Friday, August 19, 2011

My first and last bribe

This was back in November 2007. My workplace had arranged for my visit to the main branch in the UK, for which I needed to get a passport. The experience at the Passport Office, though tedious, went off well. The problem was later at the police verification stage. I was called to the police station and a plain-clothed officer asked me about my background, surprisingly most of his questions steered towards pinpointing my financial status. His questions done, he asked me to pay him 200/-

I was 22 back then, working for a year. I naively told him that I had already paid all the money due at the Passport office. He said this was for the police verification -- I still wasn't sure what this was about and told him that I did not have that much money on me. He asked me to go home and get the money. It was while walking back home that it struck me that I had being asked for a bribe.

I went home and told my parents about the incident and also that I had no intention of paying him off. I even checked online for places where I could complain against the guy. However my parents convinced me that this is how things work and I shouldn't mess with policemen as they could easily stall my passport.

I went back to the police station with the bribe amount and paid off the policeman INSIDE a police station. This is where I would go to complain against corruption, and instead those who should fill in my complaint were too busy filling their pockets with bribes. I was in a daze throughout the experience and just wanted to move out as soon as I could. However as I walked out, I resolved never to pay a bribe again and I am proud that I haven't yet in the last 5 years!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Invention #1 - useful motorcycle dashboard

When it hit me: On the way back from office, while riding my bike.

What got me thinking: Most new bikes, even the entry level bikes from the Hero MotoCorp (Honda's out remember?) have a digital display in the dashboard. I know that the Karizmas and Pulsars let you program the display to display a customized welcome message, your name, or some other useless flashy thing.

So whats the idea: Put in something useful in the dashboard. Here is what I would like to have:

1) The time - I haven't worn a wristwatch since I got a mobile and I can't believe wristwatches still aren't extinct. Anyway, if I am riding a bike, my hands are in use, and I usually need to reach some place quickly. The first thing I would like to know is if I am late or on schedule. How difficult is it to show me the time, I wouldn't even mind an analog watch! BTW, it's illegal to even have your mobile phone switched on while riding a vehicle (look it up if you don't believe me)

2) Programmable dates for date of expiry of PUC and insurance - why should I have to memorize these dates? OK, I can fish out my keys, open the bike's glove box, remove the panel, find the cover that holds these documents, find the relevant doc among these, scan it for the date but wouldn't it be that much easier to press two buttons on the dashboard to access this information? Are you more likely to forget your own name or the date your PUC/license expires?

3) Fuel tab and mileage calculator - show me exactly how many liters are in the tank and reset the trip meter automatically every time I fill in petrol. A press of a button should reveal the current mileage figure and I can then finally throw away my calculator.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kothaligad Trek

This is a trek I've wanted to do from a long time. I had first seen pictures of this fort after Mahesh/Jayendra went for it. The pinnacle is unique and the spiral staircase leading to the top is the stuff of legends, obviously I was hooked.

It is said to be an easy trek and it is - there are a couple of spots just before the pinnacle where it can get narrow and getting down gets scary because one side is exposed to the valley below. But without these it would have just been too easy and Kothaligad deserves better. It's not just a trek, it's a complete experience. You get a village at the base for rest and food, caves on the way to the top (with bats, ancient sculptures, temple), pond and waterfall close to the base village where you can relax after the trek (non-functional when we had gone because it was just the beginning of the monsoons), water cisterns, brilliant views, scary rock patches, and the crème de la crème -- the spiral staircase leading to the top of the pinnacle.

This was my first trek in the 2011 season and the plan was initiated by Prasad. He handled the logistics of the trek and I only had to turn up. We were plotting and planning for quite some time before D-day and after a bunch of cancellations (as always), it was 5 of us in the end.

Kartik and I caught the 6:40 Karjat local from Mulund. The others were already in the train and we had a nice long get-to-know-each-other-better session till Karjat. We were in Karjat at 8 and headed to the ST stand. There are buses to the base village (Ambivili) every hour and the next one was at 8:30. We quickly polished up a dabba of neer dosas and chutney, which came courtesy Prasad's mom. The ST got us to Ambivili in just over an hour. There was a big group with us in the bus and they too were headed for Kothaligad (also called Peth).

We got off to lovely overcast conditions and just the right amount of drizzling -- not enough to get us wet but enough for the walk in the clouds feeling. The trail starts off as a tar road, take the left at the first diversion and then the road loses it's tar and continues as a stone/gravel track. The route is wide enough for a truck, free of diversions, and used frequently by the residents at Kothaligad village.

Soon after we started, we bumped into an old couple trying to take gunny bags full of food grains up to the village. The gunny bags were strewn around the place and their bullock cart was some way up the route. They sweetly asked us if we could help them load the bags on the cart. We couldn't say a no to the 50+ elderly couple and pulled those (20-25 Kilo) bags up to the cart. We hadn't even caught our breath when they asked us to help with the last bag, which looked double the size of the ones we had just carried. This time we could say a no.. helped by the fact that there was a local chap who turned up to help.

Within an hour, we had reached the plateau from where the fort could be seen clearly, there was a nimbu-pani wala here and we took a break and clicked a lot of pictures. From here it was a short walk to the base village. It had taken us around 1.5 hours to reach the village from the start point of the trek.

From here, the top is another hour. We took a mini-lunch break of chivda-filled theplas accompanied by tomato sauce, this was courtesy Shreerang's mom. Good stuff again! First stop was the cave, very clean and lined with intricately carved pillars. The cave adjacent to the main one was filled with bats! The caves immediately lead off to the spiral staircase carved inside the mountain. It's one of the best sights I've seen in the Sahayadris, with ledges, viewpoints, and temples along the way. The steps are quite high and there are a couple of tricky spots, the most tricky one coming soon after we are out of the staircase. It's a narrow patch where you are hoisting your body up some steps, with one side open to the valley. This is quickly followed by the main darwaza, which you cross to reach the top of the peak.

The peak is a very small place, and offers an awesome 180 degree view of the surrounding hills, one of which has a series of windmills on top. There's a water cistern on top -- a group had pitched their tent next to it and had probably stayed over the previous night. Prasad went off to meditate in the clearing under a huge cactus plant, while the rest posed/clicked pictures.

A dog joined us on the walk back to the village, we thanked him by forcing him to pose in photographs with us. We had arranged for lunch at Bhairavnath Bhojanalay, which promised potbhar jevan at 80/- Quite expensive for a veg lunch considering we were in a far off village in the Sahayadris. The lunch was reasonable but the service was good.

On the way up, Prasad asked every one we met how to reach the dhabdhaba (waterfall) and if it was functional -- we received contradictory information each time. The guy at the Bhojanalay directed us to the dam, which turned out to have about a foot of water. Slightly disappointing, however there's always next time.

The walk back to the base took another hour. We were trying to be ahead of the other trekking group -- they were over 30 and we feared that if they reached before us, all seats on the ST would be taken up by their group. That did not happen though -- at the base both stopped to have tea. The ST chose that precise moment to turn up, and since we were just 5, we managed to finish up and board the bus before the rest. We had to share two seats between three people but I still managed to catch a couple of winks. Finished the trip with vada pows at Karjat and a long session discussing the current music scene through the train journey back home.