Tour de Ladakh : Prologue

There is something about Ladakh; The beautiful lands of Kashmir where Hell and Heaven come together. Isolated from the rest of the rest of the country for 6 months a year, the only two roads connecting Leh with Srinagar and Manali open up in May/June after the BRO (Border Roads Organization) clears the roads. hundreds of miles of difficult terrain, treacherous weather, Bad or No roads replete with Black Ice, Slush, Glacial Melts, etc make the Manali-Leh ‘Highway’ one of the toughest roads of the world. Needless to say, the challenges offered by Ladakh, makes it a Mecca for the bikers of the world. As soon as the roads are declared open hundreds of bikers from all over the world assemble at Delhi/Manali/Srinagar, start their engines and turn their throttle to set off on what can be aptly called as The Ultimate Motorcycle Pilgrimage. 

THE FLASHBACK

It was a frightfully cold night in 2011. Maybe the coldest, me and my friends have experienced.  After hours of fighting the deadly Rohtang La (Literal Meaning: The Pass of the Pile of Corpses) braving the and the landslides that happened a couple of days ago, we had finally holed up in this small idyllic village called Khoksar. Drenched, hungry and tired, we had lost contact with half of our team. They were supposed to catch up with us almost half a day ago. With no mobile connectivity in that area and the sub-zero temperature outside coupled with the pitch black dark of the night, we had no option other than to wind up for the night and backtrack to Rohtang the next day. At the break of dawn, we started our two bikes and fought arguably one the toughest roads of the world for the second time in 24 hours to get back to Rohtang La where our team split the previous day. After 3 hours of riding in the horrible slush there was a rendezvous with the rest of our team. Turns out that they were having a much harder time than us. They along with two bikes and our backup vehicle, a pick-up truck, were stuck all night in the freezing weather of Rohtang. Badly hit by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness. Happens in high altitudes due to the lack of oxygen supply to the brain.) and battered by the weather, our morale was down; Our trip had to be cut short. Out first attempt to Get Leh’D had failed. 

PRESENT DAY

Two years later. We are reattempting to get Leh’D. This time with a much smaller team; Me and two of my buddies, Sukesh and Rahul. We have ironed out a majority of our last time’s rookie mistakes. This time we had a better planned itinerary courtesy BCM Touring, better know-how of the trip, Better motorcycles, Riding through the summer to avoid the freezing rains and lots of informational and mechanical support from Rajpath KTM, Bhubaneswar. All locked and Loaded,  I’m starting tomorrow. Will group up with my friends in New Delhi and commence this Himalayan Odyssey. Juley 😉

THE BOYS

I, Vrigu Mohanty was doing my SIP at Bhubaneswar. I would be taking my bike with me via train to New Delhi. Reach on 28th. Have fun for a couple of days and start on 31st for Leh! Sukesh Dash who is working at Chennai will be flying down to New Delhi on 30th and will be riding pillion with me. And Rahul Pant who was doing his SIP at New Delhi would be playing host and will be starting with us!

AND THEIR TOYS

My gleaming new orange monster, The Duke 200 will be my ride. All checked and decked up with Ceat Vertigo Rage to conquer the toughest terrain on Earth. Rahul Pant will be riding his seasoned Pulsar 150, also all decked up for the challenge.

Me and my Machine!

THE ITINERARY

DAY # DATE DAY ORIGIN DESTINATION NOTES
Day 0 May-30 Thursday New Delhi Reach Delhi
Day 1 May-31 Friday New Delhi Manali Phase 1: Delhi to Manali
Day 2 Jun-01 Saturday Manali Jispa Phase 2: Manali to Leh
Day 3 Jun-02 Sunday Jispa Sarchu
Day 4 Jun-03 Monday Sarchu Leh
Day 5 Jun-04 Tuesday Leh (Acclimatization) Phase 3: Leh
Day 6 Jun-05 Wednesday Leh Nubra Valley (Turtuk)
Day 7 Jun-06 Thursday Nubra Valley (Turtuk) Nubra Valley (Sumur)
Day 8 Jun-07 Friday Nubra Valley (Sumur) Pangong Lake
Day 9 Jun-08 Saturday Pangong Lake Leh
Day 10 Jun-09 Sunday Leh (Reserve Day)
Day 11 Jun-10 Monday Leh Kargil Phase 4: Leh to Srinagar
Day 12 Jun-11 Tuesday Kargil Srinagar
Day 13 Jun-12 Wednesday Srinagar Pathankot Phase 5: Srinagar to Delhi
Day 14 Jun-13 Thursday Pathankot New Delhi
Day 15 Jun-14 Friday Reserve Day
Day 16 Jun-15 Saturday New Delhi Bhopal Phase 6: Delhi to Nagpur
Day 17 Jun-16 Sunday Bhopal Nagpur
Rest of the Travelogue will be posted on my other blog http://www.TourDeLadakh.wordpress.com
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Crouching Tiger, Bullying Dragon

Picture this. You are like any normal 5th grader going to school. And there is this big bully twice your size who steals your pencils. And there’s this obnoxious guy half your size who steals your lunch. What do you do? It’s obvious in the case of the small guy; You shove him around, show him his place, take your lunch back. But what to do with the big bully? Do you go try punch him in his face but instead you yourself return home crying with two blackened eyes and a broken wrist? Or do you complain about it to the teacher and make sure you get back your stolen pencils? Or do you gang up with your own well built friends and scare/beat the shit out of the big bully? And additionally scare him that you would take his pants the next time if he dares mess with you again and strut around the school with your newly formed league of strong schoolboys with whom no one will mess up ever again?

Now replace yourself as India, the obnoxious weed as Pakistan, The Big Bully as China. Your league of   strong schoolboys as The USA, Russia, UK, Israel, Japan, etc. and your stuff that gets stolen is India’s border/LOC. Putting these in context of the current Indo-Chinese border crisis. We have been seeing our Facebook Walls, Twitter Timelines and New Channels with angry war cries. But do we realize that when it comes to China, The Big Bully things get a little complicated. The war isn’t a feasible option against an enemy whose Army is twice the size of us, whose weapons are superior than us and whose logistical know-how and infrastructure near the border is ‘God-knows-how-many-times’ stronger than us. In our sudden bursts of Patriotic jingoism we fail to look at the sad but true facts. We have already lost a war against the dragon state. Can we afford to go heads on with them again, especially when we haven’t learnt much from the past defeat? Continue reading Crouching Tiger, Bullying Dragon

Tomb Raider 2013: Sexist or Feminist?

Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider franchise is by far the most recognizable and the most bankable character from the post-90s video games era. With 10 games and two motion pictures starring Angelina Jolie spanning over almost two decades, Lara Croft has been one of the most iconic characters in the History of Video games.

The first Tomb Raider game came out in 1996 which set the benchmark for for all future 3D games to come. The video games industry back then catered mostly to the male audience. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when Lara Croft was modelled something like this over the years until today.

The portrayal and imagery of Lara Croft has always been controversial. A 17 year debate has been raging on whether the Tomb Raider Games are sexist or feminist. Well, to be honest, it’s a bit of both. On one hand she is busty and unnaturally voluptuous in the most inappropriate attire for …um Tomb Raiding.  But on the other hand she breaks the ‘Damsel in Distress’ stereotype. She is a strong character, a master of Butt Kicking, performing death defying stunts, finding lost civilizations, killing T-Rexes riding her Ducati Monster on rooftops, snowy valleys, deserts, not thinking twice before emptying an entire magazine of bullets on villains and what not! The game was rebooted once in 2006 as Tomb Raider: Legend. The graphics became more realistic but all the core elements, gameplay and Lara Croft’s character remained the same. Such has been the impact of Lara Croft that another similar game for the PS3 Uncharted’s lead character Drake was nicknamed as ‘Dude Raider’ by the gaming community.

Enter 2013. The ‘Gamer’ demographic has changed from the predominantly teenage boys to a more diverse consumer base of mean average age 35 consisting of 47% Female gamers. The gaming ecosystem has changed. More strong female characters like ‘Faith’ from EA’s Mirror’s Edge was introduced. Big and  historically sexist franchises like Duke Nukem failed both commercially and critically. Simultaneously a long overdue reboot of Tomb Raider was echoed across the gaming community. Crystal Dynamics studio came up with a master reboot of Tomb Raider last March.

This is of just a graphics and story overhaul. In fact this game completely revisited the character, back story, origins and gameplay characteristics of Lara Croft. Tomb Raider 2013 feather a younger, more realistic and natural Lara Croft. Now she is not a out-and-out Tomb Raider but more of an academic and a wannabe adventurer. She is now an archaeology student whose biggest tryst with adventure till now has been  a backpacking trip across Bulgaria and a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro with her best friend Sam. She is just like any average tween; insecure, ambitious, scared and unsure. The game begins with an amazing cinematic sequence in which Lara Croft along with Sam, her godfather Roth and a few other friends sets out on her first big adventure to find the lost Japanese civilization on a ship named Endurance. Things get wrong when they are shipwrecked in the ‘Devil’s Triangle’ and stowed away on a mysterious island.

Lara, isolated from her group trying to regroup with her friend behaves like a real human being in a similar situation instead of a digitized game character. She is scared, she is shaken, she is tired and vulnerable  The Lost-esque island throws up horrifying secrets in regular intervals. The way she is confronted by the Island’s hostile residents is beautifully directed. Cornered, abused by the hostiles, she is forced to kill for the first time in her life. Powerful scene. Alone in the jungle, hungry and scared the way she kills deer for food and says sorry to the carcass shows the new human Lara Croft. In the initial action sequences, hiding behind cover with a new characteristics bow and arrow she pleads with her enemies that she doesn’t want to kill them. One of the best voice acting in recent memory. One of the very few games in which the facial emotions and full body movements are captured realistically. Slowly over the game battered by the situation and hardened by the hostile island her survival instincts kick in and she gradually turns into the Badass-in-Chief, Lara Croft is known for being. She turns from the cornered prey to the rescuer. By the end of the game her kill count is an amazing 443!

The game is painstakingly and beautifully directed. One scene where she has to climb a communication tower is tense and particularly intense. Tomb Raider 2013 likes to stay in the heat of action all the time; Is more shooter less platformer unlike the previous Tomb Raider titles. Even though a lot of puzzle elements have been replaced with action sequences, the game still feels richer than the previous titles. The story though is a done and dusted ‘seen it before’ kind of story, is presented beautifully. The game passes the Bechdel Test. It’s a test to identify gender bias in movies and games. Any game has to pass three criteria to pass this test.It as a pretty simple criteria. Two named female character converse with each other on a topic other than men. A surprisingly large number of movies fail this test including Avatar, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2! Also the Comic Con would be cut down to 45 mins from 5 days if passing the Bechdel Test was made a criteria to be eligible for the mega comics, game and movies gala event!

 Finally Crystal Dynamics manages to reinvent Lara Croft with Tomb Raider 2013 without unnecessarily sexing her up. Definitely the best Tomb Raider game till date.

Originally Posted in http://www.vrigu.in on 4/13/13.