Saturday, August 31, 2013

Himalayan Trek in My First Trip to North India...

I think it had rained an hour ago. Chill in the air and stagnant water at the roadside were clearly indicating this fact. After acclimatizing to temperatures ranging from 2 to 40 centigrades for over 2 weeks, I was back to the city that boasts a constant weather of around 20 centigrade, Bengaluru. I was walking towards home with a bagful of stories to tell- some adventurous, some philosophical, some controversial. Here it is- the travelogue of my first trip to North India!

This entire trip was very very well planned in paper with all hotel and travel bookings already done.Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani”. A week after watching the movie, with official nod from parents we had booked the complete itinerary while having an icecream, sitting in the Corner House of Kasturi Nagar, Bengaluru. Our trip had a disastrous start as the main trip planner, Manu met with an accident a day before our departure. We were given a royal send off by Vijay and Yashu, after a tasty dinner (Thank you, Aunty!) at Yashu’s place. Did I feel that I won’t return forever? Nah!
Hadimba Temple

I’ll traverse through the states of India that I visited in this trip. I have provided links for complete story. Enjoy, as much as I did!

#1. Himachal Pradesh, a romantic state that shares it’s borders with Tibet. I visited two districts- Kullu and Shimla. The charming skin tone and excellent physique of the citizens deserves special mention. I got down in Shimla with a 20kg luggage, looked around to find no auto rickshaws, instead plenty of man labor. I and my friend decided to walk to Hotel Chaman Palace. 5 min after we started, we realized that it was a mistake! 70 degree slopes and stairs took out all the energy as we reached the hotel located close to Mall road. Mall road is the busiest and the most happening with lot of eateries and shopping outlets. Veg momo’s and burgers of Krishna Traders are the best I have had till date. Street food- channa kulcha and chatpati chat- I recommend. This city was incredibly disciplined with no smoking and
Toy Train
no plastic policies followed till the last dot!

Kullu, on the other hand is more ethnic with localities wearing the vibrant “Himachal ki Shaan” topi and apple sellers everywhere. Base camp for our trek was in Manali. We visited a Tibetan architecture influenced Hadimba and Ghatodgakch temple, built atleast 500 years ago. Beas River flowing along the canopy of Pine trees gives this city an artistic look. We got to visit Nicholas Roerich’s museum in Naggar, 25kms away from Manali. His breathtaking paintings of Himalayan inexpressible beauty and the peace flag (harmony of religion, art and science) that he designed for “League of Nations” (current UN) is the highlight.

Remember Kareena in “Ye Ishq” song of “Jab We Met”, we were at this serene place- the Naggar Castle, built in 16th century. We had delicious snacks in the hillside view balcony of the hotel there, Cutlets, yummm!! We made sure to visit the famous Johnson’s cafĂ©, and of course, had a great
With Bishi and Gursagar
evening with 11 buddies!

I have deliberately put the best part of Himachal in another blogpost. Trek Hampta pass (Click here) yourselves!

#2. We entered Punjab, land of 5 rivers, through the UNESCO heritage narrow gauge toy train from Shimla. Toy train to Kalka, running since 1902, brought us best of landscapes. We made our way to beautifully planned Chandigarh from Kalka via couple of auto rickshaws which run like public buses here. We visited my friend, Bishas and Gursagar (Thanks a ton guys, you rock!) for dinner and they redefined hospitality, we set off to explore Punjab the next day (Click here, yeah, story is long enough for another blogpost)!
Golden Temple

#3. The Delhi Honeymoon was a dream come true. As we keep hearing the daily happenings of Delhi, I was excited to see how it really lived, the capital of “The India”. My experience that changed “Delhi” to “Dilli” (city of heart) is indeed heartening, I suppose, why wait, read here The Delhi Honeymoon!

The trip plan was executed almost near to perfection, all thanks to the 3 hours delay in “Hirakund Express” from Amritsar to Agra, because of which we had to skip Agra since there would be little time left to explore Agra that Thursday evening and Taj Mahal shuts down every Friday. Dear Taj, will see you soon!
Whenever I achieved some small feats,
Hampta Pass
People blessed me that I’ll go places…
I sit and contemplate on what it meant,
Realizing answers are sole aim of our life… 
May be a different perspective of new place,
In the thick thread of cobbler’s spool…
Showing the life that I never lived,
In the kaleidoscope of a roadside kid… 
Today, I really want to achieve more feats…
Today, I really want to visit more places…
Today, I really want to find more answers…
[Heartfelt gratitude to Manu, Akhilesh, Bishas and Archi for planning this out. Cheers to Thomas, Tanja, Parijat, Naaga, Harsha, Sowmini, Spurthi, Chandrashekar V, Neerav, Niladri, Akshat, Bharath, Shushanth, Saranbir, Thakur Saheb and IndiaHikes for making the trek super awesome. Photo Credits: Akhilesh, Parijat, Chandru and Harsha.]

The Delhi Honeymoon: Capital of India

I always admired E. Sreedharan for connecting my hometown Udupi in the beautiful and equally astonishing Konkan railway, now I travelled in Delhi Metro, my respect to this man grew heaps and bounds! Nothing is impossible here and when we really understand SRK’s repetitive dialogue in recent movie- “Don’t underestimate the power of Common Man”- images of Team Anna’s recent march to statues of famous Dandi march which I saw here rings the bell! I spent fair number of days to visit most of the places here-
Humayun Tomb

#Humayun Tomb was the first place I visited in Delhi and what a way to start. Brilliant architecture and peaceful gardens. Looked like it was extremely well maintained. As the Sun rose it started getting really humid, but this extremely lavish monument kept me happy. Superlike!

#India Gate, Parliament House and Rastrapathi Bhavan are not at the walking distance! Amazing disillusion (not the Parliament, come on, we should respect them)! We misread the distance and my t-shirt drenched with sweat was the testimony! So near yet so far. Entry to Amar Jawan Jyoti in India Gate is unfortunately restricted and we had to pay our respect at a distance. I spotted couple of TV News channel crew in this popular Janpath road.
Parliament House and Rastrapathi Bhavan

#Connaught Place, Rajiv Chowk and Central Park were extremely crowded and as we had no intention to shop, we strolled around, had milkshakes and I was particularly surprised to see more people than the number of trees at Central Park (Lalbagh of Bengaluru, you rock!) Ahh, bit of time waste toh banta hai!

#Jantar Mantar, wow, what was this! I thought IIT JEE entrance exams were the last thing that went over top of my head and here was something new! I tried hard and understood one of the astronomical structures. I respect you for this brilliance created way back in 1700’s, Sawai Jai Singh!
Jantar Mantar

#Rajghat Gandhi Samadhi is where our father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, is laid to rest. With great interest we visited Bapu’s museum as well. One thing which I thought I won’t share, but here it is, Rajghat has a paid chappal stands and right opposite to it is the free one (less than 50mtrs distance between them). When some foreigners were about to use those free one’s, guy sitting in the paid shouted that there won’t be any security there! What an irony. Gandhiji, comeback, we need you more than ever!

#Akshardham Temple, oops, with due respect to the believers, I first declare that I am free to write what I feel! Can we take off the word “temple” and replace it with “mall”. Shrewd business place this was, where your camera, phone, baggage is not allowed and if you wish to take a snap,
you end up paying over hundred bucks- “service” provided by “temple”. Even airport officials didn’t frisk so much and to clarify, I asked an official there who was sporting a grand tika, he replied-“These are the rules and we don’t know the answers for your question”. God has answers for everything and truth is God- this was my understanding. I am sure God would seek devotion, humility, pure heart and service- not money, nor He would sit in these white marbles! Why am I still writing about this!

#Qutub Minar was very artistic, all thanks to the aero planes that flew frequently. I was amazed by it’s sheer beauty and magnificent structure built in 1100’s. Hat’s off!

In #Chandini Chowk I didn’t miss having Gol Gappa’s! Also visited Parathawala gali and got my
Qutub Minar
hands into unique lemon, khela, ghajar and normal parathas in ethinc, 1882 established, Babu Ramdevi Daya Parathewala where I spotted Lal Bahudhur Shashtri’s picture eating in this place hung in the wall!

#Dilli Haat was small and sober shopping area where most of the states of India have an outlet or eatery. I bought some souvenirs here.

#Red Fort, I always reserve the best for the last, yes, the Red Fort, you beauty! I entered when it was dark and directly headed towards the light and sound show which runs at 7.30pm in Hindi language. The story started and to be frank, sounds were not impressive. Lights were decent. But God had different plans, and in between the three monument-like structure where light was being projected for the show, there appeared a faded circular object in the sky. I was, for a change, witnessing a moon rise!
I wish you were here in my arms,
To watch this moon turn yellow…
We would had a silly fight, whether,
We see the rabbit couple or a smiley face… 
I wish your strand of hair had fallen,
In my face when those cold winds blew…
I would carefully put them aside,
And kiss those colorful hanging earrings… 
I wish I gazed at your eyes so closely,
That I could see the reflection of moonlight…
I would wait till it got red intense,
As I knew my fort had been conquered…
[This was part of the tour. Read the complete experience here] 

Land of braves: Visit to ethnic Punjab

Catching glimpses of Chandigarh on the way to Bharathgarh- well planned sectors with disciplined site maps and green areas- I promised myself to return to explore this city. This trip we had opted for ethnic places over malls. 3 days well spent in Punjab, we had ample time to read the pulse of this state which mostly follows ideals set by Guru’s, led by Guru Nanak. Places I visited...
Bharatgarh Fort

#Bharatgarh fort is located in the banks of River Sutlej, close of Roopnagar or Roopar. Set amidst the Shivalik Ranges, this magnificent Fort of Bharatgarh was constructed in 1783 and incidentally, this is the only standing live-in fort of Punjab. There is a portion of it that has been made open to tourists in the form of a heritage home. Beautiful interiors, paintings, antique furniture and “The window” will give you immense happiness. I had the pleasure of learning the entire story with it’s historical significance from the proud heirs of this fort, my friend Bishas’s wonderful parents (Thank you for everything!).

#Virasat-E-Khalsa, Anandpur Sahib is an hour away from Roopnagar, boasts of an enchanted museum and an old Gurudhwara. Life size paintings depicting the journey of Sikh faith with sensors attached to it, narrates the story in the headphones that is given and the theme is so well set that I was amused and couldn’t believe that museums can give us much more than what I always thought. It’s a must visit place. We visited Gurudhwara and had our meals (Langar) before heading towards Amritsar via Jalandhar. Bus conductor cheated us to grab some extra money and this journey stirred lot of thoughts in me- relevance of Gurbani (preaching of Guru Nanak) and where greediness is taking us. I’ll reserve my further comments for later.
Golden Temple

#Golden temple, Amritsar is the calmest, peaceful and one of the most well organized temple I have ever seen. Gold reflections of the temple in the lake, golden fishes at times creating those small waves, the soothing Gurbani’s sung melodiously and luckily full moon at display- I sat down and prayed at peace- one can sense God here- with some many volunteers contributing for this perfect functioning of the temple. Also, here we met cast and crew of Kannada reality show-“Indian”.

#Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar still speaks for that disastrous day when an English officer ordered his troops to open fire without any prior warning on thousands of people including women and children who had peacefully gathered on
Jallianwala Bagh
occasion of the Punjabi New Year on April 13, 1919. Marks of gunshots, well where many laid their life jumping into it, Shaheed Uddam Singh’s (One of shot the British viceroy of Punjab in London) ashes and memorial dedicated to martyrs inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru are the highlights of this place.

#Wagah Border, Indo-Pak border was definitely a sort of let down for me, 30 kms away from Amritsar. Patriotic songs were being played when I arrived at 6pm here and a large crowd with tricolor was running/jumping around. When I was about to soak this patriotic feeling, “Koi Kahe” of “Dil Chahta Hai” started playing! 6.30pm, parade started at respective side of gates of India and Pakistan. As gates opened I could hear some swear words come out for Pakistanis from a person who was sitting next to me and seemed like quite a few of them being emotionally charged. Probably to mock at the whole set up- A white bird was entering India, totally carefree, in a different level!
Wagah Border

#Bharawan Dhaba’s Amritsari Kulcha had at least a glassful of ghee, is the most famous Dhaba in Amritsar running since 1912! I went to Punjab with very different set of expectations and had to return back with unexpected experiences. I wish general public won’t just restrict their beautiful ethical culture only to their Gurudhwara’s. People were greedy for money and I saw outsiders being literally ripped off. The poor cycle rickshaw drivers were the only people who looked very honest and hardworking to me. May the God bless their tribe and let the Gurbani prevail!

[This was part of the tour. Read the complete experience here] 

Tryst with Destiny: Trek to Hampta Pass

After many days of speculation and infinite warnings from family/friends midst Uttarkhand flash floods, it finally happened- the Hampta pass. It was a five day affair, thanks to snowing and wet tents/clothes, we had to wind up in four days, oh sorry, we were more than happy to get back heart and hale as early as possible!

Checklist of the trek was really long and it took quite a while to arrange everything. Starting from trek poles to shoes to rucksacks to thermal inners to rain coats to synthetic tracks to energy boosters to medical kit. Once the gear was ready, it weighed at least 9kgs, which I carried on my back, every day, don’t I deserve a bravery award!

13-08-2013: Manali to Chika basecamp
Supposed to be day where we get the trailer of what is probably waiting. With Saranbir (got your name right!) and Thakur sahib guiding us, we started off to Jobri in 3 vans, yeah, I met 17 awesome fellow trekkers! Jobri to Chika was an easy stroll of 2hours, small steeps and small river crossings; we reached at 5.30pm and learnt how to pitch the tents. Chapthis with paneer and dal was served for dinner, not to forget, there was a soup and a desert as well. Food just got better by day and chai, kept tasting best as we scaled the altitude.

14-08-2013: Chika to Bhalu Ka Ghera via Jwara
After a good sleep, woke up fresh. To answer the nature’s call, I explored toilet tents, not satisfied with the ambience, decided to carry axe to dig cat hole and enjoy the landscapes! This happened for next 3 days as well!
Sky kissing pines are dark green,
And as white color sets,
On a chilled night with creamy fog…
I see no moon, no stars!

The mild wind stretches the peg,
That holds my hand built tent…
Not strong enough, not weak though!
Yes, my nest is going to stay!

As the sun rises from the hill,
My eyes focus on a flying eagle,
Fighting rains, all set for a hard day…
I wrap my tent, head for a new journey!
We were served good breakfast and bananas/toffees to munch on the way, trek of 5 hours. With plenty of short breaks and decent pace, we were trying to acclimatize to the environment. Ah, I forgot to mention that this trek was mostly river side! Saran (Our trek lead) made it compulsory for us drink these riverside fresh water, basic idea is to overcome AMS (Acute Mountain sickness). Enough of huffing-puffing, making friends with fellow trekkers- we managed to reach Bhalu Ka Ghera, means Land of Sand, and we pitched in our tents.

When everything was so perfect, it started to rain. The rain that took this trek difficulty level from easy to moderate! The rain that made most of us wear same clothes everyday due to the drenched rucksacks. The rain which almost shattered our dreams of making it to Hampta pass the next day. All of us were working on the alternate plan of things that we would do if we got back tomorrow. With dejection and sorrow, most of us prayed for the rain to stop. It kept raining. It kept raining.

15-08-2013: Bhalu Ka Ghera to Shia Ka Garu via Hampta Pass: The Independence Day!
I came out of the tent, looked at the skies, obviously clouds had not cleared, no sign of the Sun, I sighed. 10min later, Saran comes out, probably after working on some of his magical tricks which he kept throwing at us throughout the trip, Bazinga!, tells us- “Guys, we’ll celebrate Independence day in Hampta pass” . All of us were electrified and we hurried to pack our belongings, I knew I was going to live “Tryst with Destiny” today!

All set with rain coats, head caps, gloves and some food on the way to eat, we started moving slowly but steadily, like a wind which is waiting to turn into a storm, we picked up pace and with regular breaks we crossed valley of flowers. With every ascent, it just got tough since it had started raining and now, we were not even bothered about it. We crossed glaciers and I could not hold my excitement of seeing them for the first time in my life, I stepped on the sides and in a split second, my left leg had gone in, I threw away my trekking pole and held on to a rock nearby, managed to get out safe. I looked through the hole my leg had made; I saw a river flowing in deep silence!

Breathing got tougher and when we reached the Hampta pass, we let it go, shouting slogans of Independence Day and congratulating each other for the feat achieved. It had taken us 6 hours to reach the pass. We started the descent. Oh man, numerous slips and knees hurting, ascent was better than descent! Blue lakes far away were a treat to watch. We even spotted mountain rats, sheep, goats and dogs.

Shia ka Garu means land of cold, and temperature was easily in single digits, not sure, if it went to negative! After 9hours long trek, pakoras and chai was the savior before the yummy dinner. With our wet clothes, wet inners and wet tents, sleeping was out of question, I kept shivering. With trembling hand and hoping for Sun rays, I penned this down...
Sun will smile tomorrow,
Marks of yesterday’s water…
Will speak the story of valor,
Of incredible belief in destiny…

Footprints in snow glitters,
Hiding enormous flowing river!
I press my shoe hard, hard enough…
To kick away those vacuum…
To kick away that emptiness…
To kick away those failures…
16-08-2013:Shia Ka Garu to Manali via Chatru
Plan for Day 5, i.e., Chandratala was cancelled since we had spotted fresh snow and it was almost impossible for another wet, cold night. So we headed to Chatru where we were supposed to be picked by motor vans. 4 hours of easy descent plus plain land. We started our day with clicking group pictures and crossing the crazy freezing cold river barefooted. We reached Chatru and were relieved to have finally finished the trek successfully. Then the news broke in!

There were 3 landslides and we had to trek for 13 kms more to catch our waiting van. It started all over again in Spithi valley and we were running out of words in praise for the landscapes, numerous waterfalls. To support green initiative of IndiaHikes, some of us kept picking up the littered items. Crossing the first and second landslide was not easy, and then came the third, like the climax, JCB of Tibetan Border Force, that was clearing up the road, gave me a “lift to remember”! We jumped into van and best of music to listen with satisfaction of trekking successfully- what more can you ask for!

To sum it up, I can easily recommend anyone to take up trekking, yeah, “taking up”, it’s definitely a sport! It’s not about lavish landscapes or scaling 14000ft (Hampta pass), trekking is like life- sometimes you walk alone, sometimes you laugh, you face anxiety, you meet new people, make friends, talk about diverse topics ranging from politics to finance to mules, sometimes you fall, someone will lend you hand, sometimes you help your friend tie shoelace, learn a thing or two, sometimes you work hard and smile, basically, you smile from your most satisfied heart!

[This was part of the tour. Read the complete experience here]