This year I could not go out for a long time and was feeling suffocated with the situation of Covid-19. Like a pleasant breeze I came across a post on Facebook where two retired Himalaya lovers were organizing a short trip to the above mentioned places with few enthusiastic but novice travelers. So I decided to join them. It was risky for me to arrange this trip solo as I was afraid to encounter strangers in public transport. Sandakfu is in West Bengal, and is the highest point of Singalila National Park and the whole Kanchenjunga range is visible from there. It was one of my dream destinations since childhood. I only became capable of making this trip a reality this December.
I reached Sealdah Station and met the two organizers for the first time. They were amiable. We started our journey on Padatik Express (a Covid special train). After reaching New Jalpaiguri they arranged vehicles for us with the help of their local representative. We had a pretty late breakfast at Rohini. There were traffic jam in multiple places. We reached Lepchajagat at 3:30 PM and had our lunch there. Food was good and everyone was hungry. Lepchajagat felt very cold to me. Later I came to know that during winter Lepchajagat gets very less sunlight as it is surrounded by huge pine forest. It is only few kilometers away from Darjiling town.
Next day after viewing sunrise and having breakfast we started for Sandakfu. After reaching Manebhanjan at around 10 AM we changed our vehicles and boarded four old land-rovers. It was quite difficult for us to sit properly due to the zigzag turns. We had breaks for tea and photography at Tonglu, Kalipokhari, Chitre and Gairibus. From Gairibus it was almost impossible to sit still even for a moment as the road was too uneven and made of stones, it was not a paved road. We reached Sandakfu in the afternoon and had our lunch. Few of our co-travelers got sick due to high altitude and cold weather. They had stomach problem, lack of appetite and headache. But the beauty of sunset and sunrise of Sandakfu was indescribable, only those who have witnessed it can understand, it was a heavenly experience for me. The whole range of Kanchanjunga, sleeping Buddha and other peaks like Everest, Makalu, Lhotse were clearly visible. Sky was very clear by the grace of God.
Next day after breakfast we started for Falut. We were late because there were some young guys in the group, and few of them kept on having excess alcohol every night. So every day they woke up late. It is one of the disadvantages of a group tour that one can not get every member to be like minded. We witnessed Himalayas from some view points on the road. After a particular point our organizers decided to return as we were getting late. The road was also very hazardous. This was the most hectic day of the trip. We came down to Tumling in the afternoon and had our lunch. After lunch I had to take a bath to clean myself as I felt very dirty and dusty. I changed my clothes too. Then I went to see sunset at Tumling. Tumling is a small beautiful hamlet. There were some trekkers and travelers came for Sandakfu summit. Next morning I witnessed my third sunrise of this trip. Then after breakfast we started for Manebhanjan. Kanchenjunga accompanied us till Manebhanjan. From Manebhanjan we changed our vehicles and went for Shiliguri.
Birbhum (a district of West Bengal) has many tourist spots , mythical as well as religious places related to ancient Bengali culture and it is also famous for Shantiniketan, place of two Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen, and also for its natural beauty, red soil etc. This year I went to spend my Durga puja holiday at Kachujor, Bakreswar Thermal Power Colony, with my aunt and cousin. From there we visited some mythical and religious places hiring a car.
Bakreshwar temple and the hot spring was very near so we started from there. We did not bathe as this place was visited by us previously. We went to the Shiva temple and the hot-springs. My cousin and I took two three photos of a local girl. Her face was very impressive. She was wearing few plastic bangles. She was proud of her bangles and showing them off but her two friends didn’t manage bangles from their mother. I heard their discussions and bought bangles for three of them.
Then we headed for the Temple near Gaurangapur, made by Ichhai Ghosh, a local feudal lord of 15th / 16th century, crossing Ajay river through a temporary bridge. It seems strange that how that so tall a temple was built in those days and how architecture and materials were of high quality in those days in such an interior part of Bengal.
Then we went to Garh Jangal, a natural fort and hide out of Ichhai Ghosh to save himself from foreign invadors. this place is also related with Hindu mythology. According to Markandeya Purana first Durga puja was held here, here Rishi Medhas told Chandi Mangal Kavya to Raja Surath, the Chandi temple here is considered as the first Chandi temple. We visited the natural fort wall within the forest and the temples.
Jayadev was a famous Vaishnava poet of medieval age. There were so many stories about him and his love for Lord Krishna. It was said that Lord Krishna himself came to complete a couplet when he went to bathe at Ajay river, for which he was confused and could not come to any conclusion. We visited his house at Kenduli. An annual fair, popularly known as fair of folk singers (Baul Mela), is organized at Kenduli, at Ajay river bank, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti( Mid January) in the name of Jaydev. After visiting his temple we came back home.
Recong peo is a small transit town on the way to Spiti and Kinnaur. I happened to stay there twice on my way to Spiti ( Himachal Pradesh). First time I went there in September 2019 from Shimla by bus and reached in the evening. I only watched the beautiful Kinnaur Kailash peak from my hotel window. Next day in the early morning I set out for Kaza. Next time I went there in 2020 March at noon time starting early morning from Shimla by news paper jeep from old bus stand. It dropped me at the market. I went to the bus stand by a local bus.
All hotels were mostly closed due to Corona and March is not proper season for Spiti trip. I went to a hotel at the bus stand and had lunch with rajma chawl. I asked the boy, who was serving food, that I needed an accommodation to stay at night. He was a bit hesitant because the rooms were not cleaned properly as there was no tourist. I agreed to wait for cleaning. He cleaned the room and bathroom, changed pillow covers and then I settled there. He took only Rs 500 from me. The owner was away to Shimla.
The water was so cold that I started sneezing as soon as I washed my face. He said that they had solar heater but as it was not functional, he could give me hot water next morning. It was 4/5 degree temperature then at noon time. In the afternoon I went to the market place taking a short cut behind the bus stand, I bought some extra vitamin tablets for myself to protect from cold and Corona. The taxi stand was full of empty taxis. Next morning I went to Nako and had to return to Kalpa spending one night at Nako as Spiti hotels declared closure due to Corona Pandemic. I came back again in the afternoon to Recong Peo by Kaza -Peo morning bus and caught a local bus to reach Kalpa.
When the local bus dropped me at Kalpa bus stand in the afternoon I saw no one in the road. All hotels were closed. I saw an old lady working in their cowshed, collecting cow-dung for making fuel. I tried to draw her attention but either she was deaf or she did not understand my language, she kept on muttering something that I could not hear. I felt puzzled and started walking slowly towards the market. I saw a traveler bus full of tourists. I asked them where they were going to stay, but they were also in search of a hotel. Suddenly I saw 2/3 people in a balcony of a building. I proceeded towards it, it was a hotel, named Hotel Destination. I went up and asked for a room and got one. Those tourists in the traveler bus also came there later. They had ladies and kids with them. They were a group of 13/14 people including kids.
In the evening I was informed by one of my Himachali Facebook friend that Himachal Pradesh hotels were going to close for tourists from the day after the next day for unknown period. I called my son and arranged my return flight ticket for the day after the next day. At night there was light snow fall. In the morning when I woke up there was fresh snow all over which started melting with the rise of sun. Next day early morning I visited the local temples and monastery. Narayan Nagini temple was built up of wood and its carvings were unique. After breakfast I went to the bus stand to catch the bus for Recong Peo. There was a bus for Shimla at 11 AM. The group of people that came by traveler bus they remained there. Their leader informed me that they would continue their journey to Manali and then Amritsar and would not give up the tour in any case. He was looking very confident. I reached Shimla in the evening and spent the night in the same hotel where I stayed previously. They gave me a warm welcome. I reached Kolkata on 21March evening. I still remember that group and wonder when they did manage to come back and how?
One of my friends offered me a trip to Chandpur in a weekend in April 2019 when I had just come back from another long trip. I was tired but I accepted the offer because I don’t get much opportunity for short trips within West Bengal, and secondly they were going by car, so no hassle for transport problem. According to previous arrangement they picked me up from Rabindrasadan metro station. Chandpur and Tajpur are two sea beeches in the south of West Bengal, newly developed for tourism. One can also go there by bus which plies from Esplanade to Digha. In that case one has to get down at Balisai and hire Toto from there. The beaches are just one or two kilometers away from there.
We reached Chandpur in the evening. After viewing few hotels we found Chandpur Eco Hut as a suitable stay. They provided us sea side rooms. Though rooms were not large but they were clean and tidy. Food was good there. After tea and onion pakoda we walked along the road. The sun was already set. Probably due to breaking of bank the sea was barricaded by huge log fence. In some places there was no barricade.
Night was cool and breezy. We had a nice sleep with the sound of rhythmic waves . In the early morning we woke up to see sunrise but unfortunately the sky was partly cloudy. We enjoyed our morning tea and breakfast. After that we went to Tajpur beach. There we roamed for sometimes, had coconut water and kernel of green coconut. There were few sea side restaurants. Sea food was available there. They cook freshly in front of the customers as per their choice. In the evening we returned to Kolkata. It was a good place for serenity and peace of mind. I wished to stay a day more, but my friends were reluctant to come back.
Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley located above tree line in the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The middle land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. To enjoy winter Spiti by public transport March is considered as the best month because in March chances of road block is less due to snowfall. Though temperature remains subzero but not as severe as January/ February. Buses keep on plying on the routes regularly. There is plenty of snow around. I went Spiti in the previous year during September to Visit Chandratal crossing Kunzum pass. This time my target was to go to Mudh Village, enjoy the beauty of Pin Valley National Park, and on the way back visit Nako lake and Kinnaur Valley.
I went to Recong Peo by a shared jeep that was carrying newspaper in the morning and reached Recong Peo at 12 noon. Next morning I went to the bus stand to catch bus for Kaza. But the bus was full with the students whose institutions in Shimla suddenly closed due to Corona pandemic. It was the only bus from Recong Peo to go to Kaza. I was a bit disappointed. I came to know that there was another bus at 11AM which was going to Samdoo. I thought it would be better to go to Nako without wasting time at RecongPeo. Nako was in my itinerary but on the way back. So I bought ticket for Nako and boarded the bus.
I reached Nako in the evening at 6 o’clock. There was a hotel at the bus stop. I asked for accommodation. The landlady said that they were going to close the establishment from next day, so I have to leave by next day. It had been decided by all hotel and home-stay owners of Spiti that all the hotels and home-stays would remain shut for the tourists from the next day onward. I got into the room. Room was cozy and almost clean, but the toilet was locked. I asked the lady about the toilet, she informed that it was not functional because the water pipe and sewage pipe both were choked with ice. There was a bio-toilet outside the building. I requested her to open the toilet for at least at night and to give a bucket of water. She firmly disagreed. I could neither eat properly nor drink as I was afraid to go out in the mid night in such freezing cold and I was afraid of the hill stray dogs too.
Next morning I woke up at 6-30 AM. It was pretty cold, my fingers became blue as soon as I took off my gloves to take a snap of sunrise. When I asked about the lake to the land lady she informed casually that there was nothing much to see because the lake was frozen, it did not lower my spirit to visit the lake. After taking a cup of tea I went to visit Nako lake. No one was there on the road. I asked a small local girl to show me the way to the lake. She took me near the lake. There were three guys who also came to visit the lake. I am a person from plainland. The beauty of white frozen Nako lake in the morning was mesmerizing to me. I took few photograph of the lake. I requested those visitors to take few snaps of mine. Then I came back and had breakfast. In the cafe I met three bikers who stayed at Dhankad as they were refused accommodation in Kaza the previous night. I caught the morning bus for Recong Peo. I reached Recong Peo in the afternoon and from there I went to Kalpa.
Talasari is in the Baleshwar district of Odissa, at West Bengal-Odissa border. It is not a so popular as Digha, though it is very near to Digha ( West Bengal). Talasari means series of palm trees. I planned this week end trip in the winter (2018) with a friend of mine. We got accommodation in OTDC Chadaneshwar. We went to Digha by Howrah- Digha train. From the station we took a toto for Talasari. After reaching there we had our lunch and then visited Chandaneshwar temple. It is a small Shiva temple.
In the evening we went to the sea beach. A branch of Subarnarekha river meets Bay of Bengal here. During low tide one can walk crossing the river to reach the beach, but during high tide, when the river is filled with water, there is boat service to carry the tourists to the sea side. We enjoyed sunset there and walked on the beach till the boat service was about to stop.
Next early morning we went to the river side to watch sunrise and waded through the river as there was no boat and the water level was low. But due to haze we could not see proper sunrise. It was pretty cold, so very few people were seen on the beach. We walked along the beach till the end. There were many sea weeds and specially lots of red small crabs were seen. As soon as they felt the vibration of our footsteps they went inside the sand bed.
In the afternoon we started for Bichitrapur Mangrove Sanctuary which is at the river mouth of Subarnarekha river. We had our lunch there. Crab was pretty cheap, and they cook only on customers’ order. We had to wait for sometimes because it was low tide time and boat service to the mangrove island started when water filled the river bed. The boat jetty is at the end of a canal. It was dry then. Later water level increased with the tide and we started. We reached the sanctuary within 15/20 minutes. It was a vast shallow land full of red crabs. But we could not enjoy much roaming around there because of few intoxicated men. They were behaving in an unruly manner. We roamed near the boat jetty and took few snaps. In the evening we came back and again enjoyed walking on the beach.
Next morning after breakfast we came back to Digha and visited Mohana of Champa river. There was a big fish market. I bought some dried fish. After having lunch at old Digha we took a stroll along the old Digha beach. Then we went to the railway station, waited in the station waiting room to catch the train for Howrah.
Sundarban is a reserve mangrove forest in Ganga-Padma delta, at the coast of Bay of Bengal. The name Sundarban means beautiful forest though the word Sundar here is derived from the name of a particular species of mangrove tree called Sundari ( Heritiera Fomes) . It is also declared as UNESCO World Heritage site.
Whenever I thought of planning a trip, I never thought to plan short or weekend trips. This also was not a planned one. One of my students was a native of a village of Sundarban, near Jharkhali. Her father was a Christian and they would celebrate Christmas in their village and a fair was also held there on that day. She invited me to visit their place. I was ready to go there. One day before that occasion she informed me with regret that her mother was ill, so they were not going to their native village that year. I was very disappointed. I had made up my mind, so I tried to contact tour operators to go there, None was ready, mostly seats were full, and some rejected for being a single woman, but only one agreed, they said I have to accommodate with an Army major. I reluctantly agreed saying bed should be separate. It was a 2 days 1 night package. I paid for that package.
I reached at the Travel agent’s office at 5 -30 in the morning as per their instruction. Our sandwich breakfast was distributed. We all boarded in two traveler bus. The bus reached at Gadkhali at almost 11 AM, we were taken to Votvoti ( diesel motor boat of rural area ) and transferred to an Island. From there we reached a ghat where the tour operators boat were waiting for us to take us to another island among the mangroves. There I was introduced with that Army Major, to my surprise, she was a young, very energetic, fun loving woman. We had our lunch there. In the afternoon we were taken for boating in the river. There were many small rivers that meet with each other making a labyrinth of water ways in the place. We all enjoyed the boat ride in the afternoon. After evening tea there was a performance of local folk singers. We all enjoyed, specially few foreigners who had been staying there for a long period and danced with their music.
After dinner I was feeling tired and about to go to sleep, but the lady army officer was very enthusiastic and persuaded me to go for the night safari. Mostly people were enjoying Christmas eve with wine and other merriment. Only few people went for that adventure. Probably it was a new moon day. The whole environment was eerie. It was the time of low tide. So many mangrove plants came out, our boatman was going through the narrow canals and mangrove bushes. The sky was so starry that it was difficult to find empty places in the sky. Meteors were falling from time to time. It was an uncanny feelings we were all having. We saw the under water fluorescent plants. Till today I feel grateful to my room mate for forcing me to join that adventure. It was a unique and memorable experience.
Next day in the early morning we started in three boats to visit the Sundarban National Park ( Wild life sanctuary). Permission from the forest department was taken in the beginning of the journey. We saw many wild animals and birds. Huge crocodiles were having sunbath. They showed their annoyance as we got closer to them to take snaps. We were not so lucky to witness Royal Bengal Tiger. Animals are always skeptic about humans even the mightiest tigers. We had lunch on the boat. After lunch the boat returned towards Godkhali to drop us to return to kolkata. In the evening we reached Godkhali. Bus was waiting for us, we were delayed for a while because the bus broke down on the way, later it was repaired. I reached Kolkata at 10 o’clock at night when Kolkata was enjoying its Christmas. I went to my student’s village next year but that was another story.
I thought it would be the best time to enjoy winter Spiti in the month of March according to the information collected from the experts’ blog. Last year in the month of September I went to Spiti but could not travel much within Spiti as I had to cover Chandratal, Lahaul and Pangi Valley. Passes were all open, so I kept on going forward through Kunzum and Sach Pass. This time my target was to go to Pin Valley ( Mudh Village) and Nako. On the way back I thought I would visit beautiful Kinnaur. But man proposes God disposes.
When I booked train tickets, four months before the journey, in the month of November 2019, I had never ever heard the word “Corona”, probably no one in India. Gradually situation changed and a deadly disease named Covid-19 started coming into the news. But still it was far away from West Bengal or Himachal Pradesh. I was dissuaded by few people but I followed that the disease had been transmitting to those who travelled through airports. I am crazy about traveling, gets broken heart if any tour is cancelled. I thought I could manage the tour by train. If I would find any problem at any point of my journey I should come back immediately.
So I boarded Kalka Mail on time and reached Kalka. My plan was to go to Shimla and proceed for Rampur. But for some reason I felt nausea and did not get the courage to undertake another road journey after reaching Shimla. I settled in a hotel near the old bus stand where the taxi dropped me. I visited the mall and the market and came down to have lunch. Though it was decently cold in Shimla but the weather was quite hot due to clear sky in the noon time. In the afternoon I went to Kalibari. Watching sun set was overwhelming from Kalibari. I felt nostalgic and remembered my visit to Kalibari with my parents thirty eight years ago.
Next day I went to Recong Peo, early morning, by a taxi from the old bus stand, which was carrying news paper. Local people avail these cars to save time as buses run slowly. I reached Recong Peo at noon. Mostly hotels were closed due to off season and the terror of Corona had let many people cancel their trips. It was pretty cold. I sneezed 2/3 times, so I got afraid and did not bathe. In the afternoon I took a stroll in the market and took some photographs.
Next day in the morning I went to the bus stand to catch bus for Kaza. But unfortunately or perhaps fortunately I did not get the ticket in Kaza bus. It was filled with students who were going back to Kaza from Shimla due to sudden vacation announced by the authority. So I caught the Samdoo bus at 11 -30 and reached Nako in the evening. There I came to know that the local administration and the group of hoteliers decided to close all the hotels and home stays for tourists in Spiti due to Corona terror.
The hotel room at Nako bus stop was clean and cozy. But its bathroom was locked. It was not functional due to freezing temperature. I was asked to go to a toilet which was a bit distant and out of the building. At night I realized that I was quite unfit for doing winter Spiti. In -7/-8 degree temperature it was too inconvenient for me to go out for toilet alone in the mid night. Next early morning I woke up at 6-30 in the morning. I went out to take few sunrise photos. As soon as I put off my gloves my fingers turned blue. I visited Nako Lake then which was completely frozen. After breakfast I thought to come down at Kalpa. My ticket was after eight days. but it was not difficult at all to spend days in Himachal anywhere. I thought to spend rest of the days in Kinnaur and then gradually went down to catch the train.
I got a comfortable hotel in Kalpa, though most of the hotels were closed. I thought to spend 2 nights there and take rest. But taking rest was not in my fortune this time. I came to know that Himachal Pradesh Government announced tourist ban after a day. So all the hotels were going to close and tourists were requested to leave. I saw the orders of the local administration as well as Himachal Pradesh government through a local hotelier friend. I asked my son to buy return flight ticket. Next day I reached Shimla in the evening and stayed in the same hotel. Next morning, I caught a taxi and reached Chandigrah airport three hours earlier than my flight time. Before that I equipped myself with mask and gloves. I landed kolkata via Lucknow in the nick of the time before lock-down.
Tunganath (12,000 ft app ) is considered as the highest Kedar among Panch(5) Kedars, though it is not as difficult or long trek as Rudranath, Madmaheshwar or Kedarnath. It is just 3/4 kilometers walking from Chopta. The path gradually goes up to the temple. Only the way to Chandrashila from Tungnath is a bit difficult as it is quite narrow in places as well as steep and ponies only go up to Tunganath Temple gate.
I went to Tunganath in the month of April 2018. I reached Chopta from Gopeshwar by bus which was going to Ukhimath. Chopta is a beautiful small hamlet on the road, from where the trek for Tungnath starts. I took accommodation in a small hotel. The hotel owner arranged pony for me. As it was off season I had to pay for two ponies because there was no other person. Ponies normally prefer to go with their companion. The weather started getting cloudy from the afternoon and it started raining at night.
Early in the morning, before dawn the pony owner came with his ponies and we started for Tungnath. There were three hill dogs who accompanied me on the way. In the middle of the road we got a small tea shop which had just opened at that time. We had tea and I asked the shop owner to feed biscuit to the dogs. I took some snaps of myself and the mountain range though it was not very clear due to fog. As we started going up we saw plenty of snow which fell at night. At the temple gate the pony owner dropped me and left.
I had no idea about the path of Chandrashila. It was just a kilometer trek. I thought I could manage to go to the top on my own. Two dogs left us midway but one followed me. I started climbing but gradually the path became too narrow and slippery due to snow. After a certain point I realized that it would be very risky if I tried. No one was there, and if I had fallen I would fall directly into a deep bottomless saddle, no one would ever come to know that what had happened to me except the dog. So I abandoned my adventure. The dog was climbing before me. I looked at it helplessly and said in my mother tongue, “Lets go back, it is too slippery to walk due to snow ! I don’t have courage either to go with you !!!!” He understood and immediately came down. We then gradually walked downwards. He walked before me. I took lots of snaps of mountains and beautiful Chopta Valley. When I got down more than half a way I found tourists going upward. I met several people on my way back and I got acquainted with two very congenial persons and they are still my Facebook friend. One is a young enthusiastic solo trekker, and another is a mature aged Bengali lady doctor from Pune who travels all over the world. Meeting such people and interacting with them enrich my travel experiences. The dog was with me till I came down to the hotel.
When I came down it was 12 o’clock. I wanted to go to Deoria Tal. It was drizzling. The hotel owner was persuading me to spend another night there, but as it was raining and there was no chance to witness sunset at Chopta that evening, I wanted to leave. But by that time the local bus had gone, there was no car to hire, my pony owner helped me to make an arrangement with Lakhpat Sing Ji, who brought four ladies from Sari. I was acquainted with his name and about his hospitality from a blog. So I started for Sari Gaon in his car with four Bengaluru based ladies. It was raining heavily with small pieces of ice.
I reached Ukhimath one April morning of 2018 from Sari by a shared jeep. It is a transit point on the way to Madmaheswar and Kedarnath from Haridwar. Ukhimath is famous for Omkareshwar temple. According to Indian Mythology, Usha, the daughter of Vanasur and Anirudh, son of Krishna, got married here. Ukhimath is probably the distorted form of Ushamath.
In this whole trip I did not get proper views of Himalayas due to haze and fog. My Deoria Tal trek was good but neither I witnessed Himalayan range nor reflection of Chaukhamba peak in the lake, for which most people visit that place, so I was a bit disappointed, but I was happy after reaching Ukhimath meeting Kedarnathji and Madmaheshwarji at Omkareshwar temple and felt blessed. After the closing of Kedarnath temple and Madmaheshwar temple, on the next day of Deepavali, the deities remain here till the temples open again after Akshaytritiya
There is Bharat Sebashram Sangha where many people prefer to stay. It is situated on the highway, a bit away from the center of the town. I preferred to stay near the market because bus stand and jeep stand were there. So it was easy for me to catch bus or jeep for the next destination. I got a suitable accommodation very near to the market. As it was off season and I was the only boarder, they informed that they could not provide me food.
In the afternoon, I went to Omkareshwar temple through a shortcut, guided by the local people, which was quite steep. Coming back through the same way was stressful and risky for me specially after sun down, because there was no light. So I took the regular path. On the way I met a woman of my age. We were walking on the same way. She introduced herself and said that it would be easier to walk if we talk and walk together. I made friendship with her. She informed that she was a widow and stayed with her daughters. She earned her livelihood making woolen garments on machine. She came to the temple gate to deliver her goods in a shop. We talked a lot about our personal life, shared feelings and thoughts as if we had been known to each other since ages. It was a one and half kilometer walk. When we parted at the market, it seemed to me that I was leaving an old friend of mine. I always revere these hill women who are simple and hardworking but full of knowledge and philosophy of life.