Friday, August 26, 2011

Cycling in Heavens: Tour Leh

Plane took off from Delhi towards its destination in high mountains of Himalayas. Pilot was maneuvering the plane thru thick clouds and snowcapped mountains. It was a close call between wings and high cliffs as the plan descended in a valley, twisting two sharp turns. I was landing in Leh, to cycle high altitude mountain pass – Khardung La, to visit shimmering blue salt lake- Pangong Tso and to speed thru flat plan deserts of Nubra. I would cycle a distance of 410 km and a reach altitude 18000+ ft over 8 days. Well, at least that was the plan!!

Leh, the second largest district in India, is a capital place of Ladakh region in J&K state. Historically this city was an important town on silk rout to pass into Tibet. Today Ladakh is bounded by POK on west and Aksai Chin on Northeastern part. This Land is full of high mountain passes (La in ladakhi), which are open to travel within a short summer of July to September. High Himalayas creates rain shadow over Ladakh, making the region a high altitude desert, excellent place for adventure buffs. We were a group of 23 cyclists, 20 participants and 3 leaders – Nachiket, Sachin and AC. We spent 2 days in Leh (11562 ft*) to acclimatize the weather and the heights. I was feeling breath heave as I tried to walk some 100m outside our hotel on first day. Weather was cold but sunny. Next day I was feeling better but still was not sure if I can cycle in this condition. Cycles (Trek 4300, 8 gears) were distributed to us and we had a short test ride outside the hotel.

Morning 14 August, all set and we embarked on a journey of a lifetime. In line we zoomed thru slopes of Leh city, towards Shakti, our first destination. First break was at ‘Sindhu Darshan’ point. This is the same river that cultivated the entire Indus civilization and gave name to this country the ‘India’. Mr. Vajpayee during his premiership inaugurated the ‘Ghat’ on the banks of Sindhu near Choglamsar. Murky, fast flowing water reminded me of the cloudburst of 2010. We were traveling thru the same area, which was inundated. Excessive agriculture is said to be the cause for increased humidity in the area resulting in a cloudburst.

On the way we halted at Thiksey Monastery. The monastery is situated on a hillock with rooms and temples constructed on the slopes. We were wondering thru corridors, easily 500 years old. The main attraction of the monastery is a two-story statue of Maitreya, constructed in 1970. As per Buddhist myth, Maitreya is said to take birth when ‘Dharma’ seems to be forgotten on the earth. Vibrantly colored statue in a wood carved room was very soothing to eyes in this arid land. Cycling on a flat track ahead, we reached our first camping side at Shakti, 50 km from Leh. Today weather was beautiful, hot and blue, unfortunately the last in next couple of days.

15 August was perhaps the most difficult day of our expedition. We were to cycle from Shakti (13500 ft) to Chang La top (17300 ft) and roll down to Tangtse (13500 ft), a total distance of 71 Km, given the good weather. We started after flagging the Indian tri color and singing the national anthem. Mood was buoyant, though dark clouds hovering in high mountains. Generally the gradient of the road is these high passes is very gradual, it is the altitude that sucks the breath out of the lungs. We were cycling in a line - the ant formation – covering the rider behind from the head winds. About 11 km from Shakti it started drizzling. Roads were wet and temperature plummeted. With weather turning worst, we had to stop cycling. It was a tough decision, especially when everybody was so pumped up. We packed up and were driven to the army base at Zingral (15500 ft) few km away. We huddled in one of the empty army barracks, weather got worst and it started pouring. Fingers, toes, ears were chilled and it was hardly bearable even in the shelter. One of the Jawan’s served us a hot water and tea. Within an hour whole team arrived at Zingral with 2 support vehicle and one Scorpio. Myself, Archana, DP & Tashi got into one tourist vehicle and reached Chang La top. This is the first time I was at 17000+ ft. Pass was already covered with snow. It was as if sitting in freezer. On the top, army serves free tea. We had few quick group snaps and started way down. On the downhill, road was nonexistent, streams of icy glacier water were flowing along. With low visibility, vehicle banged on a stone in a midway. Vehicle stopped, driver jumped out, shock absorbers were broken. We had to get out of the vehicle and to stand in a chilly wind. Archana smartly stopped one Innova and convinced the couple inside to give us a lift up to Tangtse. Tangtse is a beautiful village on a way towards Pangong Tso Lake. Our camp was setup among trees. A stream was flowing alongside. It was still raining and we had to call off the day with barely 10km of cycling.

Next morning, 16 August, we planned to cycle Pangong Tso Lake and camp at Spagmic along the lakeside. We woke up to find us surrounded with snow-clad mountains; it had rained and snowed all the night. Whole camp was muddy and everything was wet. Again we had to abandon the plan to cycle and decided to visit Pangong Tso Lake with our support vehicles. Road was good, as we were cruising along a stream. Weather was still cloudy and no signs of sunshine. Everybody was little disappointed having denied cycling. Just at the sight of the lake, minds cheered and hearts pumped. Lake was crystal clear, meandering thru mountain valleys. Pangong Tso Lake (13500 ft) is a salt-water lake with 1/3rd part in India and 2/3rd part in Chine. The same lake has featured in last scene of movie 3 Idiots. Weather was changing every minute; clouds and sunlight were playing color game. Panorama was painted differently and the Blue colure of the lake started emerging. As we drove to Spagmic, weather has changed completely and sun was out of the clouds. Lake water was ice chilled. As we ventured in ankle deep water, idea to bathe in the lake popped up in one mind. Chetan was first to execute the plan and rest just followed. As I took a deep, head under, a sudden chill rushed thru my body. I was out within seconds.
Back to the camp, we spend the night hoping good weather next morning.

Morning 17 August, clouds were still hovering in the direction of Chang la pass. Today’s plan was to return to Shakti crossing Chang la pass and climb Wari la pass (17216 ft) with support vehicles and cycle down to Agham (10476 ft). As we missed 2 days of cycling, we decided to cycle last 15 km of Wari la pass and roll down to Agham. As we reached our starting point, any thought of ‘no-cycling today’ was just sucking my guts down. I never find so much irritated throughout the trek. At 15 km mark to Wari la top, weather look promising, and cycles were back on road. We started cycling at height around 15000 ft. Road was good and gradient was gradual. I was gearing slowly around winding curves. Road was looping around the mountain as if a large horizontal loop was lying around the mountain belly. As I gained altitude, I started exhausting very fast, I was stopping at every 200m or so. Black top road was nonexistent and tarmac was hardly seen. At places it was impossible to cycle as I dragged my cycle out thru potholes and sandstones. Last few meters, I felt very much exhausted and breathless. With headache and cold, the altitude was taking its toll. I dragged on and made it to the top. Ranjit, Sagar & myself were first to reach the top. It was a sort of an accomplishment of the expedition until now. Unfortunately there was no signboard at the top and hence no proof to frame our achievement. Total 11 cyclist climbed to the top, Man of the climb was surely Jaydeep, who climbed the top in spite of suffering altitude sickness for first two days.

After spending half an hour on the top, we started rolling down. If climbing was tough, rolling down was treacherous. As you gain speed on slopes, fingers become cold and num and it is difficult to break, there is a danger to skid or puncture the tyres. Roads were full of sand, fallen rocks and streams of ice-chilled water. From Wari la top (17216 ft) it was 37 km descend to village Agham (10476 ft) – altitude wise 2km of sheer vertical drop. Valleys were ever deepening, as if we were descending into hell. It was evening time and sunrays were peeping thru mountain gaps. A great natural spectacle was unfolding if front. We spend the night at a very beautiful campsite in village Agham. This was the first star-studded night of the tour.

Whenever you travel in Himalayas, not only the destination but also the en route journey is something to be relished. Next stop was village Sumur and en route journey was awesomely special. Today 18 August, we were to enter Nubra valley. Just as we left Agham, we were greeted by a huge expanse of river Shyok. The road along the banks of the river was flat and black top. I put in high gears and I break out from the group. Ranjit followed behind, Nachiket & AC joined in. 4 of us were paddling in huddle at high speed, with wheels just inches apart. After about 4-5 km, I gave up. I could never know where Nachiket & AC disappeared.

Boarder Road Organization, under Project Himank has developed road infrastructure in region of Ladakh and Siachin. The “Mountain Tamers” are maintaining roads in world highest passes and helping to keep supplies to army establishments stationed on the boarders. Amazing quotes and sign stones will accompany you throughout the journey. Surprisingly I could hardly see any accident vehicle on these dizzying heights throughout the tour. Hats off to all Himankites for their supreme sacrifice while serving the duty to the nation.

Today was an easy day & we reached Sumur camp with high spirits. Sumur was a superb campsite; we were to stay here for next 2 days. In the evening we went to Panamic to see hot springs. Road along Nubra river was awesome but the place was pathetic. I have seen a lot better hot springs spots than Panamic. This was indeed the north most point of our tour.

Next Morning 19 August, we cycled to Hunder – the high altitude desert. The road from Sumer to village Tirith was flat and fast. After crossing bridge on river Shyok, we took right turn towards Hunder. At the end of a flat stretch, there was a speed climb. Thereafter the road slopes down into Diskit. Diskit in a main village in Nubra valley and has a Monastery. Hunder is about 8 km from Diskit. On the way, silver-shimmering sand and sand dunes indicated landscape change. Everybody was excited to locate camels in the distance. This is probably the only place where you can see snow peaks, rivers and sand dunes all together. Here you can ride few surviving Bactrian Camels in the world. The camels have double hump instead of single hump as most of us know of. 15 Minutes camel ride for 150 bucks was a special experience. 16 km from Hunder, military is constructing an airstrip at a village Thoise.
We returned to Sumer for Lunch. We spent the evening strolling in village Sumer, jumping in any backyard and picking apples and apricots.

Last 2 days of cycling remaining and we were at ease with altitude and weather. Everybody was getting gelled with the group. Lunch laughter’s in common tent were transforming into heated debates at dinner tables. Mood was relaxed, gossips and storytelling was all part of the day. I was enjoying every bit of it.

20 August, we were to cycle from Sumer to Khalsar (10060 ft) and climb to village Khardung (14730 ft) at the base of Khardung La pass on north side. This was a prelude to the Big Day climb to Khardung La tomorrow. Everybody geared up to finish 30 Km climb to Khardung village. We started at 6am in the morning and amazingly everybody finished before 12.

Final day of the tour and the only mission of the day was to climb Khardung La (18380 ft), one of the highest moterable road in the world. To perform on this particular day, we had practiced for last several months. The stakes were high and everybody had an individual objective to achieve. Our crew led by Sonam & Tashi flagged off the Big Day at 6:10 am. First destination was to reach North Pullu (16000 ft) at 20km. I was rolling slowly but gradually, gearing with 1-3, 1-4 combination. Weather was sunny but still I could feel the chill. I reached North Pullu at 8 am, had a light breakfast, and was on a way to remaining 13 Km to K-Top. From this point onwards road was bad and it kept deteriorating. Passing tourist were cheering and clapping. Even as I reached 17000+ heights, I was not feeling breathless, but my legs were giving up. I could see the top in a distance, but it seemed the road was unending. I set small targets and just started thinking about the next turn. Next turn never came; it felt as if I was climbing in heavens. As I reached last stretch, I kept pedaling in one of the most treacherous road conditions. Oncoming vehicles were pushing me to the valley side; I was almost cycling on the edge of the road. Few more turns and I was right in the pass, to the highest altitude I ever been!!

K-top was crowded with tourist vehicles and Army convoys. I made to the top at 11:10am, exact 5hr time for 32 km of climb from Khardung. Atul had a sub 5Hr finish. He looked unstoppable. Ranjit followed after 10 min. We clicked snaps and bought some souvenirs. View was amazing as a looked down from the top. It made me forget all the sweat and toil. Amazingly all-23 participants cycled to the top, a great achievement as a group. For me, goal was achieved and the task finished. I rolled down the slopes, dreaming new heights and destinations!!

Mandar Joshi

Please find the Link to access the Photo Tour, hope you will enjoy:
Thanks to all Snappers: Chetan Khare, Anand Kelkar, Durgaprasad Pawar, Ranjit Gadgil, Ratnakar, Ravi Ranade, Sagar Kanade, Srinivas Kulkarni.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mumbai Marathon 2010

In 7th year, Mumbai Marathon has become a calendar event with a lot of blitzkrieg and a typical Bolliwood merrymaking. This year an extra flavor was added by inclusion of Bandra-Worli sea link within the marathon route. In news-media, there was a talk about the intentions of the marathon, celebrity participation, Indian athletes not among top 10 finishers, additional strain of police force and in general fashionisation of charity and all that. This kind of criticism is an assurance of a bright future for the event. It’s only after 3 years that I had thought about participating in a half marathon (22Kms); on 17 Jan 2010 I could participate and complete this event successfully.
Personally I took this event to benchmark my physical fitness. Targeting 21km’s as my personal health goal and whatever time below 3 hrs as a bonus reward. Organizers will time your race and provide finish certificate if you finish within 3 hrs. An electronic timing chip was given to every participant, which was supposed to be attached to your shoes. Chip will ensure that the participant has crossed all timing points and will measure accurate finish time. Quite techno isn’t it? There were body-refueling counters at the finish, facility to store your baggage, medical service and water en-route and even marathon photos. I was impressed with the event management. Year before, I could not participate as the registration opens only till required no of participants get registered. I had to wait one more year. Pune marathon was an option, but for some reason there is no half-marathon event for this race and Mr Suresh Kalmadi expects participants to finish Full marathon (42 Kms) within 3 hrs. After this time no medical aid, no water, no traffic blockage and obviously no finish certificate. No online registration, can’t expect chip timing, it’s hard to believe that My Pune International Marathon is 25 years in Running.
Last years Mumbai marathon was a first mega event after 26/11 terrorist attack, depicting the spirit of Mumbai and showing solidarity against terrorism. These days’ religious events are highly politicized and look outdated. The event like a marathon is a so cool, to get together and celebrate good health on a Sunday morning once a year. No noise pollution, surely very low on Human-Irritation Index. This is probably the only event where celebrities are directing their fans towards right cause. I might not have participated if Ambani’s and Mahindra’s haven’t. I can say that it was my dream, my inspiration to rub shoulders against them, at least in one field. Celebrities can become ambassadors to pass a right message. Who knows people might give up Junk food if celeb’s say so. (Nice !dea for Abhishek Bachan’s next add)
There were few regrets as Indian runners were not even among top 10 finishers. Well, they were never there. It’s well known that Indians are poor when it comes to health cautiousness. Even Indian international sportspersons lack killer instinct and a desire to win. Don’t know how many years we will have to wait till we get our first Olympic field medal. The solution lies in building sport culture throughout the community. Building a generation of sports loving parents. Passing on the genes to next generation to win the medals. The marathon is a good starting point in this direction. There were around 14500 runners participating in Half and Full marathon. My running speed was around 8-9km/hour; the full marathon winner must be beyond 20kh/hour. I might be practicing for 1-2 years against the winners 15 years at least. My maximum weekly mileage was 25 kms against the winner’s average 150kms/week. Even Mukesh Ambani finished sub 2 Hours, mine was 2 Hrs 25 Mins 27 secs. One girl from my office finished round about the same time as mine. A hell lot needs to be done!!
Running is a quiet a straightforward activity, no technicalities, no expensive instruments. It is quiet monotonous, bit boring at times. A group might help in improving performance, overcoming injuries and sharing experiences. Cycling and swimming can be combined in the training to make the sessions more interesting. I could not find a group, but I did read a lot from books. Triathlon is an event, combining swimming, cycling and running, one can look forward to. One of my friends is involved in an event called LegBurn, it’s a kind of treasure hunt with a team of 3. They conduct this event in rainy season near Lonavla. Enduro is another expedition style event spanning 2-3 days involving kayaking, trekking, mountain biking and various other disciplines. Adventure-Sports culture is developing indeed. As I was traveling to Mumbai before the race day, I thought I was promoting Sports-Tourism…Wao!!!

Mandar Joshi
Credit Suisse (24 Jan 2010)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Travelogue - Trek to Mantalai lake

For me trekking is always a tireless experience. Myself along with 20 others from ‘Zhep Adventures’ were out to reach ‘Mantalai Lake’, the origin of river Parvati, 60-70km from Manikaran (near Manali). The group-comprised people of all ages, from 7th standard girls to retired Dean from St Xavier’s college. Along with us we had a local guide ‘Ganga’, a team of 4-5 cooks and about 25 Mules to carry whole of our luggage.
After an exhilarating travel of 48 hours we reached Manikaran. The hail was over and we were at the doorstep of heaven. Over next 8 days we were to experience the whims and fancies of Mother Nature. On a fine morning we left Manikaran to reach a village Barsheni by Sumo, about 20Km. This was the starting point of the trek. After chanting Shivaji’s slogans we were on our way. Barsheni village is situated on a confluence of river Tosh and river Parvati. Two valleys meet here continuing into a single valley. Currently a dam is under construction here. Once the dam wall is completed, the white-gushing water of the confluence will mass into ‘V’ shaped calm backwater filling both the valleys. River Parvati would carry on its journey with whatever water left with it. This dam is supposed to generate 800MW of electricity.
We descend into valley crossing the bridge over river Tosh and cruising alongside river Parvati. The walkway was meandering thru tall pine trees leaving all human traces in distance. It was a gradual climb until our next camp Khirganga (2720m). Khirganga would be the last spot with any human residence. Khirganga is not a typical Himalayan village, but a spot with lots of shanty restaurants on the steep slope of mountain. There is a Kartik Swami Temple and a hot water spring. Hot-sulphur water oozes out, giving feel of a boiling ‘Khir’ (milk pudding) and hence the name (this is my revelation). We had a non-veg dinner for our first night in the woods.
On a typical day we were served a bed tea at 6am. About an hour for morning choirs plus breakfast and we were ready for the days walk, about 12Km every day. En-route we used to carry a small sack with essential stuffs. The rest of our luggage, sleeping bags, tents and foodstuffs were carried on Mules. We were served hot lunch on the way. We used to reach the next camp after about 6 Hrs of walk. After reaching the camp, chill out for some time, play cricket, acclimatize, and have a lot of chitchat, 6pm soup and 7pm dinner and 8pm good night.
Next morning we marched towards our second camp Thunda Bhuj (3250m). It was a combination of small ascends and descends passing along the right bank of the river (right; while traveling against the river). It was the sound of the river that never parted us throughout the trek. In a pitch-dark, star-studded night, we could hear a rumbling sound while lying in the tent. While crossing a bridge, it was deafening and rock breaking. While passing behind a huge boulder, it used to dampen momentarily. At the confluence it used to battle to be louder than the other.
Next morning we woke up as a whistle rang exactly at 6am. Today there were 2 tough climbs, each on either side of the river. As we climbed the first, the huge pine trees were back in the valley we were among bushes of violet colored Rhododendron flower. On the other side, the mountain was covered with grasslands; even the small bushes had vanished. It was a remarkable transformation of landscape over the distance of few kilometers. We could see small patches of snow on nearby mountain ridges. Thakur Kuan (3410m) was our next camp. We had 7 tents for 21 trekkers, 1 kitchen tent, 1 slightly bigger tent for 4-5 cooks + guide, the remaining one for 2 porters and open grass for Mules. Small stream for washing and the whole plateau for potty!!
While with a cup of tea, I found myself among a 7th standard discussion, ‘would it be better to call our parents by their names? Or would it be cool to indicate a respect by using deferential phrases?’ One opinion said that there is hardly any intimacy in the second option. Don’t remember the second opinion, as I was struggling with my soaked biscuit in the hot tea. Across the tent, somebody was not in favor of bank-clerk or a professor, being her would be husband. Heart surgeon was preferred. Some 16-year beauty said, “If you want to get married, there is no point in waiting, lets get married at 22, the proper age”.
Now was the fourth day of walking. Everybody woke up with some or the other parts paining. Cold creams, painkillers were exchanging around. I had sunburns on my hands and around neck. Thakur Kuan camp was on left side of the river. Just as we started, we had to cross the river. There was no bridge this time, but a hand pulled cable crossing. The trolley was just sufficient to carry 2-3 people. From one side, somebody had to push the basket along the rope and somebody on the other side had to pull it. This was about 20 meters ride. One by one everybody was on the other side. The path was cascading along grass meadows with gradual ascent. The group was a combination of brisk walkers and slow laggers. After intervals we used to rest waiting for everybody to join together. On an occasional long break, I used to pull out my mouth organ. Request songs used to pore in and I am myself surprised, I used to play most of them. New self-invention, along the way!!
Ody Thach (3645m) was our last camp. This was the most beautiful campsite. It was a flat out plain, size of an ODI ground, surrounded by huge mountains. On one side there was a huge rock face, almost 90 degree extending up to 11 O’clock (Navy term-imagine 11 O’clock-at an angle of small hand). I could not capture this whole mountain within one frame. On the other side there were many snow-clad peaks. It was like sitting in a Himalayan Amphitheatre. The weather was so clear that we could see a proper sunset, until the last ray disappeared. It was an emotional stuff!!
Next day was the summit day. Plan was to reach Mantalai Lake by 12 and return back to Ody Thach well before the night falls. As usual we left the camp around 7:30 in the morning. Weather was beautiful, blue and sunny. Up to now the river was flowing deep in the valley with gushing sound, but now we were almost walking along the bank. Riverbed was wide with smooth flowing water. We were twisting and turning thru the valley, camp had fallen way behind. After 2–3 hours of walk we started climbing, but this time on the snow. We could see the ridge behind which there was a lake. Walking on the snow was a real trouble. One wrong foot and you sucked 1-2 feet deep in the snow. Our guide was not sure if we could reach up the top. It was almost 2-3 Km walk thru the snow-clad glaciers. Around 1:30 and I could see the frozen lake spread into the mountains. Melted water was forming into riverbed and that was the origin of the river Parvati. 16 of us could make the top. Imagine this, we climbed all the way up to 4100m, just to reach a valley!!
In the high mountains timing is very crucial. After 12, weather can change within moments. We were already late by 1:30 hours. Just 5 min at the top, and the guide ordered the back out. From top we could see 3 more people with in 10 min distance to top. There was no challenge; those 3 had to return back.
If reaching the top was tough, climbing down was a nightmare. Weather had changed. Boots and socks were wet to skin and we had no lunch yet. Chilled wind was blowing straight on face and I had a group of 4 slow walkers to take back to the camp. Sun had gone and it started drizzling. Walking in the fading light, I had only one goal, to see the camp before it is too dark. Nobody had a torch. At about 7pm I could see the tents in the distance, I relieved a sigh. It was Just in Time. Suddenly I remembered that the same 3 people who could not reach the top were lagging way back our group. This point I could do nothing but to wish for their Luck. They reached the camp by 8pm. All were safe, and I had another mountain tale in my repertoire.
Today’s dinner was a special one. Everybody relished noodles with ‘veg-manchurian’ and a ‘sweet Khir’. Our cooks deserved all the praises for their work. They were so humble and literally playing the host. They thought it was their privilege to serve us the best food. The ‘chicken curry’ and ‘egg curry’ was the best, ‘alu paratha’ was awesome and it was a delight to have a ‘fruit salad’ at the height of 4000m. In a chilled night they used to serve ‘hot chocolate’ up to our tents. While cutting a wood for our campfire, one begged the god for committing the sin. They just revered the mountains. They wanted us to relish the nature and wished we would come back. This was the most job-satisfied pack of people I have ever seen.
We followed the same track back to reach Barshni where we had to finish our trek!!
It was an awesome experience over 8 days in Himalayas. My respect for Mountains has bolstered further along with my quest to explore the wildness. I am sure to come back, only to reach the greater heights!!
Enjoy the snaps:
Mandar Joshi
Credit Suisse 11 Jun 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

“Mi Marathi, Zee Marathi” – A Creative Profiteering

Amid the whole world of Television entertainment, Zee Marathi is delivering a phenomenal performance over last so many years. With most of the channels busy churning out daily-soaps, victimizing contestants in reality shows and making news out of any trifle event, Zee Marathi has shown a great sense of maturity and professional wisdom. The success of Zee Marathi – Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L’il Champs is just a tip of iceberg; it is a success of a genuine sweat out, Zee Marathi team has done over past 9-10 years.
Zee Marathi team comprising, Zee Marathi entertainment channel, Zee Talkies and Zee News are putting a synchronized efforts toward the goal of increasing TRP – pathetic but only rating mechanism in world of TV entertainment. The success off all Zee Talkies films is a result of an innovative marketing strategy and tremendous distribution network. Calling the actors and directors of the scheduled film in reality shows, showing their previous films before there next premier and direct interviewing are some intelligent moves to popularize the Heroes – Heroines even before the Premier. The Picture just sells thru on this initial wave, Brilliant. I have seen ‘De Dhaka’ and ‘Sade Made Tin’; I failed to understand any cinematic value in those.
The bolliwood industry is filled with uncertainty. Producer, actors and directors, nobody really knows if the next movie is going to sell. Zee Marathi’s initiative to signup directors for next few years is a great initiative to bring some kind of monetary stability in the life of the people in this sector. This will encourage them to concentrate on the creative aspect of the movie, rather than monetary aspect, Bravo.

Zee Marathi entertainment channel’s scorecard is equally healthy. ’Shriut Gangadhar Tipare’, innovative concept, able direction and a mellifluous acting deserved patronage when K-Series was so popular on all Hindi channels. This is surely a Milestone series, and we got our first super-character ‘Aba Tipre’ (probably ‘Chimanrao’ was first). Watch on, somebody may be copping our hero elsewhere. ‘Nakshtranche Dene’- a tribute to the renowned Marathi Musicians, is another classic. It is very difficult to fit in the life time work of these exponents in a show of 3 hrs but an excellent anchoring, great orchestration combined with live performances make the program divine. Open out these episodes after 10 years, they will be as refreshing as ever.
Lets turn to daily soaps. Abhalmaya, Avantika, Wadalwat, Asambhav are few sequels worth mentioning. Any opinion on daily soaps in liable to unending debates and contradicting opinions, but lets analyze them with reference to their good points. Off bit theme, refreshing star cast and some individualistic acting performances are worth mentioning. Unless the daily-soap is something like Ramayan or Mahabharat there is not going to be any conclusive end to it. The whole format of daily serials is based upon interesting preplot, boredom midplot, controversial pre-end and an abrupt finish. Anyhow “Zee Marathi” has at least given some fantastic title songs. Over the years the channel has nurtured and groomed some phenomenal personalities, Adesh Bandekar, with his ‘Home Minister’. The so-called street-show, making economically viable over such a long duration requires tremendous commitment and perseverance. Shreyas Talpade, Prasad Oak, Siddhart Jadhav are some of the promising talents groomed in Zee’factory.

Hers now, Zee Marathi Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L’il Champs. The show started with a cute advertise showing an innocent Karate coach and mischievous kids. Kids are marvelous, no doubt, but the combined effort of Fantastic Instrumentalist, innovative judges, creative anchor and professional event managers are making the show awesome. Diwali special episode, intermittent rounds of Hindi songs, tribute to Mumbai attacks and finally Mile Sur Mera Tumhara group song are some of the unique highlights of the show. Careful selection of 50 contestants across Maharashtra, and making them camera savvy must have been a tough task. Those early episodes actually set the tone for rest of the competition. Now when 5 contestants are left, Maharashtra has got at least 20 stars circling around the horizon, all having potential to sparkle tomorrow. I still remember some great performances by Anuja Kamat (asa bebhana ha wara), Anushka Kulkarni (mi radhika), even though both could not even make into top 12. There were many songs which most of us would have heard first time, thanks largely to Kartiki. Probably it is impossible to incarnate next version of Lata Mangeshkar or Bhimsen Joshi, but we can definitely endeavor to make a troupe of singers equivalent to these great maestros. A populous country like India needs many ordinary people than a single extraordinary person.
Let anybody be the winner, larger task lies ahead and that is Branding of these kids as they progress in their life. Judges have already stared this task by associating them as ‘Performer’, ‘Classical Singer’ etc. While listening ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, I actually thought that Shamika would take Marathi part of it and Arya would sign Lata Mangeshkar part, and that’s what it turned out in the end. This is what the Branding is all about. That day I heard one of my Delhiite friend singing Mana Udhan Waryache, if the music is good, language barrier hardly exists. We want these future stars to sing new songs and popularize them beyond the boundaries of Marathi World. Zee Marathi will have to play a role in casting these kids to lure the audience, 10 years from now.

On negative side the channel should weed out ‘Individualistic Dominance’ in reality shows when it is at its sprouting stage. This series of HasyaSamrat was a bit of farce. The concept needs fine-tuning; can’t expect contestants to be good forever. I am sure Zee team will come up with new experiments like ‘acting competition’ or ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – Instrumental’ may be next on the card. Lets start guessing.

Opportunities are up to once imagination, but one thing is for sure, Zee Marathi team has shown a way towards Creative Profiteering. Art will only survive if there is employment opportunity, money will always drive the creative instinct. Zee Marathi has balanced both these aspects very well, that is its main distinguishing factor from other profit driven channels.
All the Best Zee Marathi.

Mandar Joshi
Credit Suisse 25 Jan 2009

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sawai Gandharva 2008 - An Experience

India’s most popular Classical Music event, ‘Sawai Gandharva Sangit Festival’ was held in Pune from 11-14 December 2008. 56 years back, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi started this event as a remembrance of his guru, Rambhau Kundgolkar, better known as ‘Sawai Gandharva’. This year was all the more special as; Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is awarded The ‘Bharat Ratna’, the highest civilian award of independent India. Pune has produced some great personalities in the field of music, literature, dance and drama, now it will boast for its resident ‘Bharat Ratna’. Classical music is a very specialized form of art, even a listener of this form of music needs a certain degree of musical sense. Panditji’s award is also a sign of never fading patronage provided by Puneits over all these years to this form of music.

The event started with a performance by ‘Tukaram Daithankar’, the popular ‘Shehanai’ exponent. He started with raag ‘Bhimpalas’. This starting performance was just a trailer of the musical treat being given over next 4 days. After that, Pandit Krishnendra Wadikar and Pandit Suhas Vyass exhibited their vocalist’s skills. Pnadit Vyass ended his performance with a Bhajan, ‘Ek Sur Charachar Chayo re’ (Let one musical note fill the universe) – a dedication to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Next was the great santoor maestro ‘Pandit Shivkumar Sharma'. He started his performance with raag ‘Durga’. Panditji’s pleasant appearance, with white-roundish hairs and long-black kurta, was as lovely as the sound of each musical note coming out of his trapezoidal instrument. Even when he was tuning his instrument, 10000 odd crowd was patiently weighing each an every note, till it fits into its own frequency. As Panditji started hitting the wooden mallet onto the stretched metal strings, the magic box was open and there was a gift for all. He was bouncing-sliding-tapping the mallet to sound different musical effects. His hand movements on the wooden box, was as if he was painting a musical picture, filling it with darker notes in one corner and fading it away in other corner. His pahadi tune, transformed the whole backdrop into snowy mountains and flowery valleys of Kashmir. His performance was well synchronized by Yogesh Samshi on tabla. Pandit Ajay Chakrawarti ended the first day with Raag ‘Bhairavi’.

Though the festival is predominantly dedicated to classical music, Anuj and Smruti Mishra blessed second day with a ‘Katthak’ performance. These young siblings performed rachna’s such as ramastuti, krishnastuti and murali-rachana. While dancing, they dramatized one of the Mahabharata’s events at Kurukshetra. Everybody was stunned when they performed Bhramari - a continuous 103 revolutions. The crowd was at their feet. Everybody experienced few speechless and motionless seconds. It is because of such performances, that the festival is a prime attraction for so many fans over so many years. Vocalists Prasad Khaparde, Shrikant Deshpande and Mohan Darekar also had their performances. The session ended by a great singer from Gwalior gharana, Mrs Malini Rajurkar. Gwalior gharana boasts its roots way back to ‘Miya Tansen’.
They say---
‘Tansen’ was because of ‘Akbar’… And
‘Bhimsen’ is because of ‘Punekar’…

Every year Sawai festival, presents young, burgeoning talents to the music lovers and the youngsters always come up with a delightful surprise. One of such performers, Arshad Ali, had performed at Sawai at the age of seven. This time he was back, at the age of twenty-two. He presented raag ‘Multani’. He was followed by raag ‘Shree’ by Pandit Madhup Mudgal. Instrumentalists are always popular among all music lovers. Violinist brothers Ganesh & Kumaresh enthralled the audience with a perfect rendition of Carnatic sangeet. Ghatam and Mrudangam accompanied the violinists. On an audience request they presented a Pahadi dhun. The day was blessed by the presence of ‘Bharatratna’ Panditaji. Because of health reasons he was sitting in a car just beside the stage. His mere appearance spread a wave of excitement among the crowd. Will he-will he not sing, was the most anticipated question over next two session. Crowd was at there feet, paying their respect and wishes to this great vocalist from Kirana gharana. Great performers just keep of coming one after another in this festival. Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra followed next. The duo from Banaras Gharana has performed all over the world, pleasing audience with their mellifluous singing. While singing raag ‘Bageshri’, they influenced audience, with a kind of aggressive and sometimes soothing, voice modulation. They were building their concert appreciating each other. The accompanist Mauli Takalkar was felicitated for his 81st birthday. He plays a kind of side rhythm, called Tal or Zanj, mostly accompanied in Bhajan. So to say, this is such a small instrument, with hardly any improvising capacity. Mauliji was a part of Pandit Bimsen Joshi’s thousands of live concerts and recordings for last 33 years. Really, every small bit helps.

The last day of the fest was in two sessions. This only morning session gives an opportunity to listen morning ragaas. Vinayak Torvi started the session with raag Ramakali. His devotional song ‘Zala Mahar Pandharinath’ deserved worth mentioning. Flutist, Pandit Ronu Mujumdar followed next. The sweet sound of flute filled the air with a divine bliss. There is such a power in all these instruments and their melody is that, the concept of musical medicine needs to be explored to the next level. SangeetMartand Pandit Jasraj was next on stage. In turmeric yellow kurta and white dhoti, he was looking as divine and as refreshing as ever. His students accompanied him. Vijay Ghate was on tabla and Mukund Petkar was on harmonium. Simultaneously while teaching his students, he was displaying a classical display of Hindustani music. It’s because of his Gurukul style of teaching that has produced the likes of Sanjiv Abhyankar, Kala Ramnath and Sadhana Sargam. Pandit Jasraj felicitated Pandit Chandrakant Kamat, a tabla player, for his numerous years’ of contribution to the classical music. Pandit Jasraj himself said that Pandit Kamat has helped him getting established in this field. I think we always respect an artist for his humanism more than his artistic skills, isn’t it?

Last session performers were vocalist Madhuri Dange and Shrinivas Joshi.
Along with them was Tejendra Mujumdar on Sarod. Innovation keeps the art alive and experimentation keeps the artist agile. ‘Madhy-lay Tal-wadya Kacheri’ is a group formed by Akhilesh Gundecha. They performed an orchestration of several rhythm instruments like, Pakhwaj, Dholak, Banbu, Matka, Hudka, Tabla, Daf, along with Sarangi. Claps and uproars by the crowd signed off the successful experimentation. The most sought after vocalist from Carnatic music Mrs Aruna Sairam was very impressive with her raag ‘Vrundawani’ and raag ‘Todi’. She paid her tribute to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi by singing one of his Abhang ‘Tirth Vittal – Kshetra Vittal’. Dr Prabha Atre, one of the titans of Kirana gharana, ended the four-day festival, with a mesmerizing performance. Everybody missed Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s Bhairavi. This pahadi singer has given so much over all these years, that now when he needs rest, nobody would complain.

During my primary days, I had tried to learn classical music. I did try learning classical music on flute. During my college days, I did try my fingers on Guitar. These days I am trying my hands on my new Synthesizer. I am not sure if I can become an instrumentalist of any standard. But after listening to over 30 hrs of classical music over 4 days, I am sure I do hold some pedigree to be a good listener of classical music. It is the combination of great musical exponents and a crowd of connoisseurs that make this festival an astounding success. May the fest live for years to come!!

Mandar Joshi
Credit Suisse 20 Dec 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why Not Share Our Thoughts

It’s been a terrible week for the whole financial industry. Lehman Brothers collapsed; Merrill Lynch is about to jump from the cliff. As Fed is settling issues with the Mortgage Lenders 'Fannie Mae' and 'Freddie Mac'; they are about to face the worst month ahead, thinking about WHO is next?? Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are the only Wall Street survivors. History shows that the countries like UK and US have been thru the cycles of economic upheavals, weathered the scars of World Wars and all kinds of manmade disasters. They have pioneered the calamities and experienced a phenomenal growth. They have enough experience and guts to wear Scars on their chests. I am sure they will sail thru.

If I can make this statement, “ US Sub-prime crisis is the first phenomenon which has engulfed not only the originating countries but the whole world ”. Don’t be surprised if there are job cuts in Lehman Brothers Mumbai. Off-shoring has given edge to all FII and foreign financial solution providers. But their business model is based on Hit-N-Run strategy. Let the crisis hit and they will run overnight. This sentiment is quiet evident from ever volatile Sensex and Nifty. This crisis has come knocking our doors with many of us working directly or indirectly in financial domain.

During my London visit, I have experienced the uncertainty looming around ABN-AMRO employees during ABN-RBS M&A. I have seen people Crying-N-Crashing over the pint of beer. I have seen Northern Rock going bust and people queuing outside NR’s ATM to withdraw there hard earned money. At the same time I have spent many Friday evenings sitting in a pub right in front of Lehman Brother’s twin tower building, having a pint in hand and imagining working for LB’s. It is impossible to digest that a bank having a 150 years history going in tatters like that. Over last few years, as a novice, trying to understand the financial markets and now working for a financial institution, I have all my sympathies with all those who might loose there jobs as an aftereffect.

While bombarding the terrains of Bagdad and Kandahar, Uncle Sam easily overlooked the spread and use of Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction (FWMDs) in his own backyard. This so called financial engineering is no less than rocket science. Financial scientists have created these dynamites in the form of complex financial instruments. Dynamite at least kills once and for all; these FWMD’s are going to rob minds and souls over next few days.
Being the first Indian generation to face an economic crisis of this length and breadth, we have a lot to learn from these stories. We have to prepare ourselves mentally as well as financially to tackle the crisis of this scale. Being an emerging superpower, we have to go thru the travails. One should earn during booming economy and learn during economic depression. We are kids in the financial domain, we have to build our competency and may be, overrun these foreign giants sometime in future. After all an Indian is running the City Group.

Financial market provides a channel for distribution of money from lenders to borrowers. Money just keeps on floating between parties involved in a trade. It is some bodies’ loss that feeds some bodies gain. Money keeps on exchanging pockets. Unlike in manufacturing industries, where there is a generation of asset, these are the real breeding grounds for Money. The economies that are build on manufacturing boom; will surely weather this financial crisis. Lord Krishna has described the importance of ‘Agriculture’ in 3rd Verse of The Geeta. “Nobody can survive without food, hence everybody should contribute to farming. Hard work keeps your body fit, mind agile and sole at peace. Working out in the field builds Observation skill, Perseverance, logical interpretation and future vision. Harvesting is an astounding difference between the Man and an Animal.” I never realized the meaning of this verse, until Now!!

Mandar Joshi

Credit Suisse ( 16 September 2008)

Monday, July 7, 2008

My First Pilgrimge: Pandharpurchi Wari

'Vitthal' alias 'Panduranga', a black god, god of common people, the farmer, cobbler, weaver, just all and everybody. Saint 'Dnyaneshwar' and Saint 'Tukaram' were great followers of 'Vitthal', born in 13th and 16th century respectively. An annual pilgrimage carrying chariots (called 'Palkhi') of 'Dnyaneshwar' and 'Tukaram', starts from 'Alandi and 'Dehu' ('Samadhi' place of both the Saints) walking 250 Km over 15 days, reaches 'Pandharpur', to meet 'Vitthal'. The tradition is going on for ages. The purpose is simple, to get immersed in revering god 'Vitthal', forgetting all sects, clans and castes and achieve a step closer to the ultimate goal of life, 'The Moksha'. Pilgrims are called 'Warkari' and the pilgrimage is called 'Wari'.

I happen to participate in one leg of 'Wari', from Lonand to Taradgaon, some 10km stretch, with 'Saint Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Palkhi'. My intention was clear, to involve in the thrill of the pilgrimage, to be a part of an age-old tradition and to add another experience in my repertoire. Philosophy is always tough when you read it from books. This annual pilgrimage is a practical; you can see the 'Bhakti' and 'Shraddha'; hear 'Mantras' and 'Abhangas'; and sense the 'Moksha'.

Saint 'Dnyaneshwar' was a born intelligent. In those days all Veda and 'Bhagwat Gita' were written in 'Sanskrit'. Knowledge of Sanskrit and hence the 'Veda' was restricted only to 'Brahmins', the upper cast. And hence forbidden to 'Shudras', the lower caste. Saint 'Dnyaneshwar' at the age of 18, translated 'Bhagwat Gita' into Marathi, the common language. Devine knowledge of 'Gita' was now accessible to everybody. The epic is called as 'Dnyaneshwari'. Dnyaneshwar entered into 'Samadhi' at the age of 21, at the place called 'Alandi'.

We started our journey from 'Lonand' at about 2'O clock. There were about 1-2 Lakh 'Warkari'. Synchronization of the crowd was amazing. People were walking in small groups (called 'Dindi). Pilgrims were dancing and walking to the rhythm of 'Mrudangam', chanting 'Shkolas' and singing 'Bhajanas'. No body seems to have cared about the scorching heat. 2 horses were leading in the front. One of them was empty saddled. Saint 'Dnyaneshwar' is believed to be riding that horse. Many people were bare feet. Women were carrying 'Tulashi' (the sacred plant) on there head. I could see many youngsters round about my age.

All pilgrims eagerly wait for this annual feast. They dedicate 15-20 days every year just for the sake of god. Forget all their sorrows and daily choirs, and immerse into 'Namasmarana'. Most of them are peasants and daily wagers. There faith in the god is just unflinching. These days 'Adyatma' is becoming a fashion, and Demigods are becoming richer. We are in a crisis of 'Belief'. This pilgrimage gives out a very simple message, treat everybody equal and visualize god in every person. Just one leg of this pilgrimage has given me a lot of satisfaction and a peace of mind. These memories will linger in my mind throughout the year.

Check out the snaps.

Mandar Joshi

Tata Consultancy Services (7 July 2008)