The Perils of the Mountains

While travelling in the mountains, you require more than a good luck. And with this ‘more than a good luck’ we traversed two hundred kilometres of secluded mountain road in a worst rain. That day it wasn’t raining cats & dogs, it was: cats, dogs, buffaloes, elephants, grizzly bears, and whatever you could think of.

Actually, the downpour had started the previous night. And for the entire night it had been like a constant flow of a rivulet by the windows of our bedroom; and the persistent rumbling of the clouds made me twist and turn and worry in the bed. In the morning when I opened the front door to peer out, it was cats & dogs still. But we had packed our bags, and the snacks were packed too, and the refrigerator was cleansed to the last morsel of eatables, so we had no choice but to start.

Traveling alone in the mountains is risky, but traveling with your mother, wife, and an infant is a different story altogether. You’ve to be the strongest – not only because you are at the wheel, but three other lives are your responsibility. So at every bend and cliff I kept my right foot on the brake pedal and peered ahead faster than the speed of the car to see if loose rocks were not charging ravenously at us, or a tilted tree about to lose hold of the ground, or a sudden gush of water making way on to the road.

the fog
the fog

In the rains the mountains are least forgiving. A single stone rolling down the slope could tear the window pane of your car and penetrate your intestines. One falling tree could neatly smash your car into two. And it takes just two landslides to trap you in between. And in those secluded faraway corners you could be waiting for hours, if not days, before you meet any other creature with two legs. In those moments you can’t do anything but sit idle in your car and leave everything to almighty, if you believe in him (I do).

Landslide
the disaster

We had covered half of the perilous terrain trembling and chanting prayers when we were brought to halt by a log of vehicles on a ‘U’ curve. A landslide had blocked the road and people were trapped at that remote, isolated spot since two hours. I pulled the car to side and walked ahead to see the scale of the disaster. Few people, who were also travellers like us, were surrounding the landslide in raincoats and umbrellas, and a few like me were soaking in the rain. Then few men brought whatever tools they had in their vehicles: one gentleman brought a shovel, another brought a rope, and one pickup driver brought an axe (?), and they started clearing the sludge, not bothering about their getting dirty or drenched in rain and sweat. They were taking turns to pull the shovel whereas a few, including me, stood there worrying that the debris was beyond the power of the men.

clearing landslide
few good men

I soon got soaked and irritated and cursed god: why, why, why were we trapped there?
Dejected, I turned to wait in my car. It was then I saw this:

jhungi karsog
beautiful, isn’t it?

Beauty in the disaster that left me awestruck, lessened my worry, and subdued my fury. Sometimes beauty is right behind us whereas we are busy cursing the ugliness. All it takes is just one turn to change the perspective.

The landslide was half cleared by men before the machine arrived and cleared it. We escaped the spot as fast as we could, but the rain was still the same: non-stop and unforgiving. The fog still covered most of the area, only sometimes it touched the front of our car. But I observed that now I wasn’t as irritated as I was before I witnessed the magic of nature. And we reached home safely. But, yes, it was a great risk that we embraced, and I would never advise you to travel in the mountains in the rains, not with the family.

Hot Noodles at Cold Shimla

Shimla
Shimla

An old man poked me, “Wake up son, the bus has reached the station.”
Rubbing my eyes, I glanced through the window. The place resembled an anthill, and the traffic hurried like hungry ants in search of food.
Outside, a Chai Wala was shouting: ‘Chai le-lo, Garam Chai.’
The fumes leaving his lips made me realize that I was shivering of cold. Putting on the woollen cap, I took my camera and landed in Shimla – the summer capital of (British) India.

By the time I climbed to one of the highest places in the town – The Mall Road, my shirt clung on to my body like a piece of iron to a magnet, and drops of hot sweat poured down my cheekbone. A few meters of steep climb on the hills could leave you drenched; even when everything around you is freezing; but it is worth the efforts.

After a small descent towards the other end, there in the corner stood what I was looking for. A tiny house squeezed between the larger ones, and a small signboard on the front door, painted white on red: ‘Aunty’s.’

As I opened the door, Mr. Wong – a man in his early fifties, hairs half grey, calm, polite, born in China – welcomed me. His cheerful Hindi contradicted his thoughtful personality. Later, an attendant told me that Mr. Wong is a distant relative of ‘Aunty’ – the lady behind Aunty’s restaurant.

dumplings
The Dumplings

The Aunty’s was started by this Chinese lady in 1975. At that time it was the only fast food restaurant in Shimla. Though there are many now, the Aunty’s has always maintained a fine balance between quality and the price. A large bowl of noodles won’t cost you more than fifty rupees, and you have more than twenty-five varieties of soups to choose from. The costliest item on the menu is the ‘Chicken drums of heaven;’ it costs ninety-five rupees. Most of the ingredients are procured from Kolkata – one reason, but not the only one, why their delicacies taste so good.

If you ever visit Shimla, The Aunty’s should definitely be on your list. And yes, I had a plate of dumplings, a bowl of sweet corn soup, and a large bowl of steaming hot noodles – all this for a hundred and fifty rupees. The pretty smiles, and the interesting gossip of ladies munching noodles with ‘extra chillies’ cost me absolutely nothing!

Some Tips for Better Cycling

bike

After some experience in cycling, here are few observations I’ve made over time. Though they are pure common sense, still we need to keep them in mind to have a better riding experience.

1. Understand your Bike

Take time to know your bike. See if everything is working fine. Check for any abnormal sound and adjust the levers as per your need. Adjust your seat post so that you feel comfortable while riding. Know what gear combination works best for you. For clarifications contact your nearest dealer, or surf the internet, or check videos on Youtube.

2. Anticipate the Road

Look ahead for wet road, loose gravel, or sudden bends and curves. Slow down before you actually reach the bad part.

3. Shift Gears in Advance

Especially if you are about to climb uphill. When you shift gears at the last moment, you put your pedal chain into too much stress, which leads to its wear and tear.

4. Think Safety

Always wear helmet and never ride on the wrong lane.

5. Stay Hydrated

Drink before you feel, drink more than you need. Mix glucose in your bottle if you are going for a long ride.

6. Be Cautious with the Traffic

Some people drive like crazy. You are a safe rider but the other guys on the road can make mistake – always keep this in mind, and never hesitate in going off the road to give way to other vehicles.

7. Eat Chocolates & Fruits on the Go

Chocolates are a good source of energy and so are fruits. Carry 2-3 chocolate bars and some bananas next time you go for a ride.

8. Fear but Don’t Fear

Fear is good, it keeps our mind alert – fear of getting hit by some vehicle, fear of running over an animal. So don’t be overconfident, have some fear.

But don’t fear too much that you feel uncomfortable while riding. Have confidence. Confidence helps us make quick decisions in the confusing situations.

9. Stay Alert – Use your Senses

I’ve seen some people putting on music (earphones) while riding, which I think is quite dangerous. While riding you’ve to keep your senses alert. Listen to the sound of vehicles approaching from behind, protect your eyes with goggles, become alert if some foul smell comes from any of the parts of your cycle. Always keep your senses open.

10. Relax & Have Fun

Last but not the least. Don’t sit too tight, and don’t hold your handlebar as if you are about to fall. Just sit back and relax. It’s important to have fun. If you don’t enjoy it, why do it?

Did I miss anything? Share your tips as comments.

Why Cycling is Good For You

Trek 3700 Disc

When I bought my Trek bike, it was purely for fun and to spend time in nature – which I love the most. Little did I know that it would change my life for so much better. Here I share with you the benefits I have reaped through cycling, in a hope that you too will take up cycling as a hobby.

1. No tummy – better health

After one month of cycling, my beer belly feels less protruded. 😀

2. Eat what you want

Yes, no more guilty feeling on having few extra Pooris. When you know you are burning more calories than you take, you can eat what you want (not to be taken literally 😛 ).

3. Better than walking

Walking is boring, isn’t it? Cycling allows us to explore new areas – that is why it was ‘love at first ride’ for me.
Trek 3700 Disc

4. Easy on the pocket

Peddling to the local market not only keeps you fit, but also helps you save money which you would have spent on the fuel. Some people even cycle to work.

5. You don’t have to stop at the petrol pumps

When the cars are slowing down to turn left or right for the petrol pump, you can keep on riding straight.

6. No toll tax

Great, isn’t it?

7. No stopping by the police

You don’t need a licence to ride a cycle (at least in India). So no more stopping by the traffic police.
Trek 3700 on the road

8. Helps save the environment

Imagine, if everyone cycles to their office, school, or local market at least once in a week, how much change it can bring for the environment.

9. No visits to the doctors

Doctors are already over-stressed. Their life would be much relaxed if each one of us starts cycling.

10. Better Sleep

Yes, an hour of cycling helps fight insomnia (medically proved, I forgot the source), and you feel so much better the next morning.

11. Better Digestion

A bad stomach is a source for all the diseases. Do I need to say more?
My Trek 3700

12. High Confidence

Cycling keeps me stress free and boosts my confidence. Now, I’m more positive in the adverse situations.

So, this is all I have for now. I’ll keep on adding points as I explore more. But, are you taking up cycling?

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The Search for a Perfect Bike

Bike

Potbellies are ugly, aren’t they? My beer belly, though in its primary stage, is a constant source of ridicule for me. Well, not literally, but it’s like you ask a fellow for a ride on his bicycle and he frowns at you. Or, you run for the elevator and the guy inside closes the door before you could make it.
So shunning all the embarrassment, I’ve decided to take up cycling to get back into shape.

Selecting a bike is a real headache, especially if it’s your first. There are so many brands and so many models to choose from. In this post I’ve shared the thinking process that went into choosing a bike for myself.

Identifying the need

This is the most important step and helps greatly in making the choice. I needed a bike for fitness and local travel. Though I’ll be driving mostly on the tarmac, I opted for a mountain bike instead of a road bike, because the condition of the roads in the mountains (where I live) changes from season to season – in the summers you have great roads and after the rains they just disappear. So a road bike won’t be able to take the abuse of the mountain roads.

There is nothing called a perfect bike – one bike can’t meet all your requirements. So I prioritized the features I needed.

My Requirement:

A bike that can work on poor roads.

Must have features:

  • Disc Brakes: As the roads here have steep descents, disc brakes will do better than the normal brakes. So disc brakes were my first priority.
  • Gears: Gears make the climb easy. And for the long distance travel, where your priority is to reach the destination anyhow, they are a blessing.
  • Front Suspension: Keeping in mind the condition of the roads here, a front suspension was a must, so that my arms don’t hurt.
  • Comfort: Initially I was inclined towards Cannondale Trail 6 for better looks, but after going through many reviews on the internet I learn’t that Trek bikes are more comfortable than the Cannondales.
  • Tyres: The tyres of a mountain bike would give in easily on the tarmac, and that of a road bike would fail on the harsh roads, so I needed a bike with tyres which have center threads designed for roads and the outer ones for off-road conditions.

There is one bike which meets all the above requirements. So ladies & gentlemen, hold your breath! Here I present before you, my new road monster, a Trek 3700 Disc 2013.
Trek 3700 Disc India

Thank you, thank you! 🙂

Living in a Buddhist Country

As you enter Spiti, you see life stripped to its bare minimum. The mountains are dry and sandy and devoid of vegetation. The villages, not more than ten houses, remain cut-off most of the year due to heavy snow. Electricity is available only after ten in the night. Wood is scarce, so is water. The quantity of rain in a year equals the amount we receive in a single day in any other part of the country.

You wonder, what made these people settle here in the first place? Why do they endure such a harsh life?

Buddha
The Buddha of Langza, Spiti

Upon a closer look, you realize that you are observing Spiti with the eyes of an outsider. As you travel more, things start to change.

“It’s not that we can’t afford the luxuries, we just don’t need them,” said a lady who runs a homestay at Langza.

Every village has a monastery, a school, a road, and people to accept strangers with an open heart.

A Spiti village
A Spiti village

“You don’t go to school?” I asked a kid at the Komic village.

“I do, but we’ve vacations,” he replied.

“Winters are harsh, and you’ve vacations in the summers. How many months are you supposed to go the school?” I asked again.

To this the kid replied, “We don’t have vacations in the winters.”

Later I came to know that the teachers are not local folks, but are appointed from the other parts of the state. In winters, they stay at the village itself.

Pin Valley, Spiti
Pin Valley, Spiti

During the day, most men and women can be found plucking peas, or mending fields for the potatoes which are known for their remedial effects and fetch high price in the market. A typical Spitian man’s day starts with a visit to the local monastery, then the fields, and then to retreat for a mug of Changg – local wine made out of barely.

“I love books,” a kid at Langza told me.

I asked him what more does he like.

“I love to watch TV, and I love to play with Kuzu, my yak,” he replied.

Life in Spiti is impossible without the yaks. They drink yak milk – they also make Gurgur Chai (tea) out of it, they use yaks to mend the fields, and when a yak dies, its skin is used to make clothes for the winters.

The conditions are harsh, but the people are kind. The essentials are few, but the people are content. When you leave Spiti, you are a different person than you were before you came here. Because, Spiti is a land of pure things: pure people, pure nature, and pure life. Should it remain the same, forever.

A Lake in the Meadow

Pristine meadow surrounded by snow covered mountains. Cottony clouds running through the thick, black pine forest. A sweet, nose-pinching chill. Narkanda is a place I’ve eternal love for.

Narkanda
Narkanda, Shimla

On my way from Shimla to Rampur, I stopped at Narkanda for a cup of coffee. As I was early, I decided to try a different route – the lesser known one. I had never been on this route before, so some risk was involved. If it is your first time, driving to a secluded place can be risky, specially in the hills.

The engine of my car roared, and the descent began. Windows rolled down, I put on some music, and headed in search of “Tanni Jubbar.”
Narrow road guided by tall pine trees, my car descended the hill like water in a stream. Soft music, fresh cool air, birds chirping beautiful melodies, I had the place all to myself.

After a journey of nearly fifteen kilometers, I reached Thanedar – a beautiful village surrounded by apple orchards. The houses had a hint of pagoda style architecture – where the livestock stays on the ground floor and humans on the floor above.

View from Narkanda
View from Narkanda

I pulled my car to ask for the directions. A lady with her kids was passing by. Her head was covered with a beautiful scarf; locally known as “Dhathu.” As I greeted hello, she smiled in return. There is something good about the people of hills. They make you feel at home – you start believing you are one of them. You are no more a stranger. At that precise moment, you forget where you came from and where you are headed to. It is just the moment and you. This is why I love being in the hills.

As she pointed towards the direction, there was sparkle in her eyes, like tender pearls shinning bright in the light. I headed towards the direction. After a brief climb to the meadow, there in front of me was the small, beautiful lake “Tanni Jubbar.”

Tanni Jubbar Lake
Tanni Jubbar Lake

Cool wind touched the surface of the water gently, and the lake blushed like a young lady on her first kiss. As I sat there admiring the beauty of the lake, I thought to myself: What more do we need in life to stay happy?