Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I have the Flu

Well OK this isn't exactly something like the proclamation Prince Adam made before he turned to He-Man, but it is a fact nevertheless. However, it’s not a particularly memorable event in my life that I would wish to record in my blog, and most certainly not something that would drag me out of my year long blogosphere slumber; in fact my unpleasant “experience” so far has made me want to write about this despite the 101 F temperature(last measured) that it has brought along.

Ok, 1st things 1st, I don’t seem to have the swine flu yet. My local general physician told me I didn’t seem likely to have it and yet told me to get a throat/nasal swab test done-If I wanted to. However, with the way things are going in India in general, and Bangalore in particular, you can’t really blame me for being a bit cautious.

Flashback to last Friday night, I was as hale and hearty as I could be, and celebrated the onset of yet another weekend with a friend at a local watering hole. Next morning as I woke up with a stuffy nose I realized that I’d forgotten to slow down the fan at night, which, in this cold Bangalore weather, at least to me seemed to be the only plausible reason for it.
Now as luck would have it, my colleagues’ had already booked tickets for the noon show of “Kaminey”, and I figured when so many of us were going there could be no reason for me not to.

So knowing fully well the extent of the spread of Swine flu in the city, I went to a chemist and got myself a surgical mask(just in case), and went for the show. As soon as I stepped in, however, whatever little fear of ridicule I had in my mind over wearing that mask evaporated immediately since the whole theatre looked like a sea of green masks(wish I could take that pic).We all too wore our masks and watched the movie ( OK I agree the movie wasn’t really worth all that trouble, but what the heck- let’s not go there right now.)

So the point is I came back from the movie same as before, nothing but a nasal congestion.
Now I wake up late on Sunday and it’s yet another lazy Sunday for me, nothing out of the ordinary, had a late brunch, the usual siesta, talked to some friends and that’s about it.

Monday was back to office and the usual routine, however, by this time almost everyone was talking about the flu, maybe because the death of 2 more women from Bangalore had made it the city with 2nd most fatalities in India. Circulars were going around, our washrooms, cafeteria etc. - there were health advisory posters everywhere.
I tried to follow all safety norms as advised, washing my hands frequently-especially after touching door knobs etc. , not shaking hands with people etc. However, I noticed in the afternoon that there were 2 people in my immediate vicinity coughing and sneezing intermittently, and each time they did, it sent alarm bells ringing everywhere.
I too had a blocked nose till then, but their conditions seemed at least like a very bad cold, if nothing worse. I didn’t pay much attention to them and continued my work as usual, however, by late evening I noticed my voice getting hoarse(besides the stuffy nose) . Either ways, this day too passed as usual.
On Tuesday I woke up with a sore throat and the same nasal blockage, but otherwise was still feeling fine so never even paid it much attention. At work, those 2 colleagues were still present without any visible signs of improvements, making almost everyone around uncomfortable. By late noon (post lunch) I had a running nose, and that’s the 1st time I had any idea that there was something wrong. By 5 pm I found the cold getting worse so I told boss I would be leaving early.
I immediately rushed to the chemist(with my mask on), got a few paracetamols, a thermometer, some disposable masks, a strip of strepsils and a hand sanitizer, then ate some hot Mexican soup and reached home. I checked my fever to find it at fluctuating between 99-100 F, so wasn’t anything alarming. Yet I took the meds and went to sleep.
Today morning I wake up late again to the same fever (100F) accompanied by All the symptoms of this “Swine” flu- running nose, heavy breathing, congestion in the chest, sore throat, exhaustion as well as watery eyes. That almost all these symptoms are also common to the – well what else, “common” flu, is another matter.
I called up boss to tell him I wasn’t well and was taking an off, then had lunch home delivered, and then decided to visit the closest hospital- a private medical college where apparently they were conducting the swine flu test too.
Now this is where I had the experience that left me embittered.
I reached the hospital around 3 pm, went to the pharmacy 1st to get an N95 mask(since I was about to go into a room full of H1N1 suspects), then I asked my way around and was told to fill a form and submit it to the reception 1st.
This was the 1st jolt I got, out there in the open, there was a table with some stacks of forms with pens lying around, which people were supposed to come, fill up using those pens, out the pens back, and then submit those forms at the counter.
Now is it just me or is the hospital management blind to the most basic of precautionary measures to help prevent the spread of the flu?
Here were suspected H1N1 patients (such as myself), using those pens to write, which would be used again by some poor patient later. Now of course I disinfected my hands before/after using that pen with the sanitiser, but I’m sure not everyone visiting here would’ve been that cautious.
After filling in the form I was supposed to submit it at a counter, where again a poor lady was collecting the forms from everyone and manually feeding the information into a computer.
I was told to go to the general physician, where I was given a token (mine was #20 and #8 had just gone inside) and was told to wait for my turn. An hour passed and the counter had just moved to #10. There were patients with routine illnesses interspersed with swine flu suspects, most of them without any masks, and it was clearly just a matter of time before some poor chap would contract it. I waited for an excruciating 4.5 hours(with 100F fever) in the queue before my turn finally came.
The doctor enquired about my symptoms:
Running Nose-“Yes”,
Sore throat-“Yes”,
Heavy Breathing-“Yes”,
High fever for more than 3 days-“No”
Then he checked my BP and pulse and told me that most probably it was seasonal influenza, and it was upto me whether to get tested for swine flu or not.Then he prescribed some antibiotics and that was the end of it.

What I was really piqued by was not just that it took 4.5 hours for the doc to tell me there was nothing to indicate H1N1, but the lack of proper arrangements for people who might require immediate medical care.

When it’s a known fact how this virus is spreading like wild fire, and when this hospital claimed to be taking care of swine flu suspects, why couldn’t they have a separate doctor dedicated for swine flu suspects only? Not only would that insure swift diagnosis for flu suspects, it would shield the other patients from catching it!
Why couldn’t the patients be segregated to give a higher priority to those running a high fever/ chances of complications? Imagine some old person with H1N1 running a high fever having to wait it out for 4.5 hours, by the time he reaches the doc it just might be too late!

Now as I write this after having returned from that rather exhausting diagnosis, my fever has gone up to 101, still I’ve taken solace in the assurance of the doc that this is just another “common” flu. I sure hope that's what it remains!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

7 Days in Ladakh - Day 3 - Keylong to Leh via Baralacha La and Tangalang La

21st Oct,2008.

The first thing I realized on waking up in the freezing cold was the heart warming sight of bright sunshine peeping in through the window. As we came out in the balcony, the view of crystal clear blue skies and sunlit white peaks gave us the much required hope to carry on the trip.
As we met up with the driver, he too suggested it should be fine to move on.

We were in a surprisingly good mood today compared to the night before, perhaps something to do with the high altitude taking it's toll in the evenings. It's happened to me before at Gangotri in 2006, when I was terribly depressed and had a feeling of impending doom at night, but just like today it was gone the next morning.
Or our immunity could be the effect of Anti mountain sickness (Diamox) pills which we popped in last night, and on which I could write an entire post, but maybe i'll save that for later.

Though we were ready to leave by 5:30am(we wanted to cover the next 300 odd kms asap while the weather was still clear), the driver suggested we leave by 6:30 as he calculated that it would give sufficient time for any ice accumulated on the high pass to have melted when we reached there.
Soon after we started we crossed the next small settlement of Jispa and reached the final human habitation for next 300 kms, a village called Darcha where we halted for breakfast. Darcha is also the starting point for the famous 20 day Lamayuru trek.

(Approaching Darcha)

The next stop was just 16 km from Darcha at the most beautiful sight yet, a small high altitude lake (more of a pond) called DeepakTal, with a near perfect reflection of the ChandraBhaga peaks behind; and the picture we took here was perhaps among the best in the trip, which says a lot considering the fact that almost all were out of this world. Our driver also collected some mud from here to use on the icy roads later to prevent skidding.


Now we started with our first real ascent and the views again changed dramatically as we entered the Greater Himalayas.
The Himalayas can be broadly categorised into following ranges in the North: The Dhauladhar range or Lesser Himalayas which includes Dharamshala,Dalhousie and uptil Patni top pass between Jammu and Srinagar, The Middle Himalayas or Pir Panjal range extending from Gulmarg in Kashmir to Lahaul and Rohtang in Himachal, and the Greater Himalayas beyond this which contain some of the world's highest peaks.

It takes some time to really appreciate the towering stature of Himalayas among the world's mountains -more than top 100 of world's highest peaks are located here, in fact the highest peak outside this region is Mt. Aconcagua in Andes in South America, which at 22,841 ft it's still 1000 ft shorter than the 100th ranking Himalayan peak(and Everest is 29,000!).
No wonder then that they're the Grand Daddy's of mountains, with a veritable embarassment of riches bestowed upon them.

Soon we entered the snow country of ChandraBhaga glacier, and the temperature dipped a few degrees further down.It was white as far as the eye could see, and the driver showed us the spot where 5 people had died in an avalanche just about a month back. We did feel a little nervous here since we could see the wind blowing off freshly fallen snow just above the road. As we reached the first major pass BaralachaLa at 16,400 ft, we got down for a quick photo op. The lake below the pass-SurajTal, had completely frozen over, though this was just the beginning of winters.

We quickly realised how deceptively deadly this otherwise beautiful view could be, since though we were out for just 3-4 minutes, yet our hands and faces had gone completely numb in the cold and had to be vigorously rubbed back to life.
I wondered how many minutes would it take for a person to get hypothermia here if stranded alone- not too many for sure.

Getting down the northern side of BaralachaLa we got our first glimpse of the dry high mountain desert that is Ladakh.

(Down from Baralach La)

We soon touched Sarchu in the Lingti plains, where we saw a completely different landscape at 13000 ft. This serves as a camping ground for travellers during peak season (though sleeping at this altitude without acclimatisation is a sureshot invitation to mountain sickness)

(Sarchu Plains)

Again there was no sign of life anywhere in this stretch, but our gasps of surprise and exclamations of delight at the vistas commenced here. Me and Hari kept shuffling the cameras between us depending on which side window offered a better view, and trust me it wasn't easy to decide !

The valley was divided by the Lingti river, and beautiful formations of stalagmite and stalactites accompanied us all along.

(Crossing Lingti Nallah)

As soon as we crossed the Lingti nallah we were officially inside the state of Jammu & Kashmir and India's largest district of Ladakh.

(Gatta Loops)

We begin climbing the circuitous 21 hairpin bends known as Gatta loops, which would eventually elevate us from valley floor to a height of 16,616 ft to the second pass LachulungLa.

The pass in itself was not very significant, and we descended from this peak again to the valley of Pang.

Here, for the first time in the trip, we saw a sign of habitation, a tent put up by group of 5-6 Ladakhi women to serve as a makeshift dhaba, where the ITBP jawans were enjoying themselves to a cup of tea and maggie. It was 2 pm and our driver also needed a break from driving, so we had lunch of hot maggie with traditional Ladakhi butter tea here, with the butter said to energize against the biting cold.

(Crossing over into Morre plains)

Ascending from here we soon entered the Morre plains, which is a flat plateau at 16,000 ft! The stunning views here were among the best in the entire 7 day trip, since we had snow capped peaks just in the immediate vicinity, which for a change were not towering above us but seemed to be almost approachable.

No wonder this route is said to be among the best for motorcycle rides in the world, I made a pledge here to be back some day, hopefully on my Thunderbird.

There's again an ascent to the second highest pass of the world, also the third and final barrier to Leh- TaglangLa at 17,582 ft. We got out and clicked some pics as it offered jaw dropping views to the valleys and peaks on both sides, with the Karakoram range also visible up North.This incidentally also happened to be the very place where the Kargil war in Lakshaya was filmed.

From here it was a descent and 2 hours drive to the first Ladakhi village Upshi, a whole new world altogether. The people, the housing style, the language, everything had changed by now. One could almost feel as if one was in Tibet.

(Yaks grazing at Upshi)

We reached Leh by 7 pm, and our driver took us to the Hotel Tso-Morri's, comfortably located in the heart of Leh, just across the main bazaar. It was dark already and the night temperature was dipping to -7 in Leh, so we just went to a Tibetan restaurant in the bazaar for some hot soup and momos, and settled down in our hotel for a much deserved night's sleep!

Monday, November 24, 2008

7 Days in Ladakh - Day 2 - Manali to Keylong via Rohtang

The call from our reception at sharp 5:30 am announced the arrival our taxi and we had about an hour to check out and start for Rohtang, and to our surprise, we managed!
Our driver was a young Nepali (Sherpa) lad, who would later impress us with his grasp over the history, geography and even politics of Ladakh and Kashmir. Of course the fact that the Sherpas with their legendary immunity to severe cold and high altitudes (Nepal has the likes of Mt Everest in their backyard), are the best guides and drivers in such terrains did put us a bit at ease too.

It was a pleasant drive early in the morning, and in half an hour we reached the base of a mountain from where it was a constant steep climb to Rohtang, taking us from 7000 ft to 13000 ft in about 2 hours flat!

Soon we got stuck in a traffic jam (highest in the world?) as a car got stuck in the slush on the narrow highway, causing scores of tourist vehicles to queue up behind. Rohtang is an extremely popular spot tourists lining up to check out the snow which adorns it for almost 10 months round the year.

There was a huge contingent of tourists from a particular state (I won't say which!),whose sight was so hilarious it made me burst into peals of laughter - they were covered in like 10 layers of clothing causing them to walk like a robot - enough to embarrass an Eskimo, and we were not even near snow yet !

The view gradually changed from scenic to spectacular, as we left the pine tree forests and moved up above the tree line into rocky snow bound peaks.

Soon we reached RohtangLa top, our first pass as well as our first encounter with snow on the trip.

Rohtang, by the way, means - "The Pass of the heaps of corpses" in Tibetan - a deadly name for so beautiful a place. It also serves as a natural climate barrier between the fertile green valleys south to it, and the dry high altitude desert of Ladakh to the north.

This was my 4th visit to this Pass, the last being in 2005; still it felt as refreshing as the first time.
There was plenty of snow around and the locals were making good money by renting ski's to tourists who seemed content with walking 10 steps with the ski's on ( and falling down on 5 of them!)

We too trekked to a snow clad cliff and after frolicking in the snow for half an hour, we resumed our journey down the other side of the mountain towards Khoksar.

We could see the beautiful ChandraBhaga massif on the far opposite side, which was permafrost(PERMAnently FROzen for 12 months), and as it was shrouded in dark clouds our driver said it was snowing there right now, and if it snowed too heavily we may not be able to cross it the next day!

Descending on the other side of Rohtang, we could see the stark contrast in landscape, from green alpine meadows of the Pir Panjal range earlier, to the barren but majestic high peaks of the Great Himalayan chain, signaling our arrival in the tribal region of Lahaul.

We stopped for a cup of tea in the small village called Khoksar at the bottom of the mountain, where Mr. Driver quite "encouragingly" told us about him being stranded in this very village for a week, in 6 feet of snow just a month back. Charming!

As we continued further in the flat valley, we saw our first river of the trip, the enchanting emerald green waters of the Chandra(moon) river, coming down from the ChandraBhaga massif near BaralachaLa, and later we saw it's confluence with the Bhaga(Sun) river to form the ChandraBhaga or Chenab, as it's called in Kashmir and Pakistan.

The next stop was at a gas station to fill our tanks since a board proudly pronounced the fact that there was no gas station for the next 365 kms.... till Leh!

We reached the small town of Keylong(administrative center for Lahaul district) before sunset and checked into a small but strategically located hotel - our balcony gave us the best views I've ever had from anywhere - humongous snow capped peaks towering bang opposite forming a kind of semi circle around us(Video below). We had a cup of "High" tea sitting there, and just marveled at the beauty around for some time, though it was bitterly cold out there, and it still seemed to be snowing at the peaks around.

As we huddled into the restaurant later for some hot soup, we were informed that we were the only guests in the hotel, and also probably the town since it was off-season and they were about to shut down for winters in 2-3 days.

This was also the 1st time (not the last though!) that we were told in no uncertain terms that it was not worth risking our lives for some (mis)adventure since the weather was very unpredictable and heavy snowfall on the next 3 passes could trap us in 300 kms of 15,000 ft high freezing desert. Even the Army, having already cleared the highway 2 times in the last month and carrying out search and rescue operations for those stranded, had now declared that the highway would shut down after the next snowfall (would not be cleared).

We were "Shaken, not Stirred" on hearing all of this and decided not to give too much attention to the doomsayers. However, when we went out for a stroll in the small bazaar, a certain shopkeeper who seemed too keen to don the role of our guardian angel as he was hell bent on making us turn back! He said only a 4 wheel drive could get through the icy roads safely, and though the driver's risk was kind of an occupational hazard, we were risking it just for fun!

We returned to the hotel feeling a bit "stirred" now, and it was as if a pall of gloom had descended upon us - we mutually decided not to talk about it till next morning - and then take a call depending on the weather - whether or not to proceed !

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

7 Days in Ladakh - Day 1 - 19th Oct - Manali

We allowed ourselves the luxury(?) of waking up at 9 am and ordered a cup of bed tea to help us overcome the drowsiness and cold. As soon as we unfurled the curtains we saw the first view of Manali(we had reached at dark); Alpine meadows with snow clad peaks as a backdrop made it seem like a painting hung on the wall - too good to be true - an expression which was used almost regularly on this trip !

(Checking out the view from our window)
We thought of taking a morning walk up the Mall and have breakfast before coming back and taking a shower.
I just loved this aimless walk around the main bazaar on this really sunny Sunday morning. How I wished every Sunday to be the same!
Time seemed to stand still as we sat on a bench on the sidewalk gazing at the passers-by; few old wrinkled faces, some smoking a beedi and all wearing their round Himachali caps, groups of gypsy womenfolk dressed in the their traditional attire with heavy silver jewellery, a bunch of kids giggling away with the innocence that only a child could have.

Philosophical thoughts aside, we lazily dragged ourselves to the nearest restaurant for traditional Punjabi breakfast - Stuffed paranthas with white butter. I can't begin to express how delighted I was to savour these delicacies in Manali(it's proximity to the state ensured most tourists were Punjabis') , though Bangalore had it's fair share of Punjabi joints but there was simply no comparison with the real deal.

Next we went back to the hotel, freshened up, and went to our hotel's terrace for a photoshoot.

The view was breathtaking to say the least, and it motivated me enough to pose as if I was getting my portfolio done.

Finally we decided to go for some local sight-seeing - Hidimba temple was the main destination which almost every visitor to Manali was supposed to visit.
It was a good 4 kms of walk from the Mall, and as we reached the gates we saw a couple of Yak-wallas and women with rabbits, all to entice the enthu tourist for an interesting pic.
Not a bad idea actually, since I quite liked the pics anyway.

The temple was said to be about 500 years old and built by the local king in honour of Hidimba, who was the sister of the Demon Hidimb but attained the status of a Goddess by her penance; also the wife of Bheem and the mother of Ghatotkacha.

The location of the temple is ideal, amidst huge pine trees and green meadows.

We found some more beautiful places to shoot on the way back

By the time we reached back it was almost 4 pm, so we grabbed a quick bite and proceeded for some shopping in the Mall for the trip ahead: gloves, woollen socks,caps etc. all could be had for much lower prices(by Bglore standards)

Next we went to a travel agent to get our tickets for the Manali -Leh trip for the next day; we had 2 options- A) Get a full taxi for 6000 and B) Get a shared one for 1500 per seat, with of course the problem being we couldn't know if we would get the window seats (which was a MUST), and if by a stroke of ill luck(of which we have plenty) had we gotten the rear end seats then even God couldn't have saved us from motion sickness ( on top of mountain sickness)

So we mutually agreed on A) being the only practical option, and we haggled the price to 5000 and also managed to have the journey broken down in 2 days rather than roughing it out in 18 hours flat.(which they had originally suggested)

All done we went to the local Tibetan market to shop for some gifts for the family - I bought 2 shawls for my mom and a stole for my sis - As with most north Indian bazaars bargaining was the order of the day and the thumb rule was to quote 60% of whatever the seller quoted.

After a heavy dinner we bought some eatables and vodka for the trip, put an alarm for 5 am and slept by 12 am.