Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yamunotri-The Divine Hiccough

This is the second part of the vacation to Uttaranchal.......

The Ambassador turned out to be a really bad choice in these rains. We had stopped in the pouring rain near a shop for the third time in half that many hours. The reason being that the gauges and the lone wiper would suddenly stop working as though on their whims! This was a huge blow to our schedule and we had started on this really huge back foot. Imagining another 10 days in such a car with a low battery(as we found out later), was well, to say the least, frightening.

Finally, after deliberation and countless calls to the contractor providing the taxi, an Innova was procured. Unfortunately, this called for another delay of 3hrs at least . So there we were sitting in a parking lot in Mussorie, in not the best of moods, awaiting the other car. The weather even seemed to reflect our feelings......the whole town was engulfed in this really 'wet' cloud and the biting cold set in. Soon the other taxi was at our disposal and we set off in the Innova. The driver was a bit miffed, I believe, after being called urgently and sent for us as he had just finished the Yatra that morning and was looking forward to a good sleep. Poor him.

As we left Mussorie behind us and started the travel of those winding roads, it was like a race against time. It was forbidden to drive on the Ghat roads beyond 8pm for safety reasons and now it was to be impossible to reach Jankichatti in time. Our itinerary was from Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam(GMVN), the Government Tourism Initiative. Taking care of 1 half of Uttarakhand, they are quite accommodative. If one is unable to reach one's destination due to any problems like landslides, they are very flexible, finding a safe accommodation. Also they make sure one is not delayed by landslides, etc. If crossing over by foot is possible, they arrange for local transportation until their vehicles can meent you at the next stop over. It's quite impressive actually and all of their tourist houses are quite tourist friendly, clean and largely hygienic.

The winding roads could beat any roller coaster found anywhere in this world on any given day let alone during the monsoons when these roads become so treacherous. Of all the days to get motion sickness, I couldn't have chosen better timing! I ended up sleeping throughout the day's drive to avoid feeling nauseated. Anyways, the night stop was a certain Barkot which we reached around 7pm deciding not to go ahead as that would mean we reach Hanuman Chatti only at 9pm. After a light dinner, we heard of a landslide on the way from Hanuman Chatti to Janki Chatti due to incessant rains. The dread this brought upon me was quite startling. Let your imagination run away with you and its easy to even make Mount Everest out of a molehill!

A good sleep later the day dawned early and we were out by 5:30am to try if we could reach Yamunotri after all. The scenery was very tropical and the river was gushing about a 1000 feet below us with all her ferocity. It was really refreshing to see nature's wild beauty in all its splendor. This was nothing compared to the lanslide sites however! It had buried 3/4 of the road beneath it and some really huge boulders had managed to find their way below to the river bank. We ended up walking from before Hanuman Chatti itself as there was no other alternative. Due to the roadblock, people had resorted to using a 19km goat path that was so mucky with sludge and horse dung that it was just not worth taking it. It was supposed to go through all sorts of forest lands and across complete mountains. It looked very precarious to say the least. Still, some people braved(more like foolhardy) it all to reach Yamunotri.

As we were walking route no. 2, there was a huge congregation ahead and we could see people being stopped as bulldozers were busy cleaning up the roadblock. Right in front of our eyes, as some of the slide was cleared, more land slid to take its place. Really freaky to watch! Given a choice I would rather not see nature's fury at any degree! So we returned back to Hanuman Chatti and Yamunotri remains the one unfinished chapter in our journey. It is believed that a hiccough is supposed to imply that someone was thiking of you. I believe that, in a highly childish manner, this was just God remembering us on our trip to visit Him. Funny analogy ain't it?

Well it's off to Gangotri now. Sigining off...........

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


This is the first installment of the mini travelogue on Uttarakhand.
So goes the story of three people who went on one of the most wonderful trips of their lives of which yours truly was also a part.....

Sitting in a taxi on the way to the newly built Banagalore International Airport(BIA), curiosity was plentiful as everything was to be unchartered territory from here on. You see, I had as yet to see this new Airport which the whole city seemed to be thanking - except for the distance that had to be travelled of course. For instance, my flght takes 55min from campus and I take more than an hour to reach home from the airport in the best of times!! Coming back to that afternoon, I eagerly looked out to see the sprawling new airport only to find that both the International and Domestic terminal put together was the 1B terminal of Mumbai's domestic airport. What a bummer!! It decidedly looked all international and cool on the outside but inacapable of handling all the human traffic that might descend on it at peak hours. How short-sighted of all those who planned for this....

We boarded our flight to Delhi and landed without incident. Then began the transformation of the passengers let alone the surroundings, etc. If you have ever noticed, people actually change according to the norms of the city they have just landed at/entered, especially those who call the place home or who visit it frequently. There started jostlings and shovings withtout a hint of apology from even the best dressed. Luckily my dad's friend had sent us a his car and driver so that we could reach the Old Delhi railway station in time for our train to Haridwar. The Red Fort in all its night time glory sped past us as did all those Phase I(or is it II) constructions of the Metro Rail. I dont remember much excpet for quite broad roads, some really pretty bungalows and a fast average traffic(if a bit rash).

We were in the station with plenty of time for the train. A 2-week foray into the effectively unknown with the monsoon for comapny had prompted us to carry heavy luggage and the porters were the lucky ones on that score. The station was awash with people - most of them the very unsettlingly curious type( Somehow, I dont think the first idea on their mind was to help selflessly). They were very interested in the coach and even seat numbers we were to occupy in the train!! My dad's Blackberry drew some attention too(It does that in most places we go to anyways).

Thankfully the train arrived and with more than the incidental push and shove we climbed aboard to find our seats. There was a slight hitch however(things were going too smoothly for everyone's comfort apparently). This was a new coach with 3 berths on the other side as well(as opposed to the 2 berths used before) and so everyone's seat allotment was different to the one given in the tickets. Luckily our beths still came in the same set of 6 berths and the other 3 berths were also occupied by a family of 3 so nothing much to disturb us. All around however, confusion ruled. The aforementioned friend had also kindly packed us some forst rate dinner and this was duly consumed on the train.

Soon it was time to hit the sack or the quite muddy(I still cant fathom why) berths I must say. The night I spent on that train was like sleepig in a furnace that has just been put out-not excruciatingly hot albeit very stuffy and wholesome only for fitful sleeping. Also I think the driver was accustomed to catching naps just about anywhere and whenever he pleased because everytime one took the trouble of finding where the train had reached, it would be stopped in the middle of nowhere, and for at least half an hour at each stretch. This resulted in a much delayed train reaching Haridwar more than an hour later than scheduled.

That had very efficiently offset our tour and since we are no superheroes needing time for things like food and bath, it just did not help things. We left for a place Jankichatti(about 250 km from Haridwar) in a not so young Ambassador car. Of course, the heavens decided to open up just then. The result being that the windshield on the car would get smoky as there was no A/C to clear it up again. The driver would be talking, wiping the windshield from within and precariously driving all at the same time and my grip on the door handle would automatically tighten. Very comforting isnt it? If you thought that was the worst you couldnt be more further from the truth!! More on that next time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Inconvenient Truth

I am really freaked and worried about my future.....correction about all our fututres and that of mankind and our planet in general. The reason being that i saw The Inconvenient Truth - Al Gore's Oscar winning documentary - last night. It was very chilling and if all the data shown in it are true, it wont be long before all of mankind would have to search for a new home in the vast realm of the universe. My respect for Al Gore has increased after seeing his flawless and heart-felt presentation in this documentary. The animations shown in the movie/documentary are easy even for laymen with school level knowledge to understand. I commmend and applaude his earnest effort in trying to do something useful.....he seems to have given this presentation in at least a 1000 cities all over the world.

This documentary deals with the global warming issue which is enroute to becoming man's ultimate nemesis if nothing is done about it. Some of the data shown in it is of the never before seen kind except in the academia. The graphs on CO2 emissions and their relations with temperature are beautifully illustrated and their extrapolations into the next 50 years sends shivers down your spine regarding the consequences. In the words of Wiston Churchill, The Age of Procastination & Delay is long gone and we have to face the Age of "Consequences".

Countless pictures show the retreat of glaciers in places starting from the northern edge of the U.S.A to the Italian Alps, Switzerland, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Arctic and Antarctic Shelves. Sadly neither is India spared......On my trip to Uttarakhand a week back, all we heard were reports of glaciers retreating at alarming rates, snow not falling as thick as before, and so on. The Government has restriceted the entry of people to the Gaumukh region of the Katling Glacier from where springs the Bhagirathi river (which goes on to become the Ganges at Deoprayag an joining with the Alaknanda river) as the people and pollution is making the glacier retreat even faster. Such reports are quite think the spellbounding views and glimpses we had the fortune of witnessing a week back might not last the turn of this century!!!!

Some really astonishing facts were revealed. For example, Polar bears are drowning (yes you read right, drowning) because they grew tired after swimming almost 60 miles and still ot finding substantial ice shelves for their survival!!!!!!! Also the military was coaxed by Gore to realease the fact that submarines are able to surface very easily at numerous places right through the ice. The implication being that the ice accumulation is 3.5 feet or less because otherwise, they cant surface. Scientists cant fathom how one portion of the ice caps has retreated by about 30 feet in the past 5 years!!! That is way beyond even their prediction taking projected values of global warming into account!!!

Its almost like the Earth itself breathes. Since most of the landmass and vegetation is in the Northern Hemisphere, during our summer, the plants perform photosynthesis and CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere and its value and the atmosphere goes down (seen quite plainly on plotting a graph). In our winter as the leaves fall and decay all the CO2 is released back drastically increasing the amount in the atmosphere again seen very clearly in a graph. So its almost like in the course of a year, the Earth breathes in and out CO2. Makes you feel like Earth is living too.....

And its heart stopping to note that if any substantial portion of those ice caps breaks or if the whole of Greenland melts, sea levels worldwide would rise by a whopping 20 feet! MOst of the coastal areas are going to be submerged and Netherlands will be wiped clean off the map......Also the effect on the different currents that permeate all the oceans and seas will completely stop working or be thrown into havoc. At this rate global warming will destroy the earth as we have known it (in fact, its already doing that) and soon deem it even unfit to live. Where do we go then?? Where should we look for a new place that can be called home??

Surprisingly, India's emissions are relatively lesser compared to China US and even Japan taking into consideration our population levels.....Though of course thats no reason for us not to start changing our the way we live our lives and push for reforms that would reduce the carbon footprints of everyone in this country. The one thing thats encouraging to see is that of all the new 'clean' technologies and emission reducing measures are collectively used, there are signs that our emission levels could drop to levels lower than those in the '70s. That seems like the way forward and it wont happen until each one of us does our bit to reduce the carbon footprint. I would like to request everyone who reads this to take out the time from your busy schedules and see this documentary for the sake of our future generations and the only home we have got - Our Earth - if not anything else.

P.S. A carbon footprint is a "measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide".