Saturday, February 23, 2013

Walking on Thin Ice

What I learnt in the last seven days:
  • -16 degrees celsius does not kill you (that was the temperature when we landed in Leh)
  • In fact even sleeping in tents at below -25 degrees celsius does not kill you
  • Leh in winters is as beautiful, if not more, than Leh in summers
  • One gets to see more locals in Leh market in winter than in summer!
  • Sunlight is not the best thing you can wish for when doing a winter trek
  • Fancy and expensive trekking shoes, at times, are no match for humble gum boots
  • Slipping and falling down is not always embarrassing. Sometimes one can just smile and pose for a photograph lying down... and others will join you! :)
  • Dancing on ice is not impossible
  • Trekking poles do not make good ice hockey sticks
  • Big boulders can come crashing down at the touch of a finger
  • The fun in antakshari is directly proportional to the number of people playing and the number of attempts at cheating
  • Seven days in the wilderness are enough to transform a group of strangers into a fun group!
  • Atleast once during the course of every Himalayan trek I wonder why I subject myself to such hardship... and by the last day start thinking where I should go next :)

A trek where the walk is a pleasure but sitting still at a campsite is a nightmare! It did not have the challenging climb of a Stok Kangri or the varying landscapes of a Goecha La, but the experience was out of the world! Chadar Trek - February 2013!

The Chadar Trek is a walk on the frozen Zanskar river. In winters snow blocks off the only approach road to the Zanskar valley. Locals walk on the frozen river to commute to Leh. One man's exotic setting is a routine way of life of another! The full Chadar trek is a 14-day affair from Chilling (near Leh) to Padum/Zangla and back. We did a half trek going till Nerak and back (40km each way)

Initially, I had cringed at the thought of coming back by the same route. How boring! I couldn't have been more mistaken. The Chadar appears different everyday. In fact it is said the Chadar changes every hour! The beauty of nature in the changing colours of the water and ice, the frozen waterfalls, the sun peeping from behind huge mountains are all sights to behold. We were lucky to get just one short stretch of the way where we had to wade through water. Otherwise Chadar was kind to us and stayed rock solid!

From the initial tentative steps balancing on ice to the last evening when we actually tried to dance on the chadar, every moment had a memory. Every day began with a dreadful walk in the cold to answer nature's calls. Then the effort to eat breakfast with semi-frozen fingers. Somehow stuffing all belongings in our backpacks we would be on our way by 8.30-9.00. The slowly rising sun and exercise of walking would thaw us. Around 12.30-1.00, we hungry souls would reach the next campsite, hog down the piping hot lunch, soak in the sun till the sun god permitted and then cramp into the dining tent. Then would follow a long session of jokes, songs, mimicry, trekking experiences and even some story telling on supernatural experiences! These would be accompanied by nice snacks and tea. The meeting would disperse only when dinner was served at 7.30-8. After that most of us would retire to our tents, to the warmth of the sleeping bag, while a few other adventurous souls would still hang around! So passed a week and we were back at Leh for the final supper! To disperse, only to remember these moments in the wilderness with fondness and longing...

From someone who always checks the 'best time to visit' while planning a holiday, Thank you Chadar for showing me a new Ladakh!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The trip ends...

The agenda for today was to see the Janjira fort and then head north towards Kashid beach and from there back home to Pune. Early in the morning I headed to the jetty to get a ferry to Janjira fort. I was the only tourist there. There was only one ferry owner around. He told me the ferry has a capacity of 50 passengers and I would have to pay 50x the fare if I wanted to go immediately. Put off by his arrogance, I decided to wait. More than an hour passed and I was still the only one around. With a heavy heart I decided to turn back. A few snaps of the fort from a distance

I picked up my bag from the hotel and left for Pune. It was a nice ride through Tamhini Ghat.

Another trip came to an end. The biker in me thoroughly enjoyed this one. However the traveler in me was somewhat bored. Coincidentally, a para from Motorcycle Diaries, which I was then reading wonderfully captures my emotions. While passing through a road with seven beautiful lakes, Che notes, 'The sight of a lake and a forest and a solitary house with well-tended garden soon begins to grate. Seeing the landscape at this superficial level only captures its boring uniformity, not allowing you to immerse yourself in the spirit of the place, for that you must stop atleast several days' So true!


A sense of ennui

As usual I was up early and back on the tranquil beach for a walk

Soon I was on the way, and an hour later having a nice breakfast in a shack on the Guhagar coast

Next I reached Anjanwel. The infamous Dabhol power plant is located here (wonder why it is called Dabhol power plant. Dabhol is across the creek!). I drove past the huge chimneys of the power plant to Gopalgad fort. A noticeboard here says the fort is private property but tourists was welcome :O. I took walk around the fort.

A short ferry ride later I was at Dabhol and on my way to Karde and Harne. By now a sense of ennui had set in. All beaches looked the same. I was enjoying riding on these roads but the landscapes did not appear as appealing as they did on the earlier two days! I continued almost without a break to Harihareshwar and Diveagar

By the time I reached Dighi the sun had begun to set. From here I was to catch a ferry to Rajapuri. Again a 30-45 min wait later I got a ferry. By the time I reached Rajapuri, it was almost dark. Some snaps as a de-boarded the ferry

From here it was a half hour drive to Murud. I checked in to a hotel there and then headed out for my last fish curry dinner



The Mighty Fort

Today morning was dedicated to exploring Vijaydurg Fort. The fort is surrounded by water on 3 sides. The boundary walls are largely intact. It is possible to take a walk on the boundary wall for most part of the fort. The inner structures are in shambles and there is very little information available in terms of information boards. I read the information from 'Saad Sagarachi' book and tried to imagine the grandeur that the fort would have held in its day!

Learning for the day - helium was discovered from Vijaydurg

Welcoming you with cannons and bombshells!

After a good three hours exploring the fort, I returned to the hotel, picked up my bag and was on the road again. As advised by the hotel staff I took the shortcut from Padel Canteen (yes, that's the name of a place!) to Amberi Pool. As with the earlier shortcuts, this one too seemed to be heading nowhere for most part! It was scenic though

At long last I rejoined the main road. What followed was the usual sequence of barren plateaus and bridges. I soon crossed the controversial Jaitapur.

As I was riding along I saw a signboard showing a left turn to go to 'Vethe beach'. This was different from the usual signboards which go by just the village names. Almost all villages to the left of the highway have a coastline! My curiosity took me right to Vethe beach. And what a beach it was. Small in size but seemed like a lovely tropical beach!

I found some beautiful shells on the coast

I next reached Ratnagiri. A quick lunch and I was off to Ratnadurg Fort. After that I took the Aare-Waare road to Ganpatipule. This road runs right along the coast!

My initial plan was to halt for the night at Ganpatipule. Ganpatipule is a famous religious destination. As I neared it, the hordes of tourists were a repellent! It was around 3.30, I decided to continue ahead and look for accommodation elsewhere. Riding along I reached Jaigad. Jaigad has a big power plant. The approach roads are full of trucks. There is a lot of dust in the air. The ill-effects of development on nature! I headed to the jetty from where I would get a ferry. As I drove in I could see the 4 pm ferry leave. I now had to wait for over an hour for the next one. I was now targeting to reach Guhagar for the night. It was a 40 km ride on the other side. The sun set when we were on the ferry

The daylight was disappearing fast. I wasn't keen to drive in the dark. As I was racing towards Guhagar, I noticed a direction board pointing towards Velneshwar. I remembered that there is a MTDC hotel there and decided to head to Velneshwar instead. By the time I reached there it was completely dark. The MTDC did not have a room available. I then went to Hotel Kinara, along the coast. The location was fantastic and the rooms were ok. I was to be the only guest in the hotel! The caretaker quoted a high amount. I tried to negotiate, but with darkness already upon us, there was no way I was going to win a 'who blinks first' battle with him. I took the room and after a quick shower headed to the beach for a nice walk!

Co-incidentally, all three days I stayed overnight at places beginning with 'V'!