The Client

26 Jun
    “The Client” released in 1993, is the fourth novel from John Grisham in the Legal-thriller section. Playing behind the trailer park in the woods of Memphis, eleven-year old Mark Sway and his 8-year old younger brother Ricky, watch a Lincoln, park in the clearing in the woods. Out comes a man with a garden hose who pushes one end of it into the exhaust and the other end into a window and closes it. After watching several such suicide attempts (killing by Carbon Monoxide poisoning) on TV, Mark realizes what is happening and crawls to pull the hose out of the exhaust pipe. After the third attempt of putting back the hose, the man catches Mark crawling across the grass and drags him into the car. 
    Just moments before the death, the man reveals himself as Jerome Clifford, lawyer of infamous mobster, Barry ‘The Blade’ Muldanno, who is accused of murdering an U.S Senator Boyd Boyette. He tells Mark that he has been hiding a terrible secret which could solve the murder mystery and indict Barry. Since Barry would kill him anyway, Clifford wants to end his life in his own terms. Barry had previously told Clifford that he buried the body in the concrete under the boat in Clifford’s garage, when he was on a skiing holiday in Colorado. All this time, Mark watched Clifford drinking and he escapes the moment he dozes off with the help of Ricky. When Clifford wakes up and finds that Mark is missing, he gives up and puts a bullet to his own head. Ricky, on watching the suicide goes into shock and ultimately coma. Mark informs the police about the incident who in turn find proof of Mark being inside the car. This raises doubts in the mind of police that Clifford might have revealed information about the case to Mark.
    Mark is thrown into dilemma that if he ever reveals the information to police/FBI, then Barry’s henchmen would kill his entire family. But if he decides to hide the information, he has to face the wrath of the publicity-seeking public prosecutor from New Orleans Roy Foltrigg, who might even jail him for contempt. A chance incident leads Mark into the office of advocate Reggie Love – an old lady with a 5-year old experience in handling law. Mark is placed under a juvenile-home from where he escapes. Barry’s henchmen burn Mark’s trailer and warn him of dire consequences. Mark decides to search for the body along with Reggie, to confirm if the story is true. The rest of the plot is about Mark finding out the truth in Clifford’s dying words and the consequence he has to face behind the truth/lie or whether Barry’s henchmen get to Mark before he can find out the truth.
    The story as such is decent but the characters in the book are forgettable. A smooth-talking 11-year old is hard to believe. A brother who goes into coma in the first part, a mother who is weak, two antagonists in Barry and Roy who do nothing to provide the thrills are big let downs. A not so intriguing plot is also on the downside. A 5/10 for this one.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

8 Jun
    “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is an elegantly crafted thriller, and the second of the Millenium series of novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. This book is a natural continuation to the famous “The girl with the dragon tattoo“.  If one does not want to be scratching their head when some reference is made to an older scene not present in the book, then it is taken from the first book. So, it is better to read these books in order.

    After helping Michael Blomkvist in the WennerstrΓΆm affair, Lisbeth Salander disappears from Sweden with 3 billion Kronor in a bank account which she laundered from the Wennerstrom group. She roams across the high seas, island hopping and lands in Greneda. She befriends, a localite teenager George Bland, whom she tutors in maths. She lives in the room adjacent to a wife-torturing Dr.Forbes. By hacking, Salander learns that Dr.Forbes is trying to pocket $40 million cash by killing his wife. When a hurricane hits Greneda, Salander finds the couple at the beach with Dr.Forbes trying to kill his wife and stikes him violently. He is later found to be dead. She returns to Stockholm buying a new apartment in Mosebacke Torg through Wasp enterprises, a fake company with a disguised bank account and sells her old apartment in Lundagata to Mariam Wu, her lesbian partner.

    Meanwhile parallelly, Mikael Blomkovist and Millennium wants to release a book by young journalist Dag Svensson and run a parallel story in the magazine that will expose the extent of sex trafficking and abuse of underage girls in Sweden, which could implicate several key figures in the government and society. Nils Bjurman, Salander’s legal guardian wants to take revenge on her at all costs and destroy the CD’s which could implicate him; so much so that he foregoes all clients with his focus on one client alone – Lisbeth Salander. A little big of digging on her background reveals about “All the evil” that had happened when she was 11 years old. Salander hacks in Blomkovist’s computer and reads Dag’s work where she hits upon the name “Zala”, is intrigued and decides to pay Dag a visit. Dag and his wife are found murdered later that night with Salander’s finger-prints on the murder weapon. On the same night Bjurman too is murdered and later is found to be by the same weapon. Now the entire focus of the police department shifts to Salander. But she is no where to be found, as she hides in the new apartment and goes out of the home only under a wig and a fake Norwegian passport.
    Blomkovist is one of the few people along with Dragan Armansky of Milton security, who believe that Salander is innocent. Inspector Jan Bublanski along with Sonja Modig begin the investigation of the incident. Salander’s record show her as a psychotic and violent girl who is into prostitution. But Armansky and Blomkovist insist and create a picture of Salander as an intelligent girl with high cognitive skills and morality. But the prosecutor reveals the medical condition to the press and what follows is a steady and ever-increasing discrimination against Salander as a lesbian-Satanist-prostitute-psychotic triple murderer. Blomkovist meets up with Holger Palmgren – Salander’s ex-guardian and learns about her trauma as a child. Blomkovist comes to know that Salander has hacked into his account and that is the only way of contact with her. With her help, he begins a separate investigation into the killings of his colleague Dag while Salander does what she does best – Fight for her survival when the world is against her. The rest of the story is about how the two protagonists combine to solve the crime. And if “All the evil” that occurred in Salander’s past comeback to haunt her again.
    The story starts at a very slow pace but picks up speed in the latter half of the book. One can observe certain patterns emerging from the book. A simple example: we can come to know if a character is good, bad or lies in-between by each of the characters reaction/talk/thinking about Salander’s character. The plot of this book is even better than the first instalment. For the thriller it is, an 8/10 would do well.

Goecha La – A trek to remember

7 Jun
    After covering the Himalayas of Kashmir, Uttarkhand and Himachal, our natural progression was to cover the Himalayas from the North-Eastern part of India. Tintin dug-in and found the Goecha-La trek suitable for our schedule. An 8-day trek across one of the most naturally gifted and beautiful places on earth – The mighty Himalayas. What better way to use 8 of the 12 allotted leaves per year?? πŸ™‚
    Monks the usual culprit in being the first guy to sign-up and drop out of the trek. The last time, it was for Leh and this time he wanted to compensate for that and go-to Leh instead of joining us for this trek. One can’t blame him though, but, he would be missing a trek with 10 of his friends. Tintin, Manja, Blank, MoMS, sk (formerly kaddi), ppr(me), Sen, Adarsh, Nagi and Boyz were among the final list of trekkers in a group of 24 who signed up for the May 19-May 28 batch of Indiahikes. Since 6 of us were working in the same organization, leaves required a bit of haggling and finally, we booked our flights, trains, arranged for local transports and on May 17th we were ready to leave but without my camera, which I forgot to pack at the last minute after charging the batteries overnight. It just proves that being too careful can be hazardous too.. πŸ˜›
17 May 2012
Day 1:  Its time to roll.. πŸ™‚
Bangalore to Kolkotta

    We took the 5:40pm Indigo flight to Kolkotta (my god!! what a humid city) and then a 45-minute taxi ride costing Rs.180 to NJP station. It is advisable to have your food at a hotel en-route to the station. There are no good restaurants close to the station and even after 1 hour of frantic searching, we had to be content with just the station-provided food. We then caught the 10:55pm Padatik express to New Jalpaiguri(NJP) close to Siliguri in West Bengal. Adarsh was the only guy who had to be content with a RAC seat instead of a berth in the train. That’s the punishment for booking late.. πŸ˜€
18 May 2012
Day 2: A day wasted.
NJP to Gangtok Singtam – 120km drive – 6 hours

    We arrived at NJP around 9am the following day. Our plan was to reach Gangtok, a 6 hour drive from NJP, spend the night visiting the famous boulevard and the early next morning visiting the palace, ride in the rope-way and visit the Rumtek monastery. About 4 hours into the journey, we arrived at Ranipool, 15km out of Gangtok, where got stuck in a traffic jam for 2 hours, caused due to a road-block setup by the Sikkim-Manipal University students. Based on the suggestions from localites who said that in the previous instance the road-block eventually cleared only at 10pm late in the night, we turned back to a Singtam, a small town about 30kms from Gangtok. We found a good hotel at Rs.1200 per room (a bit costly… but people were tired and were in no mood to negotiate) and had a sumptuous meal with MoMS throwing a tantrum about spilling food on the ground.. πŸ˜› One suggestion is the Lychee fruit found on these parts, is a must have. Also, one should try to buy jersey’s of various football teams costing mere Rs.250 (including the shorts).

Onboard the Padatik express heading to NJP

@NJP station

View of Singtam town

19 May 2012

Day 3: Journey to the base camp
Singtam to Yuksom – 110km drive – 5 hour
    Our destination for the day was Yuksom, the base-camp for the trek. Our first stop was at Rabong, where we had some of best paranthas and momos. The town also hosted the first sight-seeing spot in two days – a small monastery. Our next stop, was at the famous town of Tashiding which hosts one of the most beautiful and sacred monasteries one can find – Tashiding Monastery. Mt.Kanchenjunga in the backdrop, greenery all around, serene atmosphere. Just the right ingredients to let ones spiritual desires run free. Among all things, the Buddhists have a superb skill at finding the SPOT for constructing a monastery. πŸ™‚ We arrived at the former capital of Sikkim -Yuksom around 5pm. Lying around 5600ft, Yuksom is a small town with tourism and trekking being the major source of income for the local populace. By 11pm, we had packed for the trek and  raring to start the next day.

Teesta river
Tashding monastery
Our stay at Yuksom

20 May 2012

Day 4: Start of the trek-  A day to cross the bridges and the attack of mini-mosquitoes
Yuksom to Sachen – 3 hours
Altitude gain: 7,151 ft – 5,600 ft = 1551 ft
    We began the day by taking permission for the trek from the police station which requires us to submit an ID proof with photocopies and doing a final bit of shopping and re-packing. By 10am, we were all set to leave. Amit Pandey and Preetham were the representatives from Indiahikes. Pemtuk, a 36-year old localite who looks like a 20 year old was our trek guide and Kamal the actual 20-year old was the co-guide.

    The initial part of the trek is through the village and half an hour into the trek, with a small climb and gradual descent we arrive at first bridge over Pha Khola. On crossing the bridge, the trail is through thick forest and an hours journey takes us to the second bridge over Tshushay Khola. The view of the river and the bridge is a beauty in itself. Again the journey continues through the forest, with a small cement bridge – Mentogang Khola signalling the arrival of the first camp. The camp-site is about 15 minutes from here-on and present in a small clearing to the right of the trail, with the kitchen hut to the left, which has easy access to water. The area surrounding the kitchen left a lots to be desired. Hope Indiahikes takes care of cleaning up the area. Also, one thing is easily noticable, the mini-mosquitoes. My god are they in millions!! They are hard to be noticed on the skin until they bite and they outnumber us aleast 1 to 10000.. πŸ˜› So the only way to protect oneself is to wear long-sleeve T-shirt, apply mustard oil (suggested by Pemtuk) or use mosquito repellant. As the temperature dips the insects are no where to be found. So, just bear the brunt during the 3 hours of sunlight. πŸ™‚

First view of the terrain at the start of the trek

Bridge over Pha Khola

Our camp at Sachen

21 May 2012

Day 5: MoMS’ tryst with his twisted ankle
Sachen to Bhakim to Tshokha – 4 hours
Altitude gain:  9,689 ft  – 7,151 ft = 2538 ft

    The day has a steep climb to Bhakim. So, there were some streching excersies early in the morning. MoMS, the ever-hungry-man, wanted to enquire about breakfast and while walking towards the kitchen in a hawai-chappal, twisted his ankle. πŸ˜€ wah! He hobbled around for a few minutes complaining about pain and then was ready for the trek in a flash. Ever-hungry, incomplete statements during talk and quick healing – now we were begining to doubt if he was human. πŸ˜› By 8:30am, we were good to go. The start of the trek is literally a walk in the park. No steep climbs or descents. About 30 minutes into the journey we come to face with a very steep descent which lasts about 15 minutes heading straight to the huge bridge over Prek adorned with prayer flags. This marked the begining of the huge climb we were facing for the day. This part of the trek is again through the forest but though the climb is tiring, the cool air doesn’t let one buckle down to tiredness. An hour into the climb we arrived at Bhakim lying at 8636 ft (an ascent of 1500ft in 1 hour), which has a teashop with one of the most amazing views of the valley below. It is noteworthy that mobile coverage is available at Bhakim. We settled here close to an hour, while MoMS restarted his complain about the ankle. By now it started to swell and he was unable to even walk on plain ground. A painkiller, few quick-relief spray shots and an ankle-brace was all it took for him to get back to his feet and continue the walk towards Tshoka. This won him a few hearts but only a few know the truth that all that was drama to grab the sympathy and attention!!

    A small climb of 45minutes takes us to Tshoka, which has one of the better campsites we have been to in all the treks. The camp is at the hill top with the view of the valley on one side and the view of snow covered Mt Pandim on the other. πŸ™‚ By the end of the day, everybody had a doubt that MoMS was faking his ankle sprain because for the second time in the trek he ended up in the group finishing first. Though the girls in the trek saw MoMS as a hero. The attention seeker got the attention he craves. πŸ˜› We visited the local monastery close to a pond and ended the day with a Karaoke session singing songs from various languages including Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and English.

Bridge over Prek

MoMS with the twisted ankle

Tshokha monastery

22 May 2012
Day 6: Super-serene climb amidst Rhododendrons
Tshokha to Phedang to Dzongri = 5 hours
Altitude gain:  12,981 ft – 9,689 ft = 3292 ft

    The D-day of climbing. According to the guide, completion of this day’s trek in good shape implies that the GoechaLa trek is majorly done. We began the day in similar fashion with streching excercises. By 9am, we were ready to confront the climb. The trek begins with a gradual ascent, with wooden logs added as steps enroute, to protect the trekkers from the slush in-case it rains, as the entire path is pretty muddy. One begins to notice a lot of Rhododendron blossoms in different hues of red, yellow, white, purple and pink enroute. A trek of an hour and half takes us to Phedang which stands at 12,068 ft. The camp was looking like a set from a movie with beautiful Rhododendron flowers on almost all the trees and the mist covering the entire camp. We had a break of about 30 minutes where we also took a 5 minute path taking us away from Dzongri and towards Kockchurang, to fill up our water with ice-cold water.

    We restarted the second major climb of the day with the path covered entire with Rhododendron trees on either sides. It is the most beautiful part of trek and looked truly a like a “stairway to heaven” or rather “pathway to heaven”. Then the path evens out before a steep climb along the ridge where we can see a lot of prayer flags put up. We didnt spot any shrine near-by in the mist. From here on, the path descends gradually towards Dzongri with Pandim, Khabru and Kanchenjunga range visible as one comes closer to the camp site which lies amidst the grasslands. This was the trek day which I enjoyed the most. Alone with nature for a major part of the journey – nobody in sight ahead or behind during the trek. Not a care in the world, the colorful birds chirping away, the beautiful Rhododendron flowers, the mist and the trek path. Wow! Just reliving this part is refreshing. It was a good day to trek… πŸ™‚

Trail heading towards Phedang

@Phedang

Walk through the Rhododendrons to Dzongri

Last stretch of the trek to Dzongri

23 May 2012

Day 7: First sunrise view of Kanchenjunga range
Part 1: Dzongri to Dzongri top and back to Dzongri  =  1 and 1/2 hour
Altitude gain:   13,676 ft  – 12,981 ft = 695 ft

Part 2: Dzongri to Kokchurang  to Thansing = 4 hours
Altitude gain:  12,894 ft – 12,981 ft = -87 ft

    This day was divided into two parts. The first one targetting the sunrise at Kanchenjunga veiw from Dzongri top. And the second part ofcourse the travel to next camp at Thansing. Pemtuk awoke us at 4:30 am so that the 30minute steep climb is covered before the sunrise. Trekking without bags, a majority of the 24 people decided to go and a tiring 45 minutes later we were at the top insight of one of the superb sunrises ever. Dzongri top holds a 360 degree view of the valley, along with the view of Pandim, Khabru and Kanchenjunga range. The snow plume that emerged out of the snow clad peak when the first sun rays hit the mountain will always stay in our memory. The rays of the sun were distinct as if photoshopped for us right in front of our eyes. Wish one of us had a DSLR or a good camera to capture the moment. But we did have good photographers if not cameras in tintin, manja and blank who clicked away happily at the amazing sunrise. After an hours stay at the peak, we descended and found that mist and clouds began to cover up the whole view and a small almost circular rainbow was visible ahead of us with the sun exact behind us. This caused our shadows to be cast at the center of the rainbow. Looked surreal to say the least. But these two views just “made our day” irrespective of what the trek had instore for us.

    Early in the morning, before the start of the trek, we were made aware that one of our co-trekkers, Sandeep had some breathing trouble even after regular use of diamox since the start of the trek. So, the Indiahikes representatives – Preetham and Amit, decided to wait for a day at Dzongri, to confirm if he gets better and in the worst scenario, travel back with him to Yuksom to get medical help. So, the rest 23 of us were left with just 2 guides along with a few helpers, mule-men and yak-men. But the days journey was supposedly very easy and the major part of the trek was gradual ascent and descent of small hillocks holding meadows. Two hours into the trek, with the gang moving slow as the mist might misdirect trekkers at the end, as the path is not clearly defined, we arrived at a steep descent point. 20 minutes into the descent we arrived at Kokchurang (12,096 ft) lying adjacent to the river Rathong Chu which joins Rangeet river, which in-turn finally joins River Teesta. The view at the camp is one more highlight at the trek. On crossing a few wooden bridges across the river, the final climb begins with the walk along small boulders on the hill which takes about an hour and half leading straight into the grasslands at Thansing, lying amidst the mighty hills in all directions.

Sunrise view from Dzongri point

Our shadow forming at the center of the rainbow due to sun lying directly behind us

Trek path to Kokchurang

wild yak

Rathong Chu river @Kokchurang

24 May 2012

Day 8: Penultimate day of the climb and visit to Samiti – the mesmerizing lake.
Part 1: Thansing to Lamuney =  2 hours
Altitude gain: 13,600 ft – 12,894 ft = 706 ft

Part 2: Lamuney to Samiti Lake and back to Lamuney = 1 and 1/2 hour
Altitude gain: 14,100 ft – 13,600 ft = 500 ft

    This day’s trek is as much about preparing for the next day, as much for acclimatization to handle the higher altitudes. So our next camp at Lamuney lay just across the valley so much so that the campsite visible to the trained naked eye from the hill nearby. A slow start to the day and a lazy couple of hours trek through the valley following a river, took us to the military camp close lamuney. Our camp lay about 10 mins from the military camp – the only one we saw during the entire trek. The walk is on flat ground most of the way with a very slight ascent. Most of us were preoccupied with the challenge facing us the of the next day. We dumped our luggage and left to Samiti lake allowing for the porters to arrive with our tents and setup the camp and prepare our lunch.Our gear changed from here-on, ready to adjust to the harsher and colder climate by wearing two layers of clothes and started using our gloves even at 1pm. An hours climb along the steep and barren hill took us to blue-colored Samiti lake lying in the midst of hills. Our visit to Pangong-Tso was the highlight of the trip to Leh and similarly this lake with its serene and mesmerizing beauty though on a smaller scale was a sight to behold. This just proved a saying “Less is More”. πŸ™‚ We spent close to an hour at this spiritual lake for the Buddhists, making a pradakshina (a full-circle) of the lake before making the return journey to Lamuney, for the much needed rest as the BIG day of the trek was finally upon us.


Trek following the river path to Lamuney

Military camp @ Lamuney
Blue watered Samiti lake




25 May 2012
Day 9: The D-day of the trek. Time for some fist pumping.. πŸ™‚
Part 1: Lamuney to Goecha La and back to Lamuneyvia Samiti Lake   = 10 hours
Altitude gain:  16,000 ft – 13,600 ft = 2400 ft

Part 2: Lamuney to Thansing = 1 and 1/2 hour

    The D-day had arrived. We were woken up at 1:30am when the first batch of trekkers started moving towards View point 1. Wearing multiple layers of clothing and only carrying things that was necessary, we prepared ourselves in the dark. A small delay cost us precious time and we were only ready to leave by 2:45am, a good 30 minutes late. Walking in the dark with our torches was very slow and some of us were very worried that we would miss the much expected sunrise. But by 3:30am, the brightness increased and so did our pace. The climb is steep at most places and it is advisable to take small breaks inorder to acclimatise oneself to such high altitude. We arrived at View point 1 just as the sunrise happened. It was a big relief for entire gang of 22 except1 person who didnot make the days journey. We had finally completed the major part of the trek and were insight of the Kanchenjunga range at sunrise. The beauty of the Himalayas in full glory was in our sight. πŸ™‚

    People returning to Lamuney decided to rest and then move back with Kamal while, Pemtuk led us towards View point  2. The journey is a very steep descent of 300 meters taking us straight into Zemathang which has a desert/barren landscape. One can enjoy this part of the 30 minute trek. Then begins the 700 meter ascent towards View point 2. 14 of us headed towards the summit. One can enjoy superb views of the range even during the the entire trek. After two hours of the journey since View point 1, I was out of energy. One should praise Sen and blank for continuing even with literally zero energy while I stopped 20 minutes short of the summit due to the cold causing a nose block making breathing tough. A 20 minute push might have taken the count of people to a record 13 in one batch. But sadly that could not be. Though, in hindsight, that was a wise decision as Pemtuk had adviced me not to trek the last part with a cold. As usual sk, MoMS, tintin, boyz and nagi were in the batch completing first which showed their good fitness.. πŸ™‚ We returned back to Lamuney as 12 heroes conquering Viewpoint 2 with me and Shantala, one of the other trekker just falling short of the final hurdle. No matter, it was worth a try, as major views of Kanchenjunga were seen en-route. Resting a couple of hours after lunch, we made the return journey to camp Thansing. It was another good day of trekking, which tested the physical as-well-as mental fitness of each and every one of us. 

View of Sunrise upon Kanchenjunga range from View point 1

@view point 1

Cold desert at Zemathang

Goecha Lake

View of Samiti lake enroute to Lamuney from Goecha La

Samiti Lake

26 May 2012

Day 10: Return journey – Its blackout time.
Thansing to Phedang to Tshokha = 6 hours
    Since the trek was as good as done, most of the people were already thinking about a good nights sleep on their own bed at home or home-cooked meal or even a chicken biryani from a specific restaurant in one case… πŸ˜› During the descent to Tshokha, we took the same path along the boulders and rough terrain heading down straight into Kokchurang and enjoying the view. But from here on the path is different, as we head towards Phedang instead of Dzongri via an alternate route. The terrain is simple but not usable by mules and yaks, which took the route through Dzongri to reach Phedang. About 30 minutes after Kokchurang , my health got the better of me and I blacked out. With the help of Raghu(doctor), Ram, Gandhiji (the veteran 60-year old trekker) and several of the gang (manja, bl, MoMS, sen, boyz and nagi) through constant ORS and glucose water helped me out. Pemtuk with the help of Komal and 3 of their helpers literally carried me to Tshokha. This just shows that one should not ignore minor signs and indications our body provides after having very less water and food since the previous day. I was lucky enough that there were people to help in the time of need. A small suggestion is to keep oneself fit for such a huge trek and make sure one has lots of water each day.

@Thansing campsite

Rhododendron in full bloom

View of Tshoka town

27 May 2012

Day 11: Back to civilization –  A Blitz to the end of the trek
Tshokha to Sachen to Bhakim to Yuksom = 3 and 1/2 hours
    With my health showing minor improvement but still having weakness, the same trend continued. Pemtuk and co just ran a marathon helping me out, with MoMS, sk, Boyz and tintin making a beeline to help if there is trouble. We met Amit and Preetham at the bridge soon after crossing Sachen. With minor breaks, the total journey was cut short to a mere 3 and 1/2 hours, which usually takes about 6 hours. I will forever be indebted for the help these people made. On completion of the trek, me and MoMS went to the Yuksom Government hospital for a checkup, only to find dehydration and weakness as the root cause for me and MoMS leg was just a sprain. All in all, a good report to take back. After our lunch at 5pm, we held a small ceremony to thank the guides for their help, all along the 8 days of the trek, before heading out to Yuksom town to gobble up some local food/drink. It was a trek which tested the physical and mental boundaries of every one of us. Few of us like boyz and sk excelled at it while a few like MoMS got the attention they deserved :P, while in common many of us got what we came for – 8 days in the cradle of mother nature with not a worry in the world… πŸ™‚

Pemtuk and co entertaining us with a song and dance at the appreciation ceremony

The 24 trekkers upon completion

28 May 2012

Day 12: The long return journey and a trip to Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir
Yuksom to NJP = 8 hours
    Adarsh was the first guy to leave, as he booked a flight from Bagodara to Bangalore. So, the gang reduced to 9 members and after a few goodbyes to other trekkers, we left towards NJP with some time to kill inbetween. The Shiva temple at Legship also known as Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir is renowned and we spent close to an hour in the temple premises, built on the banks of the river Rangeet, which has to be crossed via a metal-bridge. Our next stop was at Jorethang where ATM’s are available. We were running short of cash and this was the town where we had planned to have our lunch and do a bit of shopping. But as luck would turn out, all the 3 ATM’s in the town were dysfunctional and the nearest ATM was at Siliguri a good 3 hour drive away. So, we dropped all our plans and moved to Siliguri to withdraw money, pay the driver Rs.4000 for the day before he dropped us at the Railway station, a good 3 hours before the departure of our train – Padatik express at 9pm. A few went ahead and visited the market buying the famous Darjeeling Tea, arriving just in time to have some edible but tasteless food at the station before departing to Kolkotta.

Ymmuy momos for breakfast

Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir @Legship

29 May 2012
Day 13: Sweat and hurry in the “City of Joy”
Kolkotta to Bangalore


    The last day of the trip had finally arrived. At Rs.500 per taxi for two of them, we were taken to Howrah bridge, Vidyasagar bridge and then dropped us off at Victoria memorial. After the trek, these concrete structures are not much to look at. A 10km journey costing 1000 bucks in 2 taxis. And a road side shop selling nimbu-sherbet gobble Rs.25 per small matka. Talk about “shavara” (getting cheated) in the morning.  (that’s my personal opinion). I suggest people to move such visits before the trek. Even at 9am, it felt very humid. Since the memorial/museum only opened at 10am, we had a good hour to kill in the park in-front of the memorial. By the time everybody gave a fast tour of the museum, we were running late to catch the 2:10pm flight. To add to the delay, KKR -the newly crowned champions of IPL decided to take out the victory parade on the same route and we had to scramble among thousands of cheering fans to catch the metro train from Rabindra Sadan to Dum Dum station. A few last minute sweet eatery purchases was done before taxi’s costing Rs.150 took us the airport just 5 minutes in-advance to the 45 minute criteria for domestic flights. The flight departed at 2:10pm to Bangalore from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. A frantic end to a memorable trek/trip – A trek to remember for many reasons. πŸ™‚

Victoria Memorial

Pics link:
https://picasaweb.google.com/112114250378515450499/GoechalaTrekSikkim#
https://picasaweb.google.com/104803450757964777769/SikkimGoechaLa#
https://picasaweb.google.com/102062402845384099827/GoechelaTrek?locked=true&feat=email

THE GANG OF TEN:
From L to R:

  1. MoMS – Got what he deserved. I mean the “attention”.
  2. ppr(me) – no comments πŸ˜›
  3. Adarsh – once in a lifetime trek for him.
  4. Sk – finished first everyday of the trek. Though he might claim otherwise.
  5. Tintin – best all-rounder. Always in the first batch and a good photographer. Only he can do that.
  6. Sen – My trek partner, matching my pace during majority of the trek days.  πŸ™‚
  7. Blank – Modern Shri Krishna for obvious reasons.
  8. Nagi – Fell in love with the trek on the 6th day. Thankfully! I was afraid he might complain that this was a poor trek.. πŸ˜›
  9. Boyz – The best trekker. He could compete with the guides and match their pace!
  10. Manja – Our best photographer.
the gang of 10 @ Yuksom before the start of the trek

Kaiwara – Bheema Bhakasura Betta & Kailasa parvatha

6 May
    6 of us – monks, raghu, finny, Ummi, skm, ppr(me) – on 4 bikes decided to visit Kawiara, the temple town with mythological significance, situated in Chintamani district, about 75kms from Bangalore. We met at the Tin factory near K.R.Puram at 7am and took the fly-over heading towards Hoskote along the SH75. A 20 minute ride took us to Hoskote, and just after the toll booth near the Government Hospital, there is a deviation to the left heading towards Chinatamani. Another 30 minute ride, covering 25km of straight SH82 Chintamani Mani road (some one must have had an easy time designing this route because there are few little curves to be handled), and we arrived at the H-cross (intersection of Chintamani Main road and Kolar-Chikballapur road). One can find super-soft Thatte idlis here for breakfast. After the H-cross, the road deteriorates and is under construction for almost the entire 16km ride. The arch leading towards the town appears to the left near the Kaiwara cross and a 3km ride leads one straight to the temple complex.

Entrance to Bheema-Bhakasura Betta


    One can park their vehicles at the complex for free of cost. Our first item in the itenary was climbing the Bheema-Bhakasura betta situated opposite to the temple complex. According to Mahabharatha, this was the place where the battle took place between Bheema and Bhakasura. A small trek of 40 minutes along the stone steps with a good tree cover leads to the peak where one can find paintings of the fight between the two on the boulders. Along the trek path you can visit the Chamundeshwari temple, Hanuman temple and Lakshmana teertha. Lakshmana teertha has significance from the Ramayana. The water source is believed to have been created by Lakshmana to quench Mother Sita’s thirst by cracking the hill open. The view at the top is good.

mural depicting the Bheema-Bhakasura fight at the peak

Amar-narayanaswamy temple

    On climbing down, we visited the Amar-narayanaswamy temple. The ashram is build under the name of Narayanappa also fondly called Kaiwara Thathayya. We then rode upto Kailasha giri situated about 7kms from the temple complex with the roads not in good shape. The hill is famous for its cave temples and meditation hall inside the man-made caves. Upon completion, we rode back 6kms to Vaikunta along the route to Kaiwara. This place is famous for Yoganarasimha Swamy temple and Gavi Amarnarayanaswamy temple which is present in a natural cave on the hill. From there, we rode back to Bangalore by 2pm, completing a mini-trek and small ride combo which is our target for all single day trips.

Enroute to Kailasha parvatha
Cave temples at the Kailasha parvatha

Stone arrangements for blessing

Gavi Amarnarayanaswamy temple
Points to be noted:
1. Route: Yelahanka-K.R.Puram-Hoskote-H cross- Kaiwara and back.
2. Bike distance: 170kms
3. Time taken for trek: 40 minute climb.
4. Difficulty: Very easy.
Pics links:

A Thousand Splendid Suns

5 Apr

    A Thousand Splendid Suns released in 2007, is the second novel by American-Afghan writer Khaled Hossaini. After the extremely popular The Kite Runner, whose main plot depended on the friendship between tow boys and a relationship between a father and son, Khaled Hossaini follows the principle of symmetry in Nature and gives us a plot which is based on the mother-daughter relationships and friendship among two Afghan women. The plot runs right from 1960 all the way till 2003 taking its slow paces right from the regime of the King, the take over by the Russians, the war-lords regaining the land and finally the era of Taliban and its end.
    Mariam is a young Tajik girl, a harami (born out of wedlock in 1959) to a maid Nana and a wealthy businessman Jalil living in the suburbs of Herat. After leading much of her childhood with her unloving mother who keeps pointing out that women are second grade to men and all men treat women like filth, Mariam decides to leave her remote home and stay with Jalil. When the only reason for her happiness, her father, refuses to accept her into her home, Mariam returns home heartbroken only to find her mother hanging by a tree. This forces Jalil’s family to arrange a marriage of 15 year old Mariam to a 40 year old shoe-maker Rasheed who is the main antagonist in the book. Rasheed wants a boy to carry forward his name and when Mariam couldn’t provide for it, he is thrown into fits of anger. Rasheed imposes the strictest of rules on Mariam. He forces her to wear a burqa when they go out saying that he hates women who show their face to other men and beats her up for simplest of mistakes. In-short, he treats her like filth, subjecting her to ridicule and insults.
    Simultaneously, we are introduced to the second protagonist, Laila (born in 1978), a beautiful and intelligent girl, and third child of Hakim – a teacher with an open and progressive mind and Fariba – a cheerful woman, born and raised in Kabul. The peace of the family is disrupted when their two sons die at war. Fariba becomes a brooding and uncaring woman mourning the death of her sons. When the Mujaheddin takes over Afghanistan, the family decides to leave for Pakistan following Tariq – Laila’s best friend and lover, but are killed by a stray rocket which hits their home.
    Rasheed, the neighbour of Laila, saves her from the debris and takes her home. He decides to marry the 14 year old Laila without even consulting Mariam, who has been his wife for 18 years. Laila accepts the offer when she hears the news of Tariq’s death. She becomes the second wife, primarily for the fact that she is carrying Tariq’s child and wants to provide for the baby. Mariam hates Laila for stealing her husband. When Laila delivers a girl child, Rasheed’s true character comes to the fore. He turns violent and is prone to domestic violence on both his wives for small mistakes or when his mood is grumpy (which is infact all-the-time). The barrier between Mariam and Laila is broken by Aziza who craves for Mariam’s attention all the time.  Laila starts stealing money from Rasheed’s purse to save-up and leave for Pakistan when she gets the chance. When Rasheed becomes aware of the plot, he turns savage and locks all three of them for days in a dark room with no food and water. Laila then conceives Zalmai when Aziza is 4 years old. The rest of the story is about the life of the women under Rasheed, their anger, their needs, the pathetic way in which they are treated and whether then can find peace and happiness in their life.
    Maybe this excerpt from a Taliban pamphlet sums up the plight of women in Afghanistan and why the author decided to write on such a unknown topic – The struggles and plight of common women in Afghanistan.

For all (men, women, children ):

Singing is forbidden.
Dancing is forbidden.
Playing cards, playing chess, gambling, and kite flying are forbidden.
Writing books, watching films, and painting pictures are forbidden.
If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.
If you steal, your hands will be cut off at the wrist.
If you steal again, your foot will be cut off.


Attention women:

You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
Cosmetics are forbidden.
Jewelry is forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.

Listen. Listen well. Obey.

    The plot of the book is brought out more slowly to the reader than its predecessor “The Kite Runner”. But once the book picks up pace, there are so many twists and turns in the plot that one is glued to the book. The book is a bit dramatic at a few places and the characters are clearly portrayed into Black-and-white i.e, the author pin-points to the reader that these are the good people and these are the bad ones, which is hard to imagine in real life. Though with these negetives, the author has brought out the daily life of Afghans, their day-to-day routines, thier sentiments and feelings to what is happening to their country, their culture and the tumultous life through 4 decades of war in detail. He has brought out the life of two women in a heart-wrenching way: Mariam – an unloved soul and Laila – an intelligent and free spirited woman, their unusual friendship, their sorrows, their love for each other and the sacrifices they make are etched for ever. A 8/10 for this one.

Kudremukha – A trek through the land of Iron ore

7 Mar
    Lying at a height of 1894 meters, in the dense Western Ghats of Chikmagalur district, Kudremukha ( literal meaning in the local dialect Kannada – face of a horse) is the second highest peak in Karnataka for trekkers to conquer. Kudremukha is home to the famous KIOCL (Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd). This particular trek was lying in the back of our mind for about 2 years now. The only reason why we were avoiding it was the hassles involved in getting the permissions for the trek from the Forest office due to fact that Kudremukha is a sanctuary to both the tigers and the Naxals. Our summer trek for this year, Ombathu Gudda, had to abandoned (again!! wth!!) due to permission problems and when Monks found a contact point, Sathish, for Kudremukha trek, through “prashant’s blog”, we jumped at the chance and booked the trek for the 1st weekend of March.
    Seven of us – Tintin, monks, MoMS, skm, Ummi, Raghu and ppr(me) boarded the 10:46pm Bangalore-Horanadu bus to KaLasa, which is about 20kms from the base of the peak. On arriving at KaLasa at 6am, we took the local bus to BaLegal, which is a 15km ride taking about 30minutes. At the bus stand, our guide had sent the jeep to take us along the 6km muddy trail to Mullodi village. We had a sumptuous breakfast of Idlis, packed our lunch at the stay and started the trek at 9:15am. Permissions for overnight stay in the forest range is not given. Hence, the trek has to be completed in a single day. The initial part of the trek is along a dusty path with small uphill and downhill movement. After 30 minutes, we reach the first stream with super cool water. One noteworthy point about this trek is that, no one has to worry about drinking water, as there are plenty of streams all along the trek path. Being a summer trek, one need not worry about leeches too but that is superseded by the scorching sun, which makes sure to sap the energy out of us inch by inch. MoMS, monks and skm never even bothered to get a cap for a summer trek. Way to go guys!! Hope you love the new tan + sun burn combination!! πŸ˜€

First view of the entire forest range

Picture taken at the first stream
    The trek continues into grasslands with huge valleys to the right side of the trek giving beautiful views for photo-enthusiasts. Then, we enter into thick forest cover which has a small stream running through it and again the process repeats three times (grasslands and forest) with several uphill struggles, making sure to catch our breaths after each steep climb. Controlled forest fire had cleared out major parts of the grassland and at some places the entire greenery of the grasslands is replaced by the black charred remains. Even as we trekked, we could see smoke rising around the trek path in the nearby peaks. Naxal area + forest fire + tiger reserve = now we know why the trek permission is so hard to get!! After trekking close to 8kms, one can find the sign displaying 1.5km from the peak. From here on, the trek becomes easier and almost flat-land walk with the final few hundred meters of uphill climb. At 1:15pm, we were at the peak. Standing on top of a peak taller than any other in the surrounding peaks has its advantages. The views are superb and at such high altitude, the sun does not seem much of a worry, as the cool breeze, fog and clouds take care of us – Its the gift/reprieve from the peak for the tired bodies πŸ™‚
One of my favorite pics..

View from about 2kms from the peak

Thats “model” MoMS posing.. πŸ˜›

Cloud cover at the peak
    After a 30 minute break at the peak for picture clicking and MoMS doing a lot of posing :P, the guide took us to a small water fall close to the dilapidated church, which is about 0.5km deviation from the trek path, that can be reached after a 10minute walk down the route from the peak. Here, we rested on a huge boulder and had our lunch right next to the stream, which on moving a few feet changed to a mini water-fall. The view was beautiful with a stream, surrounding forest cover, a water fall, a gang of friends and to cap it all – food for the hungry souls! πŸ™‚ By 2-45pm, we began the descent at a faster pace again through the scorching sun. By the time we covered half the distance, tiredness took over and the descent became much slower. At 5pm, we were back at the stay, dropped our luggage and headed straight to the small falls near the stay. Majority among us took a dip in the cold waters and on return were treated to a plate full of hot chilli bajjis. Curse you chappars! x-( for gobbling every one of the bajjis even before me and skm could lay our hands on one!!! πŸ˜› Played UNO till late in the night with MoMS, monks and tintin pulling a trick or two on the rest of us (one of these days guys!! some one is gonna smack you people right across the head!! waiting eagerly for that to happen πŸ˜€ ) And finally, slept on the allocated mats in the verandah.
A dilapidated church close to the peak

Our lunch spot

Skeleton of a dried leaf preserved in water.

Controlled forest fire right next to the trek path
    Our second day our initial plan was to cover the Kurinjal peak. But, when Sathish mentioned that the trek fee of Rs.275 per head had to payed all over again to cover the second peak, we were confused whether to go ahead with the not-so-famous 6km trek along a jeep track. Rs.500 for the guide + Rs.400 per head for the 4 time meal and stay + Rs.450 for the jeep each time + Rs.275 for the Forest office permission took the tally to a whooping Rs.1000 per head for a single day and that too, without including the travel charges. The trek was becoming way too costly for our liking. So, we decided to drop the plan and instead visit the Hanumanagundi falls about 30kms from Kudremukha. 
Hanumangundi falls
Horanadu Annapoorneshwari temple

    We took the 10am local transport, which took about 1 hour through the ghat-section. At Rs.20 per head, one can gain entry into the falls, which stands 22m tall. Even during the summer, one can find lots of water gushing out. Swimming is banned at the stream near the falls, so we trekked the small path to the top of the falls instead. We left the fall in the nick of time when a school tour consisting of about 100 kids swamped the place.. πŸ™‚ The security officer at the falls informed us that there were not many places to visit. So, we decided that it was better to head to Horanadu instead. We took a 1 & 1/2 hour drive to KaLasa, had a BIG meal and arrived at the temple town of Horanadu – the home to the famous Shri Annapoorneshwari temple. Had rest, visited the temple twice and returned home by the 9:45pm Horanadu-Bangalore bus. A costly trek but this might be the peak punishing us for not trekking it from the past two years even when we wanted to do it… πŸ˜›
The seven trekkers

Summary:
  1. Trek distance: 21kms from Sathish’s home in Mullodi to the peak and back
  2. Cost per head: Rs.800 for the bus tickets and Rs.275 for permission + Rs.400 for the stay + Rs.500 for guide irrespective of the number of trekkers+ Rs.100 for local transportation bringing the sum to Rs.2000 per head
  3. Time taken for trek: 8 hours -> 4 hour climb and 3 hour return. Single day
  4. Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
  5. Contact info of guide – Sathish
    • Mobile: 9481074530
    • Land line: 08263249595

Pics link:

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

23 Feb
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” is the second book in the series of trilogy of five books from Douglas Adams following the super-hit “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“. The plot continues from where it left off in the first book. The four members of The Heart of Gold, Zaphod (the eccentric President of the galaxy), Ford (the hitchhiker who edits the book H2G2), Arthur and Trillian (the two lone survivors of Earth) along with Marvin – the manically depressed robot – are on the run after being on the verge of death at the hands of Magrathean cops. I would not like to spoil the ending of the first book to reveal why they were in peril in the first place… πŸ˜›
  
    The four scamper with the spaceship, putting light years between them and the Horsehead Nebula being closely followed by a Vogon hit-squadron to eliminate the last of the earthmen in order to fulfill the wishes of Gag Halfrunt, one of the Galaxy’s most prominent and successful psychiatrists. Craving for a cup of tea, Arthur orders the Nutri-Matic Drink Synthesizer which inturn requests the Sirius cybernetics computer onboard, to make him a cup of tea. The computer goes into hang mode trying to understand the best mechanism in making the best tea. And call it coincidence or dumb luck, that was the very moment when the Vogons started the barrage of a dozen 30-Megahurt Definit-Kil Photrazon Cannon. And at this rate their defense shields would survive for just about 4minutes and they cannot run the improbability drive as the computer is busy with making Tea. πŸ˜› Zaphod summons his great grandfather who is incidentally called Zaphod Beeblebrox IV (yes… you read it right!! Zaphod IV is the great-grandad of Zaphod – big story of a time travel and a contraceptive gone wrong… :P) is ashamed of Zaphod as he has totally forgotten his single most important deed – “to find the person ruling the universe!” and refuses to help. Finally, Zaphod IV stops time and with a bolt of lightning through the old man’s finger, the Heart of Gold leapt an unknown distance through the dimensions of time and space. When things clear out, Zaphod and Marvin are missing from the space ship, while Arthur is delighted to taste the best tea ever made by the Nutri-Matic Drink Synthesizer. πŸ˜€
    Zaphod and Marvin appear at the H2G2 office and reach the 15th floor, to meet Zarniwoop and not even Zaphod knows why he wants to meet him in the first place. Meanwhile the Frogstar Fighters attack the office and lift the entire building out of the ground and carry it to Frogstar World B where Zaphod will be punished for the crime of stealing the ship by putting him under the Total Perspective Vortex – the single most complex device which brings to the picture of how insignificant one is when compared to the universe. But the device has no effect on Zaphod and he is amazed to find a working spaceship in the barren land out of which Zarniwoop emerges to say that the current world is a virtual world created by him, for the single purpose of meeting Zaphod and in-turn to help Zaphod to fulfill his quest/deed. Zarniwoop reveals that the weird metal object in Zaphod’s pocket is in-fact the Heart of Gold. Zaphod jumps into the ship and he out of hunger requests the spaceship to take them to the closest possible restaurant and the improbability drive kicks in to take them to “Milliways – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” – which literally means that a restaurant built to watch the end of the universe taking them into a time travel (millions of years into the future) instead of space travel. It’s also good to note that the restaurant at the start of the universe is called the Big Bang Burger Bar. πŸ˜› In the parking lot, they find Marvin, who was left out by Zaphod, to save his own life at the H2G2’s office and with the robots help, steal a black ship belonging to Hotblack Desiato (famous singer) which in-fact is designed to ride the solar flares and to their luck, find that the auto pilot cannot be over ridden. They survive again (come on!!! how many near-death experiences for the same set of people?? :P) by using a not-fully-functional teleporter which shifts Arthur and Ford to the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B, heading to a crash on a desolate looking planet meanwhile the where-abouts of Zaphod and Trillian are completely unknown to them. Zarniwoop, Zaphod and Trillian arrive at a strange planet to meet the ruler of the universe, while on the other planet Arthur and Ford discover certain truth, which changes their belief and understanding about their life.
There are some famous and superb quotes/dialogues in this book:
  • In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
  • The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.” – talking about the H2G2 lawsuit.
  • To summarize: it is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
  • I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?” – the dairy animal at the Milliways restaurant requesting for order… πŸ˜€
  • How can I tell that the past isn’t a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?” – When the ruler of the universe is asked about how long he has been ruling the universe.
  • I’m so great even I get tongue-tied talking to myself.
  • Trillian: “Have another drink, Enjoy yourself.”. Arthur: ”Which? the two are mutually exclusive.”
  • The End of the Universe is very popular, people like to dress up for it, Gives it a sense of occasion.
Loved reading this book as much as I loved reading the H2G2. But the end of the book is sort of dull when compared to the first one. For this reason i give an 8/10. A good read!! πŸ™‚