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:


(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


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.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Kulang trek - Camping on the edge of the Kalsubai range

Ever since my earlier trek to Kalsubai and Ratangad, and after looking at the magnificient trio of Alang-Madan-Kulang (AMK), I kept yearning for a trek to Kulang. Kulang is the easier of the trio, but it is also the highest climb in Maharashtra. Imagine the joy that I felt when I found out that a trekking group was planning an overnight trek to Kulang in the cool month of December!

The trek began overnight on Friday. A bus was arranged for a serious group of 10 people. We started at around 11:30 pm and after an event-filled night that included a tyre puncture at around 1:00/2:00 am, no sleep because of the bumpy route, driver acting cranky because of the long route, et al, we managed to reach Ambewadi/Ambevadi village at 5:30 am.

Sleep was out of question for me. I was just glad that we reached a place where I could see the mountains.

Some people from our group managed some sleep in that short time while the rest of us roamed about. The plan was to take a break of about an hour and then have tea-breakfast and move to Kurangwadi / Kulangwadi from where the route to Kulang trek starts. We took the help of a local villager to show us the route as it could be confusing at times. There are ways that villagers use to take their cattle for grazing that are misleading.
Kulang trek begins.
The route initially takes you along some small farms, Kolhapur-type dams, eventually leading to the base of the mountain and the start of the incline. The walk is continuously upwards almost at an angle of 40-45 degrees.

After almost 90 minutes we reach a rocky patch that has footholds in the rocks that are remnants of steps. The angle of inclination slightly increases here and for a long time we climb along the rocky patches. Along these patches, we collected fallen twigs a wooden sticks that we intended to use as firewood. It's better to collect them in the last two-thirds of the climb because once the rock patches start, it's difficult to find any firewood. There are no trees on the top of Kulang.
Eventually, we come near a stone staircase which probably got saved from the British canons because of the height from the base. This staircase is remarkable and you keep wondering how the people from the yore would have managed to reach till this point and then use tools to cut through the stone.
That slight opening in the rock face are the stairs.
After climbing the staircase, we finally reached on the top of Kulang. It took us about 2 hours 52 minutes to climb. This is probably a good time according to one of our instructors since it included a couple of breaks as well.
From Kurangwadi to the top of Kulang (click to see the larger version)
On the top of Kulang we settled in a cave. The cave is big enough to accommodate 20-30 people. We were just 10 so it proved to be rather big for us.
The cave
After settling down for a while, we started preparing lunch. It was indeed a fun time to make a rustic stove made up of stones and use firewood as fuel. We also visited the water tanks (about 7-8 in number) that are on the east of the cave and used them for cleaning up the dishes. There is one particular tank that has cleaner water and we could see the bottom of the water tank. We used water from this tank for drinking (after treating it with Mediclor!) Lunch as usual was splendid for the hungry appetites and the sleep that followed was blissful.
Some water tanks
What woke us up after the afternoon siesta was a slight chill in the air, mostly because of the drop in the temperature of the cave floor. The silence inside the cave was deafening. No external sound at all! This was around 5 PM. A plan was made to walk towards the edge eastern of Kulang from where we could see Madangad, Alang, and the unmistakable peak of Kalsubai. It probably is the highest point on Kulang and a splendid place to catch the sunset from.
The first peak on the left is Kalsubai. The immediate peak in the front is Madangad.
We walked back to the caves in that twilight time and then settled outside the cave for some soup and dinner. Then we met another small trekking group that had climbed after us. Some of these guys had a tent and others were planning to sleep outside in the open. This was a very inviting idea and I always like to test my sleeping bag so I was all for it! What an experience it was to sleep outside in the open, where the wind chilled our senses and the innumerable stars shined upon our eyes, while the moon smiled in it's glorious crescent.
Our camp site facing the entrance to the caves. (morning time)
Though I did wake up whenever the wind managed to sneak inside my sleeping bag, it was indeed a splendid idea to sleep out in the open. I just had to lift myself slightly towards the east and I saw the hint of the rising sun. What a peaceful morning time it was!
Shades of the morning
Then after the usual morning activities and watching the sunrise and basking in its warmth, we decided to break our fast, pack our bags and start our journey back. While others were packing up, we decided to visit the western end of Kulang. The view from this part of the mountain was beautiful. We could see the ranges all in their morning glory (though under a net of haze) and were amazed at the magnificent beauty.
We could have easily spent a lot of time watching these mountains and the surrounding scenery. The edge becomes sharper towards the flag and the subtle thrill that walk gave is difficult to describe.
Top of Kulang showing the relative location of caves and water tanks. The green marker is the location of the flag.
The downward journey was swifter as expected, but we managed to get lost because we did not have anyone to show us the route. But this was just once and after asking the few villagers, who had climbed to collect firewood, we managed to reach the base, cook lunch, find our bus, and start our return journey to Pune.

Kulang indeed is a beautiful trek. Best time for the trek would definitely be just after monsoon when the grass is green yet the sky is open and the surrounding ranges are visible. It is so serenely peaceful on the top, that I thought of planning a stay for a week sometime. Think about it, collect firewood, cook food, read, sleep, roam around.

In peace!