December is here and unlike the other years, I am in a full on reminiscences mode. So I asked myself- which picture would I pick if I had to pick only one picture from each of my trips! Now there was a problem with this concept. If I picked even just one picture from each of my trips, there would be 20 pictures in all! I decided to go easy and do it in batches of 5. So here I go, these were the first 5 trips in 2014.
Kutch, Gujarat (Personal Solo Trip)
It was very difficult to pick just one picture from the trip to Kutch because I have 963 pictures in all. I visited the Great Rann of Kutch on this trip with its white salt fields. Yet I went with this picture of the Mandavi Beach because in a way this is how I wish my vacations to be, golden sunlight on the beach with me lazing around! Only I always end up chasing pictures instead of lazing around.
Sariska (Personal Trip)
Sariska was one of the trips where I didn’t get many pictures worth showcasing. However, I did got the closest ever I could, to a peacock. It was easy picking up this picture as there were no serious rivals in this folder. The trip was special because I traveled with Chhavi.
Narkanda (Personal Solo Trip)
I went to Narkanda at the end of February all alone. It was one snow filled affair. With every passing day though, I wonder if it is wise to travel solo in India? And when I say solo, I mean traveling alone on my own, not when I am invited. On invited trips I have never ever felt unsafe. Let us see how I tackle solo traveling in 2015.
This was another trip where I feel I had only a few decent pictures, so it was not really difficult to pick this one.
Finland (with Nokia)
Levi in the Lapland region of Finland was a snow filled wonder beyond compare. The house you see was the Levi Spirit Villa where I stayed. I consider it to be the most luxurious accommodation I have ever stayed in, till date. It had its own Jacuzzi, Sauna and Home Theater among other things! It was not easy to pick just one picture from this trip as I had a crazy snowmobile experience as well but in the end I picked this one for the sheer luxury.
Udaipur (with Justa Resorts)
If you ever find yourself at Udaipur, do go to the Monsoon Palace at sunset. I was lucky that the sky put some extra drama but even without that, the view of the city is just gorgeous. Once again this was a trip that gave me many happy pictures but I absolutely adore the sunset ones and specially the one above.
So, which one did you like best?
When I arrived at Narkanda there was snow everywhere. I was so tired at the end of the journey that I was happy I didn’t had to walk through snow to reach the hotel. The taxi dropped me right at the doorstep of the Hatu which is a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Development Corporation (HPTDC) hotel. At the check-in was a young boy who could see I was tired and cold. He completed the formalities quickly and assured me that chai and pakoras would arrive soon right in my room. But to my retreating back he did ask, “so are you alone?” To which I simply said yes.
Here is a short clip of the Hatu, Narkanda. The room I stayed in was clean though not fancy. At all times, I felt safe. The staff was courteous. After the initial curiosity even my traveling alone was no longer much of an issue.
Narkanda is a small town. There were a few small shops in the main market where I would sit down and have tea after my strolls. I had all my meals at the hotel. One day I asked for a local dish and I was given Gobhi Palda which was a kind of cauliflower kadhi. It was good. I had parathas for breakfast everyday! I think I paid more for tea than I paid for breakfast!
You can book a ski package with the hotel depending on the snow conditions. I was asked if I would like to ski but I was determined not to do anything on this vacation! I managed to keep my resolve till the end. I had many conversations with the guy I met at the reception, Pankaj Sharma and the ski instructor. I told them about my trekking adventures and they told me about the possible treks in the region.
When I was leaving on the last day, they told me, ma’am fir aiyega (ma’am come back again). I am already planning to take Chhavi and Vasu (my niece) for skiing next year at Narkanda. And if I can get a room I will surely stay at the Hatu again.
As I work full time (in academics) I have to be really stingy with my leaves. I look at the holiday schedule of my institute and try to plan my trips around it. It is March now and I am really struggling with my leave balance. It will get renewed in April so a few days more! All my CLs are over and I am using my ELs like there is no tomorrow. But then as they say- tomorrow never comes!
I picked up Narkanda because I could reach there the same day. I am no fan of driving, so I rely on public transport to get to my destination. I took the Kalka Shatabdi and then a bus to Shimla. It is a pain to take the early morning Shatabdi from Delhi but at least once I am inside the train, the journey is comfortable.
The plan was to take another bus from Shimla to Narkanda. However, as I was traveling on a private bus from Kalka to Shimla, it would stop at every nook and corner. Then it was also Mahashivratri and that meant traffic jams. For the distance of 88 Kilometers on good roads the bus took 4 hours. It was around 4.00 pm when I reached Shimla. Because of taking Avomine for my nausea on mountain roads, I arrived in a very poor shape. There is a new bus stand at Shimla which is spread over two stories. When I inquired about a bus to Narkanda they told me the next bus was at 6.00 pm. That would mean I would arrive at dark in a new place, alone. I was not willing to do that. There is a taxi stand at the ISBT Shimla. They called up friends and asked if the road was open for Narkanda. That was the first inkling I had that the weather may have snow in store for me! It is at times like these I feel it is a good decision that I have not quit my job. But when I have to say no sponsored trips (and now to a foreign one as well) because of leaves I go back to square one and I want to quit my job. I guess this debate will continue till eternity in my head!
The taxi ride to Narkanda was uneventful and I reached there at 6.15 pm. I had no time to have lunch anywhere so one of my first requests at the HPTDC hotel was for tea and anything to eat. They offered pakoras and I took it with glee. They told me to sit in the room near the heater and they would serve it right there.
The path to the hotel was full of snow, so was Narkanda. During my entire stay it would snow intermittently. Because of snow the return journey became even more eventful! The day before I was to leave they started talking about roads getting blocked! I had no wish to get stuck at Narkanda. We debated if I should get down a day earlier and stay at another HPTDC hotel closer to Shimla. In the end I decided not to go early. When I open my eyes on the day of departure the entire place looked grey. And it was snowing.
When I went for breakfast they told me no buses were running at the moment but they would let me know when they started. At about 10.00 am they told me buses were going now. When I walked to the bus stand, it was still snowing. The wind come and try to put some snow into my clothes. It was not a good feeling. Eventually a bus came which was supposed to go to Kalpa, in the opposite direction. But there were no passengers for it. No buses were coming to Narkanda from Kalpa side. So, the bus drivers consulted their bosses and eventually decided to go back to Shimla. It was 11.30 am by then. I had a 5.45 Shatabdi to catch from Kalka. I reached Shimla at 3.00 pm and I knew I had to take a taxi again or I would miss the train.
The taxi ride was once again a pleasant one. The driver (who owned the taxi) name was Anil Sharma and if you are looking for an Innova at Shimla you can call him at 09816171013. We stopped at Jabli at the Isher Sweet Shop. It is a really good place to stop for snacks. It is crowded all the time. Then we stopped just before Kalka to have a cup of tea as we still had time for the train. Anil was a safe driver and not too fazed that I was traveling alone.
When I was waiting at the bus stop in snow, I heard a local say- this is why we call it Narak Kanda (Narak is hell in Hindi) and not Narkanda. But for a vacation it does not feel like narak at all, in fact quite the opposite.
For this lazy Sunday I will go with the Streaked Laughingthrush. Oblivious to the snow around, it just kept playing or at least what looked like play to me. All kind of Laughingthrushs have beautiful voices but I did not hear it sing this time.
These pictures were clicked at Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh while it got a cover of snow in late February and early March. I was taking a stroll along the main road and found them at the edge of the road. Going by their reaction to me, they were mildly used to being around human beings. It kind of ignored my presence.
I am not sure I like cold weather but being in snow for a few days was jolly good fun. What is exotic weather for me was an irritant for the locals! The bird didn’t seem to mind it though.
There was snow and slush on the roads and apart from the skiers no one seemed to be too happy about it. There is a ski program available with the HPTDC and people from HP police were doing it. They could ski on the side of the road while going to a different location.
I took a walk on one of the quieter roads and it was absolutely amazing. Only an occasional jeep would come my way and I had the whole wonderland to myself!
Other than this close sighting (I use a 75-300 lens for most of my bird pictures) I was not lucky with birds this time. I saw one from the woodpecker family, but before I could gather my wits around, it decided to vanish. It has been actually quite sometime since I went chasing birds. I guess it is about time!