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I was staring out of my window at the endless morass of white and grey clouds when the pilot’s voice crackled on the microphone. “Ladies and Gentleman, in a short time we will be landing at Paro. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your seats upright. And if during the descent you see mountains closer than you have ever seen in your life, do not worry for it is the standard flight path we use every day”.

After this extremely unusual announcement the Airbus 319 dipped into the clouds. And then, as the plane emerged below, I saw them! It was an breathtaking sight. There were mountains everywhere. Green, red, brown, white. Ominously close. But the pilot adroitly guided our little plane through the valley into the runway of Paro, the prettiest airport in the world.

We were there for a three day trip. Me and my parents. It was a package offered by Druk Air, the only airlines that serves Bhutan. (And to put things in perspective, Bhutan has only one airport, which houses precisely two planes) It turned out that we went at the best possible time, end-August. The season starts in September, so the August traveler can simultaneously enjoy the best weather and the peace of having to share the experience with very few other tourists.

We were greeted outside Paro airport by Sange, our cheerful Bhutanese driver. We dumped the luggage at the back of his Toyota, and pretty soon we were on our way to Thimphu. The journey took about two hours, through beautiful roads along rushing streams and lovely orchards.

Thimphu is the capital, but it just a tiny little town in a pretty valley along the Thimphuchu river. Much of the magic of Bhutan emanates from the fact that the country is so sparsely populated. It is not like Nepal or most of the hill-stations in India. The beauty is unspoiled by human interference, and even the people of Bhutan seem to have a identity of their own, at harmony with their land and their mountains. Although India is the overwhelmingly larger southern neighbour, and Indian currency is more than welcome, all the Bhutanese men and women I met on the streets wore their national dress, an elaborate piece of clothing that resembles a gown and the country has an aura very distinct from India(again unlike Nepal, which looks like India with a few extra casinos).

We stayed in Thimphu for the next day, walking along the city, visiting the Takin forest (Takins are a rare species, it is somewhere between a goat and a cow, and is the national animal of Bhutan)

It is so lovely to just keep walking the roads of Bhutan, admire her beautiful countryside and her pretty people. One can do it for a month and still feel she has so much more to offer. Sadly we had just three days days, and so the next day we returned to Paro. Paro is also situated in a little valley like Thimphu, and our hotel was a collection of cottages on a lovely hillside. It is difficult to convey the magic of being in one of those cottages! The stream flowing far below and little lamps that glow in the dark and the forest nearby and mountains everywhere… I’ll come back to Bhutan some day, and stay in one of those cottages again, with someone.

We visited a few places in Paro- the museum, the monastery and a few nice sights.

But then it was time to return to Calcutta…at the end of three glorious days. And so, dear reader, ends this ditty, but if you ever get a chance, visit this magical country.

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Went to meet Anshul today. It was nice to talk of old times.

He informed me that there is a True-Lies website. The articles on 29 and the monthly PJ awards are by me. And oh, the first year at ISI! The first term in particular! Has there ever been a time like that? It was a season of joy and discovery, of innocence and fun. We loved the things we did together and we hadn’t yet taken each other for granted. It seems so far away now, and so blissful!

There are so many things that come to mind. The coconut-plucking sessions, the discovery of Bangalore, T’s silly affairs, sessions atop the tank. Dil Chahta Hai. Undy-bitching, Chata Kuttamaar. Sumit, Bineet, Dadhi, Paddy. Singing in the rain. Saurav’s exclamation: ISI mein kisika kabhie girlfriend nehi hoga (He was wrong). No, there were not many girls then. At least none in my life. But one cannot have everything. Besides, some things are mutually exclusive.

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Men view themselves as permanently on some sort of sexual ladder with all women as either above them or below them. If the woman is ‘below'(i.e. willing to sleep with him, very keen on him) then in a Groucho Marx kind of way he does not want to be a member of her club.

– Bridget Jones’ Diary.

K loved L. They married and had two kids. But then their luck ran out and they separated. K took other lovers. He liked M and slept with her but did not want to commit himself to her. K now believes that he could have had M then if he had wanted to. I am not sure. But I have a suspicion that K would love to have M back. But now M is married to N and they will have their first child soon. It is going to be a boy. K thinks he will teach their boy how to draw nice circles. I think he is being sarcastic.

Then K loved O for a while though he stayed shy of committing himself to her. Now O is married to P and they are expecting a baby too. I do not know if it is a boy or a girl. K slept with Q for a few days but he discovered that Q was gay and her heart was betrothed to U. So he looked around and found that R followed U. K and R bumped into each other at this party where he kissed her lightly on the cheek and she drew a circle on his nose and thus they started sleeping with each other. Now K believes he can have R if he wants to but he just prefers sleeping with her. He says she is not his type. He says he does not love her. I am not sure. I just tell K that life is funny and one does not get many chances. I tell him he is being a bloody moron and an emotional fuckwit. One cannot be so close fisted and still keep the letters. He should grab the chance when he has it, because sooner or later they will all go away. I tell him that today he cannot have L, M or O anymore. But he just smiles and continues drawing circles on the blackboard.

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Massive Mount San Antonio- or Old Baldy if you prefer- is the grand climax of the 50-mile backbone of the San Gabriels. No other peak in the range rises to challenge its 10,064′ elevation. From its summit you look over a good part of Souther California- an expanse of mountain, desert and coastal lowland. On those rare days when haze does not muddy the atmosphere, the hiker on its boulder-strewn top can make out the tawny ramparts of the Southern High Sierra, 160 miles distant.

-From the guidebook “100 Hikes in the San Gabriels”

I’ve been wanting to climb Baldy for a while, and so jumped at it when a friend suggested we do it. Plans were made and changed, a date fixed, and on Sunday- Chaitanya, Mladen and I set out on a hike to the peak.

We decided to do a loop, take the shorter, steeper path to the top(4.5 miles, 3800′ elevation gain) and the longer path down. We left at 7-45 in the morning, and started on the trail proper at around 9.

The trail was beautiful, probably the best I have encountered yet in these mountains. It wasn’t difficult technically, but was by no means gentle and had the most breathtaking views. But what made things perfect was the weather – it was cloudy with a light mist that made the surroundings pretty without obstructing the view. And best of all it wasn’t hot at all.

We climbed reasonably fast- took about 2 and 1/2 hours to reach the peak, a respectable 1500′ gain per hour. I stopped quite often and played with my camera. Tried wide aperture in mist, and exposure compensation and all that. I really like the manual control options my camera has and I am getting better at using them. I have actually stopped using ‘Auto’ altogether.

It was great to reach the peak! Here is an excited Chaitanya-

After a while we started out descent. The route was different, but no less scenic.

And then the weather changed. Rain drops started falling, and soon a full-fledged thunderstorm started. Mladen and I decided that the feel of water on skin was an appealing idea and took of our shirts(Chaitanya kept his on). And then all three of us had the idea of running down. We ran the remaining four miles in hard rain and must have looked like lunatics to the few people who were using the ski-lift. Finally we reached the car an hour later, drenched, exhausted, and having had a rollicking time.

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Isn’t it reasonable that the expression of the most intense emotions, the most powerful feelings should lead to good art? No, dear reader, it usually leads to bad writing. A hotchpotch, a conglom of crap. You wish it would move her, but it doesn’t, and how can it, when it doesn’t even move you when you have stopped crying?

Yet, how I wish that the purest cry, like that of the phoenix, might lead to song, beautiful and whole!

Love. The Scottish highlands. Yes, the Scottish highlands. Music…associations..no words to express.

Except cryptic nonsense.

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On a stream of consciousness from my last post…one of Robert Frost’s best poems

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

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Has the world ever seen a phenomenon like Harry Potter? There are a million theories -spanning the whole gamut from writing skills to ingenious marketing- about what makes the series so mindbogglingly popular. Personally, I stand for the simplistic view that they are just outstanding books. Massive popularity quite often signals mediocrity- not in the case of HP. But then again, I am hopelessly biased. Like Fitzgerald, Polanski and Hardy, Harry Potter is mine in a unique way. Yet, somewhere over the four years since I read my first Potter, I have lost something. Call it growing up, if you wish. But I am getting ahead of my story; let me start at the beginning.

It all started in the spring of 2001. There were a couple of months left for the IIT entrance examination, and yeah, of course I had heard of Harry Potter. I knew it was a ridiculously popular children’s book, and I considered myself a fairly sophisticated reader and didn’t think it worth my while to read it. It was due to one of my friends’ repeated and extravagant praise that I finally deigned to try one out. It was book III- The prisoner of Azkaban.

It was brilliant, better than anything I had expected. As soon as I finished it, I made frantic phone calls to my friends to get my hand on the remaining Potters. Within a week I had read book I and book IV. Book II proved more difficult to find, but I finally discovered that M had it, and she lent me her copy to read during during the olympiad training camp.

Oh, the heady days of first love! I read the books again and again, and I remember telling my mom, and meaning it, that at that moment everything came second to the pleasure of being a part of J K Rowling’s magical world. If a new Harry Potter book were to come out out that day, I would have dropped anything, aye, even the most important exam in the world, and read it first.

It was not just the fact that they were such wonderful reads. It was something more than that- J K Rowling’s books had moments that lifted them to the very greatest works of art ever created. Like in book III, when Harry, Ron and Hermione travel back in time, and in an astonishing climax, Harry realizes that it was not his father by the lake, but himself, and that gives him the confidence to produce a real Patronus. And who else but Rowling could have thought of a creature like the dementor(possibly her greatest invention) that sucks the happiness out of people? Or written a passage as powerful and moving as the final clash of book IV, when Harry fights Voldemort, and the latter’s victims come out of his wand, and they are dead, but they urge Harry to fight on… Indeed, what made Harry Potter unique was the combination of brilliant ideas, magical adventures, and the intermingling of universal themes like love, friendship and death (or the core of ‘morality’ if you prefer, but I have always disliked that word).

Yes, I had, in a way, discovered Harry Potter, made him my own. Of course that is a ridiculous statement, in view of the sheer number of HP readers, yet I felt that I had seen things no one else had. To me, J K Rowling was a genius, and I was her greatest fan.

The wait between Book IV and Book V seemed interminable. And when it came out I read it almost non-stop! Oh the pleasure of being back back with Harry and his friends! To read of Dumbledore again, the greatest wizard that ever lived! Yet, in some ways, Book V was a bit of a letdown. It was too long, nothing really happened. The final confrontation did not have the charm of the confrontation of book IV. Still, it was Harry Potter.

And then came book VI. It released yesterday, and I finished reading it today morning. It is excellent, even darker than its two predecessors and almost as good as books III and IV. It is also the most epic of all the Harry Potters yet, and certainly the most devastating. I shall not say anything more of the plot, for I don’t wish to give out spoilers.

Yet, something had changed.

Harry Potter V and VI did not make me feel the way I felt, four summers back, when I read the first four books. Yes, they were excellent reads indeed, but somewhere, something got lost. Now, they are just ‘books’ for me. Harry’s world is just a well constructed literary invention. I am still a great fan, and when HP VII releases I will get hold of a copy as soon as I can even if I have to fight a thousand centaurs- but the fervent, almost religious love is no more.

Is it the books that have changed, or is it me? Certainly the books have been getting progressively darker, indeed book VI feels almost unrecognisable when compared to book I. But I have always loved darkness…and book IV was dark too, and I adored it, especially its final passages. Perhaps David Kipen of the San Francisco Chronicle hits closer to the mark :”It’s not that ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ is dull, exactly. … No, the main problem is that J.K. Rowling has now written six of these bricks. Even if they were getting better, they’re certainly not getting any fresher.” And also, it is true that none of the new inventions of Books V and VI have appealed to me as much as some of the ones- like dementors, time turners, unforgivable curses, Ron playing wizard chess- from the first four books.

Or maybe it is is just me, who has grown up. My tastes have certainly changed. Many books and movies I absolutely adored, even five years back, I don’t care for so much now. Or perhaps- and it is a scary thought- I have grown up too much to have such a fervent love for anything. Or maybe it has nothing to do with the books or me changing, it is just that any such love comes with an expiry date, like most relationships do.

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