Category Archives: India

Fabulous property, excellent location : Norbu House, Mcleodganj

Best thing about places like McLeodganj is that, distances seem longer in the map than they actually are. Although being a hill station there are some slopes and ascends, but then that’s what you have come here for. It took hardly five minutes of us to reach the Hotel Norbu House in taxi from the McLeodganj bus stand, but if you travel light than you can easily walk down, if indeed you love walking. It has a small place to park vehicles though, and in place like McLeodganj it often seems like a bonus as most hotels in the market area won’t have a parking at all and one would have to use public parking place near bus stand.

Reception area of the Hotel Norbu House reflects Tibetan culture

I had been to Mcleodganj earlier. This time search for a different stay landed us to Hotel Norbu House. Online posts and reviews made me the admirer of the property. And actual visit and subsequent stay did nothing to disappoint in any manner. Its a charming hotel with mix of modernity and tradition. We had reached here quite early because our bus from Delhi has a scheduled early morning arrival. Hotel staff was quite courteous and responsive to allow us an early check-in and our room was ready by the time we had a lemon-honey-ginger tea at the beautiful terrace restaurant. It is said to be one of the most beautiful terrace restaurant in Mcleodganj. Room was spacious and clean.

Terrace area right outside the restaurant can be used as place for dining or just relaxing and reading while enjoying the terrific views

This hotel is actually a family owned property who earlier had a Green Hotel in the main market on Bhagsu Temple road. That Green Hotel was one of the earliest properties in town. Now the Green Hotel is more of budget hotel and Norbu House is a bit niche. I had hear a lot about the owner Mr Wagdu and the way he takes care of each and every guest himself so lovingly.  I wanted to meet him, but he was away those days.

Splendid view of sprawling Kangra valley from the terrace of the Hotel Norbu House
Stars descend in the valley. That’s how the night looks like from the terrace of Hotel Norbu House

One of the prime attraction of hotel is its location, which is quite close to market and on the top of ridge right opposite to Dalai Lama temple. Easily approachable and what stumps you is the view of the valley that it commands. The lobby and the restaurant area through its design and decoration makes you feel that you are in Dalai Lama’s city with glimpse of Tibetan culture and traditions.

Restaurant of the Hotel Norbu House. You can have meals here or outside at the terrace. Buffet breakfast is also served here.

Hotel provides a buffet breakfast and it was quite delicious. Even the meal options were good but a bit on higher side of price range in comparison to options available in the market. So, not a budget hotel but look for some deals online to get best prices as this is one of the top places worth staying in Mcleodganj. You can also enjoy some Tibetan delicacies here.

A conference room that can be multi-purpose hall

Hotel has rooms in different categories- suites, luxury rooms and the executive rooms. It also has a conference room.  Hotel is build along the ridge in six floors. Reception area is actually on the third floor. There is a lift along with the stairs. Lift goes up from the terrace side and is made of glass to let you enjoy the panoramic views of the valley while going up or down.

Bedroom in one of the suites of Hotel Norbu House
Living area in one of the suites of the Hotel Norbu House

Suites and the Luxury rooms on the lower floors have common terrace in from of the rooms with a full valley view and ample sitting and relaxing area. While rooms on the upper floor have balcony attached to the room. Dhauladhar ranges are right behind the hotel and you can also have a glance of snow-peaked mountains from the terrace or balcony.

Terrace on the upper floor along with balconies for rooms
Common terrace for another floor in front of set of rooms
Terrace in the front of the suites and luxury rooms

There is also a nunnery inside the hotel complex. This hotel is also favourite among those who come here either for meditation or some spiritual time. Hotel provides a free wifi facility. Rooms have all type of amenities and facilities. Hotel might not look impressive from outside (although there is hardly any face of the hotel that you can see), but it is as comfortable as it can be, once you enter. Certainly worth a try, if your budget permits.

Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj is best know as the headquarters of the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government in exile. There is Dalai Lama temple here and also his residence. Although he travels so much around the world that his being in Mcleodganj is treated as a big occasion. Dalai Lama temple is on walking distance from Hotel Norbu House. Mcleodganj is also know for Bhagsu falls and Bhagsunag temple. Mcleodganj is also base for many trekking expeditions in the Dhauladhar ranges of Himalayas including the very famous weekend trek to Triund.

Please Read: Triund in the shadow of the Indrahar Pass

How to Reach:

Mcleodganj is eight kilometres further ahead of Dharamshala. Dharamshala-Mcleodganj are well connected by road to nearest railheads- Kangra (for narrow gauge on Pathankot-Jogindernagar line) and Pathankot (for broad gauge on Delhi-Jammu line).  Kangra is 20 kms and Pathankot is 90 kms from Dharamshala. Dharamshala has an airport at Gaggal, which is 12 kms from the city. Major cities in North like Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar or Shimla have overnight luxury bus services to Dharamshala-Mcleoadganj.

Entrance to the Hotel Norbu House
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Triund in the shadow of the Indrahar Pass

Dhauladhar ranges act like a natural wall for sprawling Kangra valley. This Himalayan range creates the beauty as well as weather for the region. Trekking here is an adventurous experience. Almost a decade ago, when I was here last time for the Triund trek, our intention was to spend the night at the top. That whole night there was almost nobody on the top, besides a group of foreign trekkers who had put up their tents on one side of the hill. We didn’t carry a tent and the forest department rest house was closed, and we had a tough time to arrange for a shelter for night. That night it rained very ferociously keeping us panicked and anxious whole night.

Though it is not a very old story, but it looked like so when I was there again, some days back. More so, because, everything around looks so changed except of course the beauty of the Indrahar Pass, which was still intact. Actually it looked more beautiful this time around weather was perfect, sky blue and the Dhauladhar ranges were covered with snow. On the Triund hill, there might be at least two hundred tents and more than 500 trekkers this time around. Although weather was clear, but it was still quite cold in the night. Even if weather would have deteriorated a bit, there was ample place to accommodate everybody. No problem of food as well, because there were fair number of small dhabas who were serving light hot breakfast as well as meals for those who wanted.

Another thing, what I enjoyed this time around was the hill ladder with red-pink rhododendron flowers. Actually this has been one of the big attractions for me to do some treks of medium altitudes during the late spring.

Trek route and rhododendron flowers

From March till May, whole of lower Himalayas around altitude of 8 to 10 thousand feet gets covered with rhododendron flowers. These flowers change the colour of the hills, as if adorning them with red jewels. In the hills of Himachal and Uttarakhand, we will normally find red or pink rhododendrons. As you move towards Sikkim, they get many more colours. Trekking in hills coloured with floral beauty is a magical experience and Triund gives ample of that.

In recent years, Triund has gained immense popularity as a short and easy trek. It is one of the top weekend treks for the adventure loving youth of nearby Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal and Haryana, etc.

Trekkers having some rest and food at a cafe enroute

Triund hill is located in Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh. Dhauladhar range form the southern part of outer main Himalayas. When we go to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj than Dhuladhar ranges look just like a high wall in the backyard. These ranges actually start from Kangra valley and the mountains rise all of a sudden in the vast valley. From here this range extends upto Kullu along the Beas river. These ranges cover almost whole of Himachal Pradesh and the peaks here actually form a border between Kangra and Chamba districts of Himachal Pradesh. Kangra valley lies in the North-west and Chamba towards the east. You can do the peaks in these ranges, either from Mcleodganj side or the Chamba side.

Majestic view of Kangra valley from Triund hill

Triund is 10 kms from Mcleodganj and 18 kms from Dhramshala at an altitude of 2975 mtrs. Triund lies at the feet of the perpetually snow clad Dhauladhar range. It also forms the base for #trek to #Indrahar Pass via Lahesh Cave. After crossing Indrahar Pass, you can go down towards Chamba side. A moderate and enjoyable trek worth a trip in summers as well as in winters. The snow line starts at Ilaqa (3350 mtr), 5km from Triund. To have a rough idea about altitude- Dharamshala is at an altitude of 1400 metres and Mcleodganj is further up at almost 2000 metres. From there you trek upto 2900 metres for Triund top. Highest peak in Dhauladhar range is Hanuman Ka Tibba which has an altitude of 5600 metres.

Indrahar Pass as seen from Triund

Trek: Starting point of the trek to Triund depends upon your place of stay in and around Mcleodganj. Many people, mostly foreign trekkers will start the trek from there hotel itself. But the last road-head is ahead of Dharamkot at Gulu temple. Tracks from Rawa, Dal Lake, Dharamkot and Bhagsunag- all meet at this temple (alt: 2130 metres). Many people will take a taxi to reach temple and then start the trek. From here, trek is just around six and half kilometres to the top. Those who start from Bhagsunag or Dharamkot, trek for them will be more than nine kilometres. This temple has a shrine, a water point, a cafe and other shops.

High up! Gulu temple on way to Triund – #travel #trekking #adventure #Mcleodganj #Himalayas #HimachalPradesh #India

A post shared by Upendra Swami (@swamiupendra) on

Trek is easy to moderate and only at few points it rises abruptly. There is a well-laid mud trek till the top. There are many shops all along the trek serving hot and cold drinks, snacks and refreshments. At some places where trek passes through steep edges and falls, fencing has also been put to make it more safe for revellers, although  it robes the trek of its beauty and adventure a bit. Its a beautiful route anyway, passing through pines, deodars, rhododendrons and more. Travel time to top depends on your speed and stamina. But then, why to hurry! Enjoy the nature around you and take your time. Even if you take it easy, you can reach to top in four to five hours from Gulu temple.

Stay at top: If you have arranged for the trek through a package with a tour operator, then it would obviously arrange for your tent stay and food at the top. But if you are going on your own, then you need to explore the stay options at the top. If you are carrying your tents, then there is enough space to pitch them. Triund has just one well constructed forest department rest house, which needs a pre-booking. Otherwise, there are many shops on the top. All of these shops have tents for the trekkers. They pitch them as required. You can stay there as well as have food. But Triund has scarcity of water, do keep that in mind.

There are many trekkers who will start early from Mcleodganj, reach  at top by lunch time and after spending some hours there, will return  to reach down before it gets dark. But those who have time, will stay there overnight. Some of them will also try to go to snowline early next morning and come back to the Triund by the brunch time and then start the descend. It is quite relaxing at the top in the evening.

You can have some lovely view of sunset from the Triund top, just like this one-

Sunset at Triund top

Or you can also try your luck in spotting some wild life. Monals and wild goats are frequent visitors around the hill, mostly in the evening  or early morning.

A beautiful looking monal at a distance

Getting down: Mostly people will take the same route to come back.  But there is another way along the ridge that takes you down. This route is smaller but bit tough and quite steep. This brings you right on the top of the Bhagsu falls.

Steep descend along the ridge

While coming down this way, we found some trekkers going up this way. Many locals and foreigners take this way to the top, as it is shorter and without and chaos of trekking-tourists. But this route needs lot of stamina as it is a very steep climb in comparison to regular trekking route. Moreover, you won’t find any shop on this way. So one needs to prepare accordingly.

Tips:

  • You need to reach Dharamshala or Mcleodganj to start for the trek.
  • Dharamshala-Mcleodganj are well connected by road to nearest railheads- Kangra (for narrow gauge on Pathankot-Jogindernagar line) and Pathankot (for broad gauge on Delhi-Jammu line).  Kangra is 20 kms and Pathankot is 90 kms from Dharamshala. Dharamshala has an airport at Gaggal, which is 12 kms from the city. Major cities in North like Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar or Shimla have overnight luxury bus services to Dharamshala-Mcleoadganj.
  • If you just want to do the Triund trek, than it is better to stay at Mcleodganj. You have enough hotels to suit every pocket.

Himalayan rides : Batal of Chacha-Chachi Dhaba

Rarely anybody passes through here without having a tea or something to eat.

Its all about love of nature and adventure that drives you to land unseen. The passion keeps accompanying you in your solo journeys. We have already travelled from Manali to Gramphoo via Rohtang pass.

Also See: Milestones to Ladakh:  Manali to Gramphoo

From Gramphoo, we moved right alongside the Chandra river towards Spiti valley and reached to Chatru.

Also See: Hiamalayan Rides: Gramphoo to Chatru

I was heading towards Chandratal lake. I had no intention to go towards Kaza as I had already travelled to Kaza some time back. From Chatru I had a very tough ride to Batal. As I said earlier, Batal is  a very important stopover. Once you cross the river Chandra at Batal and move uphill, there is a diversion. One road further up takes you to Kunzum top and then to Kaza in Spiti valley. Another road takes you deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal. We will travel that distance next time. This time we are just talking about Batal.

Also read: Himalayan Rides: Chatru to Batal 

Approaching Batal from Chatru and Chota Dara

Batal is located at farther end of a wide fat valley. Valley narrows at this point and then again widens up towards Chandratal after a few kilometres. It also gets important as there is tough climb upto Kunzum pass after here. Chandratal is also further 14 kilometres from here. Hence it makes a good resting point and have some food and fun. But it is also a good place to stay overnight.

Looking back towards the way I came

Batal now has a few dhabas. Some time back there was only one- Chandra Dhaba. Actually Batal has now got associated closely with Chandra Dhaba, both of them have acquired a sort of legendary status. Chandra Dhaba, more so because of its owners Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo.

Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo

44 years is not a small period and this ever-loved couple fondly called as Chacha-chachi has been running Chandra Dhaba for last 44 years at one of the most difficult terrains in the world in most hostile conditions, weather and poor connectivity. Its not a mean business. They do it for the love of their work and this place. They have been providing adventurers- bikers, drivers, passengers, trekkers, et.al. with food and shelter for all this long in their very humble and jovial way. But not just this, they have also been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.

Dorje Bodh serving tea to travellers at his Dhaba

This extraordinary couple is now part of many adventure folklores for decades and deservingly enough, have also been recognised with many awards, including Godfrey Philips bravery award. You can also a watch a video of a candid chat with Chacha Dorje Bodh by clicking on the link below-

Now few more dhabas have come round, although Chandra Dhaba still retains its premier status. In this region, all dhabas also double up as night shelters for the travellers. They are very handy for all those, who have to make emergency halts because of either getting late or adverse weather conditions. Travellers also make scheduled halts at these dhabas when they don’t want to carry tents with them.

Options to choose from

These dhabas are descent place to stay. Mostly there will be beds inside the dhaba on one side, like a dormitory. Dhaba owners will be providing the sleeping bags and blankets. Since the dhaba and the kitchen will also be inside in the same area, therefore it will be cozy and warm in the night, while it would be freezing cold outside. Dhabas provide the breakfast and meals.

Inside the Chandra Dhaba

For all those, who love extreme adventure, there is plenty of place around to pitch tents and enjoy starry nights. Besides, there is also a PWD rest house in Batal, just opposite the Chandra Dhaba, and also some igloo shaped fibreglass fabricated forest huts.

Buses going from Manali or Keylong to Kaza also stop here for some time. Truckers with essential supplies of the region will always make a halt here. Actually earlier, when there was no road connectivity to Chandratal then, people will make Batal as the base and then trek to Chandratal. Even today, whenever that road is blocked, or just for adventure, people will trek for 14 kms from Batal to Chandratal. There are people who will take a bus from Manali, get down at Batal, trek to Chandratal and come back, and then they will either take another bus to Kaza or back to Manali.

Also read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

During the season time, you will find many tourists here at time during the day

Batal is at an altitude of 3910 metres and it is located in a very hostile terrain. This place remains inhabited for almost six months from April end to October end. Rest of the time it remind inaccessible and even reaching through helicopters might be tough task during winters. Even during so-called summer months of adventure season, occasionally there might be heavy snowfall leading to road blockades. One should always be prepared physically and mentally for any eventuality.

But once you are here the beauty of the nature only steels the resolve to go further.

Way to Kunzum and Chandratal. You can see the bridge on the Chandra River.

Himalayan Rides : Chatru to Batal

In the last episode of Himalayan Rides, we (me and my readers) travelled from Gramphoo to Chatru on way to Chandratal. Now we are travelling from Chatru to Batal. Batal is a very important stopover. Once you move ahead of Batal there is a diversion. A road uphill takes you to Kunzum pass and then to Kaza in Spiti valley and another one moves deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal.

Also see: Himalayan Rides : Gramphoo to Chatru

Moving between the himalayan walls!

Its a very small stretch in terms of the total ride but still I thought to devote a full post to this, as this one was very important in letting me know what to expect on the way ahead and what I need to do to keep myself better prepared.

Spiti valley Dhaba just a few kilometres from Chatru
Welcome to the territory unknown
Towards Chota Dara
Just before Chota Dara
Time for photography is time of rest for the machine!

Batal is just 31 kilometres from Chatru. Chhota Dara is 17 kms from Chatru and Batal is another 14 kms from there. But this 31 kms journey is no pushover, as it tests your riding skills. The route might not be too tough for four wheelers but it is tough one for bikes, specially the stretch from Chatru to Chhota Dara as at many places you have to ride through boulders and stones. This stretch can take a heavy toll on your vehicles, so keep them fit for it. There are few running streams to be crossed and one or two of them can be tricky for the first timers, more so if you don’t want to put your feet into the water.

Chota Dara: On paper this is a village, but there are only stones and stones around. A PWD pesthouse is there. Then there is also a Spiti Valley Dhaba on the way, which can provide you with some tents to stay and also breakfast and meals.

A milestone to announce a village!
Time to check the distances left!
PWD resthouse at Chota Dara
Alongside the whole route is work going on to lay optical fibre cables

I had a bit of uneasy experience on water crossing on the stretch. Actually, it was the first tricky one of the trip. I had brought a pair of water and snow proof shoes with me. But in the morning when I was packing the things at Chatru, I found that the sole of my both the shoes have not just only ripped off, but broken into pieces beyond any kind of repair. I actually tried to use the puncture solution to fix it but it only worsened. There was no alternative other than to how them. With heavy heart, I discarded them to dustbin. They had come to me all the way from Geneva, Switzerland.

Tips on hand!

But now there was an immediate problem for me. Till Chatru, I had not required to cross any stream, hence I didn’t fell any requirement for waterproof shoes and I carried on in my sports shoes. Now, if I required them then I can get a new pair only at Keylong. Till then I had to make sure that I don’t let my sports shoes get wet.

Beauty of the terrain
Along the Chandra River!
Valley widens up at many places
The view around always keeps us energetic!

And, I had a testing time just immediately. After I crossed Chota Dara, there was a stream flowing down from the mountains, crossing the road over to Chandra River. It was a tricky one as it was spread wide and it was tough for me to gauge the depth. Though, I was sure that it was not too deep but I had to ensure that I cross it smoothly so that I don’t have to touch me feet anywhere in between. Since I was bit weary of the stones and pebbles under the water, I was bit indecisive for more than a minute on which side to cross the stream. Luckily for me, a truck came from the behind and as it crossed the stream, I got an idea of the actual depth and concentration of stones, making it easier for me to follow and cross, that I finally did. Was I going to be equally lucky everytime till Keylong? Only time will tell.

Looks normal from a distance
Once I reached closer, I had to be careful
Passing truck guided me through

You can also see the video of this journey and my experience of crossing the stream by clicking below-

But it is definitely thoroughly enjoying as we pass through the beautiful Chandra Valley with snow-capped mountains all around from Indrasan, Deo Tibba, Ali Khan Tibba, White Sail, Papsura peaks and ranges. There is also a trek from Manikaran that brings to Chota Dara by crossing the Sara Umga pass. Stunning beauty around was actually reward for the tough ride.

Rising above everything!
A big glacier!

You can cover this stretch of 31 kms in about three hours, depending on your riding skills as well as on time you give yourself to enjoy the surroundings. Early morning departure from Chatru will give you good time at Batal to eat and enjoy.

Enjoy the journey from the start, read:

Milestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo

Next: Chacha-Chachi’s Batal!

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Kashmir, we know less about : Kheer Bhawani at Tulmul

There have been many facets of this paradise on earth. The political disturbances since last many decades have made many places either out of bounds or less frequently visited. One of such places is Kheer Bhawani temple at Tulmul (Tullamula) in Ganderbal district of Jammu & Kashmir. Just a few days back on eighth day (Ashtami, अष्टमी) of brighter fortnight (Shukla Paksha, शुक्ल पक्ष) of the hindu month of Jyeshtha (ज्येष्ठ या जेठ) pilgrims gathered at three shrines in Kashmir valley including the Kheer Bhawani temple. Devotees, mostly Kashmiri Pandits, thronged the shrine situated in south Kashmir, which is currently hot bed of  unrest in the Valley. Other two shrines are Tripur Sundari temple in Devsar (Kulgam district) and Ragnya Bhagwati in Manzgam (Kulgam district). This particular day is considered to be the birth day of Goddess Bhagwati. The day is celebrated  with hawans, community kitchens and mass prayers.

Outside Temple compound

Despite all fear created in media, devotees came here and paid obeisance at the shrine. It was usual as was in the past. Much hype was given to element of fear on social media, which led to fall in number of pilgrims but there was no such fear there. Besides this annual festival, people come here every month on the same day to perform rituals and seek blessings. Kheer Bhawani is one of the most revered Hindu shrines in Kashmir valley.

Also read- Naranag: Kashmir we know less about!

Message is clear: Go Vegan!

Though this temple has a rich mythology associated with it, the present temple was constructed by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1912 and it was later renovated by his nephew Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra king.

Inside compound of the temple

Surrounded by streams, this place is rich in true Kashmiri beauty, Its abound with Chinar trees- inside and outside the compound. There is a stream surrounding the temple. People take holy bath in this stream.

Also read: Wedding Bells

Stream surrounding the temple.

Now there is a legend on how Goddess Bhagwati reached in Kashmir. Mythology says that King Ravana of Lanka worshipped the goddess and pleased by his prayers, the goddess Bhagwati agreed to shower her blessings and reside in Lanka. But later because of Ravana’s misdeeds goddess cursed him and then she asked Hanuman to take her far in northern mountains away from Ravana’s kingdom. Hence goddess along with her vehicle and 360 nagas (serpents) was brought by Hanuman here at Tullamula near Shadipora.

Its a beautiful compound surrounded by Chinar trees

Then there is another legend on how the temple was discovered in medieval times. It is said that a Kashmiri Pandit, Krishna Dayal Tapilu from Srinagar had a dream wherein the goddess asked hime to travel from Ganderbal to Shadipora in a boat. From Shadipora a serpent would guide him to a pious spring. It so happened. Serpent disappeared after leading that pandit to this spring in Tullamula and this is where the temple is built today. Once you visit the temple, you will find many details about this legend.

Samadhi of the priests

The main spring called as Amrit Kund (अमृत कुंड) of goddess Kheer Bhawani is an irregular hexagonal shape. It has an island in the centre where a mulberry tree grew. And  here goddess Bhagwati is decorated and housed in a small white marble temple. It is said that idols in the temple are the ones that were taken out from this spring.

Devotees offering prayer to goddess

It is also said that water of this spring changes its colours from time to time. These colours are found to be red, light green, lemon yellow, milky white, grey white etc. There is no definite time or reason of changing the colours but any colour in shade of black is considered to be inauspicious. It is also said that there are bubbles rising out of spring water at times and they form a chakra (a mystic symbol, चक्र या यंत्र ).

The temple in the spring

The goddess here is offered Kheer (a sweet dish made of milk, rice and sugar) as prasad (offering, प्रसाद). People are not supposed to eat any form of meat when they visit the holy shrine.

Also read: Tulip Garden in Heaven

The main temple of goddess in spring

Years of unrest have decreased the number of tourists and pilgrims coming to this temple. Tourists just remained glued to their fixed itineraries. Hence, you won’t find many people here on regular days. There are number of restaurants here in the compound which also double up as prasad selling shops, and there is also availability of some rooms for pilgrims willing to stay. These restaurants also serve some local vegetarian delicacies. There is a guest house near by with all facilities.

Restaurants in the temple complex and guest house in the background

Also read: Never a dull morning in the Dal

How to reach: Located in foothills of Himalayas, this temple is not far from Srinagar. Once you move out of the city on the Srinagar-Leh highway, you come close to Ganderbal. Cross the Sindh river and move to Manasbal road. After few kilometres, there is a diversion towards Tullamula. Temple is around 25 kilometres from Srinagar and you can easily find taxis or buses to this place.

Beautiful surroundings

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Jump in the well… all for a bottle of feni!

Its Ganga Dussehra today (also tomorrow!). Many of us would be already in Varanasi or may be in Haridwar or Rishikesh to take part in one of the most important festival attached to River Ganges. People will be taking dip in the river and will be part of Ganga Arti in the evening. Well, quite straightforward in terms of rituals. But ever imagined a festival in India where men jump in wells to bring out, just a bottle of feni! Looks bizarre but that happens in Goa. Looks like a chill-out fun for scorching summers of June. But June has a lot more to offer.  Summer is at its peak in the north while monsoon has already struck in the south. It is still the vacation time for the most parts of India and hill stations will be packed of vacationers. Lot more to do then routine ‘queen of the hills’ trips and these include some offbeat events and festivals.

Ganga aarti at Varanasi

Ganga Dussehra at Varanasi
Well as I said it is Ganga Dussehra today. Though it is called as Dussehra, it has got nothing to do with traditional Vijayadashami, called as Dussehra commonly. It is called Dussehra as it falls on Dashami (tenth day) of Hindu month of Jyeshtha during the brighter nights (शुक्ल पक्ष). The Ganga Dussehra festival is celebrated to mark the time that the holy Ganges River descended to earth. A large number of pilgrims congregate alongside the holy river, to bathe in it and worship. Ganga Dussehra is also known as Gangavataran which means ‘the descent of the Ganga’. Usually Ganga Dusshra is celebrated one day before Nirjala Ekadashi. Ganga Dussehra is dedicated to Goddess Ganga and this day is commemorated as the day when Ganga was descended to the Earth to accomplish her mission to purge the cursed souls of Bhagiratha’s ancestors. On Ganga Dussehra devotees worship Goddess Ganga and take bath in Ganges. Taking bath in Ganges and offering charity. It is widely believed that holy dip in Ganges on Ganga Dussehra day can purge all type of sins. Devotees flock to Allahabad/Prayag, Garhmukteshwar, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi to take a holy dip. Ganga Dussehra celebrations are legendary in Varanasi. On Ganga Dussehra day thousands of devotees do Ganga Snan and participate in Ganga Aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat. Ganga Dussehra should not be confused with Ganga Jayanti when the Goddess Ganga was reborn.

When: 3rd June 2017 (some people also say it is on 4th June)
Where: Ghats of Ganges, everywhere!

Summer Festival at Shimla

Summer Festival at Shimla
Another festival which is already on is the Summer festival at Shimla. Shimla is of course one of the India’s all time favourite hill stations. At a time when the holiday season is at its peak, there is a big festival to keep tourists in high spirits. This renowned event has been held regularly in Shimla since the 1960s. And now the dates have also been more or less fixed- 1st to 9th June every year. It features musical performances, some from famous singers, food and fashion. Plenty of local handicrafts are on sale too. The entire stretch of the Ridge road in Shimla comes alive with a riot of colors and a flurry of events like fashion shows, flower exhibitions, a sporting event for children and adults alike and a photography competition, among others. What sets the festival apart is its heartfelt dedication to showcasing the folk culture of the place. This year on the first day there were performers from Republic of Congo as well as many small time performers from Bollywood and Himachal Pradesh. Second night yesterday had performances from local artists. There is another week for the festival.

When: 1-9 June 2017
Where: Mall road, Shimla

Kottiyoor Festival at Kannur

Kottiyoor Festival at Kannur
Another festival due in coming week is at God’s one country- the evergreen Kerala. This one is quite different from usual elephant festivals of Kerala and it continues for no less than 28 days. Quite long! But the Kottiyoor Vysakha Mahotsavam is a truly mesmerising festival held amidst dense forest with the lush greenery and the gorgeous River Baveli forming a stunning backdrop. This festival in Kannur is conducted by two temples, Akkara Kottiyoor and Ikkara Kottiyoor situated on the banks of the River Baveli. The Akkara Kottiyoor Temple serves as the venue for the festival and is opened only during the festival days. The deity here is believed to be a swayambhoo lingam (self-created idol of Lord Shiva) and the temple is noted for its absence of a formal structure. Here the deity is placed on a raised platform made of river stones named manithara. The religious rituals and ceremonies are performed in thatched huts. The festival commences with the Neyyattam (pouring of ghee) ritual which is attended by hundreds of devotees. The celebrations start with the bringing of a sword from Muthirerikavu in Wayanad. An intriguing aspect of the festival is the Rohini Aaradhana where the priest embraces the swayambhoo Shiva linga as part of the ritual. One of the main ritualistic programs in this festival is Elaneer Vayppu in which tender coconut brought by the devotees is offered before the swayambhoolingam.  The festival concludes with Elaneerattam in which the collected tender coconut water is poured on the idol by the head priest.

When: 6th June-2nd July 2017
Where: Kottiyoor temple, Kottiyoor, Kannur. Nearest railway station: Thalassery, about 65 km Nearest airport: Karipur International Airport, about 160 km

Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri

Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath
This is undoubtedly one of the most important events of the Indian festival calendar. The deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple and remain there for nine days. Then the deities or Ratha Yatra return to the Main temple. The return journey of Puri Jagannath Ratha Jatra is known as Bahuda Jatra. Deities are usually worshiped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during the month of Asadha (Rainy Season of Odisha, usually falling in month of June or July), they are brought out onto the Bada Danda (main street of Puri) and travel (3 km) to the Shri Gundicha Temple, in huge chariots (ratha), allowing the public to have darśana (Holy view). This festival is known as Rath Yatra, meaning the journey (yatra) of the chariots (ratha). The Rathas are huge wheeled wooden structures, which are built anew every year and are pulled by the devotees. The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square and takes about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne. The Ratha-Yatra is also termed as the Shri Gundicha yatra. Since, many years now, simultaneous Rath Yatras are organised at many cities in India on the same day.

When: 25th June 2017
Where: Puri, Odisha

Sadhus at Kamakhya yemple in Guwahati, Assam, India during Ambubachi Mela Photo: Vikramjit Kakati

Ambubachi Mela of Goddess Kamakhya
Now this is bit unusual as you will probably not be able to recall any festival anywhere else which is held to celebrate the menstruation period of the goddess. This is very popular annual festival of the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.  In this annual festival the temple remains closed for three days because these are the days of annual menstruation period of goddess Kamakhya. On these three days devotees neither worship nor read holy books. even farmers do not plough the land. Temple reopens on the fourth day, with a rush of devotees who come to receive bits of cloth that are supposedly soaked with her menstrual fluid. It’s considered to be extremely auspicious and powerful. One of the 52 shakti peeths, Kamakhya temple is also known for its tantric rituals. This particular festival is considered to be the haven for that. Devotees come from far off places to meet the Tantric Sadhus and take their blessings.

When: 22-25 June 2017
Where: Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam

Devotees offering namaz at Jama Masjid in Delhi

Time for some sweet seviyan on Eid
Holiest month for the muslim community world over. The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is known as “Ramazan” and is a time of fasting and prayer throughout the Islamic world. This month-long fast is done to commemorate what, according to Muslims, was the first Quranic revelation to Prophet Muhammad, and its observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam- a list of the great deeds every Muslim ought do in his life to secure salvation. The month of Ramazan lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the year, and its beginning date is based on local moon sightings. The “Iftar” is the time of breaking the fast, and it occurs right after the evening call to prayer. Since people fast all day, family and friends eat late-night meals during Ramadan. Non-Muslims can sometimes participate in these meals, and there will often be big street tents near mosques where free food is given out to the needy during Ramadan. Traditionally, Eid El Fitr marks the celebrations at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Its high time for some traditional delicacies.

When: 25th June 2017
Where: Jama Masjid, Delhi

Sao Joao Feast of St John the Baptist

Sao Joao Feast of St John the Baptist
This is the festival I was talking about. Catholics across the world celebrate the Feast of St John the Baptist on June 24. This day, they believe, John kicked around in his mother’s womb when Mary was visiting because he knew Jesus was going to be born soon after him and wanted to indicate how happy he was. Only in Goa do they celebrate by jumping into wells. Its for all those who love feni. The most popular festival in Goa, Sao Joao (the fertility feast of Saint John the Baptist), involves the interesting feat of men jumping into overflowing village wells to retrieve bottles of local feni alcohol. People break coconuts after praying, down feni in liberal quantities, and jump into the closest water body they can find. The artistically inclined make crowns of fresh fruit and wildflowers and one large garland for the local cross. There are also boat races, and singing and dancing. this one is made especially for the newlyweds. The festival involves the husbands getting drunk on the local feni alcohol and jumping into wells to impress their wives, adorning floral wreaths on their heads. The festivities take on a more surreal outlook if it rains while the ceremonies are still underway, which it often does. People revel in delectable food and music while witnessing one of the most quirky and eccentric, yet interesting round of celebrations in the coastal state.

When: 24th June 2017
Where: All over Goa

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
This is another feast in Goa. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul or Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul is a liturgical feast in honour of the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which is observed on 29 June. The celebration is of ancient origin, the date selected being the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics. Goa celebrates this festival with religious fervour. The tradition of Sangodd is also seen in the Christian festival of Saint Peter and Saint Paul held on June 29 every year, by the fishing community particularly in Bardez taluka. The fishermen in the villages along the northern coast of Goa celebrate the festival in the monsoon. They tie their boats together to form rafts which serve as makeshift stages. On this stages miniature models of chapels or churches are erected. After a church service in the morning and a large feast, the festival of Sangodd is held. Tiatrs (local drama theatre), folk dances and music are performed before an audience who watch from the banks of the river. The Sangodd in the villages of Candolim and Sinquerim are well known. Here the rafts carrying the models slowly make their way down the river up to the Chapel of St. Peter. At each stop, firecrackers are set off and the entertainment on the stage begins. The origin of this celebration is unique to Goa. It is the celebration of the fisher folk community because St. Peter was a fisherman.

When: 29th June 2017
Where: Candolim, Goa

Festivals in Ladakh region

Its festival time in Ladakh region as well. Though Manali-Leh road is yet not open, but Srinagar-Leh  traffic has resumed.  And then there are flights always! There are a few festivals already in pipeline. A couple of them are monastic while couple of others are recent cultural additions.

Saka Dawa festival

Saka Dawa festival
The Saka Dawa or the Saga festival is celebrated on the 4th  month of the Tibetan calendar. It is the most revered day for Buddhist followers as on this full moon of this month, the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and then parinirvana. On this very day, every year, the lamas of nearby monasteries change the Tarboche flag pole, that is located at the South of the mountain, Kailash Kora. It is believed that if after the pole is changed, it does not stand erect, it is not auspicious by Tibetans. The festival is celebrated all over Ladakh and many other areas in Tibet and Sikkim as well. Actually this is the festival which we know as the Buddha Purnima. But then we already had Buddha Purnima on 10th May this year. Then why Saka Dawa in this month? The explanation to this is that due to difference between Solar and Lunar calendars, there is sometimes a difference of a month between Buddha Purnima and Saka Dawa, as is this time. But both are essentially full moon days.

When: 9th June 2017
Where: All over Ladakh, Sikkim, Tibet

Yuru Kabgyat festival at Lamayuru monastery

Yuru Kabgyat Festival at Lamayuru
This is another monastic festival of the month. Yuru Kabgyat is a two-day festival that takes place in the month of July in the Lamayuru monastery, which is around 125 kms away from Leh.  During the festival, the monks perform mask dances, prayers and rituals in order to get away from any kind of disaster and for bringing in peace in the world. This  is a pre-historic monastery, which is called Yuru Gonpa by the locals. This festival is dedicated to Yuru Kabgyat and his mythical connection. This Gompa owes its origin to the Drikungpa branch of the Kagyudpa sect of the Tibetan Buddhism. This is actually one of the first monastic festivals of the season.

When: 21st June 2017

Sindhu Darshan Festival at Shey Manla

Celebration of Indus at Sindhu Darshan
As the name suggests, the Sindhu Darshan festival is a celebration of River Sindhu or Indus. Sindhu Darshan is celebrated in Shey Manla, located 8 kms away from the main city of Leh.  Indus is one of the world’s longest rivers, and gave India its name. Not an old festival though, this started as a rightist political statement and then slowly converted itself into a cultural event. It was first started in the October, 1997 and continues to be held every year since then, attracting large number of foreign as well domestic tourists. This is the time, when holiday season starts in Ladakh region. Festival adds to that. The festival aims to project the Sindhu as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony, and peaceful co-existence in India. It promises a kaleidoscope of Indian culture and an exciting array of performing arts. There is also a symbolic salute to the brave soldiers of the country. At the time of the festival, the local artists from various parts of the country traditional dance performances.  People from all religions, castes and regions become a part of this  festival. This year, it would be the 21st Sindhu Darshan festival.

When: 23-26 June 2017
Where: On the banks of the river Sindhu near Leh, Ladakh

Silk Route festival in Nubra valley

Silk route Festival at Nubra valley
This is another recent addition to Ladakh’s cultural festival scene. Recognizing the potential of Sumoor (the model village of Nubra) village in playing central role in economic development through cultural tourism, the villagers started an annual village festival and subsequently realized that this festival needs to be developed and promoted with experts’ supervision and direction to make it more meaningful, momentous and beneficial.  The festival aims at influencing the present and future generations as well visitors from outside to relate to the village culture in a positive light. As such, the Silk Route Festival offers a unique tourism product through provision of the Ladakhi village cultural and traditional lifestyle in aspects of accommodation and hospitality, entertainment, arts and crafts and activities that will interest both national and international tourists. The accommodation and hospitality section of the Silk Route Festival mainly consists of different types of traditional food stalls, cultural programme, handicrafts and traditional sport such as archery to mention few.

When: 23-24 June 2017
Where: Sumoor village, Nubra Valley, Ladakh

SO! Where are you going next!!

Himalayan Rides : Gramphoo to Chatru

Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top. Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. We have already travelled from Manali to Gramphoo via Rohtang pass.

(In case you have missed it, you can read it hereMilestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo)

In Spring and autumn times, valley is laden with flowers

From Gramphoo one road leads to Keylong and then towards Leh and another one towards Kunzum Pass and then to Kaza. There is also stark difference between roads on the two sides. Keylong-Leh road is the sort of expressway compared to this one. Road from Gramphoo to Chatru passes through narrow valley along the Chandra river. However once you cross the Chatru village, Chandra valley widens up.

Some areas are barren, while some are rich in vegetation

While moving towards Chatru there are a couple of water falls on the road. They don’t pose any problems for the four wheelers and these ones are not even tricky for two-wheelers as well. But you never know when it is raining heavily, they might pose some difficulties. It is better to be careful as situations will be different in different months and it can always change very rapidly.

Waterfalls look beautiful on other side of the valley
Even waterfalls on our side look glorious from a distance
Seemingly innocent water-pools may suddenly turn into high-voltage streams

Route from Gramphoo to Chatru is comparatively enjoyable because of roads, landscape and bit of inhabitation. Actually one can also say that because of some what better road, this stretch gives you an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings.

Road to Chatru alongside Chandra River

Widening and work on roads is a constant process here. Also the whole area is being connected through OFC network, hence you will always find either BRO or other PWD teams on work at short distances.

Work on roads is a regular process

Networks: In the above image, you can see bulldozers camped at a distance. This spot is around eight kilometres before from Chatru. It is said that while going from Gramphoo to Chatru, this is the last spot where you might be able to connect to a mobile network (that too just BSNL). As soon as you move ahead of this point, you will not find any networks on your mobiles upto Chandratal or Kunzum pass.

Hanging bridge at Chatru that is not yet used

Once we reach Chatru, we cross on the Chandra river to the other side.

Old iron bridge used to cross the Chandra river at Chatru

Chatru is next village from Gramphoo towards Kunzum Pass. Located at an altitude of 3300 metres, Chatru is 17 kms from Gramphoo and in the perspective this stretch from Gramphoo to Chatru has the better roads in comparison to other stretches towards Batal, Chandratal and Kunzum pass.

Chandra river in full flow at Chatru

Actually it is tough to call Chatru even a village. There had never been a permanent village here. It was a base for nomadic tribes and shepherds. Chatru is also an important base as normally this is where Hampta Pass trek will end, if one does not include Chandratal in it. On the other side of river there is a plenty of grounds for camping. Just along the bridge are two restaurants. They have been here for many decades now. Actually for commuters these two restaurants (another one is coming near by) are what Chatru is all about.

Place for camping alongside the river
A view of Chatru and surrounding areas

Night Shelter: As with whole of this route in Spiti or Lahaul valley, dhabas also double up for night shelter

Chandra Dhaba at Chatru

In the above image, you can see the Chandra dhaba with a tent. Front portion of the tent works as store and kitchen and on the other end are beds for commuters to stay. They provide bed and blankets.

Prem Dhaba at Chatru

Another dhaba is the Prem dhaba that you can see in the image above. This has got more space. On the right is the kitchen and the eating area, while what we see right in front (where you can see my bike parked) is a pucca garage with many beds inside. This shelter prevents better from cold of the night. Besides these two (or may be three this year) dhabas, Chatru also has a PWD rest house where tourists can stay subject to availability of rooms. This PWD rest house is around three-quarter of a kilometre further ahead on a uphill diversion from the main road. Rest house has two sets, but doesn’t have a water supply or electricity. Actually, owner of Prem Dhaba is also the caretaker of this PWD rest house. Normally travellers will prefer (even he too will prefer) to stay at Prem Dhaba only, as it has more space, food, running water and some solar light. Secondly PWD rest house is off the route, while these two dhabas are right on the road.

Way ahead!

Satellite connect: Since I had no prior information about (non) availability of networks here or the above mentioned spot with last signals of connectivity, I was desperate to get in touch after I reached Chatru. Also, because I had lost half day due to NGT permit issue requirement at Gulaba, my schedule was in haywire. I reached Chatru in evening tired. Originally I had planned to end the day at Chandratal. Hence I asked the owner of Prem Dhaba about any chance of connectivity. It was he who told me about the spot some seven kilometres back. I was in no mood to ride back to make a call and then come back here. It was than he told me about a satellite phone uphill in the village.

Road to PWD rest house at Chatru

There was a agro unit uphill, which actually formed the core of Chatru village. I went to PWD rest house, parked my bike there and jumped a few walls to reach to take a path towards some houses and a shed inside the fields. There was a agro unit which produced different crops here in the valley- peas, potatoes and few others and then packed and transported them to other areas. That unit had a satellite phone in its premises, services of which they also lend to commuters for a charge. I was able to make a call back home from there and actually at such height in these conditions it cost me just negligible to make a comfortable call. I might not be able to recollect precisely, but I made call for less than thirty rupees from there.

On to the next destination

My search for the satellite phone also gave me a bit of insight about this place. This valley is said to have one of the best quality of peas and potatoes produced in the entire region. The owner of the agro unit (his is the only private owner of such unit in whole valley) had more than 100 acres of land. He had a fairly descent set-up with a big house for himself (with water and solar lights) as well as place for his staff (of more than 50) to stay, and a power generating unit for his unit to process and pack the agri produce. That was an interesting story in itself.

You can also see a video of the route below: