Sunday, December 21, 2003


Ppl consider that subsidies r very uncommon in a capitalistic economy like US. This is a very wrong perception. In fact, the American Govt doles out a subsidy of abt $18 billion a yr on just agriculture, and this compared to the $10 billion per yr that the US provides as aid to poor countries! has some more facts on this. Shows the hyppocrisy of the rich countries.

However, one interesting way of providing subsidy that I have seen here is what is called as "food stamps". This is provided by the govt to the poor, and ppl can use these food stamps at shops to purchase commodities. This is in contrast to the subsidies that the govts in India dole out. For eg, for the mid-day meal scheme, the Govt of Karnataka actually provides food to the children at govt-run schools. The contract to prepare this food will be given after a significant amount of kickbacks, and the food quality will obviously be bad, the children and their parents will not like the sub-standard food, and finally, the program will not serve the desired purpose. My chikkamma (aunt) who is a teacher in a Govt-run school says that children actually used to sell the grocery that was provided by govt in the schools! Of course, now the govt has modified the scheme to provide only coked food, but that will still not help in improving the quality of the food.

What the govt shud do is to adopt the American model - provide children with food stamps for each day's attendance. This would allow the children access to high-quality food, maintain competition, and reduce the kickbacks.


Sunday, December 14, 2003

Trip to Smoky mountains

Thanksgiving is the most travelled weekend in US. It heralds the beginning of one month of non-stop festivities and holiday season. About 38 million ppl travelled during this Thanksgiving (abt 15% of US population, I guess!) and 13% of travelled by air. That makes it more than 4 million travelling during a single weekend, and compare this with 30 million ppl who fly in India in a whole year!

And, in keeping with the American spirit of travel, we too travelled........this time to Tennessee state. Me and Amit started from here, rented a Ford Taurus, and picked up Ramendra at Gurnee. From Gurnee, it was abt 10-hrs drive. Amit drove for the first part of the journey, with me resting, and later in the nite I took over. We reached Gatlingurg at abt 10am EST (of course, we lost an hr by moving east!).

Gatlinburg is a very small town on the foots of the Smoky mountains. From what I cud se, the town is totally dependent on tourism, and is full of lodges, eateries and tourist attractions. We had our breakfast at a Burger King, and there met an employee who said he was visting Gatlinburg since 6-yrs, and is staying here since the last 9 months. He works at Burger King in the mornings and at anothet tourist attraction called Ober Gatlinburg (more of it later) for th rest of the day.

This gentleman guided us to a small, curving road that lead to several standard hiking routes. We decided to take one of them, and this one led us to Brurshy mountains. One the way were several small but beautiful waterfalls and tons are embedded within this mountain range. As we going higher, the temperature became colder, and it was drizzling also. Amit and Ramendra were ready to give up, and go back. However, upon my insistence, we continued our way up, and after abt 3-hrs of hiking, we reached the top of Brushy mountains.

The view from the top was worth the hike. We were basically seeing the clouds from above, and we had a great view of the Smoky mountain range. St the wind, the wind was blowing with very high intensity......and this coupled with the weather warning we had seen in the morning that a thunderstorm is expected during evening made us a bit panicky. We were not sure if the wind was just because we were at the top, or if it was the making of a storm. Deciding that prudence is the better part of valor, we quickly made our way down!

On reaching our base - I mean our parking lot! - We decided to take a drive thru the narrow, curving road. It was a very beautiful road, with steep curves....reminded me of the western ghats on way from B'lore to M'lore!

By abt 6pm, we were all tired, and collapsed in out motel, with the understanding that if somebody wakes up by abt 10pm we will again go out to enjoy the nite life at Gatlinburg. Wel, that never happened, because the the next time sombody woke up, it was 7am the next day!

Next day, we had pancakes for breakfast - I was served 4 thick pancakes - and no chutney with it :-( Not the most tastiest breakfast I must say. Later we headed for Ober Gatlinburg. This co runs a air tram that takes takes u from downtown Gatlinburg to the Smoky mountains, and at the top they have their own tourism center. There is a ice skating rink at the top. We tried our hand - or is it leg? - at ice skating. After abt an hr, I was able to walk w/o any support on the ice. Ramendra had quite a tuff time, with more falls than steps thru'out!

Ober Gatlinburg has a open chair tram that takes to the top of mountains. It was quite cold, and snowing too. Ramendra was not ready to take the tram in this weather. Me convinced Amit, and we both took the tram up to the top of the mountains. Since it had snowed, the mountains looked all the more beautiful.

One we were down, we had lunch at Pizza Hut, and then took a drive to Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is a town adjacent to Gatlinburg, and we did not know anything abt the place. However, the road to pigeon Forge looked pretty scenic, and we decided to drive down it. The journey was the destination, and we were not disappointed at all. It was a very beautiful drive, with several scenic spots on the way.

Later, we visited the Ripley's aquarium. This aquraium has a path way with a pond on the top, with sharks (not very big ones) floating over you. It also had a quite good collection of marine life, although I guess Shedd aquarium at Chicago may be better except for the collection of sharks. But then, Shedd aquarium had dolphins, my fav!

The next day, we set for Chattanooga - abt 3 hrs drive from Gatlinburg. Chattanooga is along the Lookout mountain range, and is in the border of Tennesse and Georgia. On the way, as I was driving, Amit saw a board that said helicopter ride for $10. Immdediately we took a U-turn, and went to that place! It was a kool offer - we went on a 12-mile helicopter ride for $15/person. We went upto 2k-ft high, and reached a speed of upto 160mph. My first helicopter ride was an experience I will remember.

We reached Chattanooga at around 1pm. We first visited the Inclined Railway - this was a kool hogwash. It is called the world's steepest passenger railway line - although I wud argue over that. It was not a train, but just a coach thatz pulled by rope, and I guess neither wud it be used by passengers. It doesnt go anywhere, there r two coaches tagged to the two ends of the rope, and as one goes down the other goes up. Neverthless, it was a kool journey, with the line inclining upto 73 degrees near the top!

Later we visited Rock City gardens, which is a garden amidst the rocky areas, and from one point there, they claim one can see 7 states - Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia - although u never know where one state ends, and another begins!

Next on our agenda was the Ruby Falls - which I wud rate the best part of our journey. This underground 160-ft falls lied hidden in the mist of the caves of the Lookout mountains till abt 80 yrs back, when while drilling the mountain ppl noticed a gush of air, and figured out there was another cave in there. 3 of them - I dont recollect the names now - ventured into the narrow openings in the cave, most of the time crawling - and at some point they could hear water falling from great heights. They discovered what is now considered the highest underground waterfall - or as Ramendra insists, largest "known" underground waterfall. By the time they were able to crawl their way back, they were in the caves for 17-hrs!. The falls was named as Ruby after the wife of one of those guyz, and now itz a fully exploited falls, with scenic pathways thru the caves that take u to the falls. The limestone studded caves keeps the temperature inside the caves at abt 60F thru'out the yr. The walk thru the caves was also amazing, observing all the formations that have taken place over millions of yrs, and still growing. The stalactites and stalagmites, and their fusion, the limestone formations that look like chandelier, tortoise, elephant foot, etc, and the amazing falls..........where water seems to becoming from nowhere. It was an amazing sight.

That night we had food in an Indian restaurant (which we could identify courtesy the GPS we had in the car) in downtown Chattanooga. Chattanooga is of course a much bigger place as against Gatlinburg.

Next day, we set on our way back. On the way we were going thru Nashville, the capital of Tennessee. Amit's cousin told us that there'z a hotel in Nashville that is the world's second largest hotel. Again courtesy GPS, we were able to identify Hotel Gaylord Opryland. It was a beautiful place, with a 44-ft waterfall, a big park with fountains, etc. Would've preferred to stay in the hotel, except that I wud've gobe broke after paying $200/nite for it ;-)

Nashville has a major India presence, and we identified another Indian restaurant there and had lunch there. On our way back, we got stuck near Indianapolis in traffic jam. Again we used the GPS to get out of it - it gave us directions to go to Indiapolis skipping the freeeway! We finally reached home at around 10:30pm on Sunday Nov 30th.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Thanksgiving, and the day after!

Was not able to blog for some time now.....a combination of work and laziness ;-)
Anywayz, Nov 27th was Thanksgiving Day and Nov 28th was also a holiday as "Day after Thanksgiving". Day after Thanksgiving is the day when u get the best deals for shopping in US....the shops will be open from 5-6am in the mroning, and by 10-11am, there wud be very few items left in any shop......everything wud be brought! I heard that ppl crowd to the shops by 3-4am! Reminded me of the q for kerosene back in Bangalore ;-)
Saw in news that Walmart made business of 1.5 billion dollars on that single day!!! Just goes on to show th effectiveness of such "festivals". I really apperciate Americans for planning their holidayz for maximum benefit! Must appreciate their thoughtfulness!

A history of Thanksgiving at

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