We begin this story in the middle.
Six of us have just clambered over last rocks onto the crater rim of the planet's highest free standing mountain. We felt like we were on top of the world, standing there with a cup of tea, with the sun rising behind us with Mawenze in sillhouette, a full moon on the western horizon and a cutting wind blowing from glaciers the next generation might not get to see. And for me & Kavi it was one hell of an anniversary!
The night seemed like a distant dream, from where we were. We'd started walking sometime before midnight, from School hut down in the east of the mountain. At first progress was slow and measured, legs freezing up as we took stops. Over the night we had left Navdha behind at Hans Meyer cave because she couldn't keep pace with the rest of us. She was going to make it too, but that was no place for waiting. We had to push on towards the peak on the west.
At Stella Point, we dropped off all our backpacks and headed up. Sleep deprivation was competing with the oxygen withdrawal at this point and with unsteady legs we got to the very top. Not that there's anything to see there, just a board and tickmark on your list. But it did mark a very important point in the whole trip. From this moment now, everything would be downhill.
As much as I could feel proud about that moment, we were there thanks to the efforts of 32 people who were behind us and often ahead of us to set up camp & welcome us with hot food in every camp. To them, I'd like to say Ahsante Sana!
Look back six nights back and you'd find a different sentiment among as we settled down in our first night at the Big Tree camp. The comforts of the city was still fresh on our minds, everything seemed uphill. Sure, we were full of popcorn, warm chai and not too worse for wear. But in a crowded campsite, we had trouble sleeping and the Diamox ensured I was waking up every two hours to pee. And in the near zero temperatures, we were thankful for the zippered toilet tents.
The second day was a jaunt through the rainforest too. But this time the mountain decided to rain on our parade. Never before have I regretted not carrying a poncho so much. After moving my camera under Partha's poncho, I decided to ignore the damp pants and walk it off. By the time we reached our camp, the Sun had come out of the clouds, but the rain had dampened more than our spirits. Our sleeping bag liners were wet, as were my waterproof pants in my bag. After drying some of that in the cooks' tent, we settled in for what turned out to be a really cold night. We were already on the smallest mountain of the trio that makes up Kilimanjaro - Shira. And for the very first time, we could see the giant we were out to climb - Kibo.
The night at Shira 1 camp, the temperatures dropped below freezing. I knew this because my stomach decided to void itself at 2 AM, leaving little choice but to follow the call of nature. By early morning, the tents had started to sweat on the inside from the moisture in our breath. A thin sheet of ice had started to form on the roof, which would melt once the Sun came out and drip back onto our faces as we got dressed up.
The walk to Shira 2 camp across the plateau was rather uneventful. We split up into groups, with Partha (the fittest among us, also the oldest) leading in, with Navdha in the rear and the rest of us distributed in the middle. This was a rest day of sorts, so we landed up at the camp around lunch time and settled in for a nap. We were out of the clouds and we had entered the heather.
The walk from Shira 2 to Moir hut was perhaps the easiest of the trip. We had all acclimatized well. Given a flat approach to the next camp, I took off and tried to catch up with Partha who had moved ahead. But Kavi was having trouble and had to grab her inhaler. The rest of the section was covered comfortably, but in rather good time. This was the last part we had in common with the Lemosho route, so we we took the evening to do some more climbing to try and breathe some air at 4000 metres. Navdha had trouble climbing, so we sent her back and headed up the rock to watch a brilliant sunset. Unfortunately, that meant that we had to do our climb down using headlamps - but we were in a good mood all of us.
The switch over from Moir hut to the Northern Circuit was what followed the next day. A bright sunny day for walking, but the guides had convinced us that it was shorter than it was. After a number of "camp is beyond that ridge", we finally got to the Pofu camp. I think we lost trust in guides a bit that day. Eventually even after we saw the cample, the walk took us an hour to finish even after because of the ridges and switchbacks slowing us down a bit. This seemed like a temporary campsite, because we were the only ones there. And being out of the wind, I took this opportunity to actually use my camera in the night. And the D300 doesn't feel like it was meant to be used with gloves on - I had to leave my gloves off to twist the aperture dials. But the small amount of skin off my fingers was a price worth paying for those pictures.
By now we had settled into a nice rhythm & perhaps had forgotten how the world down below the clouds were. The air had dried up a lot, but the sparks that flew when we used our silk sheets inside the sleeping bag was just something normal that we had come to expect. The tent had become our home, the morning wake up routine had kicked in, energy bars and quick snacks were the norm, headlamps were enough light to live with and we were all comfortable to some extent. To reach camp every evening was coming home.
We stopped over at the Third Cave campsite next. The camp was near a dry riverbed (or flood path). The night was brilliant and full of moon light. Most of my long exposures ended up looking as if they were shot in daylight. By now Kilimanjaro was looking like a small hill to our right. If not for the altitude, we felt like we could just run up the mountain in half a day. But without anything to provide scale, the distances were not apparent and we had more than a vertical km left to go up before we got up there.
School hut was the last camp we were in. By now we could really taste the victory. The mountain was right there - but the cold was starting to really get to me. The final ascent was to be done in the darkness of night. The gloves weren't helping and neither did the lack of sleep. We headed out with Navdha leading in front and setting the pace. The boys stuck to the back of the group. We had wrapped all our water bottles in socks, but I had an excessively gatoraded pouch of water hidden under my jackets. The water in the bottles froze up pretty quickly - the sipper was kept free of ice by blowing air back into the tube to push the water away from the valve. But the cold wind was hard to bear as the windchill dropped below -20.
We walked single file up the hill, but too slowly for us to actually get warmed up. Frequent stops didn't help that either - I kept running into the backpacks in front. The guides picked up the girls' backpacks pretty soon. The moon was high in the sky as we slowly started to turn off our headlamps. We started to really sleepwalk uphill in some pretty steep trails leading up to the Hans Meyer cave. There we stopped for a short break out of the wind, when the decision was made by Jimmy, our lead guide, to split the group up into six and two.
So the six of us trudged on, picking up a fair amount of speed and a couple of hour's lead on the stragglers. And then the sun rose behind us as we made a final push to reach the lip of the crater.
Downhill was hard challenge for my knees. The lack of water was turning into a big problem, the heat was picking up in the morning, but the ice in our bottles remained frozen. We pretty much slid down entire hillsides full of scree to the bottom. In the middle, we ducked into a cave, got a few minutes of sleep. Even though we could see the Barafu camp at 8 AM, it took us till 1 PM to actually get to the spot. Dehydration, lack of sleep and the effort of the previous night was starting to catch up to me - my camera was cutting into my shoulder muscles which were starting to seize up and turned into a glowing ball of pain. I had to get one of the guides to carry it downhill.
Barafu wasn't our final destination still. We had just bivouacked at the camp, waiting for the other two. Lunch was being prepared and the tents were up so that we could get an hour's worth of sleep. We heard over the radio that Navdha is coming down the rescue path instead of the regular trail, with two porters who will carry her if she can't walk. Finally they caught up with us and joined us for lunch.
Somewhere around 4 PM, we headed down towards the Millenium camp which was our resting place for the night. By now Navdha had completely lost the ability and the will to walk. She had to be carried downhill on a stretcher from Barafu to the final campsite at Millenium camp. The walk was pleasant beyond belief, the lower altitudes were filling our lungs with oxygen and the brain was on a pleasure trip after days of being oxygen starved. It was unbelievable to see the mountain above the clouds that day and realize that a few hours ago we were on top of that.
We had walked for about 16 hours out of the last 24 and 20+ out of the last 48.
The rest of the journey was made in some pain by me. My knees were gone, the downhill steps were hurting every bit of the way and unlike uphill there was no reward at the end of this trail. Sullenly, I somehow got to the bottom to find folks selling coca cola for all those who associated it with their normal life. For Navdha, they had arranged an ambulance pickup from somewhere up on a 4x4 trail, so we headed for the lodge as soon as she got dropped off. The moment we got back to the lodge, I took a hot & unnecessarily long shower and slept off. The crazy people I travel with ended up going to Moshi town to shop instead, with their sunburns covering their noses glowing pink.
It has been an incredible experience to leave civilization behind, leave all the comforts behind in the quest of this one singular goal. Somehwere in the back of my mind, I want to go back and do it all over again. Perhaps in 20 years, after Kilimanjaro erupts again.--
"Because it's there."
-- George Mallory (on climbing Everest)
This was the trip that almost didn't happen. Decided to go to Africa on the 24th of August. The complications were everything from ICICI causing a fuss about a wire transfer, the yellow fever vaccines, to just plain bad timing of a bank holiday tying up my local funds & foreign exchange.
But it all came together in the end and it was AWESOME!
This trip was a goldmine of interesting sights (and interesting stories). I'm slowly going through the pics and uploading them to flickr .--
Nobody succeeds beyond their wildest expectations unless he or she begins with some wild expectations.
-- Ralph Charell
What a month! First week spent far far away from my worries in Ladakh, a week of mourning my grandmother's death in Cochin, a week (hardly enough) in Bangalore and now I'm in Portland. Trying to adjust my sleep-cycle with the help of coffee and the lack-there-of. Wasn't too bad though, the CX flight had episodes of Life in Cold Blood, Scrubs and The Ali G Show. A potent combination which mixes all that my mind craves - fun, information and philosophy, though not necessarily in that order.
So, I guess it's time I stopped saying that "I hate travel". I don't quite mind the results.--
How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.
-- R. Buckminster Fuller
Had an awesome time in Ladakh - rented bullets to drive around, went white water rafting, camped out near Tso Moriri, rode 100-odd km in a car without brakes, night vigils on a bridge over the roaring Indus and last but not least bicycling down at 55 kmph from the highest paved road on the planet.
But now, I'm back in b'lore and in process of getting myself back into the same 'ol rut. Already got side swiped on the road by an idiot (or whatever the female equivalent is) and now limping along with a toenail torn off.
Trust me on this, Bangalore roads are more dangerous than anything the himalayas could throw up. More on this later.--
It is the business of the future to be dangerous.
The Yeti, actually. By the time you're reading this, I'll probably be in the high himalayas, gasping for breath.
Planning to mountain bike around the place, will be back soon. After all I've seen all the sights before.--
The road to Hades is easy to travel.
Yes, the whole trip was full of stupid memes, mostly thanks to Gora. The trip to Manali took a good 20 hours and we spent most of the evening & night talking shop, making jokes and discussing "stuff". But there were times when the conversation was more interesting.
gora: you like someone because of, you *love* someone in spite of.
Somehow in those few words, the distinction between those two words is glaring and obvious (oh, yeah "love is blind"). After the flow of reason stopped, I went to sleep in in the aisle of the bus, as usual. Except this time when the bus braked hard downhill, I slid down nearly half the length of the aisle. Anyway, I had an otherwise uneventful journey to reach our hotel in Naggar, about 20-odd kms away from Manali proper.
The hills were really beautful this time of the year. The sunsets were brilliant and the weather stayed pleasant all through out. It was perhaps a tad too cold, with temperatures slightly below 10 C in the nights.
We went up to Rohtang pass to see some snow and the whole hillside had a mild smattering of snow. It was dark and gloomy, but that didn't dampen anybody's spirits during the snowball fight. But having run out of breath and energy, everyone pretty much settled down to quiet contemplation soon. After a protracted lunch, we headed downhill back into valleys.
And then the jokes started in earnest.
B: Uh... my nose hurts G: Oh, noes! ... *dyslexia discussion* *me thinks "On the internet, nobody knows you're a goD" G: Oh snoe, I'm dyslexic!
But there's more - we invented the concept of CVS Suppositories. And by we, I mean OldMonk, Dr. Gora (*heh*) and plain old me. We'd discovered the ideal version control system for bad code - CVS.
Me: *laughing* ... and if you need your own copy, cvs up yours!
After several jokes about upstreams, branching, merging and of course, the possibility of a flush command, we all retired into bed. And that was the end of that.
To be rather brief about the rest of the trip - we went, we saw, we had fun.--
The writing of history is largely a process of diversion.
-- Chapterhouse Dune
Now that I think, it was all like a dream - not a particularly good one, but the one you wake up & forget all about, on a monday morning. Roaming around San Francisco, Monterey and Palo Alto in Premshree's Pontiac, with Sachin snoring in the back seat, despite Chris Cornell's shrieks from the CD player. It takes an occasional look back at my photos to remind myself that no dream it was. I'll let the photographs do the talking.
And in a fleeting glimpse, I saw the clouds blow a heart to the city.
And then came the climb down and then I saw the city. And the blue, blue sea.
Sat down on the green green grass and let the world pass me by. And pass by it did.
Walked along the beach, spent perhaps the most peaceful hour of my visit watching the aerial acrobatics of the kite surfers - jumping twenty feet up and sliding along the water, masters of the wind and water.
And then next week, spent hours staring at the Jellyfish tanks at Monterey.
And that's all there is.--
The trouble with telling a good story is that it invariably reminds the listener of a dull one.
-- Sid Caesar
Driving a car in the US seems to be a complete peice of cake. There's none of the hassles of a stick-shift/clutch system with an automatic shift, the roads are wide and nearly all parking lots are easy to pull a car out of. The new-fangled GPS thingys ensure that I'm never lost and the most reassuring phrase you'll ever hear is "recalculating ...", when you realize you've missed your exit.
So far, I've driven once to San Francisco and a fair bit of the freeway to Mt Diablo. In both of the trips, the hardest thing I had to do was drive up there in the seventy MPH speeds. Driving in India has given me a sort of "expect the unexpected" sixth sense which makes me slow down as I expect merging traffic to cut across my path. Just pure speed does not bother me that much, as I have driven at higher speeds on Indian roads. But that was mostly a dare, combined with suicidal insanity, on home turf - but maybe I'm not that young anymore ?
And then in downtown, I suddenly started driving on the left side of the road. Half a second and screams from premshree & bluesmoon later, I swerved back onto the right. Still have to unlearn a bit of muscle memory that serves as my driving. To actively apply my attention on driving just takes too much effort. The task of getting from point A to point B, possibly passing through point C, can be accomplished with a combination of VTA, caltrain and BArt. And that's the plan, going ahead.
In short - been there, drove that and nearly got a ticket.--
Left is right and right is wrong.
-- Drive-in India
Once I had recovered from my jet-lag with the aid of Red Bull, double-shot espressos and a bit of napping, Portland nights were starting to become fun. Just like every other conference I've been to, the fun to be had is after 6 PM in some pub nearby. So I tagged along with the knowledgable crowd, who always know a nice place right around the corner, anywhere in the civilized world.
And then, there was the Oregon beer festival. Despite the fact that I don't drink, I headed out there to lose a bit of my inhibitions, purely by kindred spirit rather than the liquid version. The festival on the waterfront park was an amazing place to just sit down on the grass, chill out with a mug of free "designated driver" root beer.
After the dust settled at OSCON, I had nearly three full days to explore Portland. What really impressed me about the city was the very efficent public transport system. The light rail was my primary mode of transportation and it got me everywhere I wanted to. After wandering around the saturday market, I found myself gravitating towards the waterfront, to just spend the late evening sunshine in.
I spend Sunday exploring the north west and south west of the city, from the Pearl District to Washington park, on foot. Eventually, I ended up at the Rose gardens in the late evening. The roses were in nearly full bloom and spring was literally in the air (unfortunately, so was the pollen).
And then while walking around the Washington Park station, I saw something interesting carved into the wall. Maybe a yellow Post-It could've done the job ?
Portland ... hmm, if it were a house, it would have a doormat with "Welcome" on it.--
There is nothing stranger in a strange land than the stranger who comes to visit.
In a development which is becoming depressingly familiar, my travel plans are in a mess. As of right now, I have no flight tickets, not hotel booking and not even an ETA on when both these things will be fixed up - and the conference starts on Monday. It's not like this is the first time or even the the second time this has happened.
But what's really different this time from those two is that finally for once Yahoo! is paying for my travel. For the previous two journeys, I had booked my tickets myself (and blowing up a year's savings each time), which ensured that I had a travel agent to call up and bug. And both times I did manage to get where I wanted and everything did work out nicely. But ever since I heard the "We'll check again on monday" on Friday afternoon, I've sort of given up.
But two out of three ain't so bad ...--
One possible reason that things aren't going according to plan is that there never was a plan in the first place.
Been a while since I got back, but somehow it feels like a let-down to be back home. Add to that four interminably long hops, after which I've travelled from the northern most state of India, to nearly the southern most tip (tinymap). That doesn't make for a good mood. But still, as I sit here, most of what happened seems like a distant blurry day dream.
So, in short, I did a bunch of things, took a lot of interesting pictures (more to come) and had a lot of fun.
Still haven't gotten rid of the "your work is worthless" back-of-the-mind "why bother" voice (yes, the one which keeps saying "you'll get paid anyway" and "they don't pay you nearly enough for that") - eventually I'll have to shake off that coders' block & make work fun again.
Except for that extra bit, the rest of me is back, as expected :)--
Removing the straw that broke the camel's back does not necessarily allow the camel to walk again.
By the time you're reading this, I'll probably be in the high himalayas, gasping for breath.
Will be back soon, with a lot of pictures, memories and a nice travelogue - just like last year.--
Travel gives you the illusion that you're getting somewhere.
But half the time, you're just coming back.
Back in boring old Bangalore. And it is a mess - a bigger mess than usual, when placed against the clinical sterility of Singapore or the warmth of coastal Sydney. Due to the power cut in Bangalore last week, my machine had been powered down and I suspect a couple of the misbehaving machines have had data losses. And APC seems to be acting up on some dual CPU machines. There seems to be a whole Heisenberg & Schrodinger effect to the whole bug - waiting for me to be on vacation before actually exploding into tiny bits. The last time APC had serious issues, I was somewhere in Ladakh.
But generally put, I'm back ! Got a lot of things to blog about, an even larger number of photos to upload. But before all that, I got me some code to write !--
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land;
it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land.
-- G.K. Chesterton
I ended up in Sydney on saturday night, with the flight arriving on time. Shehjar and Hal picked me up from the airport and for the night I crashed out at Shejhar's place. I got myself a good night's sleep and woke up late on Sunday.
First up, I went to the New College hostel to dump all my stuff. The hostel has a prison cell feel to it, with white brick walls and my room had a window facing Anzac Parade. Was quite eager to get out of there and headed out immediately to the nearby Coogee beach.
And it was a sunny day, a very very sunny day. After reaching the beach, found it to be really crowded (being a sunday afternoon, not surprised). Went up to the cliffs for a few moments of solitude, sat around up there in the shade till about 6 PM. Went down to the beach, for a quick dip (can never resist beaches).
Went back to New College in the hopes of finding someone headed to the Rocks. But the hostel is not quite geared up to be a social gathering place, unlike the sofa pit we had in Unicol hostel last year. Eventually, got on a bus to Circular Quay, alone.
After nearly an hour of being lost in George Street, I ended up at the restaurant - but being vegetarian and a non-drinker, German food is not quite my thing. And I showed up there quite late in the evening, eventually got back to New College.
But my room was too near the road and the vehicles woke me up way earlier than I would have otherwise - so LCA was a few naps away.--
Love the sea? I dote upon it -- from the beach.
Linux.conf.au 2007 kicks off on monday, but even now, I'm not exactly sure whether I'll be attending or not. Initially, I'd written off the conference as out of my grasp. But some recent events have convinced me that life's just too short to say maybe next year and give up.
But having decided I was going, my economic woes remained - I just couldn't afford to do the trip, not on my salary. The flight ticket and conference fee together would eatup this entire quarter's take home pay and then there's that simple need of mortality - food (whether I travelled or not).
No Homers Club: So, I vacated my house in Bangalore. The house advance refund and a bit more would pay for my tickets to Sydney and back. For a couple of weeks, I slept in office. For the first couple of days, crashed on the sofas - I'm used to doing that. There is an air-conditioned room with two beds upstairs and pretty soon, I was a resident Yahoo!. Except for the early mornings, the office had everything I needed - hot water showers, coffee, bandwidth and a pool table. And most of December was spent in Kerala. And recently, thanks to some very good friends, I've been sleeping in real beds.
Credit where 'tis due: Credit might be the axle grease of the economy, but it feels really bad to borrow from friends. But I owe about 40k INR to my friends - which is what is really keeping me afloat right now. In the past, I'd have borrowed from my parents - but now, I cannot bring myself to ask. The long and short of it is that, I'm running on empty.
And then visas. I got my visas without any hassles and they're with me right now. But, tickets - that's another story altogether. My Bangalore to Sydney tickets are waitlisted for the last nine days and there is about 48 hours left before I've got to report for the flight.
Last year's trip also went down to the wire - with that visa arriving around 4+ hours before the check-in. But I wasn't truly in control last time and I'd have dismissed it as fate, if I'd missed that flight.
But this time, if I don't end up going ... I'm not going to sit around.--
Lack of money is the root of all evil.
-- George Bernard Shaw
'Tis time I ended journalling this trip.
The trip to Nubra Valley had taken a day less than we had expected, so the previous night had been mostly wasted in bed. So we were up early on 28th morning and were ready before 8:15. And Janina, who'd taken the same jeep with us from Manali, joined us on this trip, along with another girl. She turned out to be scottish and was doing a thesis on attitude differences across the generations in ladakh. We headed towards likir, only pausing to visit Pathar Sahib and a couple of stops where the Zanskar meets Indus.
Likir proved to be a tiny village on the Indus valley, all green and gold with fields of Alfa-Alfa. The gonpa is on a hilltop, with a golden buddha statue. The statue is known as Buddha Coming or something like that, because the statue's feet touch the ground instead of being the usual cross-legged position.
Post Likir, we headed along the Indus river bank to Thingmosgang, passing through but not stopping at Bazgo. Thingmosgang is a small picturesque village, nestled in a valley protected by the elements and fed by meltwater from the glaciers above. The gonpa was deserted, but the view from the top was beyond words. You are struck speechless by beauty of the green fields and terraces, from the vantage point of the monastery.
After we passed out of Thingmosgang, passing through Saspol, we stopped over at Khalstse, which is where our driver was from. Except for the three kids running around, the lunch was completely uneventful. We reached Lamayuru, in the late evening. The monastery is very visibly alive, with kids playing cricket in their saffron robes of monkhood.
We all climbed to the top of the hill on which Lamayuru stands and decided to watch the sunset from the summit. A couple of officers on an evening walk approached us, while we were up there. The officer, of the Sikhla (?) regiment advised us to go back through the Kashmir valley instead of back via Leh. The sunsets so far have been hardly anything to write home about and this one was no different.
We headed back to our rooms before it got too dark and tried to find us some grub. But after a bit of wandering, we decided that the best option we had was to eat at the guesthouse we were in.
I woke up early, though not early enough to attend the morning puja. Since we had plans to visit Bazgo and Alchi on the way back, we hurried out of Lamayuru. But we were stopped mid-way by some blasting work that was going on. After nearly an hour of dilly-dallying, we were finally let through and we proceeded to Alchi gonpa.
Alchi is probably one of the oldest gonpas we visited, so far. Photography was generally discouraged, which was perfectly OK with me there. The road to Alchi, however was quite interesting, it was almost absolute ruler straight, with a nice fork in the road to the monastery. And there was green barley all around the place. We found a nice restaurant with a view and sat down to eat a late lunch.
After heading out of Alchi, we retraced our steps to Bazgo. Bazgo looks like a mud fort in ruins, but when you look closer you can see the solid blocks of stone over which centuries of plastering has created the appearance of soft mud. It is being restored and most of it was closed for us. But the structure did leave a sense of awe about people who'd build such a structure in such an inaccessible place.
After all our adventures in Kargil district, we headed back to Leh to civilization, warm beds and honey lemon ginger tea. But the trip back was no less enchanting in the fading evening light.
After some butter tea, darpu and a bit of shopping, headed back to the hotel for dinner. I'd had bought some Yak cheese to bring back to Bangalore, dried apricots and a jar of apricot jam. Our dinner was hot maggi noodles, with a lot of vegetables. We bid adieu to our fellow travellers and hit the sacks early.
And then we took the flight to Delhi. End of journey.--
What makes the universe so hard to comprehend is that there's nothing to compare it with.
We started off late with me waking up first, at 9 AM. But by ten O'clock we'd had breakfast and were ready to roll. The cab came to us after picking up everybody else. After leaving Leh at around 10:30, we spent the next two hours steadily climbing uphill to 18,380 feetto the highest motorable road in the world - Khardung La. Unfortunately, it has been converted into a touristy place with families and grandmothers climbing up melting snow or sliding down pulling down two sons, one holding each hand.
I did climb up to the top of the peak, nearby. The snow was slippery and I walked up by digging my heel in with each step into the snow. The way up was the easy part, as I would discover later. The view from the top wasn't that different, but I'm easy to please when mountains are concerned. I was feeling euphoric and was slowly making my way down when I realized that there was a faster path down than walking. I went down that hill sitting on my left foot and steering with my right heel. After all that excitement and a cup of cinnamon tea later, we headed downhill into Nubra valley.
The word Nubra means green and the valley was only slowly turning green under the bright summer sun. The glimpses of green in the valley was amazing after the dry desolation on the other side of the mountain range. We kept moving till we got to the village of Khalsar, which was our designated lunch spot.
In the village of Khalsar, I had the most amazing momos I have ever had. They were soya momos and with a simple chutney. I don't know if it was just because we were hungry, but we gobbled up as many momos as the lady could bake. After lunch, we headed out to the Shyok and Nubra confluence, which we would cross to reach Diskit. The bridge across the river is small, yet controlled by army personell.
Finally, we ended up in Diskit and dumped out bags and stuff at a slightly upmarket place called Olthang. While Vinayak & Co were visiting the gonpa nearby, I went walking along the streams which passed near our hotel. Rishi , on the other hand, was watching kids throw water at passing vehicles. One german lady who got wet, also got indignant. Probably needed a camera for the moment when she asked Rishi - are you a monk ?. After all this fun, we headed out for the dunes of Hundar before it became too dark.
Hundar is a stretch of sand dunes, with a stream (or river) flowing through the middle. After the standard shoes off operations, we had a few chases up the sheer slope of a dune. The sand was hard rock sand, quite unlike the beach sand I'm familiar with. Walking barefoot was probably a bad idea as I ended up hobbling across the thorny bushes on the way back. But more than compensated for that by just letting myself go into the warm (not cold) water. After a bit of splashing around, we headed back to the warm beds of the hotel.
27th June: At around 7 AM, I was woken up by the driver. He wasn't upto date with our plans and I was too sleepy to explain. Two hours later, all of us slowly started waking up. After a slush bowl of corn flakes with hot milk, we all pulled ourselves together and moved onto to the other side of the valley. We had to go halfway till Khalsar before we'd take the other fork in the road which would take us to Sumur and Pangmik.
After going down the Khalsar loops down to the valley floor, we passed through Sumur towards Panamik. Panamik is probably the northernmost point in Indian soil that I can put foot without a military permit and escort. The hot springs of Panamik, though were a disappointment. The springs were literally trickles down the hill with the smell of ammonia and algae covering the entire stream bed. But the top of the hill gave us an excellent view of the valley below.
After visiting the Sumur gonpa, we bid adieu to Nubra valley and began our return to Khardung La. We stopped over at Khalsar yet again to have lunch, but the momos had run out. As evening set in, the air was shimmering with the fading light of the summer day. We climbed up into the upper reaches of the mountain, racing against the clock. Since our plans had included a third day in Nubra valley intially, we were sort of cutting it close by shrinking it to a two day trip.
We went up Khardung la, just minutes before 5 'O clock. The entire snow cap was bright with the late evening light. As we watched the mountain grow bigger and bigger, we could see the thin line the hand of man had scratched on this mighty mountain - the scar line of a surfaced road. And up we went.
K-Top was nearly deserted when we arrived. There wasn't any of the swarms of tourists we had seen on the way up. After the customary cup of chai, we took our trip downwards and onto the warm comfy beds in Leh. Our trip to Nubra valley was a couple of hours short of completion. Not here the red and orange glows of the sea shore, but the the golden sun was turning the mountainside into a veritable feast for the eyes.
A dinner that went wrong, though the food was ok when it eventually arrived, and the day ended as it began - with me in a bed.--
If the grass is greener on the other side, there's obviously more shit there.
Last weekend, I was holed up in Delhi attending (and giving a talk) at Freedel. I had given a talk at Freedel 2005 , which generally swooshed over everybody's head and left me disappointed. So this time, I'd picked a dead easy topic which I couldn't miss with - gimp plugins.
Me and premshree arrived there in an evening flight. I had picked the 4 PM flight, so that I could see the sunset from the flight and it was just to die for. To see the clouds outlined by the red borders of golden sunlight, was quite a sight. We were missing our mini cameras, unable to load up the big Nikon while flying. But let us forget the trip and focus on the take-homes from the conferences. Here are a few.
* inside airport Premshree: Man, Delhi women are *hot* * few minutes later, outside Premshree: Shit, Delhi is *hot*
And yes, it was hot & humid.
FUNK: And a new keyword was born, been a while since Awesomeness. Now the latest cool (I mean, funk) word to say is - Funk. It has become literally the new F-word. All thanks to Premshree's diligent effort at shoe horning this word into any sentence in need for wordless words. So the whole funk conference was the total funk.
Then we had a couple of memorable quotes from cray3. The first one being the polite motto ("STFU, please") on her laptop as well as the "The daemons are no longer just in my head". But the "We will not be serving snakes on this plane" deserves first prize for the hinglish accent jokes.
Me and Premshree were staying at Kishore's place. And during a l33tness war during the party at OldMonk's place, Kishore won a few brownie points by asking - "And tcpdump is your mail client ?". Short of pissing off the organizers, we'd pulled off a GNUnify, topping the "Our sysadmin is a cron-job" by a few heads. OldMonk had a couple of quotes to his name as well, but I'll desist from mentioning them in such polite circles - very apt, but truly OldMonk.
And for the very first time, the audience clapped when my demo worked, rather than the respectful silence I'd been used to. So all in all, I'm glad to have talked ... I mean, funked out at this conference. Next year, it is going to be in Feb, which should prove to be cooler and even more funkier :).
Take my advice, take the next flight,
And grow some funk, grow your funk at home.
-- Elton John, "Grow Some Funk of Your Own"
Words fail me. To explain the grandeur of this lake, I find my vocabulary lacking and my prose insufficent. To compare it with anything else I have seen would be in vain. But to do justice to this travelogue, I should at least make an attempt. The Pangong Tsu is one of the must-see sights in all of Ladakh.
All six of us, headed out of Leh towards Pangong Tsu sometime around nine. After a good hours's drive out, we passed Shey palace and through the familiar roads we had passed yesterday. We stopped at Karu to buy provisions and stock up on food. After leaving behind Karu, we speeded up and made good time on the valley floor while the going was good. We passed through some interesting country, past a few military camps (Chusul Warriors and Eagles), on our way up to the high passes. This region, being so close to China, is a highly militarized zone. The army presence however is hardly obstrusive and caused no hassles for us. We, of course, had an inner line permit for travel this close to the border.
Sometime near noon, we started climbing up to Chang La, which after Khardung La and Taglang la, is the third highest motorable road in the world. But this time around, we were properly acclimatized, properly clothed and the sun was shining bright. After a couple of half-hearted snow fights (yes, I had bought gloves for this trip) and a hot cup of cinnamon tea, we descended into the greener valleys beyond.
The valley was beautiful, green and had wild horses grazing all over. We even saw a small herd of domesticated yaks. After passing through a few streams and past muddy plains, we reached a valley unlike any other we'd seen so far. The valley floor was covered in sand, looking not quite unlike a beach, but without an ocean to match. We really wanted to go down and investigate, but we were eager to reach the lake and find accomodation.
But we soon found the missing ocean. The Pangong lake is salty, though not in a sea salt way. This lake tasted more of potassium salts than the usual sodium chloride. The lake has no drainage and has fresh glacial water flowing into it. There are hardly any fish in this lake and even fewer algae. All this results in a crystal clear, blue lake of picture perfection.
The place we had landed up was called Lukung and there was a guesthouse there with three rooms. And due to all our hurrying on the way (oh, I kid) we were the first ones to get there. Our guesthouse was hardly half a kilometre away from the lake, though you wouldn't feel the distance because there are no trees to give you a sense of scale. Basically it felt like you were next door to the lake.
To complete the illusion of the sea, there were sea gulls here, which feed on the crustaceans who seem to be thriving in the shallows. We wasted some time skimming stones on the flat surface of the lake. After sending enough stones skimming through the lake's flat surface, three of us took off our shoes and stepped into the water. There is a bay formation around the corner where we were and the water was shallow for as far as I could see. The first few minutes felt cold, then it was as if my body had adjusted to the fact that I was going to go ankle deep into cold water.
Having wet our feet and generally enjoying the water, we climed out and decided to get higher before the sunset. We climbed the nearby hillock and got to a higher view point to watch the entire curve of the bay from above. As we watched the sun set behind us, what we were seeing turned into a moonscape of sorts. The salt deposited by the lake on the flood plain turned the ground into this bright white surface while the dark blue of the lake made for contrast.
There are no power lines in Lukung. We couldn't charge our cameras, nor could we transfer the photos out of our cameras. The dinner consisted of maggi instant noodles, cooked watery and omlettes. We at that in the dim candle light and decided to call it a day. But one step outside and we were stunned by what we saw in the sky.
Whole sky was lit and in the clear air of the high altitude, I could see more stars than I have ever done before. As we tried to identify the stars, we were unable to find the Orion in the night sky. There were too many stars to actually spot the characteristic three star belt of orion. But as we were hunting for Orion, we saw something move very quickly across the sky. The reddish spot moving from South east to North west was probably a sattelite. And in a few minutes, we spotted a couple more of the sattelites moving in polar orbits. As we were scanning the skies for more, a shooting star passed by in the N.W sky. We spent the good part of the next thirty minutes watching the meteors expend themselves in the atmosphere. It was a star gazer's dream and I shall not forget that sky for a while.
The guesthouse was sheltered behind a hillock and safely out of the cold wind. Without any heating of any sort, by midnight all of us were feeling hot inside our blankets. But generally I had a good night's sleep. We had planned to wake up really early to see the sunrise and I had my alarms set for quarter past five.
I woke up sometime past five and discovered that the sky was too cloudy for a good sunrise. Vinayak and Rishi were already out on the bay, scaring birds (*heh*) and trying to photograph the rising sun. After a few more minutes of procrastination, I walked up to the bay and watched the light reflect off the lake surface. It was brilliant - to watch a lake turn into pure silver and slowly darken into a brilliant azure.
I took a walk along the length of the bay. It was a really windy day and the lake ripples were becoming nearly full-fledged waves. I took an hour long walk towards Pangmik, though turned back because I had no idea of when we would be leaving camp. My only lasting regret is that I didn't climb the zig zag trail up on the mountain nearby.
After a bit more time of non-commital wandering, I had breakfast and finished catching up on my journal. We headed back to Tang-Tse and passed by those sand drifts. But this time around, we went down and I even took a small bag back for Premshree. At Tang-Tse, we ran into an archery competition. After watching the archers for a while and having had lunch, we headed back up Chang La. Except for running into a Himalayan Marmot sunning itself on a rock, the rest of the journey was uneventful.
On the way to Leh, we had an amazing idea. Why not stop at Thiksey and enjoy the hospitality of the Chamba restaurant. I had honey pancakes and they were just awesome. After all that, we finally got back to the guesthouse. And we had a few laughs on the way thanks to the B.R.O's sense of humour.
We had gotten to the hotel a bit early and were not quite ready to turn in yet. So we sat out there in the courtyard talking to the other guests. There was a french dude and a british dude playing the guitar and an irish couple. There were some quite interesting conversations about a lot of things. Then something weird happened. The irish couple were smoking something and quite out of nowhere, started passing around the cigarrete. The blonde girl sitting next me offered me a drag and I said NO. The french guy shrugged, the brit said good for you ! and *then* the girl said "When I saw your hair, I thought you smoked pot". And somebody said that right now I looked like a pot plant. Anyway, the dinner had arrived, which I promptly bolted and called it a day (because a day it had been).--
You can't judge a book by the way it wears its hair.
By the 22nd, we had our plans straightened out and fully booked for. Our local monastery (gonpa) tour started out an hour late, by about 9 in the morning. After picking up Amol and Vinod, we headed out of Leh. The sightseeing circuit in Leh is heavily controlled by a sort of guild which operates on a fixed rate and is completely protectionist. So all operators basically charge the same rate and there are unofficial checkposts to prevent other taxis from doing tours. Anyway, we had got a pretty decent Toyota Qualis to travel in, but the driver only spoke broken hindi.
Shey Palace: Our first stop was Shey palace which sits on a hill facing a green valley. The green of the valley contrasted heavily against the barren hills that surround them. Where there is water and shelter from the north winds, mankind has made its niche in ladakh. The palace had a buddha statue, but I was more interested in the view outside.
Thiksey Gonpa: Next up, we went to visit the gonpa at Thiksey. An amazing monastery and school, bang on the leeward side of a hill almost covering the entire hill. We stopped for breakfast (a second one) at the foot of the hill, in the Chamba restaurant, owned and operated by the monastery itself. The food was good and the ambience was calming. Thanks to a customer endorsement for metrogyl, we were all in good spirits before we went up to the monastery.
We went uphill by the road. The monastery was a relatively big one, with an entire wall full of murals. The view from the monastery was amazing and so was the monastery itself. The central courtyard walls were covered in murals and so were the inner walls. I was quite surprised to see a candy bowl near the deities, full of chocolates and biscuits. We hung around there for a while, looking at the various message scrolls hung up there. After nearly a good hour spent there, we headed out.
Hemis Gonpa: After Thiksey, we headed towards the hidden monastery of Hemis. The monastery is completely hidden away amidst the hills and is not visible till you take the last turn. The monastery was relatively inactive and cold like a fridge. You can literally sense the past being preserved in this half-frozen temple.
Matho: We moved on from Hemis on to the village of Matho and into the monastery. The monastery stands as before, on top of a hill overlooking the village. The gonpa is famous for its oracles, who are possessed by the spirits of good and demonstrate their other sight by running on the walls blind folded. But by the time we arrived, we were possessed by the spirits of photography and all of us were more interested in clicking away than actually seeing the sights.
Stok Palace: The last stop was Stok palace, which is still inhabited by the royal family. Only five rooms were open for visitors in the palace and photography is prohibited inside the palace. The display cases are full of preserved jewelery, especially turquoise and jade. The one thing that caught my attention was a Damascus steel sword, tied into a neat knot. Legend has it that some king grew so strong and powerful that he had no regard for the holy men of the land, so one of them put the king in his place by performing the simple task of tying the king's sharp steel sword into the knot. But other than that curio, I found the palace quite boring.
Nevertheless, it was a pleasant day's outing. The roads were good, flat and generally straight, the sky clear and we passed through some very interesting countryside. And I learned my first word of ladakhi - Julley !.--
Everyone has a photographic memory. Some don't have film.
June 20th: The day long journey to Leh was really tiring and I had planned to sleep till it was late afternoon to compensate. But 'twas not to be, Vinayak's cellphone woke me up around ten. None of our phones were working in Leh. Only BSNL and Airtel have a presence in the valley, but even Airtel allows only post-paid phones to roam inside Jammu & Kashmir. So I asked the hotel guy for directions and headed out towards the town to make some calls.
Our guesthouse was called Tse-Mo View and somehow seemed stuck between a pun for See More and Same 'Ol. It was stuck on the westward side of the palace, in between the Tse-Mo monastery and the Santhi Gonpa. The market was hardly a kilometre away, but the getting used to the alitude is more of a gradual thing.
But it was a bright day, with blue skies like I've never seen before. We spent most of the day just sitting around in the hotel. There is an SBI ATM in Leh which is a boon to travellers and I headed there to withdraw some much needed cash. After an attempted lunch at the La Terrase, we stuck around in the guesthouse, waiting for Amol and planning the trip ahead.
After meeting up with Amol, sometime around 7:45, we went to a pizzeria where a TV set was attracting football fans. After a pleasant half-hour of discussions, we got back to the guesthouse. My dinner consisted of a flattened noodle like preparation called the Thupka.
June 21st: We had plans to do some sightseeing today, to visit some nearby monasteries and local sights. But the obvious communication gap caused by the lack of cellphones prevented us from co-ordinating this with the other group. But we woke up early, nonetheless. Eventually we decided to take it as another day off to acclimatise.
But we managed to meet up with the rest of the gang by lunch and planned to trek up to the Tse Mo monastery and the Namgyal palace. The palace and the monastery sit up on a crumbling gravel sided hill. There is a motorable road which goes up to the palace, but you could see a shorter foot trail on the north face of the hill. We decided to get our body into gear with a climb up. Rishi however was experiencing a full download, if you know what I mean, and did not accompany us.
So, equipped with a water bottle full of honey lemon water and morale high, we ended up behind the masjid trying to find our way out of the twisting lanes. The lanes finally gave way to steps up to the palace.
The palace overlooks the entire town and is under restoration. It has the smell of fresh varnish and drying soft-woods. Considering the traditional architecture, the palace does indeed look like it is fit for a king. But to the naive traveller, it looks like a dive suitable for somebody with an aversion for windows. The central courtyard on the roof was quite interesting, as was the wood carvings on the pillars. But we still had the foot trail up to climb and did not waste too much time inside the palace.
The trail up was really scary. Until I got some confidence and my second wind, I was really not sure I'd get to the top. Our shoes weren't made for the terrain and neither was our minds. Every slight slip you made, every time you looked downwards on what awaits on a fall, the message was hammered in by your brain. We took about forty full minutes to climb the three kilometres of the gravel trail.
We got to the bottom of the monastery and then the next challenge awaited. The monastery was on top of a few more rocks which seemed like a bad idea to try. But given the success we'd so far had, we went for it and climbed to the very top. And the view was definitely worth the effort.
After spending twenty odd minutes on the top, we started to walk down by the road. Soon we realized that the road would take us far out of Leh, before it took us home. Despite my objections on climbing down in the dark, we took the first downhill path we found. The path got a little tricky further down, but we literally crawled on all limbs to get across to the safe path down. The it was all downhill and we literally ran down the slope.
Took a long look backwards and ended up at the hotel. But instead of heading to the town for dinner, Vinayak decided to eat at the guesthouse. I headed out to the Ibex restaurant for a completely horrible dinner. Thanks to a crowd of american tourists, our orders got pushed back for nearly an hour and eventually we got something we didn't order. Anyway, after a few complaints to the manager and a 20% discount, we headed back unsatisfied with the food.
I was extremely tired, but still slightly excited from the trip up. I slept like a log.--
Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
We had hired a Sumo to travel from Manil to Leh. The travels guy had said that the journey would get us to Leh by late evening on the same day (16 hours). But when we were woken up by the driver at 2 AM, we realized that the journey according to him would take 22-odd hours instead of the barely bearable sixteen. After just two hours sleep, three of us packed ourselves into the back of the Sumo.
The initial two hours of the journey was in nearly complete darkness to reach Rohtang La by day break. During the descent from the pass, we could see the east skies slowly brighten up. After stopping in Khoksar for tea and snacks, we headed towards the chenab valley.
Past Keylong, the roads got really bad. This can hardly be called a highway. After passing keylong, we ended up at Darcha, near a bridge across some river. We stopped there for breakfast and had an excellent stuffed paranthas. I'd been eating the cheese slices with anything I get and this was no exception.
At Baralacha la, we all got out and had our first contact with snow. It was probably a mistake to pick up snow without wearing gloves, but I didn't have any gloves at all. But I did pick up some snow and ended up with my hands looking rather blue.
The whole journey was made even rougher because of the climbs and the descents. The various passes we went up and the further climb down was playing havoc with my breathing. To climb, six thousand feet in less than two hours and to climb down immediately is not my idea of fun. Somewhere in the descent to Keylong, I had thrown up.
Sometime near two, we passed on from Himachal into Jammu, into what passes for plains in this country of hills. The Sarchu plains would be more approriately called a plateau and is one of the first high alitude camps we ran into. We stopped there for lunch and as usual had the parathas, dal & rice. While we were in Sarchu, the wind picked up speed and it started to snow. As much as I'd have loved to see the snow flakes float down, I was more afraid of the road ahead.
We had to make it to Pang before five or we'd be forced to stay out of Taglang La till the next morning. The pace picked up and the driver literally drove through the road and the potholes at break neck speed. We eventually made it to the TCP at Pang minutes before five and were let through ahead. And we finally entered Ladakh district.
At this point, I was so high on adrenaline that I could hardly sit still inside the jeep. But Vinayak was looking very sick and tired. While we passed near all the eroded mountains of Pang, which looked very much like somebody had carved out a temple on the hills and up into the plateau (yet again plains) of Moray. Since I couldn't open a window without Vinayak complaining, there are no photos of that brilliant thousand foot (or more) canyon cutting through the edges of the plateau.
We went off-road from this point to cut across the plains directly instead of the taking the winding road that goes around the highest points. The experience was like something completely out of a hummer ad. That stretch of around forty kilometres was the most exhilirating drive of the trip, driven with the pedal to the metal.
Then we slowly descended to a much milder pasture country and joined back into the road. All those chocolates were working their magic and I was still in the best of my moods, though filtering out water through my body like a sieve. But we were faced with the final climb of the trip, the heights of Taglang La.
Taglang la is the world's third highest pass in the world. More accurately it is the 3rd highest motorable road at 17,582 feet up. We reached the top of the pass sometime nearer to 7 P.M with the sun setting in the background. I ran through the snow which turned out to be quite thick and soft. I broke through the top and ended up ankle deep in freezing slush. My other companions preferred to sit around in the shelter of the jeep, a wise choice as I was soon to find out.
While on the descent, I kept drinking water out of Vinayak's water bottle. But the constant stream of cold water into my body core, finally made me throw up (again). So here's a lesson for you - carry insulated water bottles. Anyway, I remember asking Rishi chocolates !!, to which he replied that it is in his bag. Drowsy as I was, I thought he was holding his bag when he was only sitting there with his hands in the jacket pocket. After stopping at Upshi for dinner, where I just had as much hot tea as I could, we headed on to Leh.
Closer to midnight and much closer to Leh, I had started having day dreams. I mean it was totally weird, I had my eyes open and I was seeing what was happening, but my interpretations were radically different from what was. I mistook the starry sky for some skyscraper and even tried to find a remote to change the channel (no, that's not a TV ... that's the windscreen of the jeep). Calorie deprivation, sleep deprivation and oxygen deprivation - is a very bad combination.
But by midnight, we were at Leh and driver dumped us at a guesthouse (previously arranged, I suppose). We pulled all our junk into the room, got an extra bed and were asleep before our heads touched the pillow. We wouldn't wake up till the next day for lunch and that plan, we stuck to.
Thus ends our journey uphill to Leh and what a journey !--
The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate.
-- Marcus Terentius Varro
Whenever you run into a pessimist claiming "It can't get any worse", you'll find three optimisits correcting - "Oh, yes it can. The journey to Delhi and further up to Manali belonged to the optimists. After reaching Delhi really early, we managed to find the travel agent and camp there for most of the day. Despite the rise in temperature and the associated philosophical discussions (of the psuedointellectual variety), we managed to pass time very easily.
The bus ride wasn't very comfortable. I find it difficult to find proper leg room in a good bus and this was beyond awful with the couple in front (quote un-quote) making it a little harder than normal. Eventually, I was sleeping on the aisle of the bus (does somebody remember the return from calicut ?). But the first views of Himachal Pradesh was of a peaceful, green and unpleasantly hilly (opinions of non-bus travellers differ). The weather was amazing, with a bright blue cloudless sky and bright sunshine.
After reaching manali, we were able to get in touch with the others (who were already in Leh). And finally in the evening, in an attempt to get used to the altitude, we took a long walk to the river Beas and then up till the Hidimba temple. The weather had turned a bit chilly, but we didn't mind it so much.
Finally, nearly at midnight, we all turned in to sleep. The car to Leh would pick us up sometime around two in the night.--
It gets better, but only after getting a lot worse.
Back from ladakh. Nearly two thousand photos to sort and upload. More updates on the trip as soon as I settle down.
Got back in one peice. Thank God :)--
The world is a small place.
But travelling makes it bigger.
So I'm travelling to Ladakh for a two week trip. Ladakh literally means land of high passes and is sandwitched between the Karokaram and Himalayan ranges. The area is respite with lakes, steep passes and rugged beauty. It is almost akin to visiting Tibet, without actually leaving Indian territory. The J&K state is not known for its political stability and I don't expect a smooth passage through Ladakh, though I do plan to arrive back home in one peice and alive.
Leh is probably going to be the base camp for all of our expeditions outwards. The current route traces itself through Rohtang La (13,000+ ft) and upto the passes at 17,500 feet. The passes are open only between July and September, but we are hoping that the mid-summer Sun has cleared up enough snow to take this route rather than the Srinagar-Kargil (NH1) road which was the scene for the 1999 exchange of fire with Pakistan. Anyway, first stop on the route is the hill station of Manali which is a pleasant enough place and lies on the ancient Silk Route towards the middle east.
This trip is so cool that I had to buy extra sweaters for it. Jokes aside, I have never seen snow in my life. I have always lived in the tropical climes and am accustomed to 20-35 Celsius days. So I expect the mountains to be a challenge to get used to, in addition to the normal altitude sickness. All in all, I think it will be one of those experiences which you can think back to and draw strength from, not just a fun fortnight out on the hills. I can already hear myself say "I can do this".
Wish me luck.--
What did Mohammed do when the mountain didn't come to him ?
When we planned to help Jayadev make the plunge into married life, one of the ideas was to land up at Cochin and head off to somewhere nice for the weekend. So we headed directly for Cochin on the Island Express on friday night. After considering the fact that it's summer (so, no backwaters) and everybody was enchanted by photos of munnar - we decided to head off to the hills in Idukki and see if we can have some fun there. Since I was the only malayalee in the group, I was supposed to organize the trip. But Shivku and Sudhir, with no thanks to my incompetence, managed to book a cottage as well as get two cars to climb the hills with.
We started at 4 PM from Cochin, towards Munnar by following the NH 47 and cutting across to NH 49 before Aluva. We had hired two cars, an Ambassador and a Qualis - I was in the Qualis along with seven of the gang. We had quite a blast on the way up, even though it was slightly dark. I think the highlights of that leg of the journey was the Nadeem Saravanan songs and Shreek's insightful comment. There were minor discussions about Innovation and what happened during Hack Day and all that. I've read too much of the Art of the Start to stay silent in that discussion. Anyway, in case you forgot, here's Shreek's awesome perception.
"Dekha Hai Pehli Baar | (I've seen for the first time) Saajan Ki Aankhon Mein Pyaar" (love in my lover's eyes) <Shreek> if she never saw it before, how did she know he was the one ?
After reaching Munnar in about 5 hours, we located the DTPC office to collect the keys. The cottage we would be staying in was about 8 Kms away, so we decided to have food at a hotel in the town. After pointing out all the mistakes in the menu and making me blush (I'll not explain how) - we headed towards our cottage for the night. Also we discovered that Rahim couldn't take a photo the way we normal people take them from eye level.
The cottage was hidden away in the middle of a tea estate. We hadn't realized the exact surroundings in the night when we arrived there. It has the typical horror movie feel to it which was made fun of the moment we got there. But the cottage was very spacious and had hot water (which interestingly used an on-demand gas based heater). We started then to arrange for a campfire to sit and sing around.
The campfire was way too much fun. We sat around the fire and sang all kinds of songs. The really funny part was the A R Rahman songs with people singing the same song in different languages. Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Hindi versions sung in sequence. Basically the anthakshari went in all directions with us just going nuts with our voices. My vocal chords have still not recovered from all that singing in the cold night. Also there was that incident of Shivku getting a mouthful of Kerosene by blindly putting the nearest bottle to his mouth.
After all that we all basically slept before we touched our pillows. I woke up the next day to a glorious morning. The sun was shining bright and the blue sky promised an excellent day of sight seeing. We checked out of the cottage sometime around 9 and basically headed for the hills.
We went around to the Mattupetty Dam and the aritificial lake behind it. Idukki district is the hydroelectric powerhouse of Kerala with a number of dams on its rocky gorges pumping out megawatts for the coastal towns. After that we crossed the border into Tamil Nadu to visit Top Station. At top station, we were hardly 60 kms away from Kodai if we go straight up the hill and go down. The top station observation point was where we had range for Airtel and a lot of us made phone calls while we were up on that particular hill.
The mist had started to become fog and a dense bank of fog was slowly rolling in towards the hills by about 4 PM. The woods acquired a magical look when the fog started blocking out visibility, though it meant hell for the driver. So we headed straight down the hill. I had a slight mishap while trying to take a picture of the cheeyapara falls and fell into the knee deep water. So I ended up taking a bath in the cold water in the waterfall. By around 10'o clock we had reached Thrissur right back on flat country.
I didn't just sit around in a hotel in Thrissur, but that's a completely different story altogether.--
All trails have more uphill sections than they have downhill sections.
I had a lot of fun in Calicut. In fact, I totally went crazy in Calicut as even casual observers would have noted. But there was a method to this madness. Away from the student masses and the bustle of the city, there is a beach. It is far far away from the NIT itself - so we got a cab to travel to the beach and possibly, hopefully see the sunset. We were standing around in campus watching the sun go down and further down slowly, waiting for the cab to arrive.
We had to drop premshree's cousin and were going slightly roundabout towards the beach. So when we dropped her off, he too went to push back all his laptop and bags at the house, while we all idled around. Finally we got to the beach with barely a minute of the sunset left, but we enjoyed it anyway.
That's when the madness started in earnest. I hadn't been to a beach in over a year - the last time I went was to the Cherai Beach with my cousins. But this time around, I wasn't the responsible one - I could literally let my hair down and enjoy. Well, so did almost everybody.
I had brought a pair of shorts along with me in the jeep. But before I jumped out onto the beach, I had forgotten to actually change, what with the sunset and the timing. Anyway, since the tide was headed in the waves were pretty awesome and I started by wading waist deep in the water. Quite an amazing feeling when a big wave comes along and hits you square on the chest.
That day ended when I trudged back up the beach in wet Levis and changed into the shorts. I had to face the slight embarrasment of people staring at my knees - they got a lot of unwanted attention from the paparazzi as well.
The next evening saw us standing around near the event hall with nothing to do. There were some people playing in the basketball court nearby and philip said let's play. The last time I played basketball was in 2002 in college. I sucked badly at the game, especially blocking bluesmoon's passes to shreyas. To top all that, I was so stiff from the acrobatics the other day that my turn was more of fifteen degrees than the full ninety. If it weren't for shres's loose pants, we'd have got our asses kicked.
After this, we headed out to a valley nearby called the sunset point. Basically you can see a long way out from the hilltop and there is a lot of bird life around. We basically sat there for a while and then got back to the guesthouse to pack and leave for Bangalore.
Ah, good fun.--
Don't try to stem the tide -- move the beach.
I am not the most organized traveller around, but this time it wasn't my fault that the plans were a mess. When shres and me planned out a trip to Calicut, it involved a day time drive through Wayanad and two extra days for the drives. But what came to be was a final and hasty booking on an AC bus from madiwala. We can take the rough with the smooth and we were prepared for a rough trip. We had got the seats 27 and 28, which are right above the rear tyres of the bus. If that wasn't enough someone else had already booked those seats from Kalasipalayam due to some mixup with the ticketing. We got the seats re-allocated to 21-22. But the guys who had got ours weren't really particular about sitting anywhere and we managed to hold on to the seats.
Shreyas slept on, while I was listening to Zeppelin and singing along. And at around 2 AM, the bus broke down. There was some problem with shifting gears and the guy managed to drag it to a nearby hotel. When I walked into the hotel, I was surprised to find someone sitting at the far end in a Yahoo! T-shirt. It turned out to be Jemshad, who was headed for Lakshadweep. We had tea and went our seperate ways, forever more.
In an hour, another bus coming in the opposite direction was flagged down and we swapped buses. By about 4 AM, we hit the ghat section of the road. Intially till we got to Muthanga, the road was pretty flat and minor gradients round the hills. After we got into Wayanad for real, the hairpins started. At around 5, we started our descent from the hills and towards kalpatta.
Because of our delays, we saw the hills of wayanad in the light of the rising sun. The camera had almost run out of batteries and the road was very bumpy - half the photos I took of the dawn are blurry and wavy lines of sun. But the hills looked ethereal in the morning mists. The curves of mist around the foothills, the bright glow of the sun behind the big ones - so beautiful.
We had a bit of early morning confusion about where we were supposed to get down. Since both our phones were unreachable, by the time I got into coverage, there was a huge number of SMS messages about where we are and all that. We were told that we could get down at Kunnamangalam, which around 8 Kms away from the NIT. I called up the reception party about that, who first said "no, come straight to calicut" and called back to check if we could get down there after we were about 2-3 kms beyond the circle. Finally, we got to Palayam, where they picked up us and took us about the same way we came for 20kms to get back to the NIT.
The time - quarter to nine.--
When you ascend the hill of prosperity may you not meet a friend.
-- Mark Twain
I'm off to calicut to talk at FOSS @ NITC and for once, I get a talk slot before lunch. I'll be talking about DotGNU and a few bits of core technology sprinkled in. Well, read the schedule item for yourself.
Went to Cochin for the weekend. To start off with, I missed the Jet airways flight in the morning. I missed out on all the family gathering and all the food. But I still couldn't stop myself from actually going - so I got on the evening flight and got to cochin. But I was really a bit too late to meet anyone...
Then I just slept for the next two days and came back ... Oh, I wandered around the shore road with a broken camera too. But other than that, there's nothing much.
But all said and done, there are few other places I'd have gone to do nothing and meet nobody.
Come to think of it, that's what we really go home for ...--
If your aim in life is nothing, you can't miss.
For those who haven't followed the previous episodes of this story, my New Zealand visa arrived sometime before noon on 20th Friday. I had to report for my flight at 5 PM the very same day. It is a very near miracle which was accomplished by the helpful people at the New Zealand embassy and Mike Beattie and other LCA organizers who faxed, called and in general, made sure that I ended up on a flight to down under (and a little further down). Thank you very much.So there I was with a visa and tickets in hand with nothing to carry other than my trusty sweater and a couple of books. I need clothes, shoes and something to pack all that in. spo0nman and premshree pushed me around and essentially made sure that I bought stuff I could actually use without paying much attention to the right hand side or the total. By around 3 PM we had bought all that I could probably carry on my back and a backpack to match. After a slight hustle with the currency conversion, minor panics and arithmetic failures (while counting notes), I was ready to go to the airport. So they pushed me into an auto and said airportu. Spo0nman even lent me his camera without which this entire experience would've been less of a nostalgia trip now.
So I checked in and while in my security check, took out my phone. There were 6 unread messages. In all this hurry I had forgotten to acutallly read those. One of those turned out to be from toolz asking me to pickup Andrew Cowie's leather jacket (which he forgot here when he came for foss.in) from someone at work. Couple of others turned out to be saying things like did you remember to pack your sweaters, it might be cold there etc.. Anyway, while playing around with my phone someone sitting behind me gets a call. The ringtone is very familiar and then I remember the malayalam song it is actually playing. The owner of the phone turned out to be a mallu from Trivandrum who passed out in the same year as I did, but from a different college. There were lots of common friends that we shared (like Sreekrishna who also works in IBM). We found another mallu hanging around to take the same flight to singapore.
Singapore airlines is amazing. They have this thing called Krisworld which has on demand movies, so that you can stop, pause or rewind the movie with a remote in your handrest. I watched Sky High and then a bunch of Simpsons, 8 Simple Rules ... and a Duck Dodgers cartoon. And they remembered my Asian Vegetarian special diet, which meant that I really got something to munch on faster than anyone else. To save on space, let us say that I landed up in Singapore airport together with the other two and with lots of time left for our connection flights.
I had around 14 hours in the Singapore airport. I didn't actually want to wander too far mainly because I needed sleep badly. Found an unoccupied lounge and went to sleep sometime around 07:00 AM local time. I woke up a bit late, discovered an Indian restaurant in the mall, walked around a bit and went to the security check on time.
Finally, it is time to board my flight. I had wandered into the other segment and was trying to run on all those travellators to get to the correct transfer that I was supposed to be at. An important lesson learnt - always correct your watch to local time.
The Air New Zealand flight is of the duration of 10 hours. Interestingly the person sitting next to me is flying to New Zealand from Trivandrum. She's been in Saudi for a while but speaks malayalam. We had lots of fun discussions about travel and movies etc. The airplane plays Dukes of Hazzard over headphones with a single display on the middle. There was this group of young girls and boys from some school in Singapore who were headed to New Zealand for a trek near Christchurch. I got talking with an Indian kid who was trying to figure out C++ for the first time. Anyway, other than a few stares from a small kid whenever I laughed at an onscreen joke (Jessica Simpson with the These boots song). I got a few photos while on the flight by leaning over and taking a snap, but not too many while over Australia.
After the 10-odd hour flight, I hit Auckland at lunchtime. The feeling of losing 4 precious hours of sleep really hits home hard. Auckland is in the North island and the airstrip is defined by the curve of the bay. Amazingly beautiful to look at all the blue ocean in the bay from up in the flight - too bad they don't let you use cameras while landing.
The customs at Auckland actually unpacked my backpack because I had said that someone else had packed it for me. Anyway no big hassles in there - they even let me get a permit without even giving a residential address in New Zealand. Since I had four hours to waste in Auckland, I checked in my heavy backpack into the domestic transfers and moved around the airport. I ran into some interesting things around in the airport. After waiting till there was an hour to the flight and not seeing the flight in the display, I ask the help desk. They point me towards this one blue line which I have to follow to get to the domestic terminal. I take the distance in a run, pausing only to catch my breath and a quick snap.
Next stop, Wellington. Wellington's all hills all around. I don't think I could've got the entire picture without a panaroma stitcher. We pass over the end of the north island which is full of barren rocky outcrops which have a definite roughness characteristic of uneroded and therefore recent geological activity. We pass over a lot of beautifully rugged country before we get to Wellington.
The first glimpses of south island are of even more rugged wilderness, of the glaciers long gone by and inlets which remind you of fjords. The entire region is so full of such geological features unmarked by vegetation that it is quite amazing to just see what you had so far read about in some books.
And then you enter this green hills of Dunedin. Dunedin is a coastal town with lots of small hills, which would probably classify as mountains to most great plains folk. All over all these green and ofen yellow mountains you see small white specks which are sheep which are very near their shearing season. I arrive in Dunedin at 8:30 PM but it was still quite a lot of daylight left in the day and sunset was around 10 PM as further south as this.
Dave Hall, Rhys Weatherely and Andrew Mitchell were waiting in the airport to pick me up. They dropped me at the Unicol accomodation, where I was promptly handed my N 303 keys and directed towards my room. What I hadn't realized at the point was that this hostel accomodates both girls and boys, but more on that in another post. Anyway, I managed to find my way to my room and tried to sleep with the curtains firmly shut. I seem to remember that we tried to get dinner somewhere, but it is a little fuzzy round the borders for what happened late that day.
Rhys was staying at Unicol too and we met up the next day early morning. I woke up with sunlight pouring on my face and I was all like I'm late when I realized that my watch was showing 06:20 AM. I took a peek down the corridor and sort of realized that Sun had risen sometime near 04:30 AM rather than what I'm used to in the tropics.
And that is just the first part of my southern adventures. Watch my blog for more reports from the land of the white cloud - Aotearoa.--
Isn't air travel wonderful? Breakfast in London, dinner in New York, luggage in Brazil.
Just called up the New Zealand Embassy and talked to my Visa Officer, who by now knows me by Name. They have been very nice and instead of sending my documents back with a REJECT stamped, they called me up asked me fax documents to them and even asked for signed declarations to be faxed rather than couriered in. Anyway, they just told me that my Visa is sitting in the stack to be sent via BlueDart today evening.
Anyway, my visa is there, but not here yet. I have a visa, but I still don't know if I'm travelling. I won't know till the pretty cover arrives at office tomorrow, sometime after lunch. *If* it comes.
Otherwise, I'm just a poor and depressed guy in Bangalore.
Just got back from Trivadrum, today morning. Nice trip - collected my tickets, got them marked as asian vegetarian, met the parents and in general had a good time. Did not get enough time to go around to my college - I want to visit it and see what all has passed by there in the last year. I hear that they have a new building for the computer science department.
I broke my camera while in Trivandrum. I happened to sit on the camera while it was packed inside bubble wrap and lying on a sofa. Apparently, with somebody as thin as I am - there's a lot more pressure per square inch. The LCD has cracked, need to see if GK Vale or someone else in Bangalore can get it repaired. Otherwise it is nearly 23k INR wasted.--
There's no future in time travel.