The Poetic Meanders

The Poetic Meanders
The Teesta River - captured by Parth Adhikari

Sunday, 31 December 2017



कभी उन जल्दबाज़ी के जज़्बातों
पे तसल्ली से सोचूँगा
तो शायद मेरी गलतियों की गठरी में
वो सब दिन जोड़ लूंगा 
जो बस तेरे साथ रहने में गुज़र गए।

पर कभी उस धीमें से चढ़ते-बढ़ते इश्क़
पे उस तसल्ली से गौर करूँगा 
तो शायद वो इश्क़ इश्क़ ही नही रहेगा
और ना मैं मैंं रहूंगा -
सांस तो रहेगी पर साथ के वो दिन नही रहेंगे।

Monday, 6 November 2017

Dharwa Top Trek

Tracking a Trek 

(Photo credits: Mostly 'God')

Travel engenders excitement - in a way that only foraying into an unknown place can. Without much background information about how this trek (of ‘medium’ difficulty, if the umpteen travel websites are to be believed) came about to be except for the fact that it was planned and executed last year during our Group A Foundation programme at NAIR (National Academy of Indian Railways, Vadodara), I would straight away go to the journal I was lucky to maintain all along: - 

Citius, Altius, Fortius: The group at Dharwa Top
11 September 2016 Trek Day 0
Woke up at 0400 in DLI to catch Dehradun Shatabdi at 0645. Reached HW at 1215. Beelined to Rishikesh with Gokul.S.V., Alok.B. and Abhinav.Y. without wasting time. Alas! The water was a dirty brown, not really suitable for rafting (it’s called white water, not brown water, rafting, after all) and we just roamed around a little only to return like we had gone - on a rickety, bloated beast of an auto rickshaw. It faltered midway on the return; we switched autos to sit all cramped up with men who were as red-eyed as conjunctivitis patients, but we came back all right. On our way back we met Rishav, who was shopping for something.

I got new trek pants! G.S.V. warned me of the perils of trekking in cargo shorts just in time. So I thought to be better safe than sorry.

It was raining heavily in HW all evening, scaring me a little for the trek, with no rain cover available for our bags. So we also bought some plastic sheets (with some peppermint manufacturing firm’s name printed on them) as a makeshift arrangement. Imagine going around the local bazaar asking for plastic sheets and getting the sympathetic offers of umbrellas and raincoats in return from the shopkeepers. It turned out that Rishav had been looking for, and had successfully found, some waterproof covers for his bag. 

HW has neither non-vegetarian food nor liquor to offer. I suppose those in the Goa group (the other probationers, who didn’t or couldn’t pick the trek option, went, or had to go, respectively, to Goa - in hindsight, their Goa trip in the off-season heat turned out to be more complicated than this sentence, if some of them are to be believed) have it nice for themselves. I asked for the remainder of the menu (hoping there was more to come after the paneer lined pages, yuck!), and the waiter looked at me astounded. He approached us and quietly informed about the liquor ban here in the holy city. We told him we were teetotallers (we guessed this level of proximity to things held sacred in Hinduism will automatically purge our simple sins) and that we only wanted chicken. The waiter drew nearer to us again and said that no animals were served as food. We settled for some mushroom or something. It was quite good, to be fair. 

Have to get up at 0400 tomorrow to catch the bus to Uttarakashi.

The rucksack’s getting really heavy. There was a list shared by one of the trekkers of the items one should necessarily pack for such a trek. I don't even have half of that. Nobody I know does.

12 September 2016 Trek Day 1

Departed from Uttarakashi (the hotel ‘Assi Ganga’) after having left the retiring rooms at HW station at 0500 and starting our journey by road to Uttarakashi at 0605. The bus ride was some six hours long (with breakfast unfortunately being served right at the start, which caused many of our (add here: but not my…) stomachs to spin to ‘near’ retching). As the altitude increased, so did the royalty amongst our group - His Highnesses, soporific under jackets in the back of the bus, enjoying the entire journey, especially the halts.

Had lunch at Uttarakashi and unloaded much of my luggage there, only to add a sleeping bag and a mattress; the conclusion being heavier than the previous situation, but far more efficient for purposes of this trek. So hopped on we did on those SUVs that took us from the hotel to the Gajoli bridge that was to become the starting point of our expedition (highly romanticised here for morale-boosting purposes). The road, or the vestiges of one, from the hotel to the bridge was highly uneven, dusty and narrow at places. But we reached safely, and in some time, as the trekkers continued to trickle with each round of the SUV fleet, we felt that we were ready and set to do this trek right the first time.

Carving their way!: Ashish and Sumit leading the pack.
The 5 kilometre long first leg lasted for from 1hr 45mins to about 3hrs (range of timings clocked by the slowest and the fastest trekker taken here). Rishav and Anil.K. reached together, leading the party, followed by me, and we all landed at Bharat Lodge in Agora village (2250 metres high), where we had tea (oh boy!) and dinner (eggs, daal, okra, and dollops of bambino!) There is a stream flowing down a tall, green hill that is across the valley facing the lodge’s little glade - it comes down with a perennial crashing sound, it is cold (during the first leg, we met many shallow rills on our way, so we faced no dearth of potable water), and it is white as snow (obviously, and beautifully) from this distance. I can only now fully understand Seth’s “…serrated hills of Garhwal…” and this feeling of comprehension is fulfilling. At times, you can’t say whether the clouds have descended, or if it’s just the fog veiling the full height and might of this wind-breaking hill range in which we are nestled.

Leaders throughout: (from the right) Anil.K. and Rishav

Northern Railways Trekking and Mountaineering Association (NRTMA) is organising this trek for our group of 60 trekkers (51 probationers, one probationer’s spouse, one professor, and the crew). NRTMA contacted a firm by the name of ‘Altitudes’ for this trek which is being led by Mr. Anit Sah, a mountaineer who’s climbed 8848 metres (he only told us this when we asked him about the highest summit he had scaled until then; in response to somebody’s taunt that Mt. Everest’s climb was less challenging than the shorter K2’s, the man from Uttarakhand retorted - “I know. My wife told me. She’s scaled K2.”). 

G.S.V. with his beloved tea: Agora

The word ‘chatti’ comes up a lot around us - in conversations and on maps. I came to find that it means a resting place after a day’s march in the hills. So we are chatti-ing up, packed tightly in rooms for the night.
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there."

Two probationers will not continue further on the trail from here.

13 September 2016 Trek Day 2 

Lunch is served!: Rohan, Hitesh, Piyush P., Piyush K., Subhankar, Palash,
Piyush V., Mahendra, Rishav, Mayank, Anil, Rahul, Parth,
Anurag R. (the one busy eating), Tejvir, Mangal,
G.S.V. (trying hard to get into the frame) and Ankit
Started from Agora for Maji at 0840. The ascent was 600m or so spread over a longer distance of 12 kilometres, but less steep, and thus easier than yesterday. We also off-loaded part of our luggage in Agora and so I hoped that the walk would be easier. But the distance proved long and tiring. I ran out of water (didn’t have a bottle to start with; the one I had Anurag R. left at the rooms in Agora). So our faces on seeing the beautiful rill that we saw cannot be called an over-reaction. We drank to our hearts’ content, ate the chocolates and candies we’d been given at the start of the leg, and moved on. We reached Maji at 1200 (saluting hands on the watch!) and then sat in the glade’s sunshine to dry our shoes a bit, listening to LedZep's II. The sun didn't refuse to shine. And we were thankful for it.

You shook me all night long: Maji campsite
I hope my Adidas-es hold the line for the remaining trek. The right one is all torn up at the toe. 

Drying in the shine: These didn’t give up until the end!

We had Wai Wai noodles (surreptitiously sold as Maggi at four times the price) and biscuits at Maji, and after setting camp at the site, I slept from 1500 to 2030. It was amazing just lying supine, albeit constrained, in the sleeping bag inside the tent (that I shared with G.S.V. - we had connived to be the only trekkers to share one tent in the group of two; everyone else had to be in groups of three for this). We had rice and pulses (with pickle) for lunch, and for dinner there were rice, chapati, lobia, potatoes and custard. It could be called ambrosia, if in heaven Gods wash their own crockery and cutlery.

14 September 2016 Trek Day 3

Woke up at 0530 and conducted our businesses behind whatever natural geographic protection we could find (we scouted in teams of two - one person standing guard at some distance - guard duties were often undertaken very lightly, and at some unsuspecting squatter's expense). It made us all appreciate the large boulders that just sat there in the open grassy space adjacent to the camp site, refusing to be weathered and denuded by nature over so many years. We later went on to joke about things like whistling all the time as a signal to indicate that occupancy of a spot. It was almost every man for himself, in the end, and perilously so  for some people. Early birds fared better. 

The sky last night was amazing to look at, once it was clear. It did rain early in the morning, but this is Garhwal; the capricious weather is a characteristic feature of this place. 

There were sandwiches, eggs, cornflakes and potatoes for breakfast. And we took the time out for many, many group photographs, with impertinent slogans of "Jai Mata Di" resounding (almost echoing) from different corners of the campsite. We found that it was just one jovial and quite enthusiastic trekker caught in the moment's excitement, roving around.

We reached Dodital (3050 m) at 0945 after having started from Maji at 0840, covering the almost plain (even less gradient than yesterday) stone- and water-lined trail the quickest amongst the now 56-strong group. Trekkers who had problems with their backpacks were being helped by the crew who loaded their luggage on the back of mules. These animals eat less than horses and are more reliable than donkeys at high altitudes. 

And my spirit is cryin’ for leavin’: Dodital

Had Maggi (sold at five times the normal altitude price; the inflation seems to increase with the altitude) and coffee (lukewarm; also prone to inflation, but much to our caffeine connoisseurs’ appreciation) and put our tents in place. My trek pants that I had bought in HW have given way and I need to make some necessary arrangements for the final leg to Dharwa Top tomorrow. The trail is supposed to be really steep (some 4,000 feet in 5 kilometres or so) and we have been asked to start early. A probationer has decided to stay put here at Dodital. And our professor is going back to attend to some urgent business back at the humanly sea level. But more than anything, we appreciate their efforts to come till here - something which in itself, is quite a feat.

Praveen S.P. (with the cap), Anurag R. (with the cap), Kamalkant M. (with the cap), Vinod, Ankit and Piyush K. at Dodital

The evening prayers at the temple here at Dodital got all of us together. I pitched Pascal’s wager against this rising camaraderie and in that one moment, where the mist cascaded down from the sky to touch the tops of many peaks visible from here, an agnostic’s heart found religion. It was something to cherish. Something to hold fast to as a keepsake.

15 September 2016 Trek Day 4

Blood, Sweat and Chocolate!: The trek co-ordinator and enthusiast, Abhinav Y.
Woke up at 0400; it was pitch dark and dank inside and outside the tent. I happened to look up at the sky at that phase of the morning and believe me, the sight was one I would remember for a lifetime. There were stars shining in the millions and although I couldn’t (and wouldn't ever have the time to) count them, it made me feel small. I guess that is what life is about - feeling small at what is almost, for some, the top of the world (3050 m above sea level now). G.S.V. and I took turns in the early morning shits (I cannot put it euphemistically any more), with light dots flashing near and far (where people were busy - it’s always a surprise to see how far people can go, quite literally here). I didn't brush but still partook of the tea and porridge without any compunction about oral hygiene or the lack of it. We were flouting so many of our quotidian habits, this one was in line to be broken. 

It’s true (and not just from my perspective of a native) that food in the hills tastes better. Even simple things cooked in the most rudimentary of manners come alive on the palate.

Did I mention that the coach glued back my right shoe? My hopes for climbing all the way to the top were up. We packed our rucksacks and shifted them to the common shed, only taking the drawstring bags we had been given by NRTMA - packing the little breakfast (eggs, biscuits, Mango Bite candies and chocolates, with paranthas and ketchup).

We started out in a queue. The coach was very particular about it. He led it, with his crew regularly spaced along the line. Given the terrain ahead on the leg, the mules couldn’t be used and the crew carried on their backs things like a little gas cylinder, a kettle, a pot, and, eatables that would make our breakfast. We crossed the white, rocky bed over which water from melting ice would come down and reach our campsite to neatly form a circular lake. The lake was almost full now, but there was not a trace of water on the rocks till we reached a higher point, where we had to carefully ford through the rills over slippery stones.

Anurag R. and Subhankar R. rocking the rocks!
The vegetation visibly changed with altitude; trees turning to shrubs and then disappearing altogether into grass. Boulders and spots of burnt grass were places where people of the hills would stop to have food on their way to crossing the hills. 

Two hours (and some draughts of electrol for one unfortunate trekker) later, we reached Dharwa Top - the summit we had been looking forward to in anticipation for the past four days. I admit it wasn’t the perfect end for me, having expected the final point to be covered with snow. Instead what we had was a lush green grassy smoothened hill top, from where we could see snow-capped mountains in every direction. I am attaching a photograph here for the reader to appreciate the destination of our vertical (upwards..“was the only way forwards”) journey. There was a lake as well there, and we enjoyed an hour-long break, with paranthas and photographs being part of this hiatus from the tiring ascent.

At 14,500 feet, when we see around us, we may find a true reflection of ourselves and a realisation of our being. I could relate to Brad Pitt’s Heinrich Harrer explaining about  the exercise of climbing mountains to the Dalai Lama in Seven Years of Tibet: “The absolute simplicity. That’s what I love. When you’re climbing your mind is clear and free from all confusions. You have focus. And suddenly the light becomes sharper, the sounds are richer and you’re filled with the deep, powerful presence of life.” Yes, ‘Excelsior’ to life.

Onatopp!: The view from Dharwa Top

We started journeying downwards, treading the same path we had climbed upon, with the descent being quicker but harsher on our toes (and my shoes finally gave way beyond the reconciliation of handy glue).

Anshuman (with the Merlin staff), Amit, Sudhakar, Nagendra and Ashok staking their claim at the top
At Dodital we lifted our already packed bags from our campsite, which was a desolate place by now, with all the blue tents rolled up and compressed to an infinitesimally small space.   
We descended all the way to Bhebra, a small village we had crossed on our way to Maji from Agora. We stayed the night there, facing the same old problem (which was no longer a problem; we had learnt to manage by now) of the lack of privies. There were four rooms in total to be occupied - two each on the ground and first floor of the ramshackle hotel that had been rented for us. Those who could not find space in the rooms (available on first come, first claim basis) were destined to put up tents in the hotel’s courtyard. Some actually preferred spending the night under the blue canvas tucked cosily inside the sleeping bags.

Right as rain. Right as rainbow, too!

16 September 2016 Trek Day 5

Bye bye hills!: Bhebra village
We started from Bhebra at our convenience in the morning, finally touching the starting point of our trek - the steel girder bridge over Gajoli. We sat in the Tata Sumo-s that were waiting for us  there and reached the very same hotel, where we changed, freshened up and had a hearty lunch.

The bus ride from Uttarkashi to Haridwar was a risky business, more so for us the passengers, than for our driver it would seem. It was quipped that he knew only kilometres (he was driving, nay flying, the bus at beyond the speed restriction sanity and caution going over these curvaceous roads can put in one’s mind) or millimetres (he zoomed, nay, just brushed past other vehicles on the road with that scale of difference in between). The back-seaters were, as previously described, enjoying this roller coaster time more than those sitting in the front: perspiring people who shuddered at the height of the valley below. I was worried if I would miss my evening train from HW station. 

I shouldn’t have worried. We made it well in time. 

Words, and words are all I have.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Two Weeks' Notice

Two Weeks' Notice

Silently, if you survey this brief
Rubato in your ‘cruise’, you might find,
In affected accents and caper of this kind,
Some gratitude, and much admiration: 
Hot chocolate-like seraphic sensation
To compliment inspections and promenades -
Ice creams, conversations and charades.

Go on, hence, as you are -
Unflappable, (to a fault, who here can add?)
Primping your pretty hair; please never be ‘sad’. 
Trespass, in a chance zephyr, God’s ‘creation’,
And know her all the way for your salvation.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Meeting at Dusk (Part I)

The Meeting at Dusk (Part I) 

Today I walked the promenade
Where under the sky a tad fade,
We, decades ago, felt lost
In uncertainties that criss-crossed
Across our respective futures,
Knowing well that time's sutures
(Harsh that they are upon us all)
Will always hold us in their thrall
And make us wait for a time that
Was never to come. Thus we sat
On the ledge of that busy Drive
On that day's dusk that would connive
To keep me in perennial pain.
So that meeting of a sad vein
Was our last, last in this city,
Last too in this life, and yet we
Did nothing to exude what then
Was felt. Promises to again
Meet here were mere consolations -
Etiquettes and Complications
Bound up tight against each other,
As will be the case in further
Relations of all wallflowers -
That strange posterity of ours...

(To be Concluded...)