Thursday, April 24, 2014

Running, music, and some confessions

I was never a serious runner. I used to love the 100 m dash in school and considered myself a short distance speed-runner (Ha!). Then as usual, I grew up. I started enjoying the tipple, or two, or three, and puffing the nicotine on and off. Started working out in the gym but balanced it out with a beer for every kilo progress with the dumbbell. Eventually giving up exercises and just devoting myself to Lord Bacchus (Dionysus).

Till last year that is. Sometime in May 2013, I realised that I need to build up stamina for the upcoming trekking season. I started walking a bit and then combined walking and a bit of running. In the first couple of treks, I realised how screwed up my stamina was (Not that it has improved to the teenage-level, but somewhat significant improvement. And more so, boosted confidence!). I realised that not only should I take up running a bit seriously, but I should also be cutting down on the Bacchus potions (Easier said than done!). But then I somehow, surprisingly, stuck to chasing the breeze a bit, pushing the ground and running about. Soon the walking and running combination evolved to just running. Treks happened in between, and running continued.

One thing I would like to specifically point out was the motivation given by the Android application called Runtastic. I don't remember if it was the application that made me take up running or whether it happened after I started walking-running. Whatever the case (that eludes my memory) is, it has been motivating me throughout. I really started enjoying my run, and further enjoying the treks. Did a lot of treks last season!

Coming back to running, the course hasn't been easy. Yes I set up some goals like 5K continuous, then 10K continuous, and then average 15-18 K per week, and thankfully I was able to achieve them, but with all the sudden intensity, shin splints returned. Google helped me to realize that a lot of runners experience shin splints. Everywhere I checked people mentioned that there is no cure as such for shin splints, just try changing shoes, modify your gait, apply ice after every run, and keep doing stretches after a run. Shin splints are painful. Shins hurt not just while running, but they make every step painful if they are inflamed.

I don't remember when I switched from a random 3-4 K per day to 6K every alternate day. The rest day in between helped me contain the shin pain. I got into a good running regime and then ran the December 2013 Pune Marathon in the 10K category. (That marathon made me realize how beneficial it is to have a running partner!) Sometime back I did a continuous 10K on a weekend and then joined a Pune Running 10K event and was happy to complete it in 65 minutes.

So, after 12 months of somewhat consistency, Runtastic tells me that I have managed to do 170 km walking, 70 km hiking (haven't measure all of the hikes though), and 320 km (rounded up) running. There is a lot to do. Next up I would like to target more immediate goals like sub-60 min 10K, sub-25 min 5K, sub-30 min 6K, et al. Then a 1000 km running year. I need to pray more to the Greek God (TIL Goddess) of running now and also pray to whichever gods the Tarahumara people pray to.

Now, on to the reason that triggered this post and the second word from the title of this post.

I never tried running with music because I remembered making a mess of the headphones and the way they kept pulling out. I also got used to observing and following the rhythm and rhythmic change in my breathing during a run. I kept wondering how it will be to run with a non-falling pair of headphones and good songs. Searching for the difference between runners who run without music and runners running with music gave me some good insights on the psychology of runners and running. But then, there are times when you are bored with the usual routine and want to try out something new. So yesterday, I made a playlist of what I thought would be good songs for running and added an early-morning reminder to not forget the headphones, and today I ran while listening to music.

Yes, it was a positively good experience. I had to keep pushing the headphones back in the ear frequently, but it was all right. What need adjusting was my habit of listening to my breathing. As I mentioned earlier, I am mostly a nose breather and tend to exhale loudly thus forming rhythmic exhale sounds that change with different pace. Music distracted me from listening to my usual air-music. But then after 1-2 km I was grooving. I must tell you that Lonely Boy by The Black Keys has got a nice rhythm to it that matched my running pace brilliantly and I enjoyed that stretch quite a bit. I had added Daft Punk, Prodigy, Avicii as well, but it's The Black Keys and AC/DC that I enjoyed the most.

Music distracts you from the usual thoughts and sounds while you run, if you are used to running without music. It adds to that necessary change as well. I might not run with music every time, but I will definitely go back to running playlists once in a while.

Specially when I need some motivation to run.

On that note:

Oh, oh-oh I got a love that keeps me waiting
Oh, oh-oh I got a love that keeps me waiting
- Lonely Boy by The Black Keys

Those lines could very well be dedicated to a glass of fine whiskey and puff thereafter. ;)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett - Book Review

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, well, well. I wonder if the chance of this review turning out to be all right is a million-to-one. In that case... Oh, who am I kidding!

Did you know that Sir Terry Pratchett has his own cathedral where he summons interesting stories, intriguing characters, slithering plots, and quite a bit of laughs that he can surprisingly control and cage in the form of Discworld books? Then again, Discworld devotees know this already.

If I were given a chance (whatever the odds) to change the title of this book, I'd safely baptise it as "Dragon 101" where the "0" is slightly altered to resemble the shape of the heart symbol. I very well know that "Love is not love. Which alters when it alteration finds...," but come on, Shakespeare rarely infused magic in his equations, didn't he? Look at all the gastronomic difficulties, the best of them, the worst of them people, and the ever-summoning circumstances. Love flames it all. Even the ladiest of them ladies and toughest of them guys.

This book is such a splendid specimen, that it makes me wonder why it's just the 2.5th Pratchett book that I've read so far. Then again it's more whole than the remaining 1.5 Pratchetts combined together in a complexly probabilistic equation. I surely will be accompanying Captain Samuel Vimes a lot more when he performs his duties in the streets and citadels of Ankh Morpork. I hope the rest of team allows me to! I'll buy everyone a well-deserved drink for sure!

Quotes! Have you ever had the chance (again?) to highlight sentences in a Kindle book so much that almost all of it appears to be highlighted? Like a long tongue of yellow flame that surpasses the pages? Enough to form a Brotherhood of Kindle-highlighters? Imagine if the highlights enter the L-Space. Imagine... L-Space...

Well, at this point in the review I sincerely echo the strong sentiments felt by Vimes throughout the book. That of needing a drink. On that note I'll leave you with this:

Oook!

(Hah! Million-to-one chance! More like this review had a probability of 0.9 of being good. That means almost nothing at all, isn't it.)

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Football

So I saw this football video early morning and it brought back the nostalgia from school. Blue and yellow house versus green and red. A division versus B. Morning versus Afternoon. All that passion for the game, all the sliding around, kicking, and display of amateur skills. All the teenage angst geared up towards winning but eventually losing. The wait for that particular PT day when we flew on the football field like eagles in the sky. Shouting and Screeching. Life was all about chasing that lump of air constricted in a rubber ball. It meant so much more than that though. It still means so much.

Someday, some of us who stopped chasing the ball after school, need to get back on that Law College ground and then kick some football!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Harishchandragad via Nalichi Vaat

The year 2013 was the year of mountains and it was fitting that 2014 began with a trek that is considered to be one of the most exhausting yet enthralling treks in the Sahyadris.

Harishchandragad is a mystique mountain. With roots creeping long back in history and the presence of various magnificent ancient artefacts, the alluring magnetism of this mountain is completely justified. It is also not surprising that because of the huge base of the mountain, there are several routes leading to the top. Villagers from the villages scattered around use their own routes as per the closest available option. In the monsoon we had used the very comfortable Pachnai / Paachnai route to climb Harishchandragad. Nalichi Vaat is in a different league altogether. So much so that we did descend via Pachnai route and it took just about 12% of the total trekking time.

The entire experience during the trek was so overwhelming that I still cannot fathom the right words to describe it. That moment when I saw the silhouette of the Konkan Kada at night from the village of Walhivale, realizing how grand it was when the early light of the day elucidated it further, the climb towards the Kada, the left towards the path between two cliffs (ghali), the boulders, rocks, stones, talus, and scree along the route, the relief-laced ecstasy felt on the top of the Kada, just cannot be fit into the right words. Same goes for the lovely stay on the top of Konkan Kada in tents, the lovely group that had a fun time over a camp fire, the descent via the familiar Pachnai route, realizing that it was just a small part of the way back, seeing the impressive Sadhale Ghat, thanking the Lord that we have to walk down and not climb via Sadhale Ghat, realizing again that it is just as painful and exhausting in different ways, and finally making it to the village and coming back to Pune.

Even if I jot down some hasty words right now, I get a feeling that the impact of the words would be ephemeral. To a certain degree, this is true even about the pictures. I hope the combination of these two would help me travel through time to the memories of the beautiful trek.

Before I begin the short photo-log, I would like to add this note I had written for my Facebook Nalichi Vaat album:

Some mountains keep calling you back. This one, after engulfing us in mist and fog earlier this monsoon, beckoned us for a strenuous climb via the route known as Nalichi Vaat. This route begins in front of Konkan Kada, detours along the left side of it and then concludes on top of the Konkan Kada. The surface changes from big boulders along a dry river bed, to smaller stones on a steep ascent, to talus and scree, to manageable rock faces, and finally through friendly shrubs. While walking down, we descended via the lovely Pachnai route and then circumvented Harishchandragad via a route called Sadhale Ghat. It was Nalichi Vaat without the difficult part, but very similar. A lovely trek that enthrals and frightens at the same time, whispering to you that you are but a spectator in this big world.

Photo-log: Walhivale to Harishchandragad via Nalichi Vaat

Driving till Walhivale. Crossing Khubi Phata, crossing Malshej Ghat and then taking a right ahead of Moroshi. As easy as it sounds, it was a different experience altogether in the night. Single winding road, no street lights, no village in immediate line of sight, and not so obvious road signs.
Walhivale village route via Khubi Phata, Malshej Ghat, and Moroshi
After a spending the night in the quaint (oft used word describing the base villages in Sahyadris, I guess!) village of Walhivale, we woke up early morning to see the hazy splendour of the Konkan Kada.
Konkan Kada from Walhivale
Starting the walk towards the Konkan Kada. The path is strewn with boulders and almost-dried water channels. We start walking directly towards the massif of Konkan Kada.
After walking quite a bit, the route moves towards the left of Konkan Kada and finally we see the Nalichi Vaat and the "Ghal". You can see from the picture how massive it looks. Looking at these pictures, it all seems so unreal now.
Towards the Ghal in Nalichi Vaat
As we turn left, this is the view of Konkan Kada. The sun had started to rise up lighting parts of Harishchandragad.
Konkan Kada on the left
 More play of sunlight as our strenuous climb went on and on...
Spot the fellow trekker
... and on and on...
 ... and on and on through talus...
... and scree...
... and a few rock patches en route. Ropes are essential for some of the rock patches. The good part is that there is no direct exposure to the valley, but we have to take utmost care. All throughout.
 Finally completing... about 1/3rd of the route.
And then we saw the glorious Konkan Kada from a bit close. The rest of the route was getting on top of the Konkan Kada.
Just about there on top of Konkan Kada.
The following picture is the route map from Walhivale to the top of Konkan Kada via Nalichi Vaat. Total distance was approximately 8.03 km, and total time taken was 6 hours 35 minutes.
Walhivale to Harishchandragad through Nalichi Vaat
Photo-log: Harishchandragad to Walhivale via Pachnai and Sadhale Ghat

After camping on top of Konkan Kada and spending a lovely camping night, we started descending via the Pachnai route. It was lovely to see it again, clearly this time, without the haze and mist.
Pachani route in the Winter
Almost the same location that was captured in the Monsoon earlier this year
After Pachnai, we had to circumvent Harishchandragad using a plain, drivable road, and then through a little forest till we reached Sadhale Ghat. After a long and hard walk, with the remnants of the pain from Nalichi Vat still significantly present, we started descending...
... all the while I was well aware of the bone structure in my knees, and was getting more aware of it with every single step...
... and after a rather long walk down and then through relatively knee-friendly plain grounds, we reached the village of Walhivale.
Konkan Kada as seen from the village of Walhivale
The following pictures is the route map from the top of Harishchandragad via Pachnai and then Sadhale Ghat. Total distance was approximately 11.72 km, and total time taken was 5 hours 20 minutes.
Harischandragad to Walhivale via Pachnai and then Sadhale Ghat
"So, are you ready to do this trek again?"
Am I?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson - Book Review

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This little gem is like one of those drugs in the back of the Red Shark. You never know what the good doctor is going to pick up next and garble something.

I guess now I realize why people praise Hunter S. Thompson so much. He has practically introduced a lot of new phrases that have become staple material later on. Such as "Passively hostile" (passive aggressive), "in the general direction of..." (that Monty Python line) and some others.

I loved the commentary on the phasing out of Uppers and the demand of Downers (that happened along with Nixon), the few lines on general drug-life during the late 60s (I remember being amazed by that line where the doctors writes about driving to any place and still being able to find drug-addled crazy people.), and the metaphors used to describe people from under a drug haze.

My favourite line from the book, amongst others, is "In a scene where nobody with any ambition is really what he appears to be, there's not much risk in acting like a king-hell freak."

I wonder if I can say that it is a problem, but Johnny Depp narrated the book most of the time interspersed with shouts from Benicio Del Toro.

Someday, I'll read the book again and write sweat out a book proper review. Someday, I'll also visit Vegas and see if some of it still stands true as described in the book.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Books read in 2013

While I did a lot of trekking in 2013, it has been rather dismal in terms of the books. I hardly managed to read 4 books while abandoning a lot more.

Ashamed, I don't even feel like listing the books I read in 2013. 2012 was promising (book-wise) and then 2013 went kaput (book-wise).

I hope 2014 is different. I really hope so.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Monsoon that conjured magic

So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below.
And I laugh at myself
While the tears roll down.
'Cause it's the world I know.
It's the world I know.
- Collective Soul - The World I Know.

Not sure when it happened. Where it happened. Was it the the discussion we had on Sinhagad just before the monsoon season? Was it the enrapturing walk along the path towards the Sting of the Scorpion on Lohagad? Was it the omnipresent mist / fog / cloud on Harishchandragad that cast a spell?

The answer might be irrelevant. The result was beautiful.

Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley. - Theodore Roethke

Lovely pictures were taken, sifted through and a few were added on Facebook. I'm sure many would have opted out of my feeds due to pictures uploaded after almost every weekend.

I only wish the pictures could convey the same exhilaration that I feel when I look at them.

11 treks and 16 mountains in 2013! Here's to many more such mountains that will be climbed!

You can access the posts from here:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Salher-Salota, Mulher-Mora - Trek

Ever since I heard about the highest fort in Maharashtra, Salher, and saw the pictures of the impressive mountain, I've been making plans to visit Salher and it's satellite fort of Salota. I came across a group that had organized a 2 days and 3 nights trek that also included Mulher and Mora and immediately decided to board the ship.

Salher, Salota, Mulher, and Mora belong to the Baglan region of Sahyadris. This area has experienced vibrant and intense moments in history. The famous Battle of Salher (1671-72 AD) took place near Salher fort. This major battle was probably the only battle that Shivaji fought on open ground against the Mughals. (Most of his battles involved sneaking up on the enemy and taking them by surprise.) The forts do have remnants of their original splendour albeit in a dilapidated manner. If you allow your imagination to soar, you can build up a splendid and vivid picture of what these forts would have been in their glory. I wish our leaders or institutes would have spent some money to maintain such monuments from the past.

Day 0 - Pune-Waghambe
We started from Pune to Waghambe village that is just before Salherwadi, the base village for Salher fort. The journey was quite long and we reached at around 7:30 AM at the base. After a quick breakfast, we started the climb for Salher.

Day 1 - Salher-Salota
The plan was to climb Salher and Salota and reach the Waghambe village by evening. We started at around 9:30 AM for Salher. The climb though not difficult, is on a continous incline.
Salher fort from Salherwadi
The route throughout has several doors or gateways. Some of them are really impressive. There are some steps on the way cut in stone.
You can see the incline
After reaching a plateau, we walked along till the main caves on Salher. The caves are big enough to fit almost 20-30 people. From the caves, we started our walk to the highest point on Salher, the Parshuram temple.
Towards the Parshuram Temple
From here, we see the Baglan range. We could also spot Mulher-Mora and Hargad. We could also spot Salota that is connected to Salher.
Nearest mountain is Salota
It's difficult to guess the way that takes you up Salota. It seems as if it's cleverly disguised. After spending some time near the Parshuram temple, we started climbing towards the ridge that connects Salher and Salota. This walk was the best part of the trek.
Salota on the left while traversing Salher
Traversing around Salher, looking at the steep valley below, walking along endless water cisterns and caves, sometimes walking under overhanging rock, and continuously looking towards the beckoning Salota.
Salher to Salota - route map
While exiting Salher towards the connecting ridge, there is another door that leads to steps down to the ridge. Walking across the ridge, we looking for a road towards Salota. This is another traverse around till the point of stone-cut steps. We managed to get lost and after asking a shepherd, we got back on track.
Onwards the ridge to Salota
Salota is steeper and more challenging than Salher. All along the traverse, there is a valley on one side while you are continuously climbing. Even the steps are high.
Salota and it's rock-cut steps
After reaching the top of Salota, we were amazed how similar Salher looks to that of salota from afar. It's almost a pyramid in shape.
Salher as seen from Salota
There are water tanks on top of both Salher and Salota and if you carry Medichlor, you can be relaxed about the availability of water. The vegetation is sparse around and because of the continuous shining sun, you are bound to be thirsty and so do not worry about water.

From the top of Salota, we again descended to the ridge connecting Salher-Salota and from this point, we started walking towards the base village of Waghambe. It was quite a long walk and by the time we reached the village, we had to use torches as it became dark after sunset. At Waghambe village, our bus was waiting to take us to Mulherwadi, the base village for Mulher, where we planned to stay overnight. We stayed in an ashram overnight and ate at a locals place.

Day 2 - Mulher-Mora
After an early morning breakfast, we resumed day 2 of our trek. I was worried that the long walk and climb that we did for Salher and Salota would cause some muscle ache on Day 2, but the deep overnight sleep and limbering up done in the morning sun proved to be rather good.

Mulher trek starts from Mulherwadi. All along the trek, we could see the steep peaks of Mangi - Tungi right opposite Mulher.

After the initial walk traversing around the fort through shrubs and grasses, we reach the beautiful Ganesh temple.
Ganesh temple en route Mulher. Hargad in the background.
From here, the route towards the east takes you to Mulher while the western route takes you to Hargad. After a while we came across another water tank called “Moti tank”. There is a story that Shivaji dumped some of his loot from Surat in this water tank to lessen his load. There is a big tank nearby that is called “Hatti (elephant) tank.”

The climb towards the top of Mulher is across a beautiful route that goes zig-zag between walls built to stop the enemy.
It is incredible to see the old structures standing the test of time and nature. Then again, you can stop and wonder about the erstwhile original structure and be completely impressed.
Reaching the top of Mulher
I loved the climb on Mulher more than the climb on Salher. It was a lot more impressive in terms of beauty but not as difficult.
Mulher on left, Mora on right - route map
The tricky part was the connecting ridge between Mulher and Mora. While it was not as long as that between Salher and Salota, it was quite tricky in terms of the slope and the deep valley on one side. Mora can be climbed from the ridge via a stone-cut steps leading towards a door.
The stone steps leading to the top of Mora
There are no structures on top of Mora and after spending a little time, we descended as we had to resume our journey to Pune.

This was a memorable trek, and very different from the nearby ranges in Pune. The mountains in the Baglan region are steep and most of them have a prominent cliff peaking on top. I’ll remember this most for the wonderful traverses that were challenging for the body and mind.