bNomadic

Book Talk: Darra Darra Himalaya

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Adventure travel writing in Hindi language does not occupy much space in travel and adventure section of bookshelves as most travellers prefer to write in English language for its wider acceptance globally. Although, many would-be adventurers are increasingly taking up travel-blog writing in Hindi yet publishing a book in the same league find fewer takers. The most popular travel writers whose writings have been translated in many languages include the likes of legendary Rahul Sankrityayan and Krishanath.

Posing a serious challenge to afore notion, the book Darra Darra Himalaya authored by Ajay Sodani captivates and takes you along on some of the toughest terrains of the Indian Himalayas. In his debut book, the author has chronicled his adventures through the challenging Kalindi Pass and Auden’s Col located in the Garhwal Himalayas. The fact that he trekked both the challenging high-altitude routes, along with his wife and a teenager son, got recognised by the Limca Book of Records. Written in Hindi, the book brings alive the breath-taking beauty of the route as well as the dangers associated with it.

The author Ajay Sodani is a doctor by profession and hails from Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Mesmerised forever by the spiritual pull of the Himalayas, the author and his family has been frequent travellers to the Himalayas, more particularly the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand. Not only the sereneness and raw nature of the terrain, Ajay Sodani has a deep respect for its original inhabitants and locals. Walking in the footsteps of his mother, Sodani decides to retrace and trek the routes which were once said to be popular with hardcore pilgrims.

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In the spring of 2005, the author and his family lands up in Uttarakashi to trek the glacial route connecting Gangotri with Badrinath via the Kalindi Pass. Popularly known as Kalindi Khal trek, completing this route is a no mean feat and can give jitters to even seasoned trekkers. With just enough supplies and assistance, the family completed the arduous 99 km trek that begins from Gangotri (3048m) and passes through Gaumukh (3892m), Nandanvan (4500m), Vasuki Tal (5300m), Kalindi Base (5590m), Kalindi Khal (5948m) before descending to Arwa Tal (3980m), Ghastoli (3600m) to reach Badrinath at 3100 m. The trail passes through some of the most fascinating Himalayan landscapes under the shadow of the Bhagirathi I, II and III, Shiblinga, Basuki, Chandraparbat and Satopanth peaks, etc.

Next up, in the monsoonal summers of 2009, the Sodani family was back in Uttarakashi; this time to trek the high-altitude route connecting Gangotri with Kedarnath via the Auden’s Col. The objective of this trek was to feel the raw and untouched Himalayas as well as to retrace the pilgrimage route popular in the Hindu mythology. The Auden’s Col is situated on the connecting ridge of Gangotri III (6577m) and Jogin I (6465 m); and offers a passage from the Rudugaira Glacier to reach the crevassed Khatling Glacier. Part of the route, the Col connects the Rudugaira valley with Bhilangna valley. The author later rated this route to be even tougher than the Kalindi Khal trek.

Enthusiasts particularly interested in these two treks would find this book to be full of preparatory information, a handicap which Sodani faced while planning his own adventures. All 160 pages of this book – comprising useful information and necessary details – make for an interesting read for anyone who is thinking of attempting these routes or similar feats elsewhere in the Himalayas. The best part is the frank and easy language used by the author in describing incidents on the go and you actually feel as if you are trekking along. The book is averagely priced at Rs 120 on most online resellers including Amazon.in

Book Talk: Inner Line Pass

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The book Inner Line Pass is a travel account of the author Umesh Pant who spent two unforgettable weeks in the Himalayan paradise on his trek to the Adi Kailash region located in eastern Kumaon. Occupying the easternmost wedge of Uttarakhand, the Adi Kailash range, abode of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, embraces the borders of Tibet and Nepal. The massif itself is bound on the west by the Darma Valley and by the Kuthi Yankti-Kali Rivers towards its east.

Also known as Chota Kailash, the Adi Kailash massif, is revered, since time immemorial, by the Hindus who consider it among their prime pilgrimage sites. Ever since the erection of a temple at Parvati Taal in 1973 and the laying of a mule track to Jolingkong at its base from the last village on the route, Kuthi, the Adi Kailash region is trekked by no less than several hundred pilgrims every year. The pilgrims undertake this arduous 100 km trek to pay their obeisance to Shiva, Parvati and the striking profile of the holy massif, which is best viewed from Parvati Taal.

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Umesh Pant hails from Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand and is a freelance journalist as well as a radio-scriptwriter. Enchanted by the Himalayas, the author seized the opportunity to trek the entire route from Dharchula on a small media junket. Giving more metage to expressing his blissful state of mind as he was mere hours away from breathing in the embrace of the Himalayas, Umesh briefly describes the preparations he made for the journey. Although he was born in the hills, this was going to be his first experience of travelling and trekking in the upper reaches of the Himalayas that requires more than just material preparation.

Written in Hindi, the story begins right from his rickety bus journey from New Delhi to Haldwani, his hitch hiking to reach the KMVN guest house at Dharchula as well as the initial hiccups faced in obtaining the mandatory Inner Line permit to get an access to the border region of Uttarakhand. The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) has setup basic infrastructure along the entire route as it organises the Adi Kailash Yatra annually. To his advantage, the author made the best use of the available infrastructure to make his journey somewhat comfortable.

The Adi Kailash Yatra as well as the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra follows the same route up till Gunji, after which the route bifurcates in different directions. To get a clearer and photographic view of the Om Parvat – considered sacred as the snow deposition pattern over its face resembles the ‘OUM’ () – one has to follow the Kailash Mansarovar route till Nabidhang, almost a day’s journey after Gunji. Having captured the Om Parvat massif in his camera, the author returned to Gunji to continue his way up to Jolingkong for the Adi Kailash.

On his way back, as the author narrates the ordeal he faced in the jungle after incessant rains, he has not only recreated his sufferings but has dramatically underscored that come what may mother nature will always be supreme. I only wish that Umesh could put some colourful photographs and include some finer details about the route.

In about 160 pages, the author has reconstructed the charm and Himalayan pull through the conversational overtone reflected through his writing style. Although, the author has been an active writer, this is his first travelogue published in the form of a book. For someone who wishes to travel to this remote region, the book is a pure delight waiting to be read. The book is currently available at an average price of Rs 80 at most online resellers including Amazon.in

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Book Talk: The Epic of Mount Everest

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The series of expeditions undertaken by the British in the early 1920s to stand atop the Mount Everest had globally spawned interest towards the mountain. Even as the expeditions resulted in thirteen deaths including those of the then celebrity mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, the question whether the summit was reached in 1924 remained a mystery.

A legend himself, Francis Younghusband, the author of The Epic of Mount Everest, was the promoter and instigator of the first four sustained assaults on the mountain. He was also, according to a frequently repeated story, the inventor of the very idea of trying to stand on the top of the Everest. Francis wrote this book, the definitive account of the 1921, 1922 and 1924 expeditions – in the aftermath of Mallory and Irvine’s death, when it was not clear whether a further attempt on the mountain would ever be permitted.

Subsequently, numerous claims were made, several stories and accounts published and several generalities followed, but the tantalising mystery became even deeper. The heightened interest gave way to several such expeditions which were organised just to trace the remains of Mallory and Irvine so as to ascertain the claims of a successful summit attempt. It was more than seven decades later when by a mix of adventure and luck, the alabaster corpse of Mallory was discovered high on the slopes of Everest during the summer of 1999. The discovery had a spectacular universal impact. By now, Mallory was widely recognised as the emblem of the early Everest expeditions.

The book is currently available at Amazon and online resellers at an average price of Rs 150.

The book is currently available at Amazon at an average price of Rs 150.

Mallory’s body was found to be lying face down at full stretch, with his right leg broken and fingers gripping the frozen gravel in a desperate attempt to slide no further. There was no camera, but by analysing notes in his pockets and other fresh data, his discoverers concluded that the probability of a successful summit was greater than previously thought. The mystery remains with the elusive camera and its cold, undeveloped film; the only way a definitive answer might ever be found.

The discovery of Mallory’s preserved body and some of his other belongings in the snow at 27,000 ft had renewed the interest in those early Everest expeditions. The book The Epic of Mount Everest, originally published in 1926 was republished in 2000 with some more photographs from the earlier expeditions. The Indian born Francis Younghusband, who made his reputation as a spy and explorer in China and Central Asia as well as led the 1903 British invasion of Tibet, condensed the descriptions of the three expeditions into one book.

Separate chronicles of the three Mount Everest expeditions had already been written by those who took part in them, and have been published in the three books, Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance, 1921; The Assault on Mount Everest, 1922; and The Fight for Everest, 1924. The book by Francis tastefully brings out the crux of all the expeditions in just about 250 pages. The current edition of the book has its introduction penned by the celebrity author Patrick French. It becomes even more interesting to read what one legend writes about the other.

Through this book, Francis not only captures the essence of the three British expeditions but has added his own analysis and explanations gathered from his mammoth experience of explorations, mountains and the Himalayas. “Everest indeed conquered their bodies. But their spirit is undying. No man onward from now will ever climb a Himalayan peak and not think of Mallory and Irvine,” he concludes.

Apart from mountaineering, the book contains a great deal of knowledge for a naturalist, historianHimalayan lover and anyone who loves to travel. I’d recommend this book to every mountaineering, exploration and Himalayan enthusiast. The book is currently available at Amazon and other online resellers at an average price of Rs 150.

Jubbal Diary: The Hateshwari Temple of Hatkoti

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Continuing our run through some of the lesser visited parts of the inhabited Himalayas, we next stopped at the ancient Hateshwari temple at Hatkoti. The ancient village of Hatkoti, located on the right bank of the River Pabbar in Himachal Pradesh, has a number of stone shikhara temples unpredictably scattered over an area of five square km. Based on the architecture and carvings, archaeologically the temples are placed between the sixth and ninth centuries and many still relate their construction to the revival of Hinduism by Shankaracharya during the same period. Many locals claim that it was constructed by the Pandavas who spent a considerable time at Hatkoti during their exile.

The green Pabbar Valley

The green Pabbar Valley. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. Please visit Flickr for more images from the region.

The village of Hatkoti by the Pabbar River

The village of Hatkoti by the Pabbar River. More images from the region at Flickr

Built in the nagara style, the classical temples of Hatkoti have always been a major attraction for both pilgrims and travellers. Centring on the Mata Hateshwari and Shiva temples, the temple complex is surrounded by lush paddy fields interspersed with a few dharamshalas and official buildings. Of the two, the main temple is that of Durga Devi, the mahishasuramardini – the slayer of the demon Mahishasura. In the local parlance, the Devi is known as Hateshwari. Legend has it that two sisters of Jubbal Valley together renounced the world and devoted themselves to the service of mankind. The elder sister was accepted as a manifestation of the Goddess Hateshwari Devi and a temple built in her honour.

Thar at the gate; the vehicle did quite a descent job up in the mountains

Thar at the gate; I must say, the vehicle did quite a descent job up in the mountains. More at Flickr

Yours truly lined up at the prasad shop outside the temple complex

Yours truly lined up at the prasad shop outside the temple complex. More images at Flickr

The Hatkoti complex was being observed with wonderment from as early as early nineteenth century, when a British traveller, JB Fraser noted the temples with Chinese type large overhanging roof with ornamented cornices and carvings. We parked our vehicle in the parking area maintained just before the entrance gate. The PWD guest house complex is situated just at the entrance. The prasad shops and a couple of dhabas are also located near the entrance gate itself. Photography inside the premises of the complex was restricted but not prohibited completely.

Both the main shrines, that face east, were repaired and given new roofs by Maharana Padam Chandra of Jubbal in 1885. The slate tiled pyramidal roof of the main temple was adorned with a marble amalaka and a golden kalasha. The original stone shikhara of the temple is now kept at the entrance to the premises. The Jubbal Chief enclosed the original structure of the temple with wood and stone walls to protect it from the damages of the harsh climate. This has led many experts to claim that even the Hateshwari temple could have been built on the remains of an earlier temple in the ninth to tenth centuries.

Legend has it that two sisters of Jubbal Valley together renounced the world and devoted themselves to the service of mankind. The elder sister was accepted as a manifestation of the Goddess Hateshwari Devi and a temple built in her honour.

Legend has it that two sisters of Jubbal Valley together renounced the world and devoted themselves to the service of mankind. The elder sister was accepted as a manifestation of the Goddess Hateshwari Devi and a temple built in her honour. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More at Flickr

The adjacent Shiva temple was built around a large lingam enshrined in it. Its ceiling is exquisitely carved with figures of various Gods and Goddesses.

The adjacent Shiva temple was built around a large lingam enshrined in it. Its ceiling is exquisitely carved with figures of various Gods and Goddesses. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More images from the region at Flickr

The cold floor of the complex was carpeted with green coloured fabric to create comfortable walkways. We headed straight to the main temple. Said to be dated the seventh century, the 1.22 m tall idol, made of ashtadhatu, of the Goddess is placed inside the dark sanctum; typical of most ancient temples of Himachal Pradesh. The deity is depicted as Goddess Mahishasurmardini with eight arms, riding a lion and slaying the demon Mahishasur. She is illustrated with all her attributes, most notably her chakra, which she holds in the rarely seen prayogamudra. One of her left hands holds another demon, Raktabija by a lock of his hair.

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Goddess Mahishasurmardini. Source: Temple’s Facebook Page (Photography is restricted inside the complex)

The smaller shrines have dvaramandapas supported by stone pillars with big sculptures of Shiva carved on them. Locals believe them to have been built by Pandavas and often call them Pandavo Ka Khilona or toy houses of the five Pandavas.

The smaller shrines have dvaramandapas supported by stone pillars with big sculptures of Shiva carved on them. Locals believe them to have been built by Pandavas and often call them Pandavo Ka Khilona or toy houses of the five Pandavas. More images from the region at Flickr

Inside the sanctum on either side of the idol, the inscriptions, most of which are yet to be deciphered, are also said to be dated seventh or eighth centuries. On the arch of the torana are the navdurga, veenadhara Shiva and other Gods led by Indra. On the two sides are the celestial horse, Hayagriva and the elephant, Airayata. Curiously a copper pitcher emblematic of Parshurama is also kept there and is taken out in a procession during fairs as a representation from the temple.

Evening landscape from a point below Kharapathar.

Evening landscape from a point below Kharapathar. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More images at Flickr

Within the shrine, a stone sculpture of the Goddess is shown carrying a thunderbolt in one hand; an act that point towards the Goddess of Vajrayana Buddhism. The lips of the sculpture are inlaid with copper and the eyes with silver. The adjacent Shiva temple was built around a large lingam enshrined in it. Its ceiling is exquisitely carved with figures of various Gods and Goddesses. Between the main Hateshwari Devi and Shiva temples is a bhandargriha that consists of various objects used during festivals and fairs. Part of the sprawling complex, a beautiful baithak is also built where devotees gather for religious ceremonies and conversations.

The apple bowl of the Himalayas

The apple bowl of the Himalayas. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More images from the region at Flickr

Although, we were walking on the carpet only, yet our feet were frozen from the chilled floor. Another attraction within the complex was five small shrines adjacent to the Shiva temple. The smaller shrines have dvaramandapas supported by stone pillars with big sculptures of Shiva carved on them. Locals believe them to have been built by Pandavas and often call them Pandavo Ka Khilona or toy houses of the five Pandavas. Several sculpted images of Gods and Goddesses such as Vishnu, Vishnu-Lakshmi on garuda, Ganesha and Durga have been kept outside these shrines, which are worshipped by the devotees. Having spent close to an hour inside the complex, we polished off a hearty dahl chapati meal in one of the dhabas outside the complex.

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Getting There

The heritage temple of Hateshwari or Hatkoti is located at a distance of nearly 100 km from Shimla via Theog and Kharapathar. The road length from Dehradun is approximately 200 km. Budget more time than usual to cover both the stretches because of potholed road network.

Average Altitude: 1450m
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn
Travel Lure: Heritage
Accommodation: Plentiful with dharamsalas

Garhwal Diary: Mahasu Devta Temple of Hanol

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The rugged and mountainous expanse between the Satluj and Yamuna Rivers in the western Himalayas, irrespective of the administrative boundaries of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has broadly been occupied by heterogeneous group of people; some of whom are native to the land and the others who settled here under various socio-economic pressures. Much like the rest of the Himalayan interiors, the area has remained dominated by primitive animistic cults, a reason enough to invite curious travellers to the region.

Magical morning from the ridges of Chakrata

Magical morning from the ridges of Chakrata. Please visit Flickr for more images of the region

On way back from Taluka, gateway to Har-Ki-Dun.

On way back from Taluka, gateway to Har-Ki-Dun. More images from the region at Flickr

The Tons Valley; the Tons is the largest tributary of River Yamuna

The Tons Valley; the Tons is the largest tributary of the Yamuna. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More at Flickr

A few months back, while returning from Har-Ki-Dun, we went over to the Hanol village in the scenic Tons (or ancient Tamas) Valley in the Bawar region of Garhwal. The village happens to be the main seat of the chief deity of the region – Mahasu Devta, an embodiment of Lord Mahashiva, the supreme God of not only the mortals but the innumerable subordinate Gods and Goddesses of the Himalayas.

Mahashiva Dwar marks the main entrance to the temple complex

Mahashiva Dwar marks the main entrance to the temple complex. More images at Flickr Photoset

Surrounded by small hills, the ancient Mahasu Devta temple is sited on a clearing just below the main Tiuni-Mori road by the left bank of the crystal-clear Tons. Built in the ninth century, the temple is secured by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and has emerged as a prominent tourist attraction of the area near Chakrata. Named after a Brahmin – Huna Bhatt, the temple was initially constructed in Huna architectural style and subsequently acquired a mixed style with expansion.

The ancient Mahasu Devta temple at Hanol

The ancient Mahasu Devta temple at Hanol. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

The main shrine inside the temple complex and the site where animal sacrifices used to held

The main shrine inside the temple complex and the site of animal sacrifices. More images at Flickr

A sacred shrine to mark the four brothers

A sacred shrine representing the four brothers. More images from the region at Flickr

The Mahasu Devta temple of Hanol lies just at the administrative boundaries of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The temple is located at a five minutes walking distance from the GMVN property. Having devoted the early hours of the day for birding, we left for the temple quite late after breakfast. Even though, the village market was yet to open, the prasad shops selling flowers, malas and other religious offerings were fully opened for business. Barring some locals, a few goats and lambs, there weren’t many living beings when we entered the temple complex. The small doors of the sanctum sanctorum were still locked.

The main shrine inside the temple complex

The main shrine inside the temple complex. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More image at Flickr

The remote location of the temple may not be as frequented by tourists but is held in very high regards by local Jaunsar-Bawar hill people. Legend has it that in the times gone by, the surrounding hills were terrorized by a demon named Mandarth until pious Deoladi Devi pleaded with the Shiva, who incarnated as her sons to defeat the demon. Since then, the villagers started worshipping the four brave sons – Botha Mahasu, Pavasik, Vasik and Chalda here in the region. The temple of Botha Mahasu is the main shrine at Hanol even as the Pavasi Devta’s temple is located just across the Tons atop a small hillock. The Vasik Devta’s temple is a 40km trek up the mountain from Pavasi’s temple, whereas the Chalda Devta’s temple is a 2km trek from Tiuni.

The Pavasi Devta temple at Hanol

The Pavasi Devta temple at Hanol. More at Flickr

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Lore goes that during the Mahabharata era, the King Duryodhana reached the area after travelling through Kashmir and Kullu. He ultimately preferred to settle down in the region. So he is said to have prayed to the Mahasu Devta at Hanol asking for a piece of land. The deity not only accepted his pleas but made him the king of the area. He made Jakholi his capital village where a temple is commemorated to him.

As we roamed around in the complex, we came across some more stories related to the temple. The locals told us about the site where animal sacrifices were held annually until the tradition was reversed in the year 2004. A fair at the temple is held every year in August when the deity is taken out in a procession by the followers comprising people from nearby districts. Architecturally, the Mahasu Devta temple at Hanol is a perfect example where stone and wooden structure harmoniously blends to form one composite grand edifice. It took a while before the doors of the main shrine were opened.

The fertile Tons Valley near Hanol

The fertile Tons Valley near Hanol. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More images from the region at Flickr

Mata Deoladi Temple built a little downstream to commemorate the birthplace of four brave brothers

Mata Deoladi Temple built a little downstream to commemorate the birthplace of four brave brothers. Photo by Sarabjit Lehal. More images from the region at Flickr

On a different note, a curious aspect of the Hanol temple is that what the people worship as the Mahasu Devta in the sanctum-sanctorum, in fact, looks to be a statue of the Buddha seated in the bhumisparsha mudra. It may bring us to the point that before this area was overtaken by the Shivaism, the complex at Hanol might have been an active centre of the Buddhism. Even the layout of the temple complex indicates the possibility of existence of a well-defined monastic complex.

The junction of Tiuni by the river Tons

The junction of Tiuni by the river Tons. Photo by Sarabjit LehalPlease visit Flickr for more images

All in all, other than your religious inclinations, if you have interest in culture and history of the region, devote at least a day to Hanol. Take a walk along the Tons valley floor or the road towards Mori, for watching birds.

Getting There

The heritage temple of Hanol is located at a distance of nearly 100 km from Chakrata. The road length from Dehradun is approximately 190km. Budget more time than usual to cover the stretches because of bumpy and patchy road network. Another approach from Dehradun could be via Mussoorie, Naugaon and Purola.

Average Altitude: 1230m
Best time to visit: Winters and spring
Travel Lure: Heritage and Birdlife
Accommodation: Limited with a GMVN facility