“Write out of love. Your piece will finish itself.” ― A.D. Posey

This post is happening after six months for various reasons. After my husband Devrai’s  first phase of travel to Kumaon district, there was no connectivity for some time, later his posts were also delayed & I lost track. It bothered me that I had not finished posting about his epic  marathon 55 day, 8500 km,” Escape the heat” Scorpio Safari from Mumbai on 21st May 2016 – 3 weeks Kumaon , 3 weeks Ladakh, 2 weeks Himachal.

As in previous blog posts Devrai’s Fb posts are in Italics.

Continuing the Safari, I dropped Viju mudur  at Ambala and Preeti, Yuh Sin & Venkat joined me there for the 2nd Phase.
From Ambala we drove to Srinagar with pit stops at Ludhiana & Banihal.
For foodies don’t miss the freshly made pure ghee Soan papdi at Kud, the Rajma chawal at Peerah Modh enroute Srinagar.
The sight of Shikaras gliding silently on the Dal Lake is really soothing. We finished our one day stay with great Kababs served with 6 types of chutneys at Qyaam Chowk.

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 On 15th June 2016, I pulled up my socks and prepared myself for the the tough drive ahead, today we were going to cross the Zoji La, one of the most dangerous passes we would encounter.
We reached our destination, Purtikche in Suru Valley tired but safe.
Enroute we visited the Kargil War Memorial.kargil.jpg
Purtikche is a small village in the Suru Valley, to get there you have to drive 50 km from Kargil.
It is very picturesque, we decided to stay for 2 days.
One of the photos is with Mohammed Sadiq at whose residence I had stayed during my previous drive to Ladakh in 2009.purtikche.jpg
Next day we bid farewell to Kargil.
Near Mulbek we left the highway again and drove into Sapi Valley.
At the onset we saw the quaint Shargole Monastery, and the beautiful Fokkar Village.
Sapi La was higher than 14000 ft.
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From Sapi La, we crossed the statue of Maitreya or Future Buddha at Mulbek and went to Lamayuru Monastery.

 
Next morning Vivek  Nagwekar suggested that we take the old road from Lamayuru to Leh. The landscapes we saw on that road were really amazing.
Before going on any further I have to introduce you to my friend Vivek Nagwekar, more Ladakhi than Maharashtrian, a superlative photographer, he has been visiting Ladakh since 1987, stays there 4 months in a year, been organizing tours for the last 15 years. 

He was waiting for us in Srinagar and joined us from there, knowing Ladakh like the back of his hand, he made this trip even more unforgettable.

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Enroute to Leh we visited the Buddhist temple at Alchi with its curio shops, the sangam of the great rivers Indus or Sindhu & Zanskar at Nimmi, ate langar at Patthar Sahib Gurudwara & proved to myself that the Magnetic Hill was an optical illusion. Reached Leh late evening, these days dusk is at 8 pm. 
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On 19th June we crossed the Khardung La the highest motor able road in India, not as tough as Zoji La but still very tiring.

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We reached Turtuk the northern most point in India. Turtuk came under Indian control only after the 71 war. The language and cuisine here is Balti.
Continuing the log, while at Turtuk we visited the modest palace of the very modest Raja of Turtuk, you can see his family tree.
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Coming back to Diskit, we had the most amazing South Indian food at an Army Mess.
 From Nubra valley we drove straight to PangongTso, without coming to Leh.
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It was a nice 6 hr drive along the banks of the Shyok river. Enroute we saw Marmots, Yaks and good many birds.
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At Pangong you get an idea of how popular Ladakh has become as a tourist destination.

On 22nd June we returned to Leh via Chang La- 17586 ft.
After more than a month on the road, 2 punctures and a mirror smashed, all in a day.
At Leh, the main bazar road has been converted into a Mall road on the likes of Manali.

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24th June, last day in Leh at Paul Guest house, run by a jolly family.
The lady of the house showed us round the home,and explained how life was, before the advent of tourists.I cooked Upma & filter coffee for breakfast ,and Veg stew, Paan Poley( Neer Dosa), Sheera for Dinner, the Paul family also enjoyed.paul.jpg

 

On 25th June 2016 , Yuh Sin & Preeti Mistry flew back to Mumbai, Ganesh Kamath arrived in Leh,picked him up from the airport and headed for Tso Moriri, a 6 hr drive, crossing the hot water springs at Chumathang. Unlike Pangong & Kar, which are saline. Moriri is a fresh water lake with the village Karzok on its banks at a height of 15300 ft.Here too tourism is increasing at a very fast pace.ganesh.jpg

After 2 days at Tso Moriri, we moved to Tso Kar. Upto the 80’s Tso Kar was the main source of salt for locals, even today the elders lament about its unavailability, as it was considered medicinal.
Only hard core travellers stay at Tso Kar, set near the village of Thukje which is made up of a handfull of houses and a monastery.
We saw there rare and elusive Blacknecked crane and a good number of Kiangs(HImalayan wild Ass). 

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At dinner time it was fun exchanging notes with fellow travellers.

 

On 28th June 2016, we moved from Tso Kar on to the mighty plains of More and to Pang, we bid farewel to Ladakh at Sarchu and entered Lahaul in HP. By evening we crossed the Baralacha La and reached JIspa on the banks of the river Bhaga.
This  drive was the toughest in the entire trip, the road from Pang to Baralacha La was bad & narrow,with places having names such as, Brandy Bar, Zing Zing Bar, Rum Nalla & Whisky Nalla. But the toughest part was overtaking a Military convoy of 40 vehicles.military vehicles.jpg

 

Jispa is a small village,on the banks of the river Bhaga which flows from the Suraj Tal a small lake which you cross coming down from Baralacha La. Our home stay was with the family of Sonam Thakur, his mom cooked authentic Veg. Thukpa, with plenty of dried Yak Cheese.

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On 30th June 2016, we left Jispa , crossed Tandi where the Bhaga merges with the river Chandra, and the Chandrabhaga flows into Pakistan where it is called the Chenab.
Driving on we crossed the Rohtang La, the last high pass of the trip at 13050 ft.There were atleast 500 vehicles at the Pass, all tourists from Manali, which was as crowded and as warm as Delhi.

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On 1st July 2016, we made our great escape from Maddening Manali and the hordes of tourists and made our way to Naggar. Always wanted to stay at the Naggar Castle, but it is a bit pricey, luckily off seaso discount had started on 1st July, plus they gave us additional 20% discount. We booked for 2 nights, on 2nd we drove to Jana waterfalls, icy cold but refreshing. We were served a Himachali Thali ( Siddu, Limbdi veg, Kadhi, Makai roti, unpolished rice,Locally grown Rajma accompanied by chutney, ghee & local gur).
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On 3rd July 2016, we left Naggar and headed off for a place called Janjheli, it was in the hills of Mandi Dist. After asking for directions at every cross road we reached there.Nice quiet place, fresh milk-the cow was milked in front of us-Rs.20/- ltr. A religious festival was going on , so we got stuck for an hour till the Gods moved on to a ground.
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My concluding post for my marathon 55 day, 8500 km,” Escape the heat” Scorpio Safari.
From Janjhehli, we drove to forest rest house  Kattanda,

This lady at Kattanda village wove this Chattai. 
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look at the close up.

chattai 1.jpgthen on to Chindi, Naldhera,Fagu & Kyarighat in Himachal Pradesh  before coming back to Ambala, and on to Mumbai with pit stops at Bhilwara & Vapi.- Devrai 
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My Bhatkanti continues…Devrai

In the prevoius post, I  (Kavita – Devrai Shanbhag’s wife) had written that  when Devrai posts on Facebook, dutifully I am going to  share it as a new  blog post along with my comments.

So this is in continuation of my… ours earlier post. ( For the benefit of readers Devrai’s posts on FB will be in Italics.

Yesterday, ie 2nd June 2016, we trekked to Dhauli Nag temple at Vijeypur & left after a hefty breakfast at Chestnut Grove. Destination was Dinapani.
You need to go through Bageshwar where the temperature & traffic was worse than Mumbai. Reached Dinapani at lunch.

I do not know who has taken the snap but must say a good click. More importantly, Devrai agreed to get clicked..

 

June 4th 2016- Dinapani is on the same ridge as Papper Saili, from a village called Kaparkhan to Papper Saili this 10 km stretch is the favorite haunt for foreigners, the views are great but it was foggy during our stay here. Resin being collected from Chir pine trees.

 
Devaraya Shanbhag's photo.
From Dinapani we drove to Baijnath, it is famous for its 1000 you old temple complex, according to mythology the marriage of Shiva and Parvati took place here at the confluence of the Gomti & the Garud Ganga. The KMVN here is situated at a nice spot & has an excellent cook. He prepared a special Kumaoni Dal called Bhatt ke Dubke.
On Sunday 5th June 2016, we drove from Baijnath to Kausani, the shortest drive of the trip, 17 km,but 2500ft higher & 10 degrees colder. From kausani you can get incredible views of the Himalayas. You have to be at the view point at 5am and if there are no clouds, VOILA!!!
From Kausani we drove to Binsar, Club Mahindra. The last leg of part 1 of “Escape the Heat Safari”, Spent 2 days in the lap of luxury.Today, June 9th 2016,  at Haldwani, we have returned to the Heat, dust & crowds of the Plains.
At Kaladhungi, birth place of Jim Corbett.
This whole tempo load of Kadgi(Raw Jackfruit for Non Amchi) sold for Rs. 1500/-!!!
From Left to Right
 Akil Kharodawala , Dervai, Venkat, Viju Mudur, Babubhai Poladia, & Jyoti Jayawant
Snap taken at a chance meeting with Akil .
Devrai- Hi Akil, it was nice meeting a avid bird watcher like you. First leg of my trip is over, gearing up for Ladakh now.
Akil- Very nice to meet you there in Pangot. Best of luck may nature give u all the best in your trip and life always!
June 12th 2016- From Haldwani we drove to Rajaji National Park, Chilla Range near Haridwar, great forest but horrendous roads inside, first day I took my Scorpio, next day we sensibly hired a Gypsy .
What Chrisopher Guna (another passionate traveller, wildlife activist) has to say…”The proud blue beast and its riders…”
 June 12th 2016- Last stop of part 1 of safari, Ambala Cantt. Only famous for Puran Singh ka Dhaba & Saini(originally Kishorilal) Puriwala, both worthy of their fame
From 12th June to June 25th , Most of the time Devrai is out of coverage area so there are no posts. Am waiting for the   exciting pics of the  next leg- Ladakh region.

“I prefer Travelling to Writing”Devrai

By the sheer frequency of posts you can know that my husband Devrai  prefers travelling to writing. ( The earlier post was also from me.. an article on Ladakh-inputs from him of course,way back in 2012)  He can dictate, can suggest changes in the draft when I write travel related or any other articles. Now a days, he can even writes Facebook posts. Period.

I have been after him to write  which never happened instead he left for trips of longer durations. I really feel bad that this is not being documented so I thought why not I write about his travels & post on  this blog  which was started by him after my incessant nagging.

For one , I love writing. Second… in our “tu tu, mei mei” verbal war somebody else may do it & actually make money out of it.

Truly, his travels are so good…Eventually,  I want to make it in to a book.  Till then….I will be blogging  & if Devrai is inspired then he will..Keeping my fingers crossed!

Here is Devrai…always on the move!

 

Right now, he is travelling for 2 months at a stretch. Before leaving, I  asked..”Can I write in your blog?”   I boasted that I write  a good copy . He did not disagree lest I forbid him from his current & future  wanderings.

As I told earlier  he hates writing..his  writing span is maximum FB posts so  to start with, I am just copy pasting from his FB page.

Here are Devrai’s FB posts &  my comments in between..

Left Mumbai on 21st May 2016 on an epic 60 day “Escape the Heat” safari in the Scorpio, 3 weeks Kumaon , 3 weeks Ladakh, 2 weeks Himachal. ….( OMG)

Yess… all the way  By Scorpio!!!

At Nainital lake

We spent only one day at Nainital, next 3 days we were at Pangot,18 km away. No crowd here, Great bird life.
Cooked and ate lunch at FRH, VINAYAK.

( I told you … he is a rare species…he loves to cook even on a vacation) More on Devrai’s  cooking kit/ kitchen in Scorpio in later posts.

May 27th 2016- Yesterday we trekked to Naina Peak, 7 km up, You get a grand view of Nainital. The trail was through thick forest.

May 28th-Yesterday at Sitlakhet, a small one street village 35 km from Almora, today we crossed Almora and are staying at Khim’s Guest house, Papper Saili.

From Papper Saili we drove to Jageshwar temple, but being season not a single room was available, so we drove a further 110km to Patal bhuvaneshwar, which is called thus because a deep cave with stalactites & stalagmites.

June 1st 2016- You are not allowed photography in the cave @ Patal Bhuvaneshwar, but the panoramic view from our resort was simply fabulous. We were here for 3 days. We also had a cook out.

Viju and myself enjoying, Aloo ke gutke, Bhang pudine ki chutney, kumaoni Raita at a road side Dhaba near Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

June 2nd 2016- Yesterday enroute to bageshwar at a small village called Vijeypur we got accommodation in a boutique resort called Chestnut Grove surrounded by birds. The bell is used to call for service.

 More in next post!

A Trip to Ladakh

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“Jhuley” which means “Victory to the Gods!” is the most common greeting heard everywhere in Ladakh. I realised how true it was, when we, 19 of us from Mumbai Karnatak Society, Matunga  & around, decided to go to Ladakh. I didnt know much about the terrain, but had only heard Devrai, my dear husband, mention Pangong, Zanskar, Lamayuru etc. which sounded very much foreign to me. We were really excited to be visiting these exotic places.

This was Devrai’s third visit to Ladakh. But this time he was leading us with Ganesh Kamath, our dear friend from Karnatak Society. They left few days in advance to make arrangements for the entire team. Our trip was divided in to 2 parts. Ladakh – Land of Passes & Kashmir Valley. To visit Ladakh by road, there is a window period of 3 months, from July to September, rest of the year many of the high passes are blocked by ice.Some people prefer to take a direct flight to Leh, but we flew into Srinagar & drove to Leh to get acclimatised to the altitude & secondly to witness, unparalleled scenery on the road trip. From Srinagar airport we travelled to Kargil, crossing the dreaded Zoji La. In Ladakhi “La” means a mountain pass. This was the first of the many passes which we would be crossing in our trip.From Zoji La to Kargil the road is so close to the Line of Control that walls are built next to the roads to protect vehicles from enemy fire. When we crossed Tiger Hill, we were reminded of the sacrifices of our brave soldiers and stopped our vehicle for two minutes to pay homage. Respect for our jawans increased manifold seeing the extreme topogrophy- a land of freezing winds, burning hot sunlight, a cold desert in the rain shadow of the awe inspiring Great Himalayas.

Next day our destination was Leh. Our first stop was at a place called Mulbek. It’s chief attraction is a 9 meter high rock sculpture of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Our second stop was the monastery(Gompa in Ladakhi) of Lamayuru. It is one of the largest and oldest gompas in Ladakh, with a population of around 150 permanent monks resident.A particular landscape on the highway near Lamayuru is called Moonland – this looks similar to landscape on moon.Then on we drove to the sangam of two great rivers the Indus or Sindhu (from where our country got our name) & Zanskar. Our last stop before Leh was the mysterious Magnetic Hill . The hill is alleged to have magnetic properties strong enough to pull cars uphill. We reached Leh by evening.I saw how popular Leh-Ladakh is among international tourists. There were hordes of foreign tourists & Indian tourists were a minority.

We visited local sights on the next day which included the gompas of Hemis, Thiksey & Shey.The highlight of the trip was the school featured in movie 3 Idiots named “Druk White Lotus School”, founded in 2001 by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa.This school had won three World architecture Awards even before the release of ‘3 idiots’ which has made the school more famous. Now, it has a cafe named “Rancho’s cafe”. Our last stop was the Shanti Stupa atop a mountain at Leh. By then we had become very familiar with the deities like MaaTara, Padmasambhava & the adornings within the gompas like the Thanka, Mandala, Prayer wheels, multi coloured prayer flags, Dorje etc.

Our itinerary would now take us to the exotic locales.Next day we started early as were going on the Highest Motorable Road in the world, Khardung La at 18,380 feet where you see a board pointing out health hazards at such high altitudes & warns you to leave the place within 15 minutes. But we were so excited with the snow and clicking snaps with the army jawans that we didn’t realise that we were there for an hour when all the time Devrai was pointing at the board. We realised the reason, when some of our team members started complaining of splitting headaches & breathlessness. From then on nobody questioned Devrai’s instructions. From Khardung La we crossed in to the Nubra Valley with the beautiful Shyok river & the dessert sand dunes at Diskit. We rode on the double humped Bactrian camels & stayed in tents, for some of us first time in their lives.The night we spent at Hunder in the tent & the apricots we plucked off the trees & ate will be etched in our minds forever.

Next stop was Pangong Lake ( Tso in Ladakhi). Enroute when we crossed Chang La at 17,500 feet, our group was back inside the vehicles within 10 minutes to avoid the recurrence of “Khardunglitis”. The trip to Pangong was like no other, what with the sightings of the marmots- large ground squirrels, Kiangs -largest of the wild asses which is native to the Tibetan Plateau, the herds of Yaks & of course the lake itself, one third of which is in India & two thirds in China.It was mesmerising with it’s different shades of blue which you would rarely see in nature. And there was the trip to the 3 Idiot point which has become a tourist attraction after the movie. Pangong was the coldest place we encountered on the trip. Neeraj Chandaver, the youngest member of the group scaled Garnet Hill which is next to the lake & had a grand adventure. Returning from Pangong, Devrai stopped at a Yak herder’s tent where Yak milk, Yak butter & Yak paneer was available. Here we tasted Ladakhi tea which is topped with Yak butter locally called “Gud Gud Chai”.

We came to our last day in Leh. Ten members of the group went on a white water rafting trip which was a thrilling experience for them all. The others like me spent the entire day shopping. Leh is a Shopper’s Paradise.There is something here for everybody from artefacts, jewellery to trekking gear. I must mention our gastronomic experience with Tibetan food such as Thukpa- noodle soup with meat or vegetables, Teemok- steamed bread eaten with either mutton or vegetable curry, momos are like our ukadiche modak stuffed with either meat or vegetables. I should not forget to mention our vehicle drivers Mr. Lotus & Mr. Fungshuk who within 9 days had become part of our team. We would be missing them during the next leg of our trip. Thus ended our sojourn in Leh.
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We departed Leh to return to the Kashmir Valley. Enroute to Pahalgam we stopped at the last monastery of the trip at Alchi. We also stopped at Sonamarg where we had the best “Kahwa”( Kashmiri spiced tea) of the trip.Here we took some time to visit “Thajiwas Glacier”. We reached Pahalgam crossing the safron fields at Pampore & the cricket bat factories near Anantnag. Next day we did local sight seeing covering Aru Valley where Shahrukh Khan was shooting for his forthcoming Yash Chopra film, Chandanwari -the starting point of the Amarnath Yatra & the Betab point where this movie was filmed.We strolled along the Lidder river. Pahalgam is like a beautiful picture postcard with its pine trees & rolling meadows. From Pahalgam we moved to Srinagar, our last stop of the trip & did local sightseeing covering the Moghal Gardens -Chashmeshahi, Nishat & Shalimar & the mosque at Hazrat Bal, before we moved into the Houseboats on Dal Lake, which were going to be our residence for the next three days. Staying in the houseboat was like icing on the cake. You sit on the deck & watch the shikaras move about silently & smoothly. Here you dont go to the market, it is the market which comes to you. I was surprised to see the wide variety of goods being sold on the shikaras from jewellery, Kashmiri handicrafts to kebabs from live barbeques & the costliest of wines.The house boats are aesthetically decorated with wall to wall carpets , fine carved wooden furniture. There is homely warmth to your stay as the owners have their residence behind the houseboats & they take very good care of you. It was interesting to watch the kids go to school or ladies going to the land market using the shikara like we use an auto rickshaw here. Next day we made a day trip to Gulmarg & some members travelled by Gondola (rope way) to Khilanmarg. In Srinagar we tasted Kashmiri Wazwan or cuisine,and dined on items like Rishta,Yakhni, Goshtaba, Tabakmaz, Nadur (lotus stem)Yakhni etc.

All good things have to come to an end & so too our trip. But the memories of the full Moon rising over serene Dal lake, the wide expanses of Ladakh & chantings of Om Mani Padme Hum linger on…..!

– Mrs. Kavita  Devrai Shanbhag

Ladakh & Kashmir – August 2012.

It was a year ago that a few of my friends requested me to plan a trip to Kashmir Valley & Ladakh. I had planned this trip for a group of 6 to 8 members, but when it was announced I was quite taken aback by the response. More than 20 eager persons signed up.

Tickets were booked in early February . We were fortunate  to get Mumbai – Srinagar return tickets for Rs.7600/- on Jet lite. We were a group of 20, departing from Mumbai on Sunday, 19th August 2012 & returning on Sunday,2nd September 2012.

There was a lull till June. Then we held a meeting and an itinerary was put in place, we also started surfing the net in search of good deals, we met travel agents to help us, but in the end I decided there has to be an advance team to make arrangements. I and Ganesh booked tickets to Srinagar for the 7th of August.

Going as an advance team to make bookings was an eye opener and a fabulous learning experience. Biggest lesson was no number of contacts can give you the advantage you have by being physically present at ground zero.

In my next post I will take you through the experiences and the learning process of arranging a safari tour.

Hello Friends

Here I am..Devrai!  A very passionate Traveler. A Banker turned Caterer. Wild life Photographer. Basically a Foodie, A chef, A crazy guy who loves to cook, who loves to plan and organize a trip  ( Be it my own or for others)around food. Everybody tells me this makes a perfect combination to write a book but….. I dont like to write. I am a man of action so you may not find my blog posts very  often but  my wife Kavita tries makes it up and writes for me. So here we are ….