Monday, January 20, 2014

Our 2013 India Trip


Describing the geographical structure of India; we always say “Aaa sethu modalu seethachalam varaku”.  I cannot say our trip is so accurate to these words, but close enough!  We travelled from Northeast Himachal mountain ranges to south western mountain range. Basically, we covered New Delhi, Nepal, Himachal Pradesh and touched base in Punjab and extended our travel to Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

We landed in New Delhi in the early hours of the day and managed to refresh at the airport lounge and headed to Kathmandu by morning 8am flight. 

Kathmandu stands at an elevation of approximately 1,400 meters (4,600 ft) in the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley of central Nepal. It is surrounded by four major mountains: Shivapuri, Phulchoki, Nagarjun, and Chandragiri. Kathmandu Valley is part of three districts (Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur).  The important landmark in Kathmandu is the Durbar square where most of the site seeing happens. It includesJagannath temple,  Taleju temple, Hanuman Durbar, Kastha mandap, Basantpur palace, Kalabhairav temple, House of Kumari, Big bell etc along with shopping area, bazaars and more.  We also visited Swayambunath temple, Pasupathinath temple.   

One evening at about sunset time we reached Nagarkot, which is 32 km NE of Kathmandu.  Nagarkot is famous for its Himalayan views- the Himalayan peaks at sunrise or sunset are a magnificent sight to behold.  No words can describe the view from top of the mountain.  We could see the whole Himalaya mountain range on one side and the other side peaking between the clouds there appeared Mt. Everest.   

About 20 km from Kathmandu, in a place called Sanga, on a mountain range we saw the world’s tallest statue of Lord Shiva which is made of copper, cement, zinc and steel which stands at 143 ft. The construction started in 2004 and completed in 2011.

The best part of the trip is the one hour mountain flight that is conducted by local airline companies.  The first day after sitting in the airport for hours together hoping to take the flight, at the last minute, it was cancelled because of the bad weather.  We tried the next day early morning again waiting in the airport for hours, but luck was on our side that after a trial flight, they decided to fly.  That is the experience one can never describe in words only to be experienced!  The flight took close to the peaks and the pilot invited each of us into the cockpit and pointed each peak and allowed us to take pictures, particularly of Mt. Everest and Gowrie Shankar at close range from the cockpit.   

We have seen so many mountain ranges Rocky Mountains Blue Ridge Mountain in  States, Alps and others in Europe, but none of them come close to Himalayas as they sore high with dignity and majesty.  The valleys are breathtaking with beauty as well as fear.  You feel devotional at the spiritual level, respect and fear and modesty at the intellectual level and at physical level, you feel very humble and realize how small a man is before or in front of the Nature!

Kathmandu being a major tourist attraction to the international visitors, it could have been better if the city is more clean and especially the domestic airport. We missed the opportunity to visit Phokara, a wonderful scenic city which is close to the base camp of Annapurna Mountain.  The city consists of 8 lakes with lots of related activities.  

After returning to New Delhi, we took one day break and then headed towards our next tour to Himachal Pradesh.  Our first stop was Shimla.  We opted to take train from Delhi.

Early morning we boarded the train which took us to Kalka, a city at the foothills of Himalayas and an entry point to Himachal Pradesh.  There we changed to a narrow gauge train which is commonly called as “Toy Train”.  The distance between Kalka and Shimla is only 96 km but it takes more than 3 hours. In this short distance, the train goes through 103 tunnels. This route is famous for its breathtaking views of the mountains and the surrounding villages.  This route is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 Shimla is one of the top ten tourist attractions of India.  The streets of the city are all
snake shaped and goes uphill and down slopes with one side the valley and the other side the mountains.  You can never guess between the mountains, where the offices or the shops or the schools are! You only see people suddenly appearing on the road side walking. You wonder where they are going!  The main attraction of Shimla is the “Mall” Street which is the hub for all the shopping, municipal offices, Famous Christ church and restaurants.  The best part of this is that no automobiles are allowed on this street, and

People have to leave their cars and stroll along the streets of this “Mall”.  They have small pony rides for the children.  You all can relate to this street from many Hindi movies of 70s and “Love in Shimla” and also The Kalka-Shimla train is pictured in the movie “Aradhana”(Hindi).  

Near Shimla at the height of 2455 meters from sea level, on the famous Jakhu hill is located the ancient Jakhu Temple. The scenic view that surrounds this beautiful temple is absolutely breathtaking and splendid. It is hardly 2 kilometers from the Ridge and is an uphill climb through the beautiful deodar (Devadar) trees. The Jakhu Temple of Simla is dedicated to the monkey God, Hanuman.  The legend says that Hanuman took rest on this

Mountain when he is bringing back the “Sanjivani Mountain” to its original place.  The original temple is very small, and naturally the whole place is occupied by monkeys.  Recently they built a 350 ft statue of Lord Hanuman, and the orange colored Hanuman can be seen from anywhere in Shimla.  

The next place we visited is “Kufri”, a small hill station, the main attraction of it is the winter sports and its Himalayan Zoo.  On the way, we took a ride on horses to top of a mountain for its breathtaking views.  Learned how to steer the horse and how to position our body when going up the hill or coming down the hill. It was an experience! We took ride on horse and elephants, the only thing remained is camel! May be one of these days!!

The next day off, we go on an 8 hr drive about 270 km to Manali. It is at an altitude of 2,050 m (6,726 ft) in the Beas River Valley is a hill station nestled in the mountains near the northern end of the Kullu Valley.  The drive was very pleasant and views are memorable.  We took break at every scenic place and enjoyed the snow peaks and the lush valleys along with Sutlej river. On the way, we visited a shawl factory.  Manali is a beautiful city which also has a Mall road.  The main temples we visited are Vashista temple and in the same complex there is a Shiva temple and Rama temple.  Vashista temple is also famous for its nearby hot springs.  We also visited Dhoongri temple dedicated to goddess Hidimba, wife of  Bhima of Mahabharat fame. It has four-tiered Pagoda shaped roof and the doorway is carved with legendary figures and symbols. This temple located amidst wooden forest of deodar. It was built in 1533 AD and it is one of a kind.   There is a nearby Ghatothkacha temple too.   

The next day we booked a local taxi (only HP drivers are allowed, not our Delhi driver) to go to Rhotang pass. The weather was clear and no clouds and we were so excited to go.  Rohtang Pass (3979 m) which is 51kms.from Manali on highway to Keylong/Leh. It offers a panorama and spectacular Mountain View.  The road is very narrow and rugged with high risk of falling rocks and very steep at places.  It is quite cold and along the way up to 12 km, there are hundreds of shops with winter gear that you can rent.  Unfortunately, there was a dispute between the taxi people and the local police, and they stopped all the vehicles at about 15 km from Manali.  They didn’t allow any vehicle on that road until the dispute was cleared and it didn’t till the next day afternoon.  But, we had to leave for Dharmasala and missed the life’s experience.  But the good thing is, we instead visited Solang Valley. 13 kms. From Manali is a splendid valley between Solang village and Beas Kund. Solang valley offers the view of glaciers and snow capped mountains and peaks. It has fine ski slopes.  Manali is a beautiful place for winter sports like skiing, trekking, Para gliding etc.  Anybody who watched “Ice Road Truckers” on history channel must have watched them driving on this Rhotang pass!!

Sailaja Somayajula.



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