27 May 2009

Anticipation, Nervousness, Hope, Tension, Stress.....

......just some of the emotions and feelings I am going through. A little more than 24 hours to go before my beloved Manchester United take to the field in Rome against Barcelona on one of the biggest stages (if not the biggest) that world football has to offer.

As I lie in bed and try and sleep, I am going over the many many times in the past that I have felt such anticipation related to football. Several times the night before a big game I was playing in myself for school or college or another team. But ever so often the night before a big game in which one of my favourite teams is playing. I can vividly remember such nights in 1986, 1993, 1995, 1998, twice in 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and now in 2009..... (Big prize for anyone who can guess the games I'm referring to in each of those years!)

I have supported United for 26 years now. Since 1983. The Eighties were very dark years for us United Supporters but we got through them. With faith in our club and belief in the style and brand of football that Manchester United has always played.

The last 16 years have been very kind to us - 11 premiership titles.... And I have gone through the feelings I am going through twice before European Champions League Finals - 1999 and 2008. We won both times.

I have great faith in my boys, the United team, massive belief that they will do what they need to do and win... But there is always the lurking fear that something could go wrong, a stroke of bad luck.. when you're up against a strong and talented team like Barcelona, that's all it takes.. One stroke of bad luck. I know we are better, I know we deserve to win.. I believe in US.

Although I have felt this anticipation twice before, the night before Champions League finals, but the last time I remember feeling EXACTLY like this was the night before the World Cup Final in 1998. France v Brazil in Paris. I support France and both teams were heavily favoured to win, if that makes sense. History was made that night.

I can only hope and pray I am as happy tomorrow night as I was that summer's night in 1998....

20 May 2009

Tan Tana Tan on the Tons

I think its safe to say that I've been bitten by the river rafting bug! 3 trips in 10 months is a pretty strong case. There is something about the mix of the rush of the rapids and calm of the camps that is incredibly intoxicating. Many of the rivers are in remote, very difficult to reach locations and naturally the valleys and the rivers themselves are untouched and pristine in their natural beauty. 

The Tons is considered one of the leading river rafting runs in the world. The valley is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. The best part about the river is that the rapids come thick and fast. There is very little time to rest and take it easy on the river. The river was running very low when we were there and so it wasn't big water and the rapids weren't as rough as expected. But the water level being very low made for very difficult maneuvering and the technical difficulty was heightened. This was totally different from the rafting runs I had done before on the Zanskar and the Ganga. Very very different. Terribly tiring because of the amount paddling one had to do and the dreaded "Right draw".

We took an overnight train from Nizamuddin station in Delhi to Dehradun.... We took an overnight train from Nizamuddin station in Delhi to Dehradun.... Our group was a small one - Arvind (my friend from IIMB who now lives in Hongkong, Aditya the obnoxious madman, Abhay the enthu fun-man, Rajat, Nalanda the designer who was out camping in the outdoors with her Louis Vitton Strolley, Stephen the crazy South African). And we were met in Dehradun by Vaibhav our trusted Aquaterra River specialist but more importantly our dear friend and Somna the quiet one.   

I have to say I hate the top berth in the 3-tier trains - so bloody claustrophobic.... but we got there in one piece.... and drove to the Tons through Mussoorie and Kempty Falls. Pretty uneventful, though, longish drive..

I arrived at "Camp Lunagad" pretty tired but rearing to get on the river so we did a short 1 hour run through pretty tame rapids but it was amazing to be back on the river after 6 months! As usual we formed teams on the first day - Abhay, Arvind, Somna and I were in one raft with Rana as our "River Guide". I had rafted with Rana before on the Ganga and he's a great guy to be with. Pretty strict but great fun too. 

Absolutely no mobile phone coverage, no electricity, no TV, no communication at all.... just some of the perks of being back at Camp. Incredibly relaxing and a massive release. Despite being out of touch with the rest of the world, the facilities at the camp were great. the tents and living area 
was superb, very comfortable. the food and support staff were awesome, the drink was pretty good too!

On the second day we drove upriver a few kilometers and put in the rafts close to a school in the nearby village. The run on the river was slightly longer, about 2 and a half hours and was a lot tougher and taxing. By the end of it there seemed to be a storm brewing and it seemed like rain was on its way. We decided to take out close to the camp to make life easier for all of us. And then we carried the rafts on our shoulders all the way up to camp, no mean feat whle walking on the stones with that massive load on 4 pairs of shoulders. 

Later the same afternoon, we went for a short hike close to the camp to a nearby natural pool. it was beautiful, really cool. It was Arvind, Nalanda, myself and Rajat (photo below). And also Stephen. 

Unfortunately, I cut both my feet pretty badly on the stones in the pool, shouldn't have removed my sandals before jumping in! The feet bothered me for the rest of the trip but held up in the end. I ended up using bandages and ointments from almost everyone in the camp to keep my feet sorted for the next 5 days.

On the third day we went even further upriver to the farthest possible point from where it was possible to run the river. 

Effectively the beginning of the Upper Tons. The run was longer and harder on this day. We started off the day with a pretty rough rapid which none of us were really ready for. No warming up and practice on this run. Pretty hard hits and bumps almost right through. 

In the afternoon, we went for a short drive to a village called Hanol where we visited the Masudev Temple which is a very famous local temple. On the way to the temple, we stopped to have a look at the famous Khoonigad rapid from a distance... looked pretty tame from a distance. We were going to be running that rapid on the 5th day - the longest day on the river - the Middle Tons section.

The 4th day was amazing - the rest day. My feet had been hurting the day before and I really needed to put my feet up and give them a chance to heal a bit. So i did nothing which is not easy to do in the middle of a valley with ZERO communication. That's not true actually... it was very easy to do... sat out in the sun and relaxed. chatted, read some. lazed. played some cricket (feet had to be rested, remember). Very relaxing day, the perfect day before the BIG day on the Middle Tons. Promised to be quite a day!

On the 5th day we started the run from the camp itself. The objective was to run the Middle Tons over 2 days of rafting. The Tons river drops at an average rate of 32 feet per kilometer between Lunagad and Tiuni. This stretch has some of the most technically difficult rapids ranging from Class III to Class IV+/V. The first day included the Khoonigad rapid which is considered one of the most difficult anywhere. There were to be several rapids that would require scouting (getting out of the rafts before the rapid to walk and have a close look at the rapid from the bank of the river to decide the ideal line of running the rapid). There was also the possibility of certain rapids being "un-runnable" and thus requiring the rafts to be walked around the rapid on the river bank.

Overall, it ended up being a very tiring 5-hour day on the river. The highlight clearly was Khoonigad. On which we got stuck pretty badly (photo below). (I'm on the front right of the raft)

As we were paddling towards the rapid, the adrenaline was pumping and the expectation was palpable - it was exhilarating. The first move that Rana made us do worked well and we entered the rapid at the right pace and angle. But then the river took over and we hit a big rock. The raft turned 180 degrees and we were facing the wrong way.  We then started moving towards the right but downriver, went straight into a big rock at a very fast pace. the rock hit just about 2 feet behind me and dislodged my footing and I could feel myself being thrown out of the raft. This rapid was not a good one to break my record on - I would come out with some serious bruises from the rocks. (My record - yet too fall out of the raft on any of the rivers that I have been rafting). I just about held on.

We were then stuck on this rock, that we had hit, for about half an hour - seemed like that long - it was about 30 seconds really. Required some hard paddling, "right draw" paddling and some skillful maneuvering by Rana to get us through. All the while my left foot was free and I was hanging on intermittently with my right foot and the other time with my friend Abhay to my left hanging on to me. I could feel myself slipping out of the raft and it took a lot of willpower and focus to stay in. I wouldn't say Abhay saved my life but he certainly saved my record!

After a short while, we were free and the river pushed us down the rapid. We thought we were through and relaxed a bit..... Rana quickly made us focus with some shouts and we paddled through the last bit.

The scene is still vividly clear in my head and we were very lucky to get through without the raft flipping.

Khoonigad was followed by over 2 dozen challenging and exciting rapids. All required tremendous skill on Rana's part and some work on our part to stay the right side up. The rapids were some of the best I have ever been in and the amount of focus and concentration that was required was unreal.

The rapids came thick and fast and it didn't matter that we were dog tired and ready to collapse...... You had to paddle. Not just because Rana kicked our arse to do so but also because if we didn't we would end up in the drink and that was NOT a good idea. 

We stopped for lunch after about 3 and a half hours of hard paddling and managed to get some rest (not sure you can call 5 minutes of lying down on a log that, but at the time it was AMAZING).

And then we were back to the river. Its laughingly outrageous how quickly one can get back to the the river and find the energy and strength one had no idea existed. It takes a couple of minutes for the adrenaline to kick in again and you're back to the rush.

The day ended short of the Tiuni village where we camped by the river....... 

It took all my strength to get out of my wet suit and wet clothes and get changed and then lie down on a Karrimat right about anywhere. I was dog-tired.

Although we had tents pitched and ready for us, that night we slept out in the open under the stars and a bright (almost full) moon. The temperature was almost perfect, a bit hot even. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of times and opened my eyes and the feeling and surprise is impossible to articulate. It was a beautiful night and one that I will remember for a very long time. 

The next day was a short 2 and a half hour run to Tiuni and then we reached the Take-out point. It  had been a great adventure with an incredible group of friends and Aquaterra guides.