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The race of your life




Ladakh, any way Landmark run: The Manhattan waterfront is part of the race route.


umbai marathon, check. Bangalore 10K, check. Now, head to New York City to run possibly the greatest race of your life. The first ever NYC Urban Race is on 25 September. The eight-mile route lies past some of the iconic landmarks and the spectacular Manhattan waterfront. Beginning at Riverside Park, the course extends along the West Side Bike Path before finishing in Manhattan, where a post-race festival will celebrate the athletes with live music and food. The course will also feature three custom-made obstacles designed to reflect the NYC landscape. Entry is open to residents and tourists alike, to a maximum of 3,000 people, on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants who register by 30 June pay $100 (around Rs4,760) for individuals and $150 for teams. From 1 July, the fee goes up to $115 for individuals and $175 for teams. Visit to sign up.

Make mine Madurai Take a hike: (above) A trek that includes visits to palaces; and the Valley of Wulle.

Why India’s highest plateau is one of the most popular summer refuges this holiday season


adakh may be one of the most sparsely populated parts of India, but that won’t be the case this summer if the number of tourist packages on offer is anything to go by. We pick the best: Jeep safari: Mercury Himalayan Explorations has a Manali-Leh, five nights/six days package for Rs15,490. The route touches

Jispa, Sarchu, Tso Kar, Thiksey, Hemis and Leh before returning to Delhi. To book a departure on 18 June, 16 July or 20 August, call 011-23340033. Backpacking trek: Freespirit has a seven nights/eight days ex-Leh deal for Rs12,500 that includes visits to palaces and monasteries, nights at home stays, and a trek through the

Valley of Wulle, with the option of extending the trip by including Nubra Valley and Pangong La. To book the 12 June departure, call 09869201443/022-24442944. Overland and river journeys: GetOff ur ass has four trips planned over July and August: Three overland (9-18 July, 17-25 July and 7-22 August) and one down the Zanskar river (25 July-7 August). The nine-day overland trips cost Rs37,500, while the 15-day jeep trip comes for Rs49,900. The river-rafting package costs Rs82,500. All costs are per person, inclusive of ex-Delhi airfares. They promise a trip you’ll remember for a long time, with handpicked sights and well-loved guesthouses. Call 09916192000.


easons may come and go, fad holiday trends may die, but heritage is never out of date. So Heritage Madurai, fashioned out of the Geoffrey Bawa-designed building that housed the old Madurai Club, is offering to acquaint expat pilgrims and others so inclined with the rich cultural legacy of Tamil Nadu in general and Madurai in particular. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the HERITAGE MADURAI planet, Madurai literally centres around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple. No wonder then that Heritage Madurai’s two nights/three days package starts with a visit to the temple. Vintage magic: Heritage Madurai. Also on the itinerary: the Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, the Mariamman Teppakulam tank, the Thiruparankundram temple, the Alagar Kovil temple and the Jain Cave temples on the outskirts of Madurai. Expect to get up close with Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam and superb Chettinad food in Chettinad itself. Probably the first package targeting those unwillingly alienated from their roots—and those wanting an insider’s insight—the Cultural Heritage Tour costs Rs19,999 per couple, inclusive of a luxury villa suite, all meals, all local travel and airport transfers. For details, call 0452-2385455 or visit Write to MICHEL GANGNE/AFP

Pass the salt, please


The first step on the Annapurna trail: Learn to love the leech. Or, at least, to live with it B Y K RISH R AGHAV

···························· ispassionate deleeching. That was the first skill we picked up on the Annapurna trail. On the first day of our four-day journey through the famous trekking route in western Nepal, the verdant calm of the Himalayas was often disrupted by our screams of “Leeches!”, followed by minutes of hysterical panic while we scrambled to find salt, or a cigarette. The monsoon still held stubbornly over the Annapurna in early September, and some sections of the trail were muddy and damp. Most of us were first-time trekkers, and we’d decided on a fairly lenient route through the trail. The Annapurna trail snakes around the Annapurna peaks—the tallest of which, Annapurna I, is the 10th highest peak in the world at 8091m—but fortunately, there are a number of routes. All of them converge at the village of Chomrong, which serves as a waypoint for those heading towards the Annapurna Base Camp (4,130m). Starting from the south-west start point at Birethanti, we’d decided to make our way north to the village of Ghandruk, 2 hours from Chomrong. From Ghandruk, which offers a stunning view of the Machhapuchhre (Fishtail) peak, we’d head southwards to Landruk (home to the greatest dal-bhaat in


the region), and then further down to Dhampus, from where the highway back to the city of Pokhara at Phide was an hour away. Much enthusiasm, conversation and loud humming of songs was in evidence as we headed out from Birethanti. The first part of this section of the trail starts gently, with great vistas, a light sloping route and waterfalls aplenty. All was well with the world. The first leeches appeared an hour later. It would start as a faint itching on the ankle or somewhere on the foot. You’d ignore it, walking on till the itch would persistently claw at the periphery of your attention. Annoyed, you’d decide to take a closer look, and there it was. A congealed circle of blood. A wriggly black annelid revelling in the middle of it like in a swimming pool. Sharp intake of breath. Screams. These were neither the tiger leeches of Apocalypse Now fame, nor the dreaded Dinobdella ferox, which crawls up a person’s nasal passage. These were garden-variety leeches, less than 2cm in length, and nice enough to inject an anaesthetic on your wounds after their fill of blood. But to us, the leeches were like the aliens in, um... Aliens, their biology and behaviour utterly, err...alien, and every new discovery about their vampiric modus


Trail mix: (above) Leeches; and the mist­shrouded vistas of the Annapurna circuit.

operandi was made with increasing alarm. Salt, or burning it off with a cigarette, isn’t the most recommended way to remove a leech, though they’re the most gratifying to watch. Stubbing a leech with the ember end of a cigarette makes the bloodsuckers regurgitate on the wound, an infection risk that is best avoided. The most efficient way is to identify the leech’s teeth, disengage it from the wound with your

nails, and then flick the leech away when it emerges from its little burrow in your skin. Of course, there’s no time for efficiency or careful disengagement when caught in a leech panic, and the only salve for a leech-haunted mind was the liberal sprinkling of salt. We’d come about as prepared as amateur trekkers could be: fancy rucksacks, windcheaters, glucose, torches, mosquito repellent (which proved unnecessary)

and a pair of solid sneakers. But nothing short of a rubber full-body suit could dissuade any of us from constantly checking for leeches. The trek slowed to a crawl, with us leaving a steady trail of salt mounds like bread crumbs. On Day 2, we discovered that the leeches could cling to other parts of the body as well. After a bunch of unwelcome guests were discovered on a colleague’s neck, nothing was safe any more. The bemused storekeepers at Ghandruk would watch as we scrambled up to benches like we’d stepped on hot coals and fling our shoes with reckless abandon, taking out a packet of salt with trembling hands and short breath. Deleeching breaks became as common as stops for rest, or food. On Day 3, leech mania began to cool. None of us had died yet, and no strange fever dreams had manifested in any of our psyches. We

The Annapurna circuit is a 300km trekking trail in Nepal through the Annapurna massif. Trekkers can start at one of two points: Besisahar on the eastern leg of the trail, accessi­ ble by bus from Kathmandu, or Pokhara, near the western leg, which is also the closest airport. October­November is the peak season. June­July, also recom­ mended, is when the risk of leeches is the highest. The complete circuit takes about 18­25 days, rising from 900­5,400m. The eastern leg, along the Marsyangdi river to the village of Manang (3,606m), is a gruelling climb. The western route is recommended for begin­ ners. Start at Birethanti, 3 hours by bus from Pokhara, and go up either to Ghorepani and Poon Hill or to Ghandruk and Chomrong. Permits are available at the Annapurna Conservation Area Project offices in Kathmandu or Pokhara for Nepalese Rupees (NPR) 200 (around Rs125) (for members of Saarc countries). started wearing our leech bites like war injuries, taking photographs with thumbs up, grinning. The careful application of salt to leech wounds was now something we could put on our résumé. On Day 4, we’d saunter up like wizened veterans, and intone our troubles to the group with all the drama of a shipping manifest. “I have three leeches on my left foot, one on my right ankle, and another wiggling through my windcheater. Pass the salt, please.”

Pass the Salt, please  

Deleeching on the Annapurna Trail

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