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My Review of Happifest the first edition


Yesterday was Nov 14th (2015) celebrated as Children’s Day and Hindustan Times (alongwith sponsors) came up with the interesting idea of having a festival for children which would wean them off television and mobile phones and allow them to participate in various workshops and activities.

The event, titled #Happifest (located at the MMRDA grounds in BKC) is scheduled to run over 2 days – Saturday and Sunday (Nov 14 and 15) and has different activities planned for both the days. I went for the first day with my 11 year old daughter to see if the event was as good as I was hoping it would be.

Let me summarise the positives and negatives first, after which you can read the details below

 

Positives 

  • A very interesting set of workshops that most children will find fun and informative. (dance, music, photography, composting, gardening, frozen science, art)

  • A lot of activity on stage, keeping things constantly energised

  • Interesting adventure sports for kids to explore – ziplining, rock climbing, Burma bridge.

  • A radio station for kids where they can try their hand at being RJs.

  • GoCheese had sponsored a group of kids form an NGO to enjoy a different set of activities, which was a real nice gesture.

Negatives

  • Nothing other than the radio station is air conditioned, so the 12 noon start/activity time is insane. It shoudl have begun by 3/4pm and gone on till 10 pm.

  • Barely any shade in the seating tables at the food stalls.

  • Overpriced food and extremely over priced water.

  • For those not used to mobile toilets, it could be a tad difficult to adjust.

  • There is no “free”/drinking water publicly available and you are encouraged to buy the expensive water bottles. However I did find a water filter which was tucked away and not easy to find. Definitely not a fair business practice.

#Happifest has an entry ticket of Rs.250 per head which can be booked online or at the venue itself. My booking on BookMyShow.com did not go through, so I had to purchase tickets at the venue which was pretty quick… not much crowd at 12:30 in the afternoon (not surprisingly since 12 noon in this heat is not really a good time to venture out!)

Here comes the biggest negative from my side…for an event scheduled to start at 12 noon in the blazing 37-38 degree celsius heat, I had expected it to be within air conditioned tents but surprisingly it was all open air with no air conditioning to speak of, with everyone scrambling to get into whatever pitiful shade the tents and partitions provided. While adults could handle this, I’m not quite sure its a good idea to have kids baking in this unseasonal heat wave.

After initial reservations about whether to carry on or turn back, we decided to go for it since we had come all the way anyway! The cap I always carry made it bearable while my daughter had her wrap around scarf thingy (sorry I’m not very good with the fancy names women’s clothes go by) As we moved it, we were lucky enough to find that the only place that was air conditioned – the WeKids Radio station, was beginning registrations! Since me and my daughter have always had a love for music/public speaking, it was a no-brainer that we would head off to try our hand at being an RJ.

This for me is the coolest stall on the grounds… registration is Rs.500 (for the child only not the adult) and in return you will get a professionally mastered recording of the RJ show that you did. The child can choose from three scripts – Me and My Cool Life, Interview with Father and Interview with Mother. The radio station is run by Shantanu Joshi – the hindi voice of Mickey/Spongebob et al and he does a great job at explaining the microphone and voice modulation. I would highly recommend this … me and my little one absolutely enjoyed it.

WeKids Radio

with Shantanu Joshi of WeKids Radio

By the time we were done, it was 2:30 pm (after about an hour in the A/C studio) and we went off to grab something to eat. There are a number of food stalls selling interesting food stuffs, Pita Burgers, Delhi Chaat, Macaroons, Belgian waffle, Noodles, momos, Pizza, Greek Yogurt and water bottles as well as cold drinks (only Rio cans) Now this is the second negative about the festival. The food is not exactly cheap with everything in multiples of 50, with probably the Cheese Pizza being the most value for money priced @ Rs. 200 + 50 for 2 toppings. The worst is the compulsion to buy water bottles that are overpriced at Rs. 50 each!

Also beware – food coupons are different from water coupons, so if you have bought food coupons factoring in the water bottles, you will have to shell extra. You also cannot return unused coupons for cash and will have to spend them all, so only buy the amount you need.

The entire left bay of the area is divided into four large tents that are colour coded with seating areas between each tent for parents to sit and wait. Various workshops are conducted inside each of these tents with the tickets available at tables/counters just outside each tent. The workshops vary in price from Rs.150 to Rs.250 and most are value for money. Each workshop area does have adequate large fans to at least make the heat bearable but making sure the child and parent come dressed for summer will also help a lot!

fantasy Creatures Workshop

Fantasy Creatures Workshop

The central bay is the area for food stalls, while the right bay is reserved for various stalls that display wares from trinkets to children’s quizzes to education to toys. My daughter found a stall where she got a #MonsterHigh doll (@ 25% discount) – Ghulia Yelps, which was pretty rare and insisted I mention it in my entry for like-minded kids searching for such “deals”!

Crowning the ground is the main stage which had various dance performances throughout the day, from Kidzania dancers to professional dancers, kids and many more. To the left of the stage is a covered area which houses the portable toilets for men and women and to the right is an adventure sport area which has some very interesting installations, such as the rock climbing wall, the zip line and tight rope walking/Burma bridge. There is also a lane beside it where kids can try their hand at Segway rides.

Food Stalls and the Main Stage

Food Stalls and the Main Stage

Back to our session, my daughter did 3 workshops – fantasy creatures (which she loved) , Shutterbug (which she did not much enjoy… it was mainly explaining about the camera modes and nothing about creative photography… perhaps that’s all it was supposed to do!) and the final one was a Junior Sherlock workshop where the presenter explained about fingerprints and investigative techniques and then had the kids investigate a mock crime scene.

Crime Scene INvestigation

Crime Scene INvestigation

The workshops are all of an hour long duration and begin from 3pm till the last one which begins at 7 pm. The weather starts getting cooler by around 4 pm and that is the time I would recommend getting to the festival. There are a lot of interesting workshops, some that took my fancy are the one about Composting, Gardening, Frozen science (freezing things using liquid nitrogen and other crazy stuff) and another about learning to understand music beats and move according to it. There is also a Yoga with Moms workshop , which I obviously was not qualified or interested in!

 

That pretty much covers all of it, I will not be going on Sunday since I have prior commitments, but I would definitely have gone for a couple of hours in the evening to attend some music workshops for later.

All in all, I would recommend this, but just about. Its definitely a nice idea but the execution could  have been better and the pricing SHOULD have been lower for all things in general.

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He’s Watching You!


Ganesh Chaturthi (The Ganesha festival) is just aorund the corner (9th Sep 2013, Monday) and Mumbai is abuzz with the excitement it feels everytime its favourite elephant headed God arrives every year.

Here he is, ready and always watching! 🙂

Caught Ganesha watching me ove rthe lip of the ceremonial cup – Wife’s puja at Janmashthami

 

 

 

 

Daily Prompt: The Natural World


Today’s Daily Prompt

Everytime I step out and look around, I find wonder in the infinite paradoxes that nature throws forward. Everywhere you look, chaos and order are intertwined like the veritable yin-yang. Two opposites, yet equally important in the grand scheme of things. 

I tried to click something that would bring out this duality – the curve of the flower pot, a strong geometric presence amidst the chaotic fallen leaves, again offset by the linear progression of the plant growing upwards, in turn offsetted by the chaotic spread of colours.

Order and Chaos

The Sentinel


As the dark clouds gather low,

A ruddy glow fills the night

The sentinel stands ready

Ever alert, out of sight

The sentinel

Tryst With Mt Kanchenjunga – 2


 

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Click here to read the FIRST part
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Day 3 – May 13th early morning

We were up at 3 am and hurriedly began to get ready for the climb up. Last night’s rain had again ensured a clear sky and we could see a myriad of stars twinkling away. It was a chill morning with the mercury a few degrees below 0 and armed with ear muffs and gloves, we began the steep climb up to Dzongri top.

The climb is a pretty tricky one as the route is steep and goes past scrub and loose sandy soil. As we slowly marched up and onward, dawn was starting to creep up, brightening the sky. The peaks of Mt Pandim and Rathong were beginning to appear on our left as we moved onwards.

It had been a pretty chill night and the path was strewn with a thick blanket of frost. The lesser peaks around us were also white with fresh snow from last night and it was a beautiful sight that was unfolding past us. Panting and wheezing, we manage to finally crest the ridge that leads onto the final narrow path that leads up to our final destination – Dzongri top.

As we reach the top, we stand in awe… witnessing the might of nature. In front of us stand the Kabru peaks, Mt Pandim, Mt Jopuno and Mt. Kanchenjunga. Its a 270 degree Himalayan special that makes me stand spellbound in the chill, bitter wind.

The sun begins streaking the mountain tops with gold as a sunning sight begins to unfold. A clear wondrously blue sky as the backdrop for the spectacular golden peaks all around us. We wait and watch it unfold and click photos as the peaks come to life. It been a sight worth savouring and the effort to be able to view this is soon forgotten.

As the sun finally rises in all its glory, we wait a while and then begin the walk down into the clouds and the ubiquitous sweet scented “sun-paate” bushes. Its been a memorable and extraordinary morning and one that we will cherish years on.

(Some useless info here : we were hoping to see the famous rosy pink peaks but were told by one of the locals that pink sunrises happen during October/November winter months only. The summer months give blazing gold sunrises. That obviously means I need to be back in winter to pay obeisance to the peaks again )

Black Kabru from Dzongri top

Dzongri top panorama

More goodness at Dzongri top

Me and Lakpa chilling at 5 am

Me, Amar and Lakpa at Dzongri top

Day 3 – May 13th late morning

After having had a filling breakfast, we again packed our bags are prepared for a long march to Lamuney.

We moved out by 8:40 am, climbing up the hill on towards Kokchurong. The path leads up through scrub and unusual patches of desert like white sand. The terrain reminds me of the Scottish moors and its gently undulating all the way over and across the ridge onto the other side. Some spectacularly beautiful moors all around as we hungrily breathe in the scented alpine air.

The highlands onward to Kokchurong after leaving Dzongri

The first hour of the walk is nice and easy with easy climbs and descents. Once we cross this beautiful, wild plateau, the first deep descent comes into view. Far below in the valley, you can see the gorge with a bridge across it. The descent needs to be made slowly and carefully (especially me with a bad knee) tracts are pretty steep and scrabbly and thanks to animal hooves, are a bit unsteady as well.

It takes quite a toll on your legs but after about 45 mins of descent, you are at the base where the trekker hut at Kokchurong awaits.

The forest around is amazing with a thick mist all around the deodars and unusual vegetation trailing everywhere. The clear stream cascades over the rocks as we step across boulders and across the bridge onto the other side.

The magical mist at Kokchurong

The forest on the other side is even more amazing with thick yellow lichen encrusted boulders and gnarled tree roots giving it a mystical, almost Lord of the Rings like appearance. Its truly breathtaking and I begin expecting a troll to pop out at any time blocking our way!

The mysterious landscape reminiscent of The Hobbit

After about an hour of reasonably easy walk, we come across a boulder strewn climb that is a bit difficult but lasts only for about 30 mins or so before it opens out into a wide sweeping valley where the cold wind suddenly swoops down on us.

This is actually the start of the pass that leads onto to Goecha-la and beyond. It is this very pass/valley that keeps going on and up through the majestic Himalayas.

In the distance we can see the Thansing trekker hut and a few camps but the amazing panorama of the peaks beyond is hidden behind low lying cold clouds that are looming threateningly.

We stop at Thansing to have lunch (which the cook has already prepared… they obviously being way faster than us!)

After an hour’s breather, we continue walking on towards Lamuney. This is the easiest stretch and is over and across very gentle slopes with mountain peaks around us shrouded in clouds.

The mountains shrouded in mist as the sleet started pelting down to be followed by snow as we hurried along!

Half an hour out of Thansing and the threatening clouds finally break. Initially its a shower of tiny hailstones but within 10 mins the wind picks up and it escalates into snowfall. We huddle under a rock and pull out our plastic ponchos and drape them over ourselves and our bag and hurry on through the alternating sleet and snow. After about half an hour, the snowflakes get bigger and denser and we are truly trudging through a medium scale snowfall.

Another 45 mins and we are at Lamuney. Lamuney does not have a trekkers hut and only has a kitchen which trekkers have to share with the cooks/porters if they do not carry tents. The kitchen was dark and smoky and over crowded but was a relief from the cold outside. Our feet and hands were chilled and we gratefully accepted the glasses of tea proferred around. We had reached Lamuney quite comfortably by around 4 pm and the snow continued to pelt the camp for the next 4 hours well into the night.

Covering up from the chill winds outside the kitchen at Lamuney

Posing in the dusk as the snow wriggled into our jackets!

We had a quick dinner and somehow everyone found space to crawl over or under benches and tables and we all eased down to sleep.

Day 3 had been yet another eventful and fantastic day with us experiencing all kinds of weather and picturesque scenery… all unique and stunning in their own way.

Day 4 – the tryst with the legendary Mt. kanchenjunga

3 am and as always time to brush the cobwebs, step out of our sleeping bags and embrace the stinging, chill air. As we had come to hope, expect… and enjoy … the skies were clear again. It was a winter wonderland with shades of black, white and grey, as we began our hike up the first ridge. The fresh snow had made things very difficult with only the footsteps of the previous group (10 minutes ahead of us) as our only guide.

Here we are cresting the first rise with the Lamuney camp already left far behind.

We kept climbing up the next rise and as we reached its edge, the sun decided to show us its glory.

4:30 am and the sun streaks the peaks turning them to gold.

Eldorado closeup 🙂

Having crossed the lip, a sublime sight greeted us – the golden peaks reflected in the gently rippling waters of Samiti Lake.

Rippling waters of Samiti Lake reflecting the blazing peaks.

Struggling up the rise on the shore opposite Samiti Lake, the pass can be seen in its entirety, snaking from after Lamuney all the way through the Himalayas.

Goecha-la (pass) can clearly be made out.

Beyond Samiti Lake, the going gets tougher, as we struggle through the snow up the increasing gradient, carefully stepping on rocks and avoiding getting our shoes wet! As the sun rises in the sky, our hearts soar to see the gigantic peaks appearing beyond the lip like an impenetrable wall.

Just the sight of these peaks gives us renewed energy as we strive on… (you can get an idea of the scale by seeing the size of the humans against the mighty mountains)

and the vista unfolds little by little

A Little panorama added in to give a taster

Goechala panorama (not yet there though!)

…To finally behold the magic of Goecha-la… the mighty awe inspiring Mt. Kanchenjunga and the surrounding stunning peaks!

Spectacular Mt. Kanchenjunga

Jet stream blowing streamers high up

The majestic, astounding, behemoth – Mt. Kanchenjunga

Sadly the clouds were starting to creep in towards Mt. Kanchenjunga which forced us to take the decision to abort the trek to the final viewpoint BUT this is how it is in the great Himalayas…you can only have the privilege to be close to them when THEY want it, not when we do  We decided to turn back from viewpoint 1 for multiple reasons… the risk of the mountain clouding over was too strong and also the fact that as the sun climbed in the sky, the fresh snow would start to melt, making the descent extremely treacherous.

No harm done though, it was mindblowing, spellbinding… unbelievable  MUCH more than what we had imagined. Human nature being greedy as always though, we decided on the spot that we would do one better – pink sunrise in November at Goechala our next target

We turned around exhilarated and began our march back down the slopes … all the way to Tsokha.

We began trudging down the slippery slopes back to Lamuney where we would have a quick breakfast and then proceed to Kokchurong for lunch followed by a brisk walk back to Tsokha. Our target was to reach Tsokha before nightfall since the inclement weather could break anytime.

Here are a few pics of the same route back, looking different in the blazing sunlight

Goechala to the far off valley on the way back

Samiti Lake like a turquoise gem in the blazing snow

Back down at Samiti Lake

Looking back and saying au revoir till next time!

Ponies grazing below Mt. Tenzingkhang. This is an awesome knife shaped peak

An unusual shrine enroute

Finally back at the camp

The campsite at Lamuney with Mt Pandim looming over us.

As planned, we moved back down past Kokchurong onto the less travelled route that led directly to Phedang. This was one weird route (and a pretty tough one at that) a really unusual forest that has the reputation of being haunted and also full of bogs. All I felt was that this was a truly narrow path through a dense, spooky forest which probably contributes to its reputation. It was also a pretty difficult route to take and after a pretty hard climb/descent, we finally came out at Phedang. From here on the going was easier… pretty ,much downhill. Finally, at 6:15 pm, we reached Tsokha.

A truly strenuous Day 4 finally ended.

Day 5 was pretty much a breeze as compared to what we had been through, and we were home and dry in Yuksom by 1:30 pm

Evening was spent looking around town (the coronation throne, Phamrong falls) and finally chilling with a nice hot water bath followed by an awesome booze party well into the night

All in all, we managed to finish the trek in excellent time (5 days) even with our mulish packloads… AND managed to enjoy every moment of it. The mountain gods were merciful and we had great weather all throughout.

Just a little side-note … I am also a smoker and I dd smoke at all altitudes, albeit sparingly – only about 3 cigarettes a day. It did not hamper (or improve) my performance in anyway but well… it was fun to smoke while in the driving rain with lightning streaking the sky

Our next target now – the incredible Green Lake trek… time to get back in shape again!!

In The Lap Of The Gods – Goechala May 2013 Part 1


 

After 2 years of planning, finally this long awaited trek came to fruition. This is an account of how we did it.

The dudes  –

a. Phurba (Amar) Sherpa (ex HMI instructor, and my brother in law – age 40)
b. Lakpa Lama (CRPF Sub Inspector, my cousin brother – age 31)
c. Me – Sharad Chaturvedi (typical Mumbai guy, with no real fitness except squash – age 38)

This is the famous Goechala trek, one of the most rewarding and strenuous treks around. While planning for the trek, I did a lot of reading up but the information that I was hoping for was not available, so I will add bits here that I hope will prove to be useful for others seeking similar info.

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INFO

1. I have uveitis and have had trabeculectomy in both eyes. Would the eyes be able to handle the strain and the altitude?

– I just had a few niggles but all in all, absolutely no problems  so all those with a similar ailment … go for it! 

2. This was my first major trek since my daughter’s birth (after 8 long years) At 38, being confined to sea level, would I be able to do it? what was the level of fitness required?(I also have a bad left knee ligament)

– While its always useful to not be overweight, and its a good idea to prepae in advance with some endurance running up the slopes, I do not believe this is compulsory. The trek is pretty tough BUT there are enough places to stay over and relax if you feel tired. The important thing is to have mental toughness and a desire to do it, come what may. (I personally did some long distance runs and extended squash sessions a month prior to the trek)

3. The importance of the right group… great friends or preferably family, who eggs you on…cannot be understated. I saw a few instances of people competing to be faster and then having over extended themselves, struggling in the later stages. Its very important to remember that a trek is meant to be enjoyed and we made a point of enjoying the scenery all the way through and moving steadily and constantly along the way. This ensured I have some lovely memories and we also completed an 8 day trek in 5 days without straining ourselves I thank my bros for sticking with me and being making it the most amazing trek I have had in a long long time.

4. To save energy and strain, try zig-zagging up steep slopes. This ensures you exercise your muscles equally. Also, do have a reliable, strong walking stick at hand at all times.

5. Since I was trekking after a long gap, I wasn’t sure how I would hold up to high altitude. I had Diamox in the night at Yuksom and then had Diamox in the morning at Tsokha and in the night at Dzongri. I also ensured that I did not overextend myself and drank plenty of water. Needless to say, I had absolutely no problems with AMS.

Thats about it, on with the report! 

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Im not going to put up too many pics since I am on a very bad internet connection. I will add more pics slowly over the next few days.

May 10th afternoon.

Today we reached Yuksom after a drive down from darjeeling via Jorethang. A pretty steep incline down the Tukvar tea estate road, Jorethang was sweltering in the heat. The road then climbs up, past the Tatopani complex (hot springs) and reaches Legship from where its about an hour to Yuksom via Tashiding.

Its peak trekking season and we learn that a huge group of trekkers has just left for the trek, leaving Yuksom devoid of porters/guides/yaks. After a lot of searching, questioning, pleading, we finally find a young cook – Birkumar Rai, who arranges his friends as porters.

Evening 7 pm and we are finally done with the ration shopping and retire to our dormitory rooms in the Wild Orchid hotel (which was actually totally empty with us being the only guys staying!) We have our beers and whiskies and have a nice dinner at the Gupta Restaurant in town and trn in for the night.

Cook rate – 500 per dayporters – 300 per day.yaks are 250 a day but you need to hire a pair. sadly there were none available. 

Yuksom has a number of restaurants and you can find all kinds of food – veg/non-veg, so there is absolutely no problem on that front.

Yuksom is also home to the coronation throne (from when the first king of sikkim was crowned) and a monastery with huge prayer wheels, coated with 7.5 kilos of gold.

We did not hire a tent, our plan was to stay in trekkers hut at all places. As it is, each of us had pack loads of between 15-20 kilos to carry (with mattress/sleeping bag etc) A tent is useful in Lamuney since there is no trekker hut available BUT if you are lucky you could adjust with the porters and cooks and sleep in the dining tent or the kitchen itself.

DAY 1

May 11th morning

Its a clear sunrise and the peaks are visible beyond the green hills ringing the town. We have a quick breakfast and at 7:30 am, get our names listed at the police station and then proceed onto the Forest check post where we pay the park fee (camera fee is additional) and also list out our items. (it is mandatory to declare plastic bottles and wrappers in advance. This is to be checked on our return against the list provided. Items found missing are penalised 5000 INR)

The trek begins with clear skies and glorious sunshine. he initial phase is reasonably easy with gentle inclines and descents, through dense green sub-alpine/tropical forests. We tread carefully past the landslide zone and move further into the rolling hills. Birdsong accompanies us and every 10-15 mins, there is a bend that opens out lovely vistas of blue-green hills with waterfalls peeking through.

The first bridge is not too far off and the sound of the thundering white waters signals the approach. Depending on your speed, it could take between an hour to 1.5 hours to get to the first bridge. Its a suspension bridge with clear blue waters gushing below and rising up as a misty spray.

Cross he bridge and start climbing up aain (there was a new gate being constructed at this bridge, perhaps this will be a new checkpost pretty soon) The path goes up ….up … and then plunges down by almost the same elevation. We get used to the constant rise and dips and there are a few common grumbles – you rise up and gain height … only to lose it again. Thats the nature of the trek though, as it goes up and down the hills.

The second bridge takes us by surprise about 45 mins to an hour after the first one. This is a pretty small one and not as spectacular. Cross it and proceed into the jungle again.

About 15-20 minutes into the jungle we start hearing the roar of a stream in the gorge below. That makes us think that the 3rd bridge is just round the corner… BUT thats an illusion .The path just keeps going up and down along the gorge (you cannot actually see the gorge) but it takes a long time to get to it.

About an hour out from the second bridge, we come to Sachen . Some trekkers halt here before they move up to Tsokha. If you do halt here, be prepared for the tiny mosquitos that infest the forest, called “bhusuna” quite irritating little ticks

May 11th afternoon

An hour out from Sachen and we finally reach the third elusive bridge  (Preakchu Gorge) We do pass a mini bridge along the way but thats not very spectacular. This one has white water rushing down (it comes all the way from Thansing via Kokchurong) and with sweat dripping off my clothes and even my cap! its a pleasure to take off the backpacks and rest for a while at the bridge and enjoy the cool wind speeding through the gorge. We have some Chamba (corn flour) and wai wai and then proceed to what will be some seriously tough climbing.

Just after the third bridge is where the real McCoy begins…the ascent to Bakhim has a steep gradient that is relentless and we proceed slowly through the dense cover. Its a real torture to the legs and the lungs but when you come out of the forest and into Bakhim, the view is fantastic. We can no longer see Yuksom and out in front of us are the thickly wooded hills with mist sprayed around lavishly. A deep valley shows us why the climb was so torturous.

Bakhim has one hut with a viewing gallery. We have some tea and munch on chocolates and get ready for the next steep gradient up to Tsokha. (about an hours worth of climbing still to go)

May 11th evening

We begin the walk up to Tsokha through lush meadows and forest with a few deodars scattered around. My legs and lungs are protesting but I have a simple technique. Aim for a target bend, climb up till there, stop for 5 seconds to catch breath and move on. Incredibly effective and in a little more than an hour, we reach Tsokha by around 5 pm.

Dump our bags into the trekkers hut (which is a pretty cosy and warm little hut with mattresses and pine panelling and of course some v interesting graffiti) The trekers hut at Tsokha is the best we will meet enroute, with 4 toilets, all having a ready supply of water.

We go on up towards the only little restaurant, have some wai wai (because our cook and porters have not yet reached) and unwind over some awesome tongba (liquor)

Day 1 ends with sore shoulders and tired legs. Make no mistake, the initiation has not been easy and including all stops taken to enjoy the scenery and relax, it has taken us 8 hours from the time we set off from the forest check post.

The clouds roll in during the night, with lightning and brisk chill winds whipping across the hamlet. Its been an interesting day 1

Tsokha

The sylvan surroundings of Tsokha

DAY 2

May 12th Morning

Our cook and porters did arrive around 7 pm last night with our rations but by then we had already eaten and had been ready to turn in. We wake up at 5 am to be greeted with clear skies – the storm and winds of last night, having cleared the skies for a glorious day 

We get a lovely view of Mt Pandim as we brush our teeth behind the kitchen. Freshened up, we have some tea and Tibetan phale with jam. Up and at ’em, we begin our march to Dzongri around 7 am.

The trail is well defined and wide, and in the beginning, has wooden slats to make it easy for trekkers. The climb is fairly easy (as compared to yesterday) and we make good progress through the sun dappled woods. A few chimul (rhododendron family) flowers pop in and out along the trail and birdsong greets us everywhere.

After about an hour of easy walking, we come across a bit of a slope that makes it the first sector of strain for the day but that’s pretty short lived and the trail flattens out with pink and red chimul blossoms on either side as we approach Phedang. (A trail from Phedang on the right leads off to Kokchurong and is the trail we would take on our way back)

Phedang is a clearing almost cresting the ridge and im sure would be offering some great views but by the time we reach it, the clouds have gathered around us, obscuring the views. Phedang also has a trekkers hut if anyone wishes to stay here.

We pass thorugh the green meadow of Phedang and come across a tough section that will lead up to Deorali. The path here is sandy and steep making it a fairly tricky section to navigate and as I struggle on and up the path, Lakpa (leading us) has just crested the rise and calls excitedly “wow! you have to see this!”

As I scramble up with renewed energy, the sight that greets us is stunning. Deorali is a long flat plateau. In front of us are yellow rhododendrons on all sides and beyond them is a stunning vista of awe inspiring peaks glistening white in the sun as the clouds weave in and out. The chill wind whips along the plateau as we watch the clouds race past and dip under and over the majestic Himalayan range.

We spend about 20 minutes, spellbound, furiously clicking pictures and hoping to be able to get a clear glance of the entire range but the clouds are not being very friendly

Deorali 1

The panorama at Deorali

Me and Lakpa at Deorali, chill winds whipping with the Yellow Rhododendrons framing a spectacular mountain panorame

Clouds rolling in at speed to carpet Deorali top in mist. The path leads onwards to Dzongri

Finally we move on down the trail that leads on down the valley onto the next ridge that we need to cross up and over to eventually each Dzongri.

Down the lovely valley and then up again. Dzongri is just beyond the ridge ahead

Soaking in the views just before the final ridge

After climbing the ridge, we pass over a small stream that is still frozen over (a bit of a surprise that!) We can now see Dzongri glistening in the distance as the sun comes back out from behind the clouds in all its glory.

Its 1 pm and we have finally reached Dzongri and settled in. We take off our sweat stained clothes and put them out to air and dry in the sun that thankfully is blazing away today!

Lunch is on time today and after relaxing a bit, we go on up the neighbouring hill towards the Chaurikhang base camp to explore the scrub land that has now taken over the landscape. We are now past the alpine tree line and at 13,500 feet, its amazingly scented scrub and bushes that greet us everywhere. (the scented bushes are called “sun-paate” (translated as golden leaf) and are used to make incense (“sang”) during Buddhist pujas)

As it gets on towards evening, the clouds gather in the distance, blocking out the hills and we can see the rain/snow come down in the distance.

We come back down to the hut and around 6 pm, move in for our customary tongba party! 😀

8 pm and we are asleep, preparing for the climb to Dzongri peak for sunrise.

Late in the night, just as yesterday, the clouds roll in again and with the usual lightning show at around 11 pm … for about an hour, they thankfully depart.

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Some Useless Info : The Dzongri trekker hut is pretty cosy and there is a restaurant here for tongba and food if needed. There is also a shop that stocks on biscuits and chocolates and cigarettes. However the toilets are sadly something else  wooden blocks with a hole in the ground where you pile your “refuse” on top of everyone else’s
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After having woken up during the storm and rain, we go off to sleep again around 12 am hoping for clear skies the next day.

 

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Click here for the concluding (2nd) Part 

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The Big Desert Art Festival


This one is a quick post about a terrific festival in the making this winter in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

There is going to be a bonanza for music lovers (and art lovers in general) A new festival titled “Ragasthan” is being organised between the 16th to the 18th of November. This promises loads of exciting activities on the sand dunes of Jaisalmer, with 4 distinct music stages, separate tents for art and films, and even a workshop on “budget” sci-fi movie making! To add to all of it, they also have some cool extreme sports such as zorbing, dune riding etc.

the Ragasthan festival website

The accomodation will be in tents ranging from luxury tents to ones that you carry yourself!

Check out the cool website here and also book tickets here.

PS : do have a look at the insane number of headlining bands…a literal whos who of music in India! (especially Rock music!!!) 🙂

Mind Over Matter


It has long been believed that ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts describe advanced techniques of meditation (mind over matter) with which ancient priests/monks could influence not only their body, but also manipulate the elements of nature. These ancient practices are still followed by a handful, mostly the tantric sect of Buddhism which is more common along the remote borders of Tibet, ranging from Tabo in the west to Lachen in the east. Whether this is true or not, you will find people in the remote regions swearing by it…indeed it is a part of their lives in fact! … and why not… in such desolate areas where survival is a challenge, Im sure the mind adapts to a higher plane that we, with all modern comforts, have totally lost out on.

There are quite a few examples that bear one to think of the power of the untapped mind is very real (modern hypnotists and healers aside)

Kyi monastery, near Kaza (Spiti valley)

A couple of decades ago, in Ghuen village in the remote Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh, a 500 year old mummy of a monk was accidentally found, meditating in the esoteric posture of tantric Buddhist practices. He had sacrificed his life, using advanced meditation techniques, for his village to save it from an outbreak of scorpions. The story goes that the moment he gave up his life, there was a flock of butterflies that appeared and the scorpions disappeared.

Lama Sangha Tenzin – the amazingly preserved mummy of a monk who sacrified himself.

(More details can be found here)

To test the mental abilities of the monks, a team from Harvard performed strictly monitored tests, which was made into a documentary shown on the History channel, trailer shown below.

This takes me back to my earlier post – the X Dimension, and leads me to wonder ever more what the mind could truly be capable of.  A lot to be researched, perhaps the answers lie up in the mountains… or perhaps they lie in simple disciplined meditation.

The Dinosaurs’ Last Stand!!!


Along a secluded hill, facing the mighty Kanchenjunga range, the chill wind gusts downwards, past the dinosaurs running amok in this Jurassic Park!

The Last Stand Of The Himalayan Dinosaurs 🙂

Ok, its not THE Jurassic Park and neither are the dinosaurs alive 🙂 This is one of the most unusual, surrealistic science parks I have come across. Situated well away from the town of Kalimpong, up on the hill that leads onto Delo (famous as a picnic spot with splendid views of the Kanchenjunga range) lies an often overlooked, splendid science park, simply known as the… Science City 🙂

Whilst the actual exhibits in the building mid-way up the hill are the usual mini science experiments which are your usual run of the mill…the real treasures hide up on the crest of the hill. Walk up the path to the top and the vista will open out in front of you with an amazing array of life size, well crafted dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes, looking well at ease on the wind swept hill. Making their home among these interesting specimens are a number of excellent large scale science exhibits demonstrating various principles of physics. All in all a beautifully made mini science park which does not get the due attention it deserves.

The next time you are in North Bengal – Kalimpong, do drop in for a visit. Kids will surely love the place and adults will be amazed and amused by it 🙂

Just for the record, I end with the usual photograph of the spectacular Kanchenjunga range taken from the Delo viewpoint further up the road.

The Beautiful Mt. Kanchenjunga from Delo, Kalimpong

Black and White Classic Comedic Videos – Bollywood


This music video is from a super hit movie back in the black and white days – Bhoot Bangla. A few days ago I was watching a rerun of it with my wife when we had this blast from the past… the super hit song “Aao Twist Karein” which was the first instance of the “twist” in Indian cinema (Bollywood)

This video is pretty hilarious and is worth a watch right till the end, especially with the expressions on the actors’ faces and especially after that “popularity meter” explodes… when some of the men and women virtually go into a zombie-like trance 🙂

Definitely worth watching all the way !!!

Travelling and games for me please :) Check our games https://twitter.com/blackcobragame

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