Monday, December 31, 2007

Le Tour de Coorg [ Acknowledgements ]

Thank you Harsha for all the preparation. The altitude, distance, time estimate excel sheet was simply meticulous. It has however taught us how to measure altitude gains along the routes. Thanks for all the tools. Thanks especially for the quick decisions... each one of them turned out to just right. God knows what would have happened if we had pushed to Bhagamandala on day 1, or to Cheyyandane on Day2 or stayed at Virajpet on Day 3.

Please convey my thanks to Premaji who suggested / arranged the visit to Chelavara.

Thanks also for having arranged for such a wonderful bike.


Thank you Manohar. You spread cheer, what ever you do. Keep it up. Thanks for all the beauty tips ;-) Sun screen lotion is a must have for all future trips. I have learned a lot about respecting, remembering 17 year old acquaintances and the power of feelings a reunion creates.

Thank you Priya for the bike. The Omega simply rocks, or rather it flies. It is the lightest and smoothest bike I have ridden till now. I am most certain that I would not have enjoyed the trip as much if I rode my top gear.

Thank you to all those who called or tried to call or messaged :-) Truck loads of thanks to folks at bikezone who gave timely advice, help and wishes. Your encouragement is what keeps me pedaling. Thank you so much.

Thanks to those anonymous people of Coorg for encouraging us all the way. Coffee, water and sugar... we are indebted to those families/hotels that gave us these whenever we needed them. But we are most grateful for all those lovely smiles.

Le Tour de Coorg - [ Day Four ]

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Day four was supposed to be Jujubi - a walk in the park. A little downhill towards the Titimati, followed by a leisurely drive through the national forest, and zip through the highway to reach Mysore or Srirangapattana. Jump on a bus to Bengaluru We would be home by evening. Well, it could not have started better. A beautiful young lady walks up to me and inquires about our trip... listens patiently and wishes luck for future tour. As ever, I choked - kept the conversation to the topic and never asked for her number. Well, 3 days of drudgery on the saddle was worth every cent.

Gonikoppa to Titimati is just 9 Kms. Mostly flat or mild inclines. The digging disease of Bangalore had spread here also. Apparently they were laying OFC for Reliance. Gonikoppa will now be connected to the largest Optical Network of the country. Hurrah!! I do not mean to generalize. But people in this part of Coorg are not as friendly as in other parts. Most of smiles were returned back with cold stares. I was uncertain how to react. Perhaps this area is slightly backward than the rest of the Coorg - and hence saw us as out-siders' showing off. At Titimati, we had breakfast and proceeded towards the jungle. The road ahead is well paved, but very narrow. We had to move to the edge of the road whenever a bus had to pass in either direction. This being a popular road, there were many of them. I must mention that KSRTC drivers were very courteous towards us on road. Or perhaps the jazzy helmet did the trick. Once we entered the Rajiv Gandhi National Park the official forest zone starts. I kept my eyes open hoping to find an odd deer. But I was disappointed to see ample evidence of human habitation. More painful was to see the evidence of tourism - water bottles, snack covers, even playing cards all found on road side. It's surprising how much one can observe while on a bicycle. Over the last three days, it was the various hues of green, bright flowers, butterflies or an odd animal crap. But now, we were heading back to civilization... and I was not liking it.

Towards the end of the National park is the elephant zone. Here the forest officers take care of tamed elephants. There are about twenty of them... all of them are tuskers. Apparently they are used to move timber (as told by a police man). But isn't National Park an area where you can not cut trees? Where does the question of moving timber come from? Any way, we were lucky to hear them trumpet when were in the vicinity. Beyond that part the forest area was mostly filled with bamboo. I kept my eyes open now for an charging bull elephant and imagined myself running for life... just kidding. The end of the National Park, is also the end of Coorg. Le Tour de Coorg would enter Mysore now. 27 Kms from there we would reach Hunasoor.

Five Kms before Hunasoor, this road joins the highway from Kushalanagara - Periyapatna. I was delighted to be on a flat highway and quicly upped my speed to >25Kmph. But Highway gets boring too. I had some sigle speeders giving company till the Hunasoor by pass. The gentleman told me about the only big hotel and recommended to have lunch there. After lunch, the first doubts started entering our minds. Was it really worth it to drive another 50Kms on this monotonous road in this scorching heat? Could we not just stop a Bangalore bound bus and load the cycles on to them? Amidst all doubts, we started pedaling towards Mysore. The road was recently widened. This meant that all the trees on both side of the road had to fall leaving walkers and cyclists without any shade at all. I was hitting the wall many many times. But could not stop since there was no shade at all. At last, I found a bus stop by the side of a school. We slept for about half an hour. The more rest we took, the more we wanted. Our morale was weakening. A strong head wind added to our woes. We decided to pedal as much as possible and take the next decision then. Heat, wind and a battered morale meant that we made slow progress. An alternate plan emerged. Why not go to Srirangapattana and take a refreshing dip in Kaveri? All buses from Mysore had to pass through Srirangapattana any way.

Amidst all these, within 10 Kms to Ilivala, H's rear tire went flat. We were lucky to catch a tempo to transport the bike to Ilivala to get the puncture fixed. M and me rided strongly towards Ilivala. This time, the anxiety of home coming over powered all thoughts of giving up. The Sun had started to descend and a warm breeze blew across us. M pointed out Chamundi Hills and Lalitha Mahal on our right. The final stretch to Ilivala is a kilometer long downhill. Boy it felt wonderful to feel the wind. H welcomed us to Ilivala and treated us with ice-cream and soda. The tour was officially over. We would then get another tempo and transport the bikes to Srirangapattana and pay a visit to Sri Ranganatha - Lord Vishnu sleeping on Vasuki. But as plans are made... they promptly fail. Transport was only a distant dream. Plan B was to re-start the tour and pedal to Mysore - 15 Kms away. Thats what we did. H knew the back roads of Mysore as good as Bengaluru. We reached Mysore KSTRC bus-stand by 8:00 PM. And now, the tour was over again. We managed 3 seats in a Volvo bus and next thing I remember is getting off at Bengaluru.

Harsha's Photos on flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shtrek/sets/72157603546040744/show/with/2138201582/

For the Cyclists:
Route: Gonikoppa - Titimati - Ane Honchoor - Hunasoor - Elivala - Mysore
Distance: 104 Kms
Max Speed: 44 Kmph
Start Time: 06:30 AM
End Time: 07:30 PM (approx)

Food: Morning coffee right in front of the lodge. The last coffee that we would have in Coorg - almost the best.

Breakfast at Hotel Swagat - Titimati. Dosa was served only with previous day's tomato curry. Nicely roasted dosa in coconut oil. We split one big puttu into three and devoured them with ample sugar. Puttu is basically a malayali dish. It is rice dough baked with layers of grated coconut. By itself, it's dry and tasteless. But with sugar, it very very tasty.

Tender Coconut at the Mysore Road Junction.

Lunch at Hotel Devi Prasad, Hunasoor. Devi Prasad is the only big veggie hotel in the entire Hunasoor. It is world famous there. Plate meals is served on plantain leaf. Only one chapati - extra chapati, extra mulah. Raddish sambar, spicy rasam and curd rice makes it a full 3 course meal. Wheat payasa for dessert. There are other sabjis. None of them made any mark either on the tongue or the mind. Extra hot weather made us long for an extra dessert - Ice Creams.

Some 10 Kms before Ilivala - grapes, bananas and Tea.

Snacks are Ilivala included Cornetto, coffee, sprite - multiples of each of them ;-) Mysore ring road is thronged with Iyengar's Bakeries. How can one go past without having a veg puff or two.

Travel: There are lot of Volvo buses that ply between Mysore and Bangalore. Buses from Madikeri, Virajpet or else where have to pass through Mysore to reach Bangalore. There would be some people getting off at Mysore. Hence there would be some seats available in each one of them. However, there is absolutely no order at the station. The Volvo booking center has no idea how many seats would be free in the arriving buses. So, they can not issue tickets. Given that each bus is a new attempt, people never form any queue. Volvo fare per person : Rs 190/- Cycle : Rs 15/- Shamelessness Tax: Rs50/-

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Le Tour de Coorg - [ Day Three ]

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Day three started off very early. Over the three days I had observed the different sounds during the day. The earliest birds are the crows. They wake up much before us or any other birds. As the day progresses, the mynahs, cuckkoos and other birds join in and start an orchestra. The crows (who are the early birds that got the worm) now cool off. Later the parrots come and go in groups... they make a lot of sound that does not make sense at all. They are like the hard rock band of the bird kingdom. Each one sings to its own pleasure. They are always on the move. Once they are gone, you can again listen to orchestra - all day long till sunset. This steady state is disturbed only by an odd crow that found some left over lunch somewhere. At sunset, there is frenzied activity - much like our peak hour traffic. Every bird wants to get to some where. the honking, the vexing generate a lovely crescendo. Within minutes, its all over. Once the cukkoos, mynahs, sparrows and wagtails retire to their cozy nests, the night is taken over by the insects. The pleasant bliss of the bird concert is replaced by chilling uneasiness of the crickets. They are monotonous and together with darkness, they are very effective in developing a scary environment.



We battled thick fog and bad roads for over an hour. To sun rising across the fields and melting the fog was a sight worth waking up early for. The road turned from bad to worse. On the previous days, tough climbs were always rewarded with cool breeze on the top, and an exhilarating descent. But today, the descents had to be as slow and treacherous as the climb. It road became irritating and slowed our progress very very slow. We had taken 2 hours to reach Ballamavute which was a paltry 13 Kms from start. Everyone we met on the road had their own estimate on how long the road was in this state. Irrespective the road condition, the coffee estates were pleasing to the eyes and chirping of the birds were music to the ears. A couple of kilometers after Ballamavute is Hotel Priya where we had breakfast.

Infact, a few Kms after Ballamavute the road gets better. We could see that some work was in progress. There is a fork in the road. Left goes to Napoklu and right to Kakkabbe. The right is the raod less taken by buses and hence it is less spoiled. The journey to Kakkabbe was mostly downhill interleaved by gentle inclines. I made quick descents and spent more time talking to locals. Topics ranged from climate, politics, tourism to general geography. People are very friendly and always volunteer with information. They are always intrigued by the GPS receiver and become happy when I enter their village's name into it. Holiday season was in its full swing. We saw a huge group of foreign tourists checking out of Honey valley estate. After Kakkabbe and Kakkabbe comes Cherambane followed by Cheyyandane. This is where our featured adventure of the day awaited us.

H had already arranged for a pickup to take us to Chelavara falls and beyond it to see the view point. Chelavara falls is a little known falls hidden among the many coffee estates of Coorg. It is now accessible easily only to the home-stay guests in those estates. It is better to keep it that way. If it attracts a larger crowd, it will also become as dirty as Abbey falls. Our ride was a Mahindra pickup. Only one person can sit with the driver. Remaining two had to had to manage standing/sitting behind in the goods area. A 3 Kms ride on an extremely bumpy road will lead us to the Falls. The road disappears ahead and morphs into a jeep track... which promptly worsens into a just a series of rocks. The gradient also kicks up viciously. If any body saw this terrain without the pickup, they would not believe that it is indeed motorable. The driver told me that He had driven a Scorpio (without a 4 wheel drive) up last season. Can you even imagine how the road (?) would look like during rains? Another 3-4 Kms beyond the falls is a high point from where we can see as far as Kerala on one side, Tadiandamol on the other, and a magnificent view of the entire Brahmagiri range. After a quick photo session at a vantage point, we made our way down to the falls.


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We spent an hour at the falls. And all the time, we were the only people there. Its as if it were our own private falls. Even though, the pond size was not more than a 30-40 site, I did not want to try swimming... especially after I realized that I could not touch the bottom even after I was chest deep. But we throughly enjoyed the refreshingly cold water... We did not want to leave the place. But we were reminded about the rest of the journey we had to cover on cycles to reach a city where we could find a lodge ;-) Reluctantly, we got out of the water and headed towards the jeep.

On the way back to the main road, we got to taste Coorgi Hospitality first hand. M had visited this ancestral house with his neighbor (in Arsikere) during his childhood days 17 years ago. His neighbor (Latha aunty, as he calls her) no longer lives here. Its only her brother who lives with his family here. Still he recognized M and insisted all of us come up and have a lunch. The lady of the house served us sweet juice of a fruit that is a cusp between orange and a lemon. Home grown and native to Coorg only. I only had to hint that we left our water bottles at the base camp... She prepared 2 litres more juice and gave us in a huge maza bottle. Within minutes, M exchanged numbers and promised to keep regular contact with them. They had by then called folks in Gonikoppa and offered to arrange for our night stay and food. They made it really hard to politely turn down such offers. After almost an hour od catching up with old memories M finally got ready to leave. Back at Cheyyandane, we were shocked to hear that our little trip up the hill would cost us Rs 600/-. There is no haggling after the tour ;-) so we paid up and pedaled ahead burying the agony deep inside. It was only 3 Kms later when H brought up the topic that all of us vented out our displeasure.

We should have lunch at Cheyandane. Coz miles and miles after Cheyyandane, till Virajpete, we would not find any veggie restaurant. Towns and villages came and went... Karanga, Kadanga, Kadanoor and so on. The terrain had become much more easier than the previous two days. With 6 Kms to Virajpet H's brake just broke. Yes, it just broke into pieces. While he was repairing his brakes, another nice gentle man came up to us and offered NelliKai (amla). He insisted. He took me to his home and gave me a handful of them. On the way he introduced me to his neighbors as "Kids from Bengaluru who came cycling". I kept wondering why. Later he revealed that he has a son working in Toyota Kirloskar Factory in Bengaluru. Probably it was his way of feeling close to his son. He inquired about our future route. Like a father, he cautioned us not to cross the Forest area at night. "Pass that stretch in day time only" He said. and here we were 10 minutes ago second guessing his insisting that I come home. My faith in future of humanity just grew many fold... Long live such people.

A kilometer on the same road, we get the Madikeri-Virajpet road. This is a state highway and hence has nice asphalt. Although the road has its own share of ups and downs, it is nothing compared to what we had pedaled past in the last couple of days. At Virajpet, we had a quick snack and by 5PM we were on our way to Gonikoppa. The route was mostly flat. Both sides of the road were paddy fields. The sun was setting on my right. The scene has to seen to be believed. For brief moments, it was nothing short of the evening scenes in the flat stages of THE tour. Unfortunately, I had run short of batteries (that is one downside of too many gadgets). I will have to wait for H's photos to be uploaded. A couple of Kms before Gonikoppa H shopped for some exotic/artistic candles. We reached Gonikoppa town by night fall. Checked in to a hotel. Washed up, dined, chatted with family and crashed. We had just one more day of cycling ahead of us. It was a nice feeling.

Harsha's Photos on flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shtrek/sets/72157603546040744/show/with/2138201582/

For the Cyclists:
Route: Bhagamandala - Ballamavute - Nelaje - Kakkabbe - Cheyyandane - Karada - Kadanga - Madikeri Rd Jn - Virajpete - Gonikoppa
Distance: 82 Kms
Max Speed: 45.1 Kmph
Start Time: 06:00 AM
End Time: 07:30 PM (approx)
Road Condition: From Bhagamandala to Nelaje (approx 20Kms) the road is in horrible condition. At places we had search for even 6 inches wide asphalt to ride on.

Acco:
Hotel Nandanavana is one of the first hotel one sees when he enters Gonikoppa from Virajpet side. Rs 400/- per room including extra bed. Limitted hot water - only from 6:30 in the morning. No restaurant attached. Ample parking space. Moderately recommended (for lack of better alternatives).

Food:
We had a coffee each at Santhosh Hotel. It was the only joint open so early in the morning.

Next stop for food was at Ballamavute - Hotel Priya. We had poori with chutney. The chutney was extremely super dooper spicy. We cooled it off with Idli + sugar. Tea was very pleasing as well. All in all just Rs 54/- for a very satisfying break fast.

Somebody told that Kadanga is a good place for food. Unfortunately we forgot mention that we were veggies. Kadanga does not even have one veggie restaurant. People laugh at you if you inquire for one. We had to be content with bananas and biscuits while M stuffed a boiled egg down his bowel.

Evening snacks at Virajpete. Some Kamath cafe on the Madikeri road. Plain dosa and Coffee.

Dinner at Gonikoppal needed to be an early one. The town closes down very soon. There are two good veggie restaurants. We went to the Kamath's place run by a Udupi guy. Apparently he was over whelmed with the crowd that day and hence the service was a bit slow. We had Masala Dosa, Onion Utthapam, Gobi manchurien and the mandatory curd rice. Ice-cream for dessert.

Le Tour de Coorg - [ Day Two ]

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Madikeri is a hilly city. duh!! to get out of Madikeri, one has to climd steep climbs and immediately descend (equally steep) on the other side. Finding our way was easy. There was a continuous stream of Oil Tankers coming into the city from Mangalore. We should go towards mangalore until we find a fork. Once we had climbed up the steep gradients, we had the beautiful view of the valley below. Bhagamandala is at much lower altitude than Madikeri. But that clearly does not meant that the route was all downhill. We found that out very soon. We kept climbing up and down the coffee estates - every time hoping this would be the last climb before Bhagamandala.

The road was in a very good condition and there were kilometer markings all though out. The next day would be the annual Coorg Marathon. Locals believe that this is how a marathon should be. Not running on boring flat lands like the one in Bangalore previous week. We kept passing through one small village after another. At each bus-stop we could see school and college students lined up - curious eyes shifting from helmet, to gears, the outfit and then eye-contact, that is when boys look away and girls start giggling. We replenished ourselves from time to time with the groundnut laddus until we reached Chettimane where we had nice bananas. That would see us through till Bhagamandala. My camera was nicely tucked inside my luggage and hence not many photos taken on Day Two. Our plan for the day was to reach Cheyyandane by evening. This plan was based on the assumption that Madikeri to Bhagamandala was all down hill and can be covered in 2 hours. As we had just learnt, altitude readings can be deceptive. All the stoppings and the climbs, and H's niggle at the knee made us take four and half hours to reach the KSTDC hotel at Bhagamandala. The facilities at KSTDC encouraged us to change our plan to halt there for the night. This gave us the freedom to climb 7Kms of Talacauvery at our own pace. We had a late breakfast of Idli and Vada . We took only essentials to Talacauvery. The caretakers of KSTDC hotel were generous enough to let us park our luggage there. We took the cameras, chocolates and electral/water only.

The climb to Talacauvery is not as dreadful as it seems. Yes, it is a 440 mt climb in 7Kms. But the first three kilometers only has mild gradient. The road condition is excellent. Hence it does not drain you. But as I climbed, I started planning my ascent. There were people standing at vantage points taking photographs. Perhaps being among the hills for the whole day had made us immune to these sceneries ;-) There was a dude trying to do a rock-climbing stunt without any safety equipment... I could only smile at his foolishness and moved on. Some people were more friendly. They were encouraging and offering water. I politely refused. With about 3Kms to go, I was still feeling strong and going a steady pace of 5 minutes every kilometer. That is when the thoughts of climbing peak non-stop crept into my mind. Some where around this point, there is a 50 meter stretch of down hill. Yes, you read it right - down hill. I quickly gulped two sips of electral and noticed that I was still in F3R2. At two Kms to go I shifted to F2. Riding became slightly easier. The final kilometer is when the gradient steps up viciously. There are no trees there to add to the misery. Halfway through the last thousand meters, I shifted to easiest gear F1. That was the maximum the bike could help me. As I approached the summit, I had to get off my saddle. With tourist vehicles parked on either side and people walking on the roads... I had to whistle (the cycle had no bell) to get them clear the road. When I reached the top, I was ecstatic. Non-stop in 36 minutes was possible. There is a police outpost on top of Talacauvery. I struck conversation with the ASI and requested permission to rest inside. He gladly obliged. I hurriedly finished all the electral that I had got. As I waited for my friends, ASI Krishna told me that he was expecting ADG Mahapatra that day. As we both waited anxiously sun was beating down mercilessly on us. There was absolutely no shade in sight. I suddenly realized that I had all the eatables. H and M had only water. Even M's purse was in this bag. Oops what had I done? For 10 minutes, I even considered going down to meet them. Then I realized that H had money with him and both H and M are very resourceful. Had they needed me, they would have sent a word.

ADG had come and gone by the time my friends arrived. We quickly visited all the deities and climbed Brahmagiri. From the top of Brahmagiri, you can see all the way to Kerala. It pains to see the windmills stopped spinning because of lack of maintenance. People are a nuisance every where. The clear pristine air was being polluted with cigarette smoke by knuckle heads.

The downhill ride was fast and cautious. Unlike, other downhills, there would be a high probability of vehicles coming up hill who had to be given preference on road. But we were right up there with the other motorists with respect to speed. 7 Kms - <15 style="font-weight: bold; color: rgb(255, 0, 0);">

Harsha's Photos on flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shtrek/sets/72157603546040744/show/with/2138201582/

For the Cyclists:
Route: Madikeri - Talattmane - Cherambane - Chettimane - Bhagamandala - Talacauvery - Bhagamandala
Distance: 55 Kms
Max Speed: 44.7 Kmph
Start Time: 06:30 AM
End Time: 03:30 PM (approx)

Acco: The KSTDC hotel is the last hotel on route to Talacauveri. It is right next to Police Station. Can't miss it. They take bookings from any KSTDC branch viz Mysore or Bengaluru. Check-in times are noon to noon. There are 3-4 huge dorms - each with >50 beds. So theoretically you can find acco any time of the year. Restaurant is attached. Toilets are clean. Running hot water as long as there is power. At Rs 100/- per person - the dorm accommodation is a steal. The downside is that the dorm lacks a locker room.

There are other lodges in the town. But none of them looked sophisticated.

Food: A late breakfast: KSTDC, Bhagamandala restaurant had a simple menu. Only Idli Vada for breakfast. Perhaps, even if there were other dishes, we would have taken these only. The sambar was excellent. Waiters were generous and courteous in refills. Coffee is not as good as in other parts of Coorg. Price is reasonable.

On top of Talacauvery, we had butter milk. Extremely refreshing. The fact that is served in plastic cups is disappointing. Plastic indeed has deep penetration. We replenished our energy levels with dates and chocolates. Hot Hot ambodE made us more hungry.

Lunch at KSTDC was simple. Chapati, couple of sabjis (nondescript in nature), sambar, rasam and curd. The best part of food is that it is available way after lunch hours (even at 3:00 PM). We bought some puri for afternoon snacks to be eaten on banks of the river. We bought some more murukku and groundnut laddus for the next day.

Dinner was again kept simple - because, anything complex was not available. As the caretaker admitted himself, all curries have the same base. For Channa masala, you put channa. For Green Peas, you put peas. One can only imagine how Gobi masala would be if we had ordered. Hence we ate chapatis with Green Peas and mixed veg masala. Cooled off the spices with generous servings of curdrice. Curd rise was served with large amount of onions - strange. No ice cream or desserts.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Le Tour de Coorg - [Day One]

Day One:

We had planned to start at 0530. It was already 0630 by the time we got our cycles into shape and tied all luggages properly. I tried to get some money. The State Bank ATM promptly drew a blank screen citing a "Temporary Problem". Why can't they admit that they don't have money? The Corporation Bank ATM was more generous. 0645 was our official start of the tour. We would be on road for the next 4 days as long as day light lasted. A few minutes later we arrive the fork at Manjarabad Fort. Right (down) goes to Mangalore. Left (Up) goers to Kodlipet. It was the day of Bakrid. So, no schools would be open. Children were running out of their homes shouting "Cycallu Cycallu..." Obviously they were more interested in seeing our attire - the helmets, the sporty shorts and of course a geared cycle. Each one of them has a story based on his interpretation. I over heard one kid explaining to another that we were on a racing. Others were just happy clapping at us. I was never hesitant to throw in a smile and a friendly wave. Some shy away, some wave back.

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A thousand splendid trees... each reduced a thousand worthless pieces of log. This is the story of the entire stretch of road till Kodlipete. On either side of the road, logs lay spread out like dead bodies in a war zone. In this war there will be no winner. The cost of development has to be borne by the generations to come.

Few more kilometers of pedaling, few more pastures, a couple of more bridges and we reached Kodlipet. Ride till here was mostly flat, downhill or mid incline. No huffing and puffing. Shukravarasanthe, Shanivarasanthe and Somavarapete - mean Friday market, Saturday market and Monday market. On Sunday the market congregates at Kodlipete. The merchants could sell their wares while being on the move through out the week. We pedaled through the same route to reach Somawarapete by noon. The climb to Somawarpet was tough. Very tough at some stretches. Till now, we did not pass thru any town that had a decent medical stores. We did not have any ORS packets. Result was dehydration and cramps and very slow progress. At Sowarpet we bought packets of Electral (most famous ORS in India). The thirst and the cramps were gone in a jiffy. However, we still had one more massive climb ahead of us in the day.

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Somawarapet to Madapura is downhill. Very very downhill. While zipping through these sections, we get very little time to look around. Eyes on the road, hands on the break and the mind thinking about the next climb. On either side of the road were coffee estates. Some private, and some owed by Tata Coffee. One can clearly make out the difference between the two. The Tata estates are managed and maintained professionally. The hedges are neatly trimmed. The workers wear helmets and sunshades. There is uniformity in the extent to which pepper creepers climb up the Silver Oak trees. All in all, they look more like a aesthetic botanical park than coffee estate. Later, steeper downhill sections followed. If lucky, you will get a decent vehicle to break the wind for you and you can just follow the tail lights to know when to brake. Thats exactly what I did... max speed 48 Kmph. At the bottom of the descent is Madapura which has a fabulous bridge. At Madapura, we had light snacks and moved on without much rest.

Beyond Madapura was our next big climb of the day. Two climbs in a single day is not a good idea. But, such lessons are best learnt by experience. We would soon find out. The gradient kicks up quite viciously after Hattihole towards Makkandur. Slowly and very unsteadily we made progress. When you are that tired, you would not have energy to take photos. We made mental note of the wonderful sunset and just marched ahead. At Makkandur we realized that our altitude calculations were flawed. Madikeri city may be at a lower altitude (lower than Makkandoor). But to get there, we needed to still climb further. Try explaining this error to my legs that have already given their 110% all through out the day. There was no other choice, we had to pedal further - now even more slowly. The sun had set and beautiful moon had taken the mantle of lighting the mountains. Is it my fault if I remember the babbar sher? "re chaand tu bhi gazad dha tha hi... bacchpan mein mama aur javani mein yaar nazar aata hi" [there is no good translation that can carry the meaning as effectively]. Any way, out came the torches and we slowly made our way to the top of the peak. We were too tired to celebrate also. The descent into Madikeri city was quick. I again tailed a Maruti Car - But this time it was to take advantage of its light. Its a weird feeling to ride in the city after 100 Kms in the woods. I almost ran past a red light right under the nose of two policemen. Finding accomodation/food was no problem at all. A quick dinner was followed by the most well deserved sleep of our life.

Harsha's Photos on flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shtrek/sets/72157603546040744/show/with/2138201582/

For the cyclists:
Route: Sakaleshpur - Shukravarasanthe - Kodlipete - Shanivarasanthe - Honnammana Kere - Somavarapete - Madapura - Hattihole - Makkandoor - Madikeri
Distance: 108 Kms
Max Speed: 48 Kmph
Start Time: 06:45 AM
End Time: 07:00 PM (approx)

Food:
Early morning Tea and Bun in the hotel in front of Vasavi Lodge. The first tea of the day always pumps you up. Gets you ready to for the long day ahead. The Bun is meant to keep the growling noise inside the tummy away for at least until we can find proper breakfast. We could not find bananas anywhere yet.

Breakfast at Shukravarasanthe: Idli + Chutney. The chutney (perhaps coconut) was bland and yet interesting. The fact that we were served by a very friendly lady made the breakfast more satisfying. We also had pulav with raitha and the same chutney.

Somewhere between Kodlipete and Shanivarsanthe we had the coffee. The taste seemed to declare that we were in the heart land of coffee production. Such was the taste that we almost wanted a refill.

Lunch at Somawarpete was again in an anonymous hotel and nondescript in nature. The only thing that was worth mentioning is the channa sabji - a simple recipe of channa, onion, green chilies and tadka. We had generous servings of the same.

Evening snacks at Madapura consisted of oily veg-puffs and another cup of typical tasty Coorg coffee. We also picked up a packet of groundnut laddus for the road. These are meant to be great for munching in addition to being a good source of energy.

Dinner at Madikeri at Hotel Popular Woodlands (?). Roti Curry and curd rice. We topped that with a choco-bar dessert.

Acco: Hotel Popular WoodLands (?). I am not sure of the name. It is next to the conspicuously huge shoe store. The shoe store is disproportionately huge for a small city like Madikeri. Any way, Room rent : Rs 650/- per night. Hot water was promised for 2 hours in the morning. In reality, it was only for 20 minutes. Ample parking space. Moderately recommended.

Transport: Madikeri is well connected to Bangalore. From early morning to 2 PM there are regular KSTRC buses of all kinds (Volvo, Rajahamsa... to red bus) leaving at regular intervals. After 2 PM, the next bus is at night only.

Le Tour de Coorg - [Day Zero]

Harsha and Manohar are long time friends. I met them at bikezone. The idea of this TDC (Tour de Coorg) was proposed by Harsha some time in October. Lot of preparation went in to this which is fairly documented by Harsha here. Various people are interested in various aspects of the trip... Some look only at photos, Some are bothered about what restaurants are there along the road, some are worried about accommodation and transport links, some others are just read because they are my friends ;-) I have tried to organise this tell-tale in such a way that each person can quickly get what he wants.

Day Zero:
A depression in Bay of Bengal meant that we would have a wet beginning to the tour. I was dripping wet by the time I reached KSRTC bus-stand. I reached there on time, but without - the cyclo computer, money, gloves and many other essentials. The rain had worked my brain to ignore all reminders. Damn!! M and H quickly reached and with in no time all eyes at the bus stand were on 3 young lads wearing jazzy helmets and pushing cycles whose handles have been turned at an uncomfortable angles. "Sportsa?", "Ellinda Bartirodu?" (where are you coming from?) were commonly asked questions. Over the next four days, we would answer the same questions at least a thousand times over. It never seemed irritating or boring though. Bicycles have a fixed luggage fee. So, no scope for haggling. Or, that's what we thought. With lot of difficulty, we got all the three cycles into the same dikki. The rain, expectedly, had completely derailed Bangalore traffic. It was 7:00PM by the time we even got out of the Majestic area. Ola, the bus has a TV. And the show today was DDLJ. Well, you can not flip the channels on a bus. I *had* to watch it. Few minutes into the movie, I started liking it. The rain dance, the 'falling' in love... etc... etc... It was intermission time, and we were still on Raj Kumar Road. Once we were out of Bangalore, the bus picked up good speed. Rest of the journey can be summerized in 'boring - dinner - boring - sleeping - Hassan'. 1 AM at Hassan, we got our cycles back. Now we waited for some transport to Sakaleshpur which is approx 40Kms from there. That was plan A. Plan B was to ride till Hassan bypass and get a lorry. Plan C was to get a lodge at Hassan and start tour from Hassan en-route to Arakalagoud to reach Kodlipete. Minutes before the Plan B deadline, a Sakaleshpur bus arrived and we got busy loading our bicycles on top of the bus. Three quarters an hour later we undid the effort at Sakaleshpur. Checked in to a dingy lodge. Secured the bikes and crashed immediately.

Food: Dinner at Hotel Mayura near Adichunchanagiri: Meals: puri, rice, sambar, curd, gulab-jamoon. We were hurried by the impatient driver and hence could not enjoy the food. The food does not leave any impression. Not too good, not too bad. At Rs 50/- per plate it is expensive for a road side night place.

Acco: Vasavi Lodge. Shady. Not recommended. Price Rs 425/- per night. In a small town like Sakaleshpur, it seemed expensive. But who has the energy to haggle at 2 in the morning.

Travel:

  • Bengaluru to Hassan in Volvo. ~Rs 200/- per head + Rs 15/- per cycle + Rs 20 for Driver tips (shameless fellow). I am impressed with Volvo. The luggage space is huge and in spite of interior roads of Bangalore being so bad, absolutely no damage done to the cycles even after being placed one over another. Highly recommended if you do not care for the price ;-)
  • Hassan to Sakaleshpur in Red Bus: Rs 21/- per head + Rs 3/- per cycle + Rs 28 for conductor tips (more shameless fellow). Not all buses have a luggage carrier on top. Even if it has, you have to carry your own luggage ropes.
Subsequent days.... yet to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bangalore Running

Its running time again in Bangalore. 'Runners for Life' (RFL) (or its parent org - 'The Fuller Life') arranged the ultra-marathon on the outskirts of Bangalore. In a blatant show of strength, the KAF (Karnataka Athletics Federation) organized the Bangalore International Marathon on the same day. It was very easy for them to get a title sponsor quickly BSNL - India's largest telecom company. One Babu helping another Babu, I guess. Well, if you judge an event by its attendance, then KAF beat RFL fair and square. 150 participants for Full Marathon (including a substantial African contingent), 1000+ running the half marathon, and countless - really countless running the celebrity charity run of 5Kms, a wheel chair event, a senior citizen event and lots of flags. As if to re-assure themselves, it was announced time and again on the loud speaker that BSNL Bangalore International Marathon was a huge success.

In contrast, I will not even mention the numbers at the Ultra. The route of ultra-marathon in a 6.5 Kms laps around a private resort at Hesaraghatta. Yes, It is unthinkable to even ask Bangalore Police to lease the city's roads for ~8 hours. Still, the build up to the event was amazing. the schedule was announced an year in advance. An entry fees of Rs 1000/- meant that only serious folks enlisted. All of them pleasantly surprised on Thursday evening when each one of the runners received a branded running T-Shirt (MRP: Rs 800/-), a running water bottle (branded), and the entire rules brochure as part of the - runners kit. People were happy customers even before the run started :-)

Unlike, the ultra, the international marathon came cheaper. A flat Rs 100/- entry fees for all the disciplines and even free for special categories. Unsure of my fitness level this year (and looking at the entry fees), I chose KAF over RFL. I signed up for the 1/2 marathon - 21 odd Kms. This year's additional attraction at the marathon are - cheer girls and a live band playing jazz and starting on time. The race itself was found wanting in terms of organization. Even though the the Traffic Police tried their best, the unruly traffic of Bangalore got better of them at times. Water dried up at water points. Cheering crowd was hardly there (perhaps due to lacking publicity). Toilets were conveniently forgotten. The cavalcade of runners passed through Cubbon Park, Vidhana Soudha, GPO, Cubbon Road, Ulsoor Lake, Old Madaras Road up until Byappana Halli Junction and back the same route. While I was some where between the 8Km and 9Km mark, the leaders of the half marathon category zipped past me. Damn! they are fast. It was heartening to see that there were more Indians in the leading pack. 'Refreshment Points' ahead served oranges, biscuits and lime. Oranges are real energy boosters. Any way, at the end of a grueling 1 hour and 46 minutes, I was back at Kanteerava Stadium behind 98 runners. Perhaps being lighter helps.

Few things at the marathon left a lingering bad taste. On the loud speaker, it was being announced that running shoes belonging to an Ethiopian rider went missing (read: stolen). How can Bengaluru attract world class runners to such events if Bengalurinavaru behave so cheaply? Secondly, after about 2.5 hours of start of Half marathon, the full marathon leader entered the stadium. There was this joker running half marathon (behind about 200 guys) who got all inspired to chase the Full Marathoner. While the victory tape was held out for the full marathoner, this half-wit raises both his hands and cuts the ribbon as if he had won the event. The Kenyan had to follow the idiot's footsteps albeit Rs 2 Lakhs richer. The jack ass seemed like an IT dude. Just in case, he is reading it - "Shame on you!!". This is the reason, you will not see the Full Marathon finish in any media - print or TV. The people coming to sporting events must first be sportsmen in mind and only later in body.

PS: I was on TV9 News twice in the morning... As the day progressed, they concentrated on the finish and not on the race itself.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My first century

In cricket, they say, every batsman remembers his first ton - even if it was achieved against the next street gang. Today I hit mine... not in cricket but in cycling. I ticked more than 100 Kms in a single day for the first time. Apparently, for those who do it very often its not a big deal. May be it is not. However, (like cricketers) I like to remember this day for a long time to come.

Sleep was intermittent. I was waiting for the alarm to go off... and kept checking time every hour. Finally it was 0400 and I woke up. Finished all morning chores, stretched a little and was on my way. The air was chill and frigid; the roads were empty. Its a nice feeling to 'own' the road. My 'royal' - king of the road feeling was fleeting - a group of barking dogs (at some distance ahead) made me change the course. Isn't it better to avoid trouble than fight it out? Terrain was mostly downhill interspersed with short spells of inclines. I took the beautiful RV road with trees on both sides to reach the inner of the two outer ring roads, and then Banashankari by 0515. I was supposed to meet Keshava here. How can I introduce this person to you? He is the epitome of propriety. I requested (almost ordered) him to accompany me on this tour. And he agreed - without much fuss; even though neither cycling nor a getaway would have interested him. Hind sight makes me feel very guilty of having forced him to do this. Thanks Keshava.

However, he was late... after 10 minutes, a 2 rupee idea struck me. I called him to tell I would be on my way and he can join me on Kanakapura road later. The road immediately after Banashankari till some distance is as bad as any in Bengaluru. After getting past it - a smooth downhill of Kanakapura Road awaits you. The road is very inviting. Villages come, villages go, but the road remains the same - smooth and down hill. The down hill nature of the road is quite intoxicating. Speeds of 45Kmph is easily reached even on a mountain bike. But this is a loop. Any altitude lost has to be painfully regained ;-) That thought negates every element of 'high' reached rolling down.

Half an hour into on Kanakapura road, Keshava did join me. I transferred all the baggage (water, et all) on to him and continued light. Kanakapura road does not carry lot of traffic at this hour. That may be another reason to be on this road at this time. If we include this route on the way back in the opposite direction, then we will have double trouble of traffic and the incline. Lakes are plenty along the road. Apparently every village has one. Beyond Kagglipura, past the exit to Yogavana, we saw a beautiful sun rise. It was quite a while ago that I saw sun rise of any kind ;-) If you observe the photograph, you will see something missing. All the lotus flowers of this lake were apparently plucked away to be sold for Laxmi puja in Bengaluru. Irony. Isn't it? A verse I saw in Kemmannugundi written by Kuvempu comes to mind - "Araluva hoova katta koydu... Kaggatilani kaggalla mele..." Jist is - Why do people kill a flower by wringing its neck (while its still a bud) and place it on a cold black stone in a dark room (sanctum-sanctorum)? The flower is also a beautiful creation of Him and is it not worship if it were allowed to blossom in the plant it self? Any way, a villager on his way to get milk enlightened me about the lotus business. He seemed more worried that it was not 'he' who did the business.

We moved on. Counting down the kilometers left to reach Harohalli. Although it was still early in the morning for the Benglurians, life had started well in the villages. Hotels were open and were smelling of fresh breakfast - making me aware of my hunger. Alas, my pilot was happily riding a kilometer ahead of me carrying the bag with chocolates and water :-( Apparently he wanted to be ahead and look out for the Harohalli junction. Any way my hunger was well satisfied by a plate of tatte idli served with utmost hospitality. It was good that the push cart owner served them on plantain leaves. One week would be my guess about the time after the plate last saw detergent. The taste however was superlative, irrespective of my hunger.

The left turn at Harohalli bus stand is difficult to miss - so are the craters that soon follow. 10 minutes on the same road, and you will start appreciating the surface. The reason for the drastic change is pretty obvious. The good part (24kms stretch till Jigani) is built, perhaps recently, under 'Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojana'. I am impressed. Last year, I had seen a country road in Coorg built under the same scheme. While the roads in Coorg are known to vanish during rains, this one had survived two onslaughts of monsoon already. The bad part of the road was the responsibility of state government. Even the most apolitical of people can see the difference and hopefully attribute the shoddiness to the right person/family/ministry.

Surprisingly, the road continued to be downhill for some time. "Oops", I kept wondering "what am I getting into?". It seemed more altitude loss than I can (have to) regain later. Slowly the terrain became a healthy mix of ups and downs. The road was smooth and very inviting. There are few villages on the way and long with them... the curse of habitation - speed breakers. Why would one make such wonderful road and then kill all your pleasure by putting a speed breaker there. Anyway, 4-5 Kms into the road, came the first incline. I took it out with full gusto... "Cool, that was not bad." I thought. Then came another one, and another one. Promptly, the terrain turns downhill after every incline. Thank god for that. No matter how many times I have go past the Windsor-Manor incline, it does not prepare for these mild, slow and long inclines. Moreover, you dont know what's coming next... So you don't know if you should spend all your energy on this one or not.

The scenery is pretty... Not the Malnad kind. But this is the best you can get around Bengaluru. Too bad that best of the scenery was always on the right of the road - facing the sun. No Photos. Keshava promptly waited for me at the top of every incline to inquire if I needed water. How can I thank this guy enough? I knew it was getting pretty boring for him. The terrain repeated itself - mild incline, flat, some downhill... Until we reached Uraganadoddi. I remember reading that its gets steeper after this point. 8 Kms to Jigini. It was here, that pass showed 'who's the boss'. 2 Kms of adulterated incline. Just when you think it was over, the road unveils a bend beyond which there is one more climb - just as hard as the one you just proudly went past. I went to the largest of the five cogs and hoped I would never have to get down - I did not. At last, I saw Keshava at a distance. That should mean the end of the Uraganadoddi incline. Boy, was I not happy to see him? Finally I was on top of the climb - 4 pts (perhaps the same points given to a Cat 4 climb in the tour). I felt like a man... a man on the tour. Well, there is the Alps and the Pyrenees and here the Harohalli pass :-)) You can laugh at the comparison but doing this at least once will make you see the tour riders with a new found respect. I also realized that I am so not ready even for Nandi Hills ;-))

After the Uraganadoddi climb, there are a few more. But none as hard as the last one. In fact, the scenic quotient of the route drops considerably after that. We enter the semi-urban areas and its just one long way back to Bangalore. After about 27 Kms on the Harohalli-Jigini road, there is a left turn to be taken. This will lead us to the Bannerughatta road. Riding on these roads is more like a individual time trail (Again, you are free to laugh at the comparison). There is nothing much happening around you. Its only you, your bike and the road. Cars, buses, motor vehicles may overtake you. You may overtake a slow one... But all that doesn't matter. Its just you and your speed - and the damn speed breakers. The only interesting building is that of "Sarala Birla something". My first thought was - why would any body build such a grotesque piece of concrete. Well, then I realized....If you have that kind of money, why not? From far it looks like a.. like a... Its like nothing that has been built by humans before us, even in their most insane moments.

Then we paid Diwali visit to a friend's family in Bannerughatta, a gated community just outside of Bengaluru - called Himagiri Meadows ;-) My friend's Dad [Salutations to the man. An army man. He has been in combat, more than once, so that you and me can enjoy the freedom we so dearly cherish] was impressed that I had by then ticked 84Kms. I felt proud. But he brought me back to earth by asking "Is this the longest you have ridden?". However, he was quick to add words of encouragement. We disappointed the lady of the house by being strict vegetarians. She had planned sumptuous breakfast - involving eggs. We had Masala Dosas for the second breakfast of the day. After another 90 minutes of break, we headed back to the city. I took leave of my faithful lieutenant of the day at Hulimaavu.

Bangalore looked entirely different at noon. At, 5 in the morning, it a different set of businesses - newspapers, flowers, vegetables, milk, some hotels. At noon, its a different set - vehicle service, shopping malls. The roads were filled with people... where were they all going to? Strangely I was lost - even after knowing that in that part of Bengaluru, there are two outer ring roads. Grrrh! I went all the way back to Kanakapura road in search of the beautiful RV road. Again, have a hearty laugh it you wish.

By the time I reached home, I had ticked 108 Kms... my first century.


For the statisticians :

Date
: Nov 10, 2007 - Saturday
Splits:
0430-0515 - 14 Kms [Rajajinagara - Banashankari]
10 min wait for Keshava
0525-0650 - 28 Kms [Banashankari - Harohalli]
15 minute breakfast - tatte idli
0705-0850 - 27 Kms [Harohalli to Jigini]
0900-1000 - 15 Kms [Jigini to Himagiri Meadows via Bannerughatta]
Diwali wishes to a friend. Second breakfast ;-)
1120-1245 - 24 Kms [Himagiri meadows to Rajajinagara via Banashankari]

[*Distances as per Google Earth]


Total time: 8 hours 15 minutes
Total ride time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Total distance: 108 Kms

Updated with photos:

Keshava off his bike

Me on my bike

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nature of Questions

In English questions are segregated into who, when, where, how, what, which and why. There may be others, but they would be derivatives (negatives, plurals, pronouns, etc...) of these basic forms. The questions that arise in our minds (framed in which ever language) also fall into one of the above categories. If you notice, all of the above except "why" seek evidence. The answers to those questions lie in this physical world. It is there to be dug out by any body with enough perseverance and motivation.

The "why" alone fails to find an answer in physical evidence. The "why" therefore is very trouble some. Unlike other questions, the "why" does not have a single right answer. Some times, it only has answers without a right-wrong classification. There may be "why"s that have no answers (should I say no answers that we know of?).

The "why"s fall into 2 categories... its not the question that differentiates them, but the answers. Answers to one set of the questions lie deep inside our own mind. We can find them, if we introspect enough. The answers to the other set lies outside of us... (perhaps in another person's mind?). Such quests are bound to come back empty handed. The wise ones say that those answers can be sought by expanding one's consciousness to the entire universe (pretty tough thing to do).

For fear of not finding an answer (and thus losing sleep over it), some (or most) of us kill the "why" questions in our mind. We amuse ourselves by answering whole lot of "How"s and "What"s and call them discoveries or inventions.

World would be much better if every one were to ask more "why"s and seek their answers, help others to resolve their "why"s too. Wouldn't it?

Typical Whys?

(first category)
Why am I so happy?
Why do I get angry?
Why do I work?
Why do I like her?
Why did I just lie?
(second category)
Why is there misery in this world?
Why do people fight?
Why does a perfect theoretical solution (of love) not work?

The mother of all Whys?
Why do we exist?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tests and Results

The initial mould:
Our education system plays a very important role in how we perceive the world (and what it does to us). Unfortunately, at a very early stage, we are introduced to the concept of 'test'. This notoriously has two out comes - 'pass' and 'fail'. We are told a 'pass' result makes our teachers, parents and other relatives very happy. While a 'fail' result will bring humiliation, taunts. As a side effect, along with a 'fail' result we learn to lie to avoid social ill effects of being identified with the 'fail' result. This learning to lie is the first step towards systematic erosion of values. But that's another discussion.

As we grow, more differentiation was made in the the 'pass' result to bring about - third, second, first and distinction classes. Agreed - that the system is intended to identify (and there by train differently) the bright students. But the society continues to use this to judge the person in fields other than education too.

Real Life Tests:
After being through all these, we get into this world with the same notion of 'tests' and their 'results'. Real world tests do not have an objective result. They are merely subjective statements of behavior. I will give you an example (risking trivializing the concept): When we touch acidic solution with litmus paper, it turns red. We should not classify the result as 'pass' or 'fail'. The 'pass' or 'fail' depends on what you were looking for. Further, if the result was contrary to our liking, then who failed? Is it the acidic solution or us? That solution, no matter how many times, under how many different conditions we try, will still turn the litmus paper red. It is we who will finally change our 'expected behavior'.

Chemistry lab gives a very new way of looking at the tests. We subject a salt into so many tests. At each stage, we get closer and closer to the truth - knowing the salt better and better. We do not discard the salt itself at any stage. At the end of the whole exercise, we would have known the truth and hence we declare 'us' as pass - not the salt (even though it was the salt that went through the tests).

Life is an endless series of tests?
Contrary to popular belief, the real world is not full of tests. It is wrong to see it that way. Its another mistake to expect a pass/fail kind of result in every imaginary test. That only makes it harder when every moment of life is spent in preparation for the next test or brooding over the result of the previous one. I have known people who take every day commute as a test - happy when they reach office in 30 minutes, sad when it takes 40 minutes. There are others who necessarily believe that year-end appraisal is a true picture of one's performance. The rating (and the subsequent pay revision) gives them a sense of 'pass' or 'fail'. Most of us feel job interviews (both interviewers and interviewees) definitely have a 'pass' or a 'fail' result. An objective look at both cases makes the matter more clear. 1. One's commute time is 90% dependent on other people in traffic and only 10% on his own aggressiveness (not even skill). 2. Rating (and subsequent pay revision) only depends on how hard it is for the firm to live without you. Ask any HR (when they are drunk) and you will know. Either way there is little relation between one's ability and the perceived result. 3. Job interviews is just a compatibility test - open position challenges v/s your strengths, company culture v/s your nature, company vision v/s your ambition and lastly money. None of these have a pass or fail... then why attribute its success or failure to yourself?

If imagining yourself to be in endless series of tests was one end of the spectrum there are other kinds of people as well. At some stage, man's ego will grow to such heights that he starts pushing those around him into useless mind games and keeps score. I will let you imagine the repercussions of such acts.

Bottom Line:
Real life tests are very subjective. They do not have results. They are only meant to lead you closer to truth. Avoid labeling subjects of tests as 'fail' when the truth is inconvenient or as 'pass' if it matches your preconceived expectations. I feel incomplete if I do not quote from the second chapter of the Bhagavadgeeta - "Karmanye vadhiraste..."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mohandas Gandhi [1869 - eternity]

Any thing that is absolute and complete, never loses its relevance. Gandhi, in reality did not tell anything new. He only reiterated what was proposed by all proponents of absolute peace - Buddha, Yesu. Yes, I do not hesitate a minute to take Gandhi's name in the same breath as the other two. Every once in a while in history, there comes across a person who shows that 'means' are as much important the 'end'. Gandhi was one such person. Every year, around this time I come across people who criticize Gandhi for playing into the hands of the British, of delaying Indian Independence, of begging for Independence rather than snatching it from British, of causing the partition of the country and so on.

Here is how I see the issue. As a person trying to be as Gandhian as possible, I will not force you to accept it. You should reach your own conclusions.

+/ We always compare Gandhi's way of getting independence to something hypothetical. The revolutionary way of Bhagat Singh, Azad, Netaji et al, is equally commendable on the motive front. However, we have not seen any of them reach their conclusion. We can only extrapolate. India was split into pieces of princely states. Each one of them wanted the other to suffer rather than progress for his own state. In this situation, the common man had no way to source a successful revolution. The rich and powerful were never supported any sort of struggle (revolutionary or Gandhian) any way. They were happy maintaining status-quo (Rich grow richer, poor remain poor). That is partly responsible for the failure of Netaji (in spite of he making a deal with Japan and (regrettably) the fascist Germany) and other revolutionaries. In such an environment, 'morality' was the only wealth we had. And Non-Violence is the only way we could preserve it.

+/ A bloody revolution or total Ahimsa: They are 2 different ways of thinking... While the revolutionary way was tried before in other countries and in other times - the non-violent way was being used for the first time in modern history. Neither one of them helped the other. We should not pit one against the other. But if you have to, I can cite examples when revolutionaries played spoil sport - No-cooperation movement would not have to be with drawn if not for Chauri Chaura. Bhagat's case was not compromised by Gandhi. It was compromised by a so called 'revolutionary' - Jai Gopal who squealed after being tortured (?).

+/ Bhagat Singh's execution could not have been stopped by Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin pact achieved what it was intended to. Release all political prisoners, no tax on salt and other such immediate issues effecting entire India. It resulted in the release of thousands of political prisoners. The term 'political prisoner's was unequivocally uncompromisingly defined in international treaties. More over, Bhagat (and others) was incriminated for Saunder's murder. If it were only bombing the parliament, then they could have been included as 'political prisoner's. Moreover, knowing the nature of Bhagat, I doubt he would have liked if Gandhi (or anybody else) made a deal with the British for his life. That would greatly compromise Gandhi's high moral ground and also Bhagat's position as the torch bearer of revolutionary arrogance (in a good way). It is a 'what if' scenario in which people do not think the repercussions of 'what if not'.

+/ The Partition stigma: There are two kinds of attacks done often done on Gandhi:
1. Why partition? First of all, the effectiveness of hypothetical dream of undivided India is yet to be proven. The erstwhile USSR and other eastern European (erstwhile) countries show us that it is not a good idea for people with vastly different ideologies to live as one nation. Chechnya, Serbia, the LTTE in Srilanka, East Timor - all have taught us that once the seed of separatism is sown, its not easy to contain the daemon. Have you even considered what if the idea did backfire? A civil war is not what a newly born country with limited resources can afford. Don't believe me, ask any body in Afghanistan or Iraq. The other alternative to partition would have been the use of force - which would go against all that we stood for over a century. Partition unfortunately seemed to be THE only viable solution.

Side note:
At the same time, separatism is not an answer to all problems and partition is not the solution in every case. In today's context, the north-eastern part of our country is brewing with separatist movements. The reason this time is not religion. Its purely development. It is not the Central Government to blame. There have been 16 parliaments since independence and that region has had fair representation. They have to accept part of the blame for consistently sending corrupt representatives. On the other hand, force is not the option. We are now a sizable economic power. We can and should take splurge some money on the North East and make them feel that we care. Economic sustenance will shield them against brainwash and hence

2.Why did he not stop the killing of hindhus in Sindh? The counter question is 'why is it his responsibility?' Partition happened. Inevitable and till day, assumed to be irreversible. From that point of time, Gandhi lost his control over Pakistan. What happened there was to be treated as internal matters of a neighboring country and rightly so. It was a noble and holy decision to let people in India decide their own fate. Scores of Hindus (unfortunately brain washed by fanatics) believe that was a horrible decision and attribute all the source of violence in India to the Muslims left behind. Any Hindu worth his salt should question that decision because it was consistent with Hindu belief of non-violence, tolerance and 'love thy neighbor' philosophy. Gandhi advocated restraint and peace from both sides. As they say "An Idea is not responsible for actions of its believers". How can you blame Gandhi for people *NOT* following what he said? Or following his preachings conditionally? Once the killings happened in Punjab, you lose the moral right to question what happened in Sindh or Bengal. Revenge is an ugly human emotion... and knows not to be in proportion to what caused it.

Those Hindus who cry foul at letting Muslims stay here are the ones who never saw their livers change after partition. Those Hindus who came from Pakistan (thousands of Delhites) do not want anyone else (even muslims) go through the pains again. Its one thing to discuss partition at a coffee place after 60 years, and totally different to be part of it.

+/ You can always take individual statements made by Gandhi and misquote him. We have not lived in that era. Our knowledge about historical events, circumstances, things at stake while those 'statement's are made are limited. This weakness is often mis-used by fascists, fanatics to shed ugly light on Gandhi. I urge people to dig deeper to see where the opinion comes from and do their own research using neutral citations. No great man in history has ever escaped criticism (Yesu and Buddha inclusive). Why should I expect Gandhi to be any different? But criticism must be self researched, neutral and never argumentative. Sampling always dilutes the essence of the absolute. See Gandhi as a whole and not individual quotes - especially when you do not know the complete story.

+/ Finally a word about Ahimsa and Satyagraha are not signs of weakness. They are pillars of strength by themselves. Just imagine, a lanky Indian gentleman in his late seventies clad in 2 piece dhoti - taking on the greatest International power of the time, the British Empire. He did not hide behind a fort of body guards, neither did he ever hurl insults at his opponents. He did not raise his voice to be heard and yet reached out to an entire nation. The strength comes from the moral high ground that Gandhi achieved in the past 50 years of clean polity. That is the strength of purity. People tried to rob this asset from him by trying malign him - while he was alive and after that too. Gandhi did not concede an inch. Those who can not achieve that level of purity can only envy it. Satyagraha is simple. It is a firm belief that truth shall prevail and I shall not relent until it does. The strength of being on the side of truth that can only be experienced and not described in words. Also, the strength of Satyagraha is again its absoluteness.

Here's something I read about people finding faults

Gandhi preached Love and purity of thought. This enough to over come any adversary. When you go away from these principles (when you embrace hate, dishonesty and treachery), you give ammunition to your opponents. They may come in handy as short term ego satisfying solutions. But in the long run, Ahimsa, truth and love has never failed.

I shall up date more points when I get hate comments on this blog. I expect the objections to be on the following lines:

1. Misquoting Gandhi to show that he was pro Muslim.
2. Hypothetical alternative solutions to the grave problems of that time.
3. Gandhi should not have tried to influence politics in the country post independence.

If you have anything new, please let me know and give me time to respond. I have intentionally left out his contributions/stand to social and economical reform since they are not disputed even by the staunchest anti-Gandhi propagandists.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Perpetual Beta

This is the best description of the city of 'Bangalore'. We entered this mode (earlier we were in "why can't it be like this forever?" mode) approximately 7-8 years ago when construction of the first fly-overs of the city were taken up. Since then, you can not go from one point to another point in the city without having to take a 'detour' because of something being 'under-construction'. Then there is the never ending digging... along the road, across the road, some times criss-crossing too. Once the digging is done, we dig again.

Our city is famous for its 'one-way's. The 'one-way'ness is not new to civilizations elsewhere. Its a definite way to stream line traffic. But, our innovation is a paradigm shift by making them dynamic. Mark some streets as one-way only in peak hours. What constitutes as peak hour depends on the location - there is a office peak hour, school peak hour, cinema peak hour, night club peak hour... and so on. Then the next level of innovation is when let it be a 2-way street for only certain class of vehicles. How many time have we seen such boards - "Right Turn only for BMTC buses", "Cars and 2-Wheelers only", "No Entry for Auto-rickshaws"... Has any body stopped and wondered "Why?". We do not stop at that, 6 months into the one-way scheme, you realize that the road should be running the other way... and so reverse the one-way. Perhaps, we are the only city in the world to have a criss-cross junction on top of fly-over. To top that, we manage it without traffic lights. All in all, it must be said that driving in Bangalore expects (if not ensures) an above normal intelligence.

We call the speed breakers are 'humps'. These can be come in various sizes and shapes. Some of them are intentional, while most of them are badly covered up digging jobs [refer above to know about our favorite passion - digging]. The rule of thumb is that, if the road is devoid and pot holes for about 100 meters, then cars can reach dangerous killer break-neck speeds of 40 Kmph. Hence, we need humps (I challenge you to read the previous sentence without laughing). Oh, humps are a status symbol too. Every politician wants one outside his house - bigger the better. The latest innovation is when humps double up as pedestrian crossing. If the hump does not slow you down, may be knocking a few pedestrians will. There is a process we follow to ensure road safety. First we make the road. And then, we measure the danger of speeding (~50Kmph). If a person is brought to ER during a week's traffic, then there is enough danger to warrant a speed breaker. We immediately deploy one. The next day, 3 more will be admitted since there was absolutely no warning about it. Then a week later, we paint it in white stripes. From then, our road becomes totally safe for travel (~30Kmph). Lovely, aint it?

The latest buzz word is 'encroachment'. This is the seen by the establishment as root cause of all problems - traffic, sewage, crime, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies and what not. In reality, 'encroachment' is a process where the establishment lets a person have its share of bread. When the person makes a sandwich out of it, the all powerful establishment snatches it away. Its fighting immorality with immorality, hoping that two wrongs make it right... I could go on and on... Bottom line - you are never safe when you make the deal with the devil, for it is in its nature to double cross. In another totally unrelated development, the city has come forward to 'legalize' all 'illegal constructions' at a 'nominal' fee. All the words in quotes scare me. A slight extrapolation on any of those fronts - the results are horrendous.

Next set of complexity of living in Bangalore is that places and roads go by more than one name. Most Bangaloreans would not not be able to tell you where is Gen Thimmiah Road, Field Marshall Cariappa Road, Devaraj Urs Road. But they will be more than happy to tell you how to reach Richmond Road, Residency Road or Race Course Road which are the widely known names of the same roads. There is a building by name "Multi-Storey Building". And at least 5 roads that go by the name "Double Road", 2 junctions that are called "Bhashyam Circle". We have a 80ft and a 100ft road (yes, really they are the names). We have Kasturba (wife of Gandhi) Road that joins Mahatma Gandhi Road and Vittal Mallya (liquor baron) Road. Needless to point out that Mahatma Gandhi Road is has the most number of liquor joints. At the end of the day, amidst all confusions, our friendly neighborhood auto drivers will take you to your destinations any where in the city. No hazzles.

All this makes me feel as if we are guinea pigs. The establishment trying new the beta features to see if it works. They want us to be in a perpetual dream of an Utopian city. Well, however screwed up the present it, I am happy that the dream is still on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The ABC of Decision Making

I am not talking about the mundane "Should I fill gas today?" kind of decisions. I am talking about the big ones - "Nine months of labor or adoption?" kind of ones. There are scores of self help books (isn't it an oxymoron - if the book helps, then how is it self help?) written to help you make the right decision. Believe me - they are all useless. But they all exist because the problem with decision making is very real. I am reminded of this little sanskrit shloka (translation attached).
Everyone has to have his own formula to arrive at a comfortable decision. There is no 'one size fits all' formula... Here is what I think works for most of us. Shoot back with rebuttals and alternative paths.

A: Gather inputs/opinions from *all* directions.
Opinions come dime a dozen. Everyone has one. It is the one thing people are ready to give away for free. But who knows, one of them could open your mind into a whole new dimension of thinking. So listen carefully and deeply to everyone. To quote Jason Bourne - "Forget Nothing".

When I say 'all directions', *all* include family, friends, forums, strangers, your alter ego, supernatural powers and so on. For example: Taxi drivers can give excellent feed back on the handling of different makes of cars in city traffic. Your alter ego could stop you from doing anything immoral (according to standards set by your own sub-conscious). Listen to it sometimes.

The *all* excludes anybody who can use the situation against you ;-) duh. Never ask a policeman if it is a good idea to bury the murder weapon beneath the apple tree.

At the end of this phase, you will be more confused than when you began. That is good. It only means that you have found more options than you initially thought was possible. True stroke of genius always takes shape amongst chaos. So don't be afraid.

B: Scrutinize the above collected opinions/options/suggestions/advice
The data collection phase is now over. Its time to churn it to make sense. Now scrutinize every opinion you got. The key questions you have to ask are:

How credible is the source?
Unless you have extra-ordinary reasons to prove otherwise, your alter-ego and all supernatural powers fail this test. Promptly discard their suggestions. Its noise.
Secondly, if a person shies away from accountability and keeps saying 'ultimately its up to you', then you should see though him. On the other hand, if somebody gives you insight into their way of seeing the problem, and hence their way of arriving at the solution, he is more credible. People who can take criticism are generally more credible than those who can not. Stay away from believing a person if he makes blanket statements. We know that world is not in Black and White. Any solution based on such assumption, (in spite of being ideal) is bound to be impractical. Some comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. Some with pinch, and some with bag loads of them.

Relevance of the advice: Your father may give the best relationship advice. He is very credible and can be trusted to be your best well-wisher. Perhaps, not the best person to ask which college to join or which course to take. In all fairness, it is wrong to ask people for comments on subjects way out of time and interest.

Does the source have vested interest? This is a very key question we often fail to ask ourselves. You should never listen to a insurance agent who gives investment advice. He stands to gain or lose (a lot) when you decide one way or the other. Never ask for marital advice from your father in law ;-). You do not ask a salesman whether to go for 21" TV or a 42" one. It is usually the second layer of friends who can give the most objective suggestions. They are the ones who are emotionally involved, general well-wishers, frank enough to say "I don't know".

Weigh each opinion. Those suggestions that come from 'been there, done that' kind of people should carry more weight than hypothetical (guys who discuss global warming) answers. Obviously, your opinion carries the maximum weight - closely followed by other people whose lives are touched by your decision. Surprisingly, next in my list are that of total strangers. 1. They have no reason to hurt you. 2. Opinions given in a open forum are subject to extensive peer review and hence carry the credibility tag. 3. very helpful in getting a radically different approaches.

Hopefully at the end of these steps, you will be left with a handful of options that can be dealt in a definite order of priority. If they are still too many, you may have to dig deep into each one of them questioning/re-examining every statement.

C: What if analysis
Do a thorough 'what if' analysis on each of your options. Actually if you bother to think about 20 years ahead, it does not matter one bit if you chose this way or that. However, for the peace of mind during those 20 years its better to have some semblance of analysis to backup your decisions. The distance you have to account for in this phase depends on the gravity of the problem. A question like "To run the Mumbai marathon or not?" needs only 3 months of future to consider. A question like "Mainframe job in US or Research at IISc?" could have a 5 year horizon. If you think beyond that, you analysis runs the risk of invalidated by a geo-political event - a war or a deep recession or a unholy treaty ;-)

After all these, you decision *has* to pass through the final test of morality. The standards of morality has never been absolute. It varies from times to time, generation to generation, place to place and even person to person. Nevertheless, it is always better to live with regret of staying moral than the guilt of immorality.

Act. This is as important as coming to a decision. Once you have committed yourself to decision, you must see it through. If in doubt, then do a rerun of ABC without widening the scope. Remember, Not acting is a decision in itself. Hence there is no meaning in coming to a real decision and not acting.

The three 'R's: In sanskrit they say "kAlAya tasmai namaha" (salutations to the all powerful time). Only time can completely determine the fallouts of your decision. Year later, you will usually recall your decision in one of the following ways
Rejoice: You still think it was the best decision and your life is much more happier since then. This is the ideal place to be... Hopefully ABC should lead us there.
Regret: You are happy with the present scenario. But, feel you made a rash decision. Another option could have landed you in a better situation. This is the place where half the humanity currently exists. Everybody feels, they could have done better 'if only...'. However, the luxury of this hindsight is not there at the decision point. People must understand that it is OK to err, as long as they take the best decision possible with the information available at that instant. That is when they will move from Regret to Rejoice.
Repent: The decision has back-fired. Clearly one of A, B or C was overlooked. But that's not the end of the world. There is always another 'R' - Retry. Countries

Monday, August 27, 2007

We are sooo small...

(click to enlarge)

Every now and then man needs to remind himself of his real place in the grand scheme of nature.

On a lighter note, can you spot the cyclist passing under the tree? This tree is really huge!!!

Monday, August 06, 2007

When was the last time you saw a movie and became silent....

There are some movies that leave you spell bound. Very few. "Grave of the Fireflies" is definitely one among them. As one of the reviews on imdb said "It is the best movie you will never see again". The effect the movie has on the viewer is that strong.

It is the story of a brother (Seita) and a sister (Setsuko). Father is serving in Japanese Navy. They just lost their mother in an air-raid. No news about the whereabouts of the father yet. There are no surprises in the movie at all... Its just one boy's struggle to keep his sister and himself alive through the war.

I liked the movie at multiple levels:
It is a movie centered around the human cost of any war. Countries may win the war... But people always lose. For every Seita and Setsuko in Japan, there will be an Ann Frank in Europe. No matter who wins the war, people on both sides lose. This is unambiguous message from this movie.

In Setsuko, I saw a sister that I never had. She is such a lovable character. I would have done all (perhaps exactly all) that Seita did to keep her safe. Whether you have a sister or not, the love between Seita and Setsuko will touch any body.

Setsuko is oblivious to the war surrounding her, changing the course of her life... She shows how much love a child can offer when she inquires about Seita's well being after being beaten up. In fact, at that moment she needed the doctor more than Seita. She is an outstanding example of the collateral damage of the war. No matter how pure at heart you are, the hatred purported by warmongers can burn you down.

The animation - You may wonder why did they not do the movie with real people. The answer can be got in parts when you look at the expressions of Setsuko. Children can not act. You just have to create an environment where they would say the dialogs naturally... And it would bring tears to anyone to create an environment to get Setsuko's reactions.

Its a period movie. War movie. Set in Japan (Axes forces). Still it does not have any gruesome details of the war. The director is fully focused on the message of the movie and has not dramatized any where.

Must watch. At least once.

PS: There is one more war movie by the name "No man's Land". It also depicts that nobody "wins" against a war. But that was a movie about people who were involved in the war with (brainwashed) hatred towards the others.