Harsil: Hidden jewel of Uttarakhand

This time I was suffering from a sty and my family doctor suggested either you take rest at home or go out of the city life. It was a Fridayevening when my sister-in-law and my wife asked my opinion and without giving it a second thought I said, “I want to see snow clad mountains, chahe aankh thik ho ya nah ho”. In next 10 minutes, we zeroed down for Uttarkashi-Gangotri road trip. We (4 person) started at 10:30 PM from Delhi and followed the Rishikesh route. By 4:00 a.m., we crossed Haridwar and then the main decision was taken on making a base and hotel. My wife had a list of places to explore in Uttarakhand. We wanted a secluded place hence Harsil became our first choice. It’s a small village on the way to Gangotri on the banks of historic Bhagirathi River.

The moment we reached the first check post, we were stopped by the vigilant asking us whether we have permission to visit holy Gangotri. I was unhesitant, loud and clear that we are photographers and heading towards Harsil for a project, period. No further questions were asked and the gates were opened. We took a halt for natures call and what we saw around was unforgettable, sky full of tiny stars and lights below making a dream scene. It was again that moment where I felt not to click but to enjoy the moment. After half an hour of drive, we were lost in the hills as the route we followed was affected by landslide and we were unable to figure out the correct road. Little apprehensive of the road ahead, we stopped. Because of my previous experience in Triund and Ladakh, somewhere I had this in mind that someone will definitely come to help us but this time of the day … I was right, there came life saver cab. The driver told us to follow the other route which directly went to Chamba. We followed the cab till it turned to follow the route to Dehradun (assuming as he was going to Dehradun). We finally managed to reach Chamba in 2 hours, had tea, refilled our petrol tank and carried on the journey.

Now we were in the lap of Himalayas in the perfect setup – weather, sunrise and the surroundings. It was only after few hours of drive we realized that we needed to eat something and what could be better than desi aaloo parathas from a local dhaba at Sunagar. On this picturesque route to Harsil, we witnessed variety of flora and fauna including the waterfall of Tehri. Tip: get your vehicle registered at Gangnani. Finally, we reached Harsil at 12:30PM. Much to our delight, the accommodation we chose was on the banks of river Bhagirathi and had a clear view of snow clad Himalayas. We had desi lunch and then explored the nearest village. Witnessed beautiful sceneries, animals, river, rare brown trout fish, local villagers, their respective culture, traditions, the history and the unlimited stories of bear, snow leopard, treks, milkyway etc…. These three days of complete solitude in the lap of Mother Nature will be cherished for a long time now. Would love to revisit this place to relish its beauty and charm for a longer duration. (Visit http://www.jaithakur.in for more details)



Stay in clouds in just 4500 rupees

Tried in 2014, went again in 2015, succeeded in 2016. So, it was a sudden plan which was made on yet another boring office day. He said “dude let’s explore place which you know, I said why not?”. Plan approved for Triund. Since, I am into photography and had already explored McLeodganj/Dharamshala twice I knew exactly what to do in coming 4 days. We lied to our Manager, booked tickets, packed our rucksack and reached Kashmere Gate, Delhi on time, the only thing missing was “Fuel” (wink, wink). We boarded our bus and the journey started with the smoky smells of peanuts along with soothing sound of burps. Not to forget the horrible background score of Houseful 3, movie played by the driver.

We reached McLeodganj around 8:00 in the morning and it was romantically drizzling. Missed someone for a moment but the next moment I heard “move fast, you are blocking our way”, we started walking towards our hotel. Reached there, took a tight nap before hitting the market. I along with my friend had sumptuous breakfast in form of muesli, boiled and scrambled eggs, breads, tea, coffee, fries and juice. Since, the rain decided that it won’t stop, so we decided to buy umbrellas and that too those colorful ones (just for fun). For rest of the day we explored market and after having lunch we headed for Bhagsu Waterfall. It was drizzling, still good day to trek. Entire route was filled with tourists and mostly from Delhi and Punjab (Folks kindly refrain from throwing shit bottles and other stuff on the way to waterfall. Well! We reached, clicked some pictures and came back as there was hardly any secluded place to sit and enjoy the nature (So called civilized people doesn’t have a basic sense of respecting nature, it’s not a party place).  After spending an hour, we headed back to our base in McLeodganj, had an early dinner and got ourselves busy in shooting stars.

Next day, early in the morning we started our trek. Suggest to carry only one bag with a water bottle, food, medicines and other important items. As we reached Dharamkot it started pouring cats and dogs. Locals suggested as not to proceed further as it could lead to mishap. We decided against their suggestion and carried out our journey. On the midway, there is one tea stall run by Chacha, we took a chai (tea) break and moved on. You can witness a beautiful lush green valley from point near Chacha’s tea stall which it named as “Magic View”. All clouds with green trees in between and indeed it was a magic view. The trek was not so difficult yet difficult because of the climatic conditions. After 4 hours of trek finally we reached Triund Top and Wow! What a view – clouds allover. Himalayas was massive, beautiful, and breathtaking. The first thing we did was – we threw our bags and lied on the ground and ordered food (rice/dal, Maggie Rs. 130 each). We booked a room in forest guesthouse and after negotiation got the room just for Rs. 500.

The room was inhabited by us and the clouds which were seeping in through the windows. It was a like a dream sequence in which we were actually living. Outside the room, the temperature was around 4-5 degrees. We made friends with Chipu (local dog). We spent 3-4 hours of our life literally into the clouds which was ended by rain. In the night we were lucky enough to witness heavenly stars all around. Next morning, we woke up at 5:00 and captured breathtaking sunrise behind the mountains through the clouds. We were completely lost there and wanted to stay back. But, with the heavy heart, we descended back to McLeodganj and reached there in less than 2 hours. After reaching McLeodganj, had a sumptuous Nepali Thali and post that headed towards Dharamshala bus stand. We boarded our bus and were back to civilization….

(for more photographs visit www.jaithakur.in)

4 days of Magical Meghalaya

Finally I am back with one more travel story, after exploring more than 40 places in India this time the story comes from the Land of Clouds – Meghalaya. After marriage this was my first trip towards the eastern part of India. Although, I am from the eastern part of the country (Darjeeling district), however never got an opportunity to explore the area. After photography happened, I have actually realized the importance of traveling and exploring new places that will going to tickle my soul all throughout. Post my wedding, I along with my better half had decided to ditch our honeymoon plan instead decided to explore bit of North East India. Our first travel/photography outing “post wedding”.unnamed-1

We started from Delhi and landed in Guwahati Airport in the evening. Forget to mention about our first sighting of Mount Everest from the flight, mighty yet beautiful. Guwahati is the gateway to the North-East and even called as such, so it is no wonder that our journey to Meghalaya would begin from here. We stayed in Kharguli, the northern part of Guwahati and right on the bank of river Brahmaputra, it is a riverside residential area. From the top of our hotel which is situated at the highest point of Kharguli, we can see the boats in the river, low-lying hills with breathtaking sunset views. Since, we are still in early January so bonfire was the best thing happened to us for two nights with local music in the background. The only down point here is traffic condition which is equally bad as a metro city.

From Guwahati, we booked a cab for three days for Shillong, Umiam Lake, Mawlynnong followed by Dawki and Cherrapunji. So, the day has come and we our journey. It was beautiful sunny day with clear blue sky. We started off around 8:00 in the morning for Shillong. After crossing almost 20-25Kms for picturesque route we reached Umiam Lake where we spent half an hour, it was silent yet beautiful and more of a picnic spot with boat rides, lush green garden and canteens to add on. Most of shots which I took here were from my mobile phone. We started from Umiam Lake to Shillong and reached our hotel “Royal Heritage Tripura Castel” around 12:30 p.m. all thanks to heavy traffic in Shillong due to festive time – Bhogali Bihu (Assamese Festival). Post reaching our hotel we had sumptuous breakfast and did rekki of the hotel as it has great architecture with worth knowing history (Built in the 1920’s by Maharaja Bir Bikram, Royal Heritage Tripura Castle features an underground bomb shelter and tunnel, which leads out to Rose gardens). We explored areas near hotel and had dinner in its Heritage Club.

Next morning we headed to Mawlynnong which earned itself as a Cleanest Village in Asia. It’s a small village with not more than 100 families. Their major source of income is tourism. Also, for travelers they have homestays where they serve traditional Khasi food (Yellow Daal, Rice, Bamboo shoot Chutney, Tomato Chutney, Fry vegetables with Non-Veg to go). In village one can endlessly walk, however this is something that we never tired off and enjoyed every bit of it with mesmerizing view of flowers lanes, plants, trees with butterflies and birds. Got to learn some soccer skills with local kids, they are a treat to watch. This place definitely is God’s Own Garden. Within a kilometer or two lies Riwai Village where one can find The Living Root Bridge, beautiful yet mysterious it is. They are handmade from the aerial roots of Rubber Trees. You can also see the panoramic view of Mawlynnong thereby climbing up tree houses.

After our beautiful time in Mawlynnong, we headed for Dawki which is hardly 2Kms from Bangladesh. On our way to Dawki, we were blown away by the beauty of betel nut plantation. Throughout our journey, fresh and cool air brushed our face, best way to get rejuvenated….isn’t it? Dawki is a small village and its main attraction is the Umngot River that marks the natural separation between the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills. It has glass-like, emerald green waters of the Umngot River which attracts tourists and photographers around the world. What a bad luck we had as sunlight was almost gone when we reach and as a results we were not able to captures the desired frames. However, as a memory we took few from our mobile. While returning to Shillong we tried street food at Police Bazaar and explored the market.unnamed

Next morning, we headed for Cherrapunji. The place known as being the wettest place on Earth, always made me curious as how, and why. So, after an hour of drive we stopped at a local shack to taste Maggie and I can’t define the taste of it. After reaching we decided to see NohKaLikai Falls first – the name itself comes from the name of a mother, whose new husband, jealous of the wife’s child from before their marriage, kills the daughter and feeds her to the mother. The mother enraged by grief jumps from the cliff of the fall. Thus, the name of the deepest plunge waterfall in India, Nohkalikai. We took our shots and bought around 25 sticks Cinnamon (20-30 Rupees each) along with 10 packets of Cassia (Tez Patta). Since, we found out from the locals that other falls are already dried off, so we decided to explore the city rather than going towards caves and other waterfalls as it would consume time with no outcome. And, to our surprise we found the city as clean as Mawlynnong, well planned and colorful. I will not miss a chance to mention that the drive to and fro from Cherrapunji was scintillating, the road weaving in and around the mountains, was delight to eyes.

Since, Shillong is full of waterfalls and water bodies, we wanted explore one. Hence, we directly headed to well-known fall – Elephant Falls. Elephant Falls is more a collection of numerous falls that finally flow into a small lake, a series that you can walk along as you trace the flow of the water. Finally, after all these we headed back to Shillong just to witness traffic along around and felt even Shillong is bit too over crowded. Best part of the evening was again bon fire at the roof of hotel while it rained continuously. Wow…what could be the better way to end this unforgettable journey.

Although, we both captured hundreds of photographs but what I will relish throughout my life are the memories we shared together, the people we met, the cuisines we had and of course the soccer lesson I took from the kids of Mawlynnong. It was not just another honeymoon of a newly married couple, it was all about knowing each other, understanding each other, respecting each other and this journey definitely provided us the time and environment for the same. Just realized people often say after marriage life gets tough in terms of exploring new things/places, in my case I found a Travel Partner for life. At the end of the day…. We ditched our honeymoon, to celebrate our lust for travelling. Good Decision…. Isn’t it? (All shots were taken from mobile phone – Motorola MotoG4 Plus ©www.jaithakur.in)



Thrilling Experience at the Rural Olympics, Kila Raipur

For so many years I have been reading about the famous Bullock Cart Race and, I was in a dilemma shall I cover it or not as Supreme Court of India was at time planning to ban the same. Finally, I got a chance to witness this thrilling sporting event in 2014 at 78th Rural Olympics.

Well! Kila Raipur Sports Festival, popularly known as the Rural Olympics, is held annually (February) in Kila Raipur (near Ludhiana), in Punjab, India.  It was in 1933 when, Philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal visualized an annual recreational meet where farmers from areas surrounding Kila Raipur could get together and test their corporal endurance. The three-day festival is witnessed by more than a million people, every year. So many eyeballs witness the numerous set of games like Bullock Cart race, Athletics, Tug of War, Horse Race, Tractor Race, Cycle race, Dog Race etc.

For me it was my first sporting event in terms of Photography. I was excited, thrilled and confused at what to do now. On the very first evening, I was a little apprehensive of the fact that I should be clicking the event from a safe distance or else try my luck at the finishing point. The locals were way too loud and the atmosphere was electrifying. As the blue hour approached I found myself at the finishing line of the race which is considered to be the most dangerous spot for the onlookers. But, I decided to frame that moment, despite of the loud surroundings, and luckily got few. But the feeling of achievement and to be at that spot was much higher than the fear of getting hurt.

Next morning, I reached the spot before it started. Had a chit chat with locals, took out time to taste some local delicacies like sugarcane drink and Pakoras. Organizers were cooperative enough to issue me a press card for the stadium. Since, I had press card so I was able to go near the participants on the ground. It was more of a dream for me that I am between these jockeys and beautifully dressed Nihangs.

To summarize, you will definitely feel the real spirit of Punjab and the Rural Olympics which often demonstrate the physical strength and valor of the Punjabi men and women.

The festival has become an international hit for its more unusual sports categories. Spectators travel from all over the world to the village of Kila Raipur to attend the games which attracts more than 4,000 sportsmen and women, and N number of travelers, photographers, and tourists.

If you are planning to visit that then remember this mantra – first BE SAFE and then Enjoy !

Where to Stay: You have lots of options for hotels in Ludhiyana within the range of 1000-3000+ (varies season to season). But get your bookings done to avoid last minute rush. I stayed in Pukhraj Hotel which was not good at all and so as the services

What to eat: Yummm! this is the real thing. All hotels and dhabas serves traditional and mouth watering traditional Punjabi dishes. You have the option of exploring local western food joints as well

What to see: Other then the sporting event you can visit local villages which are surrounded by mustard field and are treat to the eyes. Nihangs and their tradition attire, farms and tractors, Guru Dwaras and the overall culture of Punjab will take your heart away

Kids performing the art 
Welcoming audiences on a bike
Nihang demonstrating his riding skills
Cycling event
World famous Bullock Cart Race
Kabaddi – The Traditional wrestling
Horse Race
School kid participating in Polo
Stunt on two horses by Nihang

References: Punjab Tourism, Rural Olympics.net

The Land of Red Aryans

“Welcome aboard to the land of Red Aryans” this is what you will see at the entry gate of the village. This story is about the lost Master Race of the great Alexander or the Red Aryans. I visited this place in the month of September (very important to decide your month of visit to this part of J&K), prior research is recommended. Since, I had only few hours in my hand so did not get time to interact with many people out there. Hence, I am taking references to complete my story.

In the North-East of Kargil, there are four main villages where Red Aryans live – Dah, Hanu, Darchik and Garkon. I took Kargil-Batalik-Leh road to reach there. All these four villages are situated at the bank of Indus (Sindhu) River. While Dah and Hanu villages fall under the jurisdiction of Leh district, Darchik and Garkon villages are in Kargil district.  The inhabitants of these villages are known as ‘Dards’. Locals also call them ‘Brokpas’ which in Tibetan language means the highlanders. These are also known as Red Aryans.

According to the census of 2001, these inhabitants were around 2000 in numbers. Because of the Aryan ancestry and the unique culture, Dards of these Aryan villages have been subject matter of anthropological research especially from European countries.

Their striking features include blue eyes, aristocratic noses, fair complexion and flawless skin. They appear ethnically distinct from Ladakhis or Kashmiri. Being nature worshippers, celebrate the Bononah (nature) festival and are strict vegans, which means they are not only strictly vegetarian but also don’t consume milk or milk products. This minuscule community bars both men and women from marrying non-Aryans.

Music and dance are a way of life for them. Both men and women wear colorful costume, decorating their hair with flowers, and are full of joy. They live in harmony with nature, and are cheerful and stress-free despite living in small rock shelters. They trek long distances.

Almond, apricot and walnut form part of the diet along with endless cups of butter tea. Nobody knows of their real origin or if they are indeed the real Aryans. But, regarded as long-lost members of a purebred ‘Master Race’ settled in the Himalayas.

Where to stay: No hotels here. You got to be lucky enough to get yourselves home-stay here. Kargil and Leh are the nearest options

What to eat: Other then local food you will have ample amount of Almond, apricot and walnut to get your tummy full

What to see: Other then natural beauty of the place. The features of inhabitants, their culture, house, folk dance and of-course their way of living can be noted down

Rainbow in Waterfall, few Kms away from Aryan Village
Village girls with beautiful features
Family working
A villager calling her children
Elderly Aryan woman
Kids playing
Folk Dance
Famous headgear
In their traditional attire

Writeup Sources: open magazine, india mike, facebook

Mandawa – Asia’s largest Open Art Gallery

Considered to be the Asia’s largest open art gallery, Mandawa is a town in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan in India. It is part of Shekhawati region. Mandawa is situated 190 km off Jaipur in the north. Mandawa is known for its fort and havelis. The fort town of Mandawa is well connected with the other places in region through a good network of roads. This town has been referred to as the “open art gallery” of Rajasthan because the entire Shekhawati region and not just Mandawa is dotted with fascinating mansions-havelis that have lavishly painted walls.

Fatehpur Shekhawati is midway between Jaipur and Bikaner on National Highway 11. Fatehpur is famous for grand havelis with frescos, which are significant architectural structures of the Shekhawati region. A number of monumental wells and springs known as bawdis are also centres of attraction.

Navalgarh is a part of the Shekhawati region and is midway between Jhunjhunu and Sikar. It is 30 km from Sikar and 39 km from Jhunjhunu.

Where to stay: You can stay in beautifully painted havelis converted into hotels. We stayed in Hotel Heritage (2014/2015) which had decent infrastructure and services. I rate this 3.5/5. You can opt for other havelis too depending upon availabilty and your budget

What to eat: All hotels provide good Rajsthani, North Indian, Continental & Chinese food. On the street you must try local golgappas and kachori-jalebi

What to see: Mandawa Fort, Sewaram Saraf Haveli, Sneh Ram Ladia Haveli, Chowkhani Haveli. Also few Kms away lies Navalgarh region where you can witnes the beautiful fresco work at Morarka Museum. Fatehpur Shewati is another god option to explore for paintings and street lovers

Paintings on the walls
Haveli in Fatehpur region
Gher Temple - Naya Bazar, Navalgarh
Gher Temple – Naya Bazar, Navalgarh
Morarka Haveli Museum - Navalgarh
Morarka Haveli Museum – Navalgarh
Fine art on the walls of Sneh Ladia Haveli
Mandawa Fort
Mandawa Fort