Cycling from Bandipur to Ooty

This was my second cycling trip with my friends from office. Last time we had gone to Chikmagalur. We started cycling from Jayapura. The route we took was Jayapura- Horanadu – Kalasa – Kuderemukh – Hanumanhundi Falls – SK Border – Sringeri. Most of the guys who were there last-time were there this time too.

This time, we cycled from Bandipur to Ooty via the Kalhatty Ghat. We reached Bandipur by about 7 in the morning. It took 1 hr to get all the cycles ready. As the cycles were getting ready, the first-timers were given a quick talk on how to use the gears effectively.

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Finally, everyone is ready with their cycles.

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The ride through the forest was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip.

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It was still cool and pleasant and there were so many animals all along the side of the road.

The ride was a short one. 20-30kms. After which we reached Masinagudi. Before starting to cycle we had all had a milk-shake from the CCD at the entrance to Bandipur. After the cycling through the reserve everyone had worked up a healthy appetite.

I just went absolutely crazy during breakfast. I had some 4 double omelettes, 3-4 Dosas and somewhere around 5 teas.

The “Killer – Kalhatty” climb was on top of all our minds. So, I decided to stock up on as much energy as possible. After lazing around a bit, we all started cycling again. After some 10 kms we reached the start of the climb.

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From that point, there were 36 hair-pin bends that needed to be covered to reach the elevation of Ooty. It was one of the most relentlessly steep roads that most of us had ever seen.

23-IMG_0214Of course, I had seen much worse! After all I had climbed from 3500 mtrs to 5650 mtrs to reach the mighty Khardun-La in Ladakh on cycle(I like to occasionally toot my own horn, sorry!).

There were boards at every hair-pin bend counting down from 36.By the time we covered the first few hair pin bends, the Sun had started to bear down upon us harshly. By around 12 it had become so mind-numbingly hot that I could see the water vapor rise from my exposed arms. The heat was making it hard to focus and pedal on.

By the time I finished 30 per cent of the climb I had finished my bottle of water. From then on, it was stopping now and then to get water from vehicles coming down the road.

I must have gone through at least 5 liters of water in the time it took me to reach the halfway point which is marked by a tea-shop. I think it was situated just before bend number 16.

By the time I reached there the support vehicle with a couple of guys who had decided to not continue cycling because of some problem with the gears was already there. Raghu had also reached there before me.

I walked into the shop, got a bottle of cold water, and finished it off in one long gulp. Then I had a couple of teas and decided to lie down till the others caught up. In any case, I decided that I was going to cycle again, only after the Sun let up a little. I then had the idea of asking one of the cars passing by on their way down to carry water bottles for the guys climbing up.

When they eventually showed up, they told me that the water was a big relief for them in the heat!

After the Sun had let up, everyone started cycling again. After a while I too started. The bends started coming faster. Also, the climb became steeper. Towards the end there was an especially steep and seemingly-unending climb. I had decided before-hand itself that I wouldn’t push my cycle for even 10 cms.

When jumping up from the bench on which I was sleeping on at the tea shop, some muscle in my hip had suddenly started to cramp. I had ignored it then. But, now it was starting to act up.

So, I cycled in a zigzag manner to reduce the amount of force I needed to put down on the pedals to allow my legs to relax and feel loose again.

Finally, after a satisfyingly-tough last climb, I started my descent to Ooty. When I got to the police check-post I found Raghu sitting there. We went and had some tea and home-made chocolates and then started to cycle to the YWCA guest-house were stay and dinner had been arranged for the night.

We got there just in time to order dinner for the night. By the time we got the keys to the rooms the rest of the guys except Shailesh had arrived by the support vehicle. Some of them had managed to cycle almost 90 per cent of the way up, but had to stop because it was getting too late.

Shailesh arrived an hour later, just when we were starting to go out to look for him. He had lost his way in the town and had to wander about quite a bit as a result.

The stay was one of the high-points of the trip. Each room was a suite and we had taken a cottage for all of us.

29-IMG_0232The YWCA dining hall was a pleasant and welcoming place and we really enjoyed our dinner there.

Ooty to Kodanad View Point

37-IMG_0248After a hot-water bath and a comfortable night’s sleep and rest, we woke up feeling refreshed the next day.

31-IMG_0237After one more “super-charger” break-fast we were ready to start cycling.

The Kodanad view-point is around 40 kms from Ooty.. The weather was cool, the roads were amazing and there were plenty of tree-lined downhill sections with winding roads and amazing scenery.

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48-IMG_0269After spending some time at the view point we started on our way back to Bangalore.

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This was my second time cycling with my friends from office. Being together with people you see everyday in office in such a different environment, doing something completely unrelated to work allows you to see everyone in a different light. I felt that everyone learned something new about their colleagues and that I think is a very important part of what makes trips like this so much fun!

52-IMG_0275Anyway, I am already looking forward to going out with my friends again for our next cycling trip!

Rant against The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently, I got to read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I was disappointed by the general quality of the book, the style of reasoning and the somewhat surprising conclusions the author draws from them.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, he discusses the type of people he thinks are more susceptible to liberal ideas. As examples he takes great thinkers like Immanuel Kant, David Hume and John Stuart Mill.

He says in the book that the liberal thinkers among them tended to be recluses with some anti-social tendencies.
In order to support this somewhat strange point of his he talks about how these people had few friends, had odd routines and about their dysfunctional or somewhat abnormal personal relations.

He then goes on to analyse the liberal thinkers'(John S Mill and Kant) personalities in light of his interesting Moral Foundations Theory that posits that the human moral system is founded on a few basic concepts that supposedly have their roots in basic human psychology.

According to this theory, these foundations are :-

  1. Care/Harm foundation
  2. Justice/Fairness
  3. Sanctity/Purity
  4. Loyalty
  5. Respect of authority

He thinks that conservatives and conservative thinkers depend on all these foundations “evenly”(whatever that is supposed to mean!) to make moral decisions. Whereas, liberals depend overwhelmingly on the first two to make their moral choices.

At this point the book starts to get really weird. He says that the moral foundations are like taste buds and that moral systems exhibit so much diversity because of the infinite ways in which these “tastes” can be combined to create “cuisines”.

Then, he jumps from this to his follow-on conclusion that because liberals depend on fewer “tastes” to stimulate their moral sensibilities they are less broad-minded than conservatives!! (WTF moment!) Please read the above sentence once more. I wanted to make it all caps. Because, that is how it appeared to me when I read it. It was like a giant big flashing red sign telling me that somewhere something went horribly wrong….

Hmmm…. So, turns out conservatives are more broad-minded when compared to liberals because they crave for and appreciate a more “varied (moral) diet”.

So, the liberal thinkers who made such astounding and paradigm changing contributions to human welfare by suggesting ways of removing fundamental blocks to it in our law, social and political organization and personal behavior and who have had a fundamental impact on our collective well- being in addition to providing the basic concepts that underpin the most sophisticated, peaceful and developed social systems in the world are apparently narrow-minded people because they don’t have as many moral taste-buds!! hahaha

He bolsters his case by talking about how Kant was such a loner and a strange character. He then comes up with a clever experiment. He rates people on a spectrum of qualities at the far end of which lies characteristics that indicate possible autism. He then measures the degree to which their attitudes are liberal and discovers that people who tend more towards autistic qualities are more liberal than the “normal” people.

There is a hidden implication here. The overall point of all these specious arguments, cherry-picking of facts and flawed experiments is to somehow justify his apparent “enlightenment”(more on that later) and awakening to the value of conservatism and his unstated conclusion that liberal attitudes don’t fit with “human-nature”(TM).

This is wrong on so many levels that one feels a little pity for this dude for having spent so much time on confusing himself so thoroughly. It might be true that loners who don’t spend as much time partying and hanging out with friends are more liberal. But, did he ask why? Is it because there are some neurological differences in their brains that make them susceptible to moral deviances and deficiencies or is there something about the typical lifestyle of such a person that causes them to dump conservatism?

Isn’t it likely that people with a scholarly personality will be reading a lot more stuff, spending more time thinking about things and observing others from a distance? Isn’t it possible that the consequent higher level of intellectual development and detached perspective is what causes them to realize that the purpose of human morals is human well-being and not “tasty moral cuisines”(hahaha, what a stupid fucking idea!!) and causes them to be economical with moral principles that make them more judgmental?

Extending this line of reasoning, isn’t it possible that the differences in attitudes of “normal” people and liberals might not be caused primarily by their personalities. That might be only a distal cause. The proximal cause might be the kind of universalist thinking and hunger for other perspectives that reading and thinking can generate in a person. So, if “normal” people with 10s of girlfriends and 1000s of Facebook friends and a party schedule that is limited by his/her liver capacity were somehow encouraged to read and think a lot what would happen?

He never asks these kinds of questions. Instead he just says that Kant and Mill were probably a little weird. But, he is careful to point out that he doesn’t hold that against their conclusions. That would be an ad-hominem attack. And that would be wrong(tut-tut). But… you get the idea! If you are a liberal, you are probably an odd-ball who doesn’t have many friends and is going to get divorced.

Again, he doesn’t fully explore this line of thinking. He just casts aspersions on some great thinkers, makes a half-hearted attempt at ameliorating the rape of logic and then leaves it at that, leaving the reader to fume and rage over it. So, let us examine the conservative thinkers then!

Let us look at the Popes, all the amazing Pastors, God-men, catholic-priests, saints, religious thinkers and conservative philosophers. Let us look at how successful their marriages were and how many friends they had and how few children they abused and how few women they have tortured and killed and how well they can dance the Salsa! Let us do that and see how they stack up against Kant and Mill. If you do that you will also conclude that what the author had was probably not an “enlightenment”.

Equivalence of moral systems

Since all moral systems are basically just a random combination of his moral foundations, all of them are according to him about equivalent. He never makes an attempt to see if the moral systems are tied to social conditions, economic and technological development and average levels of violence and strife in the society. He never tries to discern the overall drift of all moral systems and in which direction they are all headed.

He fails to appreciate the fact that the greatest advances in human happiness were caused by the abolition of slavery, feminism, recognition of child rights, secularism, democracy, rise of individualism and science – all of which are liberal concepts. These are also things that are spreading the world-over and which most societies are striving-for with higher levels of economic development acting as a symbiotic agent. What is happening here is not the rejection of 3/5ths of human morality(as the author would have us believe).

It is a growing realization that the first two moral foundations have the veto over the other ones.

You should not respect authority that asks you to rape and kill.

You should not be loyal to your teammates to the point that you don’t mind their cruelty to others.

You should not be so obedient that you will go out and kill someone if your dad asks you to.

You should not beat your kids because your religious text asks you to.

You should not abuse your spouse because he/she is not traditional or obedient.

Our moral feelings have a survival value. But, they are also open to exploitation and erroneous firing. The only way to protect ourselves against our own survival instincts is by recognizing the primacy of reason and justice.

He talks about how in India, the unit of social organization is the family and community and how that is so prevalent in most parts of the world(he doesn’t mention that most of those parts are also seriously underdeveloped) as compared to western individualism which is sort of rare(but kind of common in all the developed countries). He doesn’t write much about how women and children suffer under these social systems, how the country has been crippled by casteism and communal thinking and how the idea of sanctity and tradition has atrophied the intellectual growth and cultural renewal of our country.

He doesn’t make a single attempt at trying to answer one critical question. What is the fucking purpose of morals!!?? In your mind you are always thinking, “Please, please answer that!” If you read his book the idea you get is that morals are supposed to be complex and tasty and that liberal morals are just plain boring.

Morality as an end in itself

The author claims that he was a liberal who was suddenly “enlightened” and came to the realization that he was superior to both liberals and conservatives. He gives his acceptance of the moral equivalence of both attitudes as a proof for it.

But, does he say anything to convince us of this equivalence. He narrates some anecdotal incidents which alternately show the folly of both liberal and conservative solutions for particular problems. So, he goes like, “Yeah, so, you see, both liberals and conservatives are occasionally wrong and here I am like a wise old grand-dad watching the little kids squabble over gay-rights and freedom-of-speech. Tch-tch, if only they just sat back and enjoyed each other’s moral cuisines!”. And you feel like punching him in his face for being such a pretentious little prick.

Liberals are only 2/5ths as moral as conservatives

What he fails to analyse in detail is the relative priority of the foundations. Liberals don’t let the last 3 foundations effect their judgement if it contradicts the first 2. This does not mean that they are disloyal, indecent or disrespectful. It simply means that they appreciate that things are not black and white and that at times they will need to go against authority, appear indecent and break away from their groups if that is what is required to be just and compassionate. In short, their morals might be more subtle and complex than it is given credit for in the book.

It is not like liberals don’t like football or other such team sports which are so enjoyable mainly because of the team-spirit and cohesion it creates in the players.

It does not mean that they randomly break laws. Science is considered to be one of the most disciplined professions.

It does not mean that they are incapable of learning from the past or respecting tradition. After all, the most famous liberals are also some of the most erudite people.

So, when he says that conservatives are broad-minded because they consider all foundations on an equal footing, I think that he has got it ass-side-up.

Science and reason fail to appreciate the moral complexity of humans?

He routinely drops lines like, “yeah, so scientists have failed” and “rationality has failed at grasping human nature” etc. etc.. And you are like, “How did this guy get a PhD!?”.

The fundamental idea of science is that humans are fallible and that their individual judgements are of limited value when trying to ascertain facts and truths and coming up with theories to account for them. Science is precisely the solution to the vagaries of human cognition. And whatever our failings, we have to give ourselves credit for coming up with something that has worked so well!

Now, here is this guy saying that science, logic and reason doesn’t work for clarifying moral dilemmas because people just “know” that some things are wrong! They can’t give reasons for it. Obviously, you too think that they are wrong! And you can’t give reasons for it. So, hence we can prove that reasons are useless when it comes to morals.

He fails to appreciate that you can find somethings distasteful but don’t see the need for it to be banned for others or for it to be made an offense that is punishable. What you like or don’t like is different from what you consider to be morally wrong.

Liberals have a ready standard for separating what is wrong from what is merely distasteful. For example, if I were asked his “trick” question,” Is it ok to have sex with your dead chicken before eating it?”. I would probably be shocked for a second thinking why anyone would want to do that. Then, I would instantly say no. Then I would think about it for a bit more and then say, “Hey, I can’t see why you would want to do it. But, I don’t think it is a wrong thing. So, no one should stop you from doing it.”

Now, he says that some people would just say no to it. It is easy to see why. It is obviously a disgusting thing for some people, myself included. So, I can be forgiven if I just say no to it. If I think like that I am probably a conservative. But, nothing has been proved here, mind you. Reason has not been defeated here. What has been proved here is that some people don’t want to follow the lines of reasoning to their logical conclusion and are quite satisfied with giving an answer from their gut.

What he is hoping for here is that people will get confused by his own muddled thinking and conclude that reason is useless when it comes to deciding what is morally wrong and what isn’t.

If he thinks that people just know some things to be wrong regardless of their conditioning or social or intellectual background, then maybe he should have asked this question to jews and muslims.

“Hey, what do you think of me cutting-off a piece of my newborn baby’s penis(circumcision)?”. They would say, “Great Idea! Do you want me to do it?”. But, a mother who has never heard of this practice will probably take a shotgun and take off your head with it if you went anywhere near her baby’s penis with a knife.

So, as you can see, exposure and culture are strong factors in deciding what people consider right and wrong. This might not be anything innate. And it certainly doesn’t prove that reason can’t help refine social practices. For example, circumcision is just plain silliness. Female circumcision is nothing short of a crime against an innocent child. Yet, many conservatives intuitively “know” it to be the right thing to do. People who refuse to consider justice and harm to an innocent child over tradition, sanctity and deference to authority cannot be placed on a level with people who consider fairness and compassion to be of primary importance.

More on his “experiments with disgusting questions”

His experiments with these questions are just plain retarded. If I were asked whether I would want to eat the shit of a particular civet which has been fed coffee beans(Kopi Luwak), I would say no to it. Because, I am not used to it. Now, there are people who pay thousands of dollars for this thing because it is a delicacy.

So, you can see that I don’t want to consume it. But, if it were safe for human consumption, I wouldn’t support any motion to get it banned.

Just like that some actions might not be preferable to me. But, I will not have them banned to others.

But, conservatives don’t want anyone to do the things they think are wrong and what they think is wrong is determined more by dogma and tradition than by reason. And this is where the problem lies. He doesn’t address this issue at all in the book.

In fact, he goes one step further and aggravates the problem further by seeking to justify this kind of insular thinking by attributing such feelings to certain moral foundations. He says, “See this is why people think that way. It is human nature.”.

“Yeah, so what? “. Racism is human nature too. Violence is human nature. Rape is human nature. Murder is human nature. Theft is human nature. Stupidity is human nature. What exactly does that prove? These tendencies might have evolved in response to certain factors in the pre-historic environment of our ancestors. But, that doesn’t justify anything. And, we are certainly capable of recognising these tendencies for what they are. Unacceptable manifestations of primal instincts that need to controlled at any cost. Except maybe murder which is ok during war( I am not sure, actually, about this).

The moral foundations theory doesn’t make social conservatism appealing. It merely explains it in a slightly different and I must add, dumbed-down/scientifically shallow way.

Polarization of political debates

This is the only part that you can read without getting a headache. But, this idea has been dealt with by many other authors and I didn’t think that this book’s treatment of the problem of growing polarization and partisanship in politics was in any way extraordinary.

His ideas on how common ground can be found between people of opposing view points and on the art of convincing people are interesting, but they are neither original nor exceptionally well-presented.

There is a very strong correlation between liberalism and factors like scientific aptitude, awareness and erudition. Social conservatism thrives in an environment that dulls the above factors. What this book has done is merely explain what is already known about this phenomenon in terms of fundamental human tendencies along with claiming that social conservatism is fine because it is human nature.

Well, the real question that one is left with after reading the book is……..

“Am I a narrow-minded liberal or a broad-minded conservative!?”

View all my reviews

Some fun under the Sun

We had thought that the difficult part of the trek was over. I was preparing myself for an easy walk through the Spiti Valley.

Before starting I asked the guide how much time it would take for us to reach Mudh He haw..hummed for a few mins and said that 3 hours ought to be enough. Well, I looked around.

All I could see was an endless desert hemmed in on all sides by mountains with a river flowing through a deep gash in the valley.

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We started off on our “short trek”.

The Sun started growing in intensity in the sky. The air was thin and dry and utterly devoid of moisture.

The trail was initially strewn with a lot of rocks.

We kept walking….

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and walking…

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and walking. The Sun was now at its prime in the noontime sky and beat down on us mercilessly. We came across a rushing stream that was unexpectedly deep and rapid.

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We walked a few kms towards the mountains until we found a glacier and walked across it.

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By the time we reached a meadow in the afternoon and plopped down on the soft wet grass for a bite to eat, we were pretty hungry and thirsty.

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I took of my shoes and walked on the soft grass while wallowing in memories of the greenery of Kinnaur and the shade of the trees on the other side of the mountains.

After eating and sitting around looking at the flocks of sheep grazing around us I asked our guide how much more of our “easy trek” was remaining. I wasn’t surprised when he told me 3 hours again. I stuffed my legs into my dry hard shoes again and we all started once more on the dusty trail.

It seemed liked we were walking on Mars or at least somewhere that was not on earth.

The barren land, the mountains bearing the tear marks of glaciers with their strange mineral-derived colors, the gorge in the valley that stretched far into the distance and the trail winding and weaving its way along the side of the mountains.

We kept walking…

I fell into a rhythm. My breathing, my steps my gaze and my thoughts all fell into lock-step. I am a guy who enjoys movement and the continuous rhythmic motion was deeply soothing for me.

By afternoon, signs of civilization started appearing. Pieces of smooth stone with prayers inscribed on them, artificial ponds, farms and electric poles in the distance.

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Finally, we could see the village of Mudh in the distance. Nestled in a crook in the mountains, flanked on both sides by glaciers and standing like a sentinel over the lush green paddy fields under it. It was a pleasing sight.

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After a final trek up the slopes towards the village along stone paths cutting a way through the fields we got into the village and then into a small tea-shop.

I kept drinking water until I suddenly started sweating profusely. After sitting down I had fresh omelettes and tea until I felt the haze start to lift from my mind and felt alert and active again.

We got into the hired vehicle which would take us to Dhankar where we would be halting for the night. But, not before we saw a couple of monasteries along the way.

After a week of sleeping inside a sleeping bag in a tent, the hostel attached to the Dhankar monastery was a pleasant change.

No big treks for the next 2 days! But, going over the plans inside my head, I had a feeling that things were going to be no less exciting…

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Treading on ice

When I woke up from my short and fitful sleep it was still very early. The Sun had barely risen and it was still very chilly outside. I coaxed myself out of my warm and cosy sleeping bag and out into the open. It was a glorious morning.

I stretched my limbs and breathed in the cold, sharp morning air. I felt the chill spread into my chest and suddenly, I felt very awake.

After breakfast we started on our short trek to the last camp below the pass. It was called Kharo. It is the last campsite below the snow-line and the one from which we would start the next day to cross the pass and descend into Spiti valley.

As we started on our trek, our guide pointed out a distant meandering stream and casually said that we would have to cross it to get to the other side.

I was thinking, “Yeah, so what? We have crossed so many streams”. But, as we started walking towards it I realized that this was one stream that I wouldn’t be hopping and skipping over in a hurry. The waters were flowing rapidly and there seemed to be treacherous gaps and sharp rocks lurking under the rushing planes of water. We walked up and down the stream looking for a place to cross it.

Eventually, our dependable guide found us a stretch where the waters were relatively shallow and spread out. I took off my shoes and waded into the water after him.

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Well, the next couple of minutes were a truly illuminating period for me. The water was ice-melt from a glacier just above us and it was only a few degrees above freezing. As I stepped onto the sharp pebbles and rocks with the water gushing over my feet I suddenly felt a sharp jab of pain in my legs. I desperately rushed to cross the stream behind my guide who somehow seemed to be completely unaffected by the brutal chill of the water made worse by the unsteady rocks and gushing water.

159-IMG_8676 As I stepped out of the water and jumped about a bit to get some feeling in my legs I felt the heat of the Sun soothe my feet and that immediately calmed me down. I sat down to let my legs dry before putting on my shoes.

I waited for some time as one by one all the guys caught up. As I was waiting there at the bend that would take us away from the valley, I turned around and gazed one last time at the magnificent valley that had hosted us the previous day.
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It would be the last time during the trip that I would be able to look upon such verdant beauty made complete by the streams and glaciers with the towering snow-capped peaks watching over it all… it was indeed a magnificent sight.

I turned back and started walking towards the mountains. The grass started growing sparser. The Sun beat down harshly and patches of dirty white ice started appearing along the trail.

After a short trek we reached the campsite.

After putting up the tents I jumped in to escape from the harsh elements. This was the worst of all the places we camped at during the entire trip.

The air was thin, the Sun beat down mercilessly and the air made our noses bleed. Inside the tent it was alternately baking hot and freezing cold as the Sun played hide and seek behind the clouds. Some of the guys came down with pounding headaches. I spent most of that day reading inside the tent and venturing out only to eat and wash myself.

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The next day was the one I had been waiting for all along. For the first time in my life I would get to walk on solid ice and be surrounded by the stuff while trekking across a pass separating a lush green valley and a spectacular dessert.

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As I and KP loaded up, tightened our straps and filled our bottles with electrolyte we discussed what it would be like. We started soon and after a couple of hours of determined climbing we came onto the first big glacier. I looked ahead and saw the guide walk over it as if nothing had really changed.

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So, I too followed suit and stepped onto the ice and walked on confidently. But, immediately I realized that something was not right. My shoes started sliding and slipping as I pushed off with my toes.

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Very soon it had become impossible to walk normally and I was struggling. After a couple of falls the guide turned back and told me to wedge my toes into the ice with every step to prevent my feet from sliding about. I tried it and it worked!

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So, I was again walking smoothly and enjoying the view around me. But, then I came to some rocks and suddenly my leg plunged through some thin ice into a hollow. That shook me up pretty badly.

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Having your feet disappear under you when trekking on ice is not a pleasant experience. My one friend then explained to me that the rocks get heated by the sun and cause the ice surrounding them to become soft and unstable and advised me against walking too close to them.

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So, we went on like that. Through that unreal landscape… through blinding white ice, heading for the gap in the mountains,  breathing hard and taking controlled steps while keeping a wary eye out for rocks sticking out through the ice.

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It was with a sense of relief that I gingerly stepped onto the ice near the edge of a glacier and hopped onto steady land. Each time, hoping that I wouldn’t have to step onto another glacier again. Only to be faced with the next one within a few metres.

It looked like my reluctance to walk on flaky, soft and slippery ice was going to get beaten out of me that day. After a long time spent trudging through the ice the top was finally in sight. After another breathless lunge at the peak we were finally there… and it felt strange to be there.

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One one side was the green Kinnaur valley. Standing on the lip of pass turning to the other side one could see the vast, surreal and intimidating bareness of the Spiti valley. The claw marks that the glaciers had ripped into the mountains on their way down, the mineral patterns, the river flowing through a gorge in the valley, an endless desert speckled with green meadows here and there….

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It was shocking to see two such vastly different ecosystems at the same time. After spending some time at the top we started on our way down.

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Going down steep icy slopes can be either very dignified and difficult or easy and fun depending on the type of guy you are and the chill-resistance-rating of your butt.

Those black specks in the ice are guys sliding down

Those black specks in the ice are guys sliding down

After a long time spent jamming my leg into the ice and gingerly walking behind the guide, I finally gave up and just jumped onto the ice and slid down the rest of the way!

Well, there were few occasions in life that were more fun.

The rest  of the guys followed suit and we had a swell time.

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But, some of them didn’t have waterproof pants like me and their behinds paid the price for it.

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This is how people walk when their behinds are sore

The rest of the way was all big, big boulders and rocks and after that some more rocks interspersed with stretches of ice and ice-melt. The ice-melt was converging into a stream.

A crevasse formed by a fissure in the glacier

A crevasse formed by a fissure in the glacier

We had lunch at a spot somewhere along the way. Most of the other guys were having pounding head-aches. I was feeling nauseated from lack of water and food. I ate something and drank the ice-cold water from the stream with great difficulty and felt better soon.

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The long trek to our campsite

After several more kilometers of trekking we finally came to the campsite and settled in for the night!

What a day it had been! Every bit as exciting as I had hoped it would be. Next day’s adventures in another post!

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Bhabha Pass Trek – Mulling to Kharo

This was day 2 of the trek I had gone on with the Bangalore Ascenders and my friend KP. The previous night was the first time I had slept in a tent. We had our sleeping bags which I had borrowed from Texins(TI’s club for its employees) and a sleeping mat. That bag was not designed for the temperatures we were in. So, we had to use a lot of extra warm clothing to stay cozy. On top of the cold, it was also raining heavily throughout the night.

The insides of the tent were moist and dripping in the morning. But, I was comfortable thanks to my awesome all-weather jacket.

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In the morning, I had a breakfast of eggs, rotis and a lot of butter and jam. I am a very hungry guy. My usual breakfast is 4 eggs, some rava idlis/poha/dosa, juice, 2 bananas and coffee. It was not reasonable to eat or expect to eat so much when trekking with limited food provisions. So, I ate a lot of butter as it usually makes me feel very full and satisfied for a while.

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After that we packed our tents and got ready to start. I was wondering what the landscape would look like that day. The previous day, we had been walking along and crossing streams, going through perfect little copses of trees and were almost all the time in the shade of the mountains and the trees.

Once we started my body warmed up a bit and I started really enjoying the feel of the cold, fresh mountain air in my nostrils and the brisk walk.

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The trail was much more rocky and steep than the previous day. It snaked its way through several little passes and kept on climbing. Eventually, the trees started disappearing.

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We could see that we were surrounded by immense snow-capped peaks on all sides. We had crossed the tree line and we could see vast meadows in the distance where the shepherds grazed their animals.

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The trek for that day was a short-one and we were expected to reach the campsite well before noon. So, we wanted to go as slowly as possible so that we could really enjoy the landscape and the walk.

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After the initial climb we eventually started to go down the hills.

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In no time we reached the meadows that we had seen in the distance.

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It was a heavenly place.

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When we got there after crossing some rather tricky streams the weather was just perfect.

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The Sun was shining bright and there was just enough cloud cover to diffuse the heat and spread a pleasant glow all over the place.

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I was looking forward to a relaxed evening of roaming about in the sun and reading in the open.

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But then I learned that predicting weather in the mountains is a tricky thing. Just when I was starting to take things easy, the sky suddenly darkened and big heavy blobs of water started splashing down on my cheeks. I rushed to help put up the tents.

Just when we had finished putting them up the rain started coming down in torrents. I dived into my tent and waited for the rain to let up a bit.

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After an hour spent holed up in the tent, the rain eventually stopped and we got out. The rest of the evening was spent munching stuff, having little chats, roaming about, washing myself and some clothes in the streams nearby and of course reading!

In the night we had a nice hot dinner of soup, rice, roti, dal and sabji.

After snuggling into my sleeping bag for the night, I was thinking about the day past, committing the various experiences to memory and wondering what the next day would be like. Would the landscape be less green? Would there be ice? How would the Sun be like?

As I started thinking more and more I felt that I simply wanted to somehow get through the night and get started again the next day!

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The next day didn’t disappoint…

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What does it take to walk away from relationships?

I have always wondered what it is exactly that prevents us from walking away from toxic people and troublesome relationships. Why do people sometimes endure bad treatment, dishonesty and shallowness? I know that humans are irrational and that everything we do needn’t have a reason. But, sometimes, it is hard to see why people stick to some people voluntarily despite them being a nuisance or at least of questionable value to them.

In long-lasting friendships, people would have done a lot for each other, sacrificed many things and gone to great lengths for the happiness of their friends. Sometimes, they may have denied themselves opportunities simply because it might have struck them as selfish or because exploiting them might have hurt their friends.

These small gestures create a feeling of indebtedness that is difficult to shrug off easily, even when it later turns out that the relationship is proving to be an impediment to one’s own progress.

I have always considered any opportunity to help any one as a privilege. But, recently, I also realized that it is a good way of giving something back to your friends. If you have always given lavishly to the people around you and never expected anything back from them, then you will find that you have a lot of freedom. If one day you decide to just leave it all behind, you can walk away without any qualms. Without any worry about feeling like a selfish/manipulative person. That freedom to walk away without even turning back to say goodbye is a precious one.

Guilt and feelings of obligation are two of the biggest factors that entangle people in useless relationships. If you are free of them, then, that means that the friends you have are people you genuinely like and want in your life. Being surrounded by such people is of more worth than any small discomfort you have to endure for it.

I am not implying that you should be wary of asking your friends for help. Just that you should not look down upon any opportunity to be of use to someone… Always give more than you take (an incredibly wise saying… even for a selfish person). It can bring immense satisfaction and peace to the fair-minded among us.

Whatever I wrote here was inspired by a book I read recently called The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. In the book, the author talks about how some people can misuse our fundamental tendency to reciprocate by doing us unwanted favours. Though what I have written is not directly related to it, I think, that our innate sense of fairness can constrain our actions and force us into negative relationships if we let ourselves grow indebted to other people.

There is a goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne; but none of Forgetting. Yet there should be, as they are twin sisters, twin powers, and walk on either side of us, disputing for sovereignty over us and who we are, all the way until death.

Richard Holmes, A meander through memory and forgetting.