Monday, February 27, 2006

Moonlight Sonata

It’s been long since I saw the amazing video of that Bally Sagoo remix, “ Chandni raatein..Chandni raatein, saara jag soye hum jaaghe, taaron se Karen baatein..Chandni raatein..”

It was around 9.45 on Saturday night, the 12th of Feb. It wasn’t all that dark, so things were visible to the naked eye though for me it was through my spectacles. We were in front of the Leech rock, now just a rock and leeches will appear once monsoon comes. Suddenly, we see something crawl up the rock and reach the top in less than a jiffy. This left mine and Mayur’s jaw dropped when we realized that it was our Manja who had accomplished this feat. Personally this was the scene-stealer of the whole show.

Circa 2000, Hyderabad: Four fresh grads just out of college in an apartment. All had similar backgrounds except a vertical divide, a chasm separating them. One had done ‘it’ and the remaining three had not even heard about it. A Man among the boys!

The events that were to ensue on the fateful weekend of Feb had all the makings of a potboiler. It was destined to have its fair share of heroes, emotions, item numbers, a couple of ‘rapes’ and even a guest appearance and of-course naach-gaana what with Chandan resembling an old gramophone stuck at ‘Tinka tinka zara zara’ .An edge-of-the-peak suspense thriller with happy ending and group photo and all!

First week of Feb: I was still nursing my injury from the bike trip when I got a call from Chandan asking whether I was game for a moonlight trek to KP. Boy, it’s KP! The chasm suddenly appeared to be a ford. A trek to Kumaraparvata (KP for trekkers) that too during a moonlit night doesn’t happen too often and I agreed with glee.

The trek was planned for the second weekend of Feb the 11th and 12th.The full moon day was due on 13th.

Now that you know what to expect from this article, some terminologies/phrases one should be acquainted with, before going ahead with this travelogue (incidentally, all terms except one owe their origin to Kannada):

· Bhattara mane: A quaint adobe on the way to KP, which also doubles up as guesthouse cum restaurant.

· Mantapa: A dilapidated structure half-way through to KP where usually people relax before deciding whether to continue with the dirge or play cool and go home.

· Patch haakonda: Used alternately with ‘Hoge haakonda’ has no relationship to the biggest snake, Anaconda. The phrase just means that some fellow trekker has developed some malfunction because of which the buffer time has to be used up.

· Dinki-pataar: If you are in the habit of using the word ‘ damaar’ here’s a word, which packs more punch but almost means the same. It means one’s body has gone for a toss. (Somehow, the term ‘oosht’ has lost its charm these days)

· Kozhikode: My personal favorite and my brush with the word happened during this trek. Sivaram, the mallu machan used this word after seeing the thunder thighs of Ranjan. The word is colloquial for homos!

We were nine members who eventually took the bus. Ones who missed the bus and were missed by the team were Mukunda, Hunter, Chandru (Jai Maharashtra), Sudheer, the Man and Hampi; these were not the only ones who were missed but I chose to take their names. The other veterans like Bori were equally missed what after hearing about his escapades!

The nine were: Aravind GJ (Gundumane), Shakil, Amin Bhai, Krishna, Sivaram Subramani, Ranjan, Mayur, manjunath and naga.

GJ, Chandan and Krishna had twice done KP earlier, Mayur had attempted twice but had not completed it and for the rest it was the first time. To use a cliché, it was a mix of experience and young blood, the word ‘young’ being subjective.

Kukke, the temple town in Dakshina Kannada, is well known for its Subramanya temple. We land here after a last seat ride on KSRTC red bus in the wee hours of Saturday, the 11th of Feb. We had all the time in the world to take some rest before starting the long walk towards KP since we had to reach KP only at night.

After some struggle to get the rooms, we managed to get a family room in one of the lodges (Apsara?). After the daily ablutions, we left towards KP full on enthu less on gas. More than anything, the stories I had heard about KP – how first 4 kms test the steely nerves of best of trekkers; how teams split up at mantapa due to difference of opinion and moreover, how many had missed out to reach KP after staying put on Sheshaparvata only to lament later, had formed a kind of mythical imagery in my mindscape.

The advantage of going on a trek with ppl who have already done it is that you know before hand what to expect. They are your Linda Goodmans, Bejaan Daruwallahs, Maa reetambaras. (With her in the fray, Cricket could be reduced to Book-cricket- only way you can score an odd run is by opening the page no. 8!)

So, once you know what’s gonna happen with you, you like Boy scouts will Be prepared. So were we.

With sun beating down on us, we started ascending at 10.15 AM. First few steps and it was apparent that this was not going to be an easy-meat though we were blessed since the initial walk was in the woods. I was huffing and puffing when Mayur came to my rescue with his ‘ tallu naga, tallu ‘ chants which somehow bucked me up to walk till our first break at a rock. Having known that the next big thing would be Bhattara mane, I looked around to see the scenes just in case I had to write the travelogueJ. We decided looking at the shredded leaves that we were in the deciduous forest.

It exactly took us 2 hr 13 mins to reach Bhattara mane, which I suppose is very good timing. By this time Ranjan had already patch-haakondidda. At Bhattara mane we did what all other trekkers have been doing – took rest, hogged like wolves and went on a long siesta.

BTW, the whole trek could have been in jeopardy if not our negotiating trio of GJ, Amin bhai and mayur had not smooth talked and greased the forest dept official at the check post just after Bhattara mane! Apparently, there is a directive from the forest dept not to allow anyone to go past the check post during evening after an untoward incident involving a pigheaded researcher losing his way in KP happened sometime back. “There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?"” – Kerry Packer during World Series Cricket.

Here comes the guest appearance part, which I had mentioned earlier. We met this middle-aged man whose name no one knows and was referred to as ‘uncle’ all along who suddenly had this idea of having his tryst with his destiny and started doing KP. He tagged along with us and didn’t speak much but followed us just like our shadows. With his neatly tucked-in shirts and leather slippers he looked a complete misfit. Ram Gopal Verma would have loved this!

We now were in the scene, which had not much to crow about but for tufts of burnt grass and it’s demoralizing to see mountains after mountains having nothing but burnt grass. Streams were also dried up so the water scarcity stared directly in our eyes. With all things including one’s cloths feeling heavy we made it to mantapa. It was around 5.45Pm and so we had ample amount of time for some time pass and tea. After the beautiful sunset, appeared the item number of the day on the firmament – the moon. The entry of the moon was not less dramatic than any hero in an Indian film. First we could sense the moonlight but could not see the moon itself as we were behind a mountain that was blocking the appearance of the moon. Stars too were aplenty.

Torch in our hands, we left towards Sheshaparvata. Couple of raping sessions and we were on the Sheshaparvata. Only now we had a glimpse of the reason for which we had endured much. Ah, KP at last some 1640mts (?) above sea level!

An underdog going against all odds and making a mark makes a hit filmy story. The last hurdle on the way to KP is a rock popularly known as the Leech rock. The way Chandan or Krishna or GJ climbed it didn’t mean much to me because it was expected of them. But, what left us dumbfounded was Manja’s sortie. Here’s a man whose vital statistics could put Olive Oyl to shame and who always demeans himself with a purpose, suddenly makes mockery of the dreaded rock! Unbelievable.

The baptism by fire at last happened at 10.15 PM on Saturday. The road to perdition had led us to the Mecca of trekking (I am known for using hyperboles). It was cold and windy on the peak so much so even sleeping bags proved to be of not much use. Spare a thought for the uncle who had to sleep in the open. Sivaram gave his jacket to him. This perhaps was the gesture of the trek.

On KP one can see horizons after horizons of Western Ghats and it’s such a humbling experience. (This line was added as an afterthought).

With so many Philipos, Murphy’s Law had to come into play and it did. We came down, though reluctantly, not because we loved to stay up there but because our limbs had stopped listening to us. Dinki-pataar. It was a photo finish to our 3.15 PM Rajahamsa.

Now that we have done the moonlight trek, Chandan’s mind has started to go in what Calvin calls ‘irrelevant tangent’- KP during monsoon and amavaas ki raat! Hazaaron khwaaishe aisi ke har khwaaish pe dum nikhle;bahut nikhle mere armaan phir bhi kum nikhle.(If there are still someone to whom I and Mukunda have not advertised ‘Hazaaron khwaaishe aisi’, go grab a DVD) Chandan send me the dates.

If I were a Marquez, I could have turned the whole experience in to a magical realism or a Gulzar I could have at least penned a beautiful nazm on the chandni raat. Since I am neither I will sign-off with my favorite lines from ‘Mysore mallige’-

‘…Hunnimeya raatriyali ukkuvudu kadalaagi ninnolume nanna kandu…ninnolire nanna manasu..” (Hunnime= Full moon day)

Quovadis, a trawellogue

‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ – Robert Pirzig.Period.

This is perhaps one book, which inspired at least three people to make this trip.

The plan was to hit the coastal Karnataka on the motorcycle, see as many places as possible and be back in 4 days. The emphasis was more on 4 days than on going places (unintentional bad pun). So, the initial plan was to leave Bangalore on 26th of Jan ‘06, the Thursday, go to Mangalore and from there on to Karwar covering Marawante, Murudeshwar, Gokarna et al and then b2b via Hubli on 29th of Jan ‘06. This planning happened virtually but for the devotees of Bacchus the ‘real thing’ had to happen somewhere else and that turned out to be the Pecos. (I am not an expert on pubs but I can tell you for sure that the terrace is not the best of places for the beer).

Taking detour lemme tell you why such a laborious planning for just a motorcycle journey, that too when ppl like me n Mukunda almost clock the same distance on a weekly basis. The idea was to make this trip as a learning experience for the ultimate hurrah of the year – hold your breath -Khardungla!

The ‘gang’ comprised a cross-section of …well everything…a rank holder to an almost school dropout; a right wing wannabe corporate to a confused communist; a teetotaler to a pivot; a blue whale to a pale cadaver – without naming you had ‘em all. So, there was Krishna, mukunda, Niranjan, Hampi, Chandan, Pramod, Arvind, Manjunath and nagaraj- all gung-ho about their ‘first’ experience.

I am in a quandary – whether to be a chronicler or a conditioned travelogue writer. Just like the book says in the prologue that it is neither perfect about the zen-thing nor factual on the motorcycle, this travelogue too doesn’t chronicle everything that happened during the trip nor I have read any travelogue to be conditioned.

Let me begin from the beginning..the genesis of the biking happened after the debacle of our Goan sojourn! The planned biking trip to Goa never happened and this perked the gang to up the ante and make it to the highest motorable road in the world (?) and take a sweet revenge - on who is yet to be decided.

See the paradox. The guys who failed, that too comically to even rev up the engines to Goa, suddenly decide that they will go to Ladakh and settle for nothing less! Is it competition, craze or just the bloated ego?

And so, the Pecos happened on 10th of Jan. Believe it or collapse we even captured the minutes of meeting! Did everything go as per the plan – yes and no. Now then, it was decided that since it was our first motorcycle trip we would try and accommodate.. well nigh ‘solpa adjust’ on all fronts.

After all the initial hiccups about the lack of bikes, more of men etc we eventually settled down at Hunter’s den on 25th, a day before RD parade. When so many interesting men flock together the least you expect is to sleep at peace. And the same thing happened.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRinggggggggggg went all alarms at some ungodly hour and lo and behold the D-day had come at last…26th Jan which seemed far-off on 25th had ultimately proved to be punctual, leaving everyone gasping for breath and Mukunda furious for not having had his dose of sleep!

So, as Sudheer(one who didn’t make the trip and was missed by one and all ; yeah Sudheer ninna miss maadkondvi kano !) always says we were ALL SET to take the plunge…and to our own surprise happened at almost exact time we had planned to leave Bangalore! Some times lack of confidence too has some advantages..

6.15 AM – the time we started from Hunter’s Yeshwantapur house towards Mangalore. The gang comprised everyone listed above minus Hampi who excused himself for a day and would join us the next day and the bikes- 2 Bullets (Pramod on his Electra and Mukunda on his Machismo), 2 Fieros (Hunter on his friend Punith’s machine and me on my ‘lottery’ bike) and an Yamaha (Amin bhai)…and so had to a bike-pool and it was 5/8 (sounds more like ordering coffee when you go out with your family)

We took the Bangalore- Hassan road. Since, Hunter had vociferously campaigned for breakfast only in Hassan or CR Pattana and big tumbler coffee only in Sakleshpur, as we are naïve as naiveté goes all along thought everything will happen to the tee but…come Nagabhushan’s Kunigal Mukunda’s bullet starts to have a leak..can’t do much but to have a breakm, have breakfast…

After Kunigal, we decided to stop only @ Hassan for lunch. But, one thing you should always be prepared for on the highways are benign offshoots known as ‘by-passes’. So, we had to by-pass and unwillingly (unwittingly?) agreed to ride for an hour more and go to Sakleshpura.It was our first day and so mind had all control over the body. Hence, all the ideals and principles of team work and all were, we made it to Sakleshpura around 1PM.You know you are in an economically strong zone if you take 30mins to cover 300mts..and that’s what happened. After going thru this rigmarole, we were guided to a hotel by Pramod .Ah, our first official brake of the day!

PuliyogareÓ(Ó All rights reserved by Iyengars) had a wonderful effect both on us and on the bikes..we were now prepared for the item number of the day , Shiradi ghat. It was one helluva ride on the ‘Ghati’ and to our surprise we even got our chemistry right!

Things go wrong only when you think you have crossed all your t’s and dotted the I’s and it was my Fiero which taught the lesson that machines after all are machines and they too have a right to go wrong at times..Just after Ghati my cycle conked up and that’s the reason why Mukunda’s Machismo has clocked an extra 40 Kms..the bike developed problems because of engine oil and we were stranded in a non-airtel zone. After trying a lot at cooling-off the engine and in the process even coming across a good samaritan who gifted us a bottle of water and such stuff, we finally got a mechanic to fix it and becos of all this, the team was hit on two counts – one, it lost precious 3hrs of daylight and an opportunity to watch RDB FDFS in mglr!

After having lunch @ Kamath, Nelyadi we left towards Mangalore..a really scary experience! With light fading and high-beam headlights glaring at our eyes, we had to struggle and do all that was possible to reach the safe haven of Mangalore and its scarier to even imagine what would have happened if the fate that had to strike Hunter’s headlight had struck a day earlier!

The Batmen of the day reached Mglr and had to ride further to reach Suratkal and we celebrated (celibated?) our first night at the KREC guest house….went to beach,hit bottle.

Day TWO: A change in the team..out goes Pramod and in-comes Hampi..but with Pramod we even lose his Electra it was by-two ride on all bikes.

Udupi. After breakfast and temple we left towards Marawante. It was a picturesque ride what with beautiful water bodies infested every 3 kms or so..we met Pramod who guided us to Brahmavara from where a boat-ride took us to Bengre beach..Sun n’ sand..frisby and all..hungry ;no food but good fun..

From here on it was just 100kmph on all machines but sometimes reminding the cricket-fan riders of Michael Holding, whenever ever-so-cool cars whizzed past us at most unexpected of junctures..Whispering-death was all that came to mind.

Marawante- a place where the tarmac cuts across the river and the beach..a place of interest for all shutterbugs to capture sun-set. Unfortunately, for us it was a big dampener, as the sun didn’t oblige too much. Then came the shocker of the day. Witnessed an accident of two students on bikes hit by a truck..tried to help them..were not much successful. Left towards Murudeshwara- a beach cum temple town. It was once again dark and Hunter’s headlight got burnt and it was Chandan’s audacity and Bullet’s headlight that came in handy ( Amin bhai saala teersta idini).Reached Murudeshwara via Amin bhai’s Bhatakala. Stayed in a rented house.Hit the bottle.

Day three: Went around Murudeshwara – a neo-commercialized temple town with muck strewn all along the beach. It was fun to watch people using waves as auto-flush! Dropped the plan of going to Gokarna. So, its Honnavara and Shimoga via Jog. After Honnavara, its seemingly easy ride owing to less traffic. We take B-H road and it’s once again Naga who comes into picture at the wrong time at the wrong place. Speeding at a narrow lane I see a truck on the opposite side and hit a ditch to miss the truck and fell! An unwanted delay induced into the itinerary once again by me..After falling down Naga’s reaction – was it over-reaction, genuine concern or just trying to be famous? Now then, was this line required?

Had a so-so lunch at Gersoppa;a photo-op at Sharavathi valley(?);Coffee at Saagara and reached Shimoga by evening. Stayed in Athithi’s(?). Cant write much about the later day’s activities cos I hit the bed thanks to my injury. But, knew the boys wont miss the opportunity to party on the eve of Arvind’s birthday.(Jan 28th)

Day four: Perhaps the driest day of the trip..After having breakfast left to Blr..stop-over at Kadur ;lunch at Tiptur; Krishna and Manjunath go missing at Tumkur but in fact had went past us ; reached Hunter’s house flat-bottomed around 6PM..Phew! (Jan 29th)

It’s been one week since and I can still write the travelogue with a little help from Krishna. That’s how memorable was the trip..but for those practical people who always think in terms of cause & effect, input & output and all, lemme make it clear that we did it for just like Jim Morrison told us,”.. i don’t know what’s gonna happen man! But I wanna have my kicks b4 the whole shit goes up in flames”.

Even then what has changed after the trip? Government continues to be shaky; infrastructure continues to crumble; Tendulkar continues to be his poor shadow; Ash continues to try for that elusive Hollywoodian role; Kannada films continue to come with badly titled English post scripts (‘ a feel that continues’); Hampi continues to be an eligible bachelor …are these gonna change after Ladakh? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin ‘ the wind!