Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Random Observations somewhat Early in the Morn

My attempt at a microblog... (I think)

  1. It takes two guys doing what they do best for me to get up at 6AM in the morning!!! Yes, thank you Djoker and Rafa for making me see what early morning looks like again… Sorry, Mom and all my alarms… What can I say, "It's not you, it's me!!!" :P
  2. It's an inspiring comeback story to watch Rafa win after so many questions on if he would ever play again were floating around in the last year!!! He definitely embodies the 'Never Give Up' attitude… So proud of you Rafa!!!
  3. There are times Djoker has seemed like the sore loser and so in that sense, it is nice to see him increasingly acknowledge and genuinely appreciate some of the points from the other side of the court… Good sportsmanship Djoker!
  4. After a very very long time, I watched a tennis match I could genuinely enjoy for the tennis as much as BOTH of the guys playing it and it was finally not one-sided for me!!! :D
  1. And so the day begins….. :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nubra - In the Valley

This is 'that' article  - the one that does not want to get itself written but also does not let me move on to write or post more before getting this out of the way. This article is like that annoying itch that keeps on irritating but doesn’t go away when you try soooo hard not to think about it. So the only thing I could think of to get this out of the way is…. To get it out of the way :P. Of course it is also a test of the memory of my 22 year 'young' brain to recall things that happened four…. No, five years ago. Of course, the bonus I get is also that it takes to me to a more majestic landscape than the one I am in right now - definitely a much cooler one :D - aka Singapore. Don’t get me wrong, this world has its own marvels to count not the least of which is giving me a temporary home to launch my 'research' career but Nature's timeless beauty cannot be compared to any manmade one however technologically advanced! With that said, lets take a small step back in time to where I left Pangong behind and the next vista which Ladakh had to offer me was the Valley! I am squeezing the whole timeline leaving Pangong upto Nubra into this one post so bear with me so I can… of course… get it out of the way :)

Leaving Pangong behind, all I could do was glance back for the last-est (Yes, I know that's not a word!) glimpse of its blue - a blue I don't think I can find again except at its shores. Putting in good time on the way back, it was all but uneventful (now at least in my memory) except at Chang La! Approaching this pass, we were hard pressed not to notice the sudden mistiness and threatening clouds towering over us and making me forget the blues of the sky and Lake. Anticipation turned to uncontainable delight however, when nearing the pass, the clouds turned into a very mild snowfall with the  smallest flakes floating effortlessly around us! Gifts do come in funny parcels and even our driver could not help but comment on the fact that we finally got the snowfall we were pestering him about :D! The wide eyed wonder could not last forever though as we can stay at such altitudes for a little while and so onward went the travelers leaving behind the dreamy white carpeted world nestled around lofty mountains. Leh was soon in sight, and Pangong was left as another addition to memory. 

To reach Nubra, we had to retrace our steps over Khardung La and move more northwards. We even stopped by the roadside to pay a visit to Indus - India's namesake - and spent a quiet moment there. Unlike the splendor seen in Uttarakhand with the ferocity of her rivers, Indus seemed tame in comparison flowing along the valleys and plains amidst towering giants. But neither was she as clean and could blend in with the hues of brown in the plains of her banks. We also crossed Zangskar which had me wanting to come back and walk on her frozen waters in the winters which is a popular trek. Another item on the 'to do' list. Somehow those don't get shorter no 
 matter how many items get crossed off!! 

  And then there was Khardung La - the highest motorable pass in the world standing at 18380 feet above sea level. We were sure hitting new highs on this trip! We ventured to climb a snow covered hillock on top of which there was a small temple to pray to the Gods to protect the people passing by and those stationed there from the army. At that altitude, you would be well advised to proceed cautiously not least because of the slippery snow covered steps as the lack of oxygen and air becoming starkly apparent. Also found was a wall in tribute to the 18 men of the 201 Enginneer Regiment - the Madras Sappers - of the Indian army who lost their lives foraging the road to Khardung La. The glaciers on the roadsides here were larger than what Chang La had to offer and the drop more steep and we found more than one car and even bulldozer victim to the unforgiving slopes.

 The scenery on this route is much more greener - as though teasing what the valley has to offer. There is even a small gurgling stream accompanying the road merrily for quite a distance till you start rising on the mountains again. The lunch stop was at a small village along the roadside with a few shops for food and tea, a few households with their own small gardens growing a few necessities and a canal which diverted some water into the village. Interestingly, in many of the villages on the slopes, one could find this canal running alongside the road or the farms where water would be diverted from a nearby stream/the river below  and some of the more gentler slopes of the mountains were invariably terraced and domesticated. One was greeted with flowing greens of cultivated lands growing wheat, barley, peas, apricots, apples, and many more - veritably a treasure trove of crops in a barren cold dessert. The splash of colour from the irrigated fertile lands definitely makes for a pleasing change.

The approach to the valley itself is impressive to say the least. There is a point where one can see the expanse of the valley - wide enough to be considered flat land and not just a valley - with the Shyok river flowing at the centre almost blends with the surrounding sand. Yes, actual sand like you can find in Rajasthan but that can come later. A steep set of hairpins take you to the valley quickly enough and from there on the roads are on relatively flat lands. 

Before going to our pitstop for the night, we took a detour to the Samstaling Gompa in the Sumur village of Nubra. After a quiet respite at the gompa, we were just climbing into the vehicle when our driver switched off the vehicle suddenly, jumped down and ran across the road to a monk and a small boy standing with him. As we looked on curiously, our driver bows down not to the monk but to the little boy who regards him with an intelligent eye and pats his head as though blessing him. It was the most unexpected thing to happen, so much that it didn’t strike us to get down and meet the little boy too. As our vehicle passed the boy, all we thought to do was to wave at him and we were rewarded with a wave in return! Then we learnt that this precocious individual was touted to be the next Lama of Ladhakh (Bakula) and has been anointed as a reincarnation of the Venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche - you can check it out at http://www.buddhachannel.tv/portail/spip.php?article1844. This land could not cease to amaze me!

Leaving this mystical monastery behind, we sped on towards our destination at Hundar - which was also the erstwhile capital of the Nubra region in the 17th Century. Enroute we also crossed the Diskit village and between Diskit and Hundar, our companions were rolling sand dunes which looked like they had been transported from western India! These dunes were - we were informed - home to a small tribe of Bactrian camels and their keepers who had stayed behind from the days when the Silk Road passed through this area. Unfortunately, we could not get a glimpse of them or get a ride, but walking on the sand dunes the next morning in itself was a fun experience. The long drive was coming to an end at the Nubra Organic Retreat at Hundar where a sweet smelling small camp hidden amongst thickets with charming gardens and tents awaited our inspection.

It is not without reason that Nubra is also called Ldumra (the valley of flowers) of this region. It was a treat to see little birds chirping, bees and insects busily flitting from plant to plant and going about their business in this small orchard. Walking around the camp we were delighted to find a host of vegetables, fruits, and nuts being grown here and used to serve the guests. They were pretty self sufficient even having a natural refrigerator to store food throughout their long winter. One of the keepers of the camp in conversation showed us a large mound that looked like a covered well which was about 2 feet off the ground but 6 feet below and once locked could keep food fresh and protected in the winter - all made with the earth! Also, in winter, no one stepped out of the house before 11-12 in the morning and would all be in by 5pm at the latest as it would grow cold and dark then!

We found potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, apples and many more calling this garden home not to mention flowers galore lining every path in the camp and a small rivulet running along the camp border which even had a delightful bridge to jump over. Our roaming around the camp ended in a quaint little pavilion sheltered beneath a large tree where we had tea and caught up with a little bit of holiday reading. One does wish such times never end! But soon it was dark and before we knew it, it was time for dinner in the 'big tent'. We were served food made with the in house produce and the dishes tasted the better for it! Hot food in a cold night after which the bed was a welcome end to a long day!

Interestingly, this is among the last outposts for tourists to visit before security tightens as the LoC is not very far off. In as sensitive a location as this, the beauty and the lay of the land can almost make one forget how hard fought the peace is for the people living here everyday! There was a village a little ways down the road where one could look into a Pakistani village from one of our own as it was located lower on the mountains opposite. And also, Nubra as a valley separates the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges of the Himalayas. Seeing as how this area was also part of the silk road, one notes that the Shyok river is also called the Siachan river and the Glacier itself was just about 80km from the Sumur village. If we had known earlier, we could have looked to gain permission to visit this important place and pay a little respect to the brave men defending our land everyday!

Breakfast on the morrow was followed by a visit to the Diskit monastery on the way back to Leh and a walk among the sand dunes of Nubra. It is important to the region especially as in the winter, other parts of Ladakh are very much inaccessible to people of this area with snowed in passes and roads. The army manages to fly in supplies for its own people over the winter but the local people do find it hard to find sustenance and manage only with careful planning and rationing of supplies.

The ride back was uneventful except for the impending end to the holiday which loomed ever closer and an unexpected guardian of the road from Kahrdung La to Leh - the Khardungla Frog (see right). Soon Leh was in sight again and all we had was an evening in Leh to do some shopping before saying goodbye to this magical land. All too soon the next day dawned for us to take the flight back to Delhi and the interesting part here was the extremely high security and crowd found in the airport. There was a large army regiment transferring and flying out around the same time as us civilians and tourists and it made for a super busy airport! Also, there is strict checking to ensure that even hand baggage is limited to the bare minimum excluding even video cameras for security precautions. After satisfying the security there, we finally boarded the plane back to reality and headed home, feeling rejuvenated, amazed at what Nature had to offer, proud to call this land my own, albeit a but sad to bit it an adieu. However, the silver lining is, it lets me dream of going back there someday for a serious trekking trip scaling some of the mountains and walking over some more of the vistas Ladakh has in store!

Some special mentions along the way:
Thanks to the Indian army for all their hardwork, sweat and blood which still keeps the peace albeit on a knife edge.
Kudos to the BRO (Border Road Organisation) and Project HIMANK for making and maintaining this road in an area where connecting even a few kilometres is like connecting new worlds together! And not the least for all the entertaining, thoughtful and witty captions along the roadside to make the roads safer :)! Check out 'Peep Peep Don’t Sleep' by Ajay Jain at http://peeppeepdontsleep.com/ for some of the pearls of wisdom found in the wilderness thanks to the BRO :D.
Last but not least: These posts about Ladakh are dedicated to the memory of a friend of my parents who was lost on the slopes of these majestic mountains in a landslide at Chang La some years back. May he rest in peace.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Letter to Mr. Niels Bohr

Dear Mr. Niels Bohr,
On this tewlfty-seventh (read 127) anniversary of your birth, I want to wish you a very Happy Birthday wherever you may be. I feel obligated to write this as my thanks for your contributions to helping the world understand quantum mechanics. You see, without those contributions, quantum information and computing would not be concepts to contemplate about thereby making my current area of work for my doctorate non existent!

Of course, as I always wanted to be a Computer Scientist, I would be hacking away for my part in the forest of Classical Theoretical Computer Science problems. However, as you well know, the 'quantum' aspect adds so much spice, mystery and wonder  to those same problems, that I am thrilled to be working in the non-classical 'quantum' setting.

Reading your reply to EPR's 1935 paper on the completeness of the quantum view of reality, was an excellent exercise both to grow my depth of knowledge  and also ponder about it philosophically while trying to understand that 'intrinsic randomness' is here to stay and in fact has always been there waiting for us to discover it.

This may be an insignificant  drop of recognition amongst the sea of your prestigious awards and decorations but please do accept the heartfelt thanks of a wide-eyed-just-starting-on-her-PhD-journey student of science and let me conclude with: So long and thanks for all... your work, insight and fight to discover/prove the existence of quantum mechanics

Yours truly,

PS: Mr Bohr, Mr Einstein and any other readers of this letter are very welcome to correct/point out any errors in the scientific points/facts in this letter (Hopefully there are non).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


By Rudyard Kipling. My all-time favourite poem, secret to success and my current desktop wallpaper :). But this if, is inspired by the novel One, by Richard Bach. A novel about him and his wife meeting their selves in alternate universes. Seeing the right and wrong turns they took and how in each of them their meeting is very different.

A post written a long time ago that triggers some more thoughts to add but I'll leave that for a little into the future because right now… I am still looking forward and not back while embarking on the first step in my career :D

The calendar says June 3, 2010. The clock, 11:19pm. Location in a fellow Indian's house, a friend of a friend, in a country that is not my own - West Lafayette, USA - home to Purdue University, my place of internship for Summer 2010. The friend is actually my mentor's family. The friend of the friend is their neighbour - the people who have put me up for the night before my mentor's son's thread ceremony for which I have been invited (Yaay!).

Conversations here trigger a 'What If…' set of scenarios in my mind, maybe because a lot of people here are doing what I once dreamt of, still dream of, and might someday dream of doing. Funnily, most of it has to do with academic aspirations (just says how limited my scope has become I guess… but then if not now, then when would I think of this!). They gnaw at my mind enough to want to put these thoughts in writing. I don't think this would be posted immediately. I don’t think the people concerned should be made to face the scenarios put up. I am not holding anything against them. Of course, this is not done in a sense of regret but more in a sense of curiosity (at least that is how I want it to be viewed)...

The me that never left Bangalore because we didn't move. I would have continued in the same school, continued to do Bharatnatyam at the same place, stayed in the kresche for a few more years till I could be left alone at home. Watched some TV, had a few friends, been very very innocent, remembered and learnt Kannada very well (not the same with Hindi though). Then what? Probably continued to study hard but any other extra curriculars might not have had time.

The me that in Bombay did exceedingly well right from the beginning in school, jumped into all the extra-curriculars, got recognized in school - not passed over - that possibly became captain of the school house or even head girl!! Probably, basketball became a speciality, not a novice activity. Maybe dance went all the way into Arengatram. Maybe tennis became more than just a passion to watch or dream of to play. Maybe friends became too many to count. Maybe the nights were longer just because I stayed out with them.

The me that did not screw up the engineering exams. Maybe gotten into IIT after 2 years of hard work. Maybe gotten the course I wanted, been exposed to something very different from what I know today. Maybe preparing for GRE this year instead of next or would it have been CAT then? Maybe I didn't do well in IIT, maybe I did. Maybe got into IIST or IISER - the people who then gave me false hope - and done well there. Maybe got into Pilani, into a single degree course.

The me that got to write SAT. Maybe I be able to stay I came to Purdue or CMU or Harvard or MIT or Stanford or Berkley. Maybe I would have lived in the US here for 3 years, become very much a localite, not turned back to India only because home was there. Maybe I would have a scholarship, with extra curriculars not being affected. Maybe being a girl into sports would have actually turned out to be a good thing.

The me that didn't move out of Mumbai at all. Still called it home and went there for summer and winter, bonded more with everyone else from campus and everyone I left back there and stayed in touch with them. Still had no curfew and probably got a driving license too.  Got to hang out with all my friends there, occasionally got to see the club scene and check out many more of the cool places there.

The me who moved to US coz we all shifted there. Maybe became school valedictorian, maybe got a chance to pursue so many more things and become good at them. Maybe SAT would have worked out then too. Maybe developed an accent :P. Been a typical American teenager.

The me who said bye to science! Took up Law maybe. Moved into litigation, graduated to join a top notch firm in India and started putting in the hours for a run at being a partner there. The competitiveness still remains or does it worsen in that cutthroat world? Or decided to become a CA :)… Or would it be medical?  Maybe English or History where I can bury myself in dingy libraries poring over musty books to gather the secrets they hold and the stories they told...

The me who didn't take up studies very much at all! Learnt ballroom dancing and Indian dances and studied dance. Took off for a few months to back pack around in obscure places. Learnt too sing as well. Performed on stages and with troupes. Learnt to live the high life (as in Nicleback's 'Rockstar' :P)…

But then, none of these scenarios bring me here where I am today… With the people I know, doing what I am doing now…  Not one of them at all!! Life can always much better. But life could also be much much worse. One moves onto the next day sometimes with only that as the strength!!  One sleeps peacefully at night, thankful for what has happened so far with this in mind...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pangong - Lakeside

I have developed a love for coffee shops apparently… Wonder when I'll find one like where I am sitting in right now, back home in India. The d├ęcor is perfect for me to work in or just relax with my laptop but more on that in subsequent posts (so keep watching this space… ;P). I do want to take you, my reader, on a trip to Heaven on Earth (nothing whatsoever to do with the movie namesake though!! Climactic with reference to it in fact…), across a few seas and way up in the sky. To My Paradise and one that definitely tops the Most Favourite Places in the Universe list. Among the highest lakes in the World nestled at a majestic 4350m (14200ft approx.). Its recent claim to fame being the stunning backdrop of the climax of 3 Idiots (Apparently the crew had just cleared out a week or so before we visited!! :O). Among God's greatest creations, yours truly introduces you to Pangong Tso.

Last time we were on the journey to Pangong having just left Chang La behind. The landscape was evolving with the barren lands suddenly sprouting shrubs and tiny streams as the road rushed down the mountain side hurrying with hairpin bends giving way to the expansive valleys I had seen there yet! In front, the view encompasses a tiny tar road about 1.5 car widths wide snaking its way on a carpet of brown highlighted with the occasional green of tundra growth and shrubs. One's ear is occasionally tickled with the gleeful chattering of a whimsical brook which decides to join the party for a while coming from a source unknown in the muscular mountains. Passing through another checkpost and military outpost /barracks later calls for more change in scenery.

The hues of brown in the vista before ones eyes is quite stunning to take in. However, one is sure that every remotely brown skinned person would find themselves represented be it in the mountains which have taken on an endlessly sweeping countenance seeming friendly and welcoming even in this new form or the sand which suddenly looks to have been imported from Rajasthan!' Cold Desert' does make sense after all! Turning ones head and a close scrutiny to the mountain we were driving on led to the development of a theory. Irrefutable proof almost of how India broke away from Gondwanaland and decided to 'nudge' the Asian landmass resulting in the greatest upheaval in Earth's history that has left the youngest mountain range on Earth with an ongoing growth spurt. The mountainside is punctuated with stones - correction, pebbles - like the ones that wash up on a sea shore… smoothed with the flow of countless waves of water over them. A great find - even if I say so myself.

One thing I did not expect find so far out in the middle of nowhere was a traffic jam which we found ourselves in due to construction work done by the Border Road Organisation also fondly known as 'Seema Sadak Sangathan' :P. Of course, we had to stop and wait at the edge of the road and our existence as a foot and a half further off was a steep drop to a muddy sludgy water (I think, couldn't be sure if it was just marsh though!!) body. Proof that home sentiments are a strong thing for sure… The overseeing officer who walked past our vehicle suddenly backtracked to us explaining that he heard Tamil and missed his own native Kerala. He was serving for a long stint there and didn’t expect to be back home very soon I believe. A pleasant chat later, he decided to open the road and let the workers take a lunch break and we were once more on our way!

The next guest into our inner circle was a rather rude entry known infamously as the Paagal Nala (The Mad Creak suits my sentiments more!). The result of snow melting under the wary eye of the sun, this Creak gains force as the day progresses reaching its peak jut around 2pm as the snow from 12pm finally winds down to meet its human friends. Our driver was apprehensive about crossing it as it was known for upturning many a 4 wheel drive not to mention bikes! A bridge was still being built so it was a gut wrenching few seconds which seemed like few hours trying to maneuver the vehicle on the bed of this Creak without getting waylaid by its 'wicked' intentions. After almost losing to the Creak, we finally made to the other side in one piece and a heartfelt sigh of relief later we were bouncing along getting ever closer to our destination. Of course, I was dying for the first glimpse of this lake not knowing what to expect as I don’t remember seeing any pictures of it before.

The first glimpse… Words escape me as all one could do was suck in breath after breath and stare at - no, feast on - the splendour called Tso Pangong. And it was just the beginning yet!! Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of looking upon this creation with your own eyes. The camera in the movie certainly didn't capture the half of it in my opinion! Anyways that was not their intention I guess… Wonder if NGC or Discovery made a documentary about this. I can imagine them having one heck of a field day with it. As soon as the car stopped, I could not wait to run in and taste the water and Boy! were they right about it being a salt water lake!! The spot we stopped at was getting crowded as all vehicles we came in with also stopped there.

So, it was lunch time as for one we were ravenous and secondly, wanted the view to ourselves for a few minutes at least! No restaurant I have ever eaten in or will ever eat in can compare in ambience to that backdrop that the Lord had provided! I don’t remember the lunch much though mostly because I was ravenous and wolfed it down and also the biting winds did numb the senses a little. And then we had the place to ourselves at last. Wiping off the last crumbs from lunch we decided to survey our luncheon room a little more closely. And does it hit you hard!

Ethereal! Surreal! Too good to be true! Use any superlative to whatever degree and it can't measure up to the feeling of the wind whipping around you and the beginning of the 138km long lake at your feet. I remember wanting to etch the vista in front of my disbelieving eyes into memory forever so fiercely that I didn’t want to blink! Hard to do when the sun is out and the winds all about. I wonder if any of you have seen those artists' renditions of alien lands and unknown planets in space museums or as stunning wallpapers. Well, imagine standing on those lands, in those paintings and you can imagine how standing in front of Pangong was… enough to make you forget to breathe! I could have lived there forever! Apparently there were fish in the lake as some birds were snooping for their own lunch diving into the lake occasionally. And some ducks too I think. Finally, we moved on to our campsite. A bumpy ride if there ever was one!

And then in the distance we could glimpse a cluster of tents, white as the snow on the mountains behind them, in a semicircle arrangement and then a few more closer to the lakeside. This was to be home for a night. After the tents at Uleytokpo, one knew what to expect. However, even giving leeway to the unreachable nature of the terrain and place, the tent was still a surprise! It was set up and opened only a week ago and we were the first set of people staying there. It was quaint with one single bulb hanging from wiring from the top of the tent and an attached bath and toilet area (considering how cold it was there, if I had to walk any distance for it, I would rather have forgone it altogether :P). We reached somewhere between lunch and snack time but had hot chai as soon as the bags came in and we were settled down. The tent opened to the rest of the camp area beyond which were the bluest waters and mountains in the most bewildering browns. It was a perfectly glorious evening with no clouds except those whiffs of white kissing the sky.

'It was chilly' would be a gross understatement thanks to the 'roaring' winds! We found the tent was heavily tethered to strong poles on closer examination otherwise, Dorothy might have found new company in the World of Oz without a tornado even! The people they have in charge for the camps seem to be the most interesting characters one can find I believe. The caretaker here was an ex-Army guy who had served in Siachen if memory serves right. Apparently, he was keen to start the tent system in Pangong and this was his pet project. It was the first of its kind there not being made of concrete structures and buildings. Among some interesting stats he mentioned was the fact that the lake would freeze only if temperatures went 40 below 0 and that the lake did freeze every single winter! Not too keen on living there then though it would be a really cool ski rink in your back - umm, front - yard. Moving on, we decided to explore the place and the small semblance of a village found further on.

The walk was a continuation of the same bumpy remnant of a road forged in the Dark Ages through which we reached the camp. We saw comfy Pashmina sheep whose wool is used to make the famous Pashmina shawls and houses made of sturdy stone rather than brick and cement. Running into a village girl, curiosity led to a mini Q&A. She was going to school (the village had a school I think) but was mentioning how fending off the winter was their own problem with no help from the authorities. It definitely strikes one of how lucky we are. I mean, here was the most beautiful vista in front of my eyes which I go on gushing about and for which every person on vacation is willing to pay pretty hefty prices and in my eyes is God's greatest gift to us. A place where I felt anyone could easily be inspired by the surroundings to become a poet or writer or any other romantic notion - maybe not quite everyone. In the eyes and words of that girl all one could sense was that the bluest waters, if salty, or the large brown snow topped mountains with no fertile soil were not really God's gift but the enemy to earning a decent livelihood. The loneliness that 'city' people crave for on these vacations was a big handicap for their survival for a large part of the year. Perspectives, different enough for some serious food for thought!

After walking through the village in the direction of the river, the other property allowing people to stay lakeside came into view albeit in concrete buildings, not tents. We snaked our way closer to the lake thinking of walking on water lapped shores back to our own camp. We ran into another tourist, European he was, I believe, in Wellington Boots who told us we could probably walk all the way back though there were some parts he had to walk through the water. Braving it then, we wanted to see just how far we could go. It turned out to be a good decision after all as we jumped across rivulets of water, saw the grass "breaking off" caked in salt from the lake and in general had a nice walk.

We did manage to reach the banks of our camp wetting nothing but our appetites (excuse the pun :D). The sun was just preparing to set and decided to paint a pretty farewell by turning the mountains orange and sending out pretty beams between the mountains to make the water sparkle like a bed of jewels. Once the sun went down, the Chill rushed in very eagerly, from the mountains behind us which were still sporting snow caps. The kitchen tent got busy with cooking hot food and I for one couldn't wait for it! Hot soup and some simple hot food was welcome with the caretaker calling us into the welcomingly warm dining tent. One can't appreciate the power of warm food unless you find it spreading deliciously through your insides when all else is freezing around you. Then we returned to our tents with the help of torch-lights as the paths did not have lamps along the way. I vaguely remember a conversation was struck up with some fellow travelers who were a bunch of bikers we had passed on the way. The were a few tents down ours.

Of course what stands out clearly etched was sitting outside our tent and staring into the deep. The background score of waves lapping at the shore very gently, and the light of hundreds of years ago blinking back from the infinite expanse of the sky. It is easy to get lost in the sensation of looking at particularly nothing at all and still everything when it's a sight one could never dare to imagine as it is so breathtakingly beautiful. The sky was more brilliant here and the Milky Way just could not be missed. The wonder is similar to a child which has just learned to stand and looks out of its crib to see a whole new world right there which it new nothing about. It seemed so much clearer as though being that high up brought you closer to the heavens too! I could have sat there all night but sleep and the warm tent were tempting in their own way too! So it was off to bed wrapped up in more layers than I could care to sleepily count. The warmer one is wrapped up while drifting of to dreamland, the more gargantuan the effort required to consciously get out of it in the morning. But, the day must go on so after a quick wash, we were ready for breakfast and to head back to the valley of Leh and that must wait till next time….

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chang La - 17586ft

I haven't written for so long!! Don't know where all the time went. In studying, running around to get projects for the next sem, working on my US visa (YES, finally!!!), cramming for the compres, completing more formalities and fighting with half of Bangalore (as usual x-(… ), packing and repacking to get everything less than 23 kilos and travelling ad settling down in nothing less than a new country and a new continent! Whew!! Experiences galore and no time to write. Well finally I'm going to catch up as much as I can since I promised to keep folks back home updated on what's happening so here goes. Last we left in Uleytokpo… Cut to 2 days later in a new hotel gobbling down breakfast to leave for Pangong!

This was the best ride I have had yet! We were so excited already as we would be going to the third highest pass in the world. So we start of early for the long ride and the sun and chill air greets us. The climb to the pass starts a little away from Leh in a new direction from the previous trip. We had an amazing melody of Hindi songs for company we blissfully started the climb. Then comes the checkpost at 15000-odd feet. Till now, note that the cars windows were open, we were enjoying the wind, with ears popping due to a steep climb. Of course, the layers Mom was weaing were growing every few thousand feet that we rose but Dad and I decided to wing it! Boy! was that crazy of us. We get down at the checkpost for a relief break and the chilness hit me full force. Goosebumps break out the shivers compared to the heebee-jeebies you get at the worst horror movies. Of course, that didn’t stop me from half trotting to the mobile restroom (The army guys are sweet enough to keep one for civillians and women too!). Then I felt the world go tipsy!! The oxygen is very low even at that altitude and I half jumped out of my skin which still didn’t help to set the world right! Then the advice to take medication for high altitudes made sense! We popped some as soon as we reached the car!!!

Then we moved on through quite treacherous roads. Simply because the snow on these levels erode the road put by the Army. It was extremely bumpy and slow and we could see snow peeking from crevices a little higher than us on our mountain! As we rode higher, it only got better. We could now see those crevices lower than us!! We were actually higher than some remnant snow!! To the amusement of our driver, we asked about snow (again!) at the passes and he coolly asked us to wait and watch or that he would get us some from near the pass :)… Then we approach near the pass and the saw the best was still to come! The peak right next to the road was a white carpet of snow we were really tempted to carry home! To ski on that slope would have been unimaginable wonderful.

Then we finally reached the pass - Chang La - 17586ft, the 3rd highest pass in the world! We had never been this high ever before in our lives. It was exhilarating to breath there. See and understand the achievement of our army to succeed in some awesome engineering and make road at this altitude. The army is very friendly to civilians here. They have a small stall where the keep hot, sweet, elaichi chai with dalchini. Its like elixir in the cold, gives your body the kick to breathe harder and deal with the altitude. There are also biscuits (Parle G of course) and raisins and cashews - free for all on the table. The army guys are also chatty here, happy to see other humans in a place with a population density of 2/km. One can't thank them enough! There is a temple at these passes, dedicated mostly to Shiva to guard everyone at the pass. And one is advised not to spend more than half an hour at these passes as the body is not trained to take it.

As we moved on, thoroughly satisfied, there was still more to come! Snow right by the road and in places, higher than the car (and this was a Sumo type car we are talking about). I could almost touch and the endless delight was just too much to contain so all I could do was whip out the camera and not stop clicking everything. Those images are burnt into my head now… so hard did I want to remember it! Imagine a small muddy bumpy curvy road, 1.5 car lengths wide with not much runoff. One side, the dark mountain's mud slopes and on the other, a steep drop into ravines. And on the mountain, snow, glistening in the sun, a shimmer here and then there all the way to the top. A carpet you could sink into sometimes covered with the dust blown from the mountains. And a carpet that has been left with the footprints of a herd of giants! Heaven couldn't get much more satisfying than what I felt then.

As we moved down the pass on the other side, the snow stuck on the flat part of the mountain was a likening to the Hanging gardens of Babylon. A beautiful sight, you couldn’t peel your ice from. Then more of nature's surprises come out from a frozen lake at a much lower altitude and even a half frozen one! Then it was all about going down, down and down some more till you suddenly hit the valleys seen from above. Then all you see is brown barren land and huge mountains rising from nowhere. Nestled among them further behind are white sheets of snow on which are delightful to spot for fleeting seconds as the car races on the plain flat roads. Another checkpost later, we realize the song collection had changed! The Australian group we had met at Uleytokpo were coming to Pangong too in a minibus. Our drivers had exchanged their collection to suit our needs. The collection was just superb! Made the ride all the more fun. The landscape was changing and the excitement to reach Pangong was
rising... More on that soon...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Of Cabbages-- and Kings--...

The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:

Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--

Of cabbages--and kings--

And why the sea is boiling hot--

And whether pigs have wings."

The above lines are from the poem "Walrus and the Carpenter" written by Lewis Carrol. A poem that always crack me up with its nonsensicalness. It is a wonderful tonic for anyone needing some cheering up. Its extremely frivolous and seems a world and a half away. Check out this link if you want a good laugh: http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/walrus.html. So the idea of cabbages and kings always reminds of randomness like nothing else. I mean, think about it, why in anyone's world will I talk of a cabbage and a King in the same conversation except to say what the King's menu for lunch was! So, I guess this also one of those random thoughts which I felt like putting down on paper (oops, on a computer screen).

First of all, the address of my blog is not gibberish at all! For those not familiar with the world of F1 Motor racing or Italian, Scuderia is term used by Italian teams in the sense of 'Team Ferrari' becoming 'Scuderia Ferrari'. Its translation effectively means 'from the stables of'. 'Tifosi' translates to 'fans' in F1 specifically indicating Ferrari's scarlet-crazy fans. That definitely clears up my loyalties in the sport. Till now, I have not commented on F1 and its gossip simply because a certain Mr. Schumacher, for whom I was mainly watching, had retired from it by then and my fanatic interest in the sport had somewhat gone down. Also hostel life and sports schedules, especially in a girl's hostel, don’t always go very well together. Now, however, with Schumi announcing his return back to F1... that too not with Ferrari… well what can I say?

First thought, and I was surprised it was publicly proclaimed by Ferrari in as many words as well, was actually a sense of betrayal that he wasn’t with Ferrari anymore. Ever since I have been watching it was more like Ferrari and Schumi were pretty much the same thing. Seeing him in non-Red overalls will take huge getting used to. Some of the Italian press even went as far as proclaiming him a traitor! I mean beat that! But, I guess the bottom line is that, at least for me, there's reason for F1 becoming exciting again. Of course, it might be too much to hope for the Championship Win but I believe a win or too and some podiums would be quite plausible and welcome. This is after all the more than 5 time Constructor and Driver Championship winning combo of Ross Brawn and Schumi. So actually now, I am super excited for 2010 Season and the vroom of F1 cars.

What is it about imminent separation that suddenly makes you want to appreciate people and the relationship they have with you? So, as per the BITS system, 4th Year is where people with a single B.E. degree choose to go on Practice School II (a 6 month internship chosen from a pool of companies and done to complete the requisite credits). Since, everyone cant disappear in one semester itself, students are asked to choose a semester to go for it. This means, the batch gets divided up into people going for the internship and those staying back for the particular semester. This generally breaks up friends (couples especially!!), groups and slightly messes up the social dynamic, making one hunt for a new one suddenly. That being the case, the 3rd Year 2nd Semester gains a huge sense of importance. All birthdays celebrated in the 3rd Year are quite special as it would be the 'last time we are all together'. Interestingly, it also strengthens the bond of friendship simply because a sense of finality hangs in the air. Next semester might not have the same people so nearby and so physically part of your life. So celebrations galore become more jovial and cherished than before, crazy photo sessions happen in an attempt to capture the 'littlest' things for posterity and nostalgia always managed to creep in. Like, "I remember the first semester… It seems so long ago na?", "It seems so long ago that I was friends with those people", "I cant believe it’s the last semester ALL of us are going to be together!!" and more in similar strains. The best part is all the preparation done from almost the previous year to decide on dresses for the farewell! Matching accessories, shoes, expensive, pretty clothing and the anticipation if one can carry it all off when D-Day arrives! All of it makes you value the time on has left with the little family you make in campus life. Who knows where we'll all end up scattered across the world's panorama? It changes perspectives more than you can imagine.

Birthdays come and... birthdays come :D. I always look forward to my birthday right from new years' coz March is pretty early in the year ain't it? So this time was my very first '12 O' clock' birthday and it was just awesome!!! The tradition on campus is to buy a b'day cake for the lucky one which is cut with all the friends around and some if not all of it is eaten n the rest finds its way on one's face and hair (if your not so lucky!!). Then of course, its time for presents. Only then, does one get to sleep. This time the celebrations seemed to be extended over the whole week (not counting the one I had in Feb end when I went home!!). Coz it was only the next day that I received bday cards and my passport!! (My heartfelt thanks to the Bombay Passport Office for clearing up my old passport and timing it so well after making me bite my nails about it!) Then of course, comes the treat phase. Luckily, I had two more victims for company to foot the bill of the treat.

That's not to say it turned out 'super' as well. We decided to go for a buffet at this 3-star with 17 people in total. We walk in to the garden set for the buffet and see it decked up more for a marriage reception. It was Indian Classical Nite apparently. This is the best part of all!!! We manage to work in a humungous discount on the buffet just because we were not told about the 'entertainment' for the night we would have to pay for as well. Boy! I love being a student. That seemed to have sealed the deal for us. So, 17 hungry people dug in to a very nice dinner with rather funny(not in the best possible way) depictions of Indian Classical dances for the foreigners to enjoy! On the whole, everyone was very happy including those who actually foot the bill. A near perfect way to enjoy a birthday after all I guess… Can't wait for the next one, though!!

On other things… Yours truly has been bowled over by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's novels. Found a collection of 5 novels of his and was completely into them. Excellent insight into human psychology and very mature story lines. One novel is interestingly narrated in the first person from the varying point of view of the main characters and is very refreshing to read. Of course, all of them are love stories and have too many sad guys falling for too many beautiful girls but, Bollywood storylines could definitely improve by taking a leaf out of his work! Well I guess that's the note I'll end this random thoughts session on. More to come later...