Tag Archives: Leh

Himalayan Rides : Chandratal to Keylong

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

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

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

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

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

Treacherous roads! Read: Himalayan Rides-Chatru to Batal

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

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

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

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

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

Some relief from the tough roads

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

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

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

Khoksar

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

Moon Lake! Read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

Chandra River

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

Give me some sunshine!

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

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

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

Quick details:

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

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

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Himalayan Rides : Batal to Chandratal

We are on a virtual ride to Lahaul & Spiti valley. Every rider or driver or adventurer enthusiast going to Leh or Kaza is very much keen to know about the road conditions on these arguably two of the most fascinating road journeys in the world.

Vast expanse of Chandra Valley is the glory of the region.

Its a journey, everybody would like to embark upon. So, here is a first hand experience of the trip, which I have broken down into different segments, or we may say shorter distances to give a more detailed overview of the trip.

Read: Milestones to Ladakh – Manali to Gramphoo

Tricky and challenging route

In the earlier parts of the journey, we have travelled from Manali to Gramphoo, then Gramphoo to Chatru and Chatru to Batal. Now after spending some time with Chacha-Chachi of Chandra Dhaba at Batal, we move towards Chandratal. Once we cross river Chandra after Batal, there is an uphill drive.

Read: Himalayan Rides – Gramphoo to Chatru

The road keeps opening fascinating new vistas

After a couple of kilometres, there is a diversion. Road uphill goest o Kunzum pass and then to Kaza. While road straight goes to Chandratal. Its is a pretty straight forward route after that along the Chandra river in the vast expanse of the valley.

Read: Himalayan Rides – Chatru to Batal

Himalayan views!

As we move deeper inside the valley, we go closer to Moulkila and Chandrabhaga mountain ranges. You can see, various peaks and glaciers as well. Its a paradise for shutterbugs.

Read: Himalayan Rides – Batal of Chacha-Chachi Dhaba

Views of glaciers around
Terrain typical of Spiti region

Its a beautiful journey but road condition is pretty much the same as has been from Chatru to Batal. Its a bumpy ride to say the least with a couple of running streams to cross. Flow of water in the streams will depend on the timing of the journey. Enjoyable journey upto the camping area near Chandratal lake. These streams look quite easy ones but pebbles below the water sometime make it tricky to maintain the balance of the luggage loaded bike. SO one has to be extremely careful.

In my last post on this trip, I had mentioned that how tough the terrain is and how hostile weather can be here. With the interiors of valley difficult to reach, it makes the rescue operations in any event of crisis very challenging. Hence there is also a helipad and control station after Batal on way to Chandratal. But this one is across the Chandra river on other side.

Helipad and satellite relay station

You can watch the video of this road journey on clicking the link below: 

Big flat valley provides an ample space for camping. First couple of camps actually are half a kilometre before the main camping site. Main camping site is right on the base of the uphill route towards Chandratal Lake.

Read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

Camping at an altitude of around 4200 metres is a fascinating experience.

My bike right next to my tent

Till some years back, camping site near Chandratal Lake had just one camp. Now there are many camps and more than 150 tents for adventurers to stay. They are run by different local operators though.

Main camping site for Chandratal Lake
It is almost end of the season for the Tenzin camp
Another look of the camping site and surrounding areas

Tents are good, clean, cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfast. Most of the prices of the tents include stay with meals (generally breakfast and dinner).

You can watch the video of this camping site on clicking the link below:

This place is culmination for many treks as well as base camp for many expeditions to nearby peaks. Adventurers mostly come here to see Chandratal Lake. Many bikers will just visit the lake and then move ahead towards Kaza or Manali. I stayed here overnight in Tenzin camp and made two visits to lake- one in the afternoon and another in early next morning. If you stay here overnight, than you can also enjoy beautiful sunrise here in the morning, like this one-

CB13 and CB14 peaks of the Chandrabhaga range basking in glory
Closer look of first rays of sun on CB14 (6078 mts) peak

Both these peaks are favourite among mountaineers seeking an experience of 6000 metre climb. These expeditions are also done from the Batal.

Another view of campsite with CB13 & CB14 in background.

Having covered Chandratal Lake, now we will turn back on the same way upto Gramphoo and from there turn towards Keylong on way to Leh.

Hope, this part of the journey was enjoyable.

Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July

Well, when it is July than you don’t need a reason to go to Ladakh. If you love adventure than your mind automatically drifts towards going to Ladakh, as the July-August season approaches. But than, those who still need a pretext to go there or to get into mood or feel inspired… there is lot for them this month. Adventure season to Ladakh starts late in June as soon as the high altitude passes from Baralacha-La to Tanlang-La are given all clear by the BRO. Its almost ritualistic for many riders to go to Leh on this route in July. Many groups plan their trips during this time. Road trip to Leh through some of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world is one of the most thrilling journeys. Adventure seekers have tried every possible vehicle on this route. They go on SUVs, cars, bikes, scooters, mopeds and ofcourse bicycles. Journey normally starts from Manali and climbs to cross Rohtang as the first high altitude pass. Next comes Gramphu, where one road on the right takes to Spiti Valley through Kunzam La. While another route on left takes you inside the Lahaul valley towards Leh through- Keylong, Sarchu and Pang. But the epitome of this route is crossing high altitude passes- Baralacha-La (5030 m), Nakee-La (4739 m), Lachulung-La (5065 m) and Tanglang-La (5328 m). Equally amazing is plateau called More plains at an altitude of 4700 metres. Many places on the way have accommodation for a night stay. There are many places to establish camps as well.

But then, those who don’t want to take the nerve-wrecking road journey always have an option to take the aerial route. Main point is to be there and this year July brings some of the best monastic festivals of Ladakh.

Fortunately first one is the most important one-Hemis Tsechu which will be celebrated on July 3-4 this year at Hemis monastery. Hemis monastery, the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. 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. Hemis monastery is almost 35 kms from Leh. Actually while going from Manali side, Hemis monastery comes before Leh, across Indus river.

Besides this all important Hemis Festival, there are a few gustor festivals at various monasteries.  Gustor literally stands for sacrifice of the 29th day of the 11th month of Tibetan calendar, and depicts the victory of good over evil. A unique dance performance that attracts tourists from all over world marks the commencement of the festival. In this dance, performers wear black hats showing their triumph against evil. The dancers wear different masks portraying themselves as the patron divinities of the Geluk-pa order and other Buddhist gods. The dance performance also shows the killing of Lang-dar-ma by a monk in the 9th century. The festival lasts for two days and ends with the distribution of sacrificial cake known as storma by the leader of the dance group. This activity is called Argham meaning destruction or killing of all evils.

So the first Gustor festival in July is of Shachukul monastery. Shachukul Gustor will take place on July 11-12. Located about 125km east of Leh, this monastery is on the way to the popular lake, Pangong Tso. This monastery, situated at a height of 14,000 feet in the middle of Shachukul village was constructed by Lama Choje Denma Kunga Dragpa. Around 70 lamas or monks reside in this monastery served by the reincarnation of Skyabje Toldan Rinpoche. Sacred shrines and artistic wall paintings dating back to the royal times adorn this holy place.

Next is Stongday Gustor which will take place at Stongday monastery on July 12-13.  Stongday monastery in one of the most important and oldest monastery of Zanskar region. Established in 1052 by Lama Maria Lotsawa, this is second largest monastery of Zanskar region having a community of 60 Gelupka monks. This monastery has seven temples in complex. This monastery is 18 kms north of Padum on way to Zangla. Since it is located on a hilltop at an altitude of 3500 metres, one has to trek to reach to the monastery. It can be a tough 3 to 4 hours trek on a muddy trek. Padum is more than 400 kms from Leh via Kargil on Leh-Srinagar highway.

Then comes Karsh Gustor on July 21-22. This takes place at Karsha Monastery or Karsha Gompa in the same Padum Valley of the Zanskar region. The Doda River flows past the monastery from its source at the Drang Drung glacier of the Pensi La (14,500 feet or 4,400 m). The monastery, also known by the name “Karsha Chamspaling’, was founded by Phagspa Shesrab, under the Gelugpa Order or the Yellow Hat Order. This is the biggest monastery in Ladakh’s Zanskar region and is about 14km from Padum village, where you will find homestays and guest houses. The monastery also has bone relics of Dorje Rinchen and serves as the residence of approximately 100 monks.

On the same days July 21-22 is Phyang Tserup (Tsedup) of Phyang monastery.  Located only about 20km west of Leh, Phyang monastery was established in the 16th century. It has several shrines and a 900-year old museum. This museum exhibits a rich collection of numerous idols and thangkas besides variety of weapons and firearms of Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian origin.This monastery belongs to Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. As a royal grace, the entire Phyang hills were once inhabited by monks preaching a Buddhist cult. Phyang Gompa is big complex accommodating a number of sacred shrines inside the monastery complex. These shrines have some exquisite wall paintings, dating back to the royal period. Tsedup is held every year from 17th day to 19th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

The last gustor for the month is Korzok Gustor which will be celebrated on July 26-27. Located on the bank of the famous lake, Tso Moriri, Korzok is said to be the highest permanent settlement in India. The 300-year old monastery observes its annual Gustor festival through much fanfare, which is attended in large numbers by the local Chang-pa tribe. Masked dancing, and dispersal of the sacrificial cake are an important part of the two-day festival. You can camp at Tso Moriri.

If you want to take a break from the monastic festivals, then there will be also a Ladakh Polo Festival on 11-17 July. Polo originated in Persia (Iran) and was introduced to Ladakh, where it is hugely popular today, from neighbouring Baltistan around the 15th century. In Ladakh, every major village has a polo ground and the game is an integral part of the cultural fabric of the Ladakhi people where music, especially drums, accompany the scoring of each goal. It is also one of the highlights of the two week long Ladakh Festival every September. The six day Ladakh Polo Festival is held in village Chushot of Leh district. This festival is being held for the first time and is being oraganised by a local polo club of the village itself-The Indus Chushot Polo Club. The festival aims at making the tourists visiting Ladakh experience the authentic village summer life with local games like polo, archery, folk music, folk dance, traditional art, local drama and traditional cuisines all available at this festival. Chushot village comes under Leh district and is 13Km South of Leh main town. This serene village is surrounded by chains of mountain range with the village itself being located on the bank of the historically famous Indus River. Farther away from the bank, the other side of the village has vast barren lands.

But then you don’t get distracted by festivals coming between your love for adventure, then there is something for all those who love to ride on tough and testing terrain and have the passion to ride. The 14th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is to be flagged off from New Delhi on 6th to 23rd July. Those who enjoy the company Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is best suited to them. This Odyssey will also have a women’s edition. This journey starts from Delhi on 8th and ends at Chandigarh on 23rd. On way back, this odyssey takes a turn to Kaza. So in 18 days you get to do both Lahaul as well as Spiti valley.

So, now you can plan a trip to Ladakh the July!!

Himalayan rides : Batal of Chacha-Chachi Dhaba

Rarely anybody passes through here without having a tea or something to eat.

Its all about love of nature and adventure that drives you to land unseen. The passion keeps accompanying you in your solo journeys. We have already travelled from Manali to Gramphoo via Rohtang pass.

Also See: Milestones to Ladakh:  Manali to Gramphoo

From Gramphoo, we moved right alongside the Chandra river towards Spiti valley and reached to Chatru.

Also See: Hiamalayan Rides: Gramphoo to Chatru

I was heading towards Chandratal lake. I had no intention to go towards Kaza as I had already travelled to Kaza some time back. From Chatru I had a very tough ride to Batal. As I said earlier, Batal is  a very important stopover. Once you cross the river Chandra at Batal and move uphill, there is a diversion. One road further up takes you to Kunzum top and then to Kaza in Spiti valley. Another road takes you deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal. We will travel that distance next time. This time we are just talking about Batal.

Also read: Himalayan Rides: Chatru to Batal 

Approaching Batal from Chatru and Chota Dara

Batal is located at farther end of a wide fat valley. Valley narrows at this point and then again widens up towards Chandratal after a few kilometres. It also gets important as there is tough climb upto Kunzum pass after here. Chandratal is also further 14 kilometres from here. Hence it makes a good resting point and have some food and fun. But it is also a good place to stay overnight.

Looking back towards the way I came

Batal now has a few dhabas. Some time back there was only one- Chandra Dhaba. Actually Batal has now got associated closely with Chandra Dhaba, both of them have acquired a sort of legendary status. Chandra Dhaba, more so because of its owners Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo.

Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo

44 years is not a small period and this ever-loved couple fondly called as Chacha-chachi has been running Chandra Dhaba for last 44 years at one of the most difficult terrains in the world in most hostile conditions, weather and poor connectivity. Its not a mean business. They do it for the love of their work and this place. They have been providing adventurers- bikers, drivers, passengers, trekkers, et.al. with food and shelter for all this long in their very humble and jovial way. But not just this, they have also been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.

Dorje Bodh serving tea to travellers at his Dhaba

This extraordinary couple is now part of many adventure folklores for decades and deservingly enough, have also been recognised with many awards, including Godfrey Philips bravery award. You can also a watch a video of a candid chat with Chacha Dorje Bodh by clicking on the link below-

Now few more dhabas have come round, although Chandra Dhaba still retains its premier status. In this region, all dhabas also double up as night shelters for the travellers. They are very handy for all those, who have to make emergency halts because of either getting late or adverse weather conditions. Travellers also make scheduled halts at these dhabas when they don’t want to carry tents with them.

Options to choose from

These dhabas are descent place to stay. Mostly there will be beds inside the dhaba on one side, like a dormitory. Dhaba owners will be providing the sleeping bags and blankets. Since the dhaba and the kitchen will also be inside in the same area, therefore it will be cozy and warm in the night, while it would be freezing cold outside. Dhabas provide the breakfast and meals.

Inside the Chandra Dhaba

For all those, who love extreme adventure, there is plenty of place around to pitch tents and enjoy starry nights. Besides, there is also a PWD rest house in Batal, just opposite the Chandra Dhaba, and also some igloo shaped fibreglass fabricated forest huts.

Buses going from Manali or Keylong to Kaza also stop here for some time. Truckers with essential supplies of the region will always make a halt here. Actually earlier, when there was no road connectivity to Chandratal then, people will make Batal as the base and then trek to Chandratal. Even today, whenever that road is blocked, or just for adventure, people will trek for 14 kms from Batal to Chandratal. There are people who will take a bus from Manali, get down at Batal, trek to Chandratal and come back, and then they will either take another bus to Kaza or back to Manali.

Also read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

During the season time, you will find many tourists here at time during the day

Batal is at an altitude of 3910 metres and it is located in a very hostile terrain. This place remains inhabited for almost six months from April end to October end. Rest of the time it remind inaccessible and even reaching through helicopters might be tough task during winters. Even during so-called summer months of adventure season, occasionally there might be heavy snowfall leading to road blockades. One should always be prepared physically and mentally for any eventuality.

But once you are here the beauty of the nature only steels the resolve to go further.

Way to Kunzum and Chandratal. You can see the bridge on the Chandra River.

Himalayan Rides : Chatru to Batal

In the last episode of Himalayan Rides, we (me and my readers) travelled from Gramphoo to Chatru on way to Chandratal. Now we are travelling from Chatru to Batal. Batal is a very important stopover. Once you move ahead of Batal there is a diversion. A road uphill takes you to Kunzum pass and then to Kaza in Spiti valley and another one moves deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal.

Also see: Himalayan Rides : Gramphoo to Chatru

Moving between the himalayan walls!

Its a very small stretch in terms of the total ride but still I thought to devote a full post to this, as this one was very important in letting me know what to expect on the way ahead and what I need to do to keep myself better prepared.

Spiti valley Dhaba just a few kilometres from Chatru
Welcome to the territory unknown
Towards Chota Dara
Just before Chota Dara
Time for photography is time of rest for the machine!

Batal is just 31 kilometres from Chatru. Chhota Dara is 17 kms from Chatru and Batal is another 14 kms from there. But this 31 kms journey is no pushover, as it tests your riding skills. The route might not be too tough for four wheelers but it is tough one for bikes, specially the stretch from Chatru to Chhota Dara as at many places you have to ride through boulders and stones. This stretch can take a heavy toll on your vehicles, so keep them fit for it. There are few running streams to be crossed and one or two of them can be tricky for the first timers, more so if you don’t want to put your feet into the water.

Chota Dara: On paper this is a village, but there are only stones and stones around. A PWD pesthouse is there. Then there is also a Spiti Valley Dhaba on the way, which can provide you with some tents to stay and also breakfast and meals.

A milestone to announce a village!
Time to check the distances left!
PWD resthouse at Chota Dara
Alongside the whole route is work going on to lay optical fibre cables

I had a bit of uneasy experience on water crossing on the stretch. Actually, it was the first tricky one of the trip. I had brought a pair of water and snow proof shoes with me. But in the morning when I was packing the things at Chatru, I found that the sole of my both the shoes have not just only ripped off, but broken into pieces beyond any kind of repair. I actually tried to use the puncture solution to fix it but it only worsened. There was no alternative other than to how them. With heavy heart, I discarded them to dustbin. They had come to me all the way from Geneva, Switzerland.

Tips on hand!

But now there was an immediate problem for me. Till Chatru, I had not required to cross any stream, hence I didn’t fell any requirement for waterproof shoes and I carried on in my sports shoes. Now, if I required them then I can get a new pair only at Keylong. Till then I had to make sure that I don’t let my sports shoes get wet.

Beauty of the terrain
Along the Chandra River!
Valley widens up at many places
The view around always keeps us energetic!

And, I had a testing time just immediately. After I crossed Chota Dara, there was a stream flowing down from the mountains, crossing the road over to Chandra River. It was a tricky one as it was spread wide and it was tough for me to gauge the depth. Though, I was sure that it was not too deep but I had to ensure that I cross it smoothly so that I don’t have to touch me feet anywhere in between. Since I was bit weary of the stones and pebbles under the water, I was bit indecisive for more than a minute on which side to cross the stream. Luckily for me, a truck came from the behind and as it crossed the stream, I got an idea of the actual depth and concentration of stones, making it easier for me to follow and cross, that I finally did. Was I going to be equally lucky everytime till Keylong? Only time will tell.

Looks normal from a distance
Once I reached closer, I had to be careful
Passing truck guided me through

You can also see the video of this journey and my experience of crossing the stream by clicking below-

But it is definitely thoroughly enjoying as we pass through the beautiful Chandra Valley with snow-capped mountains all around from Indrasan, Deo Tibba, Ali Khan Tibba, White Sail, Papsura peaks and ranges. There is also a trek from Manikaran that brings to Chota Dara by crossing the Sara Umga pass. Stunning beauty around was actually reward for the tough ride.

Rising above everything!
A big glacier!

You can cover this stretch of 31 kms in about three hours, depending on your riding skills as well as on time you give yourself to enjoy the surroundings. Early morning departure from Chatru will give you good time at Batal to eat and enjoy.

Enjoy the journey from the start, read:

Milestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo

Next: Chacha-Chachi’s Batal!

Please feel free to share but not so free to copy and paste!

 

 

Jump in the well… all for a bottle of feni!

Its Ganga Dussehra today (also tomorrow!). Many of us would be already in Varanasi or may be in Haridwar or Rishikesh to take part in one of the most important festival attached to River Ganges. People will be taking dip in the river and will be part of Ganga Arti in the evening. Well, quite straightforward in terms of rituals. But ever imagined a festival in India where men jump in wells to bring out, just a bottle of feni! Looks bizarre but that happens in Goa. Looks like a chill-out fun for scorching summers of June. But June has a lot more to offer.  Summer is at its peak in the north while monsoon has already struck in the south. It is still the vacation time for the most parts of India and hill stations will be packed of vacationers. Lot more to do then routine ‘queen of the hills’ trips and these include some offbeat events and festivals.

Ganga aarti at Varanasi

Ganga Dussehra at Varanasi
Well as I said it is Ganga Dussehra today. Though it is called as Dussehra, it has got nothing to do with traditional Vijayadashami, called as Dussehra commonly. It is called Dussehra as it falls on Dashami (tenth day) of Hindu month of Jyeshtha during the brighter nights (शुक्ल पक्ष). The Ganga Dussehra festival is celebrated to mark the time that the holy Ganges River descended to earth. A large number of pilgrims congregate alongside the holy river, to bathe in it and worship. Ganga Dussehra is also known as Gangavataran which means ‘the descent of the Ganga’. Usually Ganga Dusshra is celebrated one day before Nirjala Ekadashi. Ganga Dussehra is dedicated to Goddess Ganga and this day is commemorated as the day when Ganga was descended to the Earth to accomplish her mission to purge the cursed souls of Bhagiratha’s ancestors. On Ganga Dussehra devotees worship Goddess Ganga and take bath in Ganges. Taking bath in Ganges and offering charity. It is widely believed that holy dip in Ganges on Ganga Dussehra day can purge all type of sins. Devotees flock to Allahabad/Prayag, Garhmukteshwar, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi to take a holy dip. Ganga Dussehra celebrations are legendary in Varanasi. On Ganga Dussehra day thousands of devotees do Ganga Snan and participate in Ganga Aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat. Ganga Dussehra should not be confused with Ganga Jayanti when the Goddess Ganga was reborn.

When: 3rd June 2017 (some people also say it is on 4th June)
Where: Ghats of Ganges, everywhere!

Summer Festival at Shimla

Summer Festival at Shimla
Another festival which is already on is the Summer festival at Shimla. Shimla is of course one of the India’s all time favourite hill stations. At a time when the holiday season is at its peak, there is a big festival to keep tourists in high spirits. This renowned event has been held regularly in Shimla since the 1960s. And now the dates have also been more or less fixed- 1st to 9th June every year. It features musical performances, some from famous singers, food and fashion. Plenty of local handicrafts are on sale too. The entire stretch of the Ridge road in Shimla comes alive with a riot of colors and a flurry of events like fashion shows, flower exhibitions, a sporting event for children and adults alike and a photography competition, among others. What sets the festival apart is its heartfelt dedication to showcasing the folk culture of the place. This year on the first day there were performers from Republic of Congo as well as many small time performers from Bollywood and Himachal Pradesh. Second night yesterday had performances from local artists. There is another week for the festival.

When: 1-9 June 2017
Where: Mall road, Shimla

Kottiyoor Festival at Kannur

Kottiyoor Festival at Kannur
Another festival due in coming week is at God’s one country- the evergreen Kerala. This one is quite different from usual elephant festivals of Kerala and it continues for no less than 28 days. Quite long! But the Kottiyoor Vysakha Mahotsavam is a truly mesmerising festival held amidst dense forest with the lush greenery and the gorgeous River Baveli forming a stunning backdrop. This festival in Kannur is conducted by two temples, Akkara Kottiyoor and Ikkara Kottiyoor situated on the banks of the River Baveli. The Akkara Kottiyoor Temple serves as the venue for the festival and is opened only during the festival days. The deity here is believed to be a swayambhoo lingam (self-created idol of Lord Shiva) and the temple is noted for its absence of a formal structure. Here the deity is placed on a raised platform made of river stones named manithara. The religious rituals and ceremonies are performed in thatched huts. The festival commences with the Neyyattam (pouring of ghee) ritual which is attended by hundreds of devotees. The celebrations start with the bringing of a sword from Muthirerikavu in Wayanad. An intriguing aspect of the festival is the Rohini Aaradhana where the priest embraces the swayambhoo Shiva linga as part of the ritual. One of the main ritualistic programs in this festival is Elaneer Vayppu in which tender coconut brought by the devotees is offered before the swayambhoolingam.  The festival concludes with Elaneerattam in which the collected tender coconut water is poured on the idol by the head priest.

When: 6th June-2nd July 2017
Where: Kottiyoor temple, Kottiyoor, Kannur. Nearest railway station: Thalassery, about 65 km Nearest airport: Karipur International Airport, about 160 km

Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri

Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath
This is undoubtedly one of the most important events of the Indian festival calendar. The deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple and remain there for nine days. Then the deities or Ratha Yatra return to the Main temple. The return journey of Puri Jagannath Ratha Jatra is known as Bahuda Jatra. Deities are usually worshiped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during the month of Asadha (Rainy Season of Odisha, usually falling in month of June or July), they are brought out onto the Bada Danda (main street of Puri) and travel (3 km) to the Shri Gundicha Temple, in huge chariots (ratha), allowing the public to have darśana (Holy view). This festival is known as Rath Yatra, meaning the journey (yatra) of the chariots (ratha). The Rathas are huge wheeled wooden structures, which are built anew every year and are pulled by the devotees. The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square and takes about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne. The Ratha-Yatra is also termed as the Shri Gundicha yatra. Since, many years now, simultaneous Rath Yatras are organised at many cities in India on the same day.

When: 25th June 2017
Where: Puri, Odisha

Sadhus at Kamakhya yemple in Guwahati, Assam, India during Ambubachi Mela Photo: Vikramjit Kakati

Ambubachi Mela of Goddess Kamakhya
Now this is bit unusual as you will probably not be able to recall any festival anywhere else which is held to celebrate the menstruation period of the goddess. This is very popular annual festival of the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.  In this annual festival the temple remains closed for three days because these are the days of annual menstruation period of goddess Kamakhya. On these three days devotees neither worship nor read holy books. even farmers do not plough the land. Temple reopens on the fourth day, with a rush of devotees who come to receive bits of cloth that are supposedly soaked with her menstrual fluid. It’s considered to be extremely auspicious and powerful. One of the 52 shakti peeths, Kamakhya temple is also known for its tantric rituals. This particular festival is considered to be the haven for that. Devotees come from far off places to meet the Tantric Sadhus and take their blessings.

When: 22-25 June 2017
Where: Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam

Devotees offering namaz at Jama Masjid in Delhi

Time for some sweet seviyan on Eid
Holiest month for the muslim community world over. The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is known as “Ramazan” and is a time of fasting and prayer throughout the Islamic world. This month-long fast is done to commemorate what, according to Muslims, was the first Quranic revelation to Prophet Muhammad, and its observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam- a list of the great deeds every Muslim ought do in his life to secure salvation. The month of Ramazan lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the year, and its beginning date is based on local moon sightings. The “Iftar” is the time of breaking the fast, and it occurs right after the evening call to prayer. Since people fast all day, family and friends eat late-night meals during Ramadan. Non-Muslims can sometimes participate in these meals, and there will often be big street tents near mosques where free food is given out to the needy during Ramadan. Traditionally, Eid El Fitr marks the celebrations at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Its high time for some traditional delicacies.

When: 25th June 2017
Where: Jama Masjid, Delhi

Sao Joao Feast of St John the Baptist

Sao Joao Feast of St John the Baptist
This is the festival I was talking about. Catholics across the world celebrate the Feast of St John the Baptist on June 24. This day, they believe, John kicked around in his mother’s womb when Mary was visiting because he knew Jesus was going to be born soon after him and wanted to indicate how happy he was. Only in Goa do they celebrate by jumping into wells. Its for all those who love feni. The most popular festival in Goa, Sao Joao (the fertility feast of Saint John the Baptist), involves the interesting feat of men jumping into overflowing village wells to retrieve bottles of local feni alcohol. People break coconuts after praying, down feni in liberal quantities, and jump into the closest water body they can find. The artistically inclined make crowns of fresh fruit and wildflowers and one large garland for the local cross. There are also boat races, and singing and dancing. this one is made especially for the newlyweds. The festival involves the husbands getting drunk on the local feni alcohol and jumping into wells to impress their wives, adorning floral wreaths on their heads. The festivities take on a more surreal outlook if it rains while the ceremonies are still underway, which it often does. People revel in delectable food and music while witnessing one of the most quirky and eccentric, yet interesting round of celebrations in the coastal state.

When: 24th June 2017
Where: All over Goa

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
This is another feast in Goa. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul or Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul is a liturgical feast in honour of the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which is observed on 29 June. The celebration is of ancient origin, the date selected being the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics. Goa celebrates this festival with religious fervour. The tradition of Sangodd is also seen in the Christian festival of Saint Peter and Saint Paul held on June 29 every year, by the fishing community particularly in Bardez taluka. The fishermen in the villages along the northern coast of Goa celebrate the festival in the monsoon. They tie their boats together to form rafts which serve as makeshift stages. On this stages miniature models of chapels or churches are erected. After a church service in the morning and a large feast, the festival of Sangodd is held. Tiatrs (local drama theatre), folk dances and music are performed before an audience who watch from the banks of the river. The Sangodd in the villages of Candolim and Sinquerim are well known. Here the rafts carrying the models slowly make their way down the river up to the Chapel of St. Peter. At each stop, firecrackers are set off and the entertainment on the stage begins. The origin of this celebration is unique to Goa. It is the celebration of the fisher folk community because St. Peter was a fisherman.

When: 29th June 2017
Where: Candolim, Goa

Festivals in Ladakh region

Its festival time in Ladakh region as well. Though Manali-Leh road is yet not open, but Srinagar-Leh  traffic has resumed.  And then there are flights always! There are a few festivals already in pipeline. A couple of them are monastic while couple of others are recent cultural additions.

Saka Dawa festival

Saka Dawa festival
The Saka Dawa or the Saga festival is celebrated on the 4th  month of the Tibetan calendar. It is the most revered day for Buddhist followers as on this full moon of this month, the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and then parinirvana. On this very day, every year, the lamas of nearby monasteries change the Tarboche flag pole, that is located at the South of the mountain, Kailash Kora. It is believed that if after the pole is changed, it does not stand erect, it is not auspicious by Tibetans. The festival is celebrated all over Ladakh and many other areas in Tibet and Sikkim as well. Actually this is the festival which we know as the Buddha Purnima. But then we already had Buddha Purnima on 10th May this year. Then why Saka Dawa in this month? The explanation to this is that due to difference between Solar and Lunar calendars, there is sometimes a difference of a month between Buddha Purnima and Saka Dawa, as is this time. But both are essentially full moon days.

When: 9th June 2017
Where: All over Ladakh, Sikkim, Tibet

Yuru Kabgyat festival at Lamayuru monastery

Yuru Kabgyat Festival at Lamayuru
This is another monastic festival of the month. Yuru Kabgyat is a two-day festival that takes place in the month of July in the Lamayuru monastery, which is around 125 kms away from Leh.  During the festival, the monks perform mask dances, prayers and rituals in order to get away from any kind of disaster and for bringing in peace in the world. This  is a pre-historic monastery, which is called Yuru Gonpa by the locals. This festival is dedicated to Yuru Kabgyat and his mythical connection. This Gompa owes its origin to the Drikungpa branch of the Kagyudpa sect of the Tibetan Buddhism. This is actually one of the first monastic festivals of the season.

When: 21st June 2017

Sindhu Darshan Festival at Shey Manla

Celebration of Indus at Sindhu Darshan
As the name suggests, the Sindhu Darshan festival is a celebration of River Sindhu or Indus. Sindhu Darshan is celebrated in Shey Manla, located 8 kms away from the main city of Leh.  Indus is one of the world’s longest rivers, and gave India its name. Not an old festival though, this started as a rightist political statement and then slowly converted itself into a cultural event. It was first started in the October, 1997 and continues to be held every year since then, attracting large number of foreign as well domestic tourists. This is the time, when holiday season starts in Ladakh region. Festival adds to that. The festival aims to project the Sindhu as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony, and peaceful co-existence in India. It promises a kaleidoscope of Indian culture and an exciting array of performing arts. There is also a symbolic salute to the brave soldiers of the country. At the time of the festival, the local artists from various parts of the country traditional dance performances.  People from all religions, castes and regions become a part of this  festival. This year, it would be the 21st Sindhu Darshan festival.

When: 23-26 June 2017
Where: On the banks of the river Sindhu near Leh, Ladakh

Silk Route festival in Nubra valley

Silk route Festival at Nubra valley
This is another recent addition to Ladakh’s cultural festival scene. Recognizing the potential of Sumoor (the model village of Nubra) village in playing central role in economic development through cultural tourism, the villagers started an annual village festival and subsequently realized that this festival needs to be developed and promoted with experts’ supervision and direction to make it more meaningful, momentous and beneficial.  The festival aims at influencing the present and future generations as well visitors from outside to relate to the village culture in a positive light. As such, the Silk Route Festival offers a unique tourism product through provision of the Ladakhi village cultural and traditional lifestyle in aspects of accommodation and hospitality, entertainment, arts and crafts and activities that will interest both national and international tourists. The accommodation and hospitality section of the Silk Route Festival mainly consists of different types of traditional food stalls, cultural programme, handicrafts and traditional sport such as archery to mention few.

When: 23-24 June 2017
Where: Sumoor village, Nubra Valley, Ladakh

SO! Where are you going next!!

Himalayan Rides : Gramphoo to Chatru

Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top. Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. We have already travelled from Manali to Gramphoo via Rohtang pass.

(In case you have missed it, you can read it hereMilestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo)

In Spring and autumn times, valley is laden with flowers

From Gramphoo one road leads to Keylong and then towards Leh and another one towards Kunzum Pass and then to Kaza. There is also stark difference between roads on the two sides. Keylong-Leh road is the sort of expressway compared to this one. Road from Gramphoo to Chatru passes through narrow valley along the Chandra river. However once you cross the Chatru village, Chandra valley widens up.

Some areas are barren, while some are rich in vegetation

While moving towards Chatru there are a couple of water falls on the road. They don’t pose any problems for the four wheelers and these ones are not even tricky for two-wheelers as well. But you never know when it is raining heavily, they might pose some difficulties. It is better to be careful as situations will be different in different months and it can always change very rapidly.

Waterfalls look beautiful on other side of the valley
Even waterfalls on our side look glorious from a distance
Seemingly innocent water-pools may suddenly turn into high-voltage streams

Route from Gramphoo to Chatru is comparatively enjoyable because of roads, landscape and bit of inhabitation. Actually one can also say that because of some what better road, this stretch gives you an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings.

Road to Chatru alongside Chandra River

Widening and work on roads is a constant process here. Also the whole area is being connected through OFC network, hence you will always find either BRO or other PWD teams on work at short distances.

Work on roads is a regular process

Networks: In the above image, you can see bulldozers camped at a distance. This spot is around eight kilometres before from Chatru. It is said that while going from Gramphoo to Chatru, this is the last spot where you might be able to connect to a mobile network (that too just BSNL). As soon as you move ahead of this point, you will not find any networks on your mobiles upto Chandratal or Kunzum pass.

Hanging bridge at Chatru that is not yet used

Once we reach Chatru, we cross on the Chandra river to the other side.

Old iron bridge used to cross the Chandra river at Chatru

Chatru is next village from Gramphoo towards Kunzum Pass. Located at an altitude of 3300 metres, Chatru is 17 kms from Gramphoo and in the perspective this stretch from Gramphoo to Chatru has the better roads in comparison to other stretches towards Batal, Chandratal and Kunzum pass.

Chandra river in full flow at Chatru

Actually it is tough to call Chatru even a village. There had never been a permanent village here. It was a base for nomadic tribes and shepherds. Chatru is also an important base as normally this is where Hampta Pass trek will end, if one does not include Chandratal in it. On the other side of river there is a plenty of grounds for camping. Just along the bridge are two restaurants. They have been here for many decades now. Actually for commuters these two restaurants (another one is coming near by) are what Chatru is all about.

Place for camping alongside the river
A view of Chatru and surrounding areas

Night Shelter: As with whole of this route in Spiti or Lahaul valley, dhabas also double up for night shelter

Chandra Dhaba at Chatru

In the above image, you can see the Chandra dhaba with a tent. Front portion of the tent works as store and kitchen and on the other end are beds for commuters to stay. They provide bed and blankets.

Prem Dhaba at Chatru

Another dhaba is the Prem dhaba that you can see in the image above. This has got more space. On the right is the kitchen and the eating area, while what we see right in front (where you can see my bike parked) is a pucca garage with many beds inside. This shelter prevents better from cold of the night. Besides these two (or may be three this year) dhabas, Chatru also has a PWD rest house where tourists can stay subject to availability of rooms. This PWD rest house is around three-quarter of a kilometre further ahead on a uphill diversion from the main road. Rest house has two sets, but doesn’t have a water supply or electricity. Actually, owner of Prem Dhaba is also the caretaker of this PWD rest house. Normally travellers will prefer (even he too will prefer) to stay at Prem Dhaba only, as it has more space, food, running water and some solar light. Secondly PWD rest house is off the route, while these two dhabas are right on the road.

Way ahead!

Satellite connect: Since I had no prior information about (non) availability of networks here or the above mentioned spot with last signals of connectivity, I was desperate to get in touch after I reached Chatru. Also, because I had lost half day due to NGT permit issue requirement at Gulaba, my schedule was in haywire. I reached Chatru in evening tired. Originally I had planned to end the day at Chandratal. Hence I asked the owner of Prem Dhaba about any chance of connectivity. It was he who told me about the spot some seven kilometres back. I was in no mood to ride back to make a call and then come back here. It was than he told me about a satellite phone uphill in the village.

Road to PWD rest house at Chatru

There was a agro unit uphill, which actually formed the core of Chatru village. I went to PWD rest house, parked my bike there and jumped a few walls to reach to take a path towards some houses and a shed inside the fields. There was a agro unit which produced different crops here in the valley- peas, potatoes and few others and then packed and transported them to other areas. That unit had a satellite phone in its premises, services of which they also lend to commuters for a charge. I was able to make a call back home from there and actually at such height in these conditions it cost me just negligible to make a comfortable call. I might not be able to recollect precisely, but I made call for less than thirty rupees from there.

On to the next destination

My search for the satellite phone also gave me a bit of insight about this place. This valley is said to have one of the best quality of peas and potatoes produced in the entire region. The owner of the agro unit (his is the only private owner of such unit in whole valley) had more than 100 acres of land. He had a fairly descent set-up with a big house for himself (with water and solar lights) as well as place for his staff (of more than 50) to stay, and a power generating unit for his unit to process and pack the agri produce. That was an interesting story in itself.

You can also see a video of the route below: