Sunday, March 29, 2009

On Vivekananda's Kumaon Trail Spring 2002

Pilibhit Junction to Tanakpur was a 50 km. Metre Gauge Rail journey through the Terai Forests. After the overnite stay at Lucknow. From Tanakpur, we 3 hit the 110 km road to Mayavati Ramkrishna Advaita Ashram.

This is the same route that Swami Vivekananda used to traverse
by foot. Above pic shows the Terai Jungles with Sal, Palash, eucalyptus trees near Tanakpur. Elephants frequently come across these jungle stretches onto the roads.And the obligatory leopards,kraits,cobras,hyenas and geckos at night. Extremely well-preserved ecology. One can see the blue outlines of the beckoning Kumaon foot hills.

Next pic shows me and Dipankar chilling out at about 2000 feet with the Sarda or Kali Ganga River Valley in the background. Other side of the river is Nepal, and below is the Terai Region surrounding Tanakpur. March time..and the biodiversity change was amazing. It was relatively dense forest. We could smell the fresh mountain air.

Stopped at Shyamlatal Vivekananda Ashram. 5000 feet. This used to be a historic stop for Swamiji. In the photo - On the left are some banana (we were surprised), middle - some poplars or firs(?), and on the right an old banyan tree(surprise).

Near Shyamlatal Lake are the authentic ruins of some original Panch Pandava resort. Thank God I came to know of this after the 2002 visit. Nahole Saikat 'ke oikhanei fele rekhe korto ;-)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kashmir Himalayas 1983..part 3

Baramulla to the LOC.

It was a rare trip in 1983..made possible thanks to Dollypishi and Uncle.

After the necessary permits were taken, we had to start early. During those times..there were far greater restrictions..and certain areas were "classified" could not be taken.

Of course, I abided by it.

We followed the left bank of the Jhelum..the whirling, the roaring and the turbulence increased with each mile.  The military "jonga" expertly travelled along until we came to Rampurhut..where there was a hanging bridge..

The 1st pic , taken from the hanging bridge, shows the turbulence. I could feel the spray.

The second pic shows the mountains reaching up..we could see some snow peaks. The Colonel reminded us.."LOC matlab snow peaks ka summit"..

After Uri, photography was forbidden..and of course, I didn't take any. Then there came a stretch , after Kaman Post..when the other side of the roaring Jhelum was POK.  

The army people at the LOC greeted us and we had one of the best times of our lives.  According to U.N. regulations, there were limitations to troop size.  Our side contained a handful of jawans. The spirit was really upbeat.  We had tea , and the Colonel showed us around.

Went down to the bunkers. The LMG pointed across the Jhelum.  What was astounding was the spirit..even underground. Above the bunker, we strolled down the dense foliage to the closed road (then)..and a sign read - Muzaffarabad * kms. 

We peered thru' the army telescope..and a Pakistani soldier waved a packet of cigarettes at us.  The jawans joked they sometimes shouted pleasantries at each other. 

The third photo I took on the way back, a few kms from shows the white foam of the roaring Jhelum.  The Colonel and the jawan (one of the best drivers I've ever encountered), together with Bunty, my parents and Dollypishi.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kashmir Himalayas 1983 ...part 2

I had a pleasant time sometimes strolling into the countryside with my box camera..taking photos..2 pics are of Kashmiri kids near the Baramulla-Srinagar road, in one the kids in the foreground, me behind
them, and the "mullah" on the road (with whom I had some philosophical discussions) can see the poplars by the road..
The 3rd pic is from the other side of the Jhelum, which was the Old Baramullah Town, and one can see the Jhelum and the hillocks in the background, as also the Baramulla - Ramban - Uri - LOC - Muzaffarabad
road running parallel to the Jhelum..

Uncle (Colonel Saab), Dollypishi and the 3 of us had the best of our times..catching up on ole' times..Mussoorie ka gup-shup..step outside our log cabin..just a few meters away was the was just a faint gurgling river

Anyway, let me describe Baramulla..there was the New Town, Jhelum ka is paar..where we were in the Military Cantonment. The discipline of the jawans and their C.O. were beyond compare..they were also very
helpful..The jawans as well as the highest ranking officers had a hard time over was so far away from home..
We, the tourists, had a nice time strolling along the banks of the Jhelum, within the roads and by-lanes of Baramulla..Aah, the bylanes of Baramulla..the apple orchards..crossing the 2 bridges,from one of
which one could see the transformation of the river..On the other side of the Jhelum was the Old Town of Baramulla..

Now let me describe the Kashmiris. They are one of the most soft-spoken people I've ever met..they also talk very mildly. And the spoken language carries a hint of rhythm..the average Kashmiri was very friendly..the Kashmiris of Baramulla were quite different from the tourism-dependent urban people of Srinagar. They were far more simple, honest, hard-working and devout people. They were extremely eager to point out the nearby tourist spots of interest, as also the different folklores..

Folklores about the Yeti-like Apeman..I've forgotten the Kashmiri name ..who lived further downstream the Jhelum..inhabiting the higher reaches of the mountains..He liked goats mainly..
Q: "sometimes humans,maybe ? " ...this was the point of disagreement between the Kashmiri village

Uncle's batman Abdullah became my local friend and guide..his "gustaab" or "gustafa" as also some other stuff was one of the best pieces of cuisine I've ever tasted in my life..Abdullah told me many stories of how he esacaped from a Pakistan Prisoner of War camp..he also showed me his bullet wound in his leg..he was one of the simplest person on earth I've ever met..

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Kashmir Himalayas 1983...part 1

I was armed only with a box camera, or rather a pin-hole camera..this + time resulting in the poor pic quality...this was after the end of my Class 11 Annuals.
Amritsar was a temp was the height of militancy.
The pic above shows the Golden Temple, we all wearing the customary scarves..what struck me was the cleanliness. Most of all was stunned by the friendliness of the devotees..and "nihangs". We were probably the only non-Sikhs inside the Temple..
A round of the Library..the paintings..then Jalianwala Bagh..
The night train to Jammu..the bus trip from Jammu to Srinagar was heavenly..It rained very, very heavily...and as we descended from Patni Top to the Chenab Valley...via Ramban, Batote..remmeber the names, because we had to take 2 hour lunch break there..such was the blinding rain...the Chenab was in spate...
Srinagar was our night halt...
Next day, we were off to our destination - Baramulla. It is situated halfway between Srinagar to Uri (LOC).
Baramulla is rarely visited by tourists nowadays.
The Srinagar - Baramulla road was lined with poplar or some other was heavenly.. Uncle and Pishi invited us into the log cabin, one of the best accomodations I've ever had..We all stayed by the banks of the Jhelum !
Aaah..the scent of wood..and the sometimes gurgling sound of the Jhelum..the apple orchards..the hillocks on the opposite side of the Jhelum..the hillocks on our side climbing up to the very rare Baramulla-Gulmarg road.

Astounding way was how the Jhelum was transformed within Baramulla itself..from a placid river to the starting of a turbulent, roaring , tumultous wave of water...rushing towards the LOC.
2 pics of the Jhelum...pic 1 is relatively placid..pic 2 is from the turbulence in the water begins to pick up, as it is the western limit of the Vale of Kashmir..and the mountains begin again, Baramulla upto Uri..upto the LOC...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Magical Mystery Falls trek...part 6

One can click on the pic to get a better idea of the swaying ferns (there are even a few Tree Ferns which I missed last time) providing a canopy over the Cave...there are myriad such caves alongside the gorge cut through by the stream.

But this cave is something special....for on one trip way back...peeking into the shadows...was an unmistakable silhouette of a medium sized animal....ears too sharp. Half-closed eyes...slightly twinkling...then they closed again. Had to be a wolf.

It was a wolf having its afternoon siesta after a little fiesta. But wolves never attack humans, not even in a pride...

Besides the mosses and the ferns....the dried fallen leaves , mainly from the oaks, form a thick layer...sometimes 2 in beetles and other interesting creatures minding their own business...

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Magical Mystery Falls Trek...part 5

Down at the gorge.....the sunshine is DIFFUSED.....and that's the magical spell that seems to be cast. April 2004 noticed a new spring...a triplet of streams, cascading down the cliffside of the Hills of the Pixies. The pic above shows the triplet springs.
Just CLICK on the pics for the better resolution..
The biodiversity is amazing. The butterflies and the bees created a magical aura to the place.

The "bicchus", the occasional gooseberries, a few "kingores"....

And, of front of me...the Sadhubaba's Cave.... went up the stairs. Spent some time. It was the ideal place for meditation for the SadhuBaba....who some say attained "moksha" over here...his disappearance was a mystery. Skeptics say it might have been one of the Big Cats, but who could explain the mysterious ashes.....

I have my own theory about those pixies, though....

Followed the stream....the pebbles, gravelly stream bed were the same......the water flow had weakened. Sad... Anyway, the ledge to the upper right hand side to the right of the waterfalls was "the ledge".....perhaps a wolf, or perhaps something larger....but when bathing underneath the Falls....I had noticed the smell quite often.

The hanging twigs by the waterfalls had a permanent to and fro in tandem with the water's flow.....sitting on a rock, one falls into a hypnotic trance with the sound of the gurgling water moving past......

I have this "adventurous plan" : camping whole night at the base of the this very place. Of course, at least 4-5 people should be there.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Magical Mystery Falls Trek ... part 3

So....the plateau in itself is a wonderful spot where you can take in the fresh mountain breeze... watch the dense foliage of Pari Tibba in front....the myriad chirping of the hill mynahs and the chuck chuck of the wood peckers.....

The pic above shows a foxy grape ("kingore") to my right...light green in color. The grapes are dark purple in color, and real sour. I guess the foxes like 'em that way. But then, the gorge descending down does contain a few remnant of the pack of wolves.

Anyway, now that one has got to descend down to the gorge of the Magical Mystery Falls.... faces a dilemma....horns of a dilemma...for at the plateau, the road steep down left, the other to the right.

Which one to take...well, if it's a a newcomer's (mis)fortune to meet some really well-meaning mountain folk, they'll say.."Well, both lead to the Falls..." And they are right, for both do...
But the one to the left is rather steep, and about a kilometre longer, but the view is far better....for it passes through wonderful shrub country.....last time, I ventured a little down via the left "pakdandi".....

for I had to reach the exact spot the pic below, where...colonel wyatt's younger son met a tragic end at the hands of a tiger, the story which I'll tell later in some other posting....

That was way back...when tigers did sometimes venture out up into the mountains from the denser search of prey. This particular tiger had turned into a man-eater...probably tired of hunting deer....probably taking it a bit too easy under the influence of the Hill of the Pixies...for tigers rarely hunt man in the Himalayas. Anyway, that's a diff'rent story. This gorge , at about 5500 feet , harbours a stream, that springs its way forward to about 2000 feet into the Doon Valley where the Terai starts....there is still quite an unbroken strip of forest.

Alas, there are no tigers to be found here nowadays...perhaps a harmless leopard that'll slink away into the undergrowth if one happens to be in its way sometime in the late evening. In the pic, one can see the upper gorge leading to the Woodstock streams....

But I took the right path....the easier one. As it was springtime, the bees were keeping busy, as were numerous other insects/ butterflies...for one finds spotted butterflies of the most unimaginable colors in this valley.

The bees never sting.....they are too busy with their work.

The climb down is about a 1000 feet.....

and this pic shows the end of the trail leading to the stream...

On both sides, especially to right are kalijhora bushes.....we used to call them "pahari palak" or by some other name....but they grow profusely.
Surinderji told me the locusts brought the seedlings long back from the Kumaons...and now they've colonized the mountains...these have small white flowers in springtime

Wonderful thing about this gorge is there are numerous rivulets, springs flowing into the main stream...

That later....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Magical Mystery Falls Trek..part 2

Magical Mystery Falls....the mystery that remains unsolved...and the magic of the mountains

Last trek was in April 2004...Clear skies, just a little nip in the wind, springtime in the Himalayas....The first half is a slow ascent from Barlowgunj.....the path covered with fallen, dried oak leaves. The right hand side is a well-forested 'khud', a gorge through which in wintertime the leopards do come sometimes. Mrs. Singh, now 85+, recalled how a few months back her Alsatian was almost taken away....Motilalji even told me of one leopard caught napping at 5 a.m. on the small playground (but that's an exaggeration ;-)

Anyway, the path winds through, mainly through the dense oak forests. And on the left hand cliffside one finds gooseberries ("anchus") occasionally, the kalijhora shrubs, the nettles ("pahari bichchus") and what not....Here's a pic of the winding path...

A few steps from Barlow and I was greeted with the sound of the cuckoos & the rat-tat of woodpeckers....But most of all, what soothes one's nerves is the damp smell of the fallen leaves and the gentle mountain breeze.

The gentle climb ends in a plateau......and the sight of Pari Tibba, or Hill of the Pixies. Pari Tibba is a special features in about 10+ stories of Ruskin Bond, the famed author....But then, the story of Pari Tibba, known by many names, such as the Haunted Hill, the Burnt Hill, the Fairy Hill, or the Hill of the a story or an epic in itself. Pic of Pari Tibba from the plateau :

I still can't explain the mysterious fluorescent streaking lights I saw on about 4 to 5 occassions from the window of our house.....I was told you could see them only late at night...and each time I saw them was about 2 or 3 a.m. at night from the verandah......I still haven't got an explanation. So I prefer to call it the Hill of the Pixies. But let me not trangress from the trek....

Covered in a dense foliage of oaks, rhododendrons in its lower reaches to pines near its western summit, plus mainly the dense undergrowth is indeed a sight to see from the Plateau......There are gorges, one that can be seen also in the photo...these gorges are filled with rivulets. One of the most dramatic sights I've ever seen a little bit below from this vantage point was an eagle gliding, gliding...and then suddenly diving down into a shrub....some scuffle of feathers..and it flies up, a silvery snake in its talons...

The stream of Magical Mystery Falls flows through a gorge at the base of Pari Tibba.....

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Magical Mystery Falls trek...part 1

.......Nestled in a deep gorge located about 5 kilometres from the sleepy hamlet of Barlowgunj, near Mussoorie, is this stream......near what we call the Magical Mystery Falls. This is what I like about the adventurous, wander off in any direction, and you'll come across a gurgling stream like this...

But you've got to go off the beaten track....So let me describe the trip to this Magical Mystery Falls, nestled in a deep viridant green forest of oaks, foxy grapes , anchoos, gooseberries , kalijhora shrubs & what not...

Monday, March 26, 2007


Having spent 400+ days of my life in the Himalayas, I would like to highlight in this blog some of my experiences. Focus would be on :

  1. The amazing biodiversity that one encounters in the Himalayas
  2. Some unknown , not so well-travelled trekking routes.
  3. Some encounters with some denizens of the forests, be it a harmless beetle or a yawning leopard.
  4. Meditation in the wilderness of the Himalayas.
  5. Stories about the simple hill folks, their culture.
  6. Information about accommodation, routes & facilities in case you want to visit some places.
  7. Ghost stories
  8. Conservation strategies for the flora and fauna

& much more…..

One lifetime is not enough to experience the wonders of the Himalayas. The more time you spend traversing its wilderness, the more you realize there is more to discover.

Let me give you a glimpse of point 1…biodiversity itself.

Just start climbing from the Terai (1000 feet) to about 12,000 feet…..nowhere in this world will you find such biodiversity.

The Terai is an arc of subtropical forests… have the mighty Bengal Tigers roaming through it, the slinking leopard in the branches, the kraits & the king cobras beneath the boulders. The forests are dense…you have sals, shishams, figs, kusum, semal, janglichameli.

Then you have the stretches of Bhabbar….covered with tall elephant grass. ???what lurks behind is anybody’s imagination

Now, climb just a bit higher to about 2000-3000 feet….you will encounter thorny shrubs, dazzling flowers, gorses,, and dense Himalayan bamboo growths. Gigantic lizards scurry through the undergrowth….and kingfishers stay perched over the babbling brooks.

Then climb to about 4000-6000 feet… find dense forests of oak, rhododendron, chir pines. These are the noble trees…..there are probably 10+ sub-species of oaks….banj oak, kharsu oak, silver oak, etc…Then there are the rhododendrons….fiery red in spring time. These forests harbour langours, woodpeckers, jungle cats, the mysterious leopard of the night, the red-monkeys, the wolves, the Himalayan black bear & countless species.

Climb further up to about 8000….you see stunted rhododendrons and pines, junipers, firs. And the majestic deodars.

Climb to 10,000….you see short creepers, alpine forest…..mountain-goats jumping across the steepest slopes, the Himalayan bears, yaks….

12,000……you see the bugyals, grasslands , shrubs…..the domain of the snow leopard starts from here.

Climb beyond….14,000 +….who knows what may be there lying as yet undiscovered , besides the secrets of the yeti (the abominable snowman) ??

It is possible to encounter such biodiversity within a trek of 40 kilometeres itself…though the climb is arduous.