Around Delhi in 80 Steps

A short video showing popular tourist attractions in New Delhi.

Steel Sprouts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0LsFMx7sz4

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One night @ the Shankumugham Beach – Part 2

Disclaimer: The events narrated below might be excruciatingly boring for all those who were not part of it. Don’t blame the writers.

It was at 11:30 pm when I and Aniruddh decided to go to the airport for another passport related visit. When we returned, there were half a dozen policemen surrounding our group. What could have possibly gone wrong in less than an hour, we thought.    

Anjori speaks:

The waves were calling us again and we couldn’t resist the temptation of submerging our feet in the cold water. Yet again, the rest of us decided to go down for another dip in the water. Now at this point, the coast guards had warned and shooed us out of the water THRICE, so what happened next wasn’t exactly surprising. We were all ankle deep in the water when we heard whistles behind us. We turned around, ready to talk back to the coast guards, but instead, we were faced by three policemen. Gulp! All of us instantly got out of the water in a fast forward mode. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was sure we were going to be arrested! Believe it or not, this still wasn’t the worst part of the night. It was 12:20 am by then. We were talking to the police, making up a story about how we were at the beach for a ‘very important’ documentary, when Ani and Ankit finally showed up. Luckily the policemen decided to let us go with what they called a ‘friendly warning’ (it sounded so much more like a threat). 

I and Aniruddh came back from the airport to realize that we were supposedly members of this professional video making company. “We are making a documentary…….. really? Without a camera?” Whose idea was it? The police made us believe that the area was not a ‘safe’ one and we should look for a place to spend the night. We were now concerned about Saloni, Shivani and Anjori.

Gautam, Mithil and their drunken friend (how drunk you ask? Enough to carry his slippers inside his pocket instead of his feet) joined us at the beach. At least now ours was not a lonesome group. And then began the search for a lodge for us to stay in till dawn. I called up Devesh who had stayed in Trivandrum for 4 years. He suggested we move towards the railway station area as there were many hotels and lodges there. But again, transportation was an issue. Aniruddh, Aman, Rishabh and Tanmay went looking for a cab; I and Pulkit went on foot towards this nearby lodge to ask for accommodation. Others stayed behind at the beach itself. Although, I didn’t like the idea of the group being divided into 3, but what choice did we have.

Pulkit and I were strolling on the road beside the sea coast when we had the talk. Pulkit was giving me all the fundae and I was trying to picturize the events of the coming day. We got a call from Aniruddh that he had hired an auto-rickshaw which would take us to the closest lodge.  The auto was supposed to pick Pulkit and me en route the lodge but we preferred walking the entire course (what were we thinking?). At the lodge, no one was answering the door bell and neither picking up the phone.

It was then that Gautam decided to make the call. A call which I might not have had the guts to make! He called up his grandparents (who lived in Trivandrum itself) at 2 in the morning and told them he was coming home with 12 of his friends who all needed a place to stay at night. I wonder what the first reaction of his grandparents was. Nevertheless, we all got inside the auto-rickshaw (13 people + the driver) and headed towards Gautam’s grandparent’s house. On reaching the place everyone switched on their ‘remorse face’ mode – head facing the floor, eye brows raised, slow walking. It was really difficult to maintain eye contact with them. The girls would be staying on the ground floor while the rest had to take up the entire first floor. Although there was room only for 4 people to sleep on the bed but we were more than happy to get a roof above us for the night.

Aniruddh had a flight to catch at 6 in the morning so he went back to the hostel only to realize that the guard won’t even let him through the main gate. Strict instructions from the warden! Aniruddh called up Flavian (who has the only one having a sound sleep in the hostel) and asked him to pack up his stuff and get his suitcase to the main gate. Somehow, Aniruddh managed to get back to the airport (with his luggage) and catch his flight on time.

Back at Gautam’s grandparent’s house, we woke up in the morning and were served with tea. Respect to the generosity! We now needed to get back to the hostel and prepare for the coming days exhibition. One by one, in a low tone, we humbly thanked the grandparents. All day long we couldn’t stop talking about what had happened the previous night. I am glad that the events took place in the manner that they did because it lead to creation of memories that we would savour for a long time. 6 days ago, we were all strangers; and now we had moments that would remain deep inside our memory cells for eternity.

One night @ the Shankumugham Beach – Part 1

Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are real. Resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is totally intentional.

At 8:30 pm, after coming out of Khana Khazana Pulkit suggested that we all go to some beach to hangout. With Anjori backing the absurd idea and Aniruddh’s necessity to go to the airport to collect his Passport, most of us who were indifferent about the idea, headed towards Shankumugham Beach. On reaching the place, a naked lady statue was what grabbed the eyeballs of each person in the group. This had to be a happening place!

The whole area was lit up like a cricket stadium and it seemed that the beach was awaiting our arrival. I, Pulkit, Anjori and Saloni were the first to reach the sea coast and we immediately took to sauntering on the sand. The never ending battle of sea waves hitting each other under the artificial flood lights set the perfect background for the evening. Shivani and Hasan soon joined us. As Shivani approached us, Pulkit pointed towards her feet and shouted out “CRAB CRAB!” – a classic prank which always works! Shivani freaked out big time and threw off everything she was holding. All four of us burst out laughing. The laugh was so loud that people standing in the distance gave us a ‘spoilt-brats’ look.

The beach was full of real crabs and we had to tip toe towards the water to avoid stepping on the sea creature. Anjori, the first to take on the gushing salty water, took the lead and all of us followed her into the shallow end of the sea. The entire group (except for Aniruddh) had joined us by then. Although all of us had been to Kovallam Beach a week back, but since we had nothing to ‘observe’ today, this was different. Apparently, it is not allowed to step into sea water after dark and coast guards at the beach paid special attention to our large (read loud) group.  We thus moved further down the beach.

A large parapet of rocks stood ground. One by one, we all climbed the wall and posed in the most insane manners – Rock On style, Fellow of the Ring style, SRK style and finally the jump shot. This drill and the bulky stomach after the awesome dinner at the restaurant made most of us sit down on the steps near the beach. “Lets play dumb sharades”, I shouted in excitement which was reflected on everyone else in the group. We divided ourselves into groups of 5 and later realized that this random division was so biased that even the word ‘biased’ would have felt bad. And then began the streak of endless laughs. Vatan Saathiya (Aman, really?) | Don Muthuswami | Aniruddh trying to make us guess a temple in South India (Annapurna Temple) which is actually in Varansi | Birju Maharaj became Bicchu Maharaj (this was Rishabh) |’Bunny’ to ‘Bugs Bunny’ took all night (Aniruddh – you could have thought of way better things to make them guess ‘toon’). Laughter is said to be the best medicine and after seeing the acting/guessing attempts of the team lead by Saloni (yes, all points to her), even the dead would have woken up.

In the mean time we got a call from Gautam and Mithil that they were not being allowed entry into the hostel (no surprise there); so even they were coming to join us at the beach. It was 11:30 pm and the plan was to stay up all night at the beach itself. Whose idea was it, btw? It soon turned out that the plan back-fired.

The Tan Voyage: Journey to the Great Indian Desert

Sand dunes

With the beginning of the end of the stay at IIT Delhi, a laid back journey, far from the mundane undergraduate life, was becoming direr each day. With a travel itinerary which had been penned down a month in advance, a group of 11 friends rolled out on the journey to the Thar. It was the last week of March, a time when most desert resorts are on the verge of rolling up their camps, when we went to explore the dunes of the Thar Desert. We boarded the overnight Mandor Express from Old Delhi railway station and set forth for the 5 day trip, Jodhpur, the blue city being our first stop.

Early next morning, the station guest house at Jodhpur became a 2 hour halt before we started exploring the narrow streets of Jodhpur. The mighty Mehrangarh Fort stood firm on the city plateau gazing watchfully at each of the princely city’s houses. Places to visit in Jodhpur included Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan Palace. We boarded the local auto-rickshaws and headed towards Jaswant Thada, one of the “to do” places that had been marked in our itinerary. From a distance, the monument looked like a temple built on the banks of a lake. But the main attraction that it had to offer was the iconic view of Mehrahgarh Fort. All the clichéd photographs of tourists posing in front of the Fort are mostly clicked at Jaswant Thada. It was this place that gave us the first of many musical flavours of Rajasthan that we would experience on our journey. An elderly man with wrinkles laced all over his face was playing an interesting modification of the violin. He proudly called it Raavan Hatha. The melodious tune of “Padhaaro Mahare Desh” mesmerized all of us and we savoured the tune throughout our trip. Next stop was Mehrangarh Fort itself which came with its own set of historic significances. The boundary all around the fort was a reminder of the attacks that the fort has endured in the past. Most part of the fort has been converted into museum and it takes a couple of hours to scan through all of its rooms. Some scenes from the movie The Dark Knight Rises have been shot here.

View of Jodhpur City | Mehrangarh Fort

View of Jodhpur City | Mehrangarh Fort

After spending a couple of hours at the fort, we had lunch at a restaurant famous for its Rajasthani cuisine – Gypsy, but 4 pm was a bit late for lunch and the restaurant’s Rajasthani cooks had called it a day. We thus had to suffice with the usual courses which were quite delicious. Next stop was the Clock Tower (more popularly known as Ghanta Ghar). It’s a bazaar in the centre of the city with all kinds of traditional and indigenous items on sale by the local vendors. We spent only a couple of minutes at this place since it had nothing unique to offer. Late in the evening we boarded the train to Jaisalmer.

If Jodhpur is the Gateway to the Thar then Jaisalmer, the Golden City lies in the lap of the Great Indian Desert. Jaisalmer essentially comprises of the Jaisalmer Fort with the small city landscape all around the fort trying to make its mark on the Jaisalmer city map. There are plenty of places to visit in Jaisalmer to spend a couple of days in town. There are ancient Hawelis as well which lie closely beside the fort. Our train had reached Jaisalmer before the break of dawn and we were guided by our tour operator from KK Resorts to a local hotel. After a light sleep of a couple of hours, we started our excursion to the famous Patwon ki Haweli. The Hawelis, which now lie abandoned, are said to be home to some of the richest merchants in the past. Every carving on the sandstone speaks of the marvel of the artisans who carved the patterns.  The architectural awe also gives a golden hue to the city. We had Dal Baati Churma at a local restaurant near the fort and then started off towards Sam village, home to the sand dunes and the camel safari.

Patwon ki haweli Jaisalmer fort

Patwon Ki Haweli (Jaisalmer)

Atop Jaisalmer Fort

Atop Jaisalmer Fort

We hired two motor bikes to experience the 40 km drive on the state highway to Sam. To rent a bike in Jaisalmer, contact any of the local motorcycle rental shops. We had paid Rs. 1300 for 2 bikes combined for 24 hours. The highway has series of wind mills on one side and barren land on the other. Since the road is mostly narrow throughout the stretch, if hiring motor cycles then helmet is a must. As we drove towards Sam, we could see the sand dunes rise royally in the distance, adorned with vast stretches of infinite sand spreading in lateral directions. It was an hour’s drive to KK Resorts near Sam village. We quickly took to our camps and then went out to greet the sand dunes. With the sun about to set and the orange-ish backdrop of the Thar sky, it was a perfect setting to relax and to ooze out the tiredness of the city life. We climbed the mini mountains of sand and like men of battle, marched on the knife edged top. We jumped off the dunes one after another like a weak canon aimlessly shooting balls. It had been a tiring day; after dinner we relaxed on the porches of our tents, sitting in the Rajasthani muddas and embracing the calm of the desert.

En route to Sam village from Jaisalmer

En route to Sam village from Jaisalmer

Sand dunes at Sam village

Fellowship of the wannabes

Early next day we went for camel safari. It was a short ride and lasted only for a few minutes. We had expected the desert to stretch out till the boundary of Pakistan, but were disappointed to realize that the dunes were more like a patch of sand spread in a few acres of land. In the afternoon, we left for Jaisalmer city to visit the Jaisalmer Fort. En route we took a detour to the deserted village of Kuldhara (15 kms from Jaisalmer). Rumours have it that the village is a ghost town. On visiting the place, the antique houses did look scary and reminded us of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Kuldhara Village

Kuldhara Village

Jaisalmer Fort is more than just a fort, it’s a mini town. With dwellings inside for the locals to reside, and shops and restaurants and temples, almost all of old Jaisalmer city lies inside the boundaries of the fort. With the recent infrastructure development of course, the city is spanning far beyond the walls. The last stop of the day was Gaddisar Lake. Like any other lake in India, it offered boats on hire. We relieved the boatmen of their duty and took the bars ourselves. With 8 of us in 2 different boats, we couldn’t avoid having a friendly boat race. Late at night we left for Udaipur. The journey comprised of an overnight train to Jodhpur and a 6 hour bus ride thereon.

I had heard of Udaipur for the Taj Palace island hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola and the City Palace, but the city had much more to offer. Guarded by the Aravallis from almost all sides, and with lake views from all of city’s house’s rooftops, it does justice to its nickname – the city of lakes. There are plenty of hotels in Udaipur near Lake Pichola. All the places to visit in Udaipur are mostly located around this lake itself. We booked 3 rooms at Hotel Anjani. The hotel offered a beautiful view of Lake Pichola from its roof top restaurant and also had a swimming pool. In the evening we went to the sunset point beside the lake. It was a beautiful setting. But the most laudable part of the day was the dinner at Natraj Restaurant. I had the best food I have had in my entire life (no exaggeration!). The Gujarati thali that we were served offered many delicacies, the best one being bundi (sweet dish) with mini pearl like gulab jamuns. The day was made.

Next day, we visited the City Palace. Unlike other forts that we had visited, this palace was built on the banks of a lake (Pichola) rather than a hill top. After being defeated by the Mughals, Maharana Udai Singh II had to flee from Chittaur; he later built the city of Udaipur in the 16th century. Maharana Pratap was his son and ruled the city after his death. The City Palace is embedded with the history of Mewar and the paintings and artifacts on display mesmerized all of us. Being the last day of our holiday, we chose a high end restaurant to have lunch at – Ambrai. The restaurant was yet again situated right beside Lake Pichola. It offered a beautiful view of the City Palace and the Lake Palace hotel. Excerpts from Ram-Leela have been shot right next this restaurant. We boarded the evening train (Chetak Express) back to Delhi.

City Palce beside Lake Pichola (Udaipur)

City Palace beside Lake Pichola (Udaipur)

We all had seen the white capped Himalayan peaks, the endless blue seas down south and the green rain laden hills of Sahyadris, but the golden hue of the Great Indian Desert adorned with forts and palaces makes Rajasthan a must visit place. It adds another feather to the beautiful Indian landscape.

Photographs by Ambrish Rawat

4 Freefalls you don’t get to see everyday

1.) Cave of Swallows, Mexico

Cave of Swallows

Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSsnJ8CJ328

2.) Red Bull Cliff Diving

Red Bull Cliff Diving

Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yXtW0do9-U

3.) Flying from Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest

Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAfYbzL90Mo

4.) Free-diving at Dean’s Blue Hole (Bahamas)

Guillaume Nery is a French champion free-diver who broke the record at Dean’s Blue Hole (Bahamas), world’s deepest hole also called vertical cave. This video was filmed on breath hold by Julie Gautier.

Guillaume-Nery-Base-Jumping-Video-at-Deans-Blue-Hole

Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uQITWbAaDx0#at=247

Cycling and More – Coorg | Tala Cauvery | Bhagamandala | Bylakuppe

When Cycling and More (CAM – www.cyclingandmore.com) came out with their second version of Tranquil Trail, I couldn’t resist planning out the trip of cycling more than 150 km over the course of 2 days. I spread the word among the cycle enthusiasts I knew. Four of us made the bookings for a weekend cycling expedition to Bhagamandala, Virajpet and Bylakuppe. Except for Bylakuppe which falls in Mysore district, all other places lie in Kodagu (formerly Coorg) district of Karnataka.

The trip was planned for the last weekend of June ’13. On Friday night we set off from Bangalore in a chartered bus. Two mini trucks (carrying all the bicycles) also came along with the bus. We reached our home stay, Anugraha Homestay in Kadanga early next morning at 6 am. Trees and shrubs surrounded the house and were spread out deeply in all directions. The house appeared to be a lone habitat in thick forest area. After freshening up, we were served breakfast and briefed by a CAM associate regarding the route.

We started for Talacauvery from the home stay at 8am with a strong 36 member group. Talacauvery (known for being the source of river Cauvery) was 51 km from our home stay. One after another cyclists took to the state highway. The onlookers stared at us amazed at the sheer number of people coming out of the patchy forest road. A support vehicle (one of the two mini trucks) took the lead and another one followed from behind, sweeping the tail-enders. Since it was a rural area, small shops and huts used to pass by frequently. It was a two lane road and only few vehicles plied on it.

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The cycles which we had were geared ones. Since it was a hilly terrain, the track was laced with frequent uphill and downhill slopes. With an increasing gradient we used to gear down quickly with combinations 1-1 to 1-4 on the cycle and as soon as we reached the top of the slope the gear had to be quickly increased to 2-6, 2-7 up to a maximum of 3-7. Changing gears at the correct moment ensures consistency in speed and takes less human effort. It’s practically impossible to ride uphill at 3-7. So the wrong gear combination takes up more energy. Since we had used geared cycles before, we could easily handle gears, though after a couple of kilometres of cycling you get the gist of using gears. A downhill slope would always bring respite, but one had to keep the speed within limits to avoid going off track. The first 10 – 15 kms of the ride was more of warm-up. We still had 30 more km to go before we reached the base of Talacauvery. The most difficult part of the ride used to be the small uphill climbs. Cycling uphill becomes challenging in two ways, first the effort required to pull the cycle and your own body weight itself makes it difficult and second, at 1-1 gear combination the speed of the cycle drops to less than 3km/hr, so in a way a walking person would have overtaken us while cycling uphill. The ‘effort put’ over ‘distance covered’ ratio becomes very high. For longer slopes you just don’t feel like cycling the whole way up and many riders used to get off the cycle and start sauntering along with the cycle. It is here that the body stops listening to you; it’s the combined test of stamina and the extent to which you can push your body to not give up. You just need to keep pushing the pedal, again and again and yet again.  And believe me; the joy of climbing up the entire range of slopes is unmatched. You realize what your body is capable of doing.

After 3 hours of cycling we reached the base of Talacauvery. There is a small bridge over the river Cavuery right before the base. When it rains heavily in the area, the river overflows and it might become difficult to cross the bridge. The top of the hill is 8 km from the base and this one was the most treacherous part of the cycle trip. I have already written about my experience of climbing Nandi Hills in Bangalore; and Talacauvery was almost similar except that it was drizzling when we were ascending which made matters only worse.

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After another 1 hour of cycling I and 2 other fellow cyclists reached Talacauvery at about 1 pm. By this time our group had dispersed in many small groups separated by large distances.  Before us only 5 people had made it to the top. There is a temple at the top, well constructed with marble flooring. There is also a kund which is said to be the source of river Cauvery. By the time we reached the top, we were so tired that climbing a couple of temple steps seemed daunting. We rested for a while. Many other riders had joined us by then.

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The three of us started going downhill. The descent took less than 10 minutes. We were served packed lunch arranged by CAM itself. The body was tired to the extent that we could barely stand and eat. After eating a light lunch we went inside the bus which was already parked nearby. After half an hour of sleep we had to move again. We were among the few people who had taken to rest in the bus; couldn’t do away with it. It was only later that we realized how important it was for us to rest.

We started the ride towards Kadanga at about 3:30 pm. Like I said, not everyone had decided to rest and thus many cyclists had left way before we did. We needed to keep up with the group. The route while going back was a little different. How different? For most part of the return journey, the road was bumpy, and filled with potholes. Six of our fellow cyclists succumbed and decided to get on the bus for the remainder of the journey. Roads were the most disappointing part of the return journey. Gatorade bottles and chocolate bars were really coming in handy. Though we were advised by CAM people to bring padded shorts, but had ignored their advice and we had to bear the consequences. Our bums had started to hurt so badly that we tried to stand on the paddles for as long as we could while cycling in order to give ‘them’ rest. More than the stamina and thigh muscles the bums were bothering us. At many places during the return journey, dogs used to get behind us and there used to be no human soul anywhere nearby. On one such moment the dog scared the hell out of me.

While going uphill there are two approaches which can be followed. First keep the gear combination between 1-1 to 1-4 and then slow cycle. This is the slow and steady method. The second one requires strong thigh muscles and instantaneous flow of energy. Increase the gear combination to 2-1 to 2-3, stand on the paddles, lean forward and start quick pedalling. Needless to mention that the second approach is way quicker; but if you run out of breath and can’t complete the climb out of exhaustion then you will need to get off the cycle and start walking uphill.

I reached the home stay at about 6:30 pm. It was starting to get dark and still more than half the group hadn’t returned. The sweep vehicle came in at 7:30 pm and all the cyclists were home safe and sound. We had covered 102 km on day 1 of the trip. Dinner was served at 9 after a small bonfire. All of us were sent to sleep at 10:30 pm as we had to start early for next day’s excursion.

On paper day 2 trail looked more challenging with higher gradients of uphill and downhill climb. But we realized it was pretty much the same. We were to go from Kadanga to Bylakuppe, the final destination being the Tibetan Monastery (Golden Temple). It was 62 km from the origin of our journey. During the ride, more than anything else my bums kept cursing me for not buying those padded shorts. En-route we used to stop to fill in water and to buy energy drinks. Day 2 experience was pretty much the same as the previous day. Similar Western Ghats terrain, similar gradients; though we were expecting the roads to be a little better off. It took 4 hours to reach the Monastery.

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Golden Temple, Bylukppe

During the course of our 2 day trip, we had covered 165 km in 30 hours. This amount of cycling requires preparation. Cycling 10 km everyday to office doesn’t make you fit for the trip. We had started to hit the gym 2 weeks prior to the event weekend. Stamina is of prime importance, if you don’t want to be left behind and rescued by the support vehicle. We were carrying lot of chocolate bars and energy drink bottles. All this is necessary. I would even suggest bringing along cycling gloves and elbow & knee guards. Helmets were provided by CAM. In all, the trip is worth the experience. There is no entertainment element and it’s not even meant to be. 100 km cycling in a single day is no joke but it comes with its own sense of achievement. The joy in seeing scenic beauty, watching the sun rise and set, watching the clouds make cool formations is one thing and experiencing your body succeed through this endurance test another. In our small group of 4 people, 3 of us had run the Delhi Half Marathon and it was a unanimous say that this trip was more challenging than the former.

Thank you CAM for organizing Tranquil Trail.

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