Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Truth About Valley of Flowers - Part II

You are going to the Valley of Flowers? Utna Khaas nahi hai (It is not that great)", said the gentleman who was headed to Hemkund Sahib.

It is beautiful, but not that great” said the person who was already headed back from the hike at 10:00 AM . The same sentiments were expressed by a couple more people on their way back. There was one Indian lady and an American who said that the place was spectacular, but everybody else seemed to be disappointed. Read on to find out and see for yourself.
Continued from Part 1 (Click here tor read Part 1)

The Sarovar Tent camps do not have electricity. The only thing you can do after the light goes down is to star gaze. I know nothing about astronomy, but it is fun to see the night sky in the mountains. The sky was lit up with millions of tiny stars. “It is like somebody threw glitter in the sky” said our guide Bachchan and he was so right. We slept early and woke up early the next day. After a delicious breakfast of aloo parathas and chai, we set off for the hike.
It was another uphill path, and our feet began to complain immediately. Valley of Flowers was only 6 km from our camp, so there was no hurry. We walked slowly and in a few minutes came to the village of Ghangria. It was a small, dirty and noisy place. If you can afford the tents, don’t bother staying in the village. The entire place smelled of fried oil and bad food. You could struggle and hike up to 10,000 ft, but god forbid you have to live without Chole Batura and Jalebi. Once we cleared the village, the scenery opened up to towering mountains on 3 sides. At the fork in the road, we came across a number of pilgrims going to Hemkund sahib, but very few going to VOF. We probably came across 20-30 people on the entire hike!! As we passed through a wooded forest, Bachchan pointed out the Bhoj Vriksha. It is said that Ved Vyas wrote the Mahabharata on bhoj patra. This part of the country is full of stories from the Mahabharatha and I will write about it in part 3. As we walked on, Bachchan plucked sweet and sour jungle raspberries for us. The path of the hike crossed from one side of the Pushpapati river to the other. The roar of the white water rushing downstream was constant during the entire hike. I cannot tell you how soothing it is to walk beside the roaring river.


video

The valley is hidden behind huge, towering peaks, so you have to wait until the last kilometer before getting a peak at the view. The suspense prods you to walk on the uphill terrain just to get a glimpse of this land that caught the imagination of so many naturalists and botanists. Just before the valley opened up, the clouds cleared giving us an amazing view of the snow peaked mountains. I don’t know why I have this fascination for snow-peaked mountains, but I do. I have seen snow many times, in fact I used to curse it when I had to walk on it to school, but there is something alluring about white snow peaked mountains against a green valley. The camera kept clicking by itself and I am glad it did because in 10 minutes, clouds covered up the view.





Soon, the path flattened out and flowers began to show up. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done – glacier fed river on one side, snow-peaked mountains all around and a valley full of flowers. The predominant species that was blooming at that time was this white flower. They were EVERYWHERE. There were patches of yellow and pink flowers in places, but white was quite dominating. We found a small patch without flowers (I am serious…they are everywhere!!) and had our packed lunch. Bacchhan went to the stream and brought us back cold river water to drink. Pure, tasty Himalayan water!! The weariness of the last few days caught up with me, so I decided to take a nap while Gaay and Bacchhan went for a walk. We spent many hours breathing in the fresh air and just taking in the splendid scenery. For me, the hard hike was totally worth it. I loved the place, so I was quite shocked at people’s disappointment.











I think the problem with VOF is its name – Valley of Flowers. People go there expecting not just flowers, but millions and zillions of flowers. The written material boasts of over 300+ varieties of alpine flowers. It does not matter that different flowers bloom in different weeks/months – people want them all to bloom at the same time and preferably in neat rows carpeting the area in pink, yellow and blue colors. Then they can wear a see-through chiffon sari and run around singing Bollywood songs.
Almost everybody I met there was obsessed with seeing the “blue poppy” (even the ones who had no idea such a flower existed). Guides took a lot of effort to find one and when they did, it was a major achievement – “OMG, we saw THE blue poppy!!” Never mind that the flower was a tiny 5-10 cm thing, half torn, hidden on the side of the path under some boulders. Victory is declared and the purpose of the trip is fulfilled. The problem with Valley of Flowers is not the place, but the false marketing. They advertise it as if it is a human controlled botanical park where you are guaranteed to see various flowers. Go there with the expectation that you will see what nature decides to show you and I guarantee that you will come back happy.

video

Now that you have seen my pictures and videos– what you think? Great? Good? Good but not great??

Friday, December 17, 2010

Prague, Walking Tours

The first time I had heard of Prague was many years ago. I had just announced in my office that I was getting married. My team took me out to lunch and the topic of honeymoon came up. The president of our company, a very sweet man said " YOU MUST GO TO PRAGUE" That is where all the young people are headed these days, he said. At the time, I had never been to Europe and frankly never heard of Prague, so I asked him more about it. He said " Prague is beautiful. It has museums, art galleries, churches, coffee shops, river-front restaurants.....everything. PRAGUE IS THE NEW PARIS!!"
It was only much later that I visited Prague. We flew in from Amsterdam on one of those cheap flights that have flooded the European market these days. One word of caution - When the flight landed and we entered the terminal, they had sniffing dogs sniff our luggage just to make sure you don't bring in the happy pills from NL:) Read my account of the trip to Prague here.



Dan Perciun from GPSmyCity.com develops self-guided city walking tour applications for Iphones. They have over 2,000 walking tours - spanning over 180 cities worldwide. He has offered to give away free city walk applications to my blog readers for participating in the quiz on Prague. The readers who correctly answer to most of its questions, will win three free city walk iPhone application developed by GPSmyCity.com.


1. Prague's oldest, most well known and famous bridge was named in the honor of a king.
Can you guess who?
A. Charles IV
B. Louis IV
C. Rudolf IV

2. Capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, is also the capital of a province and former
kingdom. Which of these is it?
A. Moravia
B. Silesia
C. Bohemia

3. Holding a lot of the world's records, the Czechs are considered to:
A. Eat most sausage per capita than anywhere else
B. Drink more beer per capita than anywhere else
C. Have most castles per capita than anywhere else

4. Can you guess how many of the Czechs have completed at least secondary education?
A. 85%
B. 90%
C. 95%

5. The Czech language belongs to the Slavonic family of languages. Which language is of
another origin?
A. Polish
B. Bulgarian
C. Albanian

6. On which river is Prague situated?
A. Danube
B. Elbe
C. Vltava

7. Which word, with an apparent English origin, traces its beginnings in the Czech language?
A. Sword
B. Robot
C. Sugar

8. What personality from the following row is not a famous Czech?
A. Gregor Johann Mendel
B. Franz Kafka
C. Gottfried Leibniz

9. Prague is famous for having presented to the world one of these incredible dances. Which one?
A. The Polka
B. The Walz
C. The Foxtrot

10. Tourists visiting Prague, are definitely going to be impressed by this wall constatntly
covered with grafitti and lyrics in honour of world famous artists. Can you take a guess
who that might be?
A. John Lennon
B. Jim Morrison
C. Elvis Presley

Answer the questions for fun or to get free walking tour applications.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

U.S Virgin Islands - St. John

" I am sorry. You flight is closed for boarding"

I could not believe my ears. This is a scenario I had NEVER faced in my life. I am a very planned person and always show up for flights well ahead of time. We started for the airport many hours ahead, but took a long lunch where we lost track of time. Before we knew it, we were zooming to the airport, but could not make it. The flight to paradise had to wait another day!!

Virgin Islands was never on my list of places simply because we lived in California. If we wanted to go to beautiful Islands, Hawaii was a 6 hour flight away. Caribbean Islands were just too far. Luckily for me, I had a conference in Florida and a bunch of us over-worked colleagues decided to take a quick 3 day trip to the US Virgin Islands. American Airlines has cheap flights to St. Thomas. A ferry ride brings you from St. Thomas to St.John
When people rate best beaches in the World, Caribbean islands always show up and for good reason. The white sand beaches with turquoise waters are a sight for the sore eye. If you want instant relaxation, all you have to do is stare at this picture below. Countless shades of blue waters surrounded by green rain forests make for breathtaking vistas.



We went to St. John which has the Virgin Islands National Park. We stayed at Maho Bay Camps, an award winning eco-tourist resort. They built the camps in 1976 when eco-tourism was not as fashionable as it is now. The tent cottages stand on stilts in the high forests and are connected through elevated wooden walkways to preserve the ground cover. They use wind and solar energy and harvest rain water. Camps were very basic but were perfect for us because we used it only for sleeping. Rest of the time we were sitting in the water, standing in the water, swimming in the water, floating in the water, drinking in the water......you get the idea:)





Snorkeling is my most favourite water sport. Floating on the water while watching the underwater world go about its business is simply fascinating. Trunk Bay and Water Lemon Cay are the popular spots and we went to both the places. Water Lemon Cay was a good 1 mile hike from our camps. Weather was hot and humid and I was very uncomfortable. To me, that is the biggest drawback of the Caribbean Islands. Hawaii has no humidity, so if I ever have to choose, Hawaii will win hands down. I wore a ridiculous looking life vest ( 'Be Safe and have fun" is what Saru said before I left) and jumped into the water. The little cay with sandy beaches has incredibly beautiful marine life. The water was crystal clear and had lots of beautiful sponges and corals - elk and brain corals being the highlight. Hundreds of types of multi-coloured fish reside in the reefs there. Parrotfish, Angelfish, goatfish and butterflyfish were most common. As we were floating in the water, there was a point when the famous Caribbean clear water became sandy. The culprit, we realized was a hungry EAGLE RAY!! It was my first sighting of this species and I was thrilled. Just when I thought the day could not get any better, we saw a huge turtle!! Back in the camp, it was cool among the trees, but the only way to remain comfortable with the humidity was to be in the water!! Instead of hanging out near our camp, we took our stuff and literally sat in the shallow water for hours and hours until our hands and feet wilted like an old granny's. The next day, we kayaked to another snorkel spot and spent an afternoon there. We then rented a car for a few hours and drove around the tiny island to get an idea of how the rest of the place looked.







After soaking in the sun and the sand for 2 days back, we headed back to the airport where I heard the second bombshell in the trip. " I am sorry, I don't see your reservation"!! I pulled out my printouts and gave it to the lady who looked at it and said " This reservation was for yesterday"!! I paid a $100 penalty to change the ticket.
Just when I was thinking that this could not get any worse, the guard asked me " Passport Please". I had no idea that we needed a passport to visit the Virgin Islands!! They never checked on my way there. " Why do I need a passport. I am still in the US. I never took my passport to Hawaii, I said. " Hawaii is a state, USVI is a US territory" He replied while showing me to a special room. I gave them all my information and sat there for the longest 1/2 hour of my life. The guard came back and said that my information checked out and I was free to board the flight.
" Next time bring your passport"!! He said.
Given all the trouble getting in and out of here, I told myself I would never go back. But these pictures are tempting me to change my mind. Maybe......some day in the distant future!!







This is my World today. For more stories around the world, please click here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Club Mahindra Bloggers Trip - Sikkim

When I first started writing trip reports, I would endlessly pain my friends to leave comments. They were irritated by my constant messages and I was irritated that they would not comment. Then in 2008, I started this blog and slowly and steadily built a small base of readers. Most of the readers were strangers who had come to my blog in search of a good travel story. After some months of communication, some of these people even became good friends. I would chat with them regularly and connected on social networking sites. I even went to the extent of traveling with a fellow blogger who I had known only through his blog. It was a great success which made me believe that it was easier to make friends with common interests. I started meeting fellow bloggers whenever I happened to be in their city. Up until this trip, I had met Lakshmi Sharath, Arun Bhat, Arun Nair and Neelima Vallangi. With each of them, conversation was effortless and it felt like we already knew each other. It has been over 2 years since I moved back and the only friends I made are those that I met through travel forums, group trips and blogs!!

When Club Mahindra offered to take me on a trip to their resort in Sikkim, I jumped at it, not because it was Sikkim, but it was with 8 other travel bloggers. The fun started in the flight itself. There were 5 of us and we pretended to own the aircraft. During the 3 hr flight to Calcutta, we had loud arguments/discussions about everything from exercise to investments to altitude sickness. Calcutta airport was a serious dump!! How does a city that claims to be the most intellectual and philosophical city tolerate that stink is beyond me. We felt bad even eating a sandwich from a Coffee day. Bagdogra airport was much nicer. The drive to Gangtok was along the Teesta river and it was beautiful, but very windy. The combination of windy roads, heavy traffic and diesel smell did a number on me and I was seriously nauseous. Multiple stops and five long hours later, we reached Gangtok.

Back at the resort, we ordered some drinks and set out to get to know each other. It was a motley group of nine. We could not be more different than the other. One was a compulsive chatterbox while one was a quiet listener, one loved eating while one loved cooking, one took pictures of everything in sight while another took pictures of herself at every sight. One wore very trendy clothes while another wore her husband's jeans. One was a meticulously planned traveler and another was a spontaneous I-will-figure-out-as-I-go person. The group was a mixture of travelers of all ages and ailments. However different we all were, we shared a common passion (borderline obsession) for travel. I felt completely at home with these serial-travelers. Everybody was coming from a trip and/or going to another trip after Sikkim. Some traveled for work while some quit work to travel and yet others chose travel as their work. These obsessive compulsive travelers/foodies seem to have found an answer to the work-life balance equation (less work...more life). It was refreshing to talk to people who never let work come in the way of life. Life is not just about earning a living....it is about living!!


Moving on - Gangtok itself was not very impressive. Having passed through another hill station recently (Nainital), I will go out on a limb and say that all popular hill stations in India are avoidable. They are noisy, polluted and the man made structures block out mountain vistas. Trick is to find a small village just outside these hill stations and stay there. Club Mahindra's Royal Demazong was six kilometers outside Gangtok towards the hills. A tiny dirt road lead to the most impressive location in that region. Set in the middle of the majestic Chola range, almost halfway to the clouds (scroll down to see those pictures) was a beautiful heritage structure. Our rooms were very tastefully decorated and spacious. The best part was the balcony which offered uninterrupted views of the mountains all round. On a relaxed holiday, I could imagine myself sipping my morning coffee in the balcony listening to the songs of the birds.









Our first stop the next day was the Bulbulay Himalayan Zoo. While I no longer enjoy zoo's, this one was different in that animals were kept in large open/semi-open/closed enclosures. I was also excited about the prospect of seeing snow leopards, Himalayan civet cats and the star attraction - the Red Panda Bear. A beautiful walk through the woods took us to the first attraction - Black Bear or Bhalu. A bear rolling on the ground and wrestling with a piece of wood was misconstrued as two bears making out which led to a lot of innuendos and jokes. The Leopards, handsome as they are, posed for photographs.










The drive to the Lingdum monastery was just beautiful. Light green rice fields interspersed with dark mountains was a sight to behold. Many a time, I made the driver stop on narrow roads just to get a quick shot of these landscapes.




This was my first monastery in the east and I was impressed. It was a very non-touristy place and we found ourselves to be one in less than 20 tourists at the site. The architecture of the monastery is like other Buddhist structures in Nepal, Bhutan and North East India. With rising levels and pagodas, it looked very grand and majestic.








Loud temple music and the ringing of the gong made me walk into the inner sanctum where the evening prayer was going on. Monks were chanting scriptures while tapping their music cymbals. Outside in the courtyard, a big group of monks were practicing a prayer dance. The older monks were unfazed by our presence, but the younger ones would look at us from time to time and blush. I wonder how kids as young as these decide to become monks.







However exhausting the days were, we used to stay up till late in the night and have very interesting discussions. Men were bored by the relationship conversations, but took part in the singing session with gusto. I doubt if anybody on our floor slept that night. Looking back at the trip, I think my most favorite memories were not of the places, but the people. Some of them will remain good friends and travel buddies for years to come.




Coming up - Sikkim 2, Drive to Nathula Pass and Tsmongo Lake

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Camping at Death Valley


This is a guest post written by my friend Vidya. She wrote this in 2005 after we came back from a trip to Death Valley National Park. This funny account of our camping trip brings a smile to my face every single time I read it. Our friends loved it and we encouraged Vidya to write more. This post hopes to serve as a giant kick in the butt and get her back to writing


One fine bright and sunny day, my husband and I decided that it was time to take yet another vacation before getting frustrated all over again with work. Destination Death Valley National Park was our first spot. Vam and Pengo took care of all reservations while Saru and me spent time at work happily browsing all sites we could find on Death Valley and Channel Islands. I for one, could hardly concentrate on anything else for the last week and a half .

There was one tiny teensy snag to this excitement however. Well you see, our friend Vam had this brilliant idea that we should all camp-yes camp, in Death Valley for one night, her reasoning being that all hotels in a 100 mile radius were booked or sold out (which I do not believe for one second – she and my husband are peas in the same pod when it comes to camping – my hubby being even worse – his idea of camping does not even include sleeping bags and enclosed restrooms – I rest my case here) – well, anyways, Vam bet each one of us a $100 bucks if we could find one vacant hotel, and seeing as she was so confident, we had nothing else to do but go where she took us. The night before the trip, I made a call to them with the sole purpose of trying to allay my fears with respect to the camp…you see I have been bred in the city all my life and the most I have been close with nature would be a school picnic to Powai lake for 3 hours. And this was hard-core camping complete with tents, sleeping bags, freezing-extreme temperatures, not to mention, wild animals like foxes, coyotes, snakes and all kinds and varieties of bugs and insects (the last few of which Pengo was most eagerly looking forward to and the only reason he agreed to the trip in the first place). So I had high reservations about anything to do with camping – the mentality of people who want to deliberately lie on jagged stones in the peril of being eaten up alive by a bear, stung by a scorpion, poisoned by a snake or worse get drenched in the rain when all you are trying to do is get one night’s sound sleep - is well beyond my realm of comprehension, - and thankfully there was one sane person in the group, Saru - who happened to agree with me.

When I expressed my doubts about this camping idea to Vam and Pengo, firstly everyone beat it down saying that I have led a sheltered and protected life till now in Bombay - and that even though it was called a jungle – it was but merely a concrete one – my husband put in his 2-bits saying my idea of adventure was to travel from West-Mulund to East Mulund – which I thought was a totally uncalled for comment.

The drive

Vam then proposed that we should take the ‘scenic’ route instead of the staid old freeway. Now, what I didn’t know in my naiveté then and what I have now learnt through bitter experience now, is that when Vam says ‘scenic’ what she really means - is a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping thrill ride through deep trenches, narrow gorges, mountains on the brink of mudslides which could bury you under any second, valleys and so on and so forth…Basically we got our money’s worth of amusement park thrills and chills sans the long queues.

My way of dealing with the situation was to mumble prayers under my breath and mutter a string of predictions of the exact manner in which we were going to meet our end and other fore-sayings of doom throughout. By the time we were close to our destination, both Saru and I were slightly sick and had turned a delicate shade of green in color – Saru don’t deny it – I have a picture to prove it.

Wildflowers at Antelope Valley State Park



Death Valley

After a short detour to see wild flowers, we decided to drive non-stop to Death Valley, in the hope of putting up our tent before the sun went down. I use the term non-stop very loosely here; Me, Vam and Saru made Pengo stop at the sight of every lake, flower or hillside that caught our attention and had our fill of oohs and aahs. By the time we were done with our random loiterings and umpteen photo stops, it was well past daylight and we had not even reached the outskirts of Death Valley. The road to DV was pretty much the similar thrill ride I mentioned earlier with the elevation and grading losing 100 feet for every mile or so. And I kept up my steady monologue of doomsday uttering's and dark prophecies about how we were soon going to go crashing down the hill. By this time we had given up all hopes of ever putting up tent in daylight and were resigned to using the car headlights once again as Vam, Saru and Pengo fondly reminisced about the umpteen times they have camped and never once have they reached their goal of setting up a tent under natural light before the sun went down.




The Episode of the Tent

We finally reached our campsite at around 9pm. Masters in the art of camping the Vam and Pengo are, the tent was up and about in almost no time – Saru also seemed to be very useful with the manual labor, while I simply hovered around being of no use to anyone - but I did get second by second in- action shots of the masterpiece being created. That should count for something.

Well satisfied with our handiwork, we gazed fondly at it one last time and proceeded to head to the 49-ers Café for a well-earned dinner.

Just as we were close to finishing our dessert, (I ordered an amaretto liqueur coffee for the first time in my life and to say the least, was disgusted with it), we heard loud downpour outside and saw that it had started raining heavily. It suddenly dawned on us that even though we had finished pitching our tent, we didn’t know if we had secured it enough to withstand such a heavy deluge.

Just as suddenly as it had started, the showers came to an abrupt end, and we hurriedly paid our bills and left to see the state of our tent. Sure enough, there it was, wet and soaked in the rain, lying in complete shambles on the ground and with it went the product of an hour’s worth of sweat and toil. It must be registered on record that our morale definitely spiked sharply downward at this point, as we were all so tired after our long eventful day, and all we wanted to do was hit the sack as quickly as possible.
But kudos once again to Vam and Pengo, who did not let us give up, and quickly chalked out a POA to salvage what we could of the tent. We grabbed a couple of beach towels and wiped out all traces of water from the outside of the tent. Luckily the inside was still nice and dry due to the rain-shield that we had had the foresight to put over the tent. We pitched the tent again, this time, making it stronger by securing it with heavy rocks. We then brought out the sleeping bags and comforters and laid them neatly inside, and wrapped up our pillows that had become a bit soggy, in blankets and voila – everything was perfect again.

Only after this were we able to see the humor in the situation and had a gala time joking about it till we finally fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion and all the excitement of the day. This officially marks the end of the chapter in my life where I had my first camping experience, and for the record, despite all that I’d heard and thought about it, despite all the misgivings I had, I definitely had a great time and – I know I’m laying myself on the line here with Vam and Pengo – and would be open to considering another camping trip – in the distant future!

Sand Dunes

We stopped our car at the dirt track on the side of the road and walked the rest of the way to the sand dunes, and when we did catch the first glimpse of them – man what an awe-inspiring sight it was. Just imagine – Mounds and mounds of pure clear sand heaped high shining with a pearl-like luminescence towering against the backdrop of the soaring Grapevine Mountains surrounding the valley. Saru practically went into raptures of blissful ecstasy trying to get as many shots of this bounty of nature as possible.

The initial few miles of the dunes were covered with footprints but we trekked a bit further into the interiors and here the dunes were even more pristine, untrammelled with and untouched by human steps. Here we were even more amazed by the innumerable soft patterns engraved by the winds on the dune, ranging from simple lines to a myriad of stripes and shapes.

Completely mesmerized and lost in the bliss for a long time we sat in silence enthralled taking in the beauty




Devil’s Golf Course

After this we drove further southward to hit the spot that intrigued us the most just by the sound of its name – Devil’s Golf Course. Doesn’t it sound jazzy? Well, whatever we expected, it definitely couldn’t match up to what we actually saw.

More than 2000 years ago, this part of Death Valley was a deep lake. When the climate warmed, the lake dried up and the minerals became increasingly concentrated. Eventually, only a briny soup remained, forming salty pools. Salts began to crystallize, coating the muddy lake-bed with a three to five feet thick crust of salt. Over the years, the silty salt at Devil's Golf Course grows into fantastic, intricately detailed pinnacles.

That concludes the chemistry class for those who really understood it. Me- even though I still haven’t really grasped the finer points (or the not so fine ones, for that matter) – I’m still struck by the actually imagery of it. To think that the knarled terrain of 1 foot hard mounds jutting out from the lake, actually is ordinary kitchen salt! Now that sounds utterly implausible and far-fetched, doesn’t it! The salt crystals seemed so delicate in their formation. We gingerly stepped on it thinking it’s apt to crumple at any minute but much to our surprise, they were rock solid and more than held up the weight of 2 humans. To top off my excitement, I even could hear the musical pings of the tiny salt crystals bursting apart in the heat and was thoroughly thrilled.

Since the day was so beautiful and the waters calm, we could even see the reflection of the Panamint Mountains flashing in and out from between the salt mounds in the gleaming waters – the whole thing was incredible.


BADWATER

The low, salty pool at Badwater, just beside the main park road is apparently the best known and most visited place in Death Valley. I really don’t know why. After all of the amazing sights that we had enjoyed at Death Valley so far, I guess our expectations were set a bit high, and so seeing Badwater was like splashing ice cold water on your face - a complete anti-climax. Badwater.....was well!!! BAD WATER!!

The water here really bad – the toxins in it would kill you if you drank enough of it. Legend has it that one of the early surveyors at Death Valley saw that even his mule wouldn't drink from the pool, even though the place was sweltering hot and they were dying of thirst. He noted the place as "badwater" on his map and the smart marketing folks in the US spun it as a tourist spot. At 282 ft below sea level, Badwater is the lowest spot on land in the Western Hemisphere, and also one of the hottest. But all it really consisted of was a smelly pond and a wooden sign that says you are 280 feet below sea level.



Between all of these magnificent geological sights, one other thing worth mentioning, is that desert though it may be, this time around, the unusually unstinting rainfall that it received, sparked off an extraordinary and bountiful growth of wildflowers all over the place. The contrast is especially striking when you juxtapose it with the dry scorching temperature of the place and the barren landscape you’d expect of a desert.

The next day we went to Channel Island off the California Coast, but that is another trip report.

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