The Paradise Named as Deoriatal

I had been hearing since long that the Deoriatal located in the Uttarakhand hills is the India’s answer to Switzerland. I had also been hearing that it gets fully covered in snow in winters and remains as such up to March end. I was told that the best time to visit Deoriatal and nearby Chopta is in March and early April as that is the time of flowering of rhododendrons known locally as ‘Buransh’ and when the petals of red buransh fall on snow white snow it seems like some one has deliberately thrown the red sindoor far and wide over the white sheet of snow. I was really fascinated to hear all this and when in April, I was offered a chance this April by my Jija ji living in Dehradun  to see Deoriatal and Chopta up and close, I pounced upon the offer like a hungry tiger would upon a meaty Sambhar.

So here I was at village Saari after a night at Ukhimath. The village Saari is the place from where the track to Deoriatal starts. It is a comfortable 3 Km trek but it is best to do if you do in the early morning as the air is dense at this time and has more oxygen than in the afternoon. The trek to Deoriatal is an introduction to the mighty and most beautiful Himalayas and I think it is better to say that through the pictures. Words do have their limitations and may be pictures will narrate what the words can not;

 

The Village Saari: At the Start of Trek to Deoriatal

Beautiful Pine Twins!

The Glistening leaves in the morning sun

The Himalayas

Mighty Chaukhamba

Deoriatal with Chaukhumbha Images

The Campers Paradise Deoriatal

The Sunset Beauty

The Buransh(Rhododendrons)

The Buransh Laden Path

The Unbelievable but True Buransh Layered Path

Our Abode for the memorable night

Standing Boldly against the mighty Chaukhamba

The Deoriatal at 8000 Feet

The Beautiful Full Moon Night At Deoriatal

 

Do I need to say anything more about Deoriatal?

Birds of Kanha

Sharp at 3:00 pm, as the gates at Kisali opened for the long awaited evening safari, we rushed inside the famed jungles of Kanha. We were headed to the thick Saal forests to look for none other than a tiger, but before we could move even 100 meter, our nature guide nudged us to look towards our left. Keeping our fingers tight on camera, we looked that way to notice an Indian Roller bird sitting atop a stone. It was looking towards us, perhaps as a watchdog to the jungle or may be it was welcoming us at our first foray into fantastic and huge Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Though we were expecting to sight a tiger on priority, the beauty and welcoming gesture of the bird forced us to stop and shoot, pictures. We did that in following pics.

Indian Roller

Indian Roller

Roller atop an Antler

Indian Roller atop an Antler

Though the hunt for tigers continued to dominate our quest and ears(jungle calls of sambhars and deer and langurs on sighting a tiger themselves are unmistakably audible and can shoot your adrenaline level  at once), the birds of Kanha kept on attracting us and by their sheer beauty, forced us to pause our hunt for tigers and to give them attention and  love they deserved. It was a great experience actually to see these lovely birds including our own national bird, peacock sitting atop a tree log.

Peacock

Peacock

Egrates

Egrates

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Vulture and Nest

Vulture and Nest

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Racket Tailed Black Drango

Racket Tailed Black Drango

White Crested Hawk Eagle

White Crested Hawk Eagle

Little Cormorant

Little Cormorant

We continued to enjoy these jungle beauties and though we sighted a tigress in the fourth day of our chase, these images have left me and my friends spell bound. Kanha is a truly a bird watcher’s paradise. Thanks Kanha.

Bird Asking to Follow Instruction

Bird Asking to Follow Instruction

(All the Pics are personal property/copyright of the author and can not be used without prior permission.)

Shoot Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing But Foot Prints

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Pug Marks

You come across title-lines, written on stones, while moving around, inside the Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. These lines have deep lessons of History actually. The ban on tiger hunting in India was imposed only in 1970, after the population of tigers got reduced from approx. 40000 (out of 100000 in whole world) in 1901 to just 1827 in 1970. There were scores of massacres of tigers and other wild animals by the then elites to make that figure. Lord Linlithgo, then Viceroy ofIndia, in an hunting expedition killed 120 tigers in a single game spread over few weeks around Indo-Nepal Border in 1938-39. Usually this was done by sitting atop elephants and by using men and elephants to corner tigers in the Jungle. The pictures of posing hunters keeping their one foot mercilessly atop a dead tiger were a prized asset then. This 1926 picture shown below after a hunt organised by Raja Of Alwar, Rajasthan for his British guests, shows the magnitude and scale of madness of the times, to some extent.1aA_massive_tiger_hunt_organized_by_Maharajah_of_Alwar_in_1926_for_his_British_guests_a_dozen_elephants_and_aproximately_300_people_involved.6-300x244
There were even specially designed carriages including a Rolls Royce for this purpose in those times. TIGER HUNTING s2.reutersmedia.net - Copy

The project Tiger in India was launched on 1st April 1973 subsequent to advent of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It seems, if this had been postponed for few years more, I would not have seen the beauty of a tiger in wild ever.

I got to see this nature’s top-in-the-food chain beauty, last week and was truly mesmerized (I had seen the tigers earlier too at Corbett and Kanha, but those were fleeting moments). You have to see that, to feel the might and beauty of a tiger moving in a grassland in a Jungle. The way it moves, pauses, rests and then again rises to move around is so thrilling and captivating that you will be speechless and spellbound. its  like a musical symphony, every note and every move in perfect synchronisation. The tiger on a prowl, decides every move at his own pace and pleasure. No hurry and  no worries for the ‘King Of Jungle’.  I too heard this ‘Symphony of a Wild Tiger’s movement’. I therefore, feel lucky to have shot a tiger myself at the Jim Corbett Park, through a camera only. I wish, Lord Linlithgow and his cohorts had read those lines too!DSC_2356 DSC_2346 (3)

The Dudhwa Tiger and the Mian ji

The White  Tiger and the Man

The White Tiger  at Delhi Zoo and the Man

Looking back at 2014 in last week of December, one picture that haunts me still is that of a man squatting with folded hands in front of a white tiger at a Delhi zoo. This over inquisitive man had fallen accidentally in the tiger’s enclosure or moat and in last few minutes of his life was begging literally for his life. The face off ended in with the death of the man. It reminds me of few stories of tigers vs man confrontations at Dudhwa, during the course of my tenure as SDM in Palia sub division, though not all of them ended as pathetically as that at the Delhi zoo.

The king of the jungle-Tiger (Panthera Tigris Tigris), is at its dreaded most at the sal tree forested, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve on Indo-Nepal Border in state of Uttar Pradesh. The tigers at Dudhwa are so ferocious that they don’t think twice even before charging at elephants and rhinoceros. The otherwise shy jungle king of many forest reserves of India, has therefore given birth to many stories at Dudhwa, centering around the hapless tourists who were outsmarted and frightened to their last bone by the charging tigers.

Royal Bengal Tiger

Royal Bengal Tiger

This story, in continuation of my earlier blog on Dudhwa tigers titled-The Tiger and Sardar, is about one agnostic Mianji, who had come to Dudhwa to see a tiger with his wife. The Mian ji too, was frustrated after his many sojourns to jungle ended without even a faint glimpse of the tiger in its natural surroundings. He expressed his doubts about tiger ‘actually being’ at Dudhwa, the difference being only in expressing it in a subtle manner in chaste Urdu rather than in sarcastic manner of Sardar ji. The forest officials at Dudhwa though actually peeved at comparisons with other forest reserves, somehow kept their calm.

One fine morning, in course of safari in jungle atop an elephant, Mian ji was sitting nonchalantly to witness the end of the safari. His wife dressed in traditional attire was also sitting besides him. Mian ji had teased mahout about the live tigers in Dudhwa jungles but he was doing his best to facilitate the sighting of a tiger. Trudging slowly from the start up point, they reached the high grass-lands of forest around Sonaripur, where rhinoceros are bred and nurtured in a quarantined area. This area though marked by electrified wires is part of the jungle and is huge. The tigers too are there and attack even young calves of the rhino. Mahout was optimistic about sighting a tiger there. Mian ji was not so optimistic though.

Suddenly, mahout felt some movement behind the huge elephant grass. The grass in the month of  February had grown beyond 12 feet or so and could hide even an elephant. Reaching at a sensitive point, the mahout asked Mia ji to be alert. But that had happened few times earlier too and was taken lightly by Mia ji. He had seen his hopes dashed too many times in this trip, after some very clear jungle calls and pug mark trails. So, he kept on sitting carelessly and was reclining on one side of makeshift sitting area at the elephant back. The mahout going by his huge experience in trailing the tigers was serious about the hints of his senses  and asked the Mian ji again to be alert, as the opportunity to see a tiger may be too precious to be missed.

Mian ji continuing with his experience backed agnosticism in seeing an actual tiger just straightened his posture and glanced through the surrounding, perhaps to only satisfy the mahout who was really alert and was looking around with his penetrating eyes. Suddenly the mahout raised his hand and pointed his index figure nervously towards a thick grassed corner. He did not speak a word and nodded Mian ji and his wife to see closely. Mian ji did not believe that he was so close to a tiger, but still straightened his neck a little more and stretched himself upwards to have a better look at the grass area. The elephant by now had moved little more closer to the grass. There was something which had made even the elephant cautious in his moves. Mia ji too now got anxious, and almost stood atop the elephant to get a top shot view of the surrounding. The elephant inched even closer and negotiated its way deeper into the elephant grass. The tiger was just there.  But before anything could settle, the roar of the tiger unsettled everything. The tiger got disturbed in his territory, and that too while taking rest. The tiger, true to the pedigree of Dudhwa, charged towards the elephant and its occupants with ferocity. Mian ji who was almost standing by now on his knees and was leaning towards the hauda ( a makeshift sitting arrangement atop an elephant). He was least prepared for this. He saw the tiger charging towards him and panicked. He virtually saw the death in front of him. The tiger was too close to elephant and Mian ji in panic lost his body control and fell on the ground! A loud sound of thud reverberated through the silent jungle. The way Mia ji fell on the ground was unexpected for everyone. His wife almost froze and gaped in disbelief. Mahout too screamed at the ultimate horror. The sight and the sound created by an 80 to 90 odd kg man falling from a height of 10 feet or more had shocked everybody out there. The inevitable was only few seconds away. But the tiger too was not prepared for this turn of event and the sound created by screams and by the fall of a healthy Mian ji was too unexpected. The tiger in his entire life would not have seen such a sceen, where a disbelieving tourist had fallen from the elephant, right in front of him. The tiger really got flummoxed, and from his perspective, saw this fallen man as a challenger to him or worse, a trained wily hunter!.  Mian ji had closed his eyes and almost fainted but tiger was not knowing this and after freezing for a second decided to beat a hasty retreat. He ran away to the other side of the grassland.images (7)

The Mian ji was lying shocked and unconscious and was not knowing that the poor tiger had actually ran away. The mahout after scourging the forest with his experienced eyes for any other potential danger, nudged the elephant to place his trunk as a ladder to step down. Mian ji was still unconscious and mahout used water from the water bottle carried by tourists to sprinkle some on Mian ji and he opened his eyes after some efforts. He was still shaking with fear. While the tiger ran away to its safety after failing to face the impact of a huge fall, Mian ji could not believe that he was still alive!. The folly of him to see it closely and clearly had almost cost his life, but the situations as turned out to be, saved the day for everybody, practically and peacefully. The ferocious tiger too learned a new lesson of his life that it may be too counterproductive to frighten a 80 kg man like this!

Retreating Tiger!

Retreating Tiger!

I only wish if that man at Delhi zoo could have been as lucky and the white tiger could have been as flummoxed as the one at Dudhwa!.

Bisons of Kanha National Park

Author at Kanha

Author at Kanha

Clut. Clut. Clut. The sound was too close. What it was? From where it was? I felt lazy to interrupt my afternoon nap and to step outside to check out the issue on that April 13′ afternoon. Having arrived at Kanha from Jabalpur and after some delicious forest rest house cooked lunch, I was a having a lovely ‘afternoon siesta’ at the FRH(forest rest house) Kanha National park. Kanha National Park, set up in 1955 is spread over 940 sq kms of district Mandala and Balaghat and is the biggest one in central India. It habitats a rich variety of fauna including Royal Bengal Tiger.

It was our first day there and we had just napped, post lunch. We wanted to be recharged quickly before the start of the evening jungle safari. But the sound was getting clearer and perhaps closer to us. It appeared  as few sticks or poles were being banged against each other. I came outside to have a look myself. The FRH Kanha built  towards the end of British Raj, is a beautiful building with a vast and expansive court yard in front. Interestingly, there was no boundary wall or even a fence to separate or distinguish the FRH courtyard or lawn from the vast natural forest, just outside. It was like being in the jungle itself with no barrier between man and the beast. It may be arguable though, the beast was on which side!  The forest in front, with a huge grass land called as chaur was slightly pale yellow as the grass had dried up substantially. There were very few trees to interrupt the view. As the grass was not so high I could see a good distance. There was certainly  nothing  just outside the room. Then I  realized that at some distance two huge shining black animals were in locked horns and pushing each other to extreme. I looked at them more carefully and asked the forest guard what that was? He told me that they were the wild bisons called as Gaur locally, the largest extant bovine animal on planet and that they were  aplenty at Kanha.

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The Raging Bisons

The battle between them was clearly visible and watchable. I called out my kids and wife too, to join me. It continued unabated and perhaps these animals did not care a damn about our presence from the so called safety of the rest house. The weight of each of them was no less than 800 to 1000 kg. The length of the animal was also impressive at more than 3 meters. The horns of them were also substantially large and chiseled. It was a thrill therefore to watch these two heavy male bisons challenging each other with full ferocity in this early summer afternoon. The basics were clear here. One had to lose and that too badly!. Then  the loser had to surrender and literally beg for its life. No middle path or no mercy in the animal kingdom. Only victory or only defeat. But who had to lose and who not, had to be decided by the battle on the ground only. They had chosen the venue though to much of our dismay. The heavier one who could create more momentum of brute force was in the advantage. Now gradually as the fight continued, the theater of action was shifting closer to the guest house. We were initially enjoying, but now we had some fear factor too due to proximity to the ring!. The locking of the horns and subsequent pushing of other was throwing some dust upwards too. The vision was though clear.

The Lloser  Bison!

The Loser Bison!

The moment of decision came soon. The one bison who had dug his heels properly and whose skin was shining and glistening black charged one last time with all force he could gather. The other one though not an easy thing to push, surrendered to the biology of youth and the physics of huge brute momentum force, thus generated. The impact of the last push was visible clearly in form of an injury visible to my camera at a good distance. The blood leaked from it and the poor bison decided to suffer a quick retreat. Now, interestingly the winner decided to chase the vanquished one. He chased it with ferocity and  the poor bison ran for its life. It vanished with in no time in deep forest. Now the victorious one bereft of a target to be mauled, found out a termite hill near by and with all ferocity pierced its horns in it. He wanted to show that he meant business. It offered no resistance. I Clicked from a safe distance. To the bison, it was a satisfactory achievement and the crumbling earth of the termite hill perhaps would have polished his horns a bit more!

Destroying the Termite Hill

Destroying the Termite Hill

What a scene it was and so close to us on very first day of arrival. We were thrilled and though the evening safari gave us the views of the tiger too, this was one great live encounter to watch.  We just then recalled the catch line of MP tourism ad, “M P Gazab Hai!”. True.

 

Beauty of Leh and its hospitals!

Nishat Bagh outside Srinagar

Nishat Bagh outside Srinagar

Leh was the final destination of our J&K trip. So despite hiccups in Kashmir valley due to culinary extravagance of Raja, we (Raja, Dabbu and myself) continued with our trip. On the way, 400 years old Mughal Gardens of Nishat Bagh were explored quickly and then we moved on to Sinagar-Leh road, NH 1D in the right earnest. The night halt was to be at Kargil, at a distance of 210 kms from Srinagar. The road to Kargil goes via meadows of gold or Sonamarg, another favourite tourist destination. Situated at an elevation of 9200 feet besides Sindhu river, Sonamarg was part of the ancient silk route. We stopped there for tea break and took some pictures. It was slightly crowded by tourists in the season.

The Road Repairs along Srinagar-Leh Road

The Road Repairs along Srinagar-Leh Road

The road to Kargil from Sonamarg onward becomes treacherous and is not for the faint hearted drivers or tourists. The margin of error is too thin and life is at stake. Though the BRO or Border Roads Organisation does it best to keep them motor-able, weather plays spoilsport too often. One also gains height sharply from Sonamarg onward. We passed the Joji La pass at a height of 11640 feet to enter Drass, dubbed as one of the coldest places on the earth! Now Raja who was not in best of shape in the valley started to feel the pinch of heights. He was getting nausea and the vehicle had to be stopped at many places along the under repair road. He vomited at frequent intervals despite pre-consuming anti vomit tablets. We were worried but continued as there was no suitable place before Kargil for the medical help. We crossed Drass also, a strategically located town on Srinagar-Leh road, dubbed as one of the coldest inhabited place on the globe!

Drass before Kargil

Drass before Kargil

Kargil is on the banks of river Indus at a height of 8800 feet and is very close to LOC between India and Pakistan and has a war memorial now to salute the bravery of its soldiers in war of 1999. The temperatures here goes  below minus 54 degree Celsius in winters. We stayed at a hotel run by a localite. This was a decent place and looked even better after wheel spinning journey we just had. Raja retired to his room quickly and announced that he would limit himself to fruits only. Dabbu and I decided to do a stroll around the market which was getting closed by now. Dabbu decided to withdraw some money in the town perhaps to preserve the memories of Kargil War of 1999, telecast live by Barakha Dutt led team of NDTV.  So, along with crisp currency notes, Dabbu kept in his purse neatly folded ATM receipt showing ‘SBI Kargil’ as a souvenir. Coming back to room we had some scotch to lighten us up and then had dinner in the restaurant sitting cross legged besides low height colourfully painted wooden tables. Over all it was a a very comforting experience given the fact that we were so close to LOC.

Kargil War Memorial

Kargil War Memorial

Next morning, Raja was feeling slightly better. This was perhaps due to his by now jettisoned policy of ‘light sa non-veg’! But he decided to see a doctor first as a safeguard to our still more strenuous journey head. We were aware that to reach Leh, we had to clear Namika La pass first at a height of 12198 feet and then the highest point on Srinagar-Leh highway, Fotu La pass at a height of 13479 feet. It was going to be a tough day today.

Author at Fotu La Pass on Srinagar-Leh Road

Author at Fotu La Pass on Srinagar-Leh Road

The hospital at Kargil was basic but decent. The lady doctor on duty examined Raja thoroughly and diagnosed that Raja was suffering not only from stomach infection but also from mountain sickness known as HAPE or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.  It is a life threatening desease. The doctor diagnosed Raja short of body fluids due to persistent bouts of vomiting day before, prescribed lot of fluids. She also decided to administer injections to him. Raja obviously got the shots at the bums again, through hands of another beautiful Kashmir Nurse. He did not smile though!

The Buddhists Flags and the Mountain on  Srinagar-Leh

The Buddhists Flags and the Mountain on Srinagar-Leh

Loaded with medicines and medical advice we left for Leh, situated at a distance of 235 km from Kargil. This road passes through the town of  Lamayuru, famous for one of the Laddakh’s oldest Buddhist Gompas. Raja on the other hand had his share of medicines in the morning but with the gain in height with bumpy rides along,was feeling the pinch. By afternoon his bouts of vomits had increased a lot along with an increase in body temperature. His condition was deteriorating faster than we had thought of. We decided to now locate a hospital first rather than a Gompa. By afternoon, we were lucky to approach the town of Khalasi pronounced locally as Khalste. It is a sub divisional headquarters of  district Leh and had a basic hospital. We approached the doctor on duty. Yet another lady doctor with sharp features was there. Raja really was in a bad shape and the doctor after a preliminary check up, decided to administer him a drip. We knew, we were in trouble. Doctor told us that suffering from HAPE, Raja had lost much of body fluids and he urgently needed rest and medication, both. We had no option in this remotest hospital in India we could ever think of being in one day!

Raja now on a proper hospital bed got one more shot in his bums. We were nervous now and deliberated whether we should inform his family back in Lucknow?. What if something went wrong? Dabbu and I had many anxious rounds of the hospital corridor. Raja meanwhile comforted by medicines and drips went on to sleep. We finally decided not to call and panick the family backhome and instead decided to wait more. After about an hour, we discussed with the doctor about the prospects of his being discharged any time soon. We wanted to reach Leh anyhow by late evening. The doctor told us to review the situation only after the drip was over. The drip on the other hand was calibrated to finish off too slowly. We were told that the faster drip sometimes leads to the shivering of the patient.  Dabbu and I were getting anxious and therefore after waiting for some more time, decided to take a little liberty. Just as the  nurse went outside to chat (whatsap was not then!), I rolled on the drip regulator to get it faster inside Raja’s vein! To safeguard him from shivering I covered Raja up to his shoulders by  two blankets. The result was now quick. By the time nurse came back to see the patient, the drip was through and Raja was still sleeping. The nurse was little perplexed and looked at the drip first and then towards us. We looked other way. We again went to Doctor and requested her to review Raja’s position and discharge him as soon as possible. Our over persuasion paid off and Raja was discharged and we were relieved. But not before being loaded with all types of pills and capsules and SOS solutions! We heaved a sigh of relief and rushed to Leh. In this rush we could not concentrate on some very beautiful sceneries outside.

Picturesque views along Kargil Leh Road

Picturesque views along Kargil Leh Road

We arrived Leh around 8 pm and we settled in our hotel room comfortably. This hotel built around a garden on the Leh Manali road was run by one affable lady, Dolma.  She was a person of immense calm and composure and seeing the condition of Raja offered herself to cook some khichadi for him. On our part like friends of three idiots decided to focus on dinner. We celebrated our safe travel by raising a toast to Raja’s health. Raja joined us too, but we rationed his quota. We retired to bed afterwards as next day we were slated to visit Hemis monastery and some other local sightseeing. Raja helped by Khichadi, decent rest and some medicines was in a better condition next morning. He came along with us for local sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was at Hemis Monastery situated at Leh Manali road. This was one of the biggest monastery there. It had a well stocked museum too containing valuable artefacts of Buddhist culture. It is a centre of Buddhist learning and one can see the students in colorful dresses walking around you, We also witnessed the flag changing ceremony.

With Monastery students

With Monastery students

Raja was also enjoying the trip along with us and we took pictures here and there including while turning Buddhist prayer wheels. After spending some decent time there we moved on for lunch to an army officers’ mess. The army is known for living in discipline and in style so even at this  height of  11000 feet they had a well stocked bar with fancy horse back bar stools. We could not resist this and buoyed by our comfortable stay in Leh till now raised a toast to Raja’s health. We had some delicious lunch and after thanking our local host came back to our hotel room and decided to have some rest before evening stroll.

Flag Changing at Hemis Monastery

Flag Changing at Hemis Monastery

We went to see the local markets in Leh and had planned to have dinner there only. We stepped out to select souvenirs for our families too. I bought a traditional Laddakhi gown for my daughter. But we could proceed further, Raja perhaps fatigued by his day outing and due to worsening HAPE called us to go back as he was vomiting and feeling cramps. We offered him water etc but finally decided to beat a retreat. Coming back to hotel Raja fell on the bed and we gave him all the medicines, we could think of. We were again taken aback by the circumstances. Next morning we had planned to visit the famous lake of Pangong Tso made famous by the climax scene of Hindi movie, Three Idiots. Raja was in no position to move. We decided to take a call in the morning after judging Raja’s response to medicines and to rest.

The morning brought no surprises and Raja was feeling no better. Pangong Tso lake is situated at a height of 14270 feet and to reach there one has to clear the Changlang Pass at a height of 17586 feet! It was too much for everybody and for Raja would have been a killer actually. So now the question was what to do? Raja though not in a god shape advised Dabbu and me to go ahead with the plan while he would take some more rest. Our affable and now venerable Dolma Didi came to our rescue and said that she would take care of Raja and we could be back by evening to take care of him again. Though it was a tough call and we were feeling awkward to leave Raja in not so good condition for a tourist trip, we finally decided to go ahead. The way to Pangong Tso lake is via Chanlang Pass and on the way to it one can enjoy the most breathtaking scenery of life time. Its unbelievably beautiful and only those who have been there can understand what a nature’s gem it is actually. We stopped on few picturesque view points and used our camera liberally. The Changlang pass at 17586 feet was covered with snow in the month of June and for a short span there was snowing too. We were feeling like in heaven. The army post here offers tea to every passer by and they dont forget to remind you that stopping at this height for longer period can cause nausea and headache to the most stout even. We took some pictures and left for the lake after some time.

The Chang LA Passs

The Chang LA Passs

On the way we found some local natives with Yak and even at this unimaginable heights we were offereda  glass of warm yak milk at Rs 20 only! What a life! While dabbu hesitated, I decided to give a try to Yak milk for the first and only time of my life. Its taste was not bad either. We moved further to the lake. We were also continually thinking of Raja and his condition back at leh and honestly were having some guilt too in entrusting him to Dolma Didi. We reached at the lake around 1 pm. The lake spread over an area of 604 sq km is divided along line of LOAC between India and China. It has for brackish water and hence no fish etc. It has some crustaceans though.  Bar Headed Goose and Brahmini ducks are seen here too in summers. The lake however is known for changing colors of water. It is surrounded by some colorful barren mountains and the beauty of the place can only be seen and not be explained.Perhaps only lucky most can be a witness to its beauty. Its Jannat in truest sense of the word. We had great pictures and then after lunch at an army maintained canteen retreated back to Leh.

Pangong Tso Lake

Pangong Tso Lake

Though Dabbu and I had decided not to abort today’s trip to the lake, inside we were having some genuine guilt about not being with the friend at the Leh hotel. We had left him to the care of  Dolama didi, who looked like an angel then. So as soon as we entered the mobile signal area, we called Raja. Raja after few calls responded with the faintest voice. We were shocked. What happened ? Rraja told in an emotion laden voice that he was at the hospital. What, Hospital? How and why? We were now in panic mood. All the fun of serene lake had evaporated in seconds like drops of water on a hot tawa. We rushed back even faster and came to know that Raja was now in the tourist ward of Sonam Norbu Memorial State Hospital. We reached the hospital and for the shock of life found Raja lying in the ward with an oxygen mask and drips!. It was too much to bear now. Our guilt hit the ceiling. Our claim of being decades old friends lied shattered in front of us. Besides him was Dolma Didi, with a flask of tea and a casserole used to carry Kichadi to feed Raja! Now we realised that lady was the angel in true sense . She said nothing. I did not say either. The eyes were moistened. Raja too seeing us got emotional and tears rolled down his unshaved cheeks. We could not utter a word. It was and is still perhaps the most emotional friendship moment in our 25 years old friendship.

Our next day trip was originally planned for Khardungala Pass, the highest motorable road in the world. We had three more days planned for stay in Leh. But now we had lost the motivation. We could not leave Raja behind and enjoy the trip. The trip to highest road in the world if proceeded could have been our lowest friendship deal. We consulted the doctor first., She told us that Raja was suffering from  HAPE. She told that Raja needed recuperation in the hospital and finally the evacuation to lower heights. Nothing else could be risked as his life could have been in risk. Dabbu and I looked into each other’s eyes and came outside to call our travel agent to get us first flight tickets our journey back to Lucknow. No price barriers!.

Raja, the day before Hospitalisation at Leh Market

Raja, the day before at Leh Market

We got the confirmation soon. We went back to see Raja again and announced that we were terminating our trip immediately and would fly back to Lucknow via Delhi next morning. Now Raja choked. The tears rolled down his unshaved cheeks again. He knew that his friends were aborting the plan midway, a plan which was the  long cherished goals for all of us and now the circumstances forced not only Raja but his friends to drop it midway. Dabbu and I had no confusion and were clear and focussed now. Few drops of tears had washed our lenses better and we could see everything very clearly. Now we called on the doctor. She had few reservations about our plan as Raja was still on bed. She said the patient may need to wait more. But finally we prevailed and got her agreed to our rescue plan. Relived now by our clear pathway to implement our rescue plan Dabbu and I decided to visit one more 3 idiot venue, the Rancho’s shop. This is the place where the climax shot of  Phunsuk Wangadoo’s school was picturised and which unfortunately was destroyed in the Leh floods of 2010.  Afterwards, to preserve the memories of association with one of the most popular hindi movie, a board was put up there besides a small coffee shop.

The Rancho's shop!

The Rancho’s shop!

Next morning we reached the hospital very early in the morning and got Raja force discharged literally but not before the hospital got a written commitment from us that we were doing it at our own risk. We reached airport thereafter. Raja was still very week and was limping. He was helped by both of us to somehow get to boarding area. We did the formalities and accosted him to the plane with difficulty. We were still nervous that if something went wrong during the flight or afterwards, we would be shattered. The flight took off on time and we were air-borne, with Raja in a slumber mode. I saw the barren and snow clad mountains down below from the windows of the plane and thanked God and Dolama didi. The flight reached Delhi airport in about 75 minutes. We were still tensed and were thinking of getting a wheelchair for  Raja for carrying him on the long terminal building of Delhi airport. But much to our surprise and in fact shock, Raja had started feeling better immediately as the plain landed at the  Delhi airport. He got off the seat swiftly and walked with comfort towards our connecting flight to Lucknow. The mountain sickness caused by high altitude had evaporated like summer snow. Now it was our turn to curse him literally for improving so fast and so soon! Everybody smiled though. We thanked the God and Dolama Didi for being kind to us and for saving our Raja from the wrath of the mountain Gods. Raja learnt a hard lesson and so did we.