smoky mountains autumn

Fall in the dreamy Smoky mountains

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
― George Eliot

smoky mountains autumn

Between summer and winter, there is  fall, a transitional phase when each leaves of the tree turns into golden, yellow and red before shedding themselves, paints the landscape in riots of color, before embracing harsh and cold winter nights in their bare branches . We are expected to be sad because soon the trees will die out, but before dying out they presents a regale show for us to enjoy. It may sound philosophical but isn’t it inspiring ? Change is inevitable and is hardest to accept, yet life moves on.

smoky mountain fall color

The trees dressed themselves in most beautiful and grandest fashion. Beautiful Smokey looks prettiest in autumn. The rolling blue hills stretched out to the horizon and inside the deep recess of its lush green forest, it harbors the secret of life. The tiny little town of Gatlinburg, which once was a frontier town has graduated to become a cozy resort town and  liven up with buzz of festivals and harvest activities. Fall is here, eat, drink and be merry. Lets celebrate life.

fall color smoky mountain

From the piedmont of North Carolina, Gatlinburg is roughly 6 hours of drive, and once you leave Asheville and enter the cozy mountain towns, the colorful mountain highways will welcomes you, a nip in the air, and so refreshing, with small mining towns scattered here and there. As you enter the Cherokee Indian reservation, do stop for local hand crafted artifacts, built with indigenous skills that are few generation old. If you started early for the day, that will be right time to grab a bite at MacD and a coffee. After that there are hardly any places to eat, until you reached Gatlinburg.

smoky mountain fall ocanaluftee

Though you may not see any snow-capped mountains here,  the beauty of Smoky mountains lies in its ombre of  blue color hills that beautifully merges into one another and diffusing itself higher into the blue skies, thus giving a smoke like impression to the eyes, shrouded in mist for most of the day. To enjoy this vista in full range, climb up to the observation tower at Clingman’s dome, you will get 360 degree of spectacular view. The climb is steep but is feasible and be sure to bring your jackets even in summer. The temperature drops suddenly to 10 – 20 F.

Smoky mountain

Clingman’s dome lies en route on US 441 or New Found Gap road, cutting across the state boundary of North Carolina and Tennessee. This is very scenic route with lots of outlooks and vista points. Views from Sugarland mountains, forested with sugar maple trees and Chimney tops are primary vista points and on a clear day they offers stupendous scenic views of Smoky mountains.

Gatlinburg smoky

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are two sister towns, some seven or eight signal long, yes that’s how you can measure this two town ! An evening walk along the paved footpaths will reveal the little secrets of this mountain town, you will come across many curio shops, small and large bakeries from old times, pizzerias, couple of fine dining restaurants, few steak houses, couple of ice cream parlor and fudge and candy shops. In short you will love this quaint little mountain town, stay for three to four days, enjoy the craft fair, beer festivals, pumpkin festivals and you will never want to leave this.

 historic smoky mountain

Exiting Gatlinburg and entering into yet another backcountry roads, called Cades Coves, a beautiful verdant valley surrounded by mountains where history beckons you. An erstwhile Cherokee hunting grounds, now a horse camp and farms this is the little treasure hidden off the beaten path. Here history stood undaunted, wrapped in the shroud of bygone era, an old grist mill, log cabins, barns, churches all tells a story from another time.

Cades cove road smoky mountain


On a heavy traffic day, it will take hours to complete the 11 mile long loop, but do not rush to do it. Enjoy it at the leisured pace, there are few short hikes too and the best place to see some wildlife. We spotted a bear but that was quiet far from our camera range, deers and elks are frequent too. But it all depends upon the weather of the day. For us it was balmy and cool, sun played hide and seek for most of the time. Little drizzle of rain transform it into most charming place on earth.

cades coves smoky mountain

Continuing on the scenic trail or reserve it for the next day, as we did, Roaring fork motor trail is another gem tucked away from the glitz of touristy town.

autumn smoky mountain

Long winding and narrow country roads, this secluded trail is the most charming one we have seen. Where nature invites you at every curves and curls, the scenic bylanes, the gold drenched mist covered roads awaits you, autumn is here simply heavenly.

fall smoky mountain

Rainbow and Grotto falls adds another star to this beautiful place, the trail heads are few miles long hikes. The rushing mountain streams, the primeval forest, log cabins, grist mills all blend together in such a delicacy where the natural and human interventions intermingled into a finer balance.

roaring fork smoky mountain

With little more time in hand, you can camp at the pristine peaceful mountain valley at Cataloochee too.

Some useful articles – New found gap road by blue ridge highlander

NPS articles for more information on Smoky Mountains national park.

Traveller’s notes : US 441 scenic route / New found gap road and Roaring fork loop. Criss crossing Blue ridge parkway through Smoky mountain national park and Pisgah national forest.

Off the beaten path once again


yosemite rim fire

Yosemite rim fire – should you visit Yosemite or not ?

Two weeks of travelling through the wild – wild west of America, hopping through six national parks and enduring through the range of climatic conditions, we are finally back with tired limbs, overwhelming experience, some lifelong memories and few mind-boggling three thousand plus images and bucket full of stories for you.

Let me download everything first !  I need some real vacation now ! 😀

Before my hypnotic mind get restored to its original frame, let me brief you quickly about this appalling Yosemite rim fire.

For International tourist like us, who has planned almost one year ahead to visit one of the most beautiful national park of USA – Yosemite is almost dream come true. And we were left with no option than to proceed with our plans. Having spent couple of days there, we thanked God that we did. It was truly marvellous in every aspect.

Blue hills, silvery granite domes, green valleys, crystal clear skies – Yosemite is simply incredible !

yosemite valley

No impact of rim fire on Yosemite valley

Sadly enough a hunter’s illegal fire (read it on LA Times) has brought such colossal damage to one of the most beautiful and precious national park that boast of such rich bio diversity, the park is so huge, so spread out and that manifolds the damage. Thousands of acres burned to ashes!

The rising mushrooming clouds of smoke can be visible from the Glacier point of Yosemite valley, the air quality is not good (as per the statistics) but once you are inside the valley, you wont feel any traces of smoke in the air.

yosemite rim fire

Yosemite rim fire visible from Glacier point enroute

How to reach Yosemite valley –

Ours was two-week long trip through the western part of America, and we had planned to approach Yosemite through the eastern gates, that connects the valley through the Tioga pass.

Tioga pass is open for the month and it takes just an hour drive to the valley visitor center. But few section of the road is closed because of the rim fire. You can drive till Olmstead point and on the way, can visit the Tuolumne meadows and Tenaya lake.

Detour – Since, Tioga pass was closed between Crane flat to Yosemite creek, we were left with no options than to take the detour. If you are coming from Eastern Sierra, the 395 S detour will take you through Fresno to Yosemite southern entrance, and the drive is almost 8 hours long.

So instead we planned to head north from Mammoth, following 395 N and then head west on 108 following the Sonora pass highway. It will take around 5 hours to reach Yosemite valley and almost the same time to reach San Francisco.

Sonora pass is beautiful but it was shrouded heavily in smokes, visibility was very poor, so if ever you plan to take that route , drive cautiously and follow all the rules and signs.

sonora pass highway

Smoke filled sonora valley

Next day we  head towards Yosemite valley from San Francisco, which was 4 1/2 hours drive one way.

Because of the rim fire, the visitor footfall was on the lighter side, we drove through most of the vista points and enjoyed our days there. Valley shuttle runs every twenty minutes between the points of interests.  We concluded our Yosemite trip at Mariposa groves.

The valley has no impact of Yosemite rim fire. Monitor the situation on NPS site,  before you go and enjoy your stay there.

I will write more about Yosemite later, this was just to inform you, specially to the International tourist like us, that though the travel advisories are still in effect, you can visit Yosemite valley safely.


Sunset at Miami

An un inspired day at Miami and few good moments !

This is the concluding part of our long Florida series.  To be at “Miami” or not to be …. well !

We have to stay in Miami for two reasons – one for return flight  and other for its proximity to Everglades. So in short we spend one and half day at Miami. Thankfully enough,  weather was cool in Miami and we did enjoyed partially though , just strolling through the streets, stopped at some curio shops, and sampled foods at the cafe.

A city for fashionistas, expensive, unapproachable, over hyped, repulsive, sketchy and I can add few more negative adjectives, but I cannot blame the city as a whole. Every city has its own characteristic, its culture and this one however fails to inspire me. Those who are raving about its “food”, tell me where it is ???  A triple dollar figure just for rice and beans  ???

Miami skyline cruises

Bayside market place would be the perfect place if you do not have any other options, we spend their half day almost. It is not that big, after strolling for half an hour, I bought a little souvenir from one of the shop. Plus this place has lots of good restaurants and cafes. Most of the boat tours also started from here. The one that we took was quiet good, it takes us around the harbour, the guide was quiet informative and funny. If you want to photograph Miami’s skyline, this will give you ample opportunity for photography.

Miami is also known as  city of cruises, you will passed through many big ocean liner and cruise ships all waiting to be hauled for some destinations in Caribbean sea or some islands on Atlantic. The Bayside marina has many beautiful yacht docked in rows, for hosting parties, wedding as well as divorce and some also transformed into art galleries.

The boat tour will cruise you through the celebrity islands (it could be boring, if it drags for more than an hour) their luxurious mansions (no architectural wonders) which exude glamour and eccentricity. We spotted ex-residences of Elizabeth Taylor,  Sylvester Stallone, Al Copano etc. and finished with the dinner at the Bayside Market place.

From Bayside view – starting from top left is the city tower at Biscayne boulevards and nearby Cuban Bongos restaurant – the one with pineapple roof – Vizcaya museum and the villa’s monumental  east facade on bottom right of the picture – celebrity mansions on bottom left of the picture.


Miami city Vizcaya

Since we didn’t have any particular plan, so we decided to take the big bus tour (good if you do not want to drive in this eccentric city and save some fuel) to just have a glimpse of the city. It has two loops, one beach loop and the other city loop. The city loop was more interesting as it will trail you through the arteries of the city, with a glimpse of Miami’s history, the city life, the people, streets, the diverse culture and finally culminating in south Beach with posh theaters, resto bars, iconic art deco buildings that immediately say “Miami”.

There are at least a dozen of such colorful lifeguard towers all along the south beach and these beautiful and colorful faux lifeguard towers are built by the artist, Miami is known for, once you are on the beach , you can not miss it !

Miami art dcor lifeguard tower

We just hopped once on this tour to visit Vizcaya museum – an extravagant opulence  Italian villa built in 1914, the winter residence of J.Deering and conceived as subtropical interpretation of eighteenth century Italian villa, its location at Biscayne sea is its added advantage and completed with the beautiful European gardens. We spent 2-3 hours there, till our feet aches and being an antique lover, I enjoys such tour.

Miami south beach

Miami South beach and art decor life guard tower in the background

Coral Gables is known for self-styled tropical themed beautiful houses and  historic hotel Biltmore, and this part of the city has lots of plush restaurants, boutiques and is also known as housewares heaven ! I read the last two-word !

One part of Miami belongs to Cuban immigrants of 1960’s, Little Havana has many Cuban restos, colorful stores, art galleries or you can catch up with them on a Domino table. Sample a Cuban coffee and a sandwich and move forward to art deco tower theatre.

Arguably Miami is the unofficial capital of Latin America and if you want to sample few latin American cuisine, this is the right place, Argentinian steaks, Brazilian, Venezuelan, Colombian cuisine, Peruvian, Nicaraguan and many more.

Miami city life

Versailles was on of our choice to sample Cuban cuisines, after reading lots of good reviews about it, but could not get the table ! You need to reserve the table almost a day in advance ! Indians can look forward to Bombay Durbar and its reviews are good too. However, after failing to get a table at Versailles, we hopped to Bubba Gump and yes no regrets whatsoever.

As the sun sets in the horizon and painted the evening sky of Miami in brilliant red strokes of color, we headed back to the hotel and on the way we sampled few Venezuelan cuisine at El Arepazo – Arepas (corn pancakes filled with three cheese and shredded chicken, corn empanadas (best one) and a delicious tres leches cake. well, we love to end everything on a sweet note :)

Sunset at Miami

 Until next


Sanibel shell collections

Sanibel and Everglades national park , Florida – on alligators, panthers and anhinga trail


Sanibel ? what is that ? A beach in Florida ? Florida ? you say? Isnt Florida is all about Disneyworld ? Yes it is. Then why we should go to Sanibel ?

Minutes later, we were looking for hotels in Sanibel !


Sanibel shell collections

I have seen beautiful picturesque beaches before, beaches where you will want to spend the rest of your lives lying on that crystal white sandy coast, but I have never seen a beach full of shells !  Live shells too !

To be honest I have never heard of anything called Sanibel before. Well, then many things in life happens in an uneventful way. A quick glance at this LIFE magazine from TIME and Sanibel quietly slips into our “must visit” destination list.

sanibel shell beach

Few unusual  set of geomorphological events bliss the island with the riches of seashells, making it best in the world for shelling. Beautiful seashells in all sort of imaginable colors accumulates here in abundance much to the delight of shell lovers and beachcombers from around the world makes a yearly pilgrimage to Sanibel. To admire the beauty of not-so-perfect shells, a tiny pastel colored bivalve, orange lipped tiny broken shell with eroded interiors, those rare coquinas or just to take home the best souvenirs from the sea, gifts from the ocean and few memories.

Sanibel Florida

Unfortunately it was an overcast day, and it was beyond the scope of my camera to get few good pictures . So don’t go by my pictures, I am posting the photo from the magazine as well to entice you ! I do enjoy photography but at Sanibel I was torn between  photography and shelling, I was more keen to collect those treasures lying openly on the beaches. For a change I didn’t enjoy photography there. I was more interested to fill my little plastic bag.

A day spent in Sanibel or even few hours on the beach is worth every bit of travelling few extra miles down south of Florida to Fort Myers, the nearest city to Sanibel with plenty of options to dine and stay. However, Sanibel too had some lovely restaurants lined up on its palm-tree dotted Periwrinkle way. It also houses a museum to showcase the greatest treasure of Sanibel. I was charmed by its artistic and rare collections. Do not miss it !


Fort Myer on the west coast of Florida serves two purposes for the tourist – one access to the beautiful beaches of Sanibel on the gulf and other as a gateway to the wilderness of Southern Florida – called Everglades, the river of grass, originated from the native American word “pa-hay-okee” meaning grassy waters.

Everglades are part of tropical wetlands, the sawgrass marshes represents a complex ecosystem that includes cypress swamps, estuarine mangroves, hardwood hammocks and the marine environment of Florida Bay. This ecosystem also supports large number of birds, alligators and that elusive panther.

everglades blue heron

Little Blue Heron

We started our trip with the Gulf Coast boat tour (a 2 hour tour)  to mangroves and ten thousand island. You will see few birds, dolphins and sea manatee (which is actually rare). If you have not been to mangroves before, then you will not be disappointed. Apart from a dolphin, and couple of blue herons, we also spotted few pink pelicans relaxing on a sand bar.

Next we travelled further east to Shark Valley . This is perhaps the best Everglades experience for me. The guide was extremely entertaining and informative too. When he said ” this is the last tour of the day and the best” I knew luck was on our side ! This two-hour narrated tour through the river of grass offers plenty of wild life spotting. Alligators were almost everywhere, the big ones and their babies too. Besides the alligators, we also spotted few turtles and tree frogs. It was towards dusk, so more activities were going on in the swamps. We have seen so many beautiful and different kinds of birds there, I lost count actually. And all were new for me, so we enjoyed it the best. Great Egret, Woodstork, Roseatte Spoonbilled, Blue Heron, Anhinga with their babies, Snow Goose, ducks, pigeons, pelicans, turkey Vultures etc.

Pink Pelicans – Anhinga drying its wings under the sun – Great Egret – Pigeon (some species) – Woodstork – group of Turkey Vultures.


Shark valley tram tour was best in my opinion, and very next day we returned to Everglades for Anhinga trail.

Anhinga Trail – a short boardwalk through the swamps , will be repetitive for you if you had done the Shark Valley before. However, here you may not spot unseen wild life, but you will get to see them pretty close. I mean “Very Close”, an inch away from the Alligators. Goosebumps ! See the picture below, these are wild and not tamed, only that they don’t care much for “humans” !

everglades alligator

 There is also a Gumbo -Limbo short trail at the same center, that will lead you through the hardwood hammocks. The red peeling barks of the Gumbo-limbo trees are extremely fragile and almost paper-thin. We spotted few pond apples and another fruit with immature wild fruits (name please ?).

gumbo limbo everglades

Evergaldes encomapasses 1.5 million acres of tropical habitats and travelling through the vast swamp marshlands was one of a kind experience, you can call it bizarre, thrilling or eerie . We drove through the US-41 or Tamiami trail for hours on end, no sign of habitation.  Sometimes it is just you alone on the road in this swamps, even at many points GPS failed to navigate. A ocassional spotting of another car in the distance sometimes brings relief to somewhat frightened heart. So always go there fully prepared in all respects. Stuff your car with gas, emergency medicines, food, water, cell phones, GPS, map printouts etc and it is not advisable to linger there after dark. So try for an early exit.

cypress swamps everglades

Driving through the Cypress swamps towards Flamingo – southernmost tip of Florida

Before going to Everglades, I have read many documents and travel stories surrounding the elusive panthers of Florida. Some have even makes hundreds of trips to get a glimpse of the panther. I certainly never expected to see one on my maiden trip to the Everglades. However, chasing the panthers through the vast swampy marshland was both exciting and creepy ! But panthers are real and not fictitious ! See the bones of animals below that were killed by the panthers.

everglades travel panther

Unfortunately we could not make it to Big Cypress trail. May we could have spotted one or two panthers there!

You can check the pictures here and for more information you can visit to the site.

Big Cypress

Sunset in Everglades .

sunset at Everglades

Two indigenous native American tribe Seminoles and Miccosukees  have made this swampy lands as their  home, they survives on this healthy Everglades ecosystem for their living.  As you travel through the swamps, you will find their beautifully adorned palm-thatched huts called chickees inside the walled enclosures.

Well, we missed the delicious gator tails and frog legs by fraction of few seconds !

miccosukee everglades

I will never forget the wilderness of Everglades and a true lifetime experience for me.

Have you spotted any exotic bird or gators or any wildlife recently ?

See you until next


magic kingdom disney world

Magic Kingdom & EPCOT – Disney World Orlando

I know this space has been silent for over a week, you must be annoyed at my inconsistency in blogging , well I understand that. Summer is in full swing now and that means more outdoor activities will be waiting for us. We will keep you updated with that and before starting with my new adventures, let me first finish this Florida backlogs. I hate backlogs but sometimes has to deal with it.

So here we are again after taking a short break from my earlier post on Disney world –  Animal kingdom and Universal studios

Magic Kingdom – Disney’s original theme park, is beautiful and magnificient and is truly a dreamland !

This park is specially for kids, Cinderella castle, street party, face painting, and lots of other things that kids in fact knows better than the grown ups ! Here present short photo essay –

The Cinderella castle – the center of attraction ! You can spend hours gazing at its marvellous architecture .
magic kingdom

Move it ! Shake it ! Celebrate it ! Street party everyday at 4 pm.

disney world

Another perspective of Cinderella castle ! With my P & S camera I have taken at least dozens of photos of this beautiful building. This is infectious or obsession, but you can not escape it !

Magic kingdom Disney

All geared up for the street party – Mickey and Minnie has come ! And the music was so catchy ! Shake it up !

disney world

Mickey and Minnie – dance dance !

 disney world

The best part of the day is the laser and firework show at night. They creates different scenes on the castle by casting colorful laser beams on it. It goes for an hour . It’s truly magical and hypnotic !

magic kingdom light show


If Magic Kingdom is for kids then grown ups can enjoy their day at EPCOT.



EPCOT is world showcase theme park.

Chinese temple or palace, it has been beautifully done with intricate designs adorning its walls.

epcot china


Beer mugs and shot glasses on sale outside a German town where Oktoberfest was going on !


epcot germany

Glimpse of an European town ! After walking few steps down the road you will ask yourself – is it US or Europe? Detailed to the core and beautifully represented with bistros and patisseries.

epcot european town

A Moroccan bazaar ! This was another highlight of the park. It has been said that King of Morocco has himself flew own to Disney world to approve the design and the architecture. Restaurant at Marrakesh, the gate, minarets, the streets, everything will remind you of Morocco.

moroccan bazaar epcot

EPCOT also host a spectacular laser and firework show at night which is worth seeing.

Finishing our day at Disney World with chocolate cake slice and that Key Lime Pie ! Finally eh !

epcot restaurant

 Rides that we enjoyed most are –


Soarin – hand gliding over breathtaking landscapes of California. I wish it could continue for little longer.

Living with the land – a futuristic approach to food production, fascinating, relaxing and very educative.

Mission space – rocket to the red land. Spaceship simulator and it was really fascinating.

Magic Kingdom – 

Big thunder mountain railroad – a speedy roller coaster that takes you through the rugged town of mining town themed around the early days of Gold Rush.

Space Mountain that zooms through the galaxy passing the constellations and was thrilling as you pass through the darkness of black universe.

Until next