Spiti Diaries.

Spiti Diaries.

 


Spiti district welcomes us with golden mountains reflecting bright colours of sunlight and a splendid rock drilled road made by BRO.If the introduction is so mystic then at the end of this trip we will have so many pristine memories.As we gained height ,the sky was never so blue and beneath us was the dry Spiti river that was ready to guide us to the remaining wonderland.

Hats off to BRO ,without them no tourists could have explored this mystic place.The lands were dry,devoid of vegetation but yes I havent seen such wonderful colours before.This is Spiti district for everyone.

 

Our pit stops increased as we followed river Spiti because the scenery was gradually turning into martian which stimulated us to take more memories of this allien terrain.I have never seen such mountains with colours of sand and tinge of vegetation adding borders amidst arid lands.

We were amazed to see small villages after a span of 80 kms taking its shelter on the foothills of the gigantic himalayas. How people live here with minimum resources is such a stunning experience for the metropolitians.

It was the best afternoon of the setting sun to view as I was standing high above the ground on the winding roads ,with my glances to the tiny villages. Soon the light became dark and to our adventure journey we came across a checkpoint of a village called Sumdo where we needed to cross the river. Just before the crossing , we saw two cars waiting before us .Soon due to a distant blowing dust we realized a landslide is going in between us and the crossing.We were puzzled and I was strictly against moving in the forward direction, when some millitary officers arrived and asked us to move forward as soon as the landslide stops for a moment.We rushed our bikes and Mukul leaded the way over the stones and boulders  when the landslide stopped for a few minutes.Obeying the signals of the millitary officers we were rushing over the boulders when my bike fell down since it was heavy with the luggages behind in the carrier. Behind me were two more cars and Jaykrishna with his Classic.I did’t know what to do and stood  speechless in the middle of the falling stones.Luckily few stones jumped over us into the river .Jaykrishna arrived and helped me to pick the bike up and quickly I rushed on to the other side.It was not enough for the adventure when we found out that Mukul lost his bike key in the accumulated stones .But he was fortunate enough to avoid the falling stones and pick up his key.We felt so lucky to have escaped the wrath of the nature .We were afraid and thanked god enough for saving us.Yes we expected high adrenaline in this Transhimalayan highway but not like a fatal one.It was already dark and then we drove for an hour in the dark with even more adventure, the moonlight showing us the narrow lanes along the river.The mountains looked like tall horrifying dark ghosts giving us narrow pathways to Tabo.

Tabo is a main village in Spiti district and the second habitable tourist place after Nako as we enter Spiti.

We felt so rellieved on reaching Tabo at night .The rest of the few hours in night was spend in discussing our adventure with the mountains .Next day morning I woke up with scenes of green apple tree surrounding our hotel.This was the first time I was witnessing green apples hanging from a tree.

Tabo has an ancient monastery and the whole town is situated in the vicinity of the monastery.Fortunately we got petrol in one of the shops to refuel our tank to Kaza.

Then as we drove towards kaza ,and after 30 kms we came across an uphill road leading to the Dhankar monastery,precariously built on a cliff.The uphill road from the main highway gave us splendid views of the confluence of the Spiti and Pin river.I found this amazing spot on the uphill road to the monastery.The monastery is now an UNESCO world heritage site.

It is now being reconstructed by the local people to prevent it from breaking down due to the erosion in the hills.Its exciting to explore new places on the earth but at the same time the pollution created due to the heavy influx of the vehicles destroys it.

After Dhankar monastery we now diverted our way to follow the pin river towards our destination i.e The Pin Valley.Before coming to this tour I always dreamt about this place and searched google images impatiently.Pin valley is the home to snow leopards,Himalayan Tahrs and the wild yaks.I was very excited to stay in one of those mudroof top homestays in the villages of the park.The diversion for this valley starts 18 km after Dhankar village from the main Tabo Kaza highway.

As we go onto the other side of the river we get to see this martian shapes of the mountains standing up high like huge piles of sand and dust.The formations were of single colour,unorganised but the geography will surely transform you to an alien land.The introductory view towards my dreamland left me spellbound and yes it wiped out my flashbacks of the dreams ,only to be replaced by more colourful ones.

Mud is the last village in pin valley national park where we stayed in the summers of 2016.Even in this remote village the people have provided excellent homestay facilities for the travellers. Mud village is a major base camp for many trekking routes including Pin Parvati. From Dhankar to Mud one has to travel a total of 55kms along the Pin river and trust me the views are the best in this world in terms of landscape panoramas.

The sky and water revealed kaliedoscopic reflections of the numerous colours in the mountains.There were wild horses and yaks grazing in the field.At intervals there were small villages with farming grounds and mud thatched roofs with trees of yellow colours of autumn.

After the last homestay in Mudh one can walk towards a rift created by a waterfall that flows into the Pin river.The water is chilling cold being formed by the melting snow high up in to the mountains.

In the night climb up into the roof in a ladder and enjoy the starlit galactic sky which looks ever so clearly visible at such an altitude.

Village kids in Mudh

Villagers in their Daily Activities.

The villagers here provide awesome food with numerous choices of dishes which really surprised me.There was porridge,custard,momos,cornflakes and many other delectable dishes for breakfast.The villagers here do farming in the morning and provide helping hand to act as a guide for travellers. Spiti tour is obviously incomplete if you dont visit The Pin Valley national Park.


Next day after 50 kms from the Pin valley we arrived at the district headquarters of Spiti ,Kaza.Kaza has all major facilities like a town with hospitals and luckily a petrol pump after 150 km of driving.To our astonishment we saw that kaza has the highest petrol pump in the world owned by IOCL,so that counts to another achievement of our Himalayan geography.

So a simple advice to all the riders is to refuel the tanks and check your gears in the workshops of Kaza.have a oxygen saturation level check up in the district hospital because after this place the route will be to even more high altitude level roads .

As we drove towards the major town,the Spiti river got broader and the colour changes to that of the sky.The mountains are still dry as sand but it holds the colours of Spiti.

Kaza offers a wide range of commercial hotels and it is the major pit stop to visit the key monastery and the three Spiti villages of Langza,Komic and Hikkim. After checking into our hotel,we continued our bike trip to the high altitude villages of Spiti. We took an 18 km uphill drive from a diversion from the Kaza Kunzum highway to reach the three high altitude villages of Spiti.

 

The three villages had distinctive features. Langza welcomes us with a Giant Buddha Statue with the snow capped Sheila peak in the background.

 

Komic is the highest motorable village in the world and Hikkim has the highest post office in the world.

Travellers will be surprised to see such disciplined farming at the top of the himalayas which is only possible due to the tough life and hardworking people of the mountains.Many historians once believed that Spiti was the part of the Tethys sea millions of years ago from where the himalayas were born.We can aslo find some local people selling ancient fossils that are worth to be taken as symbols of ancient lifeforms.

As we reached to a height of more than 14000 feet the land became flat like a football field surrounded by snow capped peaks with panoramic views of the valleys.

Don’t forget to send your postcards back to your home from the highest post office and carry water as much as you can due to the low levels of oxygen in these places.So a piece of advice to all the tourists is to check your oxygen saturation level in the government hospital in kaza and then proceed to these mystic picturesque villages of Spiti.

Now here is the wallpaper of Spiti -The Key Monastery.I always dreamt about visiting this place whenever I scrolled over the google images and used to come over this symbolic wallpaper.Key monastery is the largest monastery in the district which is a half an hour drive from Kaza.

As soon as we entered the monastery we saw several monks of different age and gender assembled together to listen to the evening speech by their head monk.Tourists need to dress properly and behave decently inside the premises as per the rules and regulations.The monastery is made up of several rooms decently piled up like small boxes that make this picture most photogenic symbol of Spiti.

On reaching the gates of the monastery one can see such mesmerising views of the Spiti basin below with the concrete winding road looking like a crawling snake..Visit the monastery at the sunset to have a glimpse of the last rays of the sun on the the valley with the last prayers of the monks in the evening.

As we continued our journey the next day from kaza to kunzum pass we came along a colourful part of our journey yet again. I felt like my eyes acting as a prism and refracting seven colours of nature.For sometime I thought  I was in a country like Afghanistan and in a landform that of the Pamir knot.

We were driving above 3800 metres above sea level and the entire valley was like a concrete field gifted to us for coming this far  as adventure travellers.

The valley was mammoth like a football field with no grass and surrounded by different colours of dry mountains.Though the region has no vegetation and is without a single trace of human settlement,but the surroundings were so colourful and rejuvenating like a painting in the mind of a child.We were fortunate enough to have a prefect climate that added the blue colour of the sky mixed in this wonderland.This was my best stretch of bike trip in terms of smooth road along with the scenic feast to our eyes.

Surely Spiti valley is the most colourful valley in the himalayas inspite of being devoid of any vegetation and being the driest part of our country.

After driving for around 70 kms there is a checkpoint for entering the kunzum pass just after the village named Losar. For indians it is just a formality but foreign tourists need to carry their passports for their entire trip in Spiti. The road became terribly worse after that and it was like dirt biking with the hard rocks.We were slowly gaining height as Kunzum pass was situated at an altitude of 16500 feet above sea level.

The road will be accompanied by the Spiti river on the right side and the dry mountains on the left.After an hour drive the river vanished and we arrived on a flat land as if we were on the roof of an elevated land.The road looked nowhere to go surrounded by snow capped peaks and we were standing in the middle of a desolated field.Luckily we found a signboard which showed the kunzum pass as 2 kms away to the destination. Kunzum pass separates the lahaul valley with the spiti valley.So we bid good bye to the spiti valley with lots of memories and photos.

The wind was blowing very strongly which created a fluttering sound of from the numerous prayer flags being hung all around the pass.Prayer Flags are flags of worship that signifies the heroics of the local residents and their bravery.There is also a small shop that offers maggi and hot tea.We were also surprised to see The Himachal State Transport services running buses in such tough roads and remote destinations.That surely makes them the lifeline of the state.

 

Road trips do build the bonds of friendship and teamwork.Till now we faced strenous roads,landslides,water streams and scorching heat of the sun .But as a team we overcame every tough situations in front of us.

We rejoiced to have completed this far and opened our packed parathas for our lunch.I must say the cold parathas gave us some energy to continue for the rest of the day.

After an hour pitstop in the kunzumpass we started our journey to the only lake in this trip i.e the Chandertal lake.

The road degenerated even more badly and I toppled with my bike twice on the way.Our energy was still high on the air to fetch the memories of the alien scenery around.The 12 km diversion to the Chandertal lake is in no way a route for the bike.Snow melted water streams and numerous boulders on the road made the ride even more tougher.Finally after reaching the base camp which is 2.5 kms away from the lake we booked a tent for us .They charged Rs 500 per head from us that included breakfast and dinner.This is quite cheap pertaining to the living conditions at such an altitude which is more than 14000 feet above sea level.

Chandertal is also called “The Moon Lake” due to its crescent shape when seen from the above.The lake is a preserved area for wildlife. So no camping is allowed in the vicinity of the lake.The lake on one side is surrounded by eroded mountains and on the other side with snow capped peaks.It is as blue as one can imagine which may be due to the clear reflection of the blue sky at this height. Chandertal lake is the most famous destination in the Lahaul valley that is even more prismatic than one can imagine from the picture.The mountains,green fields,blue water along with the clear blue sky makes it a dream and colourful destination for every hikers and travellers to the Himalayas.

In the night it was shivering cold but the localites arranged born fires and hot apple drinks .They explained how in the mountains life is impossible without helping others.The people living in the mountains have their motto of helping each others without which according to them life is impossible here in the mountains.So they arranged a vehicle for us to carry the luggages up to Batal which made our 12km trip to the main highway a lot easier.Here  I learned how consuming juice of garlic helps in maintaining saturation level of the oxygen in our blood.Next day in the early morning hours we started our journey back to Manali to avoid the heavy streams of water created from the melting snow.Now the road was all along the Chenab river with numerous water streams flowing over the road due to the melting snow as the sunlight rays were brightening up the mountains.

Thanks to the tough build up of the royal enfield bikes which could sustain such ruthless roads.There were boulders on the roads of various sizes which were being carried down due to the rocks loosing their ground as the soil softened in the mountains. Lahaul valley was much greener than the spiti valley and the weather was much more chilling.The mountains were now grey in colour with more concrete rocks and grasslands beneath them.On an average the speed of the bike was not more than 25 km/h.

Amidst such tough and strenous journey we were energised by the changing terrain of the landscape.There were waterfalls over the roads,river forming rifts along the highway,mountains with vegetation and wooden bridges motivating us with the prayer flags.

We felt like freedom birds driving over the roads as if flying due to the vastness of the landscape beneath the clear blue sky.

As we proceeded more towards the windward side of the Himalayas,we can clearly see the contrast in vegetation as the mountains turned from brown bald to grasslands.We were approaching the Rohtang Pass which separates the Kullu valley from the Lahaul valley,with the Kullu valley receiving the maximum amount of rainfall.

The route to Rohtang pass from Batal offers spectacular scenic views of the mountains covered with graceful garb of white snow. Rohtang pass-the gateway to ladakh,is the nature’s most bewitching and pristine pass of the mighty Himalayas and hence is a must visit for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts.It also acts as an escape from the heat of the plains during the summer which we availed in the month of September 2016.As we apptoached Chatru from Batal we crossed numerous Tea dhabas which kept boosting our energy,most importantly The Chacha Chachi Dhaba in the stressful Transhimalayan highway.The water streams became broader over the roads as now the melting snow created watefalls like the one in the picture.

Our bikes got stuck numerous times in the rocky bed of the water streams that was even more painful as our clothes got drenched in the chilling cold water.

As we approached Rohtang pass the roads widened up and became crispy smooth due to the efforts of the BRO.The dark clouds began to hover over us as we were approaching the windward side of the mountains.We chased the rainfall and arrived in the mighty Rohtang pass which were crowded with tourists.I imagined Rohtang pass to be a snow covered wall when I used to scroll over the google images.But to my amazement I was spell bound by the greenery.

It was not snowing in the late september but it was raining which rejuvenated the colours of the vegetation.The valley was lightened up with with green grasslands all over the place,refreshed and cleaned by the water droplets from the cloudy sky.

The rain was pouring down continuously so after an hour pit stop we continued our journey now along the Beas river towards Manali and bid goodye to the magnificient Lahaul valley with lots of memories in our mind and heart.

Year’s First Sunrise from a Heritage Hotel at Kalimpong…

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

This New Year, we planned to visit the hilly terrains of Northern Bengal to treat our eyes with a cloudless glimpse of the majestic Mt. Kanchenjunga range. Since my childhood, I remember my grandma’s description of the mesmerizing views of Mt. Kanchenjunga on a January morning. She had spent her juvenile days at the queen of hills, and so it was through her eyes, I visualized the mountains till the time I experienced it myself.

Kalimpong is a beautiful hill station of North Bengal, situated at an average altitude of 4100 feet, around 80 kilometres (three hours’ drive) from the Bagdogra airport. It was not my first visit to Kalimpong though, but yes the first winter visit for sure.

31st December 2017 – we took an afternoon flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra and landed by 2pm. It’s an Indian Air Force maintained airport and hence photography is strictly prohibited within the premises. It did not take much time to collect our luggage as the airport had only two conveyor belts with very limited civilian passengers.

We hired a pre-paid taxi (Kalimpong drop for Rs. 1400) from the airport counter but soon realized being trapped when the driver loaded our luggage onto a car with different number than the one mentioned in the prepaid booking slip. He tried his level best to convince us that both the cabs belonged to him and it did not make much of a difference whichever we get in. Somehow, we managed to free ourselves from his suspicious clutches and reported straight to the prepaid booth, finally ending up in cancelling our booking at the end. Luckily, we noticed the discrepancy, but it could be damn risky for elderly people to anticipate such hazards.

Time was hitting hard on us as from our previous experiences we knew that after 3pm, no taxis tend to agree driving up the hills. On top, since it was winter time so the risk was mounting up faster. We gave ourselves some time at the adjacent coffee shop when an old gentleman (supposedly a broker) approached us to offer a ride to Kalimpong at the same prepaid booking price. Initially we did not pay much attention, but when he said that the driver was a local resident of Kalimpong and was waiting for a return trip, we agreed to talk to the driver directly. He looked trusted and we geared off without wasting much time. But honestly speaking, where so many foreigners visit round the year, the transport authorities must work towards strengthening the governance, in interest of the tourists.

TEA BREAK ENROUTE

 

We continued on NH10 for major part of our journey, crossing a rail bridge near Sevoke. All the while the superfluous turquoise waters of Teesta River were on our right till the time we crossed it near Rambi bazaar. We met a Y-shaped bifurcation near Chitrey Waterfalls where we took a right turn towards the Rishi Road leading to Kalimpong. The road we left headed straight to Melli in Sikkim.

TURQUOISE WATER OF TEESTA RIVER.

RAMBI BAZAAR

Kalimpong was just twelve kilometres from Chitrey Khola but the remaining road was the toughest part of the route. Here lies the famous two-and-half turn of Rishi Road which was like a series of sharp hairpin bends, ascending steeply over three thousand feet at one go. A chilly wind pierced our skin as we kept climbing up the hill for next thousand feet. We avoided the overcrowded downtown area by taking the Kalimpong Bypass route. Fortunately, the driver knew the roads well and we faced no issues reaching our hotel.

We had done a prior booking at the Kalimpong Park Hotel (Superior Deluxe DBR at Rs. 3900 + applicable taxes) and it took us around two hours forty five minutes to reach there from Bagdogra airport. Ample parking space was available in front of the hotel, no parking hazards at all where today most of the Kalimpong hotels fall short of. Darkness had totally engulfed the place by the time we reached the hill station.

The hotel entrance was beautifully lit and decorated with flowering plants to add a celebration touch. Our check-in was hassle free. We were given a front side room at the third floor. The wood works of the hotel lobby and reception area were noteworthy. However, the room quality and cleanliness must be improved compared to the tariff. No tea coffee kits were provided, wall to wall carpets were not available, no slippers in room, toiletries provided were of very poor quality, bathroom was very clumsy, drinking water was not purified and so on. These are some basic amenities which any boarder would expect from a star hotel.

Keeping aside the hotel amenities, the building has a very attractive fact attached to its existence. It was earlier known as ‘Dinajpur House’ when it was inhabited by the Maharaja of Dinajpur as a summer retreat. It is positioned around a kilometre above the Kalimpong town, facing north-east, with a panoramic view of the landscape from the entrance podium. It still belongs to the Dinajpur royal estate, however some portion of it has been recently renovated and leased out to the luxurious Park Hotel group for tourist accommodation.

I would like to highlight an important point here – location of the hotel is splendid only for tourists who want to avoid the crowded Kalimpong market area, otherwise one might feel very isolated. That also implies that there was not a single shop in and around the hotel within a kilometre’s range. Since we were in an utterly relaxing mood, we loved the seclusion.

VALLEY VIEW FROM THE ROOM

It was 31st December night and the prevailing weather was just complementing the calendar dates. The outside temperature was way below ten degrees with a frosty breeze blowing all the while. Being there on the year end night, a small bonfire was arranged by the hotel staff and we were warmly invited to attend it while completing our check-in formalities.

BONFIRE AT HOTEL IN NIGHT.

 

We quickly freshened up as we had midnight plans for the day. The beautiful aroma of hot Darjeeling tea refreshed our weariness in a jiffy. And we decided to take a walk within the hotel premises. The heritage aspect of the hotel was the most attractive part of our stay and it was quite evident from the well maintained trophy room and outhouse turned to bar. There were wonderful antique collections of furniture, utensils, grandpa’s clock, a Victorian wall clock, a magnificent fireplace, stuffed animals etc to add up to our grand experience. From one of the hotel boys we came to know that the building has been often portrayed in old and new Bengali films including some recent releases like Bastu Saap, Chhaya o Chhobi etc.

 

Bonfire had already started by the time we came back to the reception area. We planned to have our dinner at the adjoining restaurant. Food taste was good and of sufficient quantity but they did not have water purifiers at all. Only option was bottled mineral waters being sold at elevated prices. They serve natural spring waters without being cautioned. People planning to stay with kids, beware.

The receptionist told us that on a cloudless morning, Mt. Kanchenjunga peaks are best visible from its top floor observatory (fourth floor) and the ornate garden adjoining reception area. But we must wake up early to experience that. It would be the first sunrise of the New Year and so we were extremely excited to enthral the first glimpse of the regal snow peaks.

Alarms rang sharp at 4.30am and we rushed to the top floor observatory. It was still dark outside. After an hour’s wait, morning sun’s first glows started appearing and slowly the hilly outlines became visible. Luckily it was a truly cloudless morning. It was right at 6.15am when the Mt. Kanchenjunga main peaks could be seen.

 

By 6.30am, the entire snow clad Kanchenjunga range was grandly visible on our left while the sun rose from our right. The view of the changing colours on the snow was not just great, but grand. We also went to the garden to experience the view and it was worth the efforts. We came back to our room ordering a pot of steaming Darjeeling tea. Nevertheless, most of the hotel rooms did not face the snow peaks.

 

11 am and it was time for us to check out. Unfortunately, our end note was not that sweet. The hotel had arranged a private taxi (car with white number plate) for dropping to our onward destination. Upon asking the driver, he said in front of hotel staffs that “in Kalimpong white board cars are allowed to do commercial trips.” Whatever be the fact, take our words, do confirm the rates with the driver before starting your journey from hotel.

We faced serious concerns with the driver booked through hotel reception regarding the trip cost at the end of the day. The amount told to us by hotel receptionist was way less than the driver actually charged us at the dropping point. The overall taxi experience during the entire trip was horrible which reinstates the need of governance by transport authorities in the region. Till the time that happens, at least the hotels must take care of these subtle issues in the long run because when tourists books a taxi through the hotel, they will not expect such discrepancies and impolite driver behaviour.

Whatever be the ups and downs, our winter tour to Kalimpong was a memorable one, heartened by a lifetime stay at the heritage hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed the grand view of the mountains, ultimate solitude, lovely bonfire, tasty food, aromatic Darjeeling tea and the prevailing chilling climate – exactly what we had planned as part our New Year celebrations.

Mysterious Temple Ruins of Gopiballavpur

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee.

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

Gopiballavpur, approximately 200 kilometres from Kolkata, is a small village on the banks of Subarnarekha River, which presently falls under the domination of newly formed Jhargram district of West Bengal. It takes around four hours to reach by road from Kolkata along the Bombay Road. It is a mysterious historic temple town, which dates back to the mythical Ramayana days.

 

During the Diwali holidays, we planned for a long drive to Gopiballavpur. As there were no accommodation facilities in and around the place, we had booked our stay at the nearest Jhargram Rajbari (old Palace), about 50 kilometres away.

Jhargram Rajbari (old Palace)

We started early from Kolkata and kept driving along the NH16 (popularly known as Bombay Road). Had our first break at Kolaghat after a couple of hours’ drive. There were lots of roadside dhabas to feed our stomach. We headed straight towards Kharagpur and continued till Lodhashuli junction (about 160 kilometres) without any diversions.

Crossing Rupnarayan River over Kolaghat Bridge

The lush green jungle stretches of Jhargram could be seen long before we entered Garhsalboni forest – the starting point of Lodhashuli range. The road condition was by far good till this point, but we had to pay multiple heavy tolls on way. Needless to say, our driving experience of Jhargram so far was like a paradise for nature lovers with bountiful timberlands of Sal, Teak, Oak, Eucalyptus, Sonajhuri and Mahul with momentous sighting of wild Dalma tuskers, deer and Serbian migratory birds. On the way, we also experienced various types of ancient temples, a deserted citadel, tribal villages and couple of dilapidated tea shops playing folk rhythms which made us feel like in a complete bliss. In short, we were taken aback at the absolute natural grandeur of the place.

Driving Through Garhsalboni Forest

Dilapidated Ancient Temple

A Deserted Citadel

Our pains started once we crossed Lodhashuli. There was a forest check post where they verified all our credentials and basic vehicle details before allowing a private car to enter the forested area. It really felt sad to ponder that how could such a serene place be dominated by notorious bloodsheds just a few years back.

Entering Lodhashuli Range

Soon after we entered, the road literally vanished among the ominous greens. Actually, years ago there had been a proper road, but due to repeated Maoist outbreaks, it’s all pathetically broken now and is often referred as ‘red corridor’ by the officials. However, from Lodhashuli till Sardiha, the road reconstruction work has begun again, and we were assured to drive safely till Gopiballavpur.

Red Corridor Forested Way to Gopiballavpur

Sardiha was a tiny rural marketplace from where we took left and drove till Bartola, from where we got onto the famous ‘Sidhu Kanu Birsha bridge‘ for crossing the bountiful Subarnarekha River. A panoramic view of the river with fishermen boats could be best seen from this bridge – a treat to your eyes indeed. The river got its name from the golden sands which were glittering brightly against the blue canvas of Autumn sky.

Sidhu-Kanu-Birsha Bridge over Subarnarekha River

 

Panoramic view of Subarnarekha River from Sidhu-Kanu-Birsha Bridge

At the other end of the bridge lies our destination – the historic temple town of Gopiballavpur. Due to the broken roads, it took us more than two hours to drive a stretch of just 30 kilometres from Sardiha.

There were no formal parking areas near the place. Leaving our car on a green splash of land, we walked into the temple complex. As expected, there were no tourists other than us. Looking at the curious expressions of the kids playing in front of the ruins, it seemed that they were not used to see outsiders visiting the place.

Ancient Temple Complex of Gopiballavpur

As such there were no boundaries to define the premises, nevertheless we could figure out the periphery guarded by a leafy wall. There were a series of ancient temple skeletons made up of brick mortar. Amazingly, in most of them, there were no deities except a few had Shivalingas and couple of them were dedicated to Lord Krishna and Goddess Radha.

Beside the ruins, we saw a beautiful garden named ‘Gopiballavpur Eco Park’ along the bank of Subarnarekha River. While buying the entry tickets (Rs. 10 per head), an old gentleman approached us with a hesitant smile. He could perhaps anticipate our curiosity regarding the temple ruins. As we offered him to walk with us inside the park, he happily accepted our proposal. It was from him that we came to know various mysterious mythological connections surrounding the place.

 

  • There are different schools of thought about Rishi Valmiki’s ashram in Ramayana and one of the legends say that it was right here where the dacoit Ratnakar got enlightened to sage Valmiki after a spell of tough meditation. Through our personal experience, there were multiple anthills around the place indeed.

 

  • Rishi Valmiki had started writing Ramayana at the footsteps of Rameshwar Temple built by Lord Vishwakarma. Where we stood, there was an array of temples one of which appeared prehistoric. Though not much information is available about this ancient temple in the pages of history, yet the architecturally rich remnants still have a series of ancient brick pillars and domes with Shivalingas housed inside which again presumably bore a resemblance to the description of Rameshwar temple depicted in Ramayana.

Mysterious Temple Ruins of Gopiballavpur

  • Tamasa River was perhaps the mythical name of Subarnarekha River and its descriptions match very closely to what we find in the epic.

 

  • The dense canopy of forests around Gopiballavpur was the hunting ground of Ratnakar and is even today notorious for dacoits and Maoists.

 

  • The adjoining jungle is full of red faced monkeys, drawing resemblance to Rama’s Vanar Sena. We too encountered innumerable of them during our walk.

 

  • Valmiki’s ashram was then known as Tapovan where Sita had taken refuge after being disowned by Rama. She also gave birth to her twins Luv & Kush at this place. Surprisingly, even today some of the locales still refer to the holy place as Tapovan and firmly believe that Gopiballavpur relates to Ramayana in many aspects.

 

A comparatively recent belief about Gopiballavpur says that it got its name from the deity Gopi Ballav (a form of Lord Krishna), established by Shyamananda Mahaprabhu during 1400 AD. Its earlier name was Kashipur, belonging to the Mayurbhanj kingdom. For years, the temple complex is managed by a Vaishnava Goswami family, headed by the Mahanta who renamed Rameshwar temple complex as ‘Gupta Vrindavan’, housing deities of Gopi Ballav, Radha Rani, Jagannath, Balaram, Subhadra and Lord Shiva. Of late, restoration work has been underway for some of the temples to preserve their archaeological significance.

 

 

 

Whatever be the historic or mythological truth related to this place, it did run a chill through our spine as we walked around the age-old temples of Gopiballavpur. Next weekend, you may also plan a visit here. But do keep in mind four key points:-

  • There are no places of accommodation nearby.
  • There are no restaurants other than couple of local sweet shops.
  • The area is very deserted and lies beside a dense forest on one side, and Subarnarekha River on the other.
  • It is advised to leave the place before 3pm as the road from Gopiballavpur till Jhargram is infamous even today.

 

Ratha Yatra, Jhulon, Gajon and Charok are some of the popular local festivals of Gopiballavpur and would be a better time to visit the place if you like to experience rural fairs and gatherings.

 

 

GLIDE AWAY YOUR WORRIES TO KAMSHET

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A city which never sleeps

Thousands of faces

Millions of vision

The city provides shelter to billions

Sight of rich and poor

A city that appreciates talent all over the world

No discrimination in religion and celebrates all festivals

The hub of opportunities ,the quintessential city of dreams

The city whose spirit is to fight back stand for each other and emerge as a winner after just about anything…”AAMCHI MUMBAI”.

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“UNPLANNED TRIPS ARE THE BEST ONES,

MORE THAN THE DESTINATION YOUR

JOURNEYS ARE MORE IMPORTANT”

Sunday’s are meant to laze around and spend quality family time ,so a few weeks back after having a leisure breakfast in bed I decided to rev up my car and hit the road . Before starting any road trip its advisable to check the car and tyres thoroughly and make sure you have your favourite playlist ready before you hit the road . Driving for me is therapeutic and a great stress buster when done on empty roads which is a near impossible to find in a city like Mumbai . So after packing my bag for an overnight stay grabbing all my must haves in a duffle I buckled up and hit the Mumbai Pune Expressway which is one of my most preferred route for a drive.

With no destination in mind and bored to death of going back again to Lonavala or Khandala I decided to go a bit further and explore the small hamlet of Kamshet which is paradise for adventure junkies and nature lovers alike.

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There are numerous ways to reach Kamshet but I chose to drive down via the expressway . Alternatively you can drive via the old Mumbai Pune highway which has lesser toll to be paid and also the solo choice for bikers as they are not allowed on the new highway .

Kamshet even has a railway station and one can reach here via train which runs between Mumbai and Pune route but there is only one passenger train which stops at Kamshet station and that too in the middle of the night at 2.30am . Most of the other trains would have a halt at Lonavala or Talegaon which are at a distance of 16 and 13 kms respectively ; you can hop on a local rickshaw or tuk tuk from the station and reach your destination . This is the cheapest option to reach as the train and rickshaw ride would cost around 250 bucks.

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After taking two intervals I reached Kamshet from Mumbai -Pune express highway which took 2hr 30min to arrive at my destination.It was 2pm in the afternoon there was nip in the air ,breezy and windy.It is advisable to avoid visit during monsoons as the winds are strong.Cool summers and winters are the best time to visit Kamshet. Waterfalls can be spotted here during monsoons.Beautiful place with lush green cultivation of land all around,clear sky,less pollution,mesmerizing view of lake and population of 1000 locals at maximum.Best time to visit the place is during winters in the month of December-February where the nights are chilly with a mercury drop of 13degrees Celsius and a maximum rise of 30degree Celsius.

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I wanted to have some masala tea since it was afternoon, experiencing breeze and sunlight at the sametime .What else you ask for a rare combination of weather.I Asked some locals who were working at concrete land with bricks.They guided me to go towards city which consisted barely few shops and chai tapris.I reached there after 15min and had my masala tea. Since I was totally new to this place with no google and no network I was totally dependent on the locals.

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Sipping tea I asked : “bhaiya yaha kya dekhne jaisa hy”

he replied:”lake aur paragliding,caves dekh sakte ho aap”

Kamshet located at an altitude of 2200ft above the sea level,is a major attraction for people interested in paragliding and other adventurous activities.There are 6 attractions in Kamshet :

1.BEDSA CAVES

2.BHAIRI CAVES

3.PARAGLIDING

4.KONDESHWAR TEMPLE

5.BHANDAR DONGAR

6.UKSAN LAKE

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PARAGLIDING,KAMSHET OVERVIEW

Kamshet is located at Sahyadris ranges in Maharashtra.There are few paragliding spots here including Shinde wadi hills,Kondeshwar cliff,Tower hill and Shelar.I took my car  to INDUS VALLEY as paragliding was the first thing that interests me.With much experienced gliding schools and trainers,Kamshet is that hub for paragliding where you can safely indulge in the sport and make it one of the most redefining experiences of your life.They have 4days course of 20,000rs at Indus valley, if you want to be a rider on your own.The school has great facilities to stay,home cooked food,run programs and mesmerizing view of lake.Its a paragliding school for beginners and those who want to learn the sport properly.This is the most popular group here which organizes excellent programs for paragliding.

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DARE you to experience most awaited adventure in your bucket list-One day Tandem Paragliding Flight at Kamshet. The best experience In my life and most memorabe one.The scenery was breathtaking as you fly in complete silence,and the world passes by under your feet.You feel on the top of the world gaining so much confidence while flying, feeling fresh,energetic and peace.A tandem flight is really a beautiful feeling which I cannot express in words..I was speechless..Feel the wind in your hair that the view offers you and sit back relax and enjoy the silence..feel yourself and breath deep..All you have to do is relax in your harness,while your pilot flies you around.

Joy ride will set you back by 3000rs -15min.

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After an amazing ride I reached Uksan lake which was my last thing to do since it was already about sunset time , The view is so calm and serene that it will definitely take your breath away . I just sat there on the meadows gazing into the clear blue waters and listening to the chirping of birds around . Beware of the stray dogs wandering in the area. They wont harm you but if you  act suspiciously you never know. I did bribe one of them with two packets of biscuits to allow me to sit there.

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Some beautiful bungalows were built near the lake .There are accomodations for travellers with every budget starting from 1000rs to 40,000rs per night.Places like Nirvana and Indus provides accomodation and paragliding activities too.Too many bungalows and hotels are available but make sure you do your bookings early as in weekends are the rooms are always full, or else you can book a hotel in Lonavala too which is nearby 16km away from Kamshet.

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A beautiful day comes to an end with most memorable experience and my decision to discover an offbeat place was totally  worth 2hr drive from mumbai.I decided to stay over for one night at Indus paragliding valley with impeccable view and had wonderful stay with different sets of people coming from different regions of India.We randomly started having discussions on different topics sharing our experience sitting near lake side view feeling cold without realizing it was 2am in morning  .. woke up the next morning feeling fresh and energetic and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bread slices and tomato omelette along with a cup of freshly brewed lemongrass tea along with the majestic view of the lake.

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Goodbyes are always hard and this particular one was no exception .We exchanged pleasantries with the owners and others at the hotel before hitting back the road again and getting back to the mundane chores of the city life.

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THIS IS NOT THE END FOR ME ITS THE BEGINNING

TRAVELLING -IT LEAVES YOU SPEECHLESS,

       THEN TURNS YOU INTO A STORYTELLER”

– IBN BATTUTA.

 

Tomb of India’s First Chinese Forefather at Chinamantala

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee.

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

Chinamantala is a small village near Budge Budge, about 50 kilometres from Kolkata Airport via Diamond Harbour Road. There are no direct bus or train routes to reach the place, but can be easily accessed by private vehicle.

 

Today you will hardly find any Chinese families residing there, but the name of the place is still dedicated to them. Remnants of only two ancient Chinese settlements have survived the ravages of time – a traditional Chinese temple and the grave of India’s first Chinese forefather Tong Acheew. The silent hamlet gets back its life during the Chinese New Year week when plenty of Indian Chinese inhabitants visit the place, pay tribute to the great man, tune to the beats of ethnic drums and perform dragon dancing in typical Chinese carnival style.

 

Though the distance from Kolkata is very less, yet due to extreme conditions of Diamond Harbour Road and then Budge Budge Trunk Road, it took us almost two and half hours to reach the place. GPS guided quite well till Budge Budge but thereafter asking locales served as the easiest pathfinder.

 

Crossing Budge Budge BDO Office, we drove straight till Pujali (around 5 kilometres). Took a tea break at Shivtala which looked more like a local marketplace. We asked the directions for Chinamantala from the old Muslim tea vendor who guided us with confidence to our destination. He asked to take left from the next Y-junction popularly known as Boro Battala. From there, the Chinese temple was on right within a kilometre’s drive through the village road.

WAY TO CHINAMANTALA

We were very disappointed to find the temple closed after reaching there. The massive green painted entry porch seemed to have been built in recent times and appeared quite well maintained. There were some Chinese inscriptions on the marble plaque along with English engravings. The temple belongs to the God and Goddess of Earth and is maintained by Kolkata’s Gee Hing Church and Club.

THE CHINESE TEMPLE ENTRY PORCH.

Our watch showed, it was 12.30pm. Unfortunately, we could not locate a single person around to ask about the temple timings. Little hesitantly, we parked our car opposite to the main gate and peeped in through the grills. Nothing much could be seen except a green lawn and a red coloured insignificant construction at the right-hand corner of the ground.

PEEPING THROUGH THE GRILL GATE OF THE CHINESE TEMPLE.

There was a rustic shop just beside the temple, which too was closed. Highly disappointed, as we were about to leave the place, a mid-aged lady smiled at us. From her attire, she looked like a local villager. With lots of courage, we too smiled back. This created an immediate air of confidence on both the sides and sparked a conversation. She was a primary school teacher and by our luck came out to be a very learned lady. She took us back to the rich history of the place through her narrative.

 

1718 AD, a young courageous Chinese tea trader named Tong Acheew had landed at the shores of Bay of Bengal, near Budge Budge with the hope of conducting trade with English East India Company. It took him years of struggle to establish a trading relationship with the Company. During late 1770s, after being successful in persuading Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of British India, Tong Acheew was permitted to start the first Chinese owned sugar mill of the country. That opened doors to the influx of hordes of Chinese workers from the Hakka and Cantonese communities, who settled in the villages in and around the sugar mill.

 

Since the locality was just beside the mighty Hooghly River (an indigenous name of Ganga), the land was very fertile here which flickered another bizarre idea in the trader’s mind. Within a year, Tong Acheew took on lease a huge agricultural land from the Britishers for cultivating sugarcane, which in turn would serve the purpose of sugar supply for his mill.

 

To support the entire supply chain, there was huge demand of cheap labour. Soon, the workers’ families too were immigrated from China and the small village flourished to a full-grown Chinese community. The native hamlet was renamed to Acheewpur in his honour and the exact location of the sugar mill got its name changed to Chinamantala. With the passage of time, Acheewpur has become modified to Achipur, the name by which it is known today.

 

Thrilled by the golden past of the place, we also asked her about the history of this Chinese temple. She said, as popularly known amongst the locales, Tong Acheew was a religious man and deeply worshipped aboriginal tutelary Chinese divinities named Tudi-Gong (God & Goddess of Earth). During his first visit to Calcutta in 1718, he carried two small idols of these deities which he established in the form of a small shrine. Later, the sugar mill was constructed just beside it. Natives, majority of whom were Hindus & Muslims, when revolted against the institutionalization of foreign deities in their homeland, Tong Acheew renamed the deities with an Indianized appeal – Khoda and Khodi. He also exhibited extreme liberality by creating a temple for Lord Shiva beside the Chinese shrine. However, no Shivalinga was allowed to be held within the premises. With time, it came to be known as Chinese temple, unlike by the name of the deities housed inside. Even today, a single priest offers daily prayers to both the deities with equal esteem and belief, making it a one of its kind. Hardly in the world there would be a second instance of such generous religiosity.

 

From the lady’s emotional attachment with the place, it was clear that the temple does hold a very special corner in the hearts of all the villagers. She felt very happy to see our curiosity about Acheewpur and thus guided us to the shrines through a backside exit gate. That gate was mostly used by the priest and strictly restricted for visitors. Nevertheless, standing at the gate itself, we could see the temple woodworks, Chinese pillar calligraphy, the shrines and the offerings. The red coloured insignificant construction at the right-hand corner of the ground which we saw from the main entrance was actually the original temple shrine. The ceiling height was so low that we had to literally crawl inside. It was such an unusual experience indeed. Regrettably, photography was restricted inside.

BACKSIDE EXIT TEMPLE OF THE CHINESE GATE.

 

CHINESE TEMPLE HOUSING SHIVA TEMPLE IN SAME COMPOUND.

Upon asking about the tomb of Tong Acheew, she advised us to park our car near the temple and walk half a kilometre along the tapering muddy road towards the river. Then, giving a second’s pause, she herself offered to accompany us to the place as it would be difficult for us to locate it as outsiders. Such an open helping attitude from a native touched our heart with contentment.

MUDDY ROAD TOWARDS TONG ACHEEW’S TOMB.

For the next fifteen minutes, she kept narrating Tong Acheew’s life story and his sad demise. Within few years of the settlement, the sugar plantations and factory both were running with heavy returns. Even the Britishers were happy with the huge profits. But luck was not his side. Tong Acheew was fatally diagnosed with an ailment and he succumbed to death very fast. Soon after he passed away, the Britishers took control of his sugar mill and started cultivating indigo on the same land, ushering nightmare for the Chinese labourers. The poor workers started worshipping Tong Acheew as a divine self. They also constructed a grave in his memory just beside the Hooghly River with the hope of protection from the clutches of inhumane indigo planters of East India Company.

WAY TO GRAVE THROUGH THE BRICK KILNS

 

AN AFTERNOON WALK ALONG THE HOOGLY RIVER TOWARDS THE TOMB

Within a span of just two years, thousands of Chinese nationals who had settled along the banks of Budge Budge, started migrating towards the mainland of Calcutta in search of peaceful work environment. Most of them landed near Tiretta Bazar, now popularly known as China Town and Acheewpur looks deserted since then. On a different note, if we flip through the pages of history, Acheewpur marked the beginning of Chinese settlements in India.

 

After walking for a while, she pointed us to take a shorter route through a brick factory as it was about to dusk. As time sailed through 250 years, the Hooghly River changed its courses several times. Years ago, the original graveyard constructed by the Chinese residents got engulfed into the depths of the river. However, to commemorate the memory of Tong Acheew, a U-shaped red coloured grave has been newly constructed near the present-day Budge Budge Ferry Ghat and is often used as a Hindu cremation ground.

WAY TO GRAVE THROUGH BRICK KILNS

 

TONG ACHEEW’S GRAVE OVERLOOKING HOOGLY RIVER

 

NEWLY CONSTRUCTED U-SHAPED RED COLOURED TONG ACHEEW’S GRAVE

 

CHINESE INSCRIPTIONS ON THE TOMB.

The view of the setting sun on Hooghly River from the holy site was a mesmerizing treat to our tired eyes. We thanked the lady for her time and valuable insights about the rich past of Chinamantala. If we did not happen to come across her, our trip would have been certainly incomplete. With the Chinese New Year knocking the door this weekend, why don’t you plan a day trip to this awesome getaway?

SUNSET ON HOOGLY RIVER IN CHINAMANTALA

Footi Masjid – The Mosque With A Hole

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

During the Christmas holidays, we planned a road trip to the historic city of Nawabs – royal Murshidabad, around 200 kilometres from Kolkata via NH34, beautifully located along the banks of Bhagirathi River (Ganga is traditionally known by this name here). However, the road conditions were extremely bad at some places taking us more than six hours to reach Lalbag, the heart of Murshidabad town. There are no luxury hotels at Murshidabad yet, but the warm hospitality of the local residents will gratify any tourist visiting the place.

 

Hazar Duari Palace of Murshidabad

 

Our stay was booked at Hotel Sagnik – probably the best lodging facility (budget hotel) located centrally in front of Panch Raha Bazar’s Netaji Market – adjacent to all the prominent visiting spots. Boarders will get everything required within two minutes walking distance from the hotel. The best feature of the hotel were its staffs. They were very cordial, though lacked in trained hospitality services and professionalism.

 

We were extremely exhausted by the time we reached our destination previous night. It was a tough drive indeed, not to be judged by the distance alone. Tonga rides are a very common tradition of Murshidabad and thus we preferred to leave our car at hotel and take a horse ride around the historic town. Every corner of it was speaking about the grandeur of its past. Be it the Hazar Duari Palace, Dakshin Darwaza, Qila Nizamat, Motijheel, Katra Mosque, Imambara, Prince’s Quarters, Jahan Kosha, Wasef Manzil, Nach Mahal, Top Khana, Jaan Ghar, Royal Horse and Elephant Stables, Nimak Haram Deorhi, Jafaraganj Cemetery, Siraj-ud-Daullah’s tomb at Khoshbag, Nawab School and innumerable other royal monuments spread across every nook of the lost capital.

 

Dakshin Darwaza

 

Katra Mosque

 

Motijheel Jama Masjid

 

Jahan Kosha Cannon

 

Wasef Manzil

 

Siraj-ud-Daullah’s tomb at Khoshbag

 

Of all the architectural wonders, the edifice which aroused highest interest in me was a century old incomplete mosque with a hole and a captivating story surrounding its past – the Footi Masjid. Any tourist visiting Murshidabad will tell you hundreds of legends about the major palaces and cemeteries, however, hardly anyone would tell you anything about this mysterious piece of incomplete art.

 

Footi Masjid As Seen From the Road

 

The brick moulded building was in complete ruins, overgrown by bushy jungles, when we took our first step inside. It is believed to be one of the most haunted corners of Murshidabad located at Kumarpur, about two and half kilometres to the east of Qila Nizamat. The mosque, if completed, would have been the largest one in the city being one hundred thirty-five feet long and thirty-eight feet broad massive structure. It was to be mounted by five domes – four at the corners and one in the middle. Plans were there for specially designed spiral staircases to the top of the cupolas at all four turrets which could be easily found from its entrance at the base. All the walls and stairs were constructed, only the ceiling of three domes remained left to be completed. However due to a series of ghostly incidents, the workmanship was left unfinished at a half-done state by the then Nawab.

 

 

 

Abandoned Entry Porch of Footi Masjid

 

Way to Prayer Hall of Footi Masjid

 

It was said, during 1740s, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan had started the construction of this mosque with five thousand workers. They had been working day and night for the timely completion of the structure. Suddenly one-day the young Nawab paid a surprise visit to the site to check the progress of the building. During his stopover, a master roll call was done by the site manager and an astonishing fact came out – from the first day onwards, there was a counting error for one extra labour whose wages were duly released every week, but no one knew him by his name. Upon such an enigmatic revelation, subsequently for over a month’s time it was being closely observed; but he did not turn up ever in reality. Nothing concrete could be inferred as such about the furtive presence of that unknown mason. Folklores started spreading notoriously about the mysterious labour and soon the workers boycotted the place.

 

Way to Spiral Staircase of Footi Masjid

 

To avoid further rumours, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan tried to spread a diluted message in the community saying that he had solemnly pledged to complete the construction overnight to compete with his grandfather Nawab Murshid Quli Khan who had built the famous Katra Masjid. Since he could not win the bet, it was left at its state. Three out of five tomb ceilings were left incomplete which appear like holes at a glance.

 

Incomplete tomb ceilings which look like holes

 

Inner view of Mosque with Hole – Footi Masjid

 

Nevertheless, the real story was never unveiled. People initially believed the adage but soon they started experiencing eerie incidents at the construction site. The erection of the mosque was thus permanently withheld since then, with hardly any footfalls in a radius of two kilometres around it for centuries. Due to its partial creation, it earned the uncanny name with time – Footi Masjid (meaning mosque with a hole).

 

View of Footi Masjid from inside

 

Natives still do not enter the Footi Masjid as they believe that since no Namaz had been ever prayed at the mosque, it is surrounded by ill spirits. Also, it is not advisable for tourists to enter inside the building as due to scanty footfalls for years it has now become a cobra’s den. If you still cannot resist yourself from entering the abandoned mosque, then do take a few more steps up a dilapidated spiral staircase to climb to the top of the tomb turret. The view from rooftop is wonderful. Caution – Dare only if you can fight with the venomous friends.

 

 

 

Channapatna – The Wooden Toy Capital of India

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

Connect with her on Facebook @: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee

 

It was a summer Sunday. Bored of sitting lazily at home, we decided to drive to a 200-year-old rural toy-making handicraft industry of Karnataka, around 65 kilometers south of Bangalore along the Mysore Road. Located in the Rama Nagara district, Channapatna is known for its indigenous wooden toys for centuries.

 

There is also a very noteworthy ancient temple nearby – Sri Aprameya Swamy (or Navaneetha Krishna) temple at Doddamallur. The significance of the place is that it is perhaps the only temple in southern India where Lord Sri Krishna is worshiped in the form of a crawling baby with a lump of butter in hand.

 

It was going to be a day trip of entirely different flavour this time. 7.30 in the morning. We zipped our backpack for the day with some light snacks, couple of mineral water bottles and a digicam to shoot our journey. We decided to take the exit to Mysore Road at the outskirts of the state capital to avoid city traffic.

 

Mysore Road – Way to Channapatna in Ram Nagara district of Karnataka

 

Within hardly half an hour we reached Kumbalgoduthe first prominent halt on the Bangalore-Mysore state highway. Since the driving distance was not significant, we took a quick smoking break, changed hands and started anew.

 

After driving for another 12 odd kilometers, we reached a very chaotic place called Bidadi with increasing number of road traffic and pedestrians around. It seemed as though we were approaching a village fair ground. From highest, we immediately geared down our car and started looking for a safe way out through the mob. All of a sudden, a young lumbering fellow came in front of our car with a wooden club in his hand – startled, we braked immediately. Initially thought he must be a local traffic controller or so. As we intended to slide down our front windows, he directed us to take left onto a huge muddy ground with numerous cars already parked informally. Highly astonished, we just followed his hand directions and found a suitable corner slot to park our car. Once we jumped off the car in utter curiosity, we saw hundreds of people were running around – most of them appeared more like tourists than traffic violators. It did take us few minutes to understand what had actually happened.

 

Thatte Idli shops at Bidadi

 

There was an array of rustic food joints in front of us and all the name plates read “Bidadi Special Thatte Idli”. We were at the Idli Capital of India – Bidadi. Oh! never ever imagined it to be such a happening place though. Just like Bengal’s Shaktigarh stretch is famous for fried sweets (langcha), Bidadi also holds a great importance to the natives for their special form of idlis called Thatte Idli. They are much bigger in size and softer in taste – that’s what we knew from our bookish knowledge, yet to be validated today.

 

We entered one of the bigger shops and waited in a long queue to just place our order. After about a twenty minutes’ wait, we got our coupons. Another fifteen minutes went in placing the order at the counter. Prices were mostly reasonable. In a while, a little boy served us plates of steaming Thatte Idli with filter coffee. Looking at the size of the idlis, we were left dumbfounded – almost triple the size of normal idlis and the taste had such a heavenly tenderness! It seemed to have coriander and mint leaves mixed in the batter, enhancing the taste to newer heights. With no choice of instant coffee or leaf tea in the list of hot beverages, we had to order South Indian filter coffee only. Honestly, the raw taste of coffee powder did not go well with the idlis. Nevertheless, we just had it more as a habit to include hot drinks in our daily breakfast.

 

After about an hour’s halt we resumed our original drive to Channapatna. The next 20 kilometers went in a whiff with almost no speed breakers to break us off in between. On way we crossed the rocky terrains of Rama Nagara – famous for Ramesh Sippy’s all-time superhit movie ‘Sholay’. The movie was shot here for more than two months. ‘Ramgarh’ village of the movie was inspired from the original name of the place. The small hillock visible from the highway was portrayed as legendary villain Gabbar’s den. Even today, legends say there are instances of dacoit attacks on tourists and villagers after sunset.

 

Gabbar’s Den – Sets of Sholay film at Rama Nagara

 

In another 15 kilometers we reached the toy city of Channapatna – a big welcome gate greeted us to the historic town. Soon after we crossed the gate, innumerable toy shops overwhelmed us on both the sides of the road. Some of them were so colorful that it engrossed immediate attention of even adults like us.

 

Wooden Toy Shops of Channapatna

 

We stopped at one of the shops which had a relatively open space for parking our car. Initial thirty minutes just went in scanning their enormous stock of wooden toys. Seeing our involvement with the exquisite craftsmanship, an old lady came out from the shop’s cash counter and explained us how do they prepare such wonderfully carved toys.

 

Variety of Toys Available at the Shops of Channapatna

 

There is a very special kind of aboriginal wood called ‘Ivory wood’ which is traditionally being used by them to make the toys. After procuring the raw logs, they season them under the sun for over a month, cut into pieces of different shapes as per requirements, paint with natural dyes and then lacquer it using special polishing techniques and finally dry them again under blazing sun. Drying is very essential as even a drop of humidity could be enough to grow microbes and termites inside.

 

However, nowadays with the commercialization of their business, the artisans have started using other varieties of wood like cedar, pine, teak, rubber etc. as well which are less prone to humidity. But one thing they did not compromise – even today they strictly use natural vegetable dyes for painting the toys so that they are safe for use by children of all ages. We really appreciated their concern for young customers and went on to buy a heap of toys, dolls, show pieces, wind chimes, hand exercisers, acupressure items, car seat decors and other household items of our choice. Someone rightly said Channapatna should be tagged as the ‘Wooden Toy Capital of India’.

 

Ivory Wood Made Toys of Channapatna

 

The origin of Channapatna’s wooden works dates back to the time of Tipu Sultan who had invited Persian skilled workers to train the local artisans on wood crafting. Later Bavas Miyan heavily aided the local workers in improving the overall quality of their products by educating them on a state-of-the art Japanese technology. As per a recent news, this 200-year-old traditional Indian art form has been brought under the protection of Geographical Indication by World Trade Organization and during U.S. President Barrack Obama’s last visit to India, he was presented a pack of Channapatna made wooden toys as a token of traditional Indian crafts.

 

Array of Wooden Handicraft Items of Channapatna

 

It was close to twelve noon. Spending splendid moments in the toy shops we headed towards Sri Aprameya Swamy (or Navaneetha Krishna) temple at Doddamallur. The temple arch is located just at a stone throwing distance of 3 kilometers from Channapatna bus stop. Entering through the arch for another 100 meters was the parking lot of the temple with the main building at a walking distance.

 

Way to Sri Aprameya Swami Temple

 

The overall architecture resembles that of any common south Indian temple but the main deity was the most eye-catching of all aspects. Also there was a gigantic Garuda statue right at the entrance. I had never seen such an idol before. It was amazing. Many religious Carnatic tunes have been composed in gratitude of the shrine’s eternity. From the architecture of temple’s black stone walls, it is likely to be a prehistoric one. Local communities faithfully believe that Lord Rama had spent several months of his exile inside this temple. It also houses smaller shrines of other deities outside the main temple.

 

Temple Complex

 

Temple Architecture

 

Ancient Black Stone Walls Inside the Temple

 

It was Arati (main prayer) time. The gorgeously decorated deity was being offered musical prayers in an ethnic style. We waited till it was over. A life changing moment must say. As we were walking out, an old lady politely requested us to stay back for some more time, directing us to take seats on the temple floor near the Garuda statue, as the holy prasadam was about to be served soon.

 

Prasadam Distribution in front of Garuda Statue

 

It made our day absolutely special. We were so lucky to have reached the temple during the prasadam distribution time. The freshly served holy food filled our mind, soul and stomach with an everlasting impact.

 

We also visited the souvenir shops in the temple complex selling wooden dolls, temple deity idols made of ivory wood, packaged snacks, local sweets etc. Enjoying an hour in the temple premises, by quarter past one in the afternoon, we slowly started walking back to the parking ground commencing our return drive.

 

 

GLIDING ALONG THE GOLDEN COAST.

Every trip should not be about reaching some pre-fixed destinations.Instead trips are made of journeys through an anxious traveller’s eyes.The mind of a true traveller seeks every byte of information from the surroundings and nature.Sometimes some trips should be unplanned with enough emotions of zeal because our nature is always a “Treasure Island”.So a traveller should go out without any limits of exploration ,into the road that fetches them the ultimate pleasure of enlightenment.Road trips are most ideal for a passionate traveller as it is benevolent in bestowing eager tourists with surprises that a traveller expects from nature.

I have always been an eager traveller and due to my past experiences in travelling I am always keen to do as many road trips as possible and traverse the versatile geography of my country.In that regard I always dreamt of flying above an ocean guarded by mountains ,where the roaring waves of the sea splashes on the foothills of the mountains.The dream inspired me to do a coastal road trip along the Western Ghats in India ,because that is where the state highway of Maharashtra intersects the slanting mountains that fall into the Arabian Sea.

The journey to discover the golden coastal highway inspired me to go on an unplanned road trip on the second week of February .It was unplanned since I did not book any hotel along the western coastal highway nor did I fix any destinations to travel.So I set off from Panvel in Navi Mumbai with a portrait of mountains and sea in my mind.

Alibaug was the first beach that I encountered when I started my western coastal road trip to Goa from Mumbai.A famous weekend destination from the financial hub,it offers adventure sports and a muddy trail to the Alibaug fort.The beach is crowdy with a large trail of shallow sands guiding the tourists to the fort.The landscape was normal like other sea beaches except that one can walk deep into the sea to visit the fort when the water retreats from the shore.It was a good introduction for me to start my coastal route to the most famous tourist destination in India as my journey proceeded towards less explored sea beaches.

Empty vast Revdanda beach with a rocky shore.

A half an hour drive from the famous Alibaug beach took me to this serene lonely beach which is known as Revdanda beach.We were proceeding towards the Karshid beach when suddenly from nowhere we reached a vast stretch of rocky shore with a magnificent clear sky enhancing the panoramic sea view.The Western ghats were visible by this time ,surrounding on the other side with a series of mountains of yellow dry grasslands.As we proceeded towards the south the bridges over the backwaters mesmerised me with the backdrop of standing and moving waters in a single frame.Sometimes I could see a small settlement of dilapidated port and ships making an equally different vision with huge constructing machines on the beach.I was stunned and anxious like a humble amateur child ,so I stopped on every bridge till I could capture the finest moments of landscape in my camera.The changing scenery kept me preoccupied as the road meandered along the Ghats and showed me a distant picture of an empty beach  full of coconut trees and a sea that was reflecting the colours of sky.

Since the beach was devoid of any crowd,tourists could get a wide angle view of the three horizons meeting in its most purest form.The state highway gave me the feeling of a parallel coastal road within a couple of hours in my journey to Goa.I became more anxious to travel further and explore the beautiful untouched Konkan.

A dilapidated port under construction.

Bride over the backwaters on the state highway.

Mumbai to Goa road trip through the Maharashtra state state highway unleashes itself after Karshid beach.The Konkan highway meanders all along the vicinity of the Arabian Sea coastline with the Western Ghats and its valleys adding to the pristine beauty.

This road trip travels in between the valleys and mountains with a panoramic view of the backwaters and the crystal blue sea.The beaches are clean with very less crowd that adds to a clear serene view of the landscape.What more does a traveller needs for a memorable road trip when the nature is providing them with mountains and sea together in a single view.True respect for all the labours who have devoted themselves in building such a scenic highway.This again proves that if we believe in our nation’s geography,it proves to be a continent covering the versatile geography and terrain.

Janjira Beach

My anxious moments of visiting a landscape of mountains and sea together came to reality when I arrived few kms after Rajapuri in Janjira beach.The place was windy but the ambience was peaceful for a travel freak to capture the stunning views of the Janjira beach and the fort.

After a hectic road trip and encountering numerous clean beaches of Western Maharashtra, I arrived at MTDC Harihareshwar in the evening.I was totally unaware of the trail to the beach in the evening but I could hear the roaring sound of the waves from the MTDC campus.I woke up early  in the morning in the hope of finding my way to the beach  to capture the sunrise. Delightfully I was impartially awarded with an awesome view of the sunrise.

MTDC Harihareshwar.

The beach was reflecting hues of gold and the water looked like waves of the blue sky.The beach was Rocky with black sands that surprised me even more.The locals told me about another clean beach in Harihareshwar but after arriving into this splendid beach I was sure enough to take my colourful memories in this black sand beach.People go to Greece to watch the black sands in Perissa but most of us are unaware of this sparkling beach of the MTDC Harihareshwar resort.

I felt fortunate enough to get an accommodation on a weekend in this beautiful campus made by Maharashtra tourism.Undoubtedly this beach ranks first on my list of the numerous  beaches in the Konkan trip.

After a surreal sunrise from MTDC Harihareshwar we took a ferry boat service from  Bagmandale to catch the National highway to Ganapatipule. Ferry rides are frequent to avail the shortest route along the coastal state highway in Maharashtra .On our way to Ratnagiri the first ferry we took was in Agardanda to Dighi and the second ferry was from Bagmandale to Bankot. The ferry also takes the car on to other side of the sea for Rs 150.The cars have to park  themselves in the reverse gear into the ferry so that when the ferry arrives on the other side ,the cars can directly face the road.Ferry services are available from 9 o clock in the morning till 10 o clock at night.

Agardande ferry station.

Availing the ferry clearly saves half an hour drive around the coastal highway.People may drive back along the backwaters on to the state highway but that will be a much longer route.After Bankot avail the NH66 highway for a faster route to Ganapatipule.

NH66 Highway.

Bagmandale ferry station provides a scenic landscape with a mangrove forest in the backwaters of the Arabian sea.That attracts a tourist for capturing numerous memories until the ferry arrives to board the passengers.

Mangrove trees and fishing boats in Bagmandale ferry station.

Bagmandale ferry station.

I was surprised to see such a decent waiting hall in Agardande ferry station that proves the efforts put down by the government for public welfare.Avail the two ferry rides before Bankot to enjoy a new adventure in the coastal highway drive to Goa. The ferry ride will show you a different geography of the Konkan along with the meandering roads in the Western Ghats.

The view of the landscape as the highway curved away from the sea and moved towards the mountains.

The famous NH66 highway to Goa was covered in 6 hours as we reached Ganapatipule by the sunset to watch the majestic last ray’s of the sun in the Arrey ware beach road to Ratnagiri. Instead of going directly to the beach we came across a panoramic sea  view of the beach from a cliff .The view was more than expected as the late afternoon sun rays camouflaged the crystal clear water of the sea with the blue sky.

The western ghats were bordering the road on the left hand side while on the other side there were sharp reflections of the Arabian sea.The beach was devoid of any heavy crowd and sometimes there were glimpses of a lonely fishermen walking over the yellow sands.It is said that Ganapatipule beach resembles that of a crystal clear long stretches of beaches like those in the Maldives. Well I havn’t been to the Maldives but I am sure enough that this beach is one of the cleanest beach in Maharashtra with pastel colours of the sea.

The view provided a visual treat to the tourist.The reflective colours of nature along with the top view from the cliff helped us in capturing the scenic Konkan terrain as it merged with the Arabian sea.Undoubtedly the trip was fetching me numerous coastal landscapes with the mountains that I was dreaming of long before I started my journey.

After taking my best snaps of the surrounding landscape from the cliff ,I proceeded my journey towards Ratnagiri , the mango town of India.The elevated coastal road was like that in Rajapuri with Western Ghats cliffs on the left side of the road, bordering the clear blue water of the Arabian sea.

As I drove down the curved path of the highway I saw a sign board mentioning Aare Waare beach road.Prior to my trip I have heard a lot about this beach nestling in the foothills of the Western Ghats situated just on the Ganapatipule and Ratnagiri highway.In few minutes I reached down to the plains of the sea shore and arrived at the beach.The beach was less populated with white sands glowing due to the last rays of the sunlight.I did not waste anytime in capturing the beautiful sunset over the sea.

The landscape was new to me as I had never seen a beach at the foothill of a mountain.The Western Ghats and the sea were merging together in the same place.The beach gave me numerous moments of photography as I tried to sketch the kaleidoscopic moments with my shutter and lens.

As I commenced my journey, eventually I came across a bridge over the backwaters of the sea.On my right side the shallow sands were reflecting hues of sunset while on the left side the calm blue water of the backwater reflected images of the mangrove trees.I decided to stay in this heavenly place till sunset to capture this illustrious moments of photography in this trip.

The backwater near Aare ware beach.

Our second day Konkan journey concluded with a sunset hue in Ratnasagar beach resort.Spectrum of clouds lingered in the sky creating rolling waves of hues ,glowing along the vast sky.The distant hill was dark and looked like a giant whale with numerous neon lights of the city, establishing the modern civilization. The magical view of the sky seemed to me like an illusion but the hot sands and the cool land breeze assured me of the vibrant sky on the beach.

The resort offers excellent cottages on the Bhatye beach with free breakfast for Rs. 3500.With respect to the location, I would say that it is quite cheap in Ratnagiri, the mango town of India.I didn’t prebook any accommodation in my Konkan trip except that in Goa.For Harihareshwar ,MTDC provided me with an excellent black beach while Ratnasagar proved to be equally mesmerising with a vast private clean beach.

My sudden encounter with this beach was due to this magical view of the sky creating astronomical colours in the evening.After my eyes caught the spectrum in the sky,I rushed out to this lonely beach with my camera and discovered this marvelous property on the beach.One can locate this property on the main highway towards  Goa from Ratnagiri. The property is covered with plenty of coconut trees and well decorated gardens of flowers.I felt fortunate enough to find such beautiful locations without any prior booking.

Ratnasagar Beach Resort.

A road trip always brings us stress but at the same time it fetches us with such unaccounted stunning landscapes and new ventures that stays in our memories forever.

Bhatye Beach just infront of the resort.

With pristine memories of Ratnagiri I proceeded towards the beach capital of India with more zeal to explore the beaches and forts ,further along the Golden coast of India.I hope the readers have found a divine picture of Maharashtra and the towering Western ghats making its way to some clean beaches in our country.Keeping in mind the anxious moments of my journey towards Goa,I am concluding the coastal dream in Ratnagiri to give way to a different geography of the Konkan in my next blog.

 

FORTS ON THE BEACHES IN KONKAN.

Road trips have always enchanted me with new destinations and geography of our incredible country.The versatile scenery with different forms of landforms always keeps me anxious to continue further and explore my beautiful country.After a marvelous road trip till Ratnagiri I was eager now to set off in discovering the history associated with the Konkan .I wanted to visit the forts along the pictorial beaches.

After bidding goodbye to the elegant Ratnasagar beach resort I commenced my third day of the road trip towards Goa in the late morning hours.With lots of spectographs through my lens I prepared myself for more adventures towards Vijaydurg Fort.I imagined this day trip as visiting the floating forts before reaching the vibrant beaches of Goa .It was only after a few kms drive from our resort, when suddenly my eyes caught a glimpse of Casuarina forest and eucalyptus trees on a lonely beach.Immediately I stopped the car and rushed with my camera towards this unknown beach.

Waves were splashing on the sea shore which was filled with shrubs of mangrove leaves all along the entire stretch of the beach.On the two longitudinal ends of the beach, hills were standing high creating a rocky periphery around the foothills on the shore.To my surprise what I could see was a vast space of empty sand drenched by the crystal clear blue colours of the Arabian sea and fenced by a forest and two hills on its other sides.The beach was devoid of a single person which was the most fascinating experience for me to start off my journey towards forts and beaches.As a traveller I was overjoyed to see myself as the only tourist in the vast stretch of this scenic beach.The beach had every geographical feature of my entire trip till that date.Yellow clean sands, mangrove shrubs, forest and hills painted the shore as the waves were being dispersed due to cosmological efects from the clear blue sky, onto the shore.


As my car traversed the coastal villages further towards south , we took a diversion from the state highway towards Vijaydurg fort.I had never seen a seaside fort before ,so my mind was stimulated to know the history about this historical 12th century fort.Amidst the cool sea breeze with the paintily fishermen boats floating in the Arabian Creek, I took help of a native villager to get some useful facts about the fort.Although later I found out that the required information was already present in Wikipedia.

Vijaydurg fort is the oldest fort in Sindhudurg ,constructed by Raja Bhoje 2, which was later extended by Shivaji. This is the only fort other than Torna where Shivaji hoisted the saffron flag.The fort got its name after Shivaji won it from Adil Shah in the Hindu Solar month called “Vijay“(Victory).The original name of the fort was Gheria. In pre-Independance era the fort was known as the “Eastern Gibralter” since the fort was unconquerable.The large enemy vessels couldn’t enter the shallow water of the creek while Maratha ships would be anchored there, always ready for the onslaught.According to some data there also lies an under water tunnel which if proven can also serve as an important part in the tourist and historical significance.Though most of the structures inside the fort are in ruins now but the remains still serve as classic examples of the Maratha culture.

During the British rule it was also believed that English astronomer Normal Lockyer observed helium for the first time on the surface of the sun from the observatory which was set up in the fort.Thus , every year on 18th August , since 2009 the world helium day is celebrated in the fort.The fort is now under the protection of Archaelogical Survey of India and they have undertaken the restoration work.

We commenced our journey further towards the sea food delicacy town in the konkan known as Malvan.As the road deviated from the shore line the journey again meandered through the plateaus of the Western Ghats.The vast highlands with strectes of yellow long grasses mesmerised me to imagine like a free  bird.The roads were empty ,intersecting the arid landscape along the centre to lead us towards the sea shore.

Malvan is a famous tourist destination in the konkan coast that boasts of some picturesque clean beaches , offering kaleidoscopic sunsets to the tourists. Chivla beach is one such pristine clean beach, which is a must visit to experience a romantic stroll by the seaside .It took me 2.5 hours to reach Malvan from Vijaydurg fort.On the way the Konkan coast kept me engaged with numerous beaches over the backwaters of the Arabian sea and plenty of plantations in the countryside.When the road was not along the seashore , it was intersecting huge plantations of mango and coconut trees.

After arriving in Malvan we decided to have our lunch since the coastal town is famous for seafood in the konkan.I took help of one of the locals from the area and he adviced me to visit Chivala beach.It was already late afternoon and since I wanted to spend more time in visiting Sindhudurg fort, I decided to appease myself with only one beach in Malvan.

Like all the Konkan beaches it offers some breathtaking view of the weekend coastal landscape with absolutely clean sand by the seashore.The beach had huge lines of coconut plantations on its right side .The right side of the beach was rocky while the left side had vast stretches of clean unpolluted sands that enhances romantic walk by the seashore .

Tourists can also try out scuba diving activities here ,which is organised mainly by the local fishermen.In the era of trawllers and motorboats people can still see numerous fishermen boats on this beach with which the fishermen catch fish manually in the early morning or evening.The fishermen still follow traditional methods in catching fish manually through fish nets in this beach.The huge contour of coconut trees, the pristine yellow sands and the delectable Malvani sea food were relevant enough to give me the jovial feeling of my presence in the konkan coast.

When I was planning my golden coastal route in konkan,I was ever so anxious to visit the Sindhudurg Fort in Malvan. Sindhudurg Fort was built by the great Maratha warrior Shivaji in the 17 th century on an island away from the Malvan shore.Tourists need to avail a motorboat ride for 10 minutes in order to reach the island. Sindhudurg Fort has a significant place in the history of the Maratha warriors as it was build to stop the advancement of the foreign forces and the Siddhis of Janjira. The fort is now a protected monument where some inhabitants still live.

The landscape around the fort consists of a rocky shore occupied by numerous sea gulls.The geography around the shore consists of numerous shapes of rocks creating rhythmic ripples,as the waves of The Arabian sea splashes on the surface of the rocks.A distant beach with numerous coconut trees is visible from the fort that adds to the delight of a photographer.

Learn history and enjoy the pristine blue Arabian sea with the splendid geography around by availing an adventurous bumpy ride in a long Trawler boat to this enigmatic fort of Maharashtra.

Last but not the least before the sunset and entering the vibrant city of Goa, I went to Tarkarli beach,my last pit stop in this coastal route. Tarkarli beach like any other Konkan beach is well guarded by a picturesque wall of casuarina and coconut trees along the length of the beach.The locals here charge Rs 50 for parking cars near the beach.The sand is clean and yellow and the beach is very less crowded

Perhaps Tarkarli offers a secluded vacation in the MTDC resort on the beach.As we move towards Goa the beaches become crowded with numerous shacks and resorts.The sunset on this beach has relevantly concluded the golden coastal trip with the golden hues of the magical refractions in the sky.Similar to the many konkan beaches a lonely standing wooden fishermen boat can be seen on this beach waiting for the high tides to sail it away.Capturing numerous photos of this scenic beach I commenced my journey with a fresh jovial feeling to spend my valentine vacation in Goa.

Afternoon Stroll to Nepal Without Visa or Tourist Permit From Dharchula

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

Connect with her on Facebook @: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee

 

Dharchula, one of the barely visited tourist destinations of Kumaon (Uttarakhand) circuit, is a small trading hill town situated on the banks of Kali River perched at an altitude of only 3000 feet above sea level. No snow peaks are visible from here due to the truncated height of the river valley.

 

Dharchula hill station on the banks of Kali River

 

The hamlet got its name from two Hindi words – ‘Dhar’ meaning mountain peak and ‘Chulha’ meaning oven as the mountain valley of Dharchula closely resembles a clay oven when viewed from above. The sleepy hill station experiences heavy footfalls only during the sacred Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra when the pilgrims take a night halt at Dharchula as their intermittent stopover. Otherwise, it’s not so frequented by luxury travelers or backpackers as there is nothing picturesque to see other than to explore the international border between India and Nepal crossed on foot over a narrow hanging bridge.

 

Politically, Dharchula falls under the jurisdiction of Pithoragarh, sharing an international border with Nepal and is known by the same name on either side. A stark significance of the town is that free pedestrian movements across the international border are permitted for both Indian and Nepali citizens without any identity verification or visa. This very fact thrilled us to visit Dharchula during our midsummer Kumaon trip.

 

We came across two superfluous rivers during our drive to Dharchula – Gori Nadi (White river) and Kali Nadi (Black river). They are named so as their water colours are silvery and greyish respectively. Whatever be the shades, both had their own beauties. Spending splendid moments along their banks were the most memorable moments of our road trip to Dharchula.

 

Pithoragarh town

 

In the lap of Kumaon mountains

 

A refreshing break near Gori River

 

Blooming Rhododendron flowers of Kumaon

 

Lovely view from the river bank of Gori

 

We had hired a Sedan from Pithoragarh for self-drive. During the road trip, it was adventurous to dare a river crossing car ride over the Gori River (named so as the water sparkles like silver under bright sun) as one of the connecting tunnels enroute had crashed due to a recent massive earthquake. Oh, what a thrilling adventure it was – a lifetime car rafting expedition indeed.

 

Picturesque drive through the mountains of Kumaon

 

Car Rafting on Gori River enroute Dharchula from Pithoragarh

 

Touching the waters of Gori River

 

Photo break on way from Pithoragarh to Dharchula

 

The driving distance from Pithoragarh was only 83 kilometres but the roads were in pathetic condition at some of the places, stretching our journey time way beyond our theoretical calculation on the basis of road distance. As we drove to Dharchula, we also stopped at multiple intermittent spots and waterfalls which looked photogenic. Some of them really were, few were over-hyped.

 

Scenic spots on way to Dharchula

 

Beautiful waterfall enroute

 

Our driving route along the Gori River trail

 

Photo break at a view point beside Gori River

 

We reached our destination by 2pm after a four-hour strenuous road excursion. Surrounded by high mountains, the Indo-Nepal international border was just a stride away from our KMVN rest house. We dumped our luggage in the room and at once left on foot to witness the one of its kind border crossing experience. It was hardly at a five-minute walking distance from our hotel. The road went gently downhill as we kept nearing the banks of Kali River.

 

A glimpse of Nepal across Kali River from our KMVN room

 

We could not believe our own eyes when we reached the border check post. Undeniably, it was going to be an unforgettable experience. There was a simple hanging footbridge made of Walnut timber and iron rods, under surveillance of BSF (Border Security Force), serving as the international border between two lovely countries – our own India and sweet neighbour Nepal across the Kali River. However, there were photography restrictions at the crossing point.

 

Hanging wooden bridge for pedestrian crossing at Indo-Nepal international border in Dharchula
Hanging wooden bridge for pedestrian crossing at Indo-Nepal international border in Dharchula

 

Gurgling waters of Kali River
Gurgling waters of Kali River

 

The gurgling sound of the Kali River beckoned us so much that we decided to touch the chilly waters before walking to Nepal. It was quite shallow comprising of a transparent rocky waterbed. After reaching the river bank we realized why the water appears darker here – it’s because of the abundance of shiny black pebbles scattered all along the see-through riverbed. We could not stop ourselves from picking up a few of them – unbelievably, one of those pebbles resembled a naturally crafted Shiva Linga.

Splendid moments spent at the river bank of Kali River near border check post 
Splendid moments spent at the river bank of Kali River near border check post 

 

Spending a refreshing hour at the Kali River bank, which forms a beautiful natural border between the two countries, we climbed the stairs up the hanging bridge to go for an afternoon walk to Nepal. The checking seemed quite lenient here as none of our credentials were verified before allowing us to step onto the bridge. Needless to say, both Indian and Nepalese currencies were willingly accepted on either side at equal valuations.

 

On the banks of Kali River at Dharchula border

 

A plunge into the chilly waters of Kali River

 

It was such an astonishing experience altogether to cross international border on foot without visa or tourist permit, have lunch in Nepal and come back to India for tea. Evidently, there was a soft blend of Kumaoni and Tibetan cultures in the tiny hill town of Dharchula.

 

View of Nepal from the hanging bridge of Dharchula

 

Nevertheless, due to scanty footfalls round the year, the hill town did not have the typical flavour of a tourist friendly hill station. We could hardly find any private hotel in the vicinity. Unlike other places in Kumaon, the KMVN rooms were too ordinary here with poor maintenance. Also, there was no restaurant facility available and hence we had to arrange it of our own. Snacks were easy to manage, but dinner looked dicey.

 

After the exhaustive drive, our eyes rested for couple of hours and when opened, it was already dark outside. Watch said 7pm. We rushed out in search of food and could only manage a plate of steaming hot Pork Momo served with Tibetan Soup. Night falls very early at Dharchula; by 9pm it was a dead city.

 

Steaming hot Pork Momo served at dinner