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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Packaged Drinking Water Banned in Lachen

Thought out of the Bottle

Packaged Drinking Water Banned in Lachen

While San Francisco became the first major city to impose ban on plastic water bottles in March 2015, our very own small heritage village in Sikkim had imposed such ban in February 2012.

Lachen (9700 Ft), a serene and beautiful heritage village in North Sikkim, 120 Kms away from Gangtok is the base location for travelers to Gurudongmar Lake.  This lake at a height of 17200 ft, is among the top 15 highest lakes in the world and is the second highest lake in Sikkim as well as in India, the first being Cholamu lake at a height of 18000 ft appx 5kms away from Gurudongmar Lake, also situated in Sikkim.  Being the second highest lake in India, the panoramic and scenic beauty of the place is a sight to behold. The lake is considered sacred by the Buddhists as well as the Sikhs. The glacier above this lake is also a major source of Teesta river that flows through Sikkim to West Bengal culminating in Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh.

Gurudongmar Lake attracts many visitors from across India, which leads to accumulation of garbage around the lake, and pollution due to the offerings released by pilgrims into the lake. WWF-India had been working towards conserving this lake in partnership with the Lachen Dzumsa (local administrative body equivalent to Panchayat System). It is in this village where pilgrims and tourists stay over for the night to get acclimatized to the high altitude before going up to the lake. After a series of awareness programmes with tourists, local communities, tour operators, and clean up drives with the help of local communities, the Dzumsa of Lachen announced a complete ban on the sale and use of packaged and bottled water in and around Lachen in February 2012, and has prohibited tourists from carrying them up to the lake. This ban has the consent of all stakeholders involved, including hoteliers, shopkeepers, and local communities.

The visitors are provided with boiled water of local source which are as pure and safe as mineral water.

The state of Sikkim, nestled in the Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspot holds within it many glacial fed High Altitude Wetlands, which support a wide variety of flora and fauna, as well as local communities who depend on them for various needs. Over the years, some of these wetlands have become popular tourist destinations, and tourism is gradually becoming a threat to these lakes in the fragile high altitude ecosystems. The state with diversity of culture, flora & fauna, association with the Himalayas and proximity to China has always been of interest to tourists, scholars, historians, adventure lovers and other enthusiasts. Such initiative of one village is worth many applauds and an example to be followed by others in preserving our nature.

   Panoramic view of Gurudongmar Lake

Friday, 22 May 2015

Summary of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

The Monk who sold his Ferrari
Robin Sharma

Sure I am that this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond my endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. – Winston Churchill

Seven virtues the book emphasizes have been made memorable in the following fable-

You are sitting in the middle of a magnificent, lush, green garden. This garden is filled with the most spectacular flowers you have ever seen. The environment is supremely tranquil and silent. Savor the sensual delights of this garden and feel as if you have all the time in the world to enjoy this natural oasis. As you look around you see that in the center of this magical garden stands towering, red lighthouse, six stories high. Suddenly the silence of the garden is disturbed by a loud creaking as the door at the base of the lighthouse opens. Out stumbles a nine foot tall nine hundred pound Japanese Sumo wrestler, with pink cloth covering his private parts, who casually wanders into the center of the garden.
As he starts to move around the garden he finds a shiny gold stopwatch which someone had left behind many years earlier. He slips it on and falls to the ground with an enormous thud. The sumo wrestler is rendered unconscious and lies there, silent and still. Just when you think he has taken his last breath, the wrestler awakens, perhaps stirred by the fragrance of some fresh yellow roses blooming nearby. Energized, the wrestler jumps swiftly to his feet and intuitively looks to his left. He is startled by what he sees. Through the bushes at the very edge of the garden he observes   long winding path covered by millions of sparkling diamonds. Something seems to instruct him to take the path and to his credit, he does. The path leads him down the road of everlasting joy and eternal bliss.

Virtue 1 : Most Extraordinary Lush Green Garden:  Master your mind. When the mind is cultivated, it will blossom beyond your expectations. The quality of life is determined by the quality of your thoughts.  An average person runs about 60,000 thoughts in a day. 95% of it were the same thoughts already thought about yesterday. All are made of same flesh and bones but what a mind harbor makes all the difference.
This garden needs to be guarded of toxic entries like negative thoughts, anxieties, worries etc. Positive Thinking always is the beginning of all actions. Your “I Can” is more important than “Your I.Q.”
Winston Churchill had once said “The price of greatness is responsibility over each of your thoughts.”
When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands every direction and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.
And the secret of happiness is simple: find out what you truly love to do and then direct all your energy towards doing it. Once you do this, abundance flows into your life and all your desires are filled with ease and grace.
There are no mistakes – only lessons. See setbacks as opportunities for personal expansion and spiritual growth.

Virtue 2 : Lighthouse : Follow your Purpose: The purpose of Life is a Life of purpose
 When you clearly know what your life’s aims are and wish to achieve over the course of your life be it material, emotional, physical or spiritual and you spend your days accomplishing them, you will ultimately find eternal joy and fulfillment. But one must know one’s life’s aim or vision and then manifest this vision into reality by consistent actions. Sages call this DHARMA, which is Sanskrit word for “LIFE’s PURPOSE”.

Virtue 3 : The Sumo Wrestler : Practice Kaizen : Improving Self or Self Discovery for self-leadership
No man is free who is not a master of himself. How could a person lead a corporation if he cannot lead himself? How could you nurture a family of you haven’t learned to nurture and care of yourself? How could you do good if you don’t even feel good?
Self – Mastery is the DNA of life mastery. Success on the outside begins within. Enlightenment comes through the consistent cultivation of your mind, body and soul.
One important technique for Self-mastery is: Do the Things You Fear. The Universe favors the brave.

Virtue 4 : Pink Cable like cloth : Live with Discipline :  
Through the steel of discipline, you will forge a character rich with courage and peace. Through the virtue of will, you are destined to rise to life’s highest ideal and live within a heavenly mansion filled with all that is good and joyful and vital. Without them, you are lost like a mariner without a compass, one who eventually sinks with his ship.
Discipline is built by consistently performing small acts of courage. The more you nurture the embryo of self-discipline, more it will mature. Will power is the essential virtue of fully actualized life.
Wage war against the weaker thoughts that have crept into the palace of your mind. They will see that they are unwanted and leave like unwelcome visitors.

Virtue 5: Gold Stop Watch:  Respect your time. Time slips through our hands like grains of sand never to return again. Those who use time wisely from an early age are rewarded with rich, productive and satisfying lives.
Time is our most precious commodity and it is non-renewable. Focus on the priorities and simplify your life, and maintain balance.
Courage to say NO to others is important in prioritizing one’s priority.
The Deathbed Mentality approach can be used to most effectively use this moment ‘NOW’ as the most precious and important time for any action is ‘now’ and not later.

Virtue 6: Yellow Roses: Selflessly Serve Others: The noblest thing you can do is to give to others. Start focusing on your higher purpose in life.
The quality of your life ultimately comes down to the quality of your contribution. To cultivate the sacredness of each day, live to give. By elevating the lives of others, your life reaches its highest dimensions.
Practice daily acts of kindness and compassion. Give to those who ask. Cultivate richer relationship in all spheres of life.

Virtue 7 : Diamonds : Embrace the present : Past is water under the bridge and the future is a distant sun on the horizon of your imagination. The most important moment is now. Learn to live in it and savor it fully. Being engaged in a pursuit that truly challenges you is the surest route to personal satisfaction. But the real key to remember is that happiness is a journey and not a destination. Live for today – there will never be another one quite like it. Never sacrifice happiness for achievement. We are all here for some special reason. Stop being a prisoner of your past. Become the architect of your future.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

David and Goliath : Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

This is a book about what happens when the ordinary people confront the giants (opponents) of all kind like mighty army, disabilities, misfortune or oppression. Various stories emphasizes on how davids have taken over goliaths and have proven over multiple times that it is not only the mighty or one with the advantages succeed but those davids using disadvantages of the advantages of goliath and or using advantages of their own disadvantages that they have beaten them time and again.
Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise seemed unthinkable.

Part One - Advantages of Disadvantages and (Disadvantages of Advantages)

In a classroom if the student teacher ratio is high, the quality of education is often affected. With the intent of improving the quality, if this ratio is reduced, the quality of attention  and hence education the teacher gives to students would improve. However if this ratio is further decreased, there would be the same deterioration of quality as was seen when the ratio is high. This finding has been proven through studies (and the specifics are given in the book).
One interesting example of relation between parenting and money is noteworthy. More money is not always better. Obviously it is also very hard to be a good parent if you have too little money. But having huge money and parenting only makes it easier till a certain point – the point economists would refer to where “Diminishing Marginal Returns” sets in. The children of rich parents have everything and most rich parents cannot teach “work hard, be independent, learn the meaning of money” unlike the children of marginalized parents. A parent has to set limits. But that’s one of the most difficult things for the riches because they don’t know what to say when having the excuse of ‘we cant afford it’ is gone. It is difficult for a rich parent to say “ we don’t have the money” because if you have a teenager, the teenager says, ‘ Excuse me. You have a Ferrari and Mom has a Jaguar. ‘
The parents have to switch from ‘No, we can’t ’ to ‘No, we won’t.’
But saying ‘No, we won’t.’ is much harder for a rich parent.

Graph (page 52-53)

The inverted U curve reminds us that there is a point at which money and resources stop making our lives better and start making them worse. Another example - of striving to join the best college or institutions might making things worse at certain point. You might have been the best of your schools  (Big Fish, small pond) but as you join the best college or university, you would have to compete with the best of other schools (Big Fishes, Bigger Pond). It is likely that you may not live upto your own expectations of being the best in this college and hence if not realized, might hurt your own self esteem. So instead of doing the good, this point can simply be the point of downfall.
We strive for the best and attach great importance to getting the finest institutions we can. But rarely do we stop and consider whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest.

Part Two – The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

Dyslexia is a problem in many humans since the developmental stage of the foetus. The dyslexics have problem in processing what is being heard, have difficulty in reading fluently and comprehending. So as dyslexics grow, the discovery of the peers being able to read and respond faster and his inability would be frustrating. Peers think you are stupid. Parents think you are lazy. With low self- esteem, the kids would get into depression. Many such kids get into criminal activity.

And so no parents would wish dyslexia on their child! Or would you?

But there are many success stories of Dyslexics. Dyslexia – in the best of cases – forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant. Gary Cohn, is the president of Goldman Sachs. Sir Richard Branson the British billionaire entrepreneur, Charles Schwab, the founder of Brokerage firm, John Chambers, CEO of CISCO are few names who are dyslexic and have made it huge in the business world.

This remarkable group of people triumphed inspite of their disability. They are so smart and creative that nothing – even the lifetime of struggling with reading couldn’t stop them. Secondly because of their difficulty in comprehending difficult things, they often make it to the simplest possible for them to understand. When they understand, the whole world understands making it easy for their employees and customers.

Any such difficult situations have two ways to deal with. Accept and live in difficulty or Accept and find an alternate better route to live and overcome the difficulty. David finds the courage to take on Goliath and win over.

Malcolm Gladwell has made references to examples from history, science, human psychology, business and politics to prove the point that it is not always the giants that make the victory but an underdog with disadvantages that triumph.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?

To inspire, excite and arouse the followers is a central leadership attribute in all the situations.

A must read on leadership by Harvard Business Review. What it takes to be an authentic leader, an inspirational leader, a true leader? This book takes through various qualities required for an individual to demonstrate true leadership. Some of the noteworthy points in brief are:

An inspirational leadership consist of the following
i)                    Leadership is about tensions between revealing strength but at the same time about showing weakness.
ii)                   It is about being an individual as well as conforming.
iii)                 It is about establishing intimacy with the followers but also keeping enough distance.

Excellence in any one of the above is insufficient for a truly inspirational leadership. Through interplay amongst above areas guided by situation sensing that great leaders find the right style for the right moment.

While there is no concrete test or result that can conclude or prove the leadership qualities, it is about the individual sense that prevails on many occasions. Had great financial results been the measure of leadership, the example of collapse of Enron and Satyam Tech couldn’t have proven it wrong, but as a matter of fact, both cases have been great examples of poor leadership. An organization can have competent management with poor leadership which can deliver exemplary results or an inspirational leadership only which can deliver the same. Competent Management is not equal to Inspirational leadership.

Be Authentic :  Being self and not enacting someone else is a crucial aspect of leadership. Sir Richard Branson is an example who displays his casual and adventurous self and still leads others without losing his identity. The important part of being authentic is that the leader needs to maintain consistency between words and deeds.
Knowing Yourself, Being Yourself and Disclosing yourself are vital ingredients of effective leadership.
An organization often inhibits the individuals from being their actual self (authentic). So the tough task for a leadership lies in creating environment that individuals are able to exhibit their authenticity and prepare themselves for the leadership positions.

Taking Personal Risk:  One who attempts at displaying leadership or is given a leadership position, is exposed and has many things to lose even at the personal level. This opportunity is of disclosure of personal strength and if not delivered, could be a massacre of personal confidence. Nevertheless, true leaders learn from the mistakes and move ahead. Earning respect from the followers is a never ending process for a leader.

Purpose : Unless you are clear about your purpose and your values and are doing something that you really care about, it is difficult to be a leader. With clarity in the purpose, the passion comes into play which takes the individual towards consistent effort and persistence.

Leaders recognize that group goes through four stages viz.
1)  FORMING – Team is put together.
2)  STORMING – There is conflict about what to do and how to do.
3)  NORMING – Some agreement is reached about how to work together.
4)  PERFORMING – The team now focuses wholeheartedly on the task.

There is an inevitable progression between these four stages. Some teams disintegrate at FORMING stage itself. A major problem is common in a leadership style which makes an unrealistic attempts to demonstrate or demand quick results which involves leaping straight from FORMING to the PERFORMING stage.

3 Fundamental Axioms of Leadership :
i)                    Situational: What is required of the leader will always be influenced by the situation. History is full of examples of leaders who found their time and place but whose qualities lost their appeal as things moved on. Eg Winston Churchill was an inspirational wartime leader but his style was ill suited to the reconstruction agenda of postwar Britain.

ii)                   Non – Hierarchical: The common understanding that only those who occupy the top positions in an organization has probably damaged our capacity to understand leadership more than anything else. Hierarchy alone is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the exercise of leadership. The best example of non hierarchical leadership exhibition is in the army where each individuals are coached and developed towards leadership role and given the opportunity to exercise it.

iii)                 Relational: Always between the leader and the led. Edgy or harmonious, the leader knows how to keep the relation and inspire, arouse and excite the team to perform.

Leadership is never an end in itself, that it is always characterized by the pursuit of an overarching purpose. It is neither simply a technique nor can it be achieved through the careful following of a recipe or formula. It is rather made real only when it is exercised in pursuit of a goal. But which goal? Increasing economic profit? Healing sick children? Or destroying the competition? The leader must choose. And that choice is fundamentally an ethical one. Examples of charismatic leaders exciting their followers in pursuit of a goal, an unethical one, does often bring an unfathomable harm in the society.
It is precisely because leadership can be so powerful in releasing human energy that leaders must ask and answer tough ethical questions.

Leadership is hard, but worth it. So don’t let us end on a pessimistic note. There is always  a constant and pleasant surprises by the ways in which leaders in a myriad of settings bring meaning and high performance to organizations or group being led.. They provide purpose and excitement; they live on the edge between uniqueness and a necessary degree of conformity. They make a difference.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Drive to Lachen, North Sikkim

15th Nov 13
Yes , in Lachen, the bottled mineral water is banned here since you get the natural and pure mineral water of the Himalayas to drink in plenty. An appreciable effort to keep the valley safe, clean, pure and very organic. One should only ensure that the drinking water is boiled so that you don’t become victim to parasites and bacterias.
The journey to this valley begins from Gangtok (5400 ft) early morning after the due formalities of Permits for the individual travelers.

Lachen is the base for Gurudongmar Lake and Lachung, the base for Yumthang Valley/Zero Point. These being restricted areas, permit would have to be taken from Gangtok itself. Any travel agent is efficient enough to procure the permit in few hours with proper ID, address proof and two passport size photographs.
In case if you wish to take your own vehicle, RaPAP (Restricted and Protected Area Permit) would be required from Home Ministry, Gangtok. This could be a task of one day with proper justifications and document of the vehicle (2 wheeler or 4-wheeler). Travel agent may not do this task of RaPAP and hence your adventure would begin right from here.
Detailed to good extent

Lachen (9700 Ft), the base location for travelers to Gurudongmar Lake is 120 Kms away from Gangtok, is 7 hours drive with no disturbance of landslides or road block or road construction. It is always wiser to take 2-3 hours as buffer for the day and travel. Buses don’t ply on these roads. Only Army vehicles or Sumo/Bolero/Cars ply. The roads and curves are definitely challenging for a driver new to such terrain.

Tashi View Point – 7 Kms from Gangtok town on the way to Lachen lies this view point, where the Kanchenjunga range view is as closest and huge one can see on clear sky. From this view point also the road divides to Changu Lake/Nathu La Pass.

Seven Sister Waterfall – About 32 Kms away from Gangtok, the water falls through seven steps from a rocky hill. Upto 4 Steps would be visible to the tourists after a few feet climb to the rest house. Since one can see almost all ladies in Sikkim with Silky hair, we popularly named these waterfall as Seven Silky Sister Waterfall

The single lane road through this hilly terrain with least traffic is a journey to remember. Your driving momentum could be disturbed at bridges or road constructions where only one vehicle can pass through at a time.  Else there are plenty of spectacular sights of the green valleys, colorful fluttering prayer flags along the road and also the snow capped mountains at distance peacefully basking in the sunlight, the views of which are tempting enough to halt and click.

At Rang Rang, we meet on the 2 Lane highway that connects Siliguri via Singtam.

As we cross Mangan, the splendid view of Mt Kanchanjunga  and Mt Siniolchu is the closest we can see on this route. The winding river below, criss cross of hills in ascending order, as it ascends so does the hill changes its colour from light green to dark green to brown, (this variation being more of distance effect) and finally culminating at the snow capped mountain range.

The roads are a mix of metalled and non metalled. The first check post is located at valley named Toong, appx 80Kms from Gangtok, where the permit needs to be shown. A copy of the permit (given by the tour operator) is kept here for record.
From here, 10 Kms drive in 30 minutes would reach to Chungthang. This particularly track is a kutcha road with drive through an arch of stones above the vehicle which would initially raise many terrible questions in your mind.
Chunghtang  valley is at the cross road, the leftward  would lead to Lachen, the road to the right would lead to Lachung. These cross road are also followed by the Two largest tributaries of River Teesta,  Lachen River and Lachungpa River both of which has a confluence at Chungthang.  After the confluence, the work is in progress for construction of a Dam. It is widely believed that such dam constructions at various locations on River Teesta are responsible for the major earthquake with epicenter in North Sikkim in 2011.
28 Kms and 1.5 Hours of drive from Chungthang would end at Lachen.
Lachen is a serene and beautiful valley dominated by the Buddhist locals known as “Lachenpa”, who are basically “Bhutia”, with population of appx 2000 heads with 1000 heads as eligible voters. The Panchayati Raj system prevails here, evident that this place is headed by a Sarpanch.
As you enter Lachen, You would be welcomed by the Sikkim Police check post where the permits of the individuals as well as the vehicle would be checked. In case any of the permit is not available, you can expect disappointment and return back. Else it would be upto the individual to make the famous method of pleasing the officials with good bucks work. Easier said than done as it poses safety threat to the individual as well as at the Indo China border, hence the officials are stringent on scanning each and every vehicle and individuals for documents.
This serene valley is the base for all travelers on 4 wheelers.
For the Bikers, another additional drive of 1.5 Hours would be required to reach Thangu at 15000 Ft altitude, where the access to Gurudongmar Lake would be a relatively easy and comfortable ride the next day.
Must Have: Camera, gloves, warm caps, warm inners and atleast two layers of warm clothes and socks, sun glasses, some medicine for mountain sickness and headache.
Must Do: Booking of Hotels in Lachen from Gangtok, Respect Locals as they are highly hospitable and would serve you home cooked food, respect their language and their food habits.
The hotel where we stayed had this statement “Come as guest, go as friend”. The owner, a Lachenpa, is true to his statement.

Must Try: Wai Wai Noodles,  Tongba ( Local fermented alcohol made of millet), Yak meat, Yak Dried Cheese (Hard Nut to Crack)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Walking with the Lions : Nov 2012

Two lions were ahead. I was behind. As they rested under the shadow of a bush, I slowly got nearer them, silently without seeking their attention as they played with each other. As I caressed on their body for a while, suddenly one of them swung his head towards me, making me jump to safety 3 feet away.
Others laughed.
In this era where the wild animals are endangered with their reducing population, Lion Encounter, an organization in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, provides some breath of space with their clear agenda of conserving this species of Lion in Africa.
 In the middle of the African jungle in Zimbabwe, there lies a bounded area for upbringing of the lions where they are bred, fed and grew up. There has been four different stages in this conservation cycle, cubs being in Stage 1 and finally fully grown independent adult being in Stage 4, where they are finally released in the jungle to live on their own. The project apparently very new in Zimbabwe, the lions are yet to reach Stage 4.



Lion Encounter offers people the chance for a guided walk with this magnificent species. The fees they charge the visitors are used to run this upbringing.
Some interesting learning before the walk:
1.  Touch on the head is an insult
Humans find this insulting. The king of the jungle will be ferocious if you ever slide your hand up its mane. So, if you ever want a trouble free walk with them, rather be friendly and caress them on their back in affection.
This caressing is itself enough to make you feel accomplished if you have never been so close with the wild king before.
2.  Never walk In front of them
You are at a disadvantage to have the lions follow you. They could pounce on you any time and cripple and feast on you. Follow the king rather than lead.
3.  Never think of being jolly with them
The animal instinct of being playful like those of cats and dogs are plenty in the lion and tigers as well. One might be tempted to create such moment with the king in this short walk. Caution. As they become playful, so does their retractable 7-8 cm long claws moves  forth and back. A slight touch could leave deep incision on you tearing the skin apart.
Air with the smell of blood would tempt the animal and the rest could be history.
4.  Never be left alone: Singleton is always vulnerable and hence you should never part away from the group. As an experiment, when you are in the zoo next time, try to remain alone away from the group and look at an active tiger or lion. The animal will run towards you with all might looking at all possible exit to pounce on you. (This is based on my experience in this sanctuary where caged adult lion kept for breeding, looked delighted and made the swiftest move seeing a loner lady viewing at them from one corner).
5.  Carry a stick always
One reason is that they also fear pain to some extent. Another is to divert their attention whenever they stare at you, by tapping the stick on the ground. (This stick is provided by the guide).
6.  Camera always on of course
If you are a budding photographer or looking for one excellent shot, always keep your camera on. The animals would pose as per their whims and fancies.
This is an experience one should take in Africa. Not all African countries would provide this magnificent and memorable walk. At the top of my list are South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia where this arrangement for the tourists are available.
I have never heard or read about such great walks in other continents. However the idea of conservation with this model is an innovative way of saving the endangered species.

Cost – Varies from USD 120 to 160 depending on where the booking is done from. The hotels where you stay would charge commission and hence you end up paying USD 160. Else, take a walk in the market and reach the office of Lion Encounter to pay 120 USD.



Monday, 4 November 2013

Rappelling at Duke' Nose, Khandala

                                                                           Duke’s Nose
Nagphani, later known as Duke’s Nose after shape of nose of Duke Wellington, is a cliff at Khandala near Lonavala in the Western Ghats. The Cliff is pointed like a snakes hood and hence the name Nagphani (‘Nag’ means snake and ‘phani’ means hood).  This is a huge pinnacle which is highly visible while travelling between Mumbai and Pune through the expressway.
                                                          Rappelling at Duke’s Nose: March 2011
      Rappelling Height: 300 ft ;  Cliff Height: 2506 ft
Rappelling is a quick way of descending heights using adventure gear and involves sliding down the ropes. The speed of descend is controlled by the friction. Proper belay support makes this event 100% safe.

Thanks to our official training programme which had the agenda of making us do things which we would generally dread and find excuses not to do it. (read ‘Target’)

The rappelling at Duke’s Nose is one activity I wouldn’t forget in days to come. This is a spine chilling task we had no option but to execute. The mention of solo walk down 300ft on a 90 degree cliff is enough to put us off. The rocky cliff with total height of 2500 ft above the forested land and traversing for approx 1000ft along this cliff, with only death depth on one side, after the rappelling of 300 ft is more than enough to resolute a beginner’s mind not to mess up with one’s life at all. Our thought processed all the negative consequences possible.

And everybody said “This is impossible”.

This is how anybody new to rappelling on a natural cliff would think of. So did we.

We didn’t have any escape route as we were all being monitored. Any mischief is reported and reprimanded.

Our group boarded the bus waiting for us in our Hotel in Khandala. We had been briefed about the day’s activity and were prepared to “reach” the site at least. The bus dropped us at the point from where we had to trek for around 1 km to reach the peak of Duke’s Nose. This trek is an easy walk uphill.
There were already a separate group of people who had reached the summit and began their activities of Valley Walking and some seen Rappelling down.

Our organisers also had reached early and were all set with their rock climbing gears and ropes. Some of them had a very sarcastic smile as they had already read our mind. 

The top of this cliff has a Mahadeva Temple where the villagers pray. Atop this cliff is very windy and hence a windcheater can be very helpful depending on the month one would visit.

With the civilization
Valley walking between two peaks

To acclimatize us and overcome the fear of Rappelling we had to mandatorily go through the task of Valley Walking. There are two peaks. One being Duke’s Nose and another parallel to it separated by a gorge of approx 200 ft depth. These two peaks are connected with sliding ropes and we would have to slide from one peak to another with a halt above the gorge for around 1 min to see, feel the depth and fear. In fact the gushing adrenaline during this moment is motivating to take the plunge and rappel down later.

“Whoever goes Valley walking first will have to go Rappelling first”. Shouted our Instructor.

I didn’t dare to go first at all. As I saw my colleagues executed this first task apparently without any difficulty, me and the remaining friends also were gaining confidence as we saw some of them going down the hill rappelling. We had no option of taking feedback from the first few rappelers as there was only one way down. Sadly this place has no mobile phone network.

Like anybody, I completed the averagely thrilling Valley Walk and headed confidently towards rappelling point with all my gears on. Put on my mobile phone in video mode and hung it around my neck with the intent of shooting video at appropriate angle during the “downfall”.

With the instruction given, I was released. An important part of the rappelling is to keep your body in a chair-sitting position with feet apart by around 2 feet and body posture little less than 90 degree against the cliff. While going down this position of the feet is to be used to push yourself against the rock. Any contact of the rock surface with the body will give you serious and painful bruises.  A particular method of holding the harness rope and releasing is important to understand. The most important is to remain calm and follow the instructions.

I was the centre of attraction. All faces were towards me. After having taken the first step, there was no looking back in literal sense. All those peeping faces slowly disappeared as I descended downwards. After few jump down, I was alone. I could neither see anybody above or below me nor hear any voices.  Alone, tied to the rope, with gushing wind trying to shake me, I had to complete this cliff walk fast so that I could be with the civilisation.

After few feet below, suddenly, my feet could never touch the rocky surface.  I was dangling in the air, rotating, 720 degrees, until I slowly released the rope. There is a specific spot on this cliff where anybody would dangle in the air. With only death depth below and Mumbai-Pune expressway far far away which will be seen as you would be rotated on its own, you have nobody but to trust yourself and slowly release the rope.

After this dangling moment, it is very important to follow basics of chair sitting position as you touch the rock. I couldn’t follow this and ended with a scratching moment on the rock. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t detach my body from the wall of rough rocks as I slid down.

“Very Good, you are almost there...Few feet more...Common...”

The greatest relief is when you hear some motivating words from a team below waiting to receive and escort you. This 300 ft descent has been the toughest for me so far but I completed it.  As I landed, my both hands were numb and weary as it had balanced my own weight for gradual fall, the pair of gloves I worn was very much heated (due to the slide on the rope). The rope becomes so hot due to friction that if it touches bare skin, it will imprint burning marks.

I was yet to reach my destination where our group was getting assembled. It was painful when I realised that I had to traverse around 1000 ft along this same rocky surface, pass through the gorge, traverse and then only regroup.

However, it was known that the hardest part of this activity was already over and hence traversing was easily done relatively.

As we assembled after traversing I realised that I had bruised on my right arm.(as I was wearing Half-sleeve T-Shirt). My mobile camera was still in video mode.

 As I replay it today, the noisy gushing wind is audible, rough rock, clear blue sky and distant winding Mumbai – Pune Expressway can be seen as the camera rotates, blended with some momentary helpless cry of ‘Help, help’ can be heard, though inaudible to others.

Duke's Nose as seen from
Mumbai - Pune Expressway

The dot is a Rappeller

         Distant hill  is the other end
          of the nose - seen from trekking trail
Traversing Trail

Guide for the Beginners:
Must Wear: Full Sleeve T-Shirt,Track Pants with Walking Shoes having good grip, Sunglasses can be                     helpful.
Must Carry: Enough water as water is not available for sale at this peak.
Must Have: Little courage before the activity J to make you confident after the activity.
Organisers : This one day activity is co-ordinated by various organisers at a nominal cost.

My Opinion: This is a very safe activity when using all the rock climbing gears which the organisers use. The best weekend getaway for those in Pune or Mumbai, it leaves you on a high note making you confident and believe that fear is just an imagined emotion until conquered.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Pokhara - Ride on the Bullet

Five of us with a company of four Royal Enfield 350CC bagpacked and rode more than 700 kms one way to Pokhara in Oct 2013

Riders : Dipankar Lama, Dilip Kumar Yonzon, Anil Ramtel, Pasang Yonzon and Lakpa Sherpa
Royal Enfield 350 CC, Model : 2 Nos Classic, 1 No Electra and 1 No Standard.

Road Map to Pokhara from Eastern Side

Day 1: 15th Oct 13
Siliguiri to Birtamod

KM noted on recently bought Classic 350.
Start 4636 Kms noted at Naxalbari ; End kms 4674; End Location Birtmod

As was required to consider the “group dynamics” and also the wrath of Cyclone Phailin in the form of consistent rain, the scheduled journey was delayed by 5 days and we could begin our ride, with team of four bullets and five riders, only at 5.30 PM on 15th Oct 13 still under the cloudy sky. Our objective to cross the Indo-Nepal border and halt inside Nepal at Birtamod worked out as planned on Day 1.

Birtamod is appx 30 kms from the border check post, Kakarvitta in Nepal. As we crossed the Mechi Bridge after Panitanki at appx 7 pm, dark street welcomed us. Most of the shops were closed and others were in the process to call it a day. At the check post in Kakarvitta, for two wheeler, we had to show our Blue Book/Regn Card and driving licence. No photocopy required. Payment required at INR 80 x no of stay days in Nepal. This check post opens at 5.45 AM till 9.45 PM IST.

As we approached towards Birtamod at around 8 PM, the town was completely shut down with few people in the street who guided us to our destined lodge.

Accomodation cost at Birtamod is reasonable and avl at all budget range. We had a home cooked food as dinner and had a good night sleep to prepare ourselves for the long ride the next day.

Day 2 : 16th Oct 13
Birtamod to Chitwan National Park
Start Km : 4674, 6.30 am ; End Km : 5156, 8 pm

The clear sky greeted us giving us hope for a rain-free ride. We followed the East West Highway of Nepal, 2 Lane road good enough for the bike riders. We had to be careful about the cattles and goats crossing across the highway. Sad but true incidents of quite a number dog and cat dead bodies on the road are testimony to the human settlements along the road. Even we had to be extra careful about the villagers, especially children suddenly crossing the road from one end to the other. Even with extra care, one of our colleague had a narrow escape from colliding with a kid running across the road. Only thing that saved was the relative speed of the bike with respect to the kid which led the bike cross faster avoiding collision on the intersecting path.

Enroute--between Koshi Dam and Hetauda
Dhalkebar crossroad- towards Left is Janakpur

The kind of village livelihood, wet jute being dried on the road, road crossing cattles and villagers, green paddy field, assortment of Indian vehicles right from two wheelers to four wheelers to trucks and buses make you feel that your are still in India. But the very next moment once the Japanese SUVs, Cars and Chinese bikes are sighted and with registration no plate being written in Devnagri script with red colour as base make you realise that you are in a different country.
After a 2.5 hrs ride of 130Kms, we reached Sapta Koshi Barrage. The Koshi Barrage is a flood control sluice across the Koshi River in Nepal near the Indo-Nepal border. It was built between 1958 and 1962. It has 52 gates which are controlled by Indian officers although it is in Nepal
After a delicious snacks of fresh fish (small) and prawns, we headed onwards. The small bits of snacks we had in Koshi Barrage in a roadside stall turned out to be very expensive than expected and hence it was a learning for us to enquire about the price at first, negotiate and then place the order.

After nearly 2 hrs of 120kms ride, we reached Dhalkebar crossing, the road on the left direction would lead to Janakpur.  The road to Kathmandu is also thru Janakpur incase if you wish to escape the dense Sarlahi forest between Bardibas and Hetauda. Further ride of around 15 mins, we stopped for Lunch at Bardibas. The dense Sarlahi forest area was once notorious for looting and hijacking. Not many four wheelers are seen on this road but it seemed to be majorly used by two wheelers and mostly a family travel with kid and spouse. The first sight of this forest from the road is actually a beauty due to deep and rich green trees, apparently trimmed, along both sides of the road as if it is made to stand to welcome us.

Sarlahi forest : left and right were dense forest with 
the history of looting and hijacking

Fuel Filled at Raniganj, Sarlahi between 8.65L, NPR 1124 (NPR 130 per litre) at 4970Km Odo reading and mileage of 38.6 KMPL

Every now and then, we get to cross bridges built over streams or rivers that flow from the hills on the northern side. Such many bridges have been constructed with the Nepal-USSR co-operation in 1962 as was evident from the board displayed. As we rode deeper into the country, the Indian (Hindu)name of the bridges like Saraswati Bridge, Kamala bridge etc in Nepal changes to names like Saipatri Bridge (Nepali name of a flower), Dhungey Bridge (means Stony Bridge), Balwa Bridge(means Sand Bridge) etc . After certain stretch the Bridges name appear as Bridge no 1, 2, 3 and so on as if the name giver of the bridges was exhausted of naming words.
The beauty alongside the bridges was vying for our attention all the way. One of the wonderful sight is on the Bagmati River at the end of Sarlahi Forest. The wonder is due to the small dam constructed before the bridge with a backdrop of a hill densely packed with trees and above it the hill kissing the sky.

Some stretches were painful
at Hetauda

The 2 lane E-W Highway of Nepal is constructed along the foothill on the plain till Narayangarh, a town which is appx 500 kms from Kakarvitta, on the right of which is the lower hills of the Himalayan Range. The sight of these hills along the road which gives an unending skyline is a treat to the riders sight as such panorama cannot be seen and be appreciated while on other mode of transport.
Passing through inquisitive eyes and queries of the roadside and fellow bikers, we rode 430 kms since the beginning of the day and reached Hetauda at 5 pm, popularly known as the green city of Nepal as it is amidst the green forest on the foothill. After a short tea break, we persuaded ourselves to ride for further 55 kms to reach Sauraha, Chitwan where the famous Chitwan National Park is located.
Along the way, the rain played a spoilsport and flooded our way. It was an unfortunate combination of night, rain, pot holes and flowing water on the highway which almost made us to halt in a roadside lodge. A couple on the Bullet (Nepal regd Bullet) joined our group as they wanted company. Due to such distraction, one of our rider got his bullet in the deep pothole which created a bent on the front mudguard as was caused due to full length compression and travel of the front shock absorber.
At such a situation when some of our members had agreed on to stay by the roadside and not reach the destined Chitwan National Park, the pictorial motivational story flashed which I had probably seen in some presentation or facebook. Comparative story of two individuals who dig for gold, one person gives up after days of digging not realising that gold was just one feet dig away. The other person digs up one more feet and is rewarded for his toil of so many days.
It was just a matter of pushing ourselves for another 10kms only to Sauraha, famous tourist destination, from this site of demotivation. As we gathered energy, we rode further only to discover dusty and good road, rainless. Police barricade stopped us. The smart police officer visually checked our packed bikes, everybody in helmet and in the convoy let us pass through withour any harassment. Night riding is not recommended in Nepal especially with a vehicle or bikes registered in other countries as you would have to go thru many such police barricades set us to ensure safety. Harrassment is a price one might have to pay to ride safe at night.
Finally reached the lodge in Sauraha at 8 pm after a ride of 482 kms on Day II.

Day III: 17th Oct 13

Chitwan National Park beyond the river

After the bag packing was done, we had a short view of the National Park from the outside not as exciting for us as none of us were interested in seeing animals or taking an elephant ride.
As we exited Narayangarh and moved further uphill towards Muglin, one of bullet reported with a loose Saddle. While tighening the saddle, another bike was found with a front brake issue. With the requisite tools we managed to repair the damage. The major contributor in repairing the tight brake drums was the Almond hair Oil which we had carried in our waist bag. One colleague had to be the balancing weight in order to avoid the bike from nose diving as we had to remove the front wheel.

Balancing Weight....Breakdown in Narayangarh
The couple on the bullet we met previous night passed thru us as we were repairing. As we read their mind, they wanted to stop and move along with us, but could not understand why they chose to leave us behind and move ahead as loner Bullet.

Finally at 1pm, we began our uphill march towards Muglin, 30 kms away in the hills. This ride in the hills thru the narrow road was dusty and with unexpected craters almost creating a traffic jam. The bikers could maneuver the traffic leaving the queued convoy of trucks and buses behind. This march in the hill was an indication that we are climbing northwards. Beside the road at around 300-400ft below was river Trishuli, her silence interrupted by our noisy convoy of Bullets. This hilly track bears resemblance to the road to Gangtok from Siliguri. Similar to river Teesta, there lies river Trishuli, meandering along  with the road.

at Mughlin

After ride of 30 kms in 1 hr, we reached Mughlin, an intersection, the right of which will lead to Kathmandu, 100Kms away and left will lead to Pokhara, 90 kms away.
A short tea break and we turned left.
The road from here is wider than the 30kms stretch we had managed to cross in the previous hour. This road took us thru the hilly terrain for few initial kms and then thru the paddy fields and villages leaving the sight of the picturesque hills behind on both side of the road. Again the wonderful sight from the bridges definitely demanded all our attention and we had to slow down or stop at such locations just to capture a proper glimpse of the beauty.  

Somewher Between Muglin and Pokhara

The sun set as we entered the Welcome Gate of Pokhara city. Our search for the lodge was distracted due to sudden and heavy rain which even drenched our clothes packed in the bags. For others who had packed the clothes in the poly bag and then in the saddle bag didn’t have to worry.

A must for all the biker travellers to pack their clothes and utilities in a poly bag and then in the saddle/luggage bag so that you are protected from such unwelcome rain.

Day IV: 18th Oct 13
Fuelling done in Pokhara at 5324 Kms, 9.7 Lit, recorded mileage of 36.5KMPL

Pokhara, at an altitude of 827m, is the second largest city after Kathmandu in Nepal. This is an important tourist destination in Nepal. It is said that if you haven’t been to Pokhara, you haven’t seen Nepal. The name "Pokhara" meaning the valley of the lakes is itself derived from "Pokhari" which literally means a lake. There are eight lakes namely Phewa, Begnas, Rupa, Maidi, Khaste, Gunde, Dipang and Kamal Pokhari – inside the valley. Phewa, Begnas and Rupa are three lakes worth visiting. Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world — Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu — are situated within 50kms (linear distance) of the city, so that the northern skyline of the city offers a very close view of the Himalayas. Due to its proximity to the Annapurna mountain range, the city is also a base for trekkers undertaking the Annapurna Circuit

Fewa Tal (Lake)

We had lodged ourselves in a hotel near the lake Fewa Tal. We woke up at 5 am, as we were told about the amazing view of the Himalayas early morning against the sunrise. Unfortunate. Due to cloud, we couldn’t have the view.
October as we read and were told is a month of clear sky in Pokhara and delightful eye-treat to the tourists. Courtesy Phailin, we were not so lucky enough.

However we rode thru the city to a nearby viewpoint, Sarangkot at an altitude of 1500m and 16 kms from the city. As we slowly climbed the hill to reach the viewpoint, we could enjoy the majestic view of the lake Fewa Tal from this altitude and paragliders flying like flight of birds. From the viewpoint, we could manage to steal a sight of the famed and stunning Annapurna . The other mountains had hidden itself from us behind the Phailin cloud.

Fewa lake as seen from Sarangkot view point

At the Sarangkot viewpoint, one would be required to pay NPR 30.00 for the day which they charge for the maintenance. Also a 2 minute telescopic view of the Himalaya is charged NPR 20.00 separately.
Interestingly we found a beautiful camping site and we took the consent of the viewpoint caretaker who agreed to cook dinner for us, supply firewood and water. We returned to Pokhara city to collect our belongings and camping gears we had brought along. 


After lot of discussion, all of us finally came to a conclusion that we would have a unique experience of camping infront of the Annapurna range. We had high expectation of sighting the beckoning and majestic mountain range from so close a distance, the popular sunrise and sunset as well thru our tent window.
Bag packed, bought the utilities and food stuffs for cooking the breakfast for the next day, we rode to the camping site.

Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world — Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu, provides a spectalular breathtaking view on a clear sky..will be etched in your memory for long long time - view from Fewa Lake

Not an easy ride to reach the camp site as the Dozer had started to dig the road side and undulations to make it smooth which made it worse for us. The hilly road with loose mud can become dangerous as the bike looses friction. However we could manage to take only two Bullets to the camping site, other two bullets had to be parked in a nearby hotel, 150 mts away, who agreed on NPR 100 for the night as parking fee.
As the negotiation was on, the beautiful Mt Machapuchre was witness to it for around two minutes as it came towering out of the cloud with evening golden sunlight bathing its face. This was the last sight of this mountain I had in my tour.

By the time we could carry all the stuffs to the site, it was already dark. Our lights and invertors were very handy then. To add to our trouble fighting the darkness, the rain began not heavy though, but enough to drench us soon.
The rain god was displeased with us as the rain continued till the midnight making it difficult for us for everything, to light the campfire, to eat, to sleep, and to top it all there were hungry blood suckers- the leeches around which fed on two of our colleagues.

Day V : 19th Oct 13

As we woke up at 5 am, the next day, thick and wide clouds wished us good morning forbidding us of the view of the Himalayas. Nevertheless, we cooked our breakfast, bagpacked, helped by a kid named Ramesh who was sent from his home to sell us Tea.
Ramesh seemed to have handled lot of tourists and learnt photography thru experience proven by his way of handling our camera.

Campsite at 1500m altitude

The wonderful sight of two concentric rainbows on the western sky was amazing. The rainbows had wide diameter with Pokhara city at one end and Mt Annapurna at the other, measuring close to 50 kms. The villages of Nau Darha on the North-West hill, Yhemja on the valley down East side separated from Pokhara by river Seti Gandaki, all amidst the green hills, occasionally and partially lit by the sunlight is a treat for your eyes as seen from this view point.

After a yummy self cooked breakfast of egg, famed Wai Wai, bread and sugarless black tea and bagpacking done, we rode back bidding adieu to Ramesh and Sarangkot taking with us some adventurous memory of the previous night.

I had to reluctantly cut short my trip of 12 days to 6 days only due to other priorities at home. My friends stayed back as I returned home.

As I complete my blog today, my colleagues I left behind in Pokhara are on their way return home today (26th Oct 2013) from Kathmandu.
Had it been not for for the cloud at the backdrop, this picture would have been one of the best (The cloud has hidden the Mt Annapurna which is just about 40 Kms away linearly)