Sangla Valley : Surrendering To The Himalayan Magic

Sangla Valley

Early next morning, the rays of sun unveiled the mountain peaks with scanty snow, as we started our journey to Sangla Valley. We retreated downhill from Sarahan back to NH 22 and stopped at the first dhaba we saw for hot breakfast, next to the Satluj riverbed. The early morning sun was on the opposite side of the river, leaving us shivering in the shadowy part with morning chills. We were now at around 2300 metres, and could see sharp drops below, as we drove on the roads built by thinly slicing the rocky mountains. From a distance the roads looked like thin ribbons, and unbelievable that we were actually driving past them without a boulder or a rock falling on our head. We stopped for a brief ‘soaking the sun break’ and interestingly spotted Kashmir Rock Agama (Laudakia tuberculata), basking in the sun too, and heavily camouflaged.

Village Gate Tibetan Style
Beautiful welcome gates to local villages…
Kashmir Rock Agama (Laudakia tuberculata),
Kashmir Rock Agama (Laudakia tuberculata),
Tibetan Prayer Flags
Tibetan Prayer Flags on the road
Sangla Valley Road
Winding roads like these took us to the Baspa River Valley

Without much breaks, we reached Sangla Valley just a little after noon time. The valley was dotted with autumn yellows and dried up greens, heralding the winters. We arrived at Apple Orchard Camps, and were overjoyed to see Green apple trees all round us. We were greeted with a glass of fresh apple juice and light vegetarian lunch. We then decided to take a walk by the river bed. As the tiny trail that we followed touched the banks of Baspa river, we saw piles of smashed stones, and floating dust as a dam was under construction, another disturbing site of human interference. We decided to walk away and into the forests. As we neared wilderness, we were arrested by the beauty of the white river bed and pristine Baspa flowing in turquoise blue.

green apples
There were green apples everywhere.

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Sarahan: Because travel is all about the journey…

The thrill of journeys begin when it is all dark outside and you hit the road at the brink of dawn, waiting for the celestial body to rise like a crimson ball in the sky. And so we left Chandigarh before sunrise, en route to Sangla Valley, which according to many travel bloggers was achievable … Read more

Alleppey And The Backwaters: In Brief

Alappuzha

When you think of Kerala backwaters, what you are imagining is probably Alleppey. Also known as Alappuzha, Alleppey has some of the most naturally beautiful backwaters forming hundreds of channels and waterways. The average elevation of Alleppey is only 1 metre above mean sea level. It covers an area of 1,415 square kilometres and is … Read more

A Day In Aurangabad : Bibi Ka Maqbara

With a few days off, and an itch to road trip in the rains, we decided on Aurangabad followed by Lonar. This is one stretch we hadn’t been to, and the time at hand perfectly enabled us to quickly freeze the plans and leave. Aurangabad is roughly 340 km from Mumbai (240 from Pune) and … Read more

Lonar : The Ancient Town

We completed our Lonar trip with a day spent in the town, exploring the Daitya Sudan Temple. The earlier two posts, about the Lonar Crater and the Lonar Crater Temples are also worth looking at. This ancient village/town has more to it than these two areas, and in our limited time, we tried to explore it.

Lonar is a tiny village/town in Maharashtra where, about 50,000 years ago, a giant meteor crashed into earth, creating a large circular lake of 1.4 km diameter, which has saline water. In the circumference of the lake are 10 ancient temples, perhaps from the 9th Century AD.

The Lonar MTDC Resort is the place to stay, although an old PWD Guesthouse is also available on prior notice. We recommened MTDC anytime, as here it was neat, clean and rather unoccupied.

The town has an ancient temple called ‘Daitya Sudan Mandir’. Legend has it, Lord Vishnu had killed a Daitya, Lavanasur, here. Next to the temple is a Bramha – Vishnu – Mahesh temple. The idol of Mahesh is missing and has been replaced by an idol of Garuda.

The temple of Daitya Sudan is considered a fine example of the Hemadpanthi style of architecture. The temple has three niches, each dedicated to Chamunda, Surya and Narasimha. Each niche feels like a complete temple in itself. The walls and ceilings of the temple are elaborately carved with various figurines depicting various scenes from the scriptures, scenes from everyday life and stories. Try and keep a day only for this temple.

Apart from the temple, we came across a fascinating ancient ‘step well’ from the times of the Chalukya Dynasty. Locally called the ‘Limbi Barav’, the well is in a state of dis-repair, but fenced by the Archaeological Society Of India. On each of the four walls is a niche for idols which are now missing. On the east side is a balconied pavilion. There are Saptamatrikas carved on the space inside the balcony, suggesting there must have been an idol of a goddess. These seven ‘mothers’ can be “Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narasimhi.”

 

PWD Guesthouse Lonar
The old Public Works Department Guesthouse is located favourably overlooking the Lonar Lake.

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Temples Of The Lonar Crater

Lonar Temples

Almost slipping down the steep path to the lake, we saw the first of the 10 temples inside the Lonar Crater. The dense monsoon vegetation gave way to glimpses of a gorgeous temple made of stone. We reached closer to take pictures. It’s a Shiva Temple, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is working on its restoration. These temples were built during the Chalukya Dynasty’s rule, around the 8th/9th Century AD. What did the people think of the brackish lake waters? What did they do with it? Some say it has healing powers.

I tried to keep a track of the temples with the photographs, but failed, as time erased some memories. Too much information to keep track of! But here are my text notes:

1st temple in the forest trek : Shiv Temple : 9th Century by Chalukya Dynasty
2nd temple : Rama Temple : Chalukya Dynasty in the 9th Century AD
3rd Temple was full of bats. It was a Shiva Temple also 9th Century additions by the Yadavkalin Dynasty.
4th Temple : Shiv Temple 16 positions are shown carved in rock here.
5th : Padmavati Temple : It has regular Puja happening here. The goddess inside is Swambhu.
6th Temple : Shiv temple again.
7th Temple : Shiv Temple without the Shiv Lingam
8th : Shiv Temple
9th : Daitya Guru Shukra Acharya : He found Sanjeevini in Lonar Crater and would treat Daityas. This temple was his vaidyashala.
10th : Kumareshwar Temple also by Chalukya Dynasty. This is also a Shiv Temple.

The last temple on top is Gaumukh Temple made by Hoysala Kings. Later additions were made by Nana Saheb Peshwa and Ahilyabai Holkar.

Our visit to Lonar is posted here in an earlier article.

Shiva Temple at Lonar
Shiva Temple at Lonar

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Lonar Crater : Born Out Of Alien Impact

We were in Aurangabad, and nothing much happening on the work front which required us to turn back, were tempted to visit Lonar. About 60,000 years ago (they say around the Pleistocene Epoch), a meteor is supposed to have struck this place in Buldana district of Maharashtra, created a massive crater about 6.7km in circumference and 1.2km in diameter. The impact must have created huge tremors, fires, whatnot, but it has also left a very unique lake here. Lonar crater is the only known hyper velocity impact crater in basaltic rock anywhere on earth. In 2007 biological nitrogen fixation was discovered in this lake.

The drive from Aurangabad to Lonar takes about 4 hours at a normal pace. The roads are not too good. But the journey is beautiful with agricultural fields on both sides, and apart from Jalna, not much ugly industrial landscapes.

We stayed at the MTDC Lonar (there aren’t too many options here), and were pleasantly surprised. They cooked to our tastes, and rooms were fairly good. We were also lucky to get a good guide Ramesh. We decided to go for a trek of the entire crater the next morning.

The climb down is kind of steep, but not too stressful. The walk around the Lonar crater is around 7km, starting with a moderately steep descent and then through a trail in the thick forest. Through the trail we came across a total of 10 ancient temples around the lake.

The lake waters are a rich green due to some kind of algae. The outer circumference waters have a neutral pH of 7 and the inner waters are a high alkaline or around pH11. We had read the lake forest has chinkaras and gazelles, but only found traces of wild boar, a couple of hyenas, grey langoors, fruit bats, grey hornbills, grey tits, Indian koels, alexandrine parakeets, oriental magpie robins, Indian robin, black winged stilts, red wattled lapwings, collared doves, peafowl, and heard grey fantails, and perhaps a few other birds I am missing out. We had visited in August, so everything was fresh and green, and the weather cool and breezy.

So this is Part One of our Lonar visit, which covers the lake. Part Two will cover the temples around the lake and Part Three, the other temples in the city.

Lonar
The drive to Lonar from Aurangabad is beautiful and we fell in love with this gorgeous evening light.
Lonar Crater
Our first glimpse of the lake was in the dark, but with just enough light to get a shot.

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The Beautiful Wilderness Of Wayanad

Often, when you are reaching the tipping point at work, all that you want to do is to go somewhere you can relax and do nothing. Our recent stay at Wayanad was one such ‘do nothing’ type trips.

After a few months of stressful long hours of work, we decided to take off and wanted to be amidst dense greenery. Wayanad was decided upon and we selected Grass Roots for the stay. They have extremely comfortable camps near huge tea gardens, and it all was too inviting to search further.

We drove to Wayanad from Bangalore and took a route driving past the Kabini Reservoir and through the Bandipur forest road. The drive itself is gorgeous, with enough stopovers for great food (the Kamat’s Lokaruchi on Mysore Highway is great for breakfast). If you avoid a weekend, you can avoid the heavy traffic on this road. The journey next to the Kabini Reservoir and through the forest is beautiful with enough sightings possible in the forest road. We spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela), Common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius), Bonnet Macaques (Macaca radiata), Malabar giant squirrels, (Ratufa indica) amongst many other birds and small mammals. People have spotted tigers, leopards and elephants here.

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Kumbhalgarh : A World Heritage Fort

The Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan hold many a treasure, and Kumbhalgarh Fort is one such prominent gem. Built during the 15th Century by Rana Kumbha, it is the birthplace of Maharana Pratap Singh. It is now a World Heritage Site. It also has an over 32 km long wall, making it perhaps the world’s second longest wall (after the Great Wall Of China).

During one of our Rajasthan road trips we had stopped by Kumbhalgarh to have a quick look and meet a friend. We wanted to try the Walk The Wall Challenge but couldn’t because of lack of time. The fort is surrounded by the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. With wild life including wolfs, leopards, sloth bears, hyenas, jackals, jungle cats, sambhars, nilgais, chausinghas (the four horned antelope), chinkaras and hares, we really wanted to spend more time here, but perhaps on the next trip.

Built at an altitute of 1100 metres above sea level, Kumbhalgarh Fort is very pleasant and breezy at the top. It’s some 82 km from Udaipur. Like most of Rajasthan, the best time to visit is winters, staring around late October till about March. The Rajasthan Tourism Department runs an Annual Kumbhalgarh Festival in the month of March. A search will reveal plenty of stay options.

 

Kumbhalgarh Fort
There is centuries of history at this place and one can only sit and wonder what all must have transpired here.

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Walking Through London

London! Perhaps our favourite city. We had the opportunity to be in this immensely inspiring city sometime last year, and these are just some photos from the trip. We didn’t have the time to travel around though.

We stayed at Cartwright Gardens, in a studio apartment booked by Studios2let. It was close to our place of work, plus in the middle of everything, and we had a great time. The room was tiny, but thats normal in an expensive city like London. The only unfortunate thing was their check-in time being 2pm. Flights from India land early morning London time, and you just have to figure out something to do until you get your room.

 

The lovely Cartwright Gardens in London
The lovely Cartwright Gardens in London
DSCF1685
It was a cold grey January, but we loved walking the streets around Cartwright Gardens.

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