Sunday, September 19, 2010

Himalayan Paradise - Kausani

One of my fond childhood memories is a visit to a small town with breathtaking view of Himalayan range. The picture of Snow clad Himalayan peaks rising to caress the sky, clouds hovering over the valley below, changing colours of the sky is still fresh in my mind. I was quite excited to visit Kausani after around 25 years. Has the place been able to preserve the beauty I witnessed then, has it changed its colours with changing world... there were many such questions lingering in my mind.
We were a group of five driving an Alto. Cutting through the dense fog enjoying the fulness of nature we drove through Hapur, Joya, Rampur, Haldawani, Kathgodam and Bheemtal

Serene Saat taal:
We had time in hand so we decided to stay at Saat taal over night. Welcoming owner, Cordial staff and perfect location made Maple leaf resort a good option to stay. Quickly the staff got the rooms ready. We were informed that there were heavy rains from past few days. After settling down we decided to go out for evening walk. We were cautioned by Mr Lalit, the owner not to go far off as there may be some wild animals roaming around and its not safe. But we, the explorers, were looking for some adventure. We could easily make out that the woods are full of activity that we could only hear in the dark night. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the mysterious woods with night sounds of wolf howling, frogs croaking and crickets chirping

Lovely quiet morning is what we could ask for after a tiring day and an adventurous night. Nothing can be as refreshing as morning walk through the full bloomed nature. Took a walk around, clicked some best pictures of the trip and then resumed our journey to Kausani at around 7AM. Driving through beautiful valleys, water streams and tiny villages, we reached Kausani at around 2PM.

Kausani ...beyond the horizon
We were mesmerized to see the pristine beauty of the place. It hasn't changed at all... A small town untouched by the modernity. Except for a few more hotels here and there (architecture in sinc with the simplicity of the town), the place look almost as it looked some 25 years back.

 That time I remember there were just 2 probable places to stay - the Government guest house and the Gandhi Ashram. I wanted to stay at the rest house where we stayed those 25 years back. And we were lucky enough to get the permission to stay there. It being monsoons, we were the only guests and that made our stay even better. Care taker, Cook, Mali, Variety of birds, Insects, Monkeys, a Dog were sharing the place with us.

That evening was spent sipping hot coffee and gazing at the snow bound peaks playing hide and seek with clouds. We started identifying the peaks - Chaukhamba, Nandachunti, Trisol, Nanda Devi, Panchuli ranging from the height of 21 to 25 thousand feet. The sun rays reflecting from clouds were creating a drama of colors in the sky. Slowly the darkness took over and turned the beautiful evening into a quiet night. The valley below looked like God has sprinkled sparkle on a black sheet. Home cooked dinner followed by a session of sharing spooky experiences over a drink in the dark night completed our day.

Baijnath, Tea gardens and more...
We woke up to a fresh lazy morning with a cup of hot tea and mesmerising view of sun rise over Himalayas.

The first half of the day was spent roaming around the town, talking to locals, and exploring the place. There are many old buildings with red and green tin roofs that adds to the beauty of the place. Thabli devi, mother of 6, working as mali in the guest house gets Rs 1500 salary and walks down for 2 hrs to reach her workplace. Life is not easy for her and many others in the area. But people here know how to live with limited means and being content with it.

In the second half we planned a trip to the tea gardens nearby and Baijnath. We were guided by Thabli Devi. She took half day off to roam around with us and get a car ride. Exceited she was to sit in a car for the first time. It was a bright sunny day with soft clouds here and there.

Our first stop was Baijnath, 19kms from Kausani town. This old group of temples consisting of main shrine of Lord Shiv and 17 subsidiary shrines is build in Nagra Style in 12th century AD. The temple holds significance because, according to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva and Parvati were married at the confluence of River Gomati and Garur Ganga. Situated on the left bank of the Gomti River at an elevation of 1126 mts, the temples are constructed in stone. The temple is approached from the riverside by a flight of steps made of stones.

Driving through cheer and deodar trees our next stop was a local government school. It being a Saturday, school was closed. Slogans, a map of Uttarakhand and one of India and national anthem writen on the walls of the school... The place reminded me of my childhood days.

Then was the much talked about tea gardens and the tea factory The tea produced here is rich in flavor and of export quality. Kausani is the only place away from the traditional tea plantation areas in India that produce organic orthodox tea. This high-flavored tea is exported to many countries, including Australia, Germany, Korea and the US. Quite impressed we were. Picked up few packets of tea from an outlet just outside the factory.

Tempted to go... check out our trip in May 2013 here
Read More »

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some family celebrations at Asansol and some magical moments at Mandarmani

We were going on a family trip to Asansol, my 'Sosurbadi'. Its 'Annaprashan' of my nephew Ishaan. Saturdays are not off for Ani, so we decided I, with all the luggage, will pick Ani from his office and will go to the station directly. There's a reason why I am telling you all this. In the rush rush of packing, calling a taxi, picking up luggage and Ani... I forgot to pick my most precious thing "Nikon D60". So a week long trip without my camera.

The celebrations were good - first at boni's sosurbari and then at mine, me and dear hubby being the chief guests at both the places. Its Mama's occasion. For those who don't know, 'Annaprashan' is the occasion when the infant is first fed with food other than milk and Mama is the one who feeds the child. Loads of food, 'Adda', masti.... it was fun. It is when I am in WB that I reget being a vegetarian. They seem to enjoy various preparations so much. And for us veggies its just dal, aloo bhaja and paneer. Anyways, the occasion ended well. Ishaan seemed to have enjoyed his first meal as much as we enjoyed feeding him.

We still had some time in hand, so thought of a short trip somewhere around. Sis in law took no time to decide the place and finalize the plan. We were going to Mandarmani, a beach resort in Medhinipur district of West Bengal. Though summers ia not the best time to visit the place we took a shot at it. Firstly, The place will not be too crowded due to off season and secondly we will get the accommodation in comparatively cheap.

Four of us Tiu (my sis in law), Chintu (her husband), Ani and me started off on a Wednesday morning. The journey was cool until our little driver bumped the bottom of the car on a speed breaker. The steering got locked. Luckily there was a Tata service stations nearby so we got it fixed. After going little further, there was a road blockage done by some protesting villagers. We were told to wait for 1 hr. Anirban's 'khurafati dimaag' started working immediately. He went up to one of the most intelligent looking person in the crowd and starting talking. We were just observing him from the car. One nod from that person and we were on our way again. On inquiring, Ani told us that he told the man that we are a group of travel journalists from Delhi and are going to Mandarmani to do a story on beaches of West Bengal. Part of the information is true huh! In India can you imagine to get work done without a little lie. And whats the harm in it if it doesn't harm anyone anyways.

After this eventful little journey we reached the place, but the beach is nowhere to be seen. As I was told by one of the friends it is a adventure ride, one has to go through the sea to reach the resort. I was getting impatient to experience that. and woww... one narrow road led us to the magnificent sea. We drove on the beach around 4-5 kms to reach the destination. That was a wonderful experience.

The place we stayed at was right on the beach, and our room window facing the beach. We were told that the sea waves come up till the gate of the hotel on a full moon day.

We din't take any time to change and jump into the sea. Loll on the sand, let salty water wet your body and sound of crashing waves touch your soul - thats exactly what we did. It was magical, we spent around 2-3 hrs wetting our body and minds.
The night was even more hypnotizing. It was a day before full moon night. the sea at its furious best. Almost full moon, huge waves crashing, strong wind blowing, we could feel the magnificence of the nature. We could see the huge waves crashing right at the foot of the raised platform we were sitting at.

The same lolling and wetting went for half of the next day, and then was the time to say goodbye to the wonderful place, Mandarmani, much more than what I expected it to be.

PS - The pics you see above are taken from my Nokia mobile phone.
Read More »

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Thar Tales

Going to Desert in March is not a good idea. There would be extreme heat, sand storm and moreover, without a proper hotel booking during the time of Holi festival., a strict ‘no-no’ even from the “not -so-puritans” friends and relatives.
And here we are, coming back from the trip sitting at the sleeper class compartment of Jaisalmeer Express, eyes closed and the heart roaming around the tour about to finish… an amazing adventure completely different from any other adventures we have experienced so far.

The Journey:
Delhi to Jaisalmer-
Unlike most of our journeys in the recent past, when we drove to our destinations, this time we chose to travel by train. Being the only train for Jaisalmer the tourist and travelers had no options but to dare the challenge offered by The Great Indian Railway. It stops at every small station thus offering a reasonable opportunity for the office goers to communicate by an ‘express train’. At the end, a ‘wholesome’ journey… six people sitting on one berth and having nothing but ‘Pakora’ in the entire 17 hrs journey… we reached Jaisalmer.

A look at the beautiful Station and it did not take long to leave the horrible journey behind. Never seen a station like this before… small, clean, planned and every construction around is made of Golden stone… hardly anyone around except for the people who got down from the train. As others went into the waiting room to get fresh, I went around the area and to my delight there was a marvelous view of the full Jaisalmer fort beyond the station premises…one look and yes- it was Sonar Kella, indeed.       

Jaisalmer to Khuri-
After a spicy lunch at roadside dhaba near station we reached the local bus stand. It was easy to find the bus that could take us to Khuri, but it was equally puzzling to imagine how one could get into it, especially four of us with all those travel bags.  The smiling conductor and a few locals came to our rescue... how can we leave our guests standing and suffering…their simplicity and hospitality won our hearts. And there we were all smiling and chatting with fellow travelers, packed inside the little tin moving at a speed of 20 km /hr. Soon we found ourselves outside the town, bus moving at slightly higher speed through the lonely road surrounded by thar desert. More we moved inside more the green disappeared and all that was left with golden stones and sand dunes. After almost one and half hr as we fought our way out of the bus, we bid adieu to the stone cutter Narhar going to his native village for playing holi with his little brother, the middle aged Amrit from Jaisalmeer, Ramu the teenager studying in class IX in a locals school also a part time tourist guide in Jaisalmer. 

Khuri is a small village less than 100 km from Jaisalmer surrounded by desert Thar, with a population of around 2000. Badal Singh the village mukhia was himself there to receive us at Bus stand. A little walk under the scorching sun and we reached ‘Badal House’. The family, two little boys, naughty Dashrath and responsible Narshim, extremely shy daughter, and Mrs. Badal occupied in kitchen all the time, all were happy to welcome us and we immediately felt at home. The little hut made of clay and stone cooled us down along with a cold glass of water that Badal brought for us.

The Thar Desert:
Oneness with nature
A little rest at the amazing hut and off we go again… all ready for an adventure so special and full of unknown anticipation. Badal gave us three of his best men, one being his elder son, along with four camels to take us to the heart of the desert for the rest of the day and night. Riding the tall serious looking guys was never going to be easy and it proved to be little more difficult than we thought at the beginning. But in a few minutes we were in complete tune with the ships of desert.

After about twenty minutes ride through the sand dunes Narshim, one of the Camel riders stopped the Camals and pointed towards the horizon. One incredible scene of Ray’s Pather Panchali always fascinated me… the unadulterated expression of bewilderment and joy and virgin happiness of two young kids - Apu and Durga as they run to see the first moving train of their life beyond the kash forest. Today as Narshim had pointed out towards the setting Sun, all four of us might have felt a Apu and Durga in all our heart for the moment. Mesmerized by the golden ball dipping beyond the horizon of Thar and the changing colour of the sky and the sand dunes within a period of some seconds four of us stood hypnotized. 

By the time we reached our ‘spot’ right at the middle of nowhere it was dark and chilly all around… music of silence all over. Some of us lost in nature with camera, some busy with the camel riders as they gathered some dry bushes to lit the campfire and prepare food for the night and some got simply busy in doing nothing. We felt a real proud and precious to be there as, after a unique dinner of dal, bati, and mixed vegetable, we slept on the sand bed. Little fox and deer all around, their eyes glowing in the dark, cold breeze blowing, silence all over, full moon on guard and stars blessing… and you never know when you passed into the world of dream.              

“Good Morning” Narshim came smiling with bowl of hot tea. For a moment we forgot where we were. The chirping avians and colour of the dawn on the sand dunes had us spellbound. Sunrise was as splendid as sunset. After another round of exploration and photo session (not to forget delicious parathas) we took off with our camels.

 This time it was another way for going back. The journey is an unmistakable reminder of your childhood memory of Tinitin’s journey through the Sahara desert. We again spotted number of black deer on the way running playfully with a safe distance from all of us.

Being part of a very ordinary day of a very ordinary village Khuri in the heart of Thar: 
Back in Badal House we spent the entire day roaming around the village with little Dashrah. Untouched by the stroke of so called modernity, the tiny village with its simple people, kids playing on the street (besides giving us some curious looks and some sweet hellos), cattle roaming lazily as if a magic pencil have drawn them all right from a book of Tagore's poetry.

Ladies deep inside their veils and roped by the unique ornaments still managing to do their daily routines and kids playfully busy with their morning chores

It was a privilege to be a part of a very ordinary day of a very ordinary village in the heart of Thar. Excited little kids showing us their school building and classrooms, village women doing their household business shy yet curious under the veils, young girls carrying water pots on their heads, group of men chatting under the small tree, the aged grandma coming out of her hut annoyed with her daughter-in-law and the little granddaughter pursuing her to come back home, and so many of those sweet little things made our day. The rest of the afternoon we spent lazily talking to Badal and our new friends Alex and Rothem from Holland.

Evening was more eventful than we thought. There was a local program of folk songs and dance. Time ran in the little village and as we came back after the little too loud event at around 10 pm the dinner were all ready. None of us wanted the day to end…and that lead us to the roof of Badal House for a long after-dinner chat session, Alex and Rothem joined us and the full moon kept smiling.   

Jaisalmer Fort:
The next day was the day of holi also the day of our saying alvida to Khuri. Badal had arranged an efficient Cab driver to help us reach Jaisalmer. Efficient was he indeed and how he drove his little tank all over the temporary road blocks made to stop cars by the locals to fetch some cash in the name of Holi. After a one hr horrendous journey we reach Jaisalmer fort and got down at sonar kella.
The “only living Fort in the world’, Jaisalmer fort was all the more alive with both locals and Tourists playing festival of colors with full vigor.
How we wished we could also be a part of the great celebration. But we had to come back to the Jaisalmer station to catch our train by the evening. The Station Master Mr. Vinod Sharma from UP, missing his family on the day of Holi, was kind enough to allow us to use the retiring room to get fresh and equipped to face the Great Jaisalmer Express all over again.  

Best time to visit - Sept to Feb
Essentials to carry - A jacket (nights are really cold), a torch (if you plan to stay out in the desert at night as we did), and some eatables

Read More »

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chakrata - A Paradise for Nature Lovers

I was not very excited to go this time untill Agni sent some links describing the place.

98 kms from Dehradun at an elevation of  about 7500 ft Chakrata is known for its serene environs, virgin forests and pollution-free atmosphere. The town has a magnificent view of the Greater Himalaya and everything around is delightfully green — deodar, Himalayan oak and rhododendron cover the hills. The only built-up area consists of some of the prettiest colonial army buildings, green- and red-roofed gables complete with rambling roses and wisteria. All this was enough to get me excited.

It was a 3 day trip. Going by Agni's antique Esteem. 
The Gang: Agni, Anirban, Manas, Aunty, Uncle (Agni's parents) and me

Agni - On driver's seat, driving the car and the trip
Anirban -  A photographer lost in the nature... want to utilize every single minute of the trip. First one to get up every morning and go for bird watching.
Aunty and Uncle - The most energetic and adventurous couple I have ever met. "Aapki energy se 
aapki umar ke pata hi nahi chalta". They are in their 60s in guess.
Manas - Sitting next to driver’s seat… cute kid supporting Agni in every possible way. The luckiest one to get the most comfortable seat
and Me - Bubbliest of all. They call me 'The Expense Manager'. Whenever camera is spared, don't leave the chance to click. 

Way to Chakrata from Delhi
Chakrata is about 330 km from delhi. There are two routes one is via panipat and kurukshetra and the second one from Ghaziabad via Loni, Baghpat, Badaut, Shamli and Saharanpur. The route via Saharanpur is less crowded. After Sahanpur the road has dense forests on both sides. Just before Herbertpur there is a left turn which goes to Gurudwara Paonta Sahib which is 10 km away and is in Himachal Pradesh. From Herbertpur another 10 km and you reach Vikasnagar. From there you start driving in the hills. Chakrata is around 60 km from Vikasnagar via Kalsi and Sahiya. The road is narrow but in good condition. 
Its important to mention here that there is no petrol pump beyond Vikasnagar. One should have enough petrol in the tank to drive about 150 km in the hill. You may get petrol paying a premium at Chakrata but that will most likely be adulterated.

We started on 22nd evening, halted that night on the way and restarted next morning.

Day 1 (23rd Jan '10) - 
In anticipation:  
The most I recall about our journey from Saharanpur to Chakata was Janta Hotel. A nice dhaba with a mango orchid at the back. I was more keen on clicking the old ladies basking in the orchid than having my meal. 
This time we had booked a Hotel in advance knowing this place has only 2 renowned hotels - Hotel Snow View and Hotel Himalyan Paradise. Based on the reviews from the visitors we chose the later. 
After a drive of around 6 kms from the main town we reached "Himalyan Paradise". Beautiful place in the lap of nature with a wonderful view of Greater Himalyas.
A warm welcome by Bittoo ji and staff, we felt quite at home. The place looked nice and cosy. A huge terrace in front of the rooms was ideal for basking in the sun in these chilly winter days.We were told that more than 40 species of birds have been identified here. the most common we saw around were brown dippers and tits.  
Rest of the day was spent talking to the locals and planning for next 2 days. Places we decided to visit are Deoban, Tiger falls and Kanasar. 

Day 2 (24th Jan '10) 
Darun Deoban:
Started for Deoban at 8 in the morning. It is some 15 kms away. Fresh, chilly air caressing our faces and bright sun warming our bodies... we were delighted to experience this chillness and warmth at the same time.
Deoban is around 10000 ft above sea level, we were feeling on top of the world literally. 
There is an extensive dense jungle with dispersed villages of the Jaunsari tribe around the area.
With complete silence all around only thing we could hear was chirping of birds. We were lucky enough to get sight of Himalayan Woodpeckers, white collared blackbirds, Brown Dipper and Green Backed tit. 
Milky white snow all around... undisturbed and untouched, we were happy to have started early to view this amazing sight.Uncle aunt chose a quiet corner to sit and enjoy the view, Agni and Manas, excited like small kids... were running around on the big patch of snow, and Ani and me, the explorers, decided to go further deep into the hills. 

Whoa.... what an amazing place it was... snow all around, the deeper you go more beauty you find. There was a place where we could see the foot steps starting from the top of the hill towards deep down the valley... seemed like bear's foot marks. little further point where there is no sunshine, chilled air numbing your nose, fingers and every thing exposed. 

Came back frozen and satisfied.

Day 3 (25th Jan '10)
Towards Tiger falls:
All young folks decided to trek on the 25th morning... early morning. We were all set to visit Tiger falls where we have to walk down 5 kms to have a glimpse of the falls and climb up the same distance. The starting point is some 10-12 kms away from our hotel. Manas decided to give Agni some rest and take the drivers seat now. After crossing some villages and villagers we reached the trek start point. 
We were told that there is a small market where we will get something to eat. But to our bad, there was only one shop there - Chauhan Tea stall, that also is about to be closed because the shopkeeper had to go shoping some stuff for the shop. We took 2 packs of biscuits and started off. 
While we were talking to the shop owner, Anirban had befriended a group of some 6-7 local kids ready to start their cricket match. The self made bat looked like "thapi" we use to beat clothes while washing them.
Praveen, the eldest of all, was happy to accompany us till the falls. Down down.... down we go... Led by the little energetic kid. They are 8 brothers and sisters. He is the eldest.
The walk was a treacherous one down the hill, and could be lethal if one does not watch his steps and slips. We kept walking on & on, but there was no sign of waterfalls.     
Finally after we had walked almost the entire trek, we caught the first glimpse of this miraculous creation of Mother Nature, very nicely hidden from view completely until you reach the exact spot. All the fatigue vanished looking at one of the highest waterfalls in India, originating at a height of about 312 ft. 
The view of water falling from such great height was truly breath-taking. We stayed there for almost an hour, while Ani clicked some pics, Manas and Agni got busy discussing the fall... its source, height, depth, etc. I silently enjoyed the gentle water droplets on my face sitting by the side of the fall. Although completely lost in the charms of this place, we soon realized it was time to make a move and start the uphill trek. If the downhill was lethal for the fear of slipping, uphill was a total nightmare, steep 5 kms climb. 
We somehow managed to reach the top where an old man was waiting  with 4 glasses and a pitcher full of cold water. He was apparently Praveen's Grand father. Praveen had told us that his family would have loved to feed us but only his old grand father is home and he might not be able to cook. His mother had gone to fetch medicine for his younger sister. 
Time to say good bye to the young chap and his grandpa in this wonderful land of nature and manly beauty. I was awestruck by the simplicity of people and nature both.

Koti Kanasar
Agni drove us back to the hotel where uncle and aunt were all ready to go. We got some paranthas packed and started for Koti Kanasar, as the locals call it. Some 26 kms from our hotel. Kanasar is on the Chakrata – Tiuni road. The road was good with amazing view of deep valleys on one side and high hills on the other. 
Patches of snow on the way made it all the more dramatic and interesting. One very peculiar thing about the place... we saw many locals eating the balls of snow. They were picking it up from the ground and eating it. But they were too shy to let us know the reason and it remained mystery as to why were they relishing those balls of snow
The place was breathtakingly beautiful with tall Deodar trees all around. It is indeed nature's paradise with untouched beauty. Some of the trees here as really old with trunk circumfrence more than 6mtrs.
If you are a nature lover like me, do visit Koti Kanasar. Highly recommended!

Ended the trip with Bonfire. Warming our bodies with fire and discussing the trip over moongfali.Nothing can be better.

Way back was as interesting as the trip. Travelling on the 26th of January. A bright sunny day... School kids going to and then coming from school after flag hoisting, A slow day with not much of activity seen on the roads. Smooth drive back home. 

The discussions while coming back were around the destination for our next trip. 

Cost of the trip: Rs1800 per person. Thanks to our efficient 'Expense Manager' ;)

Read More »