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Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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World Environment Day: Where even the source is threatened

How often when we talk  talk of polluing rivers we discuss about the ways big cities are pushing their dirt into it. While talking about rivers, we cherish, how pure the rivers are at their source and then get polluted down the stream. In that sense, it was indeed painful to see the source of one of our most sacred rivers Yamuna at Yamunotri. It was pristine all around–weather, nature and the faith, but the condition of river was not at all that healthy. We have probably ourselves to blame.

Bottles, plastic and other garbage that river threw out at Sayanachatti, just 25 kms from Yamunotri.

Problem is, we are unwittingly perhaps encouraging what should have been discouraged downrightly. With the increasing connectivity, increasing number of travellers all the stops on the way are being converted into mini city hubs. With hundreds of buses coming daily during the Yatra time, we can just imagine the pressure being put on this fragile ecosystem. With this pressure comes the associated evils that target the environment. That needs to be checked or we will be letting things go out of control. Talking about cities? Condition of Yamuna just few odd kilometres from Yamunotri  had gone pathetic. We could see piles of garbage along the river. And that was what river had spewed out, what it swallowed and took along with it downstream couldn’t be seen here.

Shops along the Yamunotri trail

All along the almost six kilometre trail to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti, you will find  countless number of shops and all of them selling bottled water, soft drinks and all other things in plastic bottles. Then there are other hazardous items too in tins and cans. It is anybody’s guess that a big number of bottles out of the ones used here will find its way to the river stream. And it could actually be seen clearly.

Remains of the faith!

Situation was more alarming at the source itself, the Yamunotri where the crowd converges. It has to bear the most of the pressure and without tough handling with some path-breaking moves, we won’t be able to control the situation. There are more shops at Yamunotri, cooking everything from rice to samosas and selling everything from coke to toffees.

People taking bath in Yamuna at Yamunotri

Not just the count of the travellers, this pristine area also has to bear equal number of animals, support staff, shopkeepers, administration and infrastructure. And that all is constantly increasing. How are we going to check this? How can we restrain, when it comes to the matters of faith? Something to ponder about on this World Environment Day!

What can we do to stop this pollution? Share your views in the comments section below!

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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hill top besides the Kahrdungla pass

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

Mountain passes and these Buddhist flags have an unbreakable bond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pass has an army canteen, a temple and public facilities

Khardung La pass at sunset

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

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

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

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


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

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

Changing landscape, as we move higher up towards More plains

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

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

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

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

An inhabitant of the plains welcoming a stranger in me!

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

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

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

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

Travelling solo? Read: Lonely at Baralacha La

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

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

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

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

Expanse of the valley before Tanglang La

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Good samaritans: Chacha-Chachi of Batal

Along the Indus after crossing Upshi towards Leh

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

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

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Pang : Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world


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View of Pang dhabas (towards right) and the army transit camp (towards left), as seen from the way up towards More plains.

Pang is a magical place. It brings you to an entirely different world, like the one never seen before. At an altitude of over 15,300 feet this is also claimed to be the highest army transit camp in the world. Army claims the altitude as 15, 640 feet. For a traveller- a biker or a driver, Pang is in midst of two entirely different terrains. While coming from Sarchu is the rough routes of Kangla Jal while on the Leh side is the super-highway of More Plains. Both worth a journey of lifetime.

Dhabas around Pang, with ample facility for food as well as tents, beds for night stay.

Establishment at Pang would have been come up as a place for stoppage for armed forces moving to and fro to areas bordering Pakistan and China. Being an open valley close to stream and less windy in comparison to Sarchu would have made it ideal place for transit. When adventurers started taking this road journey, they also found place good for camping, as they will always feel assured because of close proximity of the transit camp, if in case of any emergency. Later on locals came up with restaurants here to provide food to travellers. Slowly camping facilities kept growing and now most of the dhabas have rooms and beds for bikers, trekkers, to stay overnight. Transit camp is still very helpful for locals and travellers in providing medical and communication facilities. I have often used paid satellite phone facilities at these transit camps on the way to inform about my well-being to my family.

More permanent sort of structures coming up at Pang, due to ever increasing numbers of adventure seekers.

But staying at Pang isn’t a mean task physically. It is quite challenging to stay at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. More so, when you are tired because of tough ride from Manali to Pang. Many travellers will feel acute AMS here. Still many locals will suggest to stay at Pang instead of Sarchu, despite its higher altitude because it is less windy.

Have a look at a video below of way to Pang and places around camp.

 

Another video below of route from Bharatpur to Pang, a magical view of mountains turning into gold when struck by first lights of sun!

Manali-Leh route is also known for its five high mountain passes. Have a look at a video below of all the five from Rohtang to Tanglang La

As I said Pang has some of the most fascinating terrains on its both sides and amazing roads constructed in them- sheer engineering marvel. Among them is the Kangla Jal. Flowing over a rocky bed at an altitude of 4878 metres, Kangla Jal makes for an amazing landscape. Kangla Jal is in a valley and there are towering mountains on both the sides. It is located where Miyar connects to Zanskar valley. A beautiful road has been carved into rocky sandstone formations making it a spectacular sight. But than it is also one of the toughest (often people say ‘the toughest’) water stream (Miyar river) to cross on Manali-Leh route. Water flows from the top and falls into the deep gorge overlooking Pang. Still, you won’t always find water here, as in the video below, it is completely dry (it was in late September). That is what makes it unpredictably beautiful. When there is water in the stream (mostly early in the season upto August) the flow of water changes as the day progresses and recedes towards evening. Old-timers will say that the best time to cross it is early morning when the sun if soft and the snow hasn’t started melting. Middle of the day will account for the most severe flows. Even for vehicles, life is tougher for bikes as they might have to cross kneedeep freezing cold water in great flow. A bit of challenge! However a newly laid bridge has made the life somewhat easy for bikers.

For those who love haunted stories, Gata Loops offers a couple. Very  interesting that a road of 21 hairpin bends taking up the mountain is also related to such stories. Gata Loops are in between Sarchu and Pang. Travel to these loops in the video below-

Pang is also the place where we see the unique soil formations on the mountains, and some very unusual structures. Vistas here are quite different, special colours of the sand & rocks as well as few images which have become iconic in this Manali-Leh journey for decades now.

Also read: Where Whisky and Brandy are ferocious Nallahs! 

Climbing up the mountain overlooking Pang and moving towards More plains

Factsheet: At an altitude of almost 4600 metres, Pang is 80 kms ahead of Sarchu. Tanglang La is further 70 kms from Pang and Upshi is another 60 kms from Tanglang La. It normally takes no less than three hours of biking to reach from Sarchu to Pang, depending upon the number of photo stops you are willing to take.

Have you ever stayed overnight at Pang? How was the experience? Please share your views in the comments section below.

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Tibetan wood carving : Craft for the Art

Different types of Dramyin

Tibetan wood carving is a sublime art. Everything from Dalai Lama’s throne to incense boxes and Chemar bowls, has imprints of it. The signs of art of wood carving can be traced to as far as 7th century Tsuglakghang in Lhasa constructed during reign of King Songtsen Gampo. Wooden table paintings were also unique and popular during those times. That was said to be another branch of Tibetan art. Subjects and pictorial composition of these wooden table paintings are similar to those of thangka paintings. 

Two well-crafted and decorated dramyins

Beautiful wooden engravings have lavishly decorated the columns, beams, doors, windows, cross beam supports etc in Tibetan monasteries and temples. Even shrines, platforms for deities, altars, stupas and other ritualistic objects were usually adorned with wood carvings. It has also been used in decorating traditional musical string instruments…like Dramyins and Piwangs.

Passang Tobgyal playing a Piwang

Motifs normally used in wood carvings are similar to other Tibetan arts. Various types of flowers, mountains, clouds, other elements of nature as well as religious symbols are represented. Since in Tibetan Buddhism there is a typical style of drawing of every symbol, hence craftsman have to master the art of carving the vast repertoire of motifs and designs. Tibetan culture is so much influenced by Buddhism that although wood carving itself is not a religious art but many the motifs used have religious significance.

A craftsman working on an instrument

Though not a flourishing art, because the younger Tibetan generation has different choices, still there are some craftsman, giving their life and dedication to wood carving. Passang Topgyal is one of such master craftsman at Mcleodganj. He studied Tibetan traditional art of wood carving at Norbulingka Institute at SIdhpur in Dharamshala for six years and now designs many items including traditional musical instruments. Most of them go as souvenirs with foreign tourists to different parts of the world.

Passang’s shop and the factory attached to it

Playing such instruments is now limited to monks at monastic functions. Although there are attempts to improvise these instruments by modernising them in use, while retaining their traditional design and craft. For example Dramyins are designed also to be used as electric guitars. 

Musical instruments at Passang’s shop

Lack of patronage among the younger generation for the traditional music as well as the craft is posing a huge challenge for craftsman like Passang to keep the passion alive and rewarding.

Imprints of a beautiful art piece!

So next time you go to Dharamshala, don’t forget to visit Passang Tobgyal’s shop.

Where: Passang Tobgyal’s shop of Tibetan Wood carving and Musical instruments is near Dharamshala Cantt on way to Dal lake (in Naddi village) from Mcleodganj. It is approximately two kilometres walk fro Mcleodganj town.

You can watch a short film on Passang Tobgyal on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below.

Have you ever tried your hands on a traditional Tibetan musical instrument? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Embracing diversity with open hands, loving world my way!

Being born to a typical north Indian brahmin family is no mean task. There are many prejudices one gets to live with throughout their lives, there are so many strings attached and a long list of do’s and don’ts always hanging above your head. Many preconceived notions lay hidden under the skin and there is misconceived veil of purity always around. Everything making them misfit to be a world traveller.

We had been tourists since childhood owing to father’s railway job giving us privilege to travel and army postings of other relatives privilege to logistics. We were certainly not travellers. Sense of purity was always a hindrance to explore the world. There was indeed an ‘under the wraps’ attempt to ‘depurify’ us with an egg-curry by a then family friend but that didn’t help a lot. It turned out to be an pen and shut case. Things started changing only when I finally moved out of the house for my future endeavours.

Too good to be a food! Live food in Bali

But the first moment of truth arrived, when more than two decades ago, after completing a winter trek to Dalhousie and Kalatop, we decided to have a detour to Jammu and Patni Top. One evening after spending the day visiting temples of Jammu, we reached to a small restaurant for our meal. One of our friend wanted to have a chicken for food. Third friend was a brahmin and vegetarian too like me. He chose to sit on the other table, to not watch somebody licking a leg-piece. Somehow, I decided that I will not change the table and instead share the table with my chicken-loving friend. I not only shared the table, but also made no pretension to not notice him whatever he was doing. I enjoyed my dal-makhani but I also kept all eyes on his dish and actually enjoyed the way he was enjoying his food. That incident changed my perspective for good. It was a bold first step in direction of making me a traveller.

Too beautiful to be a food! Live food in Bali

I still had a long way to go. I was still a vegetarian and was still fighting some food prejudices. I can’t say, I have overcome them all, but I am sure I was on the right direction after that incident in Jammu. I remember that another day, too far at Sepang in Malaysia, where I was present as a sports correspondent to cover the inaugural season of A1 GP at the Sepang Formula 1 race circuit.

As an accredited journalist, I had the access to official food area. That was more than ten years back. After the Saturday free practice in the morning session, we were off to the lunch. And I had to admit that it was a huge shock for me, I had not been to any such place before. I had heard that Malaysia is a heaven for sea-food lovers, but I never expected to be at any place for lunch where all I could see around was crabs, prawns, and that too huge ones, hanging everywhere. Honestly, I was bit terrified at the onset, but than I worked upon my mind and instead of moving out to some other place for the lunch, I stayed there and managed my meal from whatever I could find for myself. I thought that incident to be as big as the Jammu one in my transformation towards a traveller.

Too cute to be a food! Live food in Bali

While I had adjusted to meat and chicken but fish was still a taboo because of its smell. That too was something for me to fight for. Time came for that too, when on a trip to Sri Lanka, we stayed for a night at Negombo. And our stay their also included a visit to the fish market in the early morning at the trading time. I still can’t believe I did that. But in an instinct I was inside the market deeper and longer than anybody else in our group clicking photographs while standing in the midst of piles of all types of fishes, prawns, oysters, crabs, and what not. And, to win a battle within, I didn’t even cover my nose. I kept talking to people in an attempt to know more about the market. But somewhere inside, I knew that I was doing it more for my own sake, to probably Say Yes to The World. And, I am glad, I did that.

Don’t you want to Say yes to the world? Why don’t you do it this way!

What was your moment of embracing this world? Please share with us all.

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Tulips blooming! Kashmir calling!!

Asia’s biggest Tulip Garden at Siraj Bagh in Srinagar, Kashmir is now open for the year. Normally the garden opens with the start of April. But this year it has opened a week earlier owing to favourable weather conditions. We can also say that because the winter winded up a bit early and it brought the spring before time in the valley, hence the tulips also started blooming early. Hence the garden at Siraj Bagh on the banks of the Dal Lake was thrown open for the tourists on 25th March, a week earlier than last year. These are images from the park from the first day itself.

Blast from the past: Tulip garden at heaven!Not all the bulbs have bloomed, still some to go. It would be full by the start of April. It is indeed once in a lifetime chance to see more than a million tulips of different hues and shades blooming at a place which we call as paradise on earth. But remember Tulips don’t have a big life. Flowers will be blooming just for 3 to 4 weeks. So, you don’t have too much time in hand, if you want to see them this year, or else you will have to wait for another year. Moreover heavy rains or too much of heat, both can also destroy the bulbs. So, sooner the better. Interestingly, this Tulip festival also marks the start of the tourism season in Kashmir valley.

Life in paradise! Read: Never a dull morning in the Dal!In just ten years, this garden has become darling of tourists and locals alike. It has become one of the must-see destinations of the Kashmir itinerary in the months of April. This year the garden has been extended to add other plants like Hyacinths, Daffodils, Narcissus and other ornamental plants. In this season 40,000 Hyacinth tulip bulbs have been planted at a separate terrace.

Love Kashmir? Read: Kashmir we know less about- Kheer Bhawani at Tulmul To add the beauty of the already charming landscape, additional green spaces are being created to attract more visitors to this garden overlooking world-famous Dal Lake. This year free wi-fi service has been provided inside the premises for the visitors.

Formerly known as Siraj Bagh this garden was rechristened as Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in 2008 when it was converted into a  Tulip garden. It is located on the other side of the Dal where all Mughal Gardens are located on the foothills of Zabarwan hills. Chashmeshahi is close by.

First day… first show! Watch a video of tulips blooming this year on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

Have you seen the tulip garden at Srinagar? How was your experience? Share it in the comment section below.

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In memory of a Star on International Day of Forests


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Star breathed its last yesterday and it is certainly the most disheartening news to hear on the International Day of Forests. Star, also called as Sitara was actually one of the stars of the forests of Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. As per news reports Star or Sitara, which was named T-28 in forest records died after being tranquillised. Perhaps a tranquilliser overdose took its life. He was tranquillised in attempts to rescue him from a village in Khandar area on the park’s periphery. It is said that this 13 year old male tiger had strayed close to a village where people had surrounded it. Forest officials reached there and in attempts to rescue, tried to tranquillise it.

Ironically, the theme of this year’s International Day of Forests is : Forests and Sustainable Cities and we probably lost Star because of this ever-increasing pressure on forests from the surrounding human settlements. The news of his death reminded me of the day, I had seen him on the safari. Just a short encounter of 11 minutes was enough to get etched in the memory for ever. That’s the reason that news of his death saddened me. Star was named so because it had a 5 point star mark over its left eye and also has bird shaped mark over the right. Rajbagh area of the park was his favourite place to give audience to curious, thrilled, overjoyed travellers from around the world.

It was cold winter day on January in the year 2011. Our morning safari  yielded no tiger sightings. Then came the afternoon safari. Normally in all tiger reserves across India, safari vehicles will have a specified route. There might be three-four or more different zones in the park and a safari vehicle is limited to a particular zone. That means, if you are in zone 2 for the morning safari, your route is limited to zone 2 only. Vehicles are not allowed to overlap the zones. This is done to manage the tourist traffic inside the park and ensure that a particular area or the wildlife in a particular area is not abused quite often because of any particular attraction and tourists are evenly distributed.

Also read: Some wild moments in Sariska!

But on that particular trip, we were guests of the district officials and hence we had a special number safari vehicle which has access to all zones. Although I am not at all fond of sighting sprints of safari vehicles inside the reserve, but that day our driver thought that he had the duty to give us a tiger sighting. Hence around 5.20 pm in the evening he received a call on his walkie-talkie about a tiger sighting and then for next ten minutes we had a bone-churning dash towards Rajbagh, which was quite a distance from that place. That’s where the T-28 or the Star male aka Sitara was on his evening stroll.

There were already hordes of safari vehicles there, might be more than 60 to 70 people around at that particular time. He was already spotted inside the jungle and everybody was waiting for him to come out in open, which he eventually did with full gusto fit for his stature.

Also read: Shh…Tiger is here!He than proceeded to make the marking. One of the favourite acts of tigers to mark their territory.

Have a look: Two cubs on play at Panna- A photo essay

It then cam to the road. Looked in a very playful mood. It was  very interesting to see how these big cats maintained their composure as well as indifference despite of being surrounded by so many humans. They were least afraid but equally attentive. I don’t think they would be unaware of any lurking danger. But they were quite sure of their territory and their command over it, where they were kings. Sitara has history of getting too close to safari vehicles.And, then relaxed itself giving full view to all safari vehicles.After few minutes, it again made the move. Kept playing in the mud.Looking for tiger? Read : Spot the tiger in this wild image!

And then Sitara decided that it was the time to end the day’s audience and it walked away. It crossed our way, moved to jungle on to the right. Even than it didn’t disappear immediately. It kept everybody interested, but didn’t return. After a couple of minutes, it went deep inside. In the fading light, it was soon impossible to keep track of its stripes.Love wild? Read: Dudhwa sans tigers!

It all ended in just 11 minutes- the royal show, but gave everybody around a plenty to cheer about for rest of their lives.

Changing colours? Read: White Tiger – When mutation becomes exhibit!

Star aka Sitara aka T-28 was a young tiger, full of life and glory as well. Having born to tigress T-27, it was first spotted in 2008 but it established itself very quickly among the ranks. Got the name and fame as well when it got the courage to challenge the great tigress Machali. It is being said that in 2009 Sitara and Machali had many territorial fights. Sitara controlled a large territory and despite fights with Machali, also mated her two daughters including Sundari.

But all will be tales now. Goodbye Star!!

Have you been fortunate to have sighting of this particular tiger? How was the experience? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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