Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ladakh Trip - 3

Ladakh Trip First and Second Posts.

The final phase of our camp started with the journey towards Tso Moriri lake. It was one of the three lakes we were supposed visit and as per the verbal poll taken among the campers at the end of our trip, was the best of the three. Most of the journey was parallel to the Indus river. At some places the flow was so strong that one could hear the stream even in the car. On the way, we saw one more smaller lake (Google maps calls it Kyagar Tso) which was much more mesmerizing. As we reached the Tso Moriri lake, we saw a few Bar Headed Geese. We were told that the Chinese border is closer from where we had stayed. The view from my hotel room was amazing. We were strictly instructed to return by 7.30 PM if we wanted to roam around in the area. The place near the lake gets very windy and cold. Thankfully we didn't have to stay in the tents in such harsh weather conditions. However, this time there was no night sky watch. From my room I could clearly see the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia constellations. I can recollect that after returning from walk around the nearby area, few of us had an interesting conversation about Game of Thrones. In fact, we even had a bigger discussion on a number of topics when we were having dinner. We talked about the flaws in the religions, the noise during festival season, whether there is a pattern in the alcohol consumption as per city (my friend has a strong belief that Mumbaikars are much less alcoholic than city people), different places to visit and their architectural significance (OK, I wasn't an active participant in the last topic). Next day plan was to get up early for the Sun rise from the lake. 

Indus River

Indus River

Kyagar Tso

Tso Moriri

Tso Moriri at Sunset

As decided, most of the people got up early on time. We were on time for the Sun rise as we could see the Sun rays emanating behind the mountains. We stayed there for an hour or so. After few individual and group pics, we returned back to hotel (There was even a "singles" group pic). As we headed towards Tso Kar, we made a few halts as we again came across the Bar Headed Geese. The road was toughest on the way to Tso Kar and the weather was also tougher among the three lakes. On our way, we spotted few Kiang/Tibetan Wild Ass and Black Necked Cranes. There were few geysers emitting hot water with sulfur deposits around. We managed to reach the hotel on time for lunch. After some rest, we went for birding in the area around the lake. Along the way, we saw an Owl (I am not able to recollect the exact type, but it was white) and spotted a nest of a Golden Eagle. As we went ahead, we saw the mating of Kiangs. During our return journey, we finally got to see the Golden Eagle and it was a sight worth the wait. In the evening it got very cold. There was even a cake cutting ceremony as it was the birthday of one of our group leaders. At the dinner table, we again had wonderful conversation, this time about work life balance. It was 3 public servants against 2 hardcore private employees (including a Consultant). It was an interesting debate which I would love re-initiate if we all meet again. After dinner, I had a memorable conversation with my roommate who as I mentioned earlier is an avid reader. I remember telling him how much I disliked the book Three Men in a Boat even though one of my friend told me that it was the most hilarious book he had ever read. It was a relief to hear that my roommate also felt like me when he had read the book. The book, he also agreed is anachronistic. He had a similar feeling with The Fountainhead. He told me about various books he had read, how he used to read in his childhood.  He even suggested few books to me - The Good Earth by Perl Buck, Manwatching by Desmond Morris, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Parva by S. L. Bhyarappa, Mrityunjaya by Shivaji Swant, Vanvas, Pankha and Zumbar by Prakash Sant, Ek Hota Carver by Veena Gavankar, Prakashvata by Dr. Prakash Amte. I hope to read all of these over next year or so.

Tso Moriri

Tso Moriri

Tso Moriri - Sunrise

Tso Moriri - Sunrise


Tso Moriri - Photo Session!

Tso Moriri - Sunrise 

Tso Moriri

On the final day of our journey, just as we finished our breakfast, a flock of Tibetan Sandgrouse came flying over our heads. I will never forget the sight when I saw few Sandgrouses moving in a line crossing the road. Afterwards we took a group photo with our group leaders, drivers and last but not the least Mr. Bijoo who guided us along the tour with BNHS. During the return journey, we passed the Tanglang La which is claimed to be second highest motorable pass in the world. As we were free for the rest of the day, we went to main market for one last time. I got some memento for few of my friends and Ladkah Photography calendar for my brother (yea, yea it was 2015 one). The fresh vegetables in the market were so tempting that my friend bought some to take back home. One last incident which made me laugh to the fullest, was narrated by our fellow camper told us how she lost and found her spectacles. Now, I cannot detail the whole incident, but I doubt if it will ever fade out of our memories. To think back it might have been funny for us but it was pretty brave thing to do to get back those glasses (even if one has only pair). Of course, the bottom line is - "Never make fun of an old man having 2 different colored spectacles" (No, only those who were present for the camp would understand this).  

Way to Tso Kar

Tso Kar

Tso Kar

Tso Kar

Tanglang La
Return journey back to Mumbai was smoother than Mumbai-Leh journey. The halt between the 2 connecting flights was just an hour long. During the Delhi-Mumbai flight, I was engaged in a nice conversation with my friend. Again the conversation spanned across totally unrelated subjects. It started with skimming through the travel magazine kept in front of the seats, when we discussed the places to visit in India. Then the topics varied from which books to read, Kashmir issue, why current Americans get to use the resources originally belonging to Red Indians, should the world resources be divided equally across country, should there be a concept of country (why not have a "world" as a nation), belief in God and the necessity of having God & why some Indian girls are ready to sacrifice their careers to marry and settle in US?

Few incidents which I missed in my earlier posts include the one on second day where a local cultural program was arranged for another group of travelers staying at the same hotel. The performance was very good, included folk dance and songs. Another incident involved people feeding Himalayan Marmots with biscuits and chocolates. Such food is not natural to these animals and creates hindrance in their hibernation period (Harsh winters of Ladakh). The idiots who were feeding these animals included foreigners, even though there were huge boards nearby explaining the Dos and Donts about Marmots. Many people from our BNHS camp went to the location where such feeding was happening and asked everyone to refrain from feeding the animals. There is a need for awareness among tourists not to feed the animals any junk food. 

What a view!

Cultural Program at Hotel

Hotel Bijoo
Before closing the post, let me just list the birds I can recollect from the Ladakh itinerary. The most common bird I saw there, was Eurasian Magpie. We also saw Chukar Partridge at many places including the national park. We even spotted Agama lizard during one of the stops on the way to Tso Moriri. We also noticed hill pigeons, Ravens, Larks, Redstart. I know I have missed most of the birds but with no photos and books it is not possible for me to list all the birds. Apologies to my readers! 

BNHS Camp - Ladakh

I hope to travel more in the coming years and find my passion...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ladakh Trip - 2

Here is the first post.

So let's start with my journey during the Ladakh trip. But before that let me introduce the group I was traveling with. My friend with whom I had booked the tour is an Architect, specializes in City Planning and was accompanied by her father who seemed to be a very avid reader. In fact, we had 4 architects in our group - my friend, a couple who have their own firm and a Pondicherry based architect who is originally from Mumbai. My roommate was a banker by profession but bird lover at heart. He was accompanied by his sister and niece, all of whom had traveled in BNHS camps earlier. There were 2 old ladies, one of which had come with same purpose as mine - enjoy the nature and its views! We had 2 elderly couples one of which ran a equity brokerage firm. One middle aged person who is wonderful photographer (His camera lens was so long and used to take so many pics at an instant, we used to call it machine gun). Another person from Gujrat had a great deal of idea about birds. One more girl from Mumbai was also present. Our group leaders had a prior experience of visiting Ladakh for birding. In fact, one of them had been coming there since the 90's and once traveled from Maharashtra to Ladakh on his scooter. Other group leader was of same age as mine and had studied with few of my school friends during his graduation. With this bunch of passionate individuals, I traversed the beautiful region of Ladakh.

Another thing, being not well versed with the birds and their nomenclature, I might not be able to state the birds I saw during the trip. But I will try my best to recollect the names towards the end.
View from plane - Tso Moriri Lake

So day 3 of the camp came and I was finally fit to go. BNHS had organized 4 Innova cars for our traveling. We first went to the high altitude Hemis National Park. Thanks to the binoculars given to me by Vikas, I was able to spot few birds. Most of the people had DSLR (I had a point and shoot Nikon camera, but its battery malfunctioned after coming back from Pangong). At the national park, we saw a big herd of Bharal/Himalayan Blue Sheep. As I remember most them were females, and there was one male whose horns were distinguishing him from others. Then we encountered many Yaks.


Yak Yak Yak!

After having light but wonderful Pulav in the National Park itself, we headed to Hemis Monastery. It was quite and serene place. Inside the monastery, there were many paintings of Buddha and (probably) other mythological characters in Buddhism, painted on the walls. One of the painting (which I initially thought) had depicted the birth and rise of Buddha (My roommate differed with me on this point. With him being a Master in Indology, I think I will agree with him). Outside the temple, I had interesting confusion. I had removed my Woodland shoes outside before entering the temple. When I came out, there was another pair of exactly same model of Woodland shoes removed by another person lying next to my pair. After trying both the pairs, I finally realized which pair was mine (I was bit furious though, as I thought the other guy had done it deliberately). After having a tea at the base, we went back to hotel. Unfortunately, my roommate started feeling bit uneasy and after a round of hospital and "Oxygen", he decided to not take the next day's journey to Nubra Valley as we had to cross Khardung La while traveling.


Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery

On Day 4, we started our journey towards Nubra Valley. On the way, we saw magnificent landscapes with a variety of colors of rocks (red, purple, black, white). Roads were usually smooth with few exceptions. As we neared the valley, we could see dunes of sand piled over one side. The hotel at Nubra valley was also good. At the valley, we also got the opportunity to ride a double hump camel. It was pretty difficult to get a camel at that time, as the place was very crowded by the time we reached. Add to that the fact that Sun was about to set. All thanks to my friend, we were able to ride camel for 15 odd minutes. Of course, that wasn't the best thing at Nubra Valley. When we reached back, as I saw the landscape I was sure that the night sky will be worth the watch. And I was not disappointed at all. At night, even from my room I could see many many stars. I still remember standing in common balcony of first floor at hotel with one of the fellow traveler, asking her what the particular patch in sky was. It was a bit vague pattern which I had not seen earlier. When we went to the terrace, the ambient light had reduced and the patch was much more visible. Soon we were joined by another person who told us that it was the "Milky Way"(The image shown at Wikpedia matches with what we saw). Afterwards, other enthusiasts joined us and took pictures of the Milky Way. As I waited to observe the night sky, I could see some shooting stars in between. As we had an early journey next morning, I decided to head back to my room by 10:30 PM itself, even though my heart wanted to be there for the whole night. 

Look at those roads!

Sand Dunes at Nubra Valley

Desert at Nubra Valley

Next day we started our journey back Leh. On the way, we stopped near Diskit Monastery. The huge statue of Buddha was visible even at the bottom of the hill. We waited in the area for some time for birding. During our journey to Nubra valley, we had not made a halt at Khardung La. However, during the return journey we decided to get down at Khardung La and take a group photo. Khardung La is claimed to be the highest motorable point in the world. We had fun taking group pics there. Unfortunately, my friend started feeling dizzy at that height and could not join us for the pic. In fact, after 10 minutes at the top, most of us started feeling tired and were panting. As there was some road work going on, we reached back to Leh a little late. So our group leaders decided to call it a day and gave us time to check out the market. I bought a sweater (the group leader had instructed me to get an extra layer of woolen clothing as it was going to be colder and breezier at the lakes). In one of the shops, when the shopkeeper heard us speaking in Marathi, he asked us if we were from Maharashtra. He told us that majority of the tourists in Leh were from Maharashtra region. In fact, even I had made a similar observation. Whenever I roamed around in the market area, I would hear a person speaking in Marathi every 100 meters. After the purchase we headed back to hotel for dinner.

Buddha Statue at Diskit Monastery
Return Journey from Nubra Valley

Shyok River
Khardung La Top

K Top

Now was the day when we made our foray towards Pangong Lake. It was a tougher road than Nubra Valley. Before going to Pangong, we made a stop Thikse Monastery located near Leh. When we reached the place, prayers were in progress. Like Hemis Monastery, the place serene and peaceful. 
Thikse Monastery

Thikse Monastery Entrance

And we did spin it clock wise :)

Flag Pole at Thikse Monastery

Statue of Buddha

Statue of Buddha

Thikse Monastery

We stayed at hotel Pangong Residency which was surrounded by mountains from all sides. I was looking forward to night sky watch as that area did not have too many hotels to affect ambient light. Of course, the main attraction of the day was Pangong Lake. Due to some ongoing road work on the way to the lake, we were delayed by more than 40 minutes than the expected time. We were afraid if Sun sets, we might not be able get a good view of the lake. However, once we reached there, we were enchanted by the magnificent view of the lake. I made some idiotic attempts at taking selfies (which continued for the whole of tour). We first had a photo session at the location where 3 idiots was shot. Afterwards, we went a little further where there was a flock of birds. I sat near the lake for around 10-15 minutes observing the water, birds, photographers and more importantly tried to feel the quietness of the place. As it started getting windy and colder, we all moved in a small dhaba style hotel and had hot lemon tea. After returning to hotel, we were told about the early next morning trip to a place where we could see Black Necked Cranes. As I wanted to stay late in the night to gaze at stary sky, I opted to stay back in the morning. In the night, the sky was even more amazing. I tried locating some constellations, but could only go far to see Big Dipper, Pole Star and Cassiopeia. We even saw the shooting stars in the Perseus constellation which had appeared in August month's Google Doodle. I had a very good discussion about night sky observation with one of the fellow travelers. He told me about his experience at Ramgarh bungalow. He took photos of Pole star every few seconds for 15 minutes, so as to see the trace left by other stars which appear to revolve around the pole star. I remember him explaining me camera telescopes which try to compensate earth's rotation to take more accurate photos of stars.

Indian Army


Heading Towards Pangong Lake

Does it remind you of 3 Idiots (And no.. Karina didn't turn up in scooty for me)


Sun sets at Pangong Lake

Relaxing at Pangong Lake

After some good sleep in the night, and heavy breakfast of Aloo Parathas, we were joined back by the people who had gone for the early morning birding session. While returning back we made a stop at Chang La, another high altitude pass. Again made a ridiculous attempt at taking selife. During the journey, the group in my car had a long discussion on 2 topics. First was food and second Mr. Narendra Modi. The food part revolved around the type of regional food available in Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and how it is priced across cities. Then the discussion moved to Modi and his government. We discussed what should be done by the government, where the money should be utilized, whether building statues of past leaders actually worth it, about the Gujarat model of development, etc. We were people from different professional backgrounds and it was nice to hear everyone's views.

In the evening, we visited the Leh Palace as well as the Shanti Stupa. Both are very good monuments situated at Leh city itself. The Leh palace was constructed in such a way that the King must have had a complete view of the city from the palace. Currently, the palace is being restored by ASI and due to the restoration work, there is a lot of dust around the palace. Most of  us did not wander much in the palace except for my friend who climbed all the levels of the palace till the top. I found Shanti Stupa to be a major attraction among the foreign tourists. You get a magnificent panoramic view of Leh city from this place. After visiting these places, we visited the marketplace again and tasted the carrot cake at one of the bakery. The climate was much easier than Pangong village where in the night I had to wear monkey cap and gloves on the terrace. 

Return Journey from Pangong

Look at the clouds
Chang La

Shanti Stupa

Selfie at Shanti Stupa (Finally one attempt was not utterly bad)

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa

Leh Palace


Now, this has already become the longest post in my blog. So let me break it into one more part where I will talk about Lakes Tso Moriri and Tso Kar and the birding we had there. Till then adios amigos!