Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Not afraid of the dark!

I am working in an AC office the whole day and am out in some remote village the whole night!
That's how my life is this month of March!
If my employer reads about this post, I might face some issues, but well...that's the truth!

I feel like a journo, sleep deprived and exhausted but excited like hell! There's this rush of feelings and energy and all I can do is just get up and go! Mamma asks me to call it a day and come home and rest for a while, and I too think, yeah man! It's getting a bit too difficult to handle! But I would hate to stop this adventure now that it has started!

A few weeks back I attended "Musal dance" at Chandor. All I get is a call , mostly from Sangam, "There's this thing happening here tonight, let's go!" "Okay let's go!" and we are on it! If my parents were those doubting types, always messing me up with "Yeh samaaj kya sochega? log kya kahenge?" questions, then this adventure of life wouldn't have been possible! 
I can't imagine my folks asking me to get home by 8 pm! 
I just can not get home by 8 pm!
All the fun starts after 8 pm!
And yes, fun doesn't mean only fun with boys, or fun with drinks! There's a lot more to the night life of Goa out there, especially in this month of March which is culturally very significant!

The interesting part is that our society does not allow their girls to explore the nights! That makes me a rare species! 

I am not afraid of the dark, and I am not afraid of roaming around at nights. That doesn't mean I am careless about my safety. I roam around with people I trust, and I do not go alone in dark corners.  But yes I do get stared at, like they are judging my character! I have been followed and groped, like that doesn't happen in the day in the middle of a crowded street in India! In fact I have been touched inappropriately in the day more often. When things like these happen I have had the courage to scream, push and kick! But these are extremely rare incidents, and when they happened they tested my courage, they taught me how to be a fighter, so yes, they were important in making me who I am!

Women in India need to stop being so afraid of the dark! It's a fear systematically created by the society. We have to go out there and see for ourselves what it is like! It's fun....it's calm, quiet and peaceful! It's almost like we live only 12 hours a day, those 12 hours which are lighted! Maybe at the most 15 hours....but after that? We are chained to our walls or our wards! Why? God gave me 24 hours a day, that includes the night! Why should I limit my freedom only to the day? 

So question! 
Find people who think alike!
Find support!
Rebel and upset your folks!
Our culture needs to change! And if that has to start, every woman needs to change!
Change does not happen by sitting quiet! And it does not happen by being "obedient"! 
We need the disobedience moment out here!

I get the "dislike" look from many elders most of the times. In fact it is extremely rare to find an elderly person who  opens his heart to me. People come with their agenda's and when they meet someone who does not sign up on their agenda they show complete displeasure!

So ,

Dear world,

My life has my agenda with it's priorities!
I know I don't make you very comfortable....but that is your problem, not mine!
Stop suppressing people and trying to control them to suit your requirements to make yourself happy!
"To make myself happy" is my fundamental right to life under article 21, as long as I don't harm anybody legally, all is well!
Don't think pointing out my mistakes makes me weak in front of you!
Like you never made any mistakes anytime!
Like you ever dared to take any chance in the first place!
I am a woman, and if you think I am weak you are mistaken! For it is only I who has been blessed with the capacity to produce a 1000 more like me! And I will make more like me.....this is just the beginning!

With love, passion and a fight (if that's the language you understand)

And as a closing note, a quote by Napoleon Hill, " The majority of people permit relatives, friends and the public at large to so influence them that they cannot live their own lives, because they fear criticism'.

Chadar Trek- Part 2

"Madam, yahaan zanskaar pe sardi mein ana chahiye! Maza ayega aapko!"
( Madam come to Zanskaar in the winters! You will have fun!)

We were preparing to get into the raft at Zanskaar for river rafting, this was in July 2012.

"Kyun? sardi mein toh suna hai yahan bohot thand hoti hai! Kuch karne ke liye hota nahi!"
( Why? I have heard that it's very cold here around winters! One can't do much!)

"Yeh Zanskaar saarithand mein jam jaati hai! Uspe trekking kar sakte hain!"
( This Zanskaar freezes and you can trek on it!)

The famous Chadar trek happens on a river called Zanskaar in winters when the river freezes. For what Chadar trek is like in detail, one can easily google it. So I won't waste my time writing about stuff that is already available online. And I will stick to my story, as it happened!

Initially we wanted to go trekking on our own, but we are from the coast and have no clue about what minus temperatures are like and what to do on snow, so opted to join an organisation with experience in these matters!


The best thing to do is to go to Leh a few days in advance and get a local guide, a small team of maybe around 6 people who are fit for trekking and do the trek!
Whether it is TTH or IH, teams of 20 people with 10 porters is too large for a delicate trek like the Chadar!

We were 11 people initially who started off from Goa for the trek. People kept dropping out along the way for various reasons. You can not force people in these matters, it's a personal decision and I believe in respecting it!

To say the least, we all were over excited about Chadar! The cold, the long list of equipment, fitness levels, preparation...there was so much to buy, the budget consistently kept going out of hand from the moment we signed up for the trek!

Now that I have been there, this is the list of things you do need: We were given a 20 point list that took 3 months of our time in whatsapp discussions as to what we really need and what we don't, where do we buy it and at what price! Damn! The sort of discussions that happened right from which flights to book at what price, to what mode of transport to take, which online shopping sites and what discounts and when the discounts are the best.......At a point I thought I could choose this as a ph.D topic and go ahead for the next 5 years researching! The numerous phone calls, misunderstandings, meetings, chain mails, and shouting! Anyway......

1. Gumboots: Black. Cost around 350 Rs. You easily find them in Leh market. Buy one size bigger than your current size. I am size 5, I bought size 6 and yet they were a bit tight. In the cold when you wear the boots, your feet freeze, feet go numb! For a moment you feel you may get a frostbite....you may get one! You can never really say.,...but try to wriggle your toes, and keep walking. The heat generated will warm your toes.
2. Trekking Pole: One:  Some people say get 2 poles, not necessary! ( Rs.320)
3. Camera: Thanks to Sharvani for taking the trouble to carry her DSLR the whole way! She is the reason we got some great shots!The views are certainly breath taking! But a simple point and shoot camera can make it easy and fast!
4. Hot water flask: A must: Drinking cold water in that cold weather is out of question! You must drink hot water at all times. If you even as much as take a few sips of cold water, be sure to have a bad throat for several weeks post Chadar!
5. Sports shoes/ closed shoes: To wear on campsite. Tying laces is a big pain. Because in order to tie laces, we had to remove our gloves, and it was so damn cold that our fingers would freeze in under a minute's time. So most of the times I went around without tying the laces!
6. Bag: If you can not carry your own weight, please do not be bothered to carry a bag! The best thing to do is to have a huge bag and stuff 3 people's belongings in it and let the porter's carry it. You just carry a small bag with water and some dry fruits, and camera!
7. Woolens and other warm clothes:
  • Woolen socks: 4 pairs ;
  • Cotton socks 3 pairs
  • Woolen gloves: 1 pair; 
  • 1 Heavy down jacket
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 3 pairs of thermals
  • Balaclava for head, and some sort of neck and mouth piece
8. Waterproof Clothing :
  • At least 1 waterproof pant! A must! And no I don't mean a raincoat pant. Waterproof pants have a fleece layering inside so it keeps you warm too. You easily find woolens and all other equipment in Leh market at very good cheap rates, do not be bothered to buy stuff online!
  • Waterproof gloves: 1 pair
  • Raincoat or plastic pant
9. Toiletries:
  • Wet wipes and tissue paper: wet wipes freeze and become wet solid hard sheets, but if you warm it a bit , it's good to use!
  • Sunscreen and moisturizers and lip balms: Use liberally and often!
  • Other stuff is as per your requirement.
10. Head Torch: I feel this is very important! Helps a lot inside the tent , especially when you are trying to get inside the double layered sleeping bag!( Rs.120-180 on e-bay)
11. Emergency Kit: Important medications: For cough, cold, head ache and pain and a few band aids and tapes. Stitching kit and a Swiss knife!
12: Sunglasses

Most of us had unnecessarily heavy bags! You don't need T-shirts , you can do with only thermals there. You don't take a bath so there is no question of changing inner clothes, just carry an extra pair in case you happen to fall and get wet somewhere! You don't need too much of dry fruits! The porters carry enough food and you are fed often, just one packet of chocolates would be good.

1 day before starting the journey
We had discussed this journey so many times and imagined stuff for so long sitting back  home that by the time it was a week to go for the journey to begin, I was bored! What can possible happen now? Everything was thought over, well planned....nothing was left to chance!

But alas!

Winter’s in Leh are unpredictable! A day before our journey was to start we got a call from Go Air that our flights were cancelled due to a technical hitch! Ours was a Mumbai to Leh flight! Panic stuck! The next 5 hours were spent in re planning the whole journey.

I had left a lot of work to be done at  the last minute, due to the cancellation of the flight I had to leave a day in advance. We somehow managed packing and left for Mumbai, spent the whole night on the Mumbai airport!
By the way, it happened so many times that our flights got cancelled on this journey, that the airport became our second home! I ended up meeting many interesting people and had some memorable conversations! 

One word of advice: Keep an open mind to the kind of people you meet! They are all strangers and you can’t look at everyone with suspicion. The only thing you can do is to take them at face value.

On Chadar, we met people who were boasting about their trekking experience, and some others who had 35 years of experience behind them and were very quiet! There was me who did not want to believe anybody and wanted to see for myself what it is like, and some others who believed in trusting the experience of the elders! 

There was Bharat who had an issue with food, Amar who couldn’t go to sleep without playing music on his loudspeakers in the tent, Pranali who struggled with her bag, Sangam who really got scared for a while, Caslino who struggled with the tent and the sleeping bags since he is 6’4’’ tall and couldn’t fit into any equipment! 

There was Leena who was a great sport, and Abhi who caught cold because he left his head open in spite of telling him several times to keep it closed! There was Komal who gave us back up support,  Shenoy who sat quiet most of the times but just said a sentence once in a while that cracked everyone up, and Sharvani who mingled and mixed with everyone throughout the journey!

We met Mr. Manmohan Singh! Yes....we met this guy at our guest house. Nice quiet fellow! We asked him his name he said call me “Mac”. “But is that your real name or pet name?”

“ My real is Manmohan Singh but don’t call me that, it’s kinda awkward because people turn around to look.”
And unfortunately that is what I did. I forgot his pet name, saw him on the airport and didn’t know how to catch his attention except for calling out to him. And I called him across the Leh airport corridor, “Manmohan Singh!” I was loud and clear! For a few seconds the whole airport went quiet! Several flights were cancelled due to heavy snowfall and  the airport was crowded with people. I made the whole place go into a drop dead silence mode for a few tense moments! Everyone looked at me except Mac who purposely looked into another direction. I called out again, more people looked and Mac realised that if he doesn’t look in my direction I wouldn’t stop yelling, so he looked and all I could do is give a silly grin to which he smiled back!

Delhi Airport: This is another interesting story! Due to snowfall ,flights were constantly getting cancelled. At one point half of our group got through, but the other half were stranded with no boarding pass available to hand over to them. If they did not make it on the next flight they would miss the whole trek. Tension was high and Sharvani was in the group that got stranded behind. We waited on the other side, while Sharvani and a few others picked up serious arguments with the Go Air ground crew! People were screaming, it was a rebellion scene! While Sharvani tested her vocal chords in shouting slogans against Go Air, Pranali, Bharat and Shenoy sat behind guarding the luggage and got busy with their own gossip!
“What? You guys don’t want to come for the trek? What you sitting down there warming your ass? Get up! Shout!” Sharvani was training people to learn to fight for their rights!

A journey teaches you a lot! It’s not just about reaching the destination!

And after all this, we finally reached Leh! It was announced in the flight that the temperature outside is around -10 degrees. We were excited to experience the cold. All that speculation and imagination was going to actually turn into a reality! So I stepped out of the aircraft...
First 5 minutes: Woaah! It’s like stepping into a freezer! It’s cold! It’s nice!
Next 5 minutes: Fingers are going cold , where are the gloves? Wear the thermals, start covering yourself up!
Next 15 minutes: Damn it! Some body parts are so cold, you are going numb!

Get oriented to Leh: The day you arrive in Leh, please go to sleep! It’s nice, it’s cold and you are excited, all true! But just tuck yourself in and doze off!
Last time I did no such thing. I did not take rest, just kept popping in Diamox every 12 hours!
Some 205 kms from leh town and I suddenly go blind! Altitude sickness tablets are very powerful. One must not take them without prescription. I took around 6 of them, for 3 days continuously. When you take such tablets you have to keep yourself well hydrated and sleep well. But I did not know all that then. First 18 hours I had no medical help! I was too far off from civilisation to see a specialist. I couldn’t see anything! You might think it as a joke.....but When I couldn’t see for more than 18 hours I broke down and started to cry! Plus Caslino who was driving me to Leh hospital, got stuck on the way as the Bullet broke down. A French woman gave me the lift to the hospital, and when I somehow got myself inside, I was told that the doctor has just left for his private clinic which is up the market. 

There is a huge wall that connects the Leh hospital and the main market, I was helped by a nurse till the wall, and I climbed up the whole way by just feeling the wall and asking people for help. I somehow got myself into the clinic and the doctor checked my eyes and said there was nothing wrong. But I couldn’t trust him, why else coudn't I see anything? I did not know then that it was the Diamox which was causing this. 

I have never felt so helpless my whole life! I thanked the doctor and got out. My mobile battery had conked off, and I did not know how to get myself to my guest house. 

But do you know how lucky I am?
While I struggled outside the clinic, a guy I had met in Bangalore the first day when I was leaving for Leh spotted me! We had just met once on Yashwantpur railway station. It was a chance meeting! And he helped me to my guesthouse!

Well! This was way back in 2012! But that is what Ladakh is.....a land full of possibilities!

Friday, March 14, 2014

To Ladakh.....With Love

 Dear Ladakh,

Every time I come to you, 
you take something away from me!
You took away my fears!

Every time I fall in love with you,
You give me something to hold on to,
You gave me the courage to dream again!

Every time I sought to connect my soul with you,
You opened me up to a part of me I never knew existed!

Thank you!
For your lessons!
For your kindness!
For your beauty!
For your innocence!

With Love


All these days, I have been desperately searching for words to write about the Chadar Trek! I can not claim I have found them....but through this search of finding words to describe my experience, I found lost strings to my own heart! 

There is something mystical about that land....the first time I went there with my friends, one friend came back and resigned from his regular job and took a  decision that changed him and his life!
This second time I went there, another friend came back and resigned!
And about me?
I am still working, but I know that something deep down has changed....
The last few years I have been living my life on an emergency mode! I didn't want to think about the future, just live for today. Though this attitude is great in the short term, it doesn't help much in the long run!

When I was on the train , coming back from Delhi, I realized that my emergency is finally over!
Those walls I built around me have gone! My heart is open, those fears have left me, I can live again!

What can I say about my experience in ladakh this winter?

That my mom said when I was leaving, "Don't go blind this time!"....yes! The first time I went to Ladakh, I overdosed myself on Diamox, the altitude sickness tablet and went blind for 36 hours! One of the worst time of my life!

The whole excitement of what -30 degrees Celsius is!! 

How cold is -30 degrees really? 
What is it like to walk on a frozen river?
What is it like when the frozen layer starts to crack?

That un-named feeling of seeing a youthful heavy river flowing underneath a glassy layer of ice!
That cracking sound of ice when you step on to it, like you are breaking a million glasses in one moment!
That peaceful snow covered narrow gorge one day, and a complete war zone look the next day when the frozen layer breaks and the river aggressively starts making its way out, like the breaking of a bird's egg, with the newborn desperate to take its first breath, to see the life outside!

Million feelings, several experiences!

If you ask me to talk about my experiences, it's like asking me too much!
Because Ladakh this time wasn't just some trip, it wasn't just some trek, it was a very private experience! And at every point of me writing about my experience, many of my feelings will flow in....I am worried I might say too much, if I do....all I can say is it's all true! I felt it and I lived it!

This will be a short 4 post series of Ladakh in winters!
This one is the 1st!

So are you ready to take this journey again with me?


Special Thanks to all my friends without whom this journey, this experience and this post wouldn't have happened!
For Photographs: Thanks to: Sharvani Pinge, Amar Kolmule, Bharat Naik, Caslino Pereira and Leena Patil!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On the go!

I used to take minimum 2 hours to write a post 2 years back! I would write, proof read it, make changes...the whole process was slow, enjoyable and satisfying. But now who has the time to read and write? I have ended up not writing for such a long time. I know no one has particularly missed my writing as much as me. 

So now I am going to practice "On the go writing". I shall follow the "KISS" principle! Keep it Short & Simple! Five para's a post- max! I miss story writing more than anything else....there is just no time to sit and wonder and imagine! No time to brood over anything, no time to cry, it's just a "Get up & run" culture! I won't say I hate it! It's actually good because "No moment is worth more than what it really is.... a moment!"

And there are so many such wonderful moments I experience every day that I would love to share them with the world. And that is why I am going to write. This year I am going to write about being single, about traveling to Ladakh with friends in winters and living in extreme cold, about traveling solo, about trying so hard to balance my so many needs- that dance exam I want to take, that strong inner voice asking me to give back to the society, the script for the play I wrote that hasn't yet gone on the floor, the need for companionship and also the need to maintain my individuality......this constant tussle going on inside of me is nerve wrecking! But this is me!

When I was younger I hated the fact that there were too many things that were pulling me in too many directions. Now I am old enough to understand that some people are just programmed that way. This doesn't make me any less committed to anything I want to do. The whole challenge is to learn to juggle! And yes, somethings do get dropped off and I feel sad about it. But without wasting much time I need to find a substitute to replace the loss and carry on with the juggle.

Someone once gave me a piece of their practical advice, "This won't pay your bills, so don't waste time on it!" True! And I went into this phase where I asked "Why should I bother to write?" 
But not writing is eating into me and that horrible feeling only I know. So I will write! Let the bills accumulate for a while, and let me waste my time on this rather than on whatsapp, FB, G+, a few family functions and a few outings with friends!

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