Travelling is a Lot of Fun – Until it isn’t…


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The world of Social Media is flooded with cool travel pictures from across the world. Pictures that make you want to want to pack your bags right away and get into that gorgeous beach to watch the sun go down, trek through the meadows and jungles to reach the supposedly secluded mountain peak, dive into deep blue pools at the base of the tallest plunge waterfall, bungee jump off the highest cliff, or simply stare at the milky-way dazzling in the middle of the night. While many of these may be slightly exaggerated, they aren’t false. Travel does lead to such unique wonderful experiences creating a lifetime of beautiful memories.

However, not everything about travel is hunky dory, not all travel memories are fun. There are tonnes of unpleasant things that happen during travels, more so when on offbeat, adventurous, and budget travels. Nobody talks about them, they are things best forgotten. Afterall, we tend to remember all good things from the past rather than the not so good things. It’s not uncommon to deal with things like falling sick, unclean toilets, long waits at transits, cancelled or missed flights or trains, undesirable fellow passengers, getting injured, sudden political unrest, delayed or lost luggage, no mobile network, the list can go on and on. Any one of these or a combination of few has the potential to completely mar a travel experience.

Despite being an avid traveler, I have had several situations where travel felt no less than a torture. Here I share three of those.

Chemical Burns

Yes, you read that right! It was peak monsoon during the month of October and I was in Goa during an extended weekend with a friend and my sister. We were at Palolem beach in South Goa on a day when the rains poured incessantly. Not to be perturbed by the dismal weather, we set out walking along a lonely stretch of the beach towards a point where the sea meets the backwaters.

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Pic 1: Palolem Beach on a rainy October day

After an enjoyable ride in a boat through the mangroves in the backwaters, we were walking back when we spotted a series of colourful boats set in a row towards the periphery of the beach. Drawn towards them, we went and happily perched on the boats oblivious of the fact that those boats were coated with some chemical that contained acid. The boats were kept there for drying. There was no warning sign anywhere.

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Pic 2: The attractive colourful boats at Palolem Beach

After a few minutes, we felt a sticky substance on our back. My sister immediately went to the resort we were staying at and changed into a fresh set of clothes. I didn’t. Being completely drenched, I thought I would dip myself into the seawater and get rid of the sticky substance. I felt some discomfort on my back but didn’t pay any heed to it. It wasn’t until midnight that my sister and I discovered we had blisters all over our buttocks and in certain areas on our thighs. My condition was far worse that hers.

Coming back to Bangalore was a pain that I am never going to forget. It took me nearly two weeks to heal and the treatment had to be done with utmost care as chemical burns can easily get infected.

Allergic Reaction

This happened to me on two different occasions. The first time in Kanyakumari when I did not know I was allergic to certain types of seafood, including prawns. I gorged on a plateful of prawns and had a lot more than I usually do. The others thought the prawns weren’t cooked well enough. I had their share too!

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Pic 3: Viveknanda Rock at Kanyakumari, where Swami Vivekananda had meditated for three days.

When in the ferry towards Vivekananda Rock, I started wheezing. Thinking that the cold wind of the sea was getting into me, I didn’t bother much. Once in Vivekananda Rock, my face swelled beyond recognition forcing us to get back to mainland immediately. A few doses of Avil, an anti-allergic tablet, helped arrest the situation. I spent the rest of the holiday with a swollen face with eyes that were nearly shut.

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Pic 4: Notice my swollen face (right)

Another time, while returning from a trek, I was bitten by certain insects leading to a severe allergic reaction. This time, I had an Anaphylactic Shock – a life-threatening situation – and had to be rushed to the hospital ICU immediately. It’s by God’s grace that I am here today to tell the story. [More on that story here.]

Marooned in a Beach and then Getting Lost in a Jungle in the Dark

It was about 7 years back when I was visiting Gokarna with a bunch of friends. At that time Gokarna was relatively unknown and didn’t get many visitors. We had hired two autos to go to a place called, Paradise Beach. We had no clue where this beach was or if such a beach even existed. There was no Google Maps, no smart phones.

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Pic 5: The so called ‘Paradise Beach’

The auto drivers duped us and took us through a jungle dropping us in some isolated place far away from civilization saying that was Paradise Beach. We could see no beach but could hear sounds of waves crashing somewhere down the hill. We climbed down the hill maneuvering tall bushes only to find ourselves on huge boulders amidst thousands of crabs.

One of us was smart enough to note down the auto driver’s phone number. Or else, I have no idea how we would get out of that place. Now, why the auto driver’s left us at an isolated place is anybody’s guess!

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Pic 6: The trail through the jungle, clicked during the day, where we got lost at night.

On the way back, it had gotten completely dark. We had to make our way down a hillock following a trail through a jungle for a distance of about 2 Km. to reach Kudle Beach, where our resort was located. No motor vehicles could pass through that part and it had to be traversed on foot. We weren’t prepared for the dark and didn’t have torches.

All we had in the group of seven of us was two working phones, the batteries of which were nearly draining. The rest of the phones were completely out of charge. The friend leading the group down took a wrong turn and we soon realized we were lost in the middle of the jungle. To make matters worse, the two working phones went out of battery. After panicking for a while, we had no choice but to carry on walking following the sound of the waves. Once again it was by God’s grace that we made it alive to our resort in pitch darkness.

Would you like to share your not so good travel memory(s)?

A Monochromatic Day at East Sikkim

Touristy Yet Breathtaking Tsomgo Lake

As the car climbed up through the winding mountain side, the charming scenery all around suddenly gave way to monochrome. The sudden transition caught us off-guard leaving us tad surprised even though it had been raining off and on for a while now. The day had started bright and sunny but now the sky was overcast. The tall mountains on either side of the tarred road were cloaked in patches of white and grey.

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Pic 1: The monochrome surroundings 

We had arrived at Gangtok the day before with plans of visiting North Sikkim. However, leaving Gangtok without visiting the touristy Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass would be sinful – so what if these places are located in East Sikkim! Hence, off we headed towards Tsomgo Lake. Nathula Pass hadn’t opened for the season even though it was the month of April. Last winter was harsher than usual resulting in the Pass being still closed due to snow.

Situated at an altitude of 12,313 ft, the oval shaped Tsomgo is a glacial high-altitude alpine lake. Spread over 1 Km. with a depth of around 48 ft., it is also known as Changu Lake. The lake is considered sacred and located about 35 Km. away from Gangtok. The colour of the lake changes in different seasons and it is said that the spirituals gurus of Sikkim would predict the future of the state by studying the colour of the water. Due to its proximity to China, Protected Area Permit (PAP) is required to visit this place.

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Pic 2: The oval-shaped Tsomgo Lake as seen from a distance.

The lake looked stunning even though it was teeming with tourists. It was partially frozen making it even more enigmatic and magical. A large part of the surroundings was also wrapped in snow. The spectacular beauty of the lake enticed us but the swarm of people all around was quite a turn off. Tsomgo Lake being a popular tourist destination in Sikkim, the crowd wasn’t surprising and we had expected this. A small bridge connects one side of the lake to the other. We walked over to the other side. One can also avail yak rides to go to the other side.

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Pic 3: Notice the tiny people scattered like twigs all around?
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Pic 4: A prayer wheel breaks the monotony of black and white.
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Pic 5: Tourists ride these yaks to move around the lake.

After a short walk by the side of the lake, the touristy selfie-clicking chattering people got the better of us and we decided to leave. Instead we found a quiet place higher up in the mountain by the side of the road that provided a perfect view of the lake. And there we feasted in the magical scenic landscape of the ethereal lake nestled in between tall gigantic mountains. Everything remained black and white though.

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Pic 6: Reflection of the surrounding mountains on the half frozen lake.
Unfathomable Faith of Baba Mandir

Before spending time at Tsomgo Lake, we had gone to Baba Mandir – a unique temple that houses the shrine of Baba Harbhajan Singh. A very fascinating story is associated with this temple.

Harbhajan Singh was a soldier with the Indian Army. He belonged to the Punjab Regiment. In 1968, he was involved with flood and landslide relief work in Sikkim and North Bengal. During that time, the 27-year old soldier had slipped and fallen into a rivulet while escorting a mule column from Tuku La, his battalion headquarters, to Donguchui La. He went missing and all search efforts went in vain. After 5 days, Harbhajan Singh appeared in the dream of a fellow soldier informing about his death by drowning and that his body was carried 2 Km. away from the site of accident by strong current. Apparently, he also expressed his desire of having a samadhi (tomb) built in his name. His body was discovered exactly at the mentioned place.

Thereafter he came to be known as Baba Harbhajan Singh and his regiment built a samadhi at the place where he was posted during his service. The samadhi is the original temple, located about 10 Km. away from the new temple. This we learnt much later while at Dzongu Valley. The place we visited happens to be the new temple built for the convenience of tourists. I wish I knew about the original samadhi well in time to be able to visit it.

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Pic 7: The story of Baba Harbhajan Singh displayed at the temple.

Army folklore has it that Baba Harbhajan Singh still guards the international boundary between India and China. Apparently both Indian and Chinese armymen have seen a human figure riding a horse along the border at night. It is also believed that Baba appears in dreams of fellow armymen warning about any untoward activities happening at the border. Chinese soldiers also set aside a chair for the Baba whenever a flag meeting is held between the two countries.

The Army payroll still has his name and he receives his salary, due promotions, and is also granted leave as per policy. All this intrigued me and I googled later to learn that the Baba goes home on September 13th every year when a berth is booked for him in Dibrugarh Express. Army officials take his portrait, uniform, and other belongings to his village Kuka, in Kapurthala district of Punjab. The same soldiers carry the belongings back to the Sikkim, once the leaves get over.

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Pic 8: The idol of  Baba Harbhajan Singh.

The new Baba Mandir has three rooms in a straight row. The room at the center has an idol of the soldier along with Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. The room on the right has a chair and a table that represents the Baba’s office. It also has a heater to keep him warm. The room on the left, is filled with water bottles. It is believed that water kept in the shrine is blessed by the Baba and if consumed after 21 days cures all possible ailments. Hoards of tourists and devotees visit the temple and offer things like toothbrushes, slippers, etc. One can also send letters to the Baba, which are opened by other soldiers.

The original samadhi has a room that has everything that may be required by the Baba, such as, neatly ironed uniforms, slippers, shoes, camp bed, etc. Indian Army soldiers polish the Baba’s boots, keep his uniform clean, and make his bed. The soldiers have apparently reported crumpled bed linen and muddy boots.

All of these would appear delusionary to a pragmatic mind. The Indian Army, however, believes in the spirit of Baba Harbhajan Singh. Everything in the universe cannot be fathomed by our limited understanding, hence let faith triumph over logic for this bizarre place of worship.

Prehistoric Rock Art

When we spent a few hours at Wayanad…

Wayanad conjures up images of lush green hills, terrace cultivation, tea gardens, and fresh spices. It’s a tiny little getaway located in the north-east of Kerala. We were at Kōḻikōḍ one weekend, when we decided to drop by Wayanad on our way back to Bangalore. Wayanad would anyway fall on the way and that very conveniently suited us. Our intention of stopping by Wayanad wasn’t the lush greenery though. It was the prehistoric rock engravings of Edakkal Caves, believed to have been incised between 4000 BC and 1000 BC, that interested us.

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At the mouth of Edakkal Cave

Situated about 4000 ft. above sea level Edakkal Caves can be reached through a flight of very steep man-made stairs. Edakkal literally means ‘stone in between’ as the cave is believed to have been formed by a big stone that fell in between two giant rocks. The flight of stairs up to the cave wasn’t easy and left us completely breathless. It was a Sunday and the place was exceedingly crowded, which only added to the difficulty.

Moreover, vehicles are not allowed near the cave entrance and one needs to walk uphill for about 30-45 mins to arrive at the cave entrance. The steep stairs start at the entrance.

The petroglyphs, however, made the climb worthwhile. There were human figures, animals, trees, wheels, geometrical symbols, etc. Such amazing creative expressions of man left us spellbound. We wondered what a test of patience and perseverance it must have been! All these figures haven’t been completely deciphered yet and are invaluable assets to archaeologists.

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As we drove away from Edakkal, we went to another place nearby, called Phantom Rock. It’s a metamorphic rock that supposedly resembles a human skull. We didn’t quite find the rock, instead landed on a tiny little lake that appeared to be cut out of the rocky surroundings. Needless to say, the lake with it’s stillness and moss-green water made us more than happy.

On our way back to Bangalore, we passed through Bandipur National Park, which falls in NH 766. It’s a stretch of about 10-15 Km. (just assuming, I don’t know the exact distance). As one might expect it was a beautiful stretch with jungle on either side of a straight tarred road. No vehicle is allowed to stop in the forest. If you’re lucky you may spot an elephant. We weren’t lucky enough but monkeys, spotted deer, bisons, and wild boars delighted us sufficiently.

We had crossed Bandipur on our way to Kōḻikōḍ too but that was early morning and we hadn’t seen any animals then. Moreover, we were really sleepy after having to wait for 2-3 hours in the car as vehicles are not allowed between 9 PM and 6 AM through the forest.
[So engrossed we were looking out for animals that we clicked no pictures.]

 

 

Picturesque Diu – Other Attractions


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The morning was bright and sunny. I expected a warm day but on stepping out of the hotel realized there was a strong wind blowing and it felt rather cold. It was a December morning and quite like one!

My parents and I were out to explore more of Diu, which had already surprised me with the amazing sunset and sunrise I experienced in its city beach – Jallandhar.

[Read my experience of Diu beaches here.]

There is more to Diu than just the beaches and here are some of those in order of my preference.

Diu Fort – Cannons Overlooking the Sea

I am more of a nature person than a history person, Baba is quite the opposite, and Ma keeps changing her taste depending on several factors. However, when it comes to forts all three of us are on the same page and equally interested.

At the first glance, Diu Fort felt disappointing but we quickly realized that we were expecting the architectural marvel of Mughal forts like the ones in Agra and Jaipur from a Portugese Fort. The Portugese weren’t as lavish as the Mughals neither could they afford the grandeur of the Mughals.

Having made peace with that, we noticed that the unique position of Diu Fort overlooking the sea made it very appealing. The huge wall around the fort secured it tight with the sea on three sides acting as an additional barrier. The fourth side used to be protected by a canal. Huge canons occupied the bastions that pointed in different directions towards the sea. These bastions opened into attractive courtyards lined with rows of trees. We crossed several gates that looked simple yet sturdy, then there were walkways, and few rooms as well.

A light house was located at one end of the fort. The history of the fort is displayed at the entrance gate. A section of the fort is not open to public and has the office of Jail Superintendent and used to house Diu Prison until recently.

Panikotha (or Fortim-do-Mar), a former prison, located in the middle of the sea can also be seen from the fort. Panikotha was once connected with the land by an under-sea tunnel.

Naida Caves – Manicured and Neat

A labyrinth of interconnected orangish-yellow wind-eroded rocks; trees springing up here and there with their artistic roots hanging in random places; sun beams passing through narrow crevices putting up a beautiful play of light and shadow – that’s what we saw at Naida Caves. I remember jokingly telling Ma, “I can imagine an old woman holding her pet black cat wearing a pointed black hat with a cackling voice suddenly springing up from nowhere.”

The cave was truly beautiful but seemed tad cosmetic to us. We couldn’t help the unfair comparison of this cave with the rustic ones back in our hometown Meghalaya. While Ma and I had a little fun with our imaginations running wild, Baba was clearly not impressed. I loved the trees though!

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Gangeshwar Temple: Five Shiva Lingas

Five Shiva Lingas situated inside a cave located just a few feet away from the sea – that’s Gangeshwar Temple. Apparently, the temple dates back to the times of the Mahabharata. It’s simplicity and quaintness is what amazed me.

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The Shiva Lingas are of various heights and are believed to have been installed by the five Pandavas during their exile in the forest. The varying heights portray the seniority of the Pandava brothers, except the largest one at the center which represents Bheem, the strongest brother. There is a well on one side of the cave that apparently gets filled with sweet water during low tide despite being surrounded by the sea. Locals call this flow of sweet water as Ganga Dhara (sacred flow of River Ganga) and that’s how the temple gets its name too. During high tide, the Shiva Lingas are washed by tidal waves.

St. Paul’s Cathedral – Intricate Wooden Interiors

Someone had told me that St. Paul’s Cathedral was really amazing, which led me to build up an expectation that was obviously not satiable. So, I am probably biased when I say  that for me the churches in my hometown Shillong are far more beautiful. Anyway, the church did have aesthetically appealing interiors with elaborate wood work. We lit candles at the altar and sat quietly for a while before walking towards St. Thomas Church located right next to it.

St. Thomas Church is also known as Diu museum but didn’t have much to offer other than few antique artifacts made of petrified wood, mostly figures of Catholic saints, from the Portuguese era.

INS Khukri Memorial – War memorial in Glass Casing

Located in Jallandhar Beach, the memorial of Indian Naval Ship (INS) Khukri is dedicated to all the valiant sailors of this ship who died during the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971. The memorial is a scaled-down replica of the ship inside a glass casing. Khukri went down with her crew of 18 officers and 176 sailors a few miles off the coast of Diu, when a Pakistani submarine fired a torpedo at her. Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla chose to go down with his ship and was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

Hoka Palm – A Discovery After Leaving Diu

I thought I was seeing coconut trees but I did wonder why they had their trunks fused together. Several coconut trees seemed to be growing out of a common trunk and diverging in various directions. I also noticed an oval fruit hanging in bunches on top amidst the dense green foliage. These were definitely not coconut!

Hoka Palm Tree – PC: outreachecology.com

It was only on my way back from Diu that I questioned our cab driver and got to know that these are Hoka Trees and that they are unique and found only in this part of the country. Hoka seeds are used for preparing a local alcoholic drink known as Tadi. The soft flesh inside can be eaten raw.

Hoka Palm Tree or Hyphoena indica is a native of the Nile valley in Egypt and is also known as Doum Palm or Gingerbread Tree.

Diu is a great destination for a quick weekend refreshing getaway!

 

 

Refreshingly Picturesque Diu

De-stress at the Serene Beaches of Diu

Utterly clean surroundings, well-tarred roads, spick and span roadsides as though they have received a dose of fresh paint…

The car takes a turn and the driver announces that we have arrived. Ma passes a remark from the back seat. Baba and I agree in unison that we had not seen this level of neatness in any city in recent times.

We were at the coastal town of Diu. Diu is one of the two districts of the Union Territory of Daman and Diu – the two erstwhile Portuguese naval bases that remain separated from each other by a distance of about 600 Km. Diu town overlooks Arabian Sea and sits at the eastern end of Diu Island, which remains connected to the state of Gujarat through a bridge.

I was on a trip across a few places of Gujarat along with my parents. Diu featured in our itinerary too. Diu’s proximity to Somnath made it the perfect destination to unwind after visiting the temple towns of Somnath and Dwarika.

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Pic 1: The clean beaches of Diu

The refreshingly picturesque Diu is perfect recipe for a great weekend getaway – lovely palm-fringed roads, Portuguese architecture, and amazingly clean beaches.

Back in Bangalore after my Gujarat and Diu trip, I was surprised to discover that people in my circle – colleagues and friends – had never considered visiting Diu. This was strange given Diu’s easy accessibility from Bangalore via Mumbai, especially when people of this city crave for weekend destinations and easy getaways. The craze is so much that extended weekends are easily recognizable by the remarkably less traffic on the roads.

In this post, I will concentrate on my experience of the beaches of Diu. For the rest of Diu’s attractions, I will follow up in another post. Diu has several beaches – I’ll write about two of them, the ones I visited.

[Read the other attractions of Diu here.]

Jallandhar Beach – Sunset Splendour

I chose to stay at a place that was right at the center of the town instead of staying at a resort close to the sea. My preference being guided by the fact that I was traveling with my aged parents. Staying close to civilization, I thought, was a wise thing to do. The hotel overlooked Diu Port, so we had a great view of Arabian Sea right from our room and that worked just perfect.

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Pic 2: View of Arabian Sea from our hotel room.
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Pic 3: The busy Diu Port seen from our hotel room.

Like most people in this world, sunrises and sunsets pep me up like no other, whether in the mountains or in the oceans/seas. With sunset in my mind, I set out for an evening stroll to Jallandhar Beach on the day we reached Diu. My parents preferred to remain in the hotel.

The beach being located in the heart of the town and walkable from my hotel, I mentally prepared for crowd, noise, and filth. To my surprise, this city beach was completely different – very few people, no vendors, no stalls, and a sparklingly clean coastline. Greeted by a wide promenade, occasionally interrupted by well-laid benches, I ambled as trees on the fringes whispered and swayed with the intoxicating sea breeze. The golden sand looked warm and inviting.

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Pic 4: Saw these pretty flowers on one side of Jallandhar Beach

A little ahead, the sandy beach culminated into a rocky hillock, atop which I noticed a few people and the spire of a temple. That’s where I wanted to be! Moving ahead in that direction, I climbed up the hill and located a quiet and isolated place. There I spend the evening watching the sun paint the sky, lovingly kiss the glistening waters, and eventually merge into the sea altogether.

An overwhelmingly magical evening it was! Little did I expect such an experience in a tiny little city beach!

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Pic 5: My quiet place at Jallandhar Beach
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Pic 6: Sunset at Jallandhar Beach
Jallandhar Beach –Sunrise Quietude

Next day, early in the morning while it was still dark, I set out to Jallandhar Beach once again. This time, it turned out to be even better – there wasn’t a single soul on the beach. I walked on the sand for a while and then settled down on a flat stone listening to the musical silence of the soft melody created by the gentle waves. Before I knew, dawn broke in sending shimmering golden rays over the placid Arabian Sea. The quietude was intoxicating making me wish that it would last forever.

I was in Diu for one full day and two half days. This enabled me to repeat the sunrise and sunset experiences one more time. I wasn’t disappointed and each time it was equally charming.

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Pic 7: As dawn breaks in, the sky is sprinkled in myriad hues
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Pic 8: The bluish tinge is soon replaced by reddish orange.
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Pic 9: And before I know the sun makes a grandiose appearance
Nagoa Beach – Leisureliness Walk

Usually people stay at Nagoa Beach and I would have done that too had it not been for my parents. However, after my sunrise and sunset experience at Jallandhar Beach, I have no regrets.

It was late afternoon when we reached Nagoa Beach after a drive of about 25-30 minutes from Diu town. The drive was appealing, taking us through the pretty countryside lined by palm groves. The perfectly tarred roads shone in the afternoon sun sometimes up and down, sometimes winding through narrow lanes. We passed through attractive colourful neighbourhoods and one or two churches.

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Pic 10: Nagoa Beach as I first saw it, my mobile camera isn’t capable of capturing the true colors of the water – an iridescent brilliant blue. 

Upon reaching Nagoa, we alighted from the car to a row of resorts on one side and the beach just across the street. Tall palm trees demarcate the beach from the road. The sprawling white sands of the horse-shoe shaped Nagoa Beach extended to a much larger distance making it way more luxuriant but it was way more crowded too. The crowd robbed off its charm to a certain extent. However, the first thing I noticed here was the colour of the waters of Arabian Sea – it was an iridescent brilliant blue.

We spent about an hour in Nagoa beach. I walked up and down the length of the beach sometimes through the white sand and sometimes splashing through the waves. This time my parents joined in too instead of just relaxing on the sand.

Other Beaches in Diu

Ghoghla Beach, Chakratirth Beach, and Gomtimata Beach are the other beaches of Diu. Ghogla beach provides opportunities for parasailing, surfing, and boating. We did pass by Ghoghla Beach but didn’t stop as these activities weren’t things we wanted to do. Chakratirath and Gomtimata are both walkable from Nagoa. Gomtimata is made of coral rocks and has puddles of water in between the rocks where one can find aquatic life such as crabs.

We decided to give both these a miss as I wanted to go back to Jallandhar Beach and experience my magical sunset all over again.

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Pic 11: Ghogla beach seen from a distance

Dwarika – Charming Liveliness

It was a little after 6.00 AM when I stepped out of my hotel room. It was still dark and that made me double-check my wrist watch. The morning aarti (prayer) was due at the temple at 6.30 AM. I could either watch the sunrise or attend the aarti and I still hadn’t decided which one I wanted to do. My parents preferred to stay back at the hotel as we were expecting a long day ahead.

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Pic 1: A portion of Gomti Ghat

We had arrived at Dwarika the day before. After settling down in the hotel, I had stepped out for a stroll in Gomti Ghat while my parents rested after the 4 hour drive we had from Jamnagar. Our hotel was located at Gomti Ghat and it was just a few meters from the temple.

It was late afternoon and the first thing I saw on stepping out was Sudama Setu, the suspension bridge, over Gomti River. The ghat had as many people as there were cows. There was a camel too offering rides with its owner and it just seemed so out of place. Street vendors spread out their wares and tiny shops dotted the ghat. Someone was also seeking donations over a loudspeaker for feeding cows. I turned around and spotted the temple Shikara (spire) just opposite to the ghat.

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Pic 2: A Sadhu all set for his evening rituals.

This part of the world looked so different from the hi-tech world of Bangalore – reason enough for the sense of excitement I felt. The thought that it was Christmas day and for the first time I was in a not-so-Christmassy set up amused me even more. I walked leisurely towards the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea while enjoying the old world charm around me.

An interesting thing about Gomti River is that, its water recedes during the day and one can walk to the middle of the river, in the mornings the river gets filled with water once again.

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Pic 3: Sudama Setu as the Sun had started conspiring with the sky and the sea

Somewhere on the way, I stopped to have a cup of tea from a roadside Chaiwala (tea seller). Meanwhile, the Sun was busy conspiring with the sea and the sky. By the time I finished my tea, the sun had started bathing the sea and sky in a burning red with tinges of orange and yellow. I hurried my pace to reach the end of the ghat to get a good glimpse of the gorgeousness that was unfolding as the sun was bidding goodbye for the day.

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Pic 4: Sunset, as I saw from Gomti River, the water had receded and I walked on the river bed.
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Pic 5: Sunset from the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea.
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Pic 6: The temple town after sunset as seen from the other side of Gomti River.

This morning I felt compelled to step out. All in the hope of beholding the golden colours once again. This time for sunrise. Though the morning was still dark, the ghat was abuzz with activities. It didn’t take me long to decide it was sunrise that I wanted, the morning aarti could wait for the next day.

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Pic 7: As dawn was breaking in.

Once again, all the activities in the ghat fascinated me – some were bathing in the river notwithstanding the cold December morning; some were performing Puja and releasing oil lamps onto the river; some were hurriedly walking towards the temple; some were feeding fishes; some were buying sea shells; and so on and so forth.

The cows were up too, jostling to share space with their human counterparts. Few sadhus in their saffron robes wandered around aimlessly. The shops of colourful shoes and bags were opening up. Those selling Puja items had already started their business.

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Pic 8: Sudama Setu looked brilliant at sunrise.

Somewhere, I met my Chaiwala where I sipped tea while watching people – watching people happens to be one of my favourite activities. The buzzing energy all around was somewhat contagious. Everybody and everything at the ghat seemed like little stories to me.

Somewhere in the flurry of activities, nature had quietly started painting the sky in hues of yellows, oranges and reds. As the Sun peeked over the horizon, it was time for me to go back to the hotel where my parents were waiting for me.

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Pic 9: The point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea. The river is filled to the brim in the morning.
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Pic 10: The temple shikhara seen clearly with the first rays of the sun.

I turned around and noticed the temple shikhara, which was now clearly visible with the first rays of the Sun.

I recalled last evening when we had visited the temple during the evening aarti. The temple was swarming with people. My parents didn’t dare to brave the crowd and found a place to sit instead. I went ahead and managed a quick glance of Dwarkadhish – that’s how Lord Krishna is referred to here – but not before the undisciplined crowd squashed me completely.

As always, I wondered why people become so unruly just before the actual darshan in some of these temples. All that I could think of is Lord Krishna perhaps enjoys all the attention he gets from His frenzied devotees.

Pol-ed at Ahmedabad


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A narrow network of dusty lanes and by-lanes, sunlight trickling through congested concrete, intricately carved wooden pillars and doorways, half broken creaking wooden windows, dusty wooden doors some with shining steel locks and some that appear to have been shut forever – these are just few of the things that greeted us as we stepped in through the gateway of Hari Bhakti Ni Pol.

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Pic 1: The entryway to the first Pol in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol

‘Amdavadi Pols’ had piqued my interest when I first read about them in a newspaper article. The article had mentioned that these Pols significantly contributed to the 600-year old Ahmedabad City being declared as a world heritage by UNESCO. I was intrigued and the article gave only a faint idea about Pols.

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Pic 2: This structure stood prominently on our left as we approached Hari Bhakti Ni Pol
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Pic 3: This structure stood prominently on our right as we approached Hari Bhakti Ni Pol

Pols (pronounced as Poles) are Ahmedabad’s cultural identity and represent a unique legacy. Therefore, it featured in my list of things to explore in the city. During this trip across some places of Gujarat, I was with my parents and exploring Pols wasn’t something I could do with them. Hence, I was looking out for an opportunity to slip out on my own and go Pol-hopping.

A cousin sister happened to be in Ahmedabad for some work on the same day. She called me saying that she had read about these old havelis (mansions) in the in-flight magazine and wanted to go visit them. I instantly knew it was the Pols she’s talking about. Both of us hatched a plan and set out in the afternoon for our most looked forward to walk through Amdavadi Pols. The enriching experience of the 3-hour walk surpassed our expectations and we wished we would have had time for more.

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Pic 4: Intricate patterns and motifs have stood the test of time

The word Pols is derived from the Sanskrit word Pratoli, which means gate. Pols are a conglomeration of houses usually inhabited by people and families linked together through caste, culture or profession. They are living testimonies of the social unrest that existed in the region hundreds of years ago. Each Pol remains guarded by its own entry gate. In earlier days, these gates would be shut at night. Each Pol also has its exclusive secret exit gate, which is privy to Pol members only. During an attack, men would defend the entry gate, while women and children would escape into the labyrinth of pathways through the secret exit gate.

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Pic 5: Doorway to another Pol that we encountered somewhere in the maze
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Pic 6: A close look at the doorway, doesn’t it seem like it has millions of tales to tell!
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Pic 7: A chabutro, PC: Flickr by FabIndia (lost the picture I had clicked.)

Each Pol also has a dedicated temple and a chabutro or bird feeder. Chabutro are tall poles that the people of Ahmedabad put up for birds. These were built with the idea of providing home to birds as trees were chopped off to build the city. A thoughtful gesture perhaps but replacing trees with man-made cement poles – I wish they knew better!

Pols are located within the walled city of Ahmedabad and have no space for motor vehicles. The narrow winding alleys are best explored on foot, bicycles or two wheelers. Apparently, there are more than 300 such Pols. While many people have moved out to live in better localities, many still prefer living in the Pols. Almost all the heritage houses in the Pols we visited were in a dismal state. I hope the authorities are aware and do plan to renovate some of them. Or else it will be a sad loss of heritage.

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Pic 8: That may look like a door to somebody’s home but is part of a narrow public pathway in the Pol!

We walked from one dusty narrow lane to another, crisscrossing and trying to make sense of the maze that we were enthusiastically navigating. Nearly at every turn in the narrow lanes, we bumped into either cows or oncoming two wheelers. We came across a number of Pols in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol, Khadia Pol, Fatasa Pol, Sheth Ni Pol, and Sakari Ser Pol.

Somewhere, we entered a Pol temple where we offered our prayers to Lord Krishna, who was the residing deity. There we met and chatted with a Baa whose toothless smile and wrinkled face stole our hearts and we felt like giving her a tight hugShe offered us laddoos as prasad and spoke at length in Gujarati while we tried our best to figure out what she had to say with very little success whatsoever.

My cousin didn’t miss a chance to peep through open windows whenever she found one, a habit she carries from childhood. At one time, she discovered an entire room filled with jewellery boxes and two men sitting in a corner with whom she went on to a serious discussion about the prices, where they supply those boxes, etc. In another, she found people busy sewing some kind of traditional stuff, maybe bags she thought not bothering to get into a discussion this time.

We realised that many Pols are part of some cottage industries that allow people to earn their livelihood without leaving their homes. We also noticed that though the pathways and the entryways were very narrow, the houses inside were quite spacious.

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Pic 10: Notice the intricately patterned pillar, the play of light and shadow, and I loved that rusted bicycle, which compliments the background so well!

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Pic 11: A haveli that was simple and not so elaborate.

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Pic 12: Those rich and intricate patterns once again, covered in heaps of dust!
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Pic 13: This world of Denim where the old meets the new and my cousin couldn’t resist clicking!

My cousin was on the lookout for two specific havelis, ones she had read in the in-flight magazine – Mangaldas Ni Haveli and a certain French Haveli. Both these have been converted to hotels now. We did locate Mangaldas Ni Haveli. There were two of them – Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I and Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II.

Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I is a residential home and had a lock hanging on the front door at that point in time. Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II was the hotel. With no inhibitions, my cousin knocked on the door and it was opened by a gentleman. When she requested for a look inside, he demanded 100 bucks per person. We happily paid and took a tour of the inside. My cousin, with her penchant for interior design, was much more excited than I was.

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Pic 14: Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I – It’s residential and the front door was locked at that time.
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Pic 15: Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II – The hotel and she’s all set to knock at the door

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I had a cap on time as I had a train to catch. So, we couldn’t go looking for French Haveli. I left while my cousin continued exploring Ratan Pol, which is now a wholesale market place.

Allured by what I heard from her I just had to go explore Ratan Pol, which I did when I had a day in Ahmedabad during my return trip. Overexcited with prices that I thought were dirt cheap, I only landed up burning a hole in my pocket, but that’s for another day….

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The Boy in the Yellow Shirt & So Many Others


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I spent a few days traveling across Gujarat. The state has surprised me in many ways. One of the things that stood out for me was the people of Gujarat. Here, I came across some of the most honest and genuine people. Having traveled across quite a few places in the country, I can safely say that as a woman I have felt most comfortable in Gujarat. And, this is huge for non-touristy women travelers like me!

Of the many wonderful people I met during this journey, I want to put down three of them, those whom I would not like to forget.

The Boy in the Yellow Shirt

It was the last day of our trip and we were at Ahmedabad. Our flight wasn’t until 8.00 PM, thanks to the slow pacing of our travel. My parents had decided to rest at the hotel, so I made my own plans. I set out with the intention of visiting Jami Masjid, Sarkhej Roza, and then exploring the market at Lal Darwaza.

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Pic 1: Lal Darwaza – entryway to a huge wholesale market place

An Ola auto took me to Jami Masjid in just 10-15 mins. I didn’t realize that it was this close to my hotel, which was located at Sabarmati Riverfront. On the way, I spotted Siddi Sayed Mosque, which we had visited earlier. I felt tempted to go inside once again to take a closer look at the jaalis of this mosque, also known as Jaali-Wala Masjid.

I asked the auto driver about Sarkhej Roza, he had no idea and recommended I ask the people at Jami Masjid. On enquiry near the masjid, I got to know it was 11 Km. away. The auto driver demanded a whopping Rs. 800 to take me there and back. I bid goodbye to him and entered the mosque.

At the entryway, I crossed a young 19-20 year old boy. He called out that I shouldn’t enter the prayer area, as women are not allowed. A little irked that I don’t need to be told about that, I used the moment to enquire about Sarkhej Roza. He said it wasn’t that far and then offered to take me there. Not sure if I could trust him, I hesitated and said I may get delayed as I would like to explore Jami Masjid first and also planned to go to Jaali-wala Masjid. He said he had no problem and would wait.

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Pic 2: The courtyard of Jami Masjid

In the 15-20 mins of exploring Jami Masjid, I had decided to take the risk of going to Sarkhej Roza with the young boy. We stepped out of the Masjid into the narrow crowded market place outside. Instead of hailing an auto right there, my young guide started walking into narrow alleys. Enough for me to pull my guards up. “Why don’t we take an auto here?” I asked. “We’ll take it from the main road,” pat came his reply.

Doubting his intentions, I started probing further – Why are you going to Sarkhej Roza? What do you do? What were you doing at the mosque? Simultaneously I took note of his bright yellow chequered shirt, the slight limp in his gait, the Cello tiffin box that he hung on his shoulder. I got to know that he worked in a notebook shop opposite the masjid. His Seth had not opened the shop that day, so he was going back home after offering namaz at Jami Masjid. His house is close to Sarkhej Roja. He went on to sing praises of Gujarat and even telling me with conviction that I should shift to Ahmedabad.

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Pic 2: Siddi Sayed Mosque – a view from the backside

After a walk of about 15 mins, we arrived at the main road and just across the road was jaali-wala masjid. Ah! He remembers that I wished to stop here. After I was done, we crossed the road and boarded a shared auto. The shared auto put to rest all the unnecessary speculations my mind was occupied with.

Somewhere this young boy got off and when I offered to pay his fare he hesitated but accepted later. The auto zoomed away and the distance seemed to be quite a bit. I could hear myself saying – Sarkhej Roza better be worth all this trouble!

Soon the shared auto dropped me off at some point. With ample guidance from the autowala, I crossed the road, boarded another auto and reached my destination  –  Sarkhej Roza or Bara Maqbara.

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Pic 3: The mosque and tomb complex of Sarkhej Roza, this picture shows the mosque only.

This young boy had no intention other than just taking me to the place I wanted to go. A gesture I will always fondly remember.

We live in a world where even good acts are viewed through the tainted lens of suspicion and we find it difficult to accept that a stranger can do something nice for us. I firmly believe the world is made of more good people than bad and this is just another case in point to prove that.

The Driver Who Cared So Much

Have you ever come across a driver who pays for your tea and nariyal paani and also treats you to roadside street food? I never had until I met the driver of the car I had hired for our travel. It wasn’t a package tour and I had just booked a cab separately for 5 days and 4 nights.

The driver went beyond his duty of driving us around to make sure we had a very good experience. He became our guide taking us to places that we had no idea about and treating us with all the best roadside food found in each place. Not just that, while in Somnath he invited me to his house for an authentic Gujarati lunch prepared by his sister.

The Unassuming Chaiwala 

The chaiwala (roadside tea seller) at Dwarika is again someone who touched my heart. He was just one of the chaiwalas selling chai (tea) at Gomti Ghat. I had chai from him on two occasions. The third time I had no change and he said that I could pay later. Selling chai to a tourist on credit, I thought was a very nice gesture. I told him I was leaving that day and may not be able to come back. “Koi nei” (“It’s okay”) is what he said.

These people and many others have been instrumental in making my Gujarat experience a wonderful one. And, these are precisely the kind of experiences that propel me to travel.

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.

A Day at Srinagar


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“Kaisa laaga Srinagar?” [What do you think about Srinagar?], asked the man as he handed over a bowl of chilled sewainya. Fascinated as we were seeing sewainya or vermicelli pudding available as street food and engrossed in our own animated discussions about the same, none of us payed heed to the question.

Isn’t sewainya or seviyaan a quintessential Eid festival food! Have you ever seen sewainya sold by the roadside back in Bangalore or Hyderabad! The afternoon sun glared at us as the excited discussions continued and the chilled and deliciously rich sewainya did good to calm us down.

“Toh kaisa laaga Srinagar?”, the man repeated his question. As we answered, he went on, “Kiya socha tha aane se pehle?” [What was your opinion before you came here?]; “Aise hi log Srinagar ko badnaam karte hain, tourist ko koi kuch nehi karta” [People paint a wrong picture of Srinagar, tourists are safe here]; and so on and so forth. This was not the first time we were answering such questions. Every second person we interacted with asked us similar questions.           [All of these stemming from the ongoing volatile political situation in Jammu and Kashmir].

We had a day to spend in Srinagar on our way back from Kashmir Great Lakes trek. While some people decided to explore Gulmarg, others thought of walking the streets of Srinagar to get a feel of the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir. The latter appealed to me and I decided to join them, which did not turn out to be a great idea as I soon discovered.

This group landed up spending most of their time shopping, which is something that hardly interests me. Though I do enjoy exploring local markets and indulging in a little bit of shopping too but spending the better part of the day just buying stuff does not appeal to me at all. Perhaps, going off on my own and visiting places like Mughal Gardens and Adi Shankarachaya temple would have been a better deal. Anyway, when in a group, you do what the group does.

Eventually I had to satisfy myself with only Lal Chowk and Chasme Shahi.

Lal Chowk

Lal Chowk, literally translates as Red Square, is the city center of Srinagar located in the heart of the city. Traditionally, it has been a place for political meetings and was named by left wing activists who fought Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruling Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.

Lined with a variety of shops, Lal Chowk is the oldest and most popular shopping destination in Srinagar. A place called Kokar Bazar at Lal Chowk was recommended to us for buying authentic Kashmiri dry fruits, nuts, and saffron. It being Sunday, most of Kokar Bazar was closed but the couple of shops that were open served our purpose well.

We strolled around the busy pavements of Lal Chowk absorbing the essence of Srinagar through the colourful embroidered pherans, apples at just Rs. 25 a Kilo, the prominent clock tower standing tall, the eye-catching but nearly hidden green mosque, and not to miss the unnerving presence of Army personnel at every nook and corner.

While I bought Pashminas and Kashmiri embroidered shawls for folks at home, others bought sarees and Kashmiri embroidered kurtas.

Chasme Shahi

Built around a natural spring against the backdrop of magnificent mountains, Chashma Shahi is a Mughal Garden characterized by manicured lawns, symmetrical hedges, landscaped terraces, sculpted fountains, and colourful flowers. Chashma Shahi literally translates as Royal Spring and was built in 1632 AD by Ali Mardan Khan, who was the governor of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The garden was a gift from the Emperor to his son Dara Shikoh.

The garden is split into three terraces and water flows from the uppermost level to the lowermost level through a series of pools and aqueducts, called chadars.

The water from the natural spring at Chashme Shahi is believed to have medicinal properties, which draws locals and tourists alike. It was a Sunday and hence the place was even more crowded with more locals than tourists. There is nothing much to do at Chasme Shahi, however, drinking the cool spring water did give us a dose of instant gratification.

Dal Lake

We passed by Dal Lake a couple of times during the day. Dal lake is huge and the vast sheet of water against the backdrop the Pir Panjal mountains with floating Shikaras (houseboats) look beautiful. However, Dal Lake in its urbanism appeared a little pale to us having just experienced the pristine and  untouched beauty of other alpine lakes in higher altitudes.

It was early evening when we found some time to spend beside the lake as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive from Gulmarg. With the setting sun in the background, the Shikaras mooring on the lake tempted me to take a ride but the rest of gang were too hungry and could not think beyond food. Reluctantly, I gave in and proceeded towards a restaurant instead.

Click here to read about the high altitude alpine lakes.

Food

When it comes to food, Kashmir is synonymous with Kahwa and Wazwaan. Being the tea person that I am, Kahwa was a must-have and I had my first taste high up in the mountains when it was served during the trek. Kahwa, the Kashmiri tea, flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron was perfect and easily surpassed its already fabulous reputation. Sipping Kahwa in the chilly wilderness definitely made it all the more delightful.

I am not a foodie but some of Kashmir’s signature dishes was on my list and most prominent among those was Wazwan. Wazwan is a lavish multicourse lamb-based meal that is intricately associated with Kashmiri pride, culture and identity. I learned that Wazwan is a 36-course wedding feast and no Kashmiri marriage is complete without this grand meal. Wazwan was a delight in both appearance as well as taste. I had never seen such huge spread of a single dish before – kababs, meat balls, rogan josh, ribs, korma, rice, pulao, and what not.

However, I could eat Wazwan just once and that too could not go beyond one-fourth of what was served. I struggled with the overdose of mutton even though I am a non-vegetarian and Wazwan was uniquely delicious. For subsequent meals, I found myself away from the non-vegetarian section altogether and seated with my vegetarian counterparts. A very unusual me!

The vegetarian dishes were a delight too, especially the Kashmiri Saag, Dum aloo, and Kashmiri Pulao. We did check out some great restaurants including Mughal Durbar, Shamyana, and Mummy Please.

Kashmir, my visit remains incomplete and I know I will go back to explore more of you….