October 21, 2014

Binsar- Where Wilderness Blends with Snow Mountains...!!

At an elevation of 2000 meters, Binsar sits peacefully with magnificent snow clad mountain views and deep valleys. It has a heavily forested hill terrain and is an ideal place to spend early mornings listening to the chirping of birds. The encapsulating twinkling skies of Binsar looks like the gorgeous work of a highly skilful painter.

Binsar sanctuary is quite well known for its avian fauna and the best time to visit would as early as the sun rises. Mist hovered around the tall pine and oak trees early in the morning as the gates opened for us, the first guests of the morning. The winding road of the sanctuary took us to the highest point in Binsar along with many birds that flew alongside. The view of the imposing blue misty hills with the mist rising up on a cold morning was undoubtedly a sight to behold. Absolutely a photographer’s delight! All that we could see were mountains wrapped in blue hue. The distant peaks of Nanda devi, Panchachuli, Trishul and others seemed like blue mountains bathed in snow. A trek of 2 kms through a forest patch leads to Zero point (2345 meters), the highest point in Binsar. Barking deer, macaques and birds are quite frequently seen en-route. The machchan at zero point offers a panoramic view of the expansive Himalayas in the distance and gorgeous valleys way below. More than the vistas, it is the numerous species of birds that bring nature lovers to Binsar wildlife sanctuary.

View from Binsar sanctuary

Trail to zero point
View from Zero point
Blue mountains as seen from zero point
Behsodi village offers great birding opportunities in the morning with flycatchers, bulbuls and doves being the most common ones. Enjoy a village river trek which can be quite refreshing and an informative one too. This evening trek winds its way through a narrow trail along the ridge of hills and goes past the pine trees and Basoli village to Binsar River. I smiled at the amiable villagers and listened to the interesting information that the guide passesed on before the trail ended at the bank of the river. We sat by the gurgling river for a long time and gazed at the setting sun in oblivion as serenity prevailed all over. This also makes for an ideal picnic spot to spend a peaceful evening.

Village trail

Golu devtha temple en- route Jageshwar is a nice little temple amidst the tall pine trees of Binsar. The route is lush green and beautiful, and offers magnificent sunset views. The road further snakes its way through a forest, hills and valleys to Jageshwar. Situated in a valley, Jageshwar temple complex is a protected monument comprising of more than a hundred shrines with intricate architecture amidst a serene setting and has numerous visitors seeking blessings round the year.  The place also has numerous food stalls where one can relish the local kumaoni cuisines. 

Shrines at Jageshwar
To break away from the serenity of Binsar, we took the road that climbs its way past the magnificent vistas and Almora town to Bageshwar. Bageshwar gets its name from the famous Bagnath Shiva temple and has a beautiful landscape formed by the confluence of Sarayu and Gomti rivers. Another 20 kms took me to Baijnath temple complex, a protected monument by the Gomti river. A beautiful setting where I fed fishes near the temple and gazed at the far off hills as a school of fishes gobbled down the throws. 

Bageshwar town way below
Shrines at Baijnath
The winding road further led to Kausani, a beautiful hill station snuggled amidst the tall pines of Kumaon. The majestic mountain vistas turned magnificent as the bewitchingly picturesque Kausani approached. A tea plantation walk with a tea factory visit just before entering Kausani is an ideal way to begin exploring this hill town. Less than half a kilometer ahead, the shawl factory offers some of the best local hand designed shawls using wool from the local sheep.  The outlet also boasts of a host of other local products made by local women folk. Anasakthi ashram is where Mahatma Gandhi spent 14 days of his life and the insides of it have pictorial displays of Gandhi’s life in detail. The panoramic vista of the expansive and stunning Himalayas from the ashram is absolutely a stunner. Nanda Devi, Pancha Chuli, Nanda Kot, Nanda Khat, Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, Neelkanth and many more stood tall bathed in snow, and I gaped at the various peaks in admiration as they soaked themselves in the orange light of the setting sun. 

View from Anasakthi ashram
The local cuisines of Binsar are a real treat for the taste buds with Madve ki roti (ragi roti), palak ka kappa, Bhaat ke daal, Kaudh ke daal and kumaoni raitha being some of the most preferred ones. You can explore these dishes at any of the food stalls near Jageshwar temple or at Kausani. Buransh, the local squash is a lovely drink which should not be missed. 

Signing Note- Gaze in oblivion and soak in the surreal natural setting...!!

Route- New Delhi- Ghaziabad- Hapur- Moradabad- Bazpur- Nainital- Almora- Binsar

New Delhi to Binsar- 380 Kms
Binsar to Jageshwar- 60 kms
Binsar to Bageshwar- 42 kms
Binsar to Kausani- 82 kms

Binsar wildlife sanctuary timing- Sunrise to sunset
Tea estate timings- 9am- 1pm and 2pm- 6 pm
Nearest rail head- Kathgodam (115 kms)
Nearest airport- New Delhi (415 kms)

October 15, 2014

Dream Home...!!

That tiny house in the middle with expansive surreal views of the snow clad Himalayas undoubtedly has one of the best windows in the world. Uttarakhand, November 2013.

October 8, 2014

Naukuchiatal- In the Lap of Nature...!!

The nine cornered lake nestles itself comfortably in the lap of Kumaoni hills in Naukuchiatal making it an enchanting one for its visitors. Though there is more to Naukuchiatal than the lake, this small town in the lake district of Uttarakhand boasts of this gorgeous water body as its main attraction. It also forms a part of the Lake District along with Nainital, Bhimtal and Sattal.

Situated amidst tall pine trees, the Club Mahindra resort where I stayed, is a walk away from the lake. Gaze at the serene lake as the reflection of the hills and the trees kissing the waters make a beautiful frame before the mist wraps it up. Take a boat and pedal yourself on the cold shimmering waters of Naukuchiatal and don’t be surprised if you feel like parking yourself in one corner of the lake and letting you mind wander away. As you distance yourself away from the jetty, the expansive frame spreads before you and makes it all the more surreal. If a pedal boat bores you, get geared and canoe or kayak away into any of the secluded corners of this beautiful water body. Walk around the lake and try finding all the nine corners. The locals say you can tick off only eight, a mystery that remains unresolved. If your tired legs need some rest, a ride around the lake on a horse would be an apt way to see the surroundings.

Naukuchiatal Lake
 A nature walk early in the morning from the resort through the nearby villages is an ideal way to begin your day. Blooming flowers and swooping birds welcome you, not to forget the ever smiling villagers. Do not hesitate to give them a broad smile and they are sure to return back a broader one. Take your binoculars along and you may be lucky to spot a naughty macaque or a barking deer grazing by. The aerial view of Naukuchiatal lake comes up in a while and that indeed is an enchanting vista. The trail past the open fields and stepped terraces lead to a forest patch where you can enjoy the morning rays that seep through and listen to the chirping of birds. 

When in Naukuchiatal, the quirkiest way to explore is to have a bird’s view of this quaint hill station. Strap yourself and paraglide over the expansive hills, the minute villages, the deep valleys, the glistening Naukuchiatal lake and enjoy the magnificent vistas that is on offer. Let the fresh mountain air throng your nostrils and lungs, and sway yourself to the wind as you glide over the stunning landscape.

Gliding over Naukuchiatal Lake

From the boats of Naukuchitalal lake, hop onto the shikaras of Bhimtal lake for an enjoyable ride on this placid one. Gorgeous white ducks swim along with the shikaras to the wonderful aquarium at the centre of the lake which exhibits colourful and exotic fishes. The glistening lake in itself is a gorgeous one and the hilly backdrop makes it all the more enchanting. The adjoining Bhimeshwar temple and dam offers great vistas of the lake. Bhimtal has more to it than just the lake. Be ready to get awed at the butterfly and moth museum at Bhimtal run by Peter Smetacek. A workshop with him is a complete encyclopedia into the world of colourful butterflies from across the globe.

Bhimtal Lake
Butterfly and moth museum
 Sattal lake, a few kilometers away from Naukuchiatal, left me speechless for a long while before I gained my composure when a few naughty macaques intruded into my thoughts. The place gets its name from the seven lakes that it comprises of. Sattal is cold for most part of the day with hovering mist and the green surrounding hills accentuates its beauty. Give the boat a miss, take in a lungful of fresh air, gaze at the natural surroundings in oblivion and get encapsulated by its serenity. A hot cup of tea or a steaming delicious local cuisine beside the lake is an apt way to spend an afternoon. Be cautious of the notorious monkeys or you could end up losing a packet of chips or two. If you are tired of gazing around, walk around the lake or hike up to a small church nearby. One can also try flying fox over the lake if you need some action.

Shikaras on Sattal
Sattal Lake
A lovely winding drive from Naukuchiatal, past the tall pine trees, deep valleys with stepped terraces and distant hills to Almora and further ahead to Ramgarh would be quite rewarding with magnificent vistas all along. Golu devtha temple at Ghodkal, an interesting temple with magnificent views has devotees offering bells to the deity. Tea estates are not commonly seen around Naukuchiatal, but the road that leads from the temple goes past a tiny a tea estate before the valleys and pine trees resurfaces on the landscape. More expansive vistas open up, and without a cue, snow clad Himalayas make their appearance to a pleasant surprise. The expansive range of more than 300 Kms spread  a sight to behold. Nanda Devi, Panchachuli, Trishul, Nanda Koti and many more wonderful peaks glow as they soak in the rays of the morning sun. The magnificent vistas take the road to Mukteshwar, a beautiful hamlet snuggled cozily amidst the giant hills of Kumaon. Walk the bridle trail through a small forest patch to Choli Ki Jali, a rocky protrusion that offers a panoramic vista of the hills, valleys, plains, Almora town and the snow clad Himalayas. Choli ki Jali is undoubtedly a photographer’s delight.  Amidst the pine trees further ahead lies the well known 350 year old Shiva temple of Mukteshwar. 

Offerings at Golu Devtha temple
Snow clad Himalayas
View from Choli Ki Jali
Do not miss out on the local cuisines like Karhi chawal, palak ka kappa, butka  jhola, aloo ka kejwa and rajma chawal that can be relished at any of the numerous food stalls near Bhimtal and Sattal lakes. The famous Bhuransh, a local squash made from rhododendron can be picked up from any of the fruitage shops. Local products from Himjoli (an organization supported by NGOs) like body care creams, hand woven fabrics, spices, tea, herbs and handicraft items would definitely be a great souvenir to take back home. 

Signing Note- Lose yourself amidst the hills, lakes, pine trees and stepped terraces...!!

Route- New Delhi- Ghaziabad- Moradabad- Bilaspur- Rudrapur- Haldwani- Kathgodam- Naukuchiatal


New Delhi to Naukuchiatal- 310 Kms
Naukuchiatal to Bhimtal- 5kms
Naukuchiatal to Sattal- 13 kms
Naukuchiatal to Ramgarh-35 kms
Naukuchiatal to Mukteshwar- 62 kms

Himalayan Adventure Institute (paragliding) - 09412906780/ 09897538668
Butterfly museum, Bhimtal- 09359948490
Nearest rail head- Kathgodam (26 kms)
Nearest airport- New Delhi (320 kms)

Another version of this article appeared on the Hello magazine of Club Mahindra.

September 26, 2014

Jog- The Mighty Falls...!!

It drizzled as I crossed Shimoga and the dark clouds that hovered for miles, made me smile. Rain was what I longed for, and thankfully it rained intermittently all the way past the winding roads and the green carpet of paddy fields on either sides. The beautiful landscape made it a delightful drive through the western ghats to Sharavathi adventure camp, the newly opened resort from Jungle Lodges and Resorts. 6 Kms away from the camp lay the reason behind this travel- to see Jog falls in the monsoons. My last visit to Jog wasn't really a memorable one. Jog is best experienced between July and September when Sharavathi river gushes at its furious best.

The road to Jog falls
Talakalale reservoir as seen from Sharavathi adventure camp
It was a pleasant surprise to hear that the Linganamakki dam had been opened up due to the previous night's rain. This happens only 4-5 times during the year, mentioned my guide as he stopped our vehicle on the bridge over the dam during the early morning drive from camp to the falls. I was thrilled to see the huge volumes of water thrusting its way and was even more excited at the prospect of seeing Jog at its very best as it is the same waters that take the plunge at the falls. Sharavathi flowed beautifully thrashing the jutting rocks between the thick vegetation on either sides. It drizzled as our vehicle made its way through narrow roads and splashed puddles en-route the Jog. The heavenly drizzle, the wet earth, the petrichor and the lush greenery made Western ghats absolutely mesmerising and surreal.

Water gushing when the Linganamakki dam opened
I gasped for a while staring at the furiously flushing falls as I got out of the vehicle. And then, all I did was to stare in oblivion for a long time. It was quite misty and drizzled intermittently. Mist covered the falls for a few seconds and then opened up spreading the beautiful four falls that make up Jog. The mist appeared and disappeared throughout my stay at the view point. Sharavathi was at its glorious best, plunging many meters and thrashing on to jutting rocks on its way down. Never have I seen a falls with such brute force looking so beautiful. It was a spray of droplets everywhere and seemed like fog as it splashed itself on to the rocks below.

Jog falls which is also known as Gerusoppa falls and Jogada Gundi, is made up of four falls, namely Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani. Raja is at its majestic best and is well known for being the second highest plunge waterfalls in the country at 830 feet after Nokhalikai in Meghalaya. Roarer is only partly visible as it falls through a vast concave drop before meeting Raja on its way down. Roarer is the most furious of the lot and one can have a better view of the same from the view point across. Rocket spurts out numerous jets and is definitely the most gorgeous of the lot. The way it splashes as it hits a jutting rock and creates a spray of fog all over is absolutely mesmerising. Queen is the elegant one of the four and makes her way amidst the greenery that sprout all over the rocks during the monsoons. It is not a plunge falls and cascades over the rock as it makes its way to the bottom. There are also many more tiny falls which are not as majestic and beautiful as these four. The two twin falls between the Roarer and the Rocket remains unnamed but are quite attractive. 

Rani to the extreme right, Rocket next to it and Raja to the extreme left. Roarer is invisible from this view point
There are steps which takes one to the base of the falls, but was closed the day I visited. One can also visit the the British bungalow viewpoint opposite the main view point which offers a different perspective to the falls with amazing views of the same. Roarer is best viewed from here. One visit did not satiate me, and despite the drizzle, I visited Jog falls again on my way back to Bangalore. All that I did was to gape at the falls and soak in the monsoons as the mist played around and curtained the falls frequently, only to open up shortly and spread the breathtaking scene at its very best.

Signing Note- Majestic, furious and spectacular...!!

Route- Bangalore- Tumkur- Arsikere- Tarikere- Shimoga- Sagar- Jog Falls
Distance- 385 Kms

September 22, 2014

Life is a Journey...!!

Not all travels or journeys are exciting, like backpacking across the Machu Pichu, riding into the Himalayas, diving near the Pacific islands, staying at a luxurious resort in the Alps, getting sprayed at the Niagara falls, hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro to soak in the first rays of the sun, gaping in oblivion at the terraced paddy fields of Bali, witnessing the annual migration in Kenya, relishing the tribal cuisines in Nagaland, counting waves on the beaches of Gold coast, interacting with the Bedouins of Sahara and seeing the Northern lights in Tromso.
Sometimes, life becomes the monotonous journey and journey becomes the monotonous life.

 From a Mumbai local train.

August 27, 2014

Sunset over the Arabian Sea...!!

Sun sets over the Arabian sea at Overbury's folly, Thalassery, Kerala. Dharmadom island can be seen in the distance. August 2014.

August 6, 2014

The Tourist...!!

This frame from Ubud in Bali brings up the age old debate- Are you a traveller or a tourist? Is there a third breed- a blend of both?

July 30, 2014

Ubud- Cultural Capital of Bali...!!

Less than an hour's drive from the bustling Kuta lies the contrasting Ubud to its north. This little Indonesian town in Bali is an art lover's paradise with innumerable art galleries, art streets, paintings, woodwork, silver work and a host of other art related works. Also popular are the paddy fields of Ubud making it one of the most sought after destinations in Bali. Ubud has gained a considerable amount of importance on the tourist map in the recent years (partly due to 'Eat, Pray and Love'). 

It is not without a reason, that Ubud is referred to as the cultural capital of Bali. The significance of its culture in its art is immense. There are numerous art galleries on every road selling magnificent paintings. The art street is quite a popular one with a wide display of creations. Ideally this is the best place to buy a souvenir to take back home. There are many art museums within the town which displays the exceptional works of renowned Balinese artists. As seen across Bali, temples are ubiquitous in Ubud too.

A art gallery
An alley in Ubud
The road that leads to Ubud has many art shops selling wood works and stone arts. Most of these creations are of characters from Ramayana. There are also workshops of Balinese and Batuan paintings, woodwork (in Mas) and silver ware (in Celuk) in Ubud where visitors are taken on guided tours and briefed about making of the creations.  

An artisan working on silverware

Woodwork by an artisan in Mas
Ubud palace with magnificent sculptures stands right in the middle of the town and is another major attraction. Visitors do not have access to the insides of the palace. A short walk away from the palace is the monkey forest which is also quite popular with tourists. 
Ubud Palace

Ubud has always been known for its terraced paddy fields which are not far from the town. As you move away from the main streets, it becomes less crowded, more serene and the roads snake past the lovely paddy fields. The stepped terracing makes the landscape breathtakingly beautiful and the best place to see this is Tegal Lalang, a short drive away from Ubud town. The ideal way to soak in the life of Ubud would be to cycle through its alleyways and paddy fields.

Paddy fields at Tegal Lalang

I was dropped of at the main street in Ubud and all I did was to roam roam and roam through the alleyways and art streets, gaze at the gorgeous paintings hanging outside the art galleries, watch artisans make wonderful creations  and haggle with the street vendors. Post the stroll, treated myself to a cup of Balinese coffee in one of those quaint coffee shops by the road and stared in oblivion as the world went by. 

Signing Note- An art lover's paradise...!!

Distance- 35 Kms (from Kuta)

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