Friday, January 31, 2014

Colorothon - 26 Jan 2014

I have been to very few social events, like note/pencil distribution to school kids with my company colleagues 2-3 years back. I feel uncomfortable and restrict myself to donations. But when BTC invited us for Colorothon event, I wanted to try it out again. More so as we were free to come by choice and just had to spend some time coloring.

To avoid last minute cancellations, (had to cancel a trek in December and infact cancelled cycling trip 25-26 weekend (I really gotta get my own cycle) which enabled me to participate for this) I didn't really inform Virander. When I reached Krishna Rao Park (about a km from Lalbagh) 15 minutes early (to 8AM), I realized late that I didn't have any BTC contact and felt lost and weird for some time! There was a political rally going outside.

Krishna Rao Park
I roamed around the very large park, noticing volunteer activity and various posters about Colorothon. The park has a separate section for elders for exercising (with very interesting machines and ropes), cricket ground, lots of space for badminton and other sports and ofcourse enough space for walkers and runners. There is even a walking club for the park! Cleanliness was good (but we sure did spread large amount of garbage by end of day, and I guess volunteers must have cleaned them up)

At one end of park, I saw agenda for Colorothon - was a whole day event, I was thinking it was all about drawing and going off. 7-8 AM for volunteers to arrange things. 8-9 AM for registrations. Flag hoisting followed by motor cycle rally. Then the main attraction - drawing. Followed by singing events, a show by IDL blind team (theme of social event - for the cause of blind), comedy show, magic show, drum show, prize distribution, etc. Chief Minister was supposed to come, but we had to be satisfied with Infosys Nandan Nilekani.

I wandered outside in search of breakfast. The road opposite the main entrance is lined on one side with various vegetable and fruit vendors (a mini market). Fortunately, there was a hotel neearby (South tindi's according to Google maps, I couldn't find name, only copper art with various kitchen utensils above the entrance). It was crowded so much as to form a queue everywhere - billing, getting food and finding a place just to keep your plate down and eat. Many ate with plate in hands only. With good cause - reasonable price (lesser than Indiranagar) for very good food. Overcrowded, but neat place.

I went back and did a bit of volunteering, despite not getting a badge :P - like carrying card-boards and water bottle packs. Volunteers were helpful and answered questions that varied from good to silly with smile and patience. Many of them were from Khushiyan and BTC. Soon I spotted Shwetha, Virander, Deepika and other BTC members and sighed breathe of relief. I was thinking I would never find them in this large gathering.

After registering (basically getting a card-board, sheet of white paper (both with ads) and form to indicate our personal info - along with pencil/rubber for drawing), we waited for events to start. After 9AM, people gathered for flag hoisting - Nilekani had come by then. There was a speech, "Vijayi vishwa tiranga pyara" and a Kannada song sung. We clapped and saluted. (Was disappointed that National Anthem wasn't sung). It was so long after that I saw flag hoisting, perhaps first since school days.

Soon, Shruthi joined us too and we went around clicking pics. On the main stage, singing events started (got to hear "Aye mere watan ke logo" (Sung by Lata more than 50 years ago!) which was followed by IDL blind band. We then moved on to finding a spot under trees to start drawing. I got a crayon set from public bucket (for elders like us :P not for kids, who had to compulsory bring their own)

I regretted sorely not getting my drawing pencils/sketches/crayons/etc (lying waste for years) and my camera. But surely a good decision to come for the event. I was struggling to find reference figure to draw (I am very poor with imagination and certainly can't draw anything other than cartoon). So, at first I tried to draw the joker on the crayon kit. It was very small and pathetic - I eventually erased it off. I spotted a kid wearing playboy t-shirt and drew that. And then another joker from drawing kit Shwetha had got. It kept me busy, though it was very funny for a late 20s guy to draw. Coloring with crayon was really good feeling. And then to keep company, simply shaded bottom of the paper and drew a simple tree. The result :D

After submitting, I got to meet other BTC members - Ajitha, Piyush, Girish, Murali. We went to see if Magic show had started. While waiting, we had some snacks - very pricy stalls. We almost missed the entire show due to confusion of stage. K S Ramesh had come to perform. Though I have seen 'The prestige', I was very awed with the tricks - pulling out pigeons (why pigeons in most magic tricks, why not any other bird?), tearing newspaper but showing it as one piece, calling kids and showing tricks with hand kerchiefs (combining many into one piece/different color/pattern, seemingly producing umbrella out of empty hankies), single rope being cut into two but fit back and finally making it a circular one by cutting off a small knot culminating in vanishing act by covering a girl and removing cloth (done so fast to seem really as magic).

We had lunch (after more photo shoots) - Bisibellabath was good and tea was decent. (Ofcouse, can't tell about the curd rice I don't eat). Lots of chit chat to the point of getting bored. We saw police men/women, NCC cadets, etc painting too. One police guy was pretty serious in drawing a peacock and his use of pencil was very good.

Many real artists (probably some were invited) were painting on canvas (like they show in films) - they were really so good. One elder was drawing a portrait of a girl. Another a many headed elephant. One fit an army man in India map. Artist Harrsha drew a pencil sketch in about 5 minutes! His painting were too good. He was in crazy demand. One drew tattoos on body (Chotta Bheem was popular demand, just like their over-sized character masks drew children throughout day). Was so good to see lot of artistic skill amongst the kids, some were simply too awesome. We signed our names on a large poster.

Missed most of prize announcement (Judges were about 10 renowned artists). As customary in filmy melas, an announcement was sad to hear about missing kid. One guy lost bike key. Later we helped pin good drawings (from those not winning or not in top 200 to be auctioned) on large green sheet running the length of park from entrance to building in middle of park. I couldn't find mine to bring home :D and gave off participation certificate too :P

Next event was drum show, but we left before it started. It was staged on other side of entrance where cricket ground was there. Lots of stalls sold variety of items like bread magnet (wonder what it was!), Indi dolls(Discover the power within :D), paintings and materials, etc. We sat for a while and left before event started. Drums were distributed to public, which were enthusiastically beaten. I really like the IDL blind band drumming them, especially one guy seemingly lost in the beauty of it all. Ofcourse, kids beating them was cute too.

Piyush dropped us back, very thankful as I was tired from lot of standing/walking throughout the day. A very feel good factor event, some 6-8k people participated, perhaps less or perhaps more. I will leave you with a very good album which captures the very essence of Colorothon, much better than my insufficient writing:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wondrous Waynad cycle tour - 18,19 Jan 2014

Long time (15 months) since I last did cycling in western ghats. I was excited to see CAM's ride announcement - a new route in Waynad. It seemed perfect to re-start mountain cycling in same place I started my very first one. Something similar I had done when I re-started trekking after a break.

We started from Hockey stadium near Shantinagar at around 10:15pm, about half an hour behind schedule. Got talking to Kranthi and Hashi about CAM and other cycle rides as well as TAM. A very enthusiastic foreigner Mike was getting to know us all too. Later we came to know his cycle trip Chennai-Pondicherry-Trichy-Madurai-Kanyakumari-Trivandrum-Kochi-(forgot some)-Tirupathi-Chennai. Reached Century Grand Hotel in Mananthavady around 7:30AM - two hours behind schedule. The roads were bad too, dunno which route it was. Such a bumpy ride and driver kept asking for directions umpteen number of times.

 Just to give a peek into crazy Ups and Downs (More details here)

First stretch to Thirunally:
After breakfast (2 dosas, 1 vada and coffee - gave the extra 3rd dosa to my college mate Ragavsathis and his friend Gopal), we finally started 10 minutes after 9AM. My rented bike was Giant MTB - such an irony for my thin body, the tires were as thick as my biceps :D It was such a misfit for my weight and road, but still in decent condition compared to my previous rides with CAM.

We were handed maps with important check-points highlighted - thankfully altitude info wasn't printed (it hinders than help ease our struggles). First 2-3 kilometers were a breeze - given downhills and our freshness. But then hardships started which was to repeat consistently over 100+ km. Short as well as slow long stretches of uphills followed by downhills and very few stretches of flat roads. We three kept close to each other initially, talking about how many km we will cover. I boasted that I want to finish the entire 160km plan over two days, as I have never finished a CAM ride before. By the time I did first 10km to reach Kartikulam in about an hour, I subtracted 10km in best case and 30km in worst case. We should have started much earlier and must have given more gap after breakfast.

Bad decisions:
Despite previous experience, I took frequent stops for first 10km stretch and drank up half liter of water. Worse, I mixed Electral to remaining half liter at Kartikulam - body now wasn't going to get used for long haul. I had forgotten to bring along CAM t-shirt (can stuff things in) as well as the small handy Quechua backpack!

Begur Reserve Forest:
For next 4-5 km, we had Begur forest for company, mostly to our left side. By now, my immediate goal was to just complete morning stretch of 31km one way to Thirunally and then decide. The Giant MTB was upto some mischief too - not content with being heavy, it refused many a times to go in the lowest 1x1 gear combination for steep uphills and chains made odd sounds in low gear just to make it eerier. We took our first long break closer to end of forest stretch.
Later I overheard that 2-3 deers hopped across the road pretty close to a cyclist.

Making it to Thirunally despite misgivings:
I did eventually make it to Thirunally in 3 hours - a pitiful average of 10km per hour. But my thighs were hurting too much when I got down and could barely walk straight. Of course, along the way people stared at our madness, but always helpful in pointing or confirming the direction we were going. I was confounded to see a guy returning when I was still 8-9km from Thirunally :( I am proud though to have kept going and try to do my best. I was one of the last to reach - if not last.

Good decision 1:
After lime juice and some rest, I decided to return to Mananthavady in bus instead of cycling. Given the hot conditions and uphills, I would have done only 5-10km anyway before being swept by canter. Instead, I got to rest about 3 hours before afternoon ride and some sleep too. Lunch was at Century hotel - meals (decent chappathi, awesome dal, sambhar, rasam, carrot poriyal, chutney and white rice - fatter than usual tamil nadu rice)

Starting ride on day-1 from Mananthavady
Banasura Sagara Dam:
After some rest post lunch, we started towards the second ride of the day - Banasura Sagara Dam. I was told that this one will be tougher than morning route! Naturally I asked if it will be easier going or coming back - and the reply was that it will be equally tough. I told myself again to give my best shot. Initial few kms were easy like in morning, this time hoards of school/college students watched us with curiosity/awe/amusement/jeer. I was carrying tropicana 200ml pack and energy bar (both unused from morning ride) - determined than before to reach the dam.
First check-point was a place called Naalam Mile (4th mile, which actually was 6.5km from Mananthavady - I don't think it is a coincidence). Midway - near Taruvana, I came across Phaneesh who got stuck as one of the peddle's bearing went awry. I commented that I had good chance to finish given only first canter was ahead of me while other one and bus were behind. He replied that lot of riders were behind me too and I said that I knew my limitations! Little did I know that eventually I will be the last one to reach the dam despite starting first from Mananthavady :D

Banasura Sagara Dam
Somewhere, when I got really tired and difficult to peddle, I stopped for sometime and had half of the energy bar. A 6-7 seater car too stopped nearby while most of the riders passed by me - some asking if I was okay. A little after 5 PM, I was the last to reach and breathed a sigh of relief. I felt that I could give a quick visit to dam and then do some riding back before it gets dark. The canter driver had already purchased tickets for us (Rs 20 for entry).
It was about a km walk (some climbing too) - was difficult given the thigh pain. Water and island reminded me of Sharavathi Backwaters. I did some running too for the heck of it and reached others already assembled at far end. Some tourists were enjoying high speed boat ride (two of them), but we lost opportunity as tickets were closed before we came. I finished the other half of energy bar, got some pics taken by others camera. Some chit-chat and group pics later, we started back. Sun set was hidden by tall peaks and also ensured that no one was allowed to ride back in cycle.
Our cautious driver took about 40-60 minutes to reach Century hotel that some commented we could have ridden in cycle only :D I took a cold water bath and had dinner - same menu as lunch. I didn't mind though. Back in room, I took a nap with songs playing on mobile while waiting for Ragav and Gopal to return. Due to shortage of rooms, some of us had to sleep on extra bed somehow fit inside the room.

Group pic (Picture Credit - Phaneesh)

Ignoring thigh and bum pains to start day-2 to Kuruvadweep Islands:
I woke up at 5:15AM to get freshened up. I gobbled up an entire packet of Oreo and red banana (my favorite for treks/cycling/running). By 6:40AM, we started towards Kuruvadweep Islands. Initial 5km was to be same as morning ride on Saturday. I shuddered thinking I had to climb that steep stretch towards Kartikulam. It is so difficult to explain why our body doesn't want to do the difficult stretch again and craves for unknown (perhaps even tougher path) than one already done before :-/
Anyway, our first check-point for the day was Payampally - about 8km from Mananthavady. We would have easily missed the landmark turning away from Kartikulam route if not for cyclists waiting for next one to stop before continuing. This place was called 54 (54th mile I suppose, but definitely not a distance from Mananthavady). Myself, Ragav, Gopal and another (forgot name) had coffee/tea while waiting for next batch to turn up. We almost missed one guy going past. After coffee, I forgot my helmet, thankfully was pointed out immediately. This stretch was mostly downhill, road not so bad, with couple of short steep climbs.
Payampally to Kuruvadweep island stretch of about 9km is one I am proud of having done it both ways. There were more downhills while going, but uphills were also demanding. Cycle was behaving okay so far in that it let me go 1x1. And so, I wasn't doing so bad in reaching the place just before 8:30AM. Took some pictures and had breakfast - light one (two idlies and one vada). Then arose the great debate - what next. Assumption of passing by the islands at 9AM was off by 1 hour as tourists are allowed only after 10AM. Many options were considered and debated and finally three types category emerged. Apparently, the other side of this vast water body was about 1-3km off the road we were going towards Sultan Bathery. So some cycled with aim to reach Sultan Bathery and ditch visiting Kuruvadweep island altogether. Some got in bus to ride 13-15 km to that point and then cycle (thereby avoid harsh uphills till Payampally). And the third category told themselves to cycle till that point and visit islands, thereby missing ride until Sultan Bathery. Of course, there might have been some who didn't cycle at all from here.

Breakfast point on Day-2 (Kuruvadweep Islands)

Good decision 2:
I was initially thinking of option two. But then seeing delays in loading cycle, etc I somehow decided to take on the uphills and ride on. Looking back, it was very good decision - I got more time to ride, momentum was maintained while Sun wasn't yet high and allowed my wish to come true - complete 100+km two days combined! :)

As can be seen in altitude map around 10 mile mark, the ride back to Payampally starts with crazy crazy uphill. Whats worse, my cycle was back to taunting me by not allowing 1x1. I did somehow manage the climb though without dragging. Kilometer by kilometer I inched forward, few downhills helping in giving break as well as carrying the momentum a little before uphill started. Another crazy climb just before Payampally - I was cursing cycle for not giving 1x1 to Venkatesh as he passed by and strangely it did allow me 1x1 and climbed that stretch too. I was only too happy to concede credit when Venkatesh jokingly asked for getting the 1x1 combination.

Towards Pulpally:
Roads were still good, even though we were now passing villages. It didn't seem like state highway. Only thing I was concentrating on was to keep going, gritting my teeth and pressing my nails into handle grip when I was close to end of uphill. Often I would also try to count or just repeat 1-2 1-2 1-2, something I found useful during Nandi hills climb. Villagers were again helpful in confirming that my route was correct - one biker slowed to my speed to tell that cyclists were going towards Kuruvadweep in morning (his concern being I was in wrong direction) and when told we were returning from there and going towards Sultan Bathery, he re-affirmed that I was in right direction.

On the way, there was a bridge over a river, when I guess everyone must have simply stopped to take a pic. I did, to take a selfie even though all I had was 0.3MP phone camera.

Selfie pic time on the way to Pulpally

The CAM bus crossed me when I was only 2-3 km from the point to Kuruvadweep islands. That stretch was again some uphill and I was pretty close to complete exhaustion. The one liter refill from breakfast point was already over and I bought one to replenish. Wisely, I didn't add Electral. And energy bar was also still with me. To be used only for inevitable exhaustion point.

I kept going towards Pulpally instead of stopping where the bus had stopped for people to visit the islands (partly to keep momentum and partly as I saw downhill ahead). But within 3-4 km, uphills started and at a turning with shelter (bus stop?) I stopped for my sanity sake. For second day, I was using hiker sandals and not shoe. Better option I feel. I relieved myself, removed straps of sandals, did some stretching and sat on the bamboo seat to finally have the energy bar. Fully consumed, not half like previous day. Watched cyclists go by, people in two-wheelers, cars and buses having that strange looks.

I started again (feeling fresh atleast momentarily) and rode towards Pulpally with knowledge that bus would stop atleast an hour at island. I resolved to ride/drag until the second canter picks up. Near Pulpally, the first canter went past and halted. I caught up with Ragav and Gopal and had lime juice (didn't get water melon juice and more strangely, I never once saw tender coconut anywhere on the route, forget about getting sugarcane juice). As things stood, I had done 89+ km so far. I had to push for another 11+ km. Numbers are just that - numbers. But it formed a very strong desire over two days to keep going and push my limits.

Good decision 3:
Almost missed the right turn from Pulpally to Sultan Bathery, helped by localite just after I had crossed the turn. There was a good 2-3 km largely downhill stretch which rose my hopes of completing 100+ and even unthinkable possibility of reaching all the way to Sultan Bathery. Then started the most daunting uphill of all. Again, looking at map now, I am thankful of not having that info during the ride. I might have given up.

I had already started dragging at some places and so it wasn't difficult to convince myself to drag. I didn't know the length of the stretch, my cycle was adamantly refusing to go 1x1, Sun was harsh enough to feel the heat, lunch time and ofcourse the thigh and bum pains. Even walking was tough. Some remarked that I looked 'shit'. But then, second canter was long way back, desire to complete 100+ was still strong. And so, I dragged on. The downhill after this was only temporary relief.

And then came my third good decision. At a bend before uphill started again, there were cyclists having a break at a bakery. They bought me Halwa too. One guy had gone some distance and come back to wait for the bus. After rest, I decided to carry on, despite knowing it was uphill and possibly will get stuck in forest as warned by him.

Time was a blur with Sun beating down. I rode only few tens of meters sometimes. Lot of dragging. At frequent stops, sometimes I would let my shoulders fall down as if letting the body know that I accept its exhaustion. Somehow I kept going and was rewarded with another 2-3 km stretch that I could do continuously (with small uphills in between). The state I was in, I couldn't even ride on flat stretches.

Surprise end:
I knew I crossed 100+ km based on milestone marking of Sultan Bathery and deducting from map info we had. I stopped sometime to relieve myself and finish last drops of water (though still keeping one last tropicana 200ml pack). A short while later though I was surprised to see the first canter and other cyclists resting in shade off the road. I raised my hands in jubilation as they appreciated my efforts, one guy explaining my state for benefit of others. To put my effort in even better positive light, I completed 2 of the 3 rides, thanks to return ride from Dam getting cancelled as well as the last 13-14 km to Sultan Bathery. I only missed the return 31km stretch from Thirunally to Mananthavady. In a twisted way, I was never swept by canter and gave in once voluntarily. Good compared to my previous three rides with CAM. 11 hours for 100+km ride was nice to be proud of given the constant ups amd downs.

But looking at the map now, we just had 3-4 more km of uphill before a breeze of downhill ride to Bathery. Given I waited close to an hour there, I might have done it too. After some casual group pics, chit-chat and spotting a snake, we finally reached Sultan Bathery at around 3PM.

End of ride on day-2 (Picture Credit: Phaneesh)

Return back to Bangalore:
After lunch at Udipi (similar meals to one we had in Century hotel) and some bakery shopping (I got home made chocolates and coconut sweets, others got honey, tea, coffee, etc), we started 260km bus ride to Bangalore via wildlife sanctuaries and Mysore. Celebrated Anuj's birthday in bus, we sang birthday song and got kitkat. We spotted a wild elephant, given no chain on leg. Then back seaters played prank saying 'Wow, see that' pointing out at nothing in particular. And so, when I spotted deer later, very few saw :D

I couldn't sleep but wasn't boring to see trees pass by. Smart phone walas juggled to get their phones charged and play games or social network. Some even gambled by playing Rummy. Later, we got to play Dumb Charades. It was different in a way that there weren't actually teams split up. 3-4 guys (mainly Varun, Santosh) would act whatever was given and occasionally few others pitched in. 100 worst films list to enact was looked up in smart phones (sample: The wild world of Batwoman, Those magnificent men in their flying machines). Some classic ones too. And then when we switched to Hindi, we found it difficult to think in Hindi words :D

Our over cautious driver got to Hockey Stadium at 12:18AM :-/ We had only three short breaks in between and no dinner stoppage. Thankfully, I got an autowala ready to come to Indiranagar for 150 bucks (I was expecting demands of 200 or 250).

All in all, good ride and proud of myself personally but organizing was very poor.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bheemeshwari trek by Cauvery river - Sep 8, 2012

Third trek by ourselves - but only to the extent of choosing the place and transport. Don't remember who suggested, but we got to know about jungle lodges maintained as part of KSTDC. The site has gone through lot of changes now. As we wanted to do a day trek, we chose Bheemeshwari - a fishing and nature camp set amidst the river Cauvery near Muttathi.

The biggest trouble was contact numbers were misleading and one needed to know Kannada to talk to officials. One of our colleague did eventually speak and got verbal assurance of booking for the event but no stay. The current page lists the activities as - Trekking, Coracle ride, Bird-watching, Mountain Biking, Zip line, Parallel/Rope walk, Rafting and Kayaking. There are different packages and different tariffs plus some taxes. We were mainly interested in trekking and coracle ride (at that time, trek was mentioned as including coracle ride and the path to be circular one to avoid trekking same path twice) and avoid having to stay at the camp, thus allowing it to be just one-day event.

We hired a tempo traveler, got details from colleague but eventually were cheated around 500 bucks :D Meeting point was outside our office at RMZ infinity and started around 6:30AM instead of original plan of 6AM. The event proved ice breaker for new joinees and camaraderie improved too :) The distance to Bheemeshwari is about 110 km. On the way, some slept and for a while "Neethane En Ponvasantham" songs CD was played in a loop (thanks to Praveen). We had breakfast at Hotel Sri Srinivas Sagar, which is just before a state highway diverges from NH 209. The food was good but had to wait a bit due to crowd. NH 209 is popular amongst cyclists and an alternate route to reach Mysore. Lots of hills and lakes and ponds can be seen on both sides of the road.

After bit of hiccup through village roads, we finally reached Bheemeshwari at around 10AM. Not before we made oft repeated mistake (got to know later) of confusion between two-three different camps here. We had to sign on entering the camp and ran into immediate problem - we had no written proof or online communication to show that we had got permission earlier itself for the trek. And none amongst 12 of us knew Kannada. We managed to give the phone number we had and after some waiting near the office, got confirmation to trek. I think we paid Rs 300 per head for the trek (no coracle ride though). Another 50 bucks for lunch which eventually proved a wise choice - we were thinking of finishing the trek and immediately leaving.

 Group photo to start trek

 Trees on the way

Around 10:15AM, we started the trek after customary group photo. The weather was cloudy and pleasant. We had to cross a small pit to reach the wide trek path which seemed well used and surrounded both sides with generous spread of trees. We came across new and old trees, some only stumps and some like a withered old human. Within 10 minutes though, path became narrow and then we reached a small hill with bit of steep grassy climb to follow. While organizing for the trek, it was informed to be a very easy trek and so some first timers found the climb tough.

 Unexpected climb

As we climbed higher, we took frequent rest to allow everyone to catch up, take snaps for profile pic and capture nature's beauty - mountains far and near and glimpses of Cauvery river. With rising altitude, the view got better and better. Despite having been to western ghats, the scenery here was captivating, perhaps enhanced by clouds.

  Cauvery river

 Watch tower at top of hill

Half an hour's climb (including breaks) got us to top of hill where there was a two storey high watch tower. Just trees and hills all around us with river flowing to our right. Few patches of red sand showed up and we tried to estimate where we had started from. We started the descent from other side after about 15 minutes of rest and more snaps. I shared some guavas. Looking back, I should have encouraged lot of snacks to have been carried that day. But then, we were misguided by KSTDC website and lunch wouldn't have tasted so good ;)

  Way down

Descent was more of grassy landscape, some more dead and new trees and some thorny ones too. It got humid by then as well. Another 15 minutes and we were at rocky shores of Cauvery. We dipped our feet for some well earned rest and spent lot of time playing by crossing stones set in water and reaching some far ones inside flowing water. A team passed by us rafting. Some birds on far side of river. The 20s something guide stood alone in woods, so it was good to see Sri talking to him.

  Rafting - some other group

Though reluctant, we started back to camp after about 40 minutes. The path was all along the shores instead of going back the way we had come. So, after all, some part of the statement in website was true. But the path was trickier all the same, having to negotiate rocks and branches. Somehow, throughout the trek, it became two groups - one leading in the front and having to wait lot of times for our back group to catch up.

  On the way back to camp

Our motive was to enjoy most and obviously lots of photo shoots held us up too. The dead leaves, new off shoots, butterflies, weird thorns with very thick cylindrical base, wild fruits, trees bent and leaning on river, trees with hole big enough for us to crawl in, lone young tree bending with river's flow, large and small boulders, mirror effect of still pond with dead tree trunk lying, stick on rock in middle of flowing river, trying to capture water splash when stone is thrown, uprooted tree trunk's diameter taller than us, two tall and large trees joined to form table to sit, sandy river bed with pebbles strewn around, our own profile pics, etc - uff endless pictures to take!!

  Serene relaxing after all the trek

  Some fun before leaving

In less than an hour, we reached back the camp. After waiting besides the river on useful benches and steps, we had our lunch - it was very simple but simply too fulfilling for our hunger. We relaxed for a bit after that - just sitting by the river, chit-chatting and capturing squirrel, butterfly, bird, dragonfly, etc. And then one by one started taking turns to swing - normal seater, tyre ones and one having just a sturdy stick. There was a hammock too, but we didn't actually sleep.

Around 1:50pm, we left the camp. Along the way, we stopped at a place to further explore river, but it was too dirty from all the cooking going on from villagers. And so, we continued to Bangalore. Most of them slept. We took Nice road to avoid traffic which cost us more. All in all, a nice outing. Could have been lot better if we could have communicated well with officials, but KSTDC is definitely a decent service and could improve - like they have already done with website and contact details :)

 On the way back to Bangalore

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wonderful experience watching Karnataka win Ranji QF against UP

I have ever been to stadium to watch cricket match only four times before - tests of India v Aus in 2008 and India v NZ in 2012. India v Aus warm-up ODI in 2011 WC and Karnataka v Punjab ranji match in 2009 at Mysore. Today was another wonderful crowd experience at M Chinnaswamy stadium, watching Karnataka beat Uttar Pradesh by 93 run in quarter finals. Perfect birthday gift to Rahul S Dravid :)

Reaching Stadium:
Left room at 9AM and caught 9:16AM metro from Indiranagar. The stadium is about 1km from MG Road station. On the way, couple of school girls noticed me wearing Hunger Games t-shirt. Couldn't catch what they said about the series, but overheard one of them liking Harry Potter and hating Chronicles of Narnia. Near the Cubbon park circle, police were overseeing bunch of cycle enthusiasts saying No to Fuel.
Entering Gate 4 (free entry, thanks to Cricinfo for the info provided in live blog on day-1), I saw a father ushering in with his kid after security check and then saw the school girls met by another already waiting in stadium.

I was just about ten minutes late to start of play, but already about 200-300 or more people had turned up. Old cane supported men to school and college students and parents with their kids formed the crowd. I even spotted two groups of foreigners. The crowd built up steadily throughout the morning session. At one point, an elderly gentleman went to next stand only to be spotted by security guard and brought to our stand. But before lunch, security had no answer to building crowd which filled the stand more than 80-90% and spilled over to the next stand. Afterwards, I saw that there were 75 seats in one row and about 25 of them in this stand. More than 100 were in members stand. So overall, crowd count was more than 1500 and close to 2000 I feel. If the match had been in Mysore, it might have been overflowing stadium, but good crowd nonetheless for Bangalore.

Observing nuances of cricket:
Watching live in stadium may not be as clear as watching on TV but crowd experience and observing players from afar are two advantages. We get to see captain, wicket keeper and other seniors in the side setting field, the sign language used for it, automatic fielding position change when left-hand and right-hand batsmen change ends, fielders on edge of boundary are alert and wave hands when they have to move in/out or sideways. Atleast twice I saw gully and mid-off exchanging their fielding spot and once an elaborate personnel change.

View of match

Initially, I was at a loss who was bowling, batting, score, etc. The crowd was still building up and empty seats between. Then as I noticed the LED scorecard on the opposite side (explains the choice of stand for public). It was very detailed - batsmen on crease, bowlers, team score, runs to win, extras. Would often change to show detail of particular batsman or bowler (adding boundaries, no-balls, wides, etc) or when team milestone is reached. And a welcome message too. If only the nearby screen had been used for replays, it would have been truly remarkable.
Update was very fast, never missed before next ball is delivered. Only once there was an error - when RP Singh had come for 10th wicket, he was non-striker as batsmen had crossed when Chawla holed out but was credited the boundary hit by Ankit. It was soon corrected though.

Wicket filled morning session:
Murtaza and Srivastava added quick 32 runs in 6 overs before Vinay stuck. Just few balls before Vinay had added another slip - I wondered why was that when there were hardly any edges. But Vinay proved us wrong, something which repeated afterwards too in the day. Kaif was applauded as well as jeered to the crease. Mithun's run-up was pepped with our shouts and claps as he delivered bouncer to welcome Kaif. And next ball Kaif well struck only to find cover fielder! While the crowd stood and cheered, I felt sad seeing Kaif in such an awful form this season ending with a pair.
Loud cheers went up as Shreyas Gopal and Manish Pandey came after Vinay and Mithun opening spells. Murtaza and Gupta tried to unsettle by hitting a 4 and 6 off Gopal's 1st ball of his first two overs and another boundary in third over, while just missing against Pandey. But Gopal came back to dismiss both of them soon, crowd becoming noisier with each wicket. And when 1st innings hero Parvinder (quite a short lad) was bowled by Mithun offering no-shot, we felt win could be achieved by lunch itself.

As expected, there was rush to get lunch - tomato and mint rice, chilly bhajji and coffee on the menu. After I managed to get tomato rice (30 bucks), I noticed a paper clipping by the gate indicating items on offer and their price. Food was hot and good even without coconut chutney that I missed owing to crowd, perhaps better than I get in my office food court. Free water (those 20L water cans) was provided. Guess they didn't expect such a large crowd as bhajji soon sold out and people had to wait 5-10 minutes for fresh preparations to arrive.
I went down to first row railing to watch UP players having a batting session near the boundary line. And quietly slipped to occupy one of the desired first row seat! The UP tail-enders were smashing the balls to boundary hoardings and some of them crossed the grill into seats (empty stand, we were on first floor) - but kids from members stand took onus of returning them.

7th wicket partnership:
Piyush Chawla and Dwivedi had put on solid show before lunch (Chawla especially impressive against Mithun, scoring 4 boundaries including 3 in one over with a nice controlled upper cut - crowd was appreciate too) and continued after for few over after lunch. Crowd could sense the need of wicket and started one of the famous Bangalore cheers and motivation. Some were asking Kazi (close to our boundary rope) and Manish to up the fielding energy and ridiculed Uthappa for his laziness.
Karnataka players were edgy too, first fielding lapse when an overthrow resulted. Then Mithun didn't dive at third man to save boundary, but kicked a chair near the 12th man seats. Later he would slam the ball onto ground after failing to stop the ball with a dive.
One could credit the crowd when 7th wicket eventually fell. When the partnership was on 57, we pepped up Mithun's over so much that Chawla played out a maiden and last two balls had an edge and play and miss. Then next over, we started the first crowd chant for Shreyas (three balls continuously). Though two boundaries were conceded in that over, wicket arrived next over when Vinay Kumar took a good low catch off Mithun's bowling.

Quick end of innings after anti-climax:
Then Shreyas showed his tail enders demolition skill by dismissing Mishra and Chawla in consecutive overs - getting his first fifer in first class. We had doubt if RP Singh would bat (as he didn't bat in 1st inn and didn't bowl in 2nd inn) but he bravely came out to bat. Some in the crowd jeered him as No-ball. Ankit and RP started hitting out. Vinay replaced Mithun amidst call for Uthappa to bowl.
After drinks break (which got boos from crowd) Vinay got the stumps to walk and tumble after RP missed a swing. Everyone stood up to applaud and shout, Karnataka players zoomed inside including Sharath with his right hand slinged. But the umpire in middle called for replays and turned out to be No-Ball!!! Much to amusement of UP players and boos from crowd. Crowd rooted for Shreyas to get his sixth but Vinay eventually hit the stumps again and this time umpire only shook hands instead of calling for replays.

Karnataka players were jubilant obviously and responded to our cheers by clapping overhead. Soon both teams shook hands and there was some sort of presentation. Mithun got MoM award I think, he in black floppy hat got a special shake of hands. There was team photo shoot and then Shreyas got a special one for himself with stumps in right hand and ball in left hand. Was joined by Mithun later.

Jubilant celebrations
Special Moments:
  • Mithun kicking chair when he failed to stop boundary
  • Good catches by Vinay and Nair, direct hit from long-off, Shreyas stopping a boundary and thankfully no dropped catches
  • Spotting Praveen Kumar (shaved and all) and Mohammad Kaif on boundary line. PK nodded his head and Kaif waived hands to acknowledge our cheers
  • RP Singh called No-ball when he came out to bat but survived a bowled on No-ball!
  • Crowd appreciating UP's milestones and Chawla's shots
  • Crowd taking their pics and some selfies to record their moments in ground
  • Chanting Shreyas Shreyas, Mithun Mithun, calling for Uthappa to bowl, Sharath as Mandya express
  • While leaving the stadium, overheard a dad telling his son - 'We saw ranji this time, we will visit for tests next time' and then seeing members taking pics against Wall honoring Rahul Dravid. 
Praveen Kumar walking by

Mohammad Kaif

India drew that test against Aus and won the series in 2008
India won the test and series against NZ in 2012
India won the warm-up against Aus and went onto win WC
Karnataka advanced to next round in Mysore and reached Ranji Finals, almost wining the trophy
Here's hoping Karnataka will win the trophy this time :)

I regretted two things:
  • Forgetting to take my camera to stadium - many had got theirs and had opportunity to take good pictures
  • Not owning a smart phone - could have followed other scores and taken better pics than shown here

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Revisiting Madhugiri - 25 Aug, 2012

My second trek not as part of trekking club. We were 11 member group with office colleagues and some of their friends. After several options, we settled on Madhugiri, partly because I had already done it and path is pretty straight forward. We booked a tempo traveler and by 10AM we were at the base of hill. We had breakfast at Kamat hotel on the way (food was good, but had to wait long time due to crowd) and packed for lunch too.

I sort of became the unofficial guide for the trek. Distributing the lunch boxes, ordering each one to carry atleast two liters of water, trekking ahead to find path, advising on climbing, how much is left to ascend, rounding everyone up to march on after frequent rests and detours, indicating various activities I did in previous visit and interesting spots, creating fear about the steep slopes and the like. Now that I look back, I realize I was just too serious and all they did was having fun like any other picnic ;)

On entering the base of fort, I could immediately see renovations done after my last visit.A localite, sitting inside the entrance side wall told (translated from Kannada by Gautham) that the site is becoming tourist spot and hence the initiatives to improve steps and railings. If only they can do something about the various graffiti and scribblings of lovers and broken hearts and covets and self proclaimed greats.

It wasn't a hot day, thanks to clouds, but nonetheless hot enough to require copious amount of re-hydration and frequent rest from some steep climbs. A split in path eventually turned accessible both ways, but tired me unnecessarily :D. There were some first time trekkers too, but the numerous photo clicks (hill view, town view, with fort - walls, niches, with large boulders trying to push or hold, etc), daring wall scaling using protruding stones, almost crawling climb to one of the numerous watch towers, walking on uncovered stone archway (fall would almost certainly result in cracked bones), the large stepped pond (with muddied water), checking out secret tunnels, admiring defenses of the fort, etc were worth every painful step.

The above steep climb is alone worth doing Madhugiri again and again. One can see the old battered railing and the newly constructed one overlapping. I did it with trepidation, wonder how I did it without the new and better railing the last time! One can also see water marks, these are very slippery and proved almost fatal to one of us while descending. While I struggled despite an experienced trekker, Yatin, Viru, Devang and some others probably, scaled quite a distance on bare steep rock to the left of railing! It was scary just watching from top.

After about two and half hours, we finally reached top. Like guides of other treks, I had to frequently encourage by random estimates of climb left. Sometimes optimistic and sometimes pessimistic. I guess, it is just our nature to need assurance from someone who has already done it.
I led them beyond the fort wall on other side, which offers view of surrounding hills, a little descent to a spot with tree shade - same place I had lunch last time. But it was dirty and slippery and so we returned back. And started jumping around for various pics including childhood game of jumping over other's bent back for about half an hour.
Finally after 10 minutes to 1PM, we seated ourselves for lunch. Only our hunger could gobble those packets long gone cold. After lunch, we did another round of photo shoot by scaling the fort walls and forming train chains.

Around 2PM, we started our descent with full josh. We climbed down with just about one or two breaks in about 70-75 minutes. That steep slope posed problem again and I got cramps too making it worse. Thankfully, nothing untoward happened and we took our first group pic at base. It was raining in the distance and made for awesome view, but we escaped, otherwise it would have been disaster to trek down.

As with my previous visit, we first went to 'Sri Yoga lakshmi narasimha swamy' temple on the way back. Had some snacks and some visited the temple, while others guarded belongings from monkey menance. And then visited base of Devarayanadurga - the deer park and eternal spring from stone - 'Namada Chilume'. Trekking is definitely the modern way of weekend picnic - healthy option as well as loads of fun and pics to show-off.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year bash with trek to Kaurava Kunda - 31 Dec 2013 to 1 Jan 2014

When Santosh posted in BTC for a night trek to Kaurava Kunda to celebrate New Year, I signed up immediately, just like other enthusiasts forcing registration closure in just about 2 hours - sort of record as Santosh later told us. I have never celebrated New Year before (childhood doesn't count :P), but if I had to choose a way, it couldn't have been better than this. Having free time, I got myself hiking fleece (to keep out cold) and torch (dynamo as well as USB charging) from Decathlon on 31st morning.

Reaching KSRTC Terminal 3 platform 10 took about 20 minutes from BMTC bus stand, thanks to all the metro constructions. And so, I was only ten minutes early than my usual half an hour. Santosh was getting rice bath parceled and Deepika was already there. As others tricked in, we introduced ourselves everytime and got chatting - special attention to those with cameras to take many pics, Sonali gave us chocolate, joked about taking care of Madhuri's home made Gulab Jamoons and recent treks. Being new year's eve, traffic was worse than normal weekdays and we finally started to Chikkaballapur half an hour late at 8:30PM after having to drop a guy stuck at Domlur. Our 15 member group led by Santosh - Deepika, Shailesh, Girish, Sonali, Ankit, Sribacha, Rohit, Aravind, Ashutosh, Vijay, Madhuri, Anthony, Ram and myself. Some were first time trekkers and some first time with BTC, by end of event all adding to BTC family :)

We seated ourselves at back of bus to lessen disturbing co-passengers, but am sure even driver would have heard our raucous. Time pass was discussing on non-veg food (special contribution from Vijay and Sribacha with their experience in China, these two feature heavily in most stories throughout trek) which led to flight topics (Vijay and Shailesh booked tickets with AM/PM interchange, Vijay had horrifying experience of odd sound being fixed with spanner and some tapping, Vijay's four word long name being called unrecognizably on some foreign trip, etc), Sribacha on his escape from taxi driver when not having extra money pay for 6 hour shopping instead of 2, Shailesh with info on constellations and zodiac signs when it was commented about seeing lot of stars from hill top compared to pollution city sky, talk on languages we knew and how people refer to state's capital (Kolkata, Bhuvaneshwar, Chennai) when a state is mentioned as native, interesting habits of people in West Bengal and Orissa, bollywood and regional music and so on.

Heavy traffic meant we crossed airport only by 10PM - which was to be our plan of arriving at Chikkaballapur. We reached eventually at around 10:45PM and hired an autorickshaw to cover 5KM to base of hill instead of original itinerary to walk. The ride turned adventurous with all 15 fitting in one share auto, holding dearly onto our seats and singing (read screaming) songs like 'Suhana Safar', 'Zindagi ek safar hai suhana', 'Koi kahe kehta rahe', 'Ek pal ka jeena', 'Yahoooooo' etc.

 Starting from Hariharpur

As we got down in Hariharpur village at 11:15PM, dogs started barking and the cry taken up by all the dogs in village as we reached the base of hill. Three of them climbed with us, coming in between our legs and sometimes getting accidentally stepped upon. Intro session was pushed to be done on top of hill, it would have been weird in torch light (no moon too) and so close to the village anyway. Within 15 minutes of easy climb, we reached the Shiva temple. Dogs were still howling in the village, not sure if it was directed on us though. Lights from villages all around was beautiful - like lamps lighted for diwali. First timers asked if trek was done and were disappointed when Santosh informed that only 20% was done (which actually turned out be more like 10-15%). After few snaps and small rest, we decided to carry on instead of waiting here for New Year.

 Near Shiva temple, dog company and lights from village in background

The path was strewn with bushes (some with thorns), occasional trees and boulders. Santosh often went ahead to check if the path was right - I wonder how he managed, worn paths would often disappear amongst bushes and rocky surface. Sometimes, we would call him Santoooooooooosh in a tone mimicking Bommarillu remake Santosh Subramaniam or Santosh Sir. We monitored time frequently to not miss midnight. How did it matter I remarked, as somewhere in the world it was already 2014. As the climb became steeper, we stopped often - cue for me, Ashutosh, Santosh and others to take pics (most of my pics were blurred and I know only AUTO mode :( ). Some places, path was too narrow and slippery to allow passage for only one.

We stopped at 12AM for everyone to gather, shake hands and shout 'Happy New Year' in various languages. Villagers had fire crackers going (some were before 12, some after - really time didn't matter). Some called home/friends to wish (not all got tower signals though) and Sribacha played loud music on his radio speaker (from Bose, possibly had Analog Devices chip too :P). It was some party song, the likes I don't listen to, but in line to fill our adrenalin rush.

  Relaxing at top

Path became more tricky, slippery grass and small stones on mud, steeper and narrow as we neared top. We collected small wooden sticks and branches lying around for camp fire. Finally, at 12:20AM, we reached shorter of the two peaks. There was a nice relatively flat rocky surface to put all our bags and rest. And whats more, there was stone arrangement just near for fire camp. Thanks to whoever had done it in past. Out came snacks to eat after customary pics while Santosh and others went down to collect more wood for fire. Vijay had to contend our collective decision to cut cake only after fire gets going. The meagre wood was arranged in the pit but not lit yet.

Plenty of stars lit up the sky, more effective in less polluted village surrounding and moonless night. Wind was strong and chilly. Sribacha had come directly from his office (close to TN border) and so had his laptop too. We joked 'work from hill' instead of 'work from home' and took a snap for proof. While we waited for Santosh to return, weather turned hostile in matter of minutes. Fog hid the stars completely and the temperature dropped to 15C. Wind worsened the chilly effect. A thin layer to water coated everything and clung to us. Shadows formed in air when we were shining torches to faces for taking pics. My camera gave weird hazy ones :( :(

 BTC cake (picture credit: Ashutosh)

Getting fire started proved difficult - what with wind and mist, despite experienced hands of Vijay, Madhuri and others. Camphor, grass and paper finally caught fire from lighter after few false starts. Cake was finally cut to welcome new year. It was awesomeously  (I know it is not a word :P) delicious chocolate topped with strawberry and surrounded on sides with choco chips. Madhuriji cut it nicely for us, initially there was rush and someone cunningly told us to be patient and nicely took a piece for himself as everyone stopped trying.
I got my two patato chips packets out (as asked to bring by Santosh sirji). His rice bath was fed to dogs as he deemed it to be bit spoiled. However, Sri's rice-sambhar and hyderabadi biryani (forgot who got it) tasted too good. Ofcourse, Madhuriji's gulab jamoon were a treat and sweet corn was good despite getting cold. Till 3AM, all of us were by the fire, dancing to party and item numbers dished out from Bose speaker (songs selected in mobile and connected via bluetooth, the speaker itself was covered with a black cloth for mist). Vijay patiently took care of breaking branches and feeding the fire. In between, Santosh, me and two others went to get more wood.

It was a relief to descend as it wasn't windy. Another group of trekkers were climbing up. Mist and slippery grass meant our progress was slow and frequently off path. When we somehow reached the spot, Santosh sheepishly revealed the wood pile made by villagers (or was he joking? and actually made the pile when he did recce the previous Saturday?). The not-so-thick and long branches were slippery and 6-7 of them were very difficult to carry on shoulder as one hand was engaged with torch to  light the path. We almost stumbled a few times and ofcourse lost path a couple of times. The climbing group were still struggling too, they eventually reached atop long after we returned.

Then came the biggest and sweetest surprise of the event - garma garam masala chai (hot tea) made over camp fire! Santosh had got milk, vessel, tea powder, cardamom, ginger, paper cups! With everything mixed, Vijay and yours truly helped Madhuri in keeping the pot over fire and final touch provided by Ankit for 'ufaan'. Oh, what a taste! And a what a relief in biting cold. It was 3AM by then and majority crawled inside sleeping bags.
   They missed a lot :D

They missed out colorful stories/antics (mostly childhood) of Vijay, Sribacha, Santosh and few anecdotes added by Madhuri, Shailesh, Ankit and me. For more than two hours, we moved topic to topic until finally Bose speaker's battery went dead. One of the best laughter therapy session it was. Close to dawn, Ram and few others joined our camp too (some were listening while sleeping :D)

  Stories by camp fire
Few snippets - Vijay: Got late in some forest trek and having fun in pond/lake - while returning smoke/fire erupted (due to ammonia gas) and ran for life (got separated from rest of group) and sheltered in some old guys home. Got caught skipping school when a girl from his class spilled the beans to his father - as a revenge he plotted with a friend of his to electrocute! her, got caught while waiting on water tank by her mother noticing their slippers! If I remember correctly, he once used to go for tuition held in third floor of the master's house with only another friend making up class. Early morning once, power wasn't there and were greeted by a form in whites - ran away far only to know a new girl had joined tuition. And some work related incidents.
Sribacha - by far the most colorful childhood, can make a movie :D He is native of some village in Orissa, close to river which meets the sea and surrounded by forest and mountains. He is a born trekker - he had to trek even for morning ablutions. Returning to home in evening, once they ran their cycle into a bear! They had jackfruit tree where bears frequently climbed and stole during night. Once, their father waited until bear climbed and dropped fruits. They quickly opened the door and hauled as many before the bear came down and started banging the door! Many more incidents like close escape from snake, bitten in thigh by scorpion, caught skipping school and having food at stranger's marriage, learning to ride scooter (some master's and took it for rides all over village without informing :P), caught stealing money and fish by his father having powerful memory and finally getting rid of father's thrashing as he was mistaken to be run away from home but actually hid in mountains. No wonder, he has good presence of mind now - like the escape from taxi driver in airport.
Ankit - drunk and caught by prof/principal in college which led to someone else telling of a college goer who used to drink in graveyard to escape notice from family.
Santosh - too much sleep in himalayan trek to not notice fellow trekkers banging his door (their return had turned worse due to weather and shortage of food). Losing consciousness for about 5 minutes from electric shock. 
Shailesh - close shave from leopard on a trek as his friends were hidden from the beast and vice versa, while he and others were watching from hill above.

   Time to descend

Afterwards, we tried without success to finally play Antakshri. Personal anecdotes kept coming in between and there wasn't much interest apart from Madhuri and myself. By 6AM, we woke up others. Sonali was last to get up and she was the one advocating to not let anyone sleep in bus stand. After another round of hot and delicious tea and photo shoots (including rare group pic), we started trek for the other peak at around 7AM. Fog spoiled any chance of sunlight - forget sunrise.

   Atop the taller peak

The ascent and descent of the second peak took us about an hour. The large monolith rocky peak was steep and bit slippery from mist. It was good to scale steep slopes for such long stretches, some running too for capturing pics of fellow trekkers. Along the way, somehow, Sribacha got adopted by the couple (Vijay-Madhuri) and lot of joking were centered on Sri.

  That's what we climbed

Sun finally gave us a peek at around 8:10AM. Another half an hour to reach base, having Khakara (appalam like, made of wheat) and other snacks and more stepping on dog's leg (I was the culprit, gave Khakara to console). We then visited the village pond, spent some time relaxing. On way back, had the customary feedback session. And again, most of them positive and special thanks to Deepika for suggesting night trek to celebrate New Year :) Just as we finished and started the 5KM walk to bus stand, two share auto materialized as if they knew our timing! Comfortable ride this time, we were thankful to not have walked so far. We had breakfast at bus stand (when some ordered puri, I wanted to say it is better to have idli to avoid oil, but dunno why I refrained. Resulted in stomach upsets and food poisoning :( ) Most of us slept soundly on the return journey to Bangalore.

  All 15 had stuffed inside the previous night ;)

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