Clouded

 

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Clouds

puffy, soft, white, all abound

Peaks

Tall, snowy, monk like steady

Me

Sighing, gaping, soaking the moment

~

I wonder sometimes if they could converse with each other, we the lowly humans have decided that we are the living things, we have defined things, we claim to know it all, who knows, there is a realm beyond our inventions and discoveries, beyond our senses, maybe someone might just discover it someday, we conclude and hence I think we make a folly.

What is alive, what is living, who is a mortal, who is immortal, who communicates, who doesn’t?

What if thunder was a way of clouds hugging each other and shrieking out?!

What if an Avalanche were tears of a mountain?!

Mortal, mere, yes those are the only words I agree about us.

The trail to Mesar Kund

Yes driving in the hills is fun and something I love but even more appealing is to shun your car and walk up into the woods. That is one even more appealing thing about the Himalaya’s. Unlike walking in a city and bumping into someone here you mostly are alone walking all the way and even if you actually come across someone you don’t ever have to make way plus you always get a smile and a Jai Ramji Ki or Namaskar greeting you.

 

Add to that the fact that you are under the shade of tree’s and the temperature is always brilliant to walk in plus the air is fresh, pollution is miniscule, there are interesting birds hopping by and if you have an aware local with you along than you will get to taste a lot of berries and fruits that you otherwise wouldn’t dare to pick up.

 

So one early morning in Munsiyari we decided to shrug off our laziness and after our morning tea and breakfast we started walking up to the home of the lady who had arranged our stay, Mallika Verdi, she is a retired mountaineer who has settled here since 1992 and has a wonderfully lovely place. Apparently she is the one who has helped all the local ladies to set up a homestay and ensured that this income is paid in the hands of these ladies. We were told that there was a Yoga session at her place which is beside a meadow, incidentally a guy from Bangalore had also come to stay just like us and was a Yoga instructor and so she had arranged a few sessions for all locals to take part and learn yoga.

 

Honestly so far I have always loathed yoga but we thought why not go and see and even maybe click some pictures whilst these people are at it. So we began our stiff climb from our place in Shankhadhura to Mallikaji’s house. Mornings in Munsiyari are ethereal with sunrise in summers happening at almost 5 am from behind the Panchachuli peaks. We soaked in the view and sipped our tea with Parantha’s, about the view, well…

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Actually giving up a position that is comfortable, where you can order food all the time and sit with views like this and walking is a task, but we had decided and off we went.

 

It was a good one hour stiff climb to reach Mallikaji’s place, others might do it in maybe 45 minutes but with us panting and clicking pictures basically to conceal our panting took our sweet time to reach there.

 

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The panting and sighing never stopped on the road too as through the woods from time to time the majestic mountains playing with the clouds would appear and wow us.

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The meadow near Mallikaji’s house

The place that Mallikaji has is beautiful beyond words, woods, a meadow, a pond with loads of fish, ducks, geese, cows, dogs, spectacular views and a lot of love and warmth to boot!

 

We were welcomed with tea and we sat about talking about our trip so far and her place and got to know each other a little bit. She was wonderfully charming, calm and a very likable person as it was evident from our talks with our host and her husband and all the locals that had come there for Yoga. The way they all mingled and joked and laughed with each other was so heartening to see. She was as much a local as any local could be, they all called her Didi out of their affection and respect for her. There was great camaraderie between the people who had all gathered there. Men, women and children all alike joked and pulled each others legs, the environment amongst them was a thing to behold I am not sure I can describe it.

 

Photography didn’t really happen much as we mingled and got busy with Yoga ourselves and actually loved the whole encounter. Everyone helped each other to accomplish the most difficult Asana’s the Bangalore boy taught us.

Men and women had never seemed more equal than I saw them at this place on this day! Honestly this is no exageration.

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During the Yoga session it did drizzle in between, a short shower and we would all carry our mats and rush to shelter and come back to the field again when it stopped. It was fun and we didnt even realise we spent around 3 hours there. Eventually we were told to hang around for lunch. Apparently there was Sambar rice, Lemon Rice and Potato subzi being made by Ram who also belonged to Bangalore and stays here. The invitation was pretty tempting and we were thinking of aborting the trek but then we learnt that it would take another 2 hours for lunch and I thought to myself we could rush up and down in that time and make it by lunch! 😉

 

So off we went to Mesar Kund, which was another stiff climb that took us 1 hour, this time it was just the three of us on the route, no human crossed us or met us on the way, there are no residences here and no one seemed to be coming that way. The three of us had to stop quite a few times to rest and catch up our breath. It was tiring but well worth the effort.

 

Here are a few pics we took :

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Walking through foliage that dense is something I love dearly!

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Encountering flowers on the way!

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Catching up breath was pretty important!

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Finally our destination!

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Mesar Kund!

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The tranquility of the place was something else the peace you could feel here was unbelievable, ideal place to sit and take deep breaths, the place was pristine and fresh and you should take in as much oxygen here as you can!

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Far away from the maddening crowd, beneath the Oak tree, gathering your thoughts! 🙂 Thats the prize you get for climbing and panting your guts out. You own places like this, there was no one but just the three of us here.

 

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From one end the view of the Panchachuli was something like this! 🙂

 

We munched about apples sitting here and watching the place and soaking the tranquility in, we didn’t bother with our packed lunches that our host had packed for us as the Sambhar Rice was playing on our minds. We hung around for around an hour at this place before the clouds threatened. We rushed but not before the rain fell on us and almost drenched us, thankfully enough we reached just in time for the Sambar Rice.

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Not the best picture, taken by mobile, however, make no mistake, this was one of the yummiest meals we had on our 15 day trip to Uttarakhand. The simplicity and yet amazingly wonderful Sambar Rice made by Ram were a highlight of this trip.

 

Amazing aint it to have authentic South Indian food cooked and served up so high North in the country and that too not in a restaurant but cooked in a camp! We emptied plates I tell you the three of us!

 

Its evident na, why I am smitten by the Himalaya’s and the people there and how I have encountered so much goodness so many times there that I just cant stop singing praises and making return trips. Not a believer in God, but if God did exist than I am sure he lived in these parts for there is still so much goodness left here! 🙂

 

Kasol Diaries – 1

Every time I have visited the Himalaya’s I have been awed, apart from being awed at the sheer magnanimity and vastness what has always fascinated me are the small houses and settlements I would see on some pretty steep mountains, I would always wonder, why on earth was someone living up there and why not somewhere lower, perhaps they liked the view or perhaps they liked to stay away from the noise and dust of the lower altitude. Why on earth would someone live up so high where he/she would have such a task taking and bringing things down.

So this year instead of trekking to meadows or cliffs where there was no one, we were trekking to the many little hamlet’s in the lap of Parvati Valley. We were actually looking forward to getting a closer look at the lifestyle of the locals, see them whilst they carried out their daily life, the villages where you couldn’t drive to but had to undertake stiff climbs to reach.

What soon struck me when we stayed with a local in Lapaas was how simply calm they were. Oh yes they were courteous, knew about the world, internet and all that but the simple relaxed frame of mind they all seemed to be in. They never were seen rushing, they would carry on the work in their apple orchards or paddy fields or cutting grass for their cattle in the most easy manner. Whenever I would stop panting for air during my climb and if someone would be crossing us, there would be a “Namaskar” or a “Ram Ram” or an even more concerned “Thak gaye kya”greeting always around. They were always ready to have a chat till you had caught your breath and were ready to resume climbing again. Off they would go on their merry way. Wonder if we city folks would ever have time for others like this.

Coming back to our stay in Lapaas, apparently our friend Amar had told us that he has told one family that we would be coming to stay at their place. When we reached there, we delivered some of the biscuits we had brought for them from the shop at the road below and we were served with Hot Chai with even better biscuits that they already had! Resourceful! The family we stayed with was of 4 members, of which the daughter was not around as she had gone to Kullu, the remaning three Mother, Father and son greeted us with utmost humility and welcomed us. The house was a little away from the main settlement of Lapaas which pleased us a lot, also it had a location to die for, describing it is a little difficult as I lack the vocabulary to describe its serenity & grandness thats where my photography comes in handy. Here are a few pics of that place.

The home where we stayed was perched aside on this hill with valleys on two sides and beyond the valley were snow peaks.

The home where we stayed was perched aside on this hill with valleys on two sides and beyond the valley were snow peaks.

That picture I think tells you about the location completely, at the bottom is the house and the terrace outside the house was where we would sit all day soaking the sun and talking no end!

That picture I think tells you about the location completely, at the bottom is the house and the terrace outside the house was where we would sit all day soaking the sun and talking no end!

Sigh, how I miss the place already. The family we stayed with served us with endless cups of tea, loads of talk about their life, the son was pursuing his 12th and was planning to do B.Tech after that. We wondered if he liked the city life (he studied in Kullu) and the  answer was a negative. He was actually fond of living here, he said he would like to do some proper study and see if he gets some career near by so that he doesn’t have to go to far from his home.

The one thing that struck us was, whilst we may wonder why are people living so high up, its like they have always been high up there. Thats home for them since many generations, its as natural as it can be, they never ever come to the question of climbing a slope for something or not. Yes, modernity has invaded their spaces too, they too have mobiles, internet and tv and whilst maybe say 50-60 years back they never needed anything from the town, now they do need a bit of supply from the town. Perhaps they are not as independent as earlier when they managed to get everything they needed without going to the town, yet, home it is for them.

We walked about the village of Lapaas in the evening visited their temple, which is again located in a superb place, apparently next day there was a mela to happen in Lapaas and the family kept insisting we must not go without seeing the mela. The gent in the family also told me it will make for wonderful photography opportunities.

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We had already committed to attend another mela in Buhad, a slightly bigger settlement which promised an even bigger gathering but we thought we could still stick about till noon and see and immerse in a bit of the festivities the next day.

 

As night fell we returned to our house and in the moonlight the snow peaks looked absolutely ethereal.

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Long shutter click of the night view from Lapaas

As chilly as it was our hearts were warmed by the sheer humility and the glee with which our hosts were talking with us. Chatters we all were till we all realised it was time for dinner. We were served an amazing meal of mutter paneer, aloo gobhi, rajma chawal and salad! Sitting and eating with them was a moment that will stay with me. Not only was the food delicious but the way the hosts went out of the way to make us comfortable and ensured that we all ate to the full was unbelievable.

The hospitality they were indulging in was beyond us city folks, complete strangers, invited to live in their house, sleep in their beds, eat in their vessel and all with genuine smiles and affection.

We slept with our tummies full in this traditional wooden house which was amazingly warm compared to how cold it was outside.

 

The diary continues….

 

Oh Parvati!

A love story yet again begins….

 

Finally, after hearing about you so many times, from so many people, watching your pictures on the internet, jealously liking friends pictures posted on FB in your lap, reading the many stories about you, wondering if all of those were real, you do have some fantastic stories told about you, I must tell you that, eventually we had to meet and what an embrace you had in store for me! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Many a tales I have heard about you have amazed me, mystified me, geeked me up, glorified you, made you into a maze that I was sure I could never find my way out of. As the first fling happened, I must confess you had me at the first sight, there could be doubts in your mind, but let me quell them, I have fallen for you, absolutely, deeply and forever. The early misty spring morning when I first laid my eyes on you, I was transfixed, all the tiredness of not sleeping properly for two nights disappeared in an instant. The pristine pine trees, the shining peaks, the verdant valleys, the grating blue magpie all seemed to be enticing me into this wonderful world of yours.

 

For long I had heard many tales of small dwellings on stiff slopes in remote areas, about the warmth of people in these villages, that people here didn’t travel to visit mall roads but to discover new, small villages and then living with the villagers. This appealed, appealed a lot really, I always wanted to be one of the many among your lap, wanting to see you from up close like the cherished few of your own do, wake up to the first light and keep gazing till the last star disappeared and yes, for a few days I managed to do so!

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I must confess, whilst all describe you to be a mystical, unbelievable tale, which invoke the words like, really?, couldn’t be!, seriously!!!!, I must confess I was taken it by the simple acceptance of truth that exists in your lap more than anything. No pretense, the simplicity of the locals, the laid back, happy air the whole place has got is surreal.

 

I want to walk on every single trail there is, lie down in every meadow you nurture, gaze whilst gaping at all of your valleys, soak up the sun whilst I eye the snow clad peaks, graze along the Gaddi’s, get lost in you forever if thats possible.

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Until we meet again, I am thankful I atleast have some pictures and memories of you to last till I can come again to see you!

 

When you walk…

I mean when you walk long distances that test your endurance and you successfully complete those treks you don’t just surprise yourself but actually discover a completely new self of yours that you didn’t know exists.

After the 5 hour walk to Rumbak and not being able to really eat much apart from a few bowls of soup the first night was slightly uncomfortable. All evening was spent shivering as most of the Bukhari was already surrounded and I had to sit slightly away from it. When eventually I got my chance near it I actually managed to snooze for a good hour. That one hour of sleep probably made matters worse as the night was quite uncomfortable. We were 4 people in a 15ft by 15 feet room with a Bukhari in the middle. Sleeping inside sleeping bags with 5 layers was not a good idea. Infact I was advise to remove all layers and socks and sleep in one layer inside the sleeping bag and blanket. However, the fear or feeling cold in the night ensured I didn’t take that advice.

Already whilst walking that day in the end I felt like I had twitched something in my leg and I was already feeling a bit of pain so I slept in full layers and that night was actually odd, I felt warm, so warm and suffocated that I could barely sleep, however, early morning I actually managed to catch about 2 hours of sleep.

At breakfast we learnt that 4 guys were actually going back to Leh, that group of 4 had come a day later and one of them was quite sick and another one actually wanted to go back from the moment he landed in Leh as he felt it was way too cold.

I would be lying if I would say I was not tempted. The sick one got a horse whilst the other 3 decided to walk the distance. Walking is a better idea than the horse trust me. Because when you walk you feel warmer. Even sitting in the sun sometimes chills ran through your body. Whilst you are walking you are fine.

I don’t know what got into me and I somehow decided I would give myself one more day to adjust to the conditions. That day we started a tad late around 11 and walked all the way to Stok La near the base of Stok Kangri the tallest peak in that vicinity. The walk apart from being scenic and adventurous was actually my attempt at walking through the pain and checking out my leg and also tiring myself enough so that I would plonk in sleep at night. Amazingly my leg was not giving me any trouble in walking but only when I decided to fold my leg and sit that it would pain me. I was just glad that I did not return that day and gave myself time.

We walked till about 4.30 that day when we finally came back to the Bukhari at our homestay back in the village. The second night was a lot better, as I removed the layers and slept much more comfortably, the next morning the pain of the leg had disappeared and I walk up with a grumbling stomach that was ready to devour some heavy breakfast!

I forgot to mention about the village Rumbak, with a population of 72 including kids as we were informed, it is set beside the Rumbak nullah from which it derives its name. Picturesque, serene, almost sleepy and pretty much empty at most times thanks to the winter cold it keeps gazing at Stok Kangri all day long. At times you get amazed and infact wonder what are these people doing living here in these cold dry conditions? But then our guide Rigzin told us that this place in summer is quite different that you could even see some people in shorts in summers. It is a base for Trekking and expeditions to Stok Kangri in summers and in the winters it becomes a place to make your base for tracking the snow leopard. The Snow Leopard Conservancy has helped the locals convert their houses into decent homestays. Each homestay charges you Rs. 800 in summers per person and 1000 in winters, the 200 extra is because in winters you burn wood in the Bukhari’s whilst in summers the Bukhari’s are dismantled.

All the homestays have a pretty decent dining room, they have also been now equipped with beddings that are quite comfortable and blankets. The folks with whom we stayed were quite shy and soft spoken, keeping to the kitchen and their work mostly not disturbing us. It took us almost two days to break the ice and get them to actually sit and talk and share their experiences with us.

Not only did the locals serve us what amazed us was their ability to work so hard in such conditions, whilst we would always would be delegating some work to one another and constantly evade the same work, these people never had any qualms on their face no matter how many times you told them to make butter tea or black tea or heaten some milk for coffee or get some extra wood for the Bukhari they just got on with it. Trust me even the best of hotel’s wont be serving you this well.

The next day morning we all left our homestay at 7.45 am sharp for our trek, yes like I told you, when you walk and walk and walk through exhaustion you will surprise yourself with the new guy you suddenly realise you are! 😀 😀 😀

Here are a few pictures from the day one of the trek and of the homestay and Rumbak village!

That is the Rumbak settlement a pretty picturesque setting eh!?

That is the Rumbak settlement a pretty picturesque setting eh!?

Tarchok! Thats the name of our abode for 4 days! :)

Tarchok! Thats the name of our abode for 4 days! 🙂

Another homestay besides our abode. The hues in the place are something else. Its  a kind of barren beauty!

Another homestay besides our abode. The hues in the place are something else. Its a kind of barren beauty! Top cliff on the top right hand side has a stupa on top. The places where these guys build stupa’s is absolutely crazy!!!

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We set off on day 2 towards Stok La!

We set off on day 2 towards Stok La!

The view alongside!

The view alongside!

The shades!

The shades!

Some more colours!

Some more colours!

Well...

Well…

This is where we ended our journey for the day and returned!

This is where we ended our journey for the day and returned!

Once back from the trek... this is the most popular place to sit...

Once back from the trek… this is the most popular place to sit…

A walk in The Hemis National Park

*Unfortunately due to some communal disturbances in our city we did not have any internet for 2 days and hence the delay in the posts.*

 

However, I am back with renewed vigour!

 

After spending about 2 days in Leh and allowing ourselves to acclimatize as much as possible we left on day 3 for Rumbak, a small village inside the Hemis National Park. The main purpose of the trip in any case was to try and locate the Ghost Cat and so we set ourselves for it. Starting early at 8am we left from Leh to a small town named Zinchen where the road ended.This is where we alighted our vehicles and were supposed to be on foot for about 4-5 hours depending on our speed of walking. The luggage was loaded on mules and we armed ourselves with our small day packs full of food, energy bars, hot water and camera’s along with a few extra woolens in case the weather got rough.

As soon as the trek began the mules fast overtook us and went ahead, we marveled at the Rumbak Valley, the landscape there is breathtakingly vast and huge, the cliffs around you are so high and intimidating that it cannot be described. In many ways it somehow gave me a feeling like I was walking in the Grand Canyon, the colours somehow seemed similar to me. Let me confess I have never been to the US let alone the Grand Canyon!

Here are some pictures as we walked up to Rumbak village into the Hemis National Park!!

The thing about Ladakh is that where ever you click a picture its a post card. This is shot from a moving car from behind a glass and yet it appeals, doesn't it?

The thing about Ladakh is that where ever you click a picture its a post card. This is shot from a moving car from behind a glass and yet it appeals, doesn’t it?

The rumbak valley has a natural gate to welcome us!

The rumbak valley has a natural gate to welcome us, can you see the tiny us in the picture, that gives you an idea of how huge the cliff’s were!!!!

The Rumbak Nullah that was completely frozen!

The Rumbak Nullah that was completely frozen!

The road from Zinchen to Rumbak is slowly but surely going to be made... perhaps in another 4-5 years time you can drive to Rumbak and not walk a crazy 5 hours like us!

The road from Zinchen to Rumbak is slowly but surely going to be made… perhaps in another 4-5 years time you can drive to Rumbak and not walk a crazy 5 hours like us!

So begins the trek into a rocky terrain...

So begins the trek into a rocky terrain…

We weren't the only ones there, some other people were already there camping near Husing Nullah!

We weren’t the only ones there, some other people were already there camping near Husing Nullah!

The sky in Ladakh sigh... and the contrasts!

The sky in Ladakh sigh… and the contrasts!

Phew!

Phew!

Standing on bridges is common, standing on bridges that are made on a river in thick ice is not that common... inn'it? :P

Standing on bridges is common, standing on bridges that are made on a river in thick ice is not that common… inn’it? 😛

The valley and its crevices were a delight for a photographer! It engaged, enchanted and captivated us totally! :)

The valley and its crevices were a delight for a photographer! It engaged, enchanted and captivated us totally! 🙂

and when you climbed some heights you just felt like a King!

and when you climbed some heights you just felt like a King!

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! 😛 The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

Leh – First Impressions

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For the past 10 years one of my most wanted places to see was Ladakh, as time passed and more and more people I knew went on visiting Ladakh I would get restless and impatient, wondering if I would ever be able to visit this place. As movies were shot in Ladakh, more and more people started going there. Infact one of my best friends, Jay, who goes there every year now since the beginning of this century started lamenting about the sudden over influx of tourists and how they were littering in paradise and also creating traffic jams and chaos almost made me feel like I am probably never ever going to see it before paradise was dirtied. Thankfully though, I managed to reach there in winter, a relatively low tourist flowing time for Leh.

As I landed on Leh airport at around 12 noon in a blazing sun I noticed that I was breathing out smoke without actually smoking, thats how cold it was, however, the early excitement and the sun did not make me feel so cold and I was wondering why my friend Jay had been insisting that the cold is a huge challenge apart from the low oxygen content in the air. The streets of Leh were relatively empty and very few shops were open some brave tourists and locals got around but nothing much of a crowd anywhere. As time passed and we made our way to our hotel, slowly but surely the chills were becoming more consistent and the shiver was a constant part of me. As we got off our taxi to reach out hotel I saw this little dog curled in fully to keep itself warm. I think he seriously needed a blanket but then, probably these animals make better use of their bodies than we do!

Leh had a lot of Poplar tree’s but at this time of the year I don’t think I spotted one green leaf, explains the low oxygen content there. The high altitude, extreme cold, low oxygen and super dry conditions were a challenge. We spent the first day fully resting and sipping in lots of butter tea, black tea, soup and watching a bit of cricket. According to my friend Jay who is a regular here it was most important to give yourself maximum chance of combating the conditions and he did not let us take it easy. By 6pm in the evening I was in 5 layers of clothing and under two blankets still shivering and pulling muscles whenever I tried to twist things in my body!!!!

It was seriously, seriously cold, at night the temperature went below -20 degree celcius and we had been instructed my Jay to not take any heater in our room!!! It was a seriously tempting thought to take a heater in the room but well I decided to brave it out. The night went by with scanty sleep, however, slowly but surely without even really realising that then, I was acclimatizing to the conditions in Leh.