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Alaska Travelogue

posted Aug 13, 2011, 7:51 PM by Vishal Verma   [ updated Aug 15, 2011, 3:10 AM ]

Day 1 – August 2nd

                The excitement soars, as we prepare to leave for this long awaited trip – to Alaska. We have wanted to do this almost ever since we arrived in the United States and finally it is happening – an exciting gift to ourselves for graduating with a Master’s degree!

                After nearly 8 hours of travel including a stop at Salt Lake City, Utah, we prepare to land at Anchorage, Alaska. Even though it is nearly midnight, the sky has a bright blue tinge at the horizon. I have no idea whether it was the sunset or sunrise or the perpetual brightness that might be expected at these altitudes and latitude… Welcome to the great North!

                We stayed at Alaska backpackers Inn, a hostel with bunk beds and shared bathrooms – to keep the costs down. Next day we would be picking up our rental car and heading to Seward.


Day 2 – August 3rd

                A tan Chevy Impala – that’s where we would be spending a large chunk of our trip and harvesting some great memories! The road to Seward beckons, but not before we stop at a Wal-Mart to grab some supplies for the road. Seward is a port south of Anchorage, on the Resurrection bay. We stopped at a beautiful town called Girdwood for breakfast – sandwiches and coffee, and headed on to Portage for a short glacier tour by boat. The weather gods didn’t think too highly of that as we learned all cruises were cancelled for the day. What was a light drizzle on land was a bigger storm out at sea. We went the rest of the way to Seward and visited the Alaska Sea-life Center. It was a magnificent collection of creatures of the water – from the microscopic brine shrimp to the mammoth steller sea lions, it was an exhilarating journey! Next we headed to Exit glacier – it used to be a roadside glacier but due to prolonged melting this wasn’t the case anymore. We went up to a point but after that the melt-water was so much that it had flooded the road and we couldn’t drive further. People were wearing long boots – coming up to the belt and wading through the rushing water. We didn’t do go further because it was getting late and we would have to go out to get the equipment. Instead we went to our hotel – Moby Dick – which was essentially one room assigned to us in an apartment. Time to get some rest for the long cruise planned for the next day!


Day 3 – August 4th

                This is it – the first big thing we planned for in Alaska – an eight hour long cruise starting at the Resurrection bay. The weather was somewhat overcast with occasional rains, but nothing too bad. We hoped to sight some sea-life and boy we did! (Be warned, the boats head into open sea, where the waters may get rough – and one of us got sea-sick!) We saw multiple humpback whales, and a couple of times taking off for a long dive and showing off their signature dorsal fins. It was a sight to behold, watching the seagulls gather where the whale was, and then scatter away when it surfaced with an impressive spray! Our next big sightings included a school of playful Orca whales, some lazy sea-lions, many puffins and bald eagles, and some seals. We headed off to Aialik bay to see the Aialik Glacier. It is a tidewater glacier which terminates in this bay. Its source is the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Fjords National Park. The glacier is a receding one (melting off more ice than it accumulates), and it calves directly into the bay. We could see chunks of ice floating all around the bay as we approached the glacier. The actual glacier was an awe inspiring sight. It was the first time in my life that I saw the face of a glacier up close – and it isn’t something I can ever forget. The valley pushes and grinds the icy face, and we could literally hear the glacier roaring. We stood and stared at it for the longest time – awestruck and belittled by nature’s force... Time to head back – we saw another couple of humpbacks on the way, but no black bears as we had hoped. We drove back to Anchorage and stayed at Qupiqugiaq Inn. An inventive name, little reviewed online but a great place for the price!


Day 4 – August 5th

                Bad weather again! We were scheduled to do a flight-seeing tour in Talkeetna, fly around Mt. McKinley and land on a glacier – but all of that had to be cancelled due to a storm in the area. We rescheduled this to August 10th – right at the end of our trip. Instead we went northeast first, to Mat-Su Valley to do a glacier hike. Again, we selected a company little reviewed online, for its lower price and the convenience of doing a personal, self-timed hike with only our group. Our guide, Sam was a most inspiring person – he was planning on doing a Master’s in Glaciology at the University of Alaska, and knew a tremendous lot about the glacier. We strapped on some micro-spikes (a kind of mini-crampons for some basic walking on ice) to our shoes and on to the ice! Another life-first for me, walking on glacial ice! We drank some of the thousand-year-old water melting and flowing on top of the ice – talk about really pure water :)

                Thrilled by this experience, we weren’t so disappointed about rescheduling our flightseeing tour any more, even though it meant we would now have to go to Talkeetna and do pretty much nothing, and then return on another day. Our accommodation at Talkeetna was at Traleika Cabins, run by Whitney who is a most helpful lady, and her cabins are at a great location on top of a hill with breathtaking views of the Denali National Park and the Alaska Range right from our deck and loft/bedroom window! Our continuing bad-luck with the weather meant we couldn’t see most of the range from here too but our nightover here was great nonetheless.


Day 5 – August 6th

We started off visiting Talkeetna downtown, which is a cute little place with some great food and a strong presence of bush flying all over town. We spent a lot of time exploring the local shops, had lunch and did a short hike along a river bank. Later we headed off to Denali, checked out some gift shops there, and had dinner. We stayed at Alaskan Spruce cabins, which was in Healy. They were well maintained and large and comfortable, and for a decent price. We played some cards and retired early for we had a really early start the next day – going into the park!


Day 6 – August 7th

The Denali National park is a huge place, mostly untouched, rich with wildlife and rife with forests. It houses the Alaska Range including Mt. McKinley – the tallest peak in North America. It has an approximately one hundred mile road winding through to the heart of the park, ending at Kantishna. The park road is only open to national park buses. We took the shuttle all the way to Kantishna, a 12 hour Round trip. Our very first wildlife sighting was a Bull Caribou up in the distance. This was followed by a Lynx cat, which are rare to see, and then a grizzly bear! Soon after we reached a somewhat action packed site. A few days ago some wolves had hunted down a caribou. A bear chased away the wolves and claimed the carcass its own, and then a bigger bear drove away the first bear and had been guarding and eating the carcass. When we reached there, we could see the bigger bear and carcass, and the other bear circling around… Moving on, the weather worsened and it started raining and then snowing. But soon it cleared up and we came really close to the Alaska Range. Things brightened up and we could actually see the peaks (North and South Peak) of Mt. McKinley (or Mt. Denali as it used to be called, our driver Jeremy informed us) for the first time in our trip. We went on to Kantishna – there was a small air strip there and a few private lodges. We learnt of some of the history of Fannie Quigley and saw her old cabin. The journey back was equally delightful. We spotted a grizzly right off the edge of the road. The site with the bear guarding the caribou carcass had some new drama. A lone wolf was approaching the site. It would come up close to the bear and then the bear would stand up in defense. The wolf would back away and approach from another direction but the bear was quite alert! On the meanwhile two other bears were roaming in the background picking berries – staying in the area but not approaching the carcass directly. It was a wonder to watch from a road upon a hill, the creatures of the wild in a silent not-fighting battle for survival, and for food. We had to move out of the area soon – and on our way back we got off the bus for a walk along a part of the road. It was a unique feeling to walk in utter silence, except for the occasional bus, and the sounds of birds and trees! We hopped on to another bus after a while of walking spotted a couple more caribou and then we were back out. Dinner was surprisingly good Thai food from an RV-converted-to-a-take-away. We ate in our cabin and hit the beds after a long and memorable trip into the wild.


Day 7 – August 8th

                It was bright and sunny as we started out on the road to Fairbanks, one of the northernmost cities on the globe. We stopped at a small town called Nenana for lunch, and continued on. At Fairbanks we first went to the ice sculpture museum in downtown, which was somewhat of a disappointment – we had higher hopes. We then learnt that there was another Ice museum – the Aurora Ice Museum which was at the end of the Chena Hot Springs Road, 60 miles away from the city. We had nothing else planned and decided to go for it. It would turn out to be one of the best decisions we made on the trip. The road to Chena Hot Springs Lodge is relatively isolated, and has a lot of trails for hiking/ATVs as well as campgrounds. It is surrounded by dense forest in a lot of places, and we saw three moose on this road, one literally crossing the road in front of us. The Lodge itself is entirely self-sustained – harvesting geothermal energy and growing their own produce. It houses the Ice museum, all the creations in which are by Steve and his wife, who are champions in the field. The Ice sculptures themselves were marvelous pieces of art. There were fighting knights, an igloo with an ice xylophone that one can actually play, a castle tower, ice bedrooms which one could actually stay at for a night, giant ice chess, an ice bar with ice stools and appletini served in ice glasses. Everything was extremely well made with great coloring using lights.

                Our accommodation in this area was with Lizzie’s Nest Bed and Breakfast. We were lucky to get a reservation here – it was only due to an earlier cancellation that room got made for us. Our hosts were Ted and Elizabeth Baker. They have set up a guest apartment as a part of their own house – it is up north from the city in the hills and has great views and is extremely quiet and peaceful. Ted and Liz themselves were very warm and hospitable, and Ted had some interesting stories to tell about the house, his and Liz’s families and general history of the area. Our dinner was ‘Maggie’ instant noodles, only because we were too late and far from the city to go out. This night was also our best shot at spotting an aurora borealis, or ‘northern lights’ but it was too cloudy and we had no luck there…


Day 8 – August 9th

                Ted and Liz made us an excellent Alaskan breakfast of sourdough pancakes, with homemade jams – strawberry, blueberry, and birch and syrups – blueberry, fireweed and maple … We made some of our own Chai tea to compliment the breakfast. Liz maintains a scrapbook with pictures of all her guests and we were happy to be included. Time to leave – we headed to the city of North Pole, southeast of Fairbanks. It has the house of Santa Claus, and as proclaimed by their website, it is truly a place where the spirit of Christmas lives year round! Next stop was the ‘Knotty Shop’ which gets its name from the knotty wooden structures it has in the front lawn. We treated ourselves to some excellent ice-cream and moved on. The weather turned progressively rainy again, and our hopes for experiencing the beautiful views of the Alaska Range from the famous Richardson Highway vanished into the clouds. We wanted to go as far as we can before retiring for the night, because we had our flightseeing tour scheduled at Talkeetna for the next day. We did an impromptu reservation at a hotel in Palmer and shot for it, not stopping much along the way. It was late evening, but still bright outside – we rushed through the Matanuska valley along the Glenn Highway and caught some amazing views of the serpentine length of the glacier we had walked on earlier. By midnight, we reached our hotel, Valley Inn and luckily they had a 24/7 café for we were starving!  


Day 9 – August 10th

                The last and easily the most memorable day of the trip. We left Palmer at 11:30 AM and called up K2 Aviation to confirm our reservation times. Surprise surprise! We were under the impression that we had a 3PM reservation, but it turned out that when rescheduling we had asked for 1PM! We were supposed to report at 12:30 and there was no way we would make it in time. We requested them to make alternate arrangements, and they were very helpful and scheduled us for a 3PM Lake landing with a float equipped plane instead of the glacier landing. We were initially apprehensive of the change, but as it would turn out – this would become the most exhilarating thing we did on the trip! The float plane would take off from a lake instead of the airstrip. We approached the deHavilland and were thrilled – it was the first time I was about to fly in such a small, propeller aircraft – and I had always wanted to do this (and eventually fly one too – someday)! We boarded and buckled up and had a smooth take off from the water. Our pilot was highly experienced and had great knowledge of the local area which he was glad to share with us. Soon enough we were into the mountains, and here we saw some of the most breathtaking views – something I am sure is a once-in-a-lifetime. The sun seemed to have come out just for us, and we felt extremely lucky to be doing this in such good weather! We saw huge glaciers on the mountainsides and in the valleys amidst an untouched icy landscape, with the towering Mt. McKinley showing its beautiful peaks. Soon, we reached a lake – only 60 odd years old – formed by glacial melt-water. This was where we would be landing! We trekked up a small hill and treated ourselves to some great views of the Range surrounding us on all sides and our little plane in the glacial lake. Alongwith the four of us on the tour, was a British woman, who was travelling Alaska – but without a vehicle. She had a small foldable bike which she used to get around, and otherwise hitchhiked and stayed at hostels. It was great to hear her stories – she had been in the state since a month and a half, and was on a completely free, schedule-less trip, without even having booked a return ticket home! I definitely want to do something like this some time! Time to take off again – some more great views – we tried to spot some Moose in the marshes on the way, but no luck there – they probably wanted to stay in because of the sun. After an uneventful but nonetheless spectacular landing, all of our adventures for this trip were over. We were so awed that we didn’t want to talk. With heavy hearts, and unforgettable memories, we headed to Anchorage, had some incredible Indian food at Bombay Deluxe and dropped off the rental car. Our flights were the same route as we came by, and we spent the night in aircrafts and airports. 


Maulik Kapuria - www.maulikkapuria.com

Niket Shah - www.niketshah.net

Tanvi Shah

Vishal Verma

All the excellent photographs - Courtesy Maulik Kapuria

Alaska Slideshow

Spring semester done

posted May 4, 2011, 3:49 PM by Vishal Verma

Happy endings on both classes :)

Now, time for:

Fun with cvs and grep

posted Apr 12, 2011, 12:28 PM by Vishal Verma   [ updated Apr 12, 2011, 11:47 PM ]

I happen to work on a huge code base which has a gazillion files, and whenever I do a cvs update I'm forced to look at messages like :

 cvs update: Updating <path0> 
 cvs update: Updating <path1> 
 cvs update: Updating <path2> 
 cvs update: Updating <path3> 

which contain no changed files and tend to fill up my entire screen.
So I played around with piping the cvs output to grep and got some nicer results.

 ? build             
 ? logs              
 ? temp              
 M <path4>/<file0.c> 
 C <path5>/<file1.c> 
 P <path6>/<file2.c> 

This lists only the files that were added/modified etc. and gives me a much better idea of what has been changing.

Here's the command which I used - with some trial and error and a bit of Googling:

cvs up -P -d 2>&1 | grep -v "cvs update: "* | grep --color 'U \|P \|A \|R \|M \|C \|? '

and here's an explanation:

cvs update -P -d update, Prune empty directories, build new directories
2>&1pipe stderr also (cvs outputs to stderr, not stdout) 
grep -v "cvs update: "*  grep -v inverts grep, so discards all lines beginning with "cvs update: " (wildcard has to be outside quotes) 
grep --color 'U \|P \|A \|R \|M \|C \|? ' Optional, but colors the file 'status' (default red, set GREP_COLOR in env to change) 

Looking Good

posted Feb 13, 2011, 3:43 AM by Vishal Verma   [ updated Mar 25, 2011, 5:55 PM ]

I have a basic structure for my website set up, I have a domain which I have successfully linked to my google-hosted website, and its not jsut simple redirection from my domain to sites.google.com! All of my pages show the URL as <mydomain.net>/<page> which is awesome!!
The best part is all this took no more than a few hours of work :)

I need a website!!

posted Feb 13, 2011, 12:19 AM by Vishal Verma   [ updated Mar 25, 2011, 5:56 PM ]

I thought I should make myself a website. Looking at the plethora of web editors confuses me. So I decided to turn to Google's offering!
Lets see how things roll!!

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