A post that I was unable to finish for more than a year. Finally completed it today, here it is:
It all started with a Facebook update (July ’12):”Hey, this update is regarding a trip to Himachal or Nepal or Uttarakhand or some such fancy place – which I’m super keen in undertaking this August. I’d say a hitchhiking to make it sound a little adventures – though the idea is to make the trip super economical. One more thing I’d say is to plan very little or not at all plan for anything – full on ad-hoc basis. As of now I’m going alone – if you like the idea, and also feel like joining the expedition, then feel free to let me know.
Hari (my close pal and also colleague) and I wanted to blow off steam from our work, which took great deal of our attention for nearly ten months. I wanted to do this trip no matter what. Thankfully, Hari also agreed to do the trip and the crazy facebook post did attract my two friends, Christell and Amit. They both were ready to join however they were very particular in doing the hitchhiking in Nepal alone. So Nepal it was
It was 3rd August 2012. We (Hari and I) were about to leave our respective places in an hours time to the railway station and we got a call from a lady who represented a technology multi-national company that had helped us by providing the hardware and software for our business. She wanted to know if Hari or I could speak in an international conference in Austin, Texas given an opportunity. We both told her that we were leaving to Nepal to take a break from work. Though she wanted one of us to change our plan, that is to stay back in Bangalore, but at the same time she wasn’t sure if the plan to invite us will be confirmed. She told us to consider it as an urgent request and make it to Austin if confirmed. Besides, Hari didn’t have a US VISA where as I had one (thanks to GE – my previous employer) and the conference was in less than four days time. So it was me who was suppose to make the decision of staying back in Bangalore or not. I told her that I’ll not stay back in Bangalore since it was too short notice and can’t take a chance in missing the Nepal trip. I also told her that we will be traveling to Kolkota by train and in case the invitation gets confirmed then I’ll try to take a flight to Austin from there itself.
My best friends, Vinod, Vinayendra and Rakesh, had come over to my place to convey their best wishes for the trip when I was leaving my place. With all the apprehensions till that last minute we, that is, Amit, Christell, Hari and I started our journey from Bangalore railway station. We were pretty lucky to get the tickets to Kolkota that too in sleeper berth considering the fact that we all decided to do the trip to Nepal in less than a weeks time. The journey to Kolkota was fun. We had lots of fun discussion while pulling each others leg. I also got many calls from the US regarding the conference but unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to them continuously even for a short duration as the mobile network coverage was very intermittent and also the mobile phone battery was getting drained. Finally the invitation to speak at that conference got confirmed after a chat with the organizers of the event and I accepted to speak at the event. I knew that it was an opportunity that will not come often and at the same time I didn’t want to miss the Nepal trip. I told Hari, Amit and Christell that I would some how try to join them at Nepal even if I miss the significant part of the trip.
Since I didn’t have access to internet nor continues mobile coverage in the train, my close pal, Vinod did all the talking and mailed my details, such as passport number and other personal details, with the people from that company once the plan to US got confirmed . When I reached Kolkota all that I had to inform was my flight plan to that company’s travel coordinator. The invitation to stay in the US was for one week which included food and accommodation. Initially I was tempted to stay in the US for the whole week but in that case I’d have missed the complete hitchhiking trip that I desperately wanted to do for so long. As giving that talk in that forum was the most important activity of my visit to the US, I got the return tickets booked just after the day of my talk, which meant that my stay in the US was confined to less than 3 days. I didn’t think much about it once I got the tickets booked as I knew that I’d be making a lot of overseas travel as part of my work in the future.
Though I made the decision to fly to the US in no time, my preparation for the trip was absolutely zero. Thanks to my friend (lab mate from IISc) in Kolkota, Madhurima and her husband Nirupam for their kind help, without them I wouldn’t have done any shopping before leaving the country. It was my first trip outside Asia and second trip outside India. I must say that there was little apprehension before I left Kolkota as I didn’t have the print out of the air tickets and the invitation letter, and to my bad luck all the browsing centers were closed near the airport since it was a Sunday. Anyway, I later learnt from a friend that all I needed was the PNR number of the flight and getting a ticket printed at the airport is no brainier. As there weren’t appropriate flights from Kolkota, I had to take a flight to Bombay and from there to Frankfurt and from there to Washington airport at Dulles. After arriving at Dulles I had to kill nearly six hours to board a flight to Austin.
A lady from the security department at Washington airport informed me about a famous museum which was near to the airport. I got deeply thrilled about visiting the museum when she told that I should be able to see it and still safely board the flight to Austin. With the help of other airport officials I could figure out the logistics to the museum and I did visit. It eventually turned out that my visit to Smithsonian’s National Air and Space museum was the only significant place I could see during my trip to the US. The time spent at the museum was great, as an engineer who had worked in aviation industry for some time I could appreciate the technological advancement in the field. There were space shuttles, aircrafts, missiles, gliders and many more. I also saw the first generation computers used in the flight management and control system that was displayed over there – remember UNIVAC (any computer science geeks reading this post)?
I did reach Austin without much difficulty. It was little funny during the check in and check out of luggage at various airports as I had this tent, sleeping bag and other trekking gears with me through out the trip. Thankfully the immigration department didn’t ask me the reason behind it. The company which had sponsored my complete trip to the US had arranged a cab at the airport to the hotel as well. I was pretty excited when I reached the hotel. It was a five star hotel. It was the first time in my life I was staying in such a posh hotel. I tried my best to take great advantage of the facilities provided in the hotel, I started off with the telephone. I made a three hour long phone call to a good friend in Michigan and only when I left the hotel I figured out that making phone calls weren’t part of the deal.
Next day morning I went to the conference location, that is Austin convention center. I had a nice breakfast and met people from that company with whom I had earlier interacted as part of work. There were thousands of people from all over the world attending the mega annual event organized by the company. There were people from Industries, academia, government setups, media and what not. After attending the key note by the CEO of that company I got in touch with two ladies who offered to assist me for my talk which was scheduled the next day morning. I prepared the presentation in one of their laptops, which didn’t take much time as all the stuff I wanted for the presentation were stored in the web – all thanks to google mail and dropbox. I discussed the content with one more lady who was in charge of the event in which I was a speaker. She didn’t alter the content much but told me clearly to wrap up the talk in seven minutes. She also directed me to a video interview the very same day. The interview was good fun. The two american ladies asked me many questions which were related to my work and the business that I managed and co-founded. I candidly answered all the questions, the best part was that they didn’t influence me or prompt me, they just recorded what ever I said. It was for about twenty minutes. Some months back I saw a minute video that was made from that interview to promote a social initiative by the company in the developing countries, perhaps you can consider watching the video (2). The day ended with me having dinner at a posh restaurant with the India team of that company.
I got up at around 8’O clock on the day of my talk. I was suppose to speak at 11 PM hence I wasn’t in any rush. I glanced through the print out of my presentation while having my breakfast in the hotel where I was put up. I did think about the journey that I had taken to reach the point where I was sitting. I did remember the time when I was slipping while pursuing my entrepreneurial dream. I also remembered the time I left my job at GE, a big MNC where I was having a safe and neat career. I felt damn good. I didn’t have to give a dazzling presentation to impress the crowd as I had a story to tell which itself was fairly interesting. However confident I thought I was, the truth was that I did become little nerves when I actually went to speak. I started of my talk with the statement ” Hello, I’m doing this for the first time. Please have a smile on your face so that I feel comfortable while I go through this”. The whole crowd laughed at it – that acknowledgement was a very positive feeling and I nearly cracked the talk then alone. In fact they did like my story, my sense of humor and most importantly my passion for work. I ended the speech (3) by saying ” 400 million Indians are deprived of electricity. It’s a concern as a countryman and opportunity as an engineer”. There were nearly two hundred and odd people in the hall and many came over to congratulate me after the event. I knew that I had done quite a lot of grammatical mistakes in my speech and didn’t distribute my time efficiently but what I cared and what mattered was that I did present it as a story of a dreamer who had a real desire to do things for a worthy cause. After the talk I got pictures (4) with dignitaries present there which included Sir Robert Swan – the first man to go to both the north and the south pole. It was awesome to meet such people. After the event I didn’t want to talk to anyone or meet any one, I just wanted to enjoy the moment with myself. I can’t really articulate how I felt at that time.
I spent the rest of my time at the conference by checking out the exhibition area where there was a grand display of amazing engineering systems. I got a chance to talk to some of the level headed engineers from across the globe who had built robots, medical equipments, earth movers, aerospace machinery and other fascinating stuff. Since I was leaving to India next day I thought of checking out some places near the hotel. Though my initial plan was to cycle around Austin downtown, thankfully, I found some guys, from the conference with whom I had dinner previous night. They were going to a place called Congress avenue bridge which was on the Colorado river that flows on the middle of the Austin city. The interesting thing about that bridge is that about one million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats live there. These bats migrate to Mexico in the winter and spend the rest of the year below the bridge. We could see these birds flying in huge number once it became dark.
Meanwhile I had got updates from my friends, Hari, Amit and Christell, with whom I was going to Nepal. Hari had mailed me about the place they were staying. They apparently had a crazy hitching hiking experience from Kolkota to Kathmandu while I was traveling to the west. They decided to camp at a place called Pokhra as suggested by the Nepali localities. I mailed him back about my return to India and subsequently to Nepal. I was looking forward to join them at the earliest.
My last day in the US wasn’t of any importance as I had nothing in specific to do or visit. It had all worked out fine. It so happened that the maximum money spent in the US was on phone calls and I came to know of it only when I was checking out from my hotel room in the morning. I was left with just two dollars when I left the hotel. Thankfully there was a cab arranged by the company to the airport. When I entered the airport I had only one dollar as I gave the other dollar as a tip to the driver who did a neat job. My return journey to India wasn’t much different from my journey to the US. I reached New Delhi airport in the middle of the night (at about 1AM). I called my home and also my friends – luckily they were awake or got up to pick the call.
The second episode of this trip wasn’t less exciting, must say reaching Pokhra in Nepal itself was sort of an adventure. Here goes the short description of the Nepal escapade.
Fortunately I got a flight to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, at an affordable price from New Delhi by around six in the morning and reached safely in a few hours. The immigration check hardly asked for the passport and didn’t bother to even check the luggage – anyway I didn’t face trouble until I got out of the airport. Kathmandu people were observing road transportation strike that day. It was almost impossible for me to reach Pokhra that day and I was planning to stay at Kathmandu, but then I came to know about the flight service between Kathmandu and Pokhra. After lots of running around and bargaining I some how managed to get a seat in a 10-seater small airplane. I really enjoyed sitting next to a window in that small airplane which maneuvered in the sky like a bird and that too at a fairly low altitude – I could see hills, people, houses and valleys so clearly. It was spectacular!
Meeting Hari, Amit and Christell at Pokhra was very delightful and felt very nice to keep up with the promise of joining back in spite of all the temptations of staying back for some more days in the land of opportunities (read: America). For next three days we did the Ghorepani trek in the Annapurna region to reach the peak of Phoon hill. We saw the beautiful Mt. Annapurna (8091m) and Mt. Dhaulagiri (8167m) from Phoon hill top. The view was extraordinary. Hope some day I climb these mountains which are considered as tough as climbing Mt. Everest. I’ll not be able articulate the beauty of the place, you can check the pictures which is pasted in the bottom of this post (5). We even managed to go to Lumbini, the birth place of Gautama Buddha after the three day trek. We got cycles to roam around the place and see Buddhist monasteries setup by various nations. The Mayadevi temple, the exact birth place of Buddha, was a peaceful place to spend some quality time. We took the Sunauli (near Ghorakpur) route by bus to reach India and later managed to get a train to Delhi from Ghorakpur (in Uttar Pradesh). The train journey from Delhi to Bangalore shall always be remembered for innumerable card games we played and all the funny names we kept as a penalty for losing the games. It was helluva fun I must say!
Well, I still can’t believe the universe choose all these events to happen in a span of fifteen days but yeah I’m certainly glad that I did have a role to play in making it happen.
(1) The FB post led to a lot of interaction, people started asking me lot of questions on travel and logistics for which one of my response was something like this:
“”Here is the rough idea: Lets say we get a train to Culcutta or Delhi. If we choose Delhi, then we shall check out for buses and trains available to places where there are mountains and valleys. Let say there are tickets available to Shimla and Uttarkashi. Assume, I prefer Uttarkashi and you prefer Shimla then we have two options, either to toss a coin or I go to Uttarkashi and you to Shimla. Lets say we go for tossing the coin and you win. According to your choice, we’ll reach Shimla. Then lets talk to people there and find out places there and then perhaps leave to a place where we can do some trekking or mounting climbing or river crossing or any fancy adventure, if both of us find it interesting. When we are there if we hear about another place very close and tempting then lets go there as well. As per cash, I prefer keeping money aside for train tickets and rest not much at all, I don’t mind begging for shelter/food/transport there – if in case thr is some way to make money there I don’t mind spending a day on it. As per time, when we really miss doing the work we do for our living then lets return back. With this info, I leave you to do the math on the budget and the duration. so what say boy?”
(after seeing this comment not many wished to join though many liked the comment )
(2) Planet NI Video interview:
(3) My talk at Austin, Texas
(5) Nepal trip Pictures: