Tuesday, March 20, 2007

India 2007

In Delhi Now ... Yay (2 Photos)
Drive to Noida (3 Photos)
Its been ten Days
*** Gujjar Family (7 Photos)
Gujjars lead a nomadic lifestyle and inhabit parts of the scenic himalayas.
*** Roads in Himalayas (8 Photos)
In this post, I want to share what it is like to travel in a bus in the mighty Himalayas of India.
** In my element Now (5 Photos)
Finally I reach the mountains that i love soo much.
Fantastic Trek .. But when will it stop raining.


** From Delhi to Manali (9 Photos)
Journey from Delhi where the group landed in India to Manali (Our base in the Himalayas for the adventure activities of the group).
** Manali to Lahaul + Crazy hike (8 Photos)
After acclimatization in Manali for three nights at an altitude of 2000 meters, it was time to raise the bar.
** Lahaul to Pang (13 Photos)
* Pang to Leh (10 Photos)
We crossed a total of 5 passes on our way from Manali to Leh, 2 of them were higher than 5000 meters.
*** Traditional House in Spituk & Ladakh Festival (13 Photos)
We stay in their almost 100 year old traditional house of our host family.
** Drive from Leh to Padum (22 Photos)
Bumpiest and dustiest stretch of the entire journey from Delhi to Padum/Raru.

** TREK: Padam to Phugtal (11 photos)
Finally we start Trekking
*** Phugtal Monastery (9 Photos)
The main highlight of our trip
** Phugtal to Darcha (26 Photos)
Took another 5 days to complete our trek from Phugtal to Darcha. The highest point of the trek was Shingola (5094 mt)

*** A visit to Orphanage (7 Photos)
Orphanage in Koshla, India (near Manali)
** Paragliding in Manali (8 Photos)
The Paragliding started at an altitude of 2500 meters and ended at 1600 meters approximately.
** Kullu Dushehra (7 Photos)
Dushehra is a Hindu festival that signifies the victory of good over evil.
* Farewell Manali (6 Photos)
Last few days we spent at Manali while recuperating from our tiring trek in the Zanskar.

** Dharamsala (10 Photos)
Dharmsala: The residence of his holiness Dalai Lama.
*** Delhi-Agra (9 Photos)
Visiting Delhi and Taj Mahal in Agra.

*** Solo Trek: Hash, Getting Lost, Leopard

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Solo Trek: Hash, Getting Lost, Leopard

Namaste !!
I have just completed successfully my first solo trek of the year and wow what a trek it was. This trek was so full of danger, excitement, wildlife and beauty. In order to maintain the confidentiality of the people and villages I visited I will not mention the name of the places and people I met. But here is the synopsis of what happend.

Day 1: I leave Manali and reached this village from where my trail had to start.

Day 2: On first day of trek I stayed in a village where I was offered hashish in kilos and I also bump into illegal cutting of the forests where I also took some photos (not a very bright idea considering that I came into the limelight of all the villagers who sort of interrogated me laters). I stay overnight with a avery hospitable family in the village.

Day 3: Relying on my topographic sheets of the area I decide to leave for a meadow about 5 hours climb from the village. I temporarily loose my way in the jungle while going to the top and it takes me 9 hours to reach this meadow at 3500 meters. In the night I camped alone and it took me 2 hours to start a bonfire from the wet wood (I don't carry kerosene). The night was kind of scary considering that I was surrounded by dense jungle and many animals dewelling in it. Being afraid to sleep, I went for a 10 minutes climb from my tent in the moonlight to call some friends on my mobile and to let them know about my whereabouts. (The peak of the meadow was the only place where I could get the mobile phone reception and I was camping pretty close to that.) I sleep around 1 AM.

Day 4: Beautiful morning, I spent 4 hours just exploring the meadow and watching this huge gigantic hawk flying over the mountain. Finally around noon I decide to leave for my descent to the village on the other side of the meadow that should not have taken me more than 3 hours. After one hour of searching I finally found the trek that I trusted leading to my destination and whoaaaa ... what a trek it was ... it was right at the end of the cliff and very steep. After 4 km of downhill trekking where i desended 1200 meters in 4 hours I reach my destination village. My legs were sore due to the steep desent (despite the fact that I had been trekking on and off for 2 months in India). At the village everybody is very surprised and they tell me that the last trekkers that came from the route that I came from were some army personnel in the year 1999-2000. I am again very lucky to find an excellent family that took me to their house and I was given a kind of hero's welcome in the village. In the night I was again offered some hashish, but this time they also offer me a woman (for sex) ... whoa!! I refused both of them.

Day 5: I decide to rest this day as my legs are kind of sore. Walking around the village in the morning ...... Whoo ooooo aaaaa !! .... I found out that almost everybody in the village indulges in producing hash and they smuglle hashish as far as Europe. It was kind of funny to see almost everybody in the village making hashish, especially people doing it while they were walking around the village or talking with other people, they did this in such a casual manner. With the consent of my host I took some (actually many) photos around the village, people making hashish, portraits, landscape. hmmmm taking photos of people making hashish was again not such a bright idea as around midnight I heard knocks on my door and than I was surrounded by 3 people who sort of interrrogated about my intentions about trekking and staying in the village. They were kind of surprised that I did not accepted hashish and the fact that I had refused this woman from the village the previous night. I show them my passport and they seem to be calm and in order to scare them a bit I also told them that by mobile phone I was updating my friends about my whereabouts and the people I was staying with almost every few hours so that my friends could klnow where to send the rescue team or police in case they did not hear from me. Anyway one of the dude wanted me to stay for a week in the village in order to find more about me but I told them that I was leaving the next day in the morning.

Day 6: I leave in the morning after a sumptuous breakfast. I loose my trail again and around noon I found myself on the cliff slightly protruding through the forest. This place had an excellent view and a very steep desecnt on all sides. There were not really any marked trails in this area, so finding the right way through the jungle was kind of hard and there was always a chance factor. Relying on my topo sheet and with some common sense I finally found the right trail around 4 Pm and than I reach my destination around 6 in the evening. Not such a dangerous day so far, besides that walk in the thick forest. I stay overnight in the forest guest house and the security guard over there cooks a fabulous meal for me. He cooked some birds and they tasted so yummy, I was happy to be eating some meat after many days. I go to bed thinking that it had been a pretty safe day ...... Oooops!!!! I had no idea what the night had in store for me. Around 2030, I hear this weird howling while laying in bed, than I heard knocking on the door of my guest house. It was a security guard and he told me that there was a leapord that was very close to us. I had never heard anything like that before. The howls of this animal were so shrilling and loud and they were echoing in the whole of valley. For the first time in my life I came to know what it means to get chills down the spine. The howling continued for almost an hour and so did the prayers on my end and promises to the God that I will never trek alone again.

Somehow I was able to get some sleep. In the morning, I was treated to a fabulous breakfast by the security guard of the guest house, after which I started what was supposed to be the last day of my trek. Before I left, some villagers told me to be cautious as I was going to be walking towards the direction from where the howls were coming the previous night. Once I reached the pass which was close to 4000 meters (low altitude my Himalayan standards), I was very enchanted by the views and decided to stay overnight on the pass in order to take some photos of the sunset. For 3-4 hours I collected as much wood as I could as I was going to be camping alone in the middle of nowhere and that too pretty close to the place from where the howls were coming in the previous night.

Although it was a bit of a scary night, I was able to get some excellent photos with which I was very happy. I was also happy that the mobile phone was working at this place as I was able to make some phone calls to my friends in India and Canada. It was good to connect with friends as I wasn't very sure that I was going to make it alive the next day or if I was going to be devoured by someone above the food chain. I think the big bonfire worked and I was also blessed with some awesome moonlight and the spectacle o the stars.

After the beautiful night over that pass, I woke up the next morning and hiked for three hours to the village at the road head from where I took the bus to Manali :D

Delhi - Agra

Some people find it hard to believe but this year was the first time that I visited Taj Mahal. Yes I was born in India and I have travelled quite a lot in India, but I mostly restricted myself to the mountains only.
Chris and Yvan did the Delhi-Agra circuit by themselves as they were leaving India before Nathalie. They went through a lot of troubled waters. To read about thier ordeal, check out Chris's Blog. Me and Nathalie who travelled together for the last week, did'nt really had any serious issues as everything went pretty smoothly.

Contemplating on how to get train tickets @ Restaurant in Delhi

Getting the train tickets for Agra: This is a normal line up for getting an advanced ticket for a train. For current tickets, line up is usually much worse.

Train Ride to Agra: yes it was pretty comfortable 200 km in 2 hours (In India, it is quite a feat) and the food was soo yummy

Tombstone at Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

The Taj Mahal @ Agra

Meditating at Taj: Silhoutte of a muslim woman meditating in front of the Taj :-) .. BTW Its the one and only Nat

Nathalie coming from the changing room?: Don't ask me the story here ... ask Nat what she was doing behind those clothes.

Nathalie's Last Dinner @ Delhi: My friends from Delhi joined us, watch out Nat in the mirror having a go at the dosa.


After spending 5 days in Manali, Chris and Yvan went to Delhi. Felix, Pat and Julie went to Amritsar. Nathalie and I went to Dharmsala, The residence of his holiness Dalai Lama.

Upper Dharamsala also called "Mcleod Ganj", at an altitude of 1700 meters is also the residence of his holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. It is a home to many Tibetan settlements and institutions such as "Tibetan Government in exile", Namgayal Monastery, Norbuligka (Tibetan Handicrafts), TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing arts), Men-Tsee-Khang (Tibetan Medicine), TCV (Tibetan Children's Village). Sometimes McLeod Ganj is also called "Little Lhasa", after the capital city of Tibet.

Morning Newspaper: First time we heard about the Dengue fever outbreak in Delhi

Food offerings (Prasad) at the Namgayal Monastery (Where HH Dalai Lama lives)

Butter Lamps @ Namgayal Monastery

Curtains at the entrance to the monastery @ Norbulingka
I love this photo ... very sensual in my eyes

Nathalie sitting quietly (One of the rare times)

Tibetan Monks chanting prayers at Norbulingka Monastery

Devotees: Most of these were employees at Norbulingka who poured in the monsstery after their day shift was over.

Super Jovial Kids in front of the Monastery at Norbulingka. While the adults were praying inside the monastery, most of the kids were playing outside. I had a great photoshoot with these kids

Getting a Mehandi tatoo in Dharamsala.
Warning: Get an organic Mehandi tatoo not a chemical dye one.

PONG VIEW COTTAGE : The Cottage we stayed in while visiting Dharamsala.

Farewell Manali

These photos are from the last few days we spent at Manali while recuperating from our tiring trek in the Zanskar. We stayed at a fabulous place called "Hotel Manali Continental", where we were treated more like members of a family rather than tourists. It was kind of an emotional farewell to our hosts who offered us a very comfortable oasis from all the chaos of the Manali town.

After Manali, the group split up as all of them wanted to do different things for their last few days in India. Yvan and Chris had a week of stay left, so they left straight for Delhi and than for Agra. Felix was going to be around for another two weeks, so he left for Amritsar and than Dharamsala along with Pat and Julie. Nat had 10 days left, so she stayed with me till the festival of Dushehra started in the Kullu valley and than we went to Dharamsala, to Delhi and Agra.
Chris and Yvan decided to do the Delhi-Agra thing by themselves and they went through lots of troubled waters. To read more about them, you can check Chris's blog.

Roerich Gallery at Naggar, 20 kms from Manali

Cultural Show (Ram Leela) at Manali

DHAM: Family get together in Koshla Village, our hosts at Manali were very kind in extending an invitation to visit their ancestral house in the village.

Yvan and Chris saying goodbye before they left for Delhi and than to Agra.

Nathalie taking some Cooking Lessons at the private kitchen of our hosts in Manali

Hotel Manali Continental
Home away from Home"
Oasis from all the Chaos of Manali

Kullu Dushehra

Dushehra is a Hindu festival that signifies the victory of good over evil, yes ... (Hindus have been talking about the evil doers for a looooong time before Bush got a hang of it). Dushehra is usually celebrated in most of India for one day only but in Kullu valley (aka the valley of Gods) it takes another dimension. This festival lasts for one week in which Devtay (dieties) from many villages in and around the Kullu valley are brought together to Dushehra ground in Kullu. Bringing the diety from a village to this central location can involve many days of walking for the villagers/devotees. This year there were devtay from more than 200 villages spread all over Himachal.
Different aspects of the festival: This festival has religious, cultural as well as entertainment, financial/market components. I would have liked to go to some details to explain the significance of Kullu Dushehra (For now i will just let my photos do the talking).

Dieties (Devtay) from different villages being carried to the Kullu Dushehra ground.

The Crowd watching the procession of the diety of Raghunathji (The most important and sacred diety of this festival)

Maut ka kuan (Well of death): Daredevils performing their stunts with minimal safety. In case someone has doubts, I wanted to mention that the guy in the red shirt is the one driving the car.

Safe? The guy with a stripes on shirt was collecting money from the hands of people watching this show at the same time as driving.

Reaction: Nat's reaction to the acts of daredevils.

Cultural Performance at Dushehra: These dancers were from the state of Bihar in India.

The Sweet vendors at the festival.

TREK: Padam to Phugtal

Finally after 24 hours in the flight from Toronto to Delhi, 17 hour bus ride from Delhi to Manali, and than 6 days of jeep safari from Manali to Padam (Total of 14 days inclusive of acclimatization at different altitudes), we started our trek to the Phugtal Monastery. It was another four days of walk before we made it to this fantastic monastery set in the rock face.
This is what Chris had to say about trekking in Zanskar "I'll never forget the stunning, stark beauty of Zanskar. It has truly touched me. There's so much more, so many things to tell". For more dose, you can check the last paragraphs of his blog.

Star Trails: I got this shot on the first day of the trek. Observe the Chorten in the village.

Nat and Julie helping out the family with their skills in Cooking

Kids in the Kitchen of the family we stayed with at Ichar Village. They were doing thier homework from school, or just playing around.

Purne: Where a silty stream from Shingo La meets the turquoise waters of the Tsarap River

On the way to Phugtal

Photo Credit: Nathalie

Banks of the River Tsarap, enroute to Phugtal

Nat doing what she does best i.e. Interacting with locals ;)

The Maple in India: A young local kids showing their affection to the maple leaf. Photo Credit: Nathalie
Just a moment away: Last curve before the first glimpse of the Phugtal Monastery

Finally the jewel of all the monasteries in Ladakh.

Phugtal Monastery

Phugtal Monastery/Gompa was the main highlight of our trip. I can't say enough about this fantastic monastery, one has to visit this monastery in person in order to truly feel the essence of this fabulous place. After 22 hours of flight from Toronto to Delhi, 6 days of Bus/SUV ride from Delhi to Raru and finally the three days of walk, we finally made it to Phugtal; I would say that it was worth all the pain and troubles we went through in order to be at this place.

Phugtal Gompa: This Buddhist monastery (called Gompa in Ladakhi) is built on the rock face and lies in the interiors of Zanskar in India. Closest motorable road is three days of trek from here. This place had the most interesting Planning and Architecture that I saw in the entire Ladakh.The temperatures in winters tend to drop as much as -35C in the night and remember that these people do not have electricity and yet they live over there in the winters.

Finally at Phugtal Monastery: Yes we were quite tired when we finally made it to the monastery.

Phugtal Monastery: Perched in the cave, this is my favourite monsatery in India

Phugtal Monastery and Tsarap River

Monastery and the Monk: View of Phugtal from across the river

The Cave @ Phugtal: The close up view of the cave at Phugtal

Vertigo: The view from our room in the Monastery

View from The Monastery

TV Show: Monks of Phugtal Monastery watching some religious documentary on a VCR.

A Czech tourist; Michala we met at Phugtal.