Sunday, June 18, 2017

Himalayas 2017: Bhrigu Lake trek

“The mountains are calling and I must go” - John Muir

It’s always a great and peaceful experience soaking in the grandeur of the Himalayas.

Day 1: Reporting at base camp, Ramsu
As mentioned in my previous post, I planned for yet another Himalayan trek. And this time being Chandrakhani trek in Himachal Pradesh which was finalized after considering the fact that it was a shorter duration trek and at a location we hadn’t been before, despite it being an easy one.
Well, that was the plan until I along with my trek friends reached the base camp at Ramsu village, after our two days of visiting nearby places. The organizer informed us that he had a meeting with all other participants, before we had reached the camp, and unanimously agreed to change the trek to Bhrigu Lake trek (~14000 ft) due to less snow found at Chandrakhani at that point of time. Apparently, this is considered a tougher trek and has lots of snow on its way and I was more than happy.
The schedule was to start early the next morning at around 6:30am and reach the starting point of the trek in taxis which was beyond the check-point towards Rohtang pass. We slept immediately after making sure to keep our trek requirements for drying. Unfortunately, all our bags and contents got wet while reaching base camp. All thanks to the irresponsible and knucklehead driver who didn’t inform us that the sheet which he covered our bags on the taxi roof wasn’t waterproof. Not a great thing to start the trek with in that cold weather. 

Day 2: Trek towards Raoli Kholi
Anyways, the next morning the clothes were dry enough to be packed and we were ready with our bags on and full with excitement. However, the trek guide wasn’t happy with the group’s timing as there was a slight delay.
Adding to his frustration, we hit a heavy traffic towards the check-post and that added 2 more hours to the delay. Yes! That long we were on the road waiting to cross the check-post. We however got down and roamed around taking snaps.

We finally started our trek after a two and a half hours’ delay from Gulaba post. We were welcomed immediately by a steep climb which quite tested one’s fitness and stamina. We crossed some green pastures and small creeks on our way up before we reached a height where we encountered snow patches. The sight of snow thrilled us all and brought in a sense of comfort. However, the comfort feeling was short lived as once we started crossing these snow patches and slopes, we started slipping and fumbling. That surely is a scary thing considering we are crossing some steep areas from which we can’t even see the bottom we might reach if we happen to slip and fall. We continued further for few more hours through snow and creeks. Crossing the water streams was exciting too with intermittent drizzle. We had a lunch break at a nice scenic spot with the snow-capped mountains in front of us covering the whole wide angle. 

After a grueling few hours, we finally reached the next higher camp, Raoli Kholi. This is a beautiful place sounded by sloppy mountains and snow in every direction.

We changed into our warm and comfortable cloths, got few instructions from the organizers/guides, had tea and we were ready to explore the area. The stay was in 4 occupancy tents and post dinner our group of 6 got into one and played cards for quite some time. Late night we even explored out in that cold chatting on various subjects. These small things are such a delight when you think back and are something to cherish about.

Day 3: Trek towards Bhrigu Lake
The next morning, I was woken up at 3:30am by the strong winds hitting the tent. I further tried to sleep but to no avail. Finally went out of tent at 5:30am to witness the sun coloring the snowcapped mountains bright and beautiful. These are the very views which make you go to mountains again and again.
We were ready for our next ascend but only 14 out of 27 decided to move further considering the difficulty level and their health conditions. We started crossing snow slopes which obviously got trickier and tougher. We had to be more cautious with our footings on the snow. The group was made to walk at much faster pace and in quick few hours we reached the top i.e. the Bhrigu Lake.

This is a serene place with the partially frozen water body at the center. We reached at the right time of the day as we could get clear and complete view of the peak and the sounding mountains. We walked bare feet to the middle of the lake to collect water, rather snow, in bottle. I bet, nobody could stand more than a minute bare feet on snow.

Within few minutes, we were surrounded by mist and clouds. We had lunch at the nearby spot and were ready to descend. This was much tougher as we were asked to slide down the snowy slopes, similar to the water rides we have in water parks. Trick to control the speed of slide using elbows and not using legs. Using legs at that speed would surely lead to bad falls. I felt this trek better than my previous Sarpass trek in this aspect. This gave around 5-6 slides compared to a long one in Sarpass. I enjoyed completely every aspect of it.



In no time we came back to the Raoli Kholi camp and started sharing our experience with those who couldn’t make it. Later, we played Mafia game which was super fun expectedly. Post dinner we got into tents and continued with our card games as usual.



Day 4: Return to Manali
Next morning, we all got ready and started back descending to the Gulaba post. The descend was quicker as everyone wanted to be head back to Manali to catch respective buses which were scheduled for departure at 5pm. At Gulaba, the group assembled, the guides went ahead with the formality of officially calling it a day and allowed us to board the taxis towards Manali. We reached couple of hours early and got enough time to visit a restaurant for food and also to get fresh before boarding the bus to Delhi.

The expedition was simply outstanding and thanks to my friends: Abhi, Minal, Esha, Mahesh, Siddhu, Abhishek and many others in the group of 27 who made it more enjoyable. The friendship grew stronger, I made new friends during the course and that’s what these treks and trips are all about; seeing new places, meeting nice people and experiencing great things.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Himalayas 2017: Kasol & nearby places


It was that time of the year when the Himalayan Expeditions are at full swing and I along with my friends, who had met during my trek to Khaliya Top last year, decided to trek one more Himalayan mountain. And we finalized on the Chandrakhani trek in Himachal Pradesh this time. My friends suggested to roam around nearby places before starting the trek so we planned our itinerary accordingly: Reach Kasol two days in advance and explore Kasol & nearby places and then head towards the base camp i.e. Ramsu village for the trek.

I will organize my trek experience details into two posts i.e. this one describing the Kasol and neighborhood and followed by other one describing the actual trek.

Delhi:

The trip started at Delhi where we all met. 5 friends from Mumbai, couple of them from Vadodara and myself from Bengaluru. We had few hours to spend and I took the group to Paranthe gali, Chandni Chowk for lunch and then followed by a stroll at Red Fort. Metro in Delhi is quite convenient and remember to take the Smart card for easy commutation.

We took a HP tourism bus from Delhi to Manali and got down at Bhuntar to reach Kasol. The bus dropped us at Bhuntar in the early hours and then we took another local bus to Kasol. Kasol is base camp for other treks like Sarpass, so there were many other trekkers in the bus along with school kids and locals. I made my group get down one stop earlier to the actual stop near to our hotel where we had booked our rooms. And I made them walk for extra 2.5 KMs with their bags and I am sure hitting me would have crossed their minds :-p. We stayed at Royal Palace and had a very comfortable and pleasant stay. The hotel is situated right in between Kasol and Manikaran, the two famous tourist places around.

Manikaran:

We headed towards Manikaran immediately after getting ready. There are some nice temples at this place where we spent enough time taking photos. We went near the gurudwara, hot springs spot as well and then passed through the local market. The bridge was also a nice spot to click some snaps.




Kasol:

We walked back and then proceeded toward the Kasol market, a full 5 KMs stretch. The market had similar products as what was seen in Manikaran but costlier. And we were surprised to see so many items being sold related to smoking, the hukkas and mixers. Hope you got what I mean ;-)
Food at local places was great. And then we headed back to the hotel calling it a day.

I got up early the next morning for a run in that pleasant weather. And one of my friend ventured out for early morning clicks in the wild. I ran towards Kasol and reached the other end where Youth Hostel Association of India has set up its Sarpass trek base camp. On the way back, I got down the river side and experienced the joy of standing bare feet in that ice cold water. It was a torture as well, as it's difficult to stand for even a minute in that cold water.



Malana:

Malana village and Tosh were couple of places to be explored and based on our hotel manager's suggestion, we headed towards Malana village in two taxis. Reached the spot in about two hours’ time and there was still a walk/trek of 90 minutes further to reach the village. It's a small village at a good height. Locals claim it to be one of the oldest democracies and if the legends are to be believed, these are the descendants of army men (Aryan?) who made this place their home. This place is also famous for high purity hash, Malana cream ;-), if you are interested to know.


There is a glacier nearby which we couldn't visit due to time constraints and tiredness. We returned to hotel and ended the day with some great fun playing cards.

Parashar Lake:

The next morning the plan was to visit a place called Parashar Lake, Mandi. This place is famous for its location and landscape. And boy! it was beautiful and peaceful, away from all the crowd and chaos. The temple next to the Parashar Lake is situated at the top of a mountain surrounded by bigger mountains and believe me, it was worth the time and effort.


We reached this place after a strenuous 4 hours’ journey from Kasol through Bhuntar and the road was bumpy if not terrible. Came back to Bhuntar from where we headed straight to the Ramsu village, our base camp hiring one more taxi through Manali.

P.S: Read my trek experience here.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cult.fit 10K run


Race category: 10K
Timing: 01:06:02

In search of a better 10K timing, I registered for the 10K arranged by Cult. The race was conducted systematically and the runners found comfortable wih the race course and also the arrangements. I found myself in a nice space just before the race and felt I could better my previous timing quite easily. But to my disappointment, I couldn't.
I set a target of 62 minutes considering my previous run in Midnight Marathon in ~65 minutes. I didn't even come close to the mark. In fact, finished it in 66 minutes as per the official timing. However, my phone app recorded the race and shows it ~64 minutes. Either way, I wasn't happy.

Anyways, this gives me an opportunity to relook at my regular weekly workouts and type of runs. I will be doing few changes in the regime and hope to get things better. I seek to run more, run fast and run comfortably and eventually get my target of < 60 minutes target for 10k and similarly better timing for coming half marathons (21K).

BTW, yes, I got a chance to meet Milind Soman at the start of the race. He flagged off the race and it was a delight seeing him there. Later, I was mentioned, he too joined running.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bahubali a phenomenon


*** Spoiler alert: No, I’ve not answered why Kattappa killed Bahubali. I strongly advise to watch the movies first and then come back to read this post. Those who are ok to read these details before or after watching the movie can proceed at their own risk ***

Let me start by telling you that the movies: Bahubali: The Beginning and Bahubali 2: The Conclusion, are by large the most entertaining movies I’ve watched in recent past. And that’s considering the Hollywood, Bollywood and South-Indian movies overall. I might not be a guy who watch 100s of movies every year but seeing the overall success across languages these movies are released in, one can hardly doubt my claim.
What I liked the most is the awe inspiring narration and execution of a simple yet beautiful story.
In spite of all the buzz and box-office records after the release of Bahubali: The Beginning, I hadn’t watched the movie. I mean, imagine the self-control I might possess despite all those “Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali” memes circulating. Perhaps it might be my nonchalant way of handling these movie buzz. I watched the prequel couple of days back only when my wife booked the tickets for The Conclusion.


The first part of the prequel, The Beginning, was ordinary with only VFX attraction and more about the buildup for the interesting part to follow. The story immediately switches to faster pace when the protagonist, Mahendra Bahubali, reaches the palace to rescue the unfortunate lady, Maharani Devasena, supposedly his mother, who was held captive by the ruthless king, her brother-in-law, since many years. Next the story is unveiled as how he was separated from his mother and who exactly he was. I will not go into details here but the movie then takes us through the fascinating part of kingdom politics and war. The war sequence is captured intensely and extravagantly. The first movie ends with the scene where the loyal and trusted guardian, Kattappa, killing this protagonist’s father, Amarendra Bahubali.


Now, after the first movie’s success the director and team had much bigger responsibility of keeping up to the expectations and bringing equally engrossing conclusion to what was now considered as a fantastic beginning.
The second movie reveals how Amarendra met Devasena; it was indeed love at first sight, how he gets closer to her and about all the circumstances that will indirectly help his cause. It further slowly reveals the conspiracy hatched by his cousin, Bhallala Deva and uncle, and eventual killing.
During this course of wonderful story telling, I loved the below moments:
  • Devasena’s entry – Frankly, I’m so impressed by the scene and also by her beauty. Director has done a wonderful job in getting this scene done perfectly. Entry scene is followed by other interesting scenes like Amarendra teaching her how to fire multiple arrows during a fight sequence.
  • Devasena boarding the boat scene – There is something fine, like an art, in South-Indian movies and directors, especially in Telugu and Tamil movies. You get to see some magical scenes between the hero and heroine that will give you goosebumps. I mean, those scenes will be really simple and trivial like exchanging a look, hoping on a bike etc but they turn them into something special and magical. In this case, Devasena’s simple act of boarding the boat was made interesting when she uses his shoulders to walk on like walking on a plank.
  • Swearing-in ceremony – Amarendra was supposed to become the king which eventually doesn’t happen and his cousin, Bhallala Deva is sworn in as the king. He in turn becomes the army general. In this scene, the king doesn’t get much adulation but the whole crowd including the soldiers give such a great applause and support to Amarendra that the whole floor and platform is shown vibrating. Hell of a scene!
  • Beheading scene – There was a scene when Devasena is taken to the king’s court for a trial, guilty of cutting a high rank soldier’s fingers. When Devasena, in her defense, gives the statement that she cut his fingers as he was touching other ladies inappropriately and she was gonna be his next victim. Here, Amarendra supporting her says, ‘Why did you just cut his fingers? In fact, this kind of act deserves beheading.’. While completing that statement, he beheads the culprit in one swing of his sword. Impressive!
  • Game of Thrones similarities – It was hard to ignore the similarities in many scenes which seemed like borrowed from the famous TV series, The Game of Thrones. The mammoth statues while entering the sea gate to the kingdom, the huge courtroom, war scenes seemed more than mere coincidence.
  • Social messages (IMHO) –
    • Innovation, in current worldly political and economic situation, is given a lot of importance and I personally felt the director tried to emphasize this fact through the characters’ actions of using innovative techniques at different junctions, be it war techniques, building tools to break bigger stones into smaller ones, fetching water from river etc.
    • A scene capturing a bull sport similar to that of Jallikattu.
    • Women safety: Beheading scene mentioned above passed on a strong message in the matter of women safety and how it should be dealt with, i.e. strong actions.
Couple of matters at the end didn't fit the plot for conclusion like the Bhallala Deva's father not being killed and fall of the big golden statue through the waterfalls. So I wouldn't be surprised if the team decides to follow up with a third movie ;-)

Almost forgot to mention, all the cast have done an excellent job portraying their characters and everyone deserves an applause. They would be really proud of being part of the history in making in the Indian movie industry.

These days, when the current lot of movie makers and directors are busy making only tried and tested, regular, mass, romantic movies, it’s greatly appreciable that the director, S. S. Rajamouli dared to come out with this kind of a historical themed movie, and boy, how well did he come up with this!