Friday, February 22, 2013


If ALL the pain in the world could be filtered into a pot
And if someone could drink it
Would it be you?

If everyone else would have a spring in their steps tomorrow
And if your throat turns blue
Would it be you?

Or would you rather have me*?

*Do The Honors!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My rules about trekking in the Himalayas

Now, these points or rules are not accurate from a scientific perspective. Some of these have worked for me, that's all. And I do plan to develop this specific post over the next few years.

Do not smoke during the trek. This rule applies if you're a nonsmoker otherwise. ;) That said, try not to smoke in the mornings before you start trekking.

Don't push yourself beyond your tipping point
. This mainly applies to moderate treks +. Temet Nosce. There's gonna be no pleasure getting to your destination, if it would maim you or make you plain invalid for a few days. If you really think you're gonna burn yourself out, forget those words of encouragement from your better partners. Walk back. There's no shame in that. I backed off a few kilometers from Satopanth Lake because the snow was bad and I felt terrible. I feel terrible now that I did not go through with it then, but, I'm still alive and I have all of my fingers to type and my toes to walk on. Rule of thumb (adapted and modified from a Marylin Manson song)- you should be able to smell it if you're knee deep in shit.

Trek, don't run! There is this unwritten happiness in reaching the destination first. And while the fit ones try to do that and show it off, the not-so-fit ones feel even more desperate. C'mon guys, the whole point is not to tick off a destination from your to-do treks. The point is to enjoy, chat up, take pictures, and be there. Let's not replicate the rat race of the corporate or the student world in the mountains. And smartass, let's assume you reached that place first and are you're gloating about it.  Why don't you think about the meaninglessness of your achievement - there have been 100s or 1000s of trekkers who reached that point before you.

Do not carry alcohol during the trek
. This is a strict NO. If need be, get a porter to carry it, but never carry it yourself - it's a lot of weight over a long trek. Jokes aside, alcohol could create emotional problems. Period.

Take care of those around. This does not just apply to your team. If you sense some trouble among other trekkers in the area, offer help - whether it's supplies, food, advice, a helping hand, or just a conversation. Chances are it that your karma will be returned in this life itself if you're an outdoors person. We don't go out into the mountains to replicate our otherwise clannish behavior, do we?

Diamox ain't a drug.

Get a good shoe
. I learnt the perils of this thrice. First in Satopanth, when I picked up shoes from a shop run by a Tibetan in Badrinath. The second time was in snow-bound Tungnath with a duplicate Goretex/Hi Tec. The third time was at Madmaheswar when I packed the same duplicate shoes by mistake at 3 AM in the night while packing stuff. I have ankle-high Lytos now, and I'm happy. Zamberlan, Hi Tec etc. seems to be a good option. And if anyone thinks Woodlands is a trekking shoe, not even God can help you if you get into trouble. Research and invest in a good shoe. Oh, and go for Vibram soles - like they say, it's tested where it matters. And look for genuine Gore Tex fabric which is waterproof as well as breathable. (your feet needs a lot more air than you think!) And please, don't wait till the last day to buy a shoe. Shoe bites (we are making a song along the lines of "Love Bites" by Def Lepard. Will share when done, promise!)

Get good thermal protection. Don't buy lousy jackets that just look thick and chic. Psst psst, once you've identified the technical features, go for bright colors. They look cool on FB updates. I have a bright second-hand jacket that's been serving me well for the the last 4 years. And, have two pairs of gloves (one synthetic). And decent thermals (though they are tough to wear).

Have some good accessories: Sunglasses, sunscreen, lightweight ponchos, balaclavas. Your Himalayan guides will walk in rubber slippers and make it, chances are you won't. No need to be in awe, they just happen to have different skill-sets suited to their environment. Do you think your guide will drop his jaw if he saw your PPT or spreadsheet skills?  No way!

Get a good bag: Get a good bag with lumbar support, one that you can carry, fully filled. Lumbar support acts like a second spine. I have a Millet, and it works just fine.

Ask There are people willing to help. Askem.

Go with friends: You're not friends, if you haven't trekked together.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why do I blog? @20k

A day or two back, the number of page views for my blog crossed 20,000. It wasn't significant, but to cross the sensex was kind of meaningful for me (ok, go dig the loopholes in that statement). Which brings me to the question, why do I blog? (Or like a true Gemini, Why do I maintain two blogs?).

It's a lot of work. I don't make any money out of it. I get too few comments. Then why do I do it? Well, the answer has multiple parts.

Firstly, there's a desire to help people find information. I remember running from one thread to the other looking for information to make my travel plans. Here I can provide details of what I did so that it would be useful for someone like me. Details make a blog less interesting for the casual reader, but it helps those who really need it.

Secondly, there's ego. It's good to see your posts come up in search engine rankings. I have a few of my travel blogs right up there in the top 3 or top 20 Google/Yahoo listings. That's a super thrill in itself. Now it does help the rankings that I write more about less-walked paths rather than about Lady Gaga, I should add.

Thirdly, there's the techno angle. We do not know now how the content we create today will be useful in the gizmodo world of tomorrow. Someone might stumble upon my Kedar Tal pictures from 2011 in 2050 on a timeline content aggregation platform (that we don't have now) to see what he or she missed. We have old books with pictures from 70s, but trust me, they will pale in comparison to the world that awaits us.

Fourth Lee, my blog is not focused. There are parts that are semi-autobiographical in nature, there's some fiction, there are rants, and then there's travel - my first love. I could make it more focused, but then that's not me. It's an online representation of my nature.

Fifth Lee, I like comments. I rarely get them, but when I get them, I'm super thrilled. And tell you what, it's them comments from people I do not know that really pushes me to write up more. I have had strangers tell me on forums other than my blog that they liked some of my posts and used the information they provided. For me, that's victory.

And finall E, there's this existential question. What if I'm not there tomorrow, a constant thought (not fear, mind you) in my head. Add to it, I have this nihilistic self-destructive streak in me, that my true friends know of (not that I intend to act upon any of those :). This blog is proof that I lived, apart from whatever else I'm trying to do. If, after I'm gone, and let's hypothetically say 20 years later, if this blog still draws some readers, and helps them in some way, I consider that as time well spent now.

So, watch this video. I'm going on 4 trips this year, and hopefully, I will live to write about them! Thanks all!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vishwaroopam, some dunces, and a dormant Indian volcano

I watched Vishwaroopam yesterday. For the uninitiated, it’s a movie starring Kamal Hassan, which has been banned in some parts of India, because it could create “law and order” problems. In a country where there is no law or order, I wondered how a movie could “create” such problems. Thankfully, it was screening in Bangalore and I watched it. Throughout the movie, I waited for the scenes that could burn theaters and buses, but there was nothing.

Photo @ VL Nagaraj!

Well let’s not mince words. A few fringe Muslim organizations wanted the movie banned, and it was actually banned in Tamil Nadu, a state that has a good chunk of Kamal Hassan’s fan base. Apparently, the movie would hurt Muslim sentiments. Tell you what? The only people whose feelings would be hurt are the Al Qaida and Bin Laden fans. Why? Osama appears for a minute or two in the movie and he looks like a clown. I thought that was really flawed - there’s enough footage of Laden available to make a decent depiction of him.

Other than that, it’s a tale of terrorism and counter-terrorism. A big part of the movie is set in Afghanistan in the early 2000s, and it shows terror training camps, American air raids, armed resistance, and some insights into militant family life. Training is an excuse for shooting at pictures of Bush. They actually have little time for training because they have to play volleyball and drive around in an SUV all over Afghanistan. The training in my office is more focused than that. Curiously enough, while in Afghanistan, the “dreaded terrorists” kill just two people (one was of their own kind).  American forces are in charge of the killing.

The other part of the movie is about a terror plot using a Caesium-based dirty bomb (ugly looking doohickey that needs a facelift) in New York.

Btw, the movie also portrays the Afghans as being caught in between a rock and a hard place (literally). Admit it, if your village is being bombed out of the planet by drones, and if there’s no institution to protect you, would you not pick up a gun? If your existence is threatened, wouldn’t you fight with whatever means you have? Squids do it, for crying out loud. 

A rocking first half (watch out for Kamal’s transmogrification), a dragging second half with a lot of footage that needed to be edited out, a whimper of a climax (without a suspense-pumping-countdown for the bomb), and the promise of a part 2. End of story. 

Seriously, why should there be a law and order problem? I just don’t get it. How do we portray terrorism in a movie? With guns, bombs, suicide strikes, and violence, duh? You cannot show terrorists snorting cocaine and having a blast (pun intended) at rave parties, can you? And if you show Afghanistan, you will have to show the Taliban and the Al Qaida, not the IRA or LTTE folks, correct? AND, since it’s the Al Qaida, chances are high that their war cries may just be in Arabic and may just have religious overtones, correct? How is that offensive to portray?

Ok folks, I have this movie idea that centers around Veluppillai Prabhakaran – I’m not a fan, but I believe there is a solid story to be told. Will it be banned because it portrays Sri Lankan Tamilians? Better still, would you expect Jewish characters in a Khalistan period movie?
Dangerous indeed, this ban is, like a lot of other things going on in India.

The movie bit is over. Rant begins.
Let’s revisit Akbaruddin Owaisi's hate speech. I watched the whole thing. Barring the few minutes that he threatens Hindus, all I could hear was some legitimate and some imagined problems of the Muslim community coming out of the mouth of a megalomaniac. The sad bit of it was similar to Varun Gandhi’s anti-Muslim diatribe in the last general election. Or the MNS chief’s rants against people from Bihar (or whoever he wishes to target at any point in time). All these guys need an enemy – imagined or otherwise.  

We talk about freedom of speech all the time, we allow nonsense like the ones listed above, and ban this movie? What about Digvijay Singh and his motor mouth? That’s the first thing that needs to be gagged in this country. Oh, I spoke too soon. I forgot about our honourable Home Minister, Shri. Shri. Sushil Kumar Shinde. What about his comments that the BJP and the RSS are running terror training camps in India? Those comments earned him accolades from terror chiefs in Pakistan, a first for any Indian politician. If the Home Minister of our nation has proof that the main opposition party in the country is a bonafide terror organization, then he should ban it. If that’s not the case, our PM should have the courage (even though at an all-time pathetic low) to come out and purge this scourge. Isn’t his silence deafening?

That brings us to BJP and RSS. In one of the most underplayed news items of the decade, this week they decided to go back to their Hindutva agenda. Apparently, Ram is going to be at the center of their scheme of things from 2013. 13 years into the 21st century!
@ link.
Watch out folks, a dormant volcano is becoming active. There are two things this ideology shift is going to do. First, it will gift five more years to the Congress, which theoretically wouldn’t have been bad considering the fact that we have no credible opposition. But there is one hitch – the UPA is the most corrupt, inept, and cockiest dispensations ever to rule India. This just cannot continue. Second, it will prevent something which we have been trying to do for some time: getting on with life, as a nation.

I understand some bit of Tamil though I cannot read it. During the movie, I was doing some translating on the side. But there was a problem - some of the dialogues were in Pashto and Arabic, with subtitles in (surprise) Tamil. All of us were trying to figure out what was going on. It was actually not that difficult. But it’s a whole lot difficult trying to figure out just what the hell is going on in this country. That’s why we need story tellers like Kamal. And we could use a lot less of all the others. 

Watch the movie, it’s good fun. Oh, and that microwave in your kitchen - that has some serious thrill issues. As for our country, pray. It helps people to get out of dangerous situations.