Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tripping with Tolkien

Published HT Mumbai, 10/11/2007

My version..

It's always nice to be off the beaten Himalayan path; away from the horns, the tourists and constant cellphones. But how often do you feel you've stumbled into strangely familiar country even though this is the first time you've laid eyes on anything?
Some 7 hours drive north of Delhi, 2 hours from Dehradun, and you're in Middleearth. Say hello to small, secretive Chakrata high up in Uttarakhand.
Essentially a cantonment, there really isn't much to see or do in town. And since this area is off limits to foreigners, please leave the white girlfriend home.
Chakrata has no tourist attractions to speak of save for the roaring Tiger Falls some 40km away. Jog down a concrete path staying wary of slippery moss, slush through a stream and you're there. Surging foam cascades down 350ft out of the rock, the force of the fall such that it pushes you away the closer you get. The walk back up the concrete path is arduous till freewheeling silent vultures make us pick up the pace.
You could stay in town or you could, like us, bunk in at the Great Indian Outdoors' campsite. Unlike other tarp affairs, they have showers and electricity here. The tents are massive affairs big enough for four bedding in, complete with attached loos and ceramic thrones. If you get your office guys to go along with you, get them to do some of the 'games' camp counsellor Jagat Rathore has lined up. Build some spine in the process. The weather here changes constantly. It could be bright clear blue one second, you turn away and back; and the valley is filled with cloud that creeps up on you. Slithers under your collar, into your shoes, with a constant pitter-patter on the roof to remind you this isn't fog. Our tent at the Room on the Roof campsite, some minutes before town, was set up as base. The drudgery of driving through dark cloud, fog, rain and landslides on the way up disappears with morning laying the mountains at your feet. Perched precariously high up the mountainside, you can't help feeling like The Fellowship bunking down on Caradhras.
Revived by tea, we hit the road to Viraatkhai 2 km away, where the locals said was an easy hike up to abandoned ruins. Remains of the palace of King Viraat where the Pandavs apparently stopped over for a bit back during the famous family feud. A solitary blocked-up well is the only evidence left of human habitation up here. The 'walk' up gives you the shivers and not just because of the crisply whipping air. Behold Rohan, once mighty stronghold of the Horselords! You half expect Gandalf to come galloping past you. The view from here, at the top of the mountain, is a 360degree panorama of snowclad mountains and cloud covered plains. Definitely worth the huffing and puffing half kilometre up if you don't have Shadowfax.
Far off in the distant east, black mountains loom ominously, bringing Mordor sharply into focus. With China not too far off, it's not hard to see the real Red Eye of Sauron.
Later in the evening, our hosts get us up to speed on the local lore. The extremely off-limits army base in Chakrata is home to the Special Frontier Force, Tibetan soldiers trained by us folks, is why foreigners aren't allowed around here. No one knows how many there are at any given time, even the local chaps. Dunedain anyone? The hidden rangers of the northern forests, the men whose lands were taken away?
The camp guys had a Cathay crew come in for team-building so we decided to play journalist for a day, following them around in ostentatious effort of 'covering' the campsite. Sorry Jagat.
First stop was an abandoned English traveller's way stop where the mems and the saabs stopped for tea and picnic. Weathertop Hill all over again. This time with character building exercises instead of the Nine Riders. An hour of watching check-in agents humiliate themselves, we followed them down to the river to photo them take off rafting. The Yamuna runs a brisk 13 km stretch of pumping white water about 20km from campsite and this is where we were headed. Chappie with me picks up a strange piece of twisted driftwood off the beach. "This is my two-headed snake walking stick and she shall be called the Staff of Wisdom!" he declares. Strange events are afoot, we think to ourselves, especially when he espies the eerily moulded Club of Mayhem a few rocks away.
Launchpad shoot done, we drove down to embarkment point and ran right into the dwarf mines of Moria. A half-hidden, cave-like entrance; the hillside neatly pockmarked with above it and a dark echoing hole on the other bank. Later found out it was actually an abandoned project to dam the river. But what do we city people know. We tried getting up to the cave but sheer walls and beer on the way made this slightly impossible. The only dwarves we met, however, were inquisitive bug-eyed gypsy children determined to introduce us to their snot.
Our last night at camp we spent in introspection and intoxication; the latter leading to great deals of the former. Was all that we saw the effect of substance abuse at high altitude? We'll let you decide.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

An evening with Sri Sri

So Talli took me to see the guru hold audience rock star style in jam packed Sai Auditorium last week. Quite an interesting man...
Most of what he says makes a lot of sense.. simple truths that anyone can realise by themselves, they just need someone else to tell them... or they don't want to accept it themselves..
The man himself is humorously articulate; except when someone asked him why he charges for his brand of spirituality... he left that to his minions...

Then there was that question on retaliation and turning the cheek... and SS says go ahead and strike back.. but with love.. what? Wrong thing to tell a road-raged, parking-afflicted Delhi...
And sure enough, when we left there was some shouting reversing happening outside.
When people hang on your every word, one should be really careful of what they're saying.. is all

Made me think about why people who live up in the mountains or by the sea are friendlier.. maybe being landlocked and having a sewer for a river has something to do with it..

Also something else some guy at the lectern said about the big man having an aura. Up close, without the photoshop, he's a middle aged hippie who likes to pick his nose. Not all the time of course. But he walks into a sardine can of dancing, singing and praise shouting. There's nothing cultish about it, there's very little order, everything's just played by ear...

oh well to each his own