One of the most beautiful upcoming treks in mid-altitudes of Himalayas is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Though being surprisingly fascinating, it has not been that popular within domestic adventure tourism sector. There were a few numbers of foreign trekkers coming, mostly for fishing in Gangabal, who use to go up from Naranag (Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag). Then there were locals who will go there for some fun. But this has now come up as a organised trek, which includes trek to six-seven lakes of Kashmir.
Base for the trek is famous hill resort of Sonamarg, which is around 90 kms from capital and the nearest airport Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh road. There are many places around the Sonamarg town to acclimatise for the trek and most popular among them is the Thajiwas glacier (Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Kashmir Great Lakers trek) .
First day of this beautiful trek in Kashmir is very challenging as we gain the maximum altitude from 7,800 ft to 11,500 ft in almost 9 to 10 kilometres.
Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.
There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.
Actually last of the villages of the trek are around this table top only. You will not find any villages after that, but for couple of army transit camps and camping sites.
Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.
Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.
Actually, shortly after the Nichnai Top, the tree line vanishes. Around the hill after top we found some trees in groove style, but as soon as we moved closer to the stream, trees disappeared. What was left were small bushes, flowering plants and grass.
Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.
Fast trekkers can reach the campsite in around six hours, while slower ones can take upto eight-nine hours depending on the fitness level. It started raining just as I was half kilometre away from the camp. Couple of other trekkers were left behind me. We all three were walking together. Than I moved a bit fast to locate the campsite as all others had moved quite ahead. Rain become heavier as I reached the campsite and the two trekkers left behind had to take shelter in a shepherd huts. Our guide went back and brought them at the camp later.
No lakes on the first day, but good enough to prepare for days ahead.
You can also watch the video of the first day of my trek to Nichnai on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
One of the most beautiful places to see around Sonamarg in Kashmir is the Thajiwas Glacier. It is a favourite among picnickers and campers as it is far from tourist chaos of Sonamarg market.
Thajiwas glacier is located seven kilometres from Sonamarg. One has to trek upto the glacier from the road-head. It is lovely place to relax and enjoy.
But it is not just for picnickers . It is also for serious trekkers. Trek to Thajiwas is not a tough one, but it is one of the favourite treks for all those who have based themselves in Sonamarg and want to acclimatise for other high altitude treks around including the Great Lakes trek.
Those who don’t want to trek, can also take a pony ride to the glacier. Glacier is at an altitude of 9,186 feet. Trek to glacier goes through a serene valley with meadows around and streams coming from the glacier flowing in it. Song of these streams is what you are going to hear all the way along.
Those who trek to Thajiwas glacier to acclimatise themselves don’t take the road-head to get closer. As we did, most of them will trek from Sonamarg market itself. It is generally an easy walk.
But than many people will camp around the Thajiwas glacier itself. Mostly those who look for either some adventurous stay in camps or want to away from regular tourist crowd coming to Sonamarg. Operators will even arrange for some experience of glacier walks while you camp around Thajiwas.
Trek to Thajiwas passes alongside meadows and streams.
While on the way to glacier, you will also find many shops selling tea, kahwah, cold drinks and snacks.
There are many operators in Sonamarg, who organise trip to Thajiwas, whether you are interested in trek, pony ride, camping or glacier walk. You can easily find these operates in Sonamarg, and actually many will themselves approach the tourists.
The area around Thajiwas is covered with snow in the early days of summer. The white gives way to lush greens, as the temperature picks up.
Among the places near Srinagar, while Gulmarg is popular among skiers and snow-lovers, Sonamarg is more loved by those who enjoy rather serene nature with rivers flowing through lush green meadows. The meandering Sindh river is bound with trout and mahseer fish.
Sonamarg means ‘golden meadow’ and it is lovely slice of paradise which this whole Kashmir valley is. There are many other adventurous routes with amazing green water and frozen lakes in this region. Thajiwas glacier is just one of those routes, popular among trekkers.
Sonamarg is easily accessible from Srinagar city. You can also come directly to Sonamarg from Srinagar airport which is 87 kilometres from Sonamarg. The National Highway 1D goes from Srinagar to Leh via Sonamarg, Drass and Kargil.
Sonamarg gest inaccessible during winter months as roads get blocked because of snowfall. Work for an all weather tunnel from Gagangir to Sonamarg is already underway. Another tunnel is coming up under the Zozila pass (3528 metres), toughest mountain pass enroute Leh on this road. Once the tow tunnels are ready, Srinagar-Leh route will be accessible almost all the year round.
You can see a video of trek to Thajiwas glacier on my channel on YouTube by clicking on the link below.
It is indeed one of the most adorable and loved fishes of silver screen and also of aquariums thereafter. Orange Clownfish Nemo has been craze of kids world over after that landmark film – Finding Nemo. Hence watching Nemo in its natural habitat in the sea is indeed filled with a lot of excitement. But of course, this is not about Nemo, it is about walking under the sea and feeling the nature’s bounty around you. Sea Walking is a gem of an adventure for all those who don’t want to go in nitty-gritty of diving. And there can be perhaps no better place for sea walking than beautiful waters of Bali in Indonesia.
Sea walkers are the latest craze for the under water adventure seekers and what a place can be better than Bali to do this. Tanjung Benoa in South Kuta district of Badung Regency in Bali is the hub of water sports activities in Bali and it has lot to offer. One of the best among them is the Sea walker, where one walks few metres under the sea with the help of special helmets filled with oxygen. While you walk, you see the fishes and corals around you. You can be under the water for 20 to 30 minutes or more. A thrill and lots of fun, if you are not afraid of water.
The host of water sports activities in the region include snorkelling, sea walking and diving besides the regular ones like parasailing, jet-sking, water scooters and lot more. Sea Walking is fairly new but interesting adventure.
For this activity, once at the beachside base, you are registered. After the paper formalities, one has to change-in in special suits. Then they are transported by speed boats to offshore docking stations which are actually boats anchored in the sea away from the coast.
Once you reach at the docking station, you are given instructions on the process, which is mostly related to sign language that has to used with the instructor. Walkers are given a helmet to wear, which provides oxygen supply through pipe attached to docking station. Walkers are supposed to breath normally. It is a walk, not a dive or a swim. Special rubber footwear are also given here (these are not flippers as of divers).
You go down the sea through a ladder attached to the boat. The instructor than pulls you down further from the ladder and parks you on the sea bed, where you can stand holding specially fixed rails and ropes. Now you are ready for the walk.
With directions from the instructor you walk on the sea-bed holding rails and ropes, enjoying corals and fishes around. You will be seeing many of them for the first time in your lives, as was with me.
What is interesting that, you even carry bread with you to feed the fishes so that they gather around you and one has the few of being surrounded by the fishes under the sea.
After spending around 20-30 minutes under the sea and walking around, you are taken back to the boat, through the same ladder.
Its an exhilarating experience and good one for first timers who don’t have an exposure of going under the sea water. With safety of life jackets and oxygen helmets, it is a safe activity for even those who don’t know to swim.
You can watch a video of my sea walking experience on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below:
With many competitors around in the Tanjung Benoa area of Bali, rates are often bargained. We did this activity for 600K Indonesian Rupiah (roughly 2800 Indian Rupee). Don’t forget to carry your water proof cameras for capturing memorable experience, but if you don’t have it, than sea walking operators will click your images with their cameras, but of course for a handsome amount.
Having completed the Chandratal mission, I had to be back to Leh route. So, it had to be the same route back till Gramphoo. But in place like Himalayas, riding on a same route gives you different feeling every time. Chandratal indeed was an accomplishment, a sort of dream coming true. But still, Leh was my destiny.
Gramphoo to Keylong is a straight forward route. But owing to widening or repair of roads, it has gone tough at many places, sort of dangerous at times.
There are numerous landslide zones on the whole route and, at many places either roads are being widening or repaired to prevent landslides. This is a vicious circle, as widening causes further adverse impact on hills and the ecosystem. Well, for riders and drivers, they are immediate challenge as well.
Clouds were chasing me as soon as I had left Batal. They finally caught me up by the time I reached Khoksar. But since my final destination for the day, Keylong was not far away, hence instead of driving in rains, I decided to take a tea and maggi break.
Roads are largely good after Khoksar till Keylong, except for some rough patches.
Before Keylong there are two another beautiful stopovers- one at Sissu which is now soon to get a water park close to Chandra River on the roadside.
And then there is Tandi, which is actually confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers which convert into Chandrabhaga or Chenab river and flow towards Kashmir. Tandi is 7 kilometres before Keylong and is also the last filling station before Leh. That’s the place where all vehicles will fill their tanks to reach Leh securely.
But overall an enjoyable ride, nevertheless. So lets go on this virtual ride to Keylong enroute Leh. You can watch the video of this ride from Chandratal to Keylong on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Chandratal to Gramphoo: 65 kms, Time taken 4 hours 40 minutes.
Gramphoo to Khoksar: 5 Kms
Khoksar ro Keylong: 47 kms, Time taken just about 2 hours.
Total distance covered: 117 kms.
We will now move to more challenging and more beautiful ride ahead. Keep tuned in!!
Please feel free to share the post, but not so free to copy and paste!!
After coming out of the Virupaksha temple, we climbed up the Hemakuta hills and after visiting all the cluster of temples and pavilions, we go down the other side. But there are lot more archeological marvels in store in this part of Hampi, one of the most important UNESCO world Heritage site in India. Probably the rocky terrains around Tunghbadra River have given local sculptors abundant opportunities to carve their excellent crafts. Hence, huge statues were carved out of boulders.
As we get down from the Hemakuta hills on the other side, right in the front is first of the three great monoliths- Sasivekalu Ganesha. Sasivekalu means mustard (सरसों). This four armed monolithic Ganesha is 2.4 metres high and is enclosed in an open pillared pavilion with plain, rough square pillars. Here Ganesha is seated in half lotus posture (अर्ध पद्मासन) and bears a tusk, goad, noose and bowl of sweets in its four arms respectively.
In this statue a snake is seen tied around the Ganesha’s belly. There is a mythological story behind this but ironically, you don’t get any mythological explanation behind this named as Sasivekalu. An inscription engraved on the rock nearby records that the pavilion for the temple (Vinayaka Mantapa) was built in 1506 AD by a trader from Chandragiri near Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh in memory of King Narasimha II (1491-1505 AD) of Saluva dynasty.
Nearby there is another Ganesha monolith, interestingly called as Kadalekalu or gram seed (चना) Ganesha. It is said so as the belly of Ganesha in the statue resembles a gram. This 4.5 metre high seated statue is said to be one of the largest Ganesha statues in South India. This statue is enshrined in a large temple with an open-pillared mandapa. This mandapa has tall, slender carved pillars (unlike Sasivekalu Ganesha temple) decorated with various mythological characters and stories. Pillars are cubical and constructed in typical Vijayanagara style of architecture. This temple gives a panoramic view of Hampi.
Coming further down, there are another two monoliths- one is Shiva temple called as Badaviling Temple. This has got a 3 metre high shiva linga carved out of one rock. The base of the circular pedestal remains constantly in water which flows through a canal coming out of Tunghbadra river.
This shivalinga is said to be the second highest in South India after Brihadeeswarar temple at Thanjavur. This remains within a small damages shrine said to be commissioned by a poor woman. In local language Badva means poor, hence it got the name. Shivalinga is also said to have a three eye mark on its carving (त्रिनेत्र). As typical of shivlings the pedestal or the yoni pitha draws into an outlet- pranala (प्रनाला). Temple is very small but the huge, intact shivling makes for a majestic view.
Very close to this Badaviling is another monolith housed in yet another small temple. This magnificent statue of Narasimha is 6.7 metres in height and is said to be the finest examples of Vijayanagara sculpture. The roof as well as the outer structure of the temple is damaged. Narasimha is seated on giant coils of Adishesha (आदिशेष या शेषनाग) whose seven hoods make a canopy arched by a Kirtimukha Torana (कीर्तिमुख तोरण).
The four arms of the statue with its various attributes have been broken. The seated figure of his consort Lakshmi on his left lap is altogether missing, but the presence of the right hand of the goddess embracing the lord at the back around the waist is said to be the proof of this being a Lakshmi-Narasimha statue.
This statue was consecrated by a priest Krishnabhatt at the behest of Krishnadevaraya in 1528 AD as per the lithic records. Made out of a single granite boulder, this statue was one of the last additions of Krishnadeva Raya to heritage of Vijayanagara. It indeed is one of the most striking sculptures of Hampi.
Reaching Hampi: All the three monoliths are very close by, walking distance from each other and also near to Virupaksha temple, Hemakuta hills and heart of Hampi village. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.
We are in UNESCO World heritage site of Hampi in Karnataka and have already went through the Virupaksha temple which is considered to be the most sacred of Hampi’s all temples. Right to the north of Virupaksha temple in Hampi is a big rock face which is known as Hemakuta Hill. It is not a big hill per say, but it is located very strategically. You can have a grand view of the Virupaksha temple and the Hampi Bazar from the top of the hill. There are ruins scattered all around.
It is aptly also called as a canvas of rocks. And its actually a very amazing sight of the temple ruins around and the very strange rock formations. This rock hill has small temples, gateways and pavilions scattered all around.
There are also remains of a fortification. It is said that in ancient times the whole hill was fortified with stone walls. Traces of that ruins are visible even today.
There are many temples around the Hemakuta hills and they are called as Hemakuta group of temples. There are numerous shrines and mandapas included. There are said to be 21 Shiva temples on and around hills. Some temples also have architecture resembling to Jain temples. It is said that architecture of Hemakuta group of temples is different from Vijayanagara style of architecture.
Its lovely to be in monsoon time here. After visiting Virupaksha temple as I was strolling on Hemakuta hills, heavens opened up and I had to take a shelter in one of the temples, and what a fantastic view that opportunity gave me.
It was raining and rocky slopes of the Hemakuta hills had converted into various small waterfalls giving me a very pleasant sight. Many small pools are also formed.
Rocks on Hemakuta hill are very strangely placed and you often wonder, how these rocks are balancing themselves . Looks very scary at times and equally amazing too.
Even few of the pavilions or mandapas on the hill look so weirdly placed as in the image below. One might often wonder if they have been placed here at later stage.
And this is one of the iconic images of gopuram of Virupaksha temple between the rocks of Hemakuta hills. The mythology of Virupaksha temple is closely associated with that of Hemakuta temple. This mythology and history predates to history of Vijayanagara empire. Most of the temples around Hemakuta hills appear to date between 9th and early 14th century.
This region holds the mythology of marriage of Lord Shiva (in form of Virupaksha) and Parvati (in form of goddess Pampa). It is said that Pampa was the daughter of Brahma and performed many austerities to woo Shiva, who was meditating on Hemakuta Hill.
It is said that Shivs finally agreed to marriage. When he actually did… it started raining gold on the hill. Gold is called Hema in the sanskrit and hence this place got the name Hemakuta. This wedding is still celebrated annually at Virupaksha temple and it is big occasion for local people to come here.
This place also has many Shivlingas cut out of rocks. In the image below you can see three lingers in single formation.
There are also five lingas in single formation like in the image below. You can find many such formations in Hampi.
Hemakuta temples have very distinct architecture and surprisingly even these temples have a mix bag of architecture, including Trikutachla style in which there are three shrines facing east, west and the north with a common ardhamandapa and a front porch. Going towards south on the Hemakuta hill, we will also a group of stone shrines facing in different directions (image below). East facing shrine is said to be the original Virupakasha temple. Its is called Prasanna Virupaksha or Mula Virupaksha. This temple is still under worship. Just behind this temple is another chamber with 3.6 metre high image of Anjaneya or Hanuman. his temple is known as Prasanna Anjaneya temple.
There is a double storied gate towards the south (image below) to access the Hemakuta hill (image below). Just see, how precariously close to this gate is this rock placed… was it there before or this accident happened later on?
Past the gate, you can see other temples down south including Krishna temple (image below). I shall be writing about them in later posts.
The top of Hemakuta hills is also said to be one of the best place here to watch sunset. Drawback of coming here in monsoon is that you don’t get to see that perfect sunset, as you can see in winters.Another amazing aspect of Hemakuta hills and its rocks is the holes in these big boulders (image below). They were of course man made and it is said that they were made to break the rock from that point, thus to make smaller stones from these huge rocks so that they can be used in sculptures or construction of temples.
See, in the image below- the rock has been broken from exactly the same point where holes were made-The stairs carved out of the rocks in the souther side of the Hemakuta hills. From the double storied gate, these stairs lead down to other temples.
It is often said that there is much more in ruins of Hampi than what is obvious. They have a rich history. Time spent on Hemakuta hills just makes you able to soak yourself in marvel that is scattered around you. You can easily spend more than couple of hours on this hill enjoying the architectural wonders.
Reaching Hampi: Hemakuta hills are just north of the Virupaksha temple in heart of Hampi. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.
Hampi is indeed one of the most prominent heritage sites in peninsular India. In our childhood, we all had been deeply associated with stories of Raja Krishna Dev Raya (Krishnadevaraya) and Tenali Raman (Ramkrishna). It is always fascinating to be there where all those immortal stories of Vijayanagara empire would have taken place. Hampi is also a place which can be included in our monsoon travel itineraries. Having there been in monsoon, I can safely say that it is one of he best time to visit Hampi. Summers are indeed a torture here and winter would be fun but it is the monsoon which brings the best out of this historical place in Hemakuta hills of Karnataka.
So here are few images from monsoon travel in Hampi, starting with the Virupaksha temple. Few striking ones to begin with- views of Virupaksha temple from the Hemakuta hills:
Right before the rain-
During the rain…
…and immediately after the rain
See, how the colours change so dramatically. Virupaksha Temple is the heart of Hampi, as this is the temple which is centre of all activities in Hampi- markets, bus stop, restaurants, shops- all are in surrounding areas of Virupaksha temple. This temple dedicated to Shiva is considered to be one of the holiest and most sacred in Hampi. Hence it gets the most steady stream of visitors, all the year round. It is main centre of pilgrimage to Hampi.
Temple has a history that dates centuries earlier than the birth of Vijayanagara empire. Although this region of Hampi has mythological association with Ramayana, but the temple history is available only from 7th century onwards. But indeed during the rule of Vijayanagara empire that this temple reached to its glory. It was also amazing that though Raja Krishnadevraya was a vaishnavite, but it was the Virupaksha temple dedicated to Shiva that represented the glory of his empire.
Once you enter through this gopuram, you come to the outer courtyard of the temple.
In the outer courtyard, there are many smaller shrines and mandapams.
From this outer courtyard, through another smaller gopuram, we enter the main inner courtyard, which houses the main shrine and mandapams. Some views of the inner courtyard.
Centre view…In the image above we can see third gopuram towards the north which takes us to some more shrines and it eventually leads us to river Tungabhadra, which flows besides the temple.
….the left view of the inner courtyard
….and the right!
In the image below you can see the main pillared hall on the left and mandapams on the right, which were used in the past by the pilgrims to stay while visiting the temple. In the front is the same main gopuram, through which we entered the temple. Pillared hall in the left quite rich in architecture as well as sculptures. This hall also has some inscriptions related to Krishnadevraya. Temple has gone through various phases of renovation and restoration. In the image below you can see the difference between the original work (towards right) and restored work (towards left).
Ceiling of inside hall has still got intact some of the paintings of past (image below)
Temple got different types of constructions. While the gouprams have been prepared with brick, main hall has beautifully sculpted pillars. Some of the pillars are even in black marble. Inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple is quite rich in its sculptures.
Just behind the main shrine at an upper level is this display of the photography technology. In a dark room there is a hole in the wall (left on the image below) You can see the main gopuram from this hole. But this small hole actually coverts itself into a pin-hole camera and hence through this pin-hole you can see an inverted image of the gopuram (below right) on the wall just opposite the hole. Looks astonishing. It is unlikely that the hole would have been originally created that way. But it would have been interesting to know, how and when this phenomenon was discovered here.
Moving out, it is almost ritualistic for the pilgrims to feed the temple elephant (image below). This elephant is normally used in festivals and processions.
Erotic sculptures: But my story of the temple won’t complete without referring to these It seems that erotic sculptures were part of temple architecture in down south as well, at least in medieval times when Krishnadevaraya would have renovated these temples. Although the sculptures don’t have finesse of the ones of 9th and 10th century, that we find in North India, or even of Kalinga region, which might have inspired few of Krishnadevaraya’s ideas around Hampi.
But more striking are the sculptures on the main gopuram of the Virupaksha temple. They are big, although due to height of the gopuram, they are not clearly visible to naked eyes from the ground level.
Interestingly, some of the poses in these sculptures are quite different to what I have seen anywhere else in India. (You can click on the images to have a bigger and clearer view). That makes me wonder about the idea behind them. Its is very unfortunate that we don’t have any authentic account on origin of these type of sculptures in this temple. Perhaps no inscriptions, only hearsay.
Due to these sculptures, I had often considered Virupaksha temple as one of the top erotic temples in India. It is very interesting to have different insights while visiting a temple of this huge cultural and historical importance.
Reaching Hampi: Virupaksha Temple is in heart of Hampi, close to bus stand. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.
Thanks for reading.
Please feel free to share it but not so free to copy and paste!