It is usual for me to be at home during Diwali, this year though was different as we ventured out to Goa. Diwali here is slightly muted, perhaps it has a lesser hindu population I guess. However, we saw huge Demon like structures being built everywhere whilst we were trying to find our house that we had booked in Nerul. Upon checking out in the night we came to know that these people actually had built huge Effigies of the Asura named Narakasura who as per the legend dictated to us by one lady at the bakery terrorised, exploited and killed the locals. Eventually Lord Krishna came to the rescue of the people and killed this demon, this day incidentally falls a day before Lakshmi Pooja.
The lady was keen enough to inform us that the statues of Narakasura are made of dry leaves, wood, paper and fire crackers. The made statues are then carried out in a procession whilst they abuse and taunt the demon and burn it post nightfall.
A lot of people, including non Indians found these statues quite interesting and would be seen photographing them or taking selfies with them!
Here are a couple of other such statues that we saw..
On a huge stretch of this vast sand dune this lone ranger searches for something to nibble in the peak of the harsh winter in December at Hunder Sand dunes in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, India!
The two humped camel or Bactrian Camel (the right name) is one of the two species of camel, this one is far more rare and found in Central Asia, mostly domesticated. This species is one of the most integral part of the whole Silk Route travel, without him probably the west would have never met the east… well atleast not by land!!! 😀 😀 😀
*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 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 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…
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!
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! 🙂
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! 😛 The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!
Apparently the most wonderfully decorated rooms in the forts and palaces happen to be the rooms where the kings would listen to music… I guess that means where they would sit to watch women dance! 😛 With mirrors and glasses and decorative pieces being brought all the way from Belgium to Jodhpur I am quite sure the kings here were quite selective in the things they put to use! 😛
I am sure being in the good eyes of the king or being a friend of him came with some unique benefits, a chance to be his guest and probably get an inkling into the pleasures of royal life would have been quite sought after I am sure! A musical night with the king was surely what everyone looked forward to!
Even the ceilings of these rooms have been given intricate designs and plated with gold which has stuck till date.
That surely must have been some dance room… I have not visited too many pubs or dance bar’s but the one’s I have, always have struck me as too dark and not too attractive at times. This one though looks like quite a KEWL place to hang out though! 😛
At many times my naive mind used to wonder, especially when I was not such a keen history student how did some people in the desert become so wealthy, why did their subjects stick around those kings in those deserted plains where growing anything for self was tough, where water was scarce, where the sun was harsh and the terrain unforgiving. Over a period of time after reading a lot on wikipedia and the internet I have understood how the silk route used to work and how the people who lived in the desert benefited.
Eventually many Rajput kings also joined forces with the Mughals, where in after a war the territory would be owned by the Mughals but all the loots would be given to the Rajput’s who would many a times be the leader of the armies. No wonder the Rajput’s are still so proud about their weapons and their bravery. No, I am not judging anyone, I am sure the Rajputs did need the gold as their territory was not very fertile and they had to arrange for things that only wealth would buy.
Another very important thing I have noticed is that since the Kings were above their subjects and no one could actually question them, they lived life as per their whims. Not one king we heard about on the trip had less than 8 wives. If some king actually had one I guess he was not important enough for the guides to mention him! We even came across one guy Takhat Singh who had 58 queens and 59 children! Still no where near the Dhritrashtra figure though! 😛 lol
Some of the stories, anecdotes and ways of life of those ages are …well… lets say of another era… I guess we at times cannot comprehend some things.
Above is a shot of the Umaid Bhavan Palace, now a luxury hotel managed by Taj, though the king still stays there using some 20% of the property with the rest being converted into a pretty mean and expensive hotel. The shot was taken from Mehrangarh Fort, the Umaid Bhavan Palace is one of the last built palaces among the royal complexes in India. The king’s palace simply outsizes the houses of the subjects!
Guest post : Originally written in gujarati by Jay, translated by me..
Photographs : By Nigam and Jay.
Let me start part two with this photo we took on our trek, I would request all fellow promoters to share this planet as a worthy partner and not as a propreitor. Remember always to not litter when you are travelling and explore responsibly.
After a satisfying lunch we began our journey with gentle steps on the Chadar. Our experienced guide Mr Tashi suggested that we will have to change our location for the first night halt as we started our trek from Tilad Sumdo instead of Chilling. Hence we had to walk a little further and camp at a new place and not at Zaribao (bao in Ladakhi means ‘cave’) that was earlier decided.
The Team ready with luggage on the sleighs, they would start up ahead and find a location where they would make lunch and have it ready by the time we reach them. 🙂 These small luxuries kept our spirits high!
No matter what I write about and describe about my experience on Chadar, let me tell you that in all likelihood every person will perhaps have a completely different experience. The uniqueness of the trek is that the weather decides what sort of experience you have on the Chadar. Infact our guide told us this one saying about the Chadar, ” Chadar ke baare mein no kuch kaho aur na kisise kuch pucho” meaning do not tell anyone anything about the Chadar nor ask anyone anything about the Chadar. When we pursued him further he explained that the Chadar keeps changing by the minute. Wind, Sun, pressure anything could change the structure of the Chadar. So never give your experience of the Chadar or ask anyone and rely on it rather keep your eyes on the Chadar and walk carefully. He told us another very important thing to keep in mind,
Meaning, the moment you take your eyes off, disaster strikes!
The initial walk on the Chadar was a humbling experience in many ways. I don’t think I have ever walked this carefully, perhaps when I was learning to walk as a kid would have been the only instance. I have trekked in Himachal and Uttranchal on mountains and in snow, however, this was a completely unique experience and all that past experience was of no use here. AT places the Chadar would be hard as concrete, at places it would be sticky and wet and so slippery that you would actually have to take baby steps. This style of walking is very similar to Penguin walk. If you have ever seen penguin’s walk in polar regions you now know exactly why they do that! 😀
This video will perhaps explain to you the slippery part :
We perhaps had walked for an hour on the Chadar when we came to an area where it seemed that the Chadar was weak(not formed properly) meaning the ice would break if we walked on it and you really do not want to fall in the water in this weather, take that from me! 😛 So we left the Chadar and climbed the rocky slpes to walk to an area where we could see a more firmer Chadar after about 15 minutes or so and we descended safely onto the Chadar.
That gives you an idea of how thick the chadar is at some places…
Many of us perhaps have even forgotten how to walk carefully and Chadar is perhaps the best place to come and revise that. Man you had to watch your steps at time or what!
Our friend Glenn from New Zealand though had missed that experience of walking carefully as he had brought crampons to walk on the ice & hence he just had to walk instead of being as careful as us. If you want to keep looking at the scenery whilst walking crampons would be a must have in your things to carry to Chadar. The drawback of the crampons is that whenever the Chadar is weak you have to climb the cliff’s and for that you need to remove the Crampons and walk in shoes and when you descend on the Chadar again you have to put on your crampons again! 😛
Imagine a river flowing… and imagine yourself on a boat on it… thats what you feel walking on a river! Also can you see the slight raised part of ice… that is what the pressure of the water that flows underneath does. Several layers of ice form quite fast and it raises the level.
We walked for about 3.5 hours on the first day and the whole experience was about gushing all the while how beautiful the surroundings were, how pristine they seemed thanks to all fresh snow and very few little human presence.
The chadar has ice cubes almost formed at some places like this!
We reached one sandy beach type of spot that our guide told us was called Singra and we set up 2 tents for us and one kitchen cum dining tent.
Thats me with our guide Mr Tashi the chadar was quite under developed at this place
Apparently quite a few people these days come to Chadar, infact so many that if you want to camp at a secluded spot you have to reach it early enough. Normally we used to walk from 8.30 to 4 pm and camped, so if you did not start early and take your spot, either you would have to walk further till you find solitude or else make do by living in some naturally formed cave. All Zanskari people travel to Leh to drop their kids and they use these caves for shelter from the wind and also to cook and spend the night and move on further on the next day.
Amazingly around 4 the direct sun goes away since we are in the pit of the gorge & whist its pretty bright the temperature all of a sudden dips. We stopped at 4pm and it started becoming darker around 6pm and darkness brought more cold and stiffer wind. We had black tea at 4.30 with biscuits and spent time chit chatting in hi-fi english with Glenn which amused us more than him I am sure! 😀 I felt we were being a Virender Sehwag and poor Glenn was reduced to a medium pacer fending off our slurry of boundaries! 😛
At 6.30 soup and popcorn were served and we wasted no time in allowing it to cool down and polished it off and were actually done with dinner by 7.30pm! Normally I would not even think about dinner at this time back home and here I was having finished dinner at 7.30.
One more important piece of advise to all Chadar enthusiasts from me is please try to keep a gap of one hour between the time you sleep and dinner. The reason behind this is nothing else but the fact that before going to sleep you can piss off whatever liquid you have in the body, for if you happen to have to get up in the middle of the night and go out of the tent and brave the unbelievable chilly strong winds boy you will have a job at hands!
Thankfully our sleeping bags were quite adequate & warm and the first night on Chadar was comfortably spent. We slept at 8.30am and woke up at 7.30 am with black tea served the moment I sat up! Some five star service I say!!! 😀 😀
The first day was sans any accidents or any large discomfort and this spurred us and filled us with super high spirits for the next day…
I will stop this chapter here today and will continue further in my next post. Next episode… how we crossed water for the first time! 😀 😀
I would like to compare the happenings to India to the above picture. For as long as I can remember I have always run from politics, the idea of India even at times seemed silly when I saw riots, rampant corruption, apathy by political leaders. I even dreaded going into such debates and discussions for I used to find myself drained and depressed in the end, nor did the discussions ever solve anything.
This time though, I see/feel hope, like these green shoots growing in the field above, our country seems to be in a mood to grow a different crop altogether this time. It seems a new breeze is blowing, a breeze of change! For a change we have a party that has given a lot of hope atleast to me!! The journey will be long and a lot of hard work will be required. But as they say that if you sow it right, you will reap it well! 🙂 (okay I just made it) 😛
Lets hope for a better, greener, prosperous India. The above picture I am sure is the result of the hard work of that man and the green shoots are inspiring hope in him for a lovely harvest soon! 🙂