Chasing Ruins – Hutridurga

“Look at all the people here!”, I directed my comment to R as A chuckled away. The place wasn’t crowded but we encountered several groups of people all through the way. Two days back when we were planning this R was reluctant to give me the name of the place saying that I would just blog about it and make a less frequented place popular. Well, R had forgotten that there aren’t many hidden places anymore.

Pic 1: That’s Uttari Betta or Hutridurga. Look at the refreshing greenery, all thanks to the monsoon.

Bored with the monotony of being home, I had reached out to two of my friends and we decided to go on a day hike in the outskirts of Bangalore. It’s been raining almost everyday in Bangalore. Keeping that in mind we wanted to go somewhere nearby. R recommended Uttari Betta and that was it.

Pic 2: A proper road leads up to the base of the hill but we parked the car well ahead and decided to walk.

Uttari Betta, also known as Hutridurga, is a fortified hill about 70 Km. away from Bangalore. Situated at an altitude of 3708 feet above the sea level it overlooks several villages all around. The village located at the immediate foot of the hill is known as Santhepet while It derives its name from Hutri, a village about 3 Km away from the hill. Hutridurga is one of the Nava Durgas (nine fortified hills) that was built by Kempegowda, who founded Bengaluru in the 16th Century. Later Tipu Sultan used this fort as his military bastion against the British.

Pic 3: It was a lovely day, the ever-changing cloud patterns making it all the more beautiful.
Pic 4: Remnants of the fort remain scattered at various places.

We left Bangalore early and drove through a scenic stretch of road with Savandurga looking out on us most of the way, sometimes from the right side and sometimes from the end of the road. Though we woke up to a rainy Saturday, the weather had become perfect and remained that way for the rest of the day.

Upon reaching our destination, we were welcomed by an arched gateway that welcomed us to Hutridurga Trek. It appeared like a Karnataka Tourism board. We alighted from the car and pretty soon realized that wasn’t the starting point. A little bit of asking around and we found our way to the actual start point, which was a good 2 Km drive away.

Pic 5: A quick pose with ‘A’. There are several doorways all along the hike, this was right at the start.
Pic 6: ‘R’ and I steal a moment at the top of the hill.

It was a very easy hike to the top. In many places there were steps craved out on the rocky surface, making it even simpler though robbing off its natural appeal altogether. Probably done for the villagers who hike up to the temple situated on top.  As we started the walk, I was surprised to see two families with little boys and girls coming down. While it was nice to see adventurous parents, I wondered if I would have done the same. I don’t think I would have quite dared, especially with the pandemic being far from over. The worst part was nobody was masked. And that was true for most of the groups we encountered all along. The only masked people were us.

Pic 7: In many places ‘R’ and ‘A’ created their own route, rather than follow the trail. I couldn’t master the courage to follow them though!
Pic 8: Some good candid shots. Byproduct of hiking with a professional photographer, which happens to be ‘R’.

The total distance of the hike is about 5 Km. up and down. We took our own sweet time to climb up, stopping or sitting wherever we felt like. Ruins of the fort lay scattered all around. We passed through a couple of enchanting stone doorways, some of which had interesting engravings. There were six doorways in all. Most of the times R and A would steer away from the actual path and find their own routes. On one such occasion R got badly stuck in a precarious position from where neither could he climb up nor climb down, making me more than a little nervous. It took him sometime before he could figure a way out.

Pic 9: The temple at the top. In front of the temple is a clear pool of water known as ‘Dodda Donne’, which means big spring. Painted on a rock beside the pool is a large sign that reads ‘Danger’ leading us to assume that the pool must be deep.

The views from the top are just as stunning as one would expect. The cloud patterns on the sky on that day made it even more beautiful. Savandurga was standing out and was clearly visible from the top. The temple on top is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The three of us spent some wonderful time soaking in nature’s splendour while munching on the sandwiches and fruits I had carried for us. It was a good break after a very long time.

My Maiden Bike Trip With a Trek

I have to admit that I was slightly anxious as R sped through the narrow empty road that morning. The sun wasn’t up yet, and the air was chilly. The early morning breeze inundated my entire being, which was quite pleasing to my senses. A mixed feeling of joy wrapped in a little bit of apprehension was perhaps how I felt then. R had planned everything and I had no clue where we were headed. All I knew was we were out to trek somewhere in the outskirts of Bangalore.

It was the month of December, 2020, when R came up with this idea and I was going to be his partner in crime. We were to travel in his bike and this was going to be my first long drive on a bike. Quite naturally, I was a little nervous. My bike rides have always been within city limits. Well, there’s a first time to everything. Besides, I had to have faith in R, who extensively travels in his bike and has even been on off-road biking trips to places like Leh-Ladakh. R is an avid trekker too. In fact, R and I met during Rupin Pass Trek and ever since we’ve been very good friends.

Pic 1: That’s Kabbaladurga – the monolith we climbed.

The Ride

Off we went through crowded city roads and busy highways, stopping for a snack here and there in roadside eateries. We passed through charming quaint villages with cute little lovely homes. In some places, those meandering roads with gorgeous scenery unfolding at every bend was just picture-perfect. At one time, we even took a wrong turn and travelled for 9 Km. through a broken road passing by bushes and wilderness, with not a soul in sight. Needless to say, we panicked a bit and the entire stretch was filled with anxious moments. Being adventurous by nature helped at that point and finally we made it through. Overall, we did have a wonderful time.

Pic 2: L-Somewhere on the road; R-A hut at Kabbala village

The Trek

Kabbaladurga is a beautiful little hillock, nestled somewhere in the rock-strewn slopes of the Kanakapura mountain range. The monolith hillock is located at Kabbala Village, about 80 Km. away from Bangalore. The initial stretch of the climb was easy as we maneuvered our way through tall grasses, bushes, shrubs and trees with boulders strewn here and there. There was a flight of steps too, carved out somewhere. R, however, decided to follow the trail through the wilderness instead and that’s not surprising at all.

Pic 3: The initial section of the trek was easy as we walked up though the wilderness.

We climbed at our own pace and took frequent breaks enjoying the splendid view of the surrounding hills and lakes that progressively got smaller as we climbed higher. R is a photographer by profession. Hence, many of these were photo-breaks. Sometimes, I would surge ahead only to realize that R was left far behind.

Pic 4: L-The greenery was slowly giving way to the rock-face; R-Just after descending.

Everything was fun till we reached the rock face of the trek towards the end, which was almost a 70-degree climb. This section was tricky and wasn’t easy. Some places had indentations to enable a proper grip on the rock-face, some had hand railings too. Even as I concentrated on the climb, my mind worried about the descend through those steep sections.

Pic 4: The rock-face precarious section. Guard rails and indentations were present only in some places, not everywhere.

A temple dedicated to Goddess Kabbalamma is located on top. Villagers regularly climb up to pay their obeisance to the Goddess. During our climb, four villagers passed us. They were bare-footed, and the climb seemed like a piece of cake to them. Parts of a ruined fort also exists alongside the temple on top. After spending some time on the peak, we descended. My descending demons, as always, took no time to make their ugly appearance and trouble my mind. I needed a helping hand from R, especially at the rock-face section of the trek.

Pic 5: L-A water pool at the top; R-The temple was a slight descent away on another side.
Pic 6: L-Clicked somewhere midway through the climb; R-A quick phone break at the top.

The River

After lunch at a roadside eatery, we rode around the countryside for a while and then visited Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Here we spent sometime relaxing at the banks of River Cauvery. The sanctuary authorities bothered us about permissions, but we did manage to find a spot where we wouldn’t be discovered. I had been here just a few months ago and had waded into the waters. This time the river had swelled, and we had to contain ourselves only at the bank. R even managed to take a quick nap. I had no intention of closing my eyes even for a second and missing the magnificent view of the river.

Pic 7: Us and River Cauvery

The Sunset

On the way back, somewhere on a random bridge over a waterbody, we witnessed a glorious sunset. Couldn’t have asked for a better end to the wondrous day! We reached home late night after having covered nearly 250 Km.

Pic 8: The splendid sunset.

The First Day of 2021

An unplanned visit to Horsley Hills

It was the first day of 2021. We didn’t have any definite plan unlike every other year when this day would effortlessly sequence into our elaborate year-end travel or trek. Times are no longer the same and the first day of 2021 was just another holiday at work. My sister and I were not in Bangalore though. We were at a small town called Madanapalle, situated in Andhra Pradesh but just about 125 Km. away from Bangalore, spending the last day of 2020 at The Satsang Foundation.

A friend happened to mention that Horsley Hills was close by and we could go visit it. I knew about this place but didn’t know that it was located very close to Madanapalle. A quick googling and yes, it was just about 27 Km. away. So off we went to explore Horsley Hills. Happy that we were doing what we love doing on the first day of the New Year.

Named after W.D. Horsley, a British collector, Horsley Hills constitute a series of hills located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. W.D. Horsley had built his home at this place, possibly because of the cooler temperature compared to the hot and dry surrounding. Located at 1,265 m. from sea level, Horsley Hills is fondly referred to as ‘Andhra’s Ooty’.

The driver of our rented car informed that we should have planned an early morning visit as that’s the time for the best views from the top. We agreed but that wouldn’t have happened as we had other plans for the morning.

As we approached the entrypoint, we were greeted by cops who stopped our car and thoroughly checked everything we carried with us. It being New Year, the authorities were extra vigilant. Also, we could see dozens of bikes parked all over. I recalled a friend mentioning that Horsley Hills was an ideal place for bike trips. Soon we learnt that bikes were not being allowed past the gate on that day. In all selfishness, the prospect of lesser people up in the hills delighted us quite a bit.

As the car slowly made way through the well-paved and winding road the surrounding hills and valley looked breathtakingly beautiful. Huge rocks and boulders of various shapes and sizes interrupted the lush green hills. The naked rocks and boulders seemed to be in perfect harmony with the strikingly divergent green foliage. In some places, the well-tarred road barged through jungles of tall trees unabashedly intruding nature’s personal space. Soaking in the freshness, I lowered the car window and looked up at the blue sky sharply contrasting with the various shades of green. The first day of 2021 felt perfect.

Gali Bandalu or Wind Rocks

This is the most frequented place at Horsley Hills. Gali Bandalu literally translates as ‘Windy Rock’ and that’s exactly how this place is with strong gusty winds blowing all day long. It’s a single huge hill rock that slopes very gently into the valley. One can easily walk down the slope for a significant distance before it drops while enjoying unhindered views of the surrounding hills as strong winds keep you company. We were not wearing appropriate shoes and hence didn’t dare to walk beyond a certain point. Though we had taken off our shoes, we had to exercise extra caution walking bare foot lest we stepped on something undesirable.

The Microwave station located near Wind Rocks is supposedly one of the oldest Microwave stations. We discovered a trail beyond the Microwave Station and climbed up a relatively easy rock face. The wind was gustier here and there was nobody other than the two of us. Our new year was certainly made!

We missed the View Point, which was supposedly behind the Governor’s Bungalow, but didn’t feel too bad about it.

Kalyani – The Eucalyptus Tree

A 150 year old Eucalyptus Tree with a height of 40 m. and a girth of 4.7 m. is situated inside Van Vihar Park and is said to be the oldest Eucalyptus Tree. Wrapped in layers of stories and history this tree was planted by W.D. Horsley himself.  Located behind a forest bungalow inside the park, we could locate the tree only after asking around. This is no ordinary tree, it won an award too as was mentioned in a board displayed against it.

Pic 4: Kalyani, in all her glory.

Besides Eucalyptus, Horsley Hills also boasts of Silver Oak, Mahogany, Coffee, Jacaranda, Allamanda, Gulmohar, Red Sanders, and Sandalwood.

Van Vihar Park also houses a mini zoo with some birds, deer, monkeys and crocodiles. It also has a viewpoint. We were here, however, only to see Kalyani.

Gangotri Lake

We wondered why this name, which conjured up images of the Himalayas in the far North. Also, we remembered spotting at least one more lake, then why does this one have a name? Is it because it seemed to be larger? No answers to our questions. And, the lake with its still green waters, soaking in the warm sunlight peering through thick foliage, couldn’t care less. Later we got to know that the other lake we had seen is known as Mansarovar.

Pic 5: That’s Lake Gangotri.

Horsley Hills also has a couple of temples. So engrossed we were in the natural surroundings that we decided to skip the temples.

The best part about Horsley Hills is that all the places of interest can be visited by walking as everything is within a radius of 2 Km. It has the best recipe for a one day trip from Bangalore.

Pic 6: A beautiful shimmering lake we came across somewhere while driving back to Bangalore. Maybe this one deserves the name Gangotri or Mansarovar!

A Small Hike and a Soothing Afternoon

It was the month of February. The pandemic was already in the air, just that we didn’t know much about it.  The world at large wasn’t much affected till then. I received a call from a friend who informed that he had taken a sabbatical and planned to go to his hometown in Kalimpong. And, that he wanted to spend some time travelling in the North East. Back then neither he nor I had any idea that God had other plans and his sabbatical would not serve its due purpose. Before leaving Bangalore, he wished to go for a day hike somewhere in the outskirts of the city.

Achalu Betta

The following weekend, we were on our way towards Achalu Betta. Another friend had joined in and so it was the three of us. Achalu Betta, also known as Muneshwarana Betta, is a small hillock located in a sleepy village known as Achalu (‘Betta’ is a Kannada word meaning Hill). Just about 57 Km from Bangalore, this village has a temple that’s situated on the hilltop. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muneshwara, a form of Lord Shiva.

Pic 1: A ‘Nandi‘ idol at the hilltop overlooks the village.

Once we reached the village, it took us a little while to figure out the way up the hill. We could see a portion of the temple and a set of stairs going up but we had no intention of taking the stairs. There were not many people around to ask for help and not knowing the local language was another handicap. After a little deliberation, we did manage to find a trail that would take us up. A little more than an hour and we were up after a steady climb of about 3Km. The sun was shining bright making it a little tiring but the lovely panoramic view of the surroundings terrain more than made up for it. Also, there was nobody other than the three of us. It couldn’t have been better.

Pic 2: A villager with his bullock cart going towards the cultivation field located closeby.

Muthathi

After a quick lunch somewhere in a roadside eatery, we went towards Muthathi, a settlement located about 100 Km. from Bangalore.  Muthathi is situated on the banks of River Cauvery and remains surrounded by a dense forest, which is part of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. As the car speeded towards the sanctuary, the surroundings gave way to a fresh and verdant green. Tall trees of various kinds lined up both sides of the road against a backdrop of low lying green hills. Needless to say that it was an enthralling drive with dense jungle on both sides of a neat and well-paved straight road.

But the peace and tranquility of this stretch didn’t last very long. Soon we reached the riverfront only to encounter a chaotic situation. Hordes of people were all over the place cooking, eating, and merry making. They looked like people from the nearby areas. Though there were families and children, the crowd didn’t feel very decent. Feeling awkward and out of place, we left the place. We got to know only later that it was a festival day for the local people.

Pic 3: The calm and serene River Cauvery, though the water level was low at that time.
Pic 4: Another picture of the soothing river water.

A little ahead, we found a quiet place by the river. Excited, we parked the car and headed out to the river. Locating a nice spot, we opened our shoes, dipped out feet into the cool and soothing river water. In less than 10 min, a forest guard appeared from nowhere asking us to leave immediately. Apparently people are allowed only in the picnic spot that we had just left behind. Our attempts to convince him went in vain and we had to leave.

Pic 5: My friend goes scouting for a place deep enough to swim.
Pic 6: The afternoon was hot but the water was cool and this place had fishes swimming all over.

Further ahead we located a place that looked like a government guest house. Eager to spend more time in the river, my friend promptly went in to seek permission. He was told prior booking was mandatory. However, a little bit of convincing worked in this case and they allowed us to spend time beside the river though it was chargeable.

Once again, it was just the three of us. We had the soft flowing Cauvery just to ourselves. We spent a leisurely afternoon. While I chose a flat rock and sat there dipping my feet, both my friends swam around in the water. The afternoon slipped by as tiny fishes nibbled at my toes and soles. Evening descended sooner than we thought and it was time to leave for Bangalore.

Pic 7: The three musketeers in one frame!

Momentary Meets to Lifetime Memories

The noisy bunch of over-enthusiastic friends from Poland that we kept bumping into at every tea house, quite a botheration they were! The huge group of nearly 50 people we crossed twice on the way and had to step aside to let them pass. The warm smiles of the two Japanese girls we often found sitting around the bends taking a tea break, every time we eyed their beautiful flasks. The two German men we ran into every now and then until they decided to introduce themselves, leading to small conversations each time we met. The petite Chinese girl who was perennially rushing but never missed talking to us – in her own language while we replied in English, we communicated without understanding. The two Korean girls with whom we shared a room at the base camp, who spoke English enabling some interesting conversations.

These are some of the people from different parts of the world we met during our ABC Trek, last year in October. I clearly remember so many of those faces, some leaving impressions deeper than the others. I wonder how all those people may be coping with the Covid-19 situation. I wonder if everything is fine with them. There is no way I will ever know.

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Pic 1: When we arrived at our destination.

A big aspect of travel for me has always been the people I get to meet and connect with. Of the several people I met during the ABC Trek, the following need special mention.

Trekker Daddy

“Does that look like a baby carrier basket?”, I asked my sister. Curiosity had me striding a little faster. The basket looked fancy and the man carrying it, dressed in typical trekker attire. So, wouldn’t be a local. It was the second day of our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek and we were climbing through one of the steeper sections of the trail when I saw this man several feet ahead of us. As I drew closer, my doubts gave way to confirmation. It was indeed a baby carrier! The man was carrying his 3-year old daughter as he trudged towards the mighty eight-thousander. He was with his wife and three children aged, 12, 7, and 3. The family had traveled all the way from Shanghai.

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Pic 2: Trekker Daddy with his little girl. I clicked this picture with his due permission.

Trekking with a 3-year old in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Things like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), sudden weather changes, are for real. Well, I am sure they would have thought through all of that and were well prepared. They did, however, gather quite a bit of attention all the way. Every other trekker seemed to be talking about them and as one would expect everyone had some opinion or the other. While some hailed them for being brave others thought they were being irresponsible. I was too stunned to have any opinion. We met the family at several junctions during the trek and each time I envied the fun they were having and all the memories they were creating together.

Septuagenarian Trekkers

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The septuagenarian trekkers reiterated Mark Twain. Janette and Joe caught our attention on the trail one day. The cute couple was sitting on a rock and taking a break while munching on chocolates. Later, we caught up with them at the two tea houses where we stayed together. They were well into their 70s, had come all the way from the USA, and were trekking in the high altitude of the Himalayas for the very first time. Their agility, enthusiasm, and zest for life was infectious. They could easily give all youngsters a run for their money.

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Pic 3: With Janette and Joe at the ABC Base Camp Tea House

Then we met John, who was also from the USA and was traveling with his wife (a septuagenarian too) along with a group of family and friends. John proudly announced that he was “Seventy plus Four years old”. People like John, Janette, and Joe are astoundingly inspirational. They go on to prove that trekking and hiking has a lot to do with mental strength, which is just as important as physical strength.

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Pic 4: With John, somewhere on the trail. (Note: Do not judge the bag in my hand, it is a disposable garbage bag and not plastic.)

When I interacted with these elderly people, I couldn’t help but think about my parents, especially my father who belongs to the same age group. I am certain they would have loved to do something like this, but it’s simply inconceivable for them. In fact, I haven’t seen many Indians in that age group trekking or hiking.

However, one thing I know for sure – if I am to live up to a 70 and beyond, I’d better be someone like Janette!

Some Mornings are Magical

The morning sun mildly breaks through the cracks and lights up the dirt path. Dry Pine needles scattered on the ground crackle under our feet. We don’t feel any wind but the tall Pines swish-swash compelling us to stop intermittently to gaze up and look at their canopies. A distinctive aroma fills in the air – the sweet organic fragrance of Pine forests. Colourful butterflies hang around our way as well-orchestrated bird songs flow in from every direction.

Even today I can clearly feel the unparalleled soul soothing peace of those mornings in the Pine forest.

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Pic 1: As we enter the forest.

Morning walks and Pine trees are things that I associate with my Shillong home. Shillong mornings are synonymous with morning walks. I had written about that before. (here)

Last year, this time I was at my Shillong home. I was there for the whole of May and a part of June. Every day would inadvertently begin with those ritualistic morning walks. Most of the days those walks would happen in the Pine forest, just about 1-2 Km. away from my home. The forest has always been there, and I have passed by its periphery countless times but had never ventured into it. Back in the years Shillong was consumed by ethnic violence and such kind of adventures were unthinkable. My cousin, who introduced me to this enchanting place, had discovered it quite recently.

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Pic 2: Somewhere on the trail, we would cross a fallen tree trunk.

There was a simple routine to our Pine forest ritual – I would walk to a certain point where my cousin would join me. We would then walk into the forest, spend about an hour or so and then go back to our respective homes.

In the forest, we would leisurely walk through the undulating trail for about 3 Km. upto a certain point. Thereafter, we would retrace our path and walk down through a narrow passage to a bowl-shaped glade that was cordoned off in one part of the forest. There the forest floor would be blanketed by a thick carpet of crisp brown Pine needles. Could we resist laying down in a place like that! Time stood still as we would gaze into the deep blue sky that was visible in patches through the oscillating canopies of the lofty Pines. The forest felt mystical and spellbinding as the swishing canopies rustled gently, nudging, and coaxing each other. Breathing in the sweet aromatic fragrance of Pines needles, we often felt a sense of kinship with the elegant Pines. We and the Pines and everything else seemed to be in a perfect harmonious blend.

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Pic 3: As we watched the swishing canopies laying on the forest floor.

Sometimes we would play some light music on our phones while watching the trees rhythmically dance away to our music. My cousin would often come up with her own theories of how the trees might be gossiping about us – humans, maybe they are chit-chatting about their families, or maybe discussing the well-being of their kids – the Pine cones, maybe they’re just chilling with our music. Those were freeze frame moments when life felt flawless, moments where we could remain forever and ever.

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Pic 4: At the bowl-shaped glade with cousin and a friend from Bangalore, who had visited Shillong during that time.

Some days, we would climb up a steep slope in the forest. It wasn’t an easy climb by any means as we would keep slipping through the dry Pine needles strewn all over. However, all the trouble was worth it for our sweet spot on top, which was a huge rock shaped in a way that gave the feel of a couch or a bean bag with the perfect backrest. We would sit there listening to the birds as the trees would dance away in a world of their own. Down below through the thick foliage of greens and browns, we could spot tiny roads and tiny houses. The forest felt like where we belonged, it comforted our hearts, and it would take quite an effort to get up and leave. This we usually did on weekends as it would take up more time.

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Pic 5: Our sweet spot, the huge rock with the perfect backrest.

If things would have been normal and there would be no Covid-19, this is exactly what I would have been doing every morning at this time, this year too.

Three Friends, A Lake, & A Monolith

“Hey, I’ve been here before!” I exclaimed excitedly as my friend slowed down the car and then pulled over. The still blue pool of water glistened in the afternoon sun like a piece of jewel in the crown of the surrounding greenery. It looked just the same as I had seen it 8 years ago – nestled right there down below amidst the green hills.

It was a Saturday when I was out on a long drive in the honour of my cousin, S, who was visiting me all the way from Shillong. The car belonged to a childhood friend, G, who also lives in Bangalore now. Our long drives together date back to Shillong during our college days when we would do the same in G’s Maruti 800. Yes, this drive was an attempt of recreating memories of the past.

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Pic 1: Manchanabele Lake as I had seen it 8 years back. Savandurga hill is seen in the background.

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Pic 2: Manchanabele Lake as I saw it today in 2020

It was a little before noon when we started from Bangalore and had no specific place in mind. While on the way, we decided to go to Savandurga, which is considered among the largest monolith hills in Asia. Driving in the outskirts of Bangalore is sheer pleasure. Well tarred roads in most places, intermingling green hills and valleys, sporadically dotted with rugged barren rocky hills, lush forests, and quaint hamlets.

The pool of water that we found on the way was Manchanabele Dam, which is a reservoir built across River Arkavati. Also spelt as Arkavathy or Arkavathi, it is a tributary of River Cauvery. About 40 km. away from Bangalore city, it is a man-made dam built mainly for the purpose of irrigation. After clicking a few pictures, we decided to proceed towards our destination and come back before sunset. A few meters ahead, we found fresh fish being fried and sold in makeshift shops. We helped ourselves on my cousin’s insistence and then proceeded to Savandurga, which was about 14 Km away.

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Pic 3: At the lake 8 years ago. This plank is no longer there and the lake looks a lot different today.

The sun was at its peak and it was well into afternoon when we reached Savandurga. Any other day we would have climbed up the hill but we were late and weren’t prepared in terms of clothing and shoes. We spent some time in and around the hill exploring the temple at the base of the hill and the surrounding grassland. Thereafter, we set off to catch sunset at the dam.

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Pic 4: A part of the monolith hill, Savandurga, behind the remains of a temple

Driving an additional 9 Km after taking two wrong turns, we arrived at the dam just before sunset. As we were about to turn the car onto the narrow muddy road going towards the lake, a guard appeared from nowhere saying public entry into the lake is prohibited. My argument of having been here a couple of times before fell on deaf ears. After a while he said he would let us go in if we pay Rs. 200.00. After haggling for a bit, we paid the amount. G asked for a for a receipt, which he obviously refused. So, it was a bribe – we are guilty.

G carefully maneuvered the car downhill through the broken and muddy road littered with small and big stones. Near the lake we met a family who had also paid bribe to the guard. We shared our apprehensions of doing something illegitimate. The ban apparently was implemented two years back after a series of drowning incidents when people attempted swimming in the water.

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Pic 5: The gorgeous sunset at the lake.

Soon the colour of the sky started changing with rich hues of reds blending with oranges and crimsons. Our guilt and apprehensions were completely forgotten as our collective focus was unknowingly directed towards the yellow ball of fire that appeared to change scenes every second. Within a few moments the show got over. We bid goodbye to our momentary acquaintances and retraced our path to the car. As we drove back, S and G sang medleys of popular Bengali Tagore songs (Rabindra Sangeet) all through the way making for a soothing end to a beautiful day.

Mt. Annapurna – Up Close and Personal

Contd. from Annapurna – The Journey Begins

There had been no more rains since last evening and clear blue skies greeted us in the morning. The Sun was shining up in the mountain tops but was yet to reach the valley, where Bamboo, our tea house, was located. As a result, it was cold at Bamboo.

Through the Bamboo Forest

After breakfast, we started off for the day. The walk through the forest continued. This time, it was a dense and damp forest dominated by Bamboo trees. The Bamboo Forest was even more beautiful and enigmatic than the forest we had walked the day before. Not surprising, I found myself completely lost in a world of my own.

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Pic 1: The enchanting Bamboo Forest

The trees and shrubs, the bushes and creepers, the roots and leaves all seemed to be interacting with me as though telling me unknown tales of their mysterious wonderland. Each and every leaf exuded radiance, shimmering in the morning freshness. The renewed sparkle can be well attributed to the rains that had happened the day before. “Don’t they seem to have just stepped out of a beauty parlour, massaged and manicured with some essential oils,” I remarked. My sister gave me a scornful look, rolled her eyes, and walked on.

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Pic 2: Somewhere in the Bamboo forest

Dovan to Himalaya

Enjoying every bit of the walk we leisurely reached Dovan, the next tea house where clear views of Macharepuchare peak greeted us. We took 2.5 hours instead of the expected 1.5 hour to get here. Thanks to our frequent stops in the forest to admire the flowers, caress tree trunks, marvel at the leaves of various shapes and sized, inspect the moss-covered boulders, etc. What’s the hurry! Somewhere we even crossed a stream through a rickety broken bridge.

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Pic 3: Precariously crossing the rickety bridge over a stream.

The forest continued beyond Dovan and soon we hit upon a relatively wide footpath that can be well described as the rustic version of a cobblestone pathway. At the start of the pathway a notice was displayed with clear information about maintaining the sanctity of the place as a highly revered temple lay ahead in the forest. Soon, we landed at the temple. It was a Shiva and Parvati temple. A tall jagged mountain stood behind the temple adorned by a cascading waterfall that spread across the breadth of the mountain.

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Pic 4: The rustic version of a cobblestone pathway

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Pic 5: The notice displayed on a tree about a kilometer before the temple.

Beyond the temple was a steep set of stairs that continued all the way almost upto Himalaya, the next tea house. The stairs were well defined at the beginning only to be replaced by rustic boulders later. At Himalaya, we took a tea break. Dark clouds filled in the sky and it started drizzling. We slipped into our rain jackets and continued walking.

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Pic 6: The Shiva-Parvati temple with a waterfall cascading on the mountain behind it.

Gray Langurs at Hinku Cave

The climb continued after Himalaya but the forest started slowly thinning out. Multiple waterfalls strewn here and there from the mountain tops drained vertically down into Modi Khola that thundered somewhere in the deep gorges. In some places the trail was very narrow and we had to be cautious with our footing. In all such ascends, I would mostly be alone as my sister walked slowly way behind with Amar, our guide.

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Pic 7: The bunch of Gray Langurs at Hinku Cave

After sometime, a short but very steep climb got us face-to-face with a huge overhanging rock. This was Hinku Cave. All over this huge rock, were a large number of Gray Langurs – young and old, babies and families. We paused for a while to watch the over-energetic playful bunch hopping around before continuing our walk towards Deurali.

Surrounded by Waterfalls at Deurali

Soon we spotted the tiny blue tinned roofs of the tea houses in the far distance. Finally, Deorali was in sight though it was still quite a walk away. Simultaneously, Modi Khola made its grand appearance gushing away in leaps and bounds through the gorge. After a while we crossed a bridge and yet another set of steep stairs stared at us that would take us up to Deurali – our stop for the day at 3230 m.

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Pic 8: When we first saw the Himalayan Sunflower just before Deurali

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Pic 9: Crossing over Modi Khola just before arriving at Deurali.

We reached Deurali in the afternoon. The sun was shining bright when we arrived, but it lasted just for 10-15 min. No complaints, as it was enough to dry our partially wet clothes. There were several waterfalls all around us – in the valley in front and the tall mountain behind. We couldn’t enjoy the view for long as thick fog descended and progressively it got very cold. However, the evening sky was kind enough to put on a show of some gorgeous display of colours breaking the monotony of the drab foggy afternoon. A peak in the surrounding mountain resembled Lord Buddha’s face and we got to see that only the following morning, all thanks to the fog.

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Pic 10: Numerous waterfalls trickle from the mountains all around Deurali tea house. 

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Pic 11: The evening sky puts up a show of colours breaking the monotony of the drab foggy afternoon.

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Pic 12: The Information Board at Deurali looked good and was worthy of a picture.

Her Very Own Flower Garden

As we left Deurali, we stepped into a valley guarded by tall mountains on both sides. The morning was cold, and the sun was yet to reach the valley. We passed through few easy ascents and descents through the rugged trail with Macharepuchare staring at us from the right. The familiar fish-tail shape was missing and I could not recognize the peak until Amar pointed it out.

After a while a picturesque sight greeted us. The snow-clad Gangapurna made an appearance at the horizon glowing with the first rays of the sun even as the valley still remained in shadow.

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Pic 13: Gangapurna glows with the first rays of the sun while the valley is still in shadows.

Gradually, the valley opened up and we walked through a flat stretch of winding trail as Modi Khola gushed away right beside us. After the forest, I fell in love with this section of the trail. The entire area was carpeted with multitudes of unique flowering plants. The bushes on either side were sprinkled with yellows and purples and whites and reds. Every few steps we were compelled to halt, not just for admiring the colours but the shapes and structures of the flowers. This place felt like Mt. Annapurna’s personal patio, a place she personally nurtured. No other explanation seemed plausible enough to justify such divine beauty.   

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Face-to-Face with Macharepuchare

A relatively steep trail started soon after the flower garden. After about an hour or so, we reached the Macharepuchare Base Camp (MBC), at an elevation of 3,700 m. It was a bright and sunny day. The sky was azure blue but some frivolous floating clouds appeared from nowhere and decided to spoil the show. On one side was the pointed-tipped Macharepuchare and on the other side Annapurna South. The clouds flirted with the both the mountains leaving us high and dry with only occasional glimpses. After a cup of tea, we headed towards our final destination – ABC.

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Pic 15: A quick glimpse of Macharepuchare before the clouds came in.

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Pic 16: A glimpse of Annapurna South from MBC

Towards Annapurna Base Camp

As we started climbing up towards ABC, the floating clouds got thicker. The blue sky disappeared and everything around us was completely white-washed. A strong wind started blowing and it was getting really cold. Slowly and steadily we climbed up the winding pathway greeted by meadows, flowers, glacial streams. We could see only our immediate surroundings, the thick white blanket allowed no more.

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Pic 17: A herd of sheep laze around just as we started climbing towards ABC while the clouds start slowly moving in.

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Pic 18: Towards ABC while the surroundings are slowly and progressively whitewashed.

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Pic 19: Just before ABC, Annapurna-I and the tea houses are seen in the background. This was clicked when we were leaving, the weather was clear that day.

It was no different even an hour and half later when we arrived at Annapurna Base Camp. We could see nothing at all, which was disappointing to say the least. And, we all know how adamant clouds can be in the mountains when they arrive in the later half of the day. We made peace, oblivious of the miracle that would unfold a little while later.

Continue Reading In the Lap of Mother Divine.

Annapurna – The Journey Begins

In Anticipation of the Mother Divine…

The Magic of Annapurna

The grandeur of Annapurna Massif makes Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek one of the most sought after Himalayan treks. This moderate level trek entails a stunning journey bringing you face to face with the majestic Annapurna Massif in a very short span of time. The Annapurna massif includes the world’s 10th highest peak, Annapurna-I or Annapurna main. At 8091 m., the unforgiving Annapurna-I has the highest fatality ratio among the 8000 m. peaks across the world. It also holds the distinction of the first eight-thousander to have been scaled. The other peaks are in the range of 6000-7000 m. and consist of Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Machhapuchchhre, Gangapurna, and a few others.

Among these, Machapuchare or the ‘Fish-tailed Mountain’ holds a special place because of its unique shape and exquisite beauty. It is believed to be one of the homes of Lord Shiva and is revered by the Nepali people. Also known as Matterhorn of Nepal, the sacred Machapuchare has not been officially summited as it is not permitted by the Nepal Government.

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Pic 1: The golden peaks of Annapurna-I at sunrise

My interest of trekking ABC finally culminated this October. I have already written a post on my soul-touching experience of the magnificent peaks at ABC. Click here to read.

Here’s a detailed account of my journey.

The Bumpy Jeep Ride to Nayapul

Tossed and turned and churned I tried my best to focus on the greenery all around me. Travelling on a bumpy off-road in the back seat of a Tata Sumo is not the most comfortable experience, if you know what I mean.

The bumpy muddy road did everything to make sure that a part of my attention remained on it even as my mind and heart was captivated by the surroundings. Winding roads snaking through tall green hills and deep valleys, clusters of tiny colourful houses nestled erratically on the green slopes, quaint tea houses intermittently scattered alongside the dusty road, sporadic areas of lush green pastures separating the road from the hills, terraced cultivation here and there up in the hill slopes, the meandering Modi Khola (Khola means river in Nepali) playfully appearing and disappearing, sudden gushing waterfalls cascading from nowhere making a noisy pool of water on the road before flowing off on the other side.

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Pic 2: Tall green hills, terraced fields, and clusters of village homes nestled here and there.

We were on our way from Pokhara to Nayapul, about 43 Km. away, to start our trek to ABC. The road from Pokhara is paved until Ulleri after which it’s just a dusty track that seems unfit for any vehicle. From Ulleri, one can take various routes to arrive at the village of Chomrong, beyond which the route is common upto ABC. The route is decided mostly based on the number of days one has at their disposal. The trek can take between 6-10 days on an average. After Ulleri, it is a common sight to find trekkers walking through the muddy stretch, lugging their small and big backpacks.

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Pic 3: A quaint village home, notice the beehive made from a tree trunk just below the roof.

Climb to Chomrong via Jhinu

It was a little past noon when we arrived at Nayapul. A quick lunch and we were set to hit the trail. Our destination for the day was the village of Chomrong, via Jhinudanda.

Initially we walked through a near level ground with only negligible ascent and descent. The trail passed through dense vegetation on either side with views of green mountains interspersed with terraced fields and village homes. Soon we reached New Bridge, beyond which is Jhinudanda – commonly called Jhinu. New Bridge is a metallic suspension bridge that runs for nearly a kilometer. I normally don’t suffer from vertigo but on this bridge I found myself feeling a little unsteady each time I looked down. The fact that it vibrated with the number of people walking on it didn’t make things any easier and I tried my best to cross over as fast as I could. On the other side of the bridge, a flight of stairs greeted us that took us to Jhinu.

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Pic 4: The metallic suspension bridge that was a little unnerving.

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Pic 5: A closer view of the same bridge, clicked from the other side.

We didn’t take a break at Jhinu and continued towards Chomrong, little knowing that the entire trail constituted of rustic stone steps. Soon after, my sister started complaining of indigestion and feeling unwell. We rested for a while, she took some medicines and we continued. My sister was very slow and I was finding it difficult to keep going at her pace.

Day-1 in any trek is usually tougher as the body is still getting used to the new situation, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. Our guide, Amar, was with her and hence I continued walking ahead. Very soon I was way ahead and couldn’t see them.

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Pic 6: The climb just starts with the steps from Jhinu to Chomrong.

After a while, dark clouds came in and it started drizzling. I had forgotten to keep my raincoat in my day-pack. It remained in my main bag, which was with Amar. The rains intensified. I tried to take shelter underneath a huge rock but the rains splashed me anyway. This rock was on a turning and I couldn’t see beyond. Realizing it was no point waiting, I decided to keep walking ahead. Just a few steps ahead, I could see a small restaurant. And, luckily enough that turned out to be the starting point of Chomrong village – our destination for the day at 2700 m. I waited here for Amar and my sister. By the time they arrived, the rains had stopped. We climbed a few more stairs and soon landed at the tea house that was booked for us.

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Pic 7: Annapurna Range as visible from the tea house at Chomrong.

The rains resumed in the evening and it continued pouring off and on. The snow peaked Annapurna Range remained shrouded by fleeting white clouds. As I went to bed that night, I thought to myself it would be a good idea to be up around midnight when the clouds would most likely clear up and the mountains would be visible. However, I slept through and when I woke up it was well past midnight. The first thing I did was to lift the window curtains and peek outside. And Ah! There it was – the glamorous snow laden peaks as though eagerly waiting to greet the dawn. I looked at my watch. It was 4.00 AM. I could easily distinguish the triangular Macharepuchare but wasn’t sure of the other peaks. It was not until breakfast that Amar helped identify the other peaks as Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, and Gangapurna.

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Pic 8: This is what we wake up to, from the window of our room. R-L: Macharepuchare, Gangapurna, Annapurna South

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Pic 9: Annapurna South from the terrace of the tea house. 

Into the Forest towards Bamboo

Our trek for the day started by climbing down a series of steps that seemed to continue forever. We learned it was a series of 2500 steps and along with that knowledge came the not-so-comforting thought that we would have to climb up the same on our way back. The entire ABC trail is like a roller coaster ride, all you do it go up and go down with only very few level walks. Somewhere we crossed the office of Annapurna Conservation Area Project where our permits were checked. Thereafter, we passed through trails overlooking terraced fields, crossed over another hanging suspension bridge over a deep valley, and climbed through some uneven rustic stone steps as we headed towards Tilche and then Sinuwa – Lower Sinuwa and Upper Sinuwa, the last village enroute ABC. Annapurna-III was visible from some places while Machapuchare kept us company all through.

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Pic 10: The smaller metallic suspension bridge beyond Chomrong towards Sinuwa.

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Pic 11: A closer view of the same bridge.

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Pic 12: Macharepuchare gives us company all along, providing the much needed motivation for the steep climbs.

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Pic 13: Finally Sinuwa is here.

After taking a break at Upper Sinuwa, we moved towards our last stop for the day, Bamboo. The trail started with a thick forest dominated by tall Oaks. There were Rhododendron, Bamboo, and few other trees as well.

Forest trails are my eternal favourites, where I always find my imagination running wild. The trees and the bushes seem invitingly mysterious as though dozens of invisible eyes are scrutinizing my every move. And, I walk along building my own fantasy world of fairies and witches. Sometimes I blend in and feel one with them, at other times I feel I am encroaching upon their secret and sacred territory. Complementing the overall forest charm was the gurgling sound of Modi Khola flowing alongside that could only be heard but not seen and the twittering birds, calling out occasionally in a variety of melodious tunes. All of these were interrupted by one large and several small waterfall.

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Pic 14: The amazing forest trail begins.

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Pic 15: A waterfall in the forest.

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Pic 16: The steep flight of stairs descending to Bamboo.

A steep descent for about 30 minutes, somewhere in the forest and we reached Bamboo at 2,145 m., after covering a distance of about 8 Km. from Chomrong. Almost immediately the rains started and we were thankful for arriving just in time.

Bamboo was bustling with trekkers it being peak season for ABC trek. We got to know there was no space for us, even the benches in the dining room were taken. Amar made a quick call to Dovan, the next tea house about an hour and a half away. That was fully occupied too. Amar recommended we have our lunch while he figures a way out. After waiting for close to 2 hours, Amar informed that he had finally managed a room, much to our relief. He had struck a deal with one of the tea house owners who agreed to give us his personal room. I have no idea where Amar or the tea house owner slept for the night. My repeated probing with Amar yielded no results.

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Pic 17: And we finally arrive at Bamboo.

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Pic 18: Ponchos and raincoats drying in the tea house add a dash of colour to the rainsoaked evening.

By dinner the rains had stopped and the skies were clear. As expected, we woke up to a bright and sunny day.

Continued here

In the Lap of Mother Divine

Just two more days to go and the discomfort in my body with the fever and its associated symptoms were still going strong. The frantic visits to the doctor, the dengue scare, concerns from friends and family were making me nervous and adding to my stress. On D-day, I just took the leap of faith, trusted the doctor’s words and went ahead with my flight to Nepal. I was still unwell and here I was off to Annapurna Base Camp, on a trek to see the mighty Annapurna massif constituting some of the most dangerous peaks in the world.

I made a deal with myself. I am not going to push myself, if my health doesn’t permit at any point of time, I would just retrace my path. At least I am getting to visit Nepal, a place I hadn’t been to before. And, most importantly I wasn’t alone, my sister was with me. With all that uncertainty, and the Nepal Airlines flight being delayed by 5 hours, we reached Kathmandu at 1.00 AM. And, with a bus to catch at 7 AM there was hardly any time to rest.

However, as my mom had predicted, by the time I boarded the bus for Pokhara I had forgotten that I was ill.

In the following days we walked through scenic villages experiencing the local culture, through deep green valleys, and dense and damp jungles with the various peaks of Annapurna playing hide and seek till we reached our destination – Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).

It was the time of Durga Puja, the most important festival time for Bengalis. Five days of festivities to celebrate the Goddess’ arrival on earth (her paternal home) along with her children. On the 3rd day of Puja – Mahasthami, considered to be the most important of the five days, we arrived at ABC. Ideally, I should have been home with my near and dear ones celebrating the Mother Divine. Yet, I was far away from home, in the lap of the Himalayas. However, I did celebrate Mother Divine in the form of Annapurna – the Goddess of Harvest, who is just another form of Ma Durga.

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Pic 1: Everything was whitewashed when we arrived at ABC.

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Pic 2: At the same place as as the previous pic on the next day

When we reached ABC, late in the afternoon, we could see nothing. Everything was whitewashed by a thick layer of fog that lay between us and the mountains. We knew the mountains were just behind the thick white curtain but we saw nothing at all.

Was there any chance of the cloud clearing later on? “No”, said our guide, “Not until tomorrow morning.” We made peace, had lunch and headed to the viewpoint nevertheless, which was just a 5 min walk from the tea house. It was quite cold and nothing was visible with the clouds still forming a barrier between us and the mountains. We walked around marveling at the various memory stones and plaques commemorating fatalities of the climbers.

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Pic 3: This is what we saw when we went to the viewpoint.

The mighty Annapurna massif has some of the most dangerous peaks in the world. Annapurna – I stands at an elevation of 8,091 m (26,545 ft) and is the 10th highest peak in the world. This unforgiving mountain also carries the legacy of the first eight-thousander peak to have been scaled.

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Pic 4: Our first view of Annapurna-1 around 5 PM when the clouds decided to gave way.

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Pic 5: Machhapuchchhre or Fish Tail mountain in the evening with Gangapurna peeking on the left.

I looked at my watch and it was a little after 4.30 PM. With the cold getting worse, there were only very few people at the viewpoint. My sister and I decided to sit quietly with our eyes closed for a while and then leave.

After 15-20 min., we opened our eyes and were stunned by what we saw. The clouds had moved, the sky was blue, and the 360 degree panoramic view had miraculously opened up. This was unbelievable. We hadn’t expected this at all. Dumbfounded, we found ourselves desperately looking all around – what if the clouds decided to come back!

The peaks around us constituted Annapurna-I, Annapurna South, Annapurna-III, Machhapuchchhre, Hiunchuli, Peak 10, Gangapurna. The view remained for a good 20 mins before the clouds started taking their positions once again. The mountains seemed so close that I felt I could touch them if I extended my arm.

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Pic 6: Annapurna South and a part of Annapurna-I, seen from the Tea House just before dawn.

At night, just after dinner, the sky was clear studded with millions of stars. The moon was bright with full moon just a few days away. The mountains glittered in the soft iridescent rays of the moon. The view was nothing but ethereal. Never had I seen such tall mountains from such close quarters lit up by the moonlight. It was one of those times when I missed having a camera. My mobile phone could not capture a thing.

We didn’t stay out for long though as it was extremely cold and we wanted to get to bed early in order to wake up early for sunrise on the mountain. Assured of having a great view the next morning with the sky being clear, we went off to a blissful sleep for the night.

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Pic 7: The molten gold peak of Annapurna-I at sunrise.

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Pic 8: The molten gold peak of Annapurna-South at sunrise.

Sunrise was just as gorgeous as I had expected. The peaks of Annapurna-I and Annapurna South looked like molten gold. It was magical. The Sun seemed to be waking up with utmost delight, putting up a show of painting the peaks for all the curious onlookers. The peaks seemed to be indulging the Sun like a mother reveling in her child’s playful activities. No words can do justice to the breathtaking view. The moment lasted for 6-7 mins and this was one of the most beautiful sights I have witnessed in my life so far.

All along I found myself profoundly thanking the majestic Annapurna for all the divinity I was experiencing.

Click here for a more detailed post on my experience of the ABC Trek.

Note: Pictures are unedited raw photos, clicked by iPhone 6.