White water rafting, Leh and Khardungla… Top of the World!

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And then it happens. We are warned that it is a really rough patch ahead and to be rowing as hard and fast as we can as we hit it. Before I know it, the rapids are upon us and …. I can see it happening in slow motion… our raft just rises up from the right front end and keeps rising. The two members on the right side fall on us taking all of us under with the raft overturned right on top of us. I tell myself there is no need to panic. The guides are trained and our protective gear is on therefore all I have to do is come up to the surface even if under the raft and breathe from the air pockets under it. Easier said than done. I come up and try to breathe and I can’t. Just swallow some water from my mouth so resolutely, I close my mouth and try to breathe in through my nose. No luck. It is as though the air had suddenly turned solid.

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Sarchu to Nimmu – taking in the famous Tso Kar

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There is a fair amount of traffic on this route… even though it is so demanding a journey. The day is getting brighter and the scenery more compelling. All of a sudden I spot a dog sized something on the corner ahead. Its gait immediately gives its identity away. It is a Himalayan Snowcock. Lo and behold!

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Chandratal to Sarchu… a picturesque drive through Lahaul

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Just this morning I was overwhelmed to see the abundance that water has bestowed in the southern part of Lahaul. I thought that is glorious. And now I stand awestruck in this dry and desolate landscape where soaring mountains surround a vast high altitude rolling plain through which is a deep gorge and a river flowing through it… We are a little short of Sarchu and these are the Lingti plains where there is virtually no precipitation even in the winters…

And finally, Sarchu! There is virtually nothing in the place except a few tented camps during the summer months and a small army detachment year round. The wind howls making me burrow deeper into my jacket the minute I step out. We take a walk around the place and soak in its unique charm. But nature has been kind in all its adversity. Or maybe it is the stark unspoilt and unpolluted beauty that I am so taken with. Such places need no adornment, no embellishment. Just this raw, unadulterated nature is enough. This is a place one must travel to at least once in this lifetime!

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Road to Chandratal

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We reach Kunzum jot, slightly off the main road and where vehicles take a customary loop to offer prayers. It is an overcast morning…. has continued to be so since Losar. More clouds come rolling in and almost obscure the Stupas at Kunzum Jot. Behind the Stupas and to their right, the track is clearly visible going to Chandratal. As our three vehicles halt there, we see no sign of the advance party. After mulling our options, we decide that one vehicle will go down the Kunzumla towards Batal and check out the motorable road to Chandratal since that is the only other place the other Scorpio could be. Sure enough, in a while we get a message from a tourist vehicle coming from Batal that our two Scorpios are at the motorable road and for us to join them there.

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Spiti…. journey through ‘The middle land’

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Bypassing such quaint villages as Yangthang, Chango and Leo, we press on for Nako. I have great hope that the cloud cover will disperse enough for Reo Purgyal, the highest peak in Himachal to be visible. Unfortunately, the peaks are all shrouded in thick clouds. We have a very long way ahead and no time to tarry. We do not even swing by Nako Lake consoling ourselves that we would see the Chandratal anyway today and hurry ahead. Far, far below us is the meandering Spiti and the beautiful Leo village is visible low down across the valley.
The route takes us through barren, crumbling mountainsides and the presence of a BRO detachment alerts us to the proximity of the Malling Nallah stretch which is infamous for being a perpetual landslide zone. It does not disappoint. We cross the Malling Nallah and come to a halt behind two other vehicles. A JCB is busy clearing an enormous few ton boulder in the landslide while a steady rain of shooting stones continues. It is scary, to say the least. I guess the BRO knows how dangerous it is and has concluded that this is minor enough for the work to continue. Hats off to these sentinels of the roads in these remote areas!

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Destination Pooh…(Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh)

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The route winds along the Sutlej going upstream along its left bank. Crossing the Sutlej over the Shongtong brige, we reach Powari. Here, the road bifurcates left to Recong Peo, the administrative headquarters of Kinnaur district, some way up the mountainside and the highway (NH 22) continues along the river. Further up from Recong Peo is Kalpa (earlier called the Chini village) and the highest village further up is Roghi from where one can get stunning views of the venerated Kinner Kailash peak. I’ve heard that the route to Roghi with narrow, cliff hugging roads is one of the most amazing sights and rewarding places to visit. In fact Chini village, now Kalpa, has some more significance in independent India. The people of this village were the first to cast their votes in independent India on 25 October 1951 (since they get snowed in in winter) while the rest of India voted in Dec-Jan. Further back in history, the old Hindustan Tibet highway used to pass through this place on its way through Shipkila into Tibet.

It is said that Kinner Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva and is thus considered sacred by the Hindus. Legend goes that Bhasmasur, after getting a boon from Lord Shiva that anybody on whose head he places his palm would be turned to ashes, tries it on the Lord himself. The Lord hides from him and prays to Lord Vishnu at this place after which Lord Vishnu comes to his aid and slays the demon. The Shivling is visible atop this Kinner Kailash peak.

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Chhitkul… The emerald green Valley!

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There are flowers blooming everywhere. There are huge swathes of beautiful yellow blooms, more captivating as they seem to be haphazardly flourishing without the predictability of a manicured garden. These are Evening Primrose I am told. They have a lovely mild fragrance… also known for their therapeutic properties. There are profusely flowering wild rose bowers and daisies and many other flowers I know not the names for!

The camp is surrounded by orchards of apples, pears and apricots. In fact, the entire valley seems to be one big orchard. In these idyllic surroundings I wander down to the river to find most of the group already there taking delight in the splendorous sights!

A delicious breakfast complete with a variety of homemade preserves and relishes later, we are all off to Chhitkul, the last village in this valley towards China border.

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Delhi – Sangla … journey through the verdant valleys of Himachal

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As we go further, this road climbs higher till it reaches sheer cliffs of stark, unadorned rock where the road is but a scooped out C-shaped tunnel embedded in the vertical cliff side. While we enjoy the drive along the banks of the Sutlej in all its moods, I am almost willing the road to start climbing to this, one of the most celebrated and recognised sections of this route. And when we do hit that stretch, we are all spellbound! Such is the precarious nature of the road that there are precipitous drops on the only open side and encased in solid rock on the other three sides.

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Goaing – from Goa to Delhi

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After the mandatory getting-lost-and-going-round-in-circles-before-finding-the-destination that we seem to do in most new cities, we reach our destination after 2 solid hours of wandering the drowning streets of Ghatkopar in a downpour worthy of …. Mumbai! The thing to note is that more time was spent in negotiating the traffic (read: stuck in traffic) than driving!

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Goa Carnival Chronicles!

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In the height of the Hippie culture of Goa in the 60’s, 70’s and the early 80’s, the exhibitionist Hippies would sprawl around the beaches and then get up and join the Carnival parade in their barely there costumes. Some would even dress up as the much sought after Samba dancers. Goa has certainly toned it down in recent years to a more wholesome, family kind of entertainment and celebration.
In fact, the Department of tourism has made great efforts this year to advertise and popularise this festival with many novel ideas. There is a Samba Square in the heart of Panjim which has attracted the local families and youth with the foot tapping Samba music and a variety of food stalls.

The Food and Cultural festival, inaugurated on the 28th of Feb to kick start the Carnival celebrations highlights the cuisine and rich cultural legacy of Goa. There is an all Goa cooking competition with sponsored prizes that are being judged by a celebrity chef. The cooking competition promotes local cuisine and showcases the same to visiting tourists. The winning recipe will be displayed on Goa Tourism’s website and other social media.

Agnee, an Indian rock band, and other artists like Kailash Kher, Rabbi Shergill, Raghu Dixit Project and Sona Mahapatra are performing at the festival. A grand fashion show and a fire display is also included. This year’s edition also features street performances by musicians at various vantage points across Panjim city, a King Momo contest, and an increase in prize money from Rs 3.7 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for the best float.

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Bonderam – The flag festival of Divar Island, Goa

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A little background on this ‘one of its kind’ festival. The “Bonderam” festival is celebrated on the Island of Divar on the fourth Saturday of August every year. The word “Bonderam” originated from the involvement of flags. “Bandeira” is the Portuguese word for flag. It is stated that during the Portuguese rule in Goa there were frequent disputes between two sections of the Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade over property issues. These often led to violence and fights in the village. Subsequently, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of boundaries with flags.

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Summer Road Trip – Kakdagaad Haridwar

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Hardly a few yards ahead, I am totally horrified and nauseated by what I see… Place stinking to high heavens, people are relieving themselves not 5-6 metres from the water under a foot bridge! I am ashamed to admit these are… INDIANS!
Up ahead and putting some distance between us and this stink hole, we settle ourselves on a bridge at a vantage point and watch the Ganga Aarti at dusk. The lamps set out in the water glow, bobbing along before vanishing quite abruptly in the fast moving current of the Ganges. A lot of piety around us… a lot of it genuine, some feigned and some totally farcical.

It has been an experience not to be missed. For better or worse, it is one of the holiest places in India but our management of it is woefully inadequate (and I’m being very diplomatic!). Also, it’s time we as a people learn some basic civic sense and take pride in ourselves as well as our places of worship and our country as a whole. I live in hope…
Dinner is at a small Rajasthani Dhaba with really yummy food. One thing we have experienced throughout the trip is that the food has been consistently good in the small places and not once have we had any tummy upsets. It just reinforces my belief that one must have what the locals have in the places that they patronise… one really can’t go wrong then.

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