Tuesday, 27 August 2013

"Teacher, do YOU also have to follow rules?"

Last week I overheard this fascinating conversation in The Little Crest between a three year old and one of our teachers. Here is what transpired:

Teacher(T): Dear, you should ask your mom to bring you to school on time.
Child(C): Yes teacher. I actually want to come to school as soon as I wake up but we get delayed .... What will happen if I come late ?
T: Coming to school is important sweetie.. You should follow the rules of the school. See, I come to school on time. 
Then the child asked in its own disarming manner..
C: Teacher, do you ALSO have to follow rules?

I thought that was the most simplistic yet the most probing question that I heard from a kindergartner. The child exhibited prodigious emotional maturity and an ability to communicate directly with an adult (a teacher in this case). The above conversation also highlighted the healthy relationship that the child shared with the teacher at The Little Crest. To me as an onlooker, the above conversation underlined two important messages for parents:
In addition to being an often quoted famous line from William Wordsworth's poem, there is significant research done to establish that personality of a child during early childhood does continue into adulthood. It is a given that children have to be exposed to good habits and most importantly parents have to demonstrate adherence to rules. Parents often fail to understand the difference between 'what is good to me as a person or a family?' vis-a-vis 'what is good to community/society?'. Just as an example, if you're jumping the traffic signal regularly, it is difficult for the child to comprehend and follow what the stated rules are and what is the expected behavior.

Message #1 : As a parent, you are sowing seeds of adult behavior and personality of your child starting from about 2 years of age.

  •  Are we perpetuating a 'might is right' or 'rules are for everyone else other than self' type of a society?
Are we as parents, introspecting about our behaviors and its attendant impact on our children. Just to oversimplify the scenario, if you were to be jumping the traffic signal with your child in your vehicle, aren't we telling the child that as long as you donot get caught by the police, you're doing fine. Or if I can drive fast enough, I can get away.
The more acute issue here is that we are teaching the child 'I do what is convenient to me and others donot matter to me'. This only means that we as a society will create a system which will be largely unlivable in the coming decades. Just imagine the chaos that we as a society will be subjecting ourselves to!!! Isn't there a case for enlightened self-interest ?

Message # 2: The rules are applicable to all and NOT selectively. We should not be lapsing into selective amnesia on this!!

Next time you're on the road, please take few moments to think of the deeper implications of you jumping signal,  particularly if you're with your child!! Happy & thoughtful parenting !!!! 


Monday, 24 June 2013

Our kids have fewer places to go on field trips - Long live the Post Office

I had mixed feelings when I read the above headline last week. It was a throwback to a different era of communication with the Post Office as the ‘HUB’ of communication definitely in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. The Post Office used to be such an integral part of our family and friendship (who wants to make penfriends when you have Facebook & SMS?). There was a fuzzy logic-based pecking order in which a post card or a postal envelope or a telegram would be chosen as the instrument. A post card packed with lines written in Kannada with a fine handwriting used to be a harbinger of news. In our house we used to have a thick steel wire which was bent in the shape of S on which the letters would be pierced and archived. The telegram which enjoyed the tag of instant communication and hence 'premium pricing'. A telegram invariably would be a source of anxiety or unlimited glee depending on the cryptic message often announcing someone's unscheduled arrival by train or announcement of child-birth. 

Kids exploring the plant nursery
In this era of SMS and Twitter, I was wondering what effect it would have on children of this generation. At The Little Crest, we take our children out on a field trip to expose them to the neighborhood's essential services. The favorite destinations with kids is the bakery, fire station, plant nursery and the police station etc. The visit to the Post Office though not as much of a favorite as the neighborhood bakery or the  Fire Station, does have its unique appeal. The quite efficiency of the postal personnel when it came to sorting and organizing the letters for delivery is a sight to behold  (for the digital savvy the SORT is possibly only an algorithm !!!).

Feeling the texture of a Jack  fruit

The relevance of the Post Office has eroded slowly over the years, significantly in the big cities in India. It is important for the schools and parents to expose kids to the Post Office to familiarize them about this 'relic of the past' just to ensure that they understand how the neighborhood was about 15 years ago!.

The educational value of field trips is immense. Invariably, in the plant nursery, we ensure that all children carry home a plant. Here is a Youtube link to The Little Crest, Bannerghatta Road centre's field trip to a nursery. Children also get to taste a fresh fruit at the nursery. Most importantly, they all have several stories to narrate on their bus ride back!!

Meanwhile, we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have one destination fewer to take our children on the next field trip!!

Fresher’s hiring – Reality Bytes

Last week, TOI stated what was being talked either in anecdotal fashion or in hushed whispers. The fresher hiring in the IT / ITES industry has slowed down considerably and will slow down even more (supply growing by 25% and demand slowing by 12%) putting enormous pressure on young engineering graduates who are expecting to pass out over the next couple of years. 

After having met and interacted with several members of management, key members of faculty/Placement Officers & young engineering students, here are some observations of mine on the three key stakeholders:

  • The state of affairs in engineering colleges is quite disturbing. Most colleges are in a state of  “continual denial” and are hoping for the best. Other than cosmetic “skill up-gradation efforts" and "employability improvement" programs most managements are either clueless or resigned to status quo.
  • The IT / BPO industry, to be fair has done a commendable job in adapting itself to the numerous bottlenecks in the talent landscape. The IT industry has invested extensively either on training and assessment in an academy-type of setting or in on-the-job orientation and mentorship. The entrepreneurship ecosystem also has been quite vibrant in the spectrum of opportunities such as "Upskilling”, “Employability” and “Assessment”. 
  • An average engineering student neither enjoys a supportive and warm academic environment nor does he have the gumption and skills to chart a course for himself. The average engineering graduate is truly caught like a “deer under headlight”.
With challenging times ahead for freshers, the educational management and the institutes need to act to assist engineering students:
  • Engineering colleges should provide improved learning opportunities including internship (Here is an interesting portal for internship opportunities!!). Interestingly AICTE has announced that internship is mandatory for engineering students. The reality on the ground is that lofty policy decisions do not always get translated to effective actions on the ground. A case in point is the 'final year engineering project has led to a thriving market for 'ready to use' projects including synopsis, prototype/code and reports. This is a mockery of the system!!! 
  • Improved career counseling to set expectations of students. Most colleges are reluctant to communicate the realities of the job market to aspiring students. The colleges need to be 'real' about it and stop being 'larger than life' when it comes to placement opportunities. 
  • The IT industry has reached a stage where Indian companies are morphing their proposition to
    'Outcome based pricing', 'non-linear growth models' and 'automation'. Given the supply situation, they would prefer to hire engineering graduates with diverse skills and aptitude. Learning Labs' customers while evaluating our BestFit assessment service, are all planning assess engineering graduates for diverse skill-sets and competencies. The engineering colleges, instead of taking a 'assembly line approach' which is a low-touch approach of churning out large numbers of graduates need to transform their student handling ability to a 'medium touch, small group approach'.
A final word to aspiring engineering students and parents. The era of engineering education being the  passport to a high paying IT industry job is over. I guess we are seeing the days of 'normalcy'. I recommend a 3-point agenda for engineering students to succeed as career engineers:
  • Please stop being extra-dependent on your college to provide you the dream offer. You have a significant role to play and hence take charge of your career!! 
  • Be real while setting your expectations and be a part of the 'solution' rather than the 'problem'
  • Invest your time in getting the best out of your college and through online resources like Coursera.

Friday, 7 June 2013

"Papa don't preach"

I was thinking about the influence that dads bring to bear on their children. We understand the importance of being a role model to our children. We want them to be successful. We want the very best of our children. Amidst all this, do we lose our plot and end up being overbearing and a tad 'preachy'.

One tends to be preachy and believe that one is entitled to providing unsolicited advice. It is particularly true with your daughter(s), possibly out of the mindset that 'girls' need to be protected. However, the question on the table is "Is it in the best interest of your child/daughter?". Though relationship with our children does change (evolve??) over time, do we have a 'central' foundation on which our 'parenting' edifice is built ?

I enjoy engaging in brief discussions with young parents of The Little Crest and understand their concerns and dreams for their child(ren). I am beginning to see some patterns here. Parents tend to be either 'Tiger parents" - extremely control seeking or 'guilt-prone parenting'. One of the things that I am convinced about is that you have to find a balance between control vs. freedom and pampering vs. strictness. 

Gender stereotyping is something that we all need to be cognizant of. This does manifest itself either unknowingly or as conditioned behavior.  Also the feudal upbringing does make us believe that we men earn our respect in the society by being protective towards women. This also makes us believe that we have a natural right to 'preach' rather than being 'role models' who emphasize 'practice' over 'preaching'. Please click here to listen to Madonna's chartbuster of the yesteryear "Papa don't preach"

On the occasion of Father's day, I have a 3 point checklist for dads while dealing with your daughter(s) vis-a-vis your son:
The Little Crest's neck-tie craft work
  • Would you emote the same way with your son? If the answer is NO, you need to introspect on your parenting style.
  • Would you provide the same freedom and support regarding career decisions of your daughter? If the answer is NO, you need to consider having a candid and heart-to-heart chat with your daughter.
  • Would you gift your daughter the choice of choosing her life partner on an unconditional basis ?
Happy Father's Day!!   

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Himalayan Travels - Part II - Why you as a parent should take your child to Himalayas?

Kedarnath - the lord of the summit

17th May (Friday): I woke up to a cold and blustery morning and overheard animated conversation between the priest (pandaji) and the housekeeping staff. It slowly dawned on us that at 12,000 ft above MSL, life is quite different. Water is freezing and is not your best friend. The quality of hot water changes ever so quickly. Most importantly, mind is willing but the body is not. 

We pushed ourselves out of the room and walked over the snow which had fallen in heaps and crusted. I got the first view of the Kedarnath temple and lo behold it was simply majestic!! Imagine the temple with snow peaks at the back and a simply breathtaking landscape overall.  Is this the gateway to heaven or heaven itself ? Is this the dividend for the 'power of faith'?

What is it that a 5th grader can do faster than us grown ups ?
Here is the best kept secret of the trek. A 5th grader was the first to scale the summit ahead of the pack!!. Though I did not get to witness this scene, I was told that he just breezed through. When I chatted with him, his reaction without any hesitation was that he could not have done it if his parents were around since he believed that he would not have enjoyed the unfettered freedom that he did with this group!! Wow that is maturity beyond years. This set me thinking if we parents were 'excessively protective' of our children. I hope and wish many more successful treks to him!!!

Kedarnath – Climbdown
"A Himalayan trek is a metaphor for life itself....." said a famous mountaineer.  The summit is to be reached and you cannot stay there. You have to descend and move on.. 

The climbdown was largely uneventful and listless. The panoramic views are the same. The valleys, the rivulets, grazing sheep are all the same. The body was numb and the mind is occupied with a myriad thoughts. The more I thought about it, the experience began to sink in. 

18th May (Saturday): Rudraprayag Sightseeing.
We drove down to see the Koteshwar Mahadev temple. Before we get there, here is some background to Rudraprayag. The legend about Rudraprayag is that Narada Muni performed penance for many years here. Lord Shiva is supposed to have taught music to Narada. The instrument that is associated with Narada Muni is incorrectly understood as Tamboori. It is actually the Rudra Veena. Please follow this link for a  recital of Ustad Asad Ali Khan playing Raga Asavari on Rudra Veena .  

Koteshwar Mahadev: 
The speciality here are the numerous naturally formed Shivlingas in a cave. Truly the spectacle is the Shivlingas getting a continuous supply of Ganga water. The natural way!!!

Just in case, if you needed reiteration that Man is simply dwarfed by some simple things of nature. Everything in the universe has its exact place and Man with his quest for knowledge, may decipher the laws of nature but can he succeed in his endeavor of conquering nature. The picture on the left triggered a series of questions in my mind. The bridge which is a man-made structure of possibly 30 ft length, how hard was that to build? 

Statue of Swami Haridas Giri
While we were exploring the bathing area at Rudraprayag we ran into a statue. I discovered that it was in front of the ashram being built in memory of Swami Haridas Giri. My father-in-law was a great devotee of Swamiji and used to be one of the committed disciples. In the early 90s my father-in-law would attend the bhajans which would be held as early as 5am in Chennai. This was a unusual and yet emotional serendipity. 

Men of steel
Driving is not for the faint hearted in the Himalayas. We had a hair-raising experience on our drive back to the hotel. Our buses were the centre of attraction for close to 20 minutes. The entire town congregated at this stretch of road while our driver was negotiating the oncoming School Bus on the right and the head-spinning valley to our left.We all survived without a scratch but the bus suffered a few scratches and a deep dent!!!

After touching the lesser known Srinagar (of Garhwal) we meandered into Deoprayag. Our driver chose a vantage point from which we could get a beautiful view of the Sangam (union of Alakananda and Baghirathi rivers). This spot marks the formation of river Ganga.

In addition to being such a big draw for river rafting and camping on the banks of Ganges, Rishikesh is also the Yoga capital of the world. There appears to be a wide variety of choices of ashrams, Yoga gurus and the branch of Yoga that you may like to study. (It reminded me of Namma Bengaluru as the IT capital has posters which scream "Learn Java in 7 days"). There are numerous courses on offer of differing duration.

We were keyed up to watch the Ganga Aarati as the Sun sets. We scrambled our way into Paramarth  ashram and found vantage positions to witness the Aarati. After a elaborate speech we got to watch the Aarati which is quite a lovely and invigorating sight. 

Why should James Bond aficionados instantly recognise the Phat-phati ride? 
The stay in Rishikesh was not only about yoga & meditation. We had our quota of thrills in the phat-phati ride. Here is a video of a god-fearing and dutiful phat-phati driver. It is hard to believe the limits of daredevilry one can indulge in if you driving one of these innocuous looking 3-wheeled automobiles.

We boarded the phat-phati after the Aarati to get to the Swami Rama Sadakgram.  This driver was a pan chewing teenager and my guess is that he was in his early 20s. Me and Srinivas sat next to the driver and were closest to the seat of action. It also lent itself to the best view as the action was to unveil. We had about eight ladies of our group at the back (that included my wife and sister!!). This driver either thought the brakes didnot exist or even if it existed, it wouldnot work!!. He only knew how to accelerate and forgot how to brake. We saw a marriage procession occupying the entire road at a distance of about 0.5 KM. He drove thick and fast into the crowd and after terrorising the entire marriage party with high decibel horn and waded through women and children and emerged victorious. He had all the makings of a Bollywood stuntmaster!!  I repeatedly asked him to drive slow and he was visibly upset which only led to a ugly fight with me. 

I was reminded of  the James Bond movie Octopussy. This has a sequence where Vijay Amritraj (who plays James Bond's friend) in a Phat Phati (Tuk Tuk in the movie) is chased in another Autorickshaw by Kabir Bedi. It has some terrific chase sequences shot in Udaipur.  Here is the link to the Youtube video of the  chase between Phat  Phatis.


Kasper Frausing whom I now consider as Indian or more Indian than most of us here was with us along with his sister, brother-in-law, niece and brother-in-law's brother. Their enthusiasm throught was infectious (pun unintended!!) notwithstanding the minor inconveniences that they endured. Their propensity to fall sick also had a sequential pattern. I guess the stomach virus caught up with Kasper on the way back which he dealt with manfully and with a smile!! 
Way to go my friend Kasper and look forward to seeing you soon.

Himalaya beckons:
I am both delighted and tad disappointed after this trek. Delighted that I discovered a part of India which always existed for others and not ME. Disappointed, yes - because it took me an eternity to discover it. 

Now I crave for more. I am yearning for my next trek in the Himalayas. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Himalayan Travels - Part I - Do you want your child to be a naturalist?

This effort of mine to write a blog is pretty similar to my Himalayan travels - part exploration, part serendipity and trekking skills largely developed on the fly after a couple of hard and painful knocks. This blog is inspired by the children of  Maruthi International School, Tumkur whose sense of adventure, youthful zest and energy and most importantly being such 'no fuss' kids. With them around, there was not a dull moment.

Srinivas & Dr.Vishala who run the truly child-centric school have a philosophy of nurturing children in a multi-disciplinary environment (Both Srinivas and Dr.Vishala are partners in The Little Crest preschool chain). Being with nature is a very key ingredient of this educational philosophy. Forging close relationships with parents (which is quite unusual for most Indian school!!) is something that the Maruti school has done commendably.

I have written this blog in two parts to help you reader  beat the tedium of reading  a overgrown travelogue.

'Time Travel' - Day 1 & Day 2 : May 11th and 12th 2013
Travelling by train is like 'time travel'. It always unwinds to the 'past', a time in which the clock ticked a lot slowly. When we had the choice to travel by train to Delhi, it was not an involved decision for me. I just said YES. We boarded the Rajadhani express on Saturday 11th May at around 8pm from Bangalore city. There were predictable scenes of confusion about which seat is allotted to whom and most importantly do I as the rightful passenger 'own' enough baggage space under the seat!! We Indians always like to move around in droves. There are at any point in time, there are more number of eager relatives providing the extended support while only a small number of people would board the train. The scenes on a railway platform are such a microcosm of life itself. An emotional farewell to newly weds here and a tear shed with in an unnoticeable way by a fiance.

It was important for me to keep my expectations of the travel by Rajadhani express low. Rajadhani actually is a nice train. It does have well maintained compartments & surprisingly reasonably hygienic. Among the several big surprises was a 'Passenger Satisfaction Survey' that the staff conducted on us. On the not-so-positive end was the food. The food was hot but not great. Being a Bangalorean, we are blessed with moderate weather all year long. I got off the Rajadhani at Nagpur for a couple of minutes. It was like being in a furnace!!

13th May (Monday):
The Rajadhani express arrived on time at the Hazrat Nizamuddin station on schedule. Unlike a Chennai Central or Mumbai VT station, this station appeared fairly nondescript. On a different note, the Hazrat Nizamuddin area is steeped in history.

Himalaya Raths
We boarded the well maintained and bright looking air conditioned buses. We were driven to a service apartment for us to shower and change near the ISKCON Temple, East Kailash, New Delhi. Rakeshji & Rajeshji were the drivers and at first look didnot show how skilled and knowledgeable when it came to driving in the mountains and in negotiating the Himalayan terrain. More about this later!!

ISKCON temple in East Kailash, New Delhi

I had seen ISKCON Temple in Bangalore. The one in Delhi appears to be beautiful and special. Surprisingly it appeared less crowded compared to the milling crowd that you find in Bangalore. This ISKCON also draws a lot of morning walkers.

Bhajans & dancing
When we went in, the bhajan that the ISKCON devotees were singing broke into a lovely rhythmic dance. There is something magical about these places of worship. Devotion (bhakti) is in the air. One can say that ISKCON is a commercial entity. There is possibly some truth in that but I guess a templace like any other organization also needs to adapt to changing times. This ISKCON temple is self-contained with a restaurant, bookshop, sweet shop and a Audio Video facility.

Govinda beckons
Our breakfast was at the Govinda restaurant which is at the entrance of the temple. The running theme is one various leelas of Lord Krishna. The painting which I liked the most was the one which didnot quite appear like a original but really intricate detailing and nuanced expressions of Krishna and his friends. The restaurant has some really adoring paintings and exquisite craft work.

Golden brown pooris
Two days of train travel and the food on the train does some strange things to ones metabolism and craving for food. 'Can I get some idlis? Can I get some hot sambar?' was my refrain. The restaurant served us Idly - Sambar, hot pooris, sandwiches and chilled rose-flavored milk. The Pooris they served was different. It had a layer of masala which had a nice aroma and tang. 

We drove past the monumental Akshardham temple and the Commonwealth Games Village while heading towards Haridwar. We drove thru the bustling Ghaziabad with its new glitzy malls, historically relevant Meerut (happened to spot Indian cricketer Praveen Kumar’s restaurant on the highway) and a quaint Roorkee town (I was keenly looking forward to spotting IIT Roorkee and I was relieved to have a got a fleeting view!!).  I did count about a dozen engineering colleges en route to Haridwar. I guess the students who were migrating in the past to South India in search of quality engineering education donot have to travel that far anymore. It appeared that they had reasonably comparable options to get an engineering degree in the neighborhood.


We drove thru Haridwar which I could notice since I had made a trip about three years ago. Everyone got a quota of sleep on the bus. We stopped over at Haridwar for lunch which turned out to be quite delayed.

Magical nest

After our lunch and as we were getting ready to leave for Rishikesh, we noticed something which was clearly out of the ordinary. The birds had built their nests with clay and sand and they were continuouisly flying in and out. It appeared as though they were defying all the  laws of physics. It was like a series of basketball shots were aimed with extreme accuracy (slam dunks!!).

The drive into Rishikesh is quite arresting. One could see opportunities for adventure sports and camping along river Ganga. We drove thru Shivwalik range which is also called the outer Himalayas with peak altitudes of about 3500 ft MSL. 

We reached Rishikesh by around 5.30 pm. With tired bodies and aching feet we sighted Rishikesh. The Uttarakhand State seems to have reasonable controls on vehicles which ply in the mountains. We were held up at the checkpost for a while. As we entered Rishikesh, the traffic police in Rishikesh at the Veerabhadra road junction much to our disappointment showed poor judgment and even worse lack of understanding towards us visitors by making us run around in circles. 

While Srinivas was coaxing the Uttarakhand police staff to cooperation, I made a quick visit to the Rishikesh Railway station. This is the last railway station at the foothills of the Himalayas. The railway station was chiefly occupied by the Sadhu Maharajs. I have always been intrigued by the prospect of having a conversation with a Sadhu and understand their life and in particular their typical day. I overhead a Sadhu in the midst of a discourse egging a middle aged man about the need and power of giving!! I guess the philosophy is to think and act like a millionaire when it comes to giving and being a Sadhu is incidental and doesnot come in the way. THINK BIG as they say!!

There was a reunion of sorts at the Swami Rama Sadhakagrama. We had the group which flew in via Jolly Grant airport and the group led by Kasper from Denmark. We had a well deserved hot shower, hot supper and rest.

14th May (Tuesday):
The serenity of the Swami Rama Ashram is striking.  There is a certain stillness in the air. The plants and the flowers and the occasional flight of birds all seem to be in harmony. 

I made a trip to bathing ghat in Rishikesh. Ganga          flows with great vigor and force after entering the plains here. After some initial reluctance to plunge into the river, I thoroughly enjoyed the holy dip. I felt refreshed and recharged. 

I meandered around to have a tete-a-tete with the Sadhu Maharajs. I discovered that the Sadhu (possibly about 80 years old) that I talked to was originally from Gujarat. He recounted his life in about three minutes of conversation. His father was from the Pakistan (undivided India) of the British era. He worked as a carpenter for a few years in Gujarat. He was not enjoying being with his sister and drifted to Nasik and met his Guruji. He has been in Rishikesh for over 30 years. The high point of my interaction with him was the unfettered glee with which he recounted how an American lady who used to live in Rishikesh sent him a $ 10 bill from her home in the USA. He was gloating with pride that he encashed that for a princely sum of Rs. 430!!!

Our drive up the Himalayas began this morning. The climb uphill is slow and soft. It doesnot reveal itself  at all. It slowly dawns on you that unless seek it you wont get there. Reading the road signs and the occasional messages from the Highway authorities are some of the perks of road travel.

Poetic appeal...
On the picture on the left is an expression (please enlarge the picture for greater clarity) from possibly an underutilized engineer from the Highways department. I did some research trying to find a limerick on the same theme. Here is something that I found on internet:
Once I had some whisky,
And boasted to friends it was risky;
They came in a group,
And drank it like soup...
tottered like lambs very frisky. 

First flush as a tea gardener would say....
There is something magical about the first sightings of the snow-capped peaks. As you drive up, suddenly a breathtakingly beautiful view appears from nowhere. The excitement of these occasional sightings is unbelievable. Here's one such stopover and a picture of us savouring the view. We all were gaping as though we saw an alien spaceship!!!

15th May (Wednesday): Deoria Taal
I woke upto the strains of Mandakini river serenading the backyard. There is a certain timeless appeal about Mandakini river. As you lift your gaze from the river into the mountains there are dozens of little hamlets with about a dozen houses. Pahadis or Garhwalis as they are generally called make living out of agriculture from
their small holdings. The day begins as early as 5am and they use ox or donkey or mule as beasts of burden. 

We had a walk in winding serpentine road. We were treated to the best Aloo Parathas on the entire trip. The Parathas were  hot, soft and just melted in the mouth. I realised that most restaurants donot offer Dahi with Paratha. 

Our trek to Deoria Taal was planned as a dress rehearsal for the 'biggie' which was to come the next day. The bus ride from our hotel at Chandrapuri was a rough one. For once we saw how treacherous these roads could be given the constant threat of landslides. We observed in a couple of occasions, the clearance for the bus was so sharp!! You feel strongly for the drivers here since they have to be constantly making adjustments to surmount the challenges.

The trek to Deoria Taal was about 4 KM. The Deoria lake really transports you to a land of serenity. There are opportunities for one to camp and soak in the views. We were lucky to spot a Himalayan fox which made a quiet appearance for a drink of water in the lake.
Deoria Taal - View in summer
Deoria Taal  in winter

Pahadi Sabzi-Linguda
In one of the eateries, we sampled Pahadi cuisine. This is a dish called Linguda which is greens which is gently steamed. On making some enquiries with the dabawallah, I realised that if you know the Himalayan terrain, there are a myriad options if you want to cook Linguda. This is fibrous and supposedly good for ones intestine.

I also recollect a hauntingly soulful Pahadi Dhun which is more or less a signature tune of  Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasiaji on the Bansuri. Mountains synonymous with Himalayas have been a constant source of inspiration for musicians and artists since time immemorial. Like all folk traditions, the Garhwali folk music is soothing and therapautic. Here is a link to the Youtube video which provides a sampling of Garhwali song Meri Shunita  and Bedu Pako  which is considered more Kumaoni !!

16th May (Thursday)
We woke up at 4am and got ready for the trek ahead. I was visibly excited at the prospect of finding my limits of endurance. We had to drive upto Gaurikund to start the trek. Gaurikund is at an altitude of 6000ft above MSL. After winding thru Guptkashi we drove through Phata. Three private companies provide helicopter rides from Phata to Kedarnath. When we touched Phata the the stationary helicopters were being readied for a busy day ahead. We drove further for about 1 hour through really difficult mountainous roads to reach Gaurikund at about 8am. Here is a terrific aerial shot (Dr.Shivaprakash took from the helicopter) of the roads.

Gaurikund - the trek begins 
To borrow a term from the world of theatre or Broadway, the grand entry at Gaurikund is too shocking for anybody's comfort. One is suddenly swamped by a sea of people soliciting business of one form or the other. It is a little bit like a cat & mouse game. 

At every 10 ft of the way, someone would ask if we needed a Godi. Gaurikund seems to have about 5000 horses and possibly 4 times the population of horses seeking customers for the Godi service. I was sympathetic to the fact that the Garhwalis are a hard working lot with seasonal employment and livelihood opportunity. The unbridled commerce and somewhat indisciplined action of the dalals (middlemen) is a shocker. You need to have the temperament of a Zen monk and the strength and ability to dodge obstacles of a Kho Kho player to seek Lord Kedarnath. 

Serving the lord.....?

For those who either have to be or enjoy being carried, here is the Doli as an alternative. On closer examination, the Doli appears to be a product of significant design and engineering effort. If four able-bodied men of similar height are engaged, I believe that the Doli experience can be reasonably good. (of course, you need to like the idea of being carried around!!)

Putti for babies...
There is yet another option if you feel like a baby and weigh like one, you could get yourself a Putti and be carried on the back. Here is a picture of an overgrown baby trying one of them. 
The path is lined with eateries on the side. The eateries are actually a marvel of frugal engineering and layouting. In some of the eateries, if you occupy the corner with three sides covered with locally sourced insulation in between plastic sheets and a woollen rug, you possibly can withstand the worst of the summer's windy weather and snow. 

The cricketing legend, Don Bradman (arguably the best batsman the game has seen) once said "You may exhaust yourself but not your subject". I guess one can say the same about Himalayas. You can exhaust yourself capturing the views but still not capture it at all. Here are some lovely pix.

Piligrims Progress : 
Kedarnath then and now: 
50 years ago...

One of the best ways to understand and appreciate what we enjoy today is to look at 'NOW' and 'THEN' say 25 years or  may be even 50 years ago. As luck would have it I chanced upon a Hindu newspaper clipping chronicling what happened 50 years ago. The clipping said that there was only ONE bus ferrying pilgrims to Kedarnath. On our descent from Kedarnath, I think there were at least a thousand vehicles headed to Gaurikund.

We inched towards Kedarnath and we came upto the bridge across river Mandakini. As luck would have it we were on time to witness the evening aarathi of Mandakini Mai. With aching legs and creaking joints we wound our way into our hotel room. We walked into our dark and cold room. Without a whimper I just collapsed asleep.....