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Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hazare in Delhi


I was doing monthly grocery shopping in Star Bazaar today. Star Bazaar is a Tata-Tesco JV. Malls like this and all other symbols of modern-day capitalism came up thanks to the vision of a group led by our current PM in the early nineties. [May be more out of necessity, than vision.] Out of the blue, the audio system in the mall suddenly started playing Vande Matharam. I was stunned. Why now, why here? Was it a sad attempt to cash in on the nationalistic fervor? Has the long-forgotten symbols of Indian statehood, the national flag, the anthem, and the song, suddenly become powerful enough? May be yes, but we do not know if it is something along the lines of a fad, quick to vanish. 

Driving back through the Bangalore outer ring road, I saw the speed gun of the traffic cops in the distance. I saw a traffic cop trying to get a motorcyclist to stop, but he veered around and sped –and the cop actually tried to hit him from behind. The fellow could have fallen to the ground, or in the worst-case even died, but the cop was unmindful of such consequences in his law enforcement jingoism. Thankfully, the biker sped away and the cop started looking for other cash cows.

In Delhi, 4 hours before this minor event happened, Kizan Baburao Hazare a.k.a Anna Hazare, broke his fast, after giving teeth to the people to fight corruption. The media reported that two Dalit [inclusive hint] girls provided him with the ammo to break his 13 day crusade against lawmakers insisting on doing their version of corruption control.

In the last 12 days, India saw mayhem (by India’s standards) as Anna inspired hundreds of thousands of otherwise office-going men and women and college-going youth to come out on streets and protest against the corruption endemic in our system. TV crews went berserk covering these protests, TV anchors looked overworked discussing the issue. There is no instance in my 34 year life that have I seen the national flag being flown in such quantities and with such gusto. A staunch nationalist that I am, I should have been overwhelmingly proud. Thoroughly disenchanted with the corrupt political and administrative mechanism, I should have felt powerful finally. I should have been in every rally that was taken out in my neighborhood. But I did not lift a finger. Well may be yes I did once, but that was to click the photo of a rally in CMH Road. I kept asking myself, why I was not in it.

There are a few answers. 

One, it reminded me of the message from ex-US President Bush in his war against terror. If you’re not with us, you’re with them. I dislike the tenor, but that was what I got from the self-styled second Indian independence struggle. The tone of the messages changed to authoritarian over the days, possibly emboldened by the lakhs of people who showed up in support.

Two, who is Anna Hazare? I know Arundhati Roy asked this question in an uncharitable manner a few days back, but then again, uncharitable could have been her middle name. I have been following the national print media for the last two and a half decades, but his name never registered, except in the last one year. Sundar lal Bahuguna, Medha Patkar, Kiran Bedi, Irom Sharmila, yes! But the name Anna didn’t ring a bell. I could discount my knowledge of him previously, as long as his message is valid, but it didn’t quite sit well. Additionally, Anna has this huge image of Gandhi behind him, but he differs from Gandhi because he supports violence for a just cause. There is no problem with putting Gandhi up there, but the problem is who defines this just cause. As per Anna, drinking alcohol or smoking is a reason enough for flogging. And I’m sure he can find millions of women in rural India to support him. But, I just don’t like it. Not because I smoke and drink, but because it reminds me of Taliban. What if Anna wakes up one day and thinks girls can’t wear denims? He will find support for that too in you-know-who.

Three, who drives this well-orchestrated India Against Corruption campaign, and who makes decisions, like the final deal with the government? The Kejrivals, the Bhushans, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, and Anna? Firstly, the mobilization and the clockwork of the operation is too astounding. Second, in the words of Swami Agnivesh who was part of the core group, “Even decisions emanate without discussions. We don’t know which are the decisions of the core group and which are independent decisions.” Agnivesh was practically shunted out of the core group with aspersions cast on his integrity – suspected of being an agent of the administration. He added, "Collective decision making was not there. When it comes to taking a crucial decision the members say ‘we leave it to Anna.’ And Anna has already been told what his decision should be.” Very dangerous indeed if his allegations are true – how do we know who makes these decisions? Even if we assume it is Anna, how do we trust one man to make these?

Four, what will come out of this? Another piece of legislation and a huge Lok Pal/Ayukta army to settle corruption cases, again at the taxpayer’s expense. They will punish the wrong-doers. Now wait a minute, isn’t that what the judiciary was supposed to do? Oh, ok, I forgot, the judiciary is partly corrupt and remember the unheard cases piled up in the courts. This new and amazing mechanism will be different. Instead of cleaning up the judiciary and making it more efficient with fast-track measures, we will set up this army of individuals who will settle corruption cases ranging from a few thousands to crores of Rupees. They presumably will never be corrupt. Hahaha. Talk about one more layer of corruption.

Sorry to sound so negative, but that’s the bottom line. The administrative mechanism will swell with these new people, and they will feed on our taxes. A good number of corruption concerns may get settled, but for the major part, you know how India runs.

We were having this discussion about Lokpal one of these days and one of the participants strongly supported Hazare’s movement. Then the conversation somehow turned to real estate, and the same staunch supporter mentioned buying a plot of land recently at a bargain. But then I asked him about the registration because property registrations have been stopped in Bangalore. And his response was classic “push some money here, some there, you know how it works, Sajish”. Yes I know how it works, which is why I’m skeptical.

Sarjapur in Bangalore saw a lot of rallies these days. It is a relatively up-market area, and the residents of these apartments came out quite frequently in support. Dads with their kids, youth, women - pregnant and otherwise, armed with wristbands and flags showed that the urbane can get on the streets, if the calling is right. Great! But wait a minute to check the records. You will find that almost all of them would have shown Rs. 10-20 lakh as apartment value for registration, while shelling out 40-60 lakhs to the builder.  The lower value shown on the records help save a small fortune in registration taxes. You can blame the system as the problem, but the problem is also you, and you feel guilty. It’s possibly the guilt which feeds this mobilization, which makes you come down from the high rises. And India found a release for this collective guilt in the last few days. 

As far as the system goes, Dhananjay’s words ring out loud. Dhananjay works in my office and this was his definition of Jan Lokpal. “If you have to stand in a queue for a day and get something done, stand in the queue. Do not pay someone to get it done.” I disagree with him. I do not understand why I should stand in a queue for a day to get something inane done. I may rather pay up and live with that guilt.

The traffic cop on the outer ring road should have merely marked the details of the biker and send a notice. Or put a red mark against his license. The need to lash out at him ripping at 80 kmph is not law enforcement - it’s greed. As a society, I guess we became too Wall Street for our own good. 

I have supported Hazare in a previous post, I have talked about corrupt cops in Sudan (Kaggadasapura), I have spoken about voting in Sudan(Guntur, AP), but this time I disagree. The real need is not more policing, but a more efficient system. Till then, I will be guilty. I would wait for a day when the chant of Vande Matharam is more heartfelt.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Once upon a time in March (Deoria Tal, Tungnath, Rishikesh Rafting) - 2


Part 2: Tungnath
[Part 1 can be found here: Deoria Tal.]

After freshening up at the guest house in Saari Village, we idled around for a bit, sipping in the tea along with the village scenery. By 11, we were in our bus for the 20 odd kilometer trip to Duggalbitta. Duggalbitta is a few kilometers away from Chopta, Chopta being the usual starting point for the trek to Tungnath. The road between Duggalbitta and Chopta was still snow covered for the most part, which explained our decision to camp in Duggalbitta. 

 

Energy levels were high during the short trip, with people dancing and singing inside the bus.
Here's us waiting for the camp to be set up.
 

Sathya and Reuben -attempted smilies. [Most photos in the post are courtesy Sathya, unless stated otherwise.]

We went for a short stroll to be greeted by snow.
  Post lunch, most of us just plonked on the grass to relax. The sun was pleasant and helped nullify the chill factor to a considerable degree. MTV was turned on with Saurav and Reuben taking turns in entertaining everyone with a good mix of rock and Bollywood. Those couple of hours was the most relaxing moments of the entire trip.  
Here's a snippet:


The panorama in front, the best weather one could have bargained for, the occasional leg pulling laughter, the feel of nothing TO-DO today, the sound of wind and guitar strains. And then there was this steady thumping of Royal Enfields, not one, not two, but close to 20 Bullets. We turned around to see those Enfields steadily streaming in, with their machines shattering our reverie. Those men stopped at Duggalbitta with the idea to camp there. They were the crew of INS Viraat, India’s flagship aircraft career. The sea men were on a mountain travel spree, with their military truck in tow, with all the camping gear and necessary gigs. 
The Viraat men did some scouting and decided to return the next day, as it was next to impossible to continue the mechanized journey, with the snow conditions further ahead. They camped on the other side of the meadow. The world is in fact a small place, as I managed to find that I had a common friend with their communications specialist. (Yes. I like to show off.)
Toward evening, all of us walked up a bit, and decided to conduct a snowman making competition -and it had to be men versus women. 

Here's the Happy New Year fellow from the previous post.
Nirmal, Syed, and Sudheer, with what men can do.

Marj and Shriti with what women can.Though it is not evident in this photograph, their's was the better creation and they won the day.

 
This is our video log of the event.This should be conclusive proof that women were better.


And while returning, we saw a bus that was stuck in snow. We decided to play the rescue crew.
Two campfires were lit on the meadow that night. One by our Navy men and one by us. 
ANSR split into two teams and played games like Rock, Paper, Scissors and some other stuff. The prize was a buffalo head [sans the flesh] that Nirmal had foraged from the neighborhood. A pity, we forgot to bring it to Bangalore. Ni-et won the sing-a-song-but-not-in-your-native-tongue competition by singing an old Malayalam classic. It’s an unbelievable feeling to listen to a South Indian song coming from someone with definitive chiseled North-East Indian looks. [That's a wrong stereotype at so many levels, because South India is so different, as is the North-Eastern part of India, but I hope you get the drift.]

We decided to start early for Tungnath and crashed for the night. It was a good day, marred only by reports from Lakhpath about disappearing flaura and fauna. The famous musk deer that used to walk these hills are no more. The last one died a year back or so. I hate to think what would be left of this place in another 20 years.

The next day, we woke up and got ready by around 7. Our Navy men were leaving. We were sipping tea, while they said their goodbyes, and started their bikes. And before revving up, they let out one of the loudest war-cries I have ever heard – Bolo Bharath Mata ki Jai - bone chilling and hair raising. Hats off to them supermen. Even in these "peaceful" times, they are involved in combat at some level with their anti-pirate operations.

Before we start the Tungnath episode, some background information. The road from Ukhimath to Chopta, connects the two big pilgrimage spots of Kedarnath and Badrinath. [Please see a cartographer’s nightmare image below.]

It’s sort of a short-cut. Most travel (government buses too), however happens through the more circuitous Rudraprayag route. In fact, there was a time, when no buses plied on the Chopta route. The people of this stretch then went on an indefinite fast, before the government obliged and gave them their bus. The bus, even now is quite aptly called the Bhookh Hartal (hunger strike) bus. I travelled in the Bhookh Hartal bus, the first time I came to Uttarakhand in 1998. We passed by Chopta, and I did not get down because my destination was Badrinath. It was rather weird that I did not get down then, because it was the image of a snow clad Tungnath that appeared in the final page of the Indian Express (along with a 100 word write-up) that really prompted me to come to this hill state.

When we started the planning, Tungnath, along with Deoria, fitted neatly into the idea of an office outing. Nothing heavy-duty. Chopta to Tungnath trek is around 3.5 kilometeres. Chandrashila, if we were attempting it, was another kilometer from Tungnath. But, during the planning phase, we had not factored in the Duggalbitta to Chopta hike of around 1.5 kilometers, hoping the roads would be clear in mid-March.

Here's the Duggalbitta to Chopta stretch.
In our team, whoever prayed for lots of snow made it tough for everyone else. (I’m yet to spot the imp  amongst us, but will do so before the next trip. :-)


We were tired when we reached Chopta in an hour or so, but nothing beyond repair. We had tea and snacks, stocked up water and chocolates, and took some pictures.
 

Lakhpath briefed us about the trek for a short while.

The trek was not going to be easy, as some stretches had too much snow. As a team, we reached an understanding that anyone feeling excessive difficulty would stop, rest for some time, and then turn back. No room for bravado.
The path from Chopta to Tungnath is well laid out with stone steps. That’s the usual image you will get if you Google it out. But this time, right from the start, the stone steps were snowed out.
We did make some mistakes, like splitting up. I think there were three teams in all – I started off with the bunch in front with Lakhpath, Shruthi, Saurav, Kruthi, Ni-et, VJ Sai, and Sucharitha. Soon Lakhpath pointed to a short-cut and I said - no way. Lakhpath went ahead with the sporty Sucharita and VJ Sai.
There is no point detailing walking in 3 feet snow. I was always trying to play catch up, and at one point, I saw Marj walking towards us.


I remember asking her this question – Tell me again, why are we doing this? To which Marj responded – Exactly my question.
The day was not exactly turning out to be a light-medium duty trek. Some of us matched mountain goats and went up, but then not all could manage the toil. Soon, a hoard of trekkers from Chamoli joined the mayhem. There were 30 or 40 of them and they set a scorching pace – men and women. They were extremely courteous, and pulled a couple of us up on a few occasions.

That's Saurav walking on air.


After this stretch, as a team, we made one more mistake - in assuming that a structure that we saw in the distance was Tungnath. For future trekkers, one word of wisdom – Tungnath does not show it’s face until the last few hundred meters or so.
Most of us were tired beyond recognition. But we still discussed the possibility of Chandrashila, but Lakhpath remained noncommittal in his response. He kept on saying, first, let’s do Tungnath. And I’m sure he was thinking “This irritating bunch from Bangalore does not have the mettle to do Tungnath, but has the balls to talk about Chandrashila in these snow conditions.”
Some of us decided to call it a day. One note about this place. I had started off as part of the leading team in the morning, but when I reached here, I was the last, all our teams reached before me.

After this point, it was like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m talking about my jacket. The sun is burning down and you’re sweating like crazy. So you take it off. Then, you’re freezing with the cold winds icifying your sweat. So you put it on again. It’s torture.
To add salt in to injury, I was alone on this stretch. One team turned back, the other was way ahead. I could see them waiting for me, but how long can someone wait? They move on, and with every passing step of theirs I continued to lag behind. I saw them pausing at the structure that we mistook for Tungnath and moving on again. I shouted out and heard Reuben’s response “We reached Tungnath, we’re going for Chandrashila”. And I was like “Great, Let me at least reach Tungnath.”

And then, they passed a corner, and it was me all alone, walking 10 footsteps and resting for a minute or two.
In some time, I reached this structure that we mistook for Tungnath, and realized it wasn’t the one.


Misery continues. To add to the list of woes, my water bottle was getting empty. That’s when I met two good samaritans from the Chamoli team on their way back. They told clearly that Tungnath was a bit away after the bend in the distance. They looked at my pathetic state and said I could walk up to the bend, see the Tungnath temple from a distance, and if Tungnathji (Shiva) wishes, he will drag me up. I thanked them, while thinking “Why did you have to bring faith into the picture? I just want to be there.”
Soon enough I crossed the bend, and I saw Saurav, Sucharitha, and VJ Sai waving from above. Yes ABOVE, the last few hundred metres are no joke.

That's the edifice of Tungnath from a distance.

All said and done, all of us rested for some time, and took these snaps.

The guy on the right side of the picture thought the photographer was on the other side.

Lakhpath was against the idea of pushing Chandrashila, which was another vertical path in snow, close to a kilometer. The snow was deep, and I do not think anyone argued. It was already 1.30 in the afternoon and we were supposed to be going down, reach Duggalbitta, and then on to Syalsaur GMVN. The party in the mountains is over, drudgery of walking down, or so I thought.

That’s when Lakhpath asked us to slide down. Oh the beauty of it. Btw, this video captures all that's been written above.


We were down in Chopta after sliding down all the monstrous elevations in about 90 minutes.

We rested for a bit at Chopta, and then walked down to our camp at Duggalbitta. I remember walking up again to make a call to the office. Mobile connectivity is erratic here. It was 5 in the eveningwhen we all reached camp and was ready to go. There was a problem, because it is not advisable to travel in the night. However, we had made bookings at the picturesque Syalsaur GMVN about 50 kilometers away.
Somehow we convinced the driver, bid adieu to our Duggalbitta camp and Lakhpath, and sat in the bus. The stinky wet shoes were kept on top of the bus to dry.
Problems soon started. One puke after the other – I think 8 out of 16 were holding their mouths close to the window of the bus that day. Our driver was driving real fast, and we thought the bouncing around was adding to the problem, and I told him to slow down, and he went in the other direction – total crawl – that I felt like puking :-).
We reached Syalsaur GMVN by around 8. Perfect place. Dine, wine, switch off.

Part 3 can be found here: Rishikesh Whitewater Rafting.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Once upon a time in March (Deoria Tal, Tungnath, Rishikesh Rafting)

Part 1: Deoria Tal

What do folks from an office do when they feel they feel they have a bit of time on their hands? Take a break, right? That’s exactly what 16 of us did in March 2011. We took an extended break for 9 days, went to the Himalayas, did two treks, camped three nights, came down to lower altitude and did whitewater rafting in the Ganges for 2 days.

This is our story.

It was not always the 16 of us. When we first announced the plan in September 2010, there were 20 of us. Some people vacillated, some people pulled out, and when the time came for booking tickets, there were only 10 of us. I was getting a bit worried, because the ideal numbers are either 6-8 or 15-16, because of conveyance costs and economies of scale. We were stuck bang in the middle.

Slowly, but surely, momentum built up inside the office after we made flight bookings, and by February, 16 had made the cut. Happily, we put up posters around - the "16 to the Mountain" campaign.






One person dropped dead at the nth minute, but VJ Sai volunteered to come, and we were back to four squared.

The plan was to fly to Delhi and then go for treks to Deoria Tal, Tungnath & Chandrashila, and finally raft in Rishikesh. Before we started off, we were receiving constant updates about snow conditions from Lakhpat Singh Negi (our guide for the Deoria Tal trek and Tungnath trek), and it worried us a bit. As much as we wanted to play in snow, we were not quite warmed up to the idea of trekking kilometers in deep snow. It snowed even in early March in the hills of Uttarakhand in 2011, something quite unusual compared to trends from previous years. Anyway, we decided to take our chances, did some group shopping for thermals and other gear, picked up our company flag, and off we went.

[Photo courtesy: Shriti Mitra]

This was our original plan.
Day Plan
0 Friday Reach Delhi by 10.30. Travel overnight in a minibus
1 Saturday Freshen up at Rishikesh. Full day journey. Stay at Ukhimath GMVN
2 Sunday Reach Saari Village - Trek to Deoria Tal. Overnight camping.
3 Monday Trek back to Saari Village. Reach Duggalbitta near Choptha. Overnight camping.
4 Tuesday Trek to Tungnath and Chandrashila and back. Stay at Syalsaur GMVN.
5 Wednesday Reach Rishikesh and idle at camp on the river Ganges.
6 Thursday Rafting and camping
7 Friday Rafting. Reach Haridwar by evening.
8 Saturday Play Holi in Haridwar. Overnight to Delhi.
9 Sunday Delhi to BLR flight.

Support: I have no reservations in recommending the valuable services of the following people:
Lakhpat Singh Negi (guide for Tungnath and Deoria Tal) – 9456264575
Sanjay Saini (rafting in Rishikesh) – 9811097433
Naveen Mohan (Conveyance) - 9837171605

We reached Delhi on time and packed into the minibus that would take us to Rishikesh in the morning. We had dinner at 2.30 in the morning from Bikaner House. The food was good, but they can use some cleaning help with their restrooms. [Interestingly, I learned on a more recent trip, that this is a regular halting place for long distance buses. No wonder the restrooms are sad.]

Around 3 in the morning, we hit a dead patch, with what seemed like the mother of all traffic blocks. Our bus would move a couple of meters and then stop – the rocking motion was repetitive and possibly helped our sleep. When most of us woke up (around 7), the traffic block was still in place, and we were stuck in Muzaffarnagar, around a 100 kms from Rishikesh. Incidentally, we had hoped to be in Rishikesh by 7.

Traffic cleared up soon enough and we reached Rishikesh by around 10 in the morning. Naveen, who runs Shubh Yatra Travels (our conveyance) had arranged for some rooms to freshen up. Had some yummy food from a roadside stall and the next leg of our journey began. The traffic snarl during the night would definitely throw a spanner in our works of reaching Ukhimath that night. But we decided to press on, and travel as much as possible during the day. Travel is not advisable in the hills after sundown.

Most of the day was spend in dozing off in the bus. We stopped at Srinagar for lunch. Srinagar (in Uttarakhand) is mostly a military township, with a healthy sprinkling of educational institutions. Nirmal hunted out Cozy Restaurant, the best non-vegetarian outlet in town.


After a decent, albeit delayed, meal at around 2.30 PM, we continued our journey. This was a grueling experience. No one had really slept for the past 30 hours, as we came in to work, then flew to Delhi, and then the overnight journey. Fortunately, none of us complained, because we had agreed as a team early on, that we would make this mad dash so that we will have plenty of time on our hands later on.

We reached Rudraprayag, a major district, by around 7 in the evening. Inquiries at Rudrprayag GMVN left us in a quandary. The rates sounded steep for a party just wishing to crash and sleep, and then move on early in the morning. GMVN, by the way, stands for Garwhal Mandal Vikas Nigam, the travel and tourism arm of the Uttarakhand government. Uttarakhand is divided into two zones – Garwhal and Kumaon (Jim Corbett fame). Kumaon has a counterpart to GMVN – called KMVN – no prizes for guessing the expanded version.

Thankfully, Rudraprayag GMVN folks guided us to Chandrapuri, an inexpensive proposition on a remote hamlet, set on the banks of river Mandakini, a few kilometers ahead. It was late, and we had to coax and cajole our driver to go a few kilometers further in the night. When we reached Chandrapuri, it was pitch dark. The accommodation was basic, but for the really weary travelers that we were, it didn’t matter. Despite the fatigue, we managed to sing and party till around 10 in the night, when dinner was served. The only thing I remember about the dinner is full-boiled eggs floating in spicy curry – lots of them in big bowls.
I knew that we could see mountains early in the morning, from our location. It was a great moment for a lot of us from the south, who had never seen snow clad peaks.

In the morning, the weather was clear, the waters were beautiful, and in the distance, you could see the gigantic peaks of the Himalayan range.





The night’s sleep helped in reducing the fatigue, and some of us even went for a short climb nearby.
We started early, and by around 9 O clock, reached Ukhimath. We chose our breakfast from this exotic menu, which included froot snakes.



By 11, we reached Saari Village, but not before we saw the peaks of Chandrashila up close and personal, from our bus.


In Saari, I was happy to meet Lakhpat ji in person, after months of tele contact. A wiry man in his forties, he is a respected figure around here. Sucharita, a diminutive but energetic girl in our bunch later on gave Lakhpat ji a new name – Lucky!

We checked in at his hotel in Saari, dumped our luggage, took basic necessities, and soon started our trek to Deoria Tal. The trek is 2.5-3 kms long, and is paved with stones for some distance.

Our lack of fitness showed early on itself. Reuben experienced a puking episode early on, but still managed well. Barring a few, we were taking ample breaks every five minutes.


Shot of the picturesque Saari Village from above.


Lakhpat Singh Negi.


A stone-roofed house.



Rhododendron flowers in full bloom.


While some of us were having difficulty, a bunch of us like Shruthi and Sucharita, were literally dancing their way up. Above our sighs and pants, we could hear the girls dance and sing in the distance. It sounded eerie, when their voices and laughter floated to us with the mountain winds.

One of the first to reach was Sudhir, our finance controller. It was surprising, because his only exercise in life is the few steps from his car to the office lift! Hats off.


After around 3 hours, all of us reached the camp site. From here, we could view some majestic Himalayan peaks. Deoria Tal was still a few hundred metres away, and was not visible from our Reflection Resort camp site.




We decided to have lunch and then walk up to the lake.

Shots of Deoria Tal.




Deoria Tal is situated at an altitude of around 2,300 m. Every brook and rock in Uttarakhand has a mythological association to it. It was here apparently that Yaksha asked the wandering Pandavas those deadly questions that would have sealed their fate, barring the last minute appearance of the eldest of the lot.
We walked around the lake, and found some dirty leftover ice to play around with.

(In a sweet display of retaliation, snow and ice would play havoc with us in the next two days :-)

We came back to the camp, lit a bon fire, and started a party that would go on for hours.

VJ Sai basking in the twilight sun.


Saurav, Shruthi, and Ni-et:


The fire wasn’t bright, the mercury was dipping, but we had enough fire in our bellies to last some good hours. Satya joined the cooking efforts of the local people, and the dinner-satisfaction-index shot up by a couple of percentage points.

Early morning, I was greeted with a “Happy New Year, Sirjee” cry from one of Lakhpat’s associates. I responded happily even though it was not that time of the year, for some funny reason which I cannot recollect now. He would become Jesus Christ of sorts in snow, in a day or two.

All of us soon walked up to the lake to catch a reflection of the mountains. Early mornings are ideal for this purpose, as the winds would not have not picked up steam, giving us the best still waters to function as mirrors. We trekked back to Saari Village after an hour or two, ending what was one of the best nights at a decent altitude.

Part 2 can be found here.