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. :(