Monday, October 15, 2018

From rockets to drones

Every now and then, I hark back to my long forgotten childhood. You know, the usual 'Those were the days' trip the old are expected to go on. Not that I have been known to always do what is expected of me but this one...this is probably hardwired in the genes and gets triggered by age, like it or not.

And, so, there was this stray memory about what captivated the minds of us guys in those long-gone days. This was the time of the Sputniks and the Apollos, when foreign names like Gagarin and Armstrong became familiar everyday names. If I ever dreamed of a future, it certainly involved being an astronaut, visiting strange planets with ammonia oceans and carbon dioxide snow, maybe finding worms that speak and spiders which build skyscrapers. The Universe was a strange and fascinating place but, at that time, it seemed like Humanity would venture out into it and make a place for itself even under foreign Suns. Alpha Centauri, Rigel...those names became invested with fascination because of the thought that, perhaps, I, or some future human, would step onto a planet on which they shone.

I wonder what I would dream of if I were that child now? Maybe I would dream of becoming a drone 'pilot', sitting in the comfort of my cabin and guiding a drone over my city? Or, perhaps, of an evening spent in a 3-D world where worms and spiders could be made to do whatever I want them to do; and make it snow sulphur and rain Helium...it is a matter of writing code, after all. The most likely thing, I confess, is that I would be dreaming of sitting idle at home with robots catering to my every desire...what is AI and ML for, if I cannot even have that?

In those long gone days, I think a lot of us kids talked of becoming Scientists. Next only to astronauts, scientists were the stars in our firmament (Oh, yes, of course there was the fascination of becoming a movie star but, for a lot of us, the mirror put paid to that as a serious ambition - we were not THAT divorced from reality, after all, not all of us at any rate.) Now, I suppose, Science may not be as much in favor, if I were a kid; technology is the thing. Talk of AI/ML and you get the 'Oooh! Brainy!" looks; Talk of String theory and M-theory, and you get the suppressed yawns and an indelible reputation of a bore. So, it is a no-brainer.  Nowadays, technology is cutting edge; Science is blunted. Nerd may be the in-thing now but you ought to be the right sort of nerd.

Astronomical information is passe. (Who cares how many moons Saturn has or whether Europa had water...or even life? Unless, of course, it is sentient or if it causes a plague on Earth). Yeah, there are those nice pics sent across by Voyager and all, good for sharing on Social media but, come on, it's not like I can take a selfie with them in the background, is it? Talk of what percentage of women like what deodorant on men...NOW you are talking! So, it is all about Data Analytics, collating data generated by humans, and not about scientific information about the Cosmos. So, instead of dreaming of searching the Heavens for quasars, I'd love to dream of trawling the Net for information about my fellow-men and their foibles.

So, yes, now rockets are either for putting up satellites so that I can live almost all of what makes it a life on my smartphone; or, of course, to deliver nuclear warheads to far distances, which countries make in order not to use...or so they solemnly promise. (All this will push forward ambitions in Space? I wish, but I suspect it is all going to be deployed to sell chips better and cheaper.)

AND the ambitions of nations are restricted to building the biggest ant-hill on our mud-ball.

Or is there any nation that still dares to dream of the stars?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Trek to Hampta Pass - III

Nightmares? They were nothing compared to what that river crossing was really like. There you were, early in the morning, muscles still cold removing your shoes and socks preparing to step into the river. True, we had done one earlier in this trek, but it had been close to midday and the feet were hot from all the walking that had been done up to then. This, though...and it was a much longer crossing as well.

Holding hands as before, we stepped into the water and almost immediately people were rushing across to get to the other side out of the freezing cold of the waters. Devashis stumbled and would have fallen in but for being held by me on one side and Mudassar on the other. With the continuing drag of all the others, there was no time for him to extricate himself carefully so, as it became known later, he had severely bruised his toes.

Anyway, we were out of the river, after what seemed like eons, with both feet feeling more like blocks of ice suspended from the ankles. The guides set us to jumping around to restore circulation to the feet. If you have never felt the clawing pain of returning circulation to frozen extremities...

After that, whatever followed of that day's descent seemed like a breeze. We landed at Chatru, which seemed more like a fairground than a campsite, with the number of tents set up there. After all, it was motorable from Manali and, thus, it was not only trekkers who passed through it to visit Chandrataal.




The drive to Chadrataal, I am afraid, was quite the most painful part of this trek to me. Not only were the roads terrible for the most part, as indeed I had experienced on my Ladakh trek, but after the trek sitting with minimal movement of the legs ended up with the muscles shrieking in pain. The worst cut of the lot was to end up at Chandrataal and find that the lake was half-an-hour's trek away. (Oh! Yes! It is all fine to do the trekking but when you think that the trekking is all done...)




The lake, though...Words are inadequate a lot of times in life and this is most certainly one of them. There was that pristine green lake visible from the Kanchenjunga View-Point II in the Goecha-La pass trek and then there was this one...For once, let me allow the pics to do the talking. (I am there in the pics to provide the contrast to all that beauty!)


On the return journey, the ladies were asking everyone what they learned from the trek. Another of those idiosyncrasies of mine is that these questions leave me fazed. Everyone was replying eloquently to that question and I...I was like, "Is it possible to answer this one like a kindergarten kid saying, 'one ones are one, one twos are two' in reply to what she learnt in school that day?" Or, perhaps, I either do not learn as quickly as others do or am unable to just say things eloquently for the sake of saying them, either of which seems to make me less than the rest of humanity.

And then my dreaded turn came and I mumbled, "Life is what you make of it. So are treks."

That, at least, is what I live by...even if I did not specifically learn it from THIS trek!


Photo Credits: Devashis and other co-trekkers.

Trek to Hampta Pass - II



I have always been a strange character. (I know, I know, you think 'crazy idiot' suits better than 'strange character'. You can keep your opinions to yourself, thank you.) I mean, I have thought of any goals in life merely as a direction-setter to map out my journey. Once having embarked on a journey, it is the scenery, the people I meet and the relationships, the way I change that are of interest to me. It is more the journey itself, and how I conduct myself on the journey that gives me joy. The goal itself? Once achieved, all it would mean is that I would have the trouble of finding myself a new goal to chart a fresh journey or keep stagnating! All the important goals are what happens inside me, not where I arrive in the external world.

So, trekking very seldom disappoints me. A lot of times, what seems like the point of the trek (as, in this case, the Hampta Pass) is not, of itself, something that you can snap a pic of and have people go 'Ooooh!' on Facebook. Beauty lies strewn all over the trail and, perhaps, the apparent goal of the trek is probably not its most beautiful point. Or, sometimes, it could well be the weather that plays spoilsport and denies you what could have been a wonderful visual experience. After having toiled up a wearisome six hours, if you expect a climactic experience, you may find it...or you may not. There could well be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but, if you fixate on it, you may well end up losing on enjoying the beauty of the rainbow.

All of which is to say that a six hours wearisome climb ended up at Hampta Pass, which looked no more or no less than any stretch of the path we had taken up to there. Maybe the view into the valley would have been breathtaking but a mist lay all over it and it may as well have covered up the concrete monstrosities, that Delhi's winter mist covers, for all we could see of it.

My pleasure in the trek was no less for it, because the point of trekking for me is to BE there. To be conscious of my body, of the terrain, to breathe in the fresh air, hear the gurgle of the river as I walk or as I go to sleep, to look on the majesty of the mountains, to see beauty where I find it rather than search for it as a goal (much like they say about happiness in life), to feel for the time a serenity that bypasses me in the city. To meet new people, help them or be helped by them with no thought of future recompense (NO networking nonsense, in effect) sometimes to bond for a lifetime, sometimes to pass by each other waving a hello and a goodbye.

But, yes, I could understand Archana and, later, Devashis when they expressed a sense of disappointment, for that is how we are geared. If you have put in great effort, you expect to be rewarded at the end of it. Hampta Pass, of itself and at that time, probably did not seem a sufficiently rewarding experience.

Beyond Hampta Pass, we descended into terrain which was much more desertified. Not so much greenery in the Lahual Valley and the terrain reminded me of my trek in Ladakh in the rain-shadow region.

The rains had started all over again and descending was made a shade more challenging than it should have been. I stuck around to see Devashis managing the descent like a veteran and then went on ahead. The day's camp was at Shea Gahru, which we reached as scheduled.
The next day was to be a very easy 3-4 hour descent to Chatru from where we would drive down to Chandratal to see that lovely Himalayan lake and then drive back to Chatru to camp for the night. Easy-peasy? Well, just to give one nightmares, we were informed that the start of the trek would be to cross the river by the side of which we were camped.

Ye Gods!

Part-I Part-III

Photo Credits: Devashis and other co-trekkers.

Trek to Hampta Pass - I


When you go on treks quite often, you tend to take the mountains, the fresh air, the greenery and the views for granted. No, it is not that you ignore them WHILE you are trekking, you are there for it all after all, but when you are back and sit to write about it, these seem usual and you hunt around for the unusual to highlight.
The unusual, for quite a few past treks, has been untoward happenings for me. Either natural disasters, where I was stuck in the middle, or man-made issues, like the riots that struck Kashmir post the killing of Burhan Wani. This time I came back, happy to write about having broken the jinx but, just I sat to write, there was news on 45 trekkers in trouble on this self-same trek due to heavy rains(They are safe now, I believe). That put me off my stride which accounts for why this post is so delayed.

Not that I escaped totally unscathed either. Rain was a constant companion on this trek. As for the other companions, I was trekking with a school friend this time - Devashis Ghosh - who, as is the case with anyone who partners me, had the unenviable role of putting up with my musical performances every night. (Ah! No, I do not mean only the ones that I perform while awake.) There were seven boys and five girls from Gujarat - all first year medical students - who added much to the color and vibrancy of the group. There were a group of ladies from Jaipur, including Archana who, despite having recovered from 18 fractures in her lower limbs and with plates screwed on, was there to brave the Himalayas. There was another duo of school-friends, just short of my age, Rathi and Bunty Sethi. There was the lone ranger from Bangladesh - Mudassar.

The first day's trek was to Chikha and was reputed to be a walk in the park. In the past, the guide says this and then sets off on what seems like an interminable 45 degree incline up, leaving you huffing and puffing in his wake, too winded to breathe curses on his deceitful head. Not so this time. It WAS easy and, like with all easy days of trekking, we ended up lazing around for a long time, in between, on a grassy incline, soaking in the atmosphere, to give time to the trek organisers to get ahead and erect the next campsite before we reached. There was even a convenient tea shop offering some snacks as well. (Someone will have to explain why Maggi seems such a gourmet food in the mountains. I mean, mention that Maggi is available, as it was in this shop, and there are wails of 'Oooh! Maggi!' as though it was the Holy Grail, with people dashing to the shop.)

We had barely arrived at the next campsite, with rain pattering on us for the last part of the day's trek, when there was a noise of a cannonade. We looked up to see a huge boulder rolling and bouncing down the mountain on the other side of the stream, on whose banks we had our camp. Just a warning from Nature not to take things too easy I suppose.

The next day was a tough day of trekking. Six hours of ascent, with rains coming down intermittently to ensure that the trail got slippery enough not to get too easy for us. Not that it was very easy terrain, anyway, boulder-ridden trails seldom are, but easier certainly than slippery boulders slick with rain. Devashis had not trekked before on rough terrain, his one previous trek having been in Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib, so I was a bit apprehensive. But then not everyone is like me, so ill-equipped with a sense of balance that he has to learn it over the years by repeated falling. Devashis was pretty good at managing his way, slowly but surely.

And I...given to normally huffing and puffing was this time handicapped by an ill-timed attack of Nasal Pharyngitis, causing me to breathe exclusively through my mouth. Even in the normal course, I am known for my imitation of a steam engine but this time...this time, with the whistling noises I was making, about the only thing I had to do was hold my hand in front of my mouth and Devashis would have taken it for my reverting to childhood, playing 'Koo! Chicku-bucku'. (Which, to explain to the kids of today, was one of those archaic means by which we twentieth century kids used to entertain ourselves, playing at trains, the other one being rolling a tire along screaming 'Drrrrrr' in imitation of a bike.)

Midway, we had to cross an icy stream holding hands to ensure that we did not lose our balance and get carried away by the current. A sunny day, and I would have found it fun, but with these brooding clouds and wind, the last thing one wanted was frozen feet. But, then, what you want and what you get always happen to be two different things on a trek. Like, you would want long rests en route when you are to ascend for 6 hours and are OK with short rests when it is a mere 2.5 hours but what do you get? Yeah! You guessed it!

Still, it was quite a decent day, not absolutely tiring but Bhalu-ka-Gheera was a much colder campsite. And the rains were not helping Devashis either, for he was feeling the cold rather badly. I...yeah, by now you know that cold is not one of the things that bother me too much.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining they say. AND this one had a...rainbow.


The next day was going to be the toughest day, an ascent of about 5-6 hours to Hampta Pass followed by a descent of about 3 hours before we reached the next campsite at Shea Gahru. But, meanwhile, we had the rainbow to enjoy.

AND, hopefully, a good night's sleep!

Part-II Part-III

Photo Credits: Devashis and other co-trekkers.