The Moses Moment at Mount Hamilton
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The Moses Moment at Mount Hamilton

Two angry eyes were staring down at us from the heavens. God had parted the celestial veil and revealed His face before us. We stared back at Him for a very long time.

travel Updated: Nov 18, 2011 11:03 IST

I am no Moses and this isn't Mount Sinai; but on a cold, windy
sundown hour atop Mount Hamilton, my brother Sameer suddenly jolted me with a
plaintive cry, "Look, there is an eye in the sky!" I looked at the sight
amazed. Two angry eyes were staring down at us from the heavens. God had parted
the celestial veil and revealed His face before us. We stared back at Him for a
very long time.

We had reached Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton (4000 ft) from San Jose, California, via a lazy 45- minute drive. It was sundown time and we stood outside the Observatory taking in the near 360-degree view of the plains below. The wind was tearing at our jackets, blowing away our mufflers as it also piled up multi coloured chunks of cotton wool over the horizon. The sun was setting and out of its haze the face began to take shape. First the eyes were formed, then the nose appeared suddenly out of a bundle of cotton wool. The rest of the face soon took shape. It was a rarest of rare moments - a Moses moment.

The face stayed with us with some time. First, it peered down at us angrily. Then, it turned quizzical and finally, it became benign. The moments of revelation passed in unhurried seconds. God had made peace with us. He then blew in a gust of wind which re-veiled Him from us.

The photogenic moment in the sky had us spellbound. A click of the camera here and another there were the only interruptions that we allowed ourselves in those minutes of eye-lock with the face in the sky. It was an incredible experience atop an otherwise dull hillside on the fringes of San Jose city.

In fact, few people come to Mount Hamilton. The Lick Observatory is no tourist attraction and when we had started out from the city, Sameer had taken precautions to stock up on some snacks and water. The route to the hilltop has no human inhabitation and traffic is limited to perhaps a dozen cars in a day. As a result, it is virtually pollution free and visibility is excellent. On any given day, one can stand atop the Mount and enjoy the spectacular view of San Francisco Bay area which is good 50 km away as well as the Santa Clara Valley below.

The sinuous 31-km Mt. Hamilton Road is popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists. Built in 1875-76 in anticipation of the observatory, and the need to carry materials and equipment up the mountain in horse-drawn wagons, the climb is gentle. The road rises over 4,000 feet in three long climbs from San Jose to the mountain top.

The road is advertised to include 365 curves, one for each day of the year. This is true, subject to definition of the term "curve." If the yellow line bends to the right, then straightens out, then bends to the right again, it is regarded as one curve. If the yellow line describes an ess, on the other hand, it counts as two curves, regardless of how gentle the ess may be.

Cyclists' fondness for the road relates to the long but not overly challenging nature of the climb, sparse vehicular traffic over most of its length, and spectacular views of San Jose and the rest of the valley below. There is an annual cycling challenge climb in April.

Ashwini is a Lucknow-based media professional who culls out travel experiences while on mundane assignments

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First Published: Nov 18, 2011 11:03 IST