Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Days 3-11 - Part 1- Places

Travelling on my own is very liberating. I have decided to do this more often. I get to do what I want to do, when I want to do it and how I want to do it. Most of my travelling so far has been with a large group of friends or as a twosome. For sure, it is fun. But in many ways, it is like a democracy- majority decisions win. It leaves very little space for individual exploration.

Also, when you travel with friends, you stick to each other, ignore travellers outside your circle, eat the same food, listen to the same music...only the location changes. I feel like I have stepped into the Golden Zone of stories, places and adventures.

I did have a couple stray moments of longing for familiar places and food. Like when I was watching the yonder hills clouded in mist with gentle rain pattering all around. I guess the experience would have been closer to perfection if I was also tucked away against Sachin's shoulders. Or like the time I drank Miso Soup at a Japanese restaurant and I wincingly longed for my Indo-Chinese version of Hot and Sour Soup and Chicken Manjoori:-) But these moments are few and fleeting...

My Favourite Places

a. McleodGunj Market: Imagine quaint little hilly roads lined with shops/stalls selling gorgeous beads, pendants, crystals, Tibetan artefacts, woolly socks, yoga pants, second-hand books; cafes steaming with momos and teeming with travellers from distant lands; Spanish, Indian and Israeli music filtering through to the streets against the backdrop of the majestic hills; samosas sizzling; boys whistling; time slowing down: NOW- slam-bam this image with mounting mounds of garbage; huge SUVs barrelling down into pedestrians, honking,honking unremittingly; the local shop-keepers leching,ogling,cat-calling and eve-teasing the foreigners; Punjabi tourists hollering, blocking, stumbling; over-ripe smells of food, people and memories suffocating the mountain air....It's maddening, it's enchanting!

b. Dharamkot: Two days of staying at the very unaptly named "Freedom Palace"` bang centre of McLeodGunj and I knew my "soul" trip was getting skewered before it started. Also, the yoga class I wanted to enrol for was in the smaller nook village of Dharamkot. So, off I shifted bags 3 kms upwards of Mcleod. It is a 20-minute, 90degree, butt-crunching, thigh-sculpting walk to Dharamkot. I have fallen into the habit of walking that route once or twice a day just to feel the burn.

Dharamkot is my home. I feel calm and serene here.It has restaurants/cafes very similar to the ones in Goa (Palolem, Arambol) where you are encouraged to linger over your coffee and book. Meals stretch over a few hours, friends drop by, conversations meander, lives intertwine. There is a very relaxed energy about this place.

It has a few yoga centers, reiki and acupressure centres, internet parlours and a hotel-a-meter. If you stay here beyond a couple of days, the locals get a lot more cheerful and warm. A hundred meter walk is then broken down into small chats with the vegetable vendor, yelling out hellos to the cafe owners, stopping to drool at the fresh chocolate and raisin cookies, and grinning at the cherubic schoolkids.

I have always lived in the big cities. This kind of familiarity and intimacy warms the old, cynical heart.

c. The Himalayan Tea Shop: Just when the Mcleod-Dharamkot uphill grind becomes a groan, you stumble into a garage-shop called the Himalayan Tea Shop. It overlooks the hills as does everything else around here. They sell plain croissants, chocolate croissants, apple strudels, Amul coffee, Manali Mineral water, Apricot Body Oil and Cobra lubricated condoms. It also serves as an information centre and mid-travel relaxation point. You are bound to bump into someone you know or want to know here. If I know I will pass by this shop, I factor in an extra 20 minutes of conversation time into my schedule.

d. The Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre: run by the Yoga Guru Sharath Arora, it is a circular design architecture with sprawling lawns, a yoga centre (resembling a medieval torture chamber) and living quarters for the Master and all those who have enrolled for the longer teachers training course. It is a 2-minute rocky walk from my hotel.
Here, I relearnt the basics of Yoga, the importance of alignment. Yoga was compulsory for us at school. But it never really amounted to much more than gymnastics. The beginners course has a 3-hour session of standing positions; back bends, forward bends, shoulder stands, Halasana, and Virasana. By the end of the session, the blood rushes to the brain and the rest of the day goes by in a burst of energy.

e. Trek and Dine: Amongst the slew of cafes that dot McLeod, Dharamkot and Bhagsu, a few of us have gravitated to this little cafe called the Trek and Dine. The decor is apalling- acid-induced Trance paintings; wilting, stained diwans and the obligatory multicoloured hanging lamps. The music is eclectic- Turkish music, Bob Marley and Hindi film songs jar and soothe alternately. The Indian food has the usual suspects marching on to the plates: Veg Kofta, Dal Fry, Veg Korma, Navaratan Korma, Palak Paneer et al. They are single-portioned and averagely satisfying. The pastas are well-flavoured and the salads are a meal in themselves. They also advertise pizzas and sizzlers. I have not ventured there so far.

The food remains a mere backdrop. I go to the Trek and Dine for the "cosmopolitan company" (Ref: Zhev, my Israeli Ussain Bolt) it provides. Somedays, it feels like I am on the sets of Mind Your Language- one representative from each country contributing to the hilarity. The conversations-Oh! the conversations-I could chew on some of these thoughts for life. Comparative religion, childhood memories, travelogues, romances and love affairs, television serials, penis jokes- nothing has escaped our warblings.

The Trek and Dine could be replaced with the Moonlight Cafe, the Friendly Planet, the Radhakrishna Cafe, the Milky Way Cafe- all are equally hospitable with semi-efficient service and middling food. Jut so happened that this restaurant was closest on our return trip from the Yoga centre and became the centrestage of my travel memories.

Other recommended cafes:

Norling restaurant, McLeodGunj: Has a thumbs up from Rocky and Mayur of Highway On My Plate. Has my hands up for the excellent momos and Thupkas.

LungTa Restaurant, McLeodGunj: Japanese restaurant at the farthest end of Jogiwara road. We tried the Special Set meal for Rs.130. The day's set meal was: 4 large veg croquettes, an egg and cabbage salad, miso soup, a bowl of sticky rice, vegetables cooked in soy sauce and a salad. Though ravenous after the Yoga, I could just about manage to go through half the meal. My Hungarian dining partners assured me that the Tea cake and Lemon cake are a must-eat as well.

f. The Circumambulatory route at the Tibetan Monastery, McLeod: Is a 3 km walk around the Tibetan Monastery. Has prayer flags, Tibetan inscription on stones, prayer bells and devout monks along the route. I went one evening and enjoyed the serenity of the surroundings. I returned the next day armed with a pack of steaming momos and a book, perched myself on a rock along the path, away from the temple and devoured the two most beautiful hours of my life.

I intend to visit the Tibetan Childrens Village today and there is a trek to Triund this weekend with Malvika and Neeraj. More on that in Part 2.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sole Travel Day 2

June 27, 2010

Delhi is all about the belly. As if yesterday's gastric, gastronomic delights were not enough, we headed to a South Indian brunch spot in Gurgaon. Is called Nayvedhyam. You are greeted by waiters in a lungi and chilled buttermilk. I ordered an upma, rasam vadai and coconut water. The upma was delish. Comes with huge aladdin ka chirag type of samabar containers and a green and red chutney. The rasam vadai was the biggest disappointment ever. The rasam was cold and the vadais coarse and non-crispy.

A quick dash to a nearby mall for last-minute shopping by Sachin and a quicker and madder dash to the airport to see my lad off. His travel was ending as mine was beginning. I don't get to see him for a month now.

Sri and I cantered around CP and Palika Bazar, ate a McChicken meal, took a Metro to Palika Place where my bus to Dharmashala set off from. Sri made sure I was safely deposited in the travel agent's office and after umpteen " Take care..travel safe..dont talk to strangers..call as soon as the bus starts..call as soon as you reach..Is the Bus A/c, check that..Is it a Volvo..Do you have leg space..." , he was off. God, i love old friends. They sort of morph into brother/father/sister/mother figures, that is very cocoonish and warm and fuzzy.

As I sat at the travel agent's office, the owner took it upon himself to entertain me. I was his "Behen" whose honour, dignity and safe passage was now in his able hands.Ladies only seat for me...no, no, no, that was not good enough..he would give his Madrasi (sic) sister an entire row to relax in. The bus was running at half-capacity, it seems. He pointed out a large photo of "parama pujaniya shri shri chandrashekharji" (of ex-Prime Minister fame)and claimed to be his erst-while right hand man. He further claimed that as the ex-PM writhed in pain at his final visit to the hospital, our travel boy was the one who took him to the loo, cleaned after him, changed his underclothes and the rest. As his descriptions went in-depth and graphic, my Mac Meal threatened to pitch forward in a messy projectile.

Finally, it was time for me to get onto the bus and embark on my Sole/Soul travel. The bus was a tiny school-excursion kind of contraption, the seats were velvet covered, leg space was non-existent. But the positives: I was in high spirits, I had an entire row to myself, an MP3 player full of music and a head-full of plans. Bon voyage, I say!!

Sole Travel Day 1

26 June 2010

Took a flight out of Bangalore this morning. I am carrying enough stuff to set up a Red Cross camp in Dharmashala. Last-minute stuffing random things in a backpack can do that. Reached Delhi the middle of a heat-wave and melted into the tarmac.

Met Sachin after 3 weeks.He has been travelling through Manali and Vashishth with friends. He looks tanned and gorgeous, and is full of tales of hot water springs and 4-day treks to Kirganga. Glad to note he is not in his usual Mr.Grumpy mode.

Srkanth and Robin have this lovely duplex house in Gurgaon. Smells and looks like a boys' pad and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Brought back memories of Symbi and vegging out in a friend's house in Pashan.

We went for a quick lunch and tank up to this drinking hole called Howzzat. Is a microbrewery. Has a cricketing theme, though they were screening the World Cup. The chairs are in the shape of huge human hands. Dont ask me how it goes into the theme, the overall effect is of privacy and luxury. I settled myself into the middle finger and ordered up a wheat beer and crumb fried chicken. Felt like earth mother and Colonel Sanders rolled into one. The crumb fried chicken was decadent, the beer in an impossibly tall mug was surprisingly un-bitter and super refreshing.

Evening time saw us heading out for some more liquid nourishment. Sri took us to Khan market. To the non-Delhiite, that's like a street full of eateries and shops. We went to a place called Chonars (mix of Pecos and Satya Bar). Food in Delhi is stroke-inducingly costly. But since I was not paying, I ordered willy-nilly. A pepper chicken, fish chilly, LIIT, and a vodka and red bull later, I realised I luuurrveeed Delhi.

Do not remember much else about the night. Am told there was a chocolate gelato, not-so-gentle snoring in the backseat of Sri's car and popping of Allegra to keep the sinus allergy at bay.

Life After 5

I have quit my corporate job.June 5th, 2010. I want to say this again and again, a chant, a mantra, till I finally believe it myself. A 6-month thinking about it, a 3-month talking about it, and a 3-month notice period.I think Rome was built faster than my grand exit from the 9-5. I must say, in some kind of perverse, reverse loyalty binge, I did some of my best work in those last 3 months.

What do I do next? I call it my WTF plan: Wedding, Travel, Fitness.

Wedding: Getting Married on Novemeber 11, 2010. Yay for me and Sachin. The Wedding is in Mysore. I am being cajoled, bullied, threatened, enticed and incited into learning the art of making the perfect chapati. I am almost convinced that I will enjoy the supreme pleasures of marital bliss if and only if my chapatis are light, round and perfectly puffed up...

Travel: The first couple of months I dedicate to travelling..and most of it, travelling alone. Never done that before. So it is off to Dharamkot, then to Manali and Ladakh. Rajat is organising the longest Indian ultra, called The High. Am volunteering as a crewmember there. So Gute Reise to me!!

Fitness: The next big plan is to complete my ACE certifications, do a course in Lifestyle and Weight Management, become a fitness professional, and get paid for talking ad nauseam about diets and exercise regimes...el deliciousooo!

The next 6 months are looking a-promising...time will tell.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time of the Year again

Ultra on November 16, 2008.

Look forward to the rebirthing of my blog....

Pray for me!!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Empty Nest Syndrome: Confessions of an Out of Steam Runner

Kaveri Trail Marathon , Bangalore Ultra, Mumbai Marathon...November, December and January zoomed past me in a fast and furious whizz.

Upside: Woweee, what an amazing way to end a year and start the new one. To top it, I am now eligible to be an official Marathon Maniac.

Downside: Am in the deep end of the post-running depression. Almost a month after the Mumbai marathon, the limbs still feel blue and absolutely tuckered out. The unused Gatorade bottles are staring at me befuddled, never before have they been so blatantly ignored. Most marathon pundits suggest that you rest for at least 26 days after a marathon, one day for every mile that you run. Ho-hum, I want to train for another race NOW, my stubborn mind screams.

I have run many fun runs in between, most of them with the Bangalore Hash, but Holy Chameli, I want my mojo back... this Saturday, I dragged my protesting feet for a run around a few blocks. Managed the fattest-ass 24 K ever, where I spent most of my time on feet hurling abuses at the blackguards on wheels trying to mow me down. So much for encouraging sport amongst women!!

The recovery period has had its few moments of glory. I have begun strength training sessions with Rajat at the Manipal Hospital, they are infinitely different from the testosterone laden gym workouts you will get across Bangalore. Resumed my kickboxing classes last week. Still find it difficult to distinguish my left from my right, but my abs were screaming bloody mercy for 2 days after my "welcome back" session. My poor old MTB Thunder has been packed off to the bike clinic to get spruced up again. Time to get back on the saddle.

Fortunately or otherwise, all my runner buddies: Athreya, Sabine, Sunil et al seem to be wallowing in the same murky aftermath of overtraining and overrunning. My biggest fear: the attack of the Adipose!!! The honeymoon period of guilt free carbo loading is over. It is a simple enough equation. From a rich 2500-3000 calories diet that you were allowed during your 80K a week training sessions, you are suddenly forced to be on a nibbler diet to offset the reduced mileage. No way, sister, I want my chocolate cake, thickly accompanied by two gallons of vanilla icecream. So now after days of negligible runs and humongous marathon feasts, I scour the internet lanes for articles that promise me one unique way of instant weight loss.

I know I need a running plan, a couple of races in the near future to get the adrenalin rushing through me again. It will happen soon, yep, but the wait seems interminable.

Monday, December 24, 2007

78 K, 9:57, Yipeee!

Exactly a week after the ultra, I have finally worked up the words to write about 'the best footrace this side of the planet.' But if I sit myself on the psychiatrist's couch and think about why it took me so long to get down to business and write about it real time, as Girish insisted I do, it is not too tough to figure it out. Imagine six months of hard-assed training, living and breathing the ultra. 78Km was part of every single conversation with every single person I knew. Hmmm, that might explain the dwindling set of friends :-); and suddenly it was over. And writing a blog about it is like the final sayonara to it. But I do have to start training for the Mumbai marathon, so I guess I have to let go!
My ultra adventure actually began the afternoon before the event. Carbo loading at Little Italy (where else would it be with Rajat around) was followed by a loooooooong ride to Our Native Village. As kismet would have it, we went through every road hazard, from traffic jams to street fights to accidents to getting horribly lost to of course, the inevitable flat tire. I swear running the 78K was a whole lot easier.
But reach ONV we finally did, around 8 pm and were greeted by a semi-hysterical Sabine. Now I have seen a whole load of reactions to stress, from tears to breaking out into a sweat to constant visits to the loo to fainting spells and the rest. But dear Sabine has the best of them all. She giggles, loudly, continuously and infectiously. So all I can remember of the night pre-ultra is eating a hell load of pasta, and then indulging in prolonged bouts of the nervous giggles with Sabine and Farah. It was a great, fun way to start off the event. Girls, love you!
The next morning started really dark and early. 4 a.m., a few of us were up for a much needed breakfast of bread, jam, bananas, cookies, and oatmeal. We geared up, gathered in the holding area and took loads of photos. Well, we were not really sure we would be smiling at the end of the race, so we quickly gave our best shots right at the very beginning.
5:50 a.m, Nisha Millet, Madhu and Arvind Krishnan gave their ultra speeches, and 6 a.m, flagged off the 78K and 52K events. Heart a thumping the doob-a-doob beat, I set off for my longest ever race.
There are many upsides to doing an ultra, I discovered. The most obvious one is the sheer adventure of it all, the pushing of the human mind and body to levels beyond the fence. What a sense of achievement that alone is.
Second is the amazing people you meet. I ran past and with at least a dozen or more people whose tenacity and resilience will remain with me for a long time. My fondest memories are of a few people: Girish, a runner from Mumbai, who had the misfortune of having the bib number 007 and was running the 78K as well. Imagine being on the trail for 11 odd hours and having to endure Bond jokes/remarks being thrown at you through the entire course. Running with him gave me a steady pace and also made me a Bond girl for the first 39K.
Then there was the intermittent blurring of vision as Madhu and Rajat kept whizzing past me. They are the most motivated as well as motivating runners I have ever known. I cannot forget the immense pride and joy I felt when Rajat completed his 100.6 K.
Sabine and her hysterical giggles escalated to full fledged war screams and whoops on race day. She greeted every runner as if she had not met them for a couple of years. And trust me, nothing , no not even the Gatorade, Electral and Endurolyte tablets buoyed up the runners more than a good old dose of Sabine.
When I speak of sheer dynamism, three names spring to mind instantly: Manoj, Nitin and Satsang. All three were recovering from major injuries, were under-trained, but when put into the race zone, outperformed and outran all of us mere mortals. I kept thinking of this quote I had read a while ago “Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fibre called courage.” These three guys seem to be swimming in that fibre.
Sridhar was the biggest boost ever in the last lap. Looking at him sprint across the landscape made me believe in the supremacy of the mind over body.
There were many more, of course, like this aged gentleman who huffed and puffed and wheezed past Girish and me around the 25K mark. We were pretty much sure we would find him in a heap somewhere along the trail. But he finished the 52K at the top of his category. The best part of it all, when he finished his race, his son was still on the trail trying to complete his 52K.
But my love and gratitude is reserved for lovely Farah, who completed her 26K in a record time (2:14), and then cycled across my last loop with supplies and good humour to carry me across the finish line. I owe my 78K to her. As Sunil Chainani said, people like her are what keep the ultra spirit alive.
The third and immensely blessed part of an ultra is that it is like an exorcism. It cleanses, purifies and makes brightly luminous your innermost thoughts. I felt like my whole life came into sharp perspective over this run. Well, I did have plenty and more time on my hands, and the mind wandered, vroomed and whirred round and round. And as the laps got tougher, lucidity hit the wave of endorphins. Phew, I am still reeling.
This being my first ultra ever, I messed up quite a bit with my nutrition and hydration. My paranoia of having to use the portaloo kept me away from all the food at the aid stations (peanut butter sandwiches, peanuts, chips, bananas). I survived on Gatorade and 2 jujeps till the 65 K. By then I was famished, dehydrated and completely wiped out. I sent word through all the runners going towards the main podium area to get me some plain white bread. The last 13K was a picnic with watermelon, oranges and lovely, lovely white bread. With proper nutrition, who knows, I might have bettered my time to a large extent and finished strong. Oh well, lessons learnt the hard way last the longest, too.
I finished in 9:57, 33 minutes shaved off from my target time of 10:30. I could not help but get really teary eyed at the end of the race, I hugged one and all fiercely. These were the guys who had worked with me patiently for the past 6 months, helping me move from a maximum distance of 21K to an ultra distance of 78K. Madhu, Athreya, and Sabine, you guys are my ultra superstars. Thanks for all the patience and love.
After-effects: a twinge in my right foot that persisted for a couple of days, an immediate loss of appetite for a while and a small wave of depression. But I went on a beautiful long run this morning, my first training run for the Mumbai marathon on Jan 20. Manoj, Girish and I plan to do a sub-four, Inshallah!!
Sometime back, a new runner girl asked on the RFL website, “How do you guys run?” and a whippersnapper replied with “You take your right leg forward, and then your left, and then your right….” I found the post hilarious when I read it, but that is what running is all about, I guess. It ain’t easy, but it sure is simple.