Saturday, 11 October, 2008

Letters to the unknown: 1

The unknown,
Any where in the world.
Sub:- Bringing to your kind notice - anything that shakes the conscience of a civilised human-reg:
Dear dweller on earth,
Recently I read an interview with the author of the book, 'High Crimes', Mr.Michael Kodas. This book is about the crimes against humanity, committed during Himalayan expeditions.I've not read the book. However , from the interview I could make out that the book deals with the way in which, the most venerated Everest and other Himalayan expeditions have been made into deadly traps by selfish individuals and crooked governments. The author has done a lot of field work and research on the subject. It may make a' must read' for the people who plan to go on mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas.
With best wishes
Dweller of the same home.

Monday, 6 October, 2008

Beyond tree line, there is heaven.

Guys , this may be really boring , especially if you had read the July edition of 'Outlook Traveller'. Still, I dare to narrate my own date with The Mighty Himalayas. Hold on! This is not a glossy paper edition of 'what I did this summer?'. At the most, this would be ranting of an incurable nature lover who cannot hold back from telling the world the details of a just finished DATE. This may come handy if you seek the same pleasure.
Day 1: 14.08.08
We started from Panchkula at 15.00 with plans to travel all night and reach Manali late in the night as it is 310 kms away. However we couldn't even reach Bilaspur due to landslide beyond Swarghat. So we stayed at the Forest Rest House in Swarghat. The FRH is beautifully located in a scenic place.
Day 2: 15.08.08
Morning opened to the chirping of birds . I sighted Oriental white eyes and Great tits, both in pairs as this is nesting season all over India. Some of us went to Naina Devi to seek the blessings of the Goddess for all the adventures to come. As all the information that was flowing in confirmed a days delay by the straight route, we decided to take the longer route to Manali via Naina Devi, Bangana, Una and Mandi ,a 120 kms extra. The road up to NainaDevi was very narrow and was eroded by rain at many places. At many places we could see live landslides happening. Our only concern was to pass this stretch before another land slide blocked our way. The labourers involved in the work discouraged us from going further. But we took a chance and kept moving. The visibility was very less. The very danger it posed made travel in this stretch thrilling. Finally when we were done with this stretch, at one turn on the road , the vast, glittering blue surface of the "Bhakra' Dam, caught us by surprise. This is the first place our photo sessions started. Just after the reservoir, there is a short cut to Una saving 15 kms. Due to the condition of the road we couldn't take this road. By the time we reached in Manali it was well past mid-night. We stayed at the guest house ofHimalayan Adventure Sports Academy ,a very well maintained one.
Day 3:16.08.08 Rotang Pass is 55kms from Manali. So we guessed that it wouldn't be more than two and a half hours before we crossed the pass. As we had already lost a day we wanted to reach 'Sarchu' -kind of mid- point between Leh and Manali -by night. We started around 10.30. By the time we crossed Rotang, it was 17.30. Obviously, we couldn't make it to 'Sarchu that day. We reduced our target to 'Jispa' almost 70 km less of the original target. When we reached 'Koksar'25km away from Rotang we realised that the other two vehicles that were following were not to be seen. So we waited at the PWD guest house at Koksar for 45 mts until the other two vehicles reached. This guest house is also well maintained.By the time we left Koksar it was 19.45.The reason for the delay was flat tire in one of the vehicles. I should mention here that the road leading to and just after Rotang is bad to say the least. They are laying the road (Project 'Deepak'). Hope it'll be ready for next season. Never ever cross this pass on week ends as the tourist population is high and causes traffic jams. This is exactly why we took seven hours to cross the pass. Back to the story..When we started from 'Koksar' with a target of 96km to Jispa we were really not hopeful. We were by now conditioned to giving up. I saw the PWD GH at 'Sisu' while passing through that place. Seemed to be a well maintained one. . After Sisu, we came across two foreign bikers. One was probably on a Royal Enfield. The other one was a brave heart on a Bajaj Boxer kind of bike. I say 'brave heart' because there was no road at all up to Keylong. By now we had lost all our sensitivity to the jerks and volleys. Now the concern was more about survival than about lowly worldly comforts. The cause of concern was the deep gorge along the road and the speedy river flowing in that. So , finally when we reached the GH in......... I remembered the Kural which says, 'it's sweeter to hold the sphere that was aimed at an elephant and missed the target than to hold the arrow that hit the hare correctly'. No other way to console about the days low performance.
Day 4:17.08.08 As we had learnt the lesson from our indiscipline, on day four all were present at the start line with 'defense' discipline. We had one aim....'Leh -Today'. It looked very much achievable as the regular trip guides on the net state that from Sarchu it's a day time's journey. We had provided for the distance between Keylong to Sarchu by starting early, So, we thought that we should be reaching Leh by late in the night. We had break fast at Jispa. Jispa to Sarchu the route is beautiful. One crosses the beautiful Deepak Tal and Suraj Tal . The colour of the water of Suraj Tal can compete with any rare gem of the world. At Deepak Tal we sighted a pair of Black winged Stilt. This is only a passage visitor to this part. Barlacha La, the first pass on our way, was cold and windy. We managed to reach Sarchu for lunch. One could see a lot of Mountain Pigeons and Yellow -billed Chough feeding on the garbage thrown around the Tibetan dhaba here. A truck driver that we met there told that Leh is just five hours away. Probably he didn't provide for contingencies. His advice was to cross 'Tangang La ' during day light. On our way to the next place, 'Pang' , we were stopped by the road laying team of BRO. As we were waiting, we saw a team of foreigners, well past their fifties, crossing us in the opposite direction. All in their brand new Royal Enfields, wore a sense of achievement on their face. They certainly knew how to travel. Just before 'Pang', one comes across beautiful geographical structures formed by wind and snow erosion. The surrounding is a treat to your eyes. When we reached 'Pang' , we realised once again that the day's target is unachievable as we could not cross Tangang La in day light. So we had an unscheduled stay in the tents maintained by Tibetans. They provide clean sleeping space which is compact, comfortable and cost effective. They provide food as well. These kinds of tents are available all along the way from Manali to Leh. But one itch is that there is nothing called ‘toilet’. Be prepared for that.
I was shivering all night as I had no conditioning to the winter climate. My last winter was two years back. My co-passengers, who were from Mussorie had no problem adjusting to the altitude , though it was much higher than that of Leh. A dose of avomin did the trick and I had a great sleep that night.
Day:5 8.08.08
We started early in the morning . Immediately after crossing Pang , the Moreh Plain unfolds itself. Spread over miles , this plain land is surrounded by mountains on all side. From here one has to take diversion to Tso-Kar and Tso Moriri , the wild life havens . Crossing this plains was a great experience. The various shades of mountains, the grazing herds on very unlikely cliffs, the gorges carved out of thousands of years of river activity and its strange resemblance to many of the enthralling landscapes of Colarado and Mexico take you away to another world. The dust trail that a distant vehicle spews into the space makes you feel that you are into some kind of cross country race. Except for the distant snow covered peaks, nature is naked here. Neither cloud nor canopying trees try to cover up nature. The gigantic and barren nature drops panoramic canvass all around you where the scene keeps changing with heavy and serene silence. Your heart drops to the level of nature's silence leaving behind the vociferous mind. You take a heart full. Some members of the team who took another route to cross the plains sighted a group of Himalayan Griffon and a Lammergeier.Both the species are residents of the Himalayas. We sighted a Lammergeier just before it flew off. Our driver , from Gharwal Himalayas was explaining its habit of throwing bones from a height to break open the bone to feed on bone marrow. On verification this was found to be correct. Around eleven o'clock we reached Tangang La, the second highest motorable road in the world. Half the group performed trek to a nearby snow covered peak. The weather was chill and was dangerously windy.Some developed headache and some others breathing trouble. Our driver was down with chills. One of the team members robed himself in as driver. After entering Indus valley river Indus accompanies us in our travel to Leh.Finally we managed to reach Leh. Day.6 19.08.08 The day was spent in sight seeing. We visited Thiksey and Hemis monastries and Shey Palace. We sighted group of Chukar, near the fields on our way to Hemis. This bird is a resident of western Himalayas. Day.7 20.08.08. We strated from Leh to Diskit. On this road,50 km ahead comes Kardung La, the highest motorable road in the world. This is a steep climb as we climb nearly 7000ft in two hours. This may cause problem to some. We stopped for a while at South Pullu before proceeding to Kardungla. At kardung La, there is a board kept by the army instructing not to stay too long there. However the group trekked to the near-by peak and at half way I could see a father coming down from the peak with his (approx )four year old son guiding his way down. 'You won't fall down son. Papa is there. Common, you can do it'... Now, that's the spirit.
After South Pullu, the road slowly vanishes and at Kardungla and up to North Pullu ,it is only pot holes for you to navigate. The toilets here are made of sand pits. I could see a lot of sparrows nesting in the staked straw roofs of the houses here. The carry on their business like a busy house maker in human homes. When we reached the GH in Diskit, we came to know that there is restriction on electricity supply here. It goes off at 2300hrs. Evening we visited the sand dunes in Hunder. The Double Humped Bactrian Camel is the star attraction. However the sand dunes are beauty in heaps. The touch of the breeze plays magic on the body of the dunes and evokes various emotions at one time. The sense of falling apart and morphing entangle the onlooker. We sighted a White wagtail, which is a summer visitor to this part of the country. It was hopping around the stream that was flowing nearby. On our way back, we sighted a group of Wooly Hare and a lonely one. They are so effectively camouflaged that it takes little effort to see them at a distance. We saw some Chukars here too. The night sky was very clear and the milky way was visble clearly to naked eyes. Star gazers need to carry sky map of the month as the latitudinal change confuses a little bit. Day:8 21.08.08 We started on a two wheeler to Panamik, the place of hot springs. The effort was worth it. This road cut a vast and sandy plain in to two in a straightline and crosses Shok river to proceed further to Siachen. We sighted Common Hoope, a Summer visiter to this place. We also sighted Redfinches, black winged Red strarts, White lapwings and a lot of Sparrows. The seabuck Bushes on both the sides of the road were full of berries and were colourful. The climb up to the spring gives a good view of the Nubra valley below. A distant waterfall was magnificent.. Day:9 22.08.08 We went for river rafting in the Indus upto Nimmu.It was a 20 km stretch. That was more a pleasure ride as the rapids were of grade 2 level only. That had it's own advantage. We enjoyed the flowing water , towering mountains on the sides and the different shades it wore. The place is untouched by humans except for the unmindfully thrown water bottles that float at few places were the water is still. The sound of water transports you into a trance and the soul starts searching the age old secret of nature. Millions of question asked by millions of minds remain unanswered. The speed of mind feels its ineptness to even penetrate the outer most aspect of nature. The nature with all its sincerity carries on with formation and destruction. But why? It's a humbling experience to be reminded that the 'I ' is an irrelevant entity in the scheme of things. Just before the end point river Zanskar joins river Indus. There is a marked difference in the water temperature of Zanskar. It's much colder than Indus. 'No one can remain in this water for more than few seconds.' was the first hand experience of one of the brave hearts that dared to venture into Zanskar. I saw him going pale while in water and was seeking help to take him immediately out of water. The numbness in joints prevents one from co-operating with the rescuer. We had dinner in Hotel Dream Land and the food was good and authentic kashmiri. The tiredness of pedalling acted as a sedative in the night.
Day 10 23.08.08 We started to Pangong Tso which is 150 km from Leh. Around nine we reached Chang La the third highest motorable pass in the world. Nearer to this is a snow covered peak. The group as usual started climbing the peak. After coming down we went to the Pass where army is serving free chai to every one. It tastes heavenly in that weather. Jai Jawan. The route to the lake is beautiful. While crossing a grazing land we saw a herd of horse probably fer. They were probably the ferrel ones. They were majestic and exuberant. Their various activities were a treat to the onlooker. I sighted White tailed red start and wallcreeper on the way. We also saw a few Marmots and a Long tailed Marmot. The very first sight of the lake from a distance is breathtaking. This is Pangong Tso for you in various hues and shades. Peace has another dimension in this place . It engulfs the soul and takes it to another level. Here sensory organs keep feeding the mind with the sight of the placid water, the touch of the cold wind, sound of the splattering water, and the earthly aroma of the place and now the mind is at trouble decoding all of them at a time. The heart just relishes. On return every one was packing up things to face the greatest of all days as we had planned to leave via Srinagar.
Day:11 24.08.08. The plan was to reach Kargil for Lunch. The journey was peaceful and made more interesting by our driver. He kept on giving anecdotes on Kashmiri culture and Kargil war. Incidently he drove for Barkha Dutt during kargil war days. The mention of her name evoked mixed response and clearly the target was her high-handed approach to the news items that she deals and the artificial sympathy that she wears. Is media working for self-emancipation? The public surely need to dissect the media these days. The hoardings on the road warn you about the enemy surveillance. This very road was occupied by the Pakistanis in 1999. The feeling of standing on an edge is unavoidable. Crossing Zozilla Pass and the disputed Amarnath valley we reached Sonmarg only to be stopped by the policemen for security reasons. Understanding life in Kashmir valley requires genuine and impartial approach. As the media, the only link between the valley and rest of the world, has it's own agenda, it is going to be really tough to reach a correct understanding of the problem. Day12,25.08.08 As instructed by the policemen we started from Sonmarg at 04.30 with the target to reach Srinagar before the curfew was imposed. By the time we reached Srinagar border the forces were already on the streets in tens and hundreds.We were stopped at not less than a dozen places by the forces. The rift between the forces is very much evident. We could see the famous Hazratbal Mosque on the other side of the Dal lake. The house boats were away from work. The town wore a deserted look with no life on road. Even the doors and windows were closed in the houses. Could have been a good shooting spot for a horror movie. What else to say about the haunted place that Srinagar was on that day? Life has been traumatised and understanding that would be very difficult for people who are used to peaceful life style.For the people here, things that we take for granted like an evening stroll , a family outing etc are distant dreams at the time of turbulance. They keep paying for peace with stints of violence. I remember my childhood when I spent most of the time out side the home and came home only for dinner and rest. For the children here life is in the reverse.How many more generations are to be sacrificed in the name of religion? Why can't there be peace like Leh? When the pawns will realise that there're being played upon? With this thought our flight took off from Srinagar. Later on that day Yasin Malik was arrested on the charges of sedition for raising Pakistani flag in public. 26.08.08 While hurrying to the train I saw a 'bank myna' drinking water from the culvert near the railway line. This reminded me of the Common Starling that I saw on a winter morning among a group of mynas on one of the grass patches of 'Rajpath'. This is a winter visitor coming to India crossing national boundaries. Nature is always in hormony. Even the birds I saw in Dal lake were going about their life without realising the curfew order. Man is the only animal that cannot live in harmony with nature. This is the curse for humanity.