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Kailas Manas Sarovar Yatra series - 9


Was it a dream?!


Even now, at the time of writing this, I recall that experience. What was it that I had gone through? How do I describe it to my folks at home? Was it just about the hardships of an adventurous trekking that I am going to narrate? Or about the beautiful landscape? Or about being able to reach the abode of gods and goddesses? Or about securing a place in the list of those luckiest people who could unload all their sins? Any attempt to give a description of that experience would fail. The pain of giving birth to a baby could not be explained in words, just like the joy of touching the feet new born baby. Whatever may be the name of that place…..I call it the womb….womb of the infinite-the unbound-the formless-the nameless-the omnipresent-the un-manifested in the manifested universe. 
 
We had very little time to spend on the top of Drolma La. Neema hurried us to move on. It might turn out to be fatal for vulnerable people. I rushed to my camera, took a few snaps. I was unable to hold the camera, hands were shaking. Entire valley was covered with fog. Colorful prayer flags had provided wonderful contrast against the background of snow covered valley. We had to move from there, we started descending on the opposite side.
While descending, we saw the Gauri Kund. It is a small pool of water that is supposed to be the place where goddess Parvati (Gauri) is said to have done penance for Lord Shiva. It is situated on a bit lower altitude than the Drolma La. We crossed a frozen river stream after that. After about half an hour we descended and reached the plains of a river stream. We stopped at a tiny restaurant like thing to have our packed lunch consisting biscuits, fruits and bread. We had to complete, again about 22 km trek to reach our camp at Zutulpuk. However, it was on a plain path we had to walk by the side of an unnamed river stream.
Gauri Kund (image credit: Prajna LS)

Ponies had arrived there already with their masters for those who had booked. A fellow traveler, he was the youngest of all in our team, was suffering from severe sickness. He was brought to the camp in an ambulance later. It was a terrific walk. I was lagging behind. I had no energy left to walk. Luckily, looking at my condition, Neema Sherpa and also Veerbahadur Sherpa took great care of me till I could reach the camp. The cute looking Veerbahadur used to cheer me up in between, he made me to drink glucose water, asked me to sit and take rest and made me to move again…like a kind friend.
I recall it was like a walk in the oblivion, as if it were a sleep walk. I was feeling very drowsy. It is a symptom of altitude sickness. In that delusive state of mind I had tried to recall the faces of our elder team mates one by one. Then, realized they were on ponies. Huh. But, not all were. Narayan uncle and the father of Doctor Shailaja were also coming by foot. No idea how they were, where they were…Veer Bahadur cheered, “We have almost reached, don’t worry”. He was just consoling my mind, I know.
It was raining by the time we reached. Must be around 7.30 pm we had reached. My folks at the camp were worried for me. They didn’t know for whom the ambulance was sent. Veerbahadur held my hand in a majestic way and dropped me at the door of our allotted room where my folks had been resting!! I just threw out my shoes, rain coat and jacket and lied on my bed, I was drenched in sweat.
Third day!
Next day morning we walked for about 2-3 hours. It was damn easy compared to the second day! We were feeling very light and were excited. It was drizzling and after sometime we could see tiny-tiny snow flakes settling on our rain coats. The entire valley looked fabulous. I told my aunt that we are blessed by Bhagwan through snowfall!
There is a small mound to mark the completion of Kailas Parikrama. We reached there and it was the end of our great venture. We could see our vehicles at that point. Drove back to Darchen, and after lunch the group proceeded towards Saga. From saga we came to Nyalam and from Nyalam we crossed the Friendship Bridge (at Kodari) again to reach Kathmandu.
When I reflect upon this particular experience of mine, all seems like a dream. A dream sent by the ‘un-manifested spirit’ to illustrate the hardships of realising the ‘sublime’. 
image credit: Prajna LS
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Kailash Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 8

Kailas Parikrama –Drolma La Pass!

We had walked about 12 km in the rugged terrain of Kailas circuit to reach Dirapuk from Darchen. Mount Kailas is seen from a very close distance here. We were overwhelmed, excited and content. Dirpuk is located at 4, 600 meters above the sea level. Altitude sickness gets severe from here. We rested in tin sheds after initial excitement of passing the first stage of Kailas Kora.
Accommodation at Dirapuk, or at Zultulpuk is getting better year after year, I think. As we heard the experiences of those who had gone earlier, there used to be tents. Now, the Chinese Government has built tin sheds providing space for 4 members each in rooms. 8/10 rooms have been constructed. We didn’t see any latrine there. We had to use open space for the routine.
My aunt, uncle and I were little anxious, since my brother and his wife had not arrived. They arrived an hour later and we were quite relieved! Soon the shades of evening turned black and we were desperately waiting for the soup to be served. It was not hunger, I guess, we needed something hot, very hot. We sipped soups as if we had been starved for months together.
Climate at Dirapuk is quite uncertain. It can rain anytime, and sometimes even snowfall occurs. One can’t be sure of second day parikrama. Sherpas judge the climate condition and advice accordingly whether to proceed or to return. Despite Diamox intake we were feeling nausea, headache, and body temperature. That night, we could not eat much. I had gulped a tablet for fever, and at about midnight I was drenched in sweat. It was pouring outside! Ohh…good sign. I was wishing for the announcement of our return due to bad weather. Delusions of dark hours!!
Image credit:Prajna LS
Image credit:Prajna LS














Second Day was broken amidst fog and slight drizzles. Sherpas were confident of moving further and asked us to get ready. Those who feel very sick can return from Dirapuk, they advised. “Himmat Rakhkho…Himmat se kaam chalega” said Sangya Sherpa with a naughty smile. The Sherpas had already kept a barrel of warm water for washing purpose in front of our rooms. After having a brisk breakfast, we marched towards Zutulpuk which needed about 32 km trek.
This day was the toughest day of all during our Yatra. We were supposed to pass through the Drolma La Pass (18,600 ft) and the famous Gauri Kund. The trek included ascending the slope of Drolma La and then, descending the slope. Once after descending the slope, we had to take up a long trek along a river stream up to Zutulpuk. Exact calculation of the time and distance up to Drolma la (8km) and from there up to Zutulpuk (24 km may be) is not possible. We reached Drolma La pass (8 km up) in three stages. It is a steep up.
The surrounding had received good snowfall the previous night. Not a sunny day. Thick fog had covered the hills making it more difficult for a walk. We were on an unfathomable path, metaphorically! I just laid my burden on my destiny that had led me so far and was confident that I would be taken good care of by my guru Sri Datta.
Image credit:Prajna LS
Sherpas were holding two oxygen cylinders for emergency. But, they had advised us to use that only if it was necessary. They had warned that the oxygen supplement would have side effects, it may block lungs even more and if it happens one may have to go back. It was a testing period of our patience, will power, courage and luck.
We started moving slowly, one after another. It was a narrow strip on a snowy hill partially covered with snow. For every two steps I had to stop, take rest on my walking stick and then had move on. We had to pass through three steep acclivities of which the last ascent was breathtaking experience. Through the misty depth we passed, it was like experiencing the fate of an embryo inside the womb. We could see the last acclivity, on which some hikers were visible, though not so clearly.
We were not allowed to stop anywhere. “Keep walking” Neema Sherpa who was carrying my knapsack along with the camera bag used to poke. Senior team mates on the pony used to greet us occasionally. We walked to strange tunes hummed by the Chinese porters. We were crawling inside the depth of silence.
I was breathing heavily making sounds. I had to consume water in between to prevent dehydration. Dry fruits will help reducing energy loss; keep them in the pockets of your jacket. I was unable to hold even the flask. Neema Sherpa used to hold that and he used to open even the lid of the flask for me! He would give my camera whenever he felt it would be alright to stop for a minute for taking photos. I thank him for being so kind.
One of our senior mates, Manju aunty, had completed the first day Parikrama by walk. But, on the second day, she felt that she can’t climb the ascending slope. Luckily she caught hold of a pony man who was returning from the top after dropping a pilgrim. One will get Ponies till the top only. After reaching the top (Drolma La) one will have to descend a steep slope till some distance. Ponies can’t descend on that slope. However, for those who have booked ponies in advance for all the three days would get back to the pony ride after reaching the ground.
We were ascending the third slope. Someone was sick on the way, was being assisted with oxygen. Neema didn’t allow me to stand there. He hurried me to move on. It was a steep rocky slope. I could feel my legs shaking. The whole area was covered with thick fog. I had forgotten the world that I had left behind! Face of my darling daughter flashed through my mind, suddenly. Move or die! I had forgotten my state of being itself. Inexplicable state of mind that was…….. in tune with the symphony of unbound-ruthless-wild nature. Each step seemed heavy…a state of oblivion.
It was when Neema Sherpa said that we had reached the top I was not in state to rejoice really! Yes, we had reached the top of Drolma La Pass. Huh!



[To be continued….]  

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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 7

Kailas Parikrama is nothing but a trekking process around the Kailas Circuit. Parikrama means circumambulation. Some go for 3 day trekking, some for 9 days, some for 13 and some choose one day depending upon their health. The total distance to be covered in a three day parikrama is approximately 52 km. This task is an important part of Kailas-Manas Sarovar Yatra, though not compulsory. People who are physical fit and mentally confident may take up the task. It is the hardest task of the yatra, but, the most fulfilling one!
Mount Kailas is revered with great devotion by Hindu, Jain and Buddhist followers. In the Jain tradition, Kailas is considered to be the mount (Ashtapada Parvat) on which the first Teerthankar Rishabhdev attained his salvation. According to Bon Buddhist tradition, the mount is a highly energetic place representing transcendental energy. This place is associated with Guru Rinpoche, the Padmasambhava.
Hindus consider the mount as to be the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi. Kailas Parvat is said to be the source for many rivers. Indus, Satlej, Brahmaputra, and Ghagra Rivers originate somewhere near the Kailas circuit. By circumambulating the mount, it is believed, that one would attain supreme energy and would be purified.
One can take up the task only after reaching Lake Manas. The trekking starts from a place called Darchen, the base point actually. Darchen is located at about 8 km from Lake Manas, and can be approached by motored vehicles.
image credit: prajna LS

The night before the parikrama, our Sherpa team gave us some tips for the mountain walk. They showed us how to handle fatigue and breathlessness during the parikrama. Not only that, they had also narrated stories of devotees who had died half way! That was very scary and made us to think twice before deciding.
A small backpack containing dry fruits, medicine, a flask, a torch, a pain balm tube and tissue roles were kept ready. Even to carry such a lightweight backpack we had hired porters. Chinese porters will come at the gateway (Yamadwar, the starting point) and we had hired them for 700 yens. The sherpas will collect the money and I guess full amount will not be paid to the porters! Pilgrims who feel uncomfortable to walk can hire ponies. Book your pony for all three days; you may not get a pony in the middle of your parikrama.
Next day morning, after a small breakfast, we had moved towards Yamadwar, the starting point of our Parikrama. Dressed in three layered cloths, we had reached Yamadwar in a bus. Our porters and Pony caretakers had already gathered at Yamadwar. For our group (I, aunt and uncle, brother and his wife) the Sherpas themselves got ready to carry the backpack.

Yamadwar!

I don’t know why it is named like that. But, a scary name it was. Yama, as you all know is the governor of death according to Hindus. This is the gateway to his home! There is a small shrine inside which heads of slain goats and Yaks are hung. There is a small bell inside and by tradition every pilgrim would perform circumambulation of the shrine three times after ringing the bell for a safe return. We were already nervous looking at the shrine. We proceeded further after performing the circumambulation.
 
image credit:Prajna LS
Our target was to reach Dirapuk. We were instructed to walk very slowly leaning on to the walking stick whenever it was necessary. It is not a competion of any sort to reach first. It won’t be difficult to walk on a plain, but, it would be highly difficult for ups. Take rest for a while (not more than a minute) and move forward if you feel breathlessness. We saw a Buddhist devotee prostrating for every other step. He had covered his hands with shoes.
The route on the first day Parikrama was not so complicated. We walked along the Yak River. Our path pierced through the rugged terrain comprising steep rocky hills. These same hills would be covered with snow during winter, but, we had gone there in August. So, the terrain was uncovered, rocky and plain, resonating deep silence.
We could reach the target by afternoon. Dirapuk houses a Buddhist Gompa. But, a surprise was waiting for us when we reached there. It was the last up. We had taken about half an hour to climb up, then, we turned to our right and were dumbstruck at the sight of Mount Kailas from such a close distance. It was such a solemn and serene sight, that I would always cherish in my memory. As we sat on the ground below there, we felt as if we were sitting at the feet of Lord Shiva himself!

Wait for the next episode to read about the second and third day parikrama!
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Lesser-known Facts about the Heritage city Aurangabad

Known:
The heritage city Aurangabad (Maharashtra) is best known for the Ajanta and Ellora caves. The city serves as a base destination for reaching the historical sites mentioned above and attracts tourists from all across the globe. This city was a Mughal Territory in the reign of Aurangazeb and is named after the emperor. The city houses the mausoleum of Aurangzeb’s wife which is known as the Taj of Deccan.
Aurangabad’s proximity to Ellora, Ajanta, Daulatabad and Shirdi has earned the city a prominent place in the tourism industry of India. The city has geared up to cater both national and international tourists by providing good accommodation and transportation facilities. The city is served by a well connected airport and a railway station. MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation) provides special tourist packages for seeing Ajanta and Ellora Caves. You can also ask for private transport services.
Lesser-known:

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 The city is, so far, known by its historical significance and industrial growth. But, not many know about the internal cultural activities that go unnoticed by the visitors. The city keeps hosting classical music and dance concerts frequently for the connoisseurs. Up until recently, there used to be Ellora Festival every year by inviting international level singers and dancers. The Ellora festival has been temporarily halted.
However, another cultural event hosted by MAHAGAMI (Mahatma Gandhi Mission Sangeet Academy) is making news. It is called the Sharangadev Samaroh. This unique music and dance festival has been initiated by the director of MAHAGAMI, Parwati Datta. Parwati Datta, being a versatile Kathak and Odissi dancer, has been motivating the art lovers of Aurangabad since the establishment of the institution and is coordinating noted artists of the nation to enlighten the younger generation on the path of Indian music and dance heritage. 
   
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS

Sharangdev Samaroh is one such step taken by MAHAGAMI. This cultural event celebrates the rich heritage of classical music and dance that exists in various forms all across India. This event is especially dedicated to the 13th century musicologist Sharangadev, who is said to have lived in the court of Devagiri Yadava rulers. Devagiri is the present day Daulatabad which is at about 17 km from the city.

Sangeeta Ratnakara, the book written by Sharangadev is an important text for the seekers of both Hindustani and Carnatic music tradition. This 13th century text documents almost all the prevalent dance and music traditions of that time and gives descriptions about technical details of dance movements, music, and rhythm. So, to commemorate the contribution made by the author, the Sharangadev Samaroh will be held in the land where the author created such a treatise.
The cultural event comprises of a three day workshop followed by evening concerts. Eminent artists belonging to various music and dance traditions such as Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam and Manipuri will present their pieces. Noted artists like Birju Maharaj, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Padma Bhushan Swapna Sundari, Sadanam Balakrishnan and many other scholars have graced the event so far.
Dear tourist…

If you are planning to visit Aurangabad, please make a note of this event. Normally, the event will be held in January or February for three days and nights. Visitors can make use of this opportunity if they are in the city during that time. Try something different when you are in Aurangabad next time. Experience the lesser- known treasures of Aurangabad.

Less travelled beaches of Goa

image courtesy:prajna LS
 What comes to your mind when you hear of Goa? Beaches of course! Goa, being one of the popular destinations for holidaying on the sea shore, attracts millions of tourists every year. One will not get tired of visiting Goa, be it for a casual or a formal visit. Goa indeed is a tourist’s heaven by providing a true freak out time. Have fun, celebrate, be merry, relax and rejuvenate in Goa. It is that part of India which is the most explored one; yet, one will be surprised to know it is still left with unmarked corners.
 
This article makes an attempt to introduce some of the unexplored parts of Goa, focusing especially upon beaches. If you are on a family trip and want to spend some fun times with kids, then visit commercialized beaches in Goa. These beaches provide snacks stalls, water sports, and other entertainments like paragliding, scuba diving, kayaking etc. Goa hosts both commercialized and secluded beaches. Most of the commercialized beaches are situated in the North Goa whereas South Goa hosts most of the secluded ones.
 
Goa, situated on the western coastline of India, is best known for white sand beaches, churches, temples, and fenny! It is well connected by air, road and railways. It may sound funny, if you search for a city named Goa anywhere in Goa you would not find. Goa is the name given to the entire region on the Arabian Sea coast comprising North and South Goa. So, where would you land up if you are an outsider? You may choose either Panjim in North Goa or Madgaon in the South Goa section as base destinations to travel around the region.
 
Panjim is the headquarters of North Goa which is at about 550 km from Mumbai. Madgaon, headquarters of South Goa, is just 45 minutes drive from Panjim. However the airport is based at Dabolim in Vasco, 35 minutes drive from Panjim. Goa has two railway heads: one at Vasco, the other at Madagaon which is connected by Konkan Railway services.
 
Rental cars, tourist taxis, rental bikes, autos and buses are available for inland travels. Accommodations providing budget, luxury and premium services would be easily available during off season. Advance booking of hotels would be preferable if you are travelling during Christmas vacations.
 
If you are interested in exploring secluded beaches in Goa, let me tell you, go towards the south. Make Madagaon the base destination, and explore each beach a day if you are there for more than a week. Southern beaches are less travelled, least crowded, and most of them provide completely secluded private beach resorts.
 
Let us start with Colva Beach which is situated near Madgaon city. It is just 15 minutes drive from Madgaon (Margao). This was one of the secluded beaches of South Goa up until recently. Now, it is attracting more and more visitors and hence it has become a popular beach providing entertainment and luxury. It is stretched 20 km on the Western Coast.
 
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
If we move towards the south of Colva, we find the Benaulim Beach. You can locate the Church of St John the Baptist here on a hill top. This is basically a fishing village. You can buy wooden crafts and furniture here.
 
Cavelossium Beach is just half an hour drive from Madgaon. This beach, along with Varca and Mobor beaches, is known to be the most non-commercialized beaches of Goa. A Less crowded beach of course. You may find huts converted as restaurants here and there.
 
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Goa is stretched up to Sadashivghad, but Sadashivghad belongs to Karwar district in Karnataka. Sadashivghad is the place where Kali River merges into Arabian Sea. As we move on to further southwards, we find two most important beaches on the western coast situated in Goa. One is Agonda Beach and other one is the Palolem Beach.
 
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 
 
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 Agonda is situated at about 35 km from Madgaon. This is for those who would love lonely beaches. Agonda beach is completely untouched by commercialization. You would not find any snacks stalls or accommodation here. It is a lonely white sand beach good for photographers who would like to explore wild and raw nature.
 
Palolem beach is at about 40 km from Madgaon and is a bit inhabited beach.  You would find quite a few beach resorts, secluded huts and commercial stalls here. Another advantage is that you can have a boat ride to visit nearby islands. Be careful about high tides and weather conditions.
 
 If you are frequent visitor to Goa, make your holidays something special when you visit Goa next time. Explore the South Goa. Be different this time!




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Vacation packages: Consider SUV rental

Try to imagine a person fixed on to his laptop in a cubicle all through the day, comes home and again works till late night. Finds no time for kids except on Sundays. Wrapped up in business meetings, mails and calls. He, who craves for a week long vacation with his family and kids finds no time for making arrangements. Where to go, for how many days, how to go, where to stay…will that be fruitful…he just can’t decide.
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Suppose you choose to visit Jaipur and nearby cities, Clear Car Rental offers cheap vacation packages such as Jaipur city tour, Ajmer city tour, Pushkar city tour. You can give your wish list and we make a vacation package including important nearby cities. These packages can be booked for one day and one night or for more number of days and nights.
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Consider SUV rentals for long vacations. It would work out cheaply and it is hassle free. Imagine you have to cover 3-4 sites in a day and the vehicle gets struck in the middle for some technical errors. You would keep cursing the very plan of your entire vacation! Book SUVs for luxury and comfort.
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Cool – Cool Summer: Hill Stations in Maharashtra

Matheran


image credit:matheran.org
 This small hill station is situated at about 94 km from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai. This hill station is a most adored weekend getaway for Mumbai people. Secluded from the vehicle pollution, this hill station gets crowded during weekends.
Matheran is declared Eco-Sensitive hill station. Motored vehicles are not allowed within 10/20 km circuit. Even if you go by your own vehicle you will have to park your car at Neral and from Neral a Toy Train takes you to the hill top. Make prior reservation for the train. You can decide to walk along the railway track by enjoying the scenic beauty around.
Situated at about 800 meters above the sea level, the hill station provides many viewpoints. You can even watch Bombay city from one point. MTDC self contained rooms are available here. There are private hotels also. Restaurants provide thali (plate) meals.
This place is for complete relaxation. Enjoy vehicle free zone, go for early morning walks to refresh yourself and you would be ready for a new week.

Malshej Ghat
Malshej Ghat is famous for Flamingos, and it is near the Shivaneri Fort. Shivaneri Fort is the birth place of Shivaji, the great warrior. This hill station also houses Buddhist caves dating back to 3rd century.
image credit:whatisnature.wordpress.com

You can approach this place via Mumbai or Pune. The hill station is located near Thane and Ahmednagar borders. But you can reach the destination by road only.
MTDC Flamingo Hill resort is the best option for staying overnight. Best time to visit is Monsoon season when the Flamingos start migrating to Malshej Ghat. Not only Flamingos migratory birds of other kinds also come here during monsoon.

You can visit Harischandraghad and Shivaneri fort along with Malshej Ghat.  

Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 6


Lake Manas Sarovar  

Lake Manas Sarovar is widely known as Mapam Yumco in the Tibetan region. It is a precious site of visit for Hindu, Jain and Buddhist pilgrims. It is a freshwater lake situated on an elevation of about 15,000 ft above the sea level. The lake signifies purity of mind and heart. Devotees believe that a ritual bath in the lake would cleanse off all the sins committed so far.
The Lake is located near the Mount Kailas and the Meru Mountain ranges. This beautiful lake looks like a heavenly abode in a clear daylight. In fact, it is said that the ‘Devatas’ (gods) come here every morning to take bath in the lake. Keeping the Mount Kailash in the centre, two lakes are situated in that place, actually. One is the well known Lake Manas sarovar and the other one is Lake Rakshas Sarovar. Lake Rakshas is a saline water lake.
Lake in the backdrop of mount kailas (image courtesy:prajna LS)

For Buddhists, Bon Buddhists in particular, Manas sarovar basin is a holy site of meditation. Guru Rinpoche is said to have stayed in this place and we can see Buddhist Gompas around the lake. We visited the Chiu Gompa situated on top a steep hill.
We had arrived there at about 1.30 pm. It was a clear sky. We were bewildered by the serene lake and its beauty. White clouds had gathered over the lake like a white embroidered lace. Sun beams crisscrossed over the crystal clear water that reflected the color of the sky, which was blue at that time.
The place is well maintained by the Chinese authorities. A station has been built for the tourists accommodating a huge hall. There is enough space for a helipad around the building, in the forthcoming days one may get helicopter service upto Manas sarovar. The bus that we travelled dropped us there and it will come again to pick us on the last day of our Parikraman. Pilgrims do get special bus service meant for Manasarovar Lake (for pick and drop to nearby places).
Luckily, we got to have a dip in the lake. After that, we reached our base camp near another side of the lake. That night it rained like anything. We were speculating that the Kailas Parikraman would be cancelled if it continues to rain. We woke up to a clear, but a misty morning.
That day, in the afternoon, we were supposed to reach the base destination for the 3 day Kailas Circumambulation. Till then, we were allowed to take rest. Some devotees were performing rituals (Puja and havan), though it was not compulsory. In fact, the place does not have any Hindu temples, except some Gompas. Some were taking rest at the dormitory cells. We decided to explore the place. We visited the Chiu Gompa which was nearby.
The place where we had stayed is a small campus consisting rows of dormitory cells specially meant for the pilgrims. These dormitories will be booked in advance by the travel agencies. Rooms are equipped with solar electricity providing beds for 4-5 members. You can charge your camera cells and mobile phones. This is common during all three days of Kailas Parikrama. Earlier there used to be tents, now, tents have been replaced by tin sheds providing bare minimum amenities. Hot water will be provided for drinking and basic utility purpose. Common latrines were highly dirty. However, one must be prepared for extreme conditions.
Base Camp (Image Courtesy:Prajna LS)

In the afternoon, we left for Darchen located at about 8 km from the camp. The 3 day trekking will start and will end up in Darchen. On the first day, we walked from Darchen to Dirapuk (12km), on the second day, from Dirapuk to Zutulpuk (32km) and on the third day, we reached Darchen (8km) from Zutulpuk. Darchen is good for buying walking sticks, bead and Tibetan jewellery. As we walked back to our dormitory from the market place, a face of Mount Kailas was visible from a far distance. We were amazed at the sight of Kailas like that all of a sudden! Within a few minutes, the peak was covered behind a veil of clouds.
We stayed that night in Darchen. Our Parikraman began the next day morning. It is an experience for lifetime. Wait for the next episode!!

[To be continued]
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On the unruffled shore of Ganapatipule …

Life in a city sucks sometimes. It appears as though we are struck inside a fixed frame, lost in the mundane activities, and feel like coming out of the congestion. Congestion created by work related stress, family oriented pressures….After all we are poor human beings who need a break to re-charge our energy. We need a peaceful place that keeps you away from all worries, makes you forget the world and helps you to rejuvenate yourself. If you are in need of such a retreat, then, you must visit Ganaptipule.
Image credit:Prajna LS
Ganapatipule is a small village in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, India. The region of Ratnagiri lies in the Konkan Maharashtra along the western coastline. Ganapatipule provides a serene sea shore of a recreational kind. The village is also known for an ancient Ganapati Temple that lies near the seashore. It is located at 30 km away from Ratnagiri city.
It was in the last summer that we had planned for a weekend trip to Ganapatipule. We had planned to reach the place via Kolhapur. Kolhapur (140 km) is the nearest transport hub to reach Ratnagiri and Ganapatipule. Ratnagiri is connected by Konkan rail to Mumbai. We had hired a taxi from Kolhapur to Ganapatipule.
You can’t call Ganapatipule a town. Due to increased number tourists this remote Konkan village is expanding. Most interesting part of the village is the MTDC beach resort facing the calm and quiet sea shore. It is a huge campus comprising rooms and cottages facing the shore. Book the room in advance during peak seasons. You may get private hotels also, but, MTDC rooms provide direct sea view.
Image Credit:Prajna LS

We had booked a sea view cottage. Our aim was to spend leisurely hours on the sea shore just like that idly. We had gone there to drench ourselves in the lap of nature. The beach was less crowded and it is one of the most untouched beaches of Maharashtra, one can say. We were blessed to have refreshing morning and evening walks on the shore. In fact, we were left to have our own time in the sea. I should say, I am enamoured by the profound serenity of the place, would love to go there again.
The MTDC resort has a restaurant that provides good meals. There are restaurants outside the MTDC compound if you want to try out. Remember to taste the ‘Sol-khadi’ a local drink. It tastes like flavoured buttermilk that is made up of Kokam fruits.
What to do:
The place is less modernised and it is solely for leisure trips. The beach is the main attraction, but it is not a commercialised beach. We enjoyed drenching ourselves in the unruffled seas reflecting the clear blue sky in the noon. We just sat there for hours together watching the playful waves. We gazed at the vast sea that turned crimson as the sun made his way for another evening. It was heavenly sight!
After the sunset, we visited the Ganapati temple which was situated on the other end of the same seashore. During high tide, the sea waves touch the entrance of the temple it seems. It’s a beautiful temple in a beautiful location providing a pious ambience to the place.
If you have time, you can take a round of nearby locations. There is an open air museum in Ganapatipule displaying the local Konkani lifestyle. There is a small shop inside the museum if you want to buy local products like Kokum, honey, pickles and snacks.
We visited Malgund, the hometown of Keshavsut - the much revered poet of Maharashtra. Malgund is just 10 minutes journey from Ganapatipule. Poet Keshavsut’s residence has been converted into a memorial now.
In brief:
Ganapatipule provides best recreation for those who love tranquillity. MTDC is the best available resort there. Autos are available for sightseeing. Main attraction is the beach. Best for a weekend getaway from Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad. Good for all seasons except Monsoon. December is the peak season, so book rooms three months before if you are planning for December. Kolhapur is the nearest transportation hub. Ratnagiri is the nearest railhead.

Mumbai- 326 km, Pune-308 km , Kolhapur -140 km, Ratnagiri -30 km  

World Heritage sites in Maharashtra


World Heritage sites are managed by UNESCO. The International World Heritage Programme recognizes sites of cultural importance such as forests, mountains, islands, deserts, monument, building, complex or a city as Heritage Sites for the preservation of cultural heritage. These sites will be maintained under the supervision of UNESCO. The criteria for selecting a site as Heritage site is that it should represent outstanding universal significance in terms of cultural contributions. The sites will be listed by each country and then, the International committee decides after examination of the prominence of such sites.
India has many World Heritage sites. Let us focus upon Maharashtra state. Four sites have been listed under the World Heritage Sites program in Maharashtra.
Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus: This is a railway terminus located in Mumbai. This is a colonial structure named after the Queen Victoria. This railway terminus was renamed in 1996. The terminus was built was completed in 1880 during the British era. The monument is still active and is a major railway terminus in India.
It is popularly known as CST, which was under terrorist attack. The railway terminus is built in the Victorian Gothic style comprising beautiful carvings. It became a World Heritage Monument in 2004.
Ajanta: Situated about 100 km from the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra these rock cut caves are well known for paintings. These caves were discovered by British officers in the 19th century. These caves date back to 100 B.C. All are Buddhist Caves.

image credit:kamat.com
 Ajanta caves are one of the prestigious monuments of India. One would marvel at the skill of Indian artisans. Details of the life style belonging to that period are displayed through paintings.
Ajanta caves can be approached by road. Hire taxis or take the MTDC tourist buses to reach Ajanta from Aurangabad city. Ajanta caves are protected by Eco-Conservation program. So, public vehicles are not allowed inside the premises. Public or private vehicles would drop you at the T-point and from there the tourists will be taken in an Eco-friendly bus. It takes about 5 minute to reach the cave site from the T-point.
Ellora: Ellora rock cut caves are situated at about 27 km from Aurangabad city. There are 34 caves in total belonging to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions. They were built in various periods spanning from 5th to 11th centuries. Kailas Nath Temple, which is known for its magnificence is a single rock cut temple.

image credit:siddharthtravels.com
Ellora can be reached by road. Aurangabad is the nearest destination for accommodation and transportation. You can visit the Daulatabad Fort on the way.
Elephanta Caves: These 7th century caves are located on an island in the Arabian Sea near Mumbai Coast. Elephanta caves are located at about 9 nautical miles from the Gateway of India. You can reach the site by ferries. Regular ferries are available near the Gateway of India.

Eco resorts: an emerging trend in India

Image Courtesy: www.resortsincorbett.co
 Travel and hospitality sector in the Indian scenario is rapidly growing. It has become more organized, approachable and trendy than before. Especially, the hospitality sector had never been so versatile. Accommodations are available in various forms to suit the travelers coming from diverse backgrounds and having diverse tastes.
 
Cozy resorts providing spiritual healing centers, palaces converted into luxury hotels providing royal treatment, houseboats for a romantic holiday, a night at some remote jungle resort and huts on trees for a meditative mind…you can think of countless combinations like these. Backwater stays, rural home stays and village stays are gaining global recognition.  You will be surprised to find the one in some or the other corners of India.
 
As a major breakthrough, Eco Tourism has gained widespread popularity. As per the definition, Eco Tourism provides a unique traveling experience for nature lovers. It is another name for responsible traveling to save natural environment and to create awareness regarding the preservation of natural environment.
 
Eco friendly accommodation (Eco Resorts) is a part of that project. This is an effort to re-connect with the lifestyle that has gone into oblivion. In village stays, you would be offered to stay in the traditional style houses so that you can have a firsthand experience an Indian village lifestyle. You get village home stays in Coorg, Kerala, and the North-Eastern states of India especially.

Features:
Eco resorts will be built without harming the local environment by utilizing what is available at local sites. Basic amenities will be provided along with hot water and internet facilities. Housekeeping department will ensure that there will be eco-friendly/organic products kept inside each room. If it is located in any sanctuary area there will be a guided tour or wildlife safari attached to that. Trekking, hiking, and camps will be arranged by the local guides. At present, you would get cottages, bamboo and wooden huts, houseboats, tree top huts and village home stays in India.

Location of some major Eco Resorts:    
‘God’s Own country’ Kerala has the highest number of eco lodges and resorts in India. ‘Tourindia’ group of enthusiast were the pioneers in the field of backwater tourism in India. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is the most visited destination.  You would get houseboats, tree houses, Tiger Trails, eco-lodges and cave-houses for nature lovers.
Karnataka state is renowned for Bandipur resorts, Nagarhole jungle Inns, home stays in Coorg, Dandeli resorts, Kabini reservoir lodges, cottages at B.R.project. You can enjoy wildlife safaris, joy fishing, trekking, bird watching, elephant rides, and many more attraction in these resorts.

Some of the famous Eco- Lodges:
  • Tusker Trail resort at Bandipur National Park, Karnataka
  • Corbett Riverside Resort, Claridges Corbett Hideaway, The wild safari Lodge at Corbett National Park.
  • Krishna Jungle resort, Kanha Jungle Lodge, Tuli Tiger resort at Kanha National park.
  • Wild Grass Lodge at Kaziranga National park.
  • Kumarakom Lake resort at Kumarakom Bird sanctuary.
  • Spice Village Hotel, Taj Garden retreat and Lake Palace Hotel at Periyar Wildlife sanctuary.
  • Tiger den resort, Tiger Moon resort, Sher Bagh at Ranathambore.
  • Sundar Chital Tourist Lodge at Sunderbans.

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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 5

Nyalam to Manas Sarovar

Nyalam is situated at about 35 km from the Kodari border at 12, 300 ft altitude. It is located in the Shigatse Prefecture of Tibet. It has expanded from being a village to a small town by housing shopping streets and hotels. From here onwards, we start experiencing the climatic variations of a typical Tibetan Plateau. We can feel a warm morning changing into a windy noon, accompanied by sudden downpour. Evenings will be very cold and it gets dark very late. Nyalam is the place where we get acclimatized with the crazy weather conditions of Tibet. It is better to be wrapped up with warm cloths.
Nyalam (image credit:Prajna LS

The road from Kodari border to Nyalam was mesmerizing. The journey begins at the lower point of a Ghat section and as we move on, the landscape changes. Green hill slopes, river streams, steep valleys, countless waterfalls…nature unwinds in varied forms. As we approached Nyalam, we began noticing the Rocky Mountains and dry pastures.
We were accommodated in a dormitory. Accommodation for all Yatris will be the same upto Manas Sarovar. These towns will be closed for winter. Don’t expect any luxury at these dormitories. There will be common latrines with very poor conditions. It is better to carry tissue roles. At some points, especially during the Kailash Parikrama, we used the open ground for that purpose. But, be careful about the dogs there. Never go alone.
Food will be prepared by the Sherpa team, a soup will be provided every evening. Good enough for the survival. The leader of our Sherpa team was Sangey. The team carries utensils, cylinders, groceries and vegetables in a separate vehicle. After reaching every destination, they would be busy with unloading, cooking, washing, serving, and again loading everything into the luggage van. They were our chefs, guides and doctors! They are well experienced trekkers; they know how to survive in extreme weather conditions. If at all could get through the risky Parikrama of the Mount Kailash it was due to the support of these Sherpas. Very friendly and affectionate companions.
The team used to provide the Diamox tablet after dinner. Diamox tablets are essential to overcome the ‘altitude sicknesses. We had started the diamox course in Kadori itself. As we move on to higher altitudes, we start feeling nausea, headache, and fever. Symptoms may vary from person to person. Increased heartbeat, pulse rate, palpitation, sweat, and loss appetite may cause troubles. We get tired very easily. It becomes very hard even to walk. Once after acclimatizing with the climate, these symptoms may disappear. Nevertheless, it is better to take diamox tablets to avoid the risk.
You can buy accessories of trekking in Nyalam. Walking sticks, down jackets, shoes, water cans could be bought here. Carry enough Chinese Yauns, you may need the currency to pay for porters and ponies during Kailash Parikrama.
Next day morning, we left Nyalam for Dongba. It takes about 8 hours to reach Dongba from Nyalam. On the way to Dongba, we passed through the Brahmaputra River valley. We had finished the packed lunch on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. We reached Dongba at about 5 in the evening. Most of our teammates were tired and despite the intake of Diamox, we were suffering from Altitude sickness. Headache, nausea and loss of appetite were common symptoms. We were instructed strictly to cover our body with thermals and down jackets. We stayed that night at Dongba.
The most awaited day had arrived. We left Dongba, next morning. It is about 3 to 4 hours journey from Dongba to Lake Manas. Our bus moved along the serpentine path, passing through bare hillocks covered under white clouds. Our initial excitement to reach the ultimate destination had been hushed by the tedious travel experience. Most of our senior mates looked tired and sick. It was indeed a hard time for us to manage our mental and physical health under the erratic climate condition of Tibet.
Manas sarovar lake (image credit:Prajna LS)

But, all that misery seemed temporary when we had a glimpse of Lake Manas from our moving bus. It was a clear noon, fortunately. All our dismal faces brightened up. Wow, what a breathtaking moment!! In a clear day light, the lake surrounded by snowy mountain peaks like a glittering blue veil appeared heavenly. It was an ethereal sight.

[To be continued…]  
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Tripura: Land of Oranges

It was a princely state in the colonial times. The state at present, is just gearing up for the contemporary trends in tourism. Tripura, best known for rich natural landscape, is quiet region compared to its sister states in the North Eastern India.
Agartala, the capital city of Tripura is the most visited city. Accommodation with wide range of hotels and resorts and connectivity make Agartala a possible tourist junction in Tripura.
People of Tripura feel proud if you mention the name of Indian legendary music composer late S.D. Burman. S.D. Burman, possessing a royal inheritance in Tripura, was born and brought up in present day Bangladesh. But, he is considered an icon of Tripura till today. Another legendary personality, the poet Rabindranath Tagore also is respected highly in this state. He seems to have great affinity with the Manikya rulers of Tripura. So, you would win the hearts of Tripura people by mentioning these two famous personalities!
Total 19 tribes live in the state. The Kokborok speaking community is the main dominant tribe among all. At present the state houses mixed culture. Influence of Bengali culture on food and festivities is apparently visible.
Agriculture is the main activity here. Tripura borders Myanmar in the east and Bangladesh in the west.
How to reach: Agartala is well connected by road, rail and airways. Flights are available from Agartala to Delhi, Kolkata, Imphal, Silichar and Guwahati. You would get connecting flights to other cities. Agartala is connected to Assam, Dhaka and Comilla by train. The state is connected by only one National Highway and that is not in good condition.
What to buy: Buy Bamboo and Cane products and Tripuri traditional dress. Tripuri traditional dress consists of three parts out of which only two parts are worn nowadays. The pattern will be somewhat like wrap around and a top, but it is known as Rignai (wrap around) and Risa (top).
What to see: Most visited city in Trpura is Agartala. Other parts of the state could be reached by buses and taxis. Interiors of the state can offer government guest houses and low budget hotels.
  • Agartala: The city boasts of having a rich historical connection with the Manikya rulers. The city was the capital of the Princely State that ruled over the region. Ujjayanta Palace, Museum, Sukanta Academy, and Purbasa Emporium are the main attractions in the city.

  • Unakoti, at about 178 km from Agartala, is a place of attraction from archeological point of view. This place is known for stone carvings on a hill belonging to 7th/8th centuries. These rock carvings of Shiva and other gods are situated randomly on a hill. Imagine a hill comprising carvings on its huge rocks everywhere! Also visit Debtamura and Pilak sites.
  • Tripura Sundari Temple: it is considered one of the Shakti Peethas in India. The place is located about 55 km from Agartala.
  • Gomuti Bird sanctuary: This is located at about 40 km from Agartala and is a good place for bird lovers.
  • Jampui Hill: This is at about 250 km from the capital. This is a beautiful hill station comprising orange gardens. Visit during winter months to see orange trees bearing orange fruits. 
    Jampui Hill (image credit:yohyoh.com)

Explore North East India-Nagaland


Nagaland
Nagaland, the land of 16 indigenous tribes and their unique traditions, is located between Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. Kohima is the capital city. The city of Dimapur bordering Assam is the main city inside the state having good connection with other parts of the country by road, rail and Airways. It takes about one and half hour to reach Kohima from Dimapur by road.
Culture of Nagaland comprises of indigenous tribes following the traditions of their forefathers, but, most of them have been Christianized during the Colonial rule. One can expect modernized cities and people over there. However, the native culture is preserved through community festivals and local rituals. The Great Indian Hornbill festival is one such cultural gathering of all tribal people.
It is the home for Hornbills, Tragopan (State Bird of Nagaland), and Mithun (domesticated Gaur species. The geographical terrain contains hill ranges. The region experiences cool weather throughout the year. It is one of the most hospitable destinations in North East India.
Nagaland is served by one airport located at Dimapur. Connecting flights and direct flights are available to Guwahati and Kolkata. Dimapur is the well connected railway head in the state. Buses and rental taxis are available to travel around the state.
You can stay either in Dimapur or Kohima. However, do not miss to experience village stays. Bamboo huts built in the model of the tribal huts provide you a different experience. Do not worry about the amenities. The huts and guest houses at the villages provide western facilities.
Indian tourists are required to get Inner Lane Permit and foreign tourists no longer require the Restricted Area Permit (barring tourists from Bangladesh, China and Pakistan).
Destinations to visit:
  • Dimapur: This is an ancient city known for Ahom rule and the Kachari Dimasa rulers. It is said that the region in which the present day Dimpaur is located was the place of Hidimba (wife of Bhima) from the Mahabharata. At present the city is the gateway to Nagaland. Ruins of old Kachari tribe are preserved in the city.
  • Kohima: This city witnessed the famous battle between the Japanese and the British forces during the Second World War. Visit the war memorial and the Kisama Heritage Village here. Make a trip during the first week of December; you would get to participate in the famous Hornbill Festival.
  • Mokokchung: This district is the home of Ao tribe. Visit the Mopungchuket village.
    Mokokchung  (image credit:stylesatlife.com)

  • Mon: It is the home for the Konyak tribe. You can find the tribal people appearing in traditional tribal dress. This district borders Myanmar. The district hosts Aoleong Monyu Festival in April.
  • Wokha: This is the home for Lotha tribe. This is best known for landscape, and fresh farm products.

Meghalay: Land of clouds!

Meghalay, as the name suggests, is the land of clouds. The state is the home for highest rainfall belt comprising Chirapunji. The state shares its borders with Assam and Bangladesh. Shillong is the capital city. It is a state that is adorned by green hills all over and is thus, districts of the state are divided on the basis of hill regions. So, you see Khasi Hills district, Jaintia Hills district etc.
The state is a rich source of coal, limestone, dolomite and quartz. Timber, bamboo, reed, cane, lemon-grass, thatch grass and medicinal herbs are grown all across. The state experiences highest rainfall in the country.
Khasi culture is one of the indigenous cultures of the region. The community follows matrilineal kinship tradition. Khasi is one of the spoken languages of Meghalaya.
Let us explore tourist destination in Meghalaya. Destinations are divided according to the hill districts in which they are situated. Exotic landscape, waterfalls and caves are the main attractions in the state. You would be interested to visit deep rock caves wading through waterways! Meghalaya houses such ones.
  • Khasi Hills Region:
    image courtesy: www.indiatravelpal.com

Shillong is the most popular city located in the Khasi Region. The capital city is the gateway to enter Meghalaya. You can visit the city all through the year. It is a well connected to Assam. Shillong is a hill resort comprising waterfalls, green valleys, river brooks and gardens. The city entertains wide range of guests. It would be an ideal place to hold business conferences.
This region is the home for heavy rainfall areas including Cherrapunji. Smit, Mawaphlang, Sohra (Cherrapunjee), Laitkynsew, Mawsynram, Nongkhum Island, Ranikor river valley and Mawlynnong Villages to experience exotic landscape.
  • Jaintia Hills Region:
This is located towards the border of Bangladesh. Dawki, is the gateway to enter Bangladesh. It is a border city where lots of border crossing activities go on. It is a route for international trade between India and Bangladesh. The Umngot River is the natural boundary between the two countries.
Tyrshi Falls, Lalong Park, Krang Suri Falls, Umlawan Cave (this is considered to be the deepest and the longest cave in the sub-continent), Thadlaskein lake -these are some important sites to visit.
Thlumuwi Waterfalls (image credit:flickr.com

Get in: There is a small airport in Shillong about 35 km from the city. It is called Umroi Airport. Flights to Kolkata are available. Best way is to reach via Guwahati, which is just 2-3 hours journey by road. Helicopter service is available from Guwahati to Tura and Tura to shilling.

Buy: You would get bamboo artifacts. Buy Naga and Manipuri shawls that you get in Meghalaya. You would get Manipuri wrap-around skirts and lungis too. Khasi Scrub, a natural handmade scrub you would get on the streets. 

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