach there, a sudden surge of dopamine probably helped me get through next few minutes. I clicked a bunch of pictures, looked around and felt a strange peace - the kind where all you focus on is subtle nature sounds and put the cacophony around you in the background. It was one of the few moments in life when despite what is going on around you, things align completely in your head. It is like a story that finds a perfect ending, or a song that hits a perfect note, or maybe just a sketch with perfect strokes..

Back to the resort..
Just some time ago, while we were going through all the pictures we took (we took little too many!), and reminiscing the crazy things we did in the name of altitude sickness; I silently prayed for the guy who had a secret hand in making it all happen and spilled my favorite drink as a small tribute to his amazing part of the world and the memories he shared!

In pictures:
Day 1- Awe, anxiety and anticipation is quite apparent!
Day 1- Jambo Bwana!
Day 2 - Marching on!
Day 2- African Raven or a scene from the Game of Thrones ;)
Day 2- Celebrating the sunset at Shira huts!

Day 2 - Sunset at Shira huts!
Day 3 - Giant Groundsels!

Day 3- Cloud submerged Mount Meru in sight!
Day 4 - Posing in front of the Barranco wall!

Day 4 - On the Barranco wall
Day 4 - Gimme more.. (Karanga Hut)
Day 5 (midnight) - All smiles before the long day - heading to the summit!
Day 5 - Some EDM, some breakdancing!
Day 5 - Sunrise above the clouds and Mawenzi peak

Day 5 - Stopping and admiring the sunrise!
Day 5 - Catching breath at Stella point!
Day 5 - At the summit; tired, but happy!

Day 5 - At the summit; alive and kicking!
Day 5 - Summit solo!
Kilimanjaro shining through the clouds as climbers head to
Barafu camp for midnight summit attempt! (Day 6)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Montreal - Love at first sight

After a brutal red-eye flight from Seattle to Toronto, then seven hours of nonstop driving from Toronto and then traversing through busy Montreal Center Ville to find parking; I was expecting myself to be in a zombie state.

But then again, every now and then you visit a place that makes you fall in love at first sight. It feels like all stars have aligned and life is idyllic. You forget all the pains it took to get there. Montreal seemed like that kind of a place. (it might as well have been my overpowering wanderlust :P)

So after freshening up a bit, I hit the road again to go to Mount Royal park. Why, you ask? Well, I have this strange obsession every time I visit a new place. I like to see the whole city at once before starting to explore, almost like a bird's eye view. Not sure why, and it probably also explains my fascination with mountains that let you see the things around you in whole another light, rather sight!

Drive to mount royal park was a bit tricky and finding my way out of bustling Friday night streets out of downtown, reminded me of dashing cars! As I got out however and started climbing towards the Mount Royal hills, a gorgeous landscape started unfolding. Just when I reached a viewpoint, sun was beaming infinite shades of yellow, orange, read and bit of pink on this old francophone metropolitan.

une belle soirée!
After soaking in the rich palette, the gorgeous views of St. Lawrence river, the 1976 olympic stadium at a distance, abundant parks and parts of old Montreal; I decided to head out to another viewpoint. It was quite dark by the time I got there. But it was just getting better and better!

Montreal - Love at first sight!
Looking at a busy and bustling city at night is almost like watching a carefully crafted light choreography of starry skies and golden buildings providing a dazzling backdrop to synchronously blinking traffic lights and the moving cars, boats and trains adding a dash of artistic serendipity!

Hmmm... This (the ordeal to get here) was worth it, I muttered.

Coming back to the city, I started noticing the young and charming urban Montreal out on the streets on a lively Friday night! As much I would have loved to just stay out, the hunger and lack of proper sleep in past 48 hours was finally catching up! So I helped myself with a sumptuous serving of Ramadan meal near downtown before hitting a real bed after two days!

Next morning, I woke up a little early and got out to check on my car. I noticed something that I completely ignored the night before - graffiti everywhere, in parking lots, in dilapidated buildings, on bridges and roadside walls. Nothing unusual really, for the city of the size of Montreal and given its prominent young (thus rebellious) population. But somehow it stuck with me.

Capitalism - a love story?
Add Bansky to Baroque! (Typical scene in Montreal Centre Ville)
Moving on, I finally went to the usual tourist spots in old Montreal (Vieux Montreal) and old port (Vieux port). First stop was Notre Dame basilica. Not a very religious person myself, I rarely go to such places for praying. But it's like they say - Beauty is somehow god in abstract form. The colorful glass windows on both sides depicting the history of Montreal and stories from bible, the Gothic style sculptures glittered with gold, the deep blue, golden ceilings and a grand pipe organ just above the entrance make you feel like you are in Rome!

Notre Dame Basilica
Finding God! (St. Notre Dame Basilica prayer room)
After getting out of the basilica, some things, rather some interesting locals caught my the eye.

Humming ancient hymns..
Gimme a musket, a hat and swanky jacket - Cool summer job!
The Bagpiper!
After torturing some more locals by asking them to pose for me, I thought it would be a good idea to head out before they come after me!

So I moved through bunch of live performance stages (Montreal Jazz Fest FTW!) to one of the hippiest neighborhoods of the city- Le Plateau Mont Royal, or as I called it the Brooklyn of Montreal!

If graffiti was a fringe art seemed like a fringe art in center ville; over here every street, alley walk and exposed wall sections were converted into a mural showcase, quite an official one too (with signatures of the artists who were fortunate or influential enough to display their art wide in the open!)

The shutterbug in me started itching and I turned into one of those crazy tourists admiring and taking picture of each and every colored wall!

Bird whisperer?
Flames of all colors!
Inspired from Hindu mythology?!
Mirror mirror on the wall..

By this time I was hungry and was craving for food and my daily soccer dose! So I ventured a streetside place that had a TV (that looked like a dhaba), and ordered the much hyped poutine! As delicious as it was, I couldn't even finish the generous helpings of meat, cheese and potato fries poured on a delicious gravy. I promised myself to try it again in winter, maybe after a gruelling skiing in Whistler..

Now that sun was blazing in the sky, I thought this might a good time to run for some shade. So I drove to botanical gardens. A mini-train in the park took us past small gardens and some greenhouses made reminded me of ever so abundant green scenery back home (Seattle or Konkan)!

Montreal Botanical Garden 
Montreal Botanical garden
Protecting his turf (Montreal botanical garden)
Next stop was the greenhouse inside the gardens. 

Welcome to Narnia! 
Greenhouse inside the botanical garden
Bonsai, bonsai!
Here I met an old but young at heart gentleman - Guy who was enthusiastically telling me about his love of Montreal and Quebec in general. He seemed pleased when I told him that I am going to Quebec City next!

Guy - the young spirit hidden behind a wrinkled face!

Last stop was the olympic tower just next door. Usually I don't go for towers and bridges or any other made-for-tourists viewpoints (they know how to shell out mullah!), but I couldn't say no to Dad!

It turned out to be a brilliant idea! As we were rising up from the elevator to the top deck, I could almost feel an invisible crescendo of anticipation for a grand view! I was yet again mesmerized looking at 360 degrees panoramic view of this old yet charming city. It just seemed like a perfect note to end the visit to the city of one hundred steeples!
Montreal 1976 (Remember Olympics)
As I started driving towards Quebec City, I made a promise to myself to return to this place sometime in near future. This, my friends doesn't happen to me very often!

Quote of the day