Neophiliac

Snow and coast drive, Sky dive and Hot air balloon ride

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The many number firsts I had in this trip bear testament to my neophiliac nature! This time during Thanksgiving, continuing the culture of making the most of long weekends in a holiday scare country,  I wanted to cover the famous places near Bay area (CA) – Yosemite and Napa Valley with my Cornell friends. Lisha suggested Sky Diving and it was too added to the list. Soon we made a rough plan to visit Yosemite for first 2 days followed by Skydiving at Hollister and Hot Air Balloon ride at Napa Valley. Due to the unavailability of apt camp sites and unpreparedness for cold, we limited Yosemite to a day trip and instead chose to drive through Big Sur the second day. I had a flight from Seattle to SF on Wednesday night. Expecting a huge holiday crowd, I reached airport 4 hours early and ended up exploring the not so crowded airport much to the suspicion of security personnel maybe. This was a much awaited trip due to the range of activities we would be trying. It also overlapped with the birthday of two of my friends. I landed at SFO around midnight and my friends picked me up. We went to their place at San Mateo. I had started suffering from a throat infection.

Day 1(Nov  26): Snow drive to Yosemite
We were 7 of us – Nivi, Sai, Smitha, Shubhangi, Dhiraj, Lisha and me. We got ready and left for Yosemite around 7 AM. Friends had booked a 7 seater Chrysler Town and Country for 5 days. We put the destination as Yosemite info center on the GPS and blindly followed it and I am glad we did. We started to head east, crossed the long San Mateo bridge and then to 580. I took the driving seat and enjoyed the drive between the scenic meadows playing games with friends. Actually, everyday I drove to destination in the day time and Lisha during the return journey. She was kind enough not to let me drive during dark which I wasn’t very comfortable with. After some time, we hit highway 120 where the actual fun started. It was a winding mountainous drive initially which reminded of drives to hill stations in India. Our first stop was at a Vista point which overlooked reddish mountains which I thought was similar to view at Grand Canyon. There started our craze for clicking pictures which never stopped till the end of the trip. Apparently Nivi had forgotten to carry a selfie stick and we teased for that the entire day. We saw snow on oncoming cars and became skeptical about the drive further since we didn’t carry snow chains and the car wasn’t a 4 wheel drive. As we drove further, surroundings started getting whiter and we reached a toll both which recommended snow chains. Fortunately, someone was selling them at the location and after a long wait we bought them and got it installed. It was a different experience driving with the chains. I wasn’t sure what speed to maintain since the car was experiencing heavy friction(short bumps) due to round metal lines across the tire. I chose to maintain the recommended speed and was careful. The drive was exquisite to say the least. Snow on the trees and the fact that the trees still had leaves made the view all the more magical. It was breathtaking and each turn on the road presented us with unexpected scenery. We stopped at various places enjoying nature at its best.

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I phone’s slow mo capture feature was made use of and the videos looked pretty cool. Soon we reached Yosemite valley and could see Half dome and El Capitan. I loved the views of El Capitan which was crowned with dark clouds and a splatter of snow on the top if its sheer vertical rock face.

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The drive in the valley was splendid with tall mountains on either side with snow in various places. Upper Yosemite falls too looked wonderful. We removed the snow chains once in the valley and after frantically looking for a restaurant for lunch, we ended up having lunch in car after shopping for food in supermarket. My friends had packed some food too among which Bhakarwadi was my favorite and I kept munching them.  We decided to drive to Tunnel view for Sunset which allows for a scenic vista of Yosemite valley with El Capitan in the left and Half dome in the far right. I had recently updated my mac to El Capitan OS and it has the wallpaper of this tunnel view. Half dome was fully covered with clouds, in fact most of the sky was covered with clouds which obstructed the sun rays. We were expecting some dramatic colors on the rock face but had to be content with just the views of the valley. We choose not to wait till the Sunset and drove back on 140. The lady earlier in toll booth had suggested to take 140 for the drive back to avoid driving in snow on 120 during dark. 140 made its way through the valley in the absence of snow and suns rays painted some beautiful colors on the mountains. So we were glad that we saw best of both worlds. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Shalimar at SF which turned out to be disastrous both in terms of taste and ambience. We went to sleep soon after celebrating Sai’s birthday. My condition had gotten worse and had gotten cold by now.

Day 2(Nov  27): Coast drive on Highway 1 
After taking some medicines in the morning we headed south to enjoy the scenic coastal drive along the pacific ocean on Highway 1. Our first stop was at Lovers point in Monterey Bay. Clear beach water with a greenish blue tint enhanced the view and sea gulls added the charm. We then drove along Sunset drive to reach the starting point of 17 mile drive. 17-Mile Drive is a scenic road, much of which hugs the Pacific coastline and passes famous golf courses, mansions and scenic attractions. Non residents have to pay a toll to use the road. With views of pacific water, golf courses in their backyard these mansions looked royal. After enjoying the rough waters beating the coast we continued our drive on Highway 1 to Big Sur. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains which rises abruptly from the pacific ocean in the west. It is traversed by narrow 2-lane, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the pacific coastline. This was one crazy joyful drive. We crossed an architecturally beautiful Bixby bridge to reach Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We had lunch while waiting for the parking spot and took a short hike to view Mcaway falls. While the fall itself was very small the setting at which this was located was impressive.

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This 80 foot fall lands on the beach itself and flows into the ocean soon after. We then went to see Pelton wheel expecting it to be in a working condition but were disappointed to see a small non-working science exhibition like model. On the way back we made a stop to watch sunset. Sun painted the surroundings orange and had been ages since I had witnessed sunset in the waters. I was feeling extremely cold even with layers of clothes on my body, so tried to cover myself as much as possible.

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Along with other Cornell friends we had a tasty dinner at Anjappar.  At midnight we celebrated Shubhangi’s birthday and had delicious cake.

Day 3(Nov  28): Sky dive
This was the big day we all were waiting for. We had signed up for 18,000 feet tandem jump – the highest tandem jump in the world. After reading some posts online, I was very skeptical to dive with my cold but still decided to go for it nonetheless. Making jokes en-route we reached Skydive Hollister and were ready to venture on one of the biggest adventures of our life. After clearing some confusion during billing, each one of us were called by our respective tandem divers. We were made to wear the harness and all the required safety stuff. Some instructors told about few tricks to stay comfortable and safe during the dive and I listened to them keenly. Instructors had worn two GoPros on their hands (one which took pics frequently and other video).

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I requested to jump first so that I would not have to stay longer time in the cold in flight with the doors opened. But my instructor went first into the flight, so would be the last to jump. Soon 4 of my friends and I got in the flight with huge excitement and we sat with our divers facing back. The flight took off and with every gaining feet, our excitement increased too. En-route, our instructors started attaching our harnesses to their suits. One pair jumped at 8000 feet and another at 15000 feet. Soon we reached around 18k (I was tracking this with my sports watch) and it was now our time.

My friends started jumping one after the other. It was my turn in the end and we inched closer to the door. Sitting at the edge of the flight, it was quite scary to look at the ground from such a height. Soon we embarked and the first 1-2 seconds, I got the adrenaline rush. Within no time I was battling the air gushing at me. My instructor tapped me to signal to get into final dive position. Soon my eyes started getting watery and the water filled the goggles which partially blocked my view. I could feel the pressure building up in my ears and air creating ripples on my face. But there was no adrenaline rush and it wasn’t exactly like falling, but more like traveling at a high speed. I was waiting for the parachute to be deployed which would relieve my ears. At around 3500ft, the instructor deployed the chute and I could feel immense pain in my right ear. I clutched it with my hand and enjoyed the close up views of the ground. I saw my friends’ parachutes at a distance. It was fun, especially when the instructor did some circles. We were first ones to reach the land(interesting that we were last to jump and first to land). We landed safely on our hips and I had partially lost my hearing. Sai landed soon after and I asked him to provide some ear tests and I was glad that both my ears were fine.

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Surprisingly I didn’t enjoy the dive much. It might have been due to the cold, or maybe because I didn’t have much under my control or because I didn’t have a clear vision during the descent. It wasn’t as great I had imagined it to be. I will know only if/when I jump again without having a cold. Some of my friends said that their instructors kept showing them the places, asked them to do whatever they wanted during descent and one of them even handed the GoPro to my friend. My instructor had been quiet most of the time, except for the few scary jokes before the jump. So, the experience depends on the instructor too. We got into a Limo and we were driven back to the office. It took me about an hour to get my hearing back to normal (after some slow painful valsalva maneuvers). We had lunch while waiting for photos and videos. We still had some time before the day ended and decided to go to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is a beautiful beach town with a boardwalk containing some games and amusement rides. We tried some rides, fun games and spent quality time on the beach. That evening we saw our skydiving videos and had fun teasing others based on their acts. Dhiraj’s and Lisha’s video had come out really well.

Day 4(Nov 29): Hot air balloon over Napa valley
Since the cold didn’t desert me through the trip, Lisha would prepare hot soup for me every morning and made sure my water bottles were filled with boiled water. She also had made Kashaya for me the previous day. I am grateful for her kind gesture. We had to reach the location (Aloft Hot Air Balloon, Yountville) by 6:30 AM, so we got up pretty early this day. Hot air balloon rides were cancelled for two consecutive days due to bad weather. We called early morning and were told that there were no cancellations.  We departed pretty late in the morning but Lisha’s swift and safe drive ensured that we reached in time.  The town of Yountville was decorated with lights and it looked elegant. We reached the office, had some snacks and listened to the instructions. The take off point was right beside the office from a small ground. It was splendid to see the balloons being blown by the fans. Soon we got onto a balloon called Calypso and were ready to begin the flight.

I stood right below the burner which made me feel warm whenever it was ignited. Our basket was pretty small with 10 of us excluding the pilot. We took off gently and started gaining height. It was around the time of Sun rise and Napa valley looked magnificent. With vineyards below us, other balloons around us and mountains alongside, the view was breathtaking. Look down was a bit scary this time since we didn’t have any parachutes to rescue us. Getting soaked in the beauty and conversing with the pilot, I had an peaceful and enjoyable ride.

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After 40 mins or so we landed gently at a high ground and we were driven back to the office.

We had our breakfast and then drove to Castello di Amorosa for wine tasting. It was a huge castle which was built in mid 90’s based on 13th century architecture. We went on the tour of the castle and visited various majestic rooms. We then went underground where numerous barrels were stored. It was quite a scene. After the tour of the castle we were made to stand at a counter for the wine tasting. We tasted around 10 wines and I absolutely hated the taste. I never enjoyed any hot drinks before and I don’t want to actually. Unsurprisingly, I liked the plain grape juice the most and bought two bottles. We had lunch at a nearby town and drove back to San Mateo. I had hardly slept for more than 5 hours a day since the trip began, and thus decided to take a nap. We ended our trip with a dinner and grape juice later that night.

This was an amazing trip for multiple reasons. Apart from the fact that I tried so many new things, I had lots of fun with friends. Most of my earlier trips had been with family or unknown people. I was very well taken care of by my friends. I am glad to have such awesome friends in my life and hopefully will have more of such trips in the future.

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Nikhil Navali

Categories: Adventure, Neophiliac, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The day I stood on my legs again

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I don’t remember the first steps I put as a kid, but I surely do when I walked with just my legs today after 41 days. I went through plethora of emotions during this time which I will cherish for my entire life.

Fracture:
I had inflicted my left leg with the chip fractures while attempting a jump from a peepal tree during a bike trip on march 30th. My left foot upto ankle had swollen to almost twice its size and I couldn’t afford to put any weight over it. My friends thought it was a ligament tear or a hair-line fracture since I wasn’t rolling on the street with pain. So I continued with the bike trip, traveled 300 more kms as a pillion on Enfeild and reached Bangalore. Even in that painful condition I dared to ride my YBX around 15 kms from a friend’s place to my home in the night. I was able to change the gears and stuck to 4th gear for almost 95% of the ride and never did I place my left foot on ground. I just wanted to consult a doctor and know what exactly it was but until then the incapability of movement and the questions raised a dark cloud in my head. Blood had started clotting at few places and I didn’t dare to place my foot on ground. The next day, my flatmate Vinod and his friend took me to Yashomati hospital and the first reaction from the doctor after seeing my leg was “This doesn’t look good at all man”. I prepared for the worst; he asked for an X-ray, got it done and then came few soothing words from the doctor. He mentioned that the fracture itself was not major but was at a crucial junction in the ankle. He also said that I just missed being in the jaws of operation and we need to hope the chips to join the main bone. Due to the swelling he put a hard blue plastic cast only in the back of the leg and covered the foot and lower leg with bandage. I wasted no time in deciding to go to my hometown Hubli, I left that night in sleeper bus and went home to rest for next 38 days.
Hubli hospital:
First week was fun as my brother was in Hubli for summer holidays and I made him help me for silliest of things. I always hopped for movement troubling my right leg and our tenants at the ground floor. For almost the whole week I didn’t step out of my home. Doctor had advised me to consult in Hubli after a week for which I went to Sushrutha hospital. It was at this hospital, I had the worst feeling in the last 41 days. Doctor saw the X-ray and he was unsure of the origin of the piece that was hanging below the left tibia. He asked to get a CT scan done and the wait till the doctor’s report at the casualty bed was crushing. I just hoped that I recover without getting operated. A fellow patient’s case at the ward made mine look small and I am ashamed of the fact that I was calmed looking at others worries. Finally my mom came and asked the ward boy to take me to mini operation theater. I still remember her asking if an operation was needed for which she said no for my relief. At the mini OT, the doctor with around 6 pairs of helping hands put a blue cast plaster around my foot and ankle and advised rest for 6 weeks. I was asked to walk but I couldn’t due to pain.
Stay at home:
During adolescence, I always loved to laze around at home and enjoyed only feasting, browsing, chatting and sleeping. I was supposed to do exactly that and somehow it seemed out of place now. With lots of travel and adventures in the past 3 years, I was groomed to be physically active. It was a different thing that even the chores were done with adventurous spirit and hopping for even small distances tired me. I broke the usual home wheel chair in the first day, tried moving by sitting on the skateboard, mom even bought a walking stick but I preferred hopping to every alternative. It was only a day after I came out of the Sushrutha hospital I guess, I tried walking with the cast on. Though it pained slightly I could walk; I was very ecstatic that I even messaged my friends about this latest achievement. In the coming days I gradually shifted from hopping to walking on the cast but avoided on rough/dirty ground outside. I even voted on April 17th at my constituency which made me feel proud.
I had opted for work from home and along with work, I kept myself occupied with making new friends, learning long forgotten data structures, browsing, cracking jokes with my family, etc. Actually I am in the middle of a preparation for one of the biggest academic step I intend to take soon. I started researching on the same, made few new connections and went few places to get some work done. My cousin Vikku never turned my request down and always supported me. Thankfully major part of the work had to be done online and I too enjoy managing my work virtually. Never did I stop believing about my recovery and with the harsh track record I have, I really took good care of my leg.
The last time I stayed at home for such a long length was after my 12th exams. This time with a mature mind, I had the opportunity to closely observe the sacrifices my parents make. My mom not only helped me with chores, she also took utmost care about my nutrition. Calcium is an important ingredient for bone strength and I consumed milk, curds, green leaves without fail. Dad not only helped me in transportation but kept the spirits high at home by cracking witty real time jokes. At the end of April, rains started in Hubli and I enjoyed every bit of the thunderstorm. I just sat near the window/door and admired the transparent rain drops painting the nature green. In the evening, Vikku and I used to sit on the terrace and chat random stuff. Slowly, the pain reduced and I could walk quite a distance with the cast which eventually tore a bit of the sole. Mangoes, now the mentioning of this would make my away-from-home-bachelor friends jealous; this being the mango season, I had them every day. I kept checking my weight every week and thanks to the home food and literally non exercise routine, I increased one kg/week. Now, I am at my heaviest and Chiranth, my colleague asks me to use this fat for the upcoming harsh winter.
Back to Bangalore:
It was almost 5 and half weeks since I went to office and I decided to come back to Bangalore to try to fit into routine. I covered my fancy looking blue cast with a shoe bag and went limping to office. It was a strange feeling in the first to attend office and I never moved from my cubicle to rest my legs. Currently totally 3 friends, Suhas, Chiranth and Hari help me get to office and back on their vehicles. Dad asked me to consult the doctor today and I agreed. I hoped to walk on just my legs by the end of the consultation. But I was doubtful as the doctors in big cities usually instruct strict procedures and it was only 6 weeks since the fracture (the same doc had estimated around 2 months of plaster). I visited the doc and got X-ray done. Doc saw my X-ray and nodded once for which I was unsure of what he wanted to convey and he nodded again which lighted a hope in me. Then the golden words came from his mouth “Cast can now be removed to reduce the stiffness”. I was happy and got ready for removal. A hand saw like machine is used to remove the cast and undergoing that procedure was experience in itself. I felt the vibrations so close that I just hoped that the next blade in motion wouldn’t slice my leg. The fact that my cast had already worn out at the bottom worried me more. But the nurse carefully removed my cast only for me to discover a burnt-like black foot covered with dead skin with slightly deformed shape. Without thinking much I placed my foot on ground and walked effortlessly. Though I was walking, I felt like flying, I was on clouds. Its so mesmerizing that body can heal by itself. I dream about many things and every organ is important to make them come true. Excited, I came back home and right now my left foot is in a hot-water bucket.
Made any observations about my feelings during this phase? I was hardly low even though I missed trips and even cancelled my Himalayan trek this July due to the injury. I believe that I have seen my emotional abyss during the doomsday period. Nothing takes me to that level of sadness, literally nothing at all. Frankly, being a neophiliac idiot, I enjoyed this unfortunate experience too. I witnessed the brightest part of my parents and friends love and I am ever grateful to them. I realized that I cant fool around like a kid anymore and maybe this was a warning for me to slow down. My next task is to train my leg back to its glory so that I come back with an adventurous post soon.

Nikhil Navali

Categories: Life, Neophiliac | 4 Comments

18 hours – 600+ kms – 5 districts – 4 people – 2 bikes – 1 diverse state(Karnataka)

Bangalore – Kanakapura – Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary – Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta – Chamundi hills, Mysore – Bangalore.

Attempted to document the happenings and feelings in the life of a rider. Featuring my friend, Manoj Krishna.

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Nikhil Navali

Categories: Bangalore, Neophiliac, Travel | Leave a comment

NEF Enduro3 – Taking adventure to the next level

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Pushing my limits has become like a drug to me now. And the biggest achievement of this drug yet is the NEF Enduro3 race. With 70km of cycling, 60km of trekking in just 18 hours, this race graduated me from the rookie to the amateur level in the challenging field of adventure. However, the race wouldn’t have been accomplished if wasn’t for the thoughtful training, will power, miracles, humanity and blessings from the elders.

NEF Enduro3 is a team sport – an Adventure Race which tests the competitors’ physical and mental endurance. The team should cover a vast area; navigating from checkpoint to checkpoint steering past a combination of disciplines like orienteering, mountain biking, trekking, etc. This year (2014), the race was held on Feb 1st and 2nd at Pune. I considered myself a rookie as I knew hardly anything about adventure biking, and this is the prime reason for me not wanting to lead the team or organize for the race. Hence, I posted in Facebook asking if someone was looking for a teammate. Finally, on 23rd January a guy named Shane Hines from Pune replied and I never stopped dreaming about the event ever since. Shane’s father’s organization sponsored our team and we registered on January 25th with the name “Mitras on Wheels”. I had absolutely no idea about who the 3rd guy was until I met him at Pune on Jan 31st.

Preparation:

Fortunately, the gym and pool in my apartment building had been functional since the past few weeks, and the recent Kumaraparvatha trek in Dec 2013 highlighted my weaknesses. I concentrated on cardio and legs, thus started with tread mill, cycling, cross trainer and swimming. I geared up on the last four days before the event with following practices:

15 mins of Tread mill (Starting with speed 10 km/hr) Treadmill

15 mins of Cycling (Levels 4 – 10)
15 mins of cross trainer (Intermittent levels of 4 and 8)
300 mts of swimming Exercise Cycling

And taking stairs in the office.
Diet included fruit bowl/juice, dry fruits and lots of food.

Only very essential things were packed: padded cycling shorts, gloves, toilet kit, cap, sun glasses, two pairs of clothes and charger – all fit in my tiny Wildcraft bag. I wore Kalenji running shoes for the entire course of the race.

Pune:

I left for Pune from Bangalore at 9.30 PM on Jan 30th in a comfortable Airavat bus with a Puneite sitting beside me who filled in information about his work, Maharashtra and little other stuff. After checking in at Sushil Lodge in Swargate, I left for Rajiv Gandhi National Park to say Hi to fellow species. It’s a huge area around the Katrej lake with snakes, crocodiles, monkeys, antelopes, tigers, peacocks and many other animals either in caged rooms or open large areas. White peacock and white tiger were new for me. Then I met Shane (team leader) and the other teammate Shailesh, and went to Shane’s hostel near the Katrej milk diary. My qualms about the race multiplied when I learnt that they were Physical Education students who looked well-built. Being frequent cyclists they had all the gear required for the race and were ready with almost everything barring few items. Shane had arranged a mountain bike from his friend, Cannondale Five worth around half a lakh but I realized its true worth only during the race. He himself had Trek and Shailesh Cannondale Six. We shopped in the evening and I retired to bed and slept which was very essential before the race.

Route

Day 1:

The race was divided across categories: Open Mix, Amateur Mix, Amateur All Men, Corporate/IT Mix, Media, Junior and College. Open Mix had the toughest route with Amateur’s route almost close to it. Our team was called AMM11. The flag off event was at Kataria High School near Swargate and everyone had assembled to mark the start of NEF Enduro3 – 2014. We were given the route maps, jerseys, cap and ID card. The route was around the backwaters of dams located around 40km southwest of Pune. Varasgaon dam and Panshet dam embanks the Mutha river’s two tributaries in the North and South respectively. The dams are located in the eastern part and two main narrow lakes (backwater) stretch to the west. We had to start from the eastern part of northern lake, trace the bank of the lake for around 21kms then do hike and bike to touch the southern lake. We then had to park the cycles at a village called Mangoan, then do a loop of around 50kms of trekking in Sahyadri hills and then collect the cycles and ride back to Panshet dam tracing the southern lake, which was about 40kms. I could see multi-national people all excited and ready to cycle the red carpet. Yes, it was nothing short of a red carpet and cycling on it was one of the most awesome feelings I had ever experienced. Drummers, photographers, etc. had lined it and cycling amidst them I felt no less than a celebrity. I just hoped that I complete the race to be worthy of this feeling. We had to cycle till Mhatre bridge and then use own transport till Panshet to start the race. We put our cycles on a small tempo where Shane and I sat in the back enjoying the curiosity and the cheer of the onlookers.

Cycling Part 1:

As there were a number of categories, ours began at 12.55 PM sharp. Everyone enjoyed the first long ride downhill only to realize that we had taken the wrong route. We had to climb all the way back and thus the steepest cycling climb in the first day’s race was due to a wrong turn taken. After this it was a straightforward route where we just traced the lake on a rough non tar terrain. Happy To my horror, the back brake lost its 90% of power in a short distance. Shailesh couldn’t check this the previous day as it was hydraulic disk brake which required some kind of oil to repair. I managed the rest of the bumpy route by holding the full back brake and to spare the front brake, I used it only on reaching the maximum speed near the turns. We reached the first checkpoint and got filled the sheet with time and stamp. We started with the next stretch without wasting much time.

Hike and Bike:

This was the most exhausting part, as we had to reach the southern lake by crossing a series of hills which were around 45 degrees steep. We had to either push or lift the cycle entire stretch. After exhausting ourselves after the first few meters of pushing, we saw a team smartly handling the situation by carrying the cycle in pairs. This required double the number rounds but reduced the amount of stress. We followed suit and managed to cover some more distance after we which we went back to one cycle each. We cycled for a small stretch at the top and it was a beautiful experience to cycle on the hill with a panoramic view of Sahyadri hills. Somewhere while pushing the cycle, I fell and injured my right knee. Fortunately it didn’t hurt much and continued with less hesitation. We reached the next checkpoint, Kashedi top after which it was a steep downhill. I initially found this stretch easy but gravity acted at its best during the steep slope and it became increasingly difficult to hold on to the skidding cycle. Carefully and slowly I managed to reach the bottom by dancing all around the cycle.

Cycling Part 2:

This stretch after the checkpoint at Tekpole fork wasn’t filled with surprises other than the muddy road which caused our cycles to skid. It started getting dark and as I didn’t have a torch on my cycle, I was put in between with Shailesh and Shane, with Shailesh leading the way. I didn’t exert myself much as I wanted to save my energy for whatever was waiting for us ahead. We soon reached the next checkpoint at Mangaon village where we parked our cycles to start with the trekking.

Trekking Part 1:

Map Reading It was around 7.45 PM and we started on foot with again only 2 torches out. For the first time I somehow felt like checking the route on GPS. I took out my cell and came to a conclusion that we were heading on the wrong route. After much argument with Shane to go back, we went to the village and asked for the route to Dighi School which was the next checkpoint. We indeed had been on the wrong route. It was an uphill mud road to Dighi School and we took help of the fellow racers and footsteps to validate the path. The checkpoints were marked with blinking red and green lights. It was around 10.30 PM by the time we reached the school. I just sat in the cold to relax myself while the others refilled water supplies. The following route was tortuous and there was an increased possibility of getting lost. So we made sure we stuck with other people while trekking. Once when we were alone we had 4 routes in front of us and after walking some distance Shane and Shailesh found that dry leaves filled the path and they weren’t smothered which cautioned them of possible wrong route. They were right and I admired their presence of mind and knowledge. We waited for others to come, tagged along with them and frequently found the arrow marks directing to the next checkpoint. On the way we found the marshalls(organizers) who warned us of the dangerous route ahead. So we took out one more torch so that each had one and crossed the most dangerous stretch of the entire race. At some places the trail was so narrow that there was nothing but free fall into the valley to our right. Following this was a steep slippery downhill to the next checkpoint Warangi. Night trekking was a different and soothing experience compared to tiring cycling and hike and bike. Shane was furious that we left him behind during the downhill and he didn’t speak to me till the next morning. Shailesh and I rested at Warangi where the cold gradually caught up. We used camp fire’s help to warm ourselves. We then started for Sandoshi after crossing the labyrinth like Warrangi village when Shane caught up. We stopped midway as Shane decided to take a break. I fell asleep unknowingly and on being woken up by Shailesh I realized Shane had moved forward without even informing us. We reached a village from where 2 teams were searching for the right route out. Some had already slept too. It was around 4.30 AM and one of them woke a villager to ask for the route. Without getting irritated, the first thing the villager asked was if we wanted some water. I was stumped at the kind behavior and usually such gestures energize me and bring a smile on my face. He with his relative, walked with us all the way to the next checkpoint which was around 3 kms ahead. Thanking them wholeheartedly we reached Sandoshi checkpoint at 5.30AM where we had to take mandatory rest for four hours. I suddenly retired to cut sleep in the temple premises nearby only to be woken up at 7 AM with doubly shocking news.

Day 2: Trekking Part 2 – Endure the Enduro:

As we were one of the tail enders, at 7 AM, the Marshall made an announcement that we could override the mandatory rest period and continue with the race and those reaching the Mangaon village (Cycle parked area) after 1PM would be disqualified. To make matters worse Shane had got blisters and Shailesh had a swollen leg. After listening to the fact that Mangaon was 3.5 – 4 hour trek from there, they both decided to quit the race and opted for transport back to Pune. I knew that trekking/hiking was my strength and undeterred, chose to continue with the expedition. After having Pakodas and chocolate, I tagged along with two others and started with the most difficult trekking leg of the race. It was almost continuous steep uphill for 2.5 hours and I carried on with very few breaks. I reached the next checkpoint, Garjaiwadi which was near the top of the mountain and heard the most discouraging thing. A kid there told that Mangaon village was 25 km from there and I had to literally walk till there in the hot sun. Again, I wasn’t deterred, I dedicated the expedition to my dad and decided to carry on till the failure of any organ. This part was the most depressing one, just plain walking on the mud road and tar road in the hot sun. Walking One of the persons whom I had tagged along during the morning trek told me that he had run an ultra-marathon of 100km and I had done a run with only one zero after 1. He started running after few km from which I was inspired and I started running during the downhill. But again, I was careful not to hurt my knee any further. This ultra-guy went out of sight and I joined another group at Tekpole fork. When I reached Mangaon village at 2.30 PM, I had walked for whopping 25 kms since morning. Absence of blisters or any kind of major pain was nothing short of a miracle. I got the stamp and continued on cycle to Panshet Dam.

Cycling Part 3:

I enquired the other team for available cycling gear as I had none and didn’t know what to do even if I had one. They were ready to help me in case anything went wrong and we started the 40 km ride to the finish line which I surmised of covering 10km/hour. The road was very good with intermittent ups and downs. The organizers were winding up by the time we reached Thangaon for river crossing and rifle shooting. So, we were allowed to go further without doing these activities and were told that regardless of the time we reach, we would be awarded the completion medal.  I filled water and got onto cycling to complete the last stretch. But as I continued, my back started hurting a lot and I emptied the water bag to reduce the strain. I got slow due to exhaustion and Kamlesh, the cyclist in the other team, kept waiting for me every time I was out of sight. He being a fellow competitor and though we hardly knew each other, the fact that he still stopped to make sure of my well-being really touched my heart. I rejoiced the ampleness of humanity I was experiencing. I am so grateful to this team with whom I cycled the last 40 km. Finally I reached the finish line only to feel proud at this amazing unbelievable feat. I had pushed too far this time but still succeeded. This was truly a dream come true. I lifted the cycle for a pose, got the finishing medal and thanked people. Happy I met Shane and Shailesh there who had come with the tempo to collect their cycles. I put my cycle on the tempo, got on the bike with Shailesh to reach Pune. I literally slept several times on the bike way back because of which I asked him to put me on a bus. Somewhere 20km from Pune, got into a bus, reached Swargate and checked into the lodge. I guess I had never been this sleepy before, as I could barely keep my eyes open. I had pizzas and went to sleep. The next day I met my school friend, collected the certificate at the prize distribution ceremony and left for Bangalore at night with my chest swelling with pride.

I was overwhelmed with the experiences during the race: cycling on the mountain, trekking in the night, moving in a team, experiencing shades of humanity, to name a few. Some were good at cycling, some at navigating and few others at trekking. I felt really nice being a jack of all, due to which I finished the race without any major hassles. I can now confidently say that I am no more a rookie in adventures.

This is how I managed to complete the toughest adventure race in India:

• All-round training: Cardio, legs. Swimming helped in overall development I guess.
• By not pushing hard enough in any stretch. Always was in energy saving mode.
• Consumption of nutrients daily: Sprouts, dry fruits.
• With the help and love of numerous people.
• The most important ingredient: Will power.

Nikhil Navali

Categories: Adventure, Neophiliac, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Hampi – World’s heritage, Karnataka’s crown

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I said yes without thinking much when Dominic asked me if I was free for a trip on the weekend of Jan 11th and 12th. He came up with Hampi and I readily agreed as I had it in my list since few months. I am glad I visited, for I visited the most beautiful architectural historical place.

Planning:
It was almost non-existent and included failed attempts to book Tatkal tickets through IRCTC website, reading a few blogs and taking few print outs about the place. Due to unavailability of public transport we agreed to tour in Dominic’s car. It was again an unfamiliar group:  Dominic from Kerala trip, Dominic’s friend Saurabh, and my 5 day old flat mate Hari. 3 hours before departure I came to know that Hampi Utsav was being celebrated on Jan 10th to 12th. I didn’t know if it was fortunate or not (as I usually don’t prefer too much of a crowd), but Hampi had its own plans to bedazzle us.
On Jan 11th 2014, at 12.15 AM, Dominic picked me and Hari at Marathahalli and after navigating through Bangalore’s tortuous roads we hit Asia Highway 47. Although not common knowledge, the route that shares portions of Indian National Highways numbered NH3 and NH4 has been promoted to continental status. It’s an amazing feeling to ride this route in the night. Arrays of shining red and white cat eyes adorning a dark smooth road trump the journey’s tiredness. We traveled non-stop till Chitradurga after our dinner at a dhaba near Tumkur. From Chitradurga we took NH63 (Solapur – Mangalore highway) which took a toll on our timing and spines, thanks to its two-lane patchy road. The non-existent road near Hospet had its own special share in slowing us down. It was Dominic’s first road trip and we all helped him in driving. Saurabh located pot holes, Hari pepped Dominic for overtaking vehicles and I was the navigator for almost the entire trip. It was as if all four of us were in driving mode. After few failed attempts (by phone) to find availability in guest houses at Hampi, we decided to stay at Mayura hotel, Hospet – managed by KSTDC, which is 20 kms from Hampi. It cost us about Rs.1200 for a decent 5 bedded room with attached bathroom for a day (more importantly it had 24 hours hot water). Hospet is a small city in Bellary district with Tungabhadra dam at one end and a UNESCO world heritage site consisting the ruins of the medieval city of Vijayanagara(Hampi) in the other. After breakfast, we left for Hampi – the cradle of Vijayanagara Empire – which took us 700 years back in time.

Day 1:
Hampi, nestled between the numerous boulder mountains shores of the Tungabhadra, is bordered by coconut and banana plantations. There are around 80 places of interest in and around Hampi spread across 10 sq kms. After scanning the maps quickly we decided to begin with archeological museum at Kamalapura (a village near Hampi). It was adorned with stone structures on the lawn in front and intriguing objects inside including artefacts, a huge model of Hampi depicting important places, life-sized sculptures, to name a few. We then continued our journey through Talarighatta gate and found a parking spot near Vitthala temple. The rest of the exploration was by foot. Owing to Hampi Utsav, two wheelers were banned in most of the places (they were replaced by strange soundless vehicles to ferry people to important areas). We took no help and enthusiastically started with our tour. Vitthala temple is located in the North eastern end of the city and the path leading to it is amazing by itself. After gejjala mantapa and kuduregombe mantapa(Horse temple), the path is flanked by mountains in the left and series of stone pillars and a pushkarni in the right. In a distance the dilapidated Gopura (tower) in front of Vitthala temple can be seen. It is almost half destroyed (don’t know if by invaders or by nature). I liked the premises the most – it consisted of a beautiful stone chariot, musical pillars and multiple temples with amazing architecture. Each temple had steps leading to arena of pillars in the front and one or more Garbhagudis (the Sanctum Sanctorum), with a tower to crown it. A peculiar fact about them is that most of the temples are without idols.  The pillars in most of the temples here are adorned with a fierce looking lion with its two legs raised and a short man riding on it. The small short stone pillars made different sounds on thumping and sadly we couldn’t try the main musical pillars as touching them was banned due to wear and tear with time. We took quite some time in admiring the beauty of the premises and then followed the trail in the south east which led us to two storied gateway and king’s balance. Here, across the heavy currents of Thungabhadra, an ancient stone bridge connecting two land masses is visible.

We spent some time near the shore and had lunch which comprised of Mirchi bhaji, Avalakki and Upma. We decided to go to Virupaksha temple and then climb Mathanga hill for the sunset. On the way our eyes fell on a tree which had numerous stone hangings. It’s believed that if a person hangs a stone on the tree or build a stone structure there, he or she would own a house soon. The trail to Virupaksha temple had many lined temples at one side and river on the other. After walking for 1.5 kms or so we reached Virupaksha temple, which is situated in the western part of the city. Due to the Utsav, there were stage events, food, craft festivals and huge crowd made the temple appear a lot younger than it actually was. This temple for an exception had a Shiva Linga in the Garbhagudi and had colored paintings on the roof depicting Shiva’s marriage. There were other attractions which included an Elephant, an inverted shadow of Gopura (which was hard to believe), and so on. We left the temple premise, packed some snacks and proceeded to climb Mathanga hill.

The 500m trail starts near a monolithic bull and is steep and dangerous at some places. But the view from the top compensates for everything. It’s beautiful, serene and one can see almost whole of Hampi from the top. Especially Achyutaraya’s (Courtesan’s) street, with the temple in the East of the hill, looks amazing. The frequent sightings of helicopters throughout the day made me suspect if stars were being ferried for performances. My suspicion disappeared when I saw a white helicopter circling Virupaksha temple (and I understood that they were paid rides for aerial view of Hampi). After carefully walking on the steep boulders, we reached a labyrinth building on the top. We climbed over it too and just enjoyed the scenery. Our eyes caught a glimpse of Vitthala temple in the North East, Courtesan’s street in the east, Virupaksha temple in the North West, a hot air balloon in the south, intermittent banana/coconut plantations, mountains with brown boulders surrounding Hampi and Thungabhadra River snaking across the city. As we clicked pics and had snacks, Sun turned into Orange and hid itself in the clouds, which was a sign for us to get down immediately. This time for a change I didn’t enjoy the sunset as much as I enjoyed the scene from the top. Its splendidness leaves me at a loss for words. While getting down somewhere in midst of shouting and hearing echoes, smiling at other tourists and enjoying the beauty, I reached the zenith of happiness. During such moments I feel the blessings of Parents and God, and feel proud about my country and Her rich cultural heritage. I feel that I live to experience such moments, I feel the plain unadulterated happiness about whole life. Bathing myself in such wonderful moments I got down to Achyutaraya temple (by different and less dangerous route than we took while climbing) and started walking on the Courtesan’s street. I have heard that gold and diamonds were sold on the streets of Hampi in the olden times. Assuming the present bazaar to be at the same Hampi (Vijayanagar time) bazaar location I felt really honored walking there (But in actuality the Hampi Bazaar is the street infornt of Virupaksha temple). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walking the streets which had pillared room like structures on the either side. Their awesomeness escalated in green and orange lights in the evening. On the way back, I noticed bright yellow light falling on the boulders near the river and they looked like huge chunks of gold glistening in the night.  Somewhere we could see a purple light in the sky. We passed the moonlit Vittala temple whose dilapidated Gopura cast a serene silhouette against the night sky. The whole ambience was soothing considering the fact that I was in between 500-700 year old ruins. Delighted, we went back to hotel in Hospet and had a good night’s sleep.                   

Day 2:
We freshened up, packed our bags and left to Hampi to cover other places. First we went to Pattabhirama temple located in south west which was majestic and I guess we were the only visitors. It was here where I admired the architecture calmly and learnt how the pillars supported the roof. Big temple premises verified the fact that Hampi, in its heydays, was one of the most populous cities. After we parked the car near a school in Kamalapura, we started for the places around Royal Enclosure. We wondered about the luxurious a life Vijayanagara people were enjoying when we saw the octogonal bath. It had eight sides with a central raised platform with a water inlet at each edge. After we visited Saraswati temple nearby our eyes fell on the kites that were being flown. Apparently it was kite-flying competition and it was not a single kite, but array of kites attached to a string. I guess there were around 200 kites attached to a string and after letting them fly high, the person there agreed to let us hold it for some time. I didn’t know until I held the string the pressure the array of kites exerted on hands. It was a good feeling to hold it and we enjoyed the view of 3 of such displays. The timing was apt as the kite were flown only for 15 minutes. From there doing some rock climbing we went to mahanavami Dibba which was part of the places where Dassara was extensively celebrated. There was a square stepped tank nearby which had array of 5 concentric steps on all four sides going to the bottom of the tank. The water to this tank came from an aqueduct which ran all over the place from its source in Kamalapura Lake. Then there was a gigantic pool, easily one of the biggest I have ever seen. We gaped at the large stone food plate’s which had multiple partitions like the ones we usually use now.

We then went to underground temple and I felt the insides too dark for obvious reasons. But only later did I realize that my sun glasses were adding to the darkness. Royal enclosure consisted King’s audience hall, quarters, etc and sprawled across 1 sq km. I wondered how grandly the King was treated in those old days. I guess this city is the oldest largest place to be preserved. The next stop was at Hazara Rama temple, which is dedicated to Lord Rama. The black smooth pillars  inside has excellent meticulous carvings and inscriptions of Ramayana are all over the temple. It felt good recalling the story by seeing the inscriptions. We then moved to see Lotus Mahal which had perfect symmetrical arches and it’s said that the queen rested in this place. Near to it are Elephant stables which had big domed lined rooms to hold elephants, with  small doors connecting individual rooms. We took a short cut from there to reach Queens bath which was near the entrance. This place had moat around which ensured the flow of fresh water continuously and this too had a raised platform in between. Just when we were going out we saw and got into the free government bus which ferried us till Kamalapura.

This marked the end of a rich cultural, architectural, historical trip in which I learnt and experienced many new things. Throughout, I had been wondering how beautiful the city would have been in its golden times. The importance given to art and engineering is unimaginable. I am certainly visiting this lost city of Vijayanagara Empire again. I strongly recommend anyone to go visit this place. We dropped visiting Tungabhadra dam as it was closed for vehicles and we had planned to hit AH -47 before dark. We stopped to enjoy the expanse of backwaters nearby though and left for Bangalore with some interesting discussions on the way.

Tips:

  • If more people, plan for a road trip. Its fun riding and will be really helpful around Hampi.
  • There are numerous guest houses in Hampi. If you want a calmer nicer place, try the guest houses across the river which can be reached only via boats.
  • Read something about the history of the place before you go.
  • Don’t miss the trek on Mathanga hill, it’s worth every sweat.

Places really worth a visit:
Vittala temple, Ancient Stone Bridge, Virupaksha temple, Mathanga hill, Courtesan’s street, Octogonal Bath, Stepped tank, Royal Enclosure, Underground temple, Hazara Rama temple, Elephant stables.

Nikhil Navali

Categories: Neophiliac, Travel | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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