Friday, December 13, 2013

Summing up 2013



The year of 2013 is nearing its predestined end. Even though we are still a fortnight away, I am offering my regular year end post bit early as from tomorrow I would be in situations from where a post may not be practically feasible; and perhaps where a post or internet would not be a part of my itinerary at all. Yes, you guessed it; I am off into my mountains.

Barring a few, who have sighted me recently, perhaps most of you out there who know me only vicariously by now presume that I am no more, not in the physical sense since my last post happened more than three months ago. But I am here once again to disappoint you. I am alive, very much so, and laughing at the paradox of it all. Though I must say if not for the year end post, I would have written another post only in 2014, since till now I had written exactly 13 posts, and that seemed beautiful for the year 2013. But alas, as so much in life is unpredictable, you will now have 14 posts in my blog for the year 2013. And why did I want to keep 13 posts for the year 2013? Well, if you reverse it, it spells my birth date – 1302 or 13th Feb. So 2013 has been a unique numerological year for me. Such a year has never been before and will never again be in the history or future of mankind, no matter how far or long that future is. And I am one of the lucky ones living right now, who could have a year of such significance. So now read on and discover what I did this year, where all did my wandering feet take me and how it once again turned out to be as much as a nail biting adventure as my perennial soul searching quest for what I know not what I seek!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goofiest Mistakes of My Life


People often ask me what have been my worst moments in life, when I almost died, or felt that I wouldn’t get back alive, when everything seemed hopeless and totally lost. My answer normally is that despite anything nothing is ever hopeless. As long as I have my last breathe within me even if I am totally lost and on the verge of dying. There is hope as long as there is life. And then I embellish it with saying that there are no worst or best moments in life; it all depends on which side of the fence you are looking at it from that decides if it was worst or best; albeit it was certainly a MOMENT.

Whereas it is said that you should count your life by how many moments that took your breath away, I normally count them by how many mistakes I made and therefore learnt something out of it and in my case my mistakes are always goofy since I laugh about them upon my own silly attitude. Oxford dictionary defines goofy – ludicrous or foolish; and mistake – a wrong action attributable to bad judgment, ignorance or inattention. Hence the title of this post signifies – Most ludicrous and foolish acts of mine that is attributable to bad judgment, my ignorance (I love this reason) and my inattention. Obviously in most of these instances I was alone. I have divided these acts into several categories with top 10 in each category in order to make it more specific, in case some of you are inspired to follow my path of ‘untrodden’ trails… read and follow at your own peril!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

When I met Mother Teresa and Madam Matahari



The other day while wading through Kalahari
I met Mother Teresa and Madam Mata Hari
One sweet lady and the other deadly

I asked 'Hello girls, how do you do?'
Mother said, 'Bless you son'
Madam said 'I better kill you'

I love them both so couldn't say no
Mother embraced me within her glow
Madam put an arrow to her bow

Being a warrior of peace
I told Mother to walk with the breeze
And to oil her bow I gave Madam some grease

So Mother ambled spreading love and joy
I tumbled behind like a lost boy
Madam would have nothing of this decoy

Following one and pursued by another
Two beautiful ladies asunder
I wished being a better runner

And then my dream ended
Upon this earth I again landed
Bruised and a bit jaded

Two beautiful women with hearts of gold
Kind Mother and Madam bold
My soul to them both sold

The above utterly ridiculous lines are a no-holds-barred impromptu take on two very dear friends, I have recently met. I respect, admire and love them both and for some reasons do believe them to be the above reincarnations.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

From Russia With NO Malice Aforethought

Your Russian Guide in Kremlin

I just returned from a madcap adventure in Russia with a group of friends to visit the highest summit of Europe – Elbrus in the Caucasus. This post is not about this climb. I know or knew Russia and Russians well and a smattering of the language that had taken me from the high volcanic plateau’s of Kamchatka to the Baltic or Finnish Lapland and from the frozen shores of Laptev Sea (Northernmost tips of Siberia) to the breezy Caspian, often pursued or accompanied by stern non-smiling men and women in uniform whose purpose was to ensure I did or came to no harm. So rushing through the Russian Tundra aboard the Trans-Siberian Rail or reindeer-sleding towards the North Pole, I had always been amazed and impressed with the Russian diversity and the people’s tenacity over so much anarchy and butchery.

My first trip to Russia was more than 20 years back when KGB ruled that world and the mere mention of Lubyanka could make any lion-hearted feel dizzy; when we had no idea who was Cheka and who was friend. In those days we had been trained and conditioned to keep our mouths shut and eyes peeled to the ground. Keep our hands in our pockets and just walk past anything that may disturb our demeanor with complete nonchalance and indifference. So I looked forward to this trip that promised to be complete fun with an eclectic mix of equally madcap people assembled from all the high and low ends of our planet. Armed only with few Russian words, a bit of climbing gear, and all my wit in that order I boarded the Emirates flight.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Life in a Cube


Often hailed as the world’s most popular and most recognizable puzzle game and also the most perplexing, I doubt if there are many on this planet who haven’t heard of Rubik’s Cube. And I am sure most such people have always harvested the desire to solve one, if one could be solved. With 43 quintillion permutations (43,252,003,274,489,856,000 to be precise) this cube has long puzzled mankind leaving only very few cube crazies to be able to do it. When we look at a scrambled cube and start to unscramble using whatever little brain or logic we have, very soon we realize that we are not reaching anywhere. And after few hours we are ready to throw it out of the window out of sheer frustration. Yet when we watch a master turn and twist the abominable cubies or cubelets (the tiny cubes that make up the entire cube) and place before us a perfectly solved cube in seconds then we can only gasp and wonder at the magic of it all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Don't Talk Just Climb


I am motionless as a spider spying upon its prey. I am stuck on a sheer column of ice, no thicker than few inches with visible ground far beyond my eyes dare to travel. I feel like a spider but wonder (the most irrelevant notion at that moment) if ever a spider has ventured across icy terrains of such smoothness and vertical travesty. Even as my eyes, though still, look for places where I could place my ice pick, my four limbs glued to the element begins to grow weary. Precious seconds are ticking away and all I can do is gasp, breathe, and pray for a miracle.

With mother Earth nearly 100 m below I am venturing upon a new ice route in the cold frigid mountains of Colorado’s Telluride town deep end of box canyon on one of the most treacherous and iconic winter routes of all, the dreaded ‘Bridal Veil’ graded WI 5-6 under normal conditions. It is a tottering column of such jumbled ice sculpture that from the bottom you cannot see even 1/4th of the way up.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Short Guide to Happiness for Dummies


I like to believe that I am a happy and content human being even if I aspire for more. And this self-belief has only been heightened by hundreds of my friends who seek my advice and guidance in matters of happiness at moments of perplexity. So I figured I must be doing something right to be in this constant state of flux, always changing, transforming, yet smiling and happy and joyful – most of the time. Few religious beliefs and schools of philosophy has led us to accept that ‘life is suffering’, also most of us find life too difficult or complex and complicated. But not once do we see that the key to happiness is with us, within us. Happiness and sorrow are simultaneously present no matter who we are, where we are, what we do or how we live. The difference is in our vision, in our attitude, in our way of life. I must explain the title to this post before we proceed further, lest some of you may be offended: a short guide since your guide here is short (I am only 170 cm in my heels) and by no means I am implying that any of you or all of you are ‘dummies’, it’s just a figure-of-speech I like.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stillness


I just got back after climbing a big mountain, really big, really high though may not be really difficult. This story is not about this mountain or about the climb but about a vivid dream that I dreamt one night in one of the high camps and then on waking up, remained so clear that I jotted it down in my diary (which incidentally has not even one line about the climb). So here is the dream verbatim as the way I remembered and recorded in my diary.

This is what I saw…

A wise man from a fair skinned nation once traveled to the great East, into the Himalaya and chanced upon a naked sage, who, it was reported, had remained stationary at one place beneath a towering peak for as long as one could remember. The wise man, full of wisdom and himself, drew level with the naked sage and asked, ‘why are you stationary, so seeped into stillness when everything within this cosmos is in motion?’

The naked sage smiled through his dense beard and muttered, ‘my honorable friend from far, you answer your own question; for tell me how can one study motion if one is not still himself! By moving with motion how will one know who moves; the observer or the observed?’

‘But then what about stillness, how will you study stillness by being still yourself?’ the wise man retorted, bent upon to demonstrate his superior learning.

‘My friend stillness doesn’t need to be studied. It is like the silent still water of a perfectly motionless pond across the distant hills upon which the cosmos is reflected in its entirety; the azure, the mountains, the flying birds, the sun and the moon and the rotating stars, even the passage of the seasons and the rainbows. And my friend if you can’t see it, feel it or grasp it then it is you who is still groping for stillness.

‘Life from the outside is like the rolling waves and tides of a great ocean where despite million collisions, upheavals and resistance within, they all move and flow in perfect synchronicity, in one smooth pre-designated patterned path; therefore there is life as there is death like the trough and crest of a distant wave. One cannot exist without the other and without them being together neither can the flow of events. We live inside therefore we see chaos, the collision, the battle, the turmoil, but from afar and without to an observer sitting on a distant shore, we all are moving in perfect harmony like the dancing Wu Li Masters.

‘And just like the waves when they strike the shore breaking up into infinite pieces of complete disharmony, so does life break its pattern when we urge it to stop flowing its cosmic unending cycle. For life is in ‘motion’ while harmony is in the ‘wave.’

That’s where my dream ended and I woke up. The above may be a garble or riddle or plain as day. It may mean nothing or anything… go figure!


Wandering Shiva



Recently I climbed a big mountain; big both in girth and loftiness, very big. Much happened during this climb and much that should not have happened, but today’s story is not about this mountain or about the climb, it’s about something else entirely. Something that is intriguingly significant to me and even though I do see its rationale in afterthought I am still puzzling over the incident.

Lord Shiva is one of the primary Hindu Gods, in fact the most supreme of the trinity. He is on one hand the destroyer and on another the procreator since without annihilation there can’t be creation or so we believe. Shiva certainly is someone’s figment of imagination on high testosterone and the legend is an extraordinary saga. Of all the facts about Shiva that we are led to believe, the one I hold closest to my heart is that He resides in the Himalaya and his five abodes are spread across the length of the icy peaks. Therefore with that belief, he is my only god since Himalaya is my home too and the icy peaks my abodes. Even if He indeed exists, I doubt if He does so in the way we depict Lord Shiva in our myths; wearing tiger skin, snake around the neck and holding the moon in his hair locks. Yet this image is so deeply embedded in any Hindu mind that I cannot imagine him to be any way different than this.

Memory defies me as to its origin now, who gave it to me or where did it come from, but for over two decades I have had in my possession a tiny Shiva statue, measuring no more than an inch by half. It has been my inseparable companion for all these years during all my climbs, all my voyages over land, sea or air. No matter where I went, it went with me. It stood atop one of my ice axes while at home. In this statue Shiva is in His benign form, smiling, all forgiving and truly magnificent. As I went through my adventures and misadventures, repeating my death defying and death-inviting motions, I came to regard this statue as my guardian angel, as if Shiva Himself stayed with me to safeguard my limbs and life. I grew bolder, crazier and reckless with this belief.

On any climb, the statue remained inside by breast pocket, therefore remaining close to my heart and to my pulsating life. I never parted with it and never failed to carry it, no matter where I went. I knew it was only my belief that gave this statue mythical power over life and death and despite all my rationality I was fine with it. I have seen logic-defying things in the outdoors and out there I believe in things that normally I may not. Hence it is obvious that upon this big mountain too I had this statue right where it belonged – deep inside the breast pocket of my climbing jacket / suit. And that’s exactly where it remained for the duration of the expedition.
Everything went off well and I could feel the statue against my skin through the clothes every now and then. The climb continued as envisaged. We finally reached the summit camp one fine windy afternoon. We had planned to start our summit push the same evening. We were well within the death-zone. The statue, as far as I can recall now, was very much there. After this things get fuzzy.

In the bone chilling freeze we got ready for the summit bid, clipped on our oxygen masks and breezed out into the gale that was blowing in from the west. After 20 hrs and a successful summit when I returned to the tent I had no recollection about the Shiva statue. I looked for the statue in all the lower camps till the Base Camp but the statue could not be found anywhere. I fail to understand how could the statue fall off from the inside pocket of my down climbing suit, since the pocket was well zipped off. I hadn’t fallen any place. The statue could not have disappeared, yet it had, as if it never existed. I looked everywhere except of course retracing my path to the summit once more.

So the question is why did Shiva decide to take a hike upon this mountain!

Either he was tired of me or of returning to the city life again and again or he decided to stay back into the Himalaya this time and what better place to go roaming than the highest Himalayan arena. His main abode of Sri Kailash isn’t too far as well. By now He must be with his friends and overlooking the limpid blue waters of Mansarovar, relating the adventures he had shared over the last 20 years in my company. So I wish him luck and accept that He is gone.

Does that mean I would go get another statue of Shiva or that my guardian is no more with me; certainly not! Like I said, it was always a question of my belief and the strength came from inside me into the statue and not vice versa so now I don’t need a statue anymore. 20 year long belief can pretty much conjure things out of thin air.


Om Namoh Shivaya!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Opposites and Equals




Today I am going to tell a little story and some thoughts in this post. The story may or may not have any link to the thoughts like any other things in this life and universe. While each is related and linked to each, they are also not. Just as a grain of sand can be the entire cosmos or it can just be that – a grain of sand.

I will begin by quoting one of my favorite Zen thoughts - A person may appear a fool but he may only be guarding his wisdom carefully

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Summits of My Life



Climbing mountains is my journey through life, a pilgrimage and a quest for my own true self. Reasons I chose this path of exploration are many and diverse; breathtaking views, infinite possibilities, solitude and redefining my own boundaries are primary among them. And the fact that they are there only helped. People say that I do things that very few in the world do and when they ask me why, I reply ‘why not?’ Though in my opinion what I do is not so uncommon; you and I, we all climb our own mountains of body and mind and of soul and your journeys are no less exciting or unpredictable than mine and at the end we all do wish to reach the top and then get down safe and happy back from where we began. And perhaps in this regard our climbs begin to differ.

Learning to Fail



I looked up at the white summit, across and over a convex wall of rock-hard ice... it looked tantalisingly near yet I knew I would never reach it, at least not today. I had reached the end of my endurance, expertise and wits. I had nothing more to counter the mountain’s defences. If I wished to live then today I must quit. For the moment it was a summit too far.

Friday, February 15, 2013

We all are where we want to be




Once upon a time in the late eighteenth century there lived a group of monks by a fast mountain river that flowed from the hills and through the serene woods where the monks lived in a modest monastery. These monks lived a very simple life doing what they were supposed to do, and taught by their master. They cooked and ate and then preached the Lord Buddha’s teachings among the poor village folks that came to see them. Out of all the monks the brightest was Chen who lived the life of a true hermit never seeking more than what was given, never saying more than asked and never going further than his monastery. He was a pure soul yet he wasn’t ready to go and his master, despite his best efforts hadn’t been able to show Chen that he was ready and now needed to leave.

Now what these monks had never done before was cross the river that flowed nearby though they drew its sweet water each day.

So the master talked to his brother on the other side of the river and one morning told Chen to go to the other side and get a rare medicinal plant back to the monastery.

Chen took leave from his master and walked to the river but on reaching its bank he could not find a way across. The waves were big and the water roared furiously. It was deep and very cold. There wasn’t any bridge or any boat or ferry and there’s no way any human or animal could swim across such a torrential river. Chen wondered and pondered and thought why his master would send him for this impossible task. And then he saw an old master on the other side, walking along the river. It was his master’s wiser and elder brother.

On seeing the old master Chen’s spirit lifted and he screamed at the top of his voice to the old man. ‘Master, master… how can I reach the other side?’

The old master stopped and gaped at Chen and then looked up and down the river and then across, and with a warm smile shouted back, ‘But son, you already are on the other side.’

The above story is my version of an old Zen story, which I had heard a long time ago from another master sitting astride the wooden stairs of a mystical monastery deep in Spiti, while overlooking the Pin River and the snow capped mountains beyond. Perhaps the sight of the Pin River had made the master to tell me this story.

I often used to say that each time I returned to civilization from the high Himalayan valleys or any mountains around the world I felt empty and disoriented since I could never understand the frivolities of a city life and all its happenings. I still say this at times, though rarely now. But I do realize that physical dimensions are not as important as the ones that are within my heart and soul and my eyes. 

No matter where my body is, I can always travel to my mountains in a blink, within the span of a single heartbeat and in less than the time I take to say it. Since if I shut my eyes to my inner world then even if I sit in the mountains I will still see the failings of the kind of life I do not lead in the same way that I have within me the capacity to see my beautiful mountains through shut eyes even when engulfed by the smog and dirt and noise of humanity.

I hate labeling my posts spatially but this one is intended this year for Valentine, wishing that each one of you may find within yourself where you want to be and with whom you wish to be.

Much love and joy forever… 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Summing Up 2012



I have to admit that the title is an unabashed copy of Somerset Maugham’s autobiography with the year as a suffix and hence my own in a way. Not that I should be ashamed of copying that great now-dead author Mr. Maugham. I absolutely adore him and his writing skills. As always I felt the need to sum up the year though I am sure no one gives a rat’s shit (kids please pardon my cussing) what that is since I don’t give myself. But then there are people who do slither across my blog looking for some banality and blemished banter and of course some intended pun along with bitter humor. So let’s begin at the very beginning (where else can one begin from?)…

As I pen these words, I can hear the rushing waves of the Pacific on the west coast of the US of A on the last day of 2012 / first day of 2013 through the darkness and to imagine that exactly at these hours and day precisely a year ago I was fighting ticks and other abominable wild life deep into the Agumbe Rainforest of Southern India, which is often called the Amazon of the East. From there to here (where I currently am) it is an approximate distance of 14,600 km (give or take 100) and a difference of 365 days; so sandwiched between these two times and space lay the bones of another year that would never be and was quite a one.

On my quest to find distant lands and my own true soul, I crossed the Atlantic several times and found myself many times above the clouds in the Himalaya. Chronologically, from the forests down the southern part of India I went to one of the coldest locations on Earth right up north in the Himalaya leading a small band of crazy people, walking on frozen rivers and climbing high through such blizzards that almost ripped off our noses and nerves in that order. From there a chance invitation got me to the Amazons and Brazil and then on to Uruguay (which became the 146th nation I visited in my life). There I learned much about life, love and caipirinha and other finer caprices of life. And then another invitation landed me into the swirling and flame licking heat of Dubai, where I almost died each time I stepped out and remained out for more than four minutes in the sun.

After such great sacrifices Gods smiled down upon me and I was off for a heart rendering and nerve pulling expedition into the real high Himalaya with a bunch of insane friends and plenty of food where we wanted to scale a wall of rock and ice that hadn’t been scaled yet; somehow we believed we could do it, or at least could at least get off the ground. We did get off the ground and then stayed grounded plastered upon the dizzying walls, while being bruised by some of the most horrific weather I have ever experienced anywhere in my life yet. This was followed by several shorter sojourns into the mighty mountains of my life. And then I hopped into our national carrier and headed once again across the Atlantic and then across USA to the Pacific Coast.

Some may say I travel to work or I work to travel, while I would say that I have fun traveling and I travel for fun. You may name my ‘fun’ as work and so be it. The year 2013 is here and as you and I both know that we are still very much alive enough to be reading / writing this and the world is still on its orbit around the sun so let us now stop proceeding on this any further and go out to meet the day / night the way they should be, which is, with lots of wonder and impulses, with much joy and happiness and love for all and with a prayer that this year we would destroy the earth less, we would love more and we would smile even when there’s no reason or season to.

Let’s not plan much and see where this year takes us, you and I, to which distant mountain tops do we find ourselves breathing hard and taking in the world around with the same sense of wonder that we had began our climb.

As always I wish all of you to strive for the top since I will always see you on top. Amen!