Here are some more pictures on my trek to Annapurna Mountain Range 16-25 Nov 2018. For details you may please click https://smritiweb.com/badri/1606
Here are some more pictures on my trek to Annapurna Mountain Range 16-25 Nov 2018. For details you may please click https://smritiweb.com/badri/1606
The trek to Chomrung, the next day took me through thick pine and bamboo forests. The 9-hour strenuous trek became all the more difficult because of the steps that were 12-to-18 inches high each. Of course, all strain in the Himalayas is worth the pain. This time my fruit was a magnificent glimpse of the Annapurna-Hiunchuli-Fishtail mountain range.
And of course, the Himalayan weather is allowed to change its mood as it very much did the next day. Half way through the day it began to rain. We were told that the path ahead had even heavier rains and that it was snowing Deurali onwards. In fact, a heavy snow fall 3-4 ago was followed by a major avalanche and had made the route to ABC inaccessible. Hoping that the weather would improve and the path would open up, I decided to continue. Just a day away from MBC and ABC, the weather conditions deteriorated further. Heavy snow fall and another dangerous avalanche had blocked the trekking ridges. Those who were stuck on the other side had somehow managed to come back, a few of them limping with ankle and knee injuries. It was anticipated that it would take a few days for the weather to improve.
I had to return. I had a view of the mountains which would have been clearer if the weather cooperated. I could have had an even closer and clearer panoramic view. Anyway, it was a tough trek and in the end I am grateful that my ankles, knees, heart and energy supported me commendably.
Come 16th November, I will be out for for my next expedition. This time it will be a a trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) in Himalayas in Nepal which will last till 26 Nov 2018. The Annapurna region is regarded as one of the best trekking destinations on the planet.
Three years back, in end April 2015, I planned for this expedition. But just a week before I was to leave, there was a severe earthquake in Nepal, killing almost 10,000 people. All tourist activities were closed. Next 3 years kept me busy in other expeditions like Drive from Road to London, solo drives to Iceland, Yellowstones in USA and Candian Rockies. I am now attempting to trek ABC again. Like the trek to Mt Everest BC, again I will be trekking all alone, of course with a Sherpa as a guide.
I wish the various authorities consider the energy level as a criteria to assess the abilities of a person rather than the age. Some of the initial challenges I am facing are due to my age factor of 73+. I expect to resolve these issues in the next 2-3 days and be ready to commence my journey on time.
I hope to share my excitements and anxious moments with you as I keep moving.
In the meanwhile I certainly need your good wishes and blessings for smooth completion of my dream.
A memory of crossed by and I thought of sharing it with you.
“Mission Accomplished!” No, I am not referring to ‘Road to London’. This is a flashback after completing the tough Parikrama of precious snow mountain Kailash in 2004. It meant trekking at an altitude of over 20,000ft above sea level. It was a 3-day steep climb which my wife, 4 other devotees and I took up to Mt Kailash in Tibet.
3 Land Cruisers waited for us. 9 of us, including 3 trek staff with their stove, gas cylinder, utensils and food supplies. After a short drive, the vehicle, which was carrying our cooking material and tents, ran into some technical problem. We decided to adjust in the two other vehicles. We had to leave the camping and tent material behind because we were not expecting to need them till we reached Kathmandu. We moved all other materials for cooking to our vehicles.
Along the way, there were no teashops or restaurants, so dinner had to be cooked by the staff. At that stage, we realised that we had forgotten to move the gas cylinder! We had to satisfy our appetite with biscuits and dry snacks. We found a Tibetan teashop only the next afternoon. In its display, it had cooked rice with meat. Being vegetarians, we requested him to serve us the rice with curd. He obliged by removing the meat from the rice. We couldn’t bear the thought of touching the rice, let alone swallow it. We requested him to make just plain rice for us. He had already cooked all the rice he had with meat.
We made a meal out of snacks yet again. The stock of dry food was near exhaustion too. By evening, we were still looking for a place that would serve us anything vegetarian. It was getting colder; we were already at 10ºC. Heavy winds made it even colder. Thank God, we were inside a vehicle.
It started raining, taking the temperature further down. The route we were on, was completely isolated and was monitored by armed Chinese soldiers. We reached near a check post where a nominal toll had to be paid. Trying to save on that, our Chinese drivers took a ‘short cut’ – an unpaved, dirt road. We were completely unaware of the drivers’ decision because we didn’t understand their language.
When our vehicle made sounds but wasn’t moving, we figured something was wrong. What a wonderful scene to be stuck in – absolutely dark, deep mud, rains, heavy wind and very low temperature made extra special by a grumbling, hungry stomachs in tired bodies. Using sign language, the drivers assured us that we needn’t worry because the other vehicle would pull the stuck one out. Instead of bringing the second vehicle behind the first one to pull it out, drivers organised the other vehicle to drive to the left of the first one so that they could pull out the stuck vehicle from the front. Before we realised what was happening the second vehicle found itself stuck in mud – much deeper mud. Both vehicles were stuck with super-intelligent drivers and stupid passengers!
We all had to get down in the muck to push the vehicle behind. No more protection from the covered vehicle. This hardship was unnecessarily when they could have been driven on good roads for a nominal toll.
Now the car had to be pulled backwards by another vehicle. It would be a few hours or may be the entire night before another car passed by around that isolated area. We were told that we couldn’t sit inside the vehicle. The good thing is that be it good times or bad, they are never permanent. Our Sherpa set out on foot and came back within half an hour having found a structure, half a kilometer away. One of the drivers went there to check it out. He came back in 15 minutes with permission from the owner of the structure to stay there till we got help for our vehicles. Ha! At least we had some protection from the freezing night.
Since we had three women amongst us, I went ahead to check if the place was safe. As soon as I entered, there was a strong, sweet smell of alcohol. Hundreds of beer cans were scattered around. A large stock of liquor bottles and hundreds of used empty bottles were stacked on the side. I knew Pushpa would not be able to tolerate the smell. But then, we didn’t really have an option, did we? To make things a little comfortable for her, I kicked the empty cans aside. There were 3 benches with thin mattresses over them – good enough to lie down for a while. I could sit and share Pushpa’s bed.
There were 3 more chairs. My co-passengers could use two empty ones. The caretaker of the place already occupied one. He was an elderly face, full of wrinkles, large wide red eyes, long beard, a conical cap. It would be fine with us as long as he didn’t use the long gun in his hand. Pushpa tried to relax by lying on the bed. His chair was very close to Pushpa’s bed. He probably had weak eyes and time and again bowed down inches away from Pushpa’s face. That scared her. She asked me to tell him to look the other side. I told her, “I dare not say that as it was not a very bad situation as yet! After all he had gun in his hand!”
After an hour and half, we had our vehicles back and continued our journey by the proper road. At the check post, the army guy checked the vehicle, asked a few questions and allowed the vehicles to pass. There was no toll to be paid!
That was the occasion when we practically had to starve for cooked food for 3 days.
It is not the first time that she influenced me to take on an adventure. She has supported all my crazy endeavours. She may not initiate the trips. But if I proposed one, she would be enthusiastic about the tour, even for the most complicated and risky ones. Pushpa, the wife, is not my better half, she is the first half!
In fact, she just might be better qualified to undertake adventure and risky trips. She takes over the gadgetry, which I have never understood. It is a family joke, particularly by Anand, that it is because of her I can handle my mobile.
She maintains her cool during testing times of the tours. She accepts that adventure trips have inbuilt calculated risks. There were times when we had no shelter, but she had no problems. No food, it hardly made a difference to her. She has understood and adjusted to the whatever the situation has demanded. There have been occasions in our trips together when we had no water to drink, but she didn’t complain. She prefers tap water to bottled, mineral water wherever she is. You and I fall ill, not her!
Once when we were in Tibet, our vehicle stalled in a murky place. It was the dark hour of midnight. There were no villages for 20 kilometers in any direction. The temperature was minus 10-15 degrees Celsius. And there was a slight drizzle. Every drop of rain felt like a needle piercing your skin. Boots were getting stuck in mud with every step. And here she was helping me push the vehicle out of the muck. Ultimately, we had to walk cold and wet for about a km, in complete darkness. We rested in a road side godown (if we could call it that!) where even a beast would be scared. The place had a strong stink. It was badly maintained alcohol den, full of beer and was scattered with used cans and bottles. She has never tasted onion or garlic, let alone alcohol. But she didn’t even wrinkle her nose when she had to lie down there for a couple of hours of much needed rest.
And oh! That place was owned by a man in his 80s or so. He looked like he was straight out of a western movie, a cowboy, only with horrible, excessive make-up. He had a spear in his left hand, instead of a gun. Long salt-and-pepper hair and beard – probably unwashed for a long time. He covered it with a cowboy hat. He was probably wearing new clothes, only that they were bought years ago. His face showed his age in wrinkles. He had extra skin hanging from his cheeks, large red eyes set just above them. Sharp long grey eye-brows. The place had no lights, it was almost all dark. Just a small dim lamp gave the scene a horror movie feel. I was outside, in that freezing rain with a driver-guide to see if the car could get on the road. When I returned, the face of the owner, with extra wide eyes, was almost a foot from Pushpa’s face. She was speechless. I dropped in and engaged our host in slow motion, sign language. Pushpa did not complain even about that day ever.
The moment I ask her opinion about a trip, she always has a positive answer. To the extent that some times I take her for granted and forget to even take her consent. Ghar ki murgi daal barabar!
Once in 2012, on a flight to London I mentioned to her that I wanted to drive one day from home to London. She just replied with a “hmmm”, that too forcibly, knowing that it was one of those improbable dreams. However, I knew it is not unachievable, particularly since she would be with me. She used to drive way back in the 80s when we lived in the Middle East.
A few months ago, she was travelling elsewhere, I called her, “we have a chance to drive to London. Are you interested?” Her reply was the as quickest as it can be “Grab it”. It is all through now to make the dream come true. She is not my better half, she my best half, Pushpa! I am really lucky to have such a lady as my companion for these exotic journeys. She would be my co-driver for “Road To London”!
Once I decided to go for this journey, I was reading through the experiences of people who had been through similar journeys, in the past.
There are a few who have driven from London to Delhi. There is also the story of three friends who started from London and got stuck in Afghanistan – they were sent back after a week’s experience in an Afghan prison. There are some who had to return halfway due to health or political problems.
Tushar Agarwal has a series of Guinness and Limca records for his driving achievements. Amongst several others, he drove from London to Delhi with his wife. He and his friend Sanjay Madan also have to their credit, a 70,000 kms self-driving trip through 51 countries in 6 continents! Whoa!
I wanted to make a record too! But it is absolutely difficult to beat their records. But I am heads up on one factor. Being senior in age has its advantages. I beat them hollow in age. While interacting with Tushar, he realised and hinted that I would be the senior most person to take up such a long self-driving trip. That aside, Pushpa and I could be the senior most couple to achieve this. That we could attempt to establish these new records added to our excitement. Yes, if I am fit and confident enough to do it and face the problem in the process of achieving it!
That would be another record for us!
When Nishi agreed to join the expedition, I realised that it would be an another record. She would be the youngest to take such a journey. We should be celebrating her 10th birthday on the way, if all goes well, in China.
Possibilities of setting these three new records – (a) senior-most individual (b) senior-most couple and (c) youngest individual boosted our spirits even further.
All the expedition participants have to assemble at the exit point from India, Imphal, Manipur. This is where we will leave India on 17th April, 2017.
This means, before crossing the Indian border, I have to drive across India from Mumbai which is on the west coast to almost the eastern end of India – crossing 10 Indian States. A straight drive from Mumbai to Imphal is about 3,300 kilometers and can be done in about 10-12 days. Google maps showed our initial route within India as:
I haven’t travelled to the North Eastern States popularly known as “Seven Sister States of India”. Or their brother, Sikkim. I haven’t been to Bhutan either. Since I have the luxury of a car while driving to those North Eastern states, we decided as well visit some interesting places like Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan, Kaziranga National Park on our way to Imphal. Some of these places need an extra stay of at least one day each. This adds to 17 days and 4,000kms drive.
As we were finalizing the itinerary, Pushpa revealed that it was her childhood dream to visit Cherrapunjee, the wettest place in India. I would like to spend the rest of my life with her! A good husband that I am, I had no option but to add Cherrapunjee to the itinerary.
A few hours from Cherrapunjee is the cleanest village in Asia – Mawlynnong. There are many other interesting places around like unusual caves, various natural earth formations, double decker bridges naturally-formed out of tree stems and multi-stage waterfalls. The world famous Shillong also falls on this route. How can you be so close and miss all of that? Another 3 days and 400 kilometers.
Just to make sure that I do not miss any interesting places on the route, I collected tourist maps and literature of each of the states I would be passing through. I noticed that there are certain other important places on this route.
Deoghar in Jharkhand drew my special attention. There are twelve religiously auspicious Jyotirling locations in India. We had visited all of them except Baba Baidyanath at Deoghar, at the extreme east end of Jharkhand. We are not sure when we will visit that area again. We added Deoghar. This takes us very close to Varanasi on the Ganges, Gaya-Bodhgaya where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, Sarnath where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, Jalmahal, Pavapuri where Lord Mahavira attained salvation, Nalanda University claimed to be the first university in the world. You got it right. I could not ignore any of these places when they mean just 3-4 more days. By increasing our daily drive we should be able to squeeze in these places with 21 days to Imphal.
There are many more interesting places, but I froze it to 21 days. For now! The map at this staged looked like:
On such a strenuous driving expedition, our physical and mental fitness aside, it is equally important to have a right and reliable vehicle. A comfortable car surely enhances the level of satisfaction of driving. Very affectionately I named our car, “Soham”. “Soham” is a chant popularised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, of The Art of Living foundation. It means, “I am He”. I acknowledge the presence of the Almighty in the vehicle that takes me around.
The varied terrain requires a safer 4-wheel drive car with ground clearance of at least 190mm, if not more.
Anand’s “consent” to the trip was on the condition that I should take the vehicle of his choice! Smart on his part to have discovered what I was trying to hide. Both our current cars are fairly new with about 25K and 15K km on them. “Pappa, you certainly should not undertake this journey in your favourite Skoda Superb. Yes, the BMW-X1 SUV is better. But still not good enough. After all, you would be driving through some of the places where roads hardly exist.”
Anand was right. Under such situations, my Skoda Superb, with a ground clearance of only 164 mm, is far below the minimum safety need of 190 mm. Further, Chinese authorities do not give road entry permit for sedans. They demand the pictures from all sides of the car. For them, the vehicle should have SUV looks. They consider SUV more reliable. They don’t want me to have a vehicle breakdown and get stuck in their country for any reason! Fair enough.
I had the option of taking the BMW-X1, compact SUV. It has a better ground clearance of 179mm. Though not good enough. I checked with some of my contacts who have driven on the worst of the stretches we would be passing through. I was told X-1 would be just about ok. Arguably, it is just good enough for two of us.
Neither Pushpa nor I understand much of car mechanism. A few years earlier, I was capable of attending to any minor car-related problems. But now I have become lethargic and have developed the habit to look for assistance even to change a flat tyre. Habits hardly die! I decided that at least for the first 3 weeks of my journey, till the time I drive within India, I can have an assistant with us. So I decided to have our household assistant, Shiva with us. He is like a younger brother or son to me. Once we reach Manipur, the border city of India, he can fly back home! Our count of passengers in the car increased to three.
And then, my 9 year old granddaughter Nishi decided to join us for the entire tour. We would now be four for the Indian part of journey and three for the overseas drive.
We need to carry baggage to last us three months. We would be crossing through all types of climatic conditions – normal, cold, very cold, wet, warm, hot and very hot. Therefore we need to carry all types of garments. That aside, extras like food and water, a jerrycan for spare fuel, etc were also essential for such long journeys. Anand wanted me to play safe. He proposed that I take a bigger, better and safer vehicle than BMW X1.
Anand has reasonably good knowledge about vehicles. He shortlisted a vehicle each from Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, Land Rover and Toyota. Land rover is expensive and even its 3-year used model without warranty was almost same cost as a new vehicle of other brands with warranty. Also, Land Rover has a more sophisticated mechanism. In case of a breakdown, we might not find knowledgeable mechanics or spare parts. Hence we gave up the idea of second-hand Rover. We further narrowed the selection down to either Toyota Land Cruiser or BMW X-5. We had a series of meetings with the marketing executives of these brands. Dealers of BMW offered to provide certain facilities. Trusting them, we selected to go ahead with X-5. The trailer however
was slightly different than the movie we saw / are seeing … the post-sales service was drastically different to earlier promises, up to a point where, in one case, it had put our entire expedition at risk of cancellation. Without dwelling into the details, we decided to continue with BMW.
By coincidence, this is the type of car Anand wanted to buy for two years now. But since our current cars were not even a year old then, the decision was deferred.
One by one, items got checked on the to-do list: Itinerary, timings, hotel bookings, vehicle. Years ago when I dreamt of such an expedition, I wondered “How To Do It?”. Now, I have removed the “How To” and “?” and am left with “Do It!”
To be continued………………
Having decided to make this trip, I had to plan my itinerary. Once a date is frozen, planning various aspects of the travel becomes even more energised. It inspires you to study and enjoy planning. We would cross the Indian border from Manipur to Myanmar on 16 April 2017. Keeping a buffer for unexpected events, we plan to reach there a day in advance. I back-calculated to fix a departure date from home. I laid down some basic principles:
That would mean a total travelling time of 10 to 11 hours a day. A 6AM start gets you to the destination by 4 or 5 pm. This is not difficult. Especially, with Pushpa taking up a couple of hours of driving, it seemed quite comfortable.
Once Nishi confirmed to join us, I revised the drive time. 8 hours in the car for two and a half months is a bit much. To maintain excitement till the end, I had to make it interesting and not tiring for the child. Till we reach the Indian border, I revised the drive time to an average of about 6 hours per day. Including breaks, it would still add up to 8 hours a day. A little delayed start every morning, say at 7 or even 8AM would take us to the revised destination by 3AM. That gives us enough time for a comfortable breakfast, have lunch on the way and reach the destination by the time we are ready for a mid-afternoon snack. It also left scope to spend about 2-3 hours to visit interesting places around the destination or on the way. Or just relax.
After considering these parameters, I booked accommodation. I had a real tough time to fix locations on certain stretches like Mumbai to Ayodhya and Varnasi to Darjeeling.
Of course, there have been many revisions in the itinerary. And every change in itinerary, even it is of a single day resulted in a series of changes in accommodation. With every change, I changed hotel bookings. I don’t want to miss out on any sites, just because I had to put in some extra effort. I did not lose my patience. Though confusing and complicated, I started enjoying and learning out of it. It is good I had ‘free cancellation’ terms in my bookings!
I have revised my itinerary almost 10 times and I had to change hotel bookings on all 10 revisions!
The route I planned for my route within India, from Mumbai to Imphal would pass through places of historical and religious importance, national parks and sanctuaries, entertainment centers and caves, toy trains and ropeways etc. These are the places which would be of special interest to children. We would also be embracing through some of the most beautiful places in the world. Any one passing through these would develop a special relation with nature.
Generally the inbuilt dangers of adventure travel are hyped. They are projected as much more dangerous than they actually are. This discourages youngsters to take such trips.
One of my grandchildren Nishi was with us in the 9-day Iceland driving trip. Inspite of
all the known fears, Nishi joined us for Iceland. During problematic situations there, Nishi proved to be the calmest and bravest amongst the three of us. Any problem we had, whether it was on top of a lava or an ice mountain, mobiling on glacier, running around huge waterfalls, she smilingly enjoyed facing them, as if she was playing a new game. I realised during that trip that kids are in fact, more mature in handling problems! I was wondering if I could create some interest in such travels in the youngsters of our family.
I have four grandchildren. One is just 3 years old and the other three are in the 9-14 age range. I thought it would be great if the children joined the journey. It would be a life-time experience for them at such a young age.
I sent a message to my children, inviting any one grandchild to join us.
Yes, “any one” was for a good reason. The travel is scheduled at exam season. Naturally they hesitated. We got “no” as an answer from all of them. Never mind!
After a week or so, Nishi and her parents, Nilesh and Seema, probably re-thought about the opportunity. They asked if it was too late to for Nishi to join us, subject to her permissions from her school.
Nishi lives in Chelmsford, Essex, UK. Her school authorities were extremely excited about the experience she would get in this trip! They were thrilled in an instant and granted her special permission. The Head of Academics wrote, “What a fantastic experience (it would be)! Nishi’s teachers are aware that she will be absent and nearer the time I will liaise with them in order to ensure work is provided for Nishi whilst she is away…..We very much look forward to hearing all about Nishi’s travels when she returns!”. Fantastic! What a positive approach and support from the school! Nishi confirmed to take the journey with us.
Once I had the confirmation from Nishi, I added a few places en-route which would be of special interest to her. But I did not extend beyond 21 days. I deleted some of the places of lesser importance. I revised my itinerary. Probably, by now it has had 10+ revisions. I back-calculated and provisionally fixed 26th March 2017 as the day for departure from Mumbai.
Thereafter my other grand daughter Ruhi, settled in Pune, also expressed her interest to
join us. We reconsidered, if we could accommodate her too. But, then we had to be practical. It was a long journey. We weren’t comfortable with the idea of more than three persons + luggage to survive for that duration, in one car! Pushpa and I are in our 60s and 70s. Managing ourselves and our health itself is a good enough challenge! We could manage one child. Managing two children and their health could potentially become difficult on a long journey. Against our own wishes, we had to restrict to one child only.
A week after, I sought the blessings of our Guruji, Jagathguru Sri Sridharacharyaji of Ayodhya. I explained our plans. He called back to say that I should change the date of departure. I could not have shortened the number of days as it was already hectic. Nor did I want to miss any of the selected places. Undoubtedly, leaving a day or two earlier would provide a slight relief to the itinerary. Guruji therefore, fixed the flag off time as 10 am on Friday, 24th March 2017 as auspicious!
So it is now 23 days of travel from West to East of India, before we cross Indian borders.
That is not all,,,,,, abhi picture baaki hai!