Kite Festival 2009, Zilker Park, Austin

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The word ‘Kite’ brings several images with separate connotations to my mind.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Kite Runner – ‘Kite’ reminds me of the book ‘The Kite Runner‘ by Khaled Hosseini (also adapted into a film of the same name). It is a story of a boy born into a rich family in Afghanistan in 70s who now lives in USA. He let a terrible thing happen to his best friends during childhood. Several years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself and in the process, visits war-ravaged Afghanistan. Kite Running forms an integral part of the story and several pages of the story are woven around Kite festival, children and adults flying kites, kite flying competition and running for the kites that befall during the competition. The protagonist gets a second chance, but the story almost makes you wonder, will Afghanistan get another chance.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Makar Sankranti – ‘Kite’ also reminds me of the festival of Makar Sankranti in India. The festival signifies the beginning of the harvest season in India and is called by various names in different parts of the country – Makara Sankranthi, Pongal, Tilgul, Yellu-Bella, Lohri, Maghi, Uttarayan etc. During pre teens, I used to stand on rooftops with a couple of friends (in fact every male tween in the neighborhood) and practice flying kites just as the New Year arrived. On weekdays, we used to practice after coming back from school – 3:30 to 5pm. And on the weekends, the entire day, probably just after ‘Shri Krishna’ on TV. Flying a kite was particularly difficult on cloudy days – January being the coldest time of the year no sun overhead meant a temperature of 12/13 degrees.

A day before Makar Sankranti, which is usually around 14th January, we used to buy several kites, long threads and ‘Manjha’ (pronounced Mun-jhaa and means glass lining some part of the thread) materials. Manjha is an art and is necessary for executing the kite cutting techniques – pull and release. Don’t know whether the art (of buying, sharpening the thread and flying kites) has changed these days – I know kites are even available online these days, but buying kites from the shops is an experience to cherish. Note to self: Write a full post on ‘Kite Flying in India‘ soon.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to witness Austin Kite Festival (I missed Mardi Gras!).

Zilker Kite Festival

Zilker Kite Festival

Austinites celebrate Kite Festival on the first Sunday of March every year at Zilker Park, thus called Zilker Kite Festival. Well, it’s a coincidence that Austin Kite Festival started on the same year as Oscars, in 1929. It is organized by The Exchange Club, which is an ‘all-volunteer, national service organization for men and women who want to serve their community, develop leadership skills and enjoy new friendships’. It seemed that the festival is immensely popular among Austin families – and also among tourists since it is open to all and free.

People: Several hundreds of people – families, singles, couples, young and old, gathered in an open ground. Kites of plenty of shapes, sizes and colors could be seen on the sky. It was an amazing sight to see kids not even 10 years of age flying huge kites. A few guys looked pro – their sleek kites were flying the highest. What amazed me was that no one tried to cut the flying kite of others. The Kite competition was a test of high-fly skill rather than a combat. And this was such a huge difference from the way kite flying is done in India. Even a no gooder like me could fly even lame kites pretty high and cut the thread of another high flier. Sigh!

An army of Kites

An army of Kites

Everyone wasn’t flying kites though. Those who weren’t, engaged in a variety of activities. Some watched other fly kites. Some others were busy in wall climbing, rotating rings around their waists (don’t know the term for this) or getting tattoo/mehndi/henna applied on their bodies – some on palm, others on the pelvic or tailbone area. Few spread out sheets on the ground and were eating or just lying around. Others were busy checking out different food stalls. I checked out a chicken kebab from a Turkish stall – kebabilicious. And it was delicious.

If you happen to be around Austin at this time of the year, do visit Zilker Park on the first Sunday of March for the Kite Festival. And a must see is the mass kite ascension at 3pm.

More Links

Inner Space Cavern, GeorgeTown, near Austin

 

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Intro: Well, I haven’t seen Stalagcites/Stalagmites. So, while driving back from Dallas to Austin, we (me, Tarun and Amit) stopped by at  the Inner space Cavern, 24 odd miles before Austin. It was a 45 odd min tour with 7 more people and a tour guide. So, here you go.

History:  In 1963, Texas Highway Department’s core drilling team was drilling test holes to check whether the ground can support large overpass. One of the drill fell 26 ft and this led to the accidental discovery of the cavern. The mining company sniffed opportunity and then made the place tourist worthy (safe). After some work, this place was made open to the public in 1966. Well, thats 1 million after it started to built itself!

The entry is via a train. We were late, so we walked in. It wasn’t tiring – I just wondered why they have a rail line in the first place. probably due to mining activities.

Model: Tarun Bansal

Model: Tarun Bansal

Some formations protruded and touched the other surface, causing a pillar like structure.

Stalactites and Stalagmites

Stalactites and Stalagmites

There were some paintings made by an artist (search for the name) after the cavern was opened for public view. The tour guide said that these animals were found in Texas long ago – mammoth (tusker), huge wild boar etc. Here’s a shot of the same:

We were here

We were here

Moon Lake –  lakes on moon apparently  appear like this, hence the name. Reminds me of Durga Puja pandals back home.

Moon Lake

Moon Lake

The photo below is a fault line running from Austin to XXXX. So whats a fault line? For those who forgot Class 7 geography lessons, here’s  a link. You can see here that the rock on one side of the fracture has moved with respect to the rock on the other side. This is apparently due to the shear motion of the earth’s crust.

Whos fault is this?

Who's fault is this?

I was bowled over by the color scheme of the place. The view gave a feeling that it would be very hot (looks like molten lava out of Discovery) but was indeed a cool place – 72 F (22 C). Here’s another one:

On the Rocks

On the Rocks

 

Tours: Inner Space Caverns offers three types of tours: the adventure tour (adults – $12.95 and children, ages 4-12 – $6.95), the new explorer’s tour (adults – $18.95, children, ages 4-12-$10.50) and another tour where you have to crawl most of the time. The 3rd tour costs about  $100 and you have to meet the eligibility criteria to undergo this tour. The explorer tour lasts an hour and 35 minutes and covers an extended 1.2 mile trail.

How to reach: Inner Space Cavern is located 24 miles North of Austin.  It’s entrance is on IH-35.  Simply follow  IH-35 North past Round Rock and take exit 259.  Go past the Candle Factory, turn left under IH-35 and we’ll be on your right. Get a map from maps.google.com.

Notes

  1. Take pictures
  2. Listen to the tour guide – she/he would tell you interesting stories
  3. At your exit, take a souvenir – you would be required to drop 1 cent and two quarters, a machine will press your cent and convert it into a oval shaped plate with ‘Inner Space Cavern’ written over it.
  4. Don’t touch the structures there – apparently the structures don’t grow any further if it comes into oil contact. They die too, you see!

All Photo Courtesy: Tarun Bansal

Links:

Sixth Floor Museum at Downtown, Dallas

6th Floor Museum

6th Floor Museum

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About the Museum (source – http://www.jfk.org/go/about ): The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is located on the sixth and seventh floors of an early 20th-century warehouse known in 1963 as the Texas School Book Depository. Opened on Presidents Day 1989, the Museum has since welcomed more than 6 million visitors from around the world—people of all ages seeking information and understanding about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Museum tours are self-guided.

I’ve been to several kinds of museums – art, painting, sculpture, folk, religious, archaeological, celebrity, popular figure, city glory etc. This  one stands apart beacause of its theme. Mind you, it isn’t JFK museum, but a Kennedy Presidency museum. Or more specifically, Kennedy assasination museum. This isn’t your run of the mill welcome-and-see-my-artifacts kind of museum you would usually find for famous people. 6th Floor musuem doesn’t try to show you too many things, it just sticks to its theme and that’s what makes it message delivery effective.

A little data now. Very young and Catholic, both factors went against him. With odds against his favor, JFK won in the presidential elections, albiet marginally. His children were first in last 50 years to live in White House. A fiery and sensible orator, Kennedy had huge approval ratings. Consequenty, he vowed to improve the conditions in US in 1960s – putting man on moon, taking unilateral peace decisions etc. In the 3rd year of his presidency, he started contemplating second term. To network and raise funds, he came to ‘Tour of Texas’ in 1963. His tour was to visit 5 places in texas – Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Houston. Since he supported the Civil Rights movement, there was severe dissidence among several people. .

JFK

JFK

While Kennedy’s convoy was taking a hairpin turn, someone shot him from the 6th floor of this building. And the spot became the museum. The alleged assasin Lee Harvey Oswald, was nabbed soon. However, Lee was shot dead by a local businessman and Kennedy supporter. The murder pictures – both JFK’s and Lee’s and videos are exhibited. The exhibits relate to his presidency, murder, mourning and repercussions. There are well documented and presented material on memorable events of his presidency – Cuban Missile crisis, famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech at Berlin, Vietnam War, his efforts to end racial discrimination among the major ones.

Entrance fee is 14 USD, plus parking is 5 USD for a full day. There is an audio guide, in 7 languages, which will guide you to get maximum value out of this visit. You won’t need a human tour guide. I suggest take at least 2 and a half hours to read and watch everything the place has to offer.

At your exit, you would find a Memory Book where you can comment. At good museums, a visitors’ book is a common sight. You wouldn’t find it everywhere. The Memory Book asks you to write your memory of president Kennedy, his presidency, life, assasination or its aftermath. I read few comments and then penned mine – This well explains America’s, and world’s, fascination with JFK. And justifiably so. If the Museum authorities like your comment, they would publish them at their website. Let me see whether my comment appears there.

Links

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Skywatch Friday # 2: Austin morning

Austin mornings are refreshing. A walk down the lane, a little jogging, that sweat tickling down the neck, the splendid view – all make a great start for the day. during one such walks, I happen to shoot this near my hotel.

Its winter in Austin

Its winter in Austin

I’m submitting this picture for Skywatch Friday. Go check out the site for more Skies all around the globe.

TGIF # 5: Woodrow’s at 6th Street, Austin

Who plays darts in a pub? And that too when its Super Bowl Sunday? Lesser mortals like me and 4 others do. Well, what else can you do when all that you understand about Super Bowl is ‘touchdown‘, and that too only from the Hollywood movies you have seen. Woodrow’s at 6th Street, Austin has a nice place to play darts – two boards in all. Interestingly, everybody was busy watching Super Bowl on tv so we ‘took over’ the dart playfield for more than an hour. 

The following shot is one of my attempts to capture the ‘Flying Dart‘. This on-the-move photography was extremely difficult since I had a limited capability camera. It took me 7 unsucessful attempts to shoot this. And boy, I was jumping when I could do this. The model in the shot is Tarun Bansal and the onlookers included Harish, Vibhav and Amit. Keep Austin Weird!

 

Flying Dart

Flying Dart

Further Links

Mr Clean @ flickr,

Beaches in Gokarna

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This post has been published in Club Mahindra blog. This is my 3rd post on Gokarna. Here’s my 2nd post and 1st post.

About Gokarna: An ancient beach town in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, Gokarna has great religious significance as well. The town has 5 beaches – Gokarna, Kudle, OM, Half Moon and Paradise – in that order and with hills between the beaches. As such, it offers extremely good opportunity for beach treks. None of these beach treks surpass 30 minutes duration and provide exotic views of the sea from the hillocks. World seems to have stopped when you are here – beach hop, lay on the beach, jog, walk, eat at beach cafes, buy, drink, dance, write – do whatever but don’t rush. This is a place that rewards laziness. All these make Gokarna a great two day weekend getaway from Bangalore, Goa, Mumbai and Pune during Oct-Apr.

 

Carefool at OM Beach

Carefool at OM Beach

 

Each beach in Gokarna is a lazy man’s paradise. Stay and eat at a beach side hack/cafe/hotel/resort. Lie on the  beach – on a bed-sheet with a hat over your face to avoid sun/eye-contact, or with the sun scorching your back. Or, read a book lying on a towel and in your bare minimum. And the best part, wear almost anything that you want (just that you have to wear something) – barmudas with sleepers, Alibaba pants and top, or a skirt of any shape and size.

There are five beaches in Gokarna – Gokarna, Kudle, Om, Half Moon and Paradise, in that order.

 

Gokarna Beach at Dusk

Gokarna Beach at Dusk

 

Gokarna Beach – It lies close to the town and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. The beach is close to the Mahabaleshwar Temple, a very old Lord Shiva temple that has an associated legend as well. At the beach, you can spot families, young and elderly couples, single and group travellers. It goes without saying – several fast food joints and the groundnut/balloon sellers adorn the shoreline. In the vicinity, you will find plenty of hotels, food joints and garments/puja shops. A word of caution here for tourists:  Avoid wearing skimpy clothes in the area. Since the ancient temple is nearby, this part of Gokarna is more of a pilgrim town than a beach town. You wouldn’t want to be an eye-sore for the locals just for your choice of clothes.

 

Kudle Beach

Kudle Beach

Kudle Beach – Is mostly frequented by foreigners and is almost a kilometer long, pretty wide as well. This gives you ample space to engage in the usual beach games, bonfires etc. Rocks, and plenty of them, adorn the sea shore. You’d find foreign tourists (mostly, but some Indians as well) staying in the shacks – sleeping, eating, drinking and reading.  I spotted the “Shantaram” being read atleast atleast thrice! King Fish delicacies are very tasty and are reasonably priced, in fact cheaper than most restaurants in Bangalore. The eateries play continental/Israeli music all the time. You could also beach trek from Kudle to Mahabaleshwar Temple.

OM Beach

OM Beach

OM Beach – This beach is around 20 minutes of an auto ride from the Gokarna bus stand. Certainly the best of the five Gokarna beaches, the beach derives its name from the Hindu religious symbol – OM, since its shape resembles that of the symbol. The ‘OM’ shape is pretty evident when you see the beach from the hillocks on the either side. However, the right side gives a better view than the left. Consequently, the picture you take would be mirror image of the OM symbol. The beach is the longest among the five beaches and is frequented by Indian and foreign tourists alike. You can stay at the Namaste Café which overlooks the OM Beach, or at any of the several shacks that are scattered around the beach. There is also the Swaswara resort as well, a hundred odd meters away from Om beach. There are three equidistant rocky patches at the beach. Two things you shouldn’t miss at OM – sitting atop each rock patch and the morning jog.

Half Moon Beach - Panorama

Half Moon Beach - Panorama

Half Moon Beach – It’s a tiny beach and can be reached by beach trekking from Om, or by paying INR 200 on a ferry boat. But the ferry ride wouldn’t allow you to spend much time at the beach. The beach has huge rocks as well. There’s a hut and you may as well get some food there. Once here lose yourself and merge with the tranquil surroundings.

Paradise Beach – The fifth and the last beach in the series, and it befits its name. You have to beach trek for about 20 min from Half Moon beach to reach Paradise beach. There are a couple of beach cafes as well.

Tips…

  1. Be careful while swimming, as the sea is shallow at some places and there are several cases of death due to drowning reported every year here.
  2. As usual, bargain hard with the sellers – beads sellers, clothes and accessories sellers, musical instruments sellers etc.
  3. Take mosquito repellent and a bed-sheet with you.
  4. Try beach trek – there are at least four options. If you can’t beach trek at all, you can see the beaches on a ferry boat – at INR 200 per head.
  5. Take your swimwear with you – there aren’t too many beaches in India where you can wear them without being ogled. So, don’t miss this opportunity.
  6. Don’t wear bikini at the Gokarna Beach – this may offend the local people and the police. But you may wear them at the other four beaches.
  7. Don’t miss the morning jog at OM beach.

Skywatch Friday – Karwar

I went to Goa last September, from Bangalore via sleeper bus. It is an overnight jouney and usually takes 14 odd hours. Predictably, you would sleep at night and in the morning, you would pass through coastal Karnataka. En route, the most beautiful place I believe is Karwar. The town is in Uttara Kannada district and is 15 km south of Karnataka-Goa border. Interestingly, a spot here has Rabindra Nath Tagore’s name. I didn’t stay there so if you want to pay this place a visit, the links below will help you.

This picture is headed for Skywatch Friday. Thanks Vamsee for the idea. So, here you go.

 

Karwar Skyline

Karwar Skyline

Further Reading