On Friday we left Kuwait city behind and drove southwest down Route 70 towards the Saudi border. There was a sand storm, not a severe one, and the sky was reddish-brown to the east.
In some places the sand glowed golden in the ethereal light.
We reached a wide expanse of desert where there were several cars parked haphazardly. We pulled over to see what was there. All-terrain bikes (ATV) were available for hire.
People were riding them at top speed across the miles of flat sandy desert and up and down gentle slopes. We had a go too. Half an hour of riding at a good speed with no traffic (and certainly no traffic jams of the kind I’m used to in my home town Bangalore) and no kerbstones to set boundaries, was exhilarating. Liberating.
Kids were amazingly good at handling them! And they were having good, clean fun outdoors too.
We drove further to what we think is the Al Ahmadi ridge where we saw a family picnicking near their parked car, a common sight in Kuwait.
There were a couple of people walking on the escarpment, deep in conversation. Nice place to have an interesting conversation actually.
Some men had ridden the ATVs all the way up the road to the escarpment from the place where they were being hired out.
We drove back down and took Route 70 towards the border of Saudi Arabia. The storm had driven sand onto the road and it was piled on the hard shoulder.
It was a great day!
Note: No photo has been edited. This is exactly how the world looked that day.
Baku, Azerbaijan. Then, right across the Caspian Sea.
Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. A carpet of city lights spread out below us in the intense darkness of night.
These are the cities we flew over as our British Airways flight carefully negotiated the skies, avoiding all areas of known conflict. Following the route map on the computer screen on the back of the seat in front of me was both fascinating and saddening. Fascinating because of the frisson of excitement I feel while flying over lands that are mysterious to me, and whose names taste like new flavours on my tongue when I say them to myself. Saddening because of the Malaysian Airlines plane that got shot down just four days before, taking 298 innocent people with it. Editorials and articles by experts have stopped making sense. Politics and Religion – of the sort that hurt or kill people – make even less sense.
I looked out the porthole at the night sky. There was a sliver of a moon, and the stars were much brighter from 12,250 meters higher than where I usually see them from.
The Big Dipper was in the distance, sort of behind the plane. Auriga, the Charioteer, was just above the horizon with its big star Capella shining like a diamond. The bow of Perseus was just outside the porthole, and the Andromeda galaxy ‘near’ it was so clearly visible that the light years between us seemed diminished.
We met the rising sun as we flew east over Afghanistan, towards Islamabad. It was a fiery sunrise, all crimson and gold.
As we hovered over the outskirts of Bangalore it felt good to see the red soil and green fields again. Home!
We did a short 3.5 mile hike over some of the farms on Monmouth Battlefield state park on Tuesday afternoon, walking through apple and cherry orchards and cornfields.
On Thursday we drove to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. We saw three waterfalls that morning, each one pretty in a different way: Buttermilk Falls and Silver Thread Falls in NJ, and Dingmans Falls in Pennsylvania.
In the afternoon we walked down part of the McDade hiking trail for a distance of about 2.6 miles – up to a point and back. It was a warm day, though the sun did go behind clouds often enough to give us some respite from the heat. There were a lot of irritating insects that hovered right in front of our faces and tried to get in our eyes and noses, so we had to constantly swipe them away. At the starting point of the trail there was a warning put up about ticks, so I pulled the sleeves of my shirt down to my wrists and hoped for the best.
Yesterday, we spent the morning walking around Bushkill Falls in Pennsylvania. 2 ½ miles of partly trail and partly boardwalk. Very picturesque. Lots of families with excited little kids livening up the place.
After a short break for food we drove to a point from where we could access a part of the Appalachian Trail. Trekking up Mt. Minsi was good exercise. It was neither too hard nor too easy – just right to give you a sense of achievement. Some of it was flat ground, but there were lots of parts where you had to scramble up boulders too. There were small white paint marks on trees or on rocks at points where you might get confused. There was tree cover almost throughout, and a light breeze as well. Climbing to the top and back down was about 6 miles. A quarter of the way up we met a man called Scott who was doing the whole Appalachian Trail; he had covered 1,300 miles since April, starting from Georgia towards Maine! He had been a jail warden for thirty years and wanted to get all of that out of his system.
The view of Mt. Tammany from the top of Mt. Minsi was “totally worth it” as a bunch of kids we met coming down the hill told us.
When we reached the bottom of the hill again we rested on a bench with a view of Lake Lenape which had lily pads floating on it, and very loud frogs croaking in the shallow water at the edge.
The Battle of Monmouth was a turning point in the American Revolutionary War. It took place on the 28th of June, 1778, between the British Army and the American soldiers under General Washington.
A re-enactment of the Battle of Monmouth is usually held over the third weekend of June every year. The scene of the battle is the Monmouth County Battlefield Park, a 10 minute drive from where we are staying. As this is our first visit to NJ in summer, we got a chance to see it.
It was a sunny Saturday. We found a patch of shade under a maple tree to sit down. The gently sloping hillside was filled with a large holiday crowd of happy Americans. Young families with energetic little kids had spread bright sheets on the grass and opened picnic baskets. While a lot of the little boys were armed for battle with swords, bows and arrows, and rifles, none of the little girls were! Why not?
The two armies approached each other dressed in costumes of the period. The costumes had been created in painstaking detail and did give us a feel of being in the 1700s. Rifles and canons were fired, so there was lots of noise and smoke and the smell of burning gun powder. Soon there was a decent body count on the battlefield that made it all look quite authentic!
We flew from Bangalore to New Jersey last week. I fell asleep soon after boarding the flight because we had started out for the airport at 4:00 a.m. When I awoke we were flying over the Zagros Mountains between Iran and Iraq. I followed the flight path on the Moving Map on the computer screen in front of me.
After passing over the mountains we flew almost directly over Mosul in Iraq. 10,000 meters below us the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants were wreaking havoc. We, the passengers in the plane, were on the same lat-long, but different altitude. Almost like in parallel universes. Forty Indian nurses were somewhere down there, staying home for safety. That was on the news the night before we left. What was happening there now?
Further on, we passed not far from Crimea and Donetsk on our starboard side. Russia had invaded and occupied Crimea 2-3 months ago. It was a sobering thought, that below us a battle was raging and people were being shot dead even as our plane made its benign passage overhead. Just 10,000 meters altitude and a few degrees of lat-long separated us from a war zone! On the port side we passed Istanbul, then crossed a small part of the Black Sea into Europe, entering the airspace over Rumania.
Flying above France I thought of the French politician, Marin Le Pen, who is one of the people spearheading the movement to break up the EU “like the Soviet Union.” Another era ends?
Then the beautiful patchwork of fields as we approached London, then over London itself. For decades I had thought of London as a welcoming city where Londoners accommodated other people looking for jobs there. But allowing hordes of citizens of EU states to grab the jobs of the British was a bad idea, which has understandably not gone down well with the locals, to say nothing of the hordes of Indians who have been there for decades already. Though I do understand what drives people to emigrate I sometimes wonder if it isn’t a little like a house guest overstaying his welcome and being a burden on the host.
After a short layover at Heathrow we started the second leg of our journey across the Atlantic.