Monday, July 29, 2013

Monsoon mania - 2

28th July 2013

When clouds meet the road!! Photos from Western ghats, Karnataka.

And when road take a turn!!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Monsoon mania - 1

21st July 2013

Monsoon is the best time to travel to hills!! And thankfully this year monsoon has been good so far.

Unlike last two years, I am not heading to Himalayas this time (And for good reasons!!). So finding time to enjoy monsoon in western ghats. The photos here are from from Eucalyptus forest near Gudalur.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trek to Kurinjal peak

8th June 2013

Kurinjal peak in Kudremukh National forest was the first trek in this monsoon. Trekking in Kudremukh area requires permission from forest department and hence I called them few days before to make sure that we will be allowed to trek in the forest. The person on the other side of the phone seemed very polite and supportive. That was good.

On Saturday morning I, Krishna and Subbu were at Kudremukh forest Office.  The person whom I talked to was not in Office and the guide who was supposed to accompany us was uninterested. The rains and leeches bothered him a lot. But he said that he had no problem in issuing permits if we can manage to trek ourselves.

Superb! That was what we wanted. We were never looking for a guide who was uninterested. And we were also saving on guide charges!! As usual, we boasted of some great (?) treks we did!! All we needed was a permit and some info about starting point of the trek. That was then done in a jiffy.

The driver of the private bus looked at us rather suspiciously when we asked him to stop in the middle of the forest. “Did he think us as trespassers?” I told him that we had permits to enter the forest. Well, each of us has our own issues. Driver was rather worried about stopping the bus on the uphill path. “Stop where it is comfortable for you and your bus”, I said. We have come here to walk and it does not matter if we walk few more minutes!!

The bus exactly stopped at the point where the trail started. As soon as we slighted from the bus, leech medicines were applied. Motto was to have zero leech bytes!! (Only Krishna succeeded on that)

A little later we crossed a bridge. Time to check leech status. Salt was sprayed on shoes and mercilessly the leeches were removed. Disadvantage in monsoon trekking is that you cannot afford to have stops. Leeches make you run continuously.

Guide had mentioned about a deviation we need to take at a particular point. It was not difficult to miss and to our luck we met two locals who confirmed that we were on the right track. As we slowly climbed, the view of the Shola Mountains only became better.

Finally, we entered into forest. Our walking speed increased as leeches started their attacks. There was no time to relax. Few fallen trees on the road slowed our walk allowing leeches to stick on our legs.

We were relieved when we finally came out of forest. We were not entering into grasslands. Until now, we had not gained significantly on altitude. The path after the forest continually went up with series of switchbacks. As we started our climb, we were astonished to see the clouds completely engulf the area reducing visibility to a great extent. All this action occurred within few minutes.

As we walked on the zigzag route, we could see an abandoned microwave tower and a building. Next to the building was a huge rock structure which was barely visible in mist. Krishna who had come before identified the rocky hill as Kurinjal. It seemed huge and steep.

After reaching Microwave tower, we gave some time to ourselves to remove leeches glued to our legs and eat some snacks. Little more time was spent about discussing on the mentality of people who had scribbled on the walls of the building. Most of them seemed to have vomited out their frustration about love failure!! Well, that would be a separate topic of research!!

The final climb to the peak was much easier than expected. In less than five minutes, we were on the top. On a clear day, one might see great views as the peak is at a higher area than the surroundings. On that monsoon day, clouds continuously played hide and seek with us!!

The returned journey was uneventful expect for a big crab we tried to shoot. While we concentrated on examining the crab, leeches feasted on us.

We reached the main road and walked along for some distance to reach a designated bus stop. We stood in the lashing rains waiting for the bus; private vehicles zooming in front of us at occasional intervals. With nothing else to do, I started looking at the facial expression of the people who looked at us while their vehicle sped. Some seemed have sympathy for us and were others who seemed to be proud about them for being in the comfort of the car. There were others who I felt were laughing at us!! And there were people who had fallen asleep after eating heavily in Horanadu Temple. And finally there were people who did not care about us and anything else.

Then the bus arrived which put a brake on all my silly thoughts!! 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Bhutan: Chele La

8th April 2013

Previous posts:

Bhutan trip had gone extremely well. But my daughter was not very excited as the snow I promised was only seen but not ‘felt’. The only place where we could expect snow was Chele La, the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. At about 13,000 ft ASL, it connects Paro with Haa valley. It is at the same height as Rohtang pass in Himachal Pradesh. With great difficulty, BRO opens road by end of May. But after travelling through various passes in Bhutan, I knew that there would very little or no snow even in April at the height of 13,000 feet in Chele La. Hence I asked my daughter not to expect ‘snow’ in the pass.

Chele La is just 35 km from Paro which would take about 90 minutes. There might be no snow in April but flowers compensate for it. They were omnipresent in the hills.

There were few patches of snow near the pass which was sufficient for my daughter. But later she complained that the snow should have covered the entire mountain!!

On a clear day, we could have seen Jhomolhari peak which is at an altitude of 24,035 ft ASL. But nature did not provide the permits that day!!

On the other side of the pass was Haa valley. Indian military has some presence there.

We may not have seen good views in Chele La but a surprise was awaiting us when we flew back from Paro to Bagdogra. The weather was great and we could see the clear view of Jhomolhari peak (Am I right?) !!

We could see a gigantic peak on the far side.  It was Kanchenjunga in Sikkim, the third highest peak in the world.

That was a great way to end the Bhutan trip!!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Bhutan: Trek to Tiger Nest monastery

7th April 2013

Previous posts:

After many days of road travel and good food, it was time to burn some fat. Hike to Tiger Nest (Taktsang) monastery was on cards. Perched precariously on a hill top, the only way to reach the monastery is to trek. Horses are also available for people who do not prefer walking. But the catch is that they are available only for hiking up. The last 800 steps must be covered by foot as well as climbing down.

Looking at our daughter’s ‘performance’ so far, it was unlikely that she would walk 800 steps or climb down on her own. So, it was decided that it will be either me or my wife who will visit the monastery. My wife volunteered to stay back in the resort with the kid.

Travel and the trek
It was the day of “No vehicle day” in Bhutan. Practiced each month, only public transport vehicles were allowed to ply on the roads that day. Another exception was for the vehicles carrying tourist for which a permit must be obtained. So, we were allowed to go!!

A drive of about 30 minutes brought us to the starting point of the trek. We were at an altitude of about 8,500 feet ASL and the monastery is at 10,200 feet ASL. Hence it is advisable not to perform this day during the start of your Bhutan trip. Allowing some time to acclimatize would make this trek a simple task.

We have all seen how a loaded lorry struggles to climb up the road. The same lorry without a lorry goes a good speed!! Same applies to human beings!! I just had a camera and a water bottle enabling me to climb up at a good speed. Good weather and shady path added to the speed. I saw myself overtaking horses. Unlike the ones I had seen in ‘Char dham’ trip, these horses seem to be well fed and maintained.

About one hour of walking brought me to cafeteria which serves food and drinks. Here is the nice view of Taktsang monastery.

Another 30 minutes of climb and I was at the end of foot path. The path further goes down on the edge of the hill and then climbs up to the monastery. Steps are constructed and the path is well protected by railings.

Camera and mobiles are not allowed in the monastery. The lockers which were empty did not have the locks and I could not think of leaving expensive camera and mobile just in open!! But my guide convinced that they would be safe even without locks. My experience with Bhutan and its people had been great so far and I believed my guide there.

I would not get into the details of monastery as there is tons of information on the web.

Climbing down took less time but I found it difficult as it was hard on my knees. Lunch was the cafeteria on the way.