Preparing for high altitude treks

Kang Yatse

And finally, after months of contemplation and efforts, I could manage to do my first high altitude trek. A lot of questions revolved around my mind when I planned to invest nearly all my vacation days in a solitary, outlying place in the depths of Himalayas. I thought of sharing some common concepts here about high altitude treks. Inbox me if you still have any questions.

Idea in mind

The whole idea of a trek erupted after I read a Facebook ad about Stok Kangri by an adventure group emphasizing the statement- ’Highest trekkable peak in India’. Such ads quite excite the target audience like me. I did a real good research on what this peak is, whose name I haven’t ever heard of. Web search dictates this peak as one of the highest trekkable destinations in India with a cloud touching altitude of 6153m. Six thousand meters! The highest I had ever done till that date was 4200m in Himachal and never thought that some normal naive trekker with limited climbing experience can summit a SIX THOUSAND meters peak. It really excited me to dig further about it.

Further reading and a few discussions with diverse adventure groups suggested that Stok Kangri has become a commonplace. People don’t even get proper place to erect their tents at the base camp. And indeed, it is very much crowded. You won’t be able to figure out  if your tent is on a poop. Even people who haven’t got trained enough for the trek attempt the summit. They face the consequences later. Neverthless, the word ‘CROWDED’ itself drained all my interest in this peak and I began my search for similar such peaks in India. As a matter of fact, the peaks in 6000m club are mostly at Ladakh. I found a couple of others, certified as ‘trekkable or require minor mountaineering skills’. These peaks were namely Kang Yatse 2 in Markha valley (6250m. Remember, Kang Yatse 1 at 6400m is very much technical.) and Mentok Kangri (6400m) in Tso Moriri region of Ladakh.

Kang Yatse 2 or any such high altitude peak for that matter, I later learned, is not that straight forward and requires you to build quite a good amount of endurance, strength and stamina. If you are going there without getting trained, you might end up quitting even before you reach the base camp. In many circumstances, one might face AMS as well. So beware to do your homework starting a couple of months before the start of your trek. I did a lot of crossfit sessions and running sessions before I considered myself fit for it.

READ: My adventures during Kang Yatse 2 trek

Reason to train

Okay. I got your question. Why do we need training?

In the Himalayas, it’s not just about going down the trail. After a certain altitude (say 2500m), human body faces the effects of altitude. This is because of the decrease in environmental air pressure as the altitude increases, which results in decrease in the amount of oxygen. If your body doesn’t get the required amount of oxygen, it will not work efficiently. The brain itself, even though it weighs just 5% of the total body weight, uses around 15% of the oxygen the body gets.

Building physical endurance

Now how does training help?

  1. Proper cardio exercises like running, swimming or even cycling can help build the cardiopulmonary systems stronger and also build the required endurance. If your lungs have more capacity to hold oxygen, it will be beneficial where the oxygen is less.
  2. Breathing exercises will help you gain control over your heart beats.
  3. Some high intensity trainings like crossfit and boxing will make your body adapt to less amount of oxygen.
  4. A little strength training can add icing to the cake as you need to carry your own body weight plus the backpack up on the hills while ferrying from one camp to the other.
  5. Apart from this, it’s better if you follow a proper diet (not for reducing weight!!). Increase the intake of protein, iron, antioxidants and vital vitamins in your food. This will help build immunity and increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your body.
  6. Plus, a complete no-no to cigarettes and alcohol before a couple of months and during the trek.

Also READ: How to start running

Building mental endurance

Physical training is absolutely necessary but what most of the crowd miss out is a proper mental endurance. Due to high popularity and glamour such kind of expeditions carry, most of the people don’t understand the importance of mental preparation which is required. This is mainly because majority of the crowd is first timer for high altitude treks and have not been exposed to such unforgiving conditions before.

Following are some of the ways to build the same:

  1. Build confidence in yourself that you can do it. Be prepared for adverse weather conditions and the resulting effects on your body and mind.
  2. Visualize the game before starting it. Look for the complete picture, read the blogs by people who have already did the trek, converse with your trek leaders about diverse terrains to be encountered.
  3. Build your passion towards travel and motivate yourself and the team. As your brain might not function normally at higher altitudes leading to depression and negative vibes, it’s your will power and the control over your mind which will define your achievement in the end.
  4. Understand your limits and build tendency to accept failures. Even if you are not able to do it today, you can always come back with better preparation tomorrow. Mountain will always be there. At least, you will get to know your limits and the areas to work on.

Things to carry

For the summit day, you will require crampons/snow boots, gaiters, ice axe and a helmet which are normally provided by the adventure group you would be associated with. You are required to get your own basic trekking and winter gear. For me, the most difficult part was to decide on what to wear during the trek and how much to pack in the bag. It’s a common rule that your backpack should be light.

You should read about a real good explanation on the concept of layering of clothes here.

I carried the things mentioned below for the trek which I have shared on my Insta as well. I got nearly everything from Decathlon.

Backpack stuff
Things to carry for a high altitude trek
  1. 60L backpack
  2. Rain cover for the backpack (40-60L)
  3. 20-35L backpack (useful for the summit day)
  4. 10L daypack (useful in your initial acclimatization days)
  5. Couple of quick dry breathable t-shirts
  6. Couple of pairs of quick dry breathable socks for trek, woolen socks and one pair of woolen gloves (just in case), muffler
  7. Waterproof trekking shoes (>=5000mm. Make sure the midsole of the shoe is not very soft. For me, Forclaz 500 did the job. It costed me around 5000 bucks.)
  8. Flip-flops or sneakers (useful while on the camps)
  9. Biodegradable garbage bags (can be used as laundry dry bags as well)
  10. Toilet kit (sunscreen with >=40 SPF is most important)
  11. Notepad and pen, energy bars, reusable water bottles(2), napkins, head cap
  12. Tiffin box, cup, spoon
  13. Quick dry towel
  14. Down jacket (or a fleece jacket, for the cold)
  15. Waterproof and thus, windproof shell jacket (RET 12. This will not keep you warm. It will just protect you from wind and water.)
  16. UV protective polarized sun glasses (most important), night glasses (optional)
  17. Breathable inners or thermals
  18. Light weight hiking pants (couple of them will do)
  19. Baliclavas
  20. Identity documents (for permit to climb mountain)
  21. Headtorch (you will need it for the summit day and while on the camp), lighter, compass, camphors, insect repellant, playing cards, carabiners, scissors, clips, fevi sticks
  22. Medical kit

It was a mixed feeling of gamble, mystery, excitement and fear.

At an altitude of 6200m, this summit chase was my first ever high altitude trek. Proper training is required to conquer such a height, as already mentioned by me, and Cultfit helped me in my quest.

A lot of time, energy and money was spent for this trip and it is worth all the resources.

A day out in and around Lepakshi​

Open area outside Lepakshi main temple

I had just one day off last weekend. Although Bangalore is quite self-sufficient when it comes to visiting local attractions, going for a shopping or hanging out for a quick beer, it still lags behind the other metropolis across the country if a day outing is being looked for. With such a small list of places to plan a day travel, there are a few gems which actually need to get a push in the tourism sector. One such place is Lepakshi, which I believe many of us haven’t heard of. Just for a brief introduction, Lepakshi is a small temple town in Ananthpur district of Andhra Pradesh known for its 16th-century architectural marvel in the form of Veerabhadra temple.

This place got my attention when I looked for places near Bangalore, rich in history and architecture, after my trip to Hampi. I found Badami and Lepakshi worth visiting. You can easily drive your way to this religious place called Lepakshi as it is well connected to National Highways. Just follow the NH-44 till Kodikonda where you need to take a sharp left towards Lepakshi road. It takes around 2-3 hours to cover this 130 km stretch and submit yourself to the marvelous art and get lost within the temple premises. Other options are buses, cabs and trains. Hindupur is the nearest railway station located around 15 km from Lepakshi.

Entry gate of Lepakshi temple
Entry gate of Lepakshi temple

As soon as you enter the town, you are welcomed by a huge monolithic Nandi, a 4.5m high sculpture of a bull. The Nandi directly faces the Shiva-Linga which is inside the main temple.

Beautiful carvings on the entry gate of Veerabhadra temple
Beautiful carvings on the entry gate of Veerabhadra temple

The wonderful carvings on the stones starting right from the entry gate to every other pillar, each having its own story, is a jackpot for art-lovers. Not only the pillars but the colorfully painted ceilings tell many tales. You just have to look up. It is said that the 24 by 14 ft. fresco of Veerabhadra on the ceiling before the main sanctum sanctorum is the largest in India of any single figure. There is a Shiva-Linga, a Hanuman-Linga, a Rama-Linga and a Padmavati statue inside the main temple.

The array of magical musical pillars
The array of magical musical pillars

The quaint miraculous structures like the hanging pillar and the musical pillars are heart-throbs. Many people who visit this temple aren’t aware of the hanging pillar. When I was there, I saw a person resting with its support without any knowledge of what he is resting on. I asked this person to move a little off the pillar. Then I took out a piece of paper from my bag to slide it beneath the hanging structure. People opened up their eyes in awe and started clicking pictures.  When you get outside the main temple, you will see that the temple is surrounded by 70 pillars. By looking at its drum-like, grooved structure, I reckoned they must be similar to the musical pillars at Vishnu temple at Hampi. I tried to play this stone with my fingers, and yes, it produced an enchanting sound. Every other pillar has its own pitch. I really wonder what these 16th-century people might have done in unison with these musical pillars.

Intricate carvings on the temple walls
Intricate carvings on the temple walls

Also at the temple’s outer enclosure, you will see a mammoth Ganesha statue hewn in stone and leaning against a rock. Perpendicular to it is a massive Naga with three coils and seven hoods. There is this Kalyana Mandapam, which was never completely built. It’s quite photogenic and people, as usual, had their selfies and group clicks shot. There’s also this huge foot engraved on the ground, which is supposed to be Hanuman’s foot. It was nearly 10 times as bigger as mine. This puts a question to my inquisitive mind- “Are we shrinking?”

The incomplete Kalyana Mantapa
The incomplete Kalyana Mantapa

The thing I liked about this temple is not only its features but also the kind of peace and tranquillity we look for in a religious place. This place is hot all year-round and thus, morning time is the best time to explore this place.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

Wonderful structures at the back of the temple
Wonderful structures at the back of the temple

Nearby places of interest:

If you happen to visit Lepakshi, you can also visit Dharmavaram (around 90 km) for its famous silk sarees and Veerapuram (around 40 km) for the painted storks all around the village (Dec till June). If you have spare time and would like to visit a model village, don’t miss this beautiful Proto Village near Tekalodu, which is on the way to Bangalore. The exact location of this village is: Proto Village location

Why to travel solo?

Why to travel solo

A lot of people have been asking me this one simple question which has a lot of answers. Why go Solo? It always adheres to one notion – “Security and boredom of being alone have to be compromised”. But believe me, it’s not true and even if it is, you will get over it. Here are a few reasons why you should try it.

1. Meet new people

meet new people

People say they are social and extrovert. Are you gregarious enough to meet new and varied people every other day? And are you willing to listen to the different stories of people from different corners of the world? Stories about their lives, stories about their adventures. Also, in turn, are you interested in telling them stories about your life, your adventures? I say, go solo! 

2. Earn respect

Earn respect

Traveling alone also gains a lot of attention and respect from other fellow travelers or the locals you encounter. You will always find help wherever you step your foot at. You will not just find an easy assistance, but may be a company along whom you can tag up with and save costs and efforts during your travel. You will make friends with the locals which might help you on your next trip there. And then you start respecting yourself more.

3. Gain benefits

gain benefits

Land up at a decent hotel or a restaurant. Tell them you are traveling solo. And may be you will get a discount on the services, better facilities or a complimentary drink! Plus, as locals who know the place better than anyone, they will definitely guide you for your next day travel in the best possible way. If you drop by at a hostel and the dorms are getting filled up fast, you as a solo traveler will get priority. Effortless logistics! Being a single person, you can be accommodated anywhere, whether it’s a hostel or a shared cab service.

4. Do what you want to do and do nothing of what you don’t want to do

Be yourself

Do you want the independence of choice of your stay, your cuisines, your itinerary and your way of travel without compromising? You may want to taste the local cuisines every day, drink the local wines every night. Or let’s just say, do you want to make the things abrupt, surprising as they come? Do you want not to stick to a plan or not make any? You may also not want to visit crowded tourist places and just want to sit under the canopies along a beach or read books staying in your homestay all day. Group travels seldom entertain such fancies.

5. Be a smarter person

Be a smarter person

Do you want to actually learn some of the life skills which include time and resources management and communication skills? Most of the life hacks were not developed by a group, but by a single person. These skills will not only help you while you travel but also at various other stages of your life. Stay in a hut wearing rugs with minimal equipment and you will get to know the reality of life.

6. Know yourself

Know yourself

Finally, at some or the other stage of your life, you will want to explore yourself within. You want to know your limits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You want to know your aspirations and your true nature. Even if that time hasn’t come, why not try going solo to get awareness on such precious things? Ignorance is not always a bliss!

7. Don’t delay

Don't delay

How many times has it happened to you that you plan a travel with your friends and one of them is not able to manage leaves at that time or may be two sides are formed with different opinions about places to travel, places to stay, etc.? Ahh! Annoying, I know. That’s all.

Also READ: Hampi: A voyage into the past

Hampi: A voyage into the past

Sunset at Hampi

How often do we connect with history? A straight vibrant echo of our forefather’s voices engulfs us as we embark on our quest to visit historical places. And Hampi is no exception.

This time, I decided to visit this ancient “Kishkinda” of the Ramayana times. Hampi is a temple town in Hospet taluk of Bellary district in the Karnataka state of India, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara. Given a quite sociable and outgoing nature of this place, many Indian and foreign travelers are attracted here and it is one of the biggest backpackers’ havens in India.

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I started off solo this time at the end of January. The weather, though hot, is the optimum season for visitors. All the shacks and cafes are full of business. Hampi is off-season from March till September. My travel started from Bangalore city which is roughly at a distance of 500 km from Hampi. Hospet is connected from Bangalore via trains and buses. I went for the latter option as it provided me the time flexibility. Starting off at 11 PM, I reached Hospet at 6 in the morning. It was a good road with minimal bumps. Hampi is around 12 km from Hospet. You can find buses for Hampi in the posh KSRTC bus stand plying every 15-20 mins from Platform no. 12. The journey takes around half an hour and charged me just 16 bucks. Don’t expect an easy seat as buses are generally crowded. Autos are also readily available outside bus stand to Hampi which may charge you some 200-300 bucks.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

On the way, you will notice a beautiful vast Kamlapur lake on the right. After some time, the much-awaited ruins appear, which is spread till the horizon. As you reach Hampi, the first thing you will notice is a huge artistic Virupaksha temple. I decided not to enter the temple premises before taking a bath. So, had some decent clicks and moved ahead.

 

Hampi town is divided into two parts by the mighty Tungabhadra river. The temple side contains all the ruins including the much-hyped Vitthala temple. By the way, I am on this side till now. The other side is popularly known as Hippie island and contains a relatively lesser number of historical monuments and more number of shacks to stay. So, backpacker’s paradise would be the other side. I had done my initial research on this place. You have to cross this river by boat. They charge you Rs.50 before 10 AM and after 6 PM when it gets dark. Otherwise, you have to pay a nominal fee of Rs.10 for the ride. I saw many people carrying their bikes and bicycles on the boat to the other side. I was reluctant to pay Rs.50 for this not-even-a-minute ride. Fortunately, the water levels were low this month and you have a path to the other side by jumping over the rocks plus a minute of walking down the river.

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Boats carrying people from one side of the river to the other

As I reached there, I saw many local shops selling hats, scarfs, shawls, chunnis, sunglasses, etc. After 5 mins of window shopping, I asked for a way to Goan Corner, the place where I would stay for next couple of days. After nearly 200 meters of walk, I was already seeing the cool shacks and cafes. People were everywhere, in different colors, of different nationalities. On the way, there were lush green paddy fields on both the sides with mostly the majestic light brown boulders of Hampi in the background. I followed a sign board mentioning-‘That is THE GOAN CORNER–> ‘.

 

As soon as I reached this place, I could feel a different aura, a different vibe. It seemed like some party is going on with all the travelers either eating or drinking or chilling around. A good number of people were just waiting to get a confirmation on a bed at this little place to sleep. Now, I got worried. Can I manage a bed here for this night? I asked the owner lady at reception to provide me a single bed wherever it is, just to sleep. I need no room, no private toilet. She put me on the waiting list. Till then, I had a good breakfast of bread butter, Israeli salad, and a coffee at its in-house cafe. Finally, after an hour of chit chats with the fellow travelers, I got a confirmation. I went to see my bed which was on a rooftop. They have many mattresses properly lined up on the terrace with a mosquito net over every single mattress. I pulled up the neatly tucked net from one corner and entered my mattress. I rearranged my stuff and went for a shower.

It was just 11 o’clock. A long day to go and Hampi is no small. I found one guy from Bangalore who was traveling solo. We decided to explore the hippie side of Hampi for today. It’s always better to get a bicycle or a moped on rent at Hampi. You can find them on rent at any shack or even in the markets. But remember one thing: Mopeds taken on rent on hippie side of the river cannot be driven on the other side. It can attract you a good fine. We took bicycles on rent for Rs.100 a day. If you are opting for a moped, then you will have to shell out some 250-400 bucks depending on the model.

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We decided to visit Anjaneya temple popularly known as Monkey temple or Anjanadri. Before that, we had a satisfied Indian lunch at a local restaurant. After spending some time resting on their beds while looking at the lake and boulders, we decided to move ahead. Anjanadri is a sunset point and it seemed better to go there as late as possible. So we went ahead of Anjanadri for a km and found this place called Pampa Sarovara at Anegondi. It is a square water tank with a flight of steps along its borders. It holds the credit of one of the five sacred lakes in India.  There are quite a few temples here. In Hindu mythology, Pampa Sarovar is regarded as the place where Pampa, a form of Shiva’s consort Parvati, performed deep meditation with the sole intention of getting married to Lord Shiva. Footprints of  Lord Rama are also said to be inscribed on a rock here. Apart from that, we found a deep cave near the Rama temple which leads us directly to the Virupaksha temple on the other side of the river, as told to us. Amazing it is, right?

 

After spending some 60-70 mins here, it was already 4. Now, we could comfortably visit the Anjanadri temple. We parked the cycle at a sweet little shop and requested the humble old man to keep a look on it. 570 steps to be climbed! And it was worth it. The awesome scenic beauty at the hill top made our day. It is believed that it is in this area, the kingdom of monkeys existed and Vali, Sugriva, and Hanuman lived. A Ram Setu Shila, i.e. a floating rock is also kept in the temple premises. We went to the other side of the hill to have a moment of peace and thereafter, spot the sunset. There were ruins, boulders, paddy fields, coconut trees everywhere down the hill. So serene it felt. We could hear just the sound of the winds. Everyone was desperately waiting for the sunset, but unfortunately, the day was cloudy enough to cover up the orange ball. We couldn’t watch the sunset, but we had a good moment here, with ourselves. We made a couple of friends afterward who were coincidentally staying at Goan corner itself. They also had their bicycles parked down the hill and thus, we left together.

 Also READ: A day out in and around Lepakshi

After returning the bicycles, we walked our way to the Goan corner. On the way, I spotted Gali’s music shop, which I had seen in the morning as well. People were jamming inside. It caught my interest and I asked my friends to move ahead and I shall be back after looking out for some instruments in this shop. I found out a Spanish guy playing guitar, an English woman playing Ditscheridu and a Finnish woman playing Djembe. I joined these guys on Conga drums in this free community jamming session. Music with unknown and diverse guys is always special. We feel connected even if we aren’t. This music shop is run by its owner Gali who is a great guy and plays nearly 30 instruments. If music interests you, you cannot afford to miss meeting this guy. His kid is equally talented. Just at 13 years of age, he can play nearly all the percussion instruments.

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Gali’s music shop

We put an end to the jamming session with Hotel California and went for dinner at this great place called ‘The Taste of Hampi’. In this dark, candle-lit ambiance, most of the crowd was non-Indian. People were sharing their travel stories with each other. Music was on, seating was on the ground. I ordered Al-fungi which was delicious. There were people playing Melodica, Djembes and other sorts of drums for entertainment. Gali asked me to play Melodica. I took the stage for some time. The crowd got crazy at Naagin. Wonderful evening it was!

I met this really cool guy from Hyderabad who accompanied me back to Goan corner as his car was parked there. He had a Spanish scotch with him and offered me the same. I called up the guys I met during the day to join us. Everyone started their stories. Scotch was going down the throats slowly and slowly while the moon shone more and more bright as the night grew.

If you come to Hampi and you don’t smoke the maal, then what did you do! As we didn’t have any sort of stuff with us, we tried to get hold of some from the foreigners, as they always have their pockets loaded. Our best bet was to offer them a drink and in return, collect stuff from them. Fortunately, we found a Russian guy who apparently turned out to be an expert in this matter. He had his own equipment like crusher, vaporizer, chillum and of course, loads of different kinds of stuff. This guy was literally an Einstein. He explained us the types of stuff he had, starting from Rs.100 a tola (10 gms) to Rs.8000 a tola. I never liked smoking but then, he convinced me that the best stuff he had is 92% pure, unlike the other common stuff Indians get which is only 10-12% pure. Contrasting difference! The high which you will get with this purest stuff is so balanced, so heavenly and so healthy. I actually got a kick, but in a good way. And I am not kidding. I didn’t just bash over at someone or puked for that matter. Everything seemed happy thereafter. The sleep I got that night was one of the best sleep in my whole lifetime. Ahh!!!

Day 1 turned out to be a heck of an experience. Hampi trip was already successful for me. The following couple of days would be busy as there are a lot of places to be explored.

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Hampi travel guide

As soon as I woke up at 9, I took a shower and had a breakfast at the same cafe downstairs. I loved the coffee here. Today, I had to travel to the other side of the river, to explore the ruins. I crossed the river in a boat and went straight towards the Virupaksha temple. The first thing you should do to explore Hampi is to purchase a nice guide book. You will get many guides on Hampi, but you can trust this book by Dr.C.S.Vasudevan which will cost you Rs.200. It apparently is certified by the Archaeological Survey of India. This book lists around 67 monuments and 16 other places of interests around Hampi along with their descriptions. Much to digest for a person with no history background! You will also find a detailed map on the last page for navigation.

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Map

I split my plan into two:
Day 2 – South East of Virupaksha temple (26 onwards on the map)
Day 3 – East of Virupaksha temple (1-25)

I wasn’t able to get a bicycle today as I was late. Bicycles are lent out by 8 o’clock in the morning. So, plan accordingly.

 

I started off with Virupaksha (Shiva) Temple (4). It’s such a majestic artwork of the 7th century and is considered the most sacred sanctuary over the centuries. Such a thoughtful and systematic architecture. Don’t forget to take blessings from the temple elephant, Lakshmi.

I continued to Hemakuta group of temples (3) which is quite spread out and took around an hour. There are around 30 beautiful temples on this hillock. The view of Virupaksha temple from this hillock takes another dimension.

 

After covering two Ganesh temples (1 &2), I decided to take a small meal in the nearby mess named Geetha Restaurant, as I knew after this point I won’t be getting any food. After lunch, I went ahead to Krishna temple (23). It is one of the most majestic temples built by Krishnadevaraya in 1513 AD. There’s this Krishna bazaar in front of this temple which is again quite huge. I continued further to other points of interest. The way is a simple-straight road! And you will find all the monuments or at least some people going to those monuments. You don’t need any guide if you have a guide book. The most amazing and beautiful monuments according to me in this part were Elephants stable, Queens bath, Lotus Mahal and the whole Royal Enclosure which includes Stepped Tank.

 

It was around 6 PM and I had mostly covered this part. Took an auto as Hampi town was around 4 km from the last point and I was barely left with any stamina to walk.

Back in the town, it was already dark. Boats weren’t operating. I found a group of people crossing the river and tagged alongside them. Don’t forget to carry your torch (preferably head torch) for such situations.

The other side of the town is as lively as it gets. Music is on everywhere and roads are rushed till 10. I went to Gali’s music shop to find out it was closed. So, I called up my guys and got to know they had reached Goan corner already. So I headed for it. I had a dinner at Goan corner and it was good. Made new friends from Norway there who turned out to be contemporary dancers. I always have good and thorough conversation with artists. Here as well, I made talks for around a couple of hours with them regarding their art after which I had a silent walk with one of them in the quiet long paddy fields. Hampi grows really silent as it grows dark. The sky lit up with more and more number of stars as the time passed. We came back to our haven and I went straight to my bed, watching the sky again. This time, through the mosquito net.

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Sunrise from Matanga hilltop

I woke up at 5 AM just because I wanted to see the sunrise from Matanga Hill (6). I took a bath and got ready in 30 mins, walked the still-dark paddy fields towards the river to get to the other side. It took me another 15 mins to reach the other side. The eastern part of Virupaksha temple is mostly a trip around the hilly part alongside the river Tungabhadra, where you can’t drive. So, I caught an auto in a hurry as there was barely any time left for sunrise. I climbed and reached Matunga hilltop in dot 15 mins and noticed a lot of people already waiting there for sunrise. I reserved a location there and patiently waited for the sunrise to happen. After 10 mins when the sunrise was yet to happen, I met a couple of Marathi guys from Pune. I had a good chat with them for 5 mins may be. As the skies were already lit, we concluded that the sunrise had happened and due to clouds we couldn’t spot it. But we were wrong in our assumption. Sunrise happened but after 10 more minutes. It was a pleasant and divine experience. I am not a morning person so I can claim this sunrise to be the best in my life!

 

Someone suggested me to cover the east part of Virupaksha temple before afternoon as it will be less hot plus less crowded. I went down the hill and continued my pending journey of the eastern side, which supposedly is more beautiful.

 

The first monument I hit was Achyutaraya temple (7) which is at the foothill of the Matunga hillock. There is this Achyutaraya bazaar (8) in front of it which measures around 361 meters in length and 40 meters in width. Afterwards, according to the map, I followed the directions and covered all the places of interest. Vitthala temple (15) is inarguably one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen. It marks the highest workmanship indicating the mature Vijayanagara phase of architecture. It has this popular Stone Chariot at the center of its premises, which is a prototype of wooden Ratha. I loved this place to the core and spent around an hour discovering its in-depth art. Met another solo backpacker from Mumbai here. He accompanied me for the next couple of monuments post which we parted.

 

I went straight to the town and had a lunch at Mango tree, a popular restaurant at Hampi. No alcohol and non-veg served here. Shared the table with a couple of Chinese women who were curious to know the Indian dishes. I helped them in their mission. After lunch, I headed back to the Goan corner at around 3 PM to chill out. Met some of the friends there and took some rest in their cafe. The dancer girl was still there and asked me to join her for the sunset from the boulders. The sunset was awesome and this time, not cloudy. People played their guitars on the hill and sang to the tunes of nature. I wish I could have joined them but had to leave as I had to catch the bus back to Bangalore. So, descended the hilltop and left for Hospet bus stand at 8.

The journey was great and the people I met were fabulous. Stories I heard were exceptional and the places I visited were marvelous. I loved the way Hampi is. People from all over the world travel here just to see some part of the great history associated with India. They enjoy the culture at this place and I am proud to be a part of it.

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Majestic view of Hampi from the top on a boulder

Seeking peace at Gokarna!

Gokarna

I am always enthused about beaches. My long list of travel in this division includes Digha, Mandarmani, and Pondicherry on the west coast of India, Mumbai, numerous popular as well as hidden beaches in Goa and so on. This time, the long awaited, mostly unexplored, silent beach town of Gokarna robbed my heart. This place never caught my attention due to a lesser-acclaimed, self-absorbed nature of this place. But after visiting it, I wonder why people want to compare it to Goa. It has its own essence, its own rhythm. And I loved the way it is and want it to be what it is now, forever!

gokarna map
A short depiction of the outlines of Gokarna

We were 5 this time. 3 girls, 2 guys. An unanticipated weekend plan it was during the month of December when most of the vacationers get on the beaches. We all were traveling from Bengaluru and booked an AC-sleeper bus from Race course road at 8 PM. The journey takes somewhere around 8-10 hours from Bengaluru, a mere 500 km. After a couple of hours of games and chats, the journey paused with a dinner break at a Dhaba near Tumakuru. Thanks to the short duration of halt, we had to hurry up eating the junk, all-prepared food. Thankfully, we had enough bites before boarding the bus at Bangalore. Being full and well fed, everyone went back to sleep as soon as the bus kicked off.

Early mornings while traveling are always special. You get to see the difference between this new place and ours. Different types of farms on the roadsides, different culture of the locals, different landscapes! Being a coastal area, Gokarna seemed full of coconut and Banana trees. The sun was rising up amongst these tall, sturdy, natural structures. The conventional art of a school kid on paper went real! Such a  beautiful morning it was!

The bus reached at sharp 6:30 AM. As soon as we alighted, we saw deserted roads besides some autos standing in the corners. Unlike other places where auto-wallahs rush up at the bus gates to catch customers, this place was quite at peace. We had to reach out to an auto to take us to our destination – Zostel. We were getting a knack of this less-commercialized place. Leaving aside some shacks and resort, the most economical and backpacker-friendly stay we could find was Zostel. It seemed like auto-wallahs had formed a union to quote 100 bucks for any customer, wherever you go in this small town of 11 sq km. We settled them down at 80 and got hold of two autos.

Zostel is around 3 km from the local bus stop. It is located at the hill top near Gokarna beach. As soon as we reached there, we could spot some wooden shacks on the left which were private rooms and a dormitory building in the front. The dorms were relatively clean and well equipped at Zostel, a backpacker’s haven. We reached out to the reception to find out that rooms shall be available only by 12 noon as it is an official check-in/check-out time. We were given this common area until that time which was pretty cool. We had our luggage kept there. After getting fresh, we had some guitar time on the wonderful terrace they have, which has a splendid view of the surrounding beaches and town. It felt so awesome this morning. The only sound of the strings amongst fresh breeze and treat-to-the-eyes-view. So silent it was that it felt like we were hearing what we played, so properly, for the first time.

zostel cafe gokarna
The rooftop cafe at Zostel facing Gokarna beach

There’s this rooftop cafe at Zostel where you can enjoy your meals and drinks while watching the mighty, blue Arabian Sea. We took our sumptuous breakfast of veg cheese sandwich with a much-needed cup of hot coffee. On the suggestion of the Zostel manager, we decided to trek from Gokarna to Kudle beach. The trek is on the sidelines of the sea among the jungles. The magnificent views of the sea this trek provided us are incomparable. Most of the times in our trek, there were rocky parts all the way down where the white waters gushed with a burst. The sound of the waves flooding the black mountains was audible even on the top where we were trekking. The trek was fairly easy. After numerous halts to watch the awe-inspiring views and of course, for photography, we managed to reach Kudle in a couple of hours. There, we found a nice shack called Ganga Cafe offering chilled beer and great food. By the beach we sat, holding the beer in hand, singing songs of love, and thinking of all the precious things God had just shown us.

Also READ: 9 reasons to travel Goa during Monsoons

When you have a DSLR in your group, photography never ends. It continued for one more hour. We had a walk on this clear white sand beach with slippers in hand. The sand was so fine grained, so soft, so tender. This feeling of soft touch below the feet with slight waters oscillating seemed to have a direct connection to your mind and memories. It makes you think. It helps you meditate. It makes you love isolation.

 

meditating at beach
A perfect place to Meditate – Silent Beaches!

 

“Anna, 300 per person to cover all the beaches in a boat”, said a voice from behind. Now Gokarna has overall 5 beaches which can be covered up via trek or a boat. It was late afternoon and Kudle beach has the best sunset view as it faces the west side. So, we went for the latter option after bargaining till 200 per person. On our way, we were able to spot some lovely dolphins slowly swimming their way. It took us an hour to get back to Kudle beach where we happily settled down in front of a resort and watched the orange ball submerge gradually into the waters. It was fabulous.

We decided to gulp one more beer. We had our guitar. We played the strings and sang the songs. Songs of friendship, songs of youth. It was getting duskier with every passing moment allowing the stars to glitter and the tides to rise. It was time to decide a dinner place.

Beach Trek
Trek from Kudle to Om beach

And Cafe 1987 it was. It was dark out there with a full HD, somewhere around 55″ TV with Avatar movie playing on it for some customers. Luckily, candles were another source of light at this popular place at this time. At first, it seemed like we made a wrong choice. But after having all Italian food, our opinion altered. Also, you must try the yummy pancakes here. With heavy tummies, we went back to Zostel by walk. It was hardly a kilometer from Kudle beach to Zostel if you opt for tar roads. Some notice board mentioned, “Beware of robbers!” And from that moment on, our eyes and ears became open 360 deg till we reached our destination.

Back to Zostel by 11 PM, we went to bed as we had decided to start early trek (at around 6!) from Gokarna beach to Paradise beach facing south with Kudle beach, Om beach, Half Moon beach on the way (Refer the map above). This could easily consume more than half a day. The shacks provided us a really comfortable sleep.

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Graffitis all over at Zostel Gokarna

Mornings are always lazy for me. Our plan got delayed by a couple of hours, making us trek in scorching heat in the end. We had light breakfasts before leaving to garner some energy. We decided to trek from Kudle beach this time and so, had a road walk till Kudle beach. Our trek started effectively at around 9! A slight ascend for some 15-20 minutes followed by a completely straight path, on the edge of the mountain, with just the blue sea below us. Our right side was a full panoramic view. Sitting on the historic mighty walls of Chapora fort at Goa also gives us a similar view. It seemed like we were the only ones on the trek. And it was good in a way. Just the jungles, sea and us. After an hour, we reached Om beach. It got its name as it is shaped like the auspicious ॐ symbol. It is also the center for several water sports activities such as surfing, water-skiing, parasailing, and banana boat rides. 

As soon as we reached there, we encountered this very famous cafe in nearly all the travel blogs – Namaste Cafe! Awesome ambiance, awesome food. Awesome sandwiches actually! Though we didn’t find the service good. Post that, we had some good time on the white sands of the beach. Fortunately, the weather was on our side that day. We sat on the edge of one of the many huge rocks Om beach has, feeling the moist winds on the face, witnessing the astounding beauty of the place. We tried capturing boomerang videos with our names written on the sand being whitewashed by the sea. Amazing time!

Time to move on to another beach – Half Moon. The crowd was even lesser here. Separated by a cliff from Om Beach, this beach is a perfect spot for unwinding and relaxation. With umpteen hammocks set amidst trees, you have splendid reading spots here. If camping is in your mind, just jump right in. We had a good time swimming here as the water is shallow for quite a considerable distance from the shore. And I realized, my swimming movement was so jammed for years! It was already past noon and we were famished. So we decided to have a good lunch in a nearby shack with beers to fight the increasing temperature. This shady shack was home to a couple of nice kittens whom we fed. The beach was so attractive that we went for another round of swimming! All done, we were set to leave for Paradise.

This is the fourth and final beach along the coast of Gokarna town. The hike was a bit tricky but took not more than 25 minutes for us to reach there. This beach is very small, just 150 meters in length. It used to be a Hippie’s paradise a few years ago. It is also ideal for camping at night. It is a perfect place if someone wants to get disconnected! Pure solace. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to stay here as it was already late and we had to rush back to Zostel and catch the bus back to Bangalore. We reached Gokarna beach in about 15 minutes in a boat we hired. Back to our rooms, we packed the luggage and booked a couple of autos for a drop to check post.

Paradise beach
The final beach of the trek – Paradise beach

A journey of a couple of days but it was a feeling where I felt complete satisfaction. A satisfaction of a travel. A satisfaction of isolation from the world. A satisfaction to be at peace. And ultimately, what a person demands from a vacation is satisfaction. So, here I sign off happily from Gokarna! I will visit it again really soon.

Also READ: TripHobo: A review

A nature trek at Bir

We had quite a considerable travel for this year. And by considerable I mean, it was an experience, an amalgam of varied people and varied souls. It was merely an experiment to dig off this place called Bir, which I had never heard of in my whole lifetime, but supposedly is an amazing destination, quite unexplored till now. It holds the credit of hosting the Paragliding World Cup in 2015. This comes to it with its naturally apt place for paragliding which is the second highest place in the world for this adventure. And can you believe it’s just a couple of hours journey from McLeodganj? Bir is one of the most amazing paragliding destinations in the world.

We had a wedding ceremony to attend at Chandigarh on 25th Oct 2016. Our plan was to hit the mountains before the ceremony as we seldom get a chance to travel to the northern parts of India. Flying off from Bangalore, we reached Delhi early morning on 21st. We didn’t even have a half-baked plan till then. 3 places continuously hovered our minds regarding the final destination to opt for. Priority wise, the list seemed like Manali, McLeodganj, Bir. We were then at ISBT, Delhi, half an hour distance from the airport. All the inter-state buses originate from here. Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, name it! All the transport departments have their buses present here. We were constantly enquiring about various timings, duration and other things for that matter to reach the above places. Ultimately, after strenuous 2 hours, we found out that we will be able to visit Bir only, given the constrictive time frame. So here the story began.

We booked our tickets for the evening bus to Kangra and planned a visit to Chandni Chowk in Delhi in the leftover time. Without any doubt, Chandni Chowk has the most diverse and authentic food items than any other street in India. We tasted around 10 different dishes on a single lane leaving aside some. The nature of this place is such that any Indian would feel connected to the country here. It has all sorts of religious places side by side. A mighty Gurudwara, a silent Church, an architecturally marvelous mosque, a pure Jain temple and colorful Hindu temples. All at one place. And yet, there are no fights. A kind of unity that we read in our textbooks is visible here. After a long walk in this Bazaar, we headed back to ISBT. We left Delhi at around 6.30 PM amidst the blowing horns, unmoving cars, the overloaded buses and smoky air.

The beautiful Kangra valley
The beautiful Kangra Valley

After a long journey of 12 hours, we reached this place with beautiful mountains all around. The world’s largest peaks are here, the Himalayas. Though the season wasn’t snow-favorable, we loved the exquisite beauty of these mountains. The dense lines of Oaks, Rhodendrons, and Deodars makes this place so green and cold. After getting down from the bus, we had to hire a cab to reach our stay at Zostel. Zostels are among the best backpacker’s hostels in India. With quite an economic pricing, open and cool nature, and awesome customised itineraries for their customers, this place has gained attention not only of the Indian backpackers but of the foreigner travelers as well.

Zostel Bir
Zostel Bir

We got dorms for us and had our unpacking started. After getting fresh, we had a walk around the silent town. Villagers say, all these hotels, restaurants, cafes have opened up in a year to satisfy tourism. People are gradually putting this place on their travel list. Thank God, we came here before encountering any more rush. We had a delicious English breakfast at this beautiful place called Joy Cafe. After this, we went back to Zostel and found out some people are leaving for a couple of days trek followed by Paragliding. We initially had a plan to do paragliding alone and leave for Mcleodganj for a couple of days there. But looking at the number of people and the nature of trek, we thought and confirmed our inclusion in this sudden plan.

We were a total of 12 people. Most of them were solo travelers. The trek began only after we reached the base village after three hours journey from our hostel in a jeep. The village seemed quite friendly. Before the villagers, we trekkers needed to be friendly with each other. After already having some basic conversations during the travel to base camp about each other’s how-abouts, we mixed among ourselves so quickly that the bond still exists. We walked among the bushes and the moderately difficult terrains. Our trek was mostly along the unmotorable paths. We waved our hellos and namastes to the villagers, “gadariyas”. We had hold of some really sweet little sheep on the way. They undergo a lot of pain to give us a bunch of wool. What a sacrifice and no one counts! Initial day trek plan was to reach a village and stay in tents overnight.

 

The first-day trek was approx 8 km and took us 4 hours including all the breaks. In between, we crossed River Uhl in Barot, which is a part of the watershed of Beas river. There is this man-made bridge above the river to connect the two sides. Man-made bridges are considered risky by many as it shakes with every movement of yours on it. The rope tied structure and wooden platform take the shit out of you. And you see down, it’s cold fierce white river! We decided to have a halt by the riverside. I tried putting my hand in the river and my hand froze for a few seconds. The river water is the fresh molten ice of the Dhauladhar ranges, Himalayas. I took a pint of water in my enclosed hands and gulped it straight in my mouth. The divine feeling is still engraved in my mind. So cold yet impressive, takes everything in its way yet tastes the same at every point, so emotionless yet takes out the emotions from every other living being on the earth. A river is a perfect example of solidarity.

 

We left the riverside in an hour and the skies already began to turn dusky. We had our mobile torches handy and after a simple trek of a couple of hours, we reached our destination. It was a small guest house amidst the mountains. We had an option to stay inside the rooms or outside in tents. Of course, tents! Before going to sleep, we had hot tasty dinner prepared by the caretaker of the guest house. The campfire was arranged by our guide. We already had a good stock of rum and whiskey. What else is needed to feel warm? People began to tell their horror stories one by one drinking sips of whiskey in this cold planet. The singing session followed, again, one by one. Then the usual talks about the nature of jobs everyone had. We had 4 IRS officers, 2 software engineers, a CA, a medical student, an architect and a marketing executive in our group. Everyone had a different story and a diversified life. It was a pleasure hearing them all.

 Also READ: My adventures during Kang Yatse 2 trek

Everyone was tired and went to bed shortly. We had a great sleep inside the tents. Really great, at effectively around 5 deg Celsius.

The next morning, we could spot the sun coming out of the mountains gradually and throwing light on our drowsy faces. Sunny faces rose up and everyone was awed by the beauty of this place. Imagine a place with no city culture, only trees, mountains, rivers and you! We all had a sumptuous breakfast. The place is so serene that we thought of having a stay there for a day. But given the timelines and our further excitement for Paragliding, everyone revved up and got ready for yet another day of trekking.

 

Soon, the weather turned hot. We were segregated into groups. The trek was quite beginner level but a lot of walking. We walked and walked till we got to a place where we saw sheep being shaved for wool. There was this human-heighted machine and the sheep were being pulled between that to razor them. Poor little sheep. Felt bad hearing their screams and realized how selfish humans are. Soon, we returned to our track and within a couple of hours, we had a bright resting spot. We could even see the Billing mountain from that place. The place was quite photogenic and hence, we all had several group shots. After around half an hour of rest, we moved on, to cross yet another mountain. This one was the last. Our patience was being tested. We could see paragliders hanging in the air and gliding like eagles. So high they were. It felt like colorful kites are flying.

Paragliding
Flying without the wings

After another couple of hours, we reached this mountain called Bir-Billing. Finally! The first thing that came to mind was food. Definitely, everyone was hungry. We ordered the special north Indian Maggi, which is quite common in Indian mountains and among trekkers. And the cost? Just 25 bucks a plate. Now, we can see our goal in front of our eyes- paragliding.

The wonderful group
The wonderful group

Everyone seemed afraid at first. Everyone had a different guide stitched at the back of the glider. The first thing the guide did was hook us inside the belts which would form like a seat when you fly up. The next thing was an instruction to run as fast as possible down the hill. Oh! Now, that was the only and most difficult part. Down the hill, there’s nothing. First timers would definitely fear for what’s going to happen if the belt loosens. So, here it went! The guide started shaking the glider so that necessary air pressure would open up the glider fully with force. Now, we had to apply a near to equivalent force against the air and the mammoth glider so that when we reach a certain point when there’s nothing beneath our feet, the glider would make you fly in seconds. Ahh! The guide shouted, run run run! I started to run as energetically as possible. Before my turn, I had seen my fellows trying their best to run but fell. I didn’t want to fall. Luckily, things went perfectly for me and I had a safe take off!

There was a lot of air pressure building up. I sat comfortably in my seat. The guide was behind me. He was pulling 4 strings attached to the glider body at a time. There were around 18 of them. He had to analyze which strings to hold in which condition. The guide was quite experienced in his field. 13 years of that flying. He had flown from Bir to Manali as well and had competed in several paragliding events. The moment I asked him about his native, he took a sharp left and then took us further up. And I was dumbstucked after that. Thankfully, I was guarded with a quite thick jacket, which my sister had brought for me from London. Else, it would have been a shivering experience up there as it was effectively too cold. I could feel the speed of winds and I could hear them. They were quite loud in their mission. Their mission to flow and take anyone aghast. It felt like the winds didn’t want any disturbance in their area. Quite protective! The next thing I see is the beautiful Bir town in the bottom. I had a 270 deg view of the area. I could spot the monasteries, the temples, the lush green farms and the colorful houses of its farmers and I had a dream then. A dream to fly once in my life on my own. How lucky the birds might be who were flowing beside us! No equipment required, they had all of it naturally!

Paragliding site at Bir Billing
Paragliding site at Bir Billing

We flew for about half an hour when the guide started taking a descent gradually. When we reached near the ground, he instructed me to keep my legs straight for safe landing. I followed and we had a remarkable landing! The photographers were all around! As if some celebrity has just landed on some grassland. I liked a couple of pics and took them. The guide began to wrap up his kit. We had a handshake and he went off. I found my friends sitting nearby. The obvious thing to follow was the discussion about the short glide and their guides! Everyone had a good experience and seemed satisfied.

After another half an hour of discussions, we had to leave for Zostel. Everyone was damn tired. After reaching Zostel, every one of us planned one more night stay there, except the IRS guys as they had their office next day.

The night stay at Zostel went great with Old monk and Signature in place. A lot of childhood memories rose up. We got to know different people more. And I realized, everyone is same, everyone has a similar set of cultures, a similar set of problems, and a similar view of solutions for these problems. Where we differ is personal opinions, personal ambitions and most importantly, the environment in which we grew up. And I really loved this way to socialize with people instead of hanging around in bars and have a silly conversation under a decorative rooftop and unwanted noise. I wish to continue my journey of inner observation, outer exploration, and learning. 

Also READ: Preparing for high altitude treks