April 14 – 17, 2016
April 14 – 17, 2016
This October, I crossed a big item off my bucket list by doing the Annapurna Circuit Trek on a mountain bike. It was a lifetime experience and taking my MTB along only made it more challenging and memorable.
A small introduction on the place: Annapurna is a range of mountains in the Himalayas, all scaling up till ~8000 mts. The Annapurna circuit trek goes counter clock-wise around this beautiful range. You can find more information on the circuit here. This is considered as one of the best treks in the world. The scenery is outstanding with a variety of terrains from the lower 800m dense green forests to the snow capped peaks at the Thorang la pass at 5416m.
A small account of my itinerary and experiences along the circuit:
Day 1 – Kathmandu
After reaching Kathmandu at about 3pm on 9th oct, 2015, we assembled our cycles and rushed to get the TIMS and ACAP cards from the tourism board. We spent the night there at Kathmandu and took an early morning bus the next day to Besisahar.
Day 2 – Besisahar
Since we didnt get a night bus from kathmandu, we had to sacrifice one day in a bus ride to Besisahar. It was difficult especially carrying four cycles in the overcrowded buses. After a day-long bus journey, we ended up in Sundar bazar, about 15kms before Besisahar. From there we biked till Besishar and stayed at an amazing Tibetian hotel. The dinner was yummy Dal Bhat and excellent service. Dal Bhatt is the staple food in Nepal and available throughout the circuit. It is a simple, delicious and healthy meal.
Day 3 – Besisahar (820m) to Ram bazaar (1130m)
We started early from Besishar, the official start of the Annapurna Circuit. A muddy jeep track starts from the northern end of Besisahar, which runs along the banks of the beautiful Marshyangdi river. About a couple of hours after we started, Gautham’s front wheel started giving trouble. Eventually the wheel got bent and we lost about 5 hours of precious time trying to fix it. Finally, the mechanic said nothing could be done and he had to continue with the bent wheel throughout the circuit. This delay also cumulatively changed the plan for each we had made.
By late noon we started pedaling trying to cover as much ground before nightfall. It started raining heavily at around 6pm, by 7:30pm we called it a day and decided to stay a cozy place in Ram Bazaar.
Day 4 – Ram bazaar (1130m) to Bagarchap (2160m)
The monsoon hadn’t ended it Nepal by the start of October. Throughout this day we were riding enjoying the peaking mountains and pouring showers… Marshyangdi river was at its full flow, gushing through the valley below us. It was a breathtaking view. There were numerous water falls formed due to the recent rains and crossing each one was a cyclist’s thrill. 🙂
Day 5 – Bagarchap (2160m) to Dhukur Pokhari (3240m)
It was another day of exciting ride. The terrain kept changing slowly from the lower lands to slightly elevated forests. The terrain kept rolling with continuous ascends and descends.
Day 6 – Dhukur Pokhari (3240m) to Khangsar (3740m)
Another energy filled day with great sights and clean mountainous air. We crossed by Manang, a major town in the middle of the circuit. It is also a tourist attraction and a great place to do shopping.
Day 7 – Acclimitization day at Khangsar
Tilicho lake is one of the highest lakes in the world and I heard the trek (no cycling possible in that route :P) is a to-do for all adventure seekers. We left our bikes in Khangsar and set forward to do the trek. Halfway through one of my team guys came down with acute altitude sickness and already i had a headache. So we were forced to get back to Khangsar. Never underestimate the importance of acclimatizing. We spent whole of this day on this small trek and resting at Khangsar for the rest of the time. It was a good decision, after this day my headache disappeared 🙂
Day 8 – Khangsar (3740) to Letdar (4200)
After giving up the attempt to climb to the Tilicho lake, we headed towards the pass. The effect of thin air was much felt on this day. Panting and gasping I made it to Letdar, where a sweet couple invited us to stay for the night. There is no electricity in this part of the circuit until the pass. Since one of the members in my team was still suffering from altitude sickness symptoms, we decided to take it slow from here until the pass.
Day 9 – Letdar (4200m) to High camp (4850m)
Another day of gasp and pant… We had lunch at base camp, a beautiful restaurant with delicious food.
Day 10 – High camp (4850m) – Thorang La (5416) – Mukthinath (3800m)
This was the big day. A final ascent to the Thorag La Pass at 5416m. We had an early breakfast at the high camp and began our ascend by 6am. It was still dark and my fingers were numb with cold. Slowly I started moving up the mountains. The effect of high altitude was highly felt during this ascend. I had take a break every 20 steps to catch my breadth. Pushing the cycle along with me in this condition was only exhilarating.
There is a small tea shop halfway towards the pass. After that its a serious of small uphills until you reach the pass. Reaching the pass was the my “high moment” of the entire trip.
The descend from the Thorang La Pass to Mukthinath is a killer on the knees, its a steep slope with a lot of altitude loss. Luckily I had my cycle and was able to ride down most of the parts. After reaching Mukthinath I wanted to take a break and enjoy the end of a big day with a beer and food. Hotel Bob Marley is a famous joint there, we spent the night listening to Reggae and sipping beer. Yak meat pizza filled my taste buds and a rewarding end to a killer day.
Day 11 – Mukthinath (3800) to Jomsom (2720)
Jomsom is major town in the circuit and has an airport. This was also the end for my 10days long ride. The ride from Mukthinath to Jomsom was very enjoyable with great views and rolling terrains. The ride was downhill throughout with strong head winds, strong enough to push me off the cycle. The terrain totally changed here, and the Kali Gandaki river begins here. From Jomsom there are lots of buses to Pokhara and Beni. I took an early morning bus from Jomsom to Beni and from there to India border.
Some noteable points, if you are planning to do a trip to the Annapurna
1. Its not necessary to cycle along the route. It is actually more trekker friendly (I had to carry/push my cycle at many place) and the time gained by cycling is not much.
2. There are tea-houses throughout the route, so no worry on camping. Every few hours you will be crossing a village.
3. The food prices keep increasing as you go up in altitude. On an average 1000-1500 NPR per person should be sufficient for a day.
4. Accomodation is very cheap, mostly 100-200NPR per room. Some places they let you stay for free if you eat dinner/breakfast there.
5. Dal Bhat is the most common food there, it is rich in carb, proteins and filling too.
6. Do not underestimate the importance of acclimitization, it is a good practice to ascend a little extra in the evening, come back and sleep at a relatively lower altitude.
7. The trails are very clear and well marked, it is easy to do without a guide.
8. It is possible to get a Nepali N-Cell simcard at Kathmandu. The call rate to India is about 3NPR/min. You need to provide a passport size photograph and a copy of you passport.
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez is a Colombian novelist. He was awarded Nobel prize in Literature in the year 1982. Known for his works in magical realism, Marquez is considered to be one of the best novelists from the postmodern era. Though he writes in Spanish, English translated versions are available. Recently I came to know about this writer from a friend. I started with a novella named Chronicle of a Death Foretold and soon found myself grabbing his other books from the store. “I say extraordinary things in an ordinary tone. It’s possible to get away with ANYTHING as long as you make it believable.” True to his words, he spins extraordinary tales and passes it along in his almost magical narration.
I have already written about Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, this post is a small account of other novellas that I have read…
Chronicle Of a Death Foretold
This was the first book of Marquez I read and one of my favorites too.
After 27 years, the narrator returns to his town and digs into the murder of Santiago Nasar. The beautiful Angela Vicario is married to Bayardo San Roman. On their wedding night Bayardo finds out that Angela is not a virgin and sends back the bride to her family home, bringing disgrace to the family. Enraged Angela’s mother beats her up and demands to know guy responsible for her situation. She names Santiago Nasar. Her brothers pledge to avenge their family honor and soon the entire town knows who they plan to kill, where, when and why.
The opening lines of the book: “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. He’d dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit”
An extremely gripping narration, there are references to dreams by Santiago before his death. The author tries to form a connection between dreams and the happenings of reality, as an omen to the future?
Of Love and Other Demons
This is the story of a small girl, Sierva Maria who is the only survivor of the four, who were bitten by a rabid dog. Her father Marquis de Casalduero in an attempt to save his only daughter keeps her under constant vigil. Surprisingly, Sierva Maria shows no signs of infection and has good health. Soon the word spreads around the town, engulfed by superstitions, people attribute her good health to demonic possessions. She is brought to a convent for observation. The only one to realize her sanity is the young priest who is being assigned by the bishop to exorcise her.. Can the love stricken priest save this little girl from the superstitions of the society?
No One Writes to the Colonel
Comparatively a very small read, only about 60 pages, but a heart touching narration. It’s the story of a retired Colonel who is caught forever in the red-tapism of the government office. Every Friday, for the past fifteen years he goes to the harbor to check on the mail.. awaiting the envelope bearing his promised pension money. With passing years, his hopes never diminishes. But all this while until the promised sum reaches, how is he going to take care of his wife, feed themselves and also a rooster – a prized bird awaiting the coming cockfighting season? The rooster has some significance to him, a loved asset from his late son… there is a prize on the bird, but will the colonel be willing to sell it?
Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor
The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor who drifted on a life raft for ten days without food or water, was proclaimed a national hero, kissed by beauty Queens, made rich through publicity and then spurned by the government and forgotten for all time.
Luis Alejandro Belasco is thrown overboard from a Columbian destroyer, Caldas along with 7 other colleagues. The only survivor from the incident, he drifts along the sea on a raft for ten days. An interesting real-life account of the sailor in the words on Marquez, this was originally published in a journal. A gripping story of life and death, so descriptively worded by the talented Marquez.
The history of India-Pakistan independence; of the twin countries that was separated immediately after birth is familiar to all. The impact of partition on the people on either sides were humongous. People had to live their land, livelihood grab whatever they could carry and migrate in huge numbers, only to never see their homes again. Kushwant Singh, himself born in a Sikh family from East Punjab, in his book “Train to Pakistan” brings us a glimpse into the actual lives of Punjabis then at the time of partition. Not at a political, but a common man’s perspective of the partition. What does the change of governments mean to an ordinary pheasant living in a village?
Mano majra is a small fictional village by the banks of river Sutlej. Its a mainly Sikh occupied village, which also has a considerable number of Muslim families dwelling within. In that village, the Sikhs and Muslims live in perfect harmony. Mano majra being located near the newly formed border gets frequented by trains to and from Pakistan. The whistle of the engines, loading and unloading of goods, the clickety-clakety of the rails becomes the center of focus for the villagers. The narration begins with a robbery at the village and proceeds on the wheels of love, romance, religion, evil villains, investigating cops… Everything so normal until one day when the “ghost” train heading towards east stops at the Mano Majra station. The story takes a turn from there. With a little twist of events in the otherwise peaceful village, at the verge of calamity breaking out a plot is made it to send the Muslims. From there the narrator takes us through a journey of brotherhood to blood thirsty enmity that partition imparted on people of different faiths.
From the beginning to the end the story maintains its pace, with a dramatic ending bringing out the message that the author wants to convey. The narration sticks to the point, beautiful and crisp.
(Spoiler alert!!) A few characters cast in different dimensions that are the essence of the story… Juggut Singh the budmash – an illiterate and robber who values human sentiments and lives above his own welfare leaves a steady impression in the readers hearts; Magistrate Hukum Chand – starts of as some kind of a perverted official, turns out major plots during the separation in the village; Iqbal – the highly educated “social worker” who keeps quiet and does nothing when the communal dispute was being kindled at the innocent pheasants hearts. The three contrasting characters that form the bone and frame for the story.
In addition to the rich description of Kushwant Singh the book that I have also has many real-time photos captured at the time of partition. The photographer
Margeret Bourke-White, Time-Life‘s photo correspondent then, is considered to be one of the great photographers of all time. If the words paint a mental picture, the photos tell a story of their own.
Now my passion for fitness has taken a new form… to become a runner. Like all work-outs, running makes me feel better. Most importantly its fun to run in events and get medals. I did a half marathon last month at hyderabad (aug 24).. it was a tough and excruciating one. the route being by itself the toughest road marathon was made even worse with the sun shining high and bright.. for a novice runner like me, who doesn’t take practice seriously it was like an acid test. Up until 5kms, I was struggling hard to kick into the rythm.. i was profusely sweating and dehydrated, I even had half a mind to quit. After 5kms, I managed to pull myself into continuous running. Managed to complete 21kms, with a timing of 2:35hrs. That taught me a good lesson.. never neglect the importance of training.
me posing with the medal at hyd marathon…
After Hyderabad marathon, a desire to run was instigated in me.. I usually considered run as a “routine” to keep myself “fit”. But running is as enjoyable as any sport…. once you catch the rhythm. I started practicing regularly after that. 2 weeks after the Hyd marathon, was the CTC trail marathon. A rather special one, as not many trail runs happen in chennai and organized by all my dear friends. How can I pass on such an opportunity?? Within the 2 weeks limited time, i tried to achieve the best practice I could.
An unexpected companion at a rainy early morning solo run…
Finally the day arrived, the CTC half marathon was flagged. Assuming my pace to be slow, I placed myself at the end of the line. I ran as much as I could, enjoying the beautiful trail views. When I came across the finish line, I had taken only 2:23hrs for the entire run!! This is my personal best!! Just couldn’t believe I did this on a muddy trail. More importantly, my love for run has increased.. 😀
Me at the finish line in CTM…
Now am looking forward to more runs and a hope to increase my mileage too 🙂
Run for the Joy of Running 🙂
Gabriel García Márquez is indisputably one of the significant writers of the present day. This novella Memoirs of my Melancholy Whores, originally written in Spanish, has a very realistic story, some even say its inspired from his own life.
The story in nutshell is.. An old man celebrates his 90th birthday by seeking sex with an 14 year old virgin to-be prostitute. While he meets the girl, finds her deep asleep tired from the day’s work. Unwilling to wake her up, he sits beside and starts admiring her. Night after night he comes to see the sleeping beauty, falls in love with her. The story goes forward as feels for his little ‘Delgadina’.
Falling into Gabo’s captivating words, we (the reader) become the 90 year old man. The story has very limited characters, most of the names not at all mentioned. I think there is very little description about this journalist, whose name is also not mentioned, because he wants us to be that guy. There is a lot of space for our imagination to be filled in by the reader.
There is also a beautiful passage about life.
“I began to measure my life not by years but by decades. The decade of my fifties had been decisive because I became aware that almost everybody was younger than I. The decade of my sixties was the most intensive because of the suspicion that I no longer had the time to make mistakes. My seventies were frightening because of a certain possibility that the decade might be the last. Still, when I woke alive on the first morning of my nineties in the happy bed of Delgadina, I was transfixed by the agreeable idea that life was not something that passes by like Heraclitus’ ever changing river but a unique opportunity to turn over on the grill and keep broiling on the other side for another ninety years.”
Life doesn’t cease at old age, we continue to breathe on.. whether to live every moment or just to wait until death is in our hands.
There are many references to Delgadina, a Mexican folk song. The journalist even signs it to her. Delgadina is the daughter of a king, who disobeys her father’s wish to marry him. Her father locks her up in a tower where she dies of thirst. Like the king, the old guy also bears the unrequited love for a young girl.
He lived an empty life with no one to love, the thought dying of love was a mere poetic license. As the story turns out, after meeting Delgadina, he proved himself wrong.. he starts living a real life, with heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony.
A very beautifully written book, its so lyrical and pleasure to read.
History has never been my favorite field. After all, who wants to memorize unfamiliar names and dates for the sake of marks? The whole idea of learning history seemed pointless to me. But then my entire view changed in the recent years. Influenced by historic novels, I started thinking about life (mostly rulers) in the past. Being a fiction lover, just mere facts and data bore me. Historic fiction opens a whole new world of imagination. I spent hours dreaming about the characters, the life of people back then, how would have they dressed, what would have they communicated, what would have they ate.. longing for a time-machine.
The Empire of the Moghul series is historic fiction by Alex Rutherford, containing 5-series each for a generation of Moghul emperor. The first among the series, Raiders from the North is the story of Babur.
Babur loses his father, the King of Ferghana at the age of 12 and struggles to get to the throne. Babur is the descendant of Timur (a turko-mongol king) and Genghis Khan (Mongol empire). He believes that his destiny is to capture Samarkhand, the capital of Timur’s empire. After many attempts to face his blood-enemy Shaibani Khan, capturing and losing and re-capturing and losing Samarkhand, Babur and his troop are forced to flee. Babur then becomes the king of kabul and his desire becomes capturing Hindustan. At this juncture, Babur gets help from Persians to rule Samarkhand again. Babur covets for Samarkhand, but then again looses it again (phew) and flees to Kabul! Then he concentrates on Hindustan, which is considered as a land of limitless wealth and pleasures. He marches towards Agra. The battle of Panipat is where Babur defeats the Delhi emperor. The battle and its plot have been beautifully described in this book. He even uses rudimentary canons and firing, which is takes his enemy by surprise. I think this is the earliest that firing has been mentioned in Indian history. Then Babur faces the Rajputs, defeats them Then he brings his family to Agra. At first Hindustan disappoints him, the climate and people seem to be harsh. He doesn’t give up, tries to adjust to the new province. He finds the “Moghul” empire, derived from the Mongolian origin of Babur. The book continues until the death of the king.
The author has given little space for fiction, mostly because most parts of the book would have been already available in Memoirs of Babur (Baburnama). Babur had the habit of maintaining a personal diary. Wazir Khan, Baisanghar are the fictional characters which impress us with the bravery and gratitude. Baburi, also another fictional character remains in our mind, for his utter honesty and valor, even when he has to speak against the will of the emperor. Esan Dawlat, Kutlugh Nigar, Khanzada are the females in Babur’s family; their wisdom is respected and appreciated. Babur being the king and lead in the story, has been depicted heroic at many places.
The book is suitable for all history-lovers, detailed facts from the life of the emperor has been presented. This is a well-researched book of facts and little fiction.
Narcopolis is the debut novel by Jeet Thayil that got shorlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2012. As the name suggests, the story is about Narcotics, mostly about opium and heroin addiction in early Bombay, around 1970-80s. The story most suitably narrated by Jeet Thayil, who has been an opium addict for over 20 years and stopped now due to health issues.
Around two decades ago when the Ullis (the narrator) first comes to Bombay, to Shuklaji street in search of chandu-khana (opium house), he meets the lead character of the story, a eunuch named Dimple and also other addicts. Dimple hails from northeastern India, abandoned by her family at a very young age enters into prostitution. While she is working for Tai with other prostitutes, Dimple starts working part-time at Rashid’s chandu-khana, which is claimed to be one of the best in city. While making pipes, smoking and serving the customers Dimple becomes a regular at the khana and eventually quits Tai and joins Rashid fulltime. She also starts living together with Rashid, almost like a wife and a business partner for him. Rashid names Dimple as Zeenat, and keeps their relationship hidden from the society. Rumi is another regular at Rashid’s, who discusses his personal issues with Dimple. At some point, the heroin takes over the business and opium is no longer available. Rashid initially shows some resistance to sell heroin, but in the due course he is left with no choice than to sell heroin.
Dimple lives a lonely life. Lee, the only guy whom she loves and takes care of, more like an adopted-father to her, passes away. Her life becomes even lonelier, her contacts being limited. She graduates from opium to heroin, and loses everything. When she loses her looks, job and broken down, Ullis takes her to a rehab.
The novel is more of documentation than a story. It captures the reality in one of the most unnoticed opiated corners of Bombay.
The narration is a little complex, especially at the initial few pages of the book. There is a test for our endurance in the prologue, which apparently is a single line, written over six and a half pages!
At many places the author has recorded his love for these drugs, especially opium when he describes the nasha in very beautiful sentences. He says, “Opium was all etiquette, a sense rhythm that centered on the mouth and the you held the pipe in relation to your body, a lunar ebb and pull of smoke that filled first the lungs and then the veins..”
In the novel, the author also marks the change in drug-era from opium to heroin and that he considers opium a better drug. “A chanduli can smoke for years and be healthy; garadulis are impatient, they want to die quickly”. At one point, the author even tries to justify addiction. “Drugs are a bad habit, so why do it?” Reply “Because, it isn’t the heroin that we are addicted to, it’s the drama of life, the chaos of it, that’s the real addiction and we never get over it; and because, when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of limited options we are offered. Why would we choose anything else?” This looks like more of an excuse to use drugs, but the bitter truth is more and more have started taking this excuse. Whose life doesn’t have problems? If heroin is the answer then the entire world has to be intoxicated.
While discussing about the nasha from drugs, the author also deals with the after effects that it brings upon one’s character and physic. The life and ending of the main characters Lee, Dimple, Rumi and Rashid are all a good lesson. The rehabilitation and reincarnation (post rehab phase) are also handled with clear narration covering every detail. The book shows, how the drug scars and cripples a person’s life. Also, the author has managed to capture how the drug dealers exploit the addicts for their own profit, Jamal who doesn’t take drug himself, sells to a selected class of people, carefully leaving out his clan.
In the interview, the author is asked if this book would drive people into drugs, the author replies, if a book can drive you into addiction, then anything can drive you. But as a reader, I felt this book not all drug provoking and if at all, it only induces a more repulsive reaction in you. And for audience, this quote suits on how to get over a bad experience and continue life, “You’ve got to face facts and the fact is life is a joke, a fucking bad joke or, no, a bad fucking joke. There’s no point taking it seriously because whatever happens, and I mean whatever the fuck, the punch line is the same: you go out horizontally. You see the point? No fucking point.”
In contrast to most of the glamorized drug stories we usually come across in movies (esp Dum Maro Dum, which has also been quoted in this book), the author strips glamour and exposes the reality. One has to get past a labyrinth of swear words and disgusting encounters, before being exposed to the naked truth. Overall this novel is good read and opens door to new arena, which has by far been hidden to most of our eyes. Most suited for readers who are looking for a very different subject and raw truth.
The Youtube link to author’s interview:
Disclaimer: All the points discussed in this post are only my views on the book Narcopolis, it doesn’t encourage drug usage in any form. Don’t Huff, Don’t Puff. Keep away from that stuff!
Set in Mumbai, Parsee family, first novel by Rohinton Mistry, got shortlisted for booker prize in 1991.
The story revolves around the few main characters.
Gustad Noble, a normal bank-employee bends over his back to meet the needs of his family. They continue to live in his modest salary. But when Gustad’s long last friend Major Billimora asks for a favor, Gustad tries to help and puts himself into trouble, that might cost him his work and life.
Meanwhile, Gustad’s wife Dilnavaz is a fanatic of superstitions, voodoo and black magic. Based on the advices she gets from an old lady Ms.Kutpidia, she desperately tries many voodoo techniques to bring back his elder son Sohrab, who leaves home after a feud.
Another note-able character is Tehmul. He is a mentally retarded, half-witted fellow, who lives in the same apartment. Dilnavaz tries to make him the prey to the evil, which she thinks is the reason for the state of her family.
The plot revolves around the few characters. Mistry has restricted the number of characters, only relevant to the story. Also, the author doesn’t bore the reader, telling the history behind each character. The narration sticks to the story, deviating only where necessary. Also, the novel gives rare insights into the Parsee traditions. The gusti, death rituals, leaving the body for the vultures to scavenge are all new facts to me. The author’s narration of the state of the people during wars, shiv sena, the mobs, the dark side of the Indian government are all very close to real.
When Dilnavaz tries to protect her family, she thinks it all bad omen that causes all the grief. She tries to use some black magic to save her family. To me, it seems like the author supports such immature, utterly superstitious practices. The author says, “Was there a person alive who, at one time or another, did not find it difficult to disbelieve completely in things supernatural?”
When something bothers you and your family, do you try to identify and solve the problem or try black magic and make someone else suffer instead of you? Also, the sequence of events seem to support the black magic techniques. It is up to the perspective of the reader to take it as a coincidence or effect of black magic, when Sohrab returns home and Tehmul dies. The same when Dilnavaz sees the image of a dog in the smoke, assuming that someone else is respsonsible for her daughter’s illness. The disturbing point here is, the author says that Tehmul ends up paying his life while the family rejoices the reunion with Sohrab. Doesn’t this leave a bad idea that you can divert all your sorrows and misgivings to some innocent bakra? Also, the series of deaths in the story, is a bit overdone and unnecessary.
I have always been a fan of Rohinton Mistry, but I’m mildly disappointed with the way things turned out in this story.