It was 19th September. I was supposed to leave Leh for Manali on my bike next morning. My plan was to go to Pangong Tso and then continue on my return journey. Target was to reach Delhi on 22nd late evening. But my friend and host in Leh insisted me to drop the idea of going to Pangong and instead witness the opening parade of the Ladakh Festival. His argument was that Pangong would always be there to visit the next time I am in Ladakh, but to be here on exact date of opening of Ladakh festival will need meticulous planning anytime next. So, if by chance when I am already in Leh on the day, I shouldn’t miss this event. His argument was strong and I changed my plan. I decided to see the opening ceremony and than move to either Pang or Sarchu for the night halt. Well, visiting Pangong has so far not been materialised but still I don’t regret change of my plans that day. Ladakh Festival is indeed something not to be missed.
The Ladakh Festival is a cultural extravaganza and showcase event for the region, held every year. The main aim of organising this festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like traditional folk dances and songs of different parts of Ladakh.
The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year. Ladakh festival has seen considerable change over the years. Earlier it used to be celebrated for 15 days from 1st to 15th September. Than it was curtailed to a week and dates were shifted to 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its surrounding villages. This year this festival is being organised as Leh Tourism Festival from 22nd to 25th September, i.e. for four days. Even last year there was a four day festival.
The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival days have regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.
Ladakh in September
September is often considered to be the one of the best time to travel to Ladakh, especially for those who prefer to ride or drive to Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. Weather is clearer, roads are in good condition and water crossings will have less water. Region would be more green after monsoons, skies will be more blue and since it would already be nearing the end of the season, hence tourist traffic would be certainly less. Since all the hotels in region and enroute Leh operate till the Puja holidays, there would be no risk of not being able to get room or food. And, then witnessing Ladakh festival can be reason good enough to add to all this.
Have you ever been to Ladakh Festival? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.
Its a win for the environmental cause. It is also a slap in face for all those who promote mindless fancy projects in name of tourist promotions. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has been forced cancel the water aerodrome project at the Chilika lagoon following objections from various quarter. However in a face saver it has offered to develop the project in Odisha if the state government provides it with an alternative site. Chilika, the second largest brackish water lake in the world, covers Khurda, Puri and Ganjam districts of Odisha. Situated at the mouth of the Daya River, Chilika is rich in biodiversity and a major tourist attraction in the state.
AAI chairman Guruprasad Mohapatra said: “Following a request from the state government to cancel the project as it would affect Chilika’s ecology, we have cancelled the project.” Making it clear that the AAI wants development of the state, Mohapatra said: “If the state government gives any proposal to develop a water aerodrome in the state, we will provide them all help. However, they have to submit the proposal within three weeks.” In June, the AAI had announced to set up aerodrome projects in Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. Chilika in Odisha was the preferred site. The civil aviation ministry had given its nod to the Chilika proposal. The ministry also cleared Gujarat’s Sardar Sarovar Dam and Sabarmati River Front for similar projects in the first phase. But it is said that ministry didn’t consult all concerned stakeholders before giving the nod. If sources are to go by, the Ministry only took into consideration data and information related to tourism at Chilika but did not take on board the key stakeholder, Forest and Environment Department of the State. Although there has been claims by the the Civil Aviation Ministry about a joint team conducting a study, Chilika Development Authority (CDA) was apparently not consulted.
In a letter to chief secretary A.P. Padhi, the AAI chairman had said: “The Airports Authority of India plans to set up water aerodromes. For starting amphibious aircraft operation in Odisha, Bhubaneswar airport and Chilika lake have been shortlisted for a pre-feasibility study. The government will identify the site in Chilika.” Odisha initially had not objected to the proposal. A team of experts from the Centre had visited the area and conducted a study. Subsequently, environmentalists and the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) raised objections. BJD leader from Chilika area and Brahmagiri MLA Sanjay Das Burma and Khurda MLA Rajendra Sahu had objected to the proposal. BJP had slammed BJD for opposing the Centre’s efforts to boost employment in the area. However, the saffron party’s own MLA Dilip Ray had supported the BJD.
In a letter to the state government, chief executive, CDA, Sushanta Nanda had said: “Operation of seaplane and water aerodrome at Chilika, the world’s second largest brackish water lake, is likely to cause irrevocable damage to the ecosystem and livelihood of people dependent on it. The cost involved in the operation of seaplane seems to outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from it. Besides, legally the project is not feasible.” The operation of the aerodrome at any given location in the lake will have far reaching adverse consequences on its fragile ecosystem, the CDA maintained. He had also said: “The legal provisions under Wetland Conservation and Management Rule, 2017, are applicable to the internationally acclaimed Chilika wetland site. The rules strictly prohibit its conversion for non-wetland use. Construction of aerodrome is therefore not legally permissible as Chilika is a wetland site.” Such an aerodrome would require water runway for landing and take-off while associated facilities would have to be developed for docking sea aeroplanes, taxiway, apron, tourists’ entry check-in, re-fuelling, beacon lighting, offices, staff buildings among many things.
“Chilika is ecologically too fragile and precious for such experiments. Besides direct risks that are associated with plying aircraft in an area known for its mass congregation of birds, fuel and lubricant spills, emissions, noise pollution etc, ancillary development that will precede and follow the setting up of an aerodrome will only negatively impact the lake’s ecology,” says conservationist Aditya Chandra Panda.
The CDA maintained: “With one million birds congregating in the lake, the operation of seaplanes will be hazardous to winged species as they will either be sucked in the engines or be hit by the planes during its landing. The possibility of bird hit will also pose a threat to air travellers.” For six months between October and March, Chilika turns into a temporary habitat for lakhs of migratory and residential birds. The lake is home to 230 bird species, of which 97 are intercontinental migrants from Arctic and Eurasian regions. It saw congregation of close to 9 lakh birds during the last winter. For a majority of resident bird species, the 1100 sq km lagoon is a prime breeding site. It also holds a notified protected area, Nalabana Bird Sanctuary, which is spread over 15 sq km. The lake supports over 225 birds, 260 fish apart from 37 reptile and amphibian and 18 mammal species besides a large varieties of flora.
According to CDA, the birds are not only a major tourist attraction, but also help to recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem through “guano deposits”. Guano, the accumulated excrement of seabirds, is rich in nitrogen, phosphates and potassium- nutrients that spur the growth of vegetation. When birds forage the water, the vegetation in it thins and enables free movement of fish. If the bird population shrinks, livelihood of about two lakh fishermen dependent on Chilika is at risk, the report warns. Moreover, seaplanes have limited passenger carrying capacity which means that such a project may not add significantly to tourism. Besides, Chilika is extremely well-connected by road communication.
The CDA had cited that noise from the flights would distract the Irrawady dolphins, an endangered species found in the lake, which have highly sensitive hearing. Noise pollution generated by close to 10,000 boats has already taken a toll on the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the lake. The amphibious aircraft operation would have add to the woes. As many as 155 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins were spotted in Chilika, which is the single largest habitat of this species in the world and is also one of two lagoons in the world that shelter them. After clearing the lake of illegal man-made enclosures, dolphins have now started moving freely in all sectors. Meanwhile, the Odisha government has decided to regulate boat operation in the lake following the death of six passengers in a recent boat tragedy. It has made life jackets mandatory for tourists and GPS on the boats.
Have you ever been to Chilika lake? Do you think it needs a water aerodrome? Share your views in the comments section below.
Estimated to be over 2 million years old, the Al Hoota Cave is one of Oman’s most popular natural tourist attractions. Located off route 21 between Nizwa and Bahla at the foot of Oman’s epic mountain Jabal Shams, just 2 hours drive from Muscat, it is the first and only cave in the Arabian Peninsula which is open to visitors. With a total length of around 4.5 kilometres, around 500 metres of the cave is accessible to the general public.
The one hour guided tour starts from the Visitor’s Centre with a short ride in an electric train that carries passengers up to the cave entrance. Once inside the cave, it’s a feast for the eyes as you walk on the pathway and witness an enormous subterranean cavern filled with stalactites, stalagmites and colourful solid rock columns. Don’t miss the popular lion’s head, the cat, the old man and countless other intriguing shapes and an 800m long underground lake that is home to the rare blind fish – Garra Barreimiae and many other animal species like bats, arthropods, mollusks, spiders, snails and water beetles.
While the Al Hoota Cave is made of stone, it was created by water. Like many other caves in Oman, the Al Hoota Cave system was formed by the dissolution of limestone by acidic water. When rainwater dissolves carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or soil, it produces a dilute carbonic acid that dissolves the limestone as it runs over it, thus forming the cave. Every 100 years, the water dissolves through 10mm of rock – so it takes a long time to create something as spectacular as the Al Hoota Cave! Fascinating features such as stalagmites, stalactites and of course the magnificent lion of the cave are formed by mineral deposits as water drips into or moves through the cave system. Some of the columns and curtains you will see in the cave have been shaped over millions of years.
Post the tour; also visit the geological exhibition for an interesting insight into the geology of Oman and an in-depth study on how these caves were formed. Owing to its delicate ecosystem, a maximum of only 750 people are allowed to visit the caves on a day, hence it is ideal to do prior booking. The cave is open to visitors every Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm.
You could combine your trip with a visit to Nizwa to experience the magnificent Fort and Friday market or see the traditional architecture of Al Hamra and the beautiful atmosphere of Misfit al Abryeen. You could stroll through Wadi Tanuf or do the rim walk at Jebel Shams before lunch at Al Hoota followed by an afternoon visit to the cave.
Paris thrills here! The pulsating liveliness of the Champs-Élysées exalts the Parisian art de vivre. The capital comes alive on the world’s most beautiful avenue. And, established on the Champs-Elysées for more than 70 years, this iconic cabaret has been the incarnation of Parisian nights since 1946
The Indian Choice
For over two decades now, Lido de Paris has been the most preferred cabaret and entertainment site for Indian tourists and business visitors in Paris. The show’s wholesome entertainment, most modern use of technology and attractive sets in a typical French ambience have been enjoyed by families, groups and individuals visiting from India.
An Exceptional setting
Entering the Lido Parisian cabaret is as awe-inspiring as discovering a treasure. Tassels by the thousands, gilded mosaics… A hall decked in the colours of the night leads towards the recently renovated panoramic theatre that seats over 1,100.
A breathtaking show
Welcome to Paris Merveilles, the acclaimed show from director Franco Dragone, the international figure of live shows. Sensual, intimate, elegant and spectacular, this waking dream will take your breath away and leave you dazzled. Welcome to a fantastic whirlwind of technological wizardry led along by the most beautiful girls in the world.
An Indian Dinner
In addition to our different menu options one will be also able to choose a dedicated menu for Indian with a vegetarian option. A three-course menu prepared with fresh and high quality ingredients.
“Legendary”, “sumptuous”, “breathtaking”, “magical”, “romantic”……. are just some of the superlatives used by the tourists to describe Paris.The French capital is the whole world’s dream. Every year, almost 40 million visitors come to discover it’s incredible variety of heritage. Its is Mythical Paris, with the Champs Elysées….. Monumental Paris with the Eiffel Tower…. Cultural Paris with the Louvre, the musée d’Orsay……Paris by night with the Lido, the cabarets, the theatres….Gastronomical Paris with it’s starred restaurants…..Paris Seine with it’s bridges, the Ile Saint-Louis, the Ile de la Cité…. Paris Chic with the Avenue Montaigne and the Place Vendome…..Green Paris, with the Tuileries, the Luxembourg…..
Now, Paris is also “Paris Merveilles” with the new Lido show created and staged by Franco Dragone. So next time you are in Paris, drop your inhibitions and enjoy one of the most extraordinary cabaret performances in the entire world. Won’t you!
Harsil is a land of mystique. Although it still doesn’t have that tourist rush but it has already collected many adjectives, more than many other places in the region. It is often dubbed as mini Switzerland of India. But it indeed is more than that. It is surely one of the most beautiful places in whole of Uttarakhand, but it is actually a gateway to something more beautiful than what we see at Harsil. It opens to some uncharted territories, yet to be explored- some spiritual and some natural.
I had heard and read lot about Harsil. But never had been able to go towards Gangotri valley, until in summers this year riding the first ever Bloggers Bus of Uttarakhand Tourism. It could have seemed like a mission accomplished but actually it left me wanting for more. Its not a place to be seen in hurry, but it is a place where you need to come to spend some time to relax your mind and body, to detox yourself.
When Raj Kapoor got hooked to Harsil
It actually seems strange that Harsil remained relatively unknown and unspoiled even after all the eyes it was able to capture in legendary Raj Kapoor’s superhit film Ram Teri Ganga Maili (राम तेरी गंगा मैली). Perhaps Raj Kapoor has earlier visited this place and he was so mesmerised that he decided to shoot his next film here. Film was extensively shot in Bagori and Harsil (हर्षिल) and there are a few spots around that got there name as well as fame for some famous scenes of the film, such as Mandakini Falls. To a lay man, Mandakini Falls would have got its name because of river Ganges, which is also known as Mandakini, and Harsil is in Gangotri valley. But this waterfall is named after the iconic bathing scene of the lead actress Mandakini in the film.
Even the Harsil post office got a fair deal of exposure on silver screen as Mandakini will be regularly going there to enquire whether there is any letter in her name. You can find many posts on social media of travellers posing in the front of that post office. But interestingly you don’t find many authentic pic of Mandakini falls.
Beauty of all seasons
Nevertheless, nothing can undermine the beauty of this tiny hamlet which has go different charm for different seasons. Winters are pretty white here, its so cold and taxing that you will hardly find anybody here in the village. But those who are courageous enough to brave the cold and rich there in winters vouch for its unparalleled beauty. But than you have to face the dreadful situation of being all alone to manage yourself. But actually, we found out that the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) Tourist Rest House at Harsil remains functional even in the harsh winters. So, you can find solace here.
A Britisher who turned king here
Credit of bringing Harsil to fore actually goes to Frederik E Wilson who was supposedly a sepoy in East India Company. It is said that after the mutiny of 1857, he deserted Company and settled in Harsil. In some accounts it is said that he left Army even earlier in 1841 at the time of the First Afghan war. He is said to have spent some time in Mussoorie before moving further up and following the course of the Ganges, till he reached Harsil. He is said to have introduced apple seed, potatoes and green bean to this region. You can still find apple orchards everywhere in the region. There is said to be a local apple variety in his name. He also cashed on abundance of Deodar trees here. Wilson sold the Deodar logs to Britishers who turned them into sleepers for expansion of railways in India. It is said that he brought richness for the local people of Taknaur valley. But he was also fond of hunting and it is claimed that he alone was responsible for introducing large scale hunting in the region and make money out of it. He will trade in fur, skin and bones. He married a local girl (Gulabi as per some stories) from village Mukhba. Mukhba is the winter abode of goddess Ganges and is just a few kilometres from Harsil.
There are numerous stories, folklores, legends about Wilson, his struggles, his skills, his richness, his love & hate story with rulers of Tehri-Garhwal and hostilities that he later developed, incurring even a curse from local deities. That apart, locally he was also referred to as Raja Wilson or Pahadi Wilson. Wilson had constructed a huge mansion for himself at Harsil. It was known as Wilson cottage. It was built in 1864. It remained an attraction for visitors until decades after his death. But the cottage got burnt in a fire sometime back. The place is now under the forest department, which has built a Forest rest house here.
Away from spoils
Harsil is now a cantonment town. Way back in May 1973 a detachment of the Defence Agricultural Research Laboratory run by DRDO was established here. It is also a base for army unit. Currently a battalion of Mahar Regiment is stationed here. Proximity to China border has made it strategically very important place. Being a cantonment area, it is governed by cantonment board rules. Hence Harsil has been prevented from being turning into a mess of regular hill stations. This is the place where valley has bit widened up, which makes it favourable location. It also has a helipad nearby on the way to Dharali. This helipad is used for helicopter services for Chardham Yatra. Due to being a border area, earlier foreigners were not allowed to stay overnight here. Even Indian tourists needed a permit to visit he area. These curbs were placed immediately after the 1962 China war. But last year all these restrictions were lifted. No permits needed and even foreigners can stay overnight at Harsil.
The legend of Hari Shila
Harsil or Harshil, as it is pronounced in Hindi is also a mythological town. It is also said to have a confluence of three rivers- Bhagirathi (Ganges coming from Gangotri), Vishnuganga and Jalandhari. Hence it is said to have a similar religious importance as of sangam. Harsil derives its name from two words- Hari (हरि means Lord) and shila (शिला meaning rock). It is said that here Lord Vishnu is in rock form in the river. He became rock because of a curse of the wife of a local demon king Jalandhar.
Actually there are many mythological stories about Jalandhar. Most common one is his being a son of Lord Shiva and then becoming so powerful that Gods started fearing him. Only way to kill him was to weaken him by making his wife submitting to somebody else since his biggest strength was chastity of his wife Vrinda. To play a trick, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhar and reached in front of his wife. She believed him to be her husband and lost her chastity. When resultantly Jalandhar was killed and his wife came to know of the truth, she cursed Lord Vishnu to turn into a rock. That happened here at Harsil and hence it got its name. Harsil also has a Laxmi Narayan temple built in 1818 at the banks of the Bhagirathi river.
Gateway to Kinnaur
But to me, Harsil is more importantly a gateway to another beautiful world which is largely unexplored. Harsil is actually an important transit point. Along the Jalandhari river goes a trek to Kinnaur via Kyarkoti in Tankaur valley. This trek goes to Chitkul in Kinnaur, which is last village in the Baspa valley. This is said to be the classic route from Gangotri to Kinnaur, which was reportedly first crossed by Marco Pallis in 1933. This is said to be one of the most remote areas of Uttarakhand and arguably one of the most beautiful as well. One has to cross Lamkhaga Pass (5282 metres) to go to the either side. Actually, there are routes connecting both the Yamunotri valley as well as Gangotri valley to Kinnaur. Another trekking route from Chitkul via Borasu Pass (5360 metres) takes to Har-Ki-Dun valley and Sankri. Or you can trek further till Yamunotri from Har-Ki-Dun via Ruinsara Tal and Bali Pass (4900 metres). Well, though feeling tempted to write more about that, will do it sometime later.
An unending charisma
While coming from Uttarkashi as soon as we turn towards Bhagirathi valley from Jhala-Purali (where Sian Gad meets Bhagirathi river), we feel like entering into a new world. Going back is always tough as you feel like leaving a part of you here. But that perhaps is the motivation to be back, so shall be.
Attractions close by
Apart from treks, Harsil can also be base for all excursions around, and there are plenty to keep you busy for long. Harsil itself is located at an altitude of 2620 metres, higher than many other popular hill stations of Uttarakhand and Himachal.
Gangotri: Source to river Ganges is just 20 kilometres from here. So even if Gangotri is important part of itinerary, you can plan it as a day visit from Harsil.
Nelong: Nelong valley is 30 kilometres from Harsil towards the Tibbet border. It was a prohibited area until sometime back. But now tourists can visit this amazing valley after taking due permission from (Uttarkashi) district administration. That can also be planned as a day visit from Harsil.
Mukhba: This is just a kilometre or so from Harsil. You can even walk down to this village. This is winter abode of Ganges and every year when the Gangotri temple is closed, the idol of Ganges is brought down in a procession at Ganges temple in Mukhba, only to be taken again in similar procession in next summer.
Sat Taal: A chain of seven unexplored lakes just five kilometres from Dharali at altitudes raging from 9000 to 10,000 feet. A beautiful half day trek can be done to these lakes and come back. Each lake has a story. (Read:Exploring the unexplored Sat taal near Harsil)
Kyarkoti: Even if you don’t go for the trek to Chitkul, you can go on a short trek upto Kyarkoti lake which is just 14 kms from Harsil. Have a night camp in the lap of majestic Himalayan ranges around and come back to Harsil the next day. It would be a great adventure.
This autumn, Harsil can be your dream destination. What are you waiting for!
Have you ever been to Harsil? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Finland’s capital Helsinki has gained a major new cultural institution and a striking new public space with the completion of Amos Rex. The art museum opens after a five- year, €50 million project designed by architecture firm JKMM, which has seen the refurbishment of the landmark 1930’s Lasipalatsi building in Central Helsinki. At the heart of the museum, 13,000 cubic metres of rock has been excavated to create a new 2,200 sqm world-class flexible gallery space topped with a series of domes and skylights that form the new undulating landscape of the Lasipalatsi Square.
Amos Rex’s exhibition programme extends from the newest, often experimental, contemporary art to 20th-century Modernism and ancient cultures. Amos Rex aims to present captivating and ambitious art refreshingly and exuberantly. The goal is for the past, present and future to produce unique experiences and surprising encounters beneath and above ground, and on the screen. Amos Rex opens with Massless, an exhibition by the Tokyo-based digital art collective teamLab, which will run until 6 January 2019. In the early half of 2019, Amos Rex will present a retrospective of the Dutch art collective Studio Drift as well as Rene Magritte: Life Line, the first major exhibition of this pioneer of the surrealist movement in Finland. These exhibitions will run in parallel from 8 February to 19 May.
The opening of Amos Rex is said to be one of the biggest events to occur in the cultural life of Helsinki for a generation and will offer unrivalled facilities for the display of art, exhibitions, film and performance. Art used to be something we hung on the wall and went respectfully to contemplate. Today art is increasingly interactive and conversational. It is something people make and experience together. Contemporary art finds all the time new forms and new media and this is exemplified in the work teamLab. teamLab’s immersive and participatory digital artwork is a fantastic way to demonstrate the expressive possibilities opened up by new galleries. Digital technology has allowed art to liberate itself from the physical and transcend boundaries, and it can turn the relationship between people in the same space into a positive experience.
Vortex of Light Particles, which has been especially created for this occasion, will be the largest installation in the exhibition. It will create a digital simulation of water pouring upward in reversed gravity towards the uniquely and beautifully domed ceiling, flowing from this underground space to the skylight above. The trajectories of these simulated water particles will form a series of lines, which will in turn create waterfalls and vortex all along the walls and ceiling of this space.
Amos Rex is the latest addition to the buzzing cultural quarter of Helsinki, which already includes the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki Music Centre, Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall, the National Museum of Finland, the Finnish Museum of Natural History, the Ateneum Museum, Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) and the soon-to be completed Oodi Central Library. The centrepiece of the new museum is a 2,200 sqm gallery space created beneath the Lasipalatsi square which will offer the curators of Amos Rex the opportunity to accommodate large scale works of art and performance, and to stage exhibitions, installations and performance in a hugely flexible space with a high degree of technical control.
The refurbishment of the 1930’s landmark together with the new museum extension are remarkable additions to Helsinki’s urban culture.The square adjacent to Lasipalatsi is one of the most important public spaces in Helsinki. Now the newly landscaped Lasipalatsi Square with its gently curving domes will be received as a welcome addition to Helsinki’s urban culture.
Have you ever witnessed the Finnish art scene? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
I had been hearing about Shitlakhet for almost ten years now, ever since I started visiting the Almora region more frequently. I even made some flying visits to the village, and had some incredibly tasty maggi. But never got an opportunity to stay overnight and explore the place until last month when I was there as the part of the Bloggers Bus of Uttarakhand Tourism. Although a one night stay is just not enough to do any justice to this place, but we tried to extract as much experience as possible.
Shitlakhet is certainly not a happening place. But I can bet, it is unimaginably beautiful. It is just a small village at the end of the mountain ridge. But it is full of adventure and it is certainly a photographers paradise. Hence, I though that it is better to talk about this place with some photographs.
We stayed at Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) tourist rest house which is at the base of the hill on whose top Syahi or Siyahi Devi temple is located. She is a local deity and most revered here in the region. Most enjoyable activity at Shitlakhet is a morning trek to top of the hill. It might be around a four kilometre trek to the top, but it is worth every bit. On the way you experience the vividness of the nature here.
Besides its amazing 200 degree Himalayan views, Sitlakhet is also famous for its orchards, landscapes, herbs, medicinal plants, as well as birds. The day we reached here was done away in planting some saplings to celebrate Harela festival. Since we had to leave the next morning after breakfast, only time we had in our hands was the early morning and we decided to have a short trek to explore the area. A small hike to the middle of the hill and all of a sudden, we got to see what we had been missing – the Himalayan views. And actually, we were lucky to have these views during the peak of monsoon. It was a small window when the sky got cleared and we were able to have a glimpse of majestic Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas. (Click on the thumbnails to have bigger look of the panorama.
The trail to the temple takes you through dense pine forests. Morning hike is also best to have some good views of birds and some wild life as well. Best time also to have some good light for photography. Perfect for some nature walks. You can find scattered houses, orchards, camping sites and resorts spread out.
Most of the area is largely unexplored, and you hardly get to see any tourists here. It is quite rich in flora and fauna. Shitlakhet is said to have more than 115 species of birds. As is with hills in general, you can find here lots and lots of flowers- small and big.
It is said that most part of the hill (it is many hundreds of acres land) is actually a private property which comes under Bora estate. This is owned by a Almora based family which inherited this property from its earlier generation who had purchase it from a britisher decades before independence. Tough to imagine that this whole part of the hill belongs to a single individual.
Its a fertile area, with favourable climate and very less amount of disturbance. Hence locals have been doing lots of experiments in livelihood including farming and small scale productions.
With this place so serene, peaceful and away from the main course, it has got some exclusive places for stay. As, we mentioned that KMVN TRH and Forest rest house as well as some small hotels are there for budget stay close to village and the road head. But up on the hill, some camping sites and high-end resorts are also available.
I had also often heard about an adventure camp run by Discovery here for many years. It is actually a Pine wood Cliff campus by Youreka.
There are lot many treks, that can be done here. You also enjoy mountain biking and lot of other activities. This place has been popular for team building corporate activities.
Beauty of this place is that although it is very close to tourist towns of Ranikhet and Almora, it is free of tourists. Ranikhet is 30 kms and Almora is 36 kms from here. You can reach here directly from Kathgodam via Ranikhet and Kathpudia. Or you can go to Almora and come here via Kosi bridge.
September to March would be best time to go here. But one more thing, I still feel it is lot underrated as winter destination. It is breathtaking during winter snow. It could take away sheen of many of its famed neighbours for sure. I am going to write about it more in coming season.
Have you been to Shitlakhet? Pleas share your experiences in the comments section below.
Held annually in the full-moon month of ‘Esala’, the Kandy Esala Perahera is the ultimate celebration and showcase of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and vibrant culture. The significance of the month of ‘Esala’ (which falls on July or August) is that it is believed to commemorate the very first teaching imparted by the Buddha, following his enlightenment. Conducted in reverence to the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha which is contained in the ancient palace of Kandy known as ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’, the flamboyant annual procession unites Sri Lankans from all corners of the island and draws culture enthusiasts from across the globe. This year, the Kandy Esala Perahera is taking place from 16th to 26th August in its usual series of colourful Kumbal Peraheras, Randoli Peraheras and vivacious ritualistic ceremonies.
With an origin rooted in centuries passed, The Esala Perahera in Kandy is one of the oldest and most significant of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese term ‘Perahera’ refers to a procession of ceremonial musicians, drummers, dancers, singers, acrobats,whip crackers, flag bearers, sword carriers, fireball dancers and various other performers accompanied by a large number of elaborately adorned elephants parading the streets in celebration of a religious event. Primarily hosted to honour the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, the Esela Perahera is also conducted with the intention of beseeching blessings from the divinities for bountiful rains and a prosperous harvest, as well as an intercession to shower blessings on the people. The illustrious ten-day festival commences with the ‘KapSituveema’ – a ritual where young jackfruit trees are planted in the premises of each of the four ‘Devales’ (Shrines of God) dedicated to the four ‘Guardian Gods’ Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini, and ends with the traditional ‘Diya Kepeema’ – a water cutting ceremony which is held at the Mahaweli River at Getambe in Kandy.
A flamboyant fusion of history, culture and religion
Exploring every facet of Sri Lankan culture and Buddhist heritage, the Esala Perahera features an endless variety of traditional local dances, including graceful Kandyan dances, striking whip and fire dances and many other folklore inspired performances. During each perahera, a myriad of festively dressed Kandyan drummers, eastern percussionists, singers and acrobats along with mahouts chaperoning dazzlingly embellished tuskers and elephants take to the streets to illuminate and enliven the procession.The entire route of the procession is decorated with countless lights which are beautifully synchronized with the proceedings and performances of each Perahera.
An idyllic base in the heart of the bustling festivities
Located 116km away from Colombo, in Sri Lanka’s scenic Hill Country, Cinnamon Citadel Kandy is nestled in the heart of the city of Kandy, making it the ideal base for those traveling from far and wide to view the Perahera. Set against the picturesque backdrop of the Knuckles Mountain Range shrouded in varying degrees of mist, and built to resemble the majestic realm of the last Sinhalese kings, Cinnamon Citadel Kandy takes you on an enchanting cultural journey and tells you an ancient tale of its own. The resort bears many vivid features in the form of vibrant tones of red and traditional Kandyan art, which evoke a rich cultural presence and a true sense of regal luxury. Cinnamon Citadel’sample verdant gardens which are located near a tranquil bend in the Mahaweli River offer a quaint and tranquil atmosphere for guests to relax and unwind after a long and exuberant day of crowding alongside the streets to witness the magnificent Esala Perahera.
Idyllically located amidst all the action, Cinnamon Citadel Kandy will once again join the nation in celebrating the grand festival, whilst offering a convenient base from which guests can experience and enjoy the bustling festivities during the Perahera season.
Have you ever visited Kandy or have been witness to Kandy Perahera? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Holi in monsoon and that too with no colours but butter and curd milk! Well, nothing to be surprised. India does have such a vivid culture that there are scores of different festivals held every now and then. Many of them are unique and few of them have roots in remotest of places. Some of these places, which were not known so far are slowly getting popularity due to increased tourist activities. Raithal in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand is one such place.
Raithal is popular among adventurers as it is also the base for trekking expeditions to Dayara Bugyal and further. Raithal is also an ideal tourist village also known for its rich history and cultural heritage. Included in this heritage is this festival which is almost unique in Indian traditions. And interesting thing is that festival is celebrated kms away from the village in the high meadows.
Dayara Bugyal is almost at an altitude of 11 thousand feet. It is indeed one of the most beautiful alpine meadows and one of the biggest as well in this part of Himalayas. It is spread in almost 28 square kilometre area. There are many small glacial lakes and few of them are known for their colourful fishes. This bugyal also turns into a flower carpet in spring time every year, after the melting of snow. There are also many herbal plants found here, which had been used by locals as medicines for generations.
During the spring time the meadows get covered with lush green grass cover. At that time the villagers of Raithal will send their cattle to graze in the meadows along with some shepherds. They will stay there for months. Shepherd will construct small temporary huts over there. Villagers believe that with rich grass and medicinal plants in abundance, their livestock will get healthier and in return the quality and quantity of their milk will also improve immensely. They continue to be there till the start of the rains.
Now when cattle get healthy and fit to return, than in the Hindu month of Bhadrapad (mostly August, but might vary), the villagers of Raithal will go to Dayara to bring their cattle back. Their return is celebrated as the Butter festival. The festival was traditionally called as Anduri. This is a way for them to thank the nature for its blessings, to take care of their cattle folk and making them healthy. Although the festival is celebrated for a day, but its preparations go on for weeks. Villagers will invite their near and dear ones to join them for the festival, thus they tell everybody that their livestock is returning to the village. They will decorate the houses and the barns or sheds with flowers. Pooris (deep fried puffy Indian bread) will be hanged on the doors as a tradition.
Earlier they used to throw cow dung on the guests but later on that was replaced with butter and butter milk. As this festival has now started attracting tourists, many other things are increasingly added to the celebration to make in visually more impressive. A fair is held and just like Janmashtami celebrations of Maharashtra, Dahi-handi is also organised. All villagers will gather at Dayara with lots and lots of butter and butter milk. They will apply butter on faces (as we use colour in holi) and butter milk will br thrown and poured on each other. Water guns filled with butter milk will be extensively used. Now with tourism department involved in the festival, the festival has got more diversified atmosphere. Folk music and dances like Dhimai and Mithi will be organised, people will be dressed in traditional clothes.
This year, this festival is being held on 17th August.
How to reach
On the way to Gangotri from Uttarkashi is a village named Bhatwari, which is 32 kms from Uttarkashi district headquarters. There is a diversion on a winding road that goes up the hill. Raithal is almost ten kilometres from that point. That is the last road head. One has to trek from here to Dayara Bugyal for at least eight kilometres to the point from where the meadows start. You can travel by your own transport upto Raithal. You can also take any bus going towards Gangotri from Uttarkashi and get down at Bhatwari. Then you can ride some shared taxis for Raithal.
Dayara is lush green and beautiful from May to October. It receives heavy snow from December to March. The whole meadow turns white.With that much of snow and due to its long gentle slopes, this place is also ideal for skiing activities.
Raithal now has many homestay options where you can stay with locals and enjoy the traditional hospitality and know more about local cuisine and culture. Few of these home-stays are in huts which are hundreds of year old. A lot of work is being done to promote Village Tourism. This is also attracting many foreign tourists to the region. Those who love adventure, can also opt for camping at Dayara. There are may people in Raithal who work as trek guides and can arrange for camping at Dayara. There are a few professional tour operators.
Raithal has got some amazing views of the Himalayan ranges, and that gets better and better as we keep moving up towards Dayara Bugyal. You can see Srikanth, Draupadi ka Danda, Gangotri peaks amen many more. It is rewarding to get up early and see the sun rising behind these glorious peaks. On the way from Bhatwari to Raithal, in the fields lies a historical Sun Temple, known as Sun Temple of Kyark. Raithal is also famous for its Goat Village project. You can visit the Goat Village and witness a unique goat farming initiative. Harsil is also not far away from Raithal. Actually, when you have come so far, then always advisable to go to Harsil as well.
This region is very fertile. It is famous for its apples, rajma (kidney beans) and potatoes. Don’t miss any of them, when you go there.
If I would have been believing in ghosts than I could have said that this ghost certainly loved nature and he lived in most exotic of locations. Ghosts or not, this place known as Abbott Mount certainly had a captivating charm. It did create a magnetic pull on us. As soon as I came to know that there is this haunted place, in no time I was just running on the mountain trail towards that spooky mansion on the top the mountain along with two others. I felt just like a member of ghost busters team on a mission. Other members of our Bloggers Bus team stayed back, few may be because of fear, few due to disinterest and remaining for hating to walk so long.
But there is very interesting prelude to this visit. We reached Lohaghat on fifth night of our roadtrip in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, and all through the first five days of our journey we were pulling two young ladies in our group through various ghost stories. Hardly any of us had an idea of what was coming through our way. When all this was happening, on the third day just out of interest, while searching internet on my mobile phone I came across a mention of haunted house of Lohaghat. I knew that we had a night halt scheduled at Lohaghat, but still I had no idea whatsoever that we were actually supposed to visit the mountain where this haunted house was located. Hence, when we finally did, our enthusiasm was simply uncontrollable.
Ironically, in our seven nights on the trip, Lohaghat was the only destination where we were not staying at a Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) property. When we reached hotel at Lohaghat in the evening, we felt like a complete meltdown in comparison to our previous four nights stay at various locations. But it was all well compensated next morning, when we visited two very interesting locations around Lohaghat- one was the Advait Ashram at Mayavati and second one was Abbott mount.
SO, as it stands, on this hill just around five kilometres from Lohaghat remains buried one of the biggest mysteries of our times at a place, which is now known as one of the most haunted in India. Its not a very old story. Everything happened less than hundred years ago. A winding road takes you to the hill top at Abbott Mount at an altitude of over 1650 metres. This place has got some splendid views. Beauty of this place was discovered by an Englishman John Abbott, that’s how the place got its name Abbott Mount. He built up a mansion here known as Abbey Mansion. That was approximately a century ago. Later in 1942 he built a church here in memory of his wife. John himself died in 1945.
Our narrative started as soon as we reached the last road head at Abbott Mount. Our first story teller was the one of the staffs of District Tourism Officer of Champawat district who met us at Lohaghat. He told us about the ‘story’ behind Dr Morris Hospital. Abbey mansion was turned to a hospital later. There are many loose ends in the story. There is no detail on when exactly the hospital started in this building, after the death of Abbott or in his lifetime itself? Also, whether Abbott himself lived in this mansion as long as he lived? Actually in all these years, the story of Dr Morris overtook that of John Abbott.
A doctor par excellence, Morris was known to do some unusual experiments on his patients. Some people say he was a physician, some say he was a neurosurgeon. As per the stories going round for decades, Dr Morris was keen to know the mystery of death. He wanted to understand, what happens in human mind exactly when the moment of death comes. It is said that he will do occult surgeries. It is also said that he used to predict the exact day of death of his patients. But, was he capable of doing that?
Now the evil spirits enter the story. All such patients, about whom the prediction were made, were allegedly sent to a different building alomost a kilometre away, now known as Mukti Kothi. They were found dead on the pronounced day! Interestingly, all such patients were normally the ones who won’t have any near or dear one to take care of. People claim that Morris used to murder his patients to boast of his predictions.
The another part of the story is about the death of Dr Morris himself die. Its being told that there was another Dr named Evert (we don’t know whether in the same hospital or outside). He loved a local girl. Now it is said that Morris wanted to do some experiment on that girl. Evert objected to it. Morris attempted to inject the girl and in the ensuing fight between Morris and Evert the syringe got injected to Dr Morris himself, which took his life. Quite Bollywood type. Isn’t it! But that’s how the story goes. This was the story that I had not read so far about this place. This still does not solve all the mysteries. There are many questions still unanswered and will perhaps remain so.
Decades passed by, and the stories of spirits started roaming around. Spirits of Dr Morris and his patients. Nobody has seen them but many claim to have heard them whispering, calling! But still, there is more than meets the eye. Mukti Kothi is now a privately owned property. Mukti Kothi is almost a kilometre from the Abbey mansion on the other side of the hill top. Visitors and cameras are not allowed inside the property. The church built by Abbott is now abandoned. This is third important place in this real life drama. This is the church, where Abbott, his wife and Dr Morris were laid to rest. You still see the graves on the other side of church. Many of them look ruined but a few still have stones with the names and other details.
There are many other plots and subplots attached to this place. The last road head of the Abbott Mount has a plateau at the top. It has a grown as big as a football field, which now tourism department wants to develop as a helipad. On the other end of the ground is a small temple. But even this temple looks like abandoned. It is also said that this hill top was the abode of deities which got angry when John Abbott constructed a mansion here. This anger is also said to be the reason behind place becoming haunted.
We also came across another aspect of this place, so far unheard and unread as well. (Since it is all unverified, so I am not taking any living names.) This one came from a person who worked as a caretaker with a property nearby which now works as a guest house, probably the only running one currently at the Abbott Mount. He and his wife claim to have heard the ghost of Abbey Mansion a number of times (but have never seen it). According to that person after the death of Dr Morris, this place was reportedly taken over by Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (GSAM) established in 1948 by Maxton Davis Strong and his wife Shirley. (This orphanage is still doing some extraordinary work in Kumaon for long and is still active with its base at Banbasa. They now also have The Maxton Strong School at Banbasa. Banbasa is approximately 97 kilometres from Lohaghat at the Nepal border.) Mission used the Abbey Mansion as residence for many of its orphan children. These children will visit the church regularly where mass was held every Sunday. Christians from nearby areas will also come here. But some time back (probably two decades ago) mission left this place along with children, allegedly when some locals (including a lawyer with the mission) tried to take the control of the property at Abbott Mount. They succeeded probably.
GSAM has actually seen many ups and downs in its 70 years history in this part of India (I tried to, but was not able to contact the GSAM to know whether there was any truth in the story). Since than the place is in shambles. Its ownership is not clearly known, but outer structure of the Abbey Mansion was renovated about a decade ago. Inside, it is still in ruins. Mukti Kothi area has got a very newly constructed mansion. We don’t know who stays here. Church is all in ruins, clearly nobody has take care of it for decades. Who knows, all the ghost stories might be the part of any property tussle here!
We trekked down to the Abbott Mount cottage or Abbey Mansion or Dr Morris hospital, whatever it is called. There is a long walkway amidst thick tree line from the main entrance till the building. Main gate before the walkway is locked and barricaded. Iron grill gate has two big cross on both sides. We jumped inside through the fencing. We could hear strong breeze blowing, there were all types of birds making strange noises. Small pieces of white clouds were hovering around quite low through the trees. There was no human being besides we three. All rooms of the main building were locked. I could see the darkness inside through some holes in the window grills.
There were two other buildings on one side of hill, close to the main building. They looked like a row of barracks. Few rooms here were open, but the long grass and loneliness of the place prevented me from going inside. We were at the property for almost 30 minutes but didn’t encounter anything strange here, besides the solitude, seclusion and the remoteness at this place. That would have been enough to install fear in any weak mind. But there was another strange thing that struck me. Few images I had seen of this mansion were different. The outside are looked quite dry and abandoned in those images. But when we were there, it was all lush green, with lots of flowers, trees and various plants. It came to my mind that could this have been maintained this way all naturally, without any human care!
Undoubtedly this is amazingly beautiful place. From October to May we can have a unhindered view of Himalayan ranges from West to East, from Pir Panjal in Kashmir to Panchachuli. It has got lovely weather, charming surroundings. To develop this place an ecotourism project was launched here few years ago by tourism department. Tourist log huts are almost ready and might be working from next season. Easily accessible and even a helipad coming very soon. What else! You might also have some ‘ghosts’ for company!!
You can see the full video of my visit to this Haunted House of Lohaghat on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-
Have you ever been to Abbott Mount? Did you experience anything strange there? Let us know your experience in the comments section below.