Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nandi hills revisited

At around this time last year I had visited Nandi hills with a few friends of mine. Appalled by the litter we found, we had vowed to influence the system to keep the place clean and green. In the process, I came in touch with a lot of people who shared this interest and what started was a citizen project to keep the hill tidy. After a burst of activity most of us had returned to dormancy. But last week, a bunch of us renewed our efforts. I'm chronicling those adventures in a separate blog that I maintain. It's most definitely been fun!

Friday, July 17, 2009


This is my last post on the Lamayuru trek. This one is dedicated to the beautiful Ladakhi faces, with their cauterized crowfeet, that wished us "Juley!" like they knew us all their lives. I'd photograph them all if it wasn't disrespectful.

Ladakh- Birdlife

Despite the barrenness of the land and the lack of diversity in the flora around here, the bird life is remarkably varied. It was a little frustrating on two counts; firstly I could hardly identify any of the birds and secondly I never got the opportunity to stay in one place long enough to watch or photograph the really reclusive ones. Here are the bolder ones that I caught.

Chukar: Ever notice how bollywood heroes continue to run in a straight line on the main road while being chased in a vehicle? The chukar, a kind of snowcock, exhibits exactly that kind of stupidity. This one kept running on the path and allowed me to chase it for over 200 mts. As stupid as they are endearing!

Black Redstart: This one's a real beauty and seemed more than pleased to be photographed.

The Yellowbeaked Choughs seem extremely comfortable in the company of humans. They are amazing in flight. Hate it when people call them crows.

There were too many warblers and wagtails even to keep count of. Inskipp was inconclusive about this one. It's beak is too unsparrow-like.

Inskipp tells me this is a Citrine Wagtail, but I'm not willing to bet my life on it.

This is a Blue Whistling Thrush or a Bluheaded Rock Thrush, depending on who you ask.

..and finally, at every camp, we found at least one boisterous Magpie couple.

Someday I wouldn't mind returning here just to spend a couple of days doing nothing but bird-watching.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The people in the caravan

At Lamayuru, we also met the folks who were going to go with us on this trip; our guides, porters, horsemen and the cook. In this post I introduce the men who consistently bowled us over with their awesomeness.

Thandlay Dorjay, the closest I've seen anyone come to being a superhero. Watching him sprint down the gravel-covered mountains was the stuff of legends. This photo that you see is a remarkable feat because it was almost impossible for him to stay still. Even when we took a break to catch our breath, he would run up the smaller peaks and rearrange the buddhist flags that mountaineers leave in these parts. He kept running from the back of the queue to the front over and over again all the while singing some catchy bollywood number. As if the thin air wasn't a challenge enough, he smoked four packs. And he smiled non-stop all day.

(Junior) Dorjay: Here's another man who's incapable of looking clumsy. He would walk along with us during the difficult parts of the trek. During one particular treacherous climb, he carried three rucksacks. After the challenging part was done, he would start running so that he could set up the camp before we reached there.

Tundlup Bhai was almost invisible, but his contributions didn't go unnoticed. And his smile was particularly infectious.

Kumar Bhai: I admit that you can't really be objective while judging a cook on a trek because your appetite is perpetually stoked up. Still, by all standards, Kumar Bhai was a true magician. Whether he was making Thukpa or Upma, Parantha or Chowmein he was just stellar. On the last night, he even baked us a cake. Let me see you make me forget that!

Then there were the horsemen, Dorjay (another one!), Sandeep and Deepesh, who toiled in the background. We never really interacted with them too much, but can't take anything away from how much they added to our trip.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Our base camp was a pretty little village called Lamayuru, known for its monastery. Here we got our first glimpse of the sights that would repeat over the rest of the journey. In the course of the next five days we were going to be bombarded with visuals that are otherworldly. For instance, the sand mountains that surround Lamayuru village resemble Hollywood's impression of a far away planet. A further distance away endless folds of mountains hold you captive with all the stories that they seem to be dying to tell; about the rivers that patiently but cruelly carved the gorges, the winds that eroded the soil, the ice that left the scars and above all the tectonic tortures that gave them their identities. The most striking aspect of the upper regions of the mountains is their lifelessness. The valleys, however, invariably cradle streams of different sizes mostly fed by distant glaciers. The water supports bright green vegetation that stands out in stark relief among the bald and brown mounds. I looked all around stowing away montages for later recollection.

The man-made structures are beautiful too. The buildings are nestled randomly but harmoniously on the contours of the hill. The settlements have grown unhurriedly in a quiet organic way. Their intention seems to be to coexist with the mountains not to conquer them. And they look as old as the mountains.

Our camp was very close to the monastery and we paid a visit. When we got out of there after a spell of intensely moving silence the sun was setting. The softening light made the terrain look a little more dramatic. Until dinner time I sat by myself on a hill just drinking it all in. Once I stepped out of the dining tent, the stars had come out in unabashed glory. Like so many other times in the day, it was difficult to stop staring.