Day 2: 8th Sept 2015

Narrated by Saurav

Day 2 is when things get interesting. We reached Manali at around 7:30 AM and we needed a hotel to stay for a few hours. Our intention was to start our journey for the base of the trek by 12 PM. We had stayed at Hotel New Neel Kamal last year when I done this same trek, so we decided to stay there again. Hotel New Neel Kamal is a cheap lodge and you can get rooms for INR 300 and we just needed the room for a few hours, so there was no point spending a lot. We checked into the hotel, had nice shower, rearranged our bags and got refreshments like tea. I had to keep the tents, sleeping bags and all camping accessories inside the bag since it was going to be in the baggage section of the flight. Now it was time for both of us to rearrange the bag and make it suitable for long distance hauling. It is a necessity to pack the bag in a manner that it is well balanced, or else one will end up with a very sore back. We had a lot of walking ahead of us for the next 3 days and the bags had to be well managed.

At around 09 AM we left from our hotel to meet the person (Guddu ji) who was going to arrange for our transportation, to finalize the deal and confirm the time for start of the journey. After bargaining, he finally settled at a charge of INR 8200/- for the entire trip (included drop to the start point of trek – INR 1200, pickup from Chatru and travel to Chandrataal and then return to Manali – INR 7000). We agreed that he will pick us up at 11AM. Post this we went for breakfast and had nice steamed momos, on the way we also picked up a bottle of Rum to help us keep warm if the temperature went too low. At this point, we were really excited as this trek was planned a very long time ago and now it was just a couple of hours away and we couldn’t wait to begin the trek.

We started from the hotel at 11 AM towards the base of the trek which is located at the top of the Allain Duhangan Hydro Power Project. The start of the trek is popularly known as Jobra and you have to cross about 50 hair pin bends to reach this place. The journey took about an hour and half and I noticed quite a few changes. When we first attempted this trek in 2013, there were hardly any huts/houses at the top and there was just one tea stall. In 2014, the situation was the same, but this year the original tea stall was not there anymore and instead there were a lot of small hotels/dhabas and most of their names referred to Hamta pass. Which means over the last 3 years Hamta trek has started becoming famous and this is not a good thing, because as a place starts getting popular destination, it also starts becoming dirtier. I just hope and pray that all the trekking companies that manage this trek, ensure on keeping the environment clean.

We started our trek at around 12:45 PM. The place was as beautiful as I remembered and more so, because this was the first time when I was coming in September. All my previous treks were in July (late July in 2013 and early July in 2014). We passed through forests full of pine trees; we crossed over lush green grassland, always following the river “Rani Nala” on our left and towards the first river crossing. We had started walking and reached our very first incline and after climbing for a few minutes we started to breathe heavily. Looking at each other, we both realized that this trek was going to be much more difficult than we thought. Akshay was particularly worried as he hadn’t done any training at all – walking, running, gymming anything and he didn’t want to NOT finish the trek this time. The first river crossing was near the place known as Chikha and this is generally the place most trekkers camp on day 1; however we had no such intentions of camping at Chikha. Most of the river crossing in this trek is over log bridges which have been built by shepherds. This area is very good pasture land and hence you will see a lot of shepherds with their flock of sheep’s and mules.

As we descended on our way to the log bridge at Chikha, we accidentally notice a new bridge which was setup at a very discreet place. It’s a good thing that we noticed it as it saved us from getting wet while crossing the stream at Chikha. One has to cross a small stream after crossing the more well-known log bridge at Chikha and hence you invariably end up wetting your feet in the cold water. This new bridge is much more well setup and easy to cross. Once we reached the other side, the trail started to gradually ascent. The Rani Nala was now on our right and we have to continue on this trail till we reach Hampta. I generally always find something or the other during my trek in Hamta. Last year right after crossing the log bridge at Chikha I had found a Tommy Hilfiger shades and this year I found a horse shoe, definitely a sign of good luck! And you can’t get enough of good lucks on alpine style trekking.

After Chikha there are a few river crossing over log bridges but there is one crossing which has no log bridge and one generally has to cross this part of the river early in the morning as the flow increases as it gets sunnier. Even early morning the flow is very strong and the water is freezing cold, not to mention that one has to wade through this freezing cold water for almost a minute. Imagine the impact on the legs when you have your feet submerged in ice cold water for a minute. Everything goes numb.In 2013 we didn’t complete the trek as we had returned from the river, because one of our friends was too scared to continue and didn’t want to cross the river. Our aim today was to camp at a suitable campsite a little before this river crossing so that we can cross it at the earliest tomorrow. We continued our way towards this goal while admiring the beauty of the valley and the numerous tiny multicolored flowers that dotted this region. Our evening snack was masala oats, matter of fact all our meals were supposed to be masala oats. What we generally do is just mix the oats with water and let it soak for about 30 min and then eat it. After all the meals in this trek is not about how tasty is should be, but about sustenance.  We had tried going the tasty route way by bringing in ready to eat foods like pulav and fried rice in 2013 and realized that heating those are a nightmare as it is very difficult to light a stove in cold windy region like this. Also this way we reduce additional weights of packed foods and stove.

We walked for nearly 5 hours towards our campsite for Day 1 and during this time Akshay’s legs had started cramping up a lot. We finally reached our planned camping site at around 5:30 PM. We rested for a bit and that’s when Akshay had a brilliant idea. He suggested that before we camp, we should check the flow of the river. So off we walked a little more towards the river crossing. The trek from Chikha to here was pretty much on an incline and also included boulder hopping over some areas and again near the river. Once we reached the river, I realized that the flow was not that strong as I had faced last 2 years, so we decided to cross it. Off came the shoes and socks, now was the time to enjoy ice cold water therapy. I waded through the water first. Within the first few seconds my legs had gone numb, but this made crossing the river easy as I had no sensation in my legs. As soon as I reached the other side, I literally dumped my bag and started rubbing my feet to get the blood circulation back.  Akshay was to follow behind me and below is how he summarized his experience of the river crossing –

“For me, it was like – what the hell I am doing!! There is no way I am jumping in the ice cold water. But I saw Saurav cross and he was the one with the tent, so there was no other option for me but to cross. The minute I put my feet in the cold water, my entire body went numb for a few seconds and before I started moving ahead. I felt like I was slipping because I wasn’t able to find my grip on the wet stones below. But I was able to cross the stream and an exhilarating feeling engulfed me as this was the farthest I had been on this trek.”

After a 10 min rest we started on our way quickly. Just past the river is a nice meadow and this place is called as Jwara. We had to hurry up to find a camping site as it was getting dark. On our search to find a camp site, we spotted a small shepherds tent where a young boy was starting up a camp fire to cook food. Akshay decided to ask the boy if they had some extra food that they could share in exchange for money. The boy informed that he would have to check with his father who was somewhere high up the valley side shepherding the sheep’s. We decided to setup our tents and then comeback to ask. If we waited for the person to arrive, then sunlight would have gone and we wouldn’t be able to setup our tent. We found a nice place just across a ridge from the shepherd’s tent and setup our camp. It took us about 15 mins to put the tent up and another 15 to setup everything up inside the tent. The sleeping bags were out, so were the gloves and additional clothing. The temperature was falling and we realized that we may not have the insulation required for such cold weather.

Once everything was setup, Akshay didn’t want us to venture out in the cold. And I had to really tempt and convince Akshay that the hot food was worth it. So we headed back towards the shepherd’s tents and found the person making roti’s. His name was Shambhu. We asked him if he could make some food for us also and he replied that he has already started making food for us. We offered him money but he said we were his guest and he can’t take money from us.This was a very humbling experience for us and this kind of hospitality in such a remote area was unexpected. He also offered us sheep-wool made shawl and that was highly appreciated in such cold conditions. The temperature had dropped down to 8 degrees. We had some rum and the least we could do was share it with him. So we drank rum, talked about the lives of shepherds, the beauty of the valley and enjoyed the heat from the camp fire. He had made a lot of roti’s and frankly each roti was thicker than a tandoori roti. He expected us to eat to our full, but we told him that we don’t have capacity to eat so much. Akshay had 1 roti and he was stuffed. I somehow managed 2. With roti we were served a potato sabzi and a soya curry, both were delicious and the fact that the food was hot, made it feel heaven for us. We chitchatted for a little more time after having food and then bid our friend good night. He asked us to keep the shawl with us for the night and we were grateful and humbled once again. It was just 9:00 PM, but it felt as if it was 2:00 AM. The sky was full of stars and you could spot the different constellations. But we didn’t have much time to admire this as the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees and we were cold to our bones. We quickly wriggled into our sleeping bags and tried our best to sleep, we knew we would not be able to sleep so early, but there was nothing to do but just close your eyes and try to sleep.

Images for Day 2 can be found here

Day 102/ 365 – Agonda Beach, Goa

A couple of weekends ago, me and wifey decided to visit Goa for the long weekend. We had been planning to go to Goa for a long time and the long weekend provided a perfect opportunity. Initially, we planned to go along with another couple friend of ours, however things didn’t work out and we decided to carry on with the trip alone. Booking tickets to Goa at the last minute is usually not advisable, but since we didn’t plan the trip couple of months in advance, we were left with no option to book the tickets in Tatkal quota and tatkal tickets are a little costlier as compared to the regular tickets and they can only be booked one day in advance of the journey. The IRCTC website took forever to book the tickets and at one point I wasn’t even sure that we were going. However, everything worked out well and we got confirmed tickets. The stay was not a problem as it wasn’t exactly peak season in Goa and accommodation was easily available.

Agonda Beach is approximately 32 kms away from Madgaon station. We hired a bike from Madgaon station (Pulsar -consumed a lot of fuel) and started our drive further south towards Agonda. The ride to Agonda beach through the highway is simply awesome. The single lane highway is very beautiful and driving on the slopes is good fun. Sad that the bike which we hired didnt have enough power. I would loved to ride my Bullet there. It took us about an hour to reach Agonda Beach. We had visited Agonda Beach earlier in 2011 along with my friend R and his wife B. R’s friend owns beach shack at the Agonda Beach (Hangout at Agonda) and we decided to visit the place. Since then, we (me and wife) have fallen in love with that place. Normally a lot of people prefer to go to North Goa, however, we prefer going to the South and relaxing at this beach. The best part about this beach is that it is not crowded. There are not many commercial activities which take place on the beach and hence resulting in fewer footfalls. Even this time we didnt see a lot of people as compared to some of the other beaches in Goa, however, we felt the number of people increasing this beach had increased as compared to our previous visit. The weather during the day time was humid, but the evenings were pleasant. The best part about the trip was that we were able to relax completely. Some vacations you just need to chill and not do anything – this was one of those vacations. We decided to not go anywhere – just explore locally and enjoy. In the morning, we would go to the beach, enjoy the cool waters, head back have a couple of drinks, have lunch and then again in the evening walk on the beach, come back, have a few drinks and have dinner. Sometimes doing nothing can also be fun. The entire weekend was spent doing this and it was one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating vacations I have had in sometime.

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Day 71/ 365 – Bird photography at Bhigwan

Last weekend I had an opportunity to do some bird photography at Bhigwan. This is place approx. 100 kms from Pune on Pune – Solapur highway. My friend Sid has visited this place a couple of times and always had good things to say about the number of birds that one can see over there. We had planned for this trip since December and this allowed me enough time to seek the right lens for the trip. I have a Canon 55mm – 250mm telephoto zoom lens and obviously for this trip it was going to be inadequate. Hence I decided to rent a camera lens. After checking at 2-3 places, I found Primes and Zooms who rent lens and other camera equipment in Pune. I registered myself online, submitted my verification documents and booked a Canon 100mm – 400mm L series lens for the trip. The people at Primes and Zooms were very professional and there were absolutely no hiccups in the entire process.

I along with my friends Sid, Rahul & Bhavana started early on Sunday morning to reach Bhigwan. The drive on the highway was good, except for some stretches where the road work is still going on. We reached Bhigwan around 8am. South of Bhigwan town, exists a widespread backwater formed due to a man made dam built on the Bhima river. The dam is called as Ujni dam. The backwaters is spread over a wide region and is mainly a shallow waste water reserve. The birding place is called Diksal and is approx. 2-3 kms away from Bhigwan. Once we reached the backwaters, we hired a boat and began our bird watching experience. Birds seen during the trip

  1. Greater Flamingos
  2. Sea Gulls
  3. Grey Egret
  4. Great Egret
  5. Indian Pond Heron
  6. Kingfisher
  7. Bee Eater
  8. Sandpiper
  9. Black Headed Ibis
  10. Black Ibis
  11. Black Drongo
  12. Rudy Shellduck (not captured)
  13. Painted Stork
  14. Indian Cormorant

PS: I may have got some names wrong. Please help me to correct them. Thanks!!

Day 66/ 365 – Desires of my heart

I have been thinking on this for quite some time now. I have been working since the age of 18, doing what I need to do to survive in this rat race. There have been lot of choices made – some intentional, some out unintentional and some out of compulsion. Those choices have basically changed me to become the person that I am today. However, what I truly want to do right now is to simply drop everything and explore the world on my bike along with my wife, and take tons of pictures. I have been bitten by the travel and photography bug. Want to live my remaining life on the road like a nomad – there would some thrill in doing that. Want to sleep under the open stars, wake up and watch a beautiful sunrise over the seas, over the desert, over the mountains. Walk through shallow rivers, dive in freezing waters, jump from the sky, and glide like bird. There are so many desires and so many things which I want to do. May be one day I will do those things – hope keeps me going – until then continue to enjoy what I am doing right now.


Day 40/ 365 – Nasik Sightseeing – Part II

After our unsuccessful attempt to breach the defenses of the Gangapur dam, we started driving towards the city. While driving towards Gangapur dam, I didn’t recall taking any turns and thus continued driving straight. However, after driving for a few kms, I couldn’t recall seeing some of the landmarks on the road and felt I was lost. Well I was lost – but it turns out we had somehow reached the city and were on the College Road. After driving for a few mins we saw a row of footwear shops and my wife said we need to stop right here and do some shoe shopping. There is something about handbags and shoes which makes my wife absolutely crazy. So we parked in a nearby mall which had one of the narrowest ramps ever and headed out to shop. We shopped for a hour or so and identified some shops with really funny names (Pics below). It was already 2 pm and we were really starving. I was not able to find any good restaurants on the College Road – may be there are some in the by lanes – but on the main road I wasn’t able to find any and we didn’t want to eat fast food. Finally we found a place to eat and finished our lunch and then headed towards Shalimar (Panchvati).


Takle = Bald
Takle = Bald

We took an rickshaw from College Road and got down at Shalimar. The best part of exploring any new city is by foot. We wanted to go towards Ganga ghat, Ram Kund, Lakshman Kund etc. and kept asking directions from various people and walked right through the market area. Seeing the market area, my wife once again got into a shopping spree – but thankfully we didn’t end up spending a lot of time there. We finally reached our destination and I was really surprised to see people taking a dip in the dirty Godavari river – all in the name of religion. We saw a lot of people doing puja’s  and all. Panchavati has significant religious significance for Hindus with a temple complex on the bend of the Godavari river, which includes Kalaram Temple. It is a pilgrimage site, with the Kumbh Mela, the largest peaceful gathering in the world – involving over 100 million people in 2013, taking place here once every twelve years in rotation with Haridwar, Allahabad, and Ujjain. In Hindu theology, as outlined in the epic Ramayana, Panchavati was the place in the forest of Dandakaranya (Danda Kingdom), where Rama built his home along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman during their period of exile in the wilderness. Panchavati literally means “a garden of five banyan trees”. These trees are said to have been there during the exile of Lord Rama. However, we couldn’t find the trees. We did ask a couple of people who confirmed their existence somewhere on the other side of the road. But we didn’t really decide to check it out. We also came across vegetable market right there. The best part of Nasik is, the vegetables and grape products are really cheap. Since we had parked our car in a mall on the College Road, we didn’t buy vegetables from this market. However, we did end up buying raisins from there.  We spent quite sometime over there and then decided to continue shopping in the main market area. We roamed around the market for some time and then headed back towards College Road to pick up the car.

It was around 530pm by the time we picked up the car. We then decided to make an impromptu trip to Deolali. Apparently, I had heard a lot of good things about this place and decided to explore the place. The drive to Deolali was full of traffic and we reached the place after almost an hour of driving. As soon as you enter Deolali, you are surrounded by sanatoriums on both sides of the street. We kept driving further ahead in the anticipation of finding some good looking points etc. However, it had gotten dark by then and there was no point in going any further. We then decided to go check out the Levitt market as we had heard a lot about this place. Levitt market is a place where you can find branded clothes at reasonable prices. However, what we saw was very different to what we had read. The market is relatively small and most of the shop keepers have the same stuff and the prices are relatively high too. We also explored a local military shop and Empire bakery. We got cakes, wine biscuits etc from the bakery and it is good. We then decided to head back to Nasik and as usual got lost in the between. Deolali, by the way, also has a large presence of Indian Air Force military station and by mistake we entered the military area. We asked someone inside who gave us directions which required us to go out through the main gate which was barricaded – so while coming out of the gate – the soldier started calling me shahab (Sir) and gave us a smile. I think he thought that we were someone from Air Force and not civilians. For a moment I was very surprised and then realized that he probably would have got confused with someone else. We quickly made our way out and then found the road and returned super exhausted to Nasik. Overall it was a good day spent.

Day 35/ 365 – Just travel

Since change of jobs a couple of months ago, I have been following the US holiday calendar. As many of you would be aware this is the Thanksgiving week and hence I have Thursday and Friday off. Taking advantage of the extra long weekend, I am hoping to go away for the weekend. Earlier in the day, I was discussing with my mom that I wish I could leave everything and just travel the world. That would be such an awesome thing to do. Sure traveling the world requires a lot of money and there are people who save quite a bit of money before they start traveling. Earning money while traveling to different places in the world would be such a thing. I really enjoy traveling, exploring new places, new people, local culture and cuisines (vegetarian – of course). It just thrills me to imagine that one day I would be traveling to the Pyramids, enjoying the boat ride over the Nile river, and the next day exploring the romantic city of Paris. That would be one of the best things in life to do – just travel. There are so many places to explore and so little time. A career in travel industry would have been awesome. While we (me and Saurav) were trekking through the Hampta Pass, the thought did strike us. The valley was so beautiful and everything about nature was just so nice, colorful and open compared to our desk jobs. We wanted to set up shop in Manali and offer trekking tours to people. May be we will do that, maybe we wont. Unfortunately, at this stage of my life, I am not sure if I would be able to switch careers. However, I do want to travel the world. May be after I have earned enough, I would probably call it a day and just set about exploring the world. In the mean time, I guess I will make do with being a project manager and enjoying vacations once in a year.

DSC00180 DSC00213 DSC00259 IMG_3303 IMG_3627Image courtesy Saurav Roy