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Special Trek : A trip to Chandertal
Image What do you say about a place that can take away 6 hours of fatigue and dust in an instant? About a patch of the deepest blue and green in the middle of thousands of miles of browns and grays? A place the makes you want to stay put and not want to see or do anything else? Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, beautiful, fabulous, overwhelming… all sound too short of the apt description. Maybe ‘chandertal-ed’ should be an _expression that describes what one feels at the first sight of those blue waters.

Chandertal lake, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India. I reached the lake on July 16. I had left from Batal at 8 in the morning. I had known that the path was 18 km long, most of it on a jeep track leading to the lake. Batal had been dusty, barren and incredibly windy. I didn’t think the rest of the way could be any better. It wasn’t.

A dusty morose bend led to another, which led to yet another, and the track seemed endless. But thankfully there were no jeeps plying that day and the only other people I saw were the distant specks of the 4 others I was with.

I had heard a lot about the lake, had seen posters and postcards. Would it live up to the expectations? The other treks groups who were scheduled to reach the lake had given themselves a rest day at the lake. That should have warned me that once there, even I wouldn’t want to leave. We had decided against the rest day so that we could keep up with the rest of the groups all the way to Baralacha La.

Chandertal lake, The last kilometer before you come to the lake starts with a steep climb. You expect to go up that and to see the lake lying there, below in the valley. That is the only thought that drives you up the climb… that you are almost there, after more than 5 hours of plodding on a dusty jeep track. It wasn’t.

You reach on top and you see the path going further. A few Gaddi shepherds are minding their flocks on the slope; there is more than a hint of green grass… so, it must be round that bend you see. Or so you hope.

The bend leads to another bend and yet another till you say that it’s all an illusion and no place can be worth this. And you start asking why they didn’t extend the track all the way to the lake, why leave the eager people to pant up that last kilometer? After cussing and dragging your feet some more, you come round another curve in the road and there is a little patch of blue a little way down.

Maybe what they say about the Chandertal waters is true. It must have some ‘jadi-booti’, some magical, healing powers that gives you an energizer to go rushing those last couple of hundred meters. A short descent and there it is… the fine white sand leading to the blue water that is gently lapping at your feet. There is a small cairn to mark the head of the lake. Like you need anything to tell you are at the most beautiful place you can hope to be at.

Nothing prepares you for the first sight. Not the posters, not the postcards, not the descriptions that others have given you. For it is simply not possible to capture the magic in a 7”x18” or words or expressions. The first _expression that comes to mind is what a friend, Khem, always uses – Shanti Life! That is what it seems like… peace in its truest sense and life like how god meant for us to live it.

When the mesmerizing effect that the water had on me had worn off a little, I dragged my eyes away to take in the almost 360 degree view of the CB range around the lake. CB 13 was to the left and a little further away, an awesome glacier I didn’t know the name of. Behind me, more of the CB range stretched away into the distance, giving a feel of being in a Roman amphitheatre with your personal troupe of snow, ice and heights giving a classical performance.

The thought that this performance was eternal, 365x24x7, while I was there for a mere hours… if that wasn’t reason enough to regret, what was? Our camp was to the far side of the lake, so we would be away from the tourists who trudged up from their jeeps to take a couple of snaps, throw Kurkure or Lays wrappers, create noise and rush back to Batal or Kaza.

I took my time walking the nearly-a-kilometer to the camp. The path was right next to the water all the way and when the urge struck, I would take off my floaters and wade into it. The solitude during that walk was coveted and I made the most of it… stretching it till the last minute. I sat on rocks, with my feet in the water and just let the sun, the water, the amphitheatre-effect, all just glide over me… it was nothing like anything I had experienced before. Again, the Khemism, Shanti Life, came to mind. I could say, “This is life” and mean it in the 1½ hours it took me to finally get to the camp.

After the exhilaration, came the jealousy. I didn’t want those polluting tourists there, I didn’t want the rest of the 4 groups that would make their way to Tokpoyongma from there the next day. I didn’t even want the dhaba that a Gaddiwala had opened in a corner. I was suddenly glad that the road didn’t extend all the way to the lake. Let those who want to see this surreal setting sweat it out a bit. Even better, that jeep track itself should be destroyed. The place should not be as accessible as it has become. Let there be a filter so that only the deserving finally get the coveted reward.

And as if to protect this territory that I would love to claim mine, and to get more of the lake, of the surroundings, I decided to stay back. As I felt at that point, I had not decided to stay back… the lake had asked me to.

But splitting from a group is never easy and I finally got emotionally blackmailed into continuing on the trek.

Once that was decided, the time between then and the sunset was all I had to finish my parikrama of the lake. I wanted to be alone, away from the Brit and Dutch groups that had taken to the water, had washed in the lake itself (Let’s see them do that to their Lake District!!! The worms!!) and were generally creating chaos. I took off on my own, vehemently putting off any proffered company. It was a highly personal, intimate and emotional experience for me… almost spiritual and I wasn’t ready to share it with anyone.

The next morning, we were to set out at 6. It was already light when we woke up and the sun was just touching the summit of CB 13 by the time we were ready to leave. I took 10 minutes off to walk a little distance and say my goodbyes to the lake. I promised myself and the lake that I would be back soon and the next time round, to stay for more than a day or two... till the lake asked me to leave.

Contributed by: -
Indu Prasad, Journalist

Special Trek : Amarnath Yatra
Image The very auspicious Amarnath Yatra is a Hindu pilgrim's journey to the Amarnath Cave, named after the Mount Amarnath (5,486 m a.s.l.). Due to the high altitude location, the cave is covered with snow for most part of the year. It is only during a short period in summer that devotees are able to undertake a journey up to the cave. The ice content of the cave, believed to be the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva, has a significant place in the Hindu mythology. Though the cave of Amarnath lies at high altitude where temperature is quite low and the journey is arduous, nothing seems to discourage the pilgrims from travelling there. Truly, spirituality is the lifeblood of the nation in India.

Today, Amarnathji Yatra is an essential part of the Hindu pilgrimage and though the route is difficult to negotiate, it is equally exciting. Every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
Lord Shiva is the creator, preserver as well as the destructor of this universe. The Lord's attributes represent his victory over the demonic activity, and calmness of human nature. Amarnathji yatra embodies this spirit of adventure and helps human being to attain the ultimate level of spirituality.
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of immortality & creation in the Amarnath cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
The trek to Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July - August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice - stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are , fascinatingly, two more ice - lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.
For travellers convenience, there are helicopter facilities as well. The helicopters for Amarnathji yatra opearte everyday, except during bad weather conditions. One flight accommodates 5-6 passengers. Flight timings are between 0500 hours and 1145 hours. The helicopters to Amarnath operate between Srinagar and Amarnath and Baltal and Amarnath. You can choose either of the routes. However, the cost per person from Srinagar is more as compared to from Baltal.
Air : Srinagar, the capital of Jammu & Kashmir is the closest airport. Rail : Jammu is the nearest railhead from Amarnath. Road : Jammu and Srinagar are well-connected by road.
Jammu - Pahalgam - Holy Cave : Jammu to Pahalgam is a distance of 315 km. Regular taxi and bus services connect Jammu with Pahalgam. Another option is to fly to Srinagar and then drive to Pahalgam. Get in touch with our travel counsellors for further route information.

Contributed by: -
www.leh-ladakh.com, Journalist

Special Trek : Leh
Image Leh is breathtaking. Towering over the city is the tall nine storeyed palace built by Ladakh’s ruler Sengge Namgyal in the early 17th century. It is said to have served as the model for the Potala palace in Lhasa. Another palace in Lhasa. Another palace built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century stands above it on the Namgyal Tsemo peak. Down below, the town is a maze of little box like buildings bristling with brushwood stored on the roof for winter, set in an oasis of green fields.
Within the town of Leh itself there is plenty to see and do. An easy walk away through the interesting coppersmith’s quarter, past the Moravian Church, the Ladakh Ecological Centre and across the fields, is the Sankar Gompa. Another interesting walk to the Ladakh Shanti Stupa goes through the picturesque village of Changspa. In the colourful bazaar are fascinating little shops with everything from semi precious stones - Lapiz, Coral, Turquoise and Pearls to fine curios and artefacts. It is a marvellous shopping experience. Skara another pretty village and the ramparts of the old Earthern Fort of Zorawar Singh makes another little expedition. Eating out is fun at open air garden and sidewalk restaurants that offer Tibetan, Indian and even Continental cuisine.
Image Though Leh has been capital of this region since the 17th century, strewn around it along the Indus valley are earlier capitals of he region. From Leh one can wander off on marvellous day expeditions to get a glimpse of some of the treasures of Ladakh.
Not far from Leh, Shey is the oldest capital of Ladakh from where its earliest Tibetan kings ruled. Perched on top of a huge rock are the royal palace and temples adorned with brilliantly coloured murals and a 7.5 metre gold statue of the Buddha. Basgo and Tingmosgang with their forts and palaces were also capitals of Ladakh. Stok Palace across the river from Leh is the home of the erstwhile royal family. The Palace Museum here has collections of beautiful royal costumes and jewellery, exquisite Thangkas, porcelain, jade, weapons and armour.
Within easy reach of Leh is the Spituk Monastery with its commanding view of he indus. It has fine Thangkas and a collection of ancient masks. Thikse Monastery one of the most impressive in the area is spectacularly located and is noted for its beautiful murals. Hemis is of course the biggest gompa in Ladakh and the best known for its magnificent summer festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The largest thangka in Ladakh is to be found here. It is unfolded only once every 12 years.
Other magnificent gompas located in the vicinity include the splendid Lamayuru, Likir, Phyang, Rizdong, Stakna, Matho and Chemrey Gompas, all easily accessible from Leh. Alchi no longer an active religious centre, is among Ladakh’s most beautiful monasteries. Over a thousand years old, its wall paintings like those of Tabo in Spiti are reminiscent of the Ajanta style of painting.
Around Leh in the upper Indus valley is the cultural heartland of Ladakh, where the old capitals of the area are located and where many of the splendid palaces and Gompas are also to be found.
The people of Ladakh are predominantly Buddhist and practise ‘Mahayana’ Buddhism tempered with the old Bon animistic faith and Tantric Hinduism. It was brought Buddhism to Tibet and Ladakh during his travels in the 7th century AD. In the 11th century the Buddhist scholar Rinchen Tsangpo established 108 monasteries in the region. The Gompas at Lamayuru and Alchi are said to date from that time.
The living Buddhist heritage is manifest in the villages where ‘Mani’ walls are engraved with the mantra ‘ Om Mani Padme Hum’ and stones are piled into commemorative mounds known as ‘Chorten’. The Gompas precariously perched on steep hillsides or rock faces seem an integral part of the rugged landscape.
In Western Ladakh, in Drass, Kargil and the Suru valley where the Muslim Shia faith prevails there are mosques and imposing Imambaras in the Islamic style, surmounted with domes.
The second largest town in Ladakh marks the mid point of the journey from Srinagar to Leh. Kargil is also the take off point for excursions into the Suru valley and the remote Zanskar Valley with their exciting opportunities for mountaineering, camping, river rafting and trekking trails into Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and the Indus valley.
Kargil was once at the cross roads of a network of trade routes that led to kashmir, Baltistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Tibet and an air of romance still lingers around its narrow cobbled streets and bazaars spilling over with locally crafted curios. The town retains its conservative Balti Shia Muslim culture and has two fine mosques built in the Turkish style.
Nestling in the Suru valley, Kargil is set amidst green, richly cultivated hill sides. The two tributaries of the river suru the Drass and Wakha meet there. There are pretty walks around the town breathtaking views of the mountains. A day long excursion into the Suru valley goes past the picturesque Imambara of Trespone.
Image The Suru Valley one of the prettiest areas of Ladakh, runs for 140-km beyond Kargil to the Penzi La pass, the point of entry into the Zanskar valley. Its verdant hills are intensively cultivated. Enough snow and water during the year sustain two crops annually. The valleys are especially picturesque in spring when they are the Sankoo-Panikhar tract is magnificent. The open valley adorned with undulating alpine meadows strewn with wild flowers, groves of poplars and willows are set against the majestic backdrop of the Himalayan peaks dusted with snow.
At Thangbu, a little village, the traveller gets a first glimpse of the spectacular Nun - Kun massif. Panikhar 12-km beyond this is the base for treks to Kashmir and Kishtwar. The road goes past the glaciers of the Nun - Kun massif to descend to Rangdum set in wild and beautiful surroundings. It is located at the furthest end of the suru valley before the Penzi La pass. Set high on a central hillock the Rangdum gompa with a little stream forming a moat around it, looks like an ancient fort protecting the valley.
Travel Facts - Leh Altitude: Altitude range from 9,000 ft at Kargil to 25,170 ft at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram Temperature: Summer: Upto 270C Winter : -200C and below in the higher reaches. Best Season: Early June to October. Clothing: Summer: Light woollens Winter: Heavy woollens with wind proofing.
Leh - Leh is the main airport for this area. Direct flights link it to Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Jammu. Kargil, Suru and Zanskar valleys - Srinagar and Leh airports are both convenient.

Leh - Srinagar-Leh road is the main route with an over night halt at Kargil. The road is open between mid June and November. Ordinary and deluxe buses of the J&K; state road transport corporation regularly ply on this route. Taxis can also be hired at Srinagar for this trip. The Manali-Leh Highway - This is a spectacular journey with an over night halt at tented camps at Sarchu or Pang. This journey can be undertaken by the deluxe and ordinary bus services operated by the Himachal Pradesh tourism, HP SRTC and the J&K; SRTC or by jeep from either Manali or Leh. Kargil - On the main highway between Srinagar and Leh. Suru and Zanskar valleys - The road from Kargil into the Suru and Zanskar valleys is open only between July and October. Regular bus services link Kargil to Padum in Zanskar. Group wishing to go to Leh, Kargil or Padum can charter deluxe and a class buses from the J&K; SRTC at Srinagar

Contributed by: -
www.travel-himalayas.com, Journalist

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