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Posts tagged ‘Trekking’

A good year spent in the land of cheese and chocolates!

Last week, I completed a year’s stay in the land of Alps, cheese and chocolates – Switzerland!          

It’s been the longest I have stayed away from India, even though I have done crazy relocations to different parts of the world earlier. I have no clue where life will take me next, if I do move again, but I do know that this last year has been a very significant one in my life.          

Not everything about my life in Basel, Switzerland is rosy, but the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.  I truly believe that our lives in any place are a function of our attitude to embracing the change, and the people around us. I have moved cities, countries and continents, and have always found wonderful people where I went.  With some of the friends I value, I could live in some godforsaken desert and still be happy 🙂    

I was also very lucky to be born in such a wonderful country like India. I think Indians are inherently capable of appreciating any new place, making a social circle there and adapt to their new environment.          

That said, it is a good time to look back at all the things I like, nay love about Switzerland and Basel (some may apply to most European countries as well).   

I would move from general observations to personal experiences. I would also draw a comparison to India from time to time, and this is not meant to suggest that life in India sucks. Switzerland is hardly the size of Goa, and it is not possible to replicate anything and everything that is good in a European country with far less complexities than India. I could write a book on what I love about India, but it would feel so much better to hear an outsider’s appreciation.          

This is just to have a light-hearted banter,  and to appreciate the good things a foreign county has offered me so far.          

A study in tourism       

The first thing that struck me upon arrival in Zurich, and once I got into a shuttle train that connects the airport to the station, is a sound. It is a sound that I found weird for a nano second, and then broke into a laugh; thankfully it was pretty much the same reaction for other first time Swiss visitors in the train.          

It is the loud moooooooooo sound of a cow, with the sounds of bells to boot! The Swiss let you know without wasting any time, that they are going to play up to the image of the land of cows, cheese, and chocolate 🙂 . It happens only in Switzerland!          

To state that the Swiss are among the most tourist friendly in the world, would be an understatement. This is a country that knows how to market its splendid natural beauty and culture well, but also knows how to expect, plan for, and meet every potential need of every kind of traveler. And do that in a friendly way.          

It is possible to take a train to some random town, land up at the tourist office without a clue on what to do and where to stay, and put your trust in the friendly and well-informed staff at the tourist office.          

It is possible to land up on some trekking trail somewhere, lose your map, and still find your way in  a short while without any fuss.          

If you have more time to plan, you could use a plethora of resource, my favorite being Myswitzerland.com, an excellent portal to plan your Swiss travels . We have these very good “Incredible India” ads, but how good is our tourist infrastructure? It is worth pondering.         

Convenient transportation          

It was’nt that long ago, when daily commutes to office meant a good 1.5 to 2 hours jostling for space in a bus, soaked in sweat and dirt and bearing the noise of honking vehicles. This could apply to most Indians, but to Bangaloreans I can only say Hosur Road, and you know what I mean!          

These days I have a 10 minutes’ walk to work, and a few tram stops covered in 10 minutes to get to the city center. It is a luxury beyond my wildest imagination! Most Swiss cities are fairly small by Indian standards and are incredibly well-connected by train, tram and bus. They almost always run on time, and you could plan your journey online using the SBB website, and be assured of a convenient and comfortable ride to your destination.The trams themselves are fairly old and rickety, but that only adds to the sense of the charm.        

The Number 11 tram at Marktplatz

 

The trains are excellently maintained, spacious, and the wide windows ensure a lovely view of the scenery.          

Train entering Locarno station

 

They have a range of passes and offer cards (called Abonements, or simply abo), that make sure that you don’t spend a fortune. The day I landed in Switzerland, I took my friend Vineet’s advice and got a half fare card, which ensures that all public travel in Switzerland is half price for me. Almost everybody here has it, in addition to other Abos, depending on your frequency of travel.   This public transportation is the backbone of their tourism industry, and as somebody who has always relied on public transportation, Swiss life is a dream come true. (For the record I rate the Delhi Metro, and the BMTC Volvo services in Bangalore as close to international standards among cities I have visited, and the Tokyo metro as the best metropolitan transport system I have ever seen, but Switzerland is the most incredibly well-connected country I have been to!)       

Appreciation of the nature and environment          

I wake up every morning to watch a series of programs on HD Suisse, which I would never get bored of watching.   They have a program called “Swiss View”, which is a view from a camera on a plane or helicopter that just moves slowly across the Swiss mountains, lakes, rivers and villages.  There is another program called “Sunrise Earth” which takes you to a farm or a pasture, in the wee early morning hours. There is no music, but the chirping of birds, or mooing of the cows, as you watch the crimson sun rise.          

As I get ready for a big day at work, I listen to a mild and soothing music, or the chirping of birds, and watch breathtaking images of places that are hardly an hour away. It reminds me every day that I am incredibly lucky to live in one of the better looking corners of our incredible planet.  It also brings back very fond memories, of watching the short “Vande Mataram”, or the slightly longer “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” clips on Doordarshan, way back in the 80s.   

We seem to have very few such clippings on our T.V now that show case our natural beauty. There are few places on earth that can compare to the barren landscape of Ladakh, backwaters of Kerala, colorful desert life of Rajasthan, or the un spoilt beaches on the Konkan Coast.   

How many of us watch the visuals and images on a daily basis, let alone go there?      

This is just one of the many examples to show the appreciation the Swiss have for the land they are blessed with.  

There is very little pollution, garbage littering, cutting down on trees for the sake of industrial expansion.  The lakes and rivers are squeaky clean and the water so sweet to taste.   There is a lot of socializing and partying that happens on the river fronts, or the shores of the lakes. In Basel, we are lucky to have a large and winding Rhine that divides the city into two, interspersed with quaint old bridges. Sitting by the many parks and establishments on the Rhine is a big part of life here, at least in the spring / summer. People take a swim, or wade the waters, but nobody throws junk into the river, or abuses it in any other way.    

They live with a sense of pride for their land, and admiration for its natural resources.        

HD Suisse Swiss view, Wallis:          

Sporty and outdoorsy life         

The Swiss come in various sizes and shapes, but almost all of them get involved with some sort of sports / work out. Most expats here are also bound to do something outdoors / sports oriented, just to fit it, even if you are a lazy bum like me!    

Spring / Summer is usually  a time some for water sports such as swimming / diving, and mountain sports such as trekking / Nordic walking. I am not into water sports, but love the mountains. I did quite a few treks last year, and have started this trekking season last week.          

But the most enjoyable time of my life here was at my tennis club last year (Casino tennis club). Most courts here are clay courts and shut down during the winter, add   most clubs re  – open   around May. It is quite difficult to get into a club, find partners and get slots to play. But once I put in the time, effort and money, and showed some level of skill, I found that people were willing to play with me quite regularly.  

My doubles partner Alex and I , bonded well, and did pretty well at a fun tournament we had at the season end. We even had a poker tournament  and a party to close the season, and by then I knew most members of the club and it was fun. I learnt the rules of Poker that night, and by the time we finished playing the next morning, I won the entire lot of plastic coins. If only that was real money, I would be a millionaire now 🙂  

 I also plan to stay on one of the many mountain huts that are run by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).          

Winter life is pretty harsh, and I ended up slouching and putting on a lot of weight. Winter is dominated by skiing and snowboarding. I learnt skiing for the first time, during the New Year holidays, by spending a week at Wengen, Interlaken. It was a bloody thrilling experience, and I did far better than I expected. But it is an expensive sport, and requires tremendous patience and perseverance. The rants of winter life, I would leave for another blog  🙂     

There is so much socializing and fun activities that are usually attached to these sports, such as the Apre skis, that ensure that you have to burn out some calories before you can have some fun. The drinks taste so much better after you have done a ski run, or a set of tennis.           

Trekking trails near Mount Tamara, Ticino

 

 The friendly and respectful Swiss people        

 Now, quite a few expats who might read this, would probably raise their eye brows. Most expats forums here have a section filled with cribs about how difficult it is to make local friends here.          

I would juxtapose that with experiences in other countries where people are more open to talk to you, but equally fast in being intrusive or abusive, or sometimes openly racial.   The Swiss, on the hand, do not come running to talk to you. If you do manage to strike up a conversation, they answer you politely. But it takes a lot of time, effort and perseverance to call a Swiss person a friend. And that is something I actually do not mind, because it’s my nature as well. I am quite open to conversations and interactions, but it takes me a long time to accept some one as a friend. And when I do, they are friends for life. I have made a few Swiss people like that who have been very friendly, helpful, and nice. These are people I would consider friends for life.    

By and large, they are very respectful to outsiders, whatever their private views on immigrations may be. I haven’t come across a single rude, or abusive Swiss person, and given my knack of getting into provocative conversations, that is an incredible record!         

Blending of urban and rural spaces         

Like I mentioned earlier, most Swiss cities are the size and population of small towns in India. So you can imagine how big the villages are! But there is a definitive sense of “Small is beautiful”. A person from a small Swiss village, would typically says he is from that village, and upon prodding mention it is near Zurich. Most Indians, would mention the name of the nearest big city as their place of origin.  Most of these villages have all the facilities you would expect in a big town anywhere: Kiosks or convenient stores, a bus / train / tram station, a few hotels and restaurants etc.          

The cities, towns, and villages blend rather seamlessly as you taken a train out of Basel or Zurich and cross a few stations. A big city is not necessarily an imposing entity, or a crowded and frenetic place. A village is not necessarily a poor place that is in accessible. In many ways, they are proud of their rural and agricultural connections, and it is quite fashionable to live in the country side.         

I would love to live in a Swiss country side, with  a farm, small brook, and some animals. But I can’t even afford that in my dreams now, and console myself with occasional weekend walks to such idyllic places!           

Lively street and public space culture       

There is a place in Basel called MessePlatz. It literally translates to a place for fairs / exhibitions.          

Across  every little town or city in the country, there is always something happening in such places. You have fairs, exhibitions, and shows for all kind of occasions such as celebrating Christmas, children’s day, day for some ethnic groups such as the Turks, or even a sports day. The Christmas and autumn markets and fairs are especially important. That is when the outdoor life drops, and these events that run for weeks together, keep the people on the streets. There is music, food, drinks (Gluhwein – a hot and spicy wine is a must try, if you want to survive the winter!), and people selling their produce.          

Each city / town has its show piece / landmark event. In Basel, it’s the Fasnacht in February. People plan for it for weeks, get up early in the morning with their outlandish costumes, and basically have a colorful street parade for days together. It’s also the time, when the Swiss shed all their reserved nature and go crazy! It has to be seen to believed!     

In addition to these big events, most city squares have some thing or the other going on  every other weekend. That keeps the people to the streets, and when you find yourself bored in spite of all that, it is possible to land up in some small pebble stoned quiet alley, and hear a young musician play his instrument. These are small pleasures in my Swiss life that I am so thankful for!        

Street music on some random carnical day in Neuchatel

 

  Basler Fasnacht:         

I hope I get to stay here a little longer, and I hope life also takes me to other wonderful places around the world. And I hope that till such time I am here, I always appreciate what a foreign country has to offer me, rather than get bogged down by a few minor rants.  

To me, one true test of globalization is when people can move freely from one country to another, and not just find a new house, but make a new home there. I think I have done that here, and Basel is my third home after Chennai & Bangalore.  

I would also encourage my Swiss friends to visit India and enjoy our sense of hospitality 🙂         

Cheers!        

Vasu        

Some further glimpses of my swiss life…         

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P.S: If you liked this post, you may also reading my other posts on life in Switzerland:       

1.  https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/friends-jazz-rain-bombay/      

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/light-up-your-cigars-but-not-on-my-face/      

3. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-singing-sensation-the-ultimate-bathroom-singing-list-the-band/

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A woolly weekend in Valais (pronounced something like Wallis!)

Valais, Switzerland was the highlight of my Swiss summer. I had a  completely “off the beaten path” weekend out there, high in the Swiss Alps.

First up, I was by myself checking out the International Alphorn festival in the resort town of Nendaz. Imagine trekking up a hill to a vast open ground and listening to the exotic sounds of the Alphorn reverberate around the mountains…magical!

Then I joined my friends in the Spa town of Leukerbad, and after relaxing overnight, we headed out on a beautiful Sunday morning for “Sheep festival” at Gemmi pass (altitude of 8,000 feet). Our breakfast at that place with a view of the best mountains in the alps was a visual and culinary delight in itself!

The Sheep festival is an annual event where thousands of sheep that have been denied salt for months together at high altitude, are released to a lake bed to fest themselves. So we waited for a few hours around a blue lake waiting for the sheep to coming down by the hundreds and play with the sheep!

After that we trekked the whole day in brilliant conditions and lazed our way back home!

I look back at this as the best memory of the summer of 2009.

They says a picture is worth a thousand words; you could add that a video is worth many pictures;  So, I leave you with some pictures and a Video  🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

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P.S: If you are inclined to look at more pictures and stories from my travels, you might try:

1. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/saurkundi-pass-trek-a-travelogue/

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/sakura/

Saurkundi pass trek – A travelogue.

(First published in May 28, 2007, and I would have written differently if I had to write now. But I am keeping the original piece here)

I just came back from a truly memorable vacation in the Himalayas. It wasn’t your usual routine of hill stations, hotels and shopping, but an 11 day trek! I am a member of Youth Hostels association of India (YHAI). This is a nonprofit organization that, in addition to providing low cost accommodation, arranges some extremely wonderful adventure trips all over the country, at an unbelievably low cost.

The plan was hatched by Freyana and I. Freyana was my classmate in Rishi Valley, my boarding schoo. Last time I met her, we were both teenagers! It was pretty exciting to see her after ages, and we had a great time catching up old stories on the train to Delhi.

In a few days met some great people in my batch and made some interesting friends. Here is a part of the story of my travels – I say a part because some of the topics I reflected upon and discussed with people are separate talking points by themselves.

The cast:
Our group name was SK 13. It consisted of:
The senior citizens:
Phatak Ji, Joshi Ji, Kulkarni Ji, Saifuddin, Amin, and Makarand Lele.
The young guns:
Anirudh, Bharath, Purva, Ruchitha, Rohan, Soham, Ameya
The Surat, Bhopal brigade:
Dev, Kalpesh, Nilesh, Kaimas, Vineet
The Bangalore gang:
Venky, Ramya, Srinivas, and of course, yours truly!
The global traveler – the one and only Freyana Polad!
Others were the Ganapatye family, Mandhre family, which included Rajendar – Purva & Rohan’s dad, Mr. Neelkanth Mandhre aka Senior Mandhre – a regular trekker and a versatile musician.

The build up:
The story starts with our train journey from Bangalore to New Delhi by the Rajdhani express on May 3rd. Traveling by train is a fantastic way to discover the country, with the landscape, culture, language changing by the hours as you head north.
We reached Delhi on May 5th and caught up with another old school mate – Kadambari. We had a fairly quiet day in Delhi, content to do a lot of catching up as we are all meeting after ages!

That evening we took a HRTC Volvo bus to Manali. Quite typical of a Bangalore resident, I had done sufficient reading on the net, at various forums and booked the tickets online. We met some Bangalore folks on the bus – they belong to SK12, the batch that was reporting a day before us.
We did not report directly to the base camp of YHAI at Babeli, but decided to go all the way to Manali and spend a relaxing day there.

The bus route was very scenic, and in some ways nostalgic as I had done the same trip 7 years ago with my college friends. I saw snow for the first time out of my window and saw the River Beas winding its way through the Kullu valley.
The highlight of this route is the tunnel at Aut – it is around 5 kms long and never seems to end. My memory of when to expect this tunnel was intact and I was awake just in time to re live this experience.

We had a fairly normal day at Manali and behaved like the usual travelers – eat, shop and chill out!
Manali is filled with Multi cuisine restaurants (surprise package – Tamil, Andhra style food, not so surprising: Israeli, Tibetan). I always try to eat the local cuisines whenever I travel and tried Momo’s for the heck of it!
Amongst the interesting places we went to were Hadimba temple, a Tibetan monastery and Vasisht kund.

I did river crossing off the park – 8 years back I don’t think too many people heard of adventure sports in Himachal – now every shop has something adventurous to offer! It was fairly tough and a reminder of how unfit I was.

We met lots of people at different stages from all over the world. We hung out with an Israeli who did a trek in Dharamsala and is now off for the Chanderkhani pass trek.
Manali is also full of the trappings of typical hill stations – restaurants, shops, hotels, clubs (would you believe there are at discs in most hotels there!), crowd, traffic jam
Reminded me of Kodaikanal – I guess Manali is no more a place for a quiet holiday.
Some nice places were Johnson’s café, Blue moon Café in Old Manali, which we discovered very late in the night!
The river looks less full as compared to my last visit which was in monsoon time
I thought it was gentle until I did rafting there some time later and experienced the Beas in full fury! 

Day 1: Manali to Babeli (reporting at base camp)
We took bus to Babeli and reported at base camp in the afternoon. We were struck by the warmth of the people out there…it felt like family
I sat by the Beas for a while and quietly meditated…this is the closest I have been to heaven!

There are loads of shops around YHAI selling food, utilities, tickets, trekking stuff
The base camp provides a good view of the hills, forest and rivers and is really a serene atmosphere.
The first day was all about introductions, travel stories and diplomatic chit chat!
But the people you meet first up tend to be your favorites pals on such trips and it was the same case with this one as well.

My tent is full of senior citizens – little did I realize how well I would bond these people and become a “senior citizen” myself in a few days!
Most if the people are from Bombay and regular YHAI trekkers
They need not wait for the information on the YHAI websites, but have their grapevine for getting early news of exotic treks. I made a mental note of doing some treks in North east, doing the Mount Everest base camp & Mount Kailash Parikrama & Manasarovar Lake treks.

The big inspiration was Phatak sir (age 72) and Saifuddin sir (75). Their physical and mental fitness and the impact of that on their happy demeanor were tremendous. They never had any trouble at any point during the trek and always managed a glowing smile…

I called our free time discussions “infotainment” sessions. They were entertaining and extremely informative. The star of the show was Mr. Vijay Joshi who has a tremendous knowledge of India’s history and socio political scene. His pet subjects were the armed forces and mountaineering!
I and Lele sir would bombard him with questions or which he would give us witty and detailed answers. The rest of the tent would listen to the conversation!
I felt like a bridge between two generations.

One generation of Indians grew up with the freedom movement, independence and a period of hope. That generation was also saddled with a narrow view of the world, a socialist legacy that was tough to shackle and had to grow up in the license raj, which meant an entire lifetime of service (you don’t get into business unless you were born filthy rich or were Dhirubhai Ambani), where your last take home pay would be a fraction of your kid’s first paycheck!
My generation, on the other hand, is not very hands on with the reality and the real politic of the country, mainly because:
We are faced with tremendous opportunities in the corporate world and want to devote our full energy and time to it.
1. We have developed a tremendous sense of cynicism with the way this country is run by in efficient politicians cutting across party lines.
2. The growth is in the cities, and this leads to a disconnect with the rest of India. There is a huge wide gap in the lifestyle, aspirations, and education levels, thought process of people in the country.

A classic case in the point is the HRTC bus from Manali to Delhi. I could sit in Bangalore, do some reading on the net, and manage to book my tickets online from Delhi to and fro Manali. There is a town called Mandi, some 100 kms from Manali, en route to Delhi and a local got into the bus and was involved in a squabble with seats. He made some remarks about how poorly the locals were treated, which appeared junk until I realized that he has to travel 4 hours to Manali to book tickets for the bus! As the gap between the rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and not so educated widens, this would lead to a polarized nation, which appears far more dangerous than an India polarized along religious and caste lines!

As someone who is extremely fascinated by history and culture, and its impact on the society, it was a treat to listen to people who were walking encyclopedias on India’s post independence history and its future on the global stage.

There were a host of other topics we would talk about such as films (mostly old Hindi films, and the Wild West type films, tourist places in India and across the world). In addition, I had some amazing conversations with Srini who has tremendous knowledge of Indian mythology amongst other subjects. Forgot to add that we had some amazing food. The taste and quality of food we had throughout the trek was excellent and I really relished them. 

Day 2: Acclimatization and orientation.
Day begins with Bed tea, PT, and already it feels like school!
Being woken up at 5 AM gives you a license to be pissed; until you realize the guy who is waking you up with bed tea probably had to get up at 4.30!
Once you step out of your tent, you realize how beautiful it is outside. The sun is just getting up, the birds are chirping, and it’s going to be a lovely, warm day!
We all assemble in a line, and start our job up hill. It was a tremendous experience amid such a break from the treadmill routine in the gyms.
For once in my life, I felt like running even after reaching the destination – I wanted to keep running as far as I could go.

I did some exercises by the river side, and after wards I sat down to meditate. As I am writing this, it’s been a few days upon my return, but I can still hear the gentle music of the Beas, feel the clean air I was breathing, and see the lush greenery all around me. Nothing is as beautiful as nature….

Post breakfast, we went on our acclimatization walk – our first test of endurance. It was actually a fairly easy walk, but since we were carrying our rucksacks, it gave us a feel of what we can expect. We reached a small Kali temple and it started pouring. We were getting drenched, and took shelter in the temple. Some folks started singing, and it turned out to be the best ice breaker. Soon we were having a musical choir of old Hindi songs, and loving every bit of it. We had a round of formal introductions a little later and shortly after that started deliberating on the cultural show we had to put together for the camp fire that night.

I had become the MC for the event, and it also meant rallying the folks to put together something decent. With the talent in the group, it wasn’t so difficult.
We decided to stick to our core strength of music, and this is where Dev and his gang from Surat showed their mettle. Kalpesh , who was a walking encyclopaedia on hindi films and music helped with the lyrics and after intense preparation, we came up with the goods and managed a very lively show.
With Senior Mandhre enchanting the audience with his mouth organ, we managed to keep them interested with appropriate songs and concluded with a funny song on trekking. This was one of the more entertaining camp fires we had at the base camp. 

Day 3: Rappelling & Rock climbing
Started with the same bed tea, PT routine.
We had Rappelling in the morning and Rock climbing in the afternoon. Although it would take weeks to master these things, it was like a beginner’s guide to rock climbing and rappelling. It was good enough for me to begin thinking of doing some mountaineering courses. Anybody that has done such courses is free to give me some gyaan on the same!

I spent the evening doing last minute shopping in Kullu. (gloves, socks, paper soap, sun screen, rain sheet)
I had no idea how useful that would be in the coming days!

Day 4: Base camp to Segli
So we actually start trekking today!
After breakfast and packed lunch and a rousing send off, we took a bus to Pathlikot, and then started on our long and fascinating journey. We crossed a village called Badagram, and got to know of some of its peculiar customs from the guide. Apparently, we are not supposed to touch anything as we pass the village, especially around its temple. Violating this rule ensures in a fine of up to Rs. 6,000!
This sounds like the other village Malana, whose tales I have heard from people who have trekked the Chanderkhani pass. The story of Malana is indeed fascinating.

We stopped after a steep climb in a dense deodar jungle, which was to be our route for a fair part of the trek. There were little boys and school girls selling juice, and pushing to school after that. We tried, a dark red colored concoction called “brass” juice, and it tasted divine. I figured out the fruit is also red in color, but never got to see it! Trust a hard core foodie to be interested in such details!

After all this comes THE cricket match, that is going to hog the rest of the space for awhile. Those of you who equate cricket with Indian cricket team, please move on to the next section!

We reached Sukhni for our lunch and post lunch started the most bizarre cricket match I have ever played: At a height of 6K plus feet, in a place full of ditches, ups and downs, bushes, and with a ball made of cloth!
The match was SK 13 vs. the locals and the guide played for the local team. (It made a huge difference in the end!)
The locals, in addition to home advantage, were fantastic athletes, playing for pride and money (Rs. 10 / person to be paid by the losing team – I guess this amount means much more to them than us!), and had been unbeaten for 13 days in a row.
Once I saw them play, we knew that it required a Herculean effort to beat them!
We scored 20 odd runs in 8 overs and it was no easy score to defend. I was run out without scoring, underestimating the athleticism of the local fielder.
We lost the first match badly, in spite of a heroic bowling performance by our own Wasim Akram (Bharath), purely based on terrible fielding.
I was guilty here, dropping two tough catches while keeping, although I managed to hold on to an inside edge down the leg side. I would never forget taking a brilliant diving catch to my left in the second match, only to hear the umpire scream not out, and the batsman pretend he never nicked it. They were close to winning and we were anyways out in a no hope situation. There was a sensible voice inside me that said this money means much more to them, so don’t make a fuss and I asked my team mates to drop the appeal. Bharath was furious screaming “Aise haar nahin maanthe bhaiyya”.  At his age I would have fought like crazy to make an issue, but age does fny things to your personality 🙂
The second match was much more competitive, as we were better prepared with the conditions. We lost in the last over, but fought gamely. Had there been a third match we would have surely won, but we had to move on.
The real tragedy for me was the fact that I had a huge blister on my foot, as I was playing bare foot and my skin started to peel off. I was so pissed I could not get to bat because of this, but bigger problems lie ahead of me and my left foot!

We finally reached Segli (7,100 feet) in the afternoon, and it was then that I started to realize the extent of my injury. The camp site was not great, and thankfully, the other camps were much better. I decided to take rest, and not to venture out for the day. I was so touched by how well I was taken care of by all around me. It felt like I was with my family, and it made me feel so good in spite of the severe pain. 

Day 5: Segli to Hora thatch
We had a lazy and relaxed start, and later discovered this would be the pattern for the rest of the days as well. Crossed a village, and spotted a lovely young girl, Tannu, playing on the ground. I tried to make some conversation with her, but found it tough to make her smile.

At many times during the trek, I would just gaze in awe at the majestic mountains & the dreamy river & thank god for the beautiful life he has given all of us.
We reached Hora thatch fairly wet as it was just starting to drizzle. I must say the rain spoilt our time at what was the best camp of all. Right in the middle of the jungle, it could well be called a jungle lodge.

I guess my foot was the focus of my thoughts for most of this day and apart from the rain don’t recollect anything great to keep note. 

Day 6: Hora thatch to Maylee thatch
This was the toughest day of all. The climb was relentless and steep, and there was just no respite. The snowline was clearly visible now, and in some sense, it kept us motivated to climb higher and further. After a tough climb, we reached a huge open meadow flocked with sheep. We could see the camp but it was deceptively far away from us. But we had enough time, and the sun was in full splendor, so I could relax and enjoy the view and the sound of the sheep. I had a tough time getting the sheep on camera – they were extremely timid and would run away if I got anywhere close to them. There was one brave heart that managed to, and posed for me and I love how this picture came out. Makes every minute of the hour I spent stalking him worth it!

Maylee camp was one of the most picturesque locations we had. And it was on a locale large enough to have a mini cricket ground. Tried batting against the locals and could not get bat to ball – they were too good or I have just forgotten how to bat and should stop trying – I guess the truth lies somewhere in between. But I must mention how extremely athletic and fit the locals are. These are the places where our sportsmen should come from. Somebody who treks up and down a steep mountain everyday for his living is surely fitter than most of us city bred, gym going individuals!

The camp leader at Maylee was a very proactive, interesting person. He teaches geography in Bombay and arranged some games for us in the evening. It was great fun, and got as all excited we started playing Dumb charades after that and the real star was Ruchitha. Ruchitha’s sister is studying dance, which Ruchi dropped off but she is still very expressive. This helped her act some near impossible movie names – sometimes we were too DUMB to figure it out! The most hilarious episode was when I asked her to enact ““Omkara”,a movie I really enjoyed. She tried to act the song “Beedi” by smoking. The folks were guessing all kind of things but came nowhere near the song and the movie and she finally gave up. When we broke the name of the movie, Kalpesh came up with the explanation that her acting of a beedi smoker was misleading. Then he came up with a demo on how a beedi smoker squats and holds his beedi in a way very different from a cigarette smoker. It was a laugh riot. Since I don’t smoke and hate smoking, I had not bothered to spot the difference – it is safe to assume a Cigar / pipe smoker would have a completely different style.

The radio at the kitchen was playing some of my favorite Hindi songs, and it was so wonderful to sit at 11k feet and listen to some soulful music!

 Day 7: Maylee thatch to Dora thatch
The next morning we had a cartography class conducted by the camp leader, although I felt it was too short to understand such a complex subject. Anyways it aroused my interest in map reading and that I guess was good enough.
This was followed by PT and breathing exercises and I was so thankful for them.
Soon it was good by time to the lovely Maylee camp and time to ascend further.
We were soon to set foot on snow and really charged up as we came nearer to snow.
The walk was very pleasant and not very steep. While walking I was pleasantly surprised to hear somebody whistling from “For a Few Dollars More”. Who else could it be, apart from the irrepressible Mr. Mandhre. I realized how distinct and clear sounds are on top of a hill as there is no interference and disturbance, it made the whistle even more haunting and magical. He followed that performance with tunes from “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and had all of us marching to his tune!

We were soon walking on snow and quickly realized it’s not as fun as it seems. You never know how solid the grip is, and you don’t know how deep the snow is.. we were following the footsteps of the previous person, but even then I would slip further into the snow with my weight! I made an important discovery, that the breaking point of this snow was around 80 kgs! We stopped for lunch at a spectacular natural rock formation. I forgot to mention how well some of our lunch spots were chosen – there was always a stream of water, enough open space, and some place for the locals to set up a shop and sell tea, coffee, juice and omelets. This one was by far the most awesome, with the shop housed securely under a boulder of rocks.

We had our first slide on snow post lunch and it was amazing experience. The toughest part was lifting your legs up, the way it should be done, because you are so tired aft6er days of trekking up! The pants get fully wet, your body aches with the impact of ice and you are scared whether you would land up in the right place – but it was worth all the pain eventually.

We reached Dora thatch, which was our highest camp, and probably the toughest conditions we faced – snow all over the camp, low oxygen levels and freezing cold water. It took a toll on Purva & Rohan’s dad and he decided wisely to return the next day. I must share his cousin – Ajay’s story at this stage. Ajay accompanied his brother back two camps lower, lost two days of the trek, but made up by climbing up rapidly with only a villager company, and completed the trek along with us. All Ajay said was “There was no way I am going back to Pune without completing the trek!”. And I thought I was brave, walking with my blistered foot!
It is in these circumstances that we realize how rudimentary, our lives needs are. All we need is a place to lie down, clothes to protect us, food & water, and that is it. The rest if life is about figuring out how you live with the essentials and keep your mind and body healthy. 

Day 8: Dora thatch to Saurkundi pass & descend to Longa thatch.
Finally, D-day arrives. We awake with the realization that we are finally climbing the pass today and it kind of pushes us out of the tents fairly early in the day. Or was it to find a nice spot to “download”? Since al the water was frozen and I am extremely finicky about being clean, I decided to walk a fair distance to a stream of water. The water was splendid but also terribly cold. I could not move my hands for half an hour or so after I returned!

It was a fairly tough climb, that too on snow. There were stretches of hard snow which made the whole affair terribly scary. The weather had started to become gloomy and in some ways it dampened my spirits. It was fairly dark at Saurkund – the lake near the peak, and this took the brightness out of the photos. The lake itself was nothing great, but the color of water was very interesting, and if I were braver, I would have ventured to its surface, but nobody bothered to go there.

We finally reached the peak before noon, and had a superb 360 degrees view, which was spoilt only by the sun and clouds playing hide and seek. We could see some other trekkers climbing up through an alternate route and we could see our next batch at the point where we had lunch the previous day.
Reaching the peak, took a strange toll on my mood. I suddenly lost all energy to trek further walk. There was a strange empty feeling, which we all get once your goal is reached. The question is always “What next?”.
I guess I was thinking that in a few days I would have to say bye to all these people and this place and head back to my routine city life. This tendency to live in the past and future and not in the present, has been the bane of my life, and I so desperately wish I could change it.

Post lunch we had a long rest and prepared to “slide down:. This slide was very dangerous, and in some sense bizarre. I do not think the slide route was laid properly, and the guide strangely decided to stay away from us. There was a stretch of around 50 meters we walked on hard and slippery ice, to reach the sliding point. Trouble was, we could have slipped any time and slid down without control. I had to stay at one point and help people down one by one, and I know how precariously I was placed for those 20 – 30 minutes!
The slide itself was long, slow and painful, but in hindsight I would rather use the word “adventurous”. We had to constantly get up, clean the mounds of snow that would accumulate in front of you, and continue till you stop again. For the last 5 minutes or so , I grabbed an extra stick that a lying down and walked / skied down. It was extremely thrilling J

As usual, we were welcomed at the next camp (Longa thatch) with a welcome drink, followed by tea and then soup. This daily routine at all camps was literally refreshing. We were also feeling much lighter, knowing the tough days are behind us.

Day 8: Longa thatch to Lekhni.
This was the day of serious descent. I am so thankful for my Woodland trekking boots, for helping me enjoy this tough workout. I had a very good grip for most of the day and really enjoyed walking down, in fact managing some short sprints downhill that were so exciting!

The route was lush green and pleasing. The meadows were rich in vegetation and the plants were lapped by the flock of few hundred sheep that were grazing. I particularly enjoyed our lunch point, which we shared with the sheep! These sheep appears much bolder than the previous ones I encountered and did not mind me patting them. I can still feel their soft wool on my fingers.

I could not help realizing that my face had become so dark, whenever I looked at in the camera. Some folks like Freyana, really enjoyed the tan, and I guess that was her ulterior motive on this Indian visit! I am usually not concerned about skin color, but I just could not recognize myself and learnt the importance of sunscreen the hard way!

We reached our last camp at Lekhni, which was actually a set of wood houses. I was already missing the tents, and realized I was getting closer and closer to the civilization I so longed to escape from. We were all busy chatting and planning our return trips. We had our first proper camp fire since we started trekking. Almost everybody participated and entertained the audience with some songs / jokes / stories. It was like a magical night , and I was a little upset it ended so early, when our camp leader asked us to shut stop.

We were woken up that night by a hail / snow storm and it was so much fun!

The last day of the trek, and we were inching our way to the road. A fairly un eventful day considering the adventures we had gone through earlier. This is the stage when the body starts complaining to the mind for the entire toll it has been out through for so long. This is the day when you realize this magical journey is soon over.

I went to Manali along with Mr. Lele, booked my return tickets, and got back to junk food! Came to base camp just in time for lunch and amazed everybody once again to plan things so perfectly that I never miss my food.( I had set a precedent by going to Kullu and returning bang on the stroke of the dinner bell!). I had bath after a week and it felt so good and clean. I changed into the only clean pair of clothes I had, and shortly realized what a big mistake that was.

Mr. Lele and I decided to raft along the Beas and walked up to “Rim Jhim adventures” which was organizing this close to our base camp.
It was a terrific experience for a beginner and the only spoiler was my clothes getting completely drenched. It helped me make up my mind about rafting and I promised myself I would do longer rafting sessions next time. I am not too much of a water sports enthusiast, but that afternoon on the chilling Beas changed my opinion completely.

We collected our certificates at the camp fire that night and I felt a sense of pride I haven’t for ages. For somebody who has just been taking it too easy in life of late, it was a great way to come out of my “Comfort zone” and endeavor to do more in life.
In spite of a yearning for this experience to continue, and a touch of sadness that the reality is quite different, I had the most blissful sleep in years.

Time for good bye…

The last day was sad, but I keep the goodbyes very brief. Once we get back to our routine life, the memory starts fading away slightly and the people become somebody from a different world. I still think of all the amazing people young and old that I met, close my eyes and see snow clad peak, unplug my headphone and hear the sound of the river, but it becomes fainter by the day. May be it’s time to go back again, to live a kind of life our ancestors would have lived. They were certainly poorer than us, but I have a feeling they led much happier lives.

I want to trek more, travel more, meet more people and enjoy life in this peaceful manner and keep going on till I can….that is the best way to pay a tribute to this wonderful planet we are all blessed with!

Cheers!

Vasu

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P.S: It’s nice to look back at this post every once in while and reflect on a truly memorable experience. I do realize how much I have changed as a person, and a writer over these 3 years, but like the raw feelings and words expressed here far better than any refinement I could think of doing now.

This truly feels like an online diary now! There is no paper like in a real diary that could turn yellow, or smell of a different age, but I am still nostalgic whenever I recollect images and conversations from the trek.

And yeah, I am still in contact with quite a few people from the group (Facebook, of course!). The kids have grown up into men & women; some of the men & women have kids now and a few have receding / grey hair; and the elders are becoming kids again.

Such is life 🙂

Hello world!

Hello world!

This is not my first blog, but it’s my first at word press. After irrationally switching blogs from different sites just to see if I am more active with it, I am here!

Sounds fairly stupid, but what is a life without any stupidity or silly acts?

My “About me” section is not going to tell you anything, and most probably a few good friends would be the only people to read his blog to start with, so I thought I would start with a short intro and a long list of topics I want to write about.

I am an Indian man, in late twenties, single, working in business consulting, and living in Europe after seeing a few snippets of other countries. The rest, you either know if you are a friend, or would know if and when you read my blogs.

So without further ado, here is a very ambitious list of topics close to my heart that I have strong views on, and where I wish to write, and get critical feedback on: 

  1. The story of my experiments with charting my own path to life:
  2. Role models:
  3. Indian politics and social issues
  4. Religion & faith
    • Religious, ideological and cultural dogmas that ail the world
    • Can you be rational, liberal and not a communist
    • Can you be a believer, spiritual, and not religious?
    • The supremely powerful entity called I
  5. Globalization: the Good, the bad, and the Ugly
  6. Us and them: Impact of globalization on India:
  7. Relationships
    • Why do we complicate, essentially simple things?
    • Inter cultural relationships: why I find the concept so exciting!
    • From an Indian perspective: why are most Indian men jeans wearing patriarchs?  Family system and feudal mindset vs. western inspired romantic and sexual awakening: where is this clash going?
  8. Travelogues from planned and spontaneous, long, and short trips, to faraway lands, or nearby villages
  9. Funny / light hearted tales from everyday life
  10. The life of an expat
  11. Movies I have loved and watched over and over again
  12. My bucket list of whims and fancies that posses me, what I managed to do, and what are still pipe dreams: Ranging from owning  a German Shepherd, to making a film,  to climbing Everest
  13. Epics and mythologies: what we can learn from them, and what should be taken with a pinch of salt
  14. The big, bad, virtual world: How a lot of us have learnt a lot using the internet vs. how stunted our social skills could become due to / in spite of social networking
  15. Links to interesting blogs / articles / videos  that I have an opinion on, or that I find just plain funny
  16. Quotes and statements that resonate with me 

That’s it for the lofty plan! 

I have started at this website by sharing links to a few select blogs I wrote earlier, and are dated pretty much mid 2007

Cheers!

Vasu

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