Tag Archives: Adventure

Silver sand dunes and a double humpy ride


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Silver coloured sand dunes of Hunder in Nubra valley of Ladakh have gradually become a part of the must-see itinerary for tourists to Ladakh. Its a very unusual landscape, no doubt about it. In a single frame, you can see sand dunes, river, forest as well as snow clad peaks. You even have camels for desert safari, albeit double humped ones. Its a rugged landscape all around, but Hunder seems like out of world for this region. It has got so many colours and textures in one place, that you can’t stop admiring.

Colours of nature! These sunsets never fail to amaze you whether it is in hot deserts of Thar or cold deserts of Ladakh. You can see the Karakoram ranges in the background, behind whichnot too far is located the highest battlefield in world at Siachen Glacier. Tree line in the centre left form a part of Karakoram wildlife sanctuary, while you can see the sand dunes of Hunder on the centre right. Than, to complete the painting is an offshoot of Shyok river. Together they create the magic of Nubra valley in Ladakh.

Also read: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Nubra is also pleasing because of its gentle weather which is result of milder altitude. Everyone who feels uneasy at Leh, gets better here. Nubra valley is at average altitude of around 10,000 feet.

Nature’s play! The other day, another sunset and different range. September sunset casts its golden glow over the Karakoram ranges in Ladakh as seen from the Nubra valley. Tough to believe that right behind this nature’s painting, not too far away is world’s highest battlefield at Siachen Glacier, which is also the world’s second largest glacier in non-polar regions. But for now, it is time to soak in this mesmerising colours. Isn’t it!

Sand dunes can be best enjoyed during sunset. The sun light is gentle and colours are beautiful. Actually time of sunset here is also a photographer’s paradise, such is the beauty around.

Largest monastery in Nubra: Diskit monastery which braved the mongolian invaders

Sand dunes glowing in sunlight with forest of Karakoram wildlife sanctuary making a backdrop
All kinds of shapes in the dunes
Silvery powder at 10K ft
A baby camel hiding behind mother’s back


Most tourists will come on a day trip here. They will Leh early in the morning and then reach here before lunch. They will leave back by early evening to each back to Leh. But since this place is best enjoyed during sunset, hence it is better to plan a night halt at Hunder. A less than two day’s trip to Nubra can’t do justice to this place. If you keep two days in hand, than besides Hunder sand dunes, you can have sufficient time to see Diskit monastery on the first day and you can even go Turtuk, the next morning. Although, personally I would like to stay a night at Turtuk as well. 

Also read: Turtuk, beauty of the last bastion!

Wild flowers at Karakoram wildlife sanctuary
Sea buck thorn berries in sand dunes of Nubra. They are now plucked and sold as Leh berries considered to be highly nutritious and rich source of vitamin
Tourist vehicles at parking area of Hunder sand dunes

With ever increasing number of tourists, Hunder now has many offerings for stay. There are many homestays, guest houses and retreats to suit various budgets. 

Everybody is welcome 

Have you ever been to Hunder sand dunes and done a camel safari? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Diskit monastery which braved the Mongolian invaders


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You won’t find much of a difference on either sides of Khardungla Pass, until you reach Khalsar. Here the valley widens. But still, it is only until we reach Diskit, that we get to notice the mixed landscape of sand dunes, Shyok river, mountain ranges as well as Karakoram wildlife sanctuary. Since 2010, Diskit pronounces its existence from a fair distance through the large statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is visible from a distance string on a top of a hill. Due to lower elevation and milder climate, this valley has lush vegetation and Diskit has its own healthy share of apricot and apple orchards in this oasis.

Diskit Monastery

Diskit is administrative headquarter of Nubra valley. Diskit monastery is also the biggest in valley on this side of Khardungla. Diskit indeed has a very strategic location. It is on edge of a mountain, so it has a mountain on its back as a wall to protect itself. It is just around 20 kms from Khalsar from where road goes towards Shyok and further to Pangong Tso, i.e. very close to China. Other road from Khalsar goes deep into Nubra valley to Sumur and Panamik. Another 20-23 kms from Khalsar is Khardung from where climb to Khardungla starts, pass which shields Leh valley. Diskit is also at the edge of the desert. Diskit monastery can be reached via Diskit village through a dusty road that crosses a stream in the middle of the village. We can drive upto the base of the monastery, but then you have to walk up the stairs to the temples. Since the whole monastery is built on a hill it is a a bit of climb till the top. 

Flood plains of Shyok river at Diskit
Mountain ranges surrounding Diskit

Right in front of the Diskit monastery is the vast expanse or you may call flood plains of the Nubra valley. Right there in this plains Nubra river merges with Shyok river. Both these rivers are said to be originating from different tongues of Siachen glacier. Also famously known as the highest battleground in the world, Siachen glacier is right behind the Karakoram ranges seen from Diskit. Thus, Diskit also keeps an eye on all the travellers coming to Leh from the China or the Pakistan side, i.e. the old trading route of the Silk road.

All festivals of the monastery take place here

Therefore the importance of Diskit monastery, located at altitude of 3142 metres, couldn’t have been greater historically. But at the same time, it would also have to face the brunt of all the unwelcoming visitors. Gonkhang or the protector temple at the monastery is testimony to that. Severed head and a hand of a medieval Mongol invader are still said to be kept here, as if the protector deity (Kali) is holding them. It is said that the Mongol resurrected himself, every time he was killed. It stopped only when his severed hand and head were brought to the temple.

A mural of Four Heavenly kings outside protector temple

There is a large 32 metre (106 foot) statue of Maitreya Buddha at the foothill of the main monastery. This statue is a recent addition to this place and was consecrated in 2010 by Dalai Lama. This statue itself sits on top of a small hillock. There is a temple at the base of this statue. Official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra, the photong is also said to be located here.

This monastery belongs to different sect than the one which runs the Hemis monastery. This 14th century gompa was actually founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa who founded the Gelugpa (yellow hat) order of Tibetan Buddhism. The cupola of the monastery is said to be similar to Tashi Lhunpo monastery of Tibet. There is also a fresco of the same monastery here. The historic and culturally important Tashi Lhunpo is said to have been founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama near Shigatse in Tibet. Monastery has a statue of Cho Rinpoche in the prayer hall. There is a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. Well, Diskit monastery is said to have seen a lot of upheaval in four centuries. Lachung temple is above the Diskit monastery, but not very far. This is one of the oldest temples in Nubra valley. There is a large idol of Tsong Khapa in this temple and a Gelugpa yellow hat crowns the idol.

Main prayer hall of the monastery 

Also read: Turtuk, Beauty of the last bastion!

Statue of Buddha inside the prayer hall
Gelupga or the yellow hat

Finally, in mid 18th century this monastery was given to Rimpoche of Thiksey monastery and hence, since then Diskit is considered as a sub-gompa of Thiksey monastery. Monastery houses almost 100 monks. Diskit Gompa celebrated its annual gustor festival on 7th and 8th October this year. This monastery will again celebrate Dosmoche festival on 2-3 February 2019. Many lamas gather here for the festival which is marked by mask dances depicting victory of good over evil.

Outside the prayer hall

Also read: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Foreign tourists going towards the monastery
young monks and approach to the monastery

Tip: Time your visit to the monastery carefully as some of the temples of the monastery remain closed in the afternoon. To my surprise, while there were a large number of tourists at the Maitreya Buddha statue, which is right on the road, but only a handful of them go up towards the main monastery, as it needs a bit of climb and walk. Whereas, it is worth seeing and devoting some time to understand the culture and the history of the region.

Inside the monastery
Temples on the top

Have you been to the Diskit monastery in Nubra valley of Ladakh? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

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Turtuk, beauty of the last bastion


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Turtuk is a village like no other. Long before we reached the village, occasional villagers coming our way—while working in the fields or returning from nearby villages or grazing their cattle—gave us the clear signs that we have moved miles away from traditional region of Ladakh. The body features were quite distinct and sharp similar to those of people of Gilgit-Baltistan region. 

Turtuk Village

It wasn’t unusual though. Turtuk is said to be the India’s Gilgit-Baltistan. Besides it is quite far from last large habitat of Ladakh in Nubra valley. Hunder is more than 90 kilometres away. Hunder itself does not have any historic habitat before 17th century, when it was said to be the capital of erstwhile Nubra kingdom. Now it is more of a tourist resort meant to serve the tourists coming to experience sand dunes and a ride on double humped Mongolian camels. In that sense Diskit Gompa further seven kilometres towards Leh is the last historic village of Ladakh before Turtuk.

Streams flowing through Turtuk 

The farther end

There are a few tiny hamlets on the way though. After leaving from Hunder, we pass through Thoise airfield and small villages of Kharu block, Skuru and Yagulung. Before Yagulung is an on-road guest house at Thachung. At Yagulung there is another road that goes to Bikudo, Sunido and Waris across the Shyok river. The whole route from Hunder onwards goes along Shyok river. Shyok river originates from Rimo glacier, which is one of the tongues of Siachen Glacier. In the expanses of Nubra valley right opposite the Diskit village, Nubra river (also known as Siachen river) meets Shyok river. Shyok river than flows through the Gilgit-Baltistan region and meets Indus river at Keris in Pakistan Occupies Kashmir (POK). Road to Turtuk snakes through narrow gorges with turquoise waters of the Shyok River (literally Death River in Uyghur, named so perhaps in the Silk Road-era).

We can see peaks from Pakistan occupied Kashmir

Well, further ahead of Yaglung there are few more tiny hamlets of Chulungkha, Bogdang and Guneshthang. Then we reach Chalunka which is 13 kms before Turtuk. Ahead of Turtuk is Tyakshi almost six kilometres from Turtuk and than Thang another just about six kilometres from Tyakshi. A mountain trail leads up from the main road to Tyakshi village. In between Tyakshi and Thang is also a village named Puchathang. Just two kilometres from Thang is the border to POK. That makes Thang the northernmost village of India.

Hills surrounding the Turtuk region

Tumultuous past

But, that’s not the story. Had it been just a story of landscapes than, perhaps it wouldn’t have made it that unique. What makes it outstanding is the story of overnight change of nationalities. It is also a human story of catastrophic nature. A cluster of seven villages around Turtuk were captured by India from Pakistan after the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Until December 1971, Turtuk was a part of Gilgit Baltistan area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir but following the 1971 India-Pakistan War, India captured seven villages of Thang, Tyakshi Groung, Tyakshi Pachathang, Turtuk Youl, Turtuk Farool, Garrri, Choulungkha. The people of the captured villages went to sleep in Pakistan but woke up in Indian control next morning.

all surrounding peaks have strategic positions occupied by forces

In some families here, fathers are living on this side and mothers on the other side, children are here and parents on the other side and more than a half of the families of Turtuk are divided across the LoC. Villagers studying or working in Pakistan before 1971 remained stuck there after Turtuk became part of India. While their relatives became Indians, they remained Pakistanis. The Indian government has now made it possible for villagers to visit from Pakistan, but only with a lot of expense and paperwork. Turtuk and all the other villages remained closed to outsiders– even other Indians–until locals, weary of their long isolation, petitioned for the remote, scenic valley to open up. Hence in 2010, tourists were allowed to visit Turtuk but only after obtaining an Inner Line Permit (ILP) from Leh. In 2014, even this requirement of ILP was waived off. Now, after better roads and increased facilities, more and more tourists are reaching Turtuk.

rugged landscape on the way

At Chalunka, just before the village is a bridge on the Shyok river. Earlier area across the bridge was under Pakistan. There is still an army check post at the bridge. It will check the identities of everybody travelling further towards Turtuk. Then, there is another check post at Tyakshi, where an army unit is stationed.

bridge on Shyok river

Rich heritage

So, located on banks of Shyok River, Turtuk is 205 kms from Leh. With population of over 3,500, it is also said to be the most populated village of Ladakh. It is a predominantly Muslim area in the Buddhist-dominated cold desert region of Leh, where residents speak Balti, Urdu and Ladakhi.

Turtuk village

Turtuk once served as an important gateway to the Silk Road, the ancient trading route that connected India with China, Persia and Rome. Once a part of the Yabgo dynasty that ruled Baltistan, Turtuk served an active trade route to Ladakh connecting it to Yarkand and Kashgar in present day China and up till Samarkand in present day Uzbekistan on the Silk Route. To the north lies the path to China and Tibet. In the south, we can get to Kargil and then to Kashmir, and to the west, there was a road to modern Pakistan and on to Afghanistan and Iran. But if we try to locate, all we see is tall mountains everywhere around. Before modern borders, Baltistan was a separate kingdom. Until the 16th Century, monarchs from Turkistan ruled over the united province under the Yagbo dynasty, a Central Asian empire whose reign, lasting from 800 to 1800, saw a flourishing of poetry and arts. Their former summer home now serves as Turtuk’s only museum

bridge connecting two parts of Turtuk

“Turtuk is home to a population of Nurkbakhshis, a Sufi order with similarities to both Shias and Sunnis, as well as Sunnis and Twelver Shias. The historian Mohibbul Hasan writes in his book Kashmir Under the Sultans that one of Nurbakhsh’s disciples, Shamsuddin, was responsible for spreading the Nurbakhshiya creed in Kashmir and Baltistan. In the 16th century, the Nurbakhshi Sufis spread out from Iran to Baltistan and Ladakh. The influence of the cult reduced gradually as the Safavid dynasty of Persia adopted mainstream Shia Islam as the state religion and the Sunni Mughals conquered Kashmir, leaving only Baltistan as the bastion of the Nurbakhshis. The Nurbhakshis also freely acknowledge their pre-Islamic Buddhist heritage. They celebrate the Nauroz, or Iranian New Year, in March every year. When Turtuk became a part of India, the Nurbakhshiya creed got added to the country’s multitude of beliefs but left the residents alienated from their theological schools and leaders.”

a local women cooking food at Turtuk

An oasis in cold desert

Turtuk is located at a much more comfortable height than the rest of Ladakh, most of which is a cold desert plateau. Turtuk is instead a little green oasis unlike rest of the region. The tedious journey to reach here becomes rewarding upon seeing the picture postcard beauty of Turtuk. Its green all around with numerous glacial streams gushing down to meet Shyok river. It might at some points remind you the beauty of Pahalgam in Kashmir.

beauty all around in Turtuk

Famous for its apricots, tomatoes and walnuts, Turtuk is divided into two parts – Youl and Pharol, separated by a hump-shaped bridge. Phudinichu, a nourishing stew made with region’s famed apricots, is the local food. Electricity runs only for a few hours a day while cell phone reception is limited to BSNL. People are fair and rosy-cheeked with aquiline features and claim to be Aryans having Central Asian and Tibetan roots. Locals are very friendly and hospitable.

What to do? How to reach?

There are a few places to see around Turtuk which reflect the collective heritage of this place. There are some natural wonders as well such as natural freezers (used mostly to preserve food items like cheese), a water mill and a waterfall. There is a historic polo ground. Yes, the younger generation loves its Polo too much, they even get horses from Zanskar for this. There are ruins of Brokpa’s fort, Balti Heritage house & museum and royal house and museum belonging to the Yagbo dynasty clan. You can also see the historic mosque and a Buddhist monastery.

a ‘tourist’ map of Turtuk at Friend’s cafe

Also read: September fun in Leh with Ladakh festival!

Taxis or private vehicles are the only means to reach Turtuk from Leh. It may take anything between seven to ten hours to reach Turtuk from Leh. It all depends on weather as well as road conditions. Most crucial in this respect is the time taken on both sides of Khardungla pass. The Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) runs a weekly bus service from Turtuk to Leh. A daily bus runs until Diskit, which is 90 km away and is the main town of Diskit tehsil. While there is a primary health centre and a school in Turtuk, the closest hospital and college are in Leh. There are more than 10 guest houses in Turtuk now. As of now the number of tourists coming here is not that thick. Hence staying is not of a problem. You can also look for a stay with some family to know them closer.

driving along the Shyok river towards Turtuk

Balti Bulbul

Turtuk region has over 75 percent literacy rate. Don’t get surprised! Locals are very keen to get their kids to school. Ahmad Shah, a resident of Bogdang village, 25 km from LoC encouraged his daughter, Fatima Balti to take singing as a profession. She is said to be the first female Balti singer from this side and her Balti songs have become viral on social media after a fan put them on YouTube. Even a Pakistani newspaper carried a news story on Fatima referring to her as Balti Bulbul (see one of her recent videos on YouTube below). 

Have you ever been to Turtuk? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

Also read: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Welcoming roads to a distant land!

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September fun in Leh with Ladakh festival

It was 19th September. I was supposed to leave Leh for Manali on my bike next morning. My plan was to go to Pangong Tso and then continue on my return journey. Target was to reach Delhi on 22nd late evening. But my friend and host in Leh insisted me to drop the idea of going to Pangong and instead witness the opening parade of the Ladakh Festival. His argument was that Pangong would always be there to visit the next time I am in Ladakh, but to be here on exact date of opening of Ladakh festival will need meticulous planning anytime next. So, if by chance when I am already in Leh on the day, I shouldn’t miss this event. His argument was strong and I changed my plan. I decided to see the opening ceremony and than move to either Pang or Sarchu for the night halt. Well, visiting Pangong has so far not been materialised but still I don’t regret change of my plans that day. Ladakh Festival is indeed something not to be missed. 

Start of parade from the Leh market
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Monks from the various monasteries
ALSO READ: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh
people from different regions in their traditional costumes
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even their animals including Yaks were there in the parade 
ALSO READ: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen
and, those for whom Ladakh is also known as- its Polo

The Ladakh Festival is a cultural extravaganza and showcase event for the region, held every year. The main aim of organising this festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like traditional folk dances and songs of different parts of Ladakh. 

reaching the Leh polo ground for the inaugural ceremony
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it was a riot of colours
ALSO READ: Reaching climax- On the top of the Manali-Let route
headgears of different shapes, styles and colours
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ALSO READ:  Lonely at mighty Baralachala Pass
women from Turtuk village which was decades ago in Pakistani occupation
everybody was enjoying the moment

The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year. Ladakh festival has seen considerable change over the years. Earlier it used to be celebrated for 15 days from 1st to 15th September. Than it was curtailed to a week and dates were shifted to 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its surrounding villages. This year this festival is being organised as Leh Tourism Festival from 22nd to 25th September, i.e. for four days. Even last year there was a four day festival.

flowers on their head
a glimpse of monastic dances
a lady in full traditional attire

The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival days have regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.

tourists from around the world enjoying the atmosphere

Ladakh in September

September is often considered to be the one of the best time to travel to Ladakh, especially for those who prefer to ride or drive to Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. Weather is clearer, roads are in good condition and water crossings will have less water. Region would be more green after monsoons, skies will be more blue and since it would already be nearing the end of the season, hence tourist traffic would be certainly less. Since all the hotels in region and enroute Leh operate till the Puja holidays, there would be no risk of not being able to get room or food. And, then witnessing Ladakh festival can be reason good enough to add to all this.

Have you ever been to Ladakh Festival? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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Where a train takes you to the Caves!

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Estimated to be over 2 million years old, the Al Hoota Cave is one of Oman’s most popular natural tourist attractions. Located off route 21 between Nizwa and Bahla at the foot of Oman’s epic mountain Jabal Shams, just 2 hours drive from Muscat, it is the first and only cave in the Arabian Peninsula which is open to visitors. With a total length of around 4.5 kilometres, around 500 metres of the cave is accessible to the general public.

The one hour guided tour starts from the Visitor’s Centre with a short ride in an electric train that carries passengers up to the cave entrance. Once inside the cave, it’s a feast for the eyes as you walk on the pathway and witness an enormous subterranean cavern filled with stalactites, stalagmites and colourful solid rock columns. Don’t miss the popular lion’s head, the cat, the old man and countless other intriguing shapes and an 800m long underground lake that is home to the rare blind fish – Garra Barreimiae and many other animal species like bats, arthropods, mollusks, spiders, snails and water beetles.

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While the Al Hoota Cave is made of stone, it was created by water. Like many other caves in Oman, the Al Hoota Cave system was formed by the dissolution of limestone by acidic water. When rainwater dissolves carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or soil, it produces a dilute carbonic acid that dissolves the limestone as it runs over it, thus forming the cave. Every 100 years, the water dissolves through 10mm of rock – so it takes a long time to create something as spectacular as the Al Hoota Cave! Fascinating features such as stalagmites, stalactites and of course the magnificent lion of the cave are formed by mineral deposits as water drips into or moves through the cave system. Some of the columns and curtains you will see in the cave have been shaped over millions of years.

Post the tour; also visit the geological exhibition for an interesting insight into the geology of Oman and an in-depth study on how these caves were formed. Owing to its delicate ecosystem, a maximum of only 750 people are allowed to visit the caves on a day, hence it is ideal to do prior booking. The cave is open to visitors every Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm.

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You could combine your trip with a visit to Nizwa to experience the magnificent Fort and Friday market or see the traditional architecture of Al Hamra and the beautiful atmosphere of Misfit al Abryeen. You could stroll through Wadi Tanuf or do the rim walk at Jebel Shams before lunch at Al Hoota followed by an afternoon visit to the cave.

Love caves? Read: Myth and mystery of the cave 90 feet deep

Have you ever been to Al Hoota cave? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

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Harsil – a mystical gateway to other world

Harsil is a land of mystique. Although it still doesn’t have that tourist rush but it has already collected many adjectives, more than many other places in the region. It is often dubbed as mini Switzerland of India. But it indeed is more than that. It is surely one of the most beautiful places in whole of Uttarakhand, but it is actually a gateway to something more beautiful than what we see at Harsil. It opens to some uncharted territories, yet to be explored- some spiritual and some natural.

View through the Harsil valley

I had heard and read lot about Harsil. But never had been able to go towards Gangotri valley, until in summers this year riding the first ever Bloggers Bus of Uttarakhand Tourism. It could have seemed like a mission accomplished but actually it left me wanting for more. Its not a place to be seen in hurry, but it is a place where you need to come to spend some time to relax your mind and body, to detox yourself.

View of Himalayan peaks fro Harsil

When Raj Kapoor got hooked to Harsil

It actually seems strange that Harsil remained relatively unknown and unspoiled even after all the eyes it was able to capture in legendary Raj Kapoor’s superhit film Ram Teri Ganga Maili (राम तेरी गंगा मैली). Perhaps Raj Kapoor has earlier visited this place and he was so mesmerised that he decided to shoot his next film here. Film was extensively shot in Bagori and Harsil (हर्षिल) and there are a few spots around that got there name as well as fame for some famous scenes of the film, such as Mandakini Falls. To a lay man, Mandakini Falls would have got its name because of river Ganges, which is also known as Mandakini, and Harsil is in Gangotri valley. But this waterfall is named after the iconic bathing scene of the lead actress Mandakini in the film.

Harsil post office that got featured in Ram Teri Ganga Maili

Even the Harsil post office got a fair deal of exposure on silver screen as Mandakini will be regularly going there to enquire whether there is any letter in her name. You can find many posts on social media of travellers posing in the front of that post office. But interestingly you don’t find many authentic pic of Mandakini falls. 

Beauty of all seasons

View from GMVN TRH at Harsil. You can see the helicopter flying

Nevertheless, nothing can undermine the beauty of this tiny hamlet which has go different charm for different seasons. Winters are pretty white here, its so cold and taxing that you will hardly find anybody here in the village. But those who are courageous enough to brave the cold and rich there in winters vouch for its unparalleled beauty. But than you have to face the dreadful situation of being all alone to manage yourself. But actually, we found out that the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) Tourist Rest House at Harsil remains functional even in the harsh winters. So, you can find solace here.

Unspoiled beauty of Harsil

A Britisher who turned king here

Credit of bringing Harsil to fore actually goes to Frederik E Wilson who was supposedly a sepoy in East India Company. It is said that after the mutiny of 1857, he deserted Company and settled in Harsil. In some accounts it is said that he left Army even earlier in 1841 at the time of the First Afghan war. He is said to have spent some time in Mussoorie before moving further up and following the course of the Ganges, till he reached Harsil. He is said to have introduced apple seed, potatoes and green bean to this region. You can still find apple orchards everywhere in the region. There is said to be a local apple variety in his name. He also cashed on abundance of Deodar trees here. Wilson sold the Deodar logs to Britishers who turned them into sleepers for expansion of railways in India. It is said that he brought richness for the local people of Taknaur valley. But he was also fond of hunting and it is claimed that he alone was responsible for introducing large scale hunting in the region and make money out of it. He will trade in fur, skin and bones. He married a local girl (Gulabi as per some stories) from village Mukhba. Mukhba is the winter abode of goddess Ganges and is just a few kilometres from Harsil. 

Wilson cottage at Harsil as it was before getting burnt

There are numerous stories, folklores, legends about Wilson, his struggles, his skills, his richness, his love & hate story with rulers of Tehri-Garhwal and hostilities that he later developed, incurring even a curse from local deities. That apart, locally he was also referred to as Raja Wilson or Pahadi Wilson. Wilson had constructed a huge mansion for himself at Harsil. It was known as Wilson cottage. It was built in 1864. It remained an attraction for visitors until decades after his death. But the cottage got burnt in a fire sometime back. The place is now under the forest department, which has built a Forest rest house here. 

What now we see in place of Wilson cottage
Lama Tekri. Wilson cottage was built right on the base of this hill.

Away from spoils

Harsil is now a cantonment town. Way back in May 1973 a detachment of the Defence Agricultural Research Laboratory run by DRDO was established here. It is also a base for army unit. Currently a battalion of Mahar Regiment is stationed here. Proximity to China border has made it strategically very important place. Being a cantonment area, it is governed by cantonment board rules. Hence Harsil has been prevented from being turning into a mess of regular hill stations. This is the place where valley has bit widened up, which makes it favourable location. It also has a helipad nearby on the way to Dharali. This helipad is used for helicopter services for Chardham Yatra. Due to being a border area, earlier foreigners were not allowed to stay overnight here. Even Indian tourists needed a permit to visit he area. These curbs were placed immediately after the 1962 China war. But last year all these restrictions were lifted. No permits needed and even foreigners can stay overnight at Harsil.

Vishnuganga flowing down towards Bhagirathi

The legend of Hari Shila

Harsil or Harshil, as it is pronounced in Hindi is also a mythological town. It is also said to have a confluence of three rivers- Bhagirathi (Ganges coming from Gangotri), Vishnuganga and Jalandhari. Hence it is said to have a similar religious importance as of sangam. Harsil derives its name from two words- Hari (हरि means Lord) and shila (शिला meaning rock). It is said that here Lord Vishnu is in rock form in the river. He became rock because of a curse of the wife of a local demon king Jalandhar.

Jalandhari river coming down from Tankaur valley

Actually there are many mythological stories about Jalandhar. Most common one is his being a son of Lord Shiva and then becoming so powerful that Gods started fearing him. Only way to kill him was to weaken him by making his wife submitting to somebody else since his biggest strength was chastity of his wife Vrinda. To play a trick, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhar and reached in front of his wife. She believed him to be her husband and lost her chastity. When resultantly Jalandhar was killed and his wife came to know of the truth, she cursed Lord Vishnu to turn into a rock. That happened here at Harsil and hence it got its name. Harsil also has a Laxmi Narayan temple built in 1818 at the banks of the Bhagirathi river.

Laxmi narayan temple at Harsil
Blackish rock in the centre is the one known as Hari Shila

Gateway to Kinnaur

But to me, Harsil is more importantly a gateway to another beautiful world which is largely unexplored. Harsil is actually an important transit point. Along the Jalandhari river goes a trek to Kinnaur via Kyarkoti in Tankaur valley. This trek goes to Chitkul in Kinnaur, which is last village in the Baspa valley. This is said to be the classic route from Gangotri to Kinnaur, which was reportedly first crossed by Marco Pallis in 1933. This is said to be one of the most remote areas of Uttarakhand and arguably one of the most beautiful as well. One has to cross Lamkhaga Pass (5282 metres) to go to the either side. Actually, there are routes connecting both the Yamunotri valley as well as Gangotri valley to Kinnaur. Another trekking route from Chitkul via Borasu Pass (5360 metres) takes to Har-Ki-Dun valley and Sankri. Or you can trek further till Yamunotri from Har-Ki-Dun via Ruinsara Tal and Bali Pass (4900 metres). Well, though feeling tempted to write more about that, will do it sometime later. 

Route that goes towards Kyarkoti
Views from Kyarkoti. Photo credit: anvancy.com

An unending charisma 

While coming from Uttarkashi as soon as we turn towards Bhagirathi valley from Jhala-Purali (where Sian Gad meets Bhagirathi river), we feel like entering into a new world. Going back is always tough as you feel like leaving a part of you here. But that perhaps is the motivation to be back, so shall be.

View on way to Sukki Top

Attractions close by

Apart from treks, Harsil can also be base for all excursions around, and there are plenty to keep you busy for long. Harsil itself is located at an altitude of 2620 metres, higher than many other popular hill stations of Uttarakhand and Himachal.

Gangotri: Source to river Ganges is just 20 kilometres from here. So even if Gangotri is important part of itinerary, you can plan it as a day visit from Harsil.

Jag Ganga gorge in Nelong valley. Photo credit: Pallavi Sharma Duffy

Nelong: Nelong valley is 30 kilometres from Harsil towards the Tibbet border. It was a prohibited area until sometime back. But now tourists can visit this amazing valley after taking due permission from (Uttarkashi) district administration. That can also be planned as a day visit from Harsil.

Mukhba: This is just a kilometre or so from Harsil. You can even walk down to this village. This is winter abode of Ganges and every year when the Gangotri temple is closed, the idol of Ganges is brought down in a procession at Ganges temple in Mukhba, only to be taken again in similar procession in next summer.

Ganga temple at Mukhba

Sat Taal: A chain of seven unexplored lakes just five kilometres from Dharali at altitudes raging from 9000 to 10,000 feet. A beautiful half day trek can be done to these lakes and come back. Each lake has a story. (Read: Exploring the unexplored Sat taal near Harsil)

Kyarkoti: Even if you don’t go for the trek to Chitkul, you can go on a short trek upto Kyarkoti lake which is just 14 kms from Harsil. Have a night camp in the lap of majestic Himalayan ranges around and come back to Harsil the next day. It would be a great adventure.

trekking route to Kyarkoti. Photo credit: anvancy.com

This autumn, Harsil can be your dream destination. What are you waiting for!

Have you ever been to Harsil? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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A photo journey to Shitlakhet, a hidden gem in Kumaon


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I had been hearing about Shitlakhet for almost ten years now, ever since I started visiting the Almora region more frequently. I even made some flying visits to the village, and had some incredibly tasty maggi. But never got an opportunity to stay overnight and explore the place until last month when I was there as the part of the Bloggers Bus of Uttarakhand Tourism. Although a one night stay is just not enough to do any justice to this place, but we tried to extract  as much experience as possible.

KMVN Tourist Rest House at Shitlakhet

Shitlakhet is certainly not a happening place. But I can bet, it is unimaginably beautiful. It is just a small village at the end of the mountain ridge. But it is full of adventure and it is certainly a photographers paradise. Hence, I though that it is better to talk about this place with some photographs.

The forest rest house at Shitlakhet, located just besides the KMVN TRH. This building was built in 1850 by the britishers, and is now used by the forest department. It has two suites. And you have to be lucky to find an accommodation here.

We stayed at Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) tourist rest house which is at the base of the hill on whose top Syahi or Siyahi Devi temple is located. She is a local deity and most revered here in the region. Most enjoyable activity at Shitlakhet is a morning trek to top of the hill. It might be around a four kilometre trek to the top, but it is worth every bit. On the way you experience the vividness of the nature here.

The Syahi Devi temple is located on the top of this hill, just behind those towers that can be seen in this photo

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An early monsoon morning throws the blue tones for a Forest Rest House built in 1850 in the foreground and fading lights of Almora in the background. Nature always has some hidden ideas that you are not aware of! At the Bloogers Bus 3.0 consecutively for four days we had an early wake up at 4.30 am in hope of catching some Himalayan views under clear skies, but what we invariably got to see was this! Still, nothing to complain as we had an altogether different view of nature… mesmerising still! Isn't it!! #Uttarakhand #UttarakhandTourism #Kumaon #KMVN #IncredibleIndia #BloggersBus #SimplyHeaven #UTDB #Sitalakhet #Shitalakhet #Almora #Himalayas #travel #travelstories #photography #photooftheday #picoftheday #Instapics #Traveldiaries #Sitlakhet

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Besides its amazing 200 degree Himalayan views, Sitlakhet is also famous for its orchards, landscapes, herbs, medicinal plants, as well as birds. The day we reached here was done away in planting some saplings to celebrate Harela festival. Since we had to leave the next morning after breakfast, only time we had in our hands was the early morning and we decided to have a short trek to explore the area. A small hike to the middle of the hill and all of a sudden, we got to see what we had been missing – the Himalayan views. And actually, we were lucky to have these views during the peak of monsoon. It was a small window when the sky got cleared and we were able to have a glimpse of majestic Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas. (Click on the thumbnails to have bigger look of the panorama.

First of the panoramic views from Shitlakhet
Second view with a closer look of peaks

The prominent peaks that we could see were Chaukhamba on the Garhwal side and Trishul, Nanda Devi and Panchachuli massif on the Kumaon side.

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Amazing morning view of Chaukhamba peak from Sitlakhet! One fascinating thing about Sitlakhet is its 360 degree view. You get that from the top of hill where the Syahi Devi temple is located. What you can see is a panaroma of Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas together. You hardly get to see that big a view range from any other place in either Garhwal or Kumaon! Still it is a destination hardly known to outsiders, although it is just a half hour away from Almora! Be there next time!! #Uttarakhand #UttarakhandTourism #Garhwal #GMVN #Kumaon #KMVN #BloggersBus #IncredibleIndia #photooftheday #photography #instapics #pictureoftheday #Himalayas #Shitlakhet #Sitlakhet #Sitalakhet #travel #travelstories #Chaukhamba #Simplyheaven #Almora

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Exploring Almora: A bougainvillea love story in Almora

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Another one of the fascinating views from Shitlakhet- the Panchachuli Massif. Personally for me, it was more satisfying as for the first time, I was capturing all five together in a frame. Panchachuli near Munsyari is a group of five peaks. Panchachuli-2 is the highest one (6904 mts), one whose peak is covered with clouds. This is also the highest peak in Kumaon region. Panchachuli-1 (6355 mts) is to its left and Panchachuli-3 (6312 mts), 4 (6334 mts) and 5 (6437 mts) are to the right of Panchachuli-2. Chuli in Nepalese means peaks. But legends also attach these five peaks to five Pandavas. Closer you move to Pithoragarh and then Munsyari, better the view of these five peaks will be. But Shitlakhet gives you the panaromic view of the ranges. #travelblog #photooftheday #photography #instapics #pictureoftheday #Uttarakhand #uttarakhandtourism #Kumaon #KMVN #travel #tourism #SimplyHeaven #BloggersBus #TravelStories #Himalayas #peaks #Panchachuli #Shitlakhet #Pandavas #Mahabharata #mythology #legend

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The trail to the temple takes you through dense pine forests. Morning hike is also best to have some good views of birds and some wild life as well. Best time also to have some good light for photography. Perfect for some nature walks. You can find scattered houses, orchards, camping sites and resorts spread out.

Most of the area is largely unexplored, and you hardly get to see any tourists here. It is quite rich in flora and fauna. Shitlakhet is said to have more than 115 species of birds. As is with hills in general, you can find here lots and lots of flowers- small and big.

Same flower in a different colour-

Sunflowers here are very big and beautiful

It is said that most part of the hill (it is many hundreds of acres land) is actually a private property which comes under Bora estate. This is owned by a Almora based family which inherited this property from its earlier generation who had purchase it from a britisher decades before independence. Tough to imagine that this whole part of the hill belongs to a single individual.

This is the cottage built during the British period, which was used as the owners of the Bora estate as their personal residence. This has got an old world charm but needs a lot of maintenance though.

More from Kumaon: Myth and mystery of the cave 90 feet deep

Its a fertile area, with favourable climate and very less amount of disturbance. Hence locals have been doing lots of experiments in livelihood including farming and small scale productions.

Mushroom farming at Shitlakhet
An essence extracting distillation unit inside a house to produce perfumes and essence.

With this place so serene, peaceful and away from the main course, it has got some exclusive places for stay. As, we mentioned that KMVN TRH and Forest rest house as well as some small hotels are there for budget stay close to village and the road head.  But up on the hill, some camping sites and high-end resorts are also available.

Ananta Rasa by Amritara at Shitlakhet

I had also often heard about an adventure camp run by Discovery here for many years. It is actually a Pine wood Cliff campus by Youreka.

Pine wood cliff by Youreka
Getting some knowledge under the Bodhi Tree

There are lot many treks, that can be done here. You also enjoy mountain biking and lot of other activities. This place has been popular for team building corporate activities.

More from Bloggers Bus 3.0: Whispering winds, hovering clouds and a ghost which wasn’t there.

How to reach

Beauty of this place is that although it is very close to tourist towns of Ranikhet and Almora, it is free of tourists. Ranikhet is 30 kms and Almora is 36 kms from here. You can reach here directly from Kathgodam via Ranikhet and Kathpudia. Or you can go to Almora and come here via Kosi bridge.

Read more: Kausani through flowers, a photo story!

When to go

September to March would be best time to go here. But one more thing, I still feel it is lot underrated as winter destination. It is breathtaking during winter snow. It could take away sheen of many of its famed neighbours for sure. I am going to write about it more in coming season.

Have you been to Shitlakhet? Pleas share your experiences in the comments section below.

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A timepiece for the adventurers on the top of the world!

The award-winning Favre-Leuba Raider Bivouac 9000 recently demonstrated that it’s not just a timepiece – but a mountaineering tool that redefines reliability. Recently, the Bivouac 9000 broke records becoming the only watch in the world to reach the top of the world – the summit of Mt Everest.  Record-breaking mountaineer Adrian Ballinger and his team battled biting cold temperatures of -40 degrees C and lower, in the harshest of conditions, noting that “at 8,800 meters, the Raider Bivouac 9000 performed flawlessly all the way to the summit of Mt Everest.” 

Moving towards the summit

Coinciding with the 280th anniversary of Favre-Leuba, the Bivouac 9000 previewed during Baselword 2017 and was officially launched on the consumer market in October 2017. Within months of the launch, the watch won the prestigious 2017-18 Watchstars ‘New Star’ award for the best new watch to enter the market. The Raider Bivouac 9000 is indeed a ‘New Star’, but it pays homage to its 1962 predecessor with the same name. The core idea of the aneroid barometer is taken forth from the original Bivouac but the engineering and functional capabilities of the Bivouac 9000 ensure the watch’s performance, innovations and precision mechanics once again redefine expectations and hold true the brand claim of conquering frontiers. 

Performing in tough conditions is Raider Bivouac 9000

The retro-futuristic Bivouac 9000 is the ultimate timepiece tool for adventurers, especially mountaineers as it shows the altitude using an aneroid barometer. The watch’s altitude/ barometer indicates short term changes in weather based on atmospheric pressure enabling mountaineers to determine if they should proceed to the summit or take shelter. It also helps them better understand their current geo-position, vital knowledge especially during low visibility conditions when it’s hard to determine distance to a destination, as well as providing climbers with a more accurate location to broadcast in case of an emergency rescue mission. For sailing explorers, the barometer is a dynamic indication of whether to change the navigation course due to unforeseen meteorological conditions. 

Adrian Ballinger at the summit with Raider Bivouac 9000

Even at the top of the world – the Bivouac 9000 demonstrated just how it’s redefining reliability and strength of engineering. As Ballinger testified – the watch performed flawlessly throughout the gruelling climb to the world’s highest peak, unaffected by the extreme weather conditions which would have affected the battery life of most digital watches. Favre-Leuba’s Raider Bivouac 9000 showed that it’s a watch with a mission – to never fail even against the harshest conditions.

Inside the Bivouac 9000:

  • The watch’s barometer features an airtight capsule made from a special alloy. The capsule expands when the air pressure drops as the wearer climbs, and contracts when the air pressure rises during the descent. 
  • The 48mm titanium case is engineered for optimized performance (altimeter/legibility), featuring a bidirectional rotating bezel to keep track of altitude based on atmospheric changes.
  • Hand-wound FL311 movement, based on the EMC 3903M caliber; specially designed mechanisms for altimeter and power-reserve indicator; power reserve of 65 hours 
  • Hours, minutes, small seconds, central hand to display altitudes of 3,000 m per full rotation, subdial for displaying altitudes of up to 9,000 m and air pressure in hPa, power-reserve indicator, date display 

More about SWISS masterpieces! Read: A marathon on ice for preservation of water!

Favre-Leuba is the second oldest active Swiss watch brand, with a rich heritage in watch engineering and designing spanning over 281 years. Led by eight generations of the Favre family until the 1980s, Favre-Leuba was acquired by the Tata Group on November 16th, 2011. With the global scope of the Tata Group behind it, Favre-Leuba is now transitioning a legendary brand into the contemporary while continuing to cherish that which its forefathers breathed life into, the art of watch engineering. Not many can claim the power of history and own a piece of it. Today – Favre-Leuba is creating historic legends to be cherished for those that believe that being exemplary is just the start of their own legend. 

Have you used any such timepiece for adventure? How was the experience? Share with us 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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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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