Category Archives: Photogallery

Get ready for a Holi with Butter at Dayara

Holi in monsoon and that too with no colours but butter and curd milk! Well, nothing to be surprised. India does have such a vivid culture that there are scores of different festivals held every now and then. Many of them are unique and few of them have roots in remotest of places. Some of these places, which were not known so far are slowly getting popularity due to increased tourist activities. Raithal in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand is one such place.

Dahi-handi at Dayara. Photo: Sarvesh

Raithal is popular among adventurers as it is also the base for trekking expeditions to Dayara Bugyal and further. Raithal is also an ideal tourist village also known for its rich history and cultural heritage. Included in this heritage is this festival which is almost unique in Indian traditions. And interesting thing is that festival is celebrated kms away from the village in the high meadows.

Dayara

View of Raithal village

Dayara Bugyal is almost at an altitude of 11 thousand feet. It is indeed one of the most beautiful alpine meadows and one of the biggest as well in this part of Himalayas. It is spread in almost 28 square kilometre area. There are many small glacial lakes and few of them are known for their colourful fishes. This bugyal also turns into a flower carpet in spring time every year, after the melting of snow. There are also many herbal plants found here, which had been used by locals as medicines for generations. 

Dayara Bugyal  Photo: Sarvesh

During the spring time the meadows get covered with lush green grass cover. At that time the villagers of Raithal will send their cattle to graze in the meadows along with some shepherds. They will stay there for months. Shepherd will construct small temporary huts over there. Villagers believe that with rich grass and medicinal plants in abundance, their livestock will get healthier and in return the quality and quantity of their milk will also improve immensely. They continue to be there till the start of the rains. 

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri

Festival

Traditional dance at butter festival  Photo: Sarvesh

Now when cattle get healthy and fit to return, than in the Hindu month of Bhadrapad (mostly August, but might vary), the villagers of Raithal will go to Dayara to bring their cattle back. Their return is celebrated as the Butter festival. The festival was traditionally called as Anduri. This is a way for them to thank the nature for its blessings, to take care of their cattle folk and making them healthy. Although the festival is celebrated for a day, but its preparations go on for weeks. Villagers will invite their near and dear ones to join them for the festival, thus they tell everybody that their livestock is returning to the village. They will decorate the houses and the barns or sheds with flowers. Pooris (deep fried puffy Indian bread) will be hanged on the doors as a tradition.

Decorating with flowers. Photo: Sarvesh

Earlier they used to throw cow dung on the guests but later on that was replaced with butter and butter milk. As this festival has now started attracting tourists, many other things are increasingly added to the celebration to make in visually more impressive. A fair is held and just like Janmashtami celebrations of Maharashtra, Dahi-handi is also organised. All villagers will gather at Dayara with lots and lots of butter and butter milk. They will apply butter on faces (as we use colour in holi) and butter milk will br thrown and poured on each other. Water guns filled with butter milk will be extensively used. Now with tourism department involved in the festival, the festival has got more diversified atmosphere. Folk music and dances like Dhimai and Mithi will be organised, people will be dressed in traditional clothes. 

Spraying butter milk with water guns. Photo: Sarvesh

This year, this festival is being held on 17th August.

Folk singers and dancers at Butter festival. Photo: Sarvesh

How to reach

On the way to Gangotri from Uttarkashi is a village named Bhatwari, which is 32 kms from Uttarkashi district headquarters. There is a diversion on a winding road that goes up the hill. Raithal is almost ten kilometres from that point. That is the last road head. One has to trek from here to Dayara Bugyal for at least eight kilometres to the point from where the meadows start. You can travel by your own transport upto Raithal. You can also take any bus going towards Gangotri from Uttarkashi and get down at Bhatwari. Then you can ride some shared taxis for Raithal.

View from the house pf Raja Gambhir Singh of Raithal

Dayara is lush green and beautiful from May to October. It receives heavy snow from December to March. The whole meadow turns white.  With that much of snow and due to its long gentle slopes, this place is also ideal for skiing activities. 

Also read: Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage

Where to stay

A traditional home is now a homestay

Raithal now has many homestay options where you can stay with locals and enjoy the traditional hospitality and know more about local cuisine and culture. Few of these home-stays are in huts which are hundreds of year old. A lot of work is being done to promote Village Tourism. This is also attracting many foreign tourists to the region. Those who love adventure, can also opt for camping at Dayara. There are may people in Raithal who work as trek guides and can arrange for camping at Dayara. There are a few professional tour operators. 

What else

Raithal has got some amazing views of the Himalayan ranges, and that gets better and better as we keep moving up towards Dayara Bugyal. You can see Srikanth, Draupadi ka Danda, Gangotri peaks amen many more. It is rewarding to get up early and see the sun rising behind these glorious peaks. On the way from Bhatwari to Raithal, in the fields lies a historical Sun Temple, known as Sun Temple of Kyark. Raithal is also famous for its Goat Village project. You can visit the Goat Village and witness a unique goat farming initiative. Harsil is also not far away from Raithal. Actually, when you have come so far, then always advisable to go to Harsil as well. 

Sun temple of Kyark near Raithal

This region is very fertile. It is famous for its apples, rajma (kidney beans) and potatoes. Don’t miss any of them, when you go there.

Also read: Exploring the unexplored – Sat taal near Harsil in Gangotri  valley

Have you ever seen the Butter festival at Dayara? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

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Whispering winds, hovering clouds and a ghost which wasn’t there!

If I would have been believing in ghosts than I could have said that this ghost certainly loved nature and he lived in most exotic of locations. Ghosts or not, this place known as Abbott Mount certainly had a captivating charm. It did create a magnetic pull on us. As soon as I came to know that there is this haunted place, in no time I was just running on the mountain trail towards that spooky mansion on the top the mountain along with two others. I felt just like a member of ghost busters team on a mission. Other members of our Bloggers Bus team stayed back, few may be because of fear, few due to disinterest and remaining for hating to walk so long.

Prelude

Gate to the mansion just before the long walkway is now closed

But there is very interesting prelude to this visit. We reached Lohaghat on fifth night of our roadtrip in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, and all through the first five days of our journey we were pulling two young ladies in our group through various ghost stories. Hardly any of us had an idea of what was coming through our way. When all this was happening, on the third day just out of interest, while searching internet on my mobile phone I came across a mention of haunted house of Lohaghat. I knew that we had a night halt scheduled at Lohaghat, but still I had no idea whatsoever that we were actually supposed to visit the mountain where this haunted house was located. Hence, when we finally did, our enthusiasm was simply uncontrollable.

Beautiful walkway to the mansion in thick woods

Ironically, in our seven nights on the trip, Lohaghat was the only destination where we were not staying at a Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) property. When we reached hotel at Lohaghat in the evening, we felt like a complete meltdown in comparison to our previous four nights stay at various locations. But it was all well compensated next morning, when we visited two very interesting locations around Lohaghat- one was the Advait Ashram at Mayavati and second one was Abbott mount.

Event

Its quite dense forest around the campus

SO, as it stands, on this hill just around five kilometres from Lohaghat remains buried one of the biggest mysteries of our times at a place, which is now known as one of the most haunted in India. Its not a very old story. Everything happened less than hundred years ago. A winding road takes you to the hill top at Abbott Mount at an altitude of over 1650 metres. This place has got some splendid views. Beauty of this place was discovered by an Englishman John Abbott, that’s how the place got its name Abbott Mount. He built up a mansion here known as Abbey Mansion. That was approximately a century ago. Later in 1942 he built a church here in memory of his wife. John himself died in 1945. 

Turn left from the main walkway towards mansion

Our narrative started as soon as we reached the last road head at Abbott Mount. Our first story teller was the one of the staffs of District Tourism Officer of Champawat district who met us at Lohaghat. He told us about the ‘story’ behind Dr Morris Hospital. Abbey mansion was turned to a hospital later. There are many loose ends in the story. There is no detail on when exactly the hospital started in this building, after the death of Abbott or in his lifetime itself? Also, whether Abbott himself lived in this mansion as long as he lived? Actually in all these years, the story of Dr Morris overtook that of John Abbott.

History

The Abbey mansion or the Morris hospital as seen from distance

A doctor par excellence, Morris was known to do some unusual experiments on his patients. Some people say he was a physician, some say he was a neurosurgeon. As per the stories going round for decades, Dr Morris was keen to know the mystery of death. He wanted to understand, what happens in human mind exactly when the moment of death comes. It is said that he will do occult surgeries. It is also said that he used to predict the exact day of death of his patients. But, was he capable of doing that? 

The passage that leads to the mansion in the front

Now the evil spirits enter the story. All such patients, about whom the prediction were made, were allegedly sent to a different building alomost a kilometre away, now known as Mukti Kothi. They were found dead on the pronounced day! Interestingly, all such patients were normally the ones who won’t have any near or dear one to take care of. People claim that Morris used to murder his patients to boast of his predictions. 

Its lush green all around, the beauty looking very organised

The another part of the story is about the death of Dr Morris himself die. Its being told that there was another Dr named Evert (we don’t know whether in the same hospital or outside). He loved a local girl. Now it is said that Morris wanted to do some experiment on that girl. Evert objected to it. Morris attempted to inject the girl and in the ensuing fight between Morris and Evert the syringe got injected to Dr Morris himself, which took his life. Quite Bollywood type. Isn’t it! But that’s how the story goes. This was the story that I had not read so far about this place. This still does not solve all the mysteries. There are many questions still unanswered and will perhaps remain so. 

This garden seems to be very neatly done as if taken care of very regularly

Decades passed by, and the stories of spirits started roaming around. Spirits of Dr Morris and his patients. Nobody has seen them but many claim to have heard them whispering, calling! But still, there is more than meets the eye. Mukti Kothi is now a privately owned property. Mukti Kothi is almost a kilometre from the Abbey mansion on the other side of the hill top. Visitors and cameras are not allowed inside the property. The church built by Abbott is now abandoned. This is third important place in this real life drama. This is the church, where Abbott, his wife and Dr Morris were laid to rest. You still see the graves on the other side of church. Many of them look ruined but a few still have stones with the names and other details. 

A piece of small white cloud hovering around looks so spooky

There are many other plots and subplots attached to this place. The last road head of the Abbott Mount has a plateau at the top. It has a grown as big as a football field, which now tourism department wants to develop as a helipad. On the other end of the ground is a small temple. But even this temple looks like abandoned. It is also said that this hill top was the abode of deities which got angry when John Abbott constructed a mansion here. This anger is also said to be the reason behind place becoming haunted.

This place has got some beautiful views around

Interested in ghost stories? Read: Bhangarh – Nothing spooky about it

Postscript

We also came across another aspect of this place, so far unheard and unread as well. (Since it is all unverified, so I am not taking any living names.) This one came from a person who worked as a caretaker with a property nearby which now works as a guest house, probably the only running one currently at the Abbott Mount. He and his wife claim to have heard the ghost of Abbey Mansion a number of times (but have never seen it). According to that person after the death of Dr Morris, this place was reportedly taken over by Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (GSAM) established in 1948 by Maxton Davis Strong and his wife Shirley. (This orphanage is still doing some extraordinary work in Kumaon for long and is still active with its base at Banbasa. They now also have The Maxton Strong School at Banbasa. Banbasa is approximately 97 kilometres from Lohaghat at the Nepal border.) Mission used the Abbey Mansion as residence for many of its orphan children. These children will visit the church regularly where mass was held every Sunday. Christians from nearby areas will also come here. But some time back (probably two decades ago) mission left this place along with children, allegedly when some locals (including a lawyer with the mission) tried to take the control of the property at Abbott Mount. They succeeded probably.

Abbey mansion as seen from the back side
This message written on back wall looks so creepy
Long corridor on the front side of the building. Walls look like cemented not a long ago. All doors and windows are jammed
What looks like a barrack is bit away from the main building on the hill side
rooms in the barrack look like this from outside
A view of room from inside. Looks like a quarter

GSAM has actually seen many ups and downs in its 70 years history in this part of India (I tried to, but was not able to contact the GSAM to know whether there was any truth in the story). Since than the place is in shambles. Its ownership is not clearly known, but outer structure of the Abbey Mansion was renovated about a decade ago. Inside, it is still in ruins. Mukti Kothi area has got a very newly constructed mansion. We don’t know who stays here. Church is all in ruins, clearly nobody has take care of it for decades. Who knows, all the ghost stories might be the part of any property tussle here!

Ghost on road? Read: Loops of the haunted

Visit

We trekked down to the Abbott Mount cottage or Abbey Mansion or Dr Morris hospital, whatever it is called. There is a long walkway amidst thick tree line from the main entrance till the building. Main gate before the walkway is locked and barricaded. Iron grill gate has two big cross on both sides. We jumped inside through the fencing. We could hear strong breeze blowing, there were all types of birds making strange noises. Small pieces of white clouds were hovering around quite low through the trees. There was no human being besides we three. All rooms of the main building were locked. I could see the darkness inside through some holes in the window grills. 

Church that John Abbott built in 1942
Church is now abandoned
A view of the prayer hall of the church. Mind it that there is no way to go inside the church.
The graveyard on the other side of the church
Where John Abbott was buried in 1945
Mukti Kothi is the building on the left. Building on the right looks like a newly built cottage

There were two other buildings on one side of hill, close to the main building. They looked like a row of barracks. Few rooms here were open, but the long grass and loneliness of the place prevented me from going inside. We were at the property for almost 30 minutes but didn’t encounter anything strange here, besides the solitude, seclusion and the remoteness at this place. That would have been enough to install fear in any weak mind. But there was another strange thing that struck me. Few images I had seen of this mansion were different. The outside are looked quite dry and abandoned in those images. But when we were there, it was all lush green, with lots of flowers, trees and various plants. It came to my mind that could this have been maintained this way all naturally, without any human care! 

Tourism

Log huts built by tourism department at the Abbott Mount ecotourism resort
The ground on the top, where a helipad is supposed to come up

Undoubtedly this is amazingly beautiful place. From October to May we can have a unhindered view of Himalayan ranges from West to East, from Pir Panjal in Kashmir to Panchachuli. It has got lovely weather, charming surroundings. To develop this place an ecotourism project was launched here few years ago by tourism department. Tourist log huts are almost ready and might be working from next season. Easily accessible and even a helipad coming very soon. What else! You might also have some ‘ghosts’ for company!!

You can see the full video of my visit to this Haunted House of Lohaghat on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you ever been to Abbott Mount? Did you experience anything strange there? Let us know your experience in the comments section below.

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Myth and mystery of the cave 90 feet deep

Patal Bhuvaneshwar temple was in and out of our itinerary for the Bloggers Bus at various points. It was no where in the initial plans, but  when a fellow blogger asked for it than it was included in the programme. By the time we reached from Kausani to Chaukori, KMVN official in-charge of our trip came up with the information that it wasn’t safe to go inside as there would be lack of oxygen inside the cave and it was also raining continuously in the region. There was another catch, we were told that cameras are not allowed inside and all phones and cameras have to be deposited at the counter outside the cave. Most of our interest got diffused because of that too. Going to a new place and not able to photograph it was somewhat turn-off. 

Here starts the walkway to the cave after the road ends

It rained whole night at Chaukori and that already disrupted our morning schedule. Rain had stopped by the time we left. Having already missed all other activities at Chaukori for the morning, the idea of Patal Bhuvaneshwar again propped up as it was on the way towards our lunch destination at Gangolihat. Just seven kilometres before Gangolihat there is a diversion towards the Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave and it is further seven kilometres from that point. So we all, finally decided to take a chance.  It was 12 noon by the time we reached the village. This village would have got populated in later stages because of this cave temple. Cave is further  half a kilometre from the road-head on a paved walkway.

The gate that welcomes, but cave is still further

It is a beautiful place undoubtedly. At an altitude of 1350 metres (almost as Gangolihat) this cave is located on a hillside in the middle of thick jungle laced with deodars, pines and oaks. This cave is actually in the middle of the hill as the river flows another few hundred feet below. It is therefore very calm and serene here. A lovely place to be for whatever reasons. We had another reason to be happy and that was being able to take the photographs inside the cave. Armed with the information that just a few days back ASI had allowed photography inside all its monuments/sites, we managed to convince the personnel there to allow us to take cameras inside. But all that not before many hectic calls, getting order copies online et al.  All this episode consumed another half hour, but all in good spirit and for a cause, and with a better end result.

Bells lined up on the way to cave. You will find this at many of the temples in Uttarakhand. This is one of the way to pay obeisance to the god after some of their wishes are fulfilled!

Patal Bhuvaneshwar is said to be one of the most revered cave temples in India and perhaps the most mysterious as well. It is located in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.  This limestone cave is just 160 metres long and 90 feet deep. Having seen many other caves in India, we can safely say that natural cave systems are one of the most intriguing geographical feature of this planet. India has many bigger and majestic caves. Most of them have very interesting stalactite and stalagmite rock figures. Many of these figures got myths associated with them in the long term.

Mythology associated with the cave temple at Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

Similarly Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave temple is said to have a deep association with Hindu mythology. Undoubtedly it has some very amazing stalactite and stalagmite figures carved out by nature on limestone rocks. But this relatively very smaller of all caves has got hidden some biggest of the mysteries and myths, one being that this cave is as old as the earth itself.

Entrance to the cave

We were fortunate on two counts that day. Firstly we got to take the cameras inside and secondly, there was no crowd that day, may be because of the rains. We were told that normally there are hundreds of pilgrims waiting to visit the cave at all times and it takes quite few hours for your turn to go inside.

Way to go down the cave

What is different here from other caves that I have seen is the cave mouth. It is tough to go inside as there is a narrow tunnel like passage going down the cave where one has to slide down with the help of chains. At some point there are stairs and at other there is just rock face to slide.

Not an easy task by any means!

Oxygen inside is less, hence there is a chance of suffocation or breathlessness, mostly during the rainy season. Hence going inside is tough for all those who are oversized, have stiff bodies, problems in knees or back or those who suffer from claustrophobia. And mind it that it is a long way down. Cave is almost 90 feet deep from the mouth.

A look back towards the cave mouth

It is said (and is written on the boards and plaques here) that this cave was first discovered by King Rituparna of Surya Dynasty (सूर्यवंशी राजा ऋतुपर्ण). That has been mentioned in chapter 103 of Manas Khand of Skanda Purana. That happened in mythological ‘Tretayuga’ (त्रेतायुग). Than in Dwapar Yuga (द्वापर युग) Pandavas again reached here while they were in exile. And then in Kalyuga (कलयुग) in 822 AD Adi Shankaracharya (आदि शंकराचार्य) rediscovered the cave. Later in 1191 AD Chand Dynasty kings started maintaining this place and they brought priests from Bhandari family of Kashi to perform puja here. Since then same family has been doing that continuously. Currently their 18th generation is presiding the prayer rituals here.

Fellow bloggers sliding inside the cave

For those who love adventure, it is a very interesting to be in. This narrow passage suddenly drops you to a large cave. Though, still this is not very big as other caves but it is comfortable for few people to move and be there. Once you are in, you start feeling better because getting in or out of the cave is more energy-sapping.

Group of bloggers inside the cave

The cave takes you to a mythological world. Tourists are not allowed to go inside the cave without an authorised guide as there are many blocked passages. One also needs to understand mythology behind this. This guide takes you to the journey of belief inside.

Passage inside the cave. The wave like structure on the base is said to be the rib cage of snake god Sheshnag!

It starts right from the place where one gets in, where you see a rock in form of snake hood (शेषनाग). Mythologically it is said that this earth is placed on the hood of snake god. Since this cave is down inside the surface of the earth, hence it is termed as Patal (पाताल).

Narrow passage wet with flowing water nside the cave

Once you move in, you can see two closed passages. That particular junction is said to have four entrances- Randwar (रणद्वार), Paapdwar (पापद्वार), Dharamdwar (धर्मद्वार) and the Mokshadwar (मोक्षद्वार)। We are told that Paapdwar was closed at the time of death of Ravana and Randwar was closed after the Mahabharata war. Dharamdwar is the one through which we enter and the Mokshadwar is the one where we proceed, where all the gods are present inside the cave in various forms.

Four Dhams of Shiva inside the cave

It is said that all Hindu gods (33 कोटि देवता) that you have heard of, reside here. So besides Sheshnag, you have Kal Bhairav, Ganesha among others. Many myths are taking form here including the four Yugas and also the coming of Ganges on the earth (गंगावतरण).  Many pilgrim destinations take shape here including Badrinath, Amarnath, Somnath and Kedarnath. You can see feet of elephant of the gods- Airavat (ऐरावत) and hairs of Shiva.

Said to be thousand feet of Airavat elephant
Idol of King Bhagirath on one side, the small pond is said to have holy water and all other Hindu gods on other side
Jata of Shiva, through which he held the force of the river Ganges, when it came to the earth

And, actually they are few to mention. There are many more legends associated to these rock formations. They are indeed amazing. With so many myths associated to his place and a temple still there pilgrims from near and far come here to seek the blessings, making it one of the most sacred places of the region.

Temple of Patal Bhuvaneshwar inside the cave at the far end. It is said that it was established hundreds of years ago by Shankaracharya himself.

Its indeed worth going there. For me it was entirely different from the all my earlier cave visits. It is always interesting to explore when belief and nature combine to give birth to many mythologies.

You can see the entire video from inside the cave on m YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

This Bloggers Bus trip happened on an invite from Uttarakhand Tourism. Seven travel bloggers from across the country participated in it including me for an eight day road trip to some unseen destinations of Kumaon. This was the third Bloggers Bus of the Uttarakhand Tourism for the season. I was also the part of the first Bloggers Bus to Garhwal. You can read the amazing stories from this journey of Bloggers Bus 3.0 by going to the blogs of my fellow bloggers- desi traveler, travelure, Voyager, Anamika Mishra and Ghoomophiro.

Have you ever been to Patal Bhuvaneshwar temple? How was the experience? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

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Exploring the unexplored : Sat taal near Harsil in Gangotri valley


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Himalayas are filled with glacial lakes, actually a lot of them at various altitudes and in different sizes. All of them have their own distinct beauty. Their are many lakes which are single and many others attached to a single system. Many are mystical and a lot mythical as well. So having seen most majestic high altitude lakes in Indian Himalayas from Kashmir to Sikkim, it wasn’t a surprise at all to have heard about seven lakes known as Sat taal (सात ताल) in Gangotri valley of Uttarakhand, just above the village of Dharali. But what kept my interest was the fact that these lakes have been largely unexplored. Hence, despite very limited time to squeeze out of the hectic schedule of our Bloggers Bus trip organised by Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), we were off to the lakes.

Starting the trek from Dharali village on main Gangotri road

Trek was’t tough, somewhere in scale between easy to moderate. Lakes would not have been too majestic but were very interesting. Trek starts from Dharali village which is just three kilometres from Harsil on the road to Gangotri. Let’s do a photo journey to the trek.

Climbing through the Dharali village. You can see a now abandoned old house in the image below-

A view of Bandarpunch massif amidst the cloud cover as seen while trekking towards the lakes (below)

A closer look of Bandarpunch or Bandarpoonch (बंदर पूंछ) literally meaning tail of a monkey for its shape. Mythologically this reference is to Hanuman. This massif actually has three peaks- Bandarpunch-I (6316 mts) in the centre, Bandarpunch-II (6102 mts) towards west and Kalanag (6387 metres) towards north east.

Some huge rocks on the way to lakes (below). Presumably such rocks would have been used as shelter from rough weather. Tourism department now plans to develop such rocks as attractionLeaving the village behind and moving towards lakes through the forest trail (below)

Right opposite on the hills across the river Bhagirathi we can see the Mukhba village and the Ganga temple (below). This is the village, where Goddess Ganga is worshipped in the winters when the temple is Gangotri is closed.

Ganga temple at Mukhba

While right above the hill that we are climbing, we can now see snow  peaks above the tree line (below)

…and a closer look!And finally we reach the first of the lakes after almost one and half hours of trekking (below)

This is Mridunga taal (मृदंग ताल) also called locally as Madunga taal (below). It is at an altitude of 9600 ft. It is called so perhaps because the trees around the lake make a sound similar to ‘mridunga’. Though not big, but this is the most beautiful of the lakes.

The trail from first lake to the next one is slightly steep, but not tough one.

After trekking for another 15 minutes, we reach the second of the lakes. Actually, here we have two lakes close to each other. One of them has been now covered with stones and boulders rolling down from the mountains during rains and slides. This second lake is called as Dabria taal. Dabria refereed to here as stones. But the third lake is very interesting. Area wise, this is the biggest of all the lakes. But it is a lake in disguise. On the first lake, you will wonder where is the lake! As you won’t see a pool of water anywhere. What we see is a big meadow surrounded by deodar trees around. This setting will remind you of Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh. But actually, this whole meadow rests on the lake bed. There is water beneath this green carpet (below) and as soon as you put a foot on this meadow (more towards the centre of it) you will feel the ground shaking (you can see the fellow trekkers jumping on this meadow to get that feeling of ground going up and down in the video linked at the end of the post)

This is called as Chadkia Taal and it it is at an altitude of 9918 ft. This name comes locally from this grassland based on lake water.

Looks like Khajjiar! Isn’t it!

Another two lakes are close by. Next one is the Rikh taal at an altitude of 9962 ft (below). The name Rikh comes from hindi name Reech (रीछ) for sloth bears. Presumably this area might be having a good number of sloth bears around.

The fifth lake is called as Bakria taal (below) and it is located at an altitude of 10,034 ft. It might have got its name as one of the favourite locations for cattle to graze.

These are the only lakes that can be seen. But that makes only five. We were told that other two lakes still remain unexplored and they are bit higher in the mountains. Still, legends say that there are seven lakes and hence they are called as Sat Taal. Most importantly all these seven lakes are perhaps fed with a single system. Since they are at different heights, water from the highest lake flows down to the next one and that continues. Water from the lowest one the Mridunga taal flows down to Bhagirathi river near Dharali (below). But changing weather and less snowfall has reduced these lakes into  small ponds.

Besides enjoying these lakes, this place is beautiful for trekking, hiking and may be camping. You have carpet of flowers at various places like the ones below-

You will largely see rhododendrons in red or orange colours in this region. But here you can even find rhododendron flowers in a mix of purple and while colours, like the one below-

As you go up, view keep getting better and better. This particular area is just behind the Srikanth and Draupadi Ka Danda peaks. On a clear day you can have a very clear view of these ranges while going up. But even on a cloudy day, you can have views like this to mesmerise you-

More from Bloggers Bus 1.0!

Read: Why Travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage

Also Read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri 

Quick Bits: Dharali is just three kilometres from Harsil. So, though Dharali has a few hotels and guest houses, you can make Harsil as a base for the trip to the region. Trek from Dharali to Sat taal is a moderate one. A round trip will take at least three hours, depending on pit (photo) stops. You can even think of camping up in the mountains. Few operators at Dharali will arrange a camping and hiking trip for you. You can get in touch with Tourist Officer at Uttarkashi (GMVN rest house, Uttarkashi) or Sanjay Singh Pawar at Dharali (Mobile no 9410521508) for any help in this regard.

You can watch a video of all of these lakes and the trekking to them on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

Have you ever explored such new areas on a trek in Himalayas? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

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When an illuminated castle brightens the summer at Heidelberg


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High above the German city of Heidelberg realms world’s most popular ruin. Is there any place more beautiful in this world than between the historic walls of the castle beneath the shining stars during a warm summer night? For sure, there is! Just this place, but filled with music and dramatic or funny works of literature. Every year this castle is the site for two of most dramatic events- the Castle Festival and the Castle Illuminations.

Illuminated castle.

The legendary Castle Illuminations every year capture the imagination of thousands of people – hardly any other city offers such magical nights every year. Castle illuminations commemorate the destruction of Heidelberg Castle by the French General Melac in the years 1689 and 1693 during the War of Palatinate Succession. Its origin however was of a romantic nature. In order to welcome his freshly-betrothed bride Elizabeth Stuart as custom demanded, Elector Frederick V (1596-1632) ordained great fireworks, thereby instituting a tradition which has endured to the present day. The illumination of the beautiful facade of the Castle is complemented today by a brilliant fireworks display, which bathes all the Old Town in an awe-inspiring light. One can also enjoy the spectacle from the water on a fireworks boat trip. This years the first of the illumination was on June 2nd. But you have two more chances to witness this on July 14th and September 1st, 2018.

Bengali Flares. Photo credit: Jan Becke

Bengali flares slowly bathe the Heidelberg Castle in a mysterious red firelight, as if the ruins were on fire once again in their long history. As the last times in 1689 and 1693, when the troops of the Sun King Louis XIV burnt down the castle, leaving behind the world-famous ruins. When the glowing Castle slowly dies down, the second part of the spectacle begins – the brilliant fireworks over the Neckar. 

Illuminated castle. Photo credit: Tobias Schwerdt

The Elector Friedrich V first had the fireworks staged in 1613, in order to provide a fitting welcome for his newly-betrothed wife Elizabeth Stuart. These fireworks laid the cornerstone for the later festivals of light held in the night sky over Heidelberg – celebrating its 400th Jubilee in the year 2013. The banks of the Neckar and the Philosophers’ Walk around 10 o’clock are the best locations to admire the Castle Illuminations.

Fireworks at Heidelberg. Photo credit: Robin Schimko

Heidelberger Schlossfestspiele or the Castle Festival has already started on 7th June and it will run upto 29th July. Come, visit this summer festival, and experience theatre and music art in the most beautiful way: having a view over Heidelberg. And, so great is the aura and the settings, that I am sure, you will feel it as an experience of lifetime.

Fireworks in Heidelberg. View from Nepomuk Terrasse.

This year’s performances include the famous Germans story of the young orphaned girl Heidi who joins her grandfather’s house up the mountain in the Suisse Alps. It will be presented as a play for children (6 years and older) and their families. A fascinating story about friendship and the warm and charming personality of a child.

Fireworks in Heidelberg. View from Philosopher’s walk.

Besides, “If I Were a Rich Man” is what imagines the milkman Tevye in the musical Anatevka. Would he stay in Heidelberg forever if he were rich? Maybe. The popular musical will be presented in German language. The public can expect Russian and Jewish melodies within the beautiful setting of the historic walls.

Castle festival.

A further highlight of this year’s program, also in the big yard, are Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters, directed by theatre director Holger Schultze. A servant hires in two positions at a time and is facing a lot of trouble. How is solves this pell-mell in the end can be seen this summer in Heidelberg. Moreover, the philharmonic orchestra will present exclusive concerts with international top-class artists and young upcoming stars.

Theatre performance during castle festival.

Heidelberg is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. The picturesque ensemble of the castle, the Old Town, and the river Neckar surrounded by hills, which inspired the poets and artists of romanticism, still fascinates millions of visitors from all over the world. First mentioned in 1196, Heidelberg was planned and built, together with the castle, in the 13th century. Heidelberg’s heyday as the capital of the Electoral Palatinate began not least with the foundation of the university – today the oldest in Germany – in 1386. Heidelberg was one of the few major German cities to be largely spared the destruction of the World War II. Today Heidelberg Castle is said to be one of the most favourite destinations for international travellers in Germany. So, no doubt that every year more than 11.9 million visitors come to the city.

Heidelberg in autumn. Photo credit: Jan Becke

But besides rich history and ever blooming romanticism, modern Heidelberg is also an educational hub, known to students world over for its universities. It is home to Germany’s oldest university, as well as to numerous others, and to a host of internationally renowned research institutes and research-based companies. Another aspect of Heidelberg’s creativity is its literature. In Heidelberg, literature is omnipresent. Taking a walk through the city, one finds publishing houses, bookshops and libraries around every corner. Taking a look at the vibrant scene of writers, translators and theatre life, one discovers a high level of literary productiveness. No day without literary event, no summer without literary festival, no year without literary award winners. Literature is literally everywhere. Since December 1st 2014 the city is UNESCO City of Literature within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.

Photo Credit : Thomas Kunert

Heidelberg is just 78 kms south of Frankfurt. Thus Frankfurt Airport is best for air connectivity to Heidelberg. From Frankfurt, there are various means to reach to Heidelberg including Airport shuttles, buses and trains.

Have you ever been to Heidelberg? Have you seen the Castle Illumination there? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Photo tour of Hemis on the eve of Tsechu festival


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The place where Hemis festival takes place every year

It is that time of the year again when one of the most revered monastery in the Himalayan region Hemis of Ladakh will celebrate its annual festival, the Hemis Tsechu. It is considered to be the most important monastic festival of Ladakh. This monastery is drawing in more and more tourists- both domestic as well as international. It is becoming very popular for tourists to enjoy and immerse in local culture. Once you are in Ladakh, you will certainly like to enjoy the monastic festivals as well. Hemis festival will be celebrated this tomorrow and day after, i.e. 23rd and 24th June 2018. So, here we are on a photo tour of this famed monastery in this post.

Entrance to the Hemis monastery

Also read: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh

Another side of the main courtyard where the Hemis festival takes place
Local Ladakhi people in traditional dress at Hemis monastery

Hemis is also considered to be the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th and 11th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Guru Rinpoche. He is believed to be the second Buddha and brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas donning colourful silk costumes 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. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people.

Devotees in the main prayer hall of the monastery
Statue of Guru Rinpoche in the main prayer hall

Also read: Experience Ladakh like never before

Upper Residence also called as Padma Odling. There are many balconies on the first floor, belonging to Royal families. There is also a Great Bliss Palace Balcony, a royal families special balcony.

Known for its rituals of sacred tantric dances

The whole of the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar calendar is considered to be a holy day. Many people come early in the morning and worship. Some of them also visit at night or late evening. Although there is no ceremony in the evening, they worship and take the blessings on this day. The festival is known globally for its rituals of sacred tantric dances that are believed to bring blessings of the Gods for the well being of sentient beings as well as peace and prosperity in the world.

Sacred scriptures and old manuscripts are also revered a lot.
Other structures, residences, hostels for monks close to Hemis monastery

Also read: Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July

A lock on the door to The Lower Residence (Padma Odling)
Way to Padma Karpo Temple (Tsom Lhakhang). Old structure of Hemis is a maze of various halls

Hemis monastery belongs to the Drukpa lineage, also known as Dragon Order of the Mahayana Buddhism. Gyalwang Drukpa is its current spiritual head who presided over the Naropa ceremonies in 2016. Buddhism in Ladakh has a very rich history. Hemis monastery also reflects the close bond between Kings of Ladakh and their patronage to Buddhism in this Himalayan territory. It is said that Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189-1258) came to Ladakh in 13th century and established the Drupka lineage here. He is also considered to be one of the most celebrated yogis of Himalayas. He was disciple of the 1st Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). Gyalwa Gotsangpa is said to have meditated in a cave on the edge of the mountain right above the existing Hemis monastery. The monastery now has a meditation centre in his name.

Prayer hall of the current Gyalwang Drukpa
Upper structure of the main prayer hall housing the statue of Buddha
Masks often used for the dances during the festivals

Biking to Leh? Read: Journey to the roof top- Five of the highest mountain passes in the world

A young monk at the Hemis monastery
Main statue of Buddha in the prayer hall
Another one of beautiful statues at Hemis monastery

Centuries later, another master from Drukpa lineage the 1st Taktsang Repa Ngawang Gyasto (1573-1651) became the royal preceptor of Kingdom of Ladakh. He was also popularly known as Staktsang Shambunath. With the support of King Sengee Namgyal (1616-1645) he founded the Hemis monastery. Taktsang Repa had also come to this region to spread the teachings of Buddha. He reached here in 1624 and first founded the Hanley monastery which was the first monastic institution of Drukpa lineage. Two years later he arrived at Hemis and was received by King Sengee Namgyal and other members of his royal court. His arrival resulted in the flourishing of Drukpa lineage in Ladakh and adjoining Himalayan regions. He and his successors became the spiritual gurus of the Ladakhi Kings. Annual Hemis festival is said to have been introduced by Gyalsey Rinpoche.

Various prayer halls an other rooms also have a number of paintings on wall, many of them centuries old

Paintings depicting principles of tantric Buddhism
Another painting of Maitreyi Buddha with golden paint

Hemis has more than 200 branch monasteries in the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks are under its care. Hence it is considered to be a living monument and heritage of Himalayas and its people.

Across Leh: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen

Some of the old structures struggling to remain intact
Where the lamps are lit!

Have you ever been to Hemis or any other Ladakhi monastery during the festival? How has it been? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

Rubbing your shoulders against the ponies, fear of being hit by wooden sticks protubering out of palakis (पालकी), getting squeezed between rush of pilgrims on one side and rocky hillside on the other and a long tiring journey–nothing deters you from your faith that drives you to reach the Yamunotri temple on the foothills of Kalind mountain.

Janaki Chatti as seen from Kharsali village
Another view of the Janaki Chatti village during Char Dham Yatra season

Here faith sees no fear. And you have enough of motivation to do that, even if you are not a traditional pilgrim type–a breeze of fresh air, song of the river flowing deep in the beautiful lush green valley on your right and a majestic sight of snow-clad peaks of Garhwal Himalayas.

THE YATRA
Yamunotri is the westernmost shrine of this region. Hence it is traditionally the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand which then goes to Gangotri and then Kedarnath and finally concludes at Badrinath. There is a pattern in this pilgrimage–you keep moving from west to east. Two of these Char Dhams are the source of India’s two most important rivers- Ganges and Yamuna, which themselves meet down at Sangam in Allahabad. Other two are dedicated to two of the most important deities which happened to be source of two streams of Hinduism- Shaivite and Vaishnavite, i.e. Kedarnath dedicated to Shiva and Badrinath dedicated to Vishnu.
Waiting for the riders
Also all these four dhams are at almost same altitude zone- Yamunotri being lowest at 3293 metres and Kedarnath being highest at 3553 metres. Factually speaking, all these four dhams have trekking routes connecting each other. No doubt, these would have been the travel routes centuries ago for the pilgrims until the roads came up. Not just the route, there are many legends connecting these dhams, few of them dating as back as times of Mahabharata.
View of the Kalind mountain in backyard of Yamunotri
But another existing fact of interest is that out of the two dhams with river sources, only Gangotri is accessible by road, whereas there is a almost a six kilometer trek from Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri. Similarly, in the other two dhams of deities only Badrinath is accessible by road, while Kedarnath has to be reached by a arduous 18 kms trek from Gaurikund.
THE EXPERIENCE
A lot has changed in this region after the devastating floods of 2013. Being in the same region, all of them had to face to fury of the nature. Immediate after effect was the reduced number of pilgrims. But these four dhams command such a respect in the Hindu mindsets that, five years down the line, the number of pilgrims coming for Char Dham yatra has reached back to the pre-2013 levels. We were told that as many as 7000 pilgrims go to the Yamunotri temple from Janaki Chatti daily.
Happy with what life gives. Two porters with their dolis
That’s how the palakis are carried on the four shoulders

Personally, rivers always fascinate me and honestly speaking I will try not to let go any chance to jump in the lap of nature. Hence an invitation from the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to be part of its first ever Bloggers Bus was indeed a blessing in disguise. We were seven in all, four from Kolkata–Rangan Datta, Amrita Das, Subhadip Mukherjee and Anindya Basu; Namita Kulkarni from Mysore and besides me Swati Jain from New Delhi. (We will know more about my co-travellers in later posts. In the meantime you can click on their names to go to their lovely blogs). We travelled for six days in a bus in Yamuna and Ganges valley of Uttarakhand, exploring some so far unexplored areas. Yamunotri was the first major destination of the trip.

Walking trail alongside the valley
THE ROUTE
The trek to Yamunotri is a mixed bag. The trail is paved and has a protective railing towards the valley side throughout the trail. Although regular trekkers will find it easy, six kilometres is a no mean task at such altitude. At times it is steep enough to make you sweat and breathless, more so if you are not habitual of walking and being at an altitude of over 10 thousand feet. There are shelters every half kilometer or less. There are sitting places in these sheds. There is facility of drinking water and there are numerous shops on the way selling food, snacks and drinks. Walkers can even purchase a stick to support as a third leg. Down at Janaki Chatti, there is a well developed market selling almost everything of daily need.
Time to quench the thirst
Kalind mountain in full glory
Corns for the time pass!

There are other ways to cover the distance and most common is a riding a pony. You can hire a pony either for the round trip or the one way. Then there is a palaki where you are lifted and carried by four people on their shoulders in a seat. Then there is a doli, generally for kids and lighter people in which one people carries you on his back in a seat carved inside a basket. Now the problem is that everybody has to share the same walking trail to go and return from Yamunotri. At times and at certain narrow points the trail becomes quite crowded and there are instances of traffic jams, and even walking becomes tougher and bit of ordeal. Moreover, the cemented trail also becomes somewhat uncomfortable for the ponies and gets slippery. Imagine, there are around 2000 ponies at Janaki Chatti to take pilgrims to Yamunotri. But one thing for sure, despite few grims and whims here and there, everybody is fine with everything and considers it as a part of their journey to the deity.

THE SOURCE
Interestingly, just like Gangotri, the actual source of Yamuna river is also not at Yamunotri. As Gaumukh is further 18 kms from Gangotri, similarly actual source of Yamuna rives is said to be the Saptrishi Kund which is a small glacial lake fed be Champasar Glacier in the Bandar Poonch massif. This lake is said to be some where between 14 to 18 kms far from the Yamunotri temple at an altitude of over 16,500 ft. Saptrishi kund is also named so because of its mythological association with the seven great sages– Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasistha.
Bridge just after the Bhairav temple
Shelters for the pilgrims on the trail to take much needed rest
Time to move again with the crowd
Pilgrims from all corners of the country converse here
Views like this keep you fresh and energised

Treks to this place are very less and hence very little information is available about it. It might be bit tough but not impossible one. Actually this is indeed a very beautiful trek and legends connect it to even Ramayana and it is often said locally that this was the place where Hanuman came search of Sanjeevani all the way from Lanka. Not for the legend, but certainly for its charismatic beauty, I hope to do this trek some day. Legends say that the actual source of Yamuna being so tough to reach, temple to worship Yamuna was built down in the valley at the present site. As the secretary of the Yamunotri Temple Committee Kriteshwar Uniyal said to us, that it was impossible for the lesser mortals reach at the original source.

THE SHRINE
Yamunotri temple has three-four main parts. First one is the sprout in the rocks from where river Yamuna emerges. That is the place where the river is worshipped by the devotees ritualistically. The sprout is covered by a cage to protect it. Then there is a proper temple nearby which has three idols- one of the Yamuna, second one of the Ganges and third one too of Yamuna which is taken out during the procession and festivals. Between these two sites is a hot spring called as Soorya Kund (Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Sun god). The water in this spring is so hot that it is used to cook rice which is taken back by the devotees as a Prasad (blessing). We have seen this phenomenon at many places in Himalayas.
With the uphill journey over, time to hand the palakis
Porters having time to rest after a tiring climb
Meanwhile these innocents wait for turn to go downhill again
Remains of faith polluting the river!!
Temple and the river flowing alongside
Where Yamuna sprouts beneath the rocks inside the shrine
The main temple of goddess Yamuna

Then there are also bath ponds for the devotees to take bath before the pooja where the hot water is mixed with cold water of Yamuna to make it more bearable. There are separate baths for men and women. Besides, there are numerous shops lined up selling food, snacks, drinks, prasads, offering and souvenirs. There are also few options of stay for the devotees who are late and might not be able to return Janaki Chatti before dark.

 
Fast Facts
1. Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri temple is a trek of 5.5 kms. A normal person will take 2 to 2 and half hours to walk down the trail.
2. Ponies charge 1200 rupees one way and a palaki 4000 rupees one way.
3. Travelers are normally allowed to leave till 5 pm in the evening from Janaki Chatti towards Gangotri.
4. There is enough of water and food available on the way.
5. There are also sheds for the shelter from sun, rain and wind.
6. Always walk towards the hillside to be safe as there are lot of pulls and push from various elements.
7. Avoid travelling in dark on the walking trail.
View from the bridge that leads to the shrine across the river
How to Reach
Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand at the far end of the Yamuna valley in westernmost Garhwal Himalayas. Janaki Chatti is the last road head. One can reach to Janaki Chatti by public transport i.e. buses or any private means- buses, taxi, personal cars, two-wheelers etc. All of them have to be parked at either Janaki Chatti or Kharsali village.
Walking back to Janaki Chatti
It becomes really crowded at times
Turning back for some lasting views
Meanwhile, he has found the best place to have a undisturbed power nap
A fulfilling journey comes to an end

Nearest rail heads are Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun. Dehradun to Yamunotri is roughly about 180 kms. Roads are generally very good up till Janaki Chatti baring for a few landslide zones. Route from Rishikesh to Janaki Chatti goes through Dehradun, Mussorie, Yamuna Bridge, Naugaon, Barkot, Syana Chatti and Hanuman Chatti. It is almost an eight hour journey from Dehradun to Janaki Chatti.

You can see a video of this trek to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever been to Yamunotri? How was the experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Not so long ago everybody reaching here would be showcasing the photograph of testimonial to the visit as a badge of honour to have reached the highest motorable road in the world. Such was the glamour of being to Khardung La pass, also known as gateway to Nubra valley. It was one of the must-see destinations for visits to Leh-Ladakh.

Off late owing to firstly, constantly opening of many other high roads around in Ladakh and other places of world and secondly, because of many challenges to its claim of altitude with better and actual GPS measurements–Khardungla has suddenly become from highest motorable road in the world to one of the top 10 highest motorable passes in the world. And few other claim that it is not even in top 10. Challenges to Khardung La’s status have surfaced years back from Marsimik La. And now we have many higher passes in Ladakh itself than Khardung La.

Hill top besides the Kahrdungla pass

That might be the different story altogether about altitudes and the motorable roads. But still Khardungla has not lost its sheen. It still retains all the sign boards claiming its altitude to be 18,380 feet (against 17,582 feet what is claimed now) and also the glamour among all first-timers to Leh. It still is thrill to drive to Khardung La and beyond to Nubra. Bikers or other returning adventurers will seek to look for other passes far and beyond in Ladakh, even the Urming La which is now called as highest road in the world after its access last year was thrown open. But leisure travellers have different thoughts.

Mountain passes and these Buddhist flags have an unbreakable bond!

Actually, most of the layman travellers still come here with the impression that Khardung La is the highest motor able pass in the world. For them, Khardung La is still and achievement. And mind it, even crossing a 17 thousand feet altitude is no mean task. Then, all those who plan to go to Nubra valley from Leh have to do it by crossing Khardungla Pass. Interestingly Nubra valley is bit lower in altitude than Leh. Hence tourists will feel more comfortable in Nubra, but than they have to cross 17,500 feet to reach there.

South Pullu, where every traveller has to get themselves registered at army checkpost
Road coming from Leh criss-crossing the valley below on way to Khardungla
Tourists capturing some memorable moments

Another notable point is that Khardung La is very close to city of Leh, it is just over 40 kilometres. There are many travellers who come to Leh with a very limited time. Those who reach here by flight have to already sacrifice their first day of trip in resting and acclimatising. So those who have limited time, they keep local Leh sightseeing, monasteries like Hemis and Thiksey, magnetic hill in their itinerary.

Landscape changes as you move high up
Signs of some fresh snowfall, weather can change here dramatically
That’s how snow looks like at Khardungla, almost all the year round
Mountains around Khardungla look all white with rocks engraved in between

To all such tourists, trip to Khardung La adds the adventure quotient in journey. Going to such an altitude will always be adventurous. Journey from Leh to Khardungla takes roughly about an hour and half depending in the traffic and road conditions. By traffic I mean the army convoys blocking your speed. This is strategically a very important mountain pass for Indian forces as this gives them access to Nubra valley and areas close to POK. Hence it is kept in motor able condition almost all the year round, even in heavy snowfall.

A view of the Khardungla Pass from the other side of the road towards Nubra valley
This pass is completely under the control of the army and the place has many stories to tell
Top of the Khardungla top

Best time to go to Khardungla is early in the morning. Roads would be free of slush and vehicular movement will be less. Even the weather is generally favourable in the first half of day at such places. Those who cross in the morning towards Nubra, should try to cross Khardungla pass before it gets dark in their return journey in the evening.

Pass has an army canteen, a temple and public facilities

Khardung La pass at sunset

You can easily find taxis in Leh to take you to Khardungla. Hotels, where you stay will arrange for this. If you don’t intent to go further to Nubra, than Khardungla can be at the most a half day itinerary from Leh.

Lets watch a video of the proverbial last mile drive to Khardungla from South Pullu on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you been to Khardungla Pass? How was your experience? Please share with us in the comments section below!

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Reaching climax: On the top of the Manali-Leh route


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To sum up the rides before and after Pang, I can just say that while it was all thrill before Pang, it was sheer joy after that. In a hindsight, one can say that all troubles are marked just to reach Pang, Leh is a cakewalk after that. But having said that, Pang to Leh is also about the climax of a astonishing journey and crossing milestones, one after another.

Reaching Pang! Read: Where whisky and brandy are ferocious nallahs!

Changing landscape, as we move higher up towards More plains

After the restaurants and dhabas at Pang, as you move ahead, we leave the army transit camp on one side (Read: Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world). Although Pang itself is over 15000 feet in altitude, we immediately gain height further for around five kilometres. That’s when we reach More plains, a plateau of enormous proportion at this altitude. Criss-crossing this plateau is a road unthinkable at this altitude and better than many of our city roads.

Ghost on the way! Read: Loops of the haunted!

Looking back towards Pang from the road
Towards right on the vast expanse of the plateau
Road taking directly to Tanglang La and further to Leh

It is an expressway at altitude of 4800 metres, more than half the altitude of Mount Everest. This is almost 50 kms of flatlands between Pang and Tanglang La pass. Flanked by mountain ranges on both sides, this plateau is good enough for dozens of football fields. Amazing, breathtaking and serene, this is a place like no other on this planet, and perhaps one of the most beautiful road journeys in India.

An inhabitant of the plains welcoming a stranger in me!

Have a look at the video of this ride on More Plains on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

This is a long and at times, monotonous drive. You will find no village or habitation on the way. Only persons you meet will be fellow travellers going to or returning from Ladakh. Except for some riders stopping here and there for the photo-ops you will find everybody enjoying the speed.

Road conditions? Read: Himalayan Rides- Road from Manali to Rohtang & Gramphoo

I had an interesting experience while on this stretch. I had just crossed roughly about ten kilometres, when I found a group of bikers coming from the lake stranded on the road. One of the bike had a flat tyre. They were trying to get it repaired, but were somehow not able to do. I stopped to enquire. I was carrying a new spare tube with me. I handed over my tube to them. Although they were a bit reluctant as I was travelling solo and was still on my onward journey. But I told them that my bike had puncture resistant seal in both tyres and I expected that to work fine for me, as it had so far. Moreover the route ahead till Leh was supposed to be perfect. They even offered me the cost of the tube, but I laughed them off and after a few handshakes moved on. That was one of the satisfying moments of the trip, nature makes you more and more humble in its lap.

Travelling solo? Read: Lonely at Baralacha La

Just before Debring in More plains is the diversion to Mahe and Tso Kar lake.

Continue this journey further, enjoying the vista until we reach Debring towards the fag end of the More plains. Debring is a BRO depot and now also has a well-developed dhabas and campsites for travellers to have food and stay on the way. There is also a diversion just before Debring for Leh via Tso Kar and Mahe. Tso Kar is a high altitude lake famous for its wild ass and white sand. Many travellers will take this route to cover Two Kar and Two Moriri lakes in either their onward or return journey, instead of making a trip to and fro Leh.

Lot many things on different boards, but nothing to tell that where this road goes!

After crossing 50 kms of More plains, we again start to climb and this for the last time before reaching Leh. Still ten kilometres are left befor Tanglang La- the highest point on this Manali-Leh route.

Expanse of the valley before Tanglang La

I was travelling in September and at that time of the year roads were generally in very good condition as most of the snow around had already melted. But it can be tricky around July-August as snow is still there and melting, so it will not only worsen the road condition but will also make pools of water on road at different places.

The perennial trekkers moving up towards Tanglang La
Looking back from top. Two black spots are two trucks going towards Pang
Road criss-crossing the mountains

Reaching Tanglang La is a huge achievement as well as relief. We know it is just downhill from here onwards until Leh on good roads. The goal seems to be nearer now. Besides there is always a feeling of accomplishment after reaching to this height.

Bikers at Tanglang La
A temple at Tanglang La, only few care to go inside.
The board marking the altitude but now many challenges to its ranking.
View from the top… you are on top.

It is often termed as Gateway to Leh. Tanglang La is at an altitude of 5328 metres (17,480 feet) and is also among the world’s top 12 highest passes. Here is the video of last five kilometres ride to Tanglang La while coming from More Plains. It’s amazing. You almost feel like on top of the world. Enjoy the fascinating views on both sides of Tanglang La.

A highway of mountain passes! Read: Journey to the roof top – Five of the highest mountain passes in the world.

Once we move to the other side, it is a very straightforward road. We have to go down by atleast seven thousand feet until Leh in about 110 kilometres. It is almost like going down a gorge. Roads are good and after 20-25 kilometres you feel like getting close to habitation again.

Back to habitation
Nice to get down in sunlight
Soon back to villages

You can see villages and also electricity but will have to wait till Upshi to get mobile signals. Upshi is where we meet Indus river, cross the river through bridge and move in the Indus valley.

Some Good samaritans: Chacha-Chachi of Batal

Along the Indus after crossing Upshi towards Leh

As soon as you reach Upshi, everything changes- landscape, topography, weather, altitude and the mood. Mobile signals are back and calls are being made. You are still more than 40 kms from Leh but mind has already started working on where are you going to stay in Leh. Body seems to be demanding rest already.

Have you ever travelled on this route? How was your experience? Please do share it in the comments section below.

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Creating young artists at Bali Art Centre

View from outside

Taman Budaya or Bali Art Centre is a prime example of how traditional art forms should to be preserved. Built in traditional Balinese architecture this is a centre of learning and also a centre of excellent performances. It motivates young Balinese people to learn all the forms of traditional Balinese performing arts. Bali Art Center grooms young ones in traditional Balinese arts- dance, theatre, music, painting and lot more.

A scene from Mahabharata at Bali Art centre

A beautiful complex run by public money is a very sincere attempt to preserve the traditional forms of art. Interestingly, all these classes are completely free of cost for the children. Such art centres encourage them to learn and perform and thus keep the traditional art forms alive by transferring them to the next generation… A way to learn for all such societies!

Even the bridges inside campus have artistic designs

In Islamic Indonesia the Hindu majority Bali is fascinating example of co-existence of cultures. Equally fascinating are the attempts to preserve art and dedication among the young ones to learn.

Here is a photo journey of this excellent centre:

Kids striking poses in their training schedule-

rigorous training is quite hot!
Notice the name of the arena! An Indian feeling! Where gems are being polished!!

Amazing beauty! Read: Sea on Fire: Sunset at Bali Beach

Bali art centre campus is big and beautiful
Young student practicing theatre
While some learn sketch and painting….
….and many others learn traditional musical instruments

Art centre for wedding shoots? Read: From the Bali album- Royal attires for pre-wedding shoot!

Students are also assessed for there progress, when they perform on stage whatever they have learned
Time for some rehearsal before the show
Confident looking trainees for their evaluation

Bali has lot more to do. Read: White water rafting in Bali

Multi purpose open theatre with traditional architecture
Everything designed tastefully

When there are so many students around, then they ought to be hungry.  So there are plenty of options for them, like these ones-

A lady selling street food
Parents need to kill time as well, while kids are busy in training
A lot of options to eat
Young trainees having some refreshment in the interim

Moving in to Bali! Read: Bali from the sky- few captures

Besides imparting training, Bali art centre also preserves many artefacts and paintings.

This video is from such a class inside the centre, where young ones are learning the art of playing the traditional musical instruments.

Another video of kids taking training in Balinese dance. Such is the dedication that while watching this performance, you will feel as if you are viewing a stage performance, not a training class.

Have you been to Taman Budaya or any such art centre anywhere else? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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