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musAfir Hidden Destinations | Volume 01 | Issue 01 - January 2016


AAre WAA bEA I looked out the window as our shiny VW­­­­­— now coated in multiple layers of dust— whizzed past a small girl enjoying a grilled ‘Bhutta’ by the side of the road. We were headed from Ganpatipule to Ratnagiri, Maharashtra’s mango capital. I could literally feel the ‘Hapus’ warm in my hands as its sweet as the juice dribbled down the side of my mouth. My heart skipped a beat – it had been seven years since I last ate a mango. We turned around the cliff of the Coastal Highway, and slowed into the tiny village of Bhandarpule. At first glance, there wasn’t much to look at aside from the mud huts and the palm trees in the distance. That’s until I saw the dilapidated sign announcing that the twin beaches of Aare Ware were only a few metres away. For a minute, the promise of discovering a new beach made me forget my mango craving. The turn-off to Ware wasn’t promising, off to Ware wasn’t promising, greetedas we were by a one lane black sand driveway that bent into the palm

trees. Until, we neared the end of the pathway and silently stared into the distance. I felt like we had stepped into another world. The black sand of Ware glittered silently in the sun as the waves lapped repeatedly on the shore. The beach was completely deserted. No people, no garbage, no noise. Just us. And sparkling blue water so clean that you could see your feet through it. We walked miles that afternoon. I picked out shells that seemed to tell a story of their own while he wrote me love notes in the sand. I whooped and ran Baywatch style into the water while he stood there grinning, his toes sinking into the soft sand. I gazed into the distance pondering life while he ran behind the sea gulls simply.


Mumbai

ARE ACH

Maharashtra

Ratnagiri


Kerala

Tamil Nadu

Ernakulam

Cochin

Kottayam

Madurai Thekkady

Vandiperiyar

Punalur

Rajapalaiyam

Gavi Spread across the beauty of Periyar Tiger Reserve, Gavi is a quiet, beautiful and pristine forest haven. It is at the eastern extreme of the Pathanamthitta District at 3400 ft above MSL. These evergreen forests are abundant with magnificent Wildlife including the tiger, elephants, leopards, bears, Indian gaur, sambar, barking & Mouse deers, lion tailed macaque, other varieties of monkeys, Nilgiri Marten and a lot more. If you are a birder, the forests around Gavi are home to over 320 species of birds –the great Indian hornbills, sunbirds, woodpeckers, kingfishers and myriads of mynas, dongos, cuckoos and bulbuls-truly any birder’s dream! The sheer beauty of this place is indeed worth a closer look ! Here is nature at its unadulterated best. The road leading to the picturesque Gavi is blanketed by tea plantations,

which itself is a refreshing experience. En route to Gavi are places of interest like Mundakayyam, Kuttikanam, Peermedu and Vandiperiyar from where the road deviates to Gavi.The famous pilgrim destination, Sabarimala is a short trek from Gavi. For those interested in observing the nocturnal wildlife, night safaris to Kullur, Gavi Pullumedu, Kochu Pampa, Pachakanam provide ample opportunities for wildlife viewing.Another unique feature of Gavi is camping in the forests. One can pitch a tent in the camping site, which is a rarity in many Indian forests. As the dusk stretches into the silence of the night, one canfeel the presence of wildlife in the middle of nowhere, an experience that cannot be explained in words. There are also tree top houses where one can enjoy the avian life to the fullest.


M

ost people when first hear of Kasol, confuse it with Kasoli. This is because, Kasol is an offbeat Himalayan town situated very close to the Sikh shrine of Manikaran.Manikaran is famous for two reasons or the combination of the two reasons one, it hosts a famous Sikh temple (gurudwara) and two, it has hot water springs.Kasol has some feathers to its hat as well. It is famous amongst the Israelis and Italian tourists and it is famous for hash and marijuana. Neha and I had traveled to Rishikesh with our new couple friends Sonal and Amitoz the week earlier and since then, we all were pretty worked up about another trip. Intially, Neha and I had planned for Kanha Tiger Reserve but that was sold out completely; thus, our plan shifted from tiger spotting to cooling ourselves off in the hills. Sonal was quite keen on going to Kasol and its surrounding areas as she had been hearing travel stories from her office colleagues and wanted to explore and experience this part of the country. The dates decided for the trip were 12-16 June 2014. As we inched closer to the departure dates, each one of us started researching on the different aspects of the trip. Amitoz bought camping gear after I ranted and yapped about how cool and exciting experiencecamping is. This opened an option of campingeither at Kasol or Tosh. While Neha and Sonal looked up hotels and their reviews, I checked out the route plan, road condition and overall review of these places from HV Kumar. At the same time, I wrote to Dheeraj Sharma of Devil on Wheels for his inputs. Gurgaon to Kasol: Thursday 12 June 2014 1 am to 3.30 pm Thanks to the inputs from HVK Facebook forum, we were aware that the road up

DAY 1 to Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh has heavy traffic and one must start early to munch as many miles as possible. Thus, we started at 1 am from Gurgaon and by 1.15 am we had picked up Sonal & Amitoz from their home and we embarked on our journey. We found traffic right from NH8 and this forced us to take the internal roads of Delhi to reach the Burari turn to NH1. We stopped over at Gulshan Dhabba for food and bought some folk Punjabi music CDs from one the shops near by. Our next stopover was for fuel near Ambala and then we took the Shambhu Roopnagar road towards Bilaspur. Our plan was to cross Bilaspur before 7 am but we entered Swarghat by only 7. We were running behind schedule but it was not that a big deal. Neha and I were alternating the driving after every hour or so and our next halt was after Bilaspur for food. By this time, Dheeraj Sharma responded to my query and connected me to Doulos Jose (who happens to work in the same building that I do- small world). Doulos had been to Kasol a week before and he gave us valuable tips about tips about the place.Through Doulos we got in touch with Om Negi who runs a camping site just outside Kasol. So, while we ordered Maggi and some paranthas, I called up Om Negi and told him about ur arrival plans and fixed up a meeting. The journey from Bilaspur to Bhunter was smoother than earlier and


HIMACHAL PRADESH Pathankot

Kasol

Gaggal Bhunter

PUNJAB

Shimla

Tosh

Chandigarh

HARYANA Delhi

much faster. We reached Bhunter around half past one and bought some beers and breezers. o At Kasol we met up one of the camp organizers Hemu Negi (cousin of Om) who helped us finding a secure parking spot and started the 25 minutes walk to the camp. To reach the camp, we had to walk across a narrow suspension bridge over the raging Parvati river. What followed then, was a beautiful nature trail. We did get a bit impatient and kept bothering Hemu with the repeated questions “are we there yet�? The camping site was towards the right of the nature trail and we came across a cemented house over looking a vast stretch of leveled land with several tents pitched on it. We scouted for a place closest to the river and pitched our tents. While we were close to the river, we were at a safe distance and at

an ele vation of about 5 feet. We settled and ordered some pakodas and then climbed down the rocks and tried the water. It was at 10C and we could not bring ourselves to taking a dip in the river. The water was perfect for chilling the drinks that we brought along. We took some photographs and spent nearly an hour at the rocks. We returned to our camp and played a game of cards and also couple of games of badminton and then as the night approached, fatigue started to creep in. We were awake since the day before, slogged off our asses as corporate slaves and then embarked on this road trip practically without rest. Dinner came inchicken gravy, chapatis and vegetarian food for Sonal. Along with the food, came some unwanted guests- dogs. There were several of them around. I would presume these stayed on the property to guard against the


wild animals on the prowl in the neighboring forests. The chicken didn’t taste like chicken and the it had been cut into way too small pieces. We didn’t fancy it as much but then when you go camping, this was like elixir from gods and refusing it would have been crazy. As the food settled down, my eyes began to feel heavy and I had to call it a day. I crawled into my tent and zipped up my sleeping bag. Neha too joined me soon and then I heard Amitoz and Sonal saying good night as I was going into a deep slumber.

DAY 2 I had slept in the same position for hours and many bones of body nearly crushed under my own weight. At the break of dawn, I unzipped the tent window to see the surroundings outside. It was a beautiful day, a day I had not seen in many months. Soon, we all woke up and we ordered for some tea from the camp organizers. We also decided to go up till Tosh today and probably spent the night there. Here again, Om Negi helped us with some hotels in Tosh and gave us the bad news. Tosh had no places to camp. Doulos had too shared the same piece of information. The toilets at the camp were quite decent and we comfortably freshened up, packed our belongings, paid Om Negi. He charged us only for the food and not for the space. At some places, where Neha and I had camped earlier, people took a nominal space rentals to pitch our tents and we were quite surprised that he allowed us to stay for free. We bid good bye and as nomads started walking back to Kasol. We had breakfast at Moon dance cafe aka German baker. The food was great and so was the music. We decided to visit the place again for food on our way back home. The car was found in thesame condition as we left and it was a relief. We had parked our car at the parking space of Kasol Camps. We did inquire from their tariffs and they are as of June 2014 : 1. Rs 500 to pitch your own tent 2. If you want to use their tents then the tariff ranges from Rs 1500 to Rs 3500. Food and beverages extra. From Kasol, now we headed towards Tosh which is about a 90 minute drive from Kasol. The first town and one of major attractions is

the town of Manikarn about 5 km ahead of Kasol. At Manikarn, a road forks up on the right hand side and this is the road that goes up to Bansheri. The road ahead was mostly rough, with loose gravel, water puddles and potholes. Though it is very much doable (easily) in a 2wheel drive, we engaged 4H just to gain speed and stability at certain points. We stopped for a photography session and then

headed the

to town of Bansheri. Here, we could see the construction of a dam and it seemed as if this place is waiting to be commercialised. From Bhansheri, Tosh is about 3 km steep ascent with extremely rough roads. Doulos had warned me of this and had advised to take a taxi in case it was raining. He did not know back then, that we were in a 4wd Scorpio. We did most of the ascent in two wheel drive but then we halted at a steep angle for photographs. Momentum was lost and now we needed traction to continue our journey. 4H was useless, and no way, I wanted to exert stress on the clutch. So, this time 4 L was engaged to climb. The car just glided over the rough terrain. Should the readers of this post wish to take their vehicle up till Tosh, my recommendation is, keep the momentum stable and any vehicle can do this ascent. At Tosh, we had to park our vehicle just outside the village because there is no motorable road inside. A weak and narrow pedestrian bridge is the only entrance to the village. We


called up Mr. Tari (Om Negi’s contact) owner of the Pink Floyd hotel and asked him to get directions to his hotel. He asked us to walk into the village and ask anyone for directions. We decided to first check out the place and then assess what all would be required for a night’s stay and then bring in our luggage. The lanes of the village became quite narrow at certain stretches. The hotel is good 15 minutes walk from the parking spot. On the way to Pink Floyd we checked out another place which was just in the beginning of the village and the tariffs were around Rs.200 a night, no attached bathrooms. The only advantage was that from its balcony we were able to see our car in the distance. We reached Pink Floyd, drained out of energies but did not really fancy the place. It was good, no doubt but we found the views from Hotel Sunset better. So we took two rooms at Hotel Sunset at Rs. 300 each. There was hot water, attached bathrooms and electricity for charging our camera batteries. There is a small tuck shop in the premises and a kitchen which can serve Italian, Israeli and Indian food. Wow! I am being greedy here, nevertheless, it is worth a mention- the downside are the bed sheets. They have dark colored bed sheets and pillow covers which means that they are not washed for quite sometime. It is advised to carry your own bedsheet and pillow covers. We ordered lunch and then Amitoz and I left the girls at the hotel and went to fetch our belongings for the night. We were back in about 40 minutes and the girls were nowhere to be seen from a distance. While we had gone lugging bags, Neha and Sonal had gone on a short trek. They came back just in time of our arrival.

From the hotel, we could see in the distance two waterfalls and two bridges. One of these waterfalls was a man-made cemented slide, yet the sheer force of the water was so magnificent that one could perceive it from the hotel. We enquired about the KheerGanga trek for next day but dropped the idea as we were short on time. While the locals said that one can do the round trip in a day, we urban corporate slaves were not the lot to walk so much in one day. We definitely needed two days. The village was quite deserted and from the hotel operators we learnt that most of the tourist have gone to the village of Pulga for a two day “rave” party. This part of the Himalayas is famous for rave parties. Weed is commonly called olive as it is sold in small black balls which resemble black olives. The hotel also told us about another waterfall which was 15 minutes away and we decided to check it out as there was still couple of hours of daylight available. We misunderstood the directions and started walking on a different path. The 15 minutes trek took us that we had come the wrong way. We returned and found the correct trail. While walking, photographing, we met some fellow tourists and made another mistake of asking them for directions. These blokes were dressed in clothes one would wear to an office on a Friday. Totally out of place. They misguided us and put us on a different trail. Two of our group members tripped after different locations and it was kind of disheartening. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Around quarter to seven, we gave up the idea of the waterfall and headed back and decided to conquer it next day. An interesting thing happened here, we saw a man with a child playing on a natural rock slide.


Himachal Pradesh Kasol

Day3

Day 2

Bhunter

Tosh

Swarghat Bilaspur

Punjab

NH1

Haryana

Burari

NH8

Gurgaon

Day 1

New Delhi


The crazy ones Amitoz and Neha were the first ones to burn their butts and Sonal and I needed some persuasion. As the last light approached, it was time to reach the hotel. We ordered chicken and snacks and also got hold of olives. It was a full moon night and we stayed on the terrace munching, drinking, smoking and laughing till the temperature dropped to a moderate chill of 13 C. At this time (around 10 pm) the tuck shop and the kitchen also shut down and we retired to our rooms.

DAY 3 I was the first one to get up and get ready. Woke up rest of the party with some tea and Parle-G. Once everyone was ready, we headed towards the first waterfall which everyone at Tosh was talking about. The hotel staff advised us against the waterfalls visible from the hotel. They said that the

water is so fierce and rogue that one wrong move and you will end up in a watery grave. Who listens to such things- not us! Anyway, this time we reached the 15 minutes away waterfall in about 15 minutes. Spent about an hour there and now headed for the falls which mesmerized us since our arrival in Tosh. Here is the route which we followed in June 2014. On the way to the “famous” waterfall there is a rock on which someone had painted waterfall 100 m ahead. At this rock a small water stream trickles down and it also seems to be a dumping ground. A narrow and rough trail goes along with water stream. Now keep following the only trail and keep descending for about 30 minutes. The entire route is quite beautiful except for a 20m garbage dump in the beginning. I have seen Doodhsagar from up close and trust me when I say this, this particular one is comparable to Doodhsagar and is just one day drive from Delhi. We reached back hotel around half past one and told them that we would be checking out. At 3 pm we were in our car and headed to the German bakery at Kasol for lunch. Kasol was crowded. We tried hard for a parking space but could not find it. We tried parking at the taxi parking area but the locals became too aggressive and thus we left. We stopped at The Himalayan Retreat at Jari and enjoyed some really good food. Tried the local dishes – Dham, Kachori and Siddu Momo. Here on, we drove nearly non-stop till Gurgaon stopping twice on the way, once for tea and another time for graveyard shift food at NH1. It took us nearly 9 hours to reach Kiratpur Sahib and another 6 hours to reach Gurgaon. Around 6.30 am, on Sunday we reached Gurgaon. It was a trip successfully completed and the experience was too good. Special thanks to Sonal for picking up the destination, Dheeraj Sharma for connecting to Doulos and to Doulos Jose for helping us connect to Om Negi. Now it was time to sort out the 1800 photographs clicked by us during the three days. By the way, we all tried our hands on our new photography gear. Sonal and Amitoz brought their new Nikon D3100, Neha and I got our new Nikon D5300 and a Nikon AW120. IPhone 5s also proved to be an amazing photography device with its fast f/2 lens. The trip not only helped us rejuvenate.Ciao!


T

he awe-inspiring vistas of this hidden canyon will make you fall in love with Meghalaya all over again. Perched in the East Khasi Hills of Shillong, Laitlum Canyons is a little-explored haunt of the mountainous state of Meghalaya. Laitlum translates to ‘end of hills’ and this sublimely beautiful hilltop appears to be true to its name. At Laitlum, all one can see are breathtaking gorges and steep winding stairways that snake their way down to the lush valley. This is the reason why, for a bird’s eye view of Shillong’s magnificent surroundings, there is no better place than the Laitlum Canyons. The following pictures capture some of the raw beauty of this relatively undiscovered gorge that is ideal for treks. But for those with adventure in their hearts and dreams of distant mountains in their eyes, only an actual trip to this majestic hill paradise will suffice. The Amphitheatre of Meghalaya The scenic hill slopes of Laitlum are often called the amphitheatre of Meghalaya. Unending as far as one can see, they are painted in a multitude of hues - from earthy browns and verdant greens to blushing reds at dawn and dusk.. A Trekker’s Paradise The beautiful rocky trail to Laitlum is a trekker’s paradise. The terrain is a bit difficult to navigate but it has some of the best views in the world and the freshest air one can breathe. This is a trek worth adding to your bucket list of trekking expeditions in India. Living On the Edge, Literally! Narrow and uneven rocky paths lead to several small slate-roofed houses perched at great heights of the canyon, each with its very own picture perfect view. The residents literally farm on the edges of these mist-shrouded cliffs that plunge sharply into the valley below. The Stream of Your Dreams The gurgling Laitlum stream and its quaint wooden bridge invite travellers to just stand and

stare at the magical landscape surrounding them. Get a traditional Khasi lunch packed at a local eatery for a picnic at this exquisitely beautiful 270-degree viewpoint that provides a glimpse of four waterfalls ! In The Abode of the Clouds Meghalaya is call ed the ‘abode of the clouds” and at Laitlum Canyons one can experience why. Blanketing the entire canyon in an ethereal white shroud, the mist swirls and moves with the wind. Sprawling Meadows The flat grassy hilltop overlooking the silent and peaceful valley is the perfect place to bask in some glorious mountain sunshine. For those who forgot to pack their lunch, a lone


Laitlum Canyons Meghalaya

shop provides succour in the form of snacks and steaming hot chai at the entrance to the vast meadow. A Truly Rustic Ropeway Once atop Laitlum Canyon, one can see Rasong, a small hamlet nestled deep in the lush green ridges of the Laitlum gorge. The 300 residents of Rasong rely on an old ropeway pulley to transport food grains and essential commodities down to the valley and up to the hilltop. A 3000-Step-Stairway to Heaven A long steep stairway, hewn out of the mountain and lined with fern covered rocks, winds its way down the verdant slopes to the tiny hamlet of Raslong. This stairway, which passes through sprawling bamboo plantations and colourful bursts of orchids, is the only route between the village and the nearest market, and has 3000 steps ! The Hardy Locals of the Khasi Hills On days when the rusty old pulley is out of order, the

Laitlum

Shillong

sight of locals carrying traditional bamboo baskets (filled with all sorts of stuff) as they climb up the steep mountainside, is very common in Laitlum. The main cash crop of Rasong is the broom plant, which the locals use to make traditional brooms sold in the markets of Shillong.Knocking at the King’s Door The village of Smit in Laitlum is the traditional seat of power of the Hima Khyrim, a sub-tribe of the Khasis. The village also has a traditional house, the Iing Shad, that belongs to the King of the Khyrim and is believed to be more than 100 years old. In autumn, the striking Nongkrem dance is performed outside this royal residence. But, despite its gradually increasing popularity, Laitlum Canyons still remains a little piece of heaven.


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Musafir is a travel magazine made as a part of the course "Experimental Publication Design". Magzine content gives information about less kn...

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