Las Vegas / Grand Canyon 25th -30th Dec 2008

This trip was one of the most weird in terms of its planning and execution. Gargi and me were in India two weeks before and then pretty busy with our work lives. I was working till the last evening and so was everyone I guess. Kartik was busy with his end of semester work and Jai was busy with his usual routine. There was absolutely no time to plan. I had somehow managed to book a room in the hotel Stratosphere and rented a car for the duration we had thought about. That was all of it. As if this was not enough, more variables came into consideration. There was news of bad weather in Grand Canyon and on the route to Vegas. Still we set out for our journey on the 25th morning.  As expected, we got really bad weather throughout the journey. It was raining incessantly and we were hit by snow when we approached the Tehachapi summit on CA-58. Normally, driving to Vegas is expected to take 9 hours but bad weather and holiday traffic compounded our woes and we reached Las Vegas after 13 hours on the road. Jai was supposed to join us directly in Vegas. His flight was on time and he reached the hotel about the same time as us. The “Stratosphere” is pretty high, more so in the their level of incompetence. This is the worst hotel I have ever come across. I had booked us a non-smoking room but the morons at the front desk made us take a smoking room. The lady who served us was unapologetic about it. We did not exactly expect five start comfort in this hotel but they failed even the basic sanity tests. We were put on the 10th floor and only one of the 6 elevators would work at a given time. We spent almost 30 mins to go down every time. There was no warm water available in the morning to take shower. To sum it up, this hotel is a piece of  $%*#.  I  feel that if you plan for Vegas, better stay in a good hotel or any of the standard ones like Best Western. Now getting back to the fun part, we enjoyed roaming on the strip on the 26th morning. We  parked our car at the MGM Grand and started our trip on a high note. The MGM is truly grand, as it’s name suggests. It has many lots of options for gambling and some very cool restaurants and an unique decor. I had never experienced such grandeur before. The place also boasts a lion habitat which is populated by few of the total 37 lions/lioness they have. We planned for our day and booked our tickets for “Ka” , a superb stage show by Cirque De Soleil. Then we just ambled on the strip. It was very cold outside so we would usually end up going to each and every building on our way to beat the cold. The day went by in process of planning for the next few evenings and the trip to Grand Canyon and we went back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. When we set out to watch the show in MGM, we used the Monorail this time to go to the strip. We bought a 24 hour pass as the Monorail covers each and every hotel on the strip. It is pretty fast and convenient and saves us from battling the maddening traffic in the evening. We reached just in time for the show and as we entered the theater we were spellbound. “Ka” theater, as it is called is a huge auditorium where the stage actors dressed as tribesmen welcome you to their village. The show exceeds all forms of human imagination. They have managed to marry technology with art in the most unique style. At one point, the entire stage becomes vertical and people still walk on it defying gravity. The story was bit difficult to understand though and so was their technology. Only thing boring about that show is the overdose of the emotions, drama and romance. But no many people think like me so I guess everyone went home happily that night.

The 27th morning started with casino hopping, which continues till the end of the day. You need to walk a lot if you really need to experience the good, bad and ugly of Vegas. Whenever you walk along the road, you will find more pimps than fish in water. They keep handing contact cards for call girls to anyone they find walking including children and women! You will see advertisements of call girls on many hoardings in Vegas and it seems Vegas makes a lot of money from sleaze and slots. Though for tourists likes us, the good side is equally enchanting. There is no better scene at night than looking at Vegas with all its pomp and show. Add to that millions of tourists with different races and ethnicity and you get a nice salsa. Usually I hate crowded places but I didn’t mind this one as it had something different to offer.  We started our day with lunch at the India Oven restaurant near our hotel. I highly recommend this restaurant as the food was good and not too oily. Then we first visited  the Mirage hotel and casino. It was a nice hotel with a good casino but the best thing I found there was the dolphin habitat and Siegfried and Roy’s secret garden. They had white lions, white tigers, bengal tigers, snow leopards and lots of tiger cubs. It was really amazing though my enthusiasm was dampened as they were all behind a chicken fence that hindered my photography. Though I got some good pictures of the bottle nosed dolphins. The next stop was the Venetian. The owners have tried to bring Venice into Vegas and they have been successful to certain extent. The decor is exquisite and baroque. There were rich frescoes painted on the ceilings. Everything seemed authentic European. They also had Gondola rides for those who wanted to experience Venice . The most remarkable thing was the impression of the evening sky which was created on the inside walls of the hotel. That completed a true experience of an evening in Venice.  Then we moved onto Rome :), to the Caesar’s palace. It was again very exotic and ornate. There were lots of statues which might have been the replicas of original statues in Rome. We took lot of pictures in the Forum shops in Caesar’s palace. Then we moved onto the Bellagio, i.e French style hotel. In front of the Bellagio was the replica of Eiffel tower. This was a beautiful hotel in French style with its own salons and spas. We saw a really awesome musical fountain show in front of the Bellagio. Later me went to New York New York which is a replica of New York City. It has its own Brooklyn bridge and Statue of Liberty. Next was the Excalibur which was the British style of architecture. They had a theme of King Arthur running through. Our journey ended at the Luxor, which was the Egyptian style. They had their very own Pyramid and the Sphynx. To sum it all, Vegas was a good experience, though I would not like to visit here again in near future. If you think objectively, there is a lot to Vegas but it is poorer in terms of variety. We managed to play some slots and won some money. I made a resolution to learn Poker  and Blackjack before my next visit to Las Vegas.

Next morning we started for Grand Canyon. En route to GC we stopped at the Hoover dam. I don’t know why it is so, but so many tourists come up to the Hoover dam, it always is a bottleneck for the traffic on US-93. We stopped there too but we did not find anything interesting there. It was just another dam! We took few pictures there and moved on. The mountains near the dam and the Lake Mead are very beautiful. We reached GC village on the 28th evening.  We stayed at the Best Western Squire Inn . This was one of the best hotels I have ever lived in for the price we paid. It had a very comfortable room and beautiful decor and it is just 7 miles away from the south rim entrance of GC. This is area in general is very crowded and quite expensive. If one wants to save money, better idea would be to live in a nearby town called William and take the GC railway to the south rim. There are lots of jeep tours and air tours available but we opted to drive ourselves. The whole area had turned into a snowfield and we had to draw through a lot of ice and snow. It was a bit risky though it was lot of fun. The grand canyon itself truly deserves to be a wonder of the world. The sight is breathtaking. We decided to go to the desert view trail and it was fantastic. Serene rock faces, which might have changed their expression a million years ago, were the main feature. Looking at the canyon accentuates the feeling of being helpless if nature decides to have its own way. A small river manages to create such a big abyss by ripping apart an elevated plateau; even with all this technology we feel at nature’s mercy. We stopped at lot of different view points on the trail and at each stop a new view unfolded. The trail ended at the desert view tower and it felt like the movies. The previous scenes built the climax and it was shattered to pieces in the last one; just like a wave which picks up speed just to splash against a rock. This tower is 4 levels high and one can see the whole canyon from here. We could see snowfields, illuminated rock faces dotted with snow some sparse vegetation and lot of open space in between the cliffs. The weather was holding good and there were not much sounds around apart from the cackling of some enthusiastic tourists. But such was the spectacle that it was not difficult to tune out these distractions and be one with the nature. I so yearned to take my backpack and start descending on one of the cliffs, like the good old days in Himalayas. But we had to leave as we had our daily routine coming up. I think all of us must have made a pledge in our minds to come back and see this place properly. We started our return journey back on the same day and we dropped Jai at Vegas in the evening. On 30th, while driving back home we stopped at the San Luis Reservoir on CA -152. It is a beautiful area with lots of birds and wildlife. It has some good camping spots and immediately I made plans for my next trip.

Guilty parties: Gargi Chande, Jaideep Padhye, Kartik Raiker and Jai Nangia

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