Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chumser & Lungser: Part 2 (Lungser and after)

Click here for Part 1

Part 2
September 16th Day - 9 High Camp
This was supposed to be a rest day. As was customary during this expedition, I had little to no sleep in the night just gone by. By now, Deepak and Nabarun could tell without looking at my face, that I was suffering AMS. Deepak even suggested that I skip the summit attempt. I ignored the advise. Deepak and Nabarun had developed some sort of a camaraderie by now and much to my dismay, they were actually competing during meals. "You had 8 chapatis, I had 9 - I win"; common guys give me a break.
Afternoon, the weather showed signs of deteriorating. Deepak and Nabarun, went to the top of the feature in front of our camp, to assess the route. The route was extremely challenging to say the least. They were back by 4 in the evening. Deepak was hoping that Nabarun or I would drop the summit bid. His argument was that we have one summit almost as high as Lungser under our belt, and that we had nothing to prove. I asserted that we made a plan to climb two mountains. We were going to stick to our plan. Nabarun maintained a neutral viewpoint. He had summitted Stok and Chumser and apparently was a very happy man. To make him comfortable, I told Deepak, that if the weather deteriorated, we wont even attempt the summit. I am certain, Deepak must have been calling on his ten million Gods to spoil the weather.

I went to bed by 7 with a headache and a bowel condition. I had not had a proper meal in the last 5 days. Chumser had taken a huge toll on me and by now I was actually beginning to hope that all this was over sooner than later.
September 17  - Day 10 Attempt Lungser
Really early day. We woke up by midnight. I woke Deepak by quarter past midnight. The sky was clear. I asked Deepak, if he wanted to stay back, and he said he wont if Nabarun and I were going. Him and Nabarun were wearing their hiking boots and they carried their Plastic boots till the snowline. I committed the greatest blunder of wearing the plastic boots right from the camp and paid dearly with compromised pace. The scree and moraines were just too much and at any point I was 5 to 15 minutes behind them. It was my fault, since Deepak had asked me to wear my approach boots till the snowline. I ignored his advice. I thought holding them back would be criminal, so I suggested to Deepak that He go on as fast as he could with Nabarun. I assured him that I would be safe and will follow them to the snowline and from there to the summit. He suggested that that was not going to happen. We go together or we dont go at all.
It took us close to 5 hours to climb and descend the feature between our camp and Lungser, cross the moraines leading to the base of Lungser and climb and descend numerous scree slopes. By the time we reached the base of Lungser and began to strap on our crampons to climb the snow/ice section, the weather began to deteriorate. We were already exhausted too. Deepak asked me if I wanted to abort the ascent. I suggested that we had covered the ugly rocky part and the snow and ice section were all that were between us and the summit. I think I was able to drive home the point. The visibility was about 50m. The initial ascent was straightforward. After about an hour, we began encountering the really steep sections on Lungser.
The major difference between Chumser and Lungser was that on the former we were always gaining altitude since the very beginning while on the latter, after 5 hours, we were at 6200 odd metres (only slightly higher than our high camp) with still about 450m to summit. By this time we had actually summitted Chumser, whereas we were just at the base of the snowline with well over 400m to the summit still to go. But we always knew that Lungser was not an easy peak to ascend, so no one was weeping yet. We climbed at least 3 steep sections. Deepak was leading, I was in the middle while Nabarun was on the trailing end. Deepak lost his foothold on a couple of occasions, and I just about managed to arrest the fall. It didnt deter us from continuing though. We took a break at a shoulder where the altimeter was reading 6350m. There was another steep section above this shoulder and this was probably the last really tough section before the summit. We were able to negotiate this obstacle without any serious concerns. From here our ascent was quite gradual for the next half hour. The last time Nabarun took a position fix, the altimeter reading was 6470m; the summit just 180m away. From this position we climbed for close to half hour and I reckon that would put us close to the 6550m mark and then the thing happened that would rend ones heart - whiteout. We had somehow managed to climb in adverse weather and in low visibility. But in a whiteout and close to zero visibility there was no way to go but either wait or climb down. Waiting was not an option since it was close to 1000 by now. Deepak asked me, if I wanted to abort the climb. With a heavy heart I asked him and Nabarun to call. They chose to return, and I think they made the right choice. The whiteout continued till we returned to the snowline about 90 minutes later and even then the mountain was not visible. Staying would have been a recipe for disaster, and I am glad I asked Deepak and Nabarun to call; I might have made the wrong choice. 

Down at the snowline; I was spent by now. Deepak and Nabarun tried to be patient with me, but I was too weak and too slow. We took a different route to our high camp and I tried to maintain pace with Deepak and Nabarun but I couldnt. I just let them disappear and made my own way to the camp. I was lost on a couple of occasions but used Lungser, Chumser and the feature between our high camp and Lungser as reference points to home in to the high camp. I was extremely slow and deliberate since I had very little strength left. I made it to the top of the feature by 1400 and could see the camp beneath me, the lake to my left, Chumser (one of its false summits) to my right and the mighty Lungser behind me. I hung around for a few minutes and began the descent to our camp. I was there in about 20 minutes. I was kind of cross with the two gentlemen for abandoning me, but to give them the benefit of the doubt, they assumed that I was a good enough navigator to get back to base; I take that as a compliment. :)
I went to my tent and decided to get some rest. I was in severe pain and had a slight temperature too. This was probably the worst expedition for me healthwise. There wasnt one day where I actually felt on top of my game. Around 4 in the evening the pony guy showed up. I was in my tent and could hear Deepak conversing with him. He should have come by 0800 the following day, but for some strange reason he decided to show up early. At 6 I decided to get something to eat. The dining tent was nice and warm. The pony guy was the latest addition to the list of gentlement affected by altitude. We gave him a dispirin and some garlic soup so he would feel better. Spare a thought for the poor beasts outside; It was getting extremely cold, ponies usually do not go this high. I only had a little custard for supper and went to bed in pain. I was only glad that we were returning to Churchu the following day. The greatest incentive was the summit of Chumser, while Lungser was a heartbreaker- so close.
September 18th - Day 11 Skurchyu
I did the most terrible thing. I actually refused to help Nabarun undo our tent. To be fair, I was just in no position. With my head pounding and body aching and little to no strength left, packing a tent was not even the last thing on my to do list. And I had more important things to worry about. With the terrible weakness, I had to figure out a way to stay on my feet with a pack on my back. The team managed to lose me again, or was it I who lagged. Common, we were going back down to the roadhead. I am sure considering my condition, the guys could have been slower. On the brightside (or was it) I was able to test my navigation skills. I had to hike to Churchu on my own and this time alone was well used thanking my Lord Jesus for the success on Chumser and almost making it to the top of Lungser.
I could manage to eat only half a chapathi for breakfast and the last straw to break the camels back was when, alone, in the middle of nowhere, I realised that my water bottle was missing from its slot. With no streams on the way and such a long hike in front of me, I decided to slow down to avoid perspiring. I decided to descend to an altitude of 5000 - 5100m and them traverse right towards Churchu (which was at 4700m). I made it to the campsite by half past one. Deepak and Nabarun were busy setting up the camp.
I just fell on my belly to relax which is when I saw a vehicle approaching the campsite. The vehicle was to arrive the following day to pick us up. However, since Tenzin and Thundup had returned owing to AMS, Sam sent a vehicle to check on us. SInce the vehicle was here, we didnt see the point in camping at Churchu and decided to drive to Leh the same day. We packed up by 1500 and were on our way in a jiffy. I was extremely weak, hungry (for meat) and thirsty for Thums Up. Nabarun offered me some water, and I emphatically told him that the next thing I drink will be Thums Up or something similar (Coke may be) and the next thing I eat will be meat or chicken. We stopped over at Chumathang where I had my most cherished drink in the last two weeks, Coke and Limca and some terrible Haldirams Potato Wafers to go with it. Nabarun and Deepak were delighted to see a smile on my face. I could now go back to climb Lungser, thats how relieved I was after the drink.
At 8 we reached Upshi, where Nabarun and I had Chapathi with chicken while Deepak had vegetarian meals. Tashe our driver went to a neighbouring restaurant to have some Thukpa. After the meals, we continued towards Leh. We were there by nine. Rudra was there to receive us. We were shown to our room. Rudra told us that there was no hot water, but that was not going to stop me, I managed to clean up in the freezing cold water, while Nabarun wisely decided to wait till the morning. We stayed up till about 11, checking out the photographs and talking about our recent adventure. I had the most sound sleep in the last two weeks and even Nabaruns symphony couldnt take that away from me.
September 19th - Day 12 Leh
The headache was gone. I was recovering. I had the heaviest breakfast loaded with eggs. Scrambled eggs and masala omlette with toast and aloo paratha and mango juice. Thundup, Deepak and Sam had come to see us. Sam was extremely glad that the expedition was a success. Lungser was not exactly a blemish; but it was just unfortunate. At 6550m, the point from where we returned, we were still higher than most of the peaks in Ladakh. Besides at 6635m, the summit of Chumser was only 30m shorter than Lungser, and we had bagged that. These are some of the things we told ourselves. Perhaps Sam said the most practical thing, "Well you can come back and climb it again". I said,"Perhaps. but it wont be too soon, it wont be the next peak I climb".
Nabarun and I went to Sams office later in the day to settle the payment and collect some of the stuff that we had left in his office. We went around the town after that and returned for Lunch by 2. Chicken in spicy gravy with rice and chapathi. Nabarun had to receive his parents, so we agreed to meet at Sams office at about 4 in the evening. He needed the snaps to be sent to IMF. After sharing the photographs, we went back to exploring the town; who am I kidding, we went back to the Masjid to try the sheekh kababs. Deepak was with us too and I had even called John (with whom I climbed the Mentok range last year) to meet with us. He was glad to meet with me. He gave me the most bizarre news that he had decided to quit climbing. I told him that the news made me sad, since I was hoping to climb with him in the future. I however managed to get some contacts for some climbs that I am planning in the future.
We said our goodbyes and went back to the hotel. We had a very light supper and began packing our stuff. The following morning, Sam picked me from the hotel at about 0830 for the flight departing for Delhi at 1020. At the hotel, I thanked Nabarun for accompanying me on the climb. The drive to the airport was short. Sam and I shook hands and I told him that I was grateful for everything. We embraced at the airport before he drove away.

Chumser & Lungser: Part 1 (Leh - Churchu - Chumser Kangri)

Part 1 

Tso Moriri from Chumser High Camp
This year, right from the beginning, Ladakh was a pot pouri of uncertainties. I should not have even gone to Ladakh in the first place.
I had planned a climb in Kyrgyztan (Lenin or Khan Tengri) and I had to call that off because a friend invited me to climb MK4 and the peaks in its vicinity with him in HP. While we were planning on that, IMF detailed me for an expedition in Bataal (CB9, 10 etc). There is a certain Wg Cdr Chaudhury with the IMF who was supposed to lead the climb. He came across as an eccentric and "Do I care?" kind of a person to me. IMF called off the climb on two occasions; and on both occasaions causing immense monetary loss and logistical inconvenience to the participants. I spoke to the Wg Cdr and he sounded  unapologetic and carefree. I had resolved in my mind that this was the last time I would let IMF ruin my plans, even if it meant spending out of my own pocket. 

Because IMF ruined my climbing calender (well almost), I decided to go to Jaipur and work some more on my riding. My last trip to Jaipur was smashing and I was hoping Vishal and Ajay will make this one worthwhile too. This would keep me fit and give me some time to sort out a new plan. 

So I decided to climb peaks higher than those planned by my friend and IMF. And to soup things up, I decided to climb two such peaks for good measure. The icing on the cake was to do all this in a two week window (including acclimatisation). The two peaks that came to my mind were Chumser and Lungser in Ladakh. Chumser is 6625m tall while Lungser is 6666m tall. Climbing even one of these bulbous objectives can be a handful, not to mention two. Doing that in 10 climbing days is another matter altogether. I have heard of so many people gloating over the fact that Chumser is a "trekking" peak and come back empty handed and a truck load of cold injuries and high alt illnesses to add insult to injury. True - sections of Chumser can be classified as "trekking" peak. But there are some sections that we did which were quite steep especially just short of "our" summit which @ 6635m was 10m higher than the main summit.

A few reasons why I feel expeditions to Chumser fail are (Not even talking about Lungser now)

1. The mountain is humongous. People underestimate the magnitude of the climb. The base camp is at an altitude of 5688m which is higher than the everest base camp

2. The tree line in Ladakh is low (very low) sometimes even non existent. Oxygen levels are lower than in other parts of the Himalayas. Climbing 22000 ft in Ladakh is not the same as climbing 22000 ft say in Himachal, Uttaranchal or even Sikkim.

3. For anyone serious about summiting Chumser, one must consider a high camp at 6100m. The downside is that the weather is very fickle at this point and it is perpetually cold. We experienced this bitter coldness (we climbed in september) but the reward was sweet - "summit".

So much for planning. But I was a lone climber. Not that that was going to deter me. But that just meant more funds and better logistical support. I had made an enquiry with a couple of logistics agencies in Leh. One of these agencies, put me in touch with Nabarun Ghosh, an aspiring climber from Kolkata. He too had aimed to climb chumser and lungser in a very small window (timeframe); what are the odds? Without wasting much time, We got down to the finances and logistics. Nabarun was more than willing to let me manage the climb and I obliged. We planned the climb between the 8th and 20th of Sep with a days rest between the two summits and a reserve day which turned out as good as non existent.

Mistake - 12 days is just about enough for ONE peak measuring well over 6500m, let alone two, to be summited in a period of 72 hours. We realised the magnitude of the task only one day before attempting Chumser. That is when Nabarun my new friend suggested that we concentrate on one objective as opposed to two. I said that we should believe in our plan. We were the ones who made the plan, and of all the people we should show faith in it. More on this episode later.

I reached Delhi on the 7th of Sep. I had a flight for Leh the following day. I picked up a pair of CAMP G-Shell lite+ from Munesh, my acquaintance in Delhi. I didnt use the gloves though. My Millet Ice Fall did stellar duty on the arduous ridges of Chumser and Lungser.

September 8th  - Day 1 Leh

48 hours in Leh was what I had planned for acclimatisation. Sam, who helped organise KY1 for me in 2010, picked me up from the airport around 10. Rudra the Manager of Hotel Mansarovar on Fort Road was delighted to have me as his guest. I quickly settled into a sedentary mode for the next few hours. On my back, on the bed was the preferred course of action, apparently. The sudden difference in altitude from around zero in Delhi to 3500m in Leh is bound to affect the most hardcore outdoor junkie and I wasnt willing to take my chances.

I had to meet Sam sometime in the evening. So after a nice heavy lunch and a nap, I walked up Fort Road towards Raku Complex to visit Sams new office. I spent some time at his desk discussing the trip and also met with Deepak, my mountain guide, a native of Manali. He appeared to be a very "crisp" fellow and has somekind of a reputation among his clientele. A reputation for being forthright, which I thought was good. We didnt need someone who would beat around the bush either. After meeting with Sam and Deepak, I spent sometime lazing around the main bazaar in Leh, especially near the Masjid, where native Kashmiris sell delightful meaty delicacies on skews called sheekh. There was also Rista, a spicy meatball cooked in soupy stew; a mouthwatering affair. After hanging around the town, I headed towards Mansarovar. Rudra told me that someone had been meaning to meet me while I was gone. I assumed it was Nabarun. We had agreed to meet the following day, but 8th was not totally ruled out. Nabarun had made it to Leh a week earlier, since he intended to climb Stok Kangri before attempting Chumser and Lungser with me. I was keen to find out if the gentleman was Nabarun. I had to wait a few more hours until the next morning to learn about the mysterious visitor.

September 9th  - Day 2 Leh

The next morning after breakfast, I was hanging around the lawn, testing the GPS and altimeter on my N8. The altimeter was about 40m off. The positioning was pretty accurate though. While I was busy testing my device, Nabarun walked into the entrance towards the hotel lobby. We shook hands and it turned out that the mysterious visitor from last evening was him indeed.

 Nabarun told me about his stok expedition; how he just about managed to scrape through a summit at the last moment due to bad weather. They stayed put at the base camp for 5 days due to incessant weather. The weather only just about cleared up late on the 7th. So the leader suggested that they venture into the mountain as far as possible. By the time they left the base camp, it was 10. They somehow made it to the summit by 1730. The string of events on stok sounded like a satirical imitation of a laurel and hardy episode. Well! to me. :)

 After a brief chat, Nabarun and I walked to his guest house, to pick his pack. By proportion, his daypack was comparatively heavier than his rucksack. His guest house was somewhere on the upper tukcha road. What better way to home in to Mansarovar, than to backtrack on my N8 GPS. The positioning worked like a charm. Nabarun was carrying his own Garmin eTrek Vista. With two GPS sets, we felt secure like a swiss locker on our forthcoming adventure.

 After dumping Nabaruns luggage in our room we went to have lunch. Cant quite remember what was for lunch. Sometime in the evening, we walked to Sams office to check the paperwork and equipment. We also met with Thundup, the cook and Tenzin, Deepaks assistant. We agreed to depart from Mansarovar the following day at 0800 and went out to my favourite place in Leh, the courtyard of the Masjid, to try the sheekh kabab of course. Well I "tried" the meats, Nabarun actually "feasted" on it. It was good nonetheless.
We went back to the hotel and began packing our stuff for the expedition.


 September 10th - Day 3 Drive to Tso Moriri/Churchu

We were both up by 0600. Sam caught us in the Hotel Restaurant @ 0800 and was quick to point out that he was not late. I requested for 15 minutes. After a heavy breakfast, we stuffed our packs in the vehicle and headed out towards Tsomoriri. Deepak had about only 3 million anecdotes to tell us, and at times we would wonder if he was ever gonna cease talking.

We made it to Churchu by about 4 in the evening, dumped our luggage and drove to the other side of Tsomoriri, towards Korzok. I showed Nabarun around the village (I climbed the Mentok range from here last year) while Deepak went to arrange for the ponies. We made it back to Churchuk by about 6 in the evening, just in time for supper. The guys seemed to be having a good time; I on the other hand had to retire into my tent to deal with an embarassing bowel condition.


September 11th - Day 4 Hike to Base Camp
This was the most crucial day of all as far as the expedition was concerned. Churchu was at 4700m, 300m higher than Tsomoriri in the backdrop. The base camp was at 5650m (thereabouts). Thats a humongous 1000m height gain right in the beginning. We hiked the distance in about 7 hours, good timing, considering Nabarun and I were carrying really heavy packs.


We stopped at a couple of places to try out the packed lunch that Thundup had prepared for us. While Deepak and Nabarun seemed to relish the offering, I couldnt even manage a bite. I never seemed to like the concept of a packed lunch. cheesy sandwich, boiled potato and hardboiled egg; always gave me a feeling that I was being punished for something. I somehow managed to stay on my feet, sipping my carefully concocted Tang; thats 5 parts water, 2 parts tang, 1 part love --- I am kidding. I like Tang though; no two ways about that.

 I requested Thundup to make some Khichdi for supper. His Khichdi seemed more like Pulao, but it was definitely more palatable than his sandwich. I felt a slight headache and thought it wise to keep Nabarun informed. He suggested that we stay at the base the following day rather than setting up a higher camp.


 September 12th - Day 5 Base Camp

Tenzin was not very well (so was I). The altitude had got the best of him. Deepak suggested that he descend immediately, while he can do it on his own. If he delayed then the whole team might have had to accompany him, till he was at a safe altitude. Tenzin agreed. Sometimes valor is in saying "I cant".

 After lunch we hiked to the high camp for acclimatisation. Since my pack was over 20 kilos, I felt a little load ferry would do no harm. I carried some of my heavy stuff, crampons, harness, gauntlets etc to be left at the ABC. Because Tenzin didnt acclimatise well, we thought We should take Thundup along so that he was reasonably well acclimatised by the time we establish the high camp the following day. There were two possible locations for a high camp. One at 5950 and another at 6100. The one at 5950 was a proper camp site while the one at 6100 was a little difficult for the ponies to reach. Since this bunch had more insane people than sane, we agreed to camp at 6100m. Too bad for the ponies was the general concensus. Sorry Menaka Gandhi! Thundup had to return to the BC from 5950m because he showed symptoms of AMS, plus we thought by the time we got back we would be hungry, so we might as well let the cook do his job.

 We returned to base with a spring in our strides and sleet in our faces. Spring in our strides because setting up a high camp at 6100m increased our chances of summit manifold, sleet in our faces, because there was severe precipitation. LOL

September 13th - Day 6 High Camp

Sometimes I wonder, if I could eat like Nabarun (in the mountains of course; I eat well in the plains) or sleep like Deepak, I would be the perfect mountaineer. It turns out I cant eat or sleep well, and most of the climbing is done out of sheer will, or whatever is left of it.

 After a very slight breakfast (Nabarun ate well, thank God), Nabarun and I started off to the ABC. Deepak, Thundup and the Pony guy took their sweet time loading up the ponies (and a couple of donkeys too). By now I have been in a state of heavy headedness for about 48 hours. The only good thing about the whole thing was that the pain was at least shifting from behind my skull to forward and back. Everytime Nabarun would enquire about my condition, I would say "I would like to think I am fine". I have felt better during climbs though. So this was not very encouraging, with the summit attempt just about 36 hours away. Nabarun and I maintained a leisurely pace. We made it to the high camp in well under three hours. We laid out our tent while Deepak got busy with the Dining tent. By 1400 or so we had established base at the high camp.

 I was glad at least Deepak and Nabarun were enjoying their meals. I on the other hand had to do with black tea and more black tea. I am not even a tea drinker and was craving for food, but for the loss of appetite. At 6100m, Thundup was beginning to feel the effects of altitude. Deepak helped him with the cooking. Nabarun, Deepak and I agreed that if Thundup was still not acclimatised by morning, we would send him back, albeit there was another person who for some strange reason was not acclimatising well in this expedition and was still hanging around. For dinner we had Khichdi, and tonight was probably the only night during the expedition when I actually ate well.


September 14th - Day 7 High Camp

Our worst fears had come true. Thundup was not doing too well. He had thrown up more than once last night and felt a severe pounding in his head. Deepak and Nabarun insisted that he climb down to a safe altitude. Although I agreed with them in words, I was really hoping that Thundup stayed; may be he would acclimatise eventually. Who was I kidding. We all knew that his situation was only going one way- from bad to worse. He hung around till about 1100. Deepak suggested that he would accompany Thundup till halfway between the BC and Churchu. Although that was the right thing to do, we had planned to leave for the summit attempt on Chumser by 0100 the following morning. If Deepak went with Thundup, he will be spent by the time he got back. We sent Thundup and Deepak on their way with some juice and chocolates. We had some stale Khichdi and soupy noodles for lunch. I suggested to Nabarun that we go for the summit without Deepak. He just wouldnt have the strength to climb after today, besides I thought he would slow us down. Boy was I wrong?

 Deepak was back by 1600, and seemed in high spirits. I suggested that he take some rest and forget about Chumser. Perhaps he could guide us to the top of Lungser. "No way" was his response. He said he was being paid to guide us, and he was not gonna sit back. It was hard to reason with him, so Nabarun suggested that he at least take some rest. I told him I will gear up and wake him at quarter to 1 in the morning. By the time we went to our tent, it was 2000. Nabarun slept and I played owl. 

September 15  - Day 8 Summit Chumser

The day began early. I stayed awake all night and developed a slight headache. Woke Nabarun at midnight. We took our time gearing up. I woke up Deepak by 0045. He was fast. We had some black tea and left by 0130. The initial ascent to the snowline was slow. It took us about 100 minutes to hit 6300m. This is where Nabarun put on his plastic boots. I was trying out my Forclaz 900 boots. My feet were freezing in them. The boots are good for hiking till about 5500m. They are definitely not suited to climbing/hiking in snow. (My feet are still numb from the cold injury, and its been about 10 days since I came back from Leh). Anyways, after wearing our crampons, the gradient increased and so did the volume of snow and ice. Deepak could barely stand on his feet, but he somehow managed.

In another hour we reached fork from where one could go to the false summits. From here there was a straight forward 40 deg climb for about 40 odd minutes leading to a sharp ridge which was quite steep. It was this steep ridge measuring only little less than a 100m, which would lead us to the summit. After this ridge, climbers are exposed and it begins to get extremely windy and cold. By 0540 we were at the summit. Nabaruns Garmin Vista was reading 6635 while my N8 was reading 6595m. I would say the Garmin reading was correct, since my N8 was off by about 40m since Leh.

We snapped the surrounding peaks (mainly Lungser - our next objective) and Tsomoriri beneath us. Also the Mentok range on the other side of Tsomoriri and the peaks either side of the Mentok range. Since Nabarun was busy with his GPS receiver and Deepaks digicam had conked, photoevidence was now my department, but only just. In about 90 seconds my fingers were frozen and I had to pass on my phone to Deepak to be turned off. Since we were beginning to feel the chill, we decided to headback. The jubiliation was short and would only be complete once we made it back safe. On our way back, Deepak found a strange place to check his boots and feet for comfort; the point where we began climbing the steep ridge towards the summit. We waited for him on that exposed part of the mountain for about 15 minutes. Although he seemed to be enjoying the brief halt, I was feeling like throwing him down the slope. Of course I managed to keep a smile on my face, afterall this was the guy who was going to guide us to the top of Lungser in a couple of days.  

We made it back to the camp in a couple of hours but not without any misadventures. While Deepak decided to take a different route to the camp, Nabarun and I backtracked the same route we took to the summit. Nabarun almost got into a crevasse. I used my Ice Axe (and his) to anchor and and he somehow managed to push himself to the surface. We just thanked heavens, and continued towards the camp, wishing this was the last of our woes. It was - at least for the day. Since the cook was gone, there was no hot cup of tea or breakfast or snack. Deepak went to the dining tent. Nabarun and I went to our tent. I had some cold water, dispirin and went to sleep, hoping that the headache would be gone when I woke up. It had only aggravated by the time I woke up. I had very little lunch and dinner. I was in so much discomfort that I hardly remember anything from the rest of that day.

Part 2 continued here


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Out of Rishikesh

Its been a couple of days since I reached Chennai, just in time for my sisters birthday. Mutton in spicy gravy at my sisters place and Beef Roast with rice and chicken biriyani at home were the first things waiting for me. Another day of that torturous vegetarian food at Rishikesh and I might have flipped. Apart from the food, the place is not bad. Of course, white water rafting didn't exactly enthral me. So I thought may be a little bit of kayaking was worth trying before I left for Chennai. The last time I did kayak was a decade ago in a lake near Coimbatore. I was not sure if I could handle it. I spoke to Nitin, an acquaintance in Rishikesh, and he fixed me with Hari a Kayak Instructor. Hari and I practiced for a couple of hours at the NIM beach. The most splendid couple of hours of my entire stay in Rishikesh. We paddled upstream, downstream across and rolled and what not. Of course, a small and slender frame definitely aids one. 

In my opinion, a kayaker is much more in control of his kayak, than a rafter is in control of his raft. Of course there are people who might disagree. But this is just my opinion and the last time I checked we were a democracy. I paddled to my hearts desire and wound up just before sunset, in order to meet Nitin, who runs Adventure Axis, a store that deals with adventure and security gear.

The following day I met with Umesh, Nitins uncle and picked up a pair of Millet mountaineering gauntlets and some other hardwear from his store, Protos, which is in the main market. I left for Delhi the following day where I had a train to board at 2230. I reached Delhi by 1600 and met with Munesh who works at Protos' shop in Delhi. I picked up a pair of boots and crampons from the store, had sheekh kababs for dinner and made it to New Delhi by 2200; just in time for the train.  

Home Sweet Home. :)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rishikesh Drifter

Rishikesh is a small town sprawling across the banks of river Ganga. The town and the river are of immense religious significance to the vast Hindu populace of India. A visit to the city and a dip in the Ganges is supposed to cleanse ones body and soul. If it was this easy for men to get cleansed, perhaps, Jesus died in vain. I wonder what these millions will have to say when they stand before the one true living God on the day of Judgement.

Anyways, Jaipur was behind me, and if I thought that the heat was too, I was terribly mistaken. Rishikesh is as hot as a town can be. There was a special train at 0600 from Jaipur headed to Sarai Rohilla in Delhi. I got the ticket a day before and I didnt even have to book in tatkal. Quite strange, in a pleasant way of course. The announcement at the station was hilarious. The lady on the PA system said, "train number 9721 Jaipur to Delhi Sarai Rohilla, 'Hollywood Special' is arriving on platform number ....". Well! at least I thought it was funny. Anyways, the train has only three stops. One at Gandhinagar in Jaipur and the other two at Gurgaon and Delhi Cantt, in the vicinity of Delhi. So it can be considered a non stop train in some sense. A bus from ISBT Anand Vihar to Nepali Farm and a Vikram (Tuk Tuk) to Rishikesh rounded up the days journey.

The purpose of visiting Rishikesh was to pick some expedition gear from an acquiantance and may be even raft. I did raft the very next day. It was a 27 Km route which some operators call  "Expedition" in order to make gullible clients feel ecstatic. I mean the raft is an inflated boat with 4 to 10 people in it. No matter what, the boat wont capsize, the occupants wont drown and whether a rafter paddles or not the raft just stays on course. I say this because I was stuck with a bunch of Jats from Haryana who just wouldnt do what the poor guide said. If anything, they would do the exact opposite of what he had to say and the boat would still stay on course. Of course, the rapids, which had funny names like three blind mice, roller coaster, golf course, crossfire  etc were thrilling. But to call the ride an expedition would be pushing it. Its good fun though. I even got to swim (well go with the flow) for a 2 Km stretch after "golf course". The stretch is called "body surf" where one might surf on his belly using ones arms, feet and the vest of course, which is meant to prevent one from drowning. The guys halted the raft at a place where people jump off a cliff. There are a bunch of vendors selling snacks and drinks at this spot. I jumped off the cliff which was probably 6 or so metres high. It was alright. The "jat" party had to do their own thing. So the guide and I waited at the raft for them. By the time we reached the town, it was past five in the evening. I think this rafting thing could be good fun for college kids and couples. Its not very physically demanding and doesnt require special skills. Would I do it again? I dont know. Even if I did, I seriously doubt it will be in Rishikesh. There is not even one joint selling meat or fowl. What does a poor, pure non vegetarian like me do?

I think I will stay here for a few more days, pick up the stuff I need and head back to Pondicherry or Chennai to get some rest before the climbs, kind of taper before the expedition. Or who knows, may be I will stay and plan a climb from here. Hopefully things fall in place sooner than later. Lord Willing.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jaipur Horseplay .. Contd.

Its been about a month in Jaipur now. Time to leave perhaps. May be explore a new place, try some new adventure. Still a few days before the climbing season begins. So I am putting this time to full use. The past month has been demanding physically.  Cycling and riding in the mornings and evenings, in the Jaipur heat could be tough at times. The Riding was interesting up until now. However, recently the rides were getting more and more challenging. Vishal had trained me on a few jumps earlier in the month. But to expect him to train me all the time would be unfair. Rajesh, who would work with me on my riding in the absence of Vishal, had to leave in order to take care of his family. Just when I was beginning to feel dejected, I met with Ajay. An excellent horseman, from Indore in MP. If Rajesh was good, this guy was brilliant.

Ajay and I hit it off rightaway. I was eager to learn as much in as little time as possible and he was willing to oblige. He would plan elaborate training sessions for me. Jumps, controlled canter, gallops and finer nuances of horsemanship like footwork and posture. Oftentimes the sessions were extremely demanding. Before Ajay arrived, I rode on Astro a lot and I was getting used to him which is not necessarily a good thing. Vishal often says that a good horseman should be able to ride (comfortably) on any given horse and he should be able to make minor adjustments if required. Ajay shared the same opinion and I was not complaining. So I said goodbye to Astro for the time being and began riiding on Ashwath and Badal. Ashwath is the only stallion in the lot and he likes to show it too. He is burly and extremely strong. One needs strong and preferably long legs to be in command while on Ashwath. Although I was found wanting in the length department, climbing and cycling certainly  do strengthen ones legs and that is why I was able to ride well (or so I would like to believe) on Ashwath.

Towards the end of the 3rd week Ashwath and I were a team to reckon with. I worked with him on correcting my diagonals and improved my right lead canter which was miserable at best. Ajay also helped me with the "simple change" technique and told me that with a little more practice I could even do the flying change soon. Ashwath feels extremely smooth in his canter. So I was once able to push him to gallop speeds. The arena is a medium sized facility, and so the beast can only speed up in a rectangular route which is about 80 yd X 40 yd. With his strength and burlesque build, Ashwath felt controlled even in a gallop. I say this because Badal, an equally good horse, felt quite green when I got him to gallop. I was able to Jump about 3ft with Ashwath, Badal and Astro. Badal and Astro especially felt the heat on the last couple of days since I was out to prove a point; just to myself that the last month was not wasted. Ajay and I put them (and me of course) through a rigorous routine. Warming up with brisk trots, turns, cirles, diagonals and sitting the trots. Canters in alternate leads followed by jumps and gallop. The beasts were equally competent.

When it was time to go, I really didnt want to leave the horses. A month ago, they were no more than a four legged beast to me. But now I KNOW, that among all the animals, horses are especially loyal and subservient. After they have served you, all they look forward to is a pat and a little freedom. I somewhat felt that the 8th Psalm was partially fulfilled for me in this last month. "He has put all things in subjection under his feet; the ox the sheep and the beasts of the field". I thank God that one day in Jesus Christ, this scripture will be fulfilled perfectly. Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jaipur Horseplay

As a kid I would always imagine myself doing heroic deeds. Climbing cliffs, jumping off airplanes or may be saving the world - OK thats pushing it.. But what Hero can't ride horses? With  the climbing season still a few weeks away and the mountains deemed unfit for skiing and one suffering with the "itchy feet syndrome", I thought a little bit of riding should keep oneself occupied and may be offer a  different sort of a workout. 

After Gulmarg I was in Pondicherry for a couple of weeks, where Raghavendra, a young lad from Rajasthan, studying French,  suggested that Rajasthan was the place to delve into for riding. A little bit of searching and I got the contact for Vishal Bishnoi, a gentleman rider from Ganganagar, managing "Equest", a Riding School on the New Sanganer Road in Jaipur. I spoke with him over the phone and he was more than pleased to extend his facility to a novice like me.

So, in about a weeks time, I was in the Pink City (more like - sand city). I lived at Raghavs place for a couple of days and then moved into Mahal Guest House in the Durgapura Locality, which is just about 4.5 Km from Equest. I have been using Raghavs bicycle to commute between the guest house and Equest. There are 8 horses and a mule in the stable. The beasts are brilliant, except the mule, who is just a nut bag. He eats all day and does no work. 

Pratap is the most graceful horse, looks brilliant and Vishal says he has just the right proportions. He canters gracefully too. Too bad he is blind in one eye. Astro is perhaps the laziest of the lot. I make him trot and he moves like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He is the laziest trotter. Rajesh my trainer keeps saying,"twinge with your heels, twinge with your heels", and I say to myself, any more twinging and my heel will be in his stomach. Vishal on the other hand says,"Think trot, think trot", and I am like,"yeah right! that should do it". Vishal says that horses are extremely telepathic. So ideally, if the rider just thinks something and positions himself accordingly, the horse must respond. Well! easier said than done. So I sigh, stretch my feet outwards and give a mighty kick in his belly, and voila! he picks up speed. No telepathy required with this technique. :) He needs the "kick" treatment, once every couple of minutes to keep him from dozing off. Although slow to begin with, He has a fast Canter, when I get him warmed up. Vishal says I have got him excited, and I have no clue as to what that means. In my mind I am thinking, yeah but what did I do for that to happen? :)

Ashwath, Fire and Badal are extremely sensitive horses. A little brush of my feet across the belly of one of  these and they trot briskly. A slight twinge and they settle into a beautiful canter. Texla is the old one. He is used to train little kids on a lunge line. Devdutt is burly and tends to be quite jerky in his movements to begin with but eases off once he is warmed up.Blair is the villain. He keeps throwing everyone off -- well thats what I am told. I have never actually ridden him, so I cant be too sure. Evenings are quite busy at Equest. There are a bunch of kids who train in  the evening. A couple of them have taken a liking to me. A few adults practice polo when the sun is down. Mornings are relatively slow with fewer riders training in the arena. There is this peculiar kid called Siddharth, who intrigues me. He is shy, doesn't speak, and barely nods. Reminds me of me.

Anyways, I train in the mornings as well as evenings. Add to that some pacey cycling and one gets a good workout. Also bruised knees and sore buttocks as incentive. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gulmarg 12

Gulmarg was terrific this year (Although the post is a month too late). It was nothing like last year. There were no bans on routes from the top of Afarwat and on a personal front, I was feeling really fit in a long time. The operated foot last year left a sour taste in my mouth and although I was able to try a few things especially routes down Kongdoori, it wasn't quite satisfying. Especially not being able to ski down G4 was painful. 

This year however, G4, Mary's Shoulder, Kongdoori and Monkey Hill were all done on more occasions than one. I got my equipment from JIM & WS. Rossignol Alpine Ski's, 48" Kerma Poles and and Salomon boots. Maj. Mahajan had accommodated me in Mount View; a decent place to nestle for two,  may be three weeks. The staff at Mount View is brilliant. Tariq, the Manager is thoughtful while Adil, the help, always exceeds ones expectations.  

I had not skied for about 10, may be 11 months. So revisiting the skills on the many beaten slopes around Gulmarg seemed like a wise idea. Slopes like "Highland" and "85" are especially popular with professionals and novices alike. The Army Skiing Team and the HAWS (High Alt Warfare School) Skiers practice in and around the Highland Slope and are always willing to lend advise, point errors or correct ones technique. I was practicing with Hazari and Mangal, instructors with JIM & WS; brilliant skiers and excellent teachers.

Kongdoori & Mary's Shoulder
Between Mary's Shoulder and
After about 5 days in Gulmarg (last week of feb), I felt confident of being able to face the natural slopes. G4 (The top of Afarwat) was not operational for some reason. So we took the "Gondola" (Telecabine System) till Kongdoori and hiked about a Km towards Mary's Shoulder. Surprisingly, most part of our hike was beaten earlier in the morning. A little off piste slope joined this beaten route to form a ski run leading to Kongdoori roughly about 2 miles long . Excellent fun, especially the beaten part of the track was extremely fast. On the way back we followed the beaten  track  from Kongdoori to Gulmarg which was by now a regulation route, with varying degrees of descents and sudden curves thrown in for good measure.

Kongdoori & G4  
The next couple of days, I went back to the slopes in the resort with some guys who had enrolled for the advanced course @ JIM. We practiced edging, waddling and other turns. In the meanwhile, Sqn Ldr Pramod, Mahajans course mate, was in the institute for a couple of days. He expressed his desire to ski down from Kongdoori to Gulmarg. Pramod practiced some basic skills at a resort while Hazari's team and I refreshed some advanced skills. When Pramod felt like he was ready, Younis (another instructor at JIM) and I accompanied him to Kongdoori. We took a day pass on the Gondola and did a couple of runs to Gulmarg from Kongdoori. On the third trip to Kongdoori, I requested Pramod to wait while Younis and I went to G4 and skied down the top of Afarwat. The next 90 minutes were the most exhilarating moments to begin this year. 

Pramod and I @ Kongdoori
Younis and I had a drink and left Pramod with his camera at Kongdoori. In about 15 minutes we were at the top of Afarwat at 13000+ feet. I had no time for sightseeing and just got on with the business. We negotiated the steep slopes with a combination of jumpy stem and dynamic turns. Younis was obviously more fluent of the two since he had been on these mountains earlier this year. This was the first time for me this year. I was more deliberate and meticulous in my approach. By the time we made it to Kongdoori, it was time for lunch. We met with Pramod, skied down to Gulmarg and returned to Kongdoori for lunch - Chicken Mughlai, Chicken Masala, Naan and Rice. 

With that scrumptious meal, we had enough energy to do a few more rounds to Gulmarg. The ride to G4 was again blocked for some reason. I left Pramod with Younis for guidance and went ahead exploring new routes from Kongdoori to Gulmarg, on  my own. Quite a hectic day this one.

Solo - G4 and Mary's Shoulder

By now I had had enough opportunities to ski down so many mountains and slopes. This year was exceptionally good in that regard. Very few bad weather, no activity days. In fact even on bad weather days, I was able to get some sort of mileage on the skis. So the logical progression would have been to go solo, which I did. 2 days after Pramod left, I was on my way to G4 via Kongdoori with Mr. Reshi, my old friend from Gulmarg, employed with the youth services dept in Gulmarg. A genuinely good person and excellent instructor, Reshi has known these mountains for 23 years. He was on his way to Kongdoori to help with the management and administration of a tournament called Gondola Cup being conducted between Mary's shoulder and Kongdoori. I saw him off at Kongdoori and headed off to G4. The descent was quite emphatic, although I did see a few snow boarders and skiers overtaking me, thanks to better equipment and exposure, I believe I was doing alright, considering the fact that I have been to the top of Afarwat on fewer occasions. I even managed to ski down Mary's shoulder towards Kongdoori a couple of times. Wow! G4 and Mary's shoulder on the same day. Quite an exceptional day. 

On my way down from Mary's shoulder I ran into Hadee. The day before I came across this inquisitive little girl at the highland slope. We had a little chat while waiting our respective turns at the lift. Sometime during  our conversation I shared the gospel with the young lady. She never told me that she was going to the mountains as well. She had somehow managed to get facedown, out of exhaustion, I think. She asked me for some water. I offered her some juice and chocolate (which I always carry handy). I suggested that she follow my lead. She did. Once in Kongdoori, at the site of the competition, I politely implied that she shouldn't be skiing on the mountains without a guide. Not at her age and skill level. The lady smiled. I said good bye to her, and did another round of Mary's shoulder before heading back home.

Monkey Hill
Pradeep & Wg Co Padda
With just two more days left for my return flight, Pradeep (and Wing Co Padda) my new friends, asked me  if they could ski down from Kongdoori. Since there are a few straightforward tracks between Kongdoori and Gulmarg, I suggested it was plausible and offered to be their guide. I checked with Mangal and he was willing to go too. Unfortunately, the Gondola was halted for the day due to strong winds. Pradeep and Padda Sir had to go the slopes with a sullen face. Mangal, his friend and I instead headed off on the trail towards Monkey hill. Deep woods with tall trees and chilly winds; stuff from the movies. Anyways, we were at the top in about half an hour. The ski descent was pretty boring to be honest. Too many trees for my liking. Mangal and his friend landed on their butt a coupl of times. I was more deliberate and careful. Especially because of the number of trees on the route. We hit the road connecting Gulmarg with Tangmarg in about 15 minutes. A newly wed couple were generous enough to offer us a ride to Gulmarg. They were in some sort of mischievous mood, which was apparent from the place where they were seated, right on top of the Sumo. Can't complain though! they offered us a ride. We handed the skis to them for safekeeping and got into the vehicle. It was really comfortable in there. Why would they sit on top? Beats me. I presume, when you are in love, the wires in the top floor go all wrong. We got off at the bus stop and thanked the couple. Lunch at Yemberzal was .... what can I say? Vegetarian. :(

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Pushcart Lady

I did quite a few rounds on my bicycle between Pondicherry and Cuddalore. (Read the previous post) From under 4 hours the first time round, I was able to drastically improve my time to about 2 hours thirty. 54 Km in about 154 minutes is OK without being exceptional. With the  skiing trip just round the corner, I cut down on the running from around the 120 min mark to about 45 to 60 minutes or so. So about 10 or so Kms followed by 45 to 50 Km of cycling upto (or sometimes towards) Cuddalore and back was the routine. I consider cycling a better workout (along with swimming) than running since it is devoid of the trauma associated with long distance running. And if one is running about 110 Km in a 6 day week, then the odds of injuring oneself increase manifold. 

So here I was, eagerly waiting to ski down Afarwat and Mary's shoulder among other mountains. With a week to go (this is around the second week of feb - unfortunately blogger doesnt allow one to backdate their blog entries - hence the late entry.) I was cycling more and I had almost halved my running distance. During these trips to Cuddalore, I would stop at a juice stall (it was more of a pushcart) right across the entrance to MGMCHRI (Mahatma Gandhi Medical College). The stall was run by a lady whom most people would ignore. Not me. I have learnt the most important lessons of my life from Jesus Christ. Seldom do I go by the words of self proclaimed prophets, Sadhu's and shepherds. BUT, this lady comes right on top of the list of others, apart from Jesus, from whom I have learnt my lessons. Well! at least some lessons. 

She was mute and I didnt even know how to ask for her name. She sold sweet lime juice for Rs 20. The first time she gave me One Glass for Rs 20. The following day she smiled and enquired if my muscles hurt (in gestures). Not one to show any signs of weakness I pretended like I could do 10 more rounds. I figured she could see right through my "I am tough" act. That day she gave me two glasses of juice and urged me to go home and eat well. I have rarely seen  RICH, educated and wise people who CLAIM to be Christians show any compassion or generosity. May be in words; but thats all. This woman outdid all those so called disciples of Jesus in the way she treated a stranger in me. Her warmth and sense of concern were striking. I went home that day and prayed for her. I thanked my Lord and Savior Jesus for bringing me to her. I thanked him for blessing me with another sister. A poor, illiterate sister, RICH in deeds. Whenever I think of her, I feel ashamed of the kind of Christian I have been. The Bible says that the Lord has chosen the poor of this world, rich  in faith to be heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to them that love him. So true.

The following day I went to meet her (of course on the pretext of a drink after the workout). I took a Bar-One snack along with me. After the drink (2 glasses :D) I offered the snack to her and she took it with a smile on her face. She gestured with her hands around her neck and straightaway I knew she was asking if I was married. I looked to the heavens to suggest,"In His Time" and hoped that she got the message. The way she enquired about my marriage was not in some haphazard way in which most people (christians included) enquire about ones welfare. Her concern was genuine. I wondered for a while if I should ask her to pray for me. But how would I convey the message, I was glad that she was at least concerned. Apart from my sister (of course Jesus too), I have seldom come across people who have been genuinely concerned about me. Most of the Christians (preachers and their audience alike) I have come across have been scavengers, willing to peddle the Word of God for gain. In that context, meeting this woman was a milestone in my spiritual journey. I went home and prayed for her again. 

One of those days I went to a Bible shop to pick up a tract or a pamphlet to give her. But I didnt even know if she could read. Besides, I didnt know what scriptures to pick since I dont read Tamil myself. So I said a quick prayer and I saw a key ring with a cross on one side and a scripture (in Tamil) on the other side. The following day, (14 Feb) my last  scheduled work out day before leaving for Kashmir via Bangalore & Chennai, I met that lady again. This time with the key ring and Bar-One. I had my drink. I offered the snack and the key ring and suggested to her that I will be leaving in a couple of days. She smiled. She gestured to me that she also is a Christian (and what a brilliant one at that). Just as I began to step backwards towards my bicycle, she offered her hand. I shook her hard, rough, dry hands; one of the most beautiful hands  that I will ever shake. A hand that had the blessings of God Himself. I wont forget her.

I mounted my bicycle and looked at her one last time before pedaling away. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

How NOT to end up in Cuddalore?

Cuddalore is a little port town 25 Km south of Pondicherry. Ask a local about the best way to get to the coastal town of Cuddalore, and snap comes the reply, "take one of the many buses plying between the New Bus Stand and Cuddalore NT". This is the best option for the budget conscious traveller, i.e. the first kind.

Of course for those with considerably hefty pockets, an air conditioned cab would do the trick. Plush interiors, fragrant ambience and choice music in the background. This rich class is the second kind.

Then there is the third kind which constitutes the student community and the free spirited who hate travelling in a crowded bus but lack the means to indulge in a little luxury. Well for such folk, there is the option to rent a two wheeler for under 500 a day depending on the choice of vehicle.

There is also a fourth kind. Which includes idiots like the one who is blogging here on "Randomadventurez", who end up in Cuddalore despite injuries or should I say because of them. I've been running really long (along the rock beach) these last few weeks to stay in shape for a skiing adventure and the climbing season which is soon to follow. Running between 18 & 25 Km a day followed by 20 plus Km of cycling had to take its toll. So I end up with half a dozen foot injuries. I say to myself - no running for a week perhaps. I now took on a cycling regimen. So I mount my rickety gear less bicyle and head out towards Mudaliarpet via Rue Dumas and South Boulevard; took a left at the Mudaliarpet junction - still not sure about how long or how far to ride. I rode for about 2 may be 3 Km when I reached a major crossroad (I think the place is called Velrampet). The board on top read "Cuddalore 22Km" and I grinned.

There are few people who know me well. And those who do know me are often bewildered and sometimes bemused by my idiosyncrasies. Not intending to depart from the norm, I did the only thing I would expect of me. In a little less than four hours I was able to probe 2 Km into Cuddalore and return to my room in Pondicherry. Not bad considering I made a couple of stops for drinks, chatted with a cop at a busy traffic signal and took time to wink or smile at little school kids every time they gave me an inquisitive look.

The route is nice and inviting. The tarmac is alright without being exceptional. About 10 min out of Pondicherry and just short of Thavalakuppam is the Chunnabar river which had a lot of water in it, thanks to the retreating monsoons. There are hamlets and small towns along the way with linguistically intimidating names like Periyakattupalayam, Reddychavadi, Kirumampakkam and Kanniakovil. Between 0700 and 0900 you will find kids on the highway waiting for their school and college buses, office goers and other sorts of commuters too. You are also likely to come across suicidal pedestrians and retarded bus and lorry drivers with little or no sense of traffic regulations. I have lost count of the number of times I almost got squished by reckless drivers.

Anyhow!! I made it to the Penniar bridge on Thenpennai river which is the entrance to Manjukuppam (A suburb of Cuddalore) in less than 90 minutes. Since this was my first time here, I decided to head into the town a bit. So I passed through the Police Station (apparently, it was built in 1930 - at least thats what it says on the building) to enter the Old Town via the bridge on Gedilam River. The Gedilam river divides the Cuddalore New and Old Town. One has to cross this river to get to towns like Chidambaram and Nagapattinam. There was a Big Market, lots of shops, temples, churches etcetera. The town even has Pazhamudhir, Nilgiris, Megamart and other such places. Well! since this is not a travel blog, one would do well to visit wikipedia or wikitravel for more information on places of interest.

I was about 3Km into the town and I thought it was time to get back to my regimen. On my way back I had a chat with a cop about directions and stuff. He was more than willing to help. In no time I was on my way back to Pondy, Need I mention the hamlets in reverse order? I think not.

On the way back, about 10 minutes after Thenpennai river, I stopped over for a drink. Tender Coconuts are always refreshing. In about 70 minutes from there I had made it back to Pondicherry. I had sugarcane juice at my favorite spot on MG Road. I picked up some oranges and grapes from the market and had filling Beef Biriyani for lunch. Pondicherry to Cuddalore and back in under 4 hours was not bad.

I repeated the route on the following day as well, since the morrow to follow was my self appointed rest day. 58 Km (to Cuddalore and back) in under three hours this time with a couple of breaks for juice and sundry. The juice stall was opposite MGMCHRI (Thats short for Mahatma Gandhi Medical College Hospital and Research Institute). Not bad I would like to believe. I think I will do this route a few more times before I leave for Kashmir in two weeks.

If anyone is wondering about the title - "How not to ..". Well! if you have injuries like corns, sprains, cramps and painful toenails from the pounding that ones feet endure during extra long runs, AND you have something of an excuse for a bicycle; AND you happen to be in a place called Pondicherry; AND you happen to think the way I do; there is a good chance that you might end up in Cuddalore. Now what are the odds? :)