October 3, 2016

Trek to Goecha La

     I have always wanted to write an article on my trek experiences but never got around to writing one. A 9-day(technically 11-day) trek in the beautiful Sikkim felt like a perfect opportunity for one. So here is how it happened:

      Continuing my tradition of choosing wrong timing for vacations(Mid-Summer tour to Cambodia and Vietnam, Winter trek in Kuari Pass), I chose to go to Sikkim during monsoon though this has more to do with the cheap tickets that SpiceJet offered rather than poor planning. Like most of the trips planned by friends, the trek started with 5 members planning and ended with 2 people going to the trip with the person who actually suggested it eventually dropping out of it without even booking any tickets!

It was an eventful trek with the likes of landslides, heavy snowfall, sudden rains, soggy paths, brake failures, night travel on ghat roads with sleepy driver in-between lengthy spells of fog and mist that gave me more experiences than I hoped for. The 2 most used sentences during the trek would give you an idea of how the trek was :
- Aajkal to Fog hi chal raha hai (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8x04LFTvOt0 for the non-hip guys)
- Halaat hi kharab hai yaar (It sounded much better in our wonderful trek leader's accent)

Since it was a 11-day trek and almost every day has its own memory-worthy experience, let me give a day-by-day narration that I am sure will put you to sleep.

# At the Bangalore Airport

Day 0 : We reached NJP station with apprehension and excitement mixed in our heart which is more or less the feeling you get while talking to your crush for the first time. The day was supposed to be a simple cab journey till the base camp Yuksom. But we had the first excitement even before the actual trek started when the car brakes failed while trying to maneuver the car through the Chakravyuha that the Sikkim road network is. Luckily we found a garage soon and heaved a sigh of relief after getting it fixed. We eventually reached Yuksom 3 hours late after changing the route 2 times because of landslides eventually following a route that I don't think can legally be called a road.

This is how Yuksom looks in the morning :)

Day 1 :  Trek to Sachen(7200 ft) : Since we were used to spending the days either in the cubicles or in the beds bent upon our laptops, the small 5 hour trek to the first base camp of Sachen made us question our sanity when we decided on the trek 30 days back. Lunch on the bridge with the beautiful waterfalls in the backdrop was a very good sight to our nature-deprived eyes. The main antagonist of our trek, the rain god made his appearance just as we ended the day's trek to snuggle into our comfortable sleeping bags.

Day 2 : Trek to Tshokha (9700 ft). The actual trek on this day felt much better than the earlier day though it was raining probably because we got a bit used to the exercise now. We passed another bridge that was just next to an area where a landslide happened. The first pleasant surprise of the trek happened around lunch time when we reached Bakhim. It was so beautiful that it reminded me of Hobbiton from LoTR. Here is a picture of the place though the pic doesn't do justice to the actual place.

I also got my loyal walking stick this day from our local guide, Norbu bayya that turned out to be very useful through out the trek. Hut instead of tent made it an easy night. This is the last place you get a signal. So, I called my parents, informed them that we will be unreachable for next 7 days and went to sleep.

Day 3 : Trek to Dzongri (12980 ft): We woke up early and was greeted by a huge layer of mist that blocked us from enjoying the view. This would be a recurring event through out the trek. After having breakfast, we listened to a returning team's description of the wonderful Dzongri Top while secretly envying them as they get to leave the same day to the comforts of civilization, away from all the rain and mist. The whole day is one big ascent all the way to Dzongri with a steep one towards the end. There was heavy rain through out the trek. I will never forget the cold lunch I had while freezing in wet clothes at Phedang. I blamed myself at least 3 times just during lunch break for choosing the trek during monsoon. After reaching Dzongri, had the first meadowy view that I was expecting to be there through out the trip which soothed my nerves and brought back joy.

Day 4 : Rest Day : This was a much needed rest day, both to get some rest as well as to get used to the high altitude. We had ample rest, played some games and shared experiences with each other. We had one small 30 minute window of sun shine that we used to the fullest by drying all our clothes. We  also had a very clear sky that night and I had a breathtaking view of star-lit sky that one will never ever get in a city. It was a gorgeous view. I could see patches of densely star-packed areas in the sky that looked amazing. In general, the rest day helped in lifting our spirits and looking forward to an amazing trek ahead. As luck would have it, there was little to no rain on the rest day!

Day 5 : Trek to Thansing (12900 ft) : We had an early morning trek(4 30 am) to Dzongri top. This is a very famous view point from where you get a 360 degree view of the beautiful Himalayan ranges. We passed several trekkers who came just till Dzongri view point and went back.  We were lucky enough to get a good 30 minute fog-free view at the top. It was an amazing view of all the peaks. We even got to see Kanchenjunga for a few minutes unlike the team that trekked there the day before.

# The small tip you see is Kanchenjunga.

With happy hearts and a healthy breakfast, we were hoping for a nice trek to next stop, Thansing. Rain god heard our prayers but interpreted it wrongly and promptly rain set in and it even brought mist for company. Descent to Kokuchurung took forever in the slippery mud. From Kokuchurung to Thansing, which was supposed to be very beautiful, we trekked in rainfall with wet clothes and heavy hearts unable to enjoy the nature views that we got in between. We were to realize how beautiful the path is, only while coming down 3 days later. Reaching Thansing camp felt similar to finding an oasis in a desert. Couple of people who stayed back from earlier group told us how beautiful the view was but all we could see is mist! Long day comes to end and we consoled ourselves to sleep.

Day 6 : Trek to Lamune (13650 ft) :Woke up early in the morning to see what all the fuss about view was and was surprised to see a clear sky with excellent view of Mt. Pandim.

We could see the fog from far off and could only do as much as what Merry and Pippin could do when they saw the orcs. We just waited for an onslaught. The day is small as we just had a simple 2 hour trek to Lamune, our base camp from where we will trek the Goecha La. One bright spot was the pleasant surprise I felt when I figured out that we are not walking in a huge meadow but in a valley next to mountains. I could figure it out only when the fog cleared partially and for some un-explainable reason felt happy at the surprise. The trek was very simple. It was more of a rest day to prepare ourselves for the next day's major one. We came to know from the previous batch who just trekked Goecha La that they couldn't get any view at all because of the mist. We spent quality time with each other discussing all kinds of things ranging from Indian Education, Cricket to personal life and slept as early as 6pm.

Day 7 aka the D-Day Trek to Goecha La (16000 ft): Woke up at 2 am hoping for a clear night but met with rain. Slept again hoping for it to clear and rain stopped for 30 minutes and we decided to go for it. Started around 3 am for Goechala and rain started at 3 05! But we were a determined lot and trudged along like Gandalf and the company on Misty mountains. We reached View point 1 just around sunrise but had 2 surprises. Snowfall and mist. Sorry make it 1 as we were anyway expecting mist! Supposed to get a good view of Mt. Kanchenjunga but all we could see was, you guessed it right, mist.

Took some customary pics at the top and decided to go to view point 2 ignoring the repeated warnings from the trek leader (turned out, he knows his stuff, after all). Some one from earlier team said it is a 1 hour trek from view pt-1 to view pt-2. We argued with the trek lead and local guide who said it will take 3 hours that they were wrong and started for view pt-2. Boy are we in for a surprise! 5 minutes into the trek I realized 2 things. We are not going to get any view from point-2 and that it was a good decision to go there because of the views during trek! 10 minutes into the trek I realized that we will most definitely not even reach view-point2 and that it is going to snow now!

Trekking in that heavy snow during a snowfall was once in a life time opportunity for a South-Indian like me and I enjoyed it to the fullest. Trekked for what felt like a day but in reality was around 90 minutes on a relatively easy path if not for the snow, snowfall and cold(almost subzero) only to come to a small hill covered completely in snow that we were supposed to climb to go to view point 2. Another 30 minutes during which I slipped almost 6 times and lost balance at least 5 times and reached 75% of the peak, I realized that there is a high probability of this being my final hours if I continue further up. Local guide was not at all encouraging giving mixed statements like, let me take you to the top safely(while himself slipping many times) and saying how we are in big trouble and wondering what he could do if something bad happens. I finally decided to abandon and started trekking down. My friend Vamshi was only too happy to see me coming down his way and readily volunteered to accompany me though I suspect is is not because of his good Samaritan nature! After waiting in freezing cold for the other 2 guys to join us and listening to the near-death experience of one of them whose finger turned black(!) while having breakfast, we started the trek back to Lamune and I did it non-stop through the rain and snowfall while experiencing what felt like snow blind on the way. Too bad we couldn't take pictures during the pt-1 to pt-2 part of the trek. It was a very memorable experience that I will never forget in my life.

We reached Lamune all wet and cold but the day is not yet over. We were supposed to go back to Thansing for the night. Had some lunch while it was raining outside. Once our hunger is gone, so did the rain and surprisingly the mist as well! Looks like the weather was just waiting for us to complete Goechala to give us some respite. Had the best trek back to Thansing not only because the big part is over but the path was so beautiful once the mist cleared that I felt like staying there for 10days just to enjoy the amazing views till the memory gets imprinted in my brain. The views in the trek back to Thansing itself was worth the trip. Took a leisurely 3 hours for the trek back and reached Thansing just as it started getting dark ready to pass-on the Gyan to the next batch. Had an amazing sleep for the first time in the trek fully satisfied with the day even though we couldn't get a view of Mt.Kanchenjunga.

Day 8 : Woke up early the next day to take some good pictures before our enemy, the mist comes back. Had a hearty breakfast and started the trek back to Tshokha. Another amazing one hour with no rain, no mist and amazing views of rivers, streams and colourful flowers along the way.

Just as we felt we are very lucky, we reached Kokuchurung to experience the worst 4 hours of the whole trek. It was a boring walk through dense jungle on a boggy path which went on for what felt like forever but was actually 9kms till we reached Phedong. This is how our pants looked after this dreadful path.

After having lunch, it was an easy trek down to Tshokha. On seeing Tshokha, I felt so happy that I rushed forward and for the first time during the trek, walked barefoot in the wild after removing shoes in the hut. Had a heavy dinner and was dreaming of going back to Yuksom the next day only to hear the Trek lead say that there was a huge landslide on the way and it might get difficult to cross it. Also got enough network here to assure family that I am alive and well. Spent the evening listening to trek lead's stories about his earlier treks.

Day 9 : We started early so that we can go past the landslide area. Just as we reached that point, we saw another landslide happening at the same place! Too bad, we couldn't capture it on camera. Crossing that was not as difficult as we imagined but mules had to stay back as the path was not clear enough for them to pass. Had a fairly easy trek back to campsite reflecting on our trek and feeling sad that we had to return back to normal life away from the nature.

The long trek came to an end at Yuksom after taking a bath for the first time in 10 days. Just as we were relaxing checking mails and stuff and looking forward to a heavy sleep, trek lead said that there is going to be a strike the next day and we need to start for NJP immediately if we are to catch our flight! Our adventures are not over after-all. Started a long journey in the night with a sleepy driver praying for a clear path till we cross border. One funny experience (funny now, not then!) was when the road suddenly ended on the way as if some alien airlifted the land there. We had to go back and take another route. Kudos to the driver for his commitment to take us to Siliguri while he himself was feeling so sleepy. Somehow managed to reach Siliguri and asked driver to drop us close to Airport in case the strike extends.

Day 10: Just a lazy day involving us having food and watching movies in a shitty TV in a shitty hotel. But, it was much needed rest after the past 10 days and got enough rest since I was planning to go back to office after reaching Bangalore.

Thus ended an amazing and memorable 10 day trek in North Sikkim.

January 10, 2016

The Big Short : Review

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read his Liar's poker earlier, which though I liked, I struggled a lit bit in understanding the financial terms. It was a difficult read. I think he might have taken similar feedback from others for this book since in this, he tries to explain as much as possible in layman's terms, all that you need to understand.

That aside, the book itself is fairly engaging. In fact, I read 90% of the book in a single sitting which I don't remember when I last did. The book draws you a neat picture of what exactly happened that led to the biggest recession in recent times and he was openly critical of all the big investment banks and brokerage firms. I was surprised he could get away with all that straight forward hate against the big guys but I don't think they can sue him since it is true anyway! I have watched a famous documentary(don't remember the name) couple of years back that explains the same real estate bubble but I think this book has much more explanation that was missing in the documentary.

In the end, you feel bad for the normal public in US who are the ones that ultimately got screwed due to these Wall Street guys and the US Government. And the sad thing is, all the real players in the Doomsday Machine, got away with it..

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December 31, 2015

Inferno : Review

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 One "first-time" for me with this book is that I could identify with the antagonist of this book right from his introduction since I too have pondered several times on the central issue of the book. I kept agreeing with his line of reasoning from the word get-go. Maybe that was Dan Brown's intention.

Without giving away much details, I will just say a few good things about the book:

- This is a much much better thriller than Dan Brown's last book, Lost Symbol and thankfully does not have too much of art/architecture mumbo-jumbo like the previous books.
- The central theme is quite relevant, interesting and something I think everyone should have a dialogue on. To quote the book, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their silence at times of crisis."
-I quite liked the several red herrings and twists in the story though they are not that necessary.
- I think the ending is a "happy" one in its own way. It is like the best possible way to deal with the problem and it sounds like Dan Brown hit upon a best "realistic" possible solution to a "real" global problem and wove a Robert Langdon book around it.
-It has been a very long time since I last read Dan Brown but I felt this book has lot of quotable dialogues.

Go read the book, if you are a thriller fan and/or have read Dan Brown earlier.

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October 7, 2015

Comsos : Review

CosmosCosmos by Carl Sagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carl Sagan's beautiful words transform you to outside the earth, into the cosmos and lets you appreciate the grandeur of the universe. It has so many unforgettable quotes which makes you ponder simultaneously on how precious human race is and also how trivial it is in the big picture. I think this is a must read not only for every science enthusiast but also for every person to appreciate the very fact we are "alive" and "conscious" in this universe and in his words how we are "star stuff pondering stars". His pitch for disarmament of nuclear weapons and increased investment in the cosmic exploration in the last chapter is nothing short of a historic speech if it has really been delivered on some big platform. I think every Nation head needs to read the last chapter especially in today's world to understand how important it is for us to make right decisions in this age. Read the book to appreciate the Universe and Nature and the fact that you are the result of innumerable, highly unlikely things occurring at the right place and the right time.

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August 30, 2015

Ideas on how to improve greenery

             Me and my flatmate were discussing on ways to improve greenery to combat rising pollution levels and hit upon some ideas which looked decent. So, I thought of sharing them here.

               Best way to get people to do anything would be to give them some incentive. So, one of the ways we thought might help is giving tax benefit to people for planting trees. For example, let us say they can get income tax exemption of 10,000 for each tree they plant and ALSO maintain it. After 2 years, let us say the tree dies because you have not looked after it, you will have to pay taxes of all the previous years. This will make sure that they will look after the plant till it becomes a tree. Government can provide the seeds/plants to them and even a location to plant. But one problem with this is there will be a huge problem with auditing them. There will be huge paper work and it is practically impossible and not realistic to audit trees planted at individual level.
                To overcome this problem, the government can do a couple of things. Instead of giving tax benefit to individual tax payer, they can give tax benefit to companies. This will be much easier to manage both for government and for the company since government will give the plants and the land. There is not much extra effort from government on audit side and the company can not only easily plant and maintain trees very cheaply and get tax benefit, but also show it proudly as a Corporate Social Responsibility activity. If getting such land is difficult, they can just ask them to plant and maintain trees on either side of highways from some km to another km stone. This is a win-win situation as it is easy to audit and also provides some employment opportunity to villages near that highway. I am sure they can come up with numbers such that government need not forego too much tax and companies can both save some tax money and also proudly show it as CSR. Also, as more companies join this program, there will be additional pressure on other companies who might be reluctant if they feel tax benefit is not worth it.
                Since, this might not cover much area unless individuals are involved, they can provide a way for individual also to get tax benefit by encouraging some group formation. For example, there can be a company which just does planting and maintenance of tress on highways and "sells" it to individuals. Let me explain. Let us say there is a company where you can go and buy Rs.100 per tree(assuming tax benifit of Rs.10,000 per tree to simplify matters.) Since you get a tax benefit of 1000(assuming you are in 10% bracket which is most common), you have an incentive to buy one tree. Now if 1000 people buy these trees. company raises Rs. 1Lakh which should be enough to pay a gardener to look after, say 1km stretch of highway and still make profit. It will be easy for government also to now audit the tax benifit claimed by the individual. You just submit the form which says you are paying for the plant just like you submit a Life Insurance policy form. Only problem here is, if you say stop paying to the tree maintenance company after 3 years, the plant may die but there is no way government can know this and go back and take away the taxes it exempted from the last 3 years(since you are individual) but I am sure the plant will not now die since the ownership of that plant can just be shifted to some new customer by the company. This way, we can ensure lot of greenery 15 years down the line with minimal effort from all sides.
                  This can be further tuned like, say if you are ready to do it in some place in city itself or on city roads, you can get more benefit! So, we can make sure cities themselves will have good greenery. Govt can just auction main roads in the city to whoever bids the best in terms of tax benefit they are ready to claim! For example, let us say for highways, benefit is 10,000 per plant. Inside city, the bidding can start at benefit of 20,000 per plant and whoever bids the lowest wins it. The bid can go lesser than 10K also since it is easy for company to maintain roads with-in the city. That way, there is an incentive for company and also govt can get greenery easily.
                  I am trying to minimize effort from government here since, I am sure any effort I assume from government side will not actually fructify!

How does the idea sound? Do let me know.