Hornbill Festival –The Liveliest Festival of India, Day Two

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There we saw nothing like individual performances and all the tribes were dancing in a group. In every performance group of artists in colourful costumes began dancing slowly, made circles or some geometrical formations, gradually raised the tempo with steps and on reaching the climax, tempo was brought down again with a satisfying finale.

The tribes of Mizoram entered into the arena with their most popular Bamboo Dance. In that format of dance bamboos were placed and held horizontally across each other on the ground. While the boys tapped bamboos in rhythmic beats girls were dancing by stepping alternatively in and out to the beats with ease and grace.

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Majestic Ladakh : Kargil to Fotu La

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The monastery is placed at the centre top of a brown mountain cliff and appears as if suspended in the middle of it. A narrow road with many steps will take you inside to this wonderful cave monastery. This monastery has many elegant frescoes. This is one of the old Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh region.

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Majestic Ladakh : Kargil

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But that war is not the sole identity of Kargil. It was famous even before- famous for centuries among the silk route traders. This land was a transit point of the traders and caravans on their way from Kashmir and Punjab through Leh to China, Tibet and Yarken. The trade route though was closed many decades ago but the place has not yet lost its importance. Even today the travellers choose this small town as their favourite and most convenient place for night stay while going to Leh from Srinagar or when returning from Leh to Srinagar.

We were travelling to Kargil from Sonamarg. Enroute, we passed through the treacherous mountain pass Zojila and the second coldest inhabitat place in the world- Drass. Kargil is about 60 Kms from Drass. We crossed beautiful pasture grounds and Majestic Mountain peaks on the way from Drass.

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Majestic Ladakh : Kargil War Memorial, Drass

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Kargil War Memorial is a monument established to commemorate the victories of Operation Vijay during the Indo-Pak war of 1999 and also to pay homage to war Martyrs who laid their lives while safeguarding our country against the Pakistani intruders. The memorial is made of pink sandstone at ‘ground zero’ with the backdrop of Tololing Range. On its rear wall, names of the martyrs are inscribed on golden plate.
I read therein the quote, “Beneath this earth young warriors sleep” and few lines from a poem of Martyr Ram Prasad Bismil (He was a great freedom fighter participated in Mainpuri Conspiracy of 1918, and the Kakori conspiracy of 1925 against the British Empire, and was sentenced to death by British Raj) at the bottom of the wall,

Shaheedon Ki Chitaon Par
Lagenge Har Baras Mele
Watan Par Mar Mitne Walo Ka
Yahi Baaki Nishaan Hoga

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Majestic Ladakh : ZojiLa- The Most Treacherous Mountain Pass In The World!

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Wait a minute! It has a history of war too. Don’t raise your brows! Yes, it has. Kashmir was then an independent Kingdom and Maharaja Hari Singh was its king. It was the year 1947-48. The king was finding it difficult to decide with which country to join his territory, India or Pakistan, or to remain independent. The king chose to remain independent but his wishes were short lived and dashed in October 1947 as Pakistan sent Muslim tribesmen invader into the territory of Kashmir who were then approaching to the capital Srinagar fast. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, ceding Kashmir to India on 26th October. Thus the first war between India and Pakistan broke out over Kashmir in 1947. India referred the dispute to United Nation on 1st January 1948. During this war Pakistani invaders seized ZojiLa in 1948 while they were on the verge of capturing Ladakh. On 1st November, Zojila pass was recaptured by Indian forces under Operation Bison. On 1st January 1949, a ceasefire was agreed with only two-third of the whole Kashmir under Indian control and the remaining with Pakistan (we call it now as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or P.O.K). In the ceasefire lines, LOC (Line of Control) was drawn up which was formally established in 1972, after a third war between India and Pakistan in 1971.The Line of Control remains the de facto border between the two countries.

We spent enough time at the pass looking at how other vehicles were negotiating the road at the mountain edge that has no barrier. The road is so narrow and vicious that it is known as one of the most dangerous passes in the world. But the route is a lifeline that keeps the people of Ladakh connect with the rest of the world. However it remains closed for more than six months in a year for blockage due to heavy snowfall. The road reopens in late spring. ZojiLa at an elevation of 11649 feet above sea level is considered to be the second highest pass after Fotu La on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway.

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Majestic Ladakh : The Journey Begins!

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Now let’s begin the journey. Yes it starts with this prologue. For me, the journey actually began much before I stepped into the land of Kashmir to enter into Ladakh.

The Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It is true for travelling to the top of the world, Ladakh! The first step undoubtedly would be to know a little bit about Ladakh.

It started, for me, four months before I actually travelled the region- through numerous articles, blogs and travel stories. Before going to Ladakh it was much essential for me to know about the places to go and activities to do in Ladakh, its history, culture, religious institutions and the mystics.

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Hotel Review: Hotel Sunshine, Sonamarg, Kashmir

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We were coming from Baltal on our way back from Amarnath Yatra. We crossed the Sonmarg town. It is a small town with string of shops on the Srinagar- Leh highway (NH-1D) spreads over a kilometre or so. We noticed some road side hotels there, but all looked very ordinary. We moved towards the direction of Srinagar and after travelling less than a kilometre we stopped at Hotel Sunshine which locates on the national highway and adjacent to Hotel Snow Land (a luxurious hotel).

The first look of the Hotel from outside was impressive! Location, marvellous! Sometimes we find it hard to get a hotel in a good location that fits into our pocket. Hotel Sunshine offered us the both.
Located in Sonamarg on the bank of river Indus (Sindh), Hotel Sunshine is surrounded by the lush green mountains with snow cape peaks. It offers respite to the visitors from the hustle and bustle of Sonamarg town. The hotel complex shares the same view at an affordable price with its costly neighbour ‘Hotel Snow Land’.

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Sonamarg, Golden Meadow of Kashmir

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We enjoyed the morning amidst the splendour around the hotel and decided to see the view points in the afternoon. Here, all the viewpoints come on the way to its main attraction ‘Thajiwas Glacier’. To reach the glacier, one may go either by riding pony from Sonamarg town or by a cab which drops near the spot “Ram Teri Ganga Maile”. A nice motorable road is available upto this spot and thereafter one has to hire pony or walk down to the base of Thajiwas Glacier. Walking from there is much preferable to riding pony because it is only a short distance to cover and walking is mainly through the plain roads.

Like most tourists places, pony rides as well as the cab rates are overpriced here and one has no other option but to accept an unreasonable price after much bargaining. How tough it was to agree with a price of Rs.2100/- for a ride of 6kms, to and fro! But did we have any option?

We started the journey and soon saw the beautiful Sonamarg Club, a popular staying option for the bollywood stars when they are here for shooting. Surrounded by the giant conifers and beautiful mountains it locates on a hillock by the side of the road to Thajwas Glacier.

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Ghumakkar Insight –Let’s wander! But be vigilant too

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So if we only drop the ball and do not come forward demanding action for the better future and for future travellers, it is we and our generation next to suffer. If we predispose that nothing will happen and do not come forward with our feedback to the right authorities, I see then little hope for the changes. The right authorities may never know a fact if we do not give our feedback. In the present case of mine, I doubt the field officials would have reported the Governor about the above facts. So there lies the importance of feedback. I too hope like Ghumakkar Team and believe that if we keep performing as a dutiful citizen then things would really improve for a better future and for future travellers.
Will you then come forward? Will you too contribute for the better future of travelling?
The last thing, I believe, all of us would like to see people throwing coins or notes on Akbar’s grave. Alas! He was the richest and most powerful king of his time. He never would have imagined that people would throw coins on his tomb stone. And not also we would like to see people scribbling love messages on our historical monuments. Can’t we start protesting against these nuisances? Can’t we preserve our heritage for an Incredible India?
“Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.”______Mark Twain

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Amarnath Yatra :: Panchtarni to Holy Cave

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The test of faith on Lord Shiva continued all the way to Shrine. To reach there, it’s another kilometre through slippery snowy path by the side of river Amaravati, and when we reached below the cave, we saw long stairs to climb and a longer queue to follow. The cave is located at an elevation of 13,500 feet above the sea level and its opening is a large semi-circular hollow into a cliff.
It was about 60-70 stairs before the cave we saw the base hospital and a young man of 33-34 years. He could not make it to the cave and took his last breath there. I looked up inside the cave and the belief became firm again. To reach at Shiva’s feet, one must have his blessings; one must have got his calling.

I entered inside the cave with my two friends. The floor of the cave was extremely cold and wet. In deepest right corner of the cave, I saw Lord Shiva, in his unique shape of ice-lingam about 11-12 feet tall. I bent at his feet (the ice base) and offered Billa leaves. I stood quiet there for some time with folded hand but I forgot to seek anything from ‘Mahadeva’ and came out happily from the cave with a sense of fulfillment.

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Amarnath Yatra :: Ganesh Top to Panchtarni

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We saw pilgrims tired and exhausted, moving slowly resting after every step or two and painfully looking at the steep ascent of Ganesh Top, thinking might be about the steps left, some were searching the shortest route and other going slow but steady. The pain was much less for us except sore back due to long horse riding. Suddenly, we saw a U shape mountain just before the Ganesh Top, standing tall and high, looking at the pilgrims as if it was a gate to heaven. Slowly we climbed up to the highest point of Amarnath Yatra route, the Mahagunus Top or the Ganesh Top at an altitude of 14500 ft above the sea level. The Army had a post there too and was at the services of pilgrims.

It is believed that Lord Shiva asked his son Ganesha to stay at this mountain peak and moved further with Goddess Parvati to the cave. Lord Ganesha might saw them off from here. He might have seen them descending to the valley of Panchtarni.

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Amarnath Yatra :: Sheshnag & Wahbal (Babbal) Top

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For the first time at Sheshnag we felt shortage of oxygen, we were breathing short while climbing the nearby areas, that’s due to rapid climbing of altitude, more than 2000 feet in less than 5 hours, that’s for sure was against the general norms of mountaineering which suggest climbing of not more than 1500 feet a day. We knew that, and therefore were on AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) preventive drugs “Diamox 250mg” (not to be taken without consultations of physician) from the previous day. We took the second dosage immediately here, because higher the altitude, greater the risk and ahead of us was the Wahbal Top and then Ganesh Top at an altitude of 13500ft and 14500ft respectively. Not to get dehydrate we took plenty of water and ORS. I am writing this not to make anyone scare, but to let all know that there is a little scope for heroic action in climbing high altitudes.

True that, every single life is precious and it is the responsibility of the Government as well as the authorities organising the pilgrimage to care for that, but we must also know how precious the life is to ourselves and to our families who pray every day back at home for our safe return. So it is essential that one have the knowledge of AMS, first aid medicines and their uses before undertaking the pilgrimage or otherwise they should go slow, get acclimatized, not over stress the body and report immediately to the nearest medical camps on the route in case of physical discomforts.

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