Sunday, October 8, 2017

A sojourn with nature & culture in Kumaon (A Photo blog)

A sojourn with nature & culture in Kumaon
(A Photo blog)

As the clouds envelope the valley
            This summer like the past few years, I again retreated back to my pod in the lap of the Kumaon hills and enjoyed a few days of bliss in the nature.  Like previous year, when I experienced the magic of ‘Jagar’ and had detailed the same in my blog then, this year too there was a brief interaction with the Kumaoni culture in form of various marriages that I got invited to during my brief visit.  I was also witness to cutting of huge trees that were posing problems to residents, especially threat of falling on houses during rain storms that were due shortly and I was able to record it in my mobile phone alongwith Jagar and a thunderstorm, whose videos I shall be sharing in this photo-blog.  Let the images & moving images do the talking in this blog of mine - 

In the lap of  nature - a butterfly sucking nector

On an Oak tree - Oriental White eye

Coal Tit singing away to glory on a Pine tree

Tipped on an wire - Grey Bushchat (Male)

On the Pine tree trunk - Chestnut belied Nuthatch

As the band begins to play - it is the time for the rituals to start

Sisters lead the celebrations of marriage

Ceremonial gifts for the bride to be packed

Now all the family members join in the celebrations - invitees of the village enjoy

Tucking in some more gifts for the bride to be

Sisters perform the 'Kajal' application on brother's eyes and doting mother stands by his side

Mother blesses her son as per the rituals

All hands raise in blessing - a colorful & joyous occassion

Mother releases her son from the 'debt of mother's nurturing' 

The ceremonial journey to bride's place starts in a Palanquin 

The bridegroom brigade re-assembles near the marriage pandal

Ceremonially ready to receive the bridegroom at the marriage venue
As the clouds drift across the valley

As the thunderstorm intensifies at night

Felling of tree by Forest Department

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Himalayan ranges from Badan Khet of Timila village (A photo blog)

Himalayan ranges from Badan Khet of Timila village
(A photo blog)
Sunrise as viewed from Badan Khet, Village Timila
         After having visited my pad in the month of January, when I had visited Padampuri & Sitlakhet also and as narrated in my earlier blogs, I had some work and had to visit my pad in Bdan Khet of Timila Village in March, 2017.  The day we reached the place, I found that it was all cloudy and covered with no view of the Himalayas.  But I also did not get time to explore much as I was busy with other chores.  However, during the ensuing days, I not only got some good views, but was able to stitch a panorama of the Himalayan ranges visible from the village.

            I have described the geographical location of this little village in my earlier blogs in detail, but for the benefit of the new viewers I am describing it again.  It is situated on a ridge on the State highway running from Ramnagar (Corbett National Park) to Ranikhet and in between Bhatrauch Khan and Tarikhet, just about 3 Kms. before reaching Tarikhet, while coming from Ramnagar side and is about 14 Kms. from Ranikhet Market.  Placed on a spur of a mountain ridge, the entire valley is open as far as eyes can see and was once the fruit basket of the region, with Apples growing in the region.  But with the climate turning warmer and migration of the people from villages, now hardly any apples grow here, but it is resplendent with Plums, Apricots etc. during the fruiting season.  The scenic beauty of the destination is sublime and as I was unable to find much data about the pictographic description of the peaks that are visible from here, I did some research and am presenting my take on the mountain peaks in the photographs that I am posting in this blog –
The Chaukhamba peaks panorama

The Gangotri peaks panorama
The Hathi & Ghoda peaks panorama
Some unidentified peaks panorama
The Kedar peaks panorama
The Trishul & Nanda Devi peaks
In case any of my readers/viewers have a different opinion about the peaks they are free to post in the comments to correct me.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sitlakhet – a destination of snow & solitude

Sitlakhet – a destination of snow & solitude
Snowfall at Sitlakhet
The name ‘Sitla’ in Hindi means ‘Cool’ and ‘khet’ is ‘farm land’, so the trans-literation of name would be ‘Cool farm land’ or more appropriate would be ‘farms in cool climes’ and during my recent visit I found that it does fits its literal translation.  Sitlakhet is an unspoiled nature’s treasure trove nestled on the lap of a hill, the top of which is occupied by the famed Shyahi Devi temple, overlooking the valleys below it and bestowing it with a nature’s gift unparalleled in the annals.  Perched at an altitude of 1785 meters i.e. the exact elevation of the Tourist Rest House or TRH for short at Sitlakhet, managed by KMVN, which translates to around 6000 feet above MSL (Mean Sea Level).  However, the famed Syahi Devi temple would easily be touching 7000 feet above MSL.  If you search the net for the destination, it would throw up results in name of ‘Anant Rasa’, a resort being run by the famed photographer from Nainital, Sh. Anup Shah.  The place also houses a camping site run by the ‘Discovery Channel’.  The entire verdant valley is cocooned in dense forest of Oaks, Silver birch, pines et al and is nature’s treasure trove in all its splendour. 
Taking a selfie en-route at Mukteshwar
The small market of Sitlakhet
Tourist Rest House run by KMVN at Sitlakhet
            We had started from Padampuri late in the afternoon, as the train was delayed and we had taken a break to have some snacks etc. as detailed in my previous blog.  We headed on the road towards Dhanachuli, but just before reaching Dhari, the driver took a detour through a village road and he took the diversion at Boranshi, being a short cut that runs through small hamlet named Chaukhuta and reaches Kasiyalekh and therefrom through Gangachor to the junction called Bhatelia.  From Bhatelia the road leads towards Mukteshwar and this distance is about 20 odd Kms.  The weather had turned inclement as we commenced with our journey from Padampuri and by the time we approached Mukteshwar, it had started snowing and the children got excited and alighted from the Car at the forest checkpoint to click a few photographs.  The road distance from Mukteshwar to Almora is about 32 Kms. via Sheetla – Khawarbpul.  Having gone past Almora, we headed downstream towards Kosi, a further distance of 10 Kms. and therefrom having crossed the bridge, we headed towards the road leading past the ITBP Camp and the barrage built on Kosi River for supplying drinking water to residents of Almora.  After having gone past a small hamlet named Deoli we reached another nondescript little village named Kharkuna wherefrom the road bifurcates and the straight one towards the right hand side leads on towards Dhali and onwards to Sitlakhet, the total distance being about 27 Kms. from Kosi bridge.  Thus, it was a long haul of almost 80 Kms. that took about three & half hours’ drive because of the weather & road conditions.  As it was getting late, I decided to explore availability of boarding in the TRH and got one as it was in the middle of the week and it usually gets its guests on weekends.
Snow on a tuft of grass
As it snowed intermittently from the evening in Sitlakhet 
The morning after the snow fall in Sitlaket
The author out for a shoot 
            After having checked into the four bedded room, we ordered for some bread pakoras and coffee and as the evening started setting in, the cook Ganesh asked for the dinner order, as the TRH is at an isolated location and Sitlakhet itself is a very small hamlet and thus, in order to procure non-vegetarian or any specific vegetarian food, one has to book well in advance, so that the procurement may be done from either Kathpuriya, Majhkhali or Ranikhet.  Accordingly, we placed our orders and just as we had started enjoying Pakoras & Coffee it started snowing at Sitlakhet.  As the evening slowly merged into the night, the intensity of the snowfall increased with every passing minute, but the children were enjoying the experience immensely.  News came in late in the evening that the person entrusted with the job of procuring our order from the nearby road head was struck in the snow and thus, the order may have to be revised.  The staff of three that runs the TRH had lighted a small bonfire to keep themselves warm and as the electricity got disconnected due to the snowfall, we made a beeline for the space behind the kitchen where the fire wood had been lit, to keep ourselves warm.  However, at around 8.00 P.M some good news poured in that the person assigned the task of procuring Chicken had finally made it to the TRH and we could therefore, relish our next order of hot Chicken soup, that was prepared quickly and served piping hot and for dinner we got served ‘Garlic Chicken’ preparation with rotis/hand baked breads.  The cook Ganesh has some exceptional culinary skills and enjoys his work, which in turn results in some lip-smacking snacks and/or main course meals.
The Shahi Devi temple complex at Sitlakhet
Close up of the Himalayan ranges as seen from Sitlakhet
Panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges as seen from Sitlakhet
Panoramic view of Almora from Sitlakeht
        Bereft of electricity and with a solitary candle light flickering in one corner of the room, we all retired for the night in the cold climes of Sitlakhet and being tired over the day’s journey, all of us fell asleep quickly.  I was the first one to wake up in the morning and immediately peaked outside, although the sunlight was all around, yet the sunlight was only filtering through in patches, as the clouds were in motion in the deep blue sky above.  I got up quickly, completed the morning ablutions and moved out to get some shots with my camera.   As the cloud cover became thinner with passage of the day, by 9.00 A.M. a lot of birds started chirping all around and I had a fabulous time shooting to my heart’s content.   Later in the morning I moved towards the market and headed towards the Shyahi Devi temple.  However, the road that leads to the temple top is neither paved with concrete nor is its surface tarred and hence the vehicles run only for the first half of the journey of three Kms. i.e. one & half kilometres and the remaining half has to be completed on foot by trekking.  Due to the snowfall the vehicles too were not plying or going up the trail and it was not possible to trek up to the temple in the slushy & snowy conditions and therefore, I had to give up any hope of making it to the temple top, however, for the benefit of the readers I am providing with a link to the photographs of the temple -
Himalayan Yellow finch enjoying the Sun after nights snowfall
Return of the Himalayan Griffon - flying high in Sitlakhet
            Not being able to accomplish my target of visiting the temple, I returned back to the TRH and after having partaken the B’fast that is part of the tariff charged for the room, we headed for my pad and en-route went past many a small hamlets till we reached Kathpuriya, which is another small hamlet on the State Highway from Almora to Ranikhet and at a distance of 10 Kms. from Sitlakhet.  On the way I struck up a conversation with the driver of the taxi hired by me Mr. Chandan Singh, who is a local resident and resides near the temple at the hill top and he informed me that Sitlakhet had abundant water being blessed by Shyahi Mata and a natural spring takes care of all local requirement of water and also supplies water to Almora township.  He also informed me that the temple was surrounded by about seven Deodar trees, which appear in shape of two tigers when seen from Almora or other nearby hilltops.  Another small snippet that he provided was the fact that a small village, about 2 Kms. from Sitlakhet called ‘Khoont’, is the ancestral home of the legendary freedom fighter & politician Late Sh. Gobind Ballabh Pant.  As we reached Kathpuriya, one enters the state highway running from Almora to Ranikhet, one has to turn left and head towards Majhkhali and thereafter reach Ranikhet, which is about 18 Kms. from Kathpuriya.  From Ranikhet we rambled down to Ganiadoli, where we made some purchases for daily needs/use for our home and then headed further via Tarikhet to our final destination to our home in Timila.  Thus, ended the winter vacation break journey for the year.
Here is the link to the video for the destination -

© S Roy Biswas

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Padampuri – a nature lover’s delight

Padampuri – a nature lover’s delight
Resorts coming around Padampuri
           Every time I searched google for ‘Padampuri’ in Uttarakhand, it invariably launched a series of responses and mostly it showed up ‘Jilling Estate’, without much of help about the actual details of the destination.  Therefore, I thought of paying a visit to the place sans visiting the said estate, as everyone who is a bit tech savvy would be knowing about it by just surfing the internet.  I thus embarked upon the journey be encompassing Padampuri as a destination during my winter sojourn to my little abode in Ranikhet.  It was a wintery morning in Delhi and getting up at about 4.30 A.M in the morning in the cold January month was an exercise in itself and we reached the New Delhi railway station well in time to board the New Delhi-Kathgodam Shatabdi that leaves at 6.00 A.M in the morning and is scheduled to reach Kathgodam at 11.40 A.M.  However, the day had more agony stored for us, as on that fateful day i.e. 5th January, 2017 the train did not arrive at the platform even 10 minutes prior to its departure time and simultaneously the announcements of other trains being cancelled because of fog were being continually made.  Since there were no announcements being made in respect of our train, random thoughts that it too had been cancelled was gnawing inside the mind.  I started mentally contemplating an alternate arrangement for reaching the destination.  Just then an announcement was made informing the passengers that due to some ‘technical glitch’ the train would leave later, no further details were provided and this kind of announcement continued intermittently, until the train finally arrived at the platform at 8.00 A.M, albeit two hours late.   Thereafter, the journey commenced after about another 10 minutes and we braced ourselves for further delays en-route. 
Aerial view of Chanfi as one heads towards Padampuri
View of the famed 'Jilling Estate' from Padampuri
            The start of the journey appeared to be inauspicious and the train slowly chugged along and finally reached Kathgodam at around 2.25 P.M., the only saving grace for the journey being the considerate approach of the Indian Railways which provided for some Dal & Rice at around 1.00 P.M. to the passengers because of the delay, which is not usually not a scheduled meal during the journey.  Since, I had already pre-booked the taxi wallah, who drops me regularly at my pad in Ranikhet, we did not have to waste much time in either identifying a suitable vehicle or rate etc., as he had already done the needful at the pre-paid booth.  We started from Kathgodam and after travelling for about a Kilometer or so, we started our descent towards Ranibagh, on way to Bhimtal.  The distance from Kathgodam to Bhimtal is about 23 KMs and therefrom one has to reach Khutani, which is about 5 KMs from Bhimtal.  The roads bifurcates from Khutani and one has to take a sharp U-turn towards Champawat/Lohaght road to reach Padampuri.  After passing by Khutani, the next notable inhabited destination in Chanfi, which is 6 KMs from Khutani and is situated in a valley.  Having gone past Chanfi, the road again starts ascending, albeit steeply and after one covers a further destination of about 6 KMs, one reaches Matial village and the trek to the famed ‘Jilling Estate’ starts from here and as the road climbs down about another Kilo meter, one reaches Padampuri, situated in the valley below, where two rivulets conjunct.  It is small nondescript little hamlet situated in the lap of nature, as if ensconced in a timeless warp.
The ancestral home of Sh. N.D Tiwari ernstwhile Chief Minister of UP & Uttarakhand in Padampuri
Traditional farming methods being used to cultivate potatoes
Modern technology is also creeping in slowly to replace or methods of farming 
As we were already late, we headed directly for the Tourist Rest House (TRH in short) Padampuri, managed by the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (KMVN in short).  It is situated right on the State Highway heading towards Champawat district of the State.  Initially we decided to stay overnight at the destination, but decided against it as the rooms there were poorly maintained with seepage in toilets and rooms giving a shabby appearance to the entire structure.  However, the staff posted there were very co-ordial and helpful and especially the cook Mohinder, had excellent culinary skill and fed the famished souls with delectable pakoras, omelettes & coffee.  After having placed the order for snacks etc., we walked down the road upto the village square, wherefrom the ashram of famed Sombari baba is stone’s throw away and having visited the temple complex, we headed back to the TRH.  Padampuri is also known as the birth place of the mercurial but controversial Congress leader of yester years, Sh. Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who had been the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for quite some time, his ancestral home is still inhabited by his extended family.
The famed Sombari Baba ashram in Padampuri
A photo of famed Sombari Baba sourced from the net
Where the Vultures dare - Himalayan Griffon in flight in Padampuri
             Padampuri is a combination of tradition & modernity, perched at an altitude of 875 MSL or about 3000 feet above MSL (measured by me through altimeter inbuilt in my wristwatch), it has a moderate climate, but gets colder in winters as it is surrounded by high peaks that allows only minimal sunshine hours in a day.  The main economic activity of the village revolves around agriculture, as there is sufficient availability of water in its vicinity.  I found a lot of poly-houses and on enquiries found out that floriculture has become an important activity for sustenance and coupled with this many resorts on hill tops around Padampuri are coming up.  The river that runs up from the Sombari Baba ashram is a treasure trove of avian fauna and a famed water-fall is situated further ahead in the river, but the same is visible in its entirety only during the monsoon season.  I found out a link to the photograph of the said water fall, which may be accessed by my readers by following this link -  
View from Tourist Rest House, Padampuri
A traditional Kumaoni home in Padampuri -
it had started raining as we were to commence with our journey towards Sitlakhet
It would not be justified if I do not mention a little about the famed Sombari Baba, who was named so because he used to launch a community lunch for the villagers every Monday i.e. Sombar/Somvar in Hindi.  An associate of the famed Haira Khan Baba, he was an ascetic of the famed cadre of saints who roamed the Kumaon Hills during the early 1900s.  The region still echoes with legends about them. Sombari Baba was also one of the teachers of Swami Rama whose master, Bengali Baba had sent him to Sombari Baba during his early days.  The present ‘mathadish’ or head of sect is Swami Parmanand Puriji Maharaj, born in 1889 AD, was not present at the Padampuri ashram, but was away to Gurgaon, Haryana on request of one of his disciples, who despite being about 127 years old and having had two major surgeries, he still appears to be going strong, although I was not fortunate enough to meet him.  Thus, ended our brief but pleasant encounter with Padampuri.
 Here is the link to the video for the destination -

© S Roy Biswas