Sunday, December 27, 2015

Maredumilli,Andhra Pradesh

                    Maredumilli is a village situated in the beautiful maredumilli range in the northern area of Andhra Pradesh. Lying at an altitude of  400 MSL Maredumilli lies in the middle of a thick forest all around.It forms a part of the Eastern Ghats.It is just 120km from Bhadrachalam and around 80km from Rajamundary.

                     A few days back owing to a friend's wedding I went to my home in Aswapuram in Khammam Dist. Inevitably,the gathering of our friend's group after a long gap resulted in a trip.We decided to visit the quaint and quiet maredumilli area.We had booked the cottages a few days back and it was to be a 1 night and 1 day trip.We booked a Tata magic for the six of us and off we went.We left our homes at 2pm in the afternoon and reached Maredumilli at around 6pm.It was quiet dark by then.Maredumilli has a Govt Inititave called Vana Vihari.That is where we booked our cottages for the night.

Our cottage for the night.We had booked two of these.
             The next morning we were woken up by the cleaning lady knocking our door.Apparently the staff followed the 8am check out very seriously.On enquiry we found out that a contingent of police officers had booked a number of cottages due to some camp they were having.By 8am a couple of officers were strolling near our cottage waiting for us to get out which we promptly did by 8:05am.

Ordering Bamboo Chicken for dinner
              We walked out casually outside with no set plan in mind.We went to the town centre which is a crossroad to the left of the resort.Here we tried to negotiate a price to hire an auto to the nearby sights but liked none of the offers.So we decided to walk.A couple of friends were reluctant but the rest of us convinced them by saying that this was the best way to get a feel for the place.

In the coffee plantation
              So we started our walk on the main and only road that leads to the various sights around the Village of Maredumilli. This was the main road leading towards Bhadrachalam from where we had come the other day. The walk turned out to be a brilliant idea.The weather was nice.The temperature comfortable and an occasional gust of wind blowing.We walked past murmuring brooks,fallen trees,chattering monkeys,moss covered culverts and butterfly filled clearings in the forest.After an hour we passed by a coffee plantation.It was all fenced but further ahead a gate was open.We strolled in and went a bit ahead.The atmosphere here was just beautiful.It was  a bit dark with branches of trees shading the area.There was a clearing in the branches through which rays of sunlight were falling.And they were falling on a fallen tree.We sat on that log and just monkeyed around.

A beautiful stream
            After spending an half an hour there we resumed our walk.We had walked around 5km when we reached the first of the waterfalls.Here we spent some time chatting and taking pics.The waterfall is nothing spectacular but offers a good spot for a picnic.

The scenery surrounding the road was wonderful
             We also passed a medicinal plants garden and an under progress rest house. At around 1pm we had covered 7km and we decided it was time to end our walk and maybe hitchhike and reach bhadrachalam by evening.But to our growing apprehension no vehicle was stopping and no RTC was bus was in sight too.Our apprehension was due to the fact that we were in a jungle area and we did not want to get stuck there by the time it got dark.

            Around 1 30pm we reached a village which brought huge relief for us.This village was nothing more than a couple of huts strewn along the stretch of the road.We went to a shop and had biscuits and some tea.We enquired about the next RTC bus there and found out that there was a bus after 30mins.But when we spotted an empty auto we hired it immediately and reached the next town chinturu.From here we boarded a RTC bus to reach Bhadrachalam by dusk.After some snacks and a bit of a shopping we reached our homes by 8pm.And thus ended our small trip to Maredumilli.

Info
-You can book cottages at this website-http://www.vanavihari.com/
-There is no problem of food as the whole street has shops lined on both sides of the road selling the local speciality Bamboo Chicken.All shops close by 8 30pm.
-No mobile network works here except BSNL.
-The nearest town on the bhadrachalam side is Chinturu.
My brother recently gave me a waterproof camera.I clicked a few pics with it.


Another one at a wonderful stream which runs along the main road for some distance. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bada Imambara,Chinsurah,West Bengal

             As the mighty bell rang I pressed my palms against my ears.The sound was deafening.There was a grilled door separating me and the bell.I was standing beside the huge bell of the Bada Imambara in Chinsurah.

             Chinsurah is a small town an hours drive north of Kolkata. Along with Bandel and Chandannagar it forms a group of towns seeped in history. Chinsurah and Bandel were Portuguese settlements while Chandannagar was a French settlement. Chinsurah was founded by the Portuguese in 1579 on the banks of Hooghly and it flourished as a trading port.

              The biggest attraction of Hooghly is the Bada Imambara.Imambara means a congregation hall usually built by the shia sect of Muslims. Hooghly Imambara was built by a Persian merchant Mohammed Aga Motahhar in 1717 AD. The actual structure built by him was much modest than what exists today.Mohammed Mohsin,A successor of Aga Motahhar inherited the building but he passed it on by a charitable deed and appointed a manager to look after its upkeep. Then in 1837 came Syed Keramat Ali,a brilliant architect who came to Bengal from Rajasthan. He was appointed the manager in the month of January of that year.He constructed the beautiful structure that still stands today on the ruins of the older one.

             The structure is situated near the banks of Hooghly river.A narrow street runs along the face of the building upon which is situated its grand doorway.I had taken a share auto from the Chinsurah railway station and it dropped me a few meters away from the doorway.I walked in and took a ticket.Cost was Rs 10 and there were no charges for still camera.The grand doorway opens to a rectangular courtyard which has a rectangular tank in the middle.There is a beautiful fountain at the center.I could spot some fishes in the clear water there.A few kids were all excited and were scurrying up and down the length of the tank as they followed the tiny pretty fishes.

The prayer hall
            I started my stroll from the left.The building is two storied with a wide tower at the front.This tower had two domes at the ends.There are a number of  rooms in the ground floor.All had descriptions in Urdu which was quite exciting for me to see in this part of India.At the end of the courtyard lies the main prayer hall.As I was checking out the decorations on the walls from outside a guy called me inside.I entered and had a closer look.There were many inscriptions in Arabic and ususally there were a few paintings too.There were lanterns and chandeliers and a heavily decorated throne.As I was looking around, a group of ladies came and sat in front of the throne and started praying.I watched for a few minutes then quietly walked out so as not to disturb them.

         Behind the Imambara near the banks of Hooghly I spotted a sundial.I never saw a sundial before so with much excitement I went near it and observed if it was showing the correct time.It was.From here I walked back inside the courtyard.
The sundial

         After completing the stroll of the ground floor I made my way to the top of the tower.The view from the top was spectacular.There is a clock in the middle portion of the tower.One dial faces the inside of the building while a second dial faces the outside.While climbing the steps to the top just before a few metres from the top to the left one can see,through a grilled door,the three bells.The smallest of the lot rings about every 15 minutes and the biggest rings every 1 hour.I spent 30 minutes right in front of the door just to see and hear the big bell ring.After the satisfaction of hearing the deafening bell I made my way down.One interesting aspect here is that there are two staircases to reach the two domes.And ladies have to use one and gents the other. They are not allowed to go together.
View from the top

      Back on the ground floor I sat on one of the small stairs and just took in the quiet atmosphere.There were a only a few people here and there.Five minutes into this quietness, the silence was suddenly broken by the laughter of children.A school group was coming in making a huge amount of noise.It felt good to see children on a visit to a historic monument.Children should be encouraged to visit such places.I then made my way out and after drinking a cold drink to quench my thirst I took a share auto and went back to the Chinsurah railway Station.I boarded a local and reached Kolkata in an hour.After a nice dinner in the legendary Royal Indian Hotel I boarded the Howrah mail to reach Raigarh the next morning.



Sunday, September 27, 2015

Digha,West Bengal

        Once in a while there comes a trip where most of the things go wrong.For me a trip to Digha Beach in West Bengal was one such.Now I wouldn't like to make this post all about what things went wrong.Let me just recount the trip as it happened.

        I wont bore the reader with the details of the trains I took to reach Digha, suffice to say that I took a few.I reached Digha at around 10am. Digha is a very popular beach resort for the kolkattans and the people living nearby.It was evident with the huge crowds at the station.I had to push past families with children and grandpas in toe,groups of teenagers with headphones the size of a mango,women with huge shades that almost covered their faces.It looked like everyone was in groups.I was the only one who was alone there.Nevertheless I made my way over to the groups of Hotels nearby and entered one.I asked for a room.They asked how many people.I said One.They said No room.
This story repeated for a number of hotels.Finally one guy told me the reason.All the hoteliers in Digha had been instructed by the Police not to give rooms to solo travelers.This was because a few years ago a number of people had committed suicide in Digha.I was dejected.No, not by those suicides but by the fact that I was not getting a room.I went to a nearby kirana store,Had a cool drink and pondered over my options.I decided that somehow I had to get a room.I couldn't roam around with my rucksack.Just then I saw a rickshawala.I went over to him and asked if he could arrange a room for a single traveller.He said yes, he knew of one hotel which accommodates single travellers as they had 'special' permission from the police,whatever that meant.

So I boarded his rickety old rickshaw and off we went gliding along the crowded narrow roads of digha.It was a hot and humid day and it wasn't helping me.He took me to a hotel somewhere deep inside a narrow street and fortunately it was decent and not some ramshackle hovel that I was expecting.The hotel demanded a hefty sum for my stay and on top of that he told me to call my dad in front of him and tell him of my whereabouts.This was a precaution they took for every single traveller.I had to patiently explain my dad about the whole situation.That was embarrassing.The rickshawala too demanded a huge sum but a bit of a bargaining bought down the sum a little bit though the final amount I paid was still a lot.

All this drama took up a lot of time and by the time I got out of the hotel room to go to the beach it was around 1 pm.I decided not to have a dip in the ocean and decided instead to treat myself to a good lunch.I went to the beach strolled around a bit and then went to a restaurant.I had good seafood here and tried the famous Hilsa. I didn't like it with all its fine bones that makes it difficult to pick them out.

After that hearty meal my spirits rose a bit.I walked back to the beach and went far away from the crowds.I found a secluded portion to the right of where everyone was and sat down for a while.The waves rolled in and out.The sun overhead was very bright and soon my tshirt was drenched.I sat here under the shade of a tree for an hour and left around 4pm.I had a train to catch at 5pm which was to take me to Kharagpur from where I was to catch another to Raigarh to be in time to catch the bus to Tamnar at 7 30am.I had to go to office at 9am.So I departed at 5pm from Digha.Barring a few hiccups at Khargpur station where I got nothing decent to eat for dinner I reached Tamnar without any major problems.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Descent and Day 5 (Pathal Nachni to Wan)

After the very tiring and mighty exciting ascent to the top we started our decent at 1 30pm.The return journey was equally tiring but one difference was that wherever it was possible we slid across the slope of the mountain.Durga would go ahead and gauge the slope and how safe it was.Then he would slide across and reach the bottom and wait for us.He was helped in this by the porters.This way we made many slides across the mountain.This made our return journey exciting and also sped it up.The sliding was not without its share of risks though.During sliding it is completely up to you to control the speed with your legs.If you don't occasionally slow yourself down you can pick up a lot of speed.An alarming speed If I may say so.At this speed it is very difficult for the catchers at the end of the slope to catch you.If they miss you and you slide away,there is every possibility of you going all the way and smashing on the rocks below.Durga assured me that in case he misses he will coming running after us and catch us.He said he could run faster than our slide over the slope.We saw this in action when durga and one of the porters missed bhanu when he slid down.Bhanu was sliding away at a very high speed.Durga sprung into action as soon as he missed bhanu and started running after him.Sure enough the way he ran he covered the distance very fast.As soon as he reached near bhanu he grabbed him with his left hand and when both were sliding together now he struck his ice axe into the ice with his right hand.This bought both of them to a halt.We were mighty relieved.My heartbeat went up when they first failed to catch bhanu and came down only when durga stopped bhanu some several metres down the slope.There were no more scares during the rest of the journey.
       We reached Bhagubasa at around 3 30pm if my memory serves me right.We stopped for a very short break.By this time my nose and lips were a mess.My nose was sunburned and my lips were broken in many places.I got talking to a fellow trekker who was eating maggie there about his experience at the top. At the end he pointed at me and told his friend ''look this guy is wearing lipstick''. We all laughed.I took a pic of my face then just to check it out later. On top of all this I was wearing two spectacles.One was for my eyesight problem the other was common sunglasses.And they were both at two levels.So to complete the picture I had broken lips,a sunburned nose and two pairs of spectacles.I was looking mighty funny and I knew it.I didn't care though.Nobody did actually.Nobody was there to look pretty.
      In bhagubasa we learned that the other three members of our trek group satya,angkan and nitesh already departed for pathalnachi in the afternoon.So after that short break we moved on eager to reach pathalnachni before dusk.From bhagubasa to pathalnachni we trudged on mighty tired without much talk.We finally reached our destination at 6pm.I was the first to reach and as soon as I reached the camp I slopped down on the ground.We had some snacks and an early dinner.All four of us who reached the top slept very early.We still had some trek left for the next day so we slept early.

      Next morning after a hurried breakfast we started our trek to the village of wan from where we would be getting our vehicle to Haldwani.This was now a race against time as we were running behind schedule and had flights and trains to catch.The return journey always poses a different challenge from the onwards one.Since we were going down we had to take care not to quicken our steps and restrain ourselves.Also a lot of stress goes onto the knees.Bhanu already had a bit of a knee problem going on for the duration of the trek and now he was under a lot of pain.He had a bandage which he wrapped around his knee and carried on.We finally reached the village of wan in the afternoon.It was stunning to say the least.The quaint houses nestled along the hills presented a very beautiful and romantic sight.Satya who was feeling a bit dizzy vomited in one of the streets.A kind passerby offered us some water which satya gladly accepted and drank.
At the centre of the village our vehicle was waiting for us and as soon as we boarded it we took off.We went to our original point of start the village of Lohajung. Here we took our belongings and had a bath.This was after 5 days of no bathing.Refreshed and rejuvenated we got ready for departure.We bid goodbye to Durga,aman,rahul and other members of the GIO team and thanked them for the wonderful service they provided us.They shaped a memory for us that will remain with us for our lifetime.
  PS-From Lohajung we reached Haldwani at 1pm in the night from where we took a taxi to take us to Delhi.We reached Delhi in the morning from where we split to catch our respective trains or flights.Bhanu,abhishek,arun and angkan all missed their flights and had to make alternate plans.Only satya and myself boarded our train as planned.
                                      

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 4.Summit Day (Pathalnachni to Roopkund lake)

I don't know what it was that woke me.Maybe it was the wind or the uneasiness of the sleep itself.As I opened my eyes and looked around my mind couldn't make sense of where I was.I saw that I was in a sleeping bag.I could see a silhouette beside me.Realization slowly dawned on me then.I was on the Roopkund trek and today was the summit day.My mind still foggy I lay there.Around me the tent shook now and then as the wind outside crashed on it violently.I slowly looked at my wrist watch which I never took off during the whole trek.The light green tint of the hour hand told me that it was 3 am.I groaned as I realized it was time to get up and get ready.I was laying in the sleeping bag with five layers of clothing.I had a T shirt on top of which I wore thermals on top of which I had two sweaters.On top of all this I had a jacket.Below I was wearing a thermal pant plus my trusty Solognac trek pant.I was reluctant to get out of this cozy sleeping bag but the thought of Roopkund lake pushed me out of that warm cocoon.I had a slight headache and the biting cold was not making things easy.I unzipped myself from the sleeping bag and started getting ready.The sound of me rummaging around in my bag disturbed satya who started muttering something in his sleep. Satya was my roommate back in my hostel and I knew his sleeping habits.We were to start for Bhagubasa at 3 30 am so I was not worried about disrupting his sleep.In any case I wanted him to get up as soon as possible.

As I stepped outside my tent the freezing wind cut across my face immediately numbing my cheeks and lips.I shone my torch around the tents.There was no sign of life anywhere.Apart from the faint light coming off from the master tent everything was dark.Far away the snow covers on the mountains were giving off a dull whitish glow.I felt a stinging sensation on my lips.Running the tip of my tongue over my lips I could feel that were broken in many places.I made a mental note to take some lip balm from Abhishek.

Abishek was my childhood friend.I had two childhood friends with me here on this trek.The other being Bhanu.Together we had been on many trips and we understood each other very well.I couldn't have asked for a better set of people to accompany me.Bhanu exuded intelligence and abhishek was the practical mind.I could trust both with my life.

I made my way around the tents to the dining tent to see if there was anyone already there.There was none.I went inside and sat on one of the chairs.After a few minutes I could hear footsteps approaching I looked out of the tent and saw a torchlight shining on the tents.I could see that it was aman, one of our guides. He went from tent to tent and woke up everyone.Slowly, reluctantly everyone got ready.At around 3 45 am we were ready to depart.

We trudged off.Nine figures wrapped in heavy warm clothing shining our torches in the darkness.Initially the path was steep and went over a rocky terrain.Our head guide Durga was leading the group with Aman bringing up the rear.All around us we could see nothing just the faint glow of the mountain tops far away.Once I stopped and looked behind me.The lights of the torches bobbed up and down as they made an arc over the slope of the mountain side. Angkan who was Bhanu's friend from work was the only one wearing a headlight.In terms of gear he was the best prepared in the group.But the disadvantage I found with a headlight is it makes looking at the face of the person who is wearing it very difficult what with the light shining brightly in the pitch black night.For two hours we walked in the darkness in silence.There wasn't much talk except for the cry of halt now and then.At around 5 am the sky turned bluish.There was a bit of visibility now.I could make out the faces of others as they huffed and puffed over the rocks.Beside us the vast mountains presented themselves.The layers of mountains looked breathtaking in the morning light.

We encountered stretches of snow around us on the mountains but none directly in our trail.We came across the first stretch of snow on which we had to walk somewhere around 6 am.Their frequency increased as we reached nearer to Kalu Vinayak. Around 6 30 am we reached Kalu Vinayak where we took a long break and had our first leisurely view of the snow covered mountains around us.After a good rest we started again.After walking for 15 mins we came across a curve on the side of the mountain such that we couldn't see ahead of us.Here Durga called for a break and we wondered why.When I went a bit ahead I  saw that the entire path ahead was covered in snow. Here Durga told us we will be wearing our crampons.We all sat down on the rocks on the side of the trail and one by one Durga and Aman attached the crampons on our shoes.It took almost 45 minutes for the entire process to get over.

With my crampons attached,I planted one step on the snow ahead.Pressed firmly against it.Then took another step.This way I moved ahead.This was only the second time I was walking on snow the first being in Kashmir.So naturally I was thrilled.The trail was now entirely covered in snow.As we walked to my right the mountain sloped away to the top and to my left it sloped away below where in some areas the snow cover broke to reveal the rocky terrain underneath.The trail cut across the mountain side.One slip on the snow and a person can go sliding on the snow to the bottom.If you are lucky maybe you get caught somewhere and it halts your progress.Otherwise the injury can range from a few fractures to even death. Durga assured us in case of anyone slipping and sliding down he would come after us and halt our slide.He had an ice axe with him and he explained that he would come sliding after us, then hold us first with his left hand and then slam the ice axe into the ice thereby stopping both.Though this comforted us a little bit I wondered what he would do in case two people slip at the same time.Also we all were separated by some distance.What if he was ahead and somebody at the back slipped.These kind of thoughts swirled in my mind as I walked carefully on the snow my eyes fixed only on the trail ahead.

Somewhere around 8 am we could see the camp of Bhagubasa in the distance.The numerous colorful tents were in contrast with the black and white background of rock and snow.
At 8 am we reached Bhagubasa. It took us one hour to reach the actual camp  after the first sighting.We took some rest here. Durga was initially reluctant to give us much time.But we all were adamant in taking our time.He gave in and he himself sat down.He took out some apples and five stars.I was not interested in eating anything so I chucked the apple and the five star into the depths of my clothing.This was to provide a pleasant surprise later on.

At exactly 10 am we started off.Now the group was reduced to 7 persons from 9.Satya and Nitesh decided to stay back at the camp as both were not feeling well and did not want to take any chances.We all were already very tired as by that time as we had completed 4 hours of trek but the thought of finishing what we came to do kept us going.Now everywhere I looked I saw only snow.The only other colours apart from white was black of the rocks,the blue of the sky and the blood red jacket of Aman.

At one point we spotted a fox on a snow covered plain field below.It appeared from some rocks and  sauntered along the field.It roamed a bit and then disappeared among the rocks from where it had come.All this while we stood there looking at the animal in amazement.This was no zoo.We just saw a wild animal in the wild.The thought thrilled us.As time wore on the leading position in the group kept changing between bhanu and myself.Abhishek and arun formed the middle section.The rear was bought up by angkan accompanied by Aman.At some point I stopped to take a break.I could see bhanu just a few metres behind me.He came and stood beside me.Abhishek and Arun were trudging slowly.Their steps measured and careful.Behind the blood red jacket was moving back instead of moving forward.We rightly assumed that Angkan must have turned back.This was confirmed by durga when he rejoined us from the back.

The one big problem today was sitting down to take rest.The problem was the snow.The cold would numb our back sides.But we sat down nevertheless.We were getting so weary we didn't bother.But sitting increased the chances of slipping so we took very small breaks and kept walking.In this manner we trekked the treacherous slopes of snow slowly inching towards our goal.As the trek wore on the others fell behind and there was only a porter and myself at the front. Rahul,the porter had joined us from Bhagubasa and quickly progressed to the head of the group.He would lead the way for me and then stop ahead till I reached him.As we progressed the frequency of stops began to increase.The angle of the slope also increased greatly.I was panting heavily now.Now and then a cough came out as I grappled with the thin air.But I kept going on.By now I had no idea how the others were faring as there was considerable distance between us.Rahul kept encouraging me by saying frequently that our goal was very near now.I was utterly exhausted but I kept going.Of one thing I was and am very much proud.At no point of time did I get the thought of quitting and going back.

As we neared our goal we met a few trekkers coming back.They passed by us with some encouraging words.One person even asked me If I needed any help or If I wanted some water.I politely declined and thanked him profusely for his offer.I learnt one thing here.Up on the mountains everyone is a friend.

The final stretch was upon us now.The slope became gentle and I was huffing and puffing as I was ambling over it.Meanwhile Rahul went ahead and spotted the lake and gave me a cry of jubilation.He shouted that I was near the lake finally.Controlling my excitement I increased my pace and reached over to where he was standing and there it was.

Roopkund lake.

In all its serenity and beauty.The lake itself is not big.Its a small lake.From where I was standing it looked even smaller.It was completely frozen now.Also there were no signs of the famous skeletons.Everything was covered with snow.It looked heavenly.To give you a complete picture.I was standing there in five layers of clothing.A beanie to cover my head.A muff to cover my ears and nose.A pair of sunlasses over my normal specs to protect my eyes from the bright snow.Gaiters over my pants.Waterproof gloves over my hands.And a intensely cold wind was blowing.In this attire I looked at the lake.And It looked heavenly.I would be lying If I said that I did not feel a sense of achievement.For the time being this was my Everest and I climbed it.I felt mighty proud.

To our front lay the frozen roopkund lake.To our right was the Junargila ridge.It was unclimbable that day because of the heavy layer of snow on it.To the left layers of snow covered mountains stretched away as far as the eye could see.Here everything was black and white.The black of the rocks and the white of the snow.

After the initial wave of excitement passed away and gave way to exhaustion I sat down on the snow and started taking pictures.After 20 minutes bhanu and durga came.Durga was visibly happy but bhanu,as is his style,simply gave a weak smile.Soon abhishek and arun joined us.Both were mighty tired but gave small shouts of hurrahs.It looked as if no one was interested in taking a pic because of the conditions we were in.To make matters worse the wind kept blowing.I kept yelling everyone to assemble so we could take a group pic but initially my words fell on deaf ears.A bit of angry yelling soon woke them up from their reverie and we took a few pics.

After sometime Durga took out our lunch.It was roti and some vegetable.I removed my gloves and immediately they became numb with cold.With my freezing hands I took the roti.It was stiff because of the cold.I thought if I eat it, it will never reach my stomach.It will get stuck in my throat itself and choke me.So though I was starving I declined to have lunch.Then I remembered about the apple Durga gave back in bhagubasa.I took it out and cut it into pieces by my swiss army knife.I gave half of it to bhanu and I had half of it.That was the best apple I ever had in my life.

We spent only a total 30 minutes at the top.We reached at 1 pm exactly four hours after we started from Bhagu basa and we started our descent at 1 30pm on the dot.

So that was it.We had reached the roopkund lake. After looking at the pictures of the lake for two years I finally looked at it with my own eyes.

In person.

I was happy.



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 3 (Bedni Bugyal to Pathalnachni)

Day 3

In Brief
Distance to be covered today- (~4km)
Change in Elevation-from Bedni Bugyal(3354MSL) to Pathalnachni (3800MSL)
Scenery-Through grasslands initially,then through rocky terrain and then stretches of snow here and there.
Duration- Around 2-3 hours depending on your speed
Difficulty- moderate

For accounts of Previous days  -Introduction
                                                  -Day 1
                                                  -Day 2
                                                  
In Detail
Day 3 was the easiest of all the days of the trek.We were to cover a distance of around 4km in about 3 hours.We were pretty relaxed in the morning and had our breakfast leisurely.The morning produced some spectacular views of the snow clad mountains surrounding us.But it was Mt Trishul which took the limelight.It shone majestically as the sun's rays reflected off its bright coat of snow.Today we were to trek to Pathal Nachni which was going be the base camp for our final push to the Roopkund lake.This was decided on the previous day.Since GIO(our trek agency) had the concept of a running camp we had two options for our choice of base camp.Either Pathal nanchni or  Bhagubasa which was further away.Pathal nachni camping was on dry ground as opposed to Bhagubasa which was on complete snow.Mr Durga gave us the liberty to choose our camping spot.After a brief discussion amongst ourselves we wisely choose Pathal nachni.
      We started off by 9am from bedni bugyal.There were two options for us, either we could retrace our steps from yesterday(where we descended to reach the campsite )and catch the trail or we could take a tougher shortcut to climb a steep section and reach the trail a bit ahead.We chose the latter.We passed by the enchanting bedni kund lake.The water of the lake was shimmering with a bluish tint reflecting the perfect cloudless blue sky above.As we had lots of time on hand today we stopped by the lake and took some pics.A lake in the midst of mountains is truly a spectacular sight.Only Mr Durga's insistence compelled us to leave from that spot and we trudged off onto the trail again.
      We left the grasslands behind and a rocky terrain welcomed us.We reached Ghora Lautani after an hour into the trek.This place was called so because this was the last point where horses could reach,Beyond this point there was no food for the horses and they couldn't be taken any further.So the horses returned from here.Hence the name Ghora(Horse) lautani (return).
      There were stunning views everywhere and we kept stopping to take pics.We finally reached our campsite around 12 noon.We spotted our camps from a distance and the location, for the first time  did not look good.Our camps were to be clustered very near to each other.There was a small hill just behind our tents which we found out a bit later was the 'potty hill' (I overheard this description from another trekker from another group) Even our Toilet tent was set up on this hill.This was a bit annoying but we had no choice here.Reluctantly we headed into our tents and got ready for the rest of the day ahead which meant slipping into 4 layers of clothing.This was going to be the harshest night of the whole trek so I was not taking any chances.In addition to the 4 layer clothing I had 2 layers of socks on my foot with a plastic cover in between the two layers.During the night I wrote thermal socks over these.This kept me warm and I did not feel a thing.
Our camp site of Day 3
      We spent the afternoon talking.Now and then bursts of rain completely enveloped the area.So we only came out when it was clear.We had our dinner in the evening itself because we were to start very early in the morning at 3am.So we had our dinner at 6pm and were into our tents by 7 30pm ready to sleep.The next day was going to be the most important day of the trek when we push for the final ascent to the roopkund lake.We were very excited and I slept with visions of myself standing beside the roopkund lake.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 2 (Didana to Bedni Bugyal)

Day 2

In Brief
Distance to be covered today- (~12km)
Change in Elevation-from Didana(2600MSL) to Bedni Bugyal(3354MSL)
Scenery-Through Oak forests and later through grasslands
Duration- Around 4-6 hours depending on your speed
Difficulty- more difficult than the first day

In Detail
Today was to be the day we would be seeing the famed Bugyals. Mr Durga upped the excitement by claiming that we would forget everything when we will lay our eyes on the bugyals.This declaration speeded up our preparation in the cold morning and we started off by 8am.Today we were to gain a height of around 750MSL.The path was steep right form the beginning.We walked among tall trees surrounding us from all sides.Today angkan was leading the group behind Mr Durga as he had no bag to carry with him.Abhishek and arun were also much more relaxed and sprightly today as they too had given their bags to be carried by the donkeys.Only nitesh,satya,bhanu and myself were carrying our bags.The path was steep for a while and eased out gradually.
      We reached a place called Tol Pani after an hour.It was a quaint village glowing in the morning sunshine.There were a few villages scattered around a beautiful field.This was to the last water source for the day till we reach bedni bugyal.That means a total of around 4 hours without water.We passed by this place and from here another steep ascent started.
      After another stretch of walking through the oak forests we reached tol top after an hour.Here the whole group sat down.Today all of us were walking with not much distance between us.As some of us were without bags we all could keep pace with each other.This stretch was very exhausting for us who were carrying bags.We had some chocolates here and took ample rest.The trees above offered us nice shade from the bright sun above.Here and there the leaves parted to create spectacular images of the Tyndall effect.
    We started after everyone had rested to their heart's content.The trail passed through the forests for a while then slowly the forest spread began to recede and grasslands started.To our right were the forests and we were walking on the grass.We walked on this pleasing spread of grass for sometime and then took a break again.We took some pics here meanwhile Mr Durga and satya went in search of some water.They came back with bottles of brownish water citing this was the best they could do as filling water from the water source was very tricky as well as risky.
   After another stretch of walking we found ourselves amidst the Ali Bugyal.The sight which lay before me was one of the most stunning landscapes I ever saw in my life.An exquisite carpet of green grass was spread all over the place.There were gentle hills sloping up and down.The snow clad peaks in the background completed the whole picture.I was speechless for a while.This is what drives me on treks.This is why I trek.The happiness that I got there on seeing the beauty of nature in front of me was unmatched.I just wanted to lay down there on that welcoming grass,close my eyes and think of nothing.But that was not possible.Not with the group that there was with me.Not without some wisecrack coming my way.I thought better not risk it and moved on.
     Once again we sat down amidst this wallpaper perfect place.To me this reminded me of Windows XP default wallpaper.After we had our fill of the place's beauty we started off for Bedni Bugyal.It was hard, not the walk,but leaving Ali bugyal.I wanted to camp there itself.But there was no water for miles around this place and camping here would be foolish. Bedni bugyal was not far away.The walk till there produced some more stunning views.We could see the path zig zag on the hills before us.All this while we could see Mt Trishul towering over us.As the time passed I grew more and more tired.A slight headache began to start.Over time it grew and by the time we reached Bedni Bugyal I had a raging headache.It could have been because of the Altitude or it could have been my Migraine acting up.
       At around 2 pm I saw a faint greenish colour ahead of us on a edge of a hill sloping down.This was our second campsite Bedni Bugyal.I was relieved beyond words.Somehow this view reminded me of the Tintin books that I used to read during my childhood.The location of the campsite was,once again excellent.We had superb views all round us.On reaching the campsite we threw our bags on the ground and dashed to the dining tent where hot soup was served to us.After the soup I had only one thing in mind.I went to my tent,took a paracetamol tablet(Dolo 650) and tried to catch some sleep.Wind started blowing outside and it was very cold.I had already changed into 4 layers of clothing.This kept me warm.With the sound of the wind,the shaking of the tent and the voices of the group drifting in and out in the background I slept very uneasily.Now and then I woke up with a start when a particular sound increased.Somehow by 8 pm I was sound asleep when a voice calling out my name woke me up.It was Mr Durga inquiring about my health.He told me to getup and get some dinner in the kitchen area.I woke up with foggy eyes but surprisingly my headache had subsided.I ambled towards the kitchen where I was given some hot soup.I told Mr Durga that I was Ok and maybe it was the altitude that caused the headache,He agreed and as a precaution gave me lasoon(garlic) to eat.The guides and the locals believe that lasoon is the best remedy for any altitude related problem.I had the soup and a little bit of rice and dal. That was enough for me and I declined to eat any more.I wandered off to the kitchen area where everyone else were having their dinner.As my headache had subsided I was back in form and joined in the banter that usually accompanies a dinner.
          After dinner we all strode to abhishek's tent and crammed ourselves inside.Yes thats 7 people inside a 3 man tent. Abhishek took out a bottle from his bag which he had dearly carried right from delhi.It was a bottle of Jack Daniels.As satya and myself were the only teetotalers we had a pack of frooti with us. Abhishek poured everyone a small glass of the famed whiskey and everyone drank it heartily.It was very limited as alcohol tends to amplify the sickness associated with Altitude. After this session was over we all withdrew to our tents to tucked in for the night.There was to be no bonfire that night as a cold wind was blowing and we were in no mood to spend any time out in the open.During the whole night the wind howled and shrieked.It shook our tent now and then.The ground was also uneven and I had a quite restless sleep.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 1 (from Lohajung to Didana)

In Brief
Distance to be covered today- (~10km)
Change in Elevation-from Lohajung(2530MSL) to Didana(2600MSL)
Scenery-Through Rhododendron forests
Duration- Around 4-6 hours depending on your speed
A picturesque village

The agency
We trekked with GIO Adventures with Mr Durga and Mr Aman as our guides.There were four other people who doubled up as cooks and porters.There were also three donkeys.

The Team
Our team comprised of a total of 7 trekkers. Bhanu,Abhishek and Satya were my childhood friends.Then there was bhanu's friend Angkan.Abhisek's friend Arun and  Nitesh who had signed up independently. Only bhanu,nitesh and myself had any previous trekking experience.

Detailed account
                I woke up in the morning all excited for the day ahead.As I stepped outside of the room leaving the warm and cozy blankets, a sense of excitement grew in me as I saw the exquisite view in front of the hotel.I stood there,in the fresh morning mountain breeze and mulled about the days ahead.The thought of being in the midst of those mountains lying in front of me filled me with joy and eagerness.Whatever tiredness and sleep that I had vanished at those thoughts.I went back inside my room and got ready.Slowly one by one everyone came out of their rooms and by 8 am we all were ready.We were full of enthusiasm for the day ahead and couldn't wait to start for the trek.By 8:30 am we finished our breakfast and started off with Mr Durga in the lead.
                Today's trek was to be relatively easy compared to the days ahead.We would be covering a distance of roughly 10 km and would be gaining a height of only 70MSL. I was carrying my trusty Quechua 60L rucksack with me.I had packed it,with a lot of deliberations spanning over a period of 2 months.I had originally bought the bag 2 years back keeping in mind the Roopkund trek and used it in my Nag Tibba trek too.It was quite heavy and like it happened on my first trek( Nag tibba) I was feeling breathless after only 30 mins.We uttered a cry of relief when Mr Durga called a halt near a small stream and we sat down to calm our hearts which were working overtime.After everyone was satisfied we started off and soon we found a rhythm which was with us for the rest of the day.
                We walked among rhododendron forests and there were no views of any peaks today as we were surrounded by tall trees.As we trudged through the trail our feet made a squishing sound as we stepped on the leaves littered all over the path.Soon the sun was making its presence felt.Perspiration began to form on my face and it snaked on my skin making its journey downwards passing on my neck and onto my torso.Whenever a cool breeze blew it bought both relief and uneasiness as the sweat was evaporating making the skin cool.After an hour's walk we came across a beautiful stream.There was a bridge built across it.The water,as it fell and jumped over the boulders made a sweet sound.The kind of sound that lulls you to sleep or for the artistic kind inspire them to create a masterpiece.We stopped here for a while,took a few pics.This place was called Raun bagad Bridge.Here another group of trekkers were already taking rest when we reached.They were from 'Trek the Himalayas' agency.We had a few conversations with them.We kept running into them for the next three days.
               As bhanu,abhishek and satya were my childhood fiends I was all comfortable with them and initially talked mostly with them.But as the day wore off,I became comfortable with angkan, arun and nitesh.Angkan was also a fellow blogger and we found out we had quite a few things in common chief  among them being our love for travel and supernatural stories. Arun was of the quiet kind and didn't talk much.Once in a while he would say something funny in his distinctive style of Hindi and we all would have a hearty laugh. Nitesh was the oldest in the group but did not look the part.We all gauged his age around 10 years less than his actual age.He had done 2 treks before and looked like a 'North face' fan as everything from the cap on his head to his shoes were of  'North Face' brand.He gave us some insights about his previous treks.We had a nice variety to our group as well.Two worked in Power Plants,two in coal mining and the rest were in IT.We had good topics to talk about and this kept the trek interesting.
A small village we came across
                In the initial part of the trek we descended and after Raun bagad bridge we started our ascent.Basically we had descended to come to the foot of one hill and then climbed the second hill reaching almost the same height from where started.Now and then the forests cleared and offered some views of the adjoining hills.As the day wore on the group got divided into two parts.The front end comprised of satya,nitesh,bhanu and myself.The rear end comprised of angkan,arun and abhishek.As time passed the gap between the two grew.By 1pm the front end saw the first dwelling of the Didana village.We stopped by a small shop were we bought a few chocolates(munch) and sat down to rest.
                The rear end arrived a full 30minutes later.To our surprise they were not carrying their rucksacks.On inquiry they said that they were so tired they gave it to the porters who loaded them on the donkeys.After all were assembled here we started walking again.The camping site was still 30 minutes away after we spotted the first dwelling.When we reached the campsite we forgot all our tiredness.The location was breathtaking.Our camps were being set up at the edge of the hill with the hill gently sloping away.We went over to the site,threw our rucksacks on the ground and sat down.Some of us took off our shoes and sat barefoot on the ground.After we took rest to our hearts content we started exploring the site.Mr Durga and Mr Aman gave us a brief demonstration on how to set up a tent.One was set up by them and the other three we set up by ourselves with some help from them.We then had some delicious lunch prepared by the wonderful cook of the group. The rest of the day was spent in visiting a stream nearby and talking.In the night after a heavy downpour we had our dinner in the dining tent after which a bonfire was setup where angkan told some scary stories.The rest of the group lost interest after sometime and some retired for the night.But angkan and myself kept going for a long time.We shared some stories and by 10pm we decided to turn in for the night.Little did we know that this was to be the last comfortable night out we would have.
The view from my tent


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Everything that you should know about Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand


Roopkund Trek,it is said, is one of India's best treks.

And I did it last month.

For those of you who have zero idea about it let me point out a few things about Roopkund Trek.

First off this is a Himalayan trek which starts from Lohajung in Uttarakhand.The goal of this trek is to reach the Roopkund lake situated at a height of 4500MSL. The lake has mythological significance and for all thrillseekers,some mystery to it too.In 1942 a park ranger found mounds of human skeletons here.Since then a lot of theories have been floated about their presence much to the delight of the conspiracy theorists but recently National Geographic put in the theory that they may have been hit by a huge hailstorm.This theory is consistent with the found evidence of cracked skulls.
And to the delight of some and dismay of others there are no haunting stories associated with this macabre presence.


Claim to Fame- Three things
1.Human Skeletons
2.Breathtaking views.There are three different landscapes on offer here.Forests,Meadows and snow.Also it presents views of peaks like Mt Trishul(7120MSL) and Nanda Ghunti(6309MSL)
3.Many websites rate Roopkund as one of the top three treks in India.

Region- This trek starts in the Kumaon region and goes into the Garhwal region.


Best time to do it- There are two windows for this trek.
1.May-June. This is for the snow.You will find lots of snow but no skeletons as they lie covered by snow.
2.September.This is for the skeletons.
I will be talking everything related to the May-June window in this blog post.

Duration-The whole trek starting from Lohajung village and ending at Wan village typically takes 5 days.It can be done leisurely in 6 or 7 days too.

Grade-The grade is Moderate+ which means get ready to do some exhausting physical work.
It is said that this can be done by fit first timers.I strongly suggest you do some physical exercises before undertaking this trek.I trained for this trek by trying to achieve Indiahikes's formula of being able to run 5km in 30 mins.I achieved my personal best of 5km in 36min in 10 days.

Medicines-Altitude Sickness plays a factor in this trek.So be prepared with medicines.AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) differs from person to person.Some may get affected by while some may remain completely free from it.I strongly advise everyone to carry a set of medicines with you.While Diamox is the medicine for AMS,the various trekking agencies have differing opinions about it,Some suggest taking it may cause more harm than good.The locals prefer taking roasted garlic for every problem.
Even if you are the sort of person who despises taking tablets I suggest you carry a strip of Paracetamol with you.Dolo 650 is a good option.Make sure it is pure paracetamol.It shouldn't be added with any other compound.You never know what side effects it may cause.

Equipment- This is the kind of trek where if you forget even one key item from your gear you may have to stop your trek midway.Take very seriously whatever your trek agency suggests you to pack.
I am the kind of man who packs everything with emergencies in mind.99% of the time you may not need them but I prepare for that 1%.Sometimes when I get carried away I prepare a back up for my back up.
My top 5 must have items apart from the usual sweaters,jackets,raincoats and rain pants are
1.Sunglasses (on the day that you push for the summit you have to pass through snow everywhere.And with the sun shining above everything will be bright white.For people like me who have migraine problem this is a nightmare as bright light triggers an attack.I don't usually have the habit of wearing sunglasses as I wear prescription glasses but for this trek I packed in a pair of sunglasses which was sent by my brother who bought it from the Decathlon store in Hyderabad.
So I repeat if you forget your sunglasses you may have to stay back at the base camp.
2.Torch( A torch is essential for movement in the night.Also on the day you try to summit you may have to start at 3am in the night depending on where you camp for the night.Don't forget to pack in an extra pair of batteries)
3.Waterproof Gloves(Believe me with the amount of cold and the snow on the penultimate day you will be saved a lot of pain with a pair of good relaible pair of waterproof gloves.)
4.Atleast 5 pair of socks (I carried 9 pairs with one woolen pair included.I did not regret.4 pairs got wet on the last day of the trek.Woolen pair was for the night.
5.Garbage bags (Do not underestimate the worth of garbage bags.They have a number of uses.They can be used to store wet clothes,your chappals,sometimes shoes,your valuables in case of a rain.I even wore them over a pair of socks on which I wore another pair of socks on the summit day.Protected my feet from getting wet as I was not wearing waterproof shoes.)

And finally the Trek Agency.

Choosing a trek agency is very critical.Remember the following points when choosing an agency
1.They are responsible for your fooding and lodging all throughout the trek.You don't have other options once you start the trek.You solely depend on the agency
2.They are responsible for your safety. The competency of your guide and his team is vital.Good guides are certified First Aiders and have undergone proper mountaineering courses
3.You get to use their gear.Good agencies use good gear.Simple really.
4.Go with agencies that do treks with small groups.Easy to manage and ensures proper safety of all.
5.Choose established agencies as they have local contacts in the villagers and can be of huge help in case of emergencies.

We did this trek with GIO Adventures.They met all the above criteria and were excellent in their service.Our guide Mr Durga Singh Banta and his deputy,the sprightly Mr Aman Chouhan ensured our stay was comfortable.And on a lighter note you don't have to wash your own plates with the freezing cold water if you are with GIO. Apparently some agencies have this policy.
Over the next few days I will present a day to day account of the whole trek.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ten tips for girls travelling alone

Are you a girl who loves travelling alone? Or are you someone for whom travelling alone is an integral part of life as you live far off from home? If yes this post is for you.

Some girls may be doubtful about the fact that this post is coming from a boy.But let me tell you I have a sister and a few friends who travel alone sometimes and I have written this post keeping them in mind.

So here are the ten points.Most of these hold good even for Boys.I personally follow almost all of these.

1.First,as a girl (or even for boys) you should have something to protect yourself in case things turn bad.For this you can keep a pepper spray at all times with you.Better still, for the long term you can learn martial arts.Krav Maga is one such Martial arts that has been gaining much popularity both among men and women.Check it out.

2.Next prepare a list of minimum 5 persons whom you can contact in case of an emergency.Have their phone numbers and their email ids written down clearly in more than 2 places with you.One place can be your travel dairy.Another can be your smartphone.Yet another potential place can be in your purse.Better still if you can, memorise all the names and numbers.

3.Whenever you travel, designate one person with the following criteria as your 'control room contact'

Criteria is
a) He/she should be your close friend.One whom you can call at 3am in the night without any fear.
b) He/She should be nearby a computer with internet access most of the time.
c) Preferably one with good knowledge about the goings on of the world and events nearby.Also one who knows his/her way around the internet.
d) Preferably One with good contacts or a good network.

The idea behind this to always have some one whom you can contact when you need help like the following
-urgently book tickets
-know the status of places in case of any calamity
-when you run out of money
-know the directions to any place
etc

I think you get it by now. This is like more like a James Bond type of thing.Imagine you are the field agent and you should always have someone on the base to help you.I personally call him/her my 'control room contact'.I will refer him/her as CRC for the rest of the post.

4.My brother keeps telling me and my sister about this. Always take note of your surroundings.Wear safety belts when you are in a car.When you are travelling by a bus note down the bus number.Take a pic and whatsapp it to your CRC. And when you have boarded it always check out where the emergency exits are. Same goes when you are in a train.Always know where the emergency exits are.When you are riding a two wheeler wear a helmet.
Be mad about safety!

5.These days there are so many apps coming out about safety of women.Check them out and install one of them in your smartphone.

6.Always keep at least one person informed about your whereabouts. It can be your CRC or anyone else.

7.Join or simply check out women organisations or groups or which have members who travel alone.For example - The WOW Club : Pioneers of All Women Travel - Home or Home - World YWCA or LWTC - Home

8.Know other single women travellers. Make a little group of your own.
Also know the famous ones like Shivya Nath,Anuradha Goyal,Anuradha Shankar,Neelima Vallangi,Lakshmi Sharath and Lakshmi Prabhala.Check out their blogs.

9.Always prepare for Plan B.Always prepare for emergencies.No matter how much extra work you have to do prepare for emergencies.For example if you have booked a train , be ready with an alternate train that you can catch in case you miss the original train.Be through in your planning.Leave nothing to chance.

10.Carry a First Aid Kit with you always. Keep it properly stocked.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Chandannagar,West Bengal

The French in the 17th Century established their colonies in five towns in India.One of them was Chandannagar in West Bengal. Curiously Chandannagar is the only colony which is not near the sea coast.Perhaps having a large river flowing by compensated the lack of a sea coast.
The Chandannagar Strand

It is a small town an hour 23km north of Kolkata. River Hooghly flows past quietly through the town.I am a huge fan of historical tourism and I have never been to a former French colony in India so I decided to check it out.Added to it was the call of a Indo French Museum.So last Sunday off I went to kolkata and from there took the 12 o'clock Bandel local to Chandannagar. I reached around 1 o'clock.Usually I take a walk around a new place.But not that day.The sun was fiercely shining overhead and I was already sweating bucketfuls from the train ride.So I flagged down a share auto and went to the one place which is famous in Chandannagar. The strand.The ride was through small narrow streets through the town.I was surprised to see a 'more' supermarket in one of the streets. There were some old buildings which looked like they belonged to the pre independence era but there was nothing spectacular.
The Indo French Cultural Centre

After a ride of a few minutes I reached the strand.My first priority was the Museum which I mentioned earlier.I walked along the strand with the river to my left and a row of old and beautiful buildings to my right.There was a college for girls,a police station,a government building, a church and finally I reached the museum.It was formerly the residence of one of the most famous governor general of French India, Joseph Fran├žois Dupleix,It was converted into an Institute cum Museum and was called the Institute de Chandannagar or Indo French Cultural Centre. I had come with a lot of expectations but the museum did not live up to it.The layout is haphazard and the items are neither properly labelled nor arranged in any proper order.There are different sections including one on paintings,one has the bed of the governor general,one has books and newspapers and one has weapons and arms.Like most of the museums in India it lacked enthusiasm.The lack of interest showed in the way the museum was maintained.

Of all the exhibits a few things were interesting like the newspapers from the 18th century.There was a french newspaper which had one front page advertisement in English about the a discount being offered for tickets on a ship returning to England.There were interesting books but nothing which stood out.I wrapped up my visit with some disappointment.
By the way their website looks like it is from the 18th Century -Click here.
Patalbari

Next I strolled around the strand for quite some time,I tried visiting the patalbari but was told that it is not open to visitors.The strand is almost a kilometer long with a set of the most beautiful buildings of Chandannagar here.Opposite the river Hooghly flows serenely.Here and there a fisherman's boat glides over the smooth flowing river.Lots of opportunities here for a photography enthusiast.I casually strolled here and there,took some pics,had a heavily scented biryani in one of the restaurants nearby and for sometime sat down on one of the numerous benches provided there.
A church on the strand

At around 4pm I decided it was time to go and I returned to the railway station.I walked half the distance and was lucky to stumble upon a beautiful building.For the next half I took an auto.I took another local train to kolkata.


The strand
A kid jumps into the Hooghly River


A beautiful building in the town of Chandannagar