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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Modern and Postmodern Philosophy

Modern and Postmodern philosophy
Coursera website - https://class.coursera.org/modernpostmodern-002/class/index
Teacher: Prof. Michael S. Roth
Wesleyan University


It was a conversation with Justin, few months back, which got me interested into this course. He had shared the course link and i was generally looking for something more academic in this area for quite some time. Instinctively I had signed up. Today marks the end of this 14 week journey, and i have enjoyed it immensely.

To the people who ask why study philosophy, my answer is simple - To understand what is philosophy, what is modern philosophy and what is postmodern? I had never posed the why this course question to myself because i knew very well that i was doing it just to satiate my curiosity.


Since i read Kant's essay on What is  Enlightenment, i was hooked. Last 14 weeks were spent planning everything around this course. To give you an idea, i was reading Madame Bovary on the flight from India to US, not a good idea in hindsight as i was sleep deprived and under a mild headache - not the best time to read Flaubert. Ankur and Somnath invited me to join them for an evening visit to a beautiful cave in Bentonville but i had to skip as i wanted to finish readings on Karl Marx. The 10 day Sikkim trek made me read two weeks of reading compressed in one week with assignment and the very first thing that i did on internet  after coming down to Yuksom was to check my assignment's grade.  Infact, on the way to Bagdogra, i was reading Emerson (oh, what a joy that was! ) and even tried to read Focault at Tshoka but that turned out to be a disaster. As of now, my Kindle is not working properly as it got wet while hiking in rain. I watched the lectures on  Virginia Woolf  from the food court of Garuda mall while waiting for Parul before going to the film - Lunch box. You might not believe but i had planned for that time slot three days in advance. It has been worth every effort.  It has been a joy, an informative experience.


Before i show-off what i have read, i want to record my thoughts on some of the key takeaways. In other words, beyond the curiosity argument, why should anyone take this course?

~ With every philosopher you read, you agree with some of their points and disagree with others. But there are some who just sweep you off your feet and provide such a radical view-point that you had not thought of before. This by itself would be a good enough reason - new perspectives and outlooks. But we are reading the best of philosophers and here, you  find yourself agreeing with their radical theory. Your mind says to you - "Indeed, this makes sense! whoa".  Each one has their own set of philosophers that has done this to them. For me, it happened with Nietzsche and Freud. There is also the opposite effect where you say - "Really, what trash is this. " For me, i would not call anything trash but i would say - "I beg to differ, agree to disagree. But it was good to know the counter viewpoint".  For me, the former case happened much more.

~ The other very important takeaway has been the method of delivery by these authors. While reading some sentences in their text, i was just floored by the way each thought was conveyed, how the right word was chosen and the kind of feeling it emoted once the sentence was over. In numerous cases, i had to just re-read a line just to fully appreciate the magnitude of its construction and effect. Particular examples here were Rousseau, Marx and Emerson.

~ Historical perspective : The course starts with authors writing in 18th century and ends with some of the contemporary philosophers. Even with a limited set of readings, one can witness the change in the kind of work that has been the focussed and how the society/culture of that decade or century had shaped their respective works. I am always fascinated by history and this course does a great job in providing historical perspectives.

~ To The Lighthouse, Madame Bovary : To The Lighthouse is ranked 15th in Modern's list of 100 books of all time. It was always there on my TODO list. The book deserves its place in that list. Madame Bovary is considered to be one of the greatest novel every written; it is also one of the most influential novels ever written. I took the Greek and Roman mythology course just because they were reading Odyssey. This course had two books. Jokes apart, both these books are phenomenal read.


~ Failed attempts - I had tried to read some essay of Nietzsche in past but had failed to make sense of him in any way. (It was not easy this time either, at least the first time.) I was never interested in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams but wanted to read something more significant by him. Kant, Darwin and Emerson were all dreams unfulfilled. So, this course presented an excellent opportunity to cover all of them in one go.

~Professor Michael S. Roth as the teacher is very good. His enthusiasm, passion is viral, you can not escape it. Also, his understanding and ability to break down these texts into simple terms and convey the "really real" (haha) makes it very easy to follow the course. Also, in general the coursera online course format is quite good.


Things that i read as part of this course, along with one line on key takeaway.

1. Immanuel Kant - What is Enlightenment?
A short essay that explains Kantian meaning of enlightenment and it can be said that it kickstarted the whole modern philosophy. Enlightenment especially Kant's definition is referred throughout the course by many others.

2. Jean Jacques Rousseau - Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.
He argues that all arts and sciences are bad, man should go back to the stone age and live peacefully there. A difficult read but Rousseau's language is brilliant. Difficult to agree with him.

3. Jean Jacques Rousseau - Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
I did not complete this one, it was too long for me.


4. Karl Marx - Estranged Labor.
Brilliant. This text shocked me as it was so right. I have to re-read it and keep it at the back of my mind.

5. Karl Marx - The Communist Manifesto.
Very very good. If i was born at that time, i would have believed in Communism. I agree with Marx's diagnosis but find his solution, aka communism, difficult to digest, in particular now as we have seen how it breaks down.

6. Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary
A dig at Romanticism, Enlightenment, bourgeoise and many others, all happening under a story that is equally enchanting.

7. Charles Darwin - Struggle for Existence and Natural Selection from The Origin of Species, and Conclusion from The Descent of Man.
Very informative read. The text is anyways cult, so another "Been there done that". What insights for that age!

8. Charles Baudelaire  - Paris Spleen.
Prose poems - a completely new form of literature for me. Felt like reading Gulzar in English; a lot of emphasis on imagery.

9. Friedrich Nietzsche - Essay 2 in Genealogy of Morals.
Radical thought but very well argued. What is even shocking is that i agree with his line of thinking. The other two essays are a must  read now.

10. Sigmund Freud - Civilization and its discontents
Again very radical. You may not agree with all his points but when you do, you know something about yourself that you didn't knew before.

11. Virginia Woolf - To the Lighthouse.
Absolutely brilliant - Has to be read again. The last five pages of Act 1 is one of the best pieces of literature ever written.

12. Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self-Reliance from the book Essays: First Series.
Pure joy to read. I am an Emerson fan from now on.

13. Ludwig Wittgenstein, - Selections from his book Philosophical Investigations.
His bio on wikipedia was equally interesting to his text. Changes how you see at language. I have to read again to get its full grasp.

14. Horkheimer and Adorno - Chapter 1 from Dialectics of Enlightenment.
Quite difficult to follow. A lot of tirades and then the meaning comes. But when it comes, it comes with shock, grief and doom.

15. Michel Foucault - The Great Confinement from the book Madness and Civilization.
Man, this is all crazy! Foucalt rips apart the prison system and calls it madness.

16. Michel Foucault - What is Enlightenment.
I have no idea what this text meant until i saw the video lectures. Very very difficult to follow him.

17. Alison Bechdel, Fun home - A tragicomic story.
A graphic novel + memoir combination. Though, it was an optional read, i read it. Enjoyed the story, and the graphics.  But not as good as the two other works of fiction in this course.

18. Judith Butler - Introduction from Undoing Gender.
First time read - Made no sense. Second time read - interesting. Third time read - She is so right! Again, very difficult to follow.

19. Slavoj Zizek - You May.
"A philosopher's job is not to find answers but to ask the right questions" - Zizek. A very interesting character and the text.

20. Richard Rorty - Postmodern Bourgeoise Liberalism from the book Pragmatism - A Reader.
Pragmatism by itself is an interesting take. Other essays should be read from this book.

21. Cornell West - Prophetic Pragmatism from Pragmatism - A Reader.
Very interesting. West also brings it under the religious context but in his own terms.

22. Bruno Latour - Why has critique run out of steam?
Starting under how republicans trash the global warming theory, a spectacular take on critique and  how it needs to progress so that it survives.

23. Anthony Appiah  - Cosmopolitan Contamination from the book Cosmopiltanism.
I didn't agree with some of his arguments on globalization but it was a still quite informative. Easy to follow.



Follow up readings -
(I am too afraid to start this list as it is a long one)

1. Nietzsche - The other two essays in Genalogy of Morals and his other writings.
2. Anthony Appiah - Finish the book Cosmopolitanism.
3. Pragmatist - A Reader. Read few more essays especially by Dewey and the one on justice.
4. John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. On my reading list for quite some time.
5. Some more essays by Zizek.  General curiosity here.
6. Couple of more essays from Foucault's Madness and civilization, just want to know how else we are mad.
7. Order, and Finish Paris Spleen by Baudelaire.
8. Finish Rousseau's discourse on inequality someday.
9. Want to read Joyce to get more of stream-of-consciousness.
10. To the Lighthouse has to be read but not anytime soon.





Sunday, October 27, 2013

Judith Butler : Undoing Gender

Undoing Gender: Introduction
By Judith Butler



The Hegelian tradition links desire with recognition, claiming that desire is always a desire for recognition and that it is only through the experience of recognition that any of us becomes constituted as socially viable beings

Indeed, the capacity to develop a critical relation to these norms presupposes a distance from them, an ability to suspend or defer the need for them, even as there is a desire for norms that might let one live. The critical relation depends as well on a capacity, invariably collective, to articulate an alternative, minority version of sustaining norms or ideals that enable me to act. If I am someone who cannot be without doing, then the conditions of my doing are, in part, the conditions of my existence.
I may feel that without some recognizability I cannot live. But I may also feel that the terms by which I am recognized make life unlivable. This is the juncture from which critique emerges, where critique is understood as an interrogation of the terms by which life is constrained in order to open up the possibility of different modes of living; in other words, not to celebrate difference as such but to establish more inclusive conditions for sheltering and maintaining life that resists models of assimilation. 

I believe, however, that it would be a mistake to subscribe to a progressive notion of history in which various frameworks are understood to succeed and supplant one another. There is no story to be told about how one moves from feminist to queer to trans. The reason there is no story to be told is that none of these stories are the past; these stories are continuing to happen in simultaneous and overlapping ways as we tell them. They happen, in part, through the complex ways they are taken up by each of these movements and theoretical practices.

Indeed, individuals rely on institutions of social support in order to exercise self-determination with respect to what body and what gender to have and maintain, so that self-determination becomes a plausible concept only in the context of a social world that supports and enables that exercise of agency. Conversely (and as a consequence), it turns out that changing the institutions by which humanly viable choice is established and maintained is a prerequisite for the exercise of self-determination. 

The critique of gender norms must be situated within the context of lives as they are lived and must be guided by the question of what maximizes the possibili- ties for a livable life, what minimizes the possibility of unbearable life or, indeed, social or literal death.

Gender likewise figures as a precondition for the production and maintenance of legible humanity.

The point is emphatically not to extend the “right to life” to any and all people who want to make this claim on behalf of mute embryos, but rather to understand how the “viability” of a woman’s life depends upon an exercise of bod- ily autonomy and on social conditions that enable that autonomy.

There is always a dimension of ourselves and our relation to others that we cannot know, and this not-knowing persists with us as a condition of existence and, indeed, of survivability.
Norms do not exercise a final or fatalistic control, at least, not always. The fact that desire is not fully determined corresponds with the psychoanalytic understanding that sexuality is never fully captured by any regulation. Rather, it is characterized by displacement, it can exceed regulation, take on new forms in response to regulation, even turn around and make it sexy. In this sense, sexuality is never fully reducible to the “effect” of this or that operation of regulatory power. 





Horkheimer and Adorno: Dialectic of Enlightenment

Dialectic of Enlightenment
Chapter 1: The concept of enlightenment
By Horkheimer and Adorno



Their entire premise is "Enlightenment is totalitarian"



The “unshakable confidence in the possibility of controlling the world” which Freud anachronistically attributes to magic applies only to the more realistic form of world domination achieved by the greater astuteness of science. 

Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown. This has determined the path of demythologization, of enlightenment, which equates the living with the nonliving as myth had equated the nonliving with the living. Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized


Not only is the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century inex- orable, as Hegel confirmed; so, too, as none knew better than he, is the movement of thought itself. The lowest insight, like the highest, contains the knowledge of its distance from the truth, which makes the apologist a liar. The paradox of faith degenerates finally into fraud, the myth of the twentieth century* and faith’s irrationality into rational organization in the hands of the utterly enlightened as they steer society toward barbarism.


For enlightenment is totalitarian as only a system can be. Its untruth does not lie in the analytical method, the reduction to elements, the decomposition through reflection, as its Romantic enemies had maintained from the first, but in its assumption that the trial is prejudged.


The curse of irresistible progress is irresistible regression.

The powerlessness of the workers is not merely a ruse of the rulers but the logical consequence of industrial society, into which the efforts to escape it have finally trans- formed the ancient concept of fate.
 








Monday, October 14, 2013

Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essays - First Series : Self Reliance
By Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self Reliance is an essay that overlaps a lot  with my value system. It was an eye opening exercise to read it and my respect for Emerson has only grown stronger.  Here are a few of the lines, but in reality, the whole essay is not too long and it deserves to be read, re-read, at least once every year. (You can read it here - http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm )

There comes a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given him to till.

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.


Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it i contradict everything you said to-day. - 'Ah, so you shall be misunderstood.' - Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. 
(Now, i know where Sorkin draws his inspiration from :) ) 


I would stand here for humanity, and though i would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom and trade and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. 


Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

Power is, in nature, the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. 


If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams itfarms itpeddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly, and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands.


Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength.
And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature. Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental, — came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it away. But that which a man is does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes 






To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf

I do not think that one can do justice to a book like To the Lighthouse based on mere one reading. I also do not think that it makes any sense to read it again back to back, although the temptation to do is quite strong in my case. The book has already started calling me and i know, after sometime, as the call grows louder, i will have to answer it.  At the moment, i would like to just pen down a few thoughts that have been lingering with me since i had read this book.

The stream-of-consciousness style of writing is highly inventive and even with no action, it is amazing to read it. So much goes in our minds between two eye blinks. One goes and sits at a beach staring at the waves, or one just strains his neck to stare at Mt. Pandim at 7000 meters, nothing moves, yet our thoughts are active. To capture what those thoughts are and to present them in a way it has been done in To The Lighthouse, it is a great work of art.

The ending of first act is few of the best pages written ever. I had to read it twice, back to back, just to confirm that my thought imagery was correct. Poetic.

The second act is highly creative in its own way. It feels Homeric as each depiction ends with a factual event. But the act comes without any announcement. It is like a lullaby has ended and next thing we are listening to Requiem for a dream - you will not complain for either tracks but will not place them next to each other.

I am still not clear on symbolisms in the third act. For me, it was just few more pages to enjoy the style. And what a style it is. The first two acts alone justify that the book has to be in Modern's top 100 list.

This book was read as part of the Modern and Post Modern course. What is "really" real? Thats what the Modernist wanted to address, each in their own manner. Woolf's style is a perfect answer to such a question.




Sunday, October 13, 2013

Goechala trek: Sept 28-Oct 7

Complete Trek details - http://www.goechala.com/complete-trek-details.html
Organized by IndiaHikes

Can you plan a trek in mist? Will you intentionally go on a hike in rain? Rain and mist are great to encounter for a day or two but if they persist then not only it gets physically difficult but the dampness enters many a hearts. The inability to see beyond a few feet, what lies beyond those trees, when the sky is rendered grey continuously, the blindness enters into the soul. But for people like us, mist and rain offers a unique experience, a new depth in solitude, new powers of observation and a deep appreciation of beauty that surrounds us.

With every trek, we discover who we are, what we really want both during the trek and in general with out life. Goechala trek will be remembered for many reasons but foremost of them would be "Why we trek?"

Goechala trek started off quite on a low-key note. Our flight was delayed and the distance from Bagdogra to Yuksom on that road-less road took forever. But  my first disappointment came when i discovered that the base camp at Yuksom was in a lodge with proper beds instead of tents. I was hoping for a complete natural experience after reaching Yuksom, just like what we had when we were at Sonamarg. But, this feeling quickly turned into elation knowing the fact that there will be beds once we descend down after the trek.  The other awesome thing that happened was meeting Altaf at Yusom. Altaf had stayed with IndiaHikes and got promoted from a local Kashmir guide to a proper trek lead and it was a pleasant surprise to see him there.


One of the first realization that dawned on me, it did take me three days to understand it completely, is that it is a futile experiment to compare this trek to Kashmir Great Lakes trek. 9 of us from a group of 20 had debuted our trekking experience on the Kashmir Great Lakes last year. This was our second experience. It takes little time for it to settle down but later one realizes that it is unlikely that we are going to get a trail as beautiful, as diverse, as 'natural', as we had witnessed last year. Once this realization sets in, one starts to accept this trail like any other natural one and then the appreciation goes up. It is indeed shameful to say that one nature is beautiful than the other nature but comparison is definitely ingrained in us.

Day 1 was a short trek to Sachen. The hanging bridges on Prekchu river with prayer flags, natural waterfalls flowing casually next to our trails, trees surrounding us and a distant sight of all those mountains to cross, and togetherness of a new group trying to understand one another, all in all it was a perfect setup to begin the trek.

Mist surrounded us in the evening and next day, as we were about to leave for Tshoka, we saw a body being brought down, carried on 4 shoulders, a man had passed away  due to AMS(Acute Mountain syndrome) and mist had been around us since then. Mist covered most of our trail to Bhakkim but hot soups and coffee at near 10000 feet was welcome. Bhakkim to Yuksom was a short walk but it was made memorable by thin drizzle. It felt that mountains were welcoming us.

At Tshoka, a visit to local monastery reminded us of the slow pace of life in tiny villages. Monastery was growing older yet it still had the charm and serenity of an old grandmother, experience and poise of grandfather. Views of Tshoka from the monastery forced me to just sit there and appreciate time as it goes, second by second. That night, we just sat under the cloudy sky and sang songs after songs.  Big thanks to Mustafa, Yunis and Milind for making the night on what it was.

Tshoka to Dzongri was announced to be a tough day in advance. With 3400 feet in elevation gain, it was indeed physically challenging but i was ready for it. With adequate breaks, it didn't felt that bad. Phetang,  midway between Tshoka and Dzongri was our introduction to flatland in Sikkim. Our perseverance was saluted by clouds as they parted for few mins allowing hot Sun to shine on us at 12000 feet. A quick nap under this piercing Sun was enough to recharge my batteries and the extra dose of vitamin D must have some energy component as well. But the happiness was short-lived and it would be the last time i would see the Sun in next 5 days.

Dzongri at 13000 feet was cold and clouded completely in mist, even the local peak was not visible. Yashwant, my tent-mate had AMS fear and that forced us to be outside the tent and helped a lot in acclimatization. The plan to go to Dzongri (meaning the meeting place between man and mountain Gods) top at 3:30 am was cancelled because of low visibility. Mist was quite dense and it was decided to spend the day at Dzongri hoping for it to clear up. The Lamuney day only had a 2 hr walk, so we technically had an extra day at hand. The day was spent in rounds and rounds of Mafia along with a short nearby hike.

Various theories were being offered at this point for reasons behind the mist as it was unusual for this time. One such was that mist and rains are a way of mountains cleansing itself from the death that had happened couple of days ago. Prayers were being offered to Juniper, a small bush found there, for the weather to boom. Stones were stacked one on of top of another as it was believed that it brings good luck. Amidst all this, Nikesh and I were discussing on why atheists feel sorry for believers.

Day 5 started again on a down note as the hike to Dzongri top was again cancelled as the mist had not cleared up. But we decided to push on to Lamuney through rain and cold. The trail was one of the best of the trek and i was lost in it. "Ramta jogi, main ramta jogi" and Ship of Theseus' prayer "Naham Janami" stayed in my ears. I was high. Kokchurang, an in-between stop, had amazing views next to the Prekchu river. The trail from Kokchurang was stony and practically on the river bed. It was amazing. We reached Thansing and we were cold and wet but our spirits were at an all time high.

It is at Thansing that everything changed. The plan to head on to Lamuney was cancelled as per the local information that Lamuney would be very cold, double the cold compared to Thansing. Thansing also had trekker's hut while Lamuney would have meant camping inside tents. IndiaHikes tents leaked in rain, so it was another cause of concern. A mini-war broke out between people who wanted to move on while others who wanted to stay. The true question was whether we would be able to reach the Goechala pass or not if we stay here. Many knew the answer to be negative but no-one was willing to spell it out. What is the point going to such an high pass if there are no views, just to see the mist? What is the point of camping in such cold when there are trekker's hut available?
The fundamental question in all different conversations was what do one expect from this trek? In other words why do we trek? Some of us had shared their thoughts explicitly - to see Mt. Kanchenjunga from16K feet, that is why they had signed up. Some wanted to see snow covered peaks, some wanted to break away from their routine while others wanted to relax.

Why do we trek?
It is such an important question. I had some vague ideas on it but i had never really duelled myself on this question. Why was i trekking? What is the point in walking on trees, carrying a 10KG load, living in cold and wet conditions? Isn't life meant to be enjoyed ? It was there, at 13000 feet that i got my answer.
I trek to be one with nature, to be one with myself. To have time for self is something that takes effort to put in our schedules. I trek to enjoy the natural beauty, the beauty in trees, beauty of time untouched in those forests or in those peaks. I trek to feel the unpolluted earth, to drink the pure water, to breathe the fresh air, to listen to the breeze or rain drops, to gaze at stars. All this relaxes me. Walking on my own, silently, carrying that 10+ kg backpack, walking in a rhythmic fashion, my breath following a rhythmic structured pattern is a complete meditative experience. To wake up and see natural beauty as your first thing of the day gives a joy that is unmatched. Above all, i do not know what people mean by inner peace, but i am confident that whatever it is, i carry that feeling during the trek. There is always a calmness that stays within me, a feeling of contentment, satisfaction with happiness. Yes, i trek to experience all of this.

Plus, i am also aware of the side-effects, in a good way. I like the challenge as well, the ability to survive cold weather, to ascent higher and higher, to push the limits of our bodies, all these are welcome.  To participate in a technology-detox program, a largely self-imposed one is again something that is welcomed. To make new friends, new conversations, and new perspectives, all this are nice side-effects.


We stayed at Thansing that night and trekked till Samiti lake the next day. On the way we stopped at Lamuney where the caretaker there served us hot orange juice free of charge. This was the first time i had tasted hot orange juice and its taste will be remembered for quite some time. The trail again was a delight with very mild ascents. Samiti lake was serene and at 14,100 feet, it was the top most point of the trek. We came back to Kokchurang that day and stayed at the Trekker's hut there.

On Day 7, the trail from Kokchurang to Phetang was another unexpected treat. It was a bed of fallen maple leaves all throughout, it reminded me so much of the Redwood forests in California. I was overjoyed. It was a long one as well and rains again gave us company. It was slippery and couple of slips has forced me to buy a new one for my next trek. Phetang to Tshoka was a downhill but a light drizzle gave us nice company. It went down and down and i was surprised with myself that we had trekked this trail up 3 days ago. Green leaves and smell of natural earth is all what i recall now from the trail.

The local guides in both this and the previous trek were simply amazing. They would always be smiling and while cooking, they always used to sing local folk songs and that too in chorus. The food on the entire trip was excellent. This trek food included pancakes, more coffee than last one and Alu pudi -  that was a sheer treat. Day 7 night-time, being the last night, was celebrated with a cake, made in cooker, for it was Harsha's birthday. It was followed by song singing and after sometime, the locals joined with their Dohori songs. Without any meaning, any clue on what it is about, it was still a treat.

Day 8, from Tshoka to Yusom was covered in little bit hurry. People were really anxious to head back home, i guess. At the border of the Kachenjunga park, it started to rain heavily. What a fitting end to a rainy trek, i thought. So i hiked the last 30 mins in complete rain without any raincoat. Raindrops were not that cold and stony trail guaranteed good grip, aka no slippage. I was completely drenched, head to toe, water dripped from my forehead like a leaking tap. It was a lot of fun. A fitting end to an awesome trek.

A hot bath at Yuksom drove away all the tiredness. A big tumbler of Chhang, a local mild warm alcoholic beverage, was exactly what was needed. We ate fillings of chats and random food at the Gupta point in downtown Yuksom market. The next day, drive to Siliguri was done via Darjeeling where we took the ropeway. It was completely touristy and felt out of place to do it after coming from a  trek. Next 36 hrs were spent in having all kinds of different food :)

Before i stop this writeup, the trek experience documentation would be incomplete without mentioning Pranay and Yashwant. It was their first trek and neither had been north of Mumbai in their entire life before this. Their fresh perspective on many things, comic banter, and in general the hundreds of conversations that  resulted in stomach hurting laughters, even in days when everyone around was little down, was a key highlight for us. A big thank you from my side.


Trek's photos can be viewed here - https://plus.google.com/photos/104532372595633553382/albums/5933709132346843921