Thursday, September 14, 2006

Japan II: Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji:

My admiration for the Japanese will never cease to increase! I told my manager at work that I want to climb! Next thing I know he has the entire itinerary planned for me..charted out in an excel sheet with colour coding!! wow!! beat that!!

Divya, had to leave to India on a short business trip, in any case she said she had vertigo and so wouldnt be able to climb with me. Two of her friends were to go with me and thanks to my manager we had everything arranged and charted out :)

Left Tokyo, Shinjuku station, by regular train and reached Kawaguchiko. Kawaguchiko is one of the 5 big lakes at the base of Mt. Fuji. Quaint town, couldnt see much of it though. We had purchased passes that were supposed to cover all travel from Shinjuku to Fuji and back. However for whatever reason the bus driver from Kawaguchiko to Fuji refused to accept the tickets. Ran back to the station got tickets and ran back thankfully the guy was waiting for us..something unusual given their punctuality routines.

The idea was to take this bus to the 5th station on Mt. Fuji (The last by road) and start trekking from there, reach 8th station, stay for the night, wake up early the next morning (3 ish) and trek the last portion to the summit to watch the sunrise.

The 5th station is at approximately 2000 metres elevation, about 50% up the mountain. Similarly the 8th is about 80% high up the mountain. If you did a little bit of math you would have guessed the peak is approx 4000 metres above sea level..about half the height of Mt.Everest.

While at the 5th station I couldnt resist buying Japanese mochi acquired taste that I acquired back at Stanford :)

Started the climb at 2pm approximately. Luckily for us the weather was co-operative. Clouds sheltered us from the sun's heat while at the same time refraining from pouring water down on us (meaning rain). The sights were awesome..beautiful..lava slide zones (for lack of a better name) of black sandy volcanic soil, interspersed with lovely green strips of windswept trees..gorgeous.

As I climbed, the clouds blocked my view as I was pretty much walking through clouds. Visibility at times was about 10 to 20 feet in all directions. At one point, all of a sudden the cloud moved (or maybe I moved out of it) and the view it offered was amazing! Golden light from the setting sun illuminated the endless expanse of snowwhite clouds..the blackish brown bare mountain sloping down into the clouds..patches of bright green standing out on the black slope..people climbing up silhoutted against the blue sky with the clouds beneath them looked like they were walking on the bed of clouds! I wish! Many times I felt like I could take a running leap into the fluffy snowy bed and bounce around happily on it :)

Anyways, with nature flashing these beautiful sights at me once again I felt humbled, insignificant - a non-entity in front of the powerful force called nature, called God, called by any name you want, the effect is the same.

The climb was very challenging, as I got closer to the 8th station, for the first time in my life I started feeling the effects of alititude (When in Peru, on the Inca trek, I was at 4,200 metres and had felt nothing except maybe more than normal bouts of breathlessness as I had climbed). Here I could actually feel slight grogginess, slowed circulation, reduced blood supply to all the far parts of the body - brain, hands, feet. I had to keep opening and closing my palms to boost circulation, to get rid of thepins and needles effect. Might sound weird but I was happy..I was happy I was experiencing this new funny phenomenon which I had missed out on in Peru :)

Took many pictures on the way..all sorts of poses, trying to capture all sorts if effects..Divya's friend Suhas had an awesom camera (a lot like Praveen's) and that helped. I didnt have to fish out mine every time ;)

Kept remembering family and friends and how much each one of them would have liked to see and be a part of the sights..I pray to God and wish sincerely that I can redo and do many more travels with all of them! Please God!

Got to the 8th station at about 8.00pm and was ready to collapse!

The concept of the stations works like this - Each station has a few "huts" or "cottages" all lined along the path leading to the peak. We stopped at the last hut of the 8th station which we had reservations for. I was super happy to get rid of the load on my back, get off my shoes and bend over double backwards stretching every cramped muscle! I had taken some Indian ready-to-eat baingan bharta with me with a few tortillas (mexican chappatis), all of which I had gotten with me from the US. Shared it around, had a good meal and rested my back for a few hours.

Started trekking again at 2.00am the next day. A relentless stream of trekkers spanned the trail all the way up to the peak. Some of who were trekking non-stop to the peak! God bless them! This was the toughest portion of the climb. Packed in warm fleeces, two trousers on, a pair of gloves, two pairs of socks it was not the easiest attire to climb wearing. Only relief was that the backpack felt a little lighter in comparison to the previous day. After climbing for a short distance (stopping every 10 steps) I decided to strip down to my thin comfortable shirt, tied the jacket and fleece around my waist and started climbing. People were surprised if not shocked to see me in a sleeveless top climbing with cold clouds swirling around me. But surprisingly this step improved my progress I found myself walking double the distance (not much just 20 steps maybe) before feeling like a rest. I even came up with an explanation for the same - Exposing my body to the cold drove the blood supply to the inner organs, away from the surface. That gave them more oxygen and my heart pumped better too, so I could climb more without getting breathless so often. But there came a point when oxygen or no-oxygen the sorroundings became so cold i had to get back into my jacket atleast. So I did.

The last 20 minutes or so of the approximately 3 hr climb were the most agonizing. My mp3 player helped though..Had only one earphone in place, the other year was reserved to hear the sounds of the mountain :) I must have stopped God knows how many times in that brief period..few times I thought maybe I wont make it..but still I kept going..reaching the peak was a super duper relief!!

Next step was to find a good spot to settle down and wait for Suryadeva to provide darshana. Climbed a few more metres to get to a good spot and settled down for good. Man, was it cold!! No one wanted to get the camera out as it meant taking hands out of their warm pocket-nests.

When he did come Suryadeva made a glorious entrance on his chariot drawn by 12 white horses, each one distinctly silhoutted against the morning sky!! What a sight!!

Hehe..Everything true except for the chariot and the horses :)

It was divine indeed! I bowed to the glory of nature, to suryadeva the harbinger of another beautiful day on planet earth and started back down to the base, or rather to the 5th station.

The walk, or I should say slide, back took about 4 hours. It was amazingly hard on my legs. The track was just a steep zig-zagging line of loose volcanic soil and gravel. Slipped and fell a couple times before reaching flat ground.

5th station was a super duper welcome sight!!

I was so sore all over, I couldnt wait to get to the hot springs!!

So next in the story is the Japanese hot spring.

Japan being a volcanic island has multitudes of natural hot springs all over the island. They come is all sizes, shapes and with varying views. The one I took was indoors, though I would have preferred one with a lovely view (Hopefully next time).

The hot spring culture is very unique in Japan. The water from the springs is tempered (cooled) and fed to the baths (like public roman baths). The visitor to the spring first has to wash herself in the shower (japanese style shower) and then enter the steaming bath (more than 40 degrees Celcius). Soak for about 20 minutes, visit the steam and the suana if she wants. Go back and have a shower, clean herself with soap shampoo and whatever she wants. Get back into the hot water bath and soak for 20 minutes again. Get out, dry herself and get dressed. Thus the minerals and salts from the bath will not be washed away.

The highlight though is that most traditional baths require you to be naked!!!!

Luckily for me I was alone and that made things a lot easier :)

The springs have high medicinal value, they soothe your body, relax your muscles, improve complexion and heal skin cracks.

I was surprised to see the next day that my heel which had been uber-rough (not cracked, but rough) was completely smooth!! So was my skin!! Wow! I have to make another trip before I leave Japan!

Congratulations to those of you who have stayed with me till the end of this long story :)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Everything happened in less than a weeks time!

There I was trying to get a GMIX (Global Immersion Experience - A short 4 week internship in a country other than the US and my home country, India) in South Africa in a game reserve. That ofcourse would have been phenomenal if I had secured it, but then, what I managed to get is no less either!

So getting back to my story. There I was trying to figure out what to do for the last 4 weeks of my holidays - GMIX, backpacking, nation-hopping. Of course the secondary aspect was money..theoritically those 3 were my grand plans :D, not God's grace, things worked, and worked well, in a manner conducive to my needs - academic and otherwise - and I managed to land myself an internship with Sony Corp.'s PSBG group in Japan. Mind you, there are many un-sorted elements of this internship still pounding me, but then I am here and thats what matters for now!

So back to my story again..Thursday morning I got approval from all quarters - Sony Japan - Management and team, Sony Pictures USA - Management and HR. By afternoon I had to get my documents in order, book tickets and apply for a visa. I did all of that and then came the waiting and sorting period. Waiting for my visa while simulatenously sorting logistics of my stay in Tokyo and my winding up from LA. Come Tuesday I got my visa, come Wednesday I was supposed to fly out of LA!

Unlike the real myself I had packed most of my stuff well in advance on Friday itself and over the weekend (when I was supposed to drop some stuff off at anna's in SF) I even managed a trip to Yosemite! (Ofcourse this was the only option as anna and co were all going to Yosemite for the weekend). Anyways that done, back Monday I realize I am out of luggage space and need a big duffel bag or something for the rest of my stuff. Monday and Tuesday were so busy at work, not to mention laden with crucial meetings and a farewell dinner, that despite a visit to the local Target enroute to one of the meetings, I wasnt successful in finding myself a bag! Sup and Prav became my walky-talky GPSes and helped me locate the nearest Target and Walmart stores which I was supposed to visit first thing Wednesday morning to buy whatever they had to offer or say goodbye to some of my belongings!

Anyways Wednesday..8 I was in the nearest Target (managed to read reviews, select two target Targets (one for backup), note directions and drive all the way) whatever bag was available..drove back in rush hour traffic (reached 9.15)..dumped everything into my new bag..rushed to the car rental place(10.10)..the nice man there had agreed to give me a ride to the airport..exercised great restraint from urging my spanish speaking driver to whiz through traffic and signals..finally, slowly and steadily (my driver's style) reached the airport(10.45)..not bad time eh..but flight was at 1.15 and international flights i was told required me to check in 3 hrs before departure. With 2.5hrs left I was positive I will be sent back! Somehow I suitacase was over the limit by 6 kilos..the other was below limit by 4 kilos..i was checked in with a warning to be withing limits next time..meanwhile the man at the counter obligingly helped me get a last minute asian vegetarian meal option..coz it was only at the counter i realized i was flying Japan airlines and chances of a veggie meal were close to nil unless on prior request! Thankfully the sweet man didnt want me to starve on the plane, though secretly he might have thought that would do me some good. Got to the some dollars exchanged for yen..boarded the plane and whew! whew! whew! My first bit of relaxation in almost a week!

Uneventful plane journey..JAL TV options were boring, thankfully I had my Dan Brown to keep me company. Oh! Yes! The seat next to me was! That meant extra room extra comfort, less clastrophobic :)

Reached Japan with my two mostrosities (suitcase and duffel bag)..apparently my plane landing timed exactly with a minor earthquake 4 to 5 Richter..maybe I should have starved on the plane. Anyways there I was in Tokyo at last..but then I realized I was asked to take the local train to my hotel in Tokyo and there was no way in hell I could get on and off two trains with my monstrosities!

Thankfully for me, and for a reason (taxis being unreasonably expensive), Tokyo airports have a luggage delivery system where for $20 to $50 depending on your destination the luggage will reach your apartment the next day. In comparison Taxi would have cost $250 to $300!

Thus, I started Tokyo experience. People here are super helpful..few speak fluent English, but mime and desperate gestures help convey messages. People are super polite and super rule abiding! Man! They are the ideal race! A lady at the final destination actually walked me 5min to my hotel, which was totally in the opposite direction to where she was headed, just because she couldnt give me directions in English! I was impressed and thankful of course!

The hotel room..simple, sparse, efficient, with every amenity needed..including slippers, bathrobe, toothbrush, paste and even disposable razors!! The highlight though was the toilet!! Yes..the toilet!! My first experience of an electronic toilet!! The toilet had an electric panel with a heater to heat the seat, a deodorizer and of course button-press-flush....but the highlight though was a water jet/spray to actually was your 'undersides' (or whatever you want to call it)..The facility has two options - jet and spray - to clean the respective part of your undersides depending on what you used the toilet for!! Cant get myself to be more elaborate than this..I apologize.

Man that toilet panel made me realize I had arrived at the gadget capital of the world!! Japan!! My visit to Akihabara the Electronics mecca, confirmed the same!!

Amazing country. Working here is a fantastic experience! Living and travelling are added priceless bonuses!

More on Japan to follow..

BTW..I forgot to mention..Monday, I attended my first ever live concert, Beyonce - from Destiny's Child, her birthday concert, for free, through Sony Music :) It was grand! :)

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon:

My first glimpse - unforgettable, magical, mind numbing, made me speechless, most importantly made me feel insignificant!! Yes, insignificant, totally!! I was a mere fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a blink in the life of the Grand Canyon. If I am so with the Grand Canyon, just imagine what I am in relation to this universe..nothing..not even worth these last few words!!!!

Here we are strutting around the surface of this planet proclaiming ourselves to be the most precious entities in this universe. Every thing in the world exists to meet our needs. We have the power to bend and tame nature. Man the inventor, is the dictator of this universe!

Hah!! Man if anything, is a mere discoverer. And the biggest discovery he is yet to make, the eternal truth, is that he is a complete non-entity in the grand scheme of the cosmos!

I can only imagine what amusement it would be to watch us human beings from a level above..see us behaving like we run the universe..when in reality we probably do not even run our own lives!!

The thought brings a smile to my face :)

But nevertheless this very attitude of man is probably what is keeping him going. Because it is that feeling of supremacy that gives man a sense of purpose in life..without which the desire to live might be lost..leading eventually to a failure of the design of the cosmos itself.

Hmm...confusing eh.. Yeah, I guess it is. I know I might be sounding like a crazy philosopher..but then this blog is my little attempt to lay out my own that I can see them clearly myself and try to make sense out of them. How much sense they make, I do not know yet..but eventually I am sure they will. Until blog has a purpose and it shall exist..:)