November 22, 2007

The Deccan Safari Part 2 (Cochin to Bangalore) : Diary of a solo rider

Some prophet said, "If you are scared of the path ahead, look back at the long path behind you. Its you who have already covered it." Not very encouraging always.
Day 1 : Mettupalayam (11 th November)

Good bye Cochin :
The afternoon meal was heavy. Once in Cochin, my stomach belongs to my aunt and I don't get any say over the selection of food items or food amount. I took a macro sleep of about fifteen minutes. When I woke up, my bag was already packed and aunt was standing, sad and worried. I took some time to console her that I will drive carefully and come back again whenever I get a chance. Finally it was time to say good bye to my aunt, uncle, brothers, my dear sister and to Cochin. I kick started my 180 cc Pulsar classic.

Coming out of Tripunetra, my anunt's place, was little difficult. It was around 2:30 pm. Weather was hot and the road was busy. It took me around thirty minutes to reach the Cochin bypass which is just 6 kilometers away from Tripunetra. The bypass was wide but very busy. After around 15 minutes of drive I got the junction where I had to take a right turn on the road to Trichur. NH 47. I was foretold by Rajesh, my cousin, that till Coimbatore NH 47 is a national highway at its worst. Considering I was not at all impressed by the condition of NH 17 while coming from Bangalore, you can imagine what impression of NH 47 I created after hearing this from him. Thanks to those scary expectations, I actually found the road quite good. It was very busy though. But traffic reduced slightly as I left Cochin more and more behind.

Trichur: It was around 80 km drive from Cochin to Trichur. I was fast but careful. In Kerala, you can not relax while driving, even if the road is not busy. Any living entity can jump on the road from any side at any time. I didn't enter Trichur. Thankfully NH 47 bypassed the city by 7-8 kilometers and went ahead.

The road changed dramatically. In matter of minutes I started realizing what exactly my brother was warning me. He was talking of the condition of the highway from Trichur to Coimbatore. I realized that the best part of the day's journey was over. It was going to be a difficult and painful evening ride. I had to cover nearly 80 more kilometers on this road to reach Coimbatore and it was already 4:30 pm. Oofs!

NH 47: Let me tell you, it was wide. Much wider than NH 17. But where was the road?? It was all broken and demolished. I just prayed for my bike and continued at a steady speed in spite of all the hostility. Occasionally I was crossing places where some tar was left on the surface, but they were all riddled with pot holes like Om Puri's skin. I was getting the feeling of riding a horse rather than a bike on a highway. But time was ticking, sun was falling and distance ahead was constantly warning me. I could not afford to slow down. There were number of places where I had to take diversions from the main road and drive through some local villages to avoid the "highway!". As I approached Palakkad, things worsened. Traffic increased. Its here that I faced one of the worst traffic jams of my life. Huge number of buses and trucks standing like hills, unmoved. Only good thing about such jams is, as a bike rider you always get some gap between those big vehicles through which you can maneuver your vehicle out. But of course not with ease. After around one hour of trekking with the bike, I came out of the jam. It felt like a lifetime.

As I expected, the highway did not enter the city of Palakkad. It bypassed it by few kilometers. I took a small tea break here. My back was paining slightly. When I restarted it was 6:30 pm. Sun was almost down. I had to switch on my head lights. I don't remember how many pot holes I flew over, how many stones my tires hit.. I just remember after around an hour of drive I saw the board, "Coimbatore" pointing to left. I had a sigh of relief and happily headed towards Coimbatore as the diseased NH 47 continued straight, towards Selam.

Mettupalayam: It was already 8 pm when I entered Coimbator. I was still in dilemma whether I should take refuge here or should continue to Ooty. I took a small tea break to sort out the issues. The tea shop owner was a good old man and informed me that it can be very risky now to head for Ooty, since the road is narrow and all the trucks will come down the hill now. He said Coimbator is also not a very good place to stay. Instead, he suggested me to reach Mettupalayam, a town at the foothill of Ooty. It took me another one hour to cover the 53 kilometer distance to reach Mettupalayam, but finally it was worth the extra effort.

Mettupalayam is a small but busy town. It has a descent market which was open even at 9:30 pm when I went for dinner. Somehow, I was not feeling hungry. I took some light dosa-chicken curry and found a good hotel for the night. It was a big and luxurious hotel. I took a double bed room with TV for just 250 bucks (Very cheap, isn't it!). I made sure my bike was parked in a safe place, put the alarm for morning 5 am and.. not sure when.. felt the tiredness overwhelming me and I slept.

Day 2 : Ooty (12 th November)

Kothagiri : Early morning, at around 6 am, I quickly finished the checkout formalities and started my engine. Within few kilometers distance I found a Y junction. The left arm was going to Ooty and the right arm was going to Kothagiri. But, to my surprise, the Ooty path was blocked. Local people told me that I have to take the Kothagiri path and from Kothagiri I have to take the Ooty road. "And", they said, "this road is about 30 km longer than the direct road". "An early morning disaster", I said to myself. But it was not to be so.

Before I could get my engine properly heated, I found myself climbing the hills. The weather was cool and fresh. There were some kind of refreshing fragrance in the air. Soon the reason was clear. I found myself covered with beautiful flower trees and weeds from both sides. Lot of those flowers I have never seen before. Blue, Orange, Yellow, White.. whatever color possible. I have never seen such a colorful road side. It was as if god has carefully painted the path. I was racing through a dreamland. It was a good 20 kilometers of drive through a nature made flower garden. As I drove more and more higher, with the altitude slowly the flowers vanished. Except, some wild flowers still continued their appearance.

Kothagiri is a beautiful small town. From there I took the diversion to Ooty.

Ooty : Kothagiri to Ooty is a usual mountain road. Taking its twists and turns. The road was bright black and spot free. Traffic was less. I cruised to Ooty in about an hour and half. At 9 am I was taking my breakfast in Ooty.

I came to this city twice before. This is a very busy and overcrowded one. In the city itself, there is nothing much to see except a botanical garden, a lake and a rose garden. The rose garden is mostly dry. I am yet to hear from someone who has seen roses in Ooty rose garden. This is not one of my favorite hill stations but still I know almost every gali in the place. So, instead of wasting time here I decided to move on and took the highway to Mysore.

Few kilometers from Ooty, there is a split in the road. While the main road continues to Gudalur, the split, a shortcut, goes directly to Gundlupet. I was aware of this shortcut and continued on it. While the road via Gudalur is very popular and all the major traffic travels via this, it was not clear to me why the other road, in spite of being a good 30/40 km short, is so underrated. The reason became more and more clear to me as I continued on it.

Very soon the road presented me a series of hairpin bands. Each one is very shallow with very steep descent. It needed really careful driving. More dangerous fact was, the surrounding beauty of lofty hills was so breathtaking that it was very difficult to concentrate on the road itself. The experience was more like sliding down a wall. In spite of driving carefully and slow, I was reducing my altitude at a rapid rate. The road had enough warning boards spread around on its sides to inform the drivers about its dangerous curves. The descent was more like fast-forward rewind of my ascent. In very small time gaps, I saw the flora and fauna changing with altitude.

Mudumalai : In matter of an hour I was on the plains again. It was hot and I had to get rid of the jacket. It was time for ride through Mudumalai wild life sanctuary. On the check-post, one guard asked me if I have seen any road block due to a fallen tree. "No", I answered him. But looked like this is a frequent phenomena here and that meant the place is really "wild". The journey through the sanctuary was as beautiful as my journey through Bandipur while going to Cochin. But minus the morning weather which I got while riding through Bandipur. Nevertheless, it was joy of bike riding it its best. But the gift was, I spotted some lazy elephants taking rest beside a pond and some restless deers jumping around on the road side. I carefully drove past them without disturbing their natural habitat.

Bangalore, Oof! : Once out of jungle, I was engulfed by typical Karnataka surroundings. Soon I crossed Gundlupet, the town where I did night stay while going to Cochin. An hour more and I was in the city of Mysore. Here, I messed up with the roads and instead of taking the bypass, ended up traveling right through the city. This delayed me a bit, but glimpses of the beautiful Mysore palace as a compensation. Once out of Mysore, it was a regular drive on the highway to Bangalore. I didn't have much time on hand, so drove fast. Kamath has a good vegetarian restaurant on the way where I took my lunch. It was around 3 pm, I was terribly hungry. Took a good authentic south Indian meal at Rs 80. By then I was very tired of the single very long stretch that I covered since morning. Around 250 km. But once some food went in the stomach, I was refreshed again. My bike roared to Bangalore.

I wish I could tell you a fairy tale ending of this fantastic return trip. But I was welcomed to the city of gardens with traffic jams, crowd, smoke and noise everywhere. I felt suffocating. We IT engineers have chocked the city. With a lot of pain I reached my office at around 4 pm. Yes, it was monday, a working day, and I had to work the remaining day in office. Soon I was dealing with all software rotten eggs... past was past.

Learnings of the day :
  1. From Mettupalayam, never take the direct road to Ooty but take the road through Kothagiri. The extra kilometers will be more than compensated by the beauty of the road.
  2. From Ooty to Gundlupet, try the shortcut. Its a different experience.

November 15, 2007

The Deccan Safari (Bangalore to Cochin) : Diary of a solo rider

Abhilash said, "I don't believe you are going to do it". Even I could not believe I am going to do it. But I knew I am going to do it.

Day 1 : GUNDLUPET (7th Nov)

The Beginning :
It was early morning. I arranged all my stuffs in a big hand bag. The hand bag, because of its wide shape, fits properly on the back seat of the bike. This is the one I used on my Leh trip also, without any trouble. I was selective in choosing things to carry. You can't afford a heavy luggage on such a trip. But important things I took were a bike tool kit and an extra clutch cable. Another very important component of the package was a huge south India map.

The plan was to start around 2 pm, from office. It got delayed slightly as I had some work in office. Also I was revising my tour plan using Google Earth. By 2:30 pm I was on road. I didn't tie the bag to the bike. Instead, just rested it on the back seat and passed the belt through my chest for some support. Not a very good idea for a long trip, but I just wanted to manage the first day.

From my office on Airport Road, it took me one hour to hit Mysore Road. It was 3:30 pm, just the beginning of the journey and I was already tired of maneuvering through the Bangalore traffic. But that went away quickly as I came out of Bangalore.

Mysore Road (SH 17) : Its a beautiful road. Wide and flat. Gifted with beautiful village setups on both sides. Before I could realize, my pulsar reached the speed of 80 kmh. I continued at that speed. As I swiped my bike through the villages, smooth and fast, as I left the snail pace vehicles behind, as I opened myself to the hard blowing wind, I started feeling a kind of freshness in me. But said that, I was concentrating hard on the road. One can not afford out of control driving on such a long trip, specially when he is alone. Around 5 pm I crossed the "Sugar City Mandya". Soon after, I was in Srirangapattanam, a city with lot of historical importance. I was feeling tempted to visit the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary here, but time was less and I had to reach Gundlupet, a town I had no idea about.

Mysore : Around 5:45 pm I reached Mysore. I had no intention of entering Mysore, so took the bypass. I took a small break there. When I started my bike again I found the speedometer is not working. I knew the problem, the cable must have got cut. I drove to a local repair shop where a kid, named Mehaboob, was working. But he didn't have the wire to replace the broken one. So he came with me and we searched a number of shops in Mysore before we finally got the wire. I thanked the boy from my heart. I was very impressed with his help. At around 7 pm I started from Mysore.

Gundlupet : I inquired about the road before starting and received couple of local advices that its better to reach Gundlupte as early as possible. That meant, I had to drive steady and cover the 58 kms distance within an hour. I was not happy to know that. It was already dark and the road was spotted with pot holes. NH 212. This is the road that I would be driving on until next day afternoon. Although I was hitting the pot holes more frequently than not, I tried to maintain a speed of 70 kmh. Head lights of the vehicles coming from other side were mercilessly challenging my visibility. The drive was bit risky, but I had to do it to reach Gundlupet in time. After about an hour of drive from Mysore, I was pleased to see the milestone, "Gundlupet 1 km".

I thought Gundluplet will be some small village. But it came out to be a small town with all basic facilities present. Before actually hitting the town, I saw couple of hotels and motels on both sides of the road. I found a Karnataka Government approved "Ganga Yatri Nivas" and slipped myself into one of its double bedrooms (With TV, wow!) at mere 200 rupees a night. The room was big and clean. I started the TV, increased the volume and dropped myself on the bed. After some time I went to a local restaurant and enjoyed a nice non-veg meal. The chicken tikka was sooo good. After the dinner, the first thing I did was to call home and tell everyone that I am alive and safe. Not sure when I closed my eyes and delved into deep sleep. But before that I made sure that I have put the alarm for 5, morning.

Learnings of the Day :
  1. Sate Highways are better than National Highways.
  2. Gundlupet is a town.
Day 2 : KERALA (8th Nov)

Bandipur : Around 5 am, I woke-up by the mobile alarm. Quickly packed all scattered things and got ready for a very long day. First I tied the bag firmly on the back seat. The watchman of the Yatri Nivas helped me. In return, I had to help him with some money. Around 6:30 am, and it was time to say bye to Gundlupet.

Around a kilometer from the Yatri Nivas, just after the Gundlupet check-post, I found a road branching to the right. This was my path, NH 212. The other branch continues to Ooty. It was a foggy morning. With only a tee and a jacket on, I started feeling cold. Around ten minutes later I entered the Bandipur national park. The road through the park was narrow and pitch black. With no pot-holes anywhere and sparse traffic, it was a perfect condition for a cruise. Both sides of the road were covered with dense forest. In that morning light, with fogs everywhere, the forest looked haunted. I was eager to meet some wild animals on the way, as promised by some of the road side hoardings, but had no luck. The ride through the jungle was a very memorable experience.

Wayanad : Just after Bandipur, the road entered Kerala. The change of landscape from Karnataka to Kerala was very dramatic. In matter of minutes, serene villages gave way for bustling, populated small size towns separated by occasional jungles. Faced some traffic jams at the check-posts because of huge number of trucks entering Kerala. At around 8 am I crossed Sultan Batheri. A small regular Wayanad town which looked to be densely populated. The road started taking twists a and turns. Occasional patches of tea gardens started showing their faces on the road side. No matter where you see them, tea gardens always make a beautiful view.

My stomach started crying for breakfast, so I stopped in front of one pure mallu hotel and had some nice dosa and mutta (Egg) curry. I love the Kerala style mutta curry. It is rich in onions and their traditional spices which give it a very distinct flavor.

I cruised through the beautiful city of Kalpetta. There were lot of waterfalls and temples in this area, with just few kilometers aberrations from the main road. But I had some other plans.

Pookot Lake : Just after crossing Vythiri resort (I think this is the most popular resort in Wayanad, I came here once from college) I saw the sign board telling, "Pookot Lake, 500 mts". It was indicating to a narrow road going to the right. Visiting Pookot lake was part of my plan from the beginning. This is not only a beautiful lake, this has lot of my college time memories associated.

Entrance to the lake is through a park where you need to pay for buying a ticket. They maintain the lake and also provide boating facility for the visitors. I parked my bike outside the park, along with the bag. In Kerala, and only in Kerala, you can leave your luggage like this.

Its a medium sized lake. What I find so distinct in this lake is the wild surrounding. Standing on the bank, I felt as if I am deep inside a dense jungle. I decided to take a walk around the lake following the narrow path surrounding it. It was 9 am and the lake was empty. I used this opportunity to practice some photography. There were lots of wild flowers both in the jungle and on the water. I tried some macro photography on them. The defused light of the foggy morning was of great help. I also shot the water from various angles. After spending around one hour on the lake side, I came out and started the next part of my journey. I had to reach Calicut before 12 noon.

Calicut : The descent from Wayanad hills was steep and fast. This was very much in contrast with the ascent, which I almost could not feel until I saw the tea gardens. In quick successions I crossed innumerable hairpin bands and spectacular view points. Couple of minutes later I was on the plains, leaving the Wayanad hills behind, like one big wall. Soon I crossed the Kunnamangalam junction. My college (NIT Calicut) is just fifteen minutes bus journey from here. I had a cup of tea here in a shop which I visited number of times while in college. I wanted to visit my college once, but time didn't permit me. I also spent few minutes in Calicut Medical College junction. In those college days, we used to come here after playing inter college cricket matches and used to discuss about the day's match, for hours.

When I reached Calicut, it was time for lunch. I decided to go to Paragon, a restaurant I used to frequent. To my disappointment I found the food quality has degraded considerably. The hotel management also appeared to have changed. Nevertheless, I took a heavy lunch since I knew the next stretch is going to be the longest so far.

NH 17 : I had to finish Calicut to Cochin ride in a single stretch. Its a good 200 kms distance. With an average speed of 50 kms, I could reach Cochin by 5 pm. But average speed of 50 kms looked to be a tough task on Kerala roads.

Through the bypass I took NH 17. NH 17 runs right through the heart of Kerala, till Cochin, and represents a typical Kerala road. It was mostly free of pot holes but quite narrow and continuously busy. Yes it was "continuously" busy. For my BTech, I have spent four years of my life in Kerala, but never realized this. NH 17 is accompanied with innumerable number of small towns. One town ends and another starts, making it very difficult to find even a hundred meter distance free of population. The only good aspects were the presence of the greenery, no matter where I was, and the frequently appearing bridges over the small rivers, which were coming as beautiful respites from the crowded towns.

Guruvayur : Soon the weather became hot and the ride became monotonous. This was the first time I felt, "When will the road end?". Road quality degraded dramatically as I approached Ponnani. Near Ponnani the national highway took the shape of a "national gali". To save some kilometers, I avoided Trishur and decided to take the Guruvayur path. This came out to be a very wise decision since I not only saved some distance but was lucky to get glimpses of a ongoing Guruvayur festival. Around six or seven highly ornamented elephants were marching together following a group of priests. Some local band was playing traditional spiritual music. I stopped my bike and took some photos of the elephants. I have never seen so many elephants together before. As I crossed the crowd, I found some more similar possessions moving towards the temple.

Cochin : Around 4:30 pm, when the air started becoming slightly cool, I reached a place called Paravur. From here a road goes to the left, directly to Aluva. Cochin was on the straight route. I stopped there and had puri sabji in one restaurant. Cochin was around half an hour drive from there, but I had to take the bypass and go to Tripunetra. Tripunetra, just 5-6 kms from Cochin, is the place where my aunt stays and that was my destination. The main road was blocked due to some repair work and I had to take some other route which was a very confusing one. After a seemingly non ending loop of "Take left then right and then ask", finally I reached my aunt's home at around 6 pm.

It was home. Finally!

I was received by my aunt, cousin brothers and sister among huge cheers. Knowing how tired I was, uncle did not complain on why I did not inform them earlier that I was coming on bike. Although he mentioned how worried they were about me, whole day, after knowing this from my parents. It was love all around. An eventful day ended with a beautiful dinner from my aunty, followed by a sound sleep.

Learnings of the day :
  1. Entire Kerala is a single BIG town.
[ For all the photos of the trip please visit my flickr place]

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October 25, 2007

Bangalore Smokers : Paradise Lost

Bangalore, Bengalooru, City of gardens, City of retired men, City of lakes, Air Condition city, Silicon Valley of India, Pensioners' Paradise,.. now add this "Somoker's Paradise". Public smoking is the biggest fashion here.

Over last few years smoke has become an integral part of a Bangalorian's daily life. I am not talking of those tons of smoke emitted by millions of vehicles (Specially the autos and the modified RX 100s) on jammed Bangalore roads. I am not talking about the smoke emitted by the manufacturing industries in Peenya. I am talking about the smoke that comes out from the burning stick held between two fingers of an out of the world individual.

Everyone in Bangalore is a smoker. Everyone. If you say you don't smoke, you just say you are not a source of it. Nevertheless, you consume equal or more amount of smoke, daily, when compared to a smoker. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you can not escape smokers. Every public place is full of them. The roadside Darshini restaurant, the apparently good looking community park, the tea shop on the corner, the lanes, the crosses (And if you have the appropriate room-mate, even home) .. every where they are present like fungus. Everywhere you consume their sins, you just can't escape it. End result, your body doesn't know that the smoke is coming from your cigarette or some one else's. You die with them. So that qualifies we all Bangalorians to be the same - smokers.

A non-Banglorian, or even a foreigner, can feel this particular cultural revolution i n the city, the moment he steps out of Bangalore airport arrival gate. Yes, believe me. Not road side shops, not Cobbon Park, not even toilets .. Bangalore airport is "The best place" for the smokers.

As a passenger when you come out of the Bangalore airport, you will be immediately greeted with the pungent smell. Ten people from ten different directions will throw smoke on your face. You will feel the arrival door is not a very comfortable place and will look for fresh air and tea. Fighting with the crowd you will reach the place under a big tree (There, this is the only place to spend some time.) This tree is the only shade provided by the government in the airport. On the front side, under the tree, you will find four shops. A coffee day outlet, a juice center, a snacks outlet, a stationary shop. But to your surprise, most of the crowd will be gathered on the backyard of the tree. There will be a tiny tea shop out there. But the crowd will not be for tea. The shop's cigarette stock needs to be refilled every half an hour. In that place if you look around you will find that you are surrounded by (1) couple of beggars (This part of the world hosts best quality beggars. E.g. women carrying dead babies, small girls showing basket containing snake to everyone) (2) couple of eunuchs (3) hundreds of smokers. All packaged under the tree.

If you stay there for more than ten minutes, the same eunuch will exasperate you three times and the same snake girl will frighten you four times. But what you really can not escape from, is the smoke. Airline worker smokers, HAL employee smokers, shopkeeper smokers, air-hostess smokers, foreigner smokers, college student smokers, police smoker ... if you don't smoke, the only way you can contribute to the wonderful ecosystem is by coughing hard. And Don't worry, no one will say sorry to you. No one will throw their smoke in a different direction. After all, this place belongs to them. The city belongs to them. You will be an odd intruder in the smokers' paradise.


1) In Kerala I found strict implementation of the law banning smoking in public places. There is no doubt all the states in India, at least the cities, should learn from them.

2) If any smoker feels hurt, insulted or humiliated after reading this article, please write to me. I will send you a 'thank you' in reply, and don't expect a 'sorry'!


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October 16, 2007

My Story : A Cubicle

You can call me whatever you want. You can call me "little cube" with love, you can call me "jail" with hate. Or you can call me "The F***ing Hell" with disgust. I don't mind. All these are chords of euphony to me. I am the silent spectator of quite flowing lives in your firm. The world renowned private firm, Intel. Your office.

I see you everyday. I see you in different times in different moods. In different uniform, with different friends. Leaving the insignificant few hours you spend in home everyday, I am always watching you. I have seen you to deceive your boss while engaged in those computer games, without a tint of shame. And last Friday night, when you told your wife you will be late because of work while fixing some other appointment on the chat window.. I closed my eyes. You spilled coffee on your keyboard and told the maintenance person that you don't know why your keyboard stopped working. You whispered on your office phone making all personal STD calls without feeling guilty. I know all your sins. I am your cubicle.. you are bound by me.

Don't worry my friend. I was a part of your sufferings too. Do you remember the last year appraisal day? You came back after the meeting with your boss. Oh boy! You should have seen yourself. You looked like a figure of dejection. A crestfallen hero. I wished I could shade some tears for you. I wished I could pat on your shoulder to tell you how many such stories I have seen here. Stories like yours. How many hard working talented people got dumped because of reasons far beyond my comprehension. I wished I could exaggerate their later success stories to you. After all, I was the only witness to your over night fire fighting for the next day release. I saw your blood red eyes starring at the computer, when your hands were shaking on the keyboard. I witnessed those thundering discussions with your team where you were trying to make your point. I saw a drop of sweat coming from your nose tip, when every one shook their head in disagreement.

Last Monday your boss came to your seat and yelled at you like a street dog. I was then recalling a morning, few years back, when he was standing like you and listening to his boss in the same place. Time changes, people changes. But the cubicle stories don't. They are flow of life.

Today I heard Mr. O'Brien laughing on my wall colors. "I love what you guys have done with the color here. I think the gray
looks very nice with the gray and works very well with the grayish
Yes, your company led the cubicle revolution in the 70's. Yes, I was the role model of many companies' offices for decades. But no more. Slowly but definitely, the world has changed. Today Mr. O'Brien told me "This is good. There's no individuality. There's no hope."

My days will be over soon. Its the age of advance communication and not of incubation. Its the time when people work from home. They work while traveling on train, while trekking on the hills, while having dinner with family, while playing with kids, while listening to music. They come to office late and go home early. Home is their office and office is their home. No office needs these wooden structures scattered on the floor any more. But.. before I go obsolete, before my name gets removed from all the dictionaries of the world.. I would like to ask you.. "Is this the life you want to live? Do you call this life?"

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August 24, 2007

Back Home

In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi went on a promenade from Ahmedabad to Dandi for making salt. Thousands of people followed him. Couple of thousands more, both in India and abroad, supported him. It became a history.

In 2005, 75 years later, another Dandi march happened for commemoration of that event. Compared to the do-or-die momentum of the original one, this march was rather joyous, relaxed and more a tourist attraction than some serious event. I heard even cycles were allowed in that march. That also created news.

Yesterday, there was another march which went largely unnoticed, unsung. No followers, no news coverage, no revolution. No photographer took my photo. It did not create history when I walked couple of kilometers in the rain, from office to home. But still it was a journey to cherish.

At the end of a tiring day when I came out of the office, it was pouring heavily. I had to walk home as I didn't have my bike. I was waiting along with ten others on the corridor. It was then when my random thoughts went to Gandhi and, for a moment, I became unnecessarily brave. "Do or Die", I murmured and plunged myself into the rain. The moment I stepped outside the building, ten million rain drops hit me like bullets. It was as if thousands of bees biting me together. Moments later I realized that the right slogan to remember there should have been not "Do or Die", but "Get wet.. or Wait!". With the later option being convincingly better. Unfortunately, by the time I realized the mistake, even my inner most cloths were drenched. I had nothing to lose. Rather, nothing more to get wet. Also, to make my stupidity look like an act of bravery, I started walking towards my home. Nature replied with even harder rain.

I could hardly make out anything ten to fifteen feet away. Vision was badly blurred by running rain drops. When I reached the Airport Road, to my surprise, I found the traffic to be less. It never happens on this road, even if there is fire, forget rain. I suspected something unusual. The tea shop in the corner was still open. The small shed in front of the shop was packed with half drenched bikers, whose bikes were taking bath on the road. I imagined taking a cup of tea in the rain and could not resist the temptation. After all, tea is my favorite drink and my only addiction. The hot liquid passed through my throat. The beautiful flavor and the sweetness energized all my senses, which was enough for rest of the path.

When I was crossing the Koschi's Place, an accident happened. One man was coming on a scooter. He was singing some Kanada song very loudly, probably because of the cold. There was a car going slowly, whose one side back light was broken. The man thought it was a two wheeler and wanted to overtake it. Suddenly a thundering sound and he found himself flying over the car. No injuries happened but the man was so shocked that not only he could not continue rest of the song but next ten minutes he just sat on the pavement trying to realize why the lightening has hit only him.

Near the Kemp Fort, I saw the man, dressed like Micky Mouse, standing on one corner of its huge gate. In a dry day, he hugs every customer and their kids who come in. But at this time, he was standing silently in a corner, avoiding any touch from the totally wet customers and any eye contact with their wicked kids.

As I reached the Wind Tunnel Road junction, I found all the vehicles who were missing on the surprisingly empty Airport Road. There was a non-ending queue of all kinds of vehicles in the junction. Two wheeler drivers were shivering on their vehicles like the crows I have seen doing on the electric cables. I imagined myself on my bike being drenched like this and felt better. At least I am moving and not stuck. Although, the four wheeler drivers were having gala time with loud music inside their cars.

A traffic police was standing in the junction wearing a rain-coat. This is the man who caught me unlicensed on my bike last month. Since then whenever I crossed the road I prevented myself from doing two things. Looking at his eyes and applying break. But today it was different, no bike no worry. I looked at him directly and smiled. The intimidating policeman gave back a gentleman's smile. I continued walking faster.

On the JB Nagar Road I entered a shed for few minutes to attend a phone call. By that time the rain got milder. Fading Sun was showing its face through the retreating clouds. Bangalore was back in its characteristic charm of shadowy evening.

I crossed the JB Nagar traffic police station unafraid and head up. This is a rare situation to cherish for two wheeler drivers. All bikers pass through this place like trace passers, watching every movement of the uniformed people very carefully. Any white dress taking a step towards the bike results in high acceleration. But today, that was not the case with me. I enjoyed every bit of it as I felt like the king of the road.

When the journey ended, sun was already bellow the horizon. It was quite dark and I was tired. A beautiful feeling of inexplainable achievement was surrounding my mind. I dragged a chair to the balcony to relax. Breathing the smell of the moist soil, I indulged myself into another cup of hot tea. It was a time to say - "Wow!".

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August 20, 2007

Weekend Blues

Let me give you one interesting conclusion I arrived at recently. Don't keep any work for the weekend. They are made for enjoyment and god(let me believe) will make sure, some way or not, that enjoyment is the only thing you do in the weekends. Any other efforts will be eventually proved futile or unnecessary.

Why? On Monday morning, it took me less than two hours to do the things I wanted to do in two days of the weekend. Which also effectively spoiled my weekend.

On Monday morning, my bike got repaired in less than an hour which included changing rear and front tires and also replacing the bike battery. I could not do this in two days of the weekend. On Saturday, I went to UTI bank, IT office and couple of times to the police station to get a proof of my PAN number. All because the website was perennially disappointing me. Monday morning the website flashed my PAN number on the screen in a single try giving me the proof I needed. How funny!!

So, ladies and ladas, weekends are for fun. Don't keep any work, even personal, for the weekend.

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July 15, 2007

Blasphemy in Sravanabelagola - A Weekend Trip

"Karrrr". Pause for a second. Again.. "Karrrr".

6'O clock in the morning. I jumped off the bed. Slapping the alarm clock to sleep, taking a quick mouth wash, finishing morning duties faster than usual, dumping few necessary things and the camera into my back-pack, in fifteen minutes I was standing tall.. ready for a long adventurous day. Trip to Sravanabelagola.

Meghana once told me it's a very nice place to visit. But then she is a jain and this place is mecca for them. Moreover, she is a girl. You can never really trust the judgment of the human sub-class which makes Ekta Kapoor soap operas so famous. So, to have a hands-on, I started.

I always thought that a talkative guy with tremendous sense of humor makes a very avoidable combination. Vijay is an exception. He is a kind of person you don't want to be with if you don't want to enjoy. That makes him an uncompromisable company for a weekend trip and I was lucky.

Sharp 7:30 am I picked him up on my back seat from Vijay Nagar. Yes, by coincidence, Vijay stays in Vijay Nagar. My 180cc Pulser engine roared to north-Bangalore through the empty West of Chord Road, breaking the early Sunday morning silence and laziness.

Our destination was 120 Km towards west of Bangalore. It's around 93 Km from Mysore.

When we were crossing Yashwanthpur, the rising sun has already increased the traffic on the road. Maneuvering the buses, trucks and potholes, we reached Nilamangala little late. It was already 9am. We had our breakfast there. Some different kind of idllys were available. Large and flat. Vijay is from a village of western Karnataka. He explained me that these idllys are available in rural Karnataka and not readily available in Bangalore.

We started from Nelamangala towards the west, at about 9. Beautiful roads, occasional breaks under trees, pulsating speed of the bike averaging nearly 80 km/hr, remotely visible Nandi Hill in the backdrop - made the ride thrilling. We took some photos with Nandi Hill watching us from remote.

We took a fifteen minutes halt in Kunigal. We got ourself energized with some food and fruit juice and started again. Every village I crossed, a new face of Karnataka unfolded in front of me. Breathtakingly serene, amazingly inviting.

Rural Karnataka.. I could not remember if I have imagined many times, even in my conscious mind, Karnataka to be different than Bangalore. Its unfortunate that metropolitans, like me, often suffer from this delusion. People tend to think Tamilnadu is all about Chennai, Bengal is all about Kolkata and Karnataka is all about Bangalore.

After about 2 more hours of drive I saw the hill. Taking my eyes off the road, I could actually see two hills standing like two huge brothers on both sides of the road. I was not aware of the second one's existence. I tried to take a remote glimpse of the life size statue on top. But he was hiding behind the temple. So we made our way through the small town of Sravanabelagola to reach the bottom of the mighty hill.

As I said earlier, this is a noted place of pilgrimage for the jains. I parked the bike in a safe place (I could not find a bike stand there) and we moved towards the entrance to the temple hill. Most of the crowd surrounding us were marwari business families which included children, young people and very old ones. They all were speaking hindi. While the old men and women were very traditionally dressed, the young marwari part was wrapped up with very stylish apparels.

I delightfully noted that although this is a place of pilgrimage, most of the female visitors are very attractive. "Beautiful ladies". When I emphatically mentioned my discovery to Vijay, he gave me a look which said he had being noticing them since we entered the town.

The hill had to be climbed barefooted. The hill rock was finely chiseled to create a series of stairs which extended from bottom to the temple on top of the hill. "Must have been a great deal of work", I said to myself, hardly aware of how much bigger a wonder is waiting for me on top. There was very well managed arrangement of keeping shoes at the cost of mare 10 bucks. Delivering my shoes on the safe hands of a lady, who must be doing quite descent earning through her job, I felt the cold rocky surface bellow my barefoot.

On the foot of the hill, some visibly poor people were busy doing a rather interesting job. They were carrying old marwari men and women to the temple. Its a quite difficult job. The steps are small and slippery. Four people were carrying one person on a "Char Payiaa" and a small miss-coordination could have resulted in a fatal accident. But they were doing it proficiently. Taking advantage of the abundance of business class they were earning a handful. Rupees 100/- per trip. I am not a believer, not even close to it. But when I saw, on the name of god, on the name of pilgrimage, certain amount of worldly wealth shifting from the hands of the riches to the hands of the needy, I congratulated the lord and the temple authority.

Vijay took my camera as he wanted to practice photography. Knowing him, I had no doubt regarding what objects he is going to shoot. Zooming the camera on a marwari beauty who was sitting at some distance, he declared, "Bird watching". "Really it is", I thought, "And if her husband or brother finds you then it will become chicken run".

Before starting to climb, I looked up and said "This is what is called an uphill task". Vijay didn't respond as his camera was focusing on a young lady wearing skirt. The steps were tiny so we had to be careful. I was constantly watching Vijay, as he was constantly watching something else.

The stairs were quite steep and slippery. I overheard someone talking that there were 500 stairs to the temple. I started counting. I remember I could count till 100 before I got tired and stopped for taking rest under a shade. These shades on the way to the temple were like oasis in a desert. Apart from giving shadow to exhausted people, they were places of people interaction as well. Some exhausted old uncle took heavy breath and greeted another uncle, who was equally tired, "Namashkar, kahan se? Bangalore?". Other uncle answered, "Han bhaiya. Aur business kaysa chal raha hai? Poti ki sadhi ho gayee? .." And then, as if they knew each other from the time of Gomateswara, the discussion would continue till the temple, back home and probably even after.

When we reached the top, I was exhausted but Vijay was continuing with the camera. The size and shape of the temple became clear only after reaching the top. There were large number of ancient inscriptions on the rocks lying here and there. Couple of small size ancient temples were present before the entrance to the main temple. All the walls of those temples were covered with inscriptions. Each and every inscription was protected by a glass covering along with a pamphlet which gave historical details of them. Here I could not but praise the temple administration for their wonderful job.

Somehow Vijay found these inscriptions more interesting than his previous subjects. While he was taking photos of them, I took some rest in front of the main gate while having a chat with an old marwari man who came here for pilgrimage right from Rajasthan and used one of those char-payiias to climb the hill. I asked him how he felt the ride. He said it was too comfortable and actually he fell asleep.

When Vijay came back I had to show enough patience to go through all the photos he has taken of those inscriptions.

We entered the temple.

Even from the stairs of the main gate I had no clue of the sculpture inside. It's only when we entered in, the canvas was uncovered. Imagine yourself on one corner of the open terrace of a twenty storey building, eyes shut. Then suddenly you open your eyes and look down. The shock was similar. I knew it is huge. But expecting and observing are different things. I saw the 50 feet high statue, build by curving a single stone piece, standing majestically from the floor of the temple. I was standing in front of the world's tallest monolithic statue, built in AD 981. For several minutes my eyes were fixed on the statue and mouth was open. I looked at Vijay, only to find him in the same fixture.

The huge statue was stark naked. But it had a kind of inexplainable divine aura which overwhelmed even an atheist like me, well.. at least for some time. At that point I was not aware of the history of the god. Its only later that I came to know why he is worshiped in that manner. But let me not bring that story here.

The crowd devotees was very quiet. Everyone was silently moving in a line which started from one part of the get, passed through the passage right in front of the feet of the god and came back to other part of the main gate. I didn't have any intention of giving puja or any ritualistic offering, but I obediently followed the line just to get close to the statue and get a feel of its enormity. And when I reached the bottom of the statue and looked up, it was a feeling I will never forget. At that point an announcement was going on that some one's purse got stolen. Temple or graveyard - this is one thing that will never change - peoples nature.

After filling our hearts, eyes and the camera again and again with images of the man made wonder we came out of the temple. It was then when I noticed the beautiful view of the neighborhood visible from the gate of the temple. Down, I could see a beautiful pond surrounded by a gallery. Looked like an ancient bathing place of the kings. The word Sravanabelagola means "Monk of the white pond". I amused if this is the pond the name refers to. Right opposite to us, on the same height, we could see the peak of the other hill, chandragiri (The name of the hill on which we were present was Vindyagiri). Vijay again got busy with his camera and the surroundings.

The descent was faster than I thought. When we were coming down taking each stair step carefully, some local boys were doing the same thing just by sliding on the smooth rock. The prominent marks of their sliding, on the rock, confirmed that they did it day-in day-out.

Back to the surface, we were terribly hungry. At such hunger level, I almost start seeing chickens and muttons hanging on the tandoor. But when Vijay asked for a non-veg restaurant to a local shop keeper, his look was enough for us to give up hope. He said we will get good vegetarian "thali"s in the local Jain Bhojanalayas. Those bhojanalayas were actually private homes, they prepared and served food there. We got recharged in one such place with good homely food which was also light on pocket.

Fresh, and once confirmed that my bike is still present in the place I parked it, we started thinking of another hike. This time on Chandragiri. We went up the hill. This was little more rough and steep than the other one. We saw a fort, a cave of a monk, and the place where the great king Chandragupta died giving the name to the hill. About an hour later, we were on the roadside taking some snacks from a local shop. There I saw a very old man giving very heavy religious fundas to a foreigner who was absentmindedly tolerating him with a pair of samosas.

It was a time to say good bye to the place. A short but very memorable visit. As I drove us out of Sravanabelagola, eventually both the hills vanished in my looking glasses. Destination Bangalore. The return journey was strenuous as it was already dark and we had a bike puncture in between. Finally we reached Bangalore, safe and healthy, with the memories of the day covering our minds.