Posts Tagged ‘India’

Why I Want Dowry

August 27, 2012

Dear Girl,

I am writing this letter to you with a deep sense of anguish.

Today you have declined to marry me because my family and me wanted the dowry to facilitate our happily ever after.

To my utter dismay, you rejected me!

This is unbelievable!

How could you?

How the f*** you had the audacity to decline my proposal?

Let me impress upon you the gravity of your loss that emanates from you rejecting me as your future husband on the flimsy ground of “not willing to pay dowry”.

You see I am an extremely well settled professional.

I work for a stupid blue-collar Indian software body shop where I, along with my one hundred thousand colleagues, work 24 X 7 to collectively promote mediocrity by performing electronic scavenging tasks for businesses based out of the “white world”.

My future is bright as I aspire to go to the “white-world” soon and I plan to settle in those parts of the world in the distant future.

I swear I don’t aspire to learn any of the cosmopolitan inclusive cultural lifestyle of the west but I aspire to immigrate just to dig more gold.

As I calculate, if I spend X years in the “white-world”, I shall amass enough wealth to buy a Farm House in Gurgaon and a Mercedes and thereby fulfill my life’s ultimate goal.

So, by declining my offer your future stands bleak, as you will be relegated to the job of a housewife in some dingy B grade town of North India- married to some desi oaf.

Now you also stand to miss out on being a part of my great family.

Our family is a very close-knit unit and you always have the pleasure of the company of my parents 24 X 7.

Privacy is a western concept and we don’t care about stupid western views.

But hey, we have an exceptionally well-decorated completely western style home in Gurgaon!

There are air-conditioners and 40” televisions in each of the 4 bedrooms and we even have a bar- though I must admit I have no clue what is the difference between whiskey and single malt or Martini and Margarita, beer and lager and so on….

We are very modern but we always consult vaastu to ensure each thing is kept at a place where the grand celestial design is not annulled.

We are very scientific and forward-looking but we completely believe in astrology and we have to find auspicious dates for doing all the important works.

We have all the latest “must-have” appliances but I challenge you to find a single book anywhere at home!

The closest things to a book that we have at home are cheque-books!

Books are boring and none of our family has the habit of reading books- they are only useful for passing examinations.

But we are very well educated (from D grade mushrooming colleges of course) and we speak excellent English- though we pronounce October as Uk-too-Bur, station as Us-te-ssan and so on…

I am proud that no one in our family has any hobbies.

Our only collective interest, obsession, passion is Money.

We are a bunch of living-breathing-f***ing price tags and we love to boast of that at all times- like the house we live in costs 1.25 crores rupees ($0.25 million)- the bar costs 200,000 rupees, the rug costs 40,000, the sofa set costs 80,000- the milk jar costs…..

Money is our real god- the reason why we are all alive and why we are here in this world…

My elder brother (henceforth called Bhaiya) is a great money machine.

Bhaiya works for a same type of company I work for and also has a surreptitious side business- though the side business has a conflict of interest with his current job- but who cares- he mints money!

Bhaiya  has an offshore bogus bank account and he has 40 lac rupees ($ 100,000) as black money in that (who cares about color in post apartheid era, it is money after all…)

He makes money in his sleep and dreams, eats, talks, breaths money at all times.

Bhaiya married his girlfriend but still managed to arm twist 800,000 rupees in the process- such the money making genius!

So, by not accepting my match you are sure to be cast to eternal despair of destitution of being married to some honest wager.

Finally, why did we demand dowry?

You see we married off my younger sister last year and we paid a hefty dowry there.

We also bought this great 1.25 crore home.

With so much outflow, I am sure you would agree, we need some inflows and what better than getting some dowry?

After all, this would have been your home post the marriage and should you not be looking out for the collective well-being of your would-be-in-laws?

Consider this, your father would be our relative post the marriage, so is his money not a part of ours in the larger context?

You must be weak in logic Girl!

And then again, I welcome you to look at the demands we forwarded.

As my marriageable resume in the matchmaking portal says- “No Dowry Demand”, we only wanted you to bear the full cost of the engagement ceremony, marriage function and the wedding reception- that is surely a legitimate demand after all I come from the groom’s side, don’t I?

And all we asked for you to pay for the small insignificant expenses like all the food and drinks, 3 day lodging arrangements, air travel for our 150 strong marriage party, entertainment options along with the usual ubiquitous deliverables like jewelry, clothing, gifts etc.

This is surely not a demand of dowry and there is no reason to over-react, right?

Wasn’t this a small price to pay for the awesomeness my family and me could have brought in your sorry miserable life?

But still you rejected me!

This is completely unjust and uncalled for.

Let me tell you, this is ultimately your loss as you are being deprived of the connubial bliss that you would have encountered with my cultured-modern-educated-wealthy family and me.

You lose girl, you lose big- now deal with it!

Yours Greedy and Needy,

The Awesome Boy


Anna Hazare and the “Deathly Hallows”

August 29, 2011
Anna Hazare - The New Saint of India and the awakened Indian Middle Class

Anna Hazare - The New Saint of India and the awakened Indian Middle Class

History was made today. The great Indian democracy had another shining mantelpiece up its wall of fame of self-professed greatness. Anna Hazare and his thousands/millions/billion supporters (real number is unknown so choose your favorite approximation) made the JanLokPal bill a distinct possibility. Raise your glasses to a corruption free India folks- we did it.

As thousands gathered at India Gate to celebrate the historic turn of events in their stonewashed/gunshot denims, holding the tricolor in their manicured hands and getting a tricolor tattoo on their moisturized cheeks and shouting slogans hailing the victory, Mahender a 26 year old was busy logging the hours of the 100 odd laborers who toiled in muddy fields of the construction zone of super luxury apartments just a few tens of miles away from the great Indian Democracy’s victory orgy.

Earning 5500 rupees ($130) a month with zero holidays, zero benefits, zero raises and 12 hours of duty and a verbal employment contract, his job is to log the hours of laborers who earn 4300 rupees ($100) a month for 8 hours’ daily job (rupees 3500 for women = the lowest minimum wage, BTW) with zero holidays, zero raises and zero benefits and of course the ubiquitous verbal contract, Mahender has to support his family back in some god forsaken district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

I asked him, what does he reckon of Anna’s movement and more importantly his own future and he stared at me as if I asked him about his opinion on string theory and if the LHC experiment in the Alps would create a micro black hole. “I don’t know, but I think it will be good in the long run”. Here is a citizen of the greatest democracy of the world unsure about it’s second freedom movement and his own future. May be he is not important at all and his opinion should not serve as a dampener in the newfound atmosphere of celebration.

But then, I tend to be dumb and pause and think a little. The JanLokPal and government’s version of LokPal is silent on corporate corruption and now it is clear that the judiciary is also given its much-needed long rope. That should be a good news if you were a CEO looking to mine Bauxites or build an expressway- too bad Steve Jobs quit a day before this wonderful 2nd windfall, err…. independence day!

Indian middle class and upper class and the elite lives in a comfortable denial cocoon of what we subject our “lowly” unskilled, untalented, uneducated citizens to. Mahender and millions of laborers work with zeros (holidays, benefits, raises and even employment contract) each day to make the expressways on which our cars can use cruise control, malls where we can shop till we drop, plush marbled floor apartments with video door phones etc etc. This is the lowest denomination of corporate corruption- direct exploitation of humans (if they are regarded as one in the first place).

Then we have the unquestionable judiciary that always seems to be in congruence with the corporate urge of “development” and routinely finds it absolutely convenient to displace millions with the tiny flick of their mighty pen. In fact India has the world’s largest internally displaced population, that India leads the tally of industrial deaths in the world, that India leads the world tally of unresolved court cases (about 15 million) should speak for its undisputed champion status of corporate malpractices and judicial callousness.

And surprise-surprise, the LokPal bill of any flavor has left these two guys alone. They can’t be bad guys, right? This is the highest common factor of Indian corruption story, while the corporates are free to exploit the human capital, the judiciary is free (as it should be in a democracy) to be acquiescent about creating a Petri-dish where Mahenders can be trans-mutated into indoor heated swimming pools, tolled expressways, large dams, iron mines etc.

What are we celebrating for? For Anna Hazare has finally awakened the nation? Which nation? The nation that holds mombattis as if to taunt the millions of villages’ un-electrified status? The nation that celebrates one homegrown saint’s eating habits where 60% citizens of the same nation eat as much as Africa’s poorest countries?

Are we celebrating that we short circuited the democratic process of creating a bill, just as we like to short circuit the law’s course when caught for a traffic violation and blatantly offer bribes to traffic constables to do an on the spot settlement- you know a fast track justice, something our judiciary loves too – the fast track courts? Look we made great progress, now we have a fast track bill!

The Prime Minister of the world’s greatest democracy says he has no magic wand to cure corruption- may be he is reading Harry Potter a little too much – would explain his invisibility splendidly for he may have been wearing the cloak of invisibility after all!

Everyone, including the PM, agrees that the “whatever” LokPal (prefix, Jan or Dalit or whatever dish you like) bill be, if it does not cure corruption completely- would at the very least halt the juggernaut.

Now, if you are a Harry Potter fan you would know what does not die completely leaves Horcruxes (images of self, protected by black magic) which are extremely hard to find and even harder to destroy. We stand to leave the Corporate Corruption and the Judicial mess as two horcruxes that would forever crush Mahenders and millions others.

I don’t know should I also go to India Gate with a mombatti or should I start looking for the magic wand that the PM has lost, for the Deathly Hallows of corruption are still upon us. The Lord Voldemort, aka great Indian democracy’s corruption will be back.

You are hereby warned!

Arundhati’s Azadi from Sedition on Kashmir…

December 9, 2010

Eden Gardens, Kolkata has the most fanatic cricket fans of India. They cheer the loudest, they worship the players and they just love to scare the foreign teams with their numerical mass of 110 thousand lungs’ cumulative vocal capacity. On 25th Nov 2005 it was a different story. Sourav Ganguly, Kolkata’s biggest sporting icon for decades, was not picked for the Indian squad and Rahul Dravid led – Gregg Chappell coached India went down to the South Africans to a humiliating 10-wicket defeat!

What was extraordinary was the crowd reaction. The crowd cheered the fall of each Indian wicket. They danced and sang when Smith butchered the Indian bowling to notch up a violent century. To the naïve, who do not understand the dynamics of the times and are not aware of Kolkata’s relation with the game and Sourav, would hastily conclude that it was an unpatriotic gesture from Kolkata.

Question is, should we consider Eden Garden’s response on Nov 25th as unpatriotic, as un-Indian and most of all as seditious? Well, they openly cheered the South Africans above their own country. Isn’t that a case enough to book the Eden Garden’s capacity crowd for sedition? Since the capacity crowd cannot be booked, should we not book Sourav Ganguly for sedition, for inciting the mob to become seditious by playing pathetic cricket in 2005 and therefore not earning a call for Indian squad?

Obviously, the above argument is ridiculous but what I do not understand is how come we do not find it ridiculous that Arundhati Roy is being booked for sedition then? She is not the first person who has voiced her opinion for Kashmir’s Azadi. She is not the root cause why there is a cry for Azadi in Kashmir at the first place. She did not incite anyone to go and fight the Indian military for seeking Azadi. She just said what she believed – exercising her fundamental right of freedom of speech. Where the hell sedition comes into picture then?

Before I proceed any further, lets set the perimeters for this blog. This blog is not about if Kashmir should get the Azadi or not. This blog is not about is Kashmir an integral part of India or not. This blog is simply about should we support Indian state for booking Arundhati for sedition for speaking for Kashmir’s Azadi. I feel we are grossly misplaced by slapping a sedition charge on Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy

Everyone has a right to their opinion and a right to express that opinion. The Indian constitution recognizes this as your fundamental right to free speech through article 19. Sedition is defined in the Section 124A of Indian Penal Code. Click the links to see the contents of these two immutable bases on which the rest of the blog hinges heavily.

Now, lets examine if Arundhati Roy’s speech at the LTG Auditorium in New Delhi on the Azadi Conference really amounted to sedition? Watch the video of Arundhati speaking in that conference.

When I hear this video log and then I look at sedition’s definition in IPC, I start to feel baffled. I hear Arundhati say “People have to look at more than direct confrontation techniques on the streets”, “There is more to resistance than throwing stones, these things cannot be allowed to happen”, “React politically, tactically, internationally”, “Justice for all”, “Justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the keystone to resistance”.  She is not a politician so I would like to believe she meant what she said.

These are not the words of an anti-national delinquent mob inciter either, who is out to spread hatred and animosity among people by urging them to take extreme measures of violence or any anti national activity. She is just echoing the dominant sentiment of the valley of Kashmir, which is clearly Azadi, but urges the movement to do a good introspection so that a just community can be synthesized out of this shipwreck of a situation. What is seditious in that?

Many of the folks have tried to dismiss her as an “attention seeker” and some even labeled her “vying for nobel peace prize” and all such preposterous comments. Arundhati Roy was recognized as one of the 30 most inspiring women worldwide by Forbes. Her erudition and her charismatic writing need no medallions from me. So, tagging a persona like her as an “attention seeker” is pretty juvenile.

Indian government has sent 3 interlocutors to the valley of Kashmir. These people are supposed to meet all voices of Kashmir- separatist, pro-Azadi folks, terrorists included. In other words, the state is in dialogue with the seditious thoughts anyway. One visit to Kasmir will tell anyone that Kashmir wants freedom-Azadi. It is a state with probably the world’s biggest military mobilization. The people strangled with security measures and lockdowns just want to break free. 2010’s summer struggle in Kashmir was different. It was a peaceful non-cooperation movement that shook the Indian government. Most importantly now you see the Kashmiri youth towing a different line. The difference in swing is so much evident that people like Mirwaiz are traveling all over the country trying to tell people what does Azadi mean. It’s a conscious approach to reach out and open roads for reconciliation. In this atmosphere Arundhati’s speech is nothing but another drop in the ocean, why pick on her selectively?

One problem is our own mindset. Someone told us that in India we would not tolerate any dialogue, however reasonable and peaceful, about Kashmir. It was a part of India, it is a part of India and it will be a part of India come what may. I find this a pretty lame argument. 30 years on this planet, I have seen borders redrawn with a mathematical certainty. Yugoslavia suffered a huge dismemberment, so did Checkoslovakia, Russia broke into god knows how many pieces, Germany became unified… Back home you got states like Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh…. There is no boundary for creating new boundaries. So Kashmir status is surely under the ambits of discussion.

Question is who will decide that? You and me are not important. It is the people of Kashmir who should be deciding. If the dominant sentiment of Kashmir is pro-Azadi, then it is worthwhile to talk about it. Arundhati Roy, did just that.

What I find funny is while in our country we have given free tickets to guys like Thackerays (and all the sons, nephews, grandsons etc), Togadias, Varun Gandhis, Modis etc to create excellent resumes of preaching violence, hatred, intolerance, hate-crimes, we turn on soft targets like Arundhati for speaking for a legitimate cause. Come on, Mumbai did not burn for 3 days after Arundhati was slapped with sedition- try it with Thackerays and see what happens.

Writers, artists and activists of international repute are the beacons of the pathways to a better tomorrow. Silencing them and gagging them with violence is bad and we can denounce the narrow mentality of the violence-mongers. But when the state assumes that duty with its stately repertoire dangling on your throats, it is terrifying- a sure shot sign of deep rots for an intolerant correction resistant monolithic tomorrow.

Lets end where we started. 5 years later the fateful seditious November evening, on Feb 18th 2010, the same Eden Garden roared like crazy when Harbhajan Singh took a late 5-wicket haul to seal the test match against the South Africans. It was the usual Eden Garden where the last few Proteas batsmen lost their nerves and got out to Harbhajan as much to the delirious cacophonic crowd. Just the patriotic sports-loving Kolkata you would expect.

I would like to end on this note for I believe that the higher courts will trash these insane charges and we will again celebrate the compassionate and rational views of the nation’s one of the most prolific daughters. It will be Arundhati’s Azadi from Sedition on Kashmir…..


Sedition Everywhere.....I could be tried for writing this blog, you for reading it.....

-Manasij Ganguli

TFN 2010: It is About the Bikes and the Numbers

October 21, 2010

What it promises to be: A photograph from TFN recce (courtesy Rajesh Nair)


45, 3, 100, 40, 8, 2.5, 1!

By the time you start thinking that you have landed on a page of a mad mathematician going to bowl you over with his silly mindless rants on some bi-quadratic, sinusoidal, esoterically cynic number series, let me set the numbers with some description to create a meaningful context.

So, here it is…

45 million revolutions…

3 million calories…

100 Homo sapiens…

40 ascents and descents of Mount Everest…

8 days…

2.5 times around the globe…

1 ride!

Yeah, I agree it is an odd countdown. Lacks the drama. Totally boring! Right?

But then when you factor in that we are talking about the most anticipated and celebrated biking event of India, the numbers start to fall in place and make sense.

The TFN 2010: India's most awaited and cherished biking tour


Yes, the Tour of Nilgiris is just 7 weeks from now. And hell yes, it is about the bikes and the numbers!

In 7 weeks’ time 100 cyclists from all over the country are going to reach Bangalore to ride for 8 days through the lush green Nilgiri mountains doing a total of 90,000 km (that’s 2.5 times around the globe!), burning 3 million calories in the process (that is the equivalent of keeping a light bulb switched on for 15 days!), climbing 350 km (40 climbs up the Mount Everest!) in some 45 million turns of their wheels – all in the name of one ride: the TFN 2010.

There are no rules what is allowed and what is not as long as it is self-powered and on two wheels. So, expect MTBs to ride alongside super specialized road bikes, hybrids, bamboo framed bikes and what not. It will be a great bike show at the same time being a great bike tour!

So, how does the ride look like? Thanks to Google Earth and the recce details, I was able to piece together a simple route profile. Here is what these 100 guys planning to do. Yeah guys, you saw it first here :-). Take the days marked in red with a pinch of salt, as the organizers are tight lipped about the days’ route- so expect some real drama!

Click on the picture to see the full sized image.

TFN 2010: Distance - Elevation Profile. 900 km riding in 8 days with 3500 meter of ascent and descent- It is a blockbuster!

A look at the rider community is also interesting. It comprises software engineers, lawyers, doctors, ad-world guys, big corporate honchos, self employed, unemployed, students, teachers, businessmen and even scuba divers! The same is true for the volunteers who are making this wonderful event a reality.

And they come from every possible parts of the country, even from Andaman! No, I do not think the TFN guys were trying for a national integration of some sorts, but inadvertently that’s what it is going to be – a perfect symbol if India’s amazing diversity.

Yes, I am also going to be riding this time. And I am going to blog about it. For past two years, the bike has given me some amazing memories and touched my life to some fabulous places in the country. The charming outdoors of this wonderfully diverse country is a goldmine to excavate through- on a bike. You are just fast enough to see it all, slow enough to observe it in details. Nothing beats the serendipity of laboring up a hill and passing through a sleepy village teashop and hearing the boiling tea and smelling its aroma and making an impulsive stop! You just cannot fathom it unless you have biked!

I have done a few multi-day cycling events and put a few blogs around them. Latest was my stint at the world’s highest ultra-marathon blog from Ladakh this year and my own cycling sojourn from Manali to Leh and then to the world’s highest road the KhardungLa pass, last year. I am sure this time it will be fun to report!

So, check out this space from Dec 15th to Dec 25th for daily dosage of what happened at India’s most cherished bike tour. Yes riding and writing do not mix. So, I will be careful not to write when I ride. And it will be fun to write for it is all about the bike, the amazing folks, the great enchanting Nilgiris and above all India’s most cherished bike tour- the TFN 2010.


Manasij Ganguli


Yours Truly- in close up..........

The Musings of a Delhi Driver: Caution I Drive Like You

October 9, 2010

Hey all you losers and idiots and stupids out there……

Feel privileged that I am sharing a bit of my life story with you. You know I am a very important person and therefore it is your amazing luck that I am allowing you the opportunity to take a peek at my life.

I am a proud car owner of Delhi, the capital of India, one of the world’s greatest countries with one of the ancient civilizations, biggest democracy…….blah-blah….. Like I said I am a very important person.

What??? Did you ask me why I am an important person? Let me politely tell you again that I am a very proud owner of a car in Delhi. Isn’t that a reason important enough to be an important person? After all it is the first car in my entire family! Got it now you dimwit?

Still not convinced? Have a look at my car and you will be assured of my VIP status. See, it has got a VIP registration number, see that? It is DL 9C 0857……. I knew you would not know my VIP status looking at my registration plate. Let me tell you the the first war of Independence against the British happened in the year 1857. My car’s registration number is 1000 short of 1857. Isn’t it a special number only for VIPs? To make up for the lost 1000, I wage a thousand wars on the Delhi roads everyday against the other imbecile drivers of Delhi.


Delhi's Traffic Mess: Look at all those mad drivers. They should learn from me


I tell you Delhi is filled with insensitive and uneducated drivers who have no traffic sense. I am a very good driver and an important person. My car might be a small one, but to make up for my lack of horse power I have music power with my loud in-car stereo which pumps out as much as my engine of the car punches out. So if you see a small car zipping and you hear “Billon challa manggdi….” from your 10th floor apartment, be rest assured that it is me driving. And though my car is small, I never drive under the speed limit. Speed limits are for idiots.

You know, I do not use the word “idiot”. I use a Hindi word for it, “Ch***a”. Thats what these other imbeciles on the road are. I wish like telling it to them. But then my lung power won’t carry it in noisy Delhi. So I use the air horn in my car.

One honk is the abuse to your sister….

Two is an abuse to your mother…..

More the honks, the more I am going up the value chain. After all Delhi is the city with maximum number of abuses rained per number of sentences spoken. But, I tell you the other Ch***a Delhites abuse un-necessarily. I am, on the other hand, a very sparing abuser.

Delhi is full of these out of their mind drivers. And there is population. I have devised some ingenious ways to beat all these drivers. I am always racing. I will never give you free passage. Why should I? You are not my brother/uncle/friend….. Fend for yourself!

Like I said I am a very important person. Therefore I can not wait anywhere. I hate queues. If I could, I would keep the number of english alphabets down to 25, take out that stupid questionable alphabet and quash it forever as a fitting way to protest against queues!

If you are driving to a toll plaza in a queue, I will come from one side and blast my way through. You have to consider VIPs rights for me don’t you?

Then I never drive in a straight line. It would take me ages to reach my destination driving like that. So I weave my way through the traffic. I pride that no one can predict what am I going to do next. I always have the right of the way. And it is defined as “if I can squeeze my way through you by hook or by crook, I have the right of the way”. If I am coming behind your car and you are not giving me a passage you surely do not love your sisters/mother etc.


Blasting my way through while talking loudly on my cell phone- I pay road tax and mobile bill- I have all the right to do it this way!

I read in one of the scholarly articles that driving is a social skill and the guys with good social values are good drivers. I completely believe it. My social skills are legendary. I ignore all my flat dwellers. I never wish them or greet them. In fact, I remember them not with their names but with incidents. Like the Vermas are the ones with whom I fought over whose turn was it at the milk booth, Sharmas are the one with whom I fought for…….etc etc.

I always talk to the laborers, electricians, plumbers with abuses. What to do? They do not listen to you otherwise.

So, with these great social skills I am bound to be a good driver, isn’t it?

But do not think I will be always as cordial as I have mentioned.

You mess with me and you will be sorry. A few days back, I was taking a turn while a rickshaw puller hit my car scratching my car body. I gave him quite a mouthful and made him pay 200 bucks for his bad driving. On top of it I slapped him for accusing me of turning without giving an indication. “Why mother***** you have indicators in your rickshaw????”

So do not equate my general nicety with docility.

Sometimes driving can be boring, like when I am stuck at a traffic light. By the way, I call the traffic lights as “Red Lights”. So in these red-light zones I get bored of waiting for action. So I stare at people and specially at women. These days there are a lot of women drivers. If they ignore my stares at the red-lights, I let them go ahead and then overtake them to cut into their lanes scaring them. Its is so funny ha-ha-ha-ha! Scaring women drivers- I love it.


I love women drivers- I sacre them, I gesture at them, I pass comments at them - I am loving it!


So, in a nutshell I am a very affable person with great driving skills and good core values of Indian middle class. But I am an important person as I am a car owner cum driver in Delhi. Ok, I have reached my apartment complex. My reserved parking is far from the lift, so what do I do? Well I park my car in someone else’s parking space. Let that Ch***a break his head.

Before I sign off, next time you see my car just let me pass first otherwise you are just inviting trouble for not being courteous to an important person like me. Caution, I drive like you!

-Manasij Ganguli

+91 7838237844

Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010: A City that was Never Prepared as a Host!

October 5, 2010

The biggest sporting spectacle on Indian soil is unfolding in plush stadiums of Delhi today. The largest contingent of international athletes for any Commonwealth Games in the history has descended in India’s showcase capital. With over 15 billion dollars in expenditure, it is the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever.

So one would probably imagine that the stadiums would be jam-packed? There would be long queues outside with impatient spectators? Well, yes it is jam-packed with security professionals and filled with impatient security marshals but no spectators! The stands are empty, the seats are vacant, and the galleries are deserted. The world’s biggest democracy is unmindful of its own accomplishment of holding the biggest sporting spectacle.

Empty Stands of CWG 2010 at Delhi

I do not find it odd though. This is an expected outcome. The international media is speculating on lots of reasons for Delhi’s non-attendance in the sporting arenas. It has placed its bets on perceived corruption related disrepute, high security cover, less number of ticket stalls and difficulty in getting online tickets and confusing information about events on Commonwealth Games’ website etc. I am laughing at these reasons. They are not the real reason at all. These are western world’s reason for non-attendance. The real Indian reason is far more shameful and that’s why no one seems to get it.

The real reason of this shameful non-attendance is not corruption. India queues up in millions to cast votes for people with excellent corruption skills- proven beyond doubt over ages, every few years. We can smell out money making corrupt ways in the most creative ways and we are immune to corruption. Corruption is not the reason why Delhi is not coming to watch the Commonwealth Games. Everyone expected the Commonwealth Games to be a corrupt affair and our great leaders delivered that faithfully just to prove that our belief was not a misplaced one.

The reason is not also the unprecedented security cover. Delhi is immune to it. With close to 5000 pea brained VIPs in the capital, Delhi is used to the security infested tamasha. It is no deterrent.

Neither is lack of ticketing booths and difficulty of information a reason. Come 2011 and Delhi would host World Cup Cricket games where to make money the BCCI will award a ticketing partner and a handful of those booths will dispense tickets to millions. No, lack of ticketing booths is not a reason. Delhi can handle that.

So what is the real reason? Ok, let me help you find “that” reason. Lets play a game and then lets tell you the reason. Ready?

Question1: How many players are there in netball game team? (no don’t go to google!)
Question2: How many sets are there in a lawn bowl game? (Wikipedia is also not allowed!)

Question3: What is the difference between Team Pursuit and Time Trial?

Question4: What are the different criteria based on which a diver’s performance is measured?

Question5: What are the different swimming styles?

Any average Delhite would score a perfect 0 out of 5! They just do not know what the hell are these games about. And that is the real reason; we the Indians are NOT sports conscious. We ignore sports and we don’t understand and relate to more than a handful of sports.

Our great leaders who thought to bring Delhi International fame by spilling billions of dollars from whole Indian taxpayers’ pockets; evaded every rule book to decamp with billions in corruption which after the games will forever meander in blind legal alleys and special parliamentary committees; rounded up the poor and the beggars to throw them in Bawana jhuggis; erected tall structures some of which fittingly came down; turned a city to a veritable fortress; somehow clawed to make things work at the 11th hour and thought the only way to seize the international limelight was through creating a 2 hours’ long wonderful joyous escapism of an opening ceremony, forgot one very important aspect.

They forgot the people of Delhi. They forgot the community integration such a large event needs. It needs the people to be ready for the great event. Where was any community event to build up sports as an exponent of our daily lives? Where was the education needed for people to understand what the 7 players of netball try to achieve or why is the approach, the flight and the entry such critical pieces of diving or for that matter how different is the track bike from the regular ones. Without these awareness these sports means nothing to anybody.

In one of my previous blogs, I had mentioned that we the Indians are not a sports loving country. Now after spending 15 billion dollars and getting the international heckling for shoddy workmanship and corruption charges and a false inflation of national pride through a 2 hours long well planned and executed spectacle, our dark secret is about to be revealed. The secret that we not sports lovers- a big slur on a country which hosts a game like this!

Finally, today a friend of mine brought an amazing piece of information. He said that the tickets for 2 games are sold out. They are women’s swimming and women’s gymnastic! Knowing Delhi for these many years, I know exactly why this has happened. I hope we just end here, with the shame that we are corrupt, unprofessional, poorly administered bunch of non-sports lovers and not ALSO with the medallion of Delhi’s most notorious crime statement against women.

Alas Delhi was never prepared to host this event.

Ayodhya Verdict: An Atheist’s View

October 1, 2010

So, yesterday was some sort of a watershed day in Indian history. Yes, we finally solved the cosmic riddle of what came first, the egg or the chicken? And not only we solved a question of great importance, we also created a great compromise formula that in one stroke made a great broth of archaeology, mythology, philosophy, law and religion. This “juggad” genius is only possible in India, a great country with the mother of all contradictions.

The honorable High Court has found out conclusive evidence that Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya, precisely under the dome of the now razed Babri Masjid. The court has also decreed that since neither the defendants and the plaintiffs could produce enough evidence that ascertains the property rights; it is best to split up the land.

Logically, you may think that it would be a two way split, right? Wrong!

There is Lord Rama embodied by Nirmohi Akhada that makes a magical entry to make it a three way split of the pot. Unfortunately poor Allah has no idols, shape, size etc, so there you go- you pay for your own handicap, no extra shares!

Those who think that the court has been unfair by making it a three way split; let me point out that the court has been extremely considerate. Lord Rama has had more than a thousand incarnations or avatars and it was extremely intelligent of the court not to consider the thousand other claimants. To me it sounds a little unfair on those hapless Avatars who will have to wait for other controversy riddled structures to get a real estate on their own names.

From now on mythology is admissible in the Indian courts as conclusive evidence to otherwise hard to find solutions. After all we regularly use one court case to strengthen the argument for another and now we can argue based on mythology too. And now mythological characters have gotten a historical cast. The day is not far when someone can claim to be a descendant of Lord Rama and puts a claim forward. The defendant would not be able to disprove the family lineage, and the plaintiff would not be able to prove it either. So, more divisions are in the offing?

Another question is how far back should we look to put the wrongs to right? Now we have looked 500 years. If we consider that Indian courts can now admit 5-century throwbacks, we are in serious jeopardy. Now if tomorrow I purchase a piece of land anywhere in India, should I be looking at a 500-year’s timeline to get NOCs from all parties? Clearly having property tax receipts and documentation of modern India has not been a conclusive evidence of property ownership in this case.

And one lesson learned is do not allow anyone to keep their belongings at your home, lest their children and grandchildren sue your progeny that the property belongs to them. On a December night of 1949, some people put in Ram’s idol in the Masjid and see that got them the land in 60 years time. Now here is the proof that wait bears sweet fruits. I am throwing the umbrella a fitter had forgotten a few weeks back at my home. Why take risks?

All this brings me to the final question. Why is everybody so happy? Why is that everyone so glad that a great compromise formula has been found and now the much famed reconciliation process may begin? Has India really a changed from 1992? Has the young generation got over this mandir-masjid issue?

Everyone who wanted a grand Ram mandir is happy. So, the right wing of India is extremely happy. It’s a windfall. Now the resplendent temple is a reality! Everyone who has had any mistrust, preconceived alienation for the minority community is happy, for the judgment is a reflection of their own beliefs. Compromise in justice is a great excuse for not accepting the truth. We live in a state of denial about our constant suppression of the minorities- citing we are a democracy. The young generation may not have anything to do with mandir-masjid but the denial and the alienation is still present. This judgment appeals to that splendidly.

Yes India has become a matured democracy. See, there were no rioting, no feverish saber rattling, chest thumping and inflammatory comments. Lets congratulate each other and pat our own backs. I do not kid myself with this thought for I know if the verdict were against the right wing majority, the country would have been torn apart again. Peace will prevail as long as the majority is satisfied and that is exactly what has happened today.

Now the matter would go to the Supreme Court. What do I expect? Another judgment that fails to distinguish between mythology and history, archaeology and scenario fulfillment, evidence and majority belief? Don’t worry no mater what, we will remain a mature democracy, like we are today.

“La Ultra – The High” Ultra-Marathon 2010 Race Report: The Prologue to the Race

August 16, 2010

The road to TangLangLa- worl’d 2nd highest road at 17,500 feet. It was dark, it was cold, it was windy and it was 40 hours and 180 km since the race was on…What an experience!

I stepped out of the car and immediately it felt like getting out into the hell. It was dark everywhere and strangely the high Himalayan peaks that surrounded from all directions, wore an inexplicable mesmerizing afterglow of the sunset. The wind was chilly and it was strong and the howl was unmistakable. I checked my watch and it confirmed the conditions. I was at 16,500 feet from sea level, 50 km from any human habitation and it was 2 degrees Celsius at 8:30 pm.

Just ahead of me was Mark Cockbain, the British Ultra-Marathoner- now in the final leg of the run. He had run 160 km by now and was on his feet for 38 hours at a stretch. We were 9 km from TangLangLa Pass, the 17,500 feet behemoth that stood as a blatant challenge to anyone trying to finish the 1st edition of India’s 1st and World’s Highest Ultra-Marathon!

We were a small contingent. Leading the way was Rajat Chauhan, a neat pack of the race director, an acclaimed sports medic and a veteran of many marathons and ultras. Close to his heels was Sonali Bhatia, a designer and a mountaineer who was more or less doing the piloting for Mark and there was Akhil Raina, an eclectic computer engineer.

Rajat Chauhan, the race director leading the way enroute TangLangLa pass

Sonali Bhatia accompanying Mark Cockbain. Mark had great help from his crew in the entire race.

We all had out headlamps and torches out and just one goal in mind- reach the TangLangLa Pass Top with Mark. Mark was in a bad shape (purely from my standpoint). Sleep deprivation, altitude, extreme exhaustion, cold and dryness taking a heavy toll on him. He was complaining of double vision. He had trouble perceiving the depths from the heights and was veering to his right all the time.

But whatever be the physical state, mentally he was as stoic as the mountains surrounding us. “I need to get off this mountain” that’s all he muttered and kept doing what he had been for last day and a half- just plant the next foot.

The nature fought back. One side of the mountain wall was now all packed snow; the road was a minefield of jagged boulders with ice and snow melt streams crisscrossing it like a board of snakes and ladders. The surface was all slushy and traction was tough to come by. But that was the last concern for us; the biggest enemy was the altitude. With only 40% as much air to breathe than at sea level, this was like a walk with your neck inside a plastic bag. And then it was cold.

It was scary.

Just a few hours back I had seen one of most amazing sunsets on our way to TangLangLa Pass. The scene was an ever-changing canvas with each minute being a new painter that would add another brush stroke of color.

Sunset time view of the sky near TangLangLa

More views from the same point

and the view gets better and better…

finally darkness sets in…..what a great sequence of views!

What was beautiful and enjoyable then was now a scary monster. Mark was exhausted but undaunted as he kept taking one more step after another. It was now a duel between the human will and the elements.

The road-ahead was illuminated by the headlights of the 3 cars following us. Finally after a 2 hours 45 minute marathon, Mark reached the TangLangLa Pass, 17500 feet from sea level- on the 2nd highest road in the world!

TangLangLa pass – 17,500 feet – World’s 2nd Highest Road!

Just as we crossed TangLangLa Pass, I jumped back into the car and breathed easy. It was warm, cozy and you need not fight the terrain to plant another step while breathing almost nothing.

As Mark kept taking more steps downhill and kept advancing towards the end, which was 32 km from the pass, I relaxed and looked back how this amazing high altitude ultra marathon spanned out.

For me, it began last year in November when I received an email from Rajat asking me if I would be fine him sharing my cycling photographs of this same region.

I have cycled this whole region last year from Manali to Leh via the TangLangLa Pass and then on to the highest road in world- the KhardungLa pass. Read my cycling blog here.

All vehicles getting ready to move to Khardung Village from Leh

So, I had the advantage of knowing the place pretty well. But when I first heard of the concept of running through this route, my thought was – “wow, this is crazy- running 200+ km in Himalayas in insane enough!”

Later, all pieces fell into their right place and a gang of 25 odd organizers and volunteers descended into the arid cold wilderness of Ladakh, a Northern district of Sovereign India.

The race that would unfold was to be an epic.

It would begin on July 24th 2010 from 12 km North of Khardung Village at 13,500 feet altitude. The course would then run through a 42 km brutal climb up to the highest motor-able road of KhardungLa pass (at 17,700 feet) and then descend to 10,500 feet on the Indus valley floor via the district headquarters Leh. Then the course would take a final dramatic ascent to TangLangLa Pass (17,500 feet) and descend to 15,500 feet into the Morey Plains.

This way the total course would be a staggering 222 km! Here is the route profile:

The Route

I reached Leh on 22nd July, as the last member of the volunteering crew and sensed a prevailing unease.

All were unsure.

This was the 1st time anything of this magnitude was planned. The organizers and volunteers were unsure of the unknowns.

The runners were unsure, as this was their 1st attempt at anything this high!

On July 23rd 2010 all the paraphernalia along with all the volunteers and participants started from Leh for our campsite at Khardung Village.

The campsite at Khardung Village @ 14400 feet

The campsite at the Khardung Village was set up at the nature’s lap. The logistics was looked after by Kaushal from Above 14000 Feet who had the dual responsibility of taking care of all the nitty-gritties and his two beloved doggies!

Kaushal, the fellow responsible behind the event logistics

Our lifelines, read guys with the driving duties caught up with their sleep so as to prepare for the next grueling 72 hours of labor.

Folks with driving duties: Jitin, Susheel and Hitendra AKA Bunty

By that time, the runners were busy dishing out their instructions to their respective crewmembers. The crewmembers were seen with laptops, gps, cameras, medical equipments, pens, papers, scissors and pretty much all sorts of stationeries for keeping track of all the vitals.

Bill giving instructions to his crew member Nischal. All runners have their likes and dislikes, do-s and dont-s and a pre race instruction file is the best way for the crew to remain apprised

The support cars, one designated for each runner, were first loaded, and then overloaded and then super loaded till the time they just had enough space for the crew to wriggle in!

Thats what the cars looked like. These big SUVs were filled to the brim. It was a contortionist’s job to fit inside the cars and the crewmen did that with aplomb!

It would be a full moon night in a day’s time. Thus the moon was brilliant and it shined like a real 200-watt bulb at night.

Next day was big.

Next day was the start of the 1st edition of the La Ultra – The High!

Lots of folks had said that this was an untenable plan, that it was impossible to run at these altitudes…And here we are 12 hours from testing the waters.

The first day would tell us if this was at all doable…

Read on to know about the Day 1 of the Ultra Marathon……

The full moon night at Khardung Village

Also read:

La Ultra – The High : An Introduction

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 1

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 2 and Finish

-Manasij Ganguli


“La Ultra – The High” Ultra-Marathon 2010 Race Report: Day 1-July 24th 2010

August 16, 2010

View from the starting point of La Ultra - The High: The highest ultra-marathon of the World! The starting point is 12 km from Khardung Village on way to Nubra Valley

The 4 am alarm sounded like a war bugle. Wriggling out of the warm sleeping bag was such an effort….

However, as I stepped outside the tent, the scenery seemed like that of a busy morning at a train station. People running, dogs barking, cars revving…. Amidst all the madness was a huge bowl of porridge lying on the grass while a few volunteers and runners feasted on it.

The early morning breakfast: Runners and Volunteers prepare for the next 2-3 gruelling days

At 5:30 all was packed up in cars and we began a 12 km detour towards Khalsar, Nubra Valley. Finally, we reached the starting point of La Ultra – The High, world’s highest ultra-marathon. Where was it? Actually it was nowhere. One of the important aspects of the race is that it starts and finishes just anywhere, no landmarks required.

The Starting Point of La Ultra - The High

As this was the 1st edition, the entry to the race was strictly by invitation. There was of course qualifying criterion. Click here to see the profile of the runners and here you will find the qualifying criterion.

In a nutshell, we had 3 highly respected international ultra-marathoners. The distinguished running participants were Bill Andrews, Mark Cockbain and Molly Sheridan. All of them have participated in the other grueling ultra runs across the world and now testing their mettle in this extreme high altitude ulra-marathon.

Bill and his team decided to do a small team huddle. Bill’s team had Jitin as the car driver; Abhijeet, Sabine and Nischal as crew members.

Bill Andrews' Crew: Nischal, Bill, Jitin, Abhijeet and Sabine

They were the noisiest among all the other groups.

Molly’s group had Robert Wier, Rajesh, Sindhu and Susheel was taking the driving duties.

Mark’s group had Hitendra at the wheels with Akhil, Manisha and Sonali splitting the crewing honors.

Rajat was with Kaushal, the owner of Above 14000 feet – the logistics partner in his rugged 4X4 Gypsy to keep tab on all runners.

At the stroke of half past 6, the 1st edition of La Ultra – The High began!

All hands meet at the Starting point

The cameras and videos had a busy time rolling together as the runners started the 222 km odyssey at a more or less brisk walk pace. Ultra –Marathons are never super fast events, but are events of endurance and conservation of resources. Anyway, we all knew this was probably our only chance to capture all participants in one frame and so did we!

And the race begins....finish line? Oh it is just 222 km away!

The first steps of the La Ultra - The High

Off you go guys....

Bill Andrews, Molly Sheridan and Mark Cockbain: The 3 runners

The immediate goal was the campsite 12 km from start line. Mark quickly overtook Bill and Molly and reached Khardung Village as the race leader, a distinction that he would go on to hold on for the rest of the race.

Bill was not in his top form- suffering from mild chest congestion for the last few days. He started slow and steady. I was in Molly’s support crew car at the start and she was going well. Our vehicle would stop every 4-5 km or so and every time Molly went by, Sindhu or Rajesh would run up to her and find out if she needed anything.

Molly Sheridan running through the winding Himalayan roads

Bill Andrews caught up in a miny traffic jam at 15000 feet!

At the Khardung Village- 12 km from start at an altitude of 14,400 feet, Mark was leading the pack by some 5 minutes with Molly and Bill following him in the same order.

Molly reaching Khardung Village, 12 kms knocked off, 210 to go....

At the Khardung Village, the camp kitchen provided packed lunch for all the volunteers – you don’t want to keep the volunteers hungry, do you?

In races like these, the crew is as important as the runner. It is also an endurance activity for the crews who have to be on their toes full time to cater to the needs of the runners. 48 to 72 hours in cramped car space, braving altitude, cold and still keeping the runners on the go – crewing is not a job for the faint hearted. Add to that the group dynamics of staying put with setting sleep deprivation and add the fact that each runner has a different personality trait. The crew has to keep a lot in mind.

Mark was the silent type who did not like being talked to. Bill was the expressive kinds who would always have a few things to tell his crew.

Molly was just happy running and she would smile and wave past he crew on each pass.

However, for pure enthusiasm Sabine and Nischal had my vote hands down. Each time Bill would go past the support vehicle, these two lovely ladies would stand as cheer girls and chant:

“Bill will kill the hill….oh yeah….”

With an unmistakable Rajnikanth styled pelvic thrust!

Yes girls, thats the way to support your runner......

It was just the kind of start a great race required!

The race had one more surprise up it sleeves- something no one had guessed so far. Molly and Bill had planned to get engaged and had chosen Khardungla pass, the highest road in the world, as the ceremony ground!

So it was no wonder see them run the distance together from North Pullu, 14 kms from Khardungla pass.

Bill and Molly running together and having a great time

Meanwhile Mark was relentless in his progress. He was eating kilometers at a brisk pace. However now he had a new problem other than altitude to contend with.

The road conditioned worsened quickly as it neared the Khardungla pass These high passes are always a high altitude battle zone between man and the nature. It snows some 30 feet in a year and has numerous snow melt streams rudely flowing over the road surface. Thus the road surface sometimes completely gets obliterated.

Akhil Raina with Mark. Akhil was a great sport and a big reason behind the success of the event. He also crewed Mark and fittingly looked after Mark's needs at all times. Here Akhil walks up with Mark on way to KhardungLa pass

really bad road conditions nearing KhardungLa pass. But the you have to respect the nature when you are at 17,700 feet trying to carve out a road almost half way up the sky!

Just as Mark was reaching KhardungLa pass, a snow avalanche struck. He crossed over the fresh snow to reach the KhardungLa pass in 6 hours 45 mins for a 42 km climb!

Watch the avalanche crossing video here:

Mark Cockbain at KhardungLa pass. At 17,700 feet this is the highest road in the world and the highest point of the La Ultra race

At the Khardungla pass, Mark and his crew met up with a tribal woman from the far off Batalik who had walked all the way to this place for pilgrimage purposes. It was an interesting moment as one international ultra-marathoner met up with a local long distance walking pilgrim.

one runner meets another......Mark meets a long distance walker local Pilgrim

As Mark was making is way down to Leh, Molly and Bill’s support crew were stuck in the same avalanche created traffic snarl.

avalance created stoppage for support vehicles

Finally Bill and Molly reached the Khardungla pass at 4 pm, almost 3 hours behind Mark.

Bill at khardungla-17,700 feet!

Molly reaches khardungla too....

At Khardungla pass the race was put on the back burner for a while. Molly and Bill walked all the way up the ridge and stood perilously close to the sheer drop and took the plunge…. I mean exchanged the engagement rings while the crew applauded.

The place where they took the plunge.....

There are many worthy places to get engaged, but getting a slice of Himalayas, world’s highest pass and an impossible ultra-marathon is one crazy cocktail not available for made to order engagements!

The run continued again. By now it was getting to the evening hours. The golden glow of the sunrays was making the route look surreal and straight out of a picture postcard.

View while coming down from KhardungLa

Bill was looking strong and was setting a nice pace.

Bill going strong- in groove to kill the hill!

On the other hand Molly started to struggle a bit. She was unable to ingest anything and was throwing up. However, she refused to call it quits and kept running.

The crew came in to support her. Rajesh and Sindhu took turns staying with Molly in her run. She was surely one tough gal as she kept the kilometers ticking despite being in bad shape.

Molly being looked after by her support crew during her rest break

At 6 pm Molly was at South Pullu, 57 km from the starting point when Rajat, the race director and the sports medic examined her. Rajat deduced that Molly was far too dehydrated to continue. He beseeched Molly to pull out for the evening and receive medical attention at Leh Hospital. Reluctantly Molly agreed and she was whisked away in the support vehicle.

Meanwhile it became dark. The temperature dropped dramatically and to compensate for the harsh surroundings, the full moon came out.

Bill and Mark were still on course for more than 12 hours. Mark had a 3 hours’ lead over Bill reaching Leh town, 80 km from the starting point.

Mark reaching Leh

Glowing in the dark....Thats Bill Andrews by the way

However, Bill had his share of bad luck just 5 km from Leh town. He was complaining of chest congestion and he was also taken to Leh hospital. Both Bill and Molly would start from their last position the next day.

Mark had reached the Indus river basin and was now more or less on flat land at an altitude of 11,000 feet. He had almost 80 km to cover in the Indus basin passing though Leh, Choglamsar, Thiksey, Karu, Upshi to reach Rumptse, the base of TanglangLa pass.

17 hours into the race, mark is still on course and still creacking a few jokes during rest breaks.....

It looked like a long night. The question was, would Mark survive the long and cold night running through the crazy altitude? Would Molly get strong enough after a night at the hospital to get back to the point where she left of last night? Would Bill be able to tide over his chest congestion to challenge Mark the next day? The crew was tiring and the full day’s toil was now taking its toll. Will they be able to stitch together another day’s hard work?

While I battled these questions, Mark silently kept his game up. He was still running, it was near midnight- 17 hours on the course, braving the cold, the altitude and exhaustion there was one man still pursuing what he does always- put himself through a suffer fest and keep doing his best.

I wondered what was in store for the next day.

Read on to know about the grand finale of the La Ultra – The High ultra marathon.

Fabulous camera work by Akhil. Thats a speeding vehicle streaking pasr Mark

Also read:

La Ultra – The High : An Introduction

La Ultra – The High : Prologue

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 2 and Finish

-Manasij Ganguli


“La Ultra – The High” Ultra-Marathon 2010 Race Report: Day 2 and 3-July 25th and 26th 2010

August 16, 2010

Molly Sheridan: Gazing at Stok Kangri Range from the road to KhardungLa Pass

It was 24 hours since the first step was taken. 24 hours since the cars and the crew were on the move. 24 hours since the 1st edition of La Ultra-The High, India’s 1st and world’s highest ultra-marathon was underway.

Molly was declared fit in the morning and she started from South Pullu, the place from where she was whisked away to the hospital last evening. It was cold and the air above 15,000 feet altitude was as thin as ever. Molly’s run began and she was looking strong and good. The race was on!

60 km down the course Mark was now fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation and the terrain. But he was still on course! He had just another 100 km between him and the finish line.

Bill began from his last stopped point after a night at the hospital. He was at the moment the last guy in the race circuit.

Bill Andrews with his crew Nischal and Sabine....Noisy supportive crew 🙂

Bill’s vocal crew was back to business, supporting and cheering Bill at each pass.

However, it looked Bill was not at his 100%.

Finally, 7 km from Leh, Bill stopped. He was visibly in pain. He was again taken to the hospital and this time the prognosis did not look encouraging. Bill had contacted some gall bladder infection. He had to pull out.

Bill Andrews' challenge in 1st edition of La Ultra- The High ends with a gallbladder infection 80 km into the race

Bill Andrews is taken to SNM Hospital, Leh

It was heartbreak for Bill and his crew, but then it was impossible for Bill to get back to the race.

By 7 am Mark was at Upshi, the place where the Indus basin ends and the gradual ups and downs begin that would continue for next 40 kms till Rumptse where the final ascent to TangLangLa pass begins through some 30 odd switchback climbs.

Mark Cockbain: Now 24 hours into the race running through Tokpo valley near Upshi, 100 km from starting point

Soon it was warm. The sun was beating down hard and the temperature soared. At one point I noted 36 degrees Celsius (97 F)! At higher altitudes the thin atmosphere creates no barrier for the sunrays that seem like invisible needles going through your body. The lack of oxygen quickens the breathing rate and that accentuates water loss. It was therefore important to keep hydrated.

Runners’ nutrition is also very important. All the crews were keeping a tight vigil at what and how much the runners were ingesting. Like I said, being a crew is a tough job for any ultra-marathon and this was no different.

Sonali an avid mountaineer and Mark's crew for this race, cooking instant noodles- one of the many crew duties to keep the runner fulled and on the go....Sonali was greatly instrumental in Mark's success as was his rest of the crew

Molly was progressing nicely along the Indus basin and the mood in her camp was upbeat. 60 kms ahead, Mark was still going strong and he was now out of Indus basin and scaling heights albeit through some very gentle gradients. He was passing through the picturesque Tokpo river valley.

Mark continues in searing midday heat that went upto 40 degrees C (104 F)

Beautiful Tokpo river valley on way to Lato from Upshi. See the pirple hued mountains, the picture perfect river and a cute wooden river crossing

The midday heat was on and it was very warm in the sun.

By late noon Molly was now running through a searing 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) heat. It was talking a toll on her but she was brave and strong and continued. Her crew- Robert, Rajesh and Molly along with Susheel was greatly supportive and she kept her game up.

Molly Sheridan continues, now 30 hours into the race, 90 km from start point and not giving up despite scorching heat and a night at the hospital

At 1 pm, Mark and his crew reached Lato- the final campsite some 35 km from TangLangLa pass . It was the final campsite before the finishing point- still some 67 km further.

Lato camping site: see the local Ladakhi herdsman weaving yak wool near the pitched tents

As the crew stopped for lunch and Mark took a power nap inside the car, I wandered around. Last year during my cycle trip from Manali to Leh and then to Khardungla, we had camped at the very location and had fond memories of the place.

By 2 pm Mark was on his feet again. He had 67 km to the finish line but up ahead was a real uphill task. He was to scale some 4500 feet in next 35 km to reach the 2nd highest road in the world- TangLangLa pass at 17,500 feet. Then he was to negotiate a wreck of a road to scale down another 2500 feet to finish at the Morey Plains.

This was going to be one long-tough climb and Mark’s pace was conservative at the start. By now he was on the course for 32 hours with hardly 2 hours of sleep in between.

Mark Cockbain: Off from Lato campsite and on way to TanglangLa Pass at 17,500 feet

Molly was now on her way to Upshi and started to worry why Bill had not crossed her yet. She was unaware that a team of doctors in Leh hospital looked after Bill at that very moment.

Mark’s progress was getting slower every hour on the climb to TangLangLa pass . He was suffering from exhaustion and now the altitude started to take swipes. However, he just kept moving.

Mark’s crew was joined by Rajat’s vehicle that was until now playing the role of the messenger car, keeping a tab on all 3 runners spaced out by almost 100 km now!

However, Rajat decided to join Mark for the stint uphill to TangLangLa pass .

on way to TanglangLa Pass

Rajat joins Mark on way to TangLangLa pass

The road from Rumptse to TangLangLa pass is amazingly beautiful. It is flanked by tall mystic mountains, each over 6000 meters and had great views. Amidst this amazing natural panorama was an odd group of cars and people, silently putting one-step after another with one goal- reach the top of the pass! Will Mark have enough left? The race was entering its most crucial phase.

Winding roads up the TangLangLa pass

It was 7:30 pm now and the sun had set. Molly was now at Upshi. She was getting slower too and now fighting some anxiety of not having seen Bill go past her for more than 15 hours now.

Up on the mountain, it was now getting colder every minute. The cold mountain wind was picking up and to make things worse the surface was all powdery and even gentle winds would smear the runners with choking dust.

I met up a few BRO workers who have the glamorous job of upkeep of these crazy altitude roads. They spend 5 months half up in the sky, breathing nothing with just 2 pairs of supplied warm clothes for a measly 4500 rupees ($90) a month. These guys are from poor and backward states of India. It was sad to see such disparity so nakedly.

Yours truly with the extremely poor laborers from Jharkhand. The get $90 for a month, less than what my shoes are worth! Pathetic disparity....

At dark, the roads became dangerous. The surface was all dust, boulders, water, slush, snow-melt stream wades…It was very cold, temperature well below 5 degrees Celsisus (41 F) mark with howling cold winds. The 3 cars lined up with their beams showing the way for Rajat and Mark.

The runners used Respra facemasks to keep away from dust. Its excellent dust filter and activated Carbon filter stood up brilliantly and provided great help all through.

It was a great addition to the race and a must have accessory in case you want to run/ cycle in these altitudes. Read about Respra here.

Mark Cockbain running through the 2nd straight night....

Then the crew had their first scare. Mark was very cold all of a sudden. A frenetic race ensued to get Mark some warm clothing.

Just at the moment when Mark was loaded with warm clothing, Molly had reached Lato campsite and was preparing for a few hours of break. She was focused and optimistic about the last 60 km or so. Little did she know then that she would be pulling out in next few hours…… Yes, it was an unpredictable race.

At 16,500 feet, 1000 feet shy of the TangLangLa pass top the condition were bad. Mark was suffering from extreme exhaustion for he was now on his feet for almost 40 hours. He had trouble perceiving heights from depths and was veering to right all the time.

Riding on pure will and determination, Mark reached TangLangLa pass at 11:15 pm. He was far too exhausted to even manage a smile at the pass’ legendary milestone.

TangLangLa pass - 17,500 feet - World's 2nd Highest Road! Mark Cockbain reached the place at 11:15 at night with frigid temperatures riding on sheer determination and will!

If the climbing up the pass was tough, the descent was equally a painful process. The road surface was shocking- ready to suck unsuspecting souls into 1000-meter drop offs!

It was extremely cold; at 2 am I measured -6 degrees Celsius (22 F)! Add to that the bone chilling winds that felt like some invisible enemy stabbing at you with a sharp dagger.

I headed down some 12 km in our car with Rajat and Susheel from the TangLangLa pass and waited for Mark to catch up. At 2 am a passing by vehicle stopped and they said something that we could not deconstruct, but it felt like something was wrong.

We turned back and headed up expecting the worst and a few switchbacks later saw the most amazing sight one can see instead.

In the crisscross of light and dark of the headlights of the cars and the boulders was a tall shadow of man running. The footsteps were sure and lofty enough to suggest that the runner was back in his elements. There was Mark.

“How much more?” he asked as he stopped for refilling some water.

“18.6 km more”. I told him.

“Lets finish this….” He was off again.

We saw him slowly disappear behind another turn and it felt amazing to see the man nearing the finish line.

In the meantime, Rajat and Susheel turned back from here to Lato to check upon Molly’s progress. Rajat met Molly at the campsite at Lato at daybreak. Molly was told about Bill’s hospitalization and she decided to rush to Leh to be at his side. Everyone knew, she had it to complete the race but respected her personal commitments. She would come back here next year to settle her score with TangLangLa pass for sure!

Morey Plains: the 1st edition of the race is about to finish

It was a cloudy early morning. It had been 48 hours since Mark was on the course. The crew and Mark had a last meeting. Akhil told him that only 4 km separates him from the finish.

“We will see you at the finish line” and we drove off.

The point of finish was in the middle of nowhere. It was almost halfway into the Morey Plains, an accident of geography that has carved out a 40 km flat land strip at 15,500 feet!

The car stopped at the final finish point, 222 km from the start. We came down and unrolled the finishing point poster.

“Here he comes…..” Akhil exclaimed and suddenly all our senses were heightened. And then it seemed all magical. Mark appeared in our vision range. First it was just a silhouette, then slowly you could see more detailing and finally there he was! The finish line buoyed his spirits for sure and he took some nice confident strides to hit the finish line.

The finishing line of the 1st edition of La Ultra-The High: Mark Cockbain's 48 hour 50 minutes' hurclulean effort ends in the middle of Morey Plains

Here is the video of the finish line. It was in a way funny as I realized that my camera mode was garbled and therefore could not get the video first time right. So we had Mark come back again and retake the finish line video.

Mark joked that he had to run 222 km and 50 meters 🙂 Sorry Mark, we made you run just a bit more!

The race was over.

No there was no chest thumping, no fist pumping, no overjoyed beaming smile….

Mark just sat in the chair and as the crew wrapped up everything, he spoke in a tone as if he was just back from a morning stroll!

Then as we loaded him in the car and made our way towards Pang, the makeshift camp for finishers. Mark just dozed off.

I was far too overwhelmed by the man’s achievement to let it sublimate over a REM cycle. It was an incredible experience seeing Mark do the almost impossible. Just look at the stats below to fathom the scale of his achievement:

Total Distance 222 km
Time Taken 48 hours 50 minutes
Average Altitude 13500 feet
Max Altitude 17700 feet
Min Altitude 10500 feet
Max Temp 40 degrees C
Min Temp -6 degrees C
Min Oxygen Level 40% of Sea Level
Max Oxygen Level 65% of Sea Level
Total Ascent 11000 feet
Total Descent 8000 feet

I am no expert at running but my little experience of cycling in the same region tells me this is an incredible feat. It was greatly inspiring to see another human being push the limits, put himself through so much just to achieve the objective. You could brush past him, or for that matter Bill or Molly in a bus stop and you could never guess what these guys are capable of. It is physical fitness conjoined with extreme mental fitness that lets one complete such overwhelmingly difficult tasks.

Finally, that evening when all the team and the volunteers came together at the final camp at Whiskey Nullah, the award ceremony took place.

This time of course Mark and his team Akhil, Sonali, Hitendra and Manisha all had broad smiles. The cute trophy, designed by the Happily Unmarried group was a great result for the amazing journey.

Mark Cockbain: the undisputed victor

Mark with his crew (Sonali absent in the pic). There is Manisha, Hitendra and Akhil with Mark

And the 1st edition of La Ultra – The High, world’s highest ultra-marathon came to an end.

It was am amazing event, an event that many thought was impossible to organize, let alone for someone to finish. Yes, there were a lot of unknowns, lot of challenges, lot of room for improvements, but then now Mark has shown that it is doable- though in his own admission it was one of the toughest races he has done.

So, what happens next?

I am sure next year La Ultra – The High would be back with more runners from different parts of the world, all with one goal- push the limit, reach the next km, complete the next switchback, go over the next pass, kiss the finish line…..

Get inspired now!

Every step counts

Also read:

La Ultra – The High : An Introduction

La Ultra – The High : Prologue

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 1

-Manasij Ganguli


%d bloggers like this: