Glory

Image Courtesy Sabik Saby

In the harmonious eutaxy of heaven
delusion of plutocracy faded
afflatus surged through him
consciousness sunk into abeyance
and lucida was to set down;
nowhere but in his heart.

Borne upon the shaft of glory
consciousness hit his naivety
and he started carolling with birds
gliding with the wind;
when lodestone imbued affection
caressed his soul.

Liberated from all albatross
now he is riding the clouds
sailing through the sky
crossing the unseen boundaries
reaching for lofty limits
to touch the ecstasy of euphoria.

Wait and watch the whiz kid or follow your heart!

 

Dudhsagar Waterfall Trek

Poonam and me went to the awesome Dudhsagar Waterfall with a trekking group shikharvedh.It was a very well planned itinerary, covering not just Dudhsagar  waterfall but few other beautiful waterfalls located far away from each other and each one very distinct in its formation and feel; incorporating train journey, bus ride and walking along the railway track amid jungle.  Trek per se, this is the easiest one anyone can go for but yes it has different beauty altogether. I mean on which other trek, you get to walk along/on railway track which paves its way through a beautiful green jungle amid Sahyadri mountain ranges, letting you sweep through darkness of tunnels and bright glory of the nature in its most flourished form.

Poonam and me boarded the train on Friday night from Pune to find fellow trekkers travelling from Mumbai. We slept well through the night, until train journey came to a halt and we had to get down at Kolhapur; from where we boarded a bus which took us to various exotic locations showing many waterfalls like Amboli Waterfall, Nangartas Waterfall and few other on the way. DSC01694.JPGDSC01718

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After full day fun fun, we were there at Belgaum station to board Goa Express at mid night to witness the glory of most awaited Dudhsagar Waterfall. We reached even before the break of dawn and had to wait for a while  before we started walking along the railway track to reach our destination. We could hear the roars of fall much before we could see it and we hopped along to see what sounded so ferocious and smelled so fresh. DSC01953.JPGIMG_0108DSC01967IMG_0112DSC01979.JPGDSC01990.JPGIMG_0136DSC02031IMG_0143.JPG

After have enough fun and snaps around this place, we had breakfast and started walking along the railway track, which is surrounded by lush greenery, colourful flies and freshness. Numerous tunnels that you get to walk through is another beautiful rare experience. Lot of pose and click moment along the way until we reach Kulem. DSC02133IMG_0196IMG_0199IMG_0203DSC02183DSC02185.JPG

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From Kulem we board the train for Pune and thats the end of yet another wonderful refreshing trek.

To the Himalayas – Cycle trip from Srinagar to Leh

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My first bicycle trip from Srinagar to Leh traversing about 450 Kms. Though I have been cycling since childhood, cycling amid Himalayan ranges had been completely exotic. Panoramic view around these beautifully carved road through the heart of mountains, allows you to sweep through the nerves and veins of nature and get lost in its bliss. No matter how far and long you ride, it never gets mundane. Mystifying and ever changing beauty will let the wandered in you wondering for the secrets of scenery behind every corner, heart thumping for the desire to go farther and beyond.

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Original plan was to visit valley of flowers around this time (Indian independence Day, 15th August 2014), but due to heavy rains in the region, route got blocked and trip was cancelled. As a consequence of which another unplanned journey shaped up; had not thought of a  visit to Leh this year until I saw a cycle expedition organised by Yhai in Leh region. Though itinerary din’t appear very exhilarating, it ensued the thought of going for cycling expedition, which I have been wishing for quite some time and so started exploring more about it. Manali to Leh appeared to be very common route among cyclists and somehow I was thrilled by the idea of it and started exploring the groups organising cycle expeditions in the route. Contacted many and all of them seemed to charge hefty amount of money just for logistics and other arrangements on the way. Though joining a group sounded very safe and convenient, I din’t have the budget to go with it; moreover planning my own itinerary was exciting. Talking to random people who travel often and reading through online media, realised that lot of people plan their cycle journey on their own even with a very small group of 2 or 3. Checking out the alternatives and reading on various factors, finally decided to cover from Srinagar to Leh based on various factors. Bingo! that was it, finally had a route to travel now had to do research on how to go about it.

By now, our team of wayfarer was all up and excited about this trip; which included Poonam, Sunil and myself. First thing first, we needed a good bike if we were going to roll it on through Himalayan mountains for almost 450 kms. Soon enough, all of us managed to get decently good bicycle at reasonable price. Pulsating with enthusiasm we decided to warm up our muscles and went on a short cycle trip to Sinhagad Fort around one end of the Pune city covering 80.9kms to and fro this route with an elevation of 1,504m. Apart from three of us gearing up for Himalaya trip, Amit joined us for this short trip to Sinhagad. I had been to Sinhagad fort before a few times, though never through road, instead had hiked everytime from the base. So it was a total bliss to ride through lush greenary around the city and the hill atop which fort is mounted; particularly on a rainy day when it was not pouring hard and harsh, instead it sweetly drizzled to brush off our weariness and sweat along the journey making it more joyous and memorable.

While riding to SInhagad Fort

While riding to Sinhagad Fort

View on the way to Sinhagad

View on the way to Sinhagad

Gang enjoying the view

Gang enjoying the view

At the top

At the top

Fort was very crowded, so quickly had our lunch at the top and started our journey back. Well this short cycle trip was worth a trip as we got a fair idea of our requirements for a long mountain trip on bicycle. For example, my left knee hurt in between with a tinge of pain surging through it and I knew I need a good knee pad. Steep wavy descend from the top was awesome fun with the realisation that though you need no effort for a joyous descend in mountains, but certainly need to have total control over your bike and power brakes.

Two weeks to go and we had to get all the gears required for the long perilous journey…. helmets, biking gloves, biking shorts, shoes etc. We(Poonam and me) made trips to Decathalon store in Pune Wagholi and unfortunately both the times my cycle got a puncture in the rear tyre while coming back. First time hole was not so big and with fully pumped up tyres I could manage to ride it back 10kms to my place; but on our second trip it was horrible as it got a big hole, not leaving me with an option of riding without mending the puncture. Since I could not get anywhere on the highway to get it repaired, had to walk all the way back(10kms) to home while it was pouring cats and dogs. And I knew we needed to have puncture kit with us, for the days of trip on highway.

Just a week before we had to leave for Srinagar, I started disassembling our cycles (Poonam and mine). It was easy with Poonam’s cycle but got miserably stuck with particularly one screw in my cycle which refused to move even after multiple tries and all my efforts. Thanks to Sunil who jumped in for the help and managed to unscrew it and get all the parts isolated and detached. With all my jugad instincts, picking up stuff from hardware store and doorway (waiting to be dumped into dustbin), to my delight I managed to pack up our cycles as securely as it could be. Yo-ho! I saved a lot of money here, as cycling bags were worth no less than 4k and I managed to pack it up for even less than 400.

Bags packed and cycles secured, we had to catch our train to Delhi at 3 in the morning on saturday. After full day work on friday, I was hastely occupied with getting medicines for the trip, ready to eat edibles for the train journey and then packing them all. It was 1a.m when finally I flattened myself on the bed after bathing and all dressed up in a ready to go state. I could barely get any sleep and alarm rang up at 2a.m when I had to call the auto(pre arranged) to come, pick up and drop us at pune station by 2.45. Finally we were at pune station to know that train was delayed by an hour. At that hour, early in the morning when you had no sleep at all, one can do nothing but to pace up and down the platform to keep oneself awake until train arrives. It turned out be a long wait as train arrived something around 5a.m or little later when we finally boarded the train and got ourselves settled there. After a while we dozed off to sleep and woke up after a little while due to all the noise around. After a long time I was travelling in sleeper compartment and let me confess it, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey for 1] You save a lot of money 2] I had a good novel with me to keep me occupied and be not bothered by my surrounding 3] Whenever I took a break I could see everybody moving around without the barriers of curtains and so you get to observe a lot of people around you. Though I guess Sunil who was travelling with me got quite bored in the journey as he finished his magazine in few hours and had nothing to do and could barely sleep due to noise and only person travelling with him i.e me was completely engrossed in my novel by then and nothing could drag me out of it.

Day 1

We hit Delhi to unite with Poonam joining us from here on. The bargain queen “Poonam” got a good deal for cab ride to airport and we head directly to airport. Reaching there much before our scheduled departure, we had enough time to freshen up and fill ourselves with delicacy of food  before we boarded the flight. Finally we were on board and ready to fly and it did not take us much time to anticipate it being Sunil’s first flight ever with his eyes popping out with glimpse of every hostess passing by and to top it all his unbeatable remarks on every act of theirs. When flight started to descend in Srinagar, we got beautiful mesmerising view of mountains and Srinagar city.

In flight over Srinagar

In flight over Srinagar

Ah we were there to find a rather small and disappointing airport as there was nothing to eat inside and we were all hungry. We decided to stay in a house boat on city’s most sought after and famous Dal lake. Aha! we got a good deal in a deluxe boat which also had a terrace to it, atop which we assembled our cycles in the evening with a breath taking view of Dal lake and beautiful colorful sikaras waving their course around it. While sun was marching it’s way down behind the Dal Lake, engulfed and awed with the mystic beauty spread all around us, we were assembling our cycles one after another. A big Kudos to Sunil here, as this(cycle) being the most important part of our journey ahead which was mostly done very well by him single handedly, we merely assisting him with little tid bids in the act. IMG_20140810_173312

Boat house welcome with Kashmiri special tea kehwa

Boat house welcome with Kashmiri special tea kehwa

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Owner of the boat and their cook being very helpful and friendly person also assisted us during the process and after it being all done, we had a good long chat with him about Srinagar, his life and our whereabouts, profession etc etc. He also mentioned the Kashmir special dishes and suggested us places to go for dinner.

Bingo all set up and settled in, we were ready to go out for the dinner and venture out a bit. We went to one of the places suggested by Rias (boat house owner) and ordered Rogan Josh (Kashmir special suggested by Rias) with roti. After having considerable fun of chit chats over the dinner, we went on for a walk on the road along Dal lake. Witnessing the lighted house boats and its glittering reflection in the long outstretched Dal lake was no less beautiful than watching the the stars twinkle in the open sky. IMG_20140810_214821IMG_20140810_214922After a while, back to our house boat, we planned to get up early and go out for a ride/walk around Dal lake; but in such luxury and peace we all slept tight and long until sun was shining high and bright outside.

Day 2

As we had to get the carriers attached to our cycle, we had to wait until the buzz in the market. Finally around 10, all geared up to embark on our journey, all three of us finally got our cycles rolling on the roads of Srinigar to get to cycle store and get the carriers attached. IMG_0101After making 2-3 rounds in the Srinagr market around clock tower, finally one shop keeper managed to get one that could fit Sunil’s cycle. Poonam and me were still hassling around the market while Sunil was getting his fixed. Finally our search ended at Hero Cycle store and to our luck he had only 2 such portable carriers which could fit our bikes. Not to miss, shop owner was a nice man and after knowing we are going to ride upto Leh, offered his card saying “call me if you face any problem with your cycle enroute”.IMG_0106

With its one last accessory mounted to it, our cycle and we were ready to embark on our journey from hereon. Collected our bags from the boat house, bid our good byes to Rias and the helper on the boat. Though charges for the house boat was a bit on the higher side, I would say it was worth the money as it is well located and very clean and nicely maintained. Owner and the helper around are warm people; again not to miss Riyas offered his number and asked us call him for any trouble or hassle we might face during our journey. Out on the road, we had our lunch and finally set off the long journey. Sikara guy told us that instead of directly starting from the highway road from Srinagar, we could instead ride around the Dal lake which would finally meet the highway and so we took this rather long but beautiful route along Dal lake. After all the hassle in the market and getting the luggage fixed on the carrier, it was already around 3 o’clock so we decided to halt at Gandarbal which would be around 30-35kms away considering we were taking the longer route. Considering it was not a long distance to cover, we rode at a very casual pace, stopping at places to click the moments around Dal lake and its beauty.

Image Courtesy Sunil Chowdhary

Image Courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Fountain in the Dal Lake Image Courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image Courtesy Sunil Chowdhary

Image Courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Fisherman in Dal Lake

Fisherman in Dal Lake

Finally we reached Gandarbal and started exploring for an accommodation for the night. After going around for about half an hour we could not find anything here and a local told us to ride farther to Kangan where they have guest houses for tourists. It was already past 6, sun had started its descend and our next destination was 20kms away from this point. We started riding up and down the road as fast as we could and finally reached our destination at around 8p.m. Last few kilometers was tough on us as we could not ride fast enough even if wanted to, cause it was pitch dark around us and we had no lights mounted on our cycles. Finding the tourists looking for accommodation, a huge crowd gathered around us, trying to help us find an accommodation. While we were wandering around in the streets of this town, we heard gun fires and overheard the locals talking about the encounter going on at some distance away from the place. Finally with their help, we found one after about half an hour. We finally settled in a room which had no electricity though city and building itself had electricity in it and so we had to manage in candle light.  Guest house owner’s nephew Inaam got us food from his home and we finally dozed off to sleep after some chit chat among ourselves and with Inaam.

Dinner at kangan.... Image courtesy Sunil Chowdhary

Dinner at kangan…. Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Day 3

We got up early and our first task was to get rid of our baggages as my carrier had already given up and it was impossible to carry my bag on it. In the little altitude gain that we had to cover on the first day, even Poonam found it a better idea to get rid of the baggages as we were to face higher challenges ahead in our journey. Opposite our guest house was a jeep stand and we went there to check if they go to Leh and if they could drop our bags at a place in Leh from where we could collect after we reached there. To our disappointment we could not find anything to get our baggaes transported. Back to our guest house, we found Inaam arranging for our breakfast and after talking about luggage problem, he offered to check with his dad and find out if he could help. He spoke to his dad, who came after a while and arranged to get our baggages transported to Leh and dropped at one of his cousin’s restaurant, Bud Shah in Leh. Finally after keeping bare minimal required stuff with us, we started our journey ahead at around 10a.m. Stretch from Kangan to Sonmarg is epic of natural beauty. Mountain and trees standing straight and tall, racing higher and above each each other manifests a scenery which I had seen only in movies and portraits. Sind river trachles all along the ups and downs of mountain route, humming the chants of peace and joy, roaring the glory of nature , creating a magnificent refreshing music to get lost in it. Each curve and corner on this route unveils beauty in a altogether different form. We stopped at various places to cherish it and seep in the charm of the enigma all around us. DSC00151DSC00157DSC00158 DSC00159

Image Courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image Courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image Courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image Courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image Courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image Courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image Courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image Courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtsey Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtsey Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtsey Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtsey Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtsey Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtsey SUnil Choudhary

Image courtesy SUnil Choudhary

DSC00321Finally we reached Sonmarg, at the begining of this small city there were tent houses available on rent. Both Poonam and Sunil not having the experience of staying in tent before were quite fanatic about staying there. It was available at a pretty reasonable price and bargain queen as usual did her job well to get a good deal. We settled in the beautifully located tents here with the picturesque view of hilly pasture land with horses grazing through it and magnificently snow clad mountain standing tall behind it.

Image courtsey Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

IMG_20140812_192917DSC00324By now we had gained considerable altitude and it has started it toll over both Sunil and Poonam. We had dinner in a kind of open tented setup and headed for the sleep in our tent.

Day 4

Tented accommodation had added to the sickness both Poonam and Sunil were suffering through due to altitude and they were feeling even worse by morning. Sunil had already puked out everything inside him and Poonam was on the verge of it and denied to eat anything. Nevertheless getting some medicines from the chemist, we started our journey ahead to the most challenging part of it. We had to reach Drass at at distance of 64kms, crossing the most dreaded Zozila pass. We had to ride through Zozila pass with an ascend of 1000meter spanned on a strech of 23 kms, of which first 10-15 kms is very beautiful. DSC00370

Commandos on training

Commandos on training

DSC00371 DSC00372 DSC00379 DSC00380 DSC00389 DSC00391 DSC00393 DSC00396 DSC00400 DSC00409 DSC00417 DSC00427Steep ascend is not the only challenge but the last 7-8 kms of route to Zozila is totally dusty, bumpy and narrow without any trace of concrete on it. Poonam and Sunil who were already not doing well were in no state to ride the bike after half way through Zozila pass. Both of them were having severe headaches and altitude was making them feel sick. Sunil still managed well to walk through the rest of the route to Zozila pass, but it got really tough with Poonam. I had to stick with her and had to keep saying something or the other to keep her going.

Its getting dusty ahead

Its getting dusty ahead

Road ahead does not look good.... should I go back down from here?

Road ahead does not look good…. should I go back down from here?

valley view

valley view

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Why the hell am I doing this?

Who said it gets better with time?

Who said it gets better with time?

This is madness ... I should have thought before coming.

This is madness … I should have thought before coming.

Yipee I am still alive!

Yipee I am still alive!

Land slide

Land slide

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Snow cave

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And its melting …..

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Eh we really travelled through that route :o

Eh we really travelled through that route 😮

DSC00542IMG_20140813_160933Finally when we were at the end of Zozila, Poonam completely gave up and I promised her to not go very far and we will stay at nearest possible location, from there it appeared that 1 km downhill there was a village. While I was tryig to convince Poonam that it was only a little ahead we had to go, a German couple Jan and Katrina neared us who were also riding bicycles from Srinagar to Leh and got Poonam some medicines.

Zozila ka zalzalla ... Sunil almost there

Zozila ka zalzalla … Sunil almost there

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Is it really worth this pain?

Is it really worth this pain?

German folks

German folks

Since it was all downhill from there somehow she managed to get there, but after reaching the place we found that there was nothing more than an army camp at that place. We spoke to an army personal to know there was nowhere to stay before Drass and it was already 6p.m. Seeing Poonam’s condition it appeared completely impossible to me for her to ride 41kms further ahead before it got dark. After talking to many passing by vehicles, we finally agreed to send her in a bus which had vacancy for only one person and agreed to drop her at Drass. Bus driver appeared nice and good humoured  with decent crowd in the bus for us to trust and send her ahead alone with them and so we did. Loading her cycle, she was gone with the bus and Sunil and me had the challenge to cover 41kms ahead to Drass and only one hour in hand before it got dark. Thankfully road ahead was either flat or downhill and hereforth both of us rode as fast as we could. In the desperation to reach our destination in time, we had the best ride of our trip, almost flying in the air and within less than an hour we had covered almost 20kms or a little more.  In the downhill trails, I am not sure whether breeze was blowing fast or we raced past it speedy enough for it to susurrus the melody which in that moment appeared as the elixir of life—the Philosopher’s Stone. It was getting dark very fast, I was loosing visibility and I was at the peak of my speed. Suddenly road got bumpy and I almost lost balance on the stony patch … to gain control I pulled my brakes hard and bumping on another stone I sprained the back of my neck but gained control over the erratic moves of my bicycle. By the time I came to an halt, I saw Sunil waiting a little ahead of me, it was barely visible and road was badly bumpy and isolated. He suggested to ask the passing by trucks for lift. Thankfully the very first truck approaching us stopped on our signal and promptly loaded us on without asking for anything in return. Ah he was a pretty talkative man and narrated us a good deal about the route, climate, travellers, his experience with them  and many other stuff. Like many other localities we had stopped to and conversed with earlier, he too offered his number, asking us to call him anytime we faced problem enroute. Finally he dropped us in Drass and all this while my anxiety was how are we going to find Poonam, it was already 8.30. I was checking my phone every now and then, with the hope that she would get access to some phone and ring me on the only active number we had in journey which I was carrying. I remember bus guy had told me you will find her at Drass Police station and at that time I thought he was joking. With all our anxiety both Sunil and me were riding again in Drass and after going only a little ahead, we saw Drass Police Station on our right, opposite to which was a small hotel; at front of which we found Poonam seated. All well that end is well, though this was not end of our trip but certainly a good end to the most happening and crazy day of our trip. Sahil the bus driver was kind enough to drop Poonam at Drass and not taking any money from her; instead he got her tea and ensured she was feeling better before he left. Aha! according to Poonam he was not only nice but also very cute who like many others we met, gave her his number asking her to call him anytime if there be any need of help further in our journey. Only after reaching Drass and finding Poonam safe and looking better than before, I felt the delight of having gotten a ride in a truck on highway. I don’t know why but I felt good about having done that unexpected bit in our journey. Last minute thrills always make the journey all the more memorable. The truck driver was driving to Leh and later while returning back from Leh to Srinagar (I don’t remember on which particular day in our journey), he called on our number to check if we were doing fine in our trip. Later German couple Jan and Katrina we had met at Zozila also jouned us in the same hotel.

Since we were coming from Zozila, we were horribly dusty and hotel owner was kind enough to offer us hot water for shower. After hot shower, we savored hot dinner and slept like crazy until it was 9a.m the next day.

Day 5

Getting up at 9 in the morning, still feeling heavy in head (hangover of the crazy previous day) we got up, freshen up, had breakfast and went around a bit in the Drass market to get batteries for my camera, some energy drinks. Back to hotel room, still felt and enjoyed laziness a little longer knowing that our next destination Kargil, was all downhill from this place. After a lazy start of the day, we finally packed up and started our ride to Kargil 58kms from Drass at 1 p.m. IMG_0294 IMG_0296IMG_20140814_122538IMG_0299Mountains in this route changes their formation every mile and greenery was depleting as we went farther and ahead. Nevertheless it never ceases to awe you. There was very little greenery in this route and after riding for a little while we came across Kargil war memorial. We all stopped here and wandered around the memorial, clicked some snaps and then continued our ride further ahead. DSC00561 DSC00565

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

DSC00576 Enjoying the ride mostly on plain or downhills, stopping at every beauty spot to click a few snaps finally we reached at the confluence of Drass and Shingo river. We stopped at this confluence for quite some time clicking some fanatic snaps before we headed to not so far Kargil from here.

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

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Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Finally we reached Kargil, to find Jun and Katrina already waiting for us outside a very nice guest house. Again our bargain queen did a brilliant job and we all stayed in this beautifully located place. It had a huge backyard with a lot of apricot, sunflower and many other different kind of trees in it.

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

DSC00648 IMG_20140815_073755Owner did talk a little too much but was a very nice man. We settled in our beautiful cozy room and after a while headed out for the dinner. Walking along the streets of Kargil, which after Srinagar was the first huge city having stores for everything and pretty huge population. Finally we reached to a restaurant named “Las vegas” and we certainly wanted to go to Las Vegas of Kargil and enjoy some good food.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

After savoring the Las Vegas food headed back to the warmth and cozy comfort of our room. We slept tight through the night to wake up on the independence day.

Day 6

It was early in the morning, around 5a.m when my parents called up to wish me for my birthday. Aha! one of the best b’day to remember. After packing our bags, had a chit chat with owner over our breakfast of bread butter toast. Before we left he also got us enough of fresh apricots plucked direct from trees for our journey ahead.

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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After knowing it was my b’day, he insisted many time to stay there for the day and celebrate my b’day. But staying in the luxury of his cozy serene hotel din’t appear more exhilarating than riding back on highway and so we decided so keep going on. Since it was Independence day and we were in Kargil, we checked if there is any place where flag hoisting happens and we got to know that entire city which is considerable huge celebrates the day at one common ground. We cycled to this place where flag was already hoisted and cultural program was going on. We enjoyed the show for a while and then were back on the roads. IMG_20140815_093941

Kiddos guiding us to Kargil's Independence Day celebration ground

Kiddos guiding us to Kargil’s Independence Day celebration ground

DSC00660 DSC00661 DSC00668Since the day before, we had been seeing boards of Army canteen and pictures of sumptuous food on it. We decided to have food at the Army canteen before we left the city, after checking with military people we got to know that it is further ahead on the highway in our route. So we were back on highway, it was a steep ascend and we continued to ride until we came to a point from where Kargil celebration ground and the city was visible in its entirety and we stopped there again to witness the celebration/event a little more. After a while, we started again and after a few kilometers of ascend we finally reached the Army Canteen to find it closed due it being a public holiday. Nevertheless there was a few army folks around who chattered with us for a while and offered us their personal stock of milk and tea. DSC00677

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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They were extremely friendly, nice and funny to talk with. After enjoying the tea and good chit chat with them, we were back on  the road. After a while we started to descend and as usual it was another joy ride of a descend. After a while we felt a few droplings hitting us and we stopped at a house and checked with them if could change there. After taking off everything that was not to dry easily, we started riding ahead faster as we could see black storm coming from behind and moving very fast. Finally when we saw storm was left far behind, we stopped at a place along the road to celebrate my b’day by cutting a half eaten cake. Yeah I was given a swiss knife to cut it, quite an amazing experience and feeling to celebrate b’day on NH-1 highway.

Celebration time!

Celebration time!

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image coourtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image coourtesy Sunil Choudhary

DSC00734Again we saw the storm behind us and once again we were riding as fast as could to escape it and we reached our destination Mulbek exactly when storm was to engulf us. This time we got a stay in guest house exactly opposite the future buddha temple. We freshen up and got the room delivery of our chicken soup. Ah I can not forget Sunil breaking the pin drop silence with his chuski drinking stints. Wind was chilling cold outside, so after having a few snaps we quickly got ourselves curled up in our beds.

The Future Buddha Temple

The Future Buddha Temple

IMG_20140816_103241DSC00740 DSC00742Enjoyed the royal candle light dinner (not by choice but cause there was no electricity); sometimes lack of choices/options make it simpler and more beautiful. Back to the warmth of bed and blankets, I got free entertainment over the hilarious conversation between Poonam and Sunil that night and I went mad laughing and by the end of end my stomach and jaws were hurting. After well spent day and b’day, with all smiles we slowly drifted to the most calm period of our day cycle. This night was not as calm as it ought to be and in the middle of the night Poonam woke me up almost on the verge of crying. She showed me various red patches on her skin, appeared that bug were biting the dame hard. I offered her to swap sides on the bed as I din’t face any issues until now. Even after the swap girl was still finding it hard and she could feel the bites here and there, appeared so that bugs were in her blanket and not in the bed and all through the night Poonam had to fight and struggle with them.

Day 7

We were up again in this place surrounded by chilling wind. After having our breakfast, once again we were back on road, riding our bicycles. We had another another pass ahead on this day, Namkila pass. Soon after starting it began to drizzle and so we put our rain ponchos on. Mountains and climate on this terrain are pretty different; though climate got harsh in this part, mountains on the contrary appeared soft. Rather from distance, they had the look of sand dunes and din’t have the hard look of rocky mountains. They say it correct, looks are deceptive and now I know mountains are no exception to it. Appearing soft in their form, they were no lesser hard in their formation. Riding along the soft looking sand dune like mountains, we paved up and up along its soft tender curves and finally reached Namkila top to face all the more chilly harsh wind.

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

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Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

IMG_20140816_150056

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

After few snaps atop the top, we started to descend and reached Bodhkhabru at the end of our joy ride. In the cozy setup of a small tea stall, we enjoyed hot maggi. We also met two folks from Denmark riding on bicycle along the same route, who got our cycles oiled. After biding good byes, we rode ahead and reached Haniskot. To our dismay we could not find many options to stay here, one and only obvious one was Jammu and Kashmir tourist guest house. Unlike most of our previous hosts, these guys din’t have the warmth of local kashmiri people and the lazy sloths were not even ready to come out of their bed and talk. Finally we all shamelessly entered their room and they continued in their reluctant manner as why they can’t accommodate us even though their was no one in the premise except two of them. Reasons given to us appeared all lame and we tried our best to get us settled in there by talking to their manager over the phone and also called up Yhai authorities who had booked the place in advance during that period. Though there was no Yhai group to arrive on that particular day, attendants by no means were ready to accommodate us and finally we called up Yhai head office being hopeful considering that both Poonam and me had active Yhai membership, but all this to no avail. While we were wondering what to do and were still trying to convince the attendants to let us in, watchman of the centre came there and after knowing the situation he offered us to stay in his room for that night which was in the backyard of the guest house. Room was in a total mess and dirty but still we had to be obliged to this man as it was getting late for us to ride further to the next stop and on top of that he also arranged for food for all 3 of us from neighbouring village. IMG_20140816_171740 IMG_20140816_175753 DSC00751 IMG_20140817_064918After having the simple tasty Ladakhi food, we asked him for the rent of the room, to which he just said “anything appropriate according to you would be fine”. Though room was very dusty and dirty, we still offered what we had been usually paying enroute for a room. Humbleness of this man knew no limits and he gave us hundred rupees back as he thought that was little too much for that room for a night. I felt amazed by the tender grace of gentleness these people epitomize; bearing the harshness of nature amid the hard daunting gigantic mountains … they are still very soft and delicate in their nature, radiating so much peace and satisfaction with life. Without thinking of the filthy state, that room was in, with a child like innocence he offered what he had; without even talking about any payment in return he handed complete possession of his world over to us by offering the keys. As soon as I stepped into this room, I found a leech exploring the red carpet of the room. After taking the leech out of our abode, we spread our mattresses on the ground and after dinner stretched ourselves on them. I had caught some cold by now and night was really cold; due to nose blockage I struggled all through the night to catch some breath and my mind was busy hallucinating leeches for night grazing over us. Somehow night got over and I was so delighted to see the first rays break through the darkness and hit our window.

Day 8

Dusk never made me feel as relieved as it did on this day. Freshen up and without any breakfast we started early enough for the wavy ride along the mountains. DSC00752 IMG_20140817_075347IMG_20140817_075848 IMG_20140817_075842On this day we had to cross another pass, Fotula. After riding a few kilometers, we stopped at one dhaba along the highway for breakfast. Savoured hot omelet with paratha followed with cardamom flavoured milk. Ah simple hot milk in that chill feels so divine. Feeling rejuvenated after the simple but delightful breakfast, riding on the steep roads from this point upto Fotula din’t appear very daunting. Pulling hard on the ascend, stopping every now and then to wipe off my running nose and to fill my lungs hungry for oxygen and let the heart beats get to a normal pace; I was determined to ride through the entire route and not drag my bicycle. I don’t know why but right from the start of the day, I felt very detached and melancholy on this day, may be after effects of a sleepless struggling yesternight. With all my zeal and determination, taking the lead I was riding alone all this time and I was only a few miles away from the Fotula top when driver of an army bus coming from opposite direction signaled me to stop. Moving to the other side of the road, I came to an halt by the side of bus. Bus driver warmly greeted and asked if I was in Kargil two days back. I let some fresh air get into my head and lung and before I answer him, I recalled … yes we left from kargil two days back. After my affirmation, his next question was if I had lost anything that day. I revisited the day in my head and recalled how we had stopped at one house along the road to change when it started drizzling that day and realised zip of the back pocket of my jersey was open and the bundle of notes comprising of 420 bucks was missing from it, which I had got in return from the shopkeeper where I bought the juice bottle from. As soon as I told him about me unconsciously dropping 420 bucks somewhere that day, he took out his wallet and and offered me a bundle of notes. This unexpected event made me repeatedly thank him with a heartfelt gleeful smile until he was already gone. Only after he was gone, various questions popped up in my head as where I might have dropped it and why he suspected it could be mine, din’t he see me while going to Leh (as he was coming from opposite direction) and most importantly what was his name? He so casually handed it to me and moved on as if it was part of his duty to get it back to me. Joy of getting something back, which you have lost and din’t hope for getting it back is simply marvellous. It was yet another lifetime memory/experience for me. Kudos to the Indian Army! Moving ahead, in a short while I was at Fotula top, highest point point on Srinagar-Leh highway. I rejoiced the scenic beauty around this place for a while until chill started zapping me. Soon after I noticed Sunil dragging his bicycle from one shortcut terrain. He too watched and snapped the beauty around and we silently waited for Poonam to arrive. With every passing moment chill was getting stronger and appeared to penetrate deeper through my flesh and bones and by the time Poonam arrived a strong sinking frisson was surging through me. She gleefully rejoiced having cycled to highest point of this highway. DSC00754 DSC00756 DSC00759 DSC00763 DSC00765 DSC00768 DSC00771 DSC00773IMG_20140817_103504IMG_20140817_103652 DSC00784 IMG_20140817_104758Once again we mounted our cycles for the adernaline rush of downhill joy ride; without any pedaling effort, having full control over our bikes we were racing past the zig-zag roads seeping in every bit of 360 degree panoramic helluva awesomeness. Within no time we were at Lamayuru, it was onlly 11a.m and we could easily ride to the next stopping point but Sunil, who was not doing very well insisted on staying at this place and relax for the rest of the day. So we all agreed and found a nice home stay in the small town of Lamayuru. We settled in our rooms and went out for Lunch. IMG_20140817_143752

Thukpa

Thukpa

After the delight of food delicacies, we were back to our room and sinking frission was getting stronger and bolder inside me, all I wanted was to be alone. Both Poonam and me went to our room and I lay myself on one of the beds. Sunlight making its way through the window hit directly on my face, its warmth was making me feel better and at the same a sudden unreasonable sadness was overpowering me, forcing me to pull my blanket over my head. Under the blanket, I found tears trickle down through both my eyes; reason of this untimely quiet outburst was beyond my understanding as my body suffered no physical pain, mind was as blank as it could be in a pin drop silence like that. Within no time I was fast asleep.This place has a strange feeling of overpowering calmness and sadness at the same time. Surrounded by mountains from all sides, it appeared as if all kind of sound, feelings and emotions are lost in a black hole and you feel nothing at all … no desire to speak, no desire to listen, all you can hear is your own voice without uttering a single word. I don’t know about others, but I certainly never felt the way I felt here, ever before in my life …. I think I just can’t justify the blankness/emptiness of the moment through words.

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

When I woke up, I was feeling much better; so may it was all due to struggle of previous night at Haniskot. After the power nap, I bathed and then we(Poonam and me) went to the terrace of the building to sink ourselves in the quiet calmness of this place where Sunil was already seated and happily listening to the music on his ipod. I could not bear the effect, quiet surrounding was surmounting upon me; as if calmness was only external and it was trying to shake everything inside me to the brim of agitation. After a while, we were seated in the huge dining room of the house, and even to an unsocial person like me who love to live mostly by herself it felt much better in the cozy setup amid lot of other people from different cities and countries. After a few hours of chit-chats, we were served sumptuous Ladakhi dinner and then were left to the darkness of our bedrooms to doze off.

Day 9

We were up again in the heart of silence. Freshen up, had breakfast, fastened our stuff on cycle and were ready to ride. We had to reach Saspol on this day which is 55kms away from Lamayuru. First 19 kms is a steep descend and a complete joy ride. Once again we mounted our cycle and without any effort from us, it gained its momentum. As we drifted farther, road was leading us deeper and deeper into the heart of mountains changing its hue to one shade darked with every twist and turn. A little further, riding down on curves of road carved between two parallel mountains, I felt sandwitched between giant daunting sentinels watching over us and ready to crush us down under its wrath if we dared to cross our limits. Gushing through the heart and veins of mountains we finally came to a point where roads were not going further down. DSC00788 IMG_20140818_090500 DSC00789 IMG_0352 IMG_0353 IMG_0355Here on once again we were pedaling our bicycles to move along the ups and downs of the highway. We stopped at a point on highway in our route to munch something and energize ourselves. We ate some junkies and apricots, clicked snaps with a local lady passing by and moved ahead. Finally we reached Saspol and found ourselves settling in a nice Alchi view guest house. It was a nice wooden room with an awesom view of Alchi mountains and apple, apricot and lot of other flora & fauna in its yard. Ah! sitting in this room by the side of wall size windows with sun rays delightfully dancing upon us was the sweetest evening of our trip. DSC00800 DSC00805 DSC00808 DSC00816 DSC00817 IMG_0379 DSC00844 DSC00846 IMG_0385 DSC00862 IMG_20140818_163052Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

IMG_20140819_071238 IMG_20140819_070422 IMG_20140818_174441 IMG_20140818_174333After a while we went out venturing for evening snacks and found wai-wai noodles in the cozy setup of a small stall. Back to the room, we chit-chatted for long, posed and clicked and finally caught small nap before dinner. Ah! dinner was super sumptuous and we were served in a traditional kashmiri setup. While having the food around 8.30 or 9, Katrina and Jan reached and we united again, some chit-chat over our experiences in last few days after we parted in Kargil and then we were all back to bed.

Day 10

Enthused to cover last stretch of our journey and reach Leh, where Jimmy was already waiting for us to unite for the further exploration, we started early enough as we had to cover 60kms on this day, out of which most part of the route was uphill. Riding along the upwards wavy road along the mountain, we took our halt at a junction which inhibited a dhaba in the middle of no man’s land. We had omelet and maggi at this deserted dhaba which inhibited more chameleons than humans, they were all around this place. While having food, we enjoyed basking in the sun here. Energized again, we rode further ahead and embarked to the gateway of Leh. Riding through the uphills of this terrain, we crossed the beautiful and remarkably obvious confluence of two rivers, Indus and Zanskar and finally reached to our most awaited Magnetic Hill point. Aha! the pose and click time. We halted for good amount of time here, Poonam testing the magnetic effect of the acclaimed Hill over her swiss knife and Sunil doing his stunt of riding over the hill on left where “Magnetic Hill” was rock marked in bold for every passer by to know that they have reached this point. After Sunil’s stunt was over in which he broke his carrier and also hurt himself in various places, we started riding further. DSC00879 IMG_20140819_101303 DSC00899 DSC00901 DSC00932 DSC00937 DSC00962 IMG_20140819_121918 DSC00978 IMG_20140819_130954 DSC00985 DSC00987It was afternoon by now and we were all hungry and were all desperate to reach the famous Gurudwara on the Leh highway and were hoping to get Langar food for lunch, but ascend of this route was not to end yet. Finally we reached Sri Pather Sahib Gurudwara and enjoyed the snack and tea provided at entrance. We went around the the Gurudwara and finally were there for the langar food. After slurping up the tasty food; as per the custom, we washed our plates and were ready to go. Not too far and further journey was all downhill to Leh. Gleefully enjoying the joy ride, we finally hit the Leh. Crossing Spituk Monastery, Leh airport, famous Hall of Fame we were finally in the streets of Leh city. After finding out that Jimmy was not at his Hotel when we arrived and since charges din’t appear reasonable to us, we rode a little further ahead to the old bus stand and got good deal in Dimbir Guest house, next to Hotel Siachen and so our cycling journey was over in the heart of Leh city.

DSC01012 DSC01026 DSC01028 DSC01030 Cheers to my friends Poonam and Sunil for the wonderful company in an awesome journey!

Before I mark it done, I realise that there are definitely pros and cons of being on your own:

Pros :
* You have the flexibility of tweaking the route as per your wish and preference.
* You take higher responsibility of knowing the route and hence tend to extract more information from various means. Whereas in case dropping into planned trip, usually I relax and tend to rely on the group to deal with the details and let myself merely enjoy the moment and nature.
* If you keep a proper check, you can save a lot of money.
* You get to know the local culture and people better as you have to directly communicate with them to arrange for your accomodation and food.

Cons :
* You have higher responsiblility towards everyone in whatever group size you are travelling.
* You have to take up everyone’s nagging & accountability, if it does not work very well for them.
* You have to drop few ideas if it does not suit others in the group. This only pops up because you tend to explore the alternatives as you plan your itenerary yourself. In case of jumping into some group which plans the iterenary for you, this conflict does not arise and certain bit of annoyance is avoided.

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

Image courtesy Sunil Choudhary

To the Himalayas – Sandakhpu to Gurdum

ImageMy second expedition in the Himalayan ranges. Must say eastern Himalayan range is very picturesque and lush green, unfolding a different kind of beauty at every step you walk. Summit of the expedition is Sandakphu (3636 m; 12,400 ft), highest peak in the state of West Bengal, India. Uncertainity of nature in the region makes every moment cherishable.

ImageIMG_0035This time we were three ladies; Swati, Poonam and me to join a group of other 45 people for this expedition with YHAI group. We had a plan to reach Darjeeling a day before we were supposed to report the base camp and explore the city on our own. But due to miscommunications, we ended up joining the group starting a day before, that is on 28th and mystery of unknown took over the planned journey and till the last moment of the journey everything was unplanned and a surprise …. some too beautiful to be engraved deep in memory and a few as a shock in the last minute.

28th December 2013, we start from Pune at 2 a.m in the morning for Mumbai airport. Cab driver was witty and pro in his driving skills to drive at a speed of 120 Km/hr and above. Punchline of the day was his remark on the passing van full of chicken, “most of them are going to die of cold/wind and they will end up being lollypop”. Reaching Mumbai domestic airport much earlier than expected, had enough time to savor breakfast and besan laddus we carried; before we flew to bagdora. You fly and the awesomeness of clouds outlined with beaming sunrays overwhelms and before you get bored with that view; at the far ends of the view, highest peaks of world including Mount Everest emerge above the clouds. ImageSite was simply marvelous and I was already feeling every penny invested for the trip is worth this beauty. DSC01044Finally we land in Bagdora, savor lunch in the airport Canteen which is very cheap as per airport standards. Cab ride again from Bagdora to darjelling, and the scenic beauty spread across this land unveils its splendor as we drive past it. Endless tea gardens on the plain land, hazy darkness in the distance emerging as gaint mountains approaching us fast and beauty of valleys as the cab crosses the zig-zag paths through these endless mountains, travelling side by side to the track of Darjeeling Himalyan railways. Finally we hit Darjeeling city at around 6 p.m, right there at the reporting point base camp. Formalities, check-in and done for the day-1.

Day-2 starts with morning exercise at the heart of M.G road, followed by first glimpse of Kanchenjunga and Sandakhpu summit in the far end. ImageWe cheer for the group starting their trek, have breakfast and start for the acclaimatization trek. This turns out to be a site seeing trip around the city, with visists to Japanese monastery “Peace Pagoda”; Japanese temple, St. Paul’s School (school where Main Hoon Naa is shooted); walking through the lanes of the city, fanatically clicking here and there and then back to hotel for lunch. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageAfter lunch, three of us went out to venture on our own around the city through local market, M.G road, park and then Darjeeling tea festival enjoying the local snacks like momo, pani puri etc. on the way.

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Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

Day-3, we gear up with our back-packs to start our trek through Sandakhpu-Gurdum route. Jeep takes us to Dhotrey, where we had the delight of savoring hot momo before we meet our front and rear guide Pimba and Nima.

Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

Cheering up for the journey ahead, we start marching with Pimba leading us, followed by Swati. Within half an hour, all the extra clothing goes off and we keep walking enjoying the greenaries all across this route. DSC01179Scattered in the group, walking along new people, knowing them, their whereabouts and chattering over other things of interest, we all assemble at one point to enjoy our packed lunch and some fanatic clicks :). IMG_6819We start marching again, a bit steeper climb, enjoying the view of lush green mountains around us and snow clad ones in the distance standing tall over rest all. IMG_6825IMG_6834Last few miles of this day, photographer in both Poonam and me was suddenly on high and we walked together taking a long time to cover this short distance, clicking everything in the beautiful bliss. DSC01186DSC01194DSC01207DSC01213DSC01214DSC01223DSC01234IMG_6849IMG_6851DSC01241DSC01242DSC01245IMG_6854Finally we reach the camp site of the day at Inida-Nepal border, with our abode in Nepal. DSC01254DSC01259We fanatically click some awesome pictures flipping between India and Nepal and also with the “Land Rover”, mechanical roaring lion in the area. IMG_6862Finally we find Swati, who had injured herself showing us the cozy room in Nepal. We settle down for a while, get our soup and go out to explore the surrounding area. DSC01266DSC01269DSC01274Finally fun loaded bonfire, dinner and then bed time 🙂DSC01289

Day-4, Swati and me get up early to witness the spectacular panoramic view of sunrise. DSC01298DSC01309DSC01304DSC01312DSC01317DSC01326DSC01328 DSC01330There had already been some people to the nearby sunrise/senset point, we clicked some awesome snaps, enjoyed the chill and came back to enjoy the hot Napali breakfast. Back-packed and we marched ahead to Kalipokhari. We were warned of not touching the bushes and shrubs on this route as many were poisionous. This day turned out to be easy as we had been mostly either descending or walking on the leveled path. Most of the time, I walked alone without sight of anyone from the group ahead or behind me. I pretty much enjoyed the me time and finally reached the Kalipokhari (black lake) near the camp site and sat alone there for quite sometime before quietness of the moment was disruptured by Poonam.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Ah! the ever changing clouds, one moment rising high to the limit of our vision and next moment sweeping down to the valley in front of us, spectacularly dramatized the beauty of the place. IMG_6906IMG_6907

Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

Image courtesy Abhilash Ravindranath

As the sunset approached, they seemed to pacify their motion and settled at a level, just a liitle below where we stood; appearing soft as foam, stagnant in their position – much like bundle of cotton layered – waiting for us to jump and bounce on them. IMG_6917IMG_6920IMG_6922

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

As it darkened, we moved to our alloted rooms, settled down for a while and then up for the next round of fun around the bonfire, followed by dinner of the year 2013.

Day-5, we woke up to a new year 2014, cheering up for the new begining and greeting each other. Another year, another day and same group of people to cherish the experience of journey with.

Image courtesy Bhargav

Image courtesy Bhargav

Biding adieu to the year 2013 and our hosts at Kalipokhari, we start marching ahead. IMG_6934

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

We were warned, it being toughest part of our journey, steep climb all along the way from Kalipokhari to Sandakhpu. DSC01409DSC01416 DSC01426Some of us took most of the shortcuts we could figure out, some of which were steep slipary way, some steep rocky steps and other on the edge of the valley through India-Nepal border line. DSC01429

DSC01433 DSC01435 DSC01438DSC01445Beauty of these short-cuts were so much that we reached last to the common meeting point midway of the route. DSC01447From here on – to Sandakhpu, walked pretty much through regular route (without shortcut) with a halting gait taking a step forward, gasping harder for breathe and wiping the ever flowing nose. DSC01461

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

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Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Finally we made it there to the peak of  route, to be welcomed by the wind ready to blow us all.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

IMG_0026Settled down, put on all the clothes, enjoyed the hot soup and was ready to go around the place. We followed Pimba to local temple and then back to the camp.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

On the way back, there was a not so tall cliff, few of us climbed to. Well yes, we rock climbed it as there was no way we could hike it. Poonam and me had lagged behind while walking up from the temple and jumping to different directions to peep into the valleys. When we reached bottom of this not so tall cliff, it din’t appear so daunting but once you start climbing, there was no way to turn back and barely any scope to look up to check how much more to go. Keeping all my limbs fixed, moving one at a time, finally I reached there. Gasping hard for oxygen, letting the racing blood stream pacify, recollecting myself I rose to check the view and suddenly it felt I had not climbed just the highest summit at Sandakhpu but felt like having climbed to the valut of heaven. DSC01501 DSC01486360 degree sweeping view of mountains including Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu etc, clouds changing forms below us and wind racing past us welcomed our beings to fly with them.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Simply out of the world moment! Wanted to stay till sunset but skin piercing wind and bone shuddering chill din’t allow us to stay there for long and we came back to the cozy cabins of the camp and slipped into our blankets until dinner. Enjoyed hot dinner at around 8 and then back to bed. Rooms were cozy, blankets were warm but this turned out to be the most restless night of my trip. Lights went off and we had nothing to do than sleep or keep tossing in your bed until day break. All night I struggled hard to keep breathing, breathlessness barely allowed me any sleep.

Day-6, I jumped to the next room the moment Poonam called for me, suddenly problem of breathlessness disappeared as we started chatting. It was still dark when we went out to witness sunrise. But trust me, getting up so early and going out in that dark monstrous chill din’t appear like a problem at all but instead it was an escape from the struggle to breath. We were there in the out to see the sky line change from black to blue – to purple – to pink – to green and slowly horizon turned orange and red with a yellow ball rising above the blanket of clouds.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

It was marvellous to watch the sun cast its bright shadow over the mountains and everything starting to glaze under its glory.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

We returned to our rooms, hurriedly packed our bags, had breakfast and were ready for the next march to Gurdum. It was a pleasant decend, with lush greenary all around us. IMG_0090 IMG_0095 IMG_0096 IMG_0107We were warmly welcomed to this place with very pleasant and fresh atmosphere. Oh! We had the previlage of ordering food of our choice and we spent most of our pleasant time in the cafeteria savoring everything of our delight available.

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

Image courtesy Poonam Kumari

After sunset, this time a fun loaded call for laddu count went across the circumference of people for them to choose truth/dare if they missed the laddu. Followed with dinner and then time to bed.

Day-7, get ready and start for the final destination Rimbik. This turns out to most pleasant route of all. A stream of water flowing along the route, uproaring the glory of mountains and nature, tapping its way through rocks clapped for our arrival at every corner, washed off everyone’s weariness stopping by its stream and took it all to a far land unseen. ZSC01600 (1) ZSC01600 (8) ZSC01600 (14) ZSC01600 (19) ZSC01600 (20) ZSC01600 (26) ZSC01600 (27) ZSC01600 (28) ZSC01600 (29) ZSC01600 (35) ZSC01600 (37) ZSC01600 (48)Suddenly I felt a boost of energy and walked as fast as I could without missing to notice its beauty; and at the end of the journey was feeling totally fresh to go for a round trip may be.

With all that finally finished this trek walking with Swati in the last part of it, who had been leading on all the days this time. But this was only end of our Sandakhpu-Gurdum trek, our journey continued further to Sikkim; which needs a separate accounting altogether.

To the Himalayas (Nag Tibba)

Nag Tibba (‘Serpent’s Peak’), 3,022 metres (9,915 ft), is the highest peak in the lesser himalayan region of Uttarakhand state (Garhwal Division), and lends its name to the ‘Nag Tibba Range’, itself the next-northerly of the five folds of the Himalaya. Situated in the Tehri Garwal region of Uttrakhand, it is 57kms from Mussoorie. The ‘Nag Tibba Range’ is amongst three principal ranges of the Lesser Himalayas, which includes the Dhauladhar, and the Pir Panjal, which branched off from the Great Himalayas.

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View from the Nag Tibba summit

I had the delight to explore this range of Himalayas on new year’s eve. As per the plan we had to report at Mossoorie youth hostel on 30th December 2012. Swati and me decided to meet at Delhi and continue our journey together to Massorie. In the exordium of our journey, both of us have had enough thrill to make to the rape hub when all the protest was on its peak. Swati was victimized by it as most of the metro train stations were shut due to protests in Delhi, the gang rape victim had died the very same morning. Cab driver took her thrice around Connaught Place, which  made her furious leaving the cab then and there, without knowing her way ahead. Finally somehow huffily she made it to the destination, just one hour before we had to leave again. Buses being damaged in the protest, our boarding point was changed in the 11th hour and we had to travel a long way again to catch the bus to Massorie. Run run run and we reach there to find a bus different from our expectation and we both had to accommodate in one single sleeper seat for the night.
We reached Massorie at around 6 in the morning and before knocking at the youth hostel, we had the pleasure to enjoy hot tea in the tea stall around the corner of the road. We reached the hostel and had a quick and shivering nap before we were called for the breakfast. Both of us started to venture around the place and found a back door entry to Massorie lake.

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Massoorie Lake

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Ducks in Massoorie Lake

Enjoyed the climate and view for a while and headed back to the hostel to find 2 other fellow female trekkers Kalvinder and Priyanka, joining us in our room.  We all decided to explore the Massoorie city, and so headed to the Mall road walking all the way from the Youth Hostel.

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Massoorie Youth Hostel

Walking up to the city provides inexplicable delight to eyes all the way.

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Site on the way to Mall Road

Walking through the mall road has its own charm as you will pass all sort of small and big shops displaying the colorful fancy stuff. You will feel like in a walking zone as I don’t remember seeing any vehicle in this area apart from cycle rickshaw and  some two wheelers.

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Mall Road

We enjoyed having “Makki ki roti” & “Sarso ka Saag” for lunch in one of the decent restaurant, which was served hot and delicious. Slurp slurp!
After having lunch and wandering a little more, we took the rope way to Gun Hill, where we had “Kachallu chat” and “Hot Chocolate”.

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Rope way to Gun Hill

Then we had backside view from the Hill, a splendid view of Himalayas including Shivalik range, Gangotri and Yamunotri.

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Himalayas view from Gun Hill

It also gives you a distant site of Ruskin Bond’s residence and Sachin Tendulkar’s cottage at rear end on the right. We enjoyed the view, clicked snaps and queued up for the rope way journey back to Mall road. Wandering again, we came across Jawahar Aquarium, which had some very lovely and rare fishes and fish hospital too.

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Lobby of Aquarium

Now marching towards the bus stop, we stopped by a stall to enjoy some hot veg momo and hurriedly headed back to the hostel, as it was already dark and very cold. There we joined the whole gang of trekkers sitting in a round arrangement narrating their adventure stories and discussing on various other related stuff like culture, climate of different zones etc etc. Mostly it was 60 years old Sanju aunty, who have had enough experience of life and trekking, boasted the beauuuuutiful moments and her expeditions in different regions with all histrionics attached to it. At the dinner table, we had quick introduction of everybody before the bed time.
Next day morning we boarded the bus to make it to the base camp of our trek “Panthwari”. It took the wavy road through the mountains to reach the destination. Kudos to the skills of driver, for taking that huge loaded bus through that road, where every mile there was a U curve, some turning to the left and next to the right.

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Base Village Panthwari

We all collected our bag packs and marked our expedition to explore the amaranthine splendiferous endemic of Himalayas awaiting us ahead. There was lot of chill factor in the atmosphere to shudder one’s bone, and yet sun was blazing with all its ferocity. As we climbed, moving away from the base village, we were opening up to the wider views of mountains and the vast foothills. Some stood dry and barren, others were laden with lush and greenaries. In the rear distance to our view, stood the ones canonizing the peace, totally laden with snow. Progressing carelessly, we took all the shortcuts we could figure out, which were more steep, exhausting and adventurous; and finally reached the camping site for the day.

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Camp on 31st December 2012

There we reached to site the year setting down forever. It was a beauty, with the view of only mountains all around, glorifying a yet another distinct view of nature. We watched the sun setting in front of us, while chill was penetrating our cheeks and other parts of our body.

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Sunset on 31st December 2012

Quickly we wrapped ourselves with all the warm clothes we have been carrying and set up around the bonfire. Darkness was getting dense to make the fire blaze even brighter and soon sky was glittering with the stars. In the distance, lights in the villages appeared like stars twinkling on earth. We had fun time around the fire until dinner was ready and then headed to our tents to slip into the sleeping bags.
Next day morning, we opened our eyes to the New year, amid the Himalayan mountains to find a bunch of zealous people exchanging morning and new year greets with each other. It was a lovely morning with heavy dark clouds hovering over us. Swati and me explored the nearby jungle to find a right place to finish our morning ritual and then to the Jheel site to freshen up. Savoring over the hot maggi and porridge, we marched towards the Nag Tibba temple.

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Entire trekking group on 1st January 2013

Had the first siting of snow on the way to temple. We all assembled at temple to decide our journey further, to the Nag Tibba peak or to the next camping site around the Jheel ahead on the way. Due to heavy clouds and snow fall forecast, organiser Rao suggested to drop the idea of heading to the Nag Tibba peak. But fearless enthusiastic youth trekkers were all ready to make it to the apex of the region and 21 of us, out of the group of 24 trekkers effervescently marched towards the cliff with Mohan from the base village as our guide on the way; while rest all headed to the camping site. Bandish as usual conquered the summit first, and religiously I followed him being second to the summit and swati followed us being 3rd.

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@ Nag Tibba Summit

On the summit we were treated to a dazzling display of snow and a sweeping 360 degrees view of the mountains and nearby foothills.  We got lost in the awesomeness of the view, clicking snaps and enjoying the algid breeze in the company of everyone, joining one by one. After spending enough time, Mohan confused us giving the choice of directly heading towards the camping site near Jheel taking the shortcut or climb down the same way and pick up our bags at temple and then go ahead. Finally we started moving on the same route, through which we had climbed up. After everybody’s arrival, one bag was still lying there without anyone’s claim. It din’t take much time to realise Bandish was missing, when one of us confirmed that he had started walking down much before us. Various thoughts ran through the minds with respect to his whereabouts, but Swati and me were sure that he must have taken the shortcut direct to the Jheel. Most of us waited quite a long time, calling aloud for him in different directions. After much wait and no response, we started walking for the camping site. While walking on the trail, every now and then Mohan drifted to directions calling for Bandish. Starving, worried for the missing Guy, tired trekkers cursed organiser for not leaving the lunch for us at temple. After a long time, we found one guy walking back from the camp bringing biscuits and bananas for us. While we noshed on the biscuits, this guy confirmed Bandish has not made it to the camp and the camp has been settled much ahead of the planned Jheel site. Suddenly anxiety doubled and Mohan started flying in all possible directions calling for him. We increased our pace to make it to the camp before it was dark. We watched sun setting while we were walking and with the hazy vision of the way, we made it to the camp just when darkness completely covered up the place.

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Sunset on 1st January 2013

People were furious and started complaining to Rao(organiser), for not providing food in time, making us walk too far before prior intimation and Bandish’s whereabouts. We started filling ourselves with the lunch time food before dinner was ready. After sometime, Rao came informing everybody that lost dude had made it to another village and was safe. It relaxed everybody and then there were a lot of jokes cracked around the bonfire. After dinner, village people accompanying us all the time carrying camping stuff on their mules, entertained us with their local pahadi songs and dances. After a while, people started disappearing one by one making it to their haimish tents, slipping into their sleeping bags. That was our first day of the year 2013 and to my dismay snow fall din’t happen even though there was a forecast of it on that nubilous day. Nevertheless, it was all well and an enriching experience overall.
We woke up again for the last time with the whole group. In a relaxed manner, we did freshen up and packed our bags again to know that our planned journey have been altered and we had to reach another village to find our lost member and from there vehicle will take us all way back to Massoorie. Tieing our shoe laces, now we started walking downhill on a bright sunny day through the tall pine trees.

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Pine trees along the trail

Under doyenne’s leadership, cracking jokes we reached the village to find the guy shattered with the experience of getting lost amid the vast mountains.

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Lost Dude’s destination, a village amid Himalayan mountains

We had nice time in the village, staying there for quite long until villagers bid their bye to lost hero. Meanwhile we cracked jokes and aunty tagged us Beautiful(Kalvinder), Sundari(Priyanka), Cute(Swati) and Smart(Me).

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Nag Devta temple in the village

We clicked snaps around the village and enjoyed the open jeep dusty ride to the point where bus was waiting for us. We being in the first lot to reach this place, got enough time to enjoy along the river flowing through the middle of two parallel mountains.

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River amid mountains

Second lot arrived and bus took us back to Massoorie, few parted from here and rest all of us were dropped at Dehradun railway station.
We picked up our bags and Swati and me started stuffing the extra stuff in the carry bag into our bags(which din’t take us more than 5 minutes). We turned around to find nobody but Kalvinder and Priyanka waiting for us. Rest all tired guys had disappeared without biding a bye. Kalvinder was not feeling well and decided to stay at the station’s waiting room. We left our bags with her, got her some Kinu and three of us left to roam around the city. We wandered through the streets, enjoying Kachori, Gulab Jamun, Bun Tikki and pop corn on the way. Walking on the road, suddenly we came across Hiranmay uncle, who were with us on the trek, suggested us to visit Ellora’s bakery across the road. We enjoyed some nice chocolate drink and I got some nice, crunchy yummy cookies from there. We were back to station waiting room by 10p.m with Aloo paratha parcelled for Kalvinder. We passed time in the waiting room for an hour until our train arrived. We boarded the train, celebrated Priyanka’s B’day in advance and slept tight until train hit Delhi. We were back to Delhi to find “Bharat Bandh”. All of us, Kalvinder, Priyanka, Swati and me bid bye to each other, putting an end to our gallant odyssey.

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Maze of Himalaya