12

london bridge

Oh, the heartache upon learning that my favorite bridge isn’t actually the London Bridge; it’s called the Tower Bridge, a very unimpressive name, if you should ask me. Could someone rename this structure to ‘London Bridge’, please?

Though one of the most famous bridges in the world, the sad truth is that the London Bridge simply does not exist anymore. The real London Bridge is gone, though it didn’t fall down. It has been replaced by something more modern (and it isn’t pretty). I don’t even have my own photograph of the modern London Bridge.

tower bridge london

Regardless, this structure will always remain London Bridge in my heart. Did you know that it took over 50 designs and eight years to find a satisfactory design? No wonder this bridge now tops Great Britain’s list of architectural icons that make up London’s distinctive skyline.

My sister and her husband were our hosts in London. They have a lovely home with a garden at the back. This was a very short trip but one that is very special. I was so excited to see my sister that I had made absolutely no plans to see the city. My brother-in-law had to drag us out of the house to go sightseeing (and I’m so grateful to him for this otherwise I won’t have any photographic proof of having set foot in London).

The weather was just right. We walked, talked a lot, and simply enjoyed the amazing view of the bridge over River Thames. There was even a wedding shoot going on, the bride looking exquisite in her delicate white gown. The groom? Well, I did not notice. Who looks at the groom when the bride’s around?

We then stopped by for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sat outdoors to take in the view while sipping our drink. It was absolutely lovely!

london tower bridge

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16

driving through new hampshire

It’s been a long, long drive and we’re completely relying on the GPS to guide us. We’ve just spent an evening in an inn at Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, and then took a very interesting ride on the cog railway up to the top of the mountain. The weekend is almost over and it is now time to head back to Boston.

Cortland Apples

Along the way, I spot a gentleman selling apples on the roadside.

apples in new hampshire

When I tell Masood to stop and buy some, he regards me with the look that says, “But you don’t even like apples!” Being the sweet guy that he is, Masood pulls over on the roadside without saying anything. I remain in the car and just enjoy the moment—buying fresh fruit from this nice gentleman, looking at his pickup with crates in it, the huge “Apples” signboard.

Masood makes the purchase and, while he was busy taking money out of his wallet, the gentleman walks up to my window, smiles sweetly, and hands me a couple of apples to try. We wave goodbye and resume our journey.

new hampshire apples

Cortland apples have a hint of tartness and has tender, snow white flesh that naturally resists browning, making it an excellent choice for salads, kabobs and garnishes. I try to eat it on its own but couldn’t finish even one apple, maybe because this type of apple is best used for salads.

Ice Cream at Bly Farm

bly farm ice cream

“Oh, let’s stop for some ice cream!” The sight of the signboard is getting me all excited to try some homemade ice cream. Masood is pretty surprised by my spontaneous food cravings. He is giving me that you-don’t-even-like-ice-cream look.

It’s late in the afternoon and we haven’t had lunch yet. As if unable to believe his ears, he asks me twice if I really wanted ice cream. Frankly, I just want the experience of eating ice cream in a place like this. I mean, back home in the U.A.E, we mostly have date farms and I’m sure none of them sell ice cream.

homemade ice cream in wolfeboro

The shop itself is a fascinating structure for a tourist like me. It looks so cozy and friendly. It looks like something that I’ve only seen in movies or have read in books, where the author would describe a wooden cabin by the woods far away from the city.

We are the only customer when we arrive. We walk up to the window and peer inside. The wall is adorned with framed pictures of children, dollar bills, and some certificates. A pretty, young lady approaches the window and asks for our order. I order Black Raspberry while Masood chooses Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, both small-sized cones.

black raspberry ice cream

chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream

For someone who eats one tablespoon of ice cream—and only when someone forces me to—this small cone was huge! But the ice cream is really good. It’s quite unfortunate that we couldn’t finish it. Had we known this is a single serving, Masood and I could have shared.

Bly Farm offers as many as 44 flavors of Bobby Sue’s Homemade ice cream, made in Freedom,  New Hampshire. Other flavors include Grapenut, Maple Walnut, Frozen Pudding, Moose Tracks, Indian Pudding, Peppermint Stick, Lemon Chip, and Pumpkin.

We take our cones and walk around at the back of the ice cream shop. Another young lady arrives at the shop and chats up with the one who sold us the ice cream. By their casual conversation, it seems as if this is the sort of town where everyone knows each other.

bly farm wolfeboro

Right behind the shop is a small farm. There are a couple of men who are working so I refrained from taking pictures. It’s such a peaceful afternoon in this gorgeous farm. I later learn that Bly Farm is run by Vince and Cynthia Blandini. The Bly Farm takes its name from Cynthia’s side of the family which has been farming since the early 1800s.

Bly Farm
Vincent and Cynthia Blandini
620 Center St.
Wolfeboro, NH 03894
603-569-1411

Farm Stand: May- Mid -Oct (9am-5pm)

Ice Cream Stand :
Spring – noon-6PM
Summer – 11AM-10PM
Fall – noon – 6PM

bly farm

We do not buy any vegetables, no matter how tempting it is, because we are not cooking much during our stay in Boston. People start arriving at the ice cream shop. We hang around for a few more minutes then hit the road again.

Here’s a picture of me taking a photograph:

new hampshire drive

 

“Oh look, there’s an interesting antique shop! Let’s go take a quick look,” I squeal. I wonder if they sell vintage plates or cutleries that I could use as props for my food photography.

“You know what? Let’s just go home,” says the husband.

 

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26

gondola ride in india

It’s minus 3°C and the visibility is getting lower with each passing minute. “They closed Phase 2 this morning,” announced the guide as he leads the way toward the Gondola platform. Because of the bad weather, my walking abilities severely affected by the slippery snow, and the guide’s persistent reminder that we’d be completely lost without his services, we reluctantly allow him to show us the way. Turns out the gondola is a mere 15-minute walk from our hotel.

Gulmarg’s gondola operates in two stages. The first one takes us 8,530 ft to Kongdoori Station, while the next stage goes way up to 13,780 ft on Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Afarwat Peak. The latter stage is highly dependent on weather conditions. Disappointed though I am for phase 2 being inaccessible, there isn’t much choice. Few minutes later, up in Kongdoori station, the visibility drops to less than 10 feet. And then, since it snowed all night, we’re now standing on 8 ft of snow, each step sinking 2 feet deep as we slowly inch forward. It takes us twenty-five minutes to walk a distance that would have otherwise taken us ten minutes to accomplish in normal weather conditions. But the experience of dining at 8000 feet with snow all around us is priceless.

The guide looks at me disgruntledly when I inform him that I have checked the weather report whilst planning this trip and that the weather is predicted to clear up the next day.  “Only God can tell what the weather will be like tomorrow,” he says. I decide to leave the conversation at that and enjoy my lunch.

gondola phase 2

The weather clears up the next morning. I jump out of my heated bed and draw the curtains to find glorious sunlight shining outside. There is already a queue at eight in the morning when we arrive at the gondola’s phase 2 platform, all of them geared to ski the slopes. I notice there are no benches to sit on while waiting for the car to arrive. This could be a major issue during the peak season in summer when the schools are off and local tourists flock this part of the country. I’m told people end up waiting three to four hours for their turn on the gondola!

gondola gulmarg

There is an option to buy tickets online, but since you still have to fall in line to collect boarding passes and show some ID at the same window where they sell the tickets, I don’t really understand what the benefit is of purchasing the tickets in advance. The disadvantage of going up the second phase the following day is that we have to repurchase the phase one tickets again. But it’s totally worth it.

At one point—two minutes before setting foot inside the cable car that sits 4 adults with ski gear, to be specific—we question the safety of Gulmarg’s gondola. However, since we have already paid quite an amount for the journey and queued for over an hour, we quickly climb in with another couple, the door automatically closing itself.

gulmarg in winter

The gondola literally creaks its way, hanging from the cable. There are moments of nervousness, specially when I focus on the height and begin having doubts about the gondola’s safety. The breathtaking view, however, distracts me from my silly thoughts. There’s a couple sitting behind us, all geared up to ski the slopes, and I pick up snippets of their conversation as I take pictures of the mountain in front of me. I overhear them comment about how fresh and perfect the powder is for skiing.

Just a few meters toward the end of our phase 2 ride, the gondola abruptly comes to a halt. We choose to ignore this for the next couple of minutes, busying ourselves by looking down at the skiers gliding swiftly on the snow beneath us. A few more minutes later, realizing we’re still not moving, my imagination begins to run wild. Outside, a strong gust of wind gently rocks the car we’re in. I wonder what happens if someone falls from such a height. Will the soft and deep snow provide enough support so that the bones aren’t crushed? Will it bury the entire cable car in its frozen embrace so that no rescue team can find whoever is in there? Is there a rescue team in Gulmarg?

kashmir snow

We’re still suspended and we don’t know what’s happening. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t scared because there are few seconds where I was truly frightened. Knowing how to find ways to distract the mind with pleasant thoughts is such a blessing! Finally, after what seems to be an eternity, we begin to move forward and upward toward our destination.

Stepping out of the car, I turn around to see where we’d come from. A young man stands with one hand on his hip and another holding a shovel. Working here on a regular basis, the clouds floating about the majestic snow-swept peaks must appear as normal for him as it is for me to see a caravan of camels relaxing in the great expanse of the Arabian desert.

working on top of the world

The LOC or Line of Control is the border that separates the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir and this is only a few kilometers from where I am standing. Armed military men roam the area. I notice a camp in the distance and wonder how these men handle the extreme temperature. I suppose one of their duties is to make sure tourists and skiers like us do not wander off across the border. Although they appear intimidating at first—with their scrutinizing looks and armed uniforms—they eventually smile and try to make small talk with Masood.

skiing in kashmir

Skiing in this part of Gulmarg is not for the amateur. First off, the quick change in altitude can wreck havoc to a person’s body, causing labored breathing, increased heart rate, and fatigue. Then there’s the risk of an avalanche.

A young Kashmiri man skis past us. I have great admiration for these local men who can expertly maneuver their way on these dangerously vertical slopes. These Kashmiri men, with their good knowledge of the terrain, act as avalanche experts and guides for the foreign skiers.

powder snow in kashmir

I envy these people who seem to be enjoying skiing from such a high point. Masood and I stay at the top of the mountain and watch them glide down the slopes one by one. We don’t talk much, too mesmerized by the incredible view. It’s such a surreal feeling to be standing above the clouds, at the level of the snow-capped mountain. If I only focus on the view in front of me and forget than I’m standing on solid ground, it feels like I’m flying. It feels like I’m weightless and floating with the clouds. It’s the most incredible feeling.

ski in kashmir

Eventually, it takes a lot of effort to breathe and my nose is frozen and numb. The rays of the sun bounce off harshly against the white snow, forcing us to squint and quickly put our sunglasses back on. We take the next available car and head back down. Fortunately, the return trip is uneventful and I am able to take a lot of pictures. My favorites are the ones below:

DSCN0990

gulmarg in winter

honeymoon in kashmir

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