Thursday, November 26, 2009

Channagiri Trek - November 21-22, 2009

A group of 6 CTCian's ventured into the hills of Channagiri dreaming of a night out in the hills and return next morning. But this became a night trek which ended at 4 a.m. follwed by 2 hours of sleep and then trekking again. I believe no body had seen this face of Channagiri as we climbed from the steep side, experienced the dense thorny forest and beautiful campsite.

We started from Bangalore at 5:30 pm and reached Doddabalapur by 7:30 pm where with much difficulty, we were able to buy the ration for the camping. It was nearly impossible to find a shop stocking soup packets there. We started from there by 8 p.m. and fortunately got the last bus to the deserted village of Sadhu Math. At 9 pm, Sadhu Math was spine chilling windy. Few villagers whom we could spot suggested us not to climb up as it was slippery and very dangerous. They were surprised as to what these city dwellers are going to do in the night. Have they gone crazy. Nevertheless, we were adamant and were soon set on track. Within an hour, the windy atmosphere made us think of hot soup and there we were out with our mumbo jumbo to prepare the juice of the heaven.

I was prepared to take the group through a rather less steep but long route. Our GPS genius Claudy couldn't digest this idea after he figured out which side was north :) He suggested we climb up from the west instead of taking a long route. I always trust his navigation skills rather than mine as I often need GPS to navigate to the toilet. So, we changed course and set to climb from west.

The initial jeep track was full of animal traps primarily set up for rabbits and we were amused at the dexterity of the hunters. Then we came across a waterfalls which seemed to have formed by the stream coming down the hill. I was little surprised seeing so much water in this rather puny hill. We continued to climb up the hill and water was trickling down from almost everywhere, the whole ground was wet.

I had seen dense forest in some part of Channagiri on google maps but this never trickled down my mind that we might have been climbing from that dense side. Anyway, it was too late now for this info to be any worth as we had already climbed quite a bit. So, we continued on the same direction, often to be obstructed by thick bushes and thorns. Finding an open space to walk wasn't easy and Claudy was constantly at it. I was laid back as Claudy took care of navigation. His energy and skills are even better at work in such insurmountable situations.

Claudy had a big doubt about the altitude. Topo suggested the peak was at 1400 m, but the GPS was not suggesting much of a gain in height and we were at 1100 m after quite a bit of climb. I too became suspicious after we were almost near the peak and yet at 1250 m.

The clouds were looking like ghosts, sometime like dinosaurs approaching from far, merging with each other. And there it was a huge animal made of clouds, rather stationary. We could sit there imagining the shapes and stories of these fictions creatures, hours passing by with ease.

It was 6 hours now since we have been trekking and no were near a camping site. By now, the supposedly picnic had become a difficult trek. And then it was a surprise when we reached what we felt was the peak. It was 3:30 a.m. now. An excellent camp site with flat rocks to sleep on and huge boulders giving the appearance of ruins of a building was welcoming us. We decided to place our butts here and fill our bellies. Anala and Priyanka took charge of cooking the avalakki and payasam! Yes, we did make payasam on a trek, that too at 4 a.m. in the morning.

It was too windy and chilling for anyone to have a comfortable sleep. However, we managed sleeping next to each other and getting cover from the boulders. We were prepared for a nice sunrise but nobody woke up at 6 a.m. and I was the last to shed the coziness of my sleeping bag. As it became necessary to reach the peak and get down by 9:30 a.m. (the bus from the village was at 9:30 a.m. and next at 2 pm), everyone had to push their limits.

We were surrounded by mist and the beauty or rather feeling of it was such that I had felt very few times in my life. It was difficult to see things barely few meters away, capturing them on camera was just a day dream.

After a while, it was dense thorny shrubs laden with dew drops and moisture. Often we had to duck and crawl through this patch. Then came what seemed like dead end. Almost impassable shrubs on the right, deep gorge on the left. By this time, we were at 1350 m and hence guessed that we must be very close to the peak. It was matter of just 50 more meters. Soon Claudy and I were able to figure out a way to an open grass land covered with mist and dew. The clouds would hit the body of the hill and melt. We were witnessing the birth of streams and rivulets.

Another few steps and we were at the peak which was marked by an old temple and few other deserted constructions. It was 1445 m now. I regret not being able to witness the sunrise as there wasn't any sunrise on that Sunday! It was too cloudy for the sun to rise. However, we did encounter the foreplay between the clouds and sun. The pristine blue sky and clouds rising to the top of the adjoining hills. By this time, we had already forgotten about the 9:30 a.m. bus and were aiming at 2 pm bus, with doubts whether we'll be able to catch hold of that or not.

Breakfast of dates, tea, and photo session followed and we were set to reach the bottom of the hill through an open path. This was a pretty much defined trail going to the base. And I was not surprised to find that it was going towards the southern side, which had previously been decided on. However, later I found that this path was deviating quite a bit from the one I thought of.

The trail was fairly even and open to walk on. We came across a stream which would eventually lead to the lake at the base. These streams would dry up soon as the rains stop in the region and we were lucky enough to find ourselves at such suitable time. Milky white clouds had scattered themselves throughout the visible range with the backdrop of pale blue sky. White clouds, blue sky, and the hills. What else would a guy with a camera wish?

In few more hours, we were at the base and headed towards the village. The wild Mildi berries loaded with ripen fruits were too juicy to avoid. Hence, we took time to pluck them and blacken our tongue with the berries.

The villagers informed that the next bus was at 1:30 p.m. and we were at the bus stand by 12:30 p.m. I suggested that we go back to the waterfalls and enjoy the bath before boarding the bus. But the team was too apprehensive about missing the bus. So, finally me and Anala headed towards the fall with the intent of coming back within 1 hour. We ran as it would take almost 20 minutes to reach the falls. We didn't want to miss the it. It was a small waterfall but certainly rejuvenating. We enjoyed the limited time and ran back. Thanks to all who stayed back at the bus stand so that we could leave behind our luggage.

One lesson I have learned in life is that one should never trade the current joy which is certain with the probability of future trouble. We always, always regret not enjoying that moment later in life.

We were back with the team and no sign of bus. Villagers were getting tired answering our repeated questions about the bus timings. Our patience was waning. Thoughts were appearing that whether there was a bus or not at 1:30 pm. It is always difficult to wait for things especially when things never wait for us.

The village bus stand was transformed into a playground for kids. Various games were being played and our photography gurus, Srikanth and Claudy, were at work capturing these moments. At regular interval, the kids were questioned about the bus timings. Soon, we heard the noise of the engine and then team was liven up again, the joy of returning back home was visible on the faces. The fruit of waiting so long at this in indescript part of the world had come to us.

That was it. The end. Nothing much was of any significance after this. These delightful days will remain memorable, but often it is not only the trail but also the people on that trail that makes a trek beautiful and unforgettable.

News - Whats its use

I have been growing more and more skeptic about the worthiness of news as it is being presented to us. Not only I would question the worthiness of news, but also raise questions about intoxication of our minds by these half-baked news stories.

The news sellers want the government to save its pupil from being treated by quack doctors. Yet they like to enjoy the freedom to intoxicate the minds by whatever way they wish and call it freedom of press. Isn't it the responsibility of the government to protect the citizen from the perils of wrong and misleading information?

Keep the above seriousness aside, here is a forwarded mail by Anala by which I was kind of surprised as it bore much similarity to my own thoughts. Here it follows:

Prashant (TV Anchor): Two persons have been injured in a freak climbing accident. Jai and his
companion Zeenat had gone up a hill to fetch a pail of water when Jai fell down
and broke his crown. Zeenat came tumbling after. Live from the hill, our

reporter, Amrita Shah, takes up the story.

Amrita Shah: Thank you Prashant. Well, as you say, two persons - Jai and Zeenat - had gone
up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Suddenly, Jai fell down and broke his
crown and Zeenat came tumbling after. Prashant.

Prashant: Thank you Amrita. What do we know about the hill?

Amrita: Not too much. Jai was going up the hill to fetch a pail of water when he fell
down and broke his crown. Zeenat came tumbling after

[Headline appears at the foot of the TV screen: "hill breaks crown of pail-boy Jai"]

Prashant: What news of Jai and Zeenat?

Amrita: Prashant, it seems that Jai had gone up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
We know nothing about the pail, or how heavy it was but it seems that Jai
fell down and broke his crown and Zeenat came tumbling after. I have here with me,
an eyewitness to the accident, Mr Shahid Trivedi. Mr Shahid, tell us what you

Shahid Trivedi: Jai and Zeenat went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jai fell down and
broke his crown and Zeenat came tumbling after.

[Headline appears at the foot of the TV screen: "Boy and girl tumble down hill. Water spilled"]

Amrita: Jai and Zeenat. What do we know about them? Are they brother and sister? Are
they married? Just what were they doing on the hill together?

Shahid Trivedi: Jai and Zeenat went up the hill to fetch a pail a water.

Amrita: And what happened next?

Shahid Trivedi: Jai fell down and broke his crown.

Amrita: Go on.

Shahid Trivedi: And Zeenat came tumbling after.

Amrita: Prashant, there you have it. Two people innocently going about their business
to fetch a pail of water when one of them falls down, breaks his crown, and
the other comes tumbling after. Back to you in the studio Prashant.

[Headline appears at the foot of the TV screen: "Water errand ends in tragedy"]

Prashant: I have with me in the studio now, Professor Chandrashekar Belagare from the
Indian Institute of Applied Hill Sciences. Professor: a hill; Jai; Zeenat; a
pail of water. A tragedy waiting to happen?

Professor: Well that depends on the hill, the two persons, the object they were carrying
and the conditions unde rfoot. Let us look at the evidence so far.

Jai and Zeenat
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jai fell down
And broke his crown
And Zeenat came tumbling after.

Clearly, one would suspect that if Jai's fall was severe enough to break his
crown then the surface of the hill must have been slippery or unstable. But I
think were overlooking something quite fundamental here. Who was carrying the
pail? Jai fell down and broke his crown and this is the key Zeenat came
tumbling after. If Jai and Zeenat had been carrying the pail together, would
they not have fallen at the same time? The fact that Zeenat came tumbling after
suggests that Jai lost his footing first and perhaps knocked Zeenat over as he

Prashant: Professor thank you very much. So there we have it, two persons Jai and Zeenat
went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jai fell down and broke his crown
and Zeenat came tumbling after. Later in the programme, Osama bin Laden
captured in Afghanistan , President Obama says he did not deserve the Nobel prize,
and Pakistan launches nuclear warheads against key Indian cities. But next up,
join us after the break for a studio discussion about hills, boys and girls
and whether water-fetching trips should be supervised. Well be right back...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Religious Conversion of Chicken and Lamb

I came across a joke which nails down the concept of religious conversion pretty well. Now, I leave it to the religiously inclined ones to answer why can't chicken and lamb be converted to potato and tomato just as person of X religion is converted to Y.

Each Friday night after work, Bubbal Singh would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a tandoori chicken and some meat kebabs. But, all of Bubbal’s neighbors were strict Catholics … and since it was Lent, they were forbidden from eating chicken and meat on a Friday.

The delicious aroma from the grilled meats was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their Priest.

The Priest came to visit Bubbal, and suggested that he become a Catholic. After several classes and much study, Bubbal attended Mass … and as the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, “You were born a Sikh, and raised a Sikh, but now, you are a Catholic.”

Bubbal’s neighbors were greatly relieved, until Friday night arrived, and the wonderful aroma of tandoori chicken and meat kebabs filled the neighborhood.

The Priest was called immediately by the neighbors, and, as he rushed into Bubbal’s backyard, clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him, he stopped and watched in amazement.

There stood Bubbal, clutching a small bottle of holy water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meats and chanted: “Oye, you waz born a chicken, and you waz born a lamb, you waz raised a chicken, and you waz raised a lamb but now yara, you are a potato and tomato”!


Friday, April 10, 2009

2009-03-Kolli HIlls

Click on any image to reach Picasa album.

This trek was organized by CTC in Kolli Hills, Namakkal District, Tamil Nadu.

CTC Write Up:

Details of Trek:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Smoke Off Screen, Kill On Screen

Indian government and various advocates of smoke/alcohol-free society want to censor out scenes of smoking and drinking in television and cinema on the ground that it glamorizes and encourages smoking/drinking in the society and that being the guardian of the society, it is their duty and right to micro-control the behavior of citizens, supposedly in the best interest of citizens. Advertisements of cigarette and alcohol is already off air and the government want to discourage the evils of smoking/drinking among general public in general and among youth in specific.

This shows how much concerned our government is about a person injuring self with own consent by consuming tobacco or alcohol. Hence, it may be assumed that our government must be as much, if not less, concerned about a person injuring another person, obviously without his/her consent, by means of violence. So, by the analogy of censoring smoking and drinking, depicting violence in movies or television also glamorizes it and hence must also be censored for public viewing. But unfortunately, the government doesn't seem to be interested in uprooting and discouraging other evils of the society, such as violence.

A Bit Of Imagination: Now, imagine what all will be removed if the parliament passes a bill to censor scenes of violence. Umpteen number of movies in which the good guy fights and/or kills the bad guy, movies about alien invasion, movies of war will not be made anymore. Violent parts of Indian independence struggle must go and so, you will never see Bhagat Singh or Bose. In the news, you will not see the scenes of bomb blast or terrorist attack. Mega blockbuster serials based on religious books, such as Mahabharata, Ramayan, Old and New Testament, will be taken off air because of high violence content and the K-series will need to put sex shots instead of slap shots.

Isn't it a better idea to remove violence from the society first and then smoking or drinking? But I do not believe that the utopia of non-violent society can be achieved nor do I specifically wish for it. My intention here is to finger the foolishness and biased treatment towards smoking/drinking and violence. On one side, government advocates smoke/alcohol free society and thus takes steps to promote it. On other side, government advocates nonviolence, but does not take similar steps to promote it. What a partial treatment!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Terrorising Religion And Why We Fail To Stop It

There is lot being said and done around the world to prevent religious terrorism. Security being increased, special forces being formed. United States has been trying to fight the same over the last 9 years and yet success is not in sight. Billions of dollars of the world's wealth has been burnt to stop someone from killing others who thinks that this is his/her duty towards god. Yet rare to no efforts are made to educate the masses and the next generations about the falsehood of religion, the very basis of religious terrorism. To my knowledge, no fund is allocated to encourage people to critically examine their own religion, to spread the seeds of rationality. It is like you want to prevent and treat the disease of terrorism but not the pathogen, the religion. You want to act only when the pathogen grows up to become disease, discomfort.

You would say religion promotes peace, tolerance, and coexistence, not violence! In that case, I can bet my trousers that you have read newspaper articles about religion and NOT the holy books. You aren't even a religious person then not having read the good books!

Once people start taking the way of rational thinking and examination of their religion, the follies of religion are exposed and the base of terrorism is shaken. Who would like to die as a suicide bomber if the cause of fighting, the god, does not exist, if he is not going to get virgins in the heaven as promised by the holy books? This is the only way out, only the messiah of reason and rationality can save the mankind.

Minds of grown up adults are like a non-rewritable CD. Once the data is written, it cannot be undone. What people grow up believing is what they hold onto for most of their life. Change of mind are rare to find in societies. Concepts of reason and skeptical scrutiny must be inculcated in young minds. Seeds of rationality must be sown when the virgin psyche of children are not yet infested by the weeds of religion and superstition. So, if one starts with children now, it would take somewhere around 20 years for them to play an effective role in the society and consequently make the society more rational. And it will be two to three generations before we could see a substantial section of the society subscribing to rational thinking. But given the present state of almost the whole population entrenched in some or other religion, a somewhat rational society seems like an utopia though if one starts to walk, destination is not unreachable.

Unfortunately, all those in capacity of guiding the society wants to sit aside and not even stand up to walk towards the destination. No political entity wants to touch the subject of faith as this means hurting the emotions of voter, emotions which are deeply embedded in their psyche, and consequently loss of power. Hence, all over the world, political parties take side of religious idiocy rather than any reasonable stand one might expect from authorities who intend to govern the nation.

In 2008, there was a literal war in Kerala, so-called God's own country, over inclusion of supposedly atheist content in class VII textbook. Here is the passage from the textbook that was bone of contention.

Son, what’s your name?"

"Good…nice name. Father’s name?"
"Anvar Rasheed".

"Mother’s name?"
"Lakshmi Devi".

The headmaster looked at the parents and asked: "Which religion should we note"?
"No need to note any. Please mention ‘no religion’."

"The same."

The headmaster leaned back on his chair and asked rather gravely: "What if he feels the need for a religion when he grows up?"
"He can choose his religion if and when he feels so."

And who all wanted this part of the textbook to be removed. Kerala Students Union (KSU), the students wing of the Congress Party; the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF); the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Christian church and organisations; the Indian Union Muslim League; and the Nair Service Society (NSS), three major political entities were involved in opposition of this including the so-called secular Congress Party. They argued that the textbook propagates atheism, its' anti-religion, and hence must not be taught to students. The usual vandalism of public property, bandh, and violence were carried out.

Read the report here:

The Kerala education minister, M A Baby, had to clarify that the content is about religious tolerance and not about atheism. What a cowardly statement. Why not atheism be taught in schools? Isn't it a child's right to know that there exist an animal called no religion? If the study of religion can be justified, study of anti-religion is also valid.

To my ears, this situation sounds similar to someone talking against untouchablility a century or so back. I guess, most political creatures had kept themselves aloof of this issue at that time. Only a minute fraction of the society, the free thinkers, had the courage to revolt against social norms and against the non-thinker blunt-head masses. The general public retard the process of change due to their reluctance to leave their old behavior, their old beliefs. And when the onus of change is on those who derive power from the general public, reforms feel more like distant dreams as do the hopes of fearless society.

Final Prediction: As long as the society is infested by religion, we will have terrorism in one or other form.

My Demand: Atheism, agnosticism, and other anti-region contents must be included in school textbooks just as study of various religions is included allowing the innocent minds to decide whats wrong and whats right.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wasteful Bottled Water And A Business Opportunity

Have you ever wondered about the wide-spread presence of bottled water where there was none just a decade back. Many a times, many of us find it difficult to gulp down any but bottled water. Even in the restaurants, we refuse the free water served and prefer to buy something bottled even if it is the same free water bottled at a filthy plant.

This seem to me a really great piece of marketing skills. First, they were bundled as mineral water supposedly good for health. Later, this mineral tag was removed since in reality there weren't any mineral in there. This tendency for buying bottled water seems rather foolhardy to me, but nevertheless it is a great business opportunity to create wealth out of ...water!

This perceived need of clean drinking water is fueling the demand for bottled water. Bottled water is a wasteful way of satisfying this need because:
  1. Around 2.7 liter of water is required to process 1 liter of bottled water.
  2. Lot of resources are wasted in filling, packaging, transportation, storage, and cooling.
  3. It creates more and more garbage of plastic bottles.

You may try a simple Internet search on "actual cost of bottled water."

Now, bottled water is no more mineral water of the past as it was marketed earlier. People just need clean and cold drinking water and are not concerned about its mineral contents.

This need of clean and cold drinking water can be fulfilled by much cheaper and efficient means and the technology is also very cheaply available, the water purifier machines. These water vending machines can be installed at bus stands, railway station, and other public places with collaboration with municipal corporations or given to shop owners on franchise basis who would take care of the machines and provide space. Empty bottles can be sold or people can bring in their own bottles for refilling. This will reduce the number of bottles in use since people will be able to refill and need not necessarily buy another bottle to get the water within it. There can be some kind of automatic vending system where in people can insert some coins and get 1 L of water and/or empty bottles thereby reducing the man power cost too.

The present environment frenzy can be capitalized by advertising about how much damage to environment this system saves by reducing plastic usage, transportation, etc. This can be used to ask for tax breaks too. And how about earning and selling carbon credits!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

I was conversing with a newly-formed friend on Orkut (is it inappropriate to call someone "friend" whom you have never met, but just share similar thoughts) about constantly changing and yet unchanged nature of this world as perceived by us, the homo, ...., oh, I mean Homo sapience. Amarok had the freedom to play any song in my collection and to my surprise, right then, it played "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Anjan Dutta. It is actually an adaption of Pete Seeger's song by the same name with some Bangla lyrics and thoughts. Pete Seeger adapted this song from an Ukrainian folk song referenced in the Mikhail Sholokhov novel "And Quiet Flows the Don" (1934). So far, the song has been translated in 13 languages. Though the words have changed from language to language and from singer to singer, the essence remains the same, how things come in circle, how we do not learn from history again and again. Here is the song:

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the flowers gone?
The girls have picked them every one.
Oh, when will you ever learn?
Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the young girls gone?
They've taken husbands, every one.
Oh, when will you ever learn?
Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the young men gone?
They're all in uniform.
Oh, when will you ever learn?
Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the soldiers gone?
They've gone to graveyards, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the graveyards gone?
They're covered with flowers, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls picked them, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
When will we ever learn? I'm asking you!

Monday, February 16, 2009


I just stumbled upon the lyrics of John Lennon's song "Imagine" and was astonished by the degree of similarity between the contents of this 1971 song and my own thoughts. I have never tried to put my ears to Lennon or The Beatles and hence, this proves the proverb, "great minds think alike." :)

Imagine by John Lennon
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Monday, February 9, 2009

General Theory of Cruelty and Disgust

An hour back, I placed chalk marks in my house of the special chalk that kill cockroaches and now, I am witnessing painful death of a cockroach. After crossing the line and probably sniffing the poison, it started acting crazy, running from pillar to post openly as if it doesn't fear anything whereas the general nature of cockroach is to run away from humans and come out only in dark. It did not know what to do, running for I don't know what, may be for life. It is difficult to assume what was going inside the cockroach, whether it was suffocation, thirst, or something else. It felt as if an invisible gun is behind you and you are aware of it and the fact that it will eventually kill you, but you don't know what to do, where to hide, whom to take help from. Finally, the race for life ended and the roach rested on its back, but still alive. It would lay silently for some time as if dead and then bounce back with vigor in an attempt to save its own life, then silence again. It will be alive like this for hours before other insects starts eating it or I throw it away. Is that what we call a painful death? In whatever way a man dies, be it by hanging, cancer, or beheading, it will definitely be better than the death of a cockroach in this way. I hear, I read people talk about cruel, gruesome killings, about more ethical ways for execution of prisoners sentenced death which are painless. Can we compare any of human executions with this, a cockroach's execution? At times, I wonder how can painless, ethical, peaceful be adjective to death and killing. Isn't that absurd?

There are animal right activist who make noise about ethical treatment of animal, for peaceful death in the slaughter house, against the culling of stray dogs. There are people who don't like to see animals slaughtered, but do like to eat slaughtered animals. There are people who don't like to see animal slaughtered and don't eat meat as a consequence. There are those who turn their face away seeing a dead animal on the roadside or even vomit. But all of these men and women do like to use that special chalk to destroy cockroaches, vaporizers to kill mosquitoes, and the famous hand to squeeze all the blood and internal organs out of the mosquito and enjoy the moment of victory. Is there anything painless or ethical in those acts? It seems that size of the life is more important than life itself. The animal activists don't utter a word when there is a drive to kill mosquitoes by the municipality, but shout their hearts out on dogs being culled. Is it that the size does matter? Can you imagine switching on the mosquito terminator and finding chicken sized mosquitoes all around in your bedroom the next morning, some smashed beneath your back with blood and intestines spread on the bedsheet. Or else imaging placing the system to drive cockroaches to extinction and the next morning, finding dog-size cockroaches half dead on their back, showing signs of life only by moving their extremities slothfully, with froth coming out of their mouth and an expression of death on their face. Now, what shall I make of those who grimace at the sight of a dog run over by motorists, to the extent that it has become 2-dimensional, and then go home and switch on the equivalent of gas chamber to suffocate and terminate the mosquitoes.

The acts of animal right activists seem as if they are a matter of convenience and a way to get the feeling of doing something good. Thats it. Consider this, animal right activists make noise about dogs being culled and do all sort of adaptation drama, but utter not a single word when thousands of poultry birds are culled just because there happen to be suspicion about avian flu. The birds are not even tested individually, just a few birds in the whole district happen to have the stains of avian flu. You may argue that it is the question of a deadly disease and hence culling of birds is morally correct. Then by analogy, isn't killing of HIV or swine flu infected humans too is morally correct?

What Makes Us Feel Disgust: The concept of cruelty varies from person to person and place to place. What is considered unacceptably cruel at one point on earth may just be fine or even fun at another. Looking at various forms of pitilessness in inflicting pain/harm or termination of life, a general pattern emerges about what we human term as cruel and what not. For an act to trigger our feelings of disgust, it must affect us through our different senses and must have one or more of the following elements:
1. Size: The size of the organism slaughtered must be large enough to be apparent and occupy a big section of our visual field. How large is a question of debate, but here is a probable index:
  • Less than 2 Inches (insects): Hardly cruel.
  • 2 inches to half a foot (small birds, rodents): Not yet cruel, but dirty.
  • Half a foot to 1 foot (poultry, cats): Cruel, the cruelty meter starts ticking.
  • Larger than 1 foot (dogs): Definitely cruel, please don't do it in front of my eyes.
2. Hearing: The organism must yell loud enough for us to be irritated.

3. Sight:
  • The organism must emit red blood when slaughtered since we associate red blood with pain.
  • Colorless or bloodless slaughter creates a sense of reduced pain.
  • Disfigured corpus (e.g., severed head, broken body parts) of organism enhance our feeling of cruelty in comparison to non-disfigured corpus (as in the case of natural death).
  • An organism struggling for life while being slaughtered or dieing is a bonus for our feelings.
4. Smell: Smell of fresh blood or decaying flesh also adds to our feeling of disgust.

Hopefully, the above analysis gave you a new perspective and a new line of thought about death, slaughter, and mosquito repellent. If you felt nauseated reading all that crap and wish to kill the author (me), then please remind yourself that it is also an act of cruelty.

You have a right to ask about my stand on this issue. I'm a vegan. The only reason for being a vegan is that it is difficult for me to butcher an animal or bird and I believe that I do not have the right to consume something which I cannot prepare from its natural form (e.g. natural form of meat is live animal). On the other hand, I do not make fuss about culling dogs, etc., just as animal right activists do because it is illogical and partial. Finally, I don't drive the innumerable cockroaches, spiders, etc., out of my house either, not because of any moral compulsions but that I'm a tad lazy to do all these.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sri Venkateswara National Park

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Friday, journey starts
"Where are you?" asked Vivek over phone. "I'm in the bus" I answered. "But there are at least 50 buses in the bus stand, how do I figure out in which you are," replied hurried and frustrated Vivek. It was already 9 in the night, 5 minutes left for the bus to depart, and Vivek still at hunt for the right bus to board for Tirupathi, but finally he found me. We made it to Renigunta rather early in the morning, where we were supposed to meet the rest of CTC gang coming from Chennai, and thought it to be a good idea to sleep in the railway platform rather than noisy bus stand. Indeed, it turned out to be a nice idea until the sweeper woke us up.

Saturday, the beautiful pools and deadly climb

By this time, guys from Hyderabad and other 2 guys from Bangalore had reached Renigunta. Peter was there waiting for us over breakfast along with 50 people from Chennai. Soon, we were joined by the rest of the team and we proceeded towards Kodur with frequent su-su-potty breaks. It was a pretty big convoy of 8 cars and 9 bikes. After leaving the highway, we went through dusty, bumpy, and narrow jeep track leaving the cars covered with dust and scratches from bushes. We drove till a point after which it was not possible for most cars to drive past. All the vehicles were parked there and food, water, tents, utensils, etc., were distributed.

It was already 11:30, dry terrain, and under hot sun. But our initial spirits were high enough to be dampened by all these. We proceeded through the bushes following the trail, chatting with each other; some new, some old faces, talking about, among other things, "work." This needs to be emphasized here. People are so engulfed in their robotic worklife that even on breaks, they find it difficult not to talk about work. Work has become major part of the life people spend doing and want to get identified by what they do. What a miserable condition.

All of us were interrupted when Peter found that we were on the wrong trail and started to trace back. We had to enter the river bed and follow it in the direction opposite to flow. Even though the river was dry, remains of monsoon and water flowing through this area was evident by the small pools of water, soft ground underneath our feet, and slippery mud in which few of us soaked their shoes. Above us was clear sky frequented by chirping birds, parrot, peacock, eagles.

Some more walk in the spongy soil covered with foliage of dead aquatic plants. We waited under the shade of a tree which while Peter figured out which way to proceed. I cannot but be amazed at his ability to find ways and navigate using just the topographic Google map and GPS. It seemed as if this national park was his childhood playground, knowing every nooks and corner.

We then proceeded ahead in the riverbed, stepping on and crossing over the big and small rocks. Initially, it was a little difficult to walk on this uneven rocky terrain with some rocks slipping beneath our feet, but soon we were used to it if not comfortable. Walking on a rocky terrain is much more energy consuming than a even climb because one loses energy jumping up and down the rocks, maneuvering feet, managing balance. The moss which met their fate with drying water had taken the shape of shining green color over the rocks. At places, we found nice variations in color on the rock, from green to black to orange.

This place was abundant with crystal-clear water sources, but people not so accustomed with conditions in uncivilized places were finding it difficult to fill their empty bottles. Someone asked me while I was filling my bottle, "is that drinkable?"  "Yes" I said, but found that question rather funny. Are there ways to check the purity of water in such conditions or is it that we are going to get supply of bottled mineral water after a while? I do not have any idea about the chemical composition, but water was clear. I have never seen such clarity and purity of water ever. One could see through it the rocky bottom of these shallow pools or the aquatic plants that inhabited them.

We had not walked that much, but since it was 1 in the afternoon, the usual time of lunch in the city, decision was made to jump in a pool to let the water wash off our sweat and so we did. Some changed to their swimsuits and some did not have that patience and jumped straight away. It was a nice pool with mostly chest deep water and rocky bottom, but Samyak was still afraid to get into it fearing his capability to stand in water! He was persuaded to get in and there it was, everybody throwing water on each other, screaming. The fun of playing in water can never be adequately described in words. We finished our water fun session, had parata with pickle, and proceeded ahead.

I was slow as usual trailing with the last group of people, astonished by the beauty and the hugeness of nature. We were following the almost dry river in opposite direction of flow, jumping from one rock to another so as to prevent our shoes from getting wet. We were surrounded by gigantic walls on our left and right and shallow pools here and there reflecting the green color of the vegetation. I was feeling so puny, so insignificant among these mammoth structures, as if our existence or nonexistence has no consequences in this world.

We found some shallow waters in the way and tried to create bridge by placing stones, but waste, even the biggest stones that we could lift would go under the water. Finding no way, our last resort was to take out the sleepers. Some others preferred getting their shoes wet.

After a while, we found the rest of the group sitting past a knee-deep pool. The issues was the pool next to it, which was deep enough to drawn non-swimmers and wet our stuff. Some of us were thinking about ways to go past the pool and some others simply enjoying the moment of confusion. Peter along with others swam to other side and started collecting big logs to construct a raft. Unfortunately, there weren't much such logs there. Some came with plans to put backpacks on sleeping mat to float them and some others about making a human chain and passing backpacks. Then, Peter decide to trace back and climb the hill on our left. Everybody filled their bottles since this was the last time we were going to see water for the rest of the night.

The climb was steep, 70 degrees or so, with loose rocks and lack of grips. Sometimes, it becomes dangerous when a chain of 60 odd people are climbing up and few big rocks desire to go down. One such rock just missed a poor fellow's head by inches. When some 30-40 people go before you on already loose rocky surface, what you get is a difficult climb. Some people, including me, lost support for their feet and there they were on their chest screaming for someone to pull them up. Everyone knew that they would not die if they fall, just some scratches, a few broken bones may be. But the concept of getting hurt being dangerous is so much engraved in our psyche that our minds start yelling "stop, make it 100% sure that you are not going to fall." And once the confidence is lost, your knees start giving away, your grips get weaker, and thats it, pretty much.

Even though many were struggling to get up, lying on their chest, Peter was running like a mountain deer on these steep inclines and helping others to get up. Indeed, it was the most difficult part of the whole trek.

By the time we made it to the hill top, it was already dark. After a little walk, we found a relatively flat surface and decided to camp there. Some cleaned the space of stones for their beds, some went and got firewood for the group. Few were tired of the climb, so had food and slept. Others, kept on chatting around the campfire, playing UNO, making noise, trying to wake the sleeping guys up. This was the time we found the song of the trek, "O Maria" just because one of our fellow trekker happened to be Maria. Of course, Maria was not able to understand any bit of the song except "O Maria." I was a little skeptical about the campfire spreading especially given people were sleeping near it in nylon sleeping bags, but nothing happened and the fire lived up till next morning.

Sunday, magnificent rock formations and tiring stream path

I thought of getting up early next morning for sunrise, but nothing of that sort, it was pretty late when I got up and still not willing to get out of sleeping bag. The night was cold and dew drops on our sleeping bags made it wet. I peeped outside my sleeping bag and found few more bodies lying. Hence after being assured that there is still lot of time before people start kicking you, I decided to spend some more time lying idle. Soon, everybody was up and kicking, trying to dry their wet sleeping bags, packing their backpacks. Water was lacking and hence the decision was made to proceed towards the water source and have breakfast there.

We made our way through thick vegetation, small shrubs, creepers, and thorns. It was problematic to get through such terrain especially with big rolls of sleeping mat which would get stuck in thorns. Within an hour, we were in open riverbed again. This place seemed like it had been carved with precision by a master craftsman. Mostly smooth, flat rocks made the walk a breeze unlike yesterday's walk on gravels and round rocks. Smooth rocks, deep gorges, blue clear water, all are in the memory.

At one point, we lost visual contacts with people going ahead and some 10 of us were in confusion about the way. We shouted, but no one answered. I went uphill to check for signs of others passing by, but to no avail. Then Samyak figured out path taken by them and we joined them again in a moment. It was strange that they were not very far from us but were not able to hear us shouting. May be the acoustics of the surrounding was such.

It was time for a plunge in the pool and flowing waters and for breakfast. I was too lazy to take off my shoes. Rusk, jam, thepla all went in my stomach. We repacked our bags and moved on through this nicely carved place. One may wonder how great a sculpture "water" is the flow of which created these marvelous structures, hidden from human eyes.

Then we encountered a sort of cleft, right angles of incline for about 20 feet. Thankfully, there were places to keep our feet and one by one, all of us came down some jumping, some holding trees. Next few hours, we were walking without much difficult along the river with plenty of water to drink until we were stopped by another such steep rock. This was the point where the decision was made to depart from the river and walk through dry stream paths covered with thick vegetation. This was a tough time, walking next few hours through big boulders, getting on top of one, then getting down, then again up. This was tiring and because the stream path was with twists and turns, we were making little progress in terms of distance covered.

Peter felt the team was too slow and we were far behind our target of the day. He decided to leave the stream path and climb up the hills. Climb was not difficult and pretty soon we were on top of the hill where we were going to camp for the night. It was full of palm variety of tree with lot of flat spaces in between for us to sleep.

Everybody had ran out of water by this time. There was a source of water at a distance of 1 and half hours downhill, but not all were in such condition to go there. So, it was decided that few guys with good stamina would fetch water for all of us. Bottles were collected and 9 guys (Peter, Kartik, Diwakar, Bastien, Jean, Palani, Sankar, Bhaskar, Samyak) left with empty bottles in their backpack. It has to be appreciated that it is not easy to carry even 5 bottles of water and they were doing it 10 each through the dark of the night and steep climb. From their account, we came to know that they had encountered a steep climb of almost 90 degrees for 100 feet or so. Their effort and contribution to get water for all of us was just extraordinary. Kudos to those 9 dare devils.

In the meantime, Tamal, Pawan, Vicky, Joti, and Deepak had set up the kitchen and started making preparation for MTR palav which just required to be put in hot water for few minutes. Tamal sang the bengali song "sundar bone sundori gach" while the sun went down calmly without any display of color or drama, perhaps because the sky was clear with no clouds. We could see ranges after ranges of hills covered with thick forest.

The hot MTR palav packets were being distributed but at a condition, one needs to sing a song to get one. Indira managed with Karnatic classical and Maria with Portugal's national anthem. I wondered how many of us remember our national anthem completely. Some had already finished their palav the day before and hence we were short of food for the whole group. However, people coming late managed with sharing food and biscuits, etc.

People had already collected fire woods and now it was time for campfire, not one but three campfires. There is a magic number of people who can be in a group after which it starts to break up in subgroups. Certainly, 60 people were far above that magic number. Everybody wanted their personal affair, be surrounded with people they know, in their circle of familiarity. Strange it is, we like to venture in unfamiliar territories of jungles and mountains, face unexpected circumstances, but still keep ourselves aloof from unfamiliar minds and distant ourselves physically and psychological so as not to allow others to step in our personal spaces and to step in others personal spaces.

It was around 8 p.m. and news came on walky-talky that those 9 guys are returning soon and that we must increase the campfire for them to get an idea of our location. It was pitch black and we could see torches flashing at a distance. They had arrived and were welcomed by the rest of the group with loud noise. Everybody sat near the campfire and those guys finished their food. Suddenly, Peter and Vikram got a big tree for campfire, the whole big tree. All the previous fire wood collections seemed puny in comparison to this catch. Even though everybody were tired with whole day's trek and then night trek to fetch water, Diwakar still had enormous energy to jump over the campfire for the cameras, with flash, without flash, one more trial, out of focus, and he continued with his modeling satisfying all the photographers.

With almost everybody asleep, rounds of UNO started again. I was sitting with my back towards fire and it seemed the heat was penetrating my t-shirt and touching directly my skin, seemed my t-shirt was burning, but it was a pleasant pain like that of pain killer sprays. We left for our beds after the game and the night was not as wet and cold as yesterday's though I could not sleep well because the campfire had take my previously decided bed and now I was on an uneven surface. I kept on moving and adjusting myself according to the surface until finally I could find a comfortable position at 4 a.m!

Monday, dive in the pool and never ending jeep track

Water had already been consumed by next morning and it was time to get to the stream once again but in bright daylight. Peter took some people 50 feet down to have a look at the place we intended to reach. This time, 30 people turned out and those who stayed back, I must note, did make a big mistake. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about the steep 100 feet climb down because even after 3 years of trekking, I'm yet to overcome the fear of heights. But then, there was no point in staying back, standstill at one place, without water, being roasted by sun. Moreover, I did not want to miss out the fun in water and the numerous clicks that were waiting to be clicked.

While everybody was ready to leave for the stream, Samloo was still asleep in his brown sleeping bag. That was not fair though, but all attempts to wake him up went in vain. Initially, we tried gentle approach with leaves and twigs. With that failing, kicks came in and finally stones were thrown. Nothing worked. Though his physique does not match with that of Kumbhakaran, but his sleep habit do.

The same procedure of yesterday was repeated, backpacks filled up with empty bottles and we left. It was a nice walk through the palm trees, grass made slippery by passage of 30 odd pairs of feet. Soon we were passing through tunnels made by bushes over the stream path. And there it was, waiting for us, the steep climb down. It looked difficult as one could not see the gradual decline, just the ground 100 feet down through the narrow gorge and the stone wall in front of you. But it is always easier than it looks. May be our perception of danger and fear evolved in ways which make us avoid most dangers to our lives, injuries to our bodies. In prehistoric times when man was evolving, even a fractured bone would have been fatal with no treatment or help. May be that is what shaped our fear response.

It is difficult to imagine how these narrow gorges had been shaped over thousands and thousands of years by water and other natural process, slowly or may be in a hurry with earth quakes. These beautiful gorges and rocks led us to the river which in turn took us to our destination, the magnificent pool with greenish blue water, at the foot of vast expanse of vertical brown-black rock. The pool was deep, may be 30 feet, but clear and one could see through for 3-4 feet. Peter took the initiative to dive in this pool and then the photographers had many more models for this stunt. Non-swimmers too got encouraged and jumped with complete faith on swimmers to save them. As soon as they touched water, CTC lifeguards plunged into chilling water.

When it was enough of fun, one by one everybody came out of water, dried themselves under the sun and then explored the place around. It was time for a group photo and then to move on with filled up water bottles. All the bottles were filled up and as we were about to proceed, Tamal, the foodie, found that there were lot of fishes in a small ditch. They were small, barely 2 or 3 inches, and even tens of them would not be enough to satiate one person and we were 60. But Tamal's bangali instinct was unstoppable and he started working with a towel to lay the trap for the innocent fishes. They, the fishes, must have been surprised that human could come so far, so deep in the jungle to satisfy their taste for fish. Anand took the responsibility to collect the fishes in a bottle and make sure they remain alive till the fraying pan was heated. It was barely half a bottle full of fishes in total.

We left this beautiful pool and traced back our path, climbing up the rocks. Then came the hard part, climbing uphill with sun banging over us. It was hot and kind of humid. Good amount of water that we carried was consumed in the way. In an hour and half, by 1 p.m., we made it back to our camp site and others were waiting there, thirsty and bored, I presume. Water was scarce given that we had the whole day to trek and no idea about availability of water later. So,Anand took care of rationing water, 1 liter per head, not more, you have to come in queue. For the same reason, we dropped the idea of cooking Maggi and stuffed ourselves with whatever biscuits, rusks, etc., was left, still hungry, but no recourse. In the meanwhile, Tamal had already prepared the fish fry and few had chance of tasting it.

Yesterday night's campfire was still burning and it needed to shut off before we left this place. People started putting the garbage in it, plastic bottles, wrappers. I was somewhat hesitant about burning plastics since we have been taught how bad it is to environment, etc. But over the past few months, I have grown more and more skeptical about alarmist environmentalism. They, the greens, scare you that whatever you do is somehow harmful to environment; global cooling (in 1970s it was the buzz word), ozone hole, now global warming caused by the CO2 you breathe out. What all bullshit they want us to believe in without substantial proof. I took a broken bottle and threw it in fire. I felt something release within me, as if I was set free, that the debt of carrying all plastic back did not exist at all.

There were some abandoned objects at the camp site, caps, socks, sleepers. People were asked to take their belongings, but no one came forward. Certainly, these belonged to someone who were not willing to carry them back. What can one say of those who do not wish to take responsibility of things which were once useful to them. Once these possession seem little burdensome to keep, we disown them. Is it not our responsibility to give proper disposal after there is no use, no life left in our possessions? How will it be if our dead bodies are not given proper burial, disowned and left to decay by the society?

It was supposed to be another 7 hours of walk downhill until we could get to the highway. We walked through the open jungles with hot sun, then shaded stream path, came across another water fall. Fortunately, we had water throughout our way and lack of water, which we thought would be a problem, was not a problem at all. Sri Venkateshwara National Park was a beautiful place and I had in my mind feelings of leaving this place by tonight, the steep beautifully carved stones that we climbed down, hooping from one rock to another while walking along the shallow streams. Even in the afternoon, it seemed like dusk while walking through the stream path covered with vegetation, just like a tunnel.

Finally, we reached a crossing with a jeep track cutting the stream path at right angles. So, we had 3 different ways to go. Peter went to check the right path to proceed while the rest of us rested. All through the trek, I felt as if we were herds of cattle and Peter was the cowboy guiding us, navigating us. Soon, he was back with idea of direction and we were back on track to follow the stream path and not the jeep track. After walking for half an hour, it was realized that we were going in wrong direction. We traced back our path and then went on the jeep track. This path was full of evidence of elephants, with fresh elephant shit and broken bamboo shoots. Instructions were given out not to make noise, torches must be directed downward, no camera flash, and  switch off the torches in case of any sound.

We entered the bamboo forest and walked silently with fear and excitement of encounter with an elephant, one behind other, queue of 60 odd pairs of feet. With every step, evidence of elephant being near and a group rather than single was mounting, fresh shits, broken bamboo throughout the narrow path with bamboo shoots on both sides. And it was already 7 in the evening and starting to get dark.This path was flat, yes flat, and one could not make any sense of elevation. This indeed made it easy to walk but increased the distance as flat paths ought to be circuitous, going over long distances with little decrease in altitude. Soon the sun left no evidence of its existence and it was pitch dark. We were still getting elephant shit every now and then, but now nobody bothered to look around since nothing was visible anyway. At times, I felt doubt whether we were going in the direction of highway or towards the elephant heard.

We were continuously walking since 2 p.m. and it was 8 now, without much food, just biscuits and glucose. By this time, I had started to feel the weight of backpack on my shoulders. The shoulder straps seemed to be cutting through my flesh and the weight pulling me back.

It was a like a train of 60 compartments, few going fast and few lagging behind. Whenever there was a gap between 2 person, someone will call for the guys ahead to stop so that the group stays together and no one loses visual contact. I did not want to slow the whole group and hence, was reluctant to stop for few moments to take rest, but was waiting every moment for someone to call for halt. I would look at my watch, it would be just 10 or 20 minutes after I last checked time. The flow of time seemed to be standstill. I would console myself, we'll hit the highway in another half an hour, but that half an hour would never pass, kept on getting stretched.

This phase of pain and misery was transitory and it was gone soon. I do not know for sure what happened within me, but feelings of pain, hunger, thirst were just no more there. I was walking fast now. My mind was void of thoughts. I could see the spotlight of my torch only. If someone stopped or slowed suddenly, I would bump onto him/her. It appeared as though the nervous system had stopped responding to the stimuli of pain and hunger. The soles of my feet were tired and burning some time back, but now it was just numbness that I could feel. The body seemed to be like a machine, walking endlessly without any feelings.

Nothing was visible in this darkness except the long tail of torches, one after another, bending at curves, moving fast, may be at 6 kilo meters per hour. I thought what assumptions will the villagers be making now about this long tail of lights, people from outside this planet, smugglers.

It was around 10:30 and someone shouted "halt, there is very big gap." We halted and sat down. Peter mumbled, "finally someone collapsed." I felt refuge in his calm voice, he still maintained a calm mind in such uncertainty. The tone of his voice made the word "collapsed" seem so insignificant. In similar circumstance, I would have panicked and ran to see what is the situation, but this time I was in peace. I laid down on ground and felt some thorns penetrating my t-shirt and hurting, but I was insensitive now, not in a mood to get up and settle a little further.

Things were fine, no body had collapsed. The group behind had heard the growl of some animal and hence decided stop for some time to let that animal go. They soon joined us and the group moved on. We could see some light at a distance, seemed as though we were approaching that light. But the notorious jeep track was not taking us anywhere. In a while, those lights disappeared along with our hope of nearing towards civilization. And then, there were noise of a engine or train perhaps. All of us felt the joy of certainty that we were nearing civilization. It was not possible to see emotions on the tired and hungry faces in such darkness. Some more walk and now we could see the elevated railway track and the train running on it. Everyone sat down for a moment to enjoy the signs of civilization, the joy of getting back among other fellow humans.

We trek to be in places where signs of human could not be seen. We trek, in part, because of our yearning to be in conditions we humans evolved in, in woods, around rivers. But then how strong is the eagerness of getting back to civilization is, the security of modern civilization, the concrete roads, the buildings, easy availability of food. It is difficult now for me to determine what is our natural abode, the woods where the major part of human history of tens of thousands of years was played or the cities and villages which we inhabited rather recently. Even the famous nature lover of his times, David Henry Thoreau could not spend more than two and half years in woods, near his much loved Walden pond.

Finally, we were back to civilization. We crossed the train track and reached the highway. It was around 12 in the night now.There was lot of transportation available for us to some nearby dhaba. Indira and Peter pitched in with their hitchhiker thumbs and there it was a truck filled with sand. Half of the group jumped over it and Pawan sat with the driver for communication in Telegu. It was chilling cold on top of the truck. We wanted to stop at the nearest dhaba but Pawan was instructed by Anand for some specific place. We passed by few dhabas and then patience of the hungry trekkers had started to melt, people started shouting. Vikram was patience thinking Pawan knows about the place, but soon his patience vanished when it was already half an hour of truck ride. He called Pawan, but he would not hear, sound would not go through the closed windows.

We stopped finally at an almost shut dhaba. Inquiry was made and the dhaba owner was eager to serve such a big crowd. The time between reaching the dhaba and when food was served was stretched. We were hungry and wanted food right then, but it was certainly going to take time for the limited staff of dhaba to prepare food for us. Within 15 minutes or so, the rest of the gang joined us in the dhaba.

It was a feast, dal fry, chana masala, egg bhurji, roti, rice. And that too steaming hot. Rarely we find food so tasty and so fulfilling. Tamal coordinated with the dhaba staff so that everyone would get food promptly. In the meanwhile, the drivers of cars and bikes were asked to finish their food and leave for another short trek in order to get the vehicles. Our vehicles were parked at a distance of about 15 km from this dhaba, 8 km on highway and then 7 km of walk! Those guys left and rest of us stretched our legs wherever we could, 3 bodies each packed on cots, some on the ground between the chairs, and some outside under open sky. In the meanwhile, some guys who joined from Hyderabad had already left in whatever transport they could manage.

Tuesday, the civil adventure

The drivers and riders should have been back in an hour or two, but they weren't. I came to know that there was some problem with forest office, but thought nothing major. We could do nothing but wait and sleep until any communication from them. Along with morning tea, we had a surprise in the local newspapers. Picture of our vehicles was published and that these vehicles had been confiscated by police who were not able to locate the owners and thought something malicious was going inside the forest. We were waiting in the dhaba over aaloo parathas and tea, eagerly looking for signs of our vehicles or any further information.

By 8 a.m., we saw the first car coming and felt relieved though little surprised that the red-tapped police and forest officials were letting us go so easily. It wasn't true, now we had to check in at police station for ...ummm... "paper work." The tired drivers/riders who had not slept overnight finished their breakfast and we left for the police station. The adventure was getting really adventurous now, I thought.

From the account of drivers, we came to know that after being dropped at the highway by some truck, they walked the 7 km without any break and reached the vehicles at around 3 a.m. And to their surprise, 15 odd police personnel were waiting there over campfire. They had been camping there for the last 3 days to look out for the owners of the vehicles. Their chief was informed that the vehicle owners had been found and arrested and he reached there soon. They were pretty redundant to move from their stand, strict about the laws of the land (unless you pay money). But somehow Pawan, the only Telegu guy there, and others weer able to convince the police about our legitimate intentions and we were asked to come to police station to complete the formalities.

In the Kodur police station, CTC core members along with regional language specialists, Anand and Pawan, explained them who we were and what we were doing there, etc. Media was already present there and busy interviewing some of us. Local townsmen were amazed to find such a big crowd of thieves. For most of us, this was the first police station visit and were enjoying this moment. Finally, the case was closed here, but another case of illegally entering the forest awaited us in the forest department.

We were escorted to the forest department office and what followed was hours and hours of negotiation with officials. We were in a soup since we had no written permission, just a verbal talk over phone with DFO and that too of a different route. The officials wanted to get hold of our camera and car keys, but we denied. While few of us were negotiating with the officials, others were engaged in calling influential peoples they knew to get us out of this mess, MLA, DFO, IPS officers, all were called and details given. It was difficult to make out who influenced whom and whether indeed there was any influence or not. Forest officials were also not in a position to let us go simply as this issue had already got media limelight.

The song "Panchi, nadiya, pawan ke jhoken, koi sarhad na inhe roke" floated in my mind. It was an offense to move freely even within the country, forget about across international borders. The rules of the civilization, those which we are partly responsible for, were haunting us. Isn't it the birth right of an organism born on this earth to move freely and thrive in whichever corner of earth it wants to?

While this was going on, the gang utilized forest department compound as fully as possible, we were sleeping, washings ourselves, eating water melons, soft drinks. Jean even took a near-complete bath there under the tap. Sleeping mats were unfolded and we lazed there.

The hard negotiations bore fruit and the officials agreed to fine of Rs 1000 per head and let us go. So, Tamal and Indira coordinate to collect money from everyone and some of us went to nearby bank to get the official chalan. The forest department was afraid of doing anything "under the table" fearing the media. Foreigners among us, Jean, Maria, and Bastien, were asked to fork out Rs 600 more than others. Jean murmured "can I sue forest office guys for racial abuse." Once it was done, we were free and soon zapping towards Tirupati for a nice lunch.

We had lunch at Hotel Blish (very bad service), eat to satisfy our hunger of 2 days, to rejoice the trek (or the return to civilization!). Worth mentioning is the fact that we utilized this restaurant well including the restroom, each one of us rested on the commode for some length of time. After sumptuous food, it was time for us to depart. What followed was a series of group photographs and solo in group photographs along with hopes and promises to see each other soon. Meanwhile, Anand and Deepak had figured out that it would be nice to celebrate someone's birthday just to relieve our leg pain with some b'day bumps. And who else can be the volunteer for this other than Samloo. Thankfully, not all 60 of us wished to celebrate his B'day in which case he would have needed immediate hospitalization.

People from Bangalore had relatively easy time ahead with just sitting idle in bus whereas guys from Chennai had another 5 long hours of driving and biking which was not going to be very comfortable given the drivers had not slept last night and the tiredness of trek. Nevertheless, this is what we always wish, to push our bodies and minds little more each time and test our limits.We departed from here with memories of this adventure never to fade away.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Outsourced Thinking

One of the greatest innovation of mankind is "division of work" which did what it was meant to, allowed an individual to be skilled in one task, perform that task for others, and be dependent on others' skills to carry out his/her life. This indeed enhanced human productivity many folds, reduced waste of energy in fulfilling various needs of life by oneself, and placed the whole human race on the fast track, but at the cost of increased dependence on each other, on society. So, some did hunting, some engaged in peasantry, some tool making, and some other, very few of them, did thinking.

Thinking is difficult task and is more taxing and hence, humans, to save energy, tend to outsource thinking to others who are given a name, leaders. This ability to think and guide the rest of the society puts these leaders at a very advantageous position wherein they are able to direct fruits of else's labor towards themselves.

These leaders in different walks of life take advantage of this human tendency to outsource thinking and decision making, eventually turning others into mere robots. Obviously, this has caused the number of views/ideologies to be limited in the world as only a few do the thinking. That is why we do not have thousands of religion,  but just a few. These leaders are like queen bee in a beehive for whom the whole community works, contrary to the opinion that leaders work for the community. Rather, it is the other way round. It is the followers who carry the ideology of the leader, work for that ideology, go on strike, and sometimes murder for that ideology and some other times die.

We human in general are programmable, obeyers of orders, just like robots. One needs to tell us in some specific manner. Just like Hitler did to the whole German population. And in my opinion, he was indeed one of the most capable leaders the world has ever seen. Who else could raise the ravaged Germany of World War I to a point just few steps away from controlling the whole Europe.

The above fact leads to another fact that this world has been shaped by the decisions of very few people who lived on this earth. The life of almost all the world's population is influenced by those decisions. These leaders, be it in the field of politics, religion, economic, or whatever, decided how the population must conduct their life and the population follows those instructions under the "illusion" that they are the kings/queens of their own life and that they have complete control of it.

So, of whom are you slave of? Here is a list of few of the owners of your mind, your conscience: Various leaders who lived on this earth who enslaved you through school textbook, political leaders of various colors who dictate your life to great extent, religion, environmentalist, scientist, media, corporates who tell you what you must eat, what you must wear.

And still you "think" that you are "free to think."

Another similar post: Is Freewill a Misnomer

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sharavathi Valley

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