March 31, 2020

Finger lakes region, NY, USA

May 2012

God, the Native American legend goes, was quite satisfied with the creation of earth; and tired as well.  Wanted to have a break.  Leaned his hands on the ground and stood up.  Voila.  The place where he kept his fingers had a depression.  Water filled in.  And the Finger lakes region happened.

Geologists have a less exciting story.  When the glaciers slid through the area, they carved eleven parallel, long, deep depressions and filled them with water.  And the Finger lakes region was created.

No matter which story you believe, the Finger lakes region in Upstate New York is one of the beautiful spots on the planet.  Compares with the Alpine area of Switzerland, Milford Sound of New Zealand, and Patagonia of Chile.

We consider ourselves lucky.  Our base in USA in early 2000s was in Rochester, NY.  The finger lakes were just an hour's drive away eastward.  We used to go quite often.  Of the eleven, my favourites were Canandaigua (closest to Rochester; excellent artisan shops on the main road during weekends), Seneca (the largest), and Cayuga (which renders the drive northwards on the soul less I90 from New York to Rochester a pleasure).

Lake Seneca is the big one.  It is 61 km long, 6 km wide, and 188 m deep (more than four times the height of Niagara Falls).  It holds half of all the water in all the eleven lakes.  Holds more than twice the water held by Loch Ness in Scotland.

Lake Seneca

Lake Seneca

Lake Seneca Ferry terminal at Souther end

A short drive from the southern end of Lake Seneca takes you to a geological wonder in Upstate New York:  Watkins Glen.

Watkins Glen is a 2 miles long gorge dropping from 400 feet at the Woodlands end to ground level at the Village end.  A creek cuts a narrow gorge through the Glen (with tall cliffs on either side) and flows from top downwards through nineteen waterfalls (including the famous Cavern cascade).

At the entrance at Village end you get a hint of what is ahead: a 200 feet rock face.  A bus takes you to the heights of Woodlands end at the back.


And you descend through the 2 mile trek along the creek braving through narrow paths, bridges across the creek, and stairs (about 800 steps in all!).  The trek through the gorge is part of the 1,300 km long Finger Lakes Trail that runs through New York State.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail.  Descend to Creek level through stairs.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  The Creek flows through 19 falls from top of the Glen to the bottom

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  Along the Creek's journey downwards

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  Along the Creek's journey downwards

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  Narrow path along the Creek

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  And an occasional climb up too.  Sunbeam peeping through.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  Daughter surveys the path ahead.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  High chance of getting drenched at this point.  The spray is intense.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  From behind the waterfalls

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  Waterfalls from afar.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail:  The trek goes through a few tunnels too.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail.  Wife and her sis are happy that we have reached the end!

The village of Watkins Glen provides welcome refreshments to rejuvenate.  Yes, it is the same village that is renown for its grand prix races on public streets once a year!

Finger lakes region has several interesting towns.  Popular among them are Corning (renown for its glassware), and Ithaca (for its Cornell University).   Did you know that Corning the company and Corning the town were named after an investor in the glass company?  Erastus Corning of Albany, New York!

Corning has a Glass Museum showing visitors how glassware are made and all the good stuff one can make with glass.  One can try one's hand in turning a nice vase with glass oneself.

Corning, south of Watkins Glen, is the glass capital of the world

Corning Glass Museum:  Native boat made of glass

Corning's Rockwell Museum displays several artworks related to the Natives of the region and early settlers:

Corning Rockwell Museum

Corning Rockwell Museum

At the northern end of Lake Seneca are several resorts and wineries.  Wife chooses a cozy spot to enjoy some solitude looking at the serene waters of Lake Seneca.  (Not that serene really.  At this very point in time, a US submarine could be training and testing its sailors under those calm waters or repositioning the nuclear missiles that folks think are stored under the water!)

Geneva by the Lake at the northern end of Lake Seneca

Further north west, one reaches the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion near Canandaigua.

A New York banker loves (yes, they do) his wife.  Buys a 20 hectare property in Finger lakes region with nine gardens of different types and a 40 bed room Queen Anne style mansion.  Touches up a bit.  And they live happily thereafter.  They have no children.  A nephew who inherits this, lives even more happily thereafter.  And on his death gifts it to the State.  The gardens are delightful to look at and the mansion is large yet cozy.

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion

The next spot is not actually in Finger lakes region but is just 25 miles away; and is again one of the most beautiful spots in the neighbourhood.

The Letchworth State Park in Upstate New York is often labelled as the Grand Canyon of the East (though in my opinion nothing can ever qualify to be Grand Canyon of any direction!).  Letchworth is a 25 miles long gorge with River Genesee cutting through it (yes, the same river that cuts through our city, Rochester NY) flowing through three main waterfalls and fifty smaller ones.  The Letchworth trek (which is 66 miles long) is part of the Finger Lakes Trail.

Letchworth State Park:  Look out point

Letchworth State Park:  And quiet flows the Genesee river

Letchworth State Park:  Lower Waterfalls

Letchworth State Park:  Lower Waterfalls (in a different visit; during Fall) 

Letchworth State Park:  Middle Waterfalls

Do these all convince you that New York state is ravishingly beautiful and New York, New York (at the bottom corner of the triangular shape of the state) is just an urban version of this beauty.

March 29, 2020

Xian, China

May 2014

Xian is a 3,100 years old city and was the capital of China for more than 770 years between 221 BC and 908 AD.  Xian was the starting point of the "Silk Road" in the distant past; and is the starting point for China's "One Road One Belt" initiative these days.  Xian is a large city with 12 million population (two thirds of Mumbai); is a strong and vibrant economy within China; and houses most of China's R&D facilities and Space program.

Xian has an India connection through Xuanzang.  Xuanzang was a Buddhist monk and scholar who was based in Xian.  He was concerned at the partial and incomplete state of knowledge of Buddhism in China and with the Emperor's permission traveled to India and spent 17 years in Emperor Harshavardana's court, in Nalanda University, and in various Buddhist monasteries.  He collected more than 650 manuscripts from India and returned to China.  He wrote a record of his journey to India which became the inspiration for China's much revered book "Journey to the West".  On his return, the Chinese Emperor built the "Wild Goose Pagoda" temple in Xian and made Xuanzang the first abbot of the temple.  The temple translated more than 1,335 books and manuscripts from Sanskrit to Chinese which constitute the core of Mahayana scriptures in China.  (When we were children, we studied about Hiuen Tsang - the way Xuanzang was spelt in those days when Beijing was Peking.  I was fascinated to visit his "Wild Goose Pagoda" five decades later!)

Wild Goose Pagoda.  The tower gives a panoramic view of Xian.

Temple inside the Wild Goose Pagoda Complex

Xuanzang (at right) who traveled to India in VII century to collect Buddhist literature

On the northern side of the Pagoda is a Music fountain (largest in Asia) that operates at set timings.  We waited and were rewarded with an awesome display.

Music fountain at Wild Goose Pagoda

Music fountain at Wild Goose Pagoda

Music fountain at Wild Goose Pagoda

Xian has an impressive 14 km long fortification wall around the old town.  The wall is 15 to 18 metres thick at the base, 12 to 14 metres thick at the top, and 12 metres high.  The wall has 98 flanking towers atop the wall and the foot print of arrows is said to cover 100% of the area around the wall.  The wall was built in XIV century as a military defence system.   These days it is an excellent tourist attraction.  People hire bikes to cycle on the top surface of the wall.

Xian's City Wall

Xian's City Wall

Atop Xian's City Wall

Xian was picked as the capital of China by its first Emperor Qin Shi Huang who ruled China for just 11 years until 210 BC.  He unified the empire, standardized the writing of Chinese script, standardized coinage across the empire, standardized weights and measures and set up the protocol for increase in trade and prosperity.  He built the Great Wall of China at the northern border of the empire to keep the Mongols away.

The Emperor had two desires.  One, he wanted his life after death to be as glorious as his life when he ruled China.  He wanted a very large retinue of warriors to be around him and protect him in his afterlife.  Two, he wanted to put an end to sacrificing the lives of soldiers so that they could accompany a dead Emperor into the afterworld.  The Emperor had artisans build more than 8,000 warriors (infantry, cavalry, and charioteers) in terracotta.  Each warrior had a unique set of facial features, facial expressions, hairstyle, and clothing,   No warrior was alike another.  The terracotta warriors were buried along with the Emperor when he died in 210 BC in Xian.

Local farmers discovered the terracotta sculptures in 1974.  The Chinese government has built a modern and spacious museum to house the terracotta warriors in a temperature controlled environment.

Terracotta Army Museum

Terracotta Army Museum

Terracotta Army Museum:  Pit 3, the largest.

Terracotta Army Museum:  Pit 3

Terracotta Army Museum:  A few warriors accessible to visitors for an up, close, and personal experience

The Museum has sculptors making modern day replicas of the warriors in life size and smaller sizes.  The shop is even more than the Museum itself.

Terracotta Museum Shop

Terracotta Museum Shop

Since Xian was a terminal point for the Silk route (that connected Xian with the Mediterranean), Xian received a lot of visitors from the East and thanks to their evangelisation,  has a significant Muslim population in the city.  The Great Mosque of Xian is more than 1,250 years old.  The Muslim Street in Xian is a popular shopping street for ethnic snacks and spices.

Muslim Street

Spice shop in Muslim Street

The Dumpling Banquet and Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show is a "must do" in Xian.

The dumplings were exquisite.  A wide variety of vegetarian fare was available.

Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show

Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show

Xian is a very modern city.

Tree lined promenades

Skyscrapers all around

Spacious foot paths and lush gardens

Xian means "peace in the west".  Xian lives up to its name.