Monday, November 24, 2014

Honestly Rude?

Someone said, "A true friend is he who does not shy away from pointing out your faults" or some such thing. If I could only get my hands on that @#?$ .... The problem, you see, is that I have a lot of friends who think that their duty as friends consists exclusively of pointing out my faults. If there is anything else to friendship, they sure do not acknowledge those things.

Take this particular incident for example. A time when I came to a friend wanting some sympathy and support. And THIS is what I got.

"Yaar! I think people are just unable to hear the truth. And they call me rude merely because I tell it."

"What - like the time we went to Sweta's wedding reception and you yelled, 'Hey! Your husband is bald'"?

"But it WAS the truth."

"And you thought that it had somehow escaped Sweta's notice all along and it was your duty to warn her of it?"

"Well...no...but..."

"Ah! You thought that the rest of us would fail to notice it and it was important to inform us about it?"

"Actually..."

"Maybe you just thought it was important for all truths to be told? But...looks to me that you did not tell the other truth that he had a very charming smile...which you mentioned to us later."

"Skip that! But you cannot say that I was wrong in correcting Varun's English. I mean, he was writing 'its' when he should have been using 'it's'"

"Quite! But did you really need to tell him that if this was the best he could do, he should go back to kindergarten and start learning English all over again?"

"If you are acting so wise, what would YOU have said?"

"I would have told him that he had written 'its' by mistake when he meant to write 'it's'. Why would I assume that it was not just a mistake? And, even if I knew it was not, why should I try to make him look like a fool?"

"You always put me on the wrong foot. But, tell me, what was wrong with my telling Ashish that it was surprising that he had got a job in finance, when he managed to muck up every problem in maths all through school? You know it is true and you have said it yourself." I said triumphantly.

"Not in front of his new boss and colleagues - or did you forget that you uttered that pearl of wisdom when we bumped into him at the restaurant where they were dining together?"

"So..."

"So, of course, Ashish must be very joyous about the fact that this home truth about him was shared with his new boss."

"When you say it, it is OK! When I say it, it is rude, huh?"

"You idiot! As long as you never learn what, how and where to say things, you will always be considered rude and not merely honest."

"I came to you for support. Why are you being so rude to me?"

"Rude? Not at all. I am only being honest."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Upper Mustang Trek - Finale



Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII or Part VIII

A few snippets from the trek that may be of interest.

The one thing about the food in the tea-houses is that it is normally laden with garlic. Probably because it is supposed to be good for AMS. Our palates, though, were so totally unused to so much garlic in every single dish that Ramesh had taken to specifying, more than once, "No garlic" every time we ordered a meal. So effective was his intervention that once he got no garlic even in his garlic bread!

The other group also was infected in part by Geeta's ideas of trekking. Apparently, after hitting Lo Manthang, half the group took ponies to come down. They eventually took a jeep from Muktinath and met us in Jomsom on their way to Poon Hill, where they trekked up steps for some 1800+ meters!

I will never forget the one time Reto pulled Ramesh's leg. When we met at Jomsom, Ramesh was detailing how he came down to Kagbeni and, then, trekked up to Muktinath with the help of the porter. Reto asked, totally deadpan, "Was the porter able to keep up with you?"

The Hotelier at Jomsom looked on us as rara avis. Apparently, trekking Indian were next to non-existent in that area (or, at least, his hotel). Most of the Indians that he had seen were pilgrims to Muktinath.

The stay at Pokhara was not totally event-free. We went on an early morning trek to Sarangkot to catch the sunrise on the Annapurna ranges. Geeta and I lost our way and ended up in a tea-house about a hundred meters below the view-point. As it happened, this place had as good a view and, compared to the jostling crowds at the view-point, it was a peaceful place to take in the brushwork of the early morning sun on the snow-clad peaks.

The next day, we took an ultralight flight. The bird's eye-view was great and it would have been felt like flying but for the persistent drone of the engine in the ears. Next time I shall ensure that we manage paragliding - we were too late to book this time.

For a man who has never seen a movie shot in India, it was a surprise to find a Nepalese movie being shot opposite our Hotel near the Pokhara lake. Looks like heroines there too need to be dressed in tatters for dance scenes and it was a revelation to me to see how utterly boring the shooting of a dance sequence could be.

Robert came down with a suspicious black eye and some specious reason for it. None of us believed in what he said :)

AND now the links for pics.


Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

The Upper Mustang Trek - VIII


Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI or Part VII

The group was split in three the next day. Ramesh went ahead (so what else is new?) with one of the porters, Praveen. Vinita was, as usual, in some indeterminate position after him. Kulendra and Chandru went next to ensure that the duffel bags were duly loaded onto the vehicle before the rest of us reached, in order to save some time. Geeta, Sampat and I trailed the group.

Descents are horrid on the knees and ankles because you use them to brake your momentum. There is such a thing as descending too fast for comfort after all. No matter how much we want to recapture our youth, cartwheeling down a slope is certainly not one of the most sought after ways. The trick is to take the downward slope with controlled speed so that you do not stress your joints and, at the same time, manage to retain your balance.

Easier said than done? Easy enough if you walk down with knees bent continuously and with your upper body bent forward. That brings the center of gravity of your body lower, making it easier to maintain your balance, and you can travel faster, too. Chandru had explained it in great detail but even his magic had not communicated the modus operandi to Geeta and Sampat.

I asked them to do the Orangutan jog and, miracle of miracles, they automatically bent the knees and stooped forward AND traveled faster. It is a rare occasion when something I say actually communicates to the recipients, and rarer still that I manage to do so when Chandru has tried and failed. I will not get over this experience any time soon, I assure you.

The need for speed, from my side, was primarily because the idea was to lunch at Muktinath - and the longer we took over reaching Kagbeni, the later we would leave and the longer I would have to remain hungry. (Glutton, you call me? I will have you know that missing or delaying a meal sets off the gas factory in my belly. If you have a shred of compassion in your make-up, you will regret that jibe soon!)

We hit Kagbeni but the vehicle was not yet available. Ramesh had already left with the porter, on his trek up to Muktimath. By the time we lined up the vehicle and left, it was around 2 PM and, again, we had that experience of traveling in all directions at once. We hit Muktinath after Ramesh had reached. AND, would you believe it, we had to climb some endless steps to get to the temple.

The temple of salvation (Mukti) is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and counts as one of the divya desams. It is also sacred to the Buddhists. The temple is the abode of all five elements. Earth, Sky and Air are available everywhere. Water is normally present too - as a lake or pond - but in Muktinath it is the 108 springs that feed the Kali Gandhaki. Fire, elsewhere, is only present in man-made forms. In Muktinath, there is a continuous natural flame - fed, possibly, by natural gas from underground, near the Jwaladevi temple and housed in a Buddhist temple. Muktinath is also a Shaktipeet, where the temple of Sati is supposed to have fallen.

After a ritual cleansing of the head in the 108 yalis that spew water (and, yet another place where I barely escaped frostbite on the scalp) , we had a darshan of the deity, saw the revered flames and descended down. Lunch time at 4 PM? Not really! Apparently, the last vehicle leaves at 5 PM after which we would have to stay back and wait for the next day. So, it was rush, rush, rush again with a promise of dinner at Jomsom.

Back to civilization but, unfortunately for me, the abstinence proved too much. A serious attack of acidity prostrated me for the next day and a half - when the others went on small day treks, egged on by Ramesh. Once the mandatory trekking was over, the enthusiasm Geeta and Sampat showed for trekking had to be seen to be believed.

Hot water baths, when the water IS hot, is such a pleasure - particularly when you have been deprived of it for so long. I spent the next couple of days reading books and nursing myself back to health. AND there were the mountains all the time - just waiting to enthrall you if you but walked out of the hotel.

We, then, left for Pokhara, spent a couple of days there and flew back to Delhi.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

The Upper Mustang Trek - VII (The Legend of Tulsi)



Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart V or Part VI

All through the trek, we have been traveling in the vicinity of the Kali Gandhaki river and, now, we are about to go to Muktinath. It is necessary, then, to also tell you about the myth behind the river, since it is an inseparable part of the myth of Tulsi - the plant that Hindus venerate. There are two versions of the tale - one from the Shiv Puran and one from the Devi Bhagavatam.

The Shiv Puran version is the tale of Jalandhar and Vrinda. Once, when Lord Shiva was angry with Indra, due to the latter's ego, he opened his third eye and was stopped from immolating Indra by the prayers of Brihaspathi and the penitence of Indra. His fury, however, lodged in the Ocean and Jalandhar was born. Thus, in a manner, Jalandhar was the brother of Lakshmi, who also arose from the Ocean at the time of the Samudra Manthan (The churning of the Ocean).

Jalandhar married Vrinda, the daughter of the asura Kalanemi. Vrinda was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu (one version is that she was a gopi cursed by Radha) and as long as she was chaste and prayed for Jalandhar's welfare, Jalandhar was protected from any harm. Jalandhar proceeded to conquer the three worlds and the devas were deprived of their kingdom. Lord Vishnu fights a long and indecisive battle against him but, on the entreaties of Lakshmi, he makes peace with her brother.

Hearing the Sage Narada extol the praises of the beauty of Goddess Parvati, Jalandhar sends a message to Shiva to live true to his reputation of a Yogi and surrender his beautiful wife. Angered by the missive, Lord Shiva battles against Jalandhar but is unable to overcome him. Meanwhile, Jalandhar creates an illusion that keeps Lord Shiva and his army occupied and goes to Goddess Parvati in the guise of Lord Shiva. The Goddess recognizes him for who he was and rises in fury to kill him whereupon he escapes.

When the Goddess asks the Lord Vishnu about why Lord Shiva was finding it difficult to vanquish Jalandhar, he tells her that the Vrinda's chastity and devotion to himself was protecting Jalandhar. The Goddess, then, requests him to put an end to Vrinda's chastity if that was the only way to vanquish Jalandhar.

Heavyhearted at practising such a deception on his devotee, Lord Vishnu takes the appearance of Jalandhar and goes to Vrinda, who receive him as a wife would receive her husband. With her chastity destroyed, Lord Shiva kills Jalandhar with his Trishul. Learning of the deception, Vrinda curses Lord Vishnu to be trapped in a stone (which is the reason why the Shaligram is supposed to embody Vishnu) and, also, that he would suffer separation from his wife (as he did in the Ramayan). Thereafer, Vrinda immolates herself but Lord Vishnu saves her hair and converts it into the Tulsi plant.

The Devi Bhagavatam has a similar tale - with minor variations. In an argument between the Goddesses Lakshmi, Ganga and Saraswati, Ganga and Saraswati are cursed to become rivers and Lakshmi is cursed to be born human and marry an asura. An aspect of Lakshmi is born as Tulsi, the daughter of Dharmadwaj. She undergoes austerities to marry Lord Vishnu when Lord Brahma appears and tells her that before marrying the Lord, she would have to marry an asura.

Meanwhile, Sudama (who, in this case, is considered an aspect of Lord Vishnu) is born as an asura - Shankachud, son of Dhamba - and he marries Tulsi. Shankachud is blessed to be invincible as long as Tulsi remains chaste. He conquers the three worlds and, in his arrogance, challenges the Lord Shiva. The Lord Shiva finds it impossible to vanquish him.

Lord Vishnu then, reluctantly, takes the shape of Shankachud and goes to Tulsi. Shankachud is killed by Lord Shiva and the news is conveyed to Tulsi while Lord Vishnu is with her in her husband's apearance. Upon being accused by an inconsolably weeping Tulsi, Lord Vishnu appears in his true shape. Tulsi accuses him of being stonehearted and curses him to become a stone. Her body decays into a river - Kali Gandhaki - and her hair turns into the Tulsi shrub.

We have a habit of picking all the wrong lessons to learn from our myths. The things to be noted are that a. Even though it WAS the Lord, who committed the 'crime', and even though it was done under compulsion, he accepted the punishment imposed on him and b. Far from being reviled as unchaste - as would probably have been done in these unjust times - Tulsi is a deity to be venerated by the chaste.

Now that we know why the Lord Vishnu - in the form of the Shaligrams - lies always in the embrace of the Kali Gandhaki river, and why Tulsi is Vishnupriya, we can proceed with the last stages of the trek.

Photo Credit: Sampat