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Friday, November 22, 2013

Breathless in Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan is not called the land of the Thunder Dragon for nothing. My last journey there left an indelible impression on me in more ways than one. While the album images speak for themselves more or less, my  trial and tribulation for no fault of my host country, became akin in terms of sheer physicality and labor, to the cleaning of the Augean Stables by Hercules. I made my first error when I decided to test the status of the rail and road combination exiting out of India. Having booked the return journey by Druk Air, Bhutan's national airline from Paro to New Delhi, I felt that by seeing the current condition of the road during the monsoon, where it traversed through that remote corner of India (West Bengal state) near Bhutan, would be a useful input for the next season.

The North East Express is a train of national importance serving the north east of India and linking it to the Capital, Delhi. When the train crossed into the state of Bihar all around us was a sea of water. Looking to  the horizon and seeing the immense "water world", reminded one of the famous film by that name, and whose hero was the American actor Kevin Costner. At approximately 3 pm the train came to a grinding halt. And it remained that way for 12 hours. Sourrounded by water the electronic signals were under water outside the Mughalsarai station, a major train junction since the days of the English. The second class air conditioned compartment in which I was (and the best on this train) soon became a living hell. The toilets were grossly filthy, their latches sharp and poky enough to cause injury, and rusted enough to kill a passenger from tetanus and the rain water flooded the inside of the compartment. When I asked for the complaint book, the collector grovellingly asked "why sir, what has happened?". I said “there is rain water inside the compartment”. He quickly said "but sir, it is raining outside!" I insisted and the grand ceremony of writing a written complaint and receiving a duplicate was embarked upon, and completed.

At midnight all passengers were asleep barring me and a vibrant and energetic young man in the field of education. We tried using our phone contacts to get the numbers of the railways at Mughalsarai. All attempts failed. I decided to wake the ticket collector who was sleeping rather comfortably. He said he did’nt have a number for Mughalsarai, but only for Agra. I said "call them". He said "my phone doesn’t have a signal". I said " here's mine, and it does!" In the meantime we saw four other trains whizzing past, as they were on an obvious priority, the Rajdhani being one. The ticket collector spoke to control in Agra and got a non comittal reply as the entire area was flooded. I took the phone back, passed the number onto my contacts in Delhi and then we all began calling the number. Finally the train budged. I reached at 9 pm instead of 7 am. I got a taxi and the taxi man and his cohorts clambered all over me. Where do you wish to go sir? "Bhutan Gate", I said. 300 rupees sir. In the fatigued state, I thought this was a good deal. Lets go! ..As I clambered into the jeep, someone said "where did you say you wanted to go? " Bhutan Gate, I answered again. " "Bhutan Gate! that is a 180 km and a 3 hour journey! that is 3000 not 300! Having settled for Rs 2500 we proceeded. The journey was 4 hours, and of this, 3 hours were through craters a foot to 2 feet deep. The road had become rippled and wavy due to the poor construction, and overladen trucks. Communist West Bengal at its best. The pitch dark, dense jungle for much of the way were inhabited by wild elephant (as I knew from past knowledge) made it that much more tension filled. At 4 am My Bhutanese guide finally met at the border, having waited since midday the previous day. I crashed into a  heavenly Bhutanese hotel. State of the art fittings had been used, but placed poorly in some cases..Anyway the excellent springs of the bed invited me. For the first hour my head and ears continued swaying and humming with the momentum of the awful road journey.

After breakfast at 9, we set out on a six hour mountain road journey ever rising upto the capital, Thimpu. The road was excellent, and the best of India’s workmanship was seen. The Indian Army had built a tremendous road, with fantastic bridges, surfacing and edging. But the mountains spare no man, and there were some gruelling sections of land slides to negotiate. I finally reached Thimpu  and after a night halt, we embarked on trek. Wonderful vistas accompanied us and our pleasant guides. But there was a bit of inexperience, and I was too fatigued to notice after the long, cold and damp train journey and the wheeze I had contracted, the rough road trip, followed by the four hour walk, that the outer fly was touching the inner. The result was an iced over inside ceiling the next morning doing further damage to my lungs.The next day entailed an uphill climb of 7 hours from 10,000 ft (app 3200 m) to 14,500 (app 7,200 m). Carrying a not so light day pack, and I was done for after five months of faffing around without much physical activity during the Indian summer.

And then the nightmare began. I could barely breathe and was wracked by coughing so violently, my stomach was sore, as if repeatedly punched. I needed to be supported. To do all this and yet take decisions for the team (including my English clients including Sir David John KCMG)  became extremely demanding. The shorter route was to go back over the pass but the vertical was impossible for the pack pony. I could not move on my own and the team had no way to ferry me on a stretcher. So I had to  do a two day walk in one. It was an eleven hour marathon to get down to the road head by nightfall, six being on a small mountain pony, a great little mare but with poor tack and untrained leading hands. Had I not been a horseman in my own capacity and a polo player, I would never ever have survived that day.

The small wooden saddle as is used in Asia’s mountains had a pommel hoop, and no stirrups, so I used a primitive rope loop. The breastplate served as a stopping rein because there was only one open rein, used by the ponyman to lead. A horse  generally picks the right route ninety eight percent of the time. But on occasion it picks entirely the wrong one. At some of the  forked paths, the lead man would not look back to guide the pony onto he right path and so the pony ended up taking me to the edge of a sheer cliff face with a thousand foot or more drop! In my delirium I had to admonish the pony man and ask him to keep his wits about him. Again when going past narrow rocky defiles, I had to raise my legs to avoid injury to my ankles increasing the strain. When one went up an incline, I had to rise up in the stirrups, (as a considerate rider does to aid the horse) at which time the iron hoop of the saddle would catch my stomach, already bruised from hours of coughing.

We broke journey and after a short break I had to face the very sharp decline. I was partly carried by one guide who commented "you must have carried me in a past life, sir, which is why I must carry you now". This was too hard to bear, as his shoulder and the bounce, knocked the already depleted wind, from my lungs. I then half walked and half let myself be lugged down the slippery and rocky mountain into thick jungle, by two men, the sheer pace of their momentum, and gravity rushing me off my feet, sweat pouring down my body, inspite of most of the effort being on the part of my helpers. The endless trek down the mountain, ended in the pitch dark, and my relief car came to extricate me and take me to the hospital. The Doctor at the Emergency said, "heart fine, blood pressure, fine, chest, a slight infection." While I had escaped pulmonary oedema a dangerous and unpleasant condition, the slight "chest infection", had played utter havoc with my physiogonomy.

Bhutan is an unusual country and does not permit mountaineering on account of the mountains being sacred. I guess I had not appeased the Gods this time on the Dag Lang Lake Trek-The Trek of a Thousand Lakes! Even so, I enjoyed Thimpu thoroughly, inspite of being exhausted from the experience. The Tsecho Festival and dances, which occured just before the Royal Wedding..was captivating  as was all else about Bhutan, Land of The Thunder Dragon.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Revisiting Kashmir and Ladakh, twenty seven years on

After having first visited Kashmir as an army brat in 1965, I had come to start a professional career in the summer of 1979 as aide to the Late Colonel John Wakefield as trek and fishing camp manager, straight from college.

I stayed on for almost ten years including the years when I operated my own company there.

The troubles were just "brewing" during the 1997-1989 period and seeing the writing on the wall,  decided to exit the state.

In 2009 my company began sending European and Americans back to Kashmir as there was relative calm thanks to the sustained operations of the Indian Army against Paksitani militancy. Indian tourists thronged in their thousands.

I conducted 24 Germans and 8 Americans respectively in march 2011 and 2013. And I noticed certain changes.

The hostility of the man of the street had substantially reduced. He had as one shikara boatman told me, realised " that in the old days or even now because of the nature of the visitor, the foreign tourist's revenue was confined to the houseboat owners, and  the transporters, guides and the shops linked to them. On with the domestic tourist, money was spread. A little here, a little there and thereby a greater respect was accorded to the latter.The man on the street had also suffered. He was forced to look for work in the plains. The Kashmiri trader was now entrenched in Jaipur, Goa, Jodhpur's desert Kingdom and so on. The young Kaashmiri was now an executive in a New Delhi firm. Heck there is for the first time a Kashmiri lad playing in the Indian cricket team. I am waiting to see when, when this lad is playing in the Indian team, against Pakistan, who the man on the street in Kashmir, will root for! It wa always but always for Pakistan.

I learnt many things that I had not thought about earlier, with regards to Kashmir. It was the land of Sufiana -land of peers or saints- a concent that was anathema to the Wahaabi Islam of the Arabs. This, along with the fact that it was the cradle for ancient Hindu and Buddhism, itself would according to many, ensure that it would not come under the sway of the Taliban.

I was listening to the ring tone of an elderly Kashmiri's mobile phone. I realised the deep similiarity it had with the  hymns from my faith, Sikhism.

Majid Peer also told me that the Amarnath Cave to which thousands had begun thronging to in recent years, was actually not the correct site according to Hindu mythology as this was the cave where Shiva and Parvati had merely stopped to take a rest. The actual site was farther up!

Even while I felt the pain and anguish of the Pandit hindu community who had been forced to leave Kashmir (ethnic cleansing according to a friend of mine who had to flee), the cultural assault of hordes from the plains trekking to Amarnath, the heavy police contingents and resulting debris made me sympathise with the Kashmiris who had these rather unwanted guests even while they profited from the yatra, each year.

It is same in my native state of Uttrakhand, which was similiarly assaulted each year by plains people especially the Kavarias who walk to take way Ganges water. They take not just the water, but the soil and leave behind dirt and debris much of it non biodegradable.

The beautiful meadows of Gulmarg were marred by poor handling of the Gondola arrangements. Thousands queing, touts and others abusing the system, pushing, shoving and standing in line for hours on end. Gulmarg is only worth visiting in winter!

Pahalgam is similiarly ruined by the tourist both from the plains and from Kashmir as they all come in cars honking down the main single street.

In the midst of all this however, past knowledge and good grounds people helped me and the family as well as my English clients, find solace. Also, having a good local guide, allowed me to get into some beautful valleys for trout fishing and experiencing once again, the Kashmir of old.

I learnt something else. My Kashmiri houseboat owner, told me of how he gave up trout fishing, something he was a keen expert on, accompanying many a famous western visitor for four decades. He narrated how late one evening he caught and felt almost sucked into by a monster fish and the fright he got, put him off fishing for the rest of his years! But what  learnt was, that to preserve a trout for long periods, one needed to sprinkle charcoal inside the cleaned ot trout and it would freeze for long periods!

Later, I crossed the Zo Ji La, the himalayan watershed, into Ladakh. Here Leh, Hemis and Pangong Lake twenty seven years later. The road after the Zo Ji La is better than world class barring some causeways.Leh and its surroundings have inevitably grown. The traffic and fumes fro diesel gensets its worst aspect. But smart cafes, producing excellent fare are now to be found.

The pictures complete the story.

I hope you enjoy it!



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Old World Travel in the New Age







Hello Travellers All!

We are pleased to share the abbreviated news bulletin on upcoming trips and miscellaneous ramblings and rumblings.

The Indian Sub Continent has entered the Dusshera Festive season which will culminate in Diwali-the Festival of Lights next month 13th Nov.’ 12. The Pushkar Fair toward year end, and the Kumbh Mela, that incrediblehuman extravaganza will take place early in the New Year.

See the Festival Calendar on the TigerPaws website for these markers.

In the event any of the trips highlighted below "grab" you, do write in and we will make every endeavor to accomodate you on the same trip, or plan one of a similiar type.

Read on:
                                                                                News Bulletin Fall 2012
                        Foreign ramblings and, Upcoming TigerPaw Adventures Journeys during period Oct 2012 -June 2013

October 2012 –April 2013: Spashram RiverMountain Eco Camp is open; visitors from France, England, New Delhi.
    
November 2012: FIT Travellers 24 days India: $ 6,000 per person January 2013 Kodai Individual Travellers Tour
Dates: 15 Jan 13 to 01st Feb. 13
Status: Private Tour Internal India Cost Per pers. $ 5,640 Twin

March 2013: The Bhagoriya Festival & Gujrat with Vale of Kashmir Extension
Status: Limited Edition Trip: Open Group: Taking on Sign Ups : Single Female Traveller Friendly. Dates: 07 March 2013 to 27 March 2013. Max: 10 Pers. Internal India Cost Per pers. $ 4,250 Twin Share. Kashmir portion 7 NIGHTS- 8DYS  $ 1,580 PER  pers. Email us for information on  dates and information: bookings
                           March 2013
Maha Kumbh Festival - Allahabad 27th Jan.13 to 25th Feb.2013.
Allahabad is besides the venue of the immense Kumbh Mela, for which separate details are available, and for which you may enquire for last minute space availability, also the site of the British Fort, and the Sangam where the holy Ganges meets the mythological Saraswati river which comes to surface only during this lunar holy period. Here, the British developed river navigation for cotton, after losing their source of cotton after the American Civil war. Boat excursions along quiet sections of the Ganges are possible here.
                                                 
Above right image from TigerPaws expedition commemorating Eric Newby’s epic Journey 1963 Slowly Down The Ganges
Pushkar
TigerPaws client Eliane Thwaite’s images taken at Pushkar (also featured in IJ Singhs Book “ No Boda Boda
Polo
Even while many of the trips are already “closed”, the prices and group strengths are reflected to give you a perspective on trip types, durations, and costs as also our own comittments. You may enquire as to the program of all the above and a special personalised booking for the same trip routing on different dates.

FOREIGN RAMBLINGS:
Between 28th August and 27th Sep 2012, Founder CEO IJ Singh, travelled to Ireland, England, Canada, USA and Germany to deliver a series of slide based

lectures featuring his travel book “No Boda Boda” and some of the unique journeys therein. These were extremely well received and has resulted in further

lectures, talks and trips during the 2012 and 2013-2014 periods.

The first of these lectures was titled “In the Footsteps of Your Guru-Portraits of the Faith”, and focussed on the ecological importance of Hemkund (14,500 ft

ASL (4,750 m) where the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, is believed to have meditated in a previous avatar.

The impact of visitation there and need to bring in ecological awareness via sikh youth from the UK, via the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail, was the focus of this

evening with the Sikh Gurudwara of Hunslow.

Images below show IJ Singh founder ,CEO of TigerPaws and author of the book “ No Boda Boda” which features this journey, being presented a book by the Secretary of the Hunlow Gurudwara, and Mr Harbinder Singh of the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail(on left of author, in glasses), on “ 150 years of The Sikhs of Britain”

The other presentations were an overall encapsulation of IJ Singh’s book featuring a wide section of chapters and journeys in different continents and eco systems as well as chapter extracts from some of the humorous travel anecdotes that the book features. These were extremely well received and has resulted in a tremendous response especially for India bound journeys including from the UK (Northern Ireland and England).

IJ Discovers an olde Indiah connection in Kensington Church-The Battle of Gwalior Fort! The Royal Household Cavalry marches past. Friend and host, Nigel Haden Paton at Kensington Park., Shelly’s Walk and other English Eccentricities. The Poet’s works were taught to IJ in school by the Irish Christian Brothers!

                                                           Human interaction-including with the local coppers! Alongwith history is what TigerPaws brings to its trips                

Above: Signs Irish! And a historic stone dtd-1659 AD. A butterfly park, man made classics  and below: the scenic beauty of Donegal Bay. The butterfly park visit was a technical study tour, related to the establishment of a similar park at Spashram RiverMountain, which owner IJ Singh is steering on behalf of TigerPaws with field scientists and foresters. This is meant to provide an onsite attraction to residents, protect biodiversity and act as a tool for rural field education and awareness.
Above: TigerPaw's Canadian affiliate  positions technical collaborations.Here with the Yurtco Team whose mountain and desert yurts will soon be seen at Spashram sites in India 

Images below:
At the Berlin Polo Club Top L: Executive Chef Dirk (r ), Image 2 from L, IJ plays barman. Image 3 Dr Inge Schwenger hostess and Director of the Club., Img  4, 6, friends and past clients of the Club the Maracke’s and the Mandells. And bottom, IJ in action!
OTHER NEWS
In other news considered most important to us at TigerPaws, the UN Conference on BioDiversity Preservation saw Indian Prime Minister ManMohan Singh pleading $ 50 Mill for this critical sector. Along with healthcare, foreign investment and other critical areas, the Prime Minister has taken this huge and positive step which is close to the heart of the TigerPaws philosophy, biodiversity preservation. The Spashram RiverMountain Project reflects the importance we give to this sector. For more information on the underlying principles of this philosophy or how you can help write to us via any of the links below.
The latest on Tiger spotting is that the ban on benign tourists’ activity in National Parks  has been lifted. However, a long standing code of conduct of TigerPaws becomes even more essential now: please discourage your jeep drivers from “racing and being pushy” over others to reach the site for a tiger sighting. This little step will go a long way, in evolving gentler human behaviour allowing the tiger to have its personal space.
Until our next quarterly newsletter, travel safe!
The Last Word-Let The Tiger Speak
                                            Left image taken at Bandhavgarh by TigerPaws client Bernd Maracke.                          The wrong way
  
There has been an ongoing debate in India at multiple levels, on whether tourism visitation in core areas of national parks especially Tiger Reserves should be permitted or not.

The Hindustan Times ran a debate over two days where two leading activists spoke for and against the motion. Valmik Thapar spoke for ( http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspxnd …Ajay Dubey spoke against )(http://www.hindustantimes.com/ViewsSectionPage/ColumnsOthers/Let-s-stick-to-the-law-for-once/Article1-950108.aspx)

See the respective articles by clicking on the individual names above.
Where does your company Tiger Paw Adventures stand in this debate. The position may surprise many for we concur with …
For many years TigerPaws did not even promote wildlife safaris because of the manner in which the rest of the industry and the Forest Department rode roughshod on the the fundamentals of wildlife watching and eco sensitivity which was to minimise impact, and evolve a code of conduct on the manner in which jeep drivers raced around to get to a sighting spot, and tourists urged their drivers to deliver a sighting. Overtime as we cultivated a highly discerning clientele we were able to elicit their cooperation in discouraging their drivers to “follow the horde” and “push ahead” for a sighting.

TigerPaws has a very diverse panapoly of eco and adventure as well as cultural tours. It also operates in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Canada , Brazil and others where there is a far more enlightened view and practise of wildlife tourism. We firmly believe that a lack of practical field nature study in schools has created a lack of awareness in appreciation for smaller species and resulted in the tunnel vision of a tourist ony being satisfied when he or she sights a tiger and no less.

TigerPaw Adventures was also the only company which discouraged low cost tourism in Arunachal Pradesh during the assessment team’s visit in the early 80’s. The case for low numbers as stated by..in the second article is one which finds complete resonance with us. We are confident that the responsible tourists that TigerPaws clients are, understand this and that they will come for a total wildlife India experience where sighting a tiger is the icing on the cake rather than the end all and be all of their visit to a national park.

HOWEVER WHAT IS MOST INTERESTING IS THAT BOTH INDIVIDUALS CITIED THAT THE AFRICAN EXAMPLE WAS THE BEST TO FOLLOW , THE DIFFERENCE IN THE TWO POSITIONS BEING THAT WHILE THAPAR WAS  FOR TOURISM IN CORE AREAS , DUBEY CHALLENGED THE VERY PRESENCE OF TOURISM IN NATIONAL PARKS, LIKE COLIN BELL, THE AFRICAN EXPERT HE QUOTED, SAYING THAT IF AT ALL THIS WERE TO BE PERMITTED, THE AFRICAN EXAMPLE WAS THE MOST VISIONARY.
Our position therefor rests as quoted in the preceding paragraph and we trust that its logic will be obvious.

"We hope our paths cross soon and look forward to hearing from you."
Cordially,
From TEAM TIGERPAWS


Executive Directors: IJ  Singh, and Maj Gen Surjit Singh
Tours : Rohit Ninoriya & Deepak Kumar
In The Field: Mountain Men: Anand Singh Negi, Surinder Singh and Hari Singh
Equestrian Staff: Bijay Singh , Boma Ram, Ganesh Ram, and Equines : Raj Kumar, Light Foot, Hanuman.
Support Staff: Accounts: Shaukat Anwar  : Vikram Kumar

SEE OUR WEBSITES or CONTACT US VIA:

Also see on FACEBOOK “ No Boda Boda”   ,  “TigerPaw Adventures”   , “ Spashram”  , “ Poloholidays”  www.Safarious.com/EklektikEdventurz 
Inder Jit Singh on FB . Blog www.travelleratlarge.blogspot.com Twitter: ij_himself  Skype: Panthera 72
INDIA Mob   91-8860128999|91-9810128999, Land (Studio-Dir.No Voice)-  91-11-46568080
INDIA: D 383 Defence Colony, New Delhi 110024
Tel/Fax 91-11-41011617.  Admin: Travel:   91-11-65655355   

         CANADA: 8034-112 B St., Delta, BC, V4C5A7
      IJ Singh Founder TigerPaw Adventures (I) Pltd  1982 INDIA,1995 CANADA
Author of the 2012 Travel Book “ No Boda Boda”
Founder IJ's Exotic Int'l Horseback & Polo Holidays- Canada 1997
             Fellow Asia Foundation San Fransisco Environmental Education (First Five-INDIA)1994;  Awardee India- BioDiversity Conservation Award 1995    Wash DC USA: Sole International Speaker Polo America 2000, 2001 Polo Holidays,LAS VEGAS,USA;
TIGERPAW ADVENTURES: 
         PLANNERS AND LOGISTICANS FOR BRITISH FORCES GERMANY 2nd Royal Tank Regiment EXERCISE BHILGANGA DIAMOND I,II,1994-1995
        Royal Signals HIMALAYAN SKI MOUNTAINEERING, & ROYAL AIR FORCE, KINLOSS,SCOTLAND, EXPEDITION  MT KEDAR DOME;1995
 
          TRAINING AGENCY FOR INDIAN ARMY'S 2nd MOUNTAIN ARTILLERY BRIGADE (& OTHERS/NAVY). FIRST DESCENT RIVER LOHIT, International Tri Junction (INDIA,CHINA,MYANMAAR-ARUNACHAL PRADESH);1992-1994

       FIRST PRIVATE  OUTDOOR MANAGEMENT TEAM & LEADERSHIP PROGRAM COORDINATOR, FOR AMERICAN EXPRESSINDIA 1994,1995;
            MOTIVATIONAL WEEKEND PROGRAM COORDINATOR -HONGKONG & SHANGHAI BANK 2002;
            SELECTED BY VICE PRESIDENT HARVARD UNIVERSITY,FOR REMOTE AREA JOURNEYS OF DISCOVERY 1999;

           ALSO:  OTHER  "FIRSTS IN ADVENTURE".

Sunday, March 25, 2012

UDAIPUR

Udaipur is in my estimation India's most pleasant and scenic city with the most exemplary civic management...
I will be sending a few posts on the LAKE PALACE CITY- also famous for the setting ofthe Bond Film-Octopussy

Friday, February 3, 2012

THE CHAPTERS IN THE BOOK..No Boda Boda...see www.nobodaboda.com give an indication of what portends...

Hobin Hunting in Arunachal and Other Journeys on theNortheast Frontier .
Conducting American VIPs to India’s EasternExtremities, Manipur and Nagaland .
Travels and Travails in Kashmir, Zanskar, and Ladakh;
Encounters with Nature, Eccentric Travelers, and Others . . . . . . . .
Each Man to His Own: A Question of Survival—and Odd Women
Trapped with Three American Ladies from Texas
 Escaping the Talons of a Lammergeier, the Bearded Vulture; No Escape from Chang , Mountain Barley Brew
 Two Narrow Escapes for a Young Lady, in Kashmir’s Wilds
7c (vi) Th e Alpine Lakes Trek in Kashmir–and One Big
Mountain Th understorm Th at Became Two . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
A Cat’s Nine Lives on Himalayan Roads and Other Incidents. 79
a Encounters Over the Zoji La . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
7c (vii) b No Brakes and Blind Man’s Bluff , on the Banihal Pass. . . 83
7c (vii) c Blue Tents and Tin Tanks in the High Himalaya . . . . . . . 85
7c (vii) d Stok—Th e Royal Palace, and the Village of Ladakh . . . . . 86
7c (vii) e 1,800 Kilometers on an Italian Vespa From New
Delhi to Kashmir and Back . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
7d Adventures in the Garhwal Himalaya . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
7d (i) Lost in the Garhwal While Heading to the Source of the
Ganges in Winter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
7d (ii) Quirky Englishmen and Again, the Source of the Ganges . . . . 94
7d (iii) More on Language: A Foreign Journey; I Make a
Language Gaff e with a Young British Lady . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
7e Rats! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98

Saturday, October 29, 2011

SEEN BY TRAVELLERS..WILD SIGNS

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen :
WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
In a Bangkok temple :
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER A WOMAN, EVEN A FOREIGNER, IF DRESSED AS A MAN.

Cocktail lounge , Norway :
LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR.

Doctors office, Rome :
SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES.

Dry cleaners, Bangkok :
DROP YOUR TROUSERS HERE FOR THE BEST RESULTS.

In a Nairobi restaurant :
CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER.

On the main road to Mombasa, leaving Nairobi :
TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.

On a poster at Kencom :
ARE YOU AN ADULT THAT CANNOT READ? IF SO WE CAN HELP.

In a City restaurant :
OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK AND WEEKENDS.

In a cemetery :
PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY BUT THEIR OWN GRAVES.

Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations :
GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIOURS IN BED.

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant :
OUR WINES LEAVE YOU NOTHING TO HOPE FOR.

In a Tokyo bar :
SPECIAL COCKTAILS FOR THE LADIES WITH NUTS.

Hotel , Yugoslavia :
THE FLATTENING OF UNDERWEAR WITH PLEASURE IS THE JOB OF THE CHAMBERMAID.

Hotel , Japan :
YOU ARE INVITED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHAMBERMAID.

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery :
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT THE CEMETERY WHERE FAMOUS RUSSIAN AND SOVIET COMPOSERS, ARTISTS AND WRITERS ARE BURIED DAILY EXCEPT THURSDAY.

A sign posted in Germany 's Black Forest :
IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN ON OUR BLACK FOREST CAMPING SITE THAT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SEX, FOR
INSTANCE, MEN AND WOMEN, LIVE TOGETHER IN ONE TENT UNLESS THEY ARE MARRIED WITH EACH OTHER FOR THIS PURPOSE.

Hotel, Zurich :
BECAUSE OF THE IMPROPRIETY OF ENTERTAINING GUESTS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX IN THE BEDROOM, IT IS SUGGESTED THAT THE LOBBY BE USED FOR THIS PURPOSE.

Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand :
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE ON YOUR OWN ASS?

A laundry in Rome :
LADIES, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES HERE AND SPEND THE AFTERNOON HAVING A GOOD TIME.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Breathless in Bhutan

Readers may like to see the three albums on Bhutan land of the Thunder Dragon on FB..TigerPaw Adventures



This incredible country left an indelible impression on me in more ways than one. While the album images speak for themselves more or less,...my physical experience for no fault of my host country became akin in terms of physicality and labor , to the cleaning of the Augean Stables by Hercules.

I made my first error when I decided to try he rail and road combination out of India. Having booked the return journey by Druk Air, Bhutan's national airline from Paro to New Delhi, I felt seeing the road through that remote corner of India nearinto Bhutan would be an education (!) which it certainy turned out to be in the most unpalatable fashion. I had been all around this specific area but never actually on this road.

The North East Express is a train of national importance serving the north east of India and linking it to the Capital. I had to board the infamous train from the newest and most far flung station(Anand Vihar)  serving the Capital. We crossed into the state of Bihar and all around was a sea of water. Looking upto the ends of the horizon and seeing the immense "water world", one would never think of India having a shortage of water...if only one had the technology to transport these immense volumes across India's land mass towards the western desert. At approximately 3 pm the train came to a grinding halt. And stayed put for 12 hours. Sourrounded in water the train electronic signals were under water outside "Mughalsarai" a major train junction. The second class air conditioned train in which I was ( and amongst the best, after the first class air conditioned) soon became a living hell. The toilets were grossly filthy, their latches sharp and rusted enough to kill a passenger from tetanus. The rain water flooded the inside of the compartment. When I asked for the complaint book, the assistant collector grovellingly asked "why sir, what has happened?". I said there is rain water inside the compartment. He quickly said" but sir, it is raining outside!" I insisted and the grand ceremony of writing a written complaint and receiving a duplicate was embarked upon and completed.

At midnight all passengers were asleep barring me and a vibrant and energetic young man in the field of education. We tried using our phone contacts to get the nubers of the the railways at Mughalserai.All attempts failed. I decided to wake the ticket collector who was sleeping rather comfortably. He said he didnt have a numer for Mughal Serai but only for Agra. I said "call them". He said" my phone doesnt have a signal". I said " here's mine, and it does!" In the meatime we saw four other trains whizzing past as they were on an obvious priority. The ticket collector spoke to control in Agra and got a non comittal reply as the entire area was flooded.

 I took the phone back, passed the number onto my contacts in Delhi and then e both began calling the number. Finally the train budged...I reached at 9 pm instead of 7 am. I got a taxi and the taxi man and his cohorts clambered all over me. Where do you wish to go sir? " Bhutan Gate", I said. 300 rupees sir. In the fatigued state, I thought this was a good deal. Lets go! ..As I calmbered into the jeep, someone said "where did you say you wanted to go? " Bhutan Gate, I answered again. " "Bhutan Gate! that is a180 km and a 3 hour journey! that is 3000 not 300! Having settled for Rs 2500 we proceeded. The driver and I soon regretted having set out. The journey was 4 hours, and of this, 3 hours were through craters a foot to 2 feet deep. The road had become rippled and wavy due to the poor materiels and overladen trucks..communist West Bengal at its best. The driver kept muttering " I came here two years ago...had I known I would never have come!" The pitch dark, dense jungle for much of the way knowing the forests were inhabited by wild elephant made it that much more tense. Of course there was another scenic and pleasant forest road but that was even more dense and doubly dangerous on account of pachyderms and other unknowns.

 I kept in contact with my Bhutanese guide who came to meet me at the border. He and his driver had been waiting since midday...I finally met him at 4 am and crashed into a  heavenly Bhutanese hotel. State of the art fittings had been used..but placed poorly in some cases..Anyway the excellent springs of the bed invited me..for an hour my head and ears continued swaying with the continued momentum of the awful road journey.

After breakfast at 9, I prepared for the next leg..a six hour mountain road journey ever rising upto the capital Thimpu. The road was excellent and the best of India;s workmanship was seen. The Indian Army had built a tremendous road, with fantastic bridges..But the mountains spare no man..and there were some gruelling sections of land slides to negotiate.


I finally reached Thimpu. The next day we embarked on trek. Wonderful vistas, wonderful field staff accompanied us. But there was a bit of inexperience and I was a bit toooo fatigued to notice after the four hour walk, the outer fly touching the inner. The result was an iced over inside ceiling the next morning. The combined effect of all of these did their damage especially after the next day which entailed an uphill climb of 7 hours from 10,000 ft (app 3200 m) to 14,500 (app 7,200 m) .Carrying a not so light day pack and I was done for after five months of faffing around without much physical activity.

And then the nighmare began. I could barely breathe and was wracked by coughing so violent that my stomach was sore..as if it had been repeatedly punched.I needed to be helped around constantly .To do al this and yet take decisions for the team became more demanding than ever. The young guide's decision making needed much help and pushing. The shorter route was the to go back on the pass we came from. But the vertical to get to its top was impossible for the horse. And I could not move on my own and the team had no way to feery me on a stretcher etc..

I had to then do a two day walk in one going out the scheduled way. It became an eleven hour marathon to get down to the road head by nightfall.Of these eleven hours six were on a small mountain pony..a great little mare ..provided with poor tack and untrained leading hands. Had I not been a horseman in my own capacity, I would never ever have survived that day.

The saddle on the horse as a small wooden saddle such as s used in mountains in Asia. There were no stirrups so I had to devise a primitive rope loop stirrup.The breastplate served as a stopping rein because there was ony one open rein which was used by the man leading the pony.A horse or pony generally picks the right or best route 98% of the time. But on occasion it picks entirely the wrong one. There were moments when there was a forked path..the lead man would not look back to guide the pony onto he rigt one with the result that the pony ended up taking me on a sheer cliff face with a thousand foot or more drop to the edge. In my delirium I had to admonish the pony man and ask him to keep his wits about him. Again when going past narrow, rocky defiles the same thing happened and I almost twsited my ankles on numerous occasions.When one went up an incline I had to rise up in the stirrups (as a considerate rider does to aid the horse) at which time the iron hoop of the saddle would catch my stomach, already bruised from hours of coughing.

We reached camp and after a short break I left my party and carried on to complete the next leg in order to reach the road head. I was party carried by one parter who commented " you must have carried me in a past life, sir, which is why I must carry you now". This was too hard to bear...as his shoulder and the bounce, knocked the already depleted wind, from my lungs. I then let myself be lugged down the slippery and rocky mountain into thick jungle,by two men..the sheer pace of their momentum, and gravity rushing me off my feet, sweat pouring down my body, inspite of most of the effort being on the part of my helpers... The endless trek down the mountain ended in the pitch dark..and my relief car came to extricte me to the hospital.The Doctor at the Emergency said, " heart fine, blood pressure, fine, chest ..a slight infection....

After thinking the worst ..pulmonary oedema is a dangerous and unpleasant condition, I had escaped this, but the slight "chest infection", had played utter havoc with my physiogonomy.
Bhutan is an unusual country and does not permit mountaineering on account of the mountains being sacred. I guess I had not appeased the Gods this time on the Dag Lang Lake Trek-The Trek of a Thousand Lakes.! Even so, I enjoyed Thimpu thoroughly, inspite of being exhausted from the experience. The Tsecho Festival and dances, which occured just before the Royal Wedding..was captivating  as was all else about Butan, Land of The Thunder Dragon.

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