Friday, November 03, 2017

an ode to the iPhone

My obsession with Apple began 10 years ago. I had finished my MBA, joined a pretty high profile company, and was just starting my life really. Till then I was not really aware of Apple, had heard about the company, had seen the tacky looking iMac in stores, a friend had described the iPod and had learnt about how iTunes had given a new life to the music industry (as a case study in marketing class). But I really didn't know what Apple stood for.

That was to change with the iPhone. I don't really know when I first heard about it (I recently learned that Jobs announced the iPhone as early as January of 2007), but when I heard about it, a touch screen phone just appealed to me instantly. About 70  of us, new recruits, were in NY for a 3 month long 'NAPA'  training (which really was an endless party) when the iPhone was officially released. All of us wanted to buy it, but none of us were sure if the  carrier locked phone would work in India, and it was more like who'd take the risk first. I made a couple of trips to the fifth avenue Glass Cube store, fascinated by the glass stairs and apple retail.  But every time stopped myself from buying it, it was not very expensive, at $199, converted to Rs. 8000/-, it was a steal really, but still the Indian middle class brain heard $200 for something which might end up as a glorious paper weight (a term used for my iPhone many years later) .

But the allure was there and one late evening, on a whim, I stood in a long queue snaking through the Glass Cube and finally bought it.

The next question was what to do with it, it was carrier locked, so for the first couple of days I just used it as a camera.

Then started the adventure of unlocking the phone. A friend discovered a 39 step blog by the now legendary iPhoneDev team, with steps to root and unlock the iPhone. There were ample warnings about 'bricking' the phone in the blog, but then a brick also makes a good paperweight and so we decided to try it on my iPhone. So sirjee and I sat next to the pool, and started the unlock. Connecting through putty, replacing some files, rebooting a 100 times, keeping your fingers crossed and anxiety levels under control, we finally managed to complete the final step. And then the final reboot. The phone did come back up, and all seemed fine. But how do we test it. We needed an Indian SIM card. The friend who named the iPhone a glorious paperweight's roommate was carrying one and so we were banging at the girls doors at 2 in the night!

She was groggy and pretty pissed off, but understood our excitement, she gave us the sim and we inserted it in the phone. And voila, 4 bars lit up!

That opened the Pandora's box. After that first iPhone ˜70 more were bought between the 70 of us. I remember sneaking into Bangalore airport wearing a multi pocket cargo pants stuffed with 3 iPhones. And once in India, we unlocked so many iPhones.  Jaibreak, virginize, Basebands, DFU mode, Cydia, RedSn0w…there were so many terms. And yes, bricking an iPhone, that skip a beat, stop your heart, worst nightmare moment when after reboot Apple logo will not go away, or iTunes won't recognize your phone. Every jailbreak - unlock - please don't get bricked cycle was a small adventure in itself.

The other thing I distinctly remember is stepping out of the plane when we landed at the airport, and hearing the iPhone ringtone for the first time. It was my dad calling on my iPhone. The first time after 2 months of just taking pictures, I could actually use the ''Phone in the iPhone.

Last 10 years, the iPhone has always been by my side. Stuck by my hip in a stylish holster case, or in my right pocket, I have reached out to it innumerable times. Its been with me during the most important times during these 10 years. It was there with me during my two accidents (scarred and broken both times, but alive, both the iPhone and me).  It was there with me when I got married, promoted, basically any important moment. And it was dear to me, I went sliding about a 100 feet in the first accident, remember opening my eye during the long slide and realizing two things, one…I was still sliding, and two, my iPhone was sliding ahead of me! The iPhone has fueled many hobbies, photography, reading, exploring cities (google maps just makes it so much easier).  have clicked a million photos with the iPhone. read a million articles, and written long boring blogs. But more than all this, it has been a constant companion. Every time you feel alone in a crowd, every time you need to hide away, the iPhone comes to the rescue.

iPhone and Apple also taught me, and a million others about design and product management. Focus, launching at the right time, the right time, perfection, keeping it simple…all these things came from Apple. Last ten years I have watched every Apple event, except for the iPhone X launch, ironically. And then researching the features endlessly, debating in my head why a feature was added or removed, and then seeing the logic, the vision behind it. And finally getting that apple view validated by the rest of the industry (read removing flash, the headphone jack et al).

Another constant over the last 10 years has been the attention and the ridicule that the iPhone has got me (and all other iPhone users). For the first few months, as you walked around the office, everyone wanted to see the iPhone. First there were just a few of us, but iPhone 4 onwards pretty much everyone had it! And for everyone, it almost seemed like it was a part of them. You never see iPhone folks looking for new features, setting up their iPhones and all. Like Jobs vision, iPhone was just a platform for all the apps, for enabling folks to do stuff. Unlike Android, where the joy was customizing the phone, and yea, restarting it because it got hung all the time. And of course making rounds of the physical stores to update it. Yet there was and has been so much ridicule for us iPhone owners. All because it was expensive (even though the first few generations were not), and because it couldn't be customized. What people forgot was that iPhone was always meant to be an enabler for everything else. Like all Apple products, it just fits into your life, it doesn't want to be the center of it. I stopped arguing with the detractors long time back, but they all know that they would never possess their phones like I posses my iPhone.

The iPhone has been the pinnacle of design for this generation, and not just how it looks. The first generation was like nothing else. Black and Silver, shiny, small, light. And it just worked. It was so intuitive that I didn't have to learn how to use it. And ever since that gen 1, Apple has just been pushing the envelope. Over the years, the many versions which I have possessed (and which have possessed me), I have never felt let down. Yes there have been misses and mistakes, and the pace has slowed down, but for once and all, lets be very clear, Apple and the iPhone brought on this revolution, and they continue to lead it, one generation at a time.

And so a decade later, I still swear by the iPhone (X)

(PS: And I am calling it iPhone eX and not iPhone 10)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Last Christmas...

Christmas is usually characterised by food, fun and family (& friends). For us, that usually means taking a backpacking trip out to a jungle or a mountain or even a city like Benaras, eating the local cuisines, exploring the place and making new friends.

But last year, Christmas came late for us. We wanted to complete a long cherished dream of walking on ice, of completing Chadar. 

One of the top 10 treks in the world as per National Geographic, Chadar, at its heart is a trek. The only difference being that it is cold, extremely cold and you walk on ice. But otherwise pretty much like any other trek. 

Or so we thought...But then, in most treks you can't see your reflection as if your are walking on a mirror, in most treks you don't walk on a surface as smooth as glass, or on waves frozen in time, or ice like freckles on a pretty face or on torsion cracks or crunchy swishy melting ice-cream like ice, or besides (and sometimes over) a pristine river, or along small and big icebergs, or on crackling ice, or on steep razor sharp rocks or on melting frozen snow or on frozen waterfalls and streams and tributaries. Most treks, you don't chase sunlight like your life depends on it, slide under rocky outcrops, walk on your tiptoes on the frozen margin of a river, or wade through icy cold pools of clear water (with your trousers folded up to you knees mind you), or on the side of landslide prone disintegrating debris mountains, or through tunnels formed by rivers running through landslide blockages. Most treks you don't have to rush on breaking ice with a calm urgency, and hear the cracking groans of the ice under your feet, or have your leg suddenly pierce through what seems like solid snow and then hanging ankle deep in the rushing freezing river below. Most treks you don't walk along a winding river which has cut through majestic mountains, most treks you don't lose yourself in a maze, not knowing where you are in the big picture, but always knowing where to go next. Most treks you become confident of your footing in an hour or so, here you have to watch every step, right up to the last one. Most treks you don't do disco every few steps to stop yourself from falling, most treks you don't fall in the double digits and still remain unhurt. Most treks you don't meet ladhakis who take care of you and all your needs, who safe guard you, who play the perfect hosts, and entertain you. Most treks, the terrain doesn't change every few meters, and is surely not completely different, even though you are coming back by the same route.

Most treks are not Chadar. 

There is no way to express how you feel when you walk on ice along the flowing river, the serenity of the experience, its almost therapeutic. The 9 days we spent their, we didn't think of anything else...nothing. Every day was just about the routine, get up - do your morning stuff - pack your bag - eat breakfast - walk - lunch - walk - reach the campsite - dump luggage into tent - tea and snacks - dry your socks & shoes - dinner - some talk - setup sleeping bag - roll around in the tent trying to sleep - sleep - repeat. This is a place which teaches you the value of small joys of life. Like finding a private spot to do your morning thing, finding clean socks to wear, washing your face, hot water from the flask, cream biscuits, a spot in the sun, a cave with a fire...the last is more of a 'today's my lucky day' moment actually!

Chadar is an experience, a once in a lifetime journey which initially overwhelms you, but you come back with a sense of peace and quite that city life can never offer. 

And so, a year ago, to this day, my wife Roshni and I started for Chadar...and here are some pics which try to describe our journey. 

Delhi to Leh
And the changing landscape cover as we left Delhi, lower himalayas around Himachal, and the upper snow covered himalayas as we approched Leh. The view was magnificient as you can see!!!

All dressed up and all smiles...
Christmas usually starts with Holiday shopping and in that sense we did shop a lot for this trip. Only, the shopping was only at decathlon. From rucksack to waterproof clothing to flasks and gloves, we ransacked the different Decathalon branches and prepared for the trip. 

And even though we are smiling, there was a fear of what was to come. First couple of 'acclimatisation' days in Leh had given us a taste of the extreme cold, and that extreme was about to double!

the first sunset...
Some how as soon as the sunset, there was this chill which went around. It was almost like an invisible cloud of cold which enveloped us. Sadly, and well, unfairly, Sunrise wouldn't have the opposite effect. Although dawn broke by around 6 every morning, the tall mountains hid the sun till late mornings, and ever after that, the sun would play hide and seek everday. Atleast one of us paced himself to chase the ever elusive dhoop, but gave up soon.

Walking by the edge...
Chadar trek is really a walk on a frozen ice river. The complication comes because the river doesn't freeze completely or evenly. Mostly the edges, closest to the mountains freeze first, and are the most stable. Like here, you have at least a meter wide pathway with stable ice to walk on. But frequently, that meter wide solid ice pathway turns into foot wide, unstable slushy, melting ice way, and you have to bend, crawl and balance your way across such stretches, all the way making sure that you don't slip into the ice cold Zanskar flowing by! 

Climbing up...
And sometimes, the river doesn't freeze at all, or overflows its frozen banks, and as the water level is higher than the gum boot level, you climb the mighty himalayas. Its no easy feat I tell you, the mountains here are steep, and the surface varies every few meters. Its either jagged rocks, or crumbling landslide prone rubble like in the picture. A fall wouldn't kill you, but the fear of broken bones, or getting drenched to the bone in icy cold water keeps you on your toes when climbing... 

the vista...
there are just two things in the entire trek, the majestic himalayas, and the mystic Zanskar. The river snakes through the mountains, and when you are walking along it, or on it, you just lose sense of direction. Its like a maze, you see the river turning and as you walk along, after a moment, you wonder where the turn went, did you already take it. The mountains as so tall and steep that there are no view points, you are always dwarfed by them. There is no big picture here, there is no map, you are always in the maze, you are always insignificant. 

the frozen waterfall
the first of many, I wonder how it happens. Roshni made the joke that one moment you are falling and in an instant your are frozen in time, literally, waiting for the summer to come. 

the ice
the ice, there were so many types of them, each one requiring a different way of walking. Each step required you to concentrate, you take your eye of the ice for a step, and guaranteed you will slip, and get into a series of acrobatics to balance yourself. This pic itself shows three different ice fields, the left most is the dark green old ice with a very bumpy slippery texture, like thousands of ice pebbles got embedded in the green ice, the one on the right is again green ice, but like sea waves got frozen in time. the center one, which Roshni is walking on was the easiest to walk on, thin layer of ice which cracks under your feet, giving some much need grip. Of course the cracking makes you all nervous... 

Tunduk & Stenzing
We had two guides, Tenzing and Tunduk, the good cop and the bad cop.

Tunduk, sitting here with hack to the ice wall, had 15 years of experience, and it showed. He wouldn't help you or guide you, he would rather pull you or push you. As someone in the group said, he didn't help, he expected you to help yourself. But behind the tough frustrated exterior, Tunduk was the nicest of guys, and lived for his clients. Tunduk would always be chanting some mantra, and so we started calling him lhama...! Although if you saw some of his antics 'child lhama' would have been are more appropriate moniker.

Tenzing, standing behind, was our other guide, our savior and ultimately our hero...He had so many talents. A pro leader for one, he knew when to hold back and when to risk it, he knew when to be gentle and when to chide. He had guts, would not think twice before stepping on to a section which others had been too afraid to approach, he had experience and he had a good heart. He pretty much saved Roshni when she fell from a 10 foot high cliff, instinctively bringing himself between her and the fall. That kind of instinct comes from a good heart. He also knew that the porters and the guides are really in the hospitality business, making sure that all of us are comfortable, personally feeding us, tucking us into bed (literally). And he entertained us, with his jokes, antics and a marriage drama he organized in Lingshead.

In addition there were a group of 10 - 12 porters & cooks who walked along us, without whom, walking would have been impossible for us. 

the kitchen tent 
the evenings, after the days walk was over, were spent in the dining tent. But the real action was in the kitchen tent, the warmest of all. In that small a tent, on those two stoves, the cooks (everyone in Ladakh knows how to cook by the way, the cook is just someone who cooks for clients) would create magical food. Over the nine days we had halwa, puri, kheer, khichidi, alu paratha, daal paratha, many different soups, fried and roasted papad and well, popcorn. The kitchen tent was also where we got hot boiling water, and lots of warmth! 

the shoe...
there was a long story behind this one...and it ended in someone stuffing a shoe and blocking the waterfall. But this was the only 'water' fall that we found, and the only green (even if because of moss and lichens) that we saw in all 9 days we spent on the Chadar! 

the snowfall 
the ever continuing cycle of snow to ice to water. Here Roshni is walking on a snow field, snow which is 3 - 4 days old, and so not fluffy anymore, but rather a bit melted and clumpy. Easy to walk, and beautiful to take pictures on, but don't let it deceive you as it might just hide the flowing river below. On one of these 'snowfields' I sank knee deep with my feet dangling in the freezing river below. Sadly people around me were too busy saving me to take pictures of that epic moment!!!

the underground river
the unfrozen river had a way of emerging and then going beneath the ice from time to time. It would suddenly gush out with a flurry, and then silently hide itself. First there were islands of ice spread about in the might river, but as the Chadar froze, there were islands of water spread about in the never ending ice fields. 

worth a thousand words...
the cave in the distance, the mountains are lined with such caves which are used by the porters for shelter. Light a fire and they become warm and hospitable. In the foreground, a dried tree with dried red colored berries. The contrast was just amazing. This was pretty much the only color we saw in 9 days there, otherwise it was all whites, browns and greys... 

the lone warrior
the essence of any trek is walking alone, treks are one place where there is just you, and no one else. And that is the most difficult challenge of any trek, knowing that I am on my own, if I fall, there is no one to help. Here Roshni is walking at her own pace, in her own world...

come home to roost...
little icebergs, they keep flowing in the river. Here there was a small break in the river bank, and all of them came to roost. 

Walk on Ice...
At many spots the ice was frozen such that it forced us to walk in long queues, led by either Tunduk or Stenzing who would test the ice ahead before stepping on it. Even then, sometimes you had to gingerly take every step, checking the ice ahead of you, and in Tunduks words 'Walk lightly as if walk on the clouds, but quickly like you are running for your life'
Trekking poles are pretty useless when it comes to saving you from slipping, but they are good to test the ice ahead, and somehow give the reassurance of a third leg. So do carry one, but don't rely on it.

the meandering river...
the river flows gently here, and is pretty shallow. You can see the pebbles even, but let that not fool you. The river changes pace and depth very quickly, one moment it will be meandering along on an endless journey, and another moment it will be gushing along like the finish line is around the corner. 

the river, the bridge, the peak and the frozen waterfall 
the famous Nerak frozen waterfall, this is the one that you in all the blogs about Chadar. But the spot had so much more. The section of Chadar just before this point usually doesn't freeze, and so you have to climb a pretty steep hill. Here you see a makeshift bridge where you can cross the river and head to Nerak Village. 

the real trek...
After Nerak, we left the mountains and started walking towards a village called Lingshead, made famous by the school started there some years ago. The walking experience was completely different, but far more familiar to us trekkers. Even though stark and barren, the walk was one of the most beautiful treks we have undertaken. 
surprisingly on one side the mountain was laden with snow, whereas the other side was barren. Snow has been less this season as per one of the guides, else all you see is white, and you can only walk on that one path in a single file...In the distance you can see the tunnel created by a landslide, mentioned in more detail below.

Under the landslide...
this is how this happens, there is a landslide which completely blocks the river, over time the river cuts through the blockage, thus leaving behind what looks like a tunnel. This one is from last year. Notice the roof, pebbles and stones are just suspended. You'd think this could be dangerous and could collapse any moment, and you'd be correct too, but then we are thrill seekers, so who cares. 

the rescue...
this is on the way to lingshead. We finally left the Zanskar and started walking along one of its tributaries, gradually ascending the slopes of the moutains. This is a typical gully through which a tributary to the tributary flowed (or was frozen). Crossing these was always difficult, and so Mr Tenzing was needed most of the time. Also seen the very helpful Manpreet. 

the snow leopard meets me...
and you can see who ran away and who held his ground...
This area is famous for the elusive Snow Leopard. There are even trek itineraries planned around spotting the snow leopard. But you would be really really luck to spot one, even though it would have its eyes on you all the time. The paw prints here were pretty fresh, made the night before. Sadly it didn't stay back to say 'hi' 

adventure adventure... 
We had signed up for an extra long trip...going to Lingshead and back. Mostly people go till Nerak and back. And there is a reason for it. post Nerak, there is a stretch of Chadar which is very dicey when it comes to freezing. And deep. And fast flowing. And to add to that, on both sides are vertical tall mountains, so if the Chadar is not frozen solid, you cannot pass at all. These pictures are on our way back from Linshead. We had crossed the dicey stretch, known as Omar (where incidentally iron bars are embedded into the mountains in some sections) but just as we were getting comfy, we got here. The day before we had to step on a float slab of ice to cross this stretch, and an alarm had gone off in my head. Till about two hours before our crossing the slab was in place, but then it decided to go on its own journey. Here the enterprising Stenzing and Tunduk helped us using ropes. Of course, they crossed the stretch many times balancing on their tiptoes to tie the rope...adventure adventure!!! 

the changing Chadar
One thing that we read in all the blogs before going, and heard it often once we started was that Chadar keeps on changing all the time. It seemed like one of those things to say. But then once there, and withing the first few days we realized that Chadar changes, every 100 meters and every hour. On our way up to Nerak, Chadar was frozen solid. On our way back a lot of that solid ice had melted away or was underwater. Point in case, the water fall that we encountered on the second and ninth day. This is same as the you have seen above. For that picture, I walked all the way up to the base. Now i would have to swim for the same... 

By the time we started our journey back, Chadar had started melting. The ice has many layers, and each layer goes through multiple freeze - melt cycles. Here, the layer below was frozen hard, but the upper layer had started melting, so we had to wade through ankle deep water. If you look closely, water level is almost till the rim of the gum boots, any higher and we'd have to find a path on the mountain. Even here, our feet got wet, thats why the folded pants (which when you are wearing 3 - 4 layers of bottoms, is no easy task) 

breaching the boundaries...
This is not melted ice, rather this is water collected when the river breached its boundaries and came over old ice. Clear water, it was like walking in a shallow swimming pool. We encountered a lot of this on day 3 and on our return back. 

the climb 
there were not easy, they were steep, on crumbling landslide prone mountains (or jagged vertical faces). And they tired you out because these were short, infrequent climbs, so your body had to suddenly change gears. But at least for me and some other seasoned trekkers, was a welcome break from the unfamiliar walking on the slippery ice. 

Lunch used to be a simple affair...maggi, pasta, khichdi or pulao. Mostly something which was hot (very very important) and had lots of water to re hydrate us. It was cooked fresh and served hot. Followed by a refilling of the hot water flasks. Lunch spots usually were beyond half way marks, and in areas which used to get sunlight. And the entire group, including the porters had lunch together...Seen here, this was one of the last days. one of the toughest days...we had been walking for hours, route was tough, Chadar was not frozen and so it was hard work. The entire group was split up across the stretch of the river Even the porters had a tough time, and so by the time we reached the lunch spot, they had just finished cutting the veges. But that meant this lunch break provided much longer break to all of us. 
Seen here, every one is just resting, and a bit impatient, Stenzing being a smart ass and putting the cooker (entire cooker) on fire, Suhani and Rohit being their cheerful selves, Tunduk being the kitchen supervisor. Also at the back, the porters from another group passing by. 
Time of the day - around 5PM. 

Night walk...
The second last day we got really late, and the sun had set. Thankfully it was a full moon night, and so the Chadar and the mountains were awash with milky white light. Didn't make walking any easier though, but the ice and everything around just looks different in the moon light. A refreshing cool calm white. Problem is that it becomes difficult to decipher what kind of ice you are walking on, green stable ice, white slippery one, millky white cracked one...and so you have to gingerly step on every new terrain, hoping you don't slip. Thankfully the Chadar was well formed and stable here, and we were all together. But this was one of the most taxing evenings, by the time we reached 'sabki death aa chuki thi...'. 
But we still managed a selfie 

this is not the entire group, but the laggards on the last day. Starting from the left, Manpreet next to Tunduk was the helpful guy, always stopping to give a hand. Didn't fall till the second last day (when in his words he lost his virginity). Yo and Sam, both were struggling with injuries and a bad throat, to the extent that Sam couldn't speak by the time we reached Leh. Best friends, they were always walking in sync, and from a distance looked like a team of synchronized ice dancers. Roshni, who wouldn't give up, in spite of her body and mind both screaming at her. Aditya, the guy who loved falling, he'd fall at every second step. There were times when we'd see Aditya walking ahead, turn around, turn back and 'where did he go'. He'd be lying sprawling on the floor. He also had the record of actually breaking the Chadar two three times, the joke going around was "sab chadar se darte hai, Chadar Aditya saab se darti hain". Next is Arvind and Sapna, seasoned trekkers in every way. They knew how to respect the mountains and what the mountains can do to you and in the face of everything that they throw at you, only courage takes you forward. Swapna had a bad fall on the ice, a split lip and the courage to brush it all aside. Arvind sir had an old injury resurface on day 5 or so, and he went on for the next four days. You could see the pain in his eyes with every step, but he soldiered on...hats off to the guy. And then the other married couple, Archana and Jose, first time trekkers, but who could tell. They were on a mission and walked like one. Usually first time trekkers crib a lot, not these guys, they took everything in their stride, slow and steadily walked on and in the face of it all, cracked jokes all the time. 

There are others not in the pic.

Nadeem, Jackie and Sohrab saab, guys who finished a 4 day return in 2 days, and were gracious enough to arrange a resounding welcome back party for the rest of us. Nothing better than to have someone come to receive you after a tiring trek, and then find food, drinks and a bon fire waiting. So thank you Nadeem, Sohrab and Jackie. Chetan, the tall giant, who we were using to test the depth of the river. Kidding, but Chetan was the gentle giant, never speaking much, but always there in every party. Suhani and Rohit, who were the quickies (in addition some others), would finish every day in half the time, and be cheerful enough to welcome everyone back every day. And lastly, the cousins, Abhishek and Pranav who entertained us with their miya biwi jhagda, and were pretty much the driving force behind us doing a lot of stuff we otherwise wouldn't have. Shek saab, the lawyer between us convinced everyone to go to Lingshead, and Pranav would find innovative spots to take pictures. In all we were a group of 18 individual, each wondering how we'll remember every ones names, by the end of it, we were all friends, walking and joking together, who kept on shouting 'kitao' every now and then! 

the tents...
If only you can imagine the the tent and you can see a frozen river, and majestic mountains, cold clean air and a full moon! 

the last day...
one of the only things that our organizer said which came out true is that by the end of it you'll just want to come back and go back. Last day the spirits were high, because we were pretty much done. People were laughing and singing and dancing (literally, and not recommended) 

the last glance...
Even though its been a year since we completed Chadar, those days are clearly etched in our minds. We still dream about going back to Chadar, discuss it with life long friends we have made. We all keep on going back to the pictures posted on facebook, or recalling the experiences over the whatsapp group, or maybe just calling out 'kitao' from time to time. 

One thing we have understood, although we have left the Chadar, Chadar shall never leave us!!!