Monday, August 27, 2007

1600 kms, a stiff back and a sore bottom!

That doesn’t quite sound like a relaxing holiday does it? But what a holiday it was! Absolutely kick ass! Mumbai to Goa and back, on a biking trip: 1,600 kms in all in eight days! In those eight days, we rode through scorching sun, driving rain, floating clouds (yes!), winding ghat roads, steep climbs, rocky mountain trails and what not! The best part of the trip? Riding a gleaming new Royal Enfield Motors Bullet with my wife, no e-mails, no phone calls, not even tracking the rise and fall of the Sensex! Of course, a lot of preparation went into this trip – most of it planned by Meenal, who also doubled as the navigator for the trip. And what a trusty navigator she was! Onto my navigator for a kilometer by kilometer account of the trip, with interruptions by yours truly in italics.

Hi from the navigator! Before I start giving u an account of what was truly a wonderful holiday, I must confess that the credit for my navigational abilities goes to Ram (who gave me the links below, and who – unlike the most popular cliché about men – has no hassle asking for directions!), the Outlook Weekend Traveller (Mumbai Getaways) and Google!

Having bought a Bullet (we have named it Gudugu), we had some major ambitions like a biking trip to Ladakh! Soon, however, we realized that we were in no fit shape to undertake such an adventure. After considering virtually every goable place in and around India, we finally hit upon the idea of a biking trip to Goa. Then were spent days and days of preparations – researching the route (to this end, the links below were of immense help), selecting interesting places to be covered, getting the bike and us ready for the trip (road maps, bike spares, bungee cords, riding jackets & what not!). And then we were set to go! Set to Goa! - this gives a very detailed and reliable route guide from Mumbai to Goa (mentioning even the best eateries and 24 hour petrol pumps enroute) - if u are crazy enough like us to undertake a biking trip in the middle of the monsoons, do be sure to look up the satellite map posted by the Indian Meteorological Department to know what u r driving into!

In retrospect, exhaustive research and planning and picking the right gear were key to this trip in more ways than one. We had planned to the extent of pre-determining at which hotel / inn we would stop at for snacks, tea, lunch etc.,. A word of advice for riders – wear a comfortable, but thick jacket – even if it is not cold. Apart from the obvious protection from rain / chill, this serves two purposes: one, it saves you from nasty bruises in case of a fall and two, it prevents dehydration. Without any protection from dehydration, gusts of wind (if you ride at 50 kph in still air, it is the equivalent of a 50 kph gust of wind) and the sun will squeeze you dry. For our trip, we picked winter jackets with a rexine outer layer and thick felt lining on the inside, rather than leather jackets, which are bulkier and difficult to handle and maintain.

Day 1: Mumbai - Ganapatipule
After a ceremonial breaking of a coconut outside a Ganapati temple near home and fuelling up the petrol tank, we zoomed off into the riding sun towards NH17. Once past the concrete jungle that is Mumbai, we encountered a riot! A riot of lush green! Fresh rain, new leaves, budding flowers, chirping birds, mountain streams – sights and sounds we had almost forgotten in the rush of traffic and local trains! It had been raining for a few days prior to our trip and the result was rainwater streams cascading down the Ghats, a pretty sight to behold. The Ghats themselves were breathtakingly beautiful after the rains. And the road, winding through them, was quite a pleasure to ride on.

The highway roads taught me to take innocuous road signs seriously. Ranging from “saavdhan! Pude gaanv aahe! Saavkaash za!” to “pude gatirodhak aahe” interspersed with witty slogans such as “this is a highway, not a dieway!” that only the traffic department can come up with, they help wake you if your alertness is waning. Ofcourse, it helps if you can read and understand Marathi, since most lifesaving signs are in the Maratha language. Something that I should have realized to prevent some unpleasant consequences: there was this sign that I was trying to decipher when the road suddenly started to heave up and down! Only then did I realize that the sign which read gatirodhak aahe meant speed bumps ahead!

Having done long trips before, me realized the wisdom in taking frequent, but short breaks. We took a 5 minute break every hour or so. A bite of chocolate, a sip of water and sugar rich soft drink provided the necessary rest and energy shots for the remainder of the trip. They are also necessary to keep up alertness, lack of which on a highway ghat road can be fatal.

The ride to Ganapatipule took us through some truly amazing sights. Riding parallel to the Konkan Railway for some distance, we realized how awesome a ride on the Konkan Railway would be. There are three long ghat stretches that you hit before Ganapatipule. The first – Kashedi – is also the longest, at about 18 kms base to base. Apart from being the longest, Kashedi is also the most thrilling ghat to ride on. It has several hairpin bends, sharp S curves and steep gradients. Watch out for corners covered in gravel – can be treacherous, particularly when driving downhill. Honk away to glory to warn drivers who think SUV’s come with 4 wheels and 2 wings.

With only an occasional drizzle to hamper our progress, we were well on track to reach our destination for night halt well in time before darkness fell. But thanks to a sore bottom (which required us to halt a few times) and some misdirection by an idiot, we reached our destination – Ganapatipule when it was quite dark. The road to Ganapatipule is on the right off NH17. Once off NH17, though the road is a state highway, it gets pretty isolated and its advisable to get to Ganapatipule before darkness falls.

There are several Vithal Kamath’s outlets on the way – stop by for a quick breakfast / lunch / snack. Breakfast at Mathais Manthan – 5 kms before Vadhkal Naka is a good place for breakfast. They have one of the best highway omelets.

On reaching, we checked into the MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation) resort. If you are fond of 5 star comforts, this is not the place for you. The cottages are very cleanly maintained, but are most certainly lacking in ambience. But if you are the kind who means business, then you’ve come to the right place! This is the only resort in Ganpathipule which is bang on the beach. And when I say bang on the beach, I mean BANG on the beach! The resort is about 100 mtrs from the sea, and during high tide, the water almost reaches up to the compound wall of the resort. A rear-side pathway leads directly on to the beach and all the balconies open out onto a splendid view of the sea. And the beach here is just spectacular! The sea – sparkling clean! Furiously roaring! Crashing on the rocks as if it wishes to eliminate anything that stands in its way! Infact, the sea here is so loud you can hear it in your room even when the balcony door is closed! Our original plan was to stay at Ganapatipule for only the following day, but love at first sight with the place and the constant reminder from a sore bottom for rest decided that we stay on for another day!

The tides close in pretty rapidly at the Ganapatipule beach, with strong currents – the sea moved in several ten feet in a matter of minutes that we were clicking snaps on some faraway rocks, drenching us to the bone. We were fortuitous enough to have a live encounter with some denizens of the sea – portugese men of war that look pretty in aquariums. But not when they sting you! The incoming tide swept hundreds of them onto the shore, several of which stung us with their long tentacles. Boy, did that hurt! While on the beach, we gorged on awesome nariyal paani – the best that I have had in India and the closest contender to those available on the beaches of Bali. The authorities have also put up a billboard that explains in detail how to calculate the exact time of incoming and receding tides. We spent several minutes trying to decipher the devanagari on the board, but finally gave up. Why didn’t I learn Marathi in the last couple of years that I’ve been here.

Also, 100 mtrs away from the sea and opposite the MTDC resort is the Swayambhu Ganapathi Temple. This ancient temple is constructed at the foothills of the Ghats where an idol of Ganapathi appeared out of the stone. While other features of Ganapathi are left to a devotee’s imagination, the right hand of Ganapathi, raised in blessing, is very distinctly visible. The temple’s fame is wide spread and devotees throng this place on festival days. While at the temple, do try to get your share of the Khichdi distributed as Prasad every day between 12.30 pm to 2.00 pm. Hot khichdi + spicy mango pickle = awesome. Can I stand in line for the Prasad again?

The food at the MTDC resort is average fare. Step outside the resort and walk into any of the several hotels (khanavals) for better tasting, konkani fare. Sabudana khichdi at the MTDC was a different matter though – hot and tasty, try it with mango pickle... mmmm…

While at Ganapatipule, you can also explore some nearby places of tourist interest – Ratnagiri and Jaigad. Ratnagiri is about 35-40 kms south of Ganpatipule, whereas Jaigad is 20 kms north. If you aren’t on a bike or a car, you can easily hire a local auto from outside the resort to take you to these places.

Day 2: Ratnagiri
The road to Ratnagiri is quite an experience in itself! You will encounter some of the steepest gradients you have ever seen in your life! Maneuvering a vehicle on these curves needs some skill. And for this very reason, and the fact that the road tends to get isolated at times, it is better to head back to Ganapatipule before dark. Ratnagiri contains a light house and a sea fort. Of the fort (Ratnadurg) only a few crumbling walls remain (and some of the credit for this goes to the Govt also, which used the stones from the fort remains to construct the new jetty!). One can visit the light house though between 4.00 pm and 5.30 pm. If you are interested in some more history, you can visit the birthplace of Lokmanya Tilak, which is located in the heart of Ratnagiri town. But getting a clue into this great man’s life and past can be a difficult task as all information here is in Marathi, with some photos and a family tree (which no one has taken the trouble to explain!) The authorities have also put up a 6 ft tall replica of the Lokmanya’s birth chart on a wall. Why????

The ride to Ratnagiri was the highlight of the day. Rather than take the longer route from NH 17, we turned off right from the District Highway about 5 kms from Ganapatipule. Its called the Nevre Road. I have seen roads carved into mountainsides – in the form of hairpins and S curves but nothing unlike what I was to see here. This mountain road is cut into the face of the hill and drops from top to bottom in a straight line, just like that. No curves, no bends. Just a straight drop. Imagine the steepest and longest slide that you have ridden as a kid. Now make that steeper and longer, say a kilometer. That should give you an idea of the mountain road that I am talking about. And there were three of them! The downhill ride was exhilarating and the uphill climb arduous, with several stretches covered on the first gear. That was one unforgettable ride! But for the ride, you can give the Ratnagiri fort a miss.

Day 3: Jaigad, Ganapatipule redux
The Jaigad Fort (also a sea fort) is in some better state. Atleast, it looks like a fort once stood there. Surrounded on all sides by the sea and located on top of a cliff, the fort offers a spectacular view of its surroundings. From here, one can also view the confluence of the Sangameshwar River into the Arabian Sea. At Jaigad too you can visit the light house between 4.00 pm and 5.30 pm. To get to the light house though you will need to ride/ drive over barren rock on the top of the cliff. Once dark, the faded tracks left by a jeep on this rock are no longer visible and you may have some problem getting back. And do make sure you are back out of Jaigad before nightfall, as the road from Ganapatipule to Jaigad (though very beautiful – as it runs along side the sea most of the time) is very isolated, and with some sharp turns too.
To be able to visit the insides of a lighthouse is an experience in itself. Don’t miss it. The downside though, is that you are not permitted to click snaps. Have a trusty point and shoot handy – I regret not having one. (We were however able to click some shots of wild creepers flowering on the walls of the Jaigad fort - have uploaded a few of them at the end of this post). Exhilarating views of the western ghats and the sea emerge dramatically as you turn around bends in the road. The rain soaked ghats, cloaked in lush green and dotted by mountain streams are a sight to behold…

Friday, August 24, 2007

Time travel unravelled

Time travel has always intrigued me. Be it Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which states that the faster you travel, the slower time moves, or HG Wells' Time Machine, the possibility of time travel itself is exciting!

Let me share the result of my recent thought experiments:
We know from our physics textbooks that the faster you travel, the slower time moves. i.e., if you travel faster than the speed of light, you can travel back in time. Find it difficult to believe? Here's how:
Imagine that you are taking off from the earth in a super speed rocket. For simplicity's sake, imagine that your body itself is the rocket and you are moving away from the earth, into space. After moving several million miles into space away from earth, you reach the speed of light, and move forward at that constant speed. Now, at the precise moment (lets call this z)when you achieved the speed of light, certain light beams emitted by the earth were right next to you i.e., you were neck to neck with those light particles, which portrayed a scene of the earth at time n. Lets call this scene s. In the next one second, you have travelled 300,000 kms which is the speed of light. The scene s has also travelled the same distance with you! So it you look at the earth at z + 1 seconds, you see the same scene that you would have seen at z! This is because the scene has moved with you! If you continue to move at the same speed, you continue to see the same scene! Its as if time has stopped!
Let me extend this thought experiment further. Imagine you are travelling at twice the speed of light. Now, as you move ahead, you are overtaking the light particles! So, at z+1, you will watch a scene that is equivalent to z - 1. If you continue at this speed, you will progressively overtake light particles and will progressively watch the scenes in reverse! Which means, you will see the earth rotate from west to east! IT'S AS IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING BACK IN TIME!

Are you with me so far? Good! Now let me introduce a twist in the tale. All this while, I told you that you were moving away from the earth. Imagine now that you spontaneously turn around and move toward the earth. As you move toward the earth (say faster than the speed of light), the light particles overtake you. This means you again see the earth moving from east to west, but at a faster rate than what the physics text books say. i.e., if a is the moment of time when you turned around spontaneously, at a+1, you will see the scene from a+2! The faster you move toward the earth, the faster these scenes will hit you. The earth will now appear to whir rapidly from east to west. Its as if you are catching up with the backlog of time (remember - you were moving back in time till now). Its as if you are moving forward in time! By the time you are back on earth, you are at that precise moment that you would have been, had you not undertaken your space odyssey! (This is an important result, as it resolves the grandfather paradox - we will get back to this later).

Let me now extend the second part of the above experiment further. We have noticed that when you moved toward the earth faster than light, you moved forward in time. So, instead of moving toward the earth, had you moved toward the Andromeda galaxy, you would have been moving forward in time with respect to the Andromeda Galaxy! Which means behind your back you were moving back in time and on the front, you were moving forward in time! This sounds absurd, how is it that the same person can move both forward and backward in time at the same time? Actually, its not that absurd. Imagine a line connecting points E and A. Now, imagine you are an ant walking along that line, from E towards A. As you walk from E to A, you move away from E and towards A. Wow! This means behind your back you are moving away from E and on the front, you are moving toward A! See the connect between moving from E to A and Earth to Andromeda Galaxy??

You still with me? Good. Now for some complications.

We have described what happens when we move in a straight line. What if, instead of moving away from the earth, you moved around the earth, circling it? With one complete circumnavigation, you are back at the same point where you started. So, you moved away from point X and moved toward point X, at once! So when you land back at X, are you ahead in time? Or have you moved back in time? The answer is neither! You will actually be in the present i.e., where you would have been had you not traveled at all! That’s for another post!

Confusing? Its actually quite simple. Remember that in our earlier example, we moved away from the earth in a straight line and turned around to move back in a straight line. The result, you were back where you were supposed to be. Effectively, you moved, turned, returned, completing a loop. A circumnavigation of the earth is also a loop! Its just that instead of moving in a thin oblong loop, you have now moved in a wider, elliptical loop! So, you started from Mumbai, India, moved west until you hit say Mexico, and returned. Just that instead of retracing the path, you instead continued around the earth! So, how is that different from our oblong loop? Not convinced? Let me explain further. We have established that as we move away from a given spot, we move back in time and as we move toward a given spot, we move ahead in time. If you are starting from point X on the equator in your world tour, as you move away from it, you are moving back in time vis-à-vis point X. After you are halfway around the earth, if you continue moving along the equator, you are in effect moving toward X. Which means, you are moving ahead in time vis-à-vis X! With every step that you take towards X, you cancel out the time lag and catch up with time, such that when you reach X, you are exactly at the moment that you would have been, had you not moved at all!

Now back to the grandfather paradox of time travel that I said is resolved. This is the grandfather paradox: imagine I travel back in time and kill my grandfather. Since my grandfather is dead, there is no way that I could have been born. If I was not born at all, then how did I go back in time and kill my grandfather in the first place? So, if I did not kill my grandfather, then I am born and hence can go back in time to kill the grandfather! The loop continues. From our explanation above, we have demonstrated that you can only “view” the past, but not affect it! This means, you can go back in time and see your grandfather, but can’t shake hands with him. The same holds for your grandfather – he can see you, but can’t hug you! Can you hear what he is saying? My guess is you can’t. Neither can you smell the aroma of the rich coffee he is brewing on the stove.

I do not know if my theories above stand up to the scrutiny of the equations and theories of higher physics. This thought experiment has however, given an incomparable joy…. the kind of joy that I experienced when I tallied my first balance sheet. Is this close to ananda???

Bullet is a Bullet is a Bullet

Can't but stop ogling at my new dream machine - a full blooded Bullet! Its a gleaming black and chrome Royal Enfield Motors Electra 5S. We call it Gudugu, which means thunder in Kannada. Have done 2000 kms in about 40 days. Watch this space for more on Gudugu. Till then, happy riding. Gudugudugudugudugudugu....

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Time travel, space time and the works

Meenal has lent me a wonderful book: Hyperspace by Michio Kaku. This is probably the most thought provoking book that I've read in recent times. Thanks Meenal, for introducing me to this book that has caused me to sit up, think, ask tons of questions and find the answers.

In this book, Michio Kaku simplifies such heavy technical concepts as space - time curve, quantum physics, quarks, mesons, bosons etc., and puts them within the grasp of the common man. If he could make a technically challenged person like me understand concepts of higher physics, then anyone else can understand them too.

This book in a way explains and proves concepts that our rishis have spelt out in the shastras aeons ago, though without any direct reference. A few, which are my personal favourites:
... purnasya purnamadaya purnamevava shishyate...
Purna can be roughly translated as 'the whole', the translation being a far cry from the true meaning. Purna is the whole, the all encompassing ... the everything. In that sense, purna is nothing but the universe, because the universe is the whole, the all encompassing, the everything. Now, a translation of the verse would be: "if you remove the whole from the whole, the whole remains!" That is, if you remove the universe from the universe, you are left with the universe! Which means that if you step out of the universe, you have a universe! Another universe??? Out pops the concept of parallel universes in different dimensions!

You thought that the Big Bang was propounded by the modern western physicists??? Nah! Our shastras have this to describe the origin of the universe:
... hiranya garbhat samavartatagre...
which translates as "arising from the golden womb"... everything emerged from that one mass of energy / matter (hiranyagarbha)

How did our ancient rishis discover these concepts? Thats in a later installment. Watch this space.

Om shantih shantih shantih!!!