17 December 2005

Go organic!


We left the dunes and rode into darkness known as a village called Hunder. Guided by the omnipresent Indian Army, after losing our way many times, we were very lucky to find a clean, small room in the middle of the wilderness.

The negotiation for the room-price went like this... The chinky owner said "Rs.400... take it or leave it." Joy simply said "But we're Indians." "Ok, 300 it is."

Besides the stunning scenery wherever we looked, we were also served completely organic food for dinner. No pesticides, no fertilizers, no junk. I never knew greens and salads tasted so good! Spurred on by the cold, Gopal and I hogged like we'd not eaten for a week. It was like a proper home-made dinner (not my home, of course).

Joy, I think, is allergic to green food. Actually, he's allergic to anything that is not deep fried, golden brown or deep red in colour, preferably with a visible coating of oil of some sort. He scoffed at the idea of organic food, and chose to starve instead. His ability to go hungry and remain his energetic self is amazing. He'd skip 3 meals on the trot, in extreme cold, and the next day, under the burning mid-day sun, he'd break his fast with potato-fries or chips.

This place we stayed at was so self-contained... they had diverted a part of the stream bordering the house, to flow through the garden... there was fresh (cold) running water at all times. The next morning we had Ladakhi bread with lots of butter and honey. Brilliant again. Honestly, organic food tastes infinitely better... it's addictive. Living in the cities, I don't think we realise what we're missing.


A Bactrian camel...


















How about this for a sunrise...

30 November 2005

Subra in Nubra


After bidding goodbye to the-highest-everything (from telephone tower to toilets), we left Khardung La. Riding down-hill under the early afternoon sun, admiring the walls of snow adjoining the road, little did we know what it held in store for us during the ride back the next evening... anyway, that comes later.

We had our by-now-accustomed dose of icy water flooding the boots, and mini-snow-slides blocking the road... the sun was out, and we were getting our skin burnt and toes frozen at the same time. Someone said (jokingly, perhaps) that Leh might be the only place where you could suffer a frost-bite and sun-stroke at the same time. So we were rather pleased to settle for skin-burn and frozen toes.

The check-posts on either side of Khardung La are called North and South Pullu. Our permits were checked, and we had tea while our dripping socks and boots were left to sunbathe.

We rode on, thoroughly enjoying the late-afternoon ride under the sun... the road was very good and empty. We passed by this village called Khalsar where heard the army test-firing its artillery... we could see clouds of dust rising from not far away. The walls adjoining the road had been used for target-practice once upon a time, so they looked heavily cratered, reminding me of the battlefields in movies like Lakshya.

We were riding alongside the Shey river which had these sandy beaches for boundaries. We rode on, to find more sand, and suddenly there were rocks and pebbles scattered in little sand-dunes on either side of the road for as far as our eyes could see! Welcome to Nubra!

Nubra Valley is the northern-most part of India. It also happens to be a proper sandy desert at 10,000 feet! There are sand dunes, Bactrian camels (with the double-hump) and even wild horses! We'd never seen anything like it before. We opened up the throttle so that we could reach the bigger dunes in time for sunset.

While Gopal and I raced into the desert like mad men, with the camera and the handycam, Joy sat not far from the road, soaking in the 'northern-most' stat, completely calm and impassive, as if he was sitting in the corner tea-shop in downtown Villivakkam.

We walked in for a kilometer, without realising it, and then we panned around to see the stunning beauty that surrounded us. We had the sand-dunes stretching out till the road, beyond which, the massive Martian mountain slopes take over. As we admired the out-ofthis-world rock-formations, out of nowhere, a waterfall gushes out of the cliff. Amazing. Further down on either side of the brown slopes, the snow-capped peaks reflect the golden evening sun. Just when we thought nature couldn't throw anything more at us, we were greeted by a little stream - a few metres wide - bang in the middle of the desert, with little thorny shrubs and slightly bigger trees crowding up to form a wide patch of greenery. Oh, and the dry bed of an oasis, which looked like a gorgeous set tiles. Oh, wait, there was also an ocean on one side, with a beautiful beach, with hippos surfing... ok, just kidding!

It was a sensory overdose. Just when we'd think that we'd seen it all, something amazing would come and sweep us off our feet... that was like the underlying theme of the trip.

We were surprised and delighted to find a group of (four) wild horses crossing the stream. Because there is nowhere to hide, we approached them slowly, but obviously couldn't help getting noticed. They became alert, slowly moving out of the water as we got closer. I removed my boots and crossed the stream, which had the softest bed of sand imaginable. The sand seeped in between my toes, giving this heavenly sensation, and my feet would sink close to a foot into the sand. It was scary at times.

So I crossed the stream, and ran after horses... my stupid brain didn't realise that I was no Jesse Owens, or that the horses were no Joys. So I ran, with my lungs pleading for more air, until my head started spinning and stars appeared in front of my eyes... sometimes I'd be within filming distance of the horses, trying to get the handycam out, with my hands shaking unsteadily, only to see the horses jog away in effortless two-metre strides... turning back every now and then to tease me. The horses would prance around to dry their feet - boy! Was that spectacular or what! I just stood there, holding the handycam, my mouth wide open.

They looked so serene and beautiful in the wild. I can't believe people bring every animal on earth into zoos.. they should just let them be. It's like my neighbour trying to teach her dog how to shake hands with people... and screaming at it if the poor thing can't understand what's happening.

Anyway, back to Nubra... my knee, which was bruised at Khardung La that afternoon, was throbbing with pain, and my lungs were threatening to burst out... the horses had gained too much distance and I suddenly realised that the sun was setting fast... it was close to 7:30 in the evening and I was a good 2 kms from the road. I crossed a dozen sand-dunes, to catch up with Gopal, who got some awesome photos... unfortunately, I haven't got them scanned yet, so I can't upload the slr snaps as of now. Anyway, Gopal gave his by-now-customary 2 min accented speech, on desert ecosystems. We joked around, made fun of Joy, whom we'd not seen for a couple of hours then. As we trekked back, sliding down the dunes and hopping over the brittle tiles of the Oasis bed, we felt like we'd experienced something special that day. It was, in a way, like our first picnic in school. All the excitement, the sense of discovery, the fulfillment ... it all came back.

The sun was almost down, it was past 8 when we shared our experiences with Joy, squatting in the middle of the road, pondering over our new-found benchmark for the 'lonely planet'. So we took out the guidebook, cranked the pulsar alive and switched on the headlamps. As I read out the section under 'Hunder' and 'Diskit', we sat there, with darkness engulfing us rapidly, wondering where to crash for the night in that godforsaken place.

21 November 2005

The HIGH-WAY


Just that this happened to be the World's highest - Khardung La. 18,360 ft. The rest of the stats can be read off that picture. Pretty amazing that we have a road this high. And what's even more amazing is that they manage to keep the road open every single day! It's perhaps the second most important road (in my not-entirely-educated opinion) in this country, after the Kargil-Drass road which borders the Line of Control. This happens to be the only overland route for supplies to Siachen. The army guys have thermal bunkers... beds crammed in the sides, with sleeping bags, warm clothing and other utilities lying (or hanging) all over the place. It really felt like entering a home. When a handful of people sit inside, the place feels tight... everyone is close to everyone else, there is a sense of warmth and togetherness, which I think is more important than we tend to assume. I'll never forget the voice of one of those army guys (the one in the picture below), or his eyes... I developed a much deeper understanding of loneliness, hope and guts.

Gopal went crazy with the camera... spent two minutes filming himself from different angles, from as far as his hands would extend... the usual accented talk... sharing his knowledge on the world's highest road, which were, not coincidentally, neatly stenciled on the huge yellow stone. Occasionally, he'd get tired of filming himself, and turn the camera at Joy and scream "Say 'hi' to World's Highest Joy!"

The World's highest road didn't give me any special high. It looked beautiful, just like the world's second and third highest roads the preceding week. The tag of the world's highest or tallest or strongest or whatever doesn't really sink in. I was telling myself that this was IT, and that I was supposed to be on a special high... but just the knowledge of being on the highest road didn't mean much to me. Joy, on the other hand, loves these highest/deepest/fastest tags... like just reading the suffix 'est' is enough to get him excited. For example, If I tell him that Congo is beautiful, he would probably look at me and yawn. But if I tell him that it's the Most Beautiful or No.1 Beautiful place in the world, he'd say "Machi, does Indian Railway have a train to... cuz I can use my free pass. I could take you along, for FREE (he'd pause and think of a deal)... in exchange for those boots."

We were joking how Joy would eventually get employed with the UN (his dream job) and open some merchandise store for aiding relief or something, called "The UN-fair deal shop"

This Punjabi army guy was kind enough to take us on a little hike up the snow slope adjoining the road, to this stone-shrine... not to our surprise, we saw Buddhist prayer flags fluttering merrily near the shrine.

There was just mountains and mountains of fresh-snow... white as it gets, with the bright sun reflecting off the slopes, and the cloudless, stunning blue sky contrasting beautifully with the white snow and the brown barren slopes.

While hiking up to the shrine, my right foot slipped into a little crevasse and I hurt my knee. It's amazing how much a little bruise on the knee could hurt so much when the air is thin. The throbbing pain just wouldn't let go. I sat there clutching my knee in pain, while Gopal was happily filming my agony.

Then I wondered how these guys defend the country at these heights. These guys must've overcome things like pain and disorientation early in their lives. Imagine running at these altitudes, fully loaded with supplies and weapons... running to save your life and to defend the country, while countless millions sit and watch television in the comfort of their homes, completely oblivious to what these guys go through. Too bad what these guys do isn't so romantic, or telivised... or maybe it's just that people don't want to face reality and see the truth. We're making heroes out of moviestars, cricketers... it's a shame. How many of us remember the names of Param Vir Chakra Awardees? Or what they did - for us. Something's gotta be wrong somewhere.

5 October 2005

Leh and the Shit Pit


Leh is an interesting town. Looks earthy brown - like the old Alladin game that we grew up playing. Most of the houses are built out of mud. Ten minutes of steady rain will wash away half the city.

We saw foreigners flooding every corner of Leh. As a result, much like Goa and Kovalam, everything was a bit more expensive in Leh than what we'd been used to till then in the trip.

We saw bikers everywhere. The centrally located German bakery (one of many) is a nice social hangout place. People laze around, watch little kids wait for school buses, heads turn to the frequent roar of Enfields... things are always chilled out. No one's hurried. Deadlines don't exist.

We Indian bikers were exceptions. The number of foreigners who do this gruelling bike trip, in what must be completely alien territory and an unknown tongue, is really amazing. It's the free spirit which inspires me so strongly. No attachments, just an open mind and absolute trust on instincts.

Back to Leh town, the water problem is so severe that restaurants force people to buy bottled water. Securing enough water to wash all the guests was a monumental task for the granny who hosted us. At her place, I came across another first...

I was led to the first floor, to a tiny, dark cubicle - at best 1 meter wide- which contained two bricks for footrests and a hole in the floor which opened to a 20 ft. drop down into the Shit Pit. I heard that they have these dry toilets in most villages, but that was the first time that I experienced it. It was weird, the floor sloped in towards the hole from all directions. So I was very concerned about my Yellow Bag (don't ask me why I took it in, it's ummmm personal!). And the water bottle; I kept having this dream of the bottle rolling down the hole. Anyway, after I succesfully negotiated the 'pitfalls', I ran down excitedly and shared my new find with Joy and Gopal. I learnt that periodically, the Pit is cleaned manually.

22 September 2005

Raging Indus!


The 100 odd km stretch leading up to Leh was breathtaking. We rode alongside the mighty Indus, which was overflowing on to the road. The mammoth purple rocks rising up along the side of the road were imposing. It made us feel really small and, in a sense, insignificant.

Gopal screamed "This is the river after which we’ve been named!"

In that soft evening lighting, with the cool wind on my face, it just felt magical. It was one of the happiest times of the trip. I remember looking up at the brilliantly star-lit sky, with music playing in my head, and trying to absorb how blessed I was to be there.

Joy is the night-riding specialist in our gang. I won’t be surprised if he has some infra-red vision capabilities. He keeps fiddling with his visor, always looking dead straight. Occasionally he gets sufficiently distracted to holler a comment or two. Otherwise, he doesn’t talk much while riding.

Gopal on the other hand, simply cannot keep shut. During long rides, all the mindless chatter helped us retain some level of concentration. It’s hard to fall asleep while chatting (unless you’re a certain Suraj Kurian studying in Hindustan college). During our many rides and conversations, we pretty much gossiped about every single person we’ve ever known.

As we reached the outskirts of Leh, we were greeted by the Indus violently flowing over certain sections of the road. Luckily, we’d be sufficiently trained for this during the previous three days.
Interestingly, even with the Indus flooding roads and canals just outside, there is severe water shortage in Leh. Talk about bad water management. Normal restaurants don’t even serve drinking water. You have to buy bottled water.

We entered Leh by 10 that night, after 14 hours on the bike. We found this tiny excuse for a room at this old lady’s place. But we couldn’t care less. We’d made it to Leh. It was like a dream. I thought about the many occasions when the trip seemed buried for good. All the hurdles, the frustrations with the bike and river crossings, the many slips on the bike, the times when self-doubt crept in, when we wondered if the plan had any relation to sanity... but it was worth it all, and much more. That night, I experienced truly contented sleep.

20 September 2005

Take your pick!


Popular signboard hanging outside computer centers in over-crowded touristy places like Manali...

Facilities available :

1. Internet
2. Surfing
3. Browsing
4. Email
5. Chatting


While I was wondering whether to surf or browse, there was a South-Indian restaurant nearby serving perhaps the most unauthentic food served anywhere in India, which was being hounded by hungry tourists all day. I simply cannot understand certain things. Like how people travel- or should I say get transported- thousands of kms to sit in airconditioned rooms/cars or eat bricks disguised as idlis in the Himalayas.

12 September 2005

Gimme More!

After the army guy fixed the Enfield’s air filter, we entered the aptly named More plains. This is a 50 km section of dead flat terrain, with grasslands extending to a few kms on both sides, and mountains beyond. We rode by sporadic nomadic settlements along the way. How anyone can think of living there is beyond me. It’s like the definition of nothingness.

During this stretch, we had the company of 3 French bikers- a couple and another guy on two Enfields. The petite girl sat behind this rugged looking guy, who had this I’ve-been-thru-it-all look on him. The kind of hippie-look for which Joy would’ve given up two limbs (not his, of course!). Anyway, while riding together, we had our legs soaked in the icy water during one of our zillion stream-crossings. So we leapt off the bike as soon as we hit dry land, threw off the boots, nearly tore the socks off and began rubbing our feet with our palms. The French gang was looking on curiously, when we explained how much we hated the streams numbing our feet… the rough-looking guy said "Yeah! I hate that too… it’s really bad!" We were expecting some kind of horror-experience-narration from the girl, when she said "Oh! Water flooding the boots? That’s not so bad!" Such females help me retain hope!

The Clouds

The bright lighting due to the expanses of emptiness and the intense sun contrasted brilliantly with the sharp shadows cast by the clouds. I think the splendid photography by Gopal conveys the experience much better than any words that I can think of. Anyway, I felt drunk. Everything was moving by slowly-very slowly. I guess that’s the beauty of being on a bike. I could ride for hours, meditating on things seen, experienced… at peace with everything. I felt blessed.

The best part about the bike experience is that you’re out there with nature- in the elements. Here I’d like to borrow a thought from the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"… sitting in a car, it’s in many ways like watching TV. You look out through the window and it’s like a neatly trimmed and framed view on offer- just like watching TV. You sit in a little box, cut-off from the real thing. But in a bike, the concrete that you see whiz by beneath you is the real earth that you walk on. Everything is real. You can turn around and look at the world around you in every which way you please. And then, there is the wind on your face. I can’t explain how good that feels. All this makes me wonder what trekkers think about biking.

Also a part of this one-with-nature experience is that you get beaten up by nature every now and then. The intense sun through the day ensured dehydration and loss of appetite for Gopal and me. We were feeling pretty low when we started the climb up to Tanglang La, which is the second highest motorable road in the world, at 17,500 ft. Joy, with his untold reserves of everything, had no problems whatsoever. With increasing altitude, muscles tend to disobey and revolt. We truly understood the meaning of dizzying heights. The roads there were perhaps the worst that we experienced. Mud, slush, rocks, potholes which resembled craters, streams gushing across the road, snow walls melting on one side and the pretty sight of fresh snow on the peaks on the other side. All this with failing muscles, a cold breeze, the bike skidding or getting stuck in the slush every few dozen meters and icy water flooding the boots. I only vaguely remember the actual time spent at the pass. We were too beaten up to discuss anything.

Well, contrary to popular belief then, we survived to tell the story. We rode downhill like mad men. We decided to crash in the first tent in the first village downhill, which turned out to be a good 30 kms away from the top. So we lost altitude quickly, and learnt about the wonders of (relatively) thick air! We were still only half alive when we walked into that tea shop. Gopal and I were lying flat on the bed, trying to get some grip over ourselves, while Joy was out teaching the guy at the tea shop how to make ‘half-boils’. Of course, the result looked nauseating. But you have to give credit to Joy for the effort. We drank a dozen teas between us, crammed down plenty of biscuits, omelets and pretty much anything that we could lay our hands on. When we walked out of the tents, with Leh a good 130 kms away, we had this weird energy surging through us. All the pain and discomfort during the afternoon felt like a distant memory… we decided to hit Leh that night no matter what. So with the sun setting fast and beautifully, with our bodies and mind reborn in that half an hour in the tea-shop, we rode on, into the sunset.

Wow!





23 August 2005

The Army...



















Those mountain goats caused a traffic jam at 16,000 ft.... there was a truck, our bikes, these goats, some chaps carrying rations from kullu to leh on horses... one of the horses died for whatever reason, so they just sent the others forwards and dragged the carcuss along to the edge of the road and pushed it off the cliff... it didn't fall far enough down the slope towards the frozen lake... so a couple of them climbed down and pushed it further down.


I'll write in detail about the Indian Army some other time... the army guy in that photo took the enfield for a ride... he was impressed with the handle-bar. That camp- Sarchu, is a strategic transit camp for all army troops heading to the forward posts along the border with Tibet and Pakistan (including the Siachen glacier). The camp is at around 14,000 ft., our highest stop-over for a night... learnt all about altitude sickness, with very little sleep that night.

I've seen a good number of open toilets, but this one is really OPEN.... there aint a tree in sight, no rocks to hide behind... interesting experience.

The sand is so soft... it puffs out when you walk on it... like landmines going off... very beautiful! Felt awesome when the sand sneaked thru my toes while walking.

The other army guy was the one who saved us when the enfield's air filter got clogged... he came out from his camp with a brush and some waste, stood under the high altitude for like half an hour, cleaning the air filter like it was his own... he got his hands dirty, pushed the bike and ran behind it to get it started... man, I had goosebumps-more like goosehills- when I saw him running behind me pushing the bike and giving me instructions to get the bike running properly... why did he have to do all that... the kindness of strangers.

When I wanted to take a snap of him, he felt bad because he had hurried out of his tent wearing slippers... he felt genuinely ashamed to be photographed wearing slippers while in his uniform... I can't describe what I felt then... just deep, deep respect. We had to move on, so we just thanked him and rode off... the image of him standing there under the blinding sun, waving us goodbye is etched in my memory.

20 August 2005

Stretching Out..



These are some of my favourite snaps from the trip... stretching out and joking around in the middle of the road... soaking in all the emptiness... sure felt like a lonely planet.

Gopal thinks he looks like an NGC photographer in that snap... hmmm, what you say?

19 August 2005

















That's one of the hundreds of BRO guys that we saw each day... do we have any reason to crib over our lives? Is there any job more disorienting than that?

And the other photo summarises our entire trip... Gopal and I would run around with our cameras... we were always tired and our bodies didn't have as much cushion as Joy's... Joy, on the other hand, ate like a pig. He had so much energy all through the trip... every minute... too bad he didn't use some of it to wash himself often... if you notice, he's wearing that ridiculous thermal wear inside a slack t-shirt... these were early days for the poor white thing... a week down, he was still wearing it... dirty as dirty can be!

Joy's t-shirts are ummmm... unfortunate? As the days roll by, they change colours from say, yellow to beige to dirty (,) brown... people seeing the photos must be careful not to mistake it for a new t-shirt.

18 August 2005

Maddening Manali and Joy to the rescue!


Where do I start... yeah, Delhi... we roamed around Delhi for two days in sweltering heat... to get the bike spares and the luggage frame fitted on the enfield. We had slept for barely 5 hours when we woke up to leave Delhi at 5:30 am. The ride to Chandigarh was uneventful but for our first taste of bum soreness.

We had brunch along with some beer to chill out... traffic cops caught us twice, not for drunken driving, but for some absurd excuses like pollution check papers. Joy's internship at Deccan Chronicle (the newspaper) and his supreme confidence in the power of the press saved us from the cops. A typical exchange would go as follows:

Cop : What's your name?

Joy : What's YOUR name?Cop : <&^#@&^#^%> Singh

Joy tries to act like he's memorising the name.

Joy (with a confused, i-dunno-what-next look) : I'm from the press...

Cop gives a blank look

Joy : Staff photographer...

(Joy thrusts the camera in front of the cop's face, just in case there are any doubts)

Cop gets bored by now... I guess he decides that there are easy pickings elsewhere, so why trouble this potential-pain-in-the-ass.

Cop and Joy shake hands and Joy comes back with our licenses and bragging rights.



We enter Manali at 11 that night, convinced that we're going to struggle to find anyone awake to give us a cheap room. Much to our surprise- rather, shock- the main road is brimming with tourists. The following two days spent at Manali were characterized by dirty, overcrowded roads, with perpetual bumper-to-bumper traffic jams and half a dozen tourists breathing on your face at all times.

Rohtang Pass is perhaps the most crowded pass in the entire world. There is a 10 km long traffic jam, with dozens and dozens of cars and jeeps parked on the side of the road, with their engines switched off. The traffic jam became worse as we climbed higher up. Luckily for us, there was an army convoy belonging to the Indo-Tibetian Border Police Force heading towards Leh. They couldn't afford to be stalled by over-enthusiastic tourists; they had a destination to reach. So for two hours, they were our road-clearers. They threw erraticaly parked bikes onto the wall of snow by the side. They even pushed cars towards the sides.

Most of these tourists just park their cars on the side of the road and go off to play in the (dirty) snow. The attractions include pony rides, snow slides and junk food. But the most ridiculous things on show were these glittering hoardings which screamed things like "Happy 15th Anniversary!", with the number in the middle replacable. Over-joyed couples took photographs in front of such signs, lest they should forget the profound purpose of their trip on getting back home.

We spent 4 hours over a 10 km stretch on Rohtang pass. Just when we broke through the traffic and crossed the pass, we encountered our first stretch of bad roads, with walls of snow on either side melting under the midday sun to create a little stream on the road.

Here, it's apt to salute the work done by the Border Roads Organisation. They best define the concept of never-ending work under hostile conditions. In these higher reaches of the Himalayas, it snows every night, creating fresh walls of snow everyday, which melt creating perennial streams of water eroding the roads. The sheer number of potholes is unimaginable. So these hired labourers break-down rocks by the roadside, to fill up the potholes with little stones, and before they're done with existing potholes, fresh ones crop up, and the cycle goes on forever. Imagine sitting under the sweltering high-altitude sun all day, in such loneliness, breaking down rocks, in a landscape that is closer to Mars than to Earth. Their's must be the some of the most hardened minds, to survive this kind of perpetual harshness in life. Oh, and they're not too busy, not too immersed in their own world, to be courteous. Amidst all the difficulties, they smile and wave at travellers passing by. If you stop to speak to them, they greet you with genuine warmth. Oh, and I keep thinking that I'm having a bad time at work.

7 August 2005

More Photos...


That room at Keylong was perhaps the best one we had during the entire trip... warm water, nice beds, electricity, plug points... all for 150 bucks (divided by 3 ofcourse)! The prices were directly proportional to the no. of tourists... in places like Manali and Leh, we got lousy places for many times the price.


These photos were shot on the third highest road in the World, Baralacha La (La means Pass)... the thunderbird died all of a sudden... the air fitler was clogged and at 16,500 ft, the air tends to be rather thin... so we decided to go easy on the bike by unloading Joy and having him walk a km while I rode alone... it was downhill after the pass.





25 July 2005

Hmmm... pretty.

















Almost every single girl was reeaaallly cute... and strong! Even the grannies carried like half their weight uphill. The houses were pretty too... they had these awesome colours...

24 July 2005

Shooting The Lights Out...






















Here is the first set of transparencies... I just stared at them for 2 hours last night... gosh! what colours! Great job by Gopal... and Joy, without whose guidance and inspiration this wouldn't have been possible! Cheers!

20 July 2005


Getting High On A Bike


This is the write-up on my 16 day bike tour of Ladakh and Kashmir, starting from Delhi...first, I'll introduce the travellers:

Joy- I could write a novel about his eccentric tastes and choices in life. One of his top priorities in life (the others being junk food and fresh college chics) is to remain a college student forever. He's completed his UG in visual communication (with a generous helping of God's grace) and is currently pursuing masters in mass communication and lots of girls at MCC. He's also doing a course in human rights through correspondencewith some institute in delhi which is funny because he's tried to rip-off every single guywho has ever had any kind of deal with him. His main aim during the trip was to grow hishair and a beard, and to sport a 'hippie' look when he returned to madras (to greet junior chics in college). He's also the most uninvolved traveller I've ever seen, which is strange considering that he's visited half of India. Very little seeps through the impervious layers shielding his little memory, like he could never remember the town we halted at the previous night. He could make lots of money if he writes a book on "Living in the moment".Nothing hurts or pleases him for more than a few seconds. I've never seen him get upset about anything in the two years that I've known him.

Gopal- The official photographer. He'd just finished studying advertising and PR and is presently hunting for a job. He's the creative brain which kept us going through tough times. Incessant yapping (with an accent) for the handycam comes naturally to him. He absolutely detests things like logic, maths and in general things which work in aparticular well-documented way all the time- like bike mechanics or shoelaces.

Amaresh- Savouring the last drops of my dying college life. The very thought of work and routine life made me sad. I spent half the trip calculating expenses and settling accounts. Much of the other half was spent with the handycam, listening to Joy's orders(he's planning to use the footage for his final semester documentary film), which went something like this : "Machi, I want 2 minutes footage of the desert... including 2 camels... remember to give running commentary, because I'll forget!"

We rode 3300 kms in 16 whirlwind days... I never have and I doubt if I ever will travel as hurriedly as I did those 16 unforgettable days. It was always crazy- dizzying highs and depressing lows; we never had a normal day. a perpertual sensory overdose. There is only so much that a person can absorb in a few days and during the entire course of the trip, there were simply too many things hitting us every single day... there were times when I wished I could slow things down and sit there-maybe for an hour, maybe forever (eg: the sunset at Sarchu)-but it's just a momentary bliss which disappears just as mysteriously as it appeared, and I had to move on. In existential terms-I know it sounds stupid, but it's true in some strange sense- it's like how I want to stay in air forever while playing basketball.