Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kedar Tal Trek - Part 3 (Final)

Part 3 - Finale
[Part 1 can be found here.]
[Part 2 can be found here.]
12th June, 2011.

I woke up to the sound of rain. That night it rained for a long time in our camp in Bhoj Kharak. Thankfully it wasn’t a heavy downpour.

One of the very few things that I dislike about mountain camping is that you tend to wake up early at altitude (even if it does not rain). You’re subconsciously up by 3 or 4 in the morning and then you keep tossing and turning inside your sleeping bag. The absence of a proper pillow (next time I will carry one) makes going back to sleep a difficult proposition. By around 6.30, I got out of the tent finally, as someone said “good morning” with the soothing announcement that tea was ready outside. A morning tea is a great thing, even though the 6.30 AM idea is difficult to digest for someone who is used to waking up at 9 O clock.

As preparation for the day, I wandered up and around a bit, in the direction we went to collect firewood the previous day. While returning, I saw them fog. That morning I found myself watching fog racing up the valley and engulfing our camp. Racing fast - for a fog. Here’s a video of the Usain Bolt fog.

Fog engulfing the valley:

By the time I got back into camp, all were up and running around. We went to collect water from the waterfall nearby, and presto, the water was clean, unlike the previous evening. The flow is less in the morning, and it is after noon apparently that it gets all fast and muddy.

We started a bit later than yesterday, by around 9 in the morning.

After the first elevation, I bid adieu (mentally) to my fellow trekkers, after the experience of the previous day. There’s no point in playing ketchup.

Today, I was going to walk at my own happy pace, taking snaps and videos, talking to myself, fantasizing about climbing the Everest, writing a best seller book, becoming a philanthropist billionaire, and the like (ok, ok, throw a couple of naughty things in there too, if that makes you happy). It’s so easy to be with yourself out here - you just need to stop and let the others go – and you get solitude. I find it difficult to get it where I live. In Bangalore, if you stop, all you will get is a traffic block and blaring horns, accompanied by profuse and loud literature.

I saw a bunch of guys, with roasted faces running down against the flow of traffic, and later came to know that they had climbed Mt. Jogin. They had a rough time, and the NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) guys, focused on climbing Mt. Thalaysagar were planning a rescue mission for them. Thankfully, they managed to get out safely without external aid.

Soon Kishan came up and promised to stay with me, like yesterday. I told him clearly and with confidence that I did not need any help. And as a bravado signature, I lit up a cigarette. He insisted, and I gave him a cigarette. He insisted again, and I thought I could use some company, because my fantasies had dried up due to exhaustion, so I was cool with that. We left the tree-line, somewhere here. And I saw Thalaysagar again, and it seriously upped my tempo. Kishan's T-shirt tagline too helped in my change of attitude.

I set some decent pace for the next kilometer or two, and Kishan was impressed. He said, “aaj bahut ache chal rahe ho aap”, and I felt thrilled. He was motivating me by massaging my ego, but then again, no mountain guide has ever motivated me by massaging my ego in the past, and I obliged, said thanks, and felt happy. (The fact is, with my sad gait and smokes, I never gave any mountain guide any opportunity to motivate me by massaging my ego.)

The path was relatively easy today, with little climb. We saw a bunch of Ibexes (mountain goats), and I remembered the previous night’s conversations about Ibex meat, its taste and stuff. We had all agreed (me too wholeheartedly, despite the no vegetarian that I am) that it’s a sad thing to come here, and Eat a part of it. I was trying to take snaps, and a whole bunch of Ibexes started to run, and I wanted to scream to them that I meant no harm.

These moments, and some that where to follow, I consider as high points of this trip. To watch an animal in its habitat is a gift. To see what it does, how it reacts to you, and possibly how its reactions change, once it gets to know you (figuratively). It opens up a museum or a zoo of sorts, where YOU feel like the prisoner. It’s their world. Period. And you are just trespassing, watching, trekking, whatever you may want to call it. For the Ibex, you are the curio. I loved the thought, and quickened my pace. And then I came to the "mud mountain" that Tilak had warned us about.

That’s precisely when Kishen came up and said “slow down”. And he was going to help me through the “mud mountain”. And I realized this stretch was treacherous. You have the Kedar Ganga flowing down below you. You have an unstable trail in front of you that’s about half a foot wide, if you’re the optimist. You have a stony, rocky terrain separating you from the river on both sides.

The same Ibex that I admired was my enemy in this 400 meter stretch. It’s like this - one funny Ibex feels a bit jittery in the morning, comes on top of this stretch, and feels funny again. This Ibex then kicks the ground or something, and a small pebble flies off to gorge below. This pebble, meets other pebbles and rocks on its trajectory down, and soon we have a bunch of stone missiles coming at us at 9.8 m per second. You have to watch your foot, look up for any movement, and walk. Lots of trekkers have discovered the perils of such stretches the hard way. It’s like you’re walking with difficulty, and “whoosh” a rock hits your head and you are a “bhootThump” to the gorge below, and a bunch of rocks cover your body on the way down. It would help to increase the irony, if the trekker was listening to “Rock you like a hurricane” on his or her iPod.

There was a bit of glacial crossing, and Gautam was there to help me, as Kishan went ahead. He was of great help and carried my luggage for a few 100 crucial meters. I'm not sure if his name was Gautam, but I will let that pass. It's funny in a way that I'm not sure of his name, because I would have remembered his name, had I had a bad experience.

Toward the end of the trek, there was this elevation to compensate for the day’s flat trek. I made that elevation with great difficulty, and I saw the camping ground, (people who came in an hour before me, which made my cockles happy, coz I was 1.5 hours late yesterday).

I saw Tilak running around to feed salt to the Ibexes. Apparently Ibexes dig salt.

I had a decent lunch with the amazing food that our cook conjured up – that included yummy aalo fry. Dried shark fry (DSF), carried all the way from BLR spiced it up. And then as the thought of resting came up, there was this head ache – sort of throbbing inside your head. Anyway, I ignored the advice about AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) and went to sleep. I woke up when it started raining, and I yelled to Tilak and Saurav who had gone scouting. They came back (or so I thought), and I went back to my book and sleep. Siesta.

I woke up by 5.30 in the evening and saw Saurav and Tilak coming back again. And it was like déjà vu. [While you were sleeping] They had gone ahead, as though, what we did that day was not enough. And Tilak kept saying it was wonderful. I was crabby as ever. I saw the snaps and they had gone as far as the acclimatization drive would take them. Tilak’s photos were super cool.

The snaps that we took at Kedar Kharakh were beautiful.

The moon came early in the evening. I rued the inadequacy of my camera, but then hey, you can’t have everything. Unless you’re the photographer types, it’s better to enjoy the beauty of the moment, and worry about your Facebook image later.

I wasn't too happy with the altitude gain. From Gangotri, which is at 3,200m, we had climbed to Bhoj Kharak yesterday which was at 3,800m. Kedar Kharak, where we were standing today was around 4,400m. Kedartal would be another 500m or so vertical and 3-4 kms horizontal. I had a word with Kishan, and he agreed that we needed a day to acclimatize. We had climbed a lot in the last few days, and a bit of rest can help. I looked at the stony path in front of us, and confirmed my thoughts that a day of rest will help. I went to sleep thinking I will be bored to sleep the next day, acclimatizing. I needn’t have.

13th June

As usual, I woke up by around four in the morning, tossed and turned, and finally got out of the tent by 8. And I saw that tents were being packed, and I was like, what the hell is happening guys? Somewhere in the night or morning, the plans changed. We were trekking to Kedar Tal that day. I did not like it, but you don’t argue at 4,300m. I was the weakest link, and that thought kept nagging me.

The path laid out for the day was nagging too – all through the next few hours, all we did was walk on boulders.

Today it was Traipan’s turn to walk along with me. He is an amazing mountain goat who has climbed Mt. Sudarshan, a 6,500 m peak. Traipan has farms back home in his village near Uttar Kashi, and “guiding” is sort of a part-time occupation for him. I think he can climb much better than he can grow potatoes – talk about comparative advantage. I would become friends with him because of some commonalities, but I did not know it then.

The day’s trek, as I mentioned before, was a maze of rocks and boulders.

I did not get lost because of our guide. I was getting confident that I could make my way out of it because of the cairns (heaps of rocks kept as path indicators) strewn all along the way. My confidence, (and in fact our team’s collective confidence) in our capabilities would be put to test in two days, and we would come out of it in less than flying colors.

Here's a video of the path:
The path evened out after a point, and I happily walked on drinking in some of the best mountain panoramas, I have ever seen. And as usual, at the end of the trek, there was an elevation – I think God has them elevations planted at the end of every day’s trek. Today’s wasn’t deadly though, and I made it with relative ease.

Immediately after the elevation, I saw our camp, set in the backdrop of Mt. ThalaySagar and Mt. Meru. Ok, that’s all good, but where the hell is Kedar Tal? I walked up to the idling trekkers and asked them this question. They asked me to walk a bit up and look down. I did so, and there it was, at the bottom of a sheer drop, the object of my fantasies over the past few months.

Words cannot describe the beauty of it. I remember thinking, this is it – beautiful. But that wasn’t it, as time would tell, as Kedar Tal unraveled itself and showed its different faces to us in what could be benign gestures truly befitting a Himalayan glacial melt.

The beauty! I thought that was Einstein on snow.

We idled a bit toward evening, and then it started, what arguably could have been one of the highest parties in the world inside out tents. Traipan gave us good company, with his mountain lore.

Smoke at the moon!

Dinner was great, but then AMS struck, and all of us loved it. Our cook had managed to get us some Aaloo Muttar Sabji (AMS), and it was yum. And we went to sleep.

In all this happy tales, I was getting a bit bogged down by the amount of time we were spending away from the real world madness. No e-mails, phone calls, nothing. I checked with Saurav, and he was ok with coming back the next day. The other part was that reaching Kedar Tal in itself gave a huge sense of accomplishment. Why push it for a few days more?

Some of the other trekkers were also for the idea of returning the next day. However, we still had a few days left, and Tilak got us all convinced that we can try the advanced base camp of Mt. Jogin the next day, with some ice-axe and rope action. Exploration of Mt. Jogin area was also part of our initial plan.

At night, temperatures dropped like a cricket sitter. Two t-shirts, decent thermals, jacket and the sleeping bag were found to be barely enough. And I woke up at 3. That’s not the time you want to answer nature’s call. I opened the tent a bit, and a bunch of just frozen particles fell on my head from the roof of the tent and made me wet. Thank you very much.

14th June
Somehow all of us made it to the other side of the night with great difficulty. After breakfast, we had a quick chat for plan of action for the day. We decided that we would walk as far as we can go that day. I decided to just walk as much as I can without targets. I went down and took a few shots.

So off we went travelling along the left side of the lake toward the ridge bang into Thalay Sagar. These are shots of prayer mounts erected by mountain expeditions.

If you’re climbing these kind of mountains,

you sure need to pray a lot. Kishen told me of an expedition in the late 90s to scale Mt. Thalaysagar. It was a Korean family, and their 17 year old son was up there hanging in a suspended tent trying to drill holes into the rock face to fix ropes. He did it for days on end, supplies arriving through ropes. Most of the party perished. But you cannot blame them for trying the scale this beauty.

This is a picture of Kedar Tal from the other side.

Close-up of the icefall on the mountain.

Here’s a video. Sort of my parting shot for the trip. I turned around after shooting this and stubbing a cigarette butt out.

I was a kilometer away from the camp, when it started to snow lightly. And I was thinking “great, this was left.” As I reached camp, I was a bit concerned about our party which went further up.
Thankfully, all of them my co-trekkers show up in a few hours, totally spent, after an exhausting day above 5,500m. The first to come was Saurav, who came outside the tent and said “Sajish, I’m totally tired”. He needn’t have said that because his face scared me already because of its total lack of blood. They had gone up to the advanced base camp, there was powdery snowfall, and the rest were slowly but surely dragging themselves back to our base camp above Kedar Tal. Lovedeep had his tale to tell - he was tired and dozed off while coming back, without realizing - a grim reminder (though on a minuscule scale)of what happens to many climbers who die on the Everest.

We had Magi instead of the regular lunch. The rest of the day went by without events.

In the evening, the moon came out from behind Mt. Meru. I couldn't do justice.

By mistake, I caught the moon falling down to earth. :)

I remember dinner being a quick affair. Thankfully, that night's sleep was better.

15th June, 2011.
Today we return. 10 minutes before we leave, I walked up to the point where I could bid Thalay Sagar and Kedar Tal a close-up goodbye. There was nothing more to see, just a parting kiss. However, what I saw surprised me. In a nutshell, the whole place had conspired and saved the best for the last.

We trekkers started early, with the confidence that we can find our way using cairns, common sense, and directional logic. We did well for some time, till we came to a dead end. So we backtracked and started going on a different route, which Tilak was confident about. And then we did something totally crazy. We split up. Tilak, Shwetha and yours truly in one direction, and Saurav and Lovedeep in another. We went round and round in circles, got ourselves wet in streams, jumped boulders that tested our knees, and ended up a long way from home. In the end it all worked well, and all of us, the trekkers and the support crew (who started and hour later) met somewhere up Kedar Kharak.

We smoked, talked, laughed and went down again in record time. I was feeling slightly energetic, not having to go through the ordeal of my fellow travelers the previous day. Guess I just ran across the mud mountain with a “F U Ibexes, I don’t care, I AM going back to my life.” chant on my lips. Ibexes had become chums by then, daring to wander close to us.

We saw a bottle of Antiquity that someone had left in the open, and I decided to save antiquity for posterity.

Kishan getting us some Bhoj Patra bark:

While coming down I wondered how we managed to climb up this kind of elevation, especially the Gangotri-Bhoj Kharak stretch on the first day. If you ever make this trip,I can guarantee in writing that the journey down will rip apart your knees, if nothing else.

Long story short, we reached Gangotri that evening, taking all the rest breaks and stuff. Tada.

Irony at Gangotri. He lacks what he is shaving off.

On the drive back, our driver asked this lad to fill some water for us.

He saw me with my camera and struck a cute pose.

Here's the most amazing high altitude cooks in the world -Rathish. He traveled with us on our way back. He had shaved and cleaned himself up in Gangotri and was clearly on the way to seeing someone, judging by his blush when we questioned him, and the repeated missed calls on his phone.

Why oh why, didn't I take the blue pill?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chro: Dec 31 2007

Doc: Happy Birthday fellow, you look awesomely happy today.

Thanks. And, as a matter of fact I’m trying to look happy. Hey Doc, have you have ever been hit by your close friends?

You know I’m not going to answer any of your non-treatment related questions, don’t you?

C’mon doc. It’s my birthday, surprise me. Pleeeaaassse – consider it as my birthday wish.

Ok ok. A couple of times. But we were drinking and it was in jest. I guess it was a fair fight, ya know.

No. No. I don’t know. That’s not what I’m talking about. Have you have ever been hit by your close friends? I mean “hit” as in, hit to hurt you.

No major way buddy. It hurts, punches always hurt, don’t they?

Yes they do…they do. Punches hurt. They are equal. But as George Orwell said, and let me paraphrase it for you, some punches are more equal than the others.


Doc, I know you don’t get it. So let me be the doc here. There are them punches. Like when I was in school, and I was liked by everybody, or so I thought. There were two warring factions, and I belonged to one of them. And there used to be fights. And I was there always, not fighting, mind you doc, but throwing people one way or the other, trying to put an end to the madness, yelling STOP.

And, were you successful?

Well, yes, at times I did manage to push them away, coz I had friends on both sides. I’m not sure if you heard this quote – “the success of a man’s efforts needn’t always be measured in outcomes, but by pure intent and in some cases sheer audacity of the effort”. It would have been Nietzsche, but he did not say it, coz he wasn’t ever in my position.

Ok, I’m getting this, I think. Ciao, and be good.

Doc wait, it’s my birthday, and moreover, the best is yet to come.

Hmm. And?

And I was playing the invincible, or so I thought. Till it all came to pass. There was this day. One of my faction guys pulled me out and BANG hit me. And it hurt.

What? I mean, one of your people?

Yes, one of mine, and I was like ouch. What the fuck is wrong with him? Thankfully, I kicked back just out of reflex and it was not BANG BANG BANG and in 5 seconds it’s all over. People came running and it’s curtains.

Ok. Did that hurt?

You had to ask, didn’t you? That hurt. Baaad. And I walked away, and there are these other faction guys, the vultures swooping in, asking me if I was hurt, and chweatly “We need to do something about this. Can we settle this for you?” And I was like – No, thank you very much." And I think I just left the place. I think I yelled a lot before I left.

Doc: Did that hurt?

Not exactly. I was surprised.

Ya know, I think you were a good man that day, doing God's work, and I feel sorry for you.

Like hell you are, you would feel sorrier if you were me today. Hahaa, gotcha. actually, you would be sorry if you were me the NEXT day. I was having this conversation next day with one of my opposite faction friends and I learn that my-faction-guy had a misunderstanding. And I was like ok….And then I learn from one of my-faction-guys that my-faction-guy had a misunderstanding. And I’m like ok. And then I learn from everyone that my-faction-guy had been telling every-faction-guy that he has had some sort of understanding and that he planned to settle it. And none of them my faction or your faction guys bothered to tell me shit is coming. Does that qualify in your DSM as anything?

No. I think I lost you.

Cool. Coz I lost myself too that day. And from there on, I never had friends.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


There are some moments in life that are truly aha. I was driving down with my family to Kannur, and we stopped by a restaurant to have lunch, like people normally do. The whole ordeal lasted 70 minutes. 20 minutes to take the order, 40 minutes to deliver, & 10 minutes to eat. The restaurant was full of people, but there was just one guy going around taking the order and going around serving them. By the time it took him to come out after reporting the order in the kitchen, I guess he was dong the cooking too. I got so frustrated after 20-30 minutes, but then I remembered "sunk cost", which means shit that has already gone done the drain that you need not account for, and I kept quiet. There were patrons shouting, as we were walking out, because the menu was not shown to them yet after 15 minutes.

Now, this good looking restaurant is the first of its kind in a long driving stretch, so people would naturally stop to eat.I spoke to the counter manager while walking out. Please click on the image to see the gist.


The title of this post could have been "Fact is stranger than fiction".

This event happened in a tier 1.75 degree college in Bangalore. The college hired an executive assistant for the principal. The 40-something lady was apparently cool in interviews.

The principal of this institution was in for a rude shock on day 2, when she came with the copy of a memo he had dictated. It was ALL CAPS. He politely asked her why this was the case. Her take was that she will make it normal when the final print, after corrections, is taken.

He insisted that he get a normal copy for review, and she responded out of the blue: "THEN YOU DO IT."

The poor principal was a bit shaken by this turn of events, and he politely tried to tell her why some things needed to be done the way they are supposed to and not how someone feels. The following dialogues are verbatim:


Principal: What are you talking about? Mind your words.

Assistant: I AM MINDING.

Principal: Please go home.


I don't know how this conversation ended, but the assistant quit(sort of fired) that day and the principal went on a two day leave.

If any of you have done recruitment, and have lived to enjoy the brunt of your infinite wisdom in the workplace later on, please join me in my prayer:

Lord, let me continue to make mistakes in hiring, but NOT LIKE THAT.