Category Archives: Travel

Photo Walk – Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

We reached the entry gate of Keoladeo National Park at 7 am, after completing breakfast. When we eventually stepped out, the clock showed 4 pm. Surviving only on 2 bottles of water and a packet of Haldiram’s Namkeen, we spent 9 hours inside the sanctuary. That’s how engrossed the birds kept us.

Sunrise at Bharatpur

Sunrise at Bharatpur

Samarth, Sidharth and I were mere novices in DSLR Photography, barely figuring out the right combination of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture to get a decent click. We were stunned to say the least, on how many bird enthusiasts had turned up on a Saturday morning, and more so, by the size of their lenses. There were lenses as big as 2 to 3 feet long that could probably zoom into the eyes of a Grey Heron sitting half a mile away.

That's a big lens!

That’s a big lens!

The National Park has a main road that’s 5.5 km in length, one way. After walking around for a couple of hours early in the morning, we hired cycles to cover more ground. There were innumerous detours one could take, to explore the park. In one such detour down soggy roads, we spotted this beauty.

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

It took me around 15-20 minutes to click this. She wouldn’t stay in one place. When you start slowly approaching her, she’d fly to some other branch. Look at her expression. Truly an Angry Bird.

Bigger birds were easier targets. One, they’re big. Two, they don’t move much.

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

One of the detours in pursuit of the Indian Saras Crane didn’t yield any result. On advise of one of the guards, we took a detour and walked for 20 minutes one way in pursuit of the Saras. She was playing Hide & Seek 500 metre away from us. With 250 mm lens, you can only do so much. On the way back to the main road, we spotted this.

Python at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Python at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

I was scared of it. I just clicked this pic and vacated the area in a minute. There were others who spent 30 minutes around this snake, out in the open, to get a good click.

The following three clicks were easily done. Biscuit crumbs were the bait.

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

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Some other clicks from the Photo Walk, below.

If only we were birds, we could fly across countries and continents without Passport, Visa

If only we were birds, we could fly across countries and continents without Passport, Visa

Photo Courtesy: Samarth Dargan

Photo Courtesy: Samarth Dargan

Coots

Coots

At the end of the trip, this was my reaction! Paisa Vasool.

Clicked at Deeg Palace, Rajasthan

Clicked at Deeg Palace, Rajasthan

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Saddy Ki Shaadi

Having stayed in North India for close to two years now (considering Shillong is North East India), North Indian weddings aren’t new to me anymore. Gone are the days when I went to a North Indian wedding, terribly under-dressed, not knowing then about the dress code people usually follow.

Gourav Sachdeva’s (Saddy as we call him) is the first non-Delhi North Indian wedding I got to witness. We (Shujata, Anurag and I) travelled to Suratgarh over train the night before the wedding.

We talked about a lot of things over the train journey, about Saddy, about his wife and a lot of other things, only to realize the next morning that our co-passengers in the compartment were also Sachdevas, Saddy’s relatives who had come for the wedding.

Suratgarh, Saddy’s hometown and the place where the wedding happened, is a small village town in Rajasthan, pretty close to our national border with Pakistan.

Saddy’s Baraat was (and will be) the longest Baraat I have (will) ever been (be) a part of. We walked, danced, walked and danced for at least a good 4 km, for more than an hour. It was great fun, nevertheless, with friends from college and Saddy’s relatives dancing their hearts out to some Punjabi beats.

The Paneer Masala Dosa that I had at the wedding was one of the best pieces of food that has ever gone through my food pipe. Anurag would agree. We ate only that. Lots and lots of it.

Trivedi hadn’t changed a bit.

It was fun catching up with Singhim, Annam, Divya (& Abhay), Arora and Anurag after quite some time.

Here’s wishing a great life ahead for the newly wed Saddy and Pooja.

Some tweets I posted during the course of the wedding, follow:

Photo Diaries #6: Amer Fort

What do you see in this beautiful picture?

Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Happy parents? The majestic Amer fort? Herd of elephants?
Did you notice the guy pissing inside the fort premises towards the bottom left of the photograph?

Truly Incredible India!

Photo Diaries #4: La Pondicherry

The perfect weekend getaway.

When you have the company of your best friends (Q.W.E.R.T.Y in this case), the destination hardly matters.

We met after more than 500 days. Shows in our faces, doesn’t it?

image

Photo Diaries Series #2: Day out with friends at Vandalur

My first memories of Vandalur Zoo date back almost 20 years ago, when our Class I teacher took us out for a picnic. I’ve been there 3 or 4 times since then. Last time I visited the beautiful place was in August last year with friends from College (Can’t believe it’s already a year, since then).

Remember Sayar Banerji (now a family man) taking 183 pictures of the same tiger to get the perfect shot (the shot worth 182 failed attempts).

The Zoo with an entry fee of Rs. 10 (or 20, I don’t remember), is an underestimated hangout destination among the youth of Chennai, mainly because of its distance from central Chennai. It takes about an hour form road if you’re lucky with the Traffic.

At Vandalur Zoo, with a few animals outside the cage.

At Vandalur Zoo, with a few animals outside the cage.

If you’re new to my Photo Diaries Series, you could start here.

Travel Diaries: Paragliding at Bir-Billing

Following my guru Bhaskar ji’s footsteps, I tried to live tweet my two day trip to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj last weekend.

Tweets in chronological order follow:

And here’s the link to the shortened video 🙂

Read about my trip to Sikkim, here.
Relive my whitewater rafting experience at Rishikesh, here.

Know more about the trek to the mightly Velliangiri peak, here.

Travel Diaries: Whitewater Rafting at Rishikesh

Memories are strange. At times, you find yourself under the Lockhart Memory Charm, not being able to recollect memories even from the recent past. There are other memories from 10, 15, even 20 years ago which stay crystal clear in your mind, as if it had occurred yesterday.

I have one such memory from 20 years ago, when I was a 5 year old kid. We had gone to Haridwar for the first time then. I remember taking a dip in the mighty Ganges, tightly clinging on to my uncle with one hand and holding on to the steel ropes with the other. The temperature of Haridwar and that of the Ganges was as contrasting as CSK’s and MI’s performances in IPL games. Ma Ganga was freezing cold. I remember my body and teeth shivering even 20 minutes after the ordeal I had with Her. I vaguely remember walking across Ram/Laxman Jhula, feeling accomplished after crossing them, as if I had conquered the mighty Velliangiri hills (Of course, I was a 5 year old then :P). Well, that was 20 years ago.

Last week, I went to Rishikesh again, this time with a set of 6 colleagues-turned-friends, mainly for whitewater rafting.

A lot can happen over lunch. Our two day trip to the adventure capital of India (yes, that’s what Wikipedia calls Rishikesh) materialized during one of our lunch sessions between Office. Over the past one year of my stay here in NCR, I’ve heard a lot of people talk a lot of good things about whitewater rafting in Rishikesh. So when Parkavi Vasan (referred to as “Paaru” going forward) initiated talks about a two day trip to Rishikesh, I was more than game for it.

Nothing about the trip was planned, apart from the onward train from Delhi to Haridwar. I quote my Guru Bhaskar NH, when I say, “If you want to see the real India, travel in a sleeper class train”. We reached Haridwar Junction, early in the morning.

At Haridwar Junstion

At Haridwar Junstion

The roads were deserted and the climate soothing and breezy, with a sense of holiness attached to the Holy city. Tour Managers Adwait and Sumeet found us a makeshift room near the banks of the Ganges.

Streets of Haridwar

Streets of Haridwar

Ganga hadn’t changed much in 20 years; it was as cold and mighty. All of us barring Lijo took a dip in the Holy river.

Ganga, at Haridwar

Ganga, at Haridwar

Manasa Devi Temple was an enjoyable climb of 30-45 minutes, barring the heat, which had set in by then.

View from Manasa Devi

View from Manasa Devi

After munching piping hot Puri with Aloo and Choley for brunch, we left for Rishikesh, which is an hour’s drive from Haridwar.

Hot afternoon at Hardiwar, with Shyam

Hot afternoon at Hardiwar, with Shyam

At Rishikesh, our tour managers started scouting for the tourist agency guys, to book a package for us. We wanted to take a “Camping + Rafting” package which is generally the most sought after package for visiting tourists. There are a lot of other things one could do at Rishikesh – kayaking, rock climbing, flying fox (800m journey on a rope between two cliffs, with Ganges flowing 80 meter below you), among others.

The tourist agency guy took us to a horrible place initially – a nothing place with our tent facing a small hill, with Ganga nowhere to be seen. I was like, “My two colleges (Amrita and IIM Shillong) offered better views than this!” Others were of the same opinion too. So we ditched that guy and started scouting for camps on our own. Deepanshu, Adwait and Sumeet managed to find a beautiful camp, river facing and breezy.

We spent most of the evening playing in the waters and lazing around within the camp premises. It was a great setting. Hundreds of tents on the banks of the river, white sand, cool breeze and a breathtaking view. Remember those “Diu tourism” ads? Something like that. Welcome break from the drudgery of daily life and the noise of the cities. I didn’t want the clock to tick. Sitting there on a chair outside my tent, facing the river, I let my thoughts take over and felt at ease with myself. It was a good feeling.

Outside our tent, Rishikesh

Outside our tent, Rishikesh

Meanwhile, the likes of Lijo, Shyam, Sumeet and Deepanshu were having a ball in the waters, doing some solid stunts. Adwait was showing off his fitness and gymming skills by doing “push-ups” in the water.

At the waters outside our tent

At the waters outside our tent

While the only thing Paaru was doing was shuffling his hair all the time and clicking selfies. Reliable sources reveal he clicked at least 400 selfies of just himself in the tour span of two days.

One of Paaru's 400 selfies of the trip

One of Paaru’s 400 selfies of the trip

There was enough room for all seven of us to sleep in the same tent. The photo session continued in the morning too.

Rishikesh!

Rishikesh!

We had booked for a morning rafting session. We had chosen the 18 km package, which had 9 rapids (part of the river where the waves are high, irregular and fast).

I had to deal with a lot of butterflies in my stomach just before our rafting begun. I had heard stories about the boat capsizing in between a rapid and had visualized that happening to our boat. Our instructor’s introduction didn’t help my cause in any way. He warned us that the waters here were mighty and dangerous and if we didn’t follow his instructions to the word, there were chances our boat would capsize.

At Shivpuri, our starting point

At Shivpuri, our starting point

I kept chanting the “Darr kea age Jeet hai” thing in my mind to ease things up.

Just before the ride!

Just before the ride!

For the first 3-5 minutes when we were riding on still waters, our Instructor trained us to the different commands he would be chanting throughout our journey.

Initial stretch

Initial stretch

There are, I came to know, 4 different grades of rapids. Our first rapid was a Grade I rapid and was supposed to be easy to negotiate. We failed. Our motions were not synchronized and the waters took control of us rather than the other way round. We were pushed to the shore and had to start all over again. This time, we successfully surpassed the Grade I rapid.

Grade I rapid, near our camp

Grade I rapid, near our camp

I was just thinking what Grade IV rapids would have on offer.

When the waters were calm!

When the waters were calm!

The second rapid was Grade III and the most thrilling of them all, I realized later. I can’t quite put down that experience in words. My mind went blank. I closed my eyes out of fear, and realized water splashing onto me from all directions. All of us were shouting our lungs out. Then a lot of other things happened and finally we were out of the rapid, onto the still waters. Our instructor shouted “Ganga maiyya kiiiiiii” and we screamed “Jaiiii” in unison. Somewhere in that rapid, my fears drowned and I felt liberated. We came across a few rapids which were trickier, faster and narrower that that one, but now that my fears were conquered, they were all completely enjoyable. Each of those rapids apparently have names too. Roller Coaster, Hilton, Golf Course, Double Trouble and Club house are few names I can recollect now.

One from the internet

One from the internet

We went to a nearby Gurudwara in the evening. My first. Felt good. They offered free food too. That mess hall reminded me of my Amrita mess and the Amrita culture of respecting food above all else.

“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.

Cheers to more such trips with awesome set of people.

Bitter experience with Ola Cabs

Dear Ola,
The first time I used your service a few months ago, I immediately became your loyal. The entire concept of booking a cab through a mobile app using your current location was awesome, and a first for me. To top it up, the customer experience was flawless; the ride arrived well on time, the chauffeur was cordial and the fare was very nominal.
The subsequent rides only reinforced my faith in you. I, in fact, deleted all contact details and Apps of other Taxi service providers I had been using before. I was (I still am) one of the thousands of your loyalists who contributed to positive Word of Mouth. I used to tell my friends and family, “Use Ola! They are awesome” or “Ola has a 50% off this week!”. I acted as a marketing channel for you which has infinite ROAS (Return on Ad Spend).
I thought you guys could do no wrong! Perhaps, I was mistaken.
On March 5th, 2015, I had a really really bad experience with your service. The events in chronological order are described below (timings not very accurate).

I booked an Ola Mini at 5 pm, for a ride at 6.15 PM from Sushant Lok, Gurgaon till the Airport. I immediately received a message:

Ola Nitin Srinivas! Your booking with CRN65458017 has been received for 5Mar, 6:15 PM. We look forward to having you onboard.

Being a frequent Ola user, I knew I should be getting a message with Driver details at least 15 minutes before the ride (i.e 6 pm in this case).

Time was 6.10 pm and I hadn’t received any message yet. I got concerned and immediately reached out to your customer care. The executive who attended the call was very cordial. He apologized for the inconvenience and immediately sent a message with driver details.

You’ve got a free upgrade! CRN65458017 – Driver Umesh (8860656268), White Maruti swift dzire HR 55 U 7543 will pick you up @ 5Mar, 6:15 PM. Say Ola to being special!

The time was 6.20 pm and Umesh hadn’t arrived yet. I called him at his number. To my shock, he told me he wasn’t coming to Sushant Lok. He told he was going for another ride near Mehrauli, and asked me to call Customer Care to raise my concern. Now I was beginning to get a bit tense. My flight was at 8.55 pm (AI540 from Delhi to Chennai), and I had to be at the Airport by 7.55 pm at max. Knowing Gurgaon traffic, especially in the evening hours after Office, I knew I was getting late. Still, I called your Customer Care one more time. This time, one other executive picked up the call and he had no idea about what had happened with me, in the last 15 minutes. I had to explain everything to him all over again. He then took some time to look into his system and told me Umesh is on his way to my place. I told him I just had a word with Umesh and he told he was going to Mehrauli to pickup some other customer. He told that was sometime back and that Umesh is now on his way to my place. I immediately cut the call and called Umesh again. “Bhaiya, you are coming to Sushant Lok right?”. “No bhaiya. I am going to Mehrauli to pickup a customer. That’s what my phone is showing”.

I had no idea what was going on! I made a final call to customer support to see if something could be worked out. Time was 6.40 pm (I had to reach airport by 7.55 pm). Again, I had to explain everything from scratch. This time, the customer support executive had no clue about the status of Umesh or me or whoever was going to attend me. He told his system was down and that he wasn’t able to see anything. Completely miffed and gutted, I cut the call. 6.45 pm.

I couldn’t see any private cabs around. Not even an auto. After walking for a while carrying my luggage, I found an auto, which took me till Huda City Center. From Huda, I couldn’t find any cabs to Airport. With my pulse raising, I asked an autowallah if he would go to the Airport. The airport was in Delhi and he told me Haryana autos aren’t allowed beyond Kapashera, which is the Delhi-Haryana border. Having no other choice left, I boarded that auto which dropped me at Kapashera at 7.30 pm.

I had to reach the airport in 20 minutes. Otherwise, I was going to miss my flight back home. Looked like this sense of urgency was very much visible on my face. The lone Taxi wallah there decided he’s got a great opportunity to make a fortune that night. He told he’ll try his best to drop me at the Airport before 8 pm. He charged me 850 rupees, for a journey that would cost 300 rupees at max. I wouldn’t blame him. He just pounced on the great opportunity that was lying in front of him, and made full use of it. I was “cornered and helpless” and ended up paying more than double the normal charges so as to board my flight on time. Thanks to Ola Cabs and my blind faith in you.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like I’m going to stop using Ola or something. In fact, I have already used it once after this incident, in Coimbatore this week.

However, lesson learnt the hard way. No one is perfect. Not even Ola Cabs. Always have contingency plans in place.

P.S: After I landed in Chennai at 11:30 pm, I got two messages from Ola.

You’ve got a free upgrade! CRN65458017 – Driver SHOKEEN (9560966493), White Toyota etios DL 1 YD 8345 will pick you up @ 5Mar, 6:15 PM. Say Ola to being special!

Ola! We regret to inform the cancellation of your booking CRN65458017 as we are unable to find a cab near your pickup location. We’d have loved to serve you!

Trek to Velliangiri Peak

Scene I

We were just about to start our ascent of the mighty mountains of Velliangiri (also called South Kailash) when we were confronted by a man wearing a helpless face, trying to live a respectful life even in poverty. That kind of face. He said, “Ayya, please give me an opportunity to smoothen your bamboo sticks. I will charge only 5 rupees per stick. I have two kids Ayya, and I want them to study”. We could see a small boy (referred to as Jet Lee, going forward) playing around in the temple premises, having little idea about the poverty his family was in. Just behind him, the man’s wife was feeding their second kid. We gave the man 30 rupees and also asked him to make sure Jet Lee studies and comes big in life. The man thanked us with a beaming smile and wished us good.

Scene II

A boy, all of 14 years, was manning a small shop in the middle of the mountain forests, selling biscuits and other refreshments. Abishek asked him if he was going to school. Their conversation follows.

Abishek: “Brother, do you go to school?”

Boy: “No” <without any signs of resentment>

Abishek: “Why not? Your parents couldn’t afford it?”

Boy: “They could. I was going to a Government school till Class VIII. Then I stopped”

The boy shooed away a few monkeys which were interested in the bananas in his shop

Abishek: “Why? Why did you stop?”

Boy: “One day I got angry in Class and hit my teacher bang on his head. I never returned to school after that”

All of us were in shock.

Abishek: “Why? What did he do?”

By this time, he had developed a liking for us and spoke more freely.

He went on to explain how the teacher had shouted a lot of expletives towards him when he had gone to class without completing his homework. When the boy tried to explain that his father was taken ill the previous day, the teacher wouldn’t listen. At one point, the boy apparently lost his cool and hit him hard on the center of his head with a stick. And never returned to school.

In the middle of the forests, after 11 hours of trekking, sitting on the rocks, there was only thing running in my mind! What if Jet Lee grows up to become like this boy!

Anyway, these two scenes kind of capture the quality of life of people living in and around Velliangiri.

This was my second successful visit to the Velliangiri mountains, in three years. Something I can proudly tell my grandchildren, 40 years hence.

If you look at the demographics of people who come to Velliangiri, 80% of the people are from Coimbatore or its surrounding areas itself. ~19% from Chennai and other cities in Tamil Nadu. There were hardly any people outside Tamil Nadu. Other than being a pilgrimage center for Shiva devotees, it is also a brilliant trekking destination.

Velliangiri - the seventh mountain

Velliangiri – the seventh mountain

But there are a number of reasons why Velliangiri is not yet there in say, “The Top 10 trekking destinations of India”.

  • The Authorities probably don’t see it as a Tourist destination, and haven’t taken any significant steps in that direction
  • It is not safe.
    • We heard stories about a Tamil movie Director who got lost in the forests, and came out somewhere near Kerala, after nearly a month.
  • Lack of facilities.
    •  Apart from moonlight and the torch/mobile phone one carries, there’s no source of light, for 95% of the journey, up and down
    • There are only three sources of water, all seven mountains combined
  • No WOM
    • Since most of the people who visit Velliangiri are “not-so-tech-savvy” devotees, the word of mouth doesn’t spread beyond their close circles
    • Perhaps, the Isha Foundation can contribute in a big way to make it an awesome tourist destination

To kill boredom while trekking (we were only three of us), we surveyed people who were coming in the opposite direction. We would ask someone, “Anna, innum evlo dhooram na?” (“Anna, how much more distance to the peak?”), and he would say, “It’s very close. Will hardly take two more hours”. We would then walk for two hours and then ask another guy. “Just one more hour”. After walking for an hour. “Maximum one more hour”.

It took us 7 hours in total, to reach the peak. The mountains were deserted, that friday evening. In fact, there was a stretch of around an hour when there was not a single person ahead or behind us. Stories about the missing Tamil Director was there in the back of our minds, Our torch lights were dimming. That moment was my best of the trek.

After paying our respect to Lord Shiva at the peak and taking the load off our feet for an hour, we started our descent at 7 am. It was raining then and we were offered some breathtaking views by nature.

Rock bed

Rock bed

The rocks were slippery due to rain and it took us some extra effort and time to climb down the 7th mountain. Aradh’s obsession with clicking pictures didn’t help us either.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Sunrise

Sunrise

The next 4 mountains were relatively easier to climb down. By this time, after 12 mountains (7+5) and 12 hours of continuous trekking, my legs had given up. They were dead. Climbing down the last two mountains were the toughest for me, taking a break after every 10-15 minutes.

Trekking unlike say jogging, or gymming, is different in the way that you don’t have a choice. You cannot give up. You push your boundaries longer and harder. But when you are done, there’s no feeling bigger than that feeling of accomplishment.

Darr ke aage jeet hai

Darr ke aage jeet hai

At the end of 14 hours of trekking, some picturesque moments. some eerie moments, some calm moments away from the drudgery of city life, the experience was totally worth it!

If you do not have Velliangiri in your bucket list yet, it’s time you add it to the list and make it a point to visit the awesome place, some time. You will not regret it!

The Sikkim Trip 2014

“If fate doesn’t make you laugh, you just don’t get the joke” – Karla, in Shantaram.

Day 0

On a lazy afternoon, Ramprasad and I were strolling through the second floor corridor sipping hot coffee from the college canteen when we bumped into Gourav Sachdeva (Saddy) and Vaibhav Annam (Annam). I came to know that a group of six people were about to leave on a 4-day trip to Sikkim, in the next 45 minutes. Annam asked me if I were game to join them. With an extended weekend with only one class in the coming four days, the offer was too good to resist. I joined them as the seventh member in the trip.

Karla’s lines from Shantaram (mentioned above) struck me immediately. Had Ram and I gone to have coffee 10 minutes earlier or later, I would probably have missed out on the trip.

And so we began “The Sikkim Trip 2014” at 5 pm from IIM Shillong campus premises. A Maruti Ertiga carried us to Guwahati Railway Station, in time for us to catch the Kanchanjunga Express at 10 pm. En route to the railway station, we halted for dinner at Makhan Bhog Palace, which serves top-class authentic veg food at affordable prices. Highly recommended for people living in and around Guwahati.

The seven of us (including Photographer Annam)

The seven of us (including Photographer Annam)

Day 1

Kanchanjunga Express reached Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri) early in the morning where a driver from Sunflower Tours and Travels was awaiting our arrival. The journey from Siliguri to Gangtok (113 km) takes around four and a half hours by road. After breaking for a tiffin at Hotel Hi-way, located an hour’s distance from Siliguri, we were well on our way to Gangtok, oblivious to what was coming up for us.

Mid-way through the Siliguri-Gangtok journey, we were caught in a traffic jam that Bangalore denizens could be proud of. Remember the Padayappa climax scene where tens of hundreds of vehicles are shown in an aerial shot when Thalaivar says, “Idhu chumma trailer dhaan ma!” ? Something similar to that. An army truck had collided head on with a lorry, causing the commotion and the jam. When Saddy and Annam went to the accident spot with their DSLR, the locals mistook them to be people from the press. One guy even gave a short interview to Annam. 😛

We reached the State Capital late in the afternoon. Gangtok paints a very good first impression on the visitor – neat litter-free roads, fresh cold air, breathtaking views and well maintained footpaths on either side of the road. We checked into Hotel Magnolia, a decent hotel with very ordinary service. The Hotel was located pretty close to MG Marg, the happening area of the city. After a quick bath in ice-cold water, it took us a 5 minute drive in the taxi to reach the Gangtok ropeway.

The ropeway was similar to the ones I had been to in Mussoorie and Dehradun, offering a good view of the roads and settlements beneath us.

Gangtok ropeway

Gangtok ropeway

A local monastery at walking distance from the ropeway was our next destination. We spent a good half hour there and then headed straight to MG Marg in search of good food. I noticed that the taxi wallahs in Gangtok (unlike in Shillong) do not accommodate more than 4 people. They also follow a fixed price. Here in Shillong, it is possible that there are already 6 people in a Maruti 800 and the driver still stops the car to accommodate more people.

MG Marg is easily the best area in Gangtok. Being the central market of the city, it has restaurants, shopping complexes and gift shops. It is a no vehicle zone, which makes it a walker’s paradise. The cool breeze and zero vehicle noise makes it an awesome hangout place.

Gangtok like most cities in this part of the world, sleeps very early.

View more pictures of MG Marg, Ropeway and the local monastery, here.

Day 2

Day 2 marked the beginning of the two-days-one-night package to Lachung village – Yumthang Valley – Zero Point. We were gifted with an awesome driver, Laxmi bhaiyya from Sunflower Tours and Travels. He is a Sikkim local who speaks very good hindi and has an infectious smile. Rajiv bhaiyya, the cook, also accompanied us in the Bolero to Lachung.

The first leg of the journey from Gangtok to Lachung Village (110 km) took us six straight hours. In that stretch, we traveled through all kinds of roads – concrete, beach sand, gravel, huge stones, wooden bridges, etc. Most parts of the road were pathetic, thanks to the frequent landslides that occur there. BRO (Border Roads Organization) was courteous enough to keep “Inconvenience is regretted” boards every few hundreds of metres (sometimes adding “deeply regretted”, rightly). We could notice continuous road construction work going on at many places.

With a local kid, as a dog inspects me - On the way to Lachung, Sikkim

With a local kid, as a dog inspects me – On the way to Lachung, Sikkim

Our backs got a break when Laxmi halted at three different waterfalls during different phases of the journey. The first falls, named Seven sister falls, was a disappointment. I am still not sure how they actually made a tourist spot out of it. One could see tens of such falls during an evening walk here in Shillong. The second falls, called the Naga falls was better; much better.

Naga falls, Sikkim

Naga falls, Sikkim

Amitabh Bachchan falls was the best of the lot, though. True to its name, it flowed majestically from hundreds of feet above. It wasn’t just about the falls; the view of the ice-capped mountains from that point was incredible.

View more pictures of Seven sister falls, Naga falls and Amitabh Bachchan falls, here.

It became dark by the time we reached Lachung village, our final destination for the day. Rajiv bhaiyya made soupy maggi for snacks, along with tea at our request. We had fun playing Boys vs Girls Dumb Charades in the time Rajiv bhaiyya took to prepare our dinner. Being the sole cook for all of us, Rajiv did a commendable job with the dinner – Roti, Rice, Dal, Aloo Gobi and Paneer.

Having to get up pretty early the next morning, we curled into our kambals soon after dinner.

Day 3

Not all days do you get up to see the mighty Himalayas through your window. Lachung gave us that opportunity. The road from Lachung to Yumthang Valley was far superior compared to the Gangtok-Lachung one. Yumthang valley was about 25 km from the village, and took us about an hour to reach. We stopped at a mini-marketplace to have breakfast and also to equip ourselves with boots, gloves and coats which were available for rent. We needed them to brave the cold and to walk on ice.

View pictures of Lachung village and Yumthang valley, here.

Travelling on the road from Yumthang to Zero Point gave us a splendid view of the valley, with a turquoise blue stream of water flowing through it. Laxmi said that the valley looks best in March-April with a full bloom of flowers.

AR Rahman’s god-level BGM from the movie Baba started playing in my mind as soon as we reached Zero Point. There were ice-capped mountains on three sides and a small hillock in the centre. Though the boots helped a bit, the ice was still slippery. Laxmi gave us a maximum of 45 minutes at Zero Point, warning us that it might be difficult to breathe beyond that.

Saddy who was flaunting a mega sized ice-proof jacket, tried in vain to slide on the ice. Annam didn’t fail to play football even there, at 14,600 feet. There were some dudes who were posing with a bare body and cooling glass as a few of their friends rubbed ice on their bodies. Seriously?!?!?!

Football at Zero point, Sikkim

Football at Zero point, Sikkim

After spending close to an hour and clicking loads of pictures (both with the camera and mentally) at Zero point, we began our long journey back to Gangtok, with a halt at Lachung to have lunch and check out from our rooms. We bid adieu to Rajiv bhaiiyaa before we left Lachung.

Top - Annam with Laxmi bhaiyya; Bottom - Yours truly with Rajiv bhaiyya

Top – Annam with Laxmi bhaiyya;
Bottom – Yours truly with Rajiv bhaiyya

This trip was more about the journey than the final destinations, I realized. Frozen streams, frozen water falls, bumpy roads and beautiful views – it was all there.

We reached Gangtok at 7 pm and went to sleep early, after having dinner at Apna Dhaba in MG Marg.

View more pictures of Zero Point, here.

Day 4

“When you go home, tell them of us, and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today”, read the war memorial at Nathula Pass, the Indo-Chinese border.

Nathula is located 60 km from Gangtok, at a height of 14000 odd feet. The place was very very calm and serene despite a number of people being there. We got a majestic view of the mountains of Tibet from up there. Someone told us that the closest civilization from Nathula on the Chinese side was some 570 km away. It was only mountains and forests and more mountains till then.

View from Nathula Pass, Sikkim

View from Nathula Pass, Sikkim

The cafeteria there was aptly named “14000 Cafe”. From Nathula, we could see the roads we had just traversed to reach there; it was as if a huge basilisk lay on the mountains, twisting and twirling.

View more pictures of Nathula Pass, here.

The driver (a new driver, not Laxmi bhaiyya) told us that a Baba Mandir located close by is very famous. He also added that not visiting the Mandir is like going to Agra and not visiting the Taj. I thought it was a temple for Mahavatar Babaji of “Baba” fame. The driver cleared my doubt by adding that it was a temple built for a Late Sepoy Harbhajan Singh, who lost his life at the age of 26, in the hostile conditions of Nathula while guarding the India-China border.

The Legend behind Baba Harbhajan Singh Ji is very interesting. Read this comprehensive piece on Baba Harbhajan Singh ji to know more about him and the samadhi.

A “Naya Baba Mandir” was constructed recently for the convenience of tourists who cannot visit the old and original one. We visited both.

We next halted at Changu Lake. a frozen lake, on the way from Nathula back to Gangtok. A cabinet of Yak stood there in front of the lake, dressed wonderfully. By the time we reached the lake, we were pressed for time, since we had a train to catch from NJP at 10 pm. Niveditya was disappointed that she wasn’t able to try out the Sikkimese costume which was available at the lake. We spent a maximum of ten minutes there.

Changu was the last place in our agenda for the 4-day trip.

A back of the envelope calculation showed that we had traveled 1840 km in total (920 km on the road). At the expense of two classes and not able to see my team win Kopda matches, this trip was totally worth it!

 

 

 

 

Sikkim framed: Nathula Pass

Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Nathula Pass, Sikkim

 

Tibet in the background - Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Tibet in the background – Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Tibet - Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Tibet – Nathula Pass, Sikkim

 

War memorial - Nathula Pass, Sikkim

War memorial – Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Nathula Pass, Sikkim

Left - India; Right - China

Left – India; Right – China

 

 

Sikkim framed: Zero point

Zero Point, Sikkim

Zero Point, Sikkim

Climbing the mound - Zero point, Sikkim

Climbing the mound – Zero point, Sikkim

Zero point, Sikkim

Zero point, Sikkim

Zero Point, Sikkim

Zero Point, Sikkim

Zero point, Sikkim

Zero point, Sikkim

 

Atop the hillock - Zero point, Sikkim

Atop the hillock – Zero point, Sikkim

At Zero point, Sikkim

At Zero point, Sikkim

Sikkim framed: Lachung village and Yumthang valley

Lachung village, Sikkim

Lachung village, Sikkim

View from Lachung

View from Lachung

Early morning at Lachung, Sikkim

Early morning at Lachung, Sikkim

 

Breakfast at Yumthang valley, Sikkim

Breakfast at Yumthang valley, Sikkim

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Vikash, Saddy & Annam @ Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

Vikash, Saddy & Annam @ Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

 

Divya di @ Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

Divya di @ Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

 

Sikkim framed: Seven sister falls, Naga falls and Amitabh Bachchan falls

At Gangtok, Sikkim

At Gangtok, Sikkim

Seven Sister falls, Sikkim

Seven Sister falls, Sikkim

Naga falls, Sikkim

Naga falls, Sikkim

Annam at Work - Naga falls, Sikkim

Annam at Work – Naga falls, Sikkim

Amitabh Bachchan falls, Sikkim

Amitabh Bachchan falls, Sikkim

A view from Amitabh Bachchan falls, Sikkim

A view from Amitabh Bachchan falls, Sikkim

Amitabh Bachchan falls
Amitabh Bachchan falls

 

Sikkim framed: MG Marg & Ropeway, Gangtok

Gangtok Ropeway

Gangtok Ropeway

Inside the ropeway

Inside the ropeway

The local monastery at Gangtok

The local monastery at Gangtok

Inside the monastery

Inside the monastery

One of the over-bridges in the city

One of the over-bridges in the city

MG Marg entrance

MG Marg entrance

MG Marg - no vehicle zone

MG Marg – no vehicle zone

MG Marg

MG Marg

 

Man's best friend

Man’s best friend