Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Evil Rogue Breakaway Plan

"Arre Dhruv, are you'll planning some trek or something". "Errrr". "I was in the elevator yesterday and I overheard ..... ".

Sometime before that in the elevator: "We know what you'll are planning!!!!". I was caught off guard with those words on my way out of office. "We know everything.... EVERYTHING!!!!", another voice hit me from the left and pinned me to the wall of the elevator. "Errrrrr", thats all I managed to say as a lot of unknown faces from other floors turned around catching the conversation that was in progress. Eyes and silence is not a very nice situation to be in. "Errrrr", I managed in a different tone wondering if they would make out the difference. "You said that only five to six ppl would be going.", the voice then shifted to the other end, "But then we got a heart attack when we saw the second item on your list. 'FIND MORE PEOPLE'". "Errrrr", I tried yet another monotone. "How many are going". "Errrrr.... maaaaaaaaax ten. But how do you'll know". "Well", they smiled, "we were searching for a conference room and saw that one was booked with the subject line 'Trek prep' and then we checked out the agenda. You'll are planning big aren't you'll".... "Nooooooo... we haven't told many ppl". And then Meera and Shodhna who are part of HR smiled and said bye as they left the elevator.

Sometime before that as I was preparing to leave office Dipti who I know for the past 11 years looked at me and said, "How could you not ask me!!! Why did you not tell me. How could you!!!!" "Errrrr", I managed and then decided to get off with a tad bit of quirkiness..... I looked left and then looked right and then looked back at Dipti lifting one eyebrow in slow motion; just staring for a few seconds to let it sink in; and then I nudged my head telling her to follow me to a place where we could talk in confidence. "Well blah blah blah, 6-7 degrees Celcius at night, blah blah blah, coooooold winds, blah blah blah, leeches, blah blah blah, dense forest, blah blah blah, climb with torches, blah blah blah... and let me know by tomorrow for sure. Yeah we have place for you and your hubby but don't tell anyone else about the plan. And I told you cause I know you and all". I mean I had to apprise her of the risks, I just had to :-)

Sometime before that, people who had exchanged secret handshakes, funny smirks and silent hmmmms thru the week found themselves discussing about the big plan in a conference room. Children were measured in kgs. Notes were made; Roby's kid is 14 kgs and Raja's is 20 kgs; as contraptions were planned if their legs got weary. Temperature, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, rucksacks, food rations, leech removing techniques, transport, a forest guide and nostalgia were discussed. ARs were assigned with hard deadlines. Excel sheets were populated and some items were ticked; a project plan was being executed like clockwork. Starting times were discussed and then someone said, "Maybe we can climb the mountain with torch light.. we would almost have a full moon too", and he beamed. Then we got into the gory details. "Kerosene ?"... "Nah I used to carry Whisky... Its a multipurpose thing... No need of brushing your teeth... Just gargle and swallow... and regd the fire, just throw some into it...". "And oh yeah ask a few more people. We can increase our tribe a little".

Sometime before that; on monday to be exact; an email sent by Roby found its way to our HR's inbox, with a hope that they would give into our evil rogue breakaway plan. 'Don't give them time to think', I thought and went and spoke to Shodhna to quash any doubts she had, "We are a small group. As of now just 3 of us have confirmed. The number will go maaaaax to about 5 or 6. We'll leave friday afternoon and join the group again on saturday afternoon. No one will even know we are gone."

Wayanad, thats where we will be heading this weekend for a company outing, from friday to sunday. Considering the sedentary nature of the other attractions, Roby enlightened a few of us about this peak named Chembra which towers over Wayanad at 7000 odd feet, and right about then, the 'evil rogue breakaway plan' found its tribe. It started with, "We can go up and come down by friday evening". Then I added, "Why not stay overnight on the top". "There is a dense forest we can explore just behind it. I used to do a lot of mountain/rock climbing in the area in the 90s". "Lets plan this out well".

"And oh yeah lets keep this small, if too many ppl want to come with us then HR might raise objections. All the best guys".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Malluboy who climbed up a Hill and came down a Mountain

The first time I went to Roby's house I was amused with the unusual and beautiful architecture. My previous post on that visit is here. He is definitely a climber at heart. Below is an email he just sent me and in it is embedded an email he sent to an unknown trekker/climber who also happened to climb his favourite mountain.


The other day I spotted a blog about one of my favorite treks during Googling, @

And I couldn’t help respond ……
What I describe happened on the slopes on the other side on Chembra over a span of 6years.

- Roby -


I'ts around 2AM, and as it happens once every few months (it's getting more frequent these past couple of years) I've hovered over verdant forests and majestic acclivities, swooped into deep gorges and zoomed up over jagged ridges, twisted the lat-long grid 360degrees a few times till I get a headache, extracting every last information bit the current resolution GoogleEarth can offer on potential new routes up ....


And in between soothing my aching joints and pacifying my aching heart I did the next thing I always do on such occasions - Google for "Chembra", "Anakkampoyil", and ....


And I chanced upon you trip report, and I knew I must write to you. I was the life and soul of the Adventure Club in REC Calicut circa '89/'93. And I and my equally dim-witted and numb-skulled group of maniacs had spent our REC days, first discovering the little hamlet of Anakkampoyil with no telephone pole, no electric pole, no plastic, no plastic bottle, then the charming walk to Muthapanpuzha, then onto the jungles and then two frigging years discovering a route to Vavalmala.

Being good engineers and blossoming men, we refused to ask for directions, and we suffered mightily. We planned and plotted and dreamt of all possible lines of attack standing in the MB and from lecture halls, staring at the looming phantomhead of Vavalmala surging in the horizon. We dissected the planes the gorges and the shoulders looking for a route up. And we did summer trips, peak-monsoon treks, 2-man alpine attacks, 12-man British expeditions.

Many a times did we escape certain death and maiming on this noble endeavour fuelled by extra tankfuls of testosterone and adrenaline and not inconvenienced by mere common sense and any primal need for survival:

The first time almost stepping off into olichuchattam at midnight - we at the vanguard of mallu adventuredom, when adventure was a word that got you thrown out of decent mallu homes, kitted out in PVC soled shoes and boxy airbags filled with ironed creased polyester-blend trousers and shirts got stranded on the wrongside of the olichuchattam rockface at dusk. And there were 12 hopelessly inexperienced climbers - a few with spare left feet - plastered across 40 vertical feet of rock and ledges and slippery grass, with 4 weak torches showing the way at 10PM on a chill night, accompanied by furtive heavy movement of animals in the forest below - possibly famished life-forms awaiting an easy meal.

The second time when Subra actually stepped off a huge boulder in pitch-dark during our first epic emergency descent on a monsoon night, escaping a soggy, frozen, leech infested death after three unsuccessful hours trying to build a fire in a campsite between the jungle gloom and a precipice. And to think it had all started as a carefully planned monsoon attack on the summit!!

The third when Pmurthy and I almost took a basejump from vavalmala while we were crawling speedily along the long 3-feet high animal tunnels among the bamboo thickets, and piling into each other at the stunningly sudden appearance of grey nothingness almost under our nose.

The fourth time, which really would have been a fittingly heroic death to all concerned - from starvation, exhaustion and inebriation - during our wildly successful vaval summit attack. Another meticulously planned trip when the food ran out and 5 of us survived on a couple of banana and two large bottle of whiskey - we figured the latter can count as a malted beverage - for a day and half.

The fifth time when a football sized rock came shooting down the trail next to the cave, missed four of us and smashed into a sack full of banana, jam, bread and a filthy costly borrowed digital camera - which was discovered intact in a sackful of banana-pineapple jam-bread soup forming a concrete with powdered glass from jam bottles.

The sixth when Pmurthy and I had to crawl as much of our anatomy into our rucksacks to survive a dusk to dawn thundershower on the exposed summit ridge - the lighting was so bright we could see the colors of flowers a 100feet away.

Yet, despite being very good engineers and blossoming strong silent types, we did achieve the summit a few times. Reaching the summit ridge and retreating to the cave in '91. Reaching the summit on an epic 4-day struggle in '92. I and Pmurthy, going back from Bangalore first time after graduation, successfully executing a strategic retreat from half-way up on day-1 to launch a strong counter-attack on day-2 and climb all the way, in '95. And last, when I tortured my newly attached first-wife-cum-unwitting-former-girlfriend, two supermen from Ozone whose rucksacks were bigger than my tent, and a couple of pals all the way to the summit ridge in '99.

Life was good, running the adventure club with large and active membership in Motorola, starting the Numbskulls club in Sasken etc. Then cruel misfortune befell my life. I got ambitious. I got prosperous. Busy. First wife. Second job. Third job. First kid. Fourth job. Shit, wife is still same. First house. Fifth job. Second car. Second kid ...what second kid? You must be crazy....

Now, on one of those contemplative evenings, when I'm massaging my poor tunneling carpals lovingly back to life, adjusting my much suffering rear end to a more comfortable and cooler position on the chair, under the nourishing glow of the laptop LCD panel, my gaze trying to penetrate the glass-curtain in the far end of a row of closely packed sensory-deprivation-chambers, the devil starts working on my mind.

That little voice whispering - of plodding those aana & kaatti (bison in local lingo) dung strewn tracks, of the spring in the knee joints when you reach level ground after a long had climb, of scoring ancient lichen off the short stout trees on the ridge to mark return trail, of the dew-wet grass and creepers razoring across forearms and face, and ...ahem... of a new life, in a size 38 jeans, with a new wife....

And on those evenings I go back to GoogleEarth. By now I have located every landmark on the route till almost to the ridge. Now I'm trying to work out the mother of all deep-jungle treks in Western Ghats, starting in Meppadi, getting over two peaks and landing up in Anakkampoyil - or if I'm ambitious, maybe even a third ridge and down to Pulloorampara!! Ah, this will be the stuff of legend.

It feels so so so very good to see that someone has done the trail and written about it. I tried to pass all my tribal knowledge before I left REC, but there were no serious trekkers left by then to pass the baton to. IMHO that 25 or so square miles contain some of the densest, wildest jungles left in India. After spending 6years on that mountain even the supposedly fabled Kodai route was pretty tame for me.

2008 has been declared - as were the previous two - as the year of my first big trek for the 21st Century. And the first big one will be Vavalmala. I will get in touch.

The best hiking season for the western slopes of the Western Ghats- barring any serious global warming disruption since '99 - is during the mid-summer showers in early May. Good water, no leeches, cloud cover, perfect lighting for photography.

I'm hungry. I must eat now. Prose after midnight (like bathroom singing) is a highly satisfying exercise in verbal (au(o)ral) diaorrhea. No wonder I got hungry.

- Roby Paul Kurien -
ECE, Class of '93

Once a Climber, Always a Climber.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I cannot go to school today

My dad decided to measure his blood pressure using an instrument that we have and the reading showed it as 400. He got totally psyched. My mom told me that he started acting like a kid and saying that his body is paining and he thinks his blood vessels are feeling like its gonna burst. And he kept on making all sorts of sounds whole night. She was worried and told him that she will take him to the doctors but he was like 'no I don't need the doctors'. Finally the next day she pulled him to the doctors and it turned out that he had taken an incorrect reading. Everything was fine with him. That evening he was back to his normal self and went frolicking around :-)

Etchen told me of this particular poem below.

"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more--that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut--my eyes are blue--
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke--
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is--what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"

---------- by Shel Silverstein

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Scary Movie 3: Ami Monjolika

I had watched 'Bhool Bhulaiya' with Bala and Swarna in the theatre. Bala had watched the movie before and when the scary stuff started, Swarna started, "Bala tell me whats gonna happen... please Bala tell me whats gonna happen". Needless to say I went on giggling :-)

A couple of days back I reviewed my mom about the movies 'Om Shanti Om', 'Saawariya', 'Bhool Bhulaiya', 'Jab We Met' and a couple of others. My mom is currently with my sis Sonali in Gurgaon since Sonali and Nikhil and moving to Mumbai and since Nikhil was already in Mumbai. Yesterday night she called me up and was like, "My goodness you didn't tell me the movie was scary. What happens in the end we didn't watch the full movie". And I started giggling again, saying that it was a comedy and then told her what had happened. My cousin Brian then called my mom up and hushed, "Ami Monjolika" :-)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

These forms make me lie

A couple of friends are applying to MBA schools. Part of the application process mandates a number of essays written on various topics like 'Achievements', 'Diversity', 'Goals' etc. The essays sometimes turn out to be an assuaged premeditated extempore bordering on self glorification. Some of those essays are passed through me cause of my so called literary skills :-) Anyways so this friend was sitting there pondering about what he had done and what he wanted to do and then he made a comment in passing, "These forms make me LIE".

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Just Got 'Leh'ed

Disclaimer: The article is written with my heart soaked in words, under the influence of Albert Camus' short story, 'The Adulterous woman'.

Just Got 'Leh'ed: diaries of a conscious mind

Breathless! The first few steps on its soil and it takes your breath away. Breath; the basic premise of an existance. Breath; with all its monosyllabic cohorts; that basic involuntary action that the brain has taken over since time immemorial and controls like clockwork; like its life depended on it. Breath; in all its pristine form, that age-old pastime, passed down from generation to generation, a religion in itself, a belief believed by all, unsullied by the other processes that govern the republic of our being. Sensation, temptation, rational, logic, perchance to dream, wants, desires, needs; in a swift bloodless coup d’etat the need to breathe takes over all sensations. A faint gasp is heard if not felt, emanating from within the dark hollows of a vast labyrinth; Motionless; all your sensations are focused to the task at hand, to plead your case and negotiate a truce. A truce of immaculate conceptions, a truce without a plan but only with intentions. The only intention to catch your breath, to catch it and never let it go again. Breathless! It takes your breath away and in an ephemeral moment gives it back to you. And at that moment you are acclimatized; a conscious decision.

The flight that transports you there is filled with foreigners waiting to explore this lonely planet as much as you endeavor. Excitement of the unknown wipes the synapses that form whatever off your face and replace them with a subtle mirthfulness. You are alone and have no idea of the kind of people and experiences you are about to encounter. But you are prepared and have packed appropriately; that open mind and that adventurous spirit; yes they always come in handy. You wonder if there are any other people on the flight enroute to their very first ‘Tour de Leh’. You look around and start to read faces as you search the sea of literature for Indian authors and find just a few from amongst the multitude. You wonder why such few Indians choose to explore their own land, which lies in the backyard of their minds. Just then you see another such wanderer trying to find her place amongst the trekkers. She is not dressed for trekking and she feels out of place. Her dark beady mascara brimmed eyes meet yours and she wonders whether to start a conversation or not, but decides otherwise. At the other end of the itinerary you exchanges inklings of a smile and wonder again if your immediate destination is the same, the ‘Tour de Leh’. You find your way to base camp from the airport and start to get acquainted with the proceedings of the day. Just then you bump into each other again and exchange names and a laugh without much resistance. A resistance to things provoked by rational over the years that you need make acquaintances with waders who have been and will be trudging the same path and thought routes, and you decide to let go of that rational for a while; you’ve done it before; a conscious decision.

“Rest. Sleep. Acclimatize”, those rules border on the edge of discordance, and in the end the spirit of the rule wins. Err well you decide to go and ‘rest’ on the top of some mountain. So you travel from an altitude of around 10500 feet to around 12000 feet and visit the Hemis monastery. The west wind unwinds through you a rejuvenation of thoughts long lost to the battles of daily routine. From there you trek to 13400 feet to visit a lone Lama in a cave. Its imaginative beauty lures you on and each step tries to keep you back. And just then, in the height of the moment, you realize that maybe you aren’t following the so called spirit of the rule. You are not ready, you are not acclimatized. Back at the Hemis monastery canteen oxygen is what you search for on the menu, but instead you find the next best thing. A boiling hot glass of lime water, something that you will crave for during the rest of the tour. If a restaurant doesn’t serve Getafix’s magic potion, then it is not worthy of your presence. After heading to Shey palace and Thikse monastery another one who decided to follow your so called spirit of the rule, decides to konk off. No, his engine does not give up its ghost but it does crank and give up all its inputs for the day. Your engine however seems to be working just fine as it pumps fluid at 52 times a minute. You shut your eyes, count your stars and drift between consciousness and never never land; a conscious decision.

The day dawns on you as you prepare for the acclimatization walk to Leh palace situated in the heart of the city. The covert operation of the previous day; the acclimatization trek; warrants a tougher route to the top and so some rock climbing is unanimously agreed upon. After leading somewhere; all routes lead somewhere; you come down and follow the winding route to the top, you engulf the city below and the horizon beyond it. And like the rulers of the past you let your hearts lay siege to the winds that whisper their way through the fascinating labyrinth of winding streets and quaint bazaars below. As the others decide to call it a walk, you decide that your boots are mean’t for climbing and you head to Shanti Stupa. The flat platform on the top sparks a kind of inclination to the theatrical masks within. As each actor plays the role their heart desires you decide to let go and let the camera within you search for their beauty. In a three dimensional space you move around as you occupy those infinite angles, knowing that everything is beautiful given the space and time to discover that beauty. You flirt with them all; the meditating woman, the TV anchor, the man with the beard, the Tai Chi in motion, the sunset child, the Polaroid model, the brown window, the flowing water on the road, each character outperform themselves, a performance worthy of its surroundings. You are enamored by them all; a conscious decision.

Another day, another calling. It beckons the Lance Armstrong in each of you to test your endurance and geared cycling ability over a 15 km route. As you go downhill you zoom past the airport and visit a monastery only to question the nature enthusiasts within you, as you decide to clean the hillside of the garbage that others have littered. The route back seems tough as gravity pulls you down to remind you of your place on earth and of the soldiers that protect our land as you catch your breath at the war museum, only to be re-energised by their heroic climbs dodging bullets to reclaim what is ours, as you climb your way back to basecamp. Tired and excited you head towards the city grounds to treat yourselves and your slightly aching muscles to a polo match and then to lose yourselves in the quaint bazaars and find yourselves again. The night calls for a group meeting with the camp leader as he lets you through the pitfalls of taking risks as he narrates an incident where someone from a previous group zoomed down a slope and at a turn tried to avoid a car and went into the valley, resulting in some temporary reconstruction surgery of the lower jaw at the army base. You chose your captain, ironically nicknamed ‘captain’ as you decide to stick together as a team the coming days; a conscious decision.

Finally thinking that you are acclimatized you awake in yet another predawn and prepare for the start of the ‘Tour de Leh’. The plan is to complete the route in 6 days doing an average of 40 kms a day. Flaged off and spirits intact you set onwards to a place called Basgo. The vastness of the barren land offers you a treat like no other. The silence of the wind, as it whispers in your face, carries the sound of your every movement, every heartbeat, every sensation; as the beads of perspiration find their way to the earth to acknowledge its hospitality. A lunch break at Guru Granth Sahib Gurdwara and you set off to Basgo. A kilometer from camp and you realize that you’ve been screwed, or unscrewed for that matter as you notice your pedal screw has decided to abandon its task. Without a spare at camp you have two choices; panic as you may be left behind the next day or take your camera and capture the abstract as you walk down the road you came along, knowing that you’ll find that pin in the haystack. You choose the latter and shoot abstractness as you bounce along the road alone. You don’t intend it to be abstract, you intend to capture reality but in some cases it just turns out that reality itself is abstract. You decide to counter panicky thoughts by flirting with the abstract, until you find the part in question. You were so close to getting screwed, but not just yet; a conscious decision.

The next day you realize that you need to reposition your baggage on the cycle to reduce the strain, and to rub it in your seat is too narrow and your derriere is numb. Lunch along the river Indus and you finally reach Nurla. The camp is along the river and a bridge lies there to be crossed. You head into the mountains and trek along narrow paths. One cyclist decides to test his cycling skills on a path one foot wide, as you capture his exploits. After passing one village you trek ahead to the next village higher up in the mountains. There you are welcomed to a home to break bread with its inhabitants. The old lady offers you whatever she has, including her smiles. After trekking 12 odd kms you trek back to camp and relax under the open roof sprinkled with stars as you reminisce your chance meeting with the lady of the mountains; her simplicity, her openness to accept, her humbleness of heart, her wisdom of humanity; technology changes, humans don’t; a conscious decision.

The next day you head towards Lamayuru which hosts the oldest monastery in Ladakh built in the 10th century. You lunch along the river and allow the cold water to brush your feet and cleanse your soles as you reach the final steep ascent to your camp. A few decide to go the distance by bicycle while the others close the gap on foot and then hitchhike. At camp you find the happiest person you have seen in years. The little boy is adorned with a pink woolen cap and eats rice out of a blue cup. You can't walk away and so you sit down as he willingly poses for you to capture his every move. You don’t exchange words but in a way you have the most wonderful conversation. All children should be like him but some aren’t. You climb the highest point of the monastery to glimpse a panorama of a past present continuous era, that eternal quest to find some purpose to your existence. You decide to visit the monastery early next morning to join the monks in prayer. That night you think of the genuine laughter that emanated from that little kid as he subtly hints that you all need mirrors to remind yourselves of who you are. You look in the mirror hoping to see his reflection; but you don't. And you remind yourself that you all need mirrors to remind yourselves of who you are. To be or not to be, that is the decision; a conscious decision.

Your way back to base camp at Leh is by foot, a bit of hitchhiking down the steep decent, atop a truck to Nurla and finally by bus to Leh. From there you visit Kardung-la which is the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 feet. La means pass in the local language and the road is maintained by the army. The route goes upto Siachen Glacier. In the evening the culmination of your ‘Tour de Leh’ coincides with the close of the Ladakh festival. Tradition echoes in the costumes, in the dances, in the skits and in the atmosphere. At the end all the performers come on stage and start dancing and you are asked to join them and partake of their culture. You haven't danced for a long time; something that turns you on and frees your spirit. You let yourself be seduced, you let go; a conscious decision.

The beliefs of the land; the rules of Buddhism is that there are no rules, there are only guidelines. As someone put it so simply, “It’s about the journey of the mind, to see what’s in there, discard what’s unnecessary and see what it takes to find true happiness.” On the ‘Tour de Leh’, at one instance in space and time, you slip to the rear as you give into temptation. Motionless! You find yourself stop in your tracks, smitten by the winds of the land as they whisper their open secrets. The best gift that you can give anyone is the gift of freedom to be themselves; that’s what Leh has offered you. That ’resonant whisper’ in one of its reincarnations has taken your breath away. Breathless! It takes your breath away, and in a swift bloodless coup d’etat the need to breathe takes over all sensations. A faint gasp is heard if not felt, emanating from within the dark hollows of a vast labyrinth. You have been offered the freedom to be whosoever you want and that thought overwhelms you, cause your soul is on the line; you’ll have no excuses. Motionless; all your sensations are focused on the task at hand, to plead your case and negotiate a truce. A truce of immaculate conceptions, a truce without a plan but only with intentions. The only intention to catch your breath, to catch it and never let it go again. Breathless! It takes your breath away and in an ephemeral moment gives it back to you. “Is everything OK?”, asks someone. You smile, you are flushed. And at that moment you have been acclimatized, you’ve just got ‘Leh’ed; a conscious decision.