Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Patal Bhuvaneshwar – Heavenly Destination On Kumaon Hills

Sunrise View
9th November 2011

A good breakfast under our belt, we said goodbye to Munsiyari and left for Patal Bhvaneshwar. Our original plan was to go to an East Kumaon town called Dharchula, at the Indo – Nepal border. We had a course correction after a suggestion from the driver. 

First major attraction on the way at about 30 km from Munsiyari was Birthi Falls, which we had skipped during journey to Munsiyari, due to lack of time and decided to cover the same in our return trip. From road we could see Birthi Falls cascading down from a great height and mighty roar. I had my tripod and handycam and digicam with me for a short trek for about 250 m, through a nicely laid cement track, going up on a gentle slope, surrounded by forested area. The distant landscape with a village came to focus; also a village couple on the neighboring hill arranging straw bundles. 

Birthi Falls
We spend some good half an hour photo shooting from different elevations and angles. Birthi  will rate as one of the very exciting places in Kumaon. 

We arrived at Patal Bhuvaneshwar in the late afternoon. The archeological site of Patal or Hell as it is called, is open from sunrise to sunset and is looked after by Archeological Society of India. A small walk through the mud-track and one arrives at a place consisting of a cottage and an entry gate to the area. The ticket is valued at Rs. 10/- per individual but additional charges of Rs. 50/- are levied for guide for a group. There is no ticket as such, but name and cash amount is entered in a register. The actual entry to Patal is through a small tunnel about 3’ diameter, with a steep downward slope and stones jutting out for grip ; to enter one has to be on all the fours in seated position. A separate dress carried for this adventure is better, since some amount of dust and moisture sticking to cloths cannot be avoided. The main tunnel opens out into many caves, which houses carvings of Gods and Goddesses and a Shiva Linga.  Photography is strictly prohibited at this site. The camera and mobile phones are deposited at the counter. 

Some more drive and we arrived at Parvati Resort for our overnight stay. This beautiful scenic place is surrounded by forested area, with a grand view of Himalayan panorama. The main resort building is single storied, consisting of a few double bedded rooms and a large dining hall. There are a number of cottages owned by the same resort, at a slightly lower elevation surrounded by garden and lawns. 

Parvati Resort
We selected a double room in front corner of the resort building. Being a corner room, it had two walls full of fixed glass windows, to give outside view. From the room bed I could see the lawn with a pine tree decorated with lighting, running along the trunk of the tree. We could even get the view of Himalayan Panorama. Very clean and tidy, I would rate it as one of the best accommodation in Kumaon. 

Parvati Resort
At the dining room just adjoining our room, we had an early dinner. The menu consists of wide variety of Indian and Chinese dishes. I ordered in Hindi for ‘Ek Chicken Choumein’; what I got was Egg Chicken Choumein. The meal was large and wholesome and I did not lose much time in gulping it down.  Evening time getting colder, we had nothing to do and retired early.

We woke up early for our share of Sunrise view from Patal Bhuvneshwar. The many number of Himalayan peaks getting lit in orange hue one after another was a treat to watch. Occasional cloud did hid some of the peaks but overall the weather played fairly well. 

Sunrise View
We had our refreshing hot water bath and a breakfast of Egg Sandwich, washed it down with tea, We got the packing done for full days drive to Haldwani. Waiting for driver to get ready, we had another half an hour to spend in this scenic place. What better activity than to watching birds in the early morning in this forested area. Two Himalayan Bulbuls seated on electric wire and one of them fluttering its wings kept me busy. Observation from dining hall verandah, I could capture the Himalayan Sparrow more popularly called Russet Sparrow. The bird has more colorful wings, neck and head region compared to its city brethren. When I had a leisurely walk on the road adjoining the resort, a yellowish looking bird called Streaked Laughingthrush was found hopping around for picking up food. We missed capturing of the birds at Binsar Sanctuary but to some extent made it up at Patal Bhuvneshwar.  Some of the tourists take a short trek to Tiger Point on slightly higher elevation to get  better Himalayan view.  

Russet Sparrow
Himalayan Bulbul
Streaked Laughingthrush
Our last destination of Kumaon visit completed, I am tempted to say Patal Bhuvaneshwar can have a second name: Heavenly Buvaneshwar.

* Author has created a video on Patal Bhuvaneshwar based on the footages from his Handycam, which can be accessed by viewers by taking the following link: http://youtu.be/uHHVceewmQ0

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Munsiyari – A Multifaceted Destination On Kumaon Hills


7th November 2011 
We left behind Binsar, to head north, towards Munsiyari. Our first halt was at Bageshwar, a busy temple town on the bank of confluence of rivers Saryu and Gomti. Both the rivers of shallow depth, does not give the place an aura similar to any one of the Panch Prayag in Garhwal. From river bank, view of cluster of colorful temples adjoining famous Bagnath temple looked good. 

Temple View at Bageshwar
We entered through the arched gate of Bagnath temple on which is written ‘Om Namoh Shivay’ and came to yet another Shiva temple of Uttarakhand. The compound houses many rooms, including an exhibition room of artifacts, a place where two people were engaged in beating of a large Dhol and a small Nagara shaped drum. A few pilgrims were busy with their rituals in presence of pujaris. After darshan inside temple and spending some time, we came out and did some looking round for our driver, who had a tough time parking the car in the busy market place. 

Bagnath Temple
We continued our road journey, our next halt being at Chaukori, a famous hill station of Kumaon. Since we did not have a night halt at this place, we entered the lovely KMVN complex to see the Panchchuli and other Himalayan peaks on a clear sunlit day. The KMVN consisted of a main building and many cottages with flower beds and lawns all around.

KMVN Chaukori
Driving ahead, we came to a picturesque Birthi Falls, which is a must see sight –seeing place at Kumaon. The huge mass of water cascading down the hill with a roaring sound was little far from road. We had to reach Munshiyari before the evening darkness set in. So, we had a few distant snap shots of waterfall and moved on; planning to spend about an hour on our return journey along the same route. In spite of best efforts of driver trying to negotiate the hilly terrain, at some places the track was a muddy stretch, we were getting late. Dusk approaching with 5 km distance yet to be covered to reach Munshiyari, we came to a clearing free of dense trees and had a beautiful view of Panchchuli Himalayan peaks bathed in flaming red hue. Although, we would be staying full day at Munshiyri, we did not take any chance and shot the video of Panchchuli at sunset.

Sunset View from Munsiyari
When we reached Munshiyari, it was getting dark.  As per our driver’s recommendation, we checked in at Hotel Pandey Lodge. Mr. Pandey, the proprietor, greeted us and gave us an ordinary double room for        Rs. 500/-, which was the best he could offer. “The better and pricey rooms are booked through the hotel website www.munsyarihotel.com,” he said. His clientele are mostly the Bengali speaking Indians and the overseas tourists visiting Munsiyari. Mr. Pandey has picked up quite a bit of Bengali and keeps his presence in the hotel all the time. He claims to arrive in hotel in early morning and leaves by late evening. The presence of the proprietor in the hotel at most of the time, has a huge effect in service, which is the best I have seen anywhere in Uttarakhand.  

Hotel Pandey Lodge
For the first time after beginning my journey from Haldwani, I had a taste of genuine Bengali non- vegetarian food, a chicken curry as cooked in our home style. A vegetarian curry was prepared in mustard paste to go with the Bengali palate.

8th November 2011
In all the Himalayan destinations, my task in the morning was to don all my warm clothing, shivering in icy cold winds, to watch the sunrise view on the snow peaks. Munsiyari was no exception. There I was on a small terrace in the hotel, with my tripod and Handycam in place, for the glorious day to begin. Soon I could hear loud and excited Bengali voices. We had a mini-Kolkata, with gents, ladies and kids, excitedly discussing the spectacular sunrise views they have seen elsewhere. Some guy had precise knowledge on various Himalayan destinations from where the snow-peaks are seen at their best. After seeing the effect of sunset over Panchchuli peaks, we had great expectation of sunrise view in bright cloudless dawn. However, the rising sun trying to peep in from behind Panchchuli, it became obvious that we would not be able to see the golden glow on them. Instead, we had to be content with the sunrise spectacle  limited to some distant snow-peaks. Having a 60x optical zoom in my Sony Handycam, mounted on a tripod, came in handy to get a closer view and the footages were satisfying.
Sunrise View from Munsiyari
After a refreshing hot water bath, we took to the car for a few km of drive to the entrance of Nandadevi Temple. We passed through the arched gate and walked in a gentle slope up the gradient on a cement track, surrounded by tall trees in a forested area. After 10 minutes, we came to a flat land, unfolding a magic like visual with colorfully decorated Nandadevi temple, small cottages, cows grazing on bhugyal and glorious panorama of Panchchuli and other snow peaks. 

Nandadevi Temple
Some tourists were climbing on Watch Tower to have a better view of snow peaks. After a darshan at the temple, photo shooting to our hearts content, in this scenic place, we climbed the stairs of green painted steel Watch Tower to get another angle of 360 degree vision of landscape and bird’s view of the temple. 
Retreating from the Nandadevi Temple, we came across two villagers, carrying small nagara shaped drums. We requested them to play some Kumaoni beats. To our surprise they obliged. We paid them a small tip and drove a few kms to reach the Tribal Heritage Museum. The museum has a good collection of ancient artifacts, currency, coins, Himalayan Herbs, stones etc. The attendant demonstrated, how in ancient times people rubbed iron on flintstone to produce spark for getting the fire going. He also demonstrated a machine which was used to produce thread from cotton. We had a good look at number of books on Himalayas which were on sale. The visit completed, we had a good view of Himalayas from the Museum gate. 

Tribal Heritage Museum
We were on the way to Kalamuni Top at a distance of 15 km from Munsiyari. The Kalamuni Temple compound, consists of a courtyard, a few single storied structures, serving as dwelling for sadhu sants and the temple with Goddess Kali as presiding deity. As is common in all temples in Kumaon, here also a huge number of bells were found hanging at various locations, contributed by devotees to invoke Goddess Kali’s blessings. After darshan, we stood on the road; a few overseas tourists were chatting away at the dhaba and some shooting Himalayan peaks; however they refrained from entering the temple compound. 

Himalayan View from Kalamuni Top
Back to Munsiyari at the Hotel Pandey Lodge, we just relaxed in the evening, the clouds enveloping over the Himalayas, we were deprived of another photo shoot of sunset view. Thankfully, to my relief, yesterday I shot the spectacle on way to Musiyari. Tomorrow we proceed to Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

* Author now makes available the video shot by himself on sunrise view of Himalayas from Hotel Pandey Lodge, which is a spectacle. Readers can access the following link to view the same: http://youtu.be/051uUMMwXKU  

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Binsar – A Multi-Dimensional Destination On Kumaon Hills


5th November 2011

My Kumaon trip in November did not begin on a happy note. One of our tour mates had to drop out due to family reasons. Sachin and me carried on with a program charted out on our own. For the past four years we have not availed any of the package tours about which many travel companies vie with each other. We normally hired a car from base destination on daily lump-sum basis for the duration of our tour. That leaved us a lot of flexibility to travel as per our chalked out program or make any course correction, if necessary, in the mid-way through the trip. 

We reached Haldwani, which can be called as gateway to Kumaon Himalayas, a little after mid-night. The Sharda hotel, which we had booked was not far from station but turned out to be far from satisfactory with cockroach infested rooms, dirty towels; the only saving grace was availability of hot water in the next morning. We packed and checked out to our relief and also felt relieved to see our hired Indica car waiting to pick us up. 

At Starting Point, Haldwani

Our car driver happened to be an energetic young guy from Kumaon. Leaving Haldwani and Kathgodam behind, we were on hilly terrain. The first destination we encountered was Bhimtal and took a photo break. A picturesque lake with a boating facility, we did not lose much time to take a few snaps and some footage of video and decided to move on. 

Bhimtal

Seated on the window side we viewed a few of the cluster of seven lakes, the most prominent being named as  Sat Tal. This lake had boating facility, huge area amidst nature for picnic party revelers. The boats were decorated exquisite; some even had a huge dragon-head on frontal portion.  It took nearly half an hour to cover some of the lake areas. 

Sat Tal

On Bhowali – Almora road we came across Kainchi Temple  complex. The funny name Kainchi which means scissors has nothing to with this temple. The approaching road to this temple complex has two hair pin bends and hence the name Kainchi. The orange coloured temples looked great when viewed from the road at higher elevation.  

Kainchi Temple View


We entered the Binsar forested area by late afternoon. Sheer density of tall trees stopped the sunlight completely. Just before the entry gate to the Sanctuary, we noticed two beautiful looking rest houses named Kalmatia Sangam Himalayan Resort and Imperial Heights respectivly. At the entry gate, we went through the formalities like paying for entry permit valid for three days at the rate of Rs. 150/- per person and Rs. 250/- for the car. The driver was spared of the charges. We had a glance at a small shop named AIPEE selling organic food and cosmetics from Kumaon. We decided to buy something from this shop during our return journey.   
                                                                      
We travelled through the asphalt road within the forested area for nearly half an hour to reach Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Rest house. Checking done, we were given a double Super Deluxe room as per our booking the room on KMVN website, with a nice view of Himalayan ranges and also the view of the huge terraced area on adjoining structure, which is a relaxing place for tourists and for watching the sunrise view in early morning.  

Viewing Terrace, KMVN Binsar

With evening approaching, it was getting very cold. We had some tea at the canteen and walked over the terrace facing the backside fencing beyond which there was a dense forested area. Above the tree level the Himalayan Panorama can be watched seated on plastic chairs. The colourful flowers in the lawns added a touch of grandeur to the KMVN cottages.  We were planning to stretch our legs in the vicinity of the rest house; at the reception we were told, if we hurry, we would be able to reach the Forest Rest House, a short walk, a little beyond which the Sunset Point is located. We reached the Forest Rest House in quick 15 minutes; the bungalow appeared to be deserted.  A little distance towards Sun Point and we froze. Through the trees at a distance the setting sun was in its last few minute’s journey to augur the beginning of darkness. I shot some videos and regretted for not having brought the tripod along. In any case we decided to come a little early the next day to re-shoot the sunset from the actual Sunset Point. Returning, we made some enquiries and found the Uttaranchal Govt. guides were available for taking the tourists on a jungle walk in the day time, at the rate of Rs. 250/- per hour. We decided to think about it the next day.   

The buffet dinner which came along with room rent was a great relief in this forested area with no semblance of any habitation, leave alone a restaurant, anywhere near the guest house.  The tasty fare was mostly vegetarian with an egg curry thrown in for non-vegetarians, including a sweet dish. Returning to room in the shivering cold we planned for the next day’s program of having a sunrise view from terrace and a jungle walk with or without guide.

6th November 2011

We woke up early to watch the sunrise from the rooftop of adjoining structure. Donning all our warm cloths, standing, with a gentle cool breeze sending down chill, we watched the sunrise and the golden – orange hues on some of the Himalayan peaks.  With tripod in place, I had some of the finest video clips through my Handycam. The extravaganza lasted for about 20 minutes. Binsar happens to be a unique place, where the rising sun and the resultant glow on Himalayas, both the spectacles, are available simultaneously. The last minute capture of the rising sum appears to give a sunny smile appearance, akin to the picture of smiley we see so often in web text pages. 

Sunrise View

Sunny Smile - Sunrise at Binsar

After taking the morning tea, coming on the road, we decided to do away with official guide and ventured on our own to Zero Point trail. After nearly 1 km of gentle uphill walk though forested area, we reached a tower like structure built to view the Himalayan panorama. The stone-cement structure was of lesser height than the old painted iron structure. Himalayan view was in no way better than that from KMVN.  

Himalayan View from Binsar

The morning jungle walk was invigorating.  Walking on the rustling leaves on ground, the dense growth of tall trees, the cool shady path is any visitors delight. A few overseas tourists had an official guide with them passed by. They would be exploring much more than what we have so far. 

After heavy buffet breakfast which is included in room cost, we were ready to explore more places nearby in our hired car. We went out from the Sanctuary gate and within Binsar forested area, came to a place full of Fern trees with a signboard indicating Gerar Goludevta Temple. We passed through several red coloured arched gates, climbed on stone steps on a gentle slope. The temple appeared to be constructed inside a huge spherical stone with upper potion given a conical shape with a flag of trident at top, indicating it to be a Shiva temple. Inside the temple, we could see many stone Shiva Lingas with a few photos of Gods and Goddesses.  The temple compound is conspicuous with a huge number of bells and some flags hanging on several locations, which have been the work of devotees who wanted their wishes to be fulfilled.  There was a ritual of animal sacrifice in olden days. Nowadays the animal sacrifice is banned inside the  temple compound but it takes place outside in the jungle. 

Gerar Goludevta Temple

We re-entered the Binsar Sanctuary through the gate and this time took a detour and headed up for some distance to arrive at a huge Khali Estate, which serves another good but somewhat costly accommodation for tourists. At the entry point there is a temple. The garden is full of blooming flowers in front of the main single storied structure. We went through the gate to arrive at a large hall with olden style furniture.  At the back side an open area facing the Himalayas, has tables and seating arrangement for the visitors to relax. The seats are created from a simple cut tree trunk placed around the table. A family was relaxing there. Other attraction of this complex is a children’s park with games, a lawn tennis court and a badminton court, all amidst the forested area. 

Mountain Resort, Khali Estate, Binsar

While retreating to KMVN, we had a visit to Bineshwar Temple. The attraction of the place is large green Bhugyal in the vicinity of temple.  We had a darshan and talk with pujari who stays in a neighboring thatched house. Nearby we observed a cubicle made up of brickwork and cement for storing water flowing down the hills.


Bineshwar Temple, Binsar

Returning to KMVN we straightaway headed for lunch. The buffet lunch which is not part of the room tariff, has to be booked beforehand at an extra charge of Rs. 225/- per person. Evening approaching we made another trip to Forest Rest Hose and Sunset Point. With a lot of time in hand, keeping tripod in suitable location, got some good footages of the setting sun. 


7th November 2011

In early morning we had another view of glorious sunrise from terrace. After breakfast we were hanging around corridor of our room, when suddenly, I caught a young couple, standing near the backside railing of roof terrace, excitedly pointing to something on the boundary wall down below. With digicam in my hand, I rushed and took a few quick snaps of some wild life walking on the fencing. It appeared to be some species of Mongoose. We ran down near the back fencing, to get close view of those animals but they were gone.

Wild life at Binsar


Wild life at Binsar

Coming back to terrace, we spent some time spotting a few colorful birds but they were difficult to capture through the lens. Packing done, we were on the way to our next Kumaon destination Munshiyari.

Binsar visuals as per the captioned link:

Binsar National Park - Flora 

KMVN Binsar Rest House 

Sunrise View from KMVN Binsar 

Gerar Goludevta Mandir - Binsar 

Mountain Resort, Khali Estate - Binsar 

Bineshwar Temple - Binsar 

Sunset Point - Binsar 

......................................


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Bomdila and Tawang - The Exciting Journey



Travelogue on Bomdila and Tawang is based on my diary pages written during my journey through NE India in the year 2004.

Day 12  - 5.4.2004   Journey to Tezpur ( Assam )
The morning was cloudy and it was drizzling. Partho, my nephew saw me off at the Dimapur ( Nagaland ) bus stand where I boarded a bus for Jaklabanda. As our journey began the rain increased in intensity. We cruised along road adjoining Kaziranga National Park. Seated by window side I soaked into the adjoining greenery all along the route. I had a fleeting glance of a grazing deer and also a wild elephant. The bus reached Jaklabandha at about 12.45 pm. I took another bus for Tezpur and checked in at the Hotel Luit. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a TV set in the room. I caught the latest on the first day, second cricket test match between India and Pakistan at Lahore. The lunch of fish curry, dal and rice at the hotel was simply great. In the evening I hit the streets and had a hair cut in a decent looking hair cutting saloon. At Rs. 10/- the price was dirt cheap compared to my home town Mumbai! I booked my ticket for Bomdila by Sumo taxi ( Rs.160/- per seat ) for my next days journey to Bomdila. I bought an alarm clock and some biscuits for my next days journey. Tezpur happened to be sparsely populated, sleepy town in Assam situated on the northern bank of river Brhamaputra and full of greeneries. The air was cool and comfortable even in the month of April.

Day 13 - 6.4.2004   Journey to Bomdila
I started early in the morning at about 6 AM in Tata Sumo along with nine other passengers. The morning was gloomy and cloudy. The car travelling over Brahamaputra bridge offers a grand view of this great river of North-East. At Bhalukpong my entry permit was checked. It is mandatory even for an Indian citizen to have a document called ‘Inner line Permit’ to travel to Arunachal Pradesh. After Bhalukpong the road goes uphill passing through picturesque Tonga valley. The weather improved dramatically there after. When I reached Bomdila by noon it was sunshine all the way. At Bomdila I checked in at Hotel Shipyang Pong. The single room cost Rs. 440/- and additional Rs. 150/- for TV. After taking a large meal of Egg-Vegetable rice, I ventured out. I was no longer feeling tired from the days journey. I hired a Maruti van and visited Upper Monastery and Lower Monastery which are the principal sight seeing places and came back to hotel. The monasteries are called Gompas by Buddhists and have hostels for lamas. I found a group of young lamas in upper monastery playing football and some perched in their hostel rooms were enthusiastic spectators. Situated at 8,000 ft the picturesque town of Bomdila offers lovely views of a typical hilly regions of Arunachal Pradesh. I spent rest of the evening watching test match between India and Pak. The weather was biting cold. I had a meal of noodle soup for dinner and retreated to comforts of bed.

Day 14 - 7.4.2004   Journey to Tawang
I got up at 7 AM after 10 hours of refreshing sleep. Bomdila being at 8,000 ft altitude, the weather was very cold but bearable. I was looking forward to my trip to Tawang. During my journey I will travel through Sela pass at 14,000 ft which is second highest motorable pass in the world. Tata Sumo was on schedule. After leaving Bomdila behind and traversing 40 km, we come to Dirang, a picturesque small village. River Bhairali followed us like a faithful pet all along the route. We came across a small village, where we had our lunch comprising Chapati, Dal and Sabzi. As we resumed journey Rhododendron flowers were in full bloom on both sides of the road. At 12,000 ft the pine trees made their appearance. When we were about a few km from Sela, the patches of snow on road side looked like spilt vanilla ice cream. Sela top being at 14, 000 ft, the weather was biting cold. The mountain around were littered with snow. One got a view of beautiful Lake Paradise down below. Although we did not get a halt, I hoped I would get some chance to do photo shooting on my return journey.

After Sela we passed through Jaswantgarh. We had a fleeting glance of memorial erected in memory of Veer Jawan Jaswant Singh. During Chinese aggression in 1962, Jaswant Singh of Indian armed forces combated the superiorly armed Chinese soldiers for 48 hours before attaining martyrdom. Beyond Jaswantgarh the weather turned foggy and cloudy. It also started drizzling. The valley below was totally obscured. After some time the Sumo suddenly came to a halt. Frowning the driver got down. We were panicky. Car breakdown at this juncture would have brought untold miseries to all the passengers. After inspection , the driver got ready to replace a leaking tyre. We got a few minutes of break. I took this opportunity and ventured out to stretch my legs. The weather was dense with fog. The visibility was poor. It was difficult to see beyond 50 ft. Those driving in the hills needed to be most alert while negotiating those hair pin bends so common. Sumo resuming the journey, we come across lot off yaks grazing nonchalantly across the road. These milch animals are akin to what cows and buffaloes are in the plains. As we approached Tawang my dream destination, once again snow made its appearance on both sides of road. Tawang town situated at 10, 000 ft is a ‘picture post card beauty’, undoubtedly the most beautiful town of Arunachal Pradesh. It is a one street town consisting of shops, hotels, and dwellings of local population who are predominantly Buddhists. Everybody spoke Hindi which was so different from other North-Eastern states of India. My first regret on reaching Tawang was that I could not bring my Pentax SLR camera. My second regret was that I was alone and did not have company to share my joy of having visited the paradise of North-East India. Tawang monastery perched on the nearby hill looked imposing and majestic. After soaking myself fully in the scenic beauty of the place for some time, I checked in at Tourist Hut. At Rs. 400/- I got a room with TV and room heater. The cable TV was not working as there was a power failure. I ventured out to see market place. It was biting cold. Not many people were around. The shops were well stocked with provisions of all kind. People were friendly and cheerful. All restaurants served simple vegetarian cuisine. Near the bus stand many locals youths were hanging around. I made some enquiries for booking a car for sight seeing for the next day. A guy called Tempa agreed to pick me up next morning. Back to hotel, I settled for the night. The firewood burning in drum like room heater with a provision for pipes letting out the smoke and pollutants outside made the room extremely comfortable and pollution free.

Day 15 - 8.4.2004   Sight seeing at Tawang
The morning was cloudy. I felt that it would be another rainy day. The hired Maruti van and driver Tempa a came sharp at 7.30 AM. I was distinctly happy to have a company to share my thoughts in company of Tempa. We started the journey which included visit to Tawang Monastery, Lake P.T.Tso, Lake Pengong Wama, Lake Nakula. The van started its upward climb and gradually the cloudy weather gave rise to sunshine. The Lake Pengong Wama was a really small one of the size of a village pond. The water was crystal clear. The surrounding snow cover gave it a majestic look. Then at 12, 000 ft we came across Lake P. T. Tso. This was a large one and located in picturesque surroundings. Shooting for Hindi film ‘Koyla’ was done partly around the two mentioned lakes. Then we cruised to higher altitudes. It was really becoming biting cold. At 15,000 ft the lake Nakula was really a fascinating one. It was frozen and had a partly snowy look and partly clear glassy look. The temperature in this region certainly goes below zero degrees during night time. The pot holes on the road were filled with broken ice sheets and water. We were the only two souls around. It was calm place with rustling sound of chilly wind. We spend some time savouring this lovely place and thanked Almighty for making this visit possible. Finally we descend and come back to Tawang town. I had a quick snack and coffee at Dolphins. Then we proceeded to Tawang Monastery a 400 year old Gompa one of the best known in India. En route we come across lamas engaged in various activities. The monastery is colourful one and has a majestic look. We went inside to have a darshan of Lord Buddha. The Tawang Gompa houses a beautifully gilded 8 mete high statue of Lord Buddha and a number of equally remarkable idols and murals. Tempa takes his time in offering prayers. While coming back to town we came across lamas studying seriously in front of their school; may be it was examination time! I had the pleasure of taking the snap of a lama teacher who gladly posed in front door of his room. We also found some lamas engaged in road repairing work. Then we proceeded to war memorial which was erected in memory of those soldiers and officers who laid down their lives during Indo-China war of 1962. The memorial is maintained beautifully by the army and name of all martyrs are engraved. Finally we proceeded to Crafts Centre which markets the carpets, shawls and cane items made by local artisans. The tour over I took leave of Tempa who had been such a good company and guide. I had a lunch at a Chinese restaurant ( the only non-vegetarian restaurant in Tawang ) and then returned to hotel. Pleasant surprise! The TV channels were functioning. I started my packing for the next day.

Day 16 -  9.4.2004  Return journey to Tezpur
I started return journey for Tezpur at 7 AM. The weather was cloudy and gloomy. It started drizzling after some time. When we reached Sela pass it was completely a different view. There was overnight snowfall and snow was soft. Passengers had a good time playing in snow during the break. The driver and his girl friend had a fair share of snowball exchanges! The Lake Paradise below was looking as majestic as ever. The journey continued. After leaving Bomdila the jeep came to a sudden grinding halt. In the next few minutes I would be observing what I have heard but never experienced in my life. A land slide in mountain! In about 100 yards in front, I observed a huge boulder rumbling down the mountain and came to rest on the road with thud. Next few minutes smaller boulders and finally small stones came down in showers. After waiting for a full ten minutes, our driver inspected the pathway across the huge boulder and thought there was just enough space left on the road for the Sumo to squeeze through. Thus it was a providential escape! Landslides in mountain takes days to clear and all traffic comes to stand still for days. In the cloudy and foggy weather the drive was slow and torturous. Finally after nearly 14 hours of ordeal I managed to reach Tezpur and checked in Hotel Durba for the night.

( Acknowledgement : The journey to Arunachal ( Bomdila, Tawang ) would not have been possible without the kind cooperation of my friend Amal and his better half Gitashri. In fact Gitashri did all the running about for collecting my ‘Inner line permit’ from Liaison office, Arunachal Tourism at Salt Lake, Kolkata. )


The document ‘Inner Line Permit’ can be had from any office of Arunachal Pradesh Tourism after filling up of a form and attaching a few documents.
At Kolkata
Deputy Residence Commissioner, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Kolkata
CE-109, Sector-1
Salt Lake City, Kolkata
Phone: +91 - 33- 23341243 / 23589865 (F)
How to reach :
Reach Tezpur in Assam by availing air service from Kolkata. From Tezpur travel by Tata Sumo for 6 hours to reach Bomdila and travel another 6 hours to reach Tawang
The best time to travel to Bomdila and Tawang is from April to September.

What to do :
If you are a nature lover you have plenty to look forward to. Take a car and visit those beautiful Buddhist Gompas at Bomdila and Tawang. At Tawang see many beautiful lakes situated at various altitudes; each looking unique in its own way.
At Tezpur : Luit Hotel, the best hotel in Tezpur, tel no. 03712 – 222083 / 222084
At Bomdila : Hotel Shipyang Pong, the best accommodation at Bomdila, tel 03782-22286
At Tawang : Tourist Hut, very comfortable hotel with room heater, tel no. 03794 - 222738
 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Valley Of Flowers – A Memorable Trek In Garhwal Himalayas


The twin destinations of Hemkund and Valley of Flowers, have their base as Ghangaria in Garhwal Himalayas. The tourists visit these places between first week of June and last week of September. Since both these destinations fall on the Badrianth route, a day’s program of Badrinath also gets thrown in. After visiting valley of flowers twice and Hemkund once, I realized that best time to visit both these places differ. Hemkund is seen at its best during the month of June and Valley of flowers between mid-July to mid-August. In other words, ideally, one should not combine these places in one tour. But, one does not want to have a tour too many. My two visits to Valley of Flowers took place in month of June in 2008 and 2009. Not being best time of the year to visit the Valley, it was not disappointing either.

We started from Rishikesh in early morning and arrived at Govindghat by evening traversing some 273 km distance. The next day we had a 14 km trek to Ghangaria (also called Govind-Dham). Arriving at Ghangaria we got holed up at gmvnl guest house since we availed of gmvnl package tour.

The 23rd day of June, 2008 dawned with another bright, cloud-less morning. We took our time and packed our back packs and headed along the cement paved track, crossed the steel bridge over river Laxmanganga, and walked on till the board indicating the direction to Valley of Flowers and Hemkund made its appearance. We veered towards left and came to the check post. The door to the modest office maintained by forest authorities, was just being unlocked by two persons, who were in charge of issuing passes for the entry to Valley. The entry fee costs Rs.50/- and for still camera Rs.100/-. We sat down on the benches across the office as those office people started some repair work to their office entrance. It was good 15 minutes, before we could be issued our entry passes, and we hit the trail. The first impression that hits you, on the stone paved, tree covered track with beautifully maintained railings, is the absence of horse dung, as horses are not allowed inside. The aroma of fresh vegetation in air was evident. As we proceeded the very tall 'jungle rose' bush with profusion of flowers, greeted us. The initial half a km was simple downward trek amidst plants and bushes aplenty; the tall trees stopping the sunlight almost completely, the moist soil and leaves, leave you with a kind of freshness, we seldom find in our cities. As we descended further a roaring sound greeted us. The mountain stream visible at a distance, was to be crossed. About 30’ from the bridge, the track suddenly ended. We simply had to squeeze between huge rocks while going up, sometimes making use of our hand to get a grip. A lone tourist was returning from his early morning trek to the Valley. We carefully crossed over the iron sheets placed over the furiously flowing river Pushpawati, and after a rise of couple of metres, hit the trail for the Valley. 

Make shift bridge
 
The early summer species of flowers ( if you can call it a flower ) to greet us was ‘Cobra lily’, which is green in colour and absolutely resembles the reptilian species.

Cobra Lily
A few Bhoj trees jutted out at regular intervals, with a lot of bark or thin scale trying to separate from mother plant. Our ancestors used the tree skin known as Bhoj patra, to do their writing, when the paper did not make its appearance. 

Bhoj tree
Bhoj Patra
  
We yet again crossed another make-shift bridge over flowing rivulet. The trail there after was stone paved with a gentle upward gradient; the constant roar of the flowing river, among the melting glaciers, kept one company right through. At some point we come across a spot where the river was emerging below a glacier; the glacier extending to the mountain opposite. There was a lot of dust scattered across the glacier, somewhat marring its beauty otherwise.

Glacier on way
 
We came across a glacier right on top of the trail. The forest authorities seemed to have scooped the snow at suitable location for the foothold, big enough for ‘yeti’ to cross over! None the less, one by one, we crossed over. Sandhya took her own time scooping some snow here and there. The trek appeared to be so different from Hemkund trek, in a sense that, one tries in vain to fill the huge void in this part of Himalayas, since the visitors were conspicuous by their absence, at this time of the year. We came across some small scattered flowers here and there, but nothing as significant as we read about.

We took the narrow trail, some time stone paved, sometime over plain soil. The cement based seating pedestals, created at suitable locations, was an ideal for taking a breather. On next one hours leisurely trek we had several snap shots of flowers of species blooming in early summer.

 
                                                      
As we arrived at the valley, the sign board reading Bamandhaula, at 3,450m, heralded the beginning of Valley. The Valley extended further 5 km; which we decide not to negotiate. The narrow trail with both  sides having dense bushes of  plants with exotic names with their sigh boards, like Saussrea fastuosa, Primula Macrophyla, and others, waited for the blooming season in July/August.

We found a small pipe jutting by the side of trail with clear fresh water emerging from it. We drank the spring water to our hearts content and sat down to admire the nature around. The valley itself, flowers, or no – flowers, was enchanting. The dark clouds vying with each other to caress the hills, with a lot of vegetation, was an eye soother. The distant snow peaks, added a grandeur to the valley. The peace and tranquillity of the place was astounding.  A group of villagers passed by; so beautifully blending with the surroundings and make it more lively.


Valley of Flowers - visuals in youtube 

Important information:

1) Valley of Flowers is open to public from first week of June to end September.
2) The best time to visit the valley is between 15th July to 15th August.
3) Be prepared to come across some landslides in Badrinath route in July/August. One or two additional days as cushion could prove to be helpful.
4) GMVNL Ghangaria offers decent accommodation which can be booked online.
                                                             

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Deoria Tal Trek & Unusual Guide


Since 1984, on my Himalayan Treks in Garhwal Hills, I seldom availed of  a guide. My treks were mostly along routes which had religious shrines, a well defined stone paved trails and were trodden by many. A few treks which resulted in routes sans religious importance, along with my small group, did pose some problems. One such treks in summer of 2007, which resulted in our group getting lost and finding our way rather uncharacteristically, is Deoria Tal trek, which is worthwhile recounting. 

We left Ukhimath after offering prayers at the Omkareshwar temple in a colourful compound. The Shiva temple here serves as the seat of Lord Kedarnath during six months in winter, when the snow covers the entire upper Himalayas.

When we arrived at Saari village, the base for the trek, in early morning, not a soul was on the road. Our driver left us at the stone paved trek route starting at the base of a hill. We started the steep climb and got the bird’s view of Saari village after about half an hour. 

Saari Village View From Top

Further ascent brought us to a place where the stone paved road ended but Deoria Tal was not in sight. We simply did not know which way to proceed and were ruing the fact that we did not have a guide. As minutes passed, we were becoming more restless; our goal of reaching Deoria Tal before 8 pm appeared hopeless. In the gloom appeared the sunshine in form of five village women, with sickle in hands, looming on top of the hill. As if understanding that we have lost our way, they waved at us to climb up. We were just immobile and did not realize what to do? Looking our predicament, the youngest one of the women, raced down hill where we were and escorted us to where the group stood. The villagers on a grass cutting mission in the hill, told us the way to the Deoria Tal with a shepherd dog named Kaloo to escort us. We had some photo shoot of five of our pathfinders done before departure with Kaloo the guide posing in the foreground. 

Village Belles - all smiles

Kaloo took off on his own as if it was a normal ritual for him to escort the hapless and lost tourists on way to Deoria Tal. After another half an hour we passed through a mud track full of dense growth of trees on either side and came to an opening overlooking the grandiose Deoria Tal. On a sunlit day, with a gentle breeze blowing, the reflection of green foliages on lake water, with a back drop of Chaukhamba, the Himalayan snow peak looked awesome. The place around was green carpet of Bhugyal, with stone slabs forming a walking path around the lake. This place will rank as one of the finest lake views we have seen in Himalayas.

Deoria Tal Close View

Having spent some time around the periphery of the lake and savoring the Himalayan view, with Chaukhamba peak looming ahead large and gigantic. We ordered for breakfast from the only dhaba in this destination. Aloo Parathas and Maggie noddles compensated for our burnt out calories due to our mornings trek and some reserves for our return trek.

Return trek was no problem this time. Kaloo showed us the way once again, taking us through a stone paved trek route and then disappeared to his destination. We checked with one dhaba en-route to ensure that we did not get lost again. The amby was waiting at the right place to pick us up; the driver realized that he left us at the wrong place to commence our trek. Thus memory of Kaloo our unusual guide for ever remains in our memory, whenever we remember Deoria Tal trek.