Saturday, December 19, 2015

Following the Old Silk Route, Sikkim

It was a very cold day of November. There was mist all over, visibility was very low and bone-chilling wind was blowing. We checked out inner line permites, confirmed the home stay and started for the journey that I will remember all my life. We were at Rongli the previous night. Rongli is a beautiful little town with lovely people and all, almost all houses full of flowers. It was an uphill drive with a local driver, Roshan who seemed to know almost very single soul. So our journey started with Roshan waiving and smiling at everyone.

Rongli to Zuluk

Driving uphill cutting through the fog we reached Zuluk. A small village at the altitude of 10,100ft. located in lower Himalayas of Eastern Sikkim on the historical old Silk Route which once connected India with Tibet. Till the first half of 20th century before the Chinese invaded Tibet, this old Silk Route was used heavily to trade silk, fur and wool between Tibet and India. But since 1962, Jelepla Pass has been closed. Now the official corridor between India and China in this area is Nathula Pass which is not far away.

It was still foggy when we were driving on a zig zag road post Zuluk. Just after a point weather got clear and we found ourselves above the clouds. As they say above the clouds it is all clear. We seemed to have passed through the clouds and reached the height where its just the blue sky and sunshine. I was amazed to find myself between the sky and the clouds. Further we could see the snow clad Kanchenjunga - the third highest peak of the Himalayas. The whole scenario seemed out of this world - like we have stepped into paradise.

And to reach this paradise we have drove uphill on 32 loops that are called Zuluk loops.

Kanchenjunga peaks from Thambi View Point:

Point where you get the first feel of being above the clouds. You get a breathtaking sun rise view from here and also a perfect view of the Zuluk loops and the Kanchenjunga range, so do come early morning here if you are staying at Zuluk or Nathang. 

Standing here looking down at the clouds, the Kanchenjunga peaks in front and deep blue sky above I felt like a bird. How I wish I had wings to fly across these clouds, touch those peaks that I can only see now and go farther beyond the peaks in the blue sky. Such a beautiful world it is that we live in, I wonder why we have created ugly concrete jungles. Anyways I don't even want to think about them while I am in this heaven.

We further continued our drive along the old silk route towards Gangtok and were amazed to see the beauty.

Hathpokhari Or Elephant Lake, Kupup:

A beautiful lake shaped like an elephant in the lap of mountains is no less than a wonder.

We reached Old Baba Mandir just when we wanted to take a short break. Maintained by Indian Army, you get excellent hospitality from Indian Jawans, Hot cup of tea, some chat chat and lots of smiles will refresh you for the further journey.

Sorethang (The China Market):  One can get woolen cloths, jackets at a very reasonable price here. The goods are brought from China and this market is the first point in Indian Territory where these goods are sold and supplied further in Gangtok city and other markets.

Meme Yen Cho Lake: 

There is no free access to the lake because it is in a prohibited area. You can get an amazing aerial view of the lake while going along the Silk Route,

Nathula Pass

Permit is required to can visit this India-China border that can be obtained from Gangtok. 

There are many ways to explore this wonderland, I did it the #ChaloLetsGo_Way!

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Royal Retreat - Prim Resort PUSHKAR

Pushkar to me was primarily either a place for backpackers or for pilgrims till my last visit. Amazed and thrilled I was to experience a stay at a boutique resort in the heart of desert that gave me a royal experience in moderate prices.

Just 6 hrs from Delhi and 2 hrs from Jaipur, I find Pushkar as a perfect weekend getaway for everyone. Be it small treks to Gayatri and Savitri devi or relaxing hip-hop cafes, culturally rich locals to feel the pulse of Rajasthan or 400 temples for those with religious bend of mind; mesmerizing views of sunset at the dunes or a refreshing mornings at the lake!

A traditional welcome by the hospitable staff set the course for the royal stay that it was. Quite impressed I was to see the interiors of the rooms. Traditionally decorated, every room was different. In-spite of my tiring journey I could not stop myself to explore the resort and see their beautifully done rooms. I particularly liked the Haveli rooms with the colorful glass windows, huge wooden doors and old paintings. The lamp shades that gave the character to the rooms. Staff told me that these rooms are made keeping in mind the Rajasthani style of architecture with private sitting loungers facing the Aravalli and interiors are done like the heritage havelis.

Pushkar is a heaven for foodies and there is a lot to chose from in the market. There are cafes that serve best Italian and Israeli cuisines and there are places where you get delicious local food. And I was glad the resort food was no less. There is a variety of food to chose from and every dish I had, had that traditional flavor to it. 

The morning temple bells woke me up, I opened the window and you saw camels pass by with locals in colorful dresses. Was happy to see the atmosphere in the lawn. kids running and enjoying near the pool, a couple having morning tea in a cozy corner, men playing badminton in the garden. 

Spent my day exploring this little hamlet and its surroundings. I started with a hike to Gayatri Devi temple. From up there I got a good bird eye's view of Pushkar. Relaxed with a big glass of fresh fruit juice by the lake side cafe after coming back. visited old rangji temple as had heard a lot about its architecture. Got foot massage at a massage parlour just next to the temple. On the way back to the resort did some shopping. Got very good bargains for some silver jewelry, leather bag and some rose products. 

After resting for a few hours in the resort I planned to go and explore the desert area on camel. The dunes were not very far from the resort. Camels were stopped at a raised spot in midst of the dunes where I experienced mesmerizing sunset. And to add to the charm to the evening were a few kalbelia dancers who performed on some local tunes. 

The next day was spent relaxing at the resort and evening was at the lake first enjoying the nagara beats, then the arti and then there was a group playing music by the side of the lake. Perfect ending it was to the wonderful trip!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kochi Trip (Part I) - "The Flying Experience"

"After midnight the moon set and I was alone with the stars. I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince me that the reason flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the aesthetic appeal of flying." ~ Amelia Earhart

It was a clear day with a few patches of clouds up there. After completing the formalities and collecting my boarding pass, I checked in. I would be reaching Kochi around 3.30pm. I was excited to fly except for I was a little worried for, in my last flight to Kolkata I got severe pain in my ears that took more than 24hrs to recover.

"Leaving-The-Ground" Moment

Filled with apprehensions on what the experience would be, I boarded the flight. While climbing the stairs of the flight the sudden blow of wind on my face felt so good. Smiling air hostesses welcomed me to the flight. I wonder how they manage this smile throughout the day. Anyway unlike many others who just chose to ignore their smile, I smiled back. I got the window seat near the wing of the plane. I made myself comfortable, checked the safety instructions, just in case, and checked on the fellow passengers. Fortunately or unfortunately there was no one sitting next to me and I had all the privacy. I lost a chance of that great friendship that happens while flying in our Hindi movies. Anyways, I was happy to get my privacy.

The flight proceeded on the runway and slowly gained momentum and took off. It reminded me of my paragliding "leaving-the-ground" moment. How suddenly you lose contact from earth and your heart misses a beat. In no time we were up above in the sky watching establishments, cars and trees getting tiny and tinier. getting a bird's eye view of my city. We all look so small from up above... and the buildings, cars and roads look like toys.

"The Dream World" up there

 I could hear the engine roar as the plane gained height defying gravity. The little patches of clouds grew bigger and denser. Suddenly I realised we were entring the clouds. The earth and its establishments were no more visible. Slowly we crossed this layer of clouds. We were above clouds and I was transported to a different world. Those patches of clouds that I saw up in the sky in the morning were below me. The whole scenario had changed. Patches of clouds were hanging all over. Bear, rabbit, elephant, birds... there was a whole jungle up there. Sun was smiling at the play and rays were trickling in through my small personal window warming my body and soul. At that moment all I was missing was the feel of that wind on my face. I just wished the whole airplane would disappear dropping me on one of those clouds.

I was suddendly bought back to "our world" by one of the airhostess who was distributing a menu of things I could eat and the list of products I could buy while flying and the offers I will get if I buy them now. How I wish I could be in my own dreamy world forever. Anyways, I ordered some tea and Honey Oat Cookies.

Back to "My Gola"

We would be landing in half an hour, an announcement was made. I was all set to enter "my gola" and be connected once again. Now we were crossing a dense layer of clouds and suddenly I could feel the water drops on my window. What an amazin thing it was... sunny up above the clouds and rainy down below. And by-the-way, how do people get ear pain while flying, its a divine experience ;)

After a super exciting flying experience I was in Kochi to see my friends, Lishin and Anoop.
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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spiti Sojourn - A Memorable Journey Through Himalayan Villages

High rocky hills kissing the sky, muddy water stream cutting furiously through the hills and small villages popping-up their beautiful face every now and then. On this road trip to surreal Spiti from Delhi I succumbed to the magic of the Himalayas. Driving on those rough terrains through mighty Himalayas at days and looking at the innumerable stars at pitch dark nights has made for some of the best experiences of my life and has left me wondering about my tiny existence in this whole gamut of Universe. The beauty of these gigantic mountains, the immensity of the lands on which they look down, the simplicity of the people living here all worked on my mind like a spell.

Journey to the Spiti Valley - a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayan Mountains in north-east Himachal Pradesh, India, is the most beautiful drive I’ve done so far. It isn’t a very smooth drive – bumpy roads, no petrol pumps for hundreds of kilometers, low oxygen levels due the high altitude – but it surely is worth all the effort. Quaint old monasteries, prayer flags fluttering in the wind and monks in their ochre robes, add to the mystic charm of Spiti. The scenic mountain villages perched on mountain crests, pristine rivers, the vast landscapes and harsh conditions are all a part of the package that constitute this adventurous Himalayan Journey.

It has been said that everyone who visits Spiti begins a new life. Spiti plays an interesting, very different hand, luring you to its untouched surreal beauty and offering an introduction to the simpler ways of life… I can never forget my interaction with locals at Ribba and Giu. There are some extraordinary stories too - of 500 years old mystical mummy that was discovered some 25 years back by an excavation team, of painted caves where monks stayed some hundred years ago... and many more. Many-a-times I wished that this trip to Himalayas would never end, that I never come back to the city.

Experience Kinnauri Culture at Kalpa
Driving along the picturesque Hindustan-Tibet road which is cut in rock and goes along the Sutlej River we reached Kalpa. Our tired souls got elated looking at an impressive view of the Kinnaur Kailash ranges that includes Kinnaur Kailash (6349m) and Jorkanden (6473m) peaks. Kalpa, at 2,960 m elevation is a beautiful town famous for production of high quality apples and Chilgozas (Pine nuts). It’s interesting to see how Hinduism and Buddhism have undergone a religious mixing here, along with some indigenous shamanistic practices. It was clearly evident in the architecture of Narayan-Nagini temple and Hu-Bu-Lan-Kar Monastery. Walking along the narrow lanes of this village we got a good glimpse of Kinnauri culture. Kinner houses are made of wood and have storerooms for keeping dried fruits and separate wooden storage structures called kathar for grains.

We woke up to a mesmerizing morning in the lap of Himalayas. It seemed the mighty peaks were guarding this silent sleepy village and now when day is breaking its changing colors seem to be signaling the villagers to wake up. As the bright day gradually took over the dark night snow covered mysterious hills changed its colors from black to grey to silver to white to golden. We couldn't take our eyes off the spectacular view as the golden rays of rising sun touched the snow peaks.

Taste local brew at Ribba
Well known for its grape vineyards, plum orchards and the local brews made from local variety of grapes called Rokh Dakhan in local dialect, Ribba is a picturesque village travelers hardly know about. We were fortunate to have found Dharam Kumar Negi who took us around the wonderful trails through the fruit orchards to visit Kasuraj ji and Ribba Temple where Hindu gods and Buddhist deities are worshiped side by side. He took us to his house as well for tasting Angoori. He was quite reluctant in selling as they want to stock it for those 6 months when the whole village is covered with deep snow and cut off from the whole world.

In contrast to the romanticism at Kalpa, the stretch from Ribba to Nako was harsh. There were huge Rocky Mountains staring at us, no habitation for miles and the tough terrain seemed to be shouting to remain alert every moment. Passing through Khab which is hardly 13 km from Shipki La border Tibet, we reached Nako, situated in Hangrang Valley.

On the way to Nako

Nako - Village that hasn’t changed from ages 
Passing through Khab which is hardly 13 km from Tibet border we reached Nako, situated in Hangrang Valley. It lies in the sensitive restricted zone along the border and therefore requires an Inner Line Permit to travel through. Walk around the small village absorbing the traditional atmosphere and architecture, it looks like the village hasn’t changed from ages. The existence of lake formed out of the masses of snow above adds to the beauty to this tiny village. From behind the lake you can walk uphill towards chortens. It is an ideal place to get an amazing view of this tiny village.

Sun seemed to be in happy mood and chose to treat our eyes with a breathtakingly beautiful view. Its golden rays touched snow kissed silver peaks one by one turning them golden. And what pleasure it was to witness gradual conversion of this beautiful evening into a gorgeous starry night! 

Nako Village
Further on the trail was Tabo, famous for the ancient monastic complex that preserves some of the ancient paintings and stucco images that date back to 11th century. We roamed around the complex trying to absorb the serenity of the place. Prayer flags fluttering in the wind and glowing jovial faces of kids, youth and old alike, we felt as if we have reached some different world altogether where people knew no sorrow. Smile was a part and parcel of everyone’s appearance. On the cliff-face above the complex were a series of caves that at some point were the dwellings of monks. Traces of painting can be seen in these caves as well.

Kaza - The Largest Township in the Valley
Located at an altitude of 4000mt. on the left bank of Spiti River, Kaza is the largest township in the area. 
Kye monastery is one of the main training centers for Lamas in the region. There were narrow corridors, low rooms, dark passages, difficult staircases and small doors that lead to prayer rooms in the monastery. Standing on the roof top of Kye monastery I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how life is so different here. Far from the complexities of city life, living in this quietude is a distant dream for most of us. 
Ke Monastery
Next day we explored the villages of Langza, Hikkim and Komic. We posted a letter from the world’s highest post office at Hikkim (4440m), found some sea fossils while strolling around Langza, and interacted with some ambitious kids at Komic, world’s highest motorablevillage (4500m).

Hikkim Village
Driving through some magnificent landscapes we reached Kunzum pass. The road beyond that to the Chandratal Lake was bad. It was a demanding drive on bumpy road. But the mere sight of Chandratal was a reward enough for all the hard work - serene surroundings, still blue water and clear reflection of snow covered peaks. We set our tents on the vast meadows on the bank of the lake. Sitting by the lake looking at the reflection of the snow covered peaks early in the morning made me bow to the beauty of nature. 

Our tired city souls were now fully rejuvenated to start our journey back.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Step-by-step guide to packing efficiently

Are you planning a bag packing trip and having sleepless nights just thinking what and how to pack? Facing difficulty of not able to make it light?
Don't worry you are not the only one. We all travelers have faced this problem some time or the other. Below are the steps I follow to pack my bags for any trip.

There are 3 major categories of things you would need on your trip:
  • Appropriate and just sufficient clothes, shoes and accessories; 
  • Toiletries and 
  • Medicines. 
Lets first concentrate on clothes, shoes and accessories. Follow the below steps... This might look like an elaborate way but believe me follow these steps to pack for a few trips and you will be a packing expert!

First of all keep everything that you want to take on the trip - clothes, matching accessories, shoes, woolens and undergarments in one place.

Then make different stacks. Keep lowers like jeans, trousers, salwar and churidaar in one, tops and kurtis in 2nd, night ware in the 3rd and woolens in 4th. Keep all accessories separately.
Now pull out/shortlist tops and kurtis equal to the number of trip days and a pair or 2 of jeans, a skirt and a churdaar/ salwaar from the respective stacks. Keep minimum and comfortable nightware. And enough woolens. Usually what I do is keep 2 pair of jeans, a skirt and a salwar or churidaar with a couple of t-shirts and kurtis for a trip of around 10 days. Along with that some scarves and stoles. That gives me enough choice to make various combinations and look different everyday. 

After this sorting comes packing. Take a comfortable bag-pack with enough space. You would not want to make 2 bags in case you are going on a trekking trip where you might have to carry your bags.
Pack each stack in separate small poly-bags. The problem I  faced on my initial trips was that all my stuff used to get mixed up in a heap inside the bag and I had to go through all my clothes just to find one top. So the solution I found was to keep lowers, uppers, nightware in small cloth bags or poly-bags. And believe me it really helps.

Now all you have to do is arrange these small bags nicely in your bag-pack. Pack your footwear - not more than 2 pairs one pair of sandals/floaters/slippers and one pair of shoes, in a separate poly-bag and keep it in one of the side pockets. Similarly put all your accessories in one separate pocket.
And that takes care of our first category.

Next important thing is toiletries. Always keep atleast basic things like soap, shampoo pouches, a small toothpaste tube, moisturizer, a small towel etc with you (preferably in a pouch that can fit into your hand bag) even if you are sure you will get it all in the hotel. Many a times it all has come very handy when we are stuck in landslides or long traffic jams. You might have to stay in places you have not planned and you don't get these things there. 
This all hardly takes any space but really save you in emergencies.

And the most important thing that people usually ignore is medicine. You should always be ready with your little medicine kit that has some basic medicines like crocin, a pain killer, an anti allergic, some tablets for  stomach infection, digene, something for headache and some bandaids. 

Don't forget to keep camera to capture your beautiful memories, charger to charge your camera and mobile, power bank (helps in long road journeys and trekking), and enough memory cards. I like to keep it all handy in my hand/ camera bag.

This is my luggage for a 10 days road trip

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weekend trip to Mukteshwar

Fully loaded fruit trees, thatched roof mud houses and welcoming locals... Leaving behind the rush of the city life, we had entered a different world all together. Crisp air filled with pine fragrance welcomed us to this heaven. Just 8 hrs drive from Delhi, situated high in the Kumaon Hills at an altitude of 2286 meters (7500 feet), 51 km from Nainital and 343 km from Delhi, is this beautiful little town MUKTESHWAR.

We started early in the morning and driving through beautiful deodar and pine forest on lovely roads, we reached around 3pm. Our adobe was midst fruit trees some 10 kms away from Mukteshwar in a village called Dadim.

After having delicious lunch and relaxing with a cup of hot tea in the lap of nature we walked to the stream nearby. It took us no time to get into water to wash away the city pollution and stress. Fully refreshed we came back. Night was full of music laughter and gossip. Sitting by the side of fire we made new friends and chatted our hearts out with the old ones.

We woke up to a cool bright morning. It was mid June and the fruit trees were full with fruits ready to eat. Breakfast started and ended with fresh peaches, plums and apricots. I can still feel the taste of those fresh fruits in my mouth.
Mukteshwar is blessed with deodar forest inhabited by various beasts and rare mountain birds and offers a a panoramic view of 22 pristine snow-peaks that include Nanda Devi (25646 ft), Nanda Ghunti (20702 ft), Trishul (23360 ft) and the Panchachuli massif (22650ft). And it was a lovely cool sunny day to explore it all.

First we went to this 350-year-old temple of Shiva, known as Mukteshwar Dham, situated atop the highest point in the region. I sat quietly at back side of the temple from where the whole valley was visible. Those few minutes of silence, while the crisp cool air caressed my face and strong scent of pines and morpankhi went somewhere deep inside, bought back so many childhood memories.
No wonder Noble laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore started writing Gitanjali here at Mukteshwar.

Close to the temple lie these overhanging cliffs, locally known as Chauli-ki-Jali. A narrow lane to the left of the temple stairs took us to those cliffs. There is an excellent view of the valleys from Chaulli ki Jaali, where rocks jut out from the hill face at a bizarre angle. This is a great place to observe eagles and other feathered scavengers as they swoop down at their prey. 

Such a lovely place it was with an excellent view of the valleys below. I just wished there was a little less crowd.
Some of us did rock climbing, rappelling and zip-lining. For me the charm of visiting small town like this lies in enjoying nature, listening to air gushing through deodar forests, watching birds and feeling the silence, so I went deep into the forest and relaxed there.

Rather than going back in car we decided to trek back to our camps. It was a lovely trek of around 4km passing through pine forests. The way was covered with dry pine needles which made it quite slippery and difficult to come downhill. But at the same time it was fun. Short breaks to get the mesmerizing view of the valley, feel the crisp air on our face and enjoy wild berries. 

After a satisfying walk for around 2hrs we could see the village. And the first thing we noticed were fruit trees. We could not resist those rosy red plums hanging from branches and without any thoughts just barged in the garden and enjoyed those fresh fruits. The best part of the area is the locals (owners of these fruit trees). They don't mind you picking a few fruits and eating. God bless these simple souls.
Eating, chatting, clicking and enjoying the pitter-patter of rain that had started, we came back fully satisfied.


Places of interest:
Mukteshwar Dham, The IVRI laboratories, Orchards of Central Institutes of Temperate Horticulture-Regional Station and Snow-peak views from Chauthi jali 

Road route from Delhi:
Delhi - Mohan nagar - Ghaziabad - Gajraula - Moradabad - Haldwani - Kathgodam - Bhimtal - Padampuri - Mukteshwar

Places to stay:
IVRI hostels and the PWD rest house are the oldest ones.
Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) operates a tourist rest house (can be booked from Delhi as well as on phone/wireless from other KMVN guest houses). 
There are several hotels, resorts, guest houses and seasonal tent/hut-based camps in the area.

Tempted to go? Check ChaloLetsGo for a weekend trip with a group of travellers.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chopta - Tungnath Trek

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” ~ John Muir

We started our journey with this thought in mind with a lively bunch of people from Delhi. Our first halt was at Rishikesh where we reached late in the evening. The walk absorbing the silence and beauty of the starry night brought us out of the humdrum of city life. A perfect start to a holiday in the lap of nature.

We woke up to a beautiful wet morning. Earth was fresh as dew and atmosphere was filled with the fragrance of flowers and foliage. Morning tea never felt so refreshing like it did that day.

Refreshing morning at Rishikesh
Singing, chatting, laughing and enjoying the drive through dense forests and Himalayan villages we reached CHOPTA. Clean roads, sweet breeze carrying the fragrance of nature and chirping birds welcomed us.
We had driven deep into the pines to reach this remote place where there were no mobile signals and no electricity. Such a respite it was to be cut off from the world in this paradise. We were awestruck to see the lush green meadows and dense forest. Everyone just refused to settle in rooms and were out in the woods. Some were walking silently just enjoying the serenity while others were chasing birds and clicking while some others were just sitting with their feet dipped in chilled water. It took some time to get them all together to enjoy the tea.

Evening tea in the lap of nature, literally

It was a breathtakingly beautiful, dark yet glowing mysterious full moon night. The clouds were playing hide and seek with the moon. The trees were standing tall trying to reach out to the moon while the meadows silently lying down enjoying the glow of moon light.  The only sounds in this dark night were of the stream nearby and of howling wolfs that were adding to the mystic feel to the night. The sky was studded with numerous big and small starts shining bright giving competition to the moon. Never before have I witnessed a night so beautifully mysterious.

A short break during the trek
We started our trek on this gorgeous hilly terrain early in the morning. While take careful steps on the wet, a bit slippery paved path through thick forest of rhododendrons and oak, it was difficult to imagine our life back in the
The deep valleys, the lush green open meadows and the magnificent Himalayan ranges make you feel so tiny. We were transported to a different world altogether.
Different plantations - algae, mushrooms and what not attracted our fancy. We were going pretty slow enjoying and absorbing each step and turn of the trek. 4 hrs trek would take the whole day it seemed. But whats the hurry, we took our own sweet time to climb up and reached Tungnath in the later half of the day.

Different plantations attracted our fancy
We were all hungry when we reached. After having maggi as an appetizer we had nice local dal and rice. Once our tummies were full we looked around and realized where have we reached. A small place with couple of shops, very few people... rather just a few shop owners around, and a temple, TUNGNATH.
High above the clouds lay this quaint place called Tungnath, the highest Shiva temple in the world. We went a little farther and reached the end of a cliff. Surrounded by the curtain of clouds we found ourself standing on the edge. On one side were the snow covered peaks and on the other side was this deep valley.

At The Edge of The Cliff
In no time fog engulfed the whole valley and everything got out of site. We were not even visible to each other. One wrong step and we would have gone deep down the cliff. We decided to settle in the temple guest house for some time to regain our energy.

It was all so quiet when we came out after a few hours . The area was still under the cover of fog, when we heard the temple bells ringing. It was evening aarti. The thick fog started to disperse and visibility kept increasing with increasing volume of ringing bells. We could see the blue sky appearing magically from behind the clouds. Sun was about to set and there was amazing play of evening light in the sky. The golden reflection of setting sun on snow covered peaks made them glow like gold. and the sky turned orange with the spread of evening colors.

The Magical Evening
Can't say if God exist or it's just the faith of people, but the magic moment I witnessed up there makes me believe in the Ultimate power that created universe - the magnificent nature and its miraculous beauty. We were all mesmerized by the nature's show that we just witnessed. The ringing of bells stopped and gradually darkness engulfed the whole valley. The whole universe seemed to be in synchronization.

Night was no less engaging. It was more than 12 of us in a small kitchen cum sitting area of Raju hearing his stories over dinner celebrating life and rejoicing our togetherness. He is one of the survivors of the Kedarnath tragedy that happened a year before. Talking to him we realized how connected these people are to nature and how well they have understood the zist of life while we city people are still stuck in the frantic race of life.

Plan it with Chaloletsgo!
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Exploring the mystic city of VARANASI

I rose early in the morning to the sound of hymns. The same loudspeakers that sound nuisance in Delhi were a music to ears with soothing hymns playing in the backdrop of a beautiful morning.
Just a few souls were up and sitting along the Assi ghat waiting for the sun to rise from behind the horizon. We were all game for the boat ride along the ghats.

A Beautiful Morning At Assi Ghat
It was almost dark when we started the ride. Our boat man Raju was a quiet man from a village nearby. He has never been out of Varanasi and doesn't feel the need too. He is happy and contended by taking people on a ride and earning just enough to raise his family.

Morning Boat Ride Along The Ghats; Picture by Vinod Verma
Slowly the darkness was being taken over by the light of the day. The noise and hulchul along the ghats was increasing.  Crossing Dasaswamedh, Harish Chandra ghat, Scindhia ghat, Jain ghat, Hanuman ghat and many other big and small ghats We reached Manikarnika Ghat. Every ghat seemed to be different. While some are the burning ghats others are famous for their glorious architecture... Some ghats are considered to be very pious and many pilgrims can be seen taking bath while others are occupied by dhobis washing clothes. 

We were engrossed in watching and clicking life at the ghats when one of us almost shouted "There..!". On the other side was a small orange ball peeping from the horizon. It was just a bit of it that was visible initially. But slowly and gradually the deep orange ball of fire came out of the horizon and showed its full face. I was mesmerized by the sight. My trance was broken by the clicks of cameras. We could not get enough of it and our cameras were continuously clicking to capture this magic moment. It's these memories and moments that keep us going in the hustle bustle of the city life.

The Mesmerizing Sun Rise 

Life Along The Ghats
Varanasi, built along the length of the river Ganga is one of the oldest living city in the world. It's mysterious nature has always intrigued me. Life along the ghats is always full of stories. A man chanting on top of his voice and another one quietly playing Veena; dead body of a man lying unattended by the side of the burning ghat waiting for its turn while another family taking a holy dip; a foreigner happy couple all dressed in Indian costume and a young boy dressed as a sanyasi...
I wish I had enough time to sit and chat with them all to know what bought them to this mysterious city.

Evening aarti specially at Daswamedh ghat is something people highly recommend but to be honest I found it overrated and overdone. Loudspeakers were way too loud, pandits performing rituals were spotted using abusive language when they were not in their too bright satin saffron robes... they looked and behaved more like funny models than spiritual beings.
It was a treat though to watch diyas float on the ghat and to witness a beautiful day turning into a gorgeous night... It would have been a perfect spiritual setting provided the aarti was done by heart rather than to show off.
Next evening we attended the aarti rituals at Assi ghat. I found that simpler and from the heart.

The day was spent exploring the market, lanes and temples in the city. The attraction of the day was a visit to the weavers colony where we saw benarasi sarees being woven. We were told that a single saree takes from a month to 3 months depending upon the intricacy of the design. We were then taken to a showroom from where we bought some and felt we got good bargains. On asking weather he gets commission for taking us to the workshop and showroom, the autowala who took us there told us that he gets gifts from the owner on festivals and financial help whenever required. And best thing is that help is provided on non returnable basis. Good to know!

Visit to Varanasi is incomplete without buying a Banarsi Saree

Temples we visited include Sankat Mochan, Kashi Vishwanath and Durga. Though I am not a Temple person it's good to visit these historical places for the architecture and to see the faith of people. Beware of the pandas though who are there just to mint money.

Exploring the surround areas was equally enchanting. We visited Ramnagar fort (on boat from Assi ghat), Benaras Hindu University campus (an auto took us around the whole campus) and Sarnath (took a taxi) in following days.

Ramnagar Fort houses a museum, residential complex of the king and Ved Vyas temple. Many carved balconies, open courtyards & picturesque pavilions are part of this fort. Vidya Mandir Museum or Darbar Hall inside the fort gives the reflection of a court that once existed. Museum displays royal collection of a variety of old armory, swords, old guns, vintage cars, antique clocks, ivory work, medieval costumes, gold & silver royal palkis (Palanquins), silver elephant saddles carved out of silver, jewelry, furniture, costumes, etc.. It also has rare manuscripts, Mughal miniatures, which are the prized collection of this place.

Ramnagar Fort

Banaras Hindu University Campus Established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya is one of the largest residential universities in Asia, with over 20,000 students. The university's main campus spread over 1,300 acres (5.3 km2) was built on land donated by the Kashi Naresh, the hereditary ruler of Banaras.

Banaras Hindu University

Sarnath - Spiritual center of Buddhism where Buddha attained enlightenment and spoke the first sermon of what became Buddhism. We visited Chaukhandi StupaDhamek Stupa, Mulagandha Kuti Vihar and the archaeological Museum and excavated area.


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Monday, March 2, 2015

In the wilderness of Dudhwa

 EXPERIENCING DUDHWA – The Exciting Elephant Safari
As we drove towards Salukhapur, we were moved by the grandeur and majesty of the saal forest in the cool early-morning light. At Salukhapur we were introduced to Batalik, our elephant. To our surprise there were no railings on the platform on elephant’s back. Handling a camera and kit on the elephant while you are fully loaded with winter wear and also sharing space with 3 others was an experience in itself. Soon we adjusted to the rolling gait of the pachyderm and settled in.

The Exciting Elephant Safari
We were mesmerized by the sight, sounds and scent of fresh morning in the heart of the jungle. Tall saal trees whispering to the sky above gave shelter to thousands of birds. As we passed through the uneven terrains of the jungle, enthralled and captivated, the sound of dew drops kept falling on the leaves resulting in rhythmic music. Shy golden rays of sun could hardly reach the wet bushes and leaves longing for the warm touch. We were lost in the magic of wild Dudhwa when our mahout silently pointed towards a pair of Rhino roaming around lazily in the grassland completely ignoring our presence. Rhinos are quiet species and generally never charge until they are disturbed. So without disturbing our dear friends we quietly clicked some shots and proceeded further.

Rhino Roaming Around Lazily
While on our way back to the rest house a huge herd of wild elephants crossed our way. I never had witnessed such a sight. There were more than 30 elephants old and young crossing the road.

RAIDING SATHIYANA – In search of “Her”
A leopard along with her cubs has been sighted recently in the area and is supposedly still around the rest house. We have brilliant chance of sighting her, we were informed. We kept driving the rough terrain slowly along the guided way. It was good to observe the jungle movements as our vehicle passed along the tall trees, the grasslands and the bushes. While on our search for the leopard we experienced the hidden life of the jungle. Suddenly a herd of deer or some peacocks or a wild boar would come on the track and startle us. We also spotted a few crocodiles lying lazily on the marshes at the bank of river Suheli.

As the warm golden rays of sun bade goodbye to the calm playful forest changing its colors from playful to tense, the sounds of the jungle also grew intense with a dash of mystery for us. We knew we were surrounded by all kinds of wild animals including boars, hyena, lynx and leopard and there is lot of action going on. As we were lost in the magic of the dusk, we heard some shriek calls of Langoor. We were informed that a leopard is around. The startled langoors had all climbed up to the highest branches of the trees.  We silently paid attention, though we could not see a thing but we could clearly feel the fear and tension in the atmosphere. The calm and quiet had suddenly broken into confusion and pressure. Amongst all this confusion one (leopard) might have got Dinner for her family while the other (deer) might have lost her mother. That’s how nature works. We decided to respect the Jungle rules and leave the beast to feed on the feast.

MORNING SAFARI – No less than a Dream
It was a cool misty morning. We were mesmerized by the beauty of the Jungle. Sun peeping from behind the clouds, the silk cotton Trees and palash trees standing tall in the vast green grasslands created a magical effect. 

Palash Trees Standing Tall in the Vast Grasslands
The jungle was in full action quite opposite to our expectation due to a dull day. A deer running here and a peacock dancing there; flock of strokes flying over you and kingfisher fishing; it seemed we have entered some dreamland. 
We could spot a lot of birds including jungle owlets, crested serpent eagle, Bush-chat, Bulbul and Barbet.  On our way back we were amazed to find a herd of golden spotted deer grazing on the track. We observed and clicked the herd to our heart’s content. More so as it was the last safari of our trip we wanted to capture the beauty in our cameras, eyes and heart.

The Herd of Golden Spotted Deer
Exchanging our travel experiences, singing songs, having deep discussions and lots of fun and laughter – that’s how we ended our amazing trip.  

Located on the Indo-Nepal border in the district Lakhimpur-Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, Dudhwa National Park (680 sq km), together with Kishanpur (204 sq km) and Katerniaghat (440 sq km) Wildlife Sanctuaries, represent the best natural forests and grasslands left in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh.  The three Protected Areas, being the last viable home of the Royal Bengal Tiger in the state, have been jointly constituted into Dudhwa Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger. They are highly productive habitats of diverse flora and fauna and home to diverse species. The vegetation is of the North Indian Moist Deciduous type, containing some of the finest examples of Sal forests in India, as well the most extensive tracts of moist grasslands that remain in this region. The fauna includes, apart from sizable populations of Tiger and Leopard, a viable population of a nominate sub-species of the Swamp deer or Barasingha, a population of Indian One-horned Rhinoceros successfully reintroduced in 1984, and certain critically endangered species like the Bengal Florican  and the Hispid Hare, adding to the marvels of Dudhwa.

There is an enviable bird life with over 450 resident as well as migratory species. Dotted with a number of shallow lakes or taals, there are diverse, perennial sources of freshwater in the reserve. The Sharda River flows by the Kishanpur WL Sanctuary, the Geruwa River flows through the Katerniaghat WL Sanctuary and the Suheli and Mohana streams flow in the Dudhwa National Park, all of which are tributaries of the mighty Ghagra River. Some of the important taals are the Bankey, Kakraha, Amaha, Bhadi and Bhadraula. The taals, streams and rivers support a rich variety of turtle species, the Mugger crocodile, (Crocodylus palustris), the unique and endangered fish eating crocodile or Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) as well as the Gangetic dolphin (Plantanista gangetica),which are found in the Geruwa.

The best time to visit: The Park remains open to public from November to June, though the months of May and June are a little too hot for comfort. While visiting the Park during winter you must remember to take woolen clothes as it can get pretty chilly, particularly between December and February.

Need to know:
  • Park timings are from 7AM to 10 AM and 3PM to 6 PM. The best point to start your park trip is at the Dudhwa Forest Office, where you can get information from the foresters about everything ranging from accommodation to safaris.
  • The entire park is administratively divided into nine ranges of which only Sathiana, Bankati,  Sonaripur, Salukhapur, Belrayan and Kila have accommodation facilities.
  • Elephants can be hired from the office near the park gate or from the Salukhapur Chowki for Rs. 100/head.
  • A library at the Dudhwa office provides information about the park. A nature shop located near-by sells books and other souvenirs.
All visitors to the park require an entry permit, which can be obtained from the director of the park. For more information and entry permit you can contact: Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Distt Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. Tel: 05872-252106.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Preparing Yourself for Winter Trekking

1.       The rule of thumb is to be in five layers for a temperature that goes down to -5°C or lower. With every subsequent increase in temperature by 10 degrees (say from -5°C to 5°C), you can strip off one layer. But keep in mind that during the day when the sun is out and you are trekking, it actually gets very warm with the layers of clothes you have on so don’t over-layer yourself and be prepared to peel off layers depending on the heat.
An example of five layer clothing for -5°C would be:
·         1 thermal inner
·         2 T-shirts
·         1 full sweater
·         1 jacket
But you can make your own variations of this. For example, I wear one sweater with a fleece jacket and then add a windcheater jacket over it. It keeps me warm for any situation.

2.       The choice of SHOES is very important. You need a shoe that protects you from the elements and gives you grip on snow. It’s always good to have water proof shoes if you are trekking on snow.

3.       For your legs, one thermal inner with a track pant is usually enough. Keep an extra track pant handy for an additional layer or in case it gets wet in snow.

4.       Your head, fingers, toes, ears and nose need extra protection. To make sure they stay warm and dry do carry the following:
·         Woolen cap
·         Water proof gloves
·         Woolen socks
·         Scarf - It is something that can protect your neck and nose or work as an extra glove. This multi-utility gear is a must for a winter trek.
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