I groggily board the flight to Leh at an unearthly hour. Waking up irritably to the flight attendant’s announcement, the view outside my window quickly changes my mood. We are flying precariously close to the snow-covered Himalayas, and would soon land in the cold mountain desert of Ladakh. Three years after my first solo trip to Spiti, I am back in the trans-Himalayas, still dreamy and wide-eyed, a little nervous, and hoping to find solitude in the mountains. It feels like life has come a full circle.
I’ve never travelled in my own backyard. Born and brought up in the valley of Dehradun, I’ve always wondered what lay beyond the mountains I could see from my terrace. And last month, I finally decided to find out. I made my way up to the villages beyond Uttarkashi, and down via Mussoorie, transfixed by the majesty of the Garhwal Himalayas, as much as by the conviction of the locals to move on after the devastating Uttarakhand floods of 2013. I’ll let these pictures tell you their stories.
I am transiting through Singapore on my way to South Australia as I pen this. Amid the lavish hospitality of the Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris Lounge and the excitement of visiting the land down under, I find myself looking back fondly at the last week, which I spent road tripping through rural Maharashtra. Just 2.5 hours away from Bombay, the state revealed many hidden surprises! We drove along pristine lakes, stayed at a work-in-progress art village just off Panchgani, and lazed in the warm afternoon sun on virgin beaches along the Konkan coast.
We slowly row away from the shore, leaving behind the dim lights on our palm-fringed island. The current in the backwaters sways our tiny kayak, and after a brief show of resistance, we surrender and let it guide us. Small fish occasionally jump out of the water, creating ripples. A thousand stars shimmer in the sky above. These are the virgin backwaters of North Kerala’s Kasaragod district, silent, untouched and without a houseboat in sight.
Between my recent trips to sunny Seychelles and festive Germany, I was drawn by the call of the wild to Svasara Jungle Lodge at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. My jungle adventures in Madhya Pradesh earlier this year made me a wildlife tourism enthusiast (Read: Wildlife Tourism: Are We Saving The Tiger?), but Tadoba left me intoxicated. I can’t stop dreaming of forests brimming with unravelled mysteries. Or the sheer beauty and intricacy of their ecosystems. This is a glimpse of that world beyond ours.
There is a whole world out there, in the dense Sal forests of Kanha. A world far removed from you and me. Fascinating stories dwell here just like in the human world. Wildlife and nature peacefully co-exist, and mankind meddles. For better and for worse. These snippets attempt to look beyond what we witness on jungle safaris, and try to capture the essence of life in the wild.
Our jeep comes to a screeching halt. In the distance, two low-lying eyes gaze upon us with a look so cunning, I still can’t get it out of my head. Our naturalist raises his binoculars, and confirms what we suspect. A leopard. It gently raises its spotted body, gives us a defiant last look, and disappears in the bushes. We are left gaping at the empty path, with goosebumps.
Old forests of teak and acacia lay bathed in the warm glow of the morning sun. We drove along the vast expanse of the Ken River strewn with little islands, climbed up a plateau dotted with colorful igneous rocks, crossed bubbling streams and grasslands in shades of autumn, and arrived at the most picturesque sight – a 200 meter high gorge, with two majestic waterfalls, surrounded by dense greenery, and a stream winding in the valley below. Sitting on the rocks, we had tea and biscuits while watching vultures fly around the steep gorge!
Over the years, I’ve travelled to and stayed in many amazing places, in many countries across the globe. Even with such high expectations, sometimes a place comes along that completely takes me by surprise. A place that makes me appreciate my life as a travel blogger. A place that I know I won’t forget for a long time. Lakshman Sagar, in the Pali district of Rajasthan, was one such place.
A gentle tap on the tent startles me. I reluctantly get up from my cosy bed and lift the flap, to be greeted by a mesmerizing sight. Dark, ominous clouds swiftly cross the sky and settle upon the Knuckles mountain range in the distance. The moon becomes visible every now and then, painting haunting patterns in the sky. A handful of lights glow in the valley below. Fireflies shimmer above the tea plantations. The tap on the tent was just the wind, inviting me for a glimpse of this magical night.