|Goa Trip Day 6 and 7: Forts, drunks on the beach and Journey Back Home |
|Goa Trip Day 6 and 7: Forts, drunks on the beach and Journey Back Home |
Before going to sleep last night, we had decided to visit two forts, Fort Aguada and and Fort Chapora. I don't know what's the logic, but English spellings of these and many other places like Mapusa is nothing like how locals pronounce or write on signboards in Devnagri script. Maybe it's the same thing which tunred Mumbai to Bombay, Dilli to Delhi.
Fort Aguada and lighthouse
We woke up late and decided to visit Fort Agauda in morning and Chapora in evening. Our breakfast was in Vivenda Kafe, a small food joint on the way designed with a European ambiance. We had some sandwiches, avocado milkshake, coffee (or tea) and a delicious Goan dessert. When we were hiring the car, the owner had suggested that we go on a 4-5 hours boat trip which included dolphin sighting, fishing, visit to some Bat island and a couple for other things for just INR 1600 per person. Almost every other shop had posters like this offering almost the same service at nearly same prices.On the way, we drove through the boatyard where tourists were lining up for the trip. The boats were just a marine version of the rickety public transport buses. Under powered, uncomfortable seating, too big, exposed and full of tightly packed people. One look and we both decided to skip the boat tour. Maybe there were some better services too, but we didn't feel like searching for them.
A rare photo of me and wifey together
Fort Aguada was about half an hour drive away with only 2 turns. According to historical sources and signboards, there was a fresh water spring inside, water from which was used to replenish stocks of various ships which docked there. There is also a old disused lighthouse which is closed for visitors. The water storage tanks are also not accessible and the visitors can only climb up the walls for the view. Personally for me, it was a bit of let down as the view was nothing special. It wasn't really bad but was nothing more than a little bit of altitude near the sea. Most places of interest , atleast to me were closed off. But the Indian tourists didn't seem to mind it and were clicking pictures aplenty.
We had a short nap after coming back to hotel and went on to visit Fort Chapora which was made famous by some movie shoot. The place is nothing more than ruins of boundary wall which is surprisingly intact while there is no trace of any man made structure inside them. I tried searching but couldn't find anything. It didn't look like the place was excavated or given any attention by archaeologists. Considering the history behind the place, it was a bit of let down, but the views were fantastic. There is no path left from road to the fort which sits atop a small hill. So people just climb up which way they like to the entrance. Like many other tourist places, local Indian tourists were hell bent on making this place another dumpyard by dumping copious amounts of bottles, cans and plastic. So called Youngistan crowd which formed the bulk of visitors is as idiotic as their pot bellied parents.
View of beach from fort Chapora
I climbed up the wall and went a bit down the hill to get a better view and was rewarded by the scenery in picture. The beach was just below and was probably accessible by foot. I asked wifey to come, but she preferred to stay on the wall. A very strong breeze was blowing by this time. After taking some pictures, I walked too the adjacent ridge and stayed there for a while taking in the view. Visibility wasn't that great though, probably due to haze. Walking back, I heard bird calls of 2-3 birds but was unable to spot them. Only sign of any animal life were a few burrows here and there, most probably rats.
While we were driving back, we realised that our train tickets to Mumbai were not getting confirmed and we had to take a bus. I tried Redbus.in which had a number of options, but the actual timings differed from what was provided on website. So we went to a bus operator's office to confirm bus tickets. We had a flight to catch at 9 am and only one bus had suitable timings. Even that bus had only a few seats left due to the long weekend effect. That part done, we went to Fisherman's Cove for dinner. A live band was playing Hindi and English songs and there was only one corner table left. We managed to change that later. For dinner, we ordered pasta, some local fish curry and some other stuff which I don't remember. The service was fast and efficient and the food was OK.
Fort Chapora from the end of ridge
As we had still quite a bit of fuel left in the car and this being our last night in Goa, we decided to visit Baga beach. Reaching there was not an easy task with confusing roads, closed off routes and crowds. The place is just a typical party thing with a night club just behind the beach. Almost every single restaurant on the beach had a dance floor and people dancing on the same Hindi, Punjabi, English songs. Very loud, distracting and nothing like the other places we visited earlier. To make things interesting, a large number of people were lying here and there passed out after drinking too much or snorting something potent. Probably a nice place for certain kind of party people, but not for me. We walked along the waves for a while which pushed us off our feet 4-5 times and then drove back to hotel.
Reaching back to our hotel, we packed up our stuff and went off to sleep. Next morning, we walked to Candolim beach and to have a late breakfast on the beach. Our bus left at 4 pm, so we had a lot of time. On the way, we stopped for a few minutes in a small shop run by a young girl from Karnatka and ended up buying some more clothes, hippy jewelery kind of stuff.
Sea on our first day in Goa
Upon reaching the beach, we found a restaurant and grabbed a table. I got a squid dish and wifey ordered some kind of biryani. Latter was completely inedible and we returned it. Squid was only marginally better. Walking back, we stopped a restaurant on main street, Bob's Inn to eat something. Later on, went back to our hotel for rest and freshening up. We had checked out in the morning, but they kept the room for us . Few minutes after 3 pm, we caught the taxi to Mapusa where we were supposed to catch the bus. The bus was Mercedes but not very comfortable. There were 3 rest stops including one for dinner and we reached Mumbai at about 5:30 am. Spent a couple of hours with family there after which they dropped us at the airport. The flight back landed right on time, a few minutes in advance I think, but the drive back home took longer.
Over all a great vacation in a great place. I will definitely try to visit Goa again and explore some other places , specially southern parts which we skipped this time. Bucket list includes boat trip, para sailing and couple of other activities and places.
|Aviation Museum and Shopping |
|Aviation Museum and Shopping |
Waking up on day 4, we were shortlisting the places we could visit. There were a few day tours, boat rides and places which interested us, but they were spread all over. We decided to have breakfast outside and got ready for it. We asked hotel staff for best way for transport and they suggested that we hire a car or a scooter or bike. There were couple of such places near the hotel. Went to one and the owner suggested that we rent a car instead of hiring one with driver as the latter will be twice as expensive, if not more. They had Wagon R, Swift, Jeep and a few scooters. We got a red Swift which seemed to be better choice. Although the car was not in a great condition, it worked just fine.
First thing we had to do after getting in was to get some fuel for the car before going for breakfast. The petrol pump was bit out of the way away from everything else. After getting some petrol, we drove back looking for some place to eat. Wifey did all driving in the trip as am not a good driver and lost my license a few weeks back. We stopped at a restaurant Bending Bamboos which had outdoor seating under a huge mango tree and a few others. Only one other table was occupied at the time. It was quite late for breakfast, so we decided to have something heavy. We ordered a rice dish with fish curry (king fish) and a local mix vegetable dish along with some pineapple juice. Pineapples in Goa tasted very sweet compared to slightly sour types that we get back here. While waiting for food to arrive, we decided to visit Indian Naval Aviation Museum in Marmugao near Dabolim airport. It was about 41-45 km from where we were and it took us about 70 minutes to reach there.
Sea Harrier and Ka-25
Compared to similar museum, Air Force Museum, Delhi the place is small and has lesser number of aircraft, gear, memorabilia and other stuff on display. But it's one of a kind place and very interesting. The first noticeable thing on entering the gates is a Sea Harrier jump jet. There are a bunch of other planes which include Breguet Alize, Hawker Sea Hawk, De Havilland Vampire, HAL-HT2. The biggest one is the four engined L-1049G Lockheed Constellation. I'd like to see a Tu-142 whenever it's retired, but I don't think that they have enough space for more. Helicopters are represented by Kamov K-25, Westland Sea King, Chetak and a few others. Indoor section which covers two floors has a few old electronic warfare systems, sonobuoys, torpedos, bombs, radars, pictures and infographics about various events in the Indian naval history. Apart from that, there are a bunch of plane engines, helicopter engines, missiles and one UAV on display outside. Strangest object however is mockup of cockpit, labeled as a simulator outside bathroom. There are a number of other things, but will post more about the place in another post.
Puppets for sale
While taking first few pictures outdoors, I messed up a setting on camera and some pictures taken in sun came up too bright which I noticed later.
After coming back, we stopped in our hotel for some rest and freshening up. In evening, we visited Saturday Market of Calangute. It is an all night market held on Saturdays and goes on from dusk till dawn. Most of the stalls were selling touristy clothes, decorations, cheap jewelery, shoes, herbs and various other knick knacks. A large number of stalls were owned by foreigners who were mostly selling self-designed (?) clothes. Then there were Tibetans, local Goans, Biharis, Marathas and quite a few other groups all in the same place. A stage had live performance by various music artists going on, but was audible only in a small area. Food and drinks were available, but didn't feel like eating there and most of it was very overpriced. We bought a few decorations, hats and some other touristy stuff before heading back.
This reminds me, I also got a sweet mug as a memento from the museum.
Saturday Flea Market of Goa
For dinner, we stopped at Torq, about 10-12 minutes walk from our hotel. A live band was playing which stopped within 10 minutes of our arrival, at about 10:30 pm. The place was half full when we arrived. The table near us was occupied by a group of 2-3 families. The main topic of discussion with them were the fights which 1-2 men of the group had while they were younger. Now that they were older, fatter and uglier, they wouldn't stop yapping about it. The noise probably affected staff too as they mixed up our orders. I had ordered a spicy fish curry while wifey asked for non-spicy vegetable dish. Instead we got a normal fish curry and highly spicy vegetable dish. I was OK with less spicy fish curry but vegetable dish was too spicy for her to eat. The staff replaced the vegetable dish within a few minutes though and were very apologetic. Although service of the place was good, food was barely passable. Reached back to hotel tired and went to sleep soon after.
|Sun burn |
|Sun burn |
We started packing up our bags and had a quick shower afterwards. We were planning to leave Arambol before evening to explore some other place. Jamaica gave me phone number of a hotel owner who had a property in Candolim, about a hour drive away. I called 5 hotels to inquire about room availability, tariff etc. but couldn't make up mind. We decided to visit the places and then choose one.
For breakfast, we walked a bit further than we had last night and found a nice shack on the beach. After a breakfast of fruit salad and just sitting around, we walked back. Wifey went to the shack for a nap while I joined Jamaica and family for another dip in the sea. The waves were OK but the sun was really strong. After about an hour, I went back to shack for another shower and for final packing. Jamaica had arranged for the same car on first day to take us to Candolim. After saying our goodbyes, we hopped in and drove towards Candolim. Finding the hotels there was fairly easy as most of them are on a single road. We checked rooms of 5 hotels before settling on one. I wanted to get some place near the beach, but wifey wanted something bit more upscale and luxurious. Most of the places in area are only about 5-7 walk from the beach. There were a large number of properties near the beach too, but we didn't feel like spending too much time in the heat going from one place to another.
Sunset in Cnadolim
After checking in and a bit of rest, we walked to Candolim beach. Most of the properties near the beach have been converted in to guest houses and hotels and the place looks like a laid back town rather than a village which it officially is. Not as green as Arambol, but not too bad either. The beach itself had a a fairly large number of tourists, mainly Indian. The other difference was the sand, which was more brownish and coarser. For dinner, I was thinking of going to any of the beach shacks there but wifey wanted a change. So we found our way back to the main road. After a bit of walk, we found Over The Flames in Calangute. It had outdoor seating and a karaoke night was on. During our stay, a foreigner performed Nazar Ke Saamne song, much to the delight of locals present there. He pronounced some words in a funny way, but that's the limitation of writing Hindi in Roman script.
Lots of ASSn
After some drinks and tandoori snacks, we ordered Vindaloo with rotis. I had heard a lot about Vindaloo but never had the chance to try it. There were a few versions, vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian. Almost all of my meals till then had been meat or sea food and I wanted something vegetarian. Waiter asked me if I wanted it spicy. Considering that all except 3 tables in the restaurant were occupied by foreigners, I assumed that the normal version will be bland and flavourless. So like almost any Indian, I asked him to make it spicy. Big mistake ! Wifey tasted a small bit and immediately pushed the whole bowl towards me. I took one bite and nearly caught fire. The dish was hot in a way that it hurt going in and worse coming out. I struggled to eat some with roti, then gave up.
Found it like this while walking back
We paid the bill and walked back to the hotel. Along the way, we stopped at a bakery to get a muffin or cake, don't remember exactly. Upon reaching back, I realised that I had sun burnt skin on my shoulders, face, neck and almost every body part exposed to the sun. Sunscreen is of limited help, if at all and it gets washed away whenever one takes a dip. I am too lazy to carry and use it anyway.Just 3 days in the sun and it happened yet again. Hot spicy Vindaloo burnt something else next morning.
|Beach Bums |
|Beach Bums |
Before going to sleep, I was vaguely thinking about waking up early to see the sunrise as we were going to sleep early and it had been years since I had seen sun rise. That vague thought remained vague after all and I woke somewhere around 8:30 am. Jamaica and his staff were already up going about their daily routines in addition to their wrapping up the place.
Caught this crab one as it was hiding
After a quick shower, me and wifey walked along the beach to search for a place to relax and have breakfast. Along the way, I was thinking about jumping in to water again, but didn't want to take risk with the only one working camera left. Nevertheless while walking along the waves, found a second type of crab which was larger and quite a bit more interesting than the white ones I found last evening. It was trying to hide in the sand while I picked it up. Wifey screamed louder than last time and threatened to drown me in the sea if I brought it close to her. But to be fair, she did take some pictures when I requested. After I put it back, the crab dug itself in to the sand within 2-3 seconds.
We kept on walking among the waves and found a beach shack kind of restaurant with ground seating facing the sea. Waiter Pappu told us that the day would be the last working day of the season and they had only about half of the items on menu available for order. We ordered some food and drinks and waited. These places in touristy areas are really nice to have long leisurely meals without staff waiting for you to pay and begone as soon as possible. We sat there watching sea, people while the cook prepared our breakfast or brunch. I ordered some fish tikka while wifey had some kind of vegetable biryani with raita. I had sea food for almost every meal afterwards during our stay in Goa.
After the meal, we spent some more time relaxing and then walked further up the beach to see the sweet water lake Jamaica had talked about. Along the way, we saw a large number of a different kind of crab which digs a hole in the sand to hide or maybe catch prey. There was an area on the beach where they were scurrying about by dozens if not hundreds. At the end of beach, we climbed a few stairs to walk through a typical touristy market with shops selling gaudy clothes, over priced knick knacks and "cheap" food joints. The aforementioned lake was at the other end of the market with just about 30-35 meters of beach separating it from the sea.
Beach near fresh water lake
The lake by itself is very beautiful with green hills covering it on 3 sides, clear shallow water, small rocky island and overall great view.
we stood there for a couple of minutes before walking on further along the beach where the way was blocked by big rocks. The waves here were strong and were crashing on the rocks loudly. Almost every single rock was covered with sea shells and crabs. I climbed one rock to take a better look but there was nothing specially interesting. A few tourists were enjoying parajumping (if that's what it's called) by jumping from the small hills nearby. I thought to climb up one of the nearby hills, but it didn't really looked worth the effort. After the really heavy meal, I didn't feel like doing that para jumping thing either, so planned to do it later.
A crab digging a hole for itself
Walking back, we stopped at a sea side restaurant for drinks and then walked back to our shack for a shower and nap. In the evening, it was time for another bathing session in the sea. Near about sunset, we started walking in the opposite direction of what we had taken in morning and stopped at another sea facing restaurant for lunch. A Russian man was giving some kind of talk/lecture with some soothing background music and the place was full of people listening to him intently. We couldn't understand anything but the background music was nice and food (fish curry with rice for me and some chinese noodle thing for wife) was good enough. After we walked out, a nearly full moon was high up in the sky and we walked back to the shack for sleep.
|Pahadi Meets The Sea |
We had planned to stay in Armabol beach in Jamaica's beach lodge Cabo Wabo, who I met for the first time in Spiti. As we were visiting right at the end of tourist season, he was in process of winding down his operations for the season, but still was of great help. He arranged for a driver who met us on Madgaon railway station to take us to Arambol.
On way to Arambol from Madgaon On way to Arambol from Madgaon
Even he was there before train arrived. Everything working better than just being on time !
Distance from Madgaon to our destination Arambol is about 67 km but driving there took nearly 2 hours. The roads and even highways in Goa are narrow and we were able to touch 60 kmph speed only for a few seconds in some small stretches. The Goan towns are just like other small towns elsewhere in India with a mix of old and new. Greenery and new constructions in competition all around. But the old houses are very beautiful, have a lot of greenery and plants and people seemingly prefer natural growth of plants instead of trimmed gardens with grass and flowers. I liked it a lot.
Arambol beach, Goa
We reached Arambol in about 2 hours and were greeted by Jamaica, his wife and little daughter who had just turned 6 months old. We sat in his shack's restaurant and enjoyed view of the sea and nearly empty beach. It was my first time on a beach but I waited for a while before going further. The train and road journey were a bit tiring and we wanted to wait for sun to go down and have something to eat. We had a drink of Teem, which I haven't seen for a very long time anywhere else. After lunch , we went to our beach shack for a change of clothes and a short nap.
Armabol is a small fishing village in north Goa and is not as commercialised as many other places are. Most residents of the village make their living by fishing and earnings from tourism. A few have opened up fairly well stocked small shops, but nothing too fancy. People who own land near beach, rent it out to people like Jamaica who operate beach shacks, restaurants etc. from October till March. Rest of year is too hot or rainy for most tourists. A larger number of tourists come from Russia, but this season was a lean one due to conditions there.
View of Jamaica's Cabo Wabo Beach lodge
After a bit of rest we changed our clothes, grabbed the camera and ran out of the cottage to the sea. There were a few people, a majority foreigners doing their beach things like enjoying a swim, running, making sand castles etc. A few were para-sailing too. The sand was hot, water warm and the weather was beautiful with white clouds, sun on horizon and only the sound of wind and surf. I don't know how to swim and was carrying a camera , so couldn't go much further. When you are standing in the water, waves going back take away sand from feet and feeling it for the first time was trippy and enjoyable.
First marine life that I noticed were small white crabs trying to hide in sand. Picked up a few and had fun scaring wifey with them. Don't worry, I just put them on my palm to take a closer look and put them back in to the sea without any harm. Later on, we took a walk along the shore towards north. While taking pictures, I managed to get a bit of sand behind shutter button, making it stuck and the camera inoperable for a few days. Had to use the smaller point and shoot thing for most of the trip from that point onwards. After coming back from the walk, I put the camera back in shack and joined Jamaica and family on the beach. This time, we went a bit deeper and the waves were fairly strong which lifted us off our feet quite a few times.
A small white crab
Dinner was cooked by the skeletal staff which was there to help Jamaica with winding down operations and take care of a few guests still living there. Me and Jamaica sat down for a while and talked about business and what could we do in Goa for rest of the days. There was only one guest left in a beach hut and she seemed a bit reluctant to leave. Can't say that I didn't understand why. The place was too good. We were fairly tired and went off to sleep right after. After all is said and done, I enjoyed sea almost as much I enjoy mountains. Great day.
|Sun, Sea, Sand, Sights and Food Of Goa |
|Hello people, |
This is my 3rd travelogue on this forum. First two and the last posts were quite a while back. The gap is due to a number of reasons, mostly my laziness. Anyhow, without much ado, I am posting my travel diary of my first trip to sea shores of Goa. Pictures are limited as my camera was out of commission for some time during the trip.
Goa Trip Day 1: Short flight and long train
So for the ones who don't know, I got married last year and due to work was unable to go anywhere for honeymoon. Perks of working for yourself can be strange sometimes. Wifey says that she understands but everyone knows how these things go. So when this trip got planned, I had to hurry up and tie up some loose ends fairly quickly.
Packing a 70 liters rucksack for vacation after 3 years, that too with a wife to give instructions was a new experience. 11 months back when I was on my own, I had put all my stuff in a 15 liters backpack for a 5 days trip to Rishikesh and mountains nearby. This time, a rucksack five times the size was nearly not enough and she had her own 35 liters rucksack too. Since Delhi to Goa plane tickets were too expensive, we took a plane to Mumbai and then a train to Goa. Longer travel time, but at half the price. The flight to Mumbai was uneventful apart from the fact that the we landed about 25 minutes sooner than what was printed on the ticket. So when we were in the air, over what I thought was some inland area near Gujarat-Maharashtra border, I saw a gray glimmering water body which was too huge to not be the sea which confused me about or location. A few minutes later, pilot informed that we were about to land. Before that I spent a fair amount of effort trying to find the possible route that the plane had taken.
Cities look interesting high up from skies and Mumbai with it's coastline even more so. The water divides the city in a number of places and without any knowledge of city's map and landmarks, it was a lot of guess work. After landing, we went to house of relatives who lived within 5 minutes drive from airport. After some rest, lunch and chatting, we went on a short walk in Vile Parle area. Our train left at 11 pm from Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CSTM) and we had some time to take a short walk in the area but not enough to explore the city in any meaningful way. The place was too hot, humid and crowded to do so. Turns out that traffic is as bad, if not worse as Delhi which was no surprise seeing how narrow the roads were. After dinner, the family took us to Dairy Don, a famous ice cream shop in the area. The ice creams were quite good but I still prefer the Delhi kulfis anyday. We decided to take the local train to CSTM as I had heard a lot about it but never had the chance of riding them. Also, we didn't want to take a chance of taking the road route and getting stuck somewhere. The stations and trains were fairly crowded, but not as much as we see in photos in night. The train was virtually empty and got full only after 5-6 stations. After an enjoyable ride, we arrived at CSTM and found the train and our seats after some difficulty.
A and M bhai left after getting us water with some difficulty as there was no shop on the platform on which our train was. The train ride was just like the flight in the way that we arrived about 20 minutes in advance.
There are no pictures in this post as we used our camera only to take pictures with family in Mumbai.
Next part will have details about our first day in Goa.
|Not all those who wander are lost. |
|I woke up at around 4:30 and went out of tent to find Jamaica was back. He had brought back some supplies was with him and was busy putting them away. As we chatted over a cup of tea, a guide came up and said that a foreign tourist had fallen sick and needed medical care. Turned out that a large group of tourists were doing the Zanskar to Spiti trek and one of them was showing symptoms of high altitude sickness. We had no means of contacting anyone except for one satellite phone in Batal. Just about then, a few locals from some place near Kaza came back from the lake and started to leave in their Maruti 800. The stupid guide, instead of sending the sick tourist back to Batal in their car, hopped in himself and went away before we had the chance to say anything. |
As we had no information of their location or means to help, we could only hope that the guide would be able to call up an ambulance. As I had already explore much of the area and didn't have enough time to do anything else, I just stayed in the camp. Jamaica is an interesting guy and it was fun listening to his stories. Did a bit of cleaning up of the camp site by picking up the trash. I wish the rules related to littering and environment protection were more strictly implemented.
Anyhow, nothing really remarkable happened otherwise and I had dinner and packed up all of my stuff which was going back with me. Waking up next morning, I was again tempted to go out to have a 'little walk' around the place but checked myself. No taxi, private car etc came up for a long time, so I just chatted with Jamaica and and some shepherds. After a while, 3 guys came up, one of them a guide from one of the camps down the road. Rest were staff from an ambulance service which the guide had called up. The driver was unable to negotiate the sharp curves and had left the ambulance back there to came up by foot. For record, you can dial 1608 to call for an ambulance there.
The guide came up riding pillion on a bike. Biker told us that one of the guys in his group had broken his leg near Batal and they were staying there waiting for a vehicle to Manali when the guide came to call for ambulance. The guide went to his group to bring them, while the rest waited. They came up after a while and I was a bit surprised to see them. It was a group of 10-11 people and not one of them was looked below 35. The sick guy was easily 50. Although, they were using porters and mules to carry their luggage, their journey from Zanskar to Spiti was no mean feat. Many people consider it to be one of the most difficult treks.The sick guy was loaded on the bike and driven to the ambulance. As there was enough space, the driver graciously agreed to drop me in Batal. I gave away most of my medicines to Jamaica as I had little use for them and took my leave. I kept 2-3 pills of a few, just in case
Near Chota Darraa
We walked to the ambulance and the sick tourist was given some first aid. He didn't speak English and most of the conversation was in gestures and signs. Only if the guide had brains to take him down to Batal with him the previous night, so much trouble could have been averted. But he seemed fine and no serious damage was done. I said goodbye to the lake and climbed in the front seat with driver. The road was rocky and difficult to drive , same as most places beyond Manali. At a point, I thought we were going too fast and I glanced at the speedometer. It read an insanely fast speed of 25 km per hour. Heh
The ambulance dropped us at Batal at 12 and left for Kaza. A bus was already waiting for the tourist group. It was full already, so I kept waiting for another one. As the road had just opened in Kaza, I was hopeful of getting a bus or taxi soon, but the vehicles going towards Manali were very few. I had lunch in Chandra dhaba and sat outside. There were quite a few vehicles coming from Manali going towards Kaza, so it was a busy place. Driver of the bus thought himself a bit of a smart alec and keept cracking tasteless jokes about age of sick tourist and how old people should stay at home, crows as big as chicken in mountains of Jammu etc . I got annoyed after a while and walked around the place clicking some photos.But there was hardly anything to see near the road.
After 2-3 hours, rest of the tourist group reached Batal and they left on bus taking the injured biker with them. At around 4, I got sick of waiting and put away my rucksack to spend the night in dhaba. Even if any vehicle passed through, it couldn't reach Manali before 11 in night. Last bus for Delhi left at around 9 - 10. Better to spend night in Batal than in another crappy hotel in Manali. I picked up my camera and torch and left to explore the area beyond the hill adjacent to hill.
After walking around rather aimlessly for a while, I found the source of 'perennial tap' in dhaba which provided water 24 hours non-stop. It was a small spring around a km from dhaba. They had laid down around 6-7 cm thick plastic pipes to transport the water back to the dwellings. Some holes, 1 meter deep were dug at regular intervals to keep an eye on pipe's condition. Although, Chandra river flows just beyond their dhaba, it's water is not drinkable due to slit.
A ridge extended sideways for quite some distance beyond the spring and I started climbing it. A water stream which merges in to Chandra near the bridge in Batal flowed beyond it. It's source was a glacier 3-4 km straight up the path on ridge which first merged with a mountain and then seemed to extend right up to the glacier. It was 2nd time in 2 days that I found myself right in sight of some place where I could easily walk to but couldn't because of lack of time and related crap. Only if I had left sooner, I could have a reasonable chance of trekking right up to the glacier. It was getting dark really fast as dark clouds covered the sky and wind got a bit colder as if it was raining somewhere.
I decided to walk as far as possible till it got too dark or started raining heavily. Till now, I hadn't paid much attention to critters on ground. But this place for some reason was swarming with spiders up to 5-6 cm across. There were so few insects in the place and even less vegetation to support any significant numbers. Presence of so many full grown spiders in such a place was very surprising. It was a bit difficult to take a picture as they hid fast behind stones whenever some particularly fast gust of wind came by. My camera battery was almost fully discharged by this time anyway. So there are not many pictures.
I still donít believe that nectar, pollen are part of a healthy diet for a spider
I kept on walking till a few minutes past six when it started to drizzle. There was still a lot of distance left to the glacier, so I turned back. It was almost dark by the time I reached back to dhaba. A few minutes later, two bikes from Bangalore coming from Kaza side stopped by to ask for directions and decided to spend the night. They had started their journey from Shimla route and it was nice to compare notes and exchange ideas. I realised for sure that biking is a completely different form of travel than what I like. While we were having dinner, Chacha started generator to recharge his inverter batteries (for his satellite phone). I managed to get my camera battery charged too. We went to bed soon after.
I woke up beforee 7 in morning to sound of trucks stopping and truckers going in to dhaba for a cup of tea. Those bikers had their breakfast, packed up and left soon after. As I had my breakfast, I was tempted to go out walking again. But considering that the road had just been cleared, I decided to stay and wait for a vehicle. I got a lift in a Sumo taxi at around 11. The driver had stopped by the previous day too as he was transporting a group of foreigner tourists from Manali to somewhere near Kaza. As he was coming back empty, he had a 3 sullen looking Biharis who had missed the early morning bus. That bus had passed by about an hour earlier, completely jam packed. The driver upon noticing my camera asked me to stop wherever I feel liked to take pictures. He was fairly knowledgeable about the place and kept dropping tit-bits of information every now and then. One of the suspensions of the vehicle was damaged, so he claimed that was not driving very fast. I doubted if it was possible to drive any faster on those roads.
For perspective, that blue-yellow thing at bottom is a tent
We did stop in a number of places, sometimes him pointing out something which I had missed. He offered to stop and wait for me near Rohtang Pass, so that I could catch a glimpse of Beas Kund. But it was raining heavily and the place was literally covered with clouds. The visibility was less than 20 meters. We moved on but got stuck in jam due to bad road soon after. The road was nothing except a mud track and we spent more than an hour crawling down from the pass till road got any better. Rohtang Pass was a disappointment anyway, full of shanty like shops, shitty dhabas and dumb tourists (mostly Indian) acting like fools. I can understand people posing for photos in silly dresses, sunglasses etc but what angered me was filthiness of the place. An average Indian tourist is a plague of any beautiful place.
Rest of the drive to Manali was without any incident and the beautiful sights outside helped calmed me down. Finally I had the chance to see the part of Beas where it flows through deep gorges as described in अरे यायावर रहेगा याद . Couldn't get out to explore but may be will do it someday. We reached Manali at around 7:30. All the Volvo buses had left and only Himachal SRTC buses were available. Bought one ticket for a bus leaving at 9:30. As I had quite a bit of time to pass, I walked to Old Manali and had dinner in a faux-Tibetan restaurant. Almost all of the staff had left for Pushkar due to off-season in Manali and beginning of tourist season there. Tested 'choclate momo' for dessert. It was nothing to talk about.
The bus, when it left was mostly empty, but I couldn't fit my rucksack in overhead luggage rack. A kind local suggested that I take one of empty row of seats. These buses are driven with lights on inside switched on. As I wanted to get a little bit of sleep, I put on my sunglasses, covered my eyes with my hat (yes, at night) and made myself as comfortable as possible. Managed to get a few winks of sleep, but the journey was long and bus reached Delhi past noon.
Back to the soul crushing grind of life in a big city.
Not all those who wander are lost. J.R.R.Tolkien
|A walk to nowhere in Spiti |
|Next morning, I woke up to the sound of a car's engine at around 7. Jamaica's foreigner guests were leaving and he was going to see them off till Batal. By that time, I had made up my mind to go back to Delhi. I had forgotten to mention it before that some areas near Kaza had experienced heavy rainfall and landslides. Due to this, there were blockages on a few places along the route from Kunzum La to Kaza and beyond. After I had abandoned all hopes of visiting Samudri Taapoo, I wanted to visit Kibber for 2-3 days. But as it happened, the number of incoming vehicles slowed to a trickle and I was unable to get a taxi or lift to Kunzum La or Batal from where I could get somewhere else. |
New camp mate
It didn't matter much as I was enjoying my stay at Chandrataal a lot. The relative solitude was also a welcome incentive for my inertia. By that time, I had completely lost the concept of keeping date and time. It was a nice feeling, not to care about clock and calendar. Just roam around, eat, rest and walk around till it got too dark and sometimes even past that. After wandering around whole day, I was always tired to my bones, but loved every single moment.
When I got out of tent, I found out that Si too had packed up all of his belongings and was getting ready to leave. He had been staying for more than 3 weeks for his work and was going somewhere else. Lucky chap. It also meant that unless some other tourists arrived, I was the only one staying there. At least 2 out of 3 other camps down the road were also completely empty except for staff. As the day was probably my last of the stay, I wanted to take one last look at the lake. I put a little dry fruits in my pocket, picked up my camera and left for the lake.
The wind I had talked about earlier had not started yet and the lake was completely tranquil. I sat down on a rock and took in the views for a while. I could hear the ducks quacking in some distance as well as some other birds including Himalayan Snowcock. But they are extremely shy and stay in higher reaches away from people. Gaddi dogs are a big danger to them. Si had seen a family of 2 adults and two young ones the previous day, but I was not so lucky. Hoping to catch a glimpse, I started walking around the lake, but I guess they moved away pretty fast and I could hear their calls no longer. But I did meet the duck family again.
As I reached other end of the lake, I changed my mind about walking around the lake and decided to walk to the stream I had seen 2 days ago. Last time, it was too dark to see anything in detail. This time, white clouds covered the adjoining mountain peaks. But the landscape was clear. I tried looking for the burrow, I had seen 3 days back, but couldn't find it. Came up to the small but noisy stream while searching for the burrow and crossed it. The area was nothing but a path of dried out streams and and avalanches. The path was very rocky and difficult to walk for most part. Toughest thing was to walk down heap of stones 4-6 meters high and then climb another pile again.
The other glacier in distance
Chandra river flowed to my left down the mountain and I kept following it to it's source from above. After some time, I saw a Gaddi camp in distance and noticed someone walking towards me. I was surprised to see a Bihari in his teens. Is there any place in India where you can't find one working ? ) No disrespect, just surprised to see a Bihari working for a Gaddi shepherd in Spiti. I asked him if there was any drinkable water source nearby. There was one very small stream, most of which was hidden under the rocks and he pointed it out. I thanked him and moved on. He asked me, " आप यंहा क्या करने आयें हैं ? घूमने ? (What are you here for ? Sight seeing ? )" I nodded yes and I think he must have shaken his head a little on the crazy tourist in middle of nowhere. Apparently, tourists are very rare on this trail.
I found the stream, drank some cold water and rested. When I had set out from the camp, I didn't intend to come this far. I just wanted to see the lake once more, walk back and pack up my stuff and wait for a taxi. Somehow, that didn't happen and I was 2-3 km away from lake following a trail which was barely there. With no food, water or sun glasses. Just a hat to protect from sun and a camera. In some of my walks, I used sandals instead of shoes and the exposed skin on my feet was severely sun burned. That's when I realised that the itchy feeling on my nose, whenever I put my eye on camera's viewfinder was a fairly deep sun burn. The expensive sun screen that I was using worked only if applied 3-4 times a day. I guess, one has to stay indoors for optimal results too. By this time, most of the clouds had dissipated and sun was shining in it's full glory. As I was already looking like a badly maintained brown leather bag, I just shrugged it off. What more could another day in sun could do !
I kept on walking and reached bottom of the hill where I had seen the Gaddi camp. A shepherd was getting his flock out to graze. I considered walking up to him but my path bypassed his camp and it was a rather steep climb. Having to deal with 3-4 menacing dogs wasn't an appealing idea either.
At some distane, I came across a empty stone hut which looked like it hadn't been occupied for years. By this time, I was thirsty, hungry and fairly tired. But the sight of glacier kept me going. It was one of the sources of Chandra river, 2nd one being Samudri Taapoo. The former would have taken at least 4-5 hours of walking, but most of it was on easier terrain and no river to cross. As I got closer to the glacier, amount and flow of water in the river kept decreasing. It even looked possible to pass it on foot in some places. But I didn't go that far. After a while I got really thirsty and there was no water source nearby. It was hot and I could see mirages shimmering over hot rocks. As I had no intention to walk up to the glacier in first place, I sat down on a ledge and rested. As far as I could see, there was no trace of any human being. Even Gaddis rarely came that far and there were no stone huts beyond that point. One interesting feature I saw were *some long rocks, 3-6 meters high, standing up on slope near the river. I don't know how to properly explain this, just take a look at the picture.
Some crazy erosion
After resting for some time, I started walking back towards my camp. The shepherd I had seen earlier in his camp was now on a nearby mountain with his flock. It was probably his last day in that area too as they were packing up to leave. I came up to the lake after what seemed like hours to find Pradhan's sheep blocking the trail but he was not in sight. They scattered as soon as I reached within touching distance. The campsite was empty when I reached there and I had 1 chocolate and some dry fruit for lunch . It was nearly 3 pm and I had been walking for almost 8 hours. Sunny was probably sleeping or somewhere else and I had given away all of my MRE packs the previous night No vehicle except for a single Sumo from Manali side had came that morning. Si had probably hitched a lift in that. Even if some vehicle/taxi came up at that point, it was a fools errand to packup everything and hitch a ride. So, I crawled in to my tent and slept on the mat. It was too hot to use sleeping bag.
More in next post
Friendly little birdie
|Dinner and mid-night wolf |
|I rested in the camp for a while, enjoying some idle chit-chat with the new tourists till it got completely dark. It was just a half past 7 then. The rain had nothing to dissipate the clouds and the sky was completely overcast. I told Sunny to not prepare any food for me and left for Pradhan's camp. It was hard following the trail with a torch as the rain had washed out all the footprints and most marks of the path. Thankfully, it wasn't very muddy. The camp was about a km away near the foothills of the mountain I had been to earlier in morning. |
Although, I was aware of the general location but had a hard time locating it in pitch dark. Previous night, I could see a lamp illuminating his camp from a distance, but that night there was nothing. Then I saw hundreds of gray-blue points of lights in torchlight. As some of them blinked, I realised it was his flock of goats and sheep staring at me. As I walked closer, I heard dogs barking not too far away and slowed down. It wasn't a good idea not to heed their warning. Just then, I heard Pradhan shouting loudly to hush them up. He was away from the camp and came walking in towards my direction. One of his sheep with a young kid born that morning was missing and he was gone to look for them near the lake.
We walked in to his camp and he lit a small kerosene lamp for light. I think, I should explain how their camps are. As I had left my camera back in camp due to rain, I have no pictures apart from a couple of an empty one.
The dwellings are roughly circular, made of stones 1+ meter in height and 2-4 meters in diameter. It's not possible to stand inside unless you're really short. Thy don't use any mortar or earth to keep the stones together. A plastic sheet slung over the structure makes the roof. There is a small hole in ground for a fireplace to cook and keep warm. Some space is provided within stone walls where stuff like rations, fuel, utensils etc are stored. I was told that a team of 4 men can make such a hut in a day. As there are no trees, Yak dung is the major source of fuel. Floor is covered with goat/sheep skins and grass for warmth. There are few options for contact with outside world except a radio or cellphone. Even those are mostly unusable in most of areas they travel through.
An empty Gaddi stone hut
So, we were sitting in a similar camp talking as he prepared a fire and put on some water to heat. Yak dung burns with a prominent blue flame, new thing for me. After a while he went out to get some milk from goats. As I walked out, his dogs which were at some distance away in the dark started barking at something further away. The animals get nervous around strangers, so I stayed near hut. A light drizzle was still going on at that time. After finishing milking , he put it away and started kneading dough for rotis. At first, he took really big pieces and made rotis atleast 1 cm thick and as big as the tawa (flat heating pan). I watched fascinated, a bit excited at the chance to sample unique kind of food. I was also a bit worried if it was possible to eat those things. Guess my puzzlement was too obvious as he said that those roti were for dogs not us. I think I was a little disappointed.
After cooking 3 or 4 such rotis he started making regular sized ones for us. After his bigger ones cooled down, he soaked them in chaach and fed the dogs. He had already prepared a dish of cabbage in chaach which only needed a little heating. After dogs were fed, we started to eat. I had a taste of rotis after 4-5 days and the meal tasted delicious.
I asked him lots of questions about their way of life and I'll try to explain it in my own words as best as I can.
Preparing butter in a leather bag
Pradhan and some of his companions are from far off places like Solan where they have their families, fields etc. The shepherd men leave their homes in March, April as soon as the snow begins to melt with their flock and keep on traveling over the next 3-4 months in search of pastures. Sometimes they find good ground and may stay there for a while. Otherwise they keep moving to prevent their animals from starving. They start their journey back home in late August or early September before snowfall which may take another 2 months, may be more. In nutshell, they spend 7-9 months in a year away from their homes. In their absence, women take care of fields, crops etc. Their main source of income is wool, selling old animals for meat and sometimes milk products. As they spend most of their time away from populated places, selling milk isn't an option and they usually consume it or extract ghee.
Some of the goats are photogenic
Their day starts usually with sunrise or sometimes earlier as they lead their flock to different grazing places almost everyday. If they have mixed flock of goat and sheep, then both need different care. Sheep aren't as agile as goats and can't reach some places specially when they've gained weight. They also need mules to carry their supplies which are usually kept separate from rest of animals. As many of grazing grounds fall in forest lands, shepherds need permits to use them. Sometimes, they are stalked by wild animals like wolves, leopards etc. Guard dogs usually take care of this problem . I saw one guy carrying a gun, but that's not common. But the bigger danger is from inclement weather. They may lose animals due to landslides, snow, floods etc anytime. The compensation they may receive from government is hardly worth the trouble. Rash drivers on roads are another nuisance. As their animals are their only wealth and primary source of livelihood, they work very hard to take good care of them.
As he told me about his home, I came to know that his 3 children have done pretty well for themselves. His eldest son is an engineer in state government, other got in to Indian Navy the previous month and the daughter was trying for a teacher's job. He himself was educated till 10th, but left school in 1970 (approximate date). Not bad at all.
While sheep seem a little bit shy
I gave him some of my Ready To Eat Meal packs and showed him how to prepare them. After that, I thanked him for probably the most interesting dinner I ever had and left for my own camp. The dogs apparently don't care if the stranger is going away from them. They kept barking in a different direction. Finding my camp was a bit easier than Pradhan's as Jamaica was having a little party with his foreigner friends and guests.
As I stood outside my tent, mother of Jamaica's friend asked if I had any ear-plugs. As I had none, she advised me to protect my ears as her son snored very loudly as did another guest. I laughed and thanked her for her advice and crept in to my sleeping bag. I woke up after sometime to a slight rustle outside my tent but didn't pay it much attention. Next morning an Indian tourist told me that he had probably seen a wolf near the lake. I thought he had mistaken a shepherd's dog for a wolf. Next day, Jamaica said that a wolf had indeed paid a visit to our camp. The rustling I had heard was that wolf investigating our tents. Can't be sure because no one had seen it.
I had been walking outside alone till past 11 in night when Pradhan's dogs were barking probably to scare away that wolf.
Just my luck.
|No mountain too high |
|Continuing from my previous post: |
I felt silly sitting idle in the camp. So after a bit of rest, *walked out towards Chandrataal again at around five. At the lake, I met two local shepherds, one of which turned out to be Pradhan ( local title for Chief). He seemed agitated as an idiot had put up his tent right on lake shore and was rude when reminded of the rules. * As I still wanted to visit Samudri Taapoo,* I asked him about a way to cross the river or an alternate route. Turned out that his friend was going to cross the river next morning. But it was a one way trip. He was to gather his flock across the river and go back towards some place in general direction of Batal that would have taken 2 weeks or more. Tagging along with him was simply out of question. I didn't have that much time and even if I did, following the routes of shepherds at their speed was not a good idea for a trek either. Dejected, I waved them goodbye and set about to walk around the lake. Pradhan invited me to his camp for a cup of tea and dinner to which I agreed to partake at a later time.
There's an insect in water
Lake water was cold but not much. I was wearing sandals at the time and started to walk in the shallow water near shore. It was fun for a while. The duck family was in the water again with an adult flying around. *The sun was just above near by mountain peaks and the views were breathtaking. Upon reaching other end of lake, I was curious to see if there was anything interesting on the grassy plain area, so kept walking. After 1 km, there was a fast muddy stream flowing down from one of the mountains. I also came across a burrow about 1 feet across but no animal visible. Didn't feel like poking around to inquire further, so left it alone. *Si later told me that it probably was a Marmot's burrow. A Pika like animal, only 6-7 times bigger.
By now, it was almost dark as the sun had set completely and stars were coming up. But most of the sky was covered with dark clouds even with a strong breeze *blowing. This breeze fascinated me. It starts every morning around 10-11 am and goes on for 10-12 hours daily. Due to this, people have to wear warm clothes even when it's bright and sunny. With strong regular wind like this, I doubt that people in Spiti need dams or coal for electricity. As far as I was concerned, I was very happy without the electricity and gadgets so far. No cell-phone signal for tens or perhaps hundreds of kms, imagine that . My only related need at that time was charge of my camera battery. But I managed to click approximately 1200 photos before it went down. One can always use portable solar panels for charnging, but I wasn't carrying one
Coming back to the topic, upon reaching the stream I decided to turn back due to the dark. Turned on my torch and started to walk back. This must have agitated the dogs of a shepherd on a nearby hill who kept barking till I was in their eye-sight. The lake at that time was nothing like the placid and tranquil water body in morning. There were a lot of waves due to wind and it was difficult to stand in the water and maintain balance. I was hoping to click some photos of night sky reflected in lake waters, but it was clearly not possible.* It was foolish standing there to wait and test my luck further, so started to walk back to my camp. Found a brownish 3 inch across spider in my path and I could swear that it's eyes shone in torch's light. No other insect or animal there except a few small things which were barely visible. No snow leopard, ibex, bear, deer or wolf either. :-< Not even *story of a strange monster in water that night. *Or may be there were and I couldn't see them. Who knows !
The walk back was uneventful and I had little difficulty in locating the trail back to camp. Found Sunny and Si about to begin their dinner. Didn't feel like eating Dal, Chawal again, so turned on my stove and warmed a Ready To Eat Meal. It was hard work turning on the stove in that wind, so gathered some rocks and made a small shelter. It was some south Indian tomato-rice dish, don't remember the name. *Slept soon after and woke up at 6 again. I was curious about seeing the lake in it's entirety and Si suggested me to climb one of the near by mountains.
I left the camp soon after and met Pradhan in his camp. He was churning 'chaach' (buttermilk) in a goat skin bag to make some butter while his friend was leaving for his journey across the river . After seeing him off, Pradhan made us a cup of tea and added a big spoon full of ghee in to both. I had heard of butter tea of Laddakh, but drinking tea with ghee was a novel experience. May be I just imagined it, but it did provide immediate warmth. After finishing tea, he called up his four dogs which were dozing nearby for their breakfast of chaach and *rice. I was told that the dogs are mostly fed whatever they eat. They didn't seem very happy to see me though. After a bit of chit-chat, I thanked him for the amazing tea and left.
Dogs eating rice and chaach
The mountain I wanted to climb was not far away and I soon started climbing. The slope was again covered with loose rocks and soil. Combined with somewhat steep slope, it was again a tough trek. I avoided loose and unstable gravel and preferred rocks for walking. Although I had seen goats grazing almost all over the place, I could find no trail there. After 40-50 minutes, I came across a small waterfall of seemingly crystal clear water. But it had small particles of gravel and was undrinkable. I had neglected to carry any water with me and it was not a nice feeling. There was little water anyway and it disappeared in to rocks just 15-20 meters down from where I found it.
But my primary purpose was still not complete. From that location, only a half of the lake was visible. But it wasn't possible to climb on vertical ledge. So I walked on further towards left of the mountain till I could see all of the lake. It looked a bit like Batman's logo . Check the picture if you don't believe me. By then I was *on a fairly high position on the mountain and the people walking below looked like ants. I wondered if it was possible to go still higher as half of the mountain still lay above. But it was almost a vertical climb after that. So after savouring the view for some time I climbed down, which was easier than climbing up. Took a dip in ice-cold water of the lake and walked back to my camp to get something to eat and rest.
After yet another meal of daal chawal, I lay down in my tent to rest. Woke up in afternoon and went out to explore the area again. This time hills behind the camp . *First thing I noticed were quite a few dried out ponds, swamps. Some still had that longish grass but no water. A few meters ahead there was a weird small pit, approximately 2-3 meters in diameter with completely black stones. First thing that came in to my mind was something like Devil's Kitchen/fire site....lame, I know. Beyond that there was a dry swampy area with small pits and paths where water used to flow. The area was covered with green grass and most of the pits were still muddy, indicating that the water had dried off not too long ago. Additionally, there were small springs here and there, but the water was too less.
After some time, I left that grassy area to climb the adjoining hills. Chandra river was just on their foothills but it was almost a straight drop of 1000 meters more below. Even that place afforded some amazing views as the river passed through mountains gaining more volume as more streams joined it. At sme places it was just 3-4 meters in width, while at others in was divided in to numerous small streams spread over a large area. After follwoing the river for some distance over the hills, two other campsites were visible just as small specks. The walk after that got a bit difficult as it was almost a steep mountain face that I had to climb down. Upon reaching the foothills, I walked to the river and rested there on it's bank. Never wanted to be anywhere else.
It was getting dark at that time and dark clouds had already covered the sky. So I started to walk back towards my camp. I had to cross one of the campsites along the way and it filthy as hell. The area was full of water bottles, wrappers and other rubbish. Even a small stream flowing near by was choked by plastic bags. Those idiots should be fined and their license canceled.
By the time I reached road which led back to my camp, it stared raining heavily. I put my camera inside my bag and kept on walking. Came across a herd of mules which seemed to be in misgiving mood with no human handler in sight. Gave them a wide berth and kept walking on the road. * AFter 10-12 minutes, the rain stopped and I met Pradhan whose sheep was grazing nearby. His goats on the other hand, were on a mountain half a km away, but still visible. We walked back to Jamaica's camp and found him with some foreign guests. After a cup of tea, Pradhan left but not before reminding me of his invitation for dinner.
Another long post which I'm ending now. More in next post.