Sunday, June 4, 2017

The beginning of the trek

For those coming here directly, this is the third blog in this series.

Do read the first part here, and the second part here.

Ìt was time to get up and start our adventure! But first, we had to get some stuff from the Joshimath market, to be fully prepared for the trek. Looked like even after all the pestering and forcing from the wifey, we were not fully equipped! We had to get a lunch box and gaiters, which we would get at the army store in the market.

On reaching the market, however, we found out that there were no gaiters available in stock! What do we do? Without the gaiters, all the snow would go into our shoes and our toes would get frozen!

We in India, however, are the best in finding very good alternate solutions to solve any issue. In Indian parlance, it is called 'JUGAAD'. We are the masters in Jugaad. Give a stick to an Indian, and he will make a house out of it! In a lot of ways, this trip was the mother of Jugaad for a few people, especially the Pangarchulla Yogi jugaad babas (yes it is a group of people who should actually make a Facebook page with that very name, their following would be epic!), but more on that later.

The wifey, on the other hand, went into her jugaad mode, as though it was her second nature. She immediately asks the shopkeeper 'Do you have any plastic packets with you?'. 'Yes Ma'am, that we do', says the shopkeeper and gives her a whole load of plastic packets. She asks 'How much for these?'. The shopkeeper thinks 'Should I take advantage of this situation and actually ask for some money for this?? HAHAHA :D' but then actually says 'Nothing. It's free!'.

I am outside the shop the whole time, and suddenly I see the wifey with a whole set of plastic sheets. She goes past me saying 'LET'S GO! WE DON'T HAVE TIME! WE NEED TO BUY RUBBER BANDS'. The guide had given us about 20 minutes to buy all the extra stuff we would need for the trek, and that was enough for just the one shop. However, we started our mini expedition through the Joshimath market, trying to find the first shop that would sell rubber bands. After running around, we finally got the ingredients for the makeshift jugaad gaiters.

It was now time to start the walk up to the first campsite! We were all excited! We were taken by our taxis to the drop off point at Dhak Village, where we then had the option of using mules to carry our luggage to the camp sites, or we could take the stuff ourselves. The wifey, being one not to use the mules for luggage, carried all the stuff in her trekking bag. She has been doing it for the past 4 treks, so for her, it was easy peasy. Me, not wanting to look weak in front of the crowd, thought 'CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!' and also took the luggage with myself. However, little did I know that my luggage was a good 2 kilos heavier than the wifeys, and that actually carrying your own luggage was not as easy as it looked in the photos that the wifey took in all those other treks she had gone to! But, once a commitment was made, it had to be executed till the very end. So there was it, I had the stuff with me!

The clear skies and the cool weather just made conditions perfect to start the trek!
Not a single cloud in sight, and the snow peaked mountains! What a sight to start our trek!

Pangarchulla peak as seen on the first day. Looked so close by!
The lush green forests being overlooked by the snow capped mountains made us want to reach the top as soon as possible! However, it would take another two days for us to reach there!

From Dhak village, it was a 5 km walk that we took to Gulling top, where we stopped for the night. Even though the distance was only 5 km, it was a climb, so it was tough! However, we were told that the difficult in the 'moderate - to - difficult' rating of this trek was not because of the first 2 days of the trek. So there was a whole lot more to come!

The Gulling Top Campsite.
The tents were put up by ourselves. The view from the campsite was breathtaking! However, the skies had started becoming cloudy, and apparently this was a pattern. The mornings till noon, were almost always clear, however, post noon, the clouds would always cover the mountains.
View from Gulling Top campsite
Once we were set for the day, we had a briefing with the trek leads on certain do's and don'ts that had to be followed, no matter what, to make the trek incident free (even then, there was no guarantee of things going smooth).

  1. You are NOT to sleep in the tent post lunch. You are to find out some or the other activity to do to keep yourself awake during this time of the day. This was hard, especially after walking so long, and having a sumptuous lunch! But no, we had to stay awake! This doesn't apply when you are coming down, however.
  2. Climb high, sleep slow. (Yes. That is what the lead said all the time. We all knew he meant 'Sleep low', but we did not once stop and correct him. It was fun just to hear him say that all the time! :D)
  3. Drink at least 4-5 liters of water during your overnight camp stay. This would build up your oxygen level and help you prepare for the next day's climb.
  4. Even if you do not feel like eating, you are required to eat food.
  5. It was important that you had atleast an oxygen level of 80 for you to be fit to climb up the next day. A test was taken every evening after dinner to check our oxygen levels.
  6. Most important of all, when nature calls, you are not to go wandering on your own outside. There were sophisticated (yes, for trekking standards, they were very sophisticated) western and eastern toilets dug up just for us to use.
Once the briefing was done, it was time for tea, and immediately afterwards, we went up for our evening acclimatization walk (Yes, the climb high, sleep slow rule being applied here). It was here that we finally got to know the names of the other group members of the trek. That too, only because the trek leads forced us in a circle and played a game where we had to memorize the names all the people before us, and I was the second last in the circle. I finally got introduced to the Bengaluru flutist and his brother in law, the professional social networking gym goer; the Gujarati Financial babus, the momo zombie, the pangarchulla yogi jugaadu babas, the director of photography, the CSR and Sustainability ladies, the IIM Cal trekker, the Navi Mumbai engineer and the Ladakh Marathon volunteer tester (Guys who were actually part of this trek may probably understand who they are, for the others, there was a wide range of people from different walks of life here, from Kashmir all the way to Kochi, and that in itself was amazing! This is another advantage of going on a trek, and that is.... meeting people!)

After that, we had a team session, where we had to figure out, as a team, how to solve a problem. The idea was to get the team to work together to plan out and execute a problem. However, on the ground, what actually happened was a lot of planning, and a whole lot of fun! This made us get to know each other a lot more.

Dinner was served at 7 PM, Soon after, it was time to sleep. And this was what we were seeing as we went to sleep.

The stars were shining, the clear skies making it a sight worth seeing!
Sleeping at night was not an easy task by any means. For one, the weather was very cold, so you had to wear atleast 3 layers of clothes and tuck yourself inside the sleeping bag to keep yourself warm. Second, and probably more importantly, as one of the Do's given to us was to keep ourselves hydrated, we had drunk a whole lot of water before sleeping. That would mean only one thing during the night, and as the toilets were far, far away in another galaxy, going through the cold windy climate to the toilet was a task in itself!

Somehow, we managed to survive the night and woke up to another clear sky. The sun rising meant that the rays were just peeking out from the mountains, and that was some sight! It did give me the positive vibe that I needed to move on in this trek!

Welcome sunshine! On a side note, the mountain just peeking on the right of the picture is the almighty Nanda Devi!

Pangarchulla Peak in the morning from the Gulling Top campsite. Our final destination was at the top of that very mountain!
The second day was a 6 km walk to Khulara. However, in terms of height, we went up to 11,122 ft from 9,600 ft at Gulling top. That was a steep climb! We would not get to see snow this day either, as the snow had just melted from the Khulara top. That meant that a lot of the trail to the camp site was damp.

However, it was not as bad as I had thought it would be. We had to go through a forest to reach the camp site. Thankfully, the skies were clear in the morning, and the sun was shining bright!
Some trees just stood out from the rest!

More of the above was what we got to see along the way!
But the sight of the day was not on the way, but at Khulara, where we were to stay for the night.

You could see the entire Garhwal range from this site! It was just out of this world!
We could have spent the whole day just gazing at the sight of the entire range. There was only one thing that could stop us from looking at the awesome views.


Yes. You heard right. You might ask 'But where is the TV? And was there any match going on that day?'. And I would say, ONLY THE BEST MATCH IN THE WORLD!

Playing cricket at 11,500 feet is, as I found out the hard way, not easy at all! The thin air made it very difficult to run, and after having walked up about 6 km and 2000 feet, the body just did not want to do anything else but rest! However, I did take it as a challenge to test my fitness level, and did an OK job batting.
Yes, that is me hitting the ball!
The bowling was even more tough, because you actually had to run to bowl! However, I did not do so bad in the bowling department, being the wild card for the team, picking up a couple of wickets in the one over I bowled, and saving the team from at least losing the game! (Yeah, the game did not complete, and we self proclaimed the win, but the fact that we still lasted so long in the game against the locals was in itself an achievement!)
I did manage to generate some pace while bowling
Once that was done, it was time to do our acclimatization walk (Remember the climb high sleep slow guidance given by the guide?). Here is when we got to hear about the difficult path that lied ahead. It would be a good 12 km climb, with a 3500 feet increase in height, and as you keep on climbing higher and higher, the air would get thinner and thinner, and the weather that much more unpredictable. All of us were brought back to reality, and were quiet for the rest of the day, just mentally preparing ourselves for the next day. We were to start at 4 AM in the morning, and the only rule was that we had to reach the top of the peak by 12 noon. Now, it may sound very easy (6 KM in 8 hours??? I can do that in my sleep!), but, as you will read in my next part of the adventure, it was nothing but!  

What would happen the next day? Would all of us make it to the top? What would be our situation during the climb to the top? To know, stay tuned for the final part of the adventure!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The prelude to the trek!

For those who have come here directly, please read the first part of the trip in this post!

So the stage is set, we are all packed up and excited about the trip!

We boarded the train from Mumbai to Delhi (Yes, you heard right. A train trip from Mumbai to Delhi, when so many flights were around. Leave it to the wifey to give an 'authentic, different' experience to the trip, right from the beginning!) on April 28th, and reached Delhi's NDLS station by the evening on the 29th. We had already hooked up with a few of the wifeys fellow trekking mates, and we had decided to have dinner at Ginger Hotel.

For those who do not know about the place, it is part of IRCTC's network of budget business hotels, right next to the NDLS station. Food is good, with self service being the mode of order. The only problem I could find was the way to the hotel.

You know how frustrating it can get when you can see a building so close (oh SO CLOSE) by, but somehow you cannot find a way to reach the place? I mean, its right there in front of you, but there is no way to go there! The hunger and the need for food added to the frustration. Very much like the land above the waterfall Bahubali, we knew that paradise was at the end of the road, we just could not find the route to the paradise!

Finally, after a lot of trial and error (and going into dark alleys which were, frankly, quite scary!), we finally reached the hotel. Maybe the food was all that much better because of the effort we had to put in to find the place, maybe not. But whatever the reason, the food just tasted good, and made us think of a second helping as well!

Our other trekking mates were coming by flight and were on their way to the hotel, so we took the time to see our final updates on facebook and whatsapp, and laugh looking at the mobile phone at some random forward. (God, how life changes after 1 year of marriage.... all the holding hands and talking to one another about random stuff seemed so old fashioned! It was now back to the mobile phone and FB and Whatsapp!)

Finally, after what seemed like ages (or, in FB parlance, after 3240 likes to various FB posts), our other trekking friends came and finally we met the Doctor and the Punekar Hipster (I like putting pseudo names, and you will get to see a whole lot of them, do keep track!). After their dinner, it was time to go back to NDLS station to catch the train from NDLS to Haridwar.

In what seemed like not enough time to put even one FB like, we reached Haridwar. Time just flies when you sleep, and no amount of sleep is enough sleep. On reaching there, we found the weather to be cloudy, with slight rain! It was the height of summer, and to see that kind of weather was very surprising. That only meant one thing.... MORE SNOW AT PANGARCHULLA! Yippeeeeee!!!

Having gotten our stuff packed in the car, we were now ready to take the drive from Haridwar to Joshimath, the place where we would stay for the night. However, the distance was not small (about 270 KMs). And took a good 8 hours to reach there! Finally, after going from one 'prayag' town to another (Rudraprayag, Karnapraya, Devaprayag, Bahubaliprayag etc.etc.etc. (OK I just made that last one up)...... the places ending with prayag just seemed endless!), we finally reached Joshimath. Actually, not quite Joshimath, but about 5 KMs from Joshimath, which is where we were put up.

After settling in, we were asked to report to the main reception area at 7 PM for our briefing on the trip. Our briefing in the evening was a general introduction to the trek, a few do's and don'ts (the most important don't being 'DO NOT ASK HOW MUCH MORE TO GO!'), and a first introduction of everyone in the trek.

This is how the round of introductions went.

Person 1: Good evening everyone! I am XYZ. This would be my first trek in the Himalayas, however have done a lot of trekking in the Sahayadris.

Person 2: Hello Hello! I am ABC and this is my first time trekking. Ever.

Wifey: Hi everyone. This would be my fifth Himalayan trek. Been doing this for 2 years now. Otherwise go to Sahayadris now and then.

Everyone else: :O :O Wooooowwwwww!

And thus, the wifey became an instant celebrity. How things went on the ground ahead, you will get to know later on.

After the briefing session, it was dinner and time to go to bed. The next day, we got up to this.

The morning blues. Just did not want to move from here!

The skies were....ummm... well... sky blue! And not a single cloud to be seen! The beginning looked just awesome! I could have spent the whole time just looking at the scene during the sunrise, but a trek had to be completed. Or, to put it in other words, a mountain had to be summit-ted!

The rest of this epic journey is coming soon! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Planting the seed to climbing a Himalayan mountain

It all started with a need to just take a week off!

All of us go through that phase where we are working all day, only to come home dead tired, to sleep early and to continue the cycle again the next day. There was a desperate need to cut this vicious cycle and just do something out of the ordinary.

Having started cycling, and also dabbed into jogging and swimming as well, the best thing for me to test my fitness was either to do a BRM (which, trust me, a whole lot of people were telling me to do immediately!) or do a trek. With the trek, the wifey would become the planner, and I did not have to think about anything! PROBLEM SOLVED!

I just needed to plant the seed in her head. She had already done a trek in the beginning of the year, and her plan was to do just 2 in a year, so getting her to accept it would be tricky. Or so I thought.....

Before I could even broach the subject, the wifey pitches in 'Isn't it just too hot here in Mumbai! Why don't we go to the Himalayas! A trek at this time of the year would be perfect!'. My plan couldn't have gone any smoother. Even Amul butter wouldn't be so smooth. The only thing remaining was to take an easy trek, and life was set in the cool lands of the Himalayas.

Alas, leaving the entire planning to the wifey does have its downsides. Being a pro trekker (having done four Himalayan treks before this one herself) the choice between an easy trek, a moderate trek, and a moderate to difficult trek was very easy for her. She chose the moderate to difficult trek. And I, having given all the responsibility to her for arranging everything, could not say anything.

Her first words were.... 'Let's go to PANGARCHULLA!'

My first thoughts were that of a Gujarati Dish. Pangarchulla sounded very much like one of those dishes you get at any Gujarati family home (like the Dhokla, Thepla, Fafda, Pangarchulla.... get it?) Given the thairu saadam lover that I am entitled to be as a TamBrahm, what else was I to think of Pangarchulla?

However, my brain stated telling me 'You dumbo! She said 'GO TO'... there is no way Pangarchulla would be a dish to GO TO!'. And that brought me back to reality.....

'We have company dear! Look, my friends are also there, and there are others who are new to trekking also going to go for this! Come on! you can do it easily!' she said.

There are very few things in life that evoke the kind of heart filled response and emotion in the wifey. Trekking is one of them. I trusted her instincts blindly in this area. For, I did not want to use my brain in anyway planning this trip! A week was chosen, and the rest was left to her.

And so the planning (by the wifey) began. With the wifey listing down all things required for the trek. And it was a long one! I never knew that a trek would require so much meticulous planning! The most important thing on my mind at that time (in fact, during the whole trip), was how to take care of nature's call. Very important. So the wet wipes, the hand sanitisers, the tissue papers, were all taken in double quantity. The assumption was that because the Himalayas were a cool place, I would not sweat at all, and hence I would be able to survive the trek on a couple of clothes. I found out later on that the assumption that I would not sweat at all was WAAYYYYYY off the mark! But still, the clothes to take on the trek were kept to a bare minimum. The cameras were set, and we were just waiting for the approvals from our respective bosses to come through (GASP!!!).

Thankfully, the approvals did not take as long as anticipated. Also, we (as in, the wifey) took our chances and booked flight and train tickets beforehand itself, to save on costs. Thankfully, no major hiccups were encountered in getting the leaves.

And thus, we were ready for the trek! My first ever Himalayan Odessey! What adventure lied ahead! To read more, please go on to my next post here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

My Adventure with Cycling: Experiences and Takeaways

Leave it to the wifey to bring in something new to our home.

We were quietly having dinner one fine day, when she comes up with her version of the Eureka moment.

‘I cannot just sit here and just trek. I need to do something different. I know! Let’s buy a cycle!’

My first reaction to that was utter silence. In my entire life, I had never cycled more than a couple of months, and that too after continuous coaxing from my parents (WHAT ARE YOU DOING SITTING AT HOME PLAYING COUNTER STRIKE! GO OUT! HERE IS A CYCLE!). The cycle, somehow, kept losing air after a few weeks (Most probably because of my lack of usage, but that is a topic for another day!), and then I just lost interest in the activity itself, leaving the cycle to rust.

For me to go back to that ‘cycle’ mode would take more than just a casual conversation from the wifey. I knew that this was something that was NOT going to happen!

And just like that, I found myself at Decathlon buying a cycle. I totally, completely underestimated the power of the wife. All you bachelors out there, especially those with girlfriends, be rest assured, your life will completely change after marriage.

Before the wifey could go into the ‘Oh let’s enjoy our trips together and get 2 cycles now itself!’ mode, I quickly went to the cash counter and paid for the 1 cycle (‘Oh dear, already bought one! Let’s wait for an ROI on this’ said the typical management me).

And thus, started my cycling journey!

I started off doing cycling loops around from Matunga to Sion and back (and by loops, I mean a single loop). It was an achievement for me just to get my backside out of home and going out! We used to take turns jogging and cycling, and the days I did not cycle, I took the option of NOT jogging (the smart me, as always, wanting that extra amount of sleep!)

My first longish ride was from Matunga to Bhandup. My in-laws stayed there, and we had this brilliant idea of cycling instead of taking a cab or public transport. I thought at that time that it was a good idea, but only when actually cycling did I realize that maybe I was better off taking the train! It was about a 25 KM ride, but boy, was it tiring!

We had a friend in Badlapur, who would call us for rides. We would go and rent cycles over at a place near the station, and do a good 50 KM ride during the weekend. We also tried the famed matheran climb, though I had to walk through half the climb, it was just amazing that the wifey and our friend just went through it as though there was no hill!

Slowly and steadily, having gone through the internet and understood what minor modifications to your seat (its called get a bike fit), it made the cycling experience more enjoyable! That is, until the day I took the round trip through Andheri – Ghatkopar. That was the day I fell ill with Dengue, and had to take rest for about 3 weeks.

All of the effort put into getting myself interested and continuing cycling, down the drain.

Though I recovered by November, it was not until January that I started cycling again. The wife, not to be stopped by the lack of cycling, did her own rides and treks and what not, to keep herself fit (I have no idea how she manages to keep doing it!). She also did quite a bit of research on cycling groups in Mumbai, and came across a group called Ghatkopar Cyclists Club, a club of fellow cycling enthusiasts mainly based out of Ghatkopar.

One fine republic day of 2017, I took the plunge and decided I would join one of their rides. They were going to Yeoor hills (a beautiful hill station in Thane), and were starting at 5.30 AM from Ghatkopar. Having started at 4.45 from my place (Is that even a time to wake up to cycle?!?!?!), I huffed and puffed and somehow reached Ghatkopar just in time for the group to move ahead. And once the group started, they were just gliding ahead. My face went ‘WTF! :O’, but I still pedaled (It’s not like I had any other choice! I was already too far away from home!). After a long, strenuous 30 KM one-way journey, I found out that we had reached only the base of the hill, and that the hill climb was only starting now. My thoughts went back to that day at Matheran! I dreaded at the prospect of even looking at the road, and said I would stay back.

With this experience (the way back was excruciating to say the least!), I realized that I wanted to do more. More rides meant more exercise! But getting up so early in the morning was such a pain! There had to be another way out!

Fortunately, there were a few riders from around the area I stay who also shared the same timing cycle and enthusiasm to cycle as I did. I also came across another cycling group based out of people in my area, Chalo Cycling, and that was the Launchpad I needed to take my continuous cycling journey to the next level. I now had the option of choosing which rides I wanted to go on, and at what time as well! Things were looking great! There was just one thing though…… we were 2 people at home, and we had only 1 cycle! We were missing out on each other’s company during the rides (not that there was much to miss, whenever we did go, we always ended up fighting! Everyone kind of knew that we were married, just because of that.). It was time to go for another cycle! We ended up buying a second cycle (this time a hybrid), and now enjoy riding together!

From the start of my riding experience, I have learnt the following things about cycling, riding in general, and about myself. I am sharing this as I feel this could help anyone who wants to start cycling.
  1. The beginning is tough. Very tough. There are times when you will feel ‘Why am I even doing this??!?!?!?!’. All this will make you want to stop and just go back to bed. You have got to just fight it back. Once you cross that wall/ barrier, cycling becomes a very enjoyable experience!
  2. You will be able to feel even the slightest elevation and slope while cycling, especially once you are tired.
  3. For those wanting to reduce weight, try pedalling as fast as you can (a high cadence, in technical lingo) at as high a gear as possible. It may feel difficult at first, but the next time it will become that much easier, as your body would have developed that much to make it easier to cycle at that level. I keep pushing myself that much harder every time, and it has had a profound effect on my body. Please note, you WILL get tired! It is not easy trying to continuously push yourself hard for so long.
  4. Having your saddle at the right height is very important, as it could help give you the right posture to achieve the best efficiency while cycling. Getting a ‘bike fit’ is very important.
  5. Keep essentials with you always (spare tube, puncture kit, spanners, tube changing kit, Identity card). Getting a puncture is the worst thing that can happen to you, so you need to be fully prepared for such eventualities, every time you cycle.
  6. Summer time (especially in a place like Mumbai), can get very hot (and is very humid) very early! Make sure you are very hydrated before, and during your activity! I try to reach back home by 7 AM when I cycle, as by then I can reach before the heat starts, and also before the traffic starts!
  7. Talking about traffic, it is really bad, at least in Mumbai where I do cycle. The city needs infrastructure to support cycling, however in the absence of this, it is up to us cycling to be very aware of traffic and our surroundings, you never know when a vehicle would just come in front of you!
  8. Finally, it is all about you! You need to keep yourself motivated to continue to do what you want to do. Do not wait for the encouragement of others, it may never come! It takes a threshold amount of time (I put it at 21 days, or 3 weeks), to make something a part of your life. It also takes something as small as just ‘wanting to enjoy to cool morning sea breeze’ to keep you going. But it has to come from within. Intrinsic motivation is a much more powerful tool than extrinsic motivation.
So there you have it! An account of my journey till now. I must say it has been a very enjoyable one indeed! And I intend to continue it!