The Exquisite Jispa Valley

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The beauty of Jispa Valley was a welcome sight after a harrowing day that started at Manali and escalated at Rothang Pass.  As I swung my legs off the bike, I wondered how we managed to reach this place in one piece. The route we took before we descended to the valley were interspersed with breathtaking sceneries and horrific road conditions where my death flashed before my eyes a thousand ways; hurled to the bottom of the cliff, crushed under a truck, dragged by a raging stream and all other horrors my mind could conjure.

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My nerves were soothed momentarily as I gaped at the splendour before me though when I closed my eyes to sleep all the horrors of the day came back to me scrambling on top of each other giving me a panic attack. My heart raced, and I felt the onset of altitude sickness, good that we packed all the recommended medicine. Sandeep gave me a pill, and I went into a dreamless slumber.

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I woke up to a beautiful morning in the valley, feeling refreshed and optimistic. The worst must be over. Or so I hoped.

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After tea and breakfast, Sandeep, Nadeem and I walked towards the stream at the foot of the majestic mountains barricading the vale. There it dawned on me how incredibly beautiful this world is, how exquisite these hidden gems were.

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Nadeen then told us it was time for our acclimatisation exercise, an activity essential to our survival once we drive higher later on towards Leh. So we scaled one of the pretty hills in the valley. I lagged behind as usual. Sandeep tried to motivate me as much as he could, but I often get distracted with the breathtaking view below us.

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It was a pity that we could not stay longer in Jispa; this beauty was just one of the pitstops to our final destination, so before the morning was over we continued our journey towards our next stopping place, Pang La. But I was glad that we also stopped for a while in a pretty village in Darcha though it was just 7 kilometres away from Jispa.

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I enjoyed the hot lemon tea in the dhaba where we took a break. It was a nice change from the usual Indian tea with milk. The locals, I noticed, seemed to look more like myself than my Indian companions.

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As we leave Jispa Valley behind, the feeling of terror mixed with amazement I felt on the way there was multiplied a thousand times on our way to Pang La.  Still unaware of the perils that lay before us, I felt ecstatic as I ride behind Sandeep, enjoying the crisp cold wind on my face, and the sight before me which was indescribable in its awesomeness and magnificence.

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Babar, The Road Nut And The Search For The Perfect Pet Friendly Holiday Destination In India Part 1

 

The August calendar, I noticed, was looking especially colorful with three dates standing out in color red. My husband glanced at what I was looking at.

“We should plan a short vacation around these dates.”

Babar who was sitting calmly in the corner raised his head, ears perked up. I grinned at him. We both knew what it means. Road trip!

Three holidays are coming up, Eid, Raksha Bandhan and the independence day of India. So once again I went on the internet searching for holiday ideas. We can only take four day leaves from work, meaning the place I have to choose this time should be a one day drive away only which limits my choices very narrowly. To reach the most beautiful places in the hills of India you need at least 7 to 10 days. Otherwise most of the holiday will be spent on the road, which is also fun if we are not taking the dog with us. Babar loves running and hiking with us and I would hate for him to be cooped up in the car for the entire trip.

Babar loves riding in the car. As young as three months old, after his vaccines were completed,we have been taking him in the car everywhere around Delhi. We made sure the destination would always be fun for him and, never to the vet clinic for a traumatic painful injection. I read somewhere that, if his first trip on the car is going to the vet, he will associate that experience with the car so we avoided that. We took him to all the big parks in Delhi instead. Now he is addicted to riding in the car. He has to be at center seat where he can walk back and forth to peak at both windows. On these trips he likes poking his head out the windows,  the wind on his face.

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Choices for pet friendly hotels in India are very limited, almost nil. I have to be very resourceful and search mostly for adventure camps where I think the owners will likely allow our dog to stay with us even if it does not say so in their website.

Finally, after hours of searching, I found a pretty cluster of quaint looking cottages on top of a hill in Narkanda. A place we passed by when we went to Sangla last year. It is only two hours ahead of Shimla so we can reach there in one day if we start early from Delhi.

On the internet, I searched for images of the camp and its surroundings. It is in the middle of a lush green forest with a good view of the snowy Himalayan peak. I became excited. It is exactly the kind of place I was looking for. Crossing my fingers, I called the number printed on the website. The owner answered my call. He sounded nice and accommodating. After inquiring about the availability of the cottages and tariff, I asked the bomb-laden question.

” Sir, we are planning to take our labrador with us, will you allow that? ” I held my breath waiting for his answer which came quickly without the slightest hint of hesitation.

” Yes, you can take your dog here. Our place is spacious so he can run around freely.”

The adventure camp is called, Aagyat Vaas which means, I think, hideaway. And to hide away means you have to go deep into the forest and to reach the secluded peak means to climb dangerously steep narrow roads. Again. Roads in the hills are always the thrilling part of our adventure.

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I realized that after two years of living with Babar I have now come up with a decent list of pet friendly holiday destinations in India. Well, mostly in the hills of North India.

The owners of the places who allowed Babar to come with us are usually dog lovers too. All of them were also very nice, well mannered and treated their guests well. We have enjoyed ourselves, Babar most of all, in all of these places.

Number one on my list is Kinner camps, nestled in the gorgeous valley of Sangla in Himachal Pradesh. Owner Mr. Negi and associates were very nice to us. They were very accommodating and made sure our visit was comfortable and enjoyable. They became very fond of Babar. The tent we stayed at for four days was spacious and clean. Each tent has its own bathroom with a western style toilet.

Babar had plenty of spaces to run in the meadow near Baspa river, slightly below the camp area. Babar made a lot friends over there. The kids adored him.

There are also plenty of scenic places nearby, like Chitkul, Kalpa and the charming Batseri village.

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Sangla

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On the other side of the Himalayas in Uttrakhand lies the mystical mountain of Chopta. And somewhere hidden in the midst of its endless sage green meadows surrounded by a dense forest, lies Magpie camp.

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For 3500 rupees a night (including meals) we had an amazing time, for we were the sole guest of the camp during our stay. Babar roamed around freely everywhere without any screaming, complaining auntie anywhere. Although I got spooked by their talks of leopards stalking the camp at night but the only cat Babar came across  was this one!

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In order to initiate Babar on our vagabond lifestyle we took him on a nine hour ride to the nearest hill station in the Himalayas. He was not even one year old then. We had a slight difficulty with his toilet habits during the trip. For the entire nine hours on the road he did not pee, even when we stopped at  many places. We were just fearing his bladder would blast. I read somewhere it is difficult for dogs to relieve themselves if they cannot smell their urine anywhere. But as he grew older this problem got corrected.

His first long journey was the trip to Sola , Shogi. There we found a pet friendly adventure camp with small charming cottages. The Hotel Oakwood Hamlet. The room was nice, the staff was helpful and the food was decent. Although the front yard was not spacious enough for Babar to run around. For guest with pets it is good for a stop over if your destination requires more than one day of travel.

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In Kufri there is another good stop over if you are traveling with your pet. Hidden in the middle of the forest are these charming cottages of Eco Village resort. Although the room is very basic, it is comfortable. The place is actually an apple orchard where guest are free to pick as much as they want. A few horses also gave us a surprised visit in the morning.

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For our stop over on our way to Chopta, we stayed at a camp in Rishikesh near the river. Babar enjoyed his sprint along the sandy shores and the sunset reflecting on water was gorgeous. If you like roughing it up I will recommend it but it is not for the finicky. The tent is not comfortable, toilets are communal and the food was awful. But it was nice to spend the evening near the water.

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I am sure the list will grow longer in the years to come. I will also try our luck in the deserts of Rajasthan. That would be a completely different experience for Babar.

The quest for the perfect pet friendly holiday destination in India can be very frustrating as you will not only get negative reply from most hotel owners but also disapproving frowns from fellow guests. But if you are patient enough when finally you do discover a perfect oasis for you and your pets it would be the most awesome vacation you can ever have.

-JMKhapra copyright 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above

I am a mountain baby. I grew up in a community on top of a hill. A cliff on top of a mountain is my sacred place. An borderless space to breathe, to contemplate and to rejuvenate. Some of my fondest adolescent memories are those solitary moments I sat on the edge of a mountain looking down at a small village below. At one particular cottage with a garden of yellow roses, in between mango trees. I remember the air up there was always crispy with a bit of chill. And that the village and the surrounding forest was sometimes blanketed with fog. 20130505-141344.jpg

Now that for many years I became a city dweller I have never been at ease in the plains. If not towards the sea I keep running to the hills.

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I love heights. This is at Tanglang la pass at 5300 plus meters in the Himalayas. Second highest motorable road in the world.

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An oasis in the desert in Ladakh.

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From the top of a volcanic hill in Coron, Palawan.

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Fresh water lake on top of that volcanic hill.

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Halfway Tungnath Trek in Chopta, Uttrakhand

Conquering The Terror Called Rothang Pass in the Himalayas on Two Wheels

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Rothang Pass. No two words can send my heart in a flurry of panic. I realized I have not known physical fear prior to hearing about this place. Until now the lingering memory of the horror I felt after crossing that treacherous peak is so vivid I still think twice about navigating back there every time an offer comes my way. Even on a four wheel drive and even if what lay beyond is paradise. The dread that grips my heart is a vise severely difficult to pry.

What does fear tastes like? It tastes of bitter sour bile regurgitating on your throat from a deluge in your stomach induced by a rampaging tornado that is your heart. It dries your mouth. It numbs your body. If empties your mind. Zombified by fright, leaving Manali behind, we climbed 13,000 feet of snaking, snowy, slippery, wet and extremely anorexic roads towards Rothang Pass. It was the first mountain pass but the most dangerous one we have to overcome to reach the Himalayas. Dangers from melting snow, crumbling roads, stupid drivers and bad luck.

I felt trapped seated behind my husband. There was no choice but to hang on while I contemplated on the possibility of survival upon falling down those surrealistically vertical cliffs. Not a single tree to break my fall. Braving a peek downwards I concluded that chances were nil. Though once in a while snatches of heaven broke the monotony of anxiety. Here and there snow whipped lush green foliage ornamented the mountain side. Generous spray of water falling, melting snow cascading down the rocks. Breathtaking beauty I could not fully appreciate. My concentration was dedicated to the minimization of my breathing as to not upset the balance of our two wheeled drive. The one controlling the bike was confident as we sped up leaving a trail of SUVs full of tourists, being driven rowdily as if we were on a busy intersection in Chandi Chowk. Without a slight consideration that one wrong turn can send them plummeting into the abyss. Present too was that infernal honking agitating my already jarred senses.

Despite the pandemonium of military trucks, cars, people and herds of sheep I could almost see the top as we continued our ascent. Thinking relief was due I finally relaxed. But I was just about to loosen my grip on my husband’s waist when all of a sudden we found ourselves face to face with frozen solid snow walls after an abrupt turn. My husband lost his balance. We skidded on a sleet blanketing the asphalt. We were pinned under the bike in the middle of the road. I stood up immediately while my husband tried to lift the fallen beast to stop the oil spilling from the tilted fuel tank. I saw him struggling as his feet kept slipping on the icy gravel every time he tried to put upright the muscular motorcyle and climb it. I stilled the panic rising in my throat. The instict to survive surpassed the fear I indulged in throughout the ride. The scene below made my whole body trembled. I dismissed it. Quick thinking was required. Fast approaching was a procession of all the cars we left behind. They saw us but none cared. None would stop for us. They’ll not sacrifice momentum for our safety. I understood. I grasped the rear end of the bike to keep myself from sliding while my right foot checked the road for dry spots. Sans snow, sleet or ice. I made sure the soles of my boots gripped the ground firmly . I suggested to my husband he can straighten the bike over at my side. Agreeing, he pushed and I pulled. In no time we were safely on the side while cars whizzed by us. The drivers looking dumbfounded but not one was sympathetic.

Back on top of the humbled beast, relieved to be alive a nervous laughter escaped from me. Elated that the accident did not result in fatality. My husband patted my thigh and whispered. ” Are you okay honey?” I nodded happily and hugged him from behind. He thanked me for staying calm and clear headed then we rode on to struggle more against huge boulders, water and ice. Once or twice the bike got stuck and I had to pushed, shove and nudge but the apprehension was no longer the same. Once terror was faced and dealt with, one realizes it is not as horrifying as one imagined. Four more passes we had to cross. One higher than the other. Each filled with different tales of horror but similar to anything else in life we could not have reached heaven if we didn’t go through hell.

The Challenge

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The Prize

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And This

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©JMKhapra

Lullabies In The Valley Of Dreams

 

A quaint little village in Sangla

Summer arrived, blazing and crackling. The air sizzled frying at forty-five degrees (Celsius). Fed up with living in air-conditioned existence, we decided it was time to leave the city.

So Hubby, Babar and I with our suitcases packed for a seven-day adventure, drove up and up the mountain chasing some chilly wind.

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Wall of pine trees in Kufri
Heart-stopping roads in Kinnaur District

The roads tapered off as we were nearing the top, sending some nervous flutter in my heart.

Descending from Rampur, a pleasant drive along the river.
Babar enjoying the breeze. Ears flapping about.
If I have ears that long it will be flapping too.
Climbing extremely narrow roads on the way to Sangla.

 Then it soared when my eyes behold the snowy peaks in the horizons.

The lethal beauty of Sangla Valley at the height of 2800 meters.
Babar passed out after a whole day of driving.

As the sun was setting, finally we reached the camp. The signboard was on the road but darned it the campsite was way down below.

Kinner Camp

Holding my breath while Hubby turned the car around, tires rolling by a hair’s breadth on the edge of the cliff, I was left thinking the camp owners may have some sadistic streak. After enduring the torment of that snaky ascent, they make sure the thrill continues with the roller coaster descent.

Very comfortable accommodation with an attached bathroom ( western toilet and shower) unlike real camping at all.
The valley morning after.
Babar sleeping soundly in the fresh air.
Sharing a cup of chai with hubby.

Waking up the next morning after a very sound sleep, sipping tea in front of the tent with the mighty snowy mountain right in front of me, I was filled with a deep-seated feeling of well being.

Not a soul was stirring from the nearby tents. The silence was pure and sweet. A commune with nature in the truest sense.

The Mighty Baspa River

When Hubby and Babar finally roused, off, we went hiking towards the mighty stream. Furious cascading water thundering down from the melting snow of the northern Himalayan peaks.

The roaring stream.
Babar testing the waters.

The energetic canine run to and pro, going mad with the freedom to leap and bound. Once or twice, Babar braved the icy water and dipped his toes. Oh, how he loved the water! He would swim if not for the turbulent flow.

The water dog.

Lovely Chitkul Valley
Pashmina heaven.
Passing by surrealistic looking roads on our way to Kalpa

Snowy peaks in Kalpa

Days in the camp passed by like a dream. We were lulled into calmness and serenity. All our silly worldly cares momentarily forgotten.

Babar made a lot of new friends in the camp.
Little girls who were very fond of Babar.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.
-John Burroughs

©JMKhapra