Trip Meter

Bombay - Chandigarh - Shimla - Reckong Peo - Chitkul - Nagasti - Kalpa - Reckong Peo - Chandigarh - Haridwar - Delhi - Jaipur - Agra - Fatehpur Sikri - Agra - Mathura - Bombay


Highlights

  1. First view of the mountains - first view of Himalayas
  2. Walk from Chitkul to Nagasti - easily the longest walk of my life
  3. Aarti at Haridwar
  4. Sneaking into Humayun's tomb after sunset through the back gate
  5. Trying to figure out the lanes of Chandni Chowk
  6. View of Jaipur city from Nahargarh
  7. Travel in foggy nights along accident prone highways
  8. Low budget travel
  9. Jassi
  10. All the men in the world are divided into two - those who haven't seen the Taj and those who have. I just crossed over.
Many a travel plans were made during my stay in IIT. And many (or rather all) were discarded. Not for the lack of money or time. But mostly due to the lack of company. This time, I decided to do the trip - come what may. I was ready to do the tour even if I had to do it alone. Luckily, I found Jassi who was willing to travel :-). So with an interesting, intelligent, and reasonably smart companion and equipped with my new Nikon D70, the baap-of-all-cameras, we set out on our journey.

I travel to shoot. And I love to shoot people rather than scapes, buildings, friends and self. So now you know what to expect in my photographs from the tour :-). On this tour, I took the D70 with 18-70mm lens. No additional lenses, no tripod, no flash. I wasn't really handicapped without them, but I surely missed a fast lens (like the 50mm f/1.8) while shooting the Taj Mahal in low light and fog.


Chandigarh

Our first stop from Bombay was Chandigarh. My first impression of the city was - How the hell can a city be so organised and planned? Frankly, I felt Chandigarh is too organised to be a city. There's nothing organic about it. And it is so clean, that it is a league apart from other Indian cities. Among other places, Rock Garden and Sukhna Lake was what I liked most in the city.

Jassi's brother, Sarvnipun, joined us in Chandigarh. And thanks to him, our travel plans changed from Rajasthan to Himachal Pradesh. We planned to go to Reckong Peo, Chitkul and Kalpa in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. Night temperatures here are sub-zero in winters. So I wore all the warm clothes I had (inners, sweater, sweat-shirt, jacket, gloves, etc.), packed my camera in a small backpack and hit the road.


Shimla

This was my first trip in the mountains. And I thought the Chandigarh - Shimla road was too narrow. But I was assured by Jassi and Nipun that this is a very very wide road and that I must wait till we get to the Reckong Peo - Chitkul road! Shimla is nice hill station, settled by the British. And for the first time in my life, I saw snow peaks from the Shimla Ridge.

After Shimla (2000m), we reached a little closer to our destination. The bus stopped at Narkanda (2700m) for break-fast. And I could get a good glimpse of the Himalayas now. And of course, of the people who live there. I vomited from the bus once. Altitude sickness. And then figured that chocolates were a great source of energy and good for both taste and survival. So all through our Himachal trip, I was eating a lot of chocolates :-)


Reckong Peo

We reached Reckong Peo (2200m) at night, had a hot dinner (local dish Thupka), hired a nice room for the night (Rs. 150) and snuggled into warm blankets. The temperatures outside were between 0 and -6 degree centigrade during this season. When I woke up in the morning, the view from the roof was breathtaking. I could be a lot poetic about it. But I guess I will leave all the poetry to the pictures.

I noticed two bulls with their horns locked in a fight. I promptly pulled out my camera to capture the moment. There were some locals at the place who started laughing, "Dekho American photo le rahe hain". I was so embarassed. I had to pull off my cap and tell them that I am an Indian :-). Interestingly, the bulls kept fighting for another half an hour, and only when one of the bulls was pushed back and started to bleed that the other bull give up the fight.

I met an elderly lady waiting for the bus to Chitkul. There was something about her face, pose and look. The wrinkles and glow in her face surely told a story. And there was also this Lama looking person who made an interesting subject.


Chitkul

We then started our journey from Reckong Peo (2200m) to Chitkul (3500m). The ascent was fast. The altitude and lack of oxygen could easily be felt. And that's not all. The dreaded dusty mountain road, that would allow only one vehicle at a time, was surely an experience. Look down into the Sutlej - Baspa river, and your head would churn.

The view of the mountains in Chitkul was simply breath-taking. We got down to Baspa river, crossed the bridge and our feet were in snow. Lovely.

Guess what? We saw the famed Golden Eagle here. It was so huge! Legend has it that the Golden Eagle leads you to Shangri La if you follow it. Well :-)

As usual, I got trigger happy shooting some lovely faces from the mountains. The little kids were red! They sure have high levels of haemoglobin to cope up with the low supply of oxygen. And even at this height in the lap of Himalayas, kids enjoy cricket. Their sixer would send the ball across the border to China ;-). And while it was a match of cricket for the kids, it was carrom for the village men on Sunday.


Nagasti

I should tell you about my journey to Nagasti (3500m). Nagasti is an outpost of the Indian Army on the Indo-China border. It's a 3 km walk (no road!) from Chitkul in the mountain trail. About 70 km from here lies the Chinese territory. Jassi, Nipun and me decided to walk to Nagasti and come back before sunset. But before we started, we lost Jassi in the village. Anticipating that Jassi left for Nagasti, Nipun and me started to walk. When we were half way through, two soldiers coming from Nagasti told us that there was no sardar-ji there. We got a little worried and wanted to come back. Nipun then told me that he would go back and look for Jassi while I should walk to Nagasti and come back. I thought a little and said OK, which now I think wasn't a brilliant decision.

So I started walking towards Nagasti. Reaching there wasn't tough. I met some soldiers, saw there rooms, talked to them about the life here, clicked a few pictures from outside the post (photography was not allowed inside) and started to walk back. Light was dwindling and temperature was falling fast. Strangely, my legs started aching badly and I was breathing very heavy. Water, a few chocolates in bag and Nipun's advise (You will always have village in your sight, so don't stop walking) worked well for me. So after a 40 minute walk that seemed ages, I was back in Chitkul. Thankfully, the Chawla brothers were there at the village gates to grab me :-)

In Chitkul again, we found a guest room that would charge Rs. 200 for the night. It was a wooden room with glass on 3 sides. What an amazing view of the mountains! We woke up before sunrise and took the bus to Kalpa. The view of sunrise and half lit mountains was definitely a treat for the eyes!


Kalpa

We returned from Chitkul and reached Kalpa (2700m). I saw a village lady talking in some language which I could not understand. I asked her, "Aap kaun si bhaasha bol rahe ho". And she replied in crisp English, "We speak Kinnauri language". From Kalpa, one could have the view of Kinnaur Kailash (not be confused with Mansarovar Kailash).

And it was great fun shooting people here. I love those kids. Look how one of them is shying away. And I think that mother-child picture is a great shot. And when it comes to cricket or houses, Kalpa is no different from Chitkul (notice the fine stone masonry in the ventilator). In Reckong Peo, Chitkul and Kalpa, we would find the Tibetan prayer flags at many places. The buddhists write the prayers on the flags and hoist them, anticipating that the winds will take them to the God.

With Kalpa ended our Himachal tour. We took the bus back to Chandigarh and after a 14 hour jerky ride, we returned to our base.


Haridwar

Next on plan was Haridwar. So after bumpy roads and rough rides of the UP state, we reached Haridwar via Yamunanagar, Saharanpur and Roorkee. We walked the street and reached banks of Ganges. The aarti in the evening was surely a sight to watch.

At night when we boarded the bus to Delhi, we were a bit worried. The fog was settling down quick and thick. And we had already seen quite a few accident spots from last night's fog earlier. Anyways, we reached Delhi safely and then managed to get to Gurgaon, where Anil Gelra picked us up.


Delhi

Himachal to Delhi was a quick change. Big city, lots of people, traffic, and tourists. We saw the Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, India Gate on day one. I guess I enjoyed Chandni Chowk most.

The capital area of Delhi is really well-maintained. But it also pains me to write that the auto drivers in the city are awful. The bus service, though well-connected, is equally displeasing. Not that we had a problem, but I wish something could be done to make travelling in the city easier (and safe) for the tourists. On the second day, it was Qutub Minar, Bahai Lotus Temple, Old Fort, Nizamuddin, Humayun's tomb.

And the adventure of Humayun's Tomb is worth a mention. We reached Humayun's tomb after sunset and very obviously, it was closed. We conned the security to let us in for 10 minutes but to no avail. We started walking along the high fortress boundary wall in hope of catching a glimpse of the magnificient monument. And lo, we noticed a small door in the wall on backside. We peeked through the slit and tried to take photographs when we noticed that the gap below was enough for us to slide in. And we did just that. We slid into a World Heritage Monument at night through the back door. The view of Humayun's tomb in full lighting and with out any tourists was superb!

We had intially planned to spend three days in Delhi, but on Gelra's suggestion, we cut our stay to two days to accommodate Jaipur in our tour. That way, we would complete the so called 'Golden Triangle' of Delhi - Jaipur - Agra. So next morning, we started for Jaipur by bus.


Jaipur

Were it not for Parshav Mathur and his car, seeing Jaipur in a single day would have been a tough task. We saw the Hawa Mahal, the Pink City area, Nahargarh Palace, Jaigarh Fort, Amer Palace, Jagat temple and Choki Dhani. Most places were well maintained, though the entry tickets were highly priced. And definitely, the cultural difference in the place was evident in the city lifestyle. I simply loved the city. Jaipur is a photographer's paradise.


Agra

After Jaipur, we moved on to Agra. They say men in the world are divided into two - Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who haven't. In Agra, I just crossed over to the other side. Very sadly, it was a foggy day, which made it impossible for me to get the pictures of Taj that I actually wanted to get. I intend to shoot it again, some time in October may be.

Other places that we saw included Akbar's tomb at Sikandra and Agra fort. I really wonder what an incredible empire the Mughals built and sustained. Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Lahore - they built so much that has left an ever lasting imprint on Indian (and Pakistani) history and architecture. Even today, we have very few or no landmarks that match the glory of Mughal reign. Awesome.


Fatehpur Sikri

Thanks to Ravi Mittal, our stay in Agra was a cake walk. The next day, his dad arranged a jeep for our Fatehpur Sikri trip. On our way to Fatehpur Sikri, we passed through what I would call a typical remote north Indian village. Colourful houses in the village. Thanks to my Nikon D70, I could capture the scenery from our moving jeep.

In Fatehpur Sikri, we saw the Buland Darwaza, Salim Chishti ki Dargah, and the fort. A piece of advise to UP tourism - You have so much to show. And so many foreigners coming here. You ought to maintain it better! Take a cue from Rajasthan tourism. The guides in Fatehpur Sikri were both funny and a menace. Little kids would cling to you and offer to show you the place for Rs. 10. And they would recite irrelevant funny poetry for another Rs. 5.


So after a very lovely tour and lots of photography, we returned to Bombay. I don't think this tour would have been half as much fun without Jassi. And a big thank you to all the people, who put up with me when I reached their place (You are welcome to Hyderabad and I shall return the favour :-)). There are quite a few lessons I learnt - both about travelliing and photography. On my next tour, I am going to carry half the luggage, double the photography gear that I did for this tour, and shamelessly shoot double the number of pictures.

When I look back at all the photographs, it's amazing to see how varied our places, people and cultures are. No wonder so many people are tempted to write a book about their travels and photography in India.



Tags: India

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  1. I was looking for info about northern India, since I am interested in travelling there, and found your reports and beautiful pictures. Congratulations for the fotos! And your reports are very usefull. Thank you! Best regards from warm Buenos Aires, Argentina. - Ana Lia Tomidocoro