Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Columbia river gorge drive

The famous Columbia river of Oregon has carved through the mountains and created the gorge and the scenic highway, which was our destination on day 2 of our Portland trip. We started off a bit earlier than previous day and started our drive to the gorge, idea was to drive through the highway and end up at Mt. St Hood by dusk and drive back.    

Columbia river gorge scenic highway is a narrow and windy road that runs parallel to a highway. True to its name, it is scenic, on the  way before entering the gorge itself we witnessed some beautiful farms and view points. Since it was a bit early in the morning the view from the view points were foggy.   

Driving along the gorge we realized the gorge has a ton of water falls, some big some small, some have nicely built access and some are more obscure.

The first one we stopped at was a small water fall with a short hike, there was a ranger led program going on at the same time we were there. We couldn’t attend the program but managed to hear snippets from the ranger. It was from him that I heard that the gorge has over a 100 water falls.

The next one was a more obscure one with no clear view of the falls and we had to do a couple of miles round trip to clearly view the falls, which we had to pass, but the hiker in us wanted to do at least a small hike and hence we took the small hike to the famous Multnomah falls. The distance was small but it had more ups and downs. Thanks to the rain and the abundant shade in the gorge there were a lot of ferns growing underneath the tall trees. Frankly, I had never seen such lush green fern undergrowth till then. The path had a magic of its own. It took a while for us to reach our destination but it was well worth the time.

Multnomah falls, is the biggest falls on the gorge and a true tourist attraction. It is not as big as the other falls in the world but definitely very scenic. It is a cascade of 2 water falls and a viewing bridge in front of the falls. It is a small hike up to the bridge to view the falls in full glory and the bridge was real crowded. There was a hike going up to top of the falls which we passed. Since it was time for lunch we stopped at the restaurant near the falls for food, being vegetarians the only option we had was the burger and the waitress commented that they get a lot of visitors from Texas and I thought we Texans need some escape from heat every now and then.

Driving along we made a stop at one last water falls called Horse tail falls, Sandhya was very happy to for she could take off her shoes and get her feet wet and I was happy to click pictures of the falls and her. If I remember right, this was the last water fall along the scenic highway and the road merged on to the actual highway after this.          

Driving along the highway towards Mt Hood, we saw the exit for Bonneville Dam and after a couple of moments of hesitation we took it. The dam wasn’t much and Sandhya wasn’t impressed at all. But it was almost full and due to security reasons they didn’t allow us any where on the dam. 

The exit on the road that would have led to Mt Hood was so backed up that we passed Mt Hood and made a U turn and head home. The drive back even though not the official scenic route but it was still pretty and scenic most of the way.

On the next post I will write about Crater Lake and Redwoods.  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An evening with Swami Suryapada

On Friday September 17 2010, Art of Living Austin had the pleasure of hosting Swami Suryapada, a traveling saint from India. Since he was in town for a few hours we had to be satisfied with a satsang and nothing more.

I had heard about swamiji earlier through some senior teachers like Rajima and Commanderji but had never met him in person.  So, needless to say I was excited that he will be coming to town. By the time we managed to reach the venue he had already entered the hall and was working on his Harmonium. In the first impression I was blown away by the simplicity of his attire and in some aspects he resembled the guru himself, the beard and the long hair added to the resemblance.

The satsang (or as I usually refer to as Sat Sang) was very different, instead of starting with random songs, he started us off with an initiation mantra which he recited in sanskrit and then we sang a song in the praise of lord Ganesh, next song was in the praise of the guru or teacher and the very next one was in praise of goddess sharada (goddess of learning). At the end of each song he would recite a few more verses in sanskrit. His voice was so captivating and his pronunciation of the mantras felt so authentic that the whole room had gone into a trance. After these three we sang for a while and by then I had lost track of time.

At around 7:45PM or 8:00PM, he said lets meditate and I was expecting we would be getting all the kids out, closing the doors and dimming the lights but to my great surprise none of it happened. He just asked us to clasp our hands above the head and start chanting “Narayani Narayani” and after the continuous chant for a while he asked us to lower our hands and guided us through a small procedure and asked us to open the eyes. I felt  lighter, more energetic, I felt I had meditated.

After the meditation, he gave a small knowledge session. He was natural, dynamic, effortless, completely in the moment, spontaneous and had an awesome sense of humor. His talk did not feel pre meditated or targeted towards anybody nor did he have any specific agenda. I felt perhaps after sri sri himself, here was one person who could translate the complicated knowledge of spirituality into a concrete, tangible, practical wisdom. He had the audience captivated. When somebody asked if this talk were recorded, he said all it matters is it being recorded up here (he was pointing to the head). He had the breadth and depth of knowledge.

I would have loved to listen to him if he had spoken the whole night, but the evening had to come to an end and we ended with the kannada song “baghyada lakshmi baramma”. Many people in the audience couldn’t understand what he was singing but his voice, music and the tune made us all enjoy the song.

It was truly a pleasure hosting him and spending the evening with him. Thanks to all who made it happen. I only wish he were here for a longer time and had conducted a course or two. If you ever get a chance to be in his presence, do not miss the chance.

The post would have been more effective if I had posted some pics from the satsang, I do not have any with me and will post them once I get them.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Portland trip part – 1 : Rose garden and Japanese garden

Me and Sandhya love traveling and would love to take time off from Austin few times a year. So, when the time came to decide on where do we want to go for this year’s vacation, the choice wasn’t easy to make. Considering Sandhya’s present condition hiking was ruled out and hence most of our favorites were crossed from the list. No California and no Utah left us with east coast or north west coast. We picked the north west when my brother announced that he will be moving to Portland for his new job.

When we landed in Portland, it was a near perfect 70F temperature and the greenery of the place completely impressed me. There were a ton of rose plants planted along the side walks. While in Portland we visited a few places in the city, took a road trip to Crater lake and Redwood national park. Also, did a road trip to Mt St Helens. In this part I will cover the places in Portland.

Rose Garden: My brother who is currently a resident of Portland and had visited the places before mentioned that Portland Rose garden and Japanese gardens were worth a visit.  He also cautioned us that it is off season for roses. We wanted to start the trip slow and easy, we drove to the rose garden. First thing that amazed me was there were a ton of roses for the off peak season and the park visit was free. They had multi colored roses, some specially bred and dedicated to great personalities. they had roses with single layer of petals to roses with multiple layers of petals. I was amazed with both the quality and quantity of roses in the garden. Some of the roses were in bunches while some were individual, some roses were shrubs while some were individual plants.

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They truly had some unique colored roses. Considering it was  a weekday and afternoon there were considerable number of tourists in the place. I had to control my shutter finger and see the roses through the naked eyes rather than through the camera lens. The fragrance in the garden is worth mentioning and sad there is no technology to capture the same. It was very colorful and picturesque. I wish I had taken an over all picture of the rose garden to share. Since the garden is on a hill top it also offers a beautiful view of the down town In the end, I recommend rose garden and it is worth the time.

Japanese Garden : Just above the hill top from the rose garden is the famous Portland Japanese garden. There is a small road that we could walk up or there is a free ride shuttle ride to take us up to the park. I have to mention the effort the shuttle driver made to accommodate a handicap women and her scooter into the shuttle, made me think this guy should run for the senate or even better governor. Unlike the rose garden visiting Japanese garden costs money ($10 entry fee). It is a nice place but we weren’t completely blown away by the garden, may be our lack of understanding for Japanese culture or our eyes were colored by such beautiful roses. The garden had some unique and nice things and supposedly one of the Japanese ambassadors to US had told that this place is the most authentic Japanese garden outside Japan.

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They had a few unique things and it was real clean and well maintained. I think we spent less time at the Japanese garden than we spent at the rose garden. After the Japanese garden we thought we would head towards Powell book house but on the way we stopped for coffee and shopped at a locally owned grocery store, which my brother said there were a lot of them in Portland. Finally instead of Powell book house we headed home. 

Day 2 of the trip we headed towards Columbia river gorge.