This post is just a bunch of pictures I took during a short trip to Keoldeo National Park, Bharatpur. Most people just call it Bharatpur bird sanctuary. It is not a big place but apparently it had a lot of wildlife including leopards which have disappeared from the park. British and their slave rajas did a lot to kill too much of wildlife. There are numerous pictures with a bunch of white sahibs and brown sahibs with carcasses of thousands of birds in front of them. Local people are doing their best to carry on the unfinished work of past generations in other ways. According to some ornithologists and avid bird watchers we met, the park is steadily losing it’s population of flora and fauna. Shoddy work by park management, human interference and a lot of other factors are to blame. I don’t know names of most birds I saw and I certainly don’t remember all the names our guide told us. So I am just looking up names on internet and making a best guess. There are quite a few pictures with no description because I can’t find exact name of the bird. I’ll update whenever I have correct information.
All of these pictures were shot using a old Tamron 200-400 mm lens on a Nikon D7100 body without any tripod.
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). These seemed to be much more used to people than most other birds. They’d commonly stroll up and take food
Next morning started with a trip to Nako. I had little interest in the place but thought might as well see it while in the vicinity. A woman requested her to drop her grandson to the village school, so that was another reason. Strangely, the children learn Hindi and English, but no local language in school. The drive took only a few minutes but we spent more time finding the space to park. The village is overrun with hotels, guest houses and similar buildings. Nako lake is another big disappointment. It is more like a dirty green pond rather than a lake. We saw it for a minute and went back to the car immediately.
View from road after Nako
After a few minutes of driving, we had to stop again due to traffic slowing down due to a small landslide. There were a few workers, I think from BRO (Border Roads Organisation) managing traffic. I came to know that that particular section collapsed only a few days later cutting off the traffic for a week, probably more. The mountains just after this section were very colourful and diverse and a lot of tourists were stopping every now and then to take photographs. After a while, we had to drive down the mountain and travel along the river. We passed a few small villages on the way and stopped at Tabo for some rest and lunch. It seemed mostly empty with only one tourist in sight and most locals inside their homes or probably in their farms. We had lunch in a small dhaba full of dogs and flies. Tabo monastery is quite old (996 AD ) but has a few new structures including a hostel, eating joint and new gompas etc.
Inside monastery in Tabo
The sun was so strong that most pictures came up way too over exposed on almost every normal setting. There was a small Buddhist temple that we saw first. Then a big hall with some paintings and sculptures. It was very dark inside and it took some time to adjust. There were a bunch of paintings and sculptures representing different characters of their mythology. I don’t know much about this so I can’t really say anything about that. They were selling some posters, tshirts and some other souvenirs. I considered getting a small poster, but there was no practical way to carry it back home. Photography was prohibited inside so there are no pictures. There are a bunch of caves only a few meters from the main roads which were used by monks as a quiet place to pray and meditate. I don’t think that they can be used for this anymore. There are a lot of hotels and guesthouses in Tabo too and more coming up. Another peaceful place going down the gutter.
View from Road below Dhankar
We kept on driving and passed the road leading to Pin valley. We had no exact plan for the day and I was considering visiting Pin valley on this trip. But eventually decided against it. I had already seen some of it the last time and wanted to leave some for the next time. Next we stopped at a point just below Dhankar village. From there a few white buildings, presumably some part of the monastery and houses were faintly visible. View from Dhankar village is very good, it was nice to see it from the other side too. We then drove non-stop to Kaza and halted at Jamaica’s hotel there. He was still in Chandrataal and scheduled to come next day or day after that. I didn’t want to stay in Kaza waiting for him. We got some fuel from the pump there and moved on to Kibber. Most of Kaza was empty at the time as a lot of tourists were stuck near Lohsar due to cloudburst as mentioned in previous post. The bridge was open for traffic when we passed it next afternoon. There were a lot of stones and mud on it, but it was not holding up the traffic as it was doing before.
View of Dhankar from below
On our way to Kibber, 3 local women asked for a lift and gave us some of the dried apricots to eat. We reached our guest house at around 2 pm. There were a lot of teenagers in the guest house. Later the staff told me that the group was led by famous Indian mountaineer Bachendri Pal. They were going on a 3 day trek to a nearby pass. Fortunately, there was still a room available. After lunch, I still had 3-4 hours of day light left. I asked couple of locals if it was possible to make a quick hike to Gete and come back. Their replies were quite confusing. For people who don’t know, Gete is a very small settlement of 4-5 houses with great view of Kii monastery and Spiti river valley. I filled up my water bottle and camera and started on foot. The fields just behind the guesthouse were watered by a small stream coming from the general direction of Gete. So I followed the water for a while till it became too hard to walk alongside.
Pea fields in Kibber
Apparently, locals in Lahaul Spiti region offer horns of animals like goat and perhaps ibex as offering to some gods or maybe spirits. There was a small white temple like structure full of such horns in middle of the fields and in many other places. There were few women working in their pea farms but it didn’t seem like the plants were ready for harvest yet. The rolling hills had a dirt path used by cars but I used shortcuts. It seemed like I was getting used to hiking in the high altitude. A light breeze was blowing when I started the hike. But it turned in to a almost a full fledged gale by the time I could see my destination in the distance. Whenever I was standing still, I could see my heavy DSLR swaying with the wind. Thankfully there was no dust, otherwise it’d have been very difficult. Whatever little I understand of this phenomena, sun heats up the air trapped in small river valleys and when it starts to go down in evening, the cold wind rushes down displacing the hot air almost violently. There were a few prayer flags on the ledges every now and they looked ready to break free and take flight any moment. While I was standing on top of one ledge, I heard someone shouting but there was no one in sight. Maybe wind carried the voice from afar.
Kii Monastery and the nearby village
Eventually I reached Gete with a view of Kanamo peak behind it and it was just as quiet and picturesque as it was last time. Took a few pictures of the village , valley and the monastery below and started to walk back to the guest house. Then a foreigner couple drove up on a scooter and said hello. They had seen me coming down from the ledge and asked if there was something to see there. While coming back, I took a slightly different route and ended up on a nearly straight drop of around 10 meters just above the road leading to Kibber. But managed to climb down slowly one step at a time. The hike had tired me out but it was a nice use of the time. I had a hot shower, my last for rest of the stay in Lahaul Spiti and had dinner soon after. The wind at the time was not strong but was cold enough that everyone was wearing jackets, caps etc. I noticed a very large and dark patch on my left leg in evening. I was wearing shorts for the last 2 days and the sun was directly on top of my left knee while I was in the car. That left me with a dark sun burn patch and it is still quite dark even after more than 5 weeks. There was more sunburn on my face and arms later but this was the worse of it.
Some blue sheep we saw near Kibber
Once back at guest house, I switched on the geyser and waited for one hour to get the water hot. Still had to bathe with cold water. Slept soon after dinner. Our journey next morning began with a quick visit to Tashi Gong village. After driving for a few minutes we saw a herd of Blue Sheep consisiting of 16-20 animals. They didn’t seem to be particularly afraid and kept on grazing and staring at us alternatively. TWe another smaller herd a few I had mistakenly assumed that the same road led to Langza too. So it was a bit of surprise when the road ended a few kms after passing Tashi Zom instead of going on towards Langza. So we drove to Tashi Gong and stopped there. I was hoping that the “guest house” we had visited last time would be open. The village had changed very little from the last time. The owner had another child this time, a boy along with the girl from last time. We asked for some chai and they started cooking full meal for us instead. We hardly had the appetite for that kind of food early morning and VK was hardly the type to eat something different from his usual daal roti chawal thing. Finally, we settled for some rotis with eggs and jam. For some reason, white flour is gaining popularity in the region even as rest of the people slowly stop using it. But the rotis were thicker and tasted different.
Tashi Gong Village
There are 4, maybe 5 children in the village and a teacher runs special classes for them. Another new thing was people using electric churners to make butter. Earlier they used to do it manually in leather bags. This time, they had attached churner to a plastic container. It is less tiring and probably faster. Even the Gaddi shepherds I met later were using plastic cans to churn butter instead of leather bags just 4 years back, but atleast they were doing it by hand. More on that maybe later. We took leave from the family and started drive towards Chandrataal. Instead of passing through Kaza, we passed through Chicham via the brand new bridge inaugurated just a few days before. Two years back, I was dangling in the rope way’s trolley hundreds of meters above the gorge. It was sitting just beside the bridge looking sad and discarded.
Eroded mountains forming razor sharp pillars
These with flat tops
Drive from this point onwards was mostly unremarkable for me with lots of familiar sights and a few new. The much feared and talked about flooded nalah in Losar was dry by the time we reached there. I was prepared to spend a night in Losar in case it was still flooded. But the bridge was open for traffic and we passed it easily and stooped at a dhaba near police check post for lunch. Our last stop for the day was at Chandrataal campsite which looks worse with every passing year. Too many greedy campsite owners and too many stupid tourists. Jamaica was surprised to see me . He was not expecting me for atleast 1-2 more days. After some chai, I tried to set up my tent with his help. It was much easier than it seemed earlier. My first attempt in Delhi was not successful. High humidity and hundreds of mosquitoes had forced me to abandon the attempt within minutes. So I was slightly worried if the tent would work properly or not. Thankfully, we were able to set it up without much difficulty. There is not much else to talk about about this day after this. More in next post.
We intended to leave by 6:30 am, but started the drive only by 7 am. This path was a bit more “adventurous” and had quite a few interesting sights. We saw very few other vehicles on the road. We made a rest stop at Reckong Peo for lunch. It had a great view of Panch Kailash parvats. Apart from that, there is nothing special about it. It is just a typical crowded mountain town with crazy traffic. We had lunch there in some small dhaba and drove off. There was a Tibetan monastery which the driver said that I should see. But it was damaged in a landslide and was closed for visitors.
Sunrise in Chitkul
We went further up to Kalpa to get a hotel just above the village. At first glance, Kalpa seemed to be only marginally better than Reckong Peo and I wanted to move on further to Rodhi. supposedly the last Indian village on the route. It’s perhaps the 3rd or maybe 4th such “last village” I visited. But eventually settled for one near the road with good view of mountains in front and village below.. After getting some rest I walked out to explore and maybe find something interesting. I was waiting for clouds over Panch Kailash mountains to clear up but weather gods were not agreeing. The hotel I was staying in was constructed on a fruit orchard along the road and there were way too many new hotels coming up. At this rate, there’d be only hotels and nothing beautiful left there.
View of Kalpa village
I kept walking and had the first close up view of a mysterious looking fruit tree I had first noticed in Sangla. It’s yellow brown fruits were size of a walnut and so ripe that they were falling off the branches. Perhaps I kept staring at the tree for too long because a local girl from a nearby orchard came up with some of those fruits and shoved some in my hands. I was confused and looked on blankly. She gestured at me to eat them and said local name of the fruit which I forgot. Turned out that I was staring at fresh ripe apricots. Most of the time, I’ve seen and eaten them dry. I think it was my first time eating them fresh. I tried to thank her but she was already running back.
I walked for a few minutes but didn’t find anything interesting at the time. Atleast it was quiet and the view was nice. When I reached back to the hotel, driver met me outside and said that I should see Rodhi. As I had nothing better to do, we started the drive and reached there in a few minutes. On the way, we passed a certain “suicide point”. It’s nothing but a rather straight and steep fall down the cliff, may about 700-800 meters. Someone had made a small platform kind of thing near the road and two tourists were sitting on it contemplating their place in universe or maybe gathering courage to take the leap. One can see probably dozens of such “points” all over the region in a single day. But local Indian tourists need someone to pour cement and make it official.
The “Suicide Point” between Kalpa and Rodhi
Rodhi village by itself was pretty quiet and there was only one small guest house there which was locked at that time. Apart from some labourers working on the road, there were only a few locals outside. Rest were probably having an afternoon siesta. Some other locals were working in their farms and no one paid us much attention apart from a few local children. They were too shy and quick for me to take any pictures though. We stayed there for a few minutes and then drove back to the hotel. The driver had befriended 2 hotel employees, 2 cousins from Bihar brought in to Kalpa by their uncle for summer. They had little knowledge about the place apart from some random rumours and heresy.
View of the beautiful mountains
I was getting a bit restless again, so I walked down the hill to village below. The stairs led directly to the main village square or whatever one can call such place. There was a small tea shop with a poster of Mithun Chakravarty inside and a bench outside. I asked for a mint tea and sat down on bench to wait. Then I noticed this man in the picture below walking at brisk pace. He stopped in front of chai shop and probably greeted some people inside. I asked if he’d like to have some tea too. At this point, a Nepali labourer who was sitting nearby told me that I talking to a deaf and mute person. So he (Nepali labourer) asked him same question in sign language to which that local man agreed happily. He made his living working as a casual labourer and herder for the animals of local villagers. He went inside the shop to have his chai and got out after finishing it in what seemed to be just a few seconds. My mint tea was so green and sweet, that it felt like drinking mint flavoured hot Mountain Dew. But at least it had some mint and honey in it.
A local in Kalpa
After tea, I walked around the streets and found two temples. There were no people inside apart from two Italians in the first one. As it’s common in this region, they were mostly made of wood and stone. But the newer structures were using modern construction methods. Most of these temples had some wooden carvings, designs, some demon like masks and two leopards (tigers ?), one male and female each on entrances. Doors were mostly made of wood, but some were covered with sheets of what seemed like silver. A lot like the one in Sarahan’s Bhima Kali temple in my previous post. The sheets and temple walls usually had Indian religious designs and gods. There was one notable addition of a soldier firing his gun on wall designs of one temple.
Carving a soldier with his gun in the temple
Some of the buildings in the neighbourhood were abandoned for some reason. They were mostly made of stone and seemed to be empty for years. Most new houses were made of concrete and bricks. By this time, sun was going down and it got dark rather suddenly. Most of the shopkeepers were already starting to pack up for the day. So I retraced my steps back to the hotel. Even that short climb left me gasping for breath and concerned about the hiking part of the plan. Only one other room in the hotel was occupied and even they were probably in their room. So I was the only one in dining area. I asked for some chicken curry as I imagined that I’d get NOT daal-chawal food now only after reaching Manali. There were a few books in dining area but not a single one was to my liking. I picked one up anyway and tried to read it to pass time.
A building in Kalpa temple
As I was finishing my meal, R Kumar, who I met in my previous trip walked in. It was a nice surprise meeting him after such a long time. I had met him two years back in Kaza at Jamaica’s hotel and spent a few days traveling in Spiti with him. He suggested that I should visit Ropa and Pin valleys and provided some more information about the route he had just covered. Before I started the trip, a small bridge near Losar was under water due to some cloud burst or maybe glacier melting. The water levels stayed high for most part of the day making it almost impossible and very risky to cross the bridge in any type of car. He did it early morning when the water levels were low, but the water still flooded inside the Gypsy. Later it had some mechanical issues and needed some repairs. He had been driving since morning and went off to sleep soon.
Last sun rays of the day on a mountain peak in distance
He was still asleep next morning when we left the hotel. On the way, a local woman decked up in local green dress and lots of jewelery asked for a lift till the bus stand in Reckong Peo. There was some local festival going on and she had missed the group bus. After we dropped her there, we saw quite a few local people dressed up like her on their way. It is somewhat comforting to know that there are still some places in India where even the women in their best jewelery feel comfortable enough to ask complete strangers for a lift. Compare it to Delhi or most other cities and it’s an entirely different story. If I am not forgetting someone, we gave lifts to a old woman in Ropa, a school boy near Nako and 3 women in Kibber.
A very noisy waterfall we saw on the way
Coming back to the topic, instead of going straight towards Kaza, we took a detour to Ropa valley. I was hoping to stay there for the night. This valley is off the main road and has only 4, or maybe 5 small villages. Their names were Shyaso, Sunnam, Gyamo and Ropa being the last one. First few minutes of drive on the approach road were along a fairly strong mountain stream. But as we approached villages, we could see a number of apple farms on the mountain slopes. Such farming activity was impossible earlier. But with electric pumps, it is now possible to get water from river and irrigate such farms almost anywhere. The contrast of a large green patch on a bare brown mountain was a sight to behold. There was some flat ground near the river bank and there were a lot of farms around the settlements. On the way, a old woman asked for lift till Ropa and we dropped her where the road ended.
I asked some locals if there was some guesthouse or a place to stay. One said that there used to be one a few years back, but was demolished or maybe closed down.
Behind Ropa village
That meant that we had to go towards Nako or someplace nearby instead of spending night in Ropa village. But before that, I wanted to see if it had something interesting. As mentioned earlier, it was yet another “last village” on the road. The village was not that big and had old style as well as modern houses with a fair bit of construction going on. There was a small trail from where the houses ended going along side river. I started walking on that and noticed a large number of Himalayan mountain lizards almost everywhere basking in the sun. Their size ranged from 8 inches to probably 20. This is a common specie in the region, but I have never seen such a large number in a single place. I saw atleast 20 while walking 10 meters just along the trail.
Doorway of a house in Ropa
There were a few labourers ahead who were working to expand the trail and maybe make a road. They seemed surprised to see me there but were friendly enough. After a while, there were a lot more fruit orchards but the place seemed empty. Most of the apples were ripe and ready for plucking. I was briefly tempted to pluck one and get a taste. After walking on a comparatively straight path, the trail led to top of a ridge and became a bit tough to walk on. From there, I could see a small shed with a shining tin roof at some distance. I spent a little time considering whether to walk till there or not. Eventually I turned back after considering the long drive that lay ahead of us.
While on the way back, I heard a very strange sound twice and I had no idea what kind of animal made noises like that. After a minute I came across a local villagers resting in shade and asked him if he heard the same thing. He said it was a “khota” (donkey) probably tied in some shed up the hill. Seemed logical, but I have never heard a donkey make noise like that. When I got back, driver suggested that we leave for Nako instead of Kaza or Tabo.
As soon as we cleared Ropa valley and got on the main road, one front tyre of Innova got punctured by a sharp stone. The tyre nuts had probably expanded due to the heat and we could get them off only after pouring 2 bottles full of water on them. Later, we had to stop at Pooh and get some more repairs done.
A very beautiful view near confluence of Spiti and Sutlej
We stopped at a small settlement Kah (2920 m) on the way for some tea, food and rest after seeing dhaba signboards. But the first one we entered didn’t have anything. Other one across the road, seemed closed but it’s owner came out and asked us to go downstairs. There she served us some rajma chawal in a pretty dingy looking “dhaba” kind of place. But it was something after such a long drive. The family had a bunch of apricot trees too and they were drying them in open. They sell them for Rs 250 to 450 per kg. Here, we buy them for three to four times as much.
There is a big patch of empty land in the village overlooking Spiti river as it flows by. Seemed like a nice place for camping.
We then left for Nako and found another road going towards Leo village not too far from our destination. It was another mountain village like Ropa but a bit bigger and many fruit farms. Most of it is settled on a single mountain. There is a new bridge and remains of one old one. The latter was washed away in a flood in 2002. As we crossed the bridge, we stopped to ask a local. When he realised that we were going to Leo as tourists, he laughed and exclaimed, “What are you going to do there ? There’s nothing for tourists.” There are two more villages on this road, I don’t remember the names now, but seemed interesting enough for a short trip.
Old bridge. Notice the almost black water
But we pressed on regardless and stopped at village bazaar for a cup of sugary tea. Two men were playing a game of carom inside the shop and we watched them as we sipped our chai. The people were friendly and seemed amused to have “tourists” in their village. Like Ropa, Leo didn’t have any accommodation either. So we left for Nako as the sunset was approaching. We were only 6-7 km away from Nako, when we passed a small roadside restaurant with guesthouse along the road. The driver was not very fond of Nako and I liked view of the mountains from that point. So we decided to halt there. The guest house was run a by a small family and had only 3 or may be 2 rooms. Bathroom was shared but we just needed to spend the night.
View of Leo village
We had some tea after putting my luggage there and walked off to take some pictures. After dinner of Thupka noodles, I stayed on the roof, trying to get some pictures of milky way in the night sky before going off to sleep. There were too many bullet riders who made the task of taking pictures in dark very difficult, but that maybe is a story for some other time.
I took the overnight Himachal Tourism’s Delhi-Shimla Volvo bus and reached Shimla early morning. My driver VK with his Toyota Innova met me at around 8 am and we managed to get out of the city just before the morning rush started. Few km after Theog, we stopped in a small roadside dhaba for a breakfast of aaloo paranthas and chai. This was my first time on this route but I kept dozing off for 5-10 minutes every now and then due to lack of sleep in the bus. The views were pretty nice, specially after the heat, humidity and dust of Delhi but I was somewhat impatient for the higher altitudes.
Saw many such “structures” on the way
There were a lot of fruit farms on the way and harvesting was going on. So there were a lot of trucks and people working there. After crossing Jeori, VK informed me that the road to Srahan was damaged in a landslide sometime back and we had to take an alternate road. That “road” was just a mud track on a high hill through fruit orchards. It was full of deep mud pools, rocks and everything got a good shake while we were on it. If I knew about it earlier, I’d have given Sarahan a miss. It was a nice enough place, more so for someone coming from New Delhi but not completely worth that ride.
After putting away luggage at the hotel, I walked out to explore Sarahan. The only obvious landmark was the large and ancient Bhima Kali Temple which overpowers everything else in the village. I am not that interested in temples, monasteries kind of places, but decided to give it a try. According to some accounts, human sacrifices were performed in the premises till only a few hundred years before. It was almost empty at the time with only a few locals chatting and 2 Indian tourists. There are multiple sections built of stone and wood which include guesthouse, a small eatery, smaller stone temples for some other deities, a museum, store house and so on. When I tried to enter the main complex, a policeman armed with an ancient Lee Enflield 303 rifle informed that visitors can not take any leather accessories, phones and cameras inside. So i put all of that in a locker, put on a red cap provided there and went inside.
BhimaKali temple, Sarahan
There was a board with a pretty interesting text about Goddess Bhima Kali, but photography was not allowed there and I don’t have a great memory. It read something like, ” When the mountains are overrun with demons and their misdeeds, I’ll take the avatar of Bhima Kali to destroy and consume them”. It is a very rough translation from a fading memory. It was much more poetic and impressive at that time.
The actual idols are now placed at an upper floor but the door was locked. A priest unlocked the door and went up after 3-4 other people came in while I was wandering around. I went up a few minutes later over a narrow flight of stairs. The sanctum had an old Bhima Kali idol in middle and smaller idols of various other gods and even Buddha in front of it. I walked around the temple complex a little bit more but there was nothing much to see. The museum was undergoing some renovations and rest of rooms were closed. There were a few large grey and black lizards lazing around in the sun. Saw a lot of them in the region over the next few days.
Carvings on temple doors
After I got out of temple, I walked around the town a little bit, but it was just a bunch of small shops selling usual stuff and guest-houses and hotels type of buildings. Near my hotel, I noticed a small stream coming down from the mountain. I briefly considered walking up the trail along it’s side but kept on walking back to hotel. It was too muddy and I was quite tired already. There was some kind of fair and festival going on nearby. I could hear a little bit of noise.Some people from the hotel and my driver went away to attend that. I had an early dinner and went to sleep soon after.
View from hotel in evening
We started early next morning but the drive down that mud road was as bad as ever. Thankfully, it was much better once we reached the main road. There is a big hydel power project on Satluj river in this area with multiple dams, tunnels and huge distribution network infrastructure points every now and then. There were signs warning about dangers associated with being too close to river in case water is suddenly released from any of the reservoirs upstream. A few tourists have been washed away recently in such a way.
The weather was quite nice with some mist, cool breeze and clouds everywhere.We made a stop at Sangla for some minor repair on the car, but I didn’t like the place enough to spend more time there. There is an ancient fort, temple and some hiking trails and forested areas behind the main town. But we gave that a miss. Raksham which we passed later was much more picturesque. The beautiful river valley has a number of majestic mountain peaks, some of which were still covered in snow. There were beautiful fruit farms almost everywhere and colourful wild flowers growing in every available space. There was an ITBP checkpost on the way, where they noted down our details.
A beautiful mountain near road
Chitkul was a much smaller village with a few hotels. After having lunch in the hotel, I walked up to the river to take some pictures and kept walking alongside riverbank upstream till the trail ended at main “road”. There were only a few workers working on some new buildings and expansion of road which is little more than dirt track right now.
A view between Rakcham and Chitkul
Proceeding further up the road is prohibited due to it’s proximity with Tibet border and there is a ITBP checkpost and base to enforce the rule. The soldier manning the road barrier was quite friendly though. When I was walking back to the village, I saw a lot of Pikas. Normally it is quite rare to have them sit still for more than one second unless it’s early morning or late evening. But I must have photographed atleast 5-6 of them in one hour which is extremely rare, Most of them stayed still even in my near proximity and kind of posed for the pictures. Perhaps they were the reincarnated spirits of people who died while taking selfies.
One of many Pikas I saw
I walked through the village for a while and stumbled on to the famous Last Indian Dhaba by accident. A HRTC bus was about to start it’s 15-16 hours journey to Chandigarh via Reckong Peo and it’s passengers were just drinking tea or smoking. I had a cup of tea there before walking back to hotel as a drizzle started. I stayed there watching birds and grey skies, then grew restless as there was still plenty of daylight left. I put on my slippers and walked through the village streets. Locals paid little attention to me except a few idle glances every now and then.
In CHitkul village. Perhaps used for storing supplies
Interesting looking locks
There was a path at end of the village which led up towards the mountains and to a stream flowing down it. This was primary source of water for most of the village. I walked in the stream to take some pictures as it was barely 10-12 cm high.. Within seconds my feet were almost frozen by the cold water. A few seconds later, one of the slippers slipped off my feet and I vainly tried to chase it. Thankfully, it stopped against a rock a few meters downstream and I was able to retrieve it. Walking half barefoot down the village streets was not a very pleasant idea for me.
Stream behind the Chitkul village
While walking back, I asked some villagers about the trail going up the mountain. It was a walking route to some villages behind the mountains as well as the route for circumambulation around the majestic Kinner Kailash parvat.
A majestic looking jungle crow in the rain
I was considering staying in Chitkul for 2 nights, but changed my mind. It was a nice enough place, but I had seen most of it and wanted to leave the rest for some other time. Maybe my next trip will have more days specifically for this area. We left the place early next morning for Kalpa or some other place on the way.
This series of posts is a travelogue of my recent vacation covering Kinnaur, Spiti, Lahaul and Manali in 16 days. It was a solo trip for most part and involved travel on road, camping, trekking and just lazing around on different days. My previous trip to this region was in 2015 in which I planned to visit Samudri Tapu glacier among other places but had to drop the Samudri Tapu part after people with me backed out and the water bodies swelled up overnight with unexpected precipitation.
Somewhere in Spiti
There was some snowfall and rain this time too, but I was a bit lucky to finally complete the Chandra Taal to Suraj Taal trek which was the main purpose of this trip. I had to do the trek with a Gaddi shepherd instead of a proper guide, but it worked out quite well in the end. Rest of the stuff was not planned at all and just happened without any plan. It was quite an enjoyable vacation. I saw a lot of very interesting and beautiful places, met some great people and some stupid ones too.
Following is the general itinerary. I will be writing all of this in detail in a series of posts later
General Travel Itinerary
Day 1: Evening bus to Shimla from New Delhi. Meet up with driver and evening stop at Sarahan with rest stops for breakfast, tea. Visited ancient Bhima Kaali temple and walked around the town.
Day 2: Drive to Chitkul via Sangla and Rakcham. Walked around the village and beyond. Discovered a pretty mountain stream and that famous last Indian dhaba by accident. Hiked 3 km to ITBP check post. Civilians not allowed past that point.
Day 3: Next day stop at Kalpa with rest stop at forgettable Reckong Peo. Walked around fruit orchards, saw that “suicide point”. Spent some time a that “Last Village”
Day 4: Next night stay at a small guest house just before Nako. It overlooked Leo village which we visited earlier. We also made a stop at the last village in Ropa valley. Interesting yet quiet place.
Day 5: Night stay in Kibber. Spend 3-4 hours hiking and exploring places near Gete village.
Day 6: Visited Tashi Gong and “roads” nearby on car. Passed Chicham’s brand new bridge to reach Chandra Taal.
Day 7 to 9: Stayed at camp site, hiked and explored some new places and revisited some old ones.
Day 10 to 12: Trekked to Suraj Taal with a Gaddi shepherd as my guide. My first proper solo camping under the stars.
Day 13: Took a lift in truck from Sruaj Taal to Keylong and a bus from there to Manali.
Day 14 to 17: Lazing around in Manali.
A small village Gete
Rough Route on Google Maps:
This map is showing Chandra Taal to Suraj Taal road route, but I trekked the distance (approx 45 km).
Blue sheep I saw on the way
I had some of the camping and hiking gear already and bought some new stuff for this trip from physical stores and online both. Following is the list:
1. Food which included dry fruits, chocolates, MREs,
2. Some essential medicine including one for AMS, stomach upset, first aid and so on.
3. Enough clothing for the trip which included wind-cheater, t-shirts, gloves, socks, caps, sun-glasses, bandannas and other stuff.
4. A camping stove, 2 propane canisters. In hindsight, 1 would have sufficed.
The general idea of this trip was to spend some time relaxing around in Rishikesh and then travel to some small town or village up in the mountains for some more time.Weather in Rishikesh was not that hot after the pre-monsoon rains started, So even if we had to stay in Rishikesh only, we were happy with it. We took the bus and reached Rishikesh at around 7 am, 6 hours before checkin time and there was no room empty then. So we put our luggage in reception and had breakfast in the rooftop restaurant.
Rishikesh at night
That hotel had some view of river Ganga and the mountains. Not that great, but good enough. After breakfast, we walked out to the Lakshman Jhula area to wander around. Most of the markets were closed but there were a lot of pilgrims due to the pilgrimage season in progress. A riverside cafe was opening up for business and we found the spot with best view and settled in. Ordered some more food, tea etc and just lay there till afternoon. After lunch, we checked in to the hotel, had bath, a nap and went out again in the evening to another riverside cafe. Had dinner there and came back to hotel for sleep late night. Late in Rishikesh is around 10:30 pm. Hardly any shop stays open after 10.
Laxman Jhula bridge on river Ganga
Our next day was quite similar and we spent most of our time in the cafes, on river bank and walking around on the Laksham Jhula road in both directions. We had seen most places of interest in the city already and the streets had too many pilgrims for us to bother with anything else.
For next 3-4 days, we wanted to do some hike but all hiking routes were closed in monsoon. So we decided to go up to Chakrata. Our plan was to start early morning but could start early afternoon due to traffic. Our driver had very little knowledge of routes in the area and we had to rely on Google Maps to find our way. It worked fairly well, much better than our Meghalaya trip in 2016. There is quite a bit of road upgradation work going on and we were slowed down quite considerably due to it. On the way, we saw Yamuna river (and some of it’s tributaries) as it flows down from Yamunotri towards the plains. It is much different there than it is in rest of it’s journey elsewhere. Proper hilly area started once we passed Vikasnagar and there were only a few small villages on the way for rest of our journey. Due to rainy season, there were a few seasonal waterfalls on the hills visible every now and then.
Farmers working in their paddy fields
We reached Chakrata town just as sun was setting. Upon reaching there, we came to know that the guesthouse we had booked was still some distance away. On the map, location was 1-2 km from the local landmark and tourist attraction Tiger waterfall, which was 27 km from the town. But in reality, it was around 9 km from the town. We had chosen that place because of it’s location outside the main town. There were some moderately fancy hotels and some “camp sites” with permanent tents.
The hotel was 2 -2.5 km from the main road but we found it without much difficulty. It was a small 8-9 rooms property in a small village, maybe Sawara or something. I never asked. Hotel staff were some people from the houses downhill. The guesthouse had nothing in room except for a bed and a fake fireplace, but the place was clean. We had only a few snacks since morning and the staff bought us a bowl of noodles and tea. Meal options were limited to some simple local daal, roti, sabzi, chawal kind of stuff. It was not fancy but adequate. We walked around a little bit to stretch our legs and went to sleep after dinner.
On hiking trail
Tiger waterfall was 45-50 minutes drive or 3 km hike. But the trail started from the main road 2.5 km from guesthouse. So we asked the driver to drop us at start of hiking trail and we started to walk from there. Sun was already up in the sky and there was little shade ever now and then. Most of the trail passed through farms and grazing area for animals, but there were very few people around. Everything was covered in beautiful greenery. Most of people there own cows and some goats. It was a bit surprising to see a big animal like a cow climbing on steep ledges. Not a quick and nimble as goats, but still different than what most people think of them.
There is a ticket counter, parking area and a rest stop about 1 km from the waterfall. We stopped there for some refreshment and resumed the walk. It is a wide paved path from there with easy stairs. But that somehow was more tiring for me than the rough trail we passed earlier. There were a few houses on the way and the villagers were working in their paddy fields. The waterfall itself was pretty nice and closed from all sides except one from where the water flowed out. I don’t know if there is a word for this thing. It was named Tiger waterfall because some people think that it’s sound resembles roar of a tiger. It was not anything like that but with more water in monsoons and echo from nearby stone walls, it probably lives up to the name.
At that time, we really wanted to take a dip but hadn’t brought any spare clothing with us. It was hard enough to protect camera from the water spray as it was.
After spending some time there, we walked up to the parking area and had lunch of rajma chawal. Driver reached there to take us back to the hotel. On the way, some local village children were selling some pears and we bought a few. They were absolutely inedible though.
We reached guest house at around 4 pm and were fairly tired after spending all day out in the sun. On this trip, we encountered rain everyday apart from our time out that day. Anyhow we started a small chat with 4 young men from Lucknow who had driven there and had been there before we arrived. They told us about another waterfall in opposite direction which they had visited in morning with a local and were pretty happy about it. According to their directions, it was about 2 km walk/drive on road and then some difficult climb up the mountain through jungle. I was intrigued but too tired to consider going there. It was too late anyway. Our original plan was to go back to New Delhi next day, but after hearing good words about the place from those Lakhnavis, we decided to stay one more day and visit the other waterfall .
New room mate, 10-12 cm across.
I woke up a bit early and got ready with a rain jacket, water and camera. Wifey was not feeling good that morning and she stayed back reading a book. I confirmed directions with hotel staff but they had a pretty different take on it. In short, there was a trail around 2 km from the guesthouse and waterfall was uphill from there. I asked the driver to drive me on whatever trail came up at 2 km. If lucky, I’d find waterfall by myself otherwise I’d enjoy a solo hike after a long time. I actually found a small trail going uphill at around 2 km mark and sent car back from there. It was OK for a few meters , then I realised that it was just a temporary trail passing through the wooded area. Someone was cutting trees, most probably illegally and their passage had probably made the marks. I was essentially climbing the hill without any path, whichever way I found easier.
View just after wooded area
On the way, I saw a leech and made a mental note to be careful. The wooded area ended rather suddenly after a ridge and there was a trail going on from there, I could see 2-3 people further up with their cows and goats out for grazing. On the way, one hailed me from across the ridge and asked me about my destination. When I told that I was going to Indrani waterfall, he said that I was too far from there. It was raining slightly at the time and the wind made understanding each other over distance difficult. He asked me to wait and crossed the ridge by almost running over it in less than 2 minutes. It’d have taken me atleast 20 minutes to cover that kind of terrain. He turned out to be brother of one of the workers in guesthouse. We had heard him playing flute in his house downhill previous evening. Anyhow, coming back to story, I was on wrong trail and I offered him some money to take me there to which he agreed. He left his cows, umbrella and flute there and started walking in front. He asked me a if I was afraid of leeches and added that there will be lot of them on the way. I didn’t pay it much attention. I was wearing ankle high hiking boots and my feet , legs were covered by socks and hiking trousers. He was wearing simple shoes and he kept on checking his feet every now and then. I found it odd but didn’t take it very seriously
For a few minutes we kept walking on trail, but then he left it completely and started walking through dense tree cover and bushes up and down the hill.
Climbing to top of Indrani waterfall
Some of the bushes had wild berries and looked like kind of berries I remember growing wild in Jammu hills and countryside. But these were sour and a bit bigger. My guide for the day (let’s call him N) kept snacking on them every now and then. We came down to the road after some time. It was not exactly in good condition but not many vehicles use it anyway. Only vehicles I saw were small 3 Mahindra load carriers locals use as shared taxis and a 2 motor bikes. Indrani waterfall was about 200 m uphill from the main road. It was much smaller with less amount of water, but still nice. The water here flows down the rock face on a gradient instead of plunging straight down.
I like waterfalls, but I like seeing them from their top even more. So I asked N if it was possible to go up. So we went up and found another smaller waterfall which was not visible from below.
While coming back, there was another mountain stream joining the one we were at earlier. I walked a few minutes upstream along the trail running beside it and joined back N a few minutes later. He told me that the road led back to the guesthouse but there was another waterfall on the way which he could show me. So we left the road again and walked through some really dense undergrowth to see another small waterfall. He asked me o walk in front to avoid getting leeches but there was absolutely no trail and I wanted him to stay in front to show me the way. This waterfall was only 12-15 feet high but quite nice. There I found a leech on my boots and it flicked it off.
These leeches are hard to spot unless they are moving
After that place, he took my leave and scampered up the hill back to his animals. I walked on the road for a while to reach guesthouse in time for lunch. It was only then I realised why N kept asking me to be careful of leeches. When I took off my boots, I found a fat leech happily sucking my blood. There were 7-8 bite marks on both legs and all of them were bleeding. Looked like a scene from a gore movie. My socks and trousers were soaked in blood too. I took a shower, cleaned off as much as possible but it kept bleeding. It didn’t hurt at all though. I put some turmeric powder and cotton swabs but these leeches have some really good anti-coagulants. There was a bit of bleeding for about 24 hours even after that whenever cotton was removed. As I write this post after 11 days, there are only a few marks left. So that taught me to be careful about leeches atleast. There was also some severe itching like sensation on my wrist after I accidentally brushed it against a nettle plant in the jungle, which locals call Bichhoo Booti (scorpion herb), That too went away by itself next morning.
Would’ve been a decent picture if it stayed still for one more second
There’s nothing much to write after this. We started back early next morning, drove through fog /clouds for a while and encountered a large landslide which delayed us by 5 hours as we watched it being cleared.