Sunday, July 14, 2019

Life in Apr 19 - July 14, 2019

Time is flowing and so are we along with it. Change becomes constant and we need to run twice as hard just to become the normal that we once were. In this life instance, I started a new job and shifted to a new home - not a good idea to do both at the same time. Nevertheless, many other things happened as well.  I will start with books - 

Books - 
- LOTR - Had developed an itch to re-read LOTR again and so I did. I think I liked it better this time.

- Tehanu by Ursulla Le Guin - I am in awe of Earthsea books. They are so well done that I just want to live in that world. Sometimes you read a book and once it gets over, you wonder, how the characters are doing once their journey is over. Tehanu answers this wonderfully and adds more layers to it. 

- Fallen Too Far by Abby Glines - I wanted to get a flavor of Romantic genre of movies. So I picked this one as it was said that this is better than the typical others. While this curiosity was enough to run through the first few pages, finishing it became a challenge. Genre lovers may like it but not much for me.

Movies - 

Article 15 - 5/5
A movie on constitution of India, on a topic that is very relevant and a director/writer who want to genuinely use this medium to influence society. Must watch for our times.

Kimi no Na Wa (Your name) - 4.5/5 
Anime movie. New medium of storytelling. Went for this on my birthday. Loved it very much.

John Wick 3 - 3.5/5
Did not like this as much as the first and second but still a very good action film.

Avengers endgame - 3/5
Good masala film that ends a big part of the franchise.

Badla - 2.5/5

Travel - 

Plays/Events - 
- Tansen a play on the life of the artist. Saw this at Ranga Shankara. Good play to know more about his life.

- My Father - feat. Naseeruddin Shah  - a play on an old man suffering from Alzheimers' disease.

- Comedy show feat. Samay at That Comedy club, Koramangala 

Misc - 
- Lot of birthdays came and lots of new places were tried out. Foxtrot at Marathalli, Burma house in Indiranagar,  Dialogues cafe in Koramangala,  La Case brewery near Sarjapur, Aurum in Sarjapur, Big Spoon in Whitefield, Chung Wah in Koramangala

- Too much shifting. Splendid to ND, Splendid to Sobha, ND to Elan. Splendid to Elan. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Review: The Americans - TV Series

Slow Burn is a trope where the story focuses on development of characters, evolution of story, while keeping the in-your-face conflict taut.  In the trope, the tension of main conflict is not resolved, although it is teased multiple times. This slow unraveling of the story until it climaxes is called Slow Burn.

For some reason, I have found myself drawn to Slow Burn based TV series a lot.   First, it was Breaking bad, but I think there also too many things were happening. Then, it was Line of Duty which is sheer brilliant. The Americans - TV Series, I believe has been the best so far.

Two Russian spies pretending to be a couple have been tasked to settle in US, live life like normal Americans blend in,  but at the same time,  their main task is to spy for the Russian government. They get their assignments via a Russian handler. Both of them are trained in defense, offense, and using sex, emotion or whatever in their means to achieve their end goal.

The series start with the couple - Elizabeth and Phillip, already living in US for many years, they even have two kids - Page and Henry. To masquerade their spy activities, the couple operate a small travel concierge company which employees 3-4 other people.

In the very first episode, an FBI agent moves in to a house opposite to their house. With this, the series sets itself to its primary conflict - will they get caught? Their missions are dangerous, their next door FBI agent is leading them. In other conflicts, their kids do not know about their spy game, but till now they were small. But now, as they grow and become curious, will they find out?

In another side, we have the Russian embassy where schemes are being devised to aid these folks. Folks in embassy do not know of their identity. The setting is when the US-Russia conflict was at its peak. 

The greatest con pulled by The Americans is to make Americans care for two Russian spies. Think about it, let me add some Indian flavor. There are two Pakistanis, a couple, living in India, spying on India, killing Indian people, stealing trade secrets, copying war codes and what not but still the Indians like them enough for them to be ok. To pull it off is ingenious.

How does Americans pull it off? One word - doubt. The Americans - our spies, with so many years in US are now doubting whether US is indeed a real enemy? They have better infrastructure, better food, ordinary folks do not hate Russia, they are people and like our species, they are inherently good. They want better future for their kids, want the world to be a happy place. The classic Arjun-Krishna dilemma - Why should we hate them? These thoughts are contrasted with life of challenges back home with some flashbacks. 

To top this setting : Slow Burn. The main conflict is not resolved at all. It is accepted, internalized but yet it is always there. And the minor ones, just keep on adding. Americans does not give you an inch in resolving even the minor ones. Only in later seasons, we start to see some closures, but in first three, it was just - keep the pot boiling.

The writing is very good. After reading a lot of their interviews, the writers admit that their approach was - what would this character do in this situation, what would be the logical next step? With this,  because it is so grounded in our psychology, it is so believable.  The last episode is a killer one. The last season is a killer one. RT rates it at 99%.

Just as much as it is a spy drama, it is a discourse on marriage as well. Two people tasked to live together as a couple, found some meaning of love with each other, who are now partners, but now are facing the trials of marriage, of raising kids but with different parenting philosophies, who come with different beliefs.

There won't be another The Americans for a long time. Just like there won't be another West Wing ever.  There won't be another Seinfeld.  Once you start, you will have to watch till the end. Be prepared.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Lord of the Rings - Book Review

Lord of the Rings
By J R R Tolkein

I wanted to get back into the fantasy genre. While I started with the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursulla Leguin, I had an urge to read, actually re-read LOTR by Tolkein. Two weeks ago, I picked it up and finished it yesterday.

One thing that was constantly in my mind as I was reading the book is that there is no way, I can now decouple the movies from the books. I have seen the movies so many times, I remember all scenes and almost remember all lines. To me Aragorn is nothing but Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of him, likewise for Gandalf and Sean Astin's Sam.  The movie's background score (by Howard Shore) goes in the background of many scenes. I was searching of lyrics of Into the West  in the poetry of Tolkein at the end.  I was just amazed at how so many things from the book that the movie has captured. Yet, so many beautiful things it missed. I honestly believe that movies do justice to the text as much as it can be done. Sure, there are some liberties taken and some annoy me, but overall, I think I not only approve of the approach, I love it.

The reason for the above para at the beginning is to acknowledge that I am a big fan of movies.  Even more so, after visiting Hobbiton. So, in a way this book reading can be seen more about enriching my movie version imagery of LOTR. It is a colored lens.

When I had read the first time, I had read Hobbit first and then followed it by LOTR.  The hobbit movies had not come out. I did not like the book of hobbit as much. It is childish. But my first reading of LOTR had a good memory. There was no blog post of that time, but I remember reading at my parents' home in Dakra and then watching the director's cut LOTR movies after that, on some break from US, and it remains a very good memory till date.  It is from this reading that something was imprinted that wanted me to revisit it. I remembered Tom Bombardill and hands of the king with its healing power.  I wanted to live that world again.


I loved the book. Very very much. Probably better than the movies this time. Probably more than my first reading. So much texture is there. The characters are fairly well etched out. I love the small banter between Gimli and Legolas. I love when Gandalf carries Pippin on Shadowfax to Gondor and they tell stories. I love that the favorite pass-time of this world is to tell tales, historic tales of distant lands. Even more so, when they acknowledge that they themselves are in a tale which if they survive will be told to generations after them.

LOTR has three aspects to analyze - the plot/narrative, the language which is primarily the characters with their banter and lastly, the grandiose scale of the world building.  The narrative and world building go hand in hand. With Frodo's journey from one land to another, we are also explorers of this world. From Ents in Fangorn forest to Lothorien elves, the history of Moria, Mordor, Gondor with its stewards, Minas Tirith, Minas Mogul, this is an epic scale. To do so all in 1000 odd pages is phenomenal.  Tolkein even developed an entire language to aid his scale.

From plot point of view, once you remove the middle earth aspects, it is a simple good vs evil story where normal folks become heroes because of circumstance. It is a classic fairy tale. There is courage in all of us. When Merry uses his sword to attack the Nazgul, even knowing that he can not kill it, it is a sheer courage and loyalty. Some commentators attack this novel for black and white characters, while I agree, but at the same time, for this format, for this length, for this scale, it is not possible to have that too.  It is after all a simplistic right vs wrong tale underneath.

One thing to note, in particular is the penultimate chapter titled "Scouring of the Shire". I do remember that when I first read it, I was not sure what to make of it. I remember thinking that it is good that it was cut out from the movies. It adds nothing to the main plot line. But this time around, I liked it very much. For one, it reduce the scale from world to local to home. Throughout the journey, each hobbit longs for the Shire that they had left, wondering what would be happening there, how peaceful their past life is and how much they look forward to it. But once they reach Shire, after the ring id destroyed, the world has a new king, the home that they longed for, their home, it is no longer there. It is extremely tragic. This is the textured nuance that Tolkein brings that makes this chapter special. "This is worse than Mordor" claims Sam. Shire is juxtaposed with Mordor.   What follows this horror is again back to the good vs evil story - people of Shire come together to drive ruffians out. It is also a fitting end to Saruman, killed by his own disciple.

When the Gondor's gate is broken, Aragorn claims that he will ask Gimli to send skilled dwarfs from his home when he goes back to rebuild it. When the battle of Gondor is won, Aragorn tents outside the fort to wait for someone to welcome him as a king otherwise his claim may be challenged later where he decides to enter as a king himself.  And how do people believe that he is the true king? Because the hand of the king is the hand of the healer. When Bilbo meets Frodo after the ring is destroyed, he still longs to see the ring one more time. Through this vignettes, Tolkein immerses us in his world where things are connected. For we may forget these connections, as there is so much going on. But is in between these lines that makes LOTR shine on as a masterpiece. The fantasy, the myth comes in forefront and it is does not look contrived, it is a continuum.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Life in Feb 5 - Apr 18 2019

A period of uncertainty, change and then followed by a chilled out period. Feb 10 was my last day at Treebo and what followed was a rigorous period of job hunt - which meant lots of studies and interviews. Too many interviews were scheduled leading up to interview fatigue. Once I decided my next job, I had asked for a 5 weeks break. This post in the middle of that break. My joining date is Apr 29 and I have 10 more days of chill out. 

Travel - 
As evident from the previous installment, I had travelled more than a fair share. Hence, this time, I was not so inclined. However, given the time period, I had time and that meant going to an Himalayan trek. Detailed travel is disclosed here -

I had also signed up for a Vipaasana discourse in Sikkim but was wait-listed which did not convert. Hence, that plan was cancelled at the last moment.

Home decor
Kanishka and I have purchased an apartment Sobha Daffodils. The home interior work is going on and here, I just wanted to document the various vendors involved in this process - 

  1. Main designer - Design cafe. They are doing living room, entire kitchen, crockery unit and one wardrobe.
  2. Home Town - for MBR wardrobe
  3. Ubyld - for foyer shoe rack, utility area units, bathroom vanity units with mirrors.
  4. Furnishing forum, Jayanagar for Wallpaper
  5. Pandian - a local guy for all civil work. 
  6. PC Sampath - Kitchen tiles
  7. Kajaria - floor tiles
  8. Jitendra - a local guy for all plumbing needs
  9. Harish - a local guy for house painting
  10. Chickpet visit - for all basic lights
  11., worldartcommunity, pepperfry - for chandelier, and other specialty lighting. 
  12. - for all bathroom fixtures
  13. Bommanahalli - for kitchen sink.
  14. Graava - for Quartz.
  15. Manjunath - a local guy for all electrical needs.
  16. Kitchen Chimney - Most likely kaff.
  17. Swing - vendor unknown.
  18. Curatins, rods etc - Most likely thoppia but not decided yet. 

This has been a process starting from December. Behind every line item above, there were atleast 2-3 other vendors which were considered before we finalized. Which means over 50+ vendor meetings, going to them, or calling them etc.  Design cafe had a full process which included 5-6 F2F meetings in their office, one of them went for 6 hours.  The amount of time commitment required and the level of specialization in this industry is mind boggling. This vertical is a prime example of consumerism behavior.

Books - 
Earth Sea Trilogy by Ursulla Le Guin. Loved it. Loved it very very much. I will write a detailed review once I finish the second trilogy as well. 

Movies - 
Serious/good ones - 
Hateful Eight - 4/5
Waited a long time for me to watch this serious Tarantino film. Worth it. His style elements are there but with more story/dialog time. 

Blackkansman - 4/5
Denzel Washington's son is also a very good actor. And Adam Driver is incredibly versatile. Spike lee Delivers again.

You were never really here - 3.5/5
Very stylized but minimalistic film. Leaves a lot of things for the audience to figure out. Mature movie making. 

In the fade - 3/5
Fatih Akin could have made it better. Music was used very little. But acting was pretty good. 

Blue Valentine - 4/5
Very very serious film about relationships. Liked the script, the acting and delivery.

Roma - 4/5
Good human drama with terrific cinematography. Attention to details is very high.

Cold War - 4/5 . Country : Poland
Crazy love drama film with lots of folk music with a backdrop fascist politics. Brilliantly made.

At War - 4.5/5. Country : France
I loved this film, even though it was panned by critics. It almost looked like watching a documentary.  

Foxtrot - 4/5  Country: Israel
Very quirky film about a difficult topic. Covers many things in reference. Liked the use of music, cinematography. Highly original.  

One Day  4/5 Country: Hungary
A moving account of a mother through a day as she struggles to bring up her kids in a broken marriage with tough economical conditions.

All four movies at BIFFES were very heavy. We (Kanishka, Aarti, Anshika didi (for one film) and I ) were all drained by the end of the day. But a terrific day for movies.

Bad/masala films - 
Bumblebee (3/5),  Shazam (3/5), Highwaymen (2.5/5) , How to train your dragon 3 (2/5), 

TV Series - 

Wild Wild Country (5/5) 
My favorite. My precious. Loved it from start to end. Always like watching this genre. Will recommend it very high

The Good place 4.5/5. Season 1
Marrying philosophy with sit-coms. From the makers of Brooklyn Nine Nine. So many good things. Plus with the ending of season 1, wow! Did not see it coming. Season 2 was also very creative. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Sandakphu + Phalut Trek 2019

Mountains were calling. An itch was there. I had said no too many times and like a good relative, every month or so, they would ask me when I would visit. It had been 4.5 years since I last visited them. I had to do this. Stars had aligned - I was in between jobs with an offer from the next one. I had asked for a 5 week gap for joining and I knew that I had to make the most of it.

The decision to trek Sandakphu was fairly simple. One, all Uttarakhand/Himachal treks were covered in snow and I had done Goechala previously. Second, Hemanth from Nature Walkers fame had recommended it very highly. I trust his judgement very much on these matters.

It was meant to be a solo trek. Roughly within 6 hrs time frame, I had managed to get a good contact - Pemba from the Sandakphu Challet Lodge and he had planned my entire trip with accommodation and a guide. On a day before the trek, I casually asked Amit if he wanted to join. I must commend on his spontaneous decision making as not only he said yes but bought tickets and missing gear in a day. With travel, stay, guide booked, I was all set and that too with a good companion as well.

Day 0 - Travel day to Maney Bhanjan.
The plan was to fly to Bhagdogra and from there, drive to Maney bhanjan, some 3-4 hrs. With a very early morning flight, we were there at Bhagdogra by 9:30 am and reached Maney Bhanjan by around lunch time. Our stay was at hotel Pradhan, a cozy place. We got some early signs of pleasant-cold-ish weather and it started to rain. It rained the entire night and this gave us a good idea for the trek to come.

At Maney Bhanjan, I also purchased a plastic poncho of INR 30 which served me very well. Amit provided good entertainment with his expectations of wifi along the way only to discover that there may not be even electricity. Even I, who had assumed that I was prepared for all weather conditions was in for a surprise.

Maney Bhanjan has an interesting aspect - A road runs through this small town and to the right of the road is India and to its left is Nepal. So, in this trip, I also travelled to another country. This facet of a road dividing the two countries runs through the entire trek. At Kalpophari and Sandakphu, we stayed on the Nepal side while from Phalut onwards, we were in India.

Day 1 - Maney Bhanjan to Tumling
Many bhanjan is at about 7000 ft and Tumling is at 9600 ft. So, we were in for a steep climb. Even locals had shared that the first 2Km to Chithrey is very steep. But the first-day excitement was enough to push us through this.  We started a little late waiting for the guide (Ashish) and porter-cum-guide (Newang) to join us. But I had a great company of the book - The wizard of Earthsea by Ursulla Le Guin; something that I had been meaning to finish for a long time.

From Chithrey, my other friend, Mr Mist joined us and it would be with us for long walks through the trek. At Chithrey, we visited the local monastery. The monastery was a nice one and post a short visit, we stopped for some tea at a nearby shack.  From Chithrey, we went to Tumling via Medhma. At lunch, we stopped at Lamaydhura and had our first Noodle soup of the trip with some omlette thrown in. It was nice and hot, filling our appetite.

One thing to note here is that there is a motor-able road from Maney Bhanjan to Sandakphu. The trail for trekkers overlaps with this road more than 60% of the time and you can see jeeps going back and forth with tourists. This was the worst part of the trek. While it is ok to have a motor-able road for tourists, the trail and road should have been separate. Many a times, the people in jeep would smile at us while I would be panting, or just walking slowly. The horn beeps did not help either.

After about an hr from Lamaydhura, I was tired. I pushed myself to Medhma where a cup of local black tea revived my spirits. This is the other interesting facet of this trail. Due to a motor-able road and fair but of commercialization, there are shacks every 2 hrs on the journey which serve hot tea and some snacks.  At no point, you are in total desolate wilderness. For amateur trekkers like us, this was a good confident sign that we will never be lost but on the other hand, you are never truly just with nature.

From Medhma to Tumling, it was an easy walk. Mist had cleared by this time and we could see nice views. Our stay at Tumling was at Siddhartha lodge. We were sharing this a big India Hikes group and few others. The lodge was huge. We had nice pakoras in the evening. Weather-wise, it was cold. More cold that I had anticipated. Room was nice and had a great view. At night time, I used one rajai and one blanket to get good warmth. Inside the two layers, it was cozy but the moment you step out of it, it was quite cold. 

Day 2 - Tumling to Kalpokhari
Tumling is at 9600 ft and Kalpokhari at 10,400 ft. So, ideally, there should have only been an elevation gain of about 800 ft but the mountains have curves. The trail from Tumling goes via Jaubhari over to Garibas which is at 1000 ft lower than Tumling. From there, we climb our way to Kalpophari climbing steeply along with the zig-zag motorable road to Kanyakatta and then walking to Kalpokhari over a gradual ascent.

The best part of Tumling morning was our first sights of the Kanchenjunga range. We were able to clearly see the Pandim, the twin peaks of Kabru, the Kumbhakaran mountain. And behind these mountains, we saw Kanchenjunga only for 90 odd seconds, and we could see a perceptible difference in the heights. While these peaks were tall in themselves, Kanchenjunga was higher not by few notches but by a significant margin.  We had to wait for some time to get these majestic views. Once visible, we were in awe of these ranges. The Sun had come up and it was promising to be a clear and sunny day.

Our breakfast was Puri, rice and chana subzi with boiled eggs. A sumptuous meal. The trail from Tumling to Garibas was easy being a downhill. At Garibas, we took a tea stop and nice black tea on the Nepal side. From Garibas, the steep climb was a challenge with the Sun shining brightly now. All jackets were off and sun caps were out.

Life changed when we reached Kanyakatta - our lunch place. For lunch, I ordered egg chowmein, which was delicious. At Kanyakatta, it had started to rain, so we decided to take some break, given that our destination, Kalpokhari, was only 1 hr 20 mins away. It was only 1 pm, so we decided to wait till 2pm. Among the rain, there was also small hail stones that were falling, hence we decided to wait. By 2, it had changed to a drizzle so we thought to make a move.

At the lunch place, I took out my plastic raincoat called "jugaad" and asked for scissors from the lunch-lady. Using scissors, I cut two holes for my arms to come out.  With this small ingenuity, I was all set to face the rain. Once out on the trail, the small drizzle turned out to be a full storm, later to a full blown soft hail storm (somewhere between graupel and sleet - )  . It was difficult to walk as hands were getting very cold. The nice sunny views of the earlier day were now covered in full mist but there was still 10m + visibility.  We were walking fast too, just to escape from the rain and reach destination faster.

Not visible clearly, but it is raining graupel in the background

My jugaad poncho.

At Kalpokhari, it was very cold. After reaching, and quick tea, I changed to fresh clothes. My previous clothes were full wet, mostly because of sweat, partly because of rain. I quickly sneaked into my rajai + blanket layer. But, even within these two layers, I was shivering. Amit was also getting frustrated, neither of us had planned for this weather. Our guides mentioned that this is unprecedented for this time period. My shivering did not stop, my feet were not getting warmer. Took in a crocin tablet. Waited. No effect. Finally, forced myself out of the homestay and went for a walk. The sunset was beautiful. The sunset's redness took a long time to fade away and it was beautiful to watch. Had momos from a tea stall next door and finally came down to our homestay. Getting out gave the energy kicker to drive the cold away.   Dinner was the usual - Potatoes + Masoor dal with Roti.

Beautiful sunset

Day 3 - Kalpokhari to Sandakphu
With Sandakphu at 12000 ft, today meant a climb of 1400 ft but a distance of mere 7km. It was windy and raining the entire night, the morning was full misty with visibility less than 5 metres. We decided to start late hoping for the mist to clear but to no effect.

We had donned our ponchos as it could rain anytime. The 7k was an easy walk except for the last 250 metres. Right at the end, when you have done the hard steep climb, where event the milestone reading says - Sandakphu 0 km, right then, to get to the homestay, it is the steepest climb of the the entire trail. A trail so steep that at rest, your legs make a 70 deg angle with your feet, your ankles in a position as if you are stretching post a long run. A 10 step walk along this ramp forces you to stop to fill air in lungs before you start again. This was all to get to the top of Sandakphu where all lodges are located.
Some amazing signs and gyans along the way

Our lodge - Sandakphu chalet lodge was perhaps the best stay of the trip and that too at this height was indeed a delight. They say that on a clear day, you can see the Kanchenjunga from your bedroom window but today, it was all grey mist. A hallowed experience, something that I am used to from my previous treks.  Inside, I mostly spent my time in the dining area as the kitchen next door used to send the warmth into this room. Here also, I finished my first Earthsea book and left it there for future travelers to be delighted.

Amit warming his hands from rice steam.

Day 4  - Sandakphu to Phalut
While both Sandakphu and Phalut at the same altitude, day 4 trail first goes down by 1400 ft and then comes up running a course of 21kms. It was supposed to be the most beautiful day of walking. It is said that on this day, you walk facing the Mt. Everest while the Kanchenjunga range to your right for the entire stretch. We had rains, mist, more rains and a very gloomy weather throughout the day.

This is not a black and white photo, it looked like this only.

We started after having an egg roll as our breakfast. It was roti with Omlette with tomato ketchup. At about 9K, we stopped near an army camp for some hot tea. Sabargram is at 14K from Sandakphu and the trail crossed 4-5 hills where you climb them only to get down. The last stretch was a good climb and we were exhausted by the time we reached Sabargram.

We had taken boiled eggs and potatoes for lunch. At Sabargram, at a local shack, the local guy served us hot maggi soup which gave us some respite. We were totally exhausted by the time we reached Sabargram, we had already walked 5+ hours, most of it in rain. The gloominess of the weather was wearing on us. It had dawned on us by this time that there would be no views for us in this trip. All hope of the mist clearing away had gone. It was not just the walk and the hard work. While the walk was beautiful, we even got to see horses and yaks, the silhouette of the tress against the mist brought out the true natural beauty, we even passed some GoT references along the way, but the weariness of the extra layers of ponchos, coldness of the weather and rain had started to weigh more on us.

With just a cold realization, we left Sabargram for Phalut to end the day. Our last 7K was on the motorable road, the meadows along side had the risk of us loosing the way because of poor visibility. The motorable trail was stony, slushy and nothing interesting about it. We walked and walked. The first 5.5K was pretty flat, last 1.5K a little up-gradient. We finished the last bit in 2.5 hrs and reached the GTA trekkers hut at Phalut.

The GTA trekkers hut is pretty much the only option up there and its facilities are pretty basic. Bear in mind, it is like a 5-star hotel compared to a tent stay but this was a pamper trip for us. With no electricity and partial wet beds, we found couple of the dry ones and made this our home for the night. Like a typical rich folks who feel certain entitlement, we sat inside the kitchen, near the coal fire throughout the evening to feel the heat and be warm. The hut folks were very accommodative and  even served us dinner in the kitchen itself.

Our spirits were very low and we decided to change the last day plan. Instead of going to Barsey and experience the bad weather and more rains, we wanted to be cozy now. A plan came to walk from Gorkhey to the nearest place where we could catch a vehicle to go to Siliguri. Our guide mentioned that it would entail a walk of 15 kms from Gorkhey and we decided to take that route instead and rest with the warm Siliguri weather. The cold had made us little bitter by the evening and I was definitely irritated with it. The night's sleep made us warm and Pemba, our trip planner again reiterated to try out Barsey, saying "it is a nice place". We listened to him in the morning and decided to not change our plans.

Day 5 - Phalut to Gorkhey
Day 5 morning showed us glimpses of sun. Visibility had increased and we could see 25+ metres ahead. But there was no chance of seeing the mountains with big names. They were still covered in mist. Today's trail was the downhill part. 15kms of downhill, where we come down more than 4000ft. A killer on the knees and ankles in short. But on the good part, the trail was very good. It changed after every 30 mins or so, from huge trees to thick bamboo cover to small shrubs.

The last 30 mins or so was the steepest descent on a stony trail and it hurt the most. But the views of Gorkhey valley were just amazing. It was clear and we could see the entire valley. We took our sweet time to walk down and enjoy views of the valley. Our home stay tonight was called Eden Lodge and it was situated on top of a flowing river. Our lunch spot had views of a river, hills with green terrace farming and a bright sun without the excess heat. It was magical. Our lunch today was Alu ke parathe with beer and pickle.

Gorkhey Valley

I decided to continue my Kindle reading at Gorkhey at the iconic spot. It was peaceful. During evening, took stroll around the valley. Next day was trip to Barsey and our guide had no idea about the trail. Fortunately, out homestay owner had an idea and said that after a 4K walk, we have to walk 14K on a tar road to get to our next day homestay - Bodhi Villa. Since it is a tar road, he also gave us an alternative to take a jeep and reach there at a cost of INR 800. In evening, it had started to rain a bit and I was weary of yet another day of walking in rain. So, I decided to take the vehicle option.

 Day 6 - Phalut to Barsey (Okhrey)
Actually, our homestay for tonight was not at Barsey, the place is actually called Okhrey. Barsey is another 10kms away. After our standard roti + potato breakfast, we started the 4k walk. It started to rain just 10 mins after we started and rained the entire day today. The 4K trail was good, not too many ascents, we finished it quickly in less than couple of hours. At the trail end, we snapped some pics as our walking portion has ended.

We took the vehicle quickly to reach Bodhi Villa. It had rained the entire way, so I was partially glad to have taken this option. But the views of hills and valley from the road were pretty amazing, it would have been a nice to walk on it. The road was fairly uphill too. Once at Bodhi Villa, we quickly made plans to visit the Rhododendron flower sanctuary. The owner-lady of homestay warned that you will see more flowers in her local garden than the sanctuary but still I insisted.

The walk inside the flower sanctuary was amazing - one of the best sanctuaries that I have seen. It was lush green on both sides, I did not see a single plastic or trash along the way and it was insanely peaceful. One downside - it was pouring crazy. I had not taken my plastic poncho and was wearing my upper-half raincoat and my pants were drenched in 30 mins. Amit, on the other hand, had been frustrated with his decathlon poncho, so I offered my newly bought Maney-bhanjan poncho to him. He agreed but that poncho was even worse than the Decathlon one as it allowed water to go inside.

After 2km or so walk, both of us were fully wet. Though the views and nature around was very beautiful, afraid of being sick, and being cold, we decided to turn back. At Bodhi Villa, our luck continued - there was no electricity, no hot water and no network. They had some kind of transformer issue day before we arrived and hence the power was gone. The food continued to be potato and roti and masoor dal over lunch and dinner here. We spent time by playing Ludo.

I was able to finish book 2 - The tombs of Atuan here and was enjoying my reading very much. At night, we went out for couple of mins to see the starry sky - our first for the trip but came back after 2 mins as it was quite cold.  Post dinner, the clouds had taken over that view too.

Day 7 - Okhrey to Siliguri and back to Bangalore
We started our return journey back at 7:30 am. There was a big election rally planned at Jorthang and we wanted to avoid traffic. Our cab was on time. We were able to escape the Jorthang traffic but were stuck later for 1.5 hrs due to landslides. We reached airport about 2:30ish, had proper lunch there and then took the flight. Our flight was from Siliguri to Delhi and Delhi to Bangalore.

At the airport, I started my Book 3 - The Farthest Shore and was able to finish it by the time we landed in Bangalore. Both of our flights, Siliguri to Delhi and Delhi to Bangalore were delayed which also helped my reading.

Overall,  it was an amazing experience. I was lucky for Amit to have joined at the last moment as it provided good companionship. The trail is very good though it has its flaws - mainly the motor-able road.  Weather can not be controlled but time again, it makes us humble. Yes, I got irritated for an evening but other than that, I had a fantastic trip. In between the mists, we would get some views of the mountains next to us and we would be blown over by them. Our joy of seeing them must have been far more than those who would have taken it for granted.

This was also a very luxurious trip that i have ever had. Staying in home stays, blankets, attached bathrooms, all made it a very pleasant experience. A personal guide too helped in matching our own pace. It was planned very well by Pemba and to think that all discussion happened over Whatsapp is amazing. Pemba's Whatsapp line says - "we listen to our customers..not our competitors." I think this beautifully sums up why he knows more about running a business than many entrepreneurs in Bangalore including myself. I think the notion of trust and humanity in mountains is far more visible than anywhere else I have been. All Himalayan treks have left me with that warm cozy feeling with other humans than anywhere else.

Finally, my tryst with mist and rain continues on. Goechala, then Sapa, snowfall at Routeburn, heavy downpour at Kurinjal, this has been sort of a pattern. This time, I even experienced walking during hailstorm, a first one. While I definitely miss the views, I have grown fond of the misty nature. The Rhododendron were not blooming completely but we caught enough glimpses to visualize the rest. I can see that why this trail is so popular. The chance to see both Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga from one place will be incredible. Having missed it this time, the trail is definitely inviting me for a revisit!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Life in Oct 16 - Feb 4

If you go to the previous blog in this series, it says - a period of calmness.
Well it was calmness before the storm as the next period was a torrent of action.  One thing after another and it was all planned and executed to perfection.

Travel -
- Travel was the bulk of the activity. All started with the 16 day NZ trip . Documented here, here and here
- Immediately after NZ, after 10 days, we were off to run Kaveri Trail Marathon in Mysore.  It was a HM after a long time, took 3 hrs plus but feels good to have done it without injury. Report is documented here.
- All of the above was in Nov. For NY, it was an impromptu plan to attend Sunburn @ Pune. Amazing experience plus a road trip from BLR.
- For the anniversary weekend, Kanishka and I decided to visit Sunderbans + Kolkata together with Aman and Divya.  Kolkata was a foodie trip and Sunderbans is a hidden gem in India.  Report will be shared soon.

Life in city (when not traveling) was also full of activities. December is anyways a month of lots of interesting things.
- Ruhaniyat - This year edition had a group of 9 from our side. Here was the lineup -
Mongolian performance by Hosoo Khosbayar
Mukhtiyar Ali and group
Belgian performance by Louvat brothers.
Nandesh Umap and group from Maharashtra
Qawwali by Chisti brothers
All were good but nothing stood out like last year. But a great night with home-cooked rolls under open skies.

- Sunburn was anyways the highlight and as Kanishka says - 'once in a lifetime experience'

- Play - Ram lala ki Mata at Ranga Shankara. A play on role of Kaikeyi in Ramayana and why she did what she did. A self aware play which tries to rope in the current political topics into its narrative. But overall not very spectacular either.

- Concert : Local Train at Phoenix market city. There is only one Indian pop band which I started following closely in last year, it was Local Train and I got to know that they were coming to Bangalore. I instantly booked tickets. It was amazing performance. The best highlight was the crowd as these were the die-hard fans of this band. Each song before the artist could sing as sung by the crowd. It was a thrilling performance and it was so good to be in good company of today's youth.

While travel and concerts were happening at one end, Kanishka and I decided to leave our life of rental nomads and decided to buy a flat in Sobha Daffodils. But post the registration, the process of finding a good interior designer and ideas for interior made us go out every weekend from one group to another, and in the online world from one website to another. The process is still underway and we are hoping things to get done by April.

Movies -
First Man- 4/5 Again a process movie (no doubt it is by the same guy who wrote Spotlight - Josh singer), but very well executed. I think the major accomplishment of Damien Chazelle is that he makes Ryan Gosling watchable :) Soundtrack was amazing and it is now my ring tone too!

Watched a bunch of bad action movies - Close (2/5), The girl in Spider's web(2/5), and rom-com - Leap year (3/5), The Spy who dumped me (2/5) , The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (3/5)

Tumbad -
Watched on the way to Pune in road trip.  Very well done film. Probably the finest horror film from India.  Absolutely highly recommended.

Raazi -
Good story telling and good acting. Liked it a lot.

Mowgli - Legend of the Jungle
Adds a darkish tone to the entire Jungle book and comes out okay.

TV Series -
Finished Gilmore girls. Watched it till season 5 and skimmed through 6 or 7.  There are lot many things to like here but some things are just unwatchable.
Brooklyn Nine Nine. I am a fan boy. 5/5. Love all the aspects of the show.
Bodyguard - 3.5/5 Not as good as Line of Duty but still action and performance keeps it going.
Also finished season 1 of Mad men by forcing to watch and get it done. Not an easy series to watch.
Black Mirror - Watched 3 more episodes and each one is a good one. Will take some time to get back to it.


- Finished Sacred Games. 3.5/5 The first half is amazing with good commentary on what happens at a police station and how cops work. The making of Ganesh Gaitonde is also amazing. But the ending though it ties together things is not as thrilling as it should be.
It was a mammoth book and took 2 months to finish.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Pune + Sunburn 2018

What to do for New Year's Eve? A question that did not occur to me till last few years as the answer was always office. Last three years has been busy ensuring people have good time out there. This year, it was my turn. I had been meaning to attend good EDM concerts for a long time. My new year resolution of 2018 to attend 20 music concerts was there to address my desire to listen to more music. Co-incidentally, Sunburn happens at NYE and is the best of what EDM can offer in this country.

With just two weeks to go, flight tickets were expensive. Those within budget were at very odd times. Plus, transportation within Pune was also difficult to find - there was only one automatic car available for rent during our time. All research proved that it would be a costly exercise. As I was discussing the same with Nikesh, he gave the idea to do a road trip from Bangalore. It is only 13.5 hrs. This solved both the local transportation problem as well as the BLR - Pune problem. 13.5 hrs was long but doable in a day. So, with this the plan was set.

Day 1 -
We left Bangalore at 4 am on Sat 29th. A day before I had made plans on how to optimize the car time - Watch movies. Borrowed iPad from papa and bought an elastic wire to hang the iPad on the back of car seat. I had tried to order a fancy car accessory for this but somehow the transaction did not go through. Hence, this cheap-o-hack was done and I was very proud of it.

We had our breakfast at Chitradurga and lunch at Sankeshwar. Lunch was at Hotel Sarkaar and this was almost at the Karnataka - Maharashtra border. We had this delicious Soul Kadhi made with kokum and curd, along with some delicious simple food. 

We reached Pune at around 8:30 pm. It took us 2 hrs just to cover the last 30 kms stretch - a perfect welcome by Pune traffic.  For dinner, we decided to check out the iconic Dorabjee and sons restaurant - a classic Parsi cuisine. Since we reached quiet late, there was no vegetarian option left except for Salli which is nothing but thin sliced potato chips. Amazing that Parsis call this as a side dish. The Dhansak dal was amazing. Food again was simple but very well made.

Day 2 :
Our first stop was breakfast at the legendary Cohuman cafe. Simple omlette and bread-butter has not tasted this good ever. I had a cheese double egg omlette and those cheese chunks made it incredibly awesome. 

Next, we went to Pune University where Kanishka reminisced her college days. The campus itself is very beautiful with lot of Banyan trees. With winter break + today being Sunday, it was mostly closed. We walked around for some time.

Post campus, we decided to have lunch at FC road where we did some shopping. Our lunch was at Sukanta restaurant which was ordinary. Though the restaurant had katiputli outside their premises which was a good idea. We directly went to Sunburn from there. We were on time and hence one of the first few to enter the premises. Sunburn was at Oxford valley which is practically outside Pune. The road itself for last 4 kms is under construction.

From the above list, we listened to Madoc, Sartek for some time folllwed by Shiva Mandvi for some time. Followed by Afro Bros and Salvator Ganacci. The night liners Alan Walker was amazing. We attended Armin Van Buuren only for 30 mins and then left the venue as we had an early day the next day. I did not like Salvator Ganaaci that much but Afro Bros were good. Shiva Mandvi was ok.  The laser lights and other spectacle was our first time and we found it to be amazing. The VIP section tickets were not of that much use as we were frequently walking to checkout other artists. 

Alan Walker was really good.  We loved the music. Kanishka even danced to some of his tunes. It was irresistible to not move on his beats. We also listened to Candice Redding for few mins and found her to be good as well. The food stalls were expensive and not that tasty either. 

Day 2 : NYE day -
We started our day earlier and went to meet Shweta didi. Her place was about 45 mins away. We were there at 7:30 am and had good time meeting everyone there. Chole bhature for breakfast was also amazing.  We checked out her army salon and then went to hotel to get ready for Sunburn. For lunch, we went to this amazing place Shabree which served authentic Mahrashtrian food on the way to Sunburn.

Our non familiarity with artists made us decided to the main stage itself. Still, we would listen to main artist for 30-40 mins and then sneak out to listen to others. We started with Ellie Prohan - a London based DJ. Shaan was an Indian DJ and decent. We sneaked out to listen to Aaryan Gala and found him to be pretty good to. Gully Gang or Divine is the Indian hip hop band and it was refreshing to listen to rap lyrics in hindi. It is time that someone did that. They did it well too.  

Mercer was ok but we went for 18 East which I thought to be the best artist. He had a total trance setup in which he would blast off a suber high bass sound that would make hair stand tall on your hands. Since it was on a side stage, we were able to walk all the way to front and stand in front of speakers. Amazing experience. 

The second last act was by Krewella a duo female band and they had very good tracks. They themselves were very energetic and engaged the crowd thoroughly. DJ snake was the highlight of the evening but we found him to be ok. Little mainstream so to say. But still we stuck out for the midnight fireworks

We had to face a 2 hr jam as everyone was trying to get out at the same time from the venue. While the fireworks are definitely worth watching once, but next time, I would leave 30 mins early just to beat the traffic.

Day 4:
We left little late at 10 am. We had quick breakfast at Kattikarr which serves only Misal - a local Puneri dish. Misal was very spicy and chilly. I was trying to order a high spicy one when the server asked to switch to medium which was also very spicy for my taste buds. We stopped at Kolhapur for a Punjabi lunch and then later at Upadhyay for dinner. I was trying to finish sacred games on the way back but it is still pending.

On the forward journey, I saw Tumbadd on iPad and totally loved it. It is definitely a very unique and stylized film. Would rate it 4/5. We also saw Raazi along the journey which is also a great film. Comicstaan episodes were an easy and perfect watch along the way too.

Sunburn overall was interesting. Definitely some great music and now I know whom to follow in the EDM arena. A good short trip to end this very travel heavy year of 2018!

Friday, January 4, 2019

KTM + Mysuru 2018

Running a KTM has become almost like an annual event now. This was my fifth run. Kanishka's third run. But this time, I decided to do a Half marathon instead of 10K even though I was not prepared for it. But I still wanted to run the distance this time.  Since Kanishka and Aarti were running 10K which happens on Sunday, and I was 21K which was on Saturday, it meant that we would be in Mysuru for the weekend. Means, some sightseeing was on the table this time.

The plan -
Leave Bangalore Friday evening (5pm types) to reach Mysuru by 9 pm. Sleep early, wake up early and run the HM. Post HM, relax and do some sight seeing in the evening. Next day, do 10K and then freshen up and leave for BLR.

Day 0 -
We decided to drive on our own. We took the less crowded Kanakpura route which also had good scenic views along the way. Our stay was booked at this lovely Solitude homestay in Mysuru. The owner was living there and he was very helpful to us in guiding us to its location and also for nearby directions. In his absence, Google maps leaves you at middle of nowhere. The homestay is tucked in between some farms with a kachcha road to it and without some help, there is no way to reach there. But once reached, the food was homemade space was homely. Aarti decided to take the train and she would join us on Saturday noon.

Day 1 -
The RUN -
My run was decent. I was slow but never in pain. The KTM weather was nice as ever. I could see that I was slow but the point was to finish and that I did. It took me 3 hrs and 5 minutes. I wanted it to be under 3 hrs so was little disappointed. I would have taken 2:59 gladly :) But there was no injury and I got to finish a HM after almost 2 years, so that was a big relief. KTM trail never bores you and along the way the water stations had peanuts, oranges with salt, parleGs, bananas and potato chips. It felt like picnic. I stayed away from potato chips to finish the run.

Breakfast post run was decent but they ran out of Idlis by the time we got there. So, we took a quick stop at some Halli on the way back to our homestay.  On our way back, we crossed a lot of farms which had these nice yellow flowers. Kanishka decided to have her Virasaat - farm girl photo taken -

Day 1 : Post run
After relaxing, we went to pick up Aarti from station. Her train was later and we say the railway museum right next to the train station. The rail museum is surprisingly well maintained. It has some real old trains along with nice background information. It was clean with few visitors, quite peaceful.

After picking up Aarti, we were little hungry so we went to this old Mysuru place to have dosas - Original Vinayaka Mylari . Dosas were decent, we are spoilt by our Taaza thindi. Next, we went to this Karanji lake and took a short boat rides. There were good number of birds visible. It was almost sunset time so the air was on the pleasant side. Post the boat ride, we randomly walked into a bird sanctuary and saw these amazing peacocks. That totally made the day.

Back at the homestay, our hosts had prepared meal with a nice barbecue which I totally dug in. Kanishka and Aarti were little hesitant as they had their run next day.

Day 2
Day started with Kanishka and Aarti doing their 10K. Both of them had a strong finish. We did a lot of photo session with me pulling the medal from my day before run.

Post the run, for the first time in my KTM history, we decided to checkout the bird sanctuary right next to it. I was still little sore from my run yesterday but walked slowly. Bird sanctuary was alright. The Karanji lake boat ride was better than this boat ride although here we saw a lazy crocodile idling around. 

Post the run, we freshened up at the homestay and drove back. Aarti and Kanishka drove with me giving my usual driving commentary. But they drove very well and I was just happy with not driving.