Bering Nag Temple – Sangla – Kinnaur

One of the most important Hindu temples, located in the heart of Kinnaur, in Sangla village, Bering Nag temples is a must visit destination. Dedicated to Lord Jagas, a form of Lord Shiva, this temple is worshiped by the locals and Hindus with great devotion.

As you walk through the beautiful pink flowers and old houses, and approach towards the temple, you start getting a wonderful feeling of happiness and excitement. Locals are always cheerful and helpful and will guide you towards the temple.

The premises of the temple have three major buildings, a Hindu temple, a Monastery, and a beautifully crafted store house.

Best time to visit : Any month, but our favorite is April when the Apricot blossom are in abundance and a walk to the temple feels like walking through a pink valley. September is another good month as you can experience some of the beautiful festivals during that time. Winter is better avoided as this places gets covered under snow. Though we are planning to visit it in summer very soon.

How to reach : Nearest Airport is Chandigarh, then a journey by Taxi.

This temple could be a part of your bigger journey to Kinnaur.

 

As you walk through the beautiful Apricot trees

An old Kinnauri lady, with the lovely pink apricot flowers in the background

This is nothing less than nirvana

Don’t miss the beautiful old houses on the way to the temple

View of the temple and the village

Old but bullet proof architecture

And the temple premises

And the temple premises

Old houses on the way, take a break and enjoy these marks of the history

Natural frames 🙂

Apricot Blossom at its best

Chitkul – The last inhabited village

Situated in the beautiful Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh is this last inhabited village, before the indo-China border.

Accessible through road from Shimla side, via Rampur, Karcham and Sangla, it takes around 6-8 hours of drive from Shimla, in good weather.

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Chitkul in winter

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Looking at the village from Satluj

 

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As the sun sets over old temple

 

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As the sun sets

 

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Getting ready for winter

 

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Another day for the villagers

 

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Old house in the village, still used, they are best in winters

 

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Temple at Chitkul village

 

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Temple at Chitkul village

 

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From the village, watching towards border

 

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Old temple

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A night at Chitkul, the pic explains how beautiful a night view can be

 

 

 

 

 

Phone Connectivity in Spiti Valley

Updated : July 2017

 

If staying connected with the outer world is important for you while you are travelling to Spiti valley, following table will help you prepare better. I always carry a BSNL/MTNL Postpaid with me along with Airtel Postpaid.

 

In Spiti valley, only BSNL (both prepaid and postpaid) works in roaming.

 

Table below is based on my usage and experience and it keep changing frequently in terms of new areas added or no signals because of no power or any landslide breaking the cables.

 

So plan your connectivity needs in advance, complete or delay any urgent communication before or after the trip.Data speed is 2G right now, but work is progress of the 3G cabling.

 

Note : I have no association with Airtel, BSNL or Reliance Jio, this is my experience based on what I am using right now.

Chadar Trek – Layer of White in Zanskar valley

Lets start with a bit of history on Chadar trek without getting too deep into it. Chadar trek is an old trade trek used by Zanskaris to travel from Zanskar regions to other part of Ladakh in winter. Perhaps its the only way to connect to the world, and that’s when the part of Zanskar river freezes and makes a surface to walk on. At an altitude of around 11K feet and winter temperature of around -25 degree Celsius, this trek offers a sense of challenge to many of the trekkers and photographers.

Inception

During so many of my winter trips to Ladakh, I see hundreds of excited souls, busy in preparing for Chadar trek, in hotels, Leh market, Except me just roaming around with 10 Kg of camera and lenses. May I am just too lazy for all that mess or and I have gone into a comfort zone.

 

But winter in Ladakh is not a comfort zone itself, so where is the gap. May be I never cared about marrying trekking and photography seriously. And then I searched all pics and videos on Chadar trek to kill the curiosity, which only ended up in much more stronger curiosity.

 

The only way to calm down that urge and curiosity, was to do it myself. Considering I am not a trekking guy, to the extent that I never did serious trekking ever in my life, except some day walks, this was a serious challenge for a first timer.

 

Side Note : After doing the last Chadar trek, I think I am addicted to this one, so you can expect more pics and videos coming up in 2017 😀

Preparation

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For me there were three major categories of preparation for the trip:

  1. Preparing myself – getting into the required fitness level.
  2. Preparing for myself – all the gears, cloths etc, the most easy one, as I had all I needed except few things
  3. Myself – Photography, planning cameras, batteries, shooting plan etc, the critical one for me.

 

Fitness was my most weakest point in the whole chain, since I started thinking about Chadar trek and few other treks. It was more so important for me as I was planning to carry heavy photography gears on my back, and I did carried almost 13-14 kg on back for the trek.

My schedule for the exercise was pretty simple,

  • 3.5 km in 30 minutes (walk, run, sprint), 4 days in a week,
  • Stretching exercise for back, shoulder and neck.
  • Yoga, this was new for me, I regularly did Kapal Bharti, Anulom Vilom and Surya Namaskar for last 60 days before the trek.

The other thing I did daily was an hour walk (in evening as it gets dark, to avoid the embarrassment 😀  ) on my roof lawn with 14 Kg of backpack on my back. I know by now my neighbors have started considering me crazy, but it helped me in the trek.

 

Gears was the most easiest problem I had to solve. Considering that I had been to Ladakh in winter for multiple times, I had to buy only very few things, very specific to the trek. I will try to post the full list of things in another post, but you can see few scrolls down of what all I carried

 

Photography preparation was another tough task, what to pack and what to leave. Eventually I carried my widest best lens and my best tele lens with two bodies. And then many other photography stuff you can see in the video. Practically if given the task of carrying just one body and lens, I would go with any of my bodies and my widest lens.

https://youtu.be/sThIxfMRYzo

Route

Leh –> Chilling –> Tilak Sumdo –> Shigra Koma –> Chumo –> Tibb –> Nyerak Pullu –> Lingshed –> Pishu –> Zangla –> Padum

There are many version of the trek, the shorter version is upto Nyerak and back which takes around 7-8 days. The full chadar trek all the way to Padum and back takes around 22-24 days.

Note : I haven’t done the full trek yet, did it till Chumo only as the river was not frozen enough for us to walk over it.

 

Photography on Chadar

In Chadar trek and I guess most of the other serious treks, the one thing that gets compromised the most, is the camera and gears and which is fair. If you are on a trek, you do not want to drag yourself with heavy backpack and then getting yourself hurt, clicking no good pics. So rather people carry simplest gears to just click memories.

 

The problem for me is, I am not a trekker. I don’t do treks because I want to tick a trek in my list. Photography is the top most priority for me in a drive trip or treks and that is the major reason I explore places.

 

With that clear in my mind, it was obvious that I was carrying more than the recommended gears, and I did a lot of practice for the same.

 

Because I was carrying almost 7 Kgs of photography gears, bag and case itself for 2 kg, water for 1 Kg, other misc stuff of 2-3 Kg, I offloaded some of my extra cloths, tripod, bigger medicine pouch, and some other things to the porter in a separate bag (on paid basis).

 

In terms of photography opportunities, its just plenty at every 20 meters. I carried one one of my camera out all the time with my 14-24 lens, and one camera with 70-200 mm lens in the bag. Its only when I had to climb mountains where Chadar is not frozen, I packed all the cameras inside my bag to focus more on the safe crossing of the mountain.

 

Night photography was super fun, with temperature not dipping down much during night. Though it was not the best time to shoot Milk-way but I could still shoot the tail of it. Stars were visible in plenty anyways.

 

Do’s and Don’t

5 Do’s:

  • Do carry best of your warm cloths, but ensure you are comfortable in it.
  • Acclimatize for a day or so at Leh, before heading out for the trek.
  • Carry the best of your photography gears, every day on chadar trek is a different and unique day.
  • Exercise and Yoga, at-least couple of months before the trek.
  • Just enjoy and expose yourself to cold a bit.

5 Dont’s

  • Over exert on first few days in Ladakh. As they say, “Don’t try to be a Gama in the land of Lama”
  • Stop eating even if you start loosing appetite.
  • Venture out on your own, without following the guide, Chadar can be lethal if you do not hear to your guide.
  • Consume alcohol or smoke for first few days (avoid completely if possible)
  • Destroy the beauty of nature or pollute the place. Bring back your garbage where you can dispose it properly.

 

5 Best things

  • The views are just amazing of-course.
  • It challenges your mental fitness more than the physical fitness.
  • You make some great friends, under the toughest weather conditions.
  • Its a heaven for photographers.
  • Best hospitality by Ladakhis

 

5 Bad things

  • Global warming is impacting the Chadar, its not freezing properly.
  • Trek is becoming too common, specifically few fancy short version of the trek.
  • Many people visiting for the trek have no respect for the place and they litter everywhere.
  • If you are going for photography, joining a big 2o people group will be a bad experience.
  • Trek operators are not prepared for rescue and medical emergencies.

 

Myths and Realities

Myth : Zanskar river freezes completely and you can walk over it anywhere

Reality : no way, during the most of the trek only the edges of the river freezes, in the center its always gushing water,at places it doesn’t even freeze at all, and at places where Zanskar is narrow, it freezes completely on the top

 

Myth : Temperature gets down to -40 degree Celsius

Reality : Not anymore, I haven’t seen temperature going down lower than -20 degree Celsius

 

Myth : Trek is simple, you just have to walk over the frozen river

Reality : Na da, you wade through bone chilling water, you climb through “death guaranteed if slip” mountains, I think only 50% of the trek in simple walk, 50% is just unpredictable.

 

NOTE : I am not a Chadar Trek expert or any trek expert, these are my views based on my recent trek to Chadar.

Enjoy few Pictures

 

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Colors unlimited

 

 

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Amazing patterns of Frozen Zanskar river

 

 

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Some hidden caves

 

 

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Yours truly, taking a short breather

 

 

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Home for the porters and local during the trek

 

 

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Marching on

 

 

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Isn’t it a dream couch

 

 

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The warriors of the trek – Porters

 

 

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Frozen water falls on the way

 

 

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This is how your tents, sleeping bags, and food are carried all the way

 

 

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Home sweet home

 

 

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Spend some time with porters, you will get to hear amazing stories 🙂

 

 

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And the amazing sunset views

 

 

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Billion star hotel

 

 

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Water is a luxury, even if you are walking on frozen form of it

 

 

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And the gang, I made some great friends during the trek

 

 

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First step on Chadar

 

 

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Chadar can make you fall in love with mountains

 

 

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I can just watch it, words fall short to appreciate and explain this place

 

 

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And don’t be too serious, you need to have some fun

 

 

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yellowpeaks.com mug on the frozen zanskar river

 

 

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The mast gang

 

 

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Chadar dance, Bruce Lee style

 

 

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Glass Walk

 

Copyright © 2016 Yellow Peaks. All Rights Reserved. All images are copyright of Rajiv Kumar and Yellow Peaks, and can not be reproduced in any form

 

Landscape shots from flight to Leh

During my so many trips to Ladakh, there are few trips where I don’t drive myself, rather have no choice to drive my self. And mostly these are the winter trips to Ladakh. As somebody said long time back, “Journey is much important than Destination”, flight journey to Ladakh is always short and sweet.

 

But more than short and sweet, flight to Leh can throw some amazing views to you, importance of some of them I realized recently through the Himalayan gurus. Views of Nun and Kun peaks was always a charm. And just recently I experienced the magical views of Nanda Devi peak.

 

What’s more thrilling was to see Kinnar Kailash peak from top. I spent many hours sitting at Kalpa, clicking sunrise and sunset on Kinner Kailash, but realized that I saw Kinner Kailash from air as well.

 

I am still out of luck on K2 and Nanga Parbhat, but I am sure mountain god will shower the blessing for the same as well, soon.

 

Imagine watching Sangam (Indus and Zanskar river confluence) from air and while you must have watched the confluence from road, few days before, standing right in front of the confluence.

 

Leh city, Zanskar ranges, Nanga Parbat, Moore plains and so many other places looks so beautiful from air.

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You can see Pang camps and the start of Moore plains

 

 

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Moore plains and the lovely road crossing through it

 

 

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Sangam and Nimmu village

 

 

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Flight view of Leh city, lets see how many prominent places you can find

 

 

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Indus and Zanskar river confluence, as see in February 2016

 

 

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Lovely Glaciers

 

 

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Kamet peak in the center top

 

 

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HVK Forum – All India Meet 2015 – Shoja

What happens when a big group of drive and travel enthusiasts from all over India gather in a small, cold and remote village of Himalayas? They create a festival of their own.

 

For me, it was wonderful meet with some of my old pals, and some new faces I was connected with on Facebook. And there was another agenda on list, doing the winter camping, which I did through the AIM, with great fun.

 

Shoja, the meet location is like a backyard for me, being there couple of times before but mostly in summers. Driving there in winter was a new for me, and doing camping in winter another new for me. So overall it was a wonderful and small winter drive.

 

We missed most of All India Meets because all of them were planned when I am also on my family drive during winter, but fortunately/Unfortunately my family drive was cancelled this time and I found a small slot to attend the meet.

 

I camped at PWD Rest house for the first day of the meet, with temperature dropping to -11 degree Celsius at night, but not very good views. Next day I moved down a bit and camped at Mountain View hotel.

 

It was fun to take a ride on JCB from Shoja to Jalori pass, I could have walked faster than JCB and reached earlier though 😀 . But the conversation with the driver of  JCB was interesting and enlightening. He gave some wonder information about the place. A walk to Serolsar Lake was in mind but I dropped it due to shortage of time. I think 4WD vehicle owners had some good fun driving all the way to Jalori pass.

 

Luckily weather was fantastic and sunny for both the days we stayed at Shoja, while I am sure many people wished for heavy snow fall, including myself.

 

I attempted Prashar lake on 3rd day but failed due to ice on road for last 6 kilometer. It was too risky to drive and it was already late to walk for that last 5 kilometer, but will do it soon.

 

Enjoy the pics from the trip 🙂

 

 

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PWD Rest House Shoja

 

 

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Walk to Jalori Pass

 

 

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Jalori Pass

 

 

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Jalori Pass

 

 

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Cloud formation – Jalori Pass

 

 

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Jalori Pass

 

 

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Gang at PWD Rest House

 

 

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Gang at PWD Rest House

 

 

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Meet and Greet session

 

 

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Sunset at Shoja

 

 

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What a perfect moon for the AIM

 

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Dhauladhar range from Shoja

 

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Dhauladhar range from Shoja

 

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Dhauladhar range from Shoja

 

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Magical sunset on the way to Prashar Lake

 

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And the gang

 

 

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Ladakh in Winter – Planning and Preparing

While travelling to Ladakh in winter is an amazing experience, which is next to none, it needs lots of planning and preparation, specially for those travelling to such cold places for the first time. Its always good to have few tips handy when you are planning this trip. I have penned down some of experiences from my winter trips to Ladakh.

 

Cloths

Keeping yourself warm is the most important thing while travelling to Ladakh or any other mountain region in winter, rest everything else comes next.

 

Warm inner is absolute must, but not the cotton one, get a pair of synthetic warm inner, 2nd layer of thick fleece, out layer of warm waterproof jacket, I personally prefer a down jacket.

 

For legs, I use a warm inner, with a thick foam filled pant over it. Just in case if it gets really cold I wear a middle layer of fleece pant, though it becomes very uncomfortable with three layers on, makes the movement of limbs really tough.

 

A balaclava as first layer to cover your head, ear and part of face. Remember that ugly cap that your Mom used to force on you when you were kid and how much you disliked it?, that’s exactly what you need now :D.  I use a second layer of normal woolen cap

 

Gloves: I use a double layer of gloves, inner layer of fleece gloves and outer layer or water proof thick skiing gloves. Every time I need to click a picture, I just remove the out thick layer and can manage photography with fleece layer on. That way its little less painful during photography.

 

Shoes and socks: no matter what you wear, your feet will always be cold. It’s a matter of adjusting to it.

 

But as basics, I recommend a good quality shoes, ankle high is better. And double layer of socks, with inner nylon and outer thick woolen.

 

Just in case if you miss buying gloves, caps or socks, you can get some good stuff in Leh market. You can even get it cheaper there, worth giving it a shot.

 

Food
While struggling with cold and high altitude, the first thing that you start loosing is proper diet. And with altitude hitting the body, the overall food appetite goes down drastically, and limited options of food makes things more complicated. The quick solution is to have plenty of soup with garlic, and have some Ladakhi bread with it. I find it absolutely boring and tough eating rice and lentil in this situation. Thukpa somehow still goes in well, may be because of it soup form.

 

Chocolates or nutrition bars also works well in case of lost appetite.

 

For emergency, I keep some cup noodles handy, just pour in some boiling water and you have something to keep the stomach happy. This happened with us in January 2015, when we took a chance and got the access to Dumchok region by luck, but we found nothing for stay or food in Koyule or Fukche. Eventually we had to drive back to Chumathang, which we reached by 10 pm driving over the snow. We were without food since morning but luckily I had boiling water in thermos and few cup noodles in my bag. It saved the day for me and the pilot, can’t forget the day eating noodles over the frozen Nyoma section in dark.

 

Water

Another very important thing to maintain during this trip in winter is keeping yourself hydrated.  I keep two 1 ltr steel thermos with during any winter trip. Fill one with super boiling water and other with lukewarm drinking water. Those thermos from milton or few other brands are really good and keep water super warm up to 12 hours and sometime even more.

 

Besides these two bottles, I keep another 2-4 litter of water in stock, but keep it wrapped in some blanket or else it will freeze and will be useless.

 

Taxi

Taxi is not cheap during winter, rates remains the same throughout the year, but most of the taxi owners will provide some good discounts. I always prefer to hire my trusted ones even if they cost me more because of following:

 

1. They know every corner of Ladakh.

2. I don’t have to worry about stay, they arrange it for all places.

3. Their cars are in best shape, they love their cars like a family members.

4. They are always winter ready with things like shovel, snow chains etc.

5. They know the tricks of surviving in winter and keep the cars running in night as well.

 

Discuss your plan with your driver in advance as they can recommend if its possible or not. Make sure you check the car for the trip properly, it should have good tires (all five), should have shovel, tow rope and snow chains.

 

Flight

Flight is the only way to reach Leh in winter, all passes from Kashmir and Manali shuts down with heavy snow by the end of November or early December and opens only in May/June next year.

 

If you are lucky, you can get away with some cheap flight tickets during winter. I have got it as low as 5000 INR in past, last I got was for 7500 INR. There are chances of flight getting cancelled due to bad weather or snow on the runway, be mentally prepared for delays and flight cancellations.

 

Hotels/Guest Houses/Home Stay

Most of the hotel in Leh city close for winter but for few owned by locals. I had experience staying in hotels like Shanti Guest House, Oriental, Panorama (all on Changspa road). Majority of the hotels have centralized heating now with time controlled heating in morning and evening. few years back, the only way of room heating was gas heaters, which were painful oxygen suckers. Booking in advance is better considering the low supply of rooms in winter.

 

Beyond Leh, staying options are quite limited to guest houses and home stays. Like for Pangong Tso, you best option to stay is at Tangste, with few home stays remain open during winter. For Nubra, Hunder village have few guest houses which remain open. For Chumathang, the best is Padma Lodge with heating from sulphur spring. In Hanle I have always stayed with Sonam Dorjey (Padma Guest House) in Hanle village.

 

Your best source of information on where to stay is your taxi driver, just setup a friendly chord with him and you will be surprised at the kind of information and places he can share with you.

 

Permits/Permissions

All the rules and regulations remains the same in winter as in summer. Perhaps the authorities are little more liberal in terms of giving permits to the restricted areas during winter. You will still need to fill in the self declaration form at the defined check posts.

 

Photography

I am sure its a silly question to ask but, “What can I capture in Ladakh during winter?” And the list is long, very very long

To summarize few,

  • Frozen Landscape : That’s the reason you go to Ladakh in winter. A majestic mix of River, Snow, Sand, Mountains and Ice, all in one frame.
  • Ice Hockey : Not many people know that India have a world class Ice Hockey team from Ladakh, you can see live matches during winter.
  • Wildlife : In plenty, you just need that eye, people spend their life time in Ladakh to capture Snow Leopard.
  • Frozen Lakes and Rivers : Frozen Pangong Tso is one rare sight in itself, and add to that are frozen Indus, Hanle and Zanskar rivers.
  • Festivals : Spituk Festival, Hemis Festival, Dosmochey, Mathe Festival. You have to struggle to find a nice spot amongst the excited set of locals.
  • Monasteries : While you can click monasteries in Ladakh any time of the year, you get the best colors either in late summer or winter.
  • Culture : Its a bonus for street photographer, as life goes on in Ladakh even at -25 degree celcius.

 

Alot of people have asked me about any special care required for the photography gears during winter in Ladakh. the answer is nothing special, most of the professional gears and even amateur gears now a days are quite tough and weather proof. Just carry few extra batteries and keep them warm inside your jacket.

Most importantly keep yourself warm during all that enthusiasm of photography.


Sample Plan: You can try different combinations

Day 1 : Arrive at Leh, check-in to hotel, acclimatize and roam around in Leh city, without pushing too much today. May be you can arrange your permits today

Day 2 : Explore around Leh, Alchi, Lamayuru etc, night stay back at Leh

Day 3 : Leh – Chumathang, night stay at Chumathang

Day 4 : Chumathang – Tso Moriri – Nyoma – Hanle, with night stay at Hanle, this will be a long day and access to lake depends on the amount of snow on the road, worst case you can still go to Puga and visit ice cone at sulphur springs.

Day 5 : Hanle – Loma – Chagga – Chagga La – Chusul – Spangmik – Tangste. Again this route is purely dependent on snow. I had to turn back from chagga village due to heavy snow.

Day 6 : Tangste – Pangong Tso – Tangste – Chang La – Leh, night stay at Leh

Day 7 : Leh – Khardung La – Diskit – Hunder (night stay at either Diskit or Hunder)

Day 8 : Hunder – Leh

Day 9 : Fly out of Leh

 

Random Tips

  • Along with high SPF sun cream, keep a good amount of pure mustard oil handy, as your skin will get dry and rough and not cream will work at such harsh and dry weather. You can buy mustard oil from Leh market.
  • If you have a tendency of hands and feet getting cold, you can buy few chemical warmers available at trekking stores.
  • Use your spare cap or socks to store batteries and electronic items. Batteries will keep the charge much longer when warm.
  • Keep plenty of toilet paper rolls handy, you will only get dry toilets at many places, and using cold water will be painful 😀 .

 

Places in winter

Pangong Tso : If you seen this lake in summers, you are up for a wonderful surprise to see it frozen completely.

Ladakh in Winter_58_Day 6

 

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Spangmik : My favorite place for stay overnight when I visit Pangong Tso lake

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Chusul/Tsaga La

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Hanle : The view gets better and better in winter, and you can see the frozen tributaries of Hanle rivers passing through the valley. Do visit Hanle monastery, as you get so see the vast Hanle valley from top of it.

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Chumathang : Its a beautiful halt point on the way to Hanle or Tso Moriri, famous for its hot sulphur springs and you do get boiling water out of the springs in winter.

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Leh : While its becoming another tourist city in India, it is still beautiful and amazing. Views from Shanti Stupa during sunset and sunrise are priceless.

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Lamayuru : A day drive to Lamayuru is fun, and watching the Indus-Zanskas confluence is different experience in winter.

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Winter Treks in Ladakh

The most famous one is Chadar Trek, where you walk over the frozen Zanskar river for days. Some other treks you can explore are Markha Valley trek, Stok Kangri and Snow Leopard trek in Hemis National Park. There are few more, but doing these treks in winters makes it much more difficult and treacherous.

 

You can read one of my travel story for winter in Ladakh here.[custom_button style=”btn_large btn_type10″ icon=”icon-location-arrow” target=”_self” href=”http://yellowpeaks.com/travelling-to-ladakh-in-winter”]Travelogues – Ladakh in winter[/custom_button] Checkout my article on Photography in Winter[custom_button style=”btn_large btn_type7″ icon=”icon-camera” target=”_self” href=”http://yellowpeaks.com/photography-in-extreme-winter”]Photography in Winter[/custom_button]

Lake the Majestica – Chandra Taal

Situated right at the heart of Himachal Pradesh, Spiti, India and at an altitude of 4300 meters is this beautiful and magical Chandra Taal Lake. You get the surprise of your life when you see a beautiful colourful lake right in the middle of nowhere.

 

Best Time to Visit:

It’s connected to Batal – Kaza road through a gravel road of around 25 kilometer, and accessible from June till October, and remains snowed out during winter. Driving is the only option to the lake, other than trekking from Kunzum.

Stay:

Generally private camps are up by early June and stays there till late September. Camping area is situated 4 kms before the lake, and you can also pitch your own tent.

No camping is allowed around the lake to preserve the lake and ecosystem.

You also have option to stay at Losar village which is 60 km from the lake, with little better resources and phone connectivity. Some other options are PWD guest Houses at Batal and Losar.

How to reach

Driving by road is your only option as of now, and either you drive your own car or hire taxi from Manali, Shimla or Kaza. You have two options to reach the lake, either from Manali side or Shimla side, and routes looks as follows:

Route 1: Manali – Rohtang Pass – Gramphoo – Batal – Chandra Taal

From Delhi and self-drive, your plan should look like this:

Day 1: Delhi – Manali or Naggar

Day 2: Manali – Chandra Taal

Day 3: Explore around Chandra Taal

Day 4: Lake – Manali

Day 5: Manali – Delhi

If you are travelling by bus from Delhi, this is how it can look:

Day 0: Overnight bus journey from Delhi to Manali,

Day 1: Taxi pick you up from bus stand, and drive to Chandra Taal

Day 2: Explore around Chandra Taal

Day 3: Lake to Manali and then overnight bus to Delhi, reaching Delhi early morning of Day 4.

Route 2: Shimla – Narkanda – Rampur – Wangtoo – Powari – Nako – Tabo – Kaza – Rangrik – Losar – Lake

For Route 2, you can refer to my Spiti page for the plan and other relevant details

While Route-1  take a day less to reach the lake, but it takes you up to 4300 meter much faster and can trigger Acute Mountain Sickeness, while Route-2 take a day longer, much longer drive but acclimatizes you much better.

Also the roads from the Manali side is much worse than Shimla side, though there are bad sections on both side.

If you are just planning to visit the lake and short of time, choose Route-1. If you are on a longer holiday and planning to visit other areas of Spiti, go for Route-2.

Refer to the map for all route details.

Map

Print

 

Driving your own vehicle

If you are driving your own vehicles, it’s recommended to have a vehicle with higher ground clearance. Though hatchback and sedans can do it, but will have tough time on some of patches on both the routes above. Section between Batal and Chandrataal base camp is all gravel broken jeep track, prone to landslides.

Your only fuel options are at Manali, Kaza and Reckong Peo (refer to map).

Make sure your vehicle is serviced and in best of its form as the roads can break the vehicle to any extent.

 

Photography

There are plenty of opportunities of photography around the lake, sunset and sunrise are the best time of lake. Sunrise is much more quitter without any wind, hence you get the best reflection in the still lake. Winds start picking up around 10 Am.

Nights are for some astro photography as you get the clear sky with billions of star over your heads. September is the best time for milky-way and shooting star captures.

There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife photography around the lake.

 

Other Significant things

  • While days are warm, night can really get cold at the camping area, hence prepare well and carry enough woollens for night photography.
  • If you start showing the signs of AMS, immediately get down to either Batal or Losar, you will lose around 400 meters which can significantly help in improving your health.
  • Drive early in the morning when there is less water flowing through the nullahs and you will have less trouble crossing them.
  • There is no mobile connectivity at the lake area. You get some weak phone signals at Gramphoo, satellite phone at famous dhaba at Batal, and then mobile signals at Losar.
  • Keep the camp area and lake clean and bring your waste back to places where you can dispose it properly.

 

 

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Crystal clear water of the lake

 

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Sunset is equally beautiful

 

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Camping Area

 

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Keep your gears ready

 

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Magical show of Light and Shadows

 

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amazing ripples of lake

 

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Peaks around the lake

 

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Copyright © 2015 Yellow Peaks. All Rights Reserved. All images are copyright of Yellow Peaks, and can not be reproduced in any form

Uttarakhand in Winter – A family drive

A family drive to Uttarakhand is always fun, and it gets much interesting in winter. While the whole world starts moving towards Shimla and Manali during winter, Uttarakhand showers its own charm not seen by many.

December 2014, we decided to explore Uttarakhand in winter and celebrating New Year 2015 somewhere deep inside snow.

Plan was little unconfirmed as we wanted to explore too many places in too less time. So we decided to go with a tentative plan and then re-plan as we progress, something we do all the time.

Initial plan was

Gurgaon – Rudraprayag – Uttarkashi – Saari Village – Deoria Taal – Chopta – Ukimath – Karanprayag – Gwaldam – Bageshwar – Choukori – Munsiyari – Lohaghat – Almora – Nanital – Gurgaon

 

Day 1 (28-Dec-2014) : Gurgaon – Rudraprayag

As always, I was super excited for another drive to hills, and was up by 4:30AM in morning only to see the horror through the window of our room. As I peeked outside, I couldn’t see a bit, absolutely nothing. It was cold winter morning of Gurgaon, famous for thick fog and it was at its max right when we wanted it to be least. Leaving now was absolutely impossible, as we had a very bad fog drive while returning back from our winter drive to Kashmir in 2013.

 

There was nothing else we can do then wait for the fog to disappear, or at least the visibility gets better. By 10am visibility improved and we decided to head out on the roads which was another chaotic experience. Drive till Meerut was very slow under thick fog, and under heavy traffic.

 

Road condition has improved quite alot since our last drive in this direction, which was many years back 😀 .

 

Reached Haridwar in jiffy, but quite late, only to get a huge traffic jam at the haridwar bypass. I could not see any reason for the jam for long, which was eventually caused by the demolition drive for the illegal construction around the highway.

 

It was already 5pm and we were not sure about our destination for the day. Plan was to reach Uttarkashi which was now impossible to achieve. We decided to drive till 7pm and then search hotel for the night stay, we were feeling hungry as well.

 

Post Rishikesh, roads were getting nicer but narrower, though fun to drive. Reached Rudrapryag by 7:30 pm, it was enough for the day as it was getting dark and we were not keen on driving further. Also now we will have to take a call to skip Uttarkashi and head straight to Saari village, but time to search for hotel first.

 

I knew there was a Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) tourist facility in Rudrapryag, but it took us some time to locate it, google map helped us here.

 

Within 5 mins, we were inside a cozy room but not very cheap. GMVN and KMVN stay options are quite costly as compare to HPTDC or JKTDC, most of them are upwards of 2K INR. But the view from terrace of room was worth all the money; unfortunately we were staying there just for a night.

 

Night was little cold; it has to be, as it was peak winter in north. I wanted to walk across the market but cold kept me inside, having a tasty dinner and TV.

 

No pics today

 

Day 2 (29-Dec-2014) : Rudraprayag – Saari Village – Deoria Tal – Saari Village

“A lovely cold morning, with bright sun and beautiful Alaknanda River” flowing right in front of us. River was not as scary and fierce as it can be during monsoon.

 

As we lost a day and could not reach Uttarkashi yesterday, we decided to skip Uttarkashi and drive straight to Saari village, but not before a tummy filling breakfast and couple of rounds of tea.

 

For some reason tea taste much better on hills and especially during winter.

 

It was a matter of max 60 km drive for us today hence there was no hurry to start early. Road from Rudrapryag onwards is very nice and typical hill drive; It wasn’t that green because of winter, I am sure its lush green during August-September timeframe.

 

Passing through beautiful roads via Agastmuni and then reaching that Y fork from where you take left for Saari Village.

 

Meanwhile I was in touch with Lakhpat, our host for the day and he was waiting for us at his place. Last few kilometers of drive towards Saari village is little narrow but without any traffic.

 

We reached Saari village by 12Pm, received by Lakhpat with a great smile. We went straight to his home for Tea and food, while he prepared our room. He has two different room options, couple of rooms in his house and two rooms right on the road. We opted for the room right on the road as we could park our car right outside our room and can access for anything required. Remember we carry whole house in our car, practically almost everything that is required to setup a home temporarily 😀 .

 

We were served some lovely and tasty Uttarakhandi food, along with Bhang ki Chutney, it was a gourmet delight for us. During food, we discussed the plan for the rest of the day with Lakhpat and agreed to do a trek towards Deoria Tal post Lunch, only to come back by evening. What a big mistake it was.

 

By 2 Pm, we started our trek towards the lake, with myself on foot, while Nandini on mule. Initially I thought it just an hour of easy trek, but at some places it was very steep, and by the end of the trek we were literally exhausted.

 

Last few 100 meters to the lake was all covered with snow and as I saw the lake for the first time, I was amazed at the beauty. We reached there right at the time of sunset and view was to die for. I so much wanted to camp there for night but we left everything at Saari Village. Though it was still possible to camp as Lakhpat offered to go down and get everything for us from Saari, including tent, sleeping bags and food. But I was little unsure about camping there in peak winter. We will do it some other time, for now let’s enjoy the sunset.

 

In a matter of 30 mins, sun went down the horizon and it started getting cold, very cold. It was time to head back to our base and massage our exhausted lungs and legs.

 

Dinner was arranged around a bonfire, under billion stars, what a lovely night.

 

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View from our room at GMVN Rudraprayag

 

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View from our room at GMVN Rudraprayag, Little calm Alaknanada river

 

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Chandrashila Peaks as seen from Saari village, can you spot Tungnath Temple?

 

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Kids visiting our room at Sari village

 

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Kids visiting our room at Sari village

 

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View from trek to Deoria Tal

 

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Sun heading towards horizon as we almost reached the end of trek

 

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And finally the lovely Deoria Tal

 

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Yours Truly

 

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Up close to the lake

 

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Lakhpat, our host at Saari village

 

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Yours Truly

 

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Yours Truly

 

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Beautiful sunset

 

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And the magic was almost over as we started our return trek

 

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Day 3 (30-Dec-2014) : Saari Village – Bania Kund.

Another lovely relaxed day of the trip,

 

Nipping cold in the morning

 

With sun was out bright.

 

A wonderful winter morning in Uttarakhand.

 

Today’s drive plan just to cross Ukimath and stay for the night at Chopta, a drive of around 50 km and max 2 hours.

 

We decided to leave by 12 Pm and hence had plenty of time in hand to explore the village and meadows around. We did a long morning walk with cameras, as the early morning sun rays were falling through the tall trees and snow. I could see Tungnath and Chandrashila right in front of me, all covered with snow. That means we are about to get a lot of snow in Chopta. Nandini was all excited at the thought of making a huge snow man and then spend the night surrounded by the heaps and tons of snow.

 

Lakhpath cooked a lovely breakfast for us accompanied by now our favorite “bhaang ki chutney”. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality of this guy. I hope and pray he remains the same till the time he is serving people.

 

Key in to the car, we were all set to leave for Chopta by 12:30 Pm, passing through the empty but lovely hill roads through Ukimath, we reached Dugalbitta by 2:00 pm with a wrong turn,  multiple stops for pics,  and just enjoying the place. By till now we didn’t found a hint of snow and were confused as to what happened to all that snow. As we passed through the dhabas of Dugalbitta, all of the sudden snow started appearing on the road sides. That was a good and happy signs, but still wanting for more, as we drove few kilometers ahead, it was snow everywhere, all over, in tons. This is what we were looking for, but then I also started getting worried, because road was now covered with snow and car was skidding a bit. Though I was carrying snow cables this time, we were just 6 kms from Chopta and I was hoping of clearing it without snow chain.

 

We took a longer break just before Bania Kund and it was time for our Snow Man of the year. Shovels, chairs and other stuff were out for a mission Snow Man, bigger than what we built last time. Our 3rd snow men, first was at Rakcham (Kinnaur), second was at Aru (Pahalgam, Kashmir).

 

There was absolutely nobody other than us on that spot, except few passing by locals, some of them stopped out of curiosity. After a break of an hour, we headed forward towards Chopta, passed the dhabas of Bania Kund and as we moved little ahead of it, snow on the road converted into ice. It was getting difficult to keep the momentum but I was still managing it, just then a car came from other side. I tried to signal him to wait but this fool just kept coming and I had to brake as there was no space for both of us to pass. That was the end of it; even after couple of attempts we could not cross that patch. I had two options now, put on the chains and or head back to Bania Kund which was just a minute behind.

 

We decided to head back as it was getting dark and cold, and I knew there were rooms at Bania Kund. We found a lovely room at one of the dhaba, It was a very good decision to stay back as we were losing light very fast and we wanted to enjoy snow, which was there everywhere around Bania Kund.

 

5 Pm and we were into a cozy room, with a beautiful view of sunset. Out of curiosity I asked the hotel guy if he can cook some pakoda for us and he was all affirmative. Two rounds of pakodas with countless cups of tea and coffee, surrounded by tons of snow, all we could see was smiles on our faces. Mission accomplished with snow of the season, unaware that something bigger is coming our way.

 

We spent rest of the time lazing and walking around, but then it was getting colder as sun went down. All decided to remain inside, I went out to the kitchen for some super quick warmth of the tandoor.

 

Meanwhile some of the bikers arrived there and camped outside the dhaba, really brave guys to camp out in such an extreme cold.

 

With no electricity, no TV and almost no mobile signals (just a magic spot where I was getting signals), we had some good time talking and giggling on many things.

 

Food was served piping hot, right in the room. When you get such lovely food at such remote corner, during extreme weather, its feels no less than a 5 star buffet.

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Early morning at Saari village

 

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Early morning at Saari village

 

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Early morning at Saari village

 

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Early morning at Saari village

 

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Nandini with her camera

 

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A lonely one

 

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Sun shine bath

 

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With junior

 

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Throw the snow competition

 

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In front of our stay at Bania Kund

 

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Rear view from our stay

 

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Beast resting for the night

 

 

Day 4 (31-Dec-2015) : Bania Kund – Karanprayag.

 

Last day of 2014, a very special day, a lot happened in 2014, good things, bad things, wonderful travels, great photography, personal setbacks, and new achievements. But we were ready to head into New Year while we were travelling, what a dream entry to 2015.

 

As we had enough snow for now, we decided to skip Chopta for this trip and head straight towards Gwaldam. Our initially target was to reach Gwaldam but I was not aware of the road conditions, which we will talk about soon.

 

After talking to many drivers, we decided that the safest options to head towards Kumaon region is through Rudraprayag and head as far as we can.

 

Had a chat with couple of friends in the area, and a hotel owner at Gwaldam, and all confirmed that it will be tough to reach gwaldam from Rudraprayag same day due to very bad roads between Karanprayag and Gwaldam. We will worry about it as we move.

But first lets a long family walk from the snow. It was a lovely sunny morning, snow all around, giving us a lovely opportunity for family photography.

 

Drive back to Rudraprayag was quick, MapMyIndia was correct enough to direct us towards Karanprayag. There were plenty of bad patches in between; some of them were really bad for sedans.

 

We felt realy hot as we came down from Bania Kund, so much so that we had to get rid of the inners we were wearing on the way. So hot in the peak winter, or maybe we have raised our bars of acceptance 😀 .

 

We reached Karanprayag by 4 Pm, and decided to break our journey here as it was absolutely not recommended to drive towards Gwaldam during night. And we wanted to celebrate the new year eve a bit 😛 .

 

Found a lovely and almost empty GMVN Tourist Banglow, though costly at 2000 Rs per night. Checked in and ordered some pakoras once again with some tea.

 

While girls decided to enjoy the ambiance of the property, I took a walk towards the market and got some cakes and pastries for our new year celebration.

For a change Nandini got TV after few days of cartoon drought for good. Another lovely day spent together while entering into 2015.

 

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As we stepped out for the cold morning walk

 

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Sun rays passing through

 

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Ice over everythig

 

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Girls posing for me

 

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Get ready for some snow fight

 

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One with the photographer

 

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Lovely morning view

 

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Lovely trees on the way to Karanprayag

 

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Lovely trees on the way to Karanprayag

 

 

Day 5 (01-Jan-2015) : Karanprayag – Gwaldam – Bageshwar – Chaukori

A drive in himalayas on the first day of 2015, we were blessed.

 

It was a 160 km of drive, but with a very bad section between Karanprayag and Gwaldam. It turned out to be much worse than what I expected. Some of the sections were almost off-road, literally torture for small cars. Our speed was almost around 25 Km per hour till we reached Gwaldam.

 

Gwaldam is a very special place for us, as there is a sweet memory attached to it. Long time back, in the year 2007 we drove all the way to Gwaldam, with absolutely no plans to go anywhere. We stayed at GMVN that time, but this time we just passed through it, as we had plenty of time in hand.

 

BTW just to mention, I could see huge development in Gwaldam, too many buildings and shops, there were very few in 2007. And there is a public paid toilet just as you come out of market, good job done.

 

Roads improved drastically post Gwaldam and we quickly reached Bageshwar by 4:00 Pm, hungry and little tired. Bageshwar is a big town with a very big market from hill’s standard. We decided to eat at a restaurant near bus stand, named “King Kong”. Named sounded very interesting to Nandini hence we were inside with little worried faces. By the time we were half done with the food, we were literally fighting for bites, so tasty was the food. One of the best dhaba lunches we ever had during our trips. Post lunch we took a walk through the market and ate some hot gulab jamuns on the way. It was almost a full meal lunch break for us, very rare during our long drives.

 

From Bageshwar to Chaukori was again a quick drive through narrow roads. Chaukori now has multiple options to stay, most famous is the KMVN, but few private operators, which are much more value for money. Unfortunately we landed in Chaukori on 1-Jan which is considered as the peak day of the season and the rates at KMVN were much higher. A 900 Rs per night room was offered at 2400 Rs per night, with a very poor service. A complete mess and poor value for money. I guess most of the people stay there for the independent cottages in the premises and for the view. But I still do not consider it worth.

 

Guest House was packed with people coming out to celebrate New Year, not something to our liking. But weather was pleasant enough to calm us down. Food was average and served very slow in the room, I guess it was a peak day for them, so I will give them the benefit of doubt and will do a fair evaluation next time we stay there.

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Bhageshwar

 

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On the way to Chaukori

 

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On the way to Chaukori

 

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Those famous cottages of KMVN Chaukori

 

 

Day 6 (02-Jan-2015) : Chakouri – Thal – Birthi – Munsiyari

 

Morning was all clouded with intermittent rain, but nothing that cold stop us from a morning walk around Chaukori. There was no rush for today as Munsiyari is just around 100km and 3 hours from Chaukori. Once again, while leaving, nobody cared about us leaving, one of the worst hospitality I had ever seen, though it didn’t matter to us as we were there to enjoy the place.

 

After a useless breakfast we left for Munsiyari around 11Am, passing through Thal, birthi (unfrotunately we decided to skip waterfall this time, too cold to enjoy) and finally to Munsiyari. On the way I captured a fox eating dead cattle.

 

Road section around Kalamuni is very narrow and needs a careful drive. And it was getting more painful because of the constant rain since last 15 km.

 

Munsiyari was almost empty as we headed straight to KMVN guest house, which was again empty. We settled for a lovely room with an awesome view. Unfortunately rain didn’t stop all night and we had to confine ourselves inside the room, what a waste of time. I so much wanted to take a walk inside the market, but I guess not this time.

 

It kept raining all night and in the morning as well, perhaps it was best for us.

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Narrow roads towards Munsiyari

 

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We found this lovely colourful spot near birthi

 

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We found this lovely colourful spot near birthi

 

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It was surprise to see such colors in January

 

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A quick break post Birthi waterfall

 

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Finally at Munsiyari, all covered by this clouds

 

 

Day 7 (03-Jan-2015) : Munsiyari – Almora

 

It was still raining as we woke up early morning. While we ordered our breakfast, the caretaker suggested that if we are planning to return back today, we should do it soon, as there are very high chances of snowfall today, considering the rain all night. Hearing to what caretaker suggested us; we packed up quickly and started our return journey by 9 Am, only to find the surprise within next 5 kms.

 

As we just drove for 5-6 km from Munsiyari, it started snowing, initially it was very light snow, but as we reached Kalamuni top, it got really heavy. So heavy snowfall it was that visibility came down to just few meters an roads were all covered with snow. Car started slipping and breaking was almost zero. It was time to test our new snow cables which I bought specifically for this trip. While after our last snow drive in Kashmir, I decided to never venture out if it’s snowing heavy, today we were in the middle of nowhere.

 

It took me some time to fit the cables properly. While I did a dry test at home, but doing it in cold under heavy snowfall was a different game. A local Sumo also arrived at same spot where we were stuck and they were amazed at seeing snow chains on a small car.

 

Post the chain installed, I started getting better grip, and most importantly decent braking. Snow disappeared as we reached Birthi, hence we removed the chains and took a longer tea break. We were little exhausted and tired after that whole snow drive circus. Meanwhile the local Sumo also reached Birthi where a social gathering for some sort of festival was in progress. I think people were wrapping up by the time we reached and few locals requested us for a lift till Thal. Unfortunately we pack our car in such a way that the rear seat is converted into a bed. But this time we wanted to give the lift as there were two old ladies needed to reach home. We rearranged our bags, pushing a lot of stuff in boot, managed to empty space to two of them.

 

One of the best things about giving ride to locals is that you get to know alot of new and unknown things about the places. We had long discussion about their home, village, electricity, before we dropped them at Thal, from where they took another taxi towards their village.

 

From here on, our return journey was typical hill drive all the way to Almora. We were not sure about our stay at Almora, hence did some research online, before we settled for KMVN property. It’s a lovely property with only one problem. Parking space is very limited, and hotel is higher than the parking, you will have to walk a bit with your luggage and bags. But for us it was just a night stay, hence we only had to carry our day pack and camera bag.

 

Night was very cold at Almora, and it has to be, in January. Food was much better and served quickly; I guess we were the only one staying there for that night.

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After that adventurous snow drive

 

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These snow cables were really handy

 

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Somewhere near Mukhteshwar

 

 

Day 8 (04-Jan-2015) : Almora – Gurgaon.

 

Another boring return journey at plains, but it gets little better in winter, though we needed to switch on the air conditioner for some time. Luckily we didn’t found much fog by the time we reached Gurgaon.

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Through the village roads of Rampur, A diversion due to procession

 

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Green covered roads

 


Copyright © 2015 Yellow Peaks. All Rights Reserved. All images are copyright of Yellow Peaks, and can not be reproduced in any form. Contact us if you want to buy pics for commercial use.

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