Saturday 28 April 2012

Lesser Snow Geese

When I was holidaying in Canada I had gone on a trail walk on the West Dyke in Richmond, British Columbia. While coming back from there I noticed a football stadium full of white birds. I stopped and went closer and realised that these were the Lesser Snow Geese (Chen Caerulescens). They were there in their thousands and covering the whole field.

Lesser Snow Geese came to play!

They are migratory birds and travel long distances of over 4000 kms from Alaska and Siberia in winters to come to the Fraser River Delta. This is the biggest river in British Columbia.

Lesser Snow Geese

The birds have two colour plumage morphs - white and grey or blue though the majority is of the white ones.   That is why sometimes they are also called the Blue Goose.

A blue morph Snow Geese among white morph birds

This sighting of the migratory Lesser Snow Geese in such great numbers at such a close range was a sheer delight.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Dalhousie - Kalatop - Khajiar - Chamba Winter Trek

Though I have done this winter trek long time back it is only now while rummaging through some old photographs that I decided to write about it. One can reach Dalhousie, a hill station in Himachal by taking a train from Delhi to Pathankot and then by bus or taxis from there onward. There are plenty of options to stay in Dalhousie as this is a hill station catering to tourists coming round the year from the plains. I have on various occasions stayed in the Youth Hostel as well as HPTDC run hotels like Geetanjali. Dalhousie is located at 6800 feet above sea level so in summers also you get cool weather here.

First day of the trek started from Dalhousie. Initially there was no snow but snow patches started immediately after us leaving the town and it kept increasing the farther we went towards Lakkadmandi which is about 10 kms from Dalhousie.

Chocolate covered with cream!

The fresh snow on the stones were giving the impression as if chocolate has been covered by white cream.

We finally stopped at Lakkadmandi at a tea shop as there was no other accommodation there. The tea shop guy offered two rooms upstairs where the whole team slept like a pack of sardines but nobody minded as everyone slept soundly as they were all dog tired after whole day of trekking.

Snow covered terraced fields 

Three kilometers from Lakkadmnadi is the Kalatop Rest House. The walk from Lakkadmandi to the Kalatop is beautiful and is part of the Kalatop-Khajjiar Reserve forest. For booking the Rest House one has the contact the Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife, Chamba. The first time I was not able to go to the Kalatop proper as I was with a big group and the snow was several feet deep. It was only on another trip that I trekked the reserve forest and even spotted several rare birds and animals inside the reserve.

Snow trek

Next day we all had Alloo paranthas in the morning prepared as a team work and started on the trek. The snow was now even deeper and at several places became thigh deep and was tiring for the ones leading the trek or for those for whom a snow trek was a first time experience (which it was for most).

Time to take a break and enjoy nature

Closer to Khajjiar the snow became less and less as we were going down in altitude.

Khajjiar Lake

Khajjiar lake is saucer shaped surrounded by deodar trees. Over the years the lake has shrunk. It is a really beautiful place which has been a location of shooting of lot of Bollywood films in the earlier years. I liked the winter time better than summers as there are sometimes too many tourist in summers.

Frost at Khajjiar

Khajjiar is also known as the 'Mini Switzerland' of India. The place and surrounding areas is now also a venue for paragliding. At Khajjiar for those who are interested there is horse riding available.

View of the snow capped mountains in Chamba district

The route after Kahjjiar towards Chamba is all downhill - infact too downhill. I like climbing and not descending as after some time of steep descends ones knees start shaking. The route became a bit tortuous as this part of the stretch was not only long but was completely downhill and therefore warmer also. Chamba  is located at an altitude of 3268 ft.

Overall the trek was enjoyable. On reaching Chamba town we stayed at hotel Iravati maintained by the HPTDC. The main sight seeing places in this ancient town are the Laxmi Naryan temple complex, the Chowgan, Bhuri Singh museum, St Andrew's church. But I will write about Chamba proper in another blog post later.

(Some of the above photographs have not been necessarily taken by me as we were moving in a group sharing photos and cameras!)

Friday 6 April 2012

Wagon and Horses

I have visited Wagon and Horses several times and found their non-vegetarian menu superb. This restaurant and pub is in Abingdon near Oxford. Abingdon is a market town located on the Thames and is among the oldest towns  not only in the Oxfordshire but in the whole of Britain. I was taken there first by a friend who teaches in Oxford Brookes.

Inside decor of Wagon and Horses

The decor is excellent and the staff polite and the service excellent. The place also has excellent pub with all kinds of local beers giving a run for their money to the international brands.

I found that the restaurant had a large menu and the best is to go for the buffet menu which (at that time) used to be only under 10 GBP. The menu is a mix of British as well as Oriental.

A wide menu at the Wagon and Horses

Red Duck,  Beef, various kinds of chicken like garlic, chili; Pork Ginger; starters like Butterfly Chicken, Red Chicken, Barbecue Rib were the best.

Best Food 

My friend told me that Abingdon used to be on the trade route and lots of wagons used to pass this area which had to pay a tax as well. The restaurant probably took its name from there.

A friend inside Wagon and Horses

The venue has become so popular among the locals that it is advisable to book in advance especially on weekends otherwise you may not find a place to sit.