Picking a travel destination

You are dead tired, each step feels heavy and labored, every single muscle in your body is making its presence felt, but, the destination is in sight and relief is just a few more kms away.

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This is the best part of any hike or trek or trip. There is isn’t any more danger or uncertainty. There is no fear that you might be unable to complete the trip without getting hurt. There is just a rising excitement from finally seeing the finishing line and a feeling of relief from the crushing fatigue. You start to smile and talk more and suddenly there is a spring in  your step.

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Once the main trek was done, we took a taxi to Dhankar where we stayed at the guest house attached to the monastery and relaxed for a day before the next trip.

Spiti Valley

After a week of trekking and sleeping in the rain and snow, being finally under a concrete roof in one of the most surreal landscapes in the world is a wonderful feeling. Sitting on a terrace attached to the coffee shop gazing out at the desolation and barren beauty of the Spiti-valley while pondering over things like the motivation of people who voluntarily chose this place as their home, feels different and strange.

Dhankar Monastery

Dhankar Monastery

We spent the morning hiking up to the Dhankar lake and then I and KP spent the rest of the day lazing about and eating tasty little treats and talking at the coffee shop.

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When I think of a place to travel to, it is only rarely that I try to see if that place is objectively beautiful or if the sights are “worth-it”. The first thing I think of when picking a place is about the things that could be done there. I think that by doing something or engaging with a place physically we will be able to better appreciate what it has to offer.

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I have heard many people talk about how great it would be to visit foreign countries or go on a whirl-wind tour of the famous tourist-spots of the world. When I hear that I always wonder what it is exactly one feels when standing in front of a tourist attraction. What is the happiness you get out of taking a picture of yourself in front of the Eiffer tower or some other such landmark? One can of course see anything online nowadays. When we imagine ourselves being happy in front of a particular sight have we ever wondered why we would be happy in that position? Is it just the beauty of the sight?

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A lonely flower

I have a strong feeling that it has to be more than that. Maybe, it is the break from the routine of daily life involved in getting to the said location. Maybe it is being there with your friends or family. Maybe it is the little surprises that happen on long trips…

When I look through these old photos, the pleasure I feel comes more from remembering how I felt like at the time than from the mere aesthetic appeal of the scenery that I have tried to capture with these images.

I once cycled up the Khardung-La pass in Ladakh and was deeply affected by the experience. Once the cycling expedition was finished I got myself into a group which was hiring a share-taxi to visit the Nubra valley through the same route. The second time I went through that route, I slept most of the way and the sights that had deeply moved me the first time failed to have the same impact as they whizzed past the window of our vehicle.

A sky so rare, the moon is visible at noon!

A sky so rare, the moon is visible at noon!

I realized then that the impact travel has on us is mostly a function of our own state of mind, our physical condition, the accessibility and uniqueness of the place, interaction with our travel partners and the activities we are engaged in. If one’s stated purpose for travelling is to collect different experiences and learn something new about oneself in that process, then, the “impressiveness” of any place or sight is of only secondary importance. The way we engage with that place has a bigger say in deciding how much we are able to take away from the whole exercise.

Is there something objectively great about a place that would make a trip there worth the while? I think this is an important question for someone interested in expanding their mind in whichever way possible.

So, the next time I plan a trip, I ought to spend more time thinking about what I can do there than on whether that place is “beautiful-enough” or not.

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Bhabha Pass Trek – Day 1

Kafnu to Mulling

After spending one day lazing about in Shimla and getting a good night’s sleep at the Youth Hostel there, we set off for Kafnu the next day. This was supposed to be the starting point of the trek. The ride was thankfully a comfortable tempo and the roads were pretty well maintained. The ride through the scenic mountains with the occasional drizzle and the greenery was very relaxing. I had India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond by Shashi Tharoor with me. In the breaks I took from enjoying the view I read the book.

We got to Kafnu by around 5 in the evening.

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There were no problems at all though there were a lot of warnings that there would be landslips all along the road. There was just one small slip 300 mtrs before Kafnu. We got down there and walked the rest of the way to our guest house.

That night we stayed there. I had a brilliant idea while we were there. To take a cold water bath! After a hectic and violent bath involving a lot of stricken jumping about and hyper ventilation I finally tucked myself into my sleeping bag for the night. The next day we would start on our much anticipated trek.

The first hike would be till Mulling. I and KP put up a scintillating performance during breakfast. After polishing-off about 10 eggs between us we were raring to go!

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The weather was beautiful in the morning. No rain. Just a pleasant cloud cover and the temperature was perfect for a vigorous trek.

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After walking for hardly half an hour, we found ourselves in the midst of scenery that was just mind-blowing. It was not my first time in the Himalayas. But, it was my first experience of Kinnaur which is completely different from the other side which lies in the rain-shadow region. There was so much greenery everywhere.

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Immense snow-capped mountains, gurgling streams, melting glaciers and alpine forests.

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Trekking in these mountains is a completely different experience from trekking in the Western Ghats.

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No leeches, no dense undergrowth or thorny trees and branches or snakes or slippery rocks or any of the other things which make hiking in the tropical forests such a different experience. It is just magnificent and overwhelming scenery all around, pleasant and easy to navigates copses, grippy rocks and endless grasslands.

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But, what made the trek so special is the backdrop. You look at something quite ordinary… against a background of immense mountains, clouds moving at a glacial pace among ice-capped peaks and rivers trickling down from massive blocks of ice, then… it suddenly no longer seems so ordinary.

You are witnessing one end of the cycle of energy and water that powers the biosphere. The snow falling and getting packed into blocks, then moving ponderously tearing up the rocks along the way to make soil, melting into thin streams which coalesce into rivulets and tributaries… eventually joining up to form the thundering and raging rivers that are the lifeblood of India.

104-IMG_8499The hike was a relatively short one and we reached the campsite at Mulling by around 1 in the afternoon. It was a sloping, grassy area surrounded by streams and mountains on all sides. It was such a pleasant place.

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It was the first time I was going to stay in a tent. I watched with interest and helped in whatever way I could as everyone put up the tents where we would be staying for the night.

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The cook’s tent was the first one to go up. As we were rushing to put up the rest of the tents in order to get shelter before the drizzle which had already started, intensified the cook started preparing hot soup and tea for us.

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We had packed some lunch from Kafnu which we had eaten on the way. So, we were not really hungry,

Once the tents were up, we jumped in and cozied up. I was only getting used to the cold. After a little time spent hugging myself I had the tea and soup. Then we went out and had a few walks around the place. After a little while some guys started a campfire.

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After nightfall, we had dinner and the others slept off early. I had my pocket torch with me and I read quite a bit in the tent that night. It is quite a nice feeling, reading while huddled up inside a tiny tent!

The next day we would be trekking from Mulling to Karo. From there to Pustring which was the last campsite before the pass. The pics of that trip are coming soon!

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Trekking at Pushpagiri

On the 24th of last month I had gone trekking with the Bangalore Ascender’s to Kumara Parvatha/Pushpagiri. The team members were Girisha, Jinu, Prabhakar, Om, Ashok, and me. It was my second time with the group. Previously, I had gone with them to Munnar on a cycling trip.

When I told everyone that I was going to KP, most of them told me that it was stupid to attempt the trek at that time since it was still summer and water would not be available near the peak. Also, they said that the trek through the grassy route would be tough in the searing heat. But, the organizers had done their homework well. Girisha had called up someone who had been there a few weeks before us and had made sure that our route(from the Somwarpet side) was well sheltered and enjoyable.

All of that preparation paid of well and it was one of the best treks that I had done up until then. All the treks I had gone on were single day treks, which meant that I could return before the end of the day and did not have to carry a lot of stuff with me. But, this time it was different. The route was 25 kms long and it was going to be a 2 day trek with an overnight camping on the top included. I was pretty excited about it as I had never slept outside under a tent before.

We started on Friday night from Bangalore and reached Somwarpet by about 6 in the morning. After freshening up and having breakfast we hired a jeep to take us to the Mallali water falls and later drop us off at the start of the hiking trail. To reach the water falls one has to take a detour from the route connecting Somwarpet and the start of the trail. I was not that enthusiastic about going to the water falls as I thought that it would be relatively subdued because of the time of the year. But, I was proved wrong! The trip and the short walk to the base of the water falls was well-worth the effort.


The water falls was quite a sight to see especially from up close.

Feeling refreshed we all got back into the jeep and set  set off for the Heggademane temple which marked the start of the hiking trail to the peak.

We reached the temple by about 9 and from there we set off for the forest office where we enquired about the conditions near the peak. They said that there had been a lot of rain recently(fortunately) and that there was continuous thunder and lightning at the peak(not-so-fortunately). They suggested that we not stop at the peak and that we continue on to Bhattare-mane on the other side before stopping for the night. They also warned us that the route was heavily leech infested!


Thankfully, after all these warnings they gave us the assurance that there was water available at 2 points along the route and also near the peak. Hearing this was quite a relief to us. So, after all the paper work was over, we set off.

A dog accompanied us for quite a way!

I had come well stocked as far as food was concerned. I had with me lots of mangoes, biscuits, dates and chocolates. Even though I was not really that hungry I kept munching on stuff as I walked with the others under the cool shade of the trees. We stopped for water at a couple of small streams.

Very soon, the leech problem became very severe and all of us started walking at a brisk pace to reduce the number of leeches that we were picking up. After a while I found out that stopping to pick off the leeches on my shoes was a wasteful affair as more were climbing onto my legs than I could pick off in a given time! So, I decided to ignore them and simply walk as fast as I could through the wet thick forest and stop only on dry rocks for water and rest.

The tree cover cast a pale green shadow over everything and the recent rains had put that cool, wet tropical touch on the trail. Walking along it, it was easy to ignore the numerous leeches jostling for space in my shoes and simply get lost in the wild beauty surrounding us.

The initial part of the trail was very easy and I soon got ahead of the others as I was walking at a pretty brisk pace.  Soon, I came to a pretty steep(about 45 degree I guess) rock face and from then on the climb was pretty tough.


While climbing up the rock face which was pretty easy by the way, since it was mostly dry and my Reezig shoes gave me good grip on them, I was wondering how it would be like in the rains.

I could see water channels all over them and thought about how cool it would be to climb it in the rains!

After that, the gradient continued to be high. I was starting to feel tired and had to take a couple of breaks in between. The last 2 kms before the peak seemed to go on forever. Finally, by about 12:45 I broke out of the tree cover and to the stretch of rock just below the peak.

The weather atop the peak had absolutely no relation to the conditions below it. It was alternately misty and clear. Conditions kept varying quite abruptly.

After I got to the top within minutes the mist came up behind me and surrounded me. I decided to walk about and check out the area before the others came. There was a temple atop the peak which was mostly just a big pile of rocks.

Then I sat down and decided that the leeches had had enough fun and decided to split ways with them.

I picked off about 20 leeches from each leg

Then I surveyed my ration and waited for the others. Soon enough I heard shouts from behind a copse and went over and joined the others. It was only about 1:30 and we thought that we were too early in getting to the peak. We didn’t realize then just how wrong we were!

We quickly set about collecting some wood for the fire and found a nice spot behind a bunch of trees where we decided to tie up our tarpaulin sheets.

Then we got some water from a spot just below the peak and made ourselves some hot, tasty soup and  pasta!

We then were wondering about what to do after that when suddenly the sky grew dark and it started drizzling. We quickly got under the tarpaulin sheet that we had tied up and into our sleeping bags. Very soon the rain grew in intensity and the sheet started becoming wet and the weight was causing it to droop and touch our sleeping bags. Also, the water was starting to come in along the edges. As soon as the rain started Prabhakar picked up his sleeping bag and ran over to the bags which we had kept under another tarpaulin sheet and got under that. If it weren’t for that we wouldn’t have had space for all of us! As the night wore on, I snuggled deeper into my bag and stayed there listening to the rain pounding the sheet within inches of my ear and enjoying the warmth and silky comfort of my bag. It was then that I realized just how helpful they can be while trekking.

By 5 in the morning, the damp had managed to creep into my bag near my legs where it was exposed to the rain. It was okay since the rain had stopped by then and we all got out of our sleeping bags and decided to get to the viewpoint and wait for the sun rise for which KP is most famous!

When we got there, the sun’s rays where starting to just illuminate the sea of clouds from below!

We stood there making small talk and trying to contain our excitement as the majestic sight slowly unfolded in front of us. Soon enough, the sun appeared over the horizon and veins of color shot out in all directions…

The clouds parted for a few moments and granted us a peak at the sun!

After sunrise, we packed up our stuff. I then took out my bread, cheese, some prunes and dates that I had with me and made a meal of them. I gave it to the others also as we were all very hungry.

The descent was very easy as we started early and because of the rains the day before.

The descent was a little steep and we made good time.

On the way we had to pass through a “leech forest”. We passed so fast through it that most of us didn’t get bitten at all.

A rock that resembles a primitive human face!

We got down on the side of Kukke Subrahmania. This is the more popular route that most people take. This route is mostly through open grasslands. I thought the trail that we went up by was more enjoyable. Anyway, we soon got to Mantapa, After hanging around for a while we made our way to the forest office. When we got there we saw that there were a lot of guava trees all around the place.

We took a break and just lay about eating them and relaxing in the shade of a shelter near the forest office.

We then made our way to Bhattare Mane where we had a lunch of rice, sambhar, butter milk and pickle. Then we waited for a while until the sun lost its edge and then set off again. We got to Kukke Subrahmnya in record time and booked ourselves a room in a lodge and rested and freshened up there. After that we walked around the temple town and had some tasty snacks at a hotel. Then we got our bus back to Bangalore and had a comfortable journey back home!

It was a pretty cool trip and it was my first time with a group this experienced and passionate about trekking and nature. A big thanks to Girisha and the others who managed to make this trip such a grand success!

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