Until Nov 2016 I did not have the slightest clue that I would be moving to the US. It all happened in a jiffy. Project change, visa amendments, visa stamping, and cut to New Jersey’s biting winter! Accustoming to the new environment took me more time than I had anticipated but I did well, nonetheless. So much so that I can now call it my home away from home. Few close pals of mine were on constant lookout for me, rendering their valuable suggestions and moral support, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. It only makes me realise who I had earned so far in life 🙂 Before I realised I completed one year in the US. One year of being on my own! This post is to list out all the places I have explored in the Garden State so far and perhaps update the list as and when I traverse more.
Work brought me to the North New Jersey, its proximity to New York City was a delight and its diversity a shock! I find more migrants than locals here. Year one kept me busy at work and while at leisure, exploring the state and its neighbouring states.
New Jersey is famous for its shores, views, and winding stretches of highways. It has a long history of feeding its metropolitan neighbours since the time of Revolutionary War when the colonists relied on its fertile soil, and that’s how it earned its moniker.
Talking about NJ’s shores and its views, my most favourite places by the seaside are Hoboken and Liberty State Park. One can see Midtown Manhattan from Hoboken and Lower Manhattan skyline from Liberty State Park. Ferries, buses, and subway trains help people commute between Manhattan and Hoboken. The century-old rail and road tunnel between the two states, although far from being an engineering marvel as compared to European countries, with a fair share of unglamourous news in the recent past, still plays a vital role in ferrying people in and out of the country’s busiest city.
Getting around in NJ if not very convenient, hasn’t been hindering either. Getting to New York City is easier than getting to any other place in Jersey 😛 Places of exchange such as Newark Broadstreet and Newark Penn Station help interstate commuters getting to their destination by buses and trains.
Liberty State Park
The first thing you notice when you are at the Liberty State Park is the 12 American flags and the rear-view of the Statue of Liberty in the background. The first time I ever visited the park was on Sep 11th, when all the flags were at half-mast to commemorate 9/11 attack.
Liberty State Park is bordered by water on three sides, and most of the area is on landfill. Docks serve ferries to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Liberty walk, a crescent-shaped promenade along the waterfront offering a panoramic view of Manhattan is the best part of the park.
The Park also houses a Science Center and a memorial to the 9/11 attack called ‘Empty Sky’. Two parallel walls engraved with the names of the deceased, with the remnants of the mighty towers in the foreground, are erected to face the former WTC site as a poignant tribute to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Having visited the site on Sep 11th, I could also witness the Tribute in Light across the river.
Washington Rock State Park
A rocky outcrop that was a strategic lookout for George Washington to monitor British troop movements during the Revolutionary War, offering a clear view for 30 miles then, continues to offer a panoramic vista covering the eastern plains of New Jersey up to NYC today. Located on top of Watchung mountains, I could see the One World Observatory from there.
New Jersey has 31 State Parks. Quite a number for my future explorations 🙂
Indians in NJ are privileged to have access to numerous temples of various deities. The most famous of them all is Balaji Temple in Bridgewater. The speciality of this temple is, as the name suggests it is not just The Lord Venkateshwara that is worshipped here but many other Gods, both in the north and south Indian styles. This attracts a lot of devotees. The temple also has a cafeteria, to which the visitors throng for authentic south Indian cuisines served at a nominal fee.
ISKCON is another temple which has its presence in Plainfield. Compared to its counterpart in Bengaluru, the temple in barely 1/3rd of the one we have in my city. Many events are held here every weekend and during festivals. ISKCON also has a cafeteria offering unlimited buffet spread every afternoon. They also cater lunch to offices around New Jersey.
The third and the most ‘feel-at-home’ temple visit I have had was to Shri Krishna Vrundavana temple in Edison. The presiding deity in the Vrindavana is Udupi Sri Krishna. In line with ‘Hari Sarvothama- Vayu Jeevothama’ the Vrindavana worships Hanuman and Sri Raghavendra Swamy in the form of Mruthika Brundavana. I had visited the temple during the month of Shravana, for Rayara aradhane and I was delighted to see how they managed to perform every event similar to the way it’s done back in Karnataka. So much so that the lunch served afterwards did not have any shortcomings. The only thing missing was plantain leaves. Nowhere else had I seen so many Kannadigas under one roof, all in traditional attire. The innermost sanctum is a work of art, the carvings on the wood made me think if they were brought from India and installed here or if they brought sculptors from India to have them done here in the US. Either way, it was sheer pleasure to experience the proceedings.
There are umpteen universities in the state of New Jersey of which only two colleges were established in the colonial period – Princeton University and Rutgers, The State Univesity of NJ. I have had the opportunity to visit Princeton University located in Princeton, NJ. The university is easily accessible via NJ Transit. From where I live, I had to switch three trains to get there with a total travel time of 1.5 hours.
Princeton a private ivy league research university is the fourth oldest institution of higher education in the US. The university has graduated many notable alumni like Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama. Albert Einstein was affiliated with the institute until his death.
Walking on the vast college campus, passing by its Gothic style buildings, I reached Cleveland Tower, which houses a carillon. I had read about the Carillon of 67 bells installed in the Graduate College’s tower played on Sundays throughout the year at 1 PM and made sure I reached there on time to hear the bells played manually with fists and feet. 40,000 pounds of bronze bells called the Carillons hang high in the tower. Entry to the tower is restricted, and one can only hear the bells around the campus.
Princeton’s mascot is a tiger, and one can see two larger than life bronze sculptures of Bengal tigers installed on the campus.
Princeton’s way of bringing the world to its campus, to benefit its students and the visitors from around the world is by collecting extraordinary works of art spanning the globe. The University Museum which houses over 92,000 collections has become a place where the world’s visual culture can be encountered under one roof.
Before calling it a day and taking my train back home, I made a quick stop at Albert Einstein house at Mercer Street in Princeton. Now a privately owned property, with no markers or plaques, is not open to the public as Einstein reportedly requested that the house may not be made a museum.
Desi in Videsh
Like I mentioned before, the cultural diversity of NJ came to me as a surprise. I had heard about the massive Indian community living here but was bewildered to experience it first hand. Edison, Jersey City, Parsipanny, Piscataway are few places which have large Indian populations. I did not want to live in any of these just because I wanted to experience other lifestyles and chose to live in New Providence. Another advantage of selecting this locality was its proximity to my workplace in Summit. I spend minimal time commuting to work, and it’s the best thing I could do to myself. Once a month I pick one of these desi communities for grocery shopping, eating out and catching up new movies. One thing I miss in the US is mom-and-pop stores. One has to drive a long distance to shop for household stuff and are forced to buy from big-box stores where everything comes in huge portions, and not at all single occupancy friendly. Thanks to technology, I order most stuff online and have it delivered home. Even the outlet malls are scarce here. One place where I frequent to find most things under one roof is Mills at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth.
Last summer and fall had beautiful vistas in and around the state. There are many hiking trails, waterfalls and lakes to explore. A few friends and I went on my first 4-mile hike to Bear Mountains in upstate NY. Can’t wait for the weather to get better for us to be out and about soon.
That was my year one in NJ in about 2K words. I have kickstarted my year two as I post this blog, looking forward to exploring more, learning more while I believe in the adage – ‘Go where life takes; take what life throws.’