Posts Tagged ‘Mountains’
We abandoned our plans to hoof it around Leh, but we were still sample-the-local-culture type of tourists. So no rented SUVs for us, it was going to be local buses instead. We asked our inn-keeper for the night whether it would be possible to catch a bus the next morning to our next village stop. He assured us that there was a bus to be caught at 10:00 am the next morning. Excellent.
We had time to do the morning tea ritual and eat a leisurely, if spartan, breakfast. It felt like a vacation after all. We hefted our backpacks, walked half a mile to the nearest bus stop and patiently sat down to wait. The waiting was pleasant – deep blue sky, fresh mountain air, high desert landscape around us, the golden Buddha statue glinting in the courtyard of the monastery we had visited the evening before. Very picture postcard perfect. Put in some luxury tents and charge a bunch of rich tourists $1000-a-day perfect.
McLeodganj, or upper Dharamsala is a bustling town, a well-known vacation spot, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Since the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in this town after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, it has seen a steady influx of Tibetan refugees. Now, the Tibetan population perhaps outnumbers the locals.
The Tibetan Government in Exile, which operates from here, has set up various facilities for the refugees. There is an old peoples’ home, a dormitory for fresh arrivals and a large setup of ‘homes’ and ‘school’ for children. A large number of Tibetans send their children across to McLeodganj with groups of refugees to ensure that they receive good education and get to study Tibetan culture. Many of these children never see their parents again. Some are scared to make phone calls to them back in Tibet and gradually lose touch with them.
McLeodganj, partly because of the popularity of the Tibetan cause in the West and partly because of its serene surroundings has always been a backpacker ghetto. The pressure on the resources of this small town is increasing and one sees more vehicles than people walking the streets these days. As far as tourism is considered, McLeodganj is a well-appointed town. One can find hotels of all ranges and most facilities that one hopes for in a town like that, like good Internet cafes (with broadband lines), fairly worthy restaurants and even a discotheque.
Over the years, I have flown in a small aircraft over Grand Canyon, taken a helicopter tour, hiked parts of the canyon, driven through parts of it, stayed nights there, done some touristy things, and rafted through the white water rapids of Colorado river. It is the last I want to share with you today.
Two of us had started at the South Rim main visitor’s complex at 5:00 a.m.. Six hours, 9 miles and 5000 ft descent later, we had joined our rafting group. We had hiked before, rafted before but it was our first camping experience. We were looking forward to eight days in the Canyon. Our group consisted of six raft boats with a guide each and about 6 people to a raft. All except our raft. Our raft was thinly populated – us, our river guide and a lot of camping gear. Little did we know then.
If there’s anything that makes me feel cheated while traveling in India, it’s air travel. When you care the least about getting a window seat, like when it’s cloudy, there is always one available. When you really want a window seat, like when you are going to fly over the Himalayas, you will be seated between Mr. Corpulence and Mr. Mal-odor. If you are luckier, there will be a toddler kicking your seat throughout the journey, as it happened with me on a recent visit to Srinagar.
I was on a journalistic assignment, the tourists were returning to Kashmir with a revenge. We had been booked into the Centaur Hotel, beautifully situated, right at the DAL lake. There’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about that hotel, maybe it is the peeling walls, the stale smell in the rooms, bad service, random people ringing your bell in the middle of the night… The next day we shifted to Green Acre. A smaller, cosier place, with big airy rooms and warm hospitable service. It is an old bungalow transformed into a hotel. They have an old section with wooden ceilings and beams and a new concrete block. It has a beautiful garden, which was in full bloom. Although there is no telephone in the rooms and the service a little slow, you can be sure your food is coming from a safe and clean kitchen. There’s no menu, there’s standard fare for each meal- Lentils, Meat, Vegetables, Curd, Rice and Chapatti (bread), and it is always excellent. Not all rooms have wi-fi but the connection in the hotel lawn is good. It is run by the family, they live in one section of the hotel. Friendly, polite and helpful, that’s the place I’m staying next time as well.
Leh is the capital of Ladakh, a high desert region in Kashmir Himalayas. Eight months in a year this region is covered deep in snow. During the summer months, it is a popular destination for Israeli kids who come here for cheap drugs after their customary stint with the army. So, what was I doing there? I am a Bengali and come holidays, we pack our bags and go somewhere, be it low-budget trip to tea-estates of Darjeeling or far away places like Leh.
I was in Leh with my husband (he is a Bengali in spirit). We flew in from Delhi and that wasn’t a smart move, human bodies aren’t designed for a zero to 17000 ft transition in 2 hours. More of this particular misadventure at some other time. But let me tell you about the nuns and the Spanish.
What was so special about this room? Firstly, it was at 11000 feet, with a picturesque view of Himalayan range. Secondly, the room was a lavatory with a porcelain toilet, in a part of the world where porcelain toilets are rare.
Two of us had arrived at Lamayuru, site of an eleventh century Buddhist monastry in Ladakh. We had been hitchhiking with truckers, or busing, along the Leh-Kargil highway, making our way from one village to next. I remember it was mid morning when we arrived and it was blindingly bright. The last forty minutes of the truck ride had been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time – narrow winding road, high mountain on one side and deep cliff on other.
Truckking really, did you think I meant trekking?
Ladakh is the high mountain, I mean Himalayan, desert region on the eastern side of Kashmir. We lived in California then. We hiked 2000 foot mountains, several of them, for what seems like months now, hoping to trek the Himalayas. At 18000 ft in Leh, capital city of Ladkah region, we realized that there was no way we were going to breathe and walk at the same time. So, trekking was clearly out.