Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

 

The first rays of the sun infuse the village with life ; a land where flowers bloom, bees hum , butterflies flutter; everything is buzzing with life beneath the deep blue sky. I am encompassed within a life force so strong that it completely sucks me in. Such is the magic of Nongeitnyang, a small village bordering the flood planes of Bangladesh. The village which is a two hour drive from Shillong , sits amongst the shadow of its more famous counterpart Mawlynnong, touted to be the cleanest village in Asia. A five minute walk from Mawlynnong gets us to this serene village on the border of Bangladesh.

 

But this image of beauty was soon to be broken as I set of on a short trek the following morning morning. The first few minutes when we crossed a few streams through the wooded forests it felt heavenly.  Though I was in for a rude shock as I walked out , finding myself in the midst of broom grass cultivation.  Most of the hills have been systematically cleared of, to make way for broom grass plantations. Only a thin periphery of forest remains, even that is under threat for firewood purpose.  Under the blazing mid morning sun we reached our first destination, Waniryang waterfalls.  It was a Jurassic Park setting, with the roaring falls circumvented by thick forests.  Bird calls resounded in the natural amphitheatre while butterflies fluttered here and there. I was transposed to Alice’ wonder land; completely lost in my own world. A light trudge from my guide got me back to reality . Under the scorching sun we continued our march to Riwai . All along the way the Peacocks and Mormons kept showing of their marvellous colours , this was a paradise for butterfly lovers like me. All of a sudden I saw a Golden Birdwing, the largest butterfly in the world , sit on a hibiscus flower beside me which got me all excited. Immediately I took out my camera and shot it to glory.

Riwai seemed quite dirty and shabby in comparison to its neighbours. A narrow path led us down to an almost dried up stream where some women were washing their clothes. Only a bit later I realized that there was some kind of a bridge over the stream, indeed a root bridge.    

Root bridge

Since their discovery in the Cherapunjee region, root bridges seem to have become quite an attraction. But it sure is an innovative way to span a narrow stream. Ficus trees are planted on both the banks, as their roots grow they are entwined around bamboos to shape them up like a bridge. It is very slow process taking about hundred years but the end result is an amazingly sturdy bridge.

The next few days I explored few of the places in pursuit of the scaly winged wonders. Every morning I used to walk through the village admiring the Peacocks, Mormons and Helens which came in the plentiful to feast on the nectar. One morning a female Cruiser decided to pay me a visit in my hosts garden. This rare visitor got me scrambling to my feet to admire its beauty. A stream just two minutes from where I was staying proved to be the best spot for observing them. The common ones like the Sergeants, Sailors, Yeomans were everywhere , though there were many that were not so common like Wizard, Dusky Diadem, Popin Jay, and the Black Prince. The prized find though were the White Dragontails. It all started with chasing a butterfly which looked a bit different. Finally it lead me to the entire gang of Dragontails which were mud puddling in one corner. What a treat they were, showing off in all their glory.

White Dragontails

 

Most evenings I would go to the rudimentary hut built by the villagers to accommodate tourists. The balcony overlooked Bangladesh, providing stupendous views of the flood planes below. The peaceful setting made it a great location to enjoy the warm colours of dusk. There wasn’t much to do once darkness overpowered the light of day. But it was the best time to chat with my host, Hamelin, on topics ranging from village life to world politics. Being a school teacher he was quite well read and open minded, with a great zeal to do something better for his village.

Finally the morning arrived when I bid a tearful goodbye to the village. Even before I walked out of the Garden of Eden, I knew I would keep coming back over here for it is one of those places where the heart falls in love instantly.

See the garden in all its magnificence

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

 Manas – A land endowed with varied biodiversity, exceptional beauty and rich cultural traditions
Colour Sergeant mating
Colour Sergeant mating
Great Pied Hornbill
Great Pied Hornbill

 

                                                                                                                                

Sunset over the Manas
Sunset over the Manas
For the land is not without its people

For the land is not without its people

See more of the winged beauties

Take a peek of Manas’ biodiversity

Read Full Post »

 

Local legend has it that any wish you make will be granted by the lake, hence the pseudo name ‘ The Wishing Lake’. Though my only wish is that the tranquil lake along with it’ surroundings remain as is, despite the onslaught of hoards of tourists. The very first time I visited Khecheopalri  in 2007, fell in love with that place. Due to paucity of time we stayed there only for a day, though I wished it would have been longer. I now saw the perfect opportunity to be back, as Khecheopalri seemed the most ideal place to recuperate for my trek.

 

Within fifteen minutes of reaching Darap I managed to get a seat in a tourist jeep heading to Khecheopalri. I found myself in the company of a regiment of Bong tourists hob knobbing their way to various tourists points. One of them started making conversation with me during which he was pretty surprised to discover that I had actually walked for six days in the mountains. Our first halt was at the fabled Kangchendzonga water falls where the entire regiment was ready to shoot with their cameras. Within no time there was an entire convoy of jeeps spilling out with Bong tourists, posing in front of the falls to get their pictures clicked. The next halt came twenty minutes later , this time though it was the river bank with some views. As the tourists flocked out of their jeeps I found it really amusing to see most of them wearing thick jackets despite it being bright and sunny.  From here the driver directed the jeep to Khecheopalri lake over the last stretch of winding roads. Unloaded my rucksack and off I was marching to the Trekkers Hut. Took the same room in which I had stayed the last year, as the place was completely empty. Now that I was settled there were only two things on my mind, bath and breakfast. Treated myself to a delicious cheese omelet, while two buckets of hot water were getting ready for my bath. The hot water felt heavenly as I scrubbed six days of grime and sweat off my pores.  Completely refreshed went for a walk to the lake which was buzzing with tourists at this hour. To escape from the cacophony walked further down the lake to sit in the lap of the forest. Soon I was back in my room to take a nap and complete my log.

 

Khecheopalri lake

Khecheopalri lake

In the late evening went back to the lake to enjoy the solitude of the place. The bird calls reverberated vibrantly, indicating it was time for them to go home. The lake has a very magical effect on me, something which I cannot express in words. It is an amphitheatre of peacefulness and tranquility surrounded by thick verdant forests.  I continued towards the bank of the lake, watching the golden orange fishes occasionally come up to the surface to nibble for food. The entire setting completely stilled my mind awakening the soul, making me one with nature. Sat there for a long time marveling at the fishes, listening to the birds and absorbing the environment around me.  I had company when I reached back to the trekkers hut. An Italian named Vladimiro had reached in the evening from Pelling. During the course of our conversation found out that he was doing his research on sustainable development , helping out on an olive project in the impoverished district of Dolpa in Nepal. Our interesting conversation continued well over dinner as both of us exchanged our experiences and ideas.

 

Early next morning went for a walk to the Khecheopalri village which was a half hour climb from the taxi stand. Got breath taking views of the lake as I wound my way nearer to the top.       

Khecheopalri village

Khecheopalri village

      The village bore a very silent and peaceful look in the tender light of the morning sun. The old wooden houses lent a completely different charm to the place, as though I had walked back in time. Post breakfast Vladimiro and myself exchanged some notes after which we set out for a walk on another ridge overlooking the lake. Did not get much view of the lake due to the forest cover but the other side gave us great views of Thingling and the valley below. From here Vladimiro continued his circuit to Yuksom while I strolled to the jungles on the south side of the lake.  Once in I was completely cut out from the world outside, it was only me with the birds, butterflies and insects. The pristine virginal forests with the filtering white light from the canopy held an astute beauty about them , like a silver haired woman beaming from her years of wisdom. On my next step saw another beauty, crawling slowly over a fallen leaf. It was a bright orange colored beetle which held my fascination, not just because of it’ color, but also because of it’ relentless effort to climb on the leaf. Spent the entire afternoon wandering in the forest, taking pleasure in the complex world of nature. Late in the evening found myself back on the lake enjoying it’ ever pervasive divinity. This evening I had the company of three Israeli women, who had come to relax at Khecheopalri after completing the Dzongri trek. Our conversation was mostly revolved around our travel experiences with some tips by me for their first train journey to Varanasi.   

 

The last day I spent in tune with the drab grey sky, just lazing around. Relived my trek as I sat down completing the log for some time. To shake the body out of lethargy went for a stroll near the lake. For the first time the monkeys were making a huge racket, their loud shrieks penetrating the silence. They seemed to be having quite a fight within their clan. The red, green, blue of the prayer flags reflected clearly in the stillness of the lake , only to be broken by the surfacing of the fish. Took in one last breath of the tranquil surroundings before bidding the lake a final goodbye.

Check out the lake in all its magnificence.

Read Full Post »

Wild Beauties II

The Singalila range which borders West Bengal, Sikkim and Nepal is a biodiversity hotspot for flora and fauna alike. On my recent trek came across many of these beauties , mainly above Lower Yambong (3200 M). Whether it was the mauve colored slopes mingled with green and yellow, or the lilac aster or the freaky looking Saussurea, their vividness never stopped amazing me.

 

Aster himalaicus

Aster himalaicus

 

Saussurea gossypiphora

Saussurea gossypiphora

 

Senecio chrysanthemoides

Senecio chrysanthemoides

Check out more of these beauties

Read Full Post »

 

‘Permit Blues’ is what I was suffering from after three wasteful days in Gantok. Getting my KNP permit from the Forest Department was proving to be more frustrating that I had anticipated , aggravated further by a bandh and the half yearly bank closing. Like a pawn on the chess board I was shuffled from DFO office to Chief Wildlife Warden, to the Conservation officer who again pushed me back to the DFO. The last move to the Wildlife Officer saw me in the right hands, but not before shoving me to the bank for making a payment for the permit. Actually I was enjoying this bureaucratic game of chess, getting a first hand experience as though I was the poor common man in the popular TV serial of yesteryears, ‘Wakgle ki Duniya’. As the bureaucracy to protect our forests was thickening, our forests were thinning away into oblivion. On the third day, by when I was completely frustrated in the grip of ‘Permit Blues’ a miracle happened. At around eleven in the morning I was awaiting for the Wildlife Officer, who should have been in office half hour ago but did not arrive till half hour past. Recognizing my face he proclaimed in a matter of fact way that my permit was ready, I banged my head against the wall just to make sure I had heard correctly.   For the first time since the last two days there was a smile on my face as I walked out with the yellow sheaf of paper stating Khangchendzonga National Park Permission. Within an hours time all my stuff was loaded atop the jeep, ready for the long drive to Darap.

 

The Yambong Singalila trek spans a duration of twelve days but my plan was only to walk upto Daphey Bheer, the view point from where one could see the two highest ranges in the world. This trek spans across the Sikkim side of the Singalila range offering stupendous views of not only the  Kangchendzonga range but also of the Everest range. The idea was to get a first hand feel of the trek while bolstering my relations with the locals, before I started taking people to this area. The jeep was literally dragging along at a snails pace making me more impatient than ever. At eight in the evening the jeep finally deposited me to Darap, where Lakhu was waiting for me with the jeep to Nambu. Both of us exchanged polite greetings, transferred my bags, to be on our way to Nambu. The growling stomach needed to be attended before we could discuss anything, but the sumptuous dinner put the issue to rest very soon. We spoke for quite a while also discussing the plan for tomorrow, which was to walk till Chongri where I would stay over at Nima’ place.

 

Trek map

Trek map

I awoke to a bright sunny day with clear blue skies, promising excellent weather ahead. Both of us sorted and packed the rations for the trek before we could have our breakfast. The sun seemed pretty strong for eight in the morning, but the speckles sky lent an exquisite beauty to our walk. Could very distinctly see Daphey Bheer, my final destination, from Nambu.  This time around the descent towards the river seemed less steep or maybe I was just more engrossed listening to the call of the warblers and bulbuls. Once we started walking along the bank of the Rimbi, the broad leaf trees provided us with the much needed shade. The woods were teaming with bird calls but it was very difficult to spot them without binoculars. To compliment the feathered orchestra, the fluttering butterflies were providing me with a visual treat. The bright stained glass pattern of the Hill Jizabel seemed really mesmerizing.    

Hill Jezebel

Hill Jezebel

   All my senses were overwhelmed, me lost in a world of my own. Within two and a half hours we reached Sangkhola where we took a really long lunch break. In no time I was off to the river bed to rest within its cool shady boughs, enjoying the occasional bird which came for a quick sip. After lunch Lakhu bid me farewell as he had some plantation related work with the forest officials. He made arrangements for the porter to take me to Chongri, though I remembered the route from my walk two months back. With a heavy stomach and sleepy eyes I commenced the walk to Chongri but the steep climb soon got me back to my senses.  For an hour and a half we continuously marched up to be rewarded by stupendous views of the valley below. Towards the end of our climb bumped into Pemba who was going to be my guide for the next few days. He was on his way to Sangkhola but promised to be with me in Chongri by dinner time. On reaching Nima’ place had a hot cup of tea, changed to a dry set of clothes and set out to explore the village making best use of the remaining day light.

  (more…)

Read Full Post »

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

   John Muir

 

Most of us trekkers don’t bother too much about the negative impacts we have on the environment and local economy while trekking in a particular area. Do we care much if our support staff is from outside rather than employing locals, or if porters chop down wood for fuel, or if we defecate anywhere we please. In most cases trekking agencies are the worst culprits hiring their entire support of non locals who don’t care much about the environment. If we wish to save the fragile mountain environment for others to enjoy we will need to change our approach to reduce the negative impacts of trekking.

 

One way to reduce this negative trend is to empower and educate local communities, making them the key stake holders.  TMI, the NGO I have been volunteering for has been doing a very good job in this area. IFS officer Dr Sandeep Tambe who was deputed to TMI as a project manager had been instrumental in eliminating grazing from most places in the Kangchendzonga National Park. Unsustainable grazing practices were having a very adverse effect on the fragile ecology of the park, destroying much of the habitat. To compensate the local communities for the loss of income TMI initiated community based treks/tourism in few of the remote villages, by forming local eco-tourism committees. After a few years of relationship building coupled with oodles of patience and tons of hard work, this initiative by TMI has seen the light of success.

 

In this I found an ideal opportunity to contribute to the people of the mountains, assisting them in their efforts to conserve their vanishing customs and environment. Thus I planned my trip to few of the villages in West Sikkim to interact firsthand with the locals. My failure to take the only taxi leaving for Geyzing in the early hours of morning, proved to be a very expensive affair. Changing three jeeps, waiting endlessly in Ravangla market for a connecting jeep, crossing over a landslide at Legship, missing the final jeep from Darap, walking the final four kilometers to Nambu, was the price I had to pay. At long last reached my destination, Nambu, in the fading light of day. I was greeted very warmly by G.D Subba, my host with whom I had a very long conversation about the local community. Soon we were joined by Bimal, the treasurer of the Yambong ecotourism society who gave me a background of the committee. TMI had worked together with the villagers to make a trekking route, establish camps and build capacity of locals as cooks and guides. To support the marginally poor they made it mandatory for all trekking parties to hire porters and mules from these three villages only. A small percentage of porter, mule, cook, guide charges are retained by the committee as a plough back to maintain the trail, do clean up drives and upgrade infrastructure at the camps. The model seems to be very effective producing good results, which was visible from the statistics that Bimal had. Tired and famished from my adventures, requested for an early dinner, which consisted of a lavish spread on which I feasted.

 

Early next morning I had visit from Lakhu, the president of the society who was to accompany me to Sanghkhola. Contrary to my expectations it was a sunny morning with clear skies, making our walk a pleasant one. The first thirty minutes of our trek were knee wobbling steep as the route descended to the banks of the Rimbik River. From there it skirted the banks of the river, across some fields. Within an hours time we reached the Rimbik village, where under the shade of a mighty oak we took a short break. Lakhu was a great companion, modest, cheerful, soft spoken, holding on to interesting conversation. From Rimbik we traversed a bit further into the valley before hitting the main climb which really wasn’t all that steep.  

Bamboo bridge

Bamboo bridge

  Negotiating the final and trickiest bamboo bridge got us to Sanghkhola in the midday sun. Lakhu took me to Nima’ sister’ house, where I was going to stay for the night. It was a very pretty place overlooking the river, with views of the verdant valley on both sides. It felt amazingly relaxing to be sipping on a hot cup of tea listening to the gently roar of the river. By late afternoon the weather had turned upside down as rain clouds engulfed the valley accompanied by light showers. Despite a turn in the weather we decided to go to Chongri village, the remote last village in West Sikkim. But within five minutes of our walk the rains lashed down with full fury forcing us to take shelter in a house. Thirty minutes of waiting brought us no luck of any kind so we called off our trip, deciding to try our luck the next morning instead. Once the rain showed some signs of abating we left our shelter to walk around the village. Lakhu showed me the local primary school. The rest of the evening was spent reading and chatting away with Lakhu and my hosts’ family.

 

 

 

The clear skies indicated a promise of a fine morning. By nine Lakhu and myself were on our way to Chongri, climbing the steep slopes. The two hour climb passed through perennially forested slopes, enlivened by the chirping of the birds. Was completely captivated by the rich hues of the Fairy Bluebird of which we saw quite a few.  

Views from Chongri

Views from Chongri

 Towards the end of the climb got stupendous views of the valley below, stretching out for many miles.

 

 

 

At Chongri, Lakhu showed me the trekker’ hut, a basic clean one, which had been built from the money they had accumulated. Spent some time meeting the panchayat, went to meet Nima’ parents and  left back for Sangkhola. On Lakhu’ insistence had my lunch before I left for my return to Nambu. The going was quick and easy, but that was only till I reached my final climb from the river bank to Nambu. The climb proved to be quite a killer with its steep continuous gradient. Half way through my thighs were shouting, heart thumping, with runnels of sweat running down my forehead. Every time I looked up I could only see more steps; in what seemed to be a never ending game of snakes and ladders. With wobbling legs I did finally manage to reach G.D. Subba’ house where I stayed the night over.

 

The jeep to Yuksom came to Darap around one in the afternoon so I had plenty of time to while away the next morning. Had a late breakfast or early lunch, whatever you choose to call, for by this time I had got used to the fact that in this land every meal consisted of rice, dal and vegetables which was given a different name depending on the time of the day you ate. At around midday began my march to Nambu which turned pretty entertaining three quarter way through. I was crossed by two guys on a motorbike who halted seeing me walking with a backpack. The two Biharis were pretty amazed to see a crazy guy from Mumbai walking alone in this part of Sikkim.  For twenty minutes they talked non stop about their experience in Sikkim giving me all sorts of tips and advice, while I nodded my head. In all their friendship they offered to give me a lift till Darap, to which I politely refused. That was not acceptable to them, so after five minutes of coaxing me I finally gave into them.  Very anxiously I tried to balance myself as the bike picked up speed, swinging like a balancing scale which had gone haywire. Then came the terrifying movement of crossing a large stream where I was pretty sure we would fall, but by God’ mercy we somehow managed to clear it. With a great sigh of relief I bid my two over friendly companions goodbye as they dropped me to Darap in one piece.

 

The reason for my overnight stay to Yuksom was to meet up with Kinzong. Kinzong is one of those few people from the younger generation in Sikkim, who is taking a leading role in environmental conservation as a long term benefit to the local communities. Being a local from Yuksom he has taken many initiatives to conserve the degrading environment along the Yuksom –Dzongri trail, by educating the local communities as also by getting certain rules enforced for trekkers. He has played an active role in KCC (Kangchendzonga Conservation Committee) which is doing a good job of improving the livelihood of the local communities while protecting the environment. Besides Kinzong is an excellent trekking guide having a good deal of experience organizing and guiding treks in the Dzongri region. I wanted to understand the finer nuances of the business, as also clear the myriad haze of permits involved.  

 

Yuksom looked very different in the light mist and rain, than what I had seen it the previous October. It bore a very desolate look, albeit one which was extremely peaceful and serene. Had the terrific aloo paratha at Gupta’ restaurant for lunch, to my surprise he recognized me even through my thick beard. We spoke for quite some time while  I awaited for Kinzong to pick me up. Spoke to Kinzong the entire evening, our conversation ranging from environmental conservation, community development to the political situation in Sikkim. Got lots of inputs from him regarding organizing treks, about how the Yambong committee could be helped with their endeavor, some of his work in Arunachal with WWF. So absorbed were we that it was nearly midnight before we ended our wonderful conversation. Early next morning left for Gantok, bringing to an end a momentous two and a half month stay in Sikkim.

 

For more information regarding the Yambong trek and the ecotourism committee check their website http://www.yambong.com/

 

You can check the KCC website over here

 

For organizing a trek to Goecha La or in the Yuksom region you can get in touch with Kinzong at kinzong(at)gmail.com

 

Read Full Post »

Imagine yourself climbing the Empire State building, now transport the stairs from the concrete periphery of the building to the ever green temperate forests and you find yourself climbing the Stairway to Heaven. This very aptly summarizes our  trip to Tarum hot springs.

 

Nima ascending the stairway to heaven

Nima ascending the stairway to heaven

Our initial plan to do a three day trek to Lachung is shot down by the pippon , reasoning that the route would be very difficult to find in this season. By this time we have already bought our rations considering four people for three days, leaving us with a mighty excess giving us a perfect opportunity for a lavish gastronomic picnic. A half hour drive from Lachen gets us to Tarum chu, our starting point for the trek. We begin our climb over a multitude of stairs which pass through dense broad leaf temperate forests , aptly naming it ‘Stairway to Heaven’.   

Basket fern

Basket fern

 The low clouds mingling through the canopy gives off a silhouette effect to the trees rendering the forest with a very dreamy effect. Our gait is very relaxed enjoying the path which passes through bamboo canopies, listening to the melodic bird calls as the terrain slowly changes from broad leaf to coniferous.   I am fascinated by a particular fern which looks like a perfectly natural tree cage, very aptly named ‘basket fern’ .  Every few steps it appears in different sizes holding my fascination while I try to capture it on my camera from all possible angles. All of a sudden we reach into an opening from where we can see a small house, our residence for the night. It’ a small basic structure with two rooms , a kitchen and a bathroom, as one room is already occupied by two elderly Lepchas we make ourselves comfortable in the adjoining one.

 

We take appreciative gulps of piping hot tea to warm our damp bodies. Very quickly we strip ourselves of our wet clothes to immerse our bodies in the female pond. Male and female , that’ the term the locals have given to the two sulphur ponds, the cooler one being the female and the hotter one the male.  

The male pond

The male pond

 The locals believe that one should first enter into the female pond before going to the male pond, the reason for which I really did not know but logically it made sense as the male pond was so hot that it made me yelp as I dip my foot in. Nima and myself were thoroughly enjoying   as we sit there chatting for more than an hour, coming out occasionally to escape the dizziness from the sulphur fumes. By the time we come back to the hut a three course lunch awaits our rumbling tummies. The misty weather induces our laziness as we chat away with the two Lepchas the entire afternoon. Outside the flycatchers are putting up a great show with their swooping dance thoroughly entertaining us, while the yellow beaked blue magpie calls out to his mate. After a brief nap both of us are back in the pond for our second session in the natural Jacuzzi. While we dry ourselves out, the elder Lepcha whom we loving call Ajo (grandfather) invites us to join him for a tumba.  Willing we accede to his request, enjoying the sweet taste of the fermented millet over a long conversation about the Lepchas , their customs, their land. Such is our engrossment that we have lost all bearing of time , till the grey of dusk fades into the black of night. A sumptuous dinner soon follows in the dim light of our candles and the buzzing of the mosquitoes.

 

Lush green temperate forests

Lush green temperate forests

With not much entertainment both of us tuck inside our sleeping bags by seven thirty. But the night is spent in restless abandon with an incessant attack by the mosquitoes who keep buzzing all around, penetrating their antlers for a sip of our juicy blood. I keep tossing and turning all night trying to kill a few of them, but nothing seems to help. I dive deep into the depths of my sleeping bag where they still manage to find my bare skin making me scream in frustration. The first sing of light brings some relief acting as a balm to my harried self. A warm cup of tea refreshes me from my drowsy state , post which I go for my last dip to rid my body of mosquito bites and sleep. After breakfast we bid farewell to our Lepcha friends , who are sad to see us leave , as we begin our descent to Lachen.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »