Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 407: What a Day, What a Year, What a Decade!

I can't help but reminisce. Personally, a beautiful year and an even more beautiful decade has just gone by! So many wonderful things happened that I can't seem to stop counting my blessings today!

Starting from university, which was the bestest of times, all the way until today which was a terrific day, things have been on such a high! Let me first quickly list what made today so special:
a) Did my longest swim ever of 20 laps, which beats the previous one of 18 laps.
b) Am at my healthiest best with the my lowest fat percentage and weight (yeah, even lower than the 19.9% that I celebrated a while ago). Needless to say am super smug.
c) I had the most homely and wonderful new year's eve ever! We had a nice little party of our own - with just myself, the hubby, mom and in-laws. We made a cosy seating arrangement on the floor, had a lot to drink and eat, played games, chatted, laughed, reminisced, watched the fireworks from our window (we could see both the ones in the city as well as the ones in the suburbs), counted down, screamed when the clock hit midnight and in short had the merriest of times!

That was for today.

The rest of this post is going to be a list of all those events from this decade that will remain close to my heart forever. This is solely meant for me to relive all those memories once more and also to ensure that one day in the future, if my memory fails to keep up with the age, this could help to rekindle a spark.

So here we go. Why 2001 - 2010 was the best decade. Ever.

a) University - This doesn't even need an explanation. The most carefree and fun filled times of all!
b) Hubby - meeting him, falling in love, eventually getting married and still finding him tolerable after 9 years of time spent together.
c) Dance - Especially in the first half of the decade, I had not stopped dancing. So many shows, all that time spent in the dance studios of the centre for the arts (CFA) in NUS, winning that Tarang (intercollege festival), representing Singapore in Philippines and Japan, wearing all those different costumes and accessories, choreographing and attempting all forms from Bharatnatyam and Kathak to Hip Hop & Contemporary styles, and finally dancing at my own wedding and my brother-in-law's wedding, I loved every bit of it! Now that I am considerably away from dance, this is something I am beginning to miss very much!
d) Plays - All the way from being the Assistant Director for the hall musical in NUS, to acting in several Malayalam plays, writing and directing the musical Bollywood Beats, to writing, directing and producing Kathaah, the threatrical stage has been such a HUGE part of my life this decade. Once again, I loved every bit of it, and the best part is I don't think my association with the stage has ended yet. I know that this is something I can get back to as and when it fancies me.
e) Art - Art verve. Starting it, taking it forward, exhibition at NUS Museums and finally realizing that it still lives on even after 8 years.
f) P&G - First job and still going on. First SK-II, now Head & Shoulders, both with a bunch of excellent team members and lots of challenging projects! So far so good!
g) Films - How they came into my life and became such a big part of it without me even realizing it! Crying in the dark, Destination, Post Its, Festa, Doors, It's Magic, Mausams - all the films till date, every single one an experience in itself.
h) People - A few wonderful people left forever but not without leaving a ton of beautiful memories behind and I came across a whole bunch of amazing individuals who have made life so much more beautiful than before. A big virtual hug to every single one of them!
i) Writing - I dunno when I started to write. I don't claim to be a good writer by any standards (sometimes I appall myself with my grammatical atrocities) but somehow I had taken to writing. Play scripts, film scripts, short stories, poems, and finally this blog. Very interesting journey there.
j) Travels - All those beautiful places! 20 countries over 10 years - seas, mountains, cities, villages, forests, etc. etc. I have pretty much seen all that I've ever wanted to see. Thank God for that!
k) Home - buying our own little home in Singapore.
l) Being very much on track to my "list of things to do before I turn 30". I think this makes me the happiest this decade. I had written the list some time in 2007 for preparation for 2012. But as of 2011, I should be done with all of them. That makes me feel super contented!

So yes, it was a wonderful day, wonderful year and a wonderful decade. Now for the next.

593 more to go.

Day 406: Next Project

30 December, 2010

Now that Mausams is drawing to a close, it was time for me to start thinking about what next. I wanted something simple to do. Creatively challenging but logistically simple. Which basically means that I would like to spend my time more on writing the script or making my actors act vs. drawing up production schedules or chasing actors to be on time.

Yesterday night an idea sprouted in my head. I sent a few emails out and I already have a team to work on it. Today after some discussions with a few fellow arty maniacs, the idea has taken a very interesting form and I am super duper excited about it! At this point in time I can't elaborate further on it because it's still in very infant stages but I know that 2011 will be as happening as 2010.

This is the best stage of any project - the very beginning when there is only a vague notion but with tons of adrenalin rush! Everything starts from here! My heart has already started to race and my brain is whirring with excitement! This is gonna rock!

I am not sure where Mausams will go from here, but there is something to look forward to beyond that already!

594 more to go.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 405: 1.5 Years Later

There is a colleague-turned-friend of mine who is seriously so similar to me that it is a bit freaky. We have pretty much the same temperament, the same principles, the same attitudes, the same world views and in a nut shell, pretty much the same everything. One would think that this similarity would make us thickest of thick friends who hang out with each other all the time. But unfortunately, both of us get so caught up our respective lives that we very rarely meet up. But in the rare occasion when do bump into each other, we could talk about everything and anything under the sun and have no qualms about sharing any problems or thoughts that we may have.

And that's what happened today. The two of us decided to meet up for lunch. This is a super significant event because this happened after a good 1.5 years! We had met each other briefly time and again at work or when she helped me with some of the shooting for Mausams, but we wouldn't have spoken more than a few sentences to each other during those occasions. So a 1.5 hour long lunch after 1.5 years was terrific!

We updated each other with all that happened in the past 1.5 years and it felt really good to catch up with her! Sometimes all it takes is some quality time spent with a special friend to make the day beautiful. Hopefully it doesn't take another 1.5 years for our next coffee or lunch together!

595 more to go.

Day 404: Hukkah

28 December, 2010

This evening all of us (i.e. the hubby, parents, myself) went to Arab street. For some reason, this is a part of the town we don't visit too often. But it is one interesting little place with its line up of Mediterranean, Arabic restaurants, trinket shops, Malay clothing materials shops etc.

After a bit of shopping and drinking the lovely Teh Halia (ginger tea) at a local shop, we finally ended up at a restaurant serving Mediterranean food. More than the food, the most exciting part of it, especially for the parents, was that the seating was on a carpeted floor. They just sprawled on the cushions and made themselves super comfortable and looked super excited!

Then we got a grape mint flavoured Hukkah. The parents, all first timers, were thrilled with it and was competing to see who could blow out the most smoke. Even though hukkah had been smoked by my friends, I was never a fan. But watching my dad-in-law, mom-in-law as well as mom smoking it like nobody's business and having a ball of a time, I too decided to take one inhale. And of course in spite of the fact that I was a first timer myself, I was the winner of the smoke-blowing contest by far (thank you very much)!

So over some great Mediterranean food, the yummy date milk shake, hukka inhales and deep conversations, it was a very happy evening.

596 more to go.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 403: Dubbing Done!

27 December, 2010

After clocking in more than 500 hours in the last couple of months, I have managed to successfully complete the dubbing for Mausams today. There might still be a bit of patch up after sound design but for this round, it is DONE.


Now I am gonna enjoy the holiday season thoroughly.

597 more to go.

Day 402: Screenings

26 December, 2010

Yet another total dubbing-work day. At the end of it, I was so exhausted but then I received an email on the confirmation of Mausams screening. It was almost like a token of encouragement.

So yes, Mausams will be screened at an independent cinema house in Singapore. 20 screenings over 17 days. Since my initial best guess was I would get a max of 8 - 10 screenings only, this confirmation from the venue sponsor was quite encouraging. 20 is way more than I could have hoped for!

Of course, it is a totally different matter whether there would be that many people wanting to watch the film but for today, this has served the purpose of encouraging me as I break my back over the dub.

598 more to go.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 401: Christmas?

25 December, 2010

I mentioned this last year on Christmas day, but let me repeat this. I LOVE Christmas! And that too in spite of the fact that I have no Christmas tree or Christmas dinner or Christmas presents or any of those usual things that accompany the festival! There is something really charming about the whole deal even without any of the above and usually am already very happy just walking around Singapore, watching other people celebrate their Christmas, listening to the carols, etc.

Only thing is, it pretty much completely skipped my mind this year that it was indeed Christmas! Sure, I had done that "soaking in the festive spirit" exercise yesterday, but today somehow Christmas didn't strike me.

And of course, it has got everything to do with the film. I was neck deep in dubs and synchronization work the whole day that I didn't step out of the house once or even watch a Christmas special movie on TV (which is usually a favourite alternative to going out).

Instead I had a gala time dubbing with the leading lady of the film together with my hubby, who had finally decided to help me out a bit with the process. So as he worked on the sync and she dubbed, I sat back and directed both of them without having to literally break my back doing everything on my own. A couple of hours into it, the hubby did pass the work on back to me, but it was still a lot of fun while it lasted!

The three of us got very nostalgic because the dubs of the leading lady was also getting close to being wrapped up and this meant that the film is really, like really, in the final stretch now. Very soon, there will be no more Mausams work left. So we were in great spirits throughout, as if to make the most out of it while it lasted.

So yeah, I so thoroughly enjoyed today's dub session that I didn't notice Christmas slip past. But it didn't matter. This Christmas was still beautiful albeit for a very non-Christmasy reason.

599 more to go.

Day 400: Christmas Eve!

24 December, 2010

Like I mentioned yesterday, I was determined to make the most of the Christmas season today and was fully prepared to soak in the festivities of Singapore. So in the evening, we first caught a movie and then walked through Orchard road - which is usually the most abuzz place during the season.

And how crowded it was! There were thousands wearing christmas hats (including me and my family), cheering now and again for no particular reason, spraying foam and party poppers all around, shouting, screaming, humming, singing, staring, walking, laughing, holding hands and generally having a super merry time. Usually crowds give me a headache and I tend to avoid them, but not on Christmas Eve!

We spent a couple of hours, making our way through Orchard Road taking in the sights and marveling at the crowds. In spite of the heat, the humidity and the crowd, everyone had a smile on. So did I.

So it was a great day! (Also so because the blog completes 400 days)!

600 more to go.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 399: Whiff of the Festive Season

23 December, 2010

Last year this time, I was talking about nothing other than the festive spirit of Singapore during December and how easy it is to feel upbeat about life in the last couple of weeks of the month, due to the wonderful Christmas and New Year cheer around. This year however, due to the continued work on the film as well as unexpectedly heavy load of work in office, I have not really had a chance to take a step back and smile at all the fun happening around me.

But today I took a couple of hours between work and dubs and spent the time with mom and in-laws. Together we walked around a few malls, looked at the decorations, watched a figure skating performance, took pictures, watched the shoppers frantically doing their last minute Christmas shopping and enjoyed the wonderful Starbucks Chai Latte at the end of it! It was a short break from the work but good fun!

Tomorrow evening I am planning proper immersion in the festivities (which usually means walking along Orchard road wearing a Christmas hat and enjoying all the buzz!) but for today, it felt good to get just a quick whiff of it! Ah, I love December!

601 more to go.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 398: Quits

22 December, 2010

I had yet another dubbing session scheduled today. After I got back home from work, I did some pre-work for the session which usually involves double checking the syncs so far, double checking that no places for dub have been missed out, see whether there are any patch ups required etc. Then the actor came over and we did about 3 hours of dubbing. And then it happened.

I suddenly felt completely unable to go on any more. My left shoulder and arms were under a sharp pain and I felt that I won't be able to sit through the dub for another minute. And for the first time ever since the film work had begun, I said quits because I simply didn't have the physical and mental strength to go on. I realized that all these continuous days of work has finally taken its toll and we had to wrap up the dub half way.

My initial reaction was to panic. How the hell am I supposed to release this film in April if I cant get the dubs done on time? There is still sound design, background score to be done and also the rating (censorship) process which would taken about 2.5 months! I have to submit the final cut of the film for censorship in end Jan latest and the more my dubs get delayed the more difficult that's going to be!

After a fair amount of inner turmoil, I realized that if I start getting depressed over this, it's not gonna make things better anyway. After that very wise realization I proceeded to make the most of it - which means I basically just sprawled on the couch for a few hours, stared at the ceiling, chatted with hubby, mom and in-laws, ate a lot, went to bed early, listened to 'If I rise' when I couldn't sleep and basically, decided to feel good in spite of a pressing deadline. Of course, it was a lot easier with the four people in my house fussing royally over me!

So the day's obviously a pretty one, since I managed to keep my nerves calm even under the rare occasion of saying quits.

602 more to go.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 397: Fights & In-Laws!

21 December, 2010

Let me set the record straight first. The incident involving the fight and the incident involving the in-laws are absolutely and completely mutually unrelated (ha! and you thought there was some gossip brewing here! tch tch!) but both happened to occur today so I put them together.

Firstly, the fight. I had written here about how some of the fringe cast for the film had done an excellent job of delivering lines made up on their own, during the shoot. The dialogue that they were supposed to make up were that of a fight. So I had two girls fighting it out with each other and a poor dude watching and trying to make peace. Now the whole thing had to be re-created for the dub. So I got the girls to come over and fight it out once again in my house. And what a fight they put up! My house was shaking from the noise they made! It was awesome fun, really! The dub was OK-ed in one take and the actresses were very pleased with themselves. Apparently it also helped to let go of their work frustrations thoroughly!

Soon after the satisfactory fight dub, my in-laws arrived. The next few hours were spent on gawking at the numerous gifts they got, gorging on the great food they got and chatting away non-stop. We were up well into the night catching up as well as making plans for the next few days! It's like finally there is a festive spirit in the house and the holiday season has begun!

603 more to go.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 396: Spic & Span!

20 December, 2010

You shouldn't underestimate the quality of this beauty when I say that today was made beautiful by how my house got thoroughly cleaned up. It is seriously a big deal and a highly satisfactory one at that. But more importantly it was a highly fun experience because it involved two very amusing characters - the hubby and my mom.

Here's a bit of background. I do get a maid to help clean the house on a weekly basis. While she does a good job of washing and mopping etc., due to her fear of throwing away something of importance, she leaves everything in its original places of being, even though in a more tidy manner. What that means is that letters, bills, coins, books, mint, pens, random scraps of paper etc. will all be cumulating in different corners of the house, in a very neat manner. May I also take the opportunity to point out that much of this hoarding is contributed by the hubby who is yet to master the skill of "putting things in their rightful places".

The house also had some other technical issues like a broken lamp or fused bulb, which needed to be repaired and which had been left ignored for months by the hubby, in spite of my continuous pleadings (I couldn't reach them, otherwise would have fixed them myself of course).

But today, all of a sudden the hubby was cleaning up in a frenzy. He was throwing away hoarded and absolutely useless stuff, fixing lamps, changing sheets and finally putting things in their right places, as if his life depended on it. The reason? His parents are arriving tomorrow. It brings a whole new different guy out of him. A resourceful, responsible, hardworking one who is of course, very welcomed by his wife and interestingly, also his mom-in-law.

Every 5 minutes, she would go in the most sing-song manner, "Uh oh... Shivanoooooo.... I wish your parents would visit every monthhhhhhh. Then the house would be so cleannnnnn!" And then every now and then, I would catch her glance admiringly at her son-in-law who has just turned into the superman of cleaning.

Do note that the process wasn't as smooth as one would have expected. For e.g. there was this utter confusion on where to put a pack of namecards the hubby had collected.

He: Where will I put these?!
Me: Throw them away?
He: Of course not!!! They are very important.
Me: Erm... did you even know where they were till today? They were tucked away beneath that pile of bills and you haven't looked at them for 6 months at least!
He: They are very important!
Me: OK fine. You can put them in that plastic box over there.
He: There is water in it.
Me: Huh. There is no water in it.
He: Yeah. There is no water in it.
Me: OK then.

2 minutes later:

He: Where do I keep these namecards?!!!
Me: Erm. Didn't we just agree that you would use that plastic box?
He: Yeah. But that doesn't look like their rightful place.
Me: *Dirty look*
He: OK. Fine. I will put them in the plastic box. (and then proceeded to do so in the most melancholy manner as if a great injustice has been committed).

Yet another instance:

Me: Why is a used pair of socks on the bed?
He: I might need them.

5 minutes later.
Me: Why are they still here?
He: I might need them.

15 minutes later:
Me: Dude, they are STILL here!
He: OK. Fine. (and then regally proceeds to tuck them under a used t-shirt which was also lying on the bed). Happy?
Me: *Silence*

With several more such instances, we were done finally. The house is now spic & span and am so happy!

604 more to go.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 395: Cast Catch-Ups!

19 December, 2010

I had an absolutely marvelous day today! Five of the cast members were at my place to do their dubs and we had an amazing time catching up! Now that the film is in its final stages, we spent quite a bit of time going through all the key edited scenes, listening to the rough soundtracks that are coming in from my genius music composer and reminiscing over how our first day of shoot seems so far off now and how surreal the whole journey has been! I don't think any of us could believe the film has reached so far! One cast member was seriously close to tears!

The whole reminiscing experience was made even better by the constant flow of delicious Kerala snacks that my mom whipped up. Uniappams, avil nanchathu, banana fritters, onion bhajjis, tapioca chips etc. etc. kept coming by one after the other much to everyone's delight!

I would be glad when the whole film is done and I finally get some time of doing nothing, but I am pretty sure am gonna miss this experience like hell!

605 more to go.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 394: Mom, Food & Gifts

18 December, 2010

My mom arrived this morning from India for her ritual 1-month Christmas break in Singapore. And she once again followed the ritual of bringing a 101 things from home to eat.

There could not have been a better day to bring all that food because I was on my dubbing chair for 14 hours. I just focused on the dubs while the meals and snacks and drinks kept flowing in. Ah! That definitely made the process a lot less painful!

She also immediately got into entertaining conversations with me, the hubby and the cast who had come for dubbing. She is always so enthusiastic about everything, it is so much fun to chat with her!

And then I got an unexpected gift from a cast member. She had taken a holiday in India and got me a silk shawl. What's really cute about the gift was her reasoning why she got that. According to her, she has seen me only in a "limited range of clothes"and mainly in army shorts which she had very little opinion of. (Please do note that there is an explanation for this - It is that she has seen me only during shoots or dubbing work and usually during such occasions comfort comes first and I would be in very casual attire.)

So she couldn't figure out what to get for me for a while and then she was inspired by what those "great directors get during award functions"! In India, there is a custom of putting a silk shawl around dignitaries as a showcase of respect. So yeah, she got me a silk shawl and wrapped it around me. My studyroom turned into a stage and I turned into a "great director" for that minute. All smiles!

606 more to go.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 393: Inspirations

17 December, 2010

There are quite a few people who inspire me, for very different reasons. I find some people's talents and their commitment to excel in them, very inspiring. I find some others' big, generous hearts inspiring. Some others inspire me with their determination and absolute refusal to give up and say a "no". And then there are others who inspire with their sheer simplicity and lack of pretense of being anything else but what they really are. And all of them go a long way in getting me to look beyond what I could have thought of on my own.

Today the situation seemed to have changed a bit and I found myself with 5 emails from different people saying that I've actually managed to inspire them! Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise!

It all started with the post I put up on a filmie site with all the gyan I could muster up on shooting an independent no-budget film (the link can be found here). A few people read it and some of them, mainly aspiring film makers, wrote to me saying that they are inspired to go make their own feature films post reading the article. That was really sweet and needless to say very somehow gives more reason to be doing all this than just about following a passion. Needless to say, it left me with a glowing heart and a smiling face (ok fine, my head also might have bloated a teeny, tiny inch).

Of course, I continue to look for inspirations. But once in a while, when you know you are on the other end for somebody else, that feels good too!

607 more to go.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 392: Daily Mallu Movie

I have mentioned, in several occasions, that I love watching movies. They make me feel good and I am especially happy when I get to watch Malayalam movies which is a rarity in Singapore partly because not many of them appear on local channels or get released here and partly because even if they do, the hubby with his utter lack of knowledge of the language, pulls a long face if I decide to watch one.

But it has so happened that I am suddenly in possession of a few Malayalam movies thanks to the editor who was in town and have also found myself with some spare time to watch a bit of it without the hubby around (he has been travelling or been busy with work). The end result is that for three days in a row now, I have spent at least 1 hour at night watching a movie. Ah the joy from these simple things! It is such a de-stresser!

After I hear some conversation in Malayalam and hear a couple of jokes or even slang, am left smiling!

608 more to go.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 391: If I Rise

Today, I would have easily ended up writing about another day of work and dub and run and even a Malayalam movie that I happened to watch and thoroughly enjoyed. But then a friend shared the link to A.R.Rahman's song from the movie '127 hours' called 'If I Rise'.

OMG. What a song. What a freaking song! Totally, completely, absolutely made my day!

Writing anything further about it with my limited vocabulary will not do justice. So it's enough to say that I have been listening to it the whole day in a loop and I don't feel like going to bed now because then I won't be able to listen to it anymore.

Here's the link to the masterpiece.

God bless ARR (and also Dido)!

609 more to go.

Day 390: Group Hug!

14 December, 2010

I love my film's team. But let me be honest - It is not always so and there are reasons for that. Many a time they do get very creative in finding new and innovative methods to annoy the crap out of me, but overall they are all incredibly awesome people and I love them. Today in particular, I feel like I wanna give all of them a group hug (and that's saying a lot because am not a very hug-sy person).

I am feeling this special overflowing love suddenly because for the first time ever, every single person on the team (and am talking about 12 people here) said "yes" immediately to a schedule I sent out! Just imagine! No prior commitments and such excuses given and this is really a first! Usually it's like half the team agrees but the other half wouldn't which means I have to shift around dates and slots...then the second half would agree but not the first half which means another round of rescheduling etc. But this time, everyone said "Yes!", "Sure!", "Will be there!", "It's already in my calendar" and what not, that too in one go! Wah!

The schedule I sent out was for the final round of dubbing and it's like suddenly they all really want to make sure this gets done at the earliest! This was really unexpected because I had even put dubbing slots on Christmas day and they agreed to that too! Who would have thought!

This is some serious Awwwww stuff!

And second round of dubbing has already kicked off too! My first cast member came over today evening for her dub and we successfully completed a good chunk of it.

So yes, am feeling really awesome! What a rocking team!

610 more to go.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 389: Goodbye Time

13 December, 2010

Today was the editor's last day in Singapore. After having successfully completed the Mausams edit, tomorrow he would be on his way back to India. I still find it surreal that someone bothered to travel all the way here just to work on my ridiculously small film! I cant possibly express how grateful I am for that and it has been an incredible experience, cutting the final edit together!

We took a quick look at the rendered final cut (and successfully identified some issues) and then had a chat for a while about this whole Mausams journey so far. Now that it was time to say goodbye, all the memories and snippets from the last several months tumbled out. More than the end product itself, this is always the best part - the recounting of the memories!

This isn't the end of our work together on Mausams because we still have teaser, trailers, titles, credits, finetuning post background score etc. still remaining which we would be working on utilizing the internet as our primary source of communication over the next few months! Ah the never ending journey! But I hope he can attend the premiere in April and be there to see the journey to its completion.

Till then, it's a big thanks and bye from me!

611 more to go.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 388: Post Edit High & Band Baaja Baarat!

12 December, 2010

After days of sleeping past 4 am (earliest) due to the edit work, today I had wanted to wake up really late. Now that the edit's over, all I wanted was to sleep and sleep and sleep. I went to bed at 6 am after the final edit was wrapped with some last and final finishing touches made, and then was promptly woken up by the hubby by 11 am. He obviously had slept much earlier and decided that I should wake up when he did. This would have annoyed me on a normal day but nothing could annoy me today as I was on a high, post the edit.

So we happily went to Murugan's Idly for brunch and lapped up idlis and dosas and vadas together with filter coffee. Then we made the very good decision of watching Band Baaja Baarat, a recently released Hindi film. It was a very fun movie and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

I was feeling on top of the world the whole day and I think the feeling's gonna last just for another couple of days before the second round of dubbing work kicks in. But for today, me is all smiles!

612 more to go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Days 384, 385, 386 and 387: Mausams Edit - Now Completed.

8 - 11 December 2010

The reason why I didn't write anything for the last few days and decided to compile all the four days' entries into one post is because I had single-minded focus on completing the Mausams edit with my editor who is in town. As soon as I was done with office work, each day I sat down with him to work on the edit way into the night. Today, a saturday, we have been at it the whole day too. It's been a few backbreaking days for sure. But I enjoyed every bit of the work and it has made all four days wonderfully beautiful! I could not think of anything else but the film and even when I went to bed the footage was running in my head. It felt really good to see the film edging closer and closer to its completion!

And today I am very, very, very, very happy to declare that Mausams final cut edit has finally been completed.

Now am off to celebrate!

Editor & I in my "studio"
613 more to go.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 383: Year End Analysis

I had wanted to do this exercise much earlier, on the 365th day of the blog to be precise. But thanks to the trek, its aftermath, the workload at office, film editing etc. I couldn't get to this any sooner.

A year ago, I started on writing this blog with great pomp and show - saying that it will help me live 1000 beautiful days which in turn would make turning 30 a much more tolerable affair. But did it really make a difference? Did I really have 365 beautiful days so far? If yes, what made these days beautiful? Do I have a clue? Surely, I must know these answers to know how to go on from here!

So I decided to spend some time going through the blogs of the last one year and see what strikes me about them. And here is what I have found out about myself and what makes me happy:

a) F.O.O.D - Yeah! Food seems to be a key enabler of my happy life! The number of times I have mentioned all kinda food and beverages on this blog is just mindboggling. My favourite restaurants such as Swadhisht, The Tent, Nalan, Kailas Parbhat, Shahi Maharani etc. have come up time and again and Starbucks Chai Tea Latte is almost a permanent fixture. So yes, I love food and looks like am one of those people who live to eat and not eat to live. Oh well.

Lesson: If nothing else works in a day, I can just go down and get a good meal and feel a lot better. It's an easy fix!

b) Mausams - Needless to say, a HUGE chunk of the blog space is dedicated to the film. Being my first feature film, surely it is important me and looks like I have documented pretty much every step of the way - scripting, casting, make up trial, costume prep, scheduling, location hunting, props hunting, photoshoots, mahurat, film shoot, editing, poster making, website making etc. etc. There seem to have been several instances when I was close to quitting, but thanks to the blog and the requirement to find something good about each day, I seem to have bounced back from the quitting mode soon enough.

Lesson: A big project is required to keep me upbeat about life. Surely it would be a very, very long road full of potholes (Mausams is still not completed and will take another couple of grueling months) but with some effort, looks like my brain can be trained to look only at the bright side.

c) Travels - I am a travel freak and the past year seems to have been filled with them. Ever since I started to write the blog I have been twice to Japan, twice to China, twice to Thailand, once to Switzerland, four times to India and finally once to Nepal as part of the trek. Most of them were on business and the rest were on holiday, and I enjoyed every bit of them!

Lesson - Well, I guess the lesson here is just that the world is one amazing place offering plenty of things to see. So as long as I have the health and some cash (or if the company is paying, but of course), I will continue to go around as much as possible.

d) Physical fitness - A new milestone in any kind of physical activity seems to give me a real high, which is significantly different from before when I used to hate all kinds of physical activity except for dance or an occasional swim. I have talked about yoga extensively, especially when I get one or the other pose right and it gets appreciated by the tutor, I have also time and again mentioned walks, jogs, swims and even kickboxing and step! Completing a 10km run or walk or a 18 lap swim has been well celebrated! So has reaching a 19.9% body fat level for the first time!

Lesson: Yet another quick fix for a crappy day - exercise!

e) People - Ah! This one was very interesting! There seems to be so many wonderful people in my life! There is obviously the family and close friends who appear time and again in my posts (I seem to have spent several posts on the hilarious hubby and mother who both give invaluable entertainment)! But what is more fascinating are nuggets related to long lost friends or relatives and even perfect strangers. The year was full of meeting up with friends from 10 years ago, having opportunities for good conversations and stronger bonding with distant relatives, finding unexpected help from all over for the film and amazing experiences with perfect strangers - those whom I got to know because of this blog, people I met on the travel trips, cabbies of Singapore etc. etc. etc.!

Lesson: I never thought I am a people person. In fact, I still don't think I definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert. But I do appreciate the presence of all these folks in my life. For everyone who has been around, if you are reading this, thank you very much!

f) Being Good - As I read the 365 posts, I have also noticed a bit of personal transformation. Many at times I seem to have made a conscious decision to really look for something to make the day better. That alone has significantly improved the quality of life for sure. It has made me notice and appreciate the smaller things in life. Otherwise if things go wrong, I used to just crib and nag and throw tantrums at the poor hubby. But now I have blogs on just sitting and staring into space and genuinely enjoying it! So I feel like I have actually become a much calmer, more peace loving person.

Lesson: It's all in the head.

So there. That's what the last year has been about. It was tough but productive and seriously, a lot of fun. Now for the next one.

617 more to go.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 382: Awkward Pose Part 1 - Check!

Am trying to get back to yoga more regularly (and by that I mean, at least twice a week) and today I got some incentive for that! After seemingly cracking the bow pose, standing bow pose, cobra pose and rabbit pose, today I cracked the Awkward Pose Part 1 (the posture comes in three phases - one is sitting half way, one is standing on toes and the last one is sitting all the way down on the toes and I cracked the first part of it). The instructor said "Good one, Shilpa!"

If I crack the remaining two parts of it, I could have claimed to be able to do the Awkward Pose properly but this is still some achievement. So there...Yay!!!!

618 more to go.

Day 381: Good Sunday

A few things made the day quite pleasant!

a) Waking up to a breakfast prepared by the boys - the hubby had woken up earlier than me to find the editor making Burji (scrambled eggs) for breakfast! The editor apparently had not slept the whole night. After working on the edit until 6 am, I went off to bed but the editor went for his Sunday morning prayers at the church. He then returned back and decided to cook! Oh well...nobody was complaining! So as the editor made his delicious burji, the hubby got quite inspired himself and put together toast and sandwich. So all I had to do was wake up and eat! Perfect Sunday morning I say!

b) Work on the edit continued slowly but steadily. We are close to completing 50% now!

c) Met up with a few of the Mausams team for dinner. It was a chance for them and the editor to meet each other. It was a very fun evening and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! We spoke about films, how we crossed each other's paths to be the Mausams team that we are today etc. etc. which was all fun stuff!

d) And I must mention this - I also got to eat one of the best chicken dishes ever - the corriander from Fifth Season! I have been to this restaurant several times and can't believe that I had missed out on this beauty for this long! It was SO freaking good!

So yes, it was a grand day and a grand weekend!

619 more to go.

Day 380: High Voltage Editing

4 December, 2010

I call this High Voltage Editing because that's all the editor and I had been doing the whole day! We took just one break for dinner and the rest of the day was spent on editing alone. Snipping a few microseconds here, extending a few microseconds there, for hours at end! The progress was slow in terms of the timeline completed because we were completely revamping a few scenes but both of us are very satisfied with whatever we have done so far! The film is really falling into place!

620 more to go.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 379: The Editor Arrives!

3 December, 2010

Like I have mentioned here, my editor had agreed to come to Singapore all the way from Mumbai just to just work on the film!

And he arrived today morning! Bringing with him a collection of about 8-10 books on films and film making for me as a gift! There was one on a photographic journey through Bollywood, a visual edition of the Namesake with pictures from the movie and one on getting character make up done (which the hubby remarked that I am in dire need of myself). There was also a cook book (which again, according to my hubby am in dire need of) and even a special Mumbai photographic diary for 2011, since am a planning freak! How sweet is that?!

After I was done with my office work, we sat down to edit Mausams. The last and final edit.

Am loving the journey on this last leg. It is a totally different feel to sit with the editor and work on the film than trying to use online chat or do the reference edits yourself! This way it is a lot easier to communicate on what I want and also to understand his thinking behind each of the cuts. With my study room set up with his laptop, my iMac and LCD screen and also the numerous hard disks that we are using, it actually looks like a real studio and I actually feel like a real director!

By the time it was 2 am, we had 25% of the final cut for Mausams.

621 more to go.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 378: Mausams Website!!!

3 December, 2010

Today saw the launch of the Mausams website!!

It has months of my planning, concept and design work and I am so so so happy to see it all come together finally!! My website developer and photographer have done a really great job and HUGE thanks to them! :)

So without much further ado, here is

622 more to go.

Day 377: NZ Planning Begins!

1 December, 2010

A few months ago, the hubby and I booked our flight tickets to New Zealand for next Feb. It was to be our proper holiday together after 1.5 years! We had not even taken a short getaway the whole of 2010 together, so this is obviously much looked forward to!

After the flight bookings were made, we got completely busy with our lives and had not gotten back to planning anything further. Obviously, NZ is a huge country and we should have a better idea of what to do there to maximize our time.

Over the last weekend we decided that the hubby, due to his limited planning skills, will do all the planning for the North Island where we would be spending 3 days while I, being the expert planner, will take up the job of planning for South island where would be spending 6-7 days.

So today, I did just that. After a few hours of research I have come up with a nice, detailed itinerary. I already know the routes we would take, the places where we can stay, the must-see sights etc. and felt really good about a job well done. (May I also add that the hubby's North Island itinerary is still untouched?)

After hours of looking at Kiwi landscapes, half of me is already in New Zealand! Ah!

623 more to go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 376: Provoking the Thought!

30 November, 2010

You know how you sometimes sit with a friend and talk for hours about life, where it takes us, what would really make us happy, how to achieve that happiness, what will happen if that doesn't come, how we are going to take the future in our hands etc. etc.? I absolutely love those conversations. Like, a lot!

After any such conversation, it is as if your whole brain gets reorganized and clicks in its proper placements. You feel like, "Yes... everything is so clear now. My world is gonna change from tomorrow." Sure, the next day the brain clicks again and reorganizes itself to it previous position but then that doesn't matter because for as long as it lasted, it would have felt awesome!

I am not in a particularly confused state of mind currently to seek clarity or anything like that, but it still felt good when the husband and I met up with a friend and had one of these really long, thought provoking conversations! I somehow ended up feeling super intellectual with all the wisdom I was flinging in every direction (could also have been the effect of the Mojito). I was very close to literally patting my back.

Long story short, I went home a happy, content person. Smiles!

624 more to go.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 375: That Felt So Good!

29 November, 2010

After 3 months and 9 days of completely ignoring yoga, I went back to the hot room yesterday. It took a great amount of will power and overcoming of fear to get up to the studio - hot yoga is never easy and after three months of no practice it was expected to be a sure shot torture!

BUT... it was all SO worthwhile.... it felt so so so so Good!!!

I felt like a god damn idiot for having missed so many days of this wonderful form of exercise! Sure, it was pure torture during the class... I felt dizzy, was 99.9% certain of throwing up and sometimes had to try my best to focus on a spot because all I could see where waves and circles and blotches in my eyes. But ultimately I got through it and felt like I was on top of the world!

Ah! Glorious!

Bless the yogis of yesteryears and Bikram Choudhary for coming up with this beauty. You guys rock! Muah!

625 more to go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 374: Fully Back!

Ever since I was done with the trek, I have been talking about how I am getting back to various things. First it was just getting back to Singapore. Then it was about getting back to work. Followed by getting back to the film's work. And now finally I have managed to get back to some exercising with a swim this morning! That gets me to be "fully back" to me pre-trek life (obviously the trek has made me feel like I have been to a whole another world and back)!

The swim was great not just because it brings me back to me exercise routine, but also because it was the first swim I've had with the hubby in a really long time (at least some 6 months, if not more)! So that was definitely quite fun, even though all he did throughout was complain on how the sun would make him dark! Apparently that's less of a problem for me since I am "so dark to start with anyway"! OK then.

Post the swim we made the routine weekend meet-up with friends and watched the movie "Break Ke Baad". I dunno whether it is because I am generally very upbeat about life lately, but I do seem to immensely enjoy the movies I watch these days in spite of the kinda of negative reviews they get. After Guzaarish, I thoroughly enjoyed "Break Ke Baad" as well!

So all in all quite a good day!

626 more to go.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 373: Back to Dubbing!

The trek is over and so is the "rest period" post trek. This weekend am back to film work and to kickstart that I had a few hours of dubbing. It was good to see a few members from the team and to get back to the film once again.

Post the dubbing, I also ended up having a long conversation with my cinematographer on some of the story threads I have for future films, and it felt good to bounce off all the ideas! It's like there is no dearth of ideas for sure but it would take so many years to see all of them through, if at all! In any case, just thinking of them makes me happy!

So yes, am back to work!

627 more to go.

Day 372: Guzaarish

26 November, 2010

Guzaarish is a recently released Hindi movie which has been getting some very polarizing reviews. While one group hated it from the bottom of their hearts, another group loved it like no other film before. So I went in to watch the movie with pretty mild expectations, not sure of which way I would sway and was pleasantly surprised! It had its fair share of flaws but it was a riveting watch, to put it simply. I thoroughly enjoyed the visual grandeur, the performances, the overall tone of the film and the way way it was so different from usual Hindi (or Indian, for that matter) films. Throughout most of it, I was smiling for the right reasons and that's always welcome! All it takes is an enjoyable movie to make my day and Guzaarish has done just that!

628 more to go.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 371: Easy A & TGIF!

Today was a cool day! For the first time ever, our team decided to catch a movie and have lunch together as part of our own celebration!

Since we all think we have done some incredibly kickass work during the last few months, we wanted to have some sort of celebration. After the cliched after-work drinks and other such random, boring things were thrown out of the window, my manager said that maybe we could go for a movie during office hours! Needless to say, everyone was ON!

And since the team had 7 girls and 1 guy, we picked what's called a "chick-flick". The name was "Easy A".

Easy A turned out to be less of a chick flick and more of a really funny, clever movie! And I thoroughly enjoyed it! After movie, we had a good lunch at TGIF. I was stuffed with potato wedges, brownies with icecream, fish & chips, buffalo wings, chicken fries and yummy mac & cheese fried balls! Awesome!

So yes, it was a totally cool working day!

629 more to go.

Day 370: The Editor is Coming!

24 November, 2010

Mausams journey is getting more and more interesting by the day and this time it has got to do with editing! So here is the history first:

a) I did a fair bit of editing in the beginning as I was shooting, just so that I could finish up as and when I shot.
b) But then my eyes started to crumble under the strain and was tearing every now and then and I was having a hard time managing it.
c) That's when my film maker friend in UAE, on his own, offered his services as an editor for Mausams! It was like God was listening to my prayers!
d) But then there was the issue of how to get all the footage to him, because there were 35 tapes (35 hours of footage) that comes to a good 700 GB of data. I didn't want courier all those materials over.... too risky after all that work!
e) That's when his brother and family, who also stay in UAE, decided to make a holiday trip to Singapore and suddenly that issue was solved! I sent all the materials through the brother all the way to UAE!
f) Then the edit was done and for totally personal reasons of his own, the editor moved from UAE to Mumbai. I happened to visit Mumbai on work around that time too! So we met up and he showed me the first cut of Mausams edit - which was really really good and got me terribly excited! The effort was praise worthy considering that he and I had not had even a phone conversation prior to that, and he had based the judgement of the edit solely based on his understanding of the script and some chat conversations with me!
g) I came back to Singapore, went through the edit in detail and started to give my big and small feedback. But that turned out to be a nightmare... because without the video reference in front of us, it was difficult to really convey what exact changes I needed. So I did an edit on top of his edit to be used as a reference for the second cut and sent it to him. Then it was his turn to edit that into a high res file and make more changes and send it back to me.

And then I realised that the whole process was turning out to be a nightmare! Every small change I want to make would mean a few phone calls, work on his part, rendering of the file, sending it to me, me viewing it, then sending another file with changes required, more phone calls etc. etc. etc.... that's just a slow, painful process!

But looks like it doesn't have to be slow or painful after all! Because things fell into place somehow and now the editor is making a trip to Singapore for about 10 days, just to work on Mausams! How exciting is that?! He has decided to make spend that much time and effort solely for the movie and that would means wonders to the film!

He will be here in two weeks time and I am very excited about finally getting to work with the editor of the film in the actual way it is supposed to be (surely, virtual director-editor working is not efficient)! And this also means that by the time he leaves Singapore, Mausams edit will be locked and loaded. From the first frame to the last. Yes!

630 more to go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 369: Back to Office!

It feels like ages since I have been to office! Even though yesterday I did work, it was from home. I was still under considerable fatigue from the trek to drag myself to office. So I stayed at home and I just cleared up all the backlog of emails, attended some meetings over the phone etc. and today I got to work properly.

And contrary to my expectations, it actually felt good to be back! I did miss the mountains terribly but the emails and calls and documents and numbers that I had to slog through were not too bad. The fact that no work progressed in my absence actually kinda made me feel like I do add significant value to my company!

I can honestly say that I was happy at work today. Happy even after a holiday. That's a rarity but a welcome one.

631 more to go.

Day 368: Visiting Mom-to-be

22 November, 2010

I have a very good friend from work. We are from the same place back in Kerala and she is one of the nicest people I know. She genuinely cares for whatever I do and is very supportive in everything. She is a pillar of strength for me in office and a good listener to my cribbings whenever they come by!

She is expecting a new addition to her family (her first baby) soon and is on maternity leave starting today. I didn't get a chance to say a proper goodbye at work to her, since I was away on the trek, so today I made my way to her place to catch up!

And we had a nice evening together! Am glad I dropped by because next time I meet her, her hands are going to be full with the baby! So this was quality catch up time. We talked about the trek, her preps for the baby, random gossips etc. etc. I also filled myself with all the delicious food her in-laws had prepared!

Felt really good but am gonna miss her at work now!

632 more to go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 367: My Little World

The hubby got back from US late yesterday night. We had hardly spoken to each other for the last 10 days because I had no mobile network throughout the trek and at most places there was no electricity to charge the phone. So the whole of today was spent on filling him with the trek news! Then it was back to a normal Sunday - going to Murugan Idly for breakfast, watching TV in the afternoon, doing laundry, getting a cup of Starbucks Chai Tea Latte and general chilling out. Life's back to normal and SO different from the last 10 days. It's like I have been transported from one world to another and back. As much as I loved the other magnificent world, it's good to be back to my normal little one. Feeling so good!

633 more to go.

Day 366: Memories

21 November, 2010

Today I got back to Singapore after that awesome trek! After 8 hours of catchup sleep it was time for picture sorting and catching up on the blogs about the trek! It took me several hours to do that. And during those hours I was reliving the trek once again! And that alone was enough to make the day beautiful -Hours of being with the memories from the Himalayas!

634 more to go.

Day 365: One Year!

19 November, 2010

Today I successfully complete one year of the blog! Phew! Quite the achievement, I feel!

The other highlights of the day were:
a) Farewell by Wangchuck, again with the Khada, the Tibetan customary white piece of cloth
b) The cutest Gorkha driver who showed us the way to Bagdogra airport and who was a perfect Nepali replica of Malayalam film comedian Innocent. He kept stopping his car in the middle of the road to double check our destination a number of times, each time with an extreme poker face!
c) Getting five airport officials in Bagdogra run hither and tither in search of my black sweater that went missing!
d) Good long meal and conversation with dad at Bagdogra airport restaurant.

At Delhi, dad and I parted ways. I took my flight back to Singapore while he took his back to Kerala. The Singalila trip has officially ended. And what an incredible experience it was!

635 more to go.

Day 364: Pony, Two Falls, Gorkhey, Jungle at Night

18 November, 2010

Today was the last day of the trek and probably the most eventful one. An early morning climb up and down the Phalut hill didn't prove to be too fruitful because of the heavy fog and there was no view whatsoever. So without much ado, we packed up, had a quick breakfast of pancakes, bread and porridge, and got ourselves ready for the last stretch. The plan was to get to Rimbick via Gorkhey and Rammam, a distance of about 35 kms.

The ponies had been arranged and were waiting for us. I got a brown female pony called Dully and my dad took a white male pony called Myla. But we decided to walk the first km at least to warm up a bit before we climbed atop the ponies.

Just as we were about to start riding, I looked up at the horizon and saw the clouds parting to show at the Kanchenjunga! I screamed with excitement! In the most dramatic way, I declared that the mountains are coming out to say goodbye to us!

We gazed at the mountains for a while in awe and then was ready to move forward. Just as I was taking a last look at the ranges, I heard a commotion in front of me. I turned around to see that my dad had slid down the horse and was clinging onto its side for dear life. Ashish and the Amal, the pony-man, were rushing towards him and trying to prevent his fall! Apparently dad, in all his excitement at seeing the mountains, was not ready for the pony which moved forward a bit too fast, resulting in him being thrown off its back!

After that incident, dad decided that he is gonna walk instead of riding the pony, without heeding to my reassurances that the ponies would be perfectly safe provided you cling on to them properly.

So Ashish, Vikas and dad walked while I rode the pony ahead together with Amal. We covered about 10 kms this way. We passed through beautiful dense forests and bamboo thickets on our way. Throughout Dully was well behaved while Myla, who no longer had a passenger on him, kept grabbing and chewing every passing plant. It was quite a fun ride and I thoroughly enjoyed the forests around, the view of the valleys below and also Myla's antics.

After about an hour, Amal suggested that we take a break and wait for the other guys to join us. So we stopped at a beautiful clearing abundant with yellow flowers and let the horses graze while we both sat back and enjoyed the views. When there was no sign of the other guys after 20 minutes, I suggested to Amal that we will go down to Gorkhey and wait there because the others might have taken a short cut or some other path. So we proceeded to Gorkhey. This time I walked because I was already pretty stiff from riding the pony.

Gorkhey is a quaint, beautiful little village in the valley and I fell in love with it immediately! It had about 15 houses, each with its land of cultivation, mainly terrace farming and vegetables such as radish and corn being dried on its roof.

The village of Gorkhey & Dully, my pony

I sat down to enjoy the beauty when I noticed my dad, Ashish and Vikas coming down the slope to Gorkhey in a very awkward manner. My dad had one hand bandaged and with the other hand he was holding Ashish for support. While I was trying to figure out what could have happened, the two British trekkers from yesterday who were a bit ahead, reached the valley first and told me that my dad had fallen down and dislocated a ligament in his arm!

Needless to say, I started panicking! With no range for the mobile and with no mode of transportation available other than ponies, I was not sure how to get any help for my dad! I was trying to figure out what to do when dad, Vikas and Ashish finally made it to the valley and dad told me that he knows how to fix this with a bit of help.

He got the boys to put a mattress out in the open, lied down on it and instructed Ashish to help him move his arms this way and that. I watched the painful process for a while without much hope that anything was gonna come out of it. But then all of a sudden, my dad was up, completely fit and fine! He said that the ligament is back in its rightful position and all was well! OK then.

I was hugely relieved and couldn't thank God enough! My dad was by now already joking about the whole incident, once even mentioning that all that drama happened just so that I would get material to write about on the blog! I told him that no matter what he would ride the pony now. I wanted to get out of that place to somewhere with some infrastructure, as soon as possible!

After the miraculous recovery, we proceeded to take some pictures of Gorkhey, had a lunch of Aloo Parathas (Ashish's final recipe since this would be the last meal cooked by him!) and started on our journey to Rimbick.

This time both dad and I rode the pony for about 2 hours until we reached Rammam. The journey continued to be through very dense rainforests with the occasional streams and waterfalls. It was a lovely experience and the only downside was that the pony ride was beginning to get extremely uncomfortable! I was suffering from very stiff knees, thighs and ankles and couldn't wait to get off the ponies and walk a bit!

About 3 hours later, we reached Rammam. Here, we had to let go off the ponies and Amal, and cover the remaining distance until Rimbick on foot. Since it is a steep downhill, the pony ride would be risky. Also it was already 5 pm and it was getting very dark. So we said goodbye to Amal, Myla and Dully.

The next couple of hours were yet another highlight of the trek! We walked through the dense forest in pitch darkness, with the help of just a torch for about 10 kilometers! We walked through muddy paths, swampy ditches, rocky paths and sometimes even through streams, splashing water all over. The only things we could hear were the sound of our own footfalls, the tapping of our walking sticks, the constant gush of water from nearby streams and the frequent hoots of owls. It was such an amazing experience!

Finally after what seemed like a lifetime, we reached Rimbick where our car was waiting. All of us were terribly exhausted and plonked ourselves in the car right away. The car made its way with great difficulty on the bumpy roads. Only land rovers are suitable for that terrain but the car had come a bit further to pick us up because of my dad's injury and also the fact that it was already the middle of the night. So we rocked and bumped as the car inched forward!

Ten minutes into the ride, the car got a wheel stuck in a ditch! Seriously, it was like the excitement for the day was not yet over! We were in the middle of nowhere, in pitch darkness with a car that can't seem to get its wheel out of damn ditch! But once again God didn't play too tricky a game. When all else failed, four guys appeared out of nowhere and helped Ashish and Vikas to actually lift up the car and move it out of the ditch! From then on things went on smoothly for the rest of the 4 hour ride to Darjeeling.

We dropped Vikas in his village Maneybhanjang on the way and I gave him all my vitamin C tablet supplies. The poor guy must have been so exhausted after walking 35kms with that luggage! He was seriously a very sweet chap and both my dad and I are surely gonna miss him!

We finally got to Darjeeling at 11:30pm in freezing cold. We were received by Wangchuck, the tour operator. The night's stay was arranged at his home, which he runs as a home stay. We got a really nice warm room and a good warm dinner of chowmein and soup cooked by Wangchuck himself. After dinner, it was time to say goodbye to Ashish as well! I am so grateful to that man for taking such good care of us throughout the trip! It would definitely have been a lot harder without him!

After a quick hot bath, I hit the bed. Exhausted but very, very satisfied.

My first ever trek thus came to an end.

636 more to go.

Day 363: Phalut

We woke up to a foggy morning in Phalut. Just as I was about to get depressed at the thought of having to walk yet another day through this fog, it started to clear up slowly. And as it cleared up, I realised that Phalut is one gorgeous, like I mean mind blowingly gorgeous place! With every inch the fog cleared we could see a bit more of the hills and valleys and forests and meadows. I stood at the edge of a ridge near our rest house and took in the beauty for a very long time. It was spectacular!

Later when we were having our morning cup of tea, Ashish came up with a brilliant idea. He suggested that we stay on for an extra day at Phalut and give the weather a chance to clear up further. Then since we would have accumulated a day's distance, instead of walking all the way down and trying to catch up, we could take a pony ride!

I was super excited by the idea! Firstly it means I can be in this super gorgeous place for a bit longer! Secondly, it gives one day's rest which is more than welcome post yesterday's 21km hike. Thirdly, I loved the suggestion of the pony ride! That would be a brand new experience and it is much nicer than having to take the land rover which is the only other mode of transportation in this terrain! So we readily agreed to the plan!

After another yummilicious breakfast of rotis, a couple of vegetable dishes and a lip smacking pickle, we decided to climb up the Phalut Hill. It is a 2km climb and gives us 200 mt more of altitude. At 3600 mt, it would be the highest point in Phalut.

Dad and I took a slow and gentle walk up. When we reached the top, we were greeted by a Buddhist stupa. It was just my dad and I alone on top of that hill and it was perfectly calm and peaceful. The only sound that could be heard was the fluttering of the prayer flags from the stupa. The Buddhists believe that every time the wind blows, the prayers on these flags are taken upwards towards the heavens. And I really felt like that was happening! There was something so indescribably spiritual about that place!

The stupa on Phalut Hill

We spent a couple of hours just sitting there and gazing around. It was one of highest points of the trek for me. With that magnificent view, the gentle breeze, the prayer flags of the stupa and intense silence around, I felt like I had never been more at peace before!

Atop Phalut Hill

Later Ashish and Vikas also joined us. During his previous visit, Ashish had set up his own little stupa on the hill, in honour of the mountains. He spent some time modifying it with Vikas' help, and lit incense sticks on it. I was very touched by their love for nature!

Ashish's stupa in honour of the mountains

We spent the rest of the day relaxing inside the cabin - listening to music and reading a book. We got two more awesome meals (lunch and dinner) cooked by the staff of the rest house. Ashish also provided me with a basin of salted hot water as a cure for my blisters.

Over dinner I struck up a conversation with a couple of trekkers from Britain who had just been to the Mt. Everest base camp and were now doing the Singalila trek! I was amazed by their passion and determination!

When I finally hit the bed, I felt very much at peace. Phalut is a piece of heaven on earth and I didn't want to leave.

637 more to go.

Day 362: Wild Yak, Clouded Leopard & 21 kms

16 November, 2010

Sandakphu is famous for two things as I understand - the sunrise and the view of the ranges. Thanks to yet another cloudy day, we couldn't see the ranges but I woke up with a beautiful sunrise! As the weather became clear, we could see that horrible uphill path that we took yesterday and I couldn't help feeling proud of myself and my dad for having actually made it across that!

As I was enjoying the wonderful view around, the 50 other tourists around me were all cribbing their hearts out about not being able to see the ranges. Most of them had taken jeeps to get to Sandakphu with the main objective of seeing the ranges and now they were all very disappointed. It was a bit sad that they failed to appreciate what we did see - the wonderful hills and valleys and clouds and sun that was just beautiful beyond description!

After basking in that beauty, it was time for a quick breakfast before we set off on one of our longest days of trek - the destination was Phalut, 21 kms away. The path was supposed to be relatively easy with a mix of donwhill, flat and uphill routes.

And what we saw on the way was just breathtaking! The path was mainly through slopes and slopes of beautiful meadows and am not quite sure I can do justice to it in words. I just kept stopping at every other turn, sometimes taking a picture, sometimes just staring open mouthed. Needless to say we went hopelessly behind schedule and covered only 8kms in 3 hours. But those 3 hours were one of the best on the trek!

So enchanted were we by the beauty around that soon we were all walking at our own pace and no longer together. I had my music on and was quite enjoying the walk alone when I turned a corner and found myself bang in front of a wild yak! The creature was gigantic and was staring right at me! It obviously had heard me coming and was ready for attack if necessary. Ashish our guide had earlier educated us that the yaks can be dangerous, especially the bulls and it is best to avoid them. And here was a huge, healthy, bull of a wild yak just a few feet away from me!

I looked around for help. There was no sign of my dad or Ashish or Vikas, the porter. Where were all the men when one needed them?! I stepped back a few feet until I turned the corner and hid behind a bush. Ok I probably didn't hide well because the yak was still staring in my direction. Since there was no sign of the men still, I tried to do the only possible thing under such circumstances - take a picture!

I had happily passed on the SLR camera to Ashish and made it his problem to carry that burden too, so was left with only the iPhone which I was using to listen to music. Just as I clicked one pic from it, my dad came over. I am happy to note that he too was equally freaked out by the yak. He suggested we wait for the other boys to come before we proceed any further. But since we didn't know how far off they were or which route they would be taking, we decided that we have to figure this out oursleves.

We came up with a plan. The good thing was that even though the yak had chosen a very strategic position on the centre of the path to drink water from the puddle there, the path had some space on one side. A grassy slope ran down to the path and if we could climb that slope up and down, we could overcome the obstacle that was in front of us.

We executed the above plan to perfection. Not only did we overcome the obstacle, I also managed to take another picture of the yak enroute. And on his part, the yak simply tilted his head in recognition that we are simply just harmless passerbys.

The Wild Yak

By now the fog started to move in again. The vegetation too started to change. As we were quite at the highest points of this trek, the vegetation was sparse. Whatever effort a tree might have made in growing here doesn't really succeed because it gets the strongest winds, strongest rains, strongest snowfall etc. The result was that the landscape was covered with dry and damaged tree trunks. They almost look like the lean figure of a malnourishred man - a headless torso. With so many headless torsos floating around in that rising fog, the atmosphere turned rather spooky and I was quite glad when we finally stopped at Molley for lunch.

After having a bowl of noodle soup each, we set off once again in the fog. Since we were running late, Ashish went ahead of us to ensure that the room booked for us at the Phalut forest department's rest house doesn't get taken up by anybody else. So with Vikas as company and temporary guide, we walked on.

Then came yet another interesting sight. I was just turning around a hairpin curve uphill when I noticed a movement about 10 feet ahead of me. Upon taking a closer look I realised that it was a clouded leopard trying to cross the path! I froze in my track and held up my hand to ensure that my dad who was right behind me, doesn't make any noise. He too had seen the clouded leopard and was still. But the animal sensed us and turned around. Seeing us so close by, it completely panicked and raced back into the bushes with as much speed as it could muster! I was super excited and disappointed at the same time! Excited at having had what's considered a rare opportunity of spotting a clouded leopard in the wild and disappointed at not getting a chance of taking a picture because it all happened so fast!

But the sighting got us energized enough to walk on for a few more hours!

Soon we began to lose light and could see only a couple of feet ahead. We tried to keep as close to Vikas as possible who was leading the way. By 5pm it got really dark and we had to rely on torches. I was exhausted by now and was finding it harder and harder to control my breath in the thin air. The last 1 km was a steep uphill climb and only God knows how I made that!

I could almost cry with joy when suddenly the rest house appeared out of the fog right in front of me! I barged into the room that was shown to us and literally collapsed onto the bed, much to amusement of the caretakers! Ashish, the saviour, immediately brought two bowls of hot garlic soup which we gulped down in gratitude!

After resting for a while, we joined Ashish, Vikas and two of the staff members of the rest house in their tiny kitchen. And under the warmth of the fire in that kitchen, I had one of the most delicious meals ever! Starting with soup, rotis and dishes made of radish and lettuce, it ended with gulab jamuns that Ashish had carried all the way from Darjeeling! And it was topped with the best cup of coffee ever!

As I slipped into my sleeping bag soon after, the wind was howling outside, the temperature touching a zero degrees. I believe the last three things I thought of just before I drifted off to sleep, were the yak, the clouded leopard and the fact that we actually managed to make it through those 21kms. What a day!

638 more to go.

Day 361: Sandakphu, Zero degrees, Sleeping Bag!

15 November, 2010

Looks like the Gods were in no mood to listen to any good-weather prayers today. Even after a night of very heavy rainfall, it was a very foggy morning that we woke up to. The visibility was horrible. It left even Ashish, the guide, baffled. He said that never before in November has he seen so much rain and bad weather before. Even if there is heavy rain, the skies usually clears up fast after that. I left him scratching his head and proceeded to take some photographs anyway.

After a simple, hearty breakfast of cornflakes, pancakes and omelet, we set out for the what is supposed to be the toughest part of this trek. Our destination was Sandakphu, the highest point in West Bengal at 3636 meters. And to get there we had to pass a total of 6 kms, 2 on flat land and 4 on extremely steep land.

The weather kept swinging between good and bad. Sometimes it turned very foggy with poor visibility and sometimes the sun shined through bright and happy, clearing up some of the fog to give us a good view of the valleys below. I understand that if the weather was really good we would have started to see the mountain ranges as well but we weren't that lucky. But whatever we saw was beautiful enough to keep us going and we slowly made our way up in 3 hours. It was really quite a struggle with the steep climb and am really proud that I made it to the top without fainting!

At Sandakphu we checked into a small rest house called Sunrise lodge. Interestingly one half of Sandakphu lies in India while the other half lies in Nepal. By 'half' we are refering to about 3-4 buildings each. Sunrise Lodge is in the Nepali half. By the way, Sandakphu means the 'Land of poisonous plants'! These people surely have a unique creative sense when naming their villages!

After checking in and having the customary cup of tea, the first thing I did was to take a bath, something which I had skipped yesterday and felt really filthy post. Given that we reached by noon, it was the best opportunity to take a bath and I did just that in the hot water provided.

Then came lunch. Our options were noodles or rice and we opted for noodles. Once again we had the hot egg noodle soup and omelet. Yummy yum!

Feeling rejuvenated enough we stepped out and was greeted by much clearer skies! I almost cried with joy! We still couldn't see the mountain ranges but we could see all the surrounding hills and it was beautiful! My dad and I climbed up a small rock and waited there for the clouds to part for a glimpse of the mountain ranges. We waited for about 45 minutes, in 2 degree celsius, with a good breeze blowing, just looking out over and beyond the hills.

And we were rewarded by a very short view! For about a minute the clouds parted and we saw the mighty Himalayas before us! We were so awed by the sight that we just stared speechless! Then my dad came to his senses and urged me to take a picture. Just as I managed to take the camera out of the case, the clouds moved in and the show was over! But what a show it was!

Feeling rather encouraged and praying for a clearer weather, we returned to the lodge for another cup of hot drink (it was coffee this time) each. Rest of the evening was spent with listening to music and typing in some of the blogs.

After a dinner of rotis and different vegetable dishes, I curled in to a sleeping bag (yet another first time ever experience!) and piled on a few quilts and blankets on top while still wearing my sweater and down jacket! The temperature outside was estimated to be zero degrees. I had never been in that kinda cold before but thanks to the strenuous walk, I slept soundly.

Day three of the trek thus ended successfully.

639 more to go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 360: Kanchenjunga & Kaalpokhri

14 November, 2010

So looks like God did answer my prayers! He ensured that the morning weather is reasonably clear and I got my first glimpse of Kanchenjunga, the mighty, unconquered beauty!

And 'glimpse' it was. For the weather cleared up just enough for us to see the peak but not the entire range! The peak hovered above lofty clouds that covered everything else up. But I wasn't complaining! With the peak above and the clouds below, it was really like I was on top of the world!

Glimpse of Kanchenjunga

After taking in the magnificent view for a while, we had yet another awesome meal (this is turning out to be as much of a culinary expedition as a trekking expedition)! This time it was Tibetan bread with jam, porridge and omelet. The bread was fried and brown and had a very nice flavour to it. I think I can easily be in Tibet forever and will never need to complain of food!

Then we set out for today's destination - Kaalpokhri, 13 kms away, at 3186 mts. The first part of the trek was actually downhill, which was more than a welcome change after yesterday's ordeal! It was a pleasant enough walk until Garibhas (which had another Indian army base camp) with a stopover in between at the Nepali village Jaubari for tea. Both these villages were also very quaint and pretty, like the ones we have been seeing throughout the route! With small houses, lots of hens and roosters roaming about, numerous cows and goats grazing on the pastures around, cute red-cheeked kids, friendly dogs and puppies (my favourite is the Himalayan mastif which is dark and really huge with lots of fur but is the most peaceloving dog I have ever come across!), occasional temples, several Buddhist stupas, that odd Nepali police station (protecting the 8 families in the village?!) and the shy, lovely people, every village has been fascinating!

Then came the climb (groan!). We trudged along another uphill route for 3.5 kms until we reached Kayakatta, where we stopped for lunch.

Lunch was again a bowl of egg noodle soup even better than the one yesterday, if that was ever possible! After lunch the path became relatively easy. Ashish, our guide, kept calling it 'flat' and kept cheering us on. Soon I discovered that 'flat' to him means on an average it is flat but it came with a fair bit of ups and downs! But still it was better than before and the only problem was the rising fog and threat of rain. The visibility was very poor once again and I understand that we missed out on a lot of good views of the valleys below including even Darjeeling!

But still there was enough to see with the changing vegetation back from pastures to very thick forests! There were a lot of rhododendron trees which usually bloom in spring and are set to give a spectacular sight then! We didn't come across any more villages until we reached our destination Kaalpokhri.

According to the internet, Kaalpokhri is actually Kalapokhri which means "Dark lake" or "Black lake". But according to Ashish, Kaalpokhri literally means 'Kaal lake' and Kaal is the Hindu god of death. Am not sure how I feel about staying in a place named after the God of Death but true to the name, it is indeed a lake that greets you as you reach the village. With the mist hovering above it and with some lotus leaves and birds making a few ripples in the otherwise deathly still waters, the lake was quite a sight. Ashish told us that no one really knows how deep is the lake. Apparently no one has entered the water before because the lake was very sacred to the people there. OK then.

The Kaalpokhri Lake

Without further ado we moved away from the lake and reached our place of stay for the night, Chewang's lodge. We got a lovely wooden room there and were immediately served one round of tea which was soon followed by another round of hot chocolate.

With nothing much to do until dinner time I started to type in the blogs on to my phone to be published later while my dad listened to music.

Then came dinner which was simply terrific! With the combined efforts of Ashish and the folks at Chewang lodge, they served us vegetable soup, rice, daal, two types of veg side dishes, french fries, another type of thinly grated potato fries, omelet, apple custard and a cup of hot chocolate! It was such a wide spread and all so very yummy!

Over dinner we also met a very interesting lady, Tenzin. Chewang's Lodge belongs to Tenzin's family. Tenzin is a trained mountaineer and is a part time instructor at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. According to Ashish, she has given up what could have been a very bright career in mountaineering to help her parents out at the lodge. She has also taken up the education responsibility of a little girl from the nearby village who stays with her and goes to a school next door. A very strong and inspiring lady!

And the little girl under Tenzin's care, Pima, was quite an interesting little lady herself! She is always running one errand or the other, completely on her own accord! She is either clearing cups and plates or carrying food for the goats or bringing water to the basins or transporting grains in baskets etc. etc. etc. Such a bundle of energy! I totally loved her!

Pima (without the hat) with her friend

With some great sights and meeting some very nice people, today was a good day!

640 more to go.

Day 359: The Trek Begins - Nepal, Hailstorms & Prayer Wheels!

13 November, 2010

Alright, it is the D-day! The long awaited, first-in-my-life trek starts today!

Wangchuck (remember the tour operator I love?) came early in the morning with our guide for the next 6 days, Ashish. The plan was to drive for 1.5 hours to Maneybhanjang at 2134 metres and then start the trek from there. The target was to reach Tumling, which's 11kms away and 2970 metres.

Before we set off for Maneybhanjang, the caretaker of our hotel Snow Lion, gave us a super sweet unexpected farewell. In true Tibetan custom, he put a piece of white cloth (called Khada in Tibetan) around our necks and bid us a safe and happy journey. How cute is that?!

So on that very good note, we set off to Maneybhanjang together with Wangchuck and Ashish. Upon arriving we had a yummy breakfast of hot rotis and a simple curry of peas, from a small local restaurant (restaurant here actually means a wooden shed with two benches and tables inside). Soon we were joined by Vikas, our porter who would carry our rucksack, sleeping bags etc. After making sure that everything was in order, Wangchuck bade us goodbye and we were off on our trek!

Interestingly, as soon as we started I noticed a board that said 'Welcome to Nepal". Upon inquiring Ashish confirmed that we are indeed going to be trekking half the time in Nepal! In fact we would even be staying at some Nepali villages a couple of nights! I was thrilled!! I would be trekking in India AND in Nepal! It is my first time ever in Nepal so needless to say, this is Freaking awesome stuff!

View of India from Nepal

OK then, after that initial exciting start, things did go a bit downhill. Mainly because about 8 out of the 11 kms we were to cover today were Uphill! And by Uphill I mean really really UPHILL!

I was readily exhausted even before the first kilometer and my dad was no better. But we chugged along slowly but steadily. The vegetation started with thick pine forests but soon gave way to hilly pastures by the time we reached Chitre monastery, the first monastery in Nepal. It was built more than a 100 years ago by a Lama from Ladakh.

We hung out at the monastery for a bit and proceeded for tea to a house at the adjacent village. This 'village' by the way, has a grand total of 2 houses. After a good cup of hot tea we felt refreshed enough to tackle the rest of the uphill climb. With great pomp and show we stepped outside, only to be greeted with a heavy rain. We waited for bit but realised that the rain is no mood to decrease in the near future. So we donned our rain gear and set out in the rain.

The next couple of hours were not great. We were surrounded by thick fog with very low visibility, frequent showers, difficult paths that were now not only steep but also slippery - and all at about 4 degree celsius. The only silver lining was the amazingly yummy egg noodle soup our guide cooked for us after barging into the kitchen of a local tea shop on the way.

Finally we reached Megma, which was the end of the uphill route. Megma has an Indian owned army camp and a Nepal owned village right opposite each other! After having yet another cup of hot tea (tea-drinking has reached an all time peak), we visited a monastery in the village. This monastery, as I understand, is not usually open to the public. But Ashish has his friends in the village who opened up the monastery to us. Thus, for the first time ever, I could go all the way into the inner shrine of a Tibetan Monastery and see the huge Buddhist prayer wheel! It was fascinating! There was no electricity in the village and because of the rain and fog outside, there was very little light inside the monastery but we still made our way around it. The monastery also had a collection of idols based on old Tibetan customs that were popular before Buddhism spread and also one entire wall was lined with huge prayer books. I was quite awestruck by everything in there.

After the quick visit to the monastery, we were about to set out on the apparently easier part of the trek, when we came across a hailstorm! We found shelter at the tea stall and I thoroughly enjoyed the sight of my first ever hailstorm! This trip is truly turning into one of many first-evers!

After the hailstorm was done we covered the last stretch to Tumling in the most dense fog ever. The journey was not pleasant and let's just say I was real glad when we finally made it there.

We checked into Shikhar lodge at Tumling. The rest of the evening was very pleasant with tea (of course), biscuits and some Tibetan snacks by the fireplace followed by a sumptuous spread of rice, egg curry, daal, banana custard and rosagullas (which Ahish had carried all the way from Darjeeling!) for dinner! After the delicious food and some pleasant conversation with fellow trekkers, we hit the bed at 8:30.

Just before dozing off, I prayed with all my heart that the weather clears up tomorrow and we would be able to catch a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga, which should be possible from Tumling if the clouds behave.

Day one of trek ends!

641 more to go.