The weekend of February 2019

It is funny how life works. Like clockwork, every December I find myself setting goals for the next four seasons. Apart from the usual suspects like eating better and procrastinating less, I thought 2019 will be the year I would cover as many national parks as humanly possible. Remote, physically challenging, breathtakingly beautiful – NPS of US has everything that an introvert traveller like me yearns for me. Talking about national parks, Aaron Sorkin once said Yosemite makes America the greatest nation on earth.  I do not know what makes the greatest nation in the world but am pretty good at spotting a beautiful place when I see one.  It helps that I can go there using public transport. Yes, I do not have a car and also find driving a wee bit stressful.

As the year rolled by, I found myself lusting after another trip. As soon as the shutdown was over, I found myself looking for a place to stay inside the park. Thus far I have never managed to stay inside the park. I wanted to go on Feb 9th but there were no reservations for that day but there was opening on 16th Feb and 17th Feb. 18th Feb being a holiday, that worked fine.  This mundane detail had a lot of foreshadowing of how things worked out for my trip. As things stood, I got the terrible flu on 8th Feb and was bedridden for most of 8th Feb. Even if had booked a trip on 8th, I would not have been able to make it.

 

Speaking of foreshadowing, this was not the only alteration I had to do for my itinerary. there was heavy snowfall on 8th and all reservations in campgrounds for my trip were cancelled. But I had decided to go no matter what. I made an alternate arrangement and found myself staying inside the park for one day and just outside for the other.

Picture: On the road

 

 

 

Picture: Yosemite under the moon light

On the day of the trip, I woke up at 3:30 and took the bus, train and another bus to Yosemite. Did I say I really wanted to go during the weekend? After having booked the trip, I also found that my trip will be near a full moon and the valley will be bathed in snow.  I was pretty excited to hike in moon-lit snow. I reached the park without any incident and basked in the reflection of the rays of the moon or as some dictionaries in another language will say “Himangshu Jyoti”. Yes, that is my name and it literally means “Moon’s light”.

 

 

 

Picture: Start of upper Yosemite

Due to the heavy cover of snow, many of the treks were closed. I did my reconnaissance and found out the open treks. Early next morning I went out to hike Upper Yosemite Falls. A hike I had done one a half year back when the tracks were brown and stony.  I found out that the entire hike was not safe but it was safe to go to something called “Colombia Rock”.  This was going to very different. The brown soil had given way to a thick blanket of snow. I kept climbing and noticed there were few other hikers. Even as an introvert solo hiker, I like to meet other people on the trail for safety reasons.

Picture: One for the profile pic

 

 

 

Picture: The paws that made me run away

 

 

 

 

Picture: Colombia Rock

 

 

 

After some time I was startled by mini avalanches but I kept going on because I saw fresh footmarks in the snow. Eventually, I met someone returning who told me it was safe till Colombia Rock but that there was a bear prowling beyond it. I was worried about overshooting but kept on going. As I had feared, I overshot the lookout and kept on going. I had not met another trekker for quite some time. That gave me a pause but I had enough time to catch the bus back so I kept on going. All this story would have made for a great climax if I had a selfie with the bear but in an anti-climatic fashion, all I came across was paw marks. It was a bit scary all alone with fresh paw marks. I ran back double speed to human civilization.

 

 

 

Picture: Mirror lake that made me overstay

The upper Yosemite hike left me with four hours to kill during the day. So, I went to mirror lake. Mirror Lake was so pretty, I became a bit stupid and overstayed my intended stay by the lake. Long story short I gave myself very less slack to catch the bus. Due to heavy snow, most of the road signs were not visible and I got lost at just the worst moment and missed the last bus. So I found myself on the 17th of February in a snow covered national park without any way to get out. With no way out, I now was at the mercy of humankind.

 

 

 

 

 

I started asking for a lift to all passing cars. Of the fifteen-odd cars that passed by me over five stopped by. Sometimes, it is easy to get lost in the negativity going around but intrinsically all humans like to help each other. One of the cars was going in my direction. They hardly had any space but they decided to save the unknown soul and I found myself on a car out of Yosemite to El Portal. They drove me to a gas station which was a few miles from the hotel. Unfortunately unknown to them the hotel was another 5 miles away and it was a bit risky to walk on the road due to cars. So, I again found myself in a situation. Like before I got another lift to the hotel. Things were only about to get even better. Next day I was back in the park and while coming back, I found myself on the bus crossing the horsetail falls as it was about to turn bright red. I never knew about the Yosemite Firefall but there I was witnessing it from the comfort of my bus as the slow traffic ensured I got a very long glimpse of the miracle of nature.

Picture: Firefall a rare natural phenomenon

 

From the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank Saina from Portland who thought of saving me out of pure humanity and Suhas from Sunnyvale. I hope I can one day of some help to another human being like you guys were to me.

 

Here I Go on the road again

the call of the road

 

I love to drive. I really love to drive. I really totally love to drive. I really totally absolutely love to drive. Humans invented words to be able to communicate . While it is true that our mastery of larynx has enabled us to become masters of the world and deluded us into creating competitions to find the most beautiful thing that breathes in the universe, no matter how many daggers I inflict on the works of Wren and Martin and the guardians of English dictionary , I cannot honestly describe the joy that driving gives to me. Words can indeed be funny, only way to describe your love for anything is to write that you cannot describe them in words.

So, I love to drive. I love to drive fast. In India, driving fast is not something that any cardiologist will recommend to the fainthearted. Driving on the roads of India, it sometimes makes me wonder where did Stan Lee get the inspiration for his characters . Maybe it was good that he did not live in India or else his description of the physical self of his characters would be so much realistic. Every day in India you have people take to the road that they are the one and only spider-man and superman. Helmets are something meant for people whose brain skulls are made of fragile calcium composite. Driving on the wrong side is only way to drive specially if most of the lesser mortals who are driving at over 100 km per hour stand to disintegrate after a head on collision with the superman. The best part of it all is that the biggest superpower of Indian motorists is the high beam light that shields them from harms way by blinding the oncoming traffic driving on the right side of the road.

So, I have a self-destructive love. And there hangs the tale or whatever Lord Archer might have programmed my brain to mutter. If I am to analyse every thing I do in my life, my driving stands out as an anomaly. I was a lethargic when it came to physical activity , while I won accolades galore in academics and extra-academics, I have a resounding empty cupboard for sports. I used to hate games period and would actually study during the same in school. Yet, now I am one of the most regular guys in the gym challenging myself everyday to run an extra kilometer so much so that most of the fit members of the gym publicly declare me as an object of envy. Post diabetics, I have almost killed the foodie in me, I used to live to eat and I used to eat. For years, I could eat the most in my locality and now I am scared of having an extra serving of wheat bread. When I see oil floating around, it becomes difficult for me to chew and digest.

But we all are slaves to our own brain who will always find a way to justify all we do. While it is tempting to say that I am in control of my car, it is not really the right answer. I have had times when I lost control of my bike or car for a few fleeting seconds,seconds where only extraordinary symphony of circumstances saved my life. So I take refuge in my knowledge of biology.

When you are in fear, your brain produces adrenaline. A rush of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes a sudden release of glucose as well as an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. It makes you more aware of your situation and your body is physical more ready to react.Different people have different brains. Some brains needs a lot of excitement to pump out adrenaline (Formula 1-drivers, sky-divers, base-jumpers,), others, however, need just a little; stealing a candy bar, going into an examination.
After a while the adrenaline is no longer active in your body and you have indeed conquered your own fear. That makes some people feel “more alive”.
Some brains produce  dopa-mine, a kind of reward-drug: you get a good feeling about yourself. It’s all about these chemicals. Because of this reward-drug you may want to do it again, and when, for instance,  becomes too familiar, you need to go off-piste to ensure the production of adrenaline and dopa-mine.

Fully satisfied with my explanation, I can only mummer the lyrics of Bob Sager’s song “Turn the page”- especially the part “on the the road again“- juxtaposed with the background music of Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of glory”, and dream myself pressing my accelerator hard enough so that there is no air bubble between the shoe of the accelerator and the chassis of my car.

 

Evergreen Travel Memories

bomdila

Shall I say that I love to travel ? Love is a very heavy word enough to justify justifications like “everything is fair in love and war” . All I can say for sure that never has a new place failed to make me happy for days after I have left that place , provided it is not overcrowded with people. Maybe I am a closet introvert who just wants to run away from known faces. The thing about sentences starting with maybe is that there could be so many of them laying claim to be the cause that we can never be sure about the merit of those claims. Hours of pedantic analysis may tell us whose claim is greater but do we always need to know the whys of our emotions. Fair enough to say, I like to travel without any rhyme and reason. I think it wins a brownie point over my other passion of code for code earns my salary and my journeys use it.


Maybe, this has to do with the fact that every few years my fathers public sector job allowed us to go on free trips to any corner of India. While this coincidence could be the factor that influenced my likings. It is not a matter of conjecture that these free trips enabled me to see a lot of the country called India. My parents say we went on our first trip to Shillong, I don’t remember much of it apart from some lake where we did boating. The next was a trip to Darjeeling and Sikkim then Mumbai-Goa-Pune and then Chennai-Trivandrum-Kanyakumari and then Minicoy in Lakshadweep. Apart from these trips, my impressionable mind was overdosed with greenery of Arunachal Pradesh through my frequent summer holidays spent at my maternal uncles place. By the time I could take my own decisions, my travels were no longer hostages to freebies of my father’s company. I spent money from my pocket to travel to a few places in Arunachal, drove my bike from Hyderabad to Mumbai and back. My car clocked 20000 km in two years involving a few trips to places in and around Chennai and Bangalore. I have travelled as much as the limits of my budget would allow me.


Baseline established, I guess its time to come to the title of my post. Evergreen travel Memories. Let me give a background of the image that serves as the first image of this post. This was taken in an obscure hilltop of Bomdila. Bomdila is one of the most beautiful hill stations of India situated far above the clouds in the easternmost state of India — Arunachal Pradesh. We had planned to halt @ Bomdila for one day en-route Tawang. But the locals had some other plans. There was a strike in a town between Bomdila and Tawang and we had to stay for one extra day. We had one extra day @ Bomdila. Knowing nothing better we decided to go the highest point of Bomdila , they call it Tower. There is a military communications tower there. There was a proper road to it. But we decided that we should literally take the road less taken. We just ventured inside hills and decided to take the path devoid of any road so as to speak of. That was one of the best decisions I had taken in my life. We just kept on climbing hills asking local wood gatherers can we reach tower this way. Long story short, in our travels, we finally reached a mini hilltop. It had a nice grass devoid of any thorny plants. We decided to halt there. It was more a matter of lack of choice, we were dead tired. We were now high above the clouds and could look down upon a lot of geography. It was then the clouds took particular liking to our decision of hiking , it decided to let the various shades of green below us play hide and seek with our visual senses. I was told that green is a colour but the dance of the clouds was determined to clear my misconceptions and prove that green is not a single colour but a  range of colours. The photo above captures just one of the moments of this great poetic recitation of clouds.


Another image of my travel diaries that has stayed with we are from the coral reefs of Minicoy.  My primary school science told me about seven colours my knowledge of computer graphics told me about 65656 colours.   But Minicoy told me that colours are infinite.  This was not the statement of the white sandy beaches or the lagoon besides our hotel where you could see the bottom of the sea. It was school of fishes playing hide and seek in the imperfections of the dead exoskeleton of corals.  Many a engineers claim that modern hd tvs can accurately bring out the last pixel that a human eye can detect . I am sure this place has the other opinion. For no so-called high quality images have tainted my memories of that place. To top it all, I don’t have a single photograph of my trip to Minicoy so in a sense it is untainted by infrequent stimulus of digital pixels.


So, these places are beautiful but then why do I write about them some eight years after I bade farewell to these places. I guess it is the time that has elapsed that forces me to write about them . These memories stand out amongst all my geographical changes.  And then there is also the slight possibility that some of my friends who read this will want to do themselves a favour and find themselves in these places. To sign off, I will plagiarise the great Spock “I have been and shall always be in love with you -Bomdila and Minicoy”

A tale of several twisted roads in southern part of India -Part 1

For the uninitiated, I have the last two and half years of my life at a place called Chennai, I also happen to have a mode of transportation called car and a desire to travel called a primal desire. It is a conspiracy of my instincts, opportunity and geographical latitudes that I find myself soaking my eyes in the sun rays bathed in a s sea of green,gold and asphalt. My primal needs to feed my stomach means these changes in wavelength occurs during the days of week we call Saturdays and Sundays. The first of the innumerable excursions was a place which the French left as Pondicherry and the politicians renamed as Puducherry. But for all and sundry, the place was still the affectionate Pondi. The land of good food and great booze.

The journey

At that point of time, I was staying in the outskirts of Chennai at a place called Kelambakkam. Three people from office picked me up from my place at around 2 p.m. Thus started our journey on an A start across the lovely tarmac of East Coast Road.  A good word to describe ECR is scenic and a good word to describe scenic is ECR. The view of clear blue seas separated by arching trees is something that needs to be seen.Every mountain has a peak and every great experience has a peak. The peak for me was staring at the setting sun from a solitary log of wood left stranded on the damp floor of a receding back water. After a few hours of awesomeness, we were in Pondicherry and it was time to go hotel hunting.

The hunt for the hotel 1st January evening is not the best time to search for hotels in Pondicherry. We were on a limited budget which we were determined to spend on booze and food . Everywhere we went we were told to get lost. Finally, we came across a place called Sri Krishna guest house. It was 1000 rupees per room which meant 500 rupees per head. It meant my basic requirements on bathroom hygiene and it had a bed and a nearby street had a place where we could park our car. A single sentence to describe it all was  “a great place to stay”.

Things we did

 

  Food and Drinks The one thing that please me the most was the quality and economics of booze – good booze and great booze. Time to stock up.. have all you want. But booze alone cannot gratify hunger so ‘t was time to gorge on delicious pizzas and french food. A local guide told us the places to go. On day 1 most of the places were full but we found ourselves seated at Theresa’s to gorge on wood baked pizzas. Day 2 was spent at Le Club and few other places. We also went to a beach near Auroville, it had a small nondescript hut called cocos something, it had the most amazing russian salad and bread omelet. For people interested in stocking up booze a good place to go is a whole sale place around the place where the main beach road ends. You will get all you want at a price you can only dream off.Having booze in hotels is not that economical so we had the best of brands in our own small room.

 

Other things: Pondicherry is blessed with a large number of beautiful and bountiful beaches. We had a ride with us so we went to a random beach and spent a long time playing frisbee. After two days of awesome fun, it was time to bid adieu and come back to the city of Chennai. We started early, the other three attended office while I took a day off.