Game of Thrones: A Reader’s Dilemma (No Spoilers)

A great season four of Game of Thrones has come to an end and this meme is relevant again.


But life has to go on; and allow the gaping hole left by this magnificent show’s absence to be filled by other magnificent, addictive shows, games and/or movies. Ahem … anyways, moving on.

Having read all five books of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) series by George R. R. Martin last year, I thought this season would mainly be expectation-based i.e. ‘How are they going to show this?’, ‘I hope they do justice to his death’, ‘Please, please don’t cut that character out!’ etc. But the show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have made changes to the show that got me (and many other book readers) thinking about a lot of things.

Dan Weiss and David Benioff: The show runners

Dan Weiss and David Benioff: The show runners

As an insurance policy for HBO against anything happening to GRRM (may the Seven, the Old Gods, the Drowned God and the Lord of Light keep him safe), the show runners know how the series is going to end. GRRM has mentioned in a couple of interviews that while they do know the ending, they’re not privy to all of the subtle plot twists and events that take us there. Hell, even he doesn’t know some of them yet! Now why should that bother me? Well, any changes they make in the show, any characters they cut out have readers thinking on the lines of ‘Wait, so this guy ultimately dies? Why did GRRM write so much about him for the last couple of books?!’ This is how the show has subtly started spoiling the books.

It gets worse. In the interest of producing great television material (and I agree with their choices most of the time), David and Dan have realigned some of the story-lines in the books. In fact, some of the story arcs feel more clean and polished than the books. But that has become an issue because GRRM does not give equal page time to all the characters. As a result, a certain character’s story arc on the show (end of season four) has already reached the fifth book! Everything they show about this character in season five is likely to be a book spoiler.

THIS. NOW! Please? :-(

THIS. NOW! Please? 😦

Readers have already been dealing with the fact that many of their favorite scenes and characters will be cut in the process of adapting for television. But now there is a bigger, more serious conflict brewing. In many ASOIAF fan sites, forums and sub-reddits, fans have said they will stop watching the show if it catches up to, and surpasses, the books. Well, that’s not going to happen. Due to the show’s immense popularity, people who plan to watch an episode within twenty four hours of the first airing can’t manage avoiding spoilers! So it is going to be a tough call for book readers who want to stick to the story told by GRRM. I envy people who are just following the show, constantly getting blown away by one of the best television productions of our time, blissfully oblivious to the amazing characters and scenes they are missing out on.

A solution to this? Learning magic to somehow make GRRM write the last couple of books ASAP! Based on how he announced the completion of the fifth book (A Dance With Dragons), I am sincerely hoping to see more dead King Kongs soon.


Greatest Snow On Earth: Part 3

Finally, after many delays, here’s the third and final part of my Utah trip back in December 2013. If you don’t know what I am talking about, here you go! Part three covers days four and five of the trip.

Thank you for the great support and encouragement I have received from many of you while writing 🙂

Part 1
Part 2

Day 4 – 30th December, 2013

Our skiing lesson was scheduled from one till four and we were expected to arrive by noon to be in a position to start on time. Since the drive to Park City was expected to take four hours, we had planned to leave by seven. But by the time we were on highway 191, it was already 7:20. Park City is just a half an hour’s drive away from Salt Lake City, in the mountains. It hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The morning drive allowed us to see some great sights. Visible to our far right were the red borders of Arches. The road ahead was a clear, dark-grey line through a field of white snow patches. The accumulated snow had melted considerably since we came down this road a couple of days ago. At one point, the road curved and we were headed directly towards a ‘wall’ of rock plateaus (weird description, I know; the picture should help). It was  freezing cold that morning. The desert sunlight was making it hard for us to believe that the temperature was minus fifteen degrees outside on this clear, sunny day. Throughout the northward drive, we could see mountains on the right; the countless wrinkles on their sides adding to the beauty.

(Special thanks to my friend and bandmate Yashodhan for allowing me to use his composition in the video!)

There had been no time for breakfast that morning. By the time we neared the city of Provo, we started looking for places to eat nearby. Since we were still on the highway, we decided to use the Cherokee’s built-in navigation. Search results for ’Subway’ showed one nearby and we took the first exit towards it. In our rush to quickly find a place to eat (and not waste time) we only looked at the distances. As it turned out, we actually went back south on an internal road! The stop was a quick one. On our way in, we met a woman who asked us which part of India we were from. She informed us that she had lived in Chennai for six months or so; probably as part of a Christian mission, from the way she mentioned a few things. While eating, Saurabh called up the ski resort to inform them of a possible delay in our arrival.

Leaving Provo, we started on the Provo Canyon Road that would take us through the mountains. The drive was superb. While traveling south from SLC to Moab, we had taken a different, more direct route. As the mountains around us opened up, we were greeted by a beautiful view of the Deer Creek Reservoir. In a few miles, we could see Deer Creek State Park to our left. The scenic drive along the lake lasted for the next seven miles or so. No pictures clicked from the moving Jeep did justice to the beauty of the lake. In a few miles, we started climbing. It wasn’t a typical mountain road climb but a gradual one with hardly any hairpin turns. We were on a plateau of sorts, waiting to get closer to the mountain. On our right we saw the Jordanelle Reservoir.

We continued to climb. But it didn’t feel like climbing. As we got closer to Park City, the plateau ended and we started on the slope of a mountain. It’s worth mentioning that even the mountain road had three lanes on each side!

Park City, UT

I have never been to Switzerland. But based on what I’ve read and seen on TV, it must certainly have places like Park City. Small, crowded, but pretty roads. Slope-y streets, with cozy shops, cafés and restaurants. Houses with sloping roofs with the mountains in the backdrop. I’ve seen a few places around the US in the last two and a half years or so but for the first time I felt I was in a different, European country.

Of course, we didn’t have time to enjoy all that right away as we were forty-five minutes behind schedule already. We reached the skiing resort at quarter to one. Our training was scheduled from one till four. As we entered the parking lot of the resort, there were ‘Parking Full’ signboards everywhere. Saurabh and Madhavi got down at the entrance and went ahead to speak with the instructor. Vikram and I circled the large parking lot in vain, three times at least. There was a lot of activity in that lot. Open cars and SUVs; people carrying rented gear; unpacking their skis, boots, jackets, head gear, eye gear and snowboards; children walking across the road in their tiny ski boots, holding their parent’s hand.

A traffic guard advised us to go down the slope a couple of blocks, where there was a public parking lot. A bus would get us to the resort in no time, he added. But somehow we weren’t quite convinced. In a lane adjacent to the resort, we found a street parking spot. In the meantime, Madhavi called to let us know that we should come quickly, as the instructor was getting irritated with the delay. There were even talks of postponing the skiing session to the next morning; an impossible task in the middle of the holiday season, we quickly found out. Grabbing our sacks and jackets from the boot, we made our way to the resort.

Our trainer was a tall, well-built guy who always seemed to have a smile on his face. He wore a bright red sports suit (trainer’s uniform, we realized later) and bright blue ski boots. After introductions, he quickly marched us off to the equipment rental section. We filled out applications on the registration computers and proceeded to get our boots.

Losing balance frequently: I was prepared for it; falling on my back or face: expected; kids laughing at my ski skills: no problem. But I wasn’t ready for ski boots! Those were the most uncomfortable pair of boots I’ve worn in my life. They were tight, as they should be. Also, it didn’t help that we were supposed to tuck our snow pants, in my case: jeans, into the boots. Putting the boots on was one thing, walking with them on was even worse. Having your ankle locked for the first time makes you feel like a one year old taking their first steps. Nevertheless, all of us managed to start walking and proceeded to get our skis and poles.

Then there was the eyewear issue. With a great sense of timing, my sunglasses had broken a few weeks before the trip. Replacing them wasn’t an easy task due to the delay in getting new prescription lenses made. For some reason I thought a ski resort might do eyewear rental as well; a thought that was quickly shot down by the instructor with ‘possible eye infections’ as an explanation. So my options were to ski without eyewear or spend sixty dollars on something I would hardly use again after a few hours. I asked the instructor if eyewear was really, really essential for skiing. He looked at me thoughtfully for a few seconds with his green eyes and said ‘You might do fine for a couple of hours; you’ve got dark eyes’. My perplexed expression prompted him to add ‘it’s just that the bright reflection from the snow can burn your retinas if you have light-colored eyes.’ Great! A fun thought to have during my first ski lesson. Anyways, I returned empty handed to join the others. It turned out all of us were skiing without eyewear!

Carrying our equipment, we headed out of the rental area. Just when I thought I was getting used to the boots, we found ourselves at the bottom of a long staircase. At one point it got so bad, I had to climb the stairs sideways, which wasn’t a significant improvement. Reaching the top, we waded through the crowd and finally got onto the snow. The winter sun was about to slip behind the mountain, casting a long shadow on the slope. There was hardly any glare. So much for retina burning.

‘Put your equipment down and get into this position’ said our instructor as we reached the edge of the slope. We were on the opposite side of the entrance to the snow. It was a slope with an ‘easy’ difficulty level, not the small, confined area where kids learn to ski. Our instructor was skiing without any poles, hands behind his back. We were also informed of the ‘pizza slice’ (wedge) position used to stop while skiing. The instructor made us practice getting into the position without skis; it was going to be more difficult with the skis on. We were also told how to hold a ski pole and why its cord loop has to be wrapped around our hand. ‘If you just put your thumb in it, it’s going to get ripped of if the pole gets caught in someone’s skis.’ Fascinating!

A short while later, we managed to put on the right ski and were told to walk around: taking a step with the left foot and sliding with the right. Before putting on the second ski, we were told to make sure we were standing perpendicular to the slope.

The first thing I realized was how heavy the skis were! Of course, they have to match the height and more importantly, the weight of the person wearing them. So let’s not follow that train of thought. Since Saurabh had skied before, he spoke with the instructor briefly and started going down the slope gradually. The instructor proceeded to help Vikram. Madhavi and I were standing by. Madhavi’s discomfort due to the boots was growing by the minute. I don’t know if she was scared or not but she looked terribly uncomfortable. As Vikram got going, the instructor turned towards me.

He asked me to be in the wedge position and moved a few feet away. I was told to gradually make my skis parallel to each other. As I did it, I started moving. A bit too fast for my liking. And so I managed to stop. The second time I tried to get into the wedge position, I did it too quickly, and while attempting to counterbalance the abrupt stop, fell backwards. But the snow was soft as a feather mattress. Skiing: 1, Ice Skating: 0.

Getting up proved to be quite a challenge. Since I had fallen flat on my back, my legs were on either side, stuck in an awkward position due to locked ankles. The instructor came over and asked me to turn sideways and get my legs together. After that I rolled to an upright position again. And then he said ‘Alright, just grab your knees and stand.’ Well, that wasn’t going to happen. ‘Come on, the skis move your centre of gravity and so you can easily do it while wearing ‘em.’ And it worked!

Looking at our overall (slow) progress, the instructor asked Vikram and myself to go over to the smaller, training slope. We managed to get to the other side of the slope at a slow and steady speed. As we were crossing, kids as young as five were swishing by us; effortlessly, casually dodging two clumsy, grown-up beginners. By this point Saurabh was already on the ski lift, wanting to conquer the easy slope at least. Madhavi was looking more and more uneasy as the instructor was speaking with her.

The training slope was fun. Gradual, wide and it had conveyer belts to bring us back to the top. A couple of iterations later, I was able to move and stop without falling! The instructor then came over and asked me to follow him down the slope. He was facing me. As I began to move, he started turning into a snake-like ’S’ pattern. I was quite excited to reach the end of the slope without falling. He asked me to continue practicing turns. Vikram was doing the same. Saurabh had also joined us.

A wonderful first-time experience!

A wonderful first-time experience!

And then it was over. Before saying goodbye, we managed to get our picture taken with the instructor. Tired and hurting from the ski boots, we made our way back to the resort to return the equipment. Oh the joy of wearing plain, simple, flat snow shoes again; it felt like I had switched to flip-flops! We headed to cozy coffee shop in the resort and miraculously managed to find a ‘sofa spot’ in the crowded café. The atmosphere was wonderful. Christmas decorations were all over the place. Families, friends, couples, small and large groups were immersed in the joy of the holiday season.

We were booked in at The Yarrow Resort Hotel & Conference Center. Everyone was exhausted by the time we checked-in. But this was going to be our only evening in Park City and so we freshened up and headed out again. Parking the Cherokee in a tight street spot one block away, we started walking towards Main Street.

The narrow street was packed with people: walking, window shopping, waiting to be seated at restaurants and just hanging out; sporting a myriad of winter jackets and boots. Many shops had an antique-y feel about them. Most of the establishments had holiday decorations. The slight slope of the street added to the beauty of the lights. Even though we were tired and hurting from the skiing session, we walked up and down quite a lot on the street. We saw a restaurant by the name of Bangkok Thai on Main and spontaneously (!) decided to have dinner there. Through its pavement-level windows, we could see most of the tables, and mouth-watering dishes, below. The entrance led to a downward staircase. A polite gentleman in the foyer informed us about a twenty minute waiting time. We agreed, reserved a spot in the line, and went out on the street for more exploration; of souvenirs, in the nearby gift shop.

Dinner started with our server asking us if we would like some wine. He insisted, as they had a collection of more than two thousand! The wine menu was a thick one; Tyrion Lannister would have been proud! After hopelessly looking through the menu, the only thing we agreed upon was that paying two thousand dollars for a bottle of wine was crazy. And so we asked the server to get us an ‘affordable red wine, not too sweet’. The food was delicious. One portion each of curry, noodles and rice sufficed for the four of us. An hour and a half later, we headed back to the hotel.

In spite of being tired, full and sleepy, we managed to play a few rounds of Uno (with ‘7-0’ rules) before falling asleep.

Day 5 – 31st December, 2013

The final day. One of the things on the agenda for the day was ‘waking up late’. After four days of not getting sleep, everyone took it a little easy this morning. The aftereffects of skiing for the first (second for Saurabh) time were quite apparent. At around 9:30, we walked to an Einstein Bros bagel shop nearby. A spinach-and-egg everything bagel, along with black vanilla coffee made for a great (but light) breakfast. On our way walk back, we explored a few blocks behind the hotel.

A better agenda item for the day was the Alpine Coaster. Back at the Park City Mountain ski resort, we stood in line to buy the rather expensive tickets ($20 a pop). But having watched a point-of-view video of the ride, even $50 wouldn’t have stopped us. The sky was heavy and overcast; the diffused light making the snow-covered mountains shine. If we were on a hike in these conditions, a ridiculous number of photos would have been clicked. We walked across the beginner slope (in regular snow boots for a change!) to the far side of the resort to get to the coaster.

Park City Mountain Resort. Crossing the slope was quite an intense activity!

Park City Mountain Resort. Crossing the slope was quite an intense activity!

The Alpine Coaster is a pretty unique ride. Tracks are laid on the slopes of the Wasatch mountain, weaving through trees and snow. The ‘sleds’ glide on the steel rails and have a controllable braking mechanism to reduce speed. A chain system pulls the sled up the slope. The ride up is quite slow and allows you to enjoy the beautiful scenery in peace. Unless you are constantly worried about speeding back down the mountain in a few minutes. Words cannot describe the experience of riding a roller coaster (neither can a YouTube video actually) but please check out the video below. The conditions in the video (snow, sky) are almost identical. Skip to 8:45 in the video if you want to jump to the downhill part.

Near the alpine coaster, after the exhilarating experience!

Near the alpine coaster, after the exhilarating experience!

While walking back across the ski slope, we were tempted to ski again. The discussion got to a point where we stopped for a moment, ready to turn back, but decided to head back to Salt Lake City. We had quite some time to spare in SLC, before taking part in any New Year celebrations. As usual, Saurabh – the ‘local’ boy – suggested visiting Antelope Island, close to SLC. He was a bit skeptical due to the overcast sky but since we had nothing better to do, we went ahead with the two-hour drive.

Antelope Island, UT

Salt Lake City gets its name from the Great Salt Lake that lies on its northwestern side. Antelope Island is a large island in the Great Salt Lake. The causeway to the island was as straight as an arrow for a long time. We stopped near a small booth to pay the entrance fee. The ambience outside was surreal. The road was a striking black line in a sea of white all around us. We were practically inside the overcast weather! Visibility was quite poor; we couldn’t see the lake at all. A marshy smell and vague dark plains were the only indications that there was water on either side of the road.

As we got onto the island, the fog started thinning and we got our first glimpse of the landscape around us. It was quite a mixture: swampy, icy patches covered with snow; snow-capped hills in the distance; flat plains stretching out far into the fog; patches of short, dull-green and brown shrubs and grass covered with snow. But the most striking (and slightly unsettling) thing was the lack of movement. Apart from a couple of cars passing us in the opposite direction we saw nothing else. You’d think a place called Antelope Island would be full of antelopes, right? Or at least you would expect to see a few here and there.

‘That’s an antelope over there!’ one of us said as the Jeep pulled into the parking lot of the visitors center. We could see a dark silhouette of the majestic animal a few feet away from the lot. But every step we took towards it made us realize that it was a (well done) sculpture. Slightly disappointed, we clicked a few photos (how many times did you spot Vikram in the panorama above?) and went inside for information. The island is a twenty-eight thousand acre mass of land within the Great Salt Lake. Rocks as old as 1.7 billion years have been found here. But the most interesting part was finding out that the animal with the greatest population on Antelope Island is … the Bison. Yeah.

The Antelope Island causeway.

The Antelope Island causeway.

Saurabh mentioned that there was an interesting place on the southern part of the island. A ranch. Not quite convinced that a ranch would be interesting, we headed south along the Antelope Island road; sticking close to the eastern edge of the island.

The Fielding Garr ranch has the oldest house in Utah. It was established in 1848. The reason this place is so special is because many of the artifacts and buildings on the ranch are still there. When we walked into a large shed, it was like walking into a period movie set. Apart from a couple of other people, there was no one on the ranch. The ranch caretaker, a septuagenarian with hair as white as the snow around us, chatted with us for ten minutes or so. The scenery around us was amazing. The ranch was so isolated in the vast, snow-covered desert it looked like a location remote place in New Zealand that could be used as location for Middle Earth.

View from inside the ranch. That's how postcards are framed, I'm sure!

View from inside the ranch. That’s how postcards are framed, I’m sure!

It was almost 4:30 PM (and getting dark) by the time we left the island, heading back to Salt Lake City. Madhavi was feeling a little unwell. All of us were tired. The fact that we had missed lunch did not help. We decided to have a late lunch at a place called Taste of India. We devoured the soup, dal and paneer at a ridiculous speed; I don’t even remember the taste!

Salt Lake City, UT

The Utah State Capitol was our next destination. The building had an imposing presence and great architecture. Having visited Washington, DC last year, I had thought that this would be just another government building. But it was great experience. As we walked around it, the path was, at places, flanked by detailed statues. It was also quite icy and I slipped a couple of times but managed to stay on my feet.

Utah State Capitol

Utah State Capitol

After that, it was decision time: either check-in at our hotel, or start the New Year celebrations a little early. We went with the later one and went to the historic Temple Square. The place was covered with decorations. Trees were lit up orange in their entirety. Red, green, and yellow lights were seen covering short poles; creating the effect of short christmas trees. The beautiful Salt Lake Temple was lit up in a pale white light at the base; a pristine white light glowed from the top of the towers at the four corners of the building.

Salt Lake Temple. The only picture I could take that did not have a million people getting in the way!

Salt Lake Temple. The only picture I could take that did not have a million people getting in the way!

We stumbled upon a live performance in Salt Lake Tabernacle next to the temple and decided to go in and watch. The tabernacle had a slightly rotund, oval-shaped structure. The seats in the orchestra section were long wooden benches. The balconies had wooden railings. The highlight of the structure was the massive organ at its end. We managed to find seats at the back, just in time for the organ performance. Next up were Irish step-dancers. After that, a soprano prodigy stunned us with her performance. It was the first time I had seen a live soprano and I am sure it wasn’t my last! Since the tabernacle was built before the era of microphones, it was designed to have good acoustics.

The Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ. Photo by Saurabh.

The Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ. Photo by Saurabh.

By the time it was 8:00, we were feeling exhausted. We figured that staying here for another hour of so would mean missing the New Years’ celebration. We checked-in at out hotel by 9:00. Everyone was stretching out. Since there would be no more snow-trails to walk upon, we could finally ditch the heavy snow boots. At 11:00, it took quite a lot of will power to convince ourselves to get up, put on the heavy jackets and head out into the cold again.

The atmosphere in Temple Square was electrifying! All the roads into the square were blocked; only pedestrian traffic was allowed. Families, groups of friends, couples, all sorts of people had gathered there. A voice blared over a hidden amplifier, starting the countdown. 10 … 9 … 8 …

As 2014 showed up, a bunch of firecrackers exploded above us. And they just didn’t stop. All sorts of colors and patterns appeared above our heads in varying intervals. Every once in a while a single, massive firecracker would explode, prompting the crowd to cheer loudly. It was a wonderful place to be at. Sadly, none of us clicked any pictures. The fireworks lasted for fifteen minutes or so. A great, climactic way to end an epic trip.

San Diego, CA

Everyone was sleeping on the morning flight back to San Diego. The moment we got out of the terminal, it was a different world. A world without snow, majestic mountains, canyons, lakes, a lot of things. The Southern California sun was shining brightly in the clear sky and yet it could not melt the gloomy atmosphere in the airport shuttle as we headed home.

Utah is an amazing place! It certainly won our hearts. And because there are so many great places still unexplored there, we’re definitely going back some day.

Thank you so much for reading my first travelogue! 🙂 I am hoping to travel more and keep writing more of these. Kindly leave your thoughts in the comments section.

– Omkar

Link to Part 1 and Part 2.