Monday, April 21, 2014

Wanna New Life? Go to Spiritual and Exotic Surkhanda Devi | Kanatal

View from Surkhanda Devi
View from Surkhanda Devi
On Way to Surkhanda Devi
On Way to Surkhanda Devi
Our car stopped at the vehicle parking place at Kaddukhal, after leaving our last stay at Dhanaulti, a beautiful hamlet tucked in the lap of the Himalayan range and surrounded by rich forests. Our itinerary was from Delhi-Dehradun-Musssoorie- Dhanaulti-Srikanda Devi-Kanatal- Chamba-back to Delhi. Not a precise tourist itinerary, but that's what we are! An offbeat travel freak!
Kaddukhal is a small village on the road to Kanatal-Chamba, 45 minutes drive from Mussoorie, on Chamba road, from where you climb to your spiritual heaven Surkhanda Devi, one of the most picturesque Shakti Peeth in India, at the height of 9976 feet and surrounded by other awesome Himalayan peaks

Surkhanda Devi

It is an ancient stone and the wood Hindu temple, a sacred Shakti Peeth (Legend).  The road takes a sharp turn from where you take the steps and a rough path to the great heights of 2757 meters and cover a 3 km distance.
In this part of the country, our Gods are known to reside in the most difficult places and that too at heights whereas we are known to be too lazy to try and take their blessings, but the truth is, and I have experienced, you get what you want once you reach and pay your respects.

The climb was tough, at least to me with my age and extra padding. I had joined a group while climbing who were a great help in encouraging me all the time. With perspiration trickling down my neck and lungs about to burst I looked around and I was speechless! It was a stunning sight! Nothing less than a miracle! With the pain and tiredness vanishing instantly I looked at the incredible sight..remembering the description of "Heaven" I had read and seen in the mythological books in my childhood. With my group I was standing above the clouds wherein I could see a sprawling expanse of a sky, the tips of the snow peaks emerging from clouds below but at our eye level! There was a total silence among the group staring at the nature's wonder.. The abode of Gods... Nothing above horizon!!
Suddenly I felt cold and realized that the temperature must be minus. We offered our respects to Surkhanda Devi and started the descent to the base chanting "Jai Surkhanda Devi", Jai Durga Mata" and "Jai Kaali". Reaching at the base village of Kaddukhal, at the roadside restaurant, we had the privilege of two cups of hot sugary tea, courtesy group leader Balwant. Thanking him profusely, we proceeded to our next destination KANATAL, another half an hour journey.

Awesome view from Kanatal
Awesome view from Kanatal

It was an early evening when we entered straight into cold clouds, a translucent cotton wool at Kanatal. 
Kanatal Camp
Kanatal Camp

My tent at Kanatal Camp
My tent at Kanatal Camp
When I came out from my tent at Kanatal Camp after a wash, the mist was still moving in from the adjacent jungle slowly creeping in and then rising. With the fading light the scene was mystic and very strange. It was getting colder at 8500 ft. Sitting outside my tent  and looking downhill, I saw between clouds or mist...a blurred sight right from the mystery novel... Diffused light of sodium vapor lamps from the adjoining tents! I heard someone behind me. It was Bholu, the help, emerging from the mist with a covered teapot. He told me the mists would disappear any time and I can see a clear sky, before the night sets in.
We had an early dinner dinner of cabbage, dal (lentils) and fluffy rotis. When I came out, yes, the sky was clear. Walking on the ground I looked up and it was a dream world. The sky looked so close and the if I could touch and pluck them!  All around there was a silence... And then I heard a growl coming from the jungle. A Panther? Returning back, Bholu the help said, "yes, it could be. They are in the jungles close to Chamba 15 km from Kanatal. Must have strayed." He was very casual.

KANATAL is known for its wonderful walks so next day, after enjoying my breakfast, ventured into nearby forests. It was a serene trek, tall alpine trees, moss and lichen, streams and sunlight barely breaking through. The birds and colorful hundreds of butterflies and abundance of silence! I sat near a tree and started analyzing I don't know what..may be remoteness! Then I saw a hare darting into the bushes and I smiled. The mist had started moving in.. So I decided to go back; it was about to be late afternoon

KANATAL was perhaps the best for peace and serenity and I knew that I am going to come again. Here you don't do anything and you have done everything!!

I recommend the following hotels at KANATAL:
Kanatal Camp
The Terrace (91-1376-283170/71)
The Hermitage (91-1376-283014)

Updated post of 2007
A journey to mystic ABBOTT MOUNT in Uttarakhand

Monday, April 14, 2014

India Train Travel | Do You Know Great, Funny and The Bad Facts?

The Incredible Indian Railways
The Incredible Indian Railways

The Great Facts

Shatabdi Express
Shatabdi Express
1. The Fastest train in India: New Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express is the fastest train in India. The all air-conditioned super fast train clocks a maximum speed of 150km/h on the Faridabad-Agra section. It also has the highest commercial speed – 89.87 km/h- and covers the 704 km New Delhi – Bhopal stretch in 7 hours 50 minutes.
2. Longest run by a train: Vivek Express from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari travels a distance of 4273 km, making it the longest run in terms of total time and distance in Indian Railways.
Longest station name: Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta
3. Longest station name: Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta on the Arakkonam-Renigunta section near Chennai.
Lucknow Railway Station
Impressive Lucknow Charbagh Railway Station
4. Busiest station: Lucknow, with 64 trains per day.
Longest Platform at Kharagpur
Longest Platform at Kharagpur
5. Longest Platform: Indian Railways owns the longest railway platform in the world at Kharagpur (West Bengal) with a length of 2,733 ft (1072.5 m) in length.
 Oldest Working Locomotive of Fairy Queen Train
 Oldest Working Locomotive of Fairy Queen Train
6. Oldest Working Locomotive: Indian Railways still have the oldest preserved locomotive in working order, the Fairy Queen which was made way back in 1855. It has the oldest functioning steam engine in the world, which finds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records and got Heritage Award at the International Tourist Bureau, Berlin in March 2000.
7. First Railroad: The first railroad was constructed by two Indians (Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Jaganath Shunkerseth) and not the British.
8. Labor Force: Indian Railways is the world’s ninth largest commercial or utility employer, by number of employees, with over 1.4 million employees. It is also the India’s largest employer.
9. Distance Covered: The total distance covered by the 14,300 trains daily on the Indian Railways daily equals three and half times the distance to the moon.
10. Longest Tunnel: The country’s longest tunnel is Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel 11.215 km that was completed in December 2012 in Jammu and Kashmir. The tunnel is yet to become a functional railway route. Karbude on Konkan Railways, which is 6.5 km in length previously held the title for the longest tunnel in India.
11. Passenger Load: The Indian Railways (IR) carry over 25 million passengers daily which is perhaps more than the entire population of Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania put together. Annually Indian Railways ferries 7.2 billion passengers (nearly 6x India’s current population).
12. Total Number of Trains: Indian Railways run as many as 19,000 trains every day. Some 12,000 trains are for passengers and 7,000 for freight.
13. Age: Indian Railways have had an operation span of nearly 170 years.
 Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: CST in Mumbai
 Chhatrapati Shivaji TerminusCST in Mumbai
14. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: CST in Mumbai caters to 33 million passengers annually and is the only terminus in the world to be listed as a monument of global heritage by UNESCO.
 Longest Bridge: Vembanad Rail Bridge
 Longest Bridge: Vembanad Rail Bridge 
15. Longest Bridge: Vembanad Rail Bridge 4.62 km in length in the state of Kerala connects connecting Edappally and Vallarpadam in Kochi. It is the longest rail bridge in India and it is dedicated solely for freight.
 Pamban Bridge
 Pamban Bridge
16. Sea Bridge: India’s first sea bridge, the Pamban Bridge is a cantilever bridge in the Palk Strait. It connects Rameswaram to Pamban Island (Tamil Nadu) to mainland India.
Highest Bridge: The world’s highest rail bridge in Jammu and Kashmir
Highest Bridge: The world’s highest rail bridge in Jammu and Kashmir
17. Highest Bridge: The world’s highest rail bridge being constructed over the Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district (Chenab Bridge) will be ready by December, 2015. Coming up at Kauri, it will be 359 meters (1,180 feet) above riverbed (five times the height of Qutub Minar and 35 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower
The luxury Trains in India
The luxury Trains in India
18. The luxury Trains in India are some of the best Luxury Trains in the world: These train not just gets you to places but they get you there in style. Presenting seamless fusion of romance, of a bygone era with contemporary finesse, luxury rail journeys in India offer unparalleled ways to explore the true essence of Indian culture.

Get the taste of India

Traveling by train is the best way to experience the real India. A rail journey in India is one of the most memorable experiences which travel lovers would explore at any given time. The pleasure of being on a train and gazing at beautiful landscapes from the window seat is one of the most exciting experiences, at least I have experienced!

6 Top Ecstatic Train Journeys in India

Kalka-Shimla Toy Train
Kalka to Shimla
When it comes to incredible and amazing rail route journey, the first route that comes to our mind is Kalka to Shimla rail route. The majestic toy train journey from Kalka to Shimla is a real treat to people who are passionate about rail journeys
Konkan Railways
Konkan Railways
Konkan Railways is another most incredible rail journey in India, which starts from Mumbai to Kerala. This rail route passes through the Konkan coast, making the journey, one of the most exciting and offers picturesque scenic beauty on the way.  It passes through 1998 bridges and 92 tunnels!
Jaipur-Jaisalmer Desert Queen Train
Jaipur- Jaisalmer
India is a land of diversity. On one hand it offers lush green sceneries and on the other hand it offers the beauty of barren deserts. A train from Jaipur to Jaisalmer is another exciting journey where one can experience the flavor of barren deserts. The beauty of this route is that the view of the landscape keeps changing such as, after traveling a few hours from Jaipur, you can see the change of landscape from desert to pastoral landscapes, beautiful mud huts that are made up of red clay bricks and you can also enjoy the view of camels gazing in the flat desert
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
This is one of the major attractions of Darjeeling. The route passes from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling. One can enjoy the transformation of climate and picturesque landscape while travelling to this route, as the rail passes through various landscapes along with various altitudes. It
Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is truly an incredible rail journey that starts from Mettupalayam, the plains of Tamil Nadu to Ooty, passing through Coonoor in between.  It passes through 250 bridges and 16 tunnels. Throughout this journey you can enjoy the view of lush green hills, tea gardens and the tall girder bridges.
Vasco DA Gama to Londa Junction Train in Goa
Goa-Vasco DA Gama to Londa
The wonderful train journey from Vasco DA Gama to Londa Junction is truly an amazing experience one can rejoice. Adding to it, you can experience the view of an attractive falls at Dudhsagar, on the way from Vasco DA Gama to Londa junction. Another most attractive view of the route is when the train moves through the Western Ghats, where the train accelerates its speed and passes through the woods. Also, you can enjoy the view of gigantic falls and red clay surroundings.

The Funny

The Holy Cow on the Railway Platform
The Holy Cow on a Railway Platform
Fingering to enter
Fingering To Enter

Monkeys on Railway Platform
Monkey Business 
A free bath on the platform
A free bath on the platform


The Bad

1. Online travel booking through official portal is terrible. Firstly, the site takes its own time to open and move.  Secondly, even if you plan 1 month in advance, the chances are that you may get a wait-listed tickets. However, if you are prepared to pay Rs.500-1000 to an agent, you will get a confirmed booking. There is no respite for the senior citizen who wants a lower berth. There is no chance unless you plan 2 months in advance.
2. The quality of food you get on the intermediate stations and even by the pantry car is poor.
3. There is always a nuisance of hawkers and beggars entering especially in general compartments and even sometimes in 2 and 3 Tier AC coaches. This irritating scene, with the additions of cows, dogs and monkeys you may observe on the station platforms also
4. Some of the stations are dirty with a stench. This, unfortunately, includes Delhi and New Delhi as well.
So, be prepared for a chaos.
Look for the incredibly brighter side of Indian Railways and enjoy your travel!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Is The Great Himalayan National Park India, Best in The World?

The Great Himalayan National Park
The Great Himalayan National Park
Another view of The Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu.
Another view of The Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu 
UNESCO'S Nomination for Great Himalayan National Park
It was a truly exquisite and a blissful paradise!
Just a chance that we planned suddenly to visit to The Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu. Although, I had heard about this park before and thinking that it would be Similar to other great National Parks like Corbett, Ranthambhor, Kaziranga and others I have visited, I may visit some day in the future.  However, an instant plan was made when my friend Tommy Singh’s beautiful daughter Amrita mentioned about the park’s nomination to UNESCO’S heritage sites of the world, it’s incredible beauty of the majestic Himalayan mountains, awesome biodiversity with innumerable species of birds, wild animals and plants and finally, world’s finest treks!
We were sitting on the lawn of Hotel Sarvari, a hptdc unit in Kullu. I looked into the smiling eyes of Amrita and after a moment, just nodded. The following 2 hours were really hectic as we had to make all the arrangements to enable us leave for the park, next morning.
At 7 AM, the following day we  took NH 21 back from Kullu to Mandi and took leave from Aut to Larji  to Gushaini to Thirthan valley.  The distance of about 70 Kms took us 3 hours. The valley is situated beside the Tirthan River in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 1600 meters, Tirthan Valley is a gateway to the Great Himalayan National Park. We were amazed!  As we entered the valley, we found it to be a place where one can easily feel the nature at its best.
India's Newest National Park, which is awesome for wildlife tours, birding tours, mountaineering expeditions and treks into its four valleys of Tirthan , Sainj, Parvati and Jiwanal.

The Sai Ropa complex in Shamshi Village
The Sai Ropa complex in Shamshi Village
Before heading for our home stay, we went to take a permit for the GHNP. . The Sai Ropa complex in Shamshi Village is the place where from you get approvals and permissions to go to the GHNP.
Later, after getting permission,  we went to the famous Shringa Rishi Temple in Banjar. Then we went further and visited awesome Chaini Kothi, an archaeologist as well as an architectural wonder of the state!
At last we reached at  our home stay- BHARTI GUEST HOUSE at  Village Nagini, Banjar. The very first thing I noticed was Guest house which was situated on the other side of  Tirthan River. I was thrilled to see the rope way which was the only way to reach his place. It was the most exciting moment in our journey. One has to sit in the metal basket hung across the Tirthan river. We laughed like crazy as we crossed with the  roaring sound of the Tirthan river along with the cold breeze adding to the excitement. The guest house is also known as the Hotel Trout Valley, at village Nagni.
 Bharti Guest House (Hotel Trout Valley), Banjar Himachal
 Bharti Guest House (Hotel Trout Valley), Banjar Himachal
The Bharti Guest House (Hotel Trout Valley) is awesome in one word. It's out of this world. Right in the midst of nature beside the river Tirthan surrounded by mountains and apple orchards and apricot garden - it was a bliss!!
Entry to GHNP, Rolla (2,000 m), Tirthan Valley
Entry to GHNP, Rolla (2,000 m), Tirthan Valley
Our campsite
Our campsite
Next day, we started our trek of 3 days from Gushaini to Shilt Hut entering through The Great Himalayan National Park. The pristine beauty of this region is unmatched and is the last Himalayan wilderness in India. The unique biodiversity of this park just stunned us.  There was NO worldly crowd, only beauty and silence broken by the sound of nature! I was back to the Raju Bharti Guest House but my soul was still there. This was one of the best treks of my life with nature with imposing Mountains and enticing rivers .  The camp and the site were amazing. The river so soothing... Early morning the sight of mountain goats (Ghoral) arriving to drink water from the river..and the nights? The star filled sky seems we were in another world.

Details of our trek

Gushaini to Shilt Hut

Easy to Moderate three day hike from Ecozone into Park.

Day 1: Gushaini (1500 m) to Rolla (2100 m). Entry into Park. Easy day.
Distance: 9 kms.

Day 2: Rolla to Shilt Hut (3100 m): side trip to Chhordwari waterfall and bamboo forest. Distance: 7 kms.

Day 3: Shilt to Gushaini: Return.
Total Distance: 30 kms.
On the 5th day, we took to trail into the woods by the Tirthan river. We followed our guide into the narrow winding path straight up to the village. Then straight up and down through the thick forest and then into the end of the path which then joined into a bridge over the Tirthan river.
We could not explore the park and undertook other heavenly treks due to paucity of time. What a sad thing!
We returned to Delhi on the day 6th with moist eyes and a sinking heart

General Information about GHNP

  • Location: Kullu region in Himachal Pradesh.
  •  Established: 1984 and declared as a National Park in 1999.
  •  Area: 452 sq mi.
  • Known for its biodiversity and has more than 25 forest types, 800 kinds of plants and is home to more than 180 bird species.
  • Habitat to numerous flora and more than 375 fauna species that comprises nearly around 31 mammals, 181 birds, 3 reptiles, 9 amphibians, 11 annelids, 17 mollusks and 127 insects.
  • Nominated for UNESCO’S World Heritage Site

The park has vast areas of alpine pastures and glaciers cap this park. This area has many important wildlife species of Western Himalayas, like Musk deer, Brown bear, Goral, Thar,Leopard, Snow leopard, Bharal, Serow, Monal, Kalij, Koklas, Cheer, Tragopan, Snow cock etc. The park is bounded by the adjoining valleys of two rivers – Sainj and Tirthan – and the trek takes you through both, inclusive of a hair-raising crossing over a narrow, snowbound ledge.

The four beautiful valleys of the park area

Tirthan Valley, Sainj Valley, Jiwa Nal Valley and Parvati Valley

Trekking and camping in alpine pastures is unforgettable

Some of the best treks in the park


Meadows at Homkhani in Sainj valley
Meadows at Homkhani in Sainj valley
A five-day trek crossing through the Sainj river valley.


 Trekkers at Dhel Thatch
 Trekkers at Dhel Thatch

An eight-day trek crossing two valleys. Moderate to strenuous. Experience the transitions between two magnificent valleys.


Crossing Jiwa Nala
Crossing Jiwa Nala

A seven-day, very strenuous, dramatic hike crossing the mountain passes at Kandi Galu (3627m), and Phangchi Galu (4636m). Incredible vistas. Must be in excellent physical condition as very demanding with elevation ascent of 2000 meters and 1500 meters descent in one day (total up-down, 3,500 m in one day!).


View of  Tirath
View of  Tirath

A beautiful hike with many habitat transitions. Tirath, the origin of the Tirthan River is a pilgrimage site for the local community. Moderate to strenuous.


 .Moderate to strenuous.
View from Parkachi Thac on way to Rakti Sar
View from Parkachi Thac on way to Rakti Sar
A trek to the source of the Parvati River

Origin of Parvati river-Mantalai
Origin of Parvati river-Mantalai

Best Season:  

From April to June and between October-November


There are no roads that lead directly to the Park boundary, access is by foot mainly through its western boundary. Two gravel roads improve access in the Ecozone and bring visitors closer to the Park- one is from Ropa to Shangarh in the Sainj valley and the other from Gushaini to Ropa in the Tirthan Valley.
Visitors are advised to carry tents if they intend to stay inside the GHNP. However, there are 14 patrolling huts, without furniture or other facilities, which can be used for shelter, after getting required permission from the park officials.

GHNP site and contact
Permission can also be taken to stay at GHNP Rest House. For  reservations, contact the Office of the Park Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamsi (Kullu), Himachal Pradesh.
Call:  01902-265320

All our arrangements were done by:
Contact person: Ankit Sood:  9418204666

Private Guest Houses near park
1. Raju Bharti Guest House (Hotel Trout Vally)
Address Hotel Trout Valley
Village Nagni, Banjar (Kullu)
094184-42313 , 094591-01113

2. List of other Home Stays and Guest Houses 
Note: For families, kids and senior citizen who can not trek in GHNP, the Tirthan valley valley itself is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains, river and streams, dense forest and awesome cool weather. However, families can get the feel of an awesome nature park by walking till the inner entrance of the GHNP. The families can stay in any of the guest houses along the Tirthan River in Banjar or Gushaini
Route map from Delhi to GHNP
Route map from Delhi to GHNP

Before You Go to Hell, Travel Heaven-India | Images From This Blog

Amazing Photos From This Blog! by Slidely Slideshow