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! 🙂

 

The road to Munsiari

When driving in the hills is something you like you just cant get over the fact that you are driving in the Himalayas and you just want to keep talking about it, starting from Binsar and onto Munsiari we had a fabulous drive. It was such a special drive because almost rarely did we get 50 meter of straight road, just curves and curves and bends all the way and the distance was a mean 240 kms!!! Yes, imagine the thrill a driver gets on these roads, you are constantly into the drive and every new bend suddenly lends a new perspective to the whole view you have been having.

 

Uttarakhand I must confess has probably better roads than Himachal, perhaps owing to the lower altitude compared to Himachal and far more bends and curves again perhaps owing to small mountains than Himachal, I am no geography or mountain expert but from my experiences this is what I draw. These smoothly carpeted road make for a pleasant drive, the country side here is wooded like crazy and that in itself is a great boost for me to be driving. I always prefer highways with trees lacing it than the boring 6-8 lane highways with no trees to talk of. These roads have a lot more character I say. It was wonderful to be crossing so many bridges on the way, stopping at random chai thela’s and munching on a momo whenever we saw a village market. Less populated as we got on the road from Thal to Munsiyari and lot more greener, with the sides of the road being laced by green fresh grass which added even more happiness to the drive.

 

Not to exaggerate the curves on the road but actually my finger developed a small blister from all the veering of the steering, call it the roads or blame my soft hands 😉

 

Here are a few pictures of from the drive and a video too! 🙂

The almora berinag road is full of pines, however, the recent rains had given the grounds green colour

The Almora-Berinag road is full of Pine trees, however, the recent rains had given the grounds green colour and not the thick pine leave layer.

 

Crossing Bridges

Crossing Bridges

As you near Munsiyari you realise the Pine have not reached or breached this area. Its all old traditional Himalayan trees that take over here.

As you near Munsiyari you realise the Pine have not reached or breached this area. Its all old traditional Himalayan trees that take over here.

Then clouds start to take up their play as the day stretches to noon.

Then clouds start to take up their play as the day stretches to noon.

That was the last pic we took before it started raining

That was the last pic we took before it started raining

 

Here is a small video we took enroute : 

 

 

 

Road trips

Travel was a bug that had bit me probably whilst I was a very small kid, however, the effect of that bug started showing its true colours pretty late in life. Earlier the penchant to travel was to be fulfilled only with fantasies or books, finally last few years it is starting to become a bit of a reality. I learnt driving also pretty late, infact 3 years back when I bought a car I didn’t even know properly how to drive. Thankfully as my wife says to me I have taken to it like a fish takes to water!

 

It was always ingrained in my brains that I want to drive my car to all remote corners of this world, more so to the Himalayas, stopping where I liked, taking in all the sights, photographing any peak I found pretty or screeching my brakes at the sight of an unknown bird! I did want to do it and no other driver could tolerate the number of breaks I keep taking to click a pic or to buy some fruit being sold or take a piss or smoke when I found a pretty view which had to be soaked in.

 

The first trip to the Himalaya’s was quite tentative with every loved one giving me loads of advice to be careful as they all wanted me to go and come back safe to this year, my third road trip to the Himalaya’s all self driven I have come a long way.

 

The thing about road trips are, they are most comfortable, you can plan your schedules without any other criteria but your own comfort, you decide if you want to drive 400 kms a day or 900, if you want to drive in the night or day, if you want to suddenly change your destination you can, impromptu decisions infact make them even better I say.

 

Selecting a place to eat is a major event for me on Road Trips, tips from friends, internet or simply places that look attractive to me all kind of fill up the activity chart along with driving all day. In the Himalaya’s stopping at a random Dhaba for tea that has a splendid view is something I really heart. Talking to folks who are amazed that you have driven all the way from Gujarat kinda swells my small ego like anything. I feel proud almost! 🙂 Suddenly sighting someone selling some berries or someone pasting fruits with salt and masala and you can bet I will be stopping around to pick up something.

 

Watching how the topography changes as you keep changing states and regions is quite amazing, how when you are about to reach a Tiger reserve the forests start swelling and how the population starts to dwindle is quite dramatic. In the Himalayas when you are driving you many times wonder how some of the most steep and remote mountains have a house or two on them, wonder how do people select these places. Wonder how they manage their day to day resources living at such remote locations but then I guess many people prefer a good view, silence and peace to most other things in life! 🙂

 

As far as safety is concerned, what I have learned from my little experience of driving around Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal, Goa& Karnataka is that most of the places are pretty much safe. We generally try not to drive a lot in the night, trying our best to reach our destinations before dark on most occasions. If you are just a tad careful and don’t be rash, frankly there are not so many terrors as people would have you believe on the road. Generally people drive safe and all want to live so don’t worry, be careful you don’t bump into anyone, most of the other drivers don’t want to bump into you as well. The fact that I am on a holiday kind of makes my driving a little more patient than say when I am driving for work!

 

As I make a road trip after another, I keep falling in love, not so much with driving but with the idea of moving about all the time, going to new places and navigating my own way.

 

Here is a picture of me whilst on my way to Jauljibi from Munsiyari where we crossed a bridge into Nepal. This place thrilled me, what a wonderful place to stop aint it?! You stop your car on a hot day, open the door and walk two days and you are into a chilling waterfall. How cool is that!? These places do exist in India and many a times there are so many pretty places you encounter on the road which are not mentioned on any travel site or included in any travel package.

 

So here’s to more road trips in future! 🙂

 

 

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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!

 

The Acclimatization

Thanks to having Jay guide us for the trip who has been to Leh several times we knew one thing, acclimatization was important to conditions of this high altitude and air that has a little less oxygen than the plains. However, its quite easy to be a little over confident and think and say nothing affects me. Well, for the first day we had planned to do nothing but to sleep and soak the cold in, sip in as much hot liquids and take it easy and just be happy that we reached Leh. So on day 1 whilst I caught up with a bit of the 3rd Test largely we stayed put in Siala Guesthouse the place where we were booked. In the evening we took a small stroll to Leh Market and fed ourselves some momo’s and thukpa to end the day on a content note! 😀 😀

The second day we had a group of another 4 people joining us, unlike us, they came a day late not giving enough importance to acclimatization, as fate would have it, one of the 4 fell sick, eventually they departed in another 2 days and could not enjoy their trip. I myself on the third night had an urge to leave the trip midway and actually head back. So my advice to all those who read this is, do not take the acclimatization bit lightly. People ask you to acclimatize in summers as well, this was peak winter. Oxygen is low in summers as well and in winters I assume it must be even lower because in the 11 days that I was there I did not see one green leaf!!!!! Yes, all trees are bone dry and no leaves are there in such a vast area at such an altitude no wonder the oxygen levels are low. You pant and pant and pant more. So take my advice, give your body a little time to acclimatize to the conditions and you will be able to enjoy the place like you should be doing.

Let me also tell you that we usually walked from 8.30 in the morning to 4.30 in the evening whilst in The Hemis National Park and climbed altitudes of about 2000-3000 feet every day with our base being almost 12000 feet and I did it without any Diamox or any other medicine. I am not a regular trekker or supremely fit and I could do it all just because I allowed my body to acclimatize. Just heed to the advice that Ladakhi’s or more experienced people of this terrain give you and you will not suffer or else the conditions could take you down. This is not to scare anyone but to inform about the care one needs to take.

I guess I have been enough of smart alec for the day, the next day we saw India save the 3rd Test Match whilst sipping lots of green tea and butter tea and that perked up to move about. We set out for Shanti Stupa and also managed to find a punjabi restaurant Neha Snacks that served really warm delicious Punjabi fare in a tiny place that seemed to attract a lot of visitors! With full bellies and slowly but surely getting used to the pace of life in Leh we were setting ourselves up for Rumbak in The Hemis National Park. We were to start early next morning and so we called off the day 2 early.

Here are a few pictures of around Leh and from Shanti Stupa! 🙂

A balcony to die for!!! I cannot imagine what wonderful views this balcony could give the year round! :) :)

A balcony to die for!!! I cannot imagine what wonderful views this balcony could give the year round! 🙂 🙂

At Shanti Stupa with Stok Kangri behind and a friendly dog who didn't leave us alone!

At Shanti Stupa with Stok Kangri behind and a friendly dog who didn’t leave us alone!

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa

The architecture around Leh had us photo mongers hooked!

The architecture around Leh had us photo mongers hooked!

The dry Poplar tree's around Leh actually were also proving to be quite photographable! :)

The dry Poplar tree’s around Leh actually were also proving to be quite photographable! 🙂

Leh panaromic picture from Shanti Stupa

Leh panaromic picture from Shanti Stupa

Me enjoying the third India Vs Australia Test Match early morning! :D

Me enjoying the third India Vs Australia Test Match early morning! 😀

The things that helped us survive on the first two days!

The things that helped us survive on the first two days!

All 8 of us all set to leave for Rumbak in Hemis National Park on day 3!

All 8 of us all set to leave for Rumbak in Hemis National Park on day 3!