Rinjani : An anthology of landscapes

For those of you who don’t know, Rinjani is an active volcano in Lombok, an island not far from Bali. It’s the second highest volcano in Indonesia, standing at 3726m and very popular among trekking enthusiasts this side of the world. Enough with statistics now and moving on to more about how we ended up climbing the dude. K and I had this mountain on our trekking list for a while, and when two other friends agreed to join us, we gave it the green signal. The trek alone requires 3 days, while the travel to and from Lombok takes another 2 meaning you’ll need to plan the whole thing in advance, especially if you want to spend time sight-seeing in Lombok/Gili. A pal who had done the mountain before referred me to Adi Trekker, whom they had hired for their climb. I contacted Adi via mail, who promptly provided all the necessary details, which you’ll find here.  The full package costed us 250 USD per head.

We flew via KL, which is usually cheaper compared to changing at Bali and arrived at Lombok about 4 pm. Now, I’ve never had anyone holding a placard with my name at an airport before, so that was a memorable sight (but yeah, there were many such placards and I was busy finding my guy, so couldn’t really take a snap!!). The weather was just right, a cool breeze greeting us as we stepped off the airport exit gates onto the tarmac.  Our guy whisked us off to a car, which was to take us to our hotel for the night, almost 100 kms away and located at the foot of Rinjani.

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That’s us at the airport, minus the bags and plus the trekking shoes

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K proudly showing off his SJ5000

We had dinner on the way, and were then taken to Adi’s office to settle the bills as well as the briefing on the climb. After a friendly chat, we got back into the car and finally arrived at our hotel, Rinjani Lighthouse about 9 pm. The rooms were spacious, but unfortunately not sound proof. We didn’t sleep well thanks to some idiotic neighbors, staying above our room. God knows what they were up to at 1 in the morning, making all that bloody noise. Anyway, we were up early, had pancakes with some gritty Lombok coffee (I do not recommend this to those who like their coffee filtered) for breakfast, and then got the customary pre-trek “good to go” snap taken! That’s Rinjani you see in the background above us.

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At Rinjani Lighthouse post breakfast

Our climb commenced at Sembalun village about 8, we were to reach the crater rim by late noon. And now it’s time to introduce the “supermen” who carry our food, tents, mattresses and all other requisite provisions for the next 3 days -“The Rinjani porters”! These guys actually make use of a bamboo pole, onto which they secure all the luggage (yes, it’s as heavy as it looks) and then balance it on their shoulders as they walk, not to mention the fact that they make the climb look like a stroll on the beach (yes, they wear slippers!). “They usually start climbing when they are 15 and continue to do this for the next 30 years, making at least 2 trips every week for most part of the year”, said Awenk, our guide when I asked him about them. “We don’t have many options here and have to do this if we are to feed our families sir“, he added on noticing our surprise at their choice of livelihood. We certainly didn’t need our brains to figure out these guys were spending a significant chunk of their lives on a mountain, away from their families and the basic comforts of life.

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The ironmen of Rinjani!

The first part of the trek was relatively easy, comprised mainly of walking along a pre-defined path amidst fields and grasslands. I’ll let the pictures do the talking as far as the landscape is concerned (please click on them to enlarge).

As soon as we arrived at the lunch spot, the porters got down to business. We were soon seated on chairs (they actually carried chairs for us!) under a tent shelter and helped ourselves to a choice of drinks, and watched them set the cooking gear into motion.

Now when it came to meals, I believe these guys would give our mothers a run for their money. I mean who cuts pineapples into such intricate shapes, that too on a bloody trek! Gosh, the variety of stuff they served us was just fucking incredible, a dish never being repeated during the trek. Each portion could probably have fed two of us, and we had to request them to cut down this amount for subsequent repasts. We continued on our way once we were done eating and lo and behold, the rain gods conspired to present us with their greetings. Well, that was that! The beginning of 3 irritating hours of hauling our bedraggled selves up the mountain, none of us being prepared for bad weather at that!(Please carry rain coats even if it’s the hot season, mountains are unpredictable when it comes to weather).

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When it rains on the mountain

We arrived at the crater rim on time and set up camp at a nice spot thanks to being one of the faster groups (yes, there are hundreds of people doing the climb). It was still drizzling, we couldn’t wait to get changed, but had to do it in turns as it took time to have the tents put up. Another sumptuous meal and we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags chatting endlessly about the next day.

So then, did I MISS out something? Of course I did! I am sure you know what I am referring to. Yes, you’re right – “The toilet business”! How were we to engage in our requisite high altitude pooping? I mean, this is a necessary task and not something you can put off until you finish the trek, especially not when you’re being fed meal-portions that could probably satisfy a bear just out of hibernation. Well, without further ado, let me present to you “the Rinjani toilet tent”! An ingenious box like invention, with a zipper on one side, an orifice (not as big as you’d like) at the center and a non-existent roof. Now, we were four of us and yes, we definitely didn’t expect (okay, so this was me) the darned hole to be so tiny. I think I’ll leave it at that, and refrain from regaling you with further details on our surreptitious “headlamp assisted forays” into the black box at god knows what time in the night.

We were up at 2 the next morning, and started the summit climb after a quick snack (hot tea and toast, now that’s what I call being pampered!). Only our guide accompanied us this time around, the porters would remain at the crater rim since we were returning there later. I’d like to call this part the “chain of lights routine“. As you are climbing in the dark, all you can see are the flashlights deployed by people, both in front of and behind you. A continuously moving line of lights, giving you an eerie feeling like you’ve suddenly entered a fairytale! The terrain wasn’t particularly steep, but was slippery, and as Awenk mentioned “For every two steps you go up, you slide one back down”, which of course if super frustrating. Luckily, we’d left our luggage in the tents, and this did make a big difference during the climb, giving us our only chance to rest those oh so tired shoulders. We arrived at the summit nearing 6, and sat there waiting for the sun to show up (he did take his time). It was horribly cold, my shoes were wet from the previous day and I knew I had to keep moving to prevent my feet from going numb. Well, the sunrise was superb just as we’d expected, and more so, when you have its warmth coursing into your freezing body. We got some spectacular views of the crater lake Segara Anak as well as the surrounding landscape (over to the pictures now!)

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And the sun comes up!

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So here we are, that’s the crater lake in the background!

The descent involved skiing (well, kind of!), just that the snow is replaced by a combination of mud and gravel. I took some time alone on the way back, the sights so bloody picturesque now, with the sun in his place and the crisp mountain air, oh so invigorating! Ummm, I guess it’s an apt time and location to contemplate life you know (that is if you can keep yourself from contemplating the countless stones in your shoes)! On a serious note, I’d advise you to slow down at this point, put away the cameras and give yourselves  some alone-time. The scenery is truly humbling and perhaps if you are lucky enough, you JUST MIGHT get some perspective on your life.

Some more pics of the camp with the sun in all his glory, the mists had thankfully cleared!

So this was just the first part of the trek (yep, there’s more walking), the next bit involved going down all the way to the crater lake, which you can see in the picture and then climb all the way to the opposite side of the crater rim. Although this might seem both exhausting and pointless at the time, Rinjani is a veritable kaleidoscope of landscapes, and I would highly recommend finishing the full trek i.e. if you’d truly like to savour the full assortment of views the mountain has to offer. The descent involves boulder hopping for some distance, which is followed by a stroll amidst waist-high grass (some gladiator scenes happened at this point!).

Another few grueling hours later, we arrived at the other side of the crater and this was where we camped the second night. We could see both Bali and the Gili islands in the horizon, we were also warming up to our porters and guide, and had our dinner chatting with them about their lives on the mountain.

The way back to the finish line was less troublesome, I was mostly on my own listening to conversations of other trekkers. Most of the crowd was Caucasian, a big chunk of them hailing from Europe. I did run into a few guys from Singapore, but on the whole there were very few Asians doing Rinjani the same day as us. We completed the trek around 2 in the afternoon, and signed our names at the check-post located at the Senaru entrance.

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Our team of nine at the finishing point in Senaru

After we’d thanked our guide and porters at Adi’s office, we were transferred to our hotel Sunset House (a sunset was mandatory after two days of sunrises) in Senggigi for the night. A hot shower and a heavy meal later, we were strolling on the beach, revisiting some of the adventures we had over the last couple of days. You can imagine our relief at finally being able to walk on flat ground, after three days of doing gradients. My toes had blisters on the sides. I for one was glad to get out of those darned shoes and walk barefoot on the beach.

Some pointers/advice

So if you asked me how fit you really need to be to do the Rinjani 3D2N, I’d expect you to be somewhere above average. This isn’t the kind of mountain you could just about manage on a whim, unless you’re a regular climber. It’s a long long walk, and at certain points you’ll even wonder when the darn thing is going to end, but come on, that’s the whole point of a trek eh? What I mean is that a certain dosage of difficulty is necessary if you are expecting to gain a sense of accomplishment when you finish, no? At the same time, do not expect the mountain to be super clean, there are hundreds of people doing the climb daily, although the porters ensure that most of the garbage is carried down and disposed off, the camp sites still tend to be slightly dirty. And do carry loads of wet wipes to clean yourselves with, there are no shower facilities on the mountain (obviously, the rain doesn’t count here!).

I must also give full marks to my fellow mountaineers (K, Eldho and Ania) for their energy levels and enthusiasm throughout the trek, I did not catch a single complaint from any of them. Bravo, guys! It was good fun climbing with you, and hope to continue doing such awesome stuff together going forward. We would also like to thank Adi’s team i.e. our guide Awenk and our porters Kendelonk, Anto, Muh, Kati; you guys were just marvelous, we couldn’t possibly have been in better hands!

P.S.

How does Rinjani compare against Kinabalu? (since so many people asked)

Well, we did both the “summit trail” and the “via Ferrata” in Kinabalu, and I found this to be more physically challenging, especially since this mountain has certain steep sections where you make use of a rope to haul yourself up. On the contrary, if the full trek is taken into account, I believe Rinjani is harder, since you’ll be doing two sides of the crater in addition to the summit trail, as opposed to just the latter in Kinabalu. Like I mentioned before, Rinjani is a hell of a long walk, taking three full days to complete at a medium pace, as opposed to Kinabalu’s two even though the latter is the bigger mountain (Also keep in mind, there’s definitely more to see @Rinjani and more importantly, it’s way cheaper!).

Cheers!

Malazan Book of the Fallen: A Review

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Steven, you are a fucking genius! Firstly, for conceiving the astounding world of Malaz, secondly for bringing into life a host of characters who’ve helped me forget some of the hardest bits of my little life, and finally but most importantly for writing some of the epicest dialogues (that’s right, epicest!) and conversations I’ve ever come across in high fantasy or elsewhere. Now, I’ve never written a book review before, so let me break it down into a few questions and answers, telling you how I ended up reading around 10000 pages of pure delight.

How did I begin reading the tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen?

Oh well, it was one of those darned phases of uncertainty! I was going through the motions, and when all else fails, books are the sole recourse to solace. Pages and pages of undiluted vicarious pleasure! Although RJ’s “The Wheel of Time” helped some, it didn’t get me as involved as I’d have wanted to, enough to drown away all the worries and sorrows of the time. I needed another reading project, a massive one, that would both appeal to me and keep me occupied at least for the next few months. Steven’s first book of the Malazan series “Gardens of the Moon” had been nominated for a World fantasy award, it was a short one and seemed reasonable enough for a quick try. More importantly, his series was also finished unlike Martin’s “ASoIaF”, meaning no agonizing waits midway. A hundred or so pages into the book and I was hooked, Whiskeyjack & co (you’ll know who they are) had me ensnared, and I knew I was in for some of the best reading I’d ever done all thanks to Steven.

How is the storyline and the pace?

The storyline is vast and multifaceted, revolving for the most part around certain factions of the Malazan army (yes, this one is about soldiers!), and like most long-drawn-out epic fantasy plots brings into the fold an assortment of characters ranging from mages, assassins, gods, witches, priests, thieves to sailors etc., picked from races both human and otherwise. What really struck me is the colossal timeframe of the story, spanning over hundreds of thousands of years giving my rusty skills at imagination some much-needed polishing. I also liked the fact that there weren’t any singular protagonists (the usual good vs evil crap), thus drawing perspectives from several angles and giving me the freedom in choosing my own favourite characters. The story is well-paced until “The Bonehunters”, after which it kind of takes a detour during which Steven introduces a parallel world, slowing down quite a bit especially in “Toll the hounds”, and then picking up pace towards the last two books. Now, I must also tell you that Steven is quite the miser when it comes to revealing the grand scheme of things, he does throw a few hints here and there but it’s mostly up to you as the reader to put everything together. For someone like me, who doesn’t place much importance in the plot, this is acceptable, but if you’re a meticulous reader who doesn’t like loose ends to the story, it becomes quite the task in gleaning all the minute details, let alone making sense of it all!

How was the series and what stood out?

What really made this series for me was the dialogue! Like I mentioned before, unpredictable twists or roller coaster plots aren’t exactly my cup of tea (if there’s one, great! If not, that’s still okay). The narrative style deployed, the amount of character development involved and the little conversations which make up the story are what I look at in a book, the rest of the stuff is peripheral. Steven has taken into account all 3 areas, and is quite the maestro when it comes to delivering dazzling dialogue. He infuses the lines with repartee, be it humour or despair, be it in bed or in battle, be it a lizard or a dragon, and at the same time is at ease playing the role of the philosopher, imbuing the story with aspects from a plethora of world views including pantheism, nihilism, fatalism, and even stoicism to a certain extent. Some of the friendships he forges among the characters are real tear-jerker material and will remain etched in my heart, especially these ones (Quick Ben & Kalam, Gesler and Stormy, Fiddler and Hedge, Tool and Toc the younger, Onrack and Trull Sengar, Rallick, Coll and Murillio, Picker and Blend, Whiskeyjack and Dujek, Pores and Kindly….. gosh the list goes on and on).

Who are my favourite characters?

Now this is a tough one, but yeah, I have my favourites and I’d like to list the top five, who’ve had a substantial amount of character development as well as a point of view (mind you!).

  1. Fiddler
  2. Ganoes Paran
  3. Toc the younger
  4. Kalam Mekhar
  5. Duiker

I know what you’re probably thinking now! Agreed there are heavyweights like Anomander Rake, Dassem Ultor, Coltaine, Tavore, Whiskeyjack, Cotillion, Yedan “balls of steel” Derryg etc., who are all fucking awesome, but the fact remains that these characters do not have a point of view in the story. I am guessing Steven does this deliberately in order for the readers to hold them in awe, which is actually quite smart. I must further acknowledge that I am partial to the Malazans, which I am sure you’ve gathered on seeing my list but yeah, there are several other wonderful characters as well, for you to pick and choose as your heroes.

Final Word (8.5/10)

These tales of the Malazan book of the fallen are without doubt some of the best books I’ve read and I highly recommend them to all my fellow fantasy lovers and readers. There’s enough imagination, humour, battles, tragedies, friendships and betrayals to keep you engaged for a long time and that, at a reasonable pace too.

Now, for some of my favourite quotes (I’ll just pick 5 as I am sure I can keep going all day). Those of you who are planning to read the books can come back to this section once you’ve finished.

Quotes

“Wise words are like arrows flung at your forehead. What do you do? Why, you duck of course.”

‘Pust? Back in the temple, poring through the archives of the Book of Shadows.’
‘Looking for what?’
‘Some provision, any provision, for a High Priest of Shadow having two wives.’
‘Is there one?’
‘How should I know?’
‘Well,’ Cotillion said, ‘didn’t you write it?’
Shadowthrone shifted about ‘I was busy.’
‘So who did?’
Shadowthrone would not answer.
Cotillion’s brows rose. ‘Not Pust! The Book of Shadows, where he’s proclaimed the Magus of High House Shadow?’
‘It’s called delegation.’ Shadowthrone snapped.
‘It’s called idiocy.’
‘Well hee hee I dare say he’ll find what he’s looking for, won’t he.’
‘Aye, with the ink still wet.’

“We humans do not understand compassion. In each moment of our lives, we betray it. Aye, we know of its worth, yet in knowing we then attach to it a value, we guard the giving of it, believing it must be earned, T’lan Imass. Compassion is priceless in the truest sense of the wold. It must be given freely. In abundance.”

“Armour can hide anything until the moment it falls away.  Even a child.  Especially a child.”

“Courting is the art of growing like mould on the one you want.”

Cheers!!