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: 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...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Uleytokpo - The Riverside

Howdy all! Its been Oh!... so long since this blog was updated but life decided to make us its ragdoll for quite some time. Schedules turned upside down, right side up, brought right down to a stop and accelerated before you could catch a breath… to make it a one liner. Its been a crazy few months!!! First of course was Test1always coming sooner than you want it too, still settling down with the new student council, etc. Then the bombshell of Jaundice spreading faster than gossip on campus, resulting in an unprecedented, not to mention historic, shut down of the campus for about 17 days. Everyone, scrambling asap to get away from the vicinity of the campus. And then coming back. However, unlike most others, of course, the devil in the formof Nettech, a certificate course on network security and management, was set to haunt me. This demon loved to eat away one's allocated time, exhaust them completely and still have them ask for more with enjoyment and the promise of knowledge as the bait! Of course, the lesser demon of project work grew threateningly large one weekend and it was all set for me to trip over them all and land flat on the face. Of course, with all this, you might understand why the blogging monster decided to sit out the free for all for my time and energy.

Coming back to the point though, its time we continued on the journey through my paradise, Ladakh… So after the acclimatization phase, it was time to start the actual journey. Destination - Uleytokpo (pronounced as Uley-top-ko), Banks of River Indus. The day dawned early and after breakfast we set off to Uleytokpo. For the first time ever, the road openedout ahead of us to reveal the cold beauty of this land. What you first experience as soon as Leh is left behind are the army lands. Home of battalions and regiments stretched for kilometres on both sides of the tiny road 2 and then some car widths wide.

Leaving human settlements behind, the loneliness engulfs you totally. Actually it overwhelms you. For as far as your eye can see, the grey snake of a road is laid out on extremely plain land. The sides however are a totally different story. For tens of kilometres its plain barren land and then… there lie the giants. They grab your attention quite forcefully. One of their own definitely caught our full attention when it tried to bend the movement of our over a ton vehicle with all of us sitting inside! Yes, the Magnetic Hill it was called and stayed true to its name. An absolutely still more than a few tons car with passengers inside (including yours truly) was slowly pulled when the car was left in gear with no accelerators or brakes!!! No other word for it but 'cooool!!' Moving on, we had some more breathtaking views of endless mountains and ranges.

First drive-by was the confluence of Zangskar and Indus. Incidentally, the Indus can be viewed throughout the country in an accessible manner only around Leh and then near Kargil before our namesake is lost to out neighbour, Pakistan. Then we stopped for the first stop at a ruined monastery the name of which fails me at the present time. One ends up seeing so many monasteries, that one loses track of all the Gompas and their names! Well, this was a ruin in the strictest sense of the word! Located on a small hill, parts of the monastery cum living quarter cum fort was in completely unconnected parts of the broken hill. Restoration work was on and the best view obtained comprised of how bamboo sticks are used for window sills in Ladakh.

Moving on, we were greeted graciously by capped mountains along the landscape peeking from behind their drier and shorter counterparts. This continued through the journey with the occasional (actually, only) river interrupting the landscape with a burst of green and a small town. After a stop of a few seconds at Uleytokpo for a recon of our campsite, we set off with a packed lunch to Alchi Monastery. That is a tradition it seems for the hotels and camps in Ladhakh - sending the tourists with packed lunches - a quaint one at that for taking care of guests. The location of the monastery was simply beautiful!

It was a small hill (compared to those around) and the valley below was filled with tiny farms and if I'm not wrong green meadows. As we were to learn, the monastery was splendidly colourful. The paintings on the walls were so bright and happy! We were greeted with a paintings was of the four heavenly kings (Lokapala in Sanskrit or guardians of the world), each of a different colour with different accompaniments ranging from a banjos and magic potions to swords! These heavenly kings are guardian gods. The Yellow hued one is Vaisravana (Kuber)meaning "He who hears everything" and protects the North holding an Umbrella. The Blue hued one is Virudhaka meaning "Patron of Growth" and protects the South holding a Sword. The White hued one is Dhrtarashtra meaning "Watcher of the Lands" and protects the East holding a Pipa (Sitar-esque instrument). The Red hued one is Virupaksa meaning "He who sees all" and protects the West holding a Serpent.

After visiting the shrine, we had lunch sitting on a roadside ledge with the whole hill and its vista stretched out below us. The major attraction near the monastery is this one hill which looks like the moon has been brought to ground. It is so unbelievable to observe a mountain whose colours and texture change from core Ladhakhi to the the core of the Moon! You have to see it to believe it! The rills on these 'moon-lands' - as they are referred to locally - are infinite and minute and the colour is that of cheese. This does lend to the theory that the moon is made of cheese (as per Jerry's fantasy!!). Our return route was a jolting shortcut that took us delightfully close to these moon-lands but rocked me (literally!!) to sleep. When I opened my eyes a good hour or so later we were back near Uleytokpo and it was time to settle into our tent.

Now, this tent was nothing short of 5 star in my opinion simply because to me tent has always been cramped space and sleepin bags with and the only attached toilet being the great outdoors. Here we had double sized bed with a space for a third and an attached bathroom complete with a prettily shaped wash basin and hand showers! The view, on walking a few steps out of the tent and peeking, entailed the flowing Indus as we were on her rather high banks. I instantly fell in love with the setting. The air about that place had something so lazy and relaxing about it and the mountains all around were like a protection from the everyday world. The few wisps of clouds in the sky threw a nice display of shadows on the ground with the mountains as a canvas as the river gushed down below. The caretaker was delightful Nepali whose energy at those altitudes was very amusing to watch. On talking to him later, we found that he was a sherpa who has climbed Mount Everest more number of times than I care to admit. He works as a guide in mountaineering expeditions in Nepal during winter. He half helped us plan a trip to Nepal too!

Warm food on a cold night was a welcoming sight not to mention a bonfire after that! The place had predominantly foreign families and a large group of youngsters who seemed to be from Australia and another group of three whom we were going to run into quite often. It was a night to relish. Cold and yet warm due to the bonfire and the sound of the river above it all. The cherry on the icing of this cake had to be the night sky! I never believed one could see the Milky Way in our sky when we were in it but its true! The faint and blink and you miss it band of white running across the sky made me happy enough to dance around in glee. Its impossible to ever imagine how infinite infinite really is until you look at the unhindered night sky. What more does one need for a peaceful night's rest...