Monday, September 26, 2011

A walk in the clouds - a trek to Lonavla

In July at the height of the monsoons, a few of us from KF went on a trek to Tikona fort, near the Pawna dam, Lonavla. They say the fort dates back to the early 1500s and is located at a height of approximately 3500 ft above sea level. The trek started at the village of Tikona Peth. We walked through cloying red mud for quite a distance before we actually came to firm ground. Thereafter it was quite an easy trek up to the fort which was typical Maratha in style. The best part of the trek was walking in the rain with gentle clouds swirling all around us. It was absolutely heavenly.

The cloying mud which sucked off at least 4 soles!

The ancient grinder

A walk in the clouds

The reservoir

One of the darwazas

Awesome views

The actual fun part of the trek started on the way down when we decided to take the road less travelled. Later we realised that we were the only brave ones who had even attempted that particular route in the monsoons. The path was narrow, steep, slippery, treacherous and at one point disappeared from view. It took all of our resourcefulness, courage and strength to get us down especially when some of our colleagues were genuinely frightened. But slowly and surely, we finally reached the base and made our way to little hut where we washed our dirty feet and changed into dry clothes. We also had a simple village meal.

Exhausted, we boarded the bus for the return journey to Bombay but to our good fortune, the bus broke down. We then shared our experiences which was very enlightening. Some of the insights:
  • We started off as strangers and ended the trek as friends.
    Teamwork saw us through the difficult parts of the trek.
  • Eco conservation was of prime importance with all of us carrying our rubbish back downhill.
  • There is no heirarchy on a trip like this. Great for breaking the ice amongst work groups.
  • Talent amongst us was in abundance.
  • There were quite a few who were natural leaders and we were pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A trek to Matheran

Walking is therapeutic, especially when it is outside Bombay, amidst nature. Our trek began at the Karjat junction. We, 19 happy trekkers guided by Chandan, walked through a village and then up a tiny hill which brought us to a beautiful serene lake. There was no one in sight except for a few villagers. The lake itself reminded me of the fjords of Norway.

The trek itself was graded as "difficult" and had 3 stages. The sun was quite intense to begin with and we were all drained out before we had even reached the second stage. Just when we were beginning to wonder if we would make it through, the sun disappeared, the temperature dropped and the weather became much more bearable. The second stage began at the base of another village where I doubt there was even electricity! Amazing to think that we were just a few hours away from the big metropolis of Bombay and even closer to Matheran which is prominent hill station, yet the abject poverty right at their doorsteps.

Anyway, we had all run out of water by then and there were no shops at the village. We had to refill our bottles at the stream that flowed from a well. All of us (city dwellers) were concerned about the quality of the water but took the chance and drank deeply. We refilled our bottles as for the next 5 hours we were not going to come across any shops! Still living to tell the tale. :)

The second stage was the longest and a bit difficult but the reward at the end of it was supreme bliss. The meadow was absolutely beautiful - a sea of bright green with a little bit of yellow from the wild flowers and hills all around. In the distance we saw some lakes and the entire scenery was pretty peaceful, relaxing and destressing.

Finally, we climbed the 3rd stage which was the steepest and the riskiest. We had to literally climb rocks whilst gripping the ones above. The path was very narrow and we were forewarned if there was strong wind to just stay in place rather than move. Everyone made it up safely and then we took "Titanic" style pictures at the edge of the Garbut Point. From there it was a good hour and a half walk to where the lunch was served. Imagine us, hungry trekkers, having lunch at half past 6 in the evening. We were all exhausted but still able to protect our food from the naughty monkeys around.

Some of the things I learned on the trek:
  • We are as strong as our weakest link. True teamwork got us through this tough trek.
  • The power of the mind is incredible. One of our team was not keeping too well and had the choice to quit the trek at the first stage but he opted to go for it and he made it!!
  • God's creation is absolutely wonderful and cannot be replicated. A few hours out of Bombay and we had a gorgeous place to destress. Further, it was so beautiful and serene, it kind of reminded me of Norway at one stage.
  • We are truly privileged to lead the lives we do. We came across some villages where there may or may not have been electricity. We were struggling on the trek but that is the route used by the villagers in their daily lives. We even came across a pregnant woman walking up and down the hill with a load on her head!!
  • Life is actually simple. We make it complicated.
Some trivia about Matheran:
  • Matheran is in the Western Ghats, 90 kms away from Mumbai and 120 kms away from Pune.
  • The British discovered it in 1850 and developed it as a hill station.
  • It is 2625 kms above sea level and has panoramic views and breathtaking charm.
  • The roads/paths are made of red laterite earth and there are no paved roads in Matheran.
  • Beyond Dasturi which is 9 kms from Matheran, no vehicles are allowed. So you have to actually walk or hire a horse or be carried up.
  • There is a narrow gauge railway line that connects Neral to Matheran.

Fjords in Matheran!

Pretty streams added to the beauty.

I love the rice terraces.

Absolutely gorgeous views of the lake.

The wild flowers gave a different perspective.

The beautiful meadow.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two life altering experiences.........

Recently, there were 2 events that took place that made me sit up and re-evaluate my life. The first one occurred about 3 weeks ago, when my colleague Rubi and her husband Ved were on their morning walk in the park and a coconut tree fell on Ved and injured him so badly that he passed away due to internal injuries. The second incident occurred last week when my colleague and dearest friend Ron was injured in the Delhi bomb blasts.

Life truly is so unpredictable. Ved was only 42 years old and had a very promising career and life ahead of him. It was rudely snatched away from him one fine morning and left in its wake a devastated family including 2 small kids. I cannot imagine what they must be going through - shock, sorrow, disbelief, trauma. So many things unsaid, so many feelings left unexpressed, so many moments unlived and so many dreams shattered.

We do take life for granted. Ved was on his morning walk and met his untimely end. Ron was at a routine court event and ended up in hospital. We are very lucky to have him still alive. At this moment, he is still in hospital recovering from serious injuries and is being kept isolated. But he is alive! We have another chance to tell him how much we care about him, to laugh with him, to share in his jokes and to just have him in our lives.

Life is short. We have to make the most of it. We have to love a lot, laugh a lot and live life kingsize.

About a couple of months ago at one of our impromptu TCs.

I will never forget this birthday of his - we had an ATR that skidded off the runway at BOM.

With Smita and Myself outside Mahesh.

Maldives - the pearl of the Indian Ocean

What can one say when one is asked to make a business trip to the Maldives? I was excited yet a bit annoyed as I had made alternate plans to go elsewhere. Nevertheless as is my nature, I tried to make the best of the situation and I can honestly say that I had a great time.

As you approach the Airport Island, you notice that besides the functional buildings related to the airport, there is nothing else on it. You also notice that the water is a distinct blue and blue being my favourite colour, made me feel immensely better about the trip. Once you land, you realise that what you saw from the air is exactly what it is on land. Nothing but the airport terminals and related infrastructure. Then you notice the jetty with the various boats and speedboats and people heading towards them. Well, the Maldives has a very simple concept - 1 island, 1 resort and in addition there is Male, the capital, on its own island and the airport on its own.

The Maldives is made up of about 1200 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls and spread over 90000 kms. What strikes you most is the colour of the water - it is very blue, the reefs are turquoise and the beaches are sandy white. All this coupled with the beautiful sunny skies and balmy breezes makes for a very relaxing time.

After my meetings on the airport island, I headed to the Kurumba resort which is 15 mins away by speedboat. My room was absolutely gorgeous and it opened out onto the beach. I took advantage of the little spare time I had to relax on the beach chairs and dream away. If I had more time, I would have taken up the activities on offer at the resort - snorkelling, exploring the reefs around the resort, jet skiing, etc. But since I had a couple of hours before my dinner meeting, I just lazed on the beach chair enjoying the soothing breeze, the calming sound of the waves and the quiet solitude.

Even though it was a business trip, I managed to make the most of the time I had there and came away destressed and happy.

The speedboats that ferry you to the island resorts.


My stretch of the beach.

A romantic dinner would be lovely.

I love the interiors of the resort.

Absolutely serene.

Even in the day, it is romantic.

The harbour in Male.

The Male skyline.

A relaxing evening by the canal in Muiden

Post the KLM Golf Open, Pieter Elbers invited Raj and myself along with Paul for an early dinner. Knowing Pieter, he always takes us to unique places with awesome food. Yet again, he did not fail to deliver.

Dinner was at a quaint restaurant in Muiden which is famous for its fortress. I am given to understand that the Muiden castle dates to the 13th century and is one of the most visited sites in the Netherlands. It was built to protect the trade routes and possibly also to collect the toll. Unfortunately, we saw the castle from a distance and didn't have the time to visit it. Another reason for me to return. ;)

The restaurant was by the canal on the river Vecht and during the course of the evening we observed the boats passing through the lochs. Very interesting to see the road shift to one side to let the boats pass. The food was outstanding with very fresh North Sea Sole, scallops and prawns.

The view from the restaurant.

You can see how narrow the canals are.

Observe the road shifting to let the boat pass through!

The very fresh scallops and prawns with salad.

The North Sea sole off the bone. :)

The delightful company - Pieter, Raj, Paul and myself.

The river Vecht which runs through Muiden.

The vibrant sunflowers all over the place.
Instantly makes you feel happy.

The KLM Golf Open 2011

We were given a choice for the meeting with KLM at their headquarters early in the morning or later in the day at the KLM Golf Open at Hilversum. And I am sure you guessed what was our choice!

Raj and I were duly picked up from our hotel by Paul from the KLM Alliances team and off we drove to Hilversum for the event. It was about an hour's drive from Amsterdam through pretty much flat country which had a lot of sheep farms. It was a refreshing change from our busy, crowded city of Bombay.

The weather was a bit overcast and it drizzled a bit but as usual I think I took a little of the Indian Summer with me. For most parts of the afternoon, the sky was clear and the rain even stopped. It would have been a perfect day if there was a bit more sun. But then am not complaining cos I had a very nice time listening to the music from the Arrow tent, sipping on some lovely white wine, eating some delicious food and conversing with various airline people especially my dear friend Pieter Elbers who is now COO of KLM. Of course we tried to watch a bit of golf but then neither am I enthusiastic about the game nor do I understand it, so after a while I gave up. However as it is with most of these events, there is plenty to keep you occupied. The big tent called the Village had quite a few exhibition booths showcasing lifestyle products, golf fashion, golf vacations, food and drinks.

The bicycles are never far away!

I should have opted for the free golf lessons!

KLM trying to embarrass Raj into committing to Skyteam!

The actual tournament which was completely forgotten!

Don't miss the KAPUR in the leader's list.
I counted 3 Indians on the board.