Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ladakh – The Desert in the Skies

The highest inhabited land in the world, Ladakh, the Land of High Passes is a dream destination for any tourist. Located at an altitude of over 10,000 ft, Ladakh boasts unparalleled beauty that allures any traveler. Ladakh is a landscape of the extreme; A land where the sand dunes meets the glaciers, a place where the scorching sun burns you and the cold winds freezes you, where the snow falls and sandstorms swirl around you. The isolated barren wilderness of this place with the snow-capped Himalayas mountains in the backdrop, bright blue water lakes, ever-changing sand dunes and the omnipresent cool breeze reminds you that you are on the “Roof of the World”.

Ladakhi Landscape

Ladakhi Landscape

It was a dream come true for us when the Air India flight landed in Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, after a short 25 minute flight over the majestic Himalayas, from Srinagar. The drastic change in the landscape reminded us that Ladakh is indeed a place like no other. The month of May is ideal to visit Ladakh as the weather is calm and the temperature lies mostly in the positive region. The high altitude and sparse vegetation at Ladakh means, less oxygen to breath. The oxygen and the atmospheric pressure level in Ladakh is only about 65% as in the sea level. Since we arrived by air, we were asked to take rest for a day to acclimatize before venturing to explore the grandeur of Leh. The acclimatization period can be avoided if you arrive Leh by road. Our hosts, Project Himank of the Indian Army, was very generous and provided us with cozy 2 bedroom guest house and our food. The effect of altitude transcended on us in the form of headaches and the arid terrain caused our skin to dry up. It can also cause nausea and breathing difficulties in some tourists.

Aerial View of Himalayas

LEH

Our driver cum guide was a young Ladakhi by the name Rigzin and he drove us around for the duration of our stay in Leh. Though Indian constitution grants unrestricted access across India , a tourist to Leh has to obtain a permit from the District Magistrate to stay in Leh. We started off with the Army Hall of Fame that meticulously portrayed the acts of valor of the brave and patriotic sons of India, during various wars since independence. Like all Buddhist locations, Leh also flaunts a Shanti Stupa located atop a hill. The wind up there is so strong that it nearly blew away our shawls and mufflers. The Buddhist monasteries in Leh are constructed in the Tibetan architecture and are flamboyant. We visited the Hemis monastery and the Thiksey Monastery the next day and the mural paintings are absolutely beautiful. Built on the hill slope, these monasteries offer a splendid view of the Ladakh valley. The Leh Palace and the Stok Palace are fine examples of the Ladakhi Royalty. The 9 storey Leh Palace located right above the city of Leh was the tallest building when it was built in the early 19th century. One interesting observation about the Palace is that, the doors are too short and I’d say, “Watch your head”, even if you are just 5 ft tall. The royal ornaments are made from beautifully polished colorful semi-precious stones, and they are really heavy. Our visit to a Heritage house depicted the life of the natives. Once the winter kicks in, they lock themselves up in their houses for about 4 months surviving on the resource stock they collected during the summer. The Ladakhi people are very peaceful, friendly and humble. The Tibetan Tea (also called as butter tea) is a must try item in Ladakh and its made with black tea and butter. And its salty too. The homemade Ladakhi beer is worth a shot too.

A Ladakhi House

Leh Palace

Thiksey Monastery

Thiksey Monastery

Once we were satisfied with our trips around Leh city, we decided to set out to Nubra Valley which is about 200 km from Leh. The most remarkable feature of this journey was that it passes through the highest road on the planet – Khardungla Pass which is located at an altitude of 18,380 ft (5,600 m). This is the highest point on earth that you can reach if you are not a mountaineer. And a brewing tea from the world’s highest tea shop, was refreshing. The twists and turns and the upward with the snow by your side, the hairpin bends bordered with freshly formed snow gave us an outlandish experience. And the long icicles formed by melting ice lets you play with ice crest swords. The roads, built by Project Himank of Indian Army, is in itself an engineering marvel. And to top it all, the taunting and thought-provoking road signs made this trip memorable (Impatient on road, Patient in Hospital). The terrain changes considerably after every mile and from snow, we passed by the desert, deep gorges, meandering rivers and seasonal waterfalls. We decided to spend the night at Diskit, a small village near Nubra Valley. In Nubra Valley, the sand dunes surrounded by snow-capped peaks mesmerized us. Now, what is a desert without a camel. Nubra valley and the Tibetan plateau is the home of the two-humped Bactrian camel and a trip to Nubra will be incomplete without a ride on these marvelous animals. We were also able to experience a mild sandstorm in Nubra. The vast expanse untouched terrain, wild yaks and horses grazing on the sparse vegetation, the shepherd with his flock of Pashmina goats are welcome sights around Ladakh. The hot springs and the rocky brooks add to the charm of Ladakh.

Wild Yaks

Welcome to Khartungla Pass

Khartungla Pass

Road to Khartungla Pass

Desert in Nubra Valley

Our last trip in Ladakh was to the famous Pangong Lake, regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes on earth. You’ll remember seeing this place, if I tell you that, Pangong lake is the location of the last scene in the movie 3 idiots. Yeah, the Phenshuk Wangdu one. The road was similar to the Nubra valley journey, but the difference this time was that the roads were covered with snow. The Xylo had to put chains around its tyres to negotiate through the slippery snow and the mild snow fall took the temperature below -6oC. The road passed through the Chang La pass (17,586 ft or 5,360 m) which is the world’s 3rd highest pass. It also provided us with a glimpse of the Ladakhi wildlife, with the Marmot’s, a cute furry animal, happily munching the biscuits we gave. The Pangong lake was unlike any other lake I’ve ever seen. Different hues of blue and the fleet of birds amplified the beauty of this magnificent lake. Located at an altitude of 14,270 ft (4,350 m), the brackish water Pangong lake extends to China.

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake

Words cannot describe what Ladakh has to offer. One has to experience it. I have tried my best to describe the enchanting and enticing beauty of Ladakh, but I cannot find sufficient adjectives to describe this magical land.

Marmots

Road to Nubra Valley

Ladakhi Women

Did you know, Ladakh landscape holds the most resemblance to the Lunar landscape than any other location on Earth? If you have not visited Ladakh, then you have not done justice to yourself as a traveler. Pack your bags – Ladakh is calling!

End of Ladakh Series!!

PS : This article was published in Siblink, the corporate magazine of South Indian Bank in the 1st edition of 2013.

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Khajuraho – Sensual and Sublime

As brilliant illustration of Hindu iconography, Khajuraho flaunts a cornucopia of enormous, gracious and fascinating images lavishly Western Templeschiselled to the temple interior and the exterior.Built by the Chandela kings,Khajuraho temples are one of most visited monument in India and is a unique example of Indo-Aryan architecture and is known all over the world for its temple architecture and exquisite sculptures. The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho is an interesting enigma forming a juxtaposition of religion and sex, intricately carved on to the stone edifices.

This trip of mine, unlike previous trips from IIT Kanpur, had only 2 guys. We set out on the day before the 63rd Republic Day of India and caught a 7 hour ride in a passenger train to Khajuraho. Though it was hardly 240 km from Kanpur, the train took ages as it halted every 10 mins (Well, that’s how passengers trains run in north!) It was 11 pm when we arrived at Khajuraho, the last stop of the train and trust me, there wasn’t even a full dozen people in the 11 coach train. Luckily, we made a friendGorges at Raneh Falls in Sandeep Chaurasia, during the journey and if it weren’t for his help, we’d have had to spend the night in the platform. With his brother’s influence he got us a good room in a hotel.

26th Jan, Republic Day of India

As we decided that we’d visit 2 waterfalls near Khajuraho and then explore the temples, we negotiated a deal with an auto-rickshaw driver. taking his advice we decided to drop Pandav Falls as it was over 35km away and it had no water. So our 1st destination was the Raneh falls. 18 km of narrow village road through beautiful fields took us to the Raneh Falls which lies within the Panna Wildlife Reserve. But, unfortunately for us, there was no water in the falls. But on the positive side, it offered us a breathtaking view of the volcanic rock formations that constituted the river The Ken Rivergorge. It was something I’ve never seen before. It was an absolutely stunning view of rocks that were formed due to eruptions of volcano that took place millions of years ago. After savouring the natures bounty, me and Vivek set out to the Gharial (Crocodile) View point. The 3 km trip through the dusty forest road offered us great views of Nilgai and lemurs. The trained eyes of the compulsory guide at Raneh spotted 2 sunbathing crocodiles camouflaged on the opposite bank.  After taking a row-boat ride in this beautiful Ken river, decided to return back to Khajuraho.

After lunch, our auto driver took us to the temples. The temples are located at 3 different places and are named East, South and West. We started out with the Southern group of Temples and it consists of smaller temples. Though small, they are adorned with beautiful sculptures. After the Southern group, we set out to the Eastern group of temples. The major difference here is that, most these temples are Jain temples unlikeEastern Group the rest which are Hindu temples. There are a number of temples that are close by and they look identical except for the main temple, which is decorated with great sculptures. It requires great familiarity to distinguish these temples are they looked identical.

We had reserved the best for the last. The Western Group of Temples form the largest set of temples in Khajuraho. They constitutes some of the most splendid and architecturally marvellous specimen of temple architecture in India. The group includes magnificent temples like Kandariya Mahadeo Temple, Chaunsat Yogini Temple, Chitragupta Temple, Lakshamana Temple, Matangeswara Temple, and Jain TempleVaraha Temple. The temples and the complexes are well maintained and the gardens surrounding the temples offer a picturesque view of this wonder of Indian craftmanship. The profusion of sculptures in Khajuraho elevates the sanctity and sacredness of the complex. Well, I too wondered how these sculptures considered as apogee of erotic art, could adorn the walls of a Hindu Temple. Here’s the answer. One theory is that, like soul is immune garishness of flesh, the deity is immune to the sculptures on the outer wall. It symbolises that our senses should be directed inwards towards the God. Another probable reason is to test the sincerity and Western Templesconcentration of the devotees as one could reach the sanctum only after controlling the senses. It sure is one heck of a test.

Whatever be the true reason behind it, the master sculptures of these temples have painstaking created the sculptures to a life-like detail. These amazing temples are a sight to behold. After sunset, we took a ticket for the English light and sound show. Frankly, it wasn’t that great and we shivered in the cold breeze. But it did tell us the story behind these temple in great detail. So, I won’t say that The Sculpturesthe show is a must see.

After dinner, we went back to the room and took a good night sleep. The next morning we caught a train to Mahoba and from there we took a bus back to Kanpur.  Since you and I have no enmity between us, lemme warn you – Never take a bus in that road. The roads had ‘trenches’ in them. The dust and the condition of the bus made matters worse. 150 kms took close to 6 hours to cover and by the time I was back in Kanpur, my spine was like a spring.

Nonetheless, it was a great trip. I really wish to thank Vivek for joining me in this trip and acknowledge the help rendered by Sandeep Chaurasia. This concludes the trip to Khajuraho and the total expense was about Rs.2000 ($37). Well, as usual, lemme conclude with a photo of the team. That’s Vivek and me taking a boat ride in Ken river.

The Duo

P.S : End of Post (Standalone Series)

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Bagdogra – Along the Borders (Photo Journal)

This is a new experiment from my part. These post are mainly for photographs that tells the story of the place.  So for all those people bored with my travel stories, this is for you. And these pics are not to showcase my photography skills. They are just an illustration of the magnificence or modesty of the location. Okay, truth be told, these trips happened a few years back. And trust me, I don’t have the memory of a computer to remember most details of the journey. But there are indeed a few memorable instances. So here, I would like portray my older journeys on the canvas.

Bagdogra – It is a small village in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. For travellers to Darjeeling or Sikkim, Bagdogra holds the nearest airport. From tourism point of view, Bagdogra has nothing but the airport. I too landed in Bagdogra for my Sikkim – Darjeeling visit, but something about Bagdogra caught my eye – its proximity to 3 national borders. This is my trip to explore the Indian borders to Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. (May, 2008)

Coronation Bridge

The Coronation bridge is on NH 31 and was constructed by the British over the river Teesta.  It is an impressive feat of engineering.

Gateway to Bhutan

This is the gateway to Bhutan. The indian side is known as Jaigaon and the Bhutan side is Phuentsholing. There is a drastic difference in culture and styles, the moment you cross the gate and the sitting-guy in the middle of the pic, actually washes the wheels of your car as you stop at the border. That’s the cleanliness in Bhutan.

Welcome to Bhutan

A Welcome board

India seen from Bhutan

Jaigaon seen from Bhutan. The river Torsa can also be seen.

Bangladesh Border

This is the Indo – Bangladesh border. Yes, it looks unostentatious and even Indians require a passport to cross it.

Indo - Nepal Border (Indian Side)

This is the Indo – Nepal border at Kakkarvitta. This pic was taken from the indian side and the pic below from inside Nepal.

Indo Nepal Border (Nepal side)

I took a road trip around these borders and they are very close from Bagdogra. The farthest is Bhutan border which is about 150 km and the closest is Nepal border at Kakkarvitta. Indian citizens need no Passport for Nepal, Bhutan. In Bhutan, however, Indians require a permit. Bangladesh cannot be reached without a Passport.

NaxalbariThis is the birth place of Naxalism – Naxalbari. It lies in the route to Kakkarvitta.

A small village in Bagdogra

This is a small village in Bagdogra. These people toil all their lives in the tea plantations of landlords, adjoining the village and it continues through generations.

This concludes my photo journal on Bagdogra. A seemingly trivial village that holds the key to the gates of 3 nations.

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