I have never seen hailstorm of this proportion, the one that I saw in Mussoorie (Uttarakhand) in the first week of March 2015.
It started off as just small pearls dropping from the sky to suddenly stone-heavy balls hitting everything with brute force. I have visited Mussoorie many times, mostly during summer and monsoon months, but this one gave a feeling of what winter must be like up there in the hills! 🙂
Every sports journalist has a weak point. I have four. In no particular order, they are Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan, Peter Gade and Lee Chong Wei. They all are former world No.1 badminton players and were the rulers of this sport for many glorious years — yes all of them! Together, they hogged the top-5 rankings (and stayed on for many months in the top-10) to the extent that I used to think of them as badminton bullies.
I covered badminton since the start of my career and got a chance to see the charismatic Indonesian bad boy, Hidayat, and the crafty Malaysian Lee Chong Wei in action during the India Open GP 2009 in Hyderabad. Lee lost in the first round while Taufik won the title.
I was watching like a starry-eyed fan (far cry from them ‘eh I don’t care’ attitude we journalists feign in front of celebrities) as Taufik swished and swooshed his racquet to take down every opponent. It was like a live video game for me.
After a match, all players are required to come to the place where media persons are stationed, so that journalists can talk to them. After his semi-final win, when Taufik came there, I just lost it and asked if I could get a picture clicked with him. That was not the time when camera phones were that popular, so I enlisted the help of another photojournalist. Oh the way I sang and danced and smiled the whole day… it was magical!
One down three more to go.
Jaundice prevented me from covering the World Championships in Hyderabad that year, but as luck would have it, I moved to New Delhi the year the first India Open Super Series (2011) was held.
So, that year Not only did Hidayat and LCW turn up, I got starry-eyed and jelly-knee-ed all over again when I saw Denmark’s Peter Gade warm-up in the practice courts.
He was just so flawless! We spoke to him after his practice and he talked about how he is recovering from this injury and that surgery and how he misses his girls… all I could think of was are you kidding! Nobody who is injured plays like that! The way he moved on court, as if he had all the time in the world to decide how to return the shuttle, it was a treat to watch!
That year, LCW won. But the pressure of deadlines and getting the best charging spot at the media centre meant that I had absolutely no time to think about pictures with LCW or Gade.
In 2012, these three giants show up again in New Delhi for this event. How time flew I do not know. Though I interacted with all three, I simply forgot about my secret album collection.
I left active journalism for sometime, so skipped the 2013 and 2014 Super series as well Thomas and Uber Cup Championship that were held in Delhi.
But I finally got my golden chance in 2015 when I was a part of the 2015 India Open Super Series. Gade and Hidayat have now said goodbye to badminton. LCW is out of action because of his doping trials.
But China’s Lin Dan was there! And so, I went straight for the big fish. Oh god, the way he was playing, it seemed surreal, I mean it. That AC drift that players keep complaining about — he looked lighter than that.
His features have changed a lot over the years, the chocolate boy looks have been replaced by a rugged mature man’s face.
Thank you all smartphone companies! For when Olympic champion and former world champion Lin Dan was in a good mood and was leaving the practice court, I had a camera phone with me. I did not lose even one second this time and got that perfect shot! God knows how long he is gonna keep playing, so at least I got my click before he retires.. ha ha.
Next point on my agenda — travel to Indonesia and Denmark to complete the story :).
The clouds came out and the chill returned to the air! I secretly thanked all the Devs of Dev Bhoomi who seemed to have listened to my silent prayers. Yeah yeah, how selfish of me to wish for a cloudy-chilly day in April when most of Uttarakhand had just had a break from almost 6 months of winter.
It just happened that we had taken a short trip to Devprayag on one of the busiest weekends of 2015 and we were already cursing ourselves for carrying woollens. So a nip in the air that Saturday morning was a welcome relief!
The journey from Dehradun to Devprayag was a hot one (it had to be, we were wearing heavy jackets) but my husband’s smartphone had this app which said it is going to rain the entire weekend in Devprayag. But it was sunny and hot and sticky and we had no light clothes to last us for another two days.
Hell we had even packed a rain-poncho and two umbrellas in our tiny backpack. We left Dehradun early on Day1 to reach Devprayag in time for breakfast. We had to first get to Rishikesh from where the road to Shivpuri (NH58) would take us further ahead to Devprayag. We also did not want to get in the way of the rafting-camping tourists from Delhi and Chandigarh. But we did get stuck for a while in Rishikesh — good thing we were on a bike, it lets you violate traffic rules like no other vehicle allows.
Devprayag is about 70 kilometres from Rishikesh, into the Shivalik hills, and is a pretty busy town when the pilgrimage season starts. The rush hadn’t started yet, so it was very peaceful there.
What is the big deal about Devprayag you say? This is where Ganga gets its name… No, that river originating near Gangotri is not Ganga. That is Bhagirathi, which people say is another name for Ganga. At Devprayag, Bhagirathi confluences with another noisy Himalayan river Alakananda, and the resulting river is called Ganga.
This was a spur-of-the-moment trip, so we had made no hotel reservations, thinking, “wahan jaake dekhi jayegi”. From the distance, we saw Ramkund Resorts that looked really expensive but had a killer view of the Sangam. And viola! We got a pretty good deal for having arrived there in the off-season time!
So we checked in and I kid you not, the Sangam (the confluence) was at stone throw distance from our balcony. Here’s the thing about this Sangam, the colour of the two rivers is quite different. Infact you can make out this difference for a good 500-600 metres after the meeting point of the two rivers. Bhagirathi is kind of green-blue in colour and quite energetic. Alakananda was a little muddy and seemed to have calmed down a bit.
Another interesting thing about these rivers is that the five tributaries of Ganga meet Alakananda at various other Prayags (Vishnuprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag and Rudraprayag) before meeting Bhagirathi here. So technically, Alaknanda should be called the source river of Ganga right? But it is infact a much smaller river Bhagirathi that gets all the credit! That’s now fair isn’t it, but I’ll leave the rivers to sort it out among themselves.
Devprayag is a tiny town, with narrow lanes that go up and down. It is impossible to get your bike inside those lanes (no, we didn’t even try). In the evening, we went for a stroll and covered all three hills on which Devprayag is spread out. I saw people walking up small paths that led to their houses (probably) that were located even higher up the hills! No wonder I did not find a single obese person there 🙂 .
At the Sangam, I went down to the ghats while my husband went out in search of an ATM. Apparently, ATMs there close by 7pm…funny how we have all become used to 24×7 ATMs.
At the ghats, I saw a couple of sadhus in meditating pose, among them a young lad trying to meditate but still ogling at all the women who passed by! Talk about 100% focus.
Oh and what fun we had gorging on lip-smacking food from the local dhabas! Aloo parantha, curry made of spring onion masala and the latest pahadi fast-food — Maggi! Of course on the second day I ended up with a terrible feeling in my stomach, but it was still worth it.
So having utilised the woolens as well, we left Devprayag on Sunday morning to return to Dehradun. It took us four hours to reach back home. On the way I saw numerous camps on the white sand beaches on the banks of Ganga. It indeed looked like a busy day for all the adventure sports outfit in Rishikesh. We squeezed past almost 4km of traffic jam near Rishikesh’s Laxman Jhula and reach home in the evening, completely fresh and energetic. Bring it on, we fear you not Monday morning blues!