Posts Tagged ‘delhi weekend getaway’

Sariska – Return of the Stripes

January 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Waking up on a chill December morning is an ordeal. It was still dark and cold when we loaded up sandwiches and water in the car and headed for Sariska at dawn. 50 km down NH-8 to Dharuhera, we took the left turn to Bhiwadi; 10 km further realized that we were probably going in the wrong direction, made enquiries, veered around and came upon the turn to Alwar. A few shoe shops, a juice vendor, a tree and this road inside. That was it!  No signage! At a junction further ahead we stopped again and asked for directions, turned right and took the road beside Ashiana village, another left and an immediate right and we were on Alwar Bypass. It struck us that while driving on Indian roads “SPOKEN DIRECTIONS” are far more reliable than written ones. Signages are few, often misleading, either plastered over with posters or well concealed from view. The best thing is to ask pedestrians or bystanders when in doubt.

Driving down the sunlit country road flanked by glorious yellow-green mustard fields shrouded in early morning mist was sheer pleasure. At Kurd Chawandi near Tijara we stopped to breakfast on ‘garam-garam’ Aloo-Pyaz, Mixed Paranthas and hot tea, at Chirag restaurant – a shudh shakahari, pavitr hotel. The single lane road was practically traffic-free. Aravali hills formed a corrugated backdrop against panoramic vistas of emerald green fields.

Mid morning, after a brief wait at a railway level cross near Alwar, we took the right turn from the second roundabout, passed over another railway crossing and sped along the road immediately to the left. At a fork we took the uphill road on the right which led straight to Sariska, 40 km further on.

The blue signboard announcing Siliserh Lake Palace Hotel was easy to miss. The narrow, badly maintained road to the palace wound along an ancient aqueduct; bordered by eucalyptus trees, gooseberry orchards and lush green fields. Heavy traffic of motorbikes, Jugaads and jeeps on the road frequently forced us off the tarmac. There were several eating joints beside a large pool at the point where the road climbed towards the palace hotel. Inside the compound, there was just enough space to park about 10 cars. The palace which was built by Maharajah Vinay Singh of Alwar in 1845 as a hunting lodge have recently been converted into a heritage hotel maintained by RTDC. We paid the entrance fee and climbed up to a balcony. Down below, the azure lake lay shimmering in the clasp of grubby, fractured sandstone hills; tinged yellow along the brim by mustard blossoms. There were birds along the lake edge; near the shore an old man in white ploughed the field with a white bullock; we could see villages in the distance. A strong wind ruffled our hair and bent potted plants kept along balustrades where guests sunned themselves. We sat sipping tea on the balcony for a while, taking in the idyllic setting. Back at the car park, we found clean, spotless toilets close by. Refreshed, relieved we resumed our journey to the sanctuary.

The road became progressively worse as we neared Sariska. For a kilometer or two within sanctuary limits we were forced to grind along edges of cavernous potholes in low gear. Entry tickets were available from the Project Tiger counter located on the main road, 500 meters from the sanctuary gate. We could either take our car or hire open air Maruti Gypsies run by the forest department. We chose to drive ourselves. At the sanctuary main gate we had to provide vehicle and driver name for records. The sanctuary rules prohibited us from straying off the main road. Playing music on car stereo was not permitted. Under no circumstances were we to step out of the car.

The asphalt road within the sanctuary was in bad shape. Possibly intentional – it helped to limit speed within the stipulated 30 kmph. We drove along at a snail’s pace scanning the the jungle on either side of the road. My wife was the first to catch sight of a wild boar. It seemed quite unconcerned by our presence and continued to munch grass. Uncharitably, the first image which flashed across my mind was that of Obelix grilling wild boar over bonfire. Further down the road we spotted groups of peafowl, Sambar, Nilgai and Chital. They peered at us curiously but did not pay us much attention when we stopped close by. Trees closed in as we moved deeper into the jungle. This was dry deciduous forest and foliage was not very dense. At several places it opened up into savannahs of brown grass. Occasionally a Sambar or Chital streaked across the road. Sometimes they paused to stare before vanishing into the undergrowth. A pack of jackals, brownish, with ears perked up, strolled along the road. Grey Partridges waddled about picking at the ground and jumped inside thickets as we approached. Peafowl were everywhere, on the road, under the shade, top of trees; the peacock easily spotted because of its fluorescent blue green feathers. Several parrots roosted on a bare tree, giving it a transient pale green foliage.

Signboards along the road announced the distinguished residents of Sariska caracal, leopard, tiger! In 2005, the sanctuary earned the dubious distinction of being a tiger reserve sans tiger. Three tigers have since been reintroduced and are reported to be faring well. We were fortunate to spot this one!!!

Langurs – black faced and long tailed stalked the road in groups, hoping to be fed by visitors. On one occasion we stopped the car to feed them and got mobbed by the gang. They climbed over the car, stuck to the windshield, perched on side mirrors and tried to insert fingers through windows.  Later, forest officials reprimanded us for feeding them. We understood that instead of helping them, we were harming them. By giving them food we discouraged animals from foraging which was ultimately detrimental to their well-being.

The main road ended at Pandupol temple, dedicated to Hanuman. Langurs and Rhesus monkeys walked about unmolested, under the auspices of the monkey god. According to legends, Pandavas spent part of their Vanavas here. The stone arch over a cascade is reputed to have been created by Bhim by smashing his mace (Gada) on the rock. We parked our car near the temple entrance and walked a little way inside. Water trickled over large smooth boulders, there were silver fish in stagnant pools, a Sambar stared at us from inside a palm groove, squirrels scurried about, a kingfisher sat perched on a palm tree, all around it was quiet except for the rustle of leaves. Back at the temple there were a group of cacophonous pilgrims. Near the sign which exhorted to keep the temple premises clean, a man performed his daily ablutions. A visit to the stinking toilet and the litter was sufficient for us to drop the idea of having samosas from nearby shops.

The sanctuary gate was close to 25 kms from the temple. It was getting late, the slanting evening sun rays had withdrawn to cliff tops.  We turned left from the sanctuary gate intending to return via NH-8 instead of Alwar. A dilapidated fort over looked Thana Gazi  town where we stopped to fuel. A short snack break at Virat Nagar and we hurried on to Shahpura where the road met NH-8. Driving on the pitch dark country road with oncoming vehicles on high beam was extremely difficult. We breathed a sigh of relief as we touched the highway. NH-8 was choke full of trucks which necessitated frequent lane shifts and weaving through traffic. It was late night when we reached Gurgaon, braving traffic jams, rogue drivers and wheezing trucks.

Although we couldn’t spot the star attraction of the sanctuary, it was a delightful experience. During the visit, we noticed several people step out of their vehicles violating the sanctuary rules. People flung tea cups out of the car and littered several spots.  We were ourselves guilty of feeding animals, for our pleasure and for the fantastic photo op.

I hope we all realize that the wildlife sanctuary is the home of animals – they are born and raised there, that’s where they live and die. As guests enjoying their hospitality and goodwill it is our responsibility to respect the animals and their environment instead of spoiling it. We should stop being selfish, at least for the while we are being with them.

RTDC Siliserh Lake Palace Hotel

RTDC , New Delhi
1st Floor, Bikaner House
Pandara Road, New Delhi – 110001
Tel: +91-11-23383837, 23386069, 23381884

RTDC Hotel Bookings:

Chirag Hotel (Shudh Shakahari, Pavitr Hotel)
Kurd Chawandi near Tijara
Mob: 9982448744

Sri Ganapati (Sweets & Gud Wallah) – Virat Nagar
For hot Gajar Ka Halwah and Moong Dal Halwah
Mob: 9829861527

Viratnagar ke Prasidh Pakode Awam Dahi Wade wale
For those unforgettable pakora’s and mirch bajji’s
Mob: 9636057950

Note: Preferably carry food and water. Once inside the sanctuary, nothing will be available until you reach the Hanuman temple. The food available near the temple is not clean or hygenic.

Warning: Entry to the reserve is free on Saturdays. But noisy pilgrims throng the temple.  Hords of schoolchildren descend on the sanctuary. Buses honk you off the road. In my opinion, avoid visiting Sariska on Saturdays.

Photo Courtesy: Subha Varma/ V P Vinod

Categories: Totternama

Swiftly Down the Ganges

December 9, 2009 2 comments

Whitewater rafting had always fascinated us. When our friend proposed a rafting trip, we quickly made arrangements with Mercury Himalayan Explorations (MHE) who ran a river rafting camp near Shivpuri, 14 Km from Rishikesh.

Late evening last Thursday we caught the Delhi Metro to Chandni Chowk, crossed the underground passage to Old Delhi Railway Station and boarded a crowded and noisy Mussoorie Express to Haridwar. Next day morning, sleepless, bleary eyed and late we proceeded by taxi to the camp. The road between Rishikesh and Shivpuri was dug up for road widening which further delayed our arrival. We got our first taste of a rapid as we boarded a raft (middle oar type) to cross over to the opposite bank of the river where the camp stood perched along a stretch of sandbar below a cliff. Once ashore, we were showed to spacious, well carpeted twin bed tents.

As soon as we finished breakfast, the taxi took us 11 km upstream to Marine Drive for our first rafting trip. The crew helped us into wetsuit, life jacket and helmet. Rajan, the veteran raft captain from Nepal with a scintillating smile instructed us on rafting basics. Our raft was bright yellow, NRS (“Not Really Safe” – joked Rajan) make self bailing type. Once all were comfortable with raft safety and commands (forward hard, forward easy, left back, right back, get down, stop etc) we went midstream and practiced paddling for a while before taking off. A one man safety kayak followed in our wake.

Soon we hit the first rapid, ‘Investment’, a relatively tame one over which we swayed along coming to terms with rafting techniques. On the second rapid, supported on paddles, we stood up on the raft. It was exciting to feel the jerk and pull and lurch of the raft precariously balanced on the edge. Between rapids we drifted serenely along calm stretches of river, gently paddling forward, chatting and taking in the scenery. We could hear the gurgle of mountain springs. Cormorants sunned on enormous black boulders; a bird or two flitted by. There were numerous camps along the shore. At times someone shouted and our raft crew answered back.

Near each rapid we braced ourselves for the wallop and paddled furiously to obtain the optimum angle of the raft to negotiate the rapid. Rajan barked commands from the rear and steered us expertly over rapids as spray fringed walls of water crashed into the raft drenching us. We closed our eyes and dug in the heels as wave after wave slammed into our faces. The rush of adrenalin, the fright and the sense of accomplishment one feels upon crossing each convulsing rapid is indescribable.

At the body surfing rapid, we jumped off the raft, swallowing mouthfuls of (holy) water and clutching the raft for dear life. Once we let go off the raft, we floated down river, buoyed by the life jacket. The water was cold and scary, but the proximity of the raft and safety kayak was reassuring. Borne on the gentle current, we floated face up watching clouds, passing hills, dark menacing scree, blanched sandbanks and overhanging trees, swimming occasionally and listening to hushed ripples, sporadic bird calls and the pervasive silence of the forest. When we signaled, the crew hauled us back on the raft by our life jacket.

More rapids, bearing exotic names – ‘Black Money’, ‘Crossfire’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Three Blind Mice’, left us breathless. By the time we crossed ‘Back to the Sender’ and returned to the camp, we had completely forgotten the lack of sleep and exhaustion and had become die hard whitewater rafting fanatics.

After lunch we did a bit of kayaking. Balancing the one man kayak with the back erect and paddling from side to side was difficult. It took a while to learn the way the kayak responded to paddling. Even with the safety raft present, it terrified us to thrust the kayak into the tail end current of the rapid. Kayaking was followed by tea and adventure activities like flying fox, valley crossing, Burma Bridge and rappelling under the constant vigil of camp staff.

The evening camp fire was enlivened by snacks (chilly chicken, peanut salad and potato fingers) and rafting/ trekking stories. After dinner we came back and sat around the smoldering embers of the camp fire. The somber stillness of night was shattered by the roar of the river; shafts of vehicle headlights intermittently swept across black hills. Conversation petered out as the faint glow of stars, the scarlet radiance of hot embers and the rhythmic flow of the river threw a blanket of reflective silence over us. We found hot water bags under the blanket when we returned to the tent. Lulled by the warmth, I soon sunk into deep slumber as a few confused images of the day flashed across my mind.

The camp site was part of Rajaji National Park. Early next morning we went for a nature walk and trekked across the surrounding hills for about 3 kms till the river bank. Curry plants dotted the trail. Occasionally we heard barking deer. Every forest has a ghost story to tell. Tanzin Angel and Surender from the camp who accompanied us on the trek showed us the house of Sikander who was murdered by villagers. His widow, unable to bear the pain committed suicide. The camp site and surrounding forest are supposedly haunted by the ghosts of this tragic couple. Thankfully the spirits were in abeyance during our visit.

After breakfast, we rafted down from the camp to Nim Beach (near Laxman Jhulah).There were grade III and grade IV rapids in this lap – ‘Double Trouble’, ‘Roller Coaster, ‘Tee Off’, ‘Golf Course’, ‘Brahmapuri’ and many others. Our safety kayak capsized while crossing ‘Golf Course’. Fortunately, the kayak was quickly recovered and soon we were underway. At ‘Any Session Body Surfing’ rapid, we jumped off the raft and body surfed for a while. Cliff jumping was the scariest part of this adventure. I was in two minds as I stood on the cliff edge and looked down into the river. Finally, egged on by the crew, I jumped off the cliff looking straight ahead, arms close to the body and clutching the life jacket. The experience lasted only a few moments, but was sufficient for a lifetime.

After lunch we bade goodbye to the camp, thanking the staff profusely for their bounteous hospitality. Back in Haridwar to catch the train! Another weary night on the crowded and filthy Mussoorie Express and we returned regretfully to our encumbered lives.

The trip was a uniquely thrilling experience. The spirit of camaraderie and shared adventure was beyond comparison. For once, Ganga, the holy river, instead of quenching our thirst left us craving for more.

We were afraid that December would be too cold for rafting. Surprisingly, it turned out to be pleasant, thanks to global warming. Indiscriminate tree felling and rampant construction is taking its toll of Rishikesh as well. But we found a ray of hope in the following scene. Truly, India Shinig….

The title is an adaptation of Eric Newby’s book “Slowly Down the Ganges“.

Adventure Gear recommended by Mercury Himalayan Explorations:
Shorts/tights for trekking
Sun hat/cap
Track pant
Floaters for rafting
Sun glasses with case
Torch – There are hurricane lamps along every path in the camp. But it is better to carry torch if you do not want to stuble and fall.
Water proof sun block lotion
Personal first aid kit (also available in camp)
Personal toileteries
Do not carry more than one bag per person.
Do not carry hard suitcases. Carry only soft bags.

MHE offers 3 river rafting packages at Shivpuri
Package 1: 1 Night, 1 Day. Rs.2900/- per person. Includes 1 rafting trip
Package 2: 1 Night, 2 Days. Rs.3500/- per person. Includes 2 rafting trips
Package 3: 2 Nights, 3 Days. Rs.5200/- per person. Includes 3 rafting trips
Local Transport for drop at Marine Drive and pickup from Nim Beach – MHE can arrange but will charge Rs.200/- per person
Taxes Applicable
Camp is closed from mid June till mid September
MHE New Delhi Contact Details:
Mr. Sharfaraz Choudhary
Mercury Himalayan Explorations
Jeevan Tara Building
Parliament Street, New Delhi – 110001
Phone: (+91-11) 23340033, 23346209
(M) (+91) 9990037336

MHE Beach Camp Contact Details:
Mr. Ramakant
Phone: (+91-1378) 261615
(M) +91-9410367492

A very reliable taxi service:
Mobile: (+91) 9410560099
Deep Tour & Travel
Near Gujrat Samaj, Jessa Ram road, Haridwar – 249401
Alternate contact numbers: (+91) 9412072550/ 9837022236

Particularly helpful Camp Personnel:
Tanzin Angel: Currently runs a camp near Keylong with his brother. Aspires to setup his own camp at his native Lahaul in the next 6 months.
Contact details – You can find him in Orkut.
Mobile: (+91) 9418361559

Surender: Another Lahaul native. Adventure freak.
Contact details – You can find him in Facebook.

4041/ 4042 Mussoorie Express: We goofed up on our choice of train. Please do not take this one. It does not run on time.
Mussoorie Express starts from Old Delhi Railway Station (Station Code – DLI). Chandni Chowk Metro Station has an underground passage which connects to the Old Delhi Railway Station.

Categories: Totternama

Pauri – Demure Virgin of Garhwal

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

I rate the journey to Pauri as a milestone in our travel escapades. Pauri was 1814 meters above mean sea level on the slope of Kandoliya hills in the Pauri Garhwal ranges of Uttarakhand, over 400 kilometers from Gurgaon.

I was deeply apprehensive about driving in the hills and my wife had a hard time allaying fears and prodding me into action. However, upon hitting the road, all fears evaporated and we thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

Khoh River

We started off early morning from Gurgaon, touched Ghaziabad in an hour, took the meticulously hidden turn to Meerut, climbed a flyover, got on to GT Road and raced down NH58. Meerut was chaotic – pathetic roads, lumbering tractors, baffling signage. Sympathetic passersby helped us to negotiate the labyrinthine streets and guided us till Mawana/ Bijnor road.

Chir Pines

Where the road bifurcated to Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor, we stopped for tea and a quick bite at Monty Million restaurant. Beyond Bijnor, we passed several small towns, Kiratpur, Najibabad, crowded with people and cattle. Soon the straight roads lined with paddy and maize fields gave way to winding roads. Far ahead, the Garhwal Himalayas swung into view and formed a constant back drop to the panorama.

We entered Kotdwara hungry, expectant and anxious of the mountain terrain. ‘Eats’ restaurant where we lunched served us Parantha, special Dal and tea along with detailed directions for the onward journey. We filled fuel at Kotdwara and climbed along the milky white Khoh River for a while with eyes riveted to the road dodging speeding jeeps and skirting potholes. At Dugadda a branch road led to Landsdowne. The majestic splendour Shivalik mountains unfolded over a hazy grey horizon, rolling hills and terraces of paddy as we edged past Gumkhal village and gently descended to Satpuli town.

Bad news! The regular route was closed for repair. We crossed a bridge, went past the toll gate at Banghat and took the alternate route via Kanskhet. Bilkhet, Banekh, Ghandiyal, Banjkhal, went milesstones announcing roadside villages. The silver trickle of a river meandered through the valley to our left, flanked by fields in varying shades of green and yellow. Distant peaks shimmied in a play of light and shadow under the slanting afternoon sun.


Evening advanced upon us sooner than expected. Nervous, we eagerly watched each milestone, counting the remaining distance to Pauri. As we emerged from the forest into the faint crimson afterglow of the setting sun, the town sprung upon us. We breathed a huge sigh of relief as we reached the GMVN guest house overlooking the valley at quarter to seven.

Kyunkaleshwar Mandir

 A spectacular daybreak! I lazily watched snow bound peaks of Neelkanth and Chaukhamba floating over cotton ball clouds through diaphanous curtains. The morning air was crisp, fresh, exhilarating. After breakfast we set out for Khirsu, driving through a breathtakingly picturesque vista of oak and deodar. After lunch we visited Kandoliya Mandir, the temple of the local mountain goddess located high-up on the mountain with amazing views of the town and valley and Kyunkaleshwar Mandir, an 8th century temple complex with splendid vernacular architecture.

Alakananda River

Next day, we went to Srinagar located downhill of Pauri, by the river Alakananda. Being on the pilgrim trail, the town was busy, noisy and hot. After a brief visit to the river we returned to Pauri.

Pauri has been spared the inevitable tourist commotion and associated distractions since it doesn’t figure prominently in the tourist circuit. The forests are still pristine, unmolested by tourist litter. People are hospitable and sport a ready smile and an eager helping hand.

With our recollections flavoured with a sense of adventure, achievement, elation and serenity, we departed from Pauri early morning retracing the trail to our wound up, preoccupied lives.

Contact Details
GMVN Tourist Rest House, Pauri 01368-222359, Mr. Joshi

For GMVN Rest House booking contact main office at Rishikesh: 0135-2431793

Photo Courtesy: Subha Varma

Categories: Totternama

Roosting in Peace – Bhindawas Bird Sanctuary

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

No one knew about Bhindawas Bird Sanctuary. Wikipedia did not list it. My colleague mentioned about it during the course of a casual conversation. We googled the place up, found it interesting and off we went on a weekend, packing camera and binoculars. We never imagined getting there would be so arduous.

At the onset, locating the Gurgaon-Jhajjar state highway proved daunting in the complete absence of signage. There was a world of a difference between the map and the terrain. We had to frequently stop and ask for directions until we reached SH15A to Farrukhnagar. We were really annoyed by the time we stopped for breakfast at Rosy Pelican restaurant adjacent to Sultanpur Bird Santuary (see link below). However, hot Aloo Paranthas, cool air and bright sunshine soon restored our flagging spirits.

The haphazardly patch worked road offered a jerky ride. Tractors and motorcycles materialized without warning from side roads and kept us on the edge. Overtaking slow moving trucks on the single lane road also proved difficult. At Jhajjar we had a frustrating time finding the way to Bhindawas. After a lot of asking around and double checking we took the road to Chhuchhakwas and finally reached Bhindawas by midday. We could not locate the sanctuary gate anywhere and went along a desolate bund bordering a canal before getting stuck at a fork on the narrow road. In the end a helpful local guided us to the entrance.

We took the entry tickets and asked for a guide. The forest department could not spare one because there weren’t any. The sanctuary covering more than 1000 acres is bordered by a 12 km long motor able road along the embankment. We struck out on own and stopped the car at the first watch tower to look out over an expanse of Kikar at the far away lake. It immediately became apparent that unless we had a telephoto lens, any attempt to capture the birds on camera was futile. Water hyacinth infested large tracts of the lake. We spotted a few deer and Nilgai. A large number of birds flew around, hunted, preened and roosted on tree stumps and islets in the middle of the lake. Through binoculars we saw ducks, pelicans, storks and a variety of other birds we couldn’t distinguish. The lake was so vast that birds appeared as black specks to the naked eye.

The sanctuary also had a herbal garden already showing signs of going to seed. We spent some time looking over and identifying different plants and noting their names. From time to time forest department patrol jeeps went by in a trail of dust.

There were hardly any visitors besides us. An old rustic sat on his haunches as we stood watching birds near the edge where the main road skirted the sanctuary. We could see beautiful long legged green birds foraging the shallow waters for fish and insects. To our shock the old man offered to catch these birds and prepare a meal for us. We realized that for the locals, the sanctuary was nothing more than a source of water, food and firewood. They had little sympathy for what it represented and felt no pride. Bhindawas, unlike Bharatpur did not involve participation of the indigenous people nor offered them any kind of employment.

During the onward journey we were so obsessed with locating the sanctuary that we failed to notice the surrounding fields and hamlets. On the way back we stopped beside bright yellow-green mustard fields and paused to watch ponderous camel carts. At Jhajjar we took the NH71 Bypass to Rewari. The national highway though potholed and patch worked was double lane. There was a lot of truck traffic and at some spots the road deteriorated to little more than loose gravel. Once we negotiated the congested Rewari market, we quickly reached NH8 and touched Gurgaon by nightfall.

Despite the minor hurdles, the journey was worth the trouble. Obscurity and lack of rudimentary amenities has cocooned Bhindawas from rampant commercialism and intense tourist traffic as witnessed in Bharatpur. Only hardcore birders and stray visitors like us go there. Maybe it is a blessing in disguise, for the birds, at least.


A kind soul has provided detailed instructions to reach Sultanpur bird sanctuary here:

Rosy Pelican Restaurant – Tel: 0124 – 2375242

Photo Courtesy: Subha Varma/ V P Vinod

Categories: Totternama