Friday, April 9

Driving from Delhi to Ladakh via Manali and back via Srinagar.

Not for the faint hearted.
Adventurous, ambitious, very satisfying trip.

We reccommend :

           Read up all you can before you start this trip.

  • Carry a foot pump ( we met a Ford Endeavour that suffered 5 flat tyres!!),
  • Oxygen cylinders, medicines for mountain sickness, nausea etc.
  • Extra jerry can of fuel. The last petrol pump between Keylong and  Leh is at  at Tandi , about 9 km before Keylong.
  • Rope. ( Our Innova got stuck on a rough patch with water from a glacier running onto the road...if you can call it that. It was only huge pebbles, rocks, gravel , glacial water.. you get the picture) . We had no rope then, nor could the other people help us out. Eventually we had to call in an Army truck from 8 Kms up,  at Pang,  to pull the car out.
  • First Aid kit, including anti allergy pills, combiflam, band aid, disprin etc.AND the Oxygen, as mentioned above.
  • A very high spf sun block lotion. The UV light at higher altitudes can be very damaging to your skin.
  • Sun glasses and a hat.
  • At least one extra blanket. We were grateful for ours at Sarchu !
  • Charge-able torches, or carry extra batteries for the other kind.
  • Cell phones may not work in all areas, but do keep checking. SMS es did go through where calls did not.
Eat light during the journey. Digestion slows down due to lesser oxygen in the higher altitudes, leading to slight complicationslike headaches, nausea.
You can carry chocolate bars. Even a few bites restore energy levels and provide carbohydrates.

And do get into shape a month before you make this trip. It really helps. Go walking, practice deep breathing, or if you can, join a gym.

The route we took :

{{ For those going the Kinnaur and Spiti Route, you will have to cross the following passes:

1. Kunzum la -  (25 - 31 May)
2. Baralachha la - tentative opening date: 31 May
3. Tanglang la - tentative opening date: 31 May.}}


From New Delhi to Leh
  • New Delhi to Chandigarh. { Normally 5 hours.}Night halt
  • Chandigarh to Manali.{Normally 7 hours} Night halt .
  • Manali to Keylong.{Normally 4 hours}{took us longer due to bad road and traffic jams.} 2 nights stay for acclimatisation.
  • Keylong to Sarchu. { Normally 5-6 hours, including halts for photographs.} night halt in tents. No other accomodation till Leh, other than the few and far between shacks usually used by bikers.
  • Sarchu to Leh. {Normally 9 to 10 hours}
For Leh to New Delhi:
  •  Leh to Kargil. {Took us all day, since we stopped at Lama Yuru Monastery, Magnetic Hill, Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, Kargil War Memorial, Alchi Village..? Zanskar Indus confluence}Night halt.
  • Kargil to Srinagar.{Normally 6 to 7 hours} Night Halt.{{ I wish we had spent a week here--this is my hometown!!}}
  • Srinagar to Udhampur. {Normally 6 to 7 hours}Night halt.
  • Udhampur to  Ambala. { Normally 10 hours} Night halt.
  • Ambala to New Delhi. { 3 hours}
You can make different travel plans, depending on the time at your disposal.

Keep an eye out for the wildlife . You will see Yaks, Marmots, Ibex ( rare to see) and maybe if you are lucky enough, you will see the Himalayan desert ass/donkey :) KIANG. You get to see its desert cousin in Gujarat, in the Runn of Kutch, where it is known simply as the Indian Wild Ass or  Onager or khur.

We saw a pair of huge Yak skulls with horns lying in the desert areas  I wondered later, what do they signify, when I saw several nomadic homes in the interior areas embellished with these horns. These skulls and horns are also found atop several Mani walls (Prayers carved into stones in Tibetan script) Read somewhere, they portray YAM's doorway...not sure what that means, now !  Yam as in Yam Devta, the Lord of Death? Then why put them up on the roofs of one's homes? As a gesture of veneration? Or as a decoration?? I checked the net and found pictures of these skulls with horns...beautifully decorated with stones and metal. I would never decorate the walls of my home with these..shudder.... !

You will see colourful flags with prayers printed on them, strung on strings and fluttering in the breeze, as if blessing the very air, almost everywhere. One cannot but fall in love with the picture they make against the stark landscape.

From Wiki :There are two kinds of prayer flags: horizontal ones, called lung ta (meaning "Wind Horse") in Tibetan, and the vertical Darchor. "Dar" translates as "to increase life, fortune, health and wealth", "Cho" translates as "all sentient beings".[1]

Lung Ta (horizontal) prayer flags are of square or rectangular shape and are connected along their top edges to a long string or thread. They are commonly hung on a diagonal line from high to low between two objects (e.g., a rock and the top of a pole) in high places such as the tops of temples, monasteries, stupas or mountain passes.
Darchor (vertical) prayer flags are usually large single rectangles attached to poles along their vertical edge. Darchor are commonly planted in the ground, mountains, cairns or on rooftops and are iconographically and symbolically related to the Dhvaja.

Color and order
Prayer flags in Kathmandu, NepalTraditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five, one in each of five colors. The five colors represent the elements,[1] and the Five Pure Lights and are arranged from left to right in a specific order. Different elements are associated with different colors for specific traditions, purposes and sadhana:
Blue (symbolizing sky/space)
White (symbolizing air/wind)
Red (symbolizing fire)
Green (symbolizing water)
Yellow (symbolizing earth)

Another thing I fell in love with is the Buddhist chant..Om Mani Padme Hum.
Check out this video at Youtube :

Or this

If you visit at the time of Ladakhi festivals, you might get to see Chaams--the mystic dances performed by the Monks. We were lucky enough to see the biggest fair of them all at Lama Yuru Monastery. Monks from all over India and other nations had gathered to be a part of the ceremonial festivities.The monks wore colourful attire, masks, danced in slow rhythmic circles . The local crowd was a spectacular blend of smiling old wrinkled women with the prayer wheel in their hand, turquoise laden head gear. And sunny, cherubic children watching the monastic dances patiently.

In Keylong, we like putting up at the Dei Kid hotel. Warm, helpful staff. Good ,clean rooms. Excellent view.
You can drive around during the daytime , pack a picnic lunch and go towards Tandi, take a left turn, uphill.
A few metres up this road, you come across a field of wild flowers.Knowing a little bit about the flora and fauna of the place you are visiting adds so much to the charm of your experience. We have been to Keylong twice, and on my first visit here I was totally unprepared for the beauty of the place. You will find Himalayan Musk Rose growing in abundance here. As also Yarrow, Violets, chickweed, Dutch Clover(Shaftal ),Mistletoe, Tridax, Windflower...the list is endless!!

If you'd like to brush up on your knowledge of wildflowers before or after your visit to these Himalayan meadows, check this out:-

For lovers of wildflowers, this can be a full day picnic, observing, photographing and enjoying the fragrance of the meadows in bloom. When we went there, we were so taken in by the beauty of the place that we stopped there for over an hour. We had tea in a thermos, and some packed sandwiches, so it was a perfect picnic.There are fields around, but you rarely come across anyone here. Our kids had fun playing around with the glacial water running out of a little pipe in the hill side.

Our stay in Leh included
  • Visit to the Shanti Stupa
  • Stok Palace, Leh.
  • Pengong Lake
  • Several Monastries in and around Leh.
  • And shopping sprees at Old Fort road :) Lovely Thangkas here, and turquoise, crystals, Tibetan artefacts in tiny shops tucked into the bylanes, dried apricots, apricot oil....
Photos from the Trip:

Suggestions:-Carry plenty of warm clothing, thermal clothes, water, dry eatables.
Start early wherever you can, gives you time for halts for photography. The route is extraordinary in terms of landscape and beauty. Due to lack of oxygen and lower atmospheric pressure, one feels the mild effects of AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness)  in the form of headache, nausea, loss of appetite and breathlessness.In rare cases,  AMS can  cause the brain to swell and the lungs to fill with water.Take time to  acclimatise, do not rush into anything or anywhere too fast. Drink plenty of water and avoid smoking and alcohol.

Useful phone numbers:-

Acute Mountain Sickness Hotline: 01982-52360
Ambulance: 01982-52014.
Police Station: 01982-52018
Tourist Reception Centre: 01892-52297

Thursday, April 8

Bombay to Kanyakumari by road.

Coming up soon.... :)
Have so much material to collect from our archives, sort it out and put it here.
Will take us some time.

Photos from Ladakh trip. Dated 2009


Tuesday, April 6

Tiger ahead

Native American Quote :
"If you talk to the Animals, they will talk with you. And you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them. And what you do not know you will fear,
               What one fears … One destroys."
               Chief Dan George

Right from the moment our daughter walked out from her Board Centre on her last exam day, we are off. Bags packed, spirits high, a sense of freedom and elation keeps the noon heat out of our minds. Our destination is Jim Corbet National Park. (It happens to be Himangshu's favorite place on the planet, we believe). He has been there several times in the last seventeen years. His stories of tiger sightings are infused with typical jagron of the jungle. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a Tiger in its natural habitat. Excluding the thunderous roar we heard at night in the Chitwan Park, Nepal,many years ago, plus the one mighty roar we heard behind our cottages at Dhikala,  I have never been close to a real tiger, ever. Despite innumerable trips, safaris, I have not seen this royal character my husband seems so fond of!

Well, all that changed on this trip !
We drove till Ramnagar, stayed at a friend's resort in a mango grove, and were up and gone by 9:30 AM the next morning. Straight into the dry, brown, and spring fresh greens (Yes, all that together) of Corbet Park.
You cross a couple of dry seasonal river beds on the way. The tiger is known to frequent these parts, so we always keep our eyes glued to the landscape. God knows where the Tiger might be camoflagued! But no luck, though there is always a strange , eerie feeling here that something, somewhere is watching you . If you keep absolutely quiet, you will hear your own heartbeat here. Trust me. Himangshu will digress, of course. Anyway, we drive through the beautiful forest, and all through the drive, we keep spotting deer. Spotted deer, barking deer, antlers...even crocodiles at the crocodile point. One can get down at the Crocodile Point and look down at the river flowing by. The water looks a deep, glassy blue at places. I have never liked the crocodiles. But there they are, sunning themselves on the sandy-rocky river bank. Photos. Click, click.. Thank you very much

We reach Dhikala camp around 11 AM. A recent rule disallows safaris into the deep jungle between 11 AM to 3 PM. I guess the jungle officers want the animals to get some respite from the noisy visitors during the hot afternoons. I aver , completely. We have a few hours to spare till we can go for a safari. Some tea from the canteen, food for the kids, some snacks for us, some rest, and then time for an elephant safari. Excitement mounts as the guides and mahauts mention there is a tiger in the Dhikala area. Someone has seen a tiger by the river the previous evening. The elephant safari takes us through the grasslands . I remember how, the last time we were on an elephant safari, we had seen a tortoise in the thick undergrowth.  Deer spotting becomes a bit commonplace when you are looking for the Big Cat. Nothing short of the orange and black stripes seems to hold any adrenalin-jumping kind of power over you. One has to respect every animal in the jungle. They know when there is a tiger around. The monkey is the first one to give a call. It can spot a moving tiger from its high perch in the trees and a monkey's call is extremely reliable. Even the deer give a warning.One learns to keep one's ears tuned to every sound in the jungle. The strangest thing I encountered in the jungle is the manner in which elephants, alone or in a herd, cross through the thick bushes, without any sound. Herds of wild elephants crossed the road just a few feet ahead of our car , not once, but twice! We never heard them coming, didn't hear any crackle under their several tonnes of weight crossing the jungle floor littered with dry leaves and twigs. Nor did we see them once they had entered the tall bushes along the path.  For an animal that size, it is a wonder how it keeps itself camoflagued.  

Back to the Tiger....
On our last day there, we went for a morning safari in our own car, with Mohammed Abdul as our guide. He used to be a Mahaut here, till his elephant died of oldage. A very interesting man, wonderful story teller. What I like about him is his humility, his love for the jungle and his obvious experience.
Normally the guides keep in touch with each other, exchanging news of any sightings. Wherever we cross another vehicle, everybody looks eagerly at each other's face, looking for that tell-tale sign of 'I just saw a Tiger !' Its funny sometimes. We look at the people in other vehicles, they look at tiger sighting expression anywhere, and we all look away. Back to listening to the not-so-silent jungle. Someone had seen two panthers, one tigress with cubs on the main road (within the forest) and elsewhere, someone had seen the tiger hunt a deer.
 Naturally, when you hear of such stories left right and centre, you wonder, 'why haven't we seen it yet?' And then comes the anticipation-the storming emotions, the prayers, the pleading with all the fervour you can muster.."Pleaaase God, show me the glorious Tiger, please, please , please !" With Himangshu at the wheel, the guide sitting next to him, the kids and me in the back seat, we are five pairs of eyes desperate for a sight of the tiger. I pray to Durga Ma, pleading away with  my heart in mouth. I look up at the sun streaming through the tall trees, close my eyes and try to feel the presence of the jungle. Abstract, yes, but for those who know what being one with the jungle is, they will understand.

 In my minds' eye, I see the tiger walking through a river, white, rushing water...

 And then, we get a flat tyre. Yes. In the middle of the jungle. No one is allowed to get down in the jungle.
Our guide gets down to check the tyre, reports the worst , guides us to a place a few feet further up, where we can park and change the tyre. Kids and I keep looking around--hoping that THIS is not the moment when our prayers get answered !Thankfully, just before we started on this journey, Himangshu had bought a new foot pump. So now he and the guide take turns to pump air into the flat tyre. Himangshu does not plan to change tyres here. The tubeless tryes are a blessing in a way, because you can still carry on for a few kilometres with pumped air. Takes us about 20 minutes. One hubcap has also fallen off. A jeep comes by, the driver is kind enough to stop and ask if we need any assistance. Sweating from the effort of pumping with the foot pump, Himangshu just smiles and says no. And then another vehicle stops by, the two passengers look on quietly. The driver pulls up a grey disc, calmly asks if we happen to have lost a hubcap :) ! Hooray ! We have it back ! What a relief. The tyre is ready to go, and we drive off. Progress is slow and careful over the rough terrain. But the excitement and desire to see the tiger has come right back.

After covering Ram Singh Road, where the hunting tiger was spotted, we move off towards the grasslands. No tiger at Ram Singh Road with his kill, posing in a flamboyant striped suit for us.
We see two sambhar deer at the river's edge in the distance. Binoculars out, the guide hanging out of the window..he reports there is probably a tiger hiding in the bushes nearby. The stillness of the pair of Sambhar deer says that they are scared to move into the tall, golden green grass for fear of being ambushed. So they keep still. And we keep still, breathless in our safe car, quite a distance away.
Suddenly a white open gypsy zooms by, rocking precariously left to right, with happy, smiling, dust smeared kids leaning out, waving merrily. "Tiger at Teesra Paani, go ! go ! right ahead..go ! "
Its as if we have all come to life in one sudden jerk of the gear! We speed off, take the turning a few feet away, and lock into a veritable traffic jam. Over a rickety wooden causeway over clear, shallow water, there's a line of camera toting, binocular weilding, sun hats and scarves in place visitors. I must say, you feel irritated at the noise people can create when it is most essential to keep your peace ! We couldn't make out a thing. One set of visitors was quite excited, pointing towards the direction of the river. Our guide was trying his best to gauge the situation and take us to the the best vantage point. There was only one direction in which we could move--Backwards. Amid rising claims of spotting the tiger thereabouts, the crowd was abuzz with nerves..drivers, foreigners, visitors hanging out of their vehicles...wonder what the tiger was thinking of thic circus?? Was he even there?
Then equally suddenly, the lady in the jeep ahead of us was clambering on to the top of her jeep, camera dangling from her right hand. Even as I uttered a horrified 'oh God!', my son whispered," There he is !! there! In the grass..look quickly!!" I left the lady in front of us to her fate (( not before I saw her lose her balance and fall on the roof of the jeep as their driver kicked the jeep into motion in a hurry ;) ;)  )) and turned my attention to the tall golden grass on our right.
Sure enough, tiger stripes blend in so well with the landscape that it took me a minute to spot the tiger. He was huge! Royal. And least bothered about the circus around him. He must have crossed from the river's edge over to the grass on our side, moved RIGHT THROUGH THE JAM OF CARS, and on to the grasses on our right side. He was just 30 feet from us . My, I was so glad to have finally seen a tiger in the wild. Our kids were equally awed. When he disappeared from view, our guide urged us to drive to a bend in the road, from where the river is visible again. He was sure the tiger would cross the river and this was our chance to see it again. So we drove off towards that spot, and there he was, again! Languid, orange spot of power, beauty and raw wilderness. I was too busy observing his unhurried pace, his swagger, to bother about the noise and rising clamour around us now. We got a couple of pictures and video footage. And then he was gone. But the feeling of pure joy, the exhiliration of the moment refused to die down.

Even hours later, days later, we are still talking about this Golden beast.
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Baby Animal Pictures