Tag Archives: Himalayas

Nainital: Through new eyes


From a former British hill station to a bustling tourist hub, the picture-perfect town of Nainital has come a long way; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trace the history of India’s beautiful lake town


As we drove into bustling Nainital, it seemed hard to imagine that few outsiders knew of its existence till early 19th century. George William Traill, the first British Deputy Commissioner of Kumaon and the Commissioner from 1815 to 1835 learnt of this enchanting lake ringed by mountains and meadows, from local people who celebrated their annual fair here.

Yet, his love for the natives and their simple pahadi ways made him keep its location a well-kept secret for years. Traill feared that such a beautiful spot would become a European escape from the hot summers of the North Indian lowlands and the influx of people would besmirch its pristine environment. Looking at hotels and tenements crowding the hills and hordes of holidayers around, proved how Traill’s worst fears had come true…


On the fateful day of 18 November 1841, Peter Barron, a wealthy sugar and wine merchant from Shahjahanpur, ‘discovered’ Nynee-thal. Writing under the pen name ‘Pilgrim’ in the Agra Gazeteer, he gave a vivid picture of the discovery of this lake-land in “Notes of Wanderings in the Himalaya.” Barron wrote: “It is by far the best site I have witnessed in the course of a 1,500 miles (2,400 km) trek in the Himalayas.”

He constructed Pilgrim Lodge, the first European house and before long, the township became a health resort for British soldiers, officials and their families. Churches were built, a hill station began to flourish and Nainital became the summer residence of the governor and summer capital of the United Provinces.


Over time, Indian royalty followed suit, setting up their own summer retreats. Ashdale, one of the earliest cottages in Nainital built in 1860 by Captain George Rowels was bought by the Raja Bahadur of Sahaspur Bilari Estate. WelcomHeritage recently renovated it into a heritage hotel.

The Palace Belvedere belongs to the erstwhile Rajas of Awagarh, Balrampur House was the summer palace of the Maharajas of Balrampur while Leisure Hotels’ swanky Naini Retreat was the summer residence of the Maharaja of Pilibhit. They also run Earl’s Court, established in 1890 as the summer home of Captain P. Richardson.


The town was perched in a hollow at 1938m and radiated around Naini Lake, which supposedly mirrors the emerald green eyes of goddess Sati. According to puranic folklore, after Sati’s death, Lord Shiva carried her body and walked with heavy sorrowful steps, which caused the earth to tremble.

To save the planet from destruction, Lord Vishnu unleashed his discus sudarshan chakra and dismembered Sati’s body. At each place a body part fell gave rise to a Shakti pitha. It is believed her left eye (nain in Hindi) fell at this spot and created a beautiful crater lake – Nainital. It’s believed to be shaped like an eye, though it appeared more like a kidney!


At the foot of the lake was Tallital while Mallital formed the head of the lake at the town’s north end, the older, colonial part of Nainital. Connecting these two ends was The Mall, a 1.5km promenade of restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops. The Nainital Boat House Club stood on the edge of a large plain called The Flats, result of a devastating landslide in 1880 that flattened the Victoria Hotel, and 150 people along with it.

In a great display of secularism, a gurdwara, the Jama Masjid and the Naina Devi Temple stood near each other. Not far was St Francis Catholic Church (or Lake Church), the first Methodist Church in India, established in 1858. An NCC troupe practiced their march-past while small bands of boys played cricket. At the Tibetan Market, stalls had colourful sweaters, gloves, momos, Free Tibet stickers and cheap souvenirs that were ironically Made-in-China.


Away from the touristy boat cruises and horse rides, we hoped to cover the less explored side of the largest town in Kumaon. Driving past the sprawling Manu Maharani hotel we reached our base Shervani Hilltop, tucked into the hillside. There was no ‘lake view’ but it was blissfully cut off from the town’s bustle. It was sweet to see a board crediting the two gardeners Mohan Singh Bhandari and Mohan Singh Jarhot for maintaining ‘Mohan Singh Garden’ for 40 years. After a leisurely breakfast we set off on our local explorations.

A short walk away was St John in the Wilderness, a Gothic stone church in a clearing. The strange name was given by Reverend Daniel Wilson, the fifth Bishop of Calcutta and the first Metropolitan of India and Ceylon, who visited Nainital one wintry February in 1844 to lay its foundation stone. The story goes that being early season, most English homes were closed and the Bishop had to sleep in an unfinished house on the edge of the forest and fell ill.


While recuperating in the wilderness of Nainital, Wilson was reminded of his time as assistant curator for St. John’s Chapel at Bedford Row, hence the name. Inside the church a brass memorial commemorated the victims of the 1880 landslip and few victims were buried in its graveyard. The attached cemetery was the oldest in town and we paid our respects at the tombstone of George Thomas Lushington. As Commissioner of Kumaon he developed the town, planned the layout of The Mall and also scouted the best vantages that were today’s viewpoints.

Tiffin Top (7,520 ft) was a 4km hike up a stone-paved trail lined with fir and deodar trees. It took us 45 minutes to get to the terraced hilltop on Ayarpatta hill, with a small Shiva shrine. But how could we leave without tiffin at Tiffin Top? At the lone chai stall we savoured a view of the Himalayas over tea and bowls of Maggi.


Dorothy’s Seat nearby, was a stone picnic perch built as a memorial to Dorothy Kellet by her husband Col JP Kellett of the City of London Regiment, and her admirers after her death in 1936. However, she was not buried here but at The Red Sea after she died of septicemia aboard a ship bound for England to be with her children.

On our return, at Lover’s Point (oddly Suicide Point was not too far away), tourists haggled at the horse stand for rides to viewpoints like Khurpa Tal, Himalaya Darshan, Tiger Top, Lands End and Naina Peak (2610 m), the highest point of Nainital. At Bara Patthar nearby, the Nainital Mountaineering Club had a rock climbing wall for adventure enthusiasts.


We descended the rugged and woody Anyarpatta hill. The forests were so dense than sunrays could not penetrate the vegetation; in Kumaoni anyar-patt means ‘the part of complete darkness’. The lakeside road at the base of the hill was called Thandi Sadak (Cold Road) for the same reason.

Little wonder, it was on the quiet western slopes of the lake that Sri Aurobindo Ashram ran a Van Niwas Himalayan Centre. Tiger conservationist and author Jim Corbett too stayed at Guerney House, his last dwelling in India before returning to England. Few know that Corbett was a Municipal Board member at Nainital and spent Rs.4000 of his personal funds to build the Band Stand. In the 70s’s every summer evening Mr. Ram Singh’s famous band played Kumaoni and popular Bollywood tunes.


Ambling down Thandi Sadak, we crossed a slew of temples – Shani Mandir, a sacred rock shrine of Nainital’s patron goddess Pashandevi and a temple of Kumaoni god Golu Devta. The Lake Bridge connecting the two banks had a post office, the only one in the world to be located on a bridge!

Walking south of the lake to Tallital, we took a steep 1.5km climb to Nainital High Altitude Zoo, named in memory of Bharat Ratna Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant. The enclosures occupy a steep slope with sharp gradients so it won’t be just the leopards, Tibetan wolves, Himalayan black bears and iridescent pheasants that make you gasp for breath.


Nainital has a vibrant candle making industry and we peeped into Mehrotras House of Wax, the oldest candle shop in Nainital. Also worth a look is The Pahari Store, factory showroom of Anil Candles who specialize in decorative, perfumed, floating and gel candles in every shape, size and colour. They also stock excellent jams, pickles, honey, Himalayan herbs, organic food and spices, handmade soaps and cosmetics, scarves and woolens. Black and white photos of founder RS Virmani gifting exclusive candles to Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman adorned the wall.

Sadly, the most magnificent building in Nainital was out of bounds. Raj Bhavan, formerly Government House, was built in 1899 by architect F.W. Stevens in the Victorian ‘domestic’ Gothic style. The erstwhile summer residence of colonial era governors, it has a lovely golf course attached to it. The Old Secretariat, built in 1900, currently houses the Uttarakhand High Court. We headed back to Shervani after a really long day. We were so tired, we skipped the evening entertainment and grabbed an early dinner.


Early morning, we were ready to visit Snow View (7,450 ft) at Sher-ka-Danda ridge northeast of town. There’s a cable car from the Mall but we preferred the 2km hike. Halfway up, Tibetan prayer flags announced the small Gadhan Kunkyopling Gompa of the Gelukpa order. It was a clear day and the snowy peaks of Nanda Devi, Trisul and Nanda Kot looked resplendent. The trail continued 4km to Naina Peak.

Nainital is a great base to explore nearby lakes like Sat Tal (23km), Bhimtal and Naukuchiyatal and century old forest rest houses at Kilbury, Vinayak and Kunjakharak. At Pangot spot 500 bird species. But for this, a 2-day jaunt seemed too little. Rudyard Kipling was right. In his 1889 ‘Story of the Gadsbys,’ he wrote on heartbreak, “Two months of Naini Tal works wonders…”



Getting there
277km north of Delhi, Nainital is just over an hour’s drive from the nearest railway station Kathgodam (35km south).

Where to Stay
Shervani Hilltop Nainital
Ph 05942 233800

Manu Maharani
Ph 05942 237342

The Naini Retreat/The Earl’s Court
Ph 011-46520000, 9555088000

WelcomHeritage Ashdale
Ph 011-46035500

Balrampur House
Ph 05942 236236, 231058

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 1 Sep 2018 in the Travel supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

Landour: Writer’s Bloc


Expansive view of the Himalayas, shaded wooded glens and quaint colonial bungalows have made Landour a writers’ getaway for ages, discovers ANURAG MALLICK

Landour-Rokeby Manor Log Cabin

As I set off from Rokeby Manor along the old bridle trail called the ‘Chukkar’ encircling the three summits of Landour ridge, the pre-dawn mountain air was crisp and invigorating. The pretty forested hillside was dotted with gabled bungalows with names like Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Waverly and Woodstock, echoing themes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Some of the colonial era cottages mirrored their Scottish and Irish heritage – Scottsburn, Wolfsburn, Redburn, Shamrock Cottage, Tipperary, Killarney. It was hard to understand why the British-era cantonment of Landour, 6km uphill from Mussoorie, was named after Llanddowror, a village thousands of miles away in southwest Wales!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The story goes back to early 19th century, when the British halted the Gurkha conquest of Kumaon–Garhwal and moved from the plains of Dehradun to create a military sanatorium in the hills. In 1825, Captain Young, the ‘discoverer’ of Mussoorie and commandant of the first Gurkha battalion raised after the Gurkha War, built the first permanent home in Landour. His house, Mullingar, was named after his county town in Ireland. By early 20th century, Mullingar became a hotel, and during World War II, was leased to the army to accommodate the spillover of wounded soldiers from the sanatorium.

I followed the path to Lal Tibba or Depot Hill, referring to the convalescent ‘depot’ that stretched around Landour’s highest point Childer’s Lodge. It was the best spot in town to catch a glimpse of a 200km long stretch of the Himalayas. And I was just in time for the spectacle. As dawn broke, the first rays of the sun fell on Himalayan peaks like Swargarohini, Bandarpunch, Chaukhamba and Nanda Devi, turning them pink, red and then a dazzling golden yellow. The telescope on top of the double-storey viewing platform offered a closer look at the ranges.

Landour Lal Tibba_IMG_0661_Anurag Mallick

Though the Chukkar became motorable in the late 1950s, a leisurely stroll is the best way of enjoying Landour’s few sights strewn along the  circular route – Landour cemetery, Kellogg’s Memorial Church and St. Paul’s Church. I reached Char Dukan, a cluster of Indian-run establishments since colonial times at the site of the old parade ground. Being a Convalescent Depot, correspondence was critical for those recuperating here so Capt Young started the Landour Cantonment Post Office in 1827, which still stood at the chowk.

Locals and tourists flock to Anil’s Café for his chai, parathas, bun-omelette and Maggi. Sachin Tendulkar, who came on a holiday to Mussoorie, made a stopover here and his Twitter endorsement graces the wall. After a large glass of the famous Ginger Lemon Honey Tea, I walked back to Rokeby in time for a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and delicious Mustard Chicken.

Rokeby Manor_IMG_0607_Anurag Mallick

Rokeby Manor, a colonial bungalow painstakingly revamped into a boutique hotel, was built in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy. Like many of the bungalows, it took its name from the writings of Sir Walter Scott, whose epic poem describes battles fought near Rokeby Castle in England. “I saw his melancholy smile, Where full opposed in front he knew, Where Rokeby’s kindred banner flew…” Rokeby’s restaurant Emily’s was named after British author Emily Eden who stayed in Landour and chronicled the highs and lows of colonial life. Literature runs deep in Landour…

If you turn back the pages of history, Landour’s literary affair is not new. The British cemetery on Camel Back Road is the resting place of John Lang, dubbed as the ‘first Australian novelist’, who lived in Landour between 1850–60s. His grave dating back to 1864 was rediscovered by Ruskin Bond. This quiet nook in the Himalayas is home to leading writers such as Ruskin Bond, Bill Aitken, Allan Sealy, travel writers Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, and film personalities Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj.


Rokeby Manor changed hands from a British soldier to adventurer Pahari Wilson to Reverend Woodside, one of the founders of Woodstock School, set up in 1854 for American children. After it was acquired by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Rokeby was converted into a boarding house for missionary ladies studying Urdu and Hindi at the Landour Language School nearby. And that’s how its brush with hospitality began…

Away from the clamour of Mussoorie, Rokeby is a welcome patch of serenity. The lovingly renovated rooms with stone walls, quaint arches and parquet floors open out to a Tea Garden overlooking the Doon valley. After soaking in the scenery over a steaming cuppa, it was time to set out again.

Rokeby manor

Strewn across the hillside are a cluster of 19th century colonial cottages called Rokeby Residences, each offering stand-alone experiences. Staying at Rokeby gave me a chance to pop by for a look. The three-bedroom Bothwell Bank was a stone-clad log cabin with pine wood décor, fireplaces, a well-stocked kitchen, barbecue area and an outdoor jacuzzi! Shamrock Cottage, built in the 1800’s, came with a spacious garden.

The two-storied Tabor Lodge had a private deck with a tree house sit out lined with herbs in outsized cups. Pine Tree Lodge was inspired by Scandinavian architecture, with colourful patchwork stools, vintage lamps and traditional Finnish artwork. Each residence was unique! The Stubli Café serves Swiss and European cuisine while Ale House was styled like an ‘Olde English Pub’. After a nice relaxing massage at Rokeby’s Little Salon & Spa Shed, I was ready to take on Landour again!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

It is a great base for nature walks to Jabarkhet nature reserve, Kulti village or a more rigorous trek to the nearby hills of Nag Tibba. I was happy to restrict myself to less strenuous perambulations like Sisters Bazaar. Nursing sisters had their barracks near the market and visited it often, hence the name. Since Landour became home to American missionaries as early as the 1830s, it was the first place in India where the peanut butter was made commercially!

When India gained freedom in 1946, most European settlers disposed their properties and left Landour. And that’s how the peanut butter and food-processing machines ended up in the hands of Anil Prakash’s family. Prakash’s Store is famous for its chunky or smooth peanut butter, home-made cheese, jams and preserves, though it stocks pretty much everything. There’s a local saying, “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Emily’s sister establishment Clocktower Café in Landour Bazaar, stands at the exact spot of an old clock tower. With funky decor and music posters, it is a great place for pizzas, pastas, burgers and Chinese fare. Back in the day, while Landour largely remained a British preserve, Indians were restricted to Mussoorie. From the Nawabs of Oudh to the princely states of Katesar, Kuchesar, Rajpipla, Alwar, Jind and Baroda, the who’s who of Indian royalty built opulent summer homes and made Mussoorie their retreat.

Hotel Padmini Nivas, set up by a British colonel in the 1840s, became home to a queen from Gujarat. The Nabha Palace is run as a hotel by The Claridges. The Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau occupies a lofty perch above The Savoy. However, one of the oldest buildings in Mussoorie is Kasmanda Palace, built above The Mall in 1836, now a WelcomHeritage hotel.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Since colonial times, the main hub of activity has been the 1.5km long pedestrian avenue The Mall. Once out of bound for natives, ironically, the same stretch is now overrun by Indian tourists who throng its cafes and shops. A ropeway from the Mall takes tourists up to the second highest peak Gun Hill, where a gun used to be fired at noon to tell locals the time. After a series of accidents, the practice was abandoned in 1919, but the name stuck… Camel Back Road, named after a distinctive camel-shaped rocky outcrop, is a loop trail leading off The Mall with an old British cemetery, where several local luminaries have been laid to rest.

Mussoorie was home to Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India between 1830–43 and the man behind the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Tasked with measuring the world’s highest peaks, it was in his memory that Mount Everest was named. The ruins of Sir Everest’s whitewashed home stands at the edge of a cliff west of town beyond Hathipaon, whose three ridges resemble the foot of an elephant when seen from a vantage.


Just 3km from Hathipaon overlooking Benog Wildlife Sanctuary, Cloud End is one of the four original houses in Mussoorie. As per legend, when Major Swetenham came hunting from Landour, he heard a Pahari woman singing in the forest. The officer fell in love with Gulabo and followed her home. Her father, a local landlord, presented the estate as dowry in 1838. The house was named Clouds End after a peak opposite Major Swetenham’s home in Edmontia in Wales. Home to four generations till 1965, it is now run as a heritage hotel and the restaurant is named Rose after Gulabo’s baptised name.

I slowly trudged back to the Mall, bowled over by Landour’s wealth of stories. When famous American writer and traveler Lowell Thomas visited Mussoorie in 1926, he wrote about The Savoy: “There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their beds.” Today, Landour depends on more conventional ways of telling the time, though the pace is still languorous and time does stop once in a while to pause and enjoy the view.

Rokeby Manor_IMG_0612_Anurag Mallick

Discover This: Seven Years in Tibet, via Landour
Famous Austrian mountaineer, geographer and writer Heinrich Harrer, part of the four-member team that scaled the Swiss peak Eiger’s legendary ‘North Face’, is best known for his 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet (made into a movie). He was on an expedition to Nanga Parbat when World War II broke out and he was taken prisoner. Harrer was moved to the internment camp in Dehradun, where several failed attempts later, he and his associates finally broke out and escaped to Tibet via Landour.

At its closest point, Tibet is just 70 miles away. In 1959, when the Chinese forcibly occupied Tibet, the Dalai Lama made the epic crossing from Lhasa to Landour. He and his band of followers walked for 15 days and reached Mussoorie on 20 April 1959. Happy Valley, a scenic corner beyond the polo ground, became the first Tibetan settlement in India, before the seat was shifted to Dharamsala.

Rokeby manor


Getting there
Landour is 37.5 km from Dehradun by road (1 hr 30 min) and 7km from Mussoorie. The nearest airport is Jolly Grant, Dehradun. Jet Airways, Indigo, Spice Jet & Air India fly from Delhi to Dehradun.

Where to Stay

Rokeby Manor
Rajamandi, Landour Cantonment
Ph 0135 2631093
Tariff ₹7000-12000

Cloud End
Near Hathipaon
Ph 9634096861
Tariff ₹5700-7500

Kasmanda Palace
The Mall, Mussoorie
Ph 0135 2632424
Tariff ₹7000

Padmini Nivas
The Mall, Mussoorie
Ph 0135 2631093
Tariff ₹3500-7000


Where to Eat 

Anil’s Café
Pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, parathas, Maggi & ginger honey lemon tea
Ph 0135-2633783, 9259572558

Dev Dar Woods
12 rooms with terrific Himalayan views and wood-fired pizzas
Ph 0135-2632544
Email anilprakash56@yahoo.com

Doma’s Inn
Ivy Cottage, Landour
Tibetan run inn with rooms and a lovely restaurant serving great thukpa and momos
Ph 0135-2634873/4, 9259740461

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the June-July 2017 issue of Discover India magazine. 

Lofty heights: Tree houses in India


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY lead an arboreal existence as they pick out the best tree houses in the country


We remember the first time we got onto a treehouse was sometime in 2001 when Green Magic in Wayanad had pioneered the concept of treehouses in Kerala. It was like a childhood fantasy come true as we imagined we’d be ushered like Phantom and Diana by Bandar into a counter-weighted basket that would magically zoom up in the air. We wondered if the jungle vine would snap or was it a ladder we had to climb? Walking through the lush plantation, we reached the edge of a ravine from where a gently sloping wooden ramp led to the thatched hut.

Gingerly walking up the ramp we reached the rustic hut with a small balcony and a low bed made of bamboo. We were above the tree line and the aerial perch afforded a birds’ eye view, literally. The sight of bright orange and black scarlet minivets flitting about the dense shrubbery was magical. The thrill of being up there and spending a night as the wind creaked the tree can never be forgotten.

image description

That was 16 years ago, when the concept of a tree house was quite novel and still taking root. Today, every nature resort or plantation stay worth its salt prides in having at least one tree house or machan. But gone are the days of rustic simplicity; today’s treehouses come equipped with all kinds of creature comforts.

The best place to experience tree houses in India is undoubtedly Wayanad. It is no coincidence that the hilly district, with its abundant nature, mountainous terrain and rich tribal knowledge, is a stronghold for tree houses. Many resorts have relied on the traditional knowhow of local tribes.

Tranquil Wayanad

Tranquil Resort at Kolagapara near Ambalavayal used to have a treehouse with an actual basket that transported you to the top. However, they have renovated their old perches into the Tranquilitree tree house, perched at 45 feet on a gulmohar tree. The rustic 572 sq ft living space comes with an en-suite bathroom, verandah, mini-fridge, LCD TV and coffee maker. However, kids below 8 are not allowed due to safety concerns.

High above the rainforest canopy, Vythiri Resort has five tree houses ranging from 35 ft to 80 ft off the ground, including a child friendly one! Natural spring water has been channeled from a high source so gravity takes care of water supply without using a motor for pumping water. The quaint thatch roof and bamboo walls have been built by members of the local tribal community using locally sourced materials. Plenty of precautions are taken – guests are asked to pack light with heavy luggage kept in a locker room and no food, liquor or smoking is allowed up there. It’s the perfect escape for couples or honeymooners.


The newest entrant into Wayanad’s extended treehouse family is Pepper Trail near Sulthan Bathery. Lined by cheery orange and red heliconia, the driveway sliced through the expansive Mangalam Carp Estate, set up by pioneering planter Scotsman Colin Auley Mackenzie in the 1800s. At the tiled roof Pavilion deck, a refreshing drink of lime was served overlooking coffee shrubs interspersed with tall silver oak and 1,200 jackfruit trees.

On a sturdy jackfruit tree, a wooden walkway rose over the coffee bushes in a gentle ascent to a treehouse 40ft off the ground. The Woodpecker Treehouse was fitted with wood-panelled walls, fine décor and linen, a country style four-poster bed, dressing area, luxurious bathroom and a wide balcony with plantation chairs. Its counterpart, the Hornbill Treehouse was further away. Every morning or evening, we’d eyeball barbets, sunbirds, drongos and raucous Malabar Grey hornbills, sipping our cuppa.


Lost in the cacophonic din of urban life, we discovered that silence in the remote rainforests sits on an underlay of crooning cicadas. Our arboreal existence drew the attention of a boisterous troop of macaques, who peered through our windows in the hope of some generosity of spirit. With no biscuits or bananas going their way, they’d romp on the railings in wild tantrum displays. Monkeys can be a menace, so catapults are kept handy with air guns to scare them away. We felt mildly annoyed about their infringement when ironically we had invaded their leafy domain!

With a live feed of Animal Planet outdoors, who would miss TV! Pepper Trail maintains a “No kids under 12” policy. While this may seem tough for families with kids, it underlines the resort’s stress on safety and concern for a guest’s need for peace and quiet. The sprawling estate is great for birding besides leisurely walks to see how coffee and tea are cultivated. Take a drive around the plantation in the open top jeep or go on short highway jaunts around Bandipur and Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuaries!

Pench Tree Lodge 3

At Rainforest Boutique Resort in Athirapally, as if the charm of viewing Kerala’s most magnificent waterfall from your room wasn’t enough, a Swiss architect was roped in to design a treehouse as dramatic as the view. Overlooking the Sholayar rainforests, the tree house is the ideal vantage point to gaze at the thundering Athirapally waterfalls. Equally dramatic is the Shola Periyar Tree House perched atop a banyan tree. Another region making a name for its treehouses is the wildlife zone of Masinagudi near Mudumalai with rustic perches at Safari Land, Forest Hills and The Wilds. However, the trend is not restricted to South India.

Tree House Hideaway is set in 21 acres of woodland adjacent to Bandhavgarh National Park. Combine the joy of staying in a tree house with the thrill of spotting tigers in the wild on jeep safaris through Bandhavgarh. Five exclusive tree houses are built on stilts on five different trees – Mahua, Tendu, Peepal, Banyan and Palash. Though grungy and wild from the outside, the rooms are posh. The dining hall is built across two levels around a century old Mahua tree with a dining hall on the ground level and The Watering Hole, a bar cum lounge on the upper floor.

Treehouse Hideaway Bandhavgarh

Pugdundee Safaris, the folks behind Treehouse Hideaway in Bandhavgarh, also run other treehouse getaways in the lesser known parks of Central India. They have six fabulous perches at Pench Tree Lodge at Pench National Park and two at Denwa Backwater Escape near Satpura Tiger Reserve.

Yet another luxurious romantic hideaway is The Machan near Lonavala. Perched at 3300 feet, the 25-acre patch is part of a tropical cloud forest with a choice of treehouses! The Heritage Machan is built across four levels around a wild fig tree, a spiral staircase leads up to the glass encased Canopy Machan, a wooden bridge connects up to the Forest Machan, the Jungle Machans are set amid a thicket of trees while an elevated wooden walkway through thick vegetation leads to the towering Sunset Machans, known for their magical sunset views. The Machan is completely off grid and generates all energy from renewable sources (solar and wind). There’s trekking, birding and local explorations to forts like Lohagad and Koraigad, besides Karla and Bhaja caves.

Treehouse Hideaway Bandhavgarh 2

Further north, 30 min from Jaipur at Nature Farms in Syari Valley is Tree House Resort. Perched atop keekar trees, the nests have several branches running through the rooms, blending nature with creature comforts. Each Tree House nest is named after a bird found in the area and the 5-room tree houses are counted among the largest in the world.

In Himachal too, the trend has caught on. At Manali Tree house cottages near Katrain, perch on an oak tree while at Himalayan Village Kasol, the tree houses are actually wooden structures called bhandars, representative of typical Himachali architecture. Gone are those days when you just thought of surviving the night on a rickety perch, here you can get out of the rain shower, grab a drink from the mini bar and plonk yourself on the sofa as if it were your own living room… there’s a whole new world up there!

Vythiri Tree House Interior


Pepper Trail, Chulliyode
Ph +91 9562277000 www.peppertrail.in
Getting there: At Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, 10 km from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, 100 km from Calicut International Airport and 250 km from Bangalore.

Tranquil Resort, Kolagapara
Ph +91 7053126407 www.tranquilresort.com
Getting there: At Kuppamudi Estate on Kolagappara-Ambalavayal Road, 7km from Sulthan Bathery and 105km from Calicut International Airport

Vythiri Resort, Lakkidi
Ph 0484 4055250 www.vythiriresort.com
Getting there: At Lakkidi, 18km from Kalpetta, district headquarters of Wayanad and 85km from Calicut International Airport

Rainforest Boutique Resort, Athirapally
Ph + 91 9995358888, 9539058888 www.avenuehotels.in
Getting there: 30km from Chalakudy, 55km from Cochin International Airport and 63km from Thrissur railway station.

Pench Tree Lodge 2

Treehouse Hideaway, Bandhavgarh
Ph +91 8800637711 www.treehousehideaway.com
Getting there: Bandhavgarh is 34 km/1 hr from Umaria, the nearest railhead and 22km/4hrs from Jabalpur, the nearest airport

Tree House Resort, Syari Valley
Ph +91 9001797422, 9799490390 www.treehouseresort.in
Getting there: Nature Farms, Syari vallry is 35km from Jaipur opposite Amity University on NH-8.

The Machan, Lonavala
Ph +91 7666622426 www.themachan.com
Getting there: Located at Atvan, 17km south of Lonavala and 100km from Mumbai.

Himalayan Village, Kasol
Ph 01902 276266, +91 9805072712 www.thehimalayanvillage.in
Getting there: Located between Jari and Kasol, 25 km from Kullu Airport Bhuntar and 10km before Manikaran.

Treehouse Cottages, Katrain
Ph 01902-240365, +91-98160-78765 www.manalitreehousecottages.com
Getting there: At Katrain, between Kullu and Manali, 32 km north of Kullu Airport Bhuntar

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 17 March 2017 in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express. Here’s the link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/culture/cover-story/2017/mar/17/sample-a-slice-of-the-arboreal-life-at-some-of-the-best-tree-houses-across-india-387.html

Garli: Chateau Charisma


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover old world romance and architectural gems in a heritage village in Himachal Pradesh

DSC05957_Priya Ganapathy

If it wasn’t for the summer heat and pahadi drumbeats heralding our arrival, we could have been in a faraway village in Germany or Switzerland. We stood under the painted oriel window of Chateau Garli with blues skies broken by white clouds and gyrating weathervanes, utterly besotted and bewildered by its beauty. The arterial road running through the pahadi town was lined by heritage buildings on either side though the summer haze obscured the snow-capped Dhauladhar range.

Garli in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley wears its European influences with an air of nostalgic élan. In the 16th century, the area came under the rule of the Jaswan kingdom. The brave princess Prag Dei put up a stiff resistance against a band of marauders terrorising the valley and Pragpur was established in her honour. Its sister town Garli is peopled by the 52 hill clans of the Sood community, who originally lived in Rajasthan but were driven out by the Mughals.

IMG_4744_Anurag Mallick

Around 19th century they settled around the hamlets of Garli and its more famous architectural twin town Pragpur four kilometres away. The site was chosen carefully at the tri-junction of three Shakti temples – Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi and Brajeshwari in Kangra to receive auspicious astral influences. They came here with cobblers, carpenters, craftsmen and other professionals to set up a trading township.

As treasurers of the Kangra royals and contractors who helped the British establish Shimla, the Soods amassed great fortunes and love for European style is so evident in Garli. The town is a haven of sprawling ancestral homes showcasing jaw-dropping architectural styles. Today, most are however in need of care and renovation. Some of the houses seem to be in a state of decay and the sleepy town does wear a tattered cloak of neglect and abandonment.

IMG_4925_Anurag Mallick

Giving credence to this is a legend of a young bride who was wrongly accused of adultery by the villagers years ago. Angry at the slur to her reputation, the helpless girl cursed the entire village to eternal ruin. Surprisingly enough, over the years people started moving out and by the 1950s, apparently most of the houses in the once thriving village were abandoned. Thankfully, a few, like Chateau Garli, which lay unoccupied for 20 years, have now been protected.

Our host Yatish Sud and his son Amish have painstakingly restored their mansion, constructed in 1921 by his grandfather Lala Mela Ram Sud, into a boutique heritage stay. Each of its 19 rooms holds memories of another time – colonial furniture, mellow lights and crystal chandeliers contrasting sunlit coloured panes spilling rainbow reflections onto the floor.

IMG_4886_Anurag Mallick

Our room in the old main building had a lovely balcony overlooking the large swimming pool. The ceiling artwork and gilded motifs framing the doorways, walls and windows were hand-painted by Amish’s sister Tarini, adding a classy, personal touch to the interiors. The acute gabled roofs, long windows and pillared verandahs of the main building flowed seamlessly to the annexe, which used to be a cattle shed.

Overlooking the pool and rustic kitchen counter, the annexe with its colourful windows transforms into fairytale castle at dusk. Each of the rooms are dressed with antique furniture like four poster beds and baby cribs, which accentuate its old world charm. Beside the pool, a mud-plastered counter was lined with brass pots and a traditional chulha (earthen oven) where food was prepared by local staff.

IMG_4492_Anurag Mallick

Lunch was a lovely Kangra dhaam (meal) featuring a fixed menu of traditional Himachali delicacies like mhani, a preparation of black chana with jaggery and amchoor, siddu, the local steamed bread, mah ki dal, khatta (tangy curry) and meetha (sweet). After washing it down with some Kangra tea, we went on a guided walk around Garli.

Meandering cobbled alleys were lined by copper-toned mud-plastered homes, brick houses with slate roofs and lovely balconies, wooden balustrades, carved doors, wall murals and Rajasthani arches. Rayeeson wali kothi, the first mansion built in Garli, had murals and Rajasthani motifs on the walls, Santri wali kothi was dominated by two turbaned plaster sentries on the parapet wall while Nalke wali kothi had a public tap in front.

IMG_4582_Anurag Mallick

We stopped by at one of the earliest bakeries in town where home-style cookies were being fired in a coal oven. On the town’s eastern end on the road to the Beas stood Naurang Yatri Nivas, a charming rustic style country lodge renovated by Yatish’s friend Atul Lal. In market lanes we discovered the progressive town planning, water and drainage system incorporated nearly a century ago.

The Soods established a boys’ school in 1918, a special women’s hospital in 1921 and a girl’s school by 1955. All of these, along with Garli Water Works, which used imported copper pipes from London, are still operational! The waterworks was inaugurated by Sir Malcolm Hailey, the Governor of Punjab on 8th February 1928 and a special road was built for the purpose. At a time when the rest of India was largely underdeveloped, the infrastructure of this tiny outpost was leagues ahead.

DSC05748_Priya Ganapathy

Homes had wall niches for lamps to illumine the path for pedestrians in the old days. Pots of water were left thoughtfully for people to help combat heat and thirst. Such generosity of spirit was apparent even at Chateau Garli. When Yatish’s grandfather struck water while building the house, he adjusted his compound walls so that the well came outside his boundary and village folk could fill their pots. The practice continues to this day.

As Yatish drove us around local sights like Pong Dam, Dada Siba temple with Kangra paintings and 8th century Masroor rock-cut temples, we realized hospitality was not new to the Suds, it was an age old tradition.

IMG_4840_Anurag Mallick


Chateau Garli has 19 heritage rooms and suites between its main house and the annexe and serves robust, home-style meals including Indian, Chinese and local Kangra fare. Each room comes with AC, coffee maker and wi-fi besides a common swimming pool with underwater speakers!

Chateau Garli
Ph +91-1970-246246, 94180 62003
Tariff Rs.5000 onwards).

Getting There
Garli is 4km/10 min east of its twin village Pragpur in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district. It is 45km/1 hr southeast of Dharamsala, 186km/3 hrs from Chandigarh and 425km/7 hrs north of New Delhi. The closest airport is Gaggal in Dharamsala which has flights from Delhi. The nearest railway station is Amb, 16km/20 min away, connected by Himachal Express from Delhi, which reaches at 8am. Regular buses ply to Garli from many cities in Himachal like Pathankot (120km), Kullu (180km) and Simla (180km).

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller magazine: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/mountain-stay-chateau-garli-for-himachal-heritage-and-kangra-khana/

Landour’s literary trail


ANURAG MALLICK goes on a literary trail across Landour, an erstwhile British sanatorium in the Himalayan foothills and uncovers little known gems of its past

Mussoorie_IMG_0713_Anurag Mallick

Isn’t it odd that the old British era cantonment of Landour, nearly a 1000 ft uphill of Mussoorie 6km away, is named after Llanddowror, a faraway village in southwest Wales? The story goes back to early 19th century when the Gurkha conquest of Kumaon-Garhwal led to the intervention of the British who moved from the plains of Dehradun to create a military sanatorium in the hills.

Today, with its crisp mountain air, charming walks and hillsides covered with gabled bungalows and churches, this quiet nook in the Himalayas is home to leading writers like Ruskin Bond, Bill Aitken, Allan Sealy, Hugh & Colleen Gantzer and film personalities Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj. If you turn back the pages of history, Landour’s literary affair is not new…

Ruskin Bond_Anurag Mallick

Of braes and burns
Many houses in Landour echo themes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels, with names like Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Waverly and Woodstock, now a famous school. The Scots identified the Himalayan hills and meadows with their glens (valleys), braes (slopes) and burns (streams) and named their houses Scottsburn, Wolfsburn and Redburn. Barring Kempty Falls 13 km away, there are no mountain streams here, so the nomenclature might have been purely sentimental. The Irish touch is also visible in homes called Shamrock Cottage, Tipperary and Killarney. Charleville Hotel however, was named after the owner’s sons Charley-Billy!


Mullingar, the oldest house
The first permanent home in Landour was built in 1825 by Captain Young, the ‘discoverer’ of Mussoorie and Commandant of the first Gurkha battalion raised by the British after the Gurkha War. His house, Mullingar, was named after his county town in Ireland. By early 20th century Mullingar became a hotel and during World War II, it was leased by the army to house the overflow of convalescing soldiers from the sanatorium.

In its early years, Mullingar received distinguished guests like author Emily Eden, sister of the Governor-General Lord George Eden. After spending considerable time in Landour, Shimla and Ooty in the late 1830s, Emily wrote incisively on the prevalent racism of Britons towards Indians.

Rokeby Manor front

Haunt of the Maharajas
While Landour remained an exclusively British preserve, Indians were kept off limits at Mussoorie. Indian maharajas were encouraged to build grand summer homes here, many of which have been converted into heritage hotels. From Katesar to Kuchesar and Rajpipla, Alwar, Jind and Baroda, several princely states made Mussoorie their retreat. Hotel Padmini Nivas, set up by a British colonel in the 1840s, became home to a queen from Gujarat. The Nabha Palace is run as a hotel by The Claridges.

The Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau occupies a lofty perch above The Savoy. However, one of the oldest buildings in Mussoorie is Kasmanda Palace. Built in 1836 by Captain Rennie Tailour, it was originally part of Christ Church and site of one of the first schools in Mussoorie. In 1915, it became the summer retreat of the royal family of Kasmanda (a taluq in Awadh) and the main building was converted into a boutique heritage hotel in 1992, currently run by WelcomHeritage. 

Rokeby Manor_IMG_0614_Anurag Mallick

Rokeby Manor
Built in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy, Rokeby is one of Landour’s landmarks. Perched above St. Paul’s Church, its name is taken from the writings of Sir Walter Scott, whose book-length poem describes heroic battles near Rokeby Castle in England. The house changed hands from a British soldier to controversial adventurer Pahari Wilson to Rev Woodside, one of the founders of Woodstock School to the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Rokeby was converted into a boarding house for missionary ladies studying Urdu and Hindi at the Landour Language School near Kellogg Memorial Church. With a restaurant named after Emily Eden, and lovingly renovated rooms with stone walls and wooden floors, it was in Rokeby’s DNA to be run as a hotel! Together with Rokeby Residences – a cluster of colonial cottages nearby, Bothwell Bank, Shamrock Cottage, Tabor Lodge and Pine Tree Lodge – it’s the most exclusive stay in Landour. http://www.rokebymanor.com

Camel Back Road cemetery Mussoorie_IMG_0923_Anurag Mallick

Pahari Wilson and the British Cemetery on Camel Back Road
The British cemetery on Camel Back Road, a loop trail off The Mall named after the camel shaped rocky outcrop, is the resting place of key figures. John Lang, dubbed as the ‘first Australian novelist’ made Landour his home in the 1850-60s and his 1864 grave was rediscovered by Ruskin Bond. Giving him company is British adventurer Frederick ‘Pahari’ Wilson.

Based in Harsil near Gangotri, Wilson married a local lady, illegally harvested timber by floating them down the Ganga, sold it to the East India Company to make railway sleepers, made a big fortune and even minted his own gold coins. He picked up properties like Rokeby and Ralston, introduced apples to the Himalayas and was the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling’s tale, ‘The Man Who Would Be King’.

Sir George Everests House-Anurag Mallick

Sir George Everest’s House
Mussoorie was also home to Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India between 1830-43. He is largely responsible for the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India covering a 2400 km stretch from South India to the Himalayas, including the measurement of the world’s highest peaks.

Colonel Everest came to Mussoorie in 1832, bought an estate called The Park, making it his home and laboratory, where most of the mapping of the Garhwal mountains took place. Just 6 km west of town beyond Hathipaon (when seen from a vantage, its three ridges look like the foot of an elephant), his whitewashed home at the edge of a cliff is in ruins and barricaded but the view of the Doon Valley is stupendous.

Cloud End_IMG_0841_Anurag Mallick

Cloud End
Just 3km from Hathipaon towards Benog Wildlife Sanctuary, is one of the first four finest houses in Mussoorie. Story goes, one day when Major Swetenham came hunting from Landour, he heard Gulabo, a Pahari woman singing in the forest. The charmed officer fell in love instantly and followed her home. Her father happened to be the landlord of Kandi village and after a match was arranged, the present estate was given as dowry in 1838. The house was named after a peak opposite his home in Edmontia in Wales.

Four generations of the Swetenhams stayed here until 1965. The original homestead is run as a heritage hotel and the restaurant is named Rose (after Gulabo’s baptized name). Because of the surrounding forest, it is usually 10 degrees lower than Mussoorie. The northern portion, with cemented floors, was the summer retreat while the south face, with wooden floors, was where the family stayed in winter. http://www.cloudend.com

Mussoorie Library_IMG_0770_Anurag Mallick

Entertainment at The Mall
The 1.5km stretch of The Mall, once out of bound for natives, is bookended by the beautiful Library (Gandhi Chowk) on the western end and Picture Palace on the eastern edge. Besides being the first cinema hall to open in town in 1912, Picture Palace was also the first cinema hall in north India to run on electricity. The Mall was once lined by seven cinema halls – Rialto, Capital, Jubilee, Majestic.

Today, one of the old projectors has been displayed by The Mall and the pedestrian-only avenue is lined with hotels, shops and iconic restaurants like Kelsang Friend’s Corner for momos and Chick Chocolate (named after an American musician friend of the owner). A ropeway takes tourists up to the second highest peak Gun Hill, where a gun used to be fired at noon to tell locals the time. After the gunshots triggered a string of accidents, the practice was abandoned in 1919, though the name stuck…

Landour Lal Tibba_IMG_0659_Anurag Mallick

Seven years in Tibet, and a few in Uttarakhand
Austrian mountaineer, geographer and writer Heinrich Harrer was one of the four-member team which scaled the legendary ‘North Face’ of the Eiger peak in Switzerland. Best known for his 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet (later made into a movie), he was on an expedition to Nanga Parbat when World War II broke out. Because of his German ancestry, Harrer was interned in Karachi, brought to Bombay and kept in captivity at Dehradun for a few years.

After several failed attempts, Harrer and his associates broke out of the internment camp in Dehradun impersonating British officers, and escaped to Tibet via Landour. At its closest point, Tibet is just 70 miles away. And the best place to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas is Lal Tibba or Depot Hill, once the convalescent depot that stretched around the highest point Childer’s Lodge. From here, one gets a striking 200km view of peaks like Swargarohini, Bandarpunch, Chaukhamba and Nanda Devi.

Mussoorie Happy Valley monastery_IMG_0811_Anurag Mallick

Happy Valley, the first Tibetan settlement in India
If Harrer crossed the high Himalayan passes from Landour to Lhasa, the 14th Dalai Lama did the same from the other side. In 1959, when the Chinese occupied Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his followers walked for 15 days to cross over to India. He reached Mussoorie on 20 April 1959 and Happy Valley, a scenic corner beyond the polo ground, became the first Tibetan settlement in India, before the seat was shifted to Dharamsala. A Tibetan school was set up here in 1960 and the serene Shedup Choephelling monastery was built on a quiet hillside where prayer flags flutter in the breeze.


Anil Prakash’s store at Sister’s Bazaar
The nurses working at the military sanatorium had their barracks near the market and frequented it quite often, hence its name Sister’s Bazaar. American missionaries came here in the 1830s and soon Landour became one of the first places in India where peanut butter, the American classic, was made commercially. Many settlers sold off their equipment and possessions and left Landour after India gained Independence. That’s how their peanut butter and food processing machines ended up in the hands of Anil Prakash’s family.

Catering to European tastes for decades, Prakash’s Store is famous for its peanut butter (chunky or smooth), home-made cheese, jams and preserves, though it stocks pretty much everything. There’s a local saying, “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Anil runs the 12-room Dev Dar Woods with terrific Himalayan views and wood-fired pizzas. Ph 0135-2632544 Email anilprakash56@yahoo.com


Char Dukan
During colonial times, Char Dukan was a cluster of four Indian-run shops on the parade ground. Contrary to its name, now there are six establishments but the first one is the standout joint. Locals and tourists flock to the 60-year-old Anil’s Café, legendary for its delicious Ginger Lemon Honey Tea, bun-omelette and Maggi. Sachin Tendulkar, who came on a holiday to Mussoorie, made a stopover here; his twitter endorsement hangs proudly on the wall.

Authors: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 29 December, 2016 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/a-to-do-list-for-landour/


Get Lost: 15 Off-the-Grid Holidays


Had enough of partying and want a quiet escape away from it all? Sit around a bonfire, watch the stars and get away from the crowds in these remote places that aren’t too difficult to reach. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY show a whole world out there to lose yourself in…


Get some Soulitude in the Himalayas at Ramgarh (Uttarakhand)
‘I’m off to Ramgarh’ you can announce nonchalantly and let the world figure out which of the dozen Ramgarhs in India you have toodled off to. Thanks to its remote location, the village of Gagar near Ramgarh (35 km north east of Nainital) is free from tourist traffic. Tucked away in the slopes of a scenic hamlet at 7,000 ft, it commands a majestic view of the Kumaon Himalayas – Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchachuli, Pindari Glacier, Nandakot, Nandaghunti and Kamet. Its ten rooms, named Nirvana, Bliss, Quietude, Awakening, Peace (you get the idea), offer ample ‘soulitude’ and inspiration. Hike to the local Ramgarh market and continue to scenic orchards and old dak bungalows of Ashok Vatika renovated by Neemrana into the Ramgarh Bungalows. Wake up to a magical sunrise in this quiet nook that served as Rabindranath Tagore’s literary retreat for six years – he even considered it as the location of his dream abode and university Shantiniketan! The renowned poetess Mahadevi Verma too lived in Ramgarh – her home is now a library of her works. You might consider reading a book here, if not writing one! Owner Manish Chandra also runs another quiet retreat called Soulitude by the River at Chanfi nearby.

Soulitude in the Himalayas
Gagar, Nainital-Mukteshwar Road, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Ph +91 99993 30379 http://www.soulitude.in
Tariff Rs.8,000-12,000

Shanthi Kunnj IMG_1551

Swing in a hammock by a gurgling river at Shanthi Kunnj (Karnataka)
Deep in the heart of Malnad on the banks of the gurgling Bhadra River, swing lazily in a hammock while staying in wood and bamboo thatched cottages overlooking the river and forest beyond. The Areca House, Log House, Glass House, Mud House, Tent House are all made of locally available timber, tucked away in a coffee, cardamom, areca and pepper plantation. Go on a tour of the Holy Cross Estate run by the Saldanhas or take an adventurous jeep ride to the river bank for a splash and barbecue picnic of fish baked in sand. The area was called Masigadde (Coal Field) as the forests were burned for producing charcoal to power the steam locomotives during the British era. Thankfully the forests are now protected as part of the Bhadra and Muthodi tiger reserves. Guests have reported rare tiger sightings just across the river though otters are aplenty.

Shanthi Kunnj Homestay
Devdhana Village, Honnekoppa, Sangameshwarpet, Near Kadabagere, Chikmagalur District, Karnataka Ph 0824-2485180 www.shanthikunnj.com
Tariff Rs.3,500/person, all-inclusive

Chambal camel crossing IMG_3216

Have a wild time of a different kind in Chambal Safari Lodge (Uttar Pradesh)
The once notorious bandit terrain of India, the Chambal valley today offers exciting opportunities for wildlife tourism and eco conservation. Spearheading these efforts are Kunwar Ram Pratap (RP) and Anu Singh who run Chambal Safari Lodge in their ancestral property. Mela Kothi, the family’s field camp that once hosted a cattle mela (fair) has independent cottages on 35 acres of private farmland. Enjoy fireside dinners under the stars, go on bicycle jaunts, horse rides and camel safaris in the ravines or village and nature trails on foot. The signature experience is the jeep drive to the banks of the Chambal River for a guided boat ride. Spot gharials and muggers on the sandbanks and flocks of Indian skimmers besides other wildlife. Watch camels ford the river loaded with firewood on an excursion to Ater Fort (2km) across the Chambal. At Bateshwar (11km) view the riverside temples on the banks of the Yamuna from the riverside retreat The Kunj.

Chambal Safari Lodge
Mela Kothi, Village Jarar, Tehsil Bah, District Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Ph 9997066002, 9837415512, 9719501517
Email rpsjarar@chambalsafari.com www.chambalsafari.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-9,000, meals and excursions extra

Neemrana's Bungalow on the Beach IMG_8106_Anurag Mallick

Experience tranquility at Tranquebar at the Bungalow by the Beach (Tamil Nadu)
Imagine a red sun casting golden spangles on a sea with silhouettes of fishing boats dancing past the waves. Throw in an easy chair on a wraparound balcony that overlooks India’s most oxygen-rich beach in front, the 17th century Danish Fort Dansborg to the right and a Pandya temple to the left and you have the perfect do-nothing holiday. Tharangambadi, literally the ‘Land of the Dancing Waves’ became Tranquebar under the Danes. Neemrana’s Bungalow by the Beach offers privacy with a dollop of wistful colonial nostalgia and rooms quaintly named after old Danish ships – Christianus Septimus, Countess Moltke, Prince Christian, take your pick! Period décor, stewards in attendance, a blue pool by the beach and delicious cuisine; this is old world luxury redefined. Visit the Fort museum or take INTACH’s heritage walk to leisurely explore the last vestiges of Scandinavian heritage at the only Danish outpost in India. In this time warp, Tamil culture seamless blends into the town’s landscape though streets still bear names like Kongensgade (King’s Street), Borgan Street and the old gateway Landsporten, besides historic churches, homes of former Danish Governors and pastors, an old cemetery and India’s 1st printing press! Neemrana has also restored two other heritage houses – the Gate House and the Thanga House into their signature ‘non-hotel’ hotels.

Bungalow on the Beach
24 King Street, Tharangambadi, District Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91 11 4666 1666, 9310630386, 9786100461 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-7,000

Turiya Spa Canacona Goa_Amit Bhandare

Explore your fourth state of consciousness at Turiya Spa near Palolem (Goa)
Let’s face it, everyone has had their share of unconsciousness in Goa. But true to its name, Turiya explores the fourth state of consciousness. Set in a serene corner of Canacona, the 100-year old Portuguese villa and spa was renovated by architect and designer Sandesh Prabhu to help visitors to Goa find innermost peace. The 12,000 sq ft landscaped property has an inviting ambience, cheery colours and an intimate Eden-like garden with chikkoo, mango, avocado and frangipani trees. Get pampered with delicious home-style Konkani cuisine, bathe in open to sky baths or soak in a step-down bath, savour rejuvenative spa treatments based on Western methods and traditional Indian systems of Ayurveda. Uncover local culture with visits to a local market or farm or hire a bike to scenic Palolem (2km) and Agonda beaches (10 km north). Boat trips to Butterfly Island for dolphin sightings and day trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Karwar are other activities.

Turiya Villa and Spa
House No 16, Chaudi, Canacona, Goa
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
Tariff Rs.5,000-9,500


Watch the stillness of Umiam Lake & enjoy Khasi hospitality at Ri Kynjai (Meghalaya)
Located on the outskirts of Shillong, Ri Kynjai is a boutique lakeside resort in Meghalaya really lives up to its tagline ‘Serenity by the Lake’. The resort reflects Khasi traditions in every aspect of hospitality and architecture. Stay in plush cottages and stylish thatched huts on stilts. Wrapped within its warm pine interiors and wooden floors, watch drifting clouds and watercolour beauty of the surroundings or sit in the balcony and contemplate on the stillness of Umiam Lake. Submerge yourself in high-end spa treatments at Khem Janai or indulge in gourmet fare at the restaurant Sao Aiom (Four Seasons) specializing in North Eastern delicacies like jadoh, smoked pork with bamboo shoot and the famous Cherrapunji Chicken. The 45 acre wooded estate and gardens are great for leisurely walks, though for more adventure visit the nearby village of Umiuh or hike around the Khasi Hills.

Ri Kynjai
Umniuh Khwan, UCC Road, Ri Bhoi District, Meghalaya
Ph +91 9862420300, 9862420301 www.rikynjai.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000

IMG_5885 Chalets Naldehra revolving restaurant_Anurag Priya

Find Alpine comfort in India at Chalets Naldehra (Himachal)
Undulating grassy meadows fringed by tall cedar trees, Naldehra (22 km north of Shimla), was so enchanting that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1899-1905) renamed his youngest daughter Alexandra as Naldehra after his favourite haunt. The undulating golf course set up by Curzon – the oldest in India and one of the highest 18-hole golf links in the world – still ranks among the most challenging in the country. Not far from the course, beyond a manicured lawn and a pretty garden, Finnish log cabins stand at multiple levels, no two of which are alike. Set on a 2-acre patch owned by the enterprising father-son duo Yatish and Amish Sud, the personal holiday home strategically built close to the golf course soon transformed into a resort., a Every chalet, named after early explorers who mapped the hills, sports commemorative brass plaques – F Younghusband Chalet, Gerard Chalet, Captain Kennedy Chalet, Sir Henry Collet Chalet. The revolving restaurant, 360˚ Top of the World, is the first of its kind in Himachal Pradesh! The small octagonal restaurant seats 20 and is a great perch to unwind and enjoy a delicious meal with laser lights, sunset views and starry nights. Hike to the picturesque village of Kogi to see old Himachali temples and homes with slate roofs.

Chalets Naldehra
Naldehra, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Ph 0177-2747715, 9816062007, 9816039162 www.chaletsnaldehra.com
Tariff Rs.14,990-22,990 (2n/3d package)

Deluxe Room --The Grand Dragon Hotel Ladakh-2

Fly to the roof of the world while enjoying plush comfort in Ladakh’s winter (J&K)
While thousands drive to Ladakh when the high Himalayan passes open in summer, the relatively quiet winter holds its own charm. Not just the air, the crowd too thins out as the temperature drops. The sheer joy of leaving fresh tracks in snow will make anyone feel like an adventurer. And what better way to do it than pamper yourself at Grand Dragon, the swankiest 5-star hotel in Ladakh? Stay in plush rooms that open out to a view of the snow-capped peaks of Stok Kangri, Khardung la pass, besides landmarks like Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. Sip a hot cuppa and dine at the specialty restaurant Tusrabs, literally ‘from ancient times’ that serves a fusion of Ladakhi, Tibetan & Chinese cuisine. After acclimatizing to the 3500 m, take a day trip along the Indus river past Nimu where it meets the Zanskar to Chilling, the start point of the Chadar (Frozen River) Trek. Visit Ladakh’s oldest living monastery Alchi, the moonscapes of Lamayuru, Atishey village and attend local festivals like Gustor (Jan 7) at Spituk gompa or Losar and Dosmochey (Feb).

The Grand Dragon Ladakh
Old Road, Sheynam, Leh, Ladakh
Ph +91 1982-255866/266, 9906986782, 9622997222 www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.22,999-32,999/person (3n/4d Winter Offer)

IMG_6904 Samten Yongjhar Gompa prayer flags

Escape to Mechuka on the China border (Arunachal)
Mechuka is so remote, it’s closer to the Chinese border than to any Indian town. Named after the hot water springs found in the area (men means medicine, chu is water while kha literally means snow or mouth), the far flung town lies in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Reached after a circuitous drive from Aalo, the road deposts you at a wide plateau surrounded by an amphitheater of hills. The Siyom or Yargyap chu river snakes across the valley criss-crossed by bamboo bridges lined with prayer flags. Being an advanced airfield and staging post for the Indian Army, you wake up to the sound of bagpipes and military drills in the morning as wild horses graze in the fields. Base yourself at local guest houses and quaint homestays while visiting Tibetan monasteries like Samden Yongjhar gompa and Dorjeling gompa, besides the cave where Guru Nanak is supposed to have meditated 500 years ago on his trip to Tibet.

Department of Tourism, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
Ph +91-360-2214745 www.arunachaltourism.com


Gaze at the Aravalis as you listen to folk musicians at Dadhikar (Rajasthan)
Rajasthan is a land of forts and palaces, which is why it’s easy to miss out on some of the lesser known gems in the state. Dadhikar Fort, northwest of Alwar, is one such jewel. Wander into a world scented by 1000 years of history as you sip morning tea on the ramparts with unbeatable panoramic views. Choose from a bouquet of regal suites and stone clad rooms to curl up, with impeccable meals served in the courtyard and soul-stirring folk music under the stars. Balladeers sing ‘Saher Dadhikar Pargana, Alwar Garh ke paas, Basti Raja Chand ki, Abhaner nikas’ as they recount the legend of Raja Chand who camped here after his capital Abhaneri was flooded. The campsite (dera) came to be known as Derakar, which over time was corrupted to Dadhikar. Explore the hill fort, Sariska tiger sanctuary and nearby forts of Ajabgarh-Bhangarh besides Alwar’s hilltop bastion Bala Qila.

The Dadhikar Fort
Village Dadhikar, Alwar, Rajasthan
Ph +91 9871655431, 9950669900
Tariff Rs.4,500-14,000

Tea Nest Coonoor offroad to Pakkasurankote IMG_2450

Enjoy high tea at Tea Nest in Coonoor (Tamil Nadu)
Rolling tea estates, cool wind perfumed with the freshness of eucalyptus and pine, gushing waterfalls and exotic flower gardens; the Nilgiris is a dream destination. If you wish to stay away from the rumpus of Ooty, check into Tea Nest – a tea-themed hideaway outside Coonoor surrounded by 1800 acres of tea plantations. Wake up to birdsong in this perch on a hillock as gaurs graze in the bushes nearby, walk or cycle around the plantations dotted with tea-pickers busily plucking away or relax in the patio admiring the Pakkasurankote hill range. The early 19th century colonial villa has rooms tagged after tea varieties and presents a splendid 7-course tea-inspired menu served by friendly attentive staff. The Tea Nest Annexe, a 2-room planter’s bungalow scarcely 1 km away from the main house offers more privacy in a romantic setting. Don’t miss the nature trail past Toda hamlets and Hill Grove railway station to the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort, the company’s flagship enterprise nestled in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road.

Tea Nest
Singara Estate, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91-423-2234018, 9442147198 (Tea Nest), +91-423-2233030, 8903502763 (Tea Nest Annexe) www.natureresorts.in
Tariff Rs.2,500-4,000, incl. breakfast

Woodpecker Tree House- View from the Plantation

Perch in a tree house at Pepper Trail in Wayanad (Kerala)
In a recent survey, Wayanad ranked among the top 10 best accommodations in the world. Adding to the present mix of specialty hotels, nature resorts and boutique hotels is Pepper Trail. The highlight of the 200-acre coffee and spice plantation in Kerala’s hilly district is a charming 140-year-old colonial bungalow. The lovingly restored Pazhey Bungalaav (Old Bungalow) houses the Malabar and Mackenzie Suites with quaint four posters and antique furniture. Perched on giant jackfruit trees nearby, the tree houses are 40 feet off the ground. Just because you are at the treetop, doesn’t mean you scrimp on luxury. Named Hornbill and Woodpecker, each tree house comes with large bedrooms, outdoor living spaces and safari inspired furniture. There’s plenty to do in and around the estate – guided plantation walks, cycling, open jeep safaris and coracle rides or fishing on the estate reservoir.

Pepper Trail
Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad, Kerala
Ph +91 9562277000 www.peppertrail.in
Tariff Rs.4,700-18,000

Dibrugarh Chang Bungalow DSC04385 opt

Stay in a house on stilts in Dibrugarh (Assam)
Head to Dibrugarh in Upper Assam to live the lazy life of a tea planter in a chang bungalow (traditional house on stilts). Rooms named after the tributaries of the Brahmaputra River look out to manicured lawns as fresh brewed tea is always available. Specially designed horse-riding tours take you around century old tea estates or cross-country along the banks of the Brahmaputra. Picnic on grassy banks, boat cruises and kayaking or extend your itinerary to visit the ancient Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the wildlife preserves of Kaziranga and Dibru Saikhowa. Purvi Discovery runs another lodge closer to town called Chowkidinghee Chang Bungalow and the new boutique property Wathai Heritage Bungalow at Limbuguri Tea Estate in Tinsukia, a good base to explore Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Purvi Discovery
Ph 0373 2301120, 2300035 Email purvidiscovery@gmail.com www.assamteatourism.com
Tariff Rs.3,500-9,000, incl. breakfast

Neil Island jetty_Anurag Mallick DSC07376

Maroon yourself on Neil Island (Andamans)
The boat jetty at Bharatpur on Neil Island juts out into the vast Andaman sea of electric blue. You can walk to it each day from your beach hut just to watch the daily boat from Havelock sail away. In this nook, it is easy to stay in self-imposed exile for as long as one wants, snorkeling around the reefs and eating fresh seafood. Spread over 18.9 sq km and only 5km at its widest point, Neil is a tiny speck in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands nearly 1400 km from the Indian mainland and 40 km east of Port Blair. Its five villages harbour 3000 fishing and agricultural families, which gives the island its popular name – ‘Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans’. Neil is so small one can cover the whole island on foot in a day. The beaches (originally numbered for convenience) took on their present names after Hindu migrants were resettled here by the Indian Government after the 1971 Bangladesh War. Watch the sunrise at Sitapur or see it go down at Laxmanpur and marvel at the natural stone bridge and corals in shallow pools during low tide. Laze at Ramnagar or swim in Govindnagar, but whatever you do, don’t glug Neil down like a vodka shot; savour it like single malt…

Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Ph 03192-232694, 244091 www.andamans.gov.in


Stay in an erstwhile hunting lodge at Kila Dalijoda (Odisha)
Once an exclusive hunting lodge of Raja Jyoti Prasad Singh Deo, king of Panchakote Raj, Kila Dalijoda is a beautiful two storied stone house 22 km north of Cuttack in Odisha. The heritage homestay is named after its proximity to Dalijoda Forest Range, part of the newly declared Kapilas Elephant Sanctuary. The European style mansion, with arched windows and tinted glass was built in 1931-33, and at that time boasted tech advancements like self generating electricity, electrified fencing and water harvesting. Present hosts Debjit Prasad Singh Deo and his wife Namrata have kept its wild soul intact carrying out only minor renovation. With just three suites, it is the perfect hideaway where guests get a dose of rural lifestyle with visits to weekly village markets, tribal settlements and nature walks. Savour delicious home-cooked Odiya meals, with quail eggs available all year round (and duck eggs in winter), preferred over the plebeian chicken eggs due to traditional reasons.

Kila Dalijoda
Ph +91 9438667086 Email debjitsinghdeo@yahoo.co.in www.kiladalijoda.com
Tariff Rs.3,000-4,000

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unedited version of the article that appeared on 18 December, 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/off-the-grid-getaways-for-your-next-long-weekend/

Extreme India: Offbeat Adventures


Before you make a mad dash to New Zealand or the USA for your next adrenaline fix, there’s some serious adventure on offer right here at home if you just look in the right places. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY tell you where to go.

Caving in Meghalaya-Mawsmai Caves DSC01373

If you thought adventure in India was just about trekking and white water rafting, buckle up for these truly offbeat outdoor activities across the country. Push the envelope with this handy list of activities, seasons, how to get there, costs, interesting jargon and who to do it with.

Rapelling down Vihigaon Waterfall IMG_3052

Canyoning or Waterfall Rappelling in Maharashtra
Had enough of staring at waterfalls? Get ready for the thrill of rappelling down them! Maharashtra, with its many waterfalls tumbling down the Western Ghats, is fast emerging as a premier canyoning site. And there’s no better spot than Vihigaon, 13 km from Kasara Ghat near Igatpuri. First explored in 2007-08, the 120 ft dizzying drop has a 30 ft wide rockface, large enough for four ropes to rappel down. A check dam, smaller cascades nearby and a scenic plateau have boosted Vihigaon’s popularity. Bekare at Bhivpuri near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala are other good sites.

Tips: Carry a waterproof backpack with change of clothes and knee guard or protective cap to avoid scraping your knees against cliffs.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune. From Mumbai, Vihigaon is 124 km (2-3 hr drive) on NH-3 or the Nashik highway.

Season: July to October

Cost: Around Rs.1,000/person, includes transport, breakfast, waterfall rappelling & mountaineering basics

Who to do it with: Offbeat Sahyadri Ph +91 9987990300, 9664782503 Email offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com
Nature Knights Ph +91 9821081566 www.natureknights.net

Caving in Meghalaya-Mawsmai Caves DSC01359

Spelunking or Caving in Meghalaya
Put hills of limestone and high precipitation together and you get caves – miles and miles of it! Limestone deposits in Meghalaya’s southern slopes, coupled with high rainfall, humidity and elevations over 1000 m, are ideal conditions for cave formation. With 1350 caves stretching over nearly 400 km, Meghalaya has the deepest, longest and the largest labyrinth of caves in the Indian subcontinent and ranks among the world’s Top 10 caving destinations. Spelunking or caving gives people a chance to see a rarely explored realm of stalagmites, stalactites, candles, cave curtains and cave pearls, formed over thousands of years. For tourists, Maswmai Caves near Cherrapunjee in the Khasi Hills, is a good introduction. For more serious explorations, head to Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills, riddled with cave passages like Krem Tynghen, Krem Umthloo, Krem Chympe and Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India.

Adventure Jargon: Cave networks that have a river running through, which can be explored by swimming or wading through waist deep water are termed ‘live’.

Tips: Caving is not advisable for those who suffer from claustrophobia or those afraid of tight spaces, heights, darkness, bugs and bats.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Guwahati from where Shillong is a 2.5 hr drive.

Season: November to March

Who to do it with: Kipepeo Ph +91 9930002412 www.kipepeo.in
For more on Meghalaya’s caves, http://megtourism.gov.in/caves.html


Bouldering in Hampi
The art of freehand climbing boulders without any ropes or harness is called bouldering. Pioneer John Sherman quips that “The only gear really needed to go bouldering is boulders.” Thanks to India’s landscape, the adventure sport is gaining ground. Places around Bengaluru like Ramanagram, Antargange near Kolar, Turhalli Forest and Badami have firmly placed Karnataka on the global bouldering map. But few sites can compete with Hampi for the profusion of boulders, monuments, monkeys and oddballs for a dramatic climb! At first, locals couldn’t fathom the sight of half-naked hippies armed with chalk powder climbing Hampi’s boulders. But Chris Sharma’s movie ‘Pilgrimage’, shot by renowned climbing moviemaker Josh Lowell, brought respectability to the sport. There’s even a Geoquest Bouldering Guidebook on Hampi called Golden Boulders based on the knowledge of two old time Hampi climbers Pil Lockey and Harald Vierroth (Hari). Carry your own chalkbag and climbing shoes, though guesthouses like Baba Café and Begum’s Place rent out crash pads.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Bengaluru

Adventure Jargon: The route a climber must take up a boulder is called a ‘problem’, which is unique to each location.

Did you know: Must-do sites at Hampi include Dali Boulder, Rishyamuk Rock, Ek-Number Boulderfield and Jungli Plateau.

Season: Nov-Dec is ideal. Avoid the rainy season and peak summer.

Who to do it with: GETHNAA (General Thimmaiah National Academy of Adventure)
Ph +91 80 22211246 Email info@gethnaa.com http://gethnaa.org

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram C55A9962

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram
Kiteboarding is a surface water sport that combines aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding and gymnastics into one extreme sport. The power of the wind is harnessed with a large controllable power kite which propels the surfer across the water on a kiteboard. Southern Tamil Nadu off India’s east coast provides the perfect conditions of steady wind speed, scanty rains and a large stretch of deep blue sea. Learn the ropes with Charmaine, India’s only female kitesurfer and Govinda, who trained under the legendary Ines Correa at a Redbull Kitesurfing event in 2013. Do a certification course with an IKO (International Kiteboarding Organisation) instructor and learn wave-style riding, freestyle or jumps at Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove. Snorkelling, Kayaking and Stand up Paddleboard are also offered.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Chennai and Madurai, a 3 hr drive away. Or take an overnight bus or train to Rameshwaram, with Rs.400 auto fare to the location.

Adventure Jargon: Popping in and out of water intermittently due to light or gusty wind, poor flying skills or twisted lines is called Tea-bagging. And a serious accident while kiteboarding is known as a Kitemare!

Season: Summer South Winds (Apr–Sep), Winter North Winds (Oct–Mar)

Cost: Private or shared lessons of 6-10 hours between Rs.15,000-30,000 (1-2 days). Stay in rustic beach huts for Rs.1,250 per person per night, inclusive of meals and transfers to kite spots.

Who to do it with: Quest Expeditions Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409
Email booking@quest-asia.com http://www.thekitesurfingholiday.com

Skiing in Gulmarg - snowboarder

Skiing in Gulmarg
CNN ranks Gulmarg as the 7th best ski destination in Asia. And there’s good reason for it. At 13,780 ft, Kongdoori on the shoulder of Mount Affarwat is the highest skiing point in the Himalayas. The world’s highest ski lift whisks adventure seekers to the upper slopes from where they ski or snowboard down freshly powdered slopes. The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM), a snowball’s throw away from Khyber Resort, has certified instructors, quality skiing equipment and snow gear for those interested in learning. Stay in modest but clean, shared rooms of IISM or base yourself at the plush Khyber, perhaps Gulmarg’s only ‘ski-in, ski-out’ resort.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Srinagar, from where Gulmarg is a 45 min drive away.

Adventure Jargon: Pisté (derived from French pistare or trample) is a marked ski run or path down a mountain for skiing, snowboarding or other mountain sports.

Season: December to March

Cost: Around Rs.40,000/person (minimum group of 8), includes stay, food, training and equipment

Who to do it with: Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ph +91 11 4356 5425 www.mheadventures.com

Rickshaw Run-Road Rajah on Muzhappilangad Beach IMG_0073

Take on the Rickshaw Run
Rickshaw Run, a 3500km race across the subcontinent organized by the irreverent tour company The Adventurists is described as a ‘pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower’. Teams of three take part in custom-built autorickshaws often espousing a social cause with no fixed route. There’s a start line and a finish line; everything in between is up to you. Try Cochin to Jaisalmer in Jan 2016, Jaisalmer to Shillong in April 2016 or Shillong to Cochin in August 2016. Despite the flippant tone, the website warns ‘Your chances of being seriously injured or dying as a result of taking part are high. These are not holidays. These are adventures. You really are putting both your health and life at risk. That’s the whole point.’

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Kochi, Jodhpur and Guwahati.

Season: All year round

Did you know: The Adventurists organize other outrageous activities include Mongol Rally, Ice Run and Adventure 9 – crossing the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean in a ngalawa (dugout canoe), powered by a bed sheet!

Cost: Entry fee of £1595 for the trio, which includes a rickshaw with all paperwork, 2-days of test drive, launch and finish line parties, a blog and free travel insurance worth £210.

Who to do it with: The Adventurists www.theadventurists.com


Sportfishing in the Andamans
Though the Andamans is synonymous with deep sea diving and snorkelling, there’s more marine adventure to be found. For a taste of saltwater sportfishing, hit the high seas in the Andamans for Giant Trevally, Barracuda, Barramundi, Yellow Fin Tuna, King Mackerel, Wahoo and Sail Fish. Fishing is as per catch and release and operators run day trips for first timers or 7-day all-inclusive adventures that include acco and transfers covering Ritchie’s Archipelago and the South Andaman Islands. Day trips to Invisible Banks and Barren Island are also organized.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Port Blair. Havelock Island and most of the reefs and fishing haunts are in Ritchie’s Archipelago, a boat ride away.

Season: November to April is the peak season, until the onset of monsoon.

Cost: On request

Who to do it with: Gamefishing India Ph +91-3192-241610, 9900568091, 9434280117
Email gamefishingindia@gmail.com www.gamefishingindia.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as part of the Adventure cover story in the October 2015 issue of JetWings magazine.

Tungnath: Vertical Limit


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trek to the highest Shiva temple in the country and encounter mystics, legends and amazing Himalayan views


Baba Kidik Bam proudly showed us a faded copy of High Times; his yogic pose captured decades ago by a foreign correspondent. The irony wasn’t lost on us. We were at Tungnath, the highest Shiva temple in India. ‘Tung matlab uncha, nath maney Shiv. Amarnath is higher, but it’s a cave, not a temple’, explained Baba. His actual name was Mahant Naga Baba Mukesh Giri, but at Tungnath, he was simply Kidik Bam. “Be it India or abroad, all the guides know me. Babas, bhakts (followers), travellers, whoever comes here, I tell them stories of Tungnath, its natural wonders, and look after them… Din paraya hai, par raat apni hai” (The day belongs to others, but the night is mine), he laughed. Just below us, temple bells rang out under the serpent-shaped cliff as baba sounded his damru (rattle drum) signaling the closure of the Tungnath shrine after the 8pm aarti.

We sat on a rocky ledge outside baba’s little kutiya (hut) while he shared his spiritual experiences. His raspy coughs crackled the air as we listened to his stories in this inhospitable yet stunningly beautiful terrain. Tungnath was no ordinary place. Located in the shadow of Chandrashila peak high above the tree line in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district, this was where the stars prayed to Shiva and achieved their exalted position in the sky. Lord Vishnu received the celestial Sudarshan Chakra at this spot. It was here Lord Rama came to atone for the sin of killing Ravana… And it was in Ravana gufa that the demon-king had performed a rigorous penance and severed his heads as an offering to Lord Shiva. “The large cave is unusual – in the morning only a beam of light enters it, in the afternoon it’s completely dark, but at sunset a golden light emerges from it. It’s something to behold,” baba informed sagely.


Yet another fascinating tale about Tungnath was linked to the Mahabharata. Legend has it, after the Kurukshetra war, Sage Vyasa advised the Pandavas to seek forgiveness of Lord Shiva in order to absolve the sins of killing their kith and kin. When the five brothers came to the Himalayas in search of Shiva, the Lord chose to avoid pardoning those guilty of fratricide. He took the form of a bull and camouflaged himself in a field of countless bulls. At Guptkashi, Bhima saw one creature sinking in the mud and knew their divine search was over. He grappled with the bull but it disappeared and only parts of it surfaced at five places. The hump was found at Kedarnath, at Madhyamaheshwar the navel, at Tungnath the Lord’s forelimbs and heart, the face appeared at Rudranath while the hair and head surfaced at Kalpeshwar. At 12,070 ft, Tungnath was the loftiest of the Panch Kedars.

Like the Pandavas, we had been panting up the same mountain a few hours earlier on our 4km hike from Chopta to Tungnath. Luckily, the carefree songs of a kinnar (transgender person) trekking uphill with a massive wooden trunk filled with provisions on her back provided a lilting background score. Envying her strength and cheeriness, we stopped briefly to catch our breath. Below, rocky outcrops plummeted down to the valley and a tumble of boulders in the grassy meadows. On the other side wide-open bugyals (high-altitude grasslands) lured us to roll in the grass. Fragmented rows of visitors on foot or riding on mules led by porters wended their way along the cemented pathway. At a wayside shack we sipped delicious buraansh (rhododendron) juice in cold steel tumblers before plodding onward to reach Tungnath by late morning.


The ancient temple stood like an old mountain man, its rugged face wrinkled, but posture still erect. We took up lodging at a small shack below the temple and after endless rounds of chai and a late lunch, headed off for Chandrashila. The 1½ km hike was short but steep. A storm was brewing by the time we reached the small shrine of Gangadevi at its peak (13,500 ft). As we walked past the cluster of rock-cairns that held the vows, dreams and desires of hundreds of pilgrims in a wobbly balance, thunder rumbled like the faraway sounds of Shiva’s rattle drum. A lone red flag fluttered in the gusty wind as we absorbed nature in her raw, overpowering glory.

The prospect of five people squeezing into a 4 sq ft cell to brave a storm that could probably rage all night seemed unappealing. Yet the hypnotic sight of lightning flashes in the dark clouds, the last rays of the evening sun, the soft tinkling of tiny temple bells in the wind and the white silhouette of the Himalayas made us dally till twilight. The trek back was faster as we practically ran to avoid getting caught in the rain. A Himalayan pika or mousehare made a furtive scuttle for cover under slabs of rock as wildflowers bobbed their head in the drizzle. It was thus we landed at the doorstep of Baba Kidik Bam, who offered us chai and shelter.


While the Chopta to Chandrashila trek is relatively easy and open all year round, it is trickier in winter. As snow sets in, the symbolic image of Shiva is taken from Tungnath to Makkumath 19km away. Similarly, the Kedarnath idol is brought to Ukhimath, Rudranath to Gopeshwar and Madhyamaheshwar to Ukhimath. Unlike many who shift to the lower valleys in the icy winter, baba continues to stay in his hut all year round. Hours slipped by as we listened to his tales, before reluctantly climbing down to our humble tenement below.

Despite our evening adventure, we woke at the break of dawn and discovered a black partridge cooing on the path. A short walk led us to a cliff and we spotted a pair of Himalayan monal rifling the grass. The male hopped to a rock and caught the first rays of the sun…and for a fleeting moment we saw its iridescent plumage and the proud toss of its crest that could have put a peacock to shame. A little later, we came across a Himalayan fox loping across the bugyal and a herd of grazing Himalayan tahr. The descent to Chopta was leisurely and the next morning, after hot parathas, noodles and tea, we set off for Dogalbitta at the bottom of the valley. We spent the day birdwatching and hiking around the ravines. As a full moon rose against the shadowy pine trees on the hill, Baba Kidik Bam’s words rang out. “If you wish to see something spectacular, go to Chandrashila on a full moon night to catch the sunrise”.


On a mad impulse, two of us set off at midnight for Chandrashila. With just moonbeams to guide us, we climbed 7km to Chopta and were greeted by nervous ponies snorting and neighing at our intrusion. The hike to Tungnath was surreal as it was pitch dark and we paused momentarily outside baba’s hut. By the time we reached the summit, it was 4.30am. A group of Bengali trekkers waiting to catch the sunrise were stunned by our mad tale.

As the night slipped off its dark cloak, the colours of dawn exploded before our eyes over mighty Himalayan peaks – Bandarpoonch (20,722 ft), Kedar (22,769 ft), Trishul (23,360 ft), Chaukhamba (23,419 ft) and Nanda Devi (25,646 ft). Like the natural representation of Lord Shiva’s mystical image the craggy mountains resembled his matted locks with the crowning crescent and fount of Ganga trapped in a topknot.


We watched the sun break out of the sky and embarked on our 12.5km descent to Dogalbitta when a series of loud claps caught our attention. We looked up to see Baba Kidik Bam waving his hands from the Tungnath temple. There was a wide grin on his beaming face. We didn’t need to exchange any words, no signaling of the full moon or us walking. He knew, he just knew…

Getting there

Perched at 3680m, Tungnath (third among the Panch Kedars) is a 4km trek from Chopta, located on the Gopeshwar-Ukhimath road in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand. Chandrashila peak is 1½ km from Tungnath.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 20 April 2014 in  Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald.  

Higher Purpose: The Ascent of Everest


To celebrate 60 years of the first ascent of the world’s tallest mountain, adventure enthusiasts ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY chronicle death, danger, dreams and the lure of the Everest


From traveling to the ends of the earth, going into outer space or plumbing the depths of the ocean, man’s quest for exploration knows no bounds. One doesn’t look for logic in performing human feats that surpass the perceived limits of physical and mental endurance. Grit, self-belief and a sense of purpose empower individuals to undertake death-defying journeys, often to places where no one has gone before. Mountaineering is no different. On being asked why he climbed mountains, British climber George Mallory famously answered ‘Because it’s there…’

But how you can climb a mountain unless you know it’s there? For years, Kanchenjunga on the Sikkim-Nepal border was believed to be the world’s tallest mountain. Though the quest to scale Mount Everest is fairly well documented, the attempts to locate and measure it are not so well known… Equally fascinating is the part a group of Indians played in this epic adventure.


In 1802, the British started the Great Trigonometric Survey of India to determine the earth’s curvature by measuring the length of the country. The survey would also map out the world’s highest mountains. For measurements, Col. William Lambton used giant theodolites, precision instruments that weighed 500 kg and took 12 men to carry! Lt. George Everest, appointed as assistant to Lambton in 1818, succeeded him as Surveyor-General of India (1830-43). Starting from South India, the surveyors slowly worked their way up north taking three decades to reach the foothills of the Himalayas. Wary of Britain’s imperialist designs, Nepal refused to give them access and the British continued their observations from the Terai region on the Nepal-Bihar border.

Since Nepal and Tibet were closed to foreigners, the British employed several natives in this enterprise. Syed Mir Mohsin Husain, an Arcot-born watchmaker from Madras joined in 1824 as an instrument repairer and eventually became chief mathematical instrument maker. Nain Singh Rawat of Kumaon entered Tibet disguised as a Lama and carried out secret surveys for nearly 2 years. Aided by Mani Singh and Kishen Singh, the Pundit brothers surveyed the Tibet mountains extensively. To avoid suspicion, these ‘spy explorers’ went disguised as monks or traders using ingenious methods.


Measurements were coded as written prayers. These scrolls were hidden in the cylinder of the prayer wheel while a compass was stored in the lid. The topmost part of the monk’s staff hid a thermometer while secret pockets and false bottoms in provisions chests held surveying instruments. Mercury, used to create an artificial horizon, was kept in cowrie shells and was poured into the begging bowl whenever it had to be used. They were trained to take equal-paced steps and record distances using a modified Buddhist rosary with 100 beads instead of the standard 108. For every 100 steps they would count one bead, so a full rosary count represented 10,000 steps. Since each step was 31 ½ inches, a mile was roughly 2,000 steps.

Thus, Nain Singh became the first person to determine the exact location and altitude of Lhasa, mapped the trade route from Nepal to Tibet and the course of the Tsangpo River. Aiding the British was a battery of astute Bengali mathematicians led by Radhanath Sikdar, who joined the survey in the 1830s as a 19-year-old maths wunderkind and computor. In 1852 Sikdar informed the British Surveyor General of India Andrew Waugh that Peak XV was the highest point in the region and perhaps the world. After making sure, in 1856 Waugh recorded the first published height of Peak XV as 29,002 ft (8,840 m).


On Waugh’s recommendation the Royal Geographical Society gave Peak XV its official English name in 1865 after his predecessor Sir George Everest. The irony was that Everest never even saw the mountain. He protested that his name was pronounced ‘Eev-rist’, not easy for the native tongue and was a departure from the standard practice of using the mountain’s local name. Although Tibetans had been calling the mountain Chomolungma for centuries, outsiders were not privy to this information. And so, the name ‘Mount Everest’ stuck and Sikdar was conveniently forgotten…

After the First World War and the Anglo-Afghan Wars, the British once again turned their attention to their original conquest – the world’s highest mountain. Access was either from Tibet to the north or through Nepal from the south, but both Himalayan countries were hostile to outsiders. It was only through high-level diplomacy and an appeal to Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama that the British finally secured permission to visit Tibet in 1921.


The first British Reconnaissance Expedition, organized by the Mount Everest Committee, explored routes up the North Col and produced the first accurate maps of the region. George Mallory was a part of this recce and returned in 1922 for the first true attempt. Man scaled a height above 8000m for the first time. During the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition, Mallory and his young climbing partner Oxford student Andrew Irvine, disappeared high on the North-East ridge, just 800 vertical feet from the summit. Mallory’s fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered in 1999 by an expedition to locate the climbers’ remains. Whether Mallory was able to summit Everest, decades before Hillary’s ascent, remained the world’s biggest mountaineering mystery.

Subsequent attempts of Everest saw some of the biggest names of the British climbing fraternity – Hugh Ruttledge, who did a parikrama of Mount Kailash with his wife (the first Western woman to do so), Frank Smythe, who discovered Valley of Flowers on the Kamet expedition and Eric Shipton-Bill Tillman, the first to gain access to Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Shipton also gave a 19-year-old porter from Darjeeling his first Everest opportunity because of his attractive smile. His name was Tenzing Norgay.


Elaborating on the difficulties of high altitude climbing, Shipton explained “It would seem almost as though there were a cordon drawn round the upper part of these great peaks beyond which no man may go. The truth, of course, lies in the fact that, at altitudes of 25,000 feet and beyond, the effects of low atmospheric pressure upon the human body are so severe that really difficult mountaineering is impossible and the consequences even of a mild storm may be deadly, that nothing but the most perfect conditions of weather and snow offer the slightest chance of success, and that on the last lap of the climb no party is in a position to choose its day.”

However, not all of Everest’s admirers were climbers. In 1933 Lady Houston, a feisty showgirl named Lucy turned British millionaire, funded the Houston-Everest Flight Expedition to fly over Everest for the first time. It was believed to be Lady Houston’s way of showing opposition to plans of granting India its independence. On a still April morning, two planes took off from Purnea’s Lalbalu Aerodrome in Bihar. Marquess of Clydesdale and Colonel Blacker flew in a Houston-Westland plane accompanied by Flight Lieutenant McIntyre and aerial photographer SR Bonnett in a Westland-Wallace. The weather was so good, the trial sortie turned into an actual flight and the planes soared 100 ft above the world’s highest mountain. They returned once more for better photography of the terrain. The cables went wild. “Mount Everest has been flown over.”


The story of British eccentric Maurice Wilson is even more bizarre. A decorated World War I soldier, he got the idea of scaling Everest after reading newspaper clips of British expeditions and the Houston-Everest Flight while recovering at Black Forest. Magically cured of his long illness by a healer, Wilson was convinced that fasting and prayer were essential to his success, which would showcase his mystic beliefs to the world. He believed climbing Everest was his divine calling, “the job I’ve been given to do”. His plan, if it can be called one, was to fly a small plane to Tibet, crash-land it on the upper slopes of Everest and amble across to the summit.

Flying solo halfway across the world was a challenging task, let alone a solo ascent of Everest, a feat achieved only in 1980. Wilson was neither an aviator nor a mountaineer, so he decided to take a crash course, literally. He bought a Gipsy Moth, christened it ‘Ever Wrest’, took twice the time to get a pilot’s licence and crash-landed near Bradford. He earned a flying ban from the Air Ministry even before his expedition began. For climbing skills, rather than learning technical aspects like using an ice axe and crampons, he walked about the moderate hills of Snowdonia for five weeks, before declaring himself ready.  


In May 1933, Wilson managed to fly illegally from Britain to India via Cairo, Bahrain and Persia but his plane was impounded at Purnea. He spent the winter fasting and praying in Darjeeling, where he providentially met three Sherpas from the 1933 Ruttledge expedition. In March 1934, they slipped into Tibet disguised as Lamas and reached Rongbuk monastery. As per the grand plan, Wilson was to transport himself to the summit using his spiritual prowess and would signal the success of his mission to the monks with a shaving mirror. Maurice Wilson’s body and diary were found wrapped in a tent by a British expedition in 1935.

After a brief lull during the Second World War, political developments in the Himalayas changed the way climbers would approach Everest. Post-war the Dalai Lama had closed Tibet to foreigners. In 1950, the Chinese took control of Tibet, closing access via the north face while Nepal relaxed its borders to foreigners, opening up the southern route. The Everest was no longer an exclusively British dream as it drew international attention from Canadian, Swiss and Soviet climbers. In the 1952 expedition the Swiss managed to make the first climb to South Col. With each expedition climbers inched closer to the summit. It was going to be a race to the top…


In 1953, the British launched their ninth expedition under John Hunt. With the French securing permission to climb in 1954 and the Swiss in 1955, the British would get another shot only in 1956. It was now or never. The first climbing pair of Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon achieved the first ascent of the 8,750 m (28,700 ft) South Summit and stopped 100 m short of the final summit because of faulty oxygen equipment and lack of time. Two days later, on May 29, 1953 New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the second and final assault. Climbing the South Col route, they negotiated a 40 ft rock face (later named Hillary Step) and summited at 11:30 am. They spent 15 minutes to click photos and bury sweets as an offering to the mountain before descending.

In John Hunt’s The Ascent of Everest Edmund Hillary notes, “My initial feelings were of relief – relief that there were no more steps to cut, no more ridges to traverse and no more humps to tantalize us with hopes of success… we shook hands and then Tenzng threw his arm around my shoulders and we thumped each other on the back until we were almost breathless.” Times reporter James Morris descended from 22,000 feet to send a coded message through a runner, who walked 20 miles to get to the nearest radio at Namche Bazaar. The message was sent using the bicycle-powered radio station in Morse code to the Indian and British embassies in Kathmandu. A wireless transmitter relayed the news to London, just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in the morning. The Everest conquest was perhaps the last major news delivered to the world through runner.


In the years that followed, others conquered the peak. The Swiss expedition succeeded in 1956. Tenzing Norgay’s nephew Nawang Gombu became the first person to reach the summit twice. He went as part of an American expedition in 1963 and the 1965 Indian expedition, the third attempt after two failed missions. Led by Lieutenant Commander MS Kohli, nine of 21-man Indian contingent scaled the summit, India becoming the fourth country to do so. Captain Avtar Singh Cheema was the first Indian on Everest. In 1966 the Nepal government banned climbing in the Nepal Himalayas and when it reopened in 1969, the Japanese were the first to leave a mark.

On May 6, 1970 Yuichiro Miura became the first person to ski on Mount Everest. He descended nearly 4,200 vertical feet from South Col (25,938 ft), a feat documented in the 1975 film The Man Who Skied Down Everest. It won the Academy Award for best documentary, the first for a sports film. In 2003, Miura became the oldest person to summit Everest at the age of 70, accompanied by his son Gota Miura. When a fellow Japanese broke his record by three days, Miura reclaimed his title in 2008 at the age of 75 years and 227 days. It was later found that Nepali Min Bahadur Sherchan, aged 76 years and 330 days had summited a day earlier. Not one to give up, Miura once again reclaimed his title on May 22 this year at the age of 80. Having nearly died on his descent but helped by son Gota, Miura says he will not challenge the mountain again. “Three times is enough!”


They weren’t the first father-son duo to climb Everest. Befittingly that record rests with Sir Edmund and Peter Hillary who achieved the feat in 1990. In May 2002, Peter returned with Tenzing Norgay’s son Jamling as part of a National Geographic Society expedition to mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent by their fathers. Lukla, counted among the most dangerous airports in the world, was renamed in 2008 after Tenzing-Hillary who helped develop it. People start their climb to Mount Everest Base Camp from Lukla, taking two days to reach Namche Bazaar, the gateway to the high Himalayas.

In the last 60 years over 3,000 people from 20 countries have climbed the Everest with nearly 5654 ascents and 219 casualties. Most who reach the summit die on their descent, usually in the Death Zone or heights of over 8000m. For every ten successful ascents there’s one death, but armed with better equipment, technology and knowhow, climbers are now making it to the top with relative safety. On one day alone in 2012, 234 climbers reached the peak. Such unprecedented access has raised concerns of over-commercialization, garbage disposal, climbing protocol and environmental impact.


This year the 60th anniversary of the first ascent was celebrated in Nepal with high-altitude marathons, a clean-up operation at Everest Base Camp and colourful processions in Kathmandu featuring Kanchha Sherpa, one of the last surviving members of the 1953 expedition and mountaineer Reinhold Messner, the first to climb Everest without oxygen, the first to do it solo and also the first to scale all the 14 eight-thousanders in the world.

Meanwhile, records continue to tumble – this year alone saw Phurba Tashi equaling Apa Sherpa’s record for most summits (21 times), Arunima Sinha becoming the first female amputee to scale Everest and the world’s highest BASE jump. Russian extreme sports legend Valery Rozov flew off Everest’s north face from 23,680 ft. Besides climbing feats, Everest has hosted the world’s highest concert, the first 3G call, first descent by paraglider and among other things, the world’s highest fight at 23,000 ft, with an ugly brawl between Western climbers and sherpas in May 2013.


High-altitude mountain guide Adrian Ballinger summed up the incident well. “The constant pressure to break records, attempt new routes, and be the strongest, whether for personal pride, sponsors, future job offers, or media, can cloud the purity of our climbing here. And these pressures can lead to disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings. But none of these pressures should be allowed to lead to violence, or to breaking the essential bonds that tie climbers to each other”.

Last heard, 81-year-old Min Bahadur had abandoned his attempt to become the oldest man on Everest due to bad weather and the bureaucratic delay by the Nepal government to allocate funds as he waited at Base Camp. Yuichiro Miura can breathe easy while Everest patiently awaits the next wave of climbers…


Mounting costs
Climbing Mount Everest is an expensive proposition. The permit alone costs $10,000 to $25,000 per person, depending on the team’s size. Climbing gear can cost US$8,000 and bottled oxygen adds around $3,000. Transferring equipment from the airport to the base camp, 100 km from Kathmandu, can add $2,000.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 21 July 2013 in Sunday Herald as a cover story to celebrate 60 years of the first ascent of Everest.

Walk by a River: Rishikesh to Tapovan


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY journey along the Ganga from Rishikesh to Tapovan in search of Himalayan stories, mystics and adventure


‘Who was the son of Hanuman?’ Mauni Baba gesticulated with his hands. The Ukrainian scowled, the Russian shook his head, as all eyes turned to us. ‘Baba, wasn’t he a bachelor, sworn to brahmacharya (celibacy)?’ we enquired politely. Mauni Baba gave us his warm benign smile and through dumb charades explained the mythological conundrum. How, on his aerial journey to Lanka a bead of sweat fell from Hanuman’s body into the ocean and was swallowed by a makara (sea creature). The child thus born of it was called Makaradhwaja and became the gatekeeper of Ravana’s brother, Ahiravana. During the Lanka war, the powerful Makaradhwaja came face to face with the monkey god who was baffled to meet his match. When he asked the young lad his identity, he replied that he was his son. Hanuman surely must have been more shocked than us.

It was a helluva story. More so, considering baba had used just gestures to communicate it. At 14,435 ft, our theatrics could have been mistaken for high altitude madness, but there were hardly any people save a herd of Himalayan blue sheep to make such assumptions. The majestic Shivling peak (21,750 ft) towered above us, its head covered in clouds while the Amar Ganga stream flowed silently as if washing its feet. Tapovan, the spiritual retreat of Lord Shiva, wore an air of meditative calm.


Herds of bharal flocked to Mauni Baba’s Ashram. Besides providing food, shelter and answers to mundane and philosophical questions of humans, the young swami also tended to the salt intake of the herbivores. On a vow of silence since eight years, he was one of the many extraordinary people we met on our Ganga odyssey.

Our tricky descent over mud slopes, rocky paths and glaciers brought us to Gaumukh, the glacial source of the Ganga. It was alarming to see that the path we had taken while climbing had shifted on our return. Deep below our feet, bits of the glacier fell into an unseen abyss with a chilling distant splash. We walked gingerly wondering when the icy path would give way. Global warming was not some phenomenon in the future; it was a reality unfolding right in front of our eyes. The source of India’s holiest river was a trickling expanse of mud and it felt as if time was running out…


We breezed past the clutch of camps at Bhojbasa, the shady arbor of chir pine at Chirbasa and through Gangotri National Park. We had walked 21km non-stop from Tapovan and by evening we returned to the mayhem of mainstream Gangotri. After thanking the river deity for a safe trip, we crossed the metal bridge to the quieter side and stayed at the Isha Vasyam Ashram. At dusk the oil lamps by the riverside seemed magical as the snowy peaks of Sudarshan and Bhagirathi shone in the fading light.

Next morning, a walking path led us to Gauri Kund, the spot where Lord Shiva took the tempestuous Ganga into his matted locks and saved earth from the fury of her descent. Just opposite Surya Kund, we came to a kutiya (hut) decorated with driftwood and sacred stone arrangements. This was the ashram of Swami Sundaranandji, better known as Clicking Swami or Photo Baba, whose amazing stories kept us enthralled for hours…


Swami ji came here in 1948 from Nellore and after meeting his guru Tapovan Maharaj, developed a fascination for nature. He took to photography in 1956 with a Rs.25 Agfa Click III camera and went about documenting the Himalayas with amazing detail. A veteran mountaineer who has scaled 25 peaks, Sundaranandji has trekked to Gaumukh 108 times much before there was a path and walked from Gangotri to Badrinath a dozen times. During the China war he showed the way through the mountains to the Indian army. He survived a fall into a crevasse and lowered himself using a rope, risking his life to take photographs of Suralaya Glacier in Satopanth.

He has a penchant for discovering the sacred symbol Om in nature and has captured pictures in stone, leaves, flowers and sky. With several awards to his credit and many exhibitions across the country, a lot of his 8 quintal photographs and 4000 slides had been purloined by visitors. An operation in 2002 ended his climbing career but his lifetime’s work finally bore fruit through a coffee table book ‘Himalaya: Through the lens of a Sadhu’, translated into German and Italian.


Poring over his glossy photos, Swami Sundaranandji rued that the mountains are not the same anymore. It was unbelievable to see crystal blue waters at Surya Kund when Gangotri was bejewelled like heaven on earth. Swamiji scoffed at the herd of pilgrims who came with blinders on a char dham yatra, with little time to explore the natural beauty or the inclination to climb a hill. “Eshwar mandir ya masjid mein nahin, prakriti ke praangan mein yun hi bikhra pada hai,” he said, meaning ‘God does not reside in temples or mosques, he is scattered everywhere in the courtyard of nature.’

The bus from Gangotri dropped us to Dharali where the Ganga had broadened into a wide expanse. Lazing by the tents of the Char Dham Camp of Leisure Hotels, it was cathartic to gaze at the placid river murmuring past us. At the ancient Kalp Kedar Temple, Swami Narasimh Tirth told us that this was the mool sthan (original place) of the Ganga and that the glacier had actually shifted 21km to Gangotri over centuries! It is common knowledge that the glacier recedes 5m every year but this was a staggering statistic. The temple itself was believed to be 5115 years old, built by the Pandavas. Adorning the façade was an intriguing face of Surya, the sun god or Kalabhairava, Shiva’s fierce attendant.


Earlier the temple overlooked the Ganga but had since sunk. A famous photograph from 1802 showed us the shrines of Parvati and Ganesha, destroyed in the glacial shift of 1895, which also flattened an 18km stretch from Jangla to Sukhi. Between 1935-38 another glacial shift submerged the Kalp Kedar temple with only the shikhara visible. The temple was partially excavated in 1980 but 6 ft still remains underwater. The priest told us that every Shravan, the Ganga comes up to Lord Shiva and washes the panch-mukhi lingam as an oblation while in the dry season, the submerged temples magically reappear.

It is said that the Pandavas cursed Kalp Kedar to be washed away since Lord Shiva did not give them darshan when they had performed a penance to atone for the bloodbath at the Mahabharata war. The Pandavas took a holy dip to remove the sin of hatya (murder), so the river bears the name Hatyaharini. We continued on the Pandava trail to Mukhwa, the winter seat of the Ganga, where Bhima’s horse left its hoofmarks on a rock while going to Mansarovar. Locals believe that Bhima created the Bhim Ganga waterfall to quench the thirst of the Pandavas.


Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while walking up the mountain. Our young guides Gokul and Samridh mimicked Arjun and Bhima shooting an arrow into the mountain. The trail beyond led to Danda Pokhri for views of Mount Sumeru. But we were content with the splendor of Chandraparvat, Srikanth, Himvan and Bandarpoonch. On our walk through the quaint village, the boys insisted we taste the berries and shoots like chuli, shirol and saunf (fennel) that grew on the mountainside.

As we descended via Uttarkashi to Rishikesh, the rise in temperature was palpable. Relaxing at Neemrana’s Glasshouse on the Ganges amidst the mango and litchi orchards of the Maharaja of Tehri seemed like a perfect way to unwind.


From our perch we spotted yellow and blue dinghies bob down the river and were tempted to embark on a white-water rafting adventure. At a placid stretch, the guide egged us to jump overboard. We needed no encouragement. The icy cold water of the Ganga was like balm to our trek-weary bodies. Sage Bhagirathi hadn’t just assured the salvation of his 60,000 ancestors, he had ensured it for generations to come.   

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was published on 19 May 2013 in the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.