Thursday, August 17, 2017

Test riding the new Royal Enfield Himalayan
It is definitely not love at first sight, the bike piques your interest though. Not immediately pleasing to the eye like say, a Ducati Scrambler; it looks like a purposeful instrument, where form follows function. It has the long travel front suspension, handle bars are reasonably wide and high, disk brakes at both ends, a small front screen, meaningful appendages to attach panniers. Design cues seem to be from Triumph Tiger or Honda Africa twin, may be? The small sub-frames surrounding the tank for attaching small petrol cans are a nice touch, but I could not see the plastic cans that are supposed to be attached. 
The concept brought many things to mind, mostly nostalgia tinged with regret. Feelings like, "this front fork with 200mm travel would not bottom out"; "this would have freed me from lugging two plastic cans of petrol in the Karolbagh made Ladakh-special carriers"; " this silencer would not get battered by the every odd boulder while crossing streams" etc. In short, the Himalayan is purpose built with one thing in mind for the enthusiast who aims for biking nirvana, that is the mandatory Leh trip, or other roads less travelled! 
I had expected it to be significantly higher and may be heavier than my current Classic; it is not on both counts. The handle bar is reasonably and comfortably wide. The front rake seemed a little more than the old Classic. The front shockers look substantial and more robust with much less flex than the current Classic/Electra/Standard. The front .screen does deflect the air away from the chest, but sends it towards the face, especially the eyes, and I had this funny experience of my old prescription Raybans doing an odd hippie-hippie shake on my nose! The instrument pod is interesting, but it beats me as to why there should be a compass? The only possible places where it might be of any use: Rann of Kutch- you do not want to be heading towards the border which has been contested over 50 years or the featureless, dust laden Moray Plains on your way to Leh from Manali. For that matter, an altimeter may be more useful. The designer may think about a small frame above the steering head bolt to support a large phone or tablet for consulting Google Maps for directions, even in everyday use and a small 12V USB port would very useful too, for charging the phone/tablet, specially you may be stuck with low battery in a remote location when you need Google maps the most! Good advice: by the USB from Karolbagh and get a small frame fabricated for your tank-top. 
The engine is entirely new, being a SOHC, something the RE have never tried before after persisting with pushrods for what, nearly 80 years. In keeping with the hallowed RE tradition, this too is an under-square engine that develops usable torque almost from idling. The only grouse I had was the tinny farting sounds the rather good looking upswept silencer, all brushed stainless steel, made when you let off the throttle. Very much in contrast to the throaty whoosh which even the new silencers make. May be that is just an old Bullet-lover speaking! This is a new bike, with a new frame, new engine, new geometry. Ah yes, the frame is a twin cradle frame that goes round the engine and has a bash plate too! Could the designer think of small crash guards fitted to the twin tubes of the frame, like those on Yamaha RX100s? After all, if you expect to be riding in the Himalayas and not even have one fall? This would be a great improvement on three generations of Bulleteers who have attached crash guards to the single down tube with U-clamps that twist as soon as you fall, and do not protect your feet at all! 37 years of riding an 3 Bullets, yours truly can attest to that,
No kick start, like the Cafe Racer and the engine did give a healthy growl, but I am told you can put it in to 2nd and declutch and push start it! The gear lever is small, with no heel-shifter extension and the shifting is smoother, compared to even the new UCE Bullets. The extra 60-odd ccs do make a difference to the power, although I would not recommend overtaking at high speeds in 5th gear. Shift down a cog, accelerate, overtake and shift up after being back in your lane. No frenetic driving please, after all the bike has a legacy! Apparently the engine can take punishment, says one friend who did Spiti Valley in the thick of monsoons in July. The rear disk brakes are a great source of comfort, given the state of the rear drum brakes in the current crop of Bullets in their various sub-avatars. But, though I like the shape of the enduro-style rear brake lever, it is too small and a little too close to the engine body. It required me have my feet toe-in for effective braking, With big muddy boots on, it might require that extra fraction of a second to point your boot inward, and may cause your feet to slip. It just needs to be another half-Inch outside. 
On sudden acceleration, a metallic noise emanated from the engine, which I thought came from the crank. Not so, assured the mechanic. I liked the headlights, and they seemed similar to those on the new TBird.
Enfield lovers, this is not a Bullet, so stop comparing, this a specialist tool! On the whole, good package, but the engine could take a couple of years to get refined, the small design kinks to get ironed out. Just like the graffiti seen on a Tata Ace, Himalayan can say " बड़ा  होके  मै  Triumph Tiger बनुंगा 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Many kinds of love

Many kinds of love
Only parental love is unconditional
Parents love their child
Mostly with no strings attached
No value judgement precedes nor succeeds
This love, probably, chooses to overlook
Achievements, successes or otherwise,
Even cruel acts or crimes.
Just that it is there, because
They shared their body and
created this person.

Filial love, if siblings are closer 
in age, starts with jealousy
From having to share parental time and affection.
Metamorphoses in to caring and giving,
Parents and social norms see to compliance
With age old norms of behaviour.
Marriage brings in physical distance
And mental too. Demonstrations are
Limited to annual, ritual meetings
Exchange of gifts and goodwill.
Birth of the next generation
Brings back the cycle of comparison 
And jealousy.

Love of material possessions
Is an ever growing hunger, with an infinite
Appetite, if you let what you eat, wear, ride 
or live define you.
For there is always someone with more. 
One day the mirror laughs back at you
Like a demented fiend and shows
The naked you bereft of possessions.
Very few are spared this me-versus-me
The emptiness of it all is inevitable,
Advancing age gives everyone a dose
Of spirituality.

Conjugal love, at least for India
Starts with pure undiluted lust,
nurtured from youth. Grows slowly
To the mental level, never declared
Fortunately not having to subjugate
Oneself to western ritual, oft repeated daily,
" Love you" and "Love you too!"
And seeking constant reassurances.
For us mostly, it is
Slowly adjusting to each other's angularities.
Love shows itself in small acts.
Children make sure there are no overt 
Exhibitions of affection. Sex is the only physical contact, sly, hurried and at the dead of night.
With children as the locus,
Parents on different orbits, stereotyped though
Father the provider and
Mother the care giver,
Love slowly suffocates with passing age.
Old age changes it to habit and just
Accepting that the spouse is there
And that is about all.

Children's love for their parents
Is conditional. The Not OK child
Does bear grudges, real or imagined.
The transition of the child to the adult
Is almost fraught with turbulence.
The OK adult rationalises and reciprocates,
When convenient, the lifetime of love received.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Edinburgh: Discovering Malt Whisky

Edinburgh:Discovering Malt Whisky
Being in Edinburgh and not discovering more about Scotch whisky would be a sacrilege, and because of my spiritual disposition, I decided to find out more. After a small wait, a coffee and a pastry at Rabbie's Cafe, Wellington Place near Waverley Station,the trip started at 9.30am. The driver and guide Mike was an Irishman with the gift of story telling and a mischievous sense of humour. The little lilt, the accent all added to the charm.
As we left the majestic sandstone mansions of new town, the beautiful row houses appeared, followed by quaint cottages and their manicured hedges and lovingly maintained small gardens. As we moved out of the city, the cottages grew in size, and so did the size and beauty of the gardens, and of course, the mandatory two cars parked outside the cottage, usually Mercedes/BMW/Audi/Jaguar and a smaller car.
Soon the rolling, undulating Scottish countryside with verdant crops appeared, dotted by green copses of trees. The sides of the roads often had white, yellow and violet wild flowers growing among the lush green grass. Apparently the local government is resisting all attempts by developers to build on the green belt that surrounds Edinburgh.
Enroute Mike pointed out three bridges across the River Firth, each from a different century, one built in 1780, the next early 1900s, newest one still work-in-progress and expected to be opened in August 2017!
Along the way to Stirling Castle, our first stop, Mike narrated the story of Mary Queen of Scots, her three marriages and tragic death by the decree of her cousin Elizabeth. He followed it up with history of William Wallace, his battles and those who succeeded him in their attempts at achieving freedom for Scotland from the English yoke. Stirling castle appeared gloomy and forbidding under the overcast skies.
Soon we were at Glengoyne Distillery, established in 1833, and is the southern most of the highland malt whisky producers. Incidentally, it is just north of the road that divides the highlands from the lowlands as applicable to whisky, and its bonded warehouse is in the lowlands because it is on the otherside of the that road! It is a small distillery, almost boutique and privately owned, compared to the big boys owned by global giants as Diageo, Pernod etc. Glengoyne makes about two million litres of the eponymous non-peated  single malt. It's claim to fame was the queen mother Elizabeth swore by the Glengoyne 10 year old, and served it in all her parties. Glengoyne does not use peat to dry the germinated barley or malt. Hence the whisky does not give the smoky flavour favoured by many highland malts. Interestingly, most distillers have since outsourced the malting of barley and drying.
Glengoyne 18-year old Sinle Malt
Difference in colour between American & English Oak Cask
The tour followed the grinding of the malt into grist, steeping water to release the sugars called 'mashing', this was followed by adding yeast to start the fermentation and conversion of sugars in to alcohol.  The copper distillation stills, the heart of whisky making, were wonderful to look at. Since there only three inputs-barley, water and yeast, the answer to good was mostly art, rather an science. The finished whisky is stored in sherry casks made of either English or American oak. There was even a display on how the colour of the whisky was different in these casks.These barrels kept for at least 3 years, in order to be called Scotch whisky, actually lost 2 to 5% by volume every year, the loss is called 'Angels share', helps to mature the whisky by allowing the undesirable aromatics to evaporate. The Glengoyne exemplifies the virtues of patience and following hallowed traditions honed over generations. We first tried  a 12 year old , and then a 15 year old single malt, with the tour guide telling us to first swirl the whisky to release its aroma, then taking a sip and letting it roll over our taste bids before swallowing and so on. The expert's advice was to have whisky either neat or a dish of water, which releases the bouquet of the whisky, something which I had read before, and practiced! Glengoyne retail their 18 year old single malt at £85, 5 year old at £52, and cask strength (59.1%) at £55. 
Loch Lomond
Willows by Loch Lomond
The next stop was at Loch Lomond Nature Park. Loch Lomond is probably one of the largest lakes in Scotland, and the geological fault line, which decides whether it is a lowland or highland whisky passes through the lower end of Loch Lomond.
Deanston 18-year old Single Malt- £1000
River Teith
Deanston Distillery

The last stop was the Deanston Distillery, founded only as late as 1965. This distillery was once a cotton mill which closed down. The building was resurrected as a distillery by the local community. Deanston has its own tiny hydro-electric plant with two water turbines from early 1900s generating 400kw with the water from the fast flowing River Teith, and thus is green distillery. Deanston, interestingly is very small, makes only a million litres of whisky a year, and sells 80% of its produce of single malts to large blenders and bottles the rest. It's legacy of the cotton mill is reflected in an unusual layout where processes are stacked one on top of  the other, rather than side by side layout of traditional distilleries. The tour guide pointed out with great pride that although they were just 50 year old, they relied only on craftsmanship and not technology to perfect their art. They use bourbon casks for ageing their single malts. On the side, they are also proponents of a counter-culture to the age-old 'older is better' philosophy of whisky. They have a new blend, matured in new casks, which does not carry its age and leaves the interpretation of the bouquet to the drinker. Interesting! Deanston's sister distillery, of much older vintage, sold a 42-year old single malt for an obscene  £2500!!!!
Copper Stills at Deanston
Tobermory 42-year old single malt £2500
Storage at Deanston
One interesting fact that came up was that all distillers are required to store their whiskers at 'cask strength' of 63% alcohol. Then it is diluted to between 40 and 43% alcohol before bottling. Some distillery editions and cask strengths, rare though, have anywhere between 50 to 60%. Once unwittingly, I had bought such a sample and found the taste a bit harsh, and it could be consumed only in the harshest Delhi winter.

The return journey was a mellow one, with two tastings of single malt each at two distilleries- befitting end to the journey of understanding the myth and mystique of uisge beatha,  'water of life' as the Scot call it! Cheers!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Biker gang of IIM Kashipur's trip to Mukteshwar January 21-22, 2017

A bike trip was long overdue, as I had made the last trip with the PGP 2015-17 batch in November 2015. The new batch of 2016-18 were actually complaining that they had not yet gone on a bike trip with me. So with the planning and logistics  and the mandatory lecture on driving guidelines (25 metres apart, no overtaking, no speeding, formation driving, hill driving etiquette etc.) delegated to Rizwan of the senior batch, a veteran of many trips, we included quite a few enthusiasts from the new batch too.
As usual, the inter-campus coordination and cold mornings caused a delay in starting. We started at nearly 8 am, instead of the planned 6.30am on Saturday January 21, 2017 with 8 bikes and 14 riders and pillion for the 170 odd km trip one way. The plan was to reach Mukteshwar by late afternoon covering about 170 km and the route was Kashipur-Ramnagar-Kaladhungi-Haldwani-Bhimtal-Bhowali-Mukteshwar. The bike count was: four Bullet Classic 350, one Thunderbird 350, one Bajaj Pulsar 200, one KTM 200, one Yamaha FZ 150.
As we hit the Ramnagar highway we encountered very dense fog which dogged us over the entire stretch of more than 25km. The trucks whizzing past in near zero visibility was scary. The ride from Ramnagar to Kaladhungi was under a bright and clear sky. Breakfast at Kaladhungi, opposite Jim Corbett Museum was sumptuous- stuffed paranthas and hot tea. The onward journey from Kaladhungi to Bhimtal was pleasant, except for crossing Haldwani. From Bhimtal we proceeded to Bhowali, with a couple of stops to regroup especially on forks on the road where Google maps was of not much help! On the way we saw parasailers gliding down from the hills around Bhimtal.  
At Ramgarh we experienced patches of ice on the road from snow fall earlier that week, not much though. Snow on the hillsides at Ramgarh gave our students enough photo-ops, as did all the stops. As we were approaching Mukteshwar, problems surfaced. The clutch of the Pulsar failed and the FZ refused to start. Three hours were spent in trying to repair both, including trips up and down to Mukteshwar to catch an elusive mechanic. The Pulsar was parked with a friendly ship-owner and the FZ started reluctantly.Evening was close and we made our way to our destination Sitala, which nine km down just at the entry to Mukteshwar. These nine km were tortuous, narrow, broken and with steep downhill gradient and the gathering dusk made it difficult. Well, on the plus side, I found that my LED fog lamp worked well and marked out the left edge of the road and also worked as a day-running light, and consumed little power. When we reached Sitala, the sun had set and we were apprehensive about the location of our hotel, and its quality, back of the beyond as it was. Pathik Resort turned out to be quite spacious, clean with a wide and beautiful view of the snow-capped peaks.  
 The morning of January 22 started late, each complaining of aches etc. and post-breakfast long planning session involved of what to do with the two immobile bikes.
The food was good but the rooms were chilly and the stiff, chilly breeze did not help. 

The food was good but the rooms were chilly and the stiff, chilly breeze did not help.ning of aches etc. and post-breakfast long planning session involved of what to do with the two immobile bikes. Another hour went in getting a replacement plug for the FZ, but it could not possibly make the trip back because it was burning engine oil due to worn out rings. Finally the sick bikes were put on a small truck for onward trip to Haldwani for repairs at respective dealers. Six remaining bikes separated in to two groups, one group of two heading back to Kashipur and the other group of four decided to try for paragliding near Bhimtal and return via Naintal.

The return trip, with me taking on Chauhan (PGP 2016-18) as a pillion and Swagat on his Thunderbird with a pillion. The return journey wasn’t without incident! A car overtook us somewhere near Baelparao and one of the passengers frantically waved us to stop. He told us they had seen one bag falling off the Thunderbird and had been trying to warn us. Thanks to the warning message, the bag was found. Retrieval took more than half an hour and gave us the opportunity for a cup of tea. The journey ended around 5pm on Sunday January 22, 2017 with around 350km on the odometer. We have started planning for the next trip in March 2017.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Making Moussaka on my 63rd birthday

My 63rd birthday making Moussaka
The idea of celebrating my 63rd birthday, alone and far from family, was hardly appealing. My friend Prof Evangelos Afendras decided otherwise. 
Now, Evangelos definitely needs a proper introduction. He can be cast as Zeus in any Greek mythological movie, with all the necessary qualifications- white beard, girth and presence, and all of 73 years. He comes every year to teach at IIM Kashipur. He had gone to Johns Hopkins to study Electrical Engineering but ended up with a PhD  in Linguistics and Humanities. He is globe-trotter and has taught all around the world, has a family across five countries.
Coming back to the moussaka, start by taking 500 grams of goat meat (original recipe has lamb), mince it fine. Fry the motor of the poor mixie in the process! 
Take a kilo of big aubergines (lowly baigan), cut them in to thin slices about 10mm thick; make slits across them but do not cut across the skin. Add salt to the baigan slices and let them stand for at least half an hour so that they shed some water. Put them in a large baking dish, smear them with vegetable oil and microwave them on full power for 6 minutes, turn them over and microwave again for 6 minutes. They should be cooked. Remove from baking dish and keep them on a plate.
Sauté about a kilogram of chopped onions, with salt, pepper and a dash of chopped green chillies (innovation mine alone) in vegetable oil (it should be olive oil, but that is unavailable and bloody costly) till they are brown. Then add the minced mutton and keep frying till it tastes semi-cooked or al dente. Add  about half a kilo of tomatoes, quartered and fry till the water dries, tomatoes get mixed and the mutton mixture is cooked. 
In parallel, start making the bechamel sauce. Start by warming half litre of milk, preferably full cream. Start frying whole meal wheat flour (atta) in two spoonfuls of butter till the atta starts to turn light brown. Add the milk slowly to the fried atta and ensuring that there are no lumps. Add one egg slowly to the mixture while mixing. This should be a rather thickish sauce.
Line the bottom of the baking dish with the bottom ends of the fried/microwaved baigan, skin part downwards. Put in a layer of the mince mixture, add another layer of the fried baigan, one layer of mince. Cover with the bechamel sauce covering the entire surface, just like what you do for a pie.
Microwave in combo mode for 8 minutes. Stop, check for the crust. Repeat in combo mode for 8 minutes, and the crust should be golden brown and voila your moussaka is ready!
Now open a bottle of ouzo. The one we had was labelled Ouzo from Plimario, the island of Lesbos ( yes that's the etymological root for lesbian), courtesy Evangelos. Throw in 10 cubes of ice, pour in about 60ml of ouzo, swirl it around till the liquid turn milky, clink your glasses and take a gulp. Fire and ice, with a smell of aniseed rising- the world seems a much better place. Thus fortified by a few more sips, take adequate slices of brown bread, slather with butter, sprinkle finely chopped garlic and put it in the microwave in grill mode for 3 minutes max. Leave the bread in the oven for some time and they turn exquisitely crisp. By then you should be onto your second helping of ouzo.
Start your meal with the third helping of ouzo and bon apetit!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Strange business

Love is strange business!

Business, because it needs
investment, continued effort and commitment.

Strange, because
The  partner who loves more, 
Is more committed,
Has invested more,
Is always the weaker one!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Start 7am Kashipur
Biker Gang of Kashipur: Bike trip to Kausani November 14-15, 2015
Breakfast at Kaladhungi
Midway break
The long-planned bike trip started early on Saturday November 14 from Kashipur. There were Rajgopal, Rizwan, Nishant all from PGP 2015 and me; two Bullets and two Pulsars. We started at 7 am from Kashipur and stopped first before Kaladhungi (of Jim Corbett fame) because Nishant's bag slipped and dropped on to the exhaust. The bag was burnt and not salvageable. It involved scraping off toothpaste from the exhaust and redistribution of all items. And then we stopped for tea and breakfast at Kaladhungi. We made good time up the steep rise to Nainital, to Bhawali onwards to Almora. Just before Almora we had another round of tea and then took the road to Kausani. No major incidents except I took a spill- reasons un-fathomed! No harm done except a slightly twisted left knee. We reached Kausani around 3pm. The view of the afternoon sun on the range with Trishul on the left to Nanda Devi, Nanda Ghunti and Nanda Khat was enough to compensate for nearly 8 hours and 240km of driving on mountain roads. By evening the PGP2014 bikers Davinder, Rishank, Amitav and Rinesh joined us. They had started after their weekend class at 1pm.
The vista unfolded next morning from 6am at sunrise. The changing face of the peaks with golden sunlight shining is unforgettable.  Davinder, Rishank, and Rinesh left early to join a special class in the afternoon. Rest of the gang started after breakfast. The return journey was largely uneventful but we decided to take a different route- Kausani, Almora, Bhimtal, Haldwani, Kaladhungi. Relaxed ride,  we took a wrong turn and ended up crossing entire Haldwani and lost an hour. We were back at Kashipur 8pm on Sunday, November 15. Total distance 476km, by my odometer,and riding time 16 hours.

Evening view of the Himalayan range
Midway stop and photo-op


Return trip, stop
Evening stroll Kausani; Nishant, Rizwan and me

L -R: Rajgopal, Rizwan, Nishant, Davinder, me, Rishank & Rinesh

Morning view, Trishul peak on the left