My experiences of Ukhimath.

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.

My Experiences in Shimla.

It was my 8th solo trip and 3rd solo trip to Himachal Pradesh, so I should say I was not very nervous. My first destination was Kaza. Initially I planned to go to Kaza via Manali. Later I thought it would be better going via Shimla, then I would not have to travel through the same road twice and I would also be able to see some parts of Kinnaur Valley. I bought the ticket for Himsuta, the HRTC Volvo bus from ISBT Kashmiri Gate to go to Shimla after reaching Delhi by Rajdhani Express. The bus started at 12-30 PM. There was lunch break at Panipath. There I marked a family of three , a middle aged couple with their young son. There were other people too.

When the bus reached near Shimla, people gradually started getting down from the bus. The conductor called out at every stoppage and checked the bus if they had left anything or if any one had missed his/her destination. At that time I asked the conductor if there was any hotel near the bus stand, he replied in negative. I again asked if there was any accommodation at Shimla ISBT, then also he replied in negative. I was insistent on this issue, because I had to get accommodation to spend the night in Shimla to get the bus for RecongPeo next morning, I came to know there was not even any conveyance from the bus stand after 8-30 at night. I bitterly said to the conductor that what should I do then.

A woman came from the front seat and sat beside me. She politely informed me that her son had asked her to help seeing me in plight. If I did not have problem they could accommodate me in there home. I hesitated at first. Then her son came, he said there house was a kilometer away from the bus stop, whether I should be able to carry my luggage that distance. I agreed reluctantly because I had no choice. I went with them, the boy helped me carrying my backpack. We reached their home.

It was quite a large house. They spared me a room and a bath room. I took a nice hot water bath and got refreshed. They showed me their whole house. I ate a tasty dinner there. The boy was very enthusiastic to keep me for another day with them and wanted to learn cooking Bengali fish cuisine, but I had to leave because I could not take risk to waste one day at the beginning of the tour. At night I had a deep sleep in that cozy bedroom. In the early morning the lady woke up and made tea for me. She offered me a packet of apples of their garden. I could not take them all because that would make my luggage more heavy. The boy took me up to the bus stand in their car and helped me to catch the bus for RecongPeo. It is needless to say that I shall never forget their sincerity, kindness and kinship.

My Experiences at Batal

Batal is a transit point on the way to Manali or Keylong from Kaza or vice versa. Here the road bifurcates for Chandratal also. There are very few halting places on this way for refreshment. So those who go through this road normally halt here and have morning tea or snacks and soft drinks or breakfast or lunch. Here the only Dhaba that exists is Chacha-Chachi’s Dhaba.

When I got down from the traveler bus at 9-30 AM, the driver told me that they would pick me up from the same place at the same time next day, Chachi welcomed me. I informed her that I wanted to go to Chandratal and I was alone. She assured me with a smile that I must get a lift from someone and it would not be a great problem as I was alone, but I have to keep patience till lunch because people come for Chandratal from Manali then. I sat at their Dhaba where Chacha and his daughter-in-law were attending their customers continuously with a smile on their face. I ordered a cup of black tea and watched tourists. The clock kept on moving forward.

At 12 noon I ordered my lunch, rice, aloo ki sabzi(Potato curry) and fried eggs. They also had daal(pulses) and rajma curry(Kidney beans). But I avoided it because I was worried about my next plan and also about getting proper toilet. There was a toilet at Chacha-Chachi’s Dhaba which was work-ably clean and water was available there. But many people don’t have a habit of thinking about other people, they are just satisfied after fulfilling their own requirements. So the toilet was smelly.

I became very impatient after 1PM, but Chachi again consoled me telling to have patience. After trying few groups, a generous couple agreed to give me a lift for Chandratal. Chachi gave me the card of Tenzin Camp and requested me to stay there. I kept my rucksack in the custody of Chachiji and took only my small backpack with necessary things. I reached Chandratal, enjoyed the heavenly beauty of Chandratal and again got lift from two good Mongolian women, who were friends and came to visit India, while coming back to Batal next morning.

When the two Mongolian friends dropped me at Batal it was 6 o’clock in the morning. They had breakfast there and then they left for Solang valley. I kept on waiting. In the mean time I asked for my rucksack which I had kept there previous day. Chachaji said with a serious face, “Someone has asked for it on behalf of you and I gave it, didn’t you send him? ” I became puzzled and said, “I told you that I am alone. why did you give my luggage to a stranger ?” But suddenly I watched that Chachaji’s eyes were twinkling with humour. I understood that he was joking with me as he did regularly with his customers. If someone had a bill of 500 rupees, he asked him to give 5 thousand and when someone challenged he said, zero had no value, so what if he added an extra zero !!! I enjoyed there watching their activities and had breakfast.

Chacha Chachi are famous in that region. They gave shelter and food to hundreds of people last year (2018 September) when tourists got stuck during a sudden natural calamity. They got several accolades from different organizations and famous people. There was an unceasing smile on the faces of this industrious couple. They called every customer “beta (child)”. Watching them I realized that inner beauty and complacency are the two invaluable possession which they own.

As usual the bus was late. But Chachaji said not to worry if they had taken money they would definitely pick me up sooner or later. At last the bus came and picked me up from Batal for Keylong. That is another part.

My experience at Bharmor (Himachal Pradesh )

Bharmor is a small hill town in the district of Chamba and the starting point of Manimahesh Yatra. Bharmani Mata is the goddess of the place. One should visit Bharmani Mata before visiting Manimahesh. She is the Shakti of Manimahesh Shiva. So after reaching Bharmor I visited Bharmani mata temple, it was accessible by car as well as by foot, I took a shared jeep to reach there. At Bharmor HPTDC hotel I met a congenial doctor couple who visited Bharmor thrice with the intention to go to Manimah by helicopter, but every time for some reason they missed it. They also accompanied us to Bharmoni mata temple. They are still in contact with me. There is another temple in Bharmor which is called Chaurashi temple. It is said that the temple was built 1400 years ago, it is at the center of the town. There was a fair during that time when I visited Chaurashi temple.

Bharmani Mata Temple

In the premises of the Chaurashi temple there were several small temples. Chaurashi means eighty-four. I visited Shiva temple, Ganapati temple and few other temples. I took several photos of the temples and the idols. When I entered the Narasimha temple I asked the priest if I could take a photo, but he denied, I bowed and put a ten rupees note in the donation box and came out.

Temple Fair

A wicked idea came into my mind. I thought I must take a photo of Narasimha from outside zooming my camera lens hiding behind the eyes of the priest. I took the photo. Then a strange incident happened. I could not take a single photo after that in the temple yard. My camera showed that the memory card was full. I remembered that I had forgotten to clean the memory card of my camera before this trip. One can say this was a coincidence. But I was scared. How could I take photos after this, the main part of the journey was still left for which I had been craving for long ago.

Shree Narasimhadev

Eventually I found a man with a computer doing photo editing in a shop in the market. I asked him to clear out my memory card. He did so, though I lost some of my photos of Bharmoni mata temple. I felt relieved and thanked God that if it had happened on the way to Manimahesh, it would become a disaster for me as I could not get even a single snap of the places till I reached Dalhausie. Manimahesh was one of the most difficult pilgrimage and I could not think of going there for the second time in my life at this age.

After that experience I never try to take a photo of any idol where taking photo is prohibited. One may call me superstitious but I am not ashamed to say that I am superstitious when I am traveling to Himalayas and I do not want to take any risk with anything. If I don’t take a photo of an idol it does not matter much to me because my intention is to see the places and the beauty of the nature. I keep the images of those gods in the memory card of my mind with due reverence. I consider Himalayas is itself a god. Going there is always a pilgrimage to me.

My experiences at Lachen(Sikkim)

Lachen is a small village in North Siikim. People come here not only for its natural beauty, but also to halt one night here to go to the holy lake of Gurudongmar. I visited Lachen few years ago, but I could not reach Gurudongmar due to heavy snowfall. When I suddenly planned to visit Dzongu I thought I should try again to visit Gurudongmar lake. So, from Dzongu I hired a taxi which dropped me at Lachen.

I reached Lachen at 1 PM. I did not have any previous booking for accommodation. It was the season of Durga Puja, so there was a huge rush of Bengali tourists in Sikkim. Though Gurudongmar is not very much popular due to its altitude, many people do not feel comfortable at the high altitude of 17,800 ft, but still there were many groups of traveler. Not many hotels were there in Lachen, so getting down from the car I entered into a hotel which was in front of me. The owner was not there. A hotel stuff was there, he called up the owner. The owner was a young fellow. He said that his hotel was completely booked but he could accommodate me in their house. There was a home-stay run by his mother.

The home-stay was also booked but the lady somehow managed a room for me. We were of the same age. When she came to know that I have severe pain in my legs and knees, she massaged hot oil mixed with local herbs for a long time sitting beside the fireplace in their living room. It worked miraculously. I felt very much comfortable after that. A neighbour woman came there to talk to her. When she learnt that I wished to visit Gurudongmar lake next day, she arranged a Scrorpio car at a reasonable price for me talking to her husband. She was very young and never came down from the hilly region. She asked me lots of questions about my city, she was surprised to know that no one in Kolkata lived in wooden house. I had Sikkimese cuisine there cooked by my home stay owner.

Next morning at 5 o’clock I went to Gurudongmar lake and came back in the evening. A group of visitors from Assam was there, the lady of the home-stay was busy preparing food for them. Her grand daughter was helping her who came from Gangtok with her brother in law. Her brother in law was surprised to hear that I came all alone. He rebuked me for taking such kind of risk and advised me to come with someone next time. He eagerly arranged my return to Mangan next morning, and while leaving he warned me that if I would come with someone then only I would be accommodated.

My experiences at Gopeswar (Uttarakhand)

I boarded a shared jeep from Devgram with the intention to go to Gopeshwar. It had not been in my plan previously. But I understood, after staying one day at Helang, that it would not be easy for me to reach Chopta from there getting a seat in the bus or in a shared jeep in the middle of the way, for that I have to go either to Joshimath or to Gopeshwar. Gopeshwar was the better option for me being nearer to Chopta. So I told the driver of the jeep that I wanted to go to Gopeshwar. One fellow, who was in that jeep, heard our discussion and took initiative to stop a jeep on the way that plied between Joshimath to Chamoli so that I could reach Gopeshwar earlier. They transferred my luggage in that jeep. After reaching Chamoli I took another shared jeep for Gopeshwar, which was 25 kilometer away from there.

Gopinath Temple

When I reached Gopeshwar it was almost dark. I asked the driver if it was the destination. He confirmed that it was the market and the taxi stand of Gopeshwar. The person who sat beside me in the jeep asked, ” Are you alone ?” I replied in affirmative. He became agitated and scolded me severely for coming alone and said that I had to come with a male guardian. When he knew that I did not have a male guardian to accompany me he himself took the responsibility and took me to the GMVN tourist rest house. He called the manager and told him to make an arrangement for my stay. After that he advised me to take shelter in the government rest houses always because that would be the safest place for a solo female traveler like me. I felt overwhelmed with his concern about me, as if he was a very close relative of mine. I shall remember him as long as I live.

Gopeshwar is famous for Gopinath temple. In the next morning I visited Gopinath Temple. The manager of the rest house informed me that the only bus for Chopta would start at 12 PM, if I wished to catch the bus I should book ticket from the ticket counter at 10 AM. After having early lunch I went to Chopta by the bus that went to Ukhimath.

My Experiences at Periyar.

Kerala.

coffee beans

Kerala is not only famous for its natural beauty and cultural activities but also for home-stays and Ayurvedic spas. When I planned for Kerala trip I thought we should stay, at least once, in a decent home-stay to experience their hospitality. So while going to Periyar I told our driver to take us to a home-stay. He had many acquaintances in Periyar. It was peak season being Christmas holiday, so there was a rush of tourists. One of his acquaintances agreed to accommodate us. The room was clean and large.

Our Home stay

Periyar was the last destination of our trip. I had been tired of drinking coffee for more than a week. So I requested the owner of the home stay to give me a glass of black tea. His wife did not know how to make black tea. She did neither understand English nor Hindi, so I explained to her son how to make black tea. After some time her daughter brought a jug of black tea and some sugar in a separate pot. My son and I became very happy and drank the tea to our heart’s content after a long period.

Black pepper plant

We stayed there for two nights and whenever we asked for tea they gave us a jug full of tea and a separate container of sugar. I talked a lot with out hostess and exchanged information, thoughts and views about each others family, tradition and culture. Her daughter was our interpreter. The lady was a very simple but intelligent woman. They had few rooms for guests. All of their guests at that time were foreigners except us. They had a small garden where they grew cardamom, coffee, black pepper etc. She informed that in Kerala people grew spices for their daily consumption in their own garden. Malayalam cuisine is normally very spicy.

At the time of leaving when I asked what would be the charge for tea, the lady of the home-stay thought for a few moments and demanded only fifty rupees, she explained that for making a jug full of black tea she hardly needed a teaspoonful of CTC tea leaves and we took very little amount of sugar. We were happy. We enjoyed the time there very much.


My experiences of Tosh

Himachal Pradesh

When I reached Tosh it was raining with small particles of ice. I managed a room in a hotel very near to the taxi stand for the night halt. The room was good as per my expectation in such a remote place. I kept my luggage there. I could not stay in the room as there was nothing to do except lying on the bed and I did not want to sleep during daytime. There was no electricity too. I was offered by the hotel manager to sit beside the fireplace of the dining hall as I was partly drenched and was shivering with cold.

A man was sitting there, he did look neither elegant nor rich anyway, but I came to know that he owned the hotel and few other hotels also at very strategic points like this one. He and his manager were taking marijuana from a hush pipe ( chillum ) from time to time. Initially I could not realize what they were smoking, but later on I found whoever was coming taking a puff or two from the pipe in turn. I thought that it was too cold and probably it was necessary to take something for stimulation to bear such cold. Few boys came back after trekking and asked for a browny which looked like a small chocolate pastry. I became quite surprised when I knew each costs 500 rupees.

As it was raining continuously and there was no electricity so I could neither go outside for a walk nor lie in my room for rest. The whole day I sat idle beside the fire watching people having hush or marijuana in different forms or ways. All the boys, came there, were mostly from 20 to 35 years old. They were from Delhi or Chadigarh or Kerala. All of them were sober and very well behaved. I talked with them the whole day. During lunch a group of people came trekking from Barsaini. But they did not stay at Tosh, they had their lunch, and went back again wearing rain coats. Everyone considered it unnatural to come in the rain taking so much risk and hassle and not enjoying the surreal beauty of Tosh staying one night there.

It started snowing heavily at around 6 o’clock. It was a magical experience. In the evening electricity was restored. I ordered my dinner. After dinner, while bidding good night to all, I told the boys in jest that whatever fresh air of Himalayas I had taken from the places before coming to Tosh all became futile after having so much passive smoking. They all laughed in amusement. Next morning was absolutely sunny and warm.

N.B. An appeal : A home stay owner of Parvati Valley expressed his deep regret about the spread and sell of illegal narcotics in this valley which is not only destroying the culture of the natives but also destroying the life of the youth of that area. They are becoming greedy as well as violent day by day and some of them are getting so much addicted to these that they are losing their mental balance. So I humbly request all Himalaya lovers not to promote or encourage this . Go to Parvati valley to enjoy its natural beauty and get addicted to it.

My experiences of Kugti, KarthikSwami temple.

( Himachal Pradesh.)

Kugti is not a very famous or popular tourist destination. Kugti means Karthikeya in local language, the son of Shiv and Parvati. Karthikeya is not as popular deity as his brother Ganapati. There are very few temples of Kathikeya in India. One of them is in the Himachal Pradesh, near the famous pilgrimage Manimahesh. It is 12/14 km from Hadsar. Shared jeeps are available to reach Kugti, but one has to walk 2km to reach the village from the end of the motorable road.

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I did not have any idea that the motorable road would end 2 km before Kugti village, so I was a bit disappointed. I was hungry and tired after coming down from Manimahesh. I had my lunch from the langar( where food was offered to devotees free of cost) at the entrance of the path which led to Kugti village. There was a small school. They allowed me to use their toilet. I reached the forest rest house which was at the entrance of the village Kugti, walking 2 kilometers with my rucksack on my back.

When I reached I was absolutely exhausted. I found 3 people sitting on the yard eating apples that grew in the garden of the rest house. They offered me apples, they were juicy and sweet. I told them that I desperately need a room there. One of the three persons was from HP police department who was there on duty for the occasion of Manimahesh Yatra and another was from the maintenance department of HP forest rest houses who came to repair the solar heater of that forest rest house. They had been staying in the two rooms of the rest house that were habitable. Rest of the rooms were in broken condition. The 3rd person was a local and an acquaintance of them.They called the caretaker of the forest rest house from the village, whose house was half kilometer away from the rest house, making a whistling sound that echoed in the mountain. That is the communication only system there. There was no mobile tower. Both of them were ready to share one room and spared the other room for me on condition that in the morning I would allow them to take hot water from my bathroom because there was no hot water facility in the toilet of the other room. After negotiating with the care taker, I ultimately got the room. I was very happy. The caretaker provided me dinner with roti and rajma curry. Rajma of Kugti is famous for its taste. Kugti is an Eco-village where only organic fertilizers are used for cultivation.

Sri Karthik Swami ji

The next day early morning I started for Karthik Swami temple after breakfast. The way was beautiful and scenic, it was a pristine land full of flowers, butterflies and other small creatures. It was 7 kilometer uphill trek. The last part was pretty difficult for me. People were hardly seen on the way, whenever I met anyone I asked how much distant the temple was, everyone said that it was just behind the next corner of the hill and after every corner there was another corner. Thus I ultimately saw the temple though it was a steep 2 kilometer walk from that place.

I reached there walking seven hours. I was too happy to witness Karthik Swamiji and felt myself blessed. There was a langar where I had my lunch, rice, daal and aloo ki sabji, they offered me two very tasty mung daal ka ladoo also, made of clarified butter, sugar and mung daal . After a sumptuous lunch I went down, coming down was not as difficult as going up. It took 3 hours to reach the village. I was dead tired but very satisfied. Next day after breakfast I reached the jeep stand and caught jeep for Hudsar, that same jeep took me to Bharmour taking few bucks more.

Karthik Swami Temple

My experiences of Lakshadwip trip.

We were on our Lakshadweep cruise package. One day, when we went for dinner on the ship, a Punjabi lady told us that we were going to get Bengali food that day, rice and fish curry. We were not excited because it was expected from previous experiences that it would never be a Bengali cuisine. We took our food items from the counter. My son and I could not find any fish item. There was one non veg preparation which we suspected as meat. It was very fibrous and hard. We had a hot discussion on this issue that what kind of meat it was. Then after finishing the dinner I asked the attendants present there what it was. He informed that it was Tuna fish.

When we were coming out from the dinning hall after dinner, that Punjabi Lady met us again and asked how much did we like the authentic Bengali dish of rice and fish curry. We explained that we mostly eat sweet water fishes and our way of cooking is absolutely different, we could not even recognize what it was. She was a bit disappointed, then she specified that they had come back to the ship from the island Kavaratti on the last boat in the afternoon, and that fish had been carried on the same boat. She was a tall woman, she stretched her hands full to show how big the fish was. I later came across tuna fish at the market of Periyar though they were not that much big.