Kaza : Key, Kibber and Langza

In the end of October 2016, we had driven down to Spiti Valley from Mumbai. We went through Jaipur – Chandigarh – Sarahan – Sangla – Nako and finally we reached Kaza. Most of the Spiti Valley is a high altitude cold desert, and as such water is scarce and so is the vegetation. And in … Read more

Sangla to Nako To Kaza: The Roadtrip Continues

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Recap: We undertook this monumental road trip from Mumbai towards Spiti Valley at the end of October, 2016. Stops included Udaipur, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Sarahan and Sangla.

Our hosts at Sangla told us it was possible to reach Kaza the same day. So onward we left and wanted to halt for breakfast around Kalpa. But around breakfast time, I was stuck with a bout of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Nausea took over and I had to give up the driving seat. The sickness made me lose my appetite but we managed to get some khichdi, some of which I ate and mostly we packed for the onward journey.

But soon we realised that mountain roads aren’t to be taken lightly. From Pooh the road was just a gravel trail, winding around the mountains. My AMS got worse, and to add to it all, we got stuck at a major land slide. For over two and a half hours, we had to wait it out while earth moving equiopment from BRO (Border Roads Organisation) cleared the roads ahead. While we waited, the strong cool breeze blew stones at the car. It’s apprently quite common here, flying stones. The packed khichdi came in handy as we were stuck around lunch time and all were starving. Finally when the road was cleared, it was getting late. The entire stretch of road ahead was nothing but gravel which slowed us down considerably.

It was getting dark so we decided to noit move towards Kaza but halt at Nako, with the hope of staying over at Knaygoh Kinner Camps. We drove into the town at dark (must be around 7 pm) and asked a shopkeeper directions towards the Knaygoh Camps. A kind looking gentleman standing there asked us if we had a booking. We said no, and he nodded his head saying the camps have been shut for winters, and he owns the camps! He told us we shouldn’t have come at this time of the year, and especially without bookings in place!

Important lesson : In the mountains we had mistakenly hoped we could cover plain level distances in one day. We realised it was hopeless to try and cover Sangla to Kaza in one day. We had advance bookings for hotel stay in Kaza but not in Nako.

Shanta Kumar Negi of Knaygoh Kinner Camps kindly helped us look for alternative accommodation, which we found very unsuitable. It was a truckers’ lodge and honestly, looked very very run down. We have stayed at extremely modest places but this was too much. Meanwhile it was getting colder with a biting breeze blowing. After about an hour of talking, discussing, we managed to get one room only (for all five of us) in a guest house’s semi-basement. It looked good enough and we jumped on it, tired and hungry.

Since we had come off-season, there were no restaurants serving dinner. Everything was shut. The guest house kitchen was taken over by a very large and very loud family who were hell bent on cooking something exotic and time consuming for themselves on the kitchen’s lone stove. We managed to convince the over worked cook at the tiny restaurant in the truckers’ lodge to cook something simple for us. And he did, some delicious thukpa and noodles.

The night four of us shared one double bed while I, still sick with AMS, took a tiny cot on the side. It was tough, but fun!

The morning was sunny but cold. We woke up to see the guest house packing it’s gas stove. End of season.We chatted with another couple on a bike trip from Dharamshala, and told us how they slipped on the ice sheet near Nako Lake. I was too AMSd out to try the walk till the lake.

The truckers’ lodge cook made us simple dal, parathas and eggs. Remembering the last day’s land slide, we packed enough parathas for the road ahead. Shanta told us we could read Kaza the same day but should still keep a backup in Tabo. So off we left at around 9am.

The road head was generally fine but deteriorated near Sumdoh. We slowed down again. At around 2pm wew reached Tabo, only to realise everything was shut there as well. We wouldn’t find food too. The home stay that Shanta had suggested in Tabo had it’s water freeze in the pipes so it was shut too. We had no choice but to move ahead towards Kaza. It was already around 2:30, Kaza a good 50 km away. It would be a breeze if the roads were good, but not being sure, we left quickly, only to take a brief stop for our packed parathas by the Spiti River.

On the way towards Kaza, we passed Dhankar, and could see the lovely monastery on the hill. Tomorrow, we told ourselves, and drove on. We reached Kaza by around 6pm.

Sangla valley Road Skoda Yeti
Parts of the journey had pretty good roads.
Sangla valley
That road down there goes right next to the Spiti River.
Spiti Valley Village
Passing through pretty villages like this one, with trees that have turned yellow for the winters.
Nako, Himachal Pradesh.
This is Nako. A high altitude arid region. Please be respectful of the resources here.
Nako, Himachal Pradesh
The hills have been stepped for cultivation in the short summer months.

Read more

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.

Read more

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

Mumbai to Spiti Valley : A 5500 km Roadtrip

A close couple came with the idea of travelling somewhere with 9 days of leave that were possible on a particular week at the end of October, 2016. We tossed out a couple of ideas, and froze on Spiti Valley. It would be just perfect, very cold, but not snowed shut. They would be able to … Read more

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.

Read more

Grass Roots Wayanad : A Stay Amidst The Jungles

Our whirlwind Wayanad trip was very pleasurably spent at the wonderful Grass Roots Camp at Koilery. Run by Ravi and Rachel, coffee planters, Grass Roots is set inside a small coffee, areca nut and pepper plantation and  has extremely comfortable tents with large luxurious bath rooms attached. The meals are fresh, and prepared with much love.  You can book a stay at Grass Roots from here.

Though the tents overlook old tea estates, and there are plenty of walks around, spending a lazy day in your tent is very rewarding. We spent half a day bird watching and managed to photograph so many.

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Not sure but looks like a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae)

Read more

Road Trip Through Rajasthan : 6400 km

Great road trips are made of these. Delicious road side food, beautiful country side roads and pleasant surprises through out. And in Rajasthan, thankfully, we had plenty of all that during our long work-related stay. We drove from Mumbai and went to Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Alwar, Sariska, Mount Abu, Delhi, Sili Serh, and many of these places many times. We wanted to come back via Madhya Pradesh so went from Mount Abu to Chittorgarh and then via Mandsaur and Ratlam to Mumbai.

We learnt that the Milk Cake of Alwar is the best in the Universe. We learnt that Mount Abu is a fantastic place to re-visit and that the Pyaz Ki Kachori with Jalebi and Lassi is the best breakfast ever. We learnt that the Poha in Madhya Pradesh is divine. We learnt about ancient Buddhist Stupa near Virat Nagar, Rajasthan this town once being the capital of the Mahajanapada Kingdom.

– Rajasthan is awesome to drive in, and most roads are in good condition, the drives are scenic and beautiful.
– The drive from Jaipur to Delhi is terrible with lots of traffic, trucks and delays. Unless you start like at 5 am. Also, avoid this route after dark, it’s not very safe. There have been instances of robbing.
– NH8 from Mumbai to Udaipur is a superb well built road, but the stretch in Gujarat is boring and full of factories and trucks on either side. On our way back, we came via Madhya Pradesh.
– Madhya Pradesh roads generally were in bad condition and too much traffic and many small towns on the way.
– Highway food is generally decent throughout.
– The roads became better when we entered Maharashtra, but full of speed breakers around Nashik. Be careful.
– It becomes difficult to find good food on the highways once you enter Maharashtra.

We learnt we should do this more often and take notes 🙂

Highway Dhaba, Rajasthan
This dhaba between Udaipur and jaipur had great food to offer, and a lovely walk behind it, to a wetland body full of birds.
Riverside, Rajasthan.
A walk behind the dhaba revealed this river side.
Acacia nilotica
And next to the river, this awesome walk, with Kikar (Acacia nilotica) Trees in full yellow bloom.

Read more

Sambhar Lake And Salt Pans: Birding Heaven

During a train journey from Jaipur to Jodhpur, we were pleasantly surprised to see vast vistas of shallow salt plains with what looked like Flamingos in the far distance. A quick check on the route revealed we were crossing the Sambhar Lake. Located some 90km South West of Jaipur, it’s India’s largest inland salt lake. … Read more

Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa

Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa’s 2nd largest sanctuary, can be reached on NH17, and is very close to Talpona beach and the town of Canacona. We had reached this sanctuary while on our epic Mumbai – Goa – Kannur – Coonoor road trip.

The dense moist deciduous and in parts evergreen forests of Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary have many a rare plant. If you are lucky you can perhaps spot Gaur, Leopards or Wild Boars. From Wikipedia : “Animals in the sanctuary include the flying squirrel, slender loris, Indian pangolin, mouse deer, four-horned antelope, Malabar pit viper, hump-nosed pit viper, white-bellied woodpecker, Malabar trogon, velvet-fronted nuthatch, heart-spotted woodpecker, speckled piculet, Malayan bittern, draco or flying lizard, golden-back gliding snake, and Malabar tree toad”

We didn’t see any animals and very few birds, but the forest itself is gorgeous. Some of the trees grow to over 30 metres tall.

 

Cotigao Forest Main Gate
The entry of the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary informs visitors about protection offered to our wildlife.

cotigao_panorama
A panorama of the gorgeous forest.

Read more

Dhodap Fort : Gorgeous Hills Away From The Crowd

Many a time one wants to get away from the maddening crowds of the city, to reach somewhere serene. Such places are increasingly difficult to find, and we found one by happenstance. About 50km away from Nashik, towards Dhule, there are these beautiful hills which have the Chaturshringi Temple and the Dhodap Fort. This fort, at 1472 meters above sea level, is the second highest hill fort in Maharashtra. We drove till the base village of Dhodambe, and then a tiny hamlet of Kanherwadi  from where a trek takes you to the fort. We didn’t go for the trek, but spent some time in the hamlet and taking walks in the breezy meadows around the hills.

Full of lush old forests, the hills are a treat. I was sad at not having carried my binoculars and long lenses for birding.

We hope these beautiful landscapes remain unspoilt and untouched, for all future generations to enjoy and recharge in.

DSCF4115
In the village of Kanherwadi.

Read more

Discovering The Joy Of Indian Summers

Much is said about the Indian summer, about its scorching heat and humidity. About avoiding them for certain travel destinations. However, summers in India have their own charm. The skies are a rich blue against a golden yellow landscape. In much of India, these two colours dominate, highlighted only with a flaming-red flourish of the … Read more