Tag Archives: travel

Travels in the Spiti Valley

That was the year people of Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur remember for two things. The visit of Dalai Lama, and the flash floods that disconnected them from the world. There probably was a connection, most locals belived that Chinese on the other side of the border had intentionally relesed lot more water from their dams to jeopardize Dalai Lama’s visit. Whatever may be the reason, I also visited Lahaul Spiti the same year.

The plan was to go from Manali to Shimla via Kinnaur and Spiti. Spiti, I had known was the land of perpetually snow capped peaks north of Dalhousie, where I grew up as a kid.

There is a old Buddhist curse that is paraphrased something like “May you be born in the land of high peaks and deep ravines”. Spiti was exactly what the originator was thinking about.

The plan was to all the way from Manali to Shimla via Spiti and Kinnaur.  Just as we entered the Spiti valley, the axle of the bus we were traveling in broke, and with no habitation close we walked off to the next town that was about 4 hours of walk away, We were lucky to be picked up by some Army trucks that were seeking the site of a helicopter crash. In between that and  a late night entry into Kaza, the dusty administrative center of Spiti, I remember only throwing up every 30 minutes, Lying in  the back of an open truck with a mad man driving across the valley and the massive headaches because of Altitude sickness.

In the next few days in the radius of about 100km were some of the most idyllic and beautiful monasteries(Gompas) I had seen. These are well off the touristy Buddhist Gompa circuits of Ladakh and Sikkim( and probably arunachal). These are the monasteries that get very few visitors, and let tourists live in the monastery along with the monks, share the Tsampa at prayers with the few people that turn up. I have not seen this in any of the Ladakhi monasteries.

This was also the first time I was seeing the fortress style Monasteries, and It was really impressive to see the Ki and the Dankar (which is about 7-10 km from the road) Monasteries.

Tabo Monastery despite it simplicity was magical. The Gompa being on flat land,  may be as spectacular as Dankar and Ki, But inside the temple are these almost real life statues of Monks projecting from the walls. How they could make it 1000 years ago I cannot really fathom? Dalai Lama himself expressed his desire to retire here.

We had to return back to Kaza from Kinnaur as we figured the bridge would take a lot more time to be build, but not before we tasted the divine Apricot Whiskey that Kinnauris are proud of. It’s probably a mistake to compare it to the French Cointraeu as Apricots taste  way better than Oranges. It was disappointing because we wanted to go to the Kailash peak, but then we set ourselves up for the gruelling 14 day travel up to Ladakh, that started at Kibber, that dubs itself the highest continously inhabited town in the world. But the story of 2 1/2 men and 2 donkeys I will leave for another day.

Still unencumbered by loads of tourists, Spiti is what Ladakh could have been. Beautiful yet Quaint.

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On Travelling Solo

I like traveling solo. Though I have traveled with various groups of varied sizes and shapes to many different places,  traveling alone has by far been most fun, and I have ended up with lot more friends for life.

A lot of people find it hard to travel solo, because of uncertainties associated with it and it feels boring to sit alone at lunch and read a book and watch other people. It does not have to be that way (though you have to be prepared to do it), Lot of my solo travel tends to start and end alone but interspersed with people I meet on the way travel a bit of distance together, and then split up and go our own ways.

One reason I travel solo is that I dislike organizing and coordinating trips for other people with me. Traveling is a very personal choice, some people like traveling in comfort, some people want to see every single place in the guidebook. Some people want to just sit in the hotel and relax. Some people need to have a solid and well researched plan. To get people who match your style is hard and if you do know some people having them coordinate the travel time is still harder, something or the other will always come up. This is how I started my first solo trip to Death Valley, my friend just failed to turn up.

I think I needed that experience to get hooked on to the solo travel experience. Once I did, fear and loathing of traveling alone was gone.

I am very idiosyncratic traveler, Think of people that get up early and go exploring a place, eating all sorts of food and going to places on gut feel rather than rating on the guidebook, staying in cheap hotels, and traveling public transport. A backpacker you may say, but I have no hesitation to just sleep off couple of days in an expensive hotel when I am tired.  Traveling alone gives me the flexibility to do that sort of thing. I like a place, I just stay there longer, I don’t like a place I just move to the next place, I don’t have to convince anybody else.

Over time I have found that traveling solo gives me much richer traveling experiences, When traveling with friends, I don’t look to make new acquaintances, just being in part of group is enough, somebody in the group will make the decisions and I just follow. Traveling solo I am constantly looking for information from people and passing information to people about where to go and where not to go, If they wish to share a taxi ride room or breakfasts together. It always seems to give me much more interesting conversations and better understanding of people and the places.

There are problems as well. I find it embarrassing/strange going  solo to beaches and Party places alone. I skipped some of the awesome Istanbul Nightlife and beautiful Hainan Beaches.

You have to be extra prepared if you are traveling Solo on tough hikes and tough areas, like I just ran out of money on our Spiti to Leh hike with no ATM anywhere close, luckily another traveler loaned me some money to reach Leh and return his money.

Try it You may like it as well.

Dark star safari

Watching the world cup football ads blare out of TV, and Shakira crooning ‘This time for Africa’, I finished reading The Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux’s book about his overland travel through Africa on a route people agree is the toughest route to Cape town from Cairo. The irony is not lost on me.

I love his unique and picturesque writing style, that makes me see the landscape almost as he is seeing it. His writing hand and his heart are very close, he writes movingly about Africa, a continent he had come to in his youth as a teacher. He returns to the dark continent again to observe the continent he left 30 years ago.

I thought there were big change rippling through Africa, you could see it in the football, you could see it in the cellphone usage stats and you could see that in rapid fall in AIDS numbers. Not true says Theroux.

The dominant theme in the book is how much worse Africa has become from the time he was last  in Africa, in fact he repeats it so many times that it starts to bore you. But you can see that he holds out hope for people of Africa, unlike is equally illustrious and once friend and now bitter rival V.S. Naipaul or Sir Vidia, who had famously quoted as saying “Africa has no future” and “Africa has no culture“.

His mantra is “leave Africa to Africans” and don’t try to impose western style society in Africa via the myriad development agencies, charities and missions. It is making locals more and more dependent on aid rather than their toil, and over a period of few decades proved counter productive. Represented by  foreigners in White Landcruisers they are volunteers that come but don’t interact with locals and leave in a while, and after leaving there is nobody to take their place and it falls into disarray. In their desire to do good things they disrupt the fabric of society, like picking up educated local teachers to work for these NGO’s in administration at higher salaries

I also like him for being extremely opinionated, and in stark contrast with IMHO the other modern travel popularizer Michael Palin(Whose Himalaya’s I dig, because I traveled parts of that route). I remember Theroux taking jabs at Palin in his superb “The Ghost Train to the Eastern star“. He visits Bangalore in the same book and savages the city as ‘botched cosmetic surgery‘ and ‘huge unfinished and deforested city sagging under its dubious improvements‘, both of which I could easily relate to. Bangalore has become a beast that did not evolve but was created in an instant by a nature’s freaks. But that’s another blog coming I guess

Tour de Ladakh

A few months ago i made another rash decision of taking a couple of weeks off and do a cycle ride to Leh, from Manali. It is a trip of 550 km from Manali over probably the most interesting terrain in the world, at the elevations that are found nowhere in the world, The mecca for  Mountain Bikers in India.  Here i am in Leh, tired but not really sore. We made it up here in 8 days (as against planned 10) and nothing broken or torn.

We crossed the 5 big passes on the way, starting at Rohtang La at 13000 ft., Baralacha La at 16000 ft.,  (personally the  hardest) the double pass of Nakeela and Lachulang La at 16500 ft., and the mighty Tanglang La at 17500 ft., the second highest motor-able road in the world.

As was expected it was a pretty eventful trip unlike the Tour of Nilgiris.

The second day on the downhill from Rohtang pass,  my rear brakes stopped working. The same day I flew off the cycle on applying the front brake too hard, and inured my knees.

The third I had to remove the rear brakes completely, because it could not be fixed on the trail, so the rest of the tour was without the rear brakes, so the thrill of the downhill became a grave problem, but on route there were only a few serious downhill sections that i managed at snail’s pace

In a freak accident a cyclist was injured when our support car which had got stuck in the mud banged into the truck that was trying to pull it out. He had a damaged hip bone, and was moved to Leh hospital.

We had to send back a couple of cyclists to Leh via bus because they did not cope well with the high altitudes.

But overall it was fun and exciting.

Here is the bike map of the trip  I had referred to,  Between my GPS and Vaz’s we have the complete GPS trail, which we shall upload very soon.

Though the focus was on cycling, i did manage to take a few pictures which as usual will be here as soon as i get to upload them.

Khajuraho

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After a while, i have took off from work to do a short trip to Khajuraho. To visit Khajuraho during the Dance Festival was a long time desire that was fulfilled this year.
To say the it is an amazing place is to understate. The place is obviously well known for the temples and the erotic sculptures, but i wasn’t really impressed by the temples and the sculpture. It was the people we met up there and conversations we had. It may have to do with the eclectic nature of people who come over there but every single conversation seemed to expand my mind.
The dance performances were wonderful, La creame de la creme of the dancers come every year to this place in the background of the western group of temples, to enact their art.

We missed the first two days of the festival, but all the others we made it religiously. The energy of Dr. Subramanyam during his hour long Bharatnatyam presentation was the high point, around the end it was announced that he was 75 years old. Amazing to have such a passion and dedication to their craft at such an age.

The Odissi dances on the fourth day, i really enjoyed, the expressions and the sheer beauty of the dance made it  very entertaining and refreshing.

Like most places in India if you dig below the surface, there are a lot of side tours around khajuraho that guide books that just skim the surface. We cycled to the Ken Ghariyal Santctury one early morning to watch the Ghariyals Sunbathing on the banks or river Ken, while locals almost seemed oblivious of the presence of the Big Ghariyals. More than the watching Ghariyals part i enjoyed the trail riding on the Old fashioned Hero Jet Cycle. Next time i go, i should take my mountain bike with me to try explore the trails and interesting (and colourful) people.

Orccha is another interesting place. We skipped the Kalingarh fort, because it was far and the sun was burning and the beer at Raja Cafe was cold.

Overall a very interesting and revealing trip.

it was pretty

From Bike trip to Hampi

Last weekend we drove across the heart of Deccan Plateau to Hampi on an ‘On Now Off Now’ trip. It took us almost a day of hard riding to get to Hampi on my Enfield Bullet.

It was festivities in Hampi, which was all decked up for the Hampi Festival, which was obviously organized with the national Elections in mind. As we entered the Hampi town, we saw around 20 elephants all dressed up in a caravan, and hot air balloons in the air, all of it excited us. We settled in a small guesthouse overlooking the pretty river, and across we could see the whole magnifique of the temple.

This is the best part of hampi, sitting at a distance and comprehending everything. The pulsating drums of the town welcoming people, synced with the heartbeats to provide a magical calm, after a long time i was in deep meditation for a long time, People smoking Pot notwithstanding.