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Journalist: udgoa
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Start Date: May 9th, 2009
Last Update: Jul 16th, 2014
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Description: My 14000 drive to raise funds for 22 NGOs

My 60 Day Road Drive "Garlanding India': Post for Day 19, May 14 2014
Date Posted: Jul 16th, 2014 at 14:13 - Comments (0)
May 14 2014, Day 19, Garlanding India: Bhavnagar (5368 KMS) to Sasan Gir (5732 KMS)

For pics and more details go to www.garlandingindia.in and the facebook page

We had been warned by various people that the coastal highway we planned to take from Bhavnagar to Diu- and then on to Sasan Gir- was a bad stretch. However, because the distance was not much, Raghu and I decided to go in for a relaxed, late start. But getting up early had already become a habit for me, and I ended up waking up at 530am. I went down to the ground floor of the Hotel and got a person to agree to wash and clean the Duster; she was very dusty after the ride in the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park the previous day.

We finally had a late breakfast at 9am; before setting off we walked across the road to see the cigarette baba temple; it is a shrine where the offering to the deity is cigarettes!

We finally left Bhavnagar at 9:40 am and took the Bhavnagar-Mahuva Highway: the road was bad! Within an hour we reached Tansa village and soon after reached the spot on the Highway from where there was a diversion to the east to the Alang Ship Breaking Yard. This was a place I had always wanted to visit; Raghu too was keen on seeing it. So we drove in through the welcome arch. Alang is truly the graveyard of world shipping. By estimates about 250 ships of all types are brought in here every year to be dismantled/ scrapped: that apparently is about half of all the ships scrapped annually in the world! Alang falls on the western side of the Gulf of Khambat. As we drove in, there were these neat sheds selling all manner of things salvaged from ships. I was looking for one selling compasses, telescopes and time devices; finally located one from which Raghu and I picked up some interesting pieces.
After the sheds come the beaches on which the vessels are berthed during high tide and worked on (that is, scrapped and dismantled) during low tide. Alang is infamous for its safety and work standards; there were huts in shallow waters just next to the massive skeletons of old ships. Sadly just last week (June 28 2014) there were 5 deaths in a blast triggered by a gas leakage .. and from the visuals on TV I suspect it was on one of the ships that we took pics of….

After our detour to the Alang Shipyard we came back to the Bhavnagar-Mahuva Highway. We then got on to the Mahuva-Una Highway and at Una took a detour to the pretty historic town of Diu. Diu was where the very interesting Battle of Diu was fought between the navies of Portugal on one side and the combined forces of (imagine!) the Sultan of Gujarat, the Mamluks of Egypt, the Zamorin of Calicut; the anti-Portugese forces were supported by the Ottomans, the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Dubrovnik!! A truly international battle for controlling the Ocean spice trade routes! Today, Diu is a pretty town on the eastern edge of Diu Island. We decided to have lunch at a resort very close to the entry gate. The resort had a nice beach front and a good view of the Diu Fort. While Raghu cooled himself down with mugs of chilled beer, I, the disciplined driver, hydrated myself with plain water.
Before leaving Diu, we went to Fudam village to see the famous Gangeshwar Temple. My Chief Guide for the Gujarat segment of Garlanding India, Dr. Shreyas Goswami, had told us that we should not by any chance miss the temple…and we sure were happy we made it! Driving through quaint Goa like streets, we reached Fudam and the temple in no time. The temple, right on the shores of the sea, has five shivalingas which, according to legend. were worshipped by the five Pandavas during their exile. Each linga represents one of the Pandavas, with Bheem obviously being the biggest! The temple is very peaceful and scenic. And then as we went down the steps of the temple towards the sea we were greeted by the magnificent sight of the sea waves coming in with the tide and gently paying obeisance to the lingas, bathing them in foam and receding! (No wonder Raghu kept referring to the temple as Jaleshwar Temple in spite of repeated corrections from my side!) Shreyas’ grandfather used to be the chief priest of the temple; now his uncle is.


From the pretty island town of Diu, instead of going north towards Una and then on to our destination the Gir Lion Park (yeh!), we decided to go west on the Una-Somnath highway and try and reach Somnath by sunset; we wanted to complete Somnath and then move on to Gir so that the next day (which we anticipated would be heavy…and heavy it was!) would be lighter.
We reached Somnath Temple just as the sun was setting. The temple, with its very distinctive Chalukya style of architecture looked lovely against the backdrop of the setting sun. Somnath one of the twelve Jyotirlingas attracts a lot of visitors. It is located such that if you look across the waters you see no land mass from here right up till Antarctica!! From Somnath we turned back east and headed towards Gir. We were booked at the Forest Guest House at Gir and were super excited as we checked in at about 8pm. After dinner I used my portable washing machine to wash all the laundry that had been accumulated till then and strung it out to dry in the courtyard…
May 13 2014 Part III Day 18 of my Garlanding India Drive
Date Posted: Jul 14th, 2014 at 13:22 - Comments (0)
May 13 2014, Day 18, Garlanding India: Surat (4939 KMS) to Bhavnagar (5368 KMS) This is Part 3 of the post for Day 18, Parts 1 and 2 having been posted earlier.
It was about 7pm when we finally started moving out from the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park. We had a TV Crew waiting to meet us at Bhavnagar and a dinner meeting with our host Dr. Amit Patel. So, I was in some bit of a hurry and did not allow Raghu the luxury of stopping to click pictures. In spite of that, Raghu did every acrobatic maneuver possible to get some great pictures of the setting sun. However, I did not heed his pleas to open my mouth so that he could get a ‘trick’ pic of me swallowing the setting sun!
We passed through some stunning landscapes, especially at the point where the waters from the Gulf of Khambat form an inlet, Padolia, into the mainland. There was the setting sun, the grasslands in the distance, the silver waters and the white salt pans! We soon reached the Shree Khariya Hanuman Salt Works Pvt Ltd. The brown of the grasslands, the white of the salt heaps, the dark sky and the setting sun provided Raghu with just the setting that he wanted…and he clicked away! From there we turned west to reach Bhavnagar. After spending about 15 minutes locating the Hotel where Dr. Patel was waiting for us, we finally reached the Hotel at 745 pm ending a fabulous 429 km drive; look at the picture of the route that is there below: starting from Surat in the morning, we had looped around the Gulf Of Khambat to reach Bhavnagar which was spank opposite Bharuch on the opposite side of the Gulf..the water route would have been so short! After taking a quick shower, we went down to the Hotel lobby to meet with Dr. Patel; the TV crew too was waiting. I actually managed to go through an interview with a Gujarati channel with my horrible Hindi and slightly better English and no Gujarati. After having a typical, traditional Gujarati dinner hosted by Dr. Patel and his friends Raghu and I retired for the night at 1030 pm; we were headed for Sasan Gir, via Diu and Somnath, the next day!
Pictures on www.facebook.com/garlandingindia
May 13 2014 Part III Day 18 of my Garlanding India Drive
Date Posted: Jul 14th, 2014 at 13:21 - Comments (0)
May 13 2014, Day 18, Garlanding India: Surat (4939 KMS) to Bhavnagar (5368 KMS) This is Part 3 of the post for Day 18, Parts 1 and 2 having been posted earlier.
It was about 7pm when we finally started moving out from the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park. We had a TV Crew waiting to meet us at Bhavnagar and a dinner meeting with our host Dr. Amit Patel. So, I was in some bit of a hurry and did not allow Raghu the luxury of stopping to click pictures. In spite of that, Raghu did every acrobatic maneuver possible to get some great pictures of the setting sun. However, I did not heed his pleas to open my mouth so that he could get a ‘trick’ pic of me swallowing the setting sun!
We passed through some stunning landscapes, especially at the point where the waters from the Gulf of Khambat form an inlet, Padolia, into the mainland. There was the setting sun, the grasslands in the distance, the silver waters and the white salt pans! We soon reached the Shree Khariya Hanuman Salt Works Pvt Ltd. The brown of the grasslands, the white of the salt heaps, the dark sky and the setting sun provided Raghu with just the setting that he wanted…and he clicked away! From there we turned west to reach Bhavnagar. After spending about 15 minutes locating the Hotel where Dr. Patel was waiting for us, we finally reached the Hotel at 745 pm ending a fabulous 429 km drive; look at the picture of the route that is there below: starting from Surat in the morning, we had looped around the Gulf Of Khambat to reach Bhavnagar which was spank opposite Bharuch on the opposite side of the Gulf..the water route would have been so short! After taking a quick shower, we went down to the Hotel lobby to meet with Dr. Patel; the TV crew too was waiting. I actually managed to go through an interview with a Gujarati channel with my horrible Hindi and slightly better English and no Gujarati. After having a typical, traditional Gujarati dinner hosted by Dr. Patel and his friends Raghu and I retired for the night at 1030 pm; we were headed for Sasan Gir, via Diu and Somnath, the next day!
Pictures on www.facebook.com/garlandingindia
May 13 Day 18, Garlanding India: Surat-Bhavnagar Part II
Date Posted: Jul 2nd, 2014 at 14:24 - Comments (0)
May 13 2014, Day 18, Garlanding India: Surat (4939 KMS) to Bhavnagar (5368 KMS) This is Part 2 of the post for Day 18, Part 1 having been posted earlier.
After having had tea at a Desi Dhaba and offering a ride to two villagers to Bhavnagar, we set off to Bhavnagar at around 5 pm with dark rain clouds hovering over us. We had hardly progressed for about 15 minutes when Raghu’s wife called Raghu to tell him that we were passing through an area that was designated as a National Park! She was tracking the Duster live on www.bus-i.com/track/uday-xlri and had stumbled on this fact: bus-i.com had come in useful yet again!
We asked the villagers whether the information was correct; they told us that we were just 300 metres from the diversion that would take us to the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park! We jumped at the opportunity and asked the villagers whether they would mind if we took a diversion to the park; they were as eager as us and off we went to the park! Our drive as we took the approach to the park will remain etched in my memory for a long, long while: dark clouds, empty road winding through dry grassland, thorny bushes on both side and then the first sightings (even before we entered the park) of herds of Blackbucks, the beautiful antelopes native to the Indian sub-continent.
We reached the Park’s Gate as the Forest Officer was packing up for the day. Raghu struck up a conversation with the Forest Officer, enquired about a few researcher friends of his who had worked in the park and then, after purchasing the tickets, we entered the park with a guide in tow… the Duster was on its maiden journey into a National Park! The Velavadar National Park was originally the ‘vidi’ or grassland property of the Maharaja of the Princely State of Bhavnagar; today it is a 34 sq km Park that touches the Gulf Of Khambat at one edge. The villagers agreed to wait for us outside the gate, though they increasingly looked as if they regretted the decision to hitch a ride to Bhavnagar from us… they were now at the National Park!
The drive into and through the park was fabulous: there were herds and herds of Blackbucks and Nilgais. There were birds of various varieties and we were lucky to witness a rare sight: wild boar feasting on a kill of an unfortunate Blackbuck. But Raghu’s desires were not sated; he kept telling the guide “Abhi, you show me a hyaena to complete this fantastic day” By then, I was getting a little edgy both because the villagers were waiting for us and because we had lined up appointments in Bhavnagar with various people, including a TV crew who wanted to interview me. But Raghu was unmoved and his single-minded focus paid off, finally: we sighted a hyaena!
I too got into the “Let others wait” mode and spent another 15 minutes enjoying the landscape that looked out of the world in the soft hues of the setting sun. By the time we came out of the park gates it was close to 7pm; the villagers were looking a little cheated but as we got them into the car and chatted them up they relaxed!
Enjoy the pics; most of them were taken by Raghu, some by me. Two ways to identify who took which: the better ones are Raghu’s. Also mine are date stamped; his are not. The pics are on the web-site www.garlandingindia.in
Will continue the Day’s post in Part 3
May 13 Day 18, Garlanding India: Surat-Bhavnagar Part I
Date Posted: Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:32 - Comments (0)
Delayed Post, May 13 2014, Day 18, Garlanding India: Surat (4939 KMS) to Bhvnagar (5368 KMS) For pictures visit www.garlandingindia.in and go to the facebook page
This was the day that Garlanding India crossed 5000 kms. Set off at 8am from Mohit Kapoor’s house in Surat after Mohit’s cute niece stuck the Surat destination sticker. After crossing the Tapti River we got on to NH 8, the National Highway that connects Mumbai to Delhi. The 1375 km NH 8 is considered to be the busiest highway in the sub-continent and it sure was busy! After cutting through the busy industrial township of Ankleshwar, the Garlanding India drive crossed 5000 kms at 936 am near Mandva. At Mulad, just after Mandva, partner-NGO Gram Vikas Trust’s (GVT) volunteers were waiting for us to take us to one of the villages where they have distributed bicycles to girl students. Seeing the gleeful, bright-eyed girls with their brand new bicylcles was a joy. Raghu and I spent about two hours at the village. We came back to the National Highway and crossed the mighty Narmada River at the by-pass before Bharuch town. Was tempted to take a detour to go and see the river island Aaliya Bet but decided to drive on. By noon we crossed Palej and at 1230pm, veered off the NH 8 westwards at Karjan before Vadodara, to start looping across the Gulf of Khambat; by then we had covered over 200 kms from Surat. This was a big thrill for me because looping across the Gulf of Khambat (or Gulf of Cambay) was something I used to dream about while poring over India’s map… look at the map and you might get the same thrill! We crossed the Mahi River and were on the Vadodara-Borsad State Highway when we decided to break for lunch. Lunch was the absolutely yummy Parathas prepared and packed by Mohit’s mother; she had assumed that we would have the appetite and the greed to polish off the large quantity that she had packed..we lived up to the expectation! We crossed the Sabarmati River before Vataman and took a sharp turn southwards to begin tracing the Western side of the Gulf of Khambat; we were entering the Saurashtra region! And then, as if on cue, as we raced down the western side of the Gulf of Khambat on the very good State Highway, everything seemed to change. It had been hot and humid all the way from Surat, but as we entered Saurashtra thick black rain clouds gathered and the first few rain drops fell. Till then we had been driving through crowded towns but now we had wide open spaces! And then we yelped in delight when we saw a herd of camels crossing the road! We stopped to take pics. There were many camels including some tiny ones; we realized that they were all attracted to water conveniently leaking out of a bore well at the height of their mouths! As we started driving again the skies opened up and we were bathed in rain! The feeling was beautiful: wide open spaces, dark clouds, silky smooth roads, camels and the rain! Since we were less than 100 kms from Bhavnagar, at 430pm we decided to take a tea break at a Desi Dhaba near the Adhelai-Velavadar Link Road, the only one we had sighted in miles! (Check out Google Maps). We had tea with a bunch of villagers who got very interested in the Garlanding India map and the destination stickers on thecar. Raghu did a very good job of taking them around the car, explaining the concept, showing them the gadgets. Such a good job that the dhaba owner refused to take money from us… and the villagers too agreed with him: how can you take money from a traveler who is traveling across the country?! Post-tea, as we set off with the dark clouds still hovering around two villagers requested us for a ride to Bhavnagar and we readily agreed. So the four of us set off for Bhavnagar. [Will stop the day’s post here and continue with it later; too much to post!]
Day 3, Garlanding India: Apr 28 2014, Vizag KM 907 to Vijayawada KM 1312
Date Posted: May 23rd, 2014 at 10:53 - Comments (0)
On Day 3 of my drive, I set off n the morning with two friends for the picturesque coastal town of Bheemili. Bheemili was a bustling port city, a Dutch settlement and the second municipality in the country after Surat. Visited the cemetery and also went to the beach. It is a beautiful little town and the drive from Vizag to Bheemili along the coast is fabulous. After reaching back Vizag I set off alone for Vijayawada. The roads were good but I spent some time reaching the home of my host in Vijayawada. For pics and details go to my website www.garlandingindia.in
Day 2, Garlanding India: Apr 27 2014, Bhubhaneshwar-Vizag KM 447 to KM 907
Date Posted: May 20th, 2014 at 11:49 - Comments (0)
I have set off in my Duster car on a 14000 km, 60 Day drive trying to raise money for 22 partner NGOs.

This is the post for Day 2. More details and pics on my web-site www.garlandinginda.in

Left Bhubhaneshwar with the meter reading 447 kms. Reached Vizag at 907 kms. The drive is beautiful. I particularly like the Chilka lake sector at Barkul. Was tempted to take a detour, but having started late from Bhubhaneshwar, I did not have the luxury to do it. A few friends followed in their vehicle for up to 60kms out of Bhubhaneshwar. We went to a templke, they prayed for my safety and went back! I carried on alone to Vizag. Was hosted at Vizag by a friend whose flat overlooks the sea!
Garlanding India: 14000 KMS in 60 Days: Day 1 Apr 26 2014
Date Posted: May 19th, 2014 at 08:07 - Comments (0)
I have set off in my Duster car on a 14000 km, 60 Day drive trying to raise money for 22 partner NGOs.

This is the post for Day 1. More details on my web-site www.garlandinginda.in

April 26 2014, Day 1, Garlanding India: End of day at friend Gopal Nayak’s house in Bhubhaneshwar. All seems well. But the day started off in typical (for me) chaotic fashion. Or rather it all started the previous night (Day 0) when we went last-minute shopping in Jamshedpur and got ourselves a parking ticket for parking right in front of a ‘No Parking’ sign. Woke up on Day 1 and realized that in order to pay the fine we have to produce the original car papers at the Police Station. So off I went at 8am to the Police Station with Freddy and managed to get the fine paid by 9am. Flag off from XLRI Jamshedpur Campus (where I teach) was scheduled at 930am and from Renault Showroom at 1000am; so there was tension. The XLRI flag off was a typical happy noisy XL affair; abso fun! (Oh ya, and my GoPro camera? Instead of putting the charged battery I had put the uncharged spare battery and therefore it captured nothing!) Flag off from the Jamshedpur Renault showroom was a very nice relaxed happy affair; except for the fact that I don’t know what the Hindi media will report given that our combined command over shuddh Hindi was severely limited. For example, aided by my wife Suma’s helpful interventions I think that they thought I was a part-time truck/ auto driver! We finally left the showroom at 1130 am. Had a nice lunch at Sparda NGO in Baripada; they do great work in the forest areas in and around Simplipal forest. Then we dropped off friend Pitabas at his sister’s place in Balasore. Friend Ashis came right up to Bhubhaneshwar. And then I went straight to a fund raising dinner by Pradeep Thakker of the first batch of XIMB (where I had taught too). Was great meeting some XIMB Alumni including AAP Lok Sabha candidate for Bhubhaneshwar, Bismaya!
The Kinnaur-Spiti-Sangla Magic: Day 3
Date Posted: Jul 4th, 2012 at 22:39 - Comments (0)
31 May 2012
I wake up early and since no one else has, I decide to go for a walk all alone. From our camp site I start walking up to the road. I climb, and as I admire the early morning light, I turn around slightly to the left and am stunned to see a peak lit up fully golden by the rays of the early morning sun! The camp site is now well below me and I can see River Baspa and the spot on its banks that we had relaxed at, the previous evening. I also spot one member of our group who too has woken up, and shout out to him to join me: voices carry easily in the mountains! After reaching the top we take a leisurely stroll down and back, and are welcomed by warm cups of tea by the camp staff; they are in the process of getting the fire started in order to heat water for everyone’s early morning requirements. I chat with some of the other guests who have woken up and discover that we have common friends…the world is indeed small; it has shrunk to the size of a tiny camp-site high up in the mountains!
Post breakfast we head off towards Chitkul, the last village on the Indo-Tibetan border. We are told by the camp staff that the weather is notoriously fickle at Chitkul; they tell us that one moment we will have the sun beating down our backs and the next moment chilly winds blowing in from Tibet might get us running for cover. So we go prepared with plenty of woolens, caps and gloves. (And now I am told by Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitkul -that the potatoes grown at Chitkul are some of the best in the world and are very costly…in hindsight, thank God we didn’t have a meal of roti-aalu at Chitkul; would have set us back by a princely amount!) On the way to Chitkul, we stop at a beautiful, gurgling brook. Chitkul itself is a windswept village which actually looks its role of a ‘last village’! The River Baspa looks absolutely pristine, ringed by the snow capped peaks (Chitkul also has a first to its credit: it is the first village in the Baspa Valley!) We walk down a long, steep slope to the banks of the river, spend a couple of lazy hours there and then walk all the way back to the village. Some of us take a walk through this tiny, interesting village. As we drive back to our camp, lunch is more than eagerly awaited (Nothing was available in Chitkul, not even the momos that I promised the rest of the folk, misled by a board that actually did advertise hot momos)
Post lunch and a short nap later (the Chitkul walk had tired some of us more than we realized!) we decide to walk down to the River Baspa again. Unlike the previous evening, we don’t plan to spend time by the river side; instead we now want to walk on by the river-side and ford a bridge that we had sighted from way on up, on the way back from Chitkul. Parts of the walk are tough and one of us actually slips and slides some distance down a slope! A while later we spot our bridge; a sign warns us that it is a weak bridge. Luck is with us, though: the weak bridge does not collapse and as we step on to the bridge the sun, hanging low in the horizon, puts on one of the most spectacular displays of light that I have ever seen! The silvery River Baspa, the quaint bridge, the forest of pine trees looking dark and mysterious and the snow capped mountains together create a picture that was sure to be etched in our minds for a long while
After crossing the river we decide to explore the area beyond. We take a path that is headed up. Little did we realize what we had got ourselves into; the path is very steep and long and has us all gasping for breath. Twenty minutes later we reach the edge of a pretty village; we later learn that the name of the village is Batseri. Perched at a height of 2700 metres, pretty Batseri is considered to be one of the most modern villages in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The village is laid out with a network of very clean pathways. It is absolutely quiet; we are the only ones making all the noise! And it seems to be totally deserted; there are houses and pathways, but for quite a while we don’t see any village folk. But then, around a bend, we come across a group of three elderly men- in the traditional Himachal headgear- enjoying the sun on a terrace. “Where are you from?” they ask us. Our “Jharkand” reply draws blank stares. “Near Bihar” and even “Near Kolkata” doesn’t help. And then we realize how foolish we were: “From Dhoni’s place! Ranchi” we say. Aah, now that makes so much sense; the big smiles are out and we strike up a long conversation. They suggest that we go and visit their village temple; the Lord Badrinarayan temple. They tell us it is very pretty. The cobbled pathways are clean and there are clear road markers (indicating “Ring Road”, “Ward 3” and so on) at every cross-path junction. Yet we get horribly lost, primarily because there are no folk on the roads to guide us to the temple. Tired after a long day of extreme physical activity, and also because it was getting dark fast, we decide to turn back and head to our camp. But then our three friends are still there sunning themselves. “You didn’t visit the temple? No, no. Go back that way; you have to see the temple!” they say. Left with no choice, we take a different path and get lost in a different area of the village…this time it is in an area where there is actually a beautiful tree-lined avenue-path! Beautiful, wooden houses lit up softly by the gentle rays of the setting sun make the place picture perfect. Finally we see two women coming our way. They tell us that we are on the right path; that the temple is just ahead. Grateful, and because I really mean it, I tell them that their village is very pretty. But their retort has me stumped: “What about us, aren’t we pretty?” Of course you are, I say (they were!) and then I request a picture of them to lend credibility to my words.
The Lord Badrinarayan temple itself is a beautiful wooden structure, befitting the importance bestowed on them by our villager-friends. However, again, there is not a soul in sight anywhere and the temple itself is locked. The sky is darkening and so we decide to head back to our camp; thankfully the three gentlemen are no longer on the terrace to verify whether we actually saw the temple! The walk down to the river is easy and we reach the bridge in no time. But the brilliant display put up by the sun is no longer there and the River Baspa looks that much sadder for it; it is a bleak grey color. We have a final steep climb to reach back up to our camp. As we reach the camp we are happy, tired and hungry! We have been lucky again: soon after we reach the camp a storm brews up and brings down a fair amount of rain. We huddle around our tents till dinner time. By dinner time the storm has blown over and the rain has stopped. Therefore, post dinner we again enjoy a lovely bonfire and then zip ourselves into our tents to get ready for the next day; we are to drive up to the Spiti Valley and poetic sounding Nako is to be our night halt.
The Kinnaur-Spiti-Sangla Magic: Day 2
Date Posted: Jun 20th, 2012 at 22:01 - Comments (2)
30 May 2012
I woke up before sunrise and got almost all of the rest to wake up too, including our new friends Ajit; Ashish and his two daughters. Thanedar is apple country thanks mainly to the efforts, at the turn of the 20th century, of a little known but very interesting personality: Satyananda (Samuel) Stokes, an American missionary who later married an Indian lady. Stokes was the only American to become a member of AICC, the only non-Indian to sign the Congress Manifesto in 1921 and the only American to become a political prisoner of Great Britain in the Indian freedom struggle! He is the one who introduced the American Delicious variety of apples in Himachal, now the world famous ‘Shimla Apple’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyananda_Stokes). I was keen to visit Stokes’ bungalow in Thanedar but was told that it is now a private residence requiring prior permission to visit it. We settled instead to go on a stroll that- we were promised- would give us a view of the great Sutluj River. 20 minutes later and around a bend, there it was: our first sighting of the great Sutluj, visible way below as a brown strand! Close by, there was a pretty house that seemed to afford a great view, and a ‘Good Morning’ from me had more than the desired effect. The gentleman who was out on the terrace invited us in to his place! He pointed out to us the areas that had been inundated in 2004 by the bursting of an artificial lake on the Pareechu River in Tibet (apparently the roar of the river could be heard right up to his place, and the water levels rose by 10 to 12 metres at places) . Cherries were being plucked and collected by his men as he chatted with us, but our obviously interested looks didn’t get us even a bunch! We strolled back to the Banjara for some hot tea and a full breakfast. By 9am we were back on the road and on our way to the second night’s halt at Sangla valley; the Banjara folk very thoughtfully packed some lunch for us. A short distance of winding roads later we were back on to NH 22. We were level with the mighty Sutluj at Singhapur, where Monty and Vishal stopped for their breakfast. From then on, the NH 22 hugged the Sutluj all the way up to Rampur and beyond. Past Rampur, the first Buddhist prayer flags appeared almost simultaneously with the first sighting of the snow capped peaks. We stopped at a roadside temple about 50 kms before Sangla. The landscape changed dramatically after that; brown colours and rugged, jagged rocks became more common. Beautiful rock overhangs and rock cut-throughs kept us dumbstruck! There were signs of ‘development’ too: Jaypee Group’s 1000 MW Karcham-Wangtoo hydroelectric project entails construction activity right along the route. We stopped for lunch at a spot about 35 kms outside Sangla and literally clawed our way through the food: the thoughtful Banjara folk who had packed food for us had packed just that and nothing else..no plates, no spoons, no napkins. It was a massive community binge on the banks (but high above!) the Sutluj. Post lunch we drove a short way and then turned right and off NH 22 to get to Sangla; Sangla was now just 20 kms away. By now we were in a hurry and very impatient to get to our tent camp at Sangla. But even our impatience and hurry could not deter us from stopping at a spectacular shrine about 15 kms from Sangla that was perched on a jutting rock ledge high above the Sutluj. We stopped there and received prasaad from the Gujarati-origin priest. Apparently the shrine is dedicated to a person who had come to this spot to commit suicide (the spot was indeed perfectly chosen; nothing could have survived that fall!) but who had had a change of heart and started meditating there (again, perfectly plausible given the beauty of the surroundings). We soon reached Sangla and kept looking out for signboards for our night’s halt, the Kinner Camps. We finally sighted it some distance outside Sangla town, on the road to Chitkul; there it was, way below the road level. After calling up the camp and checking up whether our vehicle could be taken down, we descended down a series of muddy hair pin bends to this most beautiful camp colony; it was ringed by snow capped peaks and we could hear the rumble of a river far below. After settling down we immediately set off in search of the river so that we could go and come back before sunset. Negotiating a track that was not very tough, and after passing through what looked like a forbidden forest straight out of the Harry Potter series, we reached the banks of the River Baspa. Totally captivated by the river, we spent a good hour and half there and then climbed back up to the camp. Out of breath and tired though we were, on reaching the camp we were rejuvenated by a beautiful sunset that had bathed the entire camp in a golden hue and had lit up all the surrounding snow capped peaks. Post dinner we sat around a warm bonfire and exchanged stories with some of the other (well-travelled!) guests and then retired to our cozy tents for the night.
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