Monday, June 25, 2018

 

Great gallivanting in Greece


For customary post wedding gallivanting, S and I embarked on a trip of Greece. Excellent sights, history, shopping, food (vegetariano!), natural landscapes, all delivered under a mild summer sun, made for a great holiday.

Note: 1) Pictures will be added at later date when time and enthusiasm allows, 2) Further details to be added as and when memories flit in.

Athens, Crete and Santorini

We start with a double shot of history. Athens is the epitome of history, and am sure it produces a massive number of history PhDs today. In fact Athens will be a productive destination for a honeymooning History PhD couple. Acropolis, on a table top hill set in the middle of Athens, lords over the city. It is surprising to learn the number of times Athens has changed hands- Ancient greeks to Macedonians  to Romans to Barbarians to Byzantines to Ottomans to Brits to Prussians, and after all of this came the modern republic. The Golden Age was ~400 BC-300 BC.

The monuments atop the Acropolis- the Pantheon, the Erechthion, and the Propylae (entry gate) are majestic, and compare with the Angkor in scale, just that these Greek blokes built em some 1500 years before the ‘Wat. Strolling through the ‘Ancient Agora’ listening to Rick Steve’s is an immersion into the life and times of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and Diogenes, and is a tingling experience. (from wiki: Diogenes made a virtue of poverty. He begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar in the marketplace (which btw is the Agora we were walking) He became notorious for his philosophical stunts, such as carrying a lamp during the day, claiming to be looking for an honest man) Lonely planet had adviced us to clamber up Filopappou hill for a good view of the ‘Polis. Now as we tentativey started in the direction of the hike, already tired by 7 30 PM odd, we were tempted by a sports bar which was playing Germany-Mexico (World Cup game), with some some noisy fan cheers thrown in to further entice. However, we resisted and pushed on towards the hill- and were we rewarded or what! Trek summits aside, I don’t think I am likely to see a better panaroma- 1) Filopappou hill is some 500 m as the crow flies from the Acropolis, and at the same altitude, and therefore provides stunning views of the Acropolis, 2) Add to that a commanding panaroma of the sprawl of Athens rising up into the lower reaches of the distant hills on all sides around us, and 3) with the ships at the Athens port also visible in the distance. This hill is shockingly thin in terms of number of tourists, and we were thrilled with finding such a spot to view probably the top 5 most photographed monuments in the world. Now that I myself have safely already been here and enjoyed the lack of toursits, I will encourage tourists to go throng this place.

Crete- an island with culture and people very different from Athens- we heard two sets of people from Athens and Crete talking suspiciously of the other! Beaches, hills, and rugged landscape.  A good destination is probably one in which you spend 4-5 days, and after that still think that there are so many more things that could have been done, and Crete is like that. It has a strong Turkish influence, as was seen in the dishes and certain city areas.

Fantastico beaches- we drove to Elafonissi beach which has, hold your breath- 1) Pink sands, 2) A basketball court sized lagoon with 1 foot of water depth, in which you can just sit and wade, 3) Sea water of some 1 foot depth and 300 m length, after wading through which you walk into an island which is a ‘beach island’- nothing but beach sand. Our base was a town called Chania (pronounced Hania). Quaint town with alleys lined with little enticing shops. Also adding further ‘color’ to the pink sand was that we had earlier seen Red sand and Black sand beaches in Santorini, but that comes later.

Samaria Gorge, in Crete starts from ~1,200 m, it is perpetually downhill and culimates at sea level – literally- since we’ve to board a ferry at the end point, to get back. The steep vertiginous walls of the gorge have multiple hues (orange, black, white) and would be a delight for the classic water color technique of paint leaking into a watery area. The brook babbling alongside your path is good company, and so are the numerous pink flowers, a common site in Crete, bobbing in the strong breeze.

Santorini has rich history. It’s called Santo ‘rini’, sounding so Italian (yes- please say out loud Santhoreeene), because of its  Italian past. Santorini is classic honeymoon destination with lots of hand-holding couples (with fingers/arms entwined in myriad ways during side-by-side walks) and view points and (justified) drama around sunset. White houses topped with blue domes, spectacular cliff walls (called ‘caldera’) rising from the sea, which actually is dried up lava from an old volcano , make for some captivating, picture-postcard views.

Home to a bunch of vineyards- Argyros winery with 1 hour of personalized attention from Jonas the sommelier, was great. They have a way of growing grape unique to the island, because the plant has to withstand the loose volcanic sand and strong breeze. Pink Atlantis was excellent and the best of all, but the more famous Vinsanto (sweet wine) was cloyingly sweet. Further, the cheese, since it was Greece- was excellent- while classic cleansing of palate happened thanks to Manouri cheese, the Graviera had a strong taste of its own. Beaches- there was a red one and black one- thanks to the volcanoes. Black one was proper black sand, while the red one was red all around due to the looming rocks, but the sand was still black.

There’s a site we visited called Akrotiri in Santorini which some say was the inspiration for the mythical city of ‘Atlantis’ are the remains from a village from, hold your breath, 1600 BC (dates puts famous ruined cousin Pompei to shame). Elaborate ceramic ware, proper sewerage system, big staircases and 2 storey buildings- living quarters not changed too drastically in the past 3,500 years I must say (Though 1950 onwards we are going bonkers).

Food, shopping, people, language

Food – Cornucopia for vegetarians – atleast relative to other countries in Europe. How about this- there was only one meal session (an order-in day from a pizzeria) when the food was crappy. Greece is the home of the Greek salad and all those cheeses, after all, and beyond that there are a bunch of local dishes which are vegetarian in nature. Standout among them is the Gemista, (rice stuffing in vegetables (red/green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini flowers)) served with yogurt. Other notable mentions- Boureki, which is a Zucchini-and-potatoe pie, and Favaa- a ground bean started which tasted a bit like daal. A one-off stunner was Iranian Biryani at Crete. This apart, every restaurant has flavorsome pizza and pasta. Needless to say, emergency supplies of ready to eat MTR Rajma and Jeera rice were not dipped into. Oh, and food apart, who can forget the Greek coffee! Bought a ‘briki’ (coffee making apparatus) and some coffee and have been drinking ever since in India.
Lots of shopping was done, and that’s partly because of the classy and fairly cheap fare (relative to Europe) on offer. Greek jewllery is excellent looking -Opals that will forever tease you between blue and green, much like the Aegan sea, framed in alluring Meandros or Spiros frames made of silver. Bracelets made of lava rocks of Santorini of different hues- blue, red, black, with the abrasive and porous mars-like surface of the rock, looking appealing. T shirts with lots of designs (greek alphabet, parthenon, Disk of Phaistos (an unsolved engima). Cermaics. Momentoes. The shops with atful décor and mostly helpful staff. Standard negotiation margin of 10% was arrived at.

Locals- really proud of greek culture (eg: Taxi guy ‘Japan’ is from a greek word, 5 sites to visit in India - Greek temples), helpful (multiple good samaritans- two who volantirly pointed us in right direction when we looked well and truly lost, one who in a small town shopping center talked to us about upcoming Samaria Gorge hike and implored us to take makeshift trekking pole which was actually a broom stick which proved valuable on the hike), and fact that they on average spoke decent English made it easy to connect.

Which brings us to Language- Efkarishton (thank you), Parakalon (welcome) and Kali-mera/spera/nichta were mastered. An Indian Engineering student would love to see all the Greek lettering in the metros, on the shop fronts- full of all the Alphas and Betas and Ros and Epsilons and Thetas that are second language to him/her!

However, will end with a word of caution- beware in Athens. On day 1, I lost my wallet (with thankfully only 20 Euros) and all my cards to a sly pickpocketer in the metro- happy that we recovered admirably from that shaky start (India 2 wickets for no run in 1 over) to post a decent total (310/5 in 50 overs). Avoid metro, walk, keep bag in front, keep passport safe- the usual.  

Efkarishton for reading all the way till here, if you made it!



Tuesday, May 01, 2018

 

Yin Yang pairs I've caught in the wild


Everyone has their list of yin-yang pairs that appeal to them. Here's mine.

1. Feeling unique vs feeling as part of the crowd

2. Sitting reading vs. Out drinking OR trekking in nature

Wordsworth:
Books, a dull and endless strife,
One impulse from a vernal wood, May teach you more of man,Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can

3. During R&R (rest and relaxation) Stand and stare vs. immerse yourself into some high energy activity

4. The entire business classic 'Built to Last' is all about Yin Yang which is the secret sauce of the 'built to last' companies. The book implores you to ditch the 'tyranny of OR' and embrace the 'Genius of AND'. It talks about how companies rigidly preserve their core yet stimulate progress around it. And a bunch of other such examples (big hairy audacious goals AND incremental evolutionary progress). The books goes on to quote Scott Fitzgerald: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function"

5. Wave vs. Particle

On this front, really like the name of the band - 'Dualist Inquiry', who I'd heard live at Mehboob Studio with MM, one fine evening in 2010 odd.  Nice number: Qualia . This is definitely not my favorite genre, but he played well. 

This is a running post. Will keep adding to it as yin yang balls come bouncing at me from the wild and I catch em, like trapping Pokemon, in my Yin Yang blog post.

Edit 1: Removed "1. No regrets (YOLO) vs. Reflection on past mistakes"  basis input from SS who said that these are not really opposite. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

 

Google Assistant requires some anthropomorphism- how about Jeeves?

Google Assistant in want of humanoidism
Siri, Cortana, Bixby, etc, are all clearly meant to be humanoid. When you summon them, on your devices, you are summoning a human assistant who has a voice and therefore makes sense when she talks back.

Now Google Assistant? It's just not as alluring. Because when I think Google, I think of employees, the logo, the stock price, Eric Schmidt, Sundar Pichai, his speech in IIT KGP, and what not. Just a confusing multitude of thoughts and emotions.  So when I summon the assistant by the name of "Google", am I summoning this multitude of people to come to my service? I imagine a gaggle of 20,000 employees suddenly appearing in my quiet, dark bedroom to answer the query "Who owns Sunrisers Hyderabad". Whereas Siri? She glides in noiselessly, answers the query, and smoothly goes away. 

Male assistants please- why not Jeeves by Hugh Laurie?
Which brings me to the next point- why Cortana and Siri? Why not a male baritone who can be like my pal from the Football team. They do have it, I think, but I'm unable to access it on my phone. Which reminds me of the ol' search engine Ask Jeeves.com. Those who read Wodehouse (like yours truly) would have had such a proclivity towards Askjeeves, over Google or Yahoo. The imagery is too compelling to resist. Similarly, Jeeves would be a great AI assistant, with a charming British accent and quirky language. They could train Jeeves AI to be based on Hugh Laurie's voice, in fact. And deserving Hugh Laurie thus finds a smart way to monetize his voice. In India, it could be Amitabh Bacchan, which would appeal to a fat lot of people. What AI voice do I want on my phone? Probably some baritone from Eastern Europe. 

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Good conversation is like a good cricket pitch

Gotto have good pace, bounce and lateral movement.

  • Pace: Rapid exchange of information
  • Bounce: The other person reacts to your stimuli, and adds his or her own nuggets. Refinement from conversation with RR- the person need not only "add" a nugget- the other person may be an active listener, too. A genuine murmur of understanding may also count as legitimate bounce. 
  • Lateral Movement: Offbeat inputs and topics should come into the picture instead of the straight and narrow- conversation should not be along "predictable lines". Bold new angles and new perspectives to make the conversation move in interesting directions, such that where you end up is different from the 'line' on which you started.  

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Saturday, March 03, 2018

 

Facebook usage plummet coz it's like Hyde Park Speaker's corner

My FB activity has considerably dipped, and apparently it's part of a worldwide trend. It will be ironic if I end the upload this post on my Facebook wall, so I will not do that.

I have 1000+ friends on FB- inevitable after UG + PG plus work at a few companies. But I am barely in touch with many of them. Therefore, talking to this crowd increasingly seems like putting up a mike and talking at Speaker's corner in Hyde Park. And observing their posts increasingly seems like being a peeping tom and prying through the window into a neighbor's home. And because I have 1,000 + friends, posts from my hostel room neighbor (room 243) of 4 years are lost in the noise of my 'wall'. So I do not see 243's post, do not put a disparaging and tawdry comment, and therefore room 244 does not have a chance to react to my comment with an equally tawdry put-downer. This passing of the conversational baton between room 240 (me), room 243 (AA) and 244 (VP) is what was the initial charm of FB. Now that's gone. Further, for Hyde Park speaker corner effect, there is Twitter anyway. Where I can listen to Elon Musk and Anand Mahindra and PM Modi.

However, I have both room 243 and room 244 in a common whatsapp group. Therefore, Whatsapp is doing what FB initially used to do. Good for FB, that it owns whatsapp, and has therefore not lost all 3 of us users.

Physical friendships are like layers of an onion- you are a different person with the innermost layer, and obviously there is the outermost layer. The way FB is now, it's squished that onion and all its layers completely, and made onion juice out of it. And I don't think people like to drink onion juice.

My modus operandi for FB usage now is only to connect back with long lost friends (used recently with VP and a couple years ago with SRT). And in that case, I use the messenger anyway, and avoid the community square.

Most of the new activity on FB I think will be from the new internet generation- the 100 millions of 'Bharat' who will be new to this cycle. FB start with being the cosy dorm room for them, then it will become impersonal Hyde park, at which point, they too will withdraw, only coming out infrequently. VR etc may help, but then again, it will be for a closed group setting like Whatsapp, and not the community park model.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

 

In Hit Refresh, Nadella scores runs all across the park

The title's like that coz he's an ardent cricket fan- apparently keeps a Kookaburra ball in his office which he toys around with during conference calls. With the addition of 'Hit refresh', I am quite proud of the business 'Biographies' rack of my book shelf, books I've read over the past year and a half.



First heard about the book when I read about SN doing a presser with Kumble as a book launch. So I picked it up during some time at Mumbai airport. Frankly, the book did not get off to a great start in my head, because the one book Testimonial on the book is by Bill Gates (I mean, no reviews such as this: "Nadella's story is remarkable, prose is captivating, and vision sees far - Financial Times' , or this: 'From Cricket to the Policy framework for the future, Hit Refresh is a whirlwind tour of the world today' - NYTimes. Such stuff you'd expect would grace a book by the CEO of the 3rd biggest market cap co of the world) Also, the first quarter has an overdose of how Microsoft is revolutionizing everything, which I thought was advert-like. However, now that I think of it, Microsoft is right up there with Apple, Google, Amazon in the league of tech heavy hitters, but I feel it gets much lesser mention in the press - atleast the press I see. So it's probably OK, that the book has an element of PR.

However, my opinion is well and truly changed. It's a great book in terms of the 'what' it talks about and the 'how' it does it. In terms of themes touched upon (the what)- right from an interesting story of his school days in Hyderabad, to his times - both professional and personal in the US, his life story is interesting to read. His story of transformation at Microsoft is an interesting blueprint for any large company which is treading water. He has given a good perspective of the key acquisitions of Microsoft over the past decade- LinkedIn (I had forgotten) and Minecraft (I did not even know about Minecraft) And lastly, his take on the world at large from the august chair he sits on (as CEO of one of the most global MNCs) is quite enlightening. And the way he does it (the how)- his literary references add a dash of color, and he calls into the living room an impressive array of experts to add credence to his conclusions. He has written out so many clean 'frameworks' to address big questions- it's almost like a slide deck we might use in a Strategy case at my current employer. He actually says MS loves making huge decks for every topic, and when I told a friend he reacted saying- 'Of course, it's the maker of Power Point we are talking about!' . Apart from the 'array of experts', also like all the material he has referenced- reading through all of that will be fun and a worthwile activity. For example, just a few minutes ago I chatted with MS' chatbot 'Zo' , and read about this Indian start up co. called Enlightiks which does health care analytics.

Aside: There's also this interesting QZ piece on how Silicon Valley's new wave of leaders are much more of 'listeners' than the more take-no-prisoners first wave.

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Here is a whirlwind tour of some of the frameworks in the book I alluded to in the previous para:

3 'missions' for MS outlined in his speech at his first MS Global summit as a CEO- 1) Reinvent productivity and business processes, 2) Build intelligent cloud platform, 3) Move people from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows.

3 Principles of culture change at Microsoft: 1) Need to obsess about customers, 2) Actively seek diversity and inclusion, 3) One company and not a confederation of fiefdoms.

3 principles of leadership for anyone leading others: 1) Bring clarity to those who work with you, 2) Need to generate energy, 3) Find a way to delivery success and make things happen.

3 Cs framework from Steve Balmer for building a robust Org culture: 3 concentric rings: 1) Outer ring is Concepts, 2) Capabilities, 3) Culture

4 ways for companies to participate in Digital transformation : 1) Engage customer base by leveraging data, 2) Empower own employees by enabling mobile and collaboration/ digital world of work, 3) Optimize process and 4) transform Products and services . SN says 'every company is a digital company'. This also ties in to what Ram Charan said in his book Attacker's advantage- any company that is not a 'Math House' (a term he has coined) will go extinct over the coming few years.

Way a large companies could avoid being trapped by The Innovator's Dilemna: Look at investment strategy across three growth horizons: 1) Grow today's core business and tech, 2) Incubate new ideas and products for the future, and 3) Invest in long term breakthroughs.

3 breakthroughs that are accelerating AI from Sci-fi to reality: 1) Big data, 2) Computing power, and 3) Sophisticated algos.

3 layers of AI: Bottom layer is Patter recognition, Middle layer is perception, and highest level is cognition.

3 levels how AI will scale: 1) Bespoke (in the hands of those atop ivory towers), 2) Democratized (in the hands of everyone), 3) Learn to learn.

MS' approach to building AI, on the lines of Asimov's laws of robotics: 1) Build AI that augments human abilities and experiences, 2) Build trust into tech, 3) Inclusive and respectful to all.

Skills which kids today should prioritize:1) Empathy, 2) Education, 3) Creativity, and 4) Judgement and accountability.

Managing his time as a CEO: 25% each towards Employees, Customers, Products and Partners.

3 leanings from sports to business (from his days in the school Cricket team): 1) Compete vigorously in face of uncertainty and intimidation, 2) Importance of putting team first ahead of personal stats, and 3) Bolster the confidence of the people you are leading.  This really resonates with me because i really like the alternate world of trust which is built up in team sports, better than any other activity in the world. In fact, more than cricket, it's in games like football, where every individual contributes much more to the end product (than in cricket). All said and done, Cricket still is a highly individual game, based on my experience.


****

He's also put some great quotes and literary references: 'Technology is nothing more than the collective soul of those who build it', from Tracy Kidder's 'The soul of a new machine'. SN later ties it to his grand framework of how AI should be built (not just the conception of ivory towers of Silicon Valley but also incorporating the sensibilities of say the bustling bazaars of Cairo). I loved how he referred to the 'metaverse' from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, since I've read it. FB is more and more becoming the 'metaverse', and now if you add a layer of Hololens or Oculus to FB, that's what the metaverse was, after all. Nietzsche- 'He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how'.  Goethe- 'He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own'

****

There's a good tour of the cool new stuff happening at MS and in the industry at large. MS: The Holo lens, and the story of the founder of it and his mission (to make machines that perceive the real world), a babel fish (from Hitchiker's guide!) - a real time language converter, Cortana, Zo, Minecraft.... While all of this is of course MS marketing, it's a good peek under the hood. Industry at large: reshoring of jobs due to robotics. The example he gives is Bicycle Corporation of America bringing back mfg from China to US- read here . Apparently the robotics aided manufacturing is getting 2x the productivity of offshore manufacturing, which probably offsets the cost benefits of low labor. I read somewhere that India's nascent gains in car manufacturing could also be curtailed due to this wave. On the optimistic side for India, he's talked about 'India Stack', a stack of tech building from Aadhaar which can enable transition to cashless and to more broader digitzation of Indian citizens.

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In terms of the 'way forward', he's talked about four landmark cases which have posed deep questions about the role of government in technology- Snowden's expose of vast governmental snooping, The government co ercing Apple to reveal data from the iPhone user behind the San bernandino attacks, North Korea's hacking of Sony as retaliation for the movie 'Interview' which satirized North Korea, and lastly the US govt's order to obtain files stored on a server in Ireland, despite Ireland being another country and thus the order violating sovereignty.

In the last section, he's also talked about how 'the bigger a company is, the more responsibility its leader has to think about the world, its citizens and their long term opportunities'. Yes, I think in this borderless corporate world, the CEOs of Microsoft, Apple and so on are as powerful and responsible as Presidents and Prime Ministers of big countries.

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He's talked in depth about events in his life and himself as a person, too. He talks about how the multi cultural background in Hyderabad Public School and the hostel shaped him. I also felt the multi cultural background at my undergrad hostel in Bombay was quite illuminating, for me. I feel that there can be much more appreciation in India for the diversity factor which we inherently possess as a country, and there can be much more cross learning from the vast cultural gaps there exist, between say a Kannadiga and Delhi ite- the unfortunate spat bw Kumble and Kohli is an example, and is covered in R Guha's article here. Kumble's tenacity and background in sports analytics (a company he formed) combined with Kohli's aggression and visceral desire to win could have helped India really become a world champion team and prevent the debacle in South Africa we are witnessing. In India, we need to appreciate diversity instead of mocking it, as I feel is the norm. Nadella's paras about life in HPS hostel offer a good example on those lines.

His descriptions of cricket are fun, including how he was in awe of Jaisimha's on-field presence- his fashionable upturned collar and distinctive gait. I remember having a discussion with VB when he said Azhar left a similar impression on him; VB- Jaisimha is probably the inspiration for Azhar! Actually, Hyderabad seems to have declined as a cricket powerhouse. Anyway, Badminton and Olympic medals have replaced it, which I feel is totally fine. By the way, he's creating a full size cricket stadium in the Microsoft campus, which is good for the game. Cricket needs to be an Olympic sport.

He's given an account of his love story, which is heart warming. He later talks about the travails of having a kid with severe disabilities, and how that experience has shaped him to be much more empathetic to people with different needs.

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Summing up, some of the points of resonance for me:
Business leadership
Technology
Cricket
Literature (references to Snowcrash and Netherlands, books I've read!)
Technology meets human meets government
Diversity in India
Sci fi/AI
A few small things, like his life in Mussoorie in the company of Nanda Devi- a month ago I too shared the company of Nanda Devi!

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

 

A post post the Post

Spotlight (a fab movie on a similar journalistic scoop) and the Post will always be spoken of in the same breath, I suppose. In terms of cinematography, the Post is a more melodramatic, 'Spielbergized' version of Spotlight- more star power (Hanks + Streep is a 1-2 sucker punch), more dramatic camera angles -camera switching often between two scenes- and more music. One of those "two scenes" is classic Spielberg- camera doing different angles and positions of the 'boiler room' of the newspapers- show first the type-setting, then the printing presses, and pan to all the other large machines. Frankly, I felt the boiler room shots were overdone a tad. Spotlight, for example, had none of this. The 'human interest' angle was much more in this movie, definitely- the story of Meryl Streep family, for example. Sounds like me dissing human interest angles, and a vague inner voice criticizes me for doing that.

The Documentary to Human Melodrama scale below. BBC Planet Earth's 'Life in the Air' is excellent- a documentary on quirky birds. I added 'Human' before melodrama because 'Life in the air' does have melodrama, but not human- only of the avian kind.  
   

The Post saw the Supreme Court in its 6-3 ruling, and a united Media (NY Times+Washington Post), come together as one - involved in a show of strength for the 'check and balance' side, in the democracy. Good job, yo, media and jury. 

In the US consciousness, this movie probably comes at a good time- the zeitgeist of the press bashing from Trump and the Metoo movement being represented in the movie by the attitude of Nixon towards the press (his sentences on the white house silhouette shots mirror those from a certain famous twitter handle), and Meryl Streep's rise.

It was also interesting for me that the lawyer team of two in the movie stars two actors who I recognize from some of my infrequent dalliances with Sitcoms- Jared from Silicon Valley and Robert Daley from 4*1 Black Mirror 'USS Callister.

Oh and this was the first movie I've gone to a theater watched alone. But, in my social self's defence, the theater was 750 m away from my house and I booked it just an hour in advance, and I did reach out to a large-ish whatsapp group.

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

 

Deoriatal lake and Chandrashila summit (4,000 m) - a walk to remember

I went with India Hikes this month on the Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek, and I dive right into the stories. There's so much to say, that I think this post will get constant small additions going forward, and there can be a long edit history at the bottom, like a wikipedia page!

S and son- Remarkable story of father carrying 4 Yr old kid through the trek. And there I was using cheat codes to play the game- I “offloaded” my backpack on to a mule for the longest day – the 14km. However, quite a few others did it, and in hindsight was a good decision- allowed me to enjoy the long walk, the last part of which was through inches of snow. Deliberations with D helped, and in the end P too was happy to have offloaded. How to win next time without cheat codes- don't need the two extra layers I had taken, and do core exercises at a friendly neighborhood gym.   

Uttarakhand is the "abode of gods"- godliness is bound to happen because it's slightly cut off from the lowlands and because of its natural splendor. The majestic Trishul peak, the river confluences “prayags” and the pristine and powerful Ganga. Mythology abounds- for example giving “Roop” kund lake its name (Parvati saw her Roop there, using the lake as mirror). And Deoriatal, our campsite? That’s the lake where Yaksha asked Pandavas his questions which knocked out all but Yudhisthir. The fount of Hinduism, is Uttarakhand.

Mighty Ganga and mountains overlooking religious practice - evening Aarti


Got to see who's who of mountains, from the Chandrashila summit. Nanda devi (7,800 m), Hardeol (7,100 m), Chaukhamba (7,100 m), Trisul (7,100m)- more here.  The view from the summit- quite a stunning panaroma. On one side is NandaDevi and friends, and on the other side is Chaukhamba and friends. You could really look through the binoculars forever and ever at the mighty Chaukhamba and Trishul and Nanda Devi. Trisul was majestic- it is shaped like a giant seat and has a vast expanse. Nanda Devi, in fact, despite being the highest of India, is dominated by the Trisul. Trisul has a vast horizontal expanse while Nanda Devi just sticks out sneakily behind it. Kedar dome is spectacular too- literally a dome shaped mountain. All these mountains look pleasing in different ways - morning white rays, evening pink rays, and under the bright mid day sun. It's all another world, really. What if all these mountains came to life, like the Ents did in the great war? 

View from Chandrashila  (Trishul, Nanda Devi, Dronagiri, Hardeol) (somebody referred to it as brother of Sunny Deol. Yeah but Sunny Deol's probably stronger)


The mighty Trisul from Chopta view point

The mighty Chukhamba from Deoria tal view point- trek leader Y brews his own wine, so we suggested he name his wine "Chaukhamba". Other options- he can mix four drinks for it (Chau) and sell it in a bottle (Khamba). Further, the ice for the drink will literally be "on the rocks" (joke credits to H and P); to Chaukhamba's right is Mandani 

To the left of Mandani- Kedar Top, Kedar dome and Gangotri (Ganges' source)


The forest walk was enjoyable- the longest day was largely through 14 km of forest territory. Birds were largely elusive firstly because it was cold so they may be hibernating and secondly due to my bright blue down jacket which is exceedingly photogenic but must be quite a red flag for birds. We missed seeing the Monal (this region is a Monal spotting zone) which is a peacock like beauty (also the state bird of U-Khand). There's the tradeoff between Snow and Flora fauna. When it's really cold in the winter, there's all the beautiful snow around, but that comes with dry trees (More colors in other seasons: Rhododendron red-pink-orange in March-April, Maple red-Orange-yellow in September) and lesser number of birds.  I however did catch the Himalayan Magpie (large, social and pretty), soaring Himlayan Griffon vultures and a Brown and Black UFO.

Himalayan Magpie on my phone camera


People were interesting. Group was diverse and as the trek leader said, almost representative of India coz there were people from South, North, East and West. It was nice to have in the group an ex Mngmt Consult person P - similar work-life experience to talk about- on the long walk back from the summit, had a long fun chat about life and times at work during which I made my work strategies for 2018. P (II) really pushed for Rishikesh and it was thanks mainly to her initiative that the three of us (including A) ended up doing rafting after the trek. M was a hit with the fauna and ended up getting up close and personal with a Marten. H brought dry fruits in zip lock packs for the entire party- hats off for this initiative. While I pelted D with multiple small snowball hits, he scored a massive smack on my face. I suppose if it were a boxing match, I was notching up the points steadily but he delivered the knock out blow so my points did not count in the end. As sis put it, I got a "white eye" from this particular boxing match (below). Mafia, Fuzzy Duck, Contact, "Pass the numerical message via fingers" game, the "name volleyball" games were good fun. Though that evening I was a bit dazed after 3 kms of super heavy lifting of the backpack. 

White eye after the knock out blow administered by D


There were 2 camp sites were we spent our three nights- one by the Deoriatal lake and the other beside specks of snow at Chopta, close to the "market" which was the entry to the path that led to the Tungnath temple. But we spent close to one hour per day just changing- adding and subtracting layers. Sleeping bags and the fleece layers that were provided were really warm, during sleep time. All those mighty layers, therefore, are required only in the night at the camp- because you typically set off nice and early in the morning, which means you get warmed up, and during the wee, cold hours you are snug inside the sleeping bags with your warm tentmates closeby. At night, we had fun with deliberately loud cross talk and leg-pulling across tents. The most memorable moment was when we loudly let out wolf howls and dog yelps and all kinds of noises in the anonymity of the night, led by leader of the pack A. It felt like such a release! Our tent was AAA Company, on one side was Hello Brother Company, and on the other side was Bong Company. Hello Brother company joined in our animal cries. Other fun camp routines were- 1) the constant post-dinner bugging of local guides N and A in the warmth of the kitchen tent to give us some mythical/horror stories about the places we were visiting (they always obliged- eg: Roni Bugyal named after the lost shepherd girl whose Rona (crying) was heard for years, the legend of Roop Kund (see last para)), 2) The constant jokes about successes and failures in "doing your business" in the freezing cold (The Coldplay song Fix You with the lyrics "When you try your best and you don't succeed..." is representative of many people's troubles. Oh and Coldplay was also invoked at night in another context- Starry night described by "There's a sky, there's a sky, full of stars". Even Yellow, with "look at the stars, look how they shine for you" is apt. Also, the band itself, "Cold"play- was very apt. I mean, they had a number called "Shiver", too!)

AAA Company- Squadron leader of Wolf Pack is rightmost (Squadron leader has undergone Paramilitary training), with Subedar A1 and A2

Base camp Chopta, with Blue being dining tent and White being kitchen tent. In the background looms our constant companion, Chaukhamba


Got a lot of induction into other high altitude Himalayan treks from veterans (S and S who summited the previous day itself - no rest day which we mere mortals had! (S slipped away to the Kuari pass trek from here), M, N, S- among whom Kedarkantha, Brahmatal and Har Ki Dun were covered, and trek leader Y), and have built up a good data bank. Some of these mountains have so many stories and people know so many of them that there can be a legit round of "Himalayan treks" at the Bournvita Quiz contest, at the above people can team up. Top on the next list are: Sandakhpu in March due to rhododendrons and birdwatching due to meadow walks; Har ki dun due to long, quite meadow walks; Kashmir Great Lakes because, well, it's the best trek eva. Got hold of S's Google album which has snapshots of his gazillion treks, so that and IH website serve as a good guide.

The entire wolfpack, at Chopta base camp


Further reading, and watching: Meru, the movie, which CK suggested as a must-watch. It ain't no Everest, but it was summitted only very recently, and the movie's on that.  There's the story about the lost nuke on Nanda Devi- a spy story from the cold war times- to be read here  . Also, can rewatch and relisten to the wonderful Rammstein rock ballad "Ohne Dich" - set in high altitude trekker context. And the "Roopkund mystery solved" here.   

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