Category Archives: Travels to Indian Panorama

Blue Mountain Calling- Ooty by Abhik Dutta

Almost heaven, West Virginia, blue ridged mountains, Shenandoh Riverâ

Denver took hold of my senses halfway between Mysore and Ooty, somewhere in the middle of dense jungles of Bandipur. The forest whizzed past. It was around 3 in the afternoon but the canopy formed by the trees shut out the sunlight and allowed the passage of streaks of sunlight that formed an eerie image on the black stretch of forest road. This was a journey I was getting to love. It was a journey of the senses that had been screaming for help over the past year, wanting an out from the staid existence back home in Calcutta. The forest, the streams and the distant hills beyond, beckoned me. And sitting in the bus I allowed myself to zoom through a corridor of strained light right into the lap of nature at the other end. It was a meeting of lovers kept apart by circumstances. One, a confused youth from the city and the other a demure lass full of beauty and wisdom.

I needed this break as much as my friends. Calcutta had taken its toll. Sipping our tea in a roadside stall, we had decided to pack our rucksacks and head South. Over the last ten days the five of us had journeyed through the confusion in Chennai (then Madras), rode piggy back on my brother in law in Bangalore (till he wanted an out too), almost got crushed to death in a stampede on the parapet walls of the dam in Brindavan gardens and found relief in the green hills of Madikere in Coorg. Fresh out of college, no job in hand and a future as dark as the forest we were passing through, the five of us had decided to stray far away from our homes in Calcutta.

The girl seated across the aisle turned and smiled at me. I smiled back. She clung on to her doll tightly. I clung on to my dreams and watched the jungle pass me by. We were passing through the Bandipur National Park on our way to Ooty. The bus rumbled through the dense jungle. The others were sleeping. Amit with his head weaving over the aisle like a pendulum; Sanjay waking up sheepishly after every bump on the window sill; Bumba resting most of his 80 kilos on the thin old man seated next to him crushing him under his weight; Ashis snoring by my side. All presenting a picture of tired minds and bodies in need of rest. But I stayed awake with Denver for company. Sleep doesn’t come to me easily on such journeys. My mind wanders.

The sight of a large herd of elephants brought out squeals of delight from the little girl. The commotion woke the others up. The giant beasts were tied in chains next to the road. Bells dangled from their colossal neck and chimed with their movements. There was a gap in the thick foliage. A lovely clearing with some huts on the other side of a small stream held our attention. Then the bus roared around a sharp bend. Both the elephants and the clearing vanished from sight. It always saddens me to see elephants in chains. Somehow, I always think of these majestic animals roaming the jungles freely without care. Not sheathed in chains as beasts of burden.

..And then the climb up the Blue Mountains began. We turned and twisted up the ghat roads. The scenery took our breath away. By now the others awoke soaking in the splendour of the blue ridges of the Nilgiris. The setting sun created magic on these mountains and the ranges seemed to blush in delight at we watched her unabashedly allowing our minds to wander all over her beauty, wanting her like a long lost lover. Each turn showed us a different dimension of nature – every scene casting a spell on us, vibrating within us till our minds seemed to burst. Looking at our happy faces I realized that this was the closest I would come to feel Utopia on this trip.

Over the next five days we explored the town of Ooty. The quaint market place bustling with the post Diwali holiday crowd, the numbing cold of the evenings spent at the Botanical gardens and the boating on the lake; the excursion to Coonoor and our delight at seeing the botanical gardens at Sims Park with its wide variety of roses. We visited Dodabeta peak and marvelled at the breathtaking views from the place. But most of all, I still remember the wonderful after dinner sessions of animated conversation in the dormitory beds of the Youth Hostel; the carefree laughter of five disillusioned youths from Calcutta who found temporary Nirvana in the Blue Mountains of the South. And still the haunting strains of Denver kept me company in the cold, moonlit nights after the lights in the dormitory were switched off.

..Dark and dusty painted on the sky, misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye


Island Fortress of Janjira by Abhik Dutta

Maharashtra, specially the coastal belt, is a fort lover’s paradise. There are hundreds of forts that have the history of Maharashtra and India etched on their ramparts. Some like Daulatabad in Aurangabad, Pratapgarh in Mahabaleshwar, Sinhagad in Pune and Govilgad fort in Chikaldara in Amravati district are hill forts, magnificent structures on hill tops overlooking the mighty plains below. Some like Sindhudurg fort, Ratnagairi fort, and Korlai fort near Revdanda are beauties that rise above the sheer cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea, their walls ravaged by the sea and the coastal winds over the centuries. But few forts around the world can compare with the majestic splendor of the island fortress of Janjira, a sleeping giant in the middle of the Arabian Sea and the only fort in Maharashtra which neither Chhatrapati Shivaji nor his son Sambhaji could conquer..

The Road to Janjira

Getting to Janjira is half the fun. About 165kms south of Mumbai is the sleepy coastal hamlet of Rajpuri creek. It`s a 4½ hr drive from Mumbai. From Panvel we took the Goa road (NH17). 33kms ahead at Vadkhal, we took the road to Alibaug and proceeded further towards Cheul, a wonderful coastal village. We stopped here for a while and walked through coconut and “supari” groves to the Revdanda beach. There was not a soul in sight. We passed through an Old Portuguese church in ruins and came across the ramparts of an old fort, also in ruins. Across the Revdanda creek stood the Korlai fort high atop a hill, guarding the bay like a proud sentinel.

Returning to our car, we drove across a bridge and turned right and headed towards Murud, 34kms from Cheul. A mile ahead, a road leads to the coastal village at the base of the Korlai fort. On an earlier visit to the area a month back, we had climbed up the stairs from behind the light house right upto to the fort. We had seen some of the most gorgeous views of the bay and witnessed a beautiful sunset from the top. Bypassing the village this time we drove towards Murud. The entire stretch of the coastal road was a fascinating drive with the sea playing hide and seek and kissing the road on many an occasion. We crossed a couple of small ghat sections, the sea never far from sight.

The first view of the Janjira fort is unforgettable. As the road meanders around a bend on top of a hillock, the fort leaps into sight in the middle of the sea. It’s a bird’s eye view and feels as if one is watching from the skies above. 2 kms ahead at Rajpuri, we hired a 20 footer country boat with a sail at a bargain price of Rs.150.00 for a round trip to the fort. One may also share a boat with a bigger group and pay only Rs.8 for a round trip. The waters were very choppy and the boatmen predicted early rain this year. The 25-minute boat ride across choppy waters with the spray hitting us on the face and the boat tossing dangerously was the highlight of the trip. Instead of going diagonally to the fort, the boat went straight ahead, turned back diagonally then went straight into the fort. This was done so that the swells hitting the boat from the sides did not overturn it. However, bigger boats go straight to the fort but I guess the ride is not half as adventurous.

We hired a guide for Rs.60.00 for showing us the fort. The fort was built sometime in 1515 by the Siddis of Janjira, descendants of sailors from Abyssinia. Legend has it that during the first attempts to build the fort, the ramparts collapsed, so taking the advice of a local priest, the son of the Siddi chieftain was buried alive to appease the Gods. Thereafter, it took 22 years to build the fort. There are 275 cannons in the fort out of which the largest with a range of 3 kms, is the third largest cannon in Maharashtra, the largest being at the Daulatabad fort. Amazingly, there is a freshwater tank in the middle of the fort which gets water from an underwater spring and according to the guide that’s how the fort got its name.

In 1659, Shivaji attacked the fort but could not scale the 15 metre high walls. Later, his son Sambhaji tried to dig a tunnel and even fill the channel out to the fort. However, a natural moat, 90 feet deep, surrounding the fort, thwarted his attempts. Even today, on the mainland one can see the entrance to the remains of a tunnel. In despair, Sambhaji tried to build a similar fort in the middle of the sea about 3 kms off the Janjira fort but a call of duty in another part of Maharashtra did not allow him to successfully build the fort. This fort is now called Kasa Kila.

17 kms from Murud, on the road to Alibaug, are 2 resorts. The first is the Kashid Beach Resort with split level A/C rooms with gorgeous views of the sea on one side and the hills on the other. The second is the more up-market Prakruti Beach Resort with AC rooms set in villas. Both are on the periphery of the proposed 54 sq. km Phansad wild life sanctuary. For bookings, contact The Wanderers, Mumbai.

The nearest rail station is at Roha on the Konkan railway route, 50 kms from Kashid. One may also take the Catamaran from Gateway of India, which reaches you to Mandwa jetty. From there the complimentary bus service of the Suman Motel Catamaran takes you to Alibag. From Alibag either take the S.T bus to Kashid – the S.T. Bus will be for Nandgaon a place after Kashid or for Murud, which is 20 kms from Kashid. From Alibaug one can also take an autorickshaw [the approx. charge will be Rs.150 per auto] for the 32 km drive to Kashid Beach Resort.

Other places to visit nearby are the Nawab`s palace. It is owned by the erstwhile Nawab Shah Siddi Mahmood Khan who now lives in Bhopal. Entry here is restricted but if you speak pleasantly enough to the old chowkidar who runs the place, he may let you in for a short while and allow you to see the durbar hall full of priceless marble and beautifully carved wooden furniture. Stuffed animals adorn the walls. The fort that one can see from here in the middle of the sea is Kasa Kila. On a clear day a daring boatman will take you there for Rs.500. The Dattatraya temple dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma on a hill top in Murud is also worth visiting. For the hiker, the hills surrounding Kashid Beach Resort and Prakruti Resort is a veritable paradise.

Kite Festival in Ahmedabad by Sanjeev Goel

Last night at 10:00 PM, I had caught the Gujarat Mail from Dadar (Mumbai). It’s now 6:00 AM and the train has reached The Manchester of India – Ahmedabad, slowing down as it approaches the railway station. As I look out of the train window and shut my travel log, I expect to see the tall smokestacks associated with big textile mills and industries.

As I look out of the puny three-wheeler autorickshaw speeding away from the railway station, I espy a lot of Mughal architecture – minarets, big and small, right near the railway station; interesting fort gates looming tall through which we ride; beautiful mosques et al – my first impression being that this surely must be a city with a lot of Mughal history, now transformed into a terribly crowded commercial hub. The driver, I must say, was either an ex-Ferrari driver or was imagining a cyclone following him. With both his hands gripped on the steering to weave-brake-zoom and honk, his foot would jut out first one way and then the other. It was only later when I saw other auto-drivers doing the same at road-intersections, that I deciphered that he wasn’t loosing his balance but merely using his foot to signal a turn!

As we crossed one of the bridges spanning the Sabarmati River, an interesting iron structure, we entered onto wide roads and a more disciplined traffic. My roving eyes could not help noticing the high frequency of teenaged girls riding sleek scooters among the crowded traffic, most of them riding double!

The rickshaw finally deposits me to the required address, after a 30-minute ride. Mr. and Mrs. Shah give me a warm welcome and call out to their son and daughter-in-law who along with the building’s neighbours can be heard whooping and shouting on the terrace – and the big day (Uttrayan) is tomorrow!

It’s now evening and Ankit (Shah Jr.) and wife Namrata are eagerly tying strings to about 40 kites. They intensely measure each knot before tying it tight and teach me how to do it the ‘only way’. The thread is wound round a cylindrical object referred to as ‘Firkee’. The thread itself is thickly coated with finely shred glass – the practice so that in the air their kites fight to reign supreme by cutting the clutter of the rest of the kites within reach. In fact, I can’t wait to see these “dogfights”

5:00 AM – I am awakened by shouts of joy and the din of cymbals (it’s later that I discover that what sounded like cymbals, were in fact big spoons being struck onto big steel plates – all from the household’s kitchen.) Surprised and curious, I rush out to find its Ankit and Namrata on the terrace already bathed and ready, flying kites!

By 9:00 AM, the sky is dotted all over by colourful kites. The terraces, as far as the eye can see, are choc-a-bloc with people of all ages. A kite swoops down, another sweeps a wide arc, yet another float by, and the ears reverberate to the sounds of victory, challenge and joy! The most common shouts are ‘Kaadey’ and ‘Kaapiyo chhe’. Irrespective of cuts on index fingers of most of the kite-flyers, the enthusiasm and the killer-instinct has to be seen to be believed!

Lunch is served by the ladies on the terrace itself – the speciality is a spicy vegetable preparation called ‘Oondhiya’ with ‘puris’. Like other terraces, ours too is blaring away the latest Hindi film hits on a 1000W stereo system. I am simply overwhelmed – all through the day, squinting into the hot sun, the shouting and the enthusiasm just does not seem to wane. As the sun sets, the music goes on but as visibility becomes poor, one by one the kites are all drawn in! Dinner is a lively community affair, with good natured teasing and counts of ‘kills’- the number of kites “cut”.

As dinner ends, I find people making a bee-line for their respective terraces once again. The sight that greets me as I come onto the terrace is awe-inspiring. The sky is dotted with lamps hung onto flying kites, with some kites carrying upto a dozen lamps like lights up a mountain trail! These lamps, called ‘Tukkals,’ are light – made of paper with candles in the centre. This time there are no kite-fights in the air, but as more and more lamps dot the blackness, the stars seem to have descended onto earth! As if this experience in itself was not enough, the Shahs also took me the next day to Akshardham – a huge complex of a contemporary Swami Narayan temple with beautifully well laid out gardens and hi-tech museum at Gandhinagar. On the way back we stopped at the exquisite step-well of Adalaj.

Jan 16, and I am on my way back to Mumbai….

(Sanjeev Goel is fond of dumb charade and travel, but insists that on journeys sleep is essential).

Walk in the Clouds- Sikkim, by Shubendu Banerjee

An account of a travel to South & West Sikkim

(Shubendu Banerjee is a passionate traveler. From the misty mountains of Sikkim to the dense jungles of Bandipur in Karnataka he has traveled to give a free reign to his adventurous spirit. Now, settled in Bangalore with his wife and son he continues to wander into unknown territories as often as his job allows him to)

Our passion for travel & adventure took us to Sikkim with the objective of uncovering the unspoiled beauty of the mountains. We (6 of us) packed into a Sumo from Siliguri, on our way to our first destination Rabangla. As we moved into the limits of Rabangla village, we realised its serenity & remoteness. Made of a couple of scattered houses over the hillside, one main street with a few shops, Rabangla formed a settlement nestled in the serene lap of the mighty Himalayas. We moved into a very beautiful guesthouse (Mt. Narsing Resort), which had been done up in a rustic manner comprising of a sitting arrangement outside, a large log cabin and an open thatched dining space that was very nicely decorated. The living area comprised of cozy tents with the most modern interiors. The guesthouse gave us a sense of being one with nature. A lovely view of the valleys below and the clouds above enthralled us as we sat down for a quick hot meal.

The afternoon was spent walking up and down the only street of Rabangla and savoring the beauty of the mountains. The evening was spent at the dining space, sitting on logs, which served as seats and tree trunks as tables discussing the topics that interested us. Our host lighted a small bonfire for us in the middle of the dining space and we sang and danced away late in to the night. After dinner, the cozy tents helped us to unwind from the day’s journey.

The only things that were unfriendly at Rabangla were the leeches. We had to be careful not to step on to the grassy parts of the road, as the leeches would climb on to our feet at every opportunity. In fact, we had to run between the tents and the dining space, sometimes parading with heavy steps or breaking into a sprint, so as to avoid the onslaught of the blood-sucking leeches.

Morning was as beautiful as paradise. By the time the sun made its way out of the mist to spread its warmth on the mountains, we were ready to visit the Ralang monastery. A short drive up the narrow treacherous mountain path brought us to the gateway of this beautiful monastery. The monastery was straight out of a picture postcard. Its colorfully decorated walls, gold plated crown and gigantic size left us spellbound. A prayer was in progress inside, which provided us with a rare view of prayers conducted the Buddhist way. The monastery contained a huge golden Buddha in the center surrounded by innumerous small ones.

We returned from the monastery and after a quick meal we bid goodbye to the lovely village. We were soon on our way to Yuksom. Tashiding monastery was on the way and so we decided to halt there briefly. Leaving our Sumo at the Tashiding village, we had to trek up the mountainside to reach the monastery. It was a lovely trek up. The moving of the clouds in the valleys below, the sun’s rays illuminating the mountain tops and the greenery of the mountainside all provided breathtaking views. Halfway up the trek, we came across the Buddhist flags that fluttered by the pathway leading up to the monastery. Interestingly, on reaching the top we found that one of the monasteries was controlled by women and it was them who performed all the necessary prayers and rights. Soon, it was raining cats and dogs and we were completely drenched. Our shoes were full of water as we trekked down the pathway to reach our Sumo.

We reached Yuksom late in the afternoon. Yuksom seemed to be a larger village than Rabangla with playgrounds, a school, government offices, a police station and even a hospital. We had reached the last point of a motorable road and if one wanted to see the beauty of the Himalayas beyond Yuksom, one had to trek from there on. We were told that a large number of expeditions to various Himalayan peaks were kicked off from Yuksom. We parked in a hotel that had all modern amenities including TV, hot water and spacious rooms. Weather was not on our side and light persistent drizzle continued through the evening. The rains did not deter us from taking a walk down the road to see more of the place. Since it is located in a valley, it is surrounded on all sides by high mountain ranges. Often the mist would envelop the valley visibility.

We were told that the oldest monastery in Sikkim– Dubdi, is located in Yuksom. The next day, we started for the monastery after a good breakfast, armed with salt in case we encountered leeches on the way. The path was a mountain tract in the dense forest with numerous springs on the way. The leaves of the trees had fallen to make a soft cushion, which muffled our footsteps. Later, as we found out, the leaves also covered a bed of millions of leeches that had made the pathway their home. Leeches, that jumped up on our feet at every opportunity infested the tract. The drizzle, the darkness of the forest, the leeches — all together weaved an uncanny eerie feeling. We were soon at the top. The old monastery building seemed to have preserved the culture & tradition of Buddhism. An old monk lived in the small quarter next to the monastery. Time seemed to stand still for him in this very remote place away from the interference of human civilization. Having seen all of Dubdi, we headed down. Coming down from the monastery was like a race against the leeches. No one stopped even for a gasp of breadth. Neither the rain nor the slippery pathway could stop us from running down the mountainside. Within half an hour we were at the relative safety of the small hospital at the Yuksom village. We rested on the veranda of the hospital and checked our shoes for the leeches before proceeding back to our hotel.

Next, we set out to see the coronation stone. The place has a huge stone throne with very old and gigantic fir trees as a backdrop. A monastery and a small school were located adjacent to the coronation throne. It was a lovely sight to watch the little monks in the making, learning the teachings of Buddhism.

The next day we left for Khechoperi Lake, which is regarded as a very holy lake in that area. As it had rained very heavily the previous night, the road was in a bad condition with lots of loose topsoil and rocks. A couple of landslides had occurred already, and the road was in the process of being cleared for traffic. The driver of our Jeep did some difficult and dangerous maneuvers, as we closed our eyes and prayed. Soon we came to about 5 kms below the lake where a huge boulder from the previous night’s landslide had completely blocked our way. We were determined not to return without a glimpse of the lake and so we decided to walk up the rest of the way. It was a wonderful walk up to the lake. The lake itself is very placid and surrounded by lush green trees. A narrow jetty connects to a platform right into the lake where we stood intoxicated by the cool, green and peaceful surroundings. The blue sky and the surrounding green forest had their reflections on the water. The Buddhist flags fluttered in the light breeze all around. Fish swam in the calmness of the lake. The lake is definitely one of the treasures of Sikkim and is a place worth venturing.

On our way back to Yuksom that day, we stopped at Fambrong waterfall. It was a two step waterfall, very steep and looked very brilliant in the afternoon light. A few locals had stationed themselves at the roadside to guide us down the loose soil, mud and boulders to reach under the waterfall. There was a crude ladder at one end, which reached up to the second step of the falls. The sight of the huge waterfall from underneath and then up the ladder was that of pure ecstasy.

It was a very lazy journey to Pelling, the next day. On reaching Pelling, we dumped our luggage in our rooms and ventured out. Pelling seemed invaded by modern day life with a heavy population of tourists. We decided to walk to the Pemayangste monastery, which was about two to three kms away. We walked along the highway and our silent steps were occasionally disturbed by the loud noise of the vehicles. The exhaled smoke from all these vehicles polluted the mountains and was simply disgusting.

This monastery too, had the very traditional look with exquisite exterior paintings and woodcarvings. Various rooms on the 1st and 2nd floor together made up the huge prayer halls. The walls were lined with images of Lord Buddha and other Buddhist saints of all sizes. A room devoted to the scriptures of Buddhism displayed the various aspects of life in intricate woodcarvings. A small school, an office and a few quarters made up for the premises of the monastery. It was a place where one could gather a lot of information on Buddhism from a host of knowledgeable monks and guides.

Evening meant another walk down the road and we were told that the mighty Khangchendzonga (pronounced “Kanchenjhunga”) range could be seen clearly from Pelling on a clear day. The evening was cloudy and so we waited eagerly for the next morning so as to have a glimpse. Early next morning, we were woken by footsteps of people rushing to the terrace of the hotel to catch a glimpse of the range. Indeed, it was a clear morning with hardly any cloud and the mighty range with the peaks could be seen clearly in all its glory. It was a sight to behold as the morning light illuminated the whole range and there was a radiant glow all around. We could have sat there watching the splendor of the Himalayas for hours, but we had to return home.

Our return journey wasn’t smooth and we had to halt for 6 to 7 hours on the road by virtue of a landslide. Soon we were at Siliguri.

It was an extremely good vacation and the land of Sikkim is unforgettable. The mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and the monasteries had mesmerized us and seem to be calling us back all the time.

Tales from the Nubra – by Abhik Dutta

There are many valleys in the Himalayan range that just take your breath away because of their sheer beauty and magnificence. Many of these valleys are, however, on trek routes beyond the reach of many who are unable to walk to these heights. And those that are approachable by road are sometimes, more often than not, one of those tourist attractions that inspite of their beauty are pockmarked with tourists walking all over the place during the “season” months. At times don’t we really wish we had a vale all to ourselves?

This wish of mine was granted during my first visit to Nubra Valley in Ladakh a few years back. Crossing the great Khardung La (18380ft), the JKSRTC bus meandered on the endless mountain track till suddenly the Shyok river valley opened up beneath us. Nothing had prepared me for the first sight, which I guess, has remained glued to me like the many monasteries that have for decades clung on to those barren and majestic slopes of the Nubra. There below us to the right the glistening river snaked its way through the wide gorge. Slowly as the entire panorama of the valley opened up ahead of us, the sheer setting, beauty and magnitude of the Nubra left me awestruck.

After the lunch halt at Khalsar (10080ft) at the mouth of the valley, we entered a flat stretch of road with the enormous valley unraveling itself like a plot from a Hitchcock novel. We followed the turbulent and muddy Shyok and as it grew wider, so did the valley. We soon came to a bifurcation, the right fork leading to the villages of Sumur, Tegar and Panamic and onwards to the Siachen glacier; the left fork going to the villages of Diskit and Hundar. We took the left fork.

Over the next few days I stayed with local families and explored the valley on my own, my trusted backpack and camera slung across my back, my worries and moods scattered all over beyond the Saser glaciers..beyond Turtuk..beyond the mighty Siachen hidden behind the mountains to the north.

At Diskit, the little children were a revelation. Five tiny ones, they emerged from the forest. Prancing around me they led me to their school, introduced me to their teachers and little friends with permanently flowing noses that would put the Shyok to shame. Later they ran with me to their waterhole, where the clear stream water collected for a while before slipping over the log into the adjoining fields. Here, they stripped naked and jumped into the pool- their innocent laughter reverberating across the valley and right into my soul. Bidding them a fond farewell, I moved on deeper towards the end of the pasture, past farms hidden from sight by tall thorny shrubs. Suddenly the path opened up and an amazing sight unfolded! A rolling meadow with a stream running through it! Horses and cows grazed peacefully. This was no man’s land really. Here nature danced to the tune of chirping birds, trees swayed in the breeze echoing a haunting whisper across the meadow. Rocks whispered magic words that made the stream water gurgle with laughter. I sat and watched the sun setting gradually over the distant peaks, casting long shadows in the valley and removing some from my mind.

The days came and went and I clung on to each moment, each passing hour hoping against hope that the sun would never set and my long carefree walks would never end. I just didn’t want to arrive anywhere. Each day began early and ended well past the time when the villagers would turn off the lights and go off to sleep. I’d walk out of the room with a blanket wrapped tightly around me and gaze at the stars that shone so brightly, so close and so gently that I wondered why I searched for my God in a temple when he stared at me all the while from above.

And so it went. One hour overlapping the next, one mile extending into another. I hiked to the gompa at Hundar perched high above the bridge with a mesmerizing view of the valley beneath. I saw the monastery at Diskit and the impressive Shamstelling gompa at Sumur, rode across the dunes on the double humped bactrian camel that I hired from Abdul Razzak for a paltry Rs.150, got invited (and later drunk) at the delightfully amateurish Tegar village festival, and devoured the not so tasty “skiu” and the unpalatable “khambhir” served by my new found friends. T. Dorje taught me how easy it is to make friends and how a wonderful friendship can last all of one day. Perched precariously on his Bajaj Chetak, I went all over Panamic village and to his small dwelling where we shared his lunch and his many stories of Ladakh. He walked me to the hot springs, to his workshop where he taught the locals carpentry and introduced me to the locals as “mera Bambe ka dost.”

I left Sumur early one morning at 6am. I kept my money on a makeshift table in my room and slipped out of the house quietly so as not to wake up my wonderful hosts. I walked over to the village bus stand across the road. For an hour I sat there on a culvert watching a remote mountain village wake up to the sounds of a new day. I drifted in and out of moments that made up my days in the valley. The distant drone of an automobile jerked me from my reverie and slowly I stood up, dusted my pants and as the jeep rumbled towards me I stuck my thumb out in the direction of Leh.

Snippets for the traveller:

1.  Nubra Valley is best visited in July and August. Situated at an altitude of 10,000ft (the road never going above 10500 ft), it is warm and sunny during the day and pleasantly cold at night. The Nubra winter is harsh and almost unbearable for people not used to the plummeting mercury. Although the road through Khardungla is open throughout the year (as Nubra is also the gateway to Siachen glacier and the border post of Turtuk) it is not advisable to venture in there during the other months without proper arrangements.

2.         One should spend a min of 3-4 days at the valley staying 2 nits at Diskit or Hundar and 2 nits at Sumur, Tegar or Tirath. Spend the first 2-3 nights at Leh, get acclimatized and only then venture the 7hr drive to Nubra.

3.         One can stay in simple and basic lodges run by the local families. For those who to travel in comfort and style, a jeep safari is recommended with stay in deluxe campsites available at Tegar and Tirath which are open in July and August.

4.         Inner line permits are required to visit the valley considering its proximity to the border. Permits can be obtained in Leh from the DM office.

5.         Must see in Nubra is the “jheel” between Panamic and Tegar. Ask a local for directions. While going to Panamic, you will have to get off the road to the left, drive to a point after which the sand will not allow the vehicle to go any further. Thereafter, start walking in the direction of the grayish black mountain crossing a 1ft deep brook on the way. The “jheel” or the pond has a religious significance. Sitting on the banks one can see many reflections on the water. Some have seen a monastery, some a deity, some their future and most nothing. I believe the art of seeing something in there is to go with tremendous faith.