Saturday, July 11, 2020

Running is...


... Everything listed below

... living in the moment and focusing on one step at a time. I remember crossing Thorung la pass in Nepal (~17,800ft) and telling myself to focus on one step at a time. That was easily the most challenging hiking day of my life.  

... pushing yourself harder each day. You add a hundred metres everyday and voila!, in ten days, you have added a km to your routine. I used to struggle to complete 3 km a few months ago,  and now I do 8+kms (~5+ miles) everyday these days.

... to keep pushing forward, one leap at a time and to not stop when your body tells you to. I remember the struggle I had on Capitol Peak in Colorado - I was lagging behind all the time because I was not prepared to keep pushing forward. My body was not used to it at that time. Ten years and a few gray hairs later, things are a little different. 

... to get lost in the music in your ears. As Yanni builds up his tempo, so does my run 

... to observe the world around you as it passes by. Sometimes, it feels like each run is a time lapse of your entire life and you are just a witness looking at all the fun and laughing at the awesome ride you had

... to share the stories of people whom you come across. Each person you come cross has a story, a success, a tragedy and a rich life - you just keep wondering what those events could be. 

... forgetting yourself, even if for a few brief seconds along the way. Along the run, there are always moments when you are completely lost in a thought or in a thoughtless moment - these are the ones I always look forward to. Paradoxically, these moments during the run let you detach completely from the act of running and that, to me, is fulfilling. 

... to let your body switch on autopilot and to detach from it. Your body is a great machine. You oil it well and it keeps running without giving you trouble. Most of the days you run, each step you take is a subconscious activity and your body just takes care of it so that you could focus on better things. On one of those autopilot days in Mumbai, I was bitten by a stray dog and had to take rabies shots! At least that is not a consideration here in NJ/NY...

... feeling your sweat burn your eyes. Oftentimes, the autopilot makes you forget that there are maintenance activities that need to be completed and the body reminds you to wipe your sweat by burning your eyes a bit.  

... to wake up before sunrise and to feel child-like happiness when you see the sun rise half way along the run. I have been fortunate to find a peaceful, not so busy running path near my apartment and each time the sun rises, it brings along the sense of a new beginning. I have a few pictures below. 

... to feel the rain, your sweat, body heat and the cold breeze at the same time. On days when you are caught off guard, you get to feel all these items at once. 

... realizing the power of "now". Getting lost in the moment is not that easy and is often underrated. I consciously run the same path(s) every day to ensure that I get lost in my thought.

... to disconnect from yourself to find your true self. Yeah, this one is cheesy. But, the act of disconnecting from everything else is indeed finding yourself. 

-----------------------------

Keep running. Be driven. Do whatever that makes you feel the above...




All pictures are views of Manhattan from Jersey City, taken during early morning runs.



 

Monday, July 6, 2020

The united colors of humanity


It has been more than a decade since I wrote about race (the brownie sizzles here). 

In these 10+ years, 
  • I have grown wiser (due to lack of evidence suggesting otherwise); My hair has evolved into a new color (for better or worse); I have experienced two bitter cold Canadian winters, the cosmopolitan life of Singapore, a failed startup in India and most recently, the Corona virus in the US (well, across the globe)
  • I have lived in 
    • A multi cultural university locality in 'French first' Montreal, where you are welcome with open arms the moment you attempt speaking in French,
    • A predominantly Asian Singapore, where my Singaporean Physio and I got into a debate over Chinese vs Singaporean identities,
    • A tier II Indian city called Pune where my wife had to say "Mein Japani hoon" to identify herself as Japanese (the phrase translates to "I am Japanese"),
    • The cultural hotspot of New York / New Jersey where people were too busy with their lives until the virus struck and made people think.
Each one of these experiences had racial underpinnings that gave me perspective. Be it Montreal where, without French, you are treated like an outsider or Singapore where Singaporeans uniquely identify themselves or India where anyone a small nose is called a "Nepali" or "Chinese", each one of these experiences showed me the impact of conscious and unconscious bias against people of certain characteristics.

The recent events in the US have made me think about the future of humanity as a whole. And, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is just the tip of the iceberg - across the world, we have systemic issues of discrimination within castes, races, colors, religions and countries. Makes one wonder if we are a self destructing race and Musk, foreseeing this, is aggressively pursuing another planet to destroy. 

History, in the absence of a better guiding post, acts as a good reference point to gain perspective.  Machines evolve as they accumulate more history. However, we seem to be going backwards with time. Makes machines better candidates for evolution than us - Maybe Darwin knows better. 

Nevertheless, let us try to understand race by looking back at history.

4,000 Million (Mn) years ago - Life on Earth
~500 Mn years ago - Animals
~200 Mn years ago - Mammals
~50 Mn years ago - Monkeys
~10 Mn years ago - Close human relatives
~200,000 (K) years ago - Homo Sapiens
~50K years ago - Modern humans emigrate from Africa

As we can see, we have not been here for more than a couple of hundred thousand years and in the larger scheme of things, we have done more damage than potentially any other species. In the most recent 50,000 years, as humans migrated to different parts of the world, Darwin's natural selection took over and ensured that we adapt to the new environments. 

Evolution since the grand migration

We all know that human skin color is affected by, among other things, the amount of melanin. As humans migrated from higher UV exposure (near equator) to farther areas, lighter skin types evolved. 
And, with the invention of agriculture ~12,000 years ago, we started settling down as there was no more a need for a nomadic lifestyle. This resulted in a change in human genome which altered height, immunity, skin color etc. over a period of time. 

As humans moved into colder climes, the noses evolved to become smaller to accommodate colder, drier air which irritates the nasal membranes.  

Similar changes in body structure, immunity came across as we adjusted to the new environments. This was natural selection working its way through. 

The most recent history revisited 

With the above background, now, let us look at the events that have taken place in recent history.  

1700s
  • 1707 - United Kingdom of Britain was formed. This was a key event that resulted in colonization of the world
  • 1757 - Beginning of the British empire in India
  • 1776 - American declaration of Independence;  America celebrates 244th anniversary in a unique set of circumstances this week.
  • 1789+ - French revolution that leads to Napoleon becoming the First Consul
Overall, the 1700s set the foundation for colonization with France, Britain and Russia leading the way. 

1800s
  • Across US and Europe, show of power continues. 
    • US executes Louisiana Purchase, and doubles its territory with more acquisitions. 
    • In Europe, Napoleon extends his reign until 1814 when France is defeated and Napoleon is exiled.
  • 1824 - Mexico gains freedom from Spain
  • 1833 - Slavery is abolished in the British Empire
  • 1861 - US Civil war begins
  • 1867 - Japan ends 675 year old Shogun rule
  • 1868 - Civil rights granted to blacks 
Throughout the 1800s, there is debate on equal rights and slavery and significant progress is made.

1900s
    • 1914-1918 - First World War
    • 1919 - Mahatma Gandhi initiates his non violence movement against the British
    • 1930s - The great depression
    • 1934 - Hitler becomes Fuhrer
    • 1939-45 - Second world war
    • 1960s - Unrest in the US over black rights. Martin Luther King Jr. rises as a leader but is assassinated in 1968.
    • 1969 - Gay Rights Movement in New York
    This century saw numerous conflicts and wars, fights for freedom resulting in the end of colonization and birth of new, free countries. Significant progress was made with respect to equal rights, be it for women, African Americans or gays. This century also saw the rise of great leaders and visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa etc. 

    2000s

    We experienced the rise of the internet, a force that changed the order of life on this planet. Other key events include 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the financial crisis of 2008 and an overall economic boom across the world. 

    Putting it all together

    Agree, that was a lengthy history - but it was necessary. 

    We evolved from simplistic bacteria to very complex homo sapiens. And then, with the invention of agriculture, we transitioned from nomadic beings to stationary settlers. And post that, with all this time on our hands, we started inventing things to improve our lives. We ventured into other geographies, created colonies and subsequently, gave birth to countries with bubbling economies. And, while we were busy doing all this, evolution was working its own vicious plot in the background - it created  variants of homo sapiens that were better suited for survival.

    If we look at the most recent couple of hundred years, we have transitioned from slavery and colonialism to a mostly democratic bunch of diverse countries. Rights for women, people of color, and people of various sexual orientations have significantly improved during this period. 

    While the recent events in the US do indicate that criminal justice has lagged behind in treating blacks fairly (RIP George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery), there have been great strides forward in terms of education (~24% under 25 complete their bachelors), representation of African Americans in the US congress (~11%) and other areas here in the US. The rise in education will lead to a rise in wealth and help bridge, to some extent, the income inequality that exists today. It might be a good idea to set diversity targets for corporations, local governments based on the population mix of the region in which they operate. I am sure there are better brains working on this one. 

    Let us now take a step back and consider the whole of humanity - somewhere along the process of evolution, we lost the ability to accept differences. We have so many examples in recent history but we somehow find it difficult to learn - Shia muslims fighting Sunnis in the middle east, scheduled castes treated poorly in India, China angering neighbors with petty border issues, natives and indigenous tribes being sidelined etc.  And now, most recently, the Black Lives Matter protests to fix the criminal justice system. 

    All these wars, conflicts, protests must drive home the point that we don't gain much by fighting against one another. We would be better off if we accept the natural order of things i.e. the diversity arising out of evolution and work towards embracing differences. If these BLM protests morph into a movement that addresses the perennial issue of our collective inability to accept diversity, it would be a giant leap forward. And, once that happens, Darwin would be a happy man! 

    --------------------------------------------

    References:

    Friday, July 3, 2020

    Day hikes/trips from NYC without a car - Part III - Wildwood State Park


    This is the first time I ventured into Long Island. All my previous trips have been to the Hudson valley. 
    (In the NY state map below, #8 is Hudson Valley region and #10 is Long Island)


    As always, since we are traveling without a car, let us start with the commute. 

    THE COMMUTE:

     1. Get to Penn Station in NYC

    From Jersey city / rest of New Jersey 
    • Path takes you to 33rd street, from where Penn Station is a few minutes walk.
    • NJ Transit takes you to Penn Station. 
    From NYC, you know how. Take any of the subways that leads you to Penn. 
     
    Of course, if you have more dollars to spare, use Lyft or Uber to get to Penn. 

    2. Take the Long Island Railroad to Riverhead

    You have, in general, 2 options to get to Riverhead. 

    Option 1: Take the train to Greenport and get off at Riverhead. Please check the latest schedules - Long Island Railroad (LIRR) is operating limited lines due to Covid. 

    Option 2: Take the train to Ronkonkoma and then transfer to the train to Greenport and get off at Riverhead. 

    The option you choose will depend on the time you reach Penn station - so, it is very important to plan ahead. Pick the train you want to take for your onward and return journeys before you begin the trip. 

    LIRR's map is here

    Riverhead looks like this - well, nothing fancy or noteworthy, just that I had a photo taken so why not throw it at you!



    3. Take Uber / Lyft to Wildwood State Park

    The journey is about 10 miles / 15 mins and you will pay approximately $15 for the ride. I had an interesting conversation with my Uber driver. He had lived 50+ years of his life around Riverhead and didn't know about this park! And, here he was, driving an Indian who lives in another state, took multiple trains to come to this place. As I was thinking about this conversation, I realized that it all goes back to our desire to look for exotic locations away from home. Maybe we should start appreciating our home a little more. I guess the Covid pandemic has forced us to do just that. Your home has become everything it is not supposed to be and in a way, this has made us appreciate a lot of small things which were otherwise taken for granted.  Well, more on that later, let us get back to Riverhead.

    Across all my car-less hiking trips in the US, I have hardly seen anyone using Uber or Lyft for national/state parks. Of course, this is not a factual statement but just my opinion based on the number of people I have seen waiting for cabs. Wiki has an extensive page for the number I am referring to.

    Therefore, I would recommend you to tip more than normal as the driver is not going to get another ride back to town. I always do that when I take Uber or Lyft for the last mile. This is the least we can do to support local communities. 


    THE HIKE:

    The trails are very well marked, and there is hardly any elevation gain or any signs of tricky terrain. This one is accessible to all skill levels. Most of the folks who come to this park come here for the beach. The beach is clean and can be a good detour from the trail if you would like to scramble your way to the water. 




    I didn't see a lot of folks on the trail. The trails are well marked and you can do whatever length suits you fine. I liked the solitude and the peaceful setting on a beautiful, sunny day. 


    I almost walked on every trail possible and once bumped into a private property along the park. 

     

    And then, once you are done, you take an Uber/Lyft back to Riverhead train station to get back to your 5 day migration !!


    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    This is part III of a 'car-less day trip/hike around NYC' series. Previous blogs are listed below:


    Monday, June 29, 2020

    Day hikes/trips from NYC without a car - Part II - Breakneck Ridge


    This is the second blog in the series. The first one was Arden Point and Glenclyffe  

    Breackneck Ridge is easily the most intense day hike in upstate NY. It is a steep ~3-4 mile round trip hike. It is strenuous and I would not recommend this one for first time hikers. Also, this trail is not pet friendly, please try yourself before taking your pet. 
     
    THE COMMUTE

     1. Get to Penn Station in NYC

    From Jersey city / rest of New Jersey 
      • Path takes you to 33rd street, from where Penn Station is a few minutes walk.
      • NJ Transit takes you to Penn Station. 
    From NYC, you know how. Take any of the subways that leads you to Penn. 
     
    Of course, if you have more dollars to spare, use Lyft or Uber to get to Penn. 

    2. Take Metro North, Hudson Line (Green Line) from Penn to Breakneck Ridge. 

    Please note that the train schedule is different for weekdays and weekends, when you have more trains stopping at Breakneck Ridge. Please check Metro North schedule before you plan.
    • You can buy tickets at Penn station or
    • Use the MTA eTix Mobile App (most convenient) or
    • Buy ticket on the train with cash (more expensive than station and app). I haven't seen card machines with ticket collectors, so please ensure that you have sufficient cash and change, if you choose this option.
            I always use the MTA eTix app - It is very convenient. You can book the ticket whenever you want (I do it when I am on the way to Penn). Activate the ticket after boarding the train - DO NOT activate before boarding. Once you activate your ticket, there is no way to reverse the action and the ticket is valid for the time period of the journey. You have to present the app if demanded by the ticket collector, so ensure that you have enough battery before you activate. I have seen an example where someone's battery ran out and had to buy a new ticket from the collector.


    3. Once you reach Breakneck Ridge, walk to the trailhead

    • Facing the direction of the train (i.e. North), get to the right side platform. I have been dropped on the right platform on the 2 trips I made. 
    • Once you are on the right platform, walk through the the only exit to route 9D 
    • Without crossing 9D, turn to the right and walk for a few minutes along 9D. 
    • Just before the tunnel, you will notice a small registration center (during summer). Even if you don't see it, the trailhead can be easily seen before the tunnel. DO NOT cross the tunnel - The trail will take you over the tunnel. 

    THE HIKE

    The trail begins on route 9D before the tunnel and gradually takes you over the tunnel on to the rocky sections ahead. The incline increases gradually as you move forward. Once you enter the rocky section, please be careful of rock falls initiated by fellow hikers ahead of you. You have to scramble through vertical rock sections on this hike, please wear appropriate clothing. 


    This hike is immensely popular and gets really crowded on summer weekends. And, the crowds come here for a reason - Breakneck Ridge offers stellar views of the Hudson river. 



    The first view point offers a beautiful view. Don't mistake it for the summit, there is more to go. The views get better as you go higher. 



           


    On an average, it takes about 4 hours for the round trip back to the station - Please plan accordingly. You could do much more depending on how much energy you have left. 


    In the trail above, I have marked the starting point (i.e. breakneck train station) in a red circle. A few trail options are marked in blue: 

    Option 1: Easier, shorter - BR-UC-BK

    Option 2 : A little longer but ideal for a day hike : BR-BB-WM

    [BR, UC, BK, BB and WM are trail IDs. Details are in the link here)

    Of course, you can always continue on to Beacon towards the North or Cold Spring to the South (not marked by me, there are multiple options). On one of my trips, I took Option #2 above and then took a cab to Beacon - you can enjoy a drink in this historical city and then take the train back to NYC.

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Earlier blogs in this car-less, NYC day hike series :





    Sunday, June 28, 2020

    Day hikes/trips from NYC without a car - Part I - Arden Point and Glenclyffe


    I don't own a car. I don't know how to drive one. 

    These constraints make me evaluate car-less hiking alternatives wherever I live. As my current stint in NYC comes to an end, I thought, this might be a good time to document the trips I made. 

    This blog is the first in the series. 

    So, why Arden point and Glenclyffe? 
    • This is a good start for anyone who wishes to start exploring the region around NYC. 
    • Easy trails - if you can walk, you can do this one.
    • Reasonably well marked trails - A couple of areas are not very well marked but you would never get lost. 
    • Less than a couple of hours by train from NYC

    THE COMMUTE

    1. Get to Penn Station in NYC

    • From Jersey city / rest of New Jersey 
      • Path takes you to 33rd street, from where Penn Station is a few minutes walk.
      • NJ Transit takes you to Penn Station. 
    • From NYC, you know how. Take any of the subways that leads you to Penn. 
    Of course, if you have more dollars to spare, use Lyft or Uber to get to Penn. 

    2. Take Metro North, Hudson Line (Green Line) from Penn to Garrison. 
    • You can buy tickets at Penn station or
    • Use the MTA eTix Mobile App (most convenient) or
    • Buy ticket on the train with cash (more expensive than station and app). I haven't seen card machines with ticket collectors, so please ensure that you have sufficient cash and change, if you choose this option.
            I always use the MTA eTix app - It is very convenient. You can book the ticket whenever you want (I do it when I am on the way to Penn). Activate the ticket after boarding the train - DO NOT activate before boarding. Once you activate your ticket, there is no way to reverse the action and the ticket is valid for the time period of the journey. You have to present the app if demanded by the ticket collector, so ensure that you have enough battery before you activate. I have seen an example where someone's battery ran out and had to buy a new ticket from the collector.



    3. Once you reach Garrison, walk to the trailhead 
    • Facing the direction of the train (i.e. North), get to the right side platform. I have been dropped on the right platform on the 2 trips I made. 
    • Once you are on the right platform, with the railroad behind you, walk towards the right on the road in front of you. It is not more than a 2-3 min walk. So if you have walked longer, you have missed it. 
    • Look for this sign - this is the trailhead. The trail begins to the left of this sign board. 



    THE HIKE

    It is a fairly easy hike with some good views of the Hudson river. You could literally walk anywhere there is a trail and not get lost. Even if you go off the trail, it is very difficult to get lost. There are some key landmarks :

    The first one is a bridge that takes you over the railroad. 


    The next one is the river. 


    Between these 2 landmarks, even if you get lost, you could find yourself !!




    On my first trip, I tried completing the Glenclyffe loop, but could not complete as the trail was blocked with very dense vegetation after this lookout / dilapidated camping spot. I scrambled my way to a private property and then back to the main road that leads to the station.


    This place is not that crowded - I have visited on weekends and have found just a few people. If you would like some solitude without straining yourself that much, Arden Point and Glenclyffe is a very good option. 

    Up next : Breakneck Ridge.


    Monday, June 22, 2020

    To go or to not go


    "To go or to not go" is a frequently occurring question in our lives. Could be in the context of going to office on a beautiful, bright sunny day or trying to push for the next camp, on an already long day of hiking or waking up early for that early morning run or for that matter, contemplating having a kid. 

    On a hot summer day in May, I was sitting (and sweating) in our home in Pune (India) wondering if I was to start a company of my own. It was not an easy question to answer. The probability of finding a business in my family hierarchy is almost equal to finding a polar bear on the streets of Mumbai. There was no precedent in the family and nobody to guide. My earlier half-hearted, part-time attempt a few years ago did not end well. 

    I was anxious to trace the origin of this question. 

    The Origin

    My exile in the Himalayas made me learn a few things. One key learning was persistence, the drive to keep going beyond what would have normally been a time to stop. There have been excruciatingly long days high up on the mountain (15,000 ft+) when I have been tempted to stop but kept going because it was the right thing to do. Everything in real life seems a breeze when I compare these situations to "those" days. 

    Post my return, after giving away my life savings to a family emergency, I was on the lookout for a job. This was my first time in the open job market - my earlier jobs have been fairly easy to get on college campuses. I was soon going to figure out how privileged my life was. The jog hunting approach was wrong, the types of jobs I applied to were wrong (hiking guide being one of them) and the entire process backfired. I must have applied for a couple of hundred jobs and was not able to land a single interview. Indian companies, at that time, were not ready for the transparent disclosure of a voluntary, 4 month break in career.  

    There are times when, unbeknownst to you, life is planning its own vicious plot. One of my close friends reached out to me with an assignment and gave me an option to help him fix his business. Of course, he wanted me to do this in my free time which, at that time, included every degree of the clock that the hour and minute hand can cover. 
        
    This project set in motion a detailed review of off-the-shelf products for enterprise resource planning for small businesses. When I couldn't find anything that met the requirements, I turned to customization of open source alternatives. I found one of them to be very promising - OpenErp (Now called Odoo). customizing this Open Source product meant that I had to learn Python. I spent the next 3 months learning its syntax and the code structure of OpenErp. In the next few months, step by step, I customized this open source to meet the requirements of my friend. 

    I felt a tremendous uplift from this creation (I was tempted to call it "customization", but that didn't fit the feeling I am trying to describe here). I was able to solve a problem and that made me happy. It was natural to think of extending this effort to make it a commercial venture. That, right there, gave birth to my company called Monakus. 
     
    "Monachus" is the Latin name for a monk. This company's sole purpose was to provide direction to companies just like a monk. I was tempted to use the name "Monachus" but dropped the idea after a few friends apprised me of the negative connotations in Hindi when you break it into two. It would have translated to "Mona suck" and that would have been a tremendous distraction throughout the life of the company!

    The Struggle and the end

    With no prior experience in sales, I resorted to tried and tested approaches like cold calling, attending exhibitions, etc. to score customers. There were days when I made 100+ calls in a day and then, there were other days, when I would spend the entire day in industrial complexes knocking the doors of small businesses. I was given the same treatment that other cold callers receive, ranging from polite declines to extremely uncivil responses. I did not take any of this personally but the whole process was taking a toll on me. With each passing day, I was running the risk of running out of money and nearing my breaking point. 

    I kept going. 

    Six months passed by with not much progress. I did not have a sustainable sales pipeline and was beginning to question the viability of the venture. Just then, on one of those blind pitches, I met my partner. He had a very strong network due to his real estate background, and I was good at managing everything else. We clicked instantly and, after a few conversations, converted the company into a Private limited entity.   

    We did well for about a year. And by "well", I mean visibility into the next 2-3 months and a consistent cash flow to manage our expenses. We had one or more 6+ month assignments with recurring monthly billing. We grew from just us to a team of 6. Things were looking up despite the fact that we running on thin margins. Basic technology based projects like websites were proving to be bread and butter. High value consulting work, though, was proving to be elusive.  

    And, in a desperate attempt to raise money, we digressed. Side projects started to consume more time. Fondofood.com (home cooked food delivered from centralized kitchens), Ghartak.com (Grocery delivery), Monakus realty (real estate) folded up after pilots and did not even take off to a real commercial launch. We spent time pitching these ideas to investors in the hope that we would land seed capital to launch one of these. Our travel schedule was becoming hectic with these frequent trips to Mumbai to meet potential investors. 

    The grand idea was to make Monakus an incubator where these new ideas and businesses would be born. The dream was big, time was running out and cash was running out faster. 

    After a few desperate attempts, we had to acknowledge the fact that we were on a downward spiral. We started trimming down our expenses and tried to get back to our bread and butter website projects. Unfortunately, it was too late. We had lost time, opportunities, employees and leads. By May 2015, I took the call to end the venture. My partner wanted to continue using the name and trademarks. He pivoted back to his real estate business and I turned back to corporate life. 

    Both of us are doing well and often wonder where we would have been, had one of those ideas grown into a real company. 

    And for me, the monthly (or bi-weekly) paycheck has a new meaning now - I now know how difficult it is to earn that by yourself!


    Wednesday, June 10, 2020

    Catching up on life



    Well, it has been an eventful last few years since the Grand Himalayan Exile. Here are a few events that have transpired and I would love to throw some light on each one of these in separate posts to give them the importance they deserve.

    A failed startup experience. Lots of learning without any earning - Nevertheless, now I know what it means.

    - Marrying a Japanese. I prefer to avoid personal topics but this one might actually help those in interracial relationships or plan to be in one or are curious about one. The actual signing event was so bizarre that even the Indian registrar couldn't believe - he, in fact, asked my to-be wife if she was being forced into this marriage because she couldn't pronounce my full name!. Well, if pronouncing my full name was the bar, it is too high for anyone to cross it.

    - Life in Mumbai. In my earlier Mumbai stint (2008-09), working from home was decided by how much water there is on the street outside my house - Ankle deep, and you know that Kurla is under water and trains are not operating. Well, working from home has a new meaning with the current pandemic. All this and more on witnessing the life of an expat in Mumbai, what it takes to live in Mumbai if you are not from "here".

    - Jersey City - the only thing that stops it from being a part of India is entry visa for Americans. It is a beautiful, diverse oasis where almost every culture can find something to call its own.

    - Hikes around New York City - There are abundant "things to do" websites for NYC. I will talking about day hikes around NYC that can be accessed without a car. Not that I am against owning a car, I just don't happen to know how to drive one! 

    - Canada - In a few months, I will be starting my second episode in Canada, a beautiful country with awesome people. I will provide a laundry list of items for first time movers to Canada. I have found a few blogs and articles that cover bits and pieces but haven't seen anyone documenting it well.

    I hope I can turn these around in days rather than months...





    Friday, November 22, 2013

    The new age of Indian online retail - The case of Naaptol.com



    It has been a while since I have blogged. It has also been a while since I have felt strongly about something.

    Welcome to the new age of online retail in India. You find everything right from clothing to kitchen ware to bedroom furniture in a few clicks. Electronics and books have always been available online - Atleast as far as my memory goes back. (I do need to get myself checked for 'Amnesia' - Wiki says it is curable though !!)

    My abode in Pune was frequently seeing guests and there was a need to transform the bachelor's accommodation into something that is more livable (for lack of a better word). So comes the decision to jazz up a bit - Now, being who I am, the word 'Jazz up' doesn't go too well with me. I get a couple of beds that are good enough for a few nights. I have been using my good old sleeping bag for those cold nights - however, it is not a commonly used solution for cold. Most people are better off with blankets - I get a couple of them too.

    Now comes the tricky part - Kitchen. I have been using my mountain stove for cooking (Please excuse my usage of words - what I 'cook' cannot be placed in the category of cooking). Nevertheless, with a liter of petrol (Kerosone is tough to get!), I can go for a fortnight without a refill. It may not be the most efficient and eco-friendly way of cooking but seems a good bet under the current circumstances. I re-fuel and use it on demand. This sounds pretty much like SaaS (Stove as a Service and not Software as a Service!) - I was excited and life went on smoothly.

    But the thought of my guests going through a hardship convinced me to get an 'induction stove'.

    I browse through Naaptol.com and others like Flipkart, ebay and Amazon. I found my perfect fit at Naaptol.com. I had never heard of this name before. I am usually quite cautious when it comes to online purchases - I have been purchasing a lot of stuff online but mostly from trusted companies. It was the 30th of October and Saturn was busy plotting a wicked plot against me. I had no clue that this was a plot that was more twisted than the human DNA.

    I fall into the trap.

    I ordered an 'induction stove' from Naaptol.com. I called them immediately to check if there is way to shorten delivery times from the current  '7-8' business days. I have received shipments in 2-3 business days on most of my purchases before. I am assured that delivery would be done in 3-4 business days but it cannot be guaranteed. Now, the difference between an 'assurance' and a  'guarantee' is the same as the difference between 'water resistant' and 'water proof'. As for the latter, I realized that on a dark rainy night on a ~13000ft peak in Colorado. And, as it turns out, I realize the true meaning of 'assurance' after this episode with Naaptol.com.

    I call them every 3 business days from the time I ordered till today. I was given an 'Airway bill number' that supposedly belonged to Blue Dart. I tried to track delivery on Blue Dart website - Apparently, that number neither belonged to Blue Dart nor did it belong to 'Muggles'. I called Blue Dart and I get an audio confirmation of the same. I was told to seek help from Hogwarts to track the shipment. Looked like my stove was 'Evanesco'ed by somebody !!

    There was a positive twist too. There was always a new excuse every time to keep me entertained. First it was Deepavali, then it was 'fault with dispatcher' and then it was 'damaged parcel from retailer' and then today, 'being processed'. I have gone a full circle in 23 days.

    I haven't received the shipment and I have no clue whatsoever as to what happened to it. Maybe Albus knows !!!

    Naaptol.com, Good Bye and God Bless.


    POST SCRIPT:
    The author, after being subjected to immense psychological strain over the last 3 weeks, has cancelled the order half an hour back. He intends to take this to consumer court if he doesn't receive a full refund.

    Terms and their meaning:
    Goodbye - The author does not intend to visit Naaptol.com again and neither does he intend to recommend this site to anyone.
    God Bless - Naaptol.com, if you would like to survive in the harsh world of online retail, you need to pull up your socks quite high !

    Afterthought:
    I guess, with the advent of third party resell, these delays are bound to occur more frequently. The online resellers are no more in full control. Well, Amazon does have a solution !.

    Disclaimer:
    All thoughts are personal and are based on true events. Of course, we can agree to disagree if you don't trust my short term memory !





    Wednesday, May 22, 2013

    The Grand Himalayan Exile | Updates


    I have been asked by many friends and colleagues to post updates of my Himalayan adventure so that they could track my movement. I will update this post as and when possible throughout the next 3 months.


    16th June 2013, 0630 PM Bali Local time - Bali, Indonesia
    Bali was much better than I had anticipated. There are quite a few good non touristy locales. Staying in a hostel in Sanur right next to the beach. Returning to Chennai on the 20th. Looking at spending the next few months gathering my thoughts, journal logs and video logs.


    28th May 2013, 0630 PM IST - Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India
    CHANGE OF PLANS !! The Himalayan exile is now extended into Non Himalayan terrain as well. Heading to the beaches of Indonesia for the next 3-4 weeks - Starting off with Bali. Jammu-Delhi-Kolkata-Kuala Lumpur-Bali !
    Just reached Jammu after a 45hr ride from Leh - easily the longest single ride of my life. Spent 2 nights on NH1 in the taxi amidst scary conditions of the core elements of nature (snow, rain, landslides, lightning!). Leaving for Delhi tomorrow early in the morning.

    25th May 2013, 1115 AM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    Pics uploaded - available below. Return journey finalized. 5 days of road travel from the 27th of May to reach Pune on the 1st of June - Includes 30+hrs of bus/taxi and 40+hrs of waitlisted train journey.

    22nd May 2013, 1230 PM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    For a change, I am doing nothing for the next few days. A pleasant 'do nothing' time in Leh with books, coffee, mint tea and smoke ! I am getting to terms that this lovely trip is nearing its end. It is not easy to accept !

    20th May 2013, 0221 PM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    Nubra valley was lovely. Crossed Khardung La (5602m), apparently the highest motorable road in the world.. Rest for the next few days before Pangong lake. Should be leaving Ladakh before the end of this month.

    15th May 2013, 0900 PM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    Just came back from the Lamayuru to Chilling hike. It was beautiful. Crossed Konzke La pass (4950m) and DunDun Chen La Pass (4620m) - Both of them really challenging because of snow on the pass. We were the first ones to cross the pass this season - intense route finding in knee-deep snow. Luckily, the guide was superbly experienced and took us home safely on a non existent trail. I was joined by an Israeli guy named Ofer. Easily, the toughest snow conditions I have ever faced in my life - Thorung La pass (5416m) in Nepal made me walk 9hrs on snow but was not as risky as this one.
    Nevertheless, a very beautiful hike - Rural Ladakh is outstanding. All the nights in the hike were spent in small rural villages with less than 7 families. Simple peaceful life.
    Planning Nubra valley next - Should be leaving Ladakh in less than 10 days.
    I am getting a feel that this exile is going to be extended beyond the 3 months that i had initially anticipated.

    07th May 2013, 0830 PM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    Starting an 8 day hike tomorrow. This one is guided because of the high altitude passes that are covered with snow. Would traverse from Sham valley onto Markha valley - 3 passes between 4600m and 5000m. This one is going to be demanding because of snow on the passes as well as the high altitude. I am very well acclimatized - hopefully there should not be any high altitude issues. Fully geared with crampons, sleeping bags and adequate winter clothing. Should be good fun ! Next update on my return.

    04th May 2013, 0140 PM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    Back in Leh after a wonderful hike in Sham valley. Rural Ladakh, mountain passes and solitude - i cant ask for anything more. Couple of days rest in Leh before i head out to either Nubhra valley (along the LoC with China - exactly where the Chinese have pitched up tents) or Zanskar region. I'm lovin it !

    30th Apr 2013, 1100 AM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    Leh is stunningly beautiful and delightfully peaceful with hardly any tourists around. It is still early spring and hence it is pretty cold too. Climbed up to the Shanti Stupa yesterday - the altitude does make easy climbs slightly difficult. Slowly getting used to the altitude. Doing another Stupa today - These climbs are helping me acclimatize faster. Starting a 5 day hike in Sham valley tomorrow. I am getting a feel that one month may not be enough for Ladakh !

    28th Apr 2013, 1230 PM IST - Leh (Ladakh), Jammu and Kashmir, India
    The boat house stay in Srinagar was lovely. After a 15hr picturesque journey across J&K, I am now at Leh. Reached here 1AM last night - Staying with a very nice family here at Leh. The ride from Srinagar was awesome - Srinagar, Zozila Pass, Drass (The second coldest inhabited place on this planet), Kargil and then Leh. I would have never thought i would ever cross these places - heard them during the war more than a decade back. Everything is peaceful nowadays and J&K Tourism has done a good job in promoting these as tourist destinations.
    Planning to get acclimatized to the altitude of Leh (3500m+) over the next 2-3 days. Will start a hike after that.
    I am in love with J&K - It is rightly called 'Heaven'. This surely is not going to be my last trip to 'Heaven'.

    25th Apr 2013, 1230 PM IST - Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India
    In heaven (Jammu and Kashmir) for the first time in this life ! First a 7 hr bus ride from Dharamshala to Jammu and then a 11hr shared taxi ride to Srinagar. Local Srinagar sightseeing today. Off to Gulmarg tomorrow - maybe a couple of days there. Should be in Ladakh in less than a week - It is a 15 hr shared taxi ride from Srinagar. If all goes well, I am planning to spend 4 weeks in Ladakh. Also planning a long hike in the Ladakh/Zanskar region. Some bad news - no prepaid roaming in J&K - no new SIM cards in J&K - So, no phone contact for the next 4 weeks. Will be out of internet reach too once i leave Srinagar - Hopefully, I should be able to post another update before i leave Srinagar.

    21st Apr 2013, 1115 AM IST - McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India
    In McLeod Ganj for the last six days. Day hikes keeping me busy. Planning to do the 4 day hike upto Indrahaar Pass if the snow clears up - Will wait a couple of days. Heading to Jammu and Kashmir in less than a week. Completed 50 days on this trip !

    13th Apr 2013, 1220 PM IST - Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India
    In Dharamshala. Hectic travel to reach here - First, a 10hr bus ride Bhutan to Siliguri, then a 36hr train ride (that was 26hrs late) to New Delhi, and finally a 13hr bus ride from New Delhi to Dharamshala. Going to take a couple of days of rest right under the 'Inner Himalayas' before i head out further north.

    08th Apr 2013, 720 PM IST - Siliguri, West Bengal, India
     Just reached Siliguri after a 10hr bus ride from Bhutan. Will be starting my 32hr train journey to Nayi Dilli in 12 hrs - Now, this is some travel !! Had to cut short my Bhutan trip due to immigration issues - I was not allowed to exit alone into Assam from Eastern Bhutan - hence had to return back to Siliguri. Apparently, Bhutan feels that I am not safe 'alone' in the eastern part of my home country - In hindsight, I do agree with their decision. My plan was indeed risky.
    Would spend a few days in New Delhi until I figure out the next leg of this journey (The Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh / Ladakh / Tibet).
    This is just getting better everyday !

    31st Mar 2013, 145 PM Bhutan Local time - Thimphu, Bhutan
    It rained yesterday and all my plans were washed away. Went around Thimphu today - it is a beautiful little town. No traffic signals all throughout ! The immigration office was closed and so were most of the other establishments. Future plan will be decided tomorrow - would be chilling out for one more day. Smoking is banned at public places and sale of tobacco products is illegal throughout Bhutan ! 200% duty applies on getting in tobacco products. Alcohol though is freely available.

    30th Mar 2013, 500 PM Bhutan Local time - Thimphu, Bhutan
    Reached Thimphu - the largest city in Bhutan. I am in love with this country. One month here is going to be enough for this lifetime ! (it is probably smaller than the smallest state in India). Exploring options of doing a road trip + day hikes or do the classic 10 day gruelling Jhomolhari trek + a smaller road trip. Whatever be the case, will out of touch after the next 48 hours or so - will be heading to rural Bhutan towards the east (Thimphu is not strictly urban though - everything is relative !). Would be crossing some wonderful passes over 4000m on the way/on the hike.

    29th Mar 2013, 1045 AM IST - Siliguri, India
    Crossed over to India after a long rickety bus ride across Nepal. Crossed the border at Kakkarbhitta (Nepal) - Panitanki (India). Easiest border crossing in my life - No documents !!
    In West Bengal for the first time ! Leaving for Phuentsholing (Border town - Bhutan) in an hour.

    24th Mar 2013, 215 PM Nepal local time - Pokhara, Nepal
    19 days and 210 Kms of hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal - Annapurna Circuit complete. The best hike ever !
    Now in Pokhara (Nepal). Should be in Bhutan Himalayas by the end of this month.

    18th Mar 2013, 1130 AM Nepal local time - Jomsom, Nepal
    At Jomsom (~2800m). Crossed Thorong la Pass (5416m / 17770 ft) successfully - lucky to have had excellent weather. Might be the highest point i will ever hike in my life. Now descending into civilization - should be in Pokhara in 8-9 days.

    11th Mar 2013, 500 PM Nepal local time - Manang, Nepal
    @3500 metres - Manang - 2 nights from today for acclimatization.

    3rd Mar 2013, 445 PM Nepal local time - Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Trekking Permits, Pashupatinath Temple and BoudhaNath Stupa. I am all set - will be on the trail tomorrow. Updates will be less frequent from now on.

    2nd Mar 2013, 820 PM Nepal local time - Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Went around Kathmandu - Durbar square and Swayambhu Stupa. Should be on the trail in 48 hours.

    1st Mar 2013, 630 PM Nepal local time - Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Well, Nepal just seems to be an extension of India! Chaotic, order-less and oozing with energy !

    1st Mar 2013, 715 AM SGT - Changi Airport, Singapore
    I am all set ! Goodbye Singapore. I can't believe I am saying this - "I will miss you Singapore !"

    26th Feb 2013, 5 PM SGT - Singapore
    Just about 48 hours to go ! I can feel it now !



    Related posts:

    The Grand Himalayan Exile

    The Grand Himalayan Exile | Gear List

    The Grand Himalayan Exile | Pics | Best of Bhutan

    The Grand Himalayan Exile | Pics | Best of Nepal


    The Grand Himalayan Exile | Pics | Best of Bhutan



    Smoking is prohibited at public places
    Between Phuentsholing (border town) and Thimphu
    Thimphu, Capital of Bhutan
    Bhutan
    TashiChhoe Dzong (Monastery)
    Thimphu, Bhutan
    TashiChhoe Dzong (Monastery)
    Thimphu, Bhutan
    Buddha Statue
    Thimphu, Bhutan
    The only time I indulged in Luxury
    Do Chu La Pass, Bhutan
    Journal logs - also on Annapurna notebooks
    Do Chu La Pass, Bhutan
    Sunrise from Do Chu La
    Do Chu La Pass, Bhutan
    At Do Chu La resort
    Do Chu La Pass, Bhutan
    108 Chortens at Do Chu La
    Do Chu La Pass, Bhutan
    108 Chortens at Do Chu La
    Do Chu La Pass, Bhutan
    Paro town
    Paro, Bhutan
    Tiger's nest Monastery (near the top of the mountain)
    Paro, Bhutan
    Tiger's nest Monastery in the background
    Paro, Bhutan
    Close up of Tiger's Nest
    Paro, Bhutan
    One more close up of Tiger's Nest
    Paro, Bhutan
    And another one of Tiger's Nest
    Paro, Bhutan

    The Grand Himalayan Exile | Pics | Best of Nepal


    Unfortunately, one of my 32GB cards went corrupt after Thorung La Pass (5416m / 17765 ft) and hence I lost the first ten days of my hike. I have not been successful in recovering it ! Here is what I have left !

    Near Thorung Phedi (4420m / 14498 ft)
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Image Courtesy: Jesper, Sweden

    Near Jomsom
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Fully sunburnt after Thorung La (5416m / 17765 ft)
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Stayed in the famous Jimi Hendrix room at Jomsom
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Nilgiri (7062m) from Jomsom
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Neat signboards on the circuit - No guide required
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    The road that is discussed a lot amongst hikers
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    View near Tukcha
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Dhaulagiri range from Tukcha
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Dhaulagiri range from Tukcha
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Somewhere near Ghyaru
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Nilgiri (7062m) from Tatopani
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    View from Poon Hill (3200m / 10500 ft) - Nilgiri (7062m, left) and Annapurna I (8091m)
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    View from Poon Hill
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    At Poon Hill
    Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
    Lake view
    Pokhara, Nepal
    Rickety bus ride from Pokhara to Kakarbhitta (border town)
    Dinner stop somewhere in Nepal