Thursday, May 28, 2009

Man United loses Champions League title

The clash between the two best football teams in Europe has to be a big ticket event. The fans expected the match between the two teams Barcelona and Manchester United in Champions league final 2009 would be of a ferocious one. With the best players in either team available to play in the final, it was expected to be a lip smacking encounter. But more often than not, big tickets are often a big letdown. Even this one was as Manchester United was easily and comprehensively beaten by the more agile Barcelona team in the final played in Rome yesterday.

With two successive titles already in their kitty, United was looking for a third title this year and wanted to be the first team to do so. However, they appeared a tad numb on the big occasion compared to their opponents who appeared exhilaratingly alive. Barcelona defenders were spot on to deny any freedom to Ronaldo and Rooney whereas serious defense errors by the Man United defenders cost them not only the match but also the championship. There were a few goal scoring opportunities for United early on but they weren’t able to capitalize.

Barcelona seized the first available opportunity in the 9th minute when Samuel E’to opened the scoring with his artistic touch by easily beating the unbeatable Van Der Sar. Post the first goal, United surprisingly never upped the tempo of their game and looked sluggish giving away many opportunities only to be saved by the brilliance of their goal keeper. However, they failed to read one superb pass by Xavi in the 70th minute and allowed the Barca fire power Messi to get away by scoring a header. There was no Ferdinand, no O’shea nearby when Messi strolled in United area. Soon the game was out of reach.

The United Manager Sir Alex Fergusson made important substitutions by bringing in Tevez and Berbatov but both of them appeared a mere shadow of their previous selves. A flood of memories overwhelms me when exactly a year back, United looked unbeatable and what a match they played against Chelsea to retain the title. This explains the improbable nature of triumph. This was a third trophy for the Barcelona team. A few players were seen shedding tears of joy after touching the trophy. The master tactician Sir Alex lost out against the 38 year old Barca coach Pep Guardialo this time. Sir Alex meanwhile has already his eyes set upon the trophies next year and for sure Man United is a team to watch out for next season as well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24, 2009 – Monaco

Imagine what is two hundredths of a second? That was the difference between Button who eventually got to the pole before Kimi Raikonnen on a track which offers a maximum down force of all the Formula One tracks. Monaco is considered to be the world’s greatest and most challenging circuit. Nelson Piquet once remarked “Racing on this track is like flying a helicopter in your living room.” That is how difficult this track is. Button delivered a best time of 1 minute and 14.902 seconds to get his fourth pole in 6 races this year. He has already won 4 out of the 5 races. As far as Ferrari is concerned, this was the best start to finish so far in this year. Massa finished 5th. The 37 year old Rubbens Barrichello finished third ahead of Sebastian Vettel of the Red Bull.

The week that has led to the Monaco has been action packed with Ferrari threatening to leave the Formula One arena if the cap on technological investments was not removed and they appear serious when they sued the Formula One management over this issue. However, the ruling went against Ferrari. Ferrari who has taken part in the every Formula One race so far is an integral part of it and Formula One sans Ferrari would be unimaginable. Ferrari, a part of Fiat has been munificent in their spending so far. If however, Ferrari has to bog down to the demands of the F1 bosses, then this could be the last year of premier car racing.

Race Day

If someone’d have told Jenson Button before the start of the 2009 season that he’d win the first 5 out of 6 races, I am sure he would have died laughing. No one would have imagined that at the first place and to ask him this question. Most of us were happy to have Brawn on the grid after Honda pulled off after the last season as that made up the numbers. They were however written off by most of the F1 pundits. And here is the Briton, on the podium once again and leading the driver’s championship race.

The Monaco track is considered to be the most difficult track but Button by his flawless driving has more or less opened the gates of not only the driver’s championship but also the constructor’s championship as well. The way he drove today showed us how matured he is as a driver. I loved watching him drive today and was disappointed when the race was over. This win has lifted his tally to 51 points, 16 points clear off his own team mate Rubbens Barrichello who finished 2nd today after beating Kimi Raikkonen at the starting line.

The good news however came for the Ferrari team. Kimi Raikkonen had a podium finish today as he finished 3rd after Barrichello. And it was a delight for Massa who drove well and finished behind his team mate at no 4 position. The duo was able to make amends in their worst ever performance so far this year. The modifications (revised front wing) in their new F60 seemed to be working well.

The Red Bull star Mark Webber managed to finish 5th after Sebastian Vettel had a bad crash. Williams – Rosberg came close at 6th position. It has been a not-so-good year for Lewis Hamilton the current champion who managed to finish only 13th.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pangong Tso – The most beautiful lake in the World

We were up early that day for a visit to the world famous Pangong Tso (Tso means a lake in the Ladakhi dialect) which is situated at a height of about 14200 feet above sea level. We had spent 8 days in Ladakh and were habituated to bad roads, but the roads this time were not just bad, they were pathetic. These roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) who does a commendable job in maintaining the roads but the frequent landslides, a common occurrence in this area irreparably damage the roads. However, the 160 km journey from Leh to Pangong Tso is an experience in itself. The drive took us through the villages of Karu, Tangste and Lukung giving us glimpses of the Ladakhi culture.

The car kept climbing upwards on curvaceous roads and soon we reached the third highest motor able road in the world, the Chang la (La means a Pass) situated at 17800 feet. Since we were nearing the Indo-China border, there was Indian army everywhere. At Chang La we realized what it is to be an Indian Army Jawan. The temperatures here are very low and breathing is very difficult. And in such biting cold, they smilingly welcome every traveler and are ready to pose for photographs. Some of them also welcomed us for a cup of tea. We befriended a jawan named Swamy from Karnataka. He told us that he had never been posted at such a high altitude before and his previous posting was in Rajasthan. It was difficult for him also to get used to such conditions. He also told us that Chang La was mostly frequented by foreigners and therefore he was happy to see Indian faces. We thanked him for the tea and moved forward. The road down passes through Tangste and many other small villages. We kept moving ahead and soon realized ours was the only car moving on that road and I must tell you there is no better feeling than travelling on endless roads.

Paagal Nala-The Crazy Stream

This is perhaps the biggest hurdle in reaching Pangong Tso and was one of the reasons why our driver, Thilley wouldn’t stop the vehicle on the way for us to take pictures. The scenery along the way was amazing and at one point of time we were angry at his reluctance to stop the car. We realized the problem when we actually reached here. The Paagal Nala is a stream of water running from melting glaciers. There is less water in the stream in the morning which keeps on increasing as the day progresses and therefore it is advisable to cross it early. Thilley told us that the dreaded Nala has stopped many travelers from visiting Pangong Lake and we were lucky since there was not much water when we reached. We were able to easily cross the cursed Nala easily.

The first glimpse

While we were about 4 kilometers away from Pangong Tso, a road sign read – The first glimpse of World Famous Pangong Lake. The glimpse of the lake itself was divine and beyond imagination. I immediately realized that this place had to be spectacular after all it was one of the nominations for the Seven Wonders of the earth competition last year. After taking few pictures, we headed towards the lake.

Pangong Lake- A Paragon of beauty

The Pangong Lake is about 135 kilometers long situated in the Changtang plateau of Ladakh. About One third of the lake lies in the Indian Territory and the rest of it in Tibet. It freezes completely in the winter season in spite of being a salt water lake. The water is crystal clear, and from a distance the unique combo of the sun and the water makes the pebbles inside resemble jewels. The pulchritude color of the lake is royal blue and presents a delightful sight. You look in any direction around the lake and you’d find a breath taking view. While we kept marveling the beauty, majesty and sacredness of nature; the sunrays painted different shades of blue and green on the lake as if there was a rainbow in the water. From further distance, the lake glistened like a path of diamonds. This was something we had never ever seen before. It was a fascinating phenomenon, a soul stirring experience. We felt it was God’s imagination at its best. It is a perfect get away for spiritual seekers who wish to step away from the complex world of continuous problems and conflicts. The beauty of the lake appeared formless, limitless and unfathomable. It created a million opportunities for us to capture the different shades and we merrily grabbed it. We took more than fifty pictures of the place. It was lunch time and we were carrying packed lunch with us. We had the expedient of having lunch in the car, by the lake-side, something that we would cherish our entire life.

The way back

After lunch we spent some moments of tranquility sitting at the banks of the lake and then Thilley sprung into action once again. He wanted to leave immediately as the Paagal Nala would overflow whereas we wanted to sit there to explore the post card worthy landscapes. We did perambulate through the ice cold water for some more time and pondered over some imponderables sitting there after which we reluctantly headed back and while the car kept speeding away, we kept looking back towards the lake, ogling at its beauty. The feelings were ineffable.

When we reached the Paagal Nala, the small stream that we had seen in the morning had become quite large. There were few cars already standing there before us who weren’t too keen on crossing it, neither was Thilley. Perhaps now we understood why he kept asking us to leave. We waited for about an hour doing nothing but the water in the stream kept increasing. Soon an army truck arrived. The driver of the truck without thinking too much took a plunge in the water and slowly began crossing the stream. Watching him Thilley also got excited and was ready to do the same. The car was stuck mid-way but thanks to his excellent driving skills, we managed to cross the stream and soon reached Leh. Next day we were to leave for New Delhi, but our minds were still thinking Blue. If I were a painter, I’d have painted the scene today also. I so vividly remember it. Pangong Tso has become a part of our collective memory.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Journey from Manali to Leh: A breath taking experience
Published in Chembur Ghatkopar Plus - Times of India on 8thMay09

We opted for a road trip from Manali to Leh. After an overnight halt at Manali, our next destination was Jispa. Jispa is 140 Kms from Manali and a little over 300 kms from Leh. We had to leave early to reach Jispa before sunset; the drive is very bumpy because the roads are not well built. The Manali-Leh highway is known as The Bikers Paradise. The journey is very adventurous and exhilarating. The weather was excellent as the car drove alongside the Beas River. The river was so clean and clear that we could easily see the pebbles through the water. We experienced varied level of temperatures as we moved through the scenic mountains; we took many small breaks to capture the beauty in our cameras.

Our first break was at a little distance from Manali- Rohtang Pass, a well known tourist destination. The roads leading to the pass are dangerously curvaceous and narrow; there is always some amount of traffic on the roads. Driving has to be with a lot of caution; there have been many incidents of accidents on that highway. Our driver showed us the spot where a military truck had slid down just a day before. On hearing this we requested him to drive slowly; he assured us that we were safe. He was of the opinion that the military men were not locals, so they were not well trained to drive on such ghats whereas he being a local knows to drive better. Soon we reached Rohtang pass. The place is totally surrounded by snow-capped mountains and has a breathtaking view. Just like many other tourist places in India, Rohtang pass lacked maintenance of the place and we felt that commercialization has taken its toll. Thick fog had enveloped the pass when we reached there; it was difficult to locate our car in parking lot; we also lost our way once. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience. The pass has featured in many Hindi films; off late “Yeh ishq hai” song of Jab we met was shot there. We missed the yak riding and ice-skiing in the pass due to lack of time; but we manage to sneak in sometime to experience the famous hot and spicy maggi noodles.

As we moved further, the traffic seemed to lessen. The highway roads are built and maintained by the Border Roads Organization (BRO). Our driver, Pannalal told us that the BRO does a good job every year but the landslides (a common occurrence in these areas) damage the roads to a large extent. We struck a good conversation; I asked him about his job. He told me he has been working as a driver since 7 years. He started at an age of 28 and regularly transported people from Manali to Leh. On knowing that we were from Mumbai, he told us he had been to Mumbai once but was unable to cope with the heat of the city and returned home earlier than planned. The more we kept moving ahead, the more we discovered beautiful landscapes. The car sputtered, hiccupped and groaned but kept moving over near-vertical lifts and gravity defying bends. Thoughts of car skidding down those bends were unavoidable, and I kept telling myself that I am not afraid of death. Because of the high altitude and extreme heat during the day; fatigue and giddiness were inevitable. At one stage, it became so bad that I had to ask Pannalal to stop as I felt like vomiting. It is advisable to drink a lot of water to keep the giddiness away. Weariness had already started creeping in as we kept dragging on; resisting toilet breaks. Each passing kilometer seemed like a blessing.

Sleepy Jispa

Jispa is a remote, sleepy village amidst dazzling mountains. It is very densely populated. There is only one Hotel in Jispa. When we entered the rooms of the hotel Jispa we were in for a big surprise. No television, No fan and a STD phone booth was not a possibility in the village. When we enquired about the fan, we were told that there is no need of a fan since the temperature falls in the night to near zero degrees. Fearing a power cut, we ensured that our mobile batteries were full on reaching the hotel. The scenery around the hotel was spectacular but we were too tired to venture out. We had the dinner at 8 pm and soon went to sleep. Almost every hotel in Leh offers vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food. The hotel staff was not friendly; it was more like “self-service”. We woke up early and were ready to leave for Sarchu which is 4 hrs drive from Jispa. We made good use of the extra time before we left. We pondered to explore the little village and took many photographs of the exotic river, Buddhist temple, and Stupa. Since it was early morning, the shops in the village were shut. This place is normally promoted as enroute to Leh since it helps in acclimatization to high altitudes. Jispa is located at about 11000 feet above sea level and is situated on the banks of Bhaga River. The place is primitive but a real beauty.

Sleepless in Sarchu

Soon after the breakfast we headed towards Sarchu. The road from Jispa to Sarchu was not as bad. We had a good night’s sleep but we still slept most of the time in the car unmindful of the beautiful views around. When we reached Sarchu which is located further up at an altitude of 14300 feet (more than Leh), it was well past noon. We were warmly greeted by the manager of the Gold Rop camp. We had to stay overnight in a tent. It was very windy. We took a small nap after lunch. I woke up with a strong head ache and had to apply balm to cure it. Soon we realized uneasiness in breathing because of the high altitude. The arrangements at the tent were too basic; than what we expected it to be. There was a huge bed in the middle of the tent, a small table and an attached bathroom with a bucket and a tap. We were given a battery run fluorescent light as there was no electricity. There was nothing much to do at the camp, except roaming around the plain and taking a few pictures as remembrance. We discovered that we were the only ones staying at tent. We had our dinner as early as 7 pm and were happy to see a group of Israelis join us at the dinner. Since we practically had nothing to do, we slept quite early. Though awaken quite a few times by the sound of the flowing winds. At one time I felt that the winds may blow the tent away but that was just a wild imagination of a person sleeping in the tent for the first time. I don’t think I really slept that night.

We got up early next morning and were surprised to see an unexpected visitor at the door. It was a Marmot. As we stepped out of the tent we saw plenty of them ready to pose in front of camera. It was a nice experience, we politely obliged by taking their pictures.

We left Sarchu at about 8 am for Leh with an assurance from Pannalal that the road to Leh would not be as bad but deep down we were reluctant to believe him. Soon the car reached the Himachal Pradesh-Jammu-Kashmir border and we were in for a treat as nature offered panoramic view. We then moved ahead and most of the time kept racing with tankers on dusty roads. A lot of bikers on the road dared to ride with their bikes on rough roads. I kept wondering what they would do in case the tyres of their bike gave away. Pannalal told me that most of these bikers were well equipped to handle such situations. Bikes were available on rent both in Leh and Manali and most of the foreign nationals opt for an adventurous bike ride.

The following road was rough as expected but soon our car was moving at a speed of about 100 kmph as the difficult mountain passes gave way to high altitude plains. There are no road side stalls on the highway to buy food or water. We made good arrangements for food and water before leaving from sarchu. To cope with the altitude sickness, we drank more and more water and the opportunity to buy water seemed limited. As we neared Leh, the roads first became better and then great. Pannalal told us that the roads in and around Leh were managed by the Indian army who had its presence everywhere in Leh. The houses and structures in and around Leh are laden with prayer flags which are culturally significant landmarks of Ladakh. And there are Gompa’s (Buddhist Temples) everywhere. We also came across Lama’s on the way. Soon we reached our hotel in Leh with a feeling of relief after a long and tiring journey. We were pleased to be in Leh after the most exhilarating and challenging journey of my life so far.