Thursday, 26 June 2014

A Train Journey in America

A train journey in America

Most travelers drive or fly within USA.
Neeta and I were lucky to take a train ride from San Jose to Davis.
See Neeta waiting at San Jose railway station below.
Amtrak the railway company, operates on this route called ‘Capitol Corridor’. Tickets can be booked on-line at
Fact file:
  •         San Jose to Davis Train 542 Capitol Corridor
  •         Distance: 130 miles (210 kms)
  •        Time taken: 2 hrs 47 minutes (road journey is faster and cheaper! But I wasn’t driving in US)
  •         Seating: Two decks in each of the five cars fairly silent
  •        On-board facilities: Free wi-fi, 110V charging outlets, Water dispenser, CafĂ©, Bike racks, Route maps, Announcement system and clean toilets
  •        Fare: US $ 35 per person. $ 29.75 for seniors (62+); 10% off for students; Tickets to be bought before boarding the train—else 50% extra
  •        Stops Enroute: 11 stations
  • L     Locomotive: Diesel

The train starts from south-eastern end of the Bay, goes north across the backwaters and along the north-eastern bay. After Martinez, it crosses the northern part of the bay to head further north and then east to Davis. See the map below courtesy Capitol Corridor.

We arrived half an hour in advance at San Jose railway station. Track-7 (what we call as platforms in India) could be reached via underground ramps. You can see the neat and clean platform with no crowd in the picture below. Though a working day, it wasn’t crowded because it wasn’t office closing hours yet. 
Deck-zero has entry/exit doors, fewer seats but with more leg room, bike racks, toilets, attendant's console and water dispenser. Here is Neeta relaxing in our seats with a table.
Harsh logs on to free wi-fi with had fairly fast speed and steady connection. 
See the bike racks which are free for bikers and stack the bikes vertically. 
 When all three slots are used up, what do remaining bikers do? Try another car in the five-car coach? No. They use the empty seats on Deck-zero. See the picture below which shows three extra bikes.
The staircase for Deck-one has garbage cans for both recyclable and non-recyclable garbage. 
 Here is what the upper deck looks like. Any different from aircraft seating? It is much more spacious.
 The train crosses a patch of backwaters and salt flats before entering Fremont. See the earlier map.
The view from our train window as it chugs along.

We also noticed graffiti on the walls/fencing of storehouses along the train route. Reminded us of New York metro as well as along train routes in India!
 Some of the stations enroute.

As we crossed over to the north-eastern shore of the Bay, the terrain changed. Pictures.

 The bridge which runs north south across the north eastern tip of the Bay.
 Crossing the bay. Freeway bridge in the distance.
 It was very breezy in the evening as seen from the boiler exhaust from the chimney.
 As the shadows lengthened, we arrived at Davis just 12 minutes behind schedule.
We just walked across the platform where Deepali was there to receive us. We stayed with Hemant and Deepali in Davis in the comfort of their mansion overlooking the Wildhorse Golf Course. 

While at Davis, we went on a mountain hike which will form the next story.
If you haven't browsed the previous parts of the story the links are:  and 

Bye till the next story.
  Harsh-the-ghumakkad/ 25th June 2014

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Casinos where dreams get shattered

Casinos- where dreams get shattered

Las Vegas or Reno—is a must on every tourist’s itinerary to USA. Why? Because the state of Nevada permits gambling. Casinos, hotels and resorts thrive there. We had been to Las Vegas in our previous visits. So, this time it was the turn of Reno—the biggest little city in the world. See the signature arch lit at night and as seen from the western entrance.

The downtown is lit up very attractively as life begins every night. Hotels, restaurants, bars, tattoo boutiques and casinos shout at you. There are numerous hotels and casinos. See the pictures below.

 This hotel named 'Whitney Peak' has a tall wall with stones for rock climbers. Both straight face as well as with an overhang. Pictures:
In the picture of the climbing wall below, the tiny triangular shapes in orange are the steps for climbing. It goes all the way up.

Once you have lost all the money in the casino, there are shops to give you loans against jewelry, car or other possessions. Of course one such shop offered 'shaver' services too! Literally 'ganja' hoe jaoge (you'll get a clean shaven head after losing all money!).
And if you are too tired to walk, you can hire a cycle rickshaw in Reno!

We stayed at Peppermill Resort and Casino. It had well furnished rooms, twin swimming pool and a grand casino.

Casinos cash in on human psyche—of greed and lack of self control. Remember our own Mahabharat? Well, the dice of Mahabharat is replaced in the casino  by the software in the slot machines or a pack of cards in Black Jack.
There are 1000s of slot machines in the casino. And it never seems to be unoccupied. Be it early evening like 8pm or early morning like 3am. People can't just seem to have enough of it. Pictures:
Postscript: From Arun Dhupar- "Harsh, you did not mention about the free flow of drinks for all those playing in the casinos". 
Yes indeed. As you drown your sorrows on losing money and are feeling drowsy, continuous flow of drinks served by barmaids (dressed 'appropriately') wakes you up! And, you continue playing.
If you are lucky enough to win something (like we did), you can take the 'cash' out in the form of a voucher. The vouchers can be redeemed at a vending machine. See the picture.
And what do children do when adults are playing in the casino? There is a separate arcade for them with various games/machines. Sample the pictures of our grandson Nikhil enjoying the games.

Even adults can enjoy some of the games/rides like 'The Hot Seat' which gives you a mild shock! See Ankur in 'pleasing agony' below.

After an action packed night and a final round at the slot machines next morning, we bid good bye to Reno and its casinos. We drove for the next leg of our journey to Lake Tahoe.
Hope you enjoyed being in a casino in Reno, Nevada USA.
If you have not read the previous post from USA, browse it at: 

More stories soon. Bye till then.
  Harsh-the-ghumakkad/ 23rd June 2014

Friday, 20 June 2014

Dog with a Helmet

Dog with a helmet

Ever seen a dog with a helmet on a Harley-Davidson on a freeway? No never? Then read on.

The other day we got held up in traffic near Sacramento in USA on freeway Interstate 80 while returning from Lake Tahoe to Mil Pitas. While we were cursing the traffic, a motor cyclist squeezed in between the car lanes. When he went past our car, we noticed his pillion rider. It wasn’t a man/woman or a child. But his tiny dog in a basket. And to provide for dog’s safety, it had a harness as well as a helmet. We all were so excited at this sight. Before I could take out the camera and ‘shoot’, the motor cyclist and the dog had overtaken our car. They were no longer in visible range.

Traffic continued to be slow. Once it picked up speed, we felt a bit relaxed. Suddenly, we heard a shout ‘mil gaya, mil gaya’ (‘found it found it’) from one of us in the car. Yes, we had caught up with the motor cyclist and his dog! This time, the camera was ready. Pictures narrate our excitement. Feel it.

This is the 'Mil Gaya' shot!

And we got closer

and closer

Approaching the bike almost abreast

Now you can see the dog, its harness as well as the helmet! Since we were moving at 90 kmph, the background became blurred. 

We pick up more speed. And the background becomes hazier.
The dog seems to be enjoying the ride. Notice the Harley insignia at right bottom of the picture.
 And whoosh, we had to speed up for the time lost. And bid good bye to the dog with a helmet. 
Hope you enjoyed the unique encounter as much as seven of us in Volkswagen Routan did.

Bye till the next story from USA.

    - Harsh the Ghumakkad/ 18th June 2014