Friday, May 2, 2014

The Magical Himalayan Odyssey - Places and People

This happens to be the 5th post related to my travel break. Possibly, this could be the last one. Before I get into the post, a big thank you to all who took time to read the previous posts and provide feedback along with generous appreciation. Its been a pleasure to share my little experiences and this sharing has been an integral part of the transitory phase to life in Bangalore.

Two primary reasons why I wanted to write and share. One, the journey was too rich and beautiful to experience alone. Two, all through the planning and execution, have benefited immensely from multiple sources on the Internet. And all this guidance came at no cost!! So, I think it is my duty to contribute back in whatever small way I can. If these posts can help anyone in pursuing his/her travel break, then I would consider it a job well done.

One common suggestion has been to write about the places I got to visit and travel. In this post, will provide a brief summary of all the places. The idea of the post is to highlight the places and not provide a detailed description. But, if any of you do plan to visit these places, you can always contact me for more detailed tips and guidelines!!

Jammu and Kashmir
I started with 3 friends and we flew from Bangalore to Srinagar. I would not count Srinagar to be the most hospitable of places. We only spent a day there, before heading to Leh by bus.

Srinagar to Leh
In Leh, we hired 3 motorcycles for 1 week and drive to Nubra valley and Pyongyang lake. If riding excites you, then very few experiences can match the high of a drive through the mighty Himalayas. Would totally recommend this. One suggestion is to always try to keep it one person per bike and avoid pillion drive. You get bikes of all varieties in Leh, ranging from 500 cc Royal Enfields to 150 cc Pulsars. Quite easy to get a bike, but the challenge is in managing fuel. Other than Leh, hardly any petrol pumps in other towns/villages. So, always a good idea to carry extra fuel(in separate storage cans). Which bike to choose? The terrain is tough and though a low end bike might get us through, the drive might not be very enjoyable. So, always advisable to go for an Enfield or an Avenger, even if it means a few extra bucks.

Apart from the motorcycle drive, we also managed to go for the rafting in Zanskar river.

Leh city
It is mandatory to get a permit to visit most places in Ladakh. So, one of the first things after reaching Leh should be to visit the concerned office and get the permit. Make sure you list the names of all the places you intend to visit. Unlike other districts, they do check the permit in detail at various check posts in Ladakh.

Once you have the permit, bike and fuel, hit the road and drive safe !!

On the way to Nubra valley
Pyongyang lake
On the way to Pyongyang lake

Himachal Pradesh
It was time to say good bye to my 2 friends and head to Kaza, Spiti Valley for the first volunteer stint with Ecosphere. For details on the volunteer work, check the previous post Volunteer Travel . As far as Spiti Valley, what can I say. It is sheer magic – the most beautiful of the mountains and an equally beautiful and hospitable people. If there is a place I would go back to any day, then it is Spiti Valley. The valley is home to some of the most scenic and pristine villages I can ever think of. It also hosts few splendid lakes. Just look at the below pictures – remember that these have been captured by someone who struggles with Auto mode, but the place makes any picture taken using any camera look beautiful.

Kibber village

Langza village

On the way to Tabo

After Spiti Valley, headed to Dharamsala for a couple of days. Maybe since I was using Spiti Valley as a reference, Dharamsala did not seem even half as good. Nevertheless, there are a good number of trek routes and temples/monasteries to visit in and around Dharamsala. 
Sikkim by far is the most beautiful and developed of all the 12 states I got to travel. If I have a choice to settle down in any of the states I visited, I would choose Sikkim. Amazing landscape and very sweet and kind people. Sikkim is home to my favorite town Pelling and my favorite city Gangtok. Also, got to spend time in Yuksom, which serves as the base for the GoechaLa trek. As far as GoechaLa is concerned, it is just heaven. I cannot think of a better way to describe it. Again, the pictures below can do more justice than my words.


After Sikkim, headed to Uttarakhand to volunteer with Waste Warriors Corbett. I was quite fortunate to work and stay in villages around the Corbett reserve area. Needless to say, an amazing terrain. If you are looking for a reliable travel guide in Corbett, I would recommend to check Mountainways Outdoors .

                                                                   Bhakrakot village

I also went to Rishikesh, mainly for the Bungee jump! A great experience, thanks to Jumpin Heights . Though Rishikesh and Haridwar is way too crowded with tourists and travellers, they have a special aura. Maybe, it is the wide spectrum of people we get to observe which adds to the aura.

This was my only brush with a metro city in all the 221 days and was more of a transition point on both occasions. If you are reading this, thanks Ankur for hosting me on my second visit to Delhi. 

West Bengal
Was here primarily for the Sandakhphu trek. Generally rated as an easy trek, with cold being the only challenge. But, extremely beautiful and scenic. Also spent a couple of days in Darjeeling, which serves as the base for the trek. If you are in Darjeeling and if you are interested in trekking, the HMI museum is a must visit place.

Sunset in Sandakphu

North East
The article by Thrillophila Things to do in North-east India served as my guide thorough out. North East is beautiful, unexplored and culturally rich. On the flip side, quite an volatile region. Bandhs/strikes gets called often and can derail ones travel plans. On top of this, getting Inner Line Permits can be a burden at times. Before you travel to any state, check if it is necessary to get an ILP. Also, owing to the not so great infrastructure, travelling between states can be time consuming and exhausting. Nevertheless, if you have time and the required motivation to explore, North East can be a great Travel teacher.

The state where I spent the most amount of time in the North East. The last volunteer stint was here, in the town of Digboi. Apart from this, also visited Sivasagar and Kaziranga, which are pretty popular destinations. Also had the chance to visit the Manas National park, situated along the Indo-Bhutan border and is just a couple of hours from Guwahati.



Chandrapur village

Manas national park
Was here mainly for the Hornbill festival. The festival is undoubtedly a great place to explore and understand the tribal culture of Nagaland. If you are planning to attend the festival, make sure to book accommodation in advance. I missed doing this and landed in Kohima(capital city) only to find all rooms booked. Was very lucky to get a home stay, who turned out to be the most hospitable guests. One thing which stands out in my memory of Nagaland is the hospitality of the tribal people. One has to experience to believe it.

Menu in Nagaland !!
World War II memorial in Kohima
Hornbill festival
From my limited experience, this is the most stable and developed of all the 7 north eastern states. Spent a few days in Shillong and Cherrapunji. These are quite popular on the tourist circuit. Still, lots of opportunity to skip the crowded tourist places and explore the beautiful mountains. If you ever visit Cherrapunji and are on a budget travel, consider staying in 'By The Way' lodge, which is right on the highway. The owner is possibly the most traveller friendly host I interacted with. 

Noh Ka Likai falls

Indo - Bangaldesh border

Arunachal Pradesh
Had the chance to spend a few days in Tawang. The Tawang monastery complex is massive and is testimony to few hundred years of rich history. Apart from this, the India China war memorial in Tawang is worth visiting.

Tawang monastery
India China war memorial

Tripura & Mizoram
It was quick travel through the respective capital cities of Agartala(Tripura) and Aizawl(Mizoram). The Ujjayanta palace is right in the heart of Agartala and the Neermahal is a couple of hours from the city. Do consider visiting the Indo-Bangladesh border checkpost in Agartala. They host a gate closing ceremony everyday at 4 pm.

Ujjayanta palace

Neermahal palace

Surprisingly, Aizawl was more developed than I expected and boasts of good infrastructure. Did not spend much time here, but the walk through the crowded bazaars was a good way to explore the city.

Aizawl city

Hope you enjoyed reading this post. Again, thanks for all the feedback and appreciation for the previous posts. I have tried my best to share my experiences in a way which can be helpful for someone out there looking for guidance and inspiration to take the plunge and pursue his/her travel break. Can only end with the hope that these posts do come in handy for someone reading this, just as the experiences shared by some random traveller from some remote part of the world served as the much needed guidance and inspiration for me at times.