Tag Archives: India airforce

Visiting the last Indian village in Baspa valley- Chitkul

As I arrived at Sangla, the setting sun had already laid a golden welcome… I started to walk around the town looking for a homestay. After walking here and there, up and down, I decided to settle down at a homestay, which seemed like a pretty big bungalow. The owner of the house was away, and it was let to the caretaker’s responsibility. I was the only guest. However, this seemed to be better than all the properties I had seen thus far. I freshened up, unpacked and unwound myself while watching the daily evening procession of the deity of the ‘Chandi Mata’ temple from the homestay itself.

Post sunset, I wore all the thermals I needed and ventured out to explore the town. The commercial area seemed just like any other small town I had been before and didn’t want to get too adventurous on my first day in the valley. In the entire town, I was drawn towards a very small restaurant called ’The Buddhist Café’. I was being just one of those typical Indian tourists in the Himalayas; I was tempted to eat momos 😛 The place rather looked dinghy with dim lights and no customers in their main dining area. On enquiry if the restaurant was closed, I was greeted by an old Buddhist lady who guided me to follow her to the kitchen inside. Despite being a little suspicious of her gesture and given the shady looking walkway, I continued to follow her. She made me sit at a table where she served me steaming hot momos and black coffee after taking my orders.

There were a couple of people who came in and out whom the lady attended to but did not take any money from. It seemed to me that they were mostly labour who helped her in fetching supplies to her kitchen and she retuned their favour by providing them free meals. She was speaking very gently to them as if one would talk to their family members. I felt so much positivity emanating from this lady. Eventually, she pulled a chair next to me and settled down to have a long conversation with me. She enquired about my journey and said a few things about herself and her family. We both were so engrossed in our conversation that it was 09.00.p.m. by the time I realized that I had quite a distance to walk back in the darkness to reach my place of stay. The lady took my hand in hers and asked me to promise that I would visit her daily for as long as I was in Sangla. “Tumse baat karke bahut accha laga mujhe. Kal Aajao, gappe maarenge. Zaroor aana, mein intezaar karoongi”, she said. Amused, I left by promising her that I would return.

I was an early riser on the following morning in order to make it to the bus stand on time. There was only one bus that ferried passengers to and from the last village in this part of the Indian borders. It ran twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Chitkul is a tiny settlement beyond which, the mountains belong to Tibet & China. After having read enough articles on the internet, I wanted to check this off from my list of places to visit in Himachal. I however de-boarded the bus at a village called Rakcham, a few kilometers ahead of Chitkul. I was standing on the rear side of the famous Kinnaur Kailash mountains. With curious villagers staring at me as if I was a lost alien wandering alone and children walking to school posing for photos looking at my DSLR, with a beautiful sunrise over the mist laden valley and the gushing Baspa river on the other side, the morning walk on the empty road felt magical. Although I had seen apple trees earlier, it was the first time I was seeing apple orchards. The houses in the settlements on the slopes were unique to the area. I spent good amount of time exploring the village perched on hilltop and down in the cold waters of the Baspa before settling down with a cup of sea-buck thorn juice at a campsite that was being disassembled.

img_20181029_1452008082717089770344998.jpg
The view of Rakcham

I had read that Rakcham valley looked vibrant with pink flowers of a native millet during its season. But I seemed to have arrived late to see the famous pink fields of Rakcham. Anyway, the orchards had turned the valley equally vibrant, in myriad shades of golden. But, honestly, there was nothing specific to see or do there, apart from the solitude that I had found thus far in my trip. I walked back to the main road and enquired with the shopkeepers about getting to Chitkul. A few localites who overheard my enquiries tried to pitch in their suggestions. Going by their suggestions, I waited by the roadside engaging myself in answering the enquiries about my solo travel. It was well over half an-hour as a shared jeep arrived, which they asked me to board to reach Chitkul. Just as the jeep cranked to start, one of the men talking to me asked the driver to wait. The man ran to a shop and returned with a bag. “It was nice talking to you; this is for your way.” he said while dumping a bag full of apples into my hand… I picked two from the bag (not wanting to disappoint him), thanked him warmly for his gesture and convinced him that I couldn’t carry so much luggage with me and bid him goodbye.

The road ahead was bumpy, yet interesting. It passes through forest area that was in bloom, opened to large meadows and then, the snowcapped peaks appeared rather suddenly. Foreigners need to register at the check post that falls enroute as Chitkul is a sensitive area guarded by the ITBP. On reaching Chitkul, I started to walk towards the viewpoint. Yes, no doubt it looked beautiful and I could walk right into the river below that demarks the border. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw the solitary Indian national tricolor waving in the middle of nowhere. Apart from taking a walk along the valley and exploring the tiny hamlet, there seemed nothing much to do. There are quite a few options to stay at both Chitkul and Rakcham, but for a moment, I feared the temperature that I was warned about. The temperatures in Chitkul are colder than anywhere else in Kinnaur. That’s why I changed my mind to return to Sangla for the night. As there was still lot of time left before the bus started, I decided to walk towards Rakcham so that I could click some good landscape photographs along my way. Anyway, the bus arrived in a while and I returned to Sangla.

img_20181029_1319336551215111770045051.jpg
The Chinese / Tibet border at Chitkul

There was still enough daylight time left, and I decided to explore Sangla that evening. I climbed up the Kamru fort from where I could see the magnificent view of the town and the golden sunset that had welcomed me last evening. An ancient wooden temple stands strong on top of the fort and looks brilliant with its detailed sculptures and friezes. There is a dress-code to follow (a head gear and a waist band needs to be worn) to enter inside. Since most of us there didn’t have it, we had to wait for the priest to provide the same to us, and go inside, in turns. The priest also gave me a peak into the history of the fort and how the temple came into existence. It felt very peaceful and I sat back there until the sun had gone down completely.

img_20181029_161959602936686692131391.jpg
Temple atop Kamru fort

I had decided to leave Sangla on the following morning to continue my journey ahead. I had also not forgotten that I had promised someone that I would visit her. I wanted to inform her before leaving. That’s why I then headed towards her café for that evening. It is hard to explain how excited she was at seeing me. “I wasn’t sure that you would return. But I was looking for your way”, she exclaimed! She served me noodles and black tea, introduced me to her son whom she had called to talk to me and found good company in talking to me. After a couple of hours had passed, I informed her that I was going to take her leave. Guess what? She gave me a rucksack full of apples which she had specially bought and kept for me. She didn’t own any orchard and hence, she ensured she bought the best apples as souvenirs for me. When I say BEST, I mean THE BEST…. Kinnauri Golden apples! Can you imagine me carrying a rucksack full of apples (souvenirs!!) along with 10kgs of additional backpack that I already had. for the rest of my journey??? 😀 I convinced her that I was sorry, and I couldn’t accommodate so many apples in my luggage. And she still managed to squeeze in a good few kilos telling 2 apples for each member in my family, back in Bangalore…!! She had tears as she saw me off and I cried as I was missing my mom! Sometimes, you never understand how connections work with strangers…

Next day, there I was… Inside the bus, chattering in the cold morning… on my way to my next destination in this sojourn: Kalpa

Land of forgotten monuments- Bidar

Karnataka Bundh- The whole city of Bangalore was protesting against the Kaveri water verdict- 32 buses vandalized in the city and all that jazz…

Well… I was away from the entire hustle bustle, Very far away… I was spending time with my mom who was on business travel since the last couple of months.

I left Bangalore on Friday by an overnight bus to one of the least preferred holiday destinations in Karnataka- Bidar. When I reached there after a long journey of 12hrs, I had a roaring welcome in the city, quiet literally..!! An IAF “Hawk” flew past right above my head during their daily flying practice sorties. Right then, I had my first GK (general knowledge) moment of the tour. Bidar has been an important training base since the early 1960’s for the Indian Airforce. Bidar serves as the main base for Hawk AJTs and the Suryakiran HJTs.

Day 1:

My mom received me at the bus stand and took me to the bungalow she was staying at. I freshened up and post a quick breakfast, we headed straight to “the Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple”. The myth mentions that Lord Narasimha killed Hiranyakashipu and then proceeded to slay the demon Jalasura who was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. After being killed by Lord Narasimha, the demon Jalasura turned into water and started flowing down the feet of the Lord Narasimha. Today, devotees have to walk across a cave with water (1.7mts depth) to worship the idol. With bats flying around, roaches swimming with us and dimly lit path to lead us, it was a very nice experience.

Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol
Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol

We then drove to our next destination- Basavakalyan, an important site for the followers of the Lingayat community. Enroute, we stopped by the Karanja dam, a small reservoir built across the Karanja river.

The Karanja dam
The Karanja dam

Once, in Basavakalyan- we visited the Basaveshwara temple, 108ft high Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe and Akkamahadevi Guhe. Then it was the right turn that lead us to “Anubhava Mantapa”. This is a replica of the ShivanubhavaMantapa- an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the ‘Lingayata’ faith in the 12th century. Anubhava Mantapa is often referred as the first parliament in the world.

From there we visited the Basavakalyan fort, sparsely visited apart from a few localities who come there to play cricket. But it is indeed a monument forgotten on the maps. The lights falling on the inner chambers of the fort called for some good photography.

An open air theatre at the entrance of the fort
An open air theatre at the entrance of the fort

A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point
A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point

Day 2:

We started the day by spending some tranquil moments at the “Nanak Jhira”. This Gurudwara is known for being the second occurence out of the supernatural powers of Guru Nanak. The first one was ‘Sri Punja Sahib’ (Now in Pakistan & strictly prohibited for free visits). Hence Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jhira Sahib is ‘Second Punja Sahib’ of India and hence a very holy site for the Sikhs. The sweet water flowing from a spring is believed to clear one off, all sins.

The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

Next, on the list was the Bareed Shahi park. The tombs of the Bahamani rulers lay here. This is small but a nice park maintained just to provide some lung space for morning joggers and evening walkers. This was a neglected piece of history just a year ago and good efforts have been made for its restoration.

The Bahamani tombs
The Bahamani tombs

The Main tomb- At the entrance of the park
The Main tomb- At the entrance of the park

The last and final destination was the Bidar Fort: It is multi-layered fort to say in simple words. It does not have a quantifiable boundary, though a few localites specify some digits to measure its expanse. The entire city is actually within a fort wall which was the area where the citizens lived back during the rulers’ time. The second round of the wall is where the ministers lived. The third and the innermost zone is where today’s tourism is concentrated, the area where the King & the queen lived. This needs a minimum of half a day to explore for a person interested in history, architecture or archeology.

The Royal Residence within the main fort
The Royal Residence within the main fort

Bidar has so much to offer for a backpacker on a tight budget. Apart from the travel distance, everything else is very affordable. Even the entry to all the places on the tourist trail is free. Inspite of it, very few people plan a trip to this district. Maybe because the name pulls down an image of a dry, barren, hot, poor, drought prone etc. What my eyes met here was contradicting my imagination that I had made through what I heard in the media. The city was lush green, raining heavily, clean (at least compared to the cleanest places of Bangalore)…

So, a lesson to take back: Stop imagining how a place would be; go there and see it yourself.

A Date with the Metal bird

Studying at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore (NMIT) comes with it’s own perks and privileges, outside academics. This post is a dedication to one such, to the days spent at my almamater

<Date: 13-Feb-2009>

It is lunch break. My gang headed towards “The Lake”- the usual hang out of the NMIT-ians. But, today was an unusual day because we were going to the lake not just to hang out, but to check out the metal birds- that have all landed on the other side of the lake. Occasion: AERO INDIA-2009.

F-16- Super viper, F-18, EuroFighter Typhoon, Su-30, Tejas, MIGs, Suryakirans, Sarangs are just a few to name. They have all been flying over our classrooms all the while. We had hardly listened to any lecture in class over the past week except for the sonic boom of these metal monsters…No arguments, This definitely is the best part of studying in NMIT. Along with the engineering lessons taught in the classroom, we all tend to develop an inquisitive approach to aeroplanes. We learn to identify the planes by their sounds and their shape while they fly past our heads all day for over a month during their rehearsals.

As we walked from college to the lake- my memories flashed back to what my eyes had witnessed that morning. My college route bus: R-13 is the only bus that flies across(literally..!!) Harohalli, “The Flying Village” route. And this route has the best country-side view enroute to college. So.. read further to know what I saw this morning..

After passing Haro-halli (literally translates to “The Flying Village” in Kannada), a little ahead- the road is lined by eucalyptus grove on one side and a high rise wall on the other. It is the Yelahanka- Airforce property beyond the wall. It took 2 minutes for my bus to reach the end of the grove. And where the grove ended, was a sight to behold. “The Lake”. It had an unusual level of water as compared to the previous years and it has small islets (or so we called them). Some migratory birds perched on the branches of the trees in those islets which enhanced the scene. Thick mist covered the water for a height of about 2 feet and then a pale layer of mist rose above in the rest of the atmosphere. On the other side of the lake, where I thought was the hedge, a Su-30: Sukhoi stood on its runway facing away from us at an angle of about 45deg. The early morning rays of the sun fell obliquely on the jet and the metal reflected it back. It looked as if the spotlight was on the protagonist on a stage.

Truly an unbelievable sight and it definitely cannot be explained by words.. But, before I could take enough of it, my bus had passed the spot and had reached the college bus-bay 😥

Picture 177
The Su30 at the Yelahanka airforce station: A view from Harohalli village

A view of the Su-30 on the otherside of the Lake. But this is sometime during the lunch break
A view of the Su-30 on the otherside of the Lake. But this is sometime during the lunch break

It’s really not required for a NMIT-ian to buy passes to see the aerobatics on the other side of the wall. We watch them always and dearly.. Seldom, these birds fly so closely over our heads that we even wave a ‘Bye’ to these pilots .. and every girl there will be drooling… 😛 There is usually a mela kind of an atmosphere around the lake with public flocking to see these peculiar birds year on year…

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day and I can’t wait for my date with the metal birds..

It’s a pleasure to be able to feel all the action at such close quarters. These are truly wonderful days of college for every NMIT-ian. Period!