Saturday, May 23, 2015

Centred in Self

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The word Self-Centred has such a convoluted meaning. Most of us think a self-centred person is one who cares only about him/herself. Which is right. But we need to also throw some thought out there for the one who is centred in the self. By that, I would say this is a person who is so stable and centred in his/her mind that all decisions and responses come as a culmination of the best decisions.

Recently, I happened to discover that someone who I work with but never truly observed who possessed this trait. It is a joy to work with someone like this as they are always clear about themselves. No fear and most importantly no worries. He always told me, why worry when there is nothing that is going to change because of it. Instead, transform that worry into persistence and the refusal to be helpless.

Being centred means no unnecessary reactions to external stimuli. Every response is from the soul. From the heart. A product of instinct and logic.

For a self centred person, everything is about him/herself. But for a person centred in the self, it is all about living his/her life and responding to life to the benefit of others and self. It is a path of righteousness.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Jabal Al Jais Trek

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The Middle East will always remain a place of intrigue. No taxes, silk finished roads and a staggering range of cars from every manufacturer in the world. Not to mention an obscene level of materialism coupled with some excellent engineering in city and building designs.

Having spent 2 days in Ras Al Khaima on a work and vacation schedule, my good friend and colleague Sudeep (www.sudeep.me) knew my penchant for trekking and decided to surprise me by taking me to the Jabal Al Jais mountains which is the highest point in the UAE at over 6000 feet. I went along for the excitement of the ride and hoping for a good view. Am mighty thankful to him as the end result was much more than a mere trek. It was a visual treat.

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The roads built to the top of the mountains snake their way through some seriously breathtaking landscapes. The mountains are all naked, desolate stones rising high above the ground, devoid of any fauna. The mountains stand close to one another. The range is as frightening as it is beautiful. It is so lonely here that all you hear is the wind roaring. The wildlife is sparse save for the presence of a few goats, crows, snakes and few other species.

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This is a road for the supercars. I can only imagine the thrill of driving a Ferrari or a Lamborgini on these such smoothly paved roads winding up to close to the top of the mountains. We drove up to the highest paved point and then disembarked with a small bag containing fruit juices, water and biscuits. We were told that the stone pathway to the top was only 2 kms. When we got out of the car, we noticed how much the temperature had dropped. It was nearly 10 degrees lower than the base of the mountain.

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The trek kept us warm. We stopped at a few viewpoint locations along the way but soon found that it felt a lot longer than 2 kms. Along the way, the most noticeable thing was the sheer lack of anything other that stones and boulders and mountain walls. The place is breathtaking. I have visited many a hill station but this mountain range was the only one that was stripped of nearly all life. The pictures will speak for themselves

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As we kept walking we noticed that the 2 kms felt longer than it should have. The absolute top was restricted for outsiders as the Sheikh had his questhouse there. We settled for the viewpoint just below and what a view it was.

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Large rocks strewn everywhere and a valley of nothing but stone. We sat down and noticed the complete silence of the area. A while later, we started the walk back but then hitched a ride from a local construction worker who was returning to our parked car. He then told us that the walk from our car to the top was about 5 kms instead of the 2 we had assumed. All in all, we had walked around 8 kms; perhaps the reason for our tiredness.

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The drive back down was even better as the sun was out in its full glory. Every turn revealed a fantastic view all the way till the bottom and back.

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Great experience, great drive and a good trek. But supercar owners will truly relish the drive. And Ras Al Khaima has plenty of them.

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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.

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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.

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[Plenty of valleys in Maredumilli. Clouds everywhere flying low]

 

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[It was raining plenty for the 3 days. Clear stream water and rain made for a hell of a day]

 

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.

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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.

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 [At the start of the first trek. The easy one, a jaunt in the forest]

 

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[Walking in a river bed which was just getting filled]

 

Reaching Kothaveedi, 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

 

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[Tribal children in the village. Without any power or water lines, these children were living and learning off the land]

 

VillageLady [The lady grinding bajra and jowar for storage and selling]

 

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[The ground cereal being taken away]

 

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[A village elder]

 

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[Huts in the rain]

 

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[A village alley]

 

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[A high spot where only one tribal man lives. The hut seen is his lookout]

 

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.

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 [Pots for collecting and storing potable water]

 

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.

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[The clearing made by the tribes by cutting down trees and burning the area to start agriculture]

 

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 and minimal 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.

 

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[Our tents pitched in the middle of nowhere in the valley. We had no idea the previous night as it was pitch dark and just laid the tents by looking for a clearing]

 

   image_159 [Our van parked the previous night in the valley. No other buildings around, just a hand pump for ground water]

 

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[Ravi shooting a tribal woman]

 

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[Many beautiful streams with pure drinkable water]

 

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[Mushrooms growing in the forest]

 

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[Santosh with Julie having a lunch of purest proportions]

We left this untouched piece of the forest behind to return to Maredumilli to collect ourselves, purchase a few bananas and 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.

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[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.

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

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[A lunch like no other. sitting in a drinking water stream to eat.]

 

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.

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[Nearing Nellore from the hillside]

 

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[Santosh exhausted towards the end of the trek]

 

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[The pristine green slopes at Nellore]

 

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.

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[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.

 

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[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.

 

 

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[Ah, the feeling of completing a trek with a loaded backpack!]

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.

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[A modernized tribal boy]

 

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[One of the few huts at Nellore]

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[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.

 

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[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.

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[Returning to Maredumilli on Day 3]

 

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[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.