The Real Revolution

Are you ready for the real revolution, which is the evolution of the mind? Until you wake up and take control of your life, be on the lookout for the spirit sniper, trying to steal your light. The 'spirit sniper' could be anyone who has a vested interest in keeping you down.

We don't even own ourselves anymore, paying "mental rent" to corporate presidents (i.e. working 9-5). I want to be in a position of making a difference - in my own life and other people's life. Wishful thinking perhaps. But I will do everything in my power to get there one day.

Yes, it's true. Friday morning, I resigned from my job; gave my obligatory two weeks notice. My boss didn't see this coming, so he was shocked when I gave him the resignation letter. He asked me to reconsider my decision. He said "it is a big loss" and they will have "big shoes to fill" given my "business and technology knowledge". I thanked him for the opportunity. At the end of the day, he called me into his office and asked whether I considered that I will be forfeiting my yet-to-be-determined end-of-the-year bonus. I said yes without any hesitation. This was never about the money. He then asked me to give them more time and stay at least one more week, but ideally more. I said I'll think about it and will let him know on Monday. I'll probably extend my stay by one week. I won't be able to stay longer. Why? Because life awaits me! I'm flying out the following week.

So, what's next? I'm taking a break from the mundane 9-5 life for a few months. I've planned a major Himalayan expedition in October; my first! I'll be doing the spectacular Yuksom (1600m) - Mt. Dzongri (4050m) - Goecha La pass (~5000m) trek - the most beautiful in Sikkim (India). The trek is famous for its spectacular close-up views of Mt. Kanchenjunga - the third highest peak in the world. I'll also like to do some more rock climbing in the Western Ghats (known as "the Himalayas of South India"). Nothing gives me as much happiness and peace of mind as my mountains. So is it any wonder that I keep going back to them?

I hope my mountaineering passion stays with me for the rest of my life. If something were to happen to me, as was almost the case in my last two expeditions, I will want to be remembered for this.

Apart from pursuing my mountaineering passion, I'll also visit Dr. Prakash and Dr. Mandakini Amte at Hemalkasa. This has been my dream since I met the couple last year. They gave up all worldly comforts and settled in a remote forest in central India to help the forgotten Madia Gond tribals. Over the last 35+ years, they have started a hospital that treats 40,000 tribals a year, free of charge; a free residential school for tribal children, some of whom have gone on to become doctors and teachers; a wild-life shelter that looks after orphaned wild animals, including leopards. I was lucky enough to get to know them personally when they stayed over at our place for a few days in 2007. Last year I donated Rs.10,000 to their charity. This year I want to see for myself the great work they've done and help out any way I can.

The only problem with going to Hemalkasa is that it is located in a region controlled by Naxalites (a violent communist rebel group - like the Maoists). I spoke to the Amtes about this and they assured me it is a safe place to visit. Apparently, the Naxalites only have a problem with the government and the police; however, many innocent people have died in the ensuing gun fights.

While I'm away from the typical work-life for a few months, it's not as if I won't be making any money. I'll let my investments work for me. :)

I've no regrets about quitting my job. I know this was a big decision, but also the right decision for me. If I don't do this now, I know I will look back one day and regret not doing it. For the same reason, I had driven to NYC all alone last month. The trip was eventful to say the least. It reminded me of this famous line from a movie - jo haar ke bhi jeeta hai usko baazigar kahte hai! hah

One thing that I have learned is that these are some serious times we're living in. I don't know who I can trust in this cold world anymore!

Me Love You Long Time

I'm in Saigon (Vietnam), also known as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). It's almost the peak of monsoon season in Southern Vietnam and it's almost always cloudy and rains heavily occasionally. The rain reminds me of my monsoon trekking days and how much I really miss that.

I more or less just walked around the city today taking in all the sights. Motorcycle traffic is everywhere - just like in Pune. I was very surprised to see that the city is quite clean, modern and Westernized.

I visited the War Remanants Museum and learned about American atrocities on the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war. Americans started the war for "national security" reasons. America has always lived by the gun and one day it will die by it too - just like the saying goes.

Anyone who crosses the border between Cambodia and Vietnam will undoubtedly notice the contrast between the economic development of the two countries. Now that I'm in HCMC and look back at my Phnom Penh experience, it feels like I was in some African nation!

Anyhow, I really miss Cambodia. The charm, the temples, the country - the people. Cambodians are some of the nicest people I've ever met. Vietnamese are also very nice people.

So far in my trip, I've only had positive experiences with people. Many people have stopped by and asked where I'm from; some have asked my age; and some just look at me and smile. Interestingly, no one here thinks I "look young" for 26. In Southeast Asia, everyone looks young for their age (when compared to Western standards).

Tomorrow is my first arranged "tour". I'll be spending a day in the Mekong river delta, checking out the floating river markets and other such sights. An organized tour is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get there. I really don't have the luxury of time to figure out how to get there on my own. I'm also going to Hanoi tomorrow night on the "Reunification Express". It'll be a 30-hours journey!

So far, I've travelled everywhere independently. Interestingly, it's not necessarily the cheaper option in Cambodia and Vietnam. Many tour companies charge less than what I paid to do it independently. I guess economies of scale are at work there. They provide an A/C bus which has many foreigners in it. I paid more to do it independently, but I experienced the "real" thing, and mind you, I did it in style! ;)

Cambodia Forever

I'm in Siem Reap now. I've been temple tripping for a few days now. Angkor Wat and Bayon are pretty cool. I also saw the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.

My favourite "Angkor" site was Kbal Spean, also known as "the river of thousand lingas". It is quite far from town (50KM) but well worth it. I went there on a bike (with driver) and trekked/climbed alone for 1.5KM (from parking lot) through thick forest. Since it is far from town and it's not peak season, almost nobody was there, so it was a bit scary as I have read about incidence of looting.

I ran into a couple of Swiss backpackers once I reached the river, so I had some company on the way back. They were on a four month vacation to Southeast Asia. The river itself is very cool with many carvings of Vishnu and Shivlingas. There's also a nice waterfall. I really enjoyed the site.

I'm going back to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning and then to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on June 1st.

So far I love Cambodia. The people are very friendly and helpful. Everyone smiles. Cambodian girls come to me and tell me I'm handsome and that they like my smile! I think I should move here... hehehe

Kitni Haseen Hai Yeh Duniya!

Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. There is poverty everywhere and that is obvious as soon as one gets out of the airport. On the other hand, the city of Phnom Penh is booming and that has created a huge disparity between the rich and poor. I have seen more Lexus SUV's in Phnom Penh in one day than anywhere else.

I get stared at everywhere I go in Cambodia. They look at me and smile, and I smile back. I think Cambodian girls are very beautiful. I'm somewhat of a novelty for Cambodians - brown people are a rarity in this part of the world. It is also safe to just walk around - people are always smiling and are friendly.

It is very hot and humid here so tuk-tuk's (rickshaw) are a great way to get around. I hired a tut-tuk to take me all around Phnom Penh today. The tuk-tuk driver was the same guy who had dropped me off to my hostel from the airport. He was good so I got his phone number and called him this morning (Monday) to take me around.

There are lots of tuk-tuk guys near my hostel, but most are sleazeballs. Some have asked me if I wanted drugs; others have asked me if I wanted "bum-bum" (prostitutes); but the worst was a guy who offered "very small" Vietnamese girls. Man, who the hell do these guys think I am?! It is sad, but true, that many foreigners come here to sexually exploit children. There are also a lot of "massage parlours" in Phnom Penh. As tempting as it is to get an one hour massage for only US$1.25, most parlours are really "fronts" for brothels. Even from the outside one can clearly see women lying on the bed in suggestive poses.

My tuk-tuk driver was the only one who hadn't made any "offers" so to speak. He was a young guy, recently married and with a 2-month old son.

I went to a lot of places today. The Royal Palace was very nice. I also went to the Killings Fields where the Khmer Rouge buried (some alive) many Cambodians in the 1970s. Mass graves were found at that site. S21 was another place that I visited where thousands of Cambodians were imprisoned and murdered. One should not come to Cambodia and miss seeing these places.

Later I went to a shooting range where one can shoot anything from a revolver to an AK47. I think even rocket launchers and grenades were on the "menu" (literally!). There were some Chinese tourists there sitting on a table - one guy was smoking; another was taking semi-automatic hand guns, machine guns and a revolver out of a black bag; another guy loaded all of those weapons and put those on the table. Those guys looked like the Chinese mafia and it was a bit scary to be around there with the way they were staring at me. One guy then proceeded to shoot an AK47 - it is extremely loud! I decided not to shoot any weapon - it's just not my thing :) I could have shot 30 rounds (1 magazine) of an AK47 for US$40; or 1 magazine of a Rutger gun for US$12.

I'm just hanging around Phnom Penh tomorrow (Tuesday) and then heading to Seam Reap on Wednesday.

What else? Travelling alone is interesting. Write to me!

Nobody Does It Better...

... than Cathay Pacific! I must say I was impressed by their service - even to cattle-class passengers like me. My flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was about 30 minutes late. When I got out from the plane at HK airport, there was a Cathay representative holding a sign with my name on it. She put some kind of sticker on me and rushed me through security and what not because I was late for my plane to Phnom Penh. She was running as if it was she who was going to miss the plane. As it turned out, my flight was delayed by 15 minutes so it was all good in the end.

Akele Akele Kahan Jaa Rehe Ho?

I'm going to Cambodia and Vietnam at the end of this week for about two weeks. This will be a solo backpacking trip - my first to Southeast Asia. Most people I've talked to think I'm crazy to go to Cambodia alone! However, people fear the unknown - and I think Cambodia falls into that category. Although Cambodia has a brutal past, it is now coming out of isolation. Despite being the third most mined (as in landmines!) country in the world and having the dubious distinction of being the third most corrupt country in Southeast Asia (after Burma and neighbouring Laos), it is now fast becoming an up and coming tourist destination.

My tickets to fly into Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) and to fly out of Hanoi (capital of Vietnam) have already been booked. I'm not pre-booking any hotels/hostels, tours or transportation, nor am I checking-in any luggage. It's just going to be me and my backpack.

My Itinerary

I'll be obtaining visa to Cambodia from Phnom Penh International Airport and visa to Vietnam from Phnom Penh. All I need to have with me are a few passport-size photos.

The main thing I want to explore in Cambodia is the Angkor Wat jungle temple near Siem Reap. It is the largest Hindu (now converted to Buddhist) temple complex in the world. Angkor use to be a Vishnu temple. I was fascinated by this place ever since I saw a documentary on it many years ago. Now that I'm finally going there, it's like a dream come true.

I figured two weeks will be too long in Cambodia and with other interesting places close by, I decided to add Vietnam, which is one of the three countries that borders Cambodia, to my itinerary. It was fun coming up with my itinerary; I just looked at the map of Southeast Asia and picked destinations that I thought would be interesting to visit - as if money was no object ;) That's how Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in southern Vietnam and Hanoi in northern Vietnam were added to my itinerary.

Ha Long BayI wanted to climb Mt. Fansipan (known as "The Roof of Indo-China") in northern Vietnam. However, that plan was dropped since I have no one to go with and climbing Vietnam's highest peak alone is definitely not a good idea. Instead, I'm now planning to go to Ha Long Bay (near Hanoi). Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Bay features thousands of limestone isles of various shapes and sizes. From the pictures, it looks pretty cool.

I'm leaving on Saturday, May 24th and will be reaching Phnom Penh via Hong Kong on Sunday, May 25th. If all goes well, then I should be back on Monday, June 9th. If not, then how long will you mourn me?! hah

It promises to be a great learning experience - to live and manage on my own in foreign countries whose languages I do not speak - and much needed respite from the fast-paced world of finance.

I gotta go - it's check out time! I'll try to update this during my trip to let everyone know I'm still alive and kickin' ;)

Discover Yourself

Last December, I went mountaineering again in India - to "discover India", so to speak. However, everytime I go back to the Sahyadri mountains, not only do I discover India, but I discover myself, or I should say more about myself.

It's an amazing feeling! To know that you are capable of more than you thought you were; more than your own family thought you were. Every drop of sweat is worth it when you reach the summit and feel the cool air while you indulge in the most beautiful of sights.

It doesn't take a lot to make you happy when you're in nature. Just the sight of a butterfly or kids playing a game of cricket in the countryside brings a smile to your face. What a wonderful world!

It is not too often that one gets to live in the present. We constantly think about our past and the future ... while taking a shower, commuting to work, or sitting in our little cubicles thinking we're doing important work. Mountaineering allows me to live in the present. It is a state when there is nothing but now in my mind. To live in the present - what a rare treat that is!