Archive for April, 2010

The Seven Essentials To Hitchhiking

The love for the great outdoors drives the sense of adventure to perpetually unfathomable heights. One can gaze as far as the eye can behold, and yet gape at the astounding infinity that lies even further.  And somewhere within this wilderness, lies the path – the path that nudges you ever onward: to places unknown, to places mysterious, to places frenetic.

But, this sense of adventure can very soon come full circle. Have you ever found yourself stranded in this very open wilderness somewhere along this serpentine or sometimes very linear path. A trajectory that shoots you off into the very infinities of well, nothing. Hopelessness, desperation- you name it , it comes down as a very mighty blow knocking the winds out off your sails. But hey, God was never that bad. He did find out a miracle drug of sorts. A drug  that even science failed to ponder upon. All lonely travellers, do pay very careful attention as I introduce before you something very brilliant!

What could this be? Pfizer, Novartis and Ranbaxy may be eavesdropping here. But, like I said, this is no ordinary drug. Its the greatest gift God could have sent to stranded travellers around the world. And behold, i present before you the art of Hitchhiking.

Going to college these days is a very tedious task. Nothing short of a trek to some venerated temple high up in the mountains. A burden passing through a highway, civilization and places devoid of it. But there is always that wonderful soul, always eager to share his empty pillion seat. That welcoming smile across that beaming face works wonders, some Miracle Drug that even U2 could never conjure up!!

So, the question stills lingers, how does one hitch a ride. Well here are seven handy essentials if ever you needed one.

1) The Thumbs Up: If Akshay Kumar can , so can you. Get that thumb up high with your fist closed. The thumb must always point towards the direction of our

destination. I know I really sounds stupid, but, if you cant get this right, you’re doomed for the great walk.

2) The Roadie Quotient: Act all ragged, lost and forlorn. If required, tear off some shreds from your clothing( Sufficient not to reveal unnecessary details).   A rucksack on your back wound immensely assist.Baggy clothes, T-shirts(those from the hippie-era) encourage the ‘roadie’ appeal.

3) The Location: The traveller must understand that he’s never going to get any lifts, if he’s  eagerly waiting for one at the Interstate bus terminus or the curb near Mc’Donalds. The location must be desolate, desolate enough for even God to get the anxiety bites. Serene, yet remote; a car passing by every second hour, devoid of telephonic interferences- that’s how remote it should be.

4) The Predator And The Prey : “Tiger tiger burning bright, Into the forests of the night…”, a poem that I recall from school days defines how the blood thirsty and savage the traveller must become. No, I desist from asking you to transform into some carnivore, but the attitude must be so. Any vehicle is good enough. A ride is a ride none theless. But if one were to opt for the glamour quotient, one would nonetheless stop expensive bikes and SUV’s, giving the mopeds, tractors and other means of transport a miss.

5) Assets And Liabilities: No I’m not referring to tax returns here. You need the right gear to get this art straight. Caps, goggles, a rucksack, good shoes and some money(if the time arrived when you actually had to spend on public transport rather than get a free ride).

6) Nourishment: To add to point 5, one really needs to store essential things in his rucksack for survival. Make sure you’ve got lots of nourishment.It may be hours before you really get a ride.The sweat may flow through those furrowed creases across your forehead. The stomach may start grumbling. Your inner senses may get the better of you. Get some food before its too late.

7) Patience: I thought just one word would be sufficient to summarize this vital ingredient to hitch-hiking.

S0 budding hitchhikers across the world- if ever you doth set foot on that metalled road, make sure you have these essentials in the back of your mind. Because, without them and I do guarantee, you’ll be nowhere and will be singing “Country road, take me home…” all through the night.


Culture Capers

Random Rantings: Vol 1

The Passivity of this Pundit is questioned quite frequently; almost everyday infact. I often see things around me and wonder “Why?” and sometimes wonder, “Why god! Why? ” but then I resign and reconcile to those things because I know that the closest I’ll get to changing them is when I try do them my own way and make a fool of myself in the process. But there’s a critical point, a saturation limit, to how much one can ignore stuff  and accept the idiocy around them. One way to let out your frustration is to type it out on a list and publish it on a blog  that less than 0.0001% of the world is going to read. Still that won’t hamper the spirit of this Pundit who’s out to bash every crook who ever took human intelligence for granted. To start with, here’s the first list (among a predictably long series of lists) of things I’ve never come to make peace with:

1. Canned Fruits

The best excuse for healthy food. It’s like someone was watching TV lying on their sofa and thought “Hey, I wonder if I could sell cut up fruits floating in preservatives in an almost impossible to open tin can?” Worse, these things can have a shelf life of about 3 years. Whoever thought eating a fruit that was harvested 3 years ago was “Fine because it was preserved” in my eyes, needs psychological treatment.

2. Non-3.5mm Jacks

As if wires getting tangled around your face wasn’t trouble enough, nowadays you’ve got to deal with the problem of earphones which won’t fit your brand new mobile. Each brand seems to come up with its own kind of unique port into which only exclusive company manufactured earphones will fit. So now you have to run around looking for converters which will help you use your personal earphones, which you spent a fortune on, on your mobile. Excuse me Nokia, Sony Ericsson! Ever heard of universal compatibility?

3.  The Snooze Option

Remember the last time you woke up to the alarm on your mobile only to select the snooze option and go back to sleep again? It’s probably the biggest reason why people are late to work, school (discounting laziness and actual lack of sense of punctuality) Whoever came up with this idea must’ve hated people getting to work on time. Its like telling your body “Don’t worry buddy we’ll be up in 5 more minutes” until you realize that it’s half past noon and your boss is ready to skin you.

4. When the Spell check doesn’t recognize British spellings

This must be the most annoying thing British journalists face everyday with their document processing applications. Imagine typing a spelling which you know is right, only to find that the spell check doesn’t recognize the word. Thats because Americans were too thick skinned to accept the British way of spelling words. You will often find me working on my desk going “Damn you Microsoft Word! I will spell ‘Colour’ as ‘Colour’ and NOT as ‘Color’! You can do what you want!”

5. Paying millions for personalized license plates

This one I just don’t get. As if the hotshot Merc/BMW wasn’t proof enough of them being filthy rich, these boneheads want personalized license plates for their rides. Some go for their birthdays, others go for their “lucky numbers”. Mate, if you get run over by a semi from behind, whats written on your license plate number isn’t gonna help! And neither will your lucky number do you any good. Then there are wise asses who pay millions for numbers like 1234, 7777, and single digit numbers. The only people who benefit from these easy to remember numbers are the cops. You cant run a red light and expect to get away with it when you have “1” written in bold, foolishly hanging there on your license plate! Hell you can’t even flee a murder scene without being noticed. Thats the deal breaker for me right there!

Stay tuned for more. Because who doesn’t want to hear a guy complaining about random stuff? 😉

The Curious Case of the South Indian Thali

It’s 7 am on a lazy Sunday morning. The scent of the early morning mist still lingers in the air as the local newspaper boy does his rounds of the colony on his battered yet endearing bicycle. Distant echoes of street hawkers selling vegetables ring in my ear, but in some way I find it strangely soothing. With last night’s sumptuous meal long digested, my stomach growls as though warning me of a being that has been left unfed. The warm cozy mattress calls out to me like a lost child to its parent. Torn between my desire for sweet slumber and a hot breakfast, I shake myself to consciousness and make an early morning walk to the nearby South Indian restaurant.

Not halfway to the place,  I find the aroma of various delicacies filling my senses as I force my way forward with large strides that would make a soldier proud. I take my usual place at the ratty table on the corner of the rustic yet appealing dining area. Like bees to honey, I find that a bunch of people have now swarmed the place, with intentions very similar to mine. I find it hard to concentrate on the haphazardly prepared menu whose half crumpled portions have been religiously joined time and time again after various careful alterations to the prices. Not minding the utter confusion on that piece of paper, I look at the half disinterested face of the waiter and ask for the South Indian Breakfast Thali. For those of you non-Indians who haven’t heard of the term or those of you Indians who’ve probably been living all their life in a remote cave, a South Indian Thali is a blend of famous South Indian dishes served in a round plate (Thali) with limited attention given to your ability to maneuver over and across them. Astutely designed mini containers line the edge of the stainless steel plate and contain a variety of delightfully rich curries that one would take ages to fully discover and decrypt. A pint sized collection of starters, a main course and dessert are hurriedly assembled together with consummate ease.

I anxiously wait at my table, all the while consoling that beast inside me that now demands evasive action. I can’t help but notice the synchronized orchestra of movements all around me as waiters meticulously carry mouth watering delicacies to the prospective customers. How they nonchalantly appear to carry a humanly impossible number of tumblers and cups of hot tea totally bewilder me. They seem to speak an ancient and extinct language of gestures and hardly plausible, abbreviated sentences with grace and aplomb. Everything seems to be in perfect symmetry in the middle of total randomness as there exists an invisible telepathic network between the various departments of this little production line. The conveyor belt seems to churn out an unending line of well refined products as the demand for them steadily increases through the day. A small wonder in todays age of electronic engagement, yet a wonder to be marveled upon nonetheless.

A Traditional South Indian Vegetarian Lunch Thali

At long last the object of my desire seems to appear over the horizon as the waiter approaches my table with a steaming hot Thali carefully balanced on his superhuman palm. The ever familiar sight greets me as I plan to navigate through the crowd of exotic South Indian treats laid out in front of me. I dig into the traditional “Masala Dosa”, and like a man on a mission I move on with a determination that I hope will quieten the now whimpering beast in me. A few minutes later,  I have accomplished my task as only unrecognizable shards of my indulgence remain on the plate. I finish off the formalities that follow any Indian meal as I sip on a hot cup of tea and ponder over my plans for the predictably uneventful weekend.

As I make my way back to my extraordinarily ordinary life, I admire the beauty of Indian cuisine, the love of which is probably my only claim to being an ethnic Indian. And as the road takes a bend to the right, I have a final glance at the modern day sanctuary of proud South Indians whose food, just like their hospitality, leaves everyone supremely content and longing for more.

Towards Uttarkashi

What is that impetus that drives man towards the conquest for Mokhsha or Nirvana? What is that insatiable feeling that urges him along that solitary road, that path which gradually narrows up to a trickle as he nears his destination? Infatuation or Disenchantment – its left for the reader to brood upon.

A very scattered plan set up the tempo for this pundit’s next travelling foray. The destination this time- Uttarkashi. An unlikely location for the ubiquitous Indian “tourist”- all too accustomed with the grandeur and splendours of mahals, waterfalls, minars, forts , crowded beaches, hill-stations and the like. The plan was scattered and patched up the night before, with the route still remaining undecided.

Cometh the hour and cometh the man. We made very early headway at seven in the morning, avoiding the traffic and being witness to some majestic scenery. The sunlight was slowly permeating its way through the alpine forests and the heavy mist that lay within – creating spectacular rays of light past the highway. The Mussourie road was climbing ever faster, the serpentine road slowly ascending ambitious heights- towards zentiths where very few had ever been!!

We stopped at Maggi Point for breakfast en-route, the name of the location being synonymous with the merchandise sold. Sitting on an armchair, having a bowl of hot steaming maggi in the cold morning and gazing down at the Dehradun valley was nothing short of a brilliant start!!

The hysteria reached greater levels as the ascent gathered steam towards its very climax. The air grew chillier- the sun shone brighter. The “Stunner” was now screeching, begging for repose. A few moments later found us 2000 metres above sea-level at the Queen of the hills – Mussourie. We decided upon taking a not oft taken route to Uttarkashi. A local had advised us against the route citing its remoteness. But, who cared. We had the whole day before us. A small road winded past the western end of the picturesque town past a few hotels. We went past some horse-riders who apparently were from the defence. We flew past their disgruntled neighs and meandered down the road mostly past whistling pines. An hour later we found ourselves near Kempty falls.

Further on, the asphalt trickled down to meagre rocky mix. Heavy trucks laden with who knew what went past us sending shockwaves down our spines. Aditya had a hard time, we being nearly hit a couple of times. A tributary of the Yamuna accompanied us along our left within the deep chasm as we approached Nainbagh.

Our initial plan was following NH-123 towards Barkot and beyond. Our steely resolve, however, went for a toss. We were convincingly won over by this gentleman who advised us to follow a road was a good 40 kms shorter. The economics behind his idea won us over: his wit and guile simply “mindblasting”, as Russel Peters, the stand-upcomedian would remark.

So saying adieu to the quaint town of Nainbagh, we headed beyond past vales, trees, boys on horses, boys with dogs, small children with who knew what!! The shortcut made numerous ascents and descents. The gravel was not a big hit with our back though. Civilization was getting thinner with every passing second.  Even the all too familiar telephone towers were missing. An hour later we collided back with NH-123 after having supposedly “missed” 40 kms and the town of  Barkot.

The next ascent brought us to the top of yet another Shivalik hill and the next forestry division and the district of Uttarkshi. The roads were definitey of those of the pre-independence era. The asphalt was missing in all the wrong places. To be very honest- everywhere. The dirt road glided down the valley past massive pine vales under the blanket of the azure skies. Rhodenderons shaded our way throughout. We hadn’t encountered a human soul in over 3 hours now!!

Then at last, out of the blue – an Accent emerged. It was one of the best sights that we had seen the entire day. Proof that civilization hath still not been lost in these remote parts.An hour and a few kilometres later, we stopped at a village for samosas. As we trooped down to the village in our gear, the local lads and lasses giggled in awe – as though Martians had landed in their mist. The adverse yet scenic road brought us to the peak of yet “another” hill-top. The first view of the Bhagirathi was nothing short of spectacular. One could clearly see a small air-strip in the background as well.

We drifted down to the valley floor on neutral gear and found ourselves at Dharasu Power station a good twenty minutes later. Dharasu is actually the junction point for the Yamunotri and Gangotri. A solid one hour drive along the battered Bhagirathi brought us to our destination Uttarkashi.

Uttarkashi is a quaint little town that lies at the very periphery of civilization. A petrol pump, a suspension bridge, a few hotels, numerous temples, a  single market with a sleazy theatre is what constitutes this town. To be honest – I was rather disappointed. After 203 kms and this was it? A quick bite followed by trip across the river, we found ourselves at Joshiyara, apparently the “twin town” to Uttarkashi. 2 kms upwards lay the sprawling campus of the
Nehru institute of Mountaineering. It was eestablished by the first Prime Minister of India – Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. The fresh air up amidst the pines emancipated our emaciated minds from the fatigue. A little museum is housed within the sprawling campus containing rare artefacts, tools and informative displays on mountaineering. The museum is however opened “ONLY” on request.

We were recommended by the curator of the museum, to a short trek to a place called Nachiketa  Tal –  which was a good hour away from Joshiyara. The late afternoon skies brought along with it chilly winds. The dark side of the valley compelled us into a warmer attire. We reached Chowranghi Khal at hlaf past four in the evening. Having parked the “Stunner” (that had alreadly had got its wind knocked out of its sails) at a teal stall, we briskly started with the 3km trek. As we found out, the “3 km” part was a major understatement. The ascent was ridiculously steep as Aditya found out the hard way. But his steely resolve was commendable. He was with a passive pundit after all!!

The trek had a few flight of stairs, a couple of resting points and scitillating vistas of the surrounding countryside. The Nachiketa Tal lay quietly nestled within the hills, perched on a narrow ravine, camouflaged all around by sprawling pines and scrubs. There was a Shiv temple at one end. The entry to the tal was guarded my this mysterious looking Godman who was very vociferous when it came to taking his pictures. He shooed us off , which we exceedingly obliged. Scary!!

The run down the hill was a bit of a breeze really. We finished it off by another 20 minutes. We left the tea-stalled owners with bewildered looks with our bounties of ‘miraculous and godsent’ stamina!! The sunset had loomed into the horzion as we drove back towards Uttarkashi. In the darkness, we had an encounter with a furry kind; a small fox jumped out of the jungle, followed us for a moment and scampered back into the darkness. At about seven, the shimmering lights of the temple town welcomed us  back. We took a moment to listen to the sounds of the evening arati that resonated around the valley.

Daybreak at Uttarkashi was one of the most spectacular things you’d eve see. An apparent ray of light apparently touched the Bhagirathi as the Sun moved over  one wall of the valley. The day begun with a quick visit to the Uttarkashi Vishwanath Temple, famed for its large tilted shivlinga. We followed National Highway 108 from Dharasu. The road was very well metalled and a joy to drive on. The Bhagirathi forever guided us on our left. On the way we encounteredhamlets like Kandi-Saur, Chiniyali Saur and the like. We encountered a rather peculiar flat hill en route. Apparently, the Bhagirathi turned static, its color turning to turquoise from the muddy brown. It was clearly apparent what damage dam-building had done to the enitre valley. The entire eco-system had been ripped to shreds, the rivers at times being choked to microrivers.

The near level road suddenly took a route up for the skies about 2 hours from the start. The road clung on the hills like a child to her mother.The air was icy cold, the shadowy regions chilly. the road meandered endlessly, never ceasing to test our tempers. Massive pinecones lay strewn all over the road. Chamba lay perched on a hill a good 2000 meters above sea level. The expansive views of the Himalayas from these roads are a sight for  sore eyes and for shutterbugs alike. You can get a glimpse of the mountains until somewhere near Mussourie. The famed Nanda Devi, The Bandar Poonch range could be clearly visible. The shoddy Chamba -Dhanaulti-Muusourie road was again a departure from the brilliant road that we had enjoyed throughout the day. From the heights of Mussourie, it was again a quick plunge down the much familiar Dehradun road, and thus marked the end of yet another memorable trip.

Below are some of the pictures. Do click on them for larger views.

Early morning on the Mussourie Road.

View of a hill, somewhere towards Dharasu

The treacherous Road!!

A view of the Bhagirathi valley.

Uttarkashi in the distance

Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi

A view of the trek path to Nachiketa Tal

Another view

At Nachiketa Tal

Sunset up in the mountains

The Uttarkashi Vishwanath Temple

Sunrays kissing the Ghats at Uttarkashi

A view of the NH-108 towards Chamba(seen on the top)