Tag Archives: Incredible India

Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

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

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

Hill top besides the Kahrdungla pass

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

Mountain passes and these Buddhist flags have an unbreakable bond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pass has an army canteen, a temple and public facilities

Khardung La pass at sunset

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

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

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

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A tale of seven lakes : Gadsar to Satsar

The best thing about six day Kashmir Great Lakes trek is that every day, you get a new landscape around and that prevents it from getting monotonous.

Early starters: trekkers crossing the glacier

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek

Fodling up: Gadsar campsite

Having already covered the first three day, we move ahead to the next campsite. Fourth day trek is from Gadsar to Satsar. First two days of trek were without passing through any lakes but next two days were all about lakes. Third day, we passes as many as five lakes on the way including big ones like Vishnusar, Kishansar and Gadsar. This fourth day was also all about lakes. Actually name of the next campsite is Satsar which means seven lakes.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

The altitude for the day hovered around 12K feet. Trek starts by crossing a glacier and there is small climb after that. Albeit small, but it was first glacier to be crossed on the trek.

Looking back towards Gadsar from the ridgeside trail

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Zigzag climb upto the hill top

Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be!

Lonely at the top, well above the treeline, a tree stands alone on the ridge

Trek thereafter is gradual and quite beautiful. It was a small climb though initially followed by a gentle ascend along the hillside. The climb goes on becoming smoother as we pass through a ridge covered with lush green meadows.

In no time we are at a high again
With the trail getting easier, the walking moves turn to dancing
Landscape to the right across the stream. See the waterfall emerging just from middle of the hill… amazing!

Second half of the day’s trek passes through a stream and than a couple of lakes. Once we leave this ridge and river valley and turn left we come across a large plateau with mountains to the left and a stream flowing on the right.

Meadows on the left of the trail
The perennial trekkers giving us the company

Its a flat trail through the meadows. There is another ridge far on the right side. River does have a rocky side and we can see a lot of boulders.

Turning left to the plateau, leaving the valley behind
Along the stream towards the lunch point. You can see the ridge in the front, across which will start the seven lakes of Satsar

We had our packed lunch on the far end of this plateau alongside the stream, just before the start of another small climb towards a ridge, which houses another army check post. Thus it is second consecutive day of passing through an army check post. But this time the checking wasn’t as rigorous as was the previous day.

First of the lakes of Satsar

We cross the ridge to be on the other side and all of a sudden the landscape changes again. Its a tough walk through boulders. Now we approach what is first of the seven lakes of the Satsar region and the biggest one.

First lake is the biggest of seven lakes of Satsar

Calm and cool water of lake tempted a few of us to take a dip, but this isn’t advisable for all as the water is too cold and bodies are quite hot after a long trek. Jus be careful. This first lake also has a plenty of place for camping and the surroundings are quite picturesque. But we still had some trek left before reaching our campsite.

Meadows have now turned into big boulders

Trek further is bit tricky as there are a few ups and downs through rocky boulders on either sides of the lakes that we come across. Purportedly there are four to five lakes in a series on the route, all connected to each other.

We keep moving and passing by the lakes

But how much water you will find in them, depends lot on the season of the trek and also the weather. As soon as we cross last of the lake on this route, we have a small descent to the campsite on the right.

Lake on the rocks! Lake no…

There is a stream flowing close to the campsite, but there is no lake here. This is Satsar campsite.

First view of the campsite from the top of the ridge

Having already counted four-five lakes, obvious curiosity was about remaining couple of them. Once at the campsite, we came to know about two other lakes hidden high up in the mountains on the opposite side of the campsite and to the left of the last lake that we passed through to reach the campsite.

Early signs of autumn!

It was another at least half an hour climb from the camp. Broadly easy trek all day through helped us in reaching the Satsar campsite well in time, hence we had enough time to go to the twin lakes. But only few of us were able to gather courage to go for a trek again after a tiring day.

That is the mountain in whose lap are hidden two beautiful lakes
Shepherd huts on the way up to the two hidden lakes. Far down you can see the Satsar campsite along the stream

We climbed upto the first of the twin lakes, only to know that the second lake was further up. It wasn’t far but the way was quite tricky, with huge boulders on one side and steep ridge on the other. Finally three of us mustered some strength to go up.

First of the two lakes… second lake is further up in the mountain in the bowl
View of the first lake from the other side (on the base of the second lake)

It was another 20-25 minutes of challenge but we were finally through and it was indeed worth every effort. These two lakes were also connected. Water from the first one will flow down to the second one and then overflowing water from the second one will turn into big water fall.

Finally we reach to the second lake and you can see the glaciers around. This should be well above the altitude of 13K ft
An iceberg flowing in the lake!!!
In this image, you can see the tail of the first lake and the mouth of the second lake, although there is a difference in the altitude. I would have certainly liked to take a shot with both the lakes in same frame but for that another climb of half an hour was needed and that would have been tougher than all what was done so far

All these water bodies were being replenished with glacier waters. Both lakes were quite beautiful, just like a bowl in the lap of mountains.

View of the first lake from the height of the second lake

Quite satisfied after enjoying the second lake, it was time to reach back to the campsite. It felt more fulfilling due to the fact that only three of us among the group of more than 30 trekkers managed to trek to the hidden lakes. We had seen the all possible lakes among the Satsar. It almost seemed like a mission accomplished, for the day at least!

View from the top. The peak you see on the centre left in the background is the Harmukh Parvat, base of which was going to be our destination of next day, a culmination of the great trek

Also read: Kashmir we know less about- Naranag

We could have enjoyed the views from the top for ever, but than the sunlight and clouds signalled us that it was time to be back to the camp.

You can also watch a video of this lovely day’s trek here on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes trek? Share your views in the comments section below.

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Paradise regained : As beautiful as it can be!

With the perils of trekking in rain quite exposed on second day, third day turned out to be an absolute beauty. It started with a dose fog and ended with a light drizzle, but in between it was bright, sunny and extremely picturesque. After having completed the Kashmir Great Lakes trek, I can safely say that out of the six days of this arduous trek, third day’s trek from Vishansar (or Vishnusar) camp to the Gadsar camp is arguable the best- in both the respects- ease of trek and beauty of the trail. As a icing on the cake, the weather also remained favourable throughout the day.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Kishansar lake in full glory!

It is only after the Vishansar or Vishnusar camp that we actually get to experience the lakes part of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. This third day’s trek takes us from Vishansar camp to Gadsar camp. Passing through twin lakes of Vishunusar and Kishansar and to the Gadsar Pass which at an altitude of 13,800 feet is the highest point of the whole trek. There is an steep ascent till the Gadsar Pass and than a descent on the other side. After descending we pass through beautiful meadows laden with blue and pink flowers. Trek takes us alongside other two lakes Yamsar and Gadsar and through an army check post to the campsite.  A paradise regained on the 3rd day.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

It was so charming that it is worth saying just through the images. So lets take the day’s journey through the images.

It all started with dense fog all around, when we got up in the morning. With memories of last day still fresh, this fog was a mood dampener. Vishnusar Lake was bit away from the camp. Many of us who were late to reach the last evening were not able to go the lake as it had got dark. So in the morning many of us went to the lake but it was still misty around, as you can see in the image below.

But only satisfaction was that there was no rain. Hence there was hope that as soon as sun get bright, fog will vanish. And, it happened so. There was a small hillock between the campsite and the lake. Campsite was along the stream which originated from the Vishnusar lake. Here are the three images (below) of the campsite – first one in dense fog, second when it starts getting clear and last one when it is sunny, just before our departure.

While on the other side, mist also started clearing over the Vishnusar lake. As if a dream was taking shape…

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for great lakes trek

So finally group moved on the trek with national anthem (below)

With sun shining everyone one was like in a dancing mood (below)

We had to cross the stream flowing along the campsite and then climb upto the other side of the Vishnusar lake. The lake had by now taken the majestic view (below)

One could feel the feet being reluctant to move ahead. The nature was taking another hue every minute and we always felt like looking behind and capturing the moment. As was this another look of the Vishnusar lake from bit high up (below).

After a brief climb there was a meadow just before the Kishansar lake which is roughly half kilometre from the Vishansar lake.

Kishansar Lake is equally beautiful. Both lakes are connected through stream. Kishansar lake is bit higher by almost 500 feet. This is also a glacial lake and water from this lake flows to Vishnusar lake through a stream. Kishansar lake (below) is at the base of the Kishansar peak.

Colours of water of lakes change as per the light and time of the day. As we cross the lake, the climb to the Gadsar pass starts. You can see the trail taking us to the top of the pass, but it in’t as easy as it looks from below.

As we were on our climb, suddenly there were hundreds and hundreds of sheeps following us up to the Gadsar pass and then to he meadows on the other side. These sheeps and the shepherds had camped close to our campsite in the night. Sheeps were in long queues on every trail leading to the pass (below).

While on other side, you can see the mighty peak shining with moon in the background in bright daylight (below)

Roughly after 45 minutes to one hour in the climb from Kishansar peak, you turn back and see the view which is one of the highlights of this trek- Vishnusar and Kishansar lake together. A frame which is photographers’ delight.

This fascinating view of both lakes together will last till we reach the top of the Gadsar Pass. So after the ascent is deep descent on the other side, but the view only gets better and better with many small lakes visible with meadows on one side and peaks on other (below)

The climb for the day is over and now it is a leisure walk upto the campsite. Just a shortwhile in the descent and we can see a lake which is called as Yamsar lake (below). 

After some descent, we reach the meadows and the entire topography changes. We feel like having reached to the valley of flowers. You can see the entire stretch carpeted with small flowers- blue, purple, yellow, pink, white and all. These flowers growing out of green grass make it a fascinating sight as in images below

There are few more small unnamed lakes after Yamsar, but they all are connected to each other by a stream flowing down from one lake to another.

Looking back you can see the trail from where we came down from the Gadsar Pass and even the mules coming down with the bags and camping equipments (below)It is a trek worth enjoying each and every moment as these two fellow trekkers below are trying to soak themselves in

Even the mules are having some time of breathe before start of another descent to the lake belowFor trekkers, it is time to have some refreshment and packed lunch by taking rest alongside the stream connecting different lakes on the way

After lunch and some well deserved rest, it is time to make final push towards the camp, but wait… there is something else on the way. This is one of the most beautiful lakes on the trek- Gadsar Lake (below). Our next campsite is named after this lake, although campsite is another few kilometres ahead.

After spending some more time in the company of this lake, we move ahead towards the camp.

See the way, the stream is passing below the small glaciers on the way (below)

The valley widens as we move ahead (below)

It is like nature’s playing field, as vast as it can be (below)

Then there is final descent to the campsite. You can see the tents far down in the valley (below). First come few shepherd huts. Just before the campsite is a small army checkpost, where every person has to register themselves with full identities and a proof of identity. This place being close to Pakistan border, is considered to be highly sensitive. Besides authenticated identities, trekkers also need valid permission to trek in the region from authorities in either Sonamarg or Srinagar. Don’t forget to get it before you leave Sonamarg, although normally your trek operator will arrange that for you.

You can watch a video of the day’s trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you been there? Please share your views in comments section below.

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Loops of the haunted!


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Its is one of the India’s most popular ghost stories. I wouldn’t say that this story originates at most unlikely of the places, as it is one of the most wilderness of places you will come across. It can unnerve you and mesmerise you, both at the same time. But I will certainly say that I am interested in ghost stories only for sake of reading thrill, not at the point of believing them.

Those who have travelled to Leh from Manali by road will have certainly passed through Gata Loops and would have heard story about it. Now a days those who ride or drive on this road, do good research before hand and hence have a fairly good idea of the place. On Manali-Leh road, after you cross Sarchu, 24 kilometres later you come across a series of hairpin bends or loops popularly called as Gata Loops. These loops take you to a climb of almost 2000 ft upto Nakeela pass.

Also read: Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass

Actually Gata Loops are to Manali-Leh road what Ka zigs are to Shimla-Kaza road. Both are nothing short of engineering marvels. Ka zigs raise from level of Spiti river to Nako through various hairpin bends. Similarly Gata Loops start at 4201 metres or 13,780 feet and 21 loops take you to altitude of 15,302 feet. Both these roads have been created out of nowhere to get human access via road to most improbable of places.

But these loops are also part of India’s most popular haunted stories. Those who have been to this place might be well aware of the hearsay. I am just briefing it for the sake of those, who haven’t heard about it.

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chandratal to Keylong

This story is about a truck cleaner who died here a lonely death when the truck broke down in increment weather and the driver walked to nearby village to get some help. Cleaner waited at truck to guard the belongings. But it was late October (as per stories) and no vehicles were passing through as behind that truck the Rohtang Pass  (which provides vehicular accessories to Lahaul & Spiti valleys) was already closed down. Moreover snowfall had blocked all approach roads. Driver got stuck in the village for days. Hence the cleaner was left to fend for himself without an help, food or water which resulted in his demise. Stories say about his ghost still wondering around loops and begging for water to all passerby. Locals have constructed a makeshift temple where lies a human skull and believing the story people leave water bottles at the place.

But as always happens with the ghost stories, there are many versions and another version says about a tanker finding it difficult to climb the loop and driver asked its cleaner to get down and put some stones behind the wheels so as to stop it from rolling behind. But accidentally cleaner came under the wheels and seeing this driver ran away with the vehicle, leaving the cleaner behind left to die.

Nobody knows when these so-called incidents took place. Nowhere I have even read the name of that so-called village where driver went to get the help. There are no accounts to corroborate and it is surprising as by any means story would have been just a couple of decades old. Irony is, now there are hundreds of plastic water bottles scattered at that serene place.

I went biking almost end of the season on this route. I was pretty alone in the sense that I was biking solo and that particular time that stretch was devoid of any other vehicles. I captures whole climb of Gata Loops on video. But I was not able to see or capture anybody or any abnormal activity. Though interesting, it was hard for me to believe that story! I will tell you another thing, while returning back from Leh to Manali I crossed this particular stretch alone in pitch dark as I had decided to take the night halt at Sarchu instead of Pang. But still there was no ghost on the way.

Beautiful landscape around

Well, such stories might keep your travel interesting. But even without this story this particular stretch of road is quite fascinating for the views it gives while climbing up. I will say, it is actually a photographer’s delight to be here. You can just stop at every bend and keep clicking. Its amazing how the landscape changes as you climb, down from the river bed.

Reaching the top

As with every part of this route, it is quite different in different seasons. End of the season in late September or early October would be without any snow but different colours.

Gata Loops actually takes you to a different topography, once you are through, towards what Ladakh is actually famous for.

You can just forget all the ghosts and wonder at this nature’s marvellous creation.

What you see across is actually a view point

You can see a view point in the image above. It also works as a resting point for travellers after all the effort taken to climb the Gata Loops and enjoy some beauty, which they would have missed in all labour to climb up.

Interested in ghost stories? Read: Haunted Fort of Bhangarh- Nothing Spooky about it!

You can see the video of my Gata Loops ride on my channel by clicking on the link below-


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Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek


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

A view of Thajiwas glacier

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

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

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

Camping around Thajiwas Glacier

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

Stream coming from the Thajiwas glacier

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

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

Glacier walk

Trek to Thajiwas passes alongside meadows and streams.

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

Camps alongside the stream

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

Trekkers on way to Thajiwas glacier

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

Rising high

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

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

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

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

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

Hampi in Monsoon : The three monoliths!

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.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Virupaksha Temple

Other side of Hemakuta hill

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.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Images from Hemakuta Hills

Sasivekalu Ganesha

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.

Sasivekalu Ganesha

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.

Getting further down from Sasivekalu Ganesha temple

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.

Badaviling Temple

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.

Badaviling temple

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).

Lakshmi Narasimha temple

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.

Lakshmi Narasimha temple

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.

Boulders which inspire

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.

Hampi in Monsoon : Images from Hemakuta Hills

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.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Virupaksha Temple

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.

a watch tower… or?

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 in Monsoon : Virupaksha Temple

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.

Main gopuram of the Virupaksha temple, which makes the main entrance. This nine storied 50 metre high gopuram is one of the highest in 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.

A show stand and the souvenir shop in the outer courtyard

In the outer courtyard, there are many smaller shrines and mandapams.

Three faced Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva

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.

Family of Lord Shiva

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.

A sculpture depicting various sexual acts inside the inner courtyard on the outer wall of the main shrine

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.

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Triund in the shadow of the Indrahar Pass

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

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

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

Trek route and rhododendron flowers

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

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

Trekkers having some rest and food at a cafe enroute

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

Majestic view of Kangra valley from Triund hill

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

Indrahar Pass as seen from Triund

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset at Triund top

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

A beautiful looking monal at a distance

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

Steep descend along the ridge

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

Tips:

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

Sambhar is a unique destination

Well, this is final post on this trip to Sambhar. This is a sort of a first for me. First time six posts in six days on trot and also for the first time six posts on a trot on a single destination.  Sambhar is on most accounts a sleepy town in Jaipur district. Would have been a village some time back, but has gone bigger now to be called as town.

Sambhar Lake and the town on the left side
Sambhar Lake and the town on the left side

How to reach: There are two ways to reach Sambhar- by road and by train. Sambhar Lake actually in its vast expanse touches three district of Rajasthan- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. Sambhar railway station is right inside the town. This railway station falls on Jaipur-Jodhpur railway line. While coming from Jaipur, this railway station is next to Phulera junction railway station. But express trains don’t stop at Sambhar Lake railway station. There are a couple of passenger trains from Sambhar to Jaipur as well, if you are really interested in going to Sambhar by train. But if one actually takes a passenger train then should perhaps travel from Sambhar to Nawa so that the vast expanse of salt lake can be crossed by train and then can return back to Sambhar for other experiences.

By road, main approach is through National Highway 8. It will depend that you are travelling on NH 8 from Jaipur side or Ajmer side. If you are coming from Jaipur side, drive till Mokhampura, which is almost 50 kms from Jaipur. From here turn right towards Phulera. Phulera is 22 kms from here and after crossing two railway level crossings before and after Phulera, move towards Sambhar town which is just six kms from Phulera. That means Sambhar is just 28 kms off the NH 8 from Mokhampura. But if you are coming from Ajmer side, then after Kishangarh when you enter the Jaipur district than comes a place called Dudu. Turn left from here towards Sambhar which is less than 25 kms from there. Both Mokhampura and Dudu are on NH 8, hence you can use any point to turn towards Sambhar, as per convenience.

Salt fields in Sambhar
Salt fields in Sambhar

Where to stay: Staying depends lot on your purpose, duration and choice of convenience for stay. I wanted to have a feel of the town, so I desperately wanted to stay here. But then you can’t expect luxury.  There are four types of stay options. I stayed at Krishna guesthouse which is just on the start of the town on the right side. There are couple of more such guesthouses. They have clean but basic facilities- bed and attached bathrooms. I paid 500 INR for a one night, just for stay. Since this is also a religious town, it also has a couple of what we call as dharamshalas (place for pilgrims to stay). They are cheaper than guesthouses and might even be same in facilities. These dharamshalas are close to bus stand. Then there is also a PWD rest house which has two sets. So if available tourists can stay there. It is cheaper (currently 275 INR per room per day) and best. This PWD rest house is right opposite the bus stand. Lastly,  if you want to be adventurous, you can pitch tent on dry bed of the salt lake. The night sky here is very beautiful, which people leaving in metros or bigger towns will never get to see. So, if you intend to do that, than go prepared. Those who don’t want to stay in Sambhar, can get better accommodations in Phulera town, six kms from Sambhar. Many tourists will come to Sambhar just for a day visit from either Jaipur or Ajmer. So it all depends, how long you want to stay here.

cenotaph of Daadu Dayal
cenotaph of Daadu Dayal

What to do: Sambhar is biggest inland saline lake in India. Its is also a wintering destination for migratory birds. It is second largest breeding ground for flamingos in India after Rann of Kutch. It is also a religious town with mythological importance. There is also another  prominent temple here- Shakambari temple, located some 22 kms from the town in midst of lake bed. I wanted to go there but couldn’t squeeze it within the time in hand. Sambhar is said to have got its name because of the this goddess. I was more interested in going there to see that side of the salt bed.

So lot of things to do. You can even try to fit all of them in a day trip, but to enjoy more and soak yourself in the atmosphere, better to keep some time in hand. I spent two half days and actually longed for more.

Sambhar lake and the town
Sambhar lake and the town

What to eat: You can try local dishes here. There are few restaurants close to bus stand, which serve tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner. You need to search for some authentic local cuisine. Phinni (फिन्नी) is the sweet, this place is famous for. Many shops near bus stand are good to buy them. That is actually also the main market of the town.

A lot of interest has recently been developed in the place. With many films already shot here including PK, there seems to be increase in the popularity. Soon enough, it is going to come up with lots of developed infrastructure. Rajasthan tourism is already panning a luxury train for bringing high-end tourists to Sambhar. Although, not everything is welcomed by the environmentalists and the bird lovers.
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