Animals Spotted: Crocodiles, deer and monitor lizard

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Birds Spotted: A vast variety but sadly I do not remember their names except for white-collared kingfisher.

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Sunderbans: Night Safari

Posted: June 1, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in India, west bengal
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Planktons- small or microscopic organisms that drift or swim weakly in a body of water, including bacteria, diatoms, jellyfish, and various larvae. Sunderbans night safari is when I first encountered them. It was a full moon night when we went for the night safari and hence to view the planktons we had to reach deep inside the forest where the water did not already shimmer in the moonlight. Then just dipping your hand in water and twirling it around you could see them glowing in the water. I had expected to see fireflies but planktons were an added bonus. Nature is so beautiful and so full of surprises.

In the night safari, the most interesting part of the Sunderbans adventure, we went in a small rowing boat on the water that had completely engulfed the land, presenting an entirely different landscape in the high time. Most of the trees around were submerged. Thereby we crossed over to the other side of the river and the boatman steered the boat into 1 of the channels that were part of the landmass during the low tide but now had water flowing through.

In the narrow channel the boat brushed though the trees and the multitudes of organisms on them- spiders, insects, crabs etc, reminding me of the floating forests in Cambodia. Fortunately the night spared us the sight of the organisms we were brushing against but our guide flashed his torch momentarily to give us a picture and caught a crab to make his point.

Sadly cameras are ineffective in the night and hence I do not have too many pictures but definitely an indelible memory.moonlight Lunar eclipse _DSC0234 _DSC0232 _DSC0230

Sunderbans Tour Itinerary: 3 days 2 nights

Posted: May 31, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in India, west bengal
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I am usually not a proponent of tour operators but for this trip after doing considerable research I came to the conclusion that perhaps tour operator was the bet option, given that I was traveling alone and tour operators were really cheap. I finally signed up for http://www.tourdesundarbans.com , mainly based on their reviews on tripadvisor. The cost for two nights three days was INR 4500 per person, including food and stay and they didn’t charge anything extra, even though I was a lone traveler and was not sharing a room.

The detailed itinerary can be found on their website but the rough itinerary as below:

Day 1:

9 AM: Start from Tottee Lane at Kolkatta and 3 hours of road drive in a mini van to Godkhali.

12AM : Cross over to the island of Gosaba on a ferry ride that even transports motorbikes etc for an unbelievable rate of INR 2 per person.

Travel to the other end of Gosaba and by auto and take a ferry to Satjelia.

2.30PM : Reach the eco village abode on the island of Satjelia, followed by lunch.
4.00PM : A walk through the ecovillage.

5.30PM: Watch cock fight. The village has no electricity thus the villagers still adhere to the age old methods of entertaining themselves and thus every Friday the entire village gets together to watch the spectacle of cock fights, which turned out to be much shorter than I expected, each one lasting only about 10 seconds, till one cock successfully bloodied the other.
6.00PM: Watch the sunset during the boat ride.

7.00PM : Snacks at hotel followed by musical performance by the local musicians there followed by dinner.

9PM: Night safari, which turned out to be the best pat about the whole trip.

 

Day 2

6.30AM: The whole day we just cruised on the boat trying to spot some animals in the scorching heat and just managed to get some glimpses of spotted dear, 2 monitor lizards and a crocodile. , We try to start as early as possible, board our personalized engine boat. We stopped at only 1 watch tower- Sajnekhali, although as per the original itinerary we were supposed to stop at 3 but there were just too many people at these watch towers and the noise surely would scare all animals away. Thus it seemed to be a totally futile effort in the heat. Cant really say spending the whole day n a boat was worth it but definitely it had a meditative effect on all, where each was lost in his/her own thoughts under the calming effect of the water around.

4.30PM: Reach village. Walk around the village on my own followed by dinner and musical night.
Day 3:

9.00AM: Breakfast. I walked around the village on my own. At 10 Am we started for Kolkatta.

2.00PM: reach Kolkata through the arduous ride back via, boat, ferry, auto and cab.
The highlight of the trip was our 19 year old guide- Om and his incessant quips and stories, wherein it was difficult to discern the boundaries between fact and fiction.

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How to Reach Sunderbans in India?

Posted: May 26, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in India, west bengal
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Sundarbans – literal meaning “sundari” or “mangrove” forests- is an archipelago originally measured to be about 16,000 square km (around 200 years ago) but now dwindled to only about 4,000 square km.

The most interesting part about Sunderbans is the complex ecosystem that thrives on salt tolerance surviving half or fully submerged in salt water as per the tidal activity each day. I loved observing the roots of different halophytic mangrove trees. The fauna too is said to survive on drinking salt water as fresh water sources are scarce and are hence said to live for half the normal lifespan.

To conserve and protect the diminishing ecosystem, most part of Sunderbans is protected under the National Park and only few islands have been permitted to house human villages.

 

How to get to Sunderbans in India?

Although Sunderbans are roughly about 75% in Bangladesh and 25%in India, I being an Indian have just accessed the Indian part.

Kolkata to Godkhali (about 85 km) 3 hours by road: by bus or cab.

Sonakhali to Gosaba: ferry (about half an hour)- INR 10 per person

The largest village or island is Gosaba. It is the last commercial stop where you can find autos, air conditioners and other luxuries. In case you are traveling on your own and not with a travel guide you need to book a hotel at Gosaba. Boats are available to take you to the National Park.

sunderbans map HISTORY

Triund Trek

Posted: May 26, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in himachal pradesh, India
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1st May 2015

Triund is perhaps the most popular non-religious trek in Himalayas. I have wanted to do the trek since forever but had been searching for company, but finally embarking on the trek with a friend, I realized it could have easily been accomplished alone given the number of people doing it especially over the weekend.

McLeodganj: This was perhaps my 4th trip to Mcleodganj over the past 2 years, the culturally rich quaint little Tibetian town has a unique appeal to me. Last time around I had spent 10 days here for a wood-carving workshop. An easy overnight volvo buse ride from Delhi ISBT gets you here in 11 hours.

Stretch 1: Mcleodganj to Galu Temple (1750 m to 2100m); 3 km
One can take a car till Dharamkot and upto Galu Temple itself but we decided to trek the whole way so started at McLeod itself. This 3 km stretch is really steep- perhaps a gradient of 40deg most of the way but the path is lined with dense Deodar plantation and is thus worth the effort as the plantation is beautiful.

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Stretch 2: Galu Temple to Triund: (2100 m to 2825m); 6 km

This stretch of 6 km is not too steep and here onwards you meet a lot of people as most people take a car or auto to this place. This stretch is lined with Rhododendrons. The red flowers are beautiful but offer no protection from the sun, thus despite the gradient being much lower here, I was soon exhausted by the sun. There are 2 cafes on the way offering basic packed foods and maggi at double the cost you get elsewhere. This is the only place at Himalayas, as per my experience thus far, where they had really jacked up the rates, ascribing the reason to getting things there. Somehow I believe I have been to places that are harder to reach but still selling things at same rate or just slightly higher rates, not double, that reflected on how commercial the place was.


The entire trek one doesn’t get even a glimpse of the great Dhauladhar range but your reward on reaching the Triund Hill is the magnificent view of the range, in particular- Mun (4610 m), Rifle Horn, Arthur’s seat & Slab (4570 m). There is no vegetation atop the Triund Hill- only grass and rocks, made me wonder as to the vegetation had been cleared for camping or it never existed. There is a forest guesthouse but during season one needs connections to get a booking there as they don’t take booking on phone or email. For the lesser mortal like us with no connections, the only staying option is to rent a tent and sleeping bag from one of the 4 cafes there and camp.

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But there was a hailstorm and the temperature dropped and the rented sleeping bags were grossly insufficient to keep us warm. Thus I passed the night, tossing and turning in the sleeping bag, in futile attempts to keep myself warm.

Stretch 3: Triund to Snowline/ Laka (2825m to 3350 m); 3 km:
In the morning after breakfast at the café, we hiked to the snowline/ Laka. There is no vegetation on this trail, just boulder covered grasslands.

If Triund Hill felt like being at the lap of Dhauladhar Range, Laka Ridge feels like being a part of the range itself and from there one can go further upto Lahesg Caves or further to Indrahaal Pass and cross it over to Chamba on the other side. We were not equipped to trek over snow and the shepherds had not paved their way to the pass as yet, so we headed back from Laka.

The trek back, although just downward gradient, appeared harder due to the scorching sun and no enticement of reaching somewhere. Most people are after while hiking down but I literally had to drag me feet, perhaps dreading the return journey to civilization!! Why do all good things have to come to en end!!

Mirage in the desert

Posted: March 15, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in India
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MirageThe optical illusion of the mirage in the desert is so complete that one can even see the reflection of passing by objects in the oasis!!

How to plan your itinerary for Kutch

Posted: March 11, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in gujarat, India
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If you have spare days you can add Lothal, Patan & Modhera (close to Ahmedabad), Vadimedi, Lakhpat & Narayan Sarovar (Western Kutch). Since I just had 5 days to spare, my itinerary was as follows:

 

Desert 2Day 0:

Night: Arrive & stay at Ahmedabad

Day 1:

Ahmedabad- Bhuj- 332 km: 6 hours

Enroute- Wild Ass Sanctuary in Little Rann- We coulnt locate it as our driver had little clue and people on the way somehow also didn’t know the directions

Villages in Rann: Ajrakpur- For Natural dye: Artisan: Ismail Khatri

New Dhaneti/ Ramkrushnapuram: For embroidery

Stay at Khamir: 15 km from Bhuj

Day 2:

desert5Bhuj: Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Swaminarayan Temple, Sarad Bagh Palace, Hamirsar Lake Kutch Museum, Ram Kund, Cenotaphs and bazaar of Bhuj, Bhujiyo fortress, stepwell

Village: Bhujodi: weaving village & Artisans Park with display of handicrafts from different artisans on a rotational basis

Stay at Khamir

desert3Day 3:

Village: Nirona: Rogan Art

Monastery at Than- 60 km from Bhuj- foot of Dinodhar Hill and is dedicated to Dhoramnath

Kalo Dungar (97 kms from Bhuj & 25 kms north of Khavda- 1.5 hrs from Bhuj) the top of the Black Hills is the highest point in Kutch, at 462 K.m. & gives panoramic view of Great Kutch Rann

India bridge- a bridge that needs to be crossed from Kutch to enter the outpost of the Indian army guarding the border with Pakistan.

Dhordo village- White Desert (- 80 kms from Bhuj- centre for Mutua embroidery (small mirrors, leather embroidery and silver jewellery

White Rann- the largest salt desert in the world: watch sunset & moon rise

Stay in Hodko

Day 4:

Hodko to Mandvi: 2 h 5 min

Kera (enroute): An old Shiva temple half fallen after the earthquakedesert

Mandvi: Historically the most important port & center for building ships: 72 jain complex, Vijay Vilas palace, Shipyard constructions, and Windmill Beach.

Village: Gundiyari- Pottery: Artisan: Ali Mohammad

Mandvi: Stay at Hotel Rukmavati

Day 5:

Mandvi to Ahmedabad: 6 h 19 min (389.0 km) via NH947

Fly back

desert 6Desert4

Prashar Lake Trek

Posted: February 28, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in himachal pradesh, India
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Delhi to Mandi: Overnight bus (10 hrs)- Himachal Road transport volvo hrtc.gov.in/

Manali to Baggi Village: Bus- 26 km- 2 hrs, Altitude: 1,353 m

Trek from Baggi Village to Prashar Lake: 7.5 km: 4-5 hours, Altitude:  2,584 m

Thus the trek although only 7.5 km is very steep as you ascend to almost twice the altitude. It starts with a flowing stream but somewhere midway terrain changes and the entire landscape becomes snowcapped. On the day we trekked we also witnessed a cloud cover in the valley below, thus the entire panorama was white: snow, cloud cover in the sky above and the valley below.

The lake was beautiful and frozen. Not surprisingly, an ancient temple stands next to the lake.

We stayed overnight at the camps there. I couldn’t sleep a wink in the sleeping bags so I sat outside gazing at the clear night sky, which was slightly cloudy initially but became really clear as the night progressed. To a deprived soul dwelling in the over-polluted city of Delhi where the sight of a single star is such a rare feat, that the star studded sky at Prashar Lake seemed artificial, as if someone had been overzealous in painting the canvas and had sprinkled the entire space with specks of gold, no area left untouched. Even Nehru Planetarium did not have those many stars. Alas the only memory I could carry of the unrealistic scene is the imprint on my memory, sadly no camera shot could have done it justice but of the whole trek the most indelible memory I have is of the star-studded sky.

Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium

Posted: January 19, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in Belgium, Europe
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This Museum has 4 museums within itself and houses over 20,000 paintings, sculptures and drawings: Old Masters, Modern Art, Fin-de-Siècle and Magritte and thus by the end of the tour, you are engulfed in the awe of the art masterpieces you have seen.

Magritte Museum: They make you begin your tour with this museum in case you have bought tickets for all, else you could choose to buy for 1 or 2 museums as well, I of course went for all. This Museum houses the largest collection of René Magritte’s works- brilliant surreal works. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum and hence my pictures are limited to the ones taken outside.

In the other museum I got to see the works of Pieter Brueghel, who I deeply admire. His works are so detailed and engaging that you could spend hours gazing at a painting, trying to figure it out.

Other Interesting paintings:

Interesting sculptures

Museum of Musical Instruments, Brussels

Posted: January 2, 2015 by obsesessivetraveler in Belgium, Europe
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The Museum of Musical Instruments at Brussels, Belgium, spread across 4 floors, is perhaps the most elaborate museum on musical instruments I have ever seen and hence a must visit for the music lovers/ connoisseurs. Although, I do not fall into any of those music lovers or connoisseurs category, I was also intrigued by their vast collection. It not only had the standard instruments on display but also instruments that I had never seen before in my life, including some musical instruments from China. There was also a brief history about each instrument written and narrated through the audio guide.

Of course, thanks to Andrew Saxon (from Dinant) the museum had an entire dedicated to Saxophone with a brief history of Andrew Saxon and his life and an endless display of saxophones.

The museum also had some paintings/ illustrations related to music.