Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rafting on the Ganga

No, don't scroll down looking for photographs - there aren't any.  But do continue to read.  Rafting on the Ganga was one of the highlights of our vacation.

It was totally unexpected.  We weren't planning it at all.  But AEF suggested it out of the blue.  "Why don't you go white water rafting?" she said.  "I'll look after Puttachi."  Even as we looked this way and that, she suggested it to her team of researchers and field assistants, and urged them to go too, and before we knew it, we were a team of eight, and one of them knew an adventure group who arranged a raft for us at a discount, provided us with an extra guide, and everything was settled.

But how about Puttachi?  Would she stay with AEF, whom she barely knows?  I asked Puttachi.  She listened, and she nodded her yes.  That was it.  Granted, part of the attraction of staying back with AEF was that Puttachi was looking forward to spend time with her new friend Himani who lived next door to AEF's field station. ( Himani is a calf, but what is a different species when it comes to friendship?)  But the alacrity with which she accepted was heartening.

But yet, I had a slightly disturbed night.  It was the next level of Letting-go for me.  Yes, AEF is a friend I trust completely, but I would be going rafting.  On the rapids.  On the Ganga.  Without a phone.  So far from home.  Leaving Puttachi.  In a remote little village. 

It helped that both AEF and Puttachi were supremely confident they would manage.  It was only half a day, after all.

And so, off we went.

We drove to Rishikesh, where we left our things in the jeep and parked it near the Adventure guy's shop.  We got into their jeep, loaded the life jackets and paddles in it, and the inflated raft on the roof of the jeep, and drove upstream to Shivpuri, 16 km away.  We drove by the Ganga, next to the very river-route on which  we were to come back rafting. 

Beautiful sights.  Deep green valleys, turquoise green waters, white sands, blue skies.  And the heart beating to the prospect of a never-before adventure.

We reached the spot where we would begin rafting.  We wore life jackets and helmets, and sat in the raft, and then the guide gave us the "training."  He told us how to paddle, how to lock our feet, what to do if we fall out of the raft, what to do if the raft topples.  He also said that there was an 85 pc chance of the raft toppling, and it was here that I started panicking.

We started.  The first two rapids were quite terrifying, and the guide noticed that I seemed afraid.  He probably thought that I would fall out in a panic, so, as we went into the third rapid, he made me sit in front of the raft, hold the rope in both hands, and crouch, with only my head outside the raft.  So basically, I faced the third rapid head on, literally.  And I knew I was safe because I had the rope nice and tight in my fists... my knuckles were white too - so there.  And I enjoyed myself thoroughly.  Got tossed about, got completely drenched.  And I wasn't afraid any longer.

And then, it got better.  We reached a stretch of calm water, and here, the guide asked us to just Jump.Into.The.Water.  And guess what, we did it.  Into the Ganga.  It was cold and it was lovely, and it was a 100 feet deep but of course we had on our life jackets.  For a while, we made a human chain and free-floated.  And it was bliss.  And oh, by the way, this is the Ganga, remember?  All my sins have been washed away, mind you. :D  Now, as long as other people's sins haven't come and latched onto me....

After this, I almost hoped the raft would topple in the next few rapids, but they were quite tame.  In fact, one was so mild that it was like riding on the pot-holed roads of Bangalore.

There was even a midway break place, a  Maggi-point.  By the way, if I had a rupee for each Maggi-point I saw all over Uttarakhand....  we stopped here, and ate - what else, Maggi, got the cameras out of the waterproof bag, took some pics, and then continued.

And then finally, we floated under the Ram Jhoola and the famous Lakshman Jhoola, past the Tryambakeshwar temple.  This place is quite beautiful and had a certain atmosphere, and was very clean for a pilgrimage centre.

We ended the ride on a ghat, and I was "reunited" with Puttachi at a restaurant in Rishikesh.  Seriously, I don't think I can thank AEF enough for what she did for me. :) 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rajaji National Park

Rajaji National Park is situated in a unique place - part-Shivalik range, part-Himalayan ranges, and part grassland, with the Ganga flowing through it too.  As a result, the biodiversity is pretty rich, not only in terms of fauna, but flora too. 
Here are some pictures.
The ground was covered with leaves from the deciduous trees
in some places.  It looked lovely.

Have I told you I like young spring leaves?
I have?  A million times?  Okay.
It is a 35 km circuit around the park, takes about 3 hours.

See, this is what I was saying. 
Geographical diversity.

A deer gate-crashes a langur congregation

That's Puttachi and me in the open-topped jeep. 
S was relegated to the lesser seat - next to the driver.


This elephant was quite close.

It is shy - off it goes.

Mamma and baby - enough to send Puttachi into raptures


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blooms in Uttarakhand

Never seen neem flowers in this colour before!

Mango blossoms were particularly thick in these parts.


Palash again


Wild roses

Rhododendrons were everywhere!

Rhododendrons up close. 
Puttachi loved them.
She kept picking up fallen flowers
 and carrying them back to the room.
Rhododendron squash (Buransh squash)
is pretty refreshing :)

No idea what flowers these are.
Also see: Trees of Uttarakhand
                Birds of Uttarakhand


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Some winged treasures of Uttarakhand

After a post on the Malabar Whistling Thrush (whose song I frequently remember, with what can only be called longing) I had written:

I told you I am on the verge of bird mania.  Now all I need is a good pair of binoculars and a holiday in the jungle with AEF. :)

And this holiday fulfilled this wish (and fuelled more wishes, but that's for later.)  Such a pleasure walking with AEF (Avian-encyclopedia friend) in the jungle looking at birds!

And birds are such delightful creatures.  Each time I come back from a spate of birdwatching, it hits me all over again.

But birdwatching is one thing, and bird-photographing is quite another. 

Some amateurish efforts, mainly an attempt to document all this for myself.

White-capped red starter

Green barbet

Red-vented bulbul

Bee-eater.  Notice the tail in the tail.

Sunbird.  We saw purple sunbirds too.
Utterly beautiful, flighty creature.
Actually shines in the sun.

Green barbet on a peepul tree.
There were no leaves on this trees. 
Just loads of figs, and so
there were lots of birds.

Not quite sure which one this is.
But it had just taken flight.

The jungle babbler, probably?

Coucal (Kembhoota in Kannada)
These two were making such a ruckus!


Add caption

These little bee-eaters
were bathing in the mud!
We saw several other birds that I couldn't capture on camera - coppersmiths, lapwings, scores of peacocks, tree pies (beautiful birds with long tails - couldn't catch any on camera), parakeets, water hens, grey hornbills, wagtails, kingfishers.... such a treat.

Also see: Trees of Uttarakhand
                Flowers of Uttarakhand

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A few trees of Uttarakhand

My love for trees is common knowledge to regular readers of this blog.  Every spring sees me go nuts, and this time, I had an added advantage. I could swoon over the trees of Uttarakhand too!
Locally known as "Kusum" - these are leaves, not flowers. 
In Rajaji National Park

New leaves - Rajaji NP

Travelling in an open jeep is great for tree-watching!
Here's a langur leaping among the bare branches of a tree.

Rudraksha tree - the fruits

And when the fruit is broken open
- you see the famous Rudraksha seed.

These looked like Bharatnatyam dancers to me. - Rajaji NP
I lost my heart to Deodar forests.
 - Landour, Mussoorie.

Aren't Deodars gorgeous?

Speaking of bare trees - how beautiful is this!
These young spring leaves of the Indian horse chestnut
are among the most beautiful leaves I've seen. 
They were everywhere in the Landour forests.

These horse chestnut leaves
caught the sunlight so beautifully!
 This is shortly before sunset, Landour.

Horse chestnut leaves again -
framing the sunset that signalled the end of our vacation
- Landour.

Also see:  Birds of Uttarakhand
                 Flowers of Uttarakhand

Friday, April 11, 2014

What to do this summer.... and a book review.

Don't want to send your kids to summer camps, but at a loss about how to engage them during the holidays?  Here's a link to my article in today's DH Living on what to do this summer. 

In the article, I've touched upon the importance of unstructured time for children.  This article speaks more in detail about it.  Do read.

If you're an aspiring freelance journalist, I highly recommend the book "Everything you wanted to know about Freelance Journalism" by Kavitha Rao and Charukesi Ramadurai.  My review of this book is up on Women's Web.

I'm back from a lovely little vacation.  Pictures and write-ups coming up next week.

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