Saturday 2 September 2023

Places to Visit in Sikkim - Khecheopalri Lake

Khecheopalri Lake, Sikkim

Khecheopalri Lake, also known as Khechuperi Lake is located in West Sikkim at a distance of about 32 km from Pelling. In Pelling I was staying at Rufina Palm Bliss Hotel and from there it takes about one and a half hours of drive to reach the lake from Pelling town amidst forests and multiple waterfalls.

View of Khecheopalri Lake at the ground level

The lake, situated at 5938 feet altitude, is surrounded by dense forests and forms like a bowl to accumulate the water of the surrounding Ramam Mountains. 

A walk on the periphery of the Khecheopalri Lake, Sikkim

From the last vehicle point, the walk towards the lake is serene and easy next to the wetland area and one can hear the chirping of a lot of birds. The Buddhist (and Hindus) revere the site and one can see many Buddhist prayer flags next to the lake. Since the local consider the lake as sacred so bathing in the lake is not permitted.

Buddhist Prayer Flags in the wetland of Khecheopalri Lake, Sikkim

At the path at the lake level, you cannot see the full form of the lake. To see the complete lake and the nearby forests one should make an effort and go up a steep climb of about 15 minutes and then at the top all of a sudden the full view of the lake and the surrounding areas is beautiful and mesmerizing. 

A cave used by Buddhist monks for solitary meditation 

While going on this climb just a few meters from the top is a small cave which is used by the Buddhist monks for prayers in isolation (quite common among the Buddhist monks to stay alone in a cave or room away from others meditating where there is no contact with the outside world.  (For sustenance, their food is kept outside by other monks, who then leave without meeting the monk).

Khecheopalri Lake, Sikkim

The area has dense forest around the lake. I had earlier visited West Sikkim nearly 34 years back (that time I had done the Kanchenjunga Base winter snow trek in this region) but after such a long gap also I did not see much deforestation. Maybe this is due to the very environment friendly campaign of the Sikkim government of planting 100 saplings for each birth.  


A complete view of the Khecheopalri Lake and its surrounding Ramam mountains

If you want to reach directly to Pelling then the nearest Airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal at a distance of about 145 kms. Pakyong airport in Sikkim is closer but has lesser flight options.

Sunday 1 January 2023

Places to visit in Ladakh - Pangong Tso


Pangong Tso, Ladakh

It is said that sometimes the journey is equally important, if not more, than the final destination. The same can be said for most of the journeys & destinations in Ladakh, an erstwhile province of Jammu & Kashmir and now a Union Territory. 


On way to Pangong Tso, Ladakh

My journey from Nubra region to Pangong Tso (or Pangong Lake), though long, was mesmerizing what with the clear green waters of the Shyok river and rivulets on the way as well as the moonscape mountains having different hues at every turn.


Shyok River, Ladakh
 

Changthangi, Ladakh

On the way I saw the Pashmina goats, also known as Changthangi (for the region they come from) grazing at high altitudes.

 

Yaks grazing, Ladakh

Then there were the Yaks feeling at home and grazing in the frozen pond and grass landscape. Yaks are at home in extremely low temperatures at these high altitudes. Yaks are sturdy beasts of the region providing not only milk and cheese but also as beasts of burden to the locals especially in winters when all motorised transport may cease in remote areas.


Pangong Tso, Ladakh

The lake at 14270 feet is 134 km long though only 1/3 is in Ladakh & the remaining is in Tibet. The lake has an endorheic basin, which means that it retains water and has no outflow. The lake completely freezes over in winters. Due to being endorheic, the water is salty and the Pangong is considered the world’s highest salt-water lake.


Pangong Tso with mountains on the eastern side

The photo does not justify the beauty of the place with the lake having multiple colours of blue, which is mesmerizing. One can just sit here and watch the lake changing colours – i.e. various shades of blue.
 

At the Pangong Tso, Ladakh

The hills, some bare and others snow clad add to the aura of the place. In summers, there is accommodation available here but after end-October most of them close it for winters though few eateries are still open in November.



Shades of Blue, Pangong Tso, Ladakh

You can reach Leh, capital of Ladakh by air or by road (long journey). From Leh you can book cabs/bikes. Travel in Ladakh is expensive because of long distances between destinations. Best time to visit Pangong Tso is summers but then be prepared to see lots of tourists trying to be ‘three idiots’. From Nubra to Pangong Tso the drive is about 270 kms and takes about seven hours. If one goes from Leh via the Chang La (at 17688 feet) then the distance is about 225 kms and take about five and a half hours.

Sunday 26 September 2021

Places to Visit in Himachal: Serolsar Lake

I revisited the Banjar Valley & Seraj Valley in Himachal after a gap of thirteen years. This time I stayed at three different locations in the valley. 

Serolsar Lake, Seraj Valley, Himachal

The Banjar valley is more beautiful than the Kullu valley and less touristy as it is away from the main Delhi-Manali-Leh highway. While staying at Shoja I decided to go again on the trek to the Serolsar Lake. Since I had driven from Delhi by car (it would take anywhere between 15 to 17 hours from Delhi to Shoja as the road conditions from Mandi till Kullu tunnel are not good) so I went from Shoja to Jalori Pass by car.

The drive from Jalori Pass to Shoja

Jalori Pass is at a height of 10280 feet from Sea level on the Kullu-Shimla route. I encountered patches of snow on the road and sides even though it was end-March and early-April period.

The Jalori Pass-Serolsar Lake Trek path through forest

From Jalori Pass the trek starts to the Serolsar Lake (also known as Seruvalsar Lake). From Jalori Pass to Serolsar Lake the distance is around five km and I would rate the trek as ‘easy’. However, it is advisable to carry sufficient drinking water and eatables as once you leave Jalori Pass and almost upto the Serolsar Lake you won’t get any place to have water, tea or snacks (especially if it is not a tourist season). I did see some shacks on the way but they had not opened for the season yet. The trek is through forests and therefore the walk is pleasant. 

Tried bouldering on a rock face on way to Serolsar

There are at some places huge rock faces so I did try doing some bouldering. However, I would advise against it if you were not a rock-climber.

A pond near the Serolsar Lake

Very close to the lake, there is a pond that collects rain water from the catchment area – so do not get confused and assume that you have reached the lake. This pond does not have clear water and has some weeds.

A view of the Serolsar Lake

The moment you see some dhabas offering tea, snacks and food you would realise that you are about to reach the lake site. The lake is in a depression with hill surrounding it on all sides to form a bowl, which is perfect catchment area for rain and snow-melt water to accumulate.  

A 360 degree view of the Serolsar Lake area

The first view of the lake itself is beautiful with clear water and surrounding hills still having the winter snow.

At the Serolsar Lake 

Like most of the lakes in the Himalayas, the locals also consider the Serolsar Lake holy. Therefore, it is advisable not to enter the lake for bathing or to wash clothes etc. 

Serolsar Lake with Budhi Nagin temple in the background

There is also the Budhi Nagin temple close by. Before starting the return journey you can have hot (and tasty) meal of Rajma-Chawal or Kadhi-Chawal and tea etc at the few dhabas located nearby. One should keep at least half a day for this excursion if one really want to enjoy nature leisurely. 

Even in April there were patches of snow on the Jalori Pass- Serolsar Trek

If you are the more adventurous type then you can try to climb the hills on the way and do some snow walking as well. My advice to travellers – carry good trekking shoes, water, snacks and do not litter. In case you are not carrying water etc then these can be bought at the Jalori Pass as it has few shops and dhabas.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Top Ten Restaurants in McLeodganj, Dharamshala

When you visit a place you also like to eat the best food available there. McLeodganj has plenty of dining options at affordable prices specifically if you are interested in Tibetan, Chinese and Italian foods. The listing below is not in order of preference or ranking but in the simple order that I visited them.

Blue Cheese Pizza at Om Restaurant 

Om Restaurant – It has a good ambiance and beautiful location and you can sit for long and enjoy the view of the undulating mountains. The Blue Cheese Pizza that I had was very good.

Thukpa, Tingmo & Phigsa at Norling Cafe

Norling Café- Not a very big place but has been maintained nicely. However, it has no views as it is in the middle of the market. The Norling Café Special Thukpa was good with lots of meat in it. The Phingsa and Tingmo were also well prepared.

Rewa Cafe

Rewa Café – They may not score high on ambiance, location or view but the Thukpa (Rs 80 for a mutton Thukpa) and Momo (Rs 90 for a plate of mutton Momo) score highly. The Momos were really juicy. On top of that they kept the hot water in a thermos for drinking without being asked. The Tibetans prefer to take hot water throughout the day to keep them hydrated and therefore keep hot water in a flask.

Commonground

Common Ground – This restaurant is five minutes away from the main market, has been beautifully done and also has a good view if you sit outside. They specialize in Chinese (not Tibetan). I had ordered Dawa’s Sweet & Spicy Sizzler (Rs 200 for a plate), Sha Tag (Rs 230 for a plate), Momo and Tingmo. Both the sizzler as well as Momo were excellent.

Tuna Pizza at Family Pizzaria, Dharamkot

Family Pizzaria, Dharamkot – This is not in McLeodganj but in Dharamkot. Lots of foreigners and Indians who come for longer stays stay in Dharamkot to do Vipasana etc. The walk to Dharamkot is also nice. The restaurant is located amidst a small orchard and one can enjoy the food in this beautiful setting. The Tuna Pizza and Tea that I had here were good.

Veg Cheese Bhakleb at Peace Cafe

Peace Café – This place is good for breakfast. The inside ambiance is good but the location is nothing to write home about. Has only vegetarian options. I am seeing that over the years more and more vegetarian-only outlets are coming up in McLeodganj as it is becoming fashionable in the west. The Veg Cheese Bhakleb (Rs 150 for a plate) that I ordered with banana shake was good.

Momo & Shapalay at Palden

Palden Tea Shop – This place has no ambiance or view. It is a very small place with just two tables. I has ordered Shapalay and Momo and both of these were without doubt the best that one can have in Mcleodganj. It was manged by just one person only who managed to make the food, serve, clean utensils etc single handedly. If you are not fussy about going to glossy looking places then choose such small ones to get real authentic and delicious Tibetan food.

Shifan Pautse at Kailash Kunga

Kailash Kunga – This place is good for breakfast etc. Again the ambiance and location are not good but the Shifan Pautse that I had were delicious.

Meat Ball Thukpa, Momo at the Clay Oven

The Clay Oven – The place is located near the Main Square and has very well done interiors with real live clay oven working where you can watch your food being prepared. The Meat Ball Thukpa (Rs 130 for a plate) was well prepared and the Momo (Rs 120 for a plate) were very juicy.

Chicken Garlic Steak & Dessert at the Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem – I had an excellent Chicken Garlic Steak with rice, chips and butter veg (Rs 240 for a plate) followed by dessert called Hello to the Queen (Rs 130 for a plate). The place is spread over two floors and has good ambiance, western music and is popular with foreign tourists. The place also serves liquor. Comparatively expensive place but it is still value for money.

There are several vegan cafes also coming up as the demand is rising for such cafes.

The food in all the restaurants that I visited was good and comparatively much cheaper than in Delhi/NCR. The Momo prepared by all of them are fresh and juicy unlike the ones you get mostly in Delhi. So be prepared to give some time for your Momo to arrive! The best point about all these restaurants are that either they don’t charge GST at all or is part of the printed price so you know exactly what you would end up paying at end of the meal.

Also read:

Things to do in Mcleodganj: The Kora Circuit
Places to visit in McLeodganj: Bhagsunag Waterfall
McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal
Why I love to go to McLeodganj
Skywatch Friday - Sunset at McLeodganj, Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness

Sunday 26 May 2019

Bharatpur National Park - a Birders Delight

A Snake Bird in flight at Bharatpur National Park

Barely 185 km away from Gurgaon, a four-hour drive can take you to the birders paradise of Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, also known as Keoladeo Ghana National Park.

Flamingos & Ducks at the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary

The best time to visit the Park is in winters when the place is swarming with migratory birds from as far away as Siberia and even Africa! 

A Deer & an Egret at the Bharatpur National Park

There are plenty of stay options at Bharatpur including the hotel inside the park as well as several hotels and guest houses at a walkable distance from the Park. 

A huge Sparrow Hawk at the Bharatpur National Park

Owls at the Bharatpur National Park

Best time of the day for bird watching is early in the morning as the birds are more active then. The entrance fee is Rs 50 per person. 

All the way from Africa - Egyptian Vulture at the Bharatpur National Park

Once you reach near the entrance of the Park you will notice that there are lots of cycle-rickshaws. It is a huge Park of 29 sq km. So it is advisable to take some form of transport. 

Darter & Cormorants at the Bharatpur National Park 

Mother comes to feed its Kids at the Bharatpur National Park 

Avoid taking a rickshaw from outside. Rather take one from inside the Park as the rikshawalas inside also serve as guides (they have done the guiding course and are experienced and competent). 

Flock of Birds being watched by Cormorants at the Bharatpur National Park

In 2018 the Cycle cum guide rent was Rs 150 for an hour. They also have binoculars for which you pay extra but it is definitely useful as the birds like to keep their distance from the tourists. 

A Glossy Ibis watching another bird at the Bharatpur National Park 

Several of these guides are Sikhs (as was mine) who were given land near Bharatpur when they migrated from West Punjab (now Pakistan) in 1947 at the time of partition. 

A Purple Pond Heron at the Bharatpur National Park

One can also hire cycles inside the Park but as my partner could not cycle, I therefore took the rickshaw for 5 hours. After that I let the rickshaw go and explored further on foot going on trails not visited by too many people. For bigger groups there are options of battery operated golf-carts and horse drawn carts as well. 

Glossy Ibis at the Bharatpur National Park

The rickshaw pullers cum guides know the routine, the nests and the favourite spots of birds and they can also identify them for you. Our guide knew exactly the nests of owlets, eagles and kites, snakes taking siesta in the sun etc. They also tell you anecdotes, so it is worth the money. 

An eagle about to attack its prey at the Bharatpur National Park

It is advisable not to hurry. See the birds and the wildlife at leisure. 

Kingfisher at the Bharatpur National Park

However, keep in mind that if you are going to spend a long part of the day inside the Park then do carry sufficient water bottles and eatables (please do not litter) as inside the Park the two canteens serve miserable snacks. 

Bharatpur National Park has a huge colony of Storks

Storks displaying themselves at the Bharatpur National Park

Let's take 'Stork" of the Situation

I sat for half an hour at one place and was rewarded by this - absolutely still like a statue -  Pond Heron catching a fish. It was a delight to watch. 

Nice catch - A Pond Heron with its prize - Bharatpur National Park

A Pelican at the Bharatpur National Park

Besides the birds that I could identify like the Egyptian Vulture, Green Himalayan Pigeon or the Ghuggi (in Punjabi), Common Babbler, Dove, Sparrow Hawk, Goose, Oriental Magpie Robin, Pelican, Herons, Cormorants, big colonies of Storks, various types of Kingfishers and wildlife like the Deer, Wild cows (there were some domestic ones also roaming around. Villagers get rid of unproductive cows by dumping them in the Sanctuary over the boundary walls), Wild Boar, Snakes etc. There were several others, which were a delight to watch.

Ajgar Snake sunning itself at the Bharatpur National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site incidentally was earlier was a royal Duck game reserve where the local royalty use to come and shoot the ducks as a game.

Perched high on a tree at the Bharatpur National Park

Purple Swamp-hens at the Bharatpur National Park 

Do remember to have good walking shoes, water bottle, snacks, good binoculars (if not then good zoom camera) so as to enjoy your birding experience!

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