representing different times and moods

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

second himalayan escapade

Coming back from a long wonderful holiday is always a little saddening, the realisation of the things left undone, meetings and work yet to be finished, they loom threateningly on the horizon as you commence your return journey, but if you are returning from the Himalayan holiday- it is much much more than just the concern of returning to everyday busy life. It begins as a small little nagging uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, and then it grows in full blown grief. It is like you are abandoning something precious, which has a special meaning and is very close to your heart, no matter how many hardships you might have suffered during the trip, bad food,odd people, or bad hotelrooms, none matters, you simply hate having to go back.

Or at least that is how it is with me. Himalayas-to me, are the equivalent of ,peace. The places there have a soothing power, really. Though some of the religious places seem a little agitating and crowded , those are not the ones that influence me though.
Oh i can go and on and on about the spiritual and personal importance of the place, as well as the geological and ecological ones.

Let’s get more systematic.
the bridge over ganges out of haridwar

We left early on the 12th, and landed at delhi airport, took different rides to reach the bus that would take us to Haridwar. First night there, with some interesting results on the photography front when we took the evening walk in the town. the next day we left in the hired taxi for chopta, in the forest which starts after the town of Rishikesh, just on the side of the road, i saw a Khakar deer, though i didn’t know it was that till it gave it’s danger call, actually, i was sitting in front, and had better view, the others saw it after i shouted to stop the car, than we slowly climbed down, saw it again, but than it bolted, and as i followed it a little in the forest, it gave it’s danger signal, Khaaaaakkkkkk....... it went, almost light some one coughing loudly. That was the first time we saw it and heard it, never mind my not being able to take a photo of it, it was all completely wonderful, including the shout and jump of joy that dad performed , throwing both hands in the air,.. even that was worth the whole trip.
we stopped at the dhari mata temple to climb down and visit the temple and the river bank , but than there was some problem in the gear box, which is, of course, not at all safe, so we had to stay the night at Rudraprayag, which resulted in some nice bird watching time. The new birds that i saw and identified that evening include,  slaty backed forktails,blue whisteling thrush,whitecapped and Plumbeous water redstarts,eurasian blackbirds,himalayan bulbuls etc. We stayed in the tourism department resort, and our room faced the confluence of Alakananda and mandakini. A wonderful view to wake up to, we also climbed down , and i and brother ran to the shallow waters of the bank, though we were called up soon after wards as it grew dark there very soon and we had to go back up a considerable way through some woodland. It grew dark at 5 there, and started feeling like evening at 4, it is weird for us plain creatures. But afterwards we grew to accept and expect it and planned our activities accordingly; it was the earliest evenings i have ever experienced. Though, i must say, going to the Himalayas in the winter is a thing to do, you can avoid the crowds and the humidity and the illnesses which can be caused by food which has been mass produced to tackle the traffic etc etc. You get my point.
Early next morning, we started for trijuginarayan, a small town high up on the top of the mountain, adorned by an ancient temple, the road to it winds through pleasant forest, which is beautiful but not as dense and awe inspiring as the untouched forests around chopta, which i went through later on.there is a small school there, and it was meal time when we reached, the kids were just roaming around and we distributed toffees, igniting a lot agitation and excitement, a toffee being one of the rarer forms of pleasure there. There were some lovely dogs there too.

The temple it self was a beautiful old building of stone, beautiful architecture, i saw, for the first time, the concept of everlasting fires inside the temple. And most temples had it in common, though, taking the cold in consideration, it is pretty much understandable. The priests there were rather desperate for some tourists, as not many people go there at the best of times and almost no new person is seen there during winter. The usual traffic being for badarinath, no one really pays much attention to that small settlement out of the way. Still, a picturesque place – where mom and us took part in all sorts of prayers and processes just cause the priests looked like they really could use some money, while dad observed from a safe distance as usual :D  i was like- well, i’ve come all the way here, so why not.
Skipping lunch, we drove down to Kalimath, another small out of the way village with it’s own ancient temple, saw lots of Himalayan cherries blossoming, there was a flour mill there run with the flow of the river water.  An old gentleman there stood talking to us about the things he had seen when he had ones visited Gujarat in his youth, he was still impressed with the size of our cows and their horns, Himalayan cows being considerably  daintier with smaller horns. He said he couldn’t imagine having to face those cows at all times.
I will keep mentioning people here and there, it is always an important part of journeys, the people you meet, some highlight the experiences , some offend you, some you wish you could know better and some you wish you hadn’t encountered, it is a great human need to know more of their fallow creatures, it is the exciting but unknown element of travel- there were particularly 3 cases this time which i wish could have lasted longer and those might grow in to something like good friendships, though, travelling, and things that happen during travelling, always depend on fate, things work in mysterious ways.(so, if by any far off weird chance, anyone who’s mentioned here is reading this, they are welcome to contact me)
We started for the extremely small settlement of chopta after that. The forest surrounding that region could not be seen while i went there as it has already grown dark, we reached at 7 but it felt like anything between  12 to 4. Nothing moved in the small patch of road on which all the 4-5 buildings stood. Two dogs slept on the road, as there was no traffic, and one small hotel was open , the cold was intense.  The night was, not too badly spent, even under the tin roof of the small room, though the bedding was stone cold and it took around 10 minutes for it to get warmer inside.
I woke up at 5, having gone to sleep before 8:30 the night before, as there is nothing to do after it gets dark there, there was no light, so i didn’t even bother to write my travel journal- though there was running water, granted it was ice cold ,still i was thankful for that, though it gave me a total brain freeze when i washed my face one too many times. That was a brand new sensation, my skin seemed to grow hard, both of my hands and face, it was like rubbing two sheets of plywood together, all the water in the skin cells must have frozen or something :D  my eyes and brain hurt and i had to burry my head in my brother’s coat as burying it in the  bed didn’t work at all, it was also cold. A very interesting thing – that. Never thought it could feel like that, the skin freezes over , wow.
Unfortunately i didn’t experience my very first snow fall, but i was under extreme temperatures, it was a solid, set cold time, way below the required snow fall temperature, just lacking the moisture, so, ice was formed in the morning on the roof and on the car screens next morning, which had to be melted by throwing some hot water on from the burner. Then the dripping started, the ice had started to melt as the sun rose, at first i thought it was raining.
Father and i started our walk down towards a forest path leading off the road at 6, it was of course still much cold and would remain so, but it afforded me some great landscapes, and the whole range of snow-capped mountains was awash in the golden sunshine –glinting, slowly the sun rose, the light still weak and ineffectual in the mist, but the combination of mist, light and a mysterious forest gave a very surrealistic feel.
That’s when we saw our first monal pheasants, two males flew from under in the valley in to a giant tree,  than a bit father away, another. There was a lot of excitement over that. My mother and brother were coming up behind and were much missed.
Then, up on the cliff face on our other side, i saw a movement over the rock out of the corner of my eye, i went “look” – and there they were, the beautiful Himalayan tahrs  , walking over that seemingly inaccessible cliff face as if they were walking on a beach. One after the other, we counted 6 females, than, that was not all, there was one male sitting on the top, under a crooked tree, basking in the intensifying sunlight, big and with thick white fur, it had beautiful curved horns , one female sat besides him, there was one cub too in the climbing party.

So, after some photos,  i decided to run back and call my brother and mom over faster, i made it half way,and to my relief saw that mom had had the presence of mind to not to walk the road part at all, and had come in the car, thus saving time and grasping the opportunity to see those beautiful animals. All i could do was gasp and gesture towards the way- he he, running there is very much ill-advised. We all saw them at leisure. We also heard Monal calls, calls of a leopard and danger calls of a khakar from the dense forest just below. Indeed, i would like to spend some more time at Chopta, it is very rich in biodiversity. There were many unidentified calls , i would like to know them someday. Other interesting thing included footprints of a fox, and dad seeing a red panda when he went  down to look around alone at night.
After obtaining the permit ticket from the forester and drinking some milk, we started the climb towards Tungnath, the route started just opposite the little hotel where we were, and the two dogs accompanied us, though the smaller one went back after a while and sherroo,  the big one, came all the way.(after climbing down he was rewarded with a whole pack of biscuits) Some way up, we started noticing that the trees became more and more sparse, we went off the train quite a few times, watching birds and those small cute guinea pig type creatures, here’s a pic, name it for me?
a friend found the name for me-it's the Himalayan mouse hare- ochotona Roylei
The going off the trail thing was all right at first, exciting and short. Than it dawned on me that moisture had entered my shoes, i use rubber soled heavy hunters for trekking (it has thick fabric), unlike the other members of my family, who use woodlands boots as a rule, thus mine can get wet from the inside if there is ice on the leaves/ground. First the rubber went utterly cold and than it all went through my socks, hmm... so you know, we had to stop and i had the pleasure of having my feet rubbed while i sat on an old tree stump, Worthing having ice cold toes ones in a while.
From next time, Himalayas are to be walked on only in good leather shoes. I knew this time too, of course, just didn’t have the heart to buy those.
Than we continued again, it is indeed unpleasant to have your socks wet. The sun had risen now, and there was some blessedly warm sunshine here and there.  That worked wonders, the trek it self isn’t too hard, though the climb in height is considerable in the 5 km that you have to climb, the real killer was the very thin and cold air. Breathing was hard, it kept feeling like i couldn’t get enough air through no matter how much i breathed, i tried my old trick of slowing down my breathing when i feel out of breath, that only made me feel as if i was chocking, while it seemed as if it turned more colder inside my lungs each time i breathed.
Btw, keep your mouth shut and your lips sealed when you are climbing up, breathing with your mouth will break you sooner.
The feet rubbing delayed us a bit, and a group of 4 caught up with us, there was one sweet girl with a lovely smile from Israel in it (i say girl because she seemed only a little older than me), we chatted a bit, took photos for each other (she wanted a photo of her jumping in front of the snow cap of the mountain, which included a many trials and a lot of laughter-she than offered to take the photo of me and my “husband” – i had to clear that it was my dad not my husband )and played with the dog, and walked together for a while, commenting on the fog and insects and what not, exchanging cameras for comparisons etc.that is case 1, so case 1- that’s your call.
They stopped for another photo shoot and rest while we drudged ahead. So- here is your proof, my mind works slower at times, i didn’t even ask her name.
Case no 2 was just up ahead. A team from Switzerland and their two dogs met us, they were going down, one of them sat down to rest and chat, he was older than dad and had a beard, they had started at 3 am from their stay somewhere below chopta, and they saw 6 himalayan bears near the tungnath temple, which became our main topic of wonder and excitement, they had been pretty scared and had kept their distance, advising us to stay away from the back of the temple complex, but we wanted to see the bears, of course, and than he asked if we weren’t afraid, well, of course- if we got to see those, than- i’d rather encounter them than not. And dad started talking about other jungles and the national parks near Tungnath, the guy than asked us if we had any children, so dad said yes he had,two- missing the meaning, while i again felt pretty old explaining that,indeed, i am one of his children, and not his wife- (horrid  that- understandably. Mom and brother were,again, coming up slowly behind. Serves me right for not insisting on staying with them- the very human question of “Do i look THAT old” remained with me a long while-or was it just my dress? : ( ) he than looked more intensely at me, and said “i want you back down alive” now, that is probably something which i would normally consider quite presumptuous, but it only seemed like a really concerned and sweet thing to say under the circumstances. So i said “ i want my self back down alive too”, he looked like as if he’d like to talk and know more but than we had to hurry up before the fog rolled in. So he sat looking at our climbing backs, so case no 2, this one’s for you.
I sure hope that i don’t look That old :P (having sheroo with us was good)
We saw frozen flowers, dripping ice lines,  (breaking  them from the stone they are under and munching on them like candy is fun.) and stray patches of snow on the grass.i find that this sort of thing is more harder to bear than the actual “full of snow” environment, which is far easier.
Reaching the top was a delight- the village tungnath appeared like a haunted abandoned town where something tragic has happened – mostly because of the thick fog swirling around the broken and battered little stone houses, which really did look as if they were abandoned ages ago, ruins with dark openings, grass growing on the walls and niches- quite spooky really : ) i ran up the last few steps and run the huge bell with great relish, accompanying it with a shout.
Tungnath temple it self is more than a 1000 years old,and is dedicated to lord shiva.The temple was closed and locked, but a smaller idol of lord shiva was outside in the open,i saw some half burned incense sticks and also found a match box, it was hard to get it burning even for a few seconds because of the high wind- that one was for marking our successful climb, than we circled the complex, and that’s when dad showed me the monals. They were on the opposite wall of rock, mixing nicely with the landscape, first we saw the females,3 of them,and than the glorious male.

It was fully foggy up there, thus, visibility was way poor, there were icicles in our hair and the view of the surrounding peaks was nill. But on the way us we did see the spectacular views,the peaks visible include the chaukhamba range as well as nandadevi and Trishul as well as other unnamed peaks. It got colder and colder, so we hurried back.

sheroo and Vidur
On the climb down, more monals – though not seen as nicely as the ones on the top, Himalayan griffin  and other birds.on our way out of chopta we saw a Jackal. That night was in Ukhimath, there is the omkareshwar temple there which dates to the time of Mandhaata, ancestor of Rama. It is the winter seat of all Panch Kedar deities when Kedarnath, Tungnath and Madmaheshwar shrines are under snow.
Next day was for trekking to Devaria taal/lake, from where the whole Chaukhamba range is visible.the trek is rather easy with a small temple just at the start, the priest there insisted that i visit, while i was rather unwilling to remove my shoes just before the trek had started, needless to say, he did induce me to on my way back.
I and brother wandered off from the main trail again, climbing fully from the forest this time, watching the woodpeckers (the Himalayan kind) flying here and there, and the whistling thrushes calling now and again, crossing flowing streams and ravines, was fun. Though we kept going up and down to keep the way in sight, to prevent getting too lost.
The lake is beautiful, surrounded by little hills and knolls , with the chaukhamba providing a majestic background. We were a little late in starting that day, as every one over slept, and the light was deceptive, mom woke up at 7 and thought it must be 6, and i hadn’t put the alarm –as my parents were with me,  i took it for granted that one of them will be up around 5:30.  This, prevented us from reaching the lake in the early morning time, and yes, the Switzerland team was coming back while our car was going towards the little village from the where the trek starts, though we did waved at each other. This also made photography none too spectacular at the top. Never mind : ) at the top, you can have a camp, if you have the time and tent etc. Something to be kept in the “ to do” list?  The wildlife and the views would be worth it.
I want to do white water rafting.
One of our few lunches was after getting down from there (we usually ended up skipping one meal)- a very simple daal chaval and mustard leaf curry. The two young men who served this simple but satisfying food gave me their address, i am to send them their photos.
They also had a very cute kitten!
We decided to go by the chopta- gopeshwar route again, which is longer, but goes through dense and lush – undisturbed forest. We were rewarded with spectacular and haunting views of the forest, waterfalls ,flocks and flocks of kalij pheasants , forktails and magpies, many unidentified birds and a female of monal. The photo of the rump of a wild boar was the cherry on the cake !
That night was in Nundprayag, a miserable town swamped with end of season rush to the badrinath shrine. The locals feel that they must visit the shrine before it closes down, and the day after was the closing day, which would include the closing ceremony and the bringing down of the idols on palakhis (wooden thrones ,balanced on people’s shoulders- i forget what it is exactly called in English) –granted, that procession coming down on foot is a sight to behold, and would afford some great shots. But this only meant, for this time , bad lodgings and food, we became wiser and got our selves some bread butter from the grocers.
Our first really good breakfast was the next morning, in Karnaprayag, they also had a kitten : ) anyway, we proceeded towards lansdowne after some debate, we were indecisive about going to dehradun, as it has a natural history museum and i must study some before i start my thesis, which is on the same topic. I decided, that if need be, i can always visit it alone after wards, why miss out on something better while we are together.
We stopped at Corbett point in Gulabray near Rudraprayag,where he had killed the infamous men eating leopard of Rudraprayag, and also went to meet the old colonel and his wife who we had met on our first ever journey in the region year ago, even before my brother was born, the incident involved a forgotten bag of money at Dhari mata and our being left to wait all the turmoil out at the colonel’s little restaurant. We met them last time too and i sent photos, i’d be doing the same again, the thing to take note of is the joy they felt at our sudden and unexpected visit after another two years (last one being when we went to the valley of flowers)  - they insisted that we should never spent a night in a hotel if near their house, and they might even visit : ) not to mention that i got to taste the Malta fruits of their own garden.
Reaching  lansdowne took the whole day, though it was only 140 km from Karnaprayag. The road was in a poor condition, swamped with hug landslides and  rubble. We reached at 5 and it was already pretty dark, but as you enter, you also get this feeling of having stepped a little back in time, and after spending the night in nandprayag,  i had this immense feeling of contentment and joy at the properly placed roads and buildings.(of which there were not many). The houses were few and far apart, built in the colonial style, this army stronghold was planned in 1912 by the English Raj,it is now the home of the famous Garhwal rifles.
We stayed the night in “fairy dale”, considered by some to be the most beautiful resort in lansdowne, though, i claim that,not having seen all of those present,i’d only say that it was really beautiful, and i and brother played Neverland+ new age battle with captain hook till dinner on the grounds.
The town reminded me a lot of Gandhinagar, though it is considerably small than my home town,and more more more beautiful. If you are walking on a road, chances are that you’d see a small building only after some distance, there are trees on both sides of each road, and you always feel like you are in a peaceful forest, and at nights, you expect magic to happen.
Our room was surrounded by rows and rows of flowers <3
 The next morning dawned rosy and fresh, the food there was delicious and the manager and mom took turn around the garden together talking about the plants, he also gave us some cuttings of plants, the most interesting plant that we have been given is of the round tomato like paper, but he said it’s not edible. While i went around with the macro lens.
We saw two churches, first was St.Johns, which was open but there was no one there.the second one was St.Mary’s , established in 1895 i think. There you can see a tape of the gharwal rifles, spanning from it’s establishment, the founding of Lansdowne,world war 1, their royal status and the second world war and their role in the wars of independent india. Impressive history.  A soldier sits there all day, and would leave you to watch the video in the church.
Now, we had an extremely silly driver, though he drove well, and that it all that should matter in all practicality, and he didn’t smoke, a bit benefit, as none of us can endure the smoke. Though he was a little obsessive about taking my photos and leery, but the thing that really got to me was his habit of throwing plastic waste everywhere and anywhere. In most places in India, the right disposal of trash is not particularly thought of, and it has happened many times that one fails to find a dust bit no matter how much they try, the best option is, to keep  your trash in your bag till you get home, if you are not likely to get home on the day it self, you have to throw it somewhere, we ,as a rule, throw it where it is already trashy, so obviously , in a dirty street of a town. But he would always ignore me when i tell him to give me anything he wished to get rid of, and threw stuff in the forest.
That, to say it in Bryan’s words “cuts like a knife”. More so when those are those pristine, unspoilt Himalayan forests high up!
Lansdowne was very clean, thru the military discipline and the understanding of the people, there were sign boards for visitors telling them not to litter, and he said, “ it is election time that is why- or else no one gives a damn about cleanliness, hypocrites, they cannot stop me from doing as i like”
I had to give him some tongue lashing, i just can’t help it.
After all,it is because of this mentality that our great nation is also the most littered one.
They think the ganges the holiest of rivers, even this silly driver (who, as a rule,had an opinion about everything , but wouldn’t accept someone else’s) used to go to the ganga ghat (shore) every morning to touch the holy waters before he would partake of any food.
How can they, than, bear to dirty it?
Do they not see what they are doing?
I have seen, till now, that blind religion drives people to do thoughtless acts, be it as small as being uninterested in the hygiene and beauty of your surroundings to killing others for having different views.
Back to Lansdowne.  We visited the army museum with lots of firearms, costumes and historical papers. So of course my brother was ecstatic, he was in ammunition heaven! He could name them all, almost. He treasures the photos taken there, of him holding a few big  guns , i can’t name those. He took one of mine too. Only that i don’t look at all military.
The soldiers there thought dad was from the army. They always do that.
In front of the museum,were the army training grounds, the training was on going.
I tasted my first momos there. They were nice, and the sauce with it was really hot. I am sure i could get better ones somewhere too.
There was one army shop there, brother bought two army t shirts with the gharwal rifles logo, and i got one too : ), we can wear them in the forests, any how, they’d look cool.he also got a cap and a trouser, and we bought a glacial sleeping bag, i hope to be able to put it to some good use.
Now starts the case no 3, we met a soldier there in the shop, who had just finished his training as a recruit, he must be below 25, there with his friends, he looked on longingly at our happy activities in the shop. Than he came over and commented on my mom’s love for us. (she was in a sort of shopping frenzy, as we are always looking for military outfit for brother here and rarely find anything remotely close)so, in between shopping and looking at things, every one chatted, he was from somewhere near Abu in rajasthan, so of course he missed home and family. I guess he missed his mother as he looked on mine. Mom still claims she saw a sheen of tears in his eyes. Well, he bought me a gharwal rifles logo keychain, so mom bought him a wallet, and he also asked for my number, though i didn’t give my personal number, we hope he’d call. (update on 24th of Nov- He did call :)- and my first exam went nicely too )

Cheers to travelling!
Well, than there was the sad sad drive down to haridwar, with unshed tears in my eyes- that is the usual state i am in when i am forced to come down from the Himalayas, can’t help it.the night In Haridwar, the dreary town, how i wish i could have spent that night in Rishikesh, the happening place, wonderful for food and shopping, and more cleaner and diverse.  And more higher.
But we had a train from Haridwar to delhi at 6:10, so. Delhi arrived at 12 noon, meanwhile, we searched out the existence of two natural history museums in Delhi, with the help of some calls to friends and family, and a fallow passenger who very kindly did some searching on his phone. We could visit one of the two, it was under renovation but had magnificent display, we could now relate to so many Himalayan birds in display and could identify some of the jungle calls playing, it was at Mandi house,delhi
We had fast journeys in the city through the nice metro train system, though dad was a little apprehensive about that, he functions better in jungles, while he can not handle much public transport in the cities. Skipped lunch in all the running about, saw the infamous palica Bazaar, it really is bewildering, the most notable thing is, i saw a huge 600 mm canon prime lens there. Not to mention some cute shoes and oh so many cloths.
Back to the airport in the special train, goofed around there with my brother, we played at the drinking water fountain, at the shoe shiner, and tried going down on a climbing escalator (btw don’t do it in public, we abandoned it after the first try, if you value your dignity)and marched around trying to connect to the free and privet wi fis available , i don’t know why people are  so serious at airports? We ate silly airport food because dad was in a hurry to get there , i mean, what is so amazing that it has to cost so much? Any how, it was still fun, and i tried out “run raisin” ice cream, something new for me as it obviously isn’t available in Gujarat. I felt proud walking around in hunters , flanked by pencil heels and ballerinas. Shoes.... there was one perfume store with prada and Gucci and all, the bright side, i got to sniff some and tried on Gucci for free, good .
Landed in ahmedabad at 11, got home at 12..
Finished the book “a walk to remember” , and i have my furniture design exam the day after tomorrow.
Girl, start studying!
Bye people, and greetings to the cases.
more photos on-

-: I oppose the use of asbestos in India:-

1 comment:

  1. the Himalayas, home of the snow, is the most impressive system of mountains on the earth, and for centuries the setting for epic feats of exploration and

    mountain climbing / treks, are a world into themselves. Ascending the heights and being a part of the Himalayan landscape is an experience beyond comparison.