Hikkim, Himachal Pradesh

This is Hikkim. Hikkim is a small Himalayan village at a height of 4440 meters above MSL. It is the World’s highest post office and the highest polling station. The population is just around 200 if I remember right. The villagers have built their own irrigation system and are the most hospitable people I have ever met.

I spent an hour at Hikkim, of which 30 minutes were spent walking through their high altitude fields in search of postmaster, Mr. Chhering. The next 15 minutes at Mr. Chhering’s office/house sending postcards back home. The last 15 minutes was spent in the kitchen of local who made the best Honey-Lemon-Ginger tea ever.

One hour felt like several days of exuberance. It’s been nearly two weeks since that day passed and I’m still not able get Hikkim out of my head.

Advertisements

Road Tripping

So our idea of a road trip is to head out for a few days without a plan, spend as little money as possible, go to places that we can’t go later in life, sleep where won’t dream of when you have a family and laugh until you have cramps in your stomach. We’re stupid, we’re unassuming and we’re simple. We find joy in the little things of life.

Here are some unbridled moments from many of my road trips

1. Crossing over to a sand bar at Rama Sethu Point, Dhanushkodi. A small channel current separates the sandbar from the mainland and channel currents are dangerous, they can push you off the sandbar into deeper waters, yet we crossed over to the other side and it was totally worth standing there after having walked for 5 hours.

IMG_20151226_144540
We ran out of land to walk any further.

2. Windswept dunes at the tip of India, Dhanushkodi. Continuous barrage of sand particles carried by the strong winds was unforgettable. We were sand-bombarded, if we’d spent an hour lying down, we would have been completely covered sand.

3. We stopped to get water to drink at a small creek and what’s on the opposite side, a pineapple farm – that’s a first. I’ve been told that there’s no match to the fruits picked right off the farm. As I’m drooling over the possible taste of them, at the far end of the farm we noticed that they’re loading a pick up truck with freshly cut pineapples. It’s our lucky day, every other pineapple I’ve eaten is no match to what we just found and picking it directly from the farm, that’s kinda rare in my world.


4. Do you even call that a Ferris wheel. The typical Indian village fair and they will have that thing that looks like Ferris wheel but has no chance in hell to be certified as one. The charm doesn’t exist without it and my friend spots it from the highway along the coast, what a horrible moment for me.

IMG_20160430_195000

5. 80 feet above MSL, on a 45 year old bridge just after a cyclonic storm had hit the town a few weeks back. Wind speed ~40Kmph, staring down at a railway bridge that is 100 years old that’s about be become a UNESCO world heritage site. What-ta feeling !! Pure bliss.

6. Losing your brand new phone while watching a superb sunset. And frantically searching for it once you realize it’s gone. What a bitter-sweet end to an awesome day.


7. Jumping into almost every river we crossed paths with.

DSC_0224-2

8. Dropping off school kids to their homes on some godforsaken highway in the mountains. They waved, we stopped and it was such a nice thing to do. Some memories don’t need pictures.

9. Trying to set up camp on the infamous Marvanthe beach at 12AM on a full moon day. Woah !! It scared the living daylights out of us. And trying to set up camp on an adjacent beach at 2AM in the night only to be kicked out by the police.

10. Cursing our genius photographer buddy for not joining us while struggling to get the right settings.

11. Walking for hours in a thick dense evergreen forest during a thunderstorm.

12. One of the road trips started at 8 PM on a stormy night. I’ve never ventured out on the highway when a rain gauge would record centimetres of overnight downpour. You never know what such a day can turn into. What started of as a really scary storm, became the most emphatic drive of my life. It felt like there was a hole in the sky and we had to drive till the rain stopped, that was close to 200 kms before we could pull over at bus stop to get some sleep. Early in the morning, I got some light trail pictures.

13. The supremely bumpy ride from Dhanushkodi to Old Dhanushkodi Railway Station in what looks like a mini-van (Jeep forward control is what wiki says). We thought we were good at driving until we saw this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xobDsibCA8Y


In a day, a smile can turn into laughter, a drizzle can become a downpour and a moment can become a story. I hope to find more such days and make this list longer with every opportunity that comes by.

The heart shaped lake

It was such a huge let down when we found out that they weren’t going to allow us to trek to the peak. We did try to sneak our way to the top, through a small hidden route, but we got caught.

We highly over estimated the total time required to finish the round trip and ended up spending hours at this cliff, thanks to the crappy rules made by the forest department.

DSC_0829

This is a panorama shot from the edge of the cliff close to the lake.

IMG_20160102_134828-PANO

 

A flower that blooms in 12 years

I have no clue about what is wrong with my knee because my doctor hates me for not getting an MRI at the place he asked me to go to. Bottom-line, I don’t know how to make it right (or may be I’m too lazy to try physiotherapy).

I don’t see it improving in the near future and I’m done not climbing mountains. I thought what could be better than going in search of a flower that blooms once in 12 years. Finding the flower, is a long shot. Ah ! But the madness, is commendable..

People:
Every time I’m out with my buddies, we’re talking nonstop nonsense and laughing our lungs out. Any amount of time spent with them is never enough, I’m always left wanting more.

My bum needs rest ! This looks like an awfully clean place to rest it.
My bum needs rest ! This looks like an awfully clean place to rest it.

Camp:
The Bhagvati nature camp at the heart of the Kudremukh national park. We reached camp @ 8 in the morning. It’s on the bank of a river that has crystal clear water.

Leeches:
We found leeches like ants, thousands of em, it seemed like they were trying to tell us to get off their backyard.

Leech: sup !!
Me: Stomp ! Stomp ! Stomp !
Leech: I don’t die so easily.
Me: Flash tobacco, salt and relispray.
Leech: Ha Ha !! It’s raining they’ll get diluted.
Me: Let’s try !!
Leech: I’m taller than you.
Me: You’ll be taller than the mountain in a few seconds. So long sucka !!

Every one of us had a different perspective about leeches, some were petrified, some tried to keep the number of bites to as little as possible and some of them showered them with pain reliever spray.

Wilderness:

And we walked.
And we walked.

After 4 hours of walking, of which it rained for one hour like there was a hole in the sky, there we were, staring at the Kurinjalu Peak.

We made our way up to the top, it took us 15 minutes of near rock climbing to get there and the flower ? Isn’t there.. Who was I kidding, I went in search of a needle in a haystack, what was I thinking or may be I wasn’t thinking at all. Yeah ! I wished I’d see the flower, Strobilanthes kunthiana – Neelakurinji, but I didn’t.

Like I always tell myself, it’s all about the intent. The intent led to an amazing weekend at the heart of a tropical evergreen rain forest. A 360 degree panorama of never ending hills that redefined the memory of how a tapestry of green looks like. A large transformer and electric pole rusting incongruously beside the house which was once said to be a telephone exchange. The very unique Lakhya dam, which is a monstrous puddle of mud, looked like a crater on the moon from the peak and hours of trekking in the rain. Everything about that place was enigmatic and it deserved a shout out!!

I will go back to get this panorama on my SLR.
A tapestry of green.

Days of the past

I am a software engineer who travels a lot of kilometers, on a fast bike. I wade my way through endless trails of busses, trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws and what not. I spend 50% of my travel at traffic jams and red lights, finding that new shortcut to avoid the next signal is an indispensable thing. So frustrated I am at times that I wind up riding on curbs and footpaths or taking that free left turn which isn’t allowed when a traffic police isn’t around. I live through all the deafening decibels and highly polluted air which gives me whatever little oxygen is left in it. Life in my city has changed. Bangalore as seen by every kid born in the 80’s has changed. It is a gateway to the world and no less than any other metropolis in India..

We grew up in the beautiful Bangalore, one that lived up to to its nick name – the garden city. Back then, the summer temperatures never crossed 30 deg C, black and white computers were still a luxury, space and the defense sectors were the only jobs that were available here. The city woke up and shut down early, the roads were wide and empty – they would turn into playgrounds every evening, the area occupied was vast as it had grown laterally, it never grew skywards. The city’s Public Utility Building on MG road was the tallest. It was green, it was clean and the air wouldn’t choke me to death.

School was 7 km away, we would reach there in 15 minutes. I loved the ride to school in an overcrowded auto-rickshaw. When I look back at the laughing, fighting, kicking and headbutting while riding back and forth, it feels awkwardly humorous. 4’O clock we’d get back home, 4.30 was time to play. We owned the streets, every street was our playground. We’d set up huge rocks that doubled up as stumps in the middle of the streets. Shouting and howling through the next 2 hours, we’d seldom break windows and run away, but the neighbors invariably popped up at our front door very often to talk about the crimes we’d done earlier during the day. At the end, I have wonderful parents, they’d put up with all our nonsense – they said it was all part of growing up, go discover the world.

I miss those times when we gathered to play at 4.30PM sharp, everyday without having to send out a dozen calls/messages. I miss those days when the only vehicle that passed in front of my house was a ISRO bus to drop off scientists. Those days when an 8 bit video game made us gleam and glow. Technology was never around, we went out, we played, we learnt negotiation though interaction. We shared what we owned and we worked our way out of every difficult situation like champions. I still remember the time when we walked/cycled/hitch-hiked 3 kilometers in search of a bigger place. The place was so large and the hill beside it made it like icing on the cake, we were euphoric. We had all grown up, our sixes had gotten bigger, the bowling was faster and we definitely needed a larger goalpost whenever we chose to play football. A larger ground to play was needed and this served us right, we moved on from the streets to here, the streets were no more playable, too small and too much traffic !!

Just as we started to think we finally had the place for ourselves, barricades were erected, our playground was being taken away from us. We found a small opening, sneaked in and continued playing for a few more months, then came the sign boards that said, Danger !! Deep excavation. It made way to the present day ISKCON temple on top of the hill and ISKCON’s Gokulam apartments where we once played football or cricket everyday. By then my friends started getting busy as well, we found a smaller place to accommodate our reduced numbers, those times of not finding enough people to keep the game going had begun. Cycling to this wonderful lake surrounded by forest, was our alternative when we ran out of people to make sizable teams. One fine day, a small apartment sprung up on the bank of the lake. It drained all the water out of it.

The big change was starting to take over completely… we saw the city transforming into a monstrous metro. Disappearing lakes, felled trees, vanishing playgrounds, oversized residential towers and unimaginable traffic was becoming a trend. The IT bubble had bursted, a mass exodus of people from other parts of the country came in to Bangalore, it created 1000s of jobs, the face of the city changed. The people who were employees are now employers to people migrating from the central India, their fortunes have changed. The city now has a skyline, 100+ plus engineering colleges, every second person wants to be an engineer in this city. The kids no more spend time outdoors, its replaced by Xbox and PlayStation, a football field doesn’t exist, we have what’s called FIFA by EA Sports.

What happened my long list of buddies? Well, a dozen of them went abroad, some of them happily married, some of them like me are holding a desk job in the silicon valley of India and a few of them, the brave ones, who followed their hearts got into wildlife conservation, football, theater, art, et all. We still try to catch up every weekend to play football, it often fails even after sending out 100s of messages on whats app. Every playground is long gone, there’s one that’s owned by the government 4-5 kilometers away and there’s still a little futbol left in us.

Here I am, penning this down on yet another ‘social‘ platform, stuck at a very large traffic gridlock. How ironic, ten years back on this very same road we were playing cricket.

Captivating tail-wagger

It was a lazy evening on day three of my four-day long weekend. What was supposed to be a nap, had become hibernation. After 4 hours of sleeping, I finally drag myself out of bed on hearing loud whining and howling from what seemingly felt like a puppy. I got out of the house and I find this puppy. Poor girl, had fallen off into the fresh water drain after being pawed by one of the older dogs on the street. I pick her up and she’s shivering, she’s lost, scared to death and helpless.

Dad: Leave it near that house with a lot of pets.
Brother: Leave it near the park.
Me: Whaaaaaaaaat !!

I hold onto to her for a while, her shivering gradually decreases. She’s feeling a little safer but still on the lookout.. We went in search of her mom, 20 minutes and a kilometer later, still no sign of mom, an amazing thing happens.. The pup is sleeping in my hands, it’s so amazingly beautiful that I tell myself, I’m not leaving her out on the streets (not again, I’ve already done that once when I was 10 years old) or that playground. What were they thinking !! I bring her back home.. I convince my dad and brother to let her stay the night and I’ll find a good place for her tomorrow. We gave her some milk and her stomach bloated like a balloon in a few seconds, she’s off to sleep almost immediately after drinking it. The entire night is spent listening to her cries and howls. My brother’s pissed with the disturbance. He wants it gone, first thing in the morning.

It’s Sunday morning, we’re playing around with a pair of flip-flops, I’m teaching her to bite while I go grab something to eat. By the time I come back she’s already dozing off in one of my shoes.

IMG_20151025_101211

I transferred her to back of the car in the same sleeping state, time to find a safe place. She wakes up after while and decides to try out driving, she’s at the accelerator, the brake, the gears, moving all around the car howling, crying and whining as usual. A lot of driving and 3 animal shelters later, I find a place that has a very good reputation among the animal rights activists.

I walk up to the large gate and speak to the caretaker and I clearly did not expect what the caretaker had to say. My heart sank when he shook his head and said 10% chance of survival. I frantically make calls to my aunt and the owner of the shelter. They say the same thing.. Their reasoning is pretty straightforward, It’s a one month old pup, the older dogs carry diseases that are airborne and a puppy can very easily contract them. Put a little math into it, their numbers look right..
IMG_20151025_113817

I was told not to have it home and I had no choice but to leave it there. And when I parted ways, this was look I got from her.
Now, I’m left wondering as to how I could do such a inhumane thing, was I really that helpless and couldn’t we all have taken care of this captivating tail-wagger.