Monday, December 31, 2012

My 2013 Resolution. We WILL NOT!

Well, the world did not come to an end in 2012, as predicted by those who stole the rest of the Mayan calendar. Now let's wait for the next doomsday. I promise, I'll stop all my vices on that fateful day.

This is my wishlist for 2013:
Bikers will stop overtaking from the left.
Women (stereotype, and autorickshaw guys) will drive well.
We will stop acting dumb by NOT using them smartphones all the time.
Syria will be settled.
The Hobbit parts 2 & 3 will be released soon.
The day of men will dawn.
Not another Aruna Shaunbaug, and not another Delhi gang-rape victim.
And you bloody media wants to put a name on her face? Excuse me, TOI editor, I would rather put a smile on your face a la Joker.
She was not Nirbhaya, nor Damini, nor Amanat. (Nirbhaya = One without fear) She was scared and screaming, she could have been my sister living in Delhi or my wife in BLR. She was not Nirbhaya, she may or may not have been a Braveheart, but the fact is we did nothing to protect her. As for the media, she was a woman who had a real name not meant for your TRP ratings; and she is no more alive - for that, I should thank you, a higher power, if you exist, for ending her pain quickly. She wanted to live, but that's a different story. The least that a spineless society like ours can do is to not belittle her anguish (or wipe our collective shame away) by making her a hero. She was a victim, nothing more, nothing less. And for all those jerks who are posting "her" pictures on Facebook and adding your "likes" and comments - Fuck you! you're perpetrating a crime.

I can live with the fact that finally people are realizing the grotesque nature of the crime and are feeling outraged - but I'm not feeling great about the way the media is pumping up this outrage. That said, read about Bhanwari Devi and feel outraged that the district sessions court judge said that she could not have been raped by upper caste men (sic), because she was a Dalit. That was circa 1992 or 95. Twenty years later, things are still the same. I'm not nihilistic, I think it's good that people are realizing that we have a sick judicial and investigative system, but it's like the Anna effect. What about the lakhs who waved flags and painted the tricolor on their faces? Did they get the Jan Lokpal bill passed? What are they doing now? Sitting at home and getting all worked up about it?

This outrage will fizzle away and the time will come for the next "movement". You think the Indian parliament will lift her colonial skirt up and let you candle-bearers rape it? NO. Our democratic system is so strong that when push comes to shove, our leaders will put Tiananmen square battle-tanks look like toddler toys. Don't believe me? Just look at what our President's son said. He would make a Muthalik or Taliban sound ultra-modern. Or what our home minister said.

And, if I'm allowed, may I ask a simple question?
What if this heinous crime happened in Mizoram or Arunachal Pradesh?
Would all of us be so outraged or the media feed that outrage?
Dingleberry of a society, I'm sick of you.

And I hope men in India take this resolution for 2013. Instead of a "we will" resolution, a "WE WILL NOT" resolution.

"We will not touch a girl without her permission. No morality bullshit. She would wear denims, or whatever she pleases because that's her choice and a basic human right. Men out there, WE WILL NOT."

In 2013, may a better world dawn!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chro: Dec 27, 2008

I dislike smoking cigarettes when they burn through and approach the filter. You could say that I have a problem with smoking butts, but that wouldn't be entirely true. To prove a point, here's something that starts with another "but", but this time, it is just a conjunction. Now "it" is not a conjunction, as we all know, but just an article of convenience.

But I wasn't the judge, the jury, nor the executioner.
I was just the public, watching a trial
With a case, but without the defendant, nor that side of the story
And after the verdict is out, I feel guilty

But I always knew, things would turn out this way
And when I did warn once, I got burned (much more than how you feel when you smoke a near-dead nicotine stick)
So, when the time came to warn again, I stood silent
For that inaction, after the verdict is out, I feel guilty

I watched you take that long plunge without the rope
And, bereft of hope, I did pray for thine anguish to end soon
For sure, I'm glad my prayers came true
And for that iota of happiness, I feel guilty, after the verdict is out
For there was a case, but there was no defendant, in the end.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Madmaheshwar Madness - Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

20th November, Tuesday
We woke up early by our standards. We had to walk around 8 kilometers uphill today and return to our abode at Khatara Khal, and may be even further down to Bantoli.

Fateh Singh kept no books, no bills, no accounts, just a diary, of which we would know while we came down from the trek that evening. While leaving in the morning, we rounded up a small amount and gave it to him and he trembled while telling us not to give him so much cash.

By 8.30, we were out in the open, trekking further up to Madmaheshwar. All the hills, snow-clad bugyals (grassy meadows), and the mountains that we saw from afar will slowly meet us on even keel today. We had the best weather for the trek.

 We gained altitude with every step.

With nothing else to do except drink up the scenery and click pictures, my mind went back  to a discussion we had with Ranjeet the previous night. About Garwali weddings. About how it was a simple affair in the high hills. Apparently, it costs about about Rs. 60k for the bride and Rs. 40k for the groom ($2,000 overall @50 ex rate). As is true for the rest of the subcontinent, the major expenditure is gold. The bride gets a gold locket and a ring while the groom settles for a ring. The villagers contribute rice, dal, and aaloo, and blessings as gifts. Case closed. The simplicity of this collectivist culture can be quite mind boggling to city dwellers.

This is Nanu village, another transit point on the trek - now shut down because of the winter.

 Traffic jam.

This day can best be described as the day for Ranjeet's oft-repeated line "wo jo jhaad dekh rahe ho na, uske peeche hai, bus thoda aaage!" (You see those trees over there at the edge of the hill? Just beyond that.) By the time we reached Madmaheshwar, I had turned into an antitheses of Maneka Gandhi wanting to burn down each Jhaad that came my way. This is an old lesson - never trust the mountain guides or porters. It's their credo to keep you motivated and up - so they will repeat the just beyond the bend or jhaad or rock phrase. I remember my dad doing this when I was a kid. When we used to walk (and we are talking about a time when we had to walk to reach a relative's house, the road long forgotten), he would say, "you see that lamp post over there, just beyond that." And it was a decoy, but it kept me going. In the mountains, I'm still a kid, but I know the game they are playing, I don't know whether to hate them or love them for it, but it keeps me going, so what the hell!

Our porter, Ranjeet, waiting for the beacons of Minas Tirith to be lit.

My beacon moment.

We were tired waiting for the elusive "next" turn after which the climb would reduce - but that respite never came. We went on taking small breaks in between.  The route just kept on going up in small increments.

And then our guide/porter led us into Fangorn Forest.

In the middle of the forest, we found ice. A spring (possibly natural, possibly a broken pipe) sprays  water all around, and at night, when temperature dips, the transformation happens. Still alive in the icy form during the day, this was surreal redefined. In two weeks from the time we visited, this will cease to be a scene, with a snow carpet all around.

We walked out of the forest by around 11.30 and reached Mr. Rawat's aunt's shop (now closed).

And the flowers in front of the shop.

And a few "jhaads" up, the heavenly display of the clouds started.

 Cirrocumulus stratiformis?

She refused to flow down.

 Minas Morgul.

 Meeting them on their own terms!

 Randeep Kickass Hari!
 Frozen, but still flowing!

After the final Jhaad, there was some plain walking for a few hundred meters to our destination.
A walk down/flat surface was most welcome. Thyats myee!

We reached by around 1.30. The temple of Madmahewshwar. They opened it for five minutes for us. I went in, prayed for my family and a few friends, and the entire world. :) This place does not attract a lot of visitors like the bigger ones like Kedar or Badri. The difficulty in reaching here probably explains that. This year, about 30,000 visitors (devotees/trekkers) ticked the place off.

The main priest of the temple is from Chitradurga in Karnataka. Randeep struck up a good conversation with him (he had the background, as he had taught in a few Engineering colleges in Chitradurga). 

 Tree Beard!

We met Aman, the trekker I referred to in part 1 of this trip report, back from his successful Kanchni Tal trek another two days up and down. With him is Easwari Prasad (on the right), his guide, who is a minor celebrity in trekking circles for opening up a new trekking route, further up.

After coming back, I reached out to Aman and asked for the pictures of Kanchni Tal that he had taken.

The pics are with me now, and I want to kick myself to insanity for not having the time to push further.  Oh God! Is there no such thing as mercy - we were so close - one more day of walking and another one coming down! Wanna know what we missed? Check out the pictures that Aman took.

Kanchni Tal! I would have to leave it for another day, another time.

When I spoke to him, I told Aman I will be giving him credit (of course) for permitting me to post the photos on my blog. This is his e-mail response to that, which I'm publishing without his permission.

"I've attached all pics I had taken of the lake. You can choose the ones you like for your blog. And don't worry about credits etc. I don't own the Himalaya. In-fact they own me :D

Amen to that, Aman!

Well, on that day, when I came down, I had no qualms.We started our walk back by around 2.30. The trek downhill was symptomatic of most other treks I have done in the past. I keep wondering, how the hell we managed to climb it all up. It took us around 3 hours to reach Khatara Khal and Fateh Singh. We sat down for some time on the plastic chairs in front of his heavenly real estate, and in a minute he came with two cups of tea. While leaving, he gave us his diary and asked us to give him our phone numbers. Which was funny, because he does not have a phone. While writing our numbers down, I noticed some of the earlier comments written down by what could have been trekkers. One of them said "Please pay him guys. He does not even ask for it." While saying goodbye, he touched my feet and I was taken aback, and I hugged him, something I rarely do. Here was a man without an iota of ego. If ever I go back to MadM, part of the reason would be Kanchni Tal, and a big part would be Fateh Singh.

We reached Bantoli by 6 or 6.30 in the evening, and decided to stay at the accommodation next to confluence of the rivers.

In the night I had this weird dream. Someone with a childlike face offered me a lit beedi, and I smoked it but no smoke came out of it, and I asked him "Beedi ke andar aur kuch nahin hai kya?" And he smiled and said, "Bana doon?" And I woke up.

Prelude: We were having this conversation, that evening, with me standing against the door inside the room and telling Randeep something, and the door opens in the background. I would not know it, but I would notice Randeep's gaze, follow it, and jump, and I see the face of a freckled face of an old man who happened to be the innkeeper. The first time this happened, I jumped, and asked him in polite Hindi what the hell he wanted. And he went on about how he has a wedding party in Goundar to attend and how he would like us to finish dinner before he went. We told him to just get the dinner in our room and go out and party - we would eat, even if the food gets cold. But he insisted that we eat, otherwise he would not leave. And we gave him our ultimatum. If he wanted us to eat  before he left, he will never join the party tonight. He took the sign and he left.

They served dinner in our room. We covered the lids and went on with our talk.

And then, we were having this conversation half an hour later, with me standing against the door and telling Randeep something, and the door opened. I noticed his gaze, followed it, and jumped, and I see the face of the same freckled old man who was (still) the innkeeper. This time again I jumped, so high that I almost hit the ceiling, and asked him in chaste Hindi what the HELL he wanted NOW. And he went on about how he has a wedding party in Goundar to attend and how he would like us to finish dinner before he went. And we literally begged him to leave us to our own devices. And then he started apologizing - 20 times - "naaraz nahin ho na, saab?". And that made it even more awkward. Now, I'm not one of those rude dude types who would want to make fun of village folks - I love them, the true ones, that is.

The food was ok, though cold (cold was our choice, of course).

The next day morning, I met Fateh Singh's wife (the fixture two nights back) outside our lodge. She was on her way to collect grass/hay - her daily routine. She is the red spot in the frame below. Looking at her walking up, I decided I had to try out the load that women like her like carry daily.

Someone from Mumbai owns this bit of land and the fairy tale house below. He vacations here once or twice a year.

We started our walk at around 9 AM.

We passed by Goundar village without stopping, in a hurry to reach Ukhimath by nightfall. The hurry was there, but I still wanted to try out one more gig. The thing about trying out the loads carried by women in these parts. So, I dropped my rucksack, and in a nonchalant gesture of bravado, asked one of the ladies to give me her "backpack".
As you can see, the joke was on they had good fun witnessing my plight.
Man, was that heavy? Was that heavy? 4 times the weight of my rucksack! I gave up after walking about a 100 meters. The shoulder ropes were not my size, and that added to the discomfort; but the weight they carry every single day! Hats off!!!

She wasn't particularly bemused by the camera. Hmm.

Powerhouse of sorts.

We reached Ransi by 1 in the afternoon. Here are the trek buddies, moi and Randeep.

We reached Uniana village in another 45 minutes.On top of this pic is the skeleton of the iron bridge over river Kwai, that will change the face of MadM forever.

Ranjeet, our companion/porter for the trip wanted to take us to his house for lunch and an overnight stay. There was a village fair called Pandav Mela too going on, and that tempted us. But in the end, the love of e-mails and mobile coverage, and the potential threat of a missed flight won over. We said sorry to him and moved on to Ukhimath.

We traveled by a claustrophobic jeep to Ukhimath, and I hated it - give me the old-fashioned pick-up auto like the one we used on our onward journey any day. At Ukhimath, we checked into our hotel, and started the best thing that mallus stuck in Uttarakhand could do - party! By sheer coincidence, we got the room next to the one the foreigners were staying (whom we had managed to irritate a few days ago). Two ladies, they were, and they seemed friendly this time around. We did not have any conversation except a "hi". We pulled the chairs out in to the balcony, propped up our tired legs, and enjoyed the vista. Tell me about vista.

Cloud play:

And then we saw the changing lights of Guptkashi, from Ukhimath. The same lights that mesmerized us from Khatara Khal, 50 kilo meters away. Randeep's necklace. :) Different time frames.

 And this was night!

Between those pics, we went out to have dinner, and we bumped into one of the foreigners that occupied the room next to us, at a bakery. Remembering Randeep's observation a few nights back, I asked her "Are you German?" She said "NO". Digging deep into my geo-demo-graphical stereotypes, I asked her again, "gee, Swedish?" And she said "NO". And she started to walk out. And I was like lost, and I asked her, "Would you mind telling us where you're from?". She turned around, gave me a look, and said in her chastest accent possible, "ISRAEL". We mistook a JEW for for a GERMAN. I know that's politically inappropriate, even to write it down like that, but I gave no one any promises when I started this blog.

The next day morning, we went and paid obeisance to Kedarnath in Ukhimath. In the months of winter, when the shrine of Kedarnath sleeps under a thick blanket of snow, the idol is worshiped here.

 We reached Haridwar in the evening. Here's Har ki Pauri in Haridwar.

This one's a rare pic, the result of an optical "stuff" for the lack of a better word. Randeep taking a dip in the Ganges, captured with my messed-up-shutter-speed.

We reached Delhi the next day morning, and from there, we boarded two flights. Randeep back to BLR, and moi to Kolkata to attend two back2back weddings.

@ Kalighat in Kolkata! As usual, touts swarm the temple offering you a quick date with the divine. I declined.

I loved these kids. I was one of them some day, not so long ago, before I lost my religion! So long!