Monday, May 23, 2011

Light headed in Mongolia...

Everyone who has known me very briefly even, knows my penchant for short hair. I have always worn it short and every hair cutting session is a tug of war between my stylist and me over how short we can go. She wins, always, but then i feel better nevertheless when the weight is off my head (mind).

The year before last, i had it all shaved off for a very personal reason. It felt great, lighter than ever. It is not very common, or rather sacrilege for girls to go bald in India, with the exception of Tirupati offerings. So the clever person that i am, i cut it first and then showed the new look to my friends and folks. No chance of protesting my decision, the deed was done. No Ctrl+Z there :)).

I wanted to go in for a similar style this time around. The fear of being mistaken for someone else at immigration stopped me from getting a cut before I left. It is great to have a stylist on the team here, Andrea did the honors beautifully with a not-so-great pair of scissors. Faraz stopped by to freeze the experience in pictures and Such was alternating between my camera and hers to capture this rites of passage.

I am back to that all familiar feeling of ears have no overlapping hair strands and it can now fully touch the pillow.

All ready for the steppes and the dusty plains of the Gobi.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A visit to the Gandantegchenling monstery and city walk

The day opened to a fine sunny morning, not to cold not to hot. Perfect weather for a walk in town.
Right after breakfast, we went out in search of scissors first. Andrea has promised to cut my hair as short as i want them and i needed to get the tools. :) We made a detour to the post office to send you folks out there some cards. We got some really nice ones and the stamps at the same place too. The scissors were easy to locate, easier than a hair salon.
A giant coke bottle on the facade of a clock tower is a big highlight.
Just as we were returning we met Chris in the driveway, he was just checking in. Peter has still not had his luggage delivered.
The team then met at 12 noon to walk to the monastery and have some food. I was planning to not eat much that day. I bought myself some juice and had that all along.
The monastery was some way off and the walk to it was pleasant. We waited for a bit at the department store where Andrea and Chris got their mug shots taken for immigration. That is a mandatory item on the list, to register yourself at the nearest office.
I remembered the Buddhist places i had seen in Ladakh as soon as i set my eyes on Gandantegchenling. The structure is all wood and the Buddha statue stands tall, about 5 stories high. There are about 125 monks in residence in the campus and they have some temples as we as a library there. A Datsan is a school teaching particular subjects like tantric services, traditional medicine, yoga, etc and there are several datsans attached to Gandantegchenling.
We spun the prayer wheels there, must have been about a 100 of them.
It was back towards the hotel at about 3 and a pit stop at the Amsterdam cafe where the team had lunch/beers. We plan to go back there tonight.
Now i am just waiting on the hair cut to happen. I have not had hair this long as far as i can remember and it is getting longer by the day, or so i feel. :) I'll just have a buzz cut to keep it practical and by the time we are done, it'll be back to the normal length i keep. convenient!
So don't be surprised to see the GI Jane look photos of me from tomorrow onwards. :)
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Our day in Ulaan Bataar

I woke at 9.30 local time, normal IST time to the first day in UB. The team was already up, some of them early due the varied time differences. We first met everyone at breakfast-- Ripley, Sim, Flo, Faraz, Mike and Lauren. Andrea and Carrie were already with us on your flight to UB.

After spending some time together we dispersed. Breakfast was next for us. The UB hotel serves typical continental fare, complete with cold milk. Funny how people in countries with hot weather want things hot and those with cold weather want them chilled. I would think it was otherwise.

We all agreed to meet at 2 pm to go to the Enzis office for the tickets. Back to room for a quick bath. We needed some water and some chow for lunch. The hotel changed money for us -- 1200 Tugrik per 45 rupees. There is small "super market" about 2 blocks away and we got what we wanted there. Wet wipes, toilet roll, shampoo, water, some yogurt-- all costing in thousands. Even common people must be millionaires here, by way of how much they spend on groceries, their salaries have to be in millions. I clocked 23,000 tugriks for all my purchases.

The city itself is also modern by all standards - fancy cars, nicely dressed people, presence of fashion stores (Armani, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton), smart girls, wide roads, extensive footpaths, all-glass buildings and ample public spaces. Ripley tried to scare us about the unruly traffic, but we are more than a match since we have good practice from back home. No one is trying to kill you here, they just notice you late.

Back to the hotel and straight down to meet the team. Eznis has a fancy office there and each of us waited for our turn to be issued a ticket. That took some time and then we were out.

The Mongolian parliament building is to the right of the hotel and its huge. There is big square in its front, a wonderful use of public space. They are not big on security of such an important landmark here and in time we plan to go really close up to see the Chinggis Khan statue. By the currency has him all over it, every note. Much like MKG back home.

The team is now going to meet at 7 for an early dinner. I could not stop myself from having some bakarwadi and gul poli. By the way our hotel has an Indian restaurant, named, what else.. Taj Mahal. :) We are gonna raid it when we will be back in July.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Waiting in Beijing...

I am with Sucheta and Carrie at Beijing Capital International Airport awaiting my flight to UB to arrive in the parking bay. We just meet Carrie an hour ago and together we made our way to the departure gate.
Beijing is a cool 18 degrees, while UB has snow we hear from one of our other team mates who is already there. Looks like all the woollens we took are gonna come in handy. (Pooja, i have the beanie out and ready ;))
Surprisingly all the flights we took were full, so we could not stretch on empty seats. Right now a little travel weary and sleepy. UB's chill might wake us up!
Signing off now. The flight will be called soon and i need to pack up!
Carrie has such tiny bags, we are carrying the world and its mother in comparison. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A fine time to walk

So it happened that on this Monday we had a lovely overcast sky in Pune. Much like it is in the thick of monsoon. Perfect time for a walk, though humidity was high and I was bathed in sweat. I decided to go through the old parts of the city that I love and say a nice goodbye to the sights I shall miss for some time.


The overcast sky creating a twilight like calm over the river.
My route took me across the famous gardens on JM Road, where there are ample lawns to sit and read, an aquarium for kids, stalls vending Chaat and a walking track. The palms all stood in a row bordering one such route.


From there I went along the old boundary of the city near Nal Stop (literally, the place where the public water works supply ended in old Pune). The traffic is always choc a bloc there at most times of the day. Monday was no exception at around 9 AM.


By this time, it looked like the sun was beginning to win the battle and the cloud cover gave way to the sunlight. I returned via another bridge on the Mutha river. It rained a few drops for about 2 minutes, a curtain raiser perhaps, for the monsoons that’ll soon hit this part of the country.


Friday, May 13, 2011

A list of things that matter...

When I sat down to make list of things to take along to the Gobi, I came to realize that not everything I was taking had been personally bought or requested. Not everything was tangible. What I am taking with me are gifts, memories, good wishes, benevolence, kindness, help, bravery and a lot of encouragement. All given without being asked for and in ample measure.

Aai and Baba, —the fact that you think that I can do it is 99% of the battle won. It’s been quite a journey beginning with acceptance to the list making, packing plans, tasting various ready to cook food, logistics and a hell lot of patience.

My friend from SIAC, who I know back from 2002, his help in what I am doing is invaluable. The good soul that he is, he wishes to be unnamed.

The shirts/tops that’ll see me through the desert come from dear A, who cheers every tiny achievement of mine. She is completely partial to me and I love it.

S was the first person I called as soon as my back froze back in November. That I can now joke about it is all thanks to him.

Great advice from Mr Damle of Damle Safaris, about visa procedures for Mongolia and most importantly getting us in touch with the Indian embassy.

Ketki and Mangesh, the 4 am phone call couple. Ready with advice, help and cheer.

The rowdy lot of cousins that I have loves to dole out advice by the heaps. All of it good! J

The besan laddus will make a big difference there. That is so thoughtful of Maushi!

Try as I might, I did not find more than 9 outdoor photos of myself in all the photography that I have done. What you see now is all credit to Shirish, good old friend, awesome training partner, techno junkie and super planner. He travelled all the way from Mumbai almost all weekends in the last 2 months to go with me on trails and hikes. The Radio City video with all its effect was created entirely by him.

The contribution from this individual at the gym, was the beginning of a lot of support. Given in kindness and unconditionally, it touched my heart.

Pooja, the first person to be privy to our Gobi plans, discussed after we were 2 vodka shots down in Trikaya. That she is there, just there, is a huge relief. The merino beanie and gaiters will be sure to keep me warm.

Dr. Govitrikar, ensured that my teeth are in great shape for the Gobi diet. :)

Sucheta, my steadfast friend, agreed to come with me without too much ado and be my partner. That you are there makes it a lot more fun!

From my cousin down under came the sunblock that’ll travel with me to Gobi.

Dr. Godbole shared insights on medical challenges and the care to be taken in the outdoors, personally as well as via his very informative handbook.

Dr. Kolhatkar for her timely advice about my back problems without letting them bog me down.

My blast from the past gang kept up the ribbing and the jesting. That spoke a lot about how proud they feel.

For my friends in office, old and new, it’s good to hear what they think about my expedition. I come away feeling motivated all over again.

We had some great comments to the article published in the online version of Sakaal. And some nasty ones too. Just so that the nasty ones fail, we have to succeed.

LM took care of my internal airfare costs. You give me wings to fly, literally!

She is one person who keeps me sane and keeps me firmly grounded. Listens to my mad ideas and quietly, very quietly, brings order to the chaos that I exist in. Cannot imagine reaching this far without her.

ABIL Foundation gave us a huge helping hand very recently. Much needed and appreciated.
The Indian Express, Mid-Day, Sakaal, Sakaal Times, Saam TV and ETV Marathi gave us the much needed place in the public eye. Hope this will fuel excitement and encourage future expeditions.

Dax, my sister, knows how valuable the hydration packs are going to be in that heat there so she sponsored me some. :)

Friends and strangers who bumped into me while at tyre dragging practice, it was great meeting with you and thanks for the wishes.

The expedition has in a way helped me belong. To a lot of people and things. Indebted forever.