Tungnath – Chandrashila – Deoria Tal Winter Hike

I would never have thought of climbing a Himalayan peak, however small, in the coldest month of the Indian winter. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought it possible that I would be hiking around with some of my closest friends, all of together in a nice and small group. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought that I would stay away from these mountains for more than a year, and yet here I was, trying to climb Chandrashila peak(13,000 ft) with 4 other friends, in the middle of January, after a gap of about two and a half years!

Chandrahila peak seen in the background
Chandrashila peak seen in the background

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A Week in the American Midwest

I was amusing myself by listening to the peculiar way the park ranger was explaining tour rules and guidelines to the group gathered around him. In the last 7 days, I had found out that Americans like to talk with a lot of animated expressions and gesturing. They modulate their voice quite often too. I was quietly enjoying his way of talking and the tongue in cheek statements when he announced that it was time the tour begins and we lined up with tickets in our hands.

Random trips are an integral part of my life. In the past, random trips is where I have met friends I would later become close to. Random trips is where I got opportunities to write my own adventure stories and those trips are where I got to see a lot of interesting stuff, that I would not have seen otherwise. So you know, random trips mean a lot to me. When I landed in USA about 9 days back to join a master’s course and found that I have a lot of free time before school starts in which I could tag along with new found friends on a drive to Nashville, it was natural that I would not miss the chance.

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Kausani – Nainital, Feb 2013

It was as if we had ascended above the clouds and had entered the holy territory. Below us, we could see the white carpet engulf the entire valley to our left. I was not sure, if I jump onto the carpet, whether I will land on the cloudy wisps or fall to my death to the bottom of the valley.

On the way to Katarmal Sun Temple

This was the Sun god’s territory. Our car had taken an offshoot of the road between Kathgodam and Kausani so as to be able to visit the Sun temple in Almora district of Uttarakhand ( altitude 2116m). After boarding the taxi car at Kathgodam at 5 a.m., we had travelled on the beautiful stretch of the road that would take us to Kausani. After a bit of effort spent in convincing the driver to take us to this 800 years old temple and wasting a little more time in finding the correct bifurcation, we found ourselves on the kacchha road that was climbing up the mountain towards Katarmal Sun Temple.

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Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF)

I have only about a month and a half’s time before I leave Delhi. My 17 months long stay here has been full of traveling, new friends, new activities and new experiences. From language to dressing sense to food habits to bargaining skills, this city has changed me.

I have been meaning to write this post since quite some time. But sometimes, stories about one’s best experiences are left for the end, as the dessert. After multiple posts covering my trips to the historic places associated with Delhi and around, I would like to bring you folks’ attention to my  favorite spot in Delhi.

Located in South Delhi, just beside the South Campus of Delhi University ( DU ), Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) is the place I have spent most of my weekend at, starting last February. IMF is the premier mountaineering body of India and it’s the go to place if one wants to plan an expedition to a peak in the Indian territory. It’s a government organization and for all it’s red tape and bureaucracy, it seems like an efficiently run institution. The campus is lush green with trees and well maintained lawn. The main complex of the building houses the administrative office, lodging facilities for sponsored mountaineers and a library. Outside the building but within the premises, the institute has built Artificial Climbing Walls, adhering to international standards. Climbing wall is what attracted me to IMF and very soon, it had become my adda on weekends.

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The White Beauty- Taj Mahal

Two riders astride a motorcycle followed us on the side of our car. It seemed as if they had hardly to waste any time before they decided that this is a group of tourists from outside their town and can probably be duped into taking up some not-so-great-but-still-not-cheap hotel for their one night’s stay before they go visiting the grand edifice that everybody flocks to Agra for. They were right on their first assumption(or conclusion) but wrong on the latter.

Next morning saw us taking up a  Tanga( horse driven carriage) ride to Taj Mahal complex. I dont’ remember the last time I had had a horse ride and it was fun to tap along in parallel in your own mind , the hoof steps on the road. It was too crowded to be having a good time once we reached there. Add to that the North Indian Monsoon humidity. But then it happened to us almost all of a sudden. The white beauty rose up in front of our eyes and got us all enamored in an instant.

The first glimpse

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Old is Beautiful – Adrift in Tughlaqabad Fort

Taking in the wind in the face, I kept staring at the maroon-white structure looking back at me across the shrub filled vegetation. After a few customary pictures, all that had been left to do was to sit quietly and look around…look around at the ruins around you and may be , at the lapwing resting himself on a mound of stones in the premises of the  ruins of a mosque. The bird had completely foiled my attempts at capturing him in a frame and had flown across the yard of the mosque with his black-n-white wings spread up beautifully.

Sometime while tracing the bird’s flight, my thoughts also completed a circle and I resumed my attempts at trying to frame all that lay around me in digital bytes. It was a curious feeling. Four friends who are basically a motley group of people brought together by a common liking for exploring and having a good fun time.

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Idling away Happily in Delhi

Khair-Ul-Manazil – It’s a chronogram, I was told. I had to read few more lines to understand the concept of a chronogram. I was inside some 16th century ruins, standing in the middle of urban Delhi, staring at a motiff on the wall. The structure  was not beautiful but it was old and people were still using it. I clicked few pictures and stepped outside the mosque.

The previous day had been cloudy. It had drizzled too, in the afternoon. I had cursed myself for being unable to shake off my laziness and had watched mother nature’s beauty from the comfort of my awesome, royal bed. Tomorrow, I shall go out, I had promised myself.

Luckily, a friend had shared the same feelings and we had taken off the next afternoon for a leisure tour of Humayun’s tomb and Purana Qila. Humayun’s tomb would probably be my most favourite Mughal structure in Delhi. I have been there multiple times and its beauty and aesthetics always fascinate me.

The red & white sandstone, the motifs with stars and other geometrical shapes in them, the latticed windows and the sun beam filtering through it, the grandeur of the octagonal architecture,  the Arabian calligraphy and the quietness in the lush green lawns surrounding the tomb – attractive it all is! I can lounge on that lawn and just behold the tomb in my eyes. That’s exactly what we did.

That Humayun is the grand father of Mughal King Shahajahan who built the world-famous Taj Mahal , that he had a peaceful and gentle personality and that he died after falling down from the stairs of Purana Qila, the fort built by him, is all I know about him. The tomb was commissioned by his wife and its photographs from earlier times do not portray the beauty that I feel  when I look at it. May be it’s because the structure was restored heavily after 1998, after being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. But for whatever reason, its one of my favourite spots in Delhi. Besides the tomb, many smaller monuments dot the green premises.

First View

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Kasauli & Chail- Naked Trees,Fluffy Dogs and an Oldish Charm

I have a list of “Off Beat Tourist Destinations” I want to visit while I am in Delhi. Luckily,my mother also has a similar list and we happened to agree that we just have to visit Kasauli on a long weekend.

So the family holiday was meticulously planned and the trio was off on the national highway taking us from Delhi to Shimla.

Kasauli is a 2 hours’ drive ahead of Chandigarh.The mountain line starts appearing after Parwanoo. Byt the time you reach Dharampur you would already have started to encounter winding roads,temperate boradleaf trees on the slopes,a chill in the air and curves of mountains going back further around you- you can then be sure that you are ushered inside the ranges of the Lesser Himalayas.

From a distance, one can spot the neat bunglows of Kasuali dotting the wooded slopes. This cantonment town welcomes you with a clean, crisp air and an oldish charm.

We entered the town, passed the famous Cathedral and after about 500 meters on the road, reached the HPTDC( Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) guest house, which also goes by the name of Ros Common. It is an old British bunglow converted into a tourist guest house. Everything about it was peaceful. The people, the dogs in the courtyard, the high ceiling rooms with fireplaces in them, the view of the valley and the mountain ranges on one side of the yard..oh boy, this was exactly as I had imagined this to be – Soothing.

Next two days were mostly spent in idly walking along the paths of this town, carved across the slopes of the mountains amidst which the place is nestled. The thing that I noticed most was the bare trees everywhere. They looked beautiful without any leaves adorning their stems.

Kasauli was about soaking in the calmness and the beauty of the place, relieving oneself from the daily urban mad rush. The cathedral and sunrise/sunset points offer beautiful matter for photographs but Kasauli is not about sight seeing or going from one tourist spot to another. Its simply about catching up with yourself or your family or your love interest in a perfect romantic setting. Its about spending hours in a coffee shop, shivering the cold away while mildly swinging to  Bob Marley’s lyrics playing out over the steam wafting out of your cup. You can just sit, think, look around and relax that busy mind of yourself.

Its one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in the Himalayas. Just near Kasauli, also lies a town called Chail (2250 m above msl). Famous for a palace & an air force station, this place is as beautiful but more isolated and hence more peaceful than even Kasauli. The palace of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, is a lovely architecture to be viewed from inside and it is in the middle of soaring deodars and chir pines. It retains the old grandeur and richness and is a place to be visited and be impressed by. Chail is similar to Kasauli, in that it also is about spending time in nature’s fold. There is a really amazing Kali Maa temple in Chail. I call it amazing because this whitewashed structure is located atop a hill and the marbled floor of the yard was reflecting the sunlight so brilliantly that it gave an aura to the whole place. Whiteness of it all, against the clear azure of the sky and green tops of the mountains surrounding it combined to impress one in a very enigmatic way.

This is the thing about these isolated hill towns. They have a charm and enigma that I find very attractive. They transport me back in time and make me imagine how the same places would have been when the Mall roads  used to be peopled by the Brit officers and their wives during their summer retreats. In a way, I am grateful to those Brits cuz one has to admit that invaders or not, they certainly gifted India with some very beautiful hill towns.

I will now let pictures do the rest of the talking.

Delhi Through My Eyes

Its been 3 months in Delhi for me now.Weekends are free and its impossible to not get out of the house and roam around Delhi, trying to explore some popular tourist places.I find Delhi very colorful.It is probably so because it has such an old history.Khiljis and Lodhis,Mughals and Rajputs,Sufis and Poets,Punjabis and Bangladeshis,its been home to so many cultures.Delhi is rich and poor,drab and stylish,all at the same time.That could be true about most Indian metros,but then I have not lived in others as of now!

Winters are an ideal season to come and explore this city.I love the cold,the fog.It renders a mysterious tone to everything around.There’s the sweet fragrance of the blooms of Saptaparni trees wafting through the air,when one goes jogging in the still rising Sun.The brick colored structures that have stood on this land since last 800 years look even more charming in such a setting.

The medieval architecture here is remarkable and a photographer’s paradise.The grand highways and flyovers really tempt one to drive on them.

On one Sunday night,I  was frolicking in a lively pub.On the next one,I was  trying to find my way through the labyrinthine lanes of Chandni Chowk.I felt as if I had been transported into an entirely different time-space.There’s Metro and there’s cycle rickshaw,all making very good business at the same time.

At one point,i was taken by a friend to the National Gallery of Modern Art.Even a lay person like me could appreciate the artistry I saw there.I did not understand any of it.But its so nice to have such places around.They give another dimension to what you see.

From Amrita Shergill and Tagore’s complex paintings,I wandered on to the Cannaught Place.A youth festival was being celebrated in the central park.People on and off the stage looked jazzy in the laser lights and the rock music boomed out from the speakers.Towards the end of the show,a rowdy group of boys took offense at the vocalist and stormed on the stage along with a lot of verbal abuse.This is delhi-Juxtaposing good and bad simultaneously.

On one hand,there are constant stories of North Indian aggression that one keeps hearing about;on the other,I meet new friends who make those suspicions about North Indian chalugiri evaporate in the air.

I still don’t know if this is a good place to live in,on a long term basis.After all its costly,has extreme weather and has a very high crime rate(but then,which city doesn’t!All sorts of things have happened in a supposedly safe city like Pune too.) But I surely  like it so far as its connections to art,history and modernity are concerned.

This,  is a Megacity.

So here,Lets end the post  with pictures of Old Delhi.

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