Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Adventurous Trek and Camping - Kodachadri

Walking in the middle of the forest, taking treacherous winding roads with excitement and fear at every step, hearing the chirping of birds and watching few others fly around, feeling submerged in the passing clouds at the higher altitudes, experiencing the kiss of the breeze as the legs struggle to climb up the steep hills - the greatest pleasures of trekking won't come without risk or struggle. 

After a long time a bunch of friends decided to trek and this time setup a camping too and the place chosen was Kodachadri, a part of Western Ghats in South India. I have always felt proud and fortunate to be belonging to Karnataka, because so far the greatest pleasures I got out of treks/travels were from Karnataka, be it Kumar Parvata or Mullayyanagiri or Kudremukh or any other place. The vast landscapes and the versatile wildlife here always amuse me. Kodachadri was no exception. The mountain peak surrounded by the dense forest is approximately 1343 meters above the sea level and is a habitat for versatile wildlife which includes highly venomous snakes! The place is around 425 kms from Bangalore. More information here: Kodachadri-Wikipage

We had rented the tents from Bangalore and had made all the arrangements for a successful camping. We left on Friday late evening to make sure we reach early in the morning to the starting point. We checked in into a hotel at Hosanagara ( after Shimoga ) to freshen up before we start to trek. Just a few kilo meters before Nittur, there is a starting point for trek through Hidlumane water fall to the Kodachadri Peak. The plan was to start from there and camp at the peak; next day morning trek down from the other side towards Kollur. We hired a guide for 300 RS who showed us the way till the peak. The way up was exciting as with every previous trekking spots. The trek path was mixture of different types of landscapes - cultivated fields, thick forest range, rocks along the water fall, the grass lands on the hills and then finally the jeep track till the peak. On the way we were greeted by a couple of hosts of the jungle, Pit Viper snakes. Without knowing that it was a Malbar Pit Viper (Yellow Morph) and it is highly venomous, we sat a couple of ft away from the snake and clicked plenty of snaps till the snake got bored of posing and moved away. The difficulty level of trekking is moderate but still it became very difficult for the souls who were doing it after such a huge gap. Trekking 20 kms up/down is not an easy task especially when you know you are grown 3-4 years older than when you trekked last time. We took plenty off breaks before we finally reached the Bhattar Mane at the top of the hill.

The people around warned us not to put up tents as it is prohibited by the forest department and they shared with us some recent incidents of drunken people harassing some women. After such tiring effort to reach the top, when you hear such threatening stories, you would think twice before putting a tent. Also when we were in the middle of our dinner at around 7 PM (served in the house at the peak), the hell broke loose, and it started pouring as though it was going to smash the roof. Our hope of putting a tent, which already seemed a remote possibility, completely vanished when those rain drops appeared to pierce through the roof. We requested the caretaker of the temple to accommodate us in already crowded place. He asked us to sleep in the kitchen for which we agreed, but then a moment later he didn't allow us that either as there were a plenty of his guests arrived. So again, we had to make a decision and as the rain appeared to slow down, we all took a brave step of climbing further and setting up the tent at the peak. We climbed up the hill in pitch dark and before we could freeze with the cold we managed to fix two tents on a flat surface which was just a couple of steps away from the edge!!

It was one of the memorable nights, sadly because of a bad situation. The wind picked up the speed as the late evening approached the midnight. Hadn't realized it would be so heavy and such a recurrent wind; close to 2 am in the night, one of the flexible poles of the tent broke because it couldn't withstand the wind; and after a while the broken parts pierced through the top sheet and tore it off. It appeared as if the wind would pull off the whole tent and take us away from the edge of the hill which was just a few ft away. I have literally prayed that night, for the wind to stop its torture; and every time I prayed, the wind became heavier, faster and more threatening. Feeling helpless, whole night we couldn't sleep properly; holding the broken pole in hand I tried to doze off but only for a short while because I was woken up as soon as the pole skipped off my hands.

When it was close to 6 am in the morning, I was the happiest person not because I was able to experience a beautiful sunrise from the peak but I could come out of the tent and pack it up. We saw that one of our 2 tents was smashed from one side. Thank God the extra pegs tied to the wooden log saved the tent and us.
We had breakfast at the caretaker's house and geared up to complete the trek.  Though few jeep drivers influenced us to hire the jeep to reach the foot hill, we were adamant that we will trek down and complete the adventurous trek. Climbing down wasn't too easy as we had thought, but because of the pleasant morning and tremendously beautiful landscape views it went fine. Out of 10 kms, 5 kms stretch was a thick forest route, which was the best part of the trip. We heard the calls of woodpeckers and hornbills but couldn't sight them. The Great Malbar Squirrels entertained us with their call and sightings. When we reached the main road, our tempo was waiting there which was such a great relief. We went to Kollur to finish off lunch and freshen up. From there it was a journey back towards Bengaluru with a stopover at Veerappa Nayakana Kote (Fort) in Nagar which was like a dessert after a meal; we got to experience a wonderful sunset from top of the fort, with lush green fields and a giant lake around.

We were back to Bengaluru in the wee hours of Monday morning and before the Monday blues hit us, we had enough memories from this trek to sail through the busy week ahead.


1. Uphill towards the Kodachadri Peak

2. Trek path near Hidlumane Water Fall

3. Hidlumane Water Fall 

4. Hidlumane Water Fall in monochrome
5. Bunch of friends bathing under the Hidlumane waterfall 

6. "ID me please?" - A snake found in the bushes on the way up to Kodachadri
7. Malabar Pit Viper (Yellow Morph); spent some time near this beauty and it posed too

8. Grasslands atop the hill
9. Vast landscapes, a part of western ghats
10. Someone was really in hurry to spoil my frame ;-)
11. Candid moment - Jeep track on the way to Kodachadri Peak
12. Gamblers in the tent; fun-filled moments before the nightmares :)
13. Crimson backed Sunbird - Kodachadri
14. Shivappa Nayakana Kote, Nagar

15. Sunset viewed from the fort at Nagar

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Seven Heaven" Ride - Dal Lake, Kashmir

(...Continuing with Destination Leh and "Ladakh, Landscapes"..)
With a couple of days left in 10 days long eventful journey, there was one small treat waiting for us before we ended the trip. It was Srinagar, where we had one morning to be spent before we could board the flight to Delhi. And obviously the famous Dal Lake was fitting well with the morning plan.

Dal Lake is the second largest lake in the northern most state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The shore line of the lake is about 15.5 KM which is encompassed by a boulevard lined with numerous Mughal Gardens, Houseboats, beautiful parks and hotels. As with any lake I always believe the best time to visit is the morning and that too before the Sunrise. I was desperate an evening before visiting Dal Lake to get up early in the morning and to never miss this opportunity, because we just had one morning there. Like we planned, we got up early on a pleasant morning and headed towards this lake. As we were walking along the lake to find an entrance an elderly gentleman approached me and asked "Sir, aapko Shikara chahiye?" ("do you need a boat ride?") - Initially I ignored him and tried to walk off from there but then the gentleman followed me and showed me his ID provided by the J & K tourism dept and told me that he would charge me nominal price. We thought it was a good deal (400 RS) for 2+ hours and we agreed. We then followed Ali Bhai to his Shikara which he had gracefully named as "Seven Heaven"!

As we closed in, we sighted plenty of Kingfishers doing what they do the best, fishing. It was amazing to see them dive into the water and pluck the fishes out of the lake in a split second. The Sun was slowly rising up the horizon as the Shikara moved along the lake. The eyes witnessed majestic view of the lake against the backdrop of giant hills. The houseboats built with inspiring artworks, lined up along the lake kept our eyes wondering . Pied Kingfishers, in their typical way, hovering over the lake before making a vertical dive bill-first to capture the fish, kept the visitors amused. Flowers and vegetable sellers on the boats cruising along the lake appeared to be a decoration on the lake. In the middle of all this, school going kids taking their daily transport, Shikara, to go on to the other side of the lake brought smile on our faces. It was truly turning out to be a remarkable morning experience. Ali Bhai was extremely generous giving us plenty of time whenever we wanted to click some snaps and whenever we wanted to spend more time at some part of the lake. He also gave some historical details about the lake. He then went on to show us the places and the boats on which movies from 1970's to till date were shot. He took us to the floating gardens and something called as "Chalta firta Khet" on which they grow vegetables. The floating gardens blossomed with lotus were delightful to watch. Chai served from a shop in the midst of the lake tasted good. It was one long ride for more than 2 hours and as the Shikara was heading back to the starting point, eyes were still gazing at the silhouettes of the hill ranges against the sun with the reflections in the Dal Lake lighting up the faces. That truly justifies why this lake is nick-named as "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir" or "Srinagar's Jewel".

As opposed to what I thought the visit to Srinagar changed my opinions about the place. The people (from Lodge manager to the Chaiwalas) were extremely helpful. And no one tried to exploit the tourists by charging hefty prices in shops or on the streets. This place requires a few more visits for sure.

Following details can be useful:
Lodging/Stay/Accommodation: (Clean, luxurious lodge)
Hotel Victoria
Phone: 0194-2478233
Mobile: 09419077579

In case you have any complaint against anyone like taxi driver, restaurants etc, you call up the below number and they will immediately help you.

J & K Police for tourism: 01942477224

Photographs (18):

1. Ali bhai, the owner of "Seven Heaven" Shikara starting a ride

2. Houseboats at Dal Lake
3. Kids going to school look at the visitors with curiosity
4. I would prefer a wide angle for this but at that very moment, I had 55-250mm hooked into my Canon 450D
5. Another shot of children going to school; these kids appeared to be engrossed in some thought
6. How I wish she had turned her face towards the camera
7. Magical morning - Hills, Shikaras, fog and mist, Sunrise
8. Flower sellers cruise along the house boats

9. Floating gardens blossom with lotus, which bloom during July and August

10. The lake is habitat for a lot of ducks and water birds

11. Small blue kingfisher observes the movement in the lake before it hunts a fish
12. "Morning Prayers?" - Common Tern appeared to be resting on a pole.
13. Nehru Park situated along the Dal Lake

14. We bought a lotus from a lake side flower seller 

15. Though it appears dirty but note that they are the "Chalta firta khet" (Moving fields) where the vegetables are grown

16. Trail of Pigeons' flight

17. Kids waiting for their Shikara

18. Colorful Shikaras lined up on the shores; it turned out sunny after we had soothing Shikara ride at Dal Lake.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ladakh, Landscapes

3 years of planning and every time seeing it jinxed in one or other way, the Ladakh Trip had remained as a dream until 16th Aug 2011, when we entered the nature's pristine creation after our relentless efforts to get there. As I wrote in the my earlier post, Destination Leh,  we had to beat a series of uncertainties and had to make the best decisions. After overcoming all the hurdles for 5 long days finally the Leh trip was taking a good shape. Though we had covered more than 1200 KMs of road journey, we were elated when we reached Leh. We just had  more than 2 days of time and wanted to make best use of it. Weather didn't disappoint us, instead it was extra nice to us. Some times clear skies, some times a slight drizzle, and a couple of times snowfall on the way to Pangong Lake and Nubra valley. It was a perfect show displayed by the weather to the desperate people who wanted to get there at any cost. 

On the first day, we visited Pangong Lake (one day trip). We had hired a Scorpio and an Innova as there were no Tempos available. So the gang of 9 was split into two groups. The Pangong Lake is roughly about 5 hours drive from Leh and the way towards it is beautiful with some amazing landscapes. The lake is at a height of about 14270 ft; it is 134 KM long and spread across India and China, with only 40% of it in India. In the winter the entire lake freezes. When we visited the lake, the atmosphere was just perfect. The play of clouds along with the sun light created magical scenes as we walked along the lake. The lake with crystal clear water, reflecting somewhat bluish color provided breathtaking view against the backdrop of few snow-capped mountains, few sun-drenched hills and few hills covered with the clouds. The joy, obviously was immense, watching such picturesque landscape. We spent few hours walking around the lake and obviously had some photo shoot. Few pictures of the landscapes between Leh and Pangong Lake are posted below.

The Nubra Valley is a high altitude desert in the Ladakh region, which is at a height of around 10000 ft above the sea level, with scant vegetation. It is roughly around 150 KMs from Leh. On the way to Nubra Valley, we crossed Kardung La pass which is known to be the highest motorable pass in the world (at a height of about 17,582 ft) At Kardung La it had snowed heavily, which was unusual in the month of August it seems. Again, the landscapes along the way to Nubra Valley are picturesque. At Nubra valley there is a small group of Bactrian Camels and camera ride will be available. Again, we hardly had any time and hence spent very few hours in Nubra Valley. I guess it had rained a day earlier, and there were some lovely reflections that we got to see out of standing water. We headed back to Leh after a satisfying visit to an amazing valley. Once we got back to Leh, it was almost an end to the eventful journey for last 9 days. We arranged a taxi to Srinagar from where our flight was scheduled on 20th Aug to Delhi. In the wee hours again, we started another long journey but this time back home.

It was a very short visit with plenty of beautiful things to be registered in mind for a longer time; those high altitude roads, rivers and water streams meandering through the snow-capped mountains, the yaks gazing in the valleys, the Himalayan Marmots playing with the visitors, delicately standing villages on the hillocks,  versatile landscapes from barren lands to vivid green lands, surprising snow fall at Kardungla Pass, the military convoys in plenty of numbers hovering between the camps on the roads carved through the high altitude desert, a short distance Camel ride and the list goes on. Some things one can only experience, words fail me. It was not such a great feeling knowing that we were heading back, away from all these things but that's how it is. By evening we had reached Srinagar, and though there were two more days left as per the itinerary, it seemed like an end of this long trip. However another awesome experience was waiting for few of us. Look forward for the next post to know what it is and trust me it is really worth watching :-)

Few of the photographs (23) from the two days spent in Leh:

1. Roads carved on the hills and the clouds and the play of light producing magical scenes, on the way to Pangong Lake from Leh
2. A village delicately balanced on a small hill near Leh
3. A tent at Changla pass, on the way to Pangong Lake, Ladakh
4.  Landscape around Ladakh
5. Landscapes around Ladakh
6. A tourist lady entertains a Himalayan Marmot while the Marmot  thought the lady was holding some eatable in her hands; the man tries to capture that moment in his camera. ( My personal favorite from the trip) :) 
7. My friends, Lawrence and Beverly sit along the Pangong Lake to pose for a photograph
8. Shadows, light and people create a scene, Pangong Lake, Ladakh
9. A family stands at the edge of the lake to experience an unforgettable evening, Pangong Lake, Ladakh
10. Brown-headed Seagull in flight, Pangong Lake, Ladakh
11. Brown-headed Seagull in flight, Pangong Lake, Ladakh
12. Soldiers watch me curiously as I click their photograph, near Pangong Lake, Ladakh
13. Calm and Serene, Pangong Lake spread across India and China, Ladakh
14. While heading from Leh to Nubra Valley, it snowed a lot and the trucks halted till the roads were cleared
15. Ladies with contrasting colors walk on the sand at Nubra Valley Ladakh
16. Reflection produced due to the rain water at Nubra Valley Ladakh
17. A Cow came real close to me while I was shooting the reflections near Nubra Valley, Ladakh
18. A water stream,  villages, snow covered mountains, the clouds hovering over the village, green patches and dry lands all in one frame
19. Military Convoys cross the road at the Nubra Valley (desert) as the play of clouds produce a magical background
20. One of our vehicles, while heading back to Leh from Nubra Valley
21. Another Village near Diskit, Ladakh
22. A village on the way back from Nubra Valley to Leh
23. Himalayan Marmot usually found in Himalayas at a height of 980 to 14,800 ft; I believe they are found only in Ladakh in India.