Posted in himachal, himachal pradesh, himalayas, hot water spring, kasol, kheerganga, manikaran, mountain, mountains, parvati river, travel, travel diaries, traveller, travelogue, trek, trekking, Uncategorized, waterfall

Travelogue – Experience of a lifetime at Kasol and Kheerganga

Kasol – the hub of hippies and the adopted home of many Israelis who fell in love with the Himachal Himalayas – is a must visit destination if you love the mountains and the nomadic way of life. This area is bustling with cafes serving authentic Israeli and Lebanese dishes with the occasional European preparations coming now and then.

The roar of Parvati greets you and it won’t let you sleep in the star studded night. The river is pretty ferocious and is so deep and dangerous that no water sports and navigation have ever been executed here. Just one small mistake could land you in deep (literally and metaphorically) trouble, so river side adventures should be treated with caution.

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To satiate our hunger pangs, our trek group decided to explore the dishes at the Evergreen Café, situated in the main Kasol market. This popular outlet is always full and you need to wait for at least 15 minutes before you can get a cosy little corner for your group. I relished the chicken schnitzel which was a crumb fried dish of chicken breast and was a bit dry in taste though it was served with a very fine hummus. Another dish I tasted was penne pasta in pesto sauce and buffalo cheese, which was good but not excellent. I sloshed down these delicacies with a glass of mint and cucumber juice which was freshly prepared.

In the evening, we visited the Manikaran Gurudwara where meals are prepared for almost 100k pilgrims with the hot waters of the Manikaran geyser. The holy site is swarming with tourists and better planning and management of arrangements is definitely required.

Day 2: We start for Barshaini from which the Kheerganga trek begins. The road from Kasol to Barshaini via Manikaran is not so smooth and the frequent bumps will leave you exhausted. We went on a long weekend in June and the already narrow roads were jam packed with pilgrims who had decided to park their vehicles on the main road. Lesson learnt: never ever visit these beauties during long weekend or summer holidays.

Barshaini is the site where the mighty Parvati and the Tosh rivers meet and flow together as Parvati. There is a damn been constructed there and I am scared to think what this so called development will do to the lovely natural beauty of Kheerganga.

The trek starts with the descent of about 40-50 heavy steps and then a steep ascent through a dry terrain where the blazing Ra will leave you sun burnt. The occasional chants of “Om Namah Shivay” at a local temple will definitely mesmerise you while you trek the first 2-3km.

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After about 3km, you will start encountering thriving green forests with narrow trails and small cascades through which you can fill your water bottles. The protected apple orchards will entice you but hey, you are not allowed to touch those fresh stunners.

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After 3 hours, you will reach the Nakthan village which has small café serving fresh pineapple and watermelon juices. It is recommended to have these energy boosters since you will be sapped of all the vivacity that you had at the onset of the trek. Washrooms are also available here although they are not very clean.

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After 1-2km, we decided to have lunch at a small eatery by the name of Midway Camping at Rudranag which specialises in providing lunch, dinner and breakfast. I hogged on their Pahadi thali which had yellow dal with ajwain (carom seeds), tangy pahadi kadhi, sautéed potato cauliflower and chappatis. Very different flavours which I reminisce till this day.

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After a hearty meal, you are determined to move faster and after a while you encounter a bridge which crosses the wild Parvati river. Here it is descends from a huge waterfall and is scary to look at, especially when you have acrophobia. Just when the bridge ends, the luxuriant greenery of coniferous forests with little hints of sunlight commences. The air is redolent with the aroma of mountain flowers and alpine grasses. This stretch extends till the Kheerganga meadow and is comparatively cooler. The soothing air heals your sunburnt skin and tired eyes.

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But the steepness returns with an even more treacherous trail. Since it is a moist area with occasional stones, the trail is slippery and is arduous to climb with a 4kg backpack without a stick. I sometimes wonder where I would have been if not for the helpful wooden stick and the protective trekking shoes.

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The last 1km is the most difficult one. The steepness confounds you and one has to stride every step with extreme carefulness. The rocks are loose here and you have to use your stick to find the stable ground first.

The last 400m – the steepest– I seriously marvel how I hiked this particular portion. Pure concentration coupled with perseverance to reach before 5pm did the trick. And the stunning view you get of the alpine meadow surrounded by lofty peaks is breath taking.

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Since we went during peak holiday time, the meadow was not the pristine one you see in the pictures. It was overcrowded with a host of camps and cafes. Too many tourists definitely mar the experience of going to a secluded place.

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The main attraction apart from the 360 degree view of the mountains is the famed hot spring. There are separate sections for both the genders and after a tiring trek of 14km, you do need a Jacuzzi to relax in. Except that this is a natural one with sulphur in it, calming your aching nerves and sore muscles. But it is advisable to not linger in the steaming waters for more than 20 minutes as it tends to make you feel drowsy.

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A hot cuppa of Pahadi tea, vegetable fritters and a glass of banana shake return you to your morning energy levels.

The descent is easier and it can be completed within 4 hours in contrast to the ascent which takes 6 hours. While waiting for our jeep, we came face to face with an adorable café by the name of Prem where a mother-daughter duo serves the most decadent dishes with so much love! I tasted the Thukpa, the Nutells crepes and the black gram watery curry with parathas and all of them were excellently done. Do visit this café at Barshaini when you return from Kheerganga.

Best time to travel: March to May. Not recommended in the peak season because of human traffic on the trail.

Travel essentials: Water proof trekking shoes, high grade sunglasses that provide side protection, SPF 50+ sunscreen, full length clothes with a trekking jacket, a proper backpack, ORS mixed with your water, fruits and chocolate bars.

Indian style washrooms are available at the site.

The trek was organised by Kamakshi Pal, an avid trekker and travel blogger who has trekked Kheerganga 17 times.

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Posted in chennai, covelong beach, mahabalipuram, pondicherry, promenade beach, travel, travel diaries, traveller, travelogue, Uncategorized

Travelogue – the mighty trio of Chennai, Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry

A chauvinistic land known for the Tamil pride is an enigma for us Delhiites. So when I decided to visit this quaint capital, little did I know that a cultural shock eagerly awaited me.

The common thing that I observed at all the three locations was the general laid back attitude – we are used to the swiftness of life and such places offer a relaxed pace – snail’s pace I shall say.

Our stay was at South Chennai, so we decided to visit the nearby places. First in line was the Covelong beach which is a fishermen’s one located on the outskirts of Chennai. The netted boats of the hardworking fishermen adorn the length of this beach of brown sand. This beach is a lovely place to visit but the vegetarians amongst us won’t be too keen on it considering the strong aroma of the fresh catch and the way some bits and pieces of fishes touch your feet as the water caresses your feet.

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Fish lovers can also spot some street vendors selling the local delicacies – I did not dare to try these one though!

If you love colours and classy French architecture and cuisine, then Pondicherry should be on your go to list. The adorable French colony situated about 150km from Chennai can be reached in a four hour road trip along the East Coast road with a running sea view on the left side. My journey was a peaceful one with occasional rests along the tree lined road and snacking on pineapple chaat and coconut water.

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Paradise beach here is one of the major attractions for the beach lovers. Fashioned out of brown sand, it is clean and well maintained. The ferocious waves of the Bay of Bengal keep washing this beach and you can have a gala time drenching yourself in the playful waters. Additionally, there are various local cuisine stalls available here and I was fortunate enough to taste a freshly prepared fish snack – it was okay though.

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If you are going on a long weekend like we went, you are bound to find it too crowded. Too congested to even move and visit the authentic French cuisine based restaurants.

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But you will definitely fancy a walk along the pavement lining the Promenade beach. The late night stroll is relaxing here though the sunrise in the wee hours of the morning should not be overlooked. Promenade is a rocky beach, so the slippery rocks should be treated with caution. There are a host of cafes and hotels along this beach and it is better to book/throng them during your stay there.

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The colourful homes of the French settlers here will leave you spellbound. Yellow, pink, white, mustard, red – you name them, they have it. The classic French architecture is the added icing on the cake. Young girls riding their bicycles to school and guiding you to your destination is another experience in itself.

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Since it is a sleepy little town with a laid back attitude, you would not get the special French breakfast in any of the cafes here before 9am. We thronged the whole white town to look for bakeries and restaurants opening up at 8am and after much hard work, we were able to find the Indian Kaffe Express which serves French breakfast but not before 8:30am. Pretty late ha?

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Mahabalipuram can be visited through the same East Coast Road and is about 50 km from Chennai. It was initially called Mammalapuram and was the capital of the Pallava king Narsimhavarman during the early medieval period. The famous Ratha or chariot temples dedicated to the five Pandavas are the major attractions here – the impressive rock cut architecture with inlaid relief is a sight to behold. There are huge boulders depicting Arjuna’s penance and Descent of the Ganges – ancient folklore hewn on these giants.

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The Shore temple is another attraction here but unfortunately, we were not able to visit this one.

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Best time to visit: October to January

Hotels should be taken on the outskirts of Chennai so as to save time on travelling to the East Coast road.

Better to avoid on long weekends

Posted in dhauladhar, himachal pradesh, himalayas, kangra, khauli valley, mountains, travel, traveller, travelogue, Uncategorized

Travelogue – Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Dharamshala – the residence of the respected Dalai Lama, the second capital of Himachal Pradesh, the jewel of the mighty Dhauladhar mountain range and the abode of one of the highest cricket stadiums should be on your bucket list if you are a mountain person. It is a paradise for the trekkers – having so many trails towards Triund, Mt. Dhauladhar, Chamba, Kangra etc.

I went there on a department trip and our stay was at the Snow Monk Camp, nestled in the Khauli valley in Kangra. There are Volvo and deluxe buses available from ISBT and Majnu ka Tila in Delhi till Kangra and from Kangra where the road narrows down, you can take a tempo traveller or a local bus. You can also board a train till Pathankot but it runs for only a few days in a week and has the tendency to get cancelled or late.

Since we went in the first week of March, heavy downpour greeted us and the mountain in front of us was covered in glistening snow in a matter of 15 minutes.

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For starters, I have never been a mountain person, though I have travelled to Shimla and Solan more than an average traveller, considering their nearness to my city and my father’s official tours to these regions. The altitude sickness coupled with acrophobia is a lethal combination and I have been no different. But this trip to Dharamshala was an important milestone on my travel journey as I was able to overcome my fear of heights and trekking.

Since it was raining profusely on day one of our outing, all the team building activities were cancelled and instead we decided to go for a 2.5 km long trek (single side) in the surrounding areas. The rain was wreaking havoc now and then and the trail had become quite slippery. But still, some of of the travel enthusiasts amongst us geared up for the challenge. We braved small water filled pits, slithery steps and stinging nettle on our sojourn. I was able to overcome my irrational fear of heights to an extent as walking and climbing without slipping was a priority then. But still, I stumbled quite a few times and my lone pair of shoes got wet in an already moist and cold environment.

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The night was a starry one sans any sort of electricity. A raging cold storm penetrated our bones – I had never ever experienced this sort of iciness in my entire life. The famed “Dilli ki sardi” is nothing compared to the biting cold that we encountered that night.

Day two came up with a bright and sunny morning and I was relieved to find my shoes all warm and dry. This was the main trekking day and we had to travel a distance of 9 km on foot towards the starting point of a glacier.

I had a heavy breakfast of milk, eggs and aloo parantha – thank god for that! You do need a heavy diet before going on a long trek as the continuous walk on an uneven terrain saps you of energy. Another precaution that I took was to carry a very small pouch carrying ORS satchets and power bank. Cellphone and hand sanitizer were meant for the pockets.

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The terrain was relatively easy to begin with but got tougher with the passage of time and distance. We went from the Khauli village to a dense jungle along the Khauli river with numerous small cascades and waterfalls in between. The width of our trail was small – only one person could walk at a time with the rocks on the left  and the valley on the right. We also encountered small rocks and boulders which encouraged us to use our calf muscles more efficiently. And some lovely meadows enchanted us by providing a perfect resting place for our tired bodies.

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The total distance of 9 km had an elevation of 900m. So basically, the trail increased gradually but was not too steep. This was a blessing for a person like me who is not used to trekking.

I was somehow able to traverse the whole distance without any qualms or tantrums. I quiety went on, sometimes stopping and soaking in the natural beauty, sipping ORS and eating oranges while on rest and clicking pictures of the relatively unexplored area. At the end of the trek, we did not see the glacier as it had receeded but I was still happy as I had undertaken a long and arduous trek with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. The trekking instructor even complimented me on my achievement and was baffled to find out that this is my second trek and the first one which is successful. (I am not counting Vaishno Devi, I was helped by my friends there).

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While on return to our camp site, it started raining and we had to move faster, My warm and dry shoes got waterlogged again and I undertook a 7 km long return on a precarious terrain in wet shoes. Since getting back to the comfortable and cozy camp beds was a priority, I did not let the sogginess come in my way.

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When I reached the camp and finally took the Pumas out, they were soggy beyond repair and my feet had shrunken due to wetness. But the sheer joy of successfully completing a trek with no anxious moments made me forget all that and I happily donned on my slippers and went on to have a few mouthfuls to compensate for the lost calories.