Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mao's last dancer

Watched a great touching movie after a long time (despite only three more people with me at the theatre !)

It is based on li Cunxin's autobiography.

The movie is setup in Mao ruled China and portrays the pros and cons of communist rule in a very apt manner. However, the core theme of the movie is about passion - passion to do what you want irrespective of what the circumstances command.

The movie revolves around Li who is 'selected' by Maoists into the art academy - 40 selected from millions across China. These 40 are given rigorus training of 'art' under strict supervision. Most the scenes in this training of Li exemplify the way in which China leads in the medals tally of almost any major sporting/athletic event. However, this movie is based on ballet dancing, something probably not so famous in the Asian geography. And thats what gives the plot an artistic angle.

The scenes of Li dancing are a treasure to watch - the passion that you can see in his eyes is something each one of us would like to have in us - Really inspiring movie.

I should not be revealing more of the movie if i were to give you any incentive to give this a shot either at the theater (if available) or by renting a DVD.

Here is the trailer if you would like to have a glimpse before you take a decision.

Trailer - Mao's Last Dancer (Source: IMDb)

I am sure you would love it just as I did...

Enjoy !

Monday, September 20, 2010

The 19th of Sep, 2005

It was the same day, 5 years ago, 1000 odd fresh graduates began their careers with Infosys technologies limited (www.infosys.com) at Mysore. I was one of them...

We have all come a long way since then. Some of us have ventured out on their own, some did their MBA, some others got into better opportunities and the rest have stayed back with Infosys. Irrespective of where we are today, we can never forget the day when all this began...

It was a bright and sunny day at Mysore, India - the location which hosts Infosys' state of the art campus. We were being told that we were the first batch which has crossed 1000 mark - a feat which seemed a great deal then. These many graduates joining the same day would put tremendous pressure on logistics within the campus, we thought !! But to the surprise of almost all of us, the stay was as smooth as an ice cream from Baskin Robbins.

The facilities were extraordinary - right from the Global education center to the multiplex (we were amongst the lucky ones to witness its inauguration too) to the cafeterias to the hostels. Every aspect of our stay was way beyond our imagination. Of course, i should not make the mistake of not mentioning the lush green cricket ground (which hosted a ranji trophy match) or the swimming pool or the badminton courts (which complied with global standards). The bowling alleys, too, were amongst the best in the world.The hostels had a formation of 'INFOSYS' when seen from the top.

We were too overwhelmed by the campus and the facilities provided. The training, too, was amongst the best in the industry. Possibly, no other organization had such a rigorous training which made sure that we are unto our jobs when we left the campus...

When i look back today - i realize that those were actually golden days and we were amongst the lucky ones to have witnessed this experience right at the beginning of our careers..

As I look back i also realize that i may possibly not be able to work for an organization as ethical, as professional, as competitive, as flexible as Infosys...

Feels bad that i am no more part of this great organization - but the foundation it has built would remain as is throughout my career..

!! Dedicated to fellow batch mates of 19th September, 2005 @ Infosys, Mysore !!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sri Tathata

Just back from a session of Sri Tathata ('He who is that' in Sanskrit). He is a saint born in Kerala, India - spent some years in solitude until he found the purpose of his life. Presently, he is on a world tour spreading awareness on 'Dharma' - which is the core to all his teachings. More info at www.sritathata.org

I must say i am pretty impressed with his group. It was a short and brief no-nonsense session. He was an epitome of simplicity and humility.

However, the highlight of the session was the bhajans - customized to western audience. These are the same bhajans which i would not even bother to listen in those rare trips to temples in India. The ones here had the same wordings but the rhythm was so exceptional that it almost succeeds in taking you to trance. I am really amazed by how the same 'Hari Om' can bring about such an impact.

One more factor which i noticed was that i was the only Indian in the 200 odd audience. Is it because all this is embedded in our blood cells or is it sheer ignorance - I do not know !

Anyways, new ideas - new thoughts - helps you lubricate your mind !!

Let's see whats next...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Trans Canada Trail - Segment St Tite Des Caps

This one should be a fitting reply to all those Canadian jokes floating around !

After ten months of being awestruck by US (less than a month from Colorado & then Texas), i finally decide to look back at Canada for some new hikes.

The Trans Canada trail (http://www.tctrail.ca/home.php) is a 18000+ Km trail which runs across Canada. It is still under construction in almost all provinces - However, there are some segments which are already open to public.

So, I decide to do some research on getting information on hikes in and around Quebec. I was disappointed with the information available on the net and hence purchased the Trans Canada trail manual for Quebec which has all the details of the trail within Quebec. The Quebec trail connects Ontario in the west to New Brunswick in the east.

I read the manual thoroughly and decide on a segment which begins from St. Tite Des Caps. The full segment is a 3 night/4 day trek of 37 Kms - However, after realising my stamina (or lack of it!) from the recent Colorado trek, i lock down an itinerary for 1 night/2 Days.
Rias, a friend of mine, was also looking for some adventure in his life (not that he didnt have any in his life !! His story some other time)joined me - So, the adventure begins with just 2 people...

After my previous blunder of overestimating public transport during my skydive session (http://athmagyaan.blogspot.com/2009/10/my-first-skydive.html), I do thorough research on how to reach the trailhead. In fact, there was also a contingency plan - just in case we miss public transport timings.
So, everything was set and our itinerary for DAY 1 looked something like this:

SATURDAY, 4th Sept
0400 AM : Get ready
0500 AM : Leave for Berri-Uqam
0600 AM : Take the bus for Quebec
0915 AM : Arrive Quebec
0945 AM : Intercar to Saint Tite Des Caps
1025 AM : Arrive Saint Tite Des Caps
1030 AM-1200 PM : Finish Breakfast and reach trailhead
1200 PM - 1230 PM : Finish formalities at Visitor’s center
1230 PM – 0630 PM : Reach Camp Gribane
0630 PM – 0730 PM : Setup tent
0800 PM : Dinner/Snacks
0830 PM : Go to sleep

Everything seemed perfect and we were tracking to plan. We reached the trailhead on time (despite getting lost for a Km or so !!!)

Just at the start of the trail

Rias at the start of the trail

The trek was arduous and there were frequent uphill climbs. However, the uphill climbs were not very steep and always had a downhill or a flat patch following them.

Pose time

There were quite a few view points on the way - However, almost all of them had pretty long detours from the trail. But, we went to all of them despite not being able to see anything due to fog !! The fog/cloud cover had made our lives easy as hiking a trail like this under heavy sunlight would dehydrate you pretty fast and you could have trouble if you dont have enough water.

Courtesy: Rias & the wide angle lens

For your interpretation !!

At the crossing of various trails - bright spot for getting lost

Rias' prayers were answered and we got some sunlight !!

However, as we neared the camp site, the cloud cover was clearing up and the last couple of view points gave us some breath-taking views of St Laurence river (the largest river in Canada !).. The wide angle lens, which we had rented for this ocassion, was put to use in the best possible manner..

A look back at the dense vegetation

The mighty St Lawrence river !

We managed to reach the campsite as per plan, somewhere around 5PM. We setup our tent and were feeling really happy that almost everything was perfect until then - the weather, public transport, the trail..

Thats when we realised that things were not going to be that way for long !! We had forgotten our water filter and the water at campsite was not fit for drinking. Luckily for us, there were couple more tents at the campsite and we were offered help by a generous group. We filled our hydration packs for the trip back next day. We had been on a bar (energy bars - just in case you thought something else !) diet for the last 7-8 hours and were starving for some food. This was exactly the mistake we had made at Colorado when we had starved ourselves throughout the day went the nigth without dinner..

I was getting a feel that the 'rainy colorado night' was repeating itself...

Having no other option, we munched a couple of bars each and slept (Actually, I slept and Rias was on the phone with 'You know whom' !!). And it did rain hevily. We could hear the sound of water hitting the tent - rain coupled with heavy winds can be very distressing during a hike. It would have been really tough if things didnt improve the next day. We just hoped things would get better...
We got up after a good night's sleep (unlike Colorado) in single digit temperatures and moderate wind. The best part was that it was NOT raining. We packed our stuff, thanked the guys who had helped us last night and head back to the trail head which about 10KMs away.
The hike back was again very pleasant we were going through a dense forest and the sun was busy playing hide and seek with the clouds..

We reach the trailhead on time (in fact much before time as the way back was through a different trail - much shorter but more steeper).

There are shorter hikes for kids

Rias trying to be different !!

We had a 4 hr wait before the bus comes in - this is the worst part of taking public transit. The waits are inevitable...

What next??

However, we were really satisfied with the entire hike - It was more or less an ideal hike with the best possible weather conditions.

Coming up next: Ski season !!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cowboy land

An official trip leads me to Austin, Capital of Texas. There is no marked difference in terms of people (nothing i could see) of this part of the world. Pretty much like any other North American city. Of course, the only weird thing you find is that all T shirts read "Keep Austin weird" !!

The highlight of austin is 6th Street in Downtown, which has some really nice pubs with live music and lots of action. Austin is also has the main campus of University of Texas - one of the better known universities in North America.

Austin is also famous for having the highest urban 'bat' population in the world. The bridge hosts about 1.5 million bats which migrate to Mexico every winter. Every evening around sunset these bats evolve from under the bridge forming a spectacular view. Unfortunately, i was not lucky enough to see as many bats - Part of the game when it comes to any nature watching activity..

Not a very eventful trip - Business was eventful though !!

Coming up next is 'Trans Canada Trail'...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Colorado - A Trekker's paradise !!

I owe an apology for hurting the sentiments of my fellow trekkers by calling 'Capitol' a 'hill' in my previous blog (Last line of http://athmagyaan.blogspot.com/2010/08/knee-boarding-lake-archambault.html).
As I realise now, it certainly was an understatement to a great extent. It turned out to be one amongst the highest and toughest peaks in the US. Hope this offers some solace to my terribly deeply hurt fellow trekkers...

Now back to Capitol and its story ...

So, my tryst with the US continues. I have travelled more in the US than in Canada now in the past ten months or so (Canadian jokes are NOT welcome please !!). I was accidentally counting the number of US stamps on my passport and realised that this one was the 5th in the last ten months ! And I must say, each of these five trips have been uniquely different. The diversity is amazing - reminds me of the diversity at home (India) and doesn't fail to entice me into more trips into the US...

Image Source - WikiPedia.org
Colorado - Welcome to the land of mountains. A land where all four directions lead to mountains (I am exaggerating of course !). A land for which 'exquisite' would be an understatement (No exaggeration here !).

All the pre-planning was just about perfect. Our group consisted of networking bonds (Pushkar, Rahul), Vertical thinkers (Ali Sagar Oops Asgar - Chances of seeing him on the ground are bleak, the one who introduced me into skydiving), no-life-without-internet always-online apple geeks(Deepak 'twitter' Iyer), Apple veterans (Thai Wey), expert photographers (Tannu of the Sushi fame - He has just landed in US after a 5 yr stint in Sushi Land) and 2 undergrad classmates of Pushkar.

From Left to Right (Athma, Deepak, Ali, Rahul, Pushkar, Thai Wey, Ady (Alias Aditya Tannu))

The trip begins with a bang - All our flights were cancelled. A terrible coincidence considering the fact that our flights were from Montreal (QC, Canada), Raleigh (NC, US) and San Francisco(CA, US). I somehow manage to get another flight to reach Denver on time along with Tannu who flew in from LA. The others could not start their journey...

Luckily, Pushkar was able to arrange stay for us in Boulder at one of his undergrad friend's place.

DAY 1: University of Colorado, Boulder downtown, Rocky Mountain National Park

Now Tannu and myself (later on joined by Ali) had half a day in Boulder before rest of the gang sets foot in Colorado. We went around picturesque Boulder clicking pictures at will.

Near University of Colorado
University of Colorado

Tannu at University of Colorado

Ali n Myslef at Boulder downtown (Just after tannu returned with his lost wallet!!)

After spending some time in Boulder, we were joined by the rest and we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, which offered some outstanding views. Here is just a sample:

Not sure what we were trying to show !! None of us had a great built...

 Wide angle cameras can do wonders !! (Courtesy Tannu)

After this exquisite drive, we head to our camp site where we were to spend the night before we head to starting point of Capitol Peak the next day.

Inside Tent No 1.

DAY 2: Ride to Capitol Peak trailhead, Hike upto Capitol Lake
After spending the night in our sleeping bags we head to what was the main objective of our trip - Capitol Peak. If I were to provide an analogy - If this entire trip was dinner, then Capitol Peak was main course, Rocky Mountain/Boulder was Dessert and flight journeys to and from Denver were Salt and Pepper !! (You are not the only one still trying to interpret this !! )

We start the day early and start the drive towards starting point of the hike to Capitol Peak. We halt around one of the lakes for breakfast. And every stop is reason enough for some more photos !!

The three musketeers

Tannu's magic again !

After a nice breakfast, which we didnt realise was going to be our last meal of the day, we head towards the trailhead of Capitol. We were running late and had to do a good job if were to reach Capitol lake by Sunset.

Just before we began the hike

The majestic Capitol Peak visible right at the center towards the far end (Image Courtesy: Ali)

Ali n Thai Wey on the trail (Image Courtesy: Ali) - Capitol still visible in the background

Rahul on the Trail (Image Courtesy: Ali)
It has been a long time since i did my last trek (Jivdhan-Naneghat, Maharashtra, India, 2005) and all that showing up. Adding on to this was the carbon monoxide (for your interpretation !) intake which had done significant damage to my stamina. I was lagging behind frequently and somebody had to stay back with me all throughout just to make sure i make it to the end.

But, I did push myself and was able to reach Capitol Lake (the lake just before final summit of Capitol Peak).

It had begun raining by the time we reached capitol lake and dark too as we missed our timelines. Figuring out vacant campsites itself was tough. Our ordeal continued. The rain didnt stop and by the time we had our tents erected, we were wet and cold. My jacket was not holding up water as i would have liked it to.

There was water seeping in through some ends of the tent as a result of us trying to fix it up during rain. Finally, we succeeded in setting up all 3 tents and managed to get in and change clothes which by then had taken in lots of water. None of us were in the mindset to setup cooking stoves and start cooking. We decided to manage the night with just nuts and energy bars. The last meal we had was more than 14 hours ago !!

So here we were at 12000 ft, trying to catch up with some sleep amidst heavy rain and thunder.

DAY 3: Capitol Peak - The FINAL Summit
After about 4 hours of sleep we get up to a completely overcast sky with slight rain still dampening our hopes of making it to the top. We have some bagels and get started for the summit leaving our main bags behind and carrying only our summit bags. Gatorade powder was added to each of our water containers, later to be filled in at the lake.

At about 430 AM, we head to Capitol lake to fill our water containers. Thai Wey and Rahul were working hard with the water filter to make sure all of us had our containers filled.

Rain was still hitting hard, the sky was overcast with no stars visible even on a no-moon night. The last 2000 ft or so had the famous 'Knife Ridge' which was a narrow rock patch with vertical falls on either sides. That patch is risky and sometimes fatal (as per wiki) even during a regular bright sunny day. The chances of making the final summit in such weather was really bleak.
I was the first one to QUIT.
I dropped out and insisted on going back to the tent and wait till the others return. I was no more enjoying the hike and there was no point in continuing the same way.

This sparked an intense discussion which was capable of giving a scare to any of the corporate boardroom discussions. Here is how it was structured:

If we make a decent pace for the next 1000ft (which was a regular hike), then we could be at the knife ridge for sunrise, if at all we have one. The summit might be possible if the knife ridge is dry and has good visibility. If the weather doesnt clear up, we make the hike back to our tents and then to the trail head.

There were 5 (out of 9) of us who were betting on the odds of weather clearing up and continuing the hike. The rest, 4 of us, decide to go back to the tent, catch up some sleep and wait for the others - This would enable us to be ready for the hike back which again was not an easy task for somebody like me (at this point of time).

So, 5 amongst us continued. 2 more dropped out after an hour or so and 3 (Ali, Thai Wey n Deepak) continued on till the start of the knife ridge. Luckily for them, the weather had cleaned up. In fact, we could see them from our tents through 10X optical zoom cameras.

Now, there was another issue at hand. Ali had a flight later during the day and with the pace at which they were able to make progress on the knife ridge - there was a bright possibility of him missing his flight. Adding on more troubles was my passport, which was with Deepak, who was one amongst the three who were making the attempt to the top!!
The 'Knife Ridge'

The 'Knife Ridge'

Ali at the 'Knife Ridge'
Deepak at the 'Knife Ridge'
Thai Wey at the 'Knife Ridge'

The photos they have taken are stunning.. The knife ridge is the highlight of Capitol Peak and we were all disappointed that even those three had to return half way... Since it would take them considerable time to head back, we six (4+2) head back to trail head.

We return rental gear in Aspen and visit Maroon Bells to have a look at one more majestic peak (14000ft+) in Colorado before heading to Denver Airport.

The Deadly bells disclaimer !

All turns out well - All of us are able to reach on time. I get my passport on time (my 'on time' considers immigration at US airports too !!).

We leave Colorado slightly disappointed but really happy that we were atleast lucky to attempt Capitol. We head back with the learning that we need to respect weather and listen to what it says & along with the fact that these enormous peaks are more a test of mental strength rather than physical endurance.

If all goes well, we might land up same time next year for the same hike - Possibly a different result !! That leaves enough time for me to build myself up !!

Photo courtesy:
All Images from Aditya Tannu (http://www.adityatannu.com/) unless otherwise specified.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Knee boarding @ Lake Archambault

There is always a first time for everything - And, the 'first' time beats 'any' time (almost for everything!!)

This was a first for me with regards to getting down to doing something crazy on (not IN) water.
The occasion: Get together at TATA @ one of our colleagues cottage next to the lake.
The lake offers some really great views of the mountains that surround it. Peace... Well, not really - you would always hear some speed boat zooming past. The day begins with swimming in the water (with a life jacket - Still learning. The learning curve concept doesnt seem to be working in this case!! ) for a good hour or so. Just about half an hour after i got into it - there were some thunder storms and they were followed by mild rain. It was lovely lying on the water facing up towards the sky looking at the falling droplets of cold rain water. One of the best experiences i have had in my life.

As the day progresses, the boats are readied up for some adrenaline pump for all those who are upto the challenge. Two boats (owned by colleagues - brought down to the lake for the occasion) do rounds taking 4-5 people into a ride which promises a gear shift in your adrenaline levels.
I take my turn and ready myself for what is going to be my first tryst with water....

There are couple of colleagues who take the plunge before me into water skiing and knee boarding. I await for the right time and decide to DO IT despite my reapeated unsuccessful attempts at learning swimming...

We are now at the middle of the lake and I am supposed to take a dive into the water from the boat to reach the knee board. This is the very moment which immediately brings back my memories of diving from a plane from 13000 ft (http://athmagyaan.blogspot.com/2009/10/my-first-skydive.html)

I do IT and reach the knee board to experience a one-of-a-life time event.
Knee boarding works like this:
  • First you are to lie flat on the board and the speed starts dragging you.
  • Then as you become somewhat stable, you attempt to climb up on to the board
  • When you are completely stable, you would have a postion like what is shown below
  • Then you try to leave the board and hold on to the handle of the rope. At this point the only point of contact between the board and you is your knees. This is a position which may not be easy to hold on for long for beginners
  • This step only for beginners !! - One of the strategies which i adopted for the fall was to plan it 5 secs in advance so that I was able to take a clean jump far from the board - Otherwise, a board hit can cause considerable damage at those speeds.
  • And I start again - the ending remaining the same in both cases... !!!
    The summer in Canada is as great as the winter !!!
    Now looking forward to the grand Colorado (USA) hike of Capital hill (14000ft+) which begins the first week of August...