Monday, 30 November 2009

In search of the mountains - Day 0

-Maneybhanjang, 2473m

I'm here!! And with surprisingly little trouble to speak of :). When I saw the amount of havoc being wreaked all over Kolkata in the name of the 'bandh' this morning, I was quite genuinely worried! I was even fully prepared to walk all the way to the airport if necessary, but ended up getting a ride. I heard later that things got much worse after I left!It took a little while, but I managed to eventually get a car all the way from Bagdogra airport near Siliguri to Maneybhanjang, my first night stop. Barring the blown tyre within the first half hour of the 3 1/2 hour drive, it was pretty awesome :).The expanses of tea gardens all around started in the plains and followed us up the hillsides. As we crept higher and higher the mid afternoon warmth steadily faded till a damp chilly fog hid the splendour of the hills even before the early dusk. Oh! And I saw a young leopard as it streaked across the road after giving us a cursory glare! There are cats, and then there are cats :).
By the time I reached Maneybhanjang, it was well and truly night, but I had little trouble locating 'Masterji' - the teacher/hotel owner/trek organiser on whom I was pinning all my hopes :). I was quite happy to see the power socket in my room. But just then, the lights went out :|. No matter, seeing how the only electronics I'm carrying are the cameras, which I have spare batteries for, and the phone, which I will switch off from tomorrow as we head further into the hills, I'm in no desperate need for power.Did I mention? I went past a border check point a few miles before arriving here, so I'm supposedly in Nepal. Or more accurately, sort of between India and Nepal. Tomorrow I will meet my guide for the next 6 days and head to Tumling, which is in Nepal :).
After the homely dinner at my host's table (that I found thoroughly awesome, familiar as I have become with the impersonal hotels and restaurants of this world) I've now resorted to candle light. And since I have the time and nothing else to do, I figured I'd make use of the notebook and pen I'd brought along. What remains to be seen is, once the trekking begins tomorrow, if I'll be able to keep it up instead of collapsing on some bed or into my sleeping bag the first chance I get :D.

Currently: more relieved than anything else :)
Listening to: sporadic barks from the street below

Sunday, 29 November 2009

On forgotten momories and impending adventures

Memory can be a fickle thing. Well, it definitely is for me, unlike for some people we know :). (And no, that's not my excuse for forgetting anything of any particular consequence in the recent past :P.) I'm sure there are things that deliberately slip out of my mind more, the harder I try to remember them! And then there are the things that merely fade out of focus. Out of neglect, mostly.
Ever notice how there are places where you are more your mother's son or daughter, and others where you're more your father's? I think I'm too sleepy to attempt a coherent explanation of the above statement, so I'll leave it at that.Right, it appears that I've neglected to mention my impending solo trek in the Himalayas. For a week, starting tomorrow. Yes, in December. But before you scream crazy, let me clarify: the Eastern Himalayas :). More specifically to Sandakphu and Phalut. Not that it's not supposed to be cold, but this is when I have the time, and it's supposed to be quite doable, so I figured I may as well try.

Of course, I will still continue to hope that one of these summers I actually manage a Ladakh trek. But I'm quite looking forward to my first trek in these mountains! Apparently you get quite a nice view of Mt. Everest from Sandakphu. I'm done packing. (And seriously worried that I'm forgetting something! The pack's way too light :|.) But there's a bandh tomorrow, so I'm a little concerned about making it out of here. We shall see.

Currently: excited! :)
Listening to: Athlete - Shake those windows

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

On weddings and traffic jams

I've realised this, I do like being lazy :). But doing stuff is more fun. Once I manage to get myself over the initial inertia :D. So a bit over a week back I left for a visit to Bombay. My first in close to two years! And as it turned out, the place has changed!Had someone asked me a couple of years back if it was possible to make the traffic situation any worse, I couldn't have helped laughing in their face, yet there I was, witness to the mess the construction of a zillion fly-overs has created. Oh I know! I know! It's all supposed to make things better, but in the mean time, it's made the whole thing a lot worse!!!

Other than that, I think the ol' city's more or less up to its old antics :). I like being in Bombay, there's just no two ways about that :). In a way that Calcutta probably never will, Bombay makes me feel at home. The other places that could have laid their claims have just changed too much in the intervening years...I was there to attend a wedding. Yet another one of my batch mates had chosen to follow what has now become a regular and almost commonplace route :). (I have rather shrewdly chosen to refer to it as getting older these days, thus deflecting the blow somewhat :D.) What was sad though, was the visual and irrevocable proof that people have indeed drifted apart. Inevitable, yet saddening when you see it clearly.I was headed out to Kanpur for yet another wedding, but repeated threats of severely low temperatures finally drove me to get a proper jacket. The formal kind. Yes, very out of character and all that, but the inexplicable need to not appear like a ruffian had gripped me. Confounding, I know!! :)
The wedding was one of those all-nighters. Which was a shock, especially after the super efficient, 35-minute affair I'd attended in Bombay! And then the mess started. Barely an hour of sleep, the flight out of Kanpur cancelled, the alternate flight out of Lucknow delayed so much that I missed my connection back home!And thus it was that I ended up in Noida again for the night. Not before grappling with the thoroughly irritating lack of transport options to Noida from the airport and a two and a half hour wait in the cold outside :(. It was good catching up with the cousins though. But the massive traffic snarls I could have done without :|.

And tomorrow I'm off on another family trip! Another place I haven't visited in close to a decade... This vacation thing's turning out quite nicely! And busy as this is, I can't even imagine how I'll actually get around to fitting work in too, when the time comes! :P

Currently: home, briefly
Listening to: Train - She's on fire

Sunday, 15 November 2009

On old temples and old books

So what have I been up to? Not a lot :). And it felt really really good, for a while :D. Once I got home, I stubbornly refused to budge! The previous weeks sort of caught up with me and I was quite happy to just be lazy for a bit! What I did, was catch up on a bit of reading.

Given the rather unsatisfactory end to A Long Way Down (completely a fault of my imagination, of course, not the author :|), I decided to give About A Boy another go. Nope, no surprises there :). While trying to decide between going back to the GRRM's and giving High Fidelity another go, I went looking for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

Unfortunately, my favourite book store under the stairs in this town (well, actually it's a book store under the escalators) keeps insisting it will be available next week. For the last two weeks! Well, I suppose to be fair it did go up to two weeks today... Anyhoo, what I did find was the third book of the Inheritance Cycle.

I wasn't really planning on going any further than those first two books, like, ever! But hey, I wasn't ready to deal with the Song of Ice and Fire again this soon after the heartbreak of Ptolemy's Gate. But I did want to get back to fantasy pronto... so. But then as I started off with Brisingr while waiting for others to get their shopping done, I realised I didn't have a clue. So yeah, started off with Eragon all over again. I had the time :). Yup, it's still the same feeling. You've gotto make some major concessions to CP, use a lot of imagination to make it look good :).
And then plans started intruding into the pretty solid walls of lethargy I'd managed to build about me :D. It was just a couple of days out with the extended family. On the way, I suppose by design, but catching my completely by surprise, we went past the place I'd spent the first 8 years of my life!!!It's not like it hasn't happened before, but the whole anomaly of scale thing caught me off guard :). You know, how you always thought there was this absolutely enormous temple whose shadow you loved to play in a long time ago, watching the vast river flow lazily by? Well, then you go back about 18 years later, and things seem to have shrunk a fair bit!! :)
I was especially thrilled to see the people crossing the river though!! You see, there is a sort of triangular island (yes, there still is) at the confluence of two rivers. And we used to cross the shallow sandy riverbed to get to those really top hide and seek locations and what not :). Then of course, they'd release the waters from the dam further upstream and we'd get stuck for hours! Good times....
So yeah, it was a pretty cool trip. And there's a whole bunch of plans just around the corner! Which is good, 'cos while I'm pretty good at keeping my self entertained, I'm not sure how much longer I'd have been able to keep it up :D.

Currently: hatching plans!
Listening to: The Fray - Vienna

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Caribbean under water - Part II

I know Puerto Rico is part of the Caribbean, but IMHO, the island's way too big to properly qualify :D. When we headed off further east though, towards the Virgin Islands, now that was definitely more like it! :)
We landed in Beef Island and given the general lack of public transport and the spread out nature of our interests (namely the hotel, restaurants we wanted to eat at and the diving place) decided to rent a car. What we got, was this!And then of course, there was the omnipresent injunction: "Drive on the LEFT!!!" Which wouldn't have been an issue, except for the fact that over 90% of all vehicles in Tortola are left-hand drive :). Yup! Welcome to BVI! Took me a while to get used to what could easily be termed the worst supposedly off-road vehicle I've ever been in :P. And the rather tortuous and hilly route we took to our beach side hotel definitely didn't help. But thereafter, things got better :).
Idyllic is probably the word that best describes the place we were staying in, way out on the West End, at Little Apple Bay. That's a real bay, by the way :). It's like that all over the place, fruity bays all along the coast :D.
Sadly enough, we decided to go have a look at the only town on the island to see if there was anything worth seeing. The absence of a things to do part to Lonely Planet's online guide on Tortola should have warned us. Well, let me tell you, there is nothing. And I mean absolutely nothing to do here, but for diving and surfing and sailing and having an awesome holiday on the beach. But none of that requires you to visit Road Town, so don't! Seriously! It's depressing :|.Next morning, however, we were up for the best couple of dives of the entire trip!! The wreck of the RMS Rhone! An iron hulled wooden Royal Mail Ship that had sunk in a hurricane back in 1867! I'd been a little worried that my rather non-extensive experience might be a problem. Thankfully, the divemasters were totally awesome!!So let me say this straight away, we did 6 dives off Tortola and St. Thomas, and all of them were wreck dives. I was hooked right from the first one! The fact that the Rhone is probably one of the world's most renowned wrecks (and it is indeed worthy of that title, really!) may have had something to do with it. But there's more to it than that. Wrecks, by their very nature attract a hell of a lot more marine life than your average reef!To add to the experience the visibility was simply awesome! So taken were we with the place, that we decided to add another two dives the next day. (Well, okay, the fact that there was really nothing much else to do may have contributed to that decision a little. :D) The rest of the day we spent cruising the coast and managed to get a fair taste of that other Caribbean thing, rum :D. No, we did not over do it, and yes, we were responsible :). The thing with this place is that every restaurant or inn almost, has their own rum!!
The last two dives in BVI were in Wreck Alley and here there were a whole bunch of boats sunk mostly by design, in varying levels of ruin. But at least you could tell these things were boats, with bows and sterns and bridges and masts and the whole lot :). Plus, by this time I was beginning to get half way decent at the whole diving thing :D.
Sadly enough, we were off to St. Thomas pretty much straight after those last dives. We'd been warned, but we had to see it for ourselves. Charlotte-Amalie, the main town on St. Thomas, is extremely busy and crowded! It's quite nice, but is a bit of a shock when you've just landed up from West End, Tortola :). But we'd managed to find ourselves a pretty decent place to stay and a place to dive!
We wanted to do the WIT Shoal, the ~400ft WWII Loading Ship Tanks vessel, but of course the weather had to be too bad. So we settled for the Miss Opportunity, an ex-hospital ship. The cool thing here was the penetration dive! You actual swim through a rather narrow passageway through the middle of the reasonably preserved ship! Very cool :D. What was also very cool was this turtle we managed to annoy a bit, probably :).The last dive wasn't supposed to be particularly awesome or anything, just your average beat-up broken down barge. But that's where we saw the stingrays in the sand!! Even managed to pat one on the head :P.
But with that our diving trip was more or less over. With visibility and conditions not really the best, we decided against more dives on the day we were leaving. Plus, by that time, we'd more or less been saturated with diving for a bit :). And then onwards it was just getting that residual Nitrogen out of the system and slowly winding my way back out, through Tortola and San Juan and all those flights back home :).
Now if only I can find a way to keep at this!!! I am really really hoping I manage to add to these figures soon! 11 dives, 6h 28m, max 133ft, 4 reef, 1 wall, 6 wrecks! :) Okay, mostly just the wrecks. And maybe do the Advanced Diver course at some point. Who knows, maybe what felt like a dream far far away from the real world might not be that hard to recapture? One can always hope.

Currently: looking for dive partners!
Listening to: Gui Boratto - No turning back

Underwater pics courtesy of Vishnoi.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The prick word: metaphorically :D

It shouldn't be, really, but I find it a bit surprising how you remember things, movies, books, songs even, not how they really were, but somewhat altered in your memory over time. Even when you think about them often. Or is it because you think of them often. (My drift here is this, if you weren't thinking about something at all, you'd either not remember it or at least not have embellished the details with fantasy. In either case you weren't remembering it any different from what it actually was. But I digress.)

So I was reading A Long Way Down again. And for the most part it was exactly as I remembered! Hilarious :) mostly... But what caught me off guard a bit was the end. I could have sworn there were a couple of chapters that had gone missing!! But of course that wasn't it, I was reading the exact same copy :|. I suppose it also caught me off guard a bit that it's now been over a year since I read it first. Definitely didn't seem that long ago.

Currently: ...
Listening to: Massive Attack - Antistar