Category Archives: East

Tawang: Land of the Monpa People

In a couple of weeks, we’ll be off to explore another magnanimous Himalayan destination. Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh.

This destination has been on my list ever since I kindled my love for the rustic parts of the Himalayas! One of the most interesting things about the beauty of these mountains is, no matter how many times one visits the magical paradise, no matter how much time you spend there, you are bound to seek out more. The thirst for exploring wilderness amidst these peeks is never quenched.

It’s not an easy task, mind you, whether you’re trekking the high altitude snow tops or for that matter driving or moving around on the slithery roads of the highest motorable roads in the world the adrenaline rush is one that compounds the thrill of being in the company of enchantment.

That’s what I’m looking out for when my travel partner Feet on the Map and I will head out in a couple of weeks to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh! Thanks to Ride And Climb Adventure, we’re hoping to get an experience of a lifetime.

From what I’ve heard so far, Tawang certainly seems to be one of the popular yet less explored and so called off-beat locations! One where you’d ideally visit ‘luxuriously’ with whatever little luxury you can afford in such high altitudinal locations.

Not that you don’t get material comfort, but I never was the one that seeks that, Tawang is a land known for it’s Tibetian heritage, Buddhist monasteries and of course the beautiful lakes and majestic mountains!

Tawang was historically part of Tibet inhabited by the Monpa people. The Tawang Monastery was founded by the Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, and has an interesting legend surrounding its name, which means “Chosen by Horse”.

The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang. In fact, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to escape from Chinese army, he crossed into India in 1959 and spent some days at the Tawang Monastery before reaching Tezpur in Assam… I realized this when I’d watched a beautiful movie called Kundun on His Holiness!

A good destination like this must have a great itinerary and interesting places to visit. While we’d be visiting most places, and be off the grid for a whole week. While there are plenty a places that we’ll visit and pass through, I’ve already made up my mind on what places are going to entice me spiritually and of course scratch the traveler’s itch within me.

Tawang Monastery: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery of the Gelugpa sect – constructed in 1681. It was the birth place of the celebrated 6th Dalai Lama, and is home to more than 500 lamas.

Travel blogger india, srinistuf, Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

Tawang Monastery

Bum La: The Bum La Pass is located about 37 km away from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, at the Indo-China border above 16,500 ft above sea level. This is an old traders road went from Tawang via Milakatong La Pass (La in Tibetan is pass) to Bum La Pass and finally to Tsona Dzong in Tibet province of China. This area is heavily guarded by Indian Army and one need to obtain Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit this place. PAP can easily be obtained with the help of travel agents in Tawang.

Bumla-Pass

Indo-China border at the Bumla Pass

P.T.Tso Lake: This lake is situated above Tawang and is frozen for about 4-5 months of a year. One can hire a local vehicle and go to this lake. The lake itself is splendid as well as the views from the lake are also unbelievable.

Nuranang Falls: About 100 metres high, these falls are located in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, India. It is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in this part of the country, yet is unknown to many travelers. It lies some 2 kilometres away from the town of Jang on the road connecting Tawang and Bomdila, so it is also known as the Jang Falls. There is a small hydel plant located near the base that generates electricity for local use. The Nuranang river originates from the Northern slopes of the Sela Pass. Just below the waterfall it falls into the Tawang river.

Jang Falls, Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang

Bomdila Monastery: And of course on our way back to Guwahati, the visit to Bomdila monastery is a must. A home to Buddhist Lamas and monks at Bomdila in the west Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. The colorful land of Bomdila, which lies amidst the graceful Himalayan ranges at a height of 8500 feet above the sea level, is the headquarter of the western Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh.

The small and beautiful land of Bomdila is an attractive destination for the tourists from all across the globe, who come here to get themselves pampered by the mother nature and have a closer look of Indian culture, Buddhist tradition and hospitable locales of the north eastern India. An ideal place for trekking, the land of Bomdila and its culture is under a strong Tibetan cultural and traditional influence, and therefore, also nests many Gompas or monasteries.

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Now begins the 2 week wait and hopefully ends in an eagerly awaiting trip to the land of the Monpa People! And of course, once the journey’s over, hopefully I’ll have many a stories to tell…

Route to Kalipokhri Village

Kala Pokhri (3186 m) is a small Himalayan village inside the Singalila National Park in the Darjeeling subdivision, Darjeeling district in the state of West Bengal, India. It lies on the trekking route from Mane Bhanjang to Sandakphu (the highest peak in West Bengal), and is roughly halfway between the steep final stretch of the trek from Gairibas to Sandakphu. “Pokhri” means “lake” and “kala” means “dark” in Nepali, and the village is named after a local lake with dark waters.

It is also the second camps en route the Sandakphu trek in the North Eastern Himalayas where you traverse across Darjeeling and get into some small villages of Nepal and head back into Darjeeling via Gurdum. And yes after you’ve crossed Tumling, you have entered for the first time in Nepal.

Now, for those who have done the trek, would know that the route to Kalapokhri has to be the steepest and one of the higher climbs as compared to any other, until of course you carve your feet out of the Himalayas from there on towards Sandakphu.

This journey is as beautiful as it could get. We started early in the morning, foggy and misty with a lot of silence across this journey. With ocassional rainfall, we did take some small stops before we decided to briskly climb up this route.  Some pictures from that trek.

Kalapokhri, West Bengal, Kanchenjunga, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Nepal, Himalayas

As soon as we left Tumling, we left behind these siblings

 

Nepal, Kalapokhri, Sandakphu, Darjeeling, HImalayas

Following the misty trail across Nepal border

 

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You can see the Indian villages down from up top in Nepal

 

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As you reach Kalapokhri, the ascend gets tougher

On the left side is India and on the right is Nepal

On the left side is India and on the right is Nepal

 

By the time you get to Kalapokhri, you’d be quite tired, but at the same time admire the fascinating and very quiet village, some of them playing Nepali songs on the radio and small huts with people sitting near the fireplace seeking some warmth that you’d end up getting relaxed all by yourself right there… One of the best routes on this trek for sure…

Seeking peace and serenity in Tumling

On one of our trips in the Himalayas, I remember how lines across various borders fade away and depict a path that just goes on beyond just the territories hazed within the minds of people caught in a rut, one that fails to distinguish a beauty of the nature so vast, and enchanting that we always tend to look at terrains as boundaries keep blocking us and our minds.

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Sometimes I wish for that as a traveler to do away with. Most often than none, whenever I take a trek to the Himalayas, an important thing that is always on my mind is to leave behind the clutter and the chaos that this urban mind has always carried around with it’s mundane inglorious life. I try to devise a plan and then I stop and tell myself that it’s not a strategy that I have to pitch to a client, I usually end up thinking twice about things when I’m out here in the city. Out there, I let the nature guide me by it’s own destiny and help me make a better choice with every step that I take in the wilderness of the mountains.

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One such trips was on the way to Sandakphu, where our first pit-stop was a glorious beginning into the Nepal bordering, crossing over Darjeeling and Sikkim the Himalayan regions of Tumling. A small village would be very popular among trekkers who are treading slowly towards Sanadkphu and Phalut. Both destinations which on a clear day, give a peek at the Kanchenjunga and the Mt. Everest, if you’re lucky.  One of the most interesting things that you’ll notice on this path is how serene everything is right from the time you start the trek from Mhanebhanjan, the base camp, usually for all the trekkers who head up to Sandakphu or Phalut.

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The occassional villagers going about their tasks, once in a while the sunlight taking a peak through the dense forests with maple and deodar trees. The ocassional Land rovers shipping food and gas cylinders and other than that there is complete bliss and total serenity. One can only feel an underlying divinity in this path across nature that cannot be described unless you actually go and witness the same.

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One beautiful thing about this place is that it has an arduous look about it the moment you reach the small village. As you settle down and look up at the mountains you will feel the ease of the mountains and the beautiful path that holds a great canvas in front of you, one as a trekker or a mountaineer, you’d be raring to have a go at, painting your journey across the beautiful terrains of these North Eastern Himalayas…

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Kolkata – City of Joy

After the amazing trek to Sanadkphu-Gurdum, this had to be one place that I needed to visit as I was so near… Luckily for me that opportunity was inadvertent. By the time we had finished our trekking, I was supposed to go back home in the Mahananda Express… but as luck would have it, my tickets never got confirmed. I got to know that in Rimbick, and thankfully I had network in Rimbick and decided to make new travel plans. And what better than to finally visit this city which I had on my list for quite a while now… So quickly I booked my train tickets to Kolkata from New Jalpaiguri and fortunately for me, I got confirmed tickets.  And then I was off… With a couple of days to spend in Kolkata, I knew I had my hands full. So decided to make the most of it. 🙂

I reached early in the morning and as soon as I got out of the railway station, I decided to take an auto and head to a nearest guest house or a cheap hotel to stay in. Works best if you are on a short trip. I wasn’t near Howrah side of Kolkata, which means I’d end up missing Howrah Bridge and also had thought of going to the Eden Gardens just to get the feel of the huge stadium, but since the second Test between India and England was being played there, most tickets would have been sold out and I decided I’d rather tour the parts of the city that I could, near my hotel.

My local cab for sightseeing

My local cab for sightseeing

Kali Ghat, Kolkata

Kali Ghat, Kolkata

First stop was, Kalighat Temple.  Kalighat was a Ghat (landing stage) sacred to Kali on the old course of the Hooghly river (Bhāgirathi) in the city of Calcutta. The name Calcutta is said to have been derived from the word Kalighat. The river over a period of time has moved away from the temple. The temple is now on the banks of a small canal called Adi Ganga which connects to the Hoogly. The Adi Ganga was the original course of the river Hoogly (Ganga). Hence the name Adi.

Mother Teresa Home for Sick & Destitute, Kolkata

Mother Teresa Home for Sick & Destitute

Right next to the Kalighat temple is a Mother Teresa Home for the sick and the destitute… This is not a really great sight, and it’s that part of Kolkata one would want to forget but certainly something one should ponder of especially in this country of ours… Worth doing something about…

Roshogolla

Roshogolla

After visiting the temple, I headed to a nearby food joint to munch on Mishti Dohi and some Roshogolla. YUM is just not the word…

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Victoria Memorial

Next stop was Victoria Memorial and the City Museum. Spent a lot of time in the museum, with a great and really amazing collection especially of ancient excavations of prehistoric nature, including fossils and Dinosaur ribs and stuff from that time.

Mahavira Statue from early 10th Century

Mahavira Statue from early 10th Century

Tara from 9th Century

Tara from 9th Century

 

 

Having said that, I’m pretty sure another trip to Kolkata is certainly called for, one thing I’d like to do is visit the Howrah bridge and take some snaps at night. That’s certainly on my list and I guess I’ll have to wait for it… which I think is going to be worth it…

Rimbick Basecamp

After having spent more than a week wandering across mountains of Himalayas, with a hope to witness the beauty of the Kanchenjunga we had hoped for a better ending especially when we had reached Sandakphu. Bearing the freezing cold of Sandakphu at 14000 feet was all worth it and could have been a complete experience, had we witnessed to see the Kanchenjunga peaks up close and personal especially from the top most point of that beautiful location. Nonetheless, we salvaged some of the situation after our alighting to Gurdum was truly enchanted by the stay there. Since we got down sooner than on other days, we had a lot more time to spend in Gurdum and we had made the most of it with the beautiful, serene and silent cottage at that camp.

While we did that, we were really hopeful that there was a lot more to the Himalayan trek than just this… Sadly, the time for the trek was about to come to an end. We were to alight to the final destination on this trek after Gurdum camp. Yes, of course, there would be civilization, local markets, hot water to shower, lesser cold and very little clenching of teeth… But that was all worth it when you come up to these heights. A world of it’s own, you began to be enchanted and somewhere deep in your mind make up a world of your own… Something that you would always want to enjoy without having to let go of the experiences that you underwent. We all had that kind of a feeling. The place was much more relaxed, by this time all of us had began to understand each other a lot more. Some had drifted from their regular group and joined others… We had bonded very well in a span of this week… Once we reach the basecamp, we knew all that was going to be over… With our goodbyes and farewells, we knew we may not be able to spend much time later. So I guess, this was that one last trip as they say… One last shot at making the most of our entire journey.

With that thought in our mind, we set off on a journey towards civilization, a last descend downwards to the chaos of life. One that we all had missed for days, but never complained. Such was this journey and such are treks of these kinds, especially in the Himalayan terrains, terrains where there is peace and redemption.

Himalayas, Sandakphu, Darjeeling
The final journey begins…

We started our last trekking bit on this expedition with a stride in our step and a heavy heart… Nonetheless, we had to make sure that this last journey was going to be full of great memories and beautiful pictures. We were hoping this terrain to be a bit different.

Villager Farmboy
Mhane Chandra

On our way we met Mhane Chandra. He was going up to cut firewood. To him, this sickle is going to be a life, a life full of what his parents told him about… A life full of dreams and a life that will provide him and his family what they need… But who will guarantee that these forests and the trees will last long? A question that I wonder for his future…

 While there was descent, we had to walk through some of these paths, where we had to carefully tread along the sides and worry about not slipping down the cliff…
Norgyal Sherpa Memorial

Norgyal Sherpa Memorial

While alighting, we found a few small villages within the mountains. There we also found this. And this was something which took my breath away and held my head high and hands close to my forehead, to salute the heroism of this small village within the descents of the great eastern Himalayas. This is a great story of a local lad, who gave his life for our Country… It’s a War Memorial in this Sherpa’s name… of the Gorkha regiment… A salute to Norgyal Sherpa.

Srikhola River
Srikhola River

This was one of the popular landmarks on this route. Once you know you’ve reached the Srikhola River, you know you’re 5 kms away from Rimbick.

Bridge over Srikhola River
Bridge over Srikhola River
Nishing Leng
Nishing Leng
Nishing Leng
Nishing Leng

That’s Nishengleng, cute kid… we were walking past her school and she saw my camera.. She said, take my picture… We did and she said Namaste to us… besides the picture, she enjoyed some great candies which we dished out 😉

From then on, it was just a little bit for us to walk to the base camp… And that would mark the end of a journey, beginning of a cherished memoirs something to remember for…

Gurdum – Village of Serenity

After having conquered the great heights, our next two days of trekking was all about the descent. As much as people would love to say that I like to descend down on treks of these scales, I’d have to say, it’s easy for the ones with strong knees. You might get exhausted and find it tiring to climb up, but as long as your thighs and calves are strong, you won’t have to worry at all… But no matter how resistant and enduring your fitness is, there’s little you can do to work those tiring knees when you come down.

Having said that, the journey becomes all the more enjoyable as there is no fatigue and there is very little amount of time you keep thinking… ‘Are we there yet?’ Also you feel a lot more relaxed when you do stop by whenever you want to take a break, which again is reduced as compared to the number of times you take a break while climbing up.

Our descent started early in the morning around 8 AM. The sky was not yet as clear as we hoped it to be. If it was, we’d have given another shot to go to the top, just for the breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest from the highest point. Sadly, that was not something we could manage… Nonetheless, our journey was going to be great anyways and I’d made up my mind that I’d stay far ahead so that we reach soon and relax at Gurdum. I was told Gurdum had a really peaceful and serene basecamp… It was pleasant and really cozy… One of our fellow trekkers had done this trek before and from what I heard, I really wanted to reach there soon.

The day began with a walk down the woods… Before crossing a couple of valleys we had to cross through these woods… Brilliant weather for a brilliant start of the day…

A perfect picture for a Trekker's Calendar
A perfect picture for a Trekker’s Calendar

Doesn’t this make for a perfect picture for those trekker’s calendar?? My friends, Sanjay and Twisha, gazing across the horizon while we stopped to take some rest after a while…

Beautiful Rose at the Gurdum camp
Beautiful Rose at the Gurdum camp

After a few hours, we reached the Gurdum camp, and I wasn’t surprised, for Twisha had told me about the beauty of this camp.. Here is my first view to an amazing Rose blooming outside our camp cottage. 🙂

While roses and other flowers attracted our attention, apparently we attracted this beautiful dog’s attention… We met him just about a few kms before we reached the camp and he lead us through till the end…

That’s Balram, our guide, washing his shoes, his livelihood, with sheer intensity… This must have been his 63rd trek to Sandakphu and he just doesn’t seem get tired of it… I can imagine why..

While Gurdum wasn’t so cold, we certainly enjoyed the beautiful view and the most amazing serenity that spread across the camp. Most importantly as soon as we touched down, we got amazing soup and some really nice veg momos… Truly tasty I tell ya… But  the best thing about this camp had to be this bench from where I took this picture… A place to sit and ponder across the horizon.. A horizon as beautiful as it gets… Wonder about the mystery of nature without worrying about the worldly pursuits that keep bothering your otherwise idyllic minds…

As much as I didn’t want to think about it, the thought already creeped into my mind… Tomorrow’s the last day of the trek and the final descent of this beautiful journey… Sigh…

Sandakphu conquered…

The weather in Kalapokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it may, we certainly felt the pinch even when we had to step out of our wooden cottages to go have dinner in the hall. Our saving grace was that we didn’t have to wash our hands with cold water. There was provision for warm water and that was something all of us desperately desired for, after having dinner. Washing your hands with warm water in that freezing cold is much similar to dipping your hands in fingerbowl while at a restaurant… Only this time, you truly understand the value of this warmth…

Since drinking was not allowed as it was a YHAI trek, we could only stare at this bottle of rum that was right opposite the hall while we were having dinner. What’s more, it was locked in the glass shelf and there was no way anyone could sneak into the shelf… But I guess, the warm horlicks after dinner sufficed… We slept quite early as the trek was one of the longest so far and steepest… So it was but natural that we were tired, besides, there was no guitar no music around here in Kalapokhri, except a strict camp leader and a grumpy housekeeper who was a stickler for serving you ample food… Yeah, I guess you win some, you lose some…

The next day we got instructions that this path, though 10kms, is going to be steeper than what we had already covered so far. Also, there would be a lot of crossroads and we should not take shortcuts as there are chances for us to get lost… Well, thankfully for us, we had a really great guide. So with his help, we started off our trek towards Sandakphu… Our aim, to reach 14000 feet before it got dark and cold…

Leaving Kalapokhri

Leaving Kalapokhri

As anticipated, the route was certainly steeper, there were some shortcuts which had steps on it, but we chose to climb, than take a flight of stairs… The Stairs can get to you sometimes, especially if you are trekking long distances… It’ll suck your energy and break your knees down… So even if the route is long, it’s always good to go via the climb as opposed to stairs…

Stairs enroute Sandakphu

Stairs enroute Sandakphu

While one of the best things about this trip was the beautiful weather, we had to stop at a couple of places at it started drizzling and there was a bit of a downpour too… Thankfully we were near a teashop, where we took shelter! We weren’t even halfway through then… In fact, we were hoping that this downpour would clear the clouds and the mist, hoping to be sure that, when we reach the topmost point 3600 meters / 14000 feet, we’d be able to get a sight of the Kanchenjunga up close and Mt. Everest from there… We just had to keep our fingers crossed!

The Sandakphu Border Post

The Sandakphu Border Post

After a tiring hike and extremely fatigued run of this last stretch of uphill mountains one could only feel joy and glory when we saw that flag flying high. We knew we had reached Sandakphu… While the weather was still at it’s worst, we hoped it’d clear, by the time we had our lunch and took some rest. After that was our time to go to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 kms walk… After which we had to do some rock climbing to go on top where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us.

Alas, our hopes and dreams were shattered, the mountains were engulfed with clouds and there was no way, that we were going to get to see the mountain ranges… Nonetheless we decided to go ahead and scale the top most peak of Sandakphu.. At least we would have made it to that point as we had come this far!

Before we did that, we explored a couple of places on the Nepal side of Sandakphu. A Buddhist Monastery near a Shiva Temple and a small pond of water… One that never dries…

Buddhist Monastery in Sandakphu

Buddhist Monastery in Sandakphu

 

This is near the Buddhist monastery of Nepal part of Sandakhpu… This is apparently the head of the river Maahi…. a very famous river of Nepal. Never dries.. This well or a small pond as they’d call it is perennial.  Once we were done visiting these places, we headed towards the top and after a short walk, and a bit of rock climbing we moved to the top and even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on top. With us were a lot of people, but one of the most amazing thing was that one of the trekkers who was a 50 year old Suchita aunty, she bravely climbed the rocks and made it on top… That was something no one from the other groups had done so far, said the camp leader!
We finally reach the top...

We finally reach the top...

That’s the spot, the highest peak on Sandakphu… 3600 Meters around 14000 feet! Our trek is finally complete… Well, at least the climbing… The next couple of days were a lot more stressful, especially since alighting means, knees would have to bear the brunt of your body weight… Nonetheless, despite the fact that we couldn’t see the Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest, we enjoyed every bit of the trek so far. If we were lucky, maybe we’d get to come back again and see them… or better yet, go to Mt. Everest Basecamp… 😉 It was time for us to go back to the camp, have dinner and rest as much as we could… For the next day beckoned a lot of walking… only downhill…