Life experiences

What is it like to live the life of your dreams? A chance to do what you always wanted, without much interference and obstructions. A life worth documenting, for yourself of course. A life that inspires many others to be like you. The world is a rat race. People are not happy with what they have. Happiness! Well, it’s a subjective term. What make you happy might not work for others.

[Frame pause]

One more year has bled away. At the end of every year, I analyze all the good and bad things that occurred over and jot down the points where I lagged and need improvisation. It serves as the perfect documentation of the things to be looked back and the things to look forward to. Akin to the performance review system being done in companies during fiscal time of the year, the only difference is that here I am the person sitting with open mind on both sides of the table.

[Frame resume]

Thousands of desires, each worth dying for,
Many of them I have realized, yet I yearn for more.

In my quest to seek the meaning of life and henceforth happiness, I picked up new things, met people I never saw before, traveled places I had never been. This year, being less incoherent than the last, enlightened me about the things that I can pursue for long, as opposed to my other hobbies that didn’t live long enough to see light of another year.  As I inch towards seeing 5 summers at Microsoft, I finally have the answer to the very question that was itching in mind since quite sometime.

No matter how much my heart wants to pen it all down, I would like to choose another post for this. This is perhaps, the story of another time 🙂

2017 was the year of travel. 2 business trips to Redmond and 3 personal trips totaling 64 days, out of which I spent 49 days outside India, walking on the foreign soil. I traveled to Spiti (Himalayas) and my long time dream destination Iceland.  I learned what is it like to wander in complete wilderness in dark to chase something of value. Traveling has taught me to look life from a different perspective altogether. I now know that happiness does not always scream for money.

As I am aging (unfortunately), I realize that my interests are inclined more towards the artistic aspects of life. Artists are usually socially deprived and I am afraid to not become one.

When I wake up every morning in full health, I feel very fortunate to get a life like this. It’s not easy to forget the dark days of last year. All it takes is just one event to make you realize that how important it is to enjoy every bit of life. I have tried my best to make up for the lost moments. What keeps me alive, more important than oxygen and blood is hope. Hope that everything will be okay. I think I have learned to fake smile well. My face no longer reflects how much broken I am inside. But then, who cares? Now my life is based on one simple mantra from the Hindi movie Kal Ho Na Ho:

Share one more smile today,
Pray one more time today,
Drink one more tear today,
Live one more life today,
See one more dream today,
Who knows, there may be no tomorrow.

This year, I focused on improvising the skills I picked up in 2016 and made good progress in it. I explored fashion and landscapes.  My photography, if not great, has got some recognition and won award. I did photoshoot of a guy who stood second rank in Star Life Mr India 2017 and my work was published in local newspapers.

Picture on the left won national award in reflection category in Photofie.

My Aurora Borealis capture from Iceland has been nominated as Mentor’s choice in Camarena Academy and World Photographic Forum. It is not a big deal, but I am happy because it’s been just 16 months since I started capturing.

While I am writing all this, I ask myself a very basic question. “Would my life be the same if I hadn’t met that accident?”. You might have guessed the correct answer.

Each phase of life is like a gift wrapped beautifully. You don’t know what you are going to find inside. Some of them can render you with packets of joy and happiness. While others can turn into your darkest nightmare. What most people usually don’t pay attention to is that you can always learn something, if not cherish.

12 lessons I learned in 2017:

  1. If you do something, put your heart and soul in it. Make sure the the result is worth the efforts.
  2. Practice whatever you like 20 minutes a day. Consistency is important
  3. You can make best of friends in weirdest of places
  4. Travel with experienced people. You will learn a thing or two
  5. There is nothing like traveling. Believe me, investing in it won’t make you a spendthrift junkie
  6. Don’t waste your time and energy impressing someone. (S)He might not see you couple of years from now. But you certainly will see YOU. Impress yourself
  7. Good things come to you if you work hard
  8. Being single is sometimes a choice
  9. Take some time out of busy schedule and take a uber look at your life. The story of Narcissus has a very deep meaning that compels us to take another look at our lives. Sometimes, we are so busy praising and criticizing ourselves that we lose the opportunity to witness the beautiful world around us. Had the lake invested a fraction of her time into looking at her surroundings , she would have known, what was it about the beauty of Narcissus that took even goddesses to pursue him in forests
  10. Choose friends wisely. It is better having one physical friend than ten virtual ones
  11. Your parents would never stop loving you. You would always be their first priority. Make sure you return the same favor
  12. Job can wait. Travel can’t. If I don’t travel every three months, my soul becomes restless

Each one of us have different ways of narrating story because we live differently, perceive differently and react differently. If you love reading my way of telling the story, you might like other experiences I penned here – My life experiences.

Here is a list of 12 things I learned in 2016

Happy new year!

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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Twelve days. Twelve people. Three cars. An anticlockwise road trip of 3500 kms in “The land of Fire and Ice”, the third windiest place on earth where weather changes every hour of the day.

When we leave our homes, when we step out of our comfort zones and escape to places we imagined only in our dreams, with bunch of people we never met before, walking in the foreign mysterious land in complete wilderness, in the quest of finding the unexplored version of us, to fathom out what’s in control and what’s not, that’s when we truly realize the gigantic possibility of unimaginable and get acquainted with vivid landscapes of life.

There is a saying in French, “Rester, c’est exister; mais voyager, c’est vivre”, which translates to “To stay is to exist but to travel is to live”. Travel, as it may seem, reminds me of train journey of life. We meet people, sometimes familiar, sometimes strangers. We talk a thing or two, share smile, share meals, share experiences, share wisdom and eventually they leave. We may not see them again. But we have to keep going to reach the destination. The essence and fun is in the journey itself. People we encounter leave a part of them in us, marking our souls forever.

Iceland was no less than a dream came true. A dream destination I had in mind since a very very long time. There are things in your life which are just beyond words. No matter how many adjectives you use to describe the magnificence and grandeur, they always fall short. Landscapes I witnessed were majestic and breathtaking. There were times I literally felt myself being teleported to one of the movies. It was fantabulous to be away from the IT world and witness the gigantic nature, beautiful mountains and humongous waterfalls. A fairyland where we experienced everything, from strong wind to spine chilling cold, from golden sunshine to dark cloudy nights, from incessant rain to misty fog and most importantly lights of the north aka Aurora Borealis. We even had a over-speeding ticket.
Like every good thing, the trip has come to an end. I wish to go back there in foreseeable future in a different season with someone I love, when fall colors will be prominent all around  

The most amazing thing about Iceland is not that it’s the third windiest place on earth. It is that hardly anyone lives on the first two places.

Though Iceland is often coined as The land of Fire and Ice, there is much more to it. Black sand beaches, gigantic waterfalls, lustrous rainbows, dramatic geyser,  hot springs, giant canyon, pristine mountains and the most exciting, northern lights.

Icelandic weather is enigmatic. It’s not the winter that matters much. It’s the wind.

Driving in Iceland can at times be insanely exhausting. Sitting at the edge of seat, with eyes glued out of the window in the fear of missing out untouched landscapes and capturing photos every five minutes until you understand you can’t keep on doing this, is the story of every new traveler there. Every scene is a photo opportunity. It is soul satisfying, breathtaking and refreshing. A day can never be the same in Iceland.

“Infinity”
On our way to the hotel, we stopped the car to capture this narrow water stream leading to the pristine mountain range. Everything in this picture is just perfect. Water resembling a stream of mercury, enough drama in the sky, the warmness in grass and the mystery in mountains.

October was a good time to visit Iceland because of couple of reasons. It was Aurora season. Days and nights were equally long. And there was less chance freezing down to death in cold.

As much awestrucking as Iceland was to me, it has left me wondering if I’ve ruined all of my trips in coming time, because I might have traveled the most beautiful place on earth. Chances are higher that a new location may not astound me the way Iceland did.

People call it Iceland. I call it Narnia.

The magnificence of Iceland lies in its vivid landscapes. Sometimes, it would freshen you up with memories of Narnia, while the chilly glacier would render you speechless reminding you of the epicness of Game of Thrones. It’s like a flight of fantasy has landed right in front of your eyes.

If you are a Bollywood fanatic, you will feel romance in many scenes. Shahrukh’s (aka King of romance) Dilwale was shot here.

“Fairy Pool”
A visit to Iceland is incomplete without this ingredient. Seljalandsfoss, probably the most reachable waterfall in Iceland attracts a lot of tourists because of one reason. It’s the only waterfall where you can walk behind and witness the beauty of the sunshine through its vertically falling crystal clear water.
Resembling the kind of pool where fairies take shower, it showered me with the epicness of Narnia.
It was a very bad day for us. 90% of the time we shot went in removing mist, flying water droplets and avoiding people in the frame. The walk to the spot where I positioned my tripod itself was very slippery and muddy

“Ice age”

Jokulsarlon Glacier is iconic because of its unique and brilliant icescape, giving a feeling that you have set foot in an ice painting. Spine chilling wind, clean fresh air and ice mountains are something you can’t take your eyes off. This beauty was delightful and life affirming. Few scenes of Game of Thrones were shot here.

Traveling to Iceland

Traveling to Iceland is easy. You just need a plane ticket to the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik, Schengen visa, warm clothes to withstand the harsh winter and chilly wind and healthy dose of crazy mindset to explore it in full glory.

Planning and Execution (20th Oct – 1st Nov)

I flew from Hyderabad on 20th October, 2017 and reached Reykjavik on 21st. Sequence of flight was:

Hyderabad > Bombay > Amsterdam > Oslo > Reykjavik > Rental Car (Blue Car Rentals)

It’s pretty chilly in Norway. At 5 degrees celcius, dark sky, the wind whistling in unguarded ears and the Icelandair airlines having picture of northern lights carved over its body, this place seems promising.

 

Geyser

Strokkur (Icelandic for “churn”) is a fountain geyser in the geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavik. It is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers erupting about every 7 minutes, sometimes 15 – 20 m high.

PS:Shot by my friend Saurbh Chugh in Iceland.

Chasing Northern Lights

Aurora is one of the most beautiful phenomena of nature. The sole reason to choose October to travel was to chase Arctic Lights. And luckily we had Aurora activity 4 out of 11 nights we wandered. Apart from the green color, we were fortunate to see purple band too. You can expect the disappointment and frustration when you don’t see for what you traveled so far the first 4 days. It was spectacular to see the sky bath in northern lights. I had never seen something like this before, the green lights swirling and dancing all around. Vedur app showed good Aurora forecast.

“The day the earth stood still”
Even 23 hours of continuous driving, photoshooting and 2 sleepless nights in a row couldn’t dampen our excitement of shooting Aurora Borealis. That night, sky was beaming with the collision of sun particles and oxygen in the atmosphere. Before leaving Vestrahorn, I captured this picture as a memory that I finally lived my dream. No matter how many more places I visit, Iceland will always remain close to my heart, because now I believe that that green light is real.
This capture reminds me of some extraterrestrial environment and a suited alien preparing to invade.

“Eyesland”
My first day in Iceland wasn’t as fruitful as I expected. I was disappointed with the results I was getting. After hunting down aurora for 4 nights and not having a good sleep for 2 days, we drove to Jokulsarlon glacier for shooting aurora. This was a crazy exhausting day. 23 hours of continuous driving and photoshooting in which we visited the Glacier twice and Vestrahorn mountain thrice. We drove around 60 kms from our stay to witness this beauty. It was terribly chilling cold. Even 5 layers of clothing wasn’t working. But what I saw there is beyond words. The whole sky was illuminated with green lights and the lake under the glacier was showing beautiful reflection.
While capturing this magnificence, a car slowly inched towards the glacier with its headlights on, illuminating the icy peak of the mountain.

“The three elements”
Presenting to you, my most favorite breathtaking capture from Iceland trip. Jokulsarlon Glacier is probably one of the most iconic places in entire Iceland. Mainly famous for ice-peaked mountains, floating ice-bergs and crystal clear water formed from melting glacier. Later, it gained popularity because of Game of Thrones and DIlwale shooting. We drove there at 11:30 PM to shoot the green lights. Spine chilling cold and tough weather. The view was spectacular and literally rendered me awestruck and speechless. For a moment, I forgot that I have to take pictures. Aurora Borealis was dancing like crazy and the sky was bathing in green lights. I didn’t see anything more beautiful than this my whole life.
Challenge:
It was kind of difficult to get the perfect lighting as there were many photographers and tourists lighting up their torches here and there. This picture is the result of multiple attempts and right timing. Northern lights is volatile and it annihilated after 45 minutes or so.

Nights can never be boring in Iceland 🙂

“Green smoke”
Third day of aurora activity in Iceland.
Last night I was watching a mutant TV series where a genetically changed couple were holding hands and green, purple light was coming out. The girl said, “See how beautiful it is. You know, Aurora Borealis is the most beautiful thing in the world”.
Had I not seen the green lights myself, I won’t have understood the essence of what she said.

“The purple band”
Aurora Borealis is probably the most beautiful natural phenomenon on earth. When sun particles enter earth’s atmosphere near poles because of weak magnetic field, it collides with Nitrogen and Oxygen to form dancing purple, blue and green bands of color. Purple and blue bands are seen less often. Out of 4 nights I witnessed Aurora, purple band was seen only once.
I was probably in deep sleep when Nakul knocked the door at 4:30 in the morning. There were signs of some Aurora activity. Vestrahorn was 80 kms away from our stay. We stopped for a while near a lake on the way. The sky was beaming with dancing purple and green colors and the lake was having beautiful reflection.
Aurora is highly volatile. When we reached Vestrahorn, the activity was gone. This was one of few good pictures of that morning.

Majestic Waterfalls

It won’t be an overstatement to say that Iceland is full of hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls. And each of them is unique in its own sense.

“Waterfall of the Gods”
There’s an Italian painter, named Jean-Albert Carlotti, and he defined beauty. He said it is the summation of the parts working together in such a way that nothing needs to be added, taken away or altered. I couldn’t agree more with Carlotti when I saw this waterfall.
The Goðafoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters.
Godafoss is not very tall or powerful; but admirers point to the separate cascades forming an elegant semicircular arc, the swirling patterns in the blue-green (or sometimes brown) water, and the strange bubbliness of the surrounding lava.
Godafoss is closely connected with one of the most important event in Icelandic history, the conversion to Christianity from heathendom or “the old custom” in the year 1000.

“Devil’s eye”
The first day in Iceland started with shooting 3 beautiful waterfalls. Brúarfoss was eye catching because of its blue-ish water and looked like a giant devil’s eye. The weather was just perfect and sky had a bit of drama.

“The destroyer Part 1”
Gulfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. Standing there on the edge and witnessing the power nature holds to destroy anything that comes its way, can’t be explained in words. Even big apartments could have fallen apart. Taking this picture was extremely difficult. Wind was whistling like hell. Water droplets and mist were all around. I had to take my glasses off to see the camera LCD and continuously keep on wiping it to avoid any droplets in frame. Slippery stones and muddy trek further bumped up the challenge. Out of around 15 shots, I got only this one which looks slightly better. It was kinda once a lifetime opportunity to witness such beauty.
I showed this picture to my friend and first thing that came to her mind was:
“It’s serene, but gloomy. It’s beautiful, but dangerous. It’s infinite, but alone.”
I couldn’t have explained it better.
Such is the beauty of a photograph. It lets you imagine as if you’re standing right there, seeing with your eyes.

“The destroyer – Part 2”
Another angle of the Gulfoss, the largest waterfall in Europe. I liked the way water was falling down with huge force, generating mist smoke.

“Misty path”
Another misty waterfall from Iceland. Dettifoss waterfall is present in Northeast Iceland with 44 meters fall height. The sky was dull and had no drama when we visited there. I like the mist being formed when the water strikes the rock with force and the misty path beyond.
I missed Selfoss Waterfall due to lack of time which is situated close to it.

“Dreamland”
This is not just a picture. It’s a feeling. Capturing this scene was the toughest thng I did in Iceland. 2.5 kms of steep trek in chilly wind followed by another 500 meters of trek down. By mistake, I chose the wrong path to reach there which made it even more challenging. I had never seen rocks that slippery. It was hard to stand still at one position and take sharp picture. It was getting darker every single minute. Returning from there was one hell of a task. Luckily, my tripod came to rescue acting as old man stick. I was literally praying for life that evening. One of the biggest challenge to shoot waterfall bed is that it is hard to know the depth of running water. First step, it is 5 inches and the next, it might be 1 feet. What I like about photography is that if put efforts, it rewards you well.

“180 degrees of miracle”
Skógafoss is another beautiful waterfall in Iceland. What makes it more charming is that when sun shines over the horizon, it forms a rainbow across the falling water. Seeing the thick stream of crystal clear water fall from a height of 60m and colorful 180 degrees rainbow was eye-popping. Since, it is just few minutes walking distance from car parking, this waterfall sees a lot of visitors. I had to wait for quite long to capture the half rainbow with no people. Due to the hide and seek nature of the sun in Iceland, the rainbow kept on eloping every now and then. The rainbow was clearly visible only when closer to it, which means inviting more mist.
To be honest, this was the most beautiful rainbow I’ve witnessed in life.

Challenge: Visitors, mist, Intermittent rainbow

PS: As a matter of fact, part of Gerua song was shot here 🙂

“Big bowl”
Seeing this picture still gives me chill. It was one of the windiest evening in Iceland. Wind strong enough to tremble legs, leave alone the tripod. While standing on the edge to capture Aldeyjarfoss, I was in constant fear to not fall down. I liked the big bowl shape of this waterfall.
No matter how good a picture is, it’s not worth your life.

“Rainbow land”
The first day in Iceland started with witnessing Öxarárfoss waterfall. This might look very ordinary now, since you have seen far better landscapes, beachscapes and Aurora pictures of Iceland. But believe me, the moment I saw white water singing and gliding down the small rocks, I was awestruck.
Did you notice the small rainbow on the right of waterfall? 🙂 PS: The vignette you see on the top-left frame is the result of wrong choice of variable ND filter. I realized it on the third day of my trip when It had already screwed up several of my captures.

Beaches and Black sand

“Fire and Ice”
It was one of the brightest day in Iceland. While sun was playing hide and seek, we had our tripods dipped inside the black sand for stable capture. This place is famous for big floating ice-bergs. A bit risky because of crazy sea waves, and the ice-bergs.
This picture is unique, because it shows the 5 elements of the nature ( EARTH, FIRE, AIR, WATER, & SKY)
The warm color in this picture symbolizes hope. No matter how dark your day might be, sun will always shine and darkness will annihilate.

“The plane wreck”
This picture is perfect example of how film industry is helping bloom the tourism and making the life difficult for photographers at the same time. This location peaked popularity right after Shahrukh shook his legs with Kajol in Dilwale’s Gerua. Due to extreme popularity, cars are not allowed to park nearby and we had to walk 2.5 miles to witness this beauty. As a matter of surprise, this is the first picture from my trip that is not gloomy and depicts that Iceland oftentimes sees the sunshine in early winter.

In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. Later it turned out that the pilot had simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank. The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea.

The scenery of this white abandoned DC on the totally black sand is quite cool and surreal and the landscape around is pretty amazing too. The sight is actually like from a science fiction movie and is of course a photographer’s paradise in every way.

“Dreamscape”
An escape from a normal day to mysterious fantasy dream. That’s what this picture is all about. Reporting from Diamond beach, Iceland.

“No man’s land”
While flying from Norway to Iceland, I read a PDF which had a page on Dyrhólaey. The first question that itched my mind was, “Does Iceland have a place like this?”. The moment we set foot on that small peninsula after a visit to the black sand beach, Vik, I saw those ghost stones standing tall at a far away distance, with white waves continuously hitting it as if they were trying to destroy and carry with them.
This picturesque view reminds of the famous scene from “Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince” where Harry and Dumbledore go to a cave to fetch Horcrux.

“The hugging stone”
This is another picture from Dyrhólaey, famous black sand paradise. If you take a close look at the stone in the front, you will feel that it resembles a couple with their faces close and getting ready for an intimate, yet beautiful dance, like Kizomba.
I saw those ghost stones standing tall at a far away distance, with white waves continuously hitting it as if they were trying to destroy and carry with them.
This picturesque view reminds of the famous scene from “Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince” where Harry and Dumbledore go to a cave to fetch Horcrux.

Setting foot in Game of Thrones

North of the wall – Part 1

Kirkjufell mountain is probably the most famous location in Iceland. If you have seen Game of Thrones, you must be knowing why. This location was shot in season 7 in North of the wall.
Just 10 minutes drive from our stay and 10 minutes of hiking, witnessing this beauty was a treat to eyes. I always pictured a dark mood in my mind while thinking about this location. Iceland is the third windiest place on earth and Grundarfjördur showed us the power of nature. The hardest wind I experienced in my life. Our legs were shaking, keep aside the camera and tripod. It was tough to get a longer exposure. I also broke my camera there because of wind.
My dream shot was to capture aurora dancing above the “Church Mountain”. But due to wind, cloud, rain and void of luck, I couldn’t get it.

North of the wall – Part 2

Another angle of Kirkjufell mountain

“The church mountain”
While returning from Kirkjufell mountain in wind-chill weather, we saw this beautiful lake beside the mountain which was showing nice reflection. We decided to pay it a visit later that day. It was around 5:30 in the evening that I got to capture the heavenly sky, the church mountain and the lake in the blue hour. It was getting darker with every passing minute.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. This photograph renders me with peace, as if I am in some other world, serene and solumn. It reminds me to stand as calm as that mountain and hold strength to face tough winds. The beauty of strength is that neither the sky is high enough nor the ocean deep enough.

Iceland Itinerary

If you are planning to fly to Iceland, this (will be adding soon) itinerary might be helpful.

Car and Hotel booking

We rented Kia and QashQai from Blue Car Rentals and booked hotels through booking.com.

Get that Schengen Visa (Check list)

Iceland falls under Denmark Embassy. I applied for visa on 20th September, got call from the embassy on 25th and Visa was delivered to my address on 29th.

Documents required to apply for Visa:

  1. Flight booking
  2. Hotel booking
  3. Transport booking (Car rent)
  4. Travel insurance
  5. NOC letter from office
  6. Tour itinerary
  7. 2 photographs measuring exactly 3.5 cms x 4.5 cms
  8. Color xerox of all pages (including blank pages) of passport
  9. Salary slip of 4 months
  10. Employment letter
  11. Bank statement of 6 months, signed and stamped by bank
  12. ITR return of 3 years
  13. Leave permission from office (NOC would work here)
  14. Cover letter requesting Embassy for Schengen Visa, depicting your reason for travel

What to carry?

  1. Passport
  2. Waterproof gloves
  3. Good quality thermals
  4. Waterproof and windproof jacket
  5. Down jacket or vest
  6. Fleece jacket
  7. Long sleeve shirts
  8. Outdoor/hiking pants (waterproof recommended or quick dry)
  9. Good quality wool gloves and hat
  10. Hiking boots, better if they are waterproof.(No sports shoes)
  11. Gumboots
  12. Dryfit T-shirt: another piece for layering
  13. Poncho
  14. Woolen socks and cap
  15. Swimsuit : There are many hot springs and if time permits, you may go to Blue lagoon or secret lagoon
  16. A reusable water bottle, no need to buy water in Iceland, just fill it up from any stream or tap
  17. Medicines : Bring in your necessary medicine like crocin, or any other cold medication
  18. Power bank
  19. Electric Kettle
  20. Food (Noodles, Soup, Ready to eat vegetables)

Camera gear

  1. Camera
  2. Wide angle lens (preferably f2.8) for waterfalls and northern lights
  3. Zoom lens (70-200mm) for close landscape/portrait shots
  4. Sturdy tripod to withstand strong wind
  5. Remote cable for camera
  6. ND filters (10 stop and 6 stop)
  7. GND filter
  8. Extra batteries (at least 3)
  9. Rain cover
  10. Cleaning kit
  11. Memory cards (128 GB)
  12. Card reader and External Hard Drive
  13. Battery charger

Tips:

  1. Dress in layers to insulate you better (4-5 layers)
  2. Rain protection for camera is must. A lot of mist flies around waterfalls.
  3. Pack wisely and light, with all your essentials, don’t take more than one suitcase/bagpack and one Camera bag
  4. Food: Reykjavik is 8th most expensive city in the world. Food in Iceland is costly and it would be good to carry some food. Many Bonus outlets are there in Iceland where you can purchase things that can be cooked easily.
  5. Get shoes with good grip for hiking
  6. Time lapse and night shots eat a lot of battery
  7. Before going out, check Vedur for aurora forecast and cloud movement

Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. More than anything, I would like to go there again. Because going there won’t make you a spendthrift junkie for sure. If you ever get a chance to go there, don’t miss it. After all, who doesn’t like Narnia or Game of Thrones or pristine landscapes. Reasons are endless. 🙂

My photography work

I was short on gear in this trip. I felt the void of a full frame camera to reduce noise and a 10 stop filter to cut more light. Gear I carried:

  • Camera: Nikon D5300
  • Lens: Tokina 11-16 f2.8,Nikkor 35mm f1.8, Nikkor 50 mm f1.8
  • Filter: B+W ND8 filter, CPL filter
  • Neewer Carbon Fiber 67″/170cm Tripod
  • 64 + 32 GB SD, 4 camera batteries, 500 GB HDD, Card reader

If you liked my photography work, please follow my social media profiles. There are many more pictures which couldn’t fit here. As much as I wanted to put all of them, I also didn’t want to explode the post. Each of those pictures has a story of its own.

Aashish Barnwal Digital Canvas

Aashish Barnwal Instagram

Thanks to the acquaintances who served as the best travel buddies and who later became friends to cherish for years to come. I learned many things both from photographer’s perspective and as a human being. Not in any order: Nakul Sharma, Abhinav Pratap Singh, Hymakar Valluri, Saurbh Chugh, Sharadh Srivastava, Divisha Srivstav, Hiran Mayee, Florence Chemarin, Heena, Zurich Shah, Eric Follows

Special thanks to Nakul and Abhinav for making the trip memorable. It was worth each minute. You can contact Nakul for his Iceland trips.

Travel while you can. As Nakul says:

Job can wait, Travel can’t!

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Clock didn’t tick for long since my first visit to US and I got a chance to visit Redmond again. Another high priority work, short deadline and huge expectations.

August 11, 2017

Hot summer evening and snacks break. A kind of perfect time to gossip about things around you. I was discussing entrepreneurship journey with my friend who was in Hyderabad for a startup conference. His zeal and passion to build something was making me go crazy and it hooked me in no time. Suddenly, my phone rang. It usually flashes name of the person at the other end only when something important comes up. Last time it did was when I had a trip to US and the second time, I got promoted.

“Hey Aashish! How are you doing man?”, my manager asked.

“It’s good”. While I was talking, another thread in my mind was trying to find clue on what might be the reason for this urgent meeting.

“Some urgent work has come up. We have to start on this immediately. Before I tell you the specifics, let me warn you that the timeline is quite aggressive and you have to be really efficient in delivering it. We have carefully chosen two engineers with strong debugging skills who can fix and unblock issues quickly.”, he explained the situation in one deep breathe.

“What is the ETA?”, I asked.

“YESTERDAY”, he smiled. “One thing that can be of your interest is that there is an opportunity to visit Redmond. I know that you love traveling. Based on the peer feedback and the work you have been doing, you have proven yourself to be the guy who gets the work done.”, he continued further.

“You can think over the weekend and tell me if you are interested in taking up this opportunity. I would like if you say yes”, he was done with talking.

Well, I didn’t know if I had a choice to press the NO button. Nevertheless, there were multiple reasons on why I wanted to work in that area. There was high visibility and sole ownership. I wanted to work on something new. Plus visiting Redmond was the icing on the cake. I didn’t need a weekend to make up my mind.

“I see it as a fantastic opportunity from the visibility perspective. I am in”, I was excited.

“Thanks man! I will let you know the dates”, he looked happy.

August 25, 2017

I wrapped up the work I was doing and started getting myself familiar with Applescript, a Mac automation language. 2 weeks later, I came to know the exact date to travel.

In my last visit to US, I missed shooting Seattle the way I wanted because of last minute ticket booking and not bringing the right gear.  Two things I did over the weekend. I started a mail thread in Microsoft Photography Club about the best places to shoot and if anyone wanted to accompany me. Second, I booked tickets in my favorite airlines, Emirates.

Technical bugs can snatch away your happiness. Just before 4 days of travel, I received mail from American Express Travel Agency saying my ticket in Emirates was not booked because of some technical glitch. The front end and back end were not in sync and there was a problem communicating my ticket booking request. What I received was the itinerary and not the flight tickets. They were in continuous talk with Emirates folks for 2 days. But no luck. I, finally booked tickets in British Airways.

Based on recommendations from my friends in company, I created a list of places to shoot in Seattle. The list topped with capturing Space Needle from different view points.

September 1, 2017

“Good morning, Mr Aashish!”, the gorgeous lady at the Checkin counter greeted. “Would you like a more luxurious and comfortable journey.”, she asked and explained the business class etiquette.

“Is it a free upgrade?”

“I’m sorry. But No”

“I think I will do just fine”, the happiness was gone in the split of a second.

The same lady was wandering around after an hour looking for me.

“May I see your boarding pass please”, she asked.

“Is there a problem?”, I asked and handed over my pass to her.

“Not if upgrading is an issue for you. Make sure you travel business next time by yourself”, she smiled.

I couldn’t believe it. Last evening I was reading some blog for free upgrade and their tips worked. This was first time I was traveling with British.

It didn’t feel any different until she asked, “Would you like to have some Champagne sir?”

Their menu never changes

I stayed in the same Marriott hotel I chose last time. I must say, they don’t like a change. Nothing had changed in 8 months. Same California grapes, juicy pineapple and waffles with chocolate chips.

My schedule in US was simple. Wake up at 4:30 in the morning, take hot water bath in bathtub, reach office by 8-8:30. Mornings are best when you want great productivity and efficiency. I got 5 free evenings dedicated to photography.

Day 1 – Kerry Park and Alki beach

I met Vijay, a Microsoft engineer and a wildlife photographer. We planned to shoot sunset at Kerry Park and skyline at Alki beach. It was a sunny day and there were chances to get good drama in sky and Mt Rainier in the behind.

The blue hour beauty

This is another picture from my Space Needle series captured in blue hour. 10 points to those who noticed Mt. Rainier in the background before reading this.You have to be really lucky to capture it from Kerry Park. The day has to be clear and sky has to be smoke free to frame the beauty of Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one postcard shot. When I was in Seattle, due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Mt. Rainier was visible on only 2 days.

Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Technique:
I took 3 pictures in different exposures when the sun was about to set. One, for the Space Needle, second for the Mt. Rainier, and third for the rest. I then blended these pictures in Photoshop to bring what I witnessed there.

PS: Did you know that Space Needle is the 8th most photographed subject in the world?

Lonely Space Needle under the moon

Kerry Park in Seattle is very famous among photographers for its postcard view of Space Needle. On a good lucky day when the sky is clear, part of Mt. Rainier can be seen too just behind the Space Needle. Vijay and I had planned for shooting sunset, blue hour and of course moon as we were shy of just 3 days from full moon. We reached Kerry 2 hours before sunset and found that there was some construction going on and it was making our frames look not as good as we planned. Making up early there came to our rescue as we were able to grab the best spot to avoid the cranes. We could feel the envy of fellow photographers.
The moon stood high above Space Needle at around 8:30 and I captured two pictures with different exposures, one with the moon in focus and the other with the Needle. I then blended those two pictures in Photoshop to get closer to what I witnessed there. Photography is about patience. We had to wait 4 hours for few good pictures.

Technique used: Exposure bracketing and blending

Day 2 – Waterfront Park

Serenity

This picture reminds me of the serene beauty, I oftentimes wish to visit. The place where there is a bridge and a big lake around. A fusion of man made and nature. Waterfront park in Seattle is quite pictureque and you can’t go wrong anytime in evening. I wanted to shoot sunset, but ended up capturing blue hour as the sky was not dramatic that day because of smoke.

Technique:
I shot two pictures at different exposures, one for the bridge and the railing on right and second for the rest. Due to dark, there was noise in picture which was corrected using longer exposure. I then blended those pictures in Photoshop.

Day 3: Columbia Skyview tower

The Great Wheel teleport

Seattle Great Wheel from 73rd floor of Columbia sky tower looked like a toy. I wondered what would it look like if it were to be teleported. I pulled out 35mm, slowed shutter to 13 seconds at f14 and pano’ed while capturing. It took 20 minutes and multiple shots to bring the wheel to perfection. The result was no less than what we get to see in sci-fi movies.

Technique: Single capture pano.

Day 4: Waterfront park

Waterfront Park was something I fell in love with. I visited there again to shoot the beautiful fountain.

Tomorrowland

Capturing this frame was like a dream come true. Ever since I owned a camera, I had this routine of checking famous photographers’ portfolio and their work. The smooth flow of waterfall and fountains always intimidated me. Their gigantic beauty and mesmerizing views has the power to render anyone spellbound and speechless.
The moment I set foot in Waterfront park in Seattle, I had this composition in mind where the fountain would be in foreground hiding part of Great Wheel in the back. I wanted to shoot sunset. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. The sunset was very dull and unfortunately there was no drama in the sky. There were two challenges in capturing this picture. One, the wheel rotates every now and then. Two, the wheel changes color thereby casting different color shade onto the fountain. I shot two pictures, one with 25s exposure to give smooth flowing feel to the water and brighten the foreground and the other with 10s exposure to lit the wheel. To make sure this blends in a perfect one picture, I waited for the right moment when wheel was not rotating and there was enough time to capture two pictures without the change in color of lights.
Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Day 5: Gasworks park

Guns in the air

Gasworks Park in Seattle is famous for its cylindrical structures. One can get one of the best views of Skyline there. A part of it looks like big guns pointed to the sky when shot during sunset. This is a composite picture. Birds have been added in Photoshop.

Love birds

Seattle is the most beautiful city I have visited so far. From magnificent skylines to gigantic mountains, from beautiful lake to green valley, from big shopping complexes to small huts, your eyes can never stop wandering. Sunset would make you wonder if this is real. I have just fallen in love with the city. I had plan for visiting Gasworks Park to shoot skyline and the large gas cylindrical structure. What I didn’t know was that it also offers a clean green valley where you can see a lot of couples roaming around. This looked like a perfect spot for photographers and love birds alike. When the sun was about to set and the sky changed its color, I saw this lovely couple holding hands and walking towards the sunset horizon. Although the park was full of people, I got lucky to frame only what I wanted.

The Piano Store

Being a Piano fanatic, I visited Classic Pianos in Bellevue. More than anything, I wanted to own a Piano since quite long. I tried many Pianos, ranging from 5k to 25k dollars. I really liked one from Yamaha and longing to get it.

Photography or Shopping?

Last day in US was annihilated in shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets. It was a tough decision as I wanted to visit the majestic Mt. Rainier and shoot the Paradise and Reflection view points. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Parts of Mt. Rainier were closed until the wildfire settled down. I heard that there was some view point which was open and I was desperate to go there. But my friend wanted to buy things for his family. Premium Outlets was 35 miles from our stay and we spent whole day shopping stuffs for our families.

I will visit Mt Rainier for sure in my next trip.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved. 
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If you haven’t read previous part, it’s right here –  US Diaries Part 2.

Why do we click pictures? To frame moments, walk down memory lanes and reminisce about events that once awestrucked us. This post is a living example of how pictures help you to relive memories that would have otherwise been lost.

Luckily, I was able to get 4 days of vacation to visit California. California is a beautiful city and my main interest was to wander in the streets of Disney Land and Universal Studios. A dream of decade to see Sleeping beauty castle and roam around in Harry Potter Park with a wizard wand in hand was about to be fulfilled.

Spirit Airlines sucks

Having spent a huge chunk of money in shopping and local traveling, I was reluctant to burn another big hole in my pocket. Though I make exceptions if it comes to my family or my hobbies or sometimes my friends too, being raised in middle class,  my brain is hardwired to see value for money. We got our tickets from Seattle to Los Angeles booked at cheaper rates. My plan looked something like:

One day in San Diego, Visit Disney Land and Universal Studios in LA.

Our plan screwed up when Spirit Airlines managed to fly late by 5 hours the same day I was to visit Disney Land. Spirit Airlines allows only 6 kgs cabin luggage, majority of which was occupied with my camera and its equipments. I managed to get one fine picture depicting bad weather of Seattle while roaming around impatiently at the airport.

Wonders of California

The first thing that comes to my mind when someone talks about California is that it is hotter. From Seattle’s chilling winter where you need layered wear to LA’s summer, the change was very noticeable. One fine evening in Seattle, on the pavement outside Cheesecake Factory, I was waiting for my friend and slightly bored as she was running late. That’s when I witnessed the second snow fall in my life. Seattle is said to be depressing in winters. Well, didn’t look like it to me.

One of the best thing in California I observed was all happy faces around. It makes me wonder, “How can so many happy people exist at one place?”.

Day 1: Disney Land, LA

We reached LA at ~4:00 PM. It was 4:55 when we reached Disney Land. We were very grateful to book tickets online. It had already started getting dark.

Dreams do come true

Sleeping beauty castle was always in my To visit list. And people there were as crazy as I was after witnessing this magnificent beauty. Even the huge crowd couldn’t dampen the excitement. Happiness was in the air.

The castle looked even more magnificent when it got dark. As magical and brightening it could be, its starking contrast had the power to stop you from taking your eyes off it.

Picturesque

Every part of the park is quite picturesque. If you love taking pictures, it would be hard to put camera down for a moment. The park was full of families and there were so many kids around. It was funny to know that there was a separate parking for strollers and it was full.

They celebrate Diwali each day

Isn’t it exciting that they celebrate Diwali every day? It was the kind of fireworks we get to see at the start of each of Disney’s movie. It was beautiful and kind of spell bounding.

“Sleeping beauty castle in fireworks”

One of the things I remember very well from my trip to Disney Land, LA is the park being lit up in fireworks for around half an hour. This is probably the best fireworks I’ve witnessed in my life so far. Due to the huge crowd, trying my best to grab the best spot and not owning a wide angle lens back then, this is the best shot I could get. As you might have observed, in the center, lies there the peak of very famous Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Electric Parade

They mark the end of day with an electric parade where you get to see almost every Disney character marching on the narrow roads with awestruck presentation.

The magical music

Disneyland seems particularly fond of Mozart. Being a classic music fanatic, it was pleasant to listen Mozart’s famous Allegro everywhere. It added flavors to the magical feeling. You can listen the music here.

It is really hard to imagine someone returning not happy after spending a day in the park. It was a very nice experience indeed for 100 USD.

Day 2 : Universal Studios Hollywood, LA

It wasn’t a difficult call to decide which one of the Theme Parks I wanted to spend 2 days in. I booked 2 days ticket for Universal Studios for 129 bucksI knew one day was not enough to quench my thirst for Harry Potter.

If you hail from India and happen to visit Ramoji film city in Hyderabad, Universal Studios is like Ramoji, just a thousand times better. It has theme parks and attractions of many famous characters. Minion Mayhem and the girl’s house, Transformers, Simpsons, Shrek, Walking dead, Mummy, Spongebob and the most important The wizarding world of Harry Potter.

The wizarding world of Harry Potter

If you are a No-Maj and are reading this, let me warn you muggle. What you are gonna read next is not everyone’s cup of tea. To feel the magic and connect with this fantabulastic world, it needs an exceptional level of imagination and a deep dive into the story. If not, bear no delusions, it would be just another story and another park for you. Chances are you may not understand Potterheads and their craziness.

Magical feeling

A magical experience is all I would say. Even 2 decades of Harry Potter universe hasn’t lessened the craziness, The crowd was ecstatic and delighted. Their glittering eyes were reflection of dreams coming true. Being a person who has grown up with Harry Potter waiting relentlessly, I felt like going back into childhood.

Hogwarts, Hogmeade, Platform 9 3/4, Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, Three Broomsticks minus Madame Rosemerta, Ollivanders, Hagrid’s hut, Honeydukes, Zonko’s joke shop, Hog’s Head, Butterbeer cart, Post office. The park has got everything in attention to detail. I couldn’t have imagined it any better. People rushing in the narrow streets of Diagon Alley was as if it came from book alive.

Hogwarts Express

The school of magic

I oftentimes wonder, how different life would be, how full of magic and fantastical beauty, if my Hogwarts letter would have arrived.

Ollivanders, makers of fine wand

Ollivanders, makers of fine wand since 382 BC, helping eleven years old getting their first wand. He very well portrayed the scene from the first movie where Harry gets his wand. It was as if I was teleported into the movie and watched it happen. As a matter of fact, wand chooses its master. When spell was read with wrong wand in hand, the shacks broke. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect.

I got The Elder Wand, magnificent and powerful.

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express about to leave from platform number 9 3/4.

Gringotts: The wizards’ bank

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

Gringotts. Wizards’ bank, run by Goblins. Gringotts is the safest place in the world for
anything you want to keep safe — ‘cept maybe Hogwarts.

A quick note on Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Hogwarts is a magic school where you learn magic and how to control it for greater good. Hogsmeade is a village near Hogwarts where Harry and his friends used to go to chillax after tiring and exhausting exams.

The three broomsticks and Butterbeer

Three broomsticks is a well known pub in Hogsmeade, particularly famous of its delicious signature drink Butterbeer and its beautiful owner Madam Rosmerta.

The three broomsticks – The great feast
Time for some magical food in the Hogsmeade village. It was probably one of the best days of my life so far. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, how could I miss “The three broomsticks”? The famous tavern in Hogsmeade had its own charm. The magnificent dark ambience was perfect for talking in plain sight. It is no surprise why wizards and witches choose this place to hear gossips. Even the place being full of muggles that day couldn’t suppress my goosebumps.

A pint of Butterbeer at Three Broomsticks.
As a fan of wizarding world of Harry Potter since my very childhood, I fantasized about having a taste of Butterbeer. I always thought it would be like magic flowing in my veins. As I grew up and got a chance to have it, I must say it tasted something like Butterscotch. The Butterbeer lived up to its expectations. I could literally find myself diving into the magical world and remembered one of the greatest friendship I have ever known, the friendship of Harry, Ronald and Hermione. Sad part was I had to drink this alone.
I hope someday I will visit there again with my Ronald and Hermione.

Do you remember the roasted chicken Harry used to crave for when he stayed at his Uncle’s place during summers? Or when he used to eat like a hungry beast after long Quidditch practice?
Well, I tried the “Lemon herb roast chicken platter” at Three broomsticks and it was worth all the rumor.

Hagrid’s hut

The second home of Harry, Ronald and Hermione where they used to spend their free evenings when not worrying about Quidditch practices and studies. This is where Norbert was born. The lantern hanging across the wooden door was often used by them in Forbidden forest.

Magic was in the air

A kid practicing trying to rotate cauldron using Wingardium Leviosa spell in Hogwarts. Two kinds of wands they were selling in Ollivanders – Interactive and non-interactive. Interactive ones were real magic and could be used to turn lights on/off, float objects, turn on the water in a fountain, make birds sing and many more such stuffs.

Butterbeer cart

To be continued… In the next post, I will talk more about Universal Studios and San Diego story.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

 

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Life can be smarter, better and more efficient by following 3 Cs: Consistency, Choices, Communication. More on these below:

Consistency

Whatever you do, be consistent. Be it waking up in the morning or playing piano or reading a blog.

Choices

The less you involve your brain in thinking about stuffs that don’t add much value, the more you would get to spend time in creative stuffs. Reduce choices in day to day life. Ever wondered what Zuckerberg’s wardrobe looks like? He purchases apparels of same color and design. It helps him keeping focus on important things.

Communication

What is the first thing besides dressing sense you notice in a person you meet first time? We get to know a lot about a person by the way (s)he talks. Communication plays a very important role in your professional and personal fronts. Public speaking is one good thing you would like to master. Watch Ted talks and practice speaking in front of mirror. It would help boost confidence.

Be in company of smarter people

It is said that a person is known by the company (s)he keeps. If you are in company of smarter people, you would get to learn more. A wise man once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room”.

Plan your day in advance

Note down things you want to do before you start your day. Not only this will help you manage your day efficiency, but it will help you remember easily forgettable stuffs. There are things you remember when you are not thinking much, but are easily missed when your have a busy schedule. Example, calling a friend, responding a mail or paying bills

No much TV series

If you are a TV series fanatic, you must be knowing how addictive it can be. It can affect your sleep if you don’t control your addiction. Watch less of series

Time management

Learn to manage time. It would help you achieve more in the same amount of time. More on this can be read here: Manage time like a boss and become more productive

Adapt to the change

Smartness is a continuous process. You need to work towards it each day. In this fast paced agile world, things change rapidly and you must adapt to the change or you would be outdated. Learn a new language or a new skill.

Take a walk and think

When you’re stuck in a problem and no solution seems to strike your creative brain, take a walk and think. It helped me many times in situations where I couldn’t think anything working while sitting in front of a monitor.

Practice

Remember 10,000 rule. The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. Practice a skill you want to be good at sometime each day.

If you like this, you might like other posts in the Hack your life series.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

 

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My thoughts in this article have greatly been inspired by not-so-famous deductive genius brilliant TV series Forever. You probably don’t need to put a gun on my head to make me say that this is by far one of the best series I have watched.

“It’s not the number of years we live that matters. Our lives just add up to a series of moments. We never know when or where they’ll happen, but they stick with us marking our souls forever.”

This quote has home my heart since the time I came across it the first time. It resonates with my soul and propelled me to look life from a different perspective altogether. It taught me that life is not only about making money and living lavishly. It is far beyond that. It is about exploring yourself. It is about realizing your true potential. It is about witnessing what as an individual you can achieve. Nothing is permanent. You can’t be happy all the time. And those sad times too shall pass.

Over the years, I have been trying to explore the things around me to know what I like and what not. There are times when I wonder if I have started becoming a kind of philosophical person. While trying hard to get sleep in late night hours, I often end up questioning myself the definition of a perfect life. And then I hear the echo of a familiar voice in my head telling me that the life needs not to be perfect. We must learn to enjoy imperfections. Happiness is quite subjective and a perfect life is myth. What makes you happy might be worthless for others. The secret mantra is to invest time in things that pump up adrenaline rush in your brain. You can do it for hours without whining about it. I ain’t a morning person. But when it comes to photography, I wake up anytime I want.

When I was ten, all I dreamed was a fleet of luxurious cars and a big bungalow. The reason was simple. I wanted to be happy and those celebrities with big shiny cars and lavish homes always had a big smile on screens. As time passed and I grew up, I realized how wrong I was. While all I still want is happiness, my ambitions have changed. Instead of chasing happiness, I do things that make me happy. Happiness was perhaps, never a thing to be looked for.

“However long you live, even though that might prove a very, very long time, you must tell yourself to live every day, every hour as if it could be your last.”

Today when I look back over my life, I don’t remember every small detail. Things of the past that sounded big and turning point were just small speed breakers in this long journey. You see, memories are slippery things. They have a tendency to fade over time. What I haven’t forgotten is those beautiful moments I lived on the way. Moments that put a curve on my face whenever the brain decides to take a walk down the memory lane.

“Be in company of someone who renders you with the same feeling as when you see your food arriving in a restaurant.”

If there is one thing that saddens me today, it is the void of the special person. Having lived through my fair share of life, I can tell you the most difficult to endure is loneliness. Happiness of achieving something is only worth when it is shared. Life is a game and one that we must play. No matter how careful we are, there is simply no way to go through this life unscathed. But, fortunately for us, it’s a game we don’t have to play alone.

“What kills you is not what causes your heart to stop from beating, but it is what prevents you from living.”

It is said that life is beautiful because it’s finite. People usually wish to live long. The common misconception is that it’s the death that annihilates us. Truth is we die long before if we don’t learn to appreciate the life we have been bestowed. How many of us wake up in the morning and truly appreciate the privilege to be alive and healthy? The moment we start acting like life is a blessing, I assure you it will start to feel like one. Today is nothing but the result of our doings of the past. What we do today, will shape tomorrow.

If you like this, you might like other posts in the Hack your life series.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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If you are wondering how I ended up at Microsoft, well, it’s a long story and if you have got some time, you can read it here:

Journey of a boy from small town to Microsoft – An untold story Part 1

If you like to read about dreams and goals, you might like my journey. I won’t claim it to be inspiring and motivating. Neither would I claim it to be struggling and unique. I will leave it for you to decide. But everyone has a journey and a story to tell. And this my friend, is my journey.

July 15, 2013

Each year when I wake up in the morning and find Facebook reminding me of this very date, I can’t stop myself to feel happy and grateful. I thank god who has graced my life with all the opportunities & happiness and given me an ability to be good at what I do.

4 years it’s been since I joined Microsoft and it feels like it were only yesterday when I wandered the corridors of the humongous campus for the first time. Days bled off into years. I have seen people come. I have seen people leave. Life moves on. Everyone is replaceable.

Continue reading Life of a Microsoft Engineer

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I am a CSE Graduate from KIIT University. I joined Microsoft straight out of college. Usually, Microsoft doesn’t visit there, but that year I got lucky.

2 written tests + 3 F2F technical interviews + 1 Skype technical interview

 

Written test 1 (Objective), 30 minutes

First written test was conducted by some third party company. It consisted of 15 objective questions from C, Sorting, Data Structures, Big O, compiler and state machine. We were given 30 minutes. Cut off was 12 out of 15 questions. 77 out of 400 students made it.

Written test 2 (Coding), 60 minutes

Three problems to be solved in 60 minutes with no use of compiler. One problem on Linked List, second on heap and third on array. I coded all problems from scratch including main method. I also wrote flexible methods that could work on any kind of inputs (instead of deleting nodes from 4 to 6, it would delete nodes between ‘M’ and ‘N’ ) and handle all corner cases. The result was announced after 20 days. 30 out of 77 made it.

F2F Interview #1, 60 minutes

We were interviewed in groups of 6. Each one of us in a group was given same problem to solve. I couldn’t code the perfect solution in an hour. All I had discussed 6 different ways to solve the problem. I was afraid that I might be rejected in first round. The interview lasted for 60 minutes.

14 out of 30 were selected.

Continue reading My interview experience at Microsoft

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Every single day you make a choice

So you had a bad day? What did you do? Did you corner yourself in a room and cried like it was the end of the world?

A bad day is just another day which would pass. The question you should ask yourself is how can you avoid such circumstances in the foreseeable future. There are certain things in life which are beyond your control. You can’t do anything about them. But few things if taken action at the right time can save you from experiencing another bad day. Let’s say you arrive office a bit late and a mail from your manager is sitting right in your mailbox which reads “Urgent! Meet me when you are in office”. Suddenly you realize that you made a blunder last night at work and while you knew this, you procrastinated to proactively inform your manager in advance. Now you are screwed. You get comments like such kind of mistake can’t be tolerated from a person at your level. You either come back and keep cursing your manager while comforting yourself with excuses like “Well, this was only first time. How can he be so mean?” or you focus on improving yourself, take a note of the incident, analyze what sort of actions lead you to do this mistake and how do you plan to not repeat it. You see the difference. While the first choice won’t add any value to your personal and professional growth, the second choice not only makes you a better human being, but also helps you to see and tackle the situation from a different perspective. This is called as “Not going below the line”.

There is no secret ingredient. It’s just you

When I was preparing for Joint Entrance Exam (the toughest exam for engineering in India), I observed a very common pattern. About 70% of my friends gave up that they can’t clear it right before few months. To succeed in life, you must first believe that you can. There is noone in this world who knows you better than you know yourself. Your strengths, weaknesses, your skills and what are you good at.

Planning and Execution will keep your life stress free

I worked on two important projects at Microsoft. Both were critical for two reasons. One, tight deadlines. Two, to make Microsoft mission come true.

While working on these two projects right from the beginning to their completion, I realized how important planning is. If you don’t plan well, chances are you would freak out sooner or later. People usually tend to procrastinate when it comes to planning. They think that it will just happen as time progresses. Successful people spend a lot of time planning and less time on execution. That’s why people with huge experience are given the planning phase of the project. Sometimes, a decision tree is helpful to make calls and minimize risks in future.

Continue reading 7 important lessons to hack your life

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Have you ever felt that you are not able to do something because of less time? Have you ever wondered that why few achieve so much in the same 24 hours while you struggle to be good at one thing? It’s not always because you are comparatively less efficient than other guys . Efficiency is nothing but a measure of productivity against time. And if you learn to manage time efficiently, the productivity would automatically bump up. The question you should ask yourself is,

The most successful people are the busiest and they can still find time. Why can’t you?

Life is all about setting priorities right and if you do not learn to focus on what is important and what is urgent, sooner or later, you will find it slipping out of your control.

I often get questions on how do I get time to do so many things. To summarize, I do fashion photography, play piano and write blogs apart from my full time Software Engineering job.

Since last few years, I had been living the life of a night owl. I used to sleep late in the night and wake up in the early noon. It’s hard to believe but I used to be proud of myself for a such a crazy schedule. I followed this insane routine for 7 years and then I thought for a change. Months of efforts didn’t work out well for me. Our body is not a robotic machine which can be changed to work in a different environment as easily as the tap of a button. t adapts slowly to the changes we wa It must be given proper rest to function it well.

Waking up early morning can do wonders

Sometime back, I got a chance to visit US on a business trip. People who visit there often complain about the jet lag for days. My bad schedule in India worked there like charm. I woke up at 5 in the morning and slept at 11 at night. Every morning, I felt charged up. I was way more productive.

Continue reading Manage time like a boss and become more productive

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