Summer Road Trip – Devariyatal (Deoriatal), Uttarakhand

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Dusk is a beautiful time… especially in the mountains. The mandatory snaps are taken and Oooh and Ahhh over! We wonder what to do with ourselves without any light since candles are out of the question in tents when our guide comes with an LED lamp. It is really bright and good enough to play cards by. An engrossing evening indeed! In a while he gets dinner for us near the tent. We are very touched by this gesture. We see everyone else has had to go to the shop nearby for food but the ambience just outside our tents, near the water with an almost full moon shining is magical. He has even got the prickly nettle vegetable made which I had asked him about. This unpretentious yet delicious dinner and the exquisite atmosphere of this place will rank right up there as one of the most cherished moments of my life.

We are up before dawn in the hope that some of the misty shrouds have lifted enough to allow us at least a faint glimpse of the famed Chaukhamba. No such luck. To make up for it though, we hear numerous bird calls. Following them we head off towards the forest rest house. An enormous tree on the eastern bank of the lake with some of its branches hanging low over the water seems to be attracting a variety of birds. Many of them are taking turns in splashing around and having a quick bath right at the edge of the lake under the tree. We stand there mesmerised at the sight!

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Tour of Uttarakhand – Chopta Tunganath

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A little ahead we see the first shop on the track which is basically a place to have some tea, Buran juice (rhododendron juice) which is said to be good for the heart and some bottled water, biscuits and the like. Serves as a little place to catch your breath and soak up the picture perfect surroundings. Henceforth, these small shops pop up at regular intervals. We maintain a steady though slow pace and take very short breathers as we climb so as not to break the rhythm of the climb. Roughly half-way up, we take a longish break of 10 mins where we are treated to another lifer! We see a pair of Collared Grosbeak.

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Summer Road Trip – Auli, Tapovan and Kanchula Kharak

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Kanchula was a forest dept. Musk Deer breeding centre which is now non-operational. This is a very remote place with no habitation around but there exists a very nice bamboo cottage with two bedrooms and a common dining-drawing area for eco-tourists. [The cost per double-bedroom is Rs 650/-, making the cottage worth Rs 1300/-] This can be booked through the DFO, Kedarnath range, Gopeshwar. Definitely worth it!
On reaching we realize that there is no provision for meals and one has to drive to Chopta about 8 kms further away for food. We drive there and have lunch at a dhaba which is quite good. Situated on the Gopeshwar-Ukhimath road, Chopta is a beautiful little hamlet situated at the highest point on this road (2900 m). This route to Chopta offers a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and deep wooded valleys. This area gets copious rainfall annually and also sustains very high humidity levels giving a distinct character to its vegetation. The trees are moss laden and support good varieties of moist temperate plant life.

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Summer Road Trip – Badrinath Bound

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The first glimpse of Badrinath is mesmerising!! It is nestled between the Nar and Narayan ranges. The towering Neelkanth lies just behind the Narayan Parvat on which the Badrinath shrine has been built. In the pristine morning sunlight and the crystal clear visibility of this place, this brilliant megalith has a strange magnetism. I think everyone who visits this place must be a little bit under its spell. [Pic: Neelkanth] The little settlement haphazardly built around the temple is but a random patchwork of colours in a vast magnificent landscape meant to command… dominate… enthral… hypnotise… inspire… all at once!

The lofty snow capped peaks in the backdrop of the gurgling Alaknanda far below … this is the place which has so much spirituality that you can almost reach out and touch it. Nothing is godlier than nature itself!
It really puts things into perspective. One senses how small, insignificant and petty are human egos, wants and conflicts in a scale this extravagant. It is at once uplifting and calming… a place I felt at peace with myself and the world at large. The Himalayas in their splendorous beauty! I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

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Summer Road Trip – Birding in Lansdowne

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The next two days are packed with bird watching. The commonest of the birds around command our attention for they are new to us plains dwellers. The ubiquitous Himalayan Bulbul, Blue Whistling Thrush and the Russet Sparrows are everywhere. In fact, we do not see any house sparrows there at all! The Streaked Laughing thrush is trying to catch our attention by peaking at us from just beyond the tree trunk. The Black headed Jay is wandering around as common as the Rock Pigeon in the plains!

Meanwhile, two green birds fly up to a nearby tree. There is a distinct yellow on them and the flight indicates woodpeckers. We hurry and try to get in position for at least a record shot to identify the specie. The Lesser Yellownape it is! Hard on the heels of this pair is another pair, this one of the Brown fronted Woodpecker… birds are raining down on us hard and fast! The Himalayan Woodpeckers are also plentiful. The Grey headed Woodpecker makes an appearance… I am very happy. The bird count for the trip is increasing rapidly.

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Summer Road Trip – National Chambal Sanctuary, Morena

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We take a turn around the gardens which are alive with bird calls. The abundant peafowl with their splendid trailing tails compete with the woodpecker, kingfisher, parakeets and the babblers for our attention. Everything else takes a back seat as the children are uncomfortable in the heat of the day. When the situation does not improve till late evening and after nightfall (the ACs are not working in spite of the gensets!), we have dinner at the FRH (which is very good) and fall back to Morena for the night.

Picking up our guide at Devri, we are at the boat pool on the river by 0530hrs. The much anticipated safari is underway with all of us on the edge of our seats, craning for the first glimpse of wildlife. At that point, the sun has just risen and is casting a golden glow on the ragged ravines on the banks and the tranquil waters of the Chambal. Suddenly, the calm breaks and a gentle giant breaks the surface with an elegant roll… the Gangetic Dolphin! It is a blind creature which does all its hunting and navigation by sonar located in the bump on its head. Cameras are ready but shots are very elusive since the dolphins are very erratic sightings.

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