Sunday, January 2, 2011

My God and I

My parent’s 50 year old house in Rajajinagar, where I was brought up had small 2x2x2 place in kitchen..hmm..a cabinet I would say! It was made especially for Gods. All gods- Srinivasa (Tirupathi Balaji), Krishna, Ganapathi, and Lakshmi,..sat in that dark place for hours together. Make that years.. They still sit! A lamp used to be lit day and night for them. But on special days like festivals, wedding anniversary, death anniversary (thithi), their birthdays and our birthdays, they used to get some sweets too!. First, they would be served and only then we used to get our share. Mom had taught me that I should offer them a good Namaskar every morning and evening which I religiously followed. There was no question of why we had to do it. I just had to do it. Myself, along with my cousins used to chant Suprabhatam every morning. I was most attracted to the colorful pictures in Suprabhatam book where Lord Vishnu sleeps on his snake, Adishesha on the milky ocean.. Pictures on each page were like a fairy tales!. I used to begin dreaming of meeting Lord Vishnu, while looking at it!!.. Also, the stories about gods and goddesses, told to me by my granny, were a treat to hear.

There was an Ayyappa temple near my dance class. Every year, there used to be a grand procession in that area, before the pilgrims took off to Sabarimala. I used to wear my Jarilanga (traditional silk long skirt) and attend this religious gathering. My Amma used to give me some fruits, a coconut, beetle leaves and flowers to be offered to Ayyappa Swami, a bachelor god!. I used to love hearing the devotional songs sung in praise of Ayyappa...especially “Sabari Malayil Thanka Sooryodhayam”, a song sung by Yesudas. I used to love the Paayasam (made of rice and jaggery..paal paayasam) that they used to give as prasaadam.. The decorations made of coconut leaves, and the temple carts were very beautiful.

I would say, in my primary years, my main attraction towards festivals was to wear my new Jarilanga, and Bhakshanams(special snacks like chakli, thenkol, kolkatte, obattu, Holige, kodbale, thenginkayi burfi,….) During Navaratri celebrations, the fun was to arrange all existing Dolls and Idols in one corner of the house; make a miniature play area; put some wet mud to grow Raagi; leave some toy wild animals there picturing it to be a zoo!.. Every day, different sweets were prepared as an offering to God. Well, in the name of God, we all used to eat! :-)…Then go to all neighbours’ houses and invite them to come and take a look at our Dolls on display! One such time I still remember, when I was strolling along with my friends on the street, I saw an idol of Saraswathi made of clay, thrown into the street’s corner garbage dump. I literally put my hand through all that garbage took the idol out and brought her home. There was also a shiny garland that I found in the same dust bin. Saraswathi, adorned with that garland, also occupied a place in my dolls’ display section!

I would say the Ganapathi festival, was an all time favorite of mine. I had heard from elders that if one manages to see 108 Ganapathi idols on that festival day, it was a blessing in disguise; a very auspicious sight. I used to set off with my friends to 108 houses showing off my Jarilanga and jewels. Standing in front of every house, irrespective of whether we knew them or not, we used to shout…ree, ganesha koorsiddeeraa?( hello, have u kept an idol of ganesha??)..If they said “Yes” we would jump with happiness, not because they had kept a Ganesha there, but so that we would definitely get sweets to eat.. ha ha ha:)… what a life!.. Simple, innocent,. Will it ever come back I wonder!

During my middle school years, my Amma used to take me to Rama Mandira temple nearby my house mainly to attend Carnatic music concerts, during the festival seasons…. especially..Ramanavami; Ganesha chaturthi; Narasimha jayanthi. Before the concerts began, I would go and pay a visit to all gods there, have Panchamritham as prasadam and then sit and listen to the kutcheri. I used to love that Panchamritham..made of Banana, milk, ghee, sugar and honey!.. What a combo!. I often heard great stalwarts like MLV, Balamuralikrishna, Bombay sisters, Madurai somu, Flute Ramani; and so on…….

Then during high school, I don’t remember any close contact with God except that I used to learn few compositions in praise of God. I used to sit and watch in awe as my teacher Usha Datar practiced and performed different leelas of God. All looked so real. She had tiny eyes which were very powerful n expressive!

Also, that age in particular was meant for questioning. Questioning the existence of God; questioning every thing happening around us. I used to have long fights or conversations with my Grandpa (my mother’s father), who was a staunch Sri Vaishnava!. Sri Vaishnavas believe that Lord Vishnu is the ultimate god and all others are nowhere near his caliber. My Taatha never even used to step into Ganesha temple leave alone Shiva and other gods!.. I used to get mad at him. For me, all gods were same. There was only one God or Supreme Being or super power that we used to address by different names. But when ever Tata saw me performing dances on Shiva or any songs on Saraswathi, his face used to beam with joy. He used to call me Natyasaraswathi..!! When ever I performed, I used to just enjoy performing. I really didn’t know whether God existed. But I used to act as though he existed. Slowly as more and more experience I gained in performing, I really started feeling the power of Supreme, but still the question of his existence was always at the back of my mind. But the moment I was on stage, the story would be different!! God used to be my child; my friend; my lover; my guide; He took different forms!

Well. I had lot of disagreements with my father too. Many questions like where is God; why can’t we see God; Why should we worship; Why should we chant; what is the meaning of these chants; what is the meaning and purpose behind celebrating festivals; and so on.. All these questions were unanswered. Only thing was - Do what elders say!. I completely protested. Every festival, there used to be big arguments going on; I always ended up in crying; Slowly, I started hating those festival days and even later in my life, I didn’t really feel like celebrating any of those. Now, for me, receiving guests at home is like a of being together; chatting together; doing things together; This was the purpose behind every festival I guess – lovely family re - union, which elders couldn’t put it across to us properly. In the name of God, a good family re union!. So much fun! Isn’t it?!

In the mean time, I had strong disbelief in few customs like.. Girls during their menstruation shouldn’t visit temple, should not attend auspicious occasions, should not light the lamp and so on.. Why? Did God come down and gave instructions like that!. God would never do that. I realized it was sheer due to hygiene reasons; our people from the past have put down these rules. But now, you are in a better world. Better hygiene is followed. So, I never had two thoughts to go to temple or attend any religious functions. In fact, I had to perform in a temple one such time and the priest took me directly into the Sanctum Sanctorum!. God didn’t say anything. In fact, I feel He was very happy after the performance and hence decided to bring me all the way into the Sanctum sanctorum!

Well, as I stepped into college for my graduation, my faith in HIM became strong. Probably I was in a relationship with my dear hubby!! Ha ha:). Probably, I wanted the relationship be strong and end in marriage. Whatever the reason, I started bribing Lord Ganesha with regular weekly visits to Rama mandira temple and daily prayers! Naturally, He seemed to be very pleased and granted all my wishes. Got married, had baby; settled down happily; lot of performances; traveling; bought house and very conveniently I forgot my God amidst family tensions and pressures of demanding life. I used to light the lamp only when I felt like. My feelings had changed.. One should not pray only when one is in trouble; one should not light the lamp when one is not in good mood; one should not keep asking god for more and more things in life; and so on…

Life went on until one day I was down with Chikunguniya in 2005 which turned my whole life and routine upside down; that was turning point once again in my life. As I could not fight the disease for almost 8 months, I joined yoga therapy for two weeks at Vivekenanda yoga ashram, Jigani, near Bangalore. Daily, the day used to begin with wonderful morning prayers; Bhagavadgita chantings; yoga sessions; Lectures on Gita and life; True meaning of rituals, sacrifices; pooja; festivals; were explained. It was heavenly. Bhagavadgita was such an eye opener. I was highly inspired. India truly has a rich cultural heritage but sad that somewhere down the line, all significance behind the religious activities had been misinterpreted and misled by unwanted elements.

Hmm.. In the mean while, I had stopped performing. But I continued teaching. Later, trekking and mountaineering occupied my life completely. I enjoyed every moment in the nature. Whether it was Sahyadris or in Himalayas, Nature was awesome and its grandeur was overwhelming! At times, I felt the power of God all over again. I started to live. Slowly I found my passion in dance crawling in my mind. In fact, God came in my dreams and yelled at me – “Seen enough of your stubbornness Indira. It is high time you started dancing. Wake up!” … Life was beautiful again!

Oh! I forgot to mention that I had struck a deal with Tirupathi Balaji a decade back when I bought a house that I would visit him every year. But due to various reasons, I could not make it. I also gave my own reasons for it. God is everywhere. He is in my heart too. He is in my work that I do. So, work is like worship and bla bla bla… But a few weeks back, I got to visit Tirupathi to attend Ram’s concert. We had good Darshanam. The moment I was in the temple premises, my mouth started chanting his Holy name..Om Sri. Venkateshaya namaha!..My mind suddenly stopped working and it said..Hello Indira, why chant only the name of Venkatesha. Poor women! Rich Lakshmi is there too!. So, I started chanting her name!. In few minutes, I was there right in front of Lord. My mom in my younger days had taught me not to ask anything from HIM but thank him. But I had my own conversation with HIM that day.. …………..“Oh god. Let everyone be happy. Let all have great health and be peaceful; Thanks for whatever you have given me in this life; But very sorry that I didn’t visit you every year as I had promised…Hold on!.. one sec.. Why should I tell sorry for not visiting you.. Who said I am not thinking of you. Of course, I have taken so much pain and trouble two to four days in a month to see you in the form of nature during treks. I slog; I sweat; I take so much pain; So, no sorry.. In fact I am going to Himalayas for my advance mountaineering course in few days time. So, you better bless me with strength and courage. After all I am coming to see you only carrying 20 kilo loads on my back; trekking steep hills; confronting extreme temperature!!!!!! you GOD. Take care..M u a hhhhhh J “

Well, this is my God. All of us have our own God; our own beliefs; our own faith; our own relationship with HIM. What ever it is, God is fun to converse with… only one way conversation!! God in the form of child; in the form of friend; in the form of teacher; in the form of nature; in the form of work… Why other places!?...He is right there with in us too.. All of us certainly have some good qualities. We just need to recognize that. That goodness inside each one of us is Godliness.. Isn’t it?!! ..But we fail to recognize it especially if one is our spouse …ha ha ha ha…….

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SOMAPANA, The divine drink !!

SOMAPANA – The Divine Drink !!

Mythology says - Deeply drinking the Somapana (a holy drink) of your grace we have become deathless. We have reached the ultimate. We have seen the devas. Who can cause any harm to us? We humans do not have any shortage of that nectar (your grace). 3-2..Atharvasiras Upanishad…

Ayurveda says -Somapana – Drinking warm water (roughly 200 to 400 ml) early in the morning before intake or any other food or drink, cleans the entire digestive system. This helps one solve the problem of constipation….

A blog says -Soon we may find bottled Somapana in all liquor shops and cow-urine in all medical shops and you can bring back your glorious days….

Well, I happened to read this online about this exquisite drink –

Ethanol is called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol or pure alcohol or drinking alcohol or simply alcohol or spirits. It is psychoactive and imparts intoxication to the consumer, commonly referred to as “high”. It is one of the oldest recreational drugs (referred to as soma pana in Vedic times). Ethanol has a formula C2H5OH and has a linear structure CH3CH2OH. Its structural formula …:….

Oh oh oh!!.....Let me stop at this..

Well… coming to the point....

This blog is about my friend whom I know for so many years. It is about his drinking habits as the name suggests. I ask him one day why he drinks. Here are the reasons that he gave on several occasions

Very happy

Not feeling great

I didn’t like the way the boss spoke to

Boss agreed to my ideas…so…

All Friends got

Feeling lonely

I got promotion …so..

I am not even recognized…so..

I am happy my kids are doing well…so..

I don’t know how to handle my…

After a long time, meeting all my cousins…so..

I don’t know when I am meeting them next….so….

Work was hectic today. Need to unwind.. so…

Came home early today.. thought I will chill out…so..

My wife is in good mood.. so…

My wife is growling… so..

Today its my wedding day.. so..

Today it’s my wife birthday.. so..

My wife going on a official tour for a month.. so…

My wife is back today!.. so..

Weather is so hot and

It’s quite cold….so…

I am feeling good after a great work out.. so.

I am not feeling well.. so..

Had a long trek.. tired..I want to sleep well… so…

just felt like

This is my last

My friends forced me.. so..

I envy people who drink. At least they have something to blame everything on." Oscar Levant.. ha ha ha

Ayyo…ayyo..ayoyoyo…... so much of excuses to drink?!...

Well, I think He is a drunkard…certainly!

Is he addicted? !! .. He says he is NOT.. ….!!!!!!

I am in fact very disturbed by my friend’s take on drinks. Imagine about his family. How much they would be disturbed. Has he thought about his health, his family, his parents, , ,.?……. First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; then the drink takes the man…………How true!

What values are we teaching our next generation? Are we teaching them that its alright to drink..or .It is good to drink…or it is fun to drink… or If you have problems in life, get the support of a drink or U can drink and still be good being.. or I can drink but you shouldn’t drink…where are we heading to?!!!!!!!!!!!!!.... What if the kids become a complete drug addict? Will we have face to tell them that it is WRONG to drink!!.. If we say, Will they LISTEN?!...what’s their FUTURE then?!...What a shame!.. Is the human being so weak that he cannot take control of his addictions, his actions, his emotions… ?!

There are some people who say it is better to initiate children at home rather than the children exploring outside without their knowledge!. What logic is this!! And also there we have a sect of people who think it’s cool to drink and it’s cool to create havoc at home or on roads and not just that but also make fun of the Teetotalers. I think it needs lot of guts and lot of courage to get up and say to say NO to Drinks. I admire and respect these Teetotalers.

Satya saibaba says “IF the parent is a drunkard, a gambler and a cheat, no amount of textbook ethics can cure the sons. I like children and the young innocence. I will not allow them to be blamed. The fault lies wholly on the shoulders of the elders, the parents, and the leaders who shape the norms which they imbibe.”

A lot to think for myself too….it’s high time we pull up our sleeves and clean ourselves first. First comes commitment to the family and then comes commitments to the society.

If one has problems in life, one should not get addicted to the lower things instead get addicted to the higher things in life – Jog, work out, go to temples, go to beach, go for treks, meet friends,....common... live your passions!!….do anything but don’t drink. Drinking is a suicide.

Here are some quotes:

The first thing in the human personality that dissolves in alcohol is dignity – Unknown author

Pleasure which must be enjoyed at the expense of another's pain, can never be enjoyed by a worthy mind. Pleasure's couch is virtues grave…. Augustine Duggane

To see what is right and not to do it, is want of Courage -- Confucias

You own yourself, so if you want to do something that destroys yourself, go ahead. Just don't harm others when you do… Jim Goebel

Alcohol doesn't console, it doesn't fill up anyone's psychological gaps, all it replaces is the lack of God…Marguerite Duras

People who drink to drown their sorrow should be told that sorrow knows how to swim…Ann

Alcoholism isn't a spectator sport. Eventually the whole family gets to play…Joyce Rebeta

Alcohol impairs calcium absorption by affecting the liver's ability to activate vitamin D. Vitamin D is important in the metabolism of calcium. The more alcohol you drink, the more you hinder your body's ability to build up and maintain healthy bones…Harvey, Marilyn Diamond

I come from a family that had an alcoholic and a binge drinker in it. It took many years for me to overcome the flashbacks from my childhood. I lived it. I know the truth. Drinking has no place in the home….Duane Alan Hahn

SAY NO TO DRINKS.....................................................

Monday, September 20, 2010

202 - not out !!

202 - not out! .. 202!..What’s that?!.. Just a number? Hmm.. na.. .then, what? ..Well… let me begin..

Suzanne, 32 year old fit and smart young and tall well built lady, who happened to be my instructor at the basic mountaineering course came over to Chennai to do a bicycle ride from Chennai to Pondicherry along with a guy called Veeresh, whom she had met in Himachal during mountain biking. I was dumb!.. Cycling all the way to pondy?.. Oh man!..I never heard about that. She had guts!!.. I was fortunate to host her in chennai. I got to meet Veeresh too.. Till I met them I never knew, that Bikes cost go up to 2 lakhs!!. Mad I thought!. Both of them took off to Pondy in their awesome road bikes. Next day, Veeresh came back alone from Pondy by bus and dropped his bike at my place. First thing he told…Oh god..”Yeendree..Indra, Avalu ondhu raakshasi!!”..(kannada: Indra, that women is a devil)!!..I thought they had some problem in between n fought or something like that. Then he said..ayyo..nothing like fights..She is a super rider. She just zipped off to Pondy just like that!!.. What amazing stamina!, cool:)

Later, He told that he will keep his bike with me for few days and I could try it for a Mahabalipuram ride that was coming up in the following week end. Me to Mahabs!!.. No way. Last I rode my cycle was in my college days 5 to 6 kms and it was 24 yrs back!. I thought I would just try for fun. I convinced my husband to ride along telling him that there would be a support van coming along just in case if we are not able to ride. My son joined the ride looking forward to the breakfast at GRT,Mahabs. So, there we were!. Three of us were exploring cycling to Mahabs. I thought I could do only 10 to 15 kms maximum..But I did 45 kms in my first ride1..We took our own sweet time to reach..I took 3 ½ hours. After that, I got a hang for it. Cycle was still with me. I went for two night rides (35 kms), early morning rides ( 30 – 35 kms) with Chennai bikers and Tamilnadu cycling club. I cycled regularly as part of my training to do my advance mountaineering course.

After I got back from mountaineering course, I wanted to buy a Cycle. Vibhaker helped me to choose one from Suresh’s shop. Suresh really wanted me to buy Cannondale or Bianchi. I told him that cycling for me is just to exercise boss. I would do 30 kms maximum per day and it is good enough.. That’s it. I don’t plan to do long distance at all. Also, I cannot afford those two high end cycles right now. I settled for Shwinn Sporterra, red and white Hybrid model. Later, I bought accessories for it – Front light, backlight, Pouch, tool kit, wireless cyclometer, Air Pump, cycling shorts, number lock, well.. Apart from cycle, accessories came up to ten thousand bucks. I was very happy with my Shwinn. I bought one more Shwinn MTB for my husband and son. Sitting on new bike and riding along East coast road was such a fun. Cycling, meeting new friends, talking, having breakfast at Arusuvai was total relaxation on week ends. I did 2 to 3 sixty kms ride and one 70 km on ECR. I was planning to do Mahabs and back. That means around 90 kms. Finally Murthy announced a ride in TNCC mail..

12th September

Hi, There are two options for the Chennai Pondicherry Chennai Ride 200 / 300 Kms
1. Start - Madhyakailash- GST road - Thindivanam (116 Km) - Pondicherry - ECR - Madhyakailash - Distance ( 300 Kms ) - Start Time : 4.00 am Ride Time : 12 hours.

2. Start ECR Toll Uthandi - ECR Toll Pondicherry - ECR Toll Uthandi
Distance (200 Kms ) Start Time : 4.00 am Ride Time :8 hours max


Well, I didn’t even bother to have a second look at this as I knew this was not my cup of Tea. But then one more letter came.

14th September,
Those who want to do shorter distance can start along at the same time with the group and loop back from either Scenic View point ( 60 Kms) or Mahabalipuram ( 85 Kms) . Please update your details in the spread sheet accordingly.

Wow..This sounds good.. From 70 kms , now I could jump to 85 kms. I registered for it. On 16th September, I met Venkat online on facebook.
Venkat - Hey, joining us for pondy?
Indira – no way.. Doing Mahabs first. Try to get 100 and then think of pondy.
Venkat – common, u have A grade in mountaineering. I am confident. u can do.
Indira – I think I can but I can’t ride along with murthy and vibha who just zoom off, If I do at my pace, I think I can. But I don’t want to pull down the whole group. So, next time. Also, Murthy has mentioned in his letter “The ride is a long distance endurance ride, it would be better if you have done over 100kms in a day previously, so that the group stays together.”
Venkat – No. U can. I will pick u at 3.30am on 18th. We will do it
Indira – hmm.. yes.. no ..yes.. no…well..OK !! .. See ya

On 17th evening, I took my bike to near by cycle shop and got it checked and fixed wireless cyclometer to it. Bought few energy bars; Filled water in camel bag; Kept some enerzal; During this whole process of preparation, my mind kept telling – go till Mahabs with them Indira and come back. Don’t break your head too much.. That night, I could not sleep at all.

I had to get up at 3am on 18th. I made a pair of cheese sandwiches and packed it. I had a glass of milk and banana. I was out near the gate with my cycle at 3.30 sharp..No sign of Venkat even till 3.40. Oh good. I can go back to sleep I thought. He wasn’t picking up his phone too. By, 3.45, Venkat turned up and we removed the front wheel and pushed our bikes in his car and zoomed off to ECR toll in 15 minutes. Vibha and Murthy were waiting there at toll. I guess they were surprised to see me!.. When I saw Murthy’s face, First thing I noticed was his e mail words started dancing in front of my eyes like Taare zameem par “The ride is a long distance endurance ride, it would be better if you have done over 100kms in a day previously, so that the group stays together.”
Ha ha:)..i couldn’t help laughing at myself.

At 4.20am, four of us started. It was pretty dark. Head lights were on. Back lights were flashing. Till 6am, my legs were just on the pedals. Nothing to look around. Good in one way. You don’t know where you are. Just keep cycling or else, mind keeps thinking - ayyo, we are still at MGM? Still at crocodile bank?.. Traffic was quite less. On and off, we could see some buses, trucks, cars and bikes passing by. Good. my eyes started seeing things at the sunrise. We had just passed Mahabs. That was 26 kms then. Around 6.30 am, we stopped for Tea break – 15 minutes and started our journey. Weather was simply superb. I wished it would be like that through out the day. Even at 7.30, there was no sign of sun coming out .He was happily behind the clouds. Good for him. Good for us.. It looked like it had rained previous night. It was cool. Head winds were there which made it bit difficult.

Journey was excellent. Riding along the lovely sea coast, along side backwaters, the smell of wet mud, the green and golden brown lush paddy fields, people walking and cycling, the sound of the bells around the cattle’s neck, grey temple to the back drop of these paddy fields, Bright yellow temple and black goats standing one behind the other in the back drop of back waters; sound of the divine vedic chants coming out of temple; fishing boats n nets, Birds chirping; Magical view of the sea from the bridge at Mudaliar kuppam, the colorful statues of Village deities surrounded by beautiful long coconut trees; kids waving their hands; lovely birds sitting on electrical poles; hot tea steaming off road side shops; sound of the wind blowing all along; Journey was indeed beautiful, colorful and good feast to the ears too.

We broke for lunch at Hotel Mid way, We had traveled 75 kms by then.. I had good Masala Dosa and ginger tea. Others had pongal and idli vada. It was a wise choice. They need not remove gloves nor wash their hands. Just have it in spoon. Hmm. Things to learn. I stretched for some time and filled up my camel bag and bottle of electrol. We got ready to hit pondy toll which was 25 kms away. All along the way, I kept seeing those fast moving white and green AC buses which read ECR. My mind was filled with happiness” yes!!!!!! ..This is the bus I am going to take on my way back from pondy toll..yayyyy Vibha and Murthy were always ahead of venkat and me. Poor venkat was caught up with me. Well. That was the risk he took..haha:)

Finally we reached Pondy toll at 9.40 am..yayyy!!! That was my first 100 ! !!..Vibhas reading showed 100.5 kms and Venkat’s readings showed 102 kms !!.. What ever, it was above 100 !!..ha ha..I.called my husband and then my brother and shared this happy news. We all had good coconut water. Then, My eyes started looking for those white and green AC buses!..But voices around me said – you are coming back Indira with us cycling to Chennai!..we will not allow you to board the bus. Buses won’t stop here. They wont allow cycles… ayyyoooooooo.. NO. I screamed.. gg rrrr….Buses do stop. Buses do take cycles on their top. I aimed at 100. I have done it.. So, let’s see next time :).. Vibha, murthy and venkat again – Common Indira, you will never get this opportunity like this. Who can do 200 in first shot itself without doing 100...common..U can do it . Weather is cool. Jus do it!...

Ok I said..But, on one condition!!. Murthy and Vibha are going to be behind me. They agreed. But after 2 kms, as usual they were some where They just zoomed….Hmm.. Well Venkat and myself had good enjoyable ride too though a bit slow. No issues. In long distance, Endurance is important. It was my first attempt too. I couldn’t help but laugh thinking of Murthy’s e mail “The ride is a long distance endurance ride, it would be better if you have done over 100 kms in a day previously, so that the group stays together.”

Well. Murthy is a very nice person but doesn’t want to stop or take breaks anywhere. His favorite lines – let’s go let’s go!! He is experienced and encouraging too.Vibhaker is a total professional. He was a national champion for several years. This Feb, He is taking part in an International event. And I can’t thank Venkat enough for inspiring me and being with me through out the journey putting breaks on his legs !

Well.. My journey towards 200 began! My mind told.. Indira, take a break at Hotel Mid way, drink something and take a bus and go back to Chennai. Yes. . I am going to do that. Well.. After an hour, as planned we had a stop over at the Hotel, we refilled bottles and my mind was now in a fix.. Do it Indira.. NO..just hop on a bus indira.. Ayyo.. Finally, I thought I will do it but take one step at a time. I am going to aim at only 25 kms at a time. Yes. That’s it. But this break here made my fingers go a bit numb. My knee was hurting a bit but the pain in the butt was not just a pain in the butt but was really a pain in the butt! GG rrrrrrr.. Next stop was for Tea after 25 kms. But Mr.Venkat who had gone ahead forgot to see the Tea shop and just went ahead. So, three of us had to blindly go behind him without a break.

The stretch between 125 kms and 175 kms was killing. My cardio was perfect. But for that Butt!!! ..well. The smiles given by those village women were quite encouraging. But there were few boys who were also cycling. They were in their school uniforms. Looked like typical teenage boys. Full show offJ Sometimes they used to over take me and turn back and grin at me. Then, they kept teasing.. Hello.. Where are u going? Very nice cycle.. and so on. I asked them” hey!.. What are you guys studying? They replied. 9th.and other 10th.. I said” wow. Really!.. That’s nice. Even my son is in 9th now”. They were dumb stuck. They were speechless for sometime…They just said.. Super auntie. Byeee.and went off.:)..ha ha :)

Apart from nice things that I saw, I was sad to see so many little creatures dead on road side. A tiny little snake, a little bird, squirrels, Dogs.. All of them run over by speeding vehicles. Life goes on. Nothing can be done I guess. But, especially, when the dog is on the road, either dog dies or we die. They are so unpredictable creatures when they are on road but at home, they are the most trustworthy.

Everything was an experience to cherish. Only thing I disliked in the whole journey was the sight of that White and green AC bus…GGrrrrrrr.. It kept reminding me of the distance that I need to cycle to Chennai and my speed and time taken.. and my unfulfilled dream of getting into that bus!

Finally, it was lovely to reach Mahabalipuram bypass and we stopped for lunch in a road side small shop. It was 2.30 by then. We had hot rotis and dal. Then, we drank good butter milk. Three of them started their conversation...Hey indira, this is a record. No women as of we know here has done 200 km in one day. We are very happy and proud of you..!.... Wow!..really!..I was jumping with joy. I never knew it nor planned for it. Whether they just told that to encourage me or whether it was really true, that’s not the point. I was in cloud 9. I sent a message to my close friends telling about my feat.I was happy for my efforts. Each time I am learning new lessons. This time, I learnt that one can achieve anything but one has to put their mind into it. Lesson learnt from my advance mountaineering – Take one step at a time. Live in the present.

Then, I refilled my camel back with cold water and here we were in last leg of our 200 km journey – 25 kms more to go..yayy!!..I had got back the energy.. I was feeling good and excited to. Three of them just took off. As I was cycling, I realized, Cycle was not moving at all. I was sure I had lot of power. But then I thought probably my mind is thinking so and my body is weak. All of a sudden, The road seemed to be going upwards!. Something was wrong.. I just bent down to see that tire had got punctured..Ha aha haJ.. Thankfully, three of them were waiting for me little ahead.. Murthy said that I need to go by bus.. plans of finishing 200! Gone! ??...No way. Mountaineers never give up so easily.

Each one of us had different bikes. Murthy had Road bike. Vibha had MTB, and Venkat had Hybrid. That’s good. My cycle is Hybrid too!!. I requested Venkat to give me the spare tube. Finally Murthy and Venkat fixed my cycle. Now, It felt right. Road was not upwards, It was straight. My body was not weak. It was energetic. So, now I was all set to do the remaining 18 kms at one go. It was a familiar route. I knew exactly when the ECR toll would come. Wow. My happiness knew no bounds. There..5, 4, 3, 2, 1.. I hit 200 + kms!!...But then what’s 202 ??!..That’s the average taken from Vibhas and Venkat’s cyclometer.! One reading showed 201 and other showed 203.!!

Yay…my 202 !!.. Thanks a lot Venkat, Vibha, and Murthy for giving me this wonderful experience…One second please...wait.... I see a mail here on FB.. Venkat says he is doing 300 and counting me for that!.. Hello venkat!!! …NOOOOOO… that’s it.. I enjoyed 202 ! and Iam not out!...but, for now not a km more!! Ha ha ha..

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Advance Mountaineering Course

First All women summit of Rudragaira!

Rudragaira peak - 5219 M (19091 feet)


Course at: Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi.
Course sponsor : T.V.Ramprasadh
Northface Backpack : Nita and Girish
High altitude Black diamond gloves: Raghunandan Mudre
Air tickets: Shreesha Kadambi
Best wishes: Family and friends
• Thanks for my son Vishnu for wishing me silently to get out of the house
Rope Instructor : Raju Sahi
Other Instructors : Girish Rana Koti, Dasharath, Mastaan Bhandari
Guest Instructor: Sujai from Hyderabad
Inspiration: Chewang Norbu (C sir) – My god in mountaineering!
Advance course trainees: 19
Basic course trainees: 54
Aim: To learn advance mountaineering techniques and summit Gangotri -3 (6557 M).. But due to bad weather, location was changed to Rudragaira peak. 5819 M. Summited Rudragaira peak; Coordinates: 30°55'56"N - 78°49'57"E.- 19091 ft. This is on record – First all women ascent to Rudragaira peak on 17th June 2010 !!!!
Photos : Archana Thakur, Krithika Bharadwaj

"The bizarre trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don't dare, they're crazy because they do. These people tend to enjoy life to the fullest, laugh the hardest, travel the most, and work the least."Lisa Morgan

( But I don’t agree with the last the least )

Well, a month after completing the basic course, I got an offer to join an expedition to Kamet, 2nd highest peak in India. I sent my profile and as I was gearing up for it, I got a letter from N I M too regarding the admission for Advance mountaineering course. My confused mind finally decided to upgrade skills in mountaineering and I enrolled for the advanced course at N I M again, after going through all necessary medical checkups. I had 4 months to prepare.

In the mean time, I went for a 2 day trek with CTC to Kodaikanal and had a bad knee problem. So, I changed my training accordingly. I decided not to go for jogging this time. Instead, I started with 3 days a week of Yoga, 2 to 3 days a week - cycling, and 3 days a week weight training. Everything was going smooth. I was happy with my training schedule until one day….. I thought..”hey Indira, u r doing good so far..just take one week break and relax..” So, after 2 – 3 days, I thought, anyway I am relaxing. So, why not go for a good massage and then relax.

So here I was at Sanjeevanam, a Kerala based Ayurvedic massage centre. Got a good synchronized massage with a strange mix of some Gingely oil and lavender
If I mention this to any Ayurvedic doctor, they will have a good laugh I guess.

God knows what this strange mix did to me. Firstly, it was hot summer, secondly, I decide to get a hot oil massage and third but not the least I decide to get a steam bath!. I did.. Result was I felt dizzy and soon was on the floor. My hands started getting stiffer and stiffer. Slowly I could feel abdomen muscles and heart muscle getting stiff. My speech went slur. All I could remember was to give them my husband’s number and call him immediately. Poor Ram was there in half hour. Still my hands were stiff. Doctor didn’t know what to do. I just got into my car and Ram drove me to the nearest hospital where I got treated in emergency ward. Neck X ray, brain scan, Blood test,….everything was done. All seem to be fine and normal. But what went wrong?!.. Neck X ray suggested that I have degeneration in C5- C6. Doctor advised that I should not carry weights any more. I need 2 months of rest from all activities!.. So, I decided to cancel the advanced course this time and took good rest for few days. But deep inside, I really wanted to know the reason for my muscle stiffness. Hence, I decided to meet my good old Doctor Kannan, a well known sports physiotherapist. As I kept narrating the symptoms, he told me it’s nothing serious. It is a severe de-hydration problem!. I was bit relieved. He told me to undergo few days of physiotherapy and rehabilitation and I will be all set to go for the course. My whole body felt so sore. Right from neck, shoulder, lower back, hip muscles, hamstring,…lol… But after ten sessions with him, all seemed to be fine and I started packing. This time, I was not that keen. I don’t know why. I kept telling Ram..”hey..please tell me not to go and I will stay back”! ..ha ha;) But Ram insisted that I should do the course; that will make him proud!; and of course he will get one more month of Freedom!!

Finally, I left on 24th May from Bangalore to New Delhi. Stayed at my dear friend Madhura in New Delhi and enjoyed her wonderful hospitality. On 25th, I along with Archana and others took Mussorie Express to Hrishikesh and a taxi to Uttarkashi. We reached NIM around 2.30 in the noon on 26th of May. We kept our bags in our rooms that were allotted to us and went to have tea. It was so nice to see some really super fit girls. My heart sank.”Indira, fatty..look! ..How much these girls have trained and come. You think you will be able to do the course..” I just wanted to get back to Chennai. But somehow consoled myself telling” ok..fine..I am going to take each session as it comes. I am not going to think of tomorrow at all”. I started to live in the present totally. As I walked across the campus, I read beautiful lines: “We always over estimate the strength of others and under estimate ours”.. I got some courage and decided, I will do the course and I can.

There was not much difference in basic and advance training except that it was more technical. Lot of importance was given on overall fitness, strengthening of shoulders, aid climbing, Jumaring in overhanging rocks, use of Chest Croll, Double ice axe climbing on vertical glaciers, use of mini traction while traversing, crevasse crossing, etc., Weather and First aid was studied in depth. Introduction to GPS was given. It was quite exhaustive. But fun too. Our main project was to do an Expedition planning which was fun and we had a written test too at the end of the course.

Initially, we spent first four days in Tekhla, rock climbing area learning advance techniques in rock climbing - we learnt Bouldering, Aid climbing using Etrier; Rappelling; Belaying; use of Friend/ Chock/ Jumar in vertical climbing, overhanging rocks; Use of short slings and long slings in absence of other equipments; ….

Next 18 days was in Gangotri area – Rudragaira Glacier learning Ice and Snow craft.

The Expedition/ training :

Day 1, 2, 3 – Left Uttarkashi; 5 hours drive; reached the camp at Gangotri, 3080 M. Acclimatization…visiting temple at Gangotri….. shopping.

Day ,4, 5, 6 – Killing.., steep ascent with 20 kilos of load on our backs; Avalanche prone area; slippery trails; height gain was a little too much for the first day – 3010m to 4280m; Many fell sick and at least 20 trainees got back due to AMS(acute mountain sickness) and HAPO too (High altitude pulmonary oedema). This was our intermediate camp; we could see the peak Jogin; Heavy snow fall up to 2 feet; Our move to base camp was halted; Whole night kept ourselves busy cleaning the tent so that snow doesn’t accumulate;

Day 7 – Load ferrying to base camp..4280 M

Day 8 – March to base camp; pitched tents; lectures on weather, first aid; etc …..could hear Avalanche happening nearby!

Day 9,10, 11– Training on the glacier wall – revision of basic techniques, Aid climbing, two piton base climbing, tip toe climbing + climbing using double ice axe..; lectures and demonstrations; work on expedition planning project;

Day 12, 13 – Snow craft – Toe kicking, Side stepping, heel kicking; Glissading; Different types of belaying; Ice axe retrieval; Crevasse crossing; Rescue techniques in crevasse using C pulley and Z pulley; detecting avalanche prone area; lecture on avalanche rescue using DTS;

Day 14 – March to Summit camp 4920 M.. Load was bit less; But few parts were very steep; bad weather made it difficult too. One mess tent, 5 three men tent were pitched along with 3 more tents for instructors. Amidst cold wind & bad weather, the best moments were having tea and snacks inside mess tent along with all instructors. Each group had to cook Maggie (training to cook in high altitude). One had a lovely 360 deg view of mountains Manda1, Manda 2, Brighupanth, Jogin on one side and on the other side, we saw Gangotri massif shining gold in the sunset time;

Day 15 – 17th June 2010…3.30am – Had porridge; quickly got ready for the D day! – The Summit day!.. The Summit of Rudragaira peak..5819 M; First group left at 4. They opened the route. We, the second group left half hour later; quite windy; temp sub zero; 2 to 5 feet of snow; 7 layered clothing – 3 T shirts, 1 sweater; 1 light jacket; 1 feather jacket; 1 wind proof jacket and trouser; gaiters, snow boots were on; helmet + all technical gears including ice axe and rope, which are the life line of a mountaineer and of course packed breakfast; one litre of electrol…

Few fit ones marching ahead; few found it difficult to breathe and were slow.. heavy snow; steep climb – almost 70 degree gradient. At patches, the steps made on snow by the first batch of trainees were very large and short people found difficult to climb; difficult to break it and make new steps; for sometime we used the fixed rope climbing technique. We could hear girls panting and exhausted… 2 to 3 gave up. The first batch summitted, clicked photos with the Indian flag and began descent. The second batch were trying hard fighting bad weather which crept in. The last stretch was the killer; few of us left our back pack at a safe place and started our final leg. I was dehydrated but held my water bottle tight and kept moving at a snail’s pace. Weather turned bad; white out for a short while. We could hear instructors shouting… “move back”. But few of us didn’t want to give it up; we didn’t know when we were going to come back to the Himalayas again. Even if we do, whether we would summit any peaks?? We motivated each other and… Finally we made it around 9.25 AM !!!!; click.. click.. click in all angles with Indian flag!!; what a proud moment it was!!
"Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb." — Greg Child.

Hardly 5 minutes on the top of the peak and we started descending down; As I kept walking down the snow peak , I realized, it was never ending..1 hour; 2 hours...3 hours….shucks!! – Did we climb so high!? ..It never felt that way!!!...exhausted……
"Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory." — Ed Viesturs.

Hmm..I landed finally in summit camp to a wonderful applause by other friends/ instructors – grabbed 4 mugs of juice and picked up my back pack and started towards base camp!!!...It was a total 13 hour non stop hike from Summit camp to summit and back to Base camp. I was totally drained when I reached the base camp; But what a welcome for us at the Base camp, from the basic course trainees and all other instructors; kitchen staff and porters; Grand welcome!!!!!!!!; lot of cheers, hand shakes… I was overwhelmed. I cried hugging my instructor….It was a wonderful feeling;
"What is hard to endure is sweet to remember" …isn’t it?!

Day 16 – Navigation test using GPS, winding up of base camp… packing backpacks to move back to Gangotri.

Day 17 – Nonstop march towards Gangotri camp; it took us 6 hours to reach, followed by lunch and feed back session.

Day 18 – Back to N I M, Uttarkashi….written test…valedictory function practice….relaxing…

The weather was quite pleasant when we got back… no more sweaters! Skin was tanned a lot ! Lips were bad too….could not eat anything spicy. Some had chill blains, injury to toes and fingers due to exposure to extreme cold. By God’s grace, I came back with surprising fitness; my knee was in perfect shape and so as my back and neck. Later in the day, we had to clean and return all our equipments. We then got busy with the graduation ceremony rehearsals and finally on 22nd June, the stage was ready for us to receive the Badge from our chief guest Chandraprabha Aitwal!! She was the lady who had inspired me to do the mountaineering course and to receive the badge from her was such an honor. We had tea and a photo session with her.

In the evening we had cultural programs planned. I took two hours to get ready..make up; costume…I performed for ten minutes. It was very satisfying as it was the least that I could give for my Instructors; Principal; Chandra didi and Chewang sir. Later we had a lovely dinner with the chief guests, packed our backpacks, cleaned our rooms and slept.

Next day, by 6 AM we were ready to leave after bidding good bye to all our friends, instructors and it was sad to take leave of C sir, my inspiration!. C sir, a very humble gentleman; a true mountaineer; a great teacher; a great human being, who every mountaineer should meet!

Back in Chennai..I have LAS…low altitude sickness..ha ha!!!..lazy to wake up; boring to cook; brushing/bathing everyday! …indulging in varieties of food; chatting online;…not fit for city life anymore!!....Now, waiting for the certificate and depending on the grade, I will plan for the next course..ha ha… way..! … This is how I am feeling at present.. After few weeks, who knows what’s in store for me?. I may be back in mountains!!!! "The Himalayas are heaven for the hardcore trekkers"

"To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits."
— Sir. Francis Younghusband.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Advance Base Camp - Mountaineering course

( in continuation ......

3rd November. Load ferry day. That means, we ferry few loads to advance base camp and get back to base camp on the same day. On previous day, we packed all things required for ABC. Load was bit heavy. The march was bit tiring. It took 3 ½ hours to reach ABC. The route was slippery. Lot of ice formations on rocks made it little tricky to walk. The water here and there was frozen. The cold breeze made us bit difficult to breathe comfortably. Nose was leaking all the time. Tissues were never enough. Head scarf came in handy sometime to blow the nose and to wipe the sweat too!. We didn’t have any choice. Location where the advance camp was held was splendid. All around us were lovely snow peaks, glaciers, and beautiful ice formations. We all put our things in a store tent, had tea and clicked few pictures and came back to base camp after spending half an hour there.

In the mean time, four girls were called for a meeting with Vice principal and few instructors. I was called too!. Initially, I was taken aback! What would be the reason for this meeting?. Well.. I was the oldest student. I knew Tamil, Hindi, and English. So, they needed me there for translation! Also, I could bridge the gap between the girls and instructors. These four girls had fitness issue. They weren’t coping that well with the training and weather too. So, they had to be pulled out of the course. It was such a sad moment for these girls. They were all mentally quite tough. But physically they were unable to match the fitness level. It was such a difficult situation for me. I felt like sandwiched between them and instructors. They were asked to stay back at base camp and not proceed to advance camp. We all felt very sad to leave them and go. But we had no choice.

Next one week, we had to be in ABC for snow craft training. On 4th Nov, we all marched towards the ABC, which was at a height of 14800 ft. That days lecture was on snow craft which covered various topics- Types of snow, types of snow climbing, and different types of descending in the snow, snow anchoring, belaying, Glissading;.. I was so very tired that day. I slept through out the lecture! Thank god I was wearing dark sun glasses and lecturers could not see what me eyes were up to!.

Late in the evening, we had lovely sunset. The weather was pretty cold. The tent lights were on. As it became darker and darker, the view of the white tents lit with dim lights to the backdrop of the dark sky looked awesome. At nights, temperature went to -5, to -7degress centigrade. I could see the spilled tea getting frozen in seconds!! I didn’t want to come out of tent even for food. If I had food, then I didn’t want to wash the plates. If I washed it, then hands would go numb in seconds and had to be given warm water treatment immediately. I wore two more layers of t shirts to keep myself warm. For toilet, we had to glide down a little patch of snow and walk few steps behind the rocks! I wished for an attached bathroom in the tent!

Our training area at ABC was an hour trek from the camp. We had to wear those big heavy snow boots weighing around 3 kilos and walk!. We literally had to lift up our feet one after another and walk. Felt very weird! And awkward too! We all looked like one cartoon characters – small feet with huge boots! Hmm.. The trail was quite a trek I should say. Trekking on slippery boulders with those shoes was quite irritating. Before the training started, we had to put the crampons and gaiters. The training area didn’t have sufficient snow. It was dry snow which was totally unfit to get trained in snow craft. It seems hard snows are the best for training and that could be seen only during the month of May, June or so. With the available resources, we learnt the art of snow craft. Suzanne made us practice different types of snow climbing- toe kicking, side stepping, alternate leg kicking, fixed rope climbing. Heel kicking, …While descending, we use heel kicking technique. It felt like Charlie Chaplin hiking down with his stick!

Snow craft training was for two days. After morning sessions, we used to get back to the camp for lunch time. In between, we had rope knot test too. It was nice to see different groups spread all over practicing the knots seriously. Instructors were helping too. For the test, we were made to tie the given knots in ten seconds perfectly!!. If one got the knot, he / she would have forgotten to put the safety knot or one would have tied different knot altogether, or one would tie it loose.. Whatever the reason, many couldn’t do it properly. It was fun watching all doing it in ten seconds time!. Instructors seemed to be having great fun at our cost. I enjoyed it too!

Nov 6th was an important day of our training. Height gain day. We had to trek up to 16000 feet. To get A grade, one had to do this successfully. Early in the morning at 5.30, we all assembled with full gears on – right from helmet to snow boots. We had to wear crampons too. Initially, it was going smooth. I enjoyed walking on glacier with crampons on and holding ice axe. I was as usual slow and steady! We were told to walk in our pace and not wait for our team. As I kept going up slowly, I turned back and could not see Jothi and kamakshi. They had got back! Kamakshi pulse rate had dropped I heard and so she had to get back.. I didn’t see Avni too. I thought she might have gone back too! Archana and Mallika were almost coming along with me. That day duty rope had Mundiya (Sunil) and Gujju (Mihir). We three of us were climbing together talking and pushing ourselves slowly up. As long as I was on glacier, my speed was quite ok. But when once I got into the snow, Speed dropped down quite a lot. It was tough.

We had few breaks in between. When ever I saw group of people sitting in the far end, my heart would be bouncing with joy “Ha! Finally! That’s the end”. But when I reached there, It wasn’t!.. I could see people far away still climbing. Then I decided I would never look up again. I would watch only my steps and keep moving till the next break. There is a quote which I like to mention --

"It's always further than it looks.
It's always taller than it looks.
And it's always harder than it looks." = The 3 rules of mountaineering

Well the most difficult part was after a crevasse crossover. It was a dry snow with a depth of 2 to 3 feet. It was a 200 meter stretch I guess. Inclination of the slope was around 60 to 70 degree. Rope was fixed by the instructors. Carabineers were attached to the rope. I slowly started to climb. I kept one step but my foot got buried in the snow and I came down few steps back. Again and again I kept trying. Every step I used to keep, 2 steps I used to come down! I got so exhausted that half hour time. For the very first time, I cursed myself why I had to come and break my bones here. what for? To please whom?.. Then I remembered Arul’s message – “any time you feel like giving up and you cannot do any more, that’s the time, you should push yourself more and just do it”. Thankfully, I had Sunil and Gujju with me inspiring every minute. Mastaan sir was also there pepping me up now and then. Already, in my rope, two of them were made to leave the course. Four of us were left. In that Jothi and Kam had to get back to camp due to health reasons. I didn’t have any idea about Avni. At this stage, I strongly felt, I shouldn’t leave my rope instructor Suzanne down. Somehow, I pulled myself up and I made that stretch and I stopped there at the end!.. Wow!. What a lovely view all over! But my heart sank again when I saw the other people far away still hiking!!. Then I told myself,- “Common Indira, today is the last day. All these days you have done quite well. Give your best on this final day.You will do it”.. Like a tortoise, I slowly made my way to the top, where all of them had reached. We were there for half hour resting and had some snacks too. After sometime, I was glad to see one more person from my rope joining me! That was Avni!! Yeyyyyyyyyyyyy !! We hugged each other and said- We made it!!! …Well.. In mountains, there are only two grades- you can either do it or you can’t.

“Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top — it is the willpower that is the most important. This will power you cannot buy with money or be given by others. It raises from your heart ..” ----- Junko Tabei

After a while, we all started descending back. It was quite easy. One fourth of the way, we kept sliding down the snow. Then Glacier walks. Finally we were back in tents. I just crashed down in front of the tent for a while. I was dead. I had a quick nap. Put all my things for drying. Then after lunch, I was back on my feet again! I was ready for next session. That night was one of the best sleeps I had in these 4 weeks of training. I had a dream too!! After a long tiring day, I was all set to get back to base camp. But before leaving, we had to undergo Self arrest training in the snow. When one falls, how one can arrest oneself from falling using Ice axe is the self arrest technique. It was done both individually and in the group. It was fun. We were pushed down the slopes in different positions (Head down leg up; head up leg down, side rolling down,…) and arrest our fall immediately. Well, after this, we all got ready to leave for base camp. When we packed our back packs, our load suddenly seemed very heavy. This was because while coming to ABC, we had ferried loads in parts and now at once, we had to carry everything. Apart from our regular stuff, we had to carry Snow boot sand crampons too. I had an extra Rope too!.. That was the heaviest load that I ever carried. May be around 22- 24 kilos?! But fortunately, it was just 2 hrs trek to base camp and a bit of down hill too. I was on par with boys that day!. I carried that weight! I did it. I was very proud of it!!

After reaching BC, we had a map reading session with Suzane again and we were all set for Navigation test the next day! This was a team work basically. We were to find out three locations using three co ordinates that were given to us. It read – E 78, 46’ 28.125 secs,…and so on!!!! It felt like Greek and Latin to me. Seriously! Nothing went into my head. But my other team mates - Jo, Avni and Kam were smart at calculating these. They were at it immediately. Using calculators, they were able to identify the locations. Next step was to collect the form with our names on it and find these 3 locations and get it signed by the instructors who would be waiting for us at three given locations. We were given 3 hours to do this. Using the Map, we started our journey. Here I took the lead. I was quick on my feet in locating the 3 points and in 2 hrs 45 minutes; we were back after completing the mission successfully. It was a perfect team work. We were the last rope to get back as usual. We didn’t mind it at all. We were happy that we did it!

In the same noon, we had a written test on what all we had learnt in these 3 weeks. Many were reading their notes. Preparation was in full swing since one week!. I just rested a while. We all were made to sit in the open sky little away from each other. We were given the question paper. We had half hour time. I did it in ten minutes. There were no essay type questions. It was quite easy. We had to score minimum 40 out of 100 to get through. Then, we were given feed back form to fill up our views and comments on the course.

Later in the evening, we had to pack our bags again to trek back to NIM. All were in great mood. But we were little sad to bid good bye to the Base camp. It was a 16 km trek to Thel. Trail was steep, tricky, and slippery but it was very scenic through out. Dry leaves in various colors had fallen all over the place so much so that it covered the trail mark at few places. Whole Mountain was looking so pretty with colorful leaves. Water level in streams had increased too. I collected few interesting stones and bones on my way. It was late noon when we reached Thel. My upper back was killing. With a tablet, I managed the pain. That noon, we had surprise shower. We were all arrested in the tent! We had great time talking about our love lives, list of crushes, gossiping, … That was really hilarious. We laughed our hearts out. People from other tents were amused at out loud laughter. In the mean time, Mallika went out with her raincoat on and got us hot tea. We really missed bhajji’s that day.

Next day, we had a leisurely trek till Bhooki. I was asked to trek along with Bharathi who was moving slowly. I was fortunate as I could really trek leisurely talking to her, cracking jokes and enjoying the sceneries, …It was great to be back to civilization again. Glad to see our bus waiting for us. We drove back to NIM; rested a while; had lunch; had good hot shower; made phone calls home; spoke to loved ones; slept peacefully on our beds! doz z z z z z . Well. I share a secret here about hot shower! Lallu and Billu had got that electrical heating coil from Uttarkashi market which we immerse in water and heat it up. So using that coil, we all girls in our room had a luxury of having hot bath!

Back at NIM - Nov 14th was our Graduation ceremony, where we all receive the prestigious Ice axe badge for successfully completing the course. We had three more days to go for that. We were given rehearsals on where to stand, how to stand, in what order we stand for photographs, how to meet the chief guests, how to shake hands, how to receive the badge; singing of national anthem and so on… I realized that time that I was not only the oldest of all but also shortest!! Hmm.. But unfortunately, those who had not completed the course were not allowed to attend the graduation ceremony. That was quite sad. They should have been allowed to watch it at least.

In these three days time, one day we were taken to Uttarkashi market. We hogged on snacks- bhel, aloo tikki, dahi paapdi and what not!! I took Gujju, Avni and Suzanne to Chandra didi’s house. We had lovely Bhajjis and ginger tea there. Then we visited the Shiva temple. One more day, we had artificial wall climbing sessions. I was very tired. I didn’t take part in that. I had a welcome break that day for a change. It was just nice sitting and watching all of them. Later in the noon, we had to clean and return all the equipments that were given to us for the training purpose. Then, another day, we were taken for a day trek to Nagini taang. We had to trek almost 5000 ft in one day! It was such a steep climb. Fortunately, we didn’t have to carry any back pack except water bottle and lunch box. Each one of us was walking in different pace. For a long stretch, I was all alone listening to Suprabhaatam at 12 in the noon!, Tamil hits, Bhajagovindam, vishnusahasranamam,… I didn’t realize the stress of climbing at all. Nagini taang is a temple dedicated to snake goddess. It has 360 degree views of snow peaks all around! After spending some time there and after having lunch, we started descending. We were back at NIM by late evening. That night, we all civilians tried to practice the Defence style of marching to impress others while receiving the badges. But which we didn’t do finally! It was fun though.

Nov 14th! - Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s Birthday. Kids of the campus were all dressed for a special function in their schools. We were all very busy packing our stuffs, preparing for our graduation ceremony and rehearsing for our cultural program. In the afternoon, we were given maroon colored NIM sweaters to be used for the ceremony and for photo session. We all assembled at 2.30 in the graduation ground wearing jeans and NIM sweater. The stage and the chairs were arranged well. Audiences were seated. Chief Guest arrived. We had a welcome speech, guest speech and then one by one our names were called. It was a moment of pride for each one of us when the guest pinned badges on. We deserved it!. We all sang national anthem together. Then, we went to pine ground for photo shoot. We had tea and snacks together. Everything was very well planned and executed with perfection in a typical Army style. We had an hour break before our cultural program started.

Well.. Preparing for the show was so much of fun. Especially the skit and the group dance! Every time, we were rehearsing the skit, it was getting funnier and funnier. We just had a broad idea what we were doing. Rests of the dialogues were all very spontaneous, which made us laugh through out the practice. It was about a boy who has got back from mountaineering course and how he is haunted by the training even in his dreams. The program started. Prarthana, Lalith and I sang the invocation on goddess Saraswathi; then we enacted the skit. People watching it and enacting it had a great fun through out; Later we had a song by Avni and a dance duet by twin sisters Tashi and Nunshi; Our group dance Mojahe mojha incorporating all movements from rock craft, ice and snow craft!; That was the ultimate fun! Then few boys sang papa kehte hei.. Later, we had local people singing and dancing to folk songs. After dinner, we saw Happy singh having a Bhangra session in the hostel. Bhangra is a lively form of folk music and dance that originates from Punjab. I also joined him in dancing. It was so fun dancing together. It felt so good in the company of these young girls and young boys. I never felt I was 40. My heart was like 20 still!

We packed and cleaned our rooms. Next day 4.30am, we woke up; had tea; we had last minute photo session in that dark morning! We had asked for a jeep to drop us to Haridwar. One by one every one left. Our gang was in one Jeep. We had nice Aloo paratha after few rounds of vomiting by Avni. The winding roads can make anyone sick. Then after having dinner at Haridwar, Avni left with her friends. Rest of us boarded a bus to Delhi. We reached Delhi at around 1 in the mid night. Archana and Jo went to their friend’s place. Lallu and I went with Kam to her place. It was 2.30am then. We had lovely pasta and tea made by her mom; saw wonderful paintings done by her mom; chatted for a while; It was time for me to leave to airport. Taxi had come by 6.30. After bidding good bye to lallu and Kam, I took my flight to Chennai. Back home sweet home!!

Back home, I am busy sharing my experience with my friends, uploading photographs, e - mailing friends,… wondering if I would go to Advance course if I get A grade! No. never!.. That’s enough. I just wanted to experience once how it feels to do a course. I did. I enjoyed. That’s it…My body as of now is feeling very weak. I am yet to recover from hard training that I underwent. I have not got time to rest even for a day after I have come back. I am having guests continuously one after the other. For once, I am feeling I have to be all alone for a week. Well. After a massage, it is better now. But tips of my fingers are turned pale white with less sensation. Finger tips and toe tips have gone so dry. Even after getting pedicure and manicure done, they still look awful.. Meanwhile, my friend Chaman told me how proud she is that I have done this course and that I should certainly do the advance course, then rescue operation course,… N o o o o . Not again.. But my mind changed already!!... YES… I am going for Advance course in May 2010.!!!!!!! So, I am busy preparing for it right now! LOL  That’s what the trekking does for all. Once you taste it, you never want to leave it.

This is my favorite quote:
"In a sense everything that is, exists to climb. All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places because we sense them to be the homes of gods. In the mountains there is the promise of... something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness; a spirit that soars. So we climb... and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery." — Rob Parker.

" bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives."" — Jonathan Waterman

You are also welcome to this wonderful world of trekking and mountaineering !!

"Writing about climbing is boring. I would rather go climbing." — Chuck Pratt.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Base Camp - Mountaineering course

(in continuation...

Preparation for the Base camp slowly started. We were sent to Uttarkashi market to do last minute purchases. We all were very excited mainly to eat road side eateries. I just bought a pair of woolen cap to protect the head from cold and few Electrol packets which saves me from getting dehydrated. All of us had few snacks- pani puri, Bhel puri, and then I packed some Bananas, the instant energy booster for all my room mates... A day before we had to leave for Base camp, we all had to check our Snow boots and fitting of Crampons. All equipments had to be checked once again in case if any damage, we could exchange them. Backpacks were checked for Zips, Adjusting Belts… Each one of us were supposed to be paired with one another and known as buddies. We have to be there for each other at all times in the camp. Avni was my buddy.

While packing, we took few things that were in common – Toothpaste, sunscreen lotion, Moisturizing cream, Torch, Extra Batteries, .. We tried to reduce the weight as much as we can. Even 100 grams sometimes count in steep climbs. There was an order in which we had packed the rucksacks. First of all we had to put in a big Polythene cover like a lining inside the back pack in order to avoid the things getting wet due to rains. Then, the cover containing a pair of tracks, 3 T-shirts, few pairs of socks, undergarments, Sweater, 3 pair woolen gloves will go to the bottom; Then, wind - proof trousers; Feather jacket; Crampon bag; Inner cover of sleeping bag; Sleeping bag; Rock mittens; wind - proof jacket; Toilet kit; Medical kit; Tool kit; books and pens; Helmet; Seat harness; short sling; carabineers; Snow boots; Rope; Mess tin in the side pocket; Water bottle and tea cup on the other side pocket; Sleeping mat on one side and Ice axe had to be fixed outside the Backpack. Total weight would be around 22 kilos I guess!. My only worry again was about carrying the weight!.. Ayyo.. Thinking of that itself gave me lot of shoulder pains! Didn’t know how I was going to do it. But then in the evening, we got good news that girls need not carry ropes and snow boots!.. Yeeeyyyyyyy!!!… But on a second thought I wondered whether it was a good news or bad news. Good news is that we are not carrying that load but bad news is that we are not getting trained to carry loads. So, even without those two things, our bag weighed around 17 – 18 kilos easily. After completing the job of packing, we all had dinner. Few had showers as there won’t be any shower facility available for the next 18 days. Then the things that we didn’t need for Base camp were locked and kept in one room that was allotted for us. Later, we cleaned the rooms and slept.

Next morning 25th October, I as usual woke up first. Put on the chant OM that used to resonate in the room. Later, I woke up other girls. We got ready and all set to leave by 6.30am. Tea and Breakfast were served at 5.30am itself. Few packed their breakfast in the mess tin. I kept some fruits in the bag. All the bags were loaded on the top of the bus. I was quite excited but also tensed. There were two buses that took us to Bukki, 34 kms from Uttarkashi. Bukki is the starting point of our trek place. It was almost 2 hour journey. I was dressed in layers. I had worn two T- shirts and a jacket with a track pant. I slept for a while in the bus. In between there was a stop over for tea. After reaching Bhooki, we all assembled rope wise and with our backpacks, we started our trek towards the Base camp. Rope instructors followed the ropes they were in charge of. There were quite a number of porters who carried kitchen groceries, Gas cylinders, huge vessels, and other stuffs.

It takes two days to reach Base camp, which is at Dokariani Bhamak in Dingad valley. Bhamak means Glacier. In between there are two intermediate camps. First day’s camp was at Thel. It was 8 kms from Bhooki to Thel. Initially we hiked down and walked over an old Iron bridge across the river Bhagirathi. The water was very pure and was greenish blue in color. Then the real hike up the hill began. The trail was well marked and scenic. Our rope was as usual in the end. I had lot of energy. But my pace was slow. In fact the whole rope was slow. Compared to our trek to Tekhla, here the terrains were different; Backpack weighed much heavier. But Suzanne was very understanding and encouraging. Breathing had to be coordinated properly with every step we take. Few stretches were easy; few difficult; we had 3 breaks in between to sip some water and to have some snacks and fruits. That day I realized how tough a porter’s life is! What luxury we had in our family treks in Himalayas where porters carry all our stuffs. Bed tea is served inside the tent itself. Hmm.. My mind started to think - Why are you doing this Indira?. But I know God is preparing me for something. For what? I don’t know. From my past experiences, I have understood that what every pains I have gone through, while going through that pain at that moment is very difficult but at the end of it, there is some beautiful lesson that I would have learnt. So, even here, I know all these pains that I am undergoing will have something to do in some point in my life! We slowly marched inch by inch towards Thel. There was a Duty rope who was assigned to come at the end of all ropes everyday. They were there to help who ever needed any assistance. . That day’s Duty rope had Saurabh and Lalith along with 4 other members.

Saurabh and Lalith had become quite close to me. Saurabh is from Chandigarh. He is short; fair; well built; has green eyes; very charming indeed! He loves good food; good clothes; not to forget good looking girls too! It is nice to see his good collection of mountaineering accessories. He is a typical Virgo! His mannerisms reminded me so much of my little son Vishnu. Well.. Saurabh is a good Rock climber. He is trained at Chandigarh’s rock climbing institute. He is planning to Join Indian army. I call him Billu as he thought that I don’t pronounce his name properly! Lol..:)..We had become good Dosts!

Lalith is a short and real cute guy from Haryana; working in Indian Navy; based now in Vishakapattinam; He is a deep sea diver!; He is really fun to be with; Chatter box! Keeps making jokes; He calls me Mamma! I call him Lallu!. There ios so much of warmth and affection in him; So, with the company of Lallu, Billu and other girls, we slowly reached Thel camp around 2 pm I guess.

Thel in Hindi means oil. By the time we reached Thel camp, we really sweated out.. not water but oil!! Thel camp was at 8200 feet above sea level. Dense mixed forests of Deodar, Rhododendron, Oak, Pine, etc. provide an atmosphere of perfect peace and tranquility. By the time we reached, the tents were already pitched. Tea was served. The camp had a permanent kitchen block. We were then introduced to the Dining area and potty area followed by dos and don’ts. The toilet area for girls was a short walk crossing over a wooden log over a small stream. The place had a good collection of bones of different animals and birds scattered all over. It was quite scary to go there in the night. We always had to go with buddy friend. We had to take the ice axe with us, dig the pit and shit and cover it with the mud. It was a big process. So, anyone carrying ice axe and walking meant they are gone for a big Job!..lolJ Later, we put our backpacks inside the tent and ice axe outside the tent. Adjacent to our camp was a big tree under which was a small temple dedicated to Snake god. Closer to that tree, we had a lecture on First aid by our camp doctor Dr.Khan! He was also doing the basic course along with us. Before coming to NIM as doctor, He was posted in the border area to serve the army.. Well.. That day’s lecture was on how to acclimatize in higher altitude! The adaptation of human body to the new environment is called acclimatization. Anything above 7500 feet is called higher altitude.

There are few main principles in acclimatization. 1) Gradual Ascent: One should not trek beyond 2000 feet per day. 2) Work in higher altitude and sleep in lower altitude. 3) Drink lot of water to fight dehydration. Well.. Indian army says - one needs 6 days of acclimatization between 9000 to 12000 feet; 4 days between 12000 to 15000 feet; another 4 days between 15000 to 18000 feet. First few days, one has to take complete rest; next 2 days, walk on plain ground; next few days walk with load;

Medically, Right BP, good pulse rate, good appetite and good sleep are signs of good acclimatization. Everything is right with me except good sleep. It is really so long since I caught up with good sleep. But lack of sleep is not affecting my performance in any way. Hmm.. That night’s dinner was Roti, Dhal and Rice. Later, Anil and I being quarter masters took up the responsibility of distributing Ration for all the ropes tent by tent. Ration consisted of Biscuits, chocolates, Dry dates and few raisins. After little chatting, we all slept in our respective tents. There were two tents for girls – 8 in each. Another 8 or 9 tents for boys. That day, in our tent, all six from our rope was there in addition to Bharati and Anshu. Surprisingly that night’s sleep was the best one that I had so far!

Next day, after finishing our morning routine, at 6.30am, we marched towards our 2nd day’s camp to Gujjar hut. It was a 13 km trek. The route was superb. Very very scenic! Since it was autumn, Green leaves of the trees had turned to Yellow and few to Red. Brown, Orange… There was a lovely stream flowing by the side of our trail. Lovely maple, beautiful Pine and lot of other trees were a feast to the eyes. Unfortunately, it was not a flowering season. But still nature was awesome. March towards Gujjar hut had lot of steep climbs, very few flat trails and it was indeed a very long trek. At some points, I felt that the steep trails were never ending. The distance was almost double on the 2nd day. We had few stops for resting in between. At every stop, Lallu and Billu used to wait for me and welcome me with big applause. It seems they kept thinking of me while trekking –“ are yaar chal chal.. If Indira is doing this, we have to do it! “That was a boost for me to push myself more and more and do well. Trek was quite exhaustive. I was thinking when I would go and crash in the camp. We were always the last rope to reach the camp. Even if we were sent first, we would be the last to reach! One more guy Mihir, a 21 year old Gujju, tall and slim was trekking along with me for a while. He calls me Amma!. He is a Teacher by profession; Stays in Rajkot.; He is getting married on December 13th to Pooja. Reason for early marriage is that He had met with 3 major accidents and parents decided to marry him off!!!. He became a part of our gang too.

When we reached, few were already pitching their tents. We had to pitch ours too. First of all we have to look for the direction of the wind and accordingly adjust the door of the tent. Then the ground sheet had to be spread neatly on a flat ground. The Pegs are plugged in the ground. Top portion – Roof is put up with the help of a centre upright pole. The ropes that are attached to the Roof canvas are tied to the pegs tightly so that the roof is held tight. Then doors are fixed. The ground around the tent is dug up to 3 to 4 inches deep so that in case of rain, water doesn’t enter the tent. Ice Axe and Crampons are kept outside the tent so that in case of lightening, we would be safe. Shoes and socks are kept outside to maintain hygiene inside the tent.

After tent pitching, we had tea and started out for another short trek to the Lake Khera Taal near by!.. Shucks!.. I just wanted to rest .But .. Army rule! One can’t have a say. If you do, you will be marked! Anyway, tea gave me some energy and we all walked under the beautiful evening golden sunlight. Weather was lovely. Those golden rays of the sun on the white snow peaks glowed. I just could not take my eyes off that. At the lake, while Mastaan sir started a lecture on the lake and its significance in Hindu mythology, I was busy clicking the photographs of the lake, reflection of the lovely mountains in that lake… I only could hear Krishna, kaaliya,.. That’s it. I missed the whole story part. It was a bit dark. We stumbled here and there now and then and finally when we got back to our tents. We were briefed about next day’s plans. When we came to know that next days trek was only 3 kms and it was very simple, my happiness knew no bounds. I slept in peace !

After our regular morning routines, we headed towards Base camp. It was a very nice short trek. We could no more see any vegetation there. No trees, no plants. Just mountains all round. Base camp was at an altitude of 12400 ft above sea level. On one side, we could see Joanli peak and on other side we had Draupadi ka Dand -2. In between was the Dokriani Bamak, which is a well-developed medium sized glacier of the Bhagirathi basin. The glacier is formed by two cirques, originating at the northern slope of Draupadi Ka Danda and Jaonli Peak, 5,600 m and 6,000 m respectively. The glacier is 5-km long. The stream originating from the glacier’s melted water is called “Dingad”, which later joins many other snow/ice-melted streams and finally merges into Bhagirathi River near Bukki village. In this beautiful Dingad Valley, after having tea, we all rested a while outside the tent; clicked few photographs; pitched our tents quickly and settled down. We had to be at Base camp for a week.

There are 3 permanent structures built at Base camp – Kitchen; store room; lecture hall. Books and equipments are stored in store room. Lecture hall is for lectures and watching movies. Tents are pitched around these structures. There are separate tents for students, instructors, cooks, porters, and one for Doctor too. Every day we are given a particular time for visiting the doctor. Cold, knee and body pain were common problem. Well.. “Cold injuries” was the topic of the lecture that day. With every 1000 feet up in the mountain, temperature decreases. In cold temperatures, most common sickness is nausea, vomiting, cold, cough, swelling and head ache. In severe cold conditions, one may also have Chill blains, frost bite, trench foot and Hypothermia. The high altitude diseases also include Acute Mountain Sickness - AMS, High altitude cerebral edema -HACE and High altitude pulmonary edema – HAPE and high altitude systemic edema – HASE. In all these cases, first thing is to bring the patient to lower altitude and treat. In worst case, evacuate immediately by air to the nearby hospital. Apart from these, we also have radiation injuries caused by sun’s UV rays which in turn cause sun burn and snow blindness. As we all know prevention is better than cure. Adequate precautions in wearing proper clothing, carrying proper equipments, planning expeditions in right weather conditions, having good presence of mind and having a good team leader will lessen the problems to a large extent.” Never stop learning. Never stop listening” is a good saying!

Well. These are subjective Hazards. What about Objective mountain hazards? Floods, avalanches, land slide, crevasses, lightening,… It is maddening!. Hmm…So, after this session, we had dinner followed by a movie on Everest again!.. No way!. Think seriously. Is it worth being in mountains with so much of pain and so much of risks? Is it really worth?!...But one glance at these beautiful snow clad peaks around us are enough to invite us and bring us back into the mountains again and again!... we climb mountains not because we have to but we love to!!. So true! As Jawaharlal Nehru puts it – “The Himalayas are not only near to us but also very dear for they have always been part of our history and tradition, our thinking and our poetry, our worship and our devotion; According to our mythology, Himalayas are the abode of Gods! “

Hmm.. Temperature at Base camp in day time was 5 to 6 degree centigrade. At night, it goes below zero! I started wearing 4 layers of T shirts and a jacket, Feather jacket and a wind proof jacket too. Thermals are must. 2 pairs of socks - one thin and one woolen adorn my little feet. I had to go for a long walk to do my night duty behind the rocks! Like how dogs mark their boundary, we all had marked ours!.. lol... Wet tissues, soap strips and hand sanitizer come very handy at such times! It was very very cold! I got back into my tent and wished all good night and slowly slide down in my sleeping bag and doz z z zzz z .But I was not able to sleep. Cold was making me to pee often. At least 2 times, I had to wake up at night. Kamakshi was facing same problem. But her frequency was little worse than mine!.. Lol ..

Before I used to realize, 5am alarm used to ring! I used to wake up Avni. First thing Avni had to do was to wear her contact lens. Then, we used to go together and finish our morning jobs and have tea. It was difficult to brush teeth in that cold water. My hands used to become numb. I had to rush to the kitchen and keep my hand in front of the fire. After slowly warming up, I used to be ready for half an hour of PT along with all trainees. Yeshwanth, a student of MOI (method of instruction) course used to guide us in PT. Suzanne used to join too. Without PT, our bodies refused to move. PT was a must.

Our training area was at Dokiarani Bhamak, an hour and half trek from Base camp. Initially, the trail was plain and later it was full of big boulders. We literally had to keep jumping from one boulder to another and keep moving. There was also a stream flowing across the glacier. I guess, if once our feet are in that stream, feet would go numb in seconds. Well.. After reaching the training area, we all wore our snow boots and crampons and got ready for a lecture on Ice craft!. This week’s training was dedicated to Ice craft. Rock climbing is the primary skill that we learn in Mountaineering. Same principles are used in Ice craft and snow craft using Ice Axe and Ropes. In rock climbing, we use PA shoe, here we use snow boots and Crampons. Rock pitons are used in rock climbing and Ice pitons are used in Ice craft to fix ropes. But the feet take few hours of training to adapt itself to ice and snow surface. Rope and Ice axe are the lifeline of a mountaineer.

For working purposes, it is good to know that there are 3 principal varieties of Ice. First is blue ice or grainy ice. Most of glaciers are of this form. Hence they are also known as glacier ice. Secondly, Black Ice. Ice those are more or less continuous and mostly found in layers formed by freezing of water. They are old and hard ice. Thirdly, Snow Ice. These are formed by infiltration of water with snow and there by subsequent freezing. A large dry glacier is the best place to learn snow craft. A weeks practice devoted completely to Ice craft under a good trainer is good enough for all trainees intending to become a mountaineer. We were lucky to have Suzanne with us! She made sure that our basics were learnt very well. Tying snow boots and fitting crampons well to the boots in it was itself quite a circus! We learnt how to use ice axe in different positions in different gradients and climb on glacier. Initially, it felt really very awkward walking with that heavy snow boots. But with practice and experience, it felt natural. Proper clothing, Ice axe, Rope, Sun glasses, Helmet, Snow boots, Crampons and water proof gloves were a must in ice craft. We learnt the art of Belaying, anchoring, fixed rope climbing, Crevasse crossing, traversing, and rescuing technique if any one has fallen into crevasse.

Well, one day at noon, as the weather turned cloudy, we all headed back towards the base camp from our training area.. We were showered with snow flakes by the clouds above! Sky looked awesome. The brown ground and the bare brown hills suddenly appeared white in patches. In few minutes, Base camp looked like a fairy land. Whole ground turned to white. White tents on the white ground looked awesome. Trainees wearing colorful red and black feather jackets looked nice in the white background!. photo sessions had started in full swing. Few were looking at snow for the first time!

After a while, Grey clouds were suddenly turned golden by the golden rays of the sun. At one point of time, we could see the clouds in different shades - blue, grey, white, golden… In the next few minutes, dark clouds started settling down. Whole place turned dull and light dark. But hold on! As I turned my eyes to the peaks!!.. What a view! Every where it is dark, but only the top part of the peak is glowing white!! We could see the bright light of the moon shining on the snow peak of the mountains. The moon above those peaks looked gorgeous. This is where Cameras fail but God given gift – our Eyes only can capture this beautiful canvas painted by HIM!.. Oh god!.. This was worth all the pain we undergo in training!!

Hmm.. Our walk every day to the training area was quite a pain in the neck. But instructors used to fill us with lot of humorous lectures.. Well.. Lectures delivered in humorous way I should say! Lot of drama was added to make the demonstration funny. Especially the one rescuing from crevasse was quite a fun! Most lectures were in Hindi. Few could speak good English. Few were Hinglish ( English with Hindi accent)..That was very difficult for us to understand! In the meantime, few girls looked pretty down. They were home sick. Few were crying. They used the satellite phones to talk to their loved ones. Guess the price. Rs.90/- per minute!! If one is not enjoying the course, it can be very difficult to cope up mentally too. There were two boys and a girl, who had come from NCC, Tamilnadu. They were not instructed by their NCC officers that this was a mountaineering course!. They were here thinking that it was one of those camps where they meet lot of students from other states and they learn and exchange their culture through music, dance and drama!.. My god!. I wondered where is the connection between this and mountaineering? They had not even come prepared with right winter clothing. They had to buy everything before we started to the base camp! One boy took it well. Other one was in tears every other day. I had to keep advising him and encourage him to look at this as a blessing in disguise and enjoy the course. Another girl was mentally strong and took the challenges well but she was not physically fit enough to do the course.. Language was also a problem for them to understand any lectures or mingle with other trainees. I was a mediator many a times between them and their instructors. Suzanne used to tell- Indira , it is really nice that you have been a mother like for many here!

On 2nd or 3rd day at base camp, NIM’s Vice principal, Major Vishal Thaapa visited us. He is short, knowledgeable, and friendly and has quite an attitude too! He knows his subject in and out!....He gave us a lecture on weather and topographical map reading. Map reading was the only subject that I didn’t like. Rather it was difficult for me to understand. With little effort, I learnt how to find ones own position in the ground using the map, taking the readings of the forward and backward bearing. Conversion of latitude and longitude to inches, centimeters, all that just went above my head to the peaks and high above clouds!! Lol ... At least with help of Suzanne, I learnt reading and identifying contours, moraines, roads, rivers, lakes, glaciers, peaks,… Through out the lecture, I was wondering how come they are teaching us this old method of map reading. Now everyone uses GPS for treks and expeditions! Well, one cannot rely on GPS all the time!

Hmm.. Next lecture on weather included topics on temperature, effects of mountains on weather, winds, clouds and its types, weather forecast, weather hazards… If one has to listen to lectures after dinner, don’t ask what will be the result. Most of us were sleeping happily. Thank god it was not well lit. Or else if caught, we would have to run around the camp or hop like a frog! ..lolJ lecture on mountain terminology was bit boring. It was interesting to know about Glacier formations, its types and terminologies. Lecture on Avalanche by Suzanne was quite cute. Her hands were always on black board drawing the scenes!

One of those days in the base camp, all of us had one on one session with Suzanne. It was a feed back time. My overall progress was going good. She mentioned that my team work, attitude and leadership were excellent. I was also fairing good in the practical sessions. Only thing I needed to work was on strengthening of my arms and shoulders and also work on my pace during the marching session. I completely agreed with her.

Hmm.. Practical sessions were going on well. But since there was not enough snow, they decided that they will teach basic technique of snow craft at base camp itself. We had to imagine that we were in snow and do lot of drama .We learnt identifying Crevasses through probing method. Then, crossing crevasses using ladder and Ice axe and the best was traversing. A long rope was tied across a big crevasse. With the help of Jummar, pulleys and carabineers attached to the rope, we were supposed to cross over the crevasse. I could do only 60% to 70% of the length. The guys who were there on the other side belaying me had to pull me across the rest of the length. My shoulders were really paining. I had to take a pain killer for that. Rescuing people from crevasse using pulleys was interesting too. But what if the person fallen into the crevasse is much heavier than the one who is rescuing is the point!.. Well.. We may have to say then.... Helloooo!.. Meet you in heaven baby! Happy and safe journey!!. Boieeee !! ha ha...

Well, at base camp, there were lot of interesting things happening too..”Dho dhil milra e hei..magar chupuke chupuke…”.. It was not dho dhil but more dhils that were connecting with each other!! Well.. trying to connect with each other. Hmm.. Rather we were making it connect with each other. Whatever.. Pulling each other’s legs, passing silent messages, serious advising sessions, outpouring sessions,. thoda fight thoda pyar now and then along with learning rope knots and map reading from one another made our life at base camp all the more fun!. We all became a family! - A family united in the wilderness amidst mountains; sharing morning tea; dining together; working together; helping each other; sharing our joys and sorrows; planning our future expeditions; watching movie together; sleeping together; wow! - A picture perfect well knit family!! – That’s mountaineers family!!