Tag Archives: jammu and kashmir

Loops of the haunted!


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

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

Also read: Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass

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

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

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chandratal to Keylong

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

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

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

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

Beautiful landscape around

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

Reaching the top

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

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

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

What you see across is actually a view point

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

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

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


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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-

 

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.

Kashmir, we know less about : Kheer Bhawani at Tulmul

There have been many facets of this paradise on earth. The political disturbances since last many decades have made many places either out of bounds or less frequently visited. One of such places is Kheer Bhawani temple at Tulmul (Tullamula) in Ganderbal district of Jammu & Kashmir. Just a few days back on eighth day (Ashtami, अष्टमी) of brighter fortnight (Shukla Paksha, शुक्ल पक्ष) of the hindu month of Jyeshtha (ज्येष्ठ या जेठ) pilgrims gathered at three shrines in Kashmir valley including the Kheer Bhawani temple. Devotees, mostly Kashmiri Pandits, thronged the shrine situated in south Kashmir, which is currently hot bed of  unrest in the Valley. Other two shrines are Tripur Sundari temple in Devsar (Kulgam district) and Ragnya Bhagwati in Manzgam (Kulgam district). This particular day is considered to be the birth day of Goddess Bhagwati. The day is celebrated  with hawans, community kitchens and mass prayers.

Outside Temple compound

Despite all fear created in media, devotees came here and paid obeisance at the shrine. It was usual as was in the past. Much hype was given to element of fear on social media, which led to fall in number of pilgrims but there was no such fear there. Besides this annual festival, people come here every month on the same day to perform rituals and seek blessings. Kheer Bhawani is one of the most revered Hindu shrines in Kashmir valley.

Also read- Naranag: Kashmir we know less about!

Message is clear: Go Vegan!

Though this temple has a rich mythology associated with it, the present temple was constructed by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1912 and it was later renovated by his nephew Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra king.

Inside compound of the temple

Surrounded by streams, this place is rich in true Kashmiri beauty, Its abound with Chinar trees- inside and outside the compound. There is a stream surrounding the temple. People take holy bath in this stream.

Also read: Wedding Bells

Stream surrounding the temple.

Now there is a legend on how Goddess Bhagwati reached in Kashmir. Mythology says that King Ravana of Lanka worshipped the goddess and pleased by his prayers, the goddess Bhagwati agreed to shower her blessings and reside in Lanka. But later because of Ravana’s misdeeds goddess cursed him and then she asked Hanuman to take her far in northern mountains away from Ravana’s kingdom. Hence goddess along with her vehicle and 360 nagas (serpents) was brought by Hanuman here at Tullamula near Shadipora.

Its a beautiful compound surrounded by Chinar trees

Then there is another legend on how the temple was discovered in medieval times. It is said that a Kashmiri Pandit, Krishna Dayal Tapilu from Srinagar had a dream wherein the goddess asked hime to travel from Ganderbal to Shadipora in a boat. From Shadipora a serpent would guide him to a pious spring. It so happened. Serpent disappeared after leading that pandit to this spring in Tullamula and this is where the temple is built today. Once you visit the temple, you will find many details about this legend.

Samadhi of the priests

The main spring called as Amrit Kund (अमृत कुंड) of goddess Kheer Bhawani is an irregular hexagonal shape. It has an island in the centre where a mulberry tree grew. And  here goddess Bhagwati is decorated and housed in a small white marble temple. It is said that idols in the temple are the ones that were taken out from this spring.

Devotees offering prayer to goddess

It is also said that water of this spring changes its colours from time to time. These colours are found to be red, light green, lemon yellow, milky white, grey white etc. There is no definite time or reason of changing the colours but any colour in shade of black is considered to be inauspicious. It is also said that there are bubbles rising out of spring water at times and they form a chakra (a mystic symbol, चक्र या यंत्र ).

The temple in the spring

The goddess here is offered Kheer (a sweet dish made of milk, rice and sugar) as prasad (offering, प्रसाद). People are not supposed to eat any form of meat when they visit the holy shrine.

Also read: Tulip Garden in Heaven

The main temple of goddess in spring

Years of unrest have decreased the number of tourists and pilgrims coming to this temple. Tourists just remained glued to their fixed itineraries. Hence, you won’t find many people here on regular days. There are number of restaurants here in the compound which also double up as prasad selling shops, and there is also availability of some rooms for pilgrims willing to stay. These restaurants also serve some local vegetarian delicacies. There is a guest house near by with all facilities.

Restaurants in the temple complex and guest house in the background

Also read: Never a dull morning in the Dal

How to reach: Located in foothills of Himalayas, this temple is not far from Srinagar. Once you move out of the city on the Srinagar-Leh highway, you come close to Ganderbal. Cross the Sindh river and move to Manasbal road. After few kilometres, there is a diversion towards Tullamula. Temple is around 25 kilometres from Srinagar and you can easily find taxis or buses to this place.

Beautiful surroundings

Please feel free to share and spread the word but not to copy and past!

 

 

Naranag: Kashmir we know less about

Talking about tourism in Kashmir, will generally take you to Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam. No doubt that they are the gems of the valley, but there is still a lot besides these four top spots. Lot many places to see and admire and lot beyond the regular natural beauty spots. Naranag is one of them and it was an altogether different experience for me to visit an archaelogical site in such a scenic surroundings. But equally anguished was I to see such a place in total shambles. Nobody to protect or even take care of such an important site. It has been left to be ruined. I was astonished to see that there was not even a single sign board or a plaque which could give visitors any idea about the site, its history, importance or architecture. Go googling was the only option left.

Naranag is in Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir.  While going to Sonmarg from Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh highway, just before Kangan there is a diversion to west. It takes us to Naranag valley and Naranag village. Naranag has two clusters of temples and historians believe it was built in 8th century by King Lalitaditya. That this was dedicated to Lord Shiva is quite obvious because of the presence of shivlingas here- in the temples and on the carvings. The architecture of the temple is also said to be of that period.

Located on the left bank of the Wangath reiver Naranag is also known for its scenic meadows. It is also base camp for trekkers to the Mount Harmukh, Gangabal Lake and Satsar lake.  There are also long distance treks to Gadsar lake, Vishansar Lake and the Krishansar Lake.

Never a dull morning in the Dal

Dal Lake is the heartbeat of Srinagar in Kashmir. It’s enjoying a full house this season. Dal isubbling life centre of all tourists activities in Srinagar. All the Mughal gardens are located around the lake. Dal has hundreds of tourists houseboats, more than that shikaras to take tourists on a ride on the lake, and a whole lot of colourful life. There are vendors, florists, photographers, merchants… everybody moving on shikaras. Floating boats, floating gardens, floating markets- Dal has a very bubbling life. Equally entertaining is the life behind the scenes on this Dal. Few shots of the daily drill of this beautiful lake and how it gets itself ready every morning…

Tulip Garden at Heaven

Kashmir is often referred to as Heaven on Earth and Tulip Gardens at the foothills of Zabarwan hills in Srinagar is one more addition to its glory. It is biggest Tulip Garden in whole of Asia. Spread in area of about 30 hectares, this garden has more than seventy varieties of Tulips in more than 2 million bulbs. Many of these vaieties have been imported from far Europe. Its a colour riot, a sight to behold with picturesque Dal lake in foreground. In just six years, this garden has become darling of tourists coming to Kashmir valley. This garden is in Chashmeshahi area with Botonical garden adjacent to it and many of the Mughal gardens for company in close vicinity. A must see for every tourist coming to India and Kashmir.