Soaking, waiting, keen, on the look out!

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The rain may make us forget all else, soak it in or hibernate, sip a chai and just gaze without any focus, but, this fella, is completely focussed on the next movement in the foliage, ready to launch himself the moment he spots a grasshopper, a worm move or a cricket bat an eyelid! The rain falls and the environs around my house are absolutely wonderful, life is if anything thriving there are three kitten being taken everywhere by their mom, the birds whenever they spot them are busy creating a racket, the kingfisher is having a field day catching prey, the cows and donkey’s have given up trying to enter the colony as there is enough grass now everywhere for them to eat to their hearts content. If this is not the season of life, I don’t know which is!

They may call it dull, gloomy, depressing weather, not me! I absolutely am in love in this cloudy, gray, damp, wet season that washes everyone and everything, it kick-starts life in me! :D

Cat on the prowl! The Warning calls galore!

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Constant tweeting made me open my hall window and check out and amidst the foliage of the peacock flower stood this little imp making a racket of sorts, it had actually spotted a little cat in the bushes below tending to its three little ones and this one had decided they were all threats and kept on calling all and sundry!

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Jumping up and down, screaming for attention!

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Which it got plenty from me, thankfully hid behind the curtain of my window it didn’t see me and allowed me to get a few close up shots!

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Handsome na???

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Once all others were called, the babblers, mynah’s and bulbul’s he then quietly stood displaying the fact that he had poise too, he then just looked about as the bigger birds got to the job of warning all others about the cat and the kitten! He spotted them and relayed the message to the others. Job well done I say!

Of Samosa, Chutney, Jalebi and love…

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I can’t help it you know, blame it on the social media and the unbelievable urge we folks of today have to share, I just have to click pictures of food that I love eating devouring. You put a honest slice of pizza in that plate and that plate is what I am pretty much ready to keep eating all my life. Samosa’s or ‘Sanbusaag’ as the original name from Persia have evolved to be India’s favourite snack, Idli’s you are quite nice too you know but compared to the samosa’s I am sorry but you are a little bland. No matter how horrible a samosa might be served to me promise me to finish it, not let it go waste and when I can lay my hands over a nicely cooked semi warm samosa of which I can take a good earnest bite I am sorry but… for a few minutes I can’t think, hear or see. I just chew the fillings in my mouth slowly letting all corners of my mouth a chance to have a feel of the flavour, sing a small thank you prayer in my mind and actually get lost for a few moments of what I am sure what heaven would feel like! Yes, a nicely cooked samosa and I can be had! :mrgreen:

Some wonderful chutney’s to spice up the already wonderful offering, add a few green fried chillies, a swig of Thums Up and the divinity simply can be unending. No, no one will talk about the villainous words like calories! For we have not even spoken about the really kurkuri(crispy) kesar jalebi’s which when put in your mouth actually open the floodgates of saliva in our mouth, whirlpool, hurricane, cyclone and all of that at the same time in your little mouth. An experience it is I tell you. Its love you know, for all who might be wondering who cooks all these pictures I put on FB, Insta or on my blog, rarely do I cook! Mostly its food made by my wonderful wife who had done some real sins in her last life and owes me so much from her last life that this entire life she has been assigned to feed this never satiable stomach of mine! Yes, praise, adjectives, applaud and all assistance is aptly provided to her, make no mistake or Its food we have brought from some restaurant or shop.

I love eating, talking about eating and off late clicking pictures of what I eat. Thanks to so many food bloggers on my timeline everywhere and their wonderfully unbelievably droolworthy photographs who not only inspire me & my wife to try and cook new dishes at home but there after before indulging in the food I make it a point to click some pictures!

Goddammit its love and it must be spread all over! :D :D

On the trail of the Ghost Cat

It seemed like a completely crazy idea

“Lets do it man” Jay’s voice cracked the silence that had enveloped the nervous me.

“They come down only in the peak winter months, when there is too much snow at the high peaks, they come lower in search of food! December is the best time to go!!!” He affirmed.

To be honest, the idea was fantastic, thrilling exciting but like most such idea’s seem many times to me, it seemed unreal or undo-able for the common me.

Chasing a Ghost Cat (snow leopard) in the peak of winters, in Hemis National Park in the Ladakh region of J&K seemed exotic but unreal, it appealed and at the same time, December, Winter, Harshness kind of weighed on my mind. I wanted to do it, yes, for sure, but, could I? Seriously?

The problem with common sense and common knowledge is they bind you into your limitations, I have done a few treks, but this wasn’t just about walking, this was about braving the conditions. Amidst all my quandaries Jay had already roped in Nigam and another friend Shital for the trek. Eventually I decided to join the bandwagon fully prepared to return in a day if I felt it too difficult!

This plan was being made in August, come December we were equipped with all the gear thanks to Decathlon. We had waterproof shoes, waterresistant socks, waterproof trousers and jackets, water proof camera bags and all set with many inners and warm clothes. Whilst trying all my gear once to see how it fits, my wife couldn’t help but remark,

“It feels like you are going to man a post in Siachen!”

By the time it was to leave, I was too excited to worry about the conditions, everyone I told was gushing with amazement and looking at me bewildered. Most of the guys were like,

“You lucky Dog!”
“Man are you freaking serious?! Ladakh in December?!”
“Snow Leopard dikhega?”
“Won’t it be freezing??”
“Dude, that is one hell of an adventure you are upto!!!”

The guy is not relaxing, do not be mistaken, he is leaning back and absorbing the view!

The guy is not relaxing, do not be mistaken, he is leaning back and absorbing the view!

All these remarks I must confess fuelled the excitement that much more. I was flying much before we actually flew to a fog filled Delhi that had absolute chaos, Flights all delayed and being cancelled left, right and centre. However, after a few hiccups we finally boarded our flight to Leh! Finally I was going to the place I have always wanted to go to. This would be my first visit, albeit by air, but surely not the last, a road trip would surely happen and soon!

The flight to Leh was relatively empty and the way the four of us clamoured for different window’s in the flight somehow reminded me of my childhood days where we three brothers would rush for a view from one window to the other, only this time the view was absolutely warranting that sort of reaction from us! Its like you are flying above heaven! :D

Yup thats heaven down there!

Yup thats heaven down there!

The views out of the window are reason enough to take that flight to Leh and back!

The views out of the window are reason enough to take that flight to Leh and back!

As we landed in Leh, excitement gripped us, we took out our bags and started putting on our jackets, head caps, mufflers, glasses, warmers and stepped out of the flight, the first step into Ladakh! The weather was amazingly bright and sunny, a BLUE sky welcomed us, as we spoke smoke appeared form our mouth, I actually didn’t feel that cold, I was comfortable, I asked what the temperature was like and I was told it was -3 degrees. Phew! It was not that cold eh, it was bearable, however, by the time I reached to the hotel, I was trembling. As you stay more, the cold starts getting to you, first up we are all hunky dory and brave. We stayed at the Siala Guest House, which amazingly at this time of the year had running hot water and that shower, I tell you was so amazing, after the shower we had largely settled and though it was terribly cold we were beginning to get used to the teeth chattering. DSC_0193-2

The first day was to rest and get used to the high altitude air and the cold, we stayed in our hotel largely drinking loads and loads of butter tea, tea, black tea and coffee that was served with biscuits at all times. By evening one of us was wanting to actually buy some booze, but my friend Jay who has been to Ladakh for Chadar trek too advised against it on the first day. We did venture out to the town for a short walk in the evening to test our lungs and get a feel of the pinch of cold in the late evening.

The reward for the walk in the freezing evening at Leh was this amazing Thupka

The reward for the walk in the freezing evening at Leh was this amazing Thupka

The weather was cold, but bearable, especially whilst you walked. We decided to sleep without heaters as we were going to be sleeping in sleeping bags without heaters during our trek and I packed myself in 5 layers like crazy in the night below three layers of blankets, as it turned out the night was uncomfortable till we removed some layers that we could manage some sleep.

The next morning when we opened our curtains this is what the window looked like.

The next morning when we opened our curtains this is what the window looked like.

Unreal ain’t the window looking?! The snow flake design was what we discovered this day, the second day was more relaxed and we moved about to Shanti Stupa and had lunch in the market at Neha Snacks that served yummy Kadhi Chawal. Slowly but surely we were getting over the cold and getting used to the conditions. We were to leave for Zinchen the next day morning.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery makes for a wonderful picture from Leh.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery makes for a wonderful picture from Leh.

Early next day morning our guide Rigzin Wangdus came to pick us up and we left for Zinchen, the drive was for about 90 mins where we alighted the vehicles and our luggage was piled onto ponies and we were to begin our trek on foot to Rumbak, a settlement inside the Hemis National Park that was to be our base. It was a stiff 4 hour walk for us, the locals do it in about 90 mins. The area actually is a little difficult to describe in words, for a minute you would feel you are somewhere in the grand canyon, suddenly you would find frozen rivers, dry bushes, loads of dry poplar trees, huge tall cliff’s surround you, I guess its better if I let some of my pictures do the talking about the way to Rumbak.

actually entering the area around the Rumbak Nullah was breathtakingly beautiful, we had numerous stops on the way as we couldn't help but exercise our camera's and give our lungs a breather.

actually entering the area around the Rumbak Nullah was breathtakingly beautiful, we had numerous stops on the way as we couldn’t help but exercise our camera’s and give our lungs a breather.

Some spaces looked like the grand canyon, not that I have seen the place.

Some spaces looked like the grand canyon, not that I have seen the place.

Crossing Frozen Rivers! :D That bridge called for a picture!

Crossing Frozen Rivers! :D That bridge called for a picture!

The vastness of the place is just amazing, you feel like a tiny ant in this grand canvas that nature has created!

The vastness of the place is just amazing, you feel like a tiny ant in this grand canvas that nature has created!

At Rumbak Sumdo (Sumdo meaning meeting point of three major routes) a symbol that somehow seems pretty eerie! :P The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

At Rumbak Sumdo (Sumdo meaning meeting point of three major routes) a symbol that somehow seems pretty eerie! :P The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

Finally after 4 hours of a tiring walk we reached Rumbak, a settlement of about 130 people.

Finally after 4 hours of a tiring walk we reached Rumbak, a settlement of about 130 people.

Sometimes you wonder, what could these people living here be actually thinking?? I mean, why would someone actually live here in these harsh conditions, we did ask one lady who was kind enough to serve us warm water as we entered her house, “Its our home” she said. That summed it up for us. We did learn that they can wear shorts here in summers and that it does become pretty green also at a lot of places which sort of explained how they managed to fill up their food stocks.

This was our abode for 5 days

This was our abode for 5 days

Apparently the people in Rumbak village have worked out a homestay system, where each house has a huge sitting area, where in food is served and they let out bedrooms with ‘Bukhari’ (a firewood heating system pretty common in these parts.) They have a rotation system so they all get an equal number of guests and they people there were quite warm and friendly and evenings actually became a super feast time for all of us. We chalked out a schedule of starting at 8 in the morning everyday in the hunt of the Snow Leopard (Ghost Cat) also called ‘Shaan’ by the locals and return by around 4-5pm. Lunch would be Maggi on most days that Rigzin would cook for us as he would carry a mini stove with him.

Yes, thats our lunch being made at around 13500 feet in the midst of a trek! Can you see the delight on Shital's face at watching the maggi!? :D :D :D

Yes, thats our lunch being made at around 13500 feet in the midst of a trek! Can you see the delight on Shital’s face at watching the maggi!? :D :D :D

For 5 days we roamed the area venturing to different directions. The walks were crazy, we would pant like mad, we saw frozen rivers, frozen waterfalls, pugmarks, a Tibetean wolf that we couldn’t photograph, loads of Bharal (blue sheep) but the Ghost cat evaded us, we couldn’t spot it but hell the experience of walking about there, feeling like the owners of that vast landscape, gazing, gaping, panting, gazing again, soaking all that up was an experience we will not forget for the rest of our lives.

Here are a few more pictures of the landscape and the animals we spotted whilst walking about in the Hemis National Park :

Some shades of the Hemis National Park

Some shades of the Hemis National Park

Every part of dirt in the snow also seemed like it was the Snow Leopard!

Every part of dirt in the snow also seemed like it was the Snow Leopard!

This lady cooked for us during our 5 days in Rumbak. She was pretty happy to see her pictures! :)

This lady cooked for us during our 5 days in Rumbak. She was pretty happy to see her pictures! :)

Some more shades!

Some more shades!

A Lammergeier hovers over us!

A Lammergeier hovers over us!

A chukar patridge bosses the area!

A chukar patridge bosses the area!

This Bharal came to this pedestal ala Simba in The Lion King!  I hope you can spot the Bharal! :D

This Bharal came to this pedestal ala Simba in The Lion King!
I hope you can spot the Bharal! :D

Times when you didn't spot any animals or birds, which was most of the times you could still shoot the surroundings as they were surreal!

Times when you didn’t spot any animals or birds, which was most of the times you could still shoot the surroundings as they were surreal!

A Bharat stands tall!

A Bharat stands tall!

The Bharal would jump and run on these cliffs like we would play soccer on flat fields. The noise of their hoofs in this amphitheatre will reverberate in our ears all our life.

The Bharal would jump and run on these cliffs like we would play soccer on flat fields. The noise of their hoofs in this amphitheatre will reverberate in our ears all our life.

A unique way of drinking water that Rigzin showed us.  No! We didn't give that a try! :D

A unique way of drinking water that Rigzin showed us.
No! We didn’t give that a try! :D

One Bharal would catch a top position and it seemed like he would keep a watch whilst the others would graze peacefully!

One Bharal would catch a top position and it seemed like he would keep a watch whilst the others would graze peacefully!

Its traces were everywhere but it wasn't visible to us, I am sure though he did see us!

Its traces were everywhere but it wasn’t visible to us, I am sure though he did see us!


The nights there were terribly cold, before sleeping we would take two bottles per person, one would be a thermos of hot water the other a plastic mineral water bottle as you had to mix the two and drink, by the time we would wake up in the morning the plastic bottle would be frozen. :) Yes, I think the lowest we noted the temperature was -17 degrees celcius. Frankly after the first day I had wanted to return, but gladly I stayed and I managed. After 5 days of crazy walking and no showering, we eventually decided to give up the walk and opted for the comforts of a car. We then drove off to Nubra for a few days via the Khardungla and back.

The fact that I completed each day’s trek was an accomplishment for me, that I did not give it up and did not return, even when 4 of our co-trekkers gave up after one day in Rumbak makes me feel good about myself, the experience of being out there at such a high altitude was enriching. We did garba on a high cliff, yea gujju’s you know! I even posed topless at 13500 feet in bone chilling cold, yes we did do all the wild stuff as well. :)

The tale of Khardungla and Nubra will stories will feature in the next post, till then,

Xplore more! :D :D

[ P.S – This post was written for the Travelogue Writing Contest for Holidify]

Paragliding at Khajjiar

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This very popular meadow near Dalhousie, Khajjiar is sometimes a turn off due to too much crowd, however, it still is a magical landscape to photograph. On a cloudy day the sky turned magical for us to shoot some stunning photo’s of the place and the sky, which was marred with some paraglider’s who must have been having an unbelievable view I am sure!

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Whew!

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Ominous clouds above him! :)

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I am sure the flyers are enjoying a hell of a time!

Amritsar! ……… Burp!

There are cities galore in India, each has something unique to offer, then there is this dusty, chaotic town in western India in Punjab, which has had a turbulent history to say the least. Amritsar was a destination I wanted to do since a long long time. Not just for the Kulcha’s but just to get a feel of the city that has feature in too many stories from our struggle for Independence.

The city can boast to possess two extreme monuments next to each other, on one side is the calm and peace of the holy Harmandar Saahib (Golden Temple) and on the other hand stands the Jallianwala Bagh the site of one of the worst massacre witnessed during our Independence struggle. The Wagah Border which we returned from without watching thanks to huge lines of people in a way reminds you of the troubles this place must have had during partition in 1947. History has not been very kind to this place, operation Blue Star happened long after independence and yet after so much that the city has gone through, the place has retained it vigour.

The still existing hand rickshaws and horse carts remind you of an era gone by, the old city still has lanes that actually transport you back a few decades, admist that are huge shopping malls and grant hotel’s like Hyatt as well. The food of the place I promise you is one of the most important things to have on your agenda when visiting the city. We stayed two days specially to actually allow us to try more things and not just make a rushed one day visit. We almost check out all the places that my friend and food blogger Monika suggested to us.

In between all the food that we had decided to eat, we did manage to visit Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, tried to see Wagah Border, purchased Fulkari, sat in a cycle rickshaw and had a lot of burps all round! :D

Here are a few pictures from our visit! :)

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The ancient transport system is a norm here! :)

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Our first helpings happened at Kesar Da Dhaba, we were confidently ordering two different Parantha thali’s but the friendly waiter at the Dhaba told us to start with one, he reckoned it will be enough and then order in case we still felt hungry after the Parantha thali. We had one Lassi and one Phirni as side orders and after that Thali in this very simple, humble, air-cooled Dhaba we were ready to actually just sleep on its benches! Burp one that is! :D

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We also tried the Jalebi at Gurdas Raam Jalebiwala, Chaat at Brijwasi, Butter Chicken at Beera’s and Giani’s ice-cream!

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Bhai Kulwant Kulchewale actually deserve a post on themselves alone! They are by far the most delicious Kulcha’s I have ever had!

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The walls that witnessed the horror of Jallianwala Bagh!

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Shopping for Fulkari’s in the cloth market!

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The queue to enter the Wagah Border parade premises was this long, we eventually returned dreading the heat, crowd and dust! The place is chaotic and we gave it a pass!

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Devotees washing feet before entering Harmandir Saahib (Golden Temple)

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The majestic yet calm, Golden Temple!

Beloved Blue Mountains!

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I guess we have all read the mountains being described as blue somewhere or the other and frankly till a long time in my life I used to think its only poetic and that no such thing ever existed, that it was just a figment of imagination of some writers and they probably felt mountains being described as brown or green or black wouldn’t make them that exotic and wouldn’t bring that many people to the mountains and hence they used the adage “Blue Mountains”

Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to be able to make a regular trip to the Himalaya’s and have been lucky enough to witness some vast mountain ranges, I have actually seen and realised that Blue Mountains exist! :)

There is something about these slopes on the surface of the earth, these high rising mountains lining up one after the other that just amazes me. Especially when you can find a spot to sit and actually gaze at the sheer enormity of the place they call The Himalaya’s you should consider yourself truly blessed to be able to absorb all this by your eyes. The above picture was taken when we were actually leaving the Himalayas and returning to the plains, I have always been enchanted by the mountains and will probably never ever be able to see the Himalaya’s enough in this life time and hence am always kind of sombre when leaving the mountains.

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Looking at the rear view or the side view mirror and realising and almost bemoaning the fact that I have to leave the mountains almost makes me sad, I sometimes get lost in the gazing and that it is almost fatal on a road trip! Thankfully the mountains have always been kind to me and always ensured and sent me back safely. I long already having come back just 10 days before to go back. I surely must have been somewhere there in the mountains in my last life, if there was any such thing!