March 3rd, 2011
Unlike other places where you drive to reach a destination, in Ladakh, the journey itself is the destination. The road goes through such breathtaking vistas (and life-taking as well if you aren’t careful enough) that it is impossible not to be impressed by beauty of such magnitude. However, things aren’t rosy all the time. At high altitude, weather plays a crucial role in shaping up the day. This story is about one such drive when the weather was gloomy and we had very little time in our hands to afford the luxury of staying at Tangtse for an extra day.
When I woke up that morning, I felt fresh and the song Mazhai Thuli (rain drops) was playing in my mind. Almost instinctively I had a look outside the window and it was drizzling. I heard that Ladakh was a high altitude cold desert and that it doesn’t rain much. So I convinced myself that some clouds might be moving around and sprinkling some water on the way . The usual blue of the sky was missing. The horizon had a few black clouds as well. Determined not to let go of the day, we got ready quickly. Ram P and Suresh started first on Ram’s Pulsar 220. Some time later, I followed.
I was well protected. Thermal inner wear, jeans, rain pant for the bottom and for the top, it was again thermal inner wear, followed by a t-shirt, fleece jacket and leather jacket. For the legs and feet, it was cotton socks, woolen socks and then ankle length leather boots. For fingers, I wore woolen gloves and Cramster’s leather gloves. As I started the ride, I was thinking that if it had rained a little here – at 14000 feet – would it snow at 15000 feet and above? That day we had to cross India’s third highest motorable pass known as the Chang La at 17000+ feet … in inclement weather. A light cold wind was blowing too!
After 7 km I came to a fork in the road. Right fork led to Durbuk and the left fork led to Chang La and then to Leh. I took the left fork and few minutes later, the ghats started . Drizzling stopped this time. But it was cloudy and the slight drizzle had wet the roads considerably. As soon as I crossed the first few hairpin bends, I saw the sight of a lifetime. The winding road with its various hairpins wound down to the plains at 14000 feet and then went to the fork in a straight stretch. Another fabulous straight stretch took the road to Tangtse. Both these towns were visible from this vantage point.
After clicking couple of pictures, I was on my way. Rest of the gang weren’t visible yet. Since I was on a 125cc bike, I wanted to start a bit early so that by the time my bike climbs, the heavier bikes can come quite fast and catch up. In most places, the roads were quite steep. The altitude was climbing steadily. I was well acclimatized and hence didn’t feel the pressure of oxygen. The drizzle came down harder and visibility was going down. Soon, I crossed the magical 15000 feet and crossed a heavily puffed up rushing river – over a fragile bridge 😀 . At many points, roads were joined vertically through off-road trails. Four wheel drive cars managed to climb up and down very easily while I was watching them from my 125cc!
At about 15150 feet, I could feel the chill on my fingers. The warmth was long since gone and they were fast becoming cold. Feet were doing good so far. Suddenly, my jacket was no longer watery. A gray layer was forming as I was driving. I quickly realized what it was! It was snow! SNOW FALL. Snow was coming down real fast and it was being blown all around. Until then, when snow had come in contact with us, it would simply melt and wet the jacket. But that day was different. Snow fell on my jacket and it froze, becoming ice.
Within minutes, visibility was reduced to mere meters. Few minutes later, visibility was zero. Bike was wobbling slightly. I couldn’t see anything. Immediately I realized what had happened. Snow had fallen and frozen on my helmet visor, thereby taking out the visibility. I stopped the bike and took a minute to clean my visor. Snow was falling down hard and fast & it froze. It was not possible to drive with the visor on. Roads were steep and slippery. Hence, wearing the visor wasn’t an option. I started my bike again and took off. Soon, those tiny fluffy particles of snow started hitting my face and were pricking my eyes. Unlike rain, snow particles are really small, come in huge numbers & take a good helping of the skin! It was similar to a swarm attack.
My speed had come down to about 15 kmph. Through all this, I suddenly realized that bike stopped again. Reason? I couldn’t shift the gear. My little finger and ring finger were screaming in pain. They had frozen hard. I was at about 16500 feet now. Everywhere on the road, the milestones mentioned about the remaining distance to Chang La, Leh and the altitude. I was hoping there would be some place where I could have a cuppa chai 😀
Ten minutes later, my wish was granted. I saw an army camp at Tsultak at 17000 feet. Along the direction board, there was another board which announced the facilities of the place & the one that caught my eye was the “Mess –>” direction board. I drove straight to the mess. My fingers and feet were pretty much frozen now. Any effort with them required enduring pain. Two army folks appeared from the mess.
Me: Mujhe thoda garam paani chahiye (I need some hot water)
Army dude: Pehle, helmet kholo (Remove your helmet first)
Me: (after fiddling with the helmet lock) – tried talking in Hindi (didn’t work out) – Please remove them yourself. Fingers are frozen.
Army dude: He smiled and then removed the helmet. I was called inside the small mess.
One guy was a Mallu and the other guy was a Tamilian. Seeing my TN registration plate, he asked in tamil, “Neenga yengendhu varinga (Where are you coming from?), for which I answered “Chennai.” I was damn happy to hear a guy talking in Tamil at 17000 feet. Apparently, they were from the Madras regiment and they had just returned from a posting on top of Siachen Glacier!
A huge cauldron of boiling water was in the middle of the mess. With almost no effort, he lifted the cauldron from the stove and moved it elsewhere. I was stunned at his strength. Then he increased the flame and got a chair for me. He also helped me remove my shoes. Both my socks were wet. Toe edges had become white. Fingers were frozen. As the flame increased, I thawed them, massaged them and brought them back to life. In an impulse, I put my bare feet on the ground and felt the chill sending a shiver up my spine. The army dude then inquired about the bike trip and said that winters in that place were truly horrible; with temperatures reaching -10 during day time itself. As we were discussing about his life and my trip, he asked how many people were we. I said 13 and then he asked whether we’ll like corn soup!
I pinched myself. What? Corn soup? At 17000 feet with snow wrecking havoc around? Before even I could reply, I thought “WOW! That’s dulcet” and then I said “Yes! We would love it.” By that time, the rest of the gang had come in and they were getting toasty in the visitor’s room. Soon, the soup was ready. Everybody took large helpings of the soup. As the hot soup went down my throat, I could feel life surging back in my limbs and body. Various parts of my body along the oesophagus started to absorb the warmth. As the warm soup splashed my stomach, it was nearly orgasmic. After warming up sufficiently, we headed to Chang La. It was few kilometers from the army camp.
The army guys warned us that we were about to enter avalanche zone and that not more than one bike should cross the zone at anytime. Since it was also snowing, the risk of avalanche was higher. We bade them goodbye, thanked heartily and then went on our way.
Seeing the prayer flags flap in the chill breeze was a HUGE relief. I felt happy from the inside for coming that far. I was thinking of how folks would feel when I narrated the story to them after getting back. My mind drifted to Chennai. Then, it was time to savour the moment. At Chang La, the Indian Army gives free tea to everyone who makes it there. After couple of group pictures and a funny dance (am trying to find the video), we bought some mementos and then started to Leh. We crossed snow fields and some more avalanche zones.
Weather was showing some improvement. Though chill winds were blowing, it was not snowing. Through winding roads and more splendid views, we reached the beautiful village of Sakti and then reached the outskirts of Leh by around 4 PM. Paari and Arul went to Hemis Monastery. Rest of the gang, caught on the football fever, found a ground to play. I went to Thiksey monastery and then drove to Leh. Due to an earlier adventure that’ll be described in the next post, I missed Leh Palace before. So I drove to Leh.
Sunset at Leh
It was around 6.30 PM by the time I reached Leh. Sun was setting and I was offered a splendid view of the sunset from the top of the Leh palace. I made friends with the Buddhist monks there and they were telling their stories. I wanted to climb to Castle Tsemo opposite to the Leh palace. But unfortunately, it was becoming cold quickly and it had already become dark. So I thought Castle Tsemo was for next time and then went back to our home stay.
The day was absolutely brilliant and it was one that I would never forget in my life! Even months after coming back, that day is still fresh in my memory. I can recollect every detail even now. I can’t stop talking about the beauty of Ladakh.
See you soon on the next adventure post!
January 22nd, 2011
This year, I have decided that I’ll live with integrity. I will be my word.
- If I say, I’ll be at a place by 8 AM, you can expect me there on time.
- If I say, I’ll get something done by a given date, you can be assured that it’ll be done in the best quality possible that I can fathom.
- This year, I will only do stuff that I’m passionate about. So, if I write apps, it is because I’m passionate about them. If I travel, it is again because I’m passionate about it.
- I’ll not cheat myself. If my conscience says I have slipped, I’ll see what went wrong and try to improve on that rather than going in to denial.
- Part of this integrity exercise is saying “No” to stuff that I don’t want to do.
What’s with this year? Why did I decide to do it this year?
The strongest motivator was this parting email by a Microsoft executive sent to his colleagues. The portion that intrigued me was this:
The foundation of who I am is based on living with integrity. Integrity requires principles, and my primary principle is to focus on doing the right thing, as best I can. The best thing, to the best of my ability, for our customers, our products, our shareholders, and of course, our people.
Other principles, or guideposts by which I live, are learning from and listening to others to make the best decision possible; not being afraid to admit a mistake and change a decision when it is wrong; being consistently honest, even when it hurts; treating our customers, partners, and people with the respect they deserve, with the expectation that each of my actions forms the basis of a lifetime relationship; and finally, being willing to admit and apologize when I have not lived up to these principles.
Integrity is my cornerstone for leading people. Leading starts by setting a strategy – not one that I’ve dreamed up myself but something that my team has worked together to create. The strategy provides the North Star for each person.
I suddenly realized that to achieve bigger goals in life, the smaller ones need to be tackled. Without integrity, it is simply impossible to focus on them. Integrity gives you a solid foundation on which you can stand, command goals to fall in line and act on them one by one. It is that magic wand which will make rabbits appear out of seemingly bottomless hats.
30 Day Trial
Since this is going to be a big change to my life, I will start with a simple 30-day trial to see how this works. The trial ends on 21-Feb-2011. I’m totally excited about the changes it will bring in my life. Throughout the 30 days, I will collect data on various tasks. For e.g., “Have I been on time for meetings? If there are ‘x’ meetings this month, how many have I been to on time? Am I well-prepared for every meeting? Have I met milestones?” etc. The questions will obviously vary depending on the task at hand. But the point is to collect data so that I can look back at them at the end of 30 days and see how I have fared.
For starters, I have collected some data on my morning wake up time. Over the last 50 days, I’ve gotten up at/before 6.30 AM only 7 times. The data speaks by itself. No questions asked. So, by the end of 30 days I’ll know. I’m publishing this on my blog so that I don’t chicken out in the middle.
Wish me luck.
January 9th, 2011
Rajasthan is a diverse and beautiful place that beats superlatives. Everywhere you go in Rajasthan, you will see so much colour and liveliness that you can’t believe that this part of the Indian sub-continent has so much happening. During much of this road trip in Rajasthan, we visited lesser known places and came back with an enviable experience. Combine this travel with an icing-on-the-cake type easy desert trek and you would never want to miss this 😉 .
I did miss some regular tourist spots though (like Mount Abu, Ajmer, Pushkar etc.) but I guess I’ll cover them at leisure when there are no better places to visit. Except in the months of May and June – when summer is at its peak – rest of the year is open for tourists. November, December and January are particularly very cold. The desert trek was organized by Youth Hostels Association of India. Without much ado, here’s the itinerary of the trip.
July 28th, 2010
Ladakh – Below is a snippet of the lyrics from the song “Kanmani Anbodu” from the movie Guna.
Unnai enni parkayil kavidhai kottudhu
Adhai ezudha ninaikayil varthai muttudhu
la la la … la la la …
It roughly translates to, “When I think about you, emotions flow; but when I try to put them down, words fail me.” That exactly describes how I feel about Ladakh and the bike trip. The beauty of Ladakh beats all superlatives. Its memories left me in a dreamy state for days together … making sure that I longed to visit that place again and again.
I totally felt at home at Ladakh. The people were cheerful and friendly. The weather was so cold that its summer was like Chennai’s winter. Mile after mile, we passed through breathtaking vistas, rushing rivers, snow capped mountains, snow storms, bad roads, snow fields and what not! Each of those scenes screamed at us to stop, close our eyes, take a deep breath and take in that scene. Much of those even rendered me speechless. Sunset time was especially brilliant. Though we were never able to see the actual sun set – because of high mountains around – the golden light created so much contrast that everything around us opened up to its purest beauty.
There were 13 of us on the Grand Ladakh Trip and I’m sure every one of us had personal special moments that we will cherish for our lifetime.
May 12th, 2010
Well… it was a terrific Sunday. I’m not going to tell you the regular story of how beautiful the hills and streams were and how we jumped and monkey dived from top etc. Instead, I’m going to tell you the story of how mental clarity and strength of will helped resolve a critical problem.
On Sunday morning, the last water point was at around 10.30 AM. I drank about a litre of water, got some water on my backpack and we started moving ahead. We proceeded to hit a side-stream which would (according to the maps) take us somewhere close to the exotic Nagalapuram’s regular first pool. By about five hours after we started walking, all water resources had been exhausted & most of us were thirsty. We hit upon a 15m fall in the stream and couldn’t proceed any further. Straight and butter smooth rocks rose on both sides which made direct climbing impossible.
The 15m fall didn’t have any place to hold and climb down. But there was water there & we couldn’t even reach it with ropes. Eventually we decided to climb around it and then go down. The direct route was very bushy and thorns started raping us in all places where even a tiny bit of skin was visible. So, we backtracked some distance and climbed an 80 degree incline. Best thing about the incline was that, it had a good number of crevices to keep our hands and legs for balance. By the time we started climbing that incline, it was 3.30 PM. The sun was mercilessly burning down on us and the rocks were hot.
The Climb Up
Many of us were able to do the climb. Some did it slowly, some did it quickly, some did part of it quickly and part of it slowly & some of them had to be helped. But climb up … we all did. It was around this time that dehydration started to hit me. Every cell in my limbs were screaming for water. Blood receded from my finger tips and created wrinkles. Then I stopped climbing and noticed that a good number of people were still way down. That would give some time for rest. I wrapped my arms around a tree to stabilize myself and slept standing for sometime… may be 5 minutes. But that didn’t work out. So I removed my backpack, found a flat rock and rolled over there to get an amazing sleep for the next 1 hour 15 minutes. The sun was burning down and there was not much shade. But with a towel to cover my eyes and arms, sleep couldn’t have come at a better time.
During regular climbing, if I had said that piece of rock as “flat rock”, I would have been called a dumb ass but who cares when you want some rest?
Eventually everyone made the climb. It was around 6 PM now. The sun began to lose its intensity and a cool breeze was drifting around. That pushed me in to another 15 minute siesta. The gang stabilized and was gearing to climb down. After the climb down, we would get to that elusive elixir of life. This guy, let’s call him Jay, was the last one to climb up. Myself and Anand took the responsibility of getting him to the base camp. We were told to give him some rest and then take him to the hill’s peak and walk along the peak until the gradual descent began. That way, there wouldn’t be much pressure and since we would go on to the peak, the breeze would be good too.
After few minutes of rest, myself and Anand pushed Jay to start walking. It was getting dark and being stuck on the mountains during darkness isn’t a fun thing. We pushed, pushed and pushed, with myself and Anand taking turns to carry couple of extra backpacks. After 30 minutes of walk, we rested. The sun was setting just behind us on a mountain. The sight was breathtaking and so wonderful. But Jay’s spirit went down with the sun. The sun going down meant that twilight would be available only for about 30-45 minutes more and that was too less a time to get down fast.
We pushed off again and didn’t give rest for Jay for the next 45 minutes. It was pitch dark by then. But we knew where we were because right down the hill, we saw the dam and people could notice our torches too. That way, we were safe and didn’t actually get lost. By around 8 PM, Jay lost all gas and plopped. He couldn’t move much without water and was mumbling something. Anand was beginning to get low because of the current situation. We yelled for a few people from the top of the hill but no response came. Every time we thought we heard a response, it was the wind playing games. Jay’s situation was getting bad.
Stars appeared here and there and in a few minutes, a whole orchestra was being played in the skies.
I suggested that instead of waiting for help, it would make sense to walk for 10 minutes and rest for 20 minutes. That way, we would at least reach the bottom of the hill and be near water. We could drink water to our heart’s content and even camp there for the night. But that was not to be. As with Jay, Anand also announced that he cannot move anymore. Some coaxing and bullying didn’t work & that followed by more yelling for Peter, Biju, Alex etc. But no one heard us. Idea didn’t work out. Myself, Anand and Jay took turns showing our torch in case someone noticed. Sooner or later, they would have to figure out that we were missing.
Anand then called B in the city who told us he would get back to us immediately. I then talked to B, D and P and explained the whole story so far and asked them to come from the city with some water because none of the trekking members were reachable. Then few minutes later Ansar called in and said he would come. I pinched myself literally and asked him to repeat it once more. He said he’ll pick up Sujai and come there for the rescue. Immediately Guru (the ultimate trekking and navigating machine) came to my mind and I told Ansar to pick up Guru also. Guru is a lean and a classic trekker full of stamina and power. While on call, Ansar also spoke to Jay and Jay’s spirit soared to some extent. He went from to 😐 … In the time that followed, Anand snored peacefully while Jay and myself were talking some random fun stuff. I was happy that I was able to maintain my cool from a tense situation.
Peter to the rescue
Suddenly, Ramesh (one of the trekking members) gave a call to Anand’s number asking where we were. I shone the torch from the top of the hill. He could see us but I couldn’t see him. He said Peter was looking for us and coming in the direction of the torch with some water. I felt “WOW”. In an hour or so, Peter reached us. Jay’s spirit went from 😐 to . He gulped down some water with electrol and his face lit up almost immediately. I drank some plain water and waited for Ansar, Guru and Sujai to make their appearance. Peter had come in through some really dense bushes and didn’t want to go down the same way. Time was 1.30 AM. I couldn’t sleep anymore. The thought of going to the base camp and it being so near was exciting me to the core.
In an hour (2.30 AM), we saw a bright orange light sweeping the ground beneath the hill. It was Ansar’s car. We gave a call to them. Guru woke up some locals near the dam and inquired about the easiest route to reach the torches on top of the hill. With the help of two locals, Guru and Sujai carried 6 litres of water and came to the top. Meanwhile, we packed our bags again and started walking downhill with Peter holding Jay’s hands and dragging him down. We climbed down for around one and half hours. A huge bear hug to Peter, Guru, Ansar and Sujai for coming there on time and giving us water. That was very timely and very quick response. It’s something that I will never forget in my lifetime.
The sky was opening up to the sun slowly. It displayed a brilliant ochre that mesmerized me completely. Soon, I witnessed an awesome sun rise on the eastern hills and my spirits were back to normal. It was totally surprising that I could hold on in such a pressure situation & since I was able to handle that, I would be able to do better in other life situations I guess 😉
See you soon!
May 7th, 2010
Note: Click on the pictures for bigger versions.
If you want to see the craziest people in Chennai, it has to be at CTC. We trek on untamed terrain with awesome gangs in search of that elusive elixir of life. Once in a while, this craziness increases up a notch. What was once thought to be impossible or out of habit became a habit … and one such habit was taking out underprivileged kids from many of the homes in and around Chennai for an easy trek in to the pristine jungles so that they can have fun as much as we do all the time.
That Sunday was special. Thanks to Thilak, the kids from SIP Home in Kolathur were taken on a beautiful one day trek to Nagalapuram’s Eastern side. I had taken a break from trekking for whole of April for swimming & when this trek invite came in, I was more than glad to accept it. What made that home special was that it cared for kids who are HIV+. What really surprised me was that the home was being run by a trans-gender. She was very supportive of us taking the kids in to the jungles for a day of bliss & she even accompanied us. At 61 years of age, she is supremely fit… fitter than any of the modern couch potatoes!
February 12th, 2010
Last Sunday was one of the best Sundays of my life. Through the Chennai Trekking Club with Pramod, Hopeland and our Irula Guide, we walked through farm lands near the Crocodile Park in the hope of finding our crawling friends. Little did we know that it would be an experience of a lifetime … From handling a Rat Snake to hearing a Spectacled Cobra hissing and striking, to a Russell’s Viper showing his deadly fangs and precious drops of venom; everyone was hooked, fascinated and intrigued by these mysterious yet beautiful creatures.
Btw, if you had liked this post so far and my other travel/trekking escapades such as Ombattu Gudde or The Kodaikanal Trek, you might want to subscribe to my RSS feed to get new posts as and when I write them.
January 29th, 2010
Kodaikanal is a beautiful place. I had been to Kodai for sight-seeing a decade ago. So, when a trek was announced at a place near Kodai, I jumped at the opportunity. An army of 45 people reached Kodai on a chilly morning. After breakfast and the near endless wait for our guide Kodai Mani, we were off to Kukkal village from where we had to start the trek. On the way to Kodai, Rinkesh couldn’t control his bladder. So, when the bus stopped and he got down, many rushed after him shouting, “Yay! view point” … lol!
January 15th, 2010
Let me start off with some statistics 😉
No. of days – 3.5 (31-Dec-2009 afternoon to 3-Jan-2010)
No. of bikes – 10
No. of people – Around 20
Total Distance (home to home) – 1004 kms
Top Speed – 110 kmph (I know Wild Kannan wouldn’t agree but this is what my speedo displayed)
Lowest Speed – 35 kmph (lowest speed on top gear)
Best Chunks of Road – Chidambaram to Pichavaram, Vailankanni to Vedaranyam, NH-45
Worst Chunk of Road – Vedaranyam to Mannargudi
Most Challenging Drive – Chidambaram to Karaikal
No. of minor accidents – Ninety eight minus ninety nine plus two (Clue: Its a signed integer).
No. of major accidents – Nine Thousand point five six four seven divided by four hundred and sixty eight point two into zero
December 10th, 2009
Oh boy! Oh Boy!! OH BOY!!! I don’t want to say how awesome this trek was. This trek and some of its special moments will remain etched in my memory for years to come. Nagala is full of water all through the year & since monsoon is around its end, the dam near the hills would be brimming. That would present ripe opportunities for swimming & I would be able to put my new skills to test. Hence, when the trek was announced as a first timer’s trek, I gladly signed up and waited with bated breath for the D-day to show up! And show up … it did! After 3 excruciating weeks.
I couldn’t contain my excitement what-so-ever and few days in the middle, I almost fell sick with excitement. I was high. The thought of crystal clear water, those tiny beautiful waterfalls, gurgling stream and varied colour rocks strewn across in the form of jewels … OMG! Every such thought was driving me crazy. Moreover, we were a gang on the treks and this was a pretty easy trail. So just imagine the fun we would be having on the way and back! To add to it, it was Max’s birthday on Sunday, 6th December … Too many things to celebrate for and only 48 hours. Not enough at all.
A few of us met at co-organizer Naveen’s home on Friday night for a quick pre-trek planning discussion and party. The night dawned into the day with none of us sleeping. Soon, everyone assembled at Koyembedu and we raced off to our dear home away from home … Nagalapuram. Distributing food and items for the next two days, we started walking towards the forests.