Thursday, 31 December 2009

Good stuff :)

Two on the boat and the other two in Bombay. This is turning into a bit of a routine, isn't it?! And I like it :). I think I'll skip the goings on of these last couple of weeks that I've been here. Just for the time being. Instead, I'll indulge in the one ritual I've maintained on this space somewhat fastidiously: a look back on my last twelve months...Once again, at first glance the year seems to have gone by real quick. The difference this time is that all I need to do is remember the months spent in Angola, and the thought passes quickly =)). This has been a long year! And I've learnt a few unsavoury lessons. Thankfully, there's also been a lot of good stuff. :)Okay, so Angola wasn't all bad.... Actually, it was pretty bad, all things considered. But the Norway office rotations provided a good counter-balance. The snowboarding, for one, was a huge plus. As was the Bergen trip. But the best thing has to be the latter half of the year when, through no particular design on my part, I managed to get enough time off to get back a bit of what used to be my life :). And with that, a chance to really catch my breath after what's felt like a really really long run for the last couple of years!I'm glad I finally managed the long awaited US visit! Despite all the last minute scares. And then was quite surprised to land up in Cartagena for that awesomely chilled out trip right after! That's one down on the bucket list :). (Okay, so officially I'm supposed to land up in Antarctica too, but we'll see. For now I'm counting this one done :P.)Plus, I'm finally a little happier with the keeping in touch thing. Not better, mind you, but it turns out that yes, you lose touch. The trick is not to make a habit of it with people you really care about. Who knew, eh? :) And a few other things seem to be sorting themselves out somewhat. One particular symmetry, I found rather surprising. But then again, it was perhaps just an un/fortunate coincidence. Friends getting married have well and truly stopped being worthy of surprise :). Things are moving further now!Oh yes, there was finally the look at the Himalayas! And what a view that was!! And there was the Scuba trip. Both extremely hasty last-minute plans, but with unbelievably fantastic results :D. Oh and when it comes to all the insane flying, take it from me, a full year of travelling check-in bag free can make you feel distinctly less homicidal/suicidal about air-travel :D.A couple of things that have made my life easier this year: I've finally given up on trying to figure out when I'll start really hating my job :P. It's a roughly sinusoidal curve, punctuated, sometimes distorted, by things like Angola and Cartagena :D. And I've finally figured out that it's harder to be content than otherwise, but once you get the hang of it, that illusive thing, peace of mind, tends to be slightly easier to grasp :).And yes, a little time out can go a long way. (Of course a long time out works even better :D.) I really needed this. I don't think I've been this content at a year end in a while. Of course it's automatically better when I'm off the boat than when I'm on, but then that's how it's supposed to be, right?!
Right, so there it is then. Another year more or less wrapped up. Another mixed bag, but I can see the good stuff more easily and brightly than the bad when I peer in :). I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff, but then that's usually how it works :P. Even though this is probably a little early, I wish everyone who still reads this all the best for the coming year. And could some of you people please start writing again?! I'm beginning to feel a bit lonely out here with all those dying/comatose blogs :D.

Feeling: optimistic :)
Listening to: The Black Eyed Peas - I gotta feeling

Sunday, 13 December 2009

On heaven, or death (a.k.a. Under construction, still)

I'm in-between books at the moment. Sort of. There are unread books around, but for some reason or other I find myself disinclined to read any of them. So I did the next best thing, and read a book I hadn't read in a while, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I didn't actually remember how I'd felt about it the last time. Turns out it had had quite an effect :).
Somehow, I don't find myself quite as moved by it this time around. But there's still the somewhat stifling aftertaste. It was the question that had been raised which caught my eye, the one I'd evaded then. I would respond now, if I may, with another question. It appears that the crux of the matter is this: would one really want to extend the period of time dealing with the consequences of one's actions from a finite lifetime, to a possibly infinite eternity?

I imagine that might have something to do with said consequences :). At this moment, irrespective of the consequences, I'd rather prefer the end to remain an end. It has nothing to do with belief.

Somewhat fittingly, or merely coincidentally, I have gotten caught up in a melody I hadn't heard in a while. One with an equal capacity to charm and haunt...
...And as the sun would set you would rise
Fall from the sky into paradise...

...But there was still something in your eyes
Left me helpless and paralyzed...
Something about splinters in the mind.

Currently: thoughtful
Listening to: Chicane - No ordinary morning

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

On heights and introspection

Just finished going through all the photos from the trek! And wow! I'm still buzzing :). (I hadn't actually gone through them earlier to not unnecessarily use up the camera batteries.) I guess, for the sake of completion, I should mention that the trip back was rather without event. Mostly... Just a long long drive along the hillsides and a long wait at Bagdogra airport. One last glimpse of Kanchendzonga as we neared Dhotrey...I'd thought it would be harder, without all the things I've gotten so attached to these days, electronics and stuff. The Net. Music even! I was surprised therefore, to find out that I was perfectly content to shed all of it! I guarded the cameras with my life of course :). But other than that, the book and the notebook were all the means I needed to keep myself occupied when there wasn't more to be done.This was officially my first 'holiday' alone. I did okay, I think :). Met a whole bunch of people. Some for a few minutes, some for longer. Most I wouldn't be too bothered about keeping in touch with :). But some I would. I guess for the first days it was pretty good, trekking on my own pace. But once I got used to the company, despite the time issues :), I really hated to part ways.I didn't really know what to expect from the whole thing. For the most part I wasn't even sure if it would happen! (That's the other thing, why is it, that all the best things that happen to me keep threatening to not happen till the last moment?!!!) What did I get? I'm not quite sure :). Faith in myself perhaps, reminders why I loved trekking in the first place... But one thing's for sure, the Himalayas are something else :).

Oh, and a few realisations:

- The weight of the pack, once I got used to it, stopped being an issue.
- I was really lucky with the weather and the views, when it mattered!
- I've just survived a solely carbs diet for a week, with rice, variations of rotis and potato curries everywhere :).
- The only altitude issue I had was lack of sleep, but heading to bed by 8pm meant I got enough rest to keep going.
- I've managed to ingest more tea in the last week than in the previous decade!
- Those flip-flops were absolutely the best suggestion I got for the trek!
- I was more than a little surprised to see that my gel pen never froze up on me :). Now, that would really have been a disaster :D.

Currently: still on a high!
Listening to: Joshua Radin - These photographs

Sunday, 6 December 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 6

-Rimbik, 2110m

So that's it!! Another remarkable day and I'm done with the trek! :) Beautiful though it is, Gorkhey doesn't offer anything special for the early riser. Hence, I woke up rather lazily at 6:15 and we were off in 45 minutes :). The walk past Samanden through the thick moody pine forest in the clear sunlight that filtered through - beautiful :). And then, while walking past one of the lodges in Rammam, who do I see staring at me from the front door?! Karine!! Yup, they were starting late :D.Good thing it was! And a happy coincidence. Even though about a third of all conversation is inevitably in French (and very animated French at that) and utterly lost on me, entertainment is guaranteed :). And so I was quite content along the twisting and frankly rather agonising descent to Srikhola.For the most part we had some river or other within earshot. The very last leg from Srikhola to Rimbik was tough, a real trial of will! Eventually, after much are-we-there-yet-ing, we did get there. And I had to bid farewell, again, to my partners for over half the 6-day trek :-<. I am staying here overnight and they headed off for Darjeeling.
The hot shower (the bucket and mug variety) was most welcome :). A first this month :P. The other momentous event of the day was switching on the mobile for the first time since Maneybhanjang. My mom was definitely glad to hear that I'm alive and kicking!
Also booked a ride down to Siliguri for early tomorrow. Hopefully I'll get there in time for a quick lunch and my flight back to Kolkata. It feels a little strange to see regular lights, electric, not solar powered, or battery powered, or wax powered :). It was fun watching my guide playing badminton and entertaining the lodge-owner's daughters. It's not nearly as cold as those other places further up, but it still is cold. And the fog obliterated the horizon long before darkness did.
It's getting hard to keep the thoughts ordered. Not that I'm hopelessly tired, like in Phalut. But I think I could use a good proper night's sleep! Haven't had one of those in a while...

Currently: getting a bit fuzzy round the edges
Listening to: voices

Saturday, 5 December 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 5

-Gorkhey, 2300m

Five down, one to go :). It's a pretty awesome feeling! Yesterday's trek was really punishing! But this morning was a pretty gorgeous reward! Continuing to surprise myself, I woke up by 5:20 and was ready to go up to the viewing spot, also famous as the meeting point of the boundaries of India, Nepal and Sikkim, to see the sunrise. Only, this time it stayed hopelessly mired in the low clouds :(. Good thing was, by the time the girls were ready to leave it was past 9! And the entire horizon, when we got back to the viewing point, was waiting to dazzle :).
So it was another late start, but after a last look at Mt. Everest and Kanchendzonga and every peak in-between, we were on a consistent downhill run all the way to Gorkhey. While it was pretty hard on the knees, we weren't overly distressed by the time we arrived. Well, I wasn't, but Elise and Karine were headed a further 8 kms away to Rammam for their night stop, and they weren't feeling too happy about it...
The place is beautiful though! And I'm glad I'm staying here. The Gorkhey river flows thorough the valley, the rapids creating a constant, somewhat hypnotic, roar. Plus, the rapid decline in altitude means that I no longer need to remind myself to breathe deeper! And also, the temperature, even with the sun clouded over, is quite bearable. Unfortunately, thanks to the hills all around, the sun disappears over the 'horizon' at 3pm :|.
Sadly, with my temporary trekking partners gone, I'm back to Christopher Paolini for company. There was no one else in Phalut last night and no one's insane enough to try coming to Gorkhey from further than that. But tomorrow's another long day, heading all the way to Rimbik via Samanden, Rammam and Srikhola, so I suppose it'll be good to get back to the early start routine :).
The Gorkhey river continues in its mad rush through the impenetrable darkness as I contemplate the end of this rather remarkable 'holiday'. Well, there's another 20 odd kilometres to go, time to blow out the candle.Currently: warmer :)
Listening to: the Gorkhey river

Friday, 4 December 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 4

-Phalut, 3600m

Now today I'm well and truly tired! The sunrise at Sandakphu was awesome. I'll skip the words, there are pictures :). Trekking-with-company pangs hit early, with the start delayed almost by an hour! Thereafter though, things went okay mostly. But the distance was quite a challenge! The terrain was by no means easy and the uphill climbs at the end with the entire world masked in a cold and clammy white, things got very miserable indeed :(.
Still, we all made it here, and the two French-Canadian girls I was trekking with proved to be pretty awesome company :). Not that conversation was exactly flowing freely in those latter stages :). Once we made it to Phalut though, and gathered around the kitchen fire, time went by quickly!
Though this was by no means an uneventful day, I honestly can't keep my eyes open a minute longer!! Closing thoughts: cold, wind, aches, cold...
Currently: unbelievably tired
Listning to: the wind howling outside

Thursday, 3 December 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 3

-Sandakphu, 3636m

Yay!!!!! I made it!! I made it!!! :D Okay, so here's the thing, either the aforementioned brochure, along with most of the people I met on the way, were all full of crap, or I somehow, inexplicably, managed to get used to all this! The breathing was only a slight hassle. The uphill climb was really not any worse than yesterday's, only twice as long at 4 kms. But then the whole thing was just 6 k anyway! Took me under 2 hours :D.And the timing seemed perfect too! True to form, the morning was bright and clear. As I started the climb from Bikheybhanjang, one could clearly see some of the lodges in Sandakphu. On the way, the clouds seemed to clear up for out special benefit, affording an awe-inspiring view of Kanchendzonga, along with several other nearby peaks!Once again we encountered our group of 10 from yesterday. It appeared they had arrived at Kalipokhri too late to go further and instead had started earlier this morning. The group had stretched out over a long enough distance to provide me with company for well over an hour!
While I was delighted with my progress today, it wasn't exactly devoid of pain :). Even though I'd had about the same time to recover yesterday as the day before, I could feel I wasn't nearly as ready and raring to go this morning as yesterday :). And of course, it only got worse.
Once we turned that last corner though, wow! :) It was like a shot of adrenaline! The entire jagged horizon, from a little west of Mt. Everest to the peaks in Sikkim and Bhutan east of Kanchendzonga, were sparkling in the gray and white of rock and snow in sharp relief against the clear blue sky :). Honestly, I could feel no ache or pain! No kidding! Maybe it was the adrenaline :P.
The room I have has a clear view of the majestic Kanchendzonga that totally dominates the horizon here! And even though we seemed to be on an island surrounded by a sea of clouds, none of those had managed to obscure the peak, or the sun, till late afternoon. I took the opportunity to go find an even better view of the Himalayas from the top of a nearby hill top. Encouraged by the beautiful weather, we kept exploring the nearby areas till noon.
After the massive lunch though, I kept to basking in the sun, and staring at the mountains. Turning every now and then to let another side cook :P. Oh, and ran into the now famous group of 10 :D. I must say I am not unduly distressed about doing this on my own :P. With a large number of people here at Sandakphu today though, it's been impossible not to run into conversations. Not a bad thing, hardly read anything all day till the clouds finally claimed the little settlement, turning the solar powered street lamps into eerie ghost lights.
Then I did meet a couple who had actually made it from Tumling to Sandakphu in a single day!! I was impressed! Turns out they are the only ones besides me headed up to Phalut tomorrow! Let's hope I can keep up. Or not, whatever. We are planning to all leave together. At 21k, tomorrow's leg is probably the longest for me. But the path's not supposed to be too bad. Phalut itself though, is notorious for its windy and cold conditions.
Last night was full moon night, and since the clouds have descended again, I went looking for a few shots of the mountains in the moonlight. I have done dumber things for photographs, but not many :|. The shots I think might be cool, but everything was covered in frost, and I was shivering rather violently in very short order :(. I'm hoping for a really good sunrise tomorrow... Let's see.Currently: brrrrrr :(
Listening to: the pen scratching the notebook (yes, it is really that quiet!)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 2

-Kalipokhri, 3186m

Well, that was much better :). The long rest yesterday was indeed a good thing. While today the distance wasn't much longer, I'd somewhat underestimated the level of difficulty :P. I knew it was downhill to Gairibas from Joubari, but never expected it to be that far down!! And of course, since Kalipokhri is at a higher altitude than Tumling, that meant an even longer climb up :|. It took me a while, but I managed to lug my pack all the way by myself. It felt lighter, somehow :). And overtaking that rather ambitious group of 10, who were planning to go all the way from Tumling to Sandakphu in a single day, helped a fair bit :D.The weather was a little better today. Clouded over before dawn, but cleared up enough as the sun rose to give me my first look at the Kanchendzonga family of peaks. Thereafter the sun stayed up a little longer than yesterday. We were within a couple of kilometres of our destination before the fog (or low lying clouds, depending on how you see it) overtook us, blotting out much of the colour from the world.Even though there were over 4 hours of daylight left when I got here, I think it would have been rather stupid to try going all the way up to Sandakphu. The distance is about half of what I've been doing the last couple of days, but the last 4 kilometers are gruelling. To quote this local brochure I have: "A climb so steep that your nose dash [sic] against the path." :S Plus, at 3636m, Sandakphu is the highest part of the entire trek. I think I'll avoid that kind of cold as long as I can :P.It's a good thing I have the book with me, Brisingr. It doesn't take too much effort to read and has managed to fill up the otherwise empty afternoons. And in the absence of any other lodgers here today, the evening. It also appears quite handy as a distraction when I'm trying to ignore the aches while looking for the best way to minimise dh at each step :). For instance, I've had a fair few ideas during the course of today as to what it was, that Murtagh said and those soldiers overheard...Currently: apprehensive about tomorrow's leg :(
Listening to: the magnified thuds of people walking on the wooden floors

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 1

-Tumling, 2980m

One down, five to go :). I haven't trekked in a long long time! And it shows :(. The 2 hour walk to Pulpit Rock this summer doesn't really count, I was carrying practically nothing at the time. By any standard I'm carrying a reasonably light pack, but those first 15 minutes were horrible!!!!Eventually had to swap my pack for my guide/porter's much lighter backpack. It felt terrible :(, what with the whole 'don't pack what you can't carry' thing gnawing in my head :(. But at least I was smart enough to swallow my pride and be sensible about it. Half an hour or so later, feeling somewhat better acclimatised, I swapped back :). Thankfully, all the way to Tumling.The weather was quite bright and sunny when we left Maneybhanjang and I got a pretty good look at the gompa at Chitrey. By the time we'd made it to Lamaydhura for breakfast, little more than half a dozen huts by the trail less than halfway to Tumling, the swirling wraiths of fog had overtaken us.By my reckoning, it took us just short of three and a half hours, minus the food stop. And we got to Tumling just after 1130, well before I'd expected! It's a good thing I suppose, gave me a little more time to get used to things. There's a viewing spot quite close to here from where one can apparently see Kanchendzonga and even Mt. Everest in the distance, but sadly the weather's made that impossible. Maybe if it lifts around sunrise tomorrow I'll manage to sneak a peak before heading off towards Kalipokhri.The evening flew by as other trekkers landed up! I'd spent the entire afternoon reading and checking the weather outside every now and then. Unfortunately, none of the others are heading any further, so I suppose it'll be just me and Nema again. I must say though, I'm quite happy with my recovery! All the soreness is more or less gone. Plus, tomorrow promises to be a somewhat similar, maybe even easier trek, compared to today's :).Currently: beginning to look forward to this!
Listening to: the crackling candle