Dinner was fried chicken, potatoes, daal with rice. After serving us dinner, the caretaker went to his home for the night. The closest inhabited house in the village was about 150 meters away and the village was pretty quiet and had only a few lights on. So it was a pretty nice, quiet place. A lot of stars became visible few minutes later and we spent quiet a bit of time listening to the sound of river, nocturnal insects and doing a bit of star gazing. The beds were not not great but we slept comfortably. We packed up or stuff and started the drive early. We had planned to visit a place call Rikynjai, which was supposed to be a drive of about 4 hours according to Google Map. We called the only hotel there and made reservations. It was quite a bit more expensive then what I am usually willing to pay for a hotel, but it was supposed to be for just 1-2 nights.
Meghalaya was a place me and wifey both wanted to visit since a long time. Not many people visit north-eastern India but it is quite a beautiful place and not as crowded or commercialised as rest of tourist destinations in India, though it is getting there, Our trip lasted for 9 days during last week of June and 1st week of July, during the peak monsoon season. It was significantly hotter than what we had expected, but worth it. As with most of our travel plans, the itinerary we followed was a lot different than the one we “planned”.
Our flight departed at around 5 am and we were out of Guwahati airport by 7:30 am. We met our driver there and started the long road drive towards Tura in West Garo Hills. We had booked a car for the duration of our trip. The driver was from Assam and had been only to Shillong, Cherrapunji side because according to him, nobody else visited anyplace else. He tried his best to get us to change our plans by saying that there are militants everywhere, it’s like Wrong Turn movie and so on. Being from Jammu, such kind of talk only annoys me and I just asked him to keep quiet and follow the plan which he did more or less. We stopped at one road side dhaba some where in Assam for a late breakfast. They had paranthas available and we ordered 3. But a single parantha there used more than 2 times the flour than we’re used to and we struggled to finish one each. They also served some mixed vegetable, which I don’t remember.
The drive was long and unremarkable apart from the fact that Meghalaya had a lot more greenery and general cleanliness than Assam. Now as I am writing this, Assam is reeling under floods. When one sees how the people have destroyed forest land, blocked off water channels and constructed over wetlands, it’s only obvious that the place will go under water like clockwork, but I digress. We took a comparatively long route of highway 127B and reached our guesthouse in Tura late afternoon. The guesthouse was nothing really fancy but adequate. After some rest, we took a walk but there wasn’t much to see. Lack of sleep previous night and long drive had tired us and we had an early dinner before going to sleep. Wifey is a vegetarian so she just asked for the usual daal, while the owner prepared a local fish dish for me.
Next morning, we called the state tourism office and asked for some advice. They promised to arrange a local guide for us.
In the meanwhile, we asked the driver to take us to Pelga Falls. We were following Google Maps which proved to be entirely useless in showing directions and the driver was even more useless. In the end we ended up on a dirt track a few km outside the town that the locals claimed led to Pelga Falls. We could barely understand them and driver’s comprehension was hardly any better.
Me and wifey started walking but started sweating profusely very soon. The weather wasn’t that hot, but very humid. Most of the time, we were walking under shade of trees but that just protected from sunshine. There were a few small houses made of bamboo and cane every few meters on the way but very few people and no tourists. There were some auto-rickshaws plying on the route though. Most of the houses had goats, chicken and some pigs walking or lying around.
We reached Pelga Falls after walking for 35-40 minutes and found a small bamboo cane bridge a few meters upstream. A few workers were doing some repair work on it.. The stream was flooded and the water made a lot of noise even though the height was only 16-17 feet. I went on the bridge to see what was on the other side but quickly had doubts about my decision. It shook under my weight and for most of middle part the hand rails were quite below my reach making it tough to hold the camera and walk at same time. Later on this bridge was just one of many such shaky bridges we crossed, but I hadn’t expected this so soon. Anyhow, workers on other side of bridge were busy installed a bamboo ladder and there was no way to climb down from there forcing me to come back.
We saw some children coming back from school and a few locals and all were pretty friendly and curious even though language was an issue. They could understand only a bit of Hindi and even less English and their pronunciation was quite hard to understand. While we were driving back, the officer from Meghalaya tourism called us to inform that they had arranged guides for us. They arranged to have them meet us in Tura while we had lunch. The guides were two young men probably still in college and could communicate only a bit better than the villagers. We decided to visit the tourism office to get a better idea anyway. The officer we were talking to on phone was really helpful but her information also got us to change our plans of visiting a wildlife sanctuary nearby and 2-3 other places we had shortlisted. She was a gazetted rank officer and it’s very rare to see government officials of her level being so courteous and helpful like her. We decided to plan our stay in West Garo Hills according to brochures, maps and other verbal information she gave us. She even called some hotels and people on our behalf.
We planned to visit Katta Beel lake which was marked as 70 km on the map same day and move on to some other place next day. The two guides joined us even though only one was needed as we were their first ever clients.
Interrupting the story here to say that DO NOT TRUST TOURIST MAPS OR GOOGLE MAPS, BROCHURES AND EVEN THE DIRECTIONS PROVIDED BY LOCALS. Everything is wrong. Brochures and tourist department people said 60 km, but it was atleast 20-25 km further away.
Most of the roads were in good condition apart from a few stretches every now and then. Surprisingly, there were a lot of wooden bridges which were being phased out with concrete and steel bridges, but it was surprising for us to see such old bridges. Along the way, we passed some villages and most people were dressed simply in local attire and at first glance looked still not that affected or changed by outer world. But one thing that I noticed that day and rest of our stay there was that there were a lot more churches than schools. Almost every village had one or more huge churches but fewer and smaller schools. Even the guesthouse we were staying in had a huge church right in front and a 6-7 room school next to it. There was a “big” college on the same street and even that seemed smaller than that church. Seemed to be one kind of religious and social backwardness replaced by one imposed by foreigners.
Coming back to the topic, it took us more than three hours to reach Katta Beel, a small lake right next to India-Bangladesh border. Apparently it was dug up by a king in 7th or 9th century. It’s not a bad place, but not worth the long drive. While we were going back, a local asked us to go a bit further and visit some ancient fort and temple. The road went along the border and we entered the Bangladeshi territory for a few meters but couldn’t find the place. The sun was fading the the fence closing in 40-45 minutes so we chose to go back rather than search more.
Next morning, we left Tura with intention of stopping at Rombagre or Chandigre. Found Rombagre first which was a drive of around 90-100 minutes. There was also on Selbagre Gibbon reserve which we saw on the way, but didn’t really feel like going there as we wanted to confirm a place to spend the night firts. It’s a very small village with just a single inspection bungalow (IB) for accommodation. It was on other side of the river and only way to cross it was via a suspension bridge made of steel and wood. The steel structure looked sturdy enough but the quite a few planks for the walkway were either missing or cracked. The caretaker was not there and we asked locals who pointed us to his house. After 20-25 minutes, he came half running and unlocked a room for us. While we were waiting for him to arrive, I climbed up a pathway on a nearby hill to the village there. It was a pretty place with bamboo houses, huge trees, large courtyards and various pet animals. IB was on other side, just outside main village. Contrary to what we were expecting, the room had running water sourced from a small stream. The village had electricity but not the IB. But that was fine with us. After putting away our luggage, we drove 3-4 km further to a waterfall. A trail went on further but the caretaker said that the bridge broke a few weeks back and we couldn’t go there. We stopped at a small village where a NGO was operating a shelter for endangered gibbons and other primates.Apparently some jerks capture these primates and keep them as pets or sell off. This NGO rescues such animals before releasing them in to wild. Normally I don’t care for NGOs, but they seem to be doing good work in hard conditions.
On the way, there was a small market going on along the road and a platform constructed above a pool in river from where people can feed the fish. A snake was lying on rocks trying to catch something for lunch, but most fish seemed too big for it. After we reached back to Rombagre, care taker went off to cook dinner while we cooled off in the river. There were quite a few fishes there too and I fed them some of the snacks we were carrying, much to wifey’s annoyance. We watched some local kids playing football till it started getting dark and we walked back to our room for dinner. More in next post.
This is going to be a short entry about our trip to Kasol in first week of May 2016. I still haven’t finished writing two more travelogues, so thought of finishing up the shorter ones first.
This time we had wifey’s cousin and her husband for company. Lets call them SS and AM. After the last trip with one other cousin (ACB from Spiti trip), I was somewhat wary of traveling with other people who have no idea about how we like to travel. It’s also because the Spiti trip “scared” ACB so much that he has sworn off almost all trips with us which involve walking for more than 1 hour in a day. Can’t say that I blame him. But Kasol was supposed to be a place to relax and just wander around and the plans were made with all four of us going there for 4-5 days.
But as with our every other trip, almost all the logistics were left to last minute and we had to do some last minute calls to get a hotel. Since the trip was supposed to be a relaxing one, a comparatively better hotel was essential. The place I booked actually turned out to be so bad that I created a Tripadvisor account just to write a long review against it. More on that maybe later.
Anyhow the trip began with a bus ride till Kullu from where we took a taxi from near airport. The taxi drivers there did their best to convince us to take all 4 of us in a small Alto car because it was the turn of that taxi at the taxi-stand. We insisted and got a bigger Maruti van though after a bit of stubbornness. The ride to Kasol from Kullu was uneventful but bumpy for most part. We found our hotel Deep Forest (don’t go there, ever.) and hoped to get some rest and hot breakfast before making plans for the day. The 2 room cottage that I had booked for Rs 6000 per day turned out to be an absolute disaster and I have written a fairly long review on this Tripadvisor link. Whoever reads this must boycott this place.
After a cold shower and some barely edible breakfast, rest of the folks stayed in for some sleep, while I picked up my camera and went on a walk around the town. Spending 20-25 minutes there made me realise that I was not going to like that place much. Lots of college kids or young people from nearby cities on a break kind of crowd were everywhere. Then there were pilgrims to Manikaran Gurudwara passing through who make a mess in the town quite often. I finished walking around most of the town in about 30-35 minutes and ended up back near the hotel. A trail started from there going upstream alongside river. Since there was nothing better to do, I started walking in that direction. The wooded area nearby had some people resting and talking and further up there was a small campsite and a stone hut. I went past it along the trail alongside river following 2-3 water pipes. They went on further till the trail ended. I actually went further up till they path ended and had to retrace my steps back to the hut. Another rocky path from there went up the hill so I took that. After spending so much time in concrete filled hot cities, any place with trees, running water and nature was a relief. So I kept walking on the trail. There were some people working on a small clearing near the river, probably planting vegetables but I didn’t go there to ask.
The path was nice with thick tree cover all over and a lots of birds, insects and spider webs. After climbing downhill on other side, the path was relatively flat and much easier to walk on. I had seen no body else on the trail till now apart from the people mentioned earlier, so when I came across the first person coming from other direction I asked him about where the path led to. He said Graahan which I misheard as Graan which is Dogri for village. I asked him again name of the place and got the same answer and him looking at me with a confused expression. I thanked him and moved on and found two men carrying some heavy load on their backs walking in same direction as myself. It was them that I understood that village itself is called Graahan and was about 2-3 hours walk away. Adjusting according to pahadi time, it meant about 3 hours and 30 minutes more for me. So visiting the place was not possible considering I had company. If I was alone like my some other trips, then I could’ve gone there, but not that time. The time was just a few minutes before noon and I thought of walking a bit further before heading back. There was a small wooden bridge further up ahead over shallow stream. I rested there and had a drink of cold water. There were a few goats just across the bridge and a shepherd dog sleeping. I found the shepherd and asked him about the duration of walk village ahead. He answered the same, 2-3 hours walk. The man I had met 45 minutes before had said the same thing. So much for asking directions from pahadi people.
He then started asking me about how is AAP doing in Delhi ? I was taken aback and asked what he meant exactly. He answered that he is reading so much about the good work being done by AAP in newspapers and was curious about it. He looked quite surprised that the “articles” he was reading were ads not news and had a lightbulb moment. I had little desire to talk about that ass Kanjriwaal and his chandaal party and had a bit of small talk with him. For someone who spent most of his time in jungle, he seemed to be quite aware of things going around in the world, mostly by radio and newspapers, I think.
There was no cellphone coverage and it stayed that way till the stone hut. I arrived back to the hotel at around 1 pm. Rest of people were awake and we decided to look for a new hotel and have lunch. AM had short listed a few restaurants from Tripadvisor and surprisingly they turned out to be quite good. We first visited a place called Jim Morrison Cafe and had a long leisurely lunch. Me and wifey love these kind of places where you sit on ground and service is slow. I told them about the trail and village up ahead and they seemed excited about it. It was decided that we’d walk to Graahan early next morning and come back by evening. We then walked around the town looking for a new hotel and finalised one right next to the one where we were staying. Actually the hotel we actually ended up with was finalised next day, but that’s not that important. Anyhow, to make long story short, we planned to leave early morning and come back by evening after hiking till Graahan, a total of 16 km.
But as happens in all my vacations, we woke up late, spent too much time on checking out and breakfast and started our hike at noon. I didn’t want to spend another minute in Kasol, so I was just thankful that we could manage to leave at last. The walk was supposed to be pretty uneventful. Altitude is not that high, 8 km is not such a long distance, scenery is nice and the participants not that old. But it turned out that I had not made myself amply clear. I realised too late that SS and Am had little idea about what trouble they had gotten themselves in to. They had probably expected a long leisurely walk through a wooded area but it was a quite a bit of challenge for them as they had very little experience. But they kept on walking without complaining. It was only after walking for about 3 hours that we had a discussion about going further up or going back, SS said that we should walk on further as we had already walked for so long and we could spend the night in some guest house there. I was only too happy to accept. There was a small issue about our luggage in the hotel and we had told them that we’d be back at night, but we decided to do something about that later. So we started walking with Graahan in mind. Going back to Kasol same day was out of question.
We met quite a few people from village as well as some foreign tourists walking on the route which was mostly just a trail going upstream along the river. SS and AM were quite tired after walking for 4 hours and we had to stop frequently. We stopped at one point from where we could see some house in the village at top of a mountain before making the final approach. That turned out to be the most tiring section but we managed to finish it and reached outskirts. We were still outside the village when owner of a guesthouse invited us to his place to check it out. Looking at how rest of the group was doing, I decided to check that out first and found it to be fairly good. Rest of the people soon joined up and chose to stay there rather than walk further up to main village. So we dropped our stuff, took off our shoes and asked for something to eat and drink. AM was pretty tired and started napping.
After some time, me and wifey took off to explore the village on our own. Unlike other places, it was pretty old fashioned with most houses made of wood and stone , narrow streets and poor cleanliness. A local dog took upon the duty of following us around and kept on getting in fights with other dogs. There wasn’t much to see in village at the time as it was getting pretty dark, so we headed back once it started drizzling. On the way, I noticed something glowing like a firefly , but went I went closer, it turned out to be some kind of brown scaly worm with an illuminated bottom. I had never seen anything like this and was pretty excited. Tried to take a few pictures but didn’t get any good ones due to rain and darkness. While coming back, we met uncle of the guesthouse’s owner who walked with us back to the guesthouse. We went to sleep soon after having dinner.
Next morning, AM decided to stay back and rest while me, wifey and SS walked up the trail leading to Sar Pass. We were told that there were a few waterfalls on the route. We found first one without much trouble and spent almost a hour there. Wifey and SS then wanted to go back but I dragged them along to the 2nd one. They reluctantly followed till the point we could hear the waterfall, but then sat down like stubborn mules refusing to go any further. I was told that I was free to do whatever I want while they sit down and chat which was fine by me. The next waterfall was even more impressive albeit a bit more difficult to reach. I went on further but getting to base or top of waterfall was almost impossible due to flow of water. The trail went on further ahead and looked quite challenging but we were not going any further. I reached back to the two women and we started walking back to the guest house. Before leaving in morning, we were trying to call our hotel but all of their phone numbers were wrong or not working. There was no cell phone coverage. So we had to use a WLL (wireless in local loop) phone from the guesthouse which had to be taken to a specific point uphill where it could catch some signals. But nothing worked. After lunch and some rest, all 4 of us walked to the village, found a cafe and had some tea and snacks. Initially, we had planned to stay in Graahan only for a few hours, but ended up liking it so much that we spent 2 nights there.
Next morning we started our walk back to Kasol same way we had come up. The walk was pretty uneventful apart from a large group of hikers (45-50 people) starting their journey towards the Sar Pass. Once at hotel, we found our luggage as it is and hotel owner pretty chill about it. There isn’t anything interesting to write about after this as it’s all the general touristy stuff of going to a bunch of restaurants and places. SS and AM visited Manikaran Gurudwara next day while me and wifey had a long lazy breakfast before heading back to Delhi.
Just to end this post, few points about Kasol. These are not particularly nice about the place or the people who visit there:
1) Majority of local Indian tourists as well as pilgrims passing through are assholes of first order. They’ll litter, smoke, drink anywhere they want and never clean up after themselves. “Pilgrims” coming back from Manikaran gurdwara can be seen getting drunk on their way back in Kasol.
2) Most of people visit Kasol just to smoke pot and drugs are easily available. I don’t condemn or condone it in anyway, but almost every other person you make an eye contact for more than 1 second will try to sell you some drugs.
3) Local shopkeepers do their best to fleece tourists and everything is sold 10-40% above MRP. Supposedly because Kasol is a remote place even with a metaled road. Funnily, Graahan which doesn’t have any road, had the same prices.
4) Kasol was a destination for foreigners and laidback tourists who like to enjoy the nature in peace , but now most of them have moved to other places because of harassment by local tourists. The sexually frustrated Punjab Haryana (and perhaps others too) crowd do their best to make everyone else as miserable as possible in every way possible. A local business owner told us a story about how a bunch of Punjabis were harassing some Israeli women and then ran away after a beating.
5) Kasol these days is a lot like a smaller version of New Manali. Crowded, ugly, unplanned construction, no care about natural beauty of place and full of annoying, obnoxious people. Few days back people were outraging about a cafe not allowing local Indians to enter their premises. Now I know that the cafe management was absolutely justified.
There was a really long break between the last post of this travelogue and this one due to a number of reasons including work and other stuff. Anyhow, now I have some time and inclination to write down the travelogue again. Last post here.
As we were packing up and heating poha packets for breakfast, 2 officials from Himachal forest department walked in and started chatting. They warned us against camping near the lake but were polite about it. Provided us with some information about the place, chatted a bit and let us off with instructions on what to do in places like that. Pradhan (the head shepherd I have mentioned previously) was there and started complaining how the excess of camping was destroying the vegetation, adversely affecting animals and making the place filthy. He was absolutely right, to be honest. One of the reasons, I didn’t want to camp in campsite was the noise which the idiot tourists make all night long. One night, there was a group of 7-8 people who kept on playing highly retarded Bhojpuri, Punjabi songs all night after getting drunk. Another night, there was a group of some Punjabi retards who after getting drunk kept on beating an old drum and trying to sing (scream) along the annoying noise. Nobody seems to care that the place is a protected wilderness area and making noise like that, specially after dark, littering and their retarded way of celebrating a day out is highly stupid. One of the Punjabi NRIs who stayed in the campsite was dumb enough to demand chicken by whining ,” Appa ithey aaloo khaan waaste aaye hain ” ? (Are we here to eat potatoes ?)
Dumbass is in a campsite in a wilderness, 12 hours drive from Manali and at least 7 hours from Kaza, nearest towns which can have chicken and feels like he is entitled to it which isn’t really that popular food in the area just because he and his equally stupid loutish friends drove from pind Punjab to remote Spiti. It’s a small mercy that idiots like him don’t stay for more than one day. To make it better, most of people in that group were without any winter clothing.
Anyhow, as we started our walk back to campsite we saw a number of new tourists on the way.On the way, wifey got a lift in a car going back while me and ACB took a goat trail which led to nowhere, We had to slide down the slate rocks for a good 100 meters before we found a proper solid ground to walk upon. Reaching back, me and wifey decided to move on further towards Kaza next day while ACB decided to go back to Manali. The rest of day wasn’t particularly remarkable as I spent most of my time napping and walking around the Chandrabhaga river bank while wifey and ACB chatted with other guests.
The French girls were taking a bus to Kullu airport and from there a flight to Delhi. ACB was offered lift in car of one of the guests. Our plan was to stay for one or two nights in Losar, in Dorjee’s homestay before deciding upon what to do next. So ACB left the camp at 8 am while we got in to another car with Jamaica and French girls till Batal 2-3 hours later. There we found ACB waiting impatiently for the bus. Due to some miscommunication he had stayed in Batal while the others drove away to Manali. He could just find a spot to stand in the bus while I helped him tie his luggage on the rooftop. I don’t think that it was a very comfortable journey for him.
Our bus arrived soon after and I had to get on top of bus again to tie our own rucksacks. The bus was already full, but there was some space to stand atleast. The ride up the mountain towards Kunzum La is very slow and quite treacherous. On the way, there was an earth mover coming from opposite direction on a very narrow stretch. It was impossible for bus to go back from there, so the earth mover driver tried to turn back. All he succeded in doing was to almost roll down the slope to river atleast 300 meters below. At one time, only 2 of his 4 tires were on ground while other 2 were in air. Bus passengers actually started filming the whole thing. Thankfully, earth mover driver managed to get it back on the road and then drove back in reverse.
Upon reaching Kunzum La, most of the passengers got off the bus to our pleasant surprise. The drive up Kunzum La was not very comfortable and the rest of drive was unlikely to be much better, One young man told us that they were going to lake for the local festival. Goddess Kunzum was kind to us again as we finally found space to sit. Drive to Losar was all downhill and Dorjee’s guest house was actually on the outer edge of village. After asking around, we finally found the right place and got down. I had to climb up the bus’ roof again to get the rucksacks which were completely covered in dust. The road leading to village seemed to be freshly laid. Later on we came to know that it was some central govt project to improve connectivity. But the quality of work was really shoddy and work was done for 1 km only. After that, it was same old broken stone trail.
We found the guest house without any difficulty but it was locked. One local told us that the family (Dorjee’s wife and daughter) were in their fields and will be back in a few hours. As we had no other option, we decided to have some snacks and wait. I walked around the village to see if there was some shop, but found nothing. There were only 3 kids who entered the guest house’s compund and looked at us as if were aliens. I saw one man working on his house and he invited me to go to his peas field and eat them fresh. I thanked him for the offer and then he told me that they had sent someone on a bike to call Dorjee’s wife back. It was a really nice gesture from them as they did it without us asking for it.
The houses in village were mostly made of mud, stones and wood with some concrete usage. The flat roofs were used to store dry firewood. Spiti River flowed just across the road and the old metal bridge made sounds like a jet engine whenever a heavy vehicle passed over it.
As I was walking around aimlessly, Sonam (Dorjee’s wife) came by walking briskly and opened the door for us. We had a cup of chai, rested and then walked around the village. A small, clean community with a primary school, government dispensary and connected only by a small uneven road. There were a few guest houses, a small police post and a few shops about 1-2 Km up, but this part of village was separated by a mountain stream. Dorjee family had 3 daughters, 2 were with maternal family for holidays and 1 was staying at home helping her mother Sonam with farm work.
They had built the house as a guesthouse to rent out to tourists passing through the area. It was not very luxurious but ok. Bedroom was a room with pictures of Buddhist, Hindu deities, Dalai Lama and some herbs being dried. For sleeping, there were two mattresses and thick blankets on ground. The windows were thick and air-tight to prevent cold air from getting in. People in this area need to sleep with every room made airtight. We had to open up the windows a few cm at night because we felt suffocated.
Toilet on the other hand was just a small shed around a hole on the roof. The shit fell in to a room which acted as kind of a compost pit. Not something that we were expecting, but still better than digging a hole in hard ground and then covering it up.
It was bit more comfortable accommodation when compared to campsite and pretty much how local villagers live. There were a few signs of modern city life though. LPG was being used in kitchen instead of wood which was the norm not too long ago. Electricity supply was fairly good and most houses had dish tv.The main dining room was kept warm by wood, coal fire. Food was quite simple but good. Most of the time, it was wheat bread with locally grown vegetables like peas, onions, potatoes etc. Very fresh and tasted pretty good.
During dinner, Sonam told us about a small village Kyamo at the end of road at a distance of about 5 km, supposedly the last village in that direction.
We thought that it might be an interesting idea, visiting the last village at end of the road, even though it isn’t exactly as cool as something like last village on border or something like that. So next morning, me and wifey packed up some water, snacks and started walking on the road along Spiti river. It was a sunny day but the wind made it feel like a really cold one. There was not particularly remarkable once you get used to huge mountains and rocks all around. During our hike of 5 km, we saw only 3 people. A shepherd and his 2 children with their herd of cows and zebus who just looked at us curiously from a distance. There were a number of mountain streams mostly fed by still melting ice on the the mountains all around. After walking for about 1 hour, we finally reached the village which was more like a cluster of 15-18 houses and fields all around.Most of the people were busy working there. One woman was not as shy as others and walked up to see us from up close and exchange a few pleasantries. We filled up our water bottle from a stream which was originated from a snow bank a few 100 meters away from the village and rested for a while. A few kids came up to look at us but ran away whenever I pointed camera at them.
After a few minutes, we started walking back to Losar. On the outskirts, we met Sonam and her daughter who were working in their pea farm. Wifey went with the girl to see their peas while I wanted to explore a cave like structure half way up the mountain nearby. From a distance it looked like a nice place where snow or water could accumulate and I thought there could be some water there. The stones coming down from that place also reinforced this notion. So while wifey went on to the farm, I started climbing up the mountain. It wasn’t such an easy thing walking up the incline on a very rocky surface after a walk of about 11 km. In the end it was all for nothing as the place was completely dry. The place had a dried out pond over there but no sign of water. Any water which had accumulated there had flown out months back. So I climbed down and followed the women back to guest house. On the way, they gave me some fresh green peas to snack upon.
We were pretty tired by the time we reached back home and rested while watching some old Hindi movie on TV. Right then, a small mouse entered the room and started running around. The little girl and wifey jumped up and started screaming as it came towards them while Sonam remained a bit calmer. I chased it with a broom trying to shove it away out of house, but it scampered below the TV table which was covered by a table cloth and hid there. Finally I found it hiding inside a small cardboard box. I picked it up and dumped mouse outside the window. As I was getting amused by all the scared women drama, I walked towards them holding the box in hand and claimed that the mouse was still inside. All 3 shouted even louder and started running around in circles. And I laughed and laughed and laughed.
Good end to the day.
This will be a short travelogue of our visit to Mukteshwar and Nainitaal in 1st week of December. The trip was for 4 days only and we kept it limited only to these 2 places. I still have about half of the Spiti travelogue pending and hoping to complete it by next month, if lucky.
I wasn’t even sure about being able to go till the last minute and booked the train tickets to Kathgodam only a day before. Our first plan was to visit Binsar and then to consider other options. Then it changed to 2 days in Muktehshwar and Binsar each. We called some properties in Mukteshwar and Binsar and asked a few questions to get some idea about the places. We caught the early morning Shatabadi train to Kathgodam. The train ride was uneventful except for some idiots throwing stones at the train near Moradabad. Seeing the kind of population living near railway station, it’s not a surprise to see that the vandals have little else to do except breeding like pigs, vandalism and rioting. Passengers raised some ruckus which forced some railways and police officers to check out and regster complaint at next station. Rest of the railway stations after that were very clean and in some ways, even beautiful. The area outside Haldwani railway station on other hand wasjust a huge slum area with too many mosques with too many loudspeakers blaring noise.
Kathgodam station was pretty neat and clean. As expected, there were a few taxi drivers on the gate asking if we needed taxis but nothing really annoying like in many other big tourist spots. The guest house we had called up previously had arranged for a taxi to take us there. We had a quick lunch and got in to the car. Roads were freshly laid but in few places there were signs of extremely shoddy work. It took us slightly more than 2 hours to reach Sitla, a small village near Mukteshwar where our guest house Roshan Villa was situated. The property is situated on top of the ridge and offers good view of the peaks of some famous Himalayan mountain peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul Parvat and a few others. For some reason, people really like seeing the mountains from a distance and most locals and even tourists consider it to be an attraction. I could see Vaishno Devi hills from my house In Jammu and Shivalik hills nearby and prefer to be on the mountain rather than seeing it from a distance. Probably that’s why it’s not a big deal for me now. But most people I met including the guides and property owners tried to present it as a major selling point. Sitla used to be a small quaint village by the looks of it, but it’s getting spoiled just like most of Uttaranchal as outsiders buy up land, more hotels and guest houses are being built and the old time charm of the place is fast fading away. We barely saw 3 houses of old design and 1 of them looked like it was about to be demolished. The land on hill which was mostly farm or orchard land was being cut in to plots and was on sale. Rows f modern concrete houses, guest houses, hotels etc. were being built or were built already. Overall it is a nice place, but it wouldn’t stay this way for more than 2-3 years. It will turn in to another crowded concrete jungle like Nainitaal in a few years if construction is not controlled.
That being said, it is a nice place and thanfully wifey liked the property and immediately declared that she wanted to spend atleast 2 nights here which was perfectly fine for me. After a bit of rest, we walked out to take a walk outside. After the crowds and noise of Delhi, it felt nice to spend some time walking in clean, fresh air of the mountains. Lots of birds, interesting insects and a beautiful sunset. We had an early dinner as we were quite hungry but couldn’t sleep early. So spent some time reading and watching TV befor managing to sleep at the usual time of well past midnight.
Next morning, the taxi reached guest house as we were finsihing our breakfast. Destination was famous Mukteshwar temple. It was a drive of about 45 minutes through forest and pretty beautiful sights as signs of human habitation were few and far in between. When we reached the temple, 2 young men came up and offered to be our guides. It didn’t cost that much and I thought that they will be probably able to tell us a bit more about places of interest nearby, so hired one. He took us to a small paved path instead of stairs to temple. The path led to a steep ledge on backside of temple. There is a hole in one of the rocks which locals believe helps women concieve if they pass through it. Supposedly a sacred place, the rocks were covered with usual kind of graffity by literate idiots. But the view of the valley below were pretty good. Temple by itself was nothing special. Just the usual kind of hill top temple which was probably a nice place a few years back, now a place with ugly construction and babas, pujaris of all types. Saw one baba in a building near main temple sitting in a executive chair. So much for life of simplicity and penance as a sanyasi. Saving grace for temples like this is that the preists don’t behave like dacoits in temples of Mathura, Haridwar kind of places. They just leave you alone and don’t try starting a conversation or sales pitch unless you talk to them first.
Before leaving, our guide Dinesh told us about a few interesting spots including a short hike through jungle and a waterfall. He also told us about sightings of leopard in area which raised our interest. We took his number and promised to call him in case we wanted to visit those places. We walked for a while down the road and found a path leading to small Methodist church. I had read about people admiring the place, so walked down to see. It was a small ordiniary building and was closed at that time. Nothing really special or interesting about it. Reached the market, had lunch and asked driver to drop us back. On the way, he offered to take us to another place like Mukteshwar (can’t remember the name now) and then drop at Nainitaal in evening. But we liked the idea of staying in Mukteshwar to hike through jungle, possibly spot a leopard and see the waterfall. So before dinner, we called up Dinesh to arrange the trip. We had a very heavy lunch of multiple plates of Rajma chawal in Mukteshwar and ate a lot after reaching our guest house. Even after this, both of us felt hungry after a while. This exceptional appetite stayed with both of us all through the duration of trip.
Dinesh reached our guest house half an hour before the scheduled time and sat outside patiently waiting for us as we got ready. We walked on the road with a few shortcuts every now and then before entering the jungle. On the way saw an old abandoned house with some dried fruit trees. He claimed that the family was scared away by ghosts and many people saw ghosts at different times. The house seems like it was used by the village drunkards quite often. The path through jungle was a wide trail which was used by villagers as a shortcut. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, we didn’t see any leopard, though we saw 2 brown deers who bolted at the sight of us. I couldn’t even think of raising the camera to take a picture. Seeing them disappear so fast down the slope with trees and shrubs all over was an amazing sight. After walking on the trail for about one hour, we reached Mukteshwar and met a friend of Dinesh who informed us that a para-gliding team was offering the activity nearby. The day being our wedding anniversary, wifey was feeling a lot more adventurous than me and immediately said yes
After signing a disclaimer form and payment, we walked to the jump location. It was a sheer drop of 700-800 meters. As they were strapping up the gear, I asked the instructor who was going to jump with me about spare parachute. He laughed and said that if we ever needed one, we will crash long before we manage to get it opened. Awesome !
After strapping up, we waited for suitable wind. Standing a few feet from the cliff, I wondered if I had it in me to run up to edge and jump. Asked the instructor, how was I supposed to run with both of us strapped together and he said that the wind will lift up the parachute . We wouldn’t need to run at all. But the wind took it’s own sweet time and I started wondering if I felt afraid or not. I felt a lot more butterflies in stomach in Spiti near ropeway of Chicham village, but that’s a story for another day.
As I was standing there contemplating all this, the wind came up in suitable direction and we were immediately lifted and above the ledge. Everything seems small from a height, but a lot more smaller when there is no ground between the feet. We flew/glided/whatever it’s called for 8-9 minutes before we came close to landing spot in between some fields. Just then, a sudden gust of wind lifted us a bit and instead of landing on clear ground, we went rhough middle of a row of apple trees. Nobody was hurt though except for minor scratches here and there.
A man was tilling his land using a bullocks where we landed. Saw this thing after a long time. 3 excited children came up running and started helping us untangle the mess of tangles strings and fabric.
Wifey had to wait too before they had suitable wind. As their parachute came closer, we could hear her shouting excitedly. After packing up the parachutes, our instructors led us through the fields to road where a Jeep picked us and dropped us up the mountain. Dinesh and his friend were waiting for us there and we walked a small distance to a restaurant to have some snacks. They arranged a taxi to take us to the waterfall. Their proposal of hiring a bicycle was interesting but we didn’t have enough time and wifey didn’t like that either. The car dropped us at the start of trail which was being widened till some distance. I hope that the work didn’t progress much and the trail retained it’s original character. Don’t want yet another place to get “developed”.
We walked for 15-20 minutes alongside a small stream, crossed a few huge rocks to reach a waterfall about 9-10 meters high. I was expecting something generic, but this was way better than that. It looked a lot better in real life than it does in these pictures. It was too cold to do anything with water, so I consoled myself with wetting my hands, but wifey took off her shoes to stand for a while in ice-cold water. According to guides, there is a lot more water during rainy season and a lot of generic idiotic tourists during monsoons and peak season which get drunk, litter and makea nuisance of themselves. We saw a few styrofoam plates and plastic junk on the way anyway. Indian tourists will never learn to behave themselves.
We stayed there for a few minutes and started walking back as it was getting dark. Had to take a long route back as the shorter one passing through jungle is closed off after sunset. Dinesh had talked about another similar hiking trail and offered to take us there next day, but we eventually decided to visit Nainitaal.
We booked an old heritage property kind of property in Nainital the night before but had some confusion as it had recently changed ownership and names. Anyhow reached Nainitaal without any thing strange. After driving alongside the lake, first thing that welcomed us was the loud noise coming from the huge mosque with a tower solely built for housing 4-5 loudspeakers. What kind of person thinks that blasting so called prayer through such loudspeakers annoying everyone else is a good idea !! Thankfully our hotel was up the hill at quite a bit distance away away from this noise atleast.
After some rest and snacks, we walked to the town below and walked alongside the lake looking for a place to eat. Contrary to what I was expecting, the town was pretty clean with dustbins and well maintained publiic toilets every few meters. Later on found out that the authorities burn all the rubbish just a few km from the town in mountains. Still better than junk everywhere, I guess. A small stream which flows in towards taxi stand’s direction from the hill nearby was thankfully not converted to a sweage dump but still had plastic waste every 2-3 feet.
After lunch, we had a boat ride like all tourists do.Wasn’t bad and I actually enjoyed it as the weather got colder and a mist descended all around. Couldn’t see any fish though. Walked back to the hotel for dinner and sleep. Caught the same train back to end the journey.
Next morning we just lazed around the campsite. All the guests from previous night were gone and more were expected to arrive only after noon. We asked Dorjee to prepare some pulao to carry with us for dinner. In the meanwhile, we packed up some essentials to take with us to the campsite. At noon, the driver who had brought us from Manali to Kunzum La, arrived with 2 Indian women who stopped at campsite for tea. Early on we were all expecting to hike to the lake carrying all our stuff, but the driver offered a lift till the lake. So we put most of our stuff in the car. Wifey, ACB and Dorjee went with it while me, Emili and Andrea preferred to walk.
Once the car left, we started walking the same way as previous day. For a while, I was walking in front. But Andrea soon paced ahead and Emili after her. Within 15-20 minutes they were far ahead of me while I was huffing and puffing my way through. It was only in the evening that I learnt that the 2 lived and worked in French Alps. While the mountain range is not as high, these women were French pahadins and I could never hope to keep up with them They stopped a few times to let me catch up, but I realised pretty soon that trying to keep up with them will be stupidity. Once we reached near end of the trail, Andrea started walking even faster. Emili told me that she is annoyed by the wind. I just stayed behind and followed the trail. No reason to show any annoyance against the wind.
I think that they must have reached end of the lake at least 20-25 minutes before me. But it was my turn to get annoyed when I reached there. The tents were put up exactly in that place I had asked Dorjee not to use. From my last time, I knew that camping is not allowed within a km of lake. Later on found out that the limit was increased to 2 km. Anyhow, the tents were put up just about 250 m from the lake and very near some mud pits. I had asked him to put up the camp further down the empty ground where the earth would be drier and we wouldn’t be breaking any rules. I really hate people who act like an ass in such places and in this case I was doing the same thing as them.
But packing up tents and putting them up again was not really an option at that time. Wifey and ACB seemed really tired and any such suggestion would have meant them asking me to do the whole chore myself, if at all. Everyone had their stuff out by the time I had reached and packing up everything again to move would have taken another 30-35 minutes which we didn’t have. Just at that moment, ACB realised that he had left some of his essential stuff back. Dorjee immediately offered to bring that back if ACB agreed to meet him half way. The French girls seemed only too happy to have a chance to walk some more. So Dorjee scampered off to main campsite while ACB and French girls left after him to meet him half way on his return.
All this happened within 8-10 minutes of my arrival before I had the chance to say anything. I just watched them leave and crawled in to the tent to rest for a while. But it was getting dark quickly and I still had some work to do. As mentioned earlier, the trek to Samudri Tapu depended a great deal on water level in the river. So me and wifey got out of tent and started walking across the ground. On the way, I say a lone yak staring at us from a hill. The animal kept staring without bothering to graze for t least 10-12 minutes. I wondered if it was alone, but found out that it was part of a herd later. The mountain streams and waterfalls I remembered from my last trip were still there but the water was not as muddy as the last time. About that time, we felt some rain drops and a few minutes later snow or was it ice ? But it was only for a minute or so.
A swift wind was blowing and we felt every bit of exposed skin getting chilled. We crossed one stream after which it started getting a bit dark. We climbed on ridge at the end of mountain and admired the view. In distance I could see the point I had walked to during last time. The river was about 700-800 meters below and looked not that bad. I still decided to wait till next morning to make up my mind.
The sun had dropped behind mountains at that time and it was getting dark really quick, so we started to walk back to our campsite. From a distance, we could see lights in one of the tents, meaning ACB and French girls were back. But on the way, we noticed that the Yak herd we had seen earlier on the hill was directly in our path. For a moment, I was in two minds whether to take a detour or go through them. We chose latter as they didn’t look threatening. Some of them looked at us in curiosity but mostly kept on grazing. Only that black and white one kept staring again.
Once back at campsite, we found ACB and French girls playing some card games. We were all feeling hungry by the time and heated up the pulao that Dorjee had packed for us. It got cold within 2 minutes of heating due to the cold wind but everyone said that it was fine. After dinner, wifey joined them in their card games while I tried to get some shots of night sky. But my second battery too unexpectedly ran out. Now we had only wifey’s Nikon Coolpix, but it doesn’t have any manual mode that I know of and is more or less useless for night photography.
During this time, the sky was lit up by lightning numerous times just beyond the valley we were in even though sky overhead was mostly clear. Not a good sign at all. During this time, the girls were star gazing and ACB was probably meditating or asking himself some questions. After some time, they started their card games in one of the tents again, I waited outside for a while for moonrise, but it was behind the nearby mountains and wouldn’t have become visible for 3-4 hours more. The wind was getting too cold and strong too. So once my camera battery ran out, I put camera back in tent and watched their game before we all went to sleep.
Sleep, which neither one of us had enough of during the night. We all had one sleeping bag, fleece lining and a ground mat which was not adequate for the night at all. As mentioned earlier, the ground was damp which didn’t help the matters. A very cold and strong wind was blowing made even colder by the precipitation happening nearby. We were sleeping fully dressed in our clothes which we wore during the day and still felt cold. We all slept for 10-15 minutes stretches interspersed by waking up too often all through night. Early morning just after first light, I was tossing and turning when I heard a quack followed by another a few seconds later.
My duck friends were back ! I hurriedly got up to put on my boots just outside tent. My bare hands touched ice on zipper and on the tent. The boots were inside the shelter and thankfully had no ice inside them but the laces felt frozen. I somehow put them on walked out towards the lake with my camera. This time there were two duck families instead of one and they were walking on the shore. ACB was also out trying to take their picture which they didn’t like. I could take only 2-3 pictures before my camera battery died for good. I got wifey’s camera but couldn’t get any good shots. At that time I noticed that the tents, ground all around us was all covered with ice. The yak herd from last night was still in the same places but apparently was not grazing.
The sun was getting up in sky but we were on bottom of the peaks in their shadow. After a few minutes, I started walking towards the opposite side where I could see sunlight. I also wanted to see the water level in river. As I expected the water level had actually increased since last evening even though it’s usually lower in the mornings. The channels which were mostly dry only 10 hours before had water flowing through them. This was the final straw on any attempt for Samudri Tapu. I felt a bit dejected but little could be done at the time. I wasn’t really prepared for a solo trek at that time either. When I reached back, the yak herd had reached near the lake and some of them were actually taking a dip in the water.
People often say that some water bodies change their colours according to day time. This is very true for Chandrataal lake. The view is completely different early morning. Coming closer to the lake, I could see some insects inside the water and I picked some for a closer look. Tried to take pictures and battery on Nikon died too. So I don’t have any pictures, but the insects looked a lot like very small black-brown shrimps. Last time I had seen one kind which had put up small stone chips as a kind of shelter or armour around it’s body.