Hogenakal Falls & 2010

Though just after the monsoons is the best time to visit Hogenakal, the place did not disappoint when I visited it in November. Hogenakal is a waterfall across river Kaveri, some 180 kilometers from Bangalore. The coracle ride there is quite an experience.

This picture sums up the place and perhaps the passing year as well.

2010 will be remembered for the laughs, the tears, the travels, the wonder, the good friends, sunshine and all the beer HE blessed us with to quench our thirst; not just as an year that ushered in 2011. And as usual a new year comes with a lot of new hopes and opportunities, hidden beneath the riddles and mysteries of life. We set about conquering the world with renewed vigor and raised expectations, telling ourselves this year belongs to us.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" asked Alice
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where..." said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"...so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

A wonderful 2011 to you, me and Pluto!

Lost in Transit !

Its official now. I have lost one of my senses. Which one is the only question. As I am able to read as I write this, and listen to the cling-clang from the neighbor's kitchen as they make chicken, I assume my eyes, ears and nose are pretty much in working condition. I can also feel the chill in the December air and can still talk to animals. So that pretty much covers most of my senses and super powers, except for the most important one. I now have a strong feeling that I have lost my common sense, probably it finally gave up the will to live with me. This abrupt realization is the result of another eventful travel.

I was under the impression that my tough luck with travel has finally run out. I had an almost incident-free trip to Badami couple of weeks back, barring the cockroach-crawling-into-mouth-during-sleep bit. So I was looking forward to this weekend's travel. It did start on a good note - the seats were comfortable than I expected, the bus started moving just 45 minutes after the scheduled time, the driver announced that we will not stop for dinner to compensate the lost time and so on. With the air conditioner in action on an already cool December night, I prayed to Hermes and called on sleep to tide over hunger and cold. But my peaceful sleep was pretty short lived as I woke up to some loud noises.

While I was asleep, it so happened that some gentleman had asked the driver to turn off the AC as he was suffering from severe cold (so much so that his co-passengers did complain a few times about his non-stop sneezing). This in turn irritated a bunch of others seated towards the rear of the bus. As I slowly got hold of the situation, the guy sitting next to me stood up and shouted "Please switch on the AC, people are dying here!". I looked around and not seeing any dead people, finally at this soon-to-be-late gentleman with horror. He was quite a conglomerate of flesh (Visualize Mike Tyson with an ugly face); who can easily survive at least a couple of months without breathing. He claimed that he was feeling claustrophobic and breathless as the AC is switched off. Soon he earned a few supporters who shouted 'aye aye' from the back and I even heard a whistle.

The two foreigners sitting across got up from hibernation and looked at each other, not knowing what the commotion is all about. As the hue and cry for bringing back the air conditioner gained momentum, the gentleman with the cold made an entry with a powerful sneeze. He tried to explain how the AC vent which is directly above his head made him sneeze every other second. As if waiting for a gap, Tyson shrieked "How can 50 people sit inside the bus without any air circulation? If you have issues with the seat, come and sit somewhere in the back". But soon the driver interfered and agreed to adjust the AC to the comfort of both sides. This was the third time my sleep was disturbed - the other two times Tyson wanted to go pee and pull out his Pink iPod from the bag. I had almost made up my mind to punch him on his face.

To be honest, I never felt any suffocation, except when disturbed in sleep. I never even thought till that minute that I am perhaps inhaling the air that was exhaled by some of my co-passengers. I wasn't terrified by the thought that all the Oxygen in the air will soon be used up by the passengers and we all then die of Carbon Dioxide poisoning. There should be something wrong with me.. right? It has to be the common sense, the sense that I lost in transit.

The fun is that people got carried away with their arguments thinking they all reach their destinations before daybreak and can escape without seeing each others' faces in the light. But by a strange stroke of luck, the bus got delayed by 6 hours and the warring parties had to sit across the same table for breakfast and lunch! Not to mention, we all parted as good friends. Tyson even called and wished me on X'mas day!

The Great Indian inter-faith marriage !

My sister got married recently. An otherwise happy and benign occasion unfortunately got branded an 'evil affair' by some folks, as she chose to marry someone from another faith. The situation necessitated me taking the official spokesperson's role on behalf of the immediate family. Though my job started on a scary note, it became increasingly interesting a role, as I learned not to reason or argue but listen and nod instead. The ones who called me to offer condolences though did get a sermon for free.

As the drama slowly unfolded, everyone including the neighbor's cow had an opinion. A lot of relatives whom I had classified as hardliners turned out to be moderates while those who were considered liberals turned out to be Ayatollah Khomenis. Though no fatwas were declared, each one of these funny characters did try their best to influence the situation and elicit a favorable outcome out of it. I know I cannot point fingers at the septuagenarians and sexagenarians of the lot; it is difficult to change your convictions and beliefs after walking the earth for more than half a century. But I was taken by surprise with the reaction of some of the more-educated, younger folks... many of which I completely understood later on further scrutiny!

The priests and nuns in the family (yes, we too have our share of them) were the most upset of the lot; understandably so. For them it is important to hold on, proclaim and protect the faith; else how can they justify all the sacrifices they have made in the name of it. For someone who has submitted their entire life for religion, any attempt to rock the boat is a threat to their very existence. So when they advised the parents to renounce their daughter as she walk away from THE God and THE Path, I could only smile. Some of them had clever ways of putting across the point. One of the nun-aunts called my sister, congratulated her on the marriage and appreciated her on the choice as well. While my sister was trying to come in terms with the unexpected compliments, my aunt quietly threw in a Trojan - 'This is an opportunity for you to get an entire family to know Jesus Christ'. Hallelujah!

Another acquaintance came home to 'educate' my parents on how their decision to let my sister marry an 'outsider' is against THE book. She had also brought with her a propaganda pamphlet on the evils of inter-faith marriage, written by some self proclaimed spiritual leader of the church. This book had excerpts from the Bible, occasions when it talk about the consequences of marrying from outside the Israel community. The gentleman who wrote this booklet had quoted from the Bible without explaining the context and had carefully omitted passages that go against his argument. I enjoyed telling this acquaintance, the story of God supporting the decision of Moses in marrying a non-Israelite woman (Numbers, Chapter 12). That kind of settled the issue at least for then. I wrote a letter to the priest who wrote the booklet about his work, but haven't received a reply yet; not that I expected one.

There were a few others who stayed away for another interesting reason. They didn't want their kids to think that the resistance from family is just a matter of few days, and things will be alright after that. What if the kids pick up a cue and follow suit? So they wanted the family to disown my sister, so that 'other kids in the family' don't make an example of this and choose their life partners outside the faith. Nice try..eh..?

In a generation where people are already fighting each other in the name of religion, I don't think this mentality helps. We create a divide among kids when they are young, by preaching they are a superior race, God's chosen people etc. Then how do we expect them to coexist and co-operate later in life, with the so called lesser mortals? We don't realize that these kind of fanatic teachings at a young age have lasting effect on their impressionable minds, often critically affecting their future decision making.


The trip to Lepakshi was a premature baby born out of a boring weekend affair with the city. If you aren't a certified 'Mall Rat' who is fond of shopping, there is nothing much to do in the city on a typical weekend. I already have a huge backlog of books to read and hence a trip to the bookstore wasn't an option either. I had to get out somewhere before another boring Sunday consumes me. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and not things, even at the risk of being called an irresponsible, unstable idiot by people around me. I have in fact learned to smile and walk away without responding from such people, for whom you are just an option.

So searching for a destination I can comfortably cover in a day's time, I zeroed in on Lepakshi. My good friend Subhasish also agreed to join me this time, to find out what I actually do on these trips. He had serious doubts on my real intentions in frequenting these old temples and forts. Lepakshi is a small village situated some 14Kms from Hindupur, in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. It is famous for the temple of Veerabhadra constructed in the 14th Century and the mural paintings of the Vijayanagara period. There are KSRTC buses to Hindupur from Majestic bus station in Bangalore, and there are frequent buses between Hindupur and LePakshi as well.

There are two stories - one mythological and another historical - behind the name 'Lepakshi'.The mythological story dates Lepakshi town back to the days of the Ramayana. It is said that Lord Rama found the mythical bird Jatayu lying wounded here, its wings were cut off by Ravana when he abducted Sita. Lord Rama said 'le pakshi' (rise bird) and the bird rose. Hence, this place was named as Lepakshi. The historic story is about Virupanna, the treasurer of the Vijayanagara king Achutaraya, who was in charge of the temple construction at Lepakshi. Virupanna's enemies reported to the emperor that the treasury funds were being misused by him. In those days, it was customary to pluck the eyes of the keeper of the royal treasury if he was found guilty of theft. Virupanna being a loyal servant, carried out the order with his own hands, and two dark stains are visible on the west wall of the southern entrance of the inner enclosure, which are said to be the marks made by his eyes, which he himself threw at the wall. Thus came the name 'Lepa Akshi' which means plucked eyes.

There are quite a few architectural marvels in the temple complex. The Natyamandapa is the finest part of the temple. It is supported on 70 excellently sculptured pillars, the 12 pillars in the center forming a court. Life size sculptures of dancers and musicians are carved on to all the pillars. One of the pillars is a 'hanging pillar', well almost. Unlike regular pillars which are built bottom up, this one is fixed on the top, but only an edge touches the ground. You can kneel down and slide a sheet of paper or cloth under it to see the gap. The guide told us an interesting story about it - this hanging pillar, one of the 70 there, is the representation of the lead-dancer in a group, who is generally picturized with his/her one leg up. There is also another story of a British engineer, who wanted to know how the temple was supported by the pillars and tried to displace one of it. It is said that the attempt caused the movement of as many as 10 pillars around, to maintain the balance.

The Shivlinga protected by a seven hooded serpent, found outside the Natyamandapa, is another interesting piece of art in the complex. The base of this sculpture has a crack and there are interesting stories about both the 'Shivlinga' and the crack. According to the legend, the sculpture was cut out by a workman of the temple during the rest hour, while his mother was getting his meal ready. On arriving with his meal his mother expressed her surprise and admiration; whereupon the stone base developed a crack, as if under the evil influence of the unlucky words of praise! Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the legend, it is a mighty sculpture to look at. Another beautiful structure 'casually' carved out, again during rest hour is the Nandi, half a kilometer away from the main temple. It is a remarkable piece of work, about 15 feet high, and is one of the biggest Nandis in the country.

There is also a huge footprint mark on one of the rocks, which is said to be the foot print of the goddess Durga. The unfinished Kalyanamantapa (marriage hall) is another treat to watch, which depicts the marriage of Siva and Parvathi, with the sculptures of prominent guests, including the Ashtadikpalakas carved on the pillars. There are quite a few small shrines inside the inner sanctum, dedicated to Hanuman, Parvathi, Bhadrakali etc. The main god Veerabhadra is considered an angry version of Siva and hence you are not supposed to walk right up to him as you enter the temple. So unlike other temples, as soon as you enter you take a right turn, see an idol of Ganesh, then take a left and see the sanctum sanctorum. The mural paintings all along the walls and roofs tell many an interesting stories. The crocodile and the monkey, and the little prince who killed a calf are some of the uncommon characters you see in those stories, in addition to the usual suspects, the Gods and Goddesses!

A visit to Lepakshi is quite an experience if you have an eye for ancient architecture or structural beauty in general. I consider it a day well spent and my friend Subhasish was for once impressed with me. He now has some reason to believe me when I say I am on a trip to some historic spot elsewhere!

More pictures here.

Conversations with Pluto - Felis Do'mystica'

'What is that fluffy thing outside your door?', Pluto almost barked at me while trying hard to control his breath. Pluto is my neighbor's cat who spends most of his time at my place. He was visibly disturbed.

'It is no 'fluffy thing', it is a dog'

'Oh.. thank you for the info. Who put it there?'

'Nobody put it there. It just came the other day and put itself out there'. The poor dog had walked in to escape the rain and then found my doormat quite comfortable to leave.

'Then, you should throw it out. It is creating issues in my safe transit between places'.
'Let the poor thing be there. She won't bite you', I said.
'Oh my goodness. You never told me its a 'she', Pluto's eyes lit up like a bulb.
'So what?, what difference it is going to make?'

'You have no idea. Soon this place will be full of puppies'
Come on! You are being too paranoid'
'Why do you think they are called Canis 'Family'aris?

Without giving me a moment to understand the pun, he continued 'And puppies, they stink!'
'No, they don't'
'At least their poop does'

'We should perhaps call her Boo'
'That is so mean'
'Not the Boo in Hindi; Boo as in 'Me and you and the dog named Boo..'
'Wow! Never knew you are a Lobo fan'

'You don't know anything about me dude. Cats are always mysterious. That is why we are called Felis Do'mystica', he said with a wink.


PS: Our conversations on Free will and Predicting Future and the Paunch.

Pop stories !

I happened to hear two Pop and Son stories the past week. They weren't really funny, but interesting.

One story is about a Dad, who during one of those knowledge transfer sessions advised sonny boy to keep his tail folded nicely between his legs, tightly wrapped around and protecting the balls, instead of keeping it upright at the face of the world. He wanted the son to take the shortest routes in life than shooting for the longer but cleaner ones. He probably did not want to see his beloved son being stoned by the angry majority as he makes his sermon from the mount, against the so called absurdities of the world. I would have understood the intentions of such an advice if given to some bad ass who joined Greenpeace or campaigned for world peace. But all that he ever did in life was questioning some priests. And anyone who has ever walked into a place of worship, except to escape the rain, would understand this behavior.

I am not sure it is the right thing to sit back and blame the generation for its Lady Gaga culture and not provide real support when it matters.

And there is this other story where the son begs the father to come and stay with him, only to take care of the new addition to the family. The son is annoyed that his parents devoted two years raising his sister's kid, but refused to volunteer for the same profile when it was his turn. Pretty logical..eh? Can't blame him for thinking that he could use the experience they had in raising a bum like him. So he had an argument on the need of him getting his share of their time, while he and his wife could go about making some more money.

Who am I to pass comments on other people's lives anyway!

Conversations with Pluto - The Paunch

"Ever noticed that all the so called happy characters have huge paunches, while our idea of health and well-being is still about six packs and flat stomachs?", asked Pluto as we were enjoying a much deserved siesta after a sumptuous lunch that Sunday afternoon. Pluto is my neighbor's cat who spends most of his time at my place.

I did not give much attention to his rant as the wine in the 'Fish Wine-daloo' we prepared had just kicked in. I thought some chick would have passed a comment on his prosperous belly for which he is cooking up some excuse now. Moreover I generally stay away from any discussion where I am on the losing side. But he was in no mood to let go the argument.

'Take the case of Santa Claus, Laughing Buddha, lord Ganesha, Garfield or Obelix', said Pluto.

'What about them', I asked.

'There was a time when paunch was considered a sign of prosperity and happiness, and not a symptom of gastronomic problems or addiction to beer. That was when Websters had a single entry on stomach, and the definition was devoid of internationally accepted, UN approved measurements for the same'

Without waiting for my reaction he continued.. 'Like the Model T, they used to come in just one size and type- the 'stomach'. Outlandish terms like Pot belly, Beer belly, Apple belly, Pear belly, Pork belly and Muffin top were not part of the language then'

'Ahem! So, what is the point', I asked again.

Now that he got my attention, he stood up and slowly unraveled his theory. 'Eating to heart's content was not a crime those days and its consequence was thus considered benign. The only rules applicable to consumption of food were - Eat when you can, Eat all you can. Convenience, availability & ability to digest were the only considerations. What to eat, when to eat and how much to eat were all rules brought in later by authors of religious texts like Bible, whose idea of a full meal was dividing five breads and two fishes between 5000 people.'

'Thus came the idea of over-eating and ugly-paunch', he concluded.

'So you mean to say that all this hoopla about abdominal obesity is just lunacy?' I wasn't ready to take his argument lying down. I got up and leaned my body against the wall.

'Precisely', said Pluto. 'If nature wanted us to have flat stomachs it would have created us that way. After inhaling all this nourishing air day and night, all this while, if our nose can stay pretty much in shape, then it definitely isn't a mistake that the stomach is growing in size'

'Wonderful. So if I translate your rant into plain English, the claim that central obesity is associated with a higher risk of heart disease is just eye wash...eh?'

'You got it! I don't remember reading about Obelix or Santa Claus dying of heart failure. Do you? Is it that they did not have hearts after all?' He chuckled.

'Aha! Then there are no side effects of having a pork belly. Is that what you suggest?'

'No.. no.. Of course there are side effects. There is reason to believe that a prominent paunch can hamper normal sex life', He said with a wink.

'Now how do you arrive at that? Because Obelix & Santa Claus doesn't feature in Masters & Johnson?'

'Oohoho.. it is much simpler dude. Tell me the name of Santa Claus' daughter.. or Obelix's son?'

'They didn't have kids', I said.

'Now, that's the point!', I could see his stomach making waves as Pluto laughed away to glory.

PS: Our conversations on Free will and Predicting Future.

4 reasons to watch the 1st half of Enthiran !

Let me make myself clear, I am not suggesting that you should watch just the first half of Enthiran. It is that I cannot comment on the second half as I was forcibly removed from the theater a short while after the interval. Couple of my friends told that I did deserve every bit of that treatment, though they had a difference in opinion about the exact reason. While one attributed it to the excessive sound of my snoring, the other placed it one degree higher - the arrogance and utter irreverence of sleeping through a movie of his Rajniness.

I know that I am kind of late to come up with a review on Enthiran. Grady Hendrix has already written much about the awesomeness of the miracle birth, mysterious evolution and elevation to fame of Rajnikanth. In a momentary lapse of consciousness induced by jet-lag, India Today editor Aroon Purie also shamelessly reused a part of the Grady article in an edition of the magazine dedicated to the superstar from 'Tamilnadu, a south Indian state'. I also understand that I am trying to comprehend something which is beyond my grasp, like trying to explain what prompts a dog to lift its leg every time it sees a telephone pole. But anyway, let me add my two cents to what has already been said about his Rajniness.

The Double Role
We all know that no one character can completely accommodate all the acting power of Rajnikant. You cannot let the same character be a Rocket scientist and a rock band guitarist, right? Effectively that prevents his Rajniness from showing off his mathematical and riffing abilities in the same movie. He needs a range of different characters to express his talent properly and that is where Enthiran has at least tried to do some justice. By acting as the villain and the hero, his Rajniness has showcased the two contrasting extremes of his acting repertoire here. Don't think it is easy to wear a wig and act loony one moment and then switch to a funny robotic attire and blast cars the very next!

It's a name changer
Rajni movies are always game changers. While some idiotic movie makers spend years writing the script and scouting for shooting locations, the wise ones down south just rope in his Rajniness and think of the story during post production. But this time the movie is not just a game changer, but a name changer. I just heard that the Peruvian government is planning to officially change the name of Machu Pichu to Kilimanjaro. That is the only option available, as their tourism department now receives an average 300K inquiries a week about the right time to visit Kilimanjaro. That is the power of his Rajniness.. he shot a song titled 'Kilimanjaro' in front of Machu Pichu and half the world now thinks it is Kilimanjaro. I personally think it is a good move by the Peruvian government, as his Rajniness CAN (and only he can) hold an apple and say it is a pig, almost immediately ratifying the old Greek belief that pigs are grown on trees. I always had this suspicion that he is the one behind the Madras-Chennai, Bombay-Mumbai name changes!

The Science
There are so many hypotheses floating around in the academic and scientific circles about the awesomeness of Rajnikant. Though most people (except for the Japanese) think that Rajni movies are all about idiotic and impossible stunts, I personally think Rajni is probably the very proof of time travel, wormholes, multiple universes and the Grand Unification theory wrapped into one. They say two dimensions or universes only differ by the outcome of a quantum event. So if a quantum event has a particular outcome in our universe, some other universe would have had the opposite outcome as well! So for all those logic defying acts, all Rajnikant needs to do is to travel between the different universes and guide the desirable outcome to our own. I bet he uses time-travel to accomplish this feat, through wormholes between the dimensions. And to do something of this magnitude, you wouldn't argue if I say that Rajnikant needs absolute control over the electric, weak & strong forces of Nature. In short his Rajniness IS that what unifies all the forces of nature - proof of the Grand Unification Theory people like Einstein were searching for ages.

His Rajniness
I for one never underestimated his Rajniness. But if you really want to get sloshed by it, watch 'The Expendables' before the Eindhran experience. Both the movies got a sexagenarian acting as the protagonist. While Sylvester Rambo Stallone looks like carrying a glued-together, botox-filled face on his shoulders, his Rajniness shines like the sun with his wrinkle-free, pimple-less face. I could even see the reflection of Aishwarya Rai on his face whenever she came close to him. What do you mean 'Its all makeup'? It wasn't available in the Holy-woods for Mr. stallone or what? And with all the muscles and inflated body, Mr. Rambo could handle only a Noveske N4 in The Expendables, while his Rajniness was celebrating an early Diwali with half a dozen Bazookas in Eindhran, that too with his left hand.

So the final score,: His Rajniness - 2, John Rambo - 0.
Do I need to say more?

A date with Destiny

It was all destiny in hindsight. After the Thadiyandamol camping, the 'Four Pork-eaters' got together once again for another memorable trip. This time the destination was a farm called 'Destiny', about 25 kilometers off Ootty. We all had heard much about the beauty of this place and Jaideep had done all the reservations in advance to avoid any last minute surprises. So it was just a matter of dragging our ass out there.

We -Jai, Chevy, Rob & myself- started early morning that Saturday in Jai's Red Dragon. The trip was uneventful till we reached the forest check-post at Tamilnadu border. Seeing four innocent young chaps inside the car, the guard politely asked to open up the bags for checking. As if to validate Murphy's Law, he pointed exactly at Jai's bag and gleefully pulled out a bottle of Talisker from it! He said we cannot carry alcohol across states without a permit and all the usual stories. Jai tried his best to explain that this is not just 'alcohol' but imported scotch, the only single malt from the Island of Skye, which already survived the customs check at the Frankfurt & Bangalore airports. The grin on the guard's face turned into a full smile at the lucky find. But probably because the bottle was already open and we were not drunk and he was a teetotaler and all of us were members of 'Rakhi Sawant Fan Club' on Facebook, he let us go without much trouble.

But trouble was waiting in another form just around the corner.. this time it wasn't Talisker, but tuskers. Seeing the elephants we all got down and started taking pictures. We kept our distance and they too didn't mind being photographed, till a moron in another car and started honking continuously. Irritated by the noise, one of elephants charged at us and in a matter of seconds all four of us were inside the car. Without any further incidents we reached Ootty and reported at King's Cliff by lunch time for our pickup. King's Cliff is an old colonial bungalow converted to a beautiful hotel. After a good lunch and apple pies we decided to drive down to the farm instead of taking the transportation arranged by the hotel. Destiny farm's parking lot is exactly 22.6 kilometers from Ootty bus station towards Avalanchi & Emerald dams. It was drizzling and the drive is through awesome locales. We stopped near Emerald dam for another photo-shoot and finally reached the parking lot by early evening.

The farm is about 3 kilometers from the parking space and the road goes through some real tough terrain. You cannot drive all the way to the farm, but will be picked up in an old Shaktiman truck or jeep from the parking lot. Comprising of a valley, hills, a beautiful lake, a stable full of Horses, a dairy full of Cows, a hutch with Rabbits and guinea pigs, Geese & Sheep, Destiny is a self sufficient farm on the edge of wilderness in the Niligiri Biosphere. The rooms named after great explorers and scientists, and furnished with warm wooden flooring, country furniture and fireplaces, open up towards the hills, the farm and the lake below. If you've ever wanted to get the feel of a country house in the wild west, this IS the place! After roaming around for a while we soon settled into our room named after 'Carl Linnaeus'. The fire was lit, food was served and in no time we crawled under the blankets for a wonderful night of sleep.

Next day morning the view was spectacular with a full rainbow stretching across the valley. I always wanted to catch the rainbow and soon rushed out to the nearby hill, hoping to touch base with the beauty. But like many beautiful things in life it kept on shifting places, always at arms' reach but still too far to grasp. There was a football field atop the hill next to the stables. So after a quick breakfast, we came back to the field for a game of football. The field was muddy and it was real fun to play football in the rain. Another group from Chennai also joined us soon and someone or other kept falling down every other minute. After an hour long match we visited the stables while Rob went for a horse ride to the nearby hillocks. We had a great time walking around the lake and the farm, clicking pictures of the geese and the sheep.

Post lunch we started back to Bangalore and after another brush with a bunch of elephants on the way, reached the city late in the evening. The folks at the farm have a saying "When you come to Destiny, that's really what it is." We couldn't agree more!

More pictures here!

Pre Marriage Flux

My mom's been cross with me for quite some time for not agreeing to get married. According to her I have already past prime, and as my grandmother says 'at your age, your grand father and me had 3 kids!'. Somehow I had managed to stay away from this debate till now, saying I don't want to get married just because I am getting old. I should have a better reason for doing so than gray hairs, receding headline, number of birthdays and peer pressure. But all hell broke loose after mom learned that her brother has finalized the marriage of my cousin sister; who is six years younger to me! She had enough. She formally conveyed to me that now it is a matter of family pride for her to get at least one of her own, walk the aisle. My argument that marriage is not a competition item was vehemently opposed by tooth and nail and even tears.

Her requirements were also very stringent this time. Just a green flag to the bride search over phone was totally unacceptable. She wanted me to drag my ass home and visit a few prospects she fish out of all the matrimonial websites. In a momentary lapse of consciousness brought about by emotions, I dropped my guard and agreed to visit home over the weekend. This was one moment I underestimated my mom, or more accurately the power of wounded pride. In two days' time she called me back with details on a bunch of prospective brides. I was aghast, to say the least, at the pace at which things were moving, but the best was yet to come. She went ahead and arranged meetings with one of them over the weekend! I had to put on a really elaborate 'sick-and-down' act to prevent this mishap from happening.

I am generally not very comfortable with formal interview sessions. Give me an open field with no restrictions on the topics to brag about, I will look like an evangelist pastor on steroids. But if you make me sit across the table from a few serious looking people, with whom I am supposed to converse in civilized tongue, I act more like a lazy sloth. Most of my job interviews fortunately start with some comment on my name, 'Were your Dad drunk when he named you Disney', or something of that taste. That gives me the necessary upper hand, as I use a set of pre-prepared and well rehearsed dialogues to tell them how I resembled Mickey mouse when the nurse brought me out of the labor room, and so on. But presenting your case of husband-ship, for the kind consideration of a girl is a totally different ballgame. I had hugely underestimated the 'herculianness' of this task. Its no 'Venio Video Vinco' !

I shivered at the thought of such 'Meet the Parents' sessions, based on the experiences of friends and relatives. I even started getting weird dreams for the next few days, all of them featuring me in a courtroom, interrogated by people!

Scene 1: The Bride's Father
'So where do you work?", asked the prospective father-in-law.
'I work for a small company of 12 people', I replied, beaming with pride and expecting some appreciation on my risk taking abilities.
'Only twelve?', he asked in disbelief and I moved forward, stretching my hands to catch his eyeballs as they jump out of the socket.
"So you did not get into Infosys or Wipro", asked the girl's father who was eager to dismiss the case at the earliest.

In God's own country, working for one of the Big Three is an essential requirement to get a girl from a decent family. Infosys, Wipro & TCS are the most frequently used three words in Kerala, after Jesus Christ, fresh fish, Gulf, Bandh and Beverages-Corporation. Any one who doesn't work for these three companies are considered worthless, irrespective of whether they did their education in Law, Geography or Parapsychology.

I tried to explain more about the job and the passion involved, but it all ended up like a soliloquy as he invited me for a cup of coffee. He switched gears swiftly and started talking about the monsoon, and I got the idea!

Scene 2: Miss Congeniality
"So you go to St.Thomas or St.Antony's on Sundays", she asks as if she already knew my Achiles Heel.

I took a minute or two to decide whether to tell her how I wandered around the city to locate the church a week before - to meet a friend after the Sunday's service. Religion and Theology are anyway not my forte, unless the point is to argue against it.

So in a miserable attempt to diffuse the tension and put a humorous twist to the occasion, I told her 'HE might get down from the cross and run out of the church -even forgetting that he is improperly clothed to suit the situation- if I walk into the church'

Her mouth opened wide like the bonnet of a car, perhaps annoyed at my casual way of taking the lord's name! Even though I tried telling her that I prefer St. Patrick's because of the good choir, I could see the disinterest in her smile.

She asked me only one thing after this 'What is the capital of Uzbekistan', for which I did not have an answer.

Clever Advertising ?

"Caution: Wash your hands properly after applying oil on head, to avoid excessive hair growth on your hands". Saw this warning in a print advertisement for an Ayurvedic hair-oil.

Either it is some clever advertising or this one is the real deal! I have never seen such a statement in any other hair-oil advertisements, though it makes super sense to be present in every one of them if they really do what they claim. Or is it that the other ones are precisely engineered to affect only the hair on your head? Quite unlikely.

I know this one statement is no guarantee of the authenticity of the product. But taking it on face value, what if I accidentally apply some oil on my forehead or neck? Now that is scary (hairy?).

Stories from friends !

Some of us friends from college had a get-together the other day. After the initial pleasantries, as expected, everyone started talking about those 'good old days'. How two guys were kicked out for preparing tea in the Chemistry laboratory using a burner and the measuring jar, during one of the Practical sessions. How someone was caught writing sexually explicit poetry in the examination hall,and his explanation for the same - free paper and better utilization of time. How twelve guys from one class participated in the Fashion Contest, wearing the same dress (read 'cloak') made of worn out curtain cloth. How some of the relationships of those days got pushed deep down to the basement of life as we all moved on. Everything looked funny and beautiful as we craned our necks and looked back.

It is ironic that we all wanted to get out of this 'fun place' as early as possible, to grab the opportunities outside. Those days, nirvana was all about getting a job and enjoying life thereafter. We were more like dogs chasing cars.. wanted to chase and conquer life, but hardly had a clue on what to do with life once we get hold of it. Now with secure jobs and considerable 'disposable income' in hand, we felt we were better off in college, chasing dreams. As the booze settled in, discussions moved on to more hilarious topics leaving the dissatisfaction and frustrations alone. Nothing helps getting over own disgusted feelings than finding the same in others around you. No two of us share the same workplace and hence everyone brought a different set of stories to the table. Here are a few.

How do you survive in the courtroom as a relatively new Advocate? A dear friend vouches that non-verbal communication can make or break your case in the courtroom. The following are two of his favorite tricks.

- When the case is going against you, gently tap the left side of your chest, right over the pocket, and plead "Have properly instructed sir!". The actual message conveyed here is 'I have been paid in advance for this case which will forcibly be taken away if the ruling is against my party. So please have mercy'.

- If the first trick doesn't work and the judge denies your motion, try this. Move your right hand from over the pocket and draw concentric circles on your stomach with your stretched palm, saying "But, there is provision my lord". The message conveyed through this seemingly innocent action is something like "It is a matter of daily bread my lord; I am totally dependent on this case's fee for survival."

Now here is a story told by another friend, about the youth wing leader of a political party, who might one day sit on a legislator's chair and rule over you and me.

One day our hero sets out to collect some money for party fund with his entourage. The donor is an elderly Muslim gentleman, who is a local administrator of the 'Non Resident Indians Association'. After accepting the handsome amount, the leader breaks into a well rehearsed monologue, highlighting his commitment towards social service. He then contrasts it with the current generation's disinterest in History and culture. Things were looking good and the Muslim gentleman was quite absorbed by the speech. Then like an unexpected fart, the leader switched topics and remarked, "Looks like that dark patch on your forehead has grown bigger than the last time we met". Before the stunned entourage could stop him, he continued, "I know a skin specialist near my house, if you want I can talk to him".

Before the gentleman could react, the followers somehow managed to drag their leader out of his arm's reach. So much for his interest in history & culture!

Hospitals aren't fun!

Going to the hospital is one of the most intimidating situations for me, unless its the dentist we are talking about. Don't know whether its the idea, the ambiance, the smell or the situation that's the real culprit, but its quite an ordeal. So you can imagine the effect as I walked into the waiting room of the Regional Oncology Research Center, joining a sea of people who are hanging on to the last straw of hope, considering the nature of the beast. But the situation was much different from what I expected. Though there were people trying hard to conceal the visible effects of the condition or its treatment, the mood was generally upbeat. I don't remember seeing a larger group of compassionate, sensitive and smiling people anywhere else.

As if taking the messages conveyed by the inspirational posters to their heart, I found people were generally in an optimistic frame of mind. Unlike other hospital scenes I have been part of, I did not hear anyone yelling, shouting or even raising the voices here. Everyone behaved like a bunch of well trained nursery kids. There were 9 year olds to 90 year olds, all in the same boat. Everyone talked to each other. There was no introductions required as if some kind of camaraderie evolved out of the shared situation. It was interesting that nobody even asks why you are there.. everyone seems to know. If you are an observer, then you might not be able to relate to any of the strange behavior that's happening around. You just look at the display screens, wonder why they call out the age of patients with their name and so on. But when you are one amongst the many who await the turn, everything makes super sense. You can almost see the whole process working relentlessly and without fault like a well oiled piece of machinery.

There is only one place that is more intimidating than the waiting room - the doctor's cabin. Anyone who sits inside for a few minutes with his eyes and ears open, will come out with a heavy heart and modified world views. I think that's enlightenment of the best kind...the one that's born out of conviction mixed with an overdose of reality. As I sat there watching the doctors in action, I realized the real meaning of 'transiency', 'mortality' and 'fear'. I saw a person whose mouth opens into his nasal cavity as the pallet was missing... rather removed. I sat there picturing his nasal septum fluttering left and right with every breath he takes. At the end of the consultation I could hear this inevitable question being asked to every patient about their preference - RT or surgery, as if you are given a choice between Gold & Platinum!

I take a walk when I get disturbed, and I did the same here. To my amusement I saw some billboards promoting an exclusive showroom for condoms, 'Planet Moods'. I think this is the height of choice. I am not sure whether people go to an exclusive showroom to buy condoms. Imagine someone walking into the condom shop looking for a khadi condom to celebrate Gandhi's birthday, a tricolor condom to celebrate the Independence day or a ventilated condom to beat the heat. I wonder!

Hairy Troubles !

OK, I got a Grey hair or two on my head. My hair is also falling at the rate of a dozen a day. I might get bald pretty soon as well. All these are facts and I know them too. But that doesn't mean that you can just walk up to me and tell this on my face, four times a day like a course of antibiotics. I haven't got a cactus where my heart should be (idea courtesy: The Magnetic Fields) to pretend that I did not hear it all the four times. This is exactly what the guys from the homeopathic clinic,Dr. Batras, been doing for the last couple of weeks. They have been sending four SMSes a day to my mobile phone, as if I am using their phone on rent.

They aren't the only guys who use my phone to expand their business empires. But the insurance companies never tell me that I will die one day and then my family will be begging on the streets if I don't take a policy now. Though Insurance is only as useful as a custom made Maple wood coffin for me, I don't get offended by their advertisements. Ya, once or twice I would have asked some telecalling executive to marry me in return for the policy, but then who wouldn't if they call during the afternoon power-naps. But the Batra's guys are outright irritating with their messages like "Don't ignore hair loss, treat it before it gets too late!".

Baldness is probably one of those incurable conditions like craving for ice-cream and tendency to look at beautiful creatures with long hair and interesting curves (not Yaks). Perhaps there is nothing to cure - baldness is just a natural progression from confusion to clarity, from darkness to light! I thought of looking up the picture of Mr. Batra, expecting to see a bald patch the size of undivided Russia on his head, thereby confirming the cure claim to be some kind of joke. This was not a random act of vengeance, as I know a friend of mine who used to work for Dr. Batra's, who still proudly carries around his reflector head. Though I did not find the Russia I was looking for, I can still argue that Dr. Batra got pretty thin hair for someone who sells the miracle cure.

I feel much better now!


It is interesting to see how we react as a society to even the slightest of changes. A small deviation from the so called 'normal' sequence of life, and everything goes haywire. The change may be as simple as an unexpected morning drizzle. City life gets thrown off balance when the city center gets a mild shower at 7 in the morning. Some kind of crazy panic grabs people which
prompts them to act weird. The traffic gets worse as everybody try to squeeze through or zoom past to 'safety' before the next cloud burst.

All this is not result of some flash floods or water clogging. The drizzle wasn't even strong enough to clean all that bird shit off poor Gandhi's face. Even a cloudy sky seem to provoke this behavior these days; one of those rare occasions that gets the crowd to work together towards a common goal.

Probably all the order and stability that we see around are just failed attempts at creating chaos! All the confusion and panic is perhaps a natural progression to a more logical conclusion beyond systems in equilibrium.

Another Onam !

You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.. The Beatles

Onam had a very special place in life as a kid. Those ten days of freedom from school and studies were much anticipated. There were too many attractions - the swing, the early morning rush to pluck the flowers, the delicacies from all neighboring houses, the floral decorations and the general festive atmosphere. After the monsoon, every shrub and weed around the house had a bright colored flower at the end of every branch. I always wanted to keep that tradition alive, just to get a feel of the season and the excitement associated with it.

I was happy to get up today morning and go out searching for flowers with my sisters. It was drizzling, monsoon doesn't keep the schedule these days it seems. The Marsh Marigold patch was still there along the river. Apart from that there were very few flowers around the house. Lantana, one of the most abundant flowers during the season was not to be seen anywhere. The Morning Glory had just two flowers on it. Looks like most of the plants have deferred their flowering season to avoid their precious seeds being destroyed. Perhaps its evolution and natural selection in play, or perhaps I am reading too much into 'The Origin' these days.

The floral decoration is done, I am happy that we did not break the tradition. Its raining outside, nothing much to do than savor the delicacies... What a way to start a week!

The Men Who Stare at Goats

I should have gone ahead and sacrificed that goat the last time I had a bad experience during travel. Or when misfortune struck many times before that. But I just made fun of Hermes, boasted that there is no God of travel; that even if there is one he is busy picking on his opponents. I was terribly wrong in my assumptions and HE got back at me with vengeance. Looks like I have to put a leash on my blasphemous outbursts.

She looked almost like a female version of Jesus Christ...all the charm minus the mustache and the beard. I was on my way back home after visiting my cousin and she came and sat opposite to me in the bus. She had pink nail polish on, and was wearing a striped T-shirt. Though the horizontal stripes made her look a little chubby, I gave her a 9.5 on 10 in the looks department. As soon as she settled down, she had a gulp of water from the water bottle, stroked a strand of hair off her face and took out a book from her hand bag. I myself was reading 'Almost Like a Whale' and was eager to know what she got. But before I could figure out the title she opened the book and started reading. It is kind of an uncontrollable itch for me, till I find out what the other person is reading... just curiosity. So I kept looking up from my book every now and then, hoping to get a glimpse of the title.

Though I was very discreet in my attempts not to catch her attention, eventually she got wind of my glances. Two fiery eyes rose up from behind the book and directed a beam of deadly laser straight at my face. Then only I noticed that she was resting the book on her well endowed bosom, using it as a book-rest, and I've been constantly staring that way! I realized the blunder and looked apologetically at her. How can you explain a female-in-fury that you were looking at the titles and not at her vitals? I thought she might jump up from her seat and shout at the top of her voice. I had by then closed my eyes in anticipation of her Jesus fingers anointing my cheeks, but she was perhaps the forgiving kind! She shrugged her shoulders in contempt, stood up in a jiffy, and walked away to another empty seat towards the rear of the bus.

She was reading 'The Golden Gate' by Vikram Seth,... not 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'.

Goecha La Trek: Days 8 & 9 - To Darjeeling

A bunch of guys who used to get up at 3 and 4 in the morning, without the help of any alarm clock for the last one week, slept late into the morning that day, till the sunlight literally crept in and warmed our asses. Though there was one more day left before we finally say goodbye to the mountains, the lack of excitement was visible on the faces. Given a chance we would all have loved to stay back for a few more days, but then life doesn't work that way always. So with much difficulty we all dragged our tired bodies outside, had breakfast and packed the bags. The taxis were waiting to carry us back to Darjeeling and without much delay we started our journey waving goodbyes to the beautiful people of Yuksom.

We reached Jorethang via Nayabazar, where we changed vehicles and finally checked into Hotel Mohit at Darjeeling by 12 noon. We had rest of the day to explore the town and without wasting any time we hit the Mall road. Some of us had Pork Thungpa at Devkar's while others were busy hogging apple pies at Glanarys. We all convened back at the hotel by 2 for a city tour. The first stops were the Peace Pagoda and the Japanese temple. Both the places were beautiful, but crowded with tourists, unlike the deserted terrains we witnessed the week before. We also visited the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the tomb of Tenzing Norge. The HMI museum had quite a few interesting exhibits - equipments used by the Everest conquerors, paper clippings explaining the triumphs and failures of many such expeditions and some awesome photographs of Everest, K2 and other peaks. The Darjeeling zoological park is also in the same compound where the main attractions were the Red Panda and the Snow Leopard.

After the city tour we again split up into small groups and roamed around the streets, tasting delicacies and buying souvenirs. I went to a pub called "The Buzz" with Ketan and Alfonso after seeing a poster about live music there. An acoustic trio was playing but we got to hear only the last part of their performance. The pub looked more like an English tavern with more foreigners than locals in there. We had a couple of beers and got back to the hotel in time for dinner. Tamal had arranged for a nice farewell dinner and after a couple of drinks everyone hit the dance floor. Dinner was served by 10 as an early morning journey to the airport was on cards for everyone, except Robert and myself. For the two of us one adventure had ended and the other was about to begin. We had plans to stay back for another week, exploring the North-East. There was no concrete plan or schedule in place, and that was the beauty of the second leg of our adventure!

I dreamed of Buddhist monasteries, snow clad peaks, mountain passes and beautiful ladies that night. It was time to say goodbyes by the time I got back from dreamland. After an early breakfast, warm hugs and well wishes the rest of the gang left to catch their flights, while myself and Robert retired to our rooms. So many things to do, so many places to visit, so much more to experience.. the excitement was creeping back into us. After a leisurely bath and some tea we too walked out into the streets of Darjeeling, trying to figure out where to start, what to do...

Fortunately we had no immediate time-lines to meet, no commitments to fulfill and lot of time to spend. We decided to take things as they come and started walking North... well, towards Glanarys, to have some apple pies for our second breakfast!

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Day 1: To Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom to Tshoka
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Day 4: Dzongri to Lamuney
Day 5: To Samiti & Kockchurung
Days 6 & 7: Back to Tshoka & Yuksom
Days 8 & 9: To Darjeeling

Pictures from the trek here

Goecha La Trek: Days 6 & 7 - Back to Tshokha & Yuksom

Morning was refreshing at Kockchurung. After breakfast we started the day's trek by 8 in the morning. The plan was to bypass Dzongri and reach Tshokha by evening. This takes a longer route which joins the Phedang-Dzongri trail. The rains had made this trail quite slippery and people kept falling down at regular intervals. The injured Russian lady was being carried down to Yuksom this very route on a stretcher by some porters. It sure was quite an ordeal for the poor lady as it rained most of the day. We stopped over at Phedang for lunch where we met another group from China who were on their way up. They were a bit apprehensive about the rest of the journey seeing the plight of the Russian.

We picked lot of wild strawberries on our way down and it was quite an enjoyable walk to Tshokha. Even the dogs were enjoying the trip back to base camp, by this time we had five of them with us - Wolfi, Zulu, Dusty, Almost Dusty & Philippe. Marco (short for Marcus Aurelius) had decided to stay back at Kockchurung and try his luck with the other groups. We reached Tshokha quite early in the evening which gave us ample time to roam around the village clicking some pictures. There was a small souvenir shop from where I picked up a bunch of prayer flags. We ordered for some Thongmba and celebrated our return in style. Post dinner, there was a special session with Krishna on stars and constellations. He had amazing knowledge not just in locating the stars and planets, but also explaining the mythology behind the constellations and their names. By the time we retired to our tents all of us had picked up few tips from him on star gazing.

We woke up to some spectacular light show the next day morning. Sun was dancing in and out of the clouds, creating some awesome patterns in the sky. Soon everything from the Yaks to the horses to the dogs became subjects to a dozen cameras. After lazing around the campsite for an hour or so we packed up one last time for the base camp - Yuksom. Weather was really pleasant the whole day and it did not rain till we reached Yuksom. After unloading our bags in the travelers hut we all went to town.. back to civilization after 7 days! There was a queue in front of the hair cutting saloon for some much needed cutting and shaving. We also visited the Kathok lake, another sacred lake in Yuksom. It has quite scenic surroundings with lush green grasslands and prayer flags all around it, not to mention the crystal clear waters. The belief is that leaves don't fall into the lake or rather the birds won't let them fall into the lake.

Yuksom is a small but beautiful village and few of us took a walk across the village to the market and back. Most of the houses are made of wood and are neatly lined up on either side of the road. The roads also look beautiful with the prayer flags on long masts planted all along. Cute looking kids were busy picking an orange berry called 'ilusun'. We tried Tibetan bread, fried potatoes and momos at a roadside restaurant. We had chicken for dinner that night, after which we once again convened around the table outside, for a few hours of singing and dancing. The celebrations went on for quite a while and sometime early the next morning I hit the sack!

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Day 1: To Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom to Tshoka
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Day 4: Dzongri to Lamuney
Day 5: To Samiti & Kockchurung
Days 6 & 7: Back to Tshoka & Yuksom
Days 8 & 9: To Darjeeling

Pictures from the trek here

Goecha La Trek: Day 5 - To Samiti & Kokchurung

That was by far the wildest night of my life. The temperature had fallen to minus ten degrees and the snowfall continued through the night. The fear that the tent might collapse on us kept us awake, tapping the roof every now and then not letting the soft snow accumulate on the top. Though it worked for a while, the snow started piling up on the sides and the metal poles holding the tent slowly started bending inwards. But it wasn't quite frightening as we slipped in and out of sleep, till we had a look at the situation the next morning. By 3 in the morning the snowfall stopped and we got out onto a carpet of soft snow. As the weather looked relatively good, we decided to walk up to Goecha La pass. The Russian contingent who were camping nearby were also getting ready for the early morning trek.

By four in the morning 9 of us started for Goecha La, while the rest of the gang decided to sleep for a while more. As we started the climb in the sub zero temperatures I could feel the cold and altitude finally getting on to me. The arrogance of wearing shorts in that climate was being dearly paid for. After a 45 minutes walk we reached the other side of the hill and got the first glimpse of Samiti Lake. There was an abandoned log cabin by the lake and the whole setting looked awesome in the morning light. By then it started snowing again, this time accompanied by strong winds. As the morning sun colored the skies a dull blue, myself and Gokul decided to spend some time around the lake clicking pictures. Once the sun is fully out, the reflection from the snow is so blinding that the pictures will all be washed out. Though the intention was to resume the climb a little later, we were so captivated by the beauty of the place and finally decided to abandon the climb, a decision which proved wise as the day progressed.

Samiti lake looked so serene and calm, bordered by snow clad peaks on all sides. Brightly colored birds flying around the shores, prayer flags fluttering in the wind, howling sound of the wind and the snowflakes together gave a special charm to the morning. We walked around the lake a few times and soon realized we were in fact walking over the frozen lake itself, carefully camouflaged under the soft snow. We soon moved towards the log cabin and started working on Snowie, the snowman. We used a biscuit packet for his nose, some branches and twigs for his arms and hair. By the time we were done with Snowie, the guys who had gone ahead also came back, the weather was so bad that they could not proceed much, though they got a nice glimpse of Kanchenjunga from another view point. We also learned that one of the ladies from the Russian contingent had severe bleeding and will have to be airlifted for urgent medical treatment. Inspite of some great protective gear (far superior to ours) and precautions, nature at times have the last laugh!

By the time we walked back to the camp site the guys were all up and running and were busy making their own snowman. Miles and miles of white snow was all that we could see from the hilltop, with the tents looking like stray droplets of color on an otherwise blank canvas. Some of the Yaks had ran away in the night and the porters had gone to fetch them. We had some nice hot breakfast and started packing the stuff for our return journey, playing with snow all the while. By 11 we started the day's trek and after lunch at Thangshing, we finally reached the cabin at Kokchurung by 4 in the evening. This stretch was mostly through flat terrain and intermittent rains made it all the more fun. We were planning to stay inside the cabin for the night, but as it was too crowded for the 25 of us, Alfonso, Robert and myself decided to pitch a tent by the riverside. We had a terrific view of mount Pandim from there and the gushing waters of Prek Chu made it even more an experience to camp outside than in the log cabin.

After setting up the tent few of us went exploring the area, the bridges, rhododendron forests and the crystal clear Prek Chu. Alfonso wanted to take a dip and it took just about 35 seconds for him to get out of his clothes, take a dip and get back inside them! Perched on the rocks outside the tent, with 'Almost Dusty' for company, I took out my harmonica and played a few tunes to my heart's content. The feeling you get as the sound waves reverberate through the valleys and the pine forests, is something my limited vocabulary is incapable of reproducing.

We had started our return journey, but it was far from over yet. After some hot rice and rice kheer we all went to sleep, happy and contented at a mission almost accomplished!

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Day 1: To Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom to Tshoka
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Day 4: Dzongri to Lamuney
Day 5: To Samiti & Kockchurung
Days 6 & 7: Back to Tshoka & Yuksom
Days 8 & 9: To Darjeeling

Pictures from the trek here

Goecha La Trek: Day 4 - Dzongri to Lamuney

'What time is it, is it 3 yet?', someone or other kept yelling every hour that night. Such was the excitement on the prospect of seeing mount Kanchenjunga up close and personal the next morning, in fact one of the major attractions of the trek. Dabla Khang, the view point near Dzongri is one of the best places to witness the majesty of Kanchenjunga and its brithers Kabru, Rathong, Simvo, Tensinghan and Pandim. This view point is atop a hillock some 2 kilometers from the cabin. Some of the gang decided to skip this four kilometer warm up session and decided to conserve energy for the day's long trek to Lamuney. The rest of us didn't want to miss the sunrise and started by 3 in the morning. It wasn't an easy climb in the starlight, and the Overnight dew and resultant frost had given a white coat to all the shrubs and grass, making the terrain all the more slippery. It was freezing cold too and we had a tough time climbing so early in the morning. Arghaya, our guide, had already downed a few glasses of Roxy and he was running up the hill, giggling like a small kid who is about to view something majestic. And majestic it was!
We reached the view point well ahead of the sunrise. There was another group of Australians, who were camping on the other side of this hillock, also joined us on top. There is a small Buddhist altar of worship where Arghaya offered some incense, as we all sang "Om Mani Padme Hum". Soon sunny boy came out of his slumber and the hue of the horizon slowly changed from gray to Red to orange and finally to a fine yellow. we all stood in awe as KJ and brothers put up a show amidst the golden rays of a rejuvenated sun. Our campsite was visible as a tiny spec of blue towards one side and the vast Lamuney valley towards the other side of the hillock. After a few photos with KJ and bros, we soon started our descent. We had a pretty long walk ahead of us for the day. Instead of camping either at Kokchrung or Thangshing, our plan was to walk all the way to Lamuney valley, and camp there overnight. To accomplish this we had to start as early as possible.

After giving the folks who stayed back in the cabin an exaggerated account of the Kanchenjunga darshan, we soon packed our stuff and started the day's trek. From Dzongri it is a steep climb initially, followed by some vast grasslands, at the end of which you get a magnificent view of Lamuney valley with Prek Chu flowing right through the middle. The snow clad mountains of Pandim stands guard on one side of the valley while another rocky cliff borders the other. The descent down to Kokchrung is quite steep and hard on the knees, though the rhododendrons in all different colors are everywhere along the path. By the time we reached the log hut at Kokchrung, we had also lost about 1200 feet in altitude. The thought of gaining this altitude back on our return trip was quite terrifying, but thankfully we had other plans. We had a short break at Kokchrung, from where we crossed the gushing Prek Chu river to the other side of the valley. Rest of the 3 kilometers walk to Thangshing was entirely through a pine forest where every piece of wood was covered by bright yellow moss. It was kind of spooky at some places, even at noon.

We stopped at Thangshing for lunch, where you have a nice grassland for camping and a dilapidated stone hut for some protection from the winds. Mount Pandim looms large on the other side of the hut and some prefer to camp here for the night. We decided to walk another 4 kilometers to Lamuney, and camp on this side of Samiti lake. It would have been better had we camped at Thangshing, from safety point of view. But then we would have definitely missed out the fun of huddling inside the tent in the night, as it snowed from 9PM to 2AM, hoping that the tent won't come down on us! We all reached Lamuney by 5 in the evening and started with the pakodas and horlicks. By the time we finished dinner it was getting real cold and in no time it started snowing. For most of us, this was the first encounter with soft snow, and the darkness or cold could not stop us from running around, clicking snaps and howling at the stop of our voices like a pack of wolves!

Our destination for the next day was Goecha La mountain pass, but the snowfall made us think twice about attempting the pass. It is always treacherous to climb to that heights when there is snowfall. Tracing your way back to the camp becomes a herculean task in the constant snowfall, even if you assume that you won't run into avalanches or slippery ice. The best time to reach Goecha La is before sunrise and this made it even more risky. We decided to postpone the decision till the next day morning at 3, after analyzing the situation. When we took our positions in the tents, we all had mixed feelings - the prospect of playing around in soft snow next morning and the possibility of canceling any further climb. Soon I slipped into sleep, listening to the sound of 'snowflakes falling on the tent'.

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Day 1: To Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom to Tshoka
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Day 4: Dzongri to Lamuney
Day 5: To Samiti & Kockchurung
Days 6 & 7: Back to Tshoka & Yuksom
Days 8 & 9: To Darjeeling

Pictures from the trek here

Goecha La Trek: Day 3 - Tshoka to Dzongri

The day starts quite early in the mountains. By 4 in the morning people will be up and on with the day's chores. I woke up to the sound of the Yak bells. The Yaks are let loose every evening for grazing and then rounded up the next morning. They rarely stray too far, generally stay together as a herd and the bells on their neck help to locate them. I was treated with an awesome view of the snow clad mount Pandim as I crept out of the tent. The sun was almost out and Tshoka looked beautiful in the morning light.

Tshoka is a small village with some 10 houses and a couple of wooden cabins for the trekkers. There is a small lake right in the middle of the village and a small Buddhist temple on a hillock. The whole arrangement of houses and the green pastures reminded me of the Shire from LOTR. After some hot coffee and a quick breakfast of Chole-Batura, we started the day's trek by 7. Our destination was a log cabin at Dzongri, at an altitude of 4,020 meters. Altitude had started taking its toll and a few in our group were having headaches and dizziness even after a good night's acclimatisation. We had to gain another 1,000 meters altitude to reach Dzongri and the rains in the night had made the pathways a lot slippery. At some places where it is steep and muddy, wooden logs were laden along the pathway and this made an otherwise strenuous climb a lot easy. It was around Tshoka that we saw the first Rhododendrons.

We were passing through Rhododendron territory and they were all around, in all colors ranging from the reds to the purples to the yellows to the whites. You find them in patches of a single color, painting an entire hillside or valley red or yellow. Almost midway to Dzongri, in the middle of red and yellow rhododendron forest is a meadow called Phedang. There is a small log cabin there as well and trekkers generally stop here for lunch. Soon we unpacked all the left over chole-bature from breakfast and sat down for some much needed rest and lunch. There was heavy mist all around and with the swift winds it was playing hide and seek on the landscape. It was wonderful to sit there amidst all the color and enjoy the lunch on a Tuesday afternoon. The dogs, Wolfi, Zulu and Dusty were running all around chasing pieces of cloud here and there, when they are not sharing lunch with one of us.

It was getting too misty to walk as we finished dinner, nevertheless we resumed our journey to Dzongri. Phedang to Dzongri is a wonderful climb through dense Rhododendron forests; there are more than 400 flowering species it seems! After a few hours of walk the vegetation gets thinner and you find only small bushes and shrubs. The sky was looking menacing already, with some heavy clouds and the guide warned us about possible hailstorms. As he rightly guesssed it came upon us in no time. It was fun initially to enjoy the pieces of ice that fall all over you. Though we ran around the place in the initial enthusiasm, hail storms can soon get frustrating, especially when you are a long way away from the destination. Thankfully this one was short and only lasted for some 15 minutes. We picked up pace as we had some flat land ahead of us and soon we could see the log cabin at Dzongri.

We were the last to reach Dzongri, taking all the time in the world to enjoy the beauty all around. Rest of the gang was huddled around hot pakodas and tea by the time we reached, and it is a great feeling to walk into such a reception from a hailstorm. Almost minutes after we started munching on the Onion and Potato pakodas another hailstorm and rain started. This one was heavy and we were happy to watch the spectacle from the security of the log cabin. After the storm the sun came out in all its glory and we were treated to some beautiful landscapes all around. Sinsinayya Subba and her family takes care of the log hut at Dzongri, who lives there 6 months a year, growing carrots, peas and tomatoes. She had some home made rice wine called Roxy, with her and few of us decided to taste it out. It tasted much like Vodka and was such a help in fighting the cold.

As night progressed it became extremely cold at Dzongri and we decided not to pitch tents and instead sleep inside the cabin. Space was never a constraint as 20 odd people squeezed themselves into the two small rooms! With the plan to start the next day's trek at 3 in the morning, we all slept early in the anticipation of seeing the 'five treasures of snow' the next morning. That is the meaning of the word 'Kangchenjunga', the third tallest mountain in the world.

Click here for more..

Day 1: To Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom to Tshoka
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Day 4: Dzongri to Lamuney
Day 5: To Samiti & Kockchurung
Days 6 & 7: Back to Tshoka & Yuksom
Days 8 & 9: To Darjeeling

Pictures from the trek here
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