Saturday, October 21, 2017

 

1100 AD Hoy!Sala times, Karnataka farming, VR-self drive

Belur Halebidu- Getting there, and what lies therein

We set out on a road trip to Belur Halebidu - 240 kms west of Bangalore- on a road trip. Weather was co operative, but the innards of the car were not. A wheel alignment issue arose 100 km into the journey- While we bore westward towards Hassan district, the car if left to its own would have gone to Mysore, which is south of Bangalore. In other words, the steering wheel was tilting leftward. Now this gave the car an unnerving wobble- causing us to limit ourself to 60 km. The road was the best highway I have driven on*, but unfortunately we had to live life in the slow lane, and thus I could not play "Life in the fast lane" by The Eagles on the car stereo.

Belur and Halebidu, Hoysala temples, have been recently crowned UNESCO world heritage sites. They were Capitals of the Hoysala kingdom. Interesting apocryphal story- Boy named Sala studying with guru and classmates, Attack by marauding tiger, Guru shrieks "Hoy" which means "strike", Sala bravely strikes and kills the tiger with sword, and grows up and forms the Hoysala kingdom, which takes his nickname. They should name companies this way, today, after some apocryphal story of the founder. Anyway Hoy!Sala has a millennial seeming exclamation mark in the middle of name, also, like a social network handle or something.

The empire flourished between 10th and 14th century, spread across entire Karnataka, and segued into the Vijayanagara Empire.

                                                               Hoy! Sala, go get that tiger 


Marvellous sculpture work 

Marvelous sculpture work on display at both sites. The sculptors seem to have wielded the stone like clay. Below is probably the piece de resistance.

Probably the most iconic sculpture in B-H: woman admiring herself in mirror

Apart from the god-related sculptures, which is probably common temple fare (leaving quality aside), interesting thing was that there was a lot of work depicting life of the plebs- a hunter, a trader with his weighing scales, women with 600 hair styles in various sculptures across the Belur (gender sterotypes here, but its 1000 years ago so please excuse brave young Hoy!Sala and his descendants).

From top left: a) Two hunters- one pleased prolly after successful hunt, second a bit pensive, b) a scene from general life- teenager falls in love with a donkey because a teenager can fall in love with anything (apparently), and lastly that's me subtly appreciating the quality of art


Below are walls lined with seven rows of sculptures - bottom most is elephants for strength, second is lions for bravery, fourth is horses for speed, (strength + bravery + speed = Hoy!Sala).  Third and fiftth are general artist swag in the form of curly patterns. Sixth is scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, seventh is general war scenes, eight is swans, and so on. Top most row is the life of common man, in the Hoy!Sala times. On the right, is further general life- pleb woman drying her hair (not royalty, not divine or anything- just a lay person).

Nice wallpaper- do you want at your home? the gaps in the wall above look Taj Mahal ; General pleb girl drying hair (she has one of the 600 hairstyles on display in the temple)


The pillars are also a highlight, too. Much elaborate work. See below.

                                                                      Whattapilla!

In trying to compare Cambodia (Siem Reap) with Belur-Halebidu - I think while scale is awe inspiring in Cambodia (the massive three face sculptures in Bayon, and the spires of Angkor Wat seen from miles away), here the elaborateness of the work is higher. Macro vs. micro. 

Farmative experience 

We drove (at our enforced gentle pace ) through roads on either side of which lay the verdant farmlands of Hassan district. We saw lots of crops, all identified by agri expert D, and we covered all parts of a basic meal- rotis made of Maize and ragi, Arar ki daal, and Ladies finger curry. We also later inspected Ginger and Chillies, to add a dash of spice. Hope to cement these learnings and thus have more fruitful road trips in the future, by gazing intelligently at the crops. Also, Interstellar connect below- Okra and Maize are the last crops to survive on earth. I don't know when the blight is coming, but these pictures with Ragi and Arar ki daal could get famous later. 

Anti clockwise from top: Ragi on my left and maize on my right for rotis, Maize with corn cob zoom in, Ladies finger curry, Arar ki daal - 100 Rs for the meal- anyone wants?


Self drive and VR section 

Since there has been a throwback to 12th century architecture and to farming, both ancient vocations, this para is to set right the balance of the ages in this post. Further, allows me to put Self drive and VR in the title, as a classic click bait or reader bait for insecure readers (such as me on many days) who want corporate/megatrends gyaan in everything they read.

During the highway drive (my first highway drive in 10 months)- I really felt the need for self drive. Driving on highways is fairly mechanical- no gear changing, limited direction changing- just gotto drone on and on at a constant speed with limited need for manual interventions. And the roads are smooth. In India, while there is chaos is the city, self drive can probably first take off on the highways.

And VR. Well, now that I've visited B-H, I really want to re visit some parts of it - the wall near the Southern gate of the main Halebidu temple, with the seven rows. I am especially interested in the pleb life. But it's 250 km away! I want it in my VR goggles. VR goggles could also have a guide, built in. India tourism could take it up big time- especially maybe as a bait for foreign tourists since we want to ratchet up that number anyway. I'll probably tweet it to them just now.

KA tourism FTW

I saw in a recent TV news panel discussion (starring Rajdeep S and some tourism heavy hitters), that to really get tourism to take off, GoI should focus on two states and make it "model" and really successful, so that others can follow. They had actually suggested KA as one of the two model states. KA has size, history, mountains (albeit no snow), beaches (Gokarna's Kudle beach is as good if not better than any Goa beach, I say basis experience when I went there with NP and DG), big cities (Blr) and town steeped in history (Mysore), and good weather. Therefore, I quite buy that logic on KA. 


Appendix
*probable reason (credits to D): limited heavy vehicle traffic

Sunday, October 15, 2017

 

Two trek mind- Gorakhgad and Irshalgad

I completed two treks over two weeks, about which I’m quite pleased. Some thoughts for your kind consumption below.

This para not just for reading pleasure- 1. An Optimal template for a Western Ghats trek; 2. Small Steps adventures

After being on two treks in sweltering heat (Kudremukh (Ktaka) with NP and SS, and Gorakhgad, with G, N and S), I went on Irshalgadh on a night trek template- get to the base camp after a night trek, thus avoiding the sun; sleep in at night; and get going to the peak early morning, thus again avoiding the sun. And keep in mind that apart from the monsoons, it’s very hot in the Western Ghats. Also, on both occasions, I went with Small Steps adventures- the trek leaders were fun and it was well organized- so check ‘em out. In fact, TL K was also on the second trek, so it was quite fun reconnecting.

Weekend 1: Perilously exciting Gorkhgadh in blistering heat

The first of the two was Gorakhgad. This is an hour’s ride in a big auto rickshaw from Kalyan railway station. After customary facebook and whatsapp group splashes, I found three unsuspecting victims G, S and N- two first time trekkers and one second time trekker, and because the description read “Easy – medium”, I assured them that this would be the start of great trekking career- a career that would take them to great heights. Well, it turned out to be “Medium-difficult” (in the 5 point scale for treks which seems the norm), while the weather was “Difficult” on that same scale. Sweltering and humid. We started off on the climb only at 9 30 AM odd, so that compounded matters. And unfortunately, the poor weather is the overwhelming, uppermost memory of the trek. The next “uppermost” memory is also uppermost in terms of altitude, on the trek- the experience of getting to the peak of Gorakhgadh. You get to a point- The caves- where you can either chill out (the caves are quite cool) or you can choose to fight the next battle- rock climbing to the top. People pondered over it, and after some backed out, the brave/foolhardy (latter is more right) including me decided to undertake it. 

Decision point: is the steep near vertical climb worth the risk?


Kind souls have cut grooves on the fairly vertical rocks, into which you you maneuver your fingers and boot, and use that first to clamber up and then down. That is, you can feel groovy. 

Groovy trek



This went on for about 20-30 meters. Fairly perilous, but quite exciting. And on getting to the top, people did feel a sense of release, which they expressed in the form of an energized photo shoot. It’s such a thing isn’t it, the photo shoot at the top of a trek. (Digression: Like how they have beach photo shoot etc, for pageants, they should have trek top photo shoots. Also, only the models making the top qualify- thus making it an interesting and “real” fitness test- instead of gym-shaped “unreal” physique based fitness).  Photo shoot involved everyone jumping et al, but I can't find em so all I can find is this egotistic picture of me alone: 

Mortal Kombat with invisible foe


The climb down was sapping as hell, but just as sapping the climb down was, enervating the food was. It was Bhakri (rice rotis) and traditional Marathi fare – by itself quite tasty, made sumptuous by our sapped state.  

G’s very fair point- he imagined a trek to be much more of stand and look around and admire the view, rather than just a non-stop arduous climb. It’s probably a balance that has to be struck- hard work vs. sit-back-and-relax. Can’t do too less or too much of the other. See picture below.

What makes a good trek


Weekend 2: The one that did not happen- Kaas plateau

Few of us from weekend 1 started doubling down on a drive to Kaas plateau – the deccan plateau’s own valley of flowers, to rival the more famous cousin up north. However, a landslide on Tuesday, spotting adroitly by one of the conspirators, forced us to abandon this plan.

Weekend 3: Friendly Irshalgadh under overcast skies (which snuffed out the “star power” of the trek)

The trek starts from Thakurwadi village, which is an hour’s ride from Panvel station. We set off at around 7 PM, and got to Irshalwadi (base camp) at 8 30 PM after a torch light guided hike. (Digression humor- if Wadi means small town, then there’s this town itself called ‘Wadi’. As it grows and turns into a city, they’ll have to rename it. But why is there a town called Wadi; it’s like a city called City or town called Town)
Night trek with Panvel city lights in the background


I learnt that the village of Irshalwadi (around 40 households), which overlooks the vast twinkling landscape of Panvel city, itself does not have power. Apparently, the “powers that be” assured them the power is on its way after Diwali (a week away) but the homeowner is skeptical. Dinner was at the hut; while the fare was decent (chapatti, bhaaji, rice, daal), it wasn’t a plate-polisher like Gorakhgad.

Once we set up camp, I was really keen on seeing (Skyscanner app) and capturing some Galaxies on my all new Galaxy S7 phone. However, the evening downpour meant that clouds overran the sky and the poor stars were left unwitnessed. I was the only star my trek mates were able to see that night (note that Ashwin is the name of a star in ancient India naming scheme). However, there was a bonfire, and the accompanying banter - everyone recounted embarrassing stories. Some common themes were excess inebriation and tight trousers tearing on the way to work.

Also re-picked up some basic Marathi – Paus, Ghasargundi - a blast from the past from the old primary school Aurangabad days. I was the only non Marathi speaker on the trek, and though trek leader O, a jolly and loud chap, helpfully kept exhorting people to switch to Hindi, there was some Marathi doing the rounds. No complaints, really.  

Next morning was the hike to the top. Weather was great and I enjoyed doing some Leptopodotrism and also spotting one UFO (probably a hawk). There was of course the customary photo session at the top. While we were hiking down, it started getting really hot at 9 30 odd- I could experience waves of heat hit me.  I could see the fear in the eyes of the poor folk who were jut clambering up, and I could hear the envy in their voices, when they said- “oh, you did this as a night trek?”. Overall, it was much easier than Gorakhgad (excluding the weather factor), and thus I term it “friendly”.

Gotto do random pose at the top: Meditation on rock (pun intended)


Hat doff to employer for enabling connect with new people I meet

Little hat doff to my current and past employers here (more the current), for enabling me to connect with folks from different walks of life:

Weekend 1 FMCG: Was sharing the backseat of the big auto rickshaw with 2 folks from Nielsen and 1 from a FMCG firm. FMCG lady mentioned that my kind employer was working at their place, and she also mentioned that she used Nielsen data all the time, at which the Nielsen folks perked up. So it was an interesting connection. I also remember Nielsen from old Equity research days- their retail store data is the bible for companies and for analysts.

Weekend 2 Quadraple whammy- Wham 1: one of the trek leaders was a Steel sales manager, who mentioned by the bonfire that JSW’s plant in Vijayanagar is fascinating looking (I should have probed more). I had some context due to my own Steel company project days, Wham 2: The hut owner talked about elusive “electrons”, despite laid “poles and wires”- something I know from the rural electrification project, Wham 3: An equity research analyst whose firm does not do PMS and Brokerage, but only sells research for a fee- connect from old equity research days and from current project with a brokerage firm.  Wham 4: A mason contractor from Panvel; I thought how cement companies must be vying for his attention, key influencer that he is- something based on a past project in the cement industry.

Addenda

1. Sir RSP (Honored by "Sir" in this post for his astute observation and contribution to the Trekking Experience Curve) has proposed a modification, as below. He has introduced terms such as GPG limit and MEETICCIATWEM which are valuable for a deeper understanding of the problem at hand. I salute him for his valuable inputs. My response to it is below. 

RSP's modification to the curve


However, the curve RSP has drawn will vary from person to person, because the GPG limit is defined for every person. However, the original curve is valid for all people- different treks lie at different points in the "Optimal experience window" (For example, Mt Everest has a high x,y co ordinate and random neighboring hillock has a low x,y co ordinate), and a person picks based on his or her GPG point. Therefore, the original curve is true in general, and RSP's curve is true for an individual.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

 

Read Panama Papers for bearish worldview, avant garde journalism, and the red pill

There are some books which aim to deliver a sweeping commentary of the state of the world and humanity. They take you on a whirlwind tour of countries and cities, of ways of doing things (designing rockets, electric cars, managing offshore companies, illegal arms dealing, spying, etc), and different human motivations (save the world, make money, etc). I am currently liking such books. There are some books of this kind that make you bullish on the prospects of humanity - like Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. Electric cars and Mars colonies to save the world. And then there are those that make you bearish- such as Panama Papers- very rich people enriching themselves even further at the expense of visibly poor they who can see around them everyday. There is deep pursuit in the common advancement of human consciousness (Elon Musk), vs. deep pursuit of advancement of an individual's consciousness (consciousness = bank balance in these cases) at the cost of the collective human consciousness. On the fiction side, there is Timelike Infinity- an impressive sci fi romp in which the last few humans together fight to save the race from anti-matter creatures, vs. The Night Manager - the fight of a few humans against the wrongful government / system.

Anyway, specifically on Panama Papers: I will not be too specific, of course- I don't want a contract put on my head: But impressive effort on the investigation- a worldwide consortium assembled quickly and working towards a collective goal over a year. Spectacular assemblage of bad guys- heads of states from really impoverished countries, sports stars, criminals, what not. A peep into new age investigative journalism- it's all about the data (terabytes of it). The movies Spotlight and Citizen 4 (On Edward Snowden), and now Panama papers- these three over the last couple of years have given me a good view.

I feel pleased with the fact that not a single Indian features in the book- perhaps one indication that our country does not fare too bad, relatively. If you compile a list of the Offshore country wrongdoing multiple- defined as the number of people of a country indicted by the book, divided by the country's per-capita-GDP - then India is right at the bottom of the list. Top most must be Guinea, and certain other African countries.

There is a powerful conflict of interest running in our current economic system. Politicians are financed by rich folk- who own the shell companies. So politicians are unlikely to support a clean-up drive. Media, too, is predominantly business owned - there again lies is a problem. Hard to see how clean-up drive will happen.

This book is like a "red pill" for the 99%- those who pay their taxes through the normal route. They are truly in the matrix! There is a great essay by the anonymous whistleblower at the end of the book- really nerve-tingling is the fact that we don't know who this person is, but we can read his thoughts and writing in a best selling book. The essay highlights several key issues in the economy today in the backdrop of shell companies, and also brings out his or her own fears- reg. how whistleblowers in the past have been given the cold shoulder.

So, imagine I'm Morpheus and you are Neo, a taxpayer who pays TDS. I am standing in front of you. In one hand I hold the TV remote, letting you go back to the Champions Trophy cricket. On the other hand, I have the Panama papers book. Neo- Blue pill, or red? 


----------
Appendix: Shell company 101:

What is : Shell companies legally allow the owners of the companies to not be disclosed. Certain jurisdictions legally allow shell companies to exist.

Example deal: A company wants to bribe a dictator. They will just transfer the funds to a shell company owned by the dictator. Because the ownership is opaque, no one knows who owns the shell co.

First layer of protection: The offshore havens like Panama and Canary islands- allows shell companies to be registered, with undisclosed owners.

Second layer of protection: Nominee directors: Might be just a random struggler in a Panamian slum. In fact, the book identifies one such woman- a director in 25,000 shell companies. A nominee director is in the statement of incorporation of a shell company- the "Real owner" is not named. If the investigators investigate, they will be given the name of the nominee director.

Third layer of protection: "Inception": The shell company is owned by multiple shell companies, all of whom are incorporated in different tax havens. Like the Russian Matryoshka dolls, or like in Inception- dream in a dream in a dream.

Fourth layer of protection: Friends and relatives: the dictator himself is not the real owner, close friends of the dictator are.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

 

Vicious AC cycle: 1 cooling to you gives 15 heating to Atmos

These days, you're either subject to the harshness of the (natural) oven or you are under the benevolence of an air conditioner. I played cricket past two Saturdays, and got absolutely taken out. Before I could hit any stroke, the sun hit its stroke and I was down for the count. My friend ST's whatsapp status reads "Invincible summer".

(Distracting pun here; did not want to disturb the flow of the para above: A good sun stroke hits the sweat spot while a good cricket stroke hits the sweet spot)

Firstly, we corporate MBA types have been spoilt by air conditioning. As a kid in Delhi, my "PT" class was the last, and I would run around between 1 and 2 PM with merry abandon. Now look at me!

Secondly, coming to the nub of the matter here. So, it's getting hotter. We use the AC for longer hours. We expel all the heat from the heat exchanger, and make it even further hotter outside. Further, we've anyway generated more than 50% of our electricity from coal, having already added a good amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. What's going to stop this vicious thermodynamic cycle? I'm just saying thermodynamic because I remember all those Pressure and Enthalpy cycles we used to plot during UG days (Thermodynamics 101), and also perhaps to add some gravitas to the writing.

Actually going to the thermodynamic heart of it, the underlying thermodynamic cycles of thermal power generation and the air conditioning are inherently inefficient- can't go to 100 no-sir-no. The efficiency of ACs in India (some kind soul did a survey, link below) is 20%. On top of that, factor in the 30-40% efficiency of coal plants (wikipedia confirming vague memory from "Power Plant Engineering" course; that's around the theoretical maximum of the "Rankine cycle"). And then the 20% transmission losses to get it to you here via power lines. So when NTPC burns coal, only 0.2*0.4*0.8 =6% of that is coming to you. Rest is all heat dissipated into the atmosphere.

One way to think about it: for one cooling unit into your room, you have let out 15 units of heating into the atmosphere. As you put out 15 units, it becomes hotter. And you have to release 2 units of cooling into your room in the next hour. But wait, you've released 30 units now.

Now I'm supposed to give solutions, like a lame, formulaic essay? Ok, so go out in the sun in the mornings, and thus get used to the heat more, and after that maybe you'll need the AC less number of hours. The 175 GW Solar target set by GoI will help. Lastly, watch the lights at home. If not the AC, save in some other form. Oh, and read the biography of Elon Musk, so that you get inspired and purchase a Tesla (whenever feasible) and install solar on your roof. Oh, and you upwardly mobile MBA types- purchase a fuel efficient car, not an SUV.

Link to kind soul's work: http://consumeraffairs.nic.in/consumer/writereaddata/splitac.pdf

Friday, March 17, 2017

 

Beware of tennis seeping into your cricket

So I've been fortunate to be playing a fair bit of both for the past two months. I am a left-hander in cricket, and I used to feel fairly pleased with the synergies between my tennis backhand and my batting. Many of my tennis backhand strokes reek of cricket.

However, after a few mediocre outings in the nets and in cricket matches, I have realized that there are clear differences, and one should be very wary of picking up some habits from one's tennis game and bringing to cricket. Here we go:

1. All tennis backhands are classic "across the line" shots, which of course are to be shunned in cricket- play straight! A medium pace ball from over the stumps was on my 5th stump (outside off) and I was trying to flick it. I played inside the line, and was beaten, and left ashamed. And at that point, while I stood there blushing to the same red as the SG cricket ball, it struck me- that was a standard tennis backhand shot. Tennis backhand shots are by nature "across the line"- you end up fetching balls from outside your off stump and hitting it towards say midwicket.

2. Tennis backhands are only towards the (theoretical) midwicket/mid-on region; at most at times to mid-off (the down the line shots). In cricket, you have the whole square to consider.  

3. In Tennis, you necessarily play away from the body. Both in forehand and backhand, you position yourself such that you get room to swing your arms. However, in cricket, you want to move your foot such that you get to the "pitch of the ball" and play close to the body.

4. In tennis, you should meet the ball early. If you meet the ball ahead of your body, it's an aggressive shot. However in cricket, you can take your time- you can play late off your backfoot- you do not always have to reach for it.
  
The other way round, too, there are some aspects you should not bring from cricket into tennis. This below point I learnt early on only (the above 4 are fresh ) but just putting this one here for completeness sake, maybe I'll add more later.

1. In cricket, you play your shot according to the length which the bowler gives you. If it's short, you play your backfoot shot, if it's full you drive. However, in tennis, because you have more freedom to move up and down, you have to make your length such that you hit the ball at the optimum point.

One should be wary and conscious of all of these because in principle, cricket and tennis are bat -hitting-ball kind of games, and there is a risk of these characteristics being passed on from one to the other.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

 

Learnings from a Pasting received at Railways Ground, Parel

Can't simply bowl after a month and expect to hit the right areas! My warm up balls today were despatched for 2 sixes to the square leg fence and the long on fence. The one despatched to the long off fence was actually on the off stump and a decent ball, but was just not fast enough to get the better of a remarkably good batsman. The guy- the right handed opening bat-was doing a Sehwag- no foot movement and then giving the ball a solid thwack.  I came back fairly strongly in my second two overs- the highlight being two yorkers on the trot- one of them squeezed out by the batsman and one of them crushing toe and getting me an LBW. This yorker, btw, was the stuff of dreams- maybe there was some reverse swing too :) Also learnt from teammates that I generate good bounce- which means that I should pitch it up more, and if I pitch it short then it may sit up and I might get the treatment that I got on this day!

If you see, I have completely steered clear of the numbers here- suffice it to say that i got a royal pasting fro Sehwag. I bowled only one bad ball in the second spell- and that was because halfway through the run up i was toying with whether i would bowl a slower ball but then i ditched it. Decide fast and stick to that decision! In bowling as in life, eh?

I made a measly 6 (5) while batting. I was middling it well- though there was a nicked 4 to the fine leg boundary which is as legit as an edged 4 gets because I was anyway flicking- so what if the ball got less of the bat than desired! I got out to a very good ball- in my defense. Outside off, good length, seaming away, and I nicked it to the keeper. It is the best ball I have gotten out to, and would have made the highlights reel of the bowler's career. But yeah- served up in reality what's served in telly all the time- new ball at good length outside off- you could let it go.

A run out followed immediately afterwards- because the non-striker V (who went on to make 47) did not set running policy at the start of their partnership. I am a scamperer and pretty quick between wickets and stolen singles are important component of my runs, but not everyone is like that. V continued scampering even after i left, and other partner N did not scamper, and the poor guy fell short. So many context elements- N had kept wickets earlier- so N and V should have had the conversation at the start about running policy.

Also learnt a lot about field placements, today- learnt more about how to quickly move the fielders rather than the actual placement. We wasted a lot of time in setting fields, and were almost docked an over. Also, was faced with the question of "when to react"- after you realize the batsman is despatching short ones, pack the square leg field- mediately? or wait for one more despatch!?

We lost the game, by the way.

Also, ITC grand central looks good- it overlooked our stadium:



Saturday, December 03, 2016

 

Himalayan vulture and nature momentum






Notes on the above comic:
On the trek up Nag tibba, spotted a few Himalayan vultures soaring effortlessly. They are pretty massive. They ventured close to us- enabling the DSLR holder in the group to capture a few shots, and I could also see the body- all furry. I was seeing them second time- saw them first soaring NYC-skyscraper-high above me at Mcleodganj. They have this distinctive black and white underside of the wing which can enable you to clearly distinguish them - I've tried to capture that in the picture above. Also, for a full 5-10 minutes, I could not see them flap their wings at all! Wikipedia later told me- "They soar in thermals and are not capable of sustained flapping flight" . Also, apparently, this is the "largest and heaviest bird found in the himalayas"

During the Nag tibba trek, the highlight national geographic moments were the spotting of a black and white woodpecker and witnessing the "starry starry night" (all right, Alt tabbed and played it). P had chosen to hum Coldplay's "sky full of stars" that evening, equally apt.

Infusion of energy by the spotting of the black and white woodpecker
On an arduous trek, when my energy is draining and spirit is fading, or during times when the plodding steps seem like boring rigmarole, all it takes is a piercing bird call  from a seemingly viewable range, to perk up the spirits a notch, and when the spotting happens, vigour levels are shooting through the roof. This happened ~1 km downhill in the 9 km downward journey, with this episode becoming all the more interesting because I saw it coming from much before. A couple of hours ago, 1 km before reaching the peak, I saw a few holes in the tree trunks and asked our guide if there might be some friendly woodpeckers around, knock knock knocking on tree's barks. He shrugged and said indeed, there might be, and we let that pass. Now, a couple of hours later on the way back, I heard the shrill repeat bursts which would be either from a kingfisher or from a woodpecker. Drifted off the path, chased the sound down, and there it was. Black and white as a zebra, knocking away on the bark of a tree, hopping straight up vertically in characteristic woodpecker style. Excitedly pulled N and a fellow trekker in the group off the trail and showed them Mr B&W. I got pretty energized and after this subjected our our Trek leader to much chatter. Including one very fun activity of setting up an abandoned Bacardi rum bottle on a ledge and taking stone pot shots at it. While i scored many pebble hits, the TL scored a rock hit which dramatically shattered the bottle to pieces.

"Sky full of stars" or "Starry Starry night"- play one of them now as you read this
That evening was the starriest I've seen in my life. An arm of the Milky Way was like a white stain of star dust across the black sky, and I realized the aptness of the name. Trek leader Jude pointed out Pleides- a bright cluster. We saw many shooting stars. Another shining object slowly trailed across the sky, and J told us that that's a satellite. We also observed Princess Cassiopea posing for her beach calendar shoot. Orion, usually right over head in the city sky, we saw rising from the horizon at 7 PM odd and reaching by 10 odd the point were we are used to seeing him. The sky was truly marvelous. Made me later wonder, interest among kids in astronomy would be so much more in places where kids can just see the stars at night. Reminds me of the line from Interstellar- "We used to look up at the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we look down and worry about our place in the dirt".

Same nature momentum propelled me next weekend
Next weekend happened to be in the beaches of Andaman- this is probably the most exciting three weekends I've had in recent memory. Imagine a game of football between the teams "Happening  weekend" and "Sedate weekend". Commentary- "Hills with the ball but face to face with the defender Rainy-weekend, Hills passes to Beach, OOO bad tackle by Fever-weekend but Hills gets the ball to to Sports-weekend.....GOOAAAL- Sedateweekends has been thrashed!!". Anyhow, I learnt at Andaman from V that you can see the international space station at night, so what i saw at nag tibba was perhaps the ISS. When faced with the starry night in the beach at Havelock, I could coolly pull out my fresh gyaan (from just the week before) and enlighten my "starry eyed" teammates. Then, i saw on a nature trail a black and white woodpecker yet again. It made such a din with its pecking- it was very loud especially given the silence of the evergreen forest. A smart Woodpecker can be hired by a rock band for playing the drums.


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