Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Heartstrings. The word is meaningless unless you have a pacemaker. I always thought of it as one of those unnecessary words writers make up – until I heard that voice yesterday.

It was the sing-song of her typical Kumaoni way of speaking that made me smile. It was the sound of simplicity, of an unhurried, uncomplicated life. It was the sound of home. I did not ask her name, but I did will her to speak some more. She did, asking the price of the bhindi, and asking why the beans weren’t fresh. I then caught the shopkeeper staring at me and I realized I was staring at the cabbage with a big smile plastered on my face. He looked carefully at the cabbage and then back at me.

I was at a vegetable store in Bhimtal, headed back home after many more days than were

road-neo
The road home.

necessary. And hearing the lyrical Kumaoni lilt of her voice triggered a joyful jangle inside me that I could almost physically hear. It was like some latent thing inside me was suddenly awakened, resonating with the music of beautiful memories. And suddenly “heartstrings” made perfect sense.

 

Maybe 38 days in the land of pubs, imported custom kitchens and business conversations was too much. Maybe it was just the knowledge that many of the meals I had with friends in the city cost more than a month’s salary for my friends in the village. Maybe the fast-talking, deal seeking “fame, success, money” types were just way too much work for my rustic soul. I pined for the land where speedpost takes 5 days, and no other courier works. A place where it isn’t strange to sit and have tea and a conversation with the postman when he brings your mail.

I missed the land of rustic familiarity. And the woman’s beautiful Kumaoni song-voice started the journey of my return, triggering the feeling of being back home. Everyone along way was a friend.  After the vegetable store my next stop was the grocery store in Bhowali – the man there asked me about my prolonged absence. I then drove further on, and at one point crossed my contractor and architect headed in the opposite direction. We both stopped our cars, stepped out, shook hands, and talked briefly. They weren’t just helping me build my new home, but we shared a strange kinship. Like we were the few that knew the secret of the mountains.

I remember the look of envy on the faces of city people who see pictures of my home. And a few lines form in my head:

You chose the huge car, the massive house

Take pleasure in that hi-tech Bluetooth mouse

Why then, the Famous Grouse?

Village folks along the way ask for a lift. I give a ride to everybody who asks till my car is full. As I chat with them, I can feel the city with its 100 rupee teacups slowly peel off me and fall away like unwanted dead skin.

I feel new again. And I wonder, why did I ever leave?

Tha above video is the dawn I came back to.

The Kumaoni Luggage Cart

The Kumaoni Luggage Cart

Kumaon doesn’t have an airport, ergo the Kumaoni Luggage cart doesn’t exist. So how come this topic? Well, Harry Potter doesn’t exist either, so humor me for 380 more words.

In another era as a busy corporate type, I traveled the world a bit. From my travel’s I realized that there is a lot you can learn about a place from its luggage carts. Yes, those boring metal things that float around at airports.

Take Paris – it has the nicest looking luggage carts, except they don’t really work very well. Go to Frankfurt airport – Germany – and you will come across wart-hog ugly carts that look like they were created by battletank designers. But then you see them on an escalator

baggage-cart-chicago
Typical US Luggage cart

– yes, on an escalator – and you realize why they are a marvel of design. Load up a German cart with luggage and walk right onto an escalator – up or down doesn’t matter – and the cart easily gets onto the escalator without a single piece of luggage falling off. And then rolls off effortlessly at the other end (This video is from Geneva, but you get the idea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIVvYekG2nQ  .)  Go to the USA and you will find rather basic luggage carts that carry cheerful messages welcoming you – along with advertising panels selling stuff. And you have to pay to use the cart, of course. Credit cards welcome. Amsterdam has probably the most classy looking snub nosed little carts. Back home in India, our carts don’t move when you push them. Then you realize that you have to press down on the bar. Once the pressure is on we – and the carts – work just fine. Although the occasional squeak is par for the course.

This whole thing got me thinking about what a Kumaoni luggage cart would be like. In my mind’s eye I imagine something rather old world – probably made out of dark wood. The Kumaoni cart isn’t fast, but people would hand you the cart with a smile, and chat with you for a bit in a sing-song pahadi lilt. The cart will have a small flower vase built in with some fragrant flowers. Maybe a little bird-house as well. No cupholder, though. In Kumaon we sit and drink our tea. What’s the rush? The Kumaoni Luggage cart moves at a comfortable, relaxed pace. It would still get you there, but would make you wonder about the point of travelling anywhere else from here.

Yup, that is about how I imagine a Kumaoni luggage cart.

P.s. The guy who wrote this post also hosts and organizes the Himalayan Writing Retreats – mostly in Kumaon. You can learn more at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.

A new baby at 45.

A new baby at 45.

Moving to the mountains was easy. Figuring out what to do here was harder.

The clichéd “make your hobby your profession” was exciting but also scary. unknown. I love writing. It can be mind-numbing and frustrating. But getting even a fragment right – what Mark Twain calls “a glittering paragraph” or the “luminous flash of a single sentence” can be its own reward.

So in July I got the zany idea to host a writing retreat. The “Himalayan Writing Retreat” sounded so cool. I knew of aspiring authors stuck somewhere along the way.  I had been one myself before Bokaro Jail*. I started with no curriculum, no product, no material. But a fabulous venue (a friend’s house) was a great start. I asked my old pal Roy Abraham, a multi-award winning copywriter, for help. The two brains started firing and the product evolved. Roy came up with some brilliant communication, including videos.

On August 15 we hung out the shingle. And village Satoli at 6000 ft welcomed six brave

img_9951
Intense. Absorbed.

souls. With one American, one Brit & one Kathmandu resident, and the oldest participant touching seventy, boredom didn’t have a chance.

A forest walk and bonfire were a great warm-up. The next three days were a mix of fun discussions, writing exercises, publishing industry analysis. We ended with committing to a “book writing plan” to get our books going, if not done.

Along the way we laughed a lot : often at irreverent quotes like “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own

shin-bone.” We went for forest walks to meadows and streams. We hung around the fire,

img_9969
New friends.

we made new friends. I feel truly enriched with new writing wisdom – as much from the preparation as from the rich discussions with the witty, bright participants. I think I am now a better writer with the discipline to get my book done faster.

 

The participants echo that. The overall participant feedback score was 3.7 on 4 – cool for a first effort. Many great suggestions from them will benefit future participants.

Well-wishers helped in many different ways. Kiruba Shankar with brilliant advice, Arvindji and Mita Kapur with industry insights. Tim Sebastian helped by pushing the

retreat at the awesome iHeart café, Gagan by clicking great pictures, Annanya by putting up posters, and of course Ashish Arora by providing bread, muffins and free publicity. Topping the list was

roy
The man (Ladies, Roys the man. And he’s single)

Roy for, well, everything. And innumerable friends who spread the word and told potential attendees about the retreat.

 

The Himalayan Writing Retreat will now grow into a series of events to help writers across genres with many different interests. Specialist facilitators like Mariam Karim Ahlawat (an award winning  writer of plays and fiction for Kids and Adults) will enrich it even more. And Dr. Vandita Dubey (a clinical psychologist and published author) will help participants with techniques such as mindfulness to focus better and get more creative insights.

For this new journey we also have a shiny new website www.himalayanwritingretreat.com . It’s a new journey with many unknowns. Wish me luck.

*This blogger was incarcerated in Bokaro jail for a month in 2013 which is when he wrote his first book “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” which was published by Penguin. Since then he has relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas, and the fun stuff he does besides writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

GOVT : “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology” and other delights

GOVT : “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology” and other delights

No country spares the English Language, not even America where people often drink a bunch of water, and kids and criminals alike “ain’t done nothin”. But given that India is a melting pot of a few score nations, we’re far ahead.  With our blenders we can grind our way to happiness (see pic above). We have petrol pumps named “Siddharth Feeling Station” (of which, unfortunately, I could not get a picture) and so on.

img_20160701_084704The government itself can rename and re-spell legends – probably hoping to throw off  google maps.

 

 

 

 

dscn4265We all recognize and appreciate the value of Government education, so this dude called his “Education Institute” (unclear exactly what they do) G.O.V.T. –  “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology”

 

img_20160704_172932When we marry a fitness band to Mountain Dew (how appropriate) this is what we get. Darr ke aage Kuljeet hai.

 

 

 

 

img_20160731_115530We have gender-based AA messaging : we exclusively tell old women not to drink alcohol.

 

 

 

img_20151025_110331Our KFC stands for the Kapkot Food Court, which serves fish 24X7.

Kapkot is an obscure village in the middle of Kumaoni nowhere, which is even more nowhere than regular nowhere.

 

 

img_20160809_103601_hdrAnd finally, the guy who runs the Ojaswi Himalayan Resort did not find a word good enough to describe his place in the English Dictionary so he invented one : Butiane. That is Butane with an “I” in the middle i.e. an ego surrounded by gas.

 

Cheers!

Elon Musk, Success, and bad poetry

Elon Musk, Success, and bad poetry

I think Elon Musk is very cool. Not just because his name sounds like an expensive cologne, or because he has only taken 2 weeks of vacation in the past 10 years. And certainly not because he is rich. That even the Ambanis and Trump are.

He is cool because he pursues his passion with everything, and puts his money where his mouth is. It is not everyone who at 31 earns 180 million dollars – mainly from selling his business (Paypal), and then starts two hugely dreamy, hugely dicey businesses : one to make battery powered, self-driven cars, and the other to make reusable rockets. And he then invests so much in his dreams that he has to mortgage his house after the 180 million were consumed.

Fundamentally he is trying to change the world for the better – make it safer and eco-friendlier and expand human horizons.

I can see many great examples of similar, driven individuals around me – whether it be Ramya with Centa-TPO or Jo & Ramakant with Touchkin or Kavita with Adhyayan. Each of them, in their own way, is trying to change the status quo and make a difference.

When I look at such people it invariably makes me wonder – what am I doing? How am I changing my world?

And my answers are much smaller. Sure, I am helping a few individuals become better writers and published authors. And a few of my consulting clients succeed in their start-up ventures / businesses. And one day I will write my Magnum Opus. But something else has changed that makes me feel “successful”.

To explain my success, I have to rewind to 2014. Back then I was never home. I used to work long hours, travel a lot, and even when home I used to spend a lot of time on the phone or on the computer. But I wasn’t changing the world. I was just earning an income and paying EMIs. My kids missed me a bit when I was gone, but not much. They were largely indifferent to my presence or absence as I was hardly ever there anyway.

Then last week I left home for a 4 day work trip to Chennai from here (Satkhol Village).

My wife called and said my son A was feeling really sad. But he said he felt better by remembering some lines of a poem he recently learnt.

“Prithvi Kehti Dhairya na chodo, jitna bhi ho sar par bhar.”

(The earth says don’t lose hope, whatever be the pressures on your head.)

Evidently that made him feel better. Sniffle. She also said that when I travel my daughter R counts down the number of days to my return.

So while I am not changing the whole wide world, I have changed something in theirs – and mine – and that sure is satisfying.

When I get very emotional and soggy eyed I write poetry. I think I am a terrible poet, and my poetry should be banned, but since this is my blog I will burden you with some of it. Although it might be in your interest to sign off here.

(Title here)

The first card – Gold. Then Platinum. Titanium.

From what precious metal will the next rung come?

The carrot. The bait? the next level will entice

We dutifully pursue it. That is our choice.

 

Wharton. Kellogg. Stanford. Yale.

Same version of the exact same tale.

Economy Class. Business. First. Private jet.

No, that isn’t the end of it yet.

Full price from Nordstrom? Or cheap end of season sale?

Will tell your worth – that one small tale.

 

We bow to the scale, the glitter measure.

A few pursue a different treasure.

How many smiles from the little child?

How many sunsets in the wild?

How many deep green miles did we walk?

How much more silence? How much less talk?

Give up the abject slavery of time.

Enjoy writing poems that barely rhyme.

Go from Titanium to home-baked bread.

Fight the glitter tongues in our heads.

 

Then he turns up and looks down his nose

At all my choices – school, car, clothes

Retiree. Slacker. Runaway. The label.

How about Real? Conscious? Able?

 

My friend, if your choices I don’t grudge

Don’t wield your gavel. Don’t be my judge.

You won’t get it, I can’t explain

birdsong can’t enter the pressurized plane.

The attempt to explain my belief is futile

Can you hear your footsteps in the carpeted aisle?

(Dont tell me I didnt warn you)

 

*The guy who wrote this post, along with his friend Roy Abraham are hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat next month at a gorgeous Himalayan locale. He thinks he can help people write books (Can you believe that? Thank god for Roy!). You can learn more at https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .

Us Vs Them : The Selfie Stick divide

Us Vs Them : The Selfie Stick divide

It makes people argue, revile each other, demonstrate extreme intolerance, and sometimes resort to violence. The world seems split by it. No, not religion. I am talking about a much more rational divide – the selfie stick.

You either hate it or you love it. Spiritually an atheist, in this case I naturally gravitated to the anti-selfie stick side.

I know people who own the mechanical misery, and some are alright. They probably see me as this otherwise normal guy who – strangely – hates selfie sticks (SSs).

And while normal, I can’t wrap my head around owning one. Even when I was heading out for a long motorcycle ride alone through remote Himalayan countryside (see https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/ladki-beautiful-kar-gayi-chull-at-15300-ft/ ) I refused to buy one. I asked my community of fellow mountain-dwellers if I could borrow one (strangely, that was okay). Nobody in these parts had one so I made do without it.

This strong dislike needed more clarity. I could feel it but couldn’t explain it. I reached out to fellow SS haters, and asked them to explain their dislike for the Vexatious Wand.  The responses ranged in vehemence, eloquence and cuss-words. Kamal described it’s use as “This stupid obsession to capture everything with one’s faces front and center, or in an “artistic” corner of the frame”. My brother Vikram called the SS the “staff of Narcissus” and it’s users ugly. A grudgingly tolerant Roy Abraham* said “If humans, who are clearly still very work in progress creatures in terms of evolution, need the crutches of a selfie stick to celebrate life or themselves, I’d say let them have it. Even if they appear a tad stupid holding it.”

But my friend Bret Waters was the one who nailed it. “It’s selfies that I hate.” He wrote “We live in a world of narcissists. The dictionary defines narcissism as “excessive interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance”, and I’m pretty sure that taking pictures of oneself all day fits that description. The camera is meant to be pointed outward, capturing the amazing world around us. Spending the entire day with the camera pointed the other way is psychotic. Selfie sticks are simply an extension of this (pun intended). I hate the fact that if you go to any tourist attraction today people are not soaking up the natural and cultural monuments around them, they’re focused on using their selfie sticks to capture images of themselves. It’s bizarre. E.g.  Yesterday we were at Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial in Central Park in NYC. Instead of treating it as a memorial to quietly reflect, people were swarming all over it, adjusting their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves. It’s weird, and it’s disrespectful.”

I saw the light. It made perfect sense that none of my uncity neighbours have an SS. No narcissist would choose to live 50 miles from the nearest half-decent salon or beautician or mall. Although I know this avid trekker – city girl – who always gets her eyebrows done before a trek. Go figure.

Now, I am mostly pretty accepting of personal freedoms. Using the SS is a personal decision. Of course there are arguments to be made in favour of users of the Pitiful Pole. Maybe the users are just super self-sufficient or fiercely independent. Maybe they are natural-born historians who like to chronicle everything visually and the Blasted Bestiality helps. Or certain situations – say paragliding – demand its use.

Whatever.

I still don’t like it. And if I see you use one, my instinct might be to ding you on the head with it. After all, I am not the Pope. Not of any organized religion, anyway.

*The guy who wrote this post, along with his more tolerant friend Roy Abraham are hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat next month at a gorgeous Himalayan locale. It is a selfie-stick free event. You can learn more at https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .

Comfort in the Box

Comfort in the Box

Contributor : Lakshmi Anantnarayan

 

Fold the cardboard

Nail the sides of the crate

Make sure it’s sturdy

It won’t fall apart will it?

Use the thick marker

Is the paper water proof?

Laminate it so it will prevail

Let the font be bold

God forbid it be mistaken

For something else

Stick the label on top.

Open the lid

Climb right inside

Crawl into the little bed

You made for yourself

Stocked up on your essentials?

Now seal it tightly shut

And be safe

That this box

Your box

It is the best one yet.

 

About the poet : Lakshmi Anantnarayan describes herself as “just a 40 something person learning to feel happy taking pictures and scribbling I guess”.  We would like to add that she does much more and, amongst other things,  is an excellent photographer. You can learn more about her and her work  at https://storygarage.org/about/people-contact/ and read more of her prolific “scribblings” at https://oldbrownshoes.wordpress.com/ .

Breaking the City Habit

Breaking the City Habit

(First Uncity post – reblogged. Update at the end.)

Cities threaten us – with pollution, with traffic, with papers full of crime. We are even threatened by the number of classes the neighbour’s kid goes to “Music, soccer, cursive writing and Tuition!!” you say to her with a gritty smile “Wow!”.

We forget the simplicity of our own childhoods. The big green trees, the vast abundance of time, the easy conversations. The time when vacations lasted months – not the “long weekend” which is invariably too short. We forget a time with a lot of time.

We think the city habit is a necessity. And breaking habits is hard, so we adapt. We make financial plans, and factor in “quality of life” as one line item. To achieve this quality of life we then work long hours and weekends, otherwise we risk missing that increment, that EMI.  And we give that small inner child seeking open green spaces the lollipop of a “park facing” house.

I lived this very life for many years. But something never felt quite right. Many things about our city life – the ironies and absurdity – bothered me. But when my six year old son started wheezing and the doctor and some friends said it was pretty common in city children, we were forced to relook at our priorities. In Goa, Chail, even Allahabad my boy breathed clean as a whistle – but he choked up the moment he entered the city.

It wasn’t him. It was the city air.

And I didn’t think any city or career was worth putting my little boy on medication.

So after 20 years of corporate urban life we decided to leave the city. My wife had wanted to move to a simpler life in a greener nicer place for years. But quitting the rat race can be hard if you’re married to a rat.

We started our search in the spring of 2014. We both knew we wanted to live in the Himalayas. After a year of travel and research, we packed our bags and moved to the Kumaon Himalayas in March 2015. We chose that area because we liked a school there.

We moved tentatively – unsure how long we would stay. We rented a place instead of buying or building. I quit my city job but switched to consulting so I continued to work remotely. We rented out our city house – so we could go back if needed. We weren’t far from Delhi – an overnight train journey.

The move was a big change for everybody. A family of four, it would have to work for each one of us. The biggest change was for the kids. They had moved from a massive urban English medium school to a tiny rural Hindi-medium one. My wife – a US licensed psychologist – moved her practice to phone & Skype and – surprisingly – still retained half her clients. She published her first book, and has even added new clients after moving here – and now does dedicated therapy retreats where people work with her one-on-one in these serene surroundings (curious? www.vanditadubey.com).

Since the move life has become simpler. Easier. Our house faces the mother of all parks.  We get milk from cows, not plastic packets. OurIMG-20150406-WA0001

View from our park-facing house

neighbour has five cows, and my daughter – a newly discovered naturalist – knows each one personally. No milk-enhancing injections or funny fodder here. And the milk is so fresh it’s still warm when it reaches us. Vegetables and fruits are often plucked from the local farms and orchards. We don’t need RO Filters. TV’s are few, and watched lesser, so people talk more. And the few TVs around look like TVs – not like king size beds tacked to a wall.

“Throughput” in management speak “has gone down”. We earn less (money). We spend less (money). But we have a lot more time. We go for long walks and explore the mountains around our house. I play a lot more with my kids. Badminton, Monopoly – whatever. Last October we completed our first trek as a family.  My son, now 8, walked 30 km over 3 days – up and down mountains – without any problem. My daughter rode a mule – and developed a relationship with it. She now wants one to ride to school everyday.

We have rediscovered living in a community. We share food with our neighbours. We celebrate festivals together. We reach out to neighbours when we need help.  Credit cards are not accepted, but people extend credit because they know you.

My kids don’t go to any classes or tuition. They enjoy school, and live without pressure. They learn much from nature – and from an awesome science teacher in their school. Their curiosity is alive and well, and with the internet available (yup – we have broadband!) – in a controlled manner – they have access to learning beyond what the school offers. And we have time for them.

We don’t fear crime or traffic. We often leave our doors unlocked. The kids – 7 & 8 years old – walk to their friends’ houses without any adult, and sometimes the 3 km to their school. Sure, we have to deal with the occasional scorpion. And keep our dogs safe from leopards. But the threats here are fewer and less vicious than those in the city.

We do miss a few city things. Eating out is a big rarity – the nearest restaurant is a 40 minute drive, and the next one is 80. We cannot order Pizza – or anything else, for that matter. Provisions and choices are fewer. The pace is slower. Some city visitors – those that sync their calendars on their ultrabooks, ipads and mobiles – ask us “But what do you do here?”

Everything has not gone perfectly. Our son took a while to settle in. Initially he missed his school, and his old friends, and felt like an outsider. My travel was rather gruelling – 10 days a month can feel a lot more than one-third. And sometimes the lack of urban options and choices does irritate.

But all things considered, we love our new life. It has been a year now, and I don’t think we are going back. Sure, the city offers some good things. But they are no match for the many great things we have discovered away from it.

(Update August 2016 : We have been here 17 months now, and did the six day Pindari trek in May. A new restaurant opened close by. We sold the city house and are building one here. I am reducing travel and am trying to do more stuff locally – like the Himalayan Writing Retreat – https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ . And we’ve started baking our own bread and thin crust pizzas.)

Writing is Easy. Yeah right !

Writing is Easy. Yeah right !

It is a pleasant afternoon. We have those often in the Himalayas. I sit down to write.

My wife – a psychologist and mentor – is on the phone coaching a counsellor about something that sounds rather juicy. She notices my attentive eavesdropping and leaves the room. I turn back to writing.

I am short of my daily target of words to finish my novel. Yesterday, the words just flowed. Not today. A Facebook alert pops up on my screen. I stare at the intrusion. A reflective brain thinks but a reflexive finger clicks faster. Almost subconsciously, I am chatting with some obscure acquaintance. I learn that her daughter has colored her hair blue. And she wants a place in the mountains. But with a/c – mainly for her heat sensitive pet. At 6200 ft, I don’t even have fans in my house. I end the chat.

I scroll Fb. Brexit update. So now EU sounds like Ewww? See the cute puppies video. Get the latest Trump news – what’s wrong with America? See Dipa Karmakar’s vault – again. Indian sports history will remember her posterior for posterity. What a touching moment. “Mat finish” says one part of my mind. “No empathy” says another. Sigh!  Politics and Religious fundamentalism bait me into pointless rants. Full of wisdom, I resist and shutdown Fb.

Bloody time thief.

Alone, I focus.  Still no words.

I think of creative ways to unblock. Vaastu? I turn my chair to face south instead of west south west. The vacuum continues. I put on a hat – maybe that will focus the thoughts. Nah. I put on my full-face motorcycling helmet. Still nothing.

Maybe a cup of tea will help?

I put the electric kettle on. The power fails. “Should’ve picked a village with full power backup.” I chuckle and grumble.

I transfer the water to a pan and set it on the gas stove. Waiting for the water to boil I vacantly look outside. The kids have left a bike out, and it is cloudy. Might rain.

Still helmeted, I step out and move the bike to the store. Our store has two rooms. I have intended to make one into a writing room for a long time, to stay away from the IMG_20160818_090153distractions in the house. I look around at the mess and see some books that I was intending to give away. I set the bike down, pick up one of the books and leaf through it. Turning the fourth page I find a royalty cheque of 46 rupees from my first book. It is dated January. Sheesh, what a waste! I wish I was better organized.

Just then Munni – who thinks I am goofy anyway – walks in and asks why an empty pan is on the gas. She sees me in my helmet and runs away. I run after her – but to the kitchen. The steel pan looks like a rainbow on steroids, with colors ranging from rosy pink to burnt black.

I kill the flame, remove the helmet, and step out to find Munni peering at me from behind a tree. Non-chalantly, I ask her to make me some tea. I return to my writing and take a deep breath. Just then the door opens – both my kids are back from school …

(As a full-time writer, I know writing is hard. Starting a book is daunting. Keeping it going even more so. Daunting enough to ignore, avoid, not put on to-do lists. Or only put on to-do lists.

That is why my friend  Roy and I are doing the writing retreat. We understand. We hope the retreat will keep you – and us – on track and fill the world with more high-quality books.

To learn more about the retreat check out https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .)

Ladki beautiful kar gayi chull. At 15300 ft.

Ladki beautiful kar gayi chull. At 15300 ft.

Border Roads became the bro of the nation. Punjabi’s danced at Kunzum pass. Broken bridges simulated Bokaro Jail*. And gaddi shepherds fed me handmade rotis better than any restaurant. Many people have asked to see pictures and hear the stories, so here goes.

IMG_20160623_120908 A
My nation has a bro. Cool.

The trip started with trouble at Dehradun railway station where I disembarked at 5 a.m. along with my bike, but the bike was handed to me by Indian railways only at 9. Two days of mountain riding (some through rain) brought me to Sangla where I stayed 2 nights at Banjara before heading out for the next night halt at the Dhankar monastery guest house – a good choice. Spiti took my breath away again, even though this was my 6th visit.

The next night was a lot more fun as I camped outside Lossar village by the riverbed. Brushing my teeth in fresh snowmelt left my teeth and hands frozen. The next morning I rode up to Kunzum pass – the highest part of my ride at 15,300 feet. I remembered it as a serene, quiet place but reached there to find a Swift with a PB number plate, its doors open and the stereo blaring “Ladki beautiful kar gayi chull”. Two couples were dancing and shooting videos of each other to the loud music in front of the Buddhist Stupa’s advocating peace and oneness. I left quickly.

My next stop was Chandratal, a magical lake at an altitude of 14100 feet. Thankfully, one cannot drive upto the actual lake – a half km walk is required, which takes you to the “beach”. But a walk around the lake convinced me that the nicest part of the lake was the less accessible far end, and it was worth camping a night there. As I headed back to the bike to fetch my camping gear a bunch of 20-something bikers reminded me that I had left my keys on my bike – uncity state of mind, I guess. They also called me uncle (inward cringe).

DSCN3994Magical is the only word to describe Chandratal. Local Spitian women turned up and started singing folk songs and dancing. It was better than anything man could ever manufacture. For starters, where would you find a concert hall like that? To see a glimpse and hear them, click on this link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hQIigKg2NA

Later that evening a pair of gaddi shepherds invited me to eat with them at their “dera”. It had taken them one month to walk up from Kangra and setup their dera at the lake, and would take them another month to walk back. That evening helped me appreciate the amazing skills they possess. They recognize each of the 550 sheep/goats they were herding. Their travel pattern made them fluent in three languages (hindi, gaddi, punjabi) and a smattering of some others. And they cooked everything themselves in goat butter. The food was brilliant. For a peek inside their dera, click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yDEaOXWdWQ

Their dwelling in a half-underground hut made perfect sense in windy Chandratal. I also learnt not to leave my floaters outside the main door because all their dirty water and waste is thrown out that door. I walked back to my tent in wet feet smelling of goat fat.

From Chandratal I had three options for my return. I could go back via Rohtang (which I abhor), or go via Ladakh (which I find overdone and oversold). The third option was to go via Pangi valley and Saach pass, which was only a trekking route till a decade ago.

I decided on the Pangi route, and once I entered the valley I really liked it, so I started praying that the road be really bad up ahead. You see, the worse the roads, the fewer the tourists. My wish came so true that my brain was happier than my posterior.

The first night on the Pangi stretch was spent in Udaipur which was big on the map but turned out to be a one mule town where a decent room was hard to come by. The next morning I set out for Killar, the base town to the pass, and it started raining. 31 km into the ride a car coming the opposite way stopped me and told me the bridge ahead was blocked.

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Had to cross over this makeshift Jugaad at the broken bridge.

I turned back 11 km and found a PWD guesthouse at a village called Tindi.

I was stuck in Tindi. No control over when I could leave. No one to talk to except some friendly villagers. No connectivity. Food was basic at best – I was eating a lot of my camping food as the guest house offered nothing – not even chai.

Tindi Village was the simulation Bokaro jail* writing retreat for me. This is where I did the maximum writing. After two days I finally got news that the bridge had opened and I rushed across it – and that was scary in its own right. To see a video of the raging river this bridge was over click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kJVtmQacns

After a night at Killar I rode across the Saach pass the next morning – a gorgeously beautiful place – over a rough hewn surface (allegedly a road) in places flanked by 10 feet ice walls.

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Just short of Saach pass

This road is often listed amongst the “most treacherous” in India.  Ended the long day in a place called Banikhet, which conjured the image of playboy bunnies running around a himachali field. The return was just riding through flat boring plains, the high point being paneer toast at Prakash Coffee House in sadar bazar, Ambala cantt.

Loved every minute of it. Glad I did it (and for a wife who lets me do these crazy things)!!

*This blogger was incarcerated in Bokaro jail for a month in 2013 which is when he wrote his first book “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” which was published by Penguin. Since then he has relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas, and the fun stuff he does besides writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .