Nathang falls on old silk route circuit in East Sikkim. This valley is very close by Nathula pass leading to Indo China border.

That day as we got out of our vehicle at Nathang , the little village at about 13500 ft altitude looked at us with it’s drowsy eyes. It was cold and cloudy . Almost no body was out on streets. little wooden houses sat huddled together as if in an attempt to counter the biting chill in the air.

Gautam had to go about in the area for few minutes to ascertain our homestay and then we entered the narrow lane between two houses, walking on the frozen layers of snow . Heaps and mounds of snow were all around homes.

 

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Way to our homestay.

 

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Entering the doors of homestay we were engulfed in the warmth of welcoming smiles of hosts and the cozy, comfortable indoors. Neat, clean rooms, bright colored comforting beds. linens and spotless western style toilets …… homestay in that little village on high altitude . surrounded by rough terrain was a very pleasant surprise.

Except night, I spent most of my indoor time in the kitchen of the home talking to the lady of the home and basking in the warmth of the indigenous room cum food warmer. It was a long, knee length high rectangle table with tin surface.  On the lower surface of the table ,almost in the middle an iron furnace was fixed. logs were burning in it. On the upper surface there was hole at the mouth of furnace but it was covered with an iron lid. A long cylindrical pipe arose from the table and went out of the roof, a chimney to carry out the smoke.Warmth around the table was very comforting. Moreover I got to share lots of family, community , life in general kind of things with the lady.  How easily can we open ourselves to the strangers… perhaps  the comfort of anonymity makes it easier to share. But you know the amazing part is that while conversing you never feel that you are stranger to each other. It’s easy to strike the chord, when you open your heart wide. And then I believe that one who is  closer  to nature is  simpler . Luxuries and material comforts do contaminate human thought process.

 

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Welcoming smile of lady of the home

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Those cozy warm moments in the kitchen

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This is the indigenous warmer I talked about above. That is the chimney pipe extending out from the table surface. dinner preparation are on.

 

 

From my room window I could see the far off mountains and snow but day light receded fast as hoards and hoards of grey, white clouds descended in the valley. Wrapped in the furry blankets of cloud as if valley too was getting ready to take rest.

Early. very early in the morning I parted the curtain of window and was excited to notice the signs of a bright morning.  Nudged others to get ready and after a piping hot cup of tea in the warm kitchen ventured out to walk in the valley.

The valley is guarded by mountains from all sides and have stretches of grasslands, Valley is totally devoid of any kind of tree. There are few streams crisscrossing the valley and there are cute wooden small bridges across the streams. We wandered around as if in a vast plain of nothingness. Except those few dogs no body was to be seen. Wind though chill was comforting. Those were the moments of uninterrupted interaction with mountains, with sky  stretched over.  a small shrine atop a ridge, beckoned,prayer flags fluttered in the air….. and… and you feel as if that noisy world full of chaos didn’t exist at all.

 

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under the blessed shadow of blue horizon above head, guarded by tough, mighty mountains and the prayers in the air.

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Sometimes to find yourself, you need to travel through wilderness, nothingness.

 

Pictures by Sunder Iyer and Shubham sunder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As we started climbing upwards from Padamchen to Nathang scenery around us started changing. The greens receded back and brown, grey dominated the screen . It was not a bright day. Sky too was laden with grey clouds. However as we moved forward patches, heaps of white crystallized snow could be seen on the sides of road. May be it was a day old or so. The sparkling sheen had diminished a bit yet it added a delicacy to otherwise brown sternness of high, mighty mountains. somewhere snow clung to the wide powerful chests of mountains as if feeling secured in their solidity.

 

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Further up and we were engulfed in whiteness. Except the road we were traveling on, it was white everywhere and snow there was soft like cotton balls,,,,fresh cool, soft snow. In the background at a distance mountains created a chain of rising falling waves on grey waters. At some places solid sheet of pewter sky watched over us unblinking while on other occasions white, grey clouds floated in like rosette and on still another moment the sailing clouds formed a translucent curtain pushing everything under it’s fold, creating a mystical world, tempting us to plunge head-along in their depths to soar in that world beyond.

 

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Mountains don their snow robes with an unmatched sublimity. The grace with which they let snow clad them in different patterns add to their majestic grandeur and how they appear to smile with indulgence.

 

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On the way intermittently military establishments and few hutments lay under the shadow of the mountains where snow does not melt even in summers. From a distance candy coloured green, yellow, rust , sloping roofs of barracks and huts added a bit of brightness. How hard is life up there for the people due to whom we can nestle in the warmth of our homes and hearths. We can never show enough gratitude to these brave hearts.

 

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And then there were lakes — It is said that Sikkim has about 225 lakes and innumerable water falls. We on our trip came across three main lakes.

Manju lake … At the height of 136oo ft.  Manju lake lay nestled amidst high snow clad mountains. Nathula pass is about seven Km. from this lake. The serenity, the calm was overwhelming.

 

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Manju Lake

Kuppup lake or elephant lake … every tourist on old silk route visit this lake. We were on the spot in the first week of April. The lake was partially frozen and partially melted. We walked upto nearby ridge to have a complete view of lake, valley and snow laden mountains beyond the lake. On the other side of the road too white fluffy carpet of snow stretched over the hills, mountains . Cold gusty wind was blowing. Grey clouds rushed off and on displaying their antics. At a moment clouds went down embracing the lake and at another lifting their frilly gown they rushed back to the other side of mountain ranges. At yet another the clouds cautiously peeped down from the peaks watching their reflections in the crystal clear waters of the lake and then unable to restrain themselves they ran down hand in hand with the winds to bless us with their feathery nearness. It was chilling, it was freezing yet such mesmerizing was the beauty unfolded before us that we stood there rooted on the spot. Kuppup lake is called elephant lake as when frozen completely it resembles an elephant in shape, however we were able to trace down the trunk.

 

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From elephant lake we proceeded to Changu lake, also called Tsomgo lake. The lake at an altitude of about 12400 ft. lay nestled in the arms of high snow clad mountains.This is one of the highly revered lake of Sikkim.  It is a sacred lake both for Buddhists and Hindus.

This was the tourist season so the lake has many visitors, every group enjoying as per their own taste and interest.There is a temple at the bank of lake and beyond that high snow covered mountains. In this season trekking on the mountains can be enjoyed. Gum boots, canes and all other accessories facilitating the trek could be hired in the nearby small, local market.Rows of decorated yaks stood there with their masters to give a ride to visitors.

But despite all the tourist humbug if you want to be alone with the lake, you can easily do that. Walk a few feet away and the blue waters start whispering the mystical chants flowing down from the lands of the high peaks of mountains. Somewhere up there, beyond our reach, lies a world  cradled and caressed by fluffy floating clouds. And I want it to be there only, far away from us, beckoning and reassuring. They say that the lake gets completely frozen in winters and then perhaps angels float down on glassy white surface of the lake to dance and enjoy under a clear star lit sky.

 

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A quiet time with Changu lake

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yak riding, trekking on other side of the lake

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The temple

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Waiting for their turn

 

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The snow, the mountains, the peaks, the valleys, the streams, the lakes, the winding paths, the sky, the clouds. mesmerizing, panoramic scenes all stirred kaleidoscopic emotions but my heart overflowed with feelings of gratitude and reverence for these quiet, dignified, brave sentinels, They represent the real spirit of mountains.

 

All the pics by — Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Padamchen is a small, beautiful village surrounded by lush. dense jungles. At the height of about 8000 ft, the village is perched on hilly slopes. I found it to be one of the most serene, quiet, soul stirring place on old silk route.

From the balcony of our homestay we could see small patches of fields and some trees sloping down and resting on the tops of the trees, who stood there, feet firmly planted somewhere deep down in the valley. Beyond that long stretch of green, mountains rose to reach high in the sky, layers and layers of mountain ranges. And on this perfectly set stage  entered those feather feet blithe dancers, soft white clouds. At a moment they rushed in large group swirling, rivuleting, bursting with energy and in a blink of eyes stage cleared. High, elegant, strong mountains stood vibrating under the impact of stupendous , energetic performance.  And then from far off corner drifted in another group slowly, gracefully, rhythmically. They floated in the outstretched arms of hill,nestling in the comfort of their solidity. The lightness of their movement, the softness of their mudras as if can be touched. We stood their mesmerized by the magnificent, exquisite show of feathery clouds. Then some fluffy ones entered flying on their wings and sat perched on the tips of peaks , as if savouring in the vistas and then slowly moved away to their far off destinations. and then there were some, almost transparent, soft light filtering into their being. They entered with hesitant steps, as if not ready to face the world and then quietly dissolved into thin air. We soaked in this uninterrupted show till the darkness descended from sky and coloured everything around uniformly. What a beautiful, uplifting and liberating experience it was!

 

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In praise of these wonderful clouds, lines from P. B.Shelly —

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.”

 

 

Snuggled in the cozy warmth of blanket that night I slept in the lap of clouds and got up to a refreshingly fresh bright morning. It had rained in the night.

After a hot cup of tea we were out on the clean tar road to explore the neighbourhood. There was no one else except us on the road and in the silence chirping, tweeting of birds on the road side trees could be heard very clearly. Padamchen is reckoned as bird watcher’s, bird photographer’s paradise. Later on I met a lone cow herder on the road and he told me that a group of enthusiastic bird photographers was staying in a guest house for last two-three days. Different kinds of calls emerging from trees told us that there were many species of birds residing there but tracing them in the dense foliage was difficult. Though we could see few while they flew from one to another tree.

From the point at the end of straight road where it turned and climbed upwards we could get a magnificent view of valley and mountains beyond. Those few red, yellow. orange roof tops nestled midst the green wilderness looked inviting. A cloud floated by brushing them gently as if cooing in their ear that another new dawn is knocking on the threshold.

The lone little figure emerged from the greenery below, a school bag on the back. The boy was hardly six or seven years old. Standing there he called his friend but perhaps he from down told that he was not coming . Young fellow started on the road slowly. I asked him. ‘school? so early?’ ‘ no . tuition..and he is not coming.” I had my all sympathy with him. But later on saw a unique scene on that lone road of Padamchen. Saw  same child walking with a young lady, who had an open book in her hand. She was teaching boy some spellings etc . Behind them at a certain distance was another young man with two little girls and he too was teaching them while walking on the road. This certainly looked liked a good plan…fresh air, calm morning and a lesson on time management.

 

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The kid walking to his tuition class

 

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Raushni, the smiling beauty too was off to her school.

 

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Lessons on the road…spelling revision session.

 

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Our hosts at Padamchen

 

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Every face has it’s own story

 

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 Corns hanging outside the hut of our hosts.

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This kind of bowl emitting fragrant smoke  from morning till night is found outside almost every home. Every morning with fresh material it is lighted and hung at a corner at the entrance. I simply loved the idea. You can interpret it in any way you want — prayers for all, welcome gesture for every guest, thankfulness to God. It definitely added to the holy, pious aura of the place.

All the pics — Sunder Iyer

05.04.2017

From the balcony of first floor of our home stay it felt as if we have been transported to a land of clouds. On the other side of the narrow road, just outside of the doorstep of homestay nothing could be seen. The valley, the trees, the hills beyond, the tiny houses everything was enveloped in the dense grey layers of clouds . We stepped outside. Walking on the gradually rising road felt like literally entering the clouds world. However as we approached closer, trees in the valley became a bit clear. At least we were able to make out the shapes of tall, cylindrical stems and fluttering prayer flags. Last evening we had seen a board of a ‘Chorten of lopenla’, [ Chorten means a Buddist shrine, a saint’s tomb ] the arrow directing towards valley. We decided to step down and explore the vicinity. Walking on the narrow,  gravel paths, stepping on the steps of rocks, running through silent forest gave birth to indescribable emotions….it always does……whose were the steps who first treadled on this path….who were the people who walked on this before us…..felt a kind of connection to all those who passed on that track before me…they made it easier for us to walk…. a bond of gratitude was established. Somehow that feeling made me happier.
After descending for some time we could see an enclosure housing a Stupa like structure and a bright colored room nearby. Rows of white, red, blue, yellow, green colored flags with prayers written on them were tied in a cris-cross way from one tree to another. The prayer flags fluttering rhythmically in a slow pace over our heads were as if showering blessings. We walked on silently and reached at the gate of enclosure.
The enclosure had a small gate which was latched from inside but could be opened from outside. However we stood outside enclosure silently looking at the Stupa with each one engrossed in thoughts of own when we heard a voice from inside the room, ‘ you can enter the enclosure.’ We went inside and by that time the owner of the voice a Buddhist monk too had stepped outside his room. He struck the conversation by asking the usual questions like….from which part of country had we come…..and then invited us to his living quarter……well, that was definitely a new experience for us. We had visited many monasteries in different parts of country before this and had a little bit of interaction with the monks in the premises but had never been to their living rooms.
He is known as Guru ji midst locals there. We had long intimate informal chat. He told us about his life….originally to which place he belongs, how he reached at that particular place, his Guru ji who earlier long back did penance on the spot and after he left for his heavenly abode Guru ji stayed back carrying on the legacy. We talked about his daily routine, travels, thoughts, beliefs, human life, present social changes, even recent political scenario of country. He also told us about a pond up there in hills somewhere in which  red colored flowers  bloom every year at a particular time and earlier locals used to climb upto the pond to pick up those flowers. That period was celebrated as local festival as inhabitants used to gather around the pond, stayed there and celebrated the occasion with folk songs and dances. It was considered an auspicious period. Still few locals go there but now the cultural fair is organized near the lake down. Now the three day cultural event has taken a modernized look though folk dances and songs by participants too are performed on podium.
Guruji also offered us hot, delicious tea prepared by him and chips,  papads fried by him. We were lucky to get prasad which was brought to him from Himalayas by his some fellow brethren.
He chatted with us in a very normal way. Nothing like imposing any rules, thrusting any gyan or establishing any supremacy yet his compassionate smile, the pious aura and fragrance had a kind of cleansing effect on us. In his presence we felt unburdened.
Travels bring us unexpected experiences, learnings and encounters and these enrich us for life time. That morning with Guru ji at Aritar will keep glowing inside me for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pics copyright- Sunder Iyer

Bedni Bugyal is one of the most beautiful alpine meadows located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Bedni and Ali Bugyal are neighbours.At an altitude of about 3500 meters these wide spread meadows on the top of mountains provide magnificent views of Himalayan peaks Trishul and Nanda ghunti.

While walking through the deep woods, trekking towards top in the august company of ages old trees you tune in to your deepest philosophical self. It’s the month of June. The monsoon is yet to set in but some times clouds swirl in the jungles taking you by hand to those mystique lands beyond.The cocktail of wet wild fragrance tug at your sleeves cajoling you to stop for sometime inhaling the existence of unseen . But the moment you reach the top the sheer expanse of rolling lush green meadows as if liberate you off all the baggage. Reaching the destination after a long trek urge you to throw your back pack down and the unhindered green on ground, the blue above invite you to melt in it’s embrace. Such a tiny dot like speck you are up there that you tend to forget yourself and isn’t it the most liberating feeling….being unaware of your own existence. You don’t matter at all. You are set free of all kind of shackles. Standing there at the farthest tip of meadow where it hopped down to deep gorge, valley below, facing the layers of  tree laden hills beyond and sensing the majestic Himalayas behind them, I outstretched my hands and could feel the divine as if absorbing me. Felt so light almost non-existent.

After some time the reverie broke. Voices from tents and ground behind filtered in and I turned towards the tea shoppe. Its strange, new places with unknown people sharing comes easily. There too you strike a chord, instant chord with certain individuals and that’s a beautiful comforting feeling. Vasudhaiv kutumbakam…..While trekking we didn’t feel the chill but on the meadows where the winds danced freely on their nimble feet, we felt a bit cold. Though the scantily clad bamboo tea stall didn’t do much to prevent the winds from entering inside yet sitting beside the earthen furnace soaking in it’s warmth, interacting with different groups provided comforting feeling.

After resting there for sometime we wandered towards Bedini pond. As monsoon has not yet arrived there, the pond didn’t have water.Bedini is an important stop of Nanda Devi Jat Yatra and as local informed us during the Jatra time pilgrims offer Tarpan to their ancestors at the kund.

Behind the Kund sloping green mountains come running down to it while with upwardly stretched hand they hold on to the range of mountains behind them. The gradation of hues from sparkling green to dark green to misty grey and then the mystique white touching the sky is mesmerizing. How magical is natures palette, a soft touch of the golden brush here and there and entire landscape is transformed. We sat there beside the small temple soaking in the silence. Few dots like figures huddled on that slope, a lone tiny one strolling on the ridge of another hill, that twosome at farthest end facing the valley and the far off voices from tents…the world of routine faded away. I felt as if I belong to some other era, some other time.

The day was bright and the evening clear. A bunch of clouds huddled together around Trishul peak were teasing our expectant glances.And then the haloed rays from eternal light house filtered through dispersing the clouds. The cloud glided upwards, rested like a wreath on the tip of peak and slowly floated way , the magnificent snow covered majestic peak stood there solemnly.  The sheer grandeur made us gasp. It was a humbling experience….. Darshana of divine.

That night it rained heavily and in the morning we could meet eye to eye with Trishul Peak once again but how differently the stage was set this time. From the hazy mist of early morning slowly very slowly the peak immersed, the rosy pink blooming from the depth of eternal.

Every time I am far away from the maddening city crowd in commune with silence of nature, I know the experience is beyond the words…..hence I stop here and let you have a feel of place through visuals……..

Now I hand over the stage to Sunder Iyer.……all pics captured by him….bedni_42nw

After the trek, on the threshold of Bugyal.Bells at the temple of nature. ..winds toll

them and flowers smile.

That is my wife...

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
John Muir,

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“Going to the mountains is going home.”
John Muir

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“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”
John Muir,

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clouds have their own stories to tell, own journeys to share

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And this last one was clicked by our guide Hira Singh Bisht Garhwali, without a thank you note to him none of our Bedini blog post could be completed.

His contact details…

Hira Singh Bisht Garhwali

Village — Wan

Mobile no.– 07895165848, 09756480219

 

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It was 3rd of March 2015 . We reached Chakauri as the day was wrapping up. We had witnessed an amazing sunset from the rooftop of a road side house at Berinag. Kind of sunset that leaves us awestruck with huge, orange-red circle of sun majestically gliding on vast horizon, filling every object with an ethereal beauty.

Our train from Lucknow had reached Kathgodam at about 11.30 A.M. Our taxi was waiting for us outside the station and we immediately hit the road. We reached Chaukori at about 7 P.M. After dinner we retired to bed early with dreams of early morning dialogue with snow-clad majestic peaks of Himalaya.

Chaukori is a tiny Hill station in Pithoragarh District of Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand. This was our second visit to Chaukori. Once almost about 17 years back we had visited Chaukori with our two sons. As is the story of every tourist place, Chaukori too has changed a lot with passage of time but it still has those quiet pockets where woods sit by you silently whispering untold stories, chirping of birds gels into virgin melody of folk songs riding from villages down in the valley. Splendid view of majestic Himalayan peaks Nanda devi, Nandadevi east, Nandakot, Panchchuli, trishul and Annapurna transport you to an entirely new world. Bathed in moonlight when snow-capped peaks resplendently stand out in inky blackness of night, you are compelled to believe that there far off is a land of fairies and angels.

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4th of march, cool, tender twilight moments, salubrious mountain air though nipping was ahh so refreshing. We were on the watch tower at Kumaon Mandal guest house premises waiting for the sun. Here we met Mr. Sunil Arora, the lone traveller. His enthusiasm for wanderings is simply amazing. And then slowly the rosy tint started appearing on the sky far away behind snowy peaks and then suddenly one of the peaks was bathed in silky orangish pink light….the simmering, flickering fingers of the sun were caressing the pearly white head of the peak with soft tender touches….I could hear the music in my soul….the divine tinkling of temple bells….the atmosphere was as if filled with unsung prayers and hymns……

The valley on other side was filled with an ocean of clouds. Chaukori at one time must have been a quaint little tiny land mass surrounded by valleys on all the sides, encircled by mountains, peaks and hills. In those early morning hours it must have looked like a floating island in the clouds. The magic still can be felt and witnessed.

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After a cup of tea in open in the company of charismatic Himalayan peaks we set off for unhurried wanderings. Eariler when we were here in Kumaon Mandal guest house, there were no buildings in the vicinity except that big old palatial house. Now a number of houses, resorts, hotels have come up. Earlier there was no paved path and we roamed around between bushes, trees. This time we had to go out on the road from the main gate of guest house and we walked on a laid down path. We walked up to the tip from where hills sloped down to valleys.

There was this little temple under a big tree on that hill. Steeped with silence and surrounded by tall trees this small portion of hill was a perfect place to sit down and catch up with oneself. The lone Buransh tree between dense greenery smiled all bright and red. Snow clad mountains seemed nearer. After spending some time we returned to guest house. On way back in a grove enjoyed chirping and twittering of different species of birds.

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Back in the guest house most of the fellow travellers were out in the open — the middle aged couple from Varanasi with their young daughter, the group of Bengali boys heading for Munsiyari with a trekking plan booked, this Bengali documentary maker with his mother and mausi and Sunil ji. All of them left after breakfast. We too had a plan to go to Munsiari but as the road on the way was blocked due to heavy snowfall and anybody going towards Munsiyari needed one extra day, we had to cancel our programme of visiting it. If we went ahead, it would not have been not possible to get back to Kathgodam in time to catch our train. We even thought of cancelling our reservation if we could get the seats reserved for a day later but that could not happen hence we stayed there in Chaukori for the day.

After every body left it became quieter as we two were the only occupants in entire premises besides the staff of guest house. Sometimes that is what you need…..let the time slip away while you sit wrapped in eloquent silence, trying to merge yourself with nature all around. We wandered all around leisurely discovering new paths, spotting different birds, inhaling the fragrance of unnamed flowers and chatting with the local kids, enjoying the gathering of women to celebrate Holi, The sudden charismatic appearance of two rainbows in the valley, suddenly finding myself face to face with an idol of Ma Kali, locked in a room of deserted and dilapidated hut..

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Night dawned and the entire hill station plunged into pitch black darkness as there was no electric supply that day but that too proved to be advantageous for us. A bonfire in the verandah and its warmth was too cosy and comforting. In front of us were the Himalayan peaks bathed in moonlight.

How they stand out! The combination of snow and moonlight…so mystique it looked. The entire range like illuminated Arc of Noah in the dark, raging water waves invited us to take the voyage of faith. It was so divine.

Yes , we missed the chance of being at Munsiyari, a chance to enjoy the majestic beauty of Himalayas from closer quarters but as is said everything happens with a purpose, our extended stay at somnolent hills of Chaukori too served a deep, fulfilling purpose. Such divine encounters not only rejuvenated my soul but brought myself closer to me.

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all the pictures by Sunder Iyer