An Unachievable Achievement

Rudranath & Madmaheshwar

Buda Madmaheshwar

“Rudranath ki Chadhai jayse Germany ki Ladhai(The ascent of Rudranath is as difficult as the battle with Germany)” that is what said by the owner of Hariyali Resort of Saggar village when I came down from Rudranath extremely exhausted.

I came back from my Kumayun trip 15 days ago and was tired. But there was Durga Puja. I don’t like to stay at home alone in this festive season due to several reasons. So I again packed my rucksack and started for Uttrakhand.

Rudranath Temple

One of my Facebook friends with whom I traveled to Roopkund informed me that ponies are available on the way to Rudranath. My confidence level was high after visiting Roopkund, so I made up my mind to try it.

Once I wished to complete Panch Kedar (Five Kedars, Rudranath, Tungnath, Madmaheshwar, Kedarnath and Kalpeshwar). But when I resumed my travel after a long gap I discarded Rudranath from the list because of it’s difficulty level and my health issues.

Madmaheshwar Temple

When I heard that ponies were available on that path then my desire was rekindled and I decided to go there. I gathered information about the route. Madmaheshwar was always in my bucket list and I thought that if I get time I should also try go to Kedarnath again because I went there with my father long ago.

After reaching Haridwar I lodged in a hotel near the bus stand. Next morning I tried to go to Chamoli by shared jeep but due to lack of passengers it did not start and the driver asked me to go by bus. I boarded in a bus which was almost full at that time. As I did not want to sit in the rear side of the bus, the bus conductor arranged my seat in the cabin.

The bus started and we had brunch at Teendhara. After that, the bus kept on receiving passengers till it was packed. We reached Srinagar where some passengers got down and new passengers boarded. Then it started again. After crossing Dhrari Devi temple the car broke down at an odd point.

Somehow I Managed a shared jeep to reach Karan Prayag from there. From Karan Prayag I got another shared jeep to reach Chamoli. As I was tired with this journey I booked a full car from Chamoli to go to Saggar village. It dropped me in front of Hariyali Resort.

The resort was more decent than expected in that remote area. Next early morning they arranged my pony. We started at 7 in the morning. Initially the path seemed not too difficult till Poong Bugiyal but later it became very rough and steep. The stony staircases were uneven and high. After crossing Mauli Kharak my syce Nitin informed that I had to trek this path while coming down. It was about 3/4 km. But it was too late to withdraw.

The way to Rudranath through a stream.

The path was very dangerous, risky and breath taking. But when I reached Panar Bugiyal I forgot all my problems because one can witness 180 drgree view of Himalayan range from there with many peaks. Then came Pitradhar and PanchGanga Bugiyal. I had to get down from the pony twice as it was risky to cover those parts by pony. 22 kilometer of such dangerous path seemed too long to me. We at last reached Rudranath (11,811ft) at about 2 PM. From Rudranath also one can witness several peaks of Himalayas.

Food and accommodation at Rudranath was absolutely nominal. Being a single person I had to share room with other people. There was scarcity of water. One should carry Zeoline for purifying drinking water. In the evening we went to the temple for watching puja and evening aarti. Some people offered the deity whatever they carried to offer there.

I was extremely tired though I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that Rudranath brought me in such difficult and remote place. Night was decently cold but the room was cozy, although the quilt they provided was full of dust. I carried sleeping bag from Kolkata but my syce and my hotel owner at Sagar dissuaded me to carry it to Rudranath. I felt the need of it there at night.

MauliKharak

Morning was beautiful. We started early after morning tea for Saggar. Going down seemed more difficult to me. It was an ordeal to sit on the back of the pony. Even for a singe moment I could not feel relaxed. We had Breakfast at Leuty Bugiyal at Kishen Singh Bist’s dhaba. He arranged my stay at Sagar and Nitin, my syce, was his son. Then came the most difficult part. I had to walk that very dangerous, difficult, uneven, stony and slippery path where every step should be taken cautiously. When I became completely exhausted I found my syce Nitin and my pony. He took me to Poong bugiyal where we had our lunch. Then we came back to Sagar in the afternoon.

As I drank less water in fear of stomach problem and the area was dry and arid due to lack of vegetation, my nose bled. My whole body was aching with terrible pain. After reaching Sagar I drank lots of water and bathed properly and took early dinner and slept. After a 12 hours sleep when I woke up next morning at 7 I felt that I could move for Madmaheshwar.

Rhododrendron trees at Rudranath.

After breakfast a car was arranged to drop me at Chamoli. As soon as I got down from the car I saw a bus of UK Roadways. I boarded on it which dropped me at Rudrapayag, from where I got a shared jeep for Ukhimath. From Ukhimath I sat on another jeep for Ransi. Those who travel in group or can afford a car they don’t need to take so much pain. They can go straight from Sagar to Ukhimath or Ransi. It is about 60/65 km from there.

Ransi is the starting point to trek for Madmaheshwar. I stayed at Komal tourist point. This hotel had only the very basic amenities. Its owner arranged a pony for me whose owner’s name was Narottam. I met a monk, and his two disciples in the jeep at Ukhimath who came to Ransi with me. They also stayed at Ransi. Next morning Narottam took me to Madmaheshwar on his pony.

Maharaj and his disciple

The road was though not as difficult as Rudranath, but it was quite difficult, as the road was steadily declining up to Gondar, then there was steady ascent. At some places it was quite steep though there was a proper paved path. We had breakfast at Bantoli. But I forgot to pay there. Narottam relieved me saying that I could pay while returning.

I reached Madmaheshwar at around 1Pm. I got accommodation with the same monk and his two disciples. My stay was a bliss at Madmaheshwar with them. The monk was from Tehri Garhwal, and one of his disciples was an entrepreneur of Shimla, and the other was a boy from Pangi( Himachal Pradesh). They could climb hill as easily as lizards. They did Panch Kedar at a stretch and all by foot.

Pitradhar

In the evening I saw the deity and aarti. After that we had early dinner with roti and kadu(pumpkin) ki sabji. Next early morning was for Buda Madmaheshwar expedition. Mt. Chaukhamba seemed at a stone throw distance from there according to the opinion of Maharaj. After breakfast I started with Narottam. We had lunch at Bantoli. I did not forget to pay this time. There I came across a couple who were from AgastMuni. Hearing about my desire to go to Kedarnath they offered me lift up to Kund(where the road from Ransi met another road for Sonprayag) on their car. After reaching the end point of the trek I boarded their car and I got a bus immediately after reaching Kund.

Madhuganga and ramdana on the way to Madmaheshwar

When the bus crossed Guptakashi traffic jam started. The bus advanced very slowly. At one point the jam became stagnant. After an hour or two the bus conductor came to me and requested me to return as I was alone and aged. He said, I could face problem if the bus reached Sonprayag at night. I realized what he advised was true. He helped me to get my luggage and I came down from the bus and took another bus from the opposite side to reach Guptakashi. I spent the night in a hotel at the bus stand. I decided to go back to Rishikesh.

I got the news of extreme chaos in Kedarnath due to the rush of pilgrims next day. As there was a long holiday of Navratri, Dashera, Saturday, Sunday, many people from nearby places came in their car and there were many youngsters, who were inspired by the movie Kedarnath, came in groups. I thought it would be wise not to move upward anymore.

Mt Chaukhamba from Guptakashi

Next day I came down to Rishishikesh, but it took much longer time than usual as there was again a traffic jam after Tindhara. It started raining at night and red alert was declared by Uttarakhand government as heavy rainfall was predicted. It rained continuously next day. In the next morning I found that the greenish blue water of Ganga changed into mud colour and the water was rushing ferociously down with branches of trees and other things. I heard about many mishaps on the hills and felt blessed that I came down safely.

Next day morning after breakfast I came to Haridwar. I bought peda(sweets made by drying milk) for home and ate malai samosa and boarded on train at midnight.

Janki Jhula at Rishikesh

Traveling beyond dream

MY ROOPKUND TRIP

Mt. Chaukhamba, in the morning from Almora.

I neither planned nor thought even in my wildest dream to attempt for Rupkunda. I did not consider myself to fit to go there. Probably it was the desire of destiny that I visited that heavenly place or I should say it appeared in front of my eyes to oblige me.

View from Kausani

It thus happened that my scheduled plan to visit an interior part of Kumayun (Uttarakhand) was cancelled due to heavy rain and land slide. My local guide informed me that when my RT-PCR negative report was in my hand and my bags were packed. Just before three/four days of my departure one of my Facebook friends asked me if I was interested in going Roopkund. I declined her saying it was beyond my physical capacity and I had another plan too.

Mt. Trishul from Gowaldam

Suddenly I recalled her offer and called her immediately to tell that I would like to join them. My friend gave me the contact number of the travel guides who were going to arrange the trek. They were two/ three local young boys of 25/30 years ( Uttarakhand Tour Planner). I talked to them and they informed that they had no problem accommodating me if I could reach Wan village on 18th evening. Their package was from Wan to Wan village(19th to 23rd September,2021). They also guided me how to reach Wan through Kumayun.

My ticket was in Durgiana Express up to Bareily from Kolkata station on 14th September. So I visited Almora, Kausani and reached Gowaldam via Baijnath. I spent one day in each of these places.

Moonrise at Wan Village

From Gowaldam I went to Thalarali by bus. Then I took shared jeep to reach Dewal. From Dewal I went to Lohajung by another shared jeep. I had to wait about two hours at Lohajung to get a conveyance for Wan village. I reached Wan by someone’s car taking a lift instead of 150 rupees when the sun was about to set.

In the evening my friend and her two companions arrived from Dehradoon. We were very much excited. Next morning after breakfast we started our journey. Our first lap was up to Gairolipatal (10,000 ft app.)

Roopkund is a difficult trek. On the first day we covered about 5/6 kilometer steep path through beautiful forest, streams and we crossed Neel Ganga. Gairolipatal was a small place with two trekkers’ huts and one small shack of the local forester who served us tea also.

Our tent was pitched for that night. We got one trekkers’ hut to cook our food . It was a full moon night but we could hardly see the moonlit peaks due to cloud. It rained all night. In the morning Mt. Trishul peeped through the cloud for sometime though we missed the sunrise.

Mt Trishul at Gairolipatal

During the second day it was a long journey to cover 10/12 kilometers. After early breakfast we started. Our cook Mohan was an expert to cook tasty food with meager ingredients. We covered the forest and reached above tree lines. On the way we crossed eye alluring Bedini Bugiyal. There were many unknown plants that enhanced the beauty of the path. There were shepherds who brought there herds of sheep for grazing on the bugiyals(grassland).

We reached Pathornachuni( 12,700 ft) by 2 o’clock. Here we could not get trekkers’ hut. So a kitchen tent was pitched and hot lunch was served. It was drizzling. We took shelter in our tents. In the evening we enjoyed pakora and tea. Night was pretty cold. But our organizers provided us good tents and cosy sleeping bags that we slept very well.

Pathornachuni

Next morning the distance we had to cover was not quite long but very tough due to steep and difficult trail. When I reached Kalu Vinayak, Lal Singh, an enthusiastic boy, brother of one of our organizers, told me to ask whatever I want from Kalu Vinayak. I was already so much overwhelmed that I lost words. One of our team mates Mrs. Pratima Mandal( MP/ TMC party) broke into tears out of joy.

Kalu Vinayak

We reached our last Destination Bhaguabasa (14,000 ft). On the way we found lots of Brahmakamal with other high altitude plants. It was extremely cold and dark after sunset. Here we managed one trekkers’ hut with the initiative of Kartik, one of our team members. He reached early and occupied one. Being a Garhwali boy he could walk fast on the mountain and he was young too.

Next day was a vital day. We started before dawn. The organizers gave us an escort to each of our four members so that we could walk in the difficult way to Roopkund. The trail was not only steep but also in some places there was no path at all. One had to cover it balancing on the body. The beauty of pristine Himalayas was indescribable and mesmerizing.

Brahmakamal

My friend Rinku Basu and her uncle were the steadiest and experienced trekkers among us. I was the most crippled one and my escort Dikpal Singh Danu was a very patient one to give me encouragement on that difficult path. Pratima was the tenacious one who never gave up.

Roopkund is a small mountainous lake on 15,570 ft altitude. Due to cloudy weather no peak was visible from there. Only the historical skeletons, the small temple of Shiv-Parvati and the Kund was seeable. Coming down was also not an easy task. It started raining in the mean time. We came back at noon time and had our lunch and again started our down ward journey for Pathornachuni. We stayed there at night. Though it rained heavily, our crew members did not neglect in any way to serve us.

Early morning view, on the way to Rupkund

Our guide Heeraji was an expert in his field. He told us mythical stories of Pathornachuni and Roopkund. He guided us as a professional so that we did not get succumbed to Acute Mountain Sickness or other ailments. Sometimes he carried me like a trolley bag so that I did not fall on the slippery slope. Rain accompanied us till Wan village.

Roopkund ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roopkund )

Next day we left Wan village by a jeep arranged by our organizers. It dropped me at Tharali and went to Hrishikesh with Rinku, her uncle and Pratima. They dropped me at Tharali as my ticket was from Lalkuan. I came back via Goaldam and Nainital.

N.B. One who never traveled and spent night above 10,000 ft should not attempt this trek. It is not a pleasure trip in anyway. Only very basic requirements can be provided. One has to use toilet tent or manage in open air and use toilet paper to clean up oneself because of the scarcity of water. It is very cold. So those who can not endure cold also discouraged to go.

Nailital

Darjiling Diary

Lepchajagat, Sandakfu, Falut, Tumling.

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.

A short trip to few mythical places of Birbhum.

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.

Chandpur, an off beat weekend trip.

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.

Talasari(Odissa), a week end trip.

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.

Chandaneshwar Temple Gate

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, a mangrove forest near Kolkata.

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.

Himachal Pradesh – March 2020.

Winter Spiti – A Fiasco.

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, the highest Kedar.

Chopta evening

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.

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.

Rhododendron Tree

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.

My companion

Chilika, the beautiful lagoon.

Rambha + Barkul (Odissa)

Chilika is a large brackish water lagoon situated at the coast of Odissa. It covers 1000 square kilometers approximately and is connected with bay of Bengal at Satpada. It is a great source of livelihood for many fishermen of Odissa. During winter many migratory birds come here from the countries of northern part of Asia.

This year I planned to visit Chilika in October for five days to avoid the crowd and noise of Kolkata Durga puja. I had no purpose to stay at home during those five days either. I planned to go to Chilika because the availability of train ticket for Berhampur was not so scarce as it was for New Jalpaiguri during Puja vacation. I booked accommodation in OTDC hotels from their office at Lenin Sarani for both the places.

Breakfast Island

I boarded Falaknuma Express in the early morning of “Sashthi”. The train reached Berhampur at 4-45 in the afternoon. I took an auto and reached old bus stand to catch bus for Rambha. It took approximately one hour by bus to reach Rambha. When the bus dropped me on the road, a generous person, who was going to the same place by his scooter for work at the same time, offered me lift on his back seat saying that OTDC rest house was quite a distance from the main road.

It was quite dark then. I could not see anything from the room. Next early morning before sunrise I went to the jetty from where the boats ply for local sightseeing. There were plenty of birds. I took photos of few of them. Gradually the sun rose from the back of the hill like a golden platter. Then I came back for morning tea. I requested the manager that if any group came and went for local boat trip he should try to add me with them for that trip, otherwise it would be costly for me. The manager assured me that he would help me to go for that trip. Before lunch an aged couple came. Normally people go for three destinations, but I convinced them that we should do all five. They agreed to do so. They were very nice to me and showed a lot of affection to me. We visited Breakfast island, Ghantashila, Bird island, Honeymoon island and Sankuda island. It was a two hours boat journey. I enjoyed every moment.

Next day I went to Barkul by an auto arranged by OTDC guest house. Barkul is 13km /14km from Rambha. I reached there just before lunch time. So after keeping my luggage in the room I went to the dining hall and took a crab preparation with rice. That was soft shell local crab of Chilika lake. It was tasty. I came back to my room and had a short afternoon nap. During my sleep I had an itching sensation, I thought there was mosquitoes, I switched on the mosquito repellent and slept again. When I woke up and went to bathroom, I saw in the mirror my swelling face and I found that I had rashes on my whole body also. I went to the reception to inquire about medicine shop. They took me to the doctor and doctor gave me anti-allergic tablet. Next day I was fit. I went to the jetty in the early morning. There was haze due to which I could not see sunrise. I wanted to go for a boat trip. I met a group who came on that day to offer puja to Kalijayi temple. I asked them if I could join the trip with them. Knowing that I was alone they offered me a free ride.

Kalijayi Temple

The journey was long. It took one hour to reach the temple. It was a pleasant experience. There were lots of Pankauri birds ( little black cormorant) and different types of storks, egrets, cranes, etc. But it was difficult to capture photographs from the running boat. I went with them in the temple and offered puja and made a wish there. After coming back to hotel I had my breakfast. The evening was spent roaming leisurely around the lake and watching birds.

Next day also after breakfast I went to Kalijayi Temple by OTDC boat. People visited different places like Rambha, Gopalpur, Daringbari from there, and for other local sight seeings , but I just went there to spent time peacefully and in a leisurely manner, which I did sitting most of the time on the balcony watching Lake Chilika, birds, boats, and activities of people. My return ticket was from Balugaon by Chennai-Howrah Mail. In the afternoon OTDC hotel reception arranged my auto. It was 7 km approximately from the hotel. I reached the station an hour before the train schedule. It was a small station and the train stopped there for 2 minues. Next early morning I came back to Kolkata when the city was fatigued by the merriment of the celebration of Durga puja and was fast asleep.