Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse 2017

Here is what we saw in MA around 2:30 PM.

I took these pictures with Sony a5000 with 18-50 mm lens.

I used these settings (lowest possible light to sensor settings on this camera)
50 mm
ISO 100
Manual Focus to infinity

I was surprised to learn that the Sun is so much smaller than it seems from the naked eye. I looked at the Sun through camera's LCD.

Things I wish I had:
A tripod.
A telephoto lens with at least 200 mm.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Perfect Start of Summer


Zain, Maheen, and I hiked Mt. Monadnock with some friends in April. Its an easy close-by hike.

Lunch on Mt. Monadnock

Zain, and I hiked Mt. Lafayette with friends in May. I love and hate this hike as its hard on the knees, coming down. However, Zain aced it.

Zain overlooking Franconia Notch (Mt. Lafayette)

Our next hike this summer will most probably be Mt Washington.


Maheen and I started yoga in April. After a month of Yin, Tao, and flow yoga, we have switched entirely to aerial yoga. Most people give up on aerial yoga after their first class. Just like anything else, aerial yoga is tough in the beginning but you get used to it after a few classes. We persisted and now we enjoy it quit a bit.
Aerial yoga, I am standing on the ceiling

In the air pigeon pose


One of my students soloed in early June. Flight instruction has immensely helped me develop myself as a mentor. It has tremendously helped me with flying skills too. I love this new hobby.

Letting him go free in third dimension

So far this summer, I have made two trips of my own. First to Manhattan via Westchester County Airport in April with kids, second to Hampton in May with Maheen. The runway at Hampton Airport is a fun short field practice. However, it is far from the beach (4.5 miles each way). We walked as there are no cabs in that area.
Hampton Beach walk

The best FBO I have ever been to is Million Air at Westchester County Airport. If you go there, stop by and feel like a billionaire for a few minutes.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Inca Ruins : Cusco, Chinchero, Maras, Moray, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu

We landed in Cusco on Monday evening.

The altitude gets you. Headache, and shortness of breath is common. I woke up  in the middle of first night with feelings of suffocation.

Everyone felt better on the second day.

Our hotel was a few steps from Plaza de Armas, the best location to stay in. Its the city center which also means that it is noisy, a thing to consider if your sleep is easily interrupted.

The first thing you notice is how cheap things are. A twenty minute taxi ride from airport is 12 soles ($4).

We used local currency everywhere as dollars are not accepted out of major cities.

View from our room. These girls are offering cheap massage
I came out of my hotel the next morning, and was immediately surrounded by people selling all sorts of stuff: Tours, pictures with baby lamas, food, and massages.

I signed up for Vinicunca tour, then I asked a girl for massage rate. She offered to do one hour massage for mere $6 (20 soles). Momina was suspicious so I signed Zain up too. Dad and son had a massage in a very shady place. We joked about strong incense smell in a dark area with smelly sheets afterwards. The massage itself was not bad.

Church in Plaza de Armas

Jesus at Saksaywaman is visible from Plaza de Armas


The only expensive thing to do in this area is Machu Picchu (MP). It costs about $250 per person to visit it. There are more interesting things around compared to MP, but the most interesting ruin without doubt is MP.

MP can be reached from Cusco via a scenic train ride that runs from Ollantaytambo.

From Cusco, taxi to Ollantaytambo via Chinchero, Moray, Maras, and Urubamba costs mere $40. Its a whole day taxi ride if you plan on visiting these ruins on the way to MP. Entry ticket to ruins other than MP costs $35 per person. Machu Picchu entry is about $70 per person.
If you take the first train at 6 AM from Ollantaytambo (trains are fully booked so plan on buying train ticket for $150 per person much in advance over the internet), you will be in Aguas Calientes at around 8 AM. From Aguas Calientes, you take a bus to MP for $25 per person. Some people skip the bus, and hike up, but that seemed a bit dangerous to me, considering the hikers and the buses share the same narrow road.

I was frustrated when I had to stand in lines to purchase all these tickets. A tour operator might be a better option but I cannot be sure.

I hate crowds, especially if I am visiting a nature wonder like MP. But you cannot escape crowds of thousands there. I suggest hiking to the Sun Gate to leave the lazy behind, and to enjoy the nature in seclusion. Hike to the Sun Gate starts at 7700 feet, and the Sun Gate is a few miles away at 9000 feet.

You may purchase the HP mountain hike or the MP mountain hike ticket for a little extra but for us, MP and Sun Gate was sufficient. You can buy MP entry tickets online, and in Cusco center.



Our journey towards MP started with first stop in Chinchero. Its a poor little town with good views of its ruins. There is a small hike here on ruin steps at 13000 feet that we did.

Chinchero Courtyard

Chinchero hike from the Church

Leaving Chinchero courtyard

On the way to Moray ruins, we passed through scenic areas with views of the Sacred Valley.

Sacred Valley

Eye contact

Moray is another interesting ruin.


Inka planted vegetables here for experimentation

The most interesting place in this area in a salt mine in Maras called Salineras. Maras people harvest salt here. It is an active salt mine with exports world wide. We paid $3 (10 soles) entry fee per person.

Salt mine in Maras

Salt mine
From Maras, we reached Urubamba, then Ollantaytambo.
We stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo for the first train to MP the next morning.

Ruins in Ollantaytambo are more interesting and there is a hike here with scenic views of the valley. We found a bunch of tourists there that were there for the train to MP.

Ollantaytambo ruins

Spider in the ruins

We took the 6 AM train ride to MP the next day. Its a very scenic ride and is worth the money.

Scene from the train

We arrived in Aguas Calientes at 8 AM, and proceeded to purchase the bus tickets. After a 15 minute bus ride, we were at the entrance of MP.

Another thing that annoys me about MP is that they check your passport at every corner. The numerous guards will yell at you if you wander off course.

Views from the entry are impressive. We proceeded to the Sun Gate hike. Momina decided to skip the hike, while I finished the hike with kids.

We were done by 1 PM. Given our train back was at 6 PM, we proceeded to a restaurant by the raging river in Aguas Calientes to kill time.

MP is tropical weather at high altitude so mosquito repellent and sun screen is a must.

On Sun Gate trail

Road to MP for bus and hikers

MP and its mountain from Sun Gate hike

Restaurant by the raging river

Walk by the raging river in Aguas Calientes

We took the train back to Ollantaytambo, then we took the taxi back to Cusco.

The best place to eat in Cusco is Organika. There are many good restaurants but price and quality wise its Organika. Kids may want to eat at McDonals or KFC at the city center.

The next day, we took the Cusco Grand Free Tour. This tour provides "free" tour guides at Plaza de Armas but tip of at least 10 soles is mandatory. The guide took us through Cusco for two hours, explaining its history. I recommend this tour as it was informative. 

In a street with Cusco Grand Free Tour guide

View from top of the city

After the tour, we ate at Organika, then hiked to Saksaywaman, where we saw the statue of Jesus up close.

Just as we were about to enter Saksaywaman ruins, we found ourselves in a massive hail storm. Weather changes quickly at high altitude and one should be ready for all weather conditions. We got our ponchos out, and walked down to Plaza de Armas.

Saksaywaman area

Read Part2 here: Part2

Rainbow Mountain Drama

Cusconians speak very little English.

The lady at our hotel during the day shift spoke adequate English, but the man at the night shift knew only one word in English which he combined with expressions and hand gestures to convey his ideas. He likes to be called Johnny Depp and the only English word he speaks is "yes".

"Is the breakfast ready at 5 AM?", I asked. "yes, yes", Johnny replied with confidence.
"Is the breakfast ready at midnight?", "yes, yes".

Jhonny's limited English language was key to our visit to the most beautiful place we have been to so far. The place is what locals call Vinicunca. Several layers of minerals on top of this mountain give it rainbow colors. It came into existence just over twenty years ago, when the ice layer on it receded.

Visiting Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) was the main goal of our trip. We knew Machu Picchu will not come close.

You do not have to move a foot to visit Machu Picchu, but hiking to Vinicunca is challenging. The itinerary begins in Cusco at 3 AM with a 3 hour bus ride on windy roads to arrive at 14000 feet base point. Then you hike to the summit, five miles away at 17000 feet. Then hike down, 3 hours bus ride back, and back to Cusco at 7 PM. Altitude sickness is the biggest concern.

We acclimatized in Cusco for five days. Cusco is at 11000 feet and there are some hikes around in sacred valley that climb to 13000 feet. We attempted hikes up to 13000 feet. 

Saturday was the planned day of Vinicunca hike. By Thursday we were feeling fully acclimatized. Then I overdid it. I jogged around in Cusco on Thursday, and got up with fever and body aches on Friday.

All Friday was spent watching TV, and gulping down water. I had paid for the tour, and the trip was on. I felt I would recover by Saturday morning if I slept by 6 PM on Friday. 

The tour guide informed me for a pick up from hotel at 3 AM on Saturday. I set the alarm for 2 AM, and closed my eyes at 6 PM but the anticipation would not let me sleep. Last time I watched the clock, it was 11 PM. All the family was long asleep, and I still had fever. Thoughts of cancelling were coming to my mind. Then I went to sleep. At 1 AM, Zain woke up the whole family. He was crying with severe headache. Two out of four were down.

Frustrated, I said, "Momina, cancel the alarm! We are not going to Vinicunca". 

A few minutes later I was asleep.


The telephone rang at 3:30 AM.

Johnny was on phone. "Vinicunca", he exclaimed.

It was so that the tour guide waited in the street for half an hour, then told Johnny to call me.

I told Johnny, "No Vinicunca!", he replied "yes yes" and hung up the phone. He interpreted from my tone that I wanted the tour guide to wait. 

The telephone rang again at 3:40 AM.

Johnny was on phone again. "Vinicunca", he exclaimed again. I said "No Vinicunca! Cancel, Cancel!" and hung up. 

The telephone rang at 3:55 AM one more time. I noticed that my body aches and fever were gone.

Johnny made a speech in Spanish on the phone. I shook Zain and asked, "Zain, how do you feel?". "OK", he replied in his sleepy voice.

I yelled "LETS GO!", and ran down to the lobby in my under shirt to stop the tour guide from leaving.

The tour guide was furious as the bus was supposed to leave at 3 AM at it was 4 AM at that time. 

"Five more minutes please", I told the guide.

I ran back up to the room, put on my shirt, yelled "LETS GO!" to the family, then ran to the lobby. The guide was gone.

I ran down to the street, and yelled at him, "Stop!". He turned back, and my family emerged from the hotel.

As we climbed the bus, we were angrily stared at by other hikers for being an hour late.

While I kept on telling Johnny to cancel, he kept on telling the guide to wait. Thank you Johnny.


The hike is time critical. If you do not make it to the peak by noon, you will be stopped.

We gained the lost time by taking shorter breakfast. Lunch and breakfast are complimentary in 80 soles ($25) we paid per person to the tour company. This meagre amount also covers the six hour bus ride, hotel pick up, and 10 soles entry fee to the hike.

Maheen started throwing up in the bus. She had motion sickness due to windy roads. Momina was the only person who has had a perfect trip so far (other than the usual sun burn). Since three of us had been ill, the guide offered us horses for the hike, which we gladly accepted for 80 soles per person.

View from the parking area

We arrived at the starting point near the village of Chillca. We were disappointed to see snow all over. If Vinicunca was covered in snow, we would see no rainbow. The base point near Chillca has a parking area from where about a hundred people start their hike.

The horses only cover the flat lands. On climbs and descents, you get off and walk with the horses. You get horses after you do the first steep climb with an altitude gain of a few hundred feet. A woman fainted on this first climb, and had to be taken back on oxygen.

Hike at this altitude requires patience for sea level dwellers like us. We took ten steps, then enjoyed scenery for ten seconds, then repeated.

Maheen is throwing up and not happy

Magestic peaks around the parking area

First climb up on foot, Maheen and Momina

Horses in the valley
After the first climb up, we entered a valley where elevation was around 15000 feet. Surface was mud and grass, and it was easy to walk on. Everything was shades of white and green.

Shaded of white and green

Momina's horse moment

Valley is snow covered

Second climb up, Zain ahead
After the valley, the entrance, and a couple of small streams, we came up to our second hike up. We got off the horses and walked up. Walk up was becoming harder because of altitude gain.

After the second climb, and horse ride for a couple of miles on flats, we came to the bottom of Vinicunca. The sun was out, and the snow was starting to melt.

Rainbow mountain. Some people are already on top

The third climb of a few hundred feet to top of Vinicunca looked daunting. Maheen threw up again and gave up. With competition gone, Zain gave up too.

We decided to leave kids at 16500 feet and climb up to Vinicunca top. We thought we will keep watch on them from top of the mountain. At half way up, we lost them. "They will be OK", I told Momina.

We took our time to get to the top. Views from the top were stunning. Temperature was around 40F with zero winds. It was toasty by Boston standards. We stayed at the top for about fifteen minutes then descended back to the base of the final climb. Kids were sitting where we left them.

Colors of rainbow while on final climb up

Half way up on final climb. Kids are somewhere down there

At top of Vinicunca, valley on the other side has shades of red and white



The mountain: Vinicunca

Descending back down

I decided to skip the horse coming back, and walked all the way to the parking area. I stopped frequently to take pictures of the stunning valley where snow had melted.

I was back in the parking lot at around 2 PM.

Altitude was taking its toll. While Maheen had recovered, Momina threw up. I started feeling a headache.

Everyone was back in the bus by 3 PM. After the bus descended from 14000 to  11000, all of us started feeling energetic and high. After our lunch, we slept on the bus on our way back to Cusco.

Snow is melting in the valley

Momina off the horse to cross a stream


All snow is gone by 1 PM

Colors of the valley

My horse is way ahead of me

Large valley
Mount Apu in distance at the parking area

If Jhonny knew English, we would not have made it to the most scenic place we have been to so far.

Read Part3 here: Part3