All posts by swamiupendra

Nothing engages me better than just travelling and photographing. Both are my first loves. Also love trekking, biking and anything that has a bit of adventure mixed into it. Successfully tried bungy jumping and rafting. Experienced an eight day solo high-altitude biking expedition and equally enjoyed a F1 track drive in a pilot car at sepang circuit. Nature pulls me- from snow capped mountains to deep seas... Alas! Still looking for a profession that lets me do just that. By the way... love humans as well!!

Kashmir Great Lakes : First day trek to Nichnai

One of the most beautiful upcoming treks in mid-altitudes of Himalayas is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Though being surprisingly fascinating, it has not been that popular within domestic adventure tourism sector. There were a few numbers of foreign trekkers coming, mostly for fishing in Gangabal, who use to go up from Naranag (Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag). Then there were locals who will go there for some fun. But this has now come up as a organised trek, which includes trek to six-seven lakes of Kashmir.

Trekkers on the way

Base for the trek is famous hill resort of Sonamarg, which is around 90 kms from capital and the nearest airport Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh road. There are many places around the Sonamarg town to acclimatise for the trek and most popular among them is the Thajiwas glacier (Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Kashmir Great Lakers trek) .

First day of this beautiful trek in Kashmir is very challenging as we gain the maximum altitude from 7,800 ft to 11,500 ft in almost 9 to 10 kilometres.

Thajiwas glacier as seen in background from the Nichnai trail.

Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.

You can see the Sonamarg town below located on the banks of Sindh river
Trekkers coming up from Sonamarg
Its a beautiful way upto the top with lots of green

There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.

Its a well laid out trek, as there are a few villages of Kashmiri gujjars who regularly move up and down
Table top is a mid of the trek resting place, a big meadow.

Actually last of the villages of the trek are around this table top only. You will not find any villages after that, but for couple of army transit camps and camping sites.

My fellow trekkers enjoying some rest at table top.
…but this inhabitant kept looking towards me in a strange way…

Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.

A gujjar village near table top
A gujjar hut meant to bear cold and snow as well as store items

Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.

Another look at the table top from the top

Actually, shortly after the Nichnai Top, the tree line vanishes. Around the hill after top we found some trees in groove style, but as soon as we moved closer to the stream, trees disappeared. What was left were small bushes, flowering plants and grass.

Last of the trees, that we would be seeing on the trek.

Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.

Looking back: Trekkers coming along the stream from the table top side.
This stream goes down and meets the Sindh river near Sonamarg.
Being deep inside the valley, it isn’t so hot here. That is the reason that even after harsh months of summer, we can find ice glaciers here along the stream even at this altitude
Two more small glaciers along the stream on way to Nichnai camp
Looks as if somebody has made a slant cut in this huge rock by a powerful sword!

Fast trekkers can reach the campsite in around six hours, while slower ones can take upto eight-nine hours depending on the fitness level. It started raining just as I was half kilometre away from the camp. Couple of other trekkers were left behind me. We all three were walking together. Than I moved a bit fast to locate the campsite as all others had moved quite ahead. Rain become heavier as I reached the campsite and the two trekkers left behind had to take shelter in a shepherd huts. Our guide went back and brought them at the camp later.

Getting closer… You can see a white sopt in the middle of the picture at the base of the hill on left, that is our campsite… You can also see some trekkers moving ahead of me

No lakes on the first day, but good enough to prepare for days ahead.

You can also watch the video of the first day of my trek to Nichnai on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

 

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Time to kick-off: game, music and fair!

It is the month of some of the biggest festivities of the year in north India specially. It is month of festival of lights Diwali and then Chaath Puja. But this year, this month is also special because of one of the biggest international sporting event to have ever hosted by India- the FIFA U-17 World Cup. This month also kicks off a chain of musical and cultural events across the peninsula, some of them the most memorable ones like Pushkar fair. A perfect time to make some quick travel plans.

Cheers for Football

It is indeed one of the biggest sporting events to be held in India. India is hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup India 2017 scheduled to be held at Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai from 6th to 28th October 2017 in which 24 teams, including India, will participate. A total of 52 games will be played to decide the winner of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. For India significance of this event also lies in the fact that after this event we will have India’s only football team to have played a world cup. What more, many of the matches in the event will be played at most popular of India’s tourist destinations like Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Mumbai besides capital Delhi. So, what an opportunity to see few budding top footballers from around the world along with some fanciest of destinations.

When: 6th-28th October 2017

Where: Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai

Enthralling music at RIFF

Jodhpur RIFF, ranked amongst the Top 25 International Music Festivals in the world, is back again this year to enthral music lovers. Begun in 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF brings together more than 250 Musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world to celebrate their musical heritage and create new sounds through innovative collaborations, for five days in October each year. Timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, Sharad Poornima, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort – voted “Asia’s Best Fortress” by Times Magazine. The Festival is a heady combination of Folk, Jazz, Sufi and contemporary music that transcend global boundaries.  Jodhpur RIFF includes performances by master musicians from local Rajasthan communities, sensational headline acts showcased each night on the Main Stage, and cutting-edge global dance grooves that will keep the party going late into the night at Club Mehran. Interactive daytime sessions for visitors, school children and families are staged against the breathtaking backdrop of the Fort.

This year at the festival you can meet the Bhil community from Banswara and get to know their music and tribal culture – with Malini Kale, then there are living legends like Bhika Khan Manganiyar and Ladu Ram Nayak; on the main stage will be Maand with Ghavri Devi Rao;Kamaycha Charm with Ghewar and Darra Khan; there will be a Musical Tapestry of Voices, Pipes and Strings with Ross Ainslie, Angus Lyon, Blue Rose Code, Asin Khan Langa and Smita Rao Bellur. n the desert lounge will be all acoustic, desert music and Qawaali from Rajasthan. On the 3rd day, 7th October there will be a show on the life and music of the Mir musicians of the Bikaner region. There will be an exclusive show by Nihal Khan Manganiyar and BabunathJogi. On the main stage will be Padharo Mahre Des Re – popular and rare songs of Rajasthan; Mexican Guitars with Paco Renteria; The High Road to Jodhpur – Scottish Shooglenifty/ Rajasthani Dhun Dhora collaboration featuring the Dhol Drummers of Rajasthan. In Club Mehran it will be Rootsy electronic grooves with DJs Victor Kiswell and Logeshan Moorgan. On day 4 there will be The Roundhouse Sessions – a Welsh-Indian collaboration of storytelling and music. On main stage will be Woodwind Vibes with Rajasthani maestros; Gypsy Jazz with Nicotine Swing, Afro-Chic Reggae with Rocky Dawuni. Finally there will be RIFF RUSTLE with Rajasthani and international percussionists, musicians and singers from Jodhpur RIFF 2017… and a superb ‘rustler”!

When: 5th-9th October 2017

Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Another festival for the Marwar

Another musical extravaganza at Jodhpur, almost at the same time. Marwar Festival is held every year in memory of the heroes of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the month of Ashwin (September-October) in Jodhpur, for two days during the full moon of Sharad Poornima. Originally known as the Maand Festival, this festival features folk music centered on the romantic lifestyle of Rajasthan’s rulers. Organised by Rajasthan tourism and Jodhpur administration, this festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs. Other attractions at the festival are the camel tattoo show and polo. The government Ummaid stadium, the historical clock tower in the midst of the old city and the sand dunes of Osian village provide the ideal venue for the cultural extravaganza – an integral part of the festival. On first day morning there is a procession from Ummaid stadium to the old city and back. There are various competitions during the day and the camel tattoo show by the BSF. In the evening there is cultural performance by the folk artists of Rajasthan at clock tower. Events on the second day take place at Osian village. Osian is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples. It lies 69 km by road north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur-Bikaner Highway.

When: 4th-5th October 2017

Where: Various places, Jodhpur

Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival

This is the year of 40th Soorya festival. You won’t believe that this festival will run for 111 days and in this edition again around 2000 artists from around the country will take part in this. Every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music of the festival. All music and dance aficionados will have treat at this festival and be exposed to the very best of Indian cultural arts. Held by the Soorya Stage and Film Society, a cultural society which promotes the arts vigorously, the Soorya Festival of Music and Dance presents varied dance performances by artistes showcasing different dance forms like Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Renowned dancers from all over India perform at this festival. Music concerts are also held at this festival and well known proponents in the Hindustani and Carnatic style perform jugalbandis, vocal and instrumental soirees. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. Actually in first week of October Soorya organizes festivals in almost every big city of Kerala as well as in some other big cities of South India such as Chennai, Bangalore and Madurai. Festival has already commenced with an event called ‘Ammu: Saannidhyavum Saameepyaum’ which was a get together of 15 artists who have played the role of ‘Ammu’ the girl who played the central character in all shows directed by Soorya Krishnamurthy.

The first phase will be film festival from Sep 21 to October 10. The critically acclaimed film, Minnaminungu, directed by Anil Thomas, will be the inaugural film. The lead actor of the film, Surabhi Lakshmi, who also won national award for the same is also expected to attend the function. The dance and music festival will be held from October 1 to 10. As had been in previous years, K J Yesudas will perform the inaugural concert at AKG Hall at 6.45pm on October 1. Leading artists Meenakshi Sreenivasan, Rama Vaidyanathan, Nithyasree Mahadevan and Manju Warrier will perform in the festival. For the first time, Soorya festival will feature a Jugalbandi festival this year. The Jugalbandi festival will be held from December 6 to 9. Odissi-Bharatanatyam performance by Sandhya Manoj and Namita Bodaji, Mohiniyattom jugalbandi by Nair Sisters Veena and Dhanya, Mohiniyattom – Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Rekha Raju and Rekha Satish and Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Devi and Girish Chandra will be held. Jalsa Ghar, dedicated to Hindustani music, will be held at YMCA Auditorium from October 21 to 31. Hindustani vocalists Ramesh Narayan, Fayaz Khan, Manjari, Gayathri and Shahbaz Aman will be among the performers. ‘Meet the masters’ programme will be held from November 21 to 25. It will be a tribute to actor Om Puri and five of his films will be screened. The grand finale of the festival will be on Jan 11, 2018 when Chandu Menon’s masterpiece ‘Indulekha’ will be staged as a dance-music drama at Government school, Attakulangara.

When: 21st September 2017-11th January 2018

Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Gustor of Deskit monastery in Nubra

Deskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. Gustors take place at different monasteries at different time of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils. Deskit monastery also celebrates its Gustor festival. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil.

When: 17th-18th October 2017

Where: Deskit Monastery, Deskit, Nubra valley, Ladakh. Deskit is 120 kilometres from Leh and just 7 kilometres before Hunder known for its sand dunes.

The charm of Pushkar

One of India’s favourite fair. The Pushkar Cattle Fair is one of the largest in India and the only one of its kind in the entire world. During the fair, Lakhs of people from rural India flock to Pushkar, along with camel and cattle for several days of livestock trading, horse dealing, pilgrimage and religious festival. This small town, becomes a cultural phenomenon when colourfully dressed devotees, musicians, acrobats, folk dancers, traders, comedians, ‘sadhus’ and tourists reach here during Pushkar fair. According to Hindu chronology, it takes place in the month of Kartika (October or November) beginning on ‘ashtmi’ 8th day of Lunar Calendar and continues till full moon (‘Poornima’). The camel and cattle trading is at its peak during the first half of festival period. During the later half, religious activities dominate the scenario. Devotees take dips in the holy “Sarovar” lake, as the sacred water is known to bestow salvation. This small town is transformed into a spectacular fair ground, as rows of make shift stalls display an entire range of objects of art to daily utility stuff. Decoration items for cattle, camel and women, everything is sold together. Small handicraft items are the best bargain for buying souvenirs. The camel and horse races have crowds to cheer. Camel judging competitions are quite popular with animal lovers. Each evening brings different folk dances and music of Rajasthan, performers delivering live shows to the roaring and applauding crowds. Pushkar fair has its own magic and it’s a lifetime experience for travellers. It has featured in numbers of travel shows, films and magazines. According to the Lonely Planet: “It’s truly a feast for the eyes. If you are any where within striking distance at the time, it’s an event not to be missed.”

When:  28th October to 4th November 2017

Getting there: By Air, nearest airport is Jaipur, which is connected with major cities. A newly built air strip at Kishangarh can cater to small charter flights. Helipad at Ghooghra (Ajmer) and Devnagar (Pushkar) can cater to clients travelling by helicopter. Ajmer is well connected by Rail to all important cities. Pushkar is just 13 kms away from Ajmer.  Ajmer is also well connected to important cities of Rajasthan and country through roads and is on Delhi-Mumbai National highway no 8.

 

Two temple festivals from down south in God’s Own country- Kerala:

A festival for serpent gods

The Aayilliya Mahotsavam at Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple at Vetticode falls on the day in the Malayalam month of Kanni, every year. The celebrations would start seven days prior to the Aayilliyam day. In these days, various special poojas, homas and kalasa poojas are performed so as to increase the deity’s power and the power to shower blessings on worshippers. To please the deity, high sounding instruments are played by a group of experts. The nadabrahma that flows through the pipes of Nadaswara experts, the Kombu and Kuzhal (wind instruments) that are played to the accompaniment of percussion instruments viz. Maddallam and Chenda and the magical notes of the Edakka and the Thakil would transform the devotees to a different level of devotional experience. Soon after this the Ezhunnallathu (ceremonial procession) would begin. It starts from the temple and proceeds to the Meppallil Illam at about 3 p.m. and after the poojas there, returns to the temple. By dusk, the famous Sarpabali begins and concludes by around 9.30 p.m. The temple will remain closed up to Brahma Muhoortha and after that the Shuddi Kriyas (purification rituals) will begin. This is followed by the abhisheka with tender coconut water from thousands of coconuts and pure milk. The festival will conclude with the daily poojas and Panchamritha Nivedhya.

When: 8th to 14th October 2017

Where: Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple, Vettikode, Alappuzha

Grandeur of Alpashi Utsavam

Held at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the Alpasi festival is a grand festival celebrated with much fanfare and sees the participation of scores of people from across the State.The crowning moment of this magnificent festival is the aarattu ceremony or the holy bath of the deities in the sea. The aarattu procession starts from the temple and proceeds to the Shanghumugham Beach. It is, in fact, a magnificent sight to watch the procession which is escorted by the head of the Travancore royal family, bearing a sword. Thousands of devotees will throng to watch the procession which has an elaborate line-up of magnificently decorated elephants, mounted police and columns of armed police. This annual ritual which falls in October or November is one that should not be missed.

When: 19th to 28th October 2017

Where: Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Now two more festivals from Rajasthan, this time from close to Udaipur-

Dance and grandeur at Ranakpur

Ranakpur, a village located in Desuri tehsil near Sadri town in the Pali district of Rajasthan welcomes you all to the “The Ranakpur Festival”.  It’s a splendid opportunity for the tourists to once again gain an insight into the life of people of Rajasthan with the onset of cultural and religious festivals one after another. Just like folk festivals in Jodhpur and Jaipur, the holy town of Ranakpur near Pali will also witness the Ranakpur Festival, a melange of Rajasthani folk performances and classical dances as well as renditions by renowned vocal artists and dance performers. Department of Tourism, Rajasthan, is organising this festival which comprises of holy chanting, cultural programmes, conventional Kathak performances and Classical Odissi performances. Besides, every morning at 8.00 o’clock a jungle safari is also organised for the guests of Ranakpur Festival. Some of the other attractions of this festival would be the food and craft bazaar where a great mixture of several cultures and amazing art & craft would be seen and experienced along with the arrangements for Rock Climbing. Beautifully sculptured Jain temples of Ranakpur mark the glory of this renowned place. Considered as one of the five holy places for the Jain community, these were created in the 15th century during the reign of Rana Kumbha. These are enclosed within a wall. The central Chaumukha [four faced temple] is dedicated to Adinathji. The temple is an astounding creation of architectural splendor with 29 halls and 1,444 pillars all distinctly carved, no two pillars being alike. For the tourism buffs a ride to the outskirts like ‘ Sadari’ – ‘Desuri’- ‘Ghanerao’- ‘Narlai’, will be found to be exciting.

Date: 6th -7th October 2017

Venue: Ranakpur, Rajasthan

Getting there: Ranakpur is just 90 minutes’ drive from Udaipur.  Udaipur is well connected with air, train and bus services from all major cities of North and West India. From Udaipur, one can hire a taxi or a bus for Ranakpur. 

A lantern festival for city of lakes

Lantern festivals have normally been popular in South East Asia, but now Indian cities also seem to be following the trend and evolving festivals of their own.  Among them is city of Lakes- Udaipur. Udaipur Lantern Festival is a unique concept by UdaipurBlog incepted 5 years back in year 2012 to celebrate the pious festivity of Diwali in Udaipur at a common place and sharing joy with others. The festival witnesses amazing live performances by Artists, Buzzing Bazaar that will bring Local Finds and Foods, Art Installations and Fun Activities. This year festival starts with games, food stalls and buzzing bazaar. Start with the local performances & Swaraag – A Indo Western Music Band. Begins the performances of the evening – Papon takes the stage. Music takes the evening – Performances by DJ Kavish. Festival ends with lighting of lanterns, this blissful ending of the fest with a hope of new start. The number of people attending the event has increased from 800 to 4500 in five years.

When: 15th October 2017

Where: Shouryagarh Resort & Spa, Udaipur, Rajasthan

 

Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass!


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It’s September. Seemingly best month to travel to Leh through this treacherous Manali-Leh highway. Best because of weather and the road conditions. Snow has melted around. But roadsides without snow also snatches away some of the thrills of this route, that one can experience in the months of June and July. But reaching here is never a mean task, more so if you have decided to travel all alone.

So, here I am at mighty Baralacha La pass, all alone. How it feels to be here standing lonely with not a living being in sight at an altitude more than half of the Mount Everest, with just your faithful bike to company!

Journey so far has been fascinating to say the least. At every step you keep feeling that how you have been longing to be here, inevitably. I already had a share of adventure on my detour to Chandratal.

Read:  Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

But for those who all move straight towards Leh from Manali after crossing the Rohtang pass, its after Keylong that actual thrill starts.

Read:  Himalayan Rides – Chandratal to Keylong

Once you cross Keylong town, there is another small village Jispa on the way 20 kms from Keylong. Jispa is actually the last inhabited place before you reach Ladakh on this route. Though there are a few camping settlements and couple of transit camps also on the way. Jispa has also been traditionally popular among campers for first halt after Manali. Adventurers will prefer it over Keylong as Jispa is located along the banks of Bhaga river and is obviously more scenic than Keylong. Jispa also gives a high altitude acclimatisation as it is at an altitude of over 10,800 ft. As one of our fellow writers Ajay Jain from kunzum.com says that Jispa is more of a destination than just a halt on Manali-Leh highway. It Indeed is. You move ahead after crossing Darcha and reach Patsio. Darcha is more of a police check post where every vehicle has to make a entry before moving further ahead.

Camp site at Deepak Tal

Patsio is also fast emerging as a camping destination. It is higher at 12,300 ft and there is a small glacial lake named Deepak Tal.

Also read: Himalayan rides- Batal to Chandratal

Between Darcha and Patsio are few running streams which have to be crossed. One of them just before Patsio is particularly tricky one to negotiate as the flow of water is forceful and it doesn’t lets you judge the stones and pebbles correctly. So, though it is not deep, but crossing this on stones makes it tricky and as happened with me, I got struck in the middle of the stream. It took me a lot of effort to pull my bike out, and that particular moment I thought… is it foolish to be all alone here!

Further ahead, the next zing of the route is truly Zing Zing Bar. Another of pit stops. Benefit of going in September is also that, you get less number of streams to cross, otherwise Zing zing bar is famous for one of its ferocious nullahs. It is a refuelling depot for BRO vehicles, but also has some shacks, restaurants and a few camps. The name of the place is still a puzzle form me. But mind it, that many places enroute have been named by the army troops in all these years.

winding roads up towards Baralacha La

And then you reach Suraj Tal, just below the Baralacha La. Suraj Tal is quite below the road and it is not easy to reach there. You need time as you have to trek down upto the lake and then come again to continue with the journey. Not feasible for all those who are on thorough trip to next stop over. But those who stay at either Patsio or Zingzing Bar can afford to go upto Suraj Tal. For some strange reason army has renamed the Suraj Tal as Vishal Taal in memory of an young officer who died in this region.

What once used to be Suraj Tal has now been named as Vishal Taal by BRO. This high altitude Himalayan lake originates from #BaralachaLa. Although not as glamorous and big as Chandratal but still it is an important stop-over for all riders and bikers to Leh on the Manali-Leh highway. It is located just below the Baralacha La pass at an altitude of 4883 metres. This lake is further source of #Bhaga river which joins #Chandra river at #Tandi near #Keylong and form #Chandrabhaga river. Chandra River originates from Chandratal. Chandrabhaga becomes #Chenab river as soon as it enters Jammu and Kashmir from #HimachalPradesh There is also a very popular trekking route from Chandratal to Surajtal. This is how Suraj Tal looks in September. But it will be entirely different in early summer when there will still be lot of snow around. #travel #tourism #India #Leh #Manali #adventure #photography #photooftheday #picoftheday #MyPhotos #InstaPics #Lahaul #Spiti #SurajTal #VishalTaal #SurajTaal #Himalayas

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Occasional workers you encounter in the wilderness
Flags at Baralacha La

You can also watch a video of Baralacha La, Suraj Tal and Deepak Tal on my channel on YouTube by clicking the link below-

From Baralacha La the road goes down to a small settlement named Bharatpur. Roads and the weather are so unpredictable here that you never know, what happens next. What certainly is predictable is the beauty of landscape around. As we see in the images below.

‘Clay courts’ at Bharatpur
Towards Bharatpur

Not everything goes as per the plan though. When I had left in the morning from Keylong, target was to reach Sarchu and if possible Pang.  As happened with me when all of sudden after Bharatpur and just before Killing Sarai, I encountered a mighty landslide which forced an unscheduled night stopover at Bharatpur. A shack owner coming from the spot stopped me on the way and informed me about the incident. He also offered to come back and stay in his restaurant for the night. I still thought to see for myself and kept moving till the spot which was further one kilometre. Finally I could see it myself. That happened just a short while ago and workers already working on the road were miraculously saved. One of the JCB machine was buried under the rocks. I spent some time talking to the workers and photographing. I was told that there was no chance of clearing of the traffic before night. Bigger JCB machines were yet to arrive from Killing Sarai on the other side.

…and the landslide
Blocked road
miraculous escape for the workers

Turning back from the landslide, I reached back to the four shacks lined up side by side along the road. All of them were almost designed in similar fashion. Beds lined up on both sides in the front portion and then kitchen and store on the back. Makeshift pit toilets were on the back of the shack. River was further 50 metres behind.

evening at Bharatpur

Early close to the day gave me some time to roam around, enjoy the beauty, take photographs and also time to read, write and interact. As, soon the number of stranded vehicles had increased. It seemed that all the beds in all four shacks had already been booked up. That tiny camp site has been brought to life because of that landslide.

evening beauty at unscheduled halt

…blessing in disguise!

You can also see the video of this journey from Keylong to Bharatpur on my channel by clicking the link below-


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Xtreme Adventure in Jordan – Celebrity style!


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Bringing together the ultimate combination of adrenalin pumping adventure, fitness & a healthy lifestyle – five Indian TV celebrities visited Jordan recently on an adventure trip. The celebrities who travelled to Jordan are: Kishwer Merchant, Pooja Gor, Pryanca Talukdar, Asha Negi and Mrunal Thakur. These fit and famous TV stars in their new avatar explored Jordan in the most adventurous way possible.

“The Jordan sojourn trip was planned to take them to numerous places in Jordan which are famous for adventure and their scenic beauty, and will appeal to the Indian audience. We look forward to create an outstanding content from the Xtreme trip,” commented Ashit Taneja, Country Manager- Jordan Tourism Board. The trip kicked off in Amman where shopping for local souvenirs and knick-knacks got the group enthralled. They walked through the amazing local restaurants, coffee shops, shisha (Hookah) bars, local theaters, and loved the night life and souvenirs shops that dot every corner.

The first Adventure activity of the trip started with Jordan Trail – 8 kms from Umm Qais; which includes rough terrain, mountain hike and lot of walking! The Jordan Trail which is a continuous route crossing the entire county of Jordan, offering over 650 kilometres of trail and hiking through diverse terrains and landscapes. “We participated in the trail that starts from Umm Qais and we got a taste of the exciting adventure that the entire trail offers,” said Pryanca Talukdar.

The other activity on the itinerary was Wadi Al Hidan – a 4km Canyoning experience where they had to walk through Rocky terrain, uphill climb & downhill and swim through 12 water bodies to complete. Testing fitness limits, it has been rated as a must-do adventure segment in Jordan itinerary.

“Wadi Hidan is a canyon with a river running through it, which eventually leads to Wadi Mujib, which leads all the way to the Dead Sea. The hike we did consists of hiking along wet/dry trails alongside the river, swimming through slot canyons, and had some optional cliff jumping and natural water slides which were exhilarating and wonderful,” said Asha Negi.

The next stop was a Camp in Wadi Rum for a overnight glamping (glamorous camping) experience; with fantastic facilities, food and fun! The next day, the celebrities started with a grueling mountain rock-climbing which were formed almost thousands of years ago. The scorching heat of 40 degrees and hard façade of the rock mountain was scaled by the passion and enthusiasm of the celebrities to reach the top of the rock. This was further followed by half day tour of Wadi Rum which took the celebrities through the Mars-like landscape of the area.

At Dead Sea, the adventure started when the celebrities went down to the lowest point on earth, which is 420m below sea level and found that they cannot drown due to high salt density. Mrunal Thakur felt that despite the name, “Dead Sea actually makes you feel alive and I am very fortunate to experience its magic.”

Kishwer Merchant favourite spot was Petra which according to her has the world’s best hiking trails. Accessed via a narrow canyon called Al Siq, it contains tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs, earning its nickname, the “Rose City.”

Pooja Gor enjoyed the snorkelling in Aqaba where she was on the wheel of the yatch as well and enjoyed the scuba diving in one of the best diving places on earth. “It was a superb experience being in the crisp crystal blue waters,” she said. For an adventurous trip of a lifetime, follow these stars steps and visit Jordan to experience the adventure style itinerary they followed!

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ZenFone 4 Selfie : Putting a jigsaw puzzle together

Front cameras of your smartphones are again in focus. Just a year after it upgraded its Zenfone Selfie to launch a new set of diamond cut phones, ASUS has come up with a whole series of Zenfone 4 for selfie addicts. Zenfone 4 Selfie series has already been launched by the Taiwanese maker in other countries and now it comes to India. On Thursday, it launched three models in the ZenFone 4 Selfie series- Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro, the top notch one with a price tag of Rs 23,999 and then there are two models of Zenfone 4 Selfie- one with the dual cameras and another with just single camera. Dual camera version comes at a price tag of Rs 14,999 and single camera version for Rs 9,999.

ASUS has also announced to extend its partnership with e-retailer Flipkart and hence these phones will be available exclusively on Flipkart. To celebrate the Flipkart’s upcoming Big Billion Day, the dual camera version of Zenfone 4 Selfie will be available with an additional discount of Rs 1000 (i.e. for Rs 13,999) on the BBD. These phones will be available from 21st September onwards.

Third major take-away of the day with ASUS was the latest version of ZenUI. Answering all the prayers of its users ASUS has now cleaned up its user interface of all those irritating pre-installed applications. Wow!! So now ZenUI 4.0 comes up with just 13 pre-installed apps, almost a third of what used to be 35 apps in its ZenUI 3.0. Many of those useless apps have been completely wiped out and few others have been clubbed together in single app. This ZenUI 4.0 sits atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat OS which will later be upgraded free to Android O. Another wonderful thing. Actually this was the first launch of ZenUI 4.0 worldwide. Fairly, ASUS is also providing all users with ZenUI 3.0 to upgrade free to first ZenUI 4.0 and then to Android O.

Asus sent a jigsaw puzzle as an invite to today’s event. Clearly, putting together a great smartphone is a real jigsaw puzzle. Has Asus been able to do that really? Will be known only when hands-on reviews are out. But first impressions are quite descent.
Specially Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro has got a premium touch to it with a metallic unibody. This being a high-end phone is best of the lot. Will talk about lot of other features later. Most talked about one is the transit from selfie to wefie when you actually take photos from the front camera of not you alone but of a bigger group and background. That’s when you need a wider front camera. Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro gives you a 120 degree FOV (field of view) second front camera with an aperture of f/2.2. Duopixel main front camera gives you a 24MP quality with 83 degree FOV and aperture of f/1.8.

With a ‘Selfie Master’ app, portrait mode and its beautification technology, this ASUS phone knows where its heart lies. Another highlight of this camera is 4K quality video recording with both its camera- front as well as rear. That is claimed to be first in the segment feature. Dual sim capable phone comes with a 4 GB RAM and 64 GB internal storage. It supports expandable storage upto 2TB through a dedicated micro SD card slot.

Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek


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One of the most beautiful places to see around Sonamarg in Kashmir is the Thajiwas Glacier. It is a favourite among picnickers and campers as it is far from tourist chaos of Sonamarg market.

A view of Thajiwas glacier

Thajiwas glacier is located seven kilometres from Sonamarg. One has to trek upto the glacier from the road-head. It is lovely place to relax and enjoy.

Down in the trees is last road-head to Thajiwas glacier

But it is not just for picnickers . It is also for serious trekkers. Trek to Thajiwas is not a tough one, but it is one of the favourite treks for all those who have based themselves in Sonamarg and want to acclimatise for other high altitude treks around including the Great Lakes trek.

Camping around Thajiwas Glacier

Those who don’t want to trek, can also take a pony ride to the glacier. Glacier is at an altitude of 9,186 feet. Trek to glacier goes through a serene valley with meadows around and streams coming from the glacier flowing in it. Song of these streams is what you are going to hear all the way along.

Stream coming from the Thajiwas glacier

Those who trek to Thajiwas glacier to acclimatise themselves don’t take the road-head to get closer. As we did, most of them will trek from Sonamarg market itself.  It is generally an easy walk.

But than many people will camp around the Thajiwas glacier itself. Mostly those who look for either some adventurous stay in camps or want to away from regular tourist crowd coming to Sonamarg. Operators will even arrange for some experience of glacier walks while you camp around Thajiwas.

Glacier walk

Trek to Thajiwas passes alongside meadows and streams.

While on the way to glacier, you will also find many shops selling tea, kahwah, cold drinks and snacks.

Camps alongside the stream

There are many operators in Sonamarg, who organise trip to Thajiwas, whether you are interested in trek, pony ride, camping or glacier walk. You can easily find these operates in Sonamarg, and actually many will themselves approach the tourists.

Trekkers on way to Thajiwas glacier

The area around Thajiwas is covered with snow in the early days of summer. The white gives way to lush greens, as the temperature picks up.

Rising high

Among the places near Srinagar, while Gulmarg is popular among skiers and snow-lovers, Sonamarg is more loved by those who enjoy rather serene nature with rivers flowing through lush green meadows. The meandering Sindh river is bound with trout and mahseer fish.

Sonamarg means ‘golden meadow’ and it is lovely slice of paradise which this whole Kashmir valley is. There are many other adventurous routes with amazing green water and frozen lakes in this region. Thajiwas glacier is just one of those routes, popular among trekkers.

Sonamarg is easily accessible from Srinagar city. You can also come directly to Sonamarg from Srinagar airport which is 87 kilometres from Sonamarg. The National Highway 1D goes from Srinagar to Leh via Sonamarg, Drass and Kargil.

Sonamarg gest inaccessible during winter months as roads get blocked because of snowfall. Work for an all weather tunnel from Gagangir to Sonamarg is already underway. Another tunnel is coming up under the Zozila pass (3528 metres), toughest mountain pass enroute Leh on this road. Once the tow tunnels are ready, Srinagar-Leh route will be accessible almost all the year round.

You can see a video of trek to Thajiwas glacier on my channel on YouTube by clicking on the link below.

A date for foodies this weekend in Brussels!

From 7 to 10 September 2017, foodies have a date at the “eat BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX” festival. Taster portions of dishes or original desserts at the “Masterclass Bordeaux”, passing through the workshops of the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux (Bordeaux School of Wine), the great chefs and wine growers will stimulate the visitors’ taste buds all through the festival.

For its sixth year, the “eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX festival is putting on a marvellous spread, once again calling on a selection of the best Brussels chefs right in the middle of the Brussels Park. Wine lovers can also devote themselves to their passion, thanks to the various workshops offered by the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux. All of which offers the public a delicious gourmet break.

Twenty-odd great chefs
New chefs representative of Brussels are joining the celebration and will be adding their own spice to what’s on offer at the festival. They are offering the visitors a signature dish representing their culinary identity at the fixed price of 9 Euros.

Something new: a sweet note
Several pastry chefs complete the festival’s menu. They are offering sweet lovers delicious plated desserts at the fixed price of 9 Euros.

Perfect match
The Wines of Bordeaux, a key partner in the festival, are once again taking part in this gastronomic journey. Nigh-on 50 Bordeaux wine growers and wine merchants will be coming to Brussels to unveil the history and the secrets of their wine. 3 new gourmet workshops offered by the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux. A rendezvous lovers of wine and gastronomy must not miss, the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux pavilion offers an entertaining and educational overview of the various wines (red, dry white, sweet white, rosé and Crémant de Bordeaux), soils, grape varieties, blends, etc. A wonderful initiation into the art of tasting.

Photo: VisitBrussels/ ©E.Danhier

This year, the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux is offering three new fun gourmet workshops:
– “Choco’ Bordeaux” in collaboration with the chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud
– “Matching wines with pastries” with the pastry chefs Yasushi Sasaki, Baptiste Mandon and Khalil Menzi, to experiment with daring combinations.

Bordeaux “Masterclasses”
This year, the two masterclasses are dedicated to the Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés and the 30th anniversary of the appellation Pessac-Léognan. The visitor will be guided through these two representative regions of the Bordeaux wine growing region.

Photo: VisitBrussels/ ©E.Danhier

Workshops with the chef Bruno Antoine
Visitors will have the chance to create their own TCHIN VITTEL Bistronomy Box in a relaxed atmosphere at a cooking workshop that is just as exciting and gastronomic as it is goodnatured. All under the guidance of Bruno Antoine, one of the most creative chefs on the
Brussels bistro scene.

The festival is changing to a swipe card
To allow visitors to enjoy the festival to the full, “eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX” is moving to an electronic payment system. Visitors can obtain their swipe cards from one of the ticket offices, put money on them and use them as they please throughout the festival. This swipe card will combine all functions for meeting their needs: credits for tasting the dishes they choose and/or their Wine Pass.