Feb 11, 2016

How a City-bred Turned Into a Trekker—A Narcissistic trip

Given my well-broadcast lineage to Uttarakhand hills, through writings and verbal diarrhea that may border on regional chauvinism, it is natural for my friends, and co-trekkers, to believe that I was born and brought up in the hills. How else such adaptability to cold climate or rabble-walking could come from, they have wondered aloud many a time.

I’m afraid I have to belie their scrutiny. If being born, studying or working one’s life were a parameter, I would be a true-blue Delhiite. I am in love with this ancient city and its chronicled history as much as its modern makeover and recent regime changes (Kejriwal, for instance). Yet, I do regret sometimes that I did not study at some non-descript school in Kumaon hinterland or could not become a part of Nainital theatre group. Small towns have their own charms, also challenges.

So, how did I take up to trekking as if it were in my bones? Was it a search for my roots that took me to highlands in Uttarakhand off and on? Or was it plain masochism? I do not know the answer but here go the facts.

From as far back as I can recall, my first informal trek came when I was a college student in late 1980s. This was my first “conscious” trip to my native land, prompted by my father's insistence. A temple for Goddess Kali was being built at a sacred hilltop about four-five km from our ancestral house and each twig of our family tree was funding the cost, besides what can loosely be called kaar-seva (a term for physical service to religious deeds, made famous by Golden Temple disaster).

I am not a religious person (save for the times when I am in deep shit) but since I had a thing for my father, I obliged. College was off for summer vacations and it made sense to cool one's heels at the Shivalik range that nested my village.

In the sweltering Delhi, when I told my friends that I was off to a Ranikhet-Corbett jaunt, which was not untrue since my village is spot in the middle of these two summer getaways, there was a tinge of envy in their eyes. Little did then I know that the village life was going to be a punch on my nose. The first morning, I realised there was no private place to relieve oneself for morning ablution. On inquiry, I was handed a mug of water and asked to find a suitable place in the step-farms to let off the pressure. My choice of place had a couple of neighbors in splits (I will spare you the funny details).

I went light on food thereto, which was not difficult since I found the servings UNAPPETISING. Milk tasted thicker, and smelly. Chapatis (sorry, rotis) were too thick for my liking and chilies in the vegetables brought tears to my eyes.

The worst part was public humiliation. Everyone seemed to be taking pleasure in the plight of my city-bred weaknesses. Though I never complained about the food or the chores, my discomfort was not hidden. Yet, there was little empathy. I found those men and women cruel initially. As days wore on, I realised the Pahari way to deal with trials – adapt and laugh over the cynics.

I had barely got used to this Pahari way when a harder drill arrived. The migrants were pouring in home from different parts of the country to contribute to the temple-building (a sheer waste of money and labour, I still believe) and they needed young men to carry the load from the main road bus stop to their houses at the village, a bit uphill. I was pressed into service, like other village bums, each time the twice-a-day bus arrived. Thankfully, I would always be given the lighter bags to carry. Twice a day of walking down and up wasn't my idea of a summer vacation, but I held fort. My frustration was often let off at poor little pets coming my way. As the village was a small place, I soon earned myself the reputation of a rogue who wrings the tails of innocent goats, hurts innocent cows and even scares buffaloes.

More rigorous tests were to follow. The temple building required carrying of the essentials uphill, including food and water besides the building material. The privileged ones were to carry logs, food and water. Being a smartass, and a novice, I judged carrying water a safe option. The stream was halfway from the village to the delivery point which meant you cut the labour by half. So I judged.

What I didn’t realise were the travails of carrying a full bucket uphill. It is one thing to carry a log or a sack on up the ascent but to balance a water bucket requires additional effort of expertise. I realised that the half-way distance was soon negated by the loss of water during transportation. I would summarily deliver almost one third of what I had started with. I realised that the Pahari smirks at my plight would just not end. However, my humiliation went proportionally down as days and weeks passed and the modest temple came apiece.

All miseries come to an appropriate rewarding end. When my father announced the date of our return to Delhi, a city of joy to me by then, there was still a week to prepare for the college to reopen and indulge in the local cricket. I seriously looked forward to the commode comforts and Sunday matinees.

What I didn’t notice was the change in my own behaviour. I would no longer complain about a power cut; TV wasn’t my preoccupation; I wouldn’t be finicky about the food at my table (in fact mother complained of over-eating) and the 5-km morning jog failed to sweat me. Clearly, I was a fitter and more tolerant person than I was a few weeks back.

The colleges reopened and I heard my classmates talking about the manly tan on my forearms. The college Physical Training Instructor, a beefcake of a Jaat, was the first to mention it correctly: “You are looking like a mountaineer, Sharma,” Dr Malik said (Did I ever mention that I headed the college badminton team). I told the PTI that I did belong to the hills and was back from a trip to my native lands. Inside, I kept wondering about the tribulations I had gone through.

A few weeks down the line, though, I began to get what seasoned mountaineers refer to as a “call of the mountains”. I wished I were in the hills again, scaling my way up amid cold winds, lungs puffing heavily, but limbs carrying on.... There, I tell you my friends, a trekker in me was born.

Jun 5, 2014

POLL DIARIES: Safe Lodging in Rai Bareli

Travelogues from Uttar Pradesh Heartland

THERE are few decent lodging options for a visitor to Rae Bareli, the constituency of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The one most preferred option is state tourism dept’s Saras on the outskirts of the town. And during election time, there is a rush for bookings by visiting politicos from Delhi and Lucknow, as well as journos of various media organizations. Its resident bar is an added attraction and a time saver for the guests. However, the limited accommodation is difficult to keep up the demands as the date for filing nomination draws near. And the front desk staff is swarmed by VIP requests for all over. The lucky ones who find a room, without being a VIP guest, are often offered a word of advise by the staff. “Sir, please do not leave the room keys with us when you go out for the day’s work,” said one staff at Saras. Reason: There have been instances when a state legislator or a political strongman entered the hotel, and solved the non-availability of rooms by forcing the staff to open a hired room, and packing off the belongings of a guest in his absence. “Keeping the keys with you will ensure you spend the night in your room than the dormitory,” advised the good Samaritan.

May 28, 2014

POLL DIARIES: Secular Guts & Mardana Kamjori

Travelogues from Uttar Pradesh Heartland

Mukesh Pandey (Name NOT Changed) is a local media dabang in the Faizabad district. Young journalists, and even fresh political entrants, touch his feet at every press meeting that he chooses to attend. An expert on Brahmin gotras, as he himself belongs to one of the elite Shashilk gotra (one of the 26 direct descendants of Lord Brhama), Pandey is a revered figure among his tribe. However, the journo swears by his secular mindset. "Every festival of Eid, be it bakr-e-Eid (Eid-ul Adha) or Meethi Eid (Eid-ul fitr), I visit my dear friends in the city to enjoy the festivities and dine with them," he tells ET. But! Are there no problems with regards to his strict vegan routine? "I go there with a stone's heart," Pandey responds. "Upon my return, I take out a lukewarm bucket of water and add five table-spoon salt in it. I keep drinking it and keep throwing up till every lace of my gut is cleaned." But why such extreme measure when you eat only vegetarian food? Pandey quenstions back: "Have you seen the utensils that the food is served in? It reeks of meat preparations. No Brahmin worth his salt will eat out of it."  

Below the Belt
Editor and column writer Shekhar Gupta once wrote that if a reporter needs to judge the sociological changes in a region, he must read the graffiti in and around the area. Going by the learned adage, it will appear that Uttar Pradesh heartland is going through a male virility crisis. Large rural swathes of western and cenrtal UP fields are flushed with advertisements of Hakims (from Iqbal, Usmani and Zafar) claiming sure-shot cure for diseases likes swapna dosh, shighra-patan and mardana kamjori (night discharge, premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction). Another disease which comes a close second in the graffiti--falling in the same belt though--is that of Bawaseer (piles). When pointed out about it, a travelling colleague's advice was: "Next time, a political opponent of the Samajwadi Party government tells you the state is bleeding, don't ask him to elaborate."

May 25, 2014

POLL DIARIES: Chew On It

(My Observtions During 2014 General Elections)

Raibareily: Most UP denizens across the economic or social (read caste) bearings are given to chewing various brands (or combinations) of pouched tobacco from the local taxi driver adapt at opening his running car door to spit out, to a hotel owner keeping with a bin close to his seat. Although there are ample options for a 'high' here, starting from recognised govt vends for bhang (a form of cannabis), country liquor and Indian made foreign liquor, all these other 'highs' pale before the wooden kiosks strewn across the state with rows of hanging gutkha pouches. A desi liquor vend, named Madhushala (named after famed work of poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan) in Jagdishpur of Raebareli Lok Sabah seat although looked like an apology to the Hindi poet, the vend owner offered some insight against the state excise department. "When you can get a 24-hour high at less than Rs 20 daily by gutaka, why will you spend Rs 100/- for the evening tipple?" he posed. "And to mock us, the state has raised the excise charges by more than 65% as against Delhi. Who is going to set up breweries vends in this state?"

May 24, 2014

POLL DIARIES: Toilets Before Temples

(My Observations During 2014 General Elections)

Ayodhya: A brief visit to the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi site can be a harrowing experience for a city-bred agnostic. The lane to the site is hardly a 200-metre expanse from the narrow road that a taxi can take you down, but the moment one gets down from the vehicle, swarms of touts offering better views and parking slots descend upon oneself. As one manages to dissuade the pesky guides, sweetmeat agents, and others to advance on, one would come across a paid toilet-cum-washroom for the devout visitors. A visit inside can be an olfactory nightmare. The focus of the facility is more on the daan-patra (collection-box) than to flush out its excretionary refuse. A few metres down the path, there is an open (and free) urinal that can teach you a trick or two in breath control (without Baba Ramdev's tips). Next time, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate speaks about "Pahle Shauchalya, fir Devalaya (Toilets first, Temples later)", this reporter swears by his job to cheer for him.

pd: This post sounds the revival of this blog