It must have been 2 years ago, in 2016 when I had first heard (or read) the word Thachi. I’d reached Balichowki on my way to Gushaini and was having paranthas at a small eatery when I saw a bus with Thachi written on it. I asked the dhaba uncle and he said the road to Thachi Valley bifurcates from Balichowki itself and that its a beautiful valley but there may be no homestays there. And the conversation was left midway when my bus to Gushaini and I all but forgot about Thachi Valley!
While hiking on a cold cold day in Thachi Valley we came across this beautiful cottage with a view!!
Fast forward to May 2018 and a mixture of sudden changes in weather coupled with me getting drenched in a downpour had resulted in a fever. Thachi village and Thachi Valley are not even in a remote corner of my mind. I was recuperating in a small village called Mateura Jari in Parvati Valley and after feeling better sleeping off my fever had boarded a bus for Aut. At Aut bus stand (before Aut tunnel where the buses congregate), I noticed a signboard ‘Thachi’ written on a bus.
I had conversed with Mr. Mukesh from Thachi Valley a long time ago and his number was saved on my phone. I called him up and asked about the existence of a homestay; he was gracious and kind to tell me to board the bus and that he will make the necessary arrangements for my stay, food and walks around the valley. He said that even though he wasn’t physically present there (Mukesh works in Delhi) but he belonged to Thachi Valley and a guy named Guddu will be there in case I needed any help. I happily boarded the bus and was sleepy eyed when it reached Balichowki.
Saw this beautiful wood and stone house under construction while hiking in the woods of Thachi Valley.
Life seemed to have come full circle when the bus stopped in Balichowki; my roving eyes tried to search for the dhaba uncle but Balichowki seemed to have grown from a tiny bus stop to a sizeable village on the road to Banjar – Jibhi & Jalori Pass ahead to Rampur Bushahr and I could find no trace of the dhaba whatsoever. Anyhow, the bus took the turn and a began a long ascent where the engine roared and groaned on the climb. I was totally unaware of the existence of road to Panjain and the fact that the road to Thachi Valley also had numerous other sub-valleys.
After around 2 hours of getting in the bus at Aut, I had reached Thachi Valley and Guddu Guide had spoken to the bus driver to make sure I was dropped at the exact point from where the homestay was located. We walked through an apple orchard to reach the Thachi Valley Homestay. It was about to be 2 pm and in the feverish state of mind I was in, I had completely forgotten to eat breakfast and suddenly felt very hungry. All thanks to Guddu, he quickly ushered me to the dining space and I was pleased to eat in a nice wooden setting with ample fresh air for company.
Lunch was freshly made for a group of backpackers who were already there and the cook made fresh chapatis and served the food to me. It was the simplicity of delicious home-cooked food that is most appealing when travel is a way of life for you. I relished 3-4 chapatis and ate to my heart’s content. Thachi Valley is at an altitude of around 2000m and it certainly felt very chilly when the breeze blew and the sun hid behind the clouds. I was reminded of my fever but was also certain in my mind that there was no need for a paracetamol.
After I finished my lunch, Guddu asked me if I wanted to rest or if I didn’t mind accompanying the group on a hike to Pundir Rishi Temple that was located a short distance away from the homestay in Thachi Valley. We were dropped on a walking trail via a car and the light play beneath the deodhar and pine trees was enchanting. The aroma of the jungle was even more enhanced after the recent rains and we all walking with a song in our heart. Guddu Guide (like all locals) was much faster than all of us and disappeared ahead of us numerous times. And then we spotted it – The Pundrik Rishi Temple.
Sheep grazing in the green meadows : A photograph for the memory.
When I heard the name, at first I was startled – I had seen a lake and another temple by the same name Pundrik Rishi and mentioned the same to Guddu Guide. He grimaced and said that ‘I know where that place is’ and said that temple is Pundir Rishi Temple and that Pundrik Rishi and Pundir Rishi are brothers. The temple was set in a lovely green compound and had two small ponds nearby, one of which was an old water source. One of the ponds seemed like a small stepwell and was filled with green-looking water; perhaps because of the moss. There were a lot of fishes in the lake and Guddu Guide confirmed that since this is a sacred spot the locals don’t catch and eat the fish from here.
A lot of ancient-looking stone statues were scattered across the green meadow where the temple was located. The temple itself was constructed out of wood and had intricate carvings. It was dedicated to the snake deity – ‘Nag devta’ and had carvings of snake just outside the main sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Since it was evening, the pandit or pujari was not there and the temple was officially closed. There was a canopy sort of structure on one side of the temple that had a beautifully painted roof in blue. It was a tranquil sight when a few sheep came ambling by and were happily grazing in the ample greenery around Pundrik Rishi Temple.
A lady was also around the sheep (maybe the sheep were hers!) and with the slanting sunrise filtering through the deodhar trees, it felt quite surreal. It had only been a few hours in Thachi Valley and I was already hooked. There was so much to see in every corner of this wonderful state, Himachal Pradesh. Thats the magic of offbeat places, there are no tourists to be seen, no shopkeepers trying to sell them souvenirs. The magic of exploration lies exactly in places like Thachi Valley, where nature reigns supreme and the the only sounds that you hear are of nature itself – than the honking of horns! And also, you find any tourists from Delhi here!
Ancient statues carved in stone were scattered near the Pundir Rishi Temple also called Ropa by locals.
Since it was already around 5 pm, it was time for the other group to be dropped off to Aut to the Volvo bus stand. We said goodbye to them; walked toward the road, which turned out to be just a short downhill hike that passed a traditional Himachali water mill (gharat) on the way. Like most other parts of Himachal Pradesh, the gharat seemed to be abandoned. The arrival of modernisation in the form of roads and the flour mill at Bajaura have hastened the decline of the age-old traditional water chakki. I fondly remember my initial journeys and the sweet taste of the chapatis which were more refreshing as the flour had been ground with love and care in the gharat.
After that, we drove back to the homestay at Thachi Valley through the Panjain route. The Forest Rest House at Panjain is located at a beautiful meadow-like hillock and commands a great view. It was late evening by the time we reached the FRH at Panjain and I could only marvel at the stunning flowers surrounding the lovely cottages. After walking around for a bit, we left from there as it had started drizzling.
As we reached the homestay, I suddenly realised that I was quite tired because of the fever last night and was happy to have a simple dinner. Guddu was helpful in sending the food to the room itself as the temperature had fallen considerably and it had become quite cold due to the constant rainfall. There was nobody else in the entire cottage except a persistent dog that would come every now and then if I kept the door open. After struggling for a bit with the sudden cold, I quickly snuggled down in the blanket. Thunder and lightening was the order of the night and it kept raining continuously.
Hadimba Temple in Thachi Valley located on a hillock with epic landscape views.
I slept well in the cosy cottage and woke up late next morning. For a while, I thought I should have woken up earlier but when I opened the cottage door I realised it had been raining all the time and it was better that I ended up sleeping. The valley views from the cottage were great whenever the clouds parted. Guddu Guide made it a wonderful morning by bringing his special ginger lemon honey tea with breakfast. It had the right mixture of ingredients and provided much needed warmth and relief to my throat.
After whiling away an hour or so, we ventured out when it stopped raining. The main village of Thachi was around 1 km from the Thachi Valley Homestay and we jumped our way across puddles and made it to the Bithu Narayan Temple compound. There was a big temple in the middle surrounded by small temples of different sizes on the sides. The landscape looked misty and green due to the continuous rain and there was no trace of sunshine; therefore it wasn’t a great day for photography but you have to make do with circumstances sometimes.
Bithu Narayan Temple is the presiding deity of Thachi Valley and is revered in the entire region. It is an ancient temple, we marvelled at the beautiful architecture and wood carvings of the small temples; some of which were closed. The unforgettable thing here was the 11 headed stone statue of Lord Vishnu. It looked really old and could surely be counted as a treasure. I guess this is what the villagers meant by the temple being ancient, they might have referred to this statue as ancient. Anyhow, it was a wonderful setting for a temple with towering deodhars surrounding the small meadow.
It had started drizzling again and while we debated whether or not we should continue our hike to a vantage point with a panoramic view of Thachi Valley, it was decided that we walk toward the Hadimba Devi temple located on a hillock. Depending on the circumstances and the situation of the rain, we could reconsider the next course of action. I was still in two minds whether or not to stay in Thachi Valley Homestay for today as there were other parts of the region near Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) to be explored.
Like most Indians, I had grown up with a hackneyed old view of Bihar as a state of chaos, lawlessness and gross mismanagement. And my growing up years did nothing to change this view; even the Bihari labours at my family establishment were a funny lot but managing them reaffirmed my thoughts that Bihar must indeed be a crazy place! So when an opportunity was presented to me with an assignment in Bihar, I grabbed it with both hands. This post is specifically about the 3 days that I spent in Patna.
Patna is the capital and biggest city of Bihar and lies on the banks of River Ganga. Patna is an ancient city and was once called Pataliputra. It is among the world’s oldest capital cities and lies on the fertile stretch of land causing the title of an imperial metropolis. Its heritage and history can be ascertained with the 2000 year old ruins found in different parts of this ancient megapolis. Changing dynasties over the centuries have meant Patna’s name was changed multiple times; from Kusumpura to Pushpapura, then Pataliputra to Azeemabad and finally Patna.
Bihar’s chaotic ideas felt true when I saw this vehicle in Patna.
It is a secular city with a multitude of tourist attractions for all religions – temples for Hindus, Gurudwaras for Sikhs, Mosques for Muslims, Buddhist sights for Buddhists and Jain temples for Jains.
Pot Belly restaurant’s outdoor seating at Bihar Museum.
Places & Attractions to Visit in Patna, Bihar
Set in a 13 acre campus and opened fully in 2017 at a cost of approx. 500 crores, Bihar Museum can easily rank among India’s finest museums. The sprawling premises were envisaged as a campus by Japanese architect firm Maki and Associates and Mumbai’s Opolis Architects. The Bihar Museum on Bailey Road stands as a symbol of change that the state is trying to achieve.
The very famous single-piece sculpture from 2nd Century AD; Didarganj Yakshi is exhibited at Bihar Museum. A signboard states that she was found in the Ganga, and for many years, the base of the sculpture was used as a washerman’s stone. The galleries at Bihar Museum cover a vast timeline, with exhibits from 4th Century BC to the 1st Century BC. There are also rich records from some famous dynasties – the Mauryas, Sungas, Guptas and Palas. There are galleries full of ancient sculptures, relics, coins and tools. I just wished that the authorities disallow mobile phones to stop the ‘selfie’ menace; its shocking to see everyone just going on clicking selfies with the ancient statues.
There’s a Bihari Diaspora gallery, where the struggles of Biharis who worked in Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad, Fiji and Guyana are shown. The beautiful crafts gallery has Madhubani art, Sujani embroidery and Tikuli art on display. The museum also has an amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art auditorium with an interesting short film on the heritage and history of Bihar, a cafeteria by the name of Pot Belly that serves Bihari cuisine and souvenir shops. I was amazed to see the Children’s Museum with one of the exhibits showcasing wildlife sanctuaries of Bihar while there were many more interactive exhibits.
Entry fee for Bihar Museum is Rupees 100. Bihar Museum is closed on Mondays.
Patna Museum was the first place that I visited with regards to attractions of Patna. It is a beautiful old building painted in a pleasing shade of yellow and is located in a compound full of greenery. Patna Museum was established in 1928 during the British rule and is a rich repository of Patna’s & Bihar’s history and heritage. It is regarded as one of the best and oldest museums of India. Patna Museum is spread over 2 floors and has multiple galleries of artefacts.
There are Buddha relics found from the Vaishali excavation, historical artefacts discovered in the archaeological excavations across Bihar, pre-historic sculptures and terracotta objects from ancient times. A separate gallery is dedicated to the display of medieval period miniature paintings from different parts of India while another one is dedicated to coins. Among the interesting things displayed are is a World War I cannon.
I was pleasantly amazed to see an entire gallery dedicated to Pandit Rahul Sanskritayan. A closed room at Patna Museum with a separate entrance fee displays a casket believed to contain the Buddha’s ashes.
Street Art across Patna – Mithila Paintings / Madhubani Paintings
As soon as I reached Patna, the ubiquitous painted walls across Patna piqued my interest. Undertaken as a part of a massive project (Smart City Patna), Madhubani paintings / Mithila paintings have been painted on almost all the walls in Patna and they give a pleasing and aesthetic look to an outsider’s eyes even amidst the chaos of Patna.
Streets of Patna; gorgeous street art greets the visitor.
According to the locals, most of these paintings have been made by the students learning Mithila Paintings / Madhubani art. I was impressed by the level of creativity used by the students as they have included different messages to make the paintings relevant too rather than just being mere street art.
However, a few locals were unhappy with the fact that these mythological paintings were also being pee’d upon at the bus stations and railway stations.
Innovative use of Madhubani / Mithila street art in Patna, sending a social message.
Kumhrar – Archeological Site
Kumhrar refers to Kumhrar Park which is an archaeological site where one can have a glimpse of the ruins from more than 2000 years ago. Remnants of the ancient city of Pataliputra established by the Mauryan Empire can be seen here. The excavations were conducted at Kumhrar between 1912 & 1915 and were successful in unearthing the ruins of a Mauryan Pillared Hall. The place is now referred to as ‘Eighty Pillared Hall.’
Woke up after a relaxed sleep in Garkon. We were staying at Master Sonam’s Homestay and our chief reason of being in the ‘Aryan Valley’ region was for the wine! Our breakfast consisted of shalgam leaves (turnip leaves) and rotis to be washed down with milk tea. It was very tasty and fresh and we gobbled up 2-3 rotis each. After that it was time to wander from door-to-door asking for ‘gun chhang’ or grape wine!
Diary Entry from the third day of my Second Winter Trip to Ladakh
We could only procure 1 bottle of gunchang in Garkon village after much searching across multiple households. It cost only 300 Rupees as a local had also joined us in our endeavour! The locals were surprised and proud when we told them that we were in this region primarily to taste and source their locally made grape wine. For the uninitiated, the bottle that we had procured was made from green grapes and can be called white wine. For the locals of this region, red wine is almost equivalent to a sacred product and they speak of it as a medicine since it is produced in minimal quantities due to less quantities of black grapes grown in the ‘Aryan Valley’ or ‘Brokpa’ also called Drokpa villages.
A house in Hordass village where we were searching for grape wine or gunchhang.
In my mind, I was almost certain that either the villagers had started making less ‘gunchang’ or they were keeping it for themselves for the Ladakhi Losar festival that was only another 2 weeks away. In either scenario, we gave up the thought of procuring more bottles of wine in Garkon and started walking toward the main road. Lost our way numerous times in the winding lanes. Finally reached the road. Keep a target of 5 vehicles for going to Darchiks village and give up within 45 minutes with zero traffic on this lesser taken Khaltse-Batalik road.
Locals had suggested we should make our way to Darchiks for maximum chances of procuring the gunchang or grape wine, as the village is located on a higher cliff on the opposite side and grows more grapes. After that the locals who had seen us lingering around, suggested that we walk to Garkon bridge (which was 1 km away from where we were) and ask at the only home there. We had begun to think that since we had chosen to undertake this truly offbeat journey, even the gods were wiling to help us at every step.
One camper guy who had seen us before appeared in front of us (as if by miracle); we narrated our prerogative of coming to the ‘Aryan Valley’ in search of grape wine and he instantly suggested a village called Hordass. I had never heard of Hordass before and when he mentioned his sister lived there, we quickly struck a deal of Rs. 200 for a visit to Hordass; procuring at least 3 bottles of gunchang and possibly one of red wine, and dropping us back to the bridge. And off we start for the exploration of the remote village of Hordass.
Beautiful road to Hordass. It is located on a hillock on the road to Batalik opposite Darchiks village. A sharp diversion on the road to Batalik takes us to the village of Hordass. Indus river looks beautiful on our drive, maybe I can also call it heavenly. It feels unreal, like a movie to be here in the cold winter month of December in Ladakh. From Hordass parking, I can spot a Buddhist Gompa. The village is a short walk away from the parking spot. Hordes village is small and is considered a part of Garkon village.
We walk in the stone lanes ducking in the slender paths and arrive at the camper guy Tsering’s sister’s home. His sister is happy to see him and we are ushered into the kitchen and sitting area. It appears to be an ancient home, a tiny kid and cat play with each other. A table is laid out with chacha (Tibetan Butter tea), apricots (chulli) and almonds derived from the kernels of the apricots (badam giri). We enjoy the graciousness of the Brokpas in this warm and sunny village while Tsering is on his way to every household in the village asking for Gunchang after his sister has indicated that they do not have any grape wine at their home.
Waiting for a ride in the ‘Aryan Valley’ or Brokpa land be like…
Tsering emerged with 3 bottles in his hand and asked us for 900 Rupees. We gleefully handed him the money and tasted one of the bottles for authenticity! Apparently, the locals demand as much as 500 Rupees for a bottle of gunchang from other locals. Tsering had apparently persuaded the seller to give it for a reasonable price by narrating my story of having come to this region earlier in January 2015. We thank Tsering’s sister and say goodbye to the enigmatic village of Hordass. After a short drive, we are back at Garkon bridge and ask to be dropped on a part of the road where the sun is still shining.
Locals are sitting in the sun too. It is 1 pm in the afternoon. Wait for ride. Sun goes behind the mountain. Locals shift to a region where its still sunny; we shift with them too. Clothes are hanging on a wire; we wonder who must have washed them in the freezing waters of the Indus! A bridge is visible a short distance from where we are, and with the blue colour of the Indus seems very enchanting. We sit with the locals and chat, with no particular order of conversation. A few kids are playing with sheep and goats. No car has come our way in an hour today. And just like that, the sun goes behind the mountain once again and the direct sunshine in our vicinity disappears. The locals also decide to head back to their homes as soon as the sun is gone, and we are now on our own.
We have decided to keep a limit of 2:30 pm and if a vehicle doesn’t come by then, we would go to Dah village (Also spelt Dha village) and stay at a homestay there for the night. The villagers have informed us that the Leh to Garkon bus is plying on the same day and that means we will have an assured means of transport to get out of this region the next day (at least.) Just when we are mentally getting ready to load our backpacks, we get lucky again. An IB officer (Intelligence Bureau) officer’s gypsy appears at 2:24 pm. He is going to Achinathang and gladly offers us a ride till there.
The IB officer has some work in Biamah (Also Beema, Biama, Beama) and halts there. I notice the changed landscape of the village as compared to 2015. Widespread destruction in Biamah due to overflowing of the Indus river. A small pond has formed around the road in Biamah; it is semi frozen and a part of it reflects a snowy peak. I ask someone and they inform me that many homes were devastated when the tragedy happened in Biamah village. Maybe the kind family’s house where I had stayed in January 2015 was also washed away. All in all, I could barely even recognise the village and wondered what climate change and ecological disasters could mean in a sensitive place like Ladakh.
We start moving again and chat with the IB officer with regards to his work. The driver looks at us with suspicion but doesn’t interrupt the conversation. We reach the Achinathang office and are offered tea and biscuits. An unplanned day had meant we haven’t had any lunch and are unsure where our next meal is going to be and are happy to accept their kind offer. An unpleasant interrogation is also held by a stationary officer but the kindness of the IB officer and his request of not publishing anything of the nature of their work means I cannot divulge any details. He directs the driver to drop us near the TCP (maybe Transport Control Post).
As soon as we are dropped near the TCP post, close to the dhaba canteen and the shop we spot a camper and a 2 people heading towards it. We rush to the camper and even though there is little space in the front sitting area, the camper guy doesnt refuse us a ride! Apparently the circumstances have been very conducive for us. The camper guy had seen us getting down from an Army vehicle, and when we were asking for a lift – the check post Police officer had also asked him to take us. Later the camper guy said, ‘Thinking you were from the army, I had to give you a lift because there was no option!’
He said that he was heading to Skurbuchan. Even though Skurbuchan would be in the middle of nowhere, we were happy to cover whatever distance we could cover. As always, when I am on a hitched ride I try to make nice conversation with the hosts and it usually helps lighten the mood. Once we had reached Skurbuchan, the camper guys took a detour to a godown to unload and load some goods and informed us that they would be Domkhar and possible even Khaltse. We are in a lot of strife with no space to sit (especially with our heavy bags) but there is no other option and with a joyous heart we arrive at Khaltse Dhaba at 4:30 pm.
There is an option of having food right there but we decide to stay hungry and get another ride in the direction of Leh. The plan is to visit the monasteries of Alchi & Likir and I’ve figured that Saspol would be the best bet for us to stay for the night (if we manage to get there and find a homestay). It seems like our lucky day and another ride comes by in no time. It is a brand new Innova Crysta going to Leh. The owner is a taxi guy driving the car and he hails from Stok village.
It turns out that he has purchased the vehicle from Jammu and is driving straight to Leh from Jammu. He is hungry and stops the car at a dhaba after Khaltse. He invites us for momos and thukpa if we are interested but we decline the offer (our minds are preoccupied with finding a homestay as close to Saspol as possible.) It is nearly dark at around 5-530 pm and even though its a really comfortable ride, we are a little uneasy since it is highly probable that we wont find a homestay in Saspol.
We reached Saspol Market at 520 pm in near darkness. Upon asking the locals, they suggested a confirmed homestay by the name of ‘Onpo’ located around 1.5 kms ahead of Saspol. The Innova guy was super helpful and asked us to hop back in the car. He had been driving for more than 1 day straight from Jammu and must have been really tired. We saw the lights and a signboard indicating ‘Onpo GH (Guest House). He waited for us to go inside the house and only then moved the car. We thanked him profusely for all the help; and he had even said we could drive with him to Stok village and stay there for the night if we couldn’t find a suitable place to stay.
Our screams of ‘jullay, jullay’ surprised the lady inside the house and she opened the door and invited us in. We were pleasantly surprised with the warmth of a solar heated hall where the daughter and husband of the lady were seated. She served us cha-cha (Tibetan Butter tea) and dried apricots (chulli). Since they had not brought up the issue of discussing the price of the homestay, we had deemed it prudent to leave it to the ‘goodness of strangers’ in Ladakh. After all, this was one of the prime reasons we were able to undertake this journey in the dead of winter.
At Onpo House in Saspol.
Dinner time was even better. Fresh palak (spinach leaves) had been procured from the greenhouse and the lady made tenthuk. Food was served at 730 and we were so hungry that we instantly asked for second helpings because the tenthuk was so tasty. With so much kindness bestowed upon us, we gifted the family a bottle of gunchang which they happily accepted but informed us that they had given up drinking because of their exalted status (Onpo is a noble last name in Ladakh). Hearing this, we gulped down a glass each and relished every drop of the fabulous grape wine.
After the dinner, we went out to wash the hands and pee. A million stars shined in the sky and beneath the bare poplars, it felt like a miracle to be able to see the colourful milky way with our bare eyes. The husband showed us our room for the night stay which was a hall in the adjacent building. We were freezing after entering the hall that seemed to be constructed in concrete. The blankets provided were plentiful and warm; we snuggled in bed and shivered throughout the night for a really cold time. I had woken up at 6 and kept waiting for sunrise so that the sunshine could bring some much needed warmth but it wasn’t to be.
Traditional Ladakhi boots were kept in the Homestay in Saspol.
It was to be just the start of an intensive cold wave in Ladakh, while our travels continued to Alchi, Likir, Basgo and beyond!
Slept 12 hours straight on the first night in Wanla. Woke up to a bright and sunny morning at 9 am. Feeling nice and warm, temporarily forgetting it is the end of December and bitterly cold in Ladakh. Little discomfort in the night due to the smoke of the kitchen rising up to the first floor where we slept. Local Ladakhi compost toilet located just outside the house. Sat in the sun with the family, played with their sheep and clicked a few pictures. Admired the fort and monastery at Wanla but decided against going due to the uphill climb. Anyway, its only day 2 of this winter trip to Ladakh and we are not well acclimatised yet to go on strenuous ascents. And the minor breathing troubles in the night have served as a warning to me.
Happy start to the day – The stream at Domkhar where we waited after the first ride.
Heard stories from the family about the damage to the crops due to flood in Indus river resulting in landslides. Lady of the house gave us tea and aloo curry with chapati for breakfast. Hungrily wolfed down the breakfast heartily, paid money to the homestay family (they initially refused), filled our bottles with water and after confirming that it was (almost) impossible to make it to Lingshed Monastery in this weather, bade goodbye to the homestay. Lingshed Gompa is an old and secluded monastery that has long been eluding me and since the way to Lingshed was across Phanjila, I started getting a bit optimistic when we had reached Wanla!
Walked to a nearby bridge in Wanla, passed a frozen stream on our way. The parts that are in shade are frozen, while water trickles slowly in the parts exposed to the sun. We are already feeling a little jaded, even after having slept for half a day! The wind is too cold while the direct sunshine is too warm, even in winter. It is classic Ladakh, we have tried to be too smart by not acclimatising on the first day and now even walking on a plain surface with our backpacks is proving to be strenuous.
The smiling, old grandma of Skurbuchan.
We spot a lovely compound with golden, crimson colours. Click pictures of what is also a camping site for hikers/trekkers/backpackers during the summer months. It is already 10:30 and we have no plan in mind for our second day as well. Lucky to get a ride out of Wanla within 10 minutes of us standing on the road. We think about going to Alchi to see the monastery. I have seen it on my first trip to Ladakh in the summer, many years ago. Alchi lies at an altitude of 3100m and would serve us well for the second day of this winter trip, especially since we haven’t acclimatised. The little plan we devised included going to Likir village after visiting Alchi and then finding a homestay in Likir or around to stay for the night.
A munchkin also waits with us.
The mention of wine came up and I immediately thought about Dah-Hanu, Biamah, Garkon (also Garkone, Garkhun) and Darchiks from the winter of 2015. Check this post for an encore from that epic trip to Ladakh in January! In that continued frenzy, we got down at the diversion of the road to Batalik before reaching Khaltse. Our fate was sealed! No sooner had we got out of the first vehicle, a brand new Xylo was heading our way and we flagged it down. They were a small family with cute kids heading to Domkhar and were happy to give us a ride.
We crossed the line of Chortens across the Indus river at Takmachik. Domkhar is locally famed for its walnut orchards and we were dropped at a bridge just before reaching Domkhar village. They were heading to Domkhar Barma village which is a part of Domkhar too. Domkhar is divided into three parts – Domkhar Dho, Domkhar Barma & Domkhar Gonma. So, technically we were in Domkhar Dho while Domkhar Barma was the higher altitude village where the walnut orchards were located!
Can you spot the Skurbuchan Khar in the picture? It is said to be a 11th Century Castle in Ladakh.
We sit on a stone by the road, near the bridge in the sunshine. I’m surprised to see a few Nepali-looking kids creating mischief with nobody to monitor them! Locals bring cows and dzo to the freezing stream where they drink plentiful water. It is past noon now and we receive a ride in a camper headed to Skurbuchan. There are two ladies and a man heading to a wedding thats happening somewhere near Skurbuchan.
We wait at the mane (chorten) in Skurbuchan. View of Skurbuchan Khar (Khar means Fort/Palace in Ladakhi) on the far right while the Indus river flowed on our left. The waters of the Indus were green while some trees glistened yellow with the flashing sunlight; a lone poplar tree looked immensely enchanting in the background of the impossible blue sky. New car SUV dropped us near the WET canteen before Achinathang. A proper shop with a canteen and 4-5 tables. Sun shining bright so we stand outside.
A gentleman sports the perennial flower of the Brokpas, the monthu tho.
There are a lot of locals around and everyone seems to be enjoying eating something at the canteen. We realise we are hungry too and with still no decision on a place to reach before the night, it might end up being a long day! Chai, maggi and omelette is all that the canteen guy can manage. I’m not a big fan of maggi but that day there was hardly any chance of a proper meal and anyway we were still waiting for a ride to take us to one of the ‘wine’ villages in the Brokpa valley (or Aryan Valley, if you prefer!) and as close to Batalik as possible.
The Indus Cafe does a good job with the tea and snacks and also has a useful shop with necessities.
It was around 2-230 in the afternoon and an army camper from Kargil came by and dropped us at the turn-off to Hanu Yongma (Or Hanu Yokma) near Hanu Thang and Hanu Gongma. There was a hairpin bend at this point and an aptly named – Indus Café located on the edge with a vantage view of the Indus River. Long wait. Sun is behind the mountain and it feels increasingly jittery (and cold) to imagine if a vehicle didn’t come soon. Brokpa (or Drokpa, or Aryan, or Dards) locals are sitting in the restaurant / café run by the Army.
I’ve seen them before but they look fascinating with their button earrings and colourful flower headgear! Some are eating samosas while others are making phone calls. We share a samosa and chai while standing on the road. There are 2 vehicles that come in an hour and while the heart wants them to continue straight to where we wanted to go; they swerve just in time to head to Hanu Yokma (Hanu Yongma).
A kid in Garkon village peers into the phone camera.
Its a funny thing; this hitchhiking business – even though you may spend the entire day on the road waiting yet you can’t afford to let your guard rest for even a minute. Like Murphy’s law, a vehicle appears when you least likely think it will.
The Indus café also sells necessities in the canteen and we buy some toffees that will help us in walking without catching up on our breath, if need be (yes, I’ve found toffees to be really helpful for walks in high altitude regions). One of the army officers comes and picks up some packets of biscuits from the shop, the street dogs are alert and crowd around him to feast on the offer. Another army guy lights up a small bonfire aided by clothes soiled in kerosene and stands by until the dogs go back to their slumber again. The fire runs out soon; it is almost 4 and still there is no vehicle. In the absence of the sun there is no saying when it becomes too cold – especially with the freezing waters of the Indus to our left.
Cricket is a hit everywhere across India!!
We decide to ask for help from the Army guys with regards to finding a night stay / homestay if we are still stranded here after 4 pm. Luckily, a carrier appears. All of us stand on the road and make sure it stops and does not continue merrily on its way without us! Everyone jumps in the rear part of the vehicle in the open air carrier while the locals are kind to let us sit in the front. This jeep is going to Sanjak and I am immediately reminded of Chigtan Khar (or Chiktan Khar). In the winter of 2015, I was unable to reach Chigtan and I have never been able to fulfil that wish of listening to Mr. Musa speak about the rich history of Chiktan Khar, on all subsequent trips.
Popular travel planning websites and blogs had thrown up names like Bodrum, Izmir, Antalya, Fethiye, Marmaris on the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea Coastline in Turkey. Akin to how I travel in India, we had decided to keep the Turkey trip flexible with no fixed itinerary. After spending a few days in Istanbul and Cappadocia, we decided to take a bus to Antalya from Urgüp. My research had revealed two pretty destinations, Kas and Kalkan on the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey.
First sight of the Mediterranean Sea in Kas, Turkey.
Kas was a more logical choice since it lie first on the road, and as if by providence as soon as we reached Antalya Otogar (Otogar is bus station in Turkish), there was a small bus ready to take us to Kas. The officer mentioned the ticket fare as 20 TL-Turkish Lira and we confirmed the same with other passengers. Our huge bags were kept in the luggage compartment and we were ready to roll after a hurried visit to the toilets at Antalya Otogar.
I remember buying this bottle in a store in Kas for only 20 TL; i.e less than 300 INR. Great quality for very reasonable prices.
After about an hour of leaving Antalya, the road wound up the mountainside and revealed an unending view of the Mediterranean Sea. I wished that the bus wasn’t air-conditioned and would let me open the window to savour the incredibly beautiful sight of the blue water.
Kas felt like a magic cave; with an unexpected treasure each time we wandered its artistic lanes.
The bus was a run by a local operator and picked up passengers at numerous stops. After around 3-4 hours, we finally reached Kas Otogar which felt uninspiring since I had dozed off and was woken up with a jolt. No sooner had I got out of the bus, I was hit by the piercing sunshine since it was just past noon. It felt hotter than it really was, maybe due to our having spent considerable time in far colder Istanbul and freezing Cappadocia. We immediately put our #AllDayWifi to use google maps and reach the hotel. It was only a short walk away but felt very tiring due to the heat.
The #AllDayWifi dongle was instrumental for our internet connectivity throughout Turkey.
Kas showed a glimpse of its small town beauty when we walked from the bus station (otogar) to the hotel. The main road had umpteen open air restaurants and surprisingly the staff even called out to us to try their offerings. I had noticed the restaurant’s signboard menus with prices and was pleased to note that the eateries had reasonable rates. The hotel lane was full of artistic frames with pretty flowers hanging outside wooden doors. Most hotels (pansiyon’s) were family run establishments and they seemed to be devoid of tourists.
We were pleased with a view of the Mediterranean sea from the room, it was quite hot though and I dozed off for a while. My headache was gone once I was up again, and a quick shower later we were out on the street searching for our lunch stop. I asked a few locals and decided to sit at a eatery serving both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. In Turkey, freshly baked bread comes complementary with the dishes.
One of the sit-outs at our villa on the Mediterranean Coast in Kas, Turkey.
1 dish normally suffices for one person and is priced anywhere from 8 Turkish Liras to 20 Turkish Liras. Water is not served in restaurants and one needs to buy water bottles for the same. After a hearty meal, we went walking around Kas. Our first stop was the Antiphellos – Ancient Theatre which is a Roman Amphitheater built in 200 BC. It is a circular structure facing the Mediterranean Sea and has seating to hold around 4000 people. All in all, it was a fascinating historical sight with stunning views of the blue Mediterranean sea while the background was full of towering green mountains.
I had spotted a cute looking lighthouse from our room and we immediately set about finding it. At the intersection of the market, a whitewashed mosque stood tall. A gaggle of travel companies advertised boat tours to the Greek island of Meis. The pier was to our right and among other popular boat tours, a visit to the sunken city of Kekova was widely advertised. We had no Greek visa and hence it made no sense to try and make that 25 Euro day trip to Meis. The lighthouse towered over the surroundings even as the sun was still shining strong.
Small, family run cafés are the norm in Turkey and Bi Lokma in Kas turned out to be one of our favourites!
Someone suggested that we should walk on a circular path that would enable us to explore a different part of Kas and we set out for the same. There were artistic boutiques selling dresses, Turkish cotton towels, pottery, souvenirs, carpets, soaps etc. Every second establishment was an eatery; and unlike the simple and cheap ones on the main road, these restaurants had gorgeously colourful chairs and a fancy vibe. This part of town was laid-back and geared up for tourists. A sole Dondurma shop occupied centerstage as I noticed some tourists clamouring for the ice-cream.
Kas suddenly felt more livelier as evening descended on town. Sunsets across the sea are always pretty and the sky changed colours repeatedly. As night fell, we walked back to our accommodation fully convinced that we needed to spend more time exploring Kas. It was Diwali that day and fireworks looked dazzling in the far distance across the Mediterranean Sea. We also understood that there was a different area in Kas away from the market and with better views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Private area to laze around in the villa; and with a view like that it was inexplicably beautiful.
Since our plan was flexible; I immediately set about finding accommodation for the next 2-3 days. The search revealed we could stay in a ‘Villa’ in an area called Kas Peninsula that was around 6-8 kms away from where we were staying. Next day, we woke up to a spectacular morning view while sitting in the breakfast area of the hotel. 4 tables had been laid out under trees surrounded by greenery while the inviting blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea beckoned in front of us.
The platter of feta cheese, tomatoes, honey, jams, Turkish Coffee and Turkish tea, other varieties of cheese and breads made for delicious breakfast (as always). A family run place always has a warm feel and I didn’t hesitate to ask for another round of cheese and bread, with more Turkish tea. We met a kind soul when we went to ask the taxi price for dropping us on the peninsula. He helped us with the exchange from Euro to Turkish Lira(Turkish Lira); helping us bargain for a Zara Man jacket at a store, and in arranging a taxi to Kas Peninsula for 30 Turkish Lira.
Villa life with daily sunsets like this.
We had spotted a small dolmus (shared taxi) that plied from Kas to Kas Peninsula and ferried passengers for 4 TL but taking that would have meant trouble with the bags. Therefore we first went to the taxi stand; and we were flabbergasted to know the official taxi rates. The small distance commanded a fare of more than 60 TL and we immediately went back to ask our newly-made acquaintance to ask his taxi friend to come and drop us for 30 TL. As we moved towards Kas Peninsula, the views of the Mediterranean Sea became even prettier.
We were surprised to spot a tiny portion of white sand beach to our left and the fact that many local families were enjoying that hardly 20 metres of beach! At that moment, I quietly appreciated things that we sometimes take for granted; like the enormous coastline with beaches; in India. We couldn’t control our amazement and were totally in awe of the postcard perfect look of the villa once we were dropped at the gates. An endless expanse of blue spread in front of us; and the villa was a four storey structure in pretty off-white colour.
The staff was excited about meeting Indian tourists (thanks bollywood) and the owner showed us the different rooms and even offered us an upgrade but we were happy to stick to our original choice. The dining area was set up beside the pool and the ambience was almost perfect for a romantic setting, including the mellow dance music that played all day. The colours were soft and pleasing to the eyes and with the aesthetic beauty of the Mediterranean Sea we felt we were living a proverbial Greek fairytale.
The map showed it would take around 6 hours to cover the 300 km distance to reach Kotabagh from Delhi. It was a forgettable drive through dusty and lawless Uttar Pradesh, which made me reiterate in my mind that if Uttarakhand has to really progress – they must have a different road to themselves that bypasses their former state. The guavas on the stalls in Hapur were very inviting but the ubiquitous dust made me stay away. It was only when we crossed over into Uttarakhand, did I dare to open the windows and breathe freely. And it was well worth the drive when we passed through a gorgeous jungle to make it to the destination, V Resorts Kotabagh.
I’d been in constant touch with the V Resorts Kotabagh Property Manager, Hemant who had asked about my preferences for lunch. We passed through a few tiny hamlets as the car meandered on unknown village roads before reaching Kotabagh. I had never heard of this village, and that is what made it mysterious as well! The name Kotabagh sounded very charming, reminding me of gardens (bagh). And pretty it was, the entire valley spread in green fields and life went by in the slow lane. I could spot a few traditional Kumaoni houses with elaborate wooden carvings on the door and pretty window frames.
Many-a-time fancy resorts are guilty of trying to make food too complex; when in reality an easy solution might be to keep the food simple and make it fresh. I quickly threw my bags in the spacious cottage allotted to me and rushed to the dining area. A variety of vegetables and curries had been laid on the table and when the chef served hot fulkas (chappati), he mentioned only one thing – everything is fresh and locally grown. I relished the paalak gravy made from green spinach leaves that had probably been picked fresh in one of the many fields surrounding V Resorts Kotabagh.
Memorable setting for morning tea!!
The spices had a pronounced effect, and made the food so tasty! Especially the cumin seeds and other herbs that are grown in specific areas of Uttarakhand.
Kotabagh Village Walk
After finishing lunch, we had a little round of the property and settled on the elevated sitting area (machan) for evening chai. The magical colours of the setting sun prompted us to go on a random village walk. Cute mountain kids played on the road while women carried firewood to be used for cooking dinner. Tomatoes were being harvested in the fields and the wheat crop dazzled green in the stunning evening light. The sun turned into an orange ball of fire and created some magical moments before hiding behind a small hillock. Some villagers invited us for tea, while others were curious what exactly was a tourist doing in Kotabagh village!
In retrospect, this village walk went a long way in enabling me to get back on track. I’d been a bit under the weather having found no affinity with the horrid air in Delhi; and had ended up sneezing my way during the Orange Adventure & Music Festival in Arunachal Pradesh. The air in Kotabagh was nice and crisp, and even in the end of December – the weather wasn’t too cold. My lungs inhaled with full energy and I knew I was going to have a great time exploring Kotabagh village and around with V Resorts.
Bonfire and Barbecue
Night had fallen when we returned from our village walk. The location of the resort is a clear winner in the sense that it overlooks a dry riverbed on one side which is devoid of any civilisation. The open area had ample space for organising a bonfire; which was turned into a memorable experience with the addition of old hindi songs and barbecue. The chirping of insects in the mild breeze added to the effect and after an hour or two had passed, I realised I had no appetite for dinner and opted for just a dessert and tea. The chef’s special phirni had a delectable taste; just the perfect way to end the bonfire and I ambled to the warmth of my room.
When I put out the lights, the absence of light pollution meant I could see a clear night sky as the stars twinkled in their glory. I huddled in the blanket and waved the staff goodbye for the night.
Jungle Walk autumn colours – Crisp winter air, so fresh
The sun had illuminated Kotabagh but was nowhere to be seen. I was served my dose of morning masala tea at 7 in the bed. As I walked out of the room to plant myself on the cane chairs, the sun rose up in full glory. It was bright and shiny and provided much needed warmth as well. We were supposed to go for a short walk in the nearby jungle and little did I know that it would turn out to be among the highlights of the experience with V Resorts Kotabagh.
The full splendour of autumn colours was felt in the forest as yellow leaves lay scattered everywhere. The sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet felt like music to the ears. A couple of exotic looking colourful birds paid a brief visit. It felt like a movie setting until we reached the dry riverbed; after that I realised it was indeed a scene from a movie!! It was perfect.
Chai in the wilderness – rustic luxury
The chef and staff at V Resorts Kotabagh had put out a table in the wild, and with the unmissable backdrop of a single tree in the background it was a grand setting, to say the least. The warmth of the sun was a welcome addition as we savoured another masala chai in the crisp and fresh winter air. My lungs welcomed this burst of happiness after having suffered for a few days in Delhi and the dusty environs of the North-east in Arunachal Pradesh.
It is great fun to savour tea amidst nature.
Getting Lost in the Jungle – V Resorts Tagline
Akin to the V Resorts tagline ‘Get Lost’ that I had spotted on their signboard, it was an epic experience to get lost in the jungle. Along with the resort manager and the staff, we were supposed to go for a long hike in the jungle and end up at the enigmatic Sitabani Temple deep inside the forest. After a hearty breakfast of paranthas and aloo ke gutke, we set out at 0930 for the temple. It was a memorable walk in the old forest of Corbett; with the winter dew and filtering sunlight providing excellent company.
We reached the Moteshwar Mahadev temple at 11; the Sadhu was performing a pooja and welcomed us. He asked us if we wanted some chai; we told him we’d try the chai on our way back and enquired the way to Sitabani Temple. It was supposed to be only a 15-20 minute walk away but we were definitely not prepared for what lay ahead! We had to wade through knee-deep water in the numerous streams and rivulets and were actually ‘lost’ at one point of time! The water was freezing cold and the confusion in the path meant we were trying to wrack our brains to try and retrace our tracks.
If memory serves me right, I made 3 trips to Kerala in 2017 and early 2018. Co-incidentally on all the trips, I had the chance to traverse across the historical Malabar Coast. The mind harks back to the unforgettable moments across some pristine beaches, backwaters, magical sunsets, and succulent biryani; among a vast plethora of outstanding experiences.
I can’t even… No words for sunsets on the on the Malabar Coast of Kerala.
Where Exactly is Malabar Coast in Kerala?
The Northern part of Kerala adjoining the beach is known as Malabar coast and the entire region is enchanting. I was instantly in love with the sparsely crowded beaches surrounded by coconut plantations, a constant stiff breeze bringing fresh air, inland waterways called backwaters and fragrant spice plantations.
Entire South India does great snacks at very reasonable prices. This I ate in the train before reaching Kasaragod.
My Most Memorable Experiences from the Malabar Coast, Kerala
The Peaceful Beach at Nileshwaram
Nileshwaram (Also called Neeleshwar or Nileshwar) is a small village characterised by swaying palm trees and pristine beaches. It is blessed with a charming location on the Malabar Coast in Kerala. I distinctly remember being lulled to sleep by the sound of the crashing waves in Nileshwaram.
Chilling in Nileshwaram with an endless view of the Arabian Sea.
Nileshwar Palace is the old palace of Nileshwaram Rajas. In the morning, it was magical to walk on the pristine white sandy beach with cool sand in the feet. Hammocks hung beneath towering coconut trees almost extending an invitation as we lay on sun beds soaking in the gorgeous views of the ocean. Little huts on the sand had been laid out on the beach itself and it was otherworldly to enjoy breakfast in the beautiful surroundings. I did not get to experience it, but Theyyam performances in Nileshwar are quite popular even among local Keralites.
1500 year old Ship Building Industry in Beypore
Beypore is a sleepy town located on the banks of the Chaliyar river and a traditional hub for shipbuilding on the Malabar Coast of Kerala. It is situated around 10-15 kms away from Kozhikode. I’d boarded an auto rickshaw for going to shipbuilding area in Beypore but due to the language confusion, the auto guy dropped me in an entirely different place. Google maps came to the rescue and I somehow walked to the shipbuilding area in Beypore with my (huge) backpack. I was in an awkward scenario dripping in sweat unable to adjust to the humidity of the Malabar Coast in Kerala, even in the comparatively cooler month of February.
This is where the auto guy dropped me; Beypore Port which was far away from the Ship Building area.
As soon as I reached the shipbuilding lane, I was astounded to see the huge ship being worked on by a number of carpenters. They were busy working on the partially built ship of wooden logs, and for me it was like being thrust right into the middle of the action. With the limited interaction possible due to the language barrier, I couldn’t really talk much but the people tried to show me the ship from the inside and explain the process.
Working on the Uru in Beypore.
From the limited knowledge I gathered – Ships made in Beypore are called uru in the local parlance. The Uru is a wooden dhow, quite huge in size and a single ship may sometimes take 2-3 years to build. Jackfruit tree wood and rosewood are used for designing the interiors. According to the workers, these ships are made without any fixed work plan or blueprint; apparently the mistry gives daily instructions to the workers. It was astonishing to know thats how the entire ship is built!
1498 – First Europeans set foot in India at Kappad Beach
I’d read in history books long back in school that Calicut is the place where the first Europeans landed in India. After coming to Kerala, it was known that Kappad Beach is the historic beach where Vasco da Gama landed on 27th May 1498. That is how the Portuguese history and the colonial history of India had its inception. Kappad beach is located around 20 kms north of Kozhikode on the Malabar Coast in Kerala.
The Malabar Coast is an uninterrupted coastline with insanely beautiful beaches.
To my surprise, upon reaching Kappad beach, there was a monument commemorating the same spot where Vasco da Gama landed more than 500 years ago; it is called Kappakadavu. If you are a history lover, Kappad beach has an old world charm of bygone times and it also makes for a nice place to spend an evening to enjoy a gorgeous sunset as well.
Experiencing the Magical Backwaters on Malabar Coast, Kerala
The backwaters on the Malabar Coast of Kerala consist of a zig-zag network of lagoons, lakes & canals and is a truly memorable delight. I was lucky to experience the backwaters in the recommended, local manner. We were on a traditional thatch-roofed houseboat, locally known as ‘kettuvallam’ and it slowly floated through the maze of canals.
Caption of the ship, eh…
Almost all the houseboats plying in the backwaters around Malabar Coast in Kerala are renovated cargo boats that are complete with all modern comforts and conveniences. According to the locals I met, nearly every family owns a houseboat in this region. It was stunning to observe the sunset from the houseboat while the beauty of the colours of nature got accentuated in the reflections on water.
Kannur was a pleasant delight on the Malabar Coast, I’d love to go back and explore the Kannur Fort.
On the houseboat ride, we were in the pristine valiyaparamba backwaters of Kerala, and had a glimpse of unspoilt nature with age-old traditions. Villages are set in the backwaters and are surrounded by paddy fields, their main occupation is fishing. The funniest memory for me is when I pretended to be the Captain of the Ship by wearing the hat and steering the wheel left and right!
In a perfect scenario, Kerala would have been 5 degrees celsius cooler and it would have been just right for me!
Slow Walks in the Bounty of Nature
Walks in the countryside of Malabar Coast region took me on little trails that were shaded with coconut trees. I meandered through the plantations which are perfect for short hikes. Wherever you go, the trails are blessed with stunning vistas of the backwaters, and runs very close to pristine beaches. The locals I met all through the journeys in Kerala were very friendly and inspite of the language barrier, my time in this state will remain a cherished memory.
Typical breakfast on the Malabar Coast in Kerala; ate this at a local eatery for only 20 Rupees.
Delicious Kallumakkai (mussels) Biryani in Thalassery
Thalassery is a beautiful old town with a fort on the Malabar Coast in Kerala. Out of the around 8000 tonnes of green mussels harvested annually in north Kerala, Thalassery is one of..
Back in 2017, over a glass of delicious home-brewed rice wine in Nagaland a friend had thrown the words ‘Dambuk Orange Festival’ at me. I was intrigued; Dambuk sounded exotic and the fact that it was an adventure and music festival held in the midst of orange orchards felt too good to be true!
Heartening to see the preparations in this small town in Arunachal Pradesh.
About Dambuk : Dambuk is a small village in Arunachal Pradesh nestled in Lower Dibang Valley district and hosts what must be the most far-flung music festival in entire India.
A scene of the hut in Bomjir where we stayed.
Fast forward to 2018 – I had only 3 days to spare in mid-December between assignments and my tickets had been booked to Dibrugarh. Only a few weeks ago, I was scheduled to attend a local village festival and was utterly disappointed at not being able to make it for the flight for Dibrugarh. Nevertheless, this time Arunachal Pradesh’s little utopia called Dambuk had sounded too appealing for me to change my plans at the last moment.
I requested the organisers if I could carry a printout of this and hang it on the walls of my home : Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Loved the cuteness here!!
Drive from Dibrugarh Airport to Dambuk
There is only one direct flight everyday from Delhi to Dibrugarh (In Assam) and since it was delayed, it meant we reached Dibrugarh at 3 in the afternoon. We were all famished and decided to eat whatever was available at the only restaurant outside Dibrugarh airport. After a hearty round of snacks, we sat in the vehicles that had come to pick us up.
Manikanta Restaurant – the owner is from Hyderabad and they make epic dosas and Uthappams!! Must eat when flying in or out of Dibrugarh airport.
The road in Assam is flanked by Tea estates on both sides, and with the fading sunlight we are treated to a delightful sunset across the green tea gardens. Days in the northeast end quickly and it was pitch dark by 4:40 pm. The train track to Tinsukia ran parallel to the road, life continued as usual at a slow pace in Assam – Arunachal Pradesh. The distance from Dibrugarh Airport to Dambuk was 180 kms and we were supposed to take 4-5 hours to cover it. When the driver stopped to eat something, I quickly rushed to instruct the dhaba guy in making ‘lal cha’ (black tea is referred to as red tea in Assam) just the way I wanted.
Special arrangements for tourists and locals during the Orange Festival of Adventure & Music at Dambuk. Roing is a considerably bigger town with homestays and hotels.
We were informed about the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge when we were close to Dhola village. The bridge is India’s longest at 9.2 kms and is built across Lohit river which is a tributary of the Brahmaputra river. The Dhola-Sadiya bridge is also called Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Setu and it connects Dhola Village with Sadiya Town. The Arunachal Pradesh Border is not far from the bridge and we finally enter Arunachal Pradesh.
A splendid frame clicked from the artists village accommodation in Bomjir.
I was shocked to know that until 2015, the remote town of Dambuk did not even have electricity, and mobile connectivity was a far cry! Instead, like a grand success story, infrastructure had improved and now Dambuk hosts Orange Festival of Adventure and Music to delight thousands of adventure and music lovers.
Slideshow of the dining area and life in Bomjir, near Dambuk
We reached a place called Bomjir at around 8 in the night which was approx. 16 kms before Dambuk and were informed that our stay had been arranged here. Bamboo cottages on stilts were scattered on a wide plain and a river was flowing nearby. The cottages were basic and rustic but served the purpose. It was pretty chilly since it was the middle of December and we were in the countryside in the mountain state of Arunachal Pradesh. Three single beds had been laid out in the bamboo cottage and the bathrooms were nearby.
Stunning colours of nature as I woke up next morning !!
The dining area was close-by too; it was shaped like a traditional two storey structure with the upper floor serving as a drinking den. Apart from the cottages, Bomjir was also home to the Artists’ Village. Tents had been laid out in a separate area for the performing artists and other participants. It was a pleasant surprise to have sticky rice served in leaves. Food was tasty and after a hearty meal we slept in peace. The beds and linen were clean and the blankets somehow did their job of keeping the December cold at bay.
Ohh, and how can you not have oranges at a Orange Festival!
We woke up the next morning and spotted a basket of oranges near the dining area and were opportunistic enough to take full toll of the oranges at Dambuk! After all we were at the Orange Festival of Adventure & Music (OFAM) and it was a must to taste the juicy oranges. We had breakfast early in the morning but due to some miscommunication we were still in Bomjir rather than being at the festival venue at Dambuk. Thats why I was a little perturbed to know we weren’t staying at the site of Orange Festival of Adventure & Music in Dambuk.
We finally reached the festival site in the afternoon and what a spectacular setting it was! The road from Bomjir to Dambuk was in tip-top condition and it hardly took us 20 minutes to reach the festival grounds. The venue for OFAM was surrounded by greenery and the proceedings looked well organised. Parking of vehicles was in a separate area and attendees were supposed to walk to the festival venue. This ensured there was no traffic jam at the festival grounds.
It was a freezing cold morning in Tawang; and we were supposed to go to Bumla. We had a reasonably late night at the Tawang Festival. It was the end of October and night temperatures in Tawang were already hovering in the negative. On top of the cold, the local alcohol that we all had in the various tribes’ bamboo restaurants during the festival had a cumulative effect of giving us a high! And I woke up with a slight wobble in my head, as an after-effect of walking and trying to find our car in the night that would take us back to the hotel.
A glimpse of the P T Tso Lake on the way to Y Junction from Tawang.
As was customary during the trip, we woke up early but did not leave till very late. After breakfast, we sat in our respective cars and left for Bumla at around 9 am (If memory serves me right). We were later told that the reason for our getting late was due to the permits which felt a little strange considering that Bumla had always been on our original schedule of the Arunachal Pradesh itinerary. Nevertheless, we were finally on the long and lonely road to Bumla and were greeted with a fabulous change of scenery as soon as we left from Tawang.
Since some of us hadn’t had our breakfast, we stopped along the way for some roti sabzi and black tea in a restaurant. After a quick break, we continue the drive to Bumla. A local Tata Sumo has been hired from Tawang specifically for the purpose of us visiting Bumla and around. I spot a lot of bunkers on both the left and right side of the road and am perplexed why there are bunkers so deep into the Indian territory. There don’t seem to be any permanent dwellings and I can’t spot any locals nor is there any sign of a village. There’s a chilling answer that awaits me!
An eerie feel at Madhuri Lake – Shungatser Lake.
Why are there so many bunkers on the Tawang to Bumla road?
Because the Chinese had intruded as far as Tezpur during the 1962 China-India war and the bunkers were made in a hurry to combat the enemy troops.
Shungatser Hut surrounded by prayer flags. What an ideal home!!
I gawked wide-eyed at the driver when he remarked that these bunkers were constructed by the army due to the Chinese aggression. Inspite of having read my history lessons in school, I had no inkling of this fact from 1962. It gave me the chills to realise that the whole of Assam might have been vulnerable to Chinese occupation. I learnt that the Chinese were in Tezpur during October-November 1962.
A gorgeous frame at Madhuri Lake; where parts of the movie Koyla and a song were filmed here.
It was a mind-numbing fact for me to understand that a foreign power had almost captured a town 400 kilometres inside Indian territory! Along the way, there were signboards indicating that photography wasn’t allowed and hence we didn’t stop anywhere along the route till a point called Y Junction. We were in what could be said as ‘lake country’; the region from Tawang to Bumla has more than 100 lakes in total. It was magical to say the least, as lake after lake kept appearing on our drive.
The Indian Army has created a nice setting at Shungatser Lake and locals enjoy their picnics in this picturesque location.
The first lake that we came across went by the name ‘P T Tso’ and was a sizeable water-body with a small hut by the side of the lake. It wasn’t a clear day and hence we were unable to see the reflections of the surrounding mountains in the lake. After that we crossed a pass called Nagu La as the road kept climbing towards Y Junction. The condition of the road was bearable till the Y Junction; where we saw another lake called Nagula Tso.
The roads bifurcate at Y Junction : The road to the right leads to Bumla and the road going to the left leads to Madhuri Lake (Shungatser Lake or Shungatser Tso). Our plan was flexible and we were supposed to visit Bumla first. There was a timing issue due to visit of some officials that meant we would only be able to go to Bumla after 2 pm. After waiting for some time at Y Junction in the fog and cold, we started our 16 kilometre journey towards Madhuri Lake. (I couldn’t help but laugh whenever this name was mentioned; but there was a good reason for it!)
Super cool words by Indian Army at Madhuri Lake – Tourists love getting a souvenir photograph here.
Shungatser Lake appeared different than usual lakes and indeed had a big reason for the strange appearance. It was formed after an earthquake in 1971 which had caused the damming of the river. After that, a flooding in the forest meant that the trees were submerged in the water. What happened after this phenomena is that the trees died and in the present situation the trunks of these dead trees are visible in the water lending Madhuri Lake a distinct feel. The water is placid and clear and on a clear day the reflections in the lake can be really photogenic.