July 02, 2017

Leh Liya

*
The funny thing about the toothbrush that you forget to pack - 
Is that it reminds you that its not like you are never coming back
***

*
De-Kaak did what a Kaak does best. He stood up, ...whenever required. And fell as well - sometimes without honor and elegance. So did I. So did De-Bong. Amongst the usual many, the three of us had made the successful transition from 'Leh Trip' whatsapp group to the 'Sahi me Leh jane wale' whatsapp group. And after a fairly considerable number of cold fucks given (and taken) for every kilometer covered, some well counted tumbles, pitch dark nights, bitch cold winds, a lifetime of snow - thunder - rain - mountains - boulders - rivulets - waterfalls and a la la of passes (rohtang la, barlacha la, lachung la, tangla la, chang la, khardung la, terimaka la) later, those 515 Kms were inched. It took so much. It gave so much.
If nothing, atleast de-Kaak fulfilled his dream of eating 'biscuit in Diskit*', 'pastry in monastery' and being made a 'Burbak** in Durbak***' by the time the journey had (un)folded.

*Diskit is a place in Nubra Valley, Laddakh, J&K
**'Burbak' means 'a dim-wit but not necessarily an asshole' in local Bihari lingo
***Durbak is a place in Laddakh one crosses enroute Pangong Tso (The 3 Idiots Lake) 

Sooo ZEN!
Disclaimers

explicit language
do not read between the lines
rights to exaggeration and bragging reserved
its not how it happened; its how I remember it
no characterization intended
data and information may have been skewed to suit the story-line
everything is relative to your perspective

***



The sky is bluer on the other side...
Its not just the grass. And its the other things too. And its beyond vocabulary and pixels to express or capture them. Nevertheless, an effort with both has been promised. Since the weary of word are in majority (myself experiencing a shift as well), I will throw in the pixels first.

The Road to Leh is the first and the longest of the multiple videos in this post. Again, this compilation is merely a part of the big whole that those sights are... - stitched together what our limited pixel prowess could capture (and when I could delve into the daredevilry of pillion riding on bumpy tracks/roads with both hands free - often glove-less in biting cold).
Special mention to de-Kaak's de-laand 'GoPro' (itek) with which we shot the best parts of the journey - only to throw it all away in the end as those five fucking GBs were the most unusable bit of footage shot in history of trip-video making. Losing those shots were demoralizing to the extent of not wanting to write this post. However, the blue calm was still captive within - or the other way around. Here's what our good old phones could muster.



The ideal way to go about the narrative would be to do it linearly - describing the events in the order in which they happened. Not doing that here. Rather, going by the memory slate, will be putting down the stickiest ones first.

Like all the wise men said - Its the journey..
Its as cliched as it gets. But actually - the arrival in Leh - after those 515 KMs scaled over almost 4 days - was very anti-climatic. You are riding - riding - riding - and you are in Leh. No big gates or banners of welcome.
But then, a while later it does sink in and you feel like putting up that 'feeling accompolished' status of facebook (thankfully no internet).

And you realise -
...that the journey was great - all those permutation and combinations of lands and scapes (which you will tell yourself that you had seen in one movie or another), phasing from one form to another.

...that the journey was unpredictable - as many people you will ask about how much time will it take to get to XYZ place, as many answers you will get. Each with their own description of road condition and weather report. The variance lied between reaching some place in 'do ghanta' (2 hours) to 'ghanta pahunchoge aaj wahan' (you will not reach there today <in a sarcastic tone>).

...that the journey was tough - the oxygen wasn't the only thing thinning, but also the will (at times). Bikes break down. Bitch cold water streams to cross. Snow storms chasing you. Long lines of vehicles at passes. Finding campsite before sundown (thankfully that happens at 8 PM!). Long bad stretches of road (or the absence of it).

...that whatever the journey may have put you through - at the end of it - there are no regrets - but plain satisfaction and the sense of contentment and self appreciation (irrespective of how many times you fell).
Once we were relieved of our bikes (some Manali-Leh association spat which resulted in our bikes being taken away), we checked into a proper hotel after the longest time and celebrated the completion of phase one grooving to 'come together' <video below>.






The Falls
All through the way, there were numerous waterfalls, some even frozen. But this section is not about them. Its about you being sprawled on tarmac, gravel and dust, occasionally with  a 180 Kg machine on you.
As we were keeping count, the final score was 1 for de-Bong, 5 for me and 9 (5+4) for de-Kaak. On four instances, me and Kaak tumbled together. First two were in Manali itself - much before it could be blamed on the road or the altitude. There was no grace involved. On a jammed hairpin curve enroute Rohtang, we both lay face down embracing our bike.
The onlookers asked, 'Kahan tak jane ka plan hai?' 
'Leh', we said. 
Leaving their expressive retort to our and your imagination, we got back on the wheels, and fell again.
me - 2
de Kaak - 2
de Bong - 0

You would think that that was enough for the day. So did I. And I m sure so did de-Kaak. But then we crossed Rohtang, and the roads disappared. The path was wet and muddy and was strewn with boulders and ditches. Barely moving at 5 KM/Hr, it was an effort in itself to be not thrown off the bike into the ravine running side by side. Then came the treacherous point. de-Bong navigated it first. We could see that it was difficult. On our turn over it, the weight of ours and the machine swerved too much to the right. We were sprawled face down again. Feet stuck under the weight of the bike. I do not blame de-Kaak for this one. This was all centre of mass and gravity.
Like last time, we got onto the wheels after letting the moment pass. Like last time, we fell again.

me - 4
de-Kaak - 4
de-Bong - 0

The first one for de-Bong and the last one for me came to pass on the third day - about 5 kms before our stop for the day. The curve again was way too gravely for the wheels to not skid.

me - 5
de-Kaak - 4
de-Bong - 1

de-Kaak had his final fall about 50 Kms before reaching Leh. He was parking the bike and the bike kicked him off a good 5 feet away. It was too unfair to count this as 1 fall, so de-Kaak's falls were doubled. Later he was awarded one more for his GoPro fiasco. Take that de-Kaak.

me - 5
de-Kaak - 9
de-Bong - 1






In Summary - Things started with a flight from Bangalore to Delhi and then an overnight Bus to Manali - from where we started off on 2 Royal Enfield 350. A less than ideal 4 PM start towards Rohtang la saw us driving in dark for the last 10 KMs. Koksar was the first pit-stop. Having made ourselves believe that we had covered a tough (details in later part) 60 KMs on day 0 itself, Day one was started off on quite a chilled note. Another late start and 60 KMs later, de-Bong's bike refused to start - making us come back 7 KMs to Keylong. The day was lost to bike servicing. After overcoming the de-Kaak's demoralising vibes to ditch bikes and take the rest of the tour on 4-wheels, we had a determined early morning start the next day. And one by one we crossed one milestone after another. Jispa - Darcha - Patseo - Zingzing Bar - Barlacha la - Sarchu. Sarchu was to be the stop for the day, but we were there at 3 PM itself. A good five hours of daylight left. with another 250 KMs remaining, we thought to cover another 80 on the same day and set off to Pang. Getting to Pang meant crossing the Gata-Loops (22 hairpin bends) and the Lachung la pass. The great day as it was for us, we ended it at Pang without much hassle (other than de-Kaak dropping off his petrol keg which we thankfully spotted lying on the road).
The final stretch was the best in terms of road and weather conditions. The only hurdle being de-Kaak's de-Ch** bike...

de-Kaak ka de-Ch** Bike
Ever since we crossed that big water crossing after Zingzingbar on Day 3, de-Kaak's bike seemed to lose all power whenever the gradient was greater than 5%. Any sign of an uphill climb and de-Kaak's bike would refuse to move at a velocity greater than 6.2 KM/Hr.
The water crossing we blamed it on was indeed the most difficult one of all that were crossed. The current was rapid, depth was over ankle high and the rocks and stones weren't settled enough for wheels to traverse over easily.
To help your imagination, remember that the great army of Alexander returned home just because they got stuck on a water crossing.

De-Bong managed to get his bike across with some difficulty. de-Kaak followed and got stuck. I went into the water and tried to push de-Kaak through. Water in the boots was the worst nightmare, but all that sacrifice still wasnt helping the bike move forward. Someone (also helping us push through) said - 'silencer me pani ja rha hai'. That made as much sense to me as the lyrics 'tamanche pe disco' does. It took another effort from de-Bong to get this bike off. But the damage had seemingly been done.
Every climb there onwards took de-Kaak one step closer to attaining Zen.
I dont feel he can ever forget the climb to Tangla la the next day. We wont let him.

The next big water crossing that came our way was on the way to Nubra valley (from Pangong) - it was literally crossing Indus on wheels and thankfully, by then we were on 4 of them instead of two and driving was left to the seasoned.



The places in between...

Koksar was the first place I thought I would like to get a tent and settle down...maybe start a family. It was a beautiful place surround by hills on three sides and a mighty waterfall coming in from one end and transitioning into a beautiful stream. Fantasies apart, Koksar was a big relief after the tumbles we had had post crossing Rohtang la.




Jispa - Sarchu - We didnt halt at these place overnight, else I m sure these would have replaced Koksar from the paragraph I wrote about it.
At Jispa, the tiny streams that had been running alongside seemed to have have swelled in volume. With even more number of snow capped peaks in view, this dwelling seemed ripe to bean up another fantasy.
Sarchu was where the landscapes changed. It had been hills and valleys all along. And then at Sarchu, it was an expanse of green on both ends and a thin tarmac strip running in between - bikes zooming by from both ends - hands rising in acknowledgement whenever two bikes crossed each other. Hills on one side and a deep gorge cut by the river on the other, Sarchu marked the end of Himachal bordered and we enetered J&K.









Pang was everything that we needed at the end of a gruesome day of riding for almost 12 hours. The arrival at Pang was even more welcome as it marked the end of the worst of the roads in the whole Manali-Leh stretch. The last 40 Kms leading to Pang in itself were quite challenging. One would wish for the road to end at every turn. Thats where we started getting the good road mirage  - where smooth tarmac seemed to be just around the corner but vanished as soon as you completed the turn.

Pang was located at the bottom of a ravine - the customary thick stream running across it and few warm camps and tents and strange sand/rock formations jutting out of mountains.
People had actually told us we may not find any stay options in Pang, but it actually replaced Koksar on my recent settlement plans.

Pang surprised me even more once we got out of there. It was like that was a separate universe altogether. Upon climbing out of the Pang ravine, we found ourselves in another vast stretch of green-grey-brown expanse. Looking at that, there was no way I could have said that we just climbed up. It was so flat. One could see Tangla la clearly in the distance (a good 70 kms away).





Nubra and Leh - Nubra, like Leh, was a little anti-climatic in nature. It was still beautiful - but the journey that we undertook to reach Leh/Nubra was in itself way more rewarding than the actual destination. Got full view of a cold desert, dunes and two-humped camels in Nubra.
Leh was like any other city, but with the most unique palace at its centre. It looked like all the houses were merged together to become one. I was walking in the streets trying to reach it and not being able to - only to find out that i was already inside it.





Pangong - Like i mentioned earlier, the blue is still captive within - and the other way around is true as well. You get the first view of the lake about 4 KMs before you actually reach it. There's no looking away from it that point onwards. The winds near it are chilly and its only so long that you can stand and stare at the blue waves smashing on the shore and the moving shadows of the clouds on the mountains on the other side of the lake.
We stayed the night at Pangong and as you can guess  - it replaced Koksar and Pang from the settlement storyboard.
The beautifully located tent we got for the night, only made the wish grow stronger. The 'tent' was way more than what we had come to expect of a tent. Here - have a peak below <video>.






Khardung la - this was one last Las in this trip filled with la crossings. The highest. The sunniest. Initially, bad weather threatened to remove it from our itinerary - but like everything else on the trip, when the time came, this came around too.




Nice Marmot
The final memory that will remain will be of the marmots we saw on the way to Pangong although what de-Kaak was looking for was a marmouth or Jeor Mormont.


***

The words like overwhelmed are made for experiences that getting in and around Leh is. You cant just be whelmed or underwhelmed. It was a journey that we were happy and sad to complete. It was tasking but totally worth it. It takes a lot and in the end, it gives you back enough to get back (without complaining for a while atleast) to being the busy and the tired and the pursuer and the pursued. 

*


***

"Julley"

*

March 05, 2017

Same Difference

For reasons (yet) unknown, the seat numbers for the Nok Airlines began from 31.
This was the only puzzling thing faced in this maiden venture of ours beyond borders of India. For four people who had never gotten their passports stamped, I believe we (planned) and navigated quite well through the international departure/arrival nuances (other than one of us being sent off from the Visa on Arrival desk to get a better picture of himself).
All in all, much to the relief of my anxious self, rest was a smooth sailing - from Bangalore airport to Don Muang - Bangkok and then the consequent transition into the domestic terminal for our flight to Phuket. Well, one of us did get 'jetleaded' - sleeping all the way to Phuket - later blaming it on the excitement which didn't let her sleep in the 48 hours that had gone by.

Now - one month later, I am looking back at those 7 days again. For the weary of words, below is a visual summary (of carefully picked pictures in which I m not looking/acting weird).



For the rest, I will just summarize the keywords that still stick on the my memory canvas.

Patong
More or less everything around resonated to the same frequency as that of any beach destination.
After walking the entire length of the beach, finally settled down in one cozy table of one of the many shore-side restaurants. Thats where the introduction to Singha happened. Not that there hasnt been a better beer that I have tasted, but dear Singha was a part of every meal I had in Thailand.

Bangla Road
Once the scales of soberness had been tipped over and the time of the night was well late, we took off to get back to the acquired accommodations. The way we came back had just transformed itself into the most un-recognizable form possible.
We were on the Bangla road - I guess the nomenclature is totally unrelated to the bengali language. We did have a bengali babu amongst us but his inference was the same as mine. All that, yet the atmosphere and mostly the crowd was no less than that you see during Durga Puja. Gods/goddesses might just smite me for taking their holi name along side the sin street.
Every step into the street and I had recollection of the many tips and to-dos which had been imparted to me before the beginning of this vacation.
I guess it was too many colors, too many lights and too many 'observations' to handle in one walk through the street - so we turned back for another. And then another.

Ping Pong
The number of people who screamed this name in my ear during the walks mentioned above is uncountable. I wish I could tell you what or what not it is but then some things should be just left for self discovery. If you are not careful enough, one of those girls (guys?) might just land a cracking styrofoam whip upon you and you will be left wondering what just happened. Just in case you are planning to do a google search for the same - please go incognito.

Phi Phi
The speed boat takes about 45 minutes to take you to Phi Phi and few other b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l islands around. The activity took the entire day. There are multiple spots you could let yourself down in the clear water and snorkel around. That day made me come back with a strong resolution to learn to swim. Rest of Phi Phi is sights (when have words ever sufficed, so I wont even attempt to).

Krabi
Krabi is the 'far from the madding crowd' version of Phuket. Even our accommodation was in the middle of nowhere. The closest beach, Klong Muang was about 30 mins hike, but what is a sight. The sun was down by the time we emerged out of the heavily forested path leading to the beach. And then we saw it - the dark shapes of mountain chain drowning in the sea on the blood red and dark orange background. Eyes remained transfixed on it until it all faded into the dark with just the (almost) full moon shimmering above it.
The water around Krabi are dotted with hillocks strewn around its stretch. We got on to another day of island hopping and water frollicking.

Bangkok
There was about 2 days in hand until the flight back most of which was spent getting lost aound the city - so much so that in Chatuchak weekend market, all four of us got separated from each other. Whatever time we had on the ultimate day was spent around Wat Arun and Wat Pho. That giant statue of Buddha (in reclining posture) was something of a sight.

With the thought of the daily usualness catching us again within 12 hours, we concluded the souvenir shopping. With some indelible ink on my wrist and a pair of thai boxing gloves in my bag - I got back to being the busy and the tired and the pursuer and the pursued.






****************************************************************************


Do not read between the lines.
Rights to exaggeration and bragging reserved.
Its not how it happened; its how you remember it.
No characterisation intended
Data and information may have been skewed to suit the storyline
Everything is relative to your perspective


November 06, 2016

Ticket to the Show

The people follow the sign
And synchronize in time
Its a joke - nobody knows
They have got a ticket to the show

~The Show, Lenka

***

Shillong, Meghalaya
20 Oct, 2016

Last time I saw the Barapani lake (Umiam Lake) was about 19 years back. I was expecting it on the 3 hour ride between Guwahati and Shillong. I remembered it. Cannot say the same for the Ward's Lake. I wandered into it after walking off from the bustling Police Bazaar area to bide my time. My companions for the 'trip' and the 'show' were coming back to base. While they were another couple of hours away, I walked along the park surrounding the Ward's lake. Came upto the wooden white bridge spanning the lake and stepped onto it and into a flood of memories I didnt know I had. I had been here before.

*

The night sets in by 5 in this part of the country. So does the chill in the air. For the rest of the waiting, I cozied myself up in a warm comfy bar and let the anticipations of a good break of routine sink in - while I reveled in the sweet reminiscences and bitter intoxications.

Guwahati to Shillong

The White Wooded Bridge of Reminiscence

Ward's Lake

When you take a selfie but dont want it to look like one

4:53 PM

Police Bazaar


*

"Badi Zor! - UUMMMHHHHH"
You will not know what it sounded like. Took me a while to get 'Sorted' into the usual-ness of it.
Kaka and company were back. And these phrases dotted their narration of all that went about in Cherrapunji, Mawlynlong, Haflong, David Scott trail, Dawki and Back. 

More tales ensued. One after another. I had not known most of them outside of the Whatsapp group for this trip. Plus there was another guy I had shared ride with enroute Shillong. The group diversity affected the conversation diversity in direct proportions. I kept losing the thread of conversations as I fluctuated in and out of the other dimension. Most of what I know of the night is what I was told the next morning. And I will leave it to that.
"Continuous..."

***

Bhoirymbong, Meghalaya
21 Oct, 2016 

The venue for the NH7 Weekender was about 30Kms away from the city. Fighting the morning laziness, hangovers and the will-to-forever-sleep-on, the bags were packed and movement was made. 
Took a while and a little lot of trekking to get to our campsite - SHADY Tents. While we settled, the festivities had begun. Lights and Music from the surroundings beckoned. But you dont rock before you roll - some more than others.

The Venue - NH7 Weekender

The Entrance

The Arena

And another arena

And Us with the Mug

Music and Lights

Camp Site - Shady Tents

One with the guy named Shady

Tent no 10

The 'Bucket'

Steven Wilson

More Steven Wilson

And More Steven Wilson


Maybe we needed one more day of it - but we do accept the finiteness more easily than we think we do. Shillong chapter was done. We didnt even wait another night to leave. One proper night's sleep was going to do a world of good to the jumped-upon and trampled toes, headbang-strained necks and chorus-hoarse voices.
More so to the next part of the trip, none of which had been planned yet.

***

Kohima, Nagaland
24 Oct, 2016

Sometimes, you dont quite have your heart and interests committed in a given plan. But you also do not want to be the reason to bring the plan down ('cause you dont have one of your own). So you just go with the flow - hoping someone defaults.

As we lay sprawled in a Guwahati hotel, having planned to take the local train to Kohima in the night, our frames of mind mirrored the conundrum mentioned above.
Nobody defaulted - apart from casually leaving the hotel at the time when the train we were supposed to be in was supposed to have departed. As it happened, the train just stood there while we got tickets and chose a coach to encroach as if it just wouldn't leave without us.
The train dropped us in Dimapur at the break of the morning and another 3 hours on road had us looking at the slopes of Kohima.

If Kaka were to write the rest of this passage, it will end right here. 
For him, his mind is his Instagram (which I appreciate) and the hotel room is the city (which I do not). So, he can tell you about the journey to Kohima, which in itself is fulfilling, but so is the destination. 
We walked across the length of the city - one end to the other - and brought back mental images of the new that we saw - in plenty and in everything. What we saw, what you can see, and other information is floating in the air around you and merely a few swipes away on a given app. To be here is one different thing. Its the show. And you have the ticket.


Kohima - Morning

Kohima - Night


*

Kohima was the end of the party. I split to join my family in Gangtok while others turned homewards. 

***

Gangtok, Sikkim
27 Oct, 2016

Had it not been for the Teesta (river) serpentining all along the road, the road journey upto Gangtok (from New Jalpaiguri) might have seemed a lot longer. But it did take time and by the time I reached Gangtok, my mother had already completed the local sight seeing and scheduled the next day plans for the Nathula Pass (Indo-China Border) and the Tsongo Lake. 

The time out of the itinerary I had, I put into meeting up with a good old friend from engineering days who chanced to be in his hometown. This trip had been a lot about reminiscences. And it continued.

All Along the river Teesta

Enroute Nathula

Borders and Flags

NOT Tsongo Lake

Tsongo Lake

M. G. Road, Gangtok


***

Home (Patna, Bihar)
30 Oct, 2016

Hadn't had a Diwali at home in a while. Since its been a while I grew up from crackers, food and passive entertainment lit up my diwali and the remaining few days of my two week long break. Its always good to be home. And its always Diwali when you are home.

Say No to Crackers - Say Yes to Music

Diya Wali Deepawali

And food


***

Apart from the loss of obvious comfort, the only bother about going back to Bangalore was the flight schedule I had managed to book for myself. Patna - Ranchi - Mumbai - Bangalore. 
While I found myself agitated at the first break of journey at Ranchi itself - the sight of Mahendra Singh Dhoni boarding the same filght and swiftly settling into his seat did act a a pleasant distraction - for me and for the rest of the flanneled fools like me aboard that plane. 

Maybe I too, like the others, should have gone up and taken a picture with him. Wonder why, but for once, I just settled for a mental picture (like Kaka's mental Instagram) and patiently completed the remainder of the journey - one song at a time - thinking about life, universe and everything - and the tomorrow - settling back in the work routine - and
getting back to being the busy and the tired and the pursuer and the pursued.

 ****************************************************************************
Do not read between the lines.
Rights to exaggeration and bragging reserved.
Its not how it happened; its how you remember it.
No characterisation intended
Data and information may have been skewed to suit the storyline
Everything is relative to your perspective
This is where stupidness begins - 'Cottonmouth' Kaka