Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Strange Incident In Railway Station

I was in the Coimbatore railway station to catch a train back to Bangalore when a strange incident happened. I could not locate the platform where the train would come so i asked a police man standing nearby. Forgetting that i was in Tamil Nadu i asked him in Hindi. Bewildered, the police man answered back in fluent English that i would find the train in 4th platform. Embarrassed with my wrong perception that police men are uneducated, i walked on to the platform. After wandering aimlessly in the platform, a middle aged man looking like a small barrel with shirt on it approached me and asked if i needed any help. I was confused and little suspicious of the courtesy shown by this stranger refused the kind gesture. This was the second time i replied back to someone in English although knowing the native language. I soon realized that he was there for money and would squeeze out as much money as possible assuming that i was a stranger to this part of the country. At this point i decided to play along and see what all he would do to get money. I also decided that i would maintain "only English" image. When it was time to get into the train compartment, he pushed himself into the crowd and made way for me to enter the compartment. I soon settled down and knew that it was time for give-me-money talk. To my surprise he wished me a happy journey and walked away. I couldn't help asking him what this is all about. This time, to his surprise, i spoke to him in Tamil asking him why he was so courteous? After a smile he said that he was working for the Tourism department of TN and his job was to help non-locals from getting cheated. The police man i spoke to earlier had asked him to help me as didn't look like a person from this part of the country. It was a very different experience and something i will remember for a long time. Now iam curious if this happens in other cities also?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Account Of Winter Trek-08 Part 4

Extended Vacation (Kugti & Amritsar)

Dear Diary,

I wish I could convince you that we had a well planned vacation, but it was not to be. Our initial plan for the extended vacation was to trek in Kinnaur. Our planning was so good that we forgot to find out about the time taken to travel to that location from Dalhousie. It turned out to be 2 days. Slouching in a small cramped internet cafe we started searching for new place to trek. The owner of the cafe suggested us Kugti. After seeing the pics he had taken last year in Kugti we finalized on it. But to our dismay it was very difficult to get any information about the stay and travel arrangements. We got mixed reviews about that place from the locals. In spite of the setbacks we decided to go to that place. I believe this was the best decision we have made so far in this trip.

Bharmour: A small town near Chamba is around 7000 ft.
It is well know for temples. More info
Photo By Varun

To reach this place we had to make it to Bharmour. Bharmour is a small town near Chamba. There is no direct bus to Bharmour from Dalhousie, so we took a bus to Chamba. This is the second time we have come to Chamba, previously during the trek. We reached Chamba late and couldn’t get any bus to Bharmour. We halted at Chamba and took the first bus out next morning to Bharmour. The route was pretty dangerous with lots of steep bends and bumpy roads. The scenery was breathtaking. I observed that not once did the bus driver honk, something I found amusing. I come from a place where people honk to the car behind them. We reached Bharmour at 11:00 am. With some snooping around we found that the forest department had jeep services to Kugti. We were a bit late so we decide to hire a cab to take us there. We were told that the cab would drop us near Kugti, but to actually reach the village we had to walk 6km as there were no roads. Another problem was the stay. The forest dept official told us that we might get permission to stay in their guest house. If that doesn’t happen there is no other place to go.

Frozen River: On the way to Kugti one can frozen rivers and falls
Photo By Uttaran

Knowing the risk involved we decided to push on. The route to Kugti was really bad and it took us nearly 2 hours to reach that place. Once there, the cab driver told us that it was 6km walk straight. It was all up hill and after a while we started feeling tired and cold. We realized that there were no humans around and it was really deserted. After 3 hours we finally managed to reach the village.

Kugti Village: A small remote village is last village in the range.
There is no road to this village. People travel on foot or mule.
There is no telephonic communication facilities.
Photo By Uttaran

The village was small but very beautiful and clean. The man in charge of the guest house refused to let us stay. We knew we were screwed. Knowing our problem the guest house in charge let us stay in his house. We realized that we had actually taken the kids room and they all had to adjust in a single room. The dinner we had there was simple but really tasty. We hit the bed at 10:00 pm. Next morning we decided to go to a small temple nearby. The steepness of the path we were taking incremented our determination to see god decremented till we reached an “I” give up” point. We ditched the temple for trek in adjacent mountains. Satisfied with the small trek we decided to head back to the village. We need to trek back to the point where the cab dropped us last time.

A small shack we stayed in
Photo By Varun

We had arranged for a cab to pick us up. After a quick breakfast / lunch session we packed our bags, thanked the family for the stay and hit the road. This time it was mostly down hill. We reached the spot much earlier than we expected. After a short wait the cab arrived to pick us up. We reached Bharmour at 3:30, immediately boarded a bus to Chamba. We had another connecting bus from Chamba to Amritsar at 11:00 pm. We celebrated the New Year’s Eve at Chamba with a little vodka. The journey to Amritsar was cold and bumpy. After checking into a hotel in Amritsar, we went site seeing. Waga border, Golden Temple and Lassi were the best of the lot. We took the night train to New Delhi bringing an end to the adventurous and fun filled holidays.

The Golden Temple
Photo By Varun

There is no part 5 as the return journey was not all that exciting. We were exhausted. The one thing I have not mentioned is the “Yeah” symptom. Our Junglee is know to use the term “Yeah” to express Happiness / Satisfaction etc, and now each one of us started using it for every little thing.

An Account Of Winter Trek-08 Part 3

The Trek (4 days)

Dear Diary,

We started off at 7:00 am to our first destination Kalatop. The trek was pretty easy and most first timers can pull it off. Kalatop is around 8000ft. Kunfu Pande has got the nack of taking decent photographs and we managed to get some really good pics here. Munching the chikkis given to us we made way through the forest. We had to wait once in a while to let others catch up. By 10:00 am1:00 pm.

Pir Panjal Ranges is the part of the middle himalayas.
This Beautiful mountain ranges can be seen on the way to Kalatop.
With a average height of 13,000 ft it a beautiful site to see.
Photo : Varun More info

The next part of the journey was much more beautiful. We again walked through the woods and it was simply amazing. Pande got used to camera settings so we decided to take our own time and were last in the group. In spite of the delays we reached the camp 2 hours early and spent sometime lying around in the sun and then we were allotted rooms to stay. I must admit it was damn cold and we had really small rooms to fit 15 people in.

Evening at Kalatop. With a height of 8500 ft its a stunning
location. The sky as seen from here is a sight to cherish.
Photo By Cheezo. More info

Despite the initial discomfort we were awed by the beauty of the place. The sky was so clear and we could see millions of stars. If only my child hood dream had come true this would have been the place to setup the research centre. Reading the previous line I am sure Pande and Cheezo would point me to a video of Randy Pausch. We were asked to join the camp fire for some rounds of singing / talent show. We were not really keen on this as were having a lot of fun pulling each others legs. We ditched it and went strolling in the park. This is when Hemanth enlightened us with some Cheezo blunders in Sar-Pass trek. The next day, was a long trek to Khajjiar, also known as the mini-Swiss of India. This turned out to be a slightly tough trek.

Route To Khajjiar. 12km trek in the thick forest is good experience
Photo By Varun

Again most of the journey was through the forest. We saw kids selling flowers on the pathway. They would wait till the full group passes by and then take a shortcut to intercept us in the next stop. Cheezo was in a race with these kids, and it was a funny sight. Our hero lost badly. Again we were the last in the group, and took our time for photographs. All along we had kids running around offering porter services to trekkers. Some of the older people did use the service but rest of us refused.

Young entrepreneurs : Kids living in jungle provide various
services like tea stalls, snacks, souvenirs, and porter.
Photo By Uttaran

We reached Khajjiar in the evening and enjoyed roaming around. It’s a commercial tourist place with nothing interesting there. The camp was slightly bigger than the previous one and we had enough space in the room.

Khajjiar: Also know as the mini-swiss of India. This place was
created by an asteroid. This is a busy tourist location. More info
Photo By Cheezo

You must understand that it’s inevitable for a group of guys to stop discussing ‘A’ jokes and so the saga continued. The pinnacle was reached when there was a joke about fruits, at that moment we decided to shut up and go to bed. Ozzy realized that I was snoring and wanted to record my snore. Alas I don’t snore it was the guy next to me. They were disappointed with their failure and finally went to bed.

A beautiful island enroute Chamba valley. Chamba is little
town near Khajjiar. Chamba is a district and a commercial place
for the tourists. Photo By Arun

Chamba, our next camp was relatively close and it was all downhill. Our camp leader told us to take our time to climb down as we have small distance to cover. We were last once again. We started to pace up towards the end, not because of fear of being left behind but more so to do with the intense discussion between Myself, Cheezo and Pande.

City of Chamba. More info
Photo By Varun

Chamba valley, a big town, was our last camp. We were asked to go around Chamba and shop if needed. Once in the market area the girls did all the shopping and we were busy hunting for non-veg. We spotted a decent hotel and had our early dinner. This end of our trek, and most of the folks left to Delhi from Dalhousie the next day. We had an extended holiday and we had no idea where we want to spend the next 3 days. We reached Dalhousie at 11:00 am and got ready for our extended vacation. The only problem was where? Click here for part 4 .

An Account Of Winter Trek-08 Part 2

Trip to Dalhousie & Acclimatization Day

Dear Diary,

We reached Pathankot early in the morning and got ourselves good hot parathas for breakfast. After an hour wait at the bus stand we finally boarded a bus to Dalhousie. Bad roads were a way of life in HP so we dug into the minimally cushioned seats and listened to music. After an uneventful bus ride we reached Dalhousie at around 5:00 pm. We reported to the base camp and took all our blankets and sleeping bags from the organizers.

The base camp at Dalhousie. You can decent facilities and good food. A nice lawn overlooking the camp is for exercising as well as relaxing. Photo taken by Varun

After our dinner which was pretty delicious we had a camp fire without fire. Participants from the previous batch entertained us with jokes and songs. I have to admit though they were fun, we were all in a different mood. The day ended and we retired to our bunks. The next day was Acclimatization day and we were made to get up and exercise at 5:00 am. There we met the rest of the gang (Mini and co, who had arrived late). Pande gave us some LMAO moments when the instructor caught him not exercising. After an hour of exercising, we were asked to go back to base camp for breakfast.

Stray Mountain Goat found roaming around in Dalhousie.
Picture taken by Cheezo

Aerosmith sang...

“I met a Blind Man
Who thought me how to see”,

I guess that applies to us except the fact that he didn’t teach us directions. We got lost yet again. All 5 of us took the wrong way and it took us 2km of walking to realize the mistake. Sure enough we were late for breakfast and also delayed the start of acclimatization day. After a hurried breakfast we were on our way to a 3km casual trek where we got to introduce ourselves and get to know others in the group. We had people from Maharastra, Gujarat and Tamilnadu. But the most misbehaved group was from Bangalore. It’s unfair to put that label on all the folks from Bangalore as it was us who were the hooligans. One useful thing we did when we returned from the trek was to clean up Dalhousie. We began collecting as many plastic bags lying around as possible and dumped them in bin. We were also able to inspire others to do similar act.

Cleaning up Dalhousie. Thats a stupid pose though ;)
Photo taken by Varun

This is about the time when Arun managed to get his new nickname. So back in the bunkers we already started off with ‘A’ jokes and were having a blast, we even came up with very funny patentable ideas. Click here for Part 3.

Friday, January 9, 2009

An Account Of Winter Trek-08 Part 1

For a change I decided to blog about this trip “My Diary” style. This was one the best trip I had ever been on. I have decided to share every little detail of the trip as I remember, censoring out the stuff that’s not meant for all. So here it goes…

Train Journey from Bangalore to New Delhi & Geographically Challenged Kunfu-Pande

Dear Diary,
We boarded the Karnataka Express around 7 in the evening. Every time I board a train, there is an expectation that a hot chick would be my co-passenger and this time it was no different. Like always expectation turned to disappointment when an elderly couple took the remaining 3 seats. Leaving behind the initial setback, we decided to girl-hunt the compartment. Satisfied with our efforts, we decided to settle down and discuss about the trek plans. In a session of fast paced no-holds-bar jokes exchange I regretfully let out a story from my college days earning me yet another nick name to the already over populated array. We spent the next day playing cards and listening to music. I often wondered what makes a decent group of boys/men/old men go wacky when it is to do with ‘A’ jokes. I guess all guys think alike. We ended an uneventful day with some wacky jokes from Arun and Uttaran and smart ass comments from the “old” man. By now we had already caught on the “Yeah” symptom. I will be back with more about this later. We reached New Delhi at 11:00 am and met Mr. Jog at the station and we decided to eat at Karims. I’ll skip the details of the lunch but for the record it was the best non-veg lunch I had in a while.

Photo Taken @ Karims: Situated near Jama Masjid is a must place to go if you are a meat lover. This is said to be a restaurant opened by the Mugal Emperors Cooks. There are many branches that have opened up all over the city of Delhi but nothing matches the original. A word of caution, it takes quite an effort to reach the place and many might find it dirty but if you are a foodie this is the place to go. Pic Taken By Cheezo

This kick starts the second episode of Part 1. We thought, I say that again “thought” that Kunfu-Pande being a local boy would know Delhi well. That would go down as the biggest mistake of the trek. Pande and I had our shares of goof-ups in Bangalore, but we could always escape by declaring that we were outsiders. Our very own Pande promised to take us for the movie Madagascar 2, but we ended up in a cine hall that played that stupid SRK flick. You have to forgive me, but I can’t even mention that name of the movie in my blog. It’s an insult. After couple of calls to Junglee we decided that we shall pass away the time by roaming in the streets. We soon realized that we need to hit a pub and enjoy some music. Our Pande once again delighted us with the news that he knew a ROCK pub. After roaming around in all the wrong directions we finally made it to the ROCK pub that turned out to be Sports Bar that played MJ. We finally ended up in Barista. I was too sober to remember what happened next, so we skip to Part 2. Click here for part 2.