ADVENTURE IN HIMALAYAN RANGE

Arunachal Pradesh is waiting to be discovered,now that it has opened up to tourists ---Biking in the northern Himalayas is truly breathtaking - and there are trails that suit the beginner as well as the more experienced cyclist ---A mesmerizing trek through the mountains to the Base Camp of Mt Everest was an awe-inspiring experience for Deepesh Das --

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THE LAST FRONTIER ----

If the summer have left you tired and you are looking for that perfect green getaway to beat the heat,Arunachal Pradesh is the place to be.True,the thought of obtaining a permit from the office of Deputy Resident Commissioner,Govt.of Arunachal Pradesh ,Saltlake,Kolkata may sound intimidating,but trust me the hassle is worth every bit of it.You could drive through the breathtaking Sela Pass,one of the highest motorable roads in the world or do some serious soul-searching amidst the comfortable silence of the Tawang monastery.Do you need more reason to pack your bags ?

ITANAGAR ---

The capital of Arunachal Pradesh is a beautiful historic city and is also known as the 'Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains'.Named after the famous Ita Fort built by the Ahom Kings,Itanagar has a number of places worth visiting.To start off,try the irregularly shaped Ita Fort.This popular picnic destination is solely made with bricks and has three gates.You could also check out Ganga Lake,a forest lake surrounded by rare orchids,tall trees and beautiful ferns.Other attractions include the relatively new Buddhist temple that was consecrated by the Dalai Lama.Situated on a hill,the yellow roofed shrine gives a panoramic view of the city of Itanagar and the surrounding countryside.

HOT TICKET :

While in Itanagar,your best bargain would be to put up at Hotel Donyi Polo Ashok.This deluxe hotel offers single rooms for around Rs.1700 a day.For further information contact :0360-2216626/27.You could also try out Hotel Arun Subansiri,where single-bed accommodation is available for around Rs.700.Tel-0360-2212806

 

BOMDILA ---

Tucked away in the eastern ranges of the Himalayas,lies the picturesque town of Bomdila.Situated at a height of about 7200 feet,the place offers a chance to feast your eyes on some of the most stunning snowclad mountains of the Himalayan Range.The Buddhist monastery of Bomdila is a must-visit for tourists.The place also has a shopping centre where travellers can pick up interesting handicrafts.Look out for exquisite woolen carpets and traditional masks.

Bomdila is famous for its apple orchards and it's sheer bliss to walk through them.It also has a couple of Buddhist Gompas.From Bomdila,it is a thrilling drive to the Sela Pass.Visitors can also do a spot of sightseeing at the beautiful Dirang Valley.The orchid conservation sanctuaries located at Dirang are a must see.

 

HOT TICKET :

In Bomdila,your safest bet would be to put up at the Tourist Lodge/Circuit House/Inspection Bungalow.The rooms have to booked in advance.For further details,write to :Office of the Deputy Commissioner,West Kameng District,Bomdila-790001 or contact :Office of Deputy Resident Commissioner,Govt.Of Arunachal Pradesh,Saltlake,Kolkata.Tel-033-23213627.You could also try out Hotel Shipyangpong where a single-bed accommodation comes for Rs.750.Tel-03782-22286

 

TAWANG ----

A 10kms drive from Bomdila takes you to the renowned Buddhist pilgrimage site of Tawang,also known as 'The Hidden Paradise'.The place is famous for its picture postcard mountains,breathtaking waterfalls,quaint and sleepy villages,magical Gompas,and tranquil lakes.Visitors should not miss out on the imposing Tawang Gompa.This 400-year old monastery,locally called as the Galden Mamgyel Lhatse,is one of the largest monasteries of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.

This fortified complex covering an area of 135 square metres also has a library containing valuable Buddhist scriptures.Tawang also has a number of beautiful lakes.The Pankang Teng Tso lake,the Sangetser lake and the Banggachang lake are definitely worth visiting.

 

HOT TICKET :

Accommodation in Tawang  is pretty basic and you can try out either Hotel Buddha where a single-bed accommodation comes for around Rs.650.A safer bet would be getting your rooms booked at the Govt.Circuit House cum Inspection Bungalow.For further information,contact :Office of the Deputy Commissioner,Tawang.

 

TEZU ----

Situated in the lower reaches to the river Lohit,one of the primary attractions of Tezu is the Parasuram Kund.Legend has it that it was here that the Brahmin warrior Parasuram washed away his sin of matricide.Every winter,a fair is held during Makar-Sankranti where pilgrims from all the country come for a holy dip in the Kund to wash away their sins.

 

HOT TICKET :

Tezu does have some low budget hotels,but to make your stay comfortable,you could get your rooms booked at the Govt.Circuit House/Inspection Bungalow.For more contact : Asst.PRO,Office of Deputy Resident Commissioner of Arunachal Pradesh,Saltlake,Kolkata

 

SOLD ON SIKKIM -------

 

 

 

Gangtok,which means the top of a hill,is 5700 feet above sea level and is bustling with activity.As you walk around ,you are struck by the harmonious blend of old and new in this beautiful town.So you have lively young women roaming about in tight jeans and trendy skirts while the older ladies can be seen going about their business in traditional bakus.Lamas in maroon and mustard robes can be found playing football with youngsters.From being the seat of monarchy,to being the capital of India’s 22nd state,Gangtok has come a long way,but it still has not lost any of its old world charm.The people have embraced the 21st century but remain simple at heart.They are a friendly lot and are more than willing to help you.

A trip to Gangtok is incomplete without a visit to the famous Rumtek monastery.It’s the seat of the Gywala Karmapa,the supreme head of the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism.The monastery is around 24kms from Gangtok and you have to walk uphill for about 1km from the car park.Prayer flags abound and hundreds of prayer wheels have been put up on both sides of the walk.

Rumtek monastery is breathtakingly serene.Inside is a huge sanatorium which houses the large golden statue of Buddha.There are murals on the walls and rolled up ancient scriptures and small statues of Buddha lie all over the place.The monks sit on long and narrow carpets designed with exquisite local motifs and study these scriptures.

 

Next you can drive to Chhangu lake which is 40kms away from the city at a height of 12400 feet.The drive itself is very picturesque.The number of hairpin bends on the road would put any B-grade suspense thriller to shame.

Hoever,once you reach the lake you forget sickness.All you think about is the sheer beauty of the place .Snow-capped mountains surround a deep yet quiet lake and as the sun shines,its reflection in the clear waters leaves one mesmerized.You can just walk around the lake or be a bit adventurous and take a yak ride.The yak rides are authorized by Sikkim Tourism and the rates are fixed.The lake is considered sacred by the local people.Interestingly,the Sikkimese don’t believe in taking holy dips to wash off their sins,hence ensuring that the waters maintain their pristine clarity.

According to Sikkimese folklore,the lake was originally situated somewhere else.One night an old woman dreamt that the lake had to be shifted.She told her family and friends about her dream but no one paid any attention.So the next day the old woman,guided by an unknown power,milked her yak and dropped some milk at the place of the current lake.Immediately,a goddess with white flowing hair entered the milk and Chhangu lake was created.

The lake is a major attraction and like any other tourist place has numerous shops selling local handicrafts,postcards,souvenirs and the like.A lot of ‘imported’ Chinese stuff is also sold here.For visitors there is also the stunning Nathu-la and Baba ka Mandir which is devoted to a sepoy who lost his life somewhere in the hills while on patrol.A few days later he appeared in a colleague’s dream and asked him to build a temple devoted to him.Since then he has been considered the guardian angel of the army and is highly respected by serving men and women.Baba is given timely promotions and is also entitled to one month’s leave.Apparently,the army has such faith in him that when he is on leave and hence not around to watch over them,the army is put on high alert !

 

BIKE THE DUST -----

 

The intrepid travellers fixing their gear on to their hardy bikes,strap on the helmets,don the the gloves and race off from Manali,Himachal Pradesh towards the horizon - in this case,the treacherous mountain roads up towards Rohtang Pass.Their final destination is Leh,the capital of Ladakh - a 500-km journey over 17 days through the remotest parts of the northern Himalayas.The route included four high passes,including the Khardung La Pass,the highest motorable road in the world.On their journey from Manali to Leh,the dedicated bikers make an accumulated altitude gain of 9,000m - to put that in perspective,that's the equivalent of cycling to the top of Mount Everest from sea level.

 

 The MANALI-LEH trip is organised by UK-based adventure travel company Red Spokes (www.redspokes.co.uk) that arranges mountain biking trips all over the world.In India,the company offers trips in Ladakh,Sikkim and Darjeeling.While mountain biking in the Himalayas is yet to take off among Indians in a major way,India is one of the leading lights of mountain biking hotspots from around the world for adventure seekers from abroad.While the northern Himalayas - locations in Ladakh,Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal - are the most popular spots,especially for short and long trips between Manali and Ladakh,biking trails in Sikkim and Darjeeling are also fast becoming popular.

 

Biking in the northern Himalayas is breathtaking - and there are trails that suit the beginners while the more experienced cyclist will also not feel cheated.There are various levels of biking trails around DHARAMSALA,CHAMBA VALLEY,KANGRA VALLEY AND KULLU,and conditions for biking here are best between May/June and October/November.In UTTARANCHAL,the GARHWAL AND KUMAON HIMALAYAS are best for biking between May and November.

 

One of the most exciting routes in the northern Himalayas,and the one followed by the intrepid Carden and his group,is the 17-day trip from Manali to Ladakh.The trail kicks off from Manali,taking in quaint Himachali villages with snow-capped peaks in the distance,through the hairpin bends and switchbacks on the way to the Rohtang Pass.Then there's a decent into Gramphu and from there on unmetalled flat roads towards KHOKSAR,crossing the raging BEAS river.Further on,the NAKEELA PASS.The highlight of the 17-day journey is crossing the KHARDUNG LA PASS at 5,600m.

Accompanying the bikers on this trudge up the mountains is a back-up vehicle carrying luggage,supplies and medicines.While this is not extreme adventure - the distances covering each day and the gradient are carefully planned and quite doable - the altitude and the terrain make it somewhat tough,and a trip that only experienced cyclist ought to consider.Which is not to say amateur cyclist have to give up their biking hopes.Ther are short rides in and around Manali and Ladakh -day and weekend trips - that are perfect for those eager to get a taste of mountain biking but lacking in the endurance and skill necessary for long-haul trips.

 

In and around Ladakh,the mountains offer some fantastic trails as well as carpeted roads that often have no traffic.The landscape here is ideal for mountain biking,especially around NUBRA,ZANSKAR,CHANTHANG,KINNAUR,LAHAUL and SPITI.The best time of the year for biking in this region is between June-end and September.Biking enthusiasts are now also heading towards the eastern Himalayas,with newer trails opening up around DARJEELING and in SIKKIM." SIKKIM is growing into a biking paradise " says Nature Beyond (www.east-himalaya.com/adventure/biking/index.htm),a Siliguri-based adventure sports company that organises biking trips in Darjeeling and Sikkim.One of their most popular routes is the 16-day biking-hiking trip between Siliguri,through tea-gardens around Mirik,to Darjeeling and then on to Sikkim covering Pelling,Singtam,Ravangla,and ending in Gangtok.

 

Natur Beyond also offers a shorter 8-day trip around Darjeeling ,again starting at Siliguri,climbing up to Mirik and then Darjeeling,and encompassing beautiful little towns around Darjeeling like MONGPU,KALIMPONG and LAVA."Though mountain biking has been more popular among foreign independent travellers than Indian tourists till now,getting enquiries from Indian adventure enthusiasts as well".

 

Darjeeling-based Benoy Thapa (contact :travel@darjeelingnews.net)also organising biking trips in Sikkim and around Darjeeling.The most popular route offered by his company is the SINGALILA TOUR that combines biking,trekking and driving.It starts off at Darjeeling ,then on to MANEYBHANJYANG on cycles,and from there to SANDAKPHU on bikes and a jeep.

 

HOT TIP ------

If you're an amateur ready for some biking adventure,it would be advisable to prepare yourself before undertaking a mountain biking trip,advise operators.A regular and disciplined biking regimen in the plains is a must,as are aerobic training and chest exercises.Most operators also insist that you get your own travel insurance with policies covering potential risks involved in a mountain cycling holiday.Also,to prevent high-altitude sickness from striking,it is always better to acclimatise yourself by a couple of days' rest at the starting point before starting off on the adventure of a lifetime.   

                      A walk in the Himalayas

Its known as Sagarmatha in Nepal, Chomolungma in Tibet, and Mt Everest everywhere else in the world. For trekkers, its the ultimate pilgrimage and if you cant scale it, you can get to its foot. Thats exactly what I did. All you need are a sturdy pair of legs and a spirit of adventure.

A spectacular view of the Pumori Peak from Kala Pattar

 A 50-minute flight from Katmandu to Lukla marked the start of my pilgrimage. The plane flies remarkably low offering great views of terraced agricultural fields and scattered dwellings, the terrain crowned with the Himalayan snow peaks. The ride ends with a dramatic landing on the short inclined airstrip.

         Checking out of the airport, I started off on the first day of my trek. The trail started from Lukla (2880m or 9448.82ft above sea level) and passed through the villages of Chablung and Ghat, from where I followed the Dhud Kosi River to Phakding Village, I called it a day.

         That night, I stayed at a trekkers hut – these were my refuge through most of the trail. It wasnt too cold, with the minimum temperature of 8C. But it can go up to 30C at times.

Next morning I saw a spectacular sunrise on the rocky peak of Khumbila, flagging off a hard day of trekking. It took me past Benkar village, with the peak of Thamserku towering on the eastern sky, to Jor-sale and then on to the junction of the Dhud Kosi and the Bhote Kosi. Crossing the former on a suspension bridge I climbed the ridge separating the two rivers. It was a hard climb in the late afternoon heat, but I finally made it to Namche Bazaar, at an altitude of 3440m or 11286.1ft.

         Namche Bazaar is bustling hill town teeming with countless hotels. The streets are dotted with bakeries, souvenir shops selling everything from Sherpa artifacts to posters of Everest. Also, there are bookstores selling the latest mountain literature, mountaineering equipment stores selling and letting out equipment and of course Internet and sat phone cafes.

                    Enthusiastic guests at the Everest View Hotel

         To adapt to the rapid increase in altitude I decided to spend a day there. Next morning I headed for the Everest View Hotel, in Sagarmatha National Park, the highest national park in the world. Parts of the Himalayas and the entire southern half of Everest are within the parks area. The park is unique in having four climate zones and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna including the endangered red panda, snow leopards and the Himalayan black bear.

Everest View Hotel is the worlds highest luxury hotel. I followed a trail to the top of a ridge offering a grand view of the mountains including Mt Everest. Although hardly visible it was definitely a moment to cherish. The trail followed through lush green meadows and soon I was in the hotel.

         Every room here gives a panoramic view of the Everest. After breakfast, I headed for the villages of Khumjung and Kunde. By late afternoon I was back in Namche Bazaar. The trail had been steep in some places, but you dont need mountaineering equipment or even ropes.

I set off on the fourth day, through scenic pine country in the shadows of Ama Dablam, one of the most beautiful Himalayan peaks. I caught glimpses of Everest between the incredible Nuptse-Lhotse ridges. The trail initially climbed a bit and then descended steeply to the Dhud Kosi riverbed. After crossing the river, a steep ascent took me to Tengboche (also called Thyangboche), the largest monastery of the region, where I called it a day.

         I woke up the next morning to the world’s most awesome sight – a panorama of the famed Himalayan giants Kwangde, Twache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Kantega and Thamserku.

         After a short visit to the monastery I headed out. The trail took me past I Deboche village and onwards to Pangboche where I had lunch. I continued along the trail through beautiful alpine meadows dotted with scrubs of juniper. Walking past the villages of Shomare and Orsho, I halted at Pheriche and decided to rest there for a day to acclimatize to the altitude – 4240m or 13910.8ft.

                           Buddhist Gompa at highest altitude

On the seventh day the trail followed through beautiful meadows past the peaks of Twache, Cholatse and Lobuche. At Dugla, I crossed a stream on a rickety bridge and continued past the Sherpa Memorial (built in memory of the Sherpas who died on Everest) on to Lobuche. As soon as I checked in at the hotel, it started snowing.

         It snowed all night and through the next morning, so I was left with no option but to trek in the snow. This trail passes the Khumbu Glacier and offers some of the worlds most dramatic mountain scenes. But the snow reduced the visibility to only a few meters. Luckily the trek was short and I was soon in the warm hotel room at Gorekshep.

         Gorekshep has the last lodge en route the Base Camp – almost a three-hour trek ahead. Surprisingly both Gorekshep and the Base Camp do not offer any view of Mt Everest. To witness Everest in its full grandeur one has to climb the rocky hill, Kala Pattar, just behind the lodge. But it was still snowing and I couldnt climb Kala Pattar.

         I dont know how long it snowed that night. But at about 3:30am I peeped out of the window to see the spectacular peak Nuptse gleaming in the moonlight. Within an hour I was out on my way towards Kala Pattar, with the full moon showing me the way. Soon the south face of Everest became visible. The south face contains almost no snow and the black mass of Everest glowed in the silver moonlight. I reached the summit (5545m or 18192.3ft) well before sunrise.

The sun rises just behind Everest, making a dramatic effect on unknown peaks of the west. Having my fill of that spectacular scene, I headed back. After a quick breakfast, I started for the Base Camp.

         The route followed the Khumbu Glacier, passing through the foot of the Nuptse peak. Soon the notorious Khumbu Ice Fall, a near vertical wall of cascading glacial ice, became visible and so did the tents of the Base Camp. The skies were still clear and at that point I decided to head back to Kala Pattar the same day.

         I reached just before sunset and this time it was fireworks on Everest. The setting sun turned the massif into a bright shade of crimson. It is a sight beyond the description of words. It can only be experienced, enjoyed and remembered forever.

Ready reckoner

Getting there: Katmandu is well connected by air with various Indian cities. It is also well connected by road via the various border check posts. Lukla is well connected with Katmandu by air. Royal Nepal and various private airlines operate flights.

Where to stay: Accommodation is available all along the trek route. Prices vary according to altitude.

Where to eat: Food is available all the way up to the Base Camp. Prices vary according to altitude.

Fitness factor: You only need basic fitness. A bit of jogging and freehand exercise before the trek can come in handy. No technical knowledge of mountaineering is required.

Travel trivia:

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the Everest Marathon is the highest marathon in the world. Starting from Gorak Shep at 17000ft near the Everest Base Camp in Nepal, the participants follow a rough mountain trail of 42km to finish at the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar at nearly 11300ft. This spectacular race has been held 12 times since 1987.

 

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