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Kashmir Great Lakes : First day trek to Nichnai

One of the most beautiful upcoming treks in mid-altitudes of Himalayas is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Though being surprisingly fascinating, it has not been that popular within domestic adventure tourism sector. There were a few numbers of foreign trekkers coming, mostly for fishing in Gangabal, who use to go up from Naranag (Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag). Then there were locals who will go there for some fun. But this has now come up as a organised trek, which includes trek to six-seven lakes of Kashmir.

Trekkers on the way

Base for the trek is famous hill resort of Sonamarg, which is around 90 kms from capital and the nearest airport Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh road. There are many places around the Sonamarg town to acclimatise for the trek and most popular among them is the Thajiwas glacier (Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Kashmir Great Lakers trek) .

First day of this beautiful trek in Kashmir is very challenging as we gain the maximum altitude from 7,800 ft to 11,500 ft in almost 9 to 10 kilometres.

Thajiwas glacier as seen in background from the Nichnai trail.

Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.

You can see the Sonamarg town below located on the banks of Sindh river
Trekkers coming up from Sonamarg
Its a beautiful way upto the top with lots of green

There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.

Its a well laid out trek, as there are a few villages of Kashmiri gujjars who regularly move up and down
Table top is a mid of the trek resting place, a big meadow.

Actually last of the villages of the trek are around this table top only. You will not find any villages after that, but for couple of army transit camps and camping sites.

My fellow trekkers enjoying some rest at table top.
…but this inhabitant kept looking towards me in a strange way…

Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.

A gujjar village near table top
A gujjar hut meant to bear cold and snow as well as store items

Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.

Another look at the table top from the top

Actually, shortly after the Nichnai Top, the tree line vanishes. Around the hill after top we found some trees in groove style, but as soon as we moved closer to the stream, trees disappeared. What was left were small bushes, flowering plants and grass.

Last of the trees, that we would be seeing on the trek.

Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.

Looking back: Trekkers coming along the stream from the table top side.
This stream goes down and meets the Sindh river near Sonamarg.
Being deep inside the valley, it isn’t so hot here. That is the reason that even after harsh months of summer, we can find ice glaciers here along the stream even at this altitude
Two more small glaciers along the stream on way to Nichnai camp
Looks as if somebody has made a slant cut in this huge rock by a powerful sword!

Fast trekkers can reach the campsite in around six hours, while slower ones can take upto eight-nine hours depending on the fitness level. It started raining just as I was half kilometre away from the camp. Couple of other trekkers were left behind me. We all three were walking together. Than I moved a bit fast to locate the campsite as all others had moved quite ahead. Rain become heavier as I reached the campsite and the two trekkers left behind had to take shelter in a shepherd huts. Our guide went back and brought them at the camp later.

Getting closer… You can see a white sopt in the middle of the picture at the base of the hill on left, that is our campsite… You can also see some trekkers moving ahead of me

No lakes on the first day, but good enough to prepare for days ahead.

You can also watch the video of the first day of my trek to Nichnai on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

 

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Time to kick-off: game, music and fair!

It is the month of some of the biggest festivities of the year in north India specially. It is month of festival of lights Diwali and then Chaath Puja. But this year, this month is also special because of one of the biggest international sporting event to have ever hosted by India- the FIFA U-17 World Cup. This month also kicks off a chain of musical and cultural events across the peninsula, some of them the most memorable ones like Pushkar fair. A perfect time to make some quick travel plans.

Cheers for Football

It is indeed one of the biggest sporting events to be held in India. India is hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup India 2017 scheduled to be held at Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai from 6th to 28th October 2017 in which 24 teams, including India, will participate. A total of 52 games will be played to decide the winner of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. For India significance of this event also lies in the fact that after this event we will have India’s only football team to have played a world cup. What more, many of the matches in the event will be played at most popular of India’s tourist destinations like Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Mumbai besides capital Delhi. So, what an opportunity to see few budding top footballers from around the world along with some fanciest of destinations.

When: 6th-28th October 2017

Where: Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai

Enthralling music at RIFF

Jodhpur RIFF, ranked amongst the Top 25 International Music Festivals in the world, is back again this year to enthral music lovers. Begun in 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF brings together more than 250 Musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world to celebrate their musical heritage and create new sounds through innovative collaborations, for five days in October each year. Timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, Sharad Poornima, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort – voted “Asia’s Best Fortress” by Times Magazine. The Festival is a heady combination of Folk, Jazz, Sufi and contemporary music that transcend global boundaries.  Jodhpur RIFF includes performances by master musicians from local Rajasthan communities, sensational headline acts showcased each night on the Main Stage, and cutting-edge global dance grooves that will keep the party going late into the night at Club Mehran. Interactive daytime sessions for visitors, school children and families are staged against the breathtaking backdrop of the Fort.

This year at the festival you can meet the Bhil community from Banswara and get to know their music and tribal culture – with Malini Kale, then there are living legends like Bhika Khan Manganiyar and Ladu Ram Nayak; on the main stage will be Maand with Ghavri Devi Rao;Kamaycha Charm with Ghewar and Darra Khan; there will be a Musical Tapestry of Voices, Pipes and Strings with Ross Ainslie, Angus Lyon, Blue Rose Code, Asin Khan Langa and Smita Rao Bellur. n the desert lounge will be all acoustic, desert music and Qawaali from Rajasthan. On the 3rd day, 7th October there will be a show on the life and music of the Mir musicians of the Bikaner region. There will be an exclusive show by Nihal Khan Manganiyar and BabunathJogi. On the main stage will be Padharo Mahre Des Re – popular and rare songs of Rajasthan; Mexican Guitars with Paco Renteria; The High Road to Jodhpur – Scottish Shooglenifty/ Rajasthani Dhun Dhora collaboration featuring the Dhol Drummers of Rajasthan. In Club Mehran it will be Rootsy electronic grooves with DJs Victor Kiswell and Logeshan Moorgan. On day 4 there will be The Roundhouse Sessions – a Welsh-Indian collaboration of storytelling and music. On main stage will be Woodwind Vibes with Rajasthani maestros; Gypsy Jazz with Nicotine Swing, Afro-Chic Reggae with Rocky Dawuni. Finally there will be RIFF RUSTLE with Rajasthani and international percussionists, musicians and singers from Jodhpur RIFF 2017… and a superb ‘rustler”!

When: 5th-9th October 2017

Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Another festival for the Marwar

Another musical extravaganza at Jodhpur, almost at the same time. Marwar Festival is held every year in memory of the heroes of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the month of Ashwin (September-October) in Jodhpur, for two days during the full moon of Sharad Poornima. Originally known as the Maand Festival, this festival features folk music centered on the romantic lifestyle of Rajasthan’s rulers. Organised by Rajasthan tourism and Jodhpur administration, this festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs. Other attractions at the festival are the camel tattoo show and polo. The government Ummaid stadium, the historical clock tower in the midst of the old city and the sand dunes of Osian village provide the ideal venue for the cultural extravaganza – an integral part of the festival. On first day morning there is a procession from Ummaid stadium to the old city and back. There are various competitions during the day and the camel tattoo show by the BSF. In the evening there is cultural performance by the folk artists of Rajasthan at clock tower. Events on the second day take place at Osian village. Osian is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples. It lies 69 km by road north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur-Bikaner Highway.

When: 4th-5th October 2017

Where: Various places, Jodhpur

Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival

This is the year of 40th Soorya festival. You won’t believe that this festival will run for 111 days and in this edition again around 2000 artists from around the country will take part in this. Every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music of the festival. All music and dance aficionados will have treat at this festival and be exposed to the very best of Indian cultural arts. Held by the Soorya Stage and Film Society, a cultural society which promotes the arts vigorously, the Soorya Festival of Music and Dance presents varied dance performances by artistes showcasing different dance forms like Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Renowned dancers from all over India perform at this festival. Music concerts are also held at this festival and well known proponents in the Hindustani and Carnatic style perform jugalbandis, vocal and instrumental soirees. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. Actually in first week of October Soorya organizes festivals in almost every big city of Kerala as well as in some other big cities of South India such as Chennai, Bangalore and Madurai. Festival has already commenced with an event called ‘Ammu: Saannidhyavum Saameepyaum’ which was a get together of 15 artists who have played the role of ‘Ammu’ the girl who played the central character in all shows directed by Soorya Krishnamurthy.

The first phase will be film festival from Sep 21 to October 10. The critically acclaimed film, Minnaminungu, directed by Anil Thomas, will be the inaugural film. The lead actor of the film, Surabhi Lakshmi, who also won national award for the same is also expected to attend the function. The dance and music festival will be held from October 1 to 10. As had been in previous years, K J Yesudas will perform the inaugural concert at AKG Hall at 6.45pm on October 1. Leading artists Meenakshi Sreenivasan, Rama Vaidyanathan, Nithyasree Mahadevan and Manju Warrier will perform in the festival. For the first time, Soorya festival will feature a Jugalbandi festival this year. The Jugalbandi festival will be held from December 6 to 9. Odissi-Bharatanatyam performance by Sandhya Manoj and Namita Bodaji, Mohiniyattom jugalbandi by Nair Sisters Veena and Dhanya, Mohiniyattom – Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Rekha Raju and Rekha Satish and Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Devi and Girish Chandra will be held. Jalsa Ghar, dedicated to Hindustani music, will be held at YMCA Auditorium from October 21 to 31. Hindustani vocalists Ramesh Narayan, Fayaz Khan, Manjari, Gayathri and Shahbaz Aman will be among the performers. ‘Meet the masters’ programme will be held from November 21 to 25. It will be a tribute to actor Om Puri and five of his films will be screened. The grand finale of the festival will be on Jan 11, 2018 when Chandu Menon’s masterpiece ‘Indulekha’ will be staged as a dance-music drama at Government school, Attakulangara.

When: 21st September 2017-11th January 2018

Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Gustor of Deskit monastery in Nubra

Deskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. Gustors take place at different monasteries at different time of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils. Deskit monastery also celebrates its Gustor festival. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas 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. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas 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.

When: 17th-18th October 2017

Where: Deskit Monastery, Deskit, Nubra valley, Ladakh. Deskit is 120 kilometres from Leh and just 7 kilometres before Hunder known for its sand dunes.

The charm of Pushkar

One of India’s favourite fair. The Pushkar Cattle Fair is one of the largest in India and the only one of its kind in the entire world. During the fair, Lakhs of people from rural India flock to Pushkar, along with camel and cattle for several days of livestock trading, horse dealing, pilgrimage and religious festival. This small town, becomes a cultural phenomenon when colourfully dressed devotees, musicians, acrobats, folk dancers, traders, comedians, ‘sadhus’ and tourists reach here during Pushkar fair. According to Hindu chronology, it takes place in the month of Kartika (October or November) beginning on ‘ashtmi’ 8th day of Lunar Calendar and continues till full moon (‘Poornima’). The camel and cattle trading is at its peak during the first half of festival period. During the later half, religious activities dominate the scenario. Devotees take dips in the holy “Sarovar” lake, as the sacred water is known to bestow salvation. This small town is transformed into a spectacular fair ground, as rows of make shift stalls display an entire range of objects of art to daily utility stuff. Decoration items for cattle, camel and women, everything is sold together. Small handicraft items are the best bargain for buying souvenirs. The camel and horse races have crowds to cheer. Camel judging competitions are quite popular with animal lovers. Each evening brings different folk dances and music of Rajasthan, performers delivering live shows to the roaring and applauding crowds. Pushkar fair has its own magic and it’s a lifetime experience for travellers. It has featured in numbers of travel shows, films and magazines. According to the Lonely Planet: “It’s truly a feast for the eyes. If you are any where within striking distance at the time, it’s an event not to be missed.”

When:  28th October to 4th November 2017

Getting there: By Air, nearest airport is Jaipur, which is connected with major cities. A newly built air strip at Kishangarh can cater to small charter flights. Helipad at Ghooghra (Ajmer) and Devnagar (Pushkar) can cater to clients travelling by helicopter. Ajmer is well connected by Rail to all important cities. Pushkar is just 13 kms away from Ajmer.  Ajmer is also well connected to important cities of Rajasthan and country through roads and is on Delhi-Mumbai National highway no 8.

 

Two temple festivals from down south in God’s Own country- Kerala:

A festival for serpent gods

The Aayilliya Mahotsavam at Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple at Vetticode falls on the day in the Malayalam month of Kanni, every year. The celebrations would start seven days prior to the Aayilliyam day. In these days, various special poojas, homas and kalasa poojas are performed so as to increase the deity’s power and the power to shower blessings on worshippers. To please the deity, high sounding instruments are played by a group of experts. The nadabrahma that flows through the pipes of Nadaswara experts, the Kombu and Kuzhal (wind instruments) that are played to the accompaniment of percussion instruments viz. Maddallam and Chenda and the magical notes of the Edakka and the Thakil would transform the devotees to a different level of devotional experience. Soon after this the Ezhunnallathu (ceremonial procession) would begin. It starts from the temple and proceeds to the Meppallil Illam at about 3 p.m. and after the poojas there, returns to the temple. By dusk, the famous Sarpabali begins and concludes by around 9.30 p.m. The temple will remain closed up to Brahma Muhoortha and after that the Shuddi Kriyas (purification rituals) will begin. This is followed by the abhisheka with tender coconut water from thousands of coconuts and pure milk. The festival will conclude with the daily poojas and Panchamritha Nivedhya.

When: 8th to 14th October 2017

Where: Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple, Vettikode, Alappuzha

Grandeur of Alpashi Utsavam

Held at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the Alpasi festival is a grand festival celebrated with much fanfare and sees the participation of scores of people from across the State.The crowning moment of this magnificent festival is the aarattu ceremony or the holy bath of the deities in the sea. The aarattu procession starts from the temple and proceeds to the Shanghumugham Beach. It is, in fact, a magnificent sight to watch the procession which is escorted by the head of the Travancore royal family, bearing a sword. Thousands of devotees will throng to watch the procession which has an elaborate line-up of magnificently decorated elephants, mounted police and columns of armed police. This annual ritual which falls in October or November is one that should not be missed.

When: 19th to 28th October 2017

Where: Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Now two more festivals from Rajasthan, this time from close to Udaipur-

Dance and grandeur at Ranakpur

Ranakpur, a village located in Desuri tehsil near Sadri town in the Pali district of Rajasthan welcomes you all to the “The Ranakpur Festival”.  It’s a splendid opportunity for the tourists to once again gain an insight into the life of people of Rajasthan with the onset of cultural and religious festivals one after another. Just like folk festivals in Jodhpur and Jaipur, the holy town of Ranakpur near Pali will also witness the Ranakpur Festival, a melange of Rajasthani folk performances and classical dances as well as renditions by renowned vocal artists and dance performers. Department of Tourism, Rajasthan, is organising this festival which comprises of holy chanting, cultural programmes, conventional Kathak performances and Classical Odissi performances. Besides, every morning at 8.00 o’clock a jungle safari is also organised for the guests of Ranakpur Festival. Some of the other attractions of this festival would be the food and craft bazaar where a great mixture of several cultures and amazing art & craft would be seen and experienced along with the arrangements for Rock Climbing. Beautifully sculptured Jain temples of Ranakpur mark the glory of this renowned place. Considered as one of the five holy places for the Jain community, these were created in the 15th century during the reign of Rana Kumbha. These are enclosed within a wall. The central Chaumukha [four faced temple] is dedicated to Adinathji. The temple is an astounding creation of architectural splendor with 29 halls and 1,444 pillars all distinctly carved, no two pillars being alike. For the tourism buffs a ride to the outskirts like ‘ Sadari’ – ‘Desuri’- ‘Ghanerao’- ‘Narlai’, will be found to be exciting.

Date: 6th -7th October 2017

Venue: Ranakpur, Rajasthan

Getting there: Ranakpur is just 90 minutes’ drive from Udaipur.  Udaipur is well connected with air, train and bus services from all major cities of North and West India. From Udaipur, one can hire a taxi or a bus for Ranakpur. 

A lantern festival for city of lakes

Lantern festivals have normally been popular in South East Asia, but now Indian cities also seem to be following the trend and evolving festivals of their own.  Among them is city of Lakes- Udaipur. Udaipur Lantern Festival is a unique concept by UdaipurBlog incepted 5 years back in year 2012 to celebrate the pious festivity of Diwali in Udaipur at a common place and sharing joy with others. The festival witnesses amazing live performances by Artists, Buzzing Bazaar that will bring Local Finds and Foods, Art Installations and Fun Activities. This year festival starts with games, food stalls and buzzing bazaar. Start with the local performances & Swaraag – A Indo Western Music Band. Begins the performances of the evening – Papon takes the stage. Music takes the evening – Performances by DJ Kavish. Festival ends with lighting of lanterns, this blissful ending of the fest with a hope of new start. The number of people attending the event has increased from 800 to 4500 in five years.

When: 15th October 2017

Where: Shouryagarh Resort & Spa, Udaipur, Rajasthan

 

Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass!


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It’s September. Seemingly best month to travel to Leh through this treacherous Manali-Leh highway. Best because of weather and the road conditions. Snow has melted around. But roadsides without snow also snatches away some of the thrills of this route, that one can experience in the months of June and July. But reaching here is never a mean task, more so if you have decided to travel all alone.

So, here I am at mighty Baralacha La pass, all alone. How it feels to be here standing lonely with not a living being in sight at an altitude more than half of the Mount Everest, with just your faithful bike to company!

Journey so far has been fascinating to say the least. At every step you keep feeling that how you have been longing to be here, inevitably. I already had a share of adventure on my detour to Chandratal.

Read:  Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

But for those who all move straight towards Leh from Manali after crossing the Rohtang pass, its after Keylong that actual thrill starts.

Read:  Himalayan Rides – Chandratal to Keylong

Once you cross Keylong town, there is another small village Jispa on the way 20 kms from Keylong. Jispa is actually the last inhabited place before you reach Ladakh on this route. Though there are a few camping settlements and couple of transit camps also on the way. Jispa has also been traditionally popular among campers for first halt after Manali. Adventurers will prefer it over Keylong as Jispa is located along the banks of Bhaga river and is obviously more scenic than Keylong. Jispa also gives a high altitude acclimatisation as it is at an altitude of over 10,800 ft. As one of our fellow writers Ajay Jain from kunzum.com says that Jispa is more of a destination than just a halt on Manali-Leh highway. It Indeed is. You move ahead after crossing Darcha and reach Patsio. Darcha is more of a police check post where every vehicle has to make a entry before moving further ahead.

Camp site at Deepak Tal

Patsio is also fast emerging as a camping destination. It is higher at 12,300 ft and there is a small glacial lake named Deepak Tal.

Also read: Himalayan rides- Batal to Chandratal

Between Darcha and Patsio are few running streams which have to be crossed. One of them just before Patsio is particularly tricky one to negotiate as the flow of water is forceful and it doesn’t lets you judge the stones and pebbles correctly. So, though it is not deep, but crossing this on stones makes it tricky and as happened with me, I got struck in the middle of the stream. It took me a lot of effort to pull my bike out, and that particular moment I thought… is it foolish to be all alone here!

Further ahead, the next zing of the route is truly Zing Zing Bar. Another of pit stops. Benefit of going in September is also that, you get less number of streams to cross, otherwise Zing zing bar is famous for one of its ferocious nullahs. It is a refuelling depot for BRO vehicles, but also has some shacks, restaurants and a few camps. The name of the place is still a puzzle form me. But mind it, that many places enroute have been named by the army troops in all these years.

winding roads up towards Baralacha La

And then you reach Suraj Tal, just below the Baralacha La. Suraj Tal is quite below the road and it is not easy to reach there. You need time as you have to trek down upto the lake and then come again to continue with the journey. Not feasible for all those who are on thorough trip to next stop over. But those who stay at either Patsio or Zingzing Bar can afford to go upto Suraj Tal. For some strange reason army has renamed the Suraj Tal as Vishal Taal in memory of an young officer who died in this region.

What once used to be Suraj Tal has now been named as Vishal Taal by BRO. This high altitude Himalayan lake originates from #BaralachaLa. Although not as glamorous and big as Chandratal but still it is an important stop-over for all riders and bikers to Leh on the Manali-Leh highway. It is located just below the Baralacha La pass at an altitude of 4883 metres. This lake is further source of #Bhaga river which joins #Chandra river at #Tandi near #Keylong and form #Chandrabhaga river. Chandra River originates from Chandratal. Chandrabhaga becomes #Chenab river as soon as it enters Jammu and Kashmir from #HimachalPradesh There is also a very popular trekking route from Chandratal to Surajtal. This is how Suraj Tal looks in September. But it will be entirely different in early summer when there will still be lot of snow around. #travel #tourism #India #Leh #Manali #adventure #photography #photooftheday #picoftheday #MyPhotos #InstaPics #Lahaul #Spiti #SurajTal #VishalTaal #SurajTaal #Himalayas

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Occasional workers you encounter in the wilderness
Flags at Baralacha La

You can also watch a video of Baralacha La, Suraj Tal and Deepak Tal on my channel on YouTube by clicking the link below-

From Baralacha La the road goes down to a small settlement named Bharatpur. Roads and the weather are so unpredictable here that you never know, what happens next. What certainly is predictable is the beauty of landscape around. As we see in the images below.

‘Clay courts’ at Bharatpur
Towards Bharatpur

Not everything goes as per the plan though. When I had left in the morning from Keylong, target was to reach Sarchu and if possible Pang.  As happened with me when all of sudden after Bharatpur and just before Killing Sarai, I encountered a mighty landslide which forced an unscheduled night stopover at Bharatpur. A shack owner coming from the spot stopped me on the way and informed me about the incident. He also offered to come back and stay in his restaurant for the night. I still thought to see for myself and kept moving till the spot which was further one kilometre. Finally I could see it myself. That happened just a short while ago and workers already working on the road were miraculously saved. One of the JCB machine was buried under the rocks. I spent some time talking to the workers and photographing. I was told that there was no chance of clearing of the traffic before night. Bigger JCB machines were yet to arrive from Killing Sarai on the other side.

…and the landslide
Blocked road
miraculous escape for the workers

Turning back from the landslide, I reached back to the four shacks lined up side by side along the road. All of them were almost designed in similar fashion. Beds lined up on both sides in the front portion and then kitchen and store on the back. Makeshift pit toilets were on the back of the shack. River was further 50 metres behind.

evening at Bharatpur

Early close to the day gave me some time to roam around, enjoy the beauty, take photographs and also time to read, write and interact. As, soon the number of stranded vehicles had increased. It seemed that all the beds in all four shacks had already been booked up. That tiny camp site has been brought to life because of that landslide.

evening beauty at unscheduled halt

…blessing in disguise!

You can also see the video of this journey from Keylong to Bharatpur on my channel by clicking 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.

Onam to Bathukamma via Ladakh Festival!

It is one of those months, which have festivities right from start till end and that too almost in every corner of the country and with many shades. How wonderful to have all these occasions to supplement the usual zest for travel! And, what a diversity we have, it can be envious for any other country on the planet. Just consider this- the nine days before Vijayadashmi are celebrated as Durga Puja in Bengal, Garba in Gujarat, Ramlila in north and as Bathukamma in Telangana. All these festivals celebrated on same days of calendar have different myths, different customs, different performances, different food but same gusto. Even the ramlilas are different in different parts and so is Vijayadashami.

Festival of prosperity & joy – Onam

Festivities for the month start with Onam in Kerala. Its interesting that in spite of centuries that passed by, various rulers having ruled the land, the mythical King Mahabali enjoys a popularity that no other ruler can boast of! The greatest charm of Onam lies undoubtedly in the coming together of the Malayali folk to welcome the mythical king on his imaginary annual visit to the land. The ten-day long festival begins with atham asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam and culminates grandly on the day of Thiruvonam. The households bubbling and bustling with energy is a sight reserved during Onam days. As per mythology, King Mahabali decided to leave for the nether world, failing to keep his promise given to Lord Vishnu who came in the guise of Vaamana. As for the delicacies of Onam one would wish it to go on and on. Payasam (the traditional Kerala dessert), the show-stopper among the Onasadya (the sumptuous feast) is itself of plentiful variety. It is very interesting to watch how kids make every festival their own. Children dart in the neighbourhood in search of flowers to make floral carpets (pookkalam) that adorn their courtyards. Traditional arts and games throbs the rustic ambience of villages. The inevitable swing is a unique feature of this festivity. There are many Onam special programmes conducted across Kerala including Kerala Tourism sponsored programs all over the state. Atham asterism was on 25th August this year and  Thiruvonam will be celebrated on September 6, 2017.

 

Snake boat race at Aranmula

Onam has lot many things associated with the celebrations and among them are the traditional snake boat races of Kerala. Aranmula has got a unique place when it comes to the cultural imaginings of Kerala. The boat race held annually on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the local Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival is one the cultural hallmarks of this land. Teeming with rich tradition and rituals immersed in splendor, the Aranmula Uthrittathi boat race is considered more of a ritual than a race. Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the Thiruvona sadya (the grand traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day, which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race. This year the boat race will be on 8th September 2017.

Where: Race is held in River Pamba in Aranmula, District Pathanamthitta of Kerala. If you want to be there than nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 11 km while nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 kms.

Regatta of remembrance with Payippad Boat Race

But than Aranmula is not the only boat race of Onam. Two days before the Aranmula boat race, takes place a legendary boat race at Payippad. It is also said to be perhaps the oldest boat race in Kerala. This one is in the northern part of the state though in all famous Alappuzha district. A regatta to commemorate a legend associated with water. The legend is about the installation of the idol in the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple, Haripad. The legend says that the villagers once had a vision, which directed them to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake where they discovered the idol of Sree Subramanya. Held annually on the Payippad River, this boat race is noted for the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy boat race. The boat race is marked by synergy, speed and rigour. Thousands swarm to the banks of Payippad River to celebrate the event. This event runs for three days. So if you can’t make it to Aranmula, then try to be at Payippad. There is another boat race on the same day- Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat race at Kumarakom, one of the best beach resorts in Kerala. Payippad boat race event will run from 4th to 6th September 2017.

Where: Race will be at Payippad backwaters in Payippad, District Alappuzha. To reach there nearest railway station is Haripad, about 5 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.

Pulikali, the tiger dance

There is still something more associated with Onam in Kerala. Come Onam and the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district becomes a hunting ground teeming with prowling tigers and wily hunters. Each tiger has its ferocity writ large on their faces as well as on their bellies. Yes, bellies, for these are not the four-legged tigers you would come across in the wild. Rather, they are all men with their bodies painted as that of tigers with life like vividness. Pulikali (the play of the tigers) is an event that has become synonymous with the festival of Onam in Kerala. Apart from the true colours of a tiger, one would also come across other colours and patterns and even the facial features of lions on the bodies of the performers. The finesse with which the makeup is done with paints is awe inspiring. With the performance being centred on playing hide-and-seek with a hunter wielding a gun, the event is exciting and fun for both the performers and the onlookers. To say the least, it is a riot of fiery colours that is a feast to the eyes. This year Pulakili will be celebrated on 8th September 2017.

Where: Swaraj Round, Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Thrissur, about a kilometre while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 58 km from Thrissur.

Spectacular Neelamperoor Patayani

Onam ends but festivities don’t in Kerala. ‘Neelamperoor Patayani’ is a spectacular event that falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (usually August / September). Visiting Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple during the time of annual patayani festival is a colourful treat to the eyes. The patayani (also called as padayani) celebration at this temple is said to have a history of around 1700 years. The word patayani literally means rows of army. Though patayani is performed in a number of other temples in Kerala, the one held at Neelamperoor is unique. Kettukazhcha (display of deftly decorated effigies) is what makes this festival stand out. A grand procession of huge effigies of swans and other legendary and mythical characters are brought in. The making of the effigies of swans is locally known as annam kettu. At night the ambience is set by a colourful procession carrying the effigies of mythological characters like Bhima, Ravana, and Yakshi, which is a spectacular sight. This year it will be celebrated on 19th September 2017.

Where: To witness this get to Palli Bhagavathi Temple at Neelamperoor in Alappuzha

Glory of Ramnagar Ramlila

Back to mainstream in one of the holiest of Indian cities as per hindu mythology. Varanasi has always been a magnet for the spiritual, the religious, for holy seers and for the hippies. During the ten days of the Dussehra, the city becomes famous for its Ramlila, often considered to be the one of the oldest and perhaps grandest ramlila in world.  Fifteen kilometers from the main city lies Ramnagar, where the Ram Leela is enacted in a unique manner. Unlike the rest of the country, where the enactment is done on single stages, here in Ramnagar the whole town is transformed into a large Ram Leela ground, structures are built and different spaces represent different locations in the story.  The whole Ram lila takes place over a month. For a month, Ramnagar is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold. Permanent structures and parts of the town within a five-kilometre radius are named after places mentioned in the epic, and different episodes of the lila are enacted at different venues every day. On most days, the Ramlila moves – the cast, the Kashi Naresh, audiences and all. Sometimes, the movement is within a larger venue. Sadhus coming to Ramnagar from all over the country during this time and reciting Ramcharitramanas are called Ramayanis and the audience follows the performers all over town.  Even though thousands of devotees, bystanders, tourists throng the town during this month, it is incredible to note that most of the recital is done without the aid of any loudspeakers, electric lights or mikes, and the audience maintains a hushed silence throughout the Ramayani recital. Audiences move around from one location to another in order to see the one of its kind Ramlila. The crowd ranges from a few thousand for some episodes, up to a lakh for episodes like Ram and Sita’s wedding, Dussehra (when a 60-feet high effigy of the Raavan is burnt), Bharat Milaap, and the coronation of Ram (the most auspicious episode). On the day after Dussehra, Varanasi celebrates the Bharat Milaap festival, which commemorates Ram’s return to Ayodhya and his reunion with younger brother Bharat.  This takes place at Nati Imli, and thousands of people flock and gather to see Ram meet Bharat.  People wear tilak on their foreheads and garland the brothers. Watching the entire scene from the background every year is Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) in his regal attire and finery. This year Ramnagar Ramlila will be organised from 5th September to 5th October 2017.

Dussehras of different hues 

Dussehra in Almora, Uttarakhand

A festival so deep-rooted in our mythology is unique in the sense that it is celebrated in so different forms in different parts of country. Dussehra is marked as the victory of Good over evil, but the celebrations have taken various forms at various places. With underlying message the same in all of them, they all are worth a visit to understand the local customs, beliefs and rituals. Mysore Dasara is known for its sheer grandeur and participation. Mysore, or Mahishur as it was called in the past, traces its history back to the mythical past, when Goddess Chamundeshwari of Chamundi Hill, killed the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The city of Mysore has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival and the festivities here are an elaborate affair and attract a large audience from all over the world. Another unique celebration from remote interiors of the country. The most important festival in Bastar is the Dusshera when all the deities from the surrounding villages unite at the temple of Danteshwari in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters. Unlike Dusshera in other parts of India, here it is not the celebration of return of Rama to Ayodhaya.  Dusshera in Bastar is devoted entirely to the goddess, Danteshwari Devi. Then, Kota in Rajasthan has a very popular Dussehra celebration as well, known for a mixed urban-rural ethos of this religious occasion. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, Kota celebrates a number of festivals. However, this festival of Dussehra bears a distinct appeal altogether. Here Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. Then, after the whole country winds up the celebration of Dussehra by burning the effigies of Ravana, then the Dussehra at Kullu begins. The festival commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on Vijayadashmi day itself and continues for seven days. The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill- men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Another Dussehra in the hills is in the top list for its traditional style and culture. In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the Dussehra festival starts with the performance of Ramlila which is unique as it is based on the musical rendering of the katha or story of Lord Rama. It is based on the theatrical traditions set by Uday Shankar during his stay in Almora; these traditions were further enriched by Mohan Upreti and Brijendra Lal Sah. Almora’s Kumaoni style enactment has also been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most representative Ramlilas along with places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Madhubani. This year Dussehra or Vijayadashami is on 30th September.

Cultural renascence through Bathukamma festival

Bathukamma at Lal badhur Stadium in Hyderabad.Photo/P Anil kumar

Bathukamma is one of the many undiscovered facets of Telangana which are now getting popularity with formation of separate state. The nine day Bathukamma festival is a celebration of womanhood and is an ode to the various emotions that woman feel. Bathukamma, a prominent festival prior to Dussehra is a historic festival embedded with the lives of woman in Telangana. Bathukamma represents the cultural spirit of Telangana and signifies the Goddess Maha Gauri, the patron goddess of womanhood. The Telangana government has declared ‘Bathukamma’ as a state festival. There are number of legends that surround this 1000 year old festival. Festival is most renowned for its large flower pyramids or ‘bathukammas’. Larger the better. Women spend hours building their bathukammas all through two week long celebrations. Once done, they offer it to the deities. The celebration is combined with traditional dance and folk songs. This year festival will be celebrated from 20th to 28th September.

Its all bright at Abhaneri Festival

This is comparatively a new entrant to Rajasthan’s festival calendar. ’Abhaneri festival’ is named after the village Abhaneri in the Dausa district which is around 90 km from Jaipur on the Agra road. This two-day festival has gained immense popularity amongst the tourists around the globe. This year, it will commence from 21st to 22nd September with various Rajasthani & local folk performances like Kachhi Ghori, Kalbeliya, Ghoomar, and Bhawai. Festival was initiated by Rajasthan Tourism in 2008, it is of great significance for Rajasthan. The village of Abhaneri was originally named Abha Nagri, meaning “city of brightness”. The place is popular for the Chand Baori-step well, one of the largest step wells built over a thousand years ago. Be a part of the celebrations at Abhaneri and dip into the rustic charm of traditional Rajasthani music.

Peak of season at Ladakh Festival 

So if you are done with all religious festivals than move north to Ladakh for yearly Ladakh festival. The main aim of organising this Ladakh 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 dance and songs of different parts of Ladakh. 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 is celebrated from 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its villages. 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 is for 6 days with 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.

 

EAT, DRINK, MERRY! at Ziro

Ziro Festival of Music is probably one of the most happening fun outdoor music festival in the country. It also showcases the India’s independent music scene. This year the festival will be held from 28th September to 1st October 2017. So far ZFM has featured stellar acts from around the world including Lee Ranaldo & Steve Shelley (SONIC YOUTH -USA), Lou Majaw, menwhopause, Shaa’ir n Func, Whirling Kalapas, Sky Rabbit, Peter cat recording Co, Guru Rewben Mashangva among others. This edition will be over four days and will feature 40 performances from across the globe as well as the best folk musicians from the North East on two stages. More than 6000 people are expected to attend the festival. Lineup for this year includes Reggae Rajahs, Damo Suzuki, The Kathmandu Killers, Alaska Snack Time, Alobo Naga & The Band, Bint El Funk, Rizal Abdulhadi, Jambili, Thaalavattam, Dhruv Visvanath and Sofia Ashraf among others. Ziro is primarily home to the Apatanis – simple, friendly and hospitable people with an interesting culture and legacy. They are a non-nomadic, agrarian tribe who share a responsible relationship with nature. Apatanis cultivate permanent wet land cultivations instead of dry land cultivations which involves burning forests. Ziro valley is lush with paddy farms and is known for its unique paddy cum fi sh cultivation where using traditional irrigation methods, farmers rear fish in the knee-deep water. Keeping them company are the adorable, shy, and harmless Indian Bisons. All visitors – Indian and foreigners – to Arunachal Pradesh need special permits to enter the state. Indians need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) and foreigners require a Protected Area Permit.

Getting there: Ziro is the district headquarters of Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and is situated 167km from the capital, Itanagar. It is one of the oldest towns in Arunachal Pradesh in a valley at a height of over 5500 feet above sea level surrounded by misty mountains. The nearest airport is Tezpur. However, flights to Tezpur are often cancelled without reason. The best option is to fly to Guwahati and do the road journey. Guwahati is 450 kilometres from Ziro. It takes around 12 hours on road but lot also depends on weather. The nearest railhead is North Lakhimpur by Arunachal Express from New Bongaigaon. Direct buses are available from Guwahati, Itanagar and North Lakhimpur. You can also reach Naharlagun station by train which is 3 hours from Ziro. Naharlagun has overnight trains from Guwahati.

 

Colours of turmeric this August

A yatra ends this month at Amarnath and another starts for another of Shiva’s abode in Himalayas, a bit less challenging but equally fascinating. That’s not all this month, this is actually start of the classical Indian festive season with two of most important religious celebrations- Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi. But those are not only the ones which will catch your eyes, there is something else as golden as colour of turmeric which adds to the fervour of the month. Interestingly enough, in this peak monsoon time we already have an extended Independence day weekend in mid of month. There is also continuation of some excellent seasonal stuffs that have already taken off- boat races in Kerala and monastic festivals in Ladakh. Already soaked in? Come on! Its time to pack the bags to have experience of India’s unique cultural diversity. Let’s start.

Bhandara Festival of Golden turmeric

Photo: Google

I must say, I was totally ignorant about this festival until recently. Once I came to know about it, I couldn’t resist including it in the wishlist. It is a unique festival but up north we hardly got to know about it. Its a festival of golden turmeric dedicated to a local deity Khandoba. Maharashtrians call Jejuri as “Sonyachi Jejuri” which means Golden Jejuri, as during the festival the whole town takes a golden hue because of this turmeric play. Hence, the Bhandara festival is unique not just because it is celebrated with turmeric, but also because it has got no fixed date, season or month. Only reason for the festival has to be a Somvati Amavasya which means the new moon day falling on a Monday. And that can happen at any time of year and many times a year. So, practically, there are number of Bhandara festivals celebrated at Jejuri and all with same spirit and religious fervour. Thirdly, festival is also unique because of the deity. Khandoba is regarded as the “god of Jejuri” is probably be the most versatile and widely acknowledged deity being worshipped across many regions, religions, casts and communities. He is the most popular Kul Devata (family god) among one of the oldest shepherd tribe “Dhangar” and the patron deity of Deshastha Brahmin too. People from other communities like warriors, farming and herding castes too keep their high regards towards him. The cult of Khandoba has prominent linkages with Vaishnava and Jain traditions despite him being worshipped as Martanda Bhairava, a form of Lord Shiva. In the temple of Jejuri, surprisingly both the deities of him and his wife Malsha is in the form of Lingas (one of Lord Shiva’s most known statue form) which are covered with decorated silver masks. A part of the Muslims too consider him as their god Mallu Khan and been seen offering goat flesh in the temple areas. This way people consider him as one of the rare non-vegetarian Indian god. This year, one celebration of Bhandara Festival has already taken place on 27th March. After this one in August there will be third one on 18th December.

When: 21st August 2017
Where: Jejuri, 55 kms from Pune. Main temple is at a hillock in the town where all the celebrations take place.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Mascot for this year’s Nehru trophy boat race

Come August and the placid waters of the Punnamada Lake become a track on fire. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the time of the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race is when the silence of the lake is sliced by the slashing oars of the pacing boats. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Hordes of people swarm the banks of the Punnamada Lake to relish this annual water regatta. The rhythmic and the synchronised way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle. The ceremonial water processions, floats and decorated boats add to the beauty of the event. This is one such unique sporting event cherished by Keralites of all age groups. Apart from the locals, the spirit and enthusiasm that form part of the Nehru Trophy boat race is also shared by visitors from far off places. It is a sheer delight for the onlookers to watch the snake boats with 80 to 100 oarsmen aboard, who dip their oars in unison as the snake boat glides and cuts the water surface at a tremendous pace.  And winning the race is a matter of pride and glory to each participating team and healthy rivalries are visible on the race day. There are various categories in the event and approximately 60-70 chundan (snake) boats participate in the race. Mascot for this year’s race is a prawn sailing a boat.

When: 12th August 2017
Where: Punnamada Backwaters, Punnamada, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Alappuzha, about 8 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha town.

Janmashtami at Mathura

Pic: Google

Birth of Krishna, one of the biggest annual festivals in Hindu mythology and there can be no other place better to celebrate this than Mathura, considered to be place of his birth in the prison and Gokul (Vrindavan) where he was brought up. It’s a day of traditional fasting until midnight, the time when Krishna is believed to have been born. At that time there are huge celebrations in the temples with special pujas and prasadas. But the intensity and traditions of celebrations in Mathura-Vrindavan region are entirely different from rest of the country. At many place such as Nandgaon the celebrations will start as early as from Raksha Bandhan and will continue till Radhashtami. All households in the area will celebrate the day as birth of child in their own homes. At Gokul, next day after Janmashtami, there will be a huge celebration of Nandotsava in memory of the day when whole area came to know that a child is born to Nanda and Yashoda in Gokul. Best time to visit these places, to understand the culture and to soak into a very distinct celebration and festivities. Mathura is close and loaded with all type of staying options.

When: 14th August 2017
Where: Mathura/Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
Getting there: Mathura is less than two hours journey from Delhi and just an hours journey from Agra. It is on main rail route connecting Delhi to central and southern India. Many tourists will plan a trip to Mathura and Agra together.

Monsoon Festival at Saputara

Situated in densely forested plateau in the Sahayadri range, Saputara holds the distinction of being the only hill station in Gujarat. Saputara has been developed as a planned hill resort with amenities like hotels, parks, boat clubs and museums to ensure an enjoyable holiday for everyone in the cool of hills. The drive to Saputara is breathtaking with the serpentine road commencing from Waghai. The hill station is most enjoyable in the monsoon when clouds descend on the land. One can see brooks and streams flowing down the valley which makes for a spectacular haven for trekkers as well, as there are numerous forest trails. So every year there is a monsoon festival almost a month long to give you ample time to be part of the festivities. Tourists can enjoy Saputara at its best. One can hire services of a local guide to roam around. Echo point, Wagah Bari, Step Garden, Artistic village, Log huts, Saputara museum, Lake, Sunset point, ropeway are among the spots, one can enjoy. So go and breathe in the freshness of Saputara with is echoing green hues, lush with flowers, and watch the meditating rain drops sitting still on sloping leaves. Some of the thickest forest cover in the state of Gujarat envelops you. Drench yourself in nature and fun!

When: 13th August 2017 to 11th September 2017
Where: Saputara, Gujarat
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Waghai, which is 50 kms from Saputara city center. While nearest airport is Surat, almost 156 kms from here. Saputara is well connected through roads to major cities of state. Mumbai is just 255 kms from here via Nashik. Ahmedabad is 400 kms from here.

Another Kailash on Manimahesh Yatra
It’s very interesting that we consider it unsafe to go to hills during rains, but still most of the pilgrimages in hills do take place only during rains- may be it is Kailash-Mansarovar or Amarnath or Chardham or Chota Kailash. Almost all of them are related to mythical abodes of Shiva. Another one among the list is Manimahesh in Himachal. Manimahesh is a high altitude lake at an altitude of 13,500 feet. On the east of this lake is Kailash Mountain with an altitude of 18,564 feet. They both come in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Every year there is a pilgrimage from Hudsor to Manimahesh Lake (15 kms). Earlier this Yatra used to start from Bharmaur, but since now Hudsor has become a road head, people have started walking on foot from Hudsor. There is no exact version of how this Yatra started, but it indeed is many centuries old. Bharmaur and Chamba are historical cities with versions dating back after 550 A.D. Temples in Bharmaur are architectural beauties. And Yatra is also a trekkers’ delight. Yatra normally starts on Janmashtami and ends on Radhashtami.

When: 15th August 2017 to 29th August 2017
Where: Hudsor (Bharmaur), Dist- Chamba, Himachal Pradesh
Getting there: Hudsor is 17 kms from Bharmaur and 82 kms from Chamba. Pathankot at distance of 220 kms is the closest convenient railhead, from where you can take buses to Chamba and then Bharmaur.

Kajli Teej in Bundi
This is celebrated exactly a fortnight after the regular Shravan Teej. The festival of Kajli Teej is unique to the city of Bundi. A dazzlingly theatrical and lively event, it is held every year in the month of Bhadra (July-August). This week-long celebration filled with gaiety and fanfare pays homage to Goddess Uma by the seekers of marital bliss and love. Women wear colourful traditional costumes, new sets of bangles and decorate their hands with beautiful henna designs. A local fair is held nearby which is extremely popular with the rural folk around Bundi. Handicrafts such as traditional kataar, paintings, bangles, rural handicrafts and fancy eatables attract many people from Rajasthan, other parts of India and foreign shores.

When: 9-10 August 2017
Where: Bundi, Rajasthan

Dakthok Tsetsu, Ladakh

Photo: The Travelographer @Tumblr.com

Last month we discussed about monastic festivals of Ladakh. The trend continues this month with two more monastic festivals- Dak-Thok Tse-Chu and Sani Nasjal. Dak-Thok Tse-Chu starts tomorrow, so those lucky ones who are already in Leh can witness the festival for next two days.

Dak-Thok or Thak-Thok is an important Buddhist festival of Jammu and Kashmir held sometime during the months of July and August. It is generally celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The Buddhists observe a number of Tsechu festivals which are mostly dedicated to Guru Rimpoche or Padma Sambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The word Dak Thok means black rock in Ladakh. It refers to a cave chapel that is part of the Dak Thok monastery. It is said to be only Nyingma monastery in Ladakh. The members of this sect are followers of Padma Sambhava or Guru Rimpoche. During the Tsechu festivals, these monks and the local people perform the Chham dances together. The dances depict various wrathful and compassionate deities and a variety of animals. The Tsechu is a popular festival. It is celebrated with much gaiety by people in the nearby areas, who participate in the festivities adorned in their finest clothing and jewellery.

When: 2-3 August 2017
Where: Dak Thok monastery, Ladakh. It is 46 kilometres from Leh on the Pangong Lake road from Karu.

Sani Nasjal, Zanskar
Sani Naro-Nasjal is usually celebrated in the first week of August, between the 15th and the 20th of the sixth Tibetan month. It takes place during the blooming of the ‘Guru Neropa Flower’. Every year the statue of Naropa is unveiled in late July or early August on the eve of the Naro-Nasjal Festival. Lamas from Bardan Monastery perform masked dances as ritual offering. Sani Monastery is located next to the village of Sani where the Stod Valley broadens into the central plain of Zanskar in Jammu and Kashmir. It is about 6 km to the northwest of the regional centre of Padum, a gentle two-hour walk. Like Dzongkhul Monastery, it belongs to the Drukpa Kargyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is the only one of this order in Zanskar which has nuns. It is thought to be the oldest religious site in the whole region of Ladakh and Zanskar.

When: 6-7 August 2017
Where: Sani monastery, Zanskar

Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai
The spirit of this festival is contagious. Biggest annual occasion for most of Maharashtra and Marathis elsewhere. It has been filmed so many times in Bollywood that it needs no introduction. Perhaps the most filmed festival after Holi in films. Of recently the constant media coverage of ten day celebrations has made many of those Ganesha temples popular among non Marathis as well, maybe it Siddhivinayak or Lalbaugcha Raja. But celebrities and celebrated temples have changes the complexion of the festival too much. To enjoy traditional festivities join a family celebration. This is the day when Lord Ganesha is brought home and given his seat for ten days’ pooja. Weeks or even months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in vivid poses. Also called as Vinayak Chaturthi this is the day when mythologically Ganesha was born. The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak, a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments.

When : 25th August 2017
Where: All your Marathi friends at Mumbai… Pune…

Athachamayam at Thripunithura
Rain or shine, people will pour out onto the streets of Thripunithura to celebrate the Athachamayam. Athachamayam is conducted every year on the Atham asterism of the Malayalam month Chingam (roughly August/September), at the historical town of Thripunithura near Kochi, Ernakulam district. Athachamayam is a cultural gala that marks the beginning of the ten-day Onam festival in Kerala. The festival, which is celebrated to commemorate the legendary victory of the Raja (King) of Kochi, is also an occasion to witness almost all the folk art forms of Kerala. The gleeful procession, which is part of this festival, reminds the customary procession of the king with his entourage from Thripunithura to the Thrikkakara Vamana temple for participating in the temple festival. The procession, though without the king, still retains its majestic charm. Caparisoned elephants, varieties of folk art forms like Theyyam, Kummatti, Kolkali, Mayilattom, Kummi, Poykal, Ammankudam and Pulikkali, floats, and musical ensembles together form part of the procession. Onam, a festival of abundance and happiness is a period when Kerala comes alive with classical and folk dance performances, music recitals, cultural pageants, boat races and much more!

When: 25th August 2017
Where: Thripunithura Town, Thripunithura, Ernakulam
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Thripunithura at walking distance while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 34 km

Covelong point Classic Surf Contest and Music Festival
Three days filled with surf, yoga, sun and sand, three nights that come alive with the sound of music – the Covelong Point Classic Surf Contest and Music Festival is back for its third edition! What started as a dream, has now become a three day international event – fisherman turned surfer Murthy Megavan always dreamed of starting his own surf school, and today that dream stands tall as a beautiful reality on the shores of Covelong, as the Covelong Point Social Surf School. In 2013, when the TTK Group and EarthSync tied up with the Surfing Federation of India, together they created the Covelong Point Classic Surf and Music Festival. The three days of surfing will witness participants from around India and the globe competing in an exhilarating display of raw surfing talent, while the music festival expands this year to include three stages. This surf competition and music festival brings together surf talent from around the world, and an exciting line up of musicians from around India and the globe. The primary aim of the festival is to use surfing as a catalyst for positive change, empowering the local community with initiatives surrounding their passion for surfing. It is a passion for surfing, a love of music from around the world, and a deep connection to the ocean that continues to drive the festival’s spirit, year after year

When: 25th to 27th August 2017
Where: Covelong Point Social Surf School, Kovalam Village, Chennai

 

 

Himalayan Rides : Chandratal to Keylong

Having completed the Chandratal mission, I had to be back to Leh route. So, it had to be the same route back till Gramphoo. But in place like Himalayas, riding on a same route gives you different feeling every time. Chandratal indeed was an accomplishment, a sort of dream coming true. But still, Leh was my destiny.

Chaos at the top! Read: Milestones to Ladakh- Manali to Gramphoo

SO here we are, riding back to Gramphoo through same treacherous road alongside river Chandra. Whatever the road condition may be, this beauty around will never let you feel tired.

Driving towards Spiti! Read: Himalayan Rides-Gramphoo to Chatru

And what a feeling of satisfaction this is when you see a public transport, a Himachal Roadways Bus on such a terrible road at this altitude.

Treacherous roads! Read: Himalayan Rides-Chatru to Batal

And then you always have many travellers to your company… but no, we are the travellers, they are the inhabitants of this tough terrain…

 Reaching Gramphoo almost feels like returning to civilisation.You suddenly encounter traffic going towards the Manali or Keylong side.

Good samaritans! Read: Himalayan Rides-Batal of Chacha Chacha Dhaba

Himachal roadways bus at Gramphoo going from Keylong to Manali via Rohtang pass.

Gramphoo to Keylong is a straight forward route. But owing to widening or repair of roads, it has gone tough at many places, sort of dangerous at times.

Some relief from the tough roads

There are numerous landslide zones on the whole route and, at many places either roads are being widening or repaired to prevent landslides. This is a vicious circle, as widening causes further adverse impact on hills and the ecosystem. Well, for riders and drivers, they are immediate challenge as well.

Over the moon! Read: Himalayan Rides-Batal to Chandratal

Clouds were chasing me as soon as I had left Batal. They finally caught me up by the time I reached Khoksar. But since my final destination for the day, Keylong was not far away, hence instead of driving in rains, I decided to take a tea and maggi break.

Khoksar

Roads are largely good after Khoksar till Keylong, except for some rough patches.

Moon Lake! Read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

Chandra River

Its a steady climb till Keylong which is at an altitude of just about 10K feet. A perfect acclimatisation for real ride after Keylong.

Give me some sunshine!

Before Keylong there are two another beautiful stopovers- one at Sissu which is now soon to get a water park close to Chandra River on the roadside.

And then there is Tandi, which is actually confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers which convert into Chandrabhaga or Chenab river and flow towards Kashmir. Tandi is 7 kilometres before Keylong and is also the last filling station before Leh. That’s the place where all vehicles will fill their tanks to reach Leh securely.

But overall an enjoyable ride, nevertheless. So lets go on this virtual ride to Keylong enroute Leh. You can watch the video of this ride from Chandratal to Keylong on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Quick details:

  • Chandratal to Gramphoo: 65 kms, Time taken 4 hours 40 minutes.
  • Gramphoo to Khoksar: 5 Kms
  • Khoksar ro Keylong: 47 kms, Time taken just about 2 hours.
  • Total distance covered: 117 kms.

We will now move to more challenging and more beautiful ride ahead. Keep tuned in!!

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