Sunday, October 27, 2013

Photos from Ladakh & The Markha Valley Trek

In September 2013, a South Col team trekked the beautiful Markha Valley in perfect weather. These are some of the photographs from the trek
View of the Himalayas from the flight Delhi to Leh

Storm clouds over Leh palace

At Chilling the Zanskar river has to be crossed by a trolley before we can start the walk
The team at the Lake Camp below Nimaling

There are a number of homestays now in the Markha Valley which provide basic rooms and meals for trekkers
Snow pigeons at the village of Hankar
Ponies graze on the upland pastures above Nimaling
The Lake Camp below Nimaling

Evening light over the Ladakh mountains from Lake Camp below Nimaling

For more photographs of Ladakh and Zanskar please do visit my web site 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Images of Patan Durbar Square, Nepal

The oft neglected neighbour of Kathmandu, the city of Lalitpur, popularly known as Patan is a World Heritage Site and the Durbar Square is studded with temples of rare beauty. Though most visitors usually breeze through Patan, it is well worth while to spend a day here. Some photographs from the Patan Durbar Square:

Early morning at the Durbar Square 

The imposing Krishna Mandir

The Vishwanath Temple

A marigold seller at the Square

Entrance of the Golden Temple

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ten Great Treks of the Indian Himalaya

This is a list of my personal ten great treks in the Indian Himalaya not in any specific order!
Green Lakes - the base camp of Kangchendzonga in North Sikkim  
Off limit to trekkers for many years and rigidly controlled by a permit system, few have made it to the north east base camp of Kangchendzonga. In the summer of 1987, supported by an Assam Rifles team who were climbing the peak, I reached the Green Lakes Base Camp in the Zemu Valley. The trek is around 8/9 days from Lachen (up and down) and has some stupendous views, rhododendrons and blue poppies, bharal grazing on the Green Lake plain and Siniolchu, that perfect mountain, visible from the Zemu glacier. The trek needs full support with tents, porters and food to be carried. It is on my agenda to take a South Col team to Green Lakes soon!
Dzongri and the Goeche La - the approach to Kangchendzonga from the south 
Much more accessible than the northern approach, Dzongri is an alpine meadow around 4000 metres near the glaciers of Kabru and Ratong commanding some superb views of the Sikkim Himalaya. The trek from Yuksam to the alp of Dzongri takes two days though some do it in three to aid acclimatisation. From Dzongri you can go both to the Goecha La pass following the Prek Chu river or make a rewarding detour to the HMI base camp at Chauringkhang below the peaks of Kabru and Ratong. The view of Kangchendzonga from the plain of Onglakthang before Samiti lake is stupendous especially if seen on a moonlit night!

Across Zanskar - Lamayuru to Padum and onto Darcha 
This could be the "ultimate trek" in Ladakh crossing seven passes in seven days from Lamayuru to Padum and then again  crossing Shingo-la  from Padum to Darcha. The trek traverses heights upto 5400 metres and drops to the valleys around 3500 metres. Sadly, the trek will soon be no more thanks to a road which is relentlessly being carved out along the banks of the Zanskar River from Nimu to Padum. So while the going is good I would advise to do this trek. Great views, fabulous country, the real "last Shangri-la" . Please visit for photographs of this trek.

The Nanda Devi Sanctuary 
This trek had been closed for many years in order to conserve the environment of the inner sanctuary. It is now open against a permit upto Dibrugheta - the inner sanctuary is still closed. The views of Nanda Devi from Dharansi Pass and Saini Kharak are indeed spectacular and Dunagiri dominates most of the trail from Suraithonta to Jhandidhar. Water is a problem on this route and you need a guide who is familiar with the terrain and water sources. The round trip Suraithonta-Dharansi Pass-Lata Kharak-Lata would take around 5-6 days. Full arrangements need to be made for tents, food, cook and porters on this route which can be done by several trekking agencies in Joshimath. 

Rupkund - The Mystery Lake 
The bugyals of the Garhwal are nowhere more beautiful than on the trail to Rupkund. Bedni Bugyal with its dress circle view of the Garhwal peaks is an idyllic campsite with lush meadows in the summer and monsoon. The trek would take around 7-8 days and there are some huts which could be used for shelter. We never had a tent and stayed in the huts and the rock caves of Baguabasa. It is possible to continue on from Rupkund and cross Juiragali and return to the valley via Kanol and Sutol. Porters and food would be a necessity on this route. For details please visit

The Kuari Pass and Curzon's Trail 
It is now possible to reach the Kuari Pass from Joshimath in two/three days via the ski resort of  Auli, but, it is still rewarding to walk the Curzon trail from the village of Ghat across theKauri Pass and then descend to Joshimath. The pass made popular by the early British explorers to the Garhwal like Frank Smythe, Bill Tilman etc. commands an extensive view across the mountains of the Garhwal Himalaya. The full route would take around -5-6 days and post monsoon would be an ideal time to do this trek. The meadows between Kuari and Auli are home to the shepherds who graze their sheep and goats on the lush vegetation during the monsoon months. For details please visit

The Singalila Ridge of Sandakphu and Phalut
Though it is possible to drive a landrover from Darjeeling all the way to Sandakphu in a bone jarring ten hour journey, the walk from Manebhanjan to Sandakphu and then along the ridge to Phalut is highly recommended. The trek can be done without porters or guides as there are lodges to stay and food is available. It is possible to return from Phalut via Gorkhey and Rimbick. The Singalila ridge is one of the few locations where four of the five highest mountains in the world are visible - Everest, Kangchendzonga, Lhotse and Makalu. It is possible to trek this route in winter as the altitude never crosses 3600 metres. 

The Lakes of Ladakh - Tso Kar and Tso Moriri 
The trek from Rumtse to Tso Kar and then onto Tso Moriri  which would take around 8-9 days is one of the great walks in Ladakh.The trek needs to be done with full support-  tent, ponies, cook and food. The trail passes through the high altitude plateau of Rupshu with a lot of wildlife en route - kiang (Tibetan wild ass), marmots, ladakh pika, red wolf, ducks and geese.  We attempted the trek in late September 2008 after heavy snowfall had covered  the Ladakh and Himachal mountains. Unfortunately we managed to reach only Tso Kar after which the snow conditions which were steadily getting worse put paid to our plans. August would be a good month for this trek before the onset of winter. It is necessary to have transport at Tso Moriri arranged as the bus to Leh is only twice a month!  For photographs please do visit

The Source of the Ganga - Goumukh and Tapoban 

The trek from Gangotri to the source of the Ganga at Goumukh and then onto the high meadows of Tapoban and Nandanvan is one of the finest walks in the Garhwal. The views of Shivling, Bhagirathi peaks, Kedardome, Meru are outstanding from the Tapoban meadows. On a good day bharal (blue sheep) can be seen at very close distance. It is advisable to camp one night at Tapoban and another at Nandanvan before returning to Gangotri. The trek would take around seven to eight days return. Crossing the Gangotri glacier can be difficult if it has snowed recently so a guide could be useful.

The Pin Parvati Pass
The journey from Kulu valley into Spiti across the Pin Parvati Pass is not for the faint hearted. The pass is often snow bound even as late as June/July and snow flurries and storms in bad weather makes the crossing extremely difficult. Having said this, it is a very rewarding trek for a well equipped group with guide, porters, food, tent and proper equipment. The trek from the Kulu side starting at Pulga  should take around seven/eight days. For a trek diary please do visit

For more details of treks in the Himalaya do visit or

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lukla to Phaplu: The Long Road back to Kathmandu

In May 2013, I was returning from a South Col trek to the Everest region when for two consecutive days our Tara Air flights from Lukla  were cancelled due to bad weather and strong winds over the Lamjura Pass. My clients who had connecting flights to their home countries left Lukla by chartering a helicopter and finally my sirdar Shyam Tamang and myself were left in Lukla. Helicopter fares were very expensive and more than what Shyam and I could afford. So after seeing off  the last group by "chopper" from Lukla, we decided to take the long walk to Phaplu, 50 km away. From Phaplu there is a jeepable road of sorts which takes around fifteen hours to Kathmandu! We were dead beat after walking for 17 days in the Everest region and another 50 km did not look inviting but there was not much choice.

This is the route map of our walk:

We took Prakash one of our porters on the Everest trek and the three of us descended from the Lukla airstrip into the forest above Surkhe. These are some of the photographs from this rain drenched journey.

The trail from Lukla (2800m) plunges down to Surke, a drop of about 500 metres in about an hour and a half! We were soon enveloped in the wet forest and cocooned in the damp mist amidst a cacophony of bird calls!

The trail from Surke then crosses a bridge and starts a long uphill climb to the village of Puiyan (2780m)  On the way we passed these porters making their way to Lukla. 

Before reaching the small village of Puiyan there is an old tree surrounded by these prayer flags and ceremonial scarves ( khadas).  

Our sirdar Shyam and Prakash look down into the Dudh Kosi river valley  as the trail plunges down to Bupsa (2350m) from the Khari La pass. 
The Sonam Lodge was welcome for a  tea break at the Kari La pass (2885 metres)  about an hours  walk after crossing Puiyan.  

Numerous hills and dales  had passed by  and we were wet and tired. It was early evening. Our destination for the first night out from Lukla was Kharikhola (2050m)  which was still some distance away. We found the Everest lodge at Bupsa and stopped to have tea and noodles with the owner in this attractive kitchen. 

The next day we descended from Kharikola to Jubing (1700 metres) and then started on the 1300 metre ascent to the pass of Traksindo. On the way after crossing Nuntala (2350m) we found this man weaving baskets outside his home on the edge of the trail.

The weather was packing up again and clouds rushed through the valley where this donkey is carrying rice and atta for his owner on the way to Lukla. 

After crossing the Traksindo Pass (3071m) the trail drops through the valley and enters this beautiful village of Ringmo (2700m) , known as the "apple capital" of the Everest region. The valley is studded with apple trees and beautiful forest all around the village. Ringmo was possibly the most attractive village on this route.

Leaving the village of Ringmo and before entering Phaplu,   the trail passes through several neatly terraced villages like this one!  

After more than 18 hours of walking and 50 km later we reached Phaplu in the late evening on the second day. It had been a long, wet and tiring walk and the exhaustion is evident on Prakash's face! On reaching Phaplu we found that no flights were operating out of this airport as well due to bad weather! As luck would have it we managed to get a ride on a Tata Sumo heading for Kathmandu the same evening. Fifteen hours later at around 9 am the next morning we reached Kathmandu after jolting through the night on dirt track roads! The entire journey had taken us 45 hours since leaving Lukla! The flight from Lukla to Kathmandu takes 30 minutes!


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