Srikanth Perinkulam

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Category: Adventure / Travel (page 3 of 5)

Torna by night

Torna yet again

17 Days.

31st March ’10. A few days back, I was mentioning to a friend of mine – Kerala is actually not ‘Gods’ own country’ during summers. Today as I sit by the window of a state transport bus bound towards Ernakulam from Munnar, I take back my statement. The cool gusts of evening breeze from the omnipresent coconut and Banana trees, the winding roads cutting through the Western Ghats, the narrow age old over-bridges on the canals and water-ways, the yellow haze of the sun as dusk sets in and the distinct architectural splendor portrayed by each of houses round the corner – Cruising in 80s on the barely twenty feet wide ghat roads, I realize there’s something ethereal about this place as I’m left to the mercy of the short mustached man behind the wheels.

I just got back home from a long – or should I say, very long trip from deep down south. This for one was way too different from my regular trips. There was quite an element of predictability and specific destinations and timelines were charted out even before I left Hyderabad. But looking back at the places that I’ve covered during this 17 day vacation and more so the short yet invaluable time I got to spend at each of these distinct locations, I’m more than glad things turned out the way they did!

The informal TFI meet at Pune on the 20th, for which I’d made last minute bookings and changes in my itinerary was quite worth the trouble taken. Though only about 30 folks turned up, the diversity in the group was quite evident. The ’09 fellows seem to be as excited as we ‘freshers’  were and I’m sure there’s a lot we’re going to learn from their experiences in the next couple of months. As we get to know a bit more about each other three hours just flew by. At about 19:00hrs I head to ‘Park street’ to meet couple of my old friends. A late evening dinner in a plush restaurant and I call it a day. The  next day even before dawn sets in, I head to Deccan Gymkhana to watch a Basketball tournament of a friend of mine and the rest of the day is spent visiting old pals from the ‘Pune days’.  At about 19:30hrs I barely make it to the station to board the Kanyakumari Express to head to Palakkad. The 32hour journey begins…

22nd March ’10 – 23rd March ’10 | Palakkad – Pallavur

As the train traverses through the four states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and finally Kerala, People move in and move out of the compartment. Apparently it looks as if I’m the only one in the compartment who’s completing the whole journey. At about 01:00hrs on 23rd, the train finally chugs into the Palakkad station. I decide to spend the next couple of hours in the station itself. At about 03:30hrs unable to get some sleep, I walk out. We once used to have  a hotel here right outside the Railway station. Given the close proximity, there always used to be  a flurry of activity at the hotel. Today as I stand by the land, I see that the place seems to have changed quite a lot and there are no signs of our once ancestral house. It’s a bit disturbing to find the house missing there and the present owner seems to have no plans to renovate the place. Its all shrubs and bushes. I wish we atleast had a photograph of the house and hotel before demolishing it…With a heavy head I walk over to the Olavakkode junction. A rick from here takes me to the Town bus stand.

23rd March ’10 – 24th March ’10| Pallavur – Killakotura

I leave Pallavur  that evening  after meeting Paruammai at about 18:00hrs and board a bus that I presumed would take me to Palakkad. After about half an hour I realise I was heading in the wrong direction and hop off in a town called Killakotura. A few checks with the village folks and I get to know that the last bus from there to Palakkad just left. I’m left with no other option but to camp at the village. I wander about for sometime and finally manage to find a decent looking lodge. The manager offers a room with ‘All facilities’ for 125 bucks. When asked about food in the whereabouts, he says he could send it over to the room. I happily accept and enter the room. For a small village as this, this was quite a luxurious room with TV and Air conditioning! At about 20:30hrs there’s a knock on the door. As I open it, a lady stands there with a food plate. She keeps the food on the table and asks – ‘Ethra manickura? [How many hours?]‘. I instantly reply back in my primitive malayalam – ‘Night stay aana’ [I’ll be staying overnight]. And then it looms on me where exactly all this was going! She walks out of the room and in a couple of minutes comes in with the manager. This chap re-verifies and finally when he realises what exactly has happened, he instantly says – ‘Zhorry..Zhorry’ ‘[Sorry..Sorry] ‘ and walks out with the lady! I gulp the food with a vow to be on gaurd next time when someone says accommodation would be available with ‘All facilities’!

The next day morning I checkout at about 07:00hrs and head aimlessly through the village. At about 10:00hrs I manage to find a bus that would take me towards Palakkad. I change buses in between and finally reach Palakkad at about 14:00hrs. The next checkpoint was Trivandrum which was about 10hrs from Palakkad by train. I decide to cover this distance during the night and explore parts of Palakkad in the state transport bus.  It was kinda good to just hop into buses aimlessly and just see where the bus was going. At about 21:00hrs I head back to Palghat Junction, have a light dinner,  board Amritha Express and crash for the day.

25th March ’10 – 27th March ’10 | Trivandrum

Nothing much done during these three days. I scrap all backpacking plans and just spend time at my grand mom’s place. The heat was literally beating the pulp out of me and I decided to take it easy. Went out for real long evening walks though, exploring parts of Trivandrum figuring out short cuts only to avoid them the next day! TVM had its first monsoon shower on 26th and it literally lashed the whole town – A much needed break from the heat!

28th March ’10 – 29th March ’10 | Ernakulam – Vaikom – Kumarakom – Kottayam

A friends wedding was on 29th at Vaikom. I decide to leave TVM on 27th and reach Ernakulam on 28th so as to catch up with two other friends of mine – Adi and Abi who were coming over from Hyderabad. At about 07:00hrs we board a bus from Ernakulam. It takes about an hour and a half to reach Vaikom and eventually the Guest house where we were put up. We head out to the Shiva temple and then for Breakfast.  As I walk through the streets, a sense of belonging looms in. Despite Vaikom being my Maternal ancestors place, I’ve never been here before. My Mom and her siblings grew up here but I wasn’t really able to trace out our ancestral land.Realising there wasn’t much I could do, I just felt contented that I could visit this place during this year.

Sushma – Another friend and Raji – the bride tun up in an hour or so.  Time flies by as we  catch up with the latest happenings in our lifes. We were meeting these folks after two and a half years  and it  already looks as if things have changed so much! As we meet more of her friends and family members we’re humbled by the hospitality we’re given. The day is dramatically wound up with a last minute shopping for ‘mundus‘ and Raji’s mehndi ceremony. The wedding next day is swiftly completed in two hours flat and we’re served a lip smacking lunch at the temple ‘sadya’. This wedding turned out to be one of the best ever weddings I’ve attended till date – short, sweet and no unnecessary fuss. Evening at about 15:00hrs we decide to head towards Kumarakom.

For want of time, we decide to engage a rick. and head to Kumarakom directly. For about 250 bucks, we’re shuttled from Vaikom over to this place in about an hour. We engage a boat for about an hour and a half for 450bucks and cruise through the backwaters and the Vembanad lake. I’m not really in for leisure ‘relaxing’ rides. Such rides would best be enjoyed when you’re with your family or with a big group of friends. Nevertheless the ride was quite a stress buster and helped us wind out from all the travel related strain. A refreshing cup of coffee at the Kerala tourism department restaurant and we head over to Kottayam. Adi and I were to stay put at this place while Abi had to catch a Hyd bound train. We manage to find a decent lodge for 400bucks and crash out.

30th March ’10 – 31st March ’10 | Kottayam – Muvattupuzzah – Kothamangalam – Munnar -Udamalpet

To avoid travel in the hot sun, Adi and I check out of the lodge at about 07:00am and head to the Kottayam bus stand. Some inquiries here and there and we figure out we’d just missed a near direct bus to Munnar. One of the conductors directs us to walk a bit ahead, get on to the other side of the bridge, Board a bus to Muvattupuzzah and figure our way out from there. In about an hour we manage to reach Muvattupuzzah and board the bus to Kothamangalam. Kothamangalam seems to be a bigger bus stand and you’d get to find a number of buses starting out from here towards Munnar. In a couple of hours we reach Munnar and directly enter a restaurant for a sumptuous lunch. For some reason, I do not get to sense the Kerala flavor at this place. Every second person talks in tamil and to add to that there was a new political party meeting with couple of ministers lambasting out on the speakers. Mani – an auto driver approaches us and proposes to help figure out an economical lodge and guide us around the place. We somehow seem to like the way he was taking his case forward and accede. In minutes we check in to a lodge and in about an hour Mani starts the guided tour around the place.

Life in Munnar: Our decision to take Mani’s services seems to be quite fitting. He turns out to be quite an interesting person and the discussion moves on from regular ‘guide’ talk  to his life and how he was making ends meet. He tells us that he just enrolled his first kid in one of the finest english medium schools in Munnar and managed persuading the management to let him pay the 10grand capitation fee in installments. Since he had his own Auto, he would ride extra hours when required and could comfortably make 10grand a month. As we pass through the TATA Tea estates, he says he wished his wife could get a chance to work with them. All tea pickers are paid just about 140Rs. per month. But the facilities that TATA provides them is what, he says makes people eagerly look forward to employment with them. Apparently they’re provided accommodation and their kids are provided absolutely free English medium education and Transport. TATA also sends five students of their employees[tea pickers] to pursue their Higher education to Australia – All expenses taken care of! Given all this there was a catch in the employment – You would need to have a lineage to enter the job, something that he feels that wasn’t providing the remaining folks an equal opportunity.

Mani also brings out the dark factor of Munnar – Prostitution and Drugs. There’s just no dearth of both. When asked what kind of  ‘guests’ he’d prefer guiding – He promptly gets back stating anyone but for Israelis. For the reason that they generally look out for Ganja and he didn’t want to call for unnecessary trouble.

Since this was a complete off-season, we end up paying 450Rs. for the first day and 650Rs. for the second day to Mani. And I’ve just no regrets about the amount spent! Should you happen to visit Munnar anytime I would highly recommend you reach out to Mani on +91 9495879103.

The winding roads and hills badly remind me of the Jalori pass mountain biking expedition I did early last year. There’s nothing worse than not having your bicycle in such amazing places. As we pass by the Annaimudi viewpoint I vow to get back here for a long Bicycle expedition sometime later this year.

Done with the regular spots for that day, we head back home and crash out. There’s a thick mist setting in and the temperature is about 20deg. I find it hard to believe that I’m compelled to use a blanket even in Summer! The next day we travel a bit more farther and cover about 70kms of travel and sightseeing. Munnar apparently seems to be a proper tourist place. There’s nothing starkly different here but for the roads.  I decide to head back to Trivandrum that very day while Adi stays back for one more day. A five hour bus journey to Aluva and then Ernakulam and I finally get to board the Kuchuveli express back to Trivandrum.

02nd April ’10 – 03rd April ’10 | Trivandrum – Kanyakumari

Adi gets back to Trivandrum at about 04:00am. We decide to visit the Anantha Padmanabaswamy temple and then head immediately to Kanyakumari. After a three hour long drive and two hour wait in the queue in the Boat jetty we realise the visit was just not worth it. Without second thoughts both head back to Trivandrum that very evening after visiting the Vivekananda Memorial. It so happens that this was a ‘Good Friday’ and the roads are blocked because of processions happening. As the bus takes detours into narrow town roads, I’m amazed at the skills of these drivers. At one point of time he had to squeeze the bus up a 45deg. incline along with a tata sumo! Man, they can literally drive an elephant up your asshole and get it out without any damage! Finally we manage to reach TVM at about 20:00hrs.The next day is spent whiling away time at home and some evening Trivandrum ‘Dhekko’. Adi leaves for Hyd that very day and I follow suite in a couple of  days.

With that ends my 17 day long vacation in Kerala!Despite not having elements of surprises, I would remember this break for quite a few reasons – Meeting Paruammai,  Attending Raji’s spectacular wedding ,  Striking off Munnar from the ‘Places yet to visit’ list and more importantly spending some real good time with my Grand mother and figuring out the family tree.

I’ve been visiting Kerala almost every year, for the past twenty or so years. But it’s just in the last couple of years have I’ve sensed a change in the lifestyle . I probably do not have the rights to comment about the place since I spend just a couple of days every year, but for some reason I sense the people and the place as such is drastically changing. Change is inevitable. Development is very much required. But before we  start transforming things for the greater benefit, unless we come up with an organic model to secure the time tested practices that are currently in place, we’re prone to lose out on the valuable and irretrievable balance…

Meeting Paruammai

It’s about 04:30Hrs and there’s not a single soul or bus in the stand. At about 05:00hrs, a tea vendor rides in on his bicycle. I check with him if there’s a direct bus to Pallavur to which he responds in affirmative stating the first one should be leaving at about 05:30hrs. He even obliges to get me on to the right bus once it comes in –  Buses in Kerala are mostly marked in Malayalam and unless you know to read the language, It becomes a bit difficult in boarding the right bus. I’m amazingly pleased and gulp about three glasses of his hot masala tea.Buses start rolling into the stand one by one. It so appears that this gentleman is quite popular in the Bus stand and all the Drivers seem to know him by the name. He individually goes about handing over tea and flower garlands[For the deities in the buses] to each of the drivers. Slowly the Bus stand comes to life with newspaper vendors and the omnipresent ‘Lottery ticket wallahs’. [I’m amazed at how the Lottery fever has struck Kerala. You’d find folks selling tickets at any given point of time at any given nook and corner of the state (religious places included!). Some day I should get back and try figuring out how this whole system works!]

At 05:30hrs, as promised I’m ‘packed off’ in the right bus and the conductor is instructed to drop me off at Pallavur. The bus lazily winds up the narrow roads and in about an hour i’m asked to pop off the bus. I straddle through the village roads and finally manage to reach the first landmark that my dad had given –  A community pond just beside the Shiva temple. A bit of asking around and I finally make it to that distant relative’s house. This is the first time that I was meeting these people ever since I grew up and it takes a while to figure out where exactly they map on to me in the family tree. My main intention to come to Pallavur was to meet Paruammai. After easing out a bit with my newly found relatives, I check with them how I could get to her.  She apparently was staying a bit deeper in the village and I’m told that she should be coming by this road at about 08:30hrs. As I eagerly wait for her I’m lost in thought as to how she’d be faring.

At about 08:45hrs, Paruammai finally comes by. I’m excited looking at her still able bodied personality – She infact looked much much healthier than she was when she left us years back. Must probably be the village air and water! Just one change being that she’s now got even bigger holes in her ears! Apparently, she does not recognise me in first sight but as I talk slowly and remind her of the yesteryear’s she simply acknowledges with tears welling up in her eyes. A long conversation ensues of things small and big, of people and kids she was acquainted with, of relationships sweet and sour and of times that just wouldn’t get back. I show her pics of the now ‘big’ kids[My Brothers, Sisters and Cousins] and their children and in a moments jiffy she runs out of the house, calling in people from the village to tell them how happy she was to see the light of this day – to see the pictures of the kids of the kids who she herself had raised. The excitement in her eyes and voice told it all. That very moment, I realise my Kerala visit and purpose was solved. This day for sure is one of those best days in my life till date…She now is working [still strong at this age!] in a village teachers house taking care of their pet dog.I’m not sure If she would be around the next time I come down. But the photograph and the video that I took with her would remain one of my most cherished possessions for time to come.

Paruammai at Pallavur – 23rd March 2010 from Srikanth Perinkulam on Vimeo.

The long pending meet…

Well, today is the ninth day as an ‘Outfoscion’ and despite the initial hiccups the transition has been real smooth. It took me a couple of days to let the feeling really sink in and to get adjusted to the relaxed carefree schedule of my self imposed ‘break’ before I join TFI.  The first two days were probably the most demanding in terms of getting ‘acclimatised’. I wake up at seven in the morning and I already have a feeling of not having done anything. Preparing a relaxed breakfast [ as much as I was looking forward to] for some weird reason looked quite  boring.12:00 at noon, I realise there’s no company for lunch. And at about six as I sit before the lappy after a long siesta, the peace seemed to be even more troubling than the incessant honks from the traffic that my ear has got accustomed to from the past three years. But after a couple of days it was as if the sea had calmed down altogether. I could swiftly alter my body cycle to adjust to this ‘new phase’ of my life and the days are no more ‘boring’.  Every other day I’m reminded of some job that I’d long left unattended and to see them being closed out one by one by itself gives me  some kind of an achievement…Well, Now is when I guess I best appreciate when people say It’s kinda nice to slow done every once in a while…

Late tomorrow evening I would be off to Pune to attend an informal get-together with other folks who would be joining me for the TFI fellowship. Even before I meet them in person, I’m thoroughly stumped by the diversity that each of them are bringing with them in terms of their past work/study experiences. Excited is just not the word I can use here! And then after the Pune visit, unless my ticket gets confirmed I guess I would be traveling in a unreserved compartment for about 32hours to reach Palakkad[Kerala]. During this break, I initially wanted to tour all around Kerala as I was sure I wouldn’t be getting this opportunity again..But giving it some more thought, I figured I wouldn’t really gain much just roaming around and decided to spend more time with my people out there. Eventually It loomed on me that I should take time out and visit Paruammai . As far back as my memory traces, Paruammai’s been one woman in the whole family who has seen my generation take birth and grow up to what we are today. She moved in as a maid and became a intrinsic part of the family. Overtime as she grew old and moved back to her village – Pallavur with a wish to spend her last days there. It’s been a while that we’ve heard from her and I hope she’s still moving around in the village. She would probably be in her 90s now!! At times I wonder how we as humans just keep moving on and on without taking time out to stop, appreciate and thank those who’ve done so much for us…With a hope that age hasn’t taken a toll on her, I just cant’ wait to see her in person and have a long long chat with her.

Post the Pallavur visit, I plan to head directly to Trivandrum and spend some real good time with my grandmom. Then there’s this Munnar trip saddled along with a friends’ wedding blocked during the last week of march. If things don’t take an wild turn I probably would be back to Hyd by 6th of April. Haven’t as yet figured out what I’d be doing till the end of April. At least for now, the Ladakh or North East plan stays canceled for various constraints. But I’m not really bothered, Will take things as they unfurl…

The Junglethlon!

The first time I got to hear about the Junglethlon through facebook, I RSVPd blindly considering it to be yet another event and planned to keep it as a backup option. My year end outdoor escapade then was to either ride through Kerala in the second week of December or ride to Araku over the Christmas weekend. Eventually November and December turned out to be pretty hectic, with very little time left to put forth an action plan. With all plans crashing I hesitantly decided to head to Pench for the Junglethlon. Activities abound, days flew by and it was already time for the Pench visit.

The event was for three days starting December 25th. Ram and I had initially decided to reach Nagpur a day in advance and visit the Kanha Wildlife sanctuary. A bit of googling and we realised this plan was not really feasible as Kanha was about 255kms from Nagpur. A day before we depart from Hyderabad, I check with Pradeep on ‘places to visit’ around Nagpur and jot down a couple of locations.

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Torna revisited

What it takes to travel…

One very common question that I’m asked when I meet people in person who’ve come across my blog is how and why I travel so frequently. Today I received two e-mails from people whom I’ve not even met asking me the same question. I’ve never really given much thought to this per se, so I thought I’d chalk this out here.

Passion: I travel because I need to! Ever since my graduation, I’ve trained my brain to reject monotony in any form. And travel happened to be one major part of it! As you start venturing out, you realise how much you’ve missed and that there’s a lot more to ‘living life’ than the regular 8 to 5 job. Travel in a way gives you a different perspective to look at things and believe me, solutions at times too!

Diversity: If there’s one reason why I transformed from an introvert moron to an extrovert[ Still a moron!]- It’s travel. You end up meeting so many different people from different places that the diversity at times threatens to take you off your roots. Okay, thats more of an exaggeration – But you get it. The best part is, you get to relate to things much better once you’re exposed to a different groups culture and habits. It’s basically understanding  history through a different person’s perspective! My latest escapade was to the north – Himachal Pradesh. And boy, what a learning it was!

Finance: I travel on a meager budgets. I set a constraint and see to it that I stick to it as far as possible. Most of the treks[Close to 25] in Pune that I did last year, you won’t believe was each done on a budget varying from 100Rs. – 300Rs. – Food, transport, accommodation all incl. The central idea is to travel in groups. When I say groups, that could range anywhere between say 10 to 30 for one trip. Well, this is also one of the reasons why couple of my colleagues and I started HydVentura- The Hyderabad adventure club. It gives us a big platform to group up and wind out on weekends whenever possible. For long trips on the other hand, I save over a period of time [six to seven months] specifically for this. This could mean cutting my expenses on things that are not really essential [Movies/Branded clothing for instance]. Also, It’s been close to a year that I’ve bought petrol [ I have a beast – The lumala which I ride on wherever I need to go]. So that fund gets allocated to this bucket. Effectively you do not end up burdening yourself at the fag end.

Leave: Needless to say, this is one important thing that can botch all your plans. It pays to inform your team and lead that you would be off for a vacation as early as you start saving for it!And if you think your project would doom if you’re off for a few days, Think again!

This world is full of myriad complexities. And then, there’s something called life. Live it!

On similar lines:  Of things you chose to miss…

The Moron, the bike and the Himalayas – Jalori Pass Biking Expedition

The milestone reads – Sojha 1Km. The three of us are literally panting for breath. The altimeter on Bala’s digital watch states 400 more meters is yet to be covered. Far ahead we see a state transport bus inching its way up the curves of the road. A gust of wind gets the thin air moving and suddenly from somewhere I get this sudden urge and energy to pedal the last km of upslope. I bluntly retort to Bala that his altimeter was wrong for some self motivation and crave for my calf muscles to stand with me. Every revolution on the crank seems to sap the almost drained out energy. I just didn’t want to push my bike up the slope in the last one Km! I close my eyes and pedal almost oblivious of the steep valley to the left, give it all I have and in that seemingly endless five minutes and finally reach the next milestone which hazily reads – Jalori 5km.

If there was a device on earth that could register those few important moments, I would have done my might to procure it and put it to use here. There’s this quite prominent line that says its the destination that’s not important but the journey that leads you there. At 3500mts above sea level, about one-third the height of Mt. Everest. I realize just once again how true this is as my second personal goal for this year is checked off list in the thin air of the Himalayas.

21st May ’09 [Thursday]

The Spice jet flight taxies for about twenty minutes in the airport and finally comes to a standstill. Animesh and I pick a rick and head to Cannaught place. Animesh primarily wanted to purchase a filter for his SLR. Before heading to Palika bazaar we randomly enter a small restaurant named ‘Rajdhani’-a Gujarathi restaurant. In minutes we’re guided to an empty table and the waiters throng the table filling the plate with an assortment of dishes.  Even before the platter is empty another waiter pops by to ask if we need anything. If exemplary service had an epitome, this was it! Even before we realise, we are done with a regal lunch in just fifteen minutes. One another stark feature at this place is that you just do not have to rise from your chair once you sit at the table. A person walks up to you with a cistern and a bowl for you to wash your hands.I’ve never seen this at any restaurant till this date!Kudos to the Rajdhani management.

We then head to Palika Bazaar and shop around for the filter. It’s close to two by the time we find the exact piece and finally decide to head to the Travels through which we’d booked our bus for Aut – The base camp for the YHAI Mountain biking expedition. A series of calls, quite a lot of search and we finally get to reach the travels by around 16:00hrs only to find out that the boarding would have to be done at another point which was a fifteen minute walk from there. At about 16:30hrs we manage to reach the BP petrol pump which was supposed to be the boarding point. Co-passengers soon start dribbling in and we start guessing as to who would be joining us for the seven day expedition. The Bus leaves Janpath at about 17:40hrs.

22nd May ’09 [Friday] – Day 0 – Reporting at Base camp

A mild jerk wakes me up and I can barely shut my eyes having got a glimpse of the picturesque view from the window. The bus was cruising at about 80kmph on a narrow road winding amidst towering hills on one side and a pristine river in its early morning bliss. A look at my watch registers the time as 05:45hrs. Soon the bus enters into a tunnel which we later get to know to be about 3.5kms long! This is probably one of the longest tunnels I’ve ever travelled through. The bus comes to a halt and we’re told to get down here by the Bus attendant. The village just seems to be coming to life and the air is crystal clear with barely any evidence of pollution. A few posts which I’d referred to indicated that the YHAI hostel was barely 100m from the bus stop. We check with people around for the directlions only to be turned down with a negative response. None of them had heard of anything called – Youth hostel. Just as we turn around to find the way ourselves a lad pops from nowhere and directs us to walk some distance ahead to reach the building.

As we reach the building, we’re surprised to see no-one around. Animesh dials the number on one of the posters and finally someone by name ‘Dimple’ opens the door and invites us inside. Evidently, we’re the first two to reach the base camp for this expedition. This YHAI hostel is situated on the banks of the Beas river which silently winds its way across behind it. As we refresh and get ready, another person by name SishinderKumar introduces himseld as the camp in-charge. In a couple of hours five people from Bangalore chip in. Some initial formalities, a round of quick introductions then followed by a quick breakfast, Animesh and I decide to head to Kullu which is supposedly about 29kms from here. Sishinder suggests we visit the Vaishnodevi temple which is about a few kms from Kullu. We hitchhike a ride and get down quite some distance ahead of Kullu as Animesh wants to capture a very old bridge in his camera. A few quick shots here and we pick another bus to Kullu. From the Kullu bus stop we happen to board two more buses to reach the Vaishnodevi temple. I was literally intrigued by the architecture of this place.The sanctum sanctorum is on the fifth floor of a building, the best part being, it is enshrined in a cave! Each floor seems to be housing a different deity. This is the first time ever that I’ve come across of a temple being built in this style!

We finally get back to the Kullu town and head to a tibetan restaurant to try out some ethnic dishes. A quick round of Siddhu [Steamed Bread stuffed with assorted grains and spices] and Thupka [Noodles in a spiced gruel] and we board the bus back to Aut. A journey of an hour and a half and we finally reach the YHAI Hostel. As soon as we enter the hostel a gentleman brings his hand forward and introduces himself – ‘Hi, I’m Bala from Bombay’. Regular round of introductions and soon we have a quick lunch. The Bangalore folks[Dinesh, Ravi, Shanker, VInay and Sharon] had apparently left for Manikaran for some sight-seeing. At about three pm, the ninth member-Viral makes his entry soon followed by the four Soni brothers [Rakesh, Gopal, Kishan and Vipul]. As dusk sets in, Shishinder Kumar starts doling out his experiences with YHAI and the innumerable interesting incidents. We’re informed of the next days plan. Dimple confirms he would not be lending us the bicycles till the next day morning and after a sumptuous dinner we crash.

23rd May ’09 [Saturday] – Day 1 – Orienteering and Trial Run

By 07:30hrs we’re all set. Dimple hands over to each of us a ruck sack and asks us to carry a thick Rug and a water bottle. The plan was simple – Hike up to a temple about three kms away gaining a decent altitude and get back by 10:00hrs. As we wind uphill it takes only moments for us to digest the picturesque Himachal moutains and hillocks. Winding roads, Thin chilling breeze, Horses grazing by the hills and the warm sun slowly bringing life about. Shanker seems to take the bait and finds it a bit difficult to take it all in. Animesh of all the people has a great time what with school kids all around and the farmers tending to their farms early in the morning. We finally reach the temple at about 08:30hrs.Some time spent idylling here and we finally head downward.

Down at the base camp we get to know there are no more new entrants to the team. So the count is frozen at 13. After a quick breakfast, the rest of the morning is spent with Bala, Viral and Animesh debating on indian polity and other miscellaneous topics. Dimple distributes the gear and cycles post lunch and at about 15:00hrs we gear up for the evening warm-up ride.The rain delays the plans and we finally end up completing a decent 20+km ride followed by a ice-cream treat from Viral. By the time we reach the base camp, S.S.Heera – the program director and Nandakishore had already reached the place. Nandakishore does some ‘Gyan baant’ on team work and mental preparedness followed by an interesting session by Heera on the foundation of YHAI and its core working model. Soon we’re also introduced to Bindu, who would be with us for the next few days all through the expedition. A sumptuous dinner followed by an idyllic chat and soon we crash for the day.

24th May ’09 [Sunday] – Day 2 – Aut to Pharghu Pul

The 13 member team is flagged off at about 07:00hrs. Dimple guides us through the 3km tunnel and until Largi and from there directs us to ride along to PharguPul which would be our next campsite.

This is supposedly about 22kms and definitley not by any means simple for a mediocre cyclist too. Every turn round the corner your hope for a downward slope is blurred with an upward gradient. Viral seems to be leading the trail and somewhere around Bali, I manage to catch up with him. We wait for sometime here and are soon accompanied by a dog which in the next few days we realise would be with us all through the trip. We move two kilometers further and wait for the Soni brothers to join us. Bindu meets us a bit ahead and informs we’re just about a km from the base camp. With full enthu we now head to the base camp. A left at Phargu Pul and a few metres ahead we finally reach the Phargu Pul base camp. Pramod and Ashok [ The cooks at the camp] give us the welcome drink and after about half an hour, Viral and I decide to get back to the Bus stand at Phargu Pul to direct people to the camp. Bala soon joins us in about fifteen minutes followed by Animesh and the Bangalore folks. Animesh apparently had a great time striking a conversation with the localites there and got quite a few good shots.

We have a quick lunch and head to the adjacent river for a shower. The chilled water literally freaks the soul out of us! Dinesh and Ravi manage to prepare some hot water by the riverside. Animesh, Viral and I head out to the village skirts for a short evening walk and get back to the camp by 19:00hrs. The rest of the evening is spent lazing in the camp playing cards as the rain compels us to be indoors. A decent dinner and we’re done for the day.

25th May ’09 [Monday] – Day 3 – Phargu Pul to Jibhi

At about 09:20hrs we depart from the Phargu Pul campsite and head towards Jibhi through the Banjar town. Though this stretch is not as picturesque as the previous one, it is mottled with steep inclines. But for the last two kilometers, this 17km stretch is an absolute test of your endurance! The first four kms lead you to the Banjar town and is landscaped with noisy streets and narrow roads. Viral and I finally catch up at about 10kms from Phargu Pul. At one point we’re almost sapped of all the energy that we have that we stop for about 10mins. A few yards ahead we meet two bikers from Australia who were heading in the downward direction towards Manali. We move ahead a bit more and round the corner happen to find a water source trickling from the hills. As we refresh here, taking in the chilled water, A jeep which was headed towards Rampur stops by. The driver tries to coax us to ferry us to the base camp. We stay put and decide to head to the camp riding-come what may.

After a decent break of about fifteen minutes we head towards Jibhi. After about half an hour we finally reach the 2km milestone. Couple of wayfarers had mentioned the last two kms would be a perfect downhill. With that motivation we head downhill in full gusto. At one point of time we were in real good speed that we had to shout our hearts out to ask the people who were laying the road out there to move out of our way! Reaching the Om Shanthi Om resort was an eternal bliss! The resort was by itself set up in a mind-blowing location and facilities were Godly! Animesh, Bala, Soni Brothers and the Bangalore group soon trickle in.

Post lunch, Bala orders some Pakodas and almost everyone feasts on what was supposed to be Bala’s lunch! Another shower in the freezing waters and we head back to the tents for some rest. VIral, Animesh and I head to the village-skirts in the evening and sink in the countryside. Towering trees, gushing streams, kids idylling away, pleasant chilled breeze – You rarely get to exsperience these in the cities these days. We head back to the camp site and decide to purchase some muchy stuff for the next days ride. We soon end up striking a long conversation with the woman in the store. As she goes about describing the culture, we’re shocked listening to the change i in just about 17kms! People here are so welcoming that you feel you’re in a totally different world.

After a long conversation we take leave and head to the campsite for dinner followed by campfire. The day takes its toll and we soon hit the beds.

26th May ’09 [Tuesday] – Day 4 – Jibhi to Shoja

We’re flagged off at about 09:30hrs from the Jibhi base camp. The previous day was a cake walk compared to what we had to undetgo on this stretch. This was supposed to be a 7KM ride, but the altitude to be gained was quite a lot!The not yet constructed roads made things much worse. Enroute we infact happened to meet Israeli Bulleteers who at times found it hard to match pace with us! At about the four km mark Animesh joins us. All through Viral and I had yet another company – The dog! Bala soon joined us at about 2kms from the final destination. A few kms ahead viral’s cycle chain gave in and we had to push the bike uphill with no option left. We proceed uphill, pushing and riding intermittently.

The milestone reads – Shoja 1Km. The three of us are literally panting for breadth. The altimeter on Bala’s digital watch states 400 more metres are to be covered. Far ahead we see a state transport bus inching its way up the curves of the road. A gust of wind gets the thin air moving and suddenly from somewhere I get this urge and energy to pedal the last km of upslope. I bluntly retort to Bala that his altimeter was wrong for some self motivation and crave for my calf muscles to stand with me. Every revolution on the crank seems to sap the almost drained out energy. I just didn’t want to push my bike up the slope in the last one Km. I close my eyes and pedal almost oblivious of the steep valley to the left, give it all I have and in about five minutes I reach the next milestone which hazily reads – Jalori 5km.

I’m on cloud nine! The bicycling stretch had been completed! The next 5kms stretch to Jalori pass would be done the next day by walk. We have a yummy feast with Maggi and Coffee and latermove out to explore the fields. As we sit in the basement of one of the old rustic houses, a frail old women asks us to come over to the verandah in the first floor. Animesh, Viral and I fall into a conversation with the old lady and her daughter-in-law. While Animesh rushes to get his camera, the lady doles out about her ancestors and then nothing in particular. As we plan to leave the daughter -in-law shows us a few things that she’d made at home – Phoolae– Shoes made out of grass and Pattu – a garment that Himachal women wear above their regualar clothes something akin to a shawl. The old woman turns out to be a pro-saleswoman and in minutes boosts the price of the goods. We promise to return in the evening as we didn’t have any cash then. Later we realise that to be a wise decision as the same item was available for half the price at a nearby store!

We later explore some beaten track in the evening and after a good dinner sign off the day.

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p style=”text-align:justify”>27th May ’09 [Wednesday] – Day 5 – Shoja – Jalori Pass – Phargu Pul

At about 06:00am we head to Jalori Pass by walk. A decent hour and forty five minutes walk up the winding roads and we reach the summit. Jalori Pass written off the checklist of things to be covered! There’s a small temple up there and about 5kms ahead is a hot water lake.

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Due to paucity of time we start heading back to Shoja after having breakfast at the peak and reach the Shojha camp by 10:30hrs. Lunch followed by some rest and we finally push off to the Phargu Pul base camp at about 13:30hrs. Viral happens to have a bad fall off the bike. So we take extra precaution while riding down, get his wounds nursed at Banjar and finally reach the Phargu Pul base camp at about 15:00hrs. I’m compelled to drop the Ludhiana visit for Rahul’s marriange as breaking from the group at this point would seem quite out of the funnel. Another rejuvenating dip in the frigid beas river followed by yet another dinner and we call it a day.

28th Mat ’09 [Thursday] – Daty 6 – Phargu Pul to Aut

This would be our last ride back. At about  08:30hrs we leave from Phargu Pul and head towards Aut. I make it a point to take it easy and ride as slow as possible digesting the ambience around. The MB09 batch happens to meet us somewhere around Largi. In royal camaraderie we wave at each other and proceed to the tunnel. Finally as all of us group at the tunnel entrance, we fuel the human train and in about fifteen minutes we reach the Aut base camp. We decide to check out that very same day and head to Manali after lunch. At about 14:30hrs we board a bus to Kullu and from there to Khakhnal. The Youth hostel at Manali is located at Khakhnal which is about 9kms before you reach Manali. The Soni Brothers, Viral, Animesh and I head to a supposedly popular Karthikeya temple, while away time watching people gamble right in front of the temple in the vast expanse and finally head back to Sarthak resorts. The Bangalore folks decide to head to Rohtang pass the next day and checked if I were interested in joining them. I outrightly accept and after a sumptuous dinner crash in the dormitory.

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29th May ’09 [Friday] – Rohtang Pass

At about 05:30hrs the six of us head to Rohtang pass in a Sumo. We pick up the woolen garments en-route at shop 38 where Tenzing, our guide for the Rohtang Skiing joins us.As the road winds up the scenic himalayan range we soon notice we’re just one among the hundreds of vehicles inching their way up the roads to reach Rohtang pass. Tenzing teaches us the basics of skiing and in minutes we’re left to ourselves for about an hour and a half in the white landscape. Rohtang pass is supposed to be the origin of the River beas and a temple is built here to demarcate this. We finally decide to head to Solang pass for Paragliding at about 12:00hrs. As luck would have it, it starts drizzling and the program stands cancelled. With not much options left we finally head to the Vashisht temple and from there to the Manali Pvt. bus stand where my bus to Delhi was to depart. A leisure half an hour is spent in the Piccadely restaurant and at about 17:30hrs the Bus departs to Delhi. Animesh leaves a bit early by another service while Viral and I leave by the 17:30 service. The Bangalore folks had their bus about an hour later.

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30th May ’09 [Saturday]

At about 07:00hrs the Bus reaches Janpath. Viral and I proceed to the Metro station at Palika Bazaar.Viral leaves for Dwaraka while I head to Ajmeri Gate. Vairavan was supposed to join me here from Chandigarh but had to opt out in the last moment. Rishi happens to be around and soon reaches the station by around 9:00am. We spend a couple of hours in the station and at about 12:00am I decide to rent a room in a lodge close by and crash. My train to HYd was at about 17:30 and I was least interested to roam on the Delhi roads. I manage to find a decent place and get refreshed enough to leave for Hyd later in the evening.

All in all this has been the best ever vacation in my life. Ten whole days of being away from the hustle bustle of city life, almost totally disconnected from regular friends and family members with nothing but a bike and twelve other people from diverse regions in India to give you company in probably one of the most panoramic locations in the world. Moments that I would cherish for years to come!

Photos Coutesy: Animesh, Bala

Misc:

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p style=”text-align:justify”>No. Of days: 10 [7days biking]

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p style=”text-align:justify”>Approx. Exp: ~8000 INR [Flight,travel, Acco.,Food,Skiing charges incl.]

Animesh’s Photo blog post: Blipfoto

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Kawal wildlife sanctuary – The Moron vs. the Wild

Anirudh revs up the Dicor’s engine one last time to get the huge stone that’s stuck beneath the chassis. The tire only slips further into the loose gravel and refuses to budge from the stone incine that we’ d created. 13:30hrs. Scorching 45 degrees outside.No sleep, no breakfast; Five hours of non-stop walk in the highly de-forested wildlife sanctuary, a dried up river bed on the right and two highly dehydrated people from the team yet to make their way to the car. Anirudh swings the car’s door open, hurls himself to the drivers seat, switches on the AC and escapes into oblivion. I follow suit.

April 30th ’09

We’re to leave Gachibowly by 16:30hrs. 17:30hrs and Guru is yet to receive his 1942 Ford Jeep by which we were to head to Nirmal forests for a three days quarantine in a wildlife sanctuary. The five of us [ Guru, Ani, Ramraj, Venu and I] finally get to leave Gachibowli at 20:00hrs after a series of delays. Snailing through the city’s traffic we finally touch the outskirts by about 21:00hrs exiting through Shamirpet. A splendid ride for about an hour and a half and we break for dinner at Gangaram. Thanks to the military canvas water sacs slung on either side of the jeep, we have some real good chilled water. Soon we push towards Karimnagar via Siddipet. A lorry driver guides us through the Karimnagar town and from the outskirts asks us to drive straight towards Lakshettipet. Nirmal is supposed to be about 30kms from here. Thanks to a rick plying at those early hours we’re re-directed to the right path and at about 03:30hrs we finally reach the Jannaram Police checkpost.Asif from HYTICOS shows us the dormitory where we were supposed to camp. Remaining folks who’d left by bus to Hyd were yet to reach Jannaram.We crash at about 04:00hrs.

May 01st ’09

06:00hrs we’re woken up and asked to leave. I’m asked to join three others – Anirudh, Sandeep and Amit who’d reached Jannaram at about 01:00am. We’re to scout for pugmarks and collect tiger scat in the Pemble region of the Kawal wildlife sanctuary. Rajyam- a local villager was to be the tracker for the next few hours. Directions are pretty simple – follow the tracker, grab decent scat samples and pugmarks and get back to the base point by 10:00hrs.

The Pimble region is about an hours drive from Jannaram. A quick round of tea and we push off to Rajyam’s village. Sandeep hands over rice, dal and vegetables for them to cook lunch for us. We finally leave for the estimation exercise by 07:30hrs. Rajyam directs us through a few villages and finally to a point where the vehicle couldn’t move any further. We start the exercise and soon spot pug marks and scat samples. A hike of about an hour or so and we have a decent number of scat samples. Quite a few pugmarks are identified to be from leopards, tigers and bears but no detailed analysis could be done as most of them were on loose soil and the impressions were not distinct enough to make PoP moulds. Rajyam finally states there’s a high probability of finding animals near a river bed which is supposedly just a km away. We’re all excited and start moving in that direction as led by Rajyam. A few minutes into the walk, we see the first ever wild animal since the start of the exercise- a wild boar. It makes a quick noise to the right and runs in an undestined direction towards our rear. This pumps up our adrenaline a bit and we move ahead hoping to have the sighting of another wild animal. A few more sctas and a bit further we see a couple of Sambhars strolling lesuirly.

It’s almost 10:00am now and still Rajyam’s ‘one km far’ river bed is not to be seen. The sun is slowly burning more and more of Hydrogen and the effect is very well seen at this non descript location in the Kawal wildlife sanctuary. Finally after about half an hour of walk Rajyam is elated having reached the waterbed. No animals out here but the very satisfaction of having reached here brings in some respite. Then out of the blue it suddenly strikes me, how unmindful we’ve been in trampling our way to the riverbed and in our quest we’ve mercilessly forgotten that this is a goddamn wildlife sanctuary – the courtyard of carnivorous animals. Probably I was just getting a bit more aware of my surroundings. Wandering in a wild life sanctuatry is so exhilrating! You know there’s nothing much that can be done in case a wild animal wants to make a sweet meal out of you but at the same time there’s this urge to explore and be in the vicinity of just another species of nature’s creation!

10:30hrs. Sandeep declares he’s not going to walk a bit further because of his ligament problem.  By the banks, we notice a bullock cart. Rajyam enquires the villager if he would fancy riding us back to the spot where the car was parked. An outright No comes as the answer. At this juncture, Rajyam states if one of us could get back with him, he could guide us to get the vehicle to a spot pretty close to the river bed. Anirudh and I decide to take it on and follow Rajyam. Sandeep and Amit rest in the shade. The hike back gets more gruelling with the heat taking its toll. We’re left with no water.Two hours and we still do not seem to reach the spot. Anirudh seems to be in a precarious situation and is in no position to move ahead. Finally sense prevails and we ask him to rest in a spot which looked safe. Rajyam and I rush to the car and thankfully this happens to be only about a 10mins quick walk from that place. We pull out a waterbottle and two apples and rush back to the spot where we’d left Anirudh. He thankfully is very much alert and the water and apples revives him a bit.Boy. Those were the juiciest apples I’ve ever had till date! With some motivation the three of us fnally reach the car at around 13:00hrs. These folks had thankfully about 10lts of water in the car. We gulp down liters and finally start driving our way to the river bed to pick up the other two. Rajyam states it would take us easily about twenty minutes to reach the spot. We’re a bit worried about them as its almost been close to three hours that we’ve left them and they themselves are left with no water. The only consolidation was that they were in the shade and had some watersource nearby to bank on if it really comes to it.

After a tough ride through narrow paths , we reach a spot where we get to see the river to our right. We’re just a few yards away from the spot where the other two were left when we realise the vehicle could not move ahead because of the terrain. I walk down to the riverbed with a bottle of cold water but am compelled to get back as they’re not to be seen there. As I get back I see the vehicle in a real bad state. Anirudh had asked Rajyam to guide him down the path hoping to bypass the big stone that was in the middle but due to some miscommunication the stone got under the chassis and was literally pivoting it. Despite several attempts to inch it out, the Dicor refuses to budge. Anirudh revs up the Dicor’s engine one last time to get the huge stone that’s stuck beneath the chassis. The tire only slips further into the loose gravel and refuses to budge from the stone incine that we’ d created. 13:30hrs. Scorching 45 degrees outside.No sleep, no breakfast; Five hours of non-stop walk in the highly de-forested wildlife sanctuary, a dried up river bed on the right and two highly dehydrated people from the team yet to make their way to the car. Anirudh swings the car’s door open, hurls himself to the drivers seat, switches on the AC and drifts into oblivion. I follow suit. We request Rajyam to fetch the other two to the car.

After about half an hour, the three of them return. The look on their faces said it all! Later we get to know some grateful guy had created a fresh water spring on the river bed for them and that is what kept them going till this moment. They relax for sometime and finally at about 14:00hrs we decide to give the vehicle another shot again. With some more trials the stone beneath the chassis is finally removed. The happiness is pretty shortlived as the vehicle soon gets caught up in the loose gravel. The vehicle refused to budge and was only sinking more deep in the soil. All attempts to harden the ground by placing rocks and stones in the gaps only led to the Dicor getting badly damaged from the bottom. For close to two hours in the scathing sun we try our best in getting the vehicle out. Turn by turn finally at around 16:30hrs the vehicle budges out. Avoiding any more delay we outrightly move out of this place all covered in dust and dirt.

We drop Rajyam in his village and decide to head to Nirmal. 17:45hrs we reach Nirmal. I decide to call it a day and head to Hyderabad while the remaining three head to a hotel to clean up and crash. I board an inter district local bus at about 18:00hrs. With a drunkard for company and five hours of ‘rocking’ travel I finally reach Hyderabad at about 23:30hrs.

The wild boar, the sambhars, trails of pugmarks, scat samples, the agonising hike in the blistering heat, miserably stuck Dicor, the drunkard in the local bus and the five hour long ride …was it all worth it? Hell, it was! Been quite some time that I’ve experienced such a LONG day. I’ve literally lived every second of it! And boy, I’m still rich with two more days to spend on other things!

Misc Details:

  • Distance from Hyderabad: About 270kms [~50kms from Mancherial Railway station ]. Take a left at Lakshettipett and drive straight down to Jannaram.
  • Wikimapia link
  • HYTICOS has been successful in blocking civilian movement from 00:00 hrs to 06:00hrs on the road connecting Jannaram and Nirmal that passes through the WLS.

Tiger estimation using Pugmarks:

The Pugmark methodology for estimating tigers may not really be scientific but still looks to be pretty convincing on paper. Here’s an interesting link to understand how this thing works. As far as my understanding goes, tiger estimation in this region is done using pugmarks alone. But looking at the way it was being practised at KWS I fail to understand how close to the actual figures our estimates would be No heed was being paid to check if the impression was of the hind leg or the front leg. Wouldn’t photographs alone do? Why would you want to trace out the pugmark on a glass surface and then on to the sheet? Agreed this method has been in use for a long time now. But I strongly believe with use of technology a much better concrete exercise can be pulled out.

The Kalsubai Call…

14th Mar ´09

18:15hrs. We´re half way up the first stage and my cell beeps with a message – ´Debi has a fatal fall. Critical. Call ASAP´. Limited network on the hillock just does not allow the call to fall through.  Debashish and a couple of his friends had been to Kerala and were scaling down the Chembra peak that Saturday.evening.We´d just started hiking up Kalsubai. I had met Debi,Roy, Manas and Rahul during one of my regular visits to Hyderabad when I was posted in Pune. They were then backpacking and exploring little known places in the country during their break. A down to earth group and you could easily fall in sync. with them in minutes. Last week Debi called me asking for places to visit in Kerala and I suggested Chembra peak. Little did I know how drastic a turn this would be for them.

Finally at about 19:10hrs I´m able to get the line across to Roy. All that comes from the other end is mumbled talk of what happened.Apparently Debi had lost control while moving downhill, stumbled over a rough patch. and had a scary fall downhill. Sparse medical help was available only after three hours. With major bruises there was very limited scope. Next day 06:25hrs he breathes his last. As the message sinks in, I happen to recollect how unpredictable life is. I´ve always believed nature gives you a second chance. Today I´ve learnt – everything in life has exceptions.  May his soul rest in peace.

Post this incident, The Kalsubai trek is not something that I would like to remember but to stick to the ground rule that I would document each and every important event happening in my life, Here it goes.

18 of us from Hyderabad, 12 from Pune and 1 from Mumbai finally decide to head to scale the Kalsubai Peak. I was looking forward to this trek for many reasons – This would be my last trek for some time to come, This would probably be my last visit to Pune and oh yes, Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra. The Hyderabad team reaches Pune at about 08:00hrs.We board the TT that was arranged by the Pune team and head towards Nasik Phata where we meet them. A brief stop over for lunch at Sangammner and we proceed to Bari.

At about 17:30hrs we start the trek. The first patch seems to be pretty much a simple hike.We reach a plateau in about half an hour. A villager dwelling in a small hut there provides some lemon juice. The weather starts cooling down and in moments you get to smell the fresh smell of rain water seeping into barren soil. And then, comes in the message from Roy. I seem to loose my balance of mind and stop registering all that´s happening around me.For the next one hour or so it´s a somber trek up the peak. I try to maintain my calm by venting all my anger on people who were slow. For the first time ever, I fail miserably in handling my responsibility as a sweep.The hailstorm sets in and it´s almost 19:30 hrs by the time we reach the penultimate plateau.Thankfully the team decides to stay put in the shack there. It gets cold as night sets in.. 31 of us huddle in a 10x20ft shack. Thanks to Bani, we have a tarpaulin sheet to protect us from the hailstorm. In about an hour or so the hailstorm stops. Few folks head up to the peak while the remaining huddle in the shack. I try in vain to distract myself but end up having a quick dinner and crash on the floor. Later, next day morning at about 05:00am, I´m woken up by someone and only then do I realise I´ve slept six hours flat like a log when not one of the remaining 30 people have managed to shut their eyelids in the freezing cold.

Roy´s final news at 06:30 gets on me and I loose my cool once again. I decide to reach the base as early as possible.We reach the base village by 07:30am. The Pune folks decide to head to Bhandardara dam while we head to Pune as we´d to board the Hyderbad exp. scheduled to depart from Pune at 16:30 hrs.We manage to reach well before time and by 05:00hrs next day morning we´re back at hyd.

I´m not someone to fall in for lame superstitions. But this time, Friday the 13th does not seem to have been any favorable to me. I´d better stop misconstruing things and kick back to normalcy.

Details:

Team: 31

Route: Pune – Nashik Phata-Chakan-Narayan Gaon-Ale Phata-Sangamner-Akole-Rajur-Bari

Distance: Pune-Sangammner:~140kms; Sangammner-Rajur:~36kms; Rajur-Bari:~15kms

Altitude: ~5400ft. above MSL.

Endurance: Med. | Difficulty : low [Non Monsoon] Med [Monsoon] . Govt. has re-inforced the ladders and climbing up the hill is not really tricky.

Time : Uphill: 2.5 hrs. Downhill: 1.5 hrs

Transport: Preferably arrange a cab. Base village has remote connectivity. ST :Pune-Sangammner, Sangammner – Rajur, Rajur-Bari

Expenses: ~Rs500 [ Private vehicle ]

Stay: Shack on the penultimate plateau. Well with Potable water during Monsoon

Duration: Preferable opt for an Overnight stay.

Best time to visit: Late Monsoon./ Early Summer

Enduro3 – 09

07th Feb.- Saturday 23:25hrs.

It’s damn chilly out here and every breath you take in brings out just another sore cough. We careen round the corner and happen to sight a couple of lorry drivers gambling on the roadside by the moonlight. Mallik and I park the bikes  and venture ahead to enquire how far we were from Thangaon. 18Kms is what we get in response. Almost instantaneously I spurt out – Give it a damn! I lose my patience and decide to quit. Quit a race that I’ve been mentally preparing for close to three months now. I believe in my instincts and truly live by it!Another look at Mallik and Trupti only reconfirms the decision – I was not alone.

We decide to move a bit ahead to a safer place, pedal uphill, take a left and glide down the hill. A bit ahead to the left, the rays from my head lamp happens to cause the Enduro vest of another cyclist shimmer. As we slow down we see a lady lying by the corner. A quick glance at him and he lets us know that she was finding it difficult to breathe and their third team mate had left about half an hour back to Thangaon in search of medical help. All attempts to contact the marshals out there was futile.This only strengthens our decision to leave the Enduro3-09 book open this time. Endurance is something you need to test at some point of time in life – But when you realise the odds are simply illogical and you could end up losing something more vital, you’ll know you don’t have to prove to some third person how high a bar you can jump.

That said, let’s move over to the rosier aspects of the race.

06:30 hrs. The pre-race registration begins at the University of Pune grounds. As we reach the grounds, we get to hear the Silver rock band tuning their equipment. Soon, the team leads are requested to report their teams and collect the vests, directions brochure and trash bags.As we adorn the vests and try demystifying the understandably abstract Google satellite maps, teams still scoop in to the grounds with Hercules, Atlas, Firefox, Merida’s and Trek’s. You won’t believe one lad had actually re-modelled an Atlas basic bike to sport derailleur and gears! In about an hour the vast ground is all vibrant with participants, marshals, organisers and people who’d come to cheer their peers. The ‘Silver’ band delivers a pumping performance followed by a random introductory call by the organisers. Meanwhile the teams are spread out on the ground categorically and at about 09:30 hrs. Enduro3-09 is given a flag off.  It’s  a tremendous feeling to witness the swarm of bikes flushing out of the podium.What with high bass rock songs being doled out as each category rolled out of the grounds. Man, You really need to be there to experience it!

07 Feb'09 Early hours - Prior to flag-off

Gearing up for the ride

Performance by Silver band - Prior to flag-off

The Warm-up ride

The first 10kms was a warm up ride from the University of  Pune to the NDA campus [ Chandini Chowk]. In minutes, Pune roads are taken over by the red wave. Heavy vehicular movement literally comes to a standstill and paths are made to give us a free way. Knowingly or unknowingly, the city succumbs to the green drive! At about 10:15hrs we reach Chandani Chowk.

Well, even roses wilt on the Table top

Close to Garden court is where the first ‘Time Check’ -TC begins. Right at the moment when you think all is good, the dirt track begins. Prior to the race, I had this mindset that 80 percent of the roads that we were supposed to ride on, would be proper tar roads and that ‘dirt tracks’ was only for a short patch. Little did I know, this was just the beginning.  A little before the NDA main gate we’re directed to take a left to the dirt patch. The first few minutes are rocking moments. Fifteen minutes into this and soon you get to know what really rocking is! With the mercury rising and you’re ass rising equivalently on the saddle, only time reasons out why you have that splitting head ache. The trail goes on for about half an hour and finally we reach the NDA Polo grounds passing through Table top and covering a few checkpoints.

Wish we were in the Amateur category!

The next section of the race was ‘called’ Orienteering. You’re supposed to follow the instructions, navigate using a compass and  traverse through the hills, reach a specified point and then get back to the start point. All I can comment on this section is that is was a perfectly illogical, purposeless. What sense does it make to trek in the hot sun with no specific goal? In about an hour or so we reach the start point totally exhausted. The guys in the amateur category on the other hand were asked to do paddling at Peacock Bay!

Done with the ‘Orienteering’ we then are directed to head towards Neelkanteshwar Phata touching Peacock Bay, Khadakwadi and Mandvi.Thankfully, you get to fill your bottles with water at Peacock bay. All through the way, you get to see people popping off their bikes and crashing on the ground.Just round the corner yet another team stops over to mend their bikes, the Photographers tag behind to capture pain and emotions. It’s all a silent solemn ride. At about 17:05hrs we reach PC3.From here we’re directed to reach  Kuran fork. This stretch is a mix of flats and slopes. Another two hours of silent struggle through Dawje, Kuran Budruk, Varasgaon dam and we finally reach TC4.

It’s 19:05hrs and we’re almost ripped out. At the TC4 check point a cheerful marshal comes across and gives us directions to the last checkpoint for the cycling section. Just 18 more kms is what she says. Ride straight, keep to your right – few more kilometeres again take a right and soon you should reach Thangaon. ‘How bad are the roads?’ one of us sarcastically asks and to our timed relief she responds saying – ‘Pretty good. Just flats!’.

At 19:30 hrs we start riding towards Thangaon. The purported 18kms remains an elusive magical number. A few people that we get to meet en-route tell us we’re still 25kms away and to add fuel to fire, we get to know roads are very much under construction and they’re in a pretty bad state now. Everty turn round the corner leads you to just another uphill and the gradient always seems to be on the positive side.  To add to all this the road construction work brings about a totally different terrain. All you’re left to do is to push your bike up the gradients!  It’s damn chilly out here and every breath you take in brings out just another sore cough. We careen round the corner and happen to sight a couple of lorry drivers gambling on the roadside by the moonlight. Mallik and I park the bikes  and venture ahead to enquire how far we were from Thangaon. 18Kms is what we get in response. Almost instantaneously I spurt out – Give it a damn! I lose my patience and decide to quit. Quit a race that I’ve been mentally preparing for close to three months now. I believe in my instincts and truly live by it! Another look at Mallik and Trupti only reconfirms the decision – I was not alone. At about 23:30 hrs we take the bait. It just didn’t make sense to continue. Ideally we were supposed to reach TC5 [ Thangaon ] at least by 00:00hrs and complete the second orienteering section by 02:00hrs to remain qualified. We still had a very good chance of being in the race had we pushed a bit more. But the decision was taken considering several factors and it was best to enjoy the remaining part of the race at least.In this mad rush for the past twelve hours or so all we’ve done was to pedal madly on the roads without giving much interest to the ambience around. Only during the early hours of 8th Feb do we really take in the environs! A quick dinner(?) and we crash in our sleeping bags in one corner of the road.

The alarm hoots at 01:00am. We’d to reach the base camp by 04:00am. 18more kms to go and all that keeps us moving ahead is the fear that we may have to ride our bikes back to Pune if we happen to reach late. Just about five kms before reaching Thangaon, we take it easy and catch another nap for an hour or so. Finally at about 06:00hrs we reach Thangaon base camp. Enduro3 09 ends here for us.We leave the Thangaon base camp by the only available state transport bus at about 07:30hrs. Guess this was the only day in the whole year when the bus was filled beyond its capacity! But for a few smiling faces here and there, all you get to see is blood shot eyed faces and idle minds wondering on the day that was yesterday.As the bus winds back through the same route that we cycled, we still see teams still pushing their bikes up the slopes trying to reach the basecamp, teams lying on the sides catching sleep.

On the other hand, a few of the teams had already started the trekking post the night orienteering. Later we get to know they had to hike for about 12hrs, followed by a river crossing and a final sprint of about 40kms to reach the final destination. Two other infy teams – Team Vagabonds [Prawaal, Bani and Revathi] and Team Punctured [NIshant, Pankaj and Nikita] commendably complete the race. Team Punctured lose the second runners up to Team Vagabonds by a whisker of just about three minutes. All said, hats off to their mental endurance! And if this is for just the IT category folks, wonder what act of obeisance would the Open category folks call for!

Team Vagabonds on the podium

A few things that I guess the Enduro3 committee needs to keep in mind while organising the event next year.

  • Purandare. Thanks for anchoring this wonderful race but Chill! Out here everyone seems to be talking of your brusque attitude.I’ve not met you in person but that’s the image I’ve got!
  • The Enduro3 website for the most part of it does not hold any information on the race details. For people who participate from outstation the dependency is pretty high!
  • Not everyone who participates in the race is a super-human. Medical help or emergency action posts need to be setup at least every five kilometeres. Agreed, it’s a lot of overhead but at least radio contact can be arranged!I myself have come across two incidents when people needed help and would have been well off had they got it a bit earlier.
  • Guys, I sincerely wonder if the marshals were asked to give wrong stats on the path and distance just to motivate people. If so, we’re highly mistaken. Details such as this just cannot be manipulated. Thankgaon-18Kms, flat, good condition roads? GIve me a break! Knowing one’s goal point is much of a necessity and all are not knowledgeable enough to judge distances based on the google maps provided.
  • Agreed Enduro3 is all about endurance testing. But what if a team is miserably down and does not have water?
  • Ah, for cyclists Treks, Meridas, Firefox, Hercules and Atlas are much more valuable than BMWs, Rolls Royce and Mercs. You just cannot pile the bikes as in a scrap van when getting them back from Thangaon to Pune.Gosh, a few folks would have spent 20 and 30 grand on them. Theses bikes DEMAND respect. Couldn’t you have brought them more humanly? [Let me see if I can get my friend to send across the picture of the transport truck that he had taken.]
  • Teams which have completed the race deserve to be given credit. This year the only differentiating factor between a team that had participated and completed the race was a single strike on the certificate.And oh , Yes. They didn’t even have their names written on them! Next year if you need some help in filling the forms, call in a few more participants to help you out with the certificates. We’ll be all the more happy to show our respect for them!

And a few things commendable about the event this year:

  • Awesome flag off ceremony! The red wave on Pune city roads caught quite a few surprised.
  • Cool night reflector caps and vests.
  • You marshals deserve a heartfelt thanks for those motivating words.[ Probably it was we who construed them wrong 🙂 ]

All in all, it was a tremendous experience. Enduro3-09 has taught me to defy the saying – Never Quit! and equate it to – ‘Weigh your options!’ and I’m sure when I hit for Enduro3-’10 I’ll be a sharpened diamond with this years experience!

All pics courtesy: Ayush [Team SubZero ]

Borrowed Bones

Thursday at about 10:30hrs, I get a call from Varun informing apologetically that he would have to break from the team. He was warming up for the terse activity that was to happen in the next few days by playing football and happened to sprain his ankle pretty bad. Bed rest for a couple of days was mandated by the doc. and there went our plans to be a part of Enduro3 ’08 into thin air.

Looking back, I guess it all happened for good! Through the year, as I build my endurance and stamina through those several treks in the Sahyadris, I realise what fools we would have been had we participated in Enduro3 ’08. Then, we were a team of three – none really exposed to high levels of physical strain; neither of us had a complete picture of what we were to pass through and more importantly we had no idea of either team mates strengths and weaknesses – something I guess that’s quite an intrinsic aspect of the spirit of Enduro3.

This year we’re on an altogether different rung on the ladder and as we head to participate in Enduro3 ’09 this Feb 07th and 08th we’re there with a spirit not to win but to live the moment. Winning would come in its own stride…

Here’s a video log that would give you a glimpse of the race:

Team Members [ Team – Borrowed Bones]:

Trupti Bhosale: She”s been a hard core trekker for quite sometime now and been lucky to rappell down the mammoth Malshej ghat [ lucky , coz that’s one thing I’ve always wanted to but couldn’t get to Pune when it was organised ]. Of late she’s caught up on biking on her la sovereign, at times covering 130kms in one go!

Abhijeet Mallik: One of the founding members of Deccan Highlanders – The infy pune trekking club, with an amazing stamina and a hard core ‘give a damn’ attitude to anything in life. Roped him in the moment we got to know he was heading back to India post his short stint in UK. Though not much into cycling, one week of practise should get him in form.

Myself: Pretty comfortable trekking long distances on rationed resources. Started biking a couple of months back. 80kms in one go on the Lumala is all that I’ve managed to do till now. Bani says that would equate to 100kms on a high end bike and that’s what I’m banking on for confidence.

Back there in Pune, the teams in Pune [ at least, those I know of ] have been training for this event like crazy. Bani [ Founder of the Infy Pune biking club – Thunderbolts] has been doing a stupendous job in getting people spruced up for the event by getting them on their bikes every successive weekend. Forms have been submitted yesterday and all that’s left now is to play safe in the last few days and avoid playing football !

Of things that you chose to miss…

I happened to check the AP tourism site yesterday. Believe me. I literally dropped my jaws seeing the first intro page. I guess finally the government has realised the tremendous potential tourism has and decided to tap on it. AP tourism and development corp. is now having the facility of customised tours. Can you beat that? The site lists most of the places in AP and has been developed with the traveller in mind.You can plan your travel and the places that you want to visit and just drop them a request. They’d soon get back to you on that. Such a drastic change is highly commendable! We’re a bit late on this front but thankfully, there’s at least noticeable progress.

It’s a shame to the third degree that we Indians, do not have the interest to explore our own homeland before we proceed to cross the seas during our vacations.There’s so MUCH that there’s to see in India, that believe me you wouldn’t cover one eighth of it in even a two month long vacation.You could have a much more memorable vacation here than shelling out thousands of rupees on an Hawaiian beach or Mauritian visit.Agreed each place has got it’s own splendour and inviting features, But how sane is it to look for paradise thousands of miles away when you have one right in your backyard?

I would primarily attribute the influx of tourists to India to word of mouth than to the publicity campaigns by the government. We’ve a long long way to go to reach the international standards in tourism and that definitely is a mammoth challenge. It’s high time we pull our socks and get things rolling.

I was lucky to be posted in Pune for close to six months last year and am myself shocked to see the stats in front of me at the end of the stay. I’ve never stayed home a single weekend all through my stay there but still, I’ve not even covered 30 percent of the sight-seeing spots close to the city! If a small city like Pune in the western region of India has so much to offer, I leave it to you to judge what whole lot of things we’re missing out in ditching our own boat and jumping over to the ship sailing past us.

Click on the image below to have a peek into a few places that I’ve covered during the last year. [ 90pc of the pictures in the second half of the presentation are taken in places around Pune. ]

The Bidar ride

03-Jan-08

04:30hrs  – After a quick jog,  as I stand at the APSRTC bus stand in Tarnaka, I’m reminded of the two years I effectively wasted preparing for the IITs. This was the place where my brother and I used to board the bus to reach Vidyanagar for the morning classes. Every day spent trying to learn concepts with no real implication on my life. Losing sleep over Irodov, Resnick and Halliday, Sarin and Sarin just to win that extra mark in an examination given by the so called ‘Cream academia’ of India. I was running a race, a marathon in fact and suddenly somewhere at the fag end, I realise I was blindfolded and was only following the bandwagon. A honk of the 3k gets me back to my senses and I hop into the bus. Waking up early and getting things on the string is no more an issue. That’s the only thing I guess I’ve learned from two years of IIT preparation. And I’ve no regrets!

I hop down at Vidyanagar and lurch to the other side of the road. I pay the idly vendor ten bucks for a plate of steaming Idlies. In the frosty wind as I gobble the hot idlies  and wait for Abhishek, I  try to do some stats to see the average amount the vendor could be earning each day. Looking at the crowd that his roadside shop was pulling  that early in the morning there’s no second guess to the profits he was making!

Abhi joins me in a couple of minutes and we ride down to JNTU where the remaining folks had been waiting. By 06:30hrs almost every one arrives. 10 bikes [ Animesh and Sujanya on a Discover, Dhana and Jiddu on an Apache, Sunil and Majid on a Thunderbird, Vishnu and Jeevitha on a Pulsar, Deepthi and Loknath on an Avenger, Riyaz and Swathi on another Thunderbird, Jemshed and Sadique on an Avenger, Phani and Prasanna on a 200cc Pulsar, Amol and Ranjit on another Pulsar, Abhi and I on the Unicorn ] finally rev up from BHEL and head towards Bidar. We have a brief stop over at a filling station about 40 minutes into the ride and then head directly to the destination. Roads for the most part of it are tarred and you have a comfortable ride almost all through the complete stretch.

We reach the Bidar city outskirts by around 10:00 hrs. We first head to the Choubara [ Watch tower ] and from there proceed to the Mehmood Gawan Madarsa. Just as many of the monuments in Bidar, the madarsa is now ASI protected. Not much remains of the building, but what is left by itself outrageously talks of the historical prominence. Classes are still conducted in a section of the Madarsa that faces the road. We then head to the Bidar fort. Purported to date back to the 8th century this massive fort, now in ruins still has an aura of power emanating from its barren grounds. With not many visitors in this area , You feel totally lost and at the same time surprisingly comfortable walking along the Burjs. A museum in the fort contours maintained exceptionally well by the government boasts of the history and the life of the Bahamanian people and their ancestors. Gardens are maintain beautifully well in complete persian style and they don’t charge you a dime for entrance! Hats off to the ASI!

After exploring a few more areas of the fort we head to the Guru Nanak Jhira Gurudwara. We spend some quality time here by the Amrit Khund after a decent lunch at the langar [free kitchen] and then head to the Narasimha Zarna temple. This is believed to be the only Narsimha temple in south India and one is supposed to wade through 350mts of chest deep water in a cave infested with harmless bats and cockroaches  to reach the sanctum sanctorum 🙂 . Though quite a few arrangements like lighting and air duct ventilation has been provided, there’s still scope for a lot of development here. The entrance to the temple is badly maintained and very little care has been taken to keep it clean. With no regulation really in place and the huge crowd coming, it’s a pity a place of worship such as this is in such a bad state of affairs.

We leave from Bidar at about 16:20 hrs targetting to reach the Hyderabad city outskirts at least by 6:30pm. An awesome ride with the speedometer notching 100kmph at times on the highway and the thrill of riding in a group gets us to the city skirts  BHEL by around 19:00hrs. It’s close to 21:00hrs by the time I reach home. Close to 320 kms on the bike, heavy traffic once in the city limits finally takes its toll and I crash on the bed, the moment I reach home and have dinner.

Photos courtesy: Animesh Kumar Hazra – [http://picasaweb.google.com/trulyani/Bidar#]

Interesting links on Bidar

  • The Tribune
  • Kaladarshana