Aside
1

Accepting Genie’s limits on time travel and falling in love, what are my 3 wishes within the realm of reality?

Since I’m daydreaming anyway,let me ask for :

2 passes that will guarantee a seat in any people transport in the world.

2 passes that will guarantee food in any eating place the world

2 wallets/cards that generate 5 $ a day for ever

 

For solitude is well and good, but sometimes you just need the company of the fellow traveller…

0

Himachal Parikrama

Taken from my old blog, dated June 4, 2012

 

[For those who dont understand Hindi, Himachal is a state in the north of India and parikrama means circuitous trip]

So. Some of you may have noticed that I was out of the grid for the last 15-20 days. I was trekking in the Himachal 🙂 . This is an account of that whole trip… [Kindly forgive the hindsight-y digested account. Didnt have pen-paper to record live reactions.]

18 May
left from Nashik. AC chair car, nice reserved seats and all.
Met Mandar and Sharvari in Mumbai. Usual frantic last minute purchasing [camera, in this case] and we are off. Again nicely booked, reserved seats.

19 May
Delhi. Long haul to a place, where we had to keep Sharvari’s extra luggage. some rest, and off to see Swapnil. bus to manali at night.

20 May
Woke up [still in the bus] to see the Beas parallel to the road, completing a beautiful sunrise frame. Beas showed us the way right up to Kullu, and onwards to Babeli, that was our base camp. Mild excitement about the beautiful valley turns to OOOOH LA LA when we see our first snow covered peak from the road.
Once we get set up in the camp, rest of the day is off. We meet Naval uncle, one of the nicest people in our group [SK-26]. Later in the evening, me and Shar go off to explore Kullu. We meet Naval uncle there, and have a pleasant 7 km walk back to camp.
Food is superb

21 May
Early morning exercises leave everyone a little buzzed. Excrutiating and fun at the same time.
Acclimation walk. Much discussion about the difference between acclimation, acclimatisation and adaptation. Started meeting people. Kalyan has organised tent-14 into one group. We meet Ajinkya, also a Punekar. Naval uncle and I trade stories. Walk is over in a short time. Rest of the day is off, we decide to go to Kullu for more shopping after the orientation.
Kullu is a pleasant town. After coming back, SK-26 preps for camp fire. people sing and tell jokes. Hits are Mandars ghazal and Rishi uncle’s Saurkundi dhaam story.

22 May
Everyone is a bit bored, the schedule leaves us loads of free time. Today we just have the usual exercises and some rock climbing and rappelling. This is fun. Mandar becomes famous in the group by climbing many rocks. Later in camp, girls ask about the singer who can climb rocks.

23 May
D-Day. We move to higher camp. We bid adieu to the field director Mr Gogate [he won’t be there when we come back]. Our group has 48 guys and 3 girls. Unusual combination. Off to Patlikuhl to start the walk to the first camp, Segli.
The walk is pleasant, through thick pine forests. A bunch of locals walk with us, plying us with buttermilk, rhododendron juice and food at every rest point.
Camp is in a village, in an old wooden house. after settling in, we roam around a bit. Later, everyone chats up Ajay, the youngster who is the scion of the family who owns the house. He is a big audience guy and gets going very nicely. Later, he also sings at the camp fire.

a note on the groups : we begin noticing groups and people of SK-26 by now. there is a big Gujju group, a tent-14 group [mostly from NITs]  , a telugu group of four, our group of 4-5, an older people group of 5-6 and 2 groups of four from mumbai and nagpur each. The rest assort themselves. There is a group of Deaf-Mute guys, 3 of them. Expert trekkers, they regale us with jokes and in general have loads of fun.

24 May
Farewell to camp leader Manoj kumar as we move to higher camp Hora. a brief interlude to a water-fall is the only new thing. Walk is good, the peaks move closer. After settling in, me Mandar and Ajinkya venture upwards for a bit of exploration.

Camp is nice, our first without electricity.

25 May
Since there is no camp leader here, some enterprising people light a camp fire in the morning. Much fun and talking. Some people organise cricket. Around 10, we move. shortish walk, we reach Maylee. Nice camp on a slope with a view. Best camp leader yet [and overall too], Mr Jignesh welcomes us. Camp has nice rolling greens, nice place to sit and chat. Some play cricket, some of us chat. Akash shares his love of movies with me.

Camp Fire is highly energetic today, this is our last one. We sing Beatles songs out of tune, play garba and whatnot. much fun. After everyone sleeps, a few of us go to the guide’s tent and ask them to sing local songs. they regale us late into the night. Super songs, that we hum all the way down to Babeli.

26 May
I wake up early today. Decide to foray along the sides of the mountain we are on, to check out the view from the ridge that is just visible. It is deceptive, and I walk through fields and brambles and whatnot to the ridge, a long way across. Its worth the view.
Short climb today, but virtually vertical. First sight of snow, small patches just before Camp Dora. After camp, again we explore the top. We see our first view of the full Kullu-Manali valley. We can hear a faint roar as Beas rages below.
The walk down is a run. The terrain has unexpectedly gouged holes and this is our first adrenaline rush as we miss the holes by mere inches, running at full tilt. 
Dora has the best views so far.

27 May
Usual sunrise. Everyone preps for a long day, the longest so far. Even our lunch is just biscuits and Frooti, to avoid high altitude nausea.
We reach the top. Snow is ubiquitous now, though it doesn’t cover more than 50% of the land. We have left the tree-line far behind.
Guides change, we wait and play in the snow.
New guides lead us downwards.
    Snow-Slides.
            There are two slides. Long steep patches of snow, where you slide down on your bum. The first one is quite long, about 1 km. But people clog the lane, we cannot go down full speed. A few of us climb back half way [walking on snow is fun!] and come down again, no brakes. Super fun! The next slide is a small one, but very steep. This time we are all experts and we slide down nicely.
Camp is a bit ragged, and in a not-so-nice spot. But the food is ample and we are high on the euphoria of the slide.

28 May
Climb down to Lekhni is fun, but nothing new to look at. A few people make some excuses and climb down all the way, to go home early. We stay put and reach the beautiful bungalow at Lekhni. Here we eat a local steamed sandwich, siddu. A lively game of dumb charades sprouts up, much fun is had.

29 May
We amble down to Alu Ground, chatting all the way down. On the way, we eat the most exquisite strawberries ever seen by yours truly. they are selling small cup-full of berries, at 10 bucks a cup. we finish all the cups they have. The base camp is almost packed up as we reach Babeli, since we are one of the last groups. We have lunch and depart for rafting. Rafting is fun, but not out of this world. Everyone makes plans, departs. Fond farewells.
We plan to go to Srinagar via Pathankot. We change our plans midway and get down at Dharamsala in the night.

30 May
Short naps in the hotel room at Dharamsala refills out batteries. We set out to explore Mcleodganj. It is a nice little touristy place, with a high concentration of Tibetan refugees. We cannot decide on a plan of action till 6 pm as loads of alternate plans crop up. Finally, on the insistence of Shar’s parents, we decide to stay put in McLeod, and leave on the morrow. we go down to Dharamsala, get our bags up and spend the night in the most awesome guest house ever. No frills, it is nice a clean place, with open spaces and pleasant styling. We eat tibetan food at Hotel Tibet. Gyathuk with mutton momos. Gyathuk is a soup-like thing, a kind of tibetan ramen, with noodles meat and veggies. It is heavenly.

31 May

We get up and visit the temple of His Holiness The XIVth Dalai Lama. It is modern boxy structure, but it excudes charm and peace and quiet. The tibetan chants lend the place a spiritual aura.
We eat a HUGE breakfast at Jimmy’s italian kitchen. Off to Bhag-su Naag temple, the Kul-Daivat [Home God] of the Gurkha Regiment. It is a nice temple, chock-full with tourists. The Bhag-su Naag waterfall is long and nice.
We buy some yak and rabbit wool clothing from friends and family.
Lunch is at Tibet Kitchen. We eat bhutanese and tibetan food that leaves us smiling with joy. The food experience at McLeod has been awesome. Awesome.
Bus to Haridwar leaves from Dharamsala at 5 pm. Route is scenic, and we sleep as the sun goes down. Bus breaks down in the middle of the night and we spend a sweltering 45 minutes in the workshop of Uuna bus sand.

1 June

We wake up to the hustle and bustle of Haridwar. Uttarakhand is a big change from Himachal. We dont venture out from the bus stop at Haridwar. We somehow manage to get a bus to Rishikesh, an incomprehensible task at the chaotic bus stand. The bus is stuck on 3rd gear half way through, and we chug our way into a desolate Rishikesh bus stand.  We do not know that the stand is a little way out of the city proper, and the first look at Rishikesh is a bit surprising. We check into the nearest decent place. We are advised to take a 410 rupee rickshaw, that will show us all the sights of the nice little town.
We cross the Ganges via the Lakshman Jhula. Me and Mandar dip into the Ganga at a nice semi-isolated place. As we walk towards Ram Jhula, our way back, we start seeing the crowds that are expected at such a place of pilgrimage. We have tea/coffee in a hippy cafe, and walk back across the Ganga using the Ram Jhula to our rickshaw. He shows us some more sights. We go to the hotel and rush to the bus stand.
Here too, chaos reigns. Though we are in time, it seems the bus we had planned on using is already full. We catch the next one to Delhi.

2 June
We wake up as the bus pulls into Anand Vihar bus stand at Delhi. We make plans, and go to Mr Ganeshan’s place, where Sharvari has her bags. We eat some breakfast, take naps, say our goodbyes to Sharvari and leave around 2 to the railway station.
In the hustle and bustle of the last 2 days and the tons on conflicting instructions, We haven’t been able to book tickets back. We decide to rough it in the general compartment. The ticket person suggests Paschim express, we rush to New Delhi station to catch it. I cannot believe how full it is as it pulls into the station. We enter, somehow. Mandar goes left, I go right. We never see each other until we alight at Mumbai. I get to sit after a couple of hours, as some people get down. Once I sit, I get up only twice, momentarily to stretch my legs. No food, no bathroom breaks, nothing. We get down at Borivili, rush to mumbai central. Mandar gets me something to eat as I buy a ticket to Nashik.
Here, though there is a big crowd, I get to sit in the door. A breezy 4 hours is nothing compared to a sweltering 22 hours. at 8:30 pm, I step out of Indian Rail property after a total of 28 hours.




Weirdly, I am not tired at all.






 
The blue line is the valley. Saurkundi is just to the left of the line [near Patlikuhl]. 
Dharamsala is marked. Mcleodganj is about 10 km away, sitting pretty right on top of Dharamsala [on a mountain]
In the bottom right corner, you can probably see Rishikesh. 
0

Mumbai: Urbs prima Indiae

Taken from my old blog, dated February 2, 2012
After agonising for 10 minutes on the title, I have settled on a simple [Orhan Pamuk-esque] title. During a recent trip to Mumbai, I had the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of Fort and CST on foot and via BEST. I had tons of fun and some nice moments. Lets see what.
So, It was the wedding of a school friend of mine. We hadnt met in 7-8 years since 10th, but such is the school-friend phenomenon, that you pick up the threads as you left them, even with such humongous gaps in between. Quick description:
Left for Pune on saturday, attended his Ring Ceremony, at Mahape [near Koparkhairane, New Bombay]. Came back on Sunday morning [more like afternoon] to attend the wedding of The Devika. Had fun there too, a nice little sojourn to Chocolate Room with a bunch of friends, and loads of juicy IISER gossip. 🙂
Saturday evening back to Mahape, to attend the reception [the wedding had taken place in the day]. As the groom left for the venue, we took it upon ourselves to decorate the bridal chamber. It was fun, trying to think of innovative ways of arranging flowers to make it look elegant 🙂 . We wanted to seal the deal with candles, but the hotel literally snuffed out our idea by saying no fire in the room as it triggers the fire alarms. So we had to make do with flowers and a nice little cherry cheese-cake.I went to CST the next morning, to meet a friend, who promptly stood me up. Waiting for another friend, a fellow wedding-attendee, I started roaming about the nice old buildings of CST. This friend was at Borivali, and 2 hours turned to 8 and I had 23 tons of time on my hands. It was fun though, I was in no particular hurry, and I had a whale of a time, roaming around aimlessly, soaking it in.

There are plenty of buses that do the CST-Nariman Point-CST circuit. All I had to do was hop onto a double decker, and sit myself down on the first seat on the top and have a nice sight-seeing tour. Turned out, a couple had hogged the front row, both sitting one each on the 2 front benches. As the bus was virtually empty, out of courtesy, I had to sit on the second row. Best 10 minutes of my day! As you can imagine, I sat behind the girl. There is a window on these seats, where the windshield would be. As I sat behind her, the wind wafted through these windows and through her, hair all flowing and nice, into me. A sweet, fragrant time… Take a second to imagine this situation and realize how awesome it was 🙂

[was thinking of putting this photo here, but it doesn’t cover it, and such things are best left to imagination.]

As I look back, I see that the entire day could be typified by this one moment. I could soak in the beauty of the surroundings, virtually as an outsider. But in the end, she got down with her boyfriend, oblivious to my presence. I didnt mind it though! The moment was good enough. As I roamed about the streets of Fort, I could see and observe many things. Mostly the intersection of the very old and the hip and young. The city itself, or the people, were oblivious to this soaking in of mine though. They were engrossed in their own loves.

If I try to describe the city in one overarching theme, I would fail. By city I mean just Fort, but still. It is like the neo-colonial architecture in the area. A hodge podge of many different styles. Gothic pillars, English decorations, Islamic onion domes, Parsi symbolism, Indian materials, Brit-Raj architecture etc etc etc. A hodge podge, true, but not a mess. What emerged was neither of its components. They didnt just merge seamlessly, they melted together to forge a new style. Thats the flavour of that area. Yet, it is not too. Do not try to reconcile this paradox, coz it is there, like a living, breathing thing and you cant explain it away. Metres away from the Taj, we have a poor kid selling fruit slices for 2 rupees a slice. Just below the financial nerve centre of the country, the RBI HQ, are two guys selling Vada Pav and Chai. Just outside some of the oldest buildings in the country, you see some of the most forward thinking kids to ever set foot inside a college. All this created even more hodge podginess. But again, there was the total absence of incompatibility. Every niche was occupied, every opportunity utilized, to present a seamless facade.  Every element was just that, in its element. Everywhere, again and again, there was this feeling, that my being there or not being there was not making one iota of a difference. Some places engulf you, some entertain you, some demand entrance qualifications. Mumbai did nothing of the sort. It just didnt care, you come and you go, we have enough of our own cares to worry about…

There was a road, so small that only one car could pass through at once. It was small because there were cars parked parallel on both sides of the road. In such a small space, I found the longest sedan I have ever seen.

This Chrysler Fleetwood is LONG. If it doesnt seem so long in the pic, here is a telling observation. There was a Honda Accord parked beside it. To my [admittedly excited] eyes, it seemed to be atleast 1.5 times the length of the Accord! It was a maroon car, lovingly preserved, spotlessly shiny. The interiors were a nice suede leather, plush seats. Not enough room inside it seemed, for such a huge boot, but there it was. Almost exactly as new, except for the stolen chrysler symbol on the front.

Jostling for eye and leg space, were a multitude of shops. All those old building bearing this attack on their frontage with a stiff upper lip. Most of the windows above level 1 were closed or broken. As the light declined into twilight, most of the windows were dark too. I was insanely curious to go up and see what is inside. Were there actual rooms, or was the facade of the building just painted on? It was that lifeless. But not in a bad way, you know. It wasnt forbidding, not abandoned, just out of reach… There were a few beacons of lights dotting the windows here and there, to show that yes, there was life in them. Not like the the forbidding gates of Mordor, but equally inaccessible.

These buildings were decades old. All those years of the sea breeze coupled with a fierce monsoon had failed to make a significant dent, but the softening around the edges gave them character. Worn out, but still quite unused. everything smacked of paradoxes.

On a previous visit to this area, with Santosh, Yatindra and Yoga, we had chanced upon a nice little burger place, Fidos. It has since closed down, but every time I come here, I try to find another place like this. A previous hunt with Swetha in tow brought us the amazing Mad Over Donuts. This time though, I had no such luck. After a while, after much searching, I gave up. I decided to get lost. It was slightly difficult, as the roads are quite intuitively laid out and signboards are a-plenty. I did manage to lose myself, and one of favourite Beatles songs came to mind….

Magic feeling indeed.

After a while, I got tired [and however comfortable clothes you wear, chafing is unavoidable after walking for 4-5 hours with a bag on your back…] and decided to go back to the bus trips. As dusk fell, I could see many kid-parent jodis wend their way back to bus stands and into buses to CST to go back home. The faces of an excited kid after a day at the Gateway, quietly enjoying their icecreams as worried dads held the the other hand to make sure the kid doesnt get lost way told the entire story.

I made two more bus trips before my friend finally turned up and we made our merry way back to Pune. All my euphoria and exertions coalesced into a nice feel-good feeling, on the way back [quite like the icecream-kids]… on the back of which I am writing this whole thing. Many more things to write, many more thoughts, but right now, this is what springs to mind…