If the argument against renewing your gym subscription has been how terribly monotonous walking that treadmill or lifting those dumbbells is, hit the nearest climbing wall.
Rock climbing requires climbing up, down and across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. It is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that tests your strength, endurance and balance. If heading out for natural rock is a bit much, start with artificial climbing walls. New Delhi has the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (www.indmount.org), Bangalore has Outback India (www.outbackindia.com), while those in Mumbai are spoilt for choice with climbing groups in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, scores of indoor walls, and proximity to the Sahyadri hills.
Climbing calls for a variety of specialized techniques and safety equipment. If ropes and gear befuddle you, you could begin with bouldering—free climbing on boulders no more than 10-15ft tall, with a cushion below to break your fall.
“Climbing isn’t a binge exercise; it’s a multidimensional sport which increases your body awareness, your awareness of space...it’s a little bit like dancing,” says Anuraag Tiwari, co-founder of Delhi Rock, a volunteer group that trains and takes beginners for climbing sessions on weekends. “For city dwellers,” says Tiwari, “short day trips out to natural rock can wash the mind.”
If you need more of a push: A 2010 survey conducted by the University of Hertfordshire in the UK polled over 6,000 people to find out which 15 sports they thought would make a member of the opposite sex more attractive. Climbing topped the list for women with 57%. Climbers tend to be trim, muscular and extremely flexible. Who wouldn’t want that?
Vanity aside, a common misconception about climbing is that it’s all about strength. Being strong helps, and climbing is highly skill-intensive, but what’s more important is proper technique and a mind of steel. Fear can paralyse even the strongest climber.
In a January 2010 article called Why Climbing Can Redefine Your Boundaries, Lounge sports columnist Rohit Brijnath wrote about how climbing calls for a leap of belief. “This leap is also one of discovery, it helps you locate physical reserves you weren’t sure you owned, it takes you to hideaways in the mind where a faint bravery might rest,” he wrote. “It is why I admire climbers, solo sailors, North and South Pole walkers, Sahara crossers, for whatever their mode of transport, they are nevertheless leaping, and they have a magnificent faith.”
Climbing is a pensive, personal, and challenging sport. The ground is our comfort zone, we are safe on it, and so to take just the first step up a wall, even if roped, is to walk past fear.
Brijnath also quoted author Craig Vetter, who captured the spirit of climbing beautifully: “In Yosemite (in America), the grapevine ethic...is that you do not climb to be famous or to make a living. You climb to climb, and if you do it with intensity, the rewards are deep and private. At its purest, you go alone, and when you get back, you might not even say where you’ve been or what you’ve climbed.”
34. PICTURE THE WILD
The wilderness abounds in sights that are exotic to the human senses. Leave National Geographic and the comfort of your couch behind, arm yourself with a camera, and explore first-hand. “Out there, you realize how powerful nature is when compared to us,” says Raja Purohit, a Pune-based wildlife photographer. “You learn the difference between a tiger in a cage and a tiger in the wild.”
Along the way, the toughest lesson, the lesson in patience. Animals in the wild abhor human intrusion, so wildlife photographers have to learn to be invisible, waiting in one position silently for hours for that elusive bird or beast to come within the frame of the viewfinder long enough to capture it.
Wildlife photography requires that you travel to national parks or sanctuaries, and India has a mind-boggling variety of forests, from the grasslands of Bandhavgarh, the mountain forests of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and the marshlands of the Sunderbans to the rainforests of Arunachal Pradesh. For weekend getaways, try photographing birds, since they gather on the outskirts of cities and are within easy reach.
Purohit emphasizes the quality of lenses that ought to be used. “Birds usually require a 500mm lens while mammals need a minimum of 200mm focal length,” he says. Prices vary with the quality and brand, but get ready to spend anywhere between Rs 50,000-4 lakh for a lens. Throw in a tripod and you are ready to go.
35. GO FISHING
There is no way to speed things up while fishing, the fish will bite when they will. But after you’ve cast your line, immerse yourself in the verdant beauty of the place you are in—because if you’ve gone angling, you are bound to be standing in a secluded area in a river valley. Fishing demands social isolation—go in a group, the fish will run; let your cellphone ring, they’ll give you a wide berth.
It might not be widely known, but India is a premier destination for fishing holidays, with some of the least-explored waters in the world. Fast-flowing glacial streams all over the Himalayas offer great fishing, with the majestic mahseer, the beautiful rainbow and brown trouts, and the massive catfish. Goa and the Andaman islands offer salt-water fishing, a more adrenalin-driven venture. Most touring companies that organize fishing trips follow a strict catch-and-release policy, except for trouts, which are consumed.
Contact Indiaangling.com; Mountainhighs.com, which runs the Himalayan Trout House in Himachal Pradesh; Himalayanoutback.com, which organizes fishing camps around the Indian Himalayas; Mahseerangling.com, which offers fly fishing in south Indian rivers; and Chennaisportfishing.com and Gamefishingindia.com, which take you out to the open sea.
36. BIRTH OF A BONSAI
Miniaturizing trees and creating an illusion of age—bonsai cultivation was started by the Chinese, and the Japanese perfected it. For the gardener at heart, a bonsai lets you put your creativity into something that will live with you. Cultivating it calls for persistence, with the constant pruning of branches, root cutting, potting, wiring and grafting to produce small trees that, even though confined in a shallow pot, live to be full-grown.
The stage of growth at which you plant your bonsai is crucial. It cannot be a sapling, but it shouldn’t be much older: It has to be tender enough for you to be able to twist its branches to give it your desired shape. Six-eight months later, you may need to prune the branches in a way that it grows horizontally rather than vertically. Bonsais need some sunlight so don’t keep them indoors. Shaping your bonsai is where the creative process kicks in . When you tie tender branches with wires over a period of time, they will take the desired shape. You can develop various styles; for instance, the windswept, the forest, a rock-planter where the roots peep from crevices, or the artistic Bunjin. Like Renu Vaish, a bonsai lover and former president of the Indian Bonsai Association, New Delhi, puts it, “Like an artist makes a painting, a bonsai brings out your creativity through nature.”
37. LET THE HERBS GROW
There is great bliss in watching a tiny seed grow into a magnificent plant under your care—and if you could snip and pluck from it to put it in your pasta or salad, you’ve got a fistful of heaven in your hands.
Growing herbs requires very little space, and they will grow abundantly in small pots—in a garden, in balconies or windowsills, and even in hanging pots. They are also forgiving and hardy, and don’t need fussy handling or care. Some herbs, like coriander, thyme, mint and rosemary, like blasting sunshine. Flat-leaf parsley and basil thrive in semi-shade.
The essentials can’t get simpler—terracotta or plastic pots, some good soil, organic compost and dried cow dung, and of course, the seeds. All these are available in most nurseries in any city.
Create a mix with three parts soil, one part compost and one part cow dung, fork up the mixture till it’s loose and powdery, scatter the seeds in the pot, and cover it with half an inch of the soil mix, then drench the pots with water. A week later, you’ll have the thrill of watching the baby shoots spring through the soil, and then watch them grow, week after week, with just a little bit of watering every day. Soon you’ll be growing too much for personal use, and you’ll have to share your produce with friends and neighbours—you’ll never meet a selfish gardener! You could even think of graduating to a more robust herb—you know, the kind that is medicinal and makes you “feel good”.
38. SOUND INVESTMENT
Playing an LP on a turntable is nothing like flipping through songs on an iPod—it’s a meditative process, perched somewhere between aural euphoria and a collector’s obsessiveness. But why go retro with something that reached near-extinction four decades ago? The answer is as simple as it is fundamental: sound.
As music players climbed the ladder of technology—from LPs to tapes to CDs to MP3s—what they gained in accessibility and mobility, they lost in sound quality.
Music, when played live, is analogue by definition. On your CD or MP3, the sound waves are recorded and stored through a series of digital “snapshots” of the actual analogue output. When you play it, the digital data has to be reconverted into analogue signals to create the sound that comes through your speakers. In both, there are losses in sound quality. When you play an LP, though, there are no digital conversions involved, and the original sound is reproduced more accurately. What that techno-babble translates to is a rich, warm, fuller sound spectrum. You will discover subtleties you never imagined were frozen in those tiny grooves, and levels of sound quality you didn’t know even existed (unless you work in a recording studio).
Less important, but perhaps even more addictive, are the processes involved in playing an LP. You scour through your collection, pick the one that suits your mood, feel the heft of the disc, appreciate the large-format album art, gently slide out the vinyl, place it on the turntable, softly place the needle on the groove, and then sit back. This slowing down of the process of reaching to your music, making it a deliberate act, only heightens the listening experience. This is how the casual music lover turns into a serious audiophile.
The fact that for the last five-six years the return of the LP has gained some serious momentum around the world helps as well. All the equipment you need—a turntable, a phono amplifier, a set of speakers, and both new and second-hand LPs—are now widely available in most major cities in India. Record labels, such as EMI Music, Saregama and Sony Music Entertainment, have begun reissuing LPs, and music stores such as Rhythm House, Music Land, Music World and Landmark have started stocking them; add to that the fun of trawling through Chor Bazaar in Mumbai or Free School Street (now Mirza Ghalib Street) in Kolkata for second-hand vinyls.
For the serious collector though, the Internet is the true paradise; eBay, Flipkart and Amazon sell a wide collection of LPs, www.diversevinyl.com and www.discogs.com offer a breathtaking collection of Western music, and www.bollywoodvinyl.com stocks both Bollywood and regional Indian film music.
An audiophile’s tip: If you have the money, look for Japanese pressings, widely regarded as the highest-quality vinyls issued today. Also look for reissues of jazz and Blues classics by the international music publishing houses Acoustic Sounds and Music Matters.
Nova Audio in Mumbai, New Gramophone House in New Delhi and Absolute Phase in Bangalore stock excellent selections of turntables, amplifiers and accessories, including Denon, Audio-Technica, Sony and Lenco players, priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 2.5 lakh.
39. GIVE A GIFT THAT LAST...AND LAST
Always worried the gift you picked out isn’t “special” enough? You’ve learnt over time that it isn’t the value, or even how long you took to choose it that counts, but how it makes your friend remember the occasion the gift was meant to mark.
Here’s a great gifting suggestion: If you know what your friend is really interested in (wildlife, photography, art, architecture, popular culture?), gift him or her an annual subscription to a magazine that’s hard to get off the stands locally. When your friend receives the weekly copy of The New Yorker or a monthly copy Wallpaper, he won’t just think of his 30th birthday or gala wedding, he’ll also think of you.
40. UNDERSTAND YOUR URBAN HABITAT
Make your trip in your own city this coming year. Turn the vacation into a staycation. The phrase, coined by the British press at the height of the slowdown of 2008-09, is a mash-up of “stay-at-home” and “vacation”. Poke around your city’s secret corners and ignore the tourist traps. In Delhi, go to the lakeside Jahaz Mahal, that melancholic ruin in Mehrauli that casts a jahaz (ship)-like reflection on the water. In Mumbai, attend the Sabbath-gathering of Jews in one of the city’s oldest synagogues in Byculla.
Use books as a starting point to make travel plans. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a Mumbai cliché but it’s the most user-friendly guide for sightseeing tips on old Bombay. The forthcoming Mumbai Noir (edited by Altaf Tyrewala, releasing in March, Akashic Books), along with existing journalistic accounts of the city by Suketu Mehta and Sonia Faleiro, are handbooks to the new Mumbai. The newly released Delhi: 14 Historic Walks (Westland, Rs 495) by walking guide Swapna Liddle might tempt Delhiites to check out their neighbourhood ruins, while the four-volume The Delhi Walla guidebook series (HarperCollins, Rs 199 each) by Lounge staffer Mayank Austen Soofi is an alternative gateway to the Capital.
Trawling the Net will introduce you to bloggers who are exploring your city’s bazaars, monuments and cuisines so passionately that they might put professional chroniclers to shame. Finally, every city has at least one famous flaneur who loves exploring its unexplored aspects and doesn’t mind sharing his enthusiasm with others. In Delhi, ask Pradip Krishen at email@example.com to take you for a pro bono excursion to the city’s jungles.
41. REDISCOVER SCIENCE
Science can be a fascinating field of endless study, but for most of us, it’s something we left behind in school. Catching up on those lost lessons can be extremely fulfilling, and it’s possible to do so without hitting the textbooks. For example, learning about the periodic table is now best done using the Elements app on the iPad. The $13.99 (around Rs 730) app is the most beautiful and interactive periodic table—instead of just seeing the elements list, you can look up their uses, current prices, or handle a 3D sample image. Or visit Cellcraft.com to learn more about cell construction and behaviour—packaged as a quirky video game. You have to build a cell and fight off viruses, and in the process you’ll learn basic biology. Also worth playing is Super Energy Apocalypse, a brilliant educational game that can teach people about the direct consequences of reliance on polluting technology, and showcases the advantage and drawbacks of green technology. If you’re looking for something a little more straightforward, it’s also worth visiting Biodigitalhuman.com, a website with a fully explorable model of a 3D human, so visitors can take a tour of the bone structure, or get a proper look at what the pancreas really look like.
42. EAT WITH SEASON
We used to mark time by the food we ate: the seasonal vegetables, the appropriate spices, the right kinds of oil, and the special festive foods. Life in a city or town may make these options moot today; for most of us, “seasonal” means avoiding bhelpuri in the monsoons.
But there are some traditions for which we don’t need to invest time and energy finding exactly the right season or festival.
So make 2012 your year to start a pickle tradition. It involves effort, perseverance and a little bit of love, but it will last for months. You might just end up creating something your family and neighbours will look forward to every year.
One good way to do this is to hunt up those old recipes for lime pickle or mango jam which have been in the family for generations, and take a few weekends to make it happen. If those recipes are out of reach, peek into a regional cookbook.
Here’s Lounge columnist Pamela Timms’ recipe for cape gooseberry preserve, with which you could start (if you want to make jam that will keep for a few months, you need quite a high sugar content).
Cape gooseberry preserve
1kg cape gooseberries, washed
Keep 2x500ml, clean, dry glass jars ready. Put a saucer in the freezer. Put the fruit into a large, heavy-bottomed pan and pour in the sugar. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then test for setting point: Put a small amount of jam on to the chilled saucer. If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it, it is ready. If not, boil for a few more minutes and test again. Cape gooseberries have high pectin levels so you don’t need to boil for long. Five minutes is usually enough. When the jam is ready, pour it into the clean jars. When it is cool, seal with a lid.
For a less sweet jam, reduce the sugar to 500g but keep the jam in the fridge because it won’t keep as well as the one with the higher sugar content.