Category Archives: Travelogues, Stories and Life

Short Stories from my Travelogues…

Sandakphu: Across the Indo-Nepal Himalayas

One of the most brilliant sights across any landscape is the sight of Mountains reaching out to great heights across clouds! While I’m an avid mountaineer, trekker and have great aspirations one day to reach out to many mountains across the world, especially Everest Base camp and with Nepal’s Namche Bazaar being on my bucket list for certain, I’m yet to explore Nepal to the fullest. However, my first experience of Nepal was a mere glimpse of the beautiful and chivalrous mountains across the Indo-Nepal border on my Sandakphu trek in Darjeeling.

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Yes, I can say that ‘technically’ I’ve been to Nepal, and boy, it has been quite a brilliant expose so far. This was back in November 2011, when I decided to take a trek with Youth Hostels Association of India into Sandakphu, the route to which was interspersed with entry and exit points across a few villages up the hills in Nepal. Specifically Jaobari and Kalipokhari. And while one may say, that’s hardly any experience in Nepal, I might beg to differ and have a completely amazing experience of the beauty those desolate places had to offer me. One thing that this trek offered, when you reach the topmost point in Sandakphu, was a glimpse of Mt. Everest and a closer view of Kanchenjunga.

Our first stop at a point where we entered into Nepal was at a small pit-stop in Tumling. Though not proper Nepal, this region was quite a charm when it came to serenity and the most amazing food they served here. The evening was quite chilly and fog set in even as we reached there in the evening. But that did not deter us from going out for a short walk and exploring a bit of Tumling. Once we did that, we had amazing dinner prepared by Neela Di, the camp leader, a glorious entrepreneur who ran the camp lodge all by herself. This is a common sight you get to see in North East, Himalayas and Nepal regions. Most of the setups are managed very efficiently by the women of the house while husbands are mostly Sherpas. After dinner, we were joined by a couple of guides one of whom was really good at playing the guitar and he played some amazing Nepali songs while we hummed along.

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What was even more wonderful was the glimpse of a very early sunrise at 5.30 AM. Though the clouds and the mountains tried their best to hide the sun, the tinge of a yellowish orange sky made for one of the best views I’d ever seen across these mountains.  A much-needed refresher for the journey up ahead on Day 2. That was the time when we had to scale a daunting climb, to take us into Kalipokhari. While there is a lot of effort you might need to take as soon as you move beyond Jaobari, another small village across Indo-Nepal border, you’ll realize that the most amazing landscapes of the young mountains will give you a sense of serenity that you would not really experience anywhere else. On your way, the Jaobari monastery is quite a small and melancholy stop, which will get you to think, how peaceful this region is.

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After trekking for 4-5 hours, when we reached a pit-stop, we decided to stop over at a small place, which served amazing food and great mint tea. While I’m not a big fan of mint tea or tea as much, I decided to try out the Nepalese instant noodles. This was their answer to Maggi. ‘Rum Pum’ as it’s called.

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That was our last stop before we actually reached the Black Lake a.k.a Kalipokhri! It is believed that Nepalese villagers worship the black lake and no one is allowed to take a swim or a dip in this lake. The temperature was freezing and it was already evening as we approached this village.

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Once we settled down, we sat by the fire inside the kitchen and started mingling with the locals. So much so, that we even had a chance to listen to Nepalese radio channel, Koshi FM. Some were Hindi songs, and some Nepalese! Was fun tuning into the radio as we had our grub.

There was an interesting structure is like an indication of the Indo-Nepal border, with the right side being Nepal and the Left being India. This was at the entrance to our camp in Kalipokhari. The weather in Kalipokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it was, 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.

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. Post lunch 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. 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 that 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 where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However, our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Post lunch we went to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 Kms walk where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However, our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

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Even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on 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. After which was mostly going back to Darjeeling, and downhill.

Overall from whatever experience I had had of the glimpses of Nepal so far, one thing I felt was most certainly a feeling of utmost magic, something that I had never experienced so far. A beautifully fulfilling experience if anything I may add. I can only imagine what other parts of Nepal may have to offer, if the glorious mountains across Sandakphu, Kalipokhari and Jaobari were this beautiful.

5 Himalayan Destinations to Retire to

One of my goals obviously is to one day, live in the land of the lama, the Himalayan Odyssey and probably start my own farm and have a BnB along with @feetonthemapto host world travelers! And host trekkers to some of the most amazing treks in the Himalayas.

No matter how much I write about this beloved destination that I adore, there’ll never be enough to express the awe-inspiring, breathtaking, beautiful wonders that the Himalayan Mountain Range brings to all!

While trekking within the Himalayas during the summer is quite a popular thing to do, there are many other ways to enjoy the magical spirit of the mountains – especially if you aren’t an ardent mountaineer, a huge trekking enthusiast or an avid lover of walking across the mountains.

For starters, you could try experiencing the beautiful serene towns that lie at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, and these five are my recommended.

1. Joshimath, Uttarakhand

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Joshimath – Very close to scenic northwest Himalayan destinations such as Chopta, Valley of Flowers, Vasudhara falls, Auli, Rudraprayag.

The city of Joshimath serves as a good base to explore the mountains and smaller towns across the North Western Himalayas in the Garwhal and Kumaon regions. If you drive 250km southwest, you will get to the holy town of Rishikesh and Haridwar, a glimpse of the beautiful escapades in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. From this place, you can drive up to Govind Ghat, which is the base for the trek to the Valley of Flowers National Park. 20km away is also the beautiful skiing resort in Auli. Auli is known to be a skiing paradise in the Kumaon Himalayas. If not for skiing in the winters, this place makes for spectacular views and a ride on the cable car ropeway is quite fun even during summers. With a sneak peek towards many beautiful regions within North-Western Himalayas, this is the perfect spot to snuggle up and relax if you want a peaceful retreat away from the madness of cities.

 

2. Leh, Jammu, and Kashmir

Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. It now forms part of the Leh district in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Though this is a huge stretch and has beauty varied with geographical diversities, it is more popular for its road trips on high altitudes, and the view of the expansive and different landscapes it has to offer. More importantly, the lakes and waters of this place make for magnificent viewings. On one side, there’s Tso Moriri and on the other side by the India-China border is Pangong Tso Lake. If it were up to me, I’d just go and settle down in this beautiful haven. With beautiful monasteries, the highest motorable road and the cold deserts of the Nubra Valley, Leh has a lot to offer and makes for a great stay especially during the months of July to October. What’s more, there are direct flights to Leh from Delhi, making the commute a lot easier.

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A view from Khardungla Pass. One of the highest 

 

3. Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Situated in the Western Himalayas, Kaza is the gateway to the forbidden valley of the Great Western Himalayan Kingdom, known as the Spiti Valley. While getting there is an arduous task without any direct flights and the roads being one of the most dangerous in the world, once you’re there, the experience makes up for all the bumps and backaches you’ll incur on your journey there. Check out the views across Rohtang Pass and the short hike to Chandertaal Lake, and yes, once you’re there, the opportunity to visit one of the coldest villages in the world, Kibber, at 14,200 feet is the most blissful experience you’ll ever discover. One of the most spectacular views is of a gorgeous tall statue of Buddha sitting in the middle of nowhere, looking out onto the majestic mountains. The feeling you get out there is nothing short of magical.

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The entrance of Spiti Valley – Losar

 

4. Darjeeling, West Bengal

Known as the Queen of Hill Stations, Darjeeling is one of the prettiest towns in the North East Himalayas. As soon as you near the town, you’ll start to see the views of Kanchenjunga Peak. But there’s more to this place than just that view which almost sits in the background no matter which part of town you’re in. Darjeeling has some amazing restaurants, beautiful vantage points and a splendid ambiance with its rustic Victorian legacy having served as a British hill station in the past. Wake up early at 4am for a visit to Tiger Point for a stupendous view of the sunrise. On your way back down, you can visit the Ghoom Monastery, Japanese Pagoda which has some really amazing statues of Buddha in different poses.  Darjeeling is also famous for its teas, so stop by for a cup of Darjeeling tea as you view the sunset on the terrace of the century-old Keventer’s Café.

 

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The misty mountains and a Hot cup of Darjeeling Tea: Retirement 101

5. Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh

If you want to experience cool weather all year round, complete with chilly breezes, magical misty roads, and some serious time and space to think about the meaning of life, then you’d want to head to Mcleod Ganj. Located in the suburb of Dharamshala, it is also home to the Dalai Lama’s Temple known as Tsuglagkhang Temple. The town is also nicknamed “Little Lhasa” due to the large population of Tibetans living there. For me, a visit to the temple during prayer times was an enchanting experience. Whether you believe in any form of God or not, the spiritual journey is something that you’ll cherish for quite a while. The town center gets crowded due to the hoards of tourists that come from all over the world to catch a glimpse of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but you can quietly slip away to a small part of town called Naddi. It’s quiet, beautiful and serene here.

The ever foggy McLeodganj…

The ever foggy McLeodganj…

 

 

Seeking solace beyond the wilderness

One of the beauties of the Mountains is they don’t ask you a thousand questions! For someone who seeks solace, the right place to do so is beyond the wilderness!

One can easily get lost in the sheer pleasure beyond any boundaries, closer to nature and to an ambitious height one can see without having to soar the skies. That is what the mountains do to me, more often than none. Hopefully soon, would want to go into this wilderness without any worries. And that’s probably when I’ll rekindle my first love, for writing, hopefully, catch up on some sojourns and lost time… Until then, here’s what I am thinking of today…

For the joy in traversing these mountains,

Sometimes I take pride in scaling them, the other time

I wander into the clouds where no one sees the sunshine!

It’s maybe here that I find my solace

Sometimes in Joy

Sometimes in sadness

Mountains never seem to disappoint

The adrenaline rush is sheer madness!

 

 

The luxurious travails of the Queen of Hills

“The best thing about travel plans is when they don’t work out” The Sleeping Buddha

This is not the first time that travelers like me have been stranded, lost or changed plans cause of reasons unforseen.

There was this time when we were coming back from Lahaul Spiti, and got caught in a landslide, resulting in us camping out for 3 days across the banks of River Beas!

Or the other time when we expected a trek to be over and done within 4-5 hrs, but all thanks to the rain gods, it took us 7 hrs to reach to the top and we had to sleep at night in a cave amidst squealing rats and ice cold weather.

Compared to these situations, what we got this time around when we visited Darjeeling and Kalimpong was a breeze… And interestingly, this trip to Darjeeling was also because of a plan that got changed last minute. You might have read my earlier post about an escapade to the land of Monpa people, unfortunately cause @feetonthemap getting sick, we avoided going to the altitudes of enchanting divinity and settled for the ‘Queen of Hills’

The last time I’d been to Darjeeling in the beautiful clear and magnificent backdrop of an insanely clear sky, we could see The Sleeping Buddha. Hoping for the same, and our undying love for the Himalayas, we thought this was the best and the closest location, considering our flights to Guwahati had been already booked.

What we didn’t anticipate, rather the country even, was things were going down real bad in West Bengal, especially Darjeeling and Kalimpong due to the political unrest between WB government and local Gorkhaland administration.

Even as we drove from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, we saw huge posters welcoming Mamta Banerjee, CM of West Bengal, who was in town for a commemorative function.

The landscape was much different now than the last time I was there in the early winter of 2011! The clear sky was replaced by the brimming clouds kissing mountain tops and engulfing The Sleeping Buddha in its enchanting glory.

The plans to take a walk in the town, sipping coffee over breakfast atop terrace cage Keventers viewing Kanchengunga were replaced with sipping coffee at the Rodhi Resort viewing the monsoon clouds of the Queen.

Instead of walking in the town and the crowds, we were fortunate to take a stroll across the magnanimous landscapes with backdrops such as this.

Being in a destination, staying in the hotel room is itself an experience of its own. A staycation replaced by a vacation all thanks to circumstances.

Beyond Darjeeling and a couple of days of such magnificent views, we were in for another treat when we moved on to Kalimpong… Even though getting there was as scary as being in a climactic scene in a thriller. Driving in the rains at midnight to get to The Sinclair’s Resort in Kalimpong was a hellish but needed experience.

And then of course, we were in for a treat!

With great views, amazing food, luxurious and spacious rooms with little connectivity to the world, we had all the time to ourselves, mostly relaxing enjoying views like these, spending some time watching movies together, reading books, writing some and of course sleeping, a whole lot.

For those who live luxury, and are in Darjeeling or Kalimpong Sinclair’s is the perfect getaway! One of the best to indulge in especially if you are crave for utmost comfort. Not to mention the other activities you may indulge in such as swimming, fitness and spa!

All in all it was a great staycation outside the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, one that I wouldn’t mind taking up again.

13 reasons, travelers give you to ditch the Valentine’s Day this year…

Feet on the map

japanThe world is always your Valentine! (Picture source: Google Images)

It’s that time of the year again, when the couples are busy expressing their love for each other with strikingly packaged, over-priced red roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolates, tucking gooey Valentine notes in their better half’s lockers or deciding what sized teddy bear would make their better half happy! And the second half of the world, comprising of singles are either cribbing or scowling over “how useless and annoying these couples are!” while secretly walling away in their beds over romantic mushy comedies.

For me, personally it is an awkward day, because I am not single, but I don’t buy the Valentine hype either. As an introvert, it makes me cringe and I wonder if it is too sentimental or just a big fat scam for the commercial world to profit from! While I have nothing against the couples…

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Traversing the Mountains!

One of the most enchanting things in today’s age is the ability to seek unto a divine freedom of the soul!

Many men and women, dream of the clarity that they pursue time after time, especially because they don’t get it in their daily lives. While others, mostly travelers find this aspect of life to be an endless journey. One that is full of clairvoyance, meaning and clarity that others can only imagine.

And what better than the traversing of the mountains, wandering across the horizon to find serenity in nature and introspect, take a peak in your pondering mind. Traveling across the mountains without a clue, without a reason and without connectivity, especially to the rat race that we all take part in on a daily basis. That’s a true reason why I always enjoy hiking, especially in the Himalayas, but even if I’m not in the Himalayas, walking across any mountain range gives me immense pleasure.

One that you can only find when you surrender yourself to the unknown trails, paths, like your destiny that lead you to a mesmerising sunrise, or an enchanting sunset! Traveling across the beauty of organic and natural surroundings without any worldly worries. That’s something that I yearn for, especially when I want to detox, unwind and just completely disappear into the wilderness.

Sometimes I even feel there is a dire need for me to go back into complete dissonance of technology. One that’ll help me attain a nirvana of sorts. I wonder how beautiful every single day would be, with just the nature, a few books, okay maybe a Radio at best to give me company. Imagine the joy of visualising your dreams, settling down and farming on a hilltop, viewing and experiencing the pleasure of sunrise and sunset without having to run for a meeting and or thinking about deadlines!

Someday, that day will arrive soon! Until then, I keep meandering across the world finding the sweet spot, the balance of life between my travels and my work. And it is these mountains that always help me rejuvenate and revive my spirit within, to get back to the grind that will eventually help me get to that ‘Someday’ I’m looking for.

A glimpse of paradise through the Verandah by the Valley

Mumbai is always on the move! Isn’t it?

At least 90% of Mumbaikars hate the hectic nature of the city!

And most of them certainly admit that if they could, they’d get out of the city at the first chance they’d get.

Every weekend, for folks who want ‘Out’ of the hustle and bustle, are always trying to make a choice on where to go to?

Most places are either filled up with the same crowd, or are far off to do a weekend / long weekend. And have been visited to. That’s when I believe one of the top picks for them and even for folks in Pune for that matter, is Mahabaleshwar, Matheran and Panchgani!

For a change, I decided to take a #midweek break and travel to Panchgani when I was invited to stay over at this beautiful villa, Saffron Stays Verandah By The Valley

Considering it was a midweek break, the travel wasn’t that hectic. To add to that, it was receding monsoon, so the weather up there in Panchgani, was most definitely one to cherish!

Took the early morning bus from Mumbai, and reached Panchgani around noon! That’s how long it’d take for you to travel to this place. That’s the beauty of it!

One of the reasons why I’d decided to visit this place was because of it being a little off beat, surrounded by greenery, vintage yet contemporary and most importantly, the magnificent view that this place had to offer!

 

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The garden with a view!

It’s really delightful especially for a family weekend getaway, or a bunch of friends. I mean, who wouldn’t want to wake up in a  beautiful 2 and a half bedroom villa on the edge of a valley! The first rays of sun  if you’re lucky and don’t have any clouds. Or be it the beauty of the sky to fill your day with brightness.

It’s a quiet location with a rustic yet modern feel to it, especially with the surrounding greenery, the swing to sit on while enjoying a breathtaking view and listening to the sound of the wind whizz past you across the mountains into the valley. A magical experience, certainly helps a city dweller like me to keep my sanity! A must do once every while for sure.

Apart from that the  wooden staircase ascends to a charming mezzanine of dark shiny wood that contrasts with the all white interior. The simplistic interiors speak exude elegance. The colourful throw pillows, bedsheets and flower pots add just the required dash of colour making this villa a very welcoming place.

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Cozy and Comfortable. Just like a second home.

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Perfect place to set your morning cuppa

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Or if you’re sitting with friends/family, this is good too!

The best place to have breakfast in the morning. With the weather that was during the time I stayed there, even if it was a midweek and I had a few things that I had to work on, who wouldn’t want to work out a place like this, sipping on a hot cup of coffee!

A perfect view and a relaxed mind! Nothing more that I could ask for!

Apart from this, the most amazing experience I had at this place was a bonus for me. Especially since I’ve recently took upon the love for organic farming! The local caretaker, Santosh, gave me a tour of the plants/crops he’s already planted in the backyard. But apart from that, he also let me experience farming first hand, much to my delight.

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Caretaker and Farmer Santosh

 

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Some organic red and green chillies already growing in the backyard.

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The farm in the backyard with a drip irrigation set up

The place on it’s own has a magic to it. The garden, the backyard, the experential organic farming bit, the location with a view and most importantly the quiet and peaceful stay! Quite the experience indeed!

Special Note: I was hosted at the Saffron Stays Verandah by the Valley thanks to the guys at Saffron Stays! Apart from the magical experience and the delightful stay, I’ve not got anything in return! In case you want to book the place, you could do it by getting in touch with Saffron Stays. They also have an AirBnB listing, incase you are comfortable booking via AirBnB.