Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ka Lawm me Mizoram!! Part -2

Day 3
Ailawng to Hawlhhah
The third day was perhaps the diverse walk that we experienced during the trek. We started from Ailawng, passing through the village one last time before we entered the forest again. An hour later we were walking through meadows of waist high grass with a soothing breeze accompanying us as we moved further uphill. We then entered a rocky terrain which finally led us to the Reiek peak, the highest peak of the area.

The view from there was a sight to behold. Saying that it was spectacular would be an understatement. One needs to be in places like these to truly appreciate the sheer magnitude and unparalleled beauty that nature beholds. Something that sadly man has gradually forgotten to value.
The breeze up on the peak was cool and light, freshening us up even more than what a hot shower would. Below the cliff we could see the river snaking across the land at a distance. We were told that during the days with lesser cloud cover, we would have been able to see the shimmer of a lake on the Bangladeshi side at the horizon. But frankly at that point I could not understand the concept of borders. Everything I saw before me was just nature and its bounty, no matter which country it belonged to.
We didn't feel like going away from that place. But we had to reach the next camp site and it was quite a distance away. The route downhill was quite treacherous, with a steep drop on one side of the path, and a steeper drop on the other. We went past amazing rock formations. We passed a tourism resort which had preserved an old Mizo village to depict the ways of life of the people, all of which had changed with the onset of urbanization.
The villages that we went past were so immaculately maintained that I felt embarrassed and to an extent ashamed of how filthy we make our cities. Post lunch, we then walked for another 3 hours, going past orchards and farms and moving into the jungle in the middle of which our third campsite was hidden.

Day 4
Hawlhhah to Nghalchawm
The night in the middle of the jungle was surprisingly comfortable. But the next day was anything but. Today was what I called in hindsight 'The leech day'. We started our trek with downhill walk for about an hour till we reached a stream of cool, refreshing water. 

Our tour guides warned us to be careful while stepping out but we being the naive trekkers that we were just went with the flow. The result? Half of us found ourselves bitten by leeches, resulting in bloodied clothes. Anyway we moved forward, moving uphill from there for a couple of hours till we reached another village. From there it a much more comfortable journey as the road was tarred and the slope quite comfortable to walk. It took us about two more hours from there to finally reach our final camp site of Nghalchawm. This was by far the most comfortable camp site we had had. A stream flowed nearby and we had a refreshing bath. And then, like every other nite, we tucked in quite early.

Day 5
Nghalchawm to base camp
So the final day had arrived. I didn't actually know what to feel. On one hand, my body was crying out for this ordeal of sorts to end. On the other, my mind was racing, wanting to go on. Confused with my thoughts, I set out with the group soon after breakfast to our destination.
Today's walk was supposed to be quite a short and easy one as per our tour guides Mama and Zika. It was short but as had been the norm during the trek, when they said easy, it only meant easy for them.
After a short walk through inhabited areas, we again entered the jungle. The path however was wider in these parts. After about an hour, we reached a suspension bridge over the river. It was scary to an extent, walking on the bridge as it swayed under the weight of our bodies, with a 200 feet drop into the gushing waters of the river below a very real prospect. It seemed a scene right out of an Indiana Jones movie, as we evaded loose planks of wood, hoping to just reach the other side somehow. Once we did we were greeted with a hour long vertical climb, which almost felt like torture.
However we all made it through. And once that climb was done, we were welcomed by the sight of the highway and a bus waited there to take us back to the base camp.

All of us slept like logs in the bus. Once we reached, we all were handed out certificates for completing the trek. And then slowly everyone said their goodbyes and went their different ways.

I can safely say that it was one of the most exhilarating trips I have ever made in my life. By the time I reached back home, my body was in a pretty bad shape. My muscles ached. My bones felt brittle. But my spirit was stronger than ever. I felt, perhaps for the first time a sense of liberation. I felt that at least for a week at least I had lived my life the way it should. Yes I was back in the concrete jungle. And soon the worries and stress of this life will again come back to haunt me. But now I know that there always is a way to give your body a release. Thanks to YHAI. Thanks to Mama and Zika. And thanks to the group that made me realise that.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ka Lawm me Mizoram!!! Part - 1

They say that sometimes you need to just go out on your own. Its just the thing that shows what you are made of. And sometimes its just the thing that you need to find yourself, discover what you truly are beneath the layer of work pressure, stress and constant fight for survival in the concrete world.
I decided to take that plunge just when I thought it was getting a bit too much for me, when I thought that I needed a release very badly.
A friend told me about a perfect getaway, a trek in the unexplored hills of Mizoram. One week of nothing but pure natural beauty of the North East. And so I took the bait. And boy was it worth it.
Thanks to the my glorious friends at Air India, I almost missed out on this trek. Air India has this knack of making the simplest things look like the launch of a satellite and they stayed true to their legacy. I reached the capital city of Aizawl a day late,  a few hours more and I would have missed the trek.
Aizawl is a beautiful city. It is set up just like any other city that you would see in a hilly area, but the vibe that this city gives off is so unique. Everywhere you see smiling faces, faces that are eager to help, to please. And I dont think that I have seen that anywhere else.

The hostel of YHAI- the youth hostel association of India is about a half an hour drive from Aizawl. The guys at YHAI were really helpful at making me and all the other fellow participants of the trek feel at ease. The dormitories were pretty basic but well maintained. We had a short interaction with our two guides who were to accompany us. Mama and Zika, two of the most awesome guys I will ever meet in my life waved their hands at us as they were introduced. We were soon asking them our doubts about the trek and hoping that their repeated statements of the trek being not that tough were true.
Being so far east meant that daylight disappeared at 5 in the evening. Hence the body clock went haywire and by the time it was 9 we were all tucking into our beds, under the warm blankets, hoping for the start of something special the next day.

Day 1
Aizawl to Vaipuanpho
I woke up quite early the next day, the sun was in our eyes by 5 am, another side effect of being in the east. As we looked down the hillside we were greeted with an absolutely pristine view of the hills, covered by a thin white sheet of cloud, as if it was a blanket over the hills to keep them warm. 
The trek started as the president of YHAI flagged us off. What happened after that is mostly a blur, as all of us got our asses kicked during the walk. The initial route was steep, we walked to rough cut steps in the soil and moved downhill, trying to keep ourselves from slipping on the moist dew soaked grass. We then reached a small stream of water after which it was entirely the opposite, a steep uphill climb towards the tarred road. The climb was almost vertical at places and by the time we reached the road, most of us were out of breath. 
From there it was a gradual downhill slope to a small dam, where we stopped to have our packed lunches. And then another couple of hours of uphill walk later, we were there, at our first campsite, Vaipuanpho, nestled in a small pocket of clearing by the side of the road.
Bonfire at night, songs and games and we capped off a hugely tiring but hugely enjoyable day.

Day 2 
Vaipuanpho to Ailawng
Today was the shortest of our walks. Yesterday we had walked almost 15 kms but today it was only 7. It was planned as we needed to reach Ailawng early. There was a caving activity planned there for which we needed to reach by lunch. We were all happy thinking that it was a short journey but our relief only lasted till we saw the evil smile on Mama's face.
Those 7 kms I will never forget in my life. We were walking at almost an angle of 60° uphill coupled with the fact that we needed to be sure footed because of the dew. By the time we were an hour into the walk, our water supply had shrunk to half.

We rested at a huge rock. I slipped on a moss covered stone and I could only stop my fall with my chin. So with a swollen chin I moved forward, uphill again through the jungle as we moved to the tiny but beautiful village of Ailawng.
We reached there by 2 in the afternoon, panting for breath and positively winded. But caving was to follow. So we couldn't crash just yet. Mama led us to this cave through which we were to pass. The only thing I would say here is that this is not meant for claustrophobics.

It was an adrenaline pumping experience, crawling, sliding, ducking through the crevices of the cave. Their were points when you would see nothing below but just hear the trickle of water and one had to make a chimney slide supporting our weights on the rocks on either side. There was also a point where I actually got stuck, the whole huge body if mine refusing to go through jeopardizing not just my trip but that of all others who were behind me. But some how I managed to sneak through, and come out of the rabbit hole at the other end, feeling that finally I had done something quite unique for a change. 
The night at Ailawng was pretty cold, we were pretty high up and we had to go even higher the next day. It was a bunch of pretty much drained bodies that said good night to each other and crashed into their tents.

(to be contd..)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Patliputra Experience..

Ask any non-Bihari about the prospect of going and living in Bihar and you will get in return a stare that would murder you if it had arms and legs. Ask a Bihari living in Delhi or Mumbai or any other city in the country or even the world about going back to Patna and living an affluent life in his hometown, and his eyes would well up and next thing you know, you would be subjected to a huge bear hug and numerous kisses.
That, in essence, is what Patna represents. Heaven for the sons of its soil but hell for anyone else.

I m not a Bihari. Hell I m not even from north India.

My fate was sealed in a couple of mad mad seconds during the induction programme. It was my first job. I was sitting there in the hall, along with my fellow trainees, excited about the prospect of starting my career. As the list of possible locations were called out, I sat there imagining living in the city that the training coordinator had just called out.

Delhi.. my home.. would be just perfect.. but no point thinking of it.. they have given it to four girls..

Mumbai.. THE city of India.. awesome lifestyle.. cool place to work I have heard.. well.. the guy sitting next to me got it.. thats off the list too.. dream destination.. close to my hometown.. nice young crowd.. I might even find a perfect South Indian girlfriend..NOOO!!! That Punjabi girl got it.. what would she do in Bangalore!

Patna.. err.. excuse me??

The moment Patna was uttered by the faculty of the training college, everyone including myself tightened up with tension, praying to all the 36 million Hindu Gods that the next name uttered by him be anyone but mine. The moment my name was called out everyone else let out a sigh of relief. Everyone had their eyes on me. The guys from that blessed land who had half expected their name to be blessed with the Patna prefix looked around, upset, bemused, disappointed, their eyes searching for the traitor who stole their fortune from right under their nose. The others looked at me with a certain sense of pity. Poor guy, I could hear them thinking. Some offered me fake condolences, reassuring me that it was better now over there with the new government coming in. Why don’t we swap locations then, I offered, it was much better after all with the new government coming in. They cringed, shrank back in their cave, and didn’t approach me again that day. I pleaded with the nice looking madam who had come in with the transfer letters. She had been very kind to all of us yesterday, offering us valuable advice about the workings of the organisation, the dos and the don’ts. NO was the flat response I got from her, along with was a very stern look.

I was quite numb with shock. I know the more educated, wise people will always say that this is just the way you have to face life's challenges. Well dear sirs and madams, you expect a horse to walk first & run later. When I called home, my parents went silent, unable to comprehend what to say. I called up my best friend and all I could hear once I told him the news was the sound of his hysterical laughter.

Anyway, so I have been there and back now. Three years spent there, three years of my twenties. How did it go? I will tell you in detail my friends. Here is my tutorial to anyone who is given the honour of going and living in the ‘metropolitan city’ of Bihar. This is my take on what Patna is, how it was to live there and what people going there should expect.

(Paaint no. Bhan)
First of all, let me clarify one thing to everyone. Although I have mentioned the terms ‘Patna’ and ‘city’ together many times already, I am convinced that it is not a city. Biharis call it a city because they have to call at least some place in their state a city. Patna is a very very poor excuse for a city. Many names come to mind while describing Patna- a crowded hive, an unkempt township, an overgrown village, but a city? Not a chance!

(Paaint no. Two)
As to the many people (including my pals who showed me fake sympathy when my life got intertwined with this city during that fateful induction session) who say that Patna is a growing city and is the next big thing (I even heard some say that its the next Bangalore!! God bless them..), all I can say is .. Babaji ka Ghanta!! Patna is a overgrown pile of people and is only better than the rest of the state because its a state capital. Period. It is a city which was once such a stinking pile of shit that when the new government came in an cleaned it up a bit, people mistook the absence of the stench as the presence of a sweet smell of development.

(Paaint no. Threeee)
I must say that my first impression of the place was a bit of a pleasant surprise. The platform on which I alighted from the train was quite clean and uncrowded, and the taxi ride to the guest house was short and smooth; the roads fairly clean and the traffic light.
In hindsight, I realise that I saw all this only because it was 6 in the morning; and Patna wakes up only by 10.

(Paaint no. Phor)
Patna waasis, and in general Biharis are very respectful in their speech. Addressing someone as 'Tu' is very demeaning as far as they are concerned. Learn something you brash Delhites, Haryanvis and Punjabis!! Even in a serious fight they give their adversary their due respect. Its always 'Aap ch***ye hain!!' or 'Aap jaisa maadarc**d maine kabhi nai dekha!!'. Politeness, a Bihari's true virtue!

(Paaint no. Phaive)
Pavements on the road sides are not for pedestrians to walk as we have grown up thinking here in Delhi. In Patna, they are legal pathways for enthusiastic bikers who find the road an insult to drive on. If a pedestrian gets hit, he must not raise his voice in protest. How dare he think he could walk there??

(Paaint no. Chau)
The constitution of Bihar gives its vehicle drivers an additional right- the right to honk. It seems the DNA of a Bihari is such that his hands start itching if he doesn’t push that button on his bike or on the steering wheel of his car. Honking liberates a Patna commuter's soul, gives him inner peace. For in this land, honking is just loud meditation.

(Paaint no. Sebhen)
Have road, will drive. Indians drive on the left. Biharis have no such bias. Why, the right side will feel bad if we ignore it so often!! If they feel in their honking liberated minds that the right side lane will get them to their destination quicker then who gives a fuck about all these stupid traffic rules?

(Paaint no. Eight)
Any entrepreneur wishing to start his venture in this area should seriously consider the tobacco industry. A cursory look at the Region wise sales figures in the balance sheets of Rajnigandhas & Tulsis & Chaini-Khainis would lend solid support to my argument.
 I would go as far as to proclaim that the day this area stops consuming these products (wishful thinking I know, please excuse) all these firms would go bankrupt. I am not joking people. I swear by the redness and decay of every Bihari's tobacco infested mouth when I say this.

(Paaint no. Naayin)
As an impact of the point made above, one can also surmise that spitting is Bihar's national hobby. They take pride in the activity and strive to attain greater projectile range and volume with every attempt. Hell, I bought almost half a dozen red shirts just so that any unassuming spit accidentally landing on me won’t force me to go back home and change. I also stopped wearing white. Like forever.

(Paaint no. Dus)
Patna also has a healthy sale of paints. Buildings need it every diwali so that they can wipe off the creative genius of all those red-mouthed buggers from their walls. Come to think of it, dogs & such people have quite a lot in common. Just like dogs smell their way to the point where they feel safe to relieve themselves, people over here find corners of staircases making them turn a brilliant hue of red and maroon. In fact last I heard some building owners just stopped painting altogether; it was taking up more money than they earn. 

(Paaint no. Ee-lebhen)
Speaking of hobbies, another hugely popular hobby over there is peeing on the streets. Don’t get me wrong friends. People pee on the streets in other parts of the country as well. It is to a degree a national malaise. But the grace and elegance and the sheer frequency with which they do it here deserves praise. I guess it is the way men prove their manhood here. A man who hasn’t relieved himself on the streets is an outcast, a good for nothing piece of shit (which thankfully is not done on the streets, thank God for that). They don’t even need to do it on the side of the road. The more visible they make their 'instrument' to the crowd, the manlier they are!
People here also believe in a greater responsibility. Didn’t you guys and girls know? Peeing outside is a silent protest against man made fertilizers and a way to provide natural urea to the vegetation. That there are no plants on the tar covered roads is a different matter altogether. Somebody should try explaining that to these guys.
Statutory Warning: If you are unlucky enough, you might also get to see women trying it. (shheesh.. why God?!? Why did you do this to me??)

(Paaint no. Tubhelv)
Patna is cheap when it comes to cost of living. Don’t think that it means that the daily commodities are cheap. Most eateries demand as exorbitant prices as any posh Delhi restaurant would. What I meant was that bribes are cheap. While a hawaldar in Delhi would not settle for anything less than five hundred rupees if he catches you without a license, over here the hawaldar (who looks hilarious with his plastic helmet stolen from a construction site) would drool and address you as ‘Sir’ if he gets a hundred bucks.
A constable makes money for daily quota of tobacco by demanding five rupees from each auto driver who has parked in a restricted zone, waiting to load some commuters and earn his daily bread. The officer at the pension department receives an application for payment of a thousand rupees and pays only nine hundred. The rest are his ‘hard work charges’. State government babus have a fixed rate for any banker approaching him for deposits. But don’t worry, the muck runs so deep that you will get used to it.

(Paaint no. Thirteen)
Patna is also a very religious place. Well any place on the banks of the holy Ganges will obviously be religious!! How will they pollute the river with ‘auspicious’ looking garbage if it were not? It’s because of these religious beliefs that they have grown up following that even the most extreme cases of non vegetarian eating alcohol drinking perverts turn into pious God fearing faith driven saints on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Why only on these two days you ask? I don’t know; nor does anyone in this city. Just follow it and all the sins that you commit on the other five days will be forgiven by the force above.
PS- Apart from this, also be advised that shaving on Thursdays is a strict no-no. I asked why.. they said it was because of Hanuman ji. What about Hanuman ji, I asked?? No one knows. It’s because of him. Thats it. Don’t ask so many questions! Maybe he got into some serious shit with M/S Gillette and company.

The holy month of Shravan is a sight to behold. Saffron clad Shiva devotees flock the city from all over the country, using the city as a resting stop-over before the onward journey to Deoghar. Patna's citizens welcome them with open arms and the mutton and chicken eating populace share the faith in the lord by desisting from all the 'sinful' fooding habits for the month. Same is the case with Navratras. They do somehow manage to stop themselves for a month, but boy do they struggle!! I see people salivate when they see kebabs hanging from a road side dhaba. I see them pine for a chicken tikka when the so called non-believers are tearing into their pleasures. And I ask-Is there so much of a difference between you and me dear sir? You can’t take chicken out of your mind even for a second when you have vowed not to touch it for a month. I on the other hand eat to my satisfaction and pray with a clear conscience. Even when you are praying at a temple a juicy chicken leg might be dangling inside your brain, teasing you, making you drool. Isn’t it better just to get over with your temptation? Just have it if you want to, for crying out loud! At least you will be able to pray peacefully! But you won’t. Because whether you actually believe in God is not the issue here. The issue is that others must see that you truly believe in God. So even if you are one of the many eager customers that I have seen standing in a long line at a meat shop on the last day of Shravan, booking a hefty quantity of mutton for the next day to douse the fire burning inside you, you are still a true devotee.

(Paaint no. Phorteen)
Ahh, the language! The diction!! Those pronunciations!! How can I forget all those beauties! One of the first ground rules of living in and tolerating Patna is that you must forget the concepts of English & Hindi that were taught to you in school. The beautiful words of Bhojpuri when mixed with the standard English or Hindi words create such a eclectic mixture of words that first timers might find it a little tough to comprehend. Their issh-tyle will bring an iss-mile to your face. So bear in mind fellow first timers, its not “Bahar baarish ho rahi hai” , its “Bahar paani pad raha hai”; its not “Train station se nikal gai”, its “Train station se khul gai”; its not “He is such a decent guy!”, its “He is such a my-dear aadmi”; it’s not “Excuse me”, its “Haayen??”
And did you know? I have a very strong suspicion that Honda had actually named its award winning scooter as Acti. Maybe the guy who wrote down the minutes of the meeting at Honda’s headquarters was from this area. So as is the habit here of assigning the –va suffix to every single frikking thing-va on earth-va, the award-va winning Honda Acti became the award-va winning Honda Activa! Samjhe babua!

(Paaint no. Phiphteen)
People from Bihar love entertainment. And you would find it hard to believe that people from the villages have such a futuristic taste of entertainment that it is only in the recent past that Bollywood has embraced the same. You don’t believe me? Go to any cinema theatre in rural Bihar my friends, and take a ticket to any Bhojpuri film that is currently running to packed audiences. Yes please, indulge yourself to a session of Humaar bhaanji or Ay Balma Biharwala or Raja Ko Rani Se Pyaar Ho Gayil. You will realise that the concept of item numbers were discovered here. In fact, the movies are basically soft porn. So come one and come all!! Sunny Leone & Baby doll is so passé, dance to the gyrating tunes of the Bhojpuri madness!!

(Last n phainal Paaint)
Every single dish that is truly Bihari must have Sattu in it. And I am not kidding when I say that it is seriously good.. this Sattu. I found a small little shop on Boring Road (Yes, there is actually a road with that name. People here are very frank when telling others what to expect from this place) where the Sattu paranthas are truly delicious.

All said and done, in amongst the pandemonium that is Patna, always make sure that you find the right people. I was fortunate enough to find a handful of really decent people who not just helped me cope with the city as incredibly outrageous as Patna, but they left a lasting mark in my life. I can honestly say that I could only live there this long because of the company of these few people. I won’t name them because I don’t know if they will like it, but they know that I am talking about them. It turns out a hundred friends on Facebook are not as necessary or meaningful as a couple who are not on Facebook, but are there when you need them the most.

So, there it is. My Patna guide book-va. Keep it handy fellas. You will have to deal with a lot bud-baks over there. And you will thank me for this!