Recipe – Himachali Chana Madra


A few friends have been asking me for the recipes of the dishes I had been cooking during the lockdown. I am wondering if a separate food blog is needed to catalog all the recipes but till I decided that I will use this space to share them. Excuse me for the photos. I hadn’t thought of blog post while clicking. Will add more later. 

I have been thinking of the hills and our road trips, my trekking years and the local food eaten in homes or local eateries of Himachal and Uttarakhand.

Light and aromatic yogurt based gravies are summer’s soul food. Desi khana or traditional meal made with locally sourced ingredients is something I root for even though I love to explore other cuisines. Summer is also season for nostalgic eating.

I first had madra at the home of a local in kangra during a road trip. A family from the village had a small tea stall and provided meals if possible. Though not as part of the menu. It all depended on what’s available and we were lucky to get madra, kale chane ka khatta and rice.

The slow cooked scrumptious Chana Madra is not just quintessential part of authentic Himachali Dham but also of the wedding menu. The whole and ground spices, creamy tangy curd and the buttery chickpeas fill the dish with melange of flavours. Madra is made with Rajma too. The Chamba rajmah tastes delicious in madra but I love the Kangra version with chickpeas.

Today’s thali had one dish each from a few parts of india to which I belong in some way. Aamras from Maharashtra (Mother’s side), old vintage nimbu pickle from Uttarpradesh ( father’s side), madra from Himachal ( In-law’s side) and kelya upkari from Konkan ( nani’s maternal side). Comfort and love in every bite. I’m thinking of making a few more dishes that are close to my heart in the coming days.

Ingredients :

Kabuli Chana / Chickpeas ( Soaked overnight and boiled) – 2 Cup ( can use canned chickpeas too)

Asafoetida – 2 pinch

Cloves – 3-4

Cinnamon – 1/2 inch stick

Black Cardamom – 2-3

Green Cardamom Powder – 1/4 tsp

Sugar – 1/4 tsp

Black Peppercorn – 3-4

Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp

Coriander Powder – 2 tsp

Turmeric Powder – 1 tsp

Salt – as required

Raisins – 3 tsp ( soaked and drained)

Thick whipped curd – 2 cups

Ghee/ clarified butter or Mustard Oil – 2 tbs

For the Rice Paste –

¼ cup raw white rice

1 cup water

1-2 pods of green cardamom

Soak  ¼ cup rice in 1 cup of water and cardamom. Grind this mixture and set aside.

Method –

In a heavy bottom pan heat mustard oil to the smoking point and then reduce the heat. ( For ghee you just need to warm it)

Add asafoetida, black cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick

Stir and add cumin seeds. When they crackle add coriander and turmeric powder and stir. Make sure the masala doesn’t burn.

Add boiled chickpeas and stir properly.

Add the whisked yogurt and keep stirring continuously. Keep the lame low or the yogurt will curdle. Add salt and green cardamom powder.

Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minute. Stir occasionally.

Once the mixture comes to a boil add he rice paste water and mix well.

Continue to stir and cook for another 20-25 minutes.

I usually add a tablespoon or two of hot homemade ghee on top, stir and let it simmer for another ten minutes thicken the gravy.

Turn off the heat, add chopped fresh coriander greens and mix.

Serve with plain boiled / steamed rice or roti.

Recipe – Apricot |Khubani ka Sharbat


Summers are the best time to have these excellent sherbets or sharbats made from fresh fruits. Some are chopped, pulped and boiled with sugar then strained while some others are raw. I prefer them uncooked but then do they become ras or juice rather than sharbats? Perhaps, they do. I will share both the methods here though I did not cook the apricots here. In case I was using the dried ones then soaking and cooking to make a concentrate would be a good idea.

These gorgeous sweet and juicy apricots or khubani came via Farmer Uncle straight from the Singha Farms (orchards) in Kothgarh, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. The fruit is chemical residue free and one can feel the difference in taste between these and the ones I buy from local markets in Delhi. There are some more apricot recipes that you can check HERE. and HERE .

I over indulged myself  and while I was licking off the dripping juices I got reminded of the old old days when I was young and partied hard whenever I could. It reminded me of Qamar al-deen, an apricot nectar beverage from Middle East made with a specific variety of apricots, orange blossoms, and sugar. Or, I think it was called lavāshak Qamaruddin made from apricot fruit leather. The beverage in itself was heavenly but the cocktails made from it with Vodka/Gin/White or Spiced rum were killer.

This recipe is simple and brings out the flavor of the fruit. You can also turn it into a slushy or a sorbet.

Ingredients :

Fresh Apricots / Khoobani – 8-10 medium size

Lemon Zest – 1/4 teaspoon

Fresh Lemon juice – 3 -4 tablespoons

Jaggery powder / Sugar – As per taste ( depends on the sweetness of the fruit)

Rock Salt – 1/4 tsp

Water – about 3 cups

Fresh mint leaves – 3-4 muddled

Method 1:

Wash and pat dry the apricots. Pull them in half and remove the stones.

Chop them roughly and put them in a blender jar and blend.

Once the mixture is smooth and nicely blended strain it through a sieve in a pitcher. Rub the pulp with back of a spoon so that all the pulp san the tough fibers goes through the sieve.

Add a cup or two of water to dilute the concentrate and add lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and jaggery powder or boora cheeni/ sugar.

Mix it well then pour some of the sharbat in an ice cube tray and freeze.

Add fresh muddled mint leaves to the remaining sharbat and chill it.

Once the cubes are frozen, add them to the chilled sharbat and serve.

 

Method 2 – Soak the dry seedless apricots overnight and pulse the swollen fruit in the blender with a little water, lemon juice and sugar the next day to make a paste.

Strain it into a pitcher, add water and mix well. Serve chilled.

If you are in a hurry then you can soak the apricot leather or dried apricots in hot water for  3-4 hours or just boil them a little to soften them with sugar and water over stove top ( like a compote) then cool to blend. Add more water to dilute as per your liking.

You may add a little orange blossom water to it before serving. You may also add Gin / Vodka / Spiced or White Rum to make a cocktail.

You can use tamarind paste instead of lemon to make Imli Khubani ka sharbat.

To make the tamarind Apricot Sharbat you need :

Ingredients:

Dried apricots –  250 gms (soaked overnight & deseeded)

Imli ka gooda (Tamarind pulp deseeded) – 250 gm

Boora cheeni – 250 gm or as per taste

Water – 1 litre

Rock Salt –  1 tsp –

Method :

In a blender add dried soaked apricots & tamarind pulp. Blend well then strain with a sieve. Set it aside. In a heavy bottom pan add sugar and water, mix well and cook until sugar is dissolved. Now add the apricot pulp and mix well. Cook on medium low flame for 5 minutes then turn off the stove. Let the mixture cool down.

Add required concentrate to a pitcher, add salt and crushed mint leaves, add more water if needed and adjust sweetness if required. Place it in the fridge to chill.

In a serving glass, pour the sharbat, ice cubes. Stir well and serve.

Always use fully ripe juicy apricots. Ripe apricots are soft to touch. They should be firm, and orange gold in color.

Recipe – Mahni – A Tangy Himachali Dish Made From Raw Mangoes


I discovered the authentic mouth-watering dishes from the north-western areas of Himachal Pradesh ( Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur, Kangra and Chamba districts) during my visit to the ancestral village of my in-laws.  The food, mainly vegetarian, is prepared keeping in mind the geographical and climatic conditions. Simple and nutritious, the food includes dishes made from locally available pulses, cereals, tubers, vegetables and fruits. Milk is also used in the form of curds and buttermilk in many of the dishes.

Some of the indigenous dishes include, babroo, bhaturu, lasaure ki sabzi, ratalu ki sabzi,  sarson ka saag and other leafy greens of the season, kadhi, mah ki daal, khatta, mahni, kehru or rehru, pahari madra, rotis made from maize or wheat flour, rice, chick peas, black gram, red kidney beans (Rajmah), rot ( a sweet deep fried wheat bread), gulgule, bated (steamed or fried pedrode) to name a few. I will post the recipes as and when I make them.

Mahni is a delightful semi liquid dish made from raw or half-ripe green mangoes and is usually eaten with plain boiled rice as a side dish.

To make Mahni you will need :

Raw or half-ripe mangoes – 2 large

Onion – One large

Roasted Cumin seed Powder – 1 Teaspoon

Salt – To taste

Sugar – If required (depends on how sweet or sour you like the dish)

Red chili Powder – 1/2 Teaspoon

Fresh Crushed Mint Leaves –  1 tbsp

Fresh chopped coriander leaves –  1 tbsp

?????????????

To prepare :

Wash and boil the raw mangoes.  ( you can steam them too)

Let them cool a little and take out the pulp in a bowl.

Mash the pulp to make it smooth.

Finely chop the onions.

Wash the fresh mint leaves and crush them a little. Save a few for garnish.

Add cold water to the pulp stirring it gently till it makes a nice semi liquid preparation.

Add the chopped onions and spices.

Add a little jaggery or sugar if the preparation is too sour. I like it tangy sweet.

Taste to adjust the amount of sweetness or spices.

Garnish with mint leaves and keep it in the fridge.

Serve cool.

Tip – you can add a few  Moong pakodi, boondi or handful  of boiled black gram to it. I like it just simple. Never use metal to stir, serve or store sour preparations.

The first version is with slightly ripened ambi (those which start turning light yellow) with sugar.

This is with absolutely raw ambi and organic jaggery. Don’t go by color. The gud is dark but I’ve used very little in it. The taste is perfect spicy sour n sweet in that order. The one in small bowl us without jaggery. No meetha for mom coz of slightly high blood sugar.
I prefer this version to the sugar one. We add boiled kala chana too to Manhi. Tastes divine.

I first had Manhi at Mandi bus station. There was a waterfall after the bridge and a small dhaba opposite it. They served Mahni with boiled bengal gram or kala chana, simple Kali daal and rice. Tea was made in one corner. Mostly the driver’s stopped there. One of the best meals I ever had. I was thirteen at that time.

To make with boiled Bengal gram or kala chana – Soak bengal gram or kala chana overnight in water. Throw the water in the morning and wash the chana. Pressure cook or boil in minimal water and then let it boil so all the water gets absorbed and dried up. Cool the chana is a bowl and once it is at room temperature add it to the basic manhi recipe.

 

Enjoy this tangy sweet dish with hot steamed rice or hot fresh phulka.

Travel Diary – Part -2 – Kinner Camps Sangla And A Visit To Chitkul


Continued from –  Travel Diary – part -1 

Kinner Camps Sangla – 2,800 meters 

I woke up to the bird calls and checked my watch. It was still very early in the morning. Inhaling the fresh fragrant mountain air I stretched and gazed admiringly at the “posh camping” we were experiencing at Kinner camp at about 2800m. The Swiss tent had cozy beds , a clean attached toilet and the sight of my little one snuggled inside a warm quilt made me extremely happy. I tiptoed out into the clear daylight and the view simply took my breath away. Surrounded by the high mountains of Greater Himalayas from all sides the camp site was one of the most beautiful I had stayed in all those years. Twenty sleepy Swiss style luxury tents  stood in the midst of flower beds and dewy grass. Neat pathways lined with pebbles on both sides led to each tent and to the kitchen and dining area. A lovely patchwork on the ground. I walked up to a big boulder and sat there, silently taking in the view. I could hear the Baspa river gushing down the valley and felt like going for a walk to meet its sparkling waters but the rest of the group was in deep slumber and I didn’t want anyone to panic on not finding me there when they woke up.

So, barefoot I walked around inside the camp connecting with the earth’s energy . Major ( the friendly resident dog) came up to greet and trotted along.

The location of kinner camp at Sangla is just perfect. Nestled between the apple orchards with the river running just a few yards away, the campsite has a huge jagged mountain at the back which protects it from direct sunlight and in the front are snow-clad peaks and the river.

I watched the snow peaks slowly waking up to life with a blush as the sun rose in the sky. It was a great day to take nature walks and explore the lush green forests of cedar and pine, with the magnificent Kinner Kailash peak towering over the quaint village and campsite.

Kinner camp is managed  by professional team of locals headed by Mr. Pradeep Negi. A wonderful person with years of experience about the terrain and culture of that area. it was through him we had arranged this whole trip. As the days passed we experience the best of hospitality, food, knowledge about the fragile Himalayan eco system and the efforts of Mr. Negi and others in preserving the local kinnauri culture and lifestyle. We also came to know about their work in balancing the rapid imbalance of ecology happening in that area especially due to the building of dams.

The jagged sunrays, uncommon colorful birds and crisp cool breeze filtering through the trees led me to the clearing behind the dining area from where I could watch the Baspa thundering through the boulders. The icy water cascading down from the snowy peaks of the northern Himalayas. On the other side the landscape was green and inviting. I spotted a few birds like the Himalayan whistling thrush, Sun Birds and Barbets chirping merrily on the trees in and around the campsite.

The time had stood still till I heard a familiar voice informing me that the kid was awake and needed breakfast.

After a quick shower and super delicious breakfast we discussed about the possible local trails and sightseeing around the area. It was election time and the village road was abuzz with sounds of vehicles and campaigning.

Some people from the group were still rattled by the last night’s adventure and wanted to relax, the kid was excited about the dog, food and back rides and I, who didn’t want to sit around and laze, was spoilt for choices.  A village trip seemed like a great idea. We sat watching the meandering river from the road talking to Mr.Negi about various things and then trotted off to the village remunerating about the place where Gods once lived.

Women is kinnauri attire went about their daily business around their beautiful wooden houses with slate roofs. The kinnauri homes are built in traditional Kath-Kuni style in which the alternate layers of wood and stone are used in masonry work. Each an architectural wonder.

Kids, happy to tag along and get clicked, posed with smiling faces and the men watched the world go round as they sat smoking in groups or kept an eye on their livestock grazing on fresh grass.

A hot cup of Himachali tea warmed my fingers as I soaked up the flavors of Kinnaur. I could see the influence of Buddhism on their lifestyle because of the close proximity to Tibet.

We returned to the camp for lunch, a scrumptious spread laid out by the camp kitchen. Courteous staff and finger linking food is one of the plus points of Kinner Camps.

A few of us wanted to doze off. Seriously? How can anyone not want to go down to the river? I wondered. The temptation was too much to resist.

After lingering around the camp looking at various medicinal plants and other exotic trees and vegetation of that area finally we made it to the river. A large coke bottle filled with a pre mix of old monk and cola was stacked neatly in the sand between two rocks in the icy water. Each one of us found their place for a private commune with nature.

The effect was spellbinding and trust me no picture or video can give you a true experience of what it is like to be there in the middle of enchanting beauty and silence.

We sat there beside the roaring Baspa till the sunlight began to fade. Sipping the fiery mix from the bottle now and then to keep us warm. I had my Handy Cam switched on to capture the scenic beauty as closely as possible but at times you just want to switch off and blend into the serene calm around you. That’s what I did.

It began to get cold and we decided to make our way back to the camp. We had already asked Mr. Negi to give us a guide to cross the river and go to Batseri village. I was also looking forward to the walks through  the forest and meadows. As we had only three days we  could not undertake any hikes or explore other villages like Kamru, Nako and Kalpa. Chitkul was of course an exception.

We relaxed before the dinner discussing various things and enjoying the carefree time with each other which is usually a rarity in the hustle bustle of Delhi. I was thrilled beyond measures to be there and missed my elder son who would have been a perfect companion for nature trails and other adventures. None of the other adults were too keen to step out of luxury that the camp offered and the kiddo was too small for such impromptu adventures.

After dinning under the starlit sky we circled around a campfire with our drinks and smoke listening to the night sounds and watched the moon glide over the mountains. It was a blessing to have a clear night. I had forgotten how a star-studded sky actually looked. Words cannot describe the beauty of that first night at Sangla.

It reminded me of another night in the mountains, the YHAI trekking camp at Kasol. The rich night sky, wind’s hushed whispers to the trees, moonlit mountainsides, sounds of cricket and crackling fire keeping me warm. We stayed up late that night and when the fire began to die we headed back to the tents. The kid was fast asleep in the comforts of his bed.

Sleep took over soon with a promise of another day of exploring the spectacular terrain. We woke up early and after breakfast headed straight to the river to venture into what lay across its raging waters. Mr. Negi had provided us with packed food and a trained guide who told us about the stories , myths and facts about the Kinnaur and Baspa valley. The rickety wooden bridge unfortunately was broken and half-submerged in the river. All our plan to get across drowned then and there. Though the guide said we could still go across no one wanted to risk the rapid  flow of Baspa. We walked along the river side for a long distance and the guide pointed out many glaciers and known hiking trails along the mountains. He also showed us some rare flora and fauna typical of that region. We had our food beside the river and returned to the camp through another path in the meadows.

That afternoon the group split and some of us decided to go to Chitkul. I left the little boy in the care of a friend who wanted to explore the area for medicinal herbs and shilajeet.

Three of us got into the car to go to the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibetan border. Chitkul is the first village of Baspa valley and last on the old Hindustan -Tibet road. It is also the last point in India where you can go without a permit. Tibet lies across the Zaskar peaks in the east, while the peaks of Greater Himalayas cross between the Zaskar and the Dhauladhar ranges and pass through the middle of Kinnaur. I certainly want to explore that entire region before it’s too late to travel.

Chitkul – A visit to the last Fairytale Village bordering Tibet

The 26 km road from Sangla to Chitkul (3,450m) passed through an unforgettable landscape of cold desert mountains, snow-clad peaks, lush rolling greens and farmlands. Way down in valley we could see Baspa slithering silently.

The moment we left Sangla it seemed we had stepped into a fairytale. Though I had been to many virgin places in Himachal and Uttaranchal but this was the most spectacular drive so far. Known for its scenic beauty Chitkul is also a junction for many trek routes. The weather was cool and there was no sign of clouds though we could see them wandering over the higher ranges. The landscape dramatically changed as we drove along the serpentine road. We did not stop at Rakcham as we wanted to spend more time at Chitkul but we spotted many farmers and Shepherds  in the sparsely populated village. The architectural beauty of the wooden houses was enhanced by the surrounding potato fields, wild flowers, mossy pastures, grasslands and a scenic backdrop of mighty mountains. I felt like Alice in wonderland.

From the height we were travelling the cattle grazing in the valley were just black and white dots a carpet of green The road was a bit treacherous from Rakcham to Chitkul and resembled a dirt track. Many streams cut across the road and one had to carefully navigate through them.

We stopped at  ITBP check post at Mastarang crossing which lies along a  beautiful stream flowing through a small Pine Forest The stream flowed right across the road and stepped out of the car to soak in the sweet-scented air. The slope on the right side of the road was dotted with flowers. The water was cold and each polished pebble that lay at its base told an unspoken story. The clock was ticking and we had to move on. I made a promise to myself to visit again for a longer period. This is not a place for a quick visit. A large group of mountain goats and sheep greeted us a little ahead. A young shepherd gave us the way waving and smiling at us. A picture of a happy and content life. Matarang is another beautiful valley of Kinnaur district and a place that can hold you captive with its virgin beauty.

I had never seen such beautiful colors of the sky. The late noon sun was milder now and the air was getting crisper with chill. Perennial glaciers that feed the river shimmered like gold and the shadows were lengthening on the mountain ranges. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

We saw a gate welcoming us to Chitkul. We had reached our destination. At 11,320 feet I was in a dreamland. We stopped our car in a clearing near ITBP check post. There were not many people around and the wind had gathered momentum. At that moment nothing mattered. The cold did not bother me as I walked around the village that was too beautiful to be true. An ITBP personnel told us about the history and significance of the strategically located village. He pointed to where the road ended almost half a kilometer ahead. One could see the old group of blue tin roofed ITBP barracks. The road closed 90 km before the China border.

We drove to that point and watched the valley open up in front of us in all its splendor. The sky by now was a pallet of unimaginable colors. Till now I had the movie camera recording each moment. Somehow it didn’t seem right to look at the beauty through the viewfinder and I switched it off.

Sitting on a rock I sipped the hot sweet milky tea as the men talked to the people around. I needed to be with myself. The teashop also sold hot Maggi like many others in that area so we ordered that too just to keep us warm. The steaming noodles full of flavorful veggies tasted excellent.

Rapidly the temperature changed to icy cold and the strong wind added to the discomfort. The villagers, unperturbed by the freezing cold, went about their daily routine. The women were remarkably beautiful in their traditional attire. Many wore the traditional silver jewelry and colorful scarves. Almost all the men wore colorful kinnauri caps.  I noticed that everyone had a smile on their faces.

We walked in silence observing the wooden houses, a small monastery, Kagyupa Buddhist temple, an exquisitely carved temple of a local deity and a rare treat – a water-mill. I had not seen one since my YHAI trek in Parvati Valley. It was a small one built right at the stream. The wooden mill was perched on big stones stacked on top of each other and had a tin roof. A few rocks were placed on the roof to prevent it from flying off in strong wind. The old wooden door  was bolted and plies of firewood were stacked behind the mill.

It was closed so we walked ahead to the govt. school  and gram panchayat buildings. The sides of the roads were piled with river stones. A lot of firewood was stacked near each house.  We also saw many small grain storage huts. The use of tin for roofs  increased in past few years and there were many cemented buildings too though the old world charm of the ancient village was  still alive. This colorful small village of Chitkul,with just a population of  around 610,  is a National heritage village and rightly so.

The valley looked beautiful from where we stood. The banks of Baspa river covered with pebbles of all sizes and shapes gave it a unique perspective.

We bid adieu to the charming village and drove back to our camp taking with us unforgettable memories. The view that  lay ahead of the tricky bend we maneuvered was simply out of the world. No sunset ever could match the one we saw that day. The image has stayed with me since then. Shades of magenta, pinks, crimson, cream, blue  and gold filled the sky in front of us. It was difficult to take the eyes off.  I hurriedly switched on the handycam to capture the miracle unfolding there.

I wish I had some still shots to share but even they could not have brought the splendor of that day. The blushing snow peaks, the deep shadows , the clouds and the molten gold made the drive a magical experience.

On reaching the camp we saw  one of our friends waiting anxiously for us. She told that the kid had his own adventure hike and followed her husband on steep climb without his knowledge. Now both sat on a rock jutting out from the rugged face of the mountain near the road. The furious Baspa flowing right below. It was a sheer drop if any of them slipped. The camp dog was right there guarding them and he began to bark as we approached the scene. For a moment I did not know whether to cry or laugh. There on the rock sat my little son clinging on to our friend. He, however, was rattled and held tightly to whatever he could hold on to. This was the first time he had come on such a trip and obviously this episode had shaken him completely. Slowly they got down finding footholds on crumbling muddy gaps between the rocks. He heaved a sigh of relief and in one breath narrated the incident. The kiddo seemed happy at his achievement and happily settled in his dad’s lap.

Now that the fiasco was over we went to the camp and had an early dinner and then sat around the campfire , happily listening to the local stories from the staff. We roasted some locally grown potatoes in fire and had them when they were still hot. Kinnaur is known for its potatoes among other things.

It was a cold full moon night and everyone just relaxed with a drink or smoke.  When the wind began to rise we decided to move into the tents. We all gathered in one tent and decided to play chess. As the two men from the group played we watched and cheered. Everyone was a little too happy and  the locally brewed alcoholic drinks made the night even more cheerful. The alcohol is distilled from grapes, apple, pear, barley and wheat. The kids slept soundly, his father stepped out to meditate and watch the moon glide through the sky. I stayed inside engrossed in the game that was taking longer than usual time. Sleep was slowly casting its spell on us and we wrapped up for the night at about two o’clock.

It was our last night there and we all needed sleep before the long journey back home. We woke up early, packed our bags and took leave from the ever courteous staff of Kinner Camp. Mr. Negi had been a very generous host and after thanking him for the hospitality we began our journey on the road we had travelled at night while coming. For the first time we realized what could have happened to us had we run into trouble that night. The sheer magnificence of the old silk route took our breath away. We could now see why it is called “the deadliest road” in the world. Full of hairpin bends, blind curves, the C-shaped incisions in the overhanging cliffs and the broken patches of the road and the dumper trucks that resembled dinky toy vehicles fallen into the valley were enough to tell us never ever to drive on it at night. The road looked like a ledge cut out on the bare rock face of the mountain. The sight of deep Sutlej Gorge in daylight scarred the wits out of us. I remembered how we had mistaken a broken section of bridge for a road and as I peered into the gorge I knew exactly where our pieces would have been scattered. We stopped at the shrines on the way and this time made sure to take the right road to Shimla and from there to the sweltering heat of Delhi.

 

Recommended Reading – 

bNomadic –  On road through the trans-Himalayan Region 

All about Chitkul 

Thursday Photo Challenge : Hard


It’s been sometime since I did Thursday Photo Challenge . Somehow just did not have any great pictures or maybe I wasn’t getting inspired enough to take up the challenge but here I am going for it again.

“HARD”  ((Rock, Ice, Brick, Steel, Cement,…)  is the theme this time .

 

Deforestation, indiscreet mining and rock cutting  by circumventing the laws, camouflaged by legal flaws,  is causing havoc to the fragile Eco system of Himachal Pradesh. Reckless felling of trees for cement and power plants, for dams and other industrial activities has become an environmental hazard although they give additional revenue to the state.

The seasonal rivers aren’t the same what they used to be some years back. The water levels have decreased in many areas and rivers are on the brink of drying up.

Heavy deforestation in the vicinity of reservoir and cultivation of reservoir land by locals has led to silting causing landslides and flash floods.  A disaster mitigation plan functional at the lowest level is need of the hour to stop the natural disasters and catastrophes.

 

Travel Memoir : A Drive Through Clouds


Traveling by road in the majestic Himalayas is treacherous at times. The spectacular network of these remote rugged winding roads can give you a big adrenalin rush at any given time. The hair pin bends, gorges, steep valleys, narrow slushy muddy tracks that take sheer courage to maneuver and some times the unfriendly terrain make it an adventure which only the brave can afford to go through. A little distraction or error in judgment can lead to a disastrous end.

The rain and snow add to the drama that unfolds at every tricky turn. There are always chances of land-slides; road blocks and one must know the basic of mountain driving to avoid mishaps. The worst comes when you are caught off guard and have to trust your ability as a driver, a cool mind and the intuitive powers to help you navigate the snaking trails.

For us who love to venture into unknown territories, the roads journeys from Rampur Bushahr to Kinnaur and Khajjiar to chamba in Himachal Pradesh have been really breathtaking and the extremely difficult to maneuver till now. At both times we went ahead without prior study of the area and were fortunate to come out alive.

Dalhousie is the gateway to the Chamba valley. The best way to explore the charismatic beauty of the region is to hill walk or trek. The tranquility, beauty and the exquisite scenic surroundings are an unforgettable experience. After out enchanting stay at Khajjiar it was time to continue our journey to Dharamshala via Chamba.

We decided to follow the Khajjiar – Chamba road and vaguely asked the locals for the directions. It was raining heavily and most of the valley was covered in low clouds and dense fog. The rain had brought down the temperatures too. Our car glided through the unknown serpentine rugged mountain road in near zero visibility.

It is not a drive for the weak hearted. As we looked down the deep gorges and steep ghostly valleys enveloped in a cloudy mist, we realized the height at which we were traveling. The habitation in the valley below resembled small dots of blue and black. The roads were hardly visible but sometimes we could see a gray black line crisscrossing along the lower mountains.

We thought that this was going to be our last road adventure as we carefully maneuvered the hairpin bends, depending solely on the gut instinct.

Visibility was nil and there was not a single soul in sight. It was truly a drive through the clouds. The tension was mounting and a silent fear had gripped all of us. We had no idea even if this road was the right one and there was no turning back. We had to go on.

After an hour of cruising through the unknown under merciless rain and bone chilling cold, our alert eyes saw a roadside kiosk emerge out of no where and all our stressed out muscles relaxed at once. We found that it was a tea stall and the locals thought we had completely lost it. No one dares to drive in weather like that on an unknown high mountain road like that one.

We decided to drink a cup of hot sugary tea and wait for the rain to stop but it continued to pure ceaselessly. We scanned the deep dark valley below and shuddered at the thought of dropping down hundreds of feet down in that abyss. It was spine chilling

The time factor was very crucial as we still had to cover some distance to reach Dharamshala before dark. A 220 Km. six-hour journey and the weather made it very clear at least two to three extra hours were needed.

When you surrender yourself to nature, it takes care of you. This is one fact we always believed in. We drove on in absolute stillness. Half way down the road we saw a few workers repairing a damaged road in cold, rain and muddy slush. They advised us to go very slow and wished us good luck. It was good to see those dedicated courageous human beings who make our journeys safe.

Suddenly our friend who was driving the car stopped the car. The spectacle that greeted us was astounding. Right in the middle of the road was a flock of at least 9-10 huge vultures, majestic creatures so rare to see these days. Unfortunately the bad light and rain prevented us to click pictures. It was  experience of a life time and the kids watched the raptors with awe. Our day was made.

Those were the famous Himalayan Griffon vultures. These birds of prey are a dying species and we held our breath to savor the moment. Griffons are about 41-43 inches long and have a wingspan of 260-289cm. and are the second largest old world vultures. Slowly we made our way on the road and the knightly creatures decided to give way to us. Mystified by the beauty of those birds we continued towards our destination.

After a drive of half an hour the sky cleared and we could again see beautiful green valley dotted with tiny houses and thin zigzag maze of mountain roads below. We had managed to cover the most difficult part of the road. It was an enchanting sight. The rain had completely stopped. The riot of colors that flooded the mountainsides also became visible now. Wild flowers in all colors blossomed as far as we could see, oblivious to the human existence.

We were relaxed and happily chatting. The kids kept talking about the big birds and soon we entered the picturesque Chamba valley.

It was a journey through timelessness, an adventure which would haunt us all our lives. It remains a true Himalayan odyssey and an enchanting drive through the clouds.

(Image courtsey Google images)