Food for Comfort

So finally after months of planning and putting the plans into action, the adventure is over and we all are back home. Most of us are either re-living the adventure or suffering from some of the effects. I have the pleasure of having both my hands in slings each night owing to some nerve damage to my wrists because of constant vibrations and pressure from handling the bike. Losing the dexterity of your hands is no fun and can lead to some awkward situations, but that’s not what I am going to blog about.

It is beyond doubt that most of us participated in a once in a lifetime adventure. I can confidently say that on this occasion the journey surpassed the destination, which considering the natural beauty of the region is no small thing. I will leave it for my fellow riders to describe about our journey and the places that we travelled through. I, on the other hand, would like to present a series of stories of my observations and experiences along the way as side dishes to the main course.

It’s said that the quickest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, which probably also means that a satisfied stomach gives you comfort and security.  Whether we deliberately seek for this satisfaction or sub-consciously adopt our behaviour, we often fall back on this approach when in an unfamiliar place.

Two of us, Kalpesh and I, arrived in Chandigarh (our base camp) by separate flights a day before the other two Goondas arrived from US. Chandigarh is a modern city laid out along grid pattern which is different from many of the other major Indian cities.  Having checked in a nice comfortable hotel (a little luxury is allowed) we then try to figure out what to do.  Even though Chandigarh is a relatively green city, considering the outside temperature of 36*C I doubt if anyone would be mad enough to do some sightseeing.  So instead we decided to explore the surrounding area for something decent to eat while taking a stroll in the midday sun. After just walking for few hundred meters it would have been difficult to distinguish if we were sweating or if we had emerged straight from a shower.

Asking around for directions and some false calls, we end up in a huge shopping mall. The comfort of being an air-conditioned environment was too tempting to even consider any other alternatives. Once inside after going through the airport style security, it very soon becomes apparent that even though we may be India, most the stores in there are familiar names from back home, including the eternal symbol of British shopping centre – Marks & Spencer.

Anyway, the hunger starts imposing itself and we make our way towards the Food Court on the top floor. With the choice of restaurants and eateries we are walking around in circles, looking at menus and wondering what we should eat. We do a couple of rounds but keep returning to the same place, and ultimately decide that’s where we are going to eat. The Mall had some tantalising and mouth-watering places to eat, but like I mentioned earlier, when we are in a unfamiliar place we tend to opt for something familiar and comforting, and that is exactly what we did.

WE WALKED INTO PIZZA HUT.

All the spicy aromas and intriguing dishes failed to tempt us against the simple thing that reminded us a bit of home. And to follow it up, the next day when the other two joined us, we ended up in NANDOS for a Peri-Peri Chicken. So much for the adventure and trying on new challenges.

A final note on wildlife conservation

Before I move on to writing about our bike ride to Ladakh, I would like to narrate an incident that happened while I was in Ranthambhore and the aftermath on social media.

Access to the main tourism sector of Ranthambhore Park is through a single road from Sawai Madhopur town, which is about 11 kms away.  There are three gates – first one for registering the vehicle, second gate for access to three safari routes, and the third gate for access to the remaining two safari routes.  Each safari vehicle is allocated a specific route and it very much depends on your luck on what route you get and what wildlife you encounter.  The third gate is also the destination for pilgrims coming to pay respects at the highly revered age old Lord Ganesh temple on the Fort.  While the road falls within the park boundary and is controlled by the Park Authorities, it is open and accessed by anyone who needs to be there.

On Sunday, 28 June, a tigress was found walking along the road between the first and second gates.  This happened just towards the end of the morning safari.  Tiger sightings in the park during this period had been difficult, primarily due to onset of the Monsoon.  Anyway, the jungle drums work surprisingly quick and the news of a tigress sitting by roadside travels very fast.  A mighty rush of vehicles begins towards the exit from all different routes and heading towards the tigress on the roadside.  In addition, the pilgrims to the Temple also decided to make the most of the free wildlife show.  The result is a chaos and traffic jam that would only be encountered at peak hours in any major metropolis.  The forest department officials and guards get into the act fairly quickly in the attempt to manage the situation and get the traffic moving.  There’s equal amount of swearing, threats and cajoling to get the vehicles moving, but with very little impact.  Cars would go forward to appease the forest officials, travel about 100 metres and then turnaround to join the queue going other way.

Looking at the chaos and the madness on the road, I wondered if we were watching the tiger or if it was the other way round – the tigress sitting to watch a human circus.  😀 😀 😀  Anyway the mess is gradually cleared and the vehicles are forced to leave one after other.

The next day, some bright spark posts photographs of the scene on Facebook and asks people to boycott Ranthambhore due to forest department holding ‘tiger shows’ that cause cruelty to the tigers and failure to ensure that tourists remain in the allocated zones. 😀 😀  There’s number of other silly stuff added by this person and others in response which makes you wonder how their brains work.

With advent of social media, Facebook in particular, everyone is now an expert on every subject on this planet.  The person (I do feel like calling him a particular name but will resist for sake of decency) who called for boycott of the park does not even have a clue where the route system begins and ends.   He seems to be blaming the forest department for allowing such a show, but was himself there trying to get a picture of the tigress.  I wonder what the forest staff should do.  May be they should drag the tigress back to its allocated area holding by its ears or as part of positive action, may be educate the tigress that it should not come outside of the allocated tourist route.  😀 😀 😀

While the number of local visitors to wildlife reserves have increased tremendously, during the last week I have also seen many nutters and people with dangerously misconceived ideas.  Some of these are also tomorrows leaders in one or another sector, and through the social media, they can cause some serious damage to future prospects of viable and sustainable wildlife.

The base for Ganesh Temple pilgrims (at Gate 3)

The base for Ganesh Temple pilgrims (at Gate 3)

End of first phase and End of season – Follow up

I am writing this post in the train on my way from Sawai Madhopur to Mumbai, and so my trip to Ranthambhore comes to an end.  As always I leave Ranthambhore adding to some fantastic memories and the feeling that I am leaving a place that is part of me even though I have no real links to it.

While I have no historical, family or any direct links to the place, the people there seem to make me feel that I am part of their family.  The people where I normally stay while in Ranthambhore, The Ranthambhore Bagh, seem to be aware of my smallest of likes.  For example, as soon as I went for a meal on first day, Ram Singh, the person looking after the guests in the dining room asked if I would prefer to have ‘Chaash’ or Buttermilk.  He seemed to remember this from my previous visits, the last of which was three years ago.  The same thing applied to my fellow companion on this part of the trip, Suhas.  It’s not that Ranthambhore Bagh sees only few visitors / tourists…it is packed most of the year with dedicated wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and tourists from all around the world.

You may have noticed that I do not refer to the people at Ranthambhore Bagh as ‘staff’, this is because I have always felt that they are all a family.  They welcome and treat you as part of that same family.  Poonam and Aditya Singh, who run the place, have made it a home away from home, and I am fairly certain, every visitor to Ranthambhore Bagh goes away with that feeling.  It’s not a fancy resort or luxurious hotel, but you feel relaxed and comfortable when you are there.   You also return from there creating new friends and contacts.  The feeling that you often get in some big hotels about being isolated and lonely if you are not with your family does not exist at Ranthambhore Bagh.

It would seem that I am writing a publicity blog or review for Ranthambhore Bagh which is not the case.  I doubt that that they need any such publicity either.  However, the biggest bonus of being at this place is learning and sharing the experiences from the people there.  Aditya, or Dicky as most people call him, is an exceptional photographer and has excellent knowledge about wildlife.  You always come back having learned something to enhance your knowledge or skills.  Just a simple chat during evening dinner during this trip turned one whole principle of my photography knowledge upside down from what I had adopted since the time my father gave me a camera some 30 odd years ago.   And now I go back with a complete different perspective about photography.  Whether that improves my picture quality only time will tell.

Anyway, the final day circus that I referred to in my previous blog turned out to be an even better spectacle than I could have imagined.  The final afternoon safari would have included no less than 60-70 vehicles going into the forest, with many of them being non-fee paying VIPs.  Earlier during the morning safari a couple of vehicles had seen a male tiger going towards an old hunting lodge in the middle of a Rajbagh Lake.  This meant that most of the vehicles in the afternoon, particularly the VIPs, were around that area hoping for some sighting of the tiger.  We too had been allocated the same route (Ranthambhore has a compulsory route system for tourists).  While I prefer avoiding areas where there are too many vehicles chasing an animal, I have always wanted a picture of a tiger appearing through one of the window of the hunting lodge, and so told our driver to hang around.  Everyone was waiting with great expectation that the tiger will come out from his resting area in the evening, which usually would be around 5.30–6.00pm.   Fortunately or unfortunately, you can take your pick, nature had something else in mind.  Just around 5.15pm the skies changed colour to menacing grey within few minutes.  The lake and the surrounding forest looked completely different, something that I had never witnessed in all these years at Ranthambhore.  Initially strong winds started pushing dark low clouds over the forest and then heavens opened up in what can only be described as a torrent of rain.  There was a mad rush of vehicles towards the park gate for shelter.  The sight of serious photographers trying to protect their gear, tourists and VIPs trying to huddle together to protect from rain and wind was quite fascinating.   In the end, the tiger and nature had their own way to deal with the mass invasion and disruption of privacy.

So while I did not get a chance to see a tiger during my last safari in Ranthambhore during this trip, I had an opportunity to view a magical sight of monsoon clouds which I share in form of a short video.

The old hunting lodge at Rajbaug Lake.

  The old hunting lodge at Rajbaug Lake.

End of first phase and End of season

How time flies when you are having fun or working hard to achieve something.  In my case it’s both the things…hard work in the hot and humid weather trying to locate tigers and having fun in doing so.  It’s almost a week since I left home and am now sitting to write this blog on what is my last night at Ranthambhore on this trip.

Tomorrow after the evening safari, I make my way towards Mumbai for a short visit and then on to the next part of the adventure, while Ranthambhore closes down for three months due to the monsoon rains.  Normally in this part of India the monsoon rains come around 2nd week of July, and therefore the Park shuts down from 1st July.  Unfortunately, the rain gods must have been looking at a wrong calendar and got the timing a bit wrong, as a result of which it has been raining almost every day since last week.

I would think this must have also caused confusion amongst the tigers and other animals.  😀 😀 😀  Since the rains generally follow the closure of the park, I would think that this time around because the rains came early, the animals must have thought it is holiday time for them.  😀 😀 😀  It has suddenly become very difficult to find any animal, and tiger in particular.   I suppose the park authorities should have communicated through an internal memo (the favourite tool of communications of the indian civil servants) to the animals that their holiday season has not started yet and they should report to work as usual.  :v  :v

Anyway, away from the light-hearted comments, I am really intrigued about what happens to the place and the community when one of the major source of employment closes down for some time.  When I first came to Ranthambhore around 1984, Sawai Madhopur was a small sleepy town with very few places to live and limited facilities to cater for tourists.  In the last 10-12 years, the town has expanded tremendously with countless hotels and safari vehicles.  I am fairly certain that Ranthambhore National Park has become the largest source of employment, either directly or indirectly.  On average a minimum of 30 – 35 cars, each carrying average 4 people, and 10 – 12 trucks modified to carry about 30 people into the park, enter Ranthambhore twice a day.   There are countless people employed by the Forest Department and the tourism sector that depend on these visitors for their livelihood.  Behind these people there also will be an average family of 3.5 people who indirectly depend for their survival and livelihood.  The question that springs in the mind is what happens to these people during the 3 months that the park is closed?  How do the majority survive without the regular income? What happens to the normal hustle and bustle of lifestyle in the town?  It’s an intriguing topic to research for someone who may be bored and have nothing to do. 😀 😀

It is difficult to imagine how a town full of hustle bustle of vehicles, people and the threat of wildlife at its doorway adapts to a sudden disappearance of all the tourists.  Having seen some of the tourists that visit Ranthambhore to see “anything”, I would have to admit that I would take a big sigh of relief for at least few months.  I am certain the tigers too will take a great big sigh of relief from constant intrusion in their lives.

With a number of animals having decided to take early vacation, I thought my last two safaris would be quiet and uneventful, however, that thought has well and truly been put to rest by the people where I stay.  It seems that being the last day of the season, every possible government servant, their families, friends of their in-laws or in-laws of their friends 😀 😀 will be seeking permission to go into the park.  Some will pay and go legally, while others will use all sorts of influence to get a free ride in the park.  Many of the staff from the local hotels will also take a ride to the park, which means it could be the busiest day of the season in the park.   And whenever that happens, a grant circus ensues.  I pity any tiger that might accidentally venture in the sight of a tourist vehicle tomorrow.

From my perspective, I think I may be photographing a human circus rather than some wildlife 😀 😀 😀  In the meantime enjoy the peace and serenity in the jungle this afternoon.

IMG_2970     IMG_0943

BIRDS – A MYSTERY OF EVOLUTION

Continuing with the theme of my previous post about word play, I pick up a somewhat similar issue that has often amused and confused me in equal proportions.

It is fairly common principle among Birds that a male of the species will be visually more vibrant or beautiful to look or will possess some characteristics which are more impressive, while the females will generally be dull or drab in appearance.  There are countless examples from large birds like Ostrich and Peacocks to smaller ones like Paradise Flycatchers and sunbirds.

From an evolutionary biology perspective this is to do with investing in continuation of the gene.   A male of the species puts lots of effort by either having stunning plumage, ability to build impressive nests, or perform some kind of song or dancing.  And all these are just to impress a female.  The theory behind such an approach is that by impressing the female using such measures, the male is able to attract a mate and thereby continue to spread his genes.  The female on the other hand, by assessing the efforts of various suitors, is able to select the best possible gene for her future generation.  So the sum of all these is that the offspring will have a better chances of survival and continuing the species.  While for obvious reasons that you will understand later I will focus on Birds, the same principle is also seen in number of Mammals, Reptiles, Fishes, etc.

Now, this is a theory that many scientists believe, and I don’t know if God or the Creator was studying genetic biology when he created these species.  However, something seems to have gone terribly wrong at some stage during evolution of life on the planet if you take into consideration the alternative and informal use of the term ‘bird’ in the modern English dictionary.  These days’ people commonly use the word ‘bird’ as an informal slang to identify a good looking young girl.  How the word ‘bird’ in slang terms relates to the actual meaning of the word still confuses me.  But then I should not be surprised if ‘wicked’ is used to signify something fantastic and ‘cool’ is used to mean something great.  😀  😀  😀

What is even more interesting to me in this case is how evolutionary trait or characteristics have deviated from the expected in case of humans.  While in case of birds, a male may invest in beautiful plumage or singing tone or ability to build some impressive nest, in case of the humans it may be better if it is unsaid. 😀  😀 😀

Instead of somewhat dull female birds, the female of human species invests all her efforts, and also some of her male partner or parent, in beautifying herself and her territory.  While in birds the effort of one partner to look impressive is to attract a good mate, in case of the human species the efforts continue even after a suitable mate is found and tied down with all possible might and guise.  😀 😀 😀

However, I cannot just be unfair to the human female.  The characteristics of the male human too are almost opposite to that in the rest of the animal kingdom.  Instead of impressive plumage and looks we have been provided with Beer-Bellies and Baldness; instead of nice singing tone we will generally respond in grunts; and, instead of building impressive nests the human male has mastered skills to delegate others to do his work.  So, in evolutionary terms, I fail to understand why god adopted change of approach….unless he got fed up of reading genetics and biology, in which case I don’t blame him (or is it her?). 😀 😀 😀

Please note that this is a work of fiction and no resemblance to any living person was intended.  If something seems familiar then please blame your genetic structure or consider reversing the evolutionary cycle and become an monkey (but then most of us do act like one). 😀  😀  😀

Thank you for reading and feel free to take a shot at anyone you like, including me. 😀 😀 😀IMG_2368 IMG_2761

‘Anything’ – a word with more than one meaning

Generally at home I get asked what I would prefer to have for lunch or dinner, and as usual, my answer would be “anything” or the equivalent in Gujarati.  While I am a food lover, like many men, I find it difficult to say at particular dish at that particular time.  And if by chance we actually indicate a particular dish, often the answer would be “kids don’t like it but if you want I will prepare it for you”. 😀 😀  Unfortunately, as soon as the word “anything” is uttered there generally is a rapid barrage from the ladies about how unhelpful we men are.  These is a very regular occurrence in my house and I am fairly certain it applies to many other men.

Now many of you reading this blog will wonder what does this have to do with what I am doing currently.  The answer lies in the use of the term “anything”.  In the above situation the use of the word is actually meant to indicate that we are fine with whatever is given to us.  We appreciate all things we are fed and if ever we feel like having something then we will say it wholeheartedly and without any hesitation.  However, here in Ranthambhore (and in most of the other places where wildlife tourism is prevalent) there is a complete different meaning to the term “anything”.

I feel that for various reasons wildlife tourism has picked up tremendously during the last 10-12 years in India.   People carry fancy cameras and long big lenses looking like loud-hailers, and seem to be competing on who’s got the biggest.  I have seen some who do not even know how to use their camera.  And then there are those who want to photograph a wildlife action sequence but do not have even a basic knowledge about wildlife.

Tracking a tiger is a skill which involves using means like listening for ‘alarm calls’ of other animals, looking for ‘pug marks’ or footprints, or if nothing helps then knowing which gods to pray to.  😀 😀 😀   So it is customary to ask any other vehicle you encounter if they have any news or reports of animal movement.  One question that is repeated million times is “seen anything?” or in hindi “kuch dekha?”   Now for any person outside of these environment that would be a very simple question…however life in the jungle is never simple (though we claim otherwise).

For example, during a ride in the forest this morning we came across two peacocks fighting.  They would square each other exactly like two boxers in a ring.  Each one would try to move around the other and then leap in the air to deliver a blow on the opponent from the top.  This continued for a good 10-12 minutes, and in my 30 years of watching Indian wildlife I never had seen this, so it was very exciting find for me.  When I described this to a couple of people who asked “did you see anything?” the look they had on their face seemed to say “this guy is mad” (though they could be right in their assessment 😀 )

 

It appears in context of places like Ranthambhore, “Anything” does not mean anything. 😀 😀   In the pursuit of hunting the hunter, “anything” means Tiger only.  For majority of tourists coming here, including those with ‘bigger than yours’ cameras, anything else does not constitute wildlife.  They seem to have a perception that we only look at the top…which in this case is the tiger as it sits at the apex of the ecosystem.

So now if any of you go to a tiger reserve in India and you are asked “did you see anything?” please do not open your inventory list 😀 😀  Just stick to whether you have seen a tiger or not.  I wonder if it was possible to transfer the same approach to the domestic front!!!  But I can already sense half the ladies ready to pounce with another barrage of words, so will leave it here. 😀 😀 😀

Tomorrow’s another day and hope I see “Anything”.   😀

IMG_2752

Planning done and on the way – Part II

I carry on from the previous blog about the journey to India and as usual, India delivers the unexpected.  While everything about Qatar Airways was nice and friendly, the flight from Doha was filled up by no less than 60-70 school kids either returning home from holiday trip or going on school trip.  And while they were fairly well behaved (as compared to probably what we all were during school trips) there was no chance of snatching some vital sleep on the flight to Delhi.

I land at Delhi around 3 O’clock in the morning without any sleep and feeling grumpy (nothing new, many would say).  I was also anticipating a lot of chaos and headache as a result of the gear that I was carrying with me, and that the authorities here have a particular dislike for British nationals.  😀  😀   Anyway, Delhi Airport turns out to be totally unexpected.  I have clear run through Immigration without a question being asked, my bags are delivered promptly, not stopped at customs and on to a pre-paid cab to the Railway Station for train to Ranthambhore (actually, Sawai Madhopur town to be precise).

So, I am thinking everything seems to have changed and it’s all looking good, until India decides to throw in the second unexpected.  First the rain gods decide that they need to bless properly my arrival and so the skies open up with a massive rain shower.  Then at the station there’s no proper waiting room open to allow for some rest while I wait for a train that is scheduled 4.30 hours later. Anyway, I find a waiting room which says “Air-conditioned” but is hot and stuffier than the weather outside.  And it has the smell (don’t ask to describe please) and noise of a typical Indian railway station.

Waiting at a Railway Station in India is one of the best ways to watch the Indian society and people at their best.   You soon start noticing some real characters and even become part of it.  First of all, even though the earliest train arriving or departing is an hour later, the tannoy keeps repeatedly announcing every 3 minutes that the train number blah blah going to blah blah is on time. 🙁 🙁  I doubt if there are any passengers even waiting for it.  Then you have an Attendant of the Waiting Room who seem to have mastered the art of making himself busy and vital.  He walks to one end of the Waiting Room, uses his long handled brush to push one piece of rubbish to another corner.  He then goes back to the previous corner and pushes another piece of rubbish to the same corner where he pushed the first piece.  He then returns the third time to find another piece of rubbish and does the whole process again.  The cycle continues all around the room, after which he takes about 10 minute break and then starts all over again.  I thought this was a wonderful idea that rest of the world could take to keep people in employment. 😀 😀

Then there are fellow travellers like the one who must have come into the Waiting Room while I dozed off, shook me by my head, told me to keep an eye on his luggage and disappeared to the bathroom across to brush his teeth.  I didn’t even get a chance to say yes or no.  At this stage, noticing my my exasperated look a family sitting next to me decide to intervene.  They feel that I needed some perking up and so insist that I share some of their breakfast.  It did not matter how many times I refused because ultimately they made sure that I took a bite from their food.  It was a very nice and touching thing to do but at that moment I was just not interested in food.  All I wanted was sleep. 🙁

Anyway, I ultimately board the train and think that I will have a nice nap during the 5 hour journey.  However, I had not calculated on more characters among my fellow travellers again.  This time it’s a family of 4 who are sharing the same compartment as me and another man.  It’s still very early morning and both, me and the other man, looked like we wanted to sleep.  However, the family of four includes a 2-3 year old “brat” who decides it time to play and sing songs.  So while I am trying to get sleep, the young maestro is screaming all the latest Bollywood hits in a voice that could attract few asses.  If that’s not bad, the mother in even louder and shrilly voice than him, keeps shouting every few minutes to  be quiet because the “uncle wants to sleep”.  🙁 🙁   I honestly did not know who was worse…the brat or the mother, but I wish capital punishment was legal. 😀 😀   Anyway, so again there was no sleep.  Then looking at my miserable and grumpy, which those who know me will say is my normal face, the train attendant comes and gives me a book titled “Chanakyaniti” to read. 😀 😀 😀  To those who are not familiar with Indian history, Chanakya was a very wise and astute political and economic advisor to one of the great rulers during ancient India.  He wrote a whole volume on principles of economics, public management and good governance.   Anyway, not to be rude, I politely tell the attendant that I cannot read as I don’t have my reading glasses.  To my amazement he goes a gets a pair of reading glasses and insists that I read the booklet.

So all in all it has been an amazing experience.  Anyway I ultimately reach the place that I normally stay at Ranthambhore, have a nice light lunch.  Those who know Rajasthani culture and hospitality will realise that ‘light’ is not a term that can be readily associated with its food, but I still manage it.  And then I am told that an afternoon safari has been scheduled for me.  Suddenly all the sleep and tiredness disappears and I am off the forest, and what an afternoon ride – three different tigers and a leopard sighting.  Couldn’t have asked for any better ending to my travel from London to India.

Images below of a female and male tiger sighted on my first safari:

IMG_2522

 

IMG_2624

 

Planning done and on the way

After more than 6-8 months of talking and planning (I have even lost track of when we started to think about doing the ride) I finally move to the next phase – action.  I am now sitting in the waiting area at Heathrow Airport awaiting to board the Qatar Airways flight to Doha and then onwards to Delhi, and funny enough, all the excitement that was there a few days ago appears to have left me.  I guess the adrenaline has run out for the moment after the stress of my last minute packing and checking in.

Revisiting my first blog about preparation, I now find it funny how after all those chats and discussions about what to take and not take, I actually packed my stuff about 8 hours before the flight.  And then comes the realisation that all that was recommended cannot fit into a baggage limit of 30kgs.  I wonder if any of the airline executives have ever packed their own bags and travelled on awpid-20150621_184028.jpg trip covering two different climate conditions.  The decision on what to take and what to exclude took about couple of hours and involved complete unpacking and repacking at least twice. Goondas be warned. 😀

Anyway, managed to get it down to few kilos (5kgs) more than the limit, and the nice chap at the Check-in counter did not make too much of fuss.  But then he sees my camera bag and asks me to put that on the scale …. 17 kgs.  My first thought was WOW…I carry that on my shoulders all the time. 😀  Then the nice chap suggests I include that in checked-in luggage and we start a long discussion about guarantee that my camera gear will not be damaged..blah blah blah.   Ultimately, he gets fed up with me and lets me carry on (Now that is an achievement) 😀

Next challenge…getting through the security.  Normally I always get picked at security due to my trekking boots which are Steel-toed.  To avoid any unnecessary attention on this trip I decided to leave the boots home and instead took a pair of normal Trainers.  The Airport Security must have thought we cannot allow Nimish’s journey to be less stressful….so instead they decide to strip search the whole 17kg camera bag.  Every camera body, lens, battery, memory card, you name it, was individually inspected, swabbed and scanned.  A normal 2-3 minute passage through security took precisely 40 minutes, albeit with a smiling face.  However I am not sure if the security lady was genuinely being pleasant or was enjoying my plight, but may be next time I should drive to wherever around the world I want to visit.  😀 😀 😀

Anyway, all done now until I reach the chaos at Delhi, which I am sure will be another story to tell.  Till then time to put feet up and enjoy the airline hospitality (I hope). 😀  😀

 

Nostalgia – Down the memory lane

I have just heard that we have recruited another ‘goonda’ to join our ride, and that prompted me to write something about my fellow riders and something about our history together.

With regards to the person joining us, rest of us would add the term ‘bhai’ after his name when addressing him.  For any non-Indians reading this blog, ‘bhai’ means ‘brother’ and is generally used as a mark of respect to someone older than you.  In this case the new rider is an older sibling of one of us.  However, in the context of this group, the connotation of the word ‘bhai’ throws a very different meaning.  Considering we identified ourselves as ‘goondas’ (albeit posh ones), in Mumbai’s street language the term ‘bhai’ means the big boss of ‘goondas’.  😀 😀  How very apt – we do seem to be transforming in to a structure goonda gang with Jatin’s elder brother, Kalpesh’bhai’ joining us.

Jatin, Rakesh and my association began when we all joined Vidyakunj School in Baroda, India some 36-37 years ago.  We all came from East Africa (Jatin from Kenya, Rakesh and I from Tanzania) and like most of the East African Asians who moved their children to India following the expulsion of Asians in Uganda, we too ended up in Baroda and at Vidyakunj School.  At the time, that was kind of de facto school for african asian brats. 😀  We all travelled to and from the school (in school bus first and then bicycles as we grew up ), studied in the same class all the way till class 12,  and as a result of staying in the same locality, played and spent our leisure time together.  Though we went separate ways once we joined universities, our interaction and friendship continued in one manner or other till to-date.

 

Memory Lanes | which keeps us grounded

However, rather strangely, my first contact with anyone among the Posh Goondas was with the fourth member of our riding group, Kalpeshbhai.  When we moved to India from Tanzania, I and my sister had to live with some family-friends in Baroda while my parents were based in a different town.  At the time, Kalpeshbhai too had moved from Kenya on his own and was staying with the same family, and in the process all began our education in Baroda at the same school – Shreyas.  We spent just under a year together until my parents moved to Baroda and we had our own place.  I then moved to my preferred school and this is where I met Jatin.  Funny enough Jatin and I started at Vidyakunj on the same day in the same class and both with African background.  The difference was him with his long cool hairstyle (which earned him an instant welcome from one of the teachers) and me with rather military style short haircut.  We became friends quickly but it was much much later that I found out that Kalpeshbhai was his older brother, and even later than that realised that we originate from the same native place, a small village called Bhadran, in Gujarat.
However, in the context of this ride, the remarkable thing for me is that my very first holiday without my family was a 3 week school trip to southern India with Kalpeshbhai, and the second such holiday to Nepal and north-east India in form of another 3 week school trip (but different school) was with his younger brother.  And now after almost 30-35 years, each of us living in different parts of the world, we are suddenly making plans to ride together to another part of India.  Whether this is fate, coincidence or just my nostalgia it does not matter, but it does help in adding a fascinating element to our ride.

There’s some stink in the forest

A week from the time of writing this blog I will have completed my first safari at Ranthambhore.  While this blog site is about our Ladakh trip, like any true Gujarati I have to hijack it to serve my purpose.  So chatter about Ladakh trip takes a back seat to some extent.

I am sure everyone will have some places which they hold as special in their hearts.  Ranthambhore, for me, is one such place.  Ever since my first visit in 1984, I have visited it umpteen times and every time I want more of it.  The combination of historical architecture, terrain, and the wildlife make it a fantastic place to be.  However, it is the tigers of Ranthambhore that make it a special place.

In terms of hospitality and welcome to visitors it is very difficult to find any other state or region on par with 31181_134130749935782_2281417_nRajasthan, and it would seem like the tigers of Ranthambhore have the adopted the same behaviour.  While some of my friends and family might completely disagree with me, I feel that the tigers of Ranthambhore have always given me some magical moments.

Compared to one of my cousin who spent 3 days at Ranthambhore on my recommendation and came back without even getting a whiff of a tiger (he does not believe there are any tigers in Ranthambhore) I have had opportunity to observe and capture on camera four whole generations of a single tigress – the original Machali.

31181_134130803269110_153062_nI now eagerly look forward to seeing the 2nd lot of cubs of that 4th generation and hope that my luck does not let me down.  If not so lucky, I will have to again adopt the approach I and a friend took during my last trip when after the first fruitful day we had no sightings of any tiger for the next 2 days, so we then decided to wear the same clothing that we had worn on the first day for the remaining 3 days.  I am not sure what the other visitors and the forest guards thought or felt about us, but hey ho, the tigers loved us. 😀 😀

Coincidentally, the same friend is joining me at Ranthambhore on this trip….so if any of you are visiting Ranthambhore at the same time and notice some stink, you know who to blame. 😀  😀  😀

Is there an average male Indian biker?

I had originally intended to write about my dilemma with camera equipment, however an unexpected experience prompted a change of topic.

Unlike the other two ‘goondas’, I do not own or ride a motorbike currently (I wonder if this makes them two more ‘posh’ and me more of a ‘goonda’) which means I have to acquire all the motorbike gear and paraphernalia that goes with it.  Having lived and travelled in various inhospitable areas around the world, I do appreciate the need for proper preparation before embarking on the trip, and so I began my quest for getting the right motorbike gear.

I was not going to make any compromise on my safety and so purchased the Helmet and Boots from here in UK.  However, after some online research and advice from Vir Nakai, I decided to buy the jacket and riding pant from India.  I thought it would enable me to get something that was more suited to the local climatic conditions and avoid having to worry about exceeding the weight allowance for my flight.  Managing the weight allowance is generally a big issue for me considering I think I should carry a whole photographic studio with me 😀

So I start trawling through a number of Indian websites looking for something with adequate protection, suitable for different climate, and even a bit of style (after all I need to ensure I look like a posh Goonda) 😀 Pretty soon I realise that this is not going to be as simple as walking into any mens clothing shop and buying a pair of trousers or shirts.  Firstly, you need to find ones with reliable armour to protect the joints, then you got to find something that is suitable for the extreme climatic conditions, and finally find the right size to fit you.  For some funny reason, motorbike clothing sizes are different from the normal clothing sizes, so instead of a waist size in inches you are now looking at X and 2XL and so forth.  🙁  If this is not confusing enough there’s an added issue – the size needs to be measured as if you are sitting on a motorbike, i.e. a ‘fat’ bloke becomes extra fat.  😀

Finally having established the suitable size I then find that none of the Indian sites or manufacturers can provide my size.  Apparently there is no provision for people with shorter legs.    So the question that comes in the mind is do only tall men ride bikes in India or is that Indian men are all tall?  All this while seeing the likes of Tendulkars and Gavaskars, I imagined myself as average sized for someone of Indian origin.  So I wonder if I should start shrinking my imagination like my size. 😀 😀

In terms of the riding pants, I should be thankful that there are lot more shorter people like me in UK 😉 so at least I could find something that fit me.  May be I should have my eyesight tested instead so that I can see that people of Indian origin are really tall. 😀

This was a light-hearted observation. tumblr_notamu8htc1ro2bqto1_500 No tall people were hurt in the writing of this blog and they should not feel victimised by the author’s comments. 😀 😀 😀

Preparations and Impatience

It’s still 20 days before I leave for India, and a month before we mount the bikes for a ride  of a life time to Ladakh, yet it feels like we are starting the ride at this very moment. The eagerness and 02hogs600impatience when you start preparing for something that has been one of the key item your bucket list puts everything else happening around you into insignificance.  Just starting to plan what gear to carry, what I need to purchase, etc. has meant all the other routine jobs being overlooked.   

Anyway, its time to start the ball rolling and decide if I should get the riding apparel from here in UK or get it in India, what kind of clothing to carry, p7951929_d_v7_aahow much clothing to carry, etc. etc. This may seem like silly issues, and they probably are, but considering that we travel from a 40°C+ temperature to probably less than 10ºC within a day or two of riding.  Add to this the prospect of riding during what could potentially be a monsoon season makes all these silly questions very relevant for a ride to ensure that irrelevant issues do not take precedence over enjoying the environment and that adventure.

For those who may be familiar, I feel our journey could be a combination of the two movies – Wild Hogs and 3 Idiots.  Talking about movies raises a question…should I get a movie camera? 

Of course, for me the priority gear would be my camera kit which is going to be a different challenge this time round as compared to my other adventures.  But that’s something to talk about in the next blog.