Tag Archives: hike

Treasure the Environment with Family-Fun Activities In the Bay Area

Any day is a good day to learn about protecting the environment, but this month, especially so. Earth Day takes place on April 22 every year and in “normal” times we would participate in a myriad of activities and events to help protect, preserve, and improve the planet we all share. This year has been a bit dystopian, but as we spring forward our hope is that slowly we will get back to normal and enjoy all that the Bay Area has to offer. So, whether you are looking for something to do with the family or by yourself, something quiet, or an outdoor adventure, we’ve got you covered! 

Wildlife

The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito

The center offers daily guided and audio tours, a great way to raise awareness of environmental issues. There are also many interesting exhibits and on clear days, you’re rewarded with stunning vistas of the city.

Getting there: The Marine Mammal Center is located at 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, CA 94965.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey

From jellies to penguins to sea otters and sharks, over 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals that call the Monterey Bay Aquarium home. The first museum to have a living kelp forest, the array of exhibits is sure to enthrall tots, from watching marine mammals swim about in humongous tanks that imitate their natural habitats to watching them being fed.

Member days: May 1-14, Open for all: May 15

Getting there: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

Curiodessy

A science museum and zoo for children and families where visitors see wild animals up-close and play with kid-friendly science exhibits. CuriOdyssey is home to nearly 100 rescued animals, most native to California, that cannot survive in the wild.

Getting there: 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo, CA 94401

Gardens

Golden Gate Park

The 55-acre “urban oasis” with more than 9,000 plants from around the world is always beautiful, but, for obvious reasons, is the most magical in the spring when so many flowers begin to bloom. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or wander through the gardens and visit flora from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and more, all in one afternoon. April is a good time to see magnolias in bloom, but there are always really cool plants to check out no matter when you go.  

Getting there: 501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Japanese Gardens San Mateo 

This Japanese garden is designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, and features a granite pagoda, tea house, koi pond and bamboo grove. Visit during spring/summer to feed the koi and catch cherry blossoms in full bloom. There’s also a mini-train that’ll delight kids, tennis courts and many picnic areas.

Getting there: 50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

Japanese Gardens Hayward

The garden was designed by Kimio Kimura. It follows Japanese garden design principles, using California native stone and plants. No stains were used on the wood constructions. Nails and fasteners are recessed, and all wood was notched, and aged, to simulate the appearance of a traditional Japanese garden.

Getting there: 22373 N 3rd St., Hayward, CA 94541

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Visit this beautiful garden at the peak of its bloom in spring. Situated within Golden Gate Park, the garden showcases over 8,000 species of plants. There are several different collections within the garden, such as Mediterranean and Tropical.  

Getting there: 1199 9th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94122

Boat ride along Stow Lake

Take advantage of spring in full bloom by renting a paddle, electric, or row boat to tour this hidden gem. Situated in the middle of Golden Gate Park, the lake includes a 110-foot artificial waterfall, colorful Chinese pavilion, and a 125-year-old Stone Bridge. During springtime, visitors will also get the chance to see ducklings and goslings hatch! Rentals start at $24/hr.

Getting there: 1 Stanyan St, Unit 2, San Francisco, CA 94118

Places to Visit

Soar to new heights on Golden Gate Park’s SkyStar observation wheel

The giant Ferris wheel in the Music Concourse brought in to celebrate the park’s 150th birthday will stick around for longer than planned because it wasn’t open for most of last year.  

Getting there: Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse, 1 Bowl Drive

Hiller Aviation Museum

An AvGeek’s Nirvana. Beautifully curated exhibits show the past, present, and future of flight. Aircraft are beautifully restored and displayed with exciting angles and exceptional lighting. The museum has more than 50 aerospace vehicles along with companion descriptive displays concerning the history of flight.

Getting there: 601 Skyway Rd, San Carlos

Immersive Van Gogh

 

Step into the world of Vincent Van Gogh at this trippy exhibit with over 500,000 cubic-feet of illuminated projections of his work that will make you feel like you’re literally inside of his paintings. The “experiential journey” has been modified for COVID times, but still promises to be one of the most unusual and/or cultural things you’ve done in a very long time. The exhibit runs through the beginning of September.

Getting there: 10 South Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103

Mission-Driven Nonprofits

Planterday: The Mission-Driven Mobile Plant Shop

 Dedicated to destigmatizing mental health and promoting mental health resources. As official sponsors of Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, they donate a portion of their monthly proceeds to suicide prevention services in the local community.

The Bay Area Ecology Center

A list of Bay Area environmental/sustainability-related classes, workshops, exhibits, tours, films, and other events. Events posted are directly related to Ecology Center’s main topic areas and located mostly in the East Bay. 

350 Bay Area

Building a grassroots climate movement in the Bay Area and beyond to eliminate carbon pollution and achieve a clean energy future with racial, economic, and environmental justice. San Francisco Bay Area residents building a grassroots movement for deep CO2 emission reductions.

They have local groups in most every county. They have hundreds of volunteers, supported by a small but mighty staff, working since 2012 to:

Raise awareness & urgency for the climate crisis; Mobilize to demand action at the speed & scale required to protect us all from the worst impacts; Support the voices of young people calling for a livable planet; Dig into policy options to get real emissions reductions actions passed

Stop and smell the wildflowers! Spring is when the landscape is alive with carpets of colorful wildflowers. Check out some of the best wildflower displays on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. 

Hikes

Arastradero Creek Loop (Pearson Arastradero Preserve)

3.7 miles Flowers peak: Late-March- Mid-April

The rolling hills in this preserve create a range of habitat types offering refuge for a great diversity of wildflowers. You’ll find the biggest patches of wildflowers along the sunny, southern-facing slopes.

Getting there: 1530 Arastradero Road, 1/4 mile north of Page Mill Road.

Bald Hills Loop (Calero County Park)

8.5 miles  Flowers peak: Late-March- Mid-April

Enjoy a large outcropping of serpentine soil, offering big, showy HALF displays of native wildflowers. You’ll also enjoy views of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains and nearby Diablo Range.

Getting there: 23205 McKean Rd San Jose, CA 95141

Año Nuevo Point Trail (Año Nuevo State Park)

1.5 miles Flowers peak: April

Best known as the destination to see 5,000-pound elephant seals, Año Nuevo is also home to a spectacular display of spring wildflowers. This easy, gentle trail is good for all ages and abilities. 

Getting there: 1 New Year’s Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

River Trail (Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park)

2 miles Flowers peak: April

Giant redwoods tower over the cool waters of the San Lorenzo River in this park. It contains one of the largest stands of old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and an abundance of spring flowers add to the beauty of this landscape.

Getting there: River Trail (Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park)

Arrowhead Loop (Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve)

4 miles Flowers peak: Late-March- Mid-April

Just a short drive from downtown San Jose, this preserve offers phenomenal views of Coyote Valley, the Diablo Mountain Range, and a plethora of spring flowers. You don’t have to

complete the full loop to get your fill of spectacular flowers.

Getting there: From Highway 101, take Bailey Avenue west, Turn left on Santa Teresa Boulevard, Turn right on Palm Avenue. The preserve is at the end of Palm Avenue.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

A Birthday Trek in the Himalayas

When I turned 60 in January 2016, the thought crossed my mind: what did I want to do with the rest of my life? My father and mother were recently deceased; I had more time than before for reflection. I had left India at 23 to study and eventually settle in the United States. Subsequent visits to India had been centered around family and friends. As a result, I had not seen much of the country where I was born and raised. My family comes from the plains of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but even as a child I was fascinated by the mountains, by the greenery and crisp air, by the perspectives that can only be had from some altitude. Little else could bring me more joy than exploring the Himalayas, the greatest mountain range in the world, with the time I had left.

But could I do it? As a young man, I had backpacked the Annapurna trail with friends, starting from Pokhara and getting as far as Tatopani before running out of time and money. Exhilarating as that was, that trek had taxed my body to the limit. Now, 40 years later, with the onset of arthritis and marginally high cholesterol, could I still do it? I was in reasonably good shape, I thought. My regimen includes an hour in the gym 5 times a week. But after a couple of self-arranged day hikes to Tungnath and Deoria Tal last year, I realized I needed endurance training.

My partner Ashok shares my interest in nature and the outdoors, and he was up for exploring the Himalayas with me. This time we wanted to go on a professionally organized trek. Last year another self-arranged day hike in the hills near Darap, Sikkim, had ended disastrously: the trail vanished, the leeches found us, and when it got dark, we were miles from civilization. It took many phone calls and three search parties to rescue us. That’s not the sort of adventure we sought.

Websurfing one evening, youtube pointed me to some videos. In them, a young woman by the name of Swathi was offering helpful advice on trekking in the Himalaya: how to train, what to take, how to pack, how to prevent acute mountain sickness and how to recover from it. She seemed to know her stuff, as did the people she interviewed: Arjun and Sandhya. What’s more, she was covering topics most people would studiously avoid: encouraging women to go trekking, no matter what time of month and gave information on how to use Himalayan portable potties! Did we grow up in the same country?! These short, succinct videos were professionally produced, disarmingly honest, and non-commercial. I was intrigued.

Digging deeper, we found that her company IndiaHikes bills itself as a trekking community rather than a company. It offers many treks through the Himalayas. It has a zero-alcohol policy. Food served is lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Best of all, they are successful, taking as many as 10,000 people to the mountains each year. The company’s approach to trekking seemed to embody the best aspects of being outdoors – seeking adventure on nature’s terms – and promoting environmental conservation at the same time. It struck a chord; we had to check it out.

From the IndiaHikes website — professionally designed, packed with information, easy to use — we identified a trek of easy/moderate difficulty: Sandakphu. The trail goes through the Singalila National Park, which includes red panda habitat. Registration was simple and straightforward. We went through all of Swathi’s videos, following every instruction and checklist — they were practical and helpful. Periodic emails from the ground coordinator Sandeep helped us prepare.

From then on, training took on a special meaning; every session on the elliptical machine seemed imbued with a higher purpose, you might say, with thoughts of the Himalayas. The months flew by. I could now do 10 km each day 5 days a week (in a climate-controlled gym, no doubt, but still way above my normal capacity) — without injury. By the time we landed at Bagdogra airport, I felt confident and well-prepared. A shared SUV picked us up and after a 4-hour scenic ride, dropped us off at base camp, Jaubari, 7,000 feet, just outside the town of Manebhanjyang.

It was dark when we arrived. Guided by flashlights, we walked down a slope to our quarters: a large building with dorm-style rooms, a dining room, spartan but clean toilets, recycling bins for bottles and cans, paper and cardboard, and plastic.

We gathered in the dining room and introduced ourselves. We were a motley crew. Most people were from India (a good sign) with a wide spread of ages (21 to 47), sexes, and backgrounds. Some were seasoned trekkers — one on his third trek to Sandakphu — and for some this was their very first trek. One person came from Holland, another from Israel, and three were from the U.S. of Indian descent.

Trek leader Dushyant and assistant trek leader Geet performed what was to become a daily ritual – a medical checkup: blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and pulse readings. Each of us received a health card in which these statistics were recorded. I had nothing to worry about, I thought; my recent checkups in San Jose had been A-OK. But the sphygmomanometer in Jaubari read an abnormally high 180/100, that too twice in a row! I was puzzled.

Dinner followed: a simple but delicious Nepali meal of roti, rice, dal, vegetables, and crisp papad. Afterwards, we retired to our respective dorm rooms, three to a bed, six to a room. In spite of the warm covers, I knew it was a very cold night outside.

We woke at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise over the valley — it was overcast. Time for another health check. Now my systolic BP had fallen to 160, but still high. The trek leader pulled me aside: it was not advisable, he said, for me to proceed to higher altitudes in this condition. My heart sank. To come all this way and find out that my body wouldn’t cooperate! He offered a ray of hope: stay back in Jaubari for an extra day; trek leader Indrajit would monitor my BP; if my body acclimatized, I could join the group on the second day at Kuakata.

After breakfast and orientation, the team took off for Tumling. Three of us stayed back, two due to high BP, and one for love. We walked up and down the hillside to explore and acclimatize. Later in the afternoon, Indrajit took us on a short walk to Manebhanjyang for another BP reading. It had fallen further, to 140/80, but was it good enough? I would not find out until the next day, but I had already learned an important lesson: next time, arrive a day earlier to acclimatize.

Walking back to Jaubari, we got caught in a rain shower. It didn’t take long for my jacket and hoodie to get wet, and I learned my second important lesson. Don’t leave home without your poncho; keep it close at hand and be ready to whip it out the moment the rain shower hits. When trekking, you are only carrying the essentials, and you can’t afford to put any piece of clothing out of commission.

A gorgeous sunrise awaited us the next day, and I got the good news: it was safe for me to join the trek. I was thankful that I got to go, but even more thankful for the IndiaHikes medical protocol which detected my health issue in the first place.

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Jaubari sunrise

Ashok and I rode an aging Landrover up the mountain over a bumpy road, stopping briefly at Chitre and Meghma, entering Singalila National Park at Gairibas, then on to Kaiakata to rendezvous with the rest of the team. After a light lunch at a tea house, we set off together, and our hike truly began.

By then the weather had changed. It was now cool and overcast and the hilltops were shrouded in mist. The trail climbed gently up, past hillsides thick with rhododendron trees. I could only imagine how brilliant it must look in spring, the entire slope aflame with crimson, scarlet, pink.

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To plant enthusiasts like us, seeing Himalayan plants in their native habitat was deeply meaningful. From diminutive strawberry to ferns to fragrant wintergreen, sycamore, whitebeam, and layered acorn oak, every plant tells a story of survival and of symbiosis with native fauna.

The final stretch brought us to Kalipokhri pond, festooned with prayer flags, and just beyond it was the ridge top.

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Kalipokhri (“Black Pond”)

We took in a spectacular sunset. Anirudh assumed the sheershasana pose. Vishal clicked away. Devina and Darshan shared a quiet moment, looking out at the setting sun.

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Kalipokhri panorama

We made our way to the tea house for the night, cramming into the dining hall, seeking warmth, food, and company. The night’s accommodations — dorm-style beds — were warm and comfortable. The shared bathroom had running water (it was ice cold).

The sun shone brightly the following morning but the frost on the plants told a different story. Sandakphu, our destination, was in sight, at the very top of a huge mountain before us. My endurance was about to be put to the test.

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Sandakphu, our destination, is in sight

The trail went up gradually at first, but got steeper the closer we got to the top. My fellow trek mates were like-minded individuals who loved nature with fascinating stories of their own. When you are in good company, the climb doesn’t seem so daunting. There was always a reason to stop: beautiful moss, Indian tortoiseshell butterfly sipping at a seep, Himalayan primrose still in bloom.

A brief stop at Bikhebhanjyang, and then we continued uphill. The clouds moved in and the trees gave way to low shrubs. One in particular looked familiar: a handsome groundcover, 2 feet tall, with tightly knit branches, small leaves reddened by the frost, and red berries. It colonized entire slopes at this altitude. I had seen it on the Devariya Tal trail last year, in bloom, and covered with butterflies. This was rockspray cotoneaster, also used as a landscape plant in the West.

The climb was unrelenting, and we made frequent stops. Dushyant kept us company, recounting his remarkable transition from an office worker to a mountaineer and trek leader. At one point, I felt mild nausea coming on, and chose to exercise an abundance of caution by downing a Diamox tablet.

We crossed a high meadow and continued the ascent. Before we knew it, we were at Sandakphu, 11,929 feet, the highest point in the state of West Bengal. After sampling the refreshments at the local tea shop, we made our way to the camp site, some distance from the village.

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Our first view from Sandakphu, the highest point in West Bengal state

By the time we got there, the entire camp site was fogged over. With help from the supporting staff, we pitched our tents and set up mats and sleeping bags. Raman produced a ball; everybody joined in a game of catch. And people learned quickly that there was a steep price to pay for taking the ball away from Devina. When summoned, we made our way to the tea house dining hall. We warmed our hands around the charcoal fire, played games of deception and treachery, and wolfed dinner down when it arrived.

One of the nice aspects of the Sandakphu trail is how it weaves between India and Nepal. There is no barbed wire, no sentries, just the occasional marker. A mostly friction less flow of people between two friendly nations. One hopes this becomes the norm in all corners of the world. Nepali people are predominant in this part of the Himalayas: gentle, kind, friendly, smiling, and strong as hell.

Now the hard part. Ashok and I had been nursing a cold and flu for a couple of days (runny nose, mild fever), but by late evening my condition got significantly worse. I could not continue trekking for three more days, and reluctantly decided to head back the following day. It was hard to walk away from our trek mates and trek staff because we had formed a bond. That night in the tent was a cold one.

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Sandakphu panorama

The mist had lifted by morning but it was still overcast. We could not see Kanchenjunga or Everest — that’s mountain weather for you. The view we did have was grand nonetheless: mountain ranges below us floating in an ocean of clouds.

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Obscured by clouds: Sandakphu sunrise

After breakfast, we wished our trek mates good luck as they headed to Phalut; we boarded a Jeep to return to Manebhanjyang. Vishal was returning with us due to unforeseen work responsibilities. A quick transfer to another taxi and we were in Bagdogra by 6 pm. Along the way we learned about Vishal’s car journeys through the country and the continent: the stories he could tell, the pictures he showed us!

It took two more weeks to recover from the cold and flu, so we made the right call in cutting our trip short. But the memory of this trek will stay with me. I saw not only extraordinary places but also met many special people who shared an abiding love for the outdoors. We are still in touch and I hope that our paths will cross again.

This trek — my first with IndiaHikes — lived up to all my expectations and more. I proved to myself that I could do it, that age was no barrier to trekking in the Himalayas. I have come away with photographs, memories, gratitude, and inspiration. I now feel part of a community of mountain lovers. I will soon be celebrating my 61st birthday. Experiencing the Himalayas through this trek was the best birthday gift ever, and I look forward to more — the mountains are still calling.

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