Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mount Pemigewasset

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are part of the Appalachian mountain range. In New Hampshire the White Mountains National Forest covers a major portion of the north eastern part of the state. More than 100 miles of the famous Appalachian trail, 48 peaks with an elevation of 4000 ft. or more, innumerable waterfalls and ponds and trails... all of this makes for endless opportunities to hike, camp and go wild in general.

Mount Pemigewasset (Indian Head) was my first hike in the White Mountains and I loved every minute of it. Mt. Pemigewasset is located in the Franconia Notch state park. The trails starts from the Flume visitor center which is located just off of exit 34A on I-93. Its a nice, quick 2.5 hour drive from Boston. Travelling northbound, after you pass Concord, NH; the highway becomes a toll road. After this there are a couple of rest areas near the highway. The very first rest area gave an opportunity for some interesting observations and snide comments about New Hampshire in my mind (I was travelling alone so there was no one else to develop the theme further).

In most states, the license plates have some "motto" or "tag phrase" on them. In New York it is "The Empire State", in Massachusetts it is "The spirit of America" and in New Hampshire it is "Live Free or Die". Now, that is a catchy one... very inspiring too. For me, driving along America's endless highways is the perfect expression of the "live free" spirit. Rest areas along roads serve the purpose of giving the drivers a place to relax a bit in their journey. Everyone knows that taking a break serves well to avoid the "die" part while "living free" on the highways. So... going back... in the very first area in New Hampshire one will find a "New Hampshire Liquor and Lottery store". After a bit of Google search I found that this is a state-run, tax-free store. In New Hampshire, I guess the state has decided to make both the options in their state motto easily available to the drivers coming. Here, my fellow drivers, is a rest area where you can not only rest and relax but also avail yourself of some nice liquor... so that you can "live free" or "die" (or kill someone else) while you drive drunk. What a neat idea!

That aside, the hike up the trail reminded me that by being lazy, avoiding exercise and eating junk food I had become devoid of the kind of strength and stamina that is dearly needed to make up to the top. The trail itself is fairly moderate. It is well trodden and very easy to follow because of the blue blazes. The foot-hold is good and it's not too rocky or steep or slippery at any point. The distance to the top is a moderate 1.8 miles and the elevation gain from the parking lot is about 1250 ft. So in all respects this is a moderate-to-easy hike. At one point on the trail, while resting on a rock, sweating profusely and worrying about having enough water (I had also made the mistake of forgetting one of my water bottles in the car) I was seriously thinking whether I should continue or just head back. I continued nevertheless and what a good decision it was.

The views from top of Indian Head are amazing. There is a spectacular view of the Kinsman - Cannon ridge and the valley in between to the north and west. To the south one can see a good part of the Pemigewasset river valley. Since a picture is worth a thousand words here are some pictures.

Indian Head

Endless mountains

View of the Pemi river valley and the highway

On the way back, on a pretty lonely portion of the trail I heard the "knock knock" sound of a wood-pecker. For once, I was able to spot the bird. It kept hopping from tree to tree but it was gracious enough to hang around nearby, not be scared and carry on its knock-knocking while I changed the lens on my camera took a couple of snaps. I noticed that it kept hopping on to those trees with the white bark (they are Birch, I think) which make a good camouflage for it. I thought was very neat. Here are some of those snaps. (click to see a bigger image).

Lessons learned:
1. Eat well, exercise and stay in shape if you want to beat the trails.
2. Even when you don't follow lesson#1, the rewards of all the sweat, pain and self-loathing are sweet and sublime.
3. While lesson#2 maybe true, following lesson#1 and "always being prepared" helps... so don't forget the water bottle in the car.

Happy trails!

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Beantown Ho!

To those who visited these pages during my four month long hiatus from blogging - many apologies and many thanks for your interest. The beginning of the new year brought many changes to life. Between graduating (read: being kicked out) from grad. school and looking for a job, time was not to be found for blogging and wandering.

The most recent stop on my journey has been Beantown - home of the Boston Brahmins and the Red Sox. In the past few months of gainful employment I have realized the true value of the lazy days gone by. As another friend who recently graduated (as in REALLY graduated... degree and all) and joined a job put it, "...days of not brushing till 11 in the morning are over".

As I have done so in the past... I do promise to resume regular blogging henceforth.

Here's to new wanderings!

P.S: What do you think of the photo above? I have never loyally followed any sports but I find the Red Sox fandom here in Beantown amusing and interesting. Last weekend on Michael Feldman's Whad'ya Know (broadcast live from PennState), a communications professor from Penn State was talking about how the sports stadiums are the new "cathedrals" of the 21st century. He has also written a book about it. If stadiums are the cathedrals then sports is the new religion. In this town, loyalty to the beloved Red Sox is akin to the holy covenant. I will try to blog more about this and other fascinating facets of Boston.

P.S2: The title of this post was inspired by the Calvin and Hobbes book Yukon Ho! The Yukon Song from that book is one of my favorite poems.

Monday, January 29, 2007

More Elephants...

More elephants in the family:

Shimba is the latest member of our elephant family. We fostered Shimba in September 2006. He was just two months old baby at that time. Shimba was found near his dead mother trying to raise her up. His mother's trunk had been severed (probably after being caught in a wire snare) limiting her ability to forage. That and the fact that she had just given birth to a baby bull elephant had weakened her and probably was the cause of her death. Click here to read the full story of Shimba's discovery and arrival at the Nairobi Nursery run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Shimba is a healthy and playful baby now and is in good company and care.

The other elephant member of our family is little Lualeni - who has been mentioned on this blog before. Lualeni has now graduated from the nursery and has been transferred to a group of slightly older elephants (the Ithumba unit) living in closer proximity to her ultimate destination - the jungle. She is enjoying the mud baths, wading in ponds and the great green salad bar over there.

Media Coverage for David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:

In a previous post I wrote about the BBC documentary titled "Elephant Diaries" about the elephant nursery operated by Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The BBC team went back to film an update [read more] on the documentary in July '06 and "Elephant Diaries II" will air on the BBC sometime soon.

Sky News also ran a story about the elephant nursery on January 22, '07. You can watch the video clip here (you may require Windows media player 10.0). The clip features Shimba along with other baby elephants - Lesanju, Lempaute & Gladessa. Dame Daphne Sheldrick - the founder of the nursery - talks about the impact of ivory trade on the elephant conservation efforts in Africa.

Please learn more about the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and support their efforts in any way possible.

An elephant sanctuary in the U.S.:
While browsing the WWW I recently discovered that there is an elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. The sanctuary was founded in 1995 by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais. The mission of the sanctuary is to provide a natural habitat and care for sick, old and retired circus and zoo elephants:
The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, is the nation's largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically to meet the needs of endangered elephants. It is a non-profit organization, licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, designed specifically for old, sick or needy elephants who have been retired from zoos and circuses. Utilizing more than 2700 acres, it provides three separate and protected, natural-habitat environments for Asian and African elephants. Our residents are not required to perform or entertain for the public; instead, they are encouraged to live like elephants. (read more)
The use of animals for entertainment in circuses is a cruel practice. I have mixed feelings about keeping animals in zoos as well. However, The Elephant Sanctuary's mission is admirable because it finally gives these elephants a chance to experience life in a natural habitat, a thing that was robbed from them when they were captured. The sanctuary serves a very important role in conservation and education.

Visit their website or watch an informational video [11 min., plays in RealPlayer] about The Elephant Sanctuary. You can also watch the "Elecam" which is a live video feed from the sanctuary.

Other Elephant news:
:: In a recent study elephants in the New York zoo passed the "mirror test" [video] for "self awareness". Elephants now joint humans, apes and dolphins - the only other mammals who possess such awareness.

:: In bit of older pieces of news, another study found that elephants remember - or rather recognize their own kind among the dead - a trait that was previously thought to be uniquely human.

:: Stale news (but interesting nonetheless): Scientists used to think that there were two distinct species of elephants - The African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) and the Asian Elephant (Elephas Maximus). DNA tests have revealed [article link] that there are two distinct species of African elephants - the African Savanna elephant (Loxodona Africana) and the African forest elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis). The forest elephant was previously thought to be a sub-species of the African elephant. Out of these the Asian Elephant is classified as endangered while African Elephant is classified as vulnerable species on the IUCN red list.

Here is a quiz question before I sign off..
How do you distinguish between African Savanna elephant and the African Forest elephant?

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Republic Day

Every year the 26th of January is celebrated as the Republic Day in India. Today is India's 58th Republic Day. While India gained political independence from the British empire on August 15, 1947; we formally adopted a democratic constitution and became a Republic on January 26, 1950. There is a curious bit of history behind this date. The Indian constitution was drafted by the Constituent Assembly, which was the body of elected representatives that governed India since independence. The Constituent Assembly passed the Indian Constitution on November 26, 1949. January 26 was deliberately chosen as the formal date of adoption of the constitution because it was on that day in 1930 that the Indian National Congress had symbolically declared "Poorna Swaraja" - complete independence- from Britain.

In some ways the Republic Day is more important than Independence day in my opinion. It was on this day that we chose the path we would take as a nation. We committed ourselves to the ideals of a liberal democracy. We chose to become a nation governed by laws - not men. Half a century later much remains to be done to fully achieve a true democracy in India. Politics in India is still dominated by caste equations, religion based vote banks and by parties which - while participating in the democratic process - are themselves highly un-democratic and governed by "supremos" and "high commands". When we adopted the constitution, we decided that India would be a "Sovereign Socialist Democratic Republic". The word "Secular" was added to that list later in 1976. Most of the socialist policies implemented since independence have been counter-productive and have posed a great impediment to progress in India. After India began dismantling some of those policies in the 1990s, India has seen significant economic growth. Secularism too has a long way to go in India.

During this period India has fought five defensive wars against it's neighbours (1947, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1999). There were internal threats as well. Pakistan has waged a proxy war with India by fostering and sponsoring terrorists in Kashmir. There was also the separatist militancy in Punjab in the 1980's and early 1990's. Regional threats such as the ULFA separatists in Assam continue to operate even today. The 18 months from 1975-77, when Indira Gandhi declared national emergency and suspended civil liberties, was perhaps the only time when India came close to wavering from the democratic path. In spite of all these threats and shortcomings, India has managed to remain a democratic country. This I believe is a significant achievement. The fact that we have managed to hang together as a democratic country in spite of the multitude of differences in our country is in my opinion a huge asset for India. It is common nowadays to compare India's progress to that of China's in every aspect. Some believe that political freedom in India will prove to be a great benefit for India vis-a-vis China in the long term. I tend to agree with that line thought to a certain extent. Economic and political freedom go hand in hand. China's economic prosperity with the lack of political liberties is bound to create a clash. While China has the challenge of managing that clash in the future, the challenge for India is to bring the benefits of democracy and economic liberty to her poorest citizens.

Republic Day for me also evokes fond memories from my childhood. We used to go to school dressed in a clean uniform early in the morning for the flag hoisting ceremony. The best part for me used to be the sweets distributed at the end of the ceremony. Then I used to run back home to watch the Republic Day parade on the TV. The Republic Day parade on Rajpath in Delhi is celebrated to honor the war heroes and display the military might and cultural treasures of India. It is a great sight to watch the columns of soldiers marching in perfect harmony. The tableaux from various states follow the military parade and display the motley cultural traditions in India.

Today as India continues to grow economically at a spectacular rate, let us all renew our commitment to democracy and work to fully realize the democratic values that are enshrined in our constitution.

Jai Hind!

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

FSM sighted

Blessed be!

His Noodliness - The Flying Spaghetti Monster - has been sighted blessing a Volvo in the parking lot in front of our building.

Since my first post about His Noodliness, the Church of the FSM has grown widely. The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has recently been published in book form - you know - like the Good Book. The followers of the church or "Pastafarians" believe that the world was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster and that the increase in global average temperature in the recent decades is due to a decrease in the number of pirates.

If you are interested in seeing more photos of FSM sightings you can visit this Flickr group. There are some great pictures there. Here is one that I particularly liked taken by Yoshi...

You see something like this and you can't but help believe that the world truly must have been created by the super intelligent Flying Spaghetti Monster!

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Check It Out: The Library Thing

The Library Thing is one of the most useful finds on the internet for me. For a long time I was looking for some kind of software to catalog all my books. After a good amount of searching on the WWW I found the Book Collector, which is a stand alone desktop application in which you can catalog your book collection. I used it for a while... in fact I entered all my books into the database (including my Marathi books). The software was good, it had features like entering books by their ISBN, classifying books by genre etc. However after a motherboard and hard drive crash I lost the whole database (and learned a good lesson about backing up data).

Things were in that state for a while even after I installed a new motherboard and formatted my hard drive. Then while browsing through some book reviews, I came across a link to The Library Thing. It is an online community of bibliophiles which allows you to catalog your book collection. But it is much more than that. You can...
  • enter books into your database by simply entering the ISBN
  • tag your books
  • write and share reviews for books you have read
  • discuss books and related topic on the online groups
  • search for books similar to the ones you have read
  • share your library on your blog or website through blog widgets
... and much much more.

The service is totally free, but the free account lets you enter only up to 200 books. The yearly membership is $10 and lifetime membership is $25. So far I have really enjoyed the service and I recommend it to anyone who loves books. Although I am still using the free membership I am thinking seriously about the lifetime membership!

Also check out these cool blog widgets for my library:

The tag cloud for my books:

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