Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Maredumilli Trek

The one word to describe this experience is…..nature. Its all about you and nature. Pristine, untouched, non-commercial, undiluted environments. Whether it is the glistening streams or the green slopes or the meandering muddy walkways, Maredumilli, a mostly unknown extension to the Nalla Malla Forest range, has something to offer everyone at various levels of their trekking abilities.

This is a tropical rain forest with all the vegetation and wildlife expected. There are several tribes living deep within the forest, without power or basic amenities. This trip was all about discovering oneself and taking photographs of the villages to capture their rustic splendour. I was fortunate to travel with a very very sporty set of blokes who taught me a thing or two about photography.

10 of us set of out of on 18-Jul-14 late at night in a minibus from Hyderabad to Maredumilli via Bhadrachalam. The journey was filled with light hearted humour. Having made 2 stops on the way for dinner and early morning tea, the final stretch to the hills was a beautiful carpet of green on either side through well paved roads.

 VanFirstDay

We reached the first hamlet of Valamuru at around 9.00 am where we were greeted by green hills and downcast skies. This was our first experience with living the outdoors life. We went to a nearby stream. The water was so pure it could be drunk as is. Everyone found a suitable hedge or a bush and completed their do-dos in the cat pit style followed by a bath in the stream.

Rain3   Rain2

We then headed over to Amar’s (our forest guide) house for breakfast. It was a raised shack on wooden poles with a mud floored interior. We were served puri-kurma and boiled eggs which was just enough to not stuff ourselves for the trek.

AmarHouse

Having had breakfast, we huddled back into the van to the first point of the trek. The van dropped us at the closest road point to the village of Kothaveedi. It was drizzling and the poncho raincoats came out to keep the camera gear from getting wet. We gathered for the photo as below and began our first trek. It was an easy walk in the forest for about a half hour.

TheTeam  TrekPath

Reaching Valmuru, we found ourselves in a little hamlet with around 10-15 tribal families who had razed a portion of the forest to being cultivation and settle down. The images below depict their livelihood as they sell their farm produce at the local villages. They also make brooms which are sold in the villages and towns nearby

VillageLadyAtta

VillageLady

VillageThatch

Rainwater is collected by the tribes for their daily use. As it rains frequently in Maredumilli, there is a fair abundance of potable water for the tribes. The experience of seeing the tribes without commercial utilities was a reminder of where we came from ourselves and how our ancestors lived.

PotsAndPans

Below is a photo of the area of the forest razed and burnt by the tribes for cultivation. These settlers have illegally come to the protected forest areas and currently have a few litigations against them.

RazingForest

Night began to fall soon and we moved to the guide’s house at a farm near Munjamamidi. By the time we reached, darkness had completely enveloped the forest. As there was no power anywhere, our only solace from the darkness was oil lamps and our torches. Dinner was cooked under a tarpaulin as there was a continuous drizzle. We all had our first taste of the famous Bamboo Chicken; a dish that uses no oil but only the chicken and bamboo juices to cook. Chicken, salt and spices are stuffed into a large girth bamboo and slow roasted over a fire. The chicken stews in itself and cooks to a tender finish. Absolutely delicious!

Day 2 - We woke up the next morning to find ourselves in the middle of a beautiful green valley. We had pitched tents the previous night under zero visibility. The next morning revealed the hills all around. It was just stunning. As we soaked in the surroundings, everyone had a bath by the only hand pump available.

 

Tents1

[Our tents pitched in the middle of nowhere in the valley]

 

Van [Our van parked the previous night in the valley]

We left this untouched piece of the forest behind to return to Maredumilli to collect ourselves, purchase a few bananas and have lunch at Amar’s place. After lunch, we moved back to Valumuru where we arrived at the day before. I picked up by backpack as I wanted to experience true trekking with a loaded backpack and all. We then began our trek to Nellore.

Trekking1

[Trekking the deep forest to Nellore]

This trek was a medium-difficult one. The inclines at many places were very steep and soon we came to a stream with crystal clear water where we pitched for lunch. The cooks got right down to business and made a simple yet light lunch of tomato dal and rice with pickles and curd. Having eaten to just the right capacity to keep walking, we began the remainder of the 10 kms trek.

Stream2

[A drinking water stream where we stopped for a delicious lunch and forest jackfruits]

The journey was long, arduous at some spots and particularly exhausting when we had to scale an entire hill for a little more than a kilometer. Taking rest at the top of the hill, we began the descent to Nellore. What presented was an absolutely stunning landscape of green.

Me_Mountain1

[Nearing Nellore from the hillside]

 

As the clouds lazily drifted across the hill tops, the grass rustled and the maize crops offered us a welcome of no previous comparison. I have been to other hill stations but what really set this place apart was its absolute untouched-by-humans state. No buildings, no wires, no poles, no power, no pipelines, nothing. It was unadulterated nature at her best. We stopped on the hillside for a few minutes to soak in the undulating slopes of green.

Green

[Gorgeous maize fields with green hills at the background]

The vast expanse into the horizon was only hills and more hills with grass plains in between. A few minutes of soaking in the scenery has us all rejuvenated again to finish the last part of the trail to Nellore. More maize fields greeted us on the way with the glorious fresh oxygenated breeze, something we never get in the cities these days.

 

Mountain4

[More maize fields]

 

  We stopped at a tiny hamlet on the way which had one hut, yes, just one hut in the middle of all this greenery. We were treated to fresh forest jackfruit which was simply sumptuous after that long walk.

Mountain6

[The pristine green slopes at Nellore]

 

We finally reached Nellore which had about 3 huts a makeshift church. We were all put up in our tents in front of the church. The evening consisted of oil lamps under the portico of the huts and a few more photos of the village and surroundings.

ElderChild

[A modernized tribal boy]

 

NelloreHut

[One of the few huts at Nellore]

 NelloreHut1

[A hut]

It was a serene, rainy night with all of us enjoying friendly banter and jokes while the cooks judiciously made their makeshift kitchen under the stars and a tarpaulin and cooked away to glory. We enjoyed another wonderful yet simple dinner, chatted away till the late night and went to sleep under the pouring rain.

 

VillageKids1

[Tribal children]

The next morning had us all wake up early and enjoy a lunch of upma, pack our bags and again trek back to Valumuru. The entire trek back took 3 hours after which lunch was served and we started the trip back to Hyderabad.

Mountain5

[Returning to Maredumilli on Day 3]

 

Rapids

[A drinking water stream]

A trek of this sort was full of reflection. Being all alone with nature out in the open with a bunch of likeminded blokes was something so welcome from the rut of daily life. Most other locations that offer treks have commercial comforts and all. Places like Maredumilli offer nothing other than pure air, water and nature. The support from Amar and his team are truly life saving as they know nearly every bit of the forest and also double up as porters, cooks and guides. This trek is most recommended for anyone who wants to literally get away from everything and spend time out in the open with zero comforts.

If you are interested, you can contact Prashant on prashantkumarthupili@gmail.com for organizing the trek.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Which cycle to buy?

This is a question that has come up time and again. I used to wonder why people don’t do sufficient research before asking. And then it struck me that as a newbie, even I had no idea of which cycle to purchase. After riding now for nearly a decade, I feel that a simpler comparison would help people decide what they can purchase based on what they need.

Here is a simili of what each cycle is like

Comparison

 

FoldingBike1

MTB (Mountain Bike) : The advantages are like an SUV. this cycle has fatter wheels, a thicker frame and can take a beating. You can ride an MTB with disdain. No need to be overly worried about potholes on the road or bumps. Pavement hopping and staircase descents are possible with this. Manoeuvring is easy in traffic due to the straight handlebars. The disadvantages of an MTB are the higher tyre to road friction leading to an increase in effort required to keep moving. The inherent advantage in this is also that one can burn higher calories by riding shorter distances due to the higher effort required. An MTB is for those wanting to feel the rush of adrenaline as they rush through trails or the rain or jump over bumps. Like an SUV, it can be ridden on the tarmac too but the full capabilities are not being used.

Hybrid Bikes: These cycles are the newest design keeping in mind the need for people who need to ride longer for just the sake of riding. Like a family sedan car, they are capable of doing a little bit of everything. They offer easy riding at less effort, better manoeuvrability in traffic and can soak up potholes and bumps fairly well. They cannot be used for heavy stunts or constant beating on pavements. While many people do stunts on hybrids due to their light weight, the manufacturers do not recommend it. Hybrids are difficult to use on trails like MTBs and are difficult to attain high speeds like a road bike. They are perfect for the city rider who spends most time on tarmac with the occasional bad patches. This is a perfect buy for people wanting to use it for only commuting to work and the nice leisure weekend rides.

Road Bikes: The final word in speed. Like a sports car, they are built with strong thin frames and thin wheels for the least effort and the highest speeds possible. The riding position is crouched and the riding dynamics are all made for speed. Manoeuvring in traffic is a little difficult and its ability to withstand hard shocks is a bit low. As the rims are very thin, they could get bent easily especially if the wheel hits hard at high speeds.

Bike

Advantages

Disadvantages

MTB
  1. Fatter Wheels for more abuse
  2. Stronger Frame for more abuse
  3. Carefree riding
  4. Road quality does not really matter
  5. Relatively affordable
  1. Higher Rolling Friction
  2. More effort for same distances
Hybrid
  1. Larger dia wheels for more acceleration
  2. Thinner tyres for more speed
  3. Capable for endurance rides
  4. Lesser effort required
  5. Most affordable
  1. Neither for speed nor hard riding
  2. Most useful for city riding only
  3. Bad roads are felt harder
Road Bike
  1. The ultimate in speed
  2. Light weight, therefore lower effort
  3. Highest endurance riding
  4. Least effort required
  1. Most expensive
  2. Lesser ability to withstand hard shocks and bumps
  3. Road quality matters

Folding Bike: The folding bike is a very unique bike which serves a specific use. It is mostly used for urban riding. Do not let the small wheel size fool you. These cycles can go quite fast on the road due to a clever combination of oversized cog gears. Talk about great engineering. These cycles are perfect for those who need to use multiple modes of transport everyday. The cycle can be folder and unfolded in less than a minute. One can cycle to the train station, fold the bike and take it on board, alight from the train, unfold it and ride to work. Folding bikes are are very useful for being transported to places with ease. Manufacturers who make folding bikes are BTwin, Dahon, Tern etc.

The decision to purchase has to be done only after trying the various manufacturers’ offerings. Each brand of frame is built ever so slightly different. One should take a demo and see which one fits best to the body type and structure.

What to look for:

Frame: Aluminium frames are light, strong and most importantly, rustproof. Most good manufacturers offer long guarantees on the frame for manufacturing defects. Companies like Trek have long offered and still offer a lifetime guarantee on the frame for the lifespan of the first owner.

Carbon frames are very light and very strong. They are also rustproof but care needs to be taken while assembly and repair as they can withstand pressures to a large extent before they crack. Unlike Aluminium, they do not bend and are not malleable. They are brittle but need a large amount of force to break them. Carbon frames are preferred on road bikes as their light weight helps the rider achieve higher speeds

Steel frames are the traditionally available in VFM cycles. They are strong,heavy and can withstand huge forces. But they do rust if not taken care of properly and their extra weight means higher effort to cycle.

The right mix for pricing vs performance is still aluminium today. There are other exotic frames available in Titanium but these are more expensive.

Bottom brackets: The most basic models do not offer sealed bottom brackets. In the rain or mud, the crank gets stuffed with water or mud leading to a constant cleaning required. Sealed bottom brackets allow the rider to ride in the rain and do not need constant servicing after every downpour.

Geared or Fixie: Geared bikes allow for easier riding as accelerating from constant stopping is easier. Higher speeds are also possible. Most importantly, gears are very essential for inclines and climbs. If you live in a place where there is heavy traffic or inclines or both, it is wiser to pick up a geared bike especially one with the “granny” gear in the front for steep climbs. Fixies are the gearless bikes which offer lesser maintenance but can get tiring if you need to constantly accelerate and brake.

Pedals: The choices available are plastic or alloy pedals. Ideally, alloy pedals last longer and do not break even with heavyset riders. They can also withstands being struck by pavement sides or road bumps. Plastic pedals although strong ultimately may bend out of shape or break.

There are numerous other components but for first time riders, the above points are to ensure a hassle free ride.

Happy Riding!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book – Three Truths of Well Being – by Sadhguru

WellBeing

Been a while since I was so desperate to read a book till its end. No matter how sleepy I was, time had to be made every night to complete a part of this one. Perhaps the word to describe it is “Simplicity”. Sadhguru has actually given a short, sweet and contrite set of material on how to approach life by covering the three most basic simple things.

Body, Food and Mind

That’s it. He has not gone round and round trying to explain something which we don’t even know. Instead, he has left his words for us to decide. Believe it or don’t, doesn’t matter. He has just given instructions based on experiences and the collective knowledge of our elders. What I loved most is that he has not tried justifying anything. He just says “here’s the truth. Here is the checklist. Try it out.”

As icing on the cake, there are simple, clear instructions at the end of each chapter for those interested. They are indeed feasible and anyone can try them for a peek into oneself. No hold barred, no preparation necessary, no religious connotations. Just basic humanity being addressed. There is also an Isha Kriya DVD with the book for a very simple start into meditation for those interested.

I will be reading this book again and would ask you to try it too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Bride for a Vote

Just when it seems that change is happening for the better, along comes some lame brained escapist news that is enough to make us sigh and get our blood boiling

Today’s news of rediff at “http://www.rediff.com/news/report/ls-election-get-me-a-bride-take-my-vote-haryana-bachelors-tell-candidates/20140409.htm” shows how backward we Indians still are. Here is an excerpt:

“"Bahu dilao, vote pao" (Get us a bride for our vote) is the demand of Avivahit Purush Sangthan (Unmarried Union).”

The only reason many states in India have such a skewed gender ratio is because of female foeticide. First they kill their own daughters and then they search for brides for their sons? How hypocritical can people be? As if the political parties can manufacture brides for these poor helpless bachelors. And the further killing of the baby girls goes on. There is no suggestion that can be given in this case other than “Stop killing girls”. Empower them and be proud of their presence.

At a time when western nations are grappling with futuristic issues like childhood obesity and land conservation, we are not even addressing the grassroot problems. Many African nations who we look down upon for their dark skin, poor economy and underdevelopment atleast are more accommodating when it comes to their fairer gender.

We have a very very long way to go to call ourselves a fair (pun intended) race.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Innovators Dilemma

Reading this book was a real eye opener. On one hand, corporates push themselves to fine tune existing process and ideas to stay ahead and be profitable. But the dark horses gallop ahead due to their ability to think outside the box.

There are logically right ways of doing things. And then there are also different ways of doing things. This book has taken real time manufacturing stories and showed us with scientific proof how important it is to keep constantly innovating on core strengths as well as maintaining a parallel thought process to usurp the market.

The author gives faith to all those who believe in their ideas and to keep pushing ahead because there are always opportunities in all segments of the market. Thought provoking.

The thing I most admire about the author is the way he has methodically deconstructed the trajectory of innovations over time and graphically demonstrated how disruptive innovations have grabbed the market.

A must read.

posted from Bloggeroid

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Google Play, where is my Nexus after 19 days?

Let’s play this out in the classic infatuation style. I get smitten by the Nexus 5 and so pick a flower and begin pulling petals…The Nexus will come, the Nexus won’t come. Repeat 12 times.
Onto more serious stuff. Seeing the 32 GB Nexus 5 in stock on the Google Play Store on 21-Nov-13, I decide to go for it and place an order on 22-Nov-13. The status at the time showed “Leaves warehouse by November 29, 2013”. But nothing happened on 29-Nov-13.
29-Nov-13 – No change in status on site
30-Nov-13 -– No change in status on site
01-Dec-13 – Hearbreak begins. No change in status on site
02-Dec-13 – Heartbreak in progress but…..No change in status on site
03-Dec-13 – I check if the status on site is carved in stone but….No change in status on site
04-Dec-13 – I make the first desperate call to Google Support. I am greeted warmly by a customer service representative who tells me that my phone is just getting boxed and ready for shipment within 48 hours. Alright! My phone’s coming!
05-Dec-13 – I receive an enigmatic mail about how to track the shipment. But…. you guessed it. No change in status on site

11-Dec-13 – No change in status on site – Still shows pending

Awesome company (no sarcasm). But should maybe leave the hardware sales to more seasoned giants. Its a different ballgame.
PS – No change in status on site after 13 days.

Edit: The phone was received on 16-Jan-14 after a customer service representative called me to confirm that it will be delivered. The phone is fantastic for its range. That is a whole different story.

Moral of the story: Very happy to have a Nexus 5.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Photography made simple

Attached is a presentation I made to demystify the jargon and terminology used in photography. It keeps things simple and to the point

A pdf of the same presentation is also available at https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-MjrTPMuVTRZ1FYSkRiT3dpZFU/edit?usp=sharing

Any feedback from viewers is most welcome. It is a learning process for me too.