Monday, December 23, 2013

The Harmonica

1979- Schooldays

I could hear him playing Ik din Bik jayega Mati ke mol. Madhav had received a New Hero Harmonica from his tutor. The metallic red instrument in cardboard box with Chinese letters caught my attention. Madhav would have an extra tuition class for me and tell me the new stuff he learned. In a month I learned to play the same song.

I wanted a harmonica of my own. Few school friends asked me about gift for my forthcoming Birthday.

“I wish I could buy a harmonica. It costs a lot of Rupees.”

My friends handed me the cash on my 15 year birthday. A friend and I cycled to M G Road and checked out almost all shops.

“No! We do not have a Hero. We have cheap stuff for kids.”

I was frustrated. Next weekend I started a thorough search around Pune. After 4 hrs, I finally came across a shop that sold toys.

“Chinese Harmonica hai?”, I asked. (I was now ok with ANY foreign harmonica.)

The shopkeeper pulled out a box that had lot of Indian Harmonicas. Then he gave me a Metallic Blue Harmonica that was wrapped in a butter paper.
It read Butterfly. I blew into it. It was almost as effortless as Hero and sounded good. I paid Rs 50 which was Rs 10 over my budget and it did not even have the cardboard box.

I must have been a pain at home, as I kept harping and practicing at study time or Dinnertime.

1981- Apprenticeship

The Butterfly accompanied me to the apprentices hostel. I earned reputation of a good player as I could play almost any song. I escaped the ragging sessions as the seniors were ok if I played them a tune. During my In-plant training as a Draftsman, I came across another harmonica player. I did not listen to him play but he gave me the bigger picture of the world of Harmonica. He talked about Brands that I never heard about. I remembered Hohner, which was manufactured in Germany.

I was to play at the Hostel Get together and the Chief Technical Director of Tata Motors, Mr Jakatdar was the chief guest. My friends wanted me to play a new song and I had been practicing with our Music band in TATA motors Hostel. It was my first stage performance and I had the shivers.

As soon as I started playing, the shivers vanished and I escaped to my world of melody. I received a huge applause from the crowd. It was one happy moment in my life.

Two weeks after this performance, I was summoned by the Divisional Manager of Training Division. I was terrified at the prospect of meeting a senior person and I hoped there was no bad news for me. (The same man had grilled me over a lost TATA motors trainee badge and I had received a caution letter for my negligence.)

Mr Mukhopadhyay was nice to me. “Do you play Harmonika really well, Parag?”
“Yes. I think I can play any song.” I was surprised at the purpose of the visit.
Then he said, “One of my friends is going to Germany. Which Harmonica is the best in the world? Suppose you were to buy one.”

I told him my wish. “It’s a Chromatic 64 key Harmonica called Hohner. I have never seen it but people tell me that it’s one of the best.”

Mr Mukhopadyay said, “Thanks for the advice. I will suggest it to him.”

One Month later I heard, that Mr Jakatdar had retired from his position as Chief Technical Director at Tata Motors, soon after his visit to Germany. It was only then that I realized, who the friend was.

I hoped he was happy with his Harmonica and I was glad to have been of service to a great personality.

Two months later, Mr Mukhopadyay summoned me to his office.
“Did you get the Harmonika, Parag? I gave it to the rector.”

I was shocked.

A 64 Chromatic for me? It was a very costly Harmonica. Was I good enough?

It was a rich man’s stuff. It was fine for a Director. Not me.

I fumbled for words to express my appreciation and gratitude, but I only answered him with silence.

I mumbled, “I will check with the Rector. Thank you so much.”

The man had bought an expensive harmonica. Judged me from single performance?

He had nothing to gain by giving me this costly toy! I was just a low level Apprentice.

My respect for the retired Director grew to a new height. This was the culture at TATA motors that bred great men and one of them had just blessed me.

I waited restlessly at the hostel for the rector. He appeared after his rounds.

“Mr Mukhopadyay asked me to collect the Harmonica.”


He looked at me. “You can take this instrument play it whenever you want. But it should be handed back to me. It will be kept with other Musical instruments as Hostel Property.”

This was a rude shock. Harmonica is a private instrument. How can it be shared?

The rector knew nothing about music. Or perhaps he did not want me to get it so easily.

However, I suppressed my feelings and carried it to the room. When I told the story to my friends they were shocked too. “Dude, this Harmonica will end up at the rector’s home for sure.”

I was sad as I felt the same. In 1984, I left the hostel without the harmonica.

1985-Earn a chromatic

My friends at the hostel shared the loss of the instrument with me. Venkatesh approached me one day and said, “There is a Hero Chromatic Harmonica for sale and there is only one piece.”

I thanked him for the splendid news. He gave me a ride on his bicycle. The seller was none other than my Old Harmonica friend. He was glad to see me. “It is not a 64 Chromonica, but it is not too bad either for Rs 125/.”

The Hero lasted for 14 years during my service at Tata Motors. It broke many-a-times and had been bound by Adhesive tape. Unfortunately, I could never flaunt my Chromatic on stage.

1999- New milleneum

I had joined a software company and had the opportunity to visit USA for 3 months. There was a stopover at the Frankfurt airport. Had Mr Jakatdar travel for the Frankfurt Motor show?

Frankfurt? Germany? It "tasted" of Harmonica again. Could I buy a 64?

The stopover at Frankfurt was around 3 hours. Mangesh and I caught an internal train to get us to the shopping area.

“Does this airport have a shop for Musical Instruments?

“Ja.”

“Danke Zehr!” I mumbled in appreciation.

The gentleman had no idea what this meant to me and the reason for the beam on my face.

It was a full fledged Hohner shop! I had walked into a dream.

There it was! A Silver 64 Chromatic Hohner glistened through the showcase at $26.

I looked at all options. There was a costlier harmonica at double the price.

"Can I touch it? Can I blow?"

"Nein!", warned she. Then the shopkeeper pulled out a blower. I pumped into the harp to test it.

I shelled out the advance money that my Company had handed me to cover any dire situation.

Mangesh said, “I will cover you as long as you keep playing tunes for me.”


The dream started in 1984 had yielded fruit in 1999. The expensive asset was earned and not gifted.

No one could take it away from me this time.


During my last performance on stage at my company, I wore Dark Black Sunglasses when playing the harp.

A colleague asked, "Why those glasses.?"
I answered, "I cant stand the glare of the lights.". 

I knew that perhaps I looked very funny with them on. But I expected no one would have understood the reason then.

The Hohner Harmonica that I held was purchased with my buddy, Late Mangesh Deshpande.
Mangesh was lost in the clouds and the goggles were a silent tribute to my companion.


Just like my lost friend, the Harmonica has one key missing.
I need to play the key by shifting the button.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wipro Chennai marathon 2013

'The race day is an occasion where you get results of your training.'

I was not training well for a marathon.
One 37km run a month before marathon was the only occasion I stretched.
I was not doing well ..certainly not as well as my friends Jeetu, Nitin and Rupesh when I joined them for a run that started at 4AM from Wanowrie.
Near Hotel Blue diamond I felt lot of heat in my head and Jeetu suggested removing the head band that I usually wear to prevent seat pouring down my eyes. Near Agakhan Palace we had the last sip of water at a municipality tap and I dropped into a walk, gesturing to my friends that they should continue.
I would try to pull on and join them at Pune running Amanora event where we did our rest 15km with water support.
I was not ready for a long run and had all the signs were showing me my weakness. But when I was inside Amanora looking at the crowd of other runners set a cheer and I continued in better pace with plenty of water to nourish me.

I had joined a 200km in One month Challenge as a salute to Sachin Tendulkar. Diwali vacation did not allow me to train well and I slipped in my target miles. After Diwali I trained with the NIBM Runners group and got back on track to complete 200km. It was a nice change from my Solitary runs to be with a group of jovial runners. I volunteered for a 21km trail run by Pune Running (as a photographer) which was directed by Jeetu and planned by Nitin.
I had a heel pain, A result of stepping on some pebble OR the TCS run where I pushed myself bit beyond my limit for 8km PB.

A week Before Chennai Marathon, I stepped into "taper".
During this period of inactivity, my weight increased from 78 kg to almost 80kg. I was keen on getting my heel in better shape. I used the Decalthon flat sole Shoes with heel inserts to ease the pain.
By end of the week, Thursday, I caught a viral infection and visited the doc.
I mentioned that I was planning to run Chennai marathon in 2 days.
He said, “You seem to be in good physical shape. But the infection will take 3 days to go. You need complete rest.”

I thought, “ He did not say that I should not run the marathon.”

I had to skip office on Friday, as I was completely bedridden. I slept through the day and the medication was indeed too strong . The cough syrup made me drowsy. I kept drinking a lot of water and electral.

Steam and gargle to keep the throat in better condition.
Sat 4AM..I caught a rickshaw to the Pune airport and joined Umesh who was to accompany me to Chennai. Mayuresh (Pune Running Friend) was on the same flight.
I had last sip of cough syrup before boarding. 3 hrs to kill at Bangalore till we got on the Chennai Flight.

We were received by Army personnel, who took me to the bib collection center and then to OTA (Officers Training Academy) which is adjacent to the airport. My host Lt Gen Sunil Jog was out of town but all arrangements was in place at the Flagstaff house which had tight security.
I met my Cousin and my Grandma and felt at home. After lunch, we had a walk around OTA campus. Cadets under training reminded me of NDA campus. A splendid view from the top of the hill that showed us the airport and St Thomas hill.

Before sleep, I massaged the right foot arch. Any strain here was going to cause taut muscles, that could wreck my knee during the long run.
The massage did well initially, but it also started causing a dull ache to my foot arch later in the night.

We got up at 3AM after5 hr sleep. I did few stretches for my feet to relieve me off the pain.
A jeep escorted us to the start point.

I met Vishwanathan Jayraman (Hubli express) and we hugged each other. I was moved when he kissed my hands and said, “You are a great artist.” We have a great appreciation for each other. It is a treat to meet good people at occasions like marathon.

Everyday Marathoner: Vishwanathan Jayaraman

I met my old friends Thomas Paulose and Bhagirathi (From Soles of Cochin).
Thomas was targeting 10km at around 1hr.

The run was flagged off at 5AM sharp.
I had changed the rules of my game. i.e I kept my pace very slow. Over pacing at Hyderabad Marathon had cost 5:35 of my time.

My intent was to achieve 10km in around 1+ hr. I was using a few good things from Jeetu (who completed his 100km run), especially landing on the paw, sliding the foot just over the road. The smooth road caressing the foot.

Rain started and I welcomed it. Wet road offers lubrication and is a treat for bare feet.
I chatted along with a few new friends from Chennai and then picked pace. At 10km line I glanced at my watch 1:07. I was indeed going slow.

Marina Beach..I believe there is no better way to see Chennai than a Marathoner. I saw Vishwanathan running back the loop. He was way ahead of me.. Near The war memorial I saw Bhagirathi and few yards later, Thomas wave at me.
Bhageerathy Vaidyanathan

Thomas Paulose


I had settled in my pace. My strategy of reducing pace seemed to work! It was almost effortless running. My breath was just normal and so was my pulse (Or so I sensed). In bare minimal running, I have kept all gadgets away apart from my Very basic Mobile, that helps me to catch up with my friends at end line.
I could see plenty of bare foot runners and I am glad that the tribe is increasing.

Umesh and Parag

Lot of people cheered from the side of the road. I remembered Mumbai SCMM. Very similar spirit in Chennai. I was sipping water every 2 km. The rain had stopped and I had started heating up. I poured water all over my T shirt. The rejuvenation was instant and I accelerated my pace. Some Bhajan’s could be heard from a temple. We were now running against the overwhelming 10km race crowd.

At 21km mark I checked my Watch.. 2:18. (This was just the right time to get me a sub 5 target).  For a long time I was ran alone. I had slipped into a state of trance, where there was no pain or no effort and I was focused on NOW.
The end line and the distance was never in the mind. I soon saw the IIT campus. Lot of youngsters was out there cheering us. I waved my hands to thank them.
Throughout the later part of the run,. I had started squeezing Lemon and salt into my mouth ..and sipping a glass of water to drown it.

I can confirm..Lime and salt is the BEST rejuvenate. I did not take any other electrolytes during this run. At occasions I used to gobble a small piece of banana (doused in salt) and these few natural ingredients were sufficient to keep me nourished. There was absolutely no nausea, as usually seen with sweet electrolytes/ soft drinks.

Some construction sand and mud…The people with shoes avoided it. I ran through it as it was a pleasant glide for my feet which had traded with the asphalt. The sudden luxury had got me carefree and I landed on a sharp stone. I winced at the pain and rubbed the foot on the road as I ran. The pain vanished.

IIT Madras! It is indeed a beautiful campus. What an apt terrain to run the last miles! Groves of trees on sides. Cheering youngsters. Volunteers on cycles tended to the runners for water.

"Focus on NOW! I reduced my pace." I tell myself. "When I run an ultra, the run will never end. All that matters is current condition! Deep abdominal breathing. Cool down the body."

My legs were rolling and there was no muscle strain. I may have looked funny as I engage in the “Drunken monkey roll”. At three stations I drowned myself in ICE water showers at the sponging stations. It is a huge relief and all the freshness returned fast.

Bhagirathy on her return loop gives me a clap. She is doing pretty well. Thomas Paulose soon follows. He asks if everything is ok. I reply, “Never felt better in my life!”

I am now close to km 38. Four kms to go. I quickly know what this means. It is like 2 rounds at the Pune racecourse, which at my normal pace takes 25 mins. For sub 5 I only have 20 mins.
It is a shock for me as I have relished my pace. The sudden thought of numbers and figures and goals leaves me awestruck.

km 39 is more painful. only because it is a mark closer to the goal and unsure that I will end up Sub Five. I am soon at km 40 water station. Without asking me, two girls empty their ice water sponges over my head. The water runs along the back. And the “labor” evaporates.
In my mind, I am back at my solitary run at the racecourse..Just one round. I have not looked at the watch after km 38. Figures cause pain.
I am back with Nitin who yells,”Strong Finish!”
My Gallop starts. I overtake many runners. By standers seem amazed at the pace and the energy.. Cadence gets less as I am in a sprint (and kill) mood. My feet pound (as they never pounded before)..Kraftwerk sings CARDIOGRAM to me and I breathe Swish Phaaw Swish phaw. 
In this last km I broke all my rules..The crowd from Chennai applaud.. I glance at the electronic display…5:04
My watch shows 5:03.. Same old Personal best as AHM 2012

I rush inside the ground..Sip Glucon D. Then run to the stretching area.
Surprisingly, there is absolutely no indication in my legs that I ran a marathon.
The pain is in the ankle joints. I know from my experience that this lasts a couple of days.

Stretches help me to relax. The worse cases are being attended by Chennai Volunteers. I lie down for a while.  Then I stroll towards Soles of Cochin that I recognize in their light green T shirts. Thomas did it quite well as this is his first Barefoot marathon.. He says, “ Our Goal is no injury.” We have an agreement on this!

The prize distribution ceremony is on and I listen to the glory of the brave winners. The Westin food bag is a surprise and the food is excellent. 

Many runners come to me and congratulate me. “You ran very well!” 
I am embarrassed.
 I do not recall seeing them before..Or is it that last “high perf” sprint that got me attention? Or am I being "not nice" as them?
The crowd is so different and friendly than all my past marathons.

Umesh meets me at the endline. He made it in his usual time. “ Maximum Enjoyment from the investment in Bib.”

I brood. I gave everything I had, for this run. I had changed my game plan. No electrolyte..Slower pace. This was the only marathon where I did not walk. I often break into short walks after km 36.
Even with the last sprint, I could not get under 5 hr target. It is a realization, that this is the limit that allows me to enjoy my run, pain-free.

Should I really care about sub 5? It is just a number.
If it happens automatically, it would be nice to have.
I have a good breath, nice pulse and lower BP, which should be more important.

While chasing for my “best time”, I conveniently forgot my Viral infection and the Humid Chennai climate.

Best mileage in Standard operating conditions. There is nothing I should crib or flaunt about.
I know my reading for Chennai. I am in a happy frame of mind, injury free.

I loved this event esp the organization, The volunteers the well managed traffic and the crowds that cheered. And the humble crowd of people that I ran with.
Marathons in various cities shows me the potential of simple and financially poor runners. It is an event where I make friendships across states and I feel like a true Indian.

Long Live India! 

Night- Next Day after Marathon.

The Ankle joint pain has vanished and I run a high fever in the night.
Next morning I visited the doc and confessed that I did not rest for 3 days, but ran the marathon. Perhaps the ice water baths?!@#$
He nods his head and says, "Nothing wrong with the marathon or the baths. You seem fit to have pulled out of it! But you had a bacterial urinary infection, apart from the Viral that I had diagnosed. You probably ran with it. Did you not pee too often during marathon? Did it not affect your time? What do runners do at Olympics?"

I answered,"Yes. 3 times. 4th time was just before start." I mused about the Olympic runners and the various public toilets where I had been.

Doc says,"I advise 4 days complete rest. Stick with it this time. No running please."

A week of Strong Antibiotics and I have re-started my 9km runs at racecourse again!

My Advice:
Do not strain too much if you are ill. (My reduced pace helped me through.)
The Dr will be a better source to blindly listen to than your brain.
My run was probably done in a dangerous condition and not ideal for others to follow.
Please take Calculated risk. :)





Monday, November 18, 2013

Mr Flatfoot goes Barefoot: Much ado about nothing

Flat foot? A handicap?


A bit of retrospection allowed me to go back into my past as a kid. I was not keen on exercise, nor was I interested in games.


I used school shoes with hard sole. My Toe was broad and Broad toe shoes were scarce in the market. I often had to do with larger size shoes that created some space for toe movement.


Yet, the movement of the foot on side was restricted.



As I grew older I needed shoes that were beyond size 9. Many shops , then, did not have giant size shoes.


Bata Northstar series came to my rescue, still it was a bit costly for my pocket.

By then, my foot was completely flat. 

Lotto launched a startup shoe that had arch support and without much thought I purchased a pair. It was a really bad investment as my Socks worse off at the Arch and I got blisters.

Flat foot would have been a problem if I wanted to enroll in the army. "You will have to march long distance. Also Flat foot is a BIG PROBLEM if you want to run or sprint." chirped my NDA friend. There ended my dream. 
The thought of being handicapped for life lurked at the back of my mind.

Larger shoes were a problem when I started Mountain climbing. Firstly I never got a pair of the right size to fit crampons on. 
Secondly I had to deal with a larger overhang from toe to arch while climbing rocks where the entire strength has to focus on the toes. (It was easy to get shaky knees when climbing and fear was not the only contributor.)

I had to do with Size 10 boots while my Foot had grown to size 11.


My first time in USA, I observed a shop going bankrupt. I purchased Air sole Nike at mere $25.

(I had crossed 45 years of age then.) The NIKES did a good job at cushioning the foot. I was pained when the cushion got punctured and leaked.
I ran my first 21km in my NIKE leaky air cushion shoes,

In another trip to USA I bought a pair of Size 11 Reebok. I used them to run my 1st full marathon. 
I had bad blisters. I thought I owed them to bad fitting socks. "Nothing wrong with a well designed shoes", thought I.
I then purchased a pair of Reebok low cut socks and ran the full Mumbai marathon.

Then I observed..something was still wrong with my knee. I attributed this to a rapid descent from my last expedition.


My shoes always felt hot and I felt uncomfortable after 30+ km stretch. 

At the same time my Friends Sujit and  Umesh had done the Mumbai Marathon in lesser time, Barefoot!

Umesh attributed the credit to BF running. 
I started practicing Barefoot. I must say that Umesh followed barefoot religiously in ANY terrain (Even Auroville Dirt trail marathon). I was more skeptical and got into the BF phase very gradually.

My first switch was to Floaters that allowed me to move the fingers.I was glad that my feet remained colder than when I wore the boots.


Later, I started using Bathroom slippers with a elastic band to hold to my foot just like a sandal.

This light weight contraption lasted me for quite a while.
I did not improve my run time..BUT I was in much better shape at the end of 21km.

My feet had tasted freedom for the first time in their life. They did not heat up and the long run was a lot more bearable.


I ran without shoes at a beach and then at racecourse. Different muscles started complaining. Did the sole hurt? Obviously! There is no gain without pain.


I stuck to the BF routine and soon I knew the proper landing technique. My slipper had worn out at the heel. so I was landing on the heel. I trained the foot to land on the ball of the foot.

Then I realized that I could now Spread my foot fingers as much as I wanted. The poor guys had never used so much freedom. When I ran in sand, I realized that the Toes were helping me to claw at the sand. This clawing is impossible with shoes on. I was using the full capacity of my toes for the first time in my life

How do you deal with rubble? Does it not hurt you? 

Yes.. It would hurt a lot at first. Till I found that if I stretched the muscles underneath the base I could run over small stones with less harm.
This was a matter of training.

I was reminded of the 36 chamber of Shaolin. The first lesson where the monks had to mover over logs floting on pool of water to get their meal. The newer monks sank in the pool. The profficient moved across just skimming over the little buoyancy the logs offered.



"I got to be swift. Move fast. no long strides." Cadence! small fast steps?"


Barefoot running is a self taught lesson! There are no guru's here. Also what works for one may not work for another.There were cases where BF runners started going back to "Bare Minimal" shoes.


The cost of such shoes???? I could purchase a double layered Mountain climbing boot at the same cost. (Something that was more dear to me than a pair of running shoes.)


I ran my Hyderabad marathon barefoot in 2012 august after 5 months of BF training. It is still my personal best.


I should confess, the Shaolin technique did not work when my legs were tired. My legs pounded the dirt inside the university campus and pained a lot. But it was the run that converted me completely.


Bare foot changed my approach to life. I understood the fact that shoes would not improve my performance. Barefoot running also taught me modesty. (All my life I was accustomed to wear shoes at school/ in workshop/ in mountains or at office. I had never thought of a life without them.)


Did I ever get infected by runing BF?


Never till date! I clean my feet with hot water.


What about glass pieces on the road?


It is unfortunate that people like smashing Wine bottles on the road. It is a hazard that I have to live with. 
I also found a pair of shoes that have a 3mm sole (intended for walking) These can be strapped to my waist pouch or bad road.

My feet have been pierced with thorns and glass at times, but I could pull it out and keep running. A barefoot runner observes the road a lot better than a person who runs in Shoes. It is an instinct that develops with practice. In university campus during a run, I observed a small dead snake on the road and no one else did!


Which are the best roads to run BF?


All roads that have a heavy traffic are good. You just need to find the right time to run on them. Better wake up early!



What is the best part of BF running?


I love to connect with mother earth. As I run on sand or soil, the contact with mother earth is something that I relish.



But you intended to talk about Flat feet..Why feed me all this info?


Well! I was coming to that part eventually.


"I find that I have a better arch than before after all this BF running." 

I realized it after a few months when I was washing my feet after a run. An arch had developed.

I was shocked and surprised. I had flat feet all my life. This was a new development.

The proof? The image at the top of this article is my footprint in the sand during a beach run.

You will notice how the ridges are formed.Though running in sand is a different game, It shows the points where the foot digs in the most and forms ridges.

The first thing I did was to send a message to Bare foot Ted.


I remember the first time when I heard of people going barefoot.


It was MF Hussain..Yes! the great Indian artist..thrown out of a restaurant as he was barefoot.


At the time, I had thought that he was crazy.


Now.. I am just another crazy artist . I understand him a lot better after a long time.


How do you know if nothing went wrong in 2 years, what beholds in future?


I have absolutely no clues for future. But I feel..if something worked for 2 years why not 

experiment for more and find about it myself?

IMPORTANT: 

You should decide for yourself. Do not try to follow me. 

Also, do not follow  follow anyone who claims that BF hurts. 

BF is a unique way to learn real running and improve from mistakes by first hand feedback.

If not completely BF, try to make your own Huaraches. :)


Few links that Support above:

http://fixflatfeet.com/walking-barefoot-using-correct-foot-placement/

http://thesquigglyline.com/2011/06/25/flat-feet-bare-foot-no-arch-support/

Monday, October 21, 2013

Where the voice is not heard: Climbing jargon explained



 Alpine style refers to mountaineering in a self-sufficient manner, thereby carrying all of one's food, shelter, equipment, etc. as one climbs, as opposed to expedition style (or siege style) mountaineering which involves setting up a fixed line of stocked camps on the mountain which can be accessed at one's leisure. Additionally, alpine style means the refusal of fixed ropes, high-altitude porters and the use of supplemental oxygen.
In simpler terms Alpine Style means carrying a very heavy sack. (30 kg per person on very limited food, suffices for 1 week)

The average Italian or Korean expedition to an 8000 meter peak n involves the hiring of between 100-300 porters (the most ridiculous ones hiring up to 600) to carry tons of gear up the Glacier and to their basecamp. There you have everything: from giant kitchen tents that serve three course meals, a weather monitoring tent and an intricately designed system of metal cables and fixed ropes for hauling gear to higher camps. The spectacle resembles a military operation. The plan is to “march” in, and “conquer” the mountain by “attacking” the high camps. Thousands of followers worldwide are following the mountaineers by reading blogs and webcasts.   

During all this hoo-ha no one will even notice the French couple that arrived with maybe a porter and a guide. They carried their own packs, cooked for themselves, got up and down the mountain before the siege-style expedition finished unpacking, and returned home to have a few beers in Chamonix. 
This is the antithesis to the traditional way of approaching Himalayan peaks. A light-weight and super-fast approach: the alpine style. Pioneered by mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner and perfected by Steve House and Vince Anderson’s week-long ascent of Nanga Parbat the style is as pure as it gets. - See more  

ACCLIMATISATION:- 

Effects as a function of altitude

The human body can perform best at sea level, where the atmospheric pressure is 101,325 Pa or 1013.25 millibars (or 1 atm, by definition). The concentration of oxygen (O2) in sea-level air is 20.9%, so the partial pressure of O2 (pO2) is 21.136 kPa. In healthy individuals, this saturates hemoglobin, the oxygen-binding red pigment in red blood cells.
Atmospheric pressure decreases exponentially with altitude while the O2 fraction remains constant to about 100 km, so pO2 decreases exponentially with altitude as well. It is about half of its sea-level value at 5,000 m (16,000 ft), the altitude of the Everest Base Camp, and only a third at 8,848 m (29,029 ft), the summit of Mount Everest. When pO2 drops, the body responds with altitude acclimatization.
Mountain medicine recognizes three altitude regions that reflect the lowered amount of oxygen in the atmosphere:
  • High altitude = 1,500–3,500 metres (4,900–11,500 ft)- Altitude of Gangotri 
(Altitude of Mont Blanc- Highest mountain in Europe. 15000 ft. In Himalayas, Base camp is established at this altitude. This may give you the relative scale.)
  • Very high altitude = 3,500–5,500 metres (11,500–18,000 ft)- 18K is Altitude of Kamet Advance Base camp
  • Extreme altitude = above 5,500 metres (18,000 ft) Most of the peaks in Indian Himalayas that I have attempted/climbed are in this range
Travel to each of these altitude regions can lead to medical problems, from the mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness to the potentially fatal high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The higher the altitude, the greater the risk. Research also indicates elevated risk of permanent brain damage in people climbing to extreme altitudes. Expedition doctors commonly stock a supply of dexamethazone, or "dex," to treat these conditions on site.


Humans have survived for two years at 5,950 m (19,520 ft) [475 millibars of atmospheric pressure], which is the highest recorded permanently tolerable highest altitude; the highest permanent settlement known, La Rinconada, is at 5,100 m (16,700 ft). At extreme altitudes, above 7,500 m (24,600 ft) [383 millibars of atmospheric pressure], sleeping becomes very difficult, digesting food is near-impossible, and the risk of HAPE or HACE increases greatly.

Mountain Terminology
http://santiamalpineclub.org/mountain/climbing/terms/

Glacier (River of ice) with Morraine deposit (Debris ):






Crevasses: Wide crack in the basin or glacier (Depth= Thickness of Ice sheet which can be 100ft to 500ft)









Bergshrund ( Large Crevasse that separates the mountain face from the basin)






Corniced ridge




Hanging Glacier



Seracs (Ice towers)



Front pointing with crampons:



Glissade and self arrest




Ice climbing





Belayer and climber






Expansion bolt- Bolt station.



Rope looped through the Carabiner in a Bolt







Jummaring (Asecnding on rope)




Rapelling (Descending on rope)





Mountain boots (With Crampons)




Seat Harness with Carabiner links

Basic info on Carabiners


Basic Jummaring technique





Johnny Dawes -World Class climber
(My friend from Meru Expedition)








All photos are courtesy of other blogs.  Used to create awareness of climbing terms to layman.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Pune Running- Run beyond Myself 6 October 2013

I have always wanted my family to witness the positive energy in a marathon crowd. The Event in Pune was the right opportunity..more so, as it involved no travel and the ticket cost was just right. I usually would not pay for 21 km run, (I prefer to run this distance solo). This event was for a noble cause..to gather funds for KEM Hospital. It reminded me of my Grandmother who spent her last days at the same hospital and my old climbing friend Dr Shashank Shrotriya who was always there, when I needed help.

My close friend and colleague Nitin Pandya was deeply involved in organizing this run.It was good that I stayed away from Organisation as I should not inflict my negativity in a positively charged group that had enough troubles of their own. (I had enough of mine.)

After release of my book, I had not run for a month. I was engrossed with painting as a diversion from my recent success. I was watching my friends perform. Retd Cmdr (Indian Navy) Jeetendran Nair (Jeetu) finishes 100km in 14 hrs. Nitin ran with him for 40km. My new friend Sriram had joined this splendid night run.
(I was reading “The Long Walk” that I had downloaded on my Kindle. This guy and his mates did crazy marathon distances every day? What was wrong with me?)
I remembered Juzer..”It’s all in the mind” My mind needed a revamp. I was out of my favorite sport for too long.

I took my family to collect bibs. This was the time, when they would witness a real marathon scene.
I was surprised by the efficient management that my Pune Running friends had ensured. I met Jeetu and he mentioned the plan for a 50km run. I was interested. I thought, I should use the 21 km run as a warm up.
Neel cooked Pasta (Whole Wheat) for dinner and we slept early. Woke up at 4AM and we reached the BMCC ground at around 5.15AM. I left my slippers in the car.
I was wearing my old T shirt that I had used on my 1st run with Pune Running. This T had seen lot of runs and it was apt to wear it to “Run Beyond Myself”. Afterall, Pune Running had witnessed most of my PBs.

It was good to feel the earth under my feet again. I was pleased to see the crowd. The event shall succeed, I say to myself. What about the traffic control? Again bit of negativity!!
My son Neel and I were with the PTC gang. Purushottam comes and gives me the regular hug..just like our runs in different cities. He is a great runner and my pace (nor my age) is a match but we marathoners share a bond. (He achieved 1:40 PB)

The 21 km run had started and we wriggled our way to the start point. Disciplined crowd. . No rush. I had decided to use some music. The drum beats deafened my Lipps Inc oldie “All Night Dancing”. I was surprised. No stampede! I did not have to watch my barefeet from getting trampled underneath flashy Nikes/ Reeboks. As I crossed the line..No beep.. Was my Timer working at all?

The Slope to Symbiosis was easy. I made my way to front  using the liberty of my Barefeet. (Shoes restrict movement. Barefeet is the best way to climb an upward slope.) I weaved my way to thinner crowd at front. The Traffic control is excellent. A sob comes to my throat as I notice the flawless event unfold before me. I know the tremendous pains that my friends at Pune Running have gone through to make a flawless event.


I seem to have chosen music well this time. Turkish drum beats accompany me to Pune University. I am relieved to see Neel join me. For a while we run together along and then he increases his pace..I am alone in my world listening to Kraftwerk “Tour de France”. The repetitive music is apt for long runs or for cycling.

“Good going Parag. I thought it was you when I noticed the bare-feet.” My friend Aditya accompanies me for a while and then I slip into my silent world. 

At 10.5km U-turn, I meet Jeetu, who is managing a water station and we have a quick hug. Friends at water stations mean a lot to me.
It keeps me refreshed and helps maintain my pace. After all the route is well known to me. This is where I ran my first Half marathon. Home ground?

Another water spot and I shake hands with Nitin. (I have not skipped my cup of water and Electrolyte at any spot till now.)

I see You Too Can Run lead the 3 hr bus. He shouts to me, “ Good pace Barefoot!”  and I shout back.
I meet Sriram who is also going on at a terrific pace. Neel has slowed down and looking for a loo. He finds one..There goes his PB I thought. He was going at a much better pace  than me.  I carry on and see a new crowd of 10km runners.
My pace has increased; with the new faces around and I tread on. I am finally on the long slope to Symbiosis. I recollect past Pune Marathons where I often walked uphill. I am in a different mood today and I jog on. I see Raj Vadgama controlling traffic. Guys from Mumbai are out to Pune to help with this long run. I feel overwhelmed with the support for Pune Running marathon. It has been a great run. I rush down the slope overtaking quite a few. I have not looked at my watch after 10km.
With the last few strides I entered BMCC college ground and crossed the line. I look at my watch. It is a feeling of Joy.
And guess who timed one sec before me? The Elite Sahara Ultra runner Michelle Kakade!

I have Won my race. It’s my Personal best of 2:05 mins. Neel's PB is ~2:06 (plus time in Loo).

The feeling of elation cannot be expressed by words. I beat my old record by 10 minutes. Just by maintaining my pace and Running (a little) Beyond Myself. Another PB with Pune Running. It would not be possible without the tremendous support from Volunteers, Team managers and the Sponsors/ Police who helped towards a Marathon (that I always wanted in my City). I am glad to witness this energy from a runners perspective for my friends at Pune Running.

Thanks to  Pune for joining this event towards marathon for the common man. Thanks to people outside Pune for their support! It was great to see Shivaji Park Runners, Bhasker Desai, Raj, Milind Soman and You Too Can Run. Milind Soman ran his first Barefoot Half marathon. A historic event for many of us!

Back at Home , Neel surprises me. "I am sure that I could have done a Sub 2 easily."
He plans to go Barefoot soon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

World Photography Day




My Journey was not an easy one.




..Zenit FX in 1986 (1.5 kg with 50mm lens) Great camera under 1000INR. (Sold it at same cost :))






..Olympus OM10 in 1988. (INR 7000) (My worst camera. Shutter malfunction at Sub Zero. Fully automatic- Battery Operated. Manual adapter was SHIT)





..Nikkormat 1992 (INR 12000) Antique mechanical camera with 35-70 Vivitar lens) Exposure meter did not work but I relied on my judgement. Fault? The silver coat on prism chipped off right near the focus.




..NIKON FM10 -1998 (Great camera)- INR 10000. I kept the above Vivitar lens. Bought a 70-180 lens (Quataray)..
ERA of Digital Cameras begins.




..Fujifilm S5000.-2004?? (3 MP )-INR 6000 Beauty





..Nikon D40X-INR 38000 ??2008?? :)) (Funny?) Still Have it and it satisfies me.
..28-200 VR (Japan make) lens (??38000??)..

I caught this crowd of gents at different ages at Nagoya.





Cost of film- Developing-Waiting for results after a month of photography in Mountains, were the pains many of us lived with. Amount of money spent those days..Humongous. Unreliable Cameras ..often shopped from Streets of FORT, Mumbai..trying to get best bargain that suits the pocket.

A new generation photographer will never understand the pain..Instant results! I could write a longer paragraph on Music systems and cassettes. LOL


Electronics got just too cheap.
Onions got costly.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Where the voice is not heard

I have closed few blogs that are related to my e-book.
You will find the copright version on Kindle store.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E5FNHOC

For Paperback:

Outside India:
http://www.amazon.com/Where-voice-heard-Parag-Pendharkar/dp/9383416041/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379305432&sr=8-1&keywords=where+the+voice+is+not+heard

Within India:
https://notionpress.com/read/where-the-voice-is-not-heard-1290563

Promotional Movie:




Thanks for your support to make this book a reality.

Regards,
Parag

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Running at ungodly hour


Slept at 10:30PM .Woke up at 1:15AM.

Walked to NIBM post and started the run at 2:40AM. (Jeetu, Nitin and myself). At the Golibar junction, Kingshuk joined us. I have never ran at this ungodly hour. Luckily the street dogs were respectful and barked at us from safe distance.

Here we were, citizens of Pune, each from different state joined forces for their purely selfish motive..i.e achieve a 50 km. Jeetu (Rtd. Cmdr, Indian Navy) being the toughest guy and mentor who drives us towards our goal.
The idea is to run from NIBM to Hinjewadi (29km) and then join the Pune running Half Marathon and complete the rest 21km with support. (Pune running events have coached me to realise my goals and I was looking forwards to the 50km finish.

A very humid night with gentle cold breeze.
Erandawane Chowk (Mhatre bridge) sometime at 3AM + . I was surprised to see so many youngsters (Boys and Girls)  at the Pohe/Upma stall...Well till I saw a guy puking from his car. Booze!


They watched the 4 insane guys.. myself in Black slacks with Sports shorts pulled over to complete the Superman effect.
We met Police jeeps twice but they did not pay much attention to the Lunatic foursome.
We ran along Law college Senapati Bapat road to University. Then took the straight road to Aundh Hospital.

I was carrying my hydration waistbelt for dire situations.

Light rain started. Before the Ravet junction, Pune running team caught up with us and we had a Banana snack.
Jeetu and Kingshuk sped forth at improved pace with the light drizzle. It was very windy and Nitin was shivering.
I started Brisk walk and run with him.

We finally arrived at the start point of the half marathon..and we had clocked 29+km already. My Ankle pain had increased but I was determined to go on. Nitin was severly hit as he continued to shiver. He planned to stop.

I limped (Long John Silver). I was at the end of the 21 km race. The terrain had climbs and the pace got worse.

When I reached the start point, I decided on not pursuing the 2nd loop.
Listen to the body. Its complaining.
It took me 5hr 15mins probably my slowest run since Auroville.
Jeetu and Kingshuk did the 50km.

Takeaways:
MUST Plan for better Hydration support.
I need to be on my feet for more time to reach 50km, with no pain. :)



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mount Satopanth – The heavenly path


IT WAS MY 3rd EXPEDITION in 6 months. The porters had abandoned us at the moraine of Bhagirathi glacier which was much before the scheduled Base camp at Vasuki Tal.

I had been to this place thrice before. The first was during a solo hike from Tapovan during the Meru Expedition. The second was during the failed climb of Bhagirathi with Surendra when my Boots broke. The third was during the pre-Everest attempt on Bhagirathi2.

THE MORRAINE TOP had barely enough space to house two tents and my tent hung over a slope. But it was just for a day or two. I was glad to be with the five man team, Sunil, Mahavir, Vikrant and myself with our porter Sonam. Sonam was glad to climb with Mahavir as they had a past alliance for an old expedition.
We had travelled for two days from Gangotri to reach this approach camp. It was a good old alpine attempt that I had missed for many years. Vikrant had tried to woo a girl and she had brushed him off. Perhaps this was a good time to climb Satopanth and show her his caliber. Mahavir and I smiled at this pursuit. I said, “You should be good enough only to please yourself. Rest falls in place. She may not be good match for you after all. You will find a better girl!”



WE DESCENDED into the glacier crossing a few crevasses.  Since the porters had left us we had to perform two load ferries to the base. The moraine wall on the other side was pretty steep 50 feet and frozen ice lay beneath. Sonam found a way. None of us wanted a fixed rope as we would be travelling over this ground only two times during approach.
It was early may and we descended on the other side of the moraine in a large snow bowl. It was knee deep snow and we plunged the axes to find solid ground. None existed.
Sonam mentioned, “ We just walked over Vasuki Tal.” It was hard to believe that this was a lake. We marched ahead along the Sundar Glacier and the Morraine ended into a small green basin. This was a perfect campsite. Sonam mentioned, “ This was the base camp that I talked about.” We had a quick snack and travelled back. The same day we did another load ferry.
We moved our tents and gear to the “Base camp” at 16000 feet. Satopanth was just over the shoulder though we did not see it from the base.
Sonam made tea under the Kitchen canvas and I went trigger happy capturing the various moods of Vasuki Parvat that towered above us. My Nichormat camera was working well. The spotlight meter was out of order and I was using my judgment.

      WE TRAVERSED the debris from Vasuki and descended onto Satopanth Glacier. We were marking the terrain with Red flags. The glacier was under lot of snow, which meant good early progress and a late tiresome return when the snow turned into sludge in afternoon. We pushed all the gear and rations in the first ferry and shifted to Camp1 (17000’) on the later day.
The progress that our small team made in deep snow conditions was commendable. We were aware of the fact that we did not reach the start of the icefall to lay the camp as per our plan. It meant a longer travel over the glacier, up the icefall and up the wall towards the camp on ridge.


THE GRAVEYARD
In 1986, when I was learning the ABC of rock climbing, Pune lost three of its veteran climbers on Mt Satopanth in an avalanche.(Dr Minoo Mehta, Nandu Page and Bharat Mangre).
We passed along the region. Nasty seracs on the right side and the wall on left, we reached a tiny chute. There was an old rope hanging from the exposed rock . We agreed that it was easier to enter the graveyard and approach the snow slope. Mahavir led the climb and the others followed. I had a bad blister above the heel due to the smaller climbing boot and front pointing was the last thing on the mind.

  I was alone in the graveyard with all sorts of creepy thoughts. It was the worst place to be in case of an avalanche, as the entire face of Satopanth rose above me and the sheer wall that rose to the Sharp ridge on my left. With luck, in the two hours of loneliness, there was no avalanche and My friends returned after fixing the rope upto an easier slope.

We were carrying less rope, just enough to push us up the slope towards easy terrain. The same rope would have to be removed and fixed wherever needed on the razor sharp ridge. I hoped that there would be plenty of rope left by prior expeditions that we could hook to in dire conditions.
We descended to Camp 1. I was the last one in the team as the descent left worse wounds on the tender skin above the Heel.

I DECIDED TO WITHDRAW from the climb as a snow snail like me would disrupt the speed. Mahavir had counted on me heavily. Sanjay was not at his best. The good team was Mahavir, Sonam and Vikrant. It took me some time to convince Sanjay. He was not a good climber for a touch climb. I believed that Sonam would be a perfect support for Mahavir. The weather had been perfect and I was sure that the three would be able to return in 4 days. Since we had no Walky Talky, we would blink the torch. The Torch would be waved up and down in case there was a disaster and we needed to climb up.

  The trio left us and we watched their progress on the slope.  Since they were loaded, they took some time to reach the pinnacle base. Then they vanished from our site. We were happy that they had reached the high camp before the ridge. Sanjay and I chatted and cooked. He told me of his Mumbai Pune Cycle race and we talked about cycles and technology. I was not aware why the imported cycles were so expensive, but he mentioned that they made a big difference.

      At night we so the torch on the ridge at the scheduled time. All is well!
I said, “So, tomorrow is crucial as they cross the ridge.” We were in a much cozier situation than our friends on the top ridge of Satopanth. I wished that I had some way to numb my feet. I missed this climb a lot. Anyway, I had taken the decision and the harm was done. It was a bad idea to take Sanjay to Camp2 as he would need some assistance at high places.

      We woke on the next morning and gazed outside. The sky was spotless and the snowy glacier bathed in the sun. Snow had gone soft and wet and underneath our tent had a pool of water. We saw the three spots on the last hump approaching the ridge. From here, we would not see them till they reached higher up on the ridge. We cooked some noodles. Around noon, we saw the three dots again. Something had not gone well. I knew that they would not come back otherwise.
At night we again saw “All is well” signal and we went to sleep.

      Next morning we saw the three come down from the slope. By late afternoon, they were down at the basin. We melted water and travelled to the base of the icefall. The snow was soggy and I had tough time with my injury. I met Mahavir and took his load. He narrated the story of the earlier day. He and Vikrant had roped up and started along the ridge. There was lot of snow and they could not find any fixed rope on the ridge. Vikrant slipped on the ice and took a fall. Mahavir was on guard and arrested the fall. They decided to return as there was lot of risk.


Mahavir said, “I am sure that with you, I could have done it.” I felt sad to let him down but only I knew my real condition with the injury. I would be a far worse support than Vikrant.
I said, “It is still a great achievement to start on the ridge. The accident was small and nothing bad happened. We should be greatful for the good weather to achieve this with a small team of 5 climbers. I believe that no Indian team has done this before.”
We were glad that we were in good shape. We wound the gear for return. I was keen to get into my sneakers as the wound was painful. I was sick by the thought of previous “accidents” and “retreats” with no success and it was an anchor that dragged me to my negative lows.
Next day we were back at base near Vasuki Tal. It reminded me of the arduous retreat of Bharat Mangre after the 1986 Satopanth Mishap, with a porter. Whilst the others were buried in the avalanche, Bharat and a porter were blown off and managed to escape the blast.
I have high respect for him.  (I am told that towards the end of the crawl he gave away his boots to the porter to save him.)

      At Vasuki tal, we saw a plaque with the names of Vijay Mahajan and Arundhati Joshi, who died i at Kalindi khal crossing. I had read of this story in my school days and we paid our respect to this plaque. We were overloaded with equipment and decided to stretch to Gangotri the same day in a fast descent. At upper Nandanvan, a Blizzard greeted us and I was numb with cold till we got to lower Nandanvan. But I could now hang my mountain boots on the ruck sack and walk in my sneakers.

At Gomukh we hired porters and that shed off some of the weight. I decided to keep the mountain boots with me, remembering my cracked boots on Bhagirathi expedition.
The return to Chirbasa was slow. I was tired and moved like a zombie. We reached Matri Nala and ran down the slope. My foot was caught in shrub root and I fell flat on my face. I spat the grit. Never in my life have I felt so negative about my ability. I decided to give up Mountain climbing. With that small fall, I had concluded that I was not fit to climb mountains.  Perhaps the ghosts of previous failures rode high on my mind and I was not in a positive mental state to drive them away.

      An Australian trekker on route to Bhujbasa chatted with me. I mentioned that I was a climber but I retire after this expedition. And she said, “That is a funny decision. Once a climber, A climber for life. I am certain that you will forget it soon.”
      We were back at Delhi. I had to travel to Nagpur to my Inlaws. I had no train reservation and hence had to stand for most of the journey. I had a beard and heavy sunburn and I am sure I smelled like a goat.
      The beam of my year old son, made me forget the gruel of the expedition. I had learned to “fall” and give up, but my son was on his toes. He had just learned to walk and wanted me as a witness.

      The news of the Everest expedition was bit of a joy, as my old friend Surendra had made it to the top. Yet, something had snapped in my mind. I did not feel connected with the Everest team anymore. I had no feelings, when I went to the dias as an ex-member of the expedition. Good news that builds strong propaganda? I was the odd man out.

I was certain that I did not belong here. I was happier with the tiny Satopanth team.  I was glad as my Everest friends were happy and they had the chance to prove their mettle. I had blown up my only chance on Satopanth for whatever reasons. If I was strong enough, I should have pursued the climb.

      I distanced myself from the mountaineering circle. I severed ties that would make me return to the mountains and I stopped reading Mountaineering literature. The heavenly path was not for me.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Kamet



It was 7PM when the door bell rang.

“Prasad! Its good to see you. What is up?”
“ Let’s go to Sinhagad. I am carrying two hammocks.”, chirped Prasad. “Its fun to do something unplanned.”

I was surprised as Prasad, never divulges the full intent in first talk. He had a grand plan.
“ Do you have a good torch?”
I fished out one from my drawer.

“ But I haven’t eaten anything.”
Prasad, “Let’s eat at some place on the route and then climb.”

Over a Mutton Biryani, Prasad started to divulge the plan.

Then Prasad began, “You remember the Khan kada wall. Sanjay and Surendra have put a bolting station.”

I knew that they had opened a new route, but I had yet to see where the hammocks would come in. 
Prasad explained, “We shall descend the wall from the top. At 70-80 feet from the top of the cliff, there is a bolt station. We shall clip the hammocks to the bolts crawl inside and go to sleep.”

I marveled at the idea. Firstly it meant rappelling the face in total darkness. Swinging and attaching the hammocks to the bolts and spending a cold night with around ~80+ feet below us.
It was a crazy idea, but expected, from my old friend. Though we always talked about our expeditions and climbs, we had not ever climbed together. He had drifted away with a group of excellent climbers and had bagged many peaks such as first ascents of Mt Matri and Mt Panwali Dwar. He and Surendra had narrowly escaped an avalanche on Mt Shivling.

      We biked to Sinhagad. Prasad climbed to the top of the cliff with the gear and started the descnt. I was guiding him with my torch. With couple of swings he setup the first hammock and then the second one. I tied the torch to the end of the rope as he pulled it to his hammock.
I started my descent. I wore a Jummar for self anchor and the seat harness. The plan was to keep hooked to the top rope and wear the harnesses throughout the night. The Hammock had a tightly closed lip and I shoved my Leg inside to open it wider. I snuggled in and soon found the discomfort. My shoulders were crunched inside the boat shaped canvas against the rock wall.
Prasad was smiling at me from the other hammock. He was in a very jolly mood. I decided to digest the situation for the night. I remembered that I had decided to have a pee, but had forgotten in a hurry. I buried the thought. It was 9PM. We started singing in chorus and soon I forgot the drop underneath. We started talking about our old treks, laughing at the crazy situations we had been.

“Prasad! How about some music?”
“ You carried a tape recorder? That’s great!”

I pulled out a cassette from my knapsack and the night went alive with the music, with choral support from Prasad and me.

It was almost 1AM when  a booze party picked up in a shed near the carpark area. Booze is prohibited on the fort and we decided to have fun. I shone my torch on to the group. The people were very surprised to see the light from middle of the cliff but could not make out the hammocks.
At 3AM, to make things challenging, Mother Nature decided to provide a cold shower. We were clamped to the face but we had a tiny protection from the overhang above. Drenched and unable to move in the hammocks we waited for the first ray of the sun.
      We rappelled down after removing the hammocks and the gear. It was a great night. My fear for the face was killed.

      Prasad asked, “Would you be willing to join the Kamet Expedition? Let’s go for the meeting and you can decide. Balya has agreed to lead.”
I thought about the circumstances. This was a siege style expedition contrary to my experience. I would be a misfit in the team. But I had the opportunity to climb with Good climbers from Mumbai and Pune. I would also get a chance to be with my hostel mates, Surendra and Moreshwar. I did not see any chances of teaming with alpine style climbers. I had run out of choices and this was a good offer.

      Kamet experience would be the closest to a mountain of  8000 mt and I decided to waive aside my scruples for Siege style climbing.


      The team for Mt Kamet was being formed and I was invited for the discussions. The budget was 7 lakhs and the leader was trying to seek ways of funding the expedition.
The route proposed on the unclimbed east face of the mountain could raise the funds. During the discussions I often had the feeling that I was tied up with climbers who had an excellent record of climbs. I was aware that I would end up supporting the climb.
      On personal front, I was facing challenges and the unpleasant task of interviewing a suitable wife for an “Arranged Marriage”. Thinking about Kamet kept me busy. I applied for a 2 month leave and my company sanctioned half of the leave. The R and D director was appreciative and he arranged for a replacement for my job while I would be away.
      I was doing 7km hill runs on regular basis and my stamina improved. The responsibility of the paperwork and accounts for the expedition was assigned to me. I have been a lousy bookkeeper. At first the thought of handling someone’s money put me under tremendous pressure. Balya was pursuing creation of a short video on the expedition and the filming also cost money. The preparation for the expedition was started 6 months upfront.
I received the letter from Defence about the Inner line permit. The peak shares a border with Tibet, China. One 50mm camera with a film role was allowed. The role would be developed by the Military and then handed over.
      The team was almost final. Balya was the leader and Prasad was the deputy leader.
Fund raising was the biggest challenge and all of us tried different options. Unfortunately very few worked.

I had a Hell of a time!

I have often looked at mountain climbing as a personal initiative. If I need to climb, I should raise funds to support my climb. My goal, as profound as my wealth..
Larger expeditions often had a mechanism in place for fund raising.
Our expeditions were done at a pittance of a normal Siege strategy expedition.
I recalled, we spent 25,000/- Rs for 6 members on Mt Matri in 1987, where-as, a normal expedition budget was around Rs 1, 50,000/-. The load that we carried to the mountain was also sizably less, almost Alpine style; this dictated the number of porters. The larger the expedition, larger the propaganda, for the same mountain!

      Perhaps, it is the way I was groomed, that I hated fund raising. Due to my individualistic approach begging for sponsorship to laymen did not suit me.  “Why should anyone care, if I went for climbing a mountain; moreover give me funds to appreciate my purely selfish motive i.e to know my potential.”

      The rationale does not apply to another sport for eg. Cricket. Abundance of wealth and fame, spectators and recognition that follows especially in India, which share 2500 km of Himalaya as a boundary with other countries. We should have had better climbers than other places. The Sportsmen claim, "Climbing is not a sport!"

If there is a gentleman’s game, its Mountain climbing .. few other adventure sports..Not Cricket.

Climbers, I believe, do it with lesser of above ‘spoils’ at a much higher risk.
There is no one to cheer. A higher possibility, that these gentlemen do it for themselves.
Well..perhaps, for recognition that will come eventually with time but no immediate gain than the satisfied self.  It takes almost a week or two to reach a location, from where the climber can convey his success to his relatives and friends, if he may.

      The thought was imbibed in my mind and the core factor that attracted me to this “sport” was adventure, uncertainty and do-it-for yourself motto.
I had lesser importance for success. I could easily be successful on easier peaks.
(Was'nt our 3 man Rudugaira climb, almost a picnic? Well..for the same mountain there have been frostbite cases and even 1 death.) My actions followed in every venture I took up, well, almost.. .. the Kamet East face expedition.
The unclimbed east face of Kamet was indeed a tall challenge, though the attempt would be siege style. 

My first fund raising experience was a hell.
I went against all I stood for as I approached a company that built packaging products.
I was introduced to a family, when the proprietor was not at home and got an appointment.
When I sat on the couch, I saw a copy of Atlas shrugged in the bookcase and my fear increased.
It reminded me of the set of values, I set for myself in past and the pinch that I was going against them.

I went into the cabin, my anxiety was at peak. ‘As long as I believe in the cause, I should be able to speak’, I addressed to myself.

I sat opposite to him and handed him the copy of KEFE Brochure. As he read, I portrayed him as Ellis Wyatt. Every penny was hard earned.
      I stammered and started. “This is a Mumbai and Pune Expedition to the highest allowed for climbing mountain in Indian Himalayas. We propose to climb a very difficult route on the face.” I outlined with Avalanche hazard and briefed about the team, mentioning that this was the largest ever Indian attempt on a face of a renowned Indian mountain of 25000+ altitude.
The cost Rs. 7,00,000/.

      He showed some interest in food and equipment details. Then he looked into my eyes and said, “What is in it for me?”
This was the question I dreaded. He had nailed me on the spot and my thoughts ran back to “Atlas Shrugged”. It was such an easy question that I was ill prepared for.

I babbled .. “Perhaps we can add your company in the upcoming souvenir. It may make a lot of sense if I relate Mountain climbing and  packaging equipment..”

I knew, I was not being truthful to myself and I had lost.
Further, a more convincing person  would have got a larger cheque and I had blown an opportunity too.

He handed me a cheque of Rs 5000/- and said, “You got to be more convincing than that. Try my friend..” He gave me a telephone number of another industrialist
I walked out more relieved, than pleased with a question, Was the cheque given out of pity for my performance? I did not pursue with the “friend”.
I realized: if I take money, I am bound to show results.

      There is a need for propaganda mechanism that shows an event as success and takeaways for more common lot that feel some level of attachment to be committed to climbing.
It is always easier that I pay for myself, and be free to draw my line of return.
I had just become a failure in the game of propaganda.

  
The leader called for a 2 day camp to get our team to socialize. We chose a place called Kundeshwar. We camped under an overhang of a dried up waterfall. It had a soft sandy basin to lay our carry-mats. It was evening and we went for a hill run. Surendra and I kept pace, outdistancing the others.
Surendra made his point during the meeting. “It is pathetic to see the level of fitness when we are planning to attempt an unclimbed serious route.” Other climbers agreed and they promised to take training seriously.
Surendra advised me, “Try to do Hill repeats to improve on strength and stamina. Pick a 100 mts incline and repeat the run 20 times non-stop.”

I left early on the next day as I had to “see” a girl from out of station. 

As I hiked back to my motorcycle, I noticed the front tyre had a puncture. The nearest Puncture shop was a good 20 km away. I rode on the bike over the dirt path to the highway. It was a hot afternoon. I observed the worker dismantle the wheel and repair the puncture. 

I thought, “This guy works a lot. But his earnings are meager.” If I work as hard, it would make climbing a lot easier. The life in a design office was making me soft and I had to alter my routine to introduce physical training.

I rode back home and washed. It was just 30 mins before the visitors arrived.

The girl was accompanied by her sister and mother. Talking with girls made me uncomfortable but I was quite comfortable talking with her. She was well educated. My mom showed them my climbing album. I felt awkward but here was the time I should make my point.
I mentioned, “This is my hobby. I definitely intend to continue my passion after marriage. I do not plan to stay in India. I may migrate to Australia.” I thought, this should help them make up their mind.

      The day after the guests left, I was still unable to make up my mind. Marriage was a bond forever. Would it obstruct my climbing? I asked for one more “interview” just the two of us. I wanted to find out if she really understood what Mountaineering meant.

      The next day, I explained the details of my proposed expedition to Kamet. It was a serious climb and we had a very good team. I cannot marry till I get back. (At the back of mind, I thought, ‘God spare the girl if I am not back.” ; though I was confident of my return.) She listened to me, perhaps, also understood the passion for my sport. She had no objections.
The engagement ceremony was over in a couple of days and she went back to her town.

      I wrote her letters and once in a month calls from a telephone booth.  I did not like to spend too much money on the call as I was always unsure of what I should talk about. She ruled the conversation as often women do. I was as dry and uninterested as a man can be. My mind worked on my goal and the communication regarding the expedition and accounts.

      My training sessions now included hill repeats twice a week and heavy load ferries to Sinhagad. I ran on all days dry or rainy. In the evening, twice a week, I visited the office for ensuring the communications and checking accounts for the expedition.
She visited me in summer before we left for the expedition. I told her about the progress.
My team members had me on their radar and often picked on me for fun. Her vacation was over and she bid farewell. I mentioned that we would be back a week before marriage. I went to a famous tailor to get my suit stitched.

He asked, “ Do you have regular work outs? I ask because  you leave for the expedition for two months. If you do not maintain exercise, the suit may get too tight. “
I mentioned, “ On the contrary, I may lose weight.”
He laughed and said, “ I see no chance of that happening. You are already underweight.”

      A week before the departure, Juzer arrived from Dubai and handed me cash that would take care of the expedition expenses. I had seen him on my first expedition and he looked completely different now. He had crossed 40 and had put on weight.
A sponsor had arranged a light truck to be ship the entire food and equipment to Joshimath.
For three weeks we packed all food and gear into day wise kitbags. Each kit had list of contents and the camp for which it was intended.
     
      Few of the support team members went ahead to arrange the inner line permit and porters.
The rest of the team travelled Pune-Delhi. Two members departed to Uttarkashi to get the Climbing gear from Nehru institute of Mountaineering. I went on a hill run at Joshimath and was irritated by my performance. The run was slow and I was gasping in just a km.
The others were in a meeting when I joined. The ultra climbers were making suggestions on the east face route. Prasad called me aside and mentioned that I should focus on the support part. The team on the face needed a strong supply chain and I had the job to ensure. I was fine with my role as I was no match for their climbing skill.

      We left Joshimath for Malari the next day. I was glad to get my size 11 mountain shoes. We travelled on the top of the lorry. The road had lot of curves and I dug my fingers into the ropes that secured the load. There was a gorge on the left of the road. On the right was the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. We passed Lata Village and I saw Mt Dunagiri towering over us on the right.
I recollected the Joe Tasker book where I read had about his expedition to Dunagiri. Dunagiri (Dronagiri) has a mention in Ramayana as Lord Hanuman picked a Large scoop of the Mountain and flew to Lanka as it had a herb that could cure Laxmana.
      We reached Malari at evening. It was very cold I put on my Goretex Jacket. We were helped by our porter team to unload the gear in front of the school. We were to sleep inside the school. The cook prepared dinner for us and we counted and distributed the loads to the porters. We were to move a large part of the load using Mules. Each of us were to carry 15 kg of load during the approach march to get acclimatized.



      We walked a distance of 22 kms along the tiny road to Niti. At Ghamshali the permit was checked by the Border police. The path rose along steep flanks of the mountain above the stream.
Niti was a small village but just before Niti, I saw Bofors Guns aiming high above  the mountain range. We were in a sensitive area, very close to Tibet and all the checks made by the army made sense now. We tried to stay outside the room to adapt. The women in the village wore thick bangles of solid gold which gave away their real worth.
      I wondered about my real worth. Perhaps, I would not be able to afford such a treasure in my lifetime. Sheep herding brought in plenty of money. Also, this village in past may have flourished as an ancient trade route to Tibet. If the villagers could live a life without frills, they could invest in jewellery. But even with the riches they carried, the village folk were very humble and receptive.
      Hayatram, the religious head of the Niti village has a gorgeous looking daughter. My friends made a lot of fun on my part, thanks to my bachelorhood. Hayatram was courteous with me, as I carried the purse of the expedition. He was also to be our mail runner. He was supposed to carry mail and emergency rations once a week to the basecamp.
      The next day we got up early. I did not plan to trail behind the mules, as they freely littered the route and the flatulence gave me nausea especially in the rarefied atmosphere.

We walked along the Raikana stream. The rear end of our team was trying to cross the stream too low. We waited at a high point. There was some commotion down the stream and we heard the news later.
      Two of our porters went into deep waters and were swept off their feet by the turbulence. To escape, they quickly released the load on their back. We were now short of two loads. I was relieved that these were just food loads and not equipment and with god’s grace two men were saved. When all porters and mules arrived, we crossed the nallah. The Public works department was paid money for lowering a log bridge over the stream. The mules went further upstream for a shallow crossing.


      Vasudhara tal is a large glacial lake that feeds the Raikana stream. We set up the basecamp at Noon. A large 10 man tent was erected and we also arranged some place for Kitchen. We had purchased a goat from Hayatram, to provide us some meat for the expedition. It was tied to a boulder near the kitchen. The goat hardly moved, grazed or bleated. It was well aware of its future.

      The Base camp received plenty of sun, as it was quite away from the Purvi Kamet Glacier and its surrounding peaks. We could see the Tip of the summit pyramid of Mount Kamet behind a ridge. Beyond Vasudhara Tal, further north were the mountains along the border with Tibet. Over past few days I had made a new friend, Rajesh. I was carrying my rock shoes and the trade name of the shoe was “Kamet”. Together, we spent some time in bouldering.
The Three day walk and plenty of time outdoors had helped acclimatization. We spent a day at base for rest and sorting food and equipment.
      Balya was talking to the porters. I was impressed with his negotiation skills.
The porters mentioned that they would return from the snowline as they had no equipment to stay warm. Balya haggled. I was worried as the fund with me was depleting. On the other hand, it would be great to have porters shift the loads to Camp 3 at 18000 feet. It meant less load ferries and we could focus on climbing. Balya soon negotiated a good figure, he planned to retain 3 porters from Camp 2 to Camp 3 movement.

      The first load ferry to Camp 1 was over loose rocks and boulders. I was lagging behind, struggling to keep pace with the rest of the team. We established a site for camp 1. We cleared the rubble to make space for tents and kitchen before returning to base.
      We returned for the second ferry the very next day. At the start of the ferry, I had an excruciating pain in my right knee. I could barely walk. I waved to the rest of the team and mentioned that I could not go on. As they left me, tears burst in my eyes and I started crying. I could not go on with my hurt knee. My entire training for 6 months had gone waste.
I cried like a child, all the way till I reached base. I looked at Vasudhara Tal. The calm and peaceful waters soothed me and I decided not to make any quick decisions. I mentioned my state to Balya.
At noon, the guys were back from the load ferry.
Prasad said, “Let me have a look. It is just a bad sprain.”
I was in pits and I howled, “I am probably done with this climb. It is very painful and I do not think I will be able to climb.”
Prasad answered, “Oye Puttar! A lot worse things happen on mountains and people still climb peaks. Just shut up. I will give a good massage.”
Prasad did a thorough job with the massage. I wrapped the knee with a woolen stocking.
Our lead Porter Narayan mentioned, “Perhaps, it is because you have been wearing shorts for last 3 days. You should always cover the knees in cold climate.”
I realized my mistake. Narayan had been to the last camp on Kamet and a very experienced Sherpa.
      The next day, I was back in full swing. I even managed a better pace than others and climbed with the fastest porter. My good friend, Prasad, had healed me overnight. Prasad shifted to Camp1 with another climber. They were to proceed to open route to Camp2 while we moved from Base to Camp1.
      It was to be our last day at base camp and it would take us at least a month to get back. The goat was slaughtered and Balya got blood on his hands. The cold water around was the deep freeze for the meat.
     
      We had already erected the smaller tents at Camp 1 as there was no place for the large tent. Camp 1 got lesser sunshine as Bidhan parvat cast its shadow at early noon. Also the sun rise was quite late. I stretched out on the carrymat reading “Atlas Shrugged”. Two climbers from camp 1 had already moved to camp2. We would be ferrying loads to Camp2 for 2 days and move up on the 3rd. Our cook Bipin kept us well fed with Dal roti and rice meals. I never had a cook on my past expeditions and even a simple meal was a treat.




      When I started on my 1st ferry to camp 2, The Purvi Kamet glacier unfolded before me. I could not wait for my colleagues to join me. I was fast and preferred to maintain my pace as every mound on the moraine ridge exposed me to unknown terrain. Camp 2 was situated on the true left bank of the glacier. Mt Kamet was not yet visible but it was just around the shoulder of a ridge. We moved to camp2 in 2 days and the advance team had already left for Camp3. Camp 2 was a comfortable camp site. We had plenty of sunshine.
At noon, Narayan prepared a trap to catch a Chough. It was simple and effective. He balanced a large slab of rock on a tiny piece of wood like an inverted “V”. He placed few grains inside the “shelter” to lure the Himalayan Chough. He was awarded in just an hour as the bird shrieked. None of us wanted to eat Chough meat..A bird that looks a bit like a crow with yellow beak.
      A sponsor had handed us three large bags of dried Prawns. The prawns were wetted and fried and it tasted well with rice. Weather was not always pleasant and during snowfall we gathered for a game of cards called “German Rummy”.
Near the Camp2, another expedition had also placed a small camp. A Handicapped sadhu from Manali was attempting Mt. Kamet and there was a team from West Bengal. It was very inspiring as the Sadhu came down. The Weather being foul, the sherpas had been able to take him to the top of Mt Abi Gamin (The satellite peak of Kamet). He was pleased as he broke an earlier world record of the climb on Mt Nun. The Sadhu limped on one leg. He had a special crux made to travel over ice. I could see scars and cuts on him. His face battered but it beamed with a new confidence by having climbed over 24000 feet. We had arranged with the team so that we could use their ropes till we fixed ours and ferry their ropes down for them.

      We did two load ferries to Camp3. Mt Kamet east face bared itself for the first time. On the true right bank of the glacier stood the majestic Mt Mana. Near Camp3 was a crevasse field with one large crevasse that needed a bit of an effort to cross.

During the second ferry I was travelling back to camp-2 with two friends. We were close to camp2 and heard a big roar.
“Avalanche”!!
The 3 of us rushed to boulders on our left and crouched over. There was a whiff of strong wind. We stood as soon as it died. We were covered with powder snow from head to toes. There were ugly looking seracs at under the summit of Mana and could cause a block avalanche. We decided to be careful in future.


      Camp-3 for Kamet is at 18000ft. It serves as advance base for the movements up the mountain.  The entire team was together and we talked about the plans. Surprisingly for me, all the talk of climbing East face had died as soon as the “worthy climbers” actually saw the face. It looked very challenging rock and ice wall from 19000 feet to 25000 feet. I have never seen such a wall before. Balya decided to split the team. Morya, Makya and I would go on the east face for reconnaissance. The others would climb by the traditional route. Our 3 man team was on our own ie. No porters. Morya is a very good climber. He is also a close friend from my hostel days and I was well aware of his resolve. He had no plans to go on traditional route. He came to Kamet for a purpose and he was all for the east face. Any progress was good as it was a virgin face. At noon, we were having tea outside our tent and we heard of a large Snap. Morya switched on his camera. It was a Slab avalanche from Mana. We gazed at the  growing cloud. The Avalanche grew in size as it travelled down the rock and ice wall. We watched it go down the valley  on our ferry route from camp 2 to camp 3. Morya had a neat capture of the entire sequence. But something went wrong. The cloud in the valley stopped. The avalanche had choked the valley and now the powder whiff started coming upwards towards our tent. Morya dropped the camera. Both of us ran inside the tent and held the pole. The others held on the the guy ropes from outside. As the blow came, the entire 10 man tent shook like a sail full of wind. We held on till it died. Our guys outside were plastered with powder snow. I did not want to think of the situation if we were in the valley rather than up the valley. It was a matter of two days.

       The very next day, we left for reconnaissance, the traditional route team left for camp 4.
We walked a long way on the glacier. We set up camp closer to the face behind a wall of seracs. Soon, we found that it was the safest campsite, as the rest of the glacier was swept by small avalanches from Kamet. Small rocks came of the face ricocheted away from our tent. We also observed that on the left of the east face had a gentler slope that was snow and ice. This seemed a good ideal for an attempt and we decided to make a try the next day. From now on we were to cook our own food and we opened a packet of ready mix rice.
      Next day we started up a slope on the left towards the Mana. It was a maze of seracs and large crevasses. My Ski goggles allowed me super vision and I could make out the hidden snow filled crevasses with ease. We were carrying a rope and few ice and rock pittons. At the end of the crevasse field on the right Morya spotted a snow gully that looked as a gate way to the East face. He climbed up and placed ice and rock pitons as anchors. He continued till around 200 feet fixed the nylon rope and climbed down. As we returned to our Camp Moryaa stepped onto thin ice and landed in a pool of water. His climbing boot got soaked in icy water. After squeezing the water out, he put the boots again and we continued the descent.
Bipin had come up to our camp and he had some news. Camp 5 was established and the team was at Camp 6 (Meades col) They would be attempting the peak next day. Meanwhile Balya had asked us to get back to Camp3 for recuperation and get more equipment.

      We were back at base. Balya was watching the progress at Camp6. He sounded worried as he could not see anyone go for the summit. The weather seemed clear and perfect for summit attempt.  He asked me, “I want to send you with two porters to the traditional route. Are you fit to climb?”  I answered, “ I am perfectly fit. I want a clear target.”
Balya answered, “You should climb to Camp 5. Then climb Mty Abi Gamin and get back with the Kamet Summit team. If they have not climbed today, most likely they will make an attempt tomorrow. If they fail, we would at least succeed to climb Abi Gamin.”
Other climbers exchanged their warm clothes with me. I carried a Minolta SLR for photographs.
Narayan and Bipin were to accompany me. Narayan had already fixed rope from Camp 4 to Camp 5 and he had a hoarse cough. He did not want to go up again but he agreed with some reluctance. Bipin on the other hand was eager.

      We left for Camp 4 at day break. There was a small rock wall which had fixed rope. The wall ended in a snow gully. We had to move up fast as there was lot of rock fall. We reached a small ice field and camp 4 tent could be seen. We were at 21000 feet. I was glad as this was the highest point I had ever climbed. It was a bitterly cold night. Narayan and I were sharing a tent. Bipin was in another tent with the kitchen stuff.  We had a quick supper and we went to sleep.

      The Rock Band

      I got ready and wore the seat harness., clamped the Jummars and few carabiners. The ice axe was also looped with the harness. It was a 1500 feet high rock and ice wall that we were to traverse. We roped up and got close to a snow gully on the left of the wall. I had lot of trouble breathing and at one point I felt vomit in my throat.
I said, “ Narayan. I am not sure if I can climb fast. I don’t feel well.”
He answered, “Take it easy. We will go slowly.”

I tried to clear my nose. As soon as the phlegm cleared, my throat felt better and the breathing was back to normal. My pace improved and we climbed fast. The rock had fixed rope. I wondered if it could be climbed Alpine style. It was not a difficult grade but only the altitude that made it tough. We traversed towards a Snow slope on the right. Narayan and Bipin climbed to the top of the slope and I followed. As the snow had softened, I took lot of rests till I reached the Top Snow stake. I was at Camp 5(22500feet). I shoved my rucksack inside the tent.  The view outside the tent was splendid. I could see the giant peaks, Nanda Devi, Changabang clearly visible at a distance.
Mt Mana seemed at the same level as us. On right Rose the summit of Kamet. The slope from Camp5 to the meads col was easy with some crevasses. Three of us were to sleep in the same tent.  Bipin and I were very pleased as Abi Gamin was just a day away. We did not see anyone from the summit team. We slept early.

My first Lesson in DEALING WITH Ambiguity

      We left Camp 5 at around 5AM. We roped up and climb the snow slopes towards Camp6. Abi Gamin was around 1000 feet climb from Camp6 and we were climbing nonstop from Camp5. 


When we reached Camp6, we felt that the summit team would be working towards the summit. We called out to our mates. We were answered by a quick call from the Camp 6 tent. We were surprised and looked inside the tent.
Rajesh, Prasad and Patya were sitting inside. There seemed no plan to move.
Prasad asked, “ Did you get more supplies?” I was shocked by the question.  I told him my charter.i.e climb Abi Gamin and get back. We did not carry anything with us apart from Chocolates.
Prasad said, “ We have run out of food. I expected that someone will ferry food  to us.”
I did not see his point. I would not have expected anyone to pump food to Summit camp when the peak was a day away. The trio had already spent 2 nights at 23000 ft which was bad.
Rajesh said, “ We tried to get to the summit the day before. Prasad coughed blood and so we got back.”
I asked, “You did not try yesterday or today?”
Rajesh replied, “He is not better yet. So we did not attempt.”
Narayan looked at me and said, “Sahib. We are losing time. We should climb Abi Gamin and et back.” I had different thoughts.
I told Patya about my charter. “I should climb Abi Gamin and get back. But I am very fit to continue. I am sure to climb Kamet tomorrow. Since you have spent 3 nights at high altitude, you can climb Abi Gamin and return with the porters. I will stay with Prasad and Rajesh.”
I felt that Patya was the fitter of the lot and could climb and get down. I knew that Prasad would never give up despite the cough. But Prasad and I went a long time ago. If we were together we would climb Kamet with same zeal as old days.
Patya left with the others and climbed Abi Gamin. They were back in couple of hours and bid us farewell. I went out for the call of nature. Meade’s col over looks Tibet. It is similar to the South col and has a wind tunnel effect. I walked around the tent and tried to relieve. The wind was so fierce that everything dropped was blown off. I looked up to the summit of Kamet.
The top was just 2000 feet of easy climb. I felt that I should have gone to the summit on the same day rather than Abi Gamin..however my friends  had already faced the peak and returned.
I went back into the tent. This was the same tent that Johnny Dawes had presented me during Meru Expedition. It was able to resist the high winds of the Meade’s col. However, the tent was weighed down by all the Snow stakes and ice axes available. It shook like a plastic bubble.
We ate a bit of the chocolate bar. Around 6PM, the wind increased and we planned for the next day. Prasad said, “We should leave for summit by 5AM. So we should get ready by 3AM.” Prasad set the alarm clock for 3AM.
The night closed in. It was a miserable night and I realized what my friends had been through for 3 nights. The entire tent shook as the wind raped it from all sides. Our condensation froze on the fabric and showered snow on us. I did not get a wink of sleep.
Soon it was 3AM. The wind was rising. Three of us huddled together in a two man tent. The Alarm went on.. None of us could find the clock and we let it ring till it stopped. I peered outside the tent into the darkness and it seemed that hell broke loose. I went back and said, “If we go out firstly we would freeze. Secondly, as soon as we leave the tent it will be blown off. We must wait till dawn.”
The two hours of waiting did not change the situation. It was like a storm without clouds or rain. We were on the shoulder of Kamet and just the head remained. But the shoulder seemed intolerant of us. Inside the tent it felt like a giant was slapping the tent  from outside. “If this does not stop we must climb down.,” I said.
We had to wait for a ray of sunshine and slight reduction in wind speed. It happened at 7 AM.
Prasad and I got out. Rajesh stayed inside to weigh the tent. Together, we removed the tent pegs and stakes and collapsed the tent as Rajesh snuggled out. We quickly wrapped the tent and got it into a sack. We share loads among ourselves, roped up and started the descent to camp 5.
Miraculously at camp 5 there was no sign of wind. In an hurry we forgot to collapse the Camp5 tent.
I slid down the line from Camp5 to camp 4. Prasad and Rajesh were together but we were not roped to each other. The descent on the rock wall was fast. Later I descended from Camp4 to the glacier. I walked to camp3 and the team mates were already waiting outside with water. I met Balya and said, “We could not do the climb. It was a wind that we could not withstand.”
He mentioned, “We thought that you reached the summit and succeeded. It has been a perfect day.”
I looked up to Mead’s col. It was hard to believe. There was no sign of the wind. No snow plumes. “Who will believe our story?”
Balya asked, “Patya. Can you go to camp 5 and remove the ropes and get back Camp 4 tent? Two porters will accompany you.”
Patya Agreed. Then Balya asked me, “We are going to wind up the expedition soon. Juzer and you should go down as advance team.”

      Juzer and I started our travel from Camp3 to Camp1. The glacier had become wedged dur to the slab avalanche and the ice cut through my sneakers. It was a long journey through the moraine deposits and I lost my orientation at times. At noon we were back at Camp 1. The larger part of the expedition had ended for me. My Beard and moustaches had grown as I peeked into a powder case mirror. My nose had blackened due to a heavy sunburn.

      The entire team was back the next day as we travelled to base. Patya mentioned that after he climbed to Camp5 he was surprised to see the entire tent savagely ripped to pieces. Indeed the winds had taken the last of their claim from the expedition. The decision to retreat was so far the best decision I took in my life. A part of me wished that I should have stayed on my course and climbed Mt Abi Gamin. It was a cheap and easy climb and I was sticking to the orders of my leader. Yet it would also have hounded me for the rest of my life to give up Kamet so easily. I was better off with a tough experience rather, than an easy win.

      Hayatram had carried Rakshi (which is distilled from Chang “rice beer”).
Balya opened the detested task of Root cause analysis for the failure. Prasad received some sarcasm as the Climbing leader.  But everyone agreed that the venom should be spit right at the end of the expedition and it should never play into our life or future expeditions. We lit a camp fire and drank Rakshi. (Rakshi is drunk neat.) I was sipping from Makya’s glass as I had lost mine.
I said to Makya, “Shmells like furnishure polishh, also no kick.” He smiled.
One more sip and I suddenly got a kick and my head swam. I turned to Makya, but he was nowhere in sight. A guy was already in dancing mood and we joined with our songs. Past hatchets were buried and Vasudhara kund was to witness the friendly return.

      A day’s travel brought us to Niti. A goat was bought from a shepherd was slaughtered by Hayatram. Prasad was keen to witness the slaughter but I stuck to my glass of Chang in my lonely world. Soon Prasad was back giving  me the details.
“They have a different way to kill the goat. They claim its painless. Hayat Slit the abdomen, pulled the heart and chopped it off.”
“ Prasad..Please spare me the details,” I said, disgusted
“ And you know what. They don’t waste the blood. They fry it in oil to serve the granules with drink. I didn’t try it but they say it is tasty.”
I had enough. I ate my share of neat meat in curry, with no thought to our conversation.

In a day we reached Malari. Narayan wanted to take us to his village, which is at outskirts of Nandadevi Sanctuary and everyone was eager. We travelled by a truck and got down at the village fork. It was a 1000 feet climb to the village. The location was beautiful. On the right side of the gorge was a waterfall that fell over a cliff. It seemed like a 1000 feet. I thought, “ Isn’t this the tallest waterfall in India?” The villagers were poor but every villager escorted us to their place to have a glass of Chang. My mouth tasted sour after receiving too many.
Balya was bargaining for an old woollen carpet. I was trying to keep track of my accounts. He did not have much left. So we passed a hat and soon some personal money flowed in which could complete the expedition.
      Uttarakhand was a dicey topic to talk about. The Mountain people wanted to separate from the plains. Joshimath was under curfew and so were many other villages till Rushikesh.
Balya arranged for a truck that was to fetch goods from Rushikesh for the Indo Tibet Border police. We would be safe inside the truck.
We travelled through the day and night and reached Rushikesh and Dehradun border at dawn.
I woke up at the sound of commotion. The Police had blown whistle. The truck came to a dead  stop. Balya was in the front cabin. He showed the police our permit to the mountains. The Chief was not satisfied and asked him to climb down. The Driver obeyed. Balya did not budge.The Police beat the poor guy for a long time. If anyone of us would get down, we would share the fate. Later the police released the guy and he climbed on the truck weeping. He pushed the accelerator till we were across the border. He parked the vehicle. We pulled out the first aid box and treated him. He mentioned that it was normal behavior of the Plains police to the people in the hills. I could sense the hatred that brewed within Uttarakhand. Our driver worked for ITBP yet he was not spared!
      We got to Delhi and caught the train to Pune. The funds had completely depleted. I had spent around 5 lakhs and I could not trace account for 500 Rs but had receipts for rest. It was a good job as a startup accountant. Yet we did not have enough to pay our meals on train, so we switched to Banana diet. The train stopped at Ahmednagar. Morya’s father in law handed over some eatables to the team, a warm reception indeed. Soon the train arrived at Pune station. We got off and there was a surprise waiting for us. The Doordarshan TV team aimed cameras at us as we got down. I immediately looked down at my ragged shoes and my thumb poked out of a hole.
      I was back at work after two months. During this long stay in the mountains I had forgotten some day to day procedural tasks at work. But at least I was able to keep the promised date of marriage by arriving a week in advance. There were plenty of things that could have worked against the date most importantly the Summit camp storm or the Uttarakhand Curfew.

      I went to my tailor to collect the marriage suit. The suit was ready. When I tried it out the tailor could not believe his eyes. It was loose from all sides. The trousers dropped. The coat dangled on my shoulders. The most famous tailor in Pune was in disbelief at the botched job.
      I said, “You asked me if I intend to keep up with exercise. I did exactly that.” I pitied him for what he considered as an exercise. 

I never felt more fit in my life.