Thursday, February 22, 2007

Day 3: Manali to Keylong (Tandi) - 120 KM

Monday morning we all woke up to a cloudy day. It was drizzling outside but due to sweet sound of river Beas passing near by our hotel, it sounded like raining. We’re told that one Lama is going to perform some prayers for well being of all the riders and our safe journey. Believe it or not, it helped us. Vineet was supposed to collect all the funds, which we’d like to donate for his monastery. No one saw him donating the money, but he was seen collecting the funds on several occasions. Once everybody was all set, we got together for the prayer. Some people wanted to smoke, others went on to click pictures and there was one crazy being, who’ll click photo in such a pose that you’d think he’s mentally challenged kid asking for something. He looked like a kid but he could finish ciggis faster than speed of thought. We had named him as Gollum (refer Lord of the Rings part II and part III for more info). Or you may try searching his pics on the net. Mr. Gollum aka Ritam had a fancy for our Lama, he clicked him from the top of his head, from down under etc etc. More than the prayer the group was laughin seeing Ritam take pics. I hope he knew his job well and the result of such a photo session would be bearable.
After the prayers, we all inspected our bikes and were set to move for Rohtang. The first stop was Marhi, it’s a nice place in the middle of way to Rohtang. No one fell on the way to Marhi, at least I am not aware of anyone I helped (so kind of me). There once again usual break, ciggis, tea, love chat, FOSLAs frustration etc. I forgot to mention that I had met bikers from Agra the previous day, The Taj Royals. At Marhi there was a person who was there to sell Kasturi and Shilajit. Taj Royals and myself were enjoying our tea when this person started his lecture on Kasturi. Tanveer was pretty angry with him as Kasturi is pretty important part of Deer’s body and he uses it to attract females (of his breed of course), for lunch, dinner and …. It had nice smell and if you have held it in your hand and then you just rub your hand with someone else, the other person will also get that. It was impressive but again no one wanted lady deer following him. Now Shilajit is something that helps you to maintain your stamina, vigor, youth etc etc. The person who was impressed most was Sunil. On Delhi FM, ‘Too Much Gold’ capsule refers to the same stuff so you can have idea of Shilajit now. It improves your abilities to a considerable extent. So at the end, it’s good to get Shilajit and Kasturi but if someone is getting both of them together, just imagine, female deer n dose of vigor. Damn that’s sick!! The next stop was going to be Rohtang, not because it was around 30 kms away or one logical destination, but there was a big traffic jam out there. Here Chandan tried to ride a Yak. Now I can’t say whether he had Kasturi to attract it or it was Shilajit working on him so quickly!! One more thing to be mentioned here, wherever I use the word Chandan, it automatically implies that some poor fellow is clicking his photo. There was lot of snow there so everyone tried to form snowballs to play but after around 45 mins, the traffic was smooth and we all hit the road once again. After Koksar, the road was difficult to find. It was just rocks and dirt track. I was scared of the track so didn’t click any picture over there. On crossing some of the villages, there were some green patches where most of the riders took a leak. We had to cross some bridges, which were only in patches. I’d be scared to cross them by foot but on bike you’ll pass them at faster pace and feel relaxed. But in the remaining journey, this was frequent ingredient of the road along with some water streams running through the road. Finally we all halted at Tandi. This was the last petrol pump before Leh so we all had to fuel up. Tandi is around 8 kms before Keylong and the bikers were going to be split in two. One group will be camping at Tupchilling and other at hotel in Keylong. I stayed at the hotel in Keylong. I was suffering from fever and cold. Took some medication and yes the brandy with warm water :D. I, Rishab and Chandan were in the same room, we had some big discussions on girls, girl friend, luv etc....some serious stuff.
And then came the moment of truth, all the sophisticated, clean, articulate, well-dressed, arrogant bikers came together and started sharing jokes. This revealed their, inner SICK, despo, frutooo, male character in the open. Tanveer wanted to record everyone’s introduction so each one of us said couple of lines for ourselves, which everyone else tried to relate to sex, lust, frustration and other sick stuff. The camp leader asked if Arjun is there. This dude was there on the list but missing from the camp. There were some rounds of attendance to make sure no one was Arjun but after two rounds, no one wanted to hear that name. Girish was clear winner in the non-veg joke marathon that followed. Patil didn’t participate because he still had to get his drinks so he promised he’d be back with a vengeance at dinner table. Doctor was also there to examine some of the patients. Vikram, Bhaskar, Anthony were the chosen ones. Everyone got their oxygen level checked, tried to pull each other’s leg for the reading. Some of us were feeling cold and trying to use shawl to get warm. Then came one of the statements, which was royal pain in the ass till we’re on the mountains. Abbas quoted ‘Why are you using those many clothes, NATURE WILL NEVER HARM YOU.’ I was shocked, pissed, baffled and of course nodded. I mean what the F$%&, why won’t nature harm me if I am standing naked at 12000 feet and temperature in single digit Celsius. No, I didn’t try that.
There two terms were coined, one was waving of hand in such a fashion that you’re trying to cook oil in a pan and other one was ‘In-charge’. Most of us know it’s meaning, others may ask via mail, I’ll answer. These terms were pretty handy when we’re referring to our in-charge or listening to the instructions every morning. Our correspondent had reported one incident that Balwant had head-on with one Qualis, even when there was enough space to more ahead. Some reliable sources had pointed at possible doping scandal but in the odyssey rules, it was not banned so Balwant was able to doze off the allegation and completed his ride successfully. At the camp, Abhijit and Mr Bose had some discussion over the automobile industry which myself and Vikram also listened to, without providing much inputs but citing some weird examples, which confused them a bit actually. As per my records, Jatinder fell on the way and Doctor rode his bike for quite some time. Now he was pretty friendly with most of us so now onwards, he’ll be referred as Saurabh. The dinner was really nice and well served. The truck was going to stay at our camp so all of us had to wake up early and put our bags in it so that hotel group can get it on time and put their stuff too. I don’t think anyone was moved by that announcement, so all of us rushed to our camps and had a peaceful sleep.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Andamans Scuba Diving & Day 1: Trip Preperations

Prep For the Trip - Killing Me Softly!!

The whole idea of doing scuba diving was lingering in my mind from last couple of years. I had no particular reason why I wanted to do it, what I am able to perceive is that is was just about taking up and adventure which not many people have done and face a serious challenge. To basically take my fear to the next level. Though I am not among those people who are very comfortable in water, or who are not afraid of water. I was always scared even in a pool. This was all the more reason to do the trip.
After the Himalayan odsessy, i was certain that I want to do diving. Himalayan odsessy was a very inspiring trip and had given my confidence a big boost. I was even more confident about myself and wanted to do more, take up a bigger challenge. The trip gave me an amazing feeling of content. It had transformed my impression about myself, I had always feared the trip but then I was able to complete the trip with flying colors, not even a single fall, no illness, no trouble. I was very proud of myself. I always make a point to do things i am afraid off, but then that does not mean I am not terrified. I still remember when i started from Manali for Keylong, I was almost shivering, the mountains felt like guardians and just waiting to fail me and cause me trouble. But then I realized that they live in such solitude that all they are doing is, standing tall with arms wide open to welcome!!! I can never forget the first view past Rohtang Pass, it was phenomenal, a tall mountain barren mountain providing shelter was the sun raise, for almost the whole ride down. It was like a guardian and saviour and I believe it was done its job from time immemorial. Anyways, this is about the Andaman trip. I just get carried aways all the time, when i think about the Odsessy.
I had decided to go to the Andaman in the month of September, but then thing like job change, work pressure etc. took a toll and I could not take up the trip as planned. Finally I got in touch with some dive centers in Andaman and realised that the diving season basically starts in October and the sea live is better then. In November amidst all confusion I decided on the dates and that would in the 3rd week of January. Even now I was taking the trip seriously and had not started any preparations. Then came a call, Umeed from Barefoot called me and discussed the trip and told be that I should able to swim fairly good and that I will need to give a swim test of 200m in the middle of the sea. This is when the alarm rang hard in my head and what I call the panic preparations started. I found a nice pool in Bangalore near CV Raman nagar and made sure that I do swimming everyday. The beginning was horrifying, I could not do even 5 laps i.e. 100m with stops. So this called for drastic measures. I started spending a lot of time and energy into it, not just swimming, I started doing walking and exercise on a daily basis. Umeed had done the trick...apart from everything else I lost 7 kgs in like 1.5 months, that was in itself an achievement. I started building up decent stamina and by the time to fly came I was able to do about 35 laps and I was very content with the preparations. The the days came, Jan 11th, I was all set, in high energies and enthusiastic.
I boarded the bus, my seat number was 32, it so happened there was a couple how wanted to sit together and hence I was moved to seat no. 20 and then the same issue and I finally landed to seat no. 5. I was pretty happy as I was not happy with a back seat as I had a long day ahead and wanted to have a nice nap to preserve my energy. There was this uncle sitting next to me who would not move a muscle whatsoever happens. I had a tough time adjusting myself and then finally went to sleep to wake up directly in Chennai. I took at auto for 200/- bucks (outrageous, but had no choice as it was 5 in the morning.) to the airport. As soon as I landed in Chennai I had felt like having some nice dosa. I have always liked the taste of idly/dosa in Chennai. At the airport I found a TAJ resturant to eat one of the most horrible dosa in my life at an astonishing sum of money. I paid Rs.100 for a plain dosa, after waiting for almost 1 hrs, as the kitchen opens up only by 6:30AM. This breakfast was quite a setback and then I took off to check in to my flight. There was a huge groups part of some tour from Simoga, I believe except for me the whole flight was filled with this group. I boarded the plan at 9:20 to discover that I have been upgraded to the Business Class. I was very excited, this was the first time I was travelling my Business Class and that too without paying a dime extra. I called up Dad and told him about this too. It was a strange and overwhellming emotion. I felt pricy and important and the thought that the airline upgraded me on their own was making me feel proud of myself.
Once we were nearing Andamans, the view from the window was amazing, small and big islands all scattered in the sea, blue waters and waves, everything was just like out of the fairy tale. Though I have seen this before, but it was like a new thrill.
Port Blair airport is a small airport, I was picked up my Rafiq from Barefoot and taken to the Barefoot office in Port Blair, as there was still some time to our boat. There we met a Australian Couple and one couple from Chennai (Rohan & Neha). We discussed Indian food etc, with the Australian Couple and I also talked about Udaipur and Rajasthan also.
To our advantage we were being taken to havelock in a small private boat, just the 6 of us, crew and Umeed. I met Umeed for the first time and by the looks of it, he looked like a tough instructor, who would give a tough time (later my views changed). Rohan was very excited and was all enthusiastic to explain what diving is all about. He knew a lot about diving and was also certified. The journey to Havelock was about 3-3.5hrs. Soon we could see the island in a distance, as we started approaching, I realized that I have actually reached paradise and the site of the water and forest was out of this world. No wonder the Beach is rated as the Best Beach in Asia. Just about 300m from the beach, I saw Rohan suddenly jumping off the boat to swim all the way to the shore. I was so excited, that I also wanted to do the same, but then reality struck me and I realized that I dont have that much stamina as of now. From there we were put in a Maruti Van towards Cafe Del Mar, the dive center and the place I would be staying. As soon I reached there, I reported to the folks at the dive center, and then it all started. I gave measurements for the equipments. Suddenly everything was so professional, I forgot that I am on vacations and had hit reality, this is no joke, I have got myself into deep trouble. Checked into the cottage, interesting place, attached toilet, no gates to it but.
We were supposed to meet our dive instructor tomorrow by 9AM.

Day2:Chandigarh to Manali -> 310km

I gathered myself up at 06:00AM in the morning. The medication and fever was taking a toll on me and I was very drowsy. Packed our luggage and loaded it to the truck. The destination today was some hotel 9km before Manali called the Asia Sulphur Spring. I went up to a near by petrol bunk for a fill and then we all gathered back at the hotel for the launch. With couple of people from RE Chandigarh leading us out of the city we started off the ride. It took sometime to clear Chandigarh and reach the highway, plain road and less traffic, made people nuts and I could see people flying cross me. That gave me a rush too and soon I was cursing at 100kmh. It was to be some 96km before the ghats start, hence the idea was to take the first
break just before that. I, Priya, Sridhar, Jacks took a stop near a Gurudwara before the ghats started. First stop was at Kiratpur, where we came to know that one of the riders fell off. So we had the first count of the trip and it was none other than only Sardar of our trip, Kultar Singh. He got some blows on his elbows and knees but his will was far too strong. He decided to go ahead for the ride, irrespective of the injuries. The poor chap had to answer too many questions because the reporters got something out of the usual. Later only he told us that he had to give interview even when he was looking at his bike and picking it up. In totality, he had to face around 5 interviews. Took a couple of snaps and a cup of tea and started of. As I was driving on the ghats after a long time. I used the rear brakes a lot and they got so hot that I could see smoke from the chain. We decided to take a short break to let the brakes cool down, also as they were making a lot of noise I got a bit scared. After the stop, we decided to take the next stop only at Mandi and hence we moved on. The scenery was turning from beautiful to wonderful. We got our first glimpse of snow covered mountains, through I had seen them before, but it was still thrilling. Roads were pretty good and after around 15 kms, one can see the bikers at distant hills, or down below in the end. The road were wonderful and I managed a decent speed and we
were quite on schedule even after the unscheduled break. River Beas flow all along the road, the river was thronging with water and rapids. The very idea of having a slip and fall was scary, as it would mean no return. On our way to Manali, there is one real nice dam and photography was not allowed there.At Manali, most of us went to market, saw honeymoon couples hugging, cuddling, caressing each other and again FOSLA members getting frustrated. Tanveer hit jackpot there, he located the exact reason why the hotel was called ‘Sulphur Springs’. This
is the first time we formed a group. Me, Chandan and Rishab, we decided to take a plunge in the hot sulphur water. It was fun as Chandan was feeling shy first to take bath along with us. We reminded him of those hostel/college days. The water was very hot but we felt very fresh after that. In the hotel, we saw David Beckham scoring from free kick, birthday celebrations of
Vineet and we were introduced to one more deadly, ice-cold character. He is a damn good rider from Chennai, the one and only Sooooooooooooooorrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa (Surya). He showed up, tried to smile, looked constipated and then Sachin gave us some crap about his achievements that not a soul was interested. Then Mr. Naidu also said something that again was ignored at mass level. There was another interesting character; he is known as sorry, He is the most dangerous rider, unidentified-riding object, an orange colored warning on your rear view mirror. If you didn’t get it, you’re not on the trip, its none other that the great warrior, Cleveland brown ‘MUTHuuuuuuooooooooOOOooo’ (spelled in WWF style). I was talking to Balwant (my third roomie) when I saw Muthu laughing and he was watching cricket match on the TV. I couldn’t get the reason but with the time I came to know that no one could ever understand Muthu’s mahima. In-charge officially declared that party is over and the real tough trip starts now. Everyone went back to the room and slept as it was going to be totally new and unknown road to be covered next day.

Day1: New Delhi to Chandigarh - Distance: 270km

All packed and ready to move. Once on my bike with all the fellow riders, I could see the adrenalin rush and excitement that
people were having. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the air. Then i heard the first few bikes thunder and roll. And everybody
followed suit. Guided by a Delhi Cop on his custom white police bullet, we rode through the streets of Delhi. 51 bullets
means lots of noise, fun and attention of the people of the road. This whole procession was quite charismatic, and had taken
the people on the road by surprise. We did not stop for the red lights, traffic was diverted to make room for us on the road.
Once we reached the highway, we bid good bye to our police guide and continued our journey towards Chandigarh. After some 100
kms we stopped at a dabha for regrouping and snacks. The heat had taken toll on me and I had to drink 2 bottles of Maaza to
cool myself down. Mr. Sachin our veteran and INCHARGE of the trip briefed us about the ride for that day and asked us to keep
our calm on the road and not to over heat our engines. But the road were so nice and smooth, that most of us could not keep
off from speeding. I did a stretch at around 110km for about 25 kms. I was quite pleased with the way my bike was responding
and even after the heat, the gearbox was very smooth. We had to take a long unscheduled stop, as there was a road block by
the villagers protesting against lack of electricity. Everyone lazed near a nearby chai shop and had tea. After about 2 hrs,
we started all over again toward Ambala. This stretch of 50km, was the most tiring, as the heat and the stop had taken a toll
on me, the idea was just to reach Ambala somehow and take a break, much needed for both me and my bike. The dealers in Ambala RE showroom had done great arrangement for us. Amazing meal and cold drinks, is what everyone on the
trip wanted. Took a much needed rest, lay in front of the cranky tent house fans. Finally at 4PM we decided to head towards
the destination for the day i.e. Chandigarh. The folks from the dealership made us do a round for the city, and scare the
people of the small town, added to that was the blasting done by couple for the biker. When I say blasting it means, cutting
your engine and bringing it backup while revving. This make a loud blast sound. After we moved out of Ambala, there was
suddenly strong winds which almost swept me off the road, and then came real heavy rains, which drenched me to the CORE.Finally we reached the outskirts of Chandigarh and stopped for a regroup. Then moved to our hotel, "Lake View", nice and cozy
hotel. Just as we started changing, I realised that because of the day's heat and then the rains, I have fever. That sounded
very bad, as it was my first day of the ride. Anyways, RE had hosted dinner for us at the Press Club, we all once again
gathered there and after dinner slept well at the hotel. As we had to wake up really early the next day and the ride next day
was the longest and toughest for the bike.


It has been long overdue about the travelogue from my recent Bike expedition to Khardungla (The world highest motorable

road). This trip was organized by Royal Enfield between June 24-July 7th.I have been doing long ride on my bike for almost 6yrs now and had always dreamt of travelling to Khardungla. The route from
Delhi to Khardungla is like the road to salvation for all biker and Khardungla is the "Mecca for Biker". Priya accompanied me
as my pillion on this trip.We reached Delhi on June 23rd and were put up at YMCA by the organizers. The reason we reached a day earlier was to get our
bikes checked and mended, meet the fellow riders and enrich from the exp. of the veterans of that route about the hassles one
might face on the trip. This is the first time I realized that what I was thinking is a piece of cake is actually one of the
toughest route to ride on.I got my bike checked and was satisfied to know that the bike is doing exceptionally well. Ohh I forgot to mention I own a
Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc. A 24bhp beast and where I was taking it this time is were it belongs.