Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Destination Sach Pass (साच पास ) - The Toughest

Read Prologue here

I used to think and believe that Rohtang Pass is the toughest pass to climb on a motorbike. Tourists pouring in from all parts of country, road widening going on simultaneously, and the added bonus of rains make this ride one hell of a task. Sixteen kilometers uphill from Marhi (मढ़ी) to Rohtang Top take more than 3 hours and if you are stuck in a traffic jam or a landslide, you can stay close to nature for no body knows how many days, or unless BRO saves you.

However, Chamba as they say is a beautiful place and reaching Chamba is difficult because it is just difficult. We chose the worst month of year and above that worst time of the month to go to Chamba. Rainy season is not the best season to embark on any journey in the hilly regions, especially going to the Sach Pass in rainy season is suicidal. But brave men ride high on luck and that's what keeps us going. Last year when we went to Chamba, we were naive riders, did not even have a camera and never expected the road to be so hard because we had not seen anything except the national highways. This year, we had an experience of 21,000 kilometers and that too in the toughest regions of Himachal Pradesh.

The day started with a cloudy morning and last week's experience was still afresh in our memory. We thought of dropping the idea but ultimately we decided to go because we wanted to go. As soon as we started, it started raining and by the time we reached Kangra, we were all drenched and fucked. No raincoat could have saved us because raindrops were as heavy as small stone pebbles that once a thirsty crow used to quench his thirst. The rain stopped at Kangra and we were still hopeful that we will make it to Chamba tonight itself. The initial plan was to go via Jot Pass (2800 meters) but landslides and road blocks forced us to change our plan and go via the safer and better road via Dalhousie/Khajjiar.

Soon we realized that our timing to go was not that bad. It was the Manimahesh Season and after every 20-25 kilometers, a free food stall could be seen run by the [god fearing/loving] volunteers. Free food, free medical supplies, free tea , and at some places free accommodation was available for the pilgrims. Faith and religion have not always done bad for our society, they have sometimes helped the cause as well and this was one of those times. We enjoyed free food and tea and looked forward to have fun at the next stall as well. At every stall, it was written 'भोले की फ़ौज, करेगी मौज' and we literally considered ourselves to be भोले की फ़ौज and believed that it was our birthright to have मौज at every food stall.

भोले की फ़ौज, करेगी मौज

Reaching Chamba was our primary motive on Day 1 but somehow we found ourselves running short of time and it was getting dark, so we altered our plans and decided to skip Chamba and reach Surangani, which would give us an early morning start on the following day.

Surangani is a small town established by the NHPC, the roads, the schools, the health centers exist in that town because of the NHPC projects. And if there was  no hydroelectricity in Chamba, I doubt there would have been any roads or good schools. There is a Center School (Kendriya Vidyalya) in Surangani and I felt happy about it. We were welcomed by our friends and it was a very nice meeting after all those years. The night was not spent peacefully as we had to buy petrol in black. Now if this is corruption then fuck you because I do not think anyone will come to Surangani to open a petrol pump and run it continuously on loss for one hundred years. Anyways, petrol cost was 80 rupees per liter and who paid for it is still a mystery. My friends told me that Sach Pass is very tough and very difficult on a motorbike. However, my reference point was Rohtang Pass, and I never believed that anything could be tougher than that. However, definitions change with time, experience makes men aware of certain things that he believes never exist on earth and that's what happened with me too.

Sunrise from Water, NHPC Dam.

I am privileged to have nice people around me. Stay at Surangani is by far the best travel stay of mine and it proved one thing, you do not need new places to be happy, you will always need better people to make you happy.

On Day2, the journey started at 09:30 A.M, we thought of reaching Sach Pass by 14: 00 P.M. and then we embarked on one of the toughest journeys of our lives. PWD has sacrificed hundreds of lives in constructing those roads with limited manpower and primitive machinery. Landslides and heavy rains are characteristic properties of that region and constructing a road, which is wide, safe, and free from potholes is just not possible in that region, yet the PWD has managed to do a commendable job. All the names like तिस्सा, बैरागढ़, सतरुन्दी, कालाबन, which appear in newspapers, mostly because of deadly accidents are nothing but very small villages. You do not even notice their existence and they just stay as silent as they have remained since ages. The school kids still walk 15-20 kilometers to reach their schools, some of the villages still have to see roads and buses. Almost every shop sells liquor openly because that's what keeps them busy. Mind is a dirty thing and to keep it busy, everyone drinks in those hills. 

Road starts to deteriorate after crossing Bairagadh and thankfully it did not rain otherwise journey would have become even more difficult. Sharp stones, not boulders can be seen as constituent elements of the roads and if you are not lucky enough, a tire burst is very much possible. As you approach Kalaban, the whole region becomes silent and dark. Kalaban is just what its name suggests it to be, a black thick forest. There is a police checkpost at Satrundi, this is where terrorists attacked and killed policemen few years ago. Satrundi is the entry point to the Pangi Valley and you get inner line permits here. The procedure here is slight different because they shoot a video footage because of security reasons, in case you are a terrorist then your video footage will help them to trace you. The J&K border is just within reach and J&K police has constructed bunkers to encounter any terrorist activity in the region. 

Water, snow, fog, waterfalls on the road, and milestones kept us busy. The milestones were unique and designed exclusively for the Pangi Valley. If first milestone says Sach Pass = 105 KM, then the second will say Kilad = 170 KM, third will say Kalaban = X KM and the fourth one will say something else. And eventually you will forget which place is how many kilometers away. Once the steep climb started, the bike stared gasping for breath and even I felt heaviness in my breath. At 4400 meters, surrounded by fog and snow, breathing is not the easiest tasks to do. There were few very tough spots on our way but unlike Rohtang, the region was free from tourist vehicles, so it went smooth. The hands were numb, and eyelashes were heavy because of dewdrops accumulated over them. We reached at the top and found two shepherds, a temple and a shed for resting. Zero visibility and deafening silence was what we saw on the top of Sach Pass. We reached there exactly at 1400 hours and decided not to move ahead into the Pangi Valley but go back to Chamba.

Travel Route
Day 1- Hamirpur- Nurpur-Banikhet-Surangani | 227 kilometers
Day 2 - Surangani-Tissa-Bairagarh-Satrundi-Sach Pass | 103 Kilometers.

P.S: While planning our journey, I could not find distance of Sach Pass from Chamba, so I thought of sharing this too.
Chamba - Sach Pass = 138 km | Surangani - Sach Pass = 101 km | Chamba - Surangani = 35 km | Chamba - Kilad = 208 km

Jot Pass, Chamba @ 2800 Meters. Overlooking Chuwadi (चुवाड़ी) Village

Friday, August 19, 2011

Destination Sach Pass- Prologue

Date - 13/08/2011

Missed RakshaBandhan, when I had a chance to meet my sister on Rakshabandhan after so many years. She was staying just 25 kilometers away from my place.
Missed [supposedly] the grandest Alumni Meet of my graduating institute. 
Because I wanted to go to the Pangi Valley, Sach Pass, Trilokinath Temple (Udaipur), probably Keylong and possibly beyond. 

However, sometimes or may be always, things happen on their own and we stay happy with the disguised story of we being the doer. 

We left for SunderNagar in the evening at 7 A.M. Having learned a lot from our [last few] well designed but badly executed plans, we took nothing but one sweater [X 2] and that’s all, plus the riding gear obviously.
I met an accident few days back and I fell down, damaged my shoulder but managed to save my head as I always wear a helmet. Unfortunately, my motorcycle could not bear the crash and its headlight started to point towards the sky and not the roads. 

We somehow managed to travel half the distance, while our headlight kept pointing towards the sky, disturbing all the birds and monkeys peacefully sleeping in their tree houses. With all the illiterate/uneducated people riding expensive cars on the road and our headlight out of all sorts, it was almost ‘मौत का कुआँ[watch video] ride. We tried to fix it and as we are qualified engineers, we always manage to fix the tire punctures, grease fixation and screw tightening, and that is all. One dog hit the front tire of the motorcycle and then disappeared in the dark, as if it was hired by someone to kill us. 

The next fifty kilometers were smooth until we encountered a cow trying to ‘literally’ save its ass from an ox, which was blindfolded by his sexual desire. Had I been riding that time, I would have certainly hit the cow considering my love for speed and the ox would have surely fucked us instead of the cow. We laughed our hearts out as we managed to save three asses by applying brakes at the right time, of course the ox never managed to fuck the cow after all that happened and we just ran away from the spot. 

I decided not to go to my home as explaining my travel stories to my father is not as easy as it sounds, well it doesn’t even sound easy. So I decided to stay with my friend and JP decided to go to his place, and come back the day after early in the morning so that we could reach Chamba in time. 

And unfortunately, it started to rain and it rained for 36 [48] hours continuously after that. JP came back the next day in the evening; my friend had left to celebrate rakhi with her family handing over the responsibility of handling the keys. I lost keys of the main gate, it was raining, JP was standing outside, I was inside and in between us stood the dark black gate with a huge lock that asked for keys. Obviously, we could have broken the lock but then people in small towns keep looking for a reason to vent out their anger and frustration. I decided not to take chance and jumped out of the house like a thief. The task of breaking the lock was left for my friend. We were all drenched and tired and the journey had not even started. 

My home was just 10 minutes away, I was all drenched, shivering and wanting to get dry clothes to cover myself. But, it was just not supposed to happen. It did not happen. 

We had to cancel postpone the trip and we came back to Hamirpur on the next day, wearing the same wet clothes. 

How I wish we had carried extra clothes with us. How I wish it had not rained. 

However, the trip happened [it is happening right now, live]. Just the calendar showed some other dates. I am not sure if rains will allow us to touchdown at Pangi or Sach Pass or even at Chamba. I hear that the mystic 'Jot Pass' is closed down by the PWD. 

But sometimes, I choose not to hear and just walk past the closed roads and rains. 

P.S: The clutch brake was broken. The chain drum set was broken. My friend had to leave his [new] bike on the road and walk some 10 kilometers to reach his home, so that he could celebrate Rakhi. I hope he has managed to break the lock and explain the story to his landlord.

P.P.S:  Song of the moment. Song of the journey. (Ain't No grave can hold my body down)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Day in the Life Of a Navodya Student

पी वी नरसिम्हा राव ने १९८५ में जो शुरू किया, वो आज तमिल नाडू को छोड़ कर, देश के हर एक प्रदेश और केंद्र शासित प्रदेशों में अपने पाँव पसार चुका है| जवाहर नवोदय विद्यालय, एक वैचारिक क्रांति जो राजीव गाँधी के कार्यकाल  में शुरू  हुई थी| 

छोटे छोटे बच्चे अपना घर छोड़ कर के नवोद्या स्कूल में दाखिला लेते हैं| छठी कक्षा में पढ़ने वाला बच्चा आख़िर कैसे अपना घर छोड़ सकता है?

 पर जब खाना, पीना, रहना और किताबें मुफ़त में मिलें, तो इस देश के आधे से ज़्यादा माँ बाप अपने बच्चों को खुशी खुशी किसी भी जगह भेज देंगे, बच्चे की खुशी भी धीरे धीरे होस्टेल और स्कूल में ही दिखने लगती है| हाल ही में, मैं हमीरपुर के निकट के एक नवोद्या विद्यालया में गया क्यूंकी वहाँ मेरी बड़ी बहेन का तबादला हुआ है, आठ साल नवोद्या फ़ीरोज़ेपुर, पंजाब में पढ़ाने के बाद| समान ट्रॅक से हमीरपुर पहुँचा, और वहाँ से रात को स्कूल, देर बहुत हो चुकी थी इसलिए हमने सामान को जैसे का तैसे रहने दिया और गेस्ट रूम की चाबी लाने के लिए चोकीदार  को कह दिया|

मैं और ट्रॅक ड्राइवर सड़क पर बैठ के बातें कर रहे थे| ड्राइवर एक कम पढ़ा लिखा, पंजाब के गाँव का अधेड़ उमर का आदमी था|
ड्राइवर, साब आपकी जात क्या है? ये सबसे पहला सवाल था, जिसका उत्तर देना मुझे हार्गिज़ भी पसंद नहीं है, पर थकान और सेव एनर्जी प्रोटोकॉल के तेहेत मैने उसको कहा, शायद बनिया|
आपकी शादी हो गयी है क्या? (उसने मेरी तरफ देखा और अपने मुहं  में कहा, शायद?)
उमर कितनी है आपकी?
२५, २६ का अक्टूबर में, मुझे एकदम से अपने बड़े और बूढ़े होने का आभास हुआ|
आपका तो दाम लगेगा फिर|
आपको नहीं पता? बानिए अपने पढ़े लिखे लड़कों का दाम लगाते हैं पंजाब में, अच्छा हो दिखने में तो कम से कम १५-२० लाख तो कहीं नहीं गया और अगर सरकारी नौकरी हो तो २५ लाख से उपर की बात बनती है|
आपकी सरकारी नौकरी है?
नहीं मेरे पास नौकरी ही नहीं है, मैने कहा, और ये दाम लगने की बात में एकदम  से मेरा इंटेरेस्ट जाग गया| २०११ में भी अगर इंसान बिकता है तो सही में हमारे देश का ग्रोथ रेट ९ पर्सेंट से ज़्यादा है, नेगेटिव ९ पर्सेंट प्रतिवर्ष|
चलो कोई बात नहीं, आपके जीजाजी ने बताया की आपके पिताजी पी डब्लू डी से एक्सेन रिटाइर्ड हैं, आपके पास तो वैसे भी ठीक बांग्ला कोठी होगी, आपने इंजिनियरिंग भी कर रखी है, आपको मिल जाएगा ठीक पैसा|
हमारे यहाँ ऐसा नहीं होता, मैने आज तक नहीं सुना ऐसा कभी होते हुए|

हमारे यहाँ तो होता है साहब जी, इसीलिए तो पैसे बचा रहा हूँ अपनी लड़की के लिए, मेरा एक लड़का भी है वैसे|
और अब तक मेरी नींद जा चुकी थी, मैं सोच रहा था की एक ट्रॅक चलाने वाला कैसे पैसे बचाएगा, वो भी अपनी लड़की को बेचने के लिए?

खैर उसकी दास्तान एक घंटा सुनने  के बाद हम गेस्ट रूम की तरफ चल दिए| सुबह सामान उठवा कर नये घर की जैसे तैसे सेट्टिंग की|

नये मकान में ना सिलिंडर था, ना चूल्हा, माइक्रोवेव था जो मुझे चलाने आता नहीं था और जीजाजी का सारा ध्यान गत्ते की पेटियाँ खोलने और पैक करने में था, अगली बार की ट्रान्स्फर में काम आ जाएगी, ऐसा उनका मानना था |

वहाँ से हमने रुख़ किया हॉस्टिल की मेस की ओर, हमारे इंजिनियरिंग कॉलेज में हमें सिर्फ़ खाना होता था, और मेस वालों को गालियाँ देनी होती थी| बर्तन, ग्लास, स्पून, चीनी, सब टेबल पर मिल जाया करता था, मैं उसी मोड में मेस के अंदर गया| 

पर वहाँ नज़ारा कुछ और था, सब बच्चों को प्लेट, स्पून, ग्लास असाइन किए जाते हैं, जिसको सॉफ रखना और उसीमे खाना उनकी ज़िम्मेदारी होती  है| छठी से दसवीं तक के बच्चे लाइन से मेस में आते हैं, अपने अपने हॉस्टिल के हिसाब से बैठते हैं और बाहरवीं कक्षा के छात्र उनको मॉनिटर करते हैं|
एक छोटा सा बच्चा था उधर, उसको स्पून से खाने में दिक्कत आ रही थी, शायद किसी गाँव से आया था| खाना खाने के बाद मैने उससे बात करने की सोची, उठकर उसके पास गया तो वो घबरा गया की कोई मास्टर आ गया, या फिर कोई सीनियर आ गया|

सुनते हैं की कॉलेज से ज़्यादा रॅगिंग  नवोद्या में होती है, मार पिटाई नहीं होती पर सीनियर की प्लेट धोना, कपड़े धोना, सुबह उठाना, और काई तरह के काम करने पड़ते हैं वहाँ|  मेरा एक बहुत ही अज़ीज और अजीब दोस्त हुआ करता था, एकदम दिल के करीब टाइप में, वो इसी नवोद्या से पढ़ा था, क़िस्से सुनाया करता था अपनी रॅगिंग के कैसे उसको एक सीनियर ने रात के एक बजे पानी लाने के लिए कहा, नींद से जगाके| उसने बाथरूम से पानी लाके उसमें अपना पेशाब मिला दिया और सीनियर को पिला दिया| एक सड़क हादसे में उसकी मौत हो गयी, पाँच साल पहले, या शायद ६ साल पहले, अब तो याद भी नहीं पड़ता, सिर्फ़ उसकी कही हुई बातें याद आती हैं|

खैर, उस छोटे से बच्चे से से मैने उसका नाम, उसके गाँव का नाम पूछा|
क्यूँ आ गये घर छोड़के? मैने कहा उससे
घर वालों ने भेज दिया, मैने टेस्ट दिया था, टेस्ट निकल गया, मैं इधर आ गया| पहले स्कूल से घर आकर खेत में काम करता था, अब फूटबाल खेलता हूँ इधर|
अच्छा लगता है इधर?
हाँ, बहुत अच्छा| सिर्फ़ अपना काम करो, कोई भैंस नहीं, कोई खेत नहीं, अपना खाओ, अपना खेलो, अपना पढ़ो| हिन्दी बोलना सीख रहा हूँ, वहाँ गाँव में सब पहाड़ी बोलते थे, मास्टर भी और बच्चे भी, यहाँ तो लोगों को अँग्रेज़ी भी आती है|
बच्चा काफ़ी एनर्जेटिक था और वो अभी तक मुझे अपना टीचर ही समझ रहा था| इतनी छोटी उमर में, इतने कॉन्फिडेन्स से, मैं हिन्दी बोलना सीख रहा हूँ,ऐसा कहते हुए मैने कभी किसी को नहीं सुना|
कौन सी क्लास में पढ़ते हो?
खाना कैसा लगता है इधर का?
खाना अच्छा है यहाँ, वहाँ गाँव में खाना ठीक नहीं बनता, मेरी मा नहीं है, दादी बनाती है खाना, दिखता नहीं है दादी को, यहाँ खाना अच्छा है|

अक्सर लोगों को
मेस का खाना पसंद नहीं आता, और ये बच्चा काफी खुश था क्यूंकि  सब लोग सिर्फ स्वाद के लिए नहीं   खाते |
क्या बनोगे बड़े होकर? मैने यूँ ही पूछ लिया|
इंजिनियर बनूंगा, यहाँ हमीरपुर में बहुत बड़ा कॉलेज है, वहाँ जाऊँगा|
सिर्फ़ इंजिनियर ही क्यूँ बनोगे?
क्यूंकी इंजिनियर गाड़ी बनाता है, मुझे भी गाड़ी बनानी है|
आप हमें पढ़ाने के लिए आए हो?
नहीं. ऐसे ही आया हूँ| किसीसे मिलने|

थोड़ा मायूस होके वो बच्चा अपनी प्लेट उठाके चला गया अपने होस्टेल की तरफ, लाइन में सबसे पीछे खड़ा होके| एक मुलाकात में सातवीं का बच्चा किसी अजनबी के साथ इतना खुल के बात करेगा, मैने सोचा नहीं था|

यही एनर्जी उसकी इंजिनियरिंग तक जाते जाते मेनटेन रहेगी? क्या इंजिनियरिंग उसकी एनर्जी को सही दिशा में ले जाएगी? और सबसे बड़ी बात, क्या उसको एक ऐसा टीचर मिलेगा जो उसको बातें सुने समझे, ना की सिर्फ़ उसे इंजिनियरिंग ही पढ़ाए? 

 इस सवाल का जवाब ना हो, ऐसा ज़रूरी नहीं है, पर फिर भी जब डर इंसान के अंदर बैठ जाता है, तो डर के आगे जीत नहीं होती है, डर के आगे हमेशा अविश्वास और कमज़ोरी होती है|
काश मैं भी उस बच्चे की तरह निडर होता और उम्मीद रख पाता की हाँ उसकी इंजिनियरिंग उससे सही में गाड़ी बनवा देगी|

पार्ट टू - One Day in the Life of a Navodya Teacher

Monday, August 8, 2011

For the Sake Of Love

He looked at his collection, the proud collection. It looked like a mini book store, all the books sacked neatly in his newly rented apartment, in a room that was exclusively meant for his books. He could have managed with a 2BHK as well, but he decided to rent a 3BHK instead, for unknown reasons. And today when he stood smiling outside the room, looking at his book collection, his wife also felt happy for him.

She argued with him, “Why do we need a 3BHK?”
“Just in case.” was his reply. And that was all, argument over. 

Unlike his bachelor days, the books were not eating dust after his marriage. They were not piled randomly over one another. And marriage brings order into life, sometimes [mental] disorder too, but his was a lucky, made-in-heavens case.

His college friends saw him changing drastically after college. He was not a very smart guy, he was just an average guy roaming here and there in the campus and trying to pass his time. Of all the things, he was never into the books, non-academic books in particular. Four months out of his college and he was talking about the Fountainheads and the Animal Farms written by some of the greatest literary masters. 

His friend asked him, “Why this sudden change? Why into books and literature all of a sudden?”
And he replied, “I find them interesting. The stories fascinate me.” And while he spoke his eyes shone.
“Come on, don’t act smart. Tell me you are preparing for CAT or planning to go overseas for MS?” said his friend.
And the glittering effect disappeared from his eyes. Although he could have managed by letting his friend know about his new found joy, his new passion for reading, but it just saddened him. 

His reading books had nothing to do with further studies to cram words, which he would never use. He had explained his love for books to so many people who always questioned his passion, as if it was a top secret Mission to Pakistan and he was a bollywood hero trying to protect his motherland. He did not expect this question from his friend but the unexpected had just happened. 

Just doing your job would not make you happy. The system that has educated us, somehow doesn’t allow us to be in the right job in the right time. But giving up at an age of 25-26 is not the solution. So, he applied his mind and invented a formula, The Horizontal Flip. Keep trying new things, new events and one fine day when you realize that one of the horizontal events is your calling, climb down, deep down into it. Just go as deep as you can. 

This was his philosophy, and it made perfect sense to me. If we think that the system is wrong, and we know it cannot be changed and we also know that an individual needs to be changed before changing the system, then why not be that individual yourself. What is the big deal about being a changed individual? I don’t like my job, so I will do something else; try out something else to make me happy. 

He would often explain this to his friends, parents and wife of course.
One fine day, he was watching Forrest Gump and Tom Hanks impressed him so much that very next morning, he started running. Not because he was fat, not because he wanted to look good, after all good and bad are in mind, in your mind – in my mind, not because he wanted to prove something. He started running because he wanted to run. To feel what Tom Hanks had felt and o feel what Forrest had felt when he was running through the pages of the book for the first time. 

And again he was asked the same question; you want to lose weight, isn’t it?
He passed a smile and said,”OK”

And then he moved on to cycling, with a harmonica and a guitar. With the horizontal flip playing in his mind.
I am not sure if he will ever find his vertical dip. But I am sure that every horizontal flip of his will make him happier. Excited for tomorrow and happy for today.

That’s  what we live for.
That’s what every religion and every country wants.
A happy today and an excited tomorrow. 

Sometimes it is better to leave behind the reasons. Career, money, , profit, loss, sometimes these things should not exist.
Sometimes, there should be just pure doing. 

I do it because I am free.| Free to do. Free to act. Free to live.