Love it or hate it, there’s no getting away from it

via Daily Prompt: Patina

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So, Patina & I bump into one another all the time. I live in Mumbai where it’s hot and humid by the Arabian sea, and I guess she loves it here. And oh let me also mention why we come face to face so often, it’s because I’m into brass artefacts and she loves Brass/ Bronze – embracing them wherever and whenever she can. She’s persistent too coming back time & again, and making me work so hard, brushing and polishing up all the time.

I often wonder what life would be like without her around – I want to migrate overseas and settle somewhere inland, far away from her. I guess that’ll make her visits less frequent, don’t you think?

Sigh, but as things stand here & now – we’re inseparable. Love it or hate it, I can’t get away from it.

P.S – I’m into brass handicrafts and most of my products have to be buff polished before shipping to my customers, thanks to the Patina phenomena. 🙂

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Embrace the unknown – my feelings after a first solo trip overseas

IMG_9167Embrace the unknown alone,

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – the experiences you shall have, shall nourish you forever,

Feel and accept the aloneness – paradoxically it sets you free.

Our first experience alone is always liberating, mine certainly was. It was, because I had doubted myself – my confidence and the ability to go an unknown land & have unknown experiences alone; to embrace the unknown and look forward to it is not easy.

We all depend on one another for love and help. But sometimes it binds us from exploring, from finding more about ourselves/ reaching our full potential. We fear the unknown, doubt our capabilities and choose the warmth and comfort of the confines we’ve lived in so far. Sometimes we need to know and prove to ourselves that we can take care of ourselves, we can survive out there on our own. Of course one hopes that the day never comes or that if it does, its a result of our choices; but still if it does we will have the courage to embrace the unknown and go it SOLO! 🙂

Hence the sense of liberation comes after the experience – and I felt it. Right after I stepped out of my plane in Berlin (leaving Vienna behind – after my 4 night first solo trip) and into the confines of the airport where I knew I’d be re-united with my husband who would be joining me here in an hour. The exhilaration hit me as I settled down with a coffee to wait for him – wow! I’d finally done it. I had proven to myself that I was capable of being on my own in an unknown country for 4 whole days – mapping sightseeing routes, understanding the underground train lines and negotiating my way, befriending strangers, living everyday life in a city I had never set my sights on before, having lunch alone in a café and still enjoying it, watching an opera alone – activities I had always done with company hitherto.

I know now that I can live anywhere in the world and be ok. I can travel alone, shop and live alone and still manage. It reinforces, its a boost to your inner strength and courage. To many – it may seem like no big deal – but for a first timer – It is a BIG deal!

 

 

The Bagini glacier Trek

If you’re looking for a trek that’s challenging but with great views and beautiful campsites with personality, then the Bagini trek is for you. What’s more you can claim to have trekked up to a glacier & at a fair altitude too.

  • Facts: Altitude gained – 4400 mts approx
  • Difficulty level: Moderate Total kms to trek – 44 kms
  • Pre Monsoon Season:- April last week to June end and in post monsoon Season:- September 2nd week to Nov first week.
    April to June day time 15C to 20C and night 7C to -2C Sept – Oct, day time 15C to 10C and night 5C to -5C

We undertook the Bagini trek, the year after our trek to EBC i.e in May 2015. For all of us in the group, Bagini would be a new route and destination altogether.

We didn’t expect the trek to be a tough one, but let me let the cat out of the bag right away that we were in for a surprise. Bagini is a moderate to tough trek with daily 7-8 hours of walking required and not on easy terrain.

So here’s what makes bagini a great trek to undertake –

  • great views of the Nanda Devi, Dunagiri and the Hathi Ghoda peaks, the Rishi Parbat, Hardeol, Dunagiri .
  • beautiful campsites – a meadow, one right next to the river, one inside an abandoned village and another right off the glacier
  • challenging your fitness levels – moderate to tough – walking through boulders and the river bed
  • snow possibilities – on the glacier and during our crossing to Dunagiri
  • spotting a glacier
  • pine forests
  • landslide region for some adventure along with snow crossing (which is scary initially till one gets used to it)
  • staying & exploring the deserted Dunagiri village (without a soul around)
  • A side trip to Auli with the most awesome views from the top – possibly the 2nd best I’ve seen this far.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to read further and complete this lengthy but informative blog now 🙂

We were a group of 7, equally divided between first time trekkers and experienced ones. Vikas, myself and Rahul had trekked earlier; while Poonam, Sushant, Basav and Girija were first timers. Vikas had undertaken numerous treks before this one – Gangotri, Pangarchulla, Dodti Tal etc to name a few.

So as goes for most treks in Uttarakhand, we drove the whole day from Rishikesh to reach Joshimath around evening. We checked into a basic but comfy hotel and relaxed. It was slightly chilly and we needed light jackets to keep out the cold. After we freshened up, we went to the nearby dhaba for chai and snacks and called it a day.

Day 1

We woke up at 6 am and departed by our mini van around 7 am. About 20 mins into the drive, we saw the beautiful Nanda Devi loom up and stopped for pictures. We knew it would be a long day with numerous stops given the sights around. However, suddenly about an hour into the drive, we had to necessarily stop as there had been a landslide a little further down and the road was being paved. No one knew how long it would take and so we disembarked. Luckily for us, an Army unit was on its way to the last village near the China border called Mana, and they had to stop as well. The next couple of hours were spent chatting away with the commander of the group, a Capt Rana as young as 27 (younger than all of us). The road was cleared and another hour later, we reached the road head – called Jhumma, from where we had a light trek (of about an hour to Ruing village). We reached Ruing around 3 pm. We’d had packed lunch on the way, so everyone including the staff was free. Luckily for us, we had fun setting up tents and helping the staff. My first hand at tent setting. 🙂

Ruing village was 200 mts further and we camped on the open ground just before the village. It was just across the river and on the other side was the road leading to the last village near the China border – to where the Army unit was headed. The clearing was peaceful and picturesque with mountains around, a river flowing down and pine trees everywhere. In fact, to me Ruing was one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve stayed in. There were no villagers in the village here & it was a different feeling all together.

Here’s a pic

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Day 2

Ruing to Dunagiri (3610 mts)

A beautiful stretch that has it all. As one starts from Ruing, the pine forests make for a comfortable and enjoyable trek. There are waterfalls that one crosses, one can also trace the path to Dharanasi (Kanari Khal) pass on the hill across and there are pretty rhododendrons in bloom to make it a colourful and sweet walk. Another interesting part on this stretch is the snow crossing. At a number of places the snow has not melted out and one is required to cross about 10-15 meters of snow under which the trail is completely hidden. On these stretches the snow lies like a blanket over the hillside so basically its steep and a missed or slipped step can cause serious injury as well as a majjor slide or tumble downhill. I must confess that I was terrified when I came across the first such crossing (there were about 3-4 of them) fearing a missed step. Our guide Rawat though was pretty experienced and moreso a ski instructor and helped us safely across. He also showed us how to glissade down these with trekking poles. The remaining ones I crossed over with a lot more confidence actually enjoying the last one 🙂

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However about a couple of hours into the trek as we come to the end of one hill and cross over the the other mountain, it’s clear that this hill has started disintegrating and the soil is loose. Here we enter the hill leading onto Dunagiri , the last village before Bagini. Dunagiri is situated at a height of 3800 mts and is pretty high. It’s also a village where the inhabitants do not worship Lord Hanuman as they believe that he had pulled out half the Dronagiri peak to carry the sanjeevani to Laxman.

Coming back to the trek, this is a slightly risky stretch with the trail at a number of places becoming narrow as well as the gravel loose. Plus there are tricky stretches where one has to manouver to get around or under rocks to stay on course. This stretch of loose gravel and the landslide region takes about 45 mins to cover and it is advised that breaks here be few or nil and the region is crossed over as quickly as possible.

Our trials didn’t end here, just as we finished this stretch exhausted due to our quickened pace, we saw the Dunagiri village ahead of us. The challenge was the 3 km concrete stretch leading to the village. Tired and exhausted that we were it really was quite an effort to reach our camp at the other end of the village near the village water tank and school. This was marked out as the camp site due to access to constructed toilets as well as the availablibty of pipe water flowing from the river. The village site to me was mesmerising. Staying in cities as we do, there are seldom occasions where one can witness dwellings totally un0inhabited and abandonded. It was like a ghost village – some 50-60 huts and houses including the village temple at the top; all empty as if for ages. Waiting silently or maybe not waiting at all. Some doors locked, a lot of others unlocked. Scarce belongings. Apart from our group there was not a soul in the village.

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That evening after reaching around 4 pm, the group had chai, freshened up and rested in the tents for a while. It was windy and chilly and we were all totally fatigued. After an hour of rest, we decided to explore the village. We made our way to the temple on top – paid our respects to the Goddess there who’s had been covered. Looked around and were aghast to discover the carcass of a yak in one of the houses. It didn’t look like it had been there too long, maybe a few days at best. The body totally intact. It seemed like it had missed a step and fallen through the wooden floor onto the level below. A lot of houses in the hills are made on 2 levels.

Our tents had been pitched in an open patch near the school biolding and the organising team decided to sleep in one school room which was open. I learnt that day that tents are warmer than concrete houses with window iin the hills; as tents are wind proof and its possible to trap the heat (body heat inside). That night I found it a little difficult to sleep given the the feeling of sleeping in an abandonded village seemed eerie to me. After a while, exhaustion took over and thankfully I slept well.

Day 3 – Dunagiri to Bagini camp (4484 mts)

We departed around 8.30 am from Dunagiri and after about an hour and half and a small stretch of river crossing and some difficult boulder ascending arrived at Laungatuli. Its a beautiful spot right next to the river with a flat patch to pitch tents. We relaxed here for a while. Refilled our water bottles and took a short break as we’d been told that our camp for the night would be just off the glacier and it was a long walk up the river along the boulder strewn path. I’m sure those of you who’ve walked on river beds know exactly how painful it is to walk along river beds where you have to be careful of your footing at every step and where walking and stretching up boulders and rocks takes considerable effort. Its almost twice the work compared to walking on flat ground. At Dunagiri we were at a height of 3610 mtrs or so and as we started ascending, the altitude as well as the long walk started taking its toll on us. Thus, with numerous breaks we reached the bagini campsite at 4 pm in the afternoon. One of our friends was suffering from slight AMS and was terribly nausiactic. The rest of us had had 2 full days of challenging trekking at a fairly high altitude. The initial plan had been to start for the chang-bang base camp the same night at 2 am. Reach the base camp by morning, spend a few hours and return back. Given the exhaustion each of us felt, we decided to drop the idea of proceeding to the chang-bang base camp and spend the night resting. We were to decide whether we would spend the next night going up to the base camp. However, considering that we had carried limited provisions and an extra night would crunch the return journey, we decided to return back the next day.

The long trek up the river bed

Bagini Base Camp & Views

 

Day 4 – Return to Laugatuli (retrace your steps)

The trek back to Laungatuli took only an hour and half,  and we’d barely reached the camp when the weather turned and to our delight it began to snow. It snowed for an hour and half and it brought down the temperature suddenly. The snow got us moving out to click pictures and experience it falling softly. Hot chai and pakoris followed and so did loads of gupshup. That night however was the chilliest of all nights – temperatures falling to sub zero considering that we were right next to the river as well, and we discovered a layer of frozen snow over our tents in the morning.  Despite most of us having slept poorly the night before, spirits were high in the morning as the sun shone. The heavy trekking had been done and descending we all knew would be easy.

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Day 5 – Laungatuli to Dunagiri – Today’s walk would be an easy 45 min to an hour’s walk and so we spent another 2 hours walking up the other side of the hill leading to the Kanari Khal pass route. We returned after a couple of hours, having sighted enough Monals (birds common in the hills) to have had our fill. We camped at the same spot next to the school building in Dunagiri village. The place seemed familiar suddenly. Funny how even the most inhospitable places, seem comfortable once you’re familiar with them 🙂

Day 6- Dunagiri to Ruing & then Auli

We camped another night at Ruing, though it was possible to trek straight back to Joshimath the next day. I’m certain it was the beauty of the Ruing campsite that made us stay over. That night was the night for celebration. The Jack Daniel was opened, a cake baked, cut and devoured over music and chatter.

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All in all, it was a well rewarding trek (also considering that I lost a couple of inches in the process) 😉 , with wonderful views and good enough to challenge the body.

 

My first encounter with Everest

img_1789-3I remember my first sighting of Everest so vividly, even though I’m writing this after a few months. That morning we started from Namche towards Tengbouche and after the short climb out of Namche and onto the main hill about 1 hour into the trek, we spotted Everest. There she was – in reality and not dreams, with her pyramidal top smoking!

It was an overwhelming moment for me. Never in my dreams or my growing years had I ever imagined, I’d see this Goddess of a mountain in reality. Yes, she inspired awe even when I had read about her in my geography text books, but I had never thought I’d witness her grandeur in person. Even when I had signed up for the trek (more to give company to my husband who was keen on undertaking the trek), I’d never once thought of the summit and maybe that’s why this sudden vision was so important, this moment so big!

It was an amazing sight. There at a distance, across a few hills, stood the world’s tallest mountain. She had inspired so many climbers in such different ways. Far, yet so near (as never before). It took me a moment to realise the enormity of this moment. And she looked beautiful, there behind the Lhotse peak, with her unmistakable pyramid peak. Adding to her beauty was the stream of clouds that gave her the look of having a smoking top – almost like a mountain alive, beckoning us into her folds. Just like a house with a smoking chimney beckons to weary travellers in the cold.

As I stood there looking upon her reverentially, I felt grateful to fate for having brought me here to experience this moment. I think this moment was as big for me as the moment I reached EBC (about which I have talked in a previous blog, that you can read here). She was something to be astounded by. At a height of 29,029 ft where airplanes fly, she stood tall overlooking the world. Solitary yet strong with jet winds for company for years and years to come.

Here’s an impromptu poem that’s just gushing out on its own –

I stand here now, as I have been for years, centuries.
Towering above the world, with only a few friends for company – Lhotse, Nuptse, Choy-yu & Makalu.
Solitary and strong with jet winds for company, while sometimes silent in pure contemplation.
The blue skies, sun and moon shining their light on me,
By the day I’m a brilliant ring leader with swirling clouds that dance around; or storms that rage and astound.
By night, I transform into a magical, glittering phantasmal beauty, with a veil of stars on my head.
I look down upon those who come into my folds, for them the future is untold.
But it is I who know and decide, who’ll perish and who shall stand on the roof of the world.

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If any of you can take 15 days off from your busy schedules, the EBC trek is worth undertaking. For me, it was the start of my love affair with mountains and hills; a different way of life for sure. My holidays are mostly treks as against the touristy ones I only did earlier. I’m fitter, more in touch with nature and spirituality I think.  Life beckoned and I heard it 🙂

 

 

Let’s Face it

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Photo taken at Ayutthaya, Bangkok 

People don’t disbelieve me when I tell them that I visited Ayutthaya, the erstwhile capital of Thailand only after I saw a picture of Buddha’s face mired by these roots in a travel brochure. Here’s my very own picture of the same spot. Isn’t it mesmerizing?

Apparently, when the temples there were damaged due to the Burmese attack on Ayutthaya somewhere in the 16th century, a lot of statues were destroyed and somehow this head came to rest between the roots of this Banyan tree and has been there since. Ayuthaya (which is a World Heritage site) is a must visit if you are travelling to Thailand.

Post in response to the photo challenge – Face

Found that star, have you?

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Mt. Nanda Devi – 7816 mts     (taken on a trip to Auli in 2013)

There was an article in The Mint, a few days back on the first women’s team that summitted Mt. Nanda Devi (7816 m) in 1981. The article covered Chandra Prabha Aitwal and how she came to be a part of the women’s expedition that first summited. For a lucky few, destiny has designs while the rest of us have to find our calling. She came from a modest background, was average at school and was working as a govt teacher in a Girls College, Pithoragarh, India when she got an invitation to train at NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering -Uttarkashi) and from then on there was no looking back.

“I summited in darkness, but the moon was rising and, gradually, I could see the shimmering snow on the nearby slopes. Summitting has a different thrill associated with it, whether it’s in daylight or in the dark. You feel as if you’ve seen heaven; it cannot be put into words,” she says of her summitting experience.

I don’t know why reading this bought tears to my eyes. I tried to analyse my emotions and think about what moved me. Random thoughts went through my mind. I wondered if I could summit Nanda Devi? Could I see the glittering sky on the summit of these famed mountains? Did I have it in me? More importantly, did I want to do it? I thought again about what moved me. I realized that it was the moment of triumph described of an achievement so coveted, that seemed so prized to me. It was not the act of summiting the mountain but that of having achieved something in Life. Could I do something that made this life less ordinary? Would I have that moment of triump? Would I be able to look back on my life and let out a contented sigh that my life was stamped with a special achievement. I’m in the quest to find, set & achieve my GOAL. Something that is special to me and not just a pure possession. I’m thinking aloud as I write this. It should be challenging to get there – not something easily achievable. Not just any car but say a Rolls Royce. Not just any position in that organisation but that of the CEO. Not just any hill, but an Everest or a K2 or a Nanda Devi. It could be making a positive impact in the lives of people I know or don’t know. I’m looking for mine – that star to hitch my wagon to. Have you found/thought about yours?