The Rock Buddhas of Ladakh: Part 2

11th September

The day started early as we were driving back from Kargil to Leh and were scheduled to stop in between to see the Lamayuru Monastery and the Moon landscape / Moonscape.

We were in high spirits, admiring the shape, textures and lovely pastel colours of the mountains. Shades of brown, gold and at times purple all around us.

The shades of cold desert mountains
The shades of cold desert mountains
The colour of mountains : Details
The colour of mountains: Details

We must have been on the road for an hour or so when we spotted a shepherd with his flock of sheep in high mountains. Sensing a photo opportunity, all of us made Iqbal Bhai stop the car and jumped out.

The sheep on steep mountains
The sheep on steep mountains
Its a tough job
It’s a tough job

Happy with the results, we got back into the car. We had to cross two high passes on this road to reach Leh. The first one was familiar, Namik La, which we had crossed two days back to reach Kargil; and the second was Fotu La (Also called as Fatu La)

Fotu La is slightly higher pass than Namik La at 13479 feet. Towards the east of Fotu La, at a distance of about 15 km, is Lamayaru and located on the pass is the Prasar Bharti television relay station serving Lamayuru.

At the Fotu La pass At the Fotu La pass

Fotu La : The 10 mm view
Fotu La: The 10 mm view

It was a smooth descent from the Fotu La towards the Lamayuru Monastery but, we had the time, and Himanshu decided to show us the curvaceous road above the Moonscape before reaching the monastery.

Unfortunately, the road above the Monastery was being worked upon and was closed for traffic, but we still managed to have some fun. Identified and collected the lavender plant which was in abundance here, and photographed some more wildflowers.

Wild flowers on the hills
Wild Lavender flowers on the hills
Wild flowers on the hills
Wildflowers on the hills
wild flowers
More wildflowers

We also got a magnificent view of the Moonscape from this place. The serrated and ridged mountains near Lamayuru look like a typical lunar landscape, hence the name.

Road through the Moonscape
A road through the Moonscape
Moonscape Details
Moonscape Details

Next stop was the Lamayuru Monastery. Lamayuru monastery is a place which has many legends associated with it. It is one of the oldest and the largest in Ladakh. Out of the five gigantic temples, only one has survived. One can still see some old remnants of the monastery.

Lamayaru Monastery
Lamayuru Monastery
Lamayuru Monastery: Passage to the other side
Lamayuru Monastery: Passage to the other side
Lamayaru -remnants of old monastery
Lamayuru -remnants of the old monastery
Prayer wheels
The Prayer wheels

As we entered the monastery, I encountered a beautiful old woman dressed in local attire.

The old woman at Lamayaru Monastery
The old woman at Lamayuru Monastery

When I reached her, she smiled and initiated the conversation, told me her name and asked mine. I requested her to introduce herself again to get it on the video. On second thoughts, instead of breaking into English, as it has become a habit, I should have spoken in Hindi as the locals know Hindi reasonably well.

As I followed her, I spotted three more friendly old women, who taught me how to use the prayer wheel.  However, as we were moving ahead, they asked for Bakshish. I gathered that this was their livelihood.

Learning to use prayer wheel
Learning to use the prayer wheel

These old women sit in a particular corner, quietly praying and whenever a tourist comes, they talk and educate the tourist, post for photographs and videos. In return, all they expect is some bakshish so that they can survive. I learnt later that they have been doing this for many years.

Lamayaru Monastery : The famous four
Lamayuru Monastery: The famous four
Lamayaru town
The Lamayuru town

We also visited the other portions of the monastery which houses the school and hostel for the monks, although we could not stay there longer as it was getting late and the place was shutting down for lunch.

We too were hungry, and the best place to eat near Lamayaru is a restaurant right next to the monastery. The restaurant also serves eggs and Tuna (and beer). We opted for Thukpa, momos, omelette, fried rice and some lemon tea. The food was so good that I ended up overeating and all I wanted to do was sleep. I had full intentions to take a nap in the car when Trishu exclaimed that his phone is catching network and has 4g and that was the end of our plans to nap – each of us requested a hotspot from him and were busy uploading pictures to Instagram.

After Lamayuru, we drove through a long straight road amongst the mountains.  Trishu wanted to shoot videos and pictures of the road which I later learnt is a fascination for him. He has captured the visuals very well on this phone.

While he was shooting the road, I was fascinated with the unabashed blueness of the sky and wanted to capture that.

The deepest of blue skies
The deepest of blue skies

After a day’s drive, we arrived at Leh in the evening and realised that the hotel had a limited internet connection. I tried to talk to mom, but the network was bad, and could only send her some pictures from the trip.

The evening was booked for a stroll in the Leh market. I picked up two woollen caps and some essentials for the journey ahead.

Leh Market
Leh Market
A trinket shop at the Leh market
A trinket shop at the Leh market

Tarique and I indulged in eating soft and succulent lamb kababs from a kabab stall on the roadside of the main market after which we all proceeded towards the German Bakery.  Since we were to dine at the Hotel restaurant, we did not eat much but decided to pick up croissants, doughnuts, apple strudel and some more delicacies the next morning before departing for the Nubra Valley.

Lamb Seekh Kebabs
Lamb Seekh Kebabs

12th September

Since we woke up early and were ready for the next leg of the journey, Tarique decided to go up to the terrace of the hotel and click some pictures of the mountains, Leh fort and Castle, while I decided to enjoy some quiet time in the hotel garden.

Tea in the garden
Tea in the hotel garden
snow covered mountains as seen from our hotel in Leh
snow covered mountains as seen from our hotel in Leh
Leh Monastery
Leh Monastery
Leh Palace
Leh Palace

As decided, we picked up the stuff from the German bakery before departing. Today was the 5th day of our 9-day visit to Ladakh. I was kind of disappointed that the holidays will soon end, and that I would have liked to spend more time at each of the places we visited. First stop was the hill of the Leh Monastery and palace. The monastery was not as big as some others but had a charm and the inherent peace. From here we could also see a part of the charming little town of Leh.

Birds eye view of Leh
Birdseye view of Leh town.

We were very excited to cross the Khardung La. Khardung is the name of a village and La means a pass in Tibetan.

Himanshu showed us the direction of the pass from the monastery, and we quickly jumped in the vehicle and were driven around by Iqbal Bhai on the curvaceous roads leading to the Khardung La. Iqbal Bhai was looking quite dapper today, he had worn a new shirt that was gifted to him by Himanshu. We teased him a bit – after all, he was going home to his wife today. Iqbal Bhai lives in the town of Hundar in the Nubra Valley where we were scheduled to halt for the next two days.

Khardung La is a pass on the Ladakh range and is in the North of Leh. It is a gateway to the Shyok and Nubra Valleys, and the Siachen Glacier lies partway up the Nubra Valley. The Khardung pass was opened to the motor traffic in 1988. The pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.

While the current road was built in the 20th century, this route was once a part of the old silk route that borders on the Karakoram range of mountains.

Our first halt was the South Pullu where we had to stop to show our permits. Pullu in Ladakhi means a place where travellers rest. So this was the southern end of Khardung La where travellers rested, at times overnight, before crossing the mountain pass.

While the formalities were being done, we got down of our vehicle, wore another layer of clothes as it was getting colder at this altitude, and as usual, clicked a few pictures and took some selfies.

South Pulu

South PulluAnd here are the selfies 🙂

Selfie at South Pulu
Selfie at South Pullu
Captured taking a selfie with Himanshu
Captured taking a selfie with Himanshu a little ahead of South Pullu.

A few km ahead of South Pullu we stopped for a mini break; it had started to snow. We spotted a raptor overhead and heard a marmot call.  Took some photographs of the winding road that got us here, and saw part of the glacier, which has shrunk to less than half its original size in the recent years.

Khardungla glacier that was
Khardungla glacier that was

A few of Radhika’s “how much longer to reach” and we were at the top of the mountain at Khardung La. At 17982 feet from the sea level to be precise.

I did not experience any altitude sickness whatsoever, but my lungs were choked from breathing the polluted air from the numerous trucks, bikes and cars that were on the road. I was told, that the air pollution is due to the use of kerosene mixed with diesel (as kerosene stops diesel from freezing) and is proving detrimental to the fragile environ of the mountains and therefore soon there would be a limitation on the number of vehicles that can ply on this road.

Motorcyclists at Khardung La
Motorcyclists at Khardung La

We did have our fun here though, did the normal touristy stuff and started our descent only to realise that the road ahead has been blocked for traffic by the Border Road Organisation (BRO) for some construction work. Someone took out a packet of Kurkure to pass the time.

Customary Khardung La photo
Customary Khardung La photo
Khardung La - top of the world
Khardung La – top of the world
Playing with snow
Playing with snow

After the traffic cleared up, we moved ahead but stopped once more by the side of the road for a view of the mountains from the other side. This side of Khardung La had more snow, and there was a soft drizzle of snow all around. This was my first real snowfall, and I felt an uncontrollable urge to record it, so I managed to make a small video clip before being urged to climb back in the car.

And then it started snowing
And then it started snowing

Our next stop was North Pullu to show the papers to the officials. We had decided to stop at the Bangli Dhaba for tea and delicacies from German Bakery.  Radhika and I discovered that he was making Maggi.

Mountains and Maggi go together, and for a complete experience, one must have a plateful of steaming hot Maggi on the (not so cold now) mountain tops. The Shop owner was generous and sprinkled more Haldi, Mirchi and masala on our Maggi- which none of us could eat, so I went in the kitchen and made my version of masala Maggi with tomato sauce. I struck a conversation with the owner and learnt he was from Bengal and operated this Dhaba in the summer months for the tourists. On his recommendation, we also snacked on a plate of mok moks (momos) while the Maggi cooked.

Bangli dhaba at North Pulu
Bangli dhaba at North Pullu

The extra layer of clothes and woollen that we had put on at South Pullu came off, and we climbed back in the car to continue our journey towards the Nubra Valley only to stop a km or so later to photograph some Marmots. We did not know we will see a lot of them in our journey ahead so a decent photo was must especially when the opportunity had presented itself.

Marmot
A Marmot

After climbing down Khardung La, we climbed back up the Shyok valley and drove by the side of Shyok river. The Shyok river is known for its floods, and the name Shyok or Dariya e Shyok is named as “river of death”. Sheo means death in a Turkic dialect. As we climbed, we saw the floodplains of the river and stopped at a place to have a good look.

The Shyok river originates from the Rimo glacier, which is one of the tongues of the Siachen Glacier The Shyok ultimately flows its waters into the Indus river.

The colour of the water was muddy in September, but we were told that it turns to turquoise in the winter months and is a sight to behold.

Flood plains of Shyok
Floodplains of Shyok and the Nubra valley.

A little ahead the Shyok river meets the Nubra or Siachen river to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges.  Along with the river, we too left the Ladakh range and entered the Nubra Valley.

As we approached the Diskit town Monastery, our next stop, we saw a huge golden coloured 33-meter symbol of peace, a Maitreya Buddha facing towards (We were told) Pakistan. The construction of this statue was started in April 2006, and it was consecrated by His Highness the Dalai Lama on the 25th of July 2010. The statue was built to spread the message of world peace and specifically for the prevention of any further war with Pakistan.

Ladakh region has always borne the brunt of wars. And peace is, therefore, everyone’s mantra, and rightly so.

The huge Buddha statue Facing Westwards towards Pakistan
The huge Golden Buddha statue Facing Westwards towards Pakistan
Diskit The Golden Buddha
Diskit The Golden Buddha

We were kind of hungry by now. While Himanshu and Sanjeev decided not to eat, the four of us dug into platefuls of noodles and fried rice at a cafe near the Diskit Monastery.  As had become my habit, I asked the girl on the counter if they had an internet connection, and she readily gave me the wifi password. Next few minutes, as we ate, were spent on uploading the Khardung La photographs to our Instagram accounts.

The Diskit Monastery or Diskit Gompa, founded in the 14th century,  is the oldest and the largest monastery in the Nubra Valley. Built on a hill just above the floodplains of the Shyok river, at the end of the approach road, it is a striking structure and is visible from even a large distance.

The Nubra valley is at a lower elevation than the Ladakh range, it has a mild climate and has lush vegetation. It is therefore called the Orchard of Ladakh. The valley was a part of the caravan route between Tibet and China. The double-humped Bactrian Camel would travel the route and the ones left behind due to illness, or other reasons have flourished here.

Diskit Monastery
Diskit Monastery

I was a bit tired after climbing the steep stairs and decided to rest in the verandah of the monastery when two kittens spotted me and were all over me.

The curious kitten
One of the curious kitten

One of them even demanded that I scratched him and patted my hands whenever I stopped scratching him. I love cats, and I guess they love to reciprocate my affections as well.

Happy with the interaction, I joined the others to visit the temples at the monastery. One interesting part of history the protector room of Diskit monastery has is the mortal remains of the hand and skull of a Mongolian warrior. The remains are shrivelled and real. Legend has it that the monastery is believed to be the place where an evil anti-Buddhist Mongol demon once lived and was killed near the monastery grounds but is said to have been resurrected several times, and the hand and head are of this evil demon.

Mongol Warrior
Mongol Warrior

One more thing that I noticed is that the heads of several statues in the protector room (of all the monasteries we visited)  are covered.

We spent a considerable amount of time here and clicked several pictures.

Door handles
Door handles
Diskit Monastery - details of the door
Diskit Monastery – details of the door
Mask on the door
Mask at the Entrance

As we came out of the monastery, we noticed a very deep well. It was more of a freshwater spring, the path to which, was rickety and dangerous. It is said that the monks regularly used to go down this dangerous path (some monks still do) to get fresh water for the monastery. I could not go further than this point.

Diskit : Deep well with rickety stairs
Diskit: Deep well with rickety stairs

Although the monasteries preserve the tradition, modern facilities and technology have reached here too. We saw a few monks using the latest cars and smartphones.

By this time the sun was about to set, and we decided to call it a day and proceed to Hunder which was about 15 km drive. It took us about 30 minutes to reach out campsite at the Desert Oasis camp. While some of us had lemon tea, Sanjeev and Himanshu had also picked up some beer and breezer and the day ended with Gup shup over drinks and pakodas. Post dinner we retired to our camps looking forward to an exciting morning the next day.

Desert Oasis Camp Hunder

In the quiet of the night, we could hear a gurgling sound of water and slept peacefully to the sound of spring flowing somewhere behind our tents.

The Rock Buddhas of Ladakh Part 1

Ladakh. The name originates from “La-dvags” meaning the land of high passes. Ladakh connected India with Tibet, China and other central Asian countries via the “silk road” the parts of which still exist. I had so far seen only pictures of this amazing place and was always curious about this enigmatic place tucked away in faraway mountains.

When Himanshu announced the tour to Ladakh in June- July, aptly named, “Buddha Rocks tour” I was very disappointed that I won’t be able to visit this amazing place which was in my bucket list for very long.

Tarique insisted that I go, and I insisted that he come along, so a phone call and a while later, Himanshu suggested we all go there in early September. The weather would be good and the inflow of tourists will be far less than the peak summer months. Plans finalised, we booked the tickets and looked forward to the trip of a lifetime.

By last week August, I was checking the temperatures at various places that we were to visit, and I started making a list of clothes,  woollen and medicines accordingly. I am a listophile and I get pretty listless without my lists 😀

On 7th September we were to leave for Delhi and our flight to Leh was on the 8th. Delhi is a place I love to go to because a lot of my dear friends from IIMC are in NCR and it makes me immensely happy to meet them.

The flight landed on time and we landed at Shilpa’s door. There was so much to talk, and so little time. Reema met us in the evening and we spent the time chatting and catching up with each other over dinner.

With Shilpa and Reema
With Shilpa and Reema

8th September 2018: Leh and Alchi

We arrived at the Delhi airport to catch a flight to Leh. Himanshu and Sanjeev joined us and we discovered that the Leh airport is temporarily shut due to bad weather at Leh. The weather, however, improved quickly and our flight departed on time. Despite having window seats, the snow-capped peaks of mighty Himalayas eluded us – they were engulfed in a thick blanket of clouds. However, as we approached Leh, the sky cleared up and the Leh town on the banks of a serpentine Indus river, and its tiny landing strip became visible.

Aerial view of Leh town
Aerial view of Leh town

Trishu and Radhika had taken an earlier flight and were waiting for us with Iqbal Bhai at the Leh airport when we landed. Iqbal Bhai was our go-to person for everything throughout the duration of the tour. A superb guide, he has the knowledge of flora, fauna, history and culture of Ladakh and being with him made for a very enriching experience. During our 8 day stay, Iqbal Bhai drove us around through the length and breadth of  Ladakh covering a distance of approximately 1200 km.

Leh is at an altitude of 3500 meters (11480 feet). For anyone travelling from the mainland, this altitude can mean a lot of trouble. To tackle the altitude sickness, I and Tarique both had started taking Diamox twice a day as soon as we arrived in Delhi. So except for a bit of light-headedness that lasted about 10 minutes, we did not face any issues. I, however, had to stop taking my diabetes medicine (Janumet- which has metformin) when I took Diamox as it was messing with my digestive system.

One of the first sights, as we hit the road, was that of the Chorten. These striking, stupa-like structures are built mostly near villages and monasteries, and they symbolise the Buddha, and the five elements of nature – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and space. Most Chorten also have a Mane Wall along with them, this is a wall built by the followers and believers, and it is made of numerous etched stones kept in rows. It is mostly the six syllable prayer of peace and harmony,  Om Mane Padme Hum that is etched on each of the stones that line the Mane wall.

ChortansChortens

A Mani Wall- details
A Mane Wall- details

We drove to Alchi directly from the airport. Alchi is at a lower altitude of 3100 meters or approximately 10,000 feet and travelling to Alchi from Leh helped us cope with the altitude better. Enroute we stopped to see the Indus river. Sindhu, as it is called in Hindustani, gives our country its name. The confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers was a sight to behold.

The Indus Zanskar Confluence near the Leh town
The Indus Zanskar Confluence near the Leh town

Looking forward to an exciting vacation, we jumped back in the cars only to get down a bit later as Iqbal Bhai spotted a herd of Urials. Urials (Ovis orientalis), or Shapo are wild sheep of Ladakh region and are found in Western Central Asia. It was the start of mating season for them and the male of the species were putting up an amazing display.

Urials
Urials

We arrived at Alchi a little after lunchtime, we had already eaten a sumptuous meal of momos and Thukpa en route, we reached our destination. After checking in at the Zimskhang holiday home,  at Alchi, we were ready to explore the small monastery town.

Zimskhang holiday home, Alchi
Zimskhang holiday home, Alchi

Alchi is a historical place and has one of the oldest  Buddhist monasteries. It is actually a Chos-‘khor, a place where monks are taught the ways of Buddhism. The Alchi Gompa comes under the Gelugpa order from Likir which looks after the monks and the upkeep of the monastery.

The Alchi Gompa is often called as Ajanta of Ladakh, because of the fine artmanship display on its walls. The paintings on the walls are regarded as one of the oldest and most extensive in the entire region.

The mud sculptures in the monastery are also unique to the region.  It is said that the Alchi Gompa is was built between 958 and 1055 AD by the great Guru Rinchen Zangpo who translated the Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetian The artistic and spiritual details of both Buddhism and the Hindu kings of that time in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh are reflected in the wall paintings in the monastery. These are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings and artwork comparable to the baroque style.

One of the striking features of this monastery is the fact that it is not on a hill like other monasteries of the region, but is on a flat land, next to the river Indus.

ASI has declared this a protected monument and photography inside the monastery is not allowed.

A visit to this monastery is incomplete without first stopping for a cup of tea and some butter cookies at the German bakery opposite the monastery complex and a look at the trinket shops that line the path to the monastery.

A trinket shop near Alchi Gompa
A trinket shop near the Alchi Gompa

It was soon dark and all of us decided to take a pre-dinner walk. It would have been impossible to do all this on the first day of arrival had we stayed back at Leh. However, coming to a lower altitude place, not only gave us a chance to utilize the day but also helped us cope better with altitude change. The dinner was sumptuous and all of us ended up overeating. We eagerly went to our rooms and hit the sack.

9th September: Domkhar – Mulbekh and Kargil

While the others slept, I and Tarique, being early risers, decided to take a walk alongside the Indus river before we departed for Kargil.

The view was breathtaking, the sunrise was spectacular with the reflection of the deep blue sky of in the river. We also saw some snow on the mountain tops of Alchi, and on being told about it, Himanshu mentioned that he had never seen snow near Alchi so early in the season.

On the banks of the river Indus at Alchi
On the banks of the river Indus at Alchi . Some snow is visible on the distant peak.

Post breakfast we departed for Kargil. The route was planned via the Domkhar Rock Art Sanctuary.

Enroute we stopped to buy fresh fruits and almonds. And saw that absolutely fresh Apples and Apricots were sold by the roadside.

Apple trees on the roadside
Apple trees by the roadside

For many centuries traders, travellers, hunters and pilgrims have crossed Ladakh and have left their mark on the rocks of the region in the form of Petroglyphs. These pre-historic art forms are found all across the region, and one such site we visited was on a private property on the banks of  Indus in the sleepy little village called Domkhar.

The rock art of Domkhar is on black rocks and is assumed to be 2000-4000 year old. These petroglyphs depict various images of animals, hunting scenes, figurines, calligraphy and symbols.

Petroglyphs of Domkhar
Petroglyphs of Domkhar

It was a fantastic locale for a photo shoot, and when one travels with like-minded people who are also photographers, an opportunity like this can never be missed.

Radhika
Radhika
Trishu
Trishu
Iqbal Bhai
Iqbal Bhai
Himanshu
Himanshu
Sanjeev
Sanjeev
Tarique and I
Tarique and I

People of Domkhar grow apricots, apples and numerous vegetables. This is also known as the Apricot region and the apricots here were extremely juicy and sweet.

We were invited to the home of the owner of the private land where the Domkhar Rock Art Sanctuary stands and were treated to some snacks and delicious tea.

The guest room at Domkhar
The guest room at Domkhar rock art sanctuary
Dried Apricots served to us
Dried Apricots served to us
Almonds and other snacks
Almonds and other snacks
Kitchen help at Domkhar
The Kitchen help at Domkhar who served us tea and snacks.

After a satisfying and gratifying break at Domkhar, we continued our journey on the Batalik Road along the Indus river. Batalik is the last Indian town and the river Indus enters Pakistan from here.

Enroute we passed some Aryan Villages (Hanuthang and Baima). It is believed that the settlers of these villages are of pure Aryan race. These people are indeed different. They have distinct features. Tall with green eyes, high cheekbones, fair skin, they claim to be the pure bloodline of the Aryans and settlers from the army of Alexander. Their attire is also different from the traditional Ladakhi attire and women sport fresh flowers in their headgear. Pity I could not take photographs of villages or the people there.

As we travelled I noticed the river getting wider and Himanshu told us that in 2017, a huge landslide left the road to Batalik unusable as it caused the water levels of Indus to rise very high, submerging a bridge and washing away the road leading to Batalik.  The landslide destroyed several homes as Indus grew to dangerous levels. Since then a new road has been constructed at a higher altitude but the portions of the old submerged road can still be seen underwater. One can still see the river dangerously undercutting parts of the mountains posing danger to the road and nearby villages in the future.

The submerged bridge
An almost submerged bridge and
The submerged road
The submerged road

We left the Batalik road and took the Khangral-Sanjak road some 33 km short of the Batalik town and entered a small gorge (Chiktan Valley) that had a freshwater stream as a tributary of Indus. We had lunch on the streamside and continued our journey toward the ruins of the historical Chiktan Fort(or Chiktan Khar). Very sketchy details are available about this fort but it is said that the Fort is a 16th Century fort that was built by Balti craftsmen. Tahtah Khan, the Prince of Baltistan had run away after surviving a failed attempt to kill him. Legend has it that he took shelter in Chiktan and mesmerised by the beauty of the region decided to stay back. He constructed a palace here in the 8th century.

In the 16th century, some Balti Craftsmen built the now famous Chiktan fort as the royal residence of the rulers of the region.  With glorious mountains as a backdrop, the fort was built with stone and mud and is said to have marvellous woodwork by the architect Shinkhen Chandan. The castle used timber to support the ceiling and had a revolving wooden room which used the power of winds to rotate the structure. It also is said that this fort was one of the masterpieces of Ladakh and Tibetian Architecture and was a symbol of unity, strength, brotherhood and community for the people of the region.

The castle was attacked several times but was not abandoned until the late 19th century. But now neglect and forces of nature have completely destroyed the woodwork and the castle is in advance stages of decay.  Although this captivating fort is completely withered and is in utter ruins, with no signs remaining of the famous woodwork, the regal aura still remains.

Chiktan Fort details
The ruins of Chiktan Fort
A long shot of Chiktan Fort
A long shot of Chiktan Fort

After taking a few photos of the fort from a nearby hill, we continued our travel and joined the National Highway NH1 at Khangral. NH 1 (Previously NH 1A) On NH 1, the Leh-Kargil main highway, we climbed up to 12300 feet to go through the Namik La pass – our first from this road trip. (The spelling of Namik is written incorrectly at several places as Namki.)

Namik - the Namik La is named after this pillar shaped rock
The rock at Namik La- the pass is named after this pillar-shaped rock

A glorious view of the mountains greeted us as the sun started setting. The Namik La is named so because of the mountain on which this pass is, looks like a pillar (which is Namik in the local Ladakhi language).

Another hour on the road and we reached Mulbekh to see the four-hand Buddha. This 28 feet Buddha statue, the tallest one in Ladakh, is also one of the most popular ones. Perhaps because of it being on the National Highway that connects Srinagar to Leh (Via Kargil).

While the statue stood on the roadside for a long time, a small monastery has now come up which completely encloses the statue. As per the information available there, it is said that the Buddha was carved here in the 1st century BC during the Kushan period. However, the studies point out that the carving is from the 7th Century.  This Buddha statue has a stupa lodged in the hair which a common attribute found in the Maitreya Buddha.

In Ladakhi, the Maitreya Buddha is called Chamba. The Mulbekh buddha we saw had four hands; the lower left arm holds a water pot, or a kamandal, a constant in Indian and Kashmiri Buddhist iconography; the upper left arm has a flower; and the upper right arm, a rosary. Since it is believed that the Maitreya Buddha will be born in a Brahmin family, he also has a sacred thread across his chest. He is adorned with a pearl necklace, bangles and a belt. Also, on both sides of his legs, at the bottom, rows of devotees are carved, facing up to the Buddha.

As per a prophecy, the Maitreya, or Chamba or the Future Buddha is a bodhisattva who will appear on this earth in the future, he will achieve complete enlightenment and teach pure dharma. As per the scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor to the present Gautama Buddha. This prophecy refers to the arrival of Maitreya to a time in future when the dharma would be forgotten by most in this terrestrial world.

The Buddha of Mulbekh
The Maitreya Buddha of Mulbekh
The Buddha of Mulbekh - details of the carvings
The Buddha of Mulbekh – details of the carvings

We arrived at the Kargil Tourist Camp, on the edge of Kargil town just in time to see a glorious sunset in the mountains.

Kargil Tourist Camps- Tents
Kargil Tourist Camps- Tents
Kargil Tourist Camps- Tents from inside
Kargil Tourist Camps- Tents from inside

While Sanjeev and Tarique busied themselves trying to take a time-lapse of sunset, I sipped the lemon tea and clicked some pictures. We took a quick dinner and retired early to capture the early rays of sun on the mountains.

Kargil Sunset
Kargil Sunset

10th September: Kartse Khar, Nun Kun Peaks, LOC and Apati

First rays of sun hitting the mountain tops
First rays of sun hitting the mountain tops

The sun rose in all its glory and the day started getting much warmer. We started early as there was much to do. After a long-ish drive, we stopped just before   Sanku for the view of Suru Valley where we saw several thorny shrubs of Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) full with berries. Seabuckthorn grows wild in this region and some of us tasted the berry, which has a peculiar taste. The Seabuckthorn berry juice was marketed under the brand name of Leh berry,  and is said to have health benefits. We were not too inclined to taste the juice. Although on second thoughts, I think, I should have tried it at least.

A Sea Buckthorn shrub full of berries
A Seabuckthorn shrub full of berries

The Suru ValleyThe Suru Valley

While we were enjoying the view of the valley, several Himalayan Agama (Paralaudakia himalayana) was seen sunning on the rocks.

A pair of Himalayan Rock Agama
A pair of Himalayan Agama

Rest of the drive was along the river Suru. The Suru river originates near Penzila, the gateway to Zanskar.

A bit later we crossed the Suru river and took the dirt road as we wanted to visit the village of Kartse Khar known for it’s giant Buddha carving. We parked our car in the outskirts of the village and started on foot along the small stream.  After walking for about 800 meters, we encountered a huge Buddha carved in the early 7th century on the rock beside the stream. The statue is about 21 feet high. This is also the future Buddha or Maitreya Buddha. However, what differentiates this one from others is the crown and the body structure. The carving is very detailed, the crown has a triple sharp pointed diadem. Pearl bands hang beneath the crown. Two flying Gandharvas flank the head of the Buddha.  A drape comes down from the crown and is twisted on the shoulders and arms. According to some experts, this style is derived from Pativ, a Persian emblem of the royalty adopted by the Kashmiri Buddhists. The lower garment of the Kartse Khar buddha resembles a dhoti.

The Buddha at Kartse Khar
The Buddha at Kartse Khar

We took several photographs and while Himanshu and Sanjeev were shooting some videos, I chatted with the local women who were in the process of washing, drying and storing the grains for winter. Usually, the women are shy and refuse to be photographed, but I managed to click this beautiful girl-woman as she was less reserved than the others and readily posed.

A pretty woman of Kartse Khar village
A pretty woman of Kartse Khar village

The morning was getting warmer, it was still just about 11 am so Himanshu decided to take a chance to drive about 15 km to the village Diasma on the Kargil-Zanskar road (also called as Kargil – Padum road) and show us the Nun-Kun peaks from the banks of Suru river. At 23000+ feet the Nun-Kun peaks are the highest peaks in the Ladakh range.

However, by the time we reached the banks of the Suru river, it was almost noon and the peaks were engulfed in the clouds and were barely visible. We did manage to get a few glimpses of the impressive peaks though.

Nun in the local language means white, and Kun means black. Nun is usually covered with snow and appears completely white whereas Kun does show the rock underneath and appears black

Nun Kun
Nun- Kun Peaks -Upper part of Kun, the black mountain is visible in this picture
Nun Kun
While the lower portion can be seen in this one.

We were a bit disappointed because the view was not clear and the peaks were hidden beneath the clouds, but the view of the valley, the river, the passing clouds and the beautiful surroundings made us forget the disappointment.  Trishu had by now learnt how to time-lapse pictures and was busy with Himanshu and Sanjeev taking photos, while Tarique, and I made ourselves busy by taking pictures of the beautiful surroundings and ourselves. I somehow don’t remember what Radhika was doing. Perpahs she was quietly standing there and watching us all go crazy.

Peace and serenity on the banks of Suru River.
Peace and serenity on the banks of Suru River.

By the time we finished taking photographs, we all were really hungry and we still had one stop to make before lunch.

On the Kargil -Padum road, just a few kilometres before Sanku the Suru river takes an impressive turn. Here in the field by the side of road In the village of Skimertse, on a private property is a 13-14 century carving of Buddha that is unlike any other in the entire region. Etched in low relief, it is a representation of the feminine looking Avalokitesvara, flanked by Apsaras on either side. These are more stylised carvings and have elements that are not seen elsewhere. There is a depiction of a warhorse,  some disciples, stupa, and an undecipherable script. The Avalokiteshvara has six arms but what they are holding is unclear, although it seems that one of the left arms holds a water pot. There is a stupa etched at the bottom of the slab, but that looks relatively recent as it has not weathered to the extent that the rest of the rock-relief has.

The Stone is lying next to the road, in someone’s field and it seems it got uncovered as a result of a rock fall. It is under no protection and perhaps very few know about it.

Buddha etched on a rock at Skimertse
Buddha etched on a rock at Skimertse
Buddha etched on a rock at Skimertse
Buddha etched on a rock at Skimertse – Details

Next hurried stop was lunch at a roadside cafe and then we proceeded towards the village of Hundurmaan for the LOC view.

Every Indian is proud of the bravery of our armed forces, and the effort they take us to protect our country’s borders. It made our hearts soar when we saw the tri-colour fluttering in the winds at the LOC on the banks of Drass river, just before the village of Hundermaan.

It is also normal I guess, for any Indian to be curious as to how Pakistan looks. Although the terrain is same, the people similar and we originate from the same roots, or maybe it is the fact that we share the same legacy, a साँझी विरासत that makes us so curious. The dargah on the Pakistan side, the remnants of a village that was and the river bank that divides the two countries is what we could see there.

Photography at this point was not allowed, so we took some shots of the surroundings and continued our travails.

Near the LOC at HundurMaan
Near the LOC at HundurMaan – the mountains seen at a distance are in Pakistan

Next stop was Apati Buddha, approximately 15 km from Kargil, in the sleepy little village of Apati in the Sot Valley on the Kargil Batalik road.

This rock-carved Buddha is perhaps the oldest in Ladakh as it is said to be carved at the turn of the 6th Century, approximately the same time when Bamian Buddhas were carved. To reach the Apati Buddha, we carried our already tired bodies through the paved stairs of the traditional and sleepy village of Apati.

It is often said that to find the Buddha, you must take efforts, so we did and climbed innumerable flights of stairs and walked through the stone paved alleys of the village to reach this unexplored carving of Maitreya Buddha.  The oldest of the bas-relief buddhas in Ladakh, this 16-foot tall statue is the least known of all.

Carved in limestone, the Buddha statue has a triple sharp pointed diadem, the body structure is masculine and very impressive. It seems there were colours and stones used, but one can only see the remnants of these now.

The 6th Century Apati Buddha
The 6th Century Apati Buddha
Apati Buddha - a perspective of size
Apati Buddha – a perspective of size

The villages located in the Sot Valley are solely dependent on the snow melts and there is no regular source of water here. Sot in the local language means death, pointing to the lack of water sources in the region. Interestingly, the local people here have a saying about Apati, that when three villages are destroyed by floods, then one Apati is settled. The people, especially children of the village were curious and friendly. some accompanied us right till the Buddha statue and stayed with us till we departed.

Children at a village near Apati
Children at a village near Apati

A long day for us ended at sunset and we drove back to the Kargil Tourist Camp for a quick bath and dinner.

This was an account of three days out of our 8 day adventure at Ladakh. More to come soon.

 

Chhattisgarh tour – the story in black and white

 

When we take active vacations together, we tend to push our limits, and we have more fun. We meet and connect with other adventure seekers, and at times make friends for life. Tarique and I have almost always taken active vacations (Yes, a wildlife  safari counts as an active vacation)

It had been long, and a holiday was long overdue. Cycle Safari announced a tour de Chhattisgarh from 26th to 30th January 2018, and even though I was not fit enough to cycle long distances; and Tarique was recovering from an injured knee, we decided to go for it for two reasons.  Chhattisgarh was a place that had been on our list of “to visit” places for very long and this was a fully supported tour, we had a choice of cycling for a part of the distance and travel in the support vehicles. I also decided to take our DSLR along, and it was a wise decision.

Despite not being in a great physical shape I ended up cycling the entire distance of 82 km on the first day but cycling such a distance after almost a year’s gap sprained my left iliotibial band.

Took a day off to rest on day 2 and put my SLR to good use. The rest helped me recover, and I could cycle on day 3 and day 4. On an aside, just before we got on our bikes on day 3, I slipped and fell down injuring both my knees. But that was hardly a deterrent.

What we brought back were tons of beautiful memories and lots of photographs.  After reaching home Tarique and I were browsing and processing the pictures taken during the trip on the iPad when I realised that black and white brought out the mood of the trip much better than colour pictures.

Tarique has written a more detailed journal entry, you can read it here.

So here’s the story of our cycling vacation through the beautiful state of Chhattisgarh in black and white pictures.

Click on the thumbnails of the pictures to view them in higher resolution.

See more photos on my facebook page.

 

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Here she comes now...
Tigress approaching waterhole.

This was one vacation I was really looking forward to specially after the fiasco of plans to spend a weekend in Pench.  17 years of togetherness, friends and jungle – nothing beats the combination and we did have whale of a time. NH7 was a pleasure to drive and I averaged 60km and covered 180 km distance in 3 hours. That meant driving at 140km/hr for some distance but then the roads were clear and smooth and Innova lends itself wonderfully to highway driving.

We were at the park in peak summer and the heat was unbearable (mid day temperature was about 44° C) and there was very little water available -so most of the wild action was at concentrated around the water holes.

A tigress came to the water hole with four of her cubs to quench her thirst and cool herself down while down the same road  another water saucer, made by the forest department saw a barking deer patiently waiting his turn to drink water while the bigger grazer, a Sambhar deer quenched his thirst.

In smaller puddles birds frolicked in territorial displays and fought with each other while the butterflies that were mud puddling became meals of the fly catchers. We saw one handsome orange headed thrush in an extremely bad mood shooing another one of his own species till a white-browed fan-tail fly catcher got better of him and claimed the place as his own territory.

Barking deer, waiting for his turn to quench his thirst.
Hierarchy : Barking deer waiting for his turn.

Not far away was another family of tigers, two adults, a male and a female with two cubs frolicking in mud and playing tag on the bund of a small water body.

Continue reading Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Gorukana

View from the cottage
View from the cottage

We are resolved into the supreme air,
we are made one with what we touch and see,
with our heart’s blood each crimson sun is fair;
with our young lives each spring impassioned tree
flames into green, the wildest beasts that range
the moor our kinsmen are, all life is one, and all is change.

— Oscar Wilde

I could not have put into words more appropriately than this what I felt when we reached Gorukana on the winter morning after saying goodbye to FOSS.IN/2010.  **Gorukana (pronounced goru-kana; meaning a web) is a community based tourism initiative which involves running a wildlife resort unlike any other. Nestled in the beautiful web of trees in the forest of BR Hills, south of Bangalore, karnataka; this picturesque forest refuge was conceived by Kalyan Varma and is very lovingly tended to by Shilpa Sequeira. Gorukana is run and managed by the local tribesmen, Soligas and the money raised through this initiative goes back to their own community. Continue reading Gorukana

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

After the morning game drive at Manyara national park, we proceeded towards the Serengeti National park which is about 200 kms and 4 hours of drive through the beautiful Ngorongoro caldera rim.  Serengeti gets it’s name from the Masaii language word “seringitu” which means endless plains. The Serengeti plains are formed because of the volcanic ash strewn by the Ngorongoro volcano when it was active and are full of sulfurous salts, thus no dense forest here.

Early morning Serengeti scape.
Early morning Serengeti scape
Umbrella acacia
Umbrella acacia -trademark serengeti

Rajai (our driver and guide) told us that before the Government of Tanzania declared Serengeti as a national park, it was home to two tribes; the Masaii, Datoga and *Hazabe Bushman tribe who were constantly clashing with each other over land and cattle. After the formation of the park, Masaii were given rights to live near the Serengeti while the Hazabe settled near Lake Eyasi.  The Hazabe bushmen are hunters and eat the meat of wild animals (sometime even raw meat). The only animal they don’t eat is a Hyena as it is considered unclean. The Bushmen and speak the “click language” by clicking their tongue, teeth and palate**. The Datogas make ornament by melting iron, they are also adept in making spears and other hunting instrument which they sell to the Hazabe bushman in exchange of meat or money. Today under government protection while the numbers of Masaii are increasing, and they are even being schooled; the Hazabe bushman and Datoga are uneducated, culturally backward and their numbers are fast shrinking perhaps also due to genetic defects because of inbreeding which is very common, often within families too.

Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro crater from the rim

Oldupai
The Oldupai plant

While Rajai was briefing us of the local Masaii culture, we couldn’t take eyes off the scenic beauty of the Ngorongoro Caldera rim which we had to cross to reach the Serengeti plains. The caldera rim at it’s highest was 2400 meters above sea level and the entirely covered with clouds. As we descended, we went by the 48 km long oldupai (also called as olduvai)  gorge***. The fossiliferous  gorge is named after the Olduvai plant, Sansevieria ehrenbergii, used by the Masaii as an antiseptic as a natural bandage and for stomach ailments. They also use it to make ropes, baskets, roofs and carpets. An Agave family plant, it is also a favourite food of Baboons, elephants, etc for it’s water content.

Continue reading Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

Our plane was about to descend and I caught my breath as I saw a peak, completely covered with snow  rising above the clouds. It was Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. As we touched down and taxied we spotted a few Zebras grazing along the runway (we later learned it was a private farm) and several raptors. Our 9 day sojourn in the African wilderness had begun. The drive from Nairobi, Kenya to Namanga, Tanzania Border, and then to Arusha was bumpy as most of the roads were under construction but we were not complaining. The country side was green, cool  and fresh; the deep blue skies, a welcome relief. We proceeded to Arusha, a sleepy Tanzanian town for lunch and from there straight to the Manyara National park for a game drive.

Giraffe - mother and calf.
Giraffe with calf

Nairobi to Manyara National park is a 7 hour drive, we reached in time to the park gate for a short safari. Part of the Manyara lake is still outside the national park area and is used by the locals for fishing specially by the residents of the village Mto wa Mbu.. Mto wa Mbu means Mosquito river and the village is named after the river by the same name that flows near the entrance of Manyara National Park.  Baboons and other bolder animals regularly stray into the village for food (specially Bananas) and water.
Continue reading about Manyara. Has more photos.

Kenya Airways – Harrowing experience

On 23rd May, 2010 I and Tarique were booked business class to fly from Nairobi to Mumbai. We took our boarding passes, and went to the lounge. The lounge itself was cramped and stuffy, but we endured. Around 4 PM we went out to check out the duty free shops and we heard boarding announcement for our 5.45 PM flight. We returned and found out that the announcement in the lounge was completely different. The receptionist told us that our flight KQ 202 to mumbai has been delayed by an hour. We relaxed, thinking there is still time for boarding. She said that the boarding announcement for business class passengers would be made around 6 PM and we can relax till then. After an 8 hour drive from Ngorongoro to Nairobi on terrible roads, we were really looking forward to a relaxed flight back home.

At 5.45 PM the receptionist called me and Tarique and told us that we have been downgraded to economy class as two pilots have been allotted our seats. When we protested we were told to meet the duty manager at the boarding gate. The duty manager told us a different story. She said that yes, the pilots are there but we are not being downgraded because of the pilots but because the seats allotted to us were not serviceable and they did not know about it. I raised my voice and asked for a senior person from Kenya airways. While I was talking to the duty manger, Tarique heard the other person on the desk giving  order to offload our baggage. All this, while Aasim who held a valid business class ticket was already boarded and was waiting for us.

He frantically told the person not to offload the baggage and that our son is already in the craft. The duty manager coolly looks at us and says you only have one choice if you want to travel today – go economy class, there wont be any refund, and got us to sign some paper which according to her will allow us a free business class upgrade on our next KQ flight.  All this was happening while the craft was already preparing to take off without us. Given a situation with no choice, we ensured that out baggage is loaded back and boarded the plane On our way we found out that all the seats of the business class were fully functional and occupied. The duty manager had lied to us about them being not serviceable. Feeling cheated we proceeded to our seats.

An hour after take off, dinner was being served. When the hostess reached us, I asked for a chicken meal, only to be told that it is finished and if I need to eat I will have to make do with rice. The hot meal had nothing else but rice served along side a croissant and some salad. Needless to say it was totally inedible, but eat I did as my sugar levels were going low and I needed to eat something before I got completely hypoglycemic.  Asking for water after I finished eating was another nasty experience. The hostess told me that she was occupied with serving coffee and water will come when it will. I saw her 2 minutes later standing on the aisle talking to another hostess. She stayed there laughing and talking for 10 minutes before I got off my seat went to her and asked for water again to which she pointed towards the serving area and said very rudely “go take it from there”. Kenya Airways treats it’s passengers very shabbily. Makes our own Indian Airlines/Air India look much better in front of them.

Unfortunately for traveling non stop to Nairobi from Mumbai there is no option but this horrid airline. I am already dreading my next flight with them.

Coastal Kutch : Naliya Mandvi and Motwa

Fisher folks at Motwa beach
Fisher folks at Motwa beach

Very close to Banni grasslands is a place called Naliya, also called as Kutch Bustard Sanctuary, one of the very few places in India where the Great Indian Bustard is still found. While we did not get lucky to spot the GIB, the beautiful black partridge numerous raptors satiated our birdwatching appetite. After scouring the Naliya grasslands, we drove further west to a beautiful coastal town of Mandvi.

Traditional Ship Building Center, Mandavi, Gujarat
Traditional Ship Building Center, Mandavi

This 16th century town was once a summer retreat for the Maharaja’s of Kutch. The old city was inside the fort the ruins of which can still be seen. The city also houses a 400 year old traditional ship building center. It is said that the ships, built completely of wood would sail to far off lands and were much in demand. The center still makes ship the traditional way.

Spot billed Duck
Spot billed duck

We passed the town of  Mandvi stopping only for lunch as our destination was the Motwa beach, south of Mandvi where we were going to see and photograph coastal birds. Motwa is  a fishermen village and the beach is untouched by tourists and thus has a loads of birds. By the time we reached the beach the fisher folks were returning home,  sun was setting in the ocean limiting the photography opportunities. We too decided to take a long drive back armed with loads of memories and some stunning photographs. Continue reading Coastal Kutch : Naliya Mandvi and Motwa

The Banni Grasslands of Kutch.

After a complete SWOT analysis, we selected to visit The Rann of Kutch (greater as well as little) as our holiday destination and I must say it was a decision well made. The place is a must see not just for its avi-fauna but also for its cultural and geological importance.

Featureless plains of Banni
The Featureless plains of Banni Grassland

Gujarat is a colorful state, and perhaps Kutch still retains most color. People here are simple, helpful and very courteous, their attire enticing, their language sweet despite the hardships they face.

Our first destination was the Greater Rann of Kutch. We stayed at CEDO, Moti Virani Village. CEDO, the Center for Desert and Ocean is a trust run by one of the most knowledgeable persons about the region, Mr. Jugal Kishore Tiwari.  Nearest to CEDO is the Banni Grassland where we spent a lot of time.

Continue reading The Banni Grasslands of Kutch.

Work hard Play harder!

Three days worth of business trip, three weeks worth of shopping and fun. This time going to Thailand was different.

6 AM sea side walk, meetings from 8.30 AM to 6.30 PM and shopping in the evening, that pretty much sums up our time at Pattaya where our client is based. But Bangkok was a different play field altogether.

Bollywood mania in Thailand – I saw Devdas dubbed in Thai being sold in stores and what took my breath away was a Thai girl singing “Dhoom macha le Dhoom” and perfectly at that – this was in the hotel lawns for some party. It seems the locals know the song very well – everybody was singing and dancing to Dhoom!

Ever since Tarique returned with his Patpong experience (2 years back) I have been wanting a redux and I got my chance in this visit – Patpong is not just famous for its flesh trade, but also for its night bazaar – you get everything there – right from local woven silk purses to international brands – and what fine imitations, right out of the spam mails!! “madam -authentic Gucci at 50% discount” “Authentic Rolex at big discount” are the phrases you keep hearing as the pavement shopkeepers try to woo you to at least have a look at their goods, and once you have looked, you are hooked 😉 I bought several items from the bazaar – a Thai silk purse, a lovely painting on Thai silk, a huge folding fan – I almost bought a Gucci purse indeed a 100% authentic imitation right down to the stitch details

While we navigated the bazaar and went inside a different type of whispers and calls beckoned- “Madam, ping pong show ”, “Sir, come inside, have a look and don’t pay if you don’t like the show” every step you take, there were men and women asking you to peep inside the dance houses and sit if it pleases you. So we went inside one of the dance house – the nude shows are never held on ground floor they are always on the mezzanine or first floors of these dance bars – I had a good idea of what to expect there so it did not surprise me – there were of course nude girls dancing and doing the acts they are famous for, but it was more of a circus than a dance show. There were several women watching the show, men falling over the dancers and the bars owners making money. In short it was crude, somewhat funny and amusing but not titillating to the least. I got bored pretty soon and had it not been for an Indian making a perfect fool of himself, I would have moved out earlier. This gentleman, was summoning girls and playing with them – throwing money at the girls and the girls asking for more and more money without obliging him – he was drunk, being had and he did not know. He looked like a novice (or may be he was not) but I was so tempted to whistle and shout some advice in Hindi! This too got monotonous after a while and we left… May be there are better shows somewhere but got the feeling that they were mostly the same every where….

Some observations: The tourism industry of Asia is really on a down swing after the series of consecutive disasters – SARS, Tsunami – the sex center of Asia – Patpong is now less than half of what it was (comparison by Tarique since his last visit). I noted the same about the Chatuchak market – Bangkok’s most famous and biggest weekend market where one gets *everything* – the shops were barely starting to open at 8.30 AM on a Sunday and the shopkeepers were disinterested – the items on sale were not appearing new, the people walking around were mostly Thai youngsters who had nothing else to do on a weekend. The range was not as vast as it was since my last visit to Chatuchak two years back. However, we did manage to get quiet a lot of stuff for ourselves and Aasim – some fossils, shells, dried star fish, Black and Decker sets, table lamps, no clothes – clothes and T shirts were of extremely bad quality in Chatuchak this time unlike my previous visits. The best of clothes we bought at Central Plaza – branded stuff at low prices.

At Central plaza, we also had best of food – I stuffed myself several times with grilled Salmon steak. We successfully refrained ourselves from getting into MacDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC and experimented with various cuisines. Tried Japanese, did not like it perhaps MK (A famous chain of restaurants which also serves Japanese) is not a good place to start the Japanese experience. Most traditional Thai dishes have too much lemon grass for my liking.

Our return was as eventful as this entire trip. We were due to take flight to Nagpur on Monday morning, but on reaching Domestic Airport and being told that the airport transit rooms were full, we were wondering what to do for next few hours when I noticed that the evening flight to Nagpur was delayed and due for departure in 40 minutes. Ran around a bit, got ourselves two seats and we were on our way to Nagpur within two hours of getting off the plane from Bangkok. We did not get to sleep much in the night as Aasim was too excited but it was well worth spending more money, wasting the apex tickets and reaching home.

This morning Tarique started to write an LJ entry but left it half way – here’s what he wrote before giving it a ditch.

“She was sick with my cribbing about not having time for fun on our trips and decided that it was time to fix it. To start with the tickets were booked for as nearly connecting flights as possible and did not waste a complete day sitting at Mumbai. The client had suggested that we do not meet the very next day, in consideration that we will be tired but we said *No*. We reached Pattaya via a 2 hour cab ride. We were put up in a nice sea facing room at the Hotel Asia Pattaya. and were at the Client’s office at 15:00hrs. This aggressive schedule set the mood for the entire trip. We shut our mind to the physical tiredness, being in good physical condition helped, and concentrated on doing what we wanted to enjoy, pursuing fun with the same *has to be done* attitude as we usually apply to our work. So from meeting it was straight out to shopping for few of our favorite things. Another thing that we had firmly decided that this we will not eat at any of the fast food brands. KFC/McDonald/Pizza Huts were out!”

Kahna II

It was after 10 years that we took a holiday to Kanha and it was a very rewarding experience in every way.

Not only did we see the wild life so closely, we learnt a lot of lessons on a personal level as well.

Visit to the jungle made us respect its laws. Mankind no longer belongs to the jungle, he has been alienated from the jungle much too long to even decipher them. It takes a while to realise that it is the tiger who is giving you a privilege of sighting him – so what if you are on an elephant back – one leap and the tiger can reach you at 10 feet. One slap of his paws and a man can be disemboweled. Its when you realise that you can be on the menu of that beast you start to respect him. That he did not even roar at you is his privilege. Tigers in the jungle can not be compared to those kept in the zoo. These beasts of the jungle live their own lives at their own terms and quiet a few have been known to turn into man hunters (if not man- eaters).

Like any other species, each animal has a character, out of a population of 128 tigers of Kanha, about 8 or 10 are show-offs they make themselves visible and pose for our photographs! How we capture them is our skill as long as we respect the space they demand. You cant get down from the elephant, set up a stand, wait for the sun to shine brightly to photograph wild animals. When it comes to capturing the wild, its your skills with the camera that matter –À mauvais ouvrier point de bons outils. To prove the point there are compositions which Aasim has taken with a 1MP camera which are better than any of ours.

Talking of blaming and pointing fingers, says here that he was disappointed and pointed fingers at the guide for not showing us anything. Why, the same guide showed brainz a sloth bear and a leopard the very next day and the same jeep driver who was with us on first day evening went with Uncle Stevens to show a tigress on mud road and tracked her for more than 45 min. When we are in a jungle, the beasts we see are the ones that willingly come out and show themselves off. Animals and birds are far more sensitive to sight and sound than us, I am sure that scarlet minivet sitting on the tree top spotted us and allowed itself to be photographed, so did the peacock that almost posed for us and I am humbled at the thought.

Another incident that I now feel ashamed about was directing my disappointment towards our tour guide whose vehicle broke down while we were returning -it wasn’t his fault, there was no way he could have anticipated that, I knew it, but at that time, I did point fingers and again a talk with Uncle Stevens made me realise how wrong I was. We, in a fit of anger, and disappointment, find it very easy to point fingers and blaming everyone else for what we think as wrongs done to us – this not only is a sign of immaturity but also that of a weak person, a loser!! never do we introspect and rationalise.

Both above incidents combined also put in perspective how we most of the times tend to focus on the trivial details and lose out on the much grander bigger picture – À bon entendeur, salut.

This jungle trip taught me to be more patient practical and put the perspective where it belongs – In wide angle

::

Kanha – I

May 21st, on our way to Kanha National Park, we also saw a rare celestial event, occlusion of Venus by the moon, Aasim was the first to notice and pointed it out to us and we saw the entire phenomenon – moon coming closer and closer to Venus, and nearly eclipsing it, Venus appeared as a bright white dot just below moon, as if the moon developed a wart!!. I wish we weren’t so much in a hurry…. we did not take any pictures

We got out of the vehicle that took us to Village mocha, 16 kms from Kanha which was to be our abode during our stay there, we were greeted by Mr. Denzil A.G Stephens, Resort Manager, Tigerland Resort. Uncle Stephens was introduced to us by our tour guide, Mr. Arjun Dhanwate, as an expert in Wild life and a naturalist with keen interest in Tigers.

A thorough gentleman, Uncle Stephens had many stories to tell us, we sat and listened in awe as he spoke and just as he was speaking, he whispered to us, turn back slowly and don’t make any noise, he pointed his torch light and there was a wild spotted deer (axis axis), right inside the resort garden. It galloped back as we shrieked in excitement.

Spotted deers and leopards are a pretty common sight, Uncle Stephens went on to tell, a leopard regularly comes to sit on the rocks adjoining the resort. The resort had no brick wall to guard it from the jungle, just a small bamboo fence, that even a deer can break, we stayed in the midst of jungle, woke up every morning before sunrise to the chirping of hundreds of birds and for the first time witnessed the expanse of milky way which gets so lost in the hustle bustle and lights of city life.

The crisp and cool morning air was refreshing as we sipped our morning tea sitting out in the open, looking at the jungle corridor that joins Kanha (located in the Malkal hills of the Satpura hill range in mandla district of Madhya Pradesh) to the other forest belts. Animals, specially the herbivores, we were told by Uncle Stephens, keep migrating from one place to another from Bandhavgarh which is 250 kms north to Kanha to Kanha and Pench which is about 200 Kms south of Kanha.

With herbivores, even carnivores move, forever extending their territories. It is a good thing that their numbers are rising. In Kanha itself, there are about 40,000 spotted deers and 128 tigers, about 35 Indian sloth bears, several leopards and jungle cats which co-exist with about 250 varities of birds and hoards of Jackals, wild boars, Bisons, Barasinga (the only surviving species of barasingha is in Kanha) wild dogs, langurs… and so many more animal species. A place to witness the biodiversity in fullest, it only takes a second to be surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. We were absolutely awestruck when our elephant stepped into the indri river bed – I have never seen so many varieties of butterflies, each one more beautiful than the other and I was told this is not the butterfly season. To see them in resplendent colours and even greater numbers one should visit in the spring time during the months of February – March

Animals blend so beautifully in sal and bamboo forest of Kanha, it takes and expert eye to spot the tiger sitting on the road side under a bamboo bush. almost missed spotting a leopard even though it was very close to their jeep.

We enter the jungle at sunrise and see few Bisons peacefully grazing, deers grazing, galloping, and keeping a watchful eye a couple of jackals playing with each other in distance. Lets turn left, our guide tells us, and we find out that a sloth bear has just crossed, the tell tale signs of its foot prints on soft sand.

Each animal has a tale to tell, and we heard the jungle whispering tales – birds giving alarm calls, male deer tapping their foot and grunting giving rattling calls to their would be mates, peacocks meaou meaou filling the jungle and suddenly a hare lept across the road. We spotted a tigresses pug marks -she is on a kill. Looking up we saw vultures sitting waiting for the tiger to hunt and finish eating so that they can come down and feast on crumbs..

We weren’t really looking for the tiger, we went upto the river bed and returned to take another route. When we came back to the resort, Uncle Stephens told us, he was there in another jeep ahead of us by about 10 minutes he had decided to cross the river bed, to look for more fauna when a tigress was spotted, perhaps the same one which was on the kill and the we had heard the entire jungle taking.. She was there on the road side, she waited and with a calculated gait circled the jeep in which Uncle Stephens was with some other tourist, after a few minutes of inspection she walked on the mud pathway and the jeep followed her for about 45 minutes. We missed out this opportunity…. it happens very often uncle told us, each tigers has a character, some are playful, some shy, some grumpy and some flaunt themselves, just like people do.

He spoke of one tiger named Charger, in Bandhavgarh forest, Charger, he was a naughty one and was named so because he loved chasing jeeps full of people and scaring them. He was huge but one could almost see him smiling after his little game said Uncle Stephens.

He has many more tales and those are an experience in themselves, we intend to keep going back to Kanha and other forest reserves -its addictive!!! took many interesting pictures which he will post in his journal, will do the same.

The first picture is up and can be seen here