The Much-Needed Nature Therapy

Nature’s such that you can visit the same place a hundred times but each time it looks new and completely different. The best part of being in Shillong has always been the impromptu drives I undertake, either with my cousin or with my brother-in-law. I have written several such posts in the past on the various places we have explored.

My being home this time is, however, not the same as other times. My life has been turned upside down in the last one month and I am not sure if those carefree days of being home will ever be back. My personal circumstances coupled with the pandemic makes for a very tumultuous situation this time.

Pic 1: The characteristic clear blue Shillong sky. Potatoes, cabbage, and cauliflower cultivation seen here.

This Sunday we woke up to a gloriously bright and sunny morning. The surprising part was it remained that way for the rest of the day. The light breeze that complimented the bright weather made for a heavenly day. And, if you know Shillong, you can tell that such days aren’t in plenty.

My cousin wouldn’t let such a day go wasted, especially with me being around. Like most people, she loves to drive around the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Getting away isn’t an elaborate affair in a place like Shillong. A 15-20 minutes’ drive is often enough to escape to tranquility, away from city traffic. Shillong has been under very strict pandemic protocols. As a result, cousin wasn’t able to indulge in such drives for quite a while.  

Pic 2: A romantic afternoon of soft Sun, Pine trees, wisps of floating clouds, rolling hills, and green meadows.

My initial reluctance stood no match to her insistence and I just had to give in to her coaxing and cajoling. Glad I relented.

So, late afternoon, well after lunch we drove towards Upper Shillong to one of our favourite spots. We’ve been there multiple times and really enjoy the drive all the way up. Especially that section constituting narrow and winding well tarred roads with forests and meadows on either side. The huge ferns that sporadically hang out right onto the roads is something else that allures us. We are never tired of seeing these ferns, so what if we have seen them hundreds of times.

Pic 3: The fluffy clouds continuously changed shape forming amazing patterns.
Pic 4: The day was so clear that we could see Umiam Lake, which is located in the Guwahati-Shillong National Highway. Do you spot the lake in the picture?

I had been here last year in the month of May and had enjoyed an amazingly resplendent sunset. The sunset this time was good too but not as gorgeous as it was in May. This time, however, there were myraids of flowers in pinks and yellows and whites and purples. These weren’t there last time.

We were quite surprised to find more people than we had expected. Sunday afternoon must be the reason. However, the place didn’t feel crowded and maintaining social distance was easy.

Pic 5: The sky just before sunset.
Pic 6: The sky at sunset.

Basking in Shillong’s unparalleled beauty, we found a place for ourselves in the green meadows where we lay down in solitude watching the bright afternoon slowly and steadily dissolve away.

To Nature – My Best Teacher

Today I was scanning my mailbox, looking for a specific email, when I came across an email I had written to a dear friend. It made me nostalgic and took me back to that rainy morning at my home town of Shillong. I remember exactly the reason why I had written all that to him.

A part of that email I thought I would share here as it reminded me of the fact that Nature is our greatest teacher. Nature has hundreds of life lessons for us, only if we choose to be her students. And, this is just one of those.

So, here it goes – an excerpt from the email that I had written to my friend.

This morning it rained, not heavy rains but good enough to drench you. Other days, I would have happily tucked inside the quilt and gone off to another round of blissful sleep. But today being the last day that I would walk these lovely roads, I stepped out with an umbrella. It was wonderful, hardly anybody around - the usual morning walkers I mean. I had the entire road and all the trees, the flowers, the ferns, and the greenery to myself. On the way back, I sat on a roadside culvert for a while just to soak in the surroundings which I will badly miss in Bangalore. After sometime, I closed my eyes for a while and concentrated on the sounds. The small and large raindrops falling on my umbrella, the birds of various kinds calling out, the brook behind me gushing away....every sound was distinctive, yet like a well-coordinated orchestra. It was music and it was beautiful. Nature is God! My mind was blank and I was thinking of nothing. Then something I had read somewhere about learning from nature came flashing by.....The brook behind me was gurgling away and it was the loudest sound at that point of time forcing my attention towards it. I thought to myself, doesn't it gurgle the same way whether it is a bright sunny day or a gloomy rainy day. What if it would say, "I am not upto myself today, I will not gurgle today. It's a gloomy day, let the sun shine and then we'll see." Shouldn't we strive to be like the brook in our daily lives? Good days and bad days will keep coming and the cycle of life will continue. Does that mean we pause in our path and stop doing what we do?

As I read this, I thought to myself if at all I practiced what I had preached. A few moments of deliberations and I think I do, but sometimes not always. The roller-coaster of a ride that life is, I hope I will remind myself to be resilient and patient like Nature is – always and NOT sometimes!

Seven Days of Paradise at Kashmir Great Lakes

“Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto, hami asto!” – Amir-e-Khusru Dehluvi                    

[If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!]

Long walks through colourful flower-embroidered meadows punctuated by gorgeous alpine lakes; frequent hopping through boulders small and large; sporadic companionship of sheep and goat along with shepherds, and quite often migrating shepherd families; obtaining permits at the Army Camps; and all through being in a dream-like state of disbelieve spellbound by this heaven on Earth!

That’s how I would describe Kashmir Great Lake (KGL) in a nutshell.

Besides, it was quite thrilling to imagine being so close to Pakistan!

I have already written two posts on this trek – one on the lakes and another on the meadows. This one is a day-wise description. Here’s the links to the other two:

Day 1: Sindh River and Thajiwas Glacier at Shitkadi

Situated just a few kilometres ahead of Sonamarg, we arrived at Shitkadi after a drive of about 4 hrs from Srinagar. Shitkadi was our basecamp. The Sindh River and Thajiwas glacier amidst the lush green surroundings served as the perfect trailer to the gorgeous beauty that we could expect to unfold in the days to follow.

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Pic 1: Shitkadi campsite with Sindh River flowing by against the backdrop of Thajiwas glacier.

Day 2: Bhoj Trees on Way to Nichnai

Technically we started the trek on this day as we walked towards Nichnai, our first campsite. The initial few hours consisted of an arduous climb as we huffed and puffed towards a place called Tabletop. Being breathless is normal as we had just started walking and our bodies was just getting used to it. At Tabletop, we rested at a Dhaba run by a Kashmiri couple. The omelettes, tea, bread, biscuits, and munchies gave us the much needed energy to continue with our walk.

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Pic 2: As we proceed upwards away from Shitkadi

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Pic 3: Sheep grazing on lush green meadows, note the shepherd huts in the distance.

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Pic 4: A shepherd couple beside their hut at Tabletop

Through a lovely dense forest of Maple trees, we soon landed on a carpet of green lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch. The bark of these trees were used by Rishi/Munis in ancient India for writing and that ensued excited chit-chatter in the group. I couldn’t resist the urge to carry back a tiny portion of the whitish brown bark to show folks back home.

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Pic 5: As we proceed towards the meadow lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch.

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Pic 6: Just look at that! This was at Tabletop, hundreds of sheep dotting the green carpet.

We proceeded and walked precariously through a section of rocky terrain with Nichani Nalla gushing by as if in great hurry to join Sindh River. The rocky terrain gets abruptly replaced by a green meadow and after crossing that we reached Nichnai. It started pouring the moment we landed at Nichnai. Thanking our lucky stars, we rushed into our tents and remained there for the next one hour as the rains continued to splash.

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Pic 7: The rocky terrain alongside Nichnai Nalla, note the people blending into the surroundings.

Day -3: Vishansar – The First Lake

This was a very special day as we encountered the first lake of the trek – Vishansar. We started by crossing a nalla (stream) by hopping through stones and then walked  through a beautiful lavender meadow towards Nichnai Pass or Vishnusar Berry. At an altitude of 13,500 ft., Nichnai pass remains surrounded by jagged tall mountain peaks and the climb to it is not an easy one.

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Pic 8: The beautiful lavender meadow on way up towards Nichnai Pass.

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Pic 9: Just before the steep climb towards Nichnai Pass.

After a well-deserved rest, we descended from the pass through a tricky rocky terrain and landed onto stretches of grass with red flowers springing on our path. Thereafter, we encountered two more nallas, a big waterfall splashing down the mountain cliff, an utterly green meadow devoid of flowers and a certain stretch of heaven-touching barren tall mountains looking down upon us. It was the fag end of monsoon, so we didn’t see much snow, though snowfall would start off soon.

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Pic 10: At Nichnai Pass – silent conversations of sharing without talking bound by mutual feelings of divinity and grace. 

Just before arriving at the campsite, we crossed a rather wide nalla by hopping over stones. The campsite is situated on the base of a small hill, on the other side of which lies Vishansar Lake – my favourite lake of the trek.

Day 4: Colourful Meadows Make for a Pretty Day

This was the longest and prettiest day as we moved towards Gadsar Pass, the highest point of this trek at an altitude of 13,800 ft. We started off with a gradual ascent leaving behind Vishansar and went right up to Kishansar, which is the second lake of the trek.

After Kishansar the trail became very steep, challenging us both mentally and physically. The narrow muddy strip that we climbed for almost 2 hours to reach Gadsar Pass was very strenuous. Thankfully it was a sunny day, I can only imagine the scenario on a rainy day. The magnificent view of the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar greeted us at the Pass, which instantaneously dissolved all pain of the arduous climb.

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Pic 11: Huffing and puffing through the narrow strip towards Gadsar Pass. Phew! It was tough.

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Pic 12: Just turn back and you have all the motivation to make through the arduous climb.

An equally steep descent through loose mud and scree followed. My descending demons started raising their ugly heads but this time I had made up my mind to tackle them head on. And I surprised myself by actually descending without any help and quite fast with a little bit of downhill running too!

We found ourselves at the meadows even before we knew it and in we were for a visual treat of red, blue, purple, and yellow, meadows. Every turn threw up a different colour and these multi-coloured meadows just continued one after the other for 2-3 hours. A fellow trekmate rightly commented – “I can imagine little girls walking ahead of us with  baskets of colourful flowers sprinkling them on our path.”

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Pic 13: The meadows to die for – pictures don’t do any justice as you can imagine

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Pic 14: Red, yellow, white, purple, and multi-coloured meadows, a different colour at every turn.

The meadows slowly give way as we crossed yet another nalla and landed at Gadsar Lake – another pristine and gorgeously elegant lake. I ranked it as my second favourite though many in our group thought Gadsar was the best lake. After spending a good amount of time at Gadsar, we continued our walk once again through the colourful meadows towards our campsite.

We arrived at the campsite just after crossing an Army campsite – the first one in the series of three along the trail.

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Pic 15: At Gadsar Campsite. Horses make their way home as the lights fade, at least 50 of them

Day 5: A Glimpse of Nanga Parbat

It was an adventurous start to the day when we had to take off our shoes and wade through knee deep ice cold waters of a gushing stream. This was followed by a very steep ascent. We were off from the normal route as the snow bridge that is used to cross the stream had broken. Nothing alarming as that’s not an unusual thing for this time of the year.

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Pic 16: Taking on the icecold waters and navigating underlying slippery stones

On this day, we walked through a never-ending lush green meadow that went on and on. There weren’t many flowers on this one but it was lined by variegated barren undulating mountains on one side and sheep grazing in huge numbers almost everywhere. Sheep and shepherd are common all along the trail but this one was special because the huge stretch of green meadow was literally dotted by these grazing fluffs of white balls.

Somewhere on the way, we  were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Nanga Parbat even though the sky was not all that clear. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world located in Pakistan, the visibility of which depends on the weather.

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Pic 17: The unending meadow dotted with clusters of grazing sheep was nothing but sheer delight. My phone camera was not equipped to capture Nanga Parbat that we saw somewhere here.

At the end of the meadow, we climbed a hill to report to Satsar Army Camp. After the Army Camp, we walked along with huge flocks of sheep and goat, maneuvering large boulders and reached Satsar Lakes. We were able to see three of the seven Satsars, one at each turn of the winding mountain trail.

That night the sky broke down into heavy showers that continued way into the morning nearly messing up our plan for the day but before that it rewarded us with a magical view of the Milkyway.

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Pic 18: The flocks of sheep and goat that walked alongside us at Satsar.

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Pic 19: At Satsar campsite. There was no Sun for the entire day yet a visual treat at dusk and then it poured through the night that continued way into the morning.

Day 6: A Risky Boulder Hopping

We almost thought we would have to stay back at Satsar campsite. It was 8.00 AM and the rains showed no respite. Heavy rains are no fun in the mountains especially when it continues incessantly. Around 9.15 AM, the Rain Gods showed some mercy and the showers lightened till it ceased altogether. We packed up and started moving around 10 AM, which was a good two hour delay from our planned time.

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Pic 20: The risky boulder hopping section, the picture doesn’t capture the magnitude of difficulty.

The highlight of this day was hopping through a boulder section that constituted large boulders, some of which had good enough gaps in between. This tricky boulder section lasted for a little over an hour and was an Adrenalin rush for everyone in my team but not me. The boulders were wet due to overnight rains and that didn’t make life any easier for us. My legs wavered and I was very scared. I literally clung on to our guide for the entire section and somehow made it through.

Boulder hopping is common in KGL trek but this one was risky. In fact, on 3 days of the trek we had a horse accompany us, which was the designated ambulance for any uncalled for situations of twisted ankles or fractured legs.

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Pic 21: The steep descent through sharp stones from Zajibal Pass demanded focus & concentration.

Beyond the boulder section, we maneuvered mild and steep ascends and arrived at Zajibal pass. Once again, we were swept off our feet by the glorious views of the twin lakes of Nandkhol and Gangabal against the backdrop of Harmukh Peak.

The descent from Zajibal Pass was very steep and stony demanding a lot of caution and focus. One misstep could result in serious injuries. As we descended, Nandkhol and Gangabal appeared closer and closer, but they were still far away. It took us another 2-3 hours to arrive at Gangabal first and Nandkhol after that.

Day 7: Descending Through Slippery Muddy Trails

This was supposed to be a rest day, however as a team we decided to not take the rest day and instead carry on towards Naranag. This was the last day of our KGL Trek.

Through steep and gradual ascends and descends, and passing though meadows, we arrived at the final Army Checkpost. Thereafter, we walked through a well-marked trail passing through traces of civilization, and arrived at the point where the final descent begins. This descent was literally back-breaking and a killer on the knees.

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Pic 22: Climbing down the steep trail that was slippery and muddy due to rains took a toll on our knees.

We had just started descending when the weather that was by our side all along decided to turn against us and it started raining quite heavily. No complaints as it was the last day and we didn’t have to bother about wet socks and muddy shoes. However, the difficulty we now encountered going down the muddy trail, is just anybody’s guess! The thick Pine forest all along could not do much to protect us from the rains. The descent seemed to take forever as we had to tread slowly and cautiously.

Drenched and tired with jittery knees we finally arrived at Naranag, which is a tiny little town separated from the forest by Wangath River, a tributary of Sindh River. With the trek coming to an end, we celebrated with a quick lunch, and drove off to Srinagar.

Note: Once again these are unedited pictures clicked through iPhone-6. For exclusive pictures of the lakes and meadows, look up the links provided at the beginning of this post.

My Very Personal Opinion on KGL

The KGL trek entails very long walks, it isn’t difficult but the long days of endless walks through meadows, boulders, and moraines does test your mental strength and perseverance. The breathtaking landscape keeps you engaged and does a great job of diverting your attention all through.

However, there exists predictability in the exquisitely beautiful surroundings that you encounter each day and this may sometimes lead to monotony. I felt this was the flipside of KGL, which is unlike all the other Himalayan treks I have done so far. This became more pronounced for me as I had been to Rupin Pass just three months back where there were surprises at every turn.

Take this as no discouragement though as I am quite certain there is no match for the awe-inspiring rustic vistas of KGL. And if you are a nature-lover like me, this trek is an absolute must do.

The Army Camps

Gadsar – This was a small Army Camp in the form of a hut, housing a handful of Army Men. Our National Flag fluttered proudly at one end. We had to provide our original identity proofs and the detail of everyone crossing the camp were checked and recorded. This also included questions on where we were traveling from, what job we did, etc.

Satsar – This camp was small also but was larger than Gadsar. It is situated on top of a hill, and quite a climb it was. When we arrived, a large crowd of migrating shepherds with their families were also waiting to cross over. Some groups were moving with their horses, there were about 40- 50 horses. Then there were others with their flock of sheep and goats and these were huge groups probably in hundreds. We learnt that the horsemen have to wait longer as each and every horse is checked thoroughly before being allowed to pass. It’s easier with sheep and goat as only their owners need to pass the security checks. It’s the common man who always ends up paying the price.

Before Naranag – This camp was larger and much closer to civilization. There wasn’t any detailed interrogation here. We just had to provide our identity proofs, no interrogations.

 

 

 

Deepor Beel – A Morning Done Right

“We’ll leave at dawn”, announced my brother-in-law (BIL) in his usual style as we were getting done with dinner. BIL and I are partners in crime when it comes to exploring nature and have our tiny little adventures each time we meet in my hometown, Shillong. This time we were at Guwahati, about 100 Km. away from Shillong as I had accompanied them – BIL and cousin sister – for some work they had in the city.

Whenever in Guwahati, BIL never misses an opportunity to visit Deepor Beel, which is quite understandable given his hobby of bird watching and bird photographing. It was my demand that he takes me along sometime, which he was acceding this time.

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Pic 1: Fisherman are already way into their day’s chores even as morning just breaks in

I was up before dawn. The anticipation and excitement of going for an early morning drive was incentive enough to get me out of the laziness of a cozy bed on a chilly December morning. It was Christmas Eve and the dip in temperature was as expected.

Soon we set off towards our destination, which was a good 45 minutes away. We drove along the well tarred road with easily navigable twists and turns, chit-chatting in the warm coziness of the car accompanied by a light music in the background. The darkness of the night was gradually fading away with the sun peeping in the horizon spreading its soft and warm glow.

A perfect start to the morning it was!

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Pic 2: The sun peeps through giving way to morning light

Located in the south western part of Guwahati city, Deepor Beel is a freshwater lake that is surrounded by highlands on the northern and southern side. The word beel means lake in the local Assamese language while dipa means elephant in one of the indigenous dialects. So, Deepor Beel literally translates as Lake of Elephants.

With a total area of 40 sq.km, it is considered to be the largest lake in Brahmaputra Valley and is fed by Kalmani and Basistha Rivers. A part of the lake has been declared as a wildlife Sanctuary and that is where we were headed that morning.

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Pic 3: A tiny island of a place somewhere in the vast lake

As we drove along, I noticed the lake making its appearance on the right side of the road illuminated by the soft rays of the morning sun. We parked the car and stepped out when I noticed a railway track right in front of us just on the other side of the road. So focused I was on the lake that I hadn’t noticed the railway line until now.

I wondered just how nice it would be to see a train pass by and instantaneously, as if by magic, along came a train chugging away. Taken by sheer delight, BIL and I cheerfully waved at the passengers and made our way towards the lake.

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Pic 4: The train that delighted us

The beel is a natural habitat to many varieties of birds and aquatic vegetation like water hyacinth, aquatic grasses, water lilies and other submerged and floating vegetation. On the entrance was a signboard that mentioned about the lake providing direct and indirect livelihood to fourteen indigenous villages comprising of about 1,200 families that are located in its precincts. Woah! Quite a number I thought!

Another signboard mentioned about this being an elephant corridor making me wish to see a herd pass by right then, which sadly didn’t happen.

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Pic 5: Aquatic vegetation submerged and floating

At the lake, I stared at the vast expanse of water trying to figure out if I could see land at the horizon; I watched the fishermen diligently cast their nets every now and then, wondering what kind of fishes they were catching; I followed BIL trying to make sense of the various birds he was photographing while he tried explaining some of the species to me; and most of all I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the early morning hour with nobody other than the two of us.

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Pic 6: The train line continues as a bridge on one side of the lake

With our Christmas Eve started right, we soon headed back home where my sister greeted us with warm tea and hot breakfast.

Leaving you with pictures of Kites, Swallows, and Herons that BIL clicked that day.