Sunday Apr 06, 2008

Wayanad ... again !

Our second team trip to Wayanad. With good memories of our past trip, we left on a bright beautiful Saturday morning in a Force Traveller which we had hired to transport us during this trip. Some members of the team had'nt visited Wayanad and so our plans were to cover two of the same places we visited last time viz. Muthanga wild life sanctuary and Edakkal caves. The other place we planned to visit was Soojipara falls. We intended to stay at the same place we stayed the last time.

The journey was great which was not unexpected considering the group I was with. We stopped for break fast at Tiffany's on the Bangalore - Mysore highway. We reached Wayanad in the afternoon and decided to have lunch at Sultanbathery town. After a nice & heavy lunch, we went to visit the Muthanga sanctuary. 

Our experience of Muthanga, the last time around was not too great since we did'nt really get to see much wild life. Of course, last time we did encounter some deer and foxes. We were now hoping to do better and off we went. We were allowed to do the safari using our vehicle instead of hiring the jeeps (vehicles normally used for safaris and can be hired at the entrance of the wild life sanctuary). Just as we entered the sanctuary, we smelt something burning and within seconds our entire vehicle was engulfed in thick white smoke. We managed to open the doors and rush out - apparently the vehicle's electricals were fried, but not completely. Interesting experience indeed ! Couple of us trekked back to the entrance of the sanctuary to hire a couple of jeeps (should've done that in the first place, probably !) while the driver of our vehicle was trying to figure out the extent & nature of damage. We hired two jeeps and resumed our safari, leaving our vehicle's driver to get the vehicle fixed.

With fingers crossed, off we went - our cameras were on and ready to capture any trace of wild life which crossed our path. A short while into the trip we encountered a wild elephant that looked pretty dangerous. The drivers of the jeeps we were traveling in did not stop and continued lest the elephant get into a playful mood with us. After a while we took a less traveled path inside the jungles and stopped in a clearing. Apparently there was some wild animals at a distance. Straining our eyes, we could see a bison and some deer far away. This was one time i wished i had a camera with better optical zoom (my point and shoot had just 3x optical zoom which seemed woefully inadequate here).

We resumed our journey and met a group of tourists who were returning from their safari and we stopped them to ask if they had sighted any animals. The forest guide in that vehicle said that a tiger had crossed their path a little while ago. The first thought that passed my mind was he probably must've been hallucinating or making things up to raise the levels of our curiosity. Ok, its not that there are no tigers here, there supposedly are tigers and i don't deny that. But the possibility of sighting of tigers during the day (considering my past experiences here plus conversations with some of the folks around) seem akin to sighting of large pools of cool fresh water in the middle of the Sahara desert during noon.

Anyways, giving them the benefit of doubt we set forth on our endeavor to sight the large cat, or at the very least some other wild denizens of these forests. We reached a large clearing next to a placid pool of water in the midst of the jungle. Parking the jeeps there we wandered around the place and took a few pictures. I must admit, the scenery was beautiful.  After loitering around for sometime, we left again and after traveling some distance we saw some deer and another elephant in the distance. Soon, we returned and completed our safari.

The one thing to note when compared to the last visit, was the timing ... last time it rained and there was a lot of lush greenery plus water everywhere. The scenery looked very beautiful. Forests in the rain are beautiful indeed ! This time it was summer and things looked a little dry. The open vehicles we traveled in kicked up clouds of dust that required some of us to cover our noses ... makes me feel that visiting the place when there's a light rain would be better. Anyways, it was a refreshing experience for us city dwellers.

After Muthanga we took the jeeps to Sultanbathery town to catch up with our driver who was getting our vehicle repaired. The vehicle would need some more tinkering and could take some more time to be ready. So, we went walking around town in smaller groups of two-three members. I had a bit of shopping to do too. By this time the vehicle was ready and we left to the resort where we would be spending the night. Its about 10 kms from town and after a nice drive, we reached the place. After a bit of freshening and relaxing we decided to start our evening and night activities on the lawns of the resort. There was a lot of food and drinks going around. The amount of energy in the team needed to be seen to be believed. We had a lot of fun; we tried our hand at playing mid-night volleyball (using a very light but large plastic ball) which turned out to be very entertaining, followed by other group activities ... all of these fun activities had made folks hungry and after a real nice dinner we ... continued our interesting activities ... by early morning (1:30 - 2 AM ish) we decided to call it a day and grab some shut eye.

Woke up early on Sunday morning and after some folks had a splash in the pool, literally speaking ... we bid adieu to the resort and began the rest of our tour. Our first pit stop was the hotel in Sultanbathery town for breakfast. After a typical Kerala style breakfast, off we went to our first destination, Edakkal caves. Some of us, me included, had seen this place earlier. However all of us were game to go see it again, for the benefit of the folks in our group who had'nt seen this place.

The trip to Edakkal requires parking your vehicle at a designated parking spot and then going up to the entrance of the caves, where you purchase tickets for your entry into the caves. However, one thing to note is the journey to the entrance of the caves can be very tiring and exhausting especially if you are'nt the regular trekking enthusiast or marathon runner types. Ok, i was probably exaggerating that a bit, but not too much. What I would advise is for folks to hire a jeep (again the same kind of vehicle we used for our safari). Yes, thats the only vehicle that seems qualified to do this uphill journey to the entrance of the caves. There are jeeps for hire a little distance further from the parking slots and you'd be advised to conserve your energy and hire these vehicles. Of course, if your plan is to only visit Edakkal all day and don't plan to go around anywhere else, then walking all the way up is probably a good idea.

However, to save time and energy, hop on a jeep and if you are lucky, you'll get a jeep driver who's gonna treat you to an experience that can leave your adrenalin pumping ! Yep, some of the drivers in this area make me think these guys really wanted to participate in Formula 1 racing, yet due to some unfortunate circumstances probably ended up here driving jeeps on these narrow mountain paths and boy they sure can make the roller coaster ride seem like a drive in the park ! ... again., depends on the driver you get. One of the jeeps we hired (the one I was traveling in) had this young driver who appeared before us with tyres screeching to a halt and beckoning us to get on board for an exciting ride ahead ! ... our expectations were not belied and off we went with wheels spinning wildly on rock and gravel via narrow paths upto the entrance of the caves.

When we reached the entrance we saw a large number of tourists. Looks like weekends and holidays can get to be very crowded. Once you purchase tickets, you then make your way up to the caves. The cave area is a little spacious and you can see inscriptions made by the Neandrathal man. We took pictures, savored the scenery and crowds! and left the place. On our return from the caves, we again took the jeeps down to the base of the mountain, a little distance from where we'd parked our vehicles. The visit was good and the scenery plus views are very good. Crowds were a little too much and seemed very much like traffic back home, on the roads of Bangalore. Not sure if this is a regular weekend phenomenon. During our last visit the place was not crowded. By the looks of it, it seems this place is getting to be fairly popular with the average tourist ... what with man's quest to see what his ancestors have been upto !

We set off to our next destination, Soojipara falls. In summer we did'nt expect much water though. Anyways, at Soojipara we need to trek a little distance to reach the water falls. The walking path is well laid out for most of the distance and could take about 15 - 30 mins depending on the walking speed. Carrying drinking water is very much advisable since walking during noon / afternoon times can be pretty hot and tiring. However, with our group, the fun quotient is pretty high and we spent a lot of good time as we walked. Fortunately, there was some water at the falls and many of our team members decided to bathe in the falls. After some fun times there, we trekked back to our vehicle and left to reach Sultanbathery town for lunch. After a fairly heavy lunch we set off on our way back to Bangalore.

The journey back was great fun too, again not surprising considering the enthusiastic & fun loving bunch of folks I was traveling with. By evening we reached Mysore and some folks got off there whilst the rest of us continued our onward journey to Bangalore. Barring a minor incident (our vehicle had a flat tyre near Mysore ... gave us some time to get out of the vehicle and stretch our limbs), we reached Bangalore by ~11 PM on Sunday night. Looking back, it was like all our team trips - simply super !

Here are some pictures ...

Sunday Nov 25, 2007

When split-second responses and quick reflexes are bad

A lot has been written about on this topic and i'm trying to hopefully pique your interest just enough for you to pause and consider this if you have not given it much thought lately !

We all have a lot of choice and its just that we either are not aware of the choice we have or we don't choose to exercise the choice we have, which in itself represents a choice - the choice to not choose, oftentimes made at an unconscious level. As Deepak Chopra says, "You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices."

To clarify the subject of this post - its about highlighting the "choice" each of us has in each of life's circumstances; the fundamental fact remains that - between stimulus and response, there's a gap. How big is the gap ? This would depend on your levels of awareness and consciousness. You can actually change the size of the gap, not in terms of units of time we know of but in a non-linear way we can enhance our abilities to recognize our choices and make the most apt response to any given stimulus. Why is this gap important ? The gap between stimulus and response provides us an opportunity to choose how we react to stimulus rather than merely go with the default behavioral response which in hindsight generally tends to not be the most appropriate choice.

An example might illustrate this better. Lets assume you are driving in rush-hour traffic and someone on the road does something that has the potential to provoke your anger. This is the stimulus. Your natural response could probably include giving him a piece of your mind garnished with some choice unprintable vocabulary or any of the other equally "effective" outlets to let the steam out. And all of this could happen extremely quick. Reaction times could probably be in the fractions of a second. Talk of quick reflexes and you see it in action in such situations ! Is there a gap here ? Yes, there's a gap in every situation. The first step is to be aware that the gap exists. Realizing that stimulus and response are not a continuous progression and there in fact exists a break between the two, in itself is a great beginning. Next, choose to pause for a moment to examine your choices in responses to the stimulus. Rather than quickly brand the cause of the stimulus as an evolutionary mistake, what if you stop to consider if this stimulus is really important enough to expend your "valuable" time and energy to; does it warrant your attention and mind space (yes, it can occupy a lot of your mental band width ... only if you let it) ? what if you tried to examine if the stimulus was indeed a response to some-other situation which you were not immediately aware of ... say a medical emergency that required a little flexing of road rules ?

Such stimuli abound in various situations where without realization of the existence of a gap, our responses tend to usually be the naturally triggered and often-times "involuntary" types which as stated earlier may not be the best. So, is it really an easy task to be aware of the gap and "choose" a response to the variety of stimuli that we each encounter every day ? Frankly, No. While its easier said than done, whats important is that this is a "skill" that can be developed, over time with a good amount of regular practice. Being aware of the existence of a gap and your reactions is a good step to take.

While on the subject of choices, here's a good Innerspace quote "If your days seem filled with unwanted negative feelings, there is only one cure. When they come, choose them. Dont ask why, dont wonder how, dont fight them and never put yourself down for having them. But most of all never blame someone else for how you feel. If you do, it means you are still fast asleep and your choice is to be a victim. When the feelings come, even big disturbing emotional feelings say, "I choose this feeling" and know it comes because of something you have thought or done in the past, perhaps a certain belief that you have learned or an attachment that is threatened. Choice does not mean you want the feelings, but it does mean you are taking responsibility for them. And that is the beginning of self mastery. It is the first step to the healing and resolving of your emotions. But only the first step. Try this today and then ask yourself what the next step might be. If you are really interested to know, you will come to know!"

For more in-depth reading on the topic of the gap between stimulus and response, i'd suggest Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and specifically, the "Be Proactive" habit. Signing off this post with a quote by Mike Dooley, "Life's not about expecting, hoping and wishing, it's about doing, being and becoming. It's about the choices you've just made, and the ones you're about to make, it's about the things you choose to say - today. It's about what you're gonna do after you finish reading this."

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Saturday Nov 03, 2007

Birds, Bird-brains and worms ...

"The early bird catches the worm" - so they say ... and what have we here - many gullible denizens of our planet, falling hook, line and sinker for it and taking it literally.

No, i'm not against punctual behavior. I have the highest regard for the folks who tend to be punctual and value both their and others' time.

I'm for editing the above saying and adding in an extra word to clarify as "The early bird catches the early worm". Now we can see that the early bird has caught the "early worm".

Being early had different outcomes for the bird and the worm. No doubt the early bird might have rejoiced, but am not sure the early worm liked the result of its early foray. In life, it helps to take a moment to analyze your circumstances and think if at a given point of time, you are the bird or the worm ... while generally its great to be in the limelight and the center of attention, there are occasions when a little obscurity would help.

Reminds me of the fairly well known story about the mighty oak and the reeds ... for those who aren't in the know, here's a quick summary ... its a tale of a mighty oak tree that was proud of its ability to stand tall and strong against the winds that blew at it and the humble reeds that bent with the wind. A particularly strong gale brought the oak to its knees ... literally. The mighty oak had to give in. All its strength could not help withstand the mighty forces of nature, whereas the reeds suffered little or no damage. At this juncture the fallen oak asks the reeds how a humble and weak plant like the reed could survive the strongest of gales and live to see another day while the mighty oak was humbled ... the key lies in the behaviors exhibited by the reeds and the oak ... the oak resisted when resistance was not the brightest thing to be doing whereas the reeds were flexible, they bent and went with the flow .... what i'm driving at is this - sometimes its good to go with the flow, sometimes its good to stand out. There's a time to resist, a time to bend ... no one action or behavior suits all circumstances.

The ability to be flexible, the ability to discern and act appropriately as the situation demands, is key to being counted amongst the fittest who survive and possibly thrive.

I'll sign-off this post with an interesting innerspace quote ... "It's good to have an opinion isn't it? If you don't have an opinion about important issues you are seen as weak - right? This is how people justify holding an opinion about anything and everything. But wait a second - in the moment of expressing your opinion, if it is the defence of a position, or it's designed to be against another opinion, it is nothing more than an attachment. And this means fear is present. It means insecurity. This may explain why those who have the same opinions form pressure groups and factions, and why there is usually a great deal of emotion and conflict present. It may explain why there is much wailing and weeping, loud words and the crossing of swords whenever, opposing opinions meet. Much better to have a point of view, and to be extremely interested in others points of view. This says, "I am flexible", it says, "I have the humility to learn", and it says, "I seek to meet you on the ground we share, as opposed to fight you from a proclaimed territory." 

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John Morrison


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