Friday, July 13, 2007

Not Baad at all Maan!


Allahabad (good memories, lived there for almost 5 school-going years - maybe a post some time later).





But this??

(Picture taken from a train door en route to Agra from Delhi)

I guess with millions of villages, creativity is inevitable. Or perhaps this is a case of ultra simple thinking!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I've often tried to capture that feeling that sweeps over me whenever I visit anything from my past. The dictionary describes nostalgia as
...a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time
As for me, I think it's just the sweetness of the memory from one's (distant) past...a school-bus route, punishment in class, opening strains of a song (associated with, say, a college buddy's hostel room), the menu card at a restaurant, a railway station platform, a dusty book jacket...heck, I even get all dreamy when I sense some familiar smells (one that comes to mind is whenever I spray a little from a sample can of PlayBoy, my first deodorant!!)

But does there have to be a desire or sentimental yearning to return to the past? In thought - yes. But in fact - I'm not so sure.

Why can't some memories be exactly those - simply memories? Why do we have to live in the wistfulness of returning to those places, those people?

It is universally accepted that it would be impossible to foretell the future by visiting it using a time machine and then coming back to narrate what would happen next year. Simply because the very act of travelling into the future would alter it significantly from what it would have been anyways. (Sometimes I lose myself!). This complexity is, thankfully, prevented by the non-invention of time travel till date.

What I seek to know is that why can't the same logic be extended to the past? When we physically revisit some memories from time that has gone by, don't we risk changing forever our associations with places, people, events...recollections get altered, impressions metamorphose, dendrites get re-wired.

And this thought brings me to ask myself - would I always want to do so? Heck, would I ever want to do so?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Rishikesh - More Fun and Adios...

[Concluding post of what started with Rishikesh Ahoy! and continued with Rishikesh - Being There.... Whew!]

Darkness descends. Out come the shawls and jackets. The sky starts filling up with stars and just goes on and on and on. It actually takes this trip to realize that there are so many of them up there. The insect life in the surrounding forest cover gets more vocal. A bonfire is lit. We forma circle of chairs around the glowing embers and warm our hands and feet. There’s a sweet ache in the muscles. Snacks and drinks commence. So do the anecdotes and banter related to the morning. Alcohol starts taking over. The sky looks beautiful. She snuggles up to me and makes herself comfortable. (I now know what heaven feels like). Someone breaks into an impromptu dance. Others cheer him on. We chat late into the night, taking breaks to chase glow worms. Dinner is laid and is easily one of the best meals of my life (it ain’t just the food, you see). And yeah, there isn’t any electricity or running water. Problem? Not one bit! Sleep is peaceful – not everyday do you have the Ganges lull you into slumber!

The morning is chilly, simply because it takes a while for the sun to peek over the surrounding hills and swathe the valley it its warm glow. Hot tea is served in small steel mugs that allow you to warm your hands around them. Mmmmmm...There is a sense of anticipation as we watch the sunlight crawl down the hill on the opposite bank of the river till it reaches camp and embraces us. A massive breakfast later, we are set to repeat the rafting stretch. Interestingly, the last thing we all feel is ‘been there, done that’.

We bid farewell to the camp staff that has looked after us as if we were royal guests, and not paying customers. There is a lingering sense of regret as we drive downhill – couldn’t we have stayed for one more day?

The drive back to Delhiis the worst part. Every limb hurts. All forms of pollution clog your senses. Cell phone coverage resumes. Madness takes over. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can take away the euphoria that lies within. And, of course, the warmth that washes over me when I hug her as she sleeps like a baby.

So, coming back to the original question, what draws me to this place? Is it the same thing every time?

Maybe it’s the feel of the sand on the back of my head as I stare up at the stars. Or the quaintness of the kerosene lanterns that dot the camp as dusk sets in. Or the sense of anticipation of catching a spectacular view of the valley as the car rounds a bend in the road. Or the sheer contentment of holding her against me, removed from it all.

I’m still not sure about the answers. I guess that’s why I just can’t wait for October. Maybe I’ll find out this time!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Rishikesh - Being There...

[Continued from Rishikesh Ahoy!]

Arrival at camp is a mixed bag. You’re shaking off the exhaustion of the journey and simultaneously trying to get glimpses of the Ganga while adjusting to the almost eerie silence (save the occasional honking truck or bus that passes by). The camp staff leads us to our tents and we dump our stuff and walk out barefoot savouring the soft sand – it’s time for a well deserved cup of tea. This is where it gets a little difficult to explain. You see, the tea is nothing exceptional. The weather is typical Delhi winter. But the hot liquid trickling down your throat feels like never before (every time, without fail). I can’t think of when I last smiled by myself, to myself.

It takes some time to digest the calm that surrounds the place. The loudest noise (oops...sound) comes from the river as it washes over rocks and gurgles its way down towards the plains. It is a privilege to see it in this form before it is ravaged by the millions in the name of religion. There is no network coverage for cell phones. That’s worth expressing twice over. There is no network coverage for cell phones. No bothersome calls, SMS beeps – even if you want to. Therapeutic. Birds twitter, cicadas buzz and the camp staff animatedly goes about doing routine chores. I go up to the river and let it wash over my feet. The water is freezing cold. I smile again.

Soon, it’s time to raft. To most, this activity represents the central purpose of the whole excursion. Rightfully so, rafting was what drew me to this haven in the first place. Lifejacket, helmet and paddle in place, it is time for a quick lesson from the rafting guide (a hardened local who is usually full of anecdotes and stories from the region). Soon, we assume our positions in the raft and push off (literally!).

Initially, it’s like one enthu boat ride. We’ve all got our paddles and are keen to get the technique right. But the first rapid soon approaches and nerves give way to adrenaline. It’s a funny hormone – this adrenaline – it beats me why no one has isolated the stuff and mass marketed it in ubiquitous little bottles that line departmental stores. But I’m glad as hell no one has done so. Waves rock the raft gently and some water spills in as well, chilling us to the bone. We shout. We laugh. And concentrate on the guide’s instructions. It passes. We rejoice.

Then comes a stretch when the guide asks us to jump into the river and float along the raft. Jump? Is he nuts? But we do. It is difficult to describe how entering the water feels...simply because I think for that briefest of moments, you stop feeling altogether. It’s a classic instance of not knowing what you’re feeling but, at the same time, knowing that this is what you’ve always wanted to feel. We float on our backs soaking in the sun and water at the same time. Time freezes. I hold her hands because she’s tentative to leave the raft and float adrift. Holding hands has never felt better. She smiles as she gingerly leaves the rope attached to the raft. I smile.

The arms and torso get tired as we progress down the river. But this registers only a day or two later. At that very moment, it’s pure bliss.

The rapids become faster and more furious. The guide yells and gesticulates wildly. We flail our paddles and grind to the task. But deep down, we know we’re at Her mercy. And that very instance – of feeling powerless yet at the top of the world – is an absolute privilege in itself.

Just before beach our raft, we stop over by a cliff that juts out 15-18 feet above the water surface. The idea is to jump off this cliff and into the river. (Just when you thought that you were through with adrenaline for the day). I know how to swim and have jumped from such heights into swimming pools before. But I get goose bumps looking down at the water. And this while the life jacket is firmly strapped on. I muster the courage and step off the precipice. Splash! Feels exhilarating as I resurface and inhale deeply. She’s readying for her jump. She’s terrified of heights. And has barely seen a swimming pool before. She steps to the edge. Then steps back allowing the next guy to jump. I shout encouragement from below. A friend motivates her from behind. Little do we realize the futility of our voices – it has to come from within her. She calls out to me to swim over to near the landing area. I give the thumbs up and set off. She leaps. In slow motion. I have no clue what is going through her head. She lands in the water and almost instantly pops up to the surface. I stroke my way over and grab her by the shoulders. Everything’s okay – just a little bit of water that’s being coughed up. She clings on to me as I swim ashore. Relieved. Secure. Smiling.

We get back to camp to a piping hot lunch followed by some rock climbing and rappelling. There’s a casual, relaxed attitude to the activity – probably because all of us are feeling a sense of achievement from the rafting.

[To be concluded. Tomorrow.]

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rishikesh Ahoy!

[Note: This post started out from a question that entered my mind JLT. But when I actually started to write, the words just flowed and flowed. Will be completing it in two, maybe three parts. This, of course, is the opening salvo.]

Over the years, I’ve found myself taking a weekend breaks from the madness of it all to the cooler climes of the foothills of the Himalayas in the lap of the mighty Ganges just beyond the holy city of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. Have been doing so religiously(?) every six months for a little over 2 years now. And the best part is that every trip leaves me feeling so fulfilled, so refreshed that I tell myself every time, “That’s it, I’ve finally had enough; this trip was the best ever – next break to a different station.” But six months down the line, it’s that same familiar itch and the SMSing and e-mailing commences in search for partners in crime.

Sometimes – at the most random of times too – I ask myself what draws me to the place? Why can’t I tell myself to experiment with a different destination? Or give in to my parents’ pleas to visit them in nearby Dehra Dun instead? Why do I utilize the precious license of leave from a hectic job for the same experience spanning the same activities at the same place time and again?

Or is it the same thing every time?

I certainly DON’T do it for a number of reasons: Am I religious? No. Most certainly not. (Am a teetotaler, hence not even ‘spiritual’ so to speak!). Is it the climate? Negative again. It’s great weather year round up there, but the same can be found at myriad hill stations. The food? Nothing exceptional. Lodging and living comfort? Hah, no chance. Drive must be terrific? Nope.

Then WHAT?

I’m in story mode now.

Once one decides to set out to Rishikesh for a weekend of adventure sport (read: rafting) and camping, the first thing that hits you is the pathos on the highway. Old-harboured notions of a road cutting through fields of mustard take a back seat as reality hits you hard in the face (uh-okay, at least in the nostrils and ears). The exit from Delhi-NCR ranges from bothersome to torturous. Traffic snarls, blaring horns, tempers – heck, it’s like driving to work!! Once out of the capital, the highway never seems to break free from the shackles of urbanization, it’s mile after mile of townships, industrial areas, even bazaars, educational institutions. Small positive is the famed Shikanji (lemonade) of Modinagar, where generations of families have been dispensing this refreshing drink to highway travelers. After a couple of hours from Delhi, the road opens out and you ease the car into top gear but not for long – the township of Meerut is surrounded with sugarcane fields and one has to put up with massive convoys of bullock carts and tractors ferrying the reaped cane to nearby sugar mills. Back to 2nd gear. Foot on clutch. Palm on horn. Patience on edge!

Slight digression here:
Being in Delhi, one is pampered by the developments made by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI); it is an absolute pleasure to cruise on the National Highways towards Jaipur or Chandigarh or Agra (okay, okay...the pleasure commences once the chaos of the NCR satellites of Gurgaon/Faridabad has been overcome, though nowadays the drive to Gurgaon gives one an idea of why the things are called ‘flyovers’ in the first place). The drive to Rishikesh is the same distance as Delhi-Jaipur but takes a little over 6 hours. I think that conveys the point!

Back to narrative: Finally, after a snack break roughly halfway down the drive, we leave behind the pothole-ridden road behind and head for the UP-Uttarakhand border and the drive improves. After the towns of Roorkee and Haridwar (one gets fleeting glances of the IIT and Har Ki Pauri), one moves through the jungles towards Rishikesh. It’s a magical drive – dense forest interspersed with open spaces where you catch the occasional neelgai grazing, crystal clear babbling brooks, butterflies (and glow worms at night) along the road, clean and cool air. You hit Rishikesh and then begin the ascent beyond (all campsites are located along the river going upstream for about 20-30 km).

And that’s when it hits you for the first time. That’s when you feel that all the discomfort during the drive has been worth it. It’s not just the sight – the pristine waters of the majestic river winding through the gorge – or the slight nip in the air, or even the brightness of the sunshine and blueness of the skies above. It’s all that and much, much more. What truly hits you is the sheer magnificence of Mother Nature at her very best – the lungs fill up just that little extra with the mountain air, the eyes adjust to the wonderfully bright sun as you stretch your limbs. All senses go “Wow” at the same time.

[to be continued...]

Six Hundred and Seventy...

...days since my last post. That's a shade over 22 months...almost two full years. Wow!

Older. Wiser(?). Overweight.

But still as confused :-/

Well, someone's back.