The Annapurna Circuit- Abode of Solitude

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT – The Journey

Before I get on to my experience let’s get into, What is the Annapurna Circuit?

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“The Circuit is a trek of about 160-230 km within the mountain ranges of central Nepal.  This trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. The path reaches its highest point at Thorung La pass (5416m/17769 ft), touching the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Practically all trekkers hike the route anticlockwise, as this way the daily altitude gain is slower, and crossing the high Thorong La pass is easier and safer.

The mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Macchapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna, Tilicho Peak, Pisang Peak and Paungda Danda. Numerous other peaks of 6000-8000m in elevation rise from the Annapurna range”

 “You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you.”  – John Muir

So true, the experience was truly within but of course laid with vivid spectacular sceneries on the go!

My heart raced as I ran up the long flight of stairs at a neighbourhood temple. It was a week since I had started to run along the stairs to get a cardio workout in place along with practising Hatha Yoga for the past 4 months. Another three weeks were left for my friend and I to meet the mighty Himalayas! This time we were gearing up for the beautiful Annapurna Circuit Trail.

I had butterflies in my tummy for over a week as my mind raced through the thought ‘Will I be able to reach up to 18000 feet?’ Well, I would soon figure out.

Bangalore-Delhi-Gorakhpur-Sunauli-IndoNepalBorder-Pokhara – All in 36 hours!

Bangalore to Pokhara was quite an adventurous ride. Bangalore to Delhi by flight and then we had to book a night bus to Gorakhpur as the train we had booked was in fact non-existent since a month even though we had received our confirmation for the seats! Well, the Indian Railways sure gives one an experience to remember always!

Before Boarding at Bangalore Airport, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Before Boarding at Bangalore Airport

The bus journey was eventful; firstly it arrived late, secondly the two of us were cramped on the upper berth of the bus; thirdly the bus driver kept on honking throughout the night as if he had to play a song. I woke up uneasily to some noise and then the driver called out, ‘Gorakhpur!’

Somewhere near Agra on the way to Gorakhpur, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Somewhere near Agra on the way to Gorakhpur

My friend and I hurriedly got out of the bus and collected our luggage. We luckily, found a share-auto which took us to the bus-stand. There we sat in the bus to Sunauli.

We quickly managed to freshen ourselves in a nearby lodge and later sat in the bus. The bus ride was pleasant as the bus veered by the farm lands and headed towards the mountains. After about five hours we reached the India-Nepal border.

Cycle-Rickshaw across the Indo-Nepal border, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenlens
Cycle-Rickshaw across the Indo-Nepal border

We got down from the bus and crossed the border in a cycle-rickshaw. This was quite a lovely slow ride.

 

We ate a quick Nepali staple lunch and jumped on a bus to Pokhara. The bus was rickety and we were caught in a jam up the mountain roads for about an hour.

Jam on the mountain roads enroute Pokhara, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Jam on the mountain roads enroute Pokhara

After about nine hours in the bus we reached Pokhara.

As we reached our stay at the ‘Mountain View’ – a warm couple invited us and showed us to our rooms. We went out to eat at the opposite small shack. The owner cum cook got us hot rotis and palak paneer. It was something to die for. We smacked our lips and licked our fingers until the entire curry was nowhere to be seen.

Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal and it is the gateway to Annapurna Circuit and one can see the Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna ranges from the city.

We woke up to a beautiful day and went out in search of the ACAP office. Once we finished our registration and got our trekker card, we headed up for the Phewa lake.

Phewa Lake, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Phewa Lake

As we soothed our tired legs and soul, the sky invited us to be a spectator while it painted colorful parachutes along the clouds.

Colorful Parachutes adorn the sky, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Colorful Parachutes adorn the sky

We later did some shopping and booked the bus to Bhulbhule for the morrow.

Day 1: Pokhara-Besisahar-Bhulbhule-Ngadi (3000 feet)

A six hour drive from Pokhara to Bhulbhule was amazing and beautiful. Bhulbule is a small town along the Marshyangdi river.

The drive took us from narrow roads to dusty mountain roads to long roads through the tropical forests. Well one could catch a glimpse of the snow clad mountains throughout the way.

At Bhulbhule, the start of our trek, Annapurna Circuit trail, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
At Bhulbhule, the start of our trek

We started our trek along the road from Bhulbhule and reached Ngadi, a quaint quiet place in the midst of the valley by the Marshyangdi River. We got talking to these children at whose home-stay we stayed for the night. A brilliant 8-year old kept us engaged and entertained us throughout the evening. He took us to the river as well and played with us. They were quite an endearing family and we had a simple sumptuous food for the night.

 

Day 2: Ngadi-Bahudanda-Ghermu-Jagat-Chamche (4500 feet)

We got up quite early at around 5 am and headed to the trail. It was a gorgeous start to the day with trekking up the beautiful lush mountains followed by Chai and breakfast at Bahudanda. The view of the mountains and the river was mesmerizing.🗻

Breakfast at Bahudanda Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish,ShoePenLens
Breakfast at Bahudanda Annapurna Circuit Trail

The trail to Ghermu was downhill and we had a nice hike. But the trek to the next village Jagat was quite an ordeal with the sun beating down us. The trail was really difficult. My legs were giving away and my mind was too occupied and stressed out with the sun beating down. We kind of pushed ourselves to Jagat and were in for a sumptuous Dal bhat. None of us spoke for the next 20 mins as we enjoyed our meal in silence and rested our aching body on the wooden chairs. As our minds contemplated on taking a ride, we beat it and trudged our aching selves ahead to the next place Chamche where we decided to stay for the night as we were thoroughly exhausted. Chamche happened to be right opposite a beautiful falls and it started to rain as we freshened ourselves and sat down to drink some tea. After a quick dinner we crashed.

Waterfalls at Chamche, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Waterfalls at Chamche, Annapurna Circuit Trail

This day was truly terrifying and it was on our minds whether we would make it along the rest of the trail. Well we had to see for ourselves in the days to come!

Day 3: Chamche-Tal-Dharapani-Danaque (7200 feet)

An early start to Day 3 had us walking across a lot of bridges and mountain paths carved along the walls of the mountain.

On the way from Chamche to Tal, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
On the way from Chamche to Tal, Annapurna Circuit Trail
The Triangle Mountain, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
The Triangle Mountain, Annapurna Circuit Trail

Post which we reached Manang district and entered Tal, a lovely hamlet by the river. This place is very scenic; the lush green valleys, the shimmering Marshyangdi river and of course the stalwarts-Mountains held a very gripping hold of the scenery.

Tal, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Tal, Annapurna Circuit Trail

The path led us up and down the mountain ranges and we were greeted by a lot of lovely falls. We had our lunch at Dharapani, a small village and headed to Danaque for the night.  At 7000 odd feet, the weather was cold and it rained from late evening to late into the night.  Highlight of this day was this beauty of a place, Tal and the vivid sceneries on the trail. We also happened to see a Tomato Tree!

Tomato tree at one of the homestays in Tal, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Tomato tree at one of the homestays in Tal, Annapurna Circuit Trail

 

Day 4: Danaque-Timang-Manaslu-Kyoto-Chame (8891 feet)

We woke up to a chilly morning and geared up for the trek. As travellers, we took to the road early.
After a nervy crossing along the stream across the road, we were faced by a steep ascent into the cold woods.

Across the stream on the road from Chame, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Across the stream on the road from Chame, Annapurna Circuit Trail

After an arduous climb in the narrow slushy mountain paths, we came to a small village called Timang from where the Manaslu peaks came into view. I was in for a treat and I donned the cap of a shutterbug. A breakfast by the view set us on the trail with some zestful energy.

Manaslu Ranges and Peak, Timang, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Manaslu Ranges and Peak, Timang, Annapurna Circuit Trail

The trail led us on through dusty roads, narrow paths along small villages and after quite a descent we came to a place called Kyoto. One can view the gorgeous Annapurna II from here.
I could just get a partial view of the peak on my camera and I was hoping to come across her soon.

Annapurna II, Kyoto, Annapurna Cirucit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Annapurna II, Kyoto, Annapurna Cirucit Trail

And we reached Chame for the night. It started raining there on but we had a nice warm sleep.

Day 5: Chame-Barathang-Dukha Pokhari-Lower Pisang (10662 feet)

The clouds cleared up to a bright sunny day. We had a lovely hike up the mountain paths. Our next pit-stop was Barathang, a small place with lots of apple orchards and a beautiful tea house. Excitement took us over and we enjoyed our delicious breakfast by the mountains, orchards and it was a clear day.

 

Later we trudged on and reached Dukha pokhari where we relished a couple of cookies given by a monk the previous day at the monastery at Kyoto.

The next stop lower Pisang awaited us. A long hike in the dusty mountain roads and beautiful vistas led us to Lower Pisang.

 

After we relaxed and had lunch, we hiked up to Upper Pisang, a dwelling a little above which offered views of the lovely Annapurna II and a monastery welcomed us. We retired for the night at Lower Pisang.

 

Annapurna Range from Lower Pisang, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Annapurna Range from Lower Pisang, Annapurna Circuit Trail

Day 6: Lower Pisang-Humde-Manang (11614 feet)

A gorgeous day as we saw the gorgeous Annapurnas IV, II and III and also the shining Gangapurna glacier and Tilicho peak. Prior to getting to the peaks we started our day from Lower Pisang. Morning was pretty cold and cloudy. We braved the winds as we hiked up the dusty trails and after a short ascent we walked through pine tree forests and the vistas opened up to brown rocky mountains.

 

Humde was our next pit-stop and it has its own small airport, fancy one eh.

We hit upon the road, Annapurna and Tilicho peaks were right along the way…😍

 

About a couple of hours later we reached Brakha where we relished cinnamon roll at the oldest bakery.

We took to the road along the glorious mountains and reached Manang, 11000 odd feet. It was pretty cold and windy but sunny. 😐

Manang is a pit-stop for many trekkers to acclimatize for a day or two before heading to Thorung La Pass or Tilicho Peak. One can also visit a couple of gompas which are close by and also the Gangapurna Glacier.

We attended the High Altitude training on AMS organized by ACAP. There were a lot of trekkers from around the world.

Day 7: Manang

Today being our rest day we woke up late. We decided to visit Prakhen gompa at about 12500 odd feet and get acclimatized.

The hike was along narrow mountain paths and was a bit slippery owing to loose gravel.

But it was a good hike and we reached a beautiful view point from where we got a panoramic view of Annapurna IV, II and III.

 


The view also gave us the complete mountain-scape of Gangapurna glacier and Tilicho peak.

Gangapurna Lake, Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Gangapurna Lake, Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trail-2

Given a chance, I could just spend the day looking at these gorgeous mountains albeit the weather. Further on we hiked and reached the Gompa.

Praken Gompa, Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Praken Gompa, Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trail

An old lady monk aka Lama was in the small cave, she blessed us and gifted us a lucky charm for the road ahead, well precisely the Thorung – La; the Pass ahead. It was quite heart touching and she also offered us hot tea which was a breather. After capturing the vistas we headed down to Manang.

Manang Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Manang Annapurna Circuit Trail

Day 8: Manang-Bhraga-Yak Kharka (13287 feet)

Our next pit-stop was to Yak Kharka, a village high up in the mountains. We started from Manang up the dusty trails and then it led us to beautiful rocky mountains with a colorful red flora. 😍

 

After about 3-4 hours, we did reach Yak Kharka. The temperature was pretty cold below 10 deg Celsius for sure… We binged on garlic soup and the ever famous Dal bhat

A pretty short day but we gained in on the altitude.

 

Day 9: Yak Kharka-Ledar-Thorung Pedi (15000 feet)

Well Thorung Pedi, our base camp for the Thorung La pass was our target for the day.

We were pretty excited that we would shortly be attempting the pass the very next day.
The hike was good but tiring as the altitude was gaining in on closer to 14400 feet.

 

Well there were some steep climbs on the way. There was a landslide area too and we carefully tread upon and made sure that we move not a pebble.

 

The stay at the base camp was fabulous; great music, spectacular ambience, food, desserts. We took into a lot of eating and celebrated as we had made it to the base camp. After some rest we looked into the road ahead and it was going to be a pretty steep climb the next day .Well we went to bed early as the next day would be a long and an epic one for sure.

 Day 10 The D-day! Thorung Pedi-High Camp-Thorung La(17769 feet) – Muktinath(12467 feet)

Well, the D-day. We woke up at 2:30 am for a quick start to a long hiking day. We started up the next stop High Camp.
It was a hard steep climb and the temperature was below zero deg😒 All I could see was the beautiful star-studded sky way above me and the trail lit by my head torch. The mountains looked like shadows towering on either side of us.

We braved ahead and made it to the High camp and took a break, grabbed a few dry fruits and we were on the trail again.

We slowly climbed the next steep trail and as I looked about, the snow clad mountains showed themselves in the twilight and they looked like steady stalwarts with a white cap 😍

 

Our next leg of the hike was very very arduous, we found it very difficult to keep ourselves at a momentum because of the altitude, we were roughly gaining 4000 odd feet in a span of 3 hours.

But something in us made us go on and on.

 

Though our energy sapped, we held on and took one step at a time. Finally, I could see the prayer flags in the distance and my heart jumped with joy. My spirits rose and tread on for the last mile to the Pass.

And there I was standing amongst a group of people rejoicing the feat along with my friend. 😊

Thorung La, Annapurna Circuit Trail, ShwethaKrish, ShoePenLens
Thorung La, Annapurna Circuit Trail

I could feel a sense of pride in me for making it through and I love myself for that, for I was a bit skeptical all the way through but here I was at the Pass, standing strong and blissfully happy 🙌

We roughly trekked about 115 kms in 10 days! That’s quite a feat we achieved!

Well we made it down to Ranipauwa village, close to Muktinath later that morning and had a pretty comfortable sleep in the famous Bob Marley hotel.

 

Muktinath is a sacred place for the Hindus as well as the Buddhists. The place was utterly beautiful adorned with yellow flowering trees and the gushing of the Gandaki river in the form of 108 springs which has a significance in the Hindu philosophy.

 

The next morning, from Muktinath we headed to Jomson by Jeep which we luckily caught and also met some amazing fellow travelers. The ride was beautiful with the brown mountains gazing at you and the Kali Gandaki river flowing across in shimmering blue. Dhaulagiri and other mountain ranges can be seen from Muktinath.

Later that night, we reached Pokhara and had our usual Rotis and Palak Paneer as the rain gave us company.

We did have a small celebration and we marked it as a successful trek across the Beautiful Annapurnas.

Onward we went to Kathmandu and then to Varanasi- A fabulous experience explained in this blog. Click here – Varanasi

Highlights / Tips for the Annapurna Circuit Trail

  1. Prepare yourself physically 4-6 months in advance
  2. Pack only what is necessary and please carry a book along to read as you would have ample time to do that
  3. Though I haven’t done the Annapurna Base camp trek, I have heard from fellow trekkers from around the world say that the Annapurna Circuit is beautiful and much worthier a trek than the Annapurna Base camp trek
  4. Please get the trekker permit and register yourself with the itinerary at the ACAP office in Pokhara
  5. Don’t bother about accommodation if you are traveling in October season as once you reach the village, ample number of homestays are available, you only need to pay for the food you eat, accommodation is free!
  6. Best part of this trek is that it is a Tea-house trail as the trail is marked with tea houses or home-stays all along the trail.
  7. Vivid changing sceneries guarantee you a solid memorable adventurous trek
  8. The journey within is all that matters on this beautiful a trail.

 

There was a time which was overwhelming

There was a time which was blissful

There was a time when everything was silent

That was the time when time stood still!

 

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Spiritual Sojourn Kedaranth-Tungnath-Badrinath

And of course some places are meant to be visited or rather they happen to you at the right time! This trip was just that!

As I caught a glimpse of the Kedarnath temple far ahead, the path didn’t seem tedious any more. Right at that moment, the clouds gave away and showered flakes of snow right when we were about 2 kms away from the temple. The air seemed heavier and cooler. We had trekked up about 6000 odd feet in the last 9 hours. Just as we made ourselves comfortable in the GMVN at Kedarnath, it rained and snowed throughout the night.

Kedarnath Temple-ShoePenLens-ShwethaKrish, Uttarakhand
Kedarnath Temple

Kedarnath, the name resounded in my ears when my friend and I had finally zeroed in on this to set out for a trek in October. Once we took care of the flight bookings, we finalized our stay at Uttrakhand in GMVN office here in Bangalore. Thanks to the officer who helped us out with our itinerary and provided us some information on places to visit in Uttarakhand.

Our main to-do places were Kedarnath-Tungnath-Badrinath!

Day 1: BLR-Dehradun-Rishikesh

Well the D-day arrived and we flew to Dehradun from Bangalore. And then drove to Rishikesh in a taxi arranged by the Skyard home-stay folks. Skyard is on the likes of Zostel and we did have a comfortable stay out there, thanks to the courteous folks. You must try it out when you are in Rishikesh.

Rishikesh is a place of pilgrimage at the foothills of Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is rightfully known as the ‘Gateway to Garhwal Himalayas’ and also ‘Yoga Capital of the World!’ Ganga flows through Rishikesh right from Shivalik hills in the Himalayas. Rishikesh is home to the famous Ram Jhula, Laxman Jhula and whole lot of Yoga Ashrams and centers.

Bustling crowd on the Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh, ShoePenLens, ShwethaKrish
Bustling crowd on the Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh

After a quick lunch, almost in the late noon in the German bakery close by to the Laxman Jhula, we headed to Parmarth Niketan, the largest Ashram in Rishikesh for the Ganga Aarti. Hearing to chants by the Ganga and taking part in the Aarti was truly blissful and energizing. I soaked myself to the chants. My tummy too soaked the fresh fruit juices from a nearby cafe as I stared at the Ganga going on her way blissfully unaware of the tumultuous crowd.

Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, Ganga Aarti - ShoePenLens-ShwethaKrish
Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, Ganga Aarti

Day 2: Rishikesh-Rudraprayag-Sonprayag-Gaurikund

As we wanted to try out the local transport throughout our travel, we left early and caught a private tourist bus to Rudraprayag. One can also take the State transport bus.

On the ride to Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand, Shwetha Krish- ShoePenLens
On the ride to Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand

So of course our drive to Rudraprayag took about 4 hours, we had our packed lunch of Paranthas on the ride and then we caught a bus to Sonprayag from Rudraparayag, it was a rickety dusty ride along the mountains. A drunk uncle on the bus was quite amazed that only two of us girls were travelling and he as a good Samaritan advised on being careful and alert! Well it was quite amusing to listen to him. After a couple of hours we reached Sonprayag. Here we had to take the next means of transportation which was a jeep. After a quick hot chai, we left to Gaurikund which took about 20 mins to reach.

Must say, the GMVN facility and rooms is a boon to the weary travelers. Very well-maintained and the caretakers are very courteous and helpful. After a sumptuous dinner of Roti, Dal, we took to the bed early as we had to trek all the way to Kedarnath the following day.

Day 3: Gaurikund-Kedarnath

The trek to Kedarnath is about 16-17 kms long and of course steep as the trail starts from 6000 feet and goes upto 11740 feet.

At the start of the trek-Kedarnath-ShwethaKrish-ShoePenLens
At the start of the trek-Kedarnath

We started at 6 in the morning. The trail was paved with cobbled stones and it was beautifully maintained but was decorated with horse dung along the way thanks to the mules, ponies and horses. The trail was beautiful and it wasn’t much crowded. We had a quick Maggi break and then trekked the trail which was getting steeper gradually. At about 11am, we were almost half way through and had some Paranthas to energize ourselves. Later, we took to the trail which was a bit narrow now considering the construction along the path.

 

As we hobbled on, the last stretch was truly tedious as before us was a serpentine trail. This certainly took our breath away which had us taking short breaks in between. Finally, we managed to reach the final flat path before the temple. The horsemen were really amazed at our strength and madness for trekking all the way up with heavy backpacks!( Well not that much really! ;))

It was about 3pm when we reached Kedarnath. And yes we were welcomed by the rain and snow which continued well into the night.

Day 4: Kedarnath-GandhiSarovar-Bhairavnath-Kedarnath

Kedarnath is about 225 kms from Rishikesh and is one of the Chota Char Dham (Kedarnath-Badrinath-Yamunotri-Gangotri). It has been a famous and prominent pilgrimage center since the ancient times. Owing to the flash floods in 2013, the entire place, settlements  were washed away except for the temple which was protected by a huge stone standing behind the temple(it is still present behind the temple). The place is still on the restoration mode and there are thousands of volunteers and villagers building and shaping the place 24*7 in the non-winter months. It is a sight to see all these spirited people building the place inch by inch.

In the morning, we were all set to visit the temple and as we got out of the room, the mountains were snow dressed and they looked utterly fabulous!

Kedarnath - Sunrise - ShoePenLens -Shwetha Krish-Oct 2018
Kedarnath – Sunrise

A pandit met us inside and took us through some rituals inside the temple. And we were back outside within half an hour.

The Kedar Dome and Kedar peaks provide a scintillating backdrop to the Kedarnath temple. The chants from the temple and the surrounding mountains would enchant any soul!

After a quick breakfast at GMVN, we headed towards the Chorabari glacier. It is about 13000 feet and as we trudged along the narrow trail cut across the mountain and we reached a small waterfall. There was no proper path from here on and the trail seemed very slippery owing to loose gravel and stones. So we stuck to the waterfall as the end point and enjoyed the views.

Waterfalls enroute Chorabari Tal, Kedarnath-ShwethaKrish-ShoePenLens
Waterfalls enroute Chorabari Tal, Kedarnath

 

We later got back to GMVN and after a siesta, we climbed toward Bhairavnath, who is said to be the protector of the place. It is a 10 mins walk up the path and the view from the small sacred place is scintillating as Kedarnath and the mountains put up a majestic show. There were three other Uncles who were performing and chanting to Bhairavnath. We joined in the chanting and the place is electrifying in a way. They say, you need to first visit Bhairavnath before heading to Kedarnath.

Bhairavnath , Kedarnath-ShwethaKrish-ShoePenLens
Bhairavnath , Kedarnath

We quickly went to the temple for the Evening Aarti. Before the Aarti started we were allowed to go inside and catch a glimpse of Kedarnath. The Shiv Ling was beautifully decorated with purple flowers and other decorative items. The joy of seeing it had me in tears and I went about another couple of times sequentially making a round three times just to see the Shiv Ling!

Then the Aarti took place and we were allowed to visit the temple one last time before the it closed for the day.

I am not sure if it was just me but the place was reverberating with energy and it was very subtle yet knocking on the soul! Or probably I was on a high, in the mountains.

 

Day 5: Kedarnath- Sersi – Triyuginarayan-Sonprayag-Guptkashi

We wanted to fly back to Gaurikund and we were excited on taking the helicopter services. That very morning we booked a helicopter to Sersi. We planned to visit Triyuginarayan temple and then head to Guptkashi for the night via Sonprayag.

It was surely a day of miracles; firstly we were the only two people along with the pilot in the helicopter. We had a brilliant and spectacular ride for about 10 mins until we reached Sersi.

 

Just as were figuring out how to get to Triyuginarayan, we came across the same driver who had dropped us to Gaurikund and he was the one who had mentioned about Triyuginarayan temple and that we must visit it. Lo and behold, he was right in front of us just as we were about to call him- second miracle. So after breakfast, we visited this old, beautiful temple which happens to be the place where Lord Shiva and Parvati got married. The temple was supposedly constructed by Adi Shankaracharya and is situated at 6500 feet.

 

We then headed to Gaurikund to collect our bags from GMVN and waited for the driver to fill the rest of the seats. We had a quick lunch by the road side dhaba which was exceptionally delicious. Finally as we reached Sonprayag, we were lucky enough to get onto a jeep to Guptkashi as we were told there were no vehicles running that day owing to some issue!

But we finally made it to Guptkashi by about 2pm. We freshened ourselves up and had a hearty lunch at the GMVN. In the evening, we made a visit to the Guptkashi temple. It is another ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (Vishwanath) similar to the one in Kashi. It also has a small temple dedicated to Ardhanareshvara (a half-man half-woman form of Shiva and Parvati). The temple is old and very blissful.

In the small pond called the Manikarnika Kund as seen in the picture below,  Shiva Ling  is bathed by two springs; Ganga and Yamuna. The Yamuna spring water emanates from a goumukh (spout in the shape of a cow’s mouth) and the Bhagirathi spring flows through trunk of an elephant strategically placed above the linga.

GuptKashi, Uttarakhand-Shwetha Krish-ShoePenLens
GuptKashi, Uttarakhand

Later we retired for the night, only to get up to a beautiful view of the mountains. One can get a view of the marvelous Neelkanth, Chaukamba and Kedarnath peaks!

Day 6: Guptkashi-Mastura-Sari-DeoriaTal-Chopta

We caught an early bus to go to Sari village. The bus conductor suggested that we can walk to Sari through Mastura village. We eagerly said yes and got out of the bus.

What we thought would be a walk for 10 mins, turned out to be a walk of about 40 mins. But it was a beautiful trail traversing across the mountains, corn fields and the village of Sari. Sari is a small village near Chopta on the way to Deoria Tal at about 6500 odd feet.  The village was undoubtedly beautiful as the sun sprayed its rays on to the lush green fields, it turned out to be utterly marvelous. After a tiresome trek, we reached the starting point of the Deoria Tal trek where we had a quick breakfast.

Sari Village, Uttarakhand - Shwetha Krish- ShoePenLens
Sari Village, Uttarakhand

Later we started our hike up to Deoria Tal (the lake of the Gods) which is at a height of about 7800 odd feet; it is a popular place as the reflection of majestic Himalayan peaks falls on to the lake and the scene is mesmerizing! The trail is adorned with rhododendron flowers in the months of February-March.

It was very hot and we hobbled along the trail waiting to reach Deoria Tal. On the way, we had rhododendron juice at a small shack which was run by a villager. After about 45 mins, we reached the lush meadows facing the splendid array of mountain ranges. And we could catch a glimpse of the reflection of the mountains in the lake. It was very pristine and a trail of lavender flowers adorned the lake.

 

After capturing  a few shots, we started our way back to Sari. Close by to the Village, we came across a small Shiva temple. We thought we would visit and go along the way.

As I struck a conversation with the Pandit who happened to be an ex-army officer, my friend and I had the most delightful conversation with him on the lines of life, spirituality and of course Tungnath for the next one hour!

Thanking him for a cup of tea we bid goodbye to him and as we reached Sari, we hailed a cab which took us to Chopta.

Chopta is again a place laden with beautiful lush green meadows, evergreen forests and is  part of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. Situated at about 8790 feet, it is surrounded by pine, deodar and rhododendron forests and is also a haven for many birds. It is the base for the trek to Tungnath and we were staying at a home-stay right in front of the gateway to Tungnath.

 

Day 7: Chopta-Tungnath-Chopta

We started trekking at 3 AM in the morning to Tungnath. I was stunned to see shooting stars across the star studded sky! And I was too excited as it was my first time watching shooting stars!

Tungnath hosts the second highest Shiva temple in the world at a height of about 12000 odd feet after Muktinath in Nepal. And it is one of the Panch Kedar temples in Uttarakhand.

A dog accompanied us on 1/4th of the trail. All we could see was the trail and the starry sky and nothing else. We reached Tungnath by about 5:15 AM and we started our way up to Chandrashila Peak, which was at a height of about 13000 feet and one can catch a 360 deg view of the mountains and majestic peaks.

 

We were just in time for the sunrise and what a view! I was utterly blown over by the view and the marvel of the mountains!

 

As we got a Darshan at the Tungnath, we headed our way back to Chopta. The view which we were unable to see in the wee ours of the morning, we certainly did now. The sprawling meadows and the lovely valleys painted our trail.

 

We had lunch at Chopta and spent the day playing and just staring up at the sky. We were surely on a high!

Day 8: Chopta- Chamoli-Joshimath-Badrinath

We caught a bus to Chamoli from Chopta and from there hopped on a shared taxi to Joshimath and then again took a shared jeep to Badrinath. The entire day we traveled along the mountain roads. The view was spectacular. But the ride was too tiring!

We reached Badrinath at about 3:30 PM and we quickly hired a taxi to go to Mana Village. It is the last village before China. We visited Ganesh Gufa, Vyas Gufa(where Sage Vyasa recited the Mahabharatha to Ganesha), Bheem Phul, we watched the Vasudhara Falls from a distance and headed back to Badrinath for the darshan.

 

Badrinath is a holy town located at about 11000 feet and is one of the Chota Char Dham. The reigning deity is Lord Vishnu in the form of Nara-Narayana.

Badrinath,uttarakhand
Badrinath,uttarakhand

The temple was way too crowded and we were happy to catch a glimpse of the deity and head back.

Day 9: Badrinath – Rishikesh

This was one hell of a journey by bus for about 12 hours. The journey was through the mountains and valleys and it was truly adventurous! The ride keeps you swaying along the valleys!

 

As we reached Rishikesh, we hit the sack after dinner!

Day 10: Rishikesh

With all the time on our hands, we got up late and had breakfast at German bakery.

We walked to the Beatles Ashram or Chaurasi Kutia and saw the dilapidated Meditation structures which were built for the students of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who brought about the Transcendental Meditation technique. It is popularly called as the  Beatles ashram as the famous band came to learn Meditation out here from the Mahesh yogi. The site was abandoned in 1990s and given back to the Forestry department. It was only post 2015 that it was opened for the public as a tourist spot.

Beatles Bungalow, Rishikesh - ShwethaKrish-ShoePenLens
Beatles Bungalow, Rishikesh

 

We later hired a two-wheeler to go to Vashishta Gufa which is about 25 kms from Rishikesh on the Rishikesh-Badrinath road!

Vasishtha Gufa is where one of the Saptarishis, Sage Vashishtha meditated and there is also a small cave facing the Ganga where his wife Arundhati also meditated.

It was quite a scary ride along the mountainous roads and with heavy trucks passing by. But we reached safely to bask at the shores of the Ganga. I was intrigued by the color of the rocks and stones out here as they were lavender or lilac. As I sat near the Arundhati Gufa and meditated, the meditation was truly overwhelming and so was it at Vashishta Gufa. I guess they are still pristine and the sanctity is very protected.

 

We got back to the scary adventurous ride and reached Rishikesh. Later we rode to the Triveni Ghat to enjoy the Aarti by the Ganga.

The last night in Rishikesh and the last night of our trip was lovely and we had had a quite an adventurous trip.

Day 11: Rishikesh-Dehradun-BLR

Today happened to be our Rafting Day and we were waiting for it since ages!

The experience was surprising, adventurous and exhausting. But it was quite a rush of Adrenalin as we approached a series of rapids along the Ganga.

Must say, it was the icing on the cake.

Our Rafting Group, Rishikesh-Shwetha Krish-ShoePenLens
Our Rafting Group at the Maggi Point, Rishikesh

After a delicious Burger down our throats we took to packing and getting back to Bangalore.

Some guidelines/tips if you are planning to visit the above places:

  • Month of our Visit: October ( It was not that crowded at Kedarnath and Tungnath as opposed to the month of May-the season for Kedarnath trek)
  • Weather: Pretty Cold in Kedarnath, Badrinath and Tungnath
  • Accommodation: Mostly at GMVN across places in Uttarakhand
  • Means of transport: Flight to Dehradun to and fro Bangalore, Public transport across the state to various places – there is connectivity to all places, please leave early in the morning to make use of the public transport buses, shared taxis, jeeps.
  • Tips: Enquire about the taxis or buses from the hotel / stay / taxi stands a day prior to your departure at each of the places. This would help you plan on the travel for the next day smoothly.

 

Sunrise at Kolukkumalai, ShoePenLens, Shwetha Krish

A trip to scenic Kolukkumalai and Meesapulimalai

A trip to scenic Kolukkumalai and Meesapulimalai

With a week left for my friend’ and my birthday, we decided that Munnar is the place to go. We found a decent stay in Suryanelly, 20 km away from the Munnar town, through Airbnb. After an exhausting travel of 14 hours from Bangalore, we reached Munnar only to be welcomed by the lush tea estates and bountiful rains.

A quick breakfast at Saravana Bhavan gave us the energy to get to our home-stay in Suryanelly. We found a warm friendly Share-Auto person who took us to the home-stay  and enlightened us with places to visit in Munnar. The ride was beautiful. The tea estates were a treat to the weary eyes. After a quick picture and two we reached our home-stay. It was more than what we saw in the pictures on Airbnb and we were elated.

We enjoyed rest of the day, lazing around, watching TV, drawing and reading books. The next day we ventured out to explore the Suryanelly town and we had to book a ride to Kolukkumalai tea estate which happens to be the World’s Highest Organic Tea Plantation. We found a very genuine person(a travel guide cum driver) who gave us a short itinerary on the things that can be visited in and around in a day. After much contemplation, we gave a positive nod for him to take us along in his Jeep.

Before heading back to the stay, we explored the nearby tea estates and had a lovely stroll through the scenic roads.

The following morning we left quite early so that we could catch the sunrise at Kolukkumalai mountain range. The ride was pretty eventful as it was a bumpy ride all throughout. We did get a massage naturally.

Well, as we reached the mountain ridge, there the sun was climbing its way up and we were mesmerized by the spectacle. I felt on top of the world to start my birthday filled with wonder. After taking a few shots of the sunrise and the mountain ridges we took to a spicy breakfast as in spicy Maggi noodles and omelette.

Sunrise at Kolukkumalai, ShoePenLens, Shwetha Krish
Sunrise at Kolukkumalai

After a while atop the scenic mountains, we hiked to the Meesapulimalai mountain. With winding paths and ridges we made it to the gorgeous peak. We were on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The panoramic views, the gushing wind and the mind boggling silence had us glued to the place. We then trudged back to the jeep.

Scenic tea estates, ShoePenLens, Shwetha Krish
Scenic tea estates

 

 

We went about a tour of tea-making at this beautiful estate. A guide told us about the entire process and also involved us in few of the steps. It was quite heartening and hilarious as well.

At the World's Highest Organic Tea Garden
At the World’s Highest Organic Tea Garden

 

Post lunch, we headed to our home-stay to freshen up. An evening of Kathakali was waiting for us. We were happy to be the curious audience at this program. I had always felt scared seeing those colorful faces on TV as a kid but today I was here, right in front enjoying their performance.

 

After the lovely performance we headed to our stay for a relaxing night by the stars.

The next morning we went towards Thekkady and visited the Spice garden. We were educated on the various benefits of the spices. The short trail in the garden mesmerized us in a spicy way. Later on, we whizzed past lovely bridges between the tea estates.

It was a nice tour and after some shopping we headed for our bus to Bangalore.

Well all in all, it was a beautiful trip where we rejuvenated our tired souls 🙂

The beauty of the mountains spell binds any traveler any day.

Trek to Kheerganga in the midst of Parvati Valley

Trek to Kheerganga in the midst of Parvati Valley

It has been a year already since the gorgeous Parvati valley happened to me. Situated in Himachal Pradesh, it is one of the beautiful valleys along the mighty Himalayas!

Parvati river along the Parvati Valley, Kasol, Himachal Pradesh, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Parvati river along the Parvati Valley, Kasol, Himachal Pradesh

The trip to Himachal Pradesh last year was an adventurous one in every way- a road trip across the state, stopping by the scenic woods at Dalhousie, soaking in the serenity at Parashar lake, hiking up the Dhauladhar ranges and Parvati valley with thoroughly enjoying the roar of Parvati across Kasol- ‘Amsterdam of India’, Manikaran and quaint Tosh.

The trek to Kheerganga which is at 9700 feet is a beautiful one. The trek starts from Barshaini, a small town near Manikaran in the Kullu district at a height of about 7200 feet.

The trek of 14 km starts near a hydel project at the confluence of Parvati and Tosh rivers. The trail passes through small villages and cafes.

Confluence of Parvati and Tosh rivers at Barshaini, Himachal Pradesh, Shwetha Krish, ShoePenLens
Confluence of Parvati and Tosh rivers at Barshaini, Himachal Pradesh

The vista opens upto the gorgeous Parvati valley lined with pine trees and one can hear the roar of Parvati all along the trail.

After a lemon drink at one of the cafes we( my friend and the guide) hit the trail with a zing of energy.

A lemon drink by the Parvati valley, Shwetha Krish, Shoepenlens
A lemon drink by the Parvati valley

As I saw the last of the villages lined with wheat fields, the trail opened up to a small clearing which happened to be the Rudranag waterfall.

Rudranag waterfall, Kheerganga trail, Shwetha Krish, Shoepenlens
Rudranag waterfall, Kheerganga trail

A small bridge ahead paved way to a steep trail. The woods were spooky yet beautiful. After trudging up the rocky spiral trail amidst the woods which had a fairy-tale wonder to it, we had reached the famous Kheerganga.

The roar of Parvati along the Kheerganga trail, Shwetha Krish, Shoepenlens
The roar of Parvati along the Kheerganga trail

Kheerganga, is a spectacular meadow where Shiva- the Adiyogi happened to have meditated for about 3000 years. The meadow is surrounded by lush green and snow clad mountains.

The hot springs of Kheerganga are best known for their healing properties and there are two separate hot springs area for men and women.

Hot springs at Kheerganga, Shwetha Krish, Shoepenlens
Hot springs at Kheerganga

After a trek of about 3-4 hrs one can relax in the spring and rejuvenate oneself. The meadow is a bit commercialized with camps, cafes and stays. It could turn off any trekker looking for a tranquil space in the mountains.

The camps and stays atop Kheerganga, Shwetha Krish, Shoepenlens
The camps and stays atop Kheerganga

After spending the night in a tent, viewing the splendid mountains, we were off to Barshaini to head to Tosh. More on Tosh at Quaint little Tosh

The view of the mountains from Kheerganga, Shwetha Krish, Shoepenlens
The view of the mountains from Kheerganga

The trail is absolutely beautiful lined with pine trees, serene captivating meadows and that makes this trek all the more worthwhile!

Tadiandamol: Home is where the Mountains are…

Tadiandamol: Home is where the Mountains are…

A good conversation on travel kinda ends up in going for one. Well got to be lucky in a way! Thanks to my fellow travelers.

Tadiandamol was just that, a plan made in a jiffy and lo and behold we were at the cosy coffee estates of Coorg in no time.

After an overnight bus ride from Bangalore to Virajpet, we were ushered by the chill air of the mountains. Our next stop was to Kabbinakad via Napoklu. We got a ride, after a wait of two hours, through beautiful estates and climb up the scenic mountains..

The path leading to Honey Valley, Coorg, Shwetha Krish
The path leading to Honey Valley, Coorg

Our home for the next three days was at Honey valley, at about 4250 feet which turned out to be an haven nestled in the lush coffee estates and forests. The Jeep ride from Kabbinakad to the homestay is an adventurous ride as it takes one through bumpy, slushy and steep curvy paths.

Cottage at Honey Valley, Coorg, Shwetha KRish
Cottage at Honey Valley, Coorg

A light breakfast energized us in no time and, we enjoyed the serene place with just about doing nothing. We strolled a bit along the estate. We found flora, frogs, butterflies and of course 3-4 dogs who were constant companions throughout our stay.

As it rained, we took to the confines of a small balcony facing the mountains and then made to the comforts of our bed. The day ended with card games, chatter with the rains playing a splendid tune.

The next day was slated for our much awaited Tadiandamol trek.

Tadiandamol(Big mountain) is the highest mountain in Coorg at about 5740 ft. It is a part of the Western Ghats range and is the fourth highest mountain in Karnataka state.

Owing to the rains and wild elephants, we had to take on an alternate route much before the Forest Guest house. As we hiked through the forests and winding paths, it felt as if we were the only four on the trail. After 2 kms, we hit upon views which were mesmerizing. The trail through the lush green grasslands were picture perfect. Not to forget the picturesque trail through the thick forests for about a mile. The weather was chill and it was drizzling. Thanks to that we weren’t that exhausted.

The trail, Tadiandamol,Coorg,Shwetha Krish
The trail, Tadiandamol,Coorg

The hike up the last mile was sheer beautiful. With rolling hills all around and the puffy clouds making their way on a beat, made the climb all the more worthwhile. We stayed at the peak for about two hours. We were lucky enough to see the vast greenlands, beautiful valleys, thick forests and curvy ridges when the clouds unveiled the canvas!

The trail ahead-Tadiandamol,coorg, ShwethaKrish
The trail ahead-Tadiandamol trek,coorg

The feeling of being one with nature is quite unexplainable till date. The silence of the mountains, a gusty tune of the winds, the whispers of the grasslands is just too divine.

After a hearty meal, we headed back to the base camp. Just as we got into our Jeep the clouds gave way for a heavy downpour. We paid a visit to the Nalknad Palace, which happened to be hidden between the mountains. It is a very old palace built in 1792 AD and was the last refuge of the Kodagu kings.

We ended our day relaxing, singing and enjoying the rains.

My companion while doing Yoga, Honey Valley Shwetha Krish
My companion while doing Yoga, Honey Valley

Honey Valley estate is very beautiful and obviously away from the humdrum of the city. It was the first homestay in Coorg and started its services way back in 1994. It is surrounded by coffee estates all around along with pepper and cardamom trees. The homestay and the surrounding area is just warmly splendid. One take a peaceful stroll or meditate(which is what we did) or just about enjoy the natural setting.

Honey valley homestay, Coorg, Shwetha Krish
Honey valley homestay, Coorg

After a lovely short stay we left the beautiful Honey Valley estate the next day only to drive back to the city but with renewed energy.

The article is also published on Shwetha Krish Website

Info:

  • Honey Valley is near to Kabbinakad which can be reached by Virajpet via Napoklu. Link: Honey Valley Coorg
  • Bangalore to Virajpet is about 270 kms and has numerous bus services from Bangalore.
  • Tadiandamol is a beginner’s trek, fitness is any day required. Leeches are galore in the monsoon months from June-August. One can wear leech socks or carry enough salt.
  • A guide is needed when one takes the route through the forests especially during the monsoons as wild elephants may meet you on the way.
  • The trail starting from the Forest Guest house is pretty comfortable and can be done without a guide’s assistance.

TRIUND, An abode amidst the clouds!

Dhauladhar range
Dhauladhar range…

“You cannot go! It is dangerous. The weather is bad. You cannot see the path, you will get lost! Read this notice….”

My friend and me stared at the Hotel concierge as he said the most discouraging words. He kept aside the tray which he was carrying and waited for our decision for the D day.

We read the most saddening Govt. Notice for trekkers, climbers to not get atop the mountain in harsh rainy conditions. And to take a local guide along  the trail.

It was raining cats and dogs, McLeodganj seemed to be on a high!

We asked about the Guide whereabouts to which the concierge happily gave the details and made sure that we won’t leave without the guide. 🙂

As the rain pelted against the window panes, we shared the news with our third fellow trekker.

After analysing the pros and cons, we decided to take on the trail but with a guide after all, trekking in the rains on the Himalayas is a risky affair all the more!

We hit the sack hoping that the next day was sunny enough to make it to the beautiful Dhauladhar ranges.

Morning turned out to be sunny and magnificent! The quaint town of McLeodganj was getting ready for the usual hustle bustle after a heavy downpour. But we did get a guide who accepted our proposal to take us along and we headed for the trail right away.

Triund trek is the most beautiful and scenic trek in Himachal Pradesh. The trek starts from Galu Devi temple, 2 km ahead of McLeodganj. Nestled in the Kangra valley, it offers a hike through Deodar, Rhododendron forests and of course gives a magnanimous view of the mighty Dhauladhar range and the Kangra valley.

Clouds passing by the Dhauladhar range
Clouds passing by the Dhauladhar range

We met our guide who happened to be very courteous and we gained insight about Himachal Pradesh as well through him. We started the hike close to 9:45 AM after registering our names at the Start point, a protocol closely followed by the Forest Department.

After an hour’s walk along the deodar trees, rhododendron trees we reached a stony path from where we could see the Dharamsala Cricket stadium, the stadium at the highest altitude in India at about 4780 feet above sea level.

Further walk through stony paths, we reached the Magic View Cafe which is the oldest cafe. A cup of hot tea soothed our throats and energized us for the rest of the journey. The clouds played around and brought in a slight chill to the air around. Being a Monday not many trekkers, local crowd were present on the trail. But a lot of them were on the way back after spending the  Sunday night at Triund Hill.

Triund Trail
Triund Trail

The stony path was now damp owing to a nearby small waterfall. But when it rains, the path would be very risky to tread upon. The villagers who were on the trail, time and again advised us not to walk at the edge of the path owing to uneven ground and loose stones.

As we hiked up the hill we came across yet another cafe Scenic View. With tad bit of a rest we hiked towards the last leg of the trail- The famous 22 curves before the Triund peak. It was a hike along stony paths, mushroom laden trunks of trees, lovely flowers with the mesmerising dew on the petals. The clouds did cover the trail on and off.

Lovely colorful Mushrooms on a fallen tree...
Lovely colorful Mushrooms on a fallen tree…

After a hiking for four hours, I reached the peak. A lush green meadow ran across the hill. A couple of cafes were present which catered to the needs of the few then trekkers.

The TRIO at the Triund Peak
The TRIO at the Triund Peak

As we strolled about the meadow, the clouds impulsively gave way to the Himalayas. The slightly snow clad Dhauladhar ranges came into view. It was a marvelous sight. As the clouds played about, we could catch a glimpse of Mcleodganj, Bhagsu way below.

Meadows, Ranges, Clouds at Triund Hill
Meadows, Ranges, Clouds at Triund Hill

After a sumptuous lunch of Roti, Rice and yummy Dal, we headed towards our tent with a view of the Kangra valley and the Dhauladhar ranges towards the side.

For our Siesta!
For our Siesta!

After a long stroll up and down the meadow, we retired for the night under a cloudy sky. We woke up to a not so cloudy day and welcomed the sunrise!

Sunrise atop Triund!
Sunrise atop Triund!

As we bid goodbye to the ranges and the valley, McLeodganj ushered us to explore the quaint town and the Dalai Lama Temple…. More on in the next post….

Well that was the end to the lovely Triund trek. Plan for it and enjoy the enthralling journey and the lovely mountains of course!

Throwback Thursday! Why do I trek?

Perks of trekking!

SHOEPENLENS

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” (Greg Child)

So the quote says it all but what is the mystery?

A peek  into my initial days of trekking…

Well, I started trekking just for the heck of it, for pure adrenalin rush and for the amazing view at the summit. It held good, be it the Western Ghats in Karnataka, Kerala & Maharashtra.  Since I was in my early 20s,  I loved racing up the mountain!

On top of Edakkal caves, Wayanad On top of Edakkal caves, Wayanad, Kerala

Karnala Hill fort, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra Karnala Hill fort, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra

Matheran, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra Matheran, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra

Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Kuduremukh, Karnataka Kuduremukh, Karnataka

Amongst the clouds, KumaraParvatha, Karnataka Amongst the clouds, KumaraParvatha, Karnataka

View Point 1, Goechala Pass, Sikkim with Mt. Kanchenjunga in the background View Point 1, Goechala Pass, Sikkim with Mt. Kanchenjunga in the background

On the way back from Manokarma Base camp(Stok Kangri Expedition), Ladakh, J&K On the way back from Manokarma Base camp(Stok Kangri Expedition), Ladakh, J&K

But after a gap of 6 years my idea and purpose of trekking changed. Thanks…

View original post 652 more words

Ghats Beckon!

Article published in Deccan Herald Newspaper 25-Nov-2015

It was mid-September when I got the opportunity to cherish the beauty of the Western Ghats. Rolling hills, lush landscape, beautiful pink flowers, dew-filled grasslands; it was a view right out of a picture postcard. I was at Kuduremukh, a mountain range and name of a peak located in Chikkamagaluru district. The name literally means ‘horse-face’ in Kannada and refers to a picturesque view of the side of the mountain.

Kuduremukh, Karnataka
Kuduremukh, Karnataka

Along with my fellow trekkers, I started from Bengaluru at night to reach Kalasa, a temple town in Chikkamagaluru, the next morning. From there we hired jeeps to take us to a home-stay. The ride to the home-stay was on a slushy uphill road, which was scary but thrilling. It was drizzling and the weather was pleasant. We freshened up and had a light breakfast, which was sumptuous. Later the owner of the home-stay gave us a home-made lotion to apply on our legs to keep the leeches away as we were going to be in the leech zone for a few hours. We started our trek, which was initially wayward into the forest and across small streams. After a couple of hours we reached the grasslands and they looked beautiful. It was drizzling; the landscape was adorned with rain drops, which looked like pearls on the flowers and grass. We saw the clouds pass by and I was mesmerised by the beauty and serenity of the place.

The trail wound its way around the ranges and then we came upon another small forest. It was also a slushy and a wet trail as it was raining. The highlight of the trail was obviously the leeches who were waiting for us. There were zillions of them and every 100 metres we trekked, we stopped for a couple of minutes just to shake them off, be it real or imaginary ones!

The rolling hills
The rolling hills

The final mile was up the peaks but by this time it was raining cats and dogs and the path was very slushy. We climbed it nevertheless and then came upon a short, straight path leading to the peak. I presumed that the view from here was amazing but as it was cloudy and raining, we could not see anything.

There was no shelter at the top so we just sat by the rocks, hydrated ourselves with juice and a bar of chocolate. It was a serene place. We walked down a bit and stopped at a clearing. There was a stream flowing by and we had our packed lunch of mango rice.

It was delicious. After resting for about 15 minutes, we started our downward trek. Trekking down was very difficult as the path was slippery. After falling down a couple of times, I held on to a good pace.

We finally reached the forest; the streams that we passed earlier were now overflowing. We made it through, together. It was getting dark and we had to rush to the home-stay.

The pain in my legs and exhaustion were pulling me down but we made it back. We tended to our leech bites and had dinner and chatted away into the night. I thoroughly enjoyed the trek as it was my first monsoon trek. It brought a feeling of euphoria and was a thrilling experience. What can I say, I was floored by the beauty!

Short of getting Stoked!

Freezing Manokarma

I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. I could hear the menacing wind whooshing against the tent. The freezing cold was getting on my nerves. I was burning with fever and I wanted to get a fair amount of sleep at least so that I could make my way to the next camp the following morning. I had spread the DOWN jacket on my sleeping bag, hopeful that it would keep me warm but it was way too cold. Sleeping at 14500 feet was getting very very difficult. I wondered how I would survive the next 8 hours until dawn. I opened my eyes hoping to find some warm clothing, I tried getting up but something was obstructing me. As I switched on my torch and looked about, the tent was all over my legs and it was wet. And I called out to my friend and whispered “Kesu! I think the tent has fallen off.”

Hemis National Park

Three days earlier we had embarked upon the Trek to Stok Kangri!

With wavering courage we decided to trek a bit of Markha Valley and then trek to Stok Kangri.

The bravehearts!
The bravehearts!

 

We travelled to Zingchen by road from Leh. The ride ended up in a dusty mountain path. The trek trail started from there and we had now entered the Hemis National Park, eastern part of Ladakh, J&K. The park is the abode of snow leopards and the only park in India to the north of Himalayas.

The trail started with a rocky path and with the sun seething hot rays down on us, the trek became very exhausting even with the trail being flat! We stopped for lunch after two hours and gobbled the contents in our lunch box.

Dusty rocky trail from Zingchen to Rumbak
Dusty rocky trail from Zingchen to Rumbak

 

Later, the trail had a gradual ascent and before long we were at Rumbak. Instead of moving ahead to the village, we took a deviation and headed towards Ganda La base camp.

On the way to Rumbak!
On the way to Rumbak!
Resting at Rumbak
Resting at Rumbak

 

 

 

 

 

GANDA LA 

The trail to Ganda La was a winding path across the mountains, the flora on the mountains were of various and vivid colours, it was a lovely sight to see.

 

On the way to GandaLa base, Markha valley
On the way to GandaLa base, Markha valley

 

The last mile from Yurutse to Ganda La camp felt very very exhausting, the sun had already set and I clung on to my trekking pole and strode ahead and thinking about when I would hit the sack.  After reaching the tent and gulping down  hot lemon tea, I warmed myself in the tent and soothed my aching muscles. We had a quick dinner but sumptuous one with chicken and rice. It was the perfect end to a long day.

The next morning was beautiful. Azure sky, brown mountains all around and the stream flowing very near to the base camp. While some of us deliberated on the trek to the Ganda La Pass owing to a very exhausting trek the previous day, we then finally reached a conclusion that we as a team will move on.

Though I was a little hesitant initially, I finally made up mind to at least get to the top of the mountain, if not the pass. I slogged along the trail, it was a steep climb. I knew my body was giving away. But I wanted to figure out how my body would react and whether I would be able to make it to 16300 feet. Because in the next couple of days I would be trying to get on to 20000 feet, all I wanted to know then was whether I could get myself out there.

It was a hard climb, I was half way up the mountain when the last of the trekkers from the base camp brushed past me. One of the guides, from the other trekking group,on the way asked me,

 

“Juley! where are you from?”

I replied with my fading breath.

He looked around, “Your team members are already way ahead I see, you got to hurry up!”

I said,”I am trying to.”

He again looked at me and said,” You know, you can find marmots and snow leopards out here.”

I looked at the vast expanse of the valley and obviously I could see Marmots here and there but snow leopards now!

“I mean do you find them here, like now now.” I was excited.

He looked at me and said, “Maybe!”

Wow! This was already one hell of a climb and it was getting all the more exciting!

I was determined to reach the mountain. I could see our guide, Lobzang waiting for me at the top. I panted and trailed past the last winding path and there I was, on the top looking at the beauty all around.

I had no energy to make it till the pass and told the guide to carry on and that I would meet him on the way back down.

The view was mesmerising with mountains all over, the valleys looked beautiful and so did the snow clad mountains. I soaked in the silence and the beauty.

Stok Range
Stok Range
Near to Ganda La pass
Near to Ganda La pass

 

 

 

 

 

I trudged back down the mountain. My solo trek to Yurutse had just begun.

SOLO TREK

With no one at my beck or call, surrounded by majestic mountains and the expanse of the valley below, I was all alone but I was one with nature.

I stopped to click a picture or two. I suddenly had a anxiety pang, what if a snow leopard comes along, what would I do?

I buried the thought yet  looking out for a leopard to pounce on me but the mesmerising mountains, the winding terrain and the sun high above my head held me onto a blissful thought. I basked in the silence of the place and all I could hear was my heart beating  and the wind blowing at my face. I felt so puny amongst the wonders of nature.

 

Way back to Ganda La base camp
Way back to Ganda La base camp

 

I caught a glimpse of Marmots running around and it was a wonderful sight to see, it looked as though they were racing me down the path. Before I got on to the other side of the stream, I could hear something on the ridge of the mountain- was it a marmot…. snow leopard?, I don’t know even to this day. 😉

I reached the stream enthusiastically, I could now see the Ganda La base camp nearby. I almost sprained my leg, the rock on which I took support fell into the stream but somehow made a quick jump in the nick of time. Music was being played at the canteen but the valley was silent and I could hear only the gushing of water.

I moved past the base camp, I could now see a gaggle of geese running ahead the path and up the valley. I contemplated on the flora on the mountains and the green coloured mountain looked weird but beautiful. Before long, I reached Yurutse to catch up with my team members. After about 30-40 minutes the others came along with the guide.

We marched ahead to our next camp for the night- Rumbak.

Rumbak is a village at 13200 ft with a few households and also has a number of home-stays. After reaching the village we still had to walk a lot to get to our camp. It was on the outskirts of the village. I could sense my legs on the verge of giving away and my willpower was on the last reserve.I trudged along to get to the tent as soon as possible. The tents were put up near to the stream and we refreshed ourselves with hot lemon tea and biscuits.

My body ached and I was way low on energy and I wanted to get back to Leh.

Daunting STOK LA!

But the morning had different plans for me and now filled with hope, I strode on with new zest and energy.

The mountains were utterly fascinating, each step of the trek brought me face to face with the splendour of the mountains. After walking for about an hour, we lost our way and we waited for the guide to light our path. As the guide took us on to the valley and then up a mountain, I could see the big daunting mountain. I could not make out the path way ahead but it seemed like a big wall.

I rested a bit before I could take on the gigantic mountain. I initially thought it would be a straight path obviously uphill but after heaving myself up the winding path I knew this was a serpentine trail and with each turn of the path it would get  all the more difficult. I dragged my body up the path, rested a bit and then got on, the trail was never ending.

Rumbak village as seen from the mountain
Rumbak village as seen from the mountain
Near to Stok La
Near to Stok La

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was with great will power that I scaled up the mountain. My body was now numb to the pain and cold. My breathing was getting worse. I could feel my lungs yelping for more oxygen. It was the toughest climb of my life. But when I reached the top, the Stok La pass, the pain, the difficult climb was all worth it. The pass was at 15900 feet and it was very windy. We had literally climbed about 4000ft. Phew! Had a quick lunch before we headed down the valley to reach our camp. The Ladakh range now was colourful with bright orange and yellow flora. It was beautiful.

Stok La
Stok La
Base Camp after Stok La
Base Camp after Stok La

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we headed down, the valley was utterly cold. After meeting the team at the camp, we all rejoiced our strength and patience to make it to Stok La.

We started off around 9AM the next day. As we trekked across one of the mountains and reached a pass, I saw some white particles floating about. As I turned back, it was SNOWING!

On the way to Manokarma
On the way to Manokarma
The rugged mountains on the way to Manokarma
The rugged mountains on the way to Manokarma

 

 

 

 

 

 

My heart skipped a beat, it was my first snowfall experience and that too on the Greater Himalayas! I could see the mountain tops covered with snow and it was snowing right into my face. I sunk in the moment because this was one memory that would be very close to my heart forever. The wonders of nature take your breath away and all that remains is bliss and love for nature, in your heart. We made to the next pass to catch up with the entire team and rejoiced the snowfall.

My first snowfall at Greater Himalayas!
My first snowfall at Greater Himalayas!
Rejoicing the snowfall
Rejoicing the snowfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

We later trudged down the valley. The last mile took a toll on me. I was literally shivering and down with fever. I could feel my body giving away. All I wanted was warmth and the luxury of a bed and pillow.

MANOKARMA Contd….

And yes the tent was way down on us. We called out to our trek leader. And then the guide with the helpers came along and set up the tent. As we got out of the tent, the brown mountains we had seen in the evening were all covered with snow and it was the weight of the snow on our tent that had sagged it. The mountains looked splendid, each with a snow cap! The rest of the night was a struggle to keep myself warm and waited for the morning, to make up my mind on my next course of action. As I walked out of the tent, I was welcomed with the beautiful sight of snow clad mountains. It was marvellous.

The Stok Kangri Range at Manokarma
The Stok Kangri Range at Manokarma
Our tents!
Our tents!

 

 

 

 

 

We were all dejected that we could not go any further as there was a thunderstorm and as the guide pointed out, the path to Stok Kangri would be dangerous and could turn out to be fatal.

So we took an unanimous decision and  packed up and headed to Stok village. The trek back was a straight path with a few uphill trails. Before long we were at one of the mountain passes where we could see the Stok village nestled in between the mountains. On the trail we saw footprints which seemed to belong to the leopard! Well the leopards seemed to be around.

Stok Village
Stok Village

 

We were happy we were closer to civilization and as we reached the outskirts of Stok village and our camp, we rejoiced the night with sumptuous food and sung our hearts out into the night.

The entire team!
The entire team!

 

Though we could not complete our trek to Stok Kangri, we all braved enough to take the plunge. It was one of my personal toughest trek and I have learnt a lot more about life in these 5 days of the challenging trek.

Well hoping to make it again when the chance comes along and rightfully get stoked at Stok Kangri!

mountain

PC: Pinterest