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This article was first published in December 2013 issue of Valley India Times

Résumé is a critical part of the MBA applications, and it demands as much of your attention as your essays do. In fact, résumé is your first introduction to the Ad Com, so it should be impactful enough to make them want to know more about you through your essays. When working with applicants on their résumés, I often quote Ross Admission Director Soojin Kwon. “For me, the résumé is just as important as your essays…….How you describe your experience matters. What you choose to highlight matters. Think of it as trailer of the movie about you. It needs to show there is substance there. I find that many applicants don’t take enough care with their resumes,” Kwon said.

True!! Your resume is a “trailer “of your career progression, accomplishments, leadership and team working skills, your interests, and extra-curricular activities that will be shown in detail in the “movie” of your essays. Therefore, in order to make a good ‘first impression’, you need to invest your time and effort to make your résumé strong and impactful.

Here are some helpful tips you can use to craft powerful and effective MBA resume.

Short and Sweet Résumé: First, resist the temptation of writing a lengthy resume. It’s about quality, not quantity, so make sure not to go over one page limit. Most schools want to see only one page résumés. The resume should be the shortest document in your application but the most impactful one that provides an overview of not only your professional career and accomplishments, but also your interest and extra-curricular activities.

Please use 10 or 11 font and do not try to squeeze in loads of information by using 8 font.

Include Important dates: When listing job positions, sometimes applicants forget to mention employment dates. Without specific dates, the Ad Com will not be able to garner your career progression and your promotions. Therefore, you want to make sure to provide specific information about your employment, education and extra-curricular activities.

Use Bulleted Points: Even if you have a lot of information to convey, please refrain from writing sentences or paragraphs. Instead, use bulleted points. Each bullet should be limited to two lines of text, and there should be no more than five bullets per job position. You may use 2 bullet points for listing job responsibilities and 2-3 for job accomplishments.

Do not use Fancy Fonts: Typical fonts for a resume are Times New Roman, Verdana, Cambria, and Arial, with Times New Roman being the most common. The business résumé is not the place to use fancy fonts. So resist the temptation of using crazy fonts or intricate borders.

Do Not Use Jargon: One of the most common mistakes applicants make is using technical terms of their industry. Do not assume that Ad Com will understand your industry jargon. This is not a job resume that you are writing for your prospective employer. This is your MBA resume that is scanned by the Ad Com of business schools for career progression, leadership qualities, team- working skills, initiative and other interests/activities of future business leaders. Hence you want to make sure to make it jargon free. The following example is jargon free:

Example:

Created and implemented new checklists and guidelines, helping reduce the cost of the projects by 10-15%.

Use Strong Verbs: Begin each bulleted point with a strong action verb. Verbs make you sound like a dynamic individual who is always ready for action. Also, try to avoid overusing verbs like ‘led’, ‘managed’ or ‘developed’, and consider using other verbs such as ‘accelerated’, ‘delivered,’ ‘established,’ ‘implemented,’ ‘initiated,’ or ‘spearheaded’ etc. Use verbs that demonstrate your collaborative attitude e.g ‘assist’, ‘contribute’, ‘support’, ‘provide’ etc.

Example:

Collaborated with multiple stakeholders and built a team of 7 analysts that resulted in revenue growth of $ 400K/ year

Highlight your achievements: The Ad Com will not look at your résumé for the number of years you have worked or for your simple job responsibilities. Instead, they will look for the quality of professional experience i.e. the skills you have acquired and the impact you have made on your organization. Résumés that do not quantify the outcome of your accomplishments fail to make an impression. So please make sure to quantify your impact on your company/organization with measurable results or achievements.

Try to provide specific details such as:

· How much or by what percentage you reduced expenses?

· How many people were on the team that you supervised?

· How much or by what percentage you increased sales?

Example:

Spearheaded a flagship project– ‘Change In Terms’ for the company– built a team of 5 analysts, translating into revenue of $100K

Also, when listing your professional experience, follow the reverse chronological order so your current professional experience gets the utmost attention.

Leave high school back in High School: Sometimes applicants fill precious space with high school accomplishments and grades. Please do not discuss your high school activities unless you did something exceptional for your age. You have come a long way after high school, and you are applying for graduate school, not college.

Include your extracurricular activities/ interests: Sometimes the applicants get so involved in the details of their professional experience that they tend to ignore extracurricular activities/community service and other interests/ hobbies. Please note that the schools are looking for well-rounded individuals, and not only professionals who have no interests beyond their work. Therefore, do not hesitate to include 2-3 hobbies that you feel passionate about and pursue in your non-work hours. Also, include community service activities you have been involved in.

Education Section: Please place your education section after professional career section and keep it short. It should show the schools you have attended, the areas of study, and ranking/ accomplishments etc. Beginning with the educations section is one of the most common mistakes the MBA applicants make.

Additional Information/Skills: If you have some certificates or awards, if you have learned some foreign languages, or if you possess advanced computer skills, you may use this section for this information. Also, if you have a long list of awards/ honors, you may create a separate section of ‘Awards and Honors’ to include that information.

Personal information/ List of References: Please do not provide your height, weight, date of birth, and marital status on your résumé. Also, no matter how handsome you are, please do not provide your picture on your résumé. Furthermore, please note that an MBA résumé is not a place for providing references. So you don’t want to use precious space in providing references or even mentioning ‘References on request’.

Lastly, and most importantly, edit and proofread your resume multiple times before you submit it. You do not want to ruin your first impression by careless spelling, grammar, and style errors. Get it reviewed by a second a pair of eyes to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Mrs. Poonam Tandon, a Ph.D. in English, possesses thirty years of teaching experience in India and the US. From 2001 to 2010, she worked as an English instructor in various community colleges and high schools in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to that, she had taught English in various high schools in India. In 2011, she launched her essay-review company (www.myEssayReview.com) for B-school applicants, and since then she has helped many applicants get into B-schools of their dreams. She is also one of the few certified admission consultants of AIGAC (Association of International Graduate Admission Consultants). Mrs. Tandon is an enthusiastic traveler and has traveled all over the world. She can be reached at poonam@myessayreview.com.

This article was first published in November, 2103 issue of Valley India Times.

The application season for B-school application is on. Most applicants have already submitted their applications for Round -1, while some are rushing to meet the remaining deadlines for their target B-schools in early November. Those who could not put together their applications for Round -1 are now getting ready to apply in Round -2.

When working with the B-school applicants on their application essays in the past two years, I have come across some common mistakes which, I believe, can be easily avoided with careful thought and preparation. The applicants can present a strong application for the Ad Com and boost their chances of admission if they make sure to avoid the following mistakes.

1. Insufficient Time:

Application essays are the most critical part of MBA application package, yet some candidates approach them casually and begin writing them a couple of day before the deadline which obviously does not leave them with enough time to strategize and think through their stories/ experiences. Writing an admission essay is a creative and time-consuming process during which they need to go through multiple stages of the writing process (brainstorming, writing, revising, editing, and re-editing) to achieve perfection. You may find it extremely challenging to produce quality work during that short period, if you are at work for long hours and work on your essays only at night when you are already exhausted from work. However, if you plan ahead and start on time, you will enjoy this process of reflecting on your experiences and translating them into memorable stories for the Ad Com.

2. Lack of Stories/real life experiences:

A major issue with most admission essays is– lack of stories or examples from real life. Some applicants just expand their resumes and rewrite them in a language that is filled with jargon, assuming everyone would comprehend them, while some others compose an objective statement of purpose that reads somewhat like a newspaper article which completely fails to tell the reader who they are.

The beginning of an essay should be engaging enough to hook the readers and make them want to continue reading your essay.

Bad Example:

“My career interest is in blending analytical thinking with business acumen to solve challenging problems.”

Beginning your essay like this is a killer. You can hook the reader into your story if you weave your life story around your goals as shown in the example below:

Good Example:

“I grew up helping my dad, an Electronics engineer, repair televisions, radios and anything that needed to be fixed around the house, as I was naturally drawn to applying analytical knowledge to solve problems.”

Also, when brainstorming details for your story, please make sure that you have included all the relevant details with a beginning, middle, and end that would make complete sense to the reader. Do not assume the readers (in this case Ad Com) to know what has not been relayed to them. One of the applicants I recently worked with apprised me of the most significant detail of her ‘team work challenge’ story during the final stages of the review process, and that too casually in an e-mail in response to my question. When I incorporated that information in the essay, it enhanced the overall impact of the story, making it more effective and compelling. Hence I would recommend that you share with your consultant all the minute details of your story, so your stories can be developed into impactful essays.

3. Failure to comprehend the essay prompt:

When writing essays, some applicants do not go deep into the essay prompt to comprehend its intent. As a result, the essay goes off track and fails to convey the underlying theme of the essay. For example, if the question is about the contribution to the XYZ School, you do not want to discuss your reasons for choosing that particular B-school. They are not asking you about their particular resources that interest you; rather they want to know in what ways they would benefit by accepting you. While elaborating what value you will add to your target school, make sure you connect your skill-set, your professional (e.g. professionalism, leadership potential, team working experience, and innovative ideas), and personal attributes (e.g. integrity, accountability, humorous disposition etc.), and experience to the specific activities and resources (clubs, organizations, team groups, etc.) of your target school.

4. Lack of adequate Structure/ organization of the essay:

You should pay equal attention to all aspects of the essay question. In order to answer the essay question holistically, you may break it down into multiple sub-segments and then build a structure around each sub segment. Some applicants go at length in addressing the first part of the essay question, leaving the other parts unanswered or unbelievably brief. For example, let’s take a look at Kellogg’s essay #1 “Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans, and your motivation for pursuing an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management” (500-750 words). In order to make sure that you address both sections effectively, you may break it down into two parts, and then describe the first part (your career progression) in approximately 300-350 words and the second part (your future career plans, and your motivation for pursuing an MBA at Kellogg) in approximately about 350-400 words.

Also, sometimes applicants inadvertently skip one or two parts of the essay prompt. For example, question no. 4 in the Personal Statement of MiF LBS has 5 parts, and it is likely that the applicant may skip 1-2 parts of it. In order to avoid that, you may number all the parts of the question and then address them one by one. After making sure that you have satisfactorily answered all the questions, you can always delete the numbers and restructure your responses in a paragraph format.

5. Hiring someone else to WRITE your essays:

As suggested in the beginning, Essay writing for B-schools is a time -consuming process ,and planning ahead and giving yourself sufficient time will not only help you produce memorable essays that project your candidacy in the best light, but will also prevent you from making that disastrous choice of hiring someone else for this job. One of the applicants I worked with during Round -3 got sick four days before the application deadline and in panic, he came up with the idea of hiring a professional writer for his ‘dinner party essay’ for Georgia Tech. When he asked for my advice, I explained to him that no one else except he himself could create this essay for him because it was about his views, his ideology, and his perspective which no professional writer or admission consultant could do for him.

6. Grammar and Sentence Structure Errors:

Some applicants compose exceptionally lengthy sentences stretching 4-5 lines, while some compose awkwardly phrased and grammatically incorrect sentences. Please note that writing extraordinarily bulky sentences is not an evidence of good English. The Ad Com will only get a couple of minutes to go through each essay, and you don’t want them to get entangled in the maze of your intricate sentences. I would recommend that you convey your message effectively in a clear, concise, and simple language that is easy to understand. Edit your essay multiple times to make sure there are no grammar or punctuation errors.

7. Inability to adhere to word limit:

Undoubtedly, following stringent word limits is an arduous task and often becomes one of the biggest challenges for almost all the applicants. They find it hard to figure out how to prune their writing and end up producing 700 words essay when the required word limit is 400 words. The Schools provide you specific word limit for a reason, and they expect you to adhere to it. So follow the principle of ‘less is more’ and be as precise as you can.

8. Use of jargon:

It has been a common experience for me to review essays filled with technical terms of the applicant’s industry. Whether it is ‘leadership’ essay, ‘setback’ essay, ‘goals’ essay, ‘ethical dilemma’ or even ‘background’ essay, most applicants inadvertently provide lengthy technical details which are comprehensible only to their industry people. In their enthusiasm to provide all the technical details of their experience, they often omit relevant information (e.g. ‘What were the main challenges?’ or ‘How was the experience meaningful?’ etc.) The use of excessive jargon not only makes it hard for the reader to comprehend your story, but also distracts them from the ‘real story’. Therefore, you should use only as much jargon in your essays as is required to convey your story.

To sum up, some of the common mistakes that the MBA applicants should avoid are: insufficient time to revise and edit essays, lack of real-life examples to answer essay questions, failure to comprehend the intent of the essay prompt and structure the essay well, omission of 1-2 parts of the essay question, sentence structure errors, non-compliance of the allowed word limit, and use of excessive jargon. Lastly, and most importantly, please do not ever ‘pay’ anyone to ‘write’ admission essays for you.

Good luck on your application!

This article was first published in September, 2013  issue of  Vallley India Times .

 

Essays are the most critical part of the application package for business schools. In fact, they are the heart of the application package that showcase those aspects of an applicant’s profile which other parts of their application package do not reveal. Unfortunately, some applicants do not put enough effort and time in their essays assuming their high GPA, great GMAT score, and strong work experience is all they require for entry into their dream B- School. Application essay writing is an extremely time-consuming process, and it demands lot of self-reflection, brainstorming, strategizing, drafting, revising rewriting, rewriting, and editing on the part of the applicants to enable them to paint a unique, compelling and authentic picture of their candidacy to the Ad Com.

There are many reasons why essays deserve your time and effort.

Reason # 1

Firstly, B-schools use essays as tools to know their prospective candidates outside of the typical academic and professional environment. Your GMAT scores, grades, and work experience do not tell them who you really are. The Schools use essays to see how you think and process information to navigate through certain situations. They ask candidates about the challenging work situation they encountered(Darden), adversity/failure/setback they faced (INSEAD, Kellogg, HAAS, Tuck) or cross-cultural experience (INSEAD) that they have had, because they want to know how they respond to these challenging situations, grow from them, learn their lessons, and eventually become better people or professionals.

Some schools ask questions about the applicants’ ‘strengths that have contributed to their success’ (UNC Kennan Flagler), or their ‘personal and professional accomplishments’ (INSEAD, HAAS) so they can get a holistic view of their candidacy.

Reason # 2

Secondly, all schools require their prospective candidates to write ‘goals’ essay because they need to know what their career goals/aspirations are, what has driven them to set these goals, how their professional experience and/accomplishments have helped them define their goals, and how they plan to achieve them.

Also, essays are utilized by B-schools as tools to match the candidates with their particular programs. The match goes both ways. For example, questions like ‘how do you think this program will help you achieve your goals?’ and “how do you think you will contribute to the school?” are asked to ensure how your target school will help you accomplish your objectives/goals and what value you will add to the school. Truly, essays are wonderful instruments to establish the applicants’ ‘fit’ with the school. Therefore, you must have a clear idea of your future plans and do a thorough research of the programs of your target school so you can make a convincing connection between you and your target school’s offerings/resources in your essays.

Reason # 3

Furthermore, B-schools push their candidates for leadership, networking, teamwork and the development of relationships. Since business is about two things primarily- competition and relationships, business schools need students who will survive and thrive in relationships with some healthy competition. Essay questions like ‘most meaningful leadership experience’, (Kellogg, Tuck, Yale, Rice) and ‘a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone’ (MIT) are designed by B-Schools to know if you possess these qualities to thrive in the business world.

Reason # 4

Lastly, B-schools encourage diversity, and they want to fill in their class rooms not only with candidates from various industries, but also from diverse ethnicities. Hence some schools (Kelley) require applicants to write ‘background’ essays specifically asking ‘how your background and your experiences will contribute to the diversity of the entering class and enhance the educational experience of other students’?

Thus, the essays provide you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants with similar backgrounds. Your past accomplishments, clearly defined goals, and other personal (integrity, honesty, accountability, diligence) and professional attributes (leadership qualities, team working abilities, initiative etc.) projected through your essays will give you a definitive edge over candidates having similar GPA, GMAT score and work experience. Essays can be instrumental in admissions for those belonging to the competitive applicant pools: consulting, investment banking, and IT.

Summary:

To sum up, essays showcase that side of the applicants which other parts of their application package do not reveal. They tell stories about how you go about making decisions, how you are influenced by other people, how you sail through challenges, and how you grow from those experiences. Secondly, essays are used as tools to determine the applicants’ career goals and their ‘fit’ with their target school. Additionally, essays are important tools to evaluate applicants for their personal and professional attributes through their accomplishments and the factors that have influenced their personality. Hence you need to spend significant amount of time in introspecting your strengths, weaknesses, career goals and the factors that have contributed to your goals, so you can weave them into engaging stories in your essays to reveal your well-rounded personality to the Ad Com. Remember, well-crafted authentic, compelling, and persuasive essays will distinguish you in the most competitive applicant pool and earn you admit into your coveted B-school.

 

This article was fist published in April , 2014 issue of Valley India Times.

“We don’t swim, we don’t snorkel or surf, so all we can do is relax at the beach,” I would say to my husband whenever we vacationed at a coastal town. I always thought that the only way for us to enjoy the ocean was to gaze at the rising and falling waves, the setting or the rising sun in the horizon, or to soak our feet in the knee deep water on the soft sand beach. However, this assumption was dispelled during our vacation to Hawaii two months back. We discovered there that we could engage in other activities such as taking a submarine trip and a whale watching cruise etc. And we planned to go ahead with these tours.

We booked the Reef Dancers submarine trip through Aunt Snorkel located in the shopping complex one block away from our vacation resort in Kihei Ni Nani. For 11:00 am tour, we reached the Lahaina harbor at 10:30 am and boarded the semi-submersible glass bottom boat at 10:50. Its passenger compartment was below water, and everyone had a window seat so they could have a decent look outside.

As we made ourselves comfortable on the window seat of the glass sub marine, we were introduced to the world underneath the sea- a world of living entities hitherto unknown to us. As the submarine pierced through the water, we started spotting a large variety of tropical fish and lots of coral formations of myriad shapes and colors,the most conspicuous of them green corals that looked like cauliflower. Swimming fearlessly in the safety of their abodes, the fish appeared to be unaware of the presence of the enormous submarine, loaded with curious onlookers, intruding into their world. After about fifteen minutes, the scuba diver appeared in front of our window with a sea cucumber that he had brought from the bottom of the sea for us to have a closer look. He placed it on his lips like a mustache and then swam around all the widows to demonstrate his exploit while the narrator gave a commentary on the diver’s findings. Next, the diver came up with a pokey sea urchin that he held on his finger. The narrator informed us that the sting of the pokey sea urchins is so deep that it takes 2-3 weeks of hospitalization for the person to heal and recover from the wound. Soon, he came up with a purple yellow fish called sea star because it actually looked like a star. Just then, one of the staff standing next to me pointed out a turtle, so I was fortunate to spot a turtle, too, towards the end of the trip.

 

Scuba diver

Exploring the underwater world was an experience of life time. It kept us glued to the glass windows for full one hour, as we gazed at the fascinating creatures living so deep under the surface of the sea. And the narration certainly added to the experience. The wide variety of sea life absolutely entranced and the one hour cruise left us wanting for more.

Our curiosity about the exotic marine creatures took the better of us and we got the following day’s reservation for a whale watching cruise through Pacific Whale Foundation at Maalaea village. It was a 2- hour cruise with a group of 20 people in boats called catamarans that are designed for optimal whale watching views. The staff not only entertained us with fascinating facts about the majestic humpback whales, but also kept us engaged with questions about these whales that travel 2,000 miles from Alaska to Hawaii each season to stay in the warm waters from December to April. The narrator told us that these 45 feet long humpback whales migrate to Maui in large numbers to mate, give birth and care for their young. Their gestation period is nearly a year, so a mate conceived in Maui one winter will be born here the next year. Throughout the two hour long trip, all the passengers, armed with cameras and binoculars peered across the vast Pacific Ocean to catch a glimpse of this enormous majestic creature.

We felt that our efforts paid off when we were able to catch a glimpse of the humpback for a total of three times. Watching its shining smooth black tail standing erect before sinking back in the sea with a loud splash was nothing short of a visual delight. The captain announced that he would take us to an area where we might be able to spot more whales. In the middle of ocean, all I could hear was a medley of roaring waves and the sound of the catamaran. Suddenly, the boat slowed down and soon came to a complete halt. And then we could hear the strange sounds from under the sea, and the captain informed that the male humpbacks were singing that song to woo the female humpback. The underwater hydrophones enabled us to listen to live whale song from the deck of the boat. Listening to the unique song, I asked the narrator as to how many whales were singing the song, and he replied that probably two were singing-one in faint voice and the other one in loud voice. After this unusual but mesmerizing concert of these extraordinary performers, humpback whales,we started sailing back.

Thus, exploring the unknown world under the surface water without actually going under it (and without even getting wet) was definitely an exhilarating experience –an experience I would highly recommend especially to parents with small kids and to people like us who are cautious about water activities.

 

This article was first published in March issue of Valley India Times.

For long I had heard great things about Hawaii islands that had created in my mind a picture of a heavenly place that everyone in the US must visit at least once. But our fascination for foreign travel never actually gave us an opportunity to experience any of those spectacular Hawaiian Islands. Last year, when both our daughters visited Maui, the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain, and raised its praises to the skies, I and my husband decided to plan a one-week trip to this magnificent island. I must say the island’s unique culture and abundant natural charm enchanted us instantaneously. From December 5 to December 12, we explored the diverse facets of its primary attractions– Luau, Banyan tree, whale watching, submarine trip, blow hole, Iowa needle, Haleakala sunrise, and lastly, a one day road trip to Hana. Today, I would like to share our experiences of the most exciting and unforgettable road trips I have ever taken- Road to Hana.

We preferred to venture to Hana in our rental car instead of opting for a guided tour so we could spend time at our preferred stops at will. Leaving our condo Kihei ka Nani at 7:00 am, we drove 13 miles to get to Hana Highway 36. It was strongly recommended that we fill up our gas tank before Paia because after that, there will be no gas station on the 45 mile drive to Hana. So we filled up the gas tank and set off on our exhilarating journey to Hana. After a couple of miles, we spotted a fresh fruit shop. That reminded me that our daughters were highly appreciative of the fresh fruits shops on the way, so we made it a point to pull over at the very first fruit shop and bought a pack of fresh pine apple. Taking a bite of the delicious pineapple, we began treading a nearby trail alongside tall bamboo trees for some distance until we decided against spending too much time on the first stop itself and walked back to the car to move ahead on our journey.

At 9: 00 am, we made it to our first major stop ‘Arboretum & Botanical Garden at mile marker 10. There is an admission fee of $ 15 per person, which is absolutely worth it, considering the heavenly experience it entitles you to. The garden is rightly called the Garden of Eden, and you instantly get a feel of its sanctity when on entering the garden you receive a warm welcome by the peacocks and ducks leisurely wandering near small pool and across the dirt road with no fear of the approaching car. There is something magical about them that makes you get off your car, walk up to them to just admire them, talk to them, picture them or buy food to feed them.

 

Garden of Eden

 

This pristine unspoiled garden has the finest collection of 750 botanically labeled and meticulously nurtured trees, exquisite flowers, and tiny pools that you cannot stop gazing at. The garden is also known for the large rock near the ocean below that is seen in the opening scene of the movie ‘Jurassic Park’- a great photo opportunity for all. Also, it boasts of a 100 years old mango tree and a beautiful painted Eucalyptus tree. Unfortunately, we missed the Eucalyptus tree. We kept searching for it in the map they provided us with the entry ticket, but we later discovered that it stood right near the entrance of the garden. (Actually, we happened to listen to this part of the CD after we left the ArboretumL) .

Garden of Eden-2

 

I fell in love with the garden for its quiet, serene splendor that seemed to whisper into my ears, ‘slow down, be quiet, and take in the beauty around you.’ I responded to it inadvertently and strolled around, gazing in wonderment at the trees, flowers, and ducks frolicking in the tiny pools that I lost count of time. I would have spent the entire day in the Garden of Eden if my husband hadn’t gotten mad at me for taking too long at the first stop, knowing fully well that we had a long journey ahead and also had to drive back home the same day.

We finally bid good bye to the ‘Garden of Eden’ and continued our onward journey. Traveling through the lush rain forests, exotic flowers and fruits, lively waterfalls, scenic look outs offering a picturesque view of the Pacific Ocean, I felt a unique proximity with nature. The only thing that reminded me of the modern times was the sound of the cars, and the flashing of cameras.

We made two photo stops before reaching half way to Hana at about 11:30 and then pulled over at a shop before Nahiku market for a taste of the delicious homemade Maui ice-cream and fresh coconut water. Nahiku market is the only big market on the road to Hana that is known for its amazing fish tacos and Maui grown coffee. The fish taco shop was closed that day. We, however, had a taste of Maui home grown coffee at the coffee shop on our return journey. We made our next stop at the Kahano garden- a somewhat less touristed but uniquely spectacular spot. Before you take a turn to explore this garden, be mindful of the mile long rocky road that leads to the Kahanu garden. When passing through this bumpy dirt road, I was so engrossed in taking pictures that I accidentally dropped the camera on to the road and broke it. Looking at the smashed camera, the attendant at the entrance felt so sorry that she waived the $ 10 admission fee for us. The camera episode obviously upset me momentarily, and I forgot to explore the temple in this garden which is said to be the oldest remaining structure in the US. We, however, did roam around the sprawling gardens to savor the breathtaking view of the palm trees that seemed to reach the sky, and also walked up to the shoreline with ocean waves crashing at the shore.

The last stop before the town of Hana was Wai’anapnapa State Park. Here cabins are available for rentals, and some people stay here for 1-2 days to get a real Hana experience. For me, the park stood out for its unique black sand beach. Soaking my feet in the black sand, letting it slip under my feet while gazing at the sea felt like being transported to another world. Another magical feature about this beach is the caves along the shoreline that simply take your breath away. We spotted some people lay relaxing on the black sand, enjoying the slow pace of life at Hana.

We, however, could not afford that luxury as we had planned to go back to Maui town. Some people take the entire loop of the mountain to experience Waimoku Falls and Seven Sacred Pools at Haleakala National Park. But we drove around this beautiful, seemingly lazy Hana town and then started heading back home for another dose of amazing experience on our return journey. I believe it’s not the destination Hana that one is looking for, rather it is the entire 100 mile drive back and forth that has countless hidden natural treasures for everyone to uncover.

This journey has so much to offer to everyone that you can ever get tired of it. If you enjoy soaking under the waterfall, you will find it an exciting place. If you are fond of hiking, there are numerous trails on this route that you can explore. And if you are a laid back nature lover like us whose preference is to share nature and let your imagination wander, this road trip has more to offer you than you can imagine. The truth is there is no right or wrong way for your Hana adventure; each one of us can create our own way to make this adventure an everlasting memory.

This is an experience I would love to repeat, for I am sure next time this journey is going to reveal many more secret treasures to me. Aloha J

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Valley India Times.

It is common knowledge that the kangaroo is one of the most iconic animals of Australia. It is also an unofficial symbol of Australia and is important to Australian culture and national image. Koala is another lovely native animal of Australia. Since we were keen to glance at these adorable Australian creatures, we made Koala Park Sanctuary a part of our itinerary during our five days’ stay in Sydney, Australia. We wanted to see them living naturally in the eucalyptus groves and native gardens, so instead of making a trip to the Zoo that was close to our hotel, we planned to visit Koala Park Sanctuary that was about an hour’s train journey from Sydney. We boarded the train from Central Station for Pennant Station at 10:00 am; from Pennant station we took a bus and reached Koala park sanctuary at around 11:20.

Koala -2

Far from the madding crowd of Sydney, the Koala Park is nestled in 10 acres of lush rain forests. It was started by Noel Burnet in October of 1930 who became alarmed at the high numbers of koalas shot for the large export fur trade and was afraid that this lovable and unique animal might disappear from the face of the earth. He created this sanctuary to provide a safe environment to koalas in which they could live and breed naturally. Later he brought in other native Australian birds and animals like kangaroos, dingoes, wombats, echidnas, emus, tiny penguins, many wallaby species, cockattoos and many other Australian native birds.

It being summer vacation in Sydney, the park had come alive with joyous chatter of kids in the age group of 2-10 who were accompanied by their parents and teachers. Eagerly looking for the signs of kangaroos or koalas, we turned to the first sign that read ‘Koalas’ and spotted a bunch of koalas clung to the Eucalyptus tree in their thick ash grey fur. It was fascinating to see that except for one, all the 10-12 koalas were asleep. That single koala was munching leaves and climbing up and down the tree while all its other companions closely clasped the branches in deep slumber.

While we were absorbed in fondly gaping at these little creatures, one of the zoo keepers came up to present the scheduled show at 11:45. In a small talk on koalas, she informed us that the koalas often sleep for 18-20 hours in a day and they like to sleep at the topmost point of the tree. They have special enzymes that make them digest Eucalyptus tree leaves which are otherwise poisonous. Most of their time is spent sleeping because it requires a lot of energy to digest their toxic, fibrous, low-nutrition diet, and sleeping is the best way to conserve energy. She also told us that koalas receive over 90% of their hydration from the Eucalyptus leaves they eat, and only drink when ill or times when there is not enough moisture in the leaves i.e. during droughts etc.

After the talk, she pulled down the hero of the show, the one and only active koala, and seated it on the fence. She then directed the visitors to form a line so they could cuddle it and pose for pictures. She also warned that koalas are very aggressive creatures, so we should not try to feed them. However, with the zoo keeper standing right next to it, the koala behaved like an obedient and docile kid while everyone took their turn in patting and posing for pictures and videos, the camera flashes constantly glinting into its eyes. In 15-20 minutes, the show was over and the performing koala was carefully placed by her caretaker on the branch where it again started munching leaves. Just then, I spotted another one waking up slowly, and I speculated if this one was going to be the performer of the next show scheduled in two hours.

We would have spent the entire afternoon watching these adorable sleepy creatures, but the curiosity to glance at the kangaroos motivated us to move ahead in search of the sign of kangaroos. They were placed in the feeding area not far from the koalas. The visitors were allowed to step in and experience the company of wandering kangaroos in the feeding area. Initially, I was scared to go close to them fearing they might not like human closeness, so I preferred to maintain a distance. Seeing other visitors, including kids cuddling and feeding them without any park employee to watch over them or any signs of warning to keep a distance, I gradually let go of my fear and stepped closer to the one who stood a couple of yards away, staring vacantly. I slightly touched him on his back. He appeared to be neither pleased nor annoyed, but somewhat indifferent, which encouraged us to remain in the feeding area longer to watch their movements. One of the kangaroos slowly moved on his hind legs and tail and started sniffing the large blue bag that hung on my husband’s shoulders, apparently looking for some food, but unfortunately, we forgot to buy food for them.

Strolling around the huge open area, we were having fun watching them hopping around with their small front legs and long hind legs. We also spotted one of the kangaroos in a corner affectionately cuddling another kangaroo. My husband quipped, “Looks like he is wooing his lady love.” “How cute!” I said. I felt that the presence of human beings did not seem to bother them a bit; in fact, they appeared to enjoy it. We, too, enjoyed the hospitality of these incredibly amiable and somewhat meek creatures who had so warmly welcomed strange humans to their homes.

Moving on, we said bye to our friends and stepped out of the area to get acquainted with other wonderful inhabitants of this sanctuary. Passing by an enclosure, we stopped when a bird attracted our attention with its greeting ‘hello’. We noticed that when these birds called cockatoos, shrieked in excitement, their feathers opened up. These enthusiastic and friendly birds enthralled us for as long as we stayed outside their cages, and when we parted, we could hear them bidding us farewell by a distinctly audible “bye”.

It was 2:00 pm, almost time for the sheep shearing show which we didn’t want to miss. So we began strolling up to the venue of sheep shearing while gorgeous peacocks leisurely crossed our path. We seated ourselves in the first row 10 minutes before the show time in order to get the best view. After a small talk about the equipment used in shearing the sheep and about the process of sheep shearing, the shearer pulled out a sheep from behind the enclosure and started shearing it. It took him about 5-7 minutes to strip the sheep of all its woolen fleece. To my amazement, the sheep appeared to be pretty accustomed to this painless routine that each sheep has to go through every year.

Thoroughly fascinated by this wonderful act, we headed to the last show of the day- the little penguins’ show. These tiny penguins weighing only one kg are inhabitants of Australia and eat only fish. The 10 minute show demonstrated each of the three penguins jumping up to grab fish from the caretakers and then hopping around the small pond joyfully.

I must say that while roaming around the Koala Park for a couple of hours and witnessing these amazing creatures perform in their natural abodes, we established a sense of connection with them. Even though they did not speak our language, they easily connected with us, communicated with us in their own unique ways, and made us feel welcome in their homes.

This article was first published in the July , 2013 issue of Valley India Times .

“Tomorrow I will drive you to Taupo via Rotorua and show you our New Zealand’s wonders along the way. I have booked overnight accommodation for us”, announced Arun , our Auckland based friend, barely an hour after we landed in Auckland after a 4-day trip to Queenstown, Wanaka, and Invercargill in South Island, New Zealand.

Our itinerary for North Island had already been planned by our enthusiastic friends. Like dutiful children, we got ready on time next morning to experience scenic delights of North Island. At 9:00 we headed out in their new Chevrolet for Taupo, a city 135 miles away from Auckland, the most populous city of New Zealand. Throughout the drive, we savored the pristine grandeur of lush vast expansive grasslands in the lap of hills and a delightful sight of herds of sheep and cows leisurely grazing along which explained why wool and dairy products have been New Zealand’s major exports. We, however, noticed that there were no gas stations for very long stretches and the public rest areas were completely missing on highways. The fact that New Zealand is a small country with a population of only four million may explain the absence of public restrooms and the scarcity of gas stations on the highways. At around 12:00, when we started noticing signs of population, we guessed we are making our way into the city of Rotorua. Suddenly, my husband remarked, “Why do I smell hydrogen sulphide?” Just then, I spotted the fumes emanating from one of the houses on the left side of the road. “What is it burning outside that house?” I asked curiously, and soon after, I sighted similar fumes emerging from another house we drove past. “This is what city of Rotorua is known for- the sulphur springs. It is a remidner of Rotorua’s volacanic history.” Arun said, unfolding one of his ‘secrets’ about the ‘wonders’ he had mentioned the previous night.

As we gaped in wonder the hissing steams emerging from road side vents, he pulled over at Kuirau Park at Sulphur Springs Point. Alighting from the car, we found ourselves in the midst of nature’s most extraordinary wonders available to us at no cost. Yes, there was no entry fee at the park. The strong smell that lingered in the air now felt stronger. The picture of Rotorua thermal activity was all around us; the park was full of gurgling mud pools. Strolling on the walking tracks, we watched this geothermal activity in amazement from the cool side of the safety fences. We wondered how the natives of this city cope with the presence of sulphur springs and the recurrent pungent smell of hydrogen sulphide.

After a quick bite of vegetarian sandwich and tea at McDonalds at Fairy Springs, we continued our journey to our destination Taupo. Barely ten minutes later, I caught sight of the sign that read Mitai Maori Village. That reminded me of the unique Maoriculture in New Zealand that I had read about long time back in one of the high school textbooks. Eager to catch a glimpse of Maori culture, we pulled over and enquired at the front desk. Unfortunately, all the shows about Maori culture (tribal dances etc.) were held at night, not during day time, so we could not get a chance to experience Maori culture.

Around hour an hour drive through pastures with surrounding hills, we reached Huka falls, the largest falls on the Waikato River, near Taupo. It is the most visited and photographed waterfalls in New Zealand. The name Huka is the Maori word for ‘foam’, which is apt for the falling water forming foam. There are many fabulous walks alongside the Falls, so if you have the energy to walk a lot and have enough time, you can hike on the trails and take in the unspoiled charm of this natural wonder from various angles. We walked around for about half hour or so, took pictures from various scenic points, and curiously watched the jet boat precariously taking a 360 degree turn on clean, blue gushing waters with the riders shrieking in excitement. Since we had planned to get to Taupo before sun set, we headed off to Lake Taupo – half-heartedly, though. If you are visiting New Zealand, you must visit Huka Falls to experience the unparalleled natural splendor for no price.-yes, it’s free!

A couple of minutes’ drive took us to The Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand (about the size of Singapore), surrounded by towering mountains. Watching the sun sink into the stunningly blue waters of this enormous lake was a visual treat. Before retiring to the guest house, we had dinner at an Indian restaurant, Master of India; I loved the food because my request of food without spices was acceded to without any fuss. And for me, getting a mild Indian food in a faraway land felt like being home away from home. Thus, besides natural wonders what I loved the most about New Zealand was the incredibly friendly New Zealanders who would do anything to make you feel welcome.

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