Saturday, May 20, 2017

Himalayan ranges from Badan Khet of Timila village (A photo blog)

Himalayan ranges from Badan Khet of Timila village
(A photo blog)
Sunrise as viewed from Badan Khet, Village Timila
         After having visited my pad in the month of January, when I had visited Padampuri & Sitlakhet also and as narrated in my earlier blogs, I had some work and had to visit my pad in Bdan Khet of Timila Village in March, 2017.  The day we reached the place, I found that it was all cloudy and covered with no view of the Himalayas.  But I also did not get time to explore much as I was busy with other chores.  However, during the ensuing days, I not only got some good views, but was able to stitch a panorama of the Himalayan ranges visible from the village.

            I have described the geographical location of this little village in my earlier blogs in detail, but for the benefit of the new viewers I am describing it again.  It is situated on a ridge on the State highway running from Ramnagar (Corbett National Park) to Ranikhet and in between Bhatrauch Khan and Tarikhet, just about 3 Kms. before reaching Tarikhet, while coming from Ramnagar side and is about 14 Kms. from Ranikhet Market.  Placed on a spur of a mountain ridge, the entire valley is open as far as eyes can see and was once the fruit basket of the region, with Apples growing in the region.  But with the climate turning warmer and migration of the people from villages, now hardly any apples grow here, but it is resplendent with Plums, Apricots etc. during the fruiting season.  The scenic beauty of the destination is sublime and as I was unable to find much data about the pictographic description of the peaks that are visible from here, I did some research and am presenting my take on the mountain peaks in the photographs that I am posting in this blog –
The Chaukhamba peaks panorama

The Gangotri peaks panorama
The Hathi & Ghoda peaks panorama
Some unidentified peaks panorama
The Kedar peaks panorama
The Trishul & Nanda Devi peaks
In case any of my readers/viewers have a different opinion about the peaks they are free to post in the comments to correct me.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sitlakhet – a destination of snow & solitude

Sitlakhet – a destination of snow & solitude
Snowfall at Sitlakhet
The name ‘Sitla’ in Hindi means ‘Cool’ and ‘khet’ is ‘farm land’, so the trans-literation of name would be ‘Cool farm land’ or more appropriate would be ‘farms in cool climes’ and during my recent visit I found that it does fits its literal translation.  Sitlakhet is an unspoiled nature’s treasure trove nestled on the lap of a hill, the top of which is occupied by the famed Shyahi Devi temple, overlooking the valleys below it and bestowing it with a nature’s gift unparalleled in the annals.  Perched at an altitude of 1785 meters i.e. the exact elevation of the Tourist Rest House or TRH for short at Sitlakhet, managed by KMVN, which translates to around 6000 feet above MSL (Mean Sea Level).  However, the famed Syahi Devi temple would easily be touching 7000 feet above MSL.  If you search the net for the destination, it would throw up results in name of ‘Anant Rasa’, a resort being run by the famed photographer from Nainital, Sh. Anup Shah.  The place also houses a camping site run by the ‘Discovery Channel’.  The entire verdant valley is cocooned in dense forest of Oaks, Silver birch, pines et al and is nature’s treasure trove in all its splendour. 
Taking a selfie en-route at Mukteshwar
The small market of Sitlakhet
Tourist Rest House run by KMVN at Sitlakhet
            We had started from Padampuri late in the afternoon, as the train was delayed and we had taken a break to have some snacks etc. as detailed in my previous blog.  We headed on the road towards Dhanachuli, but just before reaching Dhari, the driver took a detour through a village road and he took the diversion at Boranshi, being a short cut that runs through small hamlet named Chaukhuta and reaches Kasiyalekh and therefrom through Gangachor to the junction called Bhatelia.  From Bhatelia the road leads towards Mukteshwar and this distance is about 20 odd Kms.  The weather had turned inclement as we commenced with our journey from Padampuri and by the time we approached Mukteshwar, it had started snowing and the children got excited and alighted from the Car at the forest checkpoint to click a few photographs.  The road distance from Mukteshwar to Almora is about 32 Kms. via Sheetla – Khawarbpul.  Having gone past Almora, we headed downstream towards Kosi, a further distance of 10 Kms. and therefrom having crossed the bridge, we headed towards the road leading past the ITBP Camp and the barrage built on Kosi River for supplying drinking water to residents of Almora.  After having gone past a small hamlet named Deoli we reached another nondescript little village named Kharkuna wherefrom the road bifurcates and the straight one towards the right hand side leads on towards Dhali and onwards to Sitlakhet, the total distance being about 27 Kms. from Kosi bridge.  Thus, it was a long haul of almost 80 Kms. that took about three & half hours’ drive because of the weather & road conditions.  As it was getting late, I decided to explore availability of boarding in the TRH and got one as it was in the middle of the week and it usually gets its guests on weekends.
Snow on a tuft of grass
As it snowed intermittently from the evening in Sitlakhet 
The morning after the snow fall in Sitlaket
The author out for a shoot 
            After having checked into the four bedded room, we ordered for some bread pakoras and coffee and as the evening started setting in, the cook Ganesh asked for the dinner order, as the TRH is at an isolated location and Sitlakhet itself is a very small hamlet and thus, in order to procure non-vegetarian or any specific vegetarian food, one has to book well in advance, so that the procurement may be done from either Kathpuriya, Majhkhali or Ranikhet.  Accordingly, we placed our orders and just as we had started enjoying Pakoras & Coffee it started snowing at Sitlakhet.  As the evening slowly merged into the night, the intensity of the snowfall increased with every passing minute, but the children were enjoying the experience immensely.  News came in late in the evening that the person entrusted with the job of procuring our order from the nearby road head was struck in the snow and thus, the order may have to be revised.  The staff of three that runs the TRH had lighted a small bonfire to keep themselves warm and as the electricity got disconnected due to the snowfall, we made a beeline for the space behind the kitchen where the fire wood had been lit, to keep ourselves warm.  However, at around 8.00 P.M some good news poured in that the person assigned the task of procuring Chicken had finally made it to the TRH and we could therefore, relish our next order of hot Chicken soup, that was prepared quickly and served piping hot and for dinner we got served ‘Garlic Chicken’ preparation with rotis/hand baked breads.  The cook Ganesh has some exceptional culinary skills and enjoys his work, which in turn results in some lip-smacking snacks and/or main course meals.
The Shahi Devi temple complex at Sitlakhet
Close up of the Himalayan ranges as seen from Sitlakhet
Panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges as seen from Sitlakhet
Panoramic view of Almora from Sitlakeht
        Bereft of electricity and with a solitary candle light flickering in one corner of the room, we all retired for the night in the cold climes of Sitlakhet and being tired over the day’s journey, all of us fell asleep quickly.  I was the first one to wake up in the morning and immediately peaked outside, although the sunlight was all around, yet the sunlight was only filtering through in patches, as the clouds were in motion in the deep blue sky above.  I got up quickly, completed the morning ablutions and moved out to get some shots with my camera.   As the cloud cover became thinner with passage of the day, by 9.00 A.M. a lot of birds started chirping all around and I had a fabulous time shooting to my heart’s content.   Later in the morning I moved towards the market and headed towards the Shyahi Devi temple.  However, the road that leads to the temple top is neither paved with concrete nor is its surface tarred and hence the vehicles run only for the first half of the journey of three Kms. i.e. one & half kilometres and the remaining half has to be completed on foot by trekking.  Due to the snowfall the vehicles too were not plying or going up the trail and it was not possible to trek up to the temple in the slushy & snowy conditions and therefore, I had to give up any hope of making it to the temple top, however, for the benefit of the readers I am providing with a link to the photographs of the temple -
Himalayan Yellow finch enjoying the Sun after nights snowfall
Return of the Himalayan Griffon - flying high in Sitlakhet
            Not being able to accomplish my target of visiting the temple, I returned back to the TRH and after having partaken the B’fast that is part of the tariff charged for the room, we headed for my pad and en-route went past many a small hamlets till we reached Kathpuriya, which is another small hamlet on the State Highway from Almora to Ranikhet and at a distance of 10 Kms. from Sitlakhet.  On the way I struck up a conversation with the driver of the taxi hired by me Mr. Chandan Singh, who is a local resident and resides near the temple at the hill top and he informed me that Sitlakhet had abundant water being blessed by Shyahi Mata and a natural spring takes care of all local requirement of water and also supplies water to Almora township.  He also informed me that the temple was surrounded by about seven Deodar trees, which appear in shape of two tigers when seen from Almora or other nearby hilltops.  Another small snippet that he provided was the fact that a small village, about 2 Kms. from Sitlakhet called ‘Khoont’, is the ancestral home of the legendary freedom fighter & politician Late Sh. Gobind Ballabh Pant.  As we reached Kathpuriya, one enters the state highway running from Almora to Ranikhet, one has to turn left and head towards Majhkhali and thereafter reach Ranikhet, which is about 18 Kms. from Kathpuriya.  From Ranikhet we rambled down to Ganiadoli, where we made some purchases for daily needs/use for our home and then headed further via Tarikhet to our final destination to our home in Timila.  Thus, ended the winter vacation break journey for the year.
Here is the link to the video for the destination -

© S Roy Biswas

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Padampuri – a nature lover’s delight

Padampuri – a nature lover’s delight
Resorts coming around Padampuri
           Every time I searched google for ‘Padampuri’ in Uttarakhand, it invariably launched a series of responses and mostly it showed up ‘Jilling Estate’, without much of help about the actual details of the destination.  Therefore, I thought of paying a visit to the place sans visiting the said estate, as everyone who is a bit tech savvy would be knowing about it by just surfing the internet.  I thus embarked upon the journey be encompassing Padampuri as a destination during my winter sojourn to my little abode in Ranikhet.  It was a wintery morning in Delhi and getting up at about 4.30 A.M in the morning in the cold January month was an exercise in itself and we reached the New Delhi railway station well in time to board the New Delhi-Kathgodam Shatabdi that leaves at 6.00 A.M in the morning and is scheduled to reach Kathgodam at 11.40 A.M.  However, the day had more agony stored for us, as on that fateful day i.e. 5th January, 2017 the train did not arrive at the platform even 10 minutes prior to its departure time and simultaneously the announcements of other trains being cancelled because of fog were being continually made.  Since there were no announcements being made in respect of our train, random thoughts that it too had been cancelled was gnawing inside the mind.  I started mentally contemplating an alternate arrangement for reaching the destination.  Just then an announcement was made informing the passengers that due to some ‘technical glitch’ the train would leave later, no further details were provided and this kind of announcement continued intermittently, until the train finally arrived at the platform at 8.00 A.M, albeit two hours late.   Thereafter, the journey commenced after about another 10 minutes and we braced ourselves for further delays en-route. 
Aerial view of Chanfi as one heads towards Padampuri
View of the famed 'Jilling Estate' from Padampuri
            The start of the journey appeared to be inauspicious and the train slowly chugged along and finally reached Kathgodam at around 2.25 P.M., the only saving grace for the journey being the considerate approach of the Indian Railways which provided for some Dal & Rice at around 1.00 P.M. to the passengers because of the delay, which is not usually not a scheduled meal during the journey.  Since, I had already pre-booked the taxi wallah, who drops me regularly at my pad in Ranikhet, we did not have to waste much time in either identifying a suitable vehicle or rate etc., as he had already done the needful at the pre-paid booth.  We started from Kathgodam and after travelling for about a Kilometer or so, we started our descent towards Ranibagh, on way to Bhimtal.  The distance from Kathgodam to Bhimtal is about 23 KMs and therefrom one has to reach Khutani, which is about 5 KMs from Bhimtal.  The roads bifurcates from Khutani and one has to take a sharp U-turn towards Champawat/Lohaght road to reach Padampuri.  After passing by Khutani, the next notable inhabited destination in Chanfi, which is 6 KMs from Khutani and is situated in a valley.  Having gone past Chanfi, the road again starts ascending, albeit steeply and after one covers a further destination of about 6 KMs, one reaches Matial village and the trek to the famed ‘Jilling Estate’ starts from here and as the road climbs down about another Kilo meter, one reaches Padampuri, situated in the valley below, where two rivulets conjunct.  It is small nondescript little hamlet situated in the lap of nature, as if ensconced in a timeless warp.
The ancestral home of Sh. N.D Tiwari ernstwhile Chief Minister of UP & Uttarakhand in Padampuri
Traditional farming methods being used to cultivate potatoes
Modern technology is also creeping in slowly to replace or methods of farming 
As we were already late, we headed directly for the Tourist Rest House (TRH in short) Padampuri, managed by the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (KMVN in short).  It is situated right on the State Highway heading towards Champawat district of the State.  Initially we decided to stay overnight at the destination, but decided against it as the rooms there were poorly maintained with seepage in toilets and rooms giving a shabby appearance to the entire structure.  However, the staff posted there were very co-ordial and helpful and especially the cook Mohinder, had excellent culinary skill and fed the famished souls with delectable pakoras, omelettes & coffee.  After having placed the order for snacks etc., we walked down the road upto the village square, wherefrom the ashram of famed Sombari baba is stone’s throw away and having visited the temple complex, we headed back to the TRH.  Padampuri is also known as the birth place of the mercurial but controversial Congress leader of yester years, Sh. Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who had been the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for quite some time, his ancestral home is still inhabited by his extended family.
The famed Sombari Baba ashram in Padampuri
A photo of famed Sombari Baba sourced from the net
Where the Vultures dare - Himalayan Griffon in flight in Padampuri
             Padampuri is a combination of tradition & modernity, perched at an altitude of 875 MSL or about 3000 feet above MSL (measured by me through altimeter inbuilt in my wristwatch), it has a moderate climate, but gets colder in winters as it is surrounded by high peaks that allows only minimal sunshine hours in a day.  The main economic activity of the village revolves around agriculture, as there is sufficient availability of water in its vicinity.  I found a lot of poly-houses and on enquiries found out that floriculture has become an important activity for sustenance and coupled with this many resorts on hill tops around Padampuri are coming up.  The river that runs up from the Sombari Baba ashram is a treasure trove of avian fauna and a famed water-fall is situated further ahead in the river, but the same is visible in its entirety only during the monsoon season.  I found out a link to the photograph of the said water fall, which may be accessed by my readers by following this link -  
View from Tourist Rest House, Padampuri
A traditional Kumaoni home in Padampuri -
it had started raining as we were to commence with our journey towards Sitlakhet
It would not be justified if I do not mention a little about the famed Sombari Baba, who was named so because he used to launch a community lunch for the villagers every Monday i.e. Sombar/Somvar in Hindi.  An associate of the famed Haira Khan Baba, he was an ascetic of the famed cadre of saints who roamed the Kumaon Hills during the early 1900s.  The region still echoes with legends about them. Sombari Baba was also one of the teachers of Swami Rama whose master, Bengali Baba had sent him to Sombari Baba during his early days.  The present ‘mathadish’ or head of sect is Swami Parmanand Puriji Maharaj, born in 1889 AD, was not present at the Padampuri ashram, but was away to Gurgaon, Haryana on request of one of his disciples, who despite being about 127 years old and having had two major surgeries, he still appears to be going strong, although I was not fortunate enough to meet him.  Thus, ended our brief but pleasant encounter with Padampuri.
 Here is the link to the video for the destination -

© S Roy Biswas

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Khari Mandari – a lesser known trekking destination of Manali

Khari Mandari – a lesser known trekking destination of Manali

Way to Khari Mandari 
I have not been able to write a blog for a long.. long time because of my personal pre-occupation and consequent confinement either in Delhi or at most visiting my home in Ranikhet.  Therefore, I had nothing much to write about.  A few days back a friend of mine working in Delhi Development Authority, where treks for the employees are conducted annually & regularly, which is a healthy practice, informed me about the destination .  While discussing his last trekking trip organized by his office, he mentioned the name of a place called Khari Mandari, which he had visited with the office group and recounted some funny anecdotes that occurred during the said trek.
As I found the place to be of some interest to me, I tried to gather some information from the internet, but to my dismay there was no information available about this destination.  So I contacted my friend again and sought some detailed information from him about the destination along with some photographs and this narration is a third party account of the visit, as informed by my friend.  I am undertaking the same so that this nondescript destination of Manali finds mention in the internet and for benefit of my blog readers.
Heading towards Jogini falls
Almost there at Jogini falls
The famed Jogini falls
The journey had commenced late in the evening from the office premises near INA Market, New Delhi and as it was around the month of September, so all the participants had been instructed to carry some jackets and woolens, as the weather in the mountains can take a turn for worse at any time without any prior indication.  Everyone was in high spirits singing and cracking jokes with their friends & groups, who had managed to get seats next to each other in the bus.  The initial destination was Manali, which is about 550 Kms. from Delhi and takes 12-14 hours to reach.  After initial hullaballoo, everyone settled in for some sleep, which was hard to come by due to constant jumps and jerks of the bus.  The bus took the NH-1 till Chandigarh (about 227 Kms.), which takes about 4-5 hours to reach and thereafter, one has to take NH-21 and it takes about 8-10 hours from Chandigarh to reach Manali, which is about 330 Kms.  By the time most of the participants had woken up, we stopped somewhere beyond Chandigarh in a nondescript place for the morning ablutions & a cup of hot Tea / Chai, as arranged by the tour operator.  Refreshed, we commenced with the journey and by late-morning had reached our destination and immediately checked into the Bahang base camp on the Manali -Leh highway.  After briefing and allotment of tent and freshening up followed by lunch, we all were allowed to rest for the day and everyone had a sound sleep till late evening, tired from the overnight journey.
The tents at Bahang
The tent site at Boggi
Tent site at Sarai - the base camp for Khari Mandari
            The next day i.e. day two of arrival in Manali, although it was bright and sunny, yet there was a nip of cold in the air.  After breakfast, we headed for the famed Jogini falls for acclimatization.  The fall was really spectacular, falling from a height of a hundreds of feet.  Having trekked back to the base camp for the night, we all were provided with some basic hiking equipment and instructions to be followed for the trek that was to commence from the next morning i.e. day three after arrival at Manali.  The next morning i.e. day three of arrival at Manali, we all proceeded for Boggi, after early B’fast we left by Jeep that dropped us at Jagatsukh.  Boggi is situated at an altitude of 2500 meters above MSL and after alighting from the Jeeps, we started for the first leg of the trek of about 10 Kms. and having got past Banara village, camp was setup in a meadow close to alpine forest and everyone provided with packed lunch.  Although the trek gradient was easy, but having walked for 10 Kms., we just tore into our lunch packs.  Evening was free and we all enjoyed the surroundings.  The fourth morning was scheduled for trek from Boggi to Sarai, another 10 Kms. trek passing through some undulating meadows interspersed by some gradual climbs and by late afternoon we managed to reach Sarai, perched at an altitude of 3050 meters above MSL, where camps had been set up in a small clearing.  We retired for the night at this camp, as it was to be our base camp for final assault to Khari Mandari.
As we start our trek towards Khari Mandari - distant view of Pir Panjal ranges under cloud cover - view from below Fa Kanda ridge
View of the camp below from the Fa Kanda ridge
Khari Mandari top - view of the alpine destination
            On the fifth day since our arrival on Manali, after having taken early breakfast, we started our climb towards Khari Mandari.  As we started the climb, we found it to be toughest of the trek.  The trek endures constant climbing and gradual gaining of height upto Fa-Kanda ridge situated at an altitude of 3500 meters above MSL.  The tour guide informed us that we could get spectacular views of Pirpanjal and Chandra Bhaga ranges, but as the sky was overcast, we could not get a glimpse of the same.  We reached the Khari Mandari, which is a meadow perched at considerable height and after taking rest for about half an hour, we started our trek back to the base camp at Sarai for overnight stay at the camp.  Early next morning i.e. the sixth day of arrival, we started our downward trek passing by the same meadows & forest fringes retracing through small hamlets or villages named Tilgan, Suru and reached Priini, wherefrom the Jeep picked us up from near an old bridge and took us to Manali for an afternoon outing in the township.  The next day we returned to Delhi, thus ending our trekking trip.
© S Roy Biswas

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Yamuna Bio-diversity Park – a nature reclamation story

Yamuna Bio-diversity Park – a nature reclamation story
(A photo-blog)
Lotus in bloom in Yamuna Biodiversity Park phase-II
Brochure of the Yamuna Bio-diversity Park
The hind side of the brochure - displaying the map & location of the Park
I read the following article in the ‘Pioneer’ some time back and would like to reproduce a part from it - “Rapid industrialization and human encroachments had left the Capital bereft of its natural glory. The development of this wilderness has set an example for not just States within our country but also countries across the globe that are now trying to emulate this nature reserve. Recently we had a delegation of Canadian students to visit the park. Researchers from Britain and France have also come in the recent times to the park,” said CR Babu, environment professor at Delhi University….the Yamuna Biodiversity Park has about 1,000 species of flowering plants which used to exist in the flood plains several decades ago. These species have been thriving in the form of 20-25 plant communities. It also has moist deciduous forests, dry deciduous forests tropical thorn forests, scrub grasslands and the most biologically rich grasslands. “The Yamuna Biodiversity Park is based on the ecosystem model. It is a 10-year-old plantation. The ecosystem is fully developed. All the faunal elements have come on their own…”.  Being a nature enthusiast, I was planning to visit the destination since then, but could not precisely locate it on the map.  I was working for a few years in the Delhi Development Authority and was aware of the such a project, but the tight schedule kept me from visiting it.  However, when I returned to my parent cadre of Delhi Government, I got posted in the Transport Department and further to that got deployed in Burari.  I knew that the Park was in the vicinity, but no one seemed to have a clear idea about the place.  I once tried by going towards the Wazirabad barrage, but could not locate it.  Later, I found out some local contact and was able to visit the destination for the first time November, 2015 and as many birds had not arrived, I took another chance in end December, 2015 but it appears that Delhi and its surroundings have been given a pass over this year by the migratory birds as the day temperatures had remained much higher than normal throughout.
Common Moorhen in the Yamuna Bio-diversity Park
Common teal in the Yamuna Bio-diversity Park phase-II
Egret in action in the Yamuna Bio-diversity Park - phase-II

Purple Heron in the Yamuna Bio-diversity Park - phase-II
     The brochure and website for the destination informs that this project had been conceptualized & designed in association with the academia from the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), Delhi University and other prominent institutes & Scientists, the park has been intelligently demarcated on the basis of utility. There is a visitor's zone with an Interpretation Centre & a Domesticated Biodiversity Zone facilitating awareness trips & research. The result is an area of over 400 Acres depicting a rich kaleidoscope of flora & fauna in the middle of a metropolis desperately looking for more green lungs.  Having visited the place in person and having a Honors Degree in Botany from Delhi University, from the little knowledge I hold, I would agree that the team has done an appreciable work in restoring the flora & fauna as per the habitat and efforts have been made to source the naturally occurring endemic species and help them proliferate.  The emphasis on natural flora has in turn attracted the local avian fauna, as natural food like berries & fruits have become available to them and thus, the effort to nudge in the nature for reclamation of the land has paid rich dividends.  The park is now in process of doing a second project nearby and the work in this respect has already started for the second phase, which is located nearby, but with a larger area and huge water reservoir.  The link to the website for further information is -

Cormorants flocking together at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park
On for the hunt - Cormorants in Yamuna Bio-diversity Park
At present there are three Birding hot spots that are regularly explored by birders from Delhi and NCR to watch and photograph various species of birds – Okhla Bird Sanctuary (which I have covered in my earlier blog), Yamuna Biodiversity Park and Yamuna Khadar.  The Yamuna Biodiversity Park is situated in Burari areas Jagatpur Village, in North Delhi and spread across an area of 457-acres of nature’s reserve, which has been especially created to replicate the lost ecosystems of the Yamuna river and reclaim the area by restoring its natural habitat. Once a barren land, it now houses wetlands and forests, sheltering over 1500 plants, insects, birds, fish and mammal species.   Yamuna Khadar is basically a wide partly cultivated and partly barren land on Yamuna bank which can be covered from Jagatpur Bandh Marg which connects Wazirabad Road near Wazirabad crossing on outer Ring road. The road goes almost parallel to Yamuna and few marsh areas can be seen alongside and this is being developed as Phase-II of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park.  In years to come, if this ecological experiment continues in the right earnest the naturalists in the coming years will have the delight of watching more exotic migratory birds etc. visiting the spot.   The Yamuna Biodiversity Park is a must visit destination for all nature lovers, as it will provide encouragement to do a little for the environment and help it regain its balance.
A cacophony of water birds in the Yamuna Biodiversity Park - phase-II

River gulls wading in the amuna Biodiversity Park - phase-II