Category — North
This week has been a bit crazy. There’s been a product launch in the BookBuzzr family. (Check out fReado to win books or even a Kindle while playing games) And we travelled Monday night to Kovilpatti. I’m skipping nostalgia this week for fresh experiences but I do have a guest – meet Santosh, an old friend and traveller who loves to explore the unknown and unseen.
The isolated and faraway Ladakh is no longer a final frontier for adventure travellers.
I remember when biker buddies Satya and Omi set out on a 45 day expedition from Bangalore to Leh in 1996(their second or third) – I went to the railway station to see them off. The sense of an adventure like that those days gave me goose bumps. It remained a dream in me until I set out to do the same in 2002. By then itself things had changed. Satya and Omi’s stories of riding out into the vast mountains, high roads and passes made no sense at all. There was black tarmac roads built, new passes were opened, signboards, guesthouses; home stays along the road, made this a very doable ride. One, no longer needed big bikes to conquer the road that was counted among the ‘Top 10 in the world’. Life had changed – there were more people riding/driving/flying into once forbidden land of Ladakh. But the sense of an adventure to Ladakh was still exotic when I made my first trip.
2010 – Today, I am sitting in Leh. I am annoyed at the way things have developed here. Facebook, Orkut, Mr. Aamir Khan and the various commercials, which includes a Maggi noodle ad in Ladakh, has changed the character of this faraway land. Four lane highways, a tunnel to tame the Rohtang pass, a proposed rail connection from Manali, road connections into Zanskar from all sides, will continue to make Leh, the Manali/Shimla of Ladakh. Hotels and guesthouses are built by the dozens every season, new restos crop up every season and newer businesses find their way into Leh – massage parlors, tattoo artists and many more.
What remained a destination for the adventurous of travellers has been decimated to a destination for the package tourist – the kind who wants to carry their kitchen with them. Thanx to corporatized tour companies like Makemytrip. As I walked into my favorite guesthouse Oriental – I was surprised to see the change in genre of travellers. As I sat at the open area by the kitchen, I hear a tourist who yells out from the window of his room “areh there is no hot water in the room”. Staff replies “ it takes a while for the solar heater to warm up the water”. Our man says “then get me a bucket of hot water”. No thank you’s, no please’s in the whole conversation. Then another white shirt, Bermuda shorts clad tourist walks into the kitchen. Same question “hot water”. Followed by another who complains of not having EPABX (intercom) or he would have yelled from the intercom itself. What hell, I thought.
As I walk into the town – I was shocked to see the change in landscape of the town. New buildings, new shops, new restos, and many more new’s – I have not dared to walk back to town again. Leh has lost its charm.
There are other stories to be heard. Oriental owner rattles – it is difficult with all the high impact tourists coming this way. Leh runs on diesel generator power, the whole town I mean – all the geysers, lights, TV’s, water heaters, water pumps all of it. Some of them like Oriental have solar powered water heating systems and basic lighting running alternatively. The makemytrip types don’t see the point or value the scarcity of resources. They stand below hot showers emptying the overhead tanks, insist on keeping the generator ON all night, and turn a blind eye on conserving. I guess the problem is awareness.
Now there is a problem in a larger scale. So far Ladakh has been seeing independent travellers. These independent travellers have been scattering their monies into the many restos, guesthouses, taxis, and other local setups. There was a split and all involved locally were happy and earned their share. Then comes the corporate tour operators; charter flights arrive, hotels are mass booked with obscene discounts bringing in the ‘every minute packaged’ tourists. This ‘every minute packaged’ starts at the hotel and ends at the hotel. Every meal every snack is planned at the hotel. On local tours – packed food from the hotel is carried along. Instead of smaller vehicles big buses are used to ferry the packaged.
Now this is what might happen, serious travellers avoid the touristy places. We have seen what has become of the Ooty’s and the Manali’s of the world. So the smaller businesses who depend on tourism suffer cos the ‘every minute packaged’ cant afford to explore the offerings of the town. They are tied into their packages. The serious travellers who scattered their monies are no longer there. The taxis don’t have much business cos the ‘every minute packaged’ are ferried in big buses. Guesthouses, hotels, have to scale up to have TV, intercom, geysers, and god knows what to satisfy the high impact tourists, thereby they getting into a debt game. I have not even spoken about the trash and solid waste management.
Where does it stop or where does it begin?
When Ladakh opened to tourism – year 1974 – 500 travellers braved the journey to visit Ladakh. This season when the corporate tour operators floated their Ladakh packages – one single company got in 10000 tourists, they want to bring 50000 tourists next year. Where is it headed – no answer to the question, but we have seen what has happened to the popular hill stations of the India. Aren’t they in a mess?
Few tips to make ur trip in Ladakh low impact –
1. Pick a local Ladakhi operator or a conscious travel company
2. Make an effort to share ur money into local hands
3. Avoid an ‘every minute packaged’ tour. They are cheap but they don’t give a local experience, they just make the bigger hotels, operators and themselves richer and fleece the smaller fellows
4. Value and conserve the local resources – use buckets instead of showers – simple things like that
5. People in Ladakh are a wonderful lot – they are peaceful and welcoming – pls treat them well or we will loose the innocence of a breed of happy simple people
6. Pls don’t trash the place – avoid things like mineral water bottles. Carry ur own bottles which can be refilled at local places. There are spots in town where one can fill in filtered water. This is an effort to cut down trash by locals
7. Pls be more aware – I am sure u don’t want to be counted among the ‘every minute packaged’ tourists.
One doesn’t have to have a reason to travel – it’s as simple as getting out there to take it within! Propagating the same message for over a decade, Santosh has traversed turbulent rivers, worked with an NGO, built solar fences & initiated an outdoor gear store and meandered through most of India. For those who know him better, he’s just stirred something within them…
After leading inspiring ventures like Getoffurass, Photographyonthemove & Getofftraveler, there’s only one nonchalant reaction from him- “It’s been an interesting journey so far”!
Photo Credit: Anukaran Singh
August 5, 2010 2 Comments
A few years ago I got a chance to experience India; I quit my job and travelled for 8 months. When I finally did get home-sick and came back I had so much to say that I didn’t know where to start so, I never did get down to writing about it. But then recently at the GetOff Traveller Meet one of the speakers – Charu, a traveller writer – got me thinking about my journey as stories. That helped get over the overwhelm I was feeling; it seemed a lot easier to write stories.
It’s also been a while since I travelled for a stretch of time and these cloudy monsoon days in Bangalore tempt you into reminiscing. So here are stories from my travels and experiences across India as I relive my journey.
Disclaimer – This might seem very detailed and boring 😀 You’ve been warned…
The way it all started…
The itch to take-off and travel started years ago when I went on my first solo ride and got a first-hand taste of India. I was hooked; I started looking for ways to travel without having to take leave from work, which of course meant that I would have no job and money became the big question.
In the course of time circumstances and situations changed and I realized that maybe seeing all of India would be asking for too much, however the drive to see the country of my birth was still strong. Some friends and I started to plan to do the biker pilgrimage – Ladakh in 2006, slowly the route formed and lists followed. But this was not to be that easy, slowly but steadily friends started dropping out until soon there was just Ajay, who was a close friend and me left. About the same time I started to feel very unsatisfied with my work and my life that revolved round my work; I wanted a break. I decided to go on a saving spree for 5-6 months then quit work and travel as much as I would in the money saved, the day I ran out I would return home.
So then Ajay and I started planning for that, as after Ladakh he would return home and I would move on. But this was not to be either and Ajay had to drop out too. By now I had done quite a bit of planning and more importantly dreaming, and this wasn’t a dream I was ready to let go. I decided to go for it anyway, even if alone. Friends were appalled and advised against going solo, swayed by the persistent attempts I started to look for others going to Ladakh too, some seemed to fit my timelines and dates but maybe I was destined to this myself and all just fell through. When the last friend dropped out three weeks before we were scheduled to leave I had had enough. I was going and going alone.
It was when I was on my way to book tickets that I dropped in to Sam’s store ‘Get Off UR Ass’ and he told me of some friends going to Lahaul and Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Sam suggested starting off with them and then just heading on to Ladakh, he pushed me into at least calling up and checking. So, that was what I did, I called up Prashanth and soon found myself booking my ticket for Delhi on the 14th, a week earlier than planned. I would now be doing Lahaul and Spiti valley with friends from RTMC (Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club) the Bangalore Bullet club I was a part of.
Now I just had two weeks to go before I left, loads to do, lots to buy and sort out and I was also scheduled to travel to Hyderabad for a week to spend time with Pallavi who was friend and travel partner from work before she left for U.S. I just about managed it all I guess, though I did leave a long list of to-do’s with Mom and friends and before I knew it, it was the 14th.
The 14th saw me running pillar to post getting the bike packed and loaded on the train, some legal matters sorted, packing all I thought I needed, getting briefed on bike and picking spares from mech, shopping for last minute stuff…
With all this happening I couldn’t believe I made it to the station in time for the train…
July 26, 2010 2 Comments
This is a story of Chau Chau Kang Nilda the peak behind Langza village. Chau Chau means little girl or princess, Kang is a snow-capped mountain, Ni or Nima means sun and Da or Dawa means moon. So this is the princess mountain on which the sun & moon shine.
This story starts years ago. Langza village gets its water from this mountain’s stream so every summer someone was sent to check the stream and remove any obstacles. They also had to watch over the stream through the season.
One day Landup was sent to check the stream. Landup was a lazy man & rather enjoyed playing his lute. So off he went to the base of the mountain. After he had checked the stream he sat down by it to play his lute and was soon lost in its music.
After finishing his piece he opened his eyes to find a beautiful woman standing before him. She stared at him transfixed and slowly said. ‘Landup I love your music would you play for me again.’
Landup couldn’t say no to such an ethereal beauty so he started to play again.
The beauty told him after he finished that she was the Chau Chau Kang Nilda fairy & she would like him to come often and play. Landup agreed and left at the end of the day. From then on he kept trying to get the job to check the stream. Over the season they fell in love and continued to see each other during the summers that followed.
It was during the winter a few years later that a drunk Landup was lazing about. His wife saw this and reminded him of some work he had to do. Drunken Landup got upset and shouted back that he rather be with the Chau Chau Kang Nilda fairy who didn’t ask him to work. To this his wife asked him to stop dreaming but by then Landup had passed out.
In the morning Landup woke up covered in boils & pain. He then remembered what had happened the night before & also remembered that the fairy had asked him never to mention her.
Now he was really worried, the boils marred his handsomeness & he tried everything through winter to be rid of them. But nothing worked.
As soon as summer came & he was no longer house bound he ran to the stream. He played his lute, called out, cried & even screamed but the fairy didn’t come. He never saw her again. And every time he went near the mountain the weather turned nasty & he had to turn back.
Even today when a man tries climbing up Chau Chau Kang Nilda the weather turns nasty. It is said the fairy is still nursing her broken heart and will not let any man come near her.
Story – I first read this story in Spiti Through Legend And Lore by Kishore Thukral and then heard variations from locals in Spiti.
July 19, 2010 3 Comments
The other day while talking to a friend about ChandraTaal, I thought of doing a quick tips piece for people planning to go there; so, here are a few things to keep in mind…
Things to keep in mind when planning…
1. Start early from Manali to ensure that you have a lot of time and that you don’t get stuck on top on Rothang Pass. (Rothang is the honeymoon spot for North India and trust me, here traffic jams can last hours).
2. There are two trekking routes to go to the lake. One starts at Kumzum La and the other at Batal. The Kumzum La route is shorter but more challenging; I recommend doing this stretch when going to the lake and only in good weather. The Batal route is a gentle rolling climb and a nice walk on return. ChandraTaal is about 14 km from Batal. If the roads have been cleared, you can take a jeep for the first 12 km.
3. You can hire a jeep in Manali to take you to Batal and trek from there. On return the jeep can pick you up at Batal too. If you are doing the Kumzum La route, ask the jeep to drop you off at Kumzum La.
4. If you think you need a guide, you can hire one at Manali.
5. Medicine for altitude sickness – If you are doing a quick trip I recommend using Diamox. Start taking it as soon as you arrive in Manali or at least a day before you start the climb. Diamox will help with acclimatising but it makes you want to pee very often so you may want to take it in the morning after breakfast
Two pods of garlic everyday will also help with AMS. Be careful not to over eat on the garlic as it can also cause ulcers.
6. If you are going in peak season you may find tents there that locals pitch to provide accommodation and food to travellers. However, this is a chance to take and I recommend taking your own gear.
7. Carry good and warm camping gear. You could even hire this in Delhi or Manali. You will need –
a. thick sleeping mat (make sure your mat is of good quality else the cold seeps in)
b. high altitude sleeping bag
c. tent with wind and rain cover
You will need all the insulation you can get; make sure it’s all high altitude stuff and in good condition.
8. Carry warm clothes. Layering is the trick. Wear thermals, then tee and jeans and follow that up with a warm and wind-proof jacket. Gloves will be a requirement along with head gear. Carry extra pairs of socks, wet feet can kill your trip and you will most definitely get your feet wet.
9. Carry your food with you. If you are lucky you may find a food tent but if not… Carry maggi, and ready food packs if you have a stove. Else carry chocolates, biscuits, cheese, dry fruits, jam sachets, etc… They make for some nice picnic food.10. Don’t set camp near the water; it’s tempting to do that but it gets freezing at night. It’s colder near the water and you are more exposed to wind.
11. While sleeping keep your bags inside tent at the four corners to add weight. There will be strong winds and the tent could do with extra stability.
12. Keep your shoes inside the tent so they’ll stay warm and to keep the smell away carry plastic bags to put shoes in.
Have you been to ChandraTaal, what was your experience? Do you have recommendations for other travellers? Please feel free to add your tips and experiences in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
July 12, 2010 8 Comments
This is a very old story, more than a 100 years ago. There lived a lazy man in the village of Rangrik who was a burden on his wife as he did no work. One day this man decided to go to the Chandra Tal lake as he had heard a lot about it being beautiful. It was far from where he lived & a difficult trek but he thought it would be excellent to escape his wife & her nagging. So he left and walked for many days over mountains & passes. Finally when he was almost worn out he caught sight of the lake. It was indeed beautiful & he was so moved he sat down to play his flute like instrument, & was soon lost in its music.
When he opened his eyes after the number there was a beautiful woman standing before him. She said, “Hello, Gangrup, I am the Chandra Tal Fairy. Your music drew me here. I have fallen in love with you, will you come & live with me in my kingdom. I will love you & keep you happy, if you will play for me & love me.”
So Gangrup went with her to her underwater kingdom & they were very happy there through summer. Then as winter came the fairy asked Gangrup to go back home. He was unhappy & said he didn’t want to go as he would miss her. But she said he would have to go, but he could come back next summer. She would miss him too & await his return. But she warned him not to tell anyone about them else they would never be able to be together again.
Gangrups family was overjoyed to see him as they had thought he had died on the way when he did not return for months. Winter set in and Gangrup drank and slept as always, doing nothing else. One day when he was really drunk his wife was nagging him about some work she wanted done. He turned to her & said: “Shut up woman, don’t nag me else I will go away to the ChandraTal fairy. She loves me.” So saying he downed his drink & passed out.
The next morning he remembered what had happened & started to cry. Everyone was concerned & kept asking him what happened but he just kept wailing. He passed the rest of the winter in mad grief and as soon as summer set in he left for the lake.
As soon as he got there he took out his flute & started to play. Soon enough the fairy emerged. She said: “I have just come to say good bye Gangrup. You broke my heart.” So saying she left. Gangrup fell to his knees & called after her crying. A while later she emerged holding a bundle. Gangrup was overjoyed thinking she had forgiven him. But she said “This is our daughter, born of our love, take her back with you.” So saying she handled him the bundle & left.
Gangrup looked down at his daughter & gasped. She was the ugliest thing he had set eyes on, covered in warts and boils & she was very ill. He didn’t want to touch her but then filial love won & he took her along. However she died on the way. Broken hearted Gangrup took her all the way home.
His family was stunned when he told them she was his daughter from the ChandraTal fairy. He buried her with all ceremony & built a memorial for her in the house.
From then on his families luck changed and they became rich. After all, the little girl was also a Nortin (fairy).
His line is still alive today though they have moved to a new house (the old house still stands in ruins). They moved the memorial to the new house too & it can be still seen today.
July 9, 2010 4 Comments
My Lahaul & Spiti and Ladakh Write-up has been published on www.oktatabyebye.com. This is The Link take a look.
Its ongoing and will keep getting updated so keep reading.
News from me – just back from Uttaranchal, which was great. Now headed off to Rajasthan in a few days.
October 28, 2006 5 Comments