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Category Archives: Travel
A chance conversation with a friend resulted in a short visit to Darjeeling, the “Queen of the Hills”. The idea was to commemorate a course I had attended at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling many years ago. Because of the incessant monsoon rains early September is not a good time to visit Darjeeling. But as we this was the only time slot available I decided to chance it.
Forest clad hills, huge trees, clear bubbling streams, strange bird calls, springs trickling from dense bamboo groves, men with bows and arrows; we are at Sarai Deeh, a small sleepy village populated by the Paliha tribe, deep in the jungles of central India. Sarai Deeh can only be reached in a 4×4 jeep with a good driver, and that when the weather is good. The nearest petrol pump is more than a hundred kilometers away, and modern India some light-years beyond the horizon.
We reached Kheechan by first light and made our way to the terrace of a building next to the “Chugga Ghar” (literally feeding house) in the semi darkness. It was a typical cold and silent pre-dawn of a desert village. After ensuring that we had a good vantage point, Ram Narain, our guide went downstairs to organize tea for everyone. Soon we were enjoying a steaming cup of sweet masala chai (Indian milk tea) and biscuits while we waited.
A tributary of the Sutlej, the Baspa river originates at a point near the tri-junction of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Tibet. It flows due west for about 60 kilometers before joining the Sutlej at Kharcham. This is the Baspa valley.
A part of the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, the Baspa valley lies in the lap of the great Himalayas. Sangla is its largest town, and therefore the Baspa valley is sometimes also referred to as the Sangla valley.
It was late in September 2011. I was in Leh on a dream assignment. The assignment was open ended. I was to make my own itinerary and travel to places of my choice at my own pace. The idea was to make a nice portfolio of images from Ladakh. I was alone in my trusty Bolero 4×4 jeeep and I had already covered the main Indus valley and the Nubra valley.
I was planning to leave for Zanskar when, I came to know that my friend Tribhuvan was in Leh. We met at his favourite restaurant for dinner. When he told me that he and his friend, Charles, were also planning to go to Zanskar, I proposed a joint “expedition” to Zansakar.
The Bandhavgarh National Park boasts of the highest tiger density in the world. It is also tourist friendly, easily accessible, has good visibility and has well made jungle tracks. In short, it is the best place in the world to see tigers in the wild.
During the last couple of years I have had the good fortune of visiting this park many times. I was photographing the Samode Safari Lodge, Bandhavgarh, and my work involved repeated visits.
I must have made at least 25 jeep safaris into the park during this period. Given the number of safaris and the “highest tiger density in the world” one would be forgiven to think that I would have seen a huge number of tigers during this time. Not true. Seeing tigers is not as easy as seeing their more exhibitionist cousins, the lions. In fact the Indian jungle is very different from the staple diet of the “African Savannah experience” tabled by the TV channels every day.
While in Leh, in September 2011, during a chance meeting with an officer from the Forest Department, I asked him whether it was possible to see wild Argali (Marco Polo sheep, Ovis Ammon) in Ladakh. It won’t be easy, he said, but it is possible. He told me that there was a small population of Marco Polo sheep in the Tso Kar Wildlife Sanctuary. Numbering about 150, this flock lived in the northern regions of the sanctuary. But, he added, the Argali were very shy and difficult to locate. He said it might be a good idea to look around for the Marco Polo sheep in the Tso Kar wildlife sanctuary on the way back to Manali.
I started from Leh at about 8 AM. I was alone, as nobody was ready to join me on this wild goose chase. My plan was to head to Gurudwara Pattharsahib and look for Ladakh Urail (Ovis orientalis vignei). During a chance conversation, a forest officer in Leh had informed me that there were a couple of flocks of Urial (a kind of wild sheep) which lived in the hills near the Gurudwara. The drive from Leh to Pattharsahib takes about an hour. I was there at 9 AM after an uneventful drive.