2011 was splendid. It was a year of many glorious events. Here’s a quick recap of my treks, bike trips and travel that I had done in chronological order with some photos…

Rajasthan

It all started with the Rajasthan trip. From the majestic Udaipur palace to the Leopards of Bera to the Havelis of Nawalgarh and Churu to the dunes at Jaisalmer, this trip was one that will remain etched in my memory forever. Read it here.

Sivasamudram Bike Trip

This was a quick chit-chat ride to Sivasamudram. Zipped through Mysore road and we were back by afternoon :)

Early morning shot of Sajjangarh Fort while the moon was just setting

Early morning shot of Sajjangarh Fort while the moon was just setting

The Forgotten Commandments – A Short Film

I was the hero in this short film and as per the plot I was to die in the movie (something that eluded even Rajinikanth till now 😉 ). Shooting for this movie was one of the best experiences for me. Read about it here.

Siddara Betta

This was again a short bike and trek trip where we climbed to the caves and explored a few places around. The day can be dubbed as lost-and-found day as mentioned by Sudar in his blog post.

Hugging Monkeys at Siddara Betta

Hugging Monkeys at Siddara Betta

Kerala Bike Trip

Thick in to summer, we knew we had to cool ourselves. Chennai Trekking Club to the rescue. What would be better than a trip to swim in various parts of the Idukki dam followed by the splendid ghats of Valparai?

The shores of the Idukki Lake

The shores of the Idukki Lake

Venkatagiri Trek

It was supposed to be a two-day trek but circumstances were such that two of us had to join another team who were on a 3-day trek in the same area. We trekked with them for the most part and started our exit on day 2 by following a stream. From where we stood, the town was visible; which meant, the climb down would be steep and we had to encounter lots of waterfalls. At last count, we had climbed down at least seven steep places within a matter of hours. Day light faded quickly and we were forced to camp with a meager amount of food at a beautiful cave, surrounded by water. As the moon rose, the whole area glimmered. The Orion smiled at us. We exited early next morning. Myself, Shibu, Vikram, Sundar and Girish were the team. From the first steep waterfall to hanging down a tree overlooking a 30 feet drop to getting down the devil’s rainbow pool etc. it was an experience of a lifetime to remember.

A serene pool inside Venkatagiri Forests

A serene pool inside Venkatagiri Forests

Vellarimala Trek

Oh man oh man! No words in my dictionary to describe this trek. I had reached the limits of my vocabulary to describe that trek. Read about it here.

Savandurga Trek

Myself, Siddharth and Sudar were on this. It was decided the previous night all of a sudden that we had to get out the next morning & we were out on an impulse. Superb day that ended with pizza and a swim 😀

At the peak of Vavul Mala

At the peak of Vavul Mala

Bodi-Munnar Trek

Day one from Korangani village to Kolukkumalai and day two from Korangani village to Top Station. It was an easy trek and the weekend was well spent 😀

Yercaud Bike Trip

I had been wanting to go to Yercaud for a long time, it being pretty close (231 kms is pretty close isn’t it?) to Bangalore. So what did we do? Tank up the bikes and wrooom to Yercaud and back 😀 .. I witnessed the best ever sunrise of my life. On the way back, we swam at the Cauvery river in Mettur.

A surreal sunrise at Yercaud

A surreal sunrise at Yercaud

Ooty Bike Trip

Monsoon season had just begun and Ooty started filling up my mind. Having experienced the monsoon of Western Ghats during a trek to Ombattu Gudde, I had to drive to Ooty. Six of us in three bikes drove to Ooty via Bangalore – Mysore – Bandipur – Masinagudi – Ooty – Coonoor – Ooty – Mudumalai – Bandipur – Mysore – Bangalore. One of my best ever bike trips in the thickest of rains, until the Western Ghats bike trip happened :)

Pondicherry Bike Trip

Some of us school friends met after a long time and we decided to celebrate the occasion by driving to Pondy. En route we stopped at Alampara Fort and had a swim in the Bay of Bengal.

En route Upper Bhavani, Ooty

En route Upper Bhavani, Ooty

Stok Kangri, Ladakh – Summit at 6127 m

Reached the summit of Stok Kangri. It was an amazing trek. It had been my second time to Ladakh. When I landed in Leh, I just stood outside the airport for about 30 minutes, seeing the mountains as if they were my siblings. It was like returning home after a long time. Had lots of adventure on this trek, saw the formation of new glacial streams right in front of my eyes & also listened to the love story of Mr. M on the way down from Mato La 😀 .

Stok Kangri Summit - 6127 m

Stok Kangri Summit - 6127 m

Chunchi Falls Bike Trip

A very very memorable trip to Chunchi Falls where myself and two others averted a major disaster. The story is yet to be told :) . Would you like to listen to it?

Western Ghats Monsoon Bike Trip

This was like the thick of Monsoon in the Western Ghats. Over a long weekend, the Western Ghats beckoned us like anything. What did we do? We just answered the call with our bikes and our spirits 😀 . It was 4.5 days of pure bliss. From driving in rain the whole way to Kemmannugundi to Hebbe Falls to Maravanthe Beach to Jog Falls, this trip was a dream come true, only next to Stok Kangri. Read Sudar’s blog post about the bike trip and my post about Hebbe Falls in Monsoon.

Jeep trail to Hebbe Falls

Jeep trail to Hebbe Falls

Accident

Had a bike accident couple of months ago. I happened to be extremely lucky to have escaped with a single fracture. Read about it here.

In between all these trips there were many other interesting events. This year made me go delirious with joy. So, that was my 2011 :) . How was yours? Share it in the comments.

Wish you a very happy 2012 :)

On the other side of Khardung La lies the famous Nubra valley – the land of the sand dunes (Hunder), double humped camels (Hunder), beautiful monasteries (Diskit, Sumur), hot water springs (Panamik) etc.

It snowed when we were at Khardung La. Being from the hot-hotter weather of Chennai, it became extremely cold for us to bear it any longer. We quickly made a move. Gloves and jackets were of no use. The cold pierced through every fabric and sent shivers through everyone’s spines. The road to North Pullu from Khardung La was bad. Small melt-water streams made sure the bad roads turned in to slush in no time. Frozen and irritated, we made our way towards North Pullu. Sun peeked from behind the clouds after a long time and the warmth was very soothing. We stopped our bikes and soaked in the warmth … sun bath if you may say. Beyond North Pullu and until Khalsar, the roads were fantastic. Zipping through those curves was super fun.

Icicles near Khardung La

Icicles near Khardung La

It was about 4 PM when we reached the Khalsar village and I was quite hungry. There were only 4 shops in the town of which only one was a hotel. It was a cozy home-cum-hotel, handled by a small family.

A drop dead beautiful Ladakhi girl, wrapped up head to toe, in nice warm clothes was standing outside her hotel. Insanely gorgeous. Her scarf was damn cute too. My bike suddenly seemed to have a mind on its own. It leaned on one side and stopped right outside the shop. Apparently, my jaws had dropped and took a lot of time to recover. My eyes were fixed on her and didn’t move an inch away. My lips had automatically curled in to a smile. She smiled too … SHE SMILED ! Wow!

Chubby Ladakhi baby

Chubby Ladakhi baby

She turned around and walked inside. Minutes later, she stepped out again and in her arms was an ultra cute kid 😀 … I heard a loud POP sound. Probably that was my heart 😛 … The world came crashing down and I was back to my normal self. One and a half years later, this moment of the amazing bike trip remains unforgettable :)

Hebbe Falls in Monsoon

November 1st, 2011

Hebbe Falls is located near Kemmannugundi in Karnataka. Without doubt, it is one of the most beautiful places. We picked peak monsoon for a bike trip through the Western Ghats and had NO IDEA how beautiful Hebbe Falls would be in peak monsoon. Visiting that waterfall was one of the best things of the bike trip. To know our route and which places we covered during the trip, read Sudar’s blog post.

Initially, we had to take a small detour to get on the “road” to Hebbe Falls. The road was actually no road. It was full of huge and slippery boulders. When it’s pouring cats and dogs, 24×7, during monsoon, it becomes a slushy mess that can be navigated only by cars with good ground clearance. As we neared the place beyond which cars can’t go, the rain slowed down. As soon as we stepped down, leeches attacked us from all directions. The only way to escape them was to run :) . The earth around us was dripping wet, fresh and aromatic from the recent rain.

Jeep Trail to Hebbe Falls

Jeep Trail to Hebbe Falls

After a short 15 minute trek and crossing three streams, we heard the thunder of the waterfall. As with the thunder, my heartbeat also increased. What we saw next was a sight to behold!

Hebbe Falls

Hebbe Falls

My jaw dropped at the sight of the waterfall. Tremendous amounts of water was cascading down two levels of the waterfall. Each level was at least 50 feet high. The photo above shows only one level. The other level was misty and couldn’t be captured well. The water spray was too much to handle. We couldn’t even keep our eyes open. There was no one else around except the few of us and we spent a looooong time sitting near the waterfall and getting wet in its spray. I even dared to go in to one of the side streams and spent some time under one of those countless tiny waterfalls. The soul was cleansed. No one in the world would have been happier than the five of us at the waterfall that morning.

For all this, people were telling us not to visit the place during monsoon! Off season it seems! Off season travel is definitely worth it. Gratification is high :)

The Accident

October 28th, 2011

P.S 1: Typing on one hand sucks.
P.S 2: Speech to text sucks too, especially if it’s not trained properly.
P.S 3: This is a long post & contains no images.
P.S 4: I would have narrated this story at least 200 times by now 😛
P.S 5: “PS” is called Post-Script. Here, am calling it pre-script.

Prologue

The male nurse stood behind me and was listening intently to the Doctor’s instructions. It was 3.46 PM. He placed his hand behind my neck & said, “Sit straight and take a deep breath.” As soon as he felt my lungs expand, he pulled it sharply towards him, in a single move. Exactly at that moment, wave after wave of searing pain coursed through my body. It was excruciating. Eyes automatically welled up. It was nothing like I had ever felt before. What felt like hours later, the pain stopped. Eyes absorbed the tears again. Thankfully, not a single drop escaped. They appeared bloodshot. It was still 3.46 PM. My shoulders had extremely tight straps and my left arm was completely pinned and hung on a sling.

Early Morning

4 AM is an ungodly hour for most of us. However, on the days of long drive, I prefer driving early in mornings. The cold wind, empty highways, witnessing the first rays of the Sun & sipping chai from a highway motel are all small joys that add immense pleasure to the experience. That day was no different too; except that rather than picking the usual Hosur-Krishnagiri-Vellore-Chennai route (NH7, NH46 and NH4), I preferred the single NH4 (Kolar-Chittoor-Ranipet-Chennai).

The highway was absolutely empty except for that rare lorry or two. Early morning cruise was an absolute pleasure. With the bike being amazingly steady and the engine giving that customary growl, my brain went crazy. The crisp early morning air was superb. Mind was peaceful. Heart was happy. Joy knew no bounds. It was the simplest and purest pleasure that I had ever experienced. The wind played games by entering my half-zipped jacket. The cold air was sending tickles through my body.

Like hot knife through a slab of butter, I was slicing through the 6-lane butter smooth highway. Hosakote and Kolar whizzed past. The pleasure was so immense that I had no intention to stop. As I reached the outskirts of Mulbagal, the bike’s odometer read 86.5 KM. I thought I will stop for a break a little after 100 KM when the Sun would rise. It was still dark then. The 6-lane paved highway converged in to a narrow 2-lane unpaved road with a good number of potholes. Simultaneously, I slowed down to a crawl, well, almost to a crawl.

The Crash

I noticed it. It was the widest pothole on the road. It covered the entire width of the road. It was so lengthy that it could have easily covered 3/4th of my bike. There was no other way to pass the pothole than to go through it. The only question was where to pass through it. Almost intuitively, I knew it. Reduce the speed, get in straight, get out of it straight. Except that, I misjudged the depth of the place where I had to get in. “Hang on tight, hang on tight” was ringing through my mind. Pulse raced.

The front wheel got in. I raised myself a little to prevent the shock from going through my spine. Within split second, the front wheel bumped a second time. I was almost thrown out. But I held on. And then the rear wheel entered the pothole. The front wheel didn’t make it out of the pothole on time. I thought, “Oh shit!” and then it happened.

The double impact of the back wheel and the front wheel unable to make it out of the pothole threw me out. My right arm came out of the handlebar. My torso was thrust forward. I could make out the road in the headlamp’s glare. As the left arm stretched fully, it could hold on no longer. Then, I was air borne. “Oh shit!” again. As I was flying, the lower part of my legs folded and kicked my butt. I landed head first and heard loud screeching noise. Then, the left shoulder had a heavy impact and I instinctively turned around. I slid on my back.

After what seemed like hours, I stopped. The road was completely dark again.

Aftermath

I got up. My head was spinning really fast … as fast as how the slots spin in a slotting machine. The world around me was a black blur. I stumbled and fell down. I tried to get up again and fell down again. I lost my sense of direction. My mind said, “Get out of the road or you will be another road kill in the dark.” I slowly crawled to the side of the road. I couldn’t locate my bike. “It should be in the pothole somewhere behind me” was the thought. Head was spinning wildly. The ocher started to show up. I made it to the side of the road. Helmet was still on. I fumbled and removed the helmet. A gust of cold air rushed through my head and it felt good. I closed my eyes and took stock of the current situation. Except for a dull throb here and there, it didn’t pain much.

Few seconds later I opened my eyes to locate my bike. For a second, it was in front of me, then it was on the upper left corner, then lower right corner etc. The wild head spin was still there. I lied down again & closed my eyes to get a quick nap. Bike was still in the pothole.

I heard some commotion. I heard the duk-duk-duk sound of a share auto stop nearby. They spoke something in Kannada and instinctively, my hand reached my pocket to check whether my phone and purse were still there. I brushed my left hand on my pocket and phone was missing. “PHONE WAS MISSING. WTF”, my mind screamed and said, “Use the right hand.” .. Yep, it was there. Purse was there too. Then I realized something happened to the left shoulder and it was pretty serious. Gloves were still on. I ran a gloved right hand over my left shoulder and arms. Nothing had swollen and there were no bruises too. Then what could be the problem?

Ambulance

There were three people. They had been carrying tomatoes to the Mulbagal vegetable market in a Piaggio auto. When they saw me on the road, they thought I had died. Then I opened my eyes and they were taken aback. Shape of the bike was pretty bad. They had wheeled it to the side of the road. My backpack had been ripped open in the impact and my laptop, hard disk and clothes were all over the road. They collected everything and tried to put it in one bunch. I asked them to fetch some water from my backpack. Head spin reduced a little once some water went in. Sun was up by then.

Me: Which direction is Chennai?
They: Were you driving to Chennai?
Me: Yes.
They: Why did you pick this route?
Me: I realized it was a mistake now. Which way is Chennai?
(They pointed to the opposite direction. I had crawled to the opposite side of the road after the fall.)

Me: I fell down on a huge effing pothole. Can you show me where it is?
(They pointed me in the other direction)
They: Your hand is having bruises. Are you okay? Or should we call the ambulance?
Me: Something is wrong with my left hand. Nothing is swollen but I don’t know what’s wrong. Please call the ambulance.

They immediately called 108. I lied down again and took another sip of water.

They: There’s an accident on Bangalore bypass road.
(108 guys ask few more questions and he answers. And then came, the master question.)
108 guys: Is there any death? (I didn’t hear this but the question should have been something similar.)
They: The guy is “still” alive. (My mind is like, “What? What is that “still alive”?)

Within few minutes, I heard the wail of the ambulance. Lot of old memories rushed through me. But that was not the time to reflect on them. The head spin stopped immediately. I got up on my own and took a look at my battered bike. I was shocked. The seat had come apart. Right side of the bike was badly damaged. For all this, I was driving pretty slowly !! The ambulance guys got out the stretcher. I walked through, climbed in to the ambulance and they smiled. My driving jacket was a tattered lot. There were extreme scratches on the helmet. The Cramster gloves had protected my fingers and wrist from all possible injuries. The helmet did its job perfectly. My head was fine and there was no injury on my face. I thought I was lucky.

Help from Bangalore

When I reached the Mulbagal Govt. hospital, it was 6.15 AM. Head was still spinning slowly. I was calm through the ordeal. Extremely calm. I wanted to call someone who would be as calm. Few people came to mind & I dialed Siddharth. The doctor gave me a pain killer injection.

Sid: <groggy grunts> Hello
Me: Maapla (dude)
Sid: <still groggy> Sollu da (Yeah tell me)
Me: Yenchitiya? (Have you got up?)
Sid: Innum illa. Enga irukka? (Not yet. Where are you?)
Me: Accident da. Mulbagal hospial la irukken. Vara mudiyuma? (I had an accident. Can you come to Mulbagal hospital?)

Sid said “YES” without an ounce of second thought. You have to be in my shoes to know the kind of happiness it gives. Thanks a lot Sid. I can never thank you enough for this gesture. Few minutes later I called him again and gave the directions to reach Mulbagal.

The doctor had a doubt that I had fractured my collar bone. So he put my left arm on a primitive sling. Couple of hours later, Sid arrived. In between, I had been answering calls from home, office and friends. We hired a mini-van, loaded the bike and ourselves and started towards Bangalore. On the way back, we had a look at the pothole and I was shocked. It was HUGEEEE. A lorry was passing through it and the lorry shook like hell. No wonder I was thrown out. Once the lorry passed some workers came there and started patching it up. I felt like slapping them.

Hospital in Bangalore

We went to one of the better hospitals in Bangalore. The minute the doctor looked at my shoulder, he said I had fractured my collar bone. X-ray confirmed it.

The male nurse stood behind me and was listening intently to the Doctor’s instructions. It was 3.46 PM. He placed his hand behind my neck & said, “Sit straight and take a deep breath.” As soon as he felt my lungs expand, he pulled it sharply towards him, in a single move. Exactly at that moment, wave after wave of searing pain coursed through my body. It was excruciating. Eyes automatically welled up. It was nothing like I had ever felt before. What felt like hours later, the pain stopped. Eyes absorbed the tears again. Thankfully, not a single drop escaped. They appeared bloodshot. It was still 3.46 PM. My shoulders had extremely tight straps and my left arm was completely pinned and hung on a sling.

They sprayed some disinfectant on my bruises & my skin burned so badly that I felt they were on fire. The strap had to be on for 3 weeks and the sling, longer than that. Sheepishly, I walked out, called my Mom and told her everything.

Lessons Learnt

On long drives, always wear the right gear. A very good helmet, superb driving gloves and a very good jacket prevented many many injuries which could have easily worsened my situation. The Mulbagal doctor said I was extremely lucky that I had escaped with a minimum fracture. Some local also mentioned that a couple had died at the exact spot few weeks ago. Had they worn a helmet, they would have been alive now. Ironically, I remembered my short film that I had acted on earlier.

People To Thank For

First and foremost thanks goes to Siddharth who was there when it mattered THE most. In no particular order, here are the others who had a profound impact on my recovery: My Mom, my bro, Prakash, Sudar, Jenni, Sheetal, Naidu and few colleagues as well. I had received countless amount of advice in the last few days. Here are a few that were different:

Sid’s dad said, “Aswin, an accident is precisely that. An accident. No one can predict it. Don’t let this be a setback in your life. You MUST always keep up the adventure spirit alive.” – LOVED IT

On the contrary, here’s what another person said, “I think you have had your (un)fair share of long trips. It is time you must stop completely.” … I was like :O :O :O – no way!

Naidu said, “It’s okay buddy. Don’t worry. It will heal quickly and here’s what you have to do…”. He’s a physio and he gave tips on how to exercise the arm slowly and steadily. On regular checkups, the doctor was surprised that the bone had joined quickly.

By now, after all that eating and sleeping, I should have put on at least couple of extra kilos … hopefully! The sling will be gone soon & physiotherapy will begin. Excited to get back on track soon :)

Check out the Ladakh trip’s Grand Itinerary first :)

For probably the rest of my lifetime, I wouldn’t forget my drive from Kargil to Leh. It was on that drive that I was simply about to be thrown out of the mountain, narrowly missed getting run over, narrowly missed running over someone and the best of all, with the worst ever spoken Hindi possible, I was able to bargain a place to stay for the night, when I could barely feel my feet. It was also on that day I learnt what “unconditional help” really meant. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the story.

Fotu La

Fotu La

Early on the chilly morning at Kargil, I got my wounds dressed (Thanks Arul :) ) at a nearby hospital for just 2 rupees. I had bruises on both knees and one on my forearm of the left hand. My bike had skid couple of days ago on an oil spill because of which I had to wake up at an ungodly 7 AM to get the wounds dressed. I was not 100% confident about driving my bike because the fall was pretty bad. So, when Ram asked, “Do you want to drive today?”, I immediately said, “Yes.” The only way to overcome fear is to take it head on; which is what I attempted to do. My bike was supposed to carry luggage that day. That means, I had a small backpack on my bike’s tank and 3 big backpacks tied to my bike. I tied them once and took the bike for a test drive. Everything seemed okay. When we started on the road, the rope magically came off & the three heavy backpacks were dragging my bike on one side. I made my way back to the hotel to re-tie it. By that time almost everyone had left and there were just 3 bikes including mine. Ram and Balu left in few minutes and I started after them.

Read the rest of this entry »

The silence was overwhelming. The crisp morning wind was blowing across, ruffling my hair. The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. As the reality of standing at 2300+ meters altitude sunk in, I was filled with a strange euphoria. Just as if to make the moment perfect, the mist/cloud cover below us parted – as if the curtains are parted in a play – and what lay in front of us was stuff [usually] made out of dreams.

That was the feeling that I was exactly going through when we reached the peak of Vavul Mala on Sunday morning. We were at one of the highest spots in Western Ghats & nothing could have made me more happier at that moment than the silence that I was experiencing from the hills surrounding us. Miles and miles in all directions had views of beautiful undulating mountains. Weather was perfect. It had rained the whole of the previous night and nature was bright green all around us. Leeches took a break at that altitude. It was just silence and myself for those few precious minutes.

View of Vavul Mala from the village

View of Vavul Mala from the village

The vegetation was dense right from the start of the trek. Few minutes in to the trek, the steepness began and it held up relentlessly until the very top. Unlike Ombattu Gudde where the shola grasslands start at about 700 m, peaks in the Vellarimala range didn’t have any grasslands at all. Would you believe it if I said that the very top was covered in dense foliage?

Olichuchattam Falls

About 1.5 hours of trekking brought us to the awesome Olichuchattam Falls. When we reached the falls it was drizzling and the sun was not yet fully out. Weather had played a superb part in keeping us energetic. We were all dry, warm and comfortable – a perfect combination for the steep trek. Water on the falls took a turn somewhere at the top and was flowing furiously straight down the smooth rock face of about 50 m in length. The very magnitude of the falls was breathtaking. Am sure during peak monsoon, much of the rock will be flooded. Away from the falls, the trail split in to two. One went upwards and we took that. Due to heavy rains the previous day, lots of shrubs and small trees had fallen on the trail. Our guide had a sickle and he went about clearing the trail for us as we closely followed him.

The Olichuchattam - Look at the sheer size of it

The Olichuchattam - Look at the sheer size of it

Forty five minutes later, we reached the first stream crossing. The steep climb took us to the top of the falls from where the water was taking a turn to flow down the smooth rock face. With mist covering the distant mountains and a slight drizzle for company, the moment was superb. Clouds were at touching distance and were playing with the smaller peaks around. The cloudscape changed continuously. People were gamboling here and there, splashing water and generally going crazy :) .

Olichuchattam flowing down

Olichuchattam flowing down

Soon, the guide announced it was time to leave. A quick climb and another stream crossing later, we took a short break at the next stream crossing. By that time, leeches had been feasting on our legs. For some people, there were blood spots near their thighs and tummy! Wearing floaters kinda saved me because as soon as I spotted those blood suckers cling to my feet, I plucked them and threw them away. Some were really persistent though.

Damodaran Kolli and Vellarimala Top

The last water point of the day was Damodaran Kolli. The water was pure, crystal clear, ice cold and flowing out of the rocks. The water was so cold that my gums got tickled when I sipped it. A short break later, we climbed for about 2 hours and reached the Vellarimala Top. It was not like any other regular top. This ‘top’ had lot of foliage around. The breeze was missing and so were those awesome views. Slightly disappointed at the absence of views, we opened the lunch packets and had our fill; followed by a group photo session. However, the guide had a twinkle in his eye. He didn’t reveal it yet. The magic was yet to come.

A tiny blood sucker

A tiny blood sucker

Kethan Paara

The surprise revealed itself in the name of Kethan Paara (Kethan – Name of the place, Paara – Rock). Since it was one of the high points in Vellarimala region, the view from this place was good. As if it was our luck, the clouds parted again, giving a breathtaking view of the valley below. Masthakapara and the elephant’s trunk like slope of the rock was clearly visible. Just like how the trunk attaches itself to the elephant’s head, that huge piece of rock was attached to the hill top. With a small dip after the rock and a clearing there, it looked just like an elephant. One of the trekkers claimed that he spotted an actual elephant in the adjacent valley running towards the foliage as soon as it heard our noise. But since no one else saw the elephant, we found it hard to believe. All through the trail, there was fresh elephant dung. If those mammoths made their presence in our presence, only one of us would be alive!

Clouds moving away from Kethan Paara

Clouds moving away from Kethan Paara

A quick trek from Kethan Paara took us to the base of Vavul Mala. This place was named REC Paara. Since it had rained quite heavily the previous day, the place had a water source with a good amount of flowing water. Sky was already overcast. The guide said it would surely rain and that we have to setup our tents quickly. Just as the tenting was completed, it started raining. It drizzled heavily for about 5 minutes before turning in to a full blown fury. The tent was quite stable. It was getting cold at 5.45 PM itself and we crawled in to our sleeping bags. The view of Vavul Mala from the tent gaps and the clouds over it made me enter a different world. Vavul Mala was not in the initial plan and I wished to trek to the peak. Since it was the highest peak in the range, I was pretty sure the wind and views would be there 😀 .

Rain’s Havoc

Three hours in to our sleep, it felt as if a huge bucket of ice-cold water was poured on us. Gasping for breath, we woke up to find that the heavy rain and furious winds had blown away our tent. The tent looked like it was screaming for help as it held on to the last string tied to the rock. We brought it together and tied it again; not before it was torn apart again by the wind. I asked for the time and someone said it was 11.45 PM. I thought, “Whoa! We have a long night.” The rain never abated. With every passing minute, it only seemed to be getting worse. Tiny streams were forming behind us, threatening to wet everyone’s sleeping bags. An hour or so later, the tents were blown away for the third time. It was enough already :) . So, Pratik (one of the trekkers) sat through the whole night and held the tent. He probably slept for about 5-10 minutes in all. With the occasional droplets of water falling on my face and cold feet, I was somehow lulled in to sleep. Once sleep came, my senses shut out the howling of the wind and it instead became musical. I wandered in to my dreams. It was good. I still can’t believe I actually slept!

View of camp from somewhere close to top

View of camp from somewhere close to top

I woke up totally refreshed. At 6 AM, the sun was not yet up but the whole landscape around me was bright green. The rain had polished every leaf to be as shiny as a mirror and the whole environment had a wonderful aroma. Everything was fresh. Everything was alive. I was totally in tune with the silence and greenery around me. With a few clouds here and there, the sky was in its superb blue. The sun had started to rise on the horizon and coloured the peaks in its brilliant morning rays. It was … it was … Sorry, am unable to explain that feeling of awesomeness.

Vavul Mala

Eight of us started moving towards Vavul Mala that morning. With just a sickle in his hand and rough animal trails for guidance, the guide took us through the forest as if he knew them in and out. He seemed to know every plant and rock over there. For brief moments, he would disappear in to the foliage. Whenever a grunt followed, we would follow him inside. The foliage was so thick that sunlight never penetrated it. From all the previous night’s rain, the floor was pretty wet and slippery. Leeches didn’t attack us though. The animal trails cris-crossed each other. With the silent confidence of an expert, he led us through the maze of trees, rocks and trails. After one hour and 45 minutes of trekking through the foliage, we came to a big clearing. He didn’t say much. He just went to a place and sat down there.

Moon and Vavul Mala

Moon and Vavul Mala

Suddenly, it hit me that we were at one of the highest points in the western ghats. We had reached the peak. The silence was overwhelming. The crisp morning wind was blowing across, ruffling my hair. The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. As the reality of standing at 2300+ meters altitude sunk in, I was filled with a strange euphoria. Just as if to make the moment perfect, the mist/cloud cover below us parted – as if the curtains are parted in a play – and what lay in front of us was stuff [usually] made out of dreams. The moment was special. The guide pointed out the Chembra peak to the north. Masthakapara looked way more beautiful from 2300+ m altitude than from Kethan Paara. The peak had a deep crevasse running down its height, never revealing where it ended. It was home for the bats & somewhere deep below, there was water.

View of Masthakapara from Vavul Mala

View of Masthakapara from Vavul Mala

After spending enough time at the peak, we started trekking down to the camp. Slipping and sliding through the foliage, we reached the camp in half the time we took to reach the top. It gave an indication of what was to come for the day in terms of climbing down.

Trek Down

The trail was totally slippery and we had entered leech territory. I had multiple leech bites on my feet. But the view and winds at the top of Vavul Mala was worth every leech bite and steepness it took to get there. What’s a sweet success without some struggle? The jeep trail towards the end of the trek was never ending as usual. One of the locals pointed us to a small trail that led to the stream. The chill water was refreshing and it was totally soothing on the arms and legs. A beautiful trek had come to an end. We started with a tea at the tea shop at Muthappanpuzha and finished the trek at the same place with Pazha Pori (Banana Fry) and tea :) .

Aftermath

Aftermath

Some Information

Where – Vellarimala and Vavul Mala are reachable from Muthappanpuzha village in Kozhikode (Calicut) district of Kerala. To reach there, take a bus that goes to Kozhikode and get down at Thamarasery. From there, take KSRTC buses that go to Muthappanpuzha. Alternatively, you can go to Thiruvambady or Omasery and take a share auto/jeep from there.

Guide – We hired a guide named Binish, whose dad Raman accompanied us on the trek. He was totally awesome and knew the area like the back of his hand.

Season – Post monsoon is the best time to go there. For us, even though we went in summer, the weather during those 2 days felt like it was monsoon. I should say we were lucky.

Notes

  1. When we went to Kethan Paara on the way back, the area was taken over by fast moving clouds. Someone (I think Dinesh) pointed out that Rajinikanth was smoking from the valley 😛 .
  2. Keerthana sang “Top of the world” at Kethan Paara. Nice song!

Photo Albums

What’s a trek without photos. Here are some of the clicks:

  1. Bharath
  2. Debashish
  3. Jinu
  4. Sushruth
  5. Vikas

8+ hours of non-stop action including a bike accident and blood spilling all over, with people looking as if someone was dead. But …

One of the best moments was, when in the middle of a retake, a passerby stopped by me, bent down and said, “Guys, looks like he is hurt real bad. Someone take him to the hospital fast!”

All of them around me – The team – burst out laughing. The passerby didn’t understand anything. Immediately, I got up and we all laughed, scaring him off. He got irked a little; but we told him we were shooting a short film and that his reaction was priceless :)

The Forgotten Commandments – The Plot

The story is about a guy who’s out meeting his friends. As he is about to leave, the gang tease him & tell him not to wear helmet. Meanwhile, on the other side of the same world, another person, who is a bit pissed off with her dad 😉 starts driving as well. As fate intervenes, they collide head-on, which leads to the guy falling down and hitting his head on a sharp rock. By the time the crowd around him could react, it was too late. They didn’t realize that he was blinking his eyes and shaking his fingers. He was already on the way to heaven.

Director holding the reflector

Director holding the reflector

For everyone’s first time, I guess it has come out decently. Here’s the film for you to watch and comment upon :)

The Crew

Cast – Myself, Vijayan, Surendran, Sam, Sethuraman, Harini, Ramasami and Subramanian

Direction – Edwin

Story, Screenplay and Camera – Prakash

Editing – Sriram

Equipment – Panasonic DMC FZ-28, 1 foot tripod, a bench :)

 

Discussion during a short break

Discussion during a short break

Acting in the film was so much fun. When I heard that I was to act and that I was even dying in the movie, it felt great. Even Rajnikanth doesn’t get to die in movies but I did 😉 . This movie will be special for a long time to come. Thanks a ton to Prakash and Edwin for their infinite amount of patience in getting us to act properly.

More films coming in the next few months. Stay tuned …

Check out our trip’s Grand Itinerary 😀

Unlike other places where you drive to reach a destination, in Ladakh, the journey itself is the destination. The road goes through such breathtaking vistas (and life-taking as well if you aren’t careful enough) that it is impossible not to be impressed by beauty of such magnitude. However, things aren’t rosy all the time. At high altitude, weather plays a crucial role in shaping up the day. This story is about one such drive when the weather was gloomy and we had very little time in our hands to afford the luxury of staying at Tangtse for an extra day.

When I woke up that morning, I felt fresh and the song Mazhai Thuli (rain drops) was playing in my mind. Almost instinctively I had a look outside the window and it was drizzling. I heard that Ladakh was a high altitude cold desert and that it doesn’t rain much. So I convinced myself that some clouds might be moving around and sprinkling some water on the way :) . The usual blue of the sky was missing. The horizon had a few black clouds as well. Determined not to let go of the day, we got ready quickly. Ram P and Suresh started first on Ram’s Pulsar 220. Some time later, I followed.

First touch of snow :D - A special moment

First touch of snow 😀 - A special moment

I was well protected. Thermal inner wear, jeans, rain pant for the bottom and for the top, it was again thermal inner wear, followed by a t-shirt, fleece jacket and leather jacket. For the legs and feet, it was cotton socks, woolen socks and then ankle length leather boots. For fingers, I wore woolen gloves and Cramster’s leather gloves. As I started the ride, I was thinking that if it had rained a little here – at 14000 feet – would it snow at 15000 feet and above? That day we had to cross India’s third highest motorable pass known as the Chang La at 17000+ feet … in inclement weather. A light cold wind was blowing too!

The Drive

After 7 km I came to a fork in the road. Right fork led to Durbuk and the left fork led to Chang La and then to Leh. I took the left fork and few minutes later, the ghats started :) . Drizzling stopped this time. But it was cloudy and the slight drizzle had wet the roads considerably. As soon as I crossed the first few hairpin bends, I saw the sight of a lifetime. The winding road with its various hairpins wound down to the plains at 14000 feet and then went to the fork in a straight stretch. Another fabulous straight stretch took the road to Tangtse. Both these towns were visible from this vantage point.

View en route Chang La. Durbuk and Tangtse are visible.

View en route Chang La. Durbuk and Tangtse are visible.

After clicking couple of pictures, I was on my way. Rest of the gang weren’t visible yet. Since I was on a 125cc bike, I wanted to start a bit early so that by the time my bike climbs, the heavier bikes can come quite fast and catch up. In most places, the roads were quite steep. The altitude was climbing steadily. I was well acclimatized and hence didn’t feel the pressure of oxygen. The drizzle came down harder and visibility was going down. Soon, I crossed the magical 15000 feet and crossed a heavily puffed up rushing river – over a fragile bridge 😀 . At many points, roads were joined vertically through off-road trails. Four wheel drive cars managed to climb up and down very easily while I was watching them from my 125cc!

Snow Attack

At about 15150 feet, I could feel the chill on my fingers. The warmth was long since gone and they were fast becoming cold. Feet were doing good so far. Suddenly, my jacket was no longer watery. A gray layer was forming as I was driving. I quickly realized what it was! It was snow! SNOW FALL. Snow was coming down real fast and it was being blown all around. Until then, when snow had come in contact with us, it would simply melt and wet the jacket. But that day was different. Snow fell on my jacket and it froze, becoming ice.

Road on the way to Nubra Valley

Road on the way to Nubra Valley

Within minutes, visibility was reduced to mere meters. Few minutes later, visibility was zero. Bike was wobbling slightly. I couldn’t see anything. Immediately I realized what had happened. Snow had fallen and frozen on my helmet visor, thereby taking out the visibility. I stopped the bike and took a minute to clean my visor. Snow was falling down hard and fast & it froze. It was not possible to drive with the visor on. Roads were steep and slippery. Hence, wearing the visor wasn’t an option. I started my bike again and took off. Soon, those tiny fluffy particles of snow started hitting my face and were pricking my eyes. Unlike rain, snow particles are really small, come in huge numbers & take a good helping of the skin! It was similar to a swarm attack.

Donkey, Simon and Snow

Donkey, Simon and Snow

My speed had come down to about 15 kmph. Through all this, I suddenly realized that bike stopped again. Reason? I couldn’t shift the gear. My little finger and ring finger were screaming in pain. They had frozen hard. I was at about 16500 feet now. Everywhere on the road, the milestones mentioned about the remaining distance to Chang La, Leh and the altitude. I was hoping there would be some place where I could have a cuppa chai 😀

Wish Granted

Ten minutes later, my wish was granted. I saw an army camp at Tsultak at 17000 feet. Along the direction board, there was another board which announced the facilities of the place & the one that caught my eye was the “Mess –>” direction board. I drove straight to the mess. My fingers and feet were pretty much frozen now. Any effort with them required enduring pain. Two army folks appeared from the mess.

Me: Mujhe thoda garam paani chahiye (I need some hot water)

Army dude: Pehle, helmet kholo (Remove your helmet first)

Me: (after fiddling with the helmet lock) – tried talking in Hindi (didn’t work out) – Please remove them yourself. Fingers are frozen.

Army dude: He smiled and then removed the helmet. I was called inside the small mess.

Damaged Car

Damaged Car

One guy was a Mallu and the other guy was a Tamilian. Seeing my TN registration plate, he asked in tamil, “Neenga yengendhu varinga (Where are you coming from?), for which I answered “Chennai.” I was damn happy to hear a guy talking in Tamil at 17000 feet. Apparently, they were from the Madras regiment and they had just returned from a posting on top of Siachen Glacier!

The board that mattered

The board that mattered

A huge cauldron of boiling water was in the middle of the mess. With almost no effort, he lifted the cauldron from the stove and moved it elsewhere. I was stunned at his strength. Then he increased the flame and got a chair for me. He also helped me remove my shoes. Both my socks were wet. Toe edges had become white. Fingers were frozen. As the flame increased, I thawed them, massaged them and brought them back to life. In an impulse, I put my bare feet on the ground and felt the chill sending a shiver up my spine. The army dude then inquired about the bike trip and said that winters in that place were truly horrible; with temperatures reaching -10 during day time itself. As we were discussing about his life and my trip, he asked how many people were we. I said 13 and then he asked whether we’ll like corn soup!

Corn Soup

I pinched myself. What? Corn soup? At 17000 feet with snow wrecking havoc around? Before even I could reply, I thought “WOW! That’s dulcet” and then I said “Yes! We would love it.” By that time, the rest of the gang had come in and they were getting toasty in the visitor’s room. Soon, the soup was ready. Everybody took large helpings of the soup. As the hot soup went down my throat, I could feel life surging back in my limbs and body. Various parts of my body along the oesophagus started to absorb the warmth. As the warm soup splashed my stomach, it was nearly orgasmic. After warming up sufficiently, we headed to Chang La. It was few kilometers from the army camp.

Hot Soup and the Gang

Hot Soup and the Gang

The army guys warned us that we were about to enter avalanche zone and that not more than one bike should cross the zone at anytime. Since it was also snowing, the risk of avalanche was higher. We bade them goodbye, thanked heartily and then went on our way.

Chang La

Seeing the prayer flags flap in the chill breeze was a HUGE relief. I felt happy from the inside for coming that far. I was thinking of how folks would feel when I narrated the story to them after getting back. My mind drifted to Chennai. Then, it was time to savour the moment. At Chang La, the Indian Army gives free tea to everyone who makes it there. After couple of group pictures and a funny dance (am trying to find the video), we bought some mementos and then started to Leh. We crossed snow fields and some more avalanche zones.

Paari at The Chang La

Paari at The Chang La

Weather was showing some improvement. Though chill winds were blowing, it was not snowing. Through winding roads and more splendid views, we reached the beautiful village of Sakti and then reached the outskirts of Leh by around 4 PM. Paari and Arul went to Hemis Monastery. Rest of the gang, caught on the football fever, found a ground to play. I went to Thiksey monastery and then drove to Leh. Due to an earlier adventure that’ll be described in the next post, I missed Leh Palace before. So I drove to Leh.

Sunset at Leh

It was around 6.30 PM by the time I reached Leh. Sun was setting and I was offered a splendid view of the sunset from the top of the Leh palace. I made friends with the Buddhist monks there and they were telling their stories. I wanted to climb to Castle Tsemo opposite to the Leh palace. But unfortunately, it was becoming cold quickly and it had already become dark. So I thought Castle Tsemo was for next time and then went back to our home stay.

Sunset at Leh

Sunset at Leh

The day was absolutely brilliant and it was one that I would never forget in my life! Even months after coming back, that day is still fresh in my memory. I can recollect every detail even now. I can’t stop talking about the beauty of Ladakh.

See you soon on the next adventure post!

Buxfer – Automatic Data Backup

February 15th, 2011

A month ago, Buxfer.com went down & took down a month’s worth of data along with it. Thankfully I had a CSV export of my data before the website went down.

After that, I wrote a simple utility script that will automatically do a full CSV export of Buxfer accounts data and email it. At the start of the script, there are couple of PHP variables that you can use to customize it – your buxfer id and password, from email address, to email address, email content etc. To automate it completely, use crontab to schedule its execution and rest in peace :) .

I have hosted the code at GitHub. Do check it out and let me know your feedback. Or better yet, fork it and add your bells and whistles.

You can access the GitHub repository here.

The Goal for 2011: Integrity

January 22nd, 2011

This year, I have decided that I’ll live with integrity. I will be my word.

  1. If I say, I’ll be at a place by 8 AM, you can expect me there on time.
  2. If I say, I’ll get something done by a given date, you can be assured that it’ll be done in the best quality possible that I can fathom.
  3. This year, I will only do stuff that I’m passionate about. So, if I write apps, it is because I’m passionate about them. If I travel, it is again because I’m passionate about it.
  4. I’ll not cheat myself. If my conscience says I have slipped, I’ll see what went wrong and try to improve on that rather than going in to denial.
  5. Part of this integrity exercise is saying “No” to stuff that I don’t want to do.

What’s with this year? Why did I decide to do it this year?

The strongest motivator was this parting email by a Microsoft executive sent to his colleagues. The portion that intrigued me was this:

The foundation of who I am is based on living with integrity. Integrity requires principles, and my primary principle is to focus on doing the right thing, as best I can. The best thing, to the best of my ability, for our customers, our products, our shareholders, and of course, our people.

Other principles, or guideposts by which I live, are learning from and listening to others to make the best decision possible; not being afraid to admit a mistake and change a decision when it is wrong; being consistently honest, even when it hurts; treating our customers, partners, and people with the respect they deserve, with the expectation that each of my actions forms the basis of a lifetime relationship; and finally, being willing to admit and apologize when I have not lived up to these principles.

Integrity is my cornerstone for leading people. Leading starts by setting a strategy – not one that I’ve dreamed up myself but something that my team has worked together to create. The strategy provides the North Star for each person.

I suddenly realized that to achieve bigger goals in life, the smaller ones need to be tackled. Without integrity, it is simply impossible to focus on them. Integrity gives you a solid foundation on which you can stand, command goals to fall in line and act on them one by one. It is that magic wand which will make rabbits appear out of seemingly bottomless hats.

30 Day Trial

Since this is going to be a big change to my life, I will start with a simple 30-day trial to see how this works. The trial ends on 21-Feb-2011. I’m totally excited about the changes it will bring in my life. Throughout the 30 days, I will collect data on various tasks. For e.g., “Have I been on time for meetings? If there are ‘x’ meetings this month, how many have I been to on time? Am I well-prepared for every meeting? Have I met milestones?” etc. The questions will obviously vary depending on the task at hand. But the point is to collect data so that I can look back at them at the end of 30 days and see how I have fared.

For starters, I have collected some data on my morning wake up time. Over the last 50 days, I’ve gotten up at/before 6.30 AM only 7 times. The data speaks by itself. No questions asked. So, by the end of 30 days I’ll know. I’m publishing this on my blog so that I don’t chicken out in the middle.

Wish me luck.