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.

120-IMG_8549

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.

125-IMG_8573

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.

128-IMG_8586

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.

130-IMG_8593

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.

131-IMG_8598

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.

132-IMG_8601

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

138-IMG_8613

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

139-IMG_8618

It was a heavenly place.

140-IMG_8625

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

146-IMG_8640

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.

144-IMG_8637

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

147-IMG_8642

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.

148-IMG_8648

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!

152-IMG_8662

The next day didn’t disappoint…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Himalayan Cycling Expedition-Part1

On the 4th of July, this year, I had gone on a cycling trip to the Himalayas. It’s been quite a while since I decided to put down my experiences here. Finally, I have started.

First 3 days

It was after a lot of confusion and frenzied running around that I finally got myself and my cycle on to the plane to Leh.

Finally got the cycle box and luggage to the airport by bus!!

At the delhi airport

Those 2 hrs were the only moments of peace I had in the run-up to the trip. As I looked out of the window as the plane navigated the stunning and surreal-looking mountains, I, for the first time felt relaxed and finally could feel the thrill and excitement building up inside me. As I stepped out of the plane after a bumpy landing, I caught my first glimpse of the surrounding mountains from ground level. I got my cycle from the luggage check-out and caught a taxi to the hotel where my team-mates who had reached a day earlier than me were staying. I was scared of becoming sick because of the thin air. But, luckily, I did not get even a head ache. I just ate a lot, read and walked about Changspa Road taking in the sights and sounds.

In the afternoon I with the help of Vinod put my cycle back together. I then noticed that the rear wheel was a little bent. So, I cycled to a shop where I got the rim trued.

The next day we got all the permissions required for our tour plan from the police station. After lunch we decided to go to the Shey and Thiksey monasteries on cycle to see how well we were acclimatized. It was a 20 km ride(one-way). I thought the monasteries themselves were pretty  boring. But the sights and sounds along the way and the experience of cycling in the thin air was something truly new to me.

After the ride I was thoroughly tired.

We all then piled into a hotel on Changspa road and had a hearty dinner.

It was after several days that I was finally sleeping peacefully. I could feel that my breathing had become very deep and fast. But otherwise I was more or less fine.

Khardung-La(5650 m)

This was the day that most worried me before the trip. This was supposed to be one of the highest road passes in the world and climbing up to it on cycle with our luggage was a tough proposition. The thought of doing it on the third day of flying into Leh gave me many sleepless nights before the trip.

On our way to Khardung La

I want to digress now and mention a little thing that struck me. When I was talking about my trip to a friend of mine after coming back, he told me that I should write it all down as fast as possible or I risked forgetting the details. But, I knew that unless a part of my brain was carved out there was no way of that happening. Every single moment of that trip was written in breathless strokes on a canvas of surreal surroundings and strange experiences and were etched so deeply in my mind that they will stay there for quite a while.

I have never experienced fatigue, pain, cold or breathlessness to the extent I experienced that day… ever! Only the sights around me and the company of people travelling on the road who stopped to talk to and encourage us kept me going.

There were land-slides at several places and it provided me with excuses for much needed breaks.

Roads frequently get blocked by landslides

When I reached South Pullu and somehow stumbled into the little Dhaba there for some  much needed food and tea, I thought there was simply no way I could cycle another 14 km up.

We had ascended some 1000 m and another 1000 m was remaining.

Little by little taking breaks we went up. All the time my eyes were set on the highest point.

As we neared the pass the sun had warmed and melted the ice shelves lining the road. The road was awash with ice melt and in my fatigued state I lost  my balance at several places and had to step in the water. My left shoe became wet and very soon I started feeling very cold. Jayakanth had gone on ahead. I and the others were going together. Finally, when I started thinking that the sign boards were tricking us and after not seeing one for quite a while, I saw a board which read

The world’s highest restaurant-500 m ahead.

The sun was starting to go down and it was starting to get dark. Finally mustering the last of my energy I pedaled on and came to the army station at the peak. I rode in and collapsed by the side of a building there. Behind me Rajesh, Girish and finally Vinod came up.

I spent some time talking to some Malayalee soldiers there.

By then the others had moved on. I was starting to become very cold because I was in my cycling shorts and my one foot was exposed. The soldiers advised me to go down on the Leh side as it was easier to get help if I needed it on that side than on the road to Nubra Valley. So, I took their advice and descended on that side. Turned out it was good advice. My cycle carrier broke as I was nearing South Pullu. So, I dropped it off at the police station there and hitched a ride on a sumo. I came down to Leh booked myself a lavish room at The Ladakh Residency and dunked myself in hot water until feeling returned to my hands and legs.

People always ask me why I decided to tour by cycle and not simply travel by vehicle. Why go through the pain and uncertainty? Can’t you see the same things while sitting comfortably inside a car or on a bike? These are good questions.

As you will see over the next several posts as I put down details of the time I spent in the Himalayas on my cycle the answer to those questions will become apparent…

The only time in my life I was able to smile at a camera!

A few extra pics…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Taking the first step

I had gone to Ladakh as part of a cycling expedition from the 4th of July to the 23rd. After getting back there were a lot of things that needed attending to and I haven’t been able to sit down and collect my thoughts about the tour. It was the biggest, most expensive, ambitious and physically demanding trip I have ever undertaken. As a result it is also the one that has had the biggest impact on me.

I wish I could write it all down immediately, but I haven’t been able to even look at the photos properly till now. I thought hat I should first put down all the stuff that happened in the run up to the trip.

It was in May that the mail announcing the the trip was sent out on the Bangalore Ascender’s mailing list by Rajesh PN, who along with Girish Motwani did most of of the planning for the trip. The mail caught my attention as I had been thinking of going to the Himalayas for some time. But, I didn’t have any company and I wasn’t interested in an ordinary sight seeing trip around Ladakh by vehicle.

The mail seemed interesting. But, when I read the plan and saw the distance that they were planning to cover I felt a sudden pang of doubt. Can they be serious? Is it really possible to cover a 1000 kms on cycle at such high altitudes on difficult terrain? How many people are going to sign up for this crazy trip? Even if I did decide to go how was I going to get my cycle to Leh? What are the risks involved in undertaking such a trip? What sort of preparation would be required for it? What if after arranging everything all the other guys pulled out? Is it really not crazy to do something like this without a support vehicle? Questions kept on popping up in my head. The more I thought about it the more the arguments against the idea piled up. I called up Rajesh to ask a couple of doubts. Before that Renjith had sent me a mail, asking me teasingly, why I hadn’t signed up for it.

After thinking for a while, I decided that thinking was not much use. This was not a trip for a level-headed person. There was no brand of logic or reason which would counsel me to do it. For this trip, for once, I would have to really listen to my heart. See if I wanted to do this. Once I went ahead and booked the airline tickets what would follow was difficult training and preparation culminating in a risky and testing adventure.

I was starting to feel that my travels had become a bit monotonous. I needed to push the envelope. To try something that would test my determination and limits. So, I decided, it was time I did something like this and guess what? “I am doing it!”

It was an impulsive decision. I did not think about how I would do it. Just that I would do it! On the same day, I booked the tickets and called up my dad to tell him about it. Suddenly, things seemed different. Everything I did had one more purpose, one more aim. The trip loomed ahead of me like a mountain before a climber.

Both foreboding and exciting. Both terrifying and tantalizing in its possibilities. Before a trip one always feels some inertia and doubt… It is like a sky-diver hesitating before making the jump. There is fear and anxiety. But, there is also the knowledge that beyond the crucial one step lies the unknown, beckoning to him… To listen to that call and step out of your comfort zone, that is what adventure is all about.

Trekking at Pushpagiri

On the 24th of last month I had gone trekking with the Bangalore Ascender’s to Kumara Parvatha/Pushpagiri. The team members were Girisha, Jinu, Prabhakar, Om, Ashok, and me. It was my second time with the group. Previously, I had gone with them to Munnar on a cycling trip.

When I told everyone that I was going to KP, most of them told me that it was stupid to attempt the trek at that time since it was still summer and water would not be available near the peak. Also, they said that the trek through the grassy route would be tough in the searing heat. But, the organizers had done their homework well. Girisha had called up someone who had been there a few weeks before us and had made sure that our route(from the Somwarpet side) was well sheltered and enjoyable.

All of that preparation paid of well and it was one of the best treks that I had done up until then. All the treks I had gone on were single day treks, which meant that I could return before the end of the day and did not have to carry a lot of stuff with me. But, this time it was different. The route was 25 kms long and it was going to be a 2 day trek with an overnight camping on the top included. I was pretty excited about it as I had never slept outside under a tent before.

We started on Friday night from Bangalore and reached Somwarpet by about 6 in the morning. After freshening up and having breakfast we hired a jeep to take us to the Mallali water falls and later drop us off at the start of the hiking trail. To reach the water falls one has to take a detour from the route connecting Somwarpet and the start of the trail. I was not that enthusiastic about going to the water falls as I thought that it would be relatively subdued because of the time of the year. But, I was proved wrong! The trip and the short walk to the base of the water falls was well-worth the effort.


The water falls was quite a sight to see especially from up close.

Feeling refreshed we all got back into the jeep and set  set off for the Heggademane temple which marked the start of the hiking trail to the peak.

We reached the temple by about 9 and from there we set off for the forest office where we enquired about the conditions near the peak. They said that there had been a lot of rain recently(fortunately) and that there was continuous thunder and lightning at the peak(not-so-fortunately). They suggested that we not stop at the peak and that we continue on to Bhattare-mane on the other side before stopping for the night. They also warned us that the route was heavily leech infested!


Thankfully, after all these warnings they gave us the assurance that there was water available at 2 points along the route and also near the peak. Hearing this was quite a relief to us. So, after all the paper work was over, we set off.

A dog accompanied us for quite a way!

I had come well stocked as far as food was concerned. I had with me lots of mangoes, biscuits, dates and chocolates. Even though I was not really that hungry I kept munching on stuff as I walked with the others under the cool shade of the trees. We stopped for water at a couple of small streams.

Very soon, the leech problem became very severe and all of us started walking at a brisk pace to reduce the number of leeches that we were picking up. After a while I found out that stopping to pick off the leeches on my shoes was a wasteful affair as more were climbing onto my legs than I could pick off in a given time! So, I decided to ignore them and simply walk as fast as I could through the wet thick forest and stop only on dry rocks for water and rest.

The tree cover cast a pale green shadow over everything and the recent rains had put that cool, wet tropical touch on the trail. Walking along it, it was easy to ignore the numerous leeches jostling for space in my shoes and simply get lost in the wild beauty surrounding us.

The initial part of the trail was very easy and I soon got ahead of the others as I was walking at a pretty brisk pace.  Soon, I came to a pretty steep(about 45 degree I guess) rock face and from then on the climb was pretty tough.


While climbing up the rock face which was pretty easy by the way, since it was mostly dry and my Reezig shoes gave me good grip on them, I was wondering how it would be like in the rains.

I could see water channels all over them and thought about how cool it would be to climb it in the rains!

After that, the gradient continued to be high. I was starting to feel tired and had to take a couple of breaks in between. The last 2 kms before the peak seemed to go on forever. Finally, by about 12:45 I broke out of the tree cover and to the stretch of rock just below the peak.

The weather atop the peak had absolutely no relation to the conditions below it. It was alternately misty and clear. Conditions kept varying quite abruptly.

After I got to the top within minutes the mist came up behind me and surrounded me. I decided to walk about and check out the area before the others came. There was a temple atop the peak which was mostly just a big pile of rocks.

Then I sat down and decided that the leeches had had enough fun and decided to split ways with them.

I picked off about 20 leeches from each leg

Then I surveyed my ration and waited for the others. Soon enough I heard shouts from behind a copse and went over and joined the others. It was only about 1:30 and we thought that we were too early in getting to the peak. We didn’t realize then just how wrong we were!

We quickly set about collecting some wood for the fire and found a nice spot behind a bunch of trees where we decided to tie up our tarpaulin sheets.

Then we got some water from a spot just below the peak and made ourselves some hot, tasty soup and  pasta!

We then were wondering about what to do after that when suddenly the sky grew dark and it started drizzling. We quickly got under the tarpaulin sheet that we had tied up and into our sleeping bags. Very soon the rain grew in intensity and the sheet started becoming wet and the weight was causing it to droop and touch our sleeping bags. Also, the water was starting to come in along the edges. As soon as the rain started Prabhakar picked up his sleeping bag and ran over to the bags which we had kept under another tarpaulin sheet and got under that. If it weren’t for that we wouldn’t have had space for all of us! As the night wore on, I snuggled deeper into my bag and stayed there listening to the rain pounding the sheet within inches of my ear and enjoying the warmth and silky comfort of my bag. It was then that I realized just how helpful they can be while trekking.

By 5 in the morning, the damp had managed to creep into my bag near my legs where it was exposed to the rain. It was okay since the rain had stopped by then and we all got out of our sleeping bags and decided to get to the viewpoint and wait for the sun rise for which KP is most famous!

When we got there, the sun’s rays where starting to just illuminate the sea of clouds from below!

We stood there making small talk and trying to contain our excitement as the majestic sight slowly unfolded in front of us. Soon enough, the sun appeared over the horizon and veins of color shot out in all directions…

The clouds parted for a few moments and granted us a peak at the sun!

After sunrise, we packed up our stuff. I then took out my bread, cheese, some prunes and dates that I had with me and made a meal of them. I gave it to the others also as we were all very hungry.

The descent was very easy as we started early and because of the rains the day before.

The descent was a little steep and we made good time.

On the way we had to pass through a “leech forest”. We passed so fast through it that most of us didn’t get bitten at all.

A rock that resembles a primitive human face!

We got down on the side of Kukke Subrahmania. This is the more popular route that most people take. This route is mostly through open grasslands. I thought the trail that we went up by was more enjoyable. Anyway, we soon got to Mantapa, After hanging around for a while we made our way to the forest office. When we got there we saw that there were a lot of guava trees all around the place.

We took a break and just lay about eating them and relaxing in the shade of a shelter near the forest office.

We then made our way to Bhattare Mane where we had a lunch of rice, sambhar, butter milk and pickle. Then we waited for a while until the sun lost its edge and then set off again. We got to Kukke Subrahmnya in record time and booked ourselves a room in a lodge and rested and freshened up there. After that we walked around the temple town and had some tasty snacks at a hotel. Then we got our bus back to Bangalore and had a comfortable journey back home!

It was a pretty cool trip and it was my first time with a group this experienced and passionate about trekking and nature. A big thanks to Girisha and the others who managed to make this trip such a grand success!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cycling at Munnar: 170 kms over 2 days

Enjoying the downhill sections

On April 30, I went on a cycling trip to Munnar with The Bangalore Ascenders. It was my first trip with this group and I thoroughly enjoyed it. On Friday, I was barely able to concentrate on work because of my excitement. I reached the pick-up point first and waited eagerly for the others to turn up. We started out a little later than planned. We had some dinner on the way and some of us managed to get some shut-eye.

We reached Chinnar by around 11 in the morning. It took some time to untie all the cycles and take them down one by one. After setting up all the cycles, checking tire pressure, filling the water bottles and taking some pics, we all started out. I think it was almost 12 by then. The sun was beating down upon us and though we were at some altitude the heat rising up from the road was merciless. After an initial stretch of downhill roads the climb started. The gradient was not that high. But still it was tough  especially since this was my first time on a hilly terrain excepting a failed attempt at Nandi Hills(6.5/8kms completed on cycle).

But, this time I had steeled my mind and decided that unless my legs fall off or something like that happens I am not going to give up. I kept up a steady/easy pace, refrained from changing gears too often on the uphill stretches, pedalled at 85CPM with one hand on the handle bar in a perfectly upright position, refrained from taking big breaks, used the downhill stretches to give my butt a break even though it was not giving me trouble… yet, and kept myself hydrated and used electrolyte and glucose to prevent fatigue.

Still, I was going through my water supply at a fast pace. The heat also was starting to get to me. Luckily there were plenty of wayside shops from which I kept refilling my water bottle. There was also a small waterfall where some of us took a shower under the cascading water. On the way a guy in a tour bus asked me whether I was crazy. I answered, “a little…”  and pedaled on. Very soon the others had started to fall behind as they took a few big breaks and also stopped for a big lunch. I opted for tiny breaks of 5-10 mins and energy bars and biscuits. After a while the sun started going down and the heat eased up a little. The landscape started changing. The air started getting cooler. The tea gardens with water fountains started appearing on both sides of the road. I started enjoying the ride. But still the thought of more than 30 kms remaining weighed heavily on my mind. When I reached Marayoor, I took a bigger break and decided to wait for some company. After some 20 mins I thought that I would go on.

Again, the pedaling resumed. But, the thought of having covered more than half the distance provided me with some comfort. Every now and then, some kids would cycle alongside me and ask about my cycle and whether I really did think that I could make it to Munnar. I enjoyed the company and the occasional chats. After a while, the climb started becoming a little more steeper. There were no more breaks with downhill stretches. One friendly chap ran alongside me and told me that I had to cycle only some 10 kms more. After that the rest of the road to Munnar was downhill.

The landscape around me now had a scenic touch. As a child I always loved Munnar more than the other hill stations. Somehow, the seductive green tea covered hills, dripping with dew and draped in a light mist with the occasional shade tree touched and inspired me. Also, there was something about the place that made it distinctly Malayalee and I loved being in Kerala. That last climb was starting to drain me. I saw a neat scene with the sun peeking through the clouds just before setting. I decided to take a break and wait for company. After a while, to my great relief I saw Nitin cycling up the winding road at a terrific pace. He caught up and we cycled on together. He soon got ahead of me. But after a few more kms we reached the top and the remaining 12 kms was downhill.

I just let lose the fury of the painstakingly collected potential energy in one orgasmic 25 min climax. My Trek handled the 60kmph speeds with confidence and poise. When I leaned in to reduce wind drag I could hear the music from  the tire and feel its magnificent momentum. It was like the handle bar was set in cement.

We reached Munnar by nightfall, had dinner at Sharavana Bhavan and booked ourselves into a cosy little two bedroom place for the night. I was expecting the next day to be easier. But, Neelima had said that it would be worse than day 1 as the 110 km distance contained both uphill and downhill sections.

Day 2:

The next day after breakfast we set off from Munnar a few at a time. After a few kms of uphill cycling there was a never ending stretch of downhill road and that too rubberized for the most part. I went at a terrific speed on those stretches and was entertaining fantasies of downhill roads till Thekkady. But they were to be cruelly slaughtered. After a while the roads evened out and then they started going up and down. It was extremely difficult after a while. If the roads are flat, then you can cycle on forever. But, if they are hilly, they will kill you slowly. But, the lush greenery around me, the knowledge that I was on familiar territory and the breaks that I made at wayside eateries all gave me the strength to go on.

But, then, disaster struck. I stopped at a tea shop, had 2 cups of coffee and set off. After about 6 kms of grueling climbing, I realized that I had forgotten my helmet. My heart was crushed… I had no choice but to turn back, After getting the helmet back from the shop, as I was cycling uphill again, I started thinking of why I was doing this… my left brain was ominously whispering, “This is MADNESSS!!”. But, then my right brain screamed back, “This is SABBUUU!!!” Boom! One stroke! Like that stroke by stroke, I made 40,000 of them after that…. I reached the last town before Kumily…

By then all the hypoglycemia induced crazy thoughts were driven away by several stout Snickers bars. I was feeling confident. The thought of having completed about 80kms made me happy. I remembered the reason for doing this. I considered this to be a test of character. I want to be a person who finishes things. I want to do things well and complete them. Thats why it was important that I reach Thekkady on my cycle… I thanked myself for not having called up the tempo. After leaving the town, I was suddenly overtaken by Nitin cycling at a healthy pace. By then, I had recovered my energy and enthu and I kept up with him. We reached Kumily, made our way to Thekkady which was 4kms away and came back to Kumily to wait for the others as the road to Bangalore was different from the road to Thekkady.

There was a last 8km downhill ride on bad roads which I thoroughly enjoyed before packing up and leaving for Bangalore. We had food on the way and I slept fitfully in the tempo.

All in all, a fantastic trip! Thanks to Ambareesh, Rajesh, Nitin and everyone else who made the trip possible and took great pains to make sure that cycles were safe. It was a pretty intense experience for me and made me understand myself a little better…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.