Tag Archives: Leh

Photo tour of Hemis on the eve of Tsechu festival


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The place where Hemis festival takes place every year

It is that time of the year again when one of the most revered monastery in the Himalayan region Hemis of Ladakh will celebrate its annual festival, the Hemis Tsechu. It is considered to be the most important monastic festival of Ladakh. This monastery is drawing in more and more tourists- both domestic as well as international. It is becoming very popular for tourists to enjoy and immerse in local culture. Once you are in Ladakh, you will certainly like to enjoy the monastic festivals as well. Hemis festival will be celebrated this tomorrow and day after, i.e. 23rd and 24th June 2018. So, here we are on a photo tour of this famed monastery in this post.

Entrance to the Hemis monastery

Also read: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh

Another side of the main courtyard where the Hemis festival takes place
Local Ladakhi people in traditional dress at Hemis monastery

Hemis is also considered to be the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th and 11th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Guru Rinpoche. He is believed to be the second Buddha and brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas donning colourful silk costumes performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people.

Devotees in the main prayer hall of the monastery
Statue of Guru Rinpoche in the main prayer hall

Also read: Experience Ladakh like never before

Upper Residence also called as Padma Odling. There are many balconies on the first floor, belonging to Royal families. There is also a Great Bliss Palace Balcony, a royal families special balcony.

Known for its rituals of sacred tantric dances

The whole of the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar calendar is considered to be a holy day. Many people come early in the morning and worship. Some of them also visit at night or late evening. Although there is no ceremony in the evening, they worship and take the blessings on this day. The festival is known globally for its rituals of sacred tantric dances that are believed to bring blessings of the Gods for the well being of sentient beings as well as peace and prosperity in the world.

Sacred scriptures and old manuscripts are also revered a lot.
Other structures, residences, hostels for monks close to Hemis monastery

Also read: Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July

A lock on the door to The Lower Residence (Padma Odling)
Way to Padma Karpo Temple (Tsom Lhakhang). Old structure of Hemis is a maze of various halls

Hemis monastery belongs to the Drukpa lineage, also known as Dragon Order of the Mahayana Buddhism. Gyalwang Drukpa is its current spiritual head who presided over the Naropa ceremonies in 2016. Buddhism in Ladakh has a very rich history. Hemis monastery also reflects the close bond between Kings of Ladakh and their patronage to Buddhism in this Himalayan territory. It is said that Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189-1258) came to Ladakh in 13th century and established the Drupka lineage here. He is also considered to be one of the most celebrated yogis of Himalayas. He was disciple of the 1st Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). Gyalwa Gotsangpa is said to have meditated in a cave on the edge of the mountain right above the existing Hemis monastery. The monastery now has a meditation centre in his name.

Prayer hall of the current Gyalwang Drukpa
Upper structure of the main prayer hall housing the statue of Buddha
Masks often used for the dances during the festivals

Biking to Leh? Read: Journey to the roof top- Five of the highest mountain passes in the world

A young monk at the Hemis monastery
Main statue of Buddha in the prayer hall
Another one of beautiful statues at Hemis monastery

Centuries later, another master from Drukpa lineage the 1st Taktsang Repa Ngawang Gyasto (1573-1651) became the royal preceptor of Kingdom of Ladakh. He was also popularly known as Staktsang Shambunath. With the support of King Sengee Namgyal (1616-1645) he founded the Hemis monastery. Taktsang Repa had also come to this region to spread the teachings of Buddha. He reached here in 1624 and first founded the Hanley monastery which was the first monastic institution of Drukpa lineage. Two years later he arrived at Hemis and was received by King Sengee Namgyal and other members of his royal court. His arrival resulted in the flourishing of Drukpa lineage in Ladakh and adjoining Himalayan regions. He and his successors became the spiritual gurus of the Ladakhi Kings. Annual Hemis festival is said to have been introduced by Gyalsey Rinpoche.

Various prayer halls an other rooms also have a number of paintings on wall, many of them centuries old

Paintings depicting principles of tantric Buddhism
Another painting of Maitreyi Buddha with golden paint

Hemis has more than 200 branch monasteries in the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks are under its care. Hence it is considered to be a living monument and heritage of Himalayas and its people.

Across Leh: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen

Some of the old structures struggling to remain intact
Where the lamps are lit!

Have you ever been to Hemis or any other Ladakhi monastery during the festival? How has it been? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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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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The original Bahubali and the Ghoda goes green!


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Spring is early this year, not just because Basant Panchami was celebrated in January itself, but also because winter too seems to be giving way to the spring already. Time of romance and enjoyment. Carnival time at places around the world. But the shortest month of the year is also one of the richest in terms of cultural output that we get out of it.

Khajuraho Festival of Dances

Well, we are already done with the first quarter of the month and many events have already rounded up, like the Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur in Punjab (2-4 February 2018) and the Sula Fest at Nasik (3-4 February). Even the Kala Ghoda Arts festival at Mumbai has started from 3rd February, but there is still time to catch up few events in remaining days. But surely gem of the month is the once in 12 years Mahamasthakabhisheka of the ‘original’ Bahubali at Shravanbelagola in Karnataka. But we also have some lesser known festivals in monasteries of Ladakh, if you are daring to venture there in the winters. Also in my (remaining) list for the month is another recent addition to Rajasthan’s ever growing music sphere- a festival at Udaipur. Then there are always the regular ones with their evergreen charm.

Mahamasthakabhisheka of Bahubali

Mahamasthakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony is performed once in 12 years to the 57 feet tall monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola. The event is being be held under the leadership of Swasti Sri Charukeerthi Bhattarakha Swamiji of Shravanabelagola from 17th-25th February 2018. Shravanabelagola/Sravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain tirth (a sacred place) of the Jains in South India. It is a place of great importance from the point of pilgrimage and also archeological and religious heritage. About eight hundred odd inscriptions which the Karnataka Archeological Department has collected at the place are mostly Jaina and cover a very extended period from 600 to 1830 A.D. Some refer even to the remote time of Chandragupta Maurya and also relate the story of the first settlement of Jains at Shravanabelagola. That this village was an acknowledged seat of learning is proved from the fact that a priest from here named Akalanka was in 788 A.D. summoned to the court of Himasitala at Kanchi where having confuted the Buddhists in public disputation, he was instrumental in gaining their expulsion from the South of India to Ceylon. The place derives its name from the point that Shravana or Shramana means a Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola means white pond. Usually Mahamasthakabhisheka to Bahubali idols at Shravanabelagola, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala are conducted once in 12 years. There are various interesting stories/interpretations around this.

When: 17-25 February 2018

Where: Shravanabelagola is at a distance of 51 KM south-east of Hassan, the district centre. It is situated at a distance of 12 Km to the south from the Bangalore-Mangalore road (NH-48), 78 Kms from Halebidu, 89 Kms from Belur, 83 Kms from Mysore, 233 Kms from Mangalore and 157 Kms from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. It is well connected with State Highways and District roads. Bangalore and Mangalore are the two nearest destinations connected by Air. There are trains connecting Shravanabelagola with the state capital Bengaluru (Bangalore), its district head quarter Hassan, the cultural capital of Karnataka Mysuru and the state’s chief port city Mangaluru (Mangalore).

Kala Ghoda goes Green this year

Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is the country’s largest multicultural festival, taking place in February each year. Kala Ghoda Association, was formed on 30th October 1998 with the object of maintaining and preserving the heritage and art district of South Mumbai. Mission was to preserve and refurbish the heritage arts district of Mumbai with the co-operation of local authorities and to create and spread multi-cultural awareness through platforms like festivals and events especially amongst those who have little opportunity to access or be exposed to culture. Hence the festival is free for everybody across all he sections. The Festival draws visitors in large numbers, not just from the city but from all over the country, and the world. Hara Ghoda The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival brings to the stage the wonders of nature shown through performance and art. The raging flames of the Fire of victory (agni), the liquid blue of Aqua (jal), the indefinable Air (vayu), the indestructible Earth (prithvi) and the realms of Space (akash), finds its place and artistic representation at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2018. The HTKGAF calendar features dance, theatre, music and literature events, in addition to art installations, workshops, heritage walks and film screenings. For those looking forward to the diverse calendar of events, this festival hasn’t been soon enough. The festival is quirky and fresh, bringing to us the best of art and culture. The art installations are amazing; the literature events enriching. The nine-day festival adds to the beauty of the city, with its rich programmes. Kala Ghoda is a festival so rich and diverse, yet binding us together. Music performances are exemplary, with elite artists performing for the whole city. It captures the city’s culture and gives the new generation a chance to connect with it.

When: 3-11 February, 2018

Where: Different venues for different arts across Mumbai, although there is a pending court case related to use of Cross Maidan this year.

Destruction of evil with fanfare at Dosmochey Festival in Ladakh!

This is a festival from the rooftop of the world. Likir Festival and Leh Dosmochey normally falls around February. Dosmochey is a monastic festival celebrated in the month of February each year. This festival was said to be started by the rulers of Ladakh on the pattern of the popular Mon-Lam meaning ‘Great Prayer’ ceremony of Lhasa. It is celebrated at Leh, Likir (lower Ladakh) and Diskit (in Nubra valley) monasteries. It is the last event of the New Year celebrations, and is held on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month. This two day festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of Ladakhi people and winter tourists actively take part in this festival. In Leh, there is a courtyard below Leh Palace, where festival is held. Monks from various monasteries perform mask dance and ritual prayers. Mask dance is accompanied with the sound of large drums, cymbals and trumpet. Monks of Takthok monastery (the only remaining Nyingmapa school monastery and who are considered as masters in Tantric practice and astrology) prepare the complex thread crosses to trap evil and demonic forces. On the second day, crowds of masked dancers and people march through streets spreading positive energy. Besides, offerings of storma, ritual figures moulded out of dough, are brought out and ceremonially cast away into the desert, or burnt. These scapegoats believed to carry away with them the evil spirits of the year just passed and thus the town is cleaned and made ready to welcome the New Year.

When: 13-14 February, 2018

Where: Leh Palace, Likir and Diskit Gompa

Cham dances of Yargon Tungshak 

Stay for some more days after Dosmochey festival and you can enjoy another one in Nubra valley this time. Even though winter is not the most ideal time to plan a Leh Ladakh tour, those who want to witness the livelier side of Ladakh must plan a visit to Nubra Valley during the late months of winter. During the late winters, the calm and placid Nubra valley of Ladakh comes to life with the vibrant Yargon Tungshak Festival. A flamboyant exhibition of culture, tradition, folk music, and the much acclaimed Cham Dance (Mask Dance), the Yargon Tungshak Festival brings in a new and the livelier vibes back to the entire valley. Decked up in traditional costumes, the dance is performed on the beats of drums and low-level syllables which are uttered with a strange melody. Dances which are performed in this festival are Lion, Yak and Tashipa dances. Ladakhi festiveals like Yargon Tungshak are synodnymous with delicious food that is peculiar only to that region. Locals, during the Yargon Tungshak Festival, feast on delicious local foods; mostly skyu, gurgur cha and thukpa, and the monasteries also holds social feast for the locals. Also, a grand religious prayer takes place in a monastery. Along with the traditional Tibetian chants, Sanskrit chants are also uttered by monks.

When: 19-20 February, 2018

Where: Nubra Yama, Nubra, Ladakh

The oracles at Stok Guru Tsechu

Dare I say that come back from Nubra to the Stok village and in few days you will witness another great monastic festival and a rare one. The Stok Guru Tsechu Festival is held in the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the holy prayer month. It is celebrated in accordance with Guru Rinpoche’s (Padmasambhava) birthday which falls on the 9th and 10th day of the first Tibetan month. Stok Guru Tsechu is a very unique monastic festival. Apart from the famous mask dance, its highlight is the awaited oracles’ prediction for the coming year. Stok village, where the festival takes place, offers the great view down the valley on the mighty Indus river and the majestic snow-capped Stok Kangri Mountain (6,153m above sea level). Every now and then one gets easily delighted by the festive vibes that the locals emanate in their colourful attire. The festival is a platform where villagers take the opportunity to serve their spiritual masters and the monastery in its turn entertains its long-bearing benefactors through a colourful Cham or mask dance. The villagers are introduced to different manifestations of Tantric Buddhas through the means of religious dance performed by the monks who are in turn disguised in sacred costumes, ornaments and huge masks resembling different Buddhas. As the sun sets down above the high rocky mountains of Stok range, the two oracles appear in the monastery courtyard. Fully possessed and in trance, they are escorted to the main temple by monks, lay people and two Deer mask dance performers. They are being glorified with the high baritone trumpets blown by the monks along with cymbals, drums and a group of lay musicians playing traditional drums and pipes. It is believed that there are seven oracles residing in Ladakh. Two of them are in Stok village, two in Matho village, other two in Gya village and one in Skurbuchan village. The story tells that their origin dates back to the pre-Buddhist era where Shamanism or Bon was prevailing in Tibet. As Guru Rinpoche subdued all the shamanic energy and converted them into Buddhism in the 8th century AD, they took pledge to protect the Buddha Dharma since then.

When: 24-25 February, 2018

Where: Stok village, Ladakh

World of music at the City of Lakes

The City of Lakes sings a different tune come February. Udaipur plays host to the third edition of the Udaipur World Music Festival. Organised by SEHER, this festival brings together global artists and ensembles from over 20 countries. More than 100 artists will collaborate to give an eclectic variety of performances. The festival which witnessed a footfall of more than 50,000 people visiting from different parts of the world during its last two editions, assures an interesting itinerary with artistes from France, US, Nepal, Spain, Italy, Thailand and India giving music lovers a taste of jazz, classical, rock and pop music this edition. Music enthusiasts will be privy to live performances by famous bands like Txarango from Spain and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and many other artistes who will be performing for the first time in the country. Music connoisseurs will also get to enjoy soulful renditions by the lauded musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy from India and The Ransom Collective from Philippines. Celebrating cultural diversity at its best, the festival will also provide a platform to local Rajasthani artistes along with an insightful exposure to the local communities.The event is designed to cater to the music sensibilities of people across different ages and from all walks of life. An absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience, this one is a sheer treat for lovers of good music. The event will host some of the most renowned music artistes including Italian musician Oi Dipnoi, Himalyan folk singer-songwriter Bipul Chettri, New York-based Indian guitarist and composer Shubh Saran, French musical artist Maya Kamaty, amongst others. “It has been a fantastic experience to see tremendous response from music lovers in the past two editions. This year we have planned to take the festival to new levels with an eclectic line up of world musicians who will be performing during the festival. The festival is a celebration of myriad cultures, ethnicities and colorful traditions through music,” Festival Director Sanjeev Bhargava said.

When: 9-11 February 2018

Where: Fateh Sagar Paal and Gandhi ground, Udaipur

Showcasing art and handicraft at Surajkund

Surajkund Mela

One of the most awaited fairs of north India happens to be very close to Delhi. Comes right at the nick of spring. Dates have been slightly altered this year. A marvellous mix of handicrafts, folk arts and folk dances makes it a crowd puller. With lots of food stalls representing different states, it has lot more to offer. Hosted by Haryana Tourism, this fair also has a large entertainment value. With Valentine Day coming towards the end of the festival, young ones from NCR find it tempting to have some funtime at Surajkund. This year visitors at the upcoming Surajkund Mela will be able to take a joy ride in a helicopter and enjoy an aerial view of the fair and surrounding areas. Every year, a country is chosen to be the Partner Nation that showcases the best of its art, culture, traditions and heritage during the Mela fortnight. Artists from many other states also actively participate. Every year, a theme state is chosen for the Mela, which highlights the state in totality from its architecture to fine arts and crafts. This year Kyrgyzstan is the partner nation and Uttar Pradesh has been chosen as the theme State for the 32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2018.

When: 2-18 February, 2018

Where: Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana

A music fest for world peace

Sufi Sutra which is now Sur Jahan

8th edition of Sur Jahan (previous name Sufi Sutra) will be held at Mohar Kunj, Kolkata on February 2 to 4, 2017. Like previous years, it remains non ticketed festival and open to music lovers. Held in the first weekend of February every year with the motto of ‘Music for Peace, Music for All’, the event showcases international and national music teams, with cultural exchange workshops during the day and concerts in the evenings. The celebrations create the atmosphere of a carnival, with stalls by rural handicraft artists and folk performances. It is being held since 2011 and is now a permanent and much-awaited fixture in the city’s cultural calendar. Since its inception, teams from 22 countries and 12 states of India have participated in this annual musical extravaganza. Among the major attractions this year are the Ale Möller Quartet and Ellika Solo Rafael, both from Sweden, BraAgas of Czech republic, Virelai of Denmark and Otava Yo from Russia. Indian part will be represented by Punjab Qawwali, Bauls of Bengal and Folks of Bengal – an initiative of banglanatak dot com MusiCal supporting urban folk artists. The festival will also showcase Rural Craft & Cultural Hubs of West Bengal, an initiative of West Bengal government’s Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles (MSME&T) in association with UNESCO. Alike last year Sur Jahan is again traveling to Goa this year Feb 7-9.

When: 2-4 February, 2018.

Where: Kolkata & Goa

Carnival times in Goa

India’s answer to carnivals of Brazil, Caribbean and Europe. Carnival came to Goa with the Portuguese in 1510. This is the local version of the carnival celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gas. In the localised version parade is lead by local King Momo. This three day event is the place where all the colours of Goa come out in a glorious swagger and sweeps away the local as well foreign folks with its charm and charisma. Goa is almost synonymous with fun, music, food, entertainment and merry making and without any real doubt the only place in India that breaks away from the general image of the country as a conservative nation. It can be attributed to the historical fact that Goa was under Portuguese rule in the past and is still in its hang over. The Goa Carnival was started by the Portuguese rulers and since then it it has become an integral part of Goa. During the Carnival days Goa enters into a different zone of its own and become very crowded place. from every part of the world travellers come to enjoy the Goa Carnival. There is celebrations everywhere. Food and drinks are in plenty in accordance with live performances and multi-coloured processions. The scene of Goa Carnival resembles some fairy tale descriptions where people hop around in jovial mood with masks on, fireworks, fortune tellers, group of dancers and and above all happy people all around. Music swings into Goa Carnival quite naturally. The myriad facets of the Goan music compels any onlooker to jig with it. The stylish Spanish guitar, the casual drum beats and the soulful voice are enough to make you move your feet. It is a perfect gateway for everyone who is on the verge of a virtual breakdown in today’s dull, dreary and mundane world.

When: 10-13 February, 2018

Where: Panaji, Vasco, Mapusa

Best of classical dance at Khajuraho

Every ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho in central India. Once the capital of the great Chandela Kings, Khajuraho today is a quiet village of a few thousand people. It is also the setting of the Khajuraho Festival of Dances which draws the best classical dancers in the country every year, who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples. The seven-day extravaganza is a unique treat for connoisseurs from all over the world. This year it will be 44th edition of this festival. The Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples every year in February/March. The past and the present silhouetted against the glowing sun as the backdrop becomes an exquisite backdrop for the performers. In a setting where the earthly and the divine create perfect harmony – an event that celebrates the pure magic of the rich classical dance traditions of India. As dusk falls, the temples are lit up in a soft, dream-like ethereal stage. The finest exponents of different classical Indian styles are represented – Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, and many more.

When: 20-26 February 2018

Where: Western group of temples, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

An Olympics for Theatre in Delhi this time

Bharat Rang Mahotsav

India’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama will this year turn into 8th Theatre Olympics. India will be hosting this event for the first time. It will be a grand showcase of the international theatre. Theate Olympics is going to feature work by playrights, directors, actors, designers, theatre groups and drama institutions from India and abroad. It will showcase outstanding productions that have been performed for the public on or before 31st August 2017. The theme of the Olympics is Flag of Friendship. The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 in Delphi, Greece, on the initiative of the famous Greek theatre director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. It is a platform for theatrical exchange, a gathering place for students and masters, where a dialogue despite ideological, culture and language differences is encouraged. Moreover, as its subtitle suggests, Crossing Millennia, it is an initiative that emphasizes the importance of connecting the past, present, and future together. The founding committee was a group of eight internationally renowned theatre directors: Theodoros Terzopoulos, Nuria Espert, Antunes Filho, Tony Harrison, Yuri Lyubimov, Heiner Müller, Tadashi Suzuki and Robert Wilson. It is a non-profit organization. Its administrative headquarters are located in Athens, Greece (European office) and in Togamura, Japan (Asian office).

When: 17 February-8 April 2018

Where: National School of Drama, New Delhi, but plays across the country at various locations including Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvanathapuram and Varanasi.

Enjoying contemporary art at India Art Summit

India Art Fair

India Art Fair, previously known as India Art Summit, is an annual summit of modern and contemporary art. India Art Fair is South Asia’s leading platform for modern and contemporary art and portal to the region’s cultural landscape. Founded in 2008, India Art Fair has become the bedrock of a now booming cultural community with connections to every level of the market. This is the 10th year of this Art summit. Building on these foundations, India Art Fair is expanding its programming to reflect South Asia’s immense diversity in the visual arts and to provide a platform for innovation across disciplines and exchange, throughout the region and the world. There is strong representation of leading Indian and international galleries to complement the fair’s regional perspective and enable a deeper engagement with art. A curated showcase of interactive, large-scale installations revealing the most stimulating cross section of artists, mediums and processes from the subcontinent. With a shared ambition to promote cultural discourse in South Asia, and provide a platform for these discussions, India Art Fair has developed platforms such as the Speakers’ Forum and Film Programme. This broad and exciting programme of lectures, screenings and conversations will engage a diverse range of stakeholders in the visual arts as well as cover a wide spectrum of artistic practices.

When: 9-12 February, 2018

Where: NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi.


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Journey to the roof top: Five of the highest mountain passes in the world


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This is more of a vlog post. For the ordinary, the road from Manali to Rohtang Pass is quite thrilling, but for all those who seek the heights it is just a prelude of things to come. After all, at an altitude of 13,050 feet, it is quite less (more than 4500 ft) than what one achieves in this jaw-dropping journey from Manali to Leh.

One for memory

Rohtang is more fun, a sort of picnic spot. But it gives a fair idea of what to expect next while moving to greater heights.

One of the most dangerous but still one of the most beautiful road journeys on the planet takes you through five high altitude mountain passes- Rohtang La (13,050 ft), Baralacha La (16,040 ft), NakeeLa (15,547 ft), Lachung La (16,616 ft) and the highest one of the route Tanglang La (17,582 ft).

Nakeela Pass at over 15,500 ft
Lachung La pass

Its a challenging but thoroughly entertaining route of around 450 kms undertaken on my favourite Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which you will be able to see at all the passes. Inspiring! Is it!!

Watch a glimpse of all the five passes on the Manli-Leh route in this video-

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Where Whisky and Brandy are ferocious nallahs!


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I consider the stretch from Bharatpur to Pang to be the most eventful in the entire route from Manali to Leh. Eventful in the sense that it has got most fantastic variations in the landscape than any other stretch. Although Pang to Leh is also again a wonderful stretch but it is more of a leisure part and has less the challenges that Bharatpur-Pang stretch has to offer. That is precisely the reason that although I covered entire stretch from Bharatpur to Leh in a single day, but while writing about it, I have divided into two parts. That was only way to do some justice to it, as one single part would have been either too long or I would have to sacrifice some details.

Beautiful Landscape along the Tsarap Chu river

Bharatpur was an unscheduled halt for me because of the landslide an evening before. But it was always worth as is every inch of this mesmerising terrain.

Read also: Himalayan Rides – Lonely at mighty Baralacha La

Way from Bharatpur to Pang was to take me through same spot which was buried under huge landmass the last night. Just three kilometres ahead of that spot was Killing Sarai. One of the more fascinating things of this route is the nomenclature os the places on the way and as I had said earlier, perhaps army or BRO has big role in naming them. Killing Sarai actually has a BRO depot.

Starnge places, peculiar names

After Killing Sarai comes the Sarchu.  After Keylong Sarchu and Pang are the biggest transit camps on the way upto Upshi. Road upto Sarchu from Bharatpur is very testing.

Gorges along the way

But the early morning drive is very magical. You get to see the colours of nature like never before. You see, how the valley transforms, once it gets soaked in sunlight. First ray of light brings life to the region, life worth a gold literally.

Mountains of gold!

Sarchu gets lively on the sunrise and before reaching you get the feeling that you are close to an army transit camp.

Long way to go!
Truckers lined up at Sarchu

Sarchu is popular not just among campers but also among the truckers. You can find here many dhabas offering food as well as bed.  Although some old-timers had said to me that Pang is better place for a halt than Sarchu. Although Pang is higher in altitude, but Sarchu is more windy. I was to experience that on my way back.

Towards the army transit camp

Sarchu has a small army transit camp. I had come to know that this camp has a satellite phone and one can make calls from there by paying call charges. Fortunately I had been able to make calls every day on this route, it was quite a change from earlier times. I had earlier used BRO satellite phone at Batal as well. I didn’t stop at Sarchu but headed directly to the transit camp to make the call. After that, I moved ahead towards Gata Loops.

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chacha-Chacha of Batal!

Amazing landscape
Road across the river

After crossing the Sarchu camps, road goes along the river and one has to cross the river and then travel opposite on the other side of the river to move ahead.

It is Brandy Nallah, but wrongly written Whisky here!

Brandy Nallah is at the base of the Gata Loops. Don’t get confused by the photo above as it is perhaps wrongly written by BRO on this board. I don’t know, how they changed the ‘drinks’! BRO perhaps can. I am still not able to comprehend the idea behind these fancy names. Brandy nallah has now got a new bridge, thus robing the adventure of traversing through flowing stream.

Also Read: Loops of the haunted!

Nakeela Pass at over 15,500 ft

Once you cross the Gata Loops, the climb doesn’t stop and actually we have to climb further for almost 10 kms upto the Nakeela Pass at an altitude of 15547 feet. This is the third pass after Rohtang La and Baralacha La en route from Manali to Leh. And these passes are constantly gaining height.

Also Read: Himalayan Rides – Manali to Gramphoo!

Whisky nallah is down there in the valley

Nakeela and Lachung La are two passes overlooking each other and there is a big valley in between. So after  crossing Nakeela we go downhill upto the Whisky Nallah and then climb again upto the Lachung La. Whisky nallah is still very tricky to cross especially in the early part of the season and upto late August. It can be troublesome during rains. But the place is yet tempting enough to have a camp or a restaurant or two.

Lachung La pass

At an altitude of 16616 feet Lachung La is fairly imposing but ride from Brandy Nallah to Nakeela and then Whisky La and Lachung La is quite decent. But things don’t remain always the same and hence the road changes dramatically after Lachung La.

Many such memorials on the way

Road obviously has all imprints of an BRO road including many small memorials for servicemen who lost their lives on this treacherous road either during any operation or while construction of roads. Road conditions might deteriorate but the beauty increases.

It used to be dreadful nallah

Pang is further 1400 feet downhill from Lachung La and hardly 14 kms but even this small stretch has lot to offer and Kangla Jal is indeed top of it. Like Brandy Nallah and Whisky Nallah, Kangla Jal has also go a fancy name with unknown history. But this too is one of the most challenging spots. I have seen images and videos of riders and drivers trying to negotiate the knee-deep waters of Kangla Jal in full flow. This also has got a new bridge now to make the ride smoother.

A biker crossing the Kangla Jal

This place makes a beautiful view on both sides- climb leading upto LachungLa on one side and slope leading upto the Pang on other.

A breathtaking view, literally!

View on other side of Kangla Jal is literally amazing… jaw dropping literally. You can feel amazed about the landscape as well as the engineering marvel of constructing roads and bridges here as in the image above.

Nature’s craft!

View keeps unfolding as you keep moving down towards Pang. Like the one above or like below…

As soon as we end this slope, we cross the bridge and enter the wide valley which houses Pang village.

Buses following me to Pang

Pang is another favourite camping site and a transit camp.

Looking behind towards Lachung La from Pang

Lot of construction is going on at Pang to construct new hotels and Dhabas. Few of them have been there for years like the one where I had my lunch..

Dhaba at Pang

At over 15,200 feet Pang is also said to be one of the highest army transit camps in the world.

Pang campsite

Valley broadens at Pang. Lower part houses the campsites, restaurants and dhabas while higher one houses the army transit camps. Again, the camp here has the facility of satellite phone, which can be used by adventurers to make emergency calls on payment of call charges, the are usually very nominal.

Pang is a must stop for all readers and drivers for a small break. And as I said earlier, it is also nice place for overnight stay.


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Coming next: More Plains and Tanglang La!

 

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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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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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.