We are off camping, Chhavi and I with my neighbor and her daughter. Seshadri is already out trekking with his friends, he is doing a tough trek. My niece Vasu was also supposed to come, but she backed off, saying she is missing her parents!
Finally the packing is all done. I should be actually cross checking what I have packed, but here I am glued to my screen, doing one last post before I go. I should have net access for part of the holiday. I may surprise you with more posts. But I am not sure.
The trek is of course going to be easy (walking wise) as there are two small kids for whom it is meant. But you never know in what ways they will make it interesting.
I so like staying in a tent. The pictures in this post are from a 2009 trek we did in Triund, Himachal Pradesh. It was the last trek Seshadri and I did together. After that Chhavi came in our life. She has already trekked to Triund with Seshadri! I think she has done at least 5 treks till now. We should actually sit down and count her treks properly.
This is the first trip for me after quitting my job, so it is extra special for me as well. In fact, we have not done the return bus ticket from Manali! We will come back when we want to! I never had this luxury before, as I used to count my leaves tightly.
So, in less than an hour we will be off. I wish my niece would have come too, but she kicked in such a storm that we gave up in the end. She happily went to Hong Kong with us last year. So I had let my guards down. And sure enough the kid surprised me and her parents too! Anyway I hope she will come next time. We are going to miss you Vasu.
‘Whenever I am asked, “How was your vacation?” I have a fixed reply, “Holidays are always good.” But camping by the Ganges with Chhavi was better than good! We were staying at the MHE Beach Camp. As the kid is still small she was underage for rafting. So, the number one attraction on the Ganges was ruled out for us. And yet, we had so much fun.
10. Waking Up by the River
The last thing I would hear before closing my eyes was the sound of river. As soon as I would open my eyes, it would be there again, the beautiful sound! There is something very seductive about waking up next to a river! Chhavi would demand to open the tent flaps as soon as she would open her eyes, she anyway does that way too early in the morning. And there it would be, the big, magnificent Ganges, right next to out tents. We visited the camp from Sunday to Tuesday and it was particularly quiet during the weekdays. This was my kind of vacation, far away from the maddening crowd.
9. Swinging in a Hammock
The days in the northern plains are getting hotter. After breakfast we would straight run to the river and splash around it. After lunch we would laze around the camp. On our day 3 they had put a hammock near the dining area. Chhavi would initially roll out of it while trying to swing.
After getting a hang of it and swinging for a long time she finally vacated it. I saw my chance and I occupied it quickly. She didn’t like it one bit. She asked me to get off, which I refused. Then she came and tried to throw me out of it. When she could not she started jumping on me! After a while she got busy elsewhere. And I had a peaceful time in the hammock with my book! There is no better way to spend an afternoon by the river than swinging in a hammock.
8. Food or When Chhavi Would Eat it on her Own
MHE Beach Camp serves some lip smacking food. They use less oil which was much appreciated. They would vary the menu as well. However, for me the biggest blessing was that Chhavi would eat on her own. After playing in the sun, sand and water she would be really hungry. What a blessing it was to have the child eat on her own instead of me being after her life, which is our usual scene!
7. Starry Nights
I just loved the starry nights at Shivpuri. As usual there were a million more stars in the sky than the city. The good bit with Chhavi is that she goes to bed early on her own. I was free to pursue night photography.
But there was another aspect to the night that I would not have noticed on my own. As there was no electricity Chhavi would not like it at the night at all. She would go what I called ‘min min’ (would translate to cribbing) as soon as it became dark. She found it scary. She protested so much that by the third night we had to shift to the city.
6. Chai ke Glass
Chai makes me happy, it makes me immensely happy. I like places which realize this and give me my fill. The nice folks at the MHE Beach Camp would put a flask full of tea for me. It was such a source of happiness for me. Instead of the tea cups provided, I would drink it in the glass! That makes it taste even better.
5. In the Far Far Away Land
I like isolation, there I said it. I am not much for crowded places. MHE Beach Camp is on the other side of the river. Once we crossed to that side on a raft, there I was, away from it all. Even though I could see a bridge with traffic on it and other camps, the location was ideal to relax and unwind.
4. Playing by the River
The water of the Ganges in cold, surprisingly cold even at end of March. MHE Beach Camp is very strict about wearing life jackets if the guests wish to go anywhere near the river. I appreciated it a lot. There is a nice beach with a shallow portion of the river. It was our favorite spot in the entire camp! I would wade bit by bit in the river and take a dip after ages. The burning sun would feel so nice after the cold dip. Chhavi found the water not so nice, so she would sit by the river making tunnels in the sand.
3. Chhavi’s Friends
Mukesh and Titu, the rafting instructors pampered Chhavi a lot. they would pay with her, teach her volleyball, and when she would not enter the river take her there and drench her! She was particularly fond of Mukesh as he spent a lot of time with us. If a guest goes down to the river an instructor sort of materializes out of thin air on the beach. While we were there, looks like it was Mukesh’s turn to be that instructor. He had immense patience to play with a small child and keep her entertained too. I handed the camera to him while we were kayaking. He has a way with the camera too!
Titu and Mukesh gave us two kayaks to play around in the shallow pond that the river forms by the bank! And before you declare us complete nuts for letting such a small child go into the river in a kayak, both the kayaks were tied by ropes which Titu held on to firmly. Mukesh was around in his raft to keep us in the shallow as well.
Both Chhavi and I had a gala time trying our hands at kayaking. Later Chhavi was complaining to me that they kept her tightly on the rope while they left me comparatively free to roam around! How observant the kids are! I asked Titu about turning the kayak around and he said I would have to back paddle to do so. I got some hang of it after trying many times. I thoroughly enjoyed kayaking around in shallow water with some amount of control over the kayak!
1. Playing in the Sand
The kid was so happy to see the sand all around her. She went completely berserk. She would crawl in the sand on all fours. She would roll around in the sand getting it in her hair as well. She would dig into it with her hands till it got inside her nails!
On the first day I tried to stop her in the evening after I changed her clothes. She made such a protesting face that I melted. For three days she had a free run in sand, and she loved every minute of it. I knew this is what she enjoyed most on the trip but just to reconfirm, I told her, “Chhavi I am going to write about the trip now so tell me what did you like most?” True to her form she didn’t reply to me first. But after some time she shouted, “Sand” and got back to mucking around with colors lying on the floor.
PS. I went to the MHE Beach Camp as part of their Blogger-in-Residence Program. Do check it out.
After walking for 14 kilometers or so, I was happy to crawl into my tent which others had kindly pitched. Dilip and I were sharing the tent. What I didn’t like though, was the rain. It had been falling incessantly since we started trekking. Only rain in Spiti means light tip tip drops. You will not get really wet but it can be mighty annoying. It is also annoying because the clouds cover all the view. I mean here I was so close to Chandratal Lake and yet I was not running down to it because of the weather! I told Vishal, “Chandratal is a myth!”
After walking for such a long time, I didn’t take much time to doze off. I was snug in my sleeping bag, I was out of the rain and wind and I was so tired. Thankfully my ankle and knee were not giving any major trouble after the fall. I woke up only when Ramakant ji gave us some tea in the tent! I was even more annoyed that the rain was still falling without a break. After the tea, I managed to doze off once again.
This time I woke up when it was trying to get dark. Vishal gave us soup and pop corns to eat. They were the best pop corns I ever had. Dilip and I were on a cribbing spree about the weather. I mean here I was after walking 14 kilometers, only to get cooped in my tent and listen to rain, rain and some more rain! I was telling Dilip that I spent more time looking at the roof of the tent that I did at the Chandratal Lake!
Before the pop corns arrived I was also telling Dilip that the only thing that remained now was to spill over the small quantity of tea left at the bottom of the glasses inside the tent. He offered to take the glasses out, stumbled near the outer flap of the tent but thankfully spilled the leftover tea on the grass. He is 6 foot plus and then it was his turn to cribb out the height of the tent. I agreed it felt like murgi ka darba (hen’s coop) with nowhere to run and the only place to hide from the rains.
Darkness fell and the weather was such that no one went to the lake. Sometime later we had dinner and turned in for the night. I was hoping for better weather in the morning.
The next morning was not too great weather wise. It was a short walk to the lake after I finished drinking a cup of tea. But even in that cloudy grey weather Chandratal looked majestic. I really truly want to go back the next year later in the season, I would be praying for clear skies! As I said, I spent more time inside the tent than by the lake but even then it was worth walking all those kilometers. I would do it again without thinking twice, if the road is closed.
I feel truly blessed to be able to walk up to the lake and a glimpse of it. I visited Spiti in 2007 but I could not go to the Chandratal Lake then. I went back to the region after 7 long years. It would be 10 years since I have not been to Ladakh. I have to set the other count right and soon! And I hope I would never wait for another 7 years to go back to Spiti. Being back in the plains gives me low altitude sickness.
I was star struck, no literally, this time at Batal in Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh. You might have noticed that I vanished for a week, the plan was to visit Chandratal, the stunningly beautiful lake close to Batal. I managed to reach the lake this time though the blue skies eluded me. However, at Batal, for a brief period the weather gods were kind to me. They lit the sky with a million stars! I was so thrilled that I did not leave my tripod behind!
This is what I could capture and I have to say for novice at night photography, I am happy with it. Also it was not so cold that I would freeze to death when I stayed out. I do not enjoy freezing to death on cold nights at all. A good down jacket and I was fine outdoors. In fact, I actually enjoyed staying out and turned in only when clouds covered the sky.
No accommodation can beat staying in a tent under a starry sky, at least for me. There would have been a moon rise at some point but then the clouds obscured it! Though, I am not complaining at all.
We went in a jeep up to Batal. There is actually a jeep route all the way to Chandratal but on the day we were going the road was closed. I am probably happier that we walked about 14 km in the stunningly beautiful region. The very next day while coming back, the jeep could come in 9 km ahead as they were repairing the road.
I am really happy that I managed to sneak out to the mountains in the end. It always leaves me a much happier person. So, tomorrow while driving if I demonstrate more patience you know why!
I trekked with Rama Kant Sharma who is a responsible trekking guide and family friend as well. I will leave you today with the pictures but of course the tales will follow.